The Heart of My Drawbridge

I have been opening drawbridges for a living for 18 ½ years. I’ve operated 9 different bridges in three states. I’ve operated bascule bridges, lift bridges, and swing bridges. I’m pretty proud of those statistics. I can only think of one bridgetender in this country who can (by just one bridge) beat that, and he’s now retired.

But here’s something I’ve never done until recently: I’ve never been down below, deep in the mechanical inner workings of a drawbridge, while a bridge opening was in progress. I knew what happened down there, because I have to help maintain the equipment, and I know what each moving part does. But I’ve never actually gotten to witness it in all these years, because it was always me operating the bridge during the opening. You can’t be two places at once.

Well, finally, a few weeks ago, I got to be down below while someone else was doing the driving. I was so excited! And of course I wanted to take videos to share with all of you.

My first concern had to be for my safety. There is about a million pounds of moving concrete and steel down there. Stand in the wrong place, and you can be partially or entirely crushed. That’s why we are always extremely cautious when there are workmen on the bridge, and will not do an opening unless we are assured that each one is in the clear.

So, after assuring my coworker that I was in a safe place, he commenced with the opening. I chose to be standing on a portion of the catwalk that is suspended above the pit where the counterweight sinks into the ground when the bridge goes up. This catwalk does not move, but the entire room basically spins around it.

Wow, what a rush. To see a drawbridge doing its well-choreographed dance everywhere you look is like nothing else on earth. I was suddenly proud that I’ve been part of this dance for all these years. It’s beautiful. I actually got tears in my eyes. Sniffle.

Anyway, I did manage to take these videos for your viewing pleasure. I wish I could adequately explain what’s going on. I know the lighting is poor, and I couldn’t get a good angle that would give you a better sense of where I was and what exactly is going on. I did the best that I could.

In the first one, you see the pinion (a large gear), rolling down the rack during the bridge closure. This is what allows the bridge to move. There’s another behind me, and a set on the north side of the bridge that is doing the same thing to operate the other bridge leaf. The counterweight (to the right) is lifting up, and the bridge leaf (out of sight to the left) is lowering down.

In the other video, I’m standing in basically the same place, but I’ve turned to look out towards the water. This one was taken as the bridge was opening for a boat. You’ll see the bridge leaf lift up, and a sailboat go through. You can also see the other leaf, on the other side of the water, lifting as well. In this one, the counterweight is dropping down behind me, and the pinions are also out of sight, but are rolling to the left and right of me. That’s when I started getting all sentimental. I just love my bridge.

I hope this makes at least a little sense, and that you enjoy seeing a drawbridge from a whole new point of view!

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The Adventures of Travel Dog

Many moons ago, my late boyfriend Chuck was about to drive from Florida to Arkansas to help a friend remodel her home. This was all well and good, except that the old pickup truck he was planning to go in was held together with baling wire, duct tape, and good intentions. I couldn’t imagine how he was going to make it all the way out there, let alone come back in one piece. Half the time it barely made it across town.

To say I was worried was putting it mildly. But Chuck always made his own choices. Sometimes those choices made me feel helpless. So in this instance, all I could do was buy him a guardian angel. I got him Travel Dog, a stuffed animal that looked sort of like my dog Devo. From then on, Chuck kept Travel Dog in his truck, through good times and bad.

He’d often send me pictures of Travel Dog on the road, in various places, like the laundromat where Chuck was hanging out while his clothes were drying. I think it was his way of saying that he was okay, and thinking of me, and that Travel Dog was keeping him safe.

I’m not going to say our relationship was a bed of roses. Chuck had a traumatic brain injury, so sometimes his wiring would go a little haywire and he would be, shall we say, less than rational. During those times, he felt it was best to be on his own, and he’d make himself homeless. He’d live out of his truck, and Travel Dog would watch over him as he slept in the Walmart parking lot. Eventually he’d come back home to me. We just couldn’t seem to quit each other.

One time he posted a picture on Facebook, late at night, of Travel Dog sitting on his dashboard, and he wrote about his despair about starting over at age 58. He also said that Travel Dog was such a ham that he had to get in every picture. He went on to say, “He keeps losing the garlic press. How is a body supposed to make scampi? I ask you!” Chuck had a great sense of humor.

Travel Dog Chuck

About a month after that Facebook post, Chuck died in his truck, clutching his asthma inhaler, and Travel Dog bore witness. It breaks my heart knowing he died alone. I’m glad Travel Dog was there, at least. But that’s extremely cold comfort, indeed.

After Chuck died, I inherited Travel Dog. He now lives in my car, and watches over me. I haven’t had a single accident in all the years he has been there. He even rode across the continent with me, when I basically fled Florida after Chuck’s death. I was terrified to start over at 49, and Travel Dog had seen that all before. But it turns out Seattle was exactly where I needed to be.

Recently I decided that Travel Dog deserved a vacation. It takes energy to bear witness. It takes strength to watch over someone. And he’s done an excellent job. So I took him with me on my trip to Oregon, and decided to take pictures of him in various places, just as Chuck had. I plan to continue doing this on all future trips, so you never know where Travel Dog might show up next.

So without further ado, here are some pictures of Travel Dog at Crater Lake, Haystack Rock, Sea Lion Cave, and Tillamook Creamery. I may have gotten some funny looks from bystanders while I took these pictures, but it was the least I could do for a dog that has seen so much. I think Chuck would be proud of his adventures.

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Flygskam

A friend of mine loves to travel, but vows never to fly anywhere ever again. This is not because of a fear of flying or a desire to avoid the dreaded TSA indignities, but because of the carbon footprint it leaves on the planet. According to this article in the Seattle Times, one roundtrip flight from Seattle to Rome emits the same amount of carbon per person as 9 months of driving in the average American car.

I’ll be the first to admit that this is a horrifying statistic. I struggle with this concept every day. In Sweden the term for this type of flight shame is “flygskam”.

While I admire my friend’s commitment to the planet, I have mixed emotions about how small her world has become. In this era when nationalism is on the rise, bringing with it an increase in hate crimes, we need to broaden our horizons, not shrink them.

Perhaps if Trump had studied abroad in Mexico as I did, he wouldn’t have said, that “they’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

I genuinely believe that it’s a great deal harder to demonize people when you’ve broken bread with them. I have no desire to wall a child off from safety when I’ve held one just like her in my arms. And I can’t close my mind and pretend that my way of living is the only right way since I’ve witnessed so many other people living differently and thriving in their own ways. I also truly believe that when I travel to other countries, I am helping those economies, and I am also acting as an ambassador to demonstrate that some Americans are good people, too. I think travel is essential.

So what to do to mitigate this flygskam?

In that same Seattle Times article, it mentions that Rick Steves is donating a million dollars a year to groups that help people who are negatively impacted by drought and famine. This will sort of offset the carbon footprint of the large number of people who fly with his tour groups to Europe each year. It’s a start.

But Should You Buy Carbon Offsets? That link suggests that this type of financial salve on your environmental guilt is akin to paying people to do the right thing so you don’t have to. Well, as with all things regarding this issue, it’s not quite that black and white. If you find a legitimate carbon offset, then you’re actually paying someone to do the right thing who couldn’t or wouldn’t have done so in the first place. That, to me, is a good thing. Because of this, I vow to pay 50 dollars in carbon offsets for every roundtrip international flight I take, and 25 dollars for every domestic one. But I can’t stop there.

The best way to reduce your carbon footprint in this world is to do it yourself. I’m committed to recycling, composting, threadcycling, getting energy efficient appliances, turning off lights, reducing my heating and cooling, buying locally, and eating less meat. I’m building a bug house. I’ve got a bat house. I’m also looking into wind turbines. The state of Washington is on the forefront of green burials, so I will have one when the time comes.

I also think that corporate travel needs to be drastically reduced. In this age of video conferencing and virtual reality, there’s no reason for the vast majority of it. And telecommuting needs to be considered for more jobs.

I think carbon neutral perfection is unobtainable. I have feet. I’m going to leave a footprint. But if I can do something, I will, and I must.

Takeoff

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Fremont Solstice 2019

This will be the third year running that I’ve written about an amazing Seattle tradition. (Here’s last year’s post.) I can think of no better way to celebrate the advent of summer than the Fremont Solstice Parade. There’s such a feeling of joy that comes from this event.

In true Fremont style, everyone who participates in the parade does so in his/her/their own unique way. There are, for the most part, no politics involved. Signage is discouraged. There’s certainly no advertising. It’s just a two-hour-long orgy of self expression.

To me, this parade is the epitome of Seattle. I bear witness not only to celebrate summer, but also to celebrate the fact that I’m here, now, in this place. And I can’t imagine any place I’d rather be.

I try to picture such a freewheeling event happening in hyper-conservative, stodgy, judgmental Jacksonville, Florida, where I used to live, and I have to laugh. There’s no way on earth that would ever come to pass. So this is also a celebration of the fact that I’m no longer in a place that tried to make my choices for me, tried to squash my opinions, tried to tell me how to live my life. No, I’m now in a place where once a year, people come together and ride through the streets wearing nothing but smiles and body paint, and the whole city turns out to cheer.

I go to Fremont Solstice Parade every year to remind myself that I am finally free.

Happy Solstice, everybody!

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Kakapo

What do you get when you cross a parrot with an owl? A kakapo!

Well, not really. But this ground-dwelling, nocturnal, flightless parrot does have an owl-like face. Due to its preference to be active at night, its eyes have migrated to the front of its face, and there is a dish-like ring of feathers around each eye that gives me the impression that it’s mildly surprised. If this parrot were to speak, I’d expect it to say, “What the hell?”

I didn’t even know these birds existed until a friend told me about them. There’s a good reason for that. Highly endangered, there are less than 150 left in the world. They only live on a few very remote, uninhabited islands of New Zealand.

They used to thrive throughout that country, so much so that the Maori used to hunt them for food and used their feathers to make capes. Then the Europeans came along, bringing with them cats, rats, and ferrets, and these birds didn’t stand a chance.

They are now closely monitored by conservationists, who, according to this video, are now doing a DNA map of all the birds in order to avoid inbreeding in this tiny population. There’s also another hilarious video of one Kakapo, named Sirocco, who is so imprinted on humans that he attempted, on camera, to mate with a man’s head. This video became so popular that it prompted Prime Minister John Key to name Sirocco the official spokesbird for conservation in 2010. (That’s Sirocco’s picture, below.)

You can help support the conservation of these birds by going over to New Zealand’s Department of Conservation page to adopt a kakapo. You’ll get a cute plushie which makes a great gift!

These birds need your help now more than ever. On April 18, 2019, it was discovered that some of them have been hit with a fungal infection called aspergillosis. Since then, 17 have been diagnosed with this disease, and in two short months, 7 have died. This is a scary number in such a small population, so if you can support these beautiful creatures, please, please do.

Sirocco the Kakapo

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My Return to Voodoo Doughnuts

The first time I went to Portland, Oregon, I vowed to visit Voodoo Doughnuts, one of the many quirky and iconic shops in the area, but as I explained in this post, it just wasn’t meant to be. And so, my voodoo dreams having gone unfulfilled, I was doomed to wander the earth feeling as though I had some unfinished business. I felt incomplete. It was even worse than never having gone to my high school prom.

So when I realized we’d be passing through Portland again on our way home from our fabulous Oregon vacation, I told my husband that if it was the last thing I ever did, I would be going to Voodoo Doughnuts. Even if I had to throw myself from the moving car. Even if I had to crawl there on my hands and knees. That voodoo-flavored influx of sugar and carbs would be mine, or I would die trying.

To add to the pressure (as if dear husband needed more convincing) I read from the website menu as we approached Portland. “Of course we need to get a Maple Blazer Blunt. Who wouldn’t want to try a doughnut doobie?” “And we’ve got to get a Voodoo Doll, and an Old Dirty Bastard, simply to be able to say we ate one.” “There’s a doughnut with captain crunch on top! And one with fruit loops! And grape dust! And cayenne pepper! And bacon!”

By the time we got there, I had worked myself up into such a frenzy that you’d have thought I was a 6-year-old going to Disney World. I was practically fidgeting in line. Fortunately the queue wasn’t as long as it was the last time around.

Still, I sure wouldn’t want to work there. The joint was jumping. I bet they’re exhausted at the end of a shift. But they do that voodoo so well. (Sorry. Had to.)

So, were the doughnuts all I had worked them up to be in my mind? Of course not. Nothing is ever as good as you imagine. Heck yeah, they were great, and all, but there were no fireworks, no marching bands. And I’ve been avoiding sugar as much as possible for several months now, so this particular orgy of pure gluttony kind of left me feeling sick. So there’s that.

But who am I kidding? I’ll be back. If only because we discovered further down the road that we had neglected to get the Old Dirty Bastard after all.

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True Gallantry

I have this amazing husband. He takes such good care of me. And that’s not something I’m used to, at all. For 53 years I’ve either been alone or in a relationship where I had to be the caretaker, and it was exhausting. I could definitely get used to this, and I plan to.

But on the other hand, I hate it when people infantilize me or act like I’m not capable of taking care of myself. I hate the implication that as a woman, I’m somehow incapable and automatically need help all the time. I’ve written about this before. I am NOT made of glass.

It’s a struggle to find the balance. And yet somehow my husband seems to find it the vast majority of the time. I’ve spent hours trying to figure out how he does that. How does he manage to be so solicitous, so caring, without giving the impression that he finds me incompetent?

By way of example, we walk hand in hand. That’s not only for the romance, but also because I have suffered a lot lately from vertigo and blurry vision, and, let’s face it, I have lacked focus, and often overlook pesky things like uneven paving stones. He also helps me down flights of stairs, as I’ve got some wrist damage going on, and it would really be unfortunate if I fell. He opens doors for me, not because he thinks I can’t do so myself, but because he wants to show his love. And if I have to go to a sketchy rest area bathroom, he listens out for my scream, not because he thinks I can’t kick some major butt when adrenalized, but because the world is going mad.

So why doesn’t this feel like infantilization to me? We’re both getting older. I tend to point out cracks in the sidewalks to him, too. We’d like to keep each other. We balance like a tripod, and that’s a much more stable structure. He also makes it quite clear that he has confidence in my agency. He knows I’m intelligent and that I plan for contingencies and avoid stupid risks. He seeks my advice as much as I seek his.

I think I’ve finally figured out the difference. He does what he does because he happens to be a gallant man. He’s not demonstrating that he’s somehow superior. He’s showing his love, and that as a part of this team, we both are protecting what we have. That means so much to me.

But I have to say that the other day we were walking hand in hand at the farmer’s market and I hit my shin on the handle of a badly placed delivery cart. He looked at me in horror and said, “Did I just walk you into that cart?” I had to remind him that I’m a grown a$$ woman, and I, myself, stupidly walked into the cart. I walk with him. He’s not steering me.

There will always be slight course corrections in every relationship. I don’t envy the fine line on which he’s forced to walk. I see it. I appreciate it.

The world will always throw random obstacles in our paths. Yes, there will be bruises here and there. But I sure am loving the path that we are on.

Holding Hands

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