A Perfect Day

Back to school today, right? Yes, for some. Not for me any more. 

I used to love school when I was a kid, there was something magical in learning about words and numbers, places and histories (hint: school was a solid institution those days). It also made me feel more likeable: in the culture I grew up in, getting an education was the only way you could stand up for yourself against class equality (no, I have not mis-spelled it). And if you were smart enough, parents would be proud(er) of you – so one was pretty much psychologically bullied into getting a degree of sorts. 

Many years and a few degrees later, I started to teach – I quite enjoyed it. It gave me purpose, it felt like I was contributing my knowledge to the betterment of the young. Alas, the young were less and less interested to learn… anything. Last year, I had four students who cheated on technical drawings (!!!) – basically copied them from one another which qualifies as plagiarism, while nearly a whole class of others failed to attend presentations of out-of-town professional guests who I had personally invited. Guess who was guilty in the end for students’ inability to properly perform? That’s right, me!

I fully realized it about two weeks ago. As I was just starting a trip on my own along the Columbia river gorge in Oregon, I hear my phone ding! An email from the coordinator of the program announcing dryly that there are no teaching assignments for me this fall and no winter course in drawing. It was the easiest thing to get mad – yet I looked straight at the Vista House and I forced myself to marvel at its magnificent location on top of a cliff overlooking the entire valley. The automobile enthusiasts in the 1920s had chosen well this spot for a journey halt.

The morning was simply splendid. I went on the top terrace and I slowly glanced from left to right. The picture below doesn’t even begin to describe the landscape, but what can one ask of a cell phone camera? Frankly, I think it did quite admirably at capturing some of the grandeur.

“Lord, help me to enjoy this day and this trip.” I made a mental promise to myself to let nothing spoil the joy. I let my eyes linger on the colours and my lungs get filled with the fresh air. My head was full of negative thoughts, trying to convince me how inept I had always been at making myself pleasing to the bosses, how terrible a teacher I was, what a failure of a mother I am as my children had chosen to spend their day browsing shops in downtown Portland…

“Stop!” I cried aloud. I closed my eyes tight with anger and then I looked up in the faint hope I might be able to release that. It didn’t exactly work instantly. So I looked up in the air at my imaginary (?) enemy and I said with a smile: “you shall not win today.”

With this determination in mind, I drove further into the woods and I stopped at a few of the waterfalls which make the travelers’ delight on the Historic Route 30. Sad as I kinda was, I didn’t expect the magnitude of beauty which gradually engulfed me with every stop I made.

Latourell Falls looked slim and elegant like a lady all dressed up to celebrate:

I found the Bridal Veil hidden behind tall rocks at the end of a descending trail:

Further down the road, Wahkeena Falls does justice to its Native name as the “most beautiful”:

… By now, my negativity had pretty much melted and had been carried away in the waters. From the base of Wahkeena, I decided to take the Perdition trail up to the Fairy Falls. Little did I know it would take me a good hour of rather strenuous climbing. The first half of the climb was on an asphalt trail – how the heck did they pave that and why, it really makes one wonder.

Then the Perdition lived up to its name as it did not seem to end… Not only that, but in due time I entered a strange domain looking much like Tolkien’s Rivendell.

The trail went up and up. There were only a few daring others following me or descending (and those had encouraging words of “just a few more turns and you’ll see it”). Finally, when I had almost lost hope, the Fairy Falls came into full view. Smaller than I had imagined it. But the closer I drew to it, the more fascinating and mysterious it grew to be. It had a symmetry about it which defied laws of merely physical nature. Indeed, later on that evening when I browsed the photos I had taken, I noticed a round face right in the middle of the falls… spooky!

I drank some water from the river.  People looked at me in a strange way. One said: “I wouldn’t do that.” I thought to myself: “too bad, city girl, you don’t know what clear fresh water you’re missing on – but hey, who am I to teach you anything.” I began my descent. My heart was beating fully alive with the overpouring beauty. There are no words to describe the poetry of the moment. ‘Blessed’ is the closest I can find.

The afternoon was leaving way to the evening when I made it to Multnomah. It is the second highest falls in the U.S. and it is truly magnificent.

As I stood on that bridge separating the two parts of the waterfall, I thanked God for my loneliness that day. I thanked Him for walking with me in the conscientious discovery of pure joy. And I was glad beyond all words and worlds that my own will had not let some stupid small-minded folk spoil the magnitude of the discovery which was to come.

I’ll leave you with this for tonight. Do not forget: if you want to find joy, you will. Sometimes it is a mighty fight against your own judgement – but boy, is it worth it!

As for the beginning of school today… well, it feels to me like time for a change.


Leaving behind

North America. The continent with three countries of which only two count – this is the common understanding. Actually, only one country counts, the United States. Canada is an appendix, no matter how much Canadians resist the truth and are offended by it. Let’s not get into the whats and the whys now, suffice it to say they’re not exactly loyal to the queen anymore – just on paper.

As an immigrant, it depends very much when you arrived here, and what were your reasons for leaving in the first place, and where you came from. If you like small places and small corners, please be aware that North America has big roads and big corners. You can easily get lost if you don’t have a vision. Suppose you come with a vision – or you acquire one in the process of integration. You’ve better chances if you stop in the States; in Canada they’re not visionaries. Or maybe they are, here and there, but not quite (those who truly are, end up in the States, yes). And despite their declared tolerance to cultures (again, on paper), indigenous people particularly dislike immigrant visionaries. “Indigenous” doesn’t mean the First Nations tribes – those are too remote, too non-involved, and completely lost in the WASP type of culture which dominates “North America”. In this context, indigenous are all the immigrants who settled here at least one generation before that which tries to integrate itself in turn. That’s one problem.

If you have unresolved business from you come from, North America is not the place for you. Unresolved business can mean properties, aging parents, childhood lovers, you name it. Sooner or later, you either drop that business altogether, or you’ll have to cross the ocean to and fro to solve it, which makes it unnecessarily expensive and tedious – don’t believe those who say we live in the world of affordable fast travel, at some point, it’s about your body growing old and not dealing well with planes and that overseas shit. In North America, people are starting over – or so they say. Some sincerely try. You can’t start over if you didn’t let everything else die first. It’s hard but it’s a must. And then you need a new identity, which is why America, i.e. the States, work. In Canada, multiculturalism is encouraged – that means you don’t have to leave it behind. It’s a means to justify “nice” power as opposed to “corporate” power. Is it any wonder this country doesn’t have a sense of direction? You may not understand your neighbour but you’ll have to be considerate if s/he fights in the middle of the night and doesn’t let you sleep, or leaves garbage around. That’s because your neighbour doesn’t give a damn about politeness and “civilization”. In multiculturalism, some cultures are more equal than others, just like animals in communism. Well, after all it is an “ism”. And it has its price. That’s another problem.

It’s also a matter of money and social status, of course. Wherever in the world you are, if you’re on the top of the power ladder, you’ll be the one making all the rules. That’s because it’s always been like that and, more importantly, because God is dead – have you heard? Not much since, about a hundred years. Still, it makes some difference. So if you’re on top, why would you leave, right? Right. It’s the paupers who immigrate. ┬áBut then again, there are paupers and paupers. The very interesting ones are those who would do anything to get to the top – the likes of middle-class gentlemen from England or Holland who amassed fortunes in the New World, or shrewd Eastern Europeans who’d lived through communism and are the best supporters of lefties in North America. Why? It’s called trauma. They think it’ll heal once finances are in order. It’s OK to get “other people’s money” and give it to the poor, as long as it’s not their shirt they need to give – or what’s in their pockets.

And then there’s love – that reoccurring funny theme of life. You accompany someone who wanted to leave, you stay, you try to make it work and reconcile shit. It’s a process, they say. What doesn’t kill you, makes you “stronger” – that’s another way to say “numb to shit”, ’cause you guessed, you can’t really reconcile it. And you find joy in the gratitude for those things which did work, for your un-celebrated successes, for those small corners you managed to sweep clean, for every breadth you take and every move you make, even if they watch you. Do not be fooled, there’s still someone around the corner, the devil is still alive and kicking. The very , very good news is that God is too. Trust me on that.


(Photo by author, Istanbul, October 1997)