It’s a Fair Day

13aug_fairpie2_smsmIt’s County Fair Time again!

Fairs: you either love them or… it’s expensive, it’s hot, it’s dusty, it’s crowded, the food is bad, it smells like animals, all the vendors are con artists, and my feet hurt…

All of those things are true.

I love the County Fair.

County fairs are a cheerful remnant of simpler times, when people came together to sell, to buy, to share their work, to compete a little, and to perspire in common under the summertime sun. At the fair we can eat overcooked corn on the cob, sausage on a stick, sugary lemonade, and pie from the Methodist pie concession. We get advice from the County Extension booth, and admire the gigantic tractors,


or sit on them,


or drive them.


We gaze upon the patient cudding cattle mothers and marvel at their size,


and we eye the flat-backed steers on their way to the judging ring,


overseen by the haughty llamas, superior in every attitude


to the slumbering pigs,


the smiling, slumbering pigs.


Who cannot love a sleeping pig?


At the fair you can learn how to milk a cow.


You can admire the curls of the visitors.


You can buy a thrill,


or try your hand at winning a — whatever that was,


and eat pink stuff until you are ill,


and you can save your soul.


Or you can sleep it all off with your friends.


And then you go to the crafts hall to appreciate the prize-winning handwork which sometimes shows a fine sense of humor!


And some of it is lovely and detailed.


And you look to see whether you won anything with your own entry. And you did! You won a blue ribbon on the brown wool sweater in the front of the case!


So you take your tired feet back across the parking lot, and you drive home remembering that you didn’t actually ride the thrill ride, and you didn’t eat any cotton candy or a sausage, but you did have a piece of pie.


And since it came from the Methodists, you will probably not be punished for it later.



Published in: on August 17, 2016 at 1:31 pm  Comments (20)  

Midwinter Wishes

Wild Roses in December

Best Wishes to us all

for the holidays —

May 2009 be a year of hope, humanity

and peace.

© Susan Nielsen 2008

Published in: on December 24, 2008 at 10:02 am  Comments (2)  

The Pendulum

William Blake's "Dream." It could be a happy dance.About 30 years ago, I took a wonderful night class on the work of William Blake. We ranged through discussions of times and trends, philosophies and revolutions, madness and enlightenment. We discussed the climate of imagination. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, visual arts, music and literature reacted Romantically against the rational mode of the Age of Enlightenment. That may not sound like an especially good thing in the evolution of thought. After all, we think of the Age of Enlightenment as the time when science overcame superstition. But, seeking balance in all things, I and the Romantics happily embrace the flights of creativity that issued from the imaginative minds of that era. Blake wrote, “This world of imagination is infinite and eternal…” We were then just emerging from the exuberant 1970’s, and it seemed that must be true. “Imagination is the real and eternal world of which the vegetable universe is but a faint shadow.” It was the Age of Aquarius, right? We were on the way to a better humankind.

But Blake also wrote, “Without contraries there is no progression.” How were we to know we were about to enter a period of social and intellectual recession? How were we to know the gains of the last 2 decades would be greatly erased in the next years? We might have known because our professor Mariel in that William Blake class told us so. He warned us that, as in the time of Blake, we would see the pendulum of the public mind move. It would move away from the sweet left of liberal expression to, as we then and I now still think of it, the bitter right.

“The change comes quickly,” he told us. “You will wake up one morning in another world.”

He was right.

He promised us a return, however. “Thirty years,” he said. “That should be about right.”

Despair. How could I wait 30 years for everything to begin to come right again?

Here’s the thing. It’s started. It’s not just the election of a President in the USA. It’s everything on the ballot. Here in Oregon we voted down a whole batch of ugly, socially blind, xenophobic, and dangerous measures. Our friend Kurt Schrader is going to Congress. The old guard of reactionary and obstructionist holders of public office have been swept away as if a tide passed through the electorate. And, best of all from my point of view:
Signs of the times


By a lot!

I have never been so flat-footed astonished as I was when I saw the first returns. Our measure was passing. After a solid year of work by a small group of bookworms, Library Friends, and ordinary powerless citizens, a year in which we raised more than $90,000 to fund our campaign, and talked and wrote and phone-called and walked, a year when we watched people losing their mortgages and the economy falling into a pit, and we thought for sure our measure would fail and our libraries would close, after all that, it passed!

In that year I cannot tell you how many dinners at home we missed, how many meetings I sat, how I learned to beg for money, to stand up and beg publicly and to clasp my hands and beg person-to-person, how many hours we sat and contemplated the possibility that our libraries would close, how we cheered ourselves that our measure to form a District with its own tax base might just squeeze by… but I did not really think it would pass. The truth is, I think we worked at it month after month because we just could not accept the thought of a County without libraries, and if we kept on working, we didn’t have to look too hard at the reality of the situation: people have not been underwriting public services for some years now, and weren’t likely to opt for an addition to their property taxes to keep the libraries open with the national economy collapsing around them.

William Blake wrote, “One thought fills immensity.”

“You will wake up some day in another world,” said Professor Mariel, 30 years ago.

On Monday, the eve of election day, I thought Tuesday was going to be in the same world as the day before.


William Blake's Glad Day

Published in: on November 9, 2008 at 12:04 am  Comments (1)  

Tending Toward Fall

You can’t always rely on the calendar to tell you when the season is changing, but when you live in farm country, the signs of summer’s passing are all around. The days are shorter and suddenly morning feeding comes at dawn when the night’s work by full-bellied spiders is strung between every two branches along the path to the paddocks. A face full of web in the morning is a clear indication of the season. The air has a scent of maturity — berries over-ripe in the thickets, apples preparing to drop into the grass, tomato vines shedding that incomparable perfume onto my wrists as I feel in the foliage for fruits. Down the way, the field of pumpkins has been harvested:

These are ready to be shipped out to markets where they'll wait for the artist in a child to recognize the perfect one for her Hallowe'en carving.

And, of course, we see the gathering of shepherds for fall fiber festivals. Last weekend was the Oregon Flock and Fiber Festival in Canby. It’s our biggest northern valley event, chock full of sheep, llamas, goats, and sometimes the odd dromedary or yak. You will see folks of all sizes and ages, vendors, hopeful breeders with their finest animals on display, shepherds visiting over the matter of foot rot or fly strike or worming schedules (no shepherd can resist a discussion of disasters), and the results of 3 days of classes instructing in wool, silk or cotton handwork, weaving, knitting, crochet, fiber blending, spinning, carding, dyework… You name it, if hands can do it and it involves strings, it will be there.

Here is itinerant sheep judge and writer Ian Stewart having a look at an array of Shetland sheep.

Did you ever see a finer row of sheep butts?

Did you ever see a finer row of sheep butts?

As I sat in my vendor’s booth, visiting, selling, and watching the shoppers make their way among the skeins and books and spinning wheels, I had to appreciate the display of fine handwork that passed through the building. Here are handbags,



and sweaters.

Ahem… sweaters:

(Click any of these thumbnails for larger views.)

The fact that the temperatures those three days reached the high F 80’s didn’t seem to discourage any of the display of woolen works. One might have thought fall had settled in and folks were dressed for the season. And in fact, now, the weather has turned toward the autumnal, and we lit a first fire in the woodstove at home. It was a pleasure to come home to the whiff of woodsmoke in the house.

It’s a pleasure, overall, to see the year moving on from summer.

Published in: on October 3, 2008 at 4:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

County Fair!

It’s Fair time again.

(To readers on slow connections, I apologize. This issue is heavy on pictures. I know it’s a pain. Just keep in mind, as you wait, that I am on a dial-up, too, and waited with you.)

This year I was doing duty in the Keep Our Libraries Open campaign booth, so my Fair-seeing time was limited to some short dashes through the grounds. Here is my friend, ally, and Library Director Doris, offering advocacy materials from the booth.

You just have to think you can still live in simpler times when you go to the Fair. It is the opportunity to spend your summer’s earnings on any kind of (what was I thinking) treat,

cotton candy,

fine personalized portraiture,

and authentic historical experiences,

not to mention curly fries, tattoos (fake ones), and thrill rides on the midway.

You can buy anything from elastic shoelaces to a tractor. You can buy a cure for any kind of discomfort,

find free entertainment watching the stage hypnotist,

or the rodeo riders exercising their horses,

or… whatever…

(Sorry, women, I tried to get a nice photo for our side. I followed a guy around for about 5 minutes, wanting a shot of his ass in tight shorts, but he kept being behind something or facing the wrong way, or, worse yet, sitting on it. I finally had to give up and go back to the Library booth.)

In the exhibition hall you see the displays of quilts,

needlework, knitting (the 2 blue-ribbon sweaters in the foreground were entered by our neighbor Jackie),

and tatting, the fine, award winning fleeces,

the displays of photographs,

and the paintings. Always, there are the portraits of horse’s heads.

There is, this year, the Taj Mahal made entirely of match sticks.

In the animal barns are sleeping pigs, impeccably groomed llamas, brushed-up cattle, clipped sheep, bouquets of chickens,

and rabbits dozing in the summer heat, waiting for their opportunity to bite.

At last the weary Fair-goer requires a reward for her efforts. What better than a bit of church?

(What, one wonders, is a Methodist Pie?)

Ah. Yes.

All in all, it’s a journey through a world redolent with the smells of animals and food, loud with the clash of musicians and hawkers, crowded, dusty, garish, and wonderful. Incomparable. Wonderful.

You have to love a fair.

Published in: on August 16, 2008 at 1:25 pm  Comments (2)  

The American Way

As much as I would prefer to spend my days watching the animals, walking the woods, maybe going fishing now and then, there is a town down there in the valley, and we do have to get there now and then. Work, shopping, repairs, the library… all these things and others call us out of our highland hideout. One of the pressures that leads us into town is citizen activism.

It’s almost Independence Day, so today you get my little civics lesson: Government is not just for the big. That mantra from the 1960s and ’70s, “Think globally, act locally,” is still good.

To my surprise, we became more active and, I think, more effective in small ways, when we moved out from town. We always wrote our share of letters to Congress, and we went to Town Hall meetings to meet our Congressman, but something happened to our looking glass when we moved away from the urban clot and into a smaller community. Almost immediately we turned up at a community meeting, and then it was a watershed management meeting, a County Commission meeting, a forest management meeting, a community training meeting… and pretty soon we were on first names with the electeds, with the appointeds, and with the employeds in the County offices. Somehow, then, we got ourselves appointed (and later elected) as Precinct Committee People to the Clackamas County Democratic Party; PCP is the hat worn at the lowest rung of the Party structure. PCPs are the people who run around knocking on doors before elections, or who call you at dinner time and remind you to vote. They’re the people who observe in the polls on election night. They’re the ones who offer voter registration cards at fairs and supermarkets.

It has to be said, I am not much of a joiner of groups. I’m shy of bunches of people, and I don’t really like speaking in public. So for me to decide to offer myself as a PCP was a big indication of what I thought was important. In time, as so often happens when you join something, we found our own little projects to attend to. And, typically, they were not the ones that led us into giant committee meetings.

Clackamas Democrats Live set-upOnce a month the Clackamas Democrats air a live TV broadcast through the local cable access channels. It’s taped at a wonderful little studio facility in Oregon City called Willamette Falls Television (WFTV). It doesn’t get much more local than this. WFTV is available for use by anyone who lives or works in the County. Any of us can go in and create a television program. The equipment is available to us at no charge, and training in its use goes with the loan. The studio comes with staff to help in live broadcasts, or in editing programs to be aired later. It’s the neatest thing. And the show was chronically short of “techies,” people to operate the cameras or to field phone calls or to type names into the character generator.

So, for about the last 2 years, Richard and I meet in town once a month on a Tuesday evening, have dinner, and then go off to the WFTV production studio. Here’s Richard, just before air time last week.

Richard in the studio

That’s the control booth below, with Marv inside. Marv is the director.

WFTV in Oregon City control booth

The program, a sort of no-budget version of the Charlie Rose show, hosts local officials, candidates and activists in interviews about local concerns, programs, issues, choices, and people. Since it’s live, and most of the staff is volunteer, sometimes the show has warts. That goes with the effort. We’re doing the best we can. Here’s me reading the Oregon Party Platform into a microphone with program host Larry Skidmore in the background:

Reading the Party Platform

It turns out there are lots of opportunities for rural, suburban, and urban people to come together for common efforts. We helped build a house for Habitat for Humanity a couple of years ago. We’ve helped clean up river banks with Tualatin Riverkeepers. We’ve picked up the litter along our own piece of road for several years now (in exchange for that we get a road sign with our name on it: Shambles Workshops, which is our marketing name).

I’m comfortable doing behind the scenes things like this. Behind the camera. Behind the hammer and the screwdriver. Behind the trash bags.

But, last year there came a cause I had to stand in front of. Our County needs a service district to fund the public libraries. Because of the recent loss of Federal timber revenue dollars in Oregon, money that had supported the General Funds of rural counties across the United States but is no longer authorized by Congress, services like public libraries are threatened with extinction here. I mean it. Really. Can you imagine a place without public libraries? Our own state legislature couldn’t, and in 1901 enacted the bill that permitted public funding of libraries that were to be “free to the public forever.” They authorized communities to assess up to $.35 per $1,000 of property value to support those libraries. What happened then? The libraries went to the voters for finance levies, looking for that 35 cents per thousand dollars. And for a time, they got it, or enough of it.

Hard Times

But the 21st Century has rolled around and there still is no stable means of funding those libraries. They are still grasping at shrinking General Fund dollars, and still attempting, every few years, to get the voters to pass a levy. It’s a disaster just about now, what with Oregon’s “double-majority” requirement to pass funding levies (+50% of the ballot, and +50% of registered voters voting) and the current mood of voters not to pay for anything, though they might want to continue to use it, and will complain when it’s gone (ever notice how the loudest anti-public-services voices still expect the fire department to show up?). So we, some of us Citizen Activists, are going to make a Library District. We are building the campaign, we’re raising money, we’re meeting after work, and testifying during stolen work hours, phoning and polling and printing, and speaking to groups. Good grief. I am speaking to groups. I’m going to business executives and begging money. I am compiling telephone numbers and email addresses. I’m acting just like someone with a cause.

Because, honest to goodness, I cannot imagine a County without a public lending library.

And that, my friends, is what I mean when I speak of The American Way. If you want to see something happen, you go to work to make it so. You make a phone call. You wear a button. You stand up in front of people and talk to them about it. You “speak your mind, even if your voice shakes,” as Grey Panther Maggie Kuhn said. Because, when it comes down to it, the issue isn’t whether your presentation has warts. It’s live, after all, and it’s life. It’s what we do here.

If you live in Clackamas County, Oregon, please vote for the Library District in November. It’s only $.39/$1,000. That’s less than a nickel more than than the legislature thought was appropriate 107 years ago.Book

Published in: on June 22, 2008 at 5:55 pm  Comments (7)