The Class of 1966 – Musings Now From Distant Years

In August of this year, my high school graduating class reluctantly faces it’s 50th Reunion. I’ll qualify “reluctant” by saying not all are hoping it never happens. Far from it. We have some humorous people among us who relish the wonders of rediscovering our inner beauty with new faces and fresh new approaches. The fact is so many of us would not miss it for the world. In many of our cases, the new medium of Social Media – be it Facebook, Twitter or simply the internet in general – have allowed quite a few of us to actually get to know each other yet again, in an entirely new light complete with children and grandchildren, passions, and many of our diverse interests shared publicly. We have consistently been impressed with the creative energy of our peers as well as the richness of their family lives. We have also shared emotions.

At the same time, we lament the losses of friends who meant so much to us. It is a function of age that we encounter mortality on a recurring – if no less disappointing – basis. We all know the stab of pain we feel when yet another of us shuffles into the next world. We honor them with stories and memories from our past and prove and extend their immortality as we ruefully smile at the shared silliness and excesses back when we were helplessly thoughtless and probably at our most appealing. They still enrich us.

Susan Coffey, with the undoubted help of the indefatigable Sharon Hagerman, Larry Masters, Nancy Russell and suspicious other characters as yet unknown to me have decided I could contribute this piece as something worth entering in the silent auction which was such a resounding success in our other reunions. I confess I am intimidated as hell by the threat of producing work for this crowd whom I expect is anxiously awaiting my failure but not in a nasty way, ironically. Ha ha, anyway, it is my own private tension. Perhaps most readers of this are wondering at my doing something like this. I assume it is likely unexpected to many who have not followed me in recent years. Face it, I was a highly Non Intellectual high school quasi-student, know more for sports, laughs and flirting than scholarship and the cultivation of memory. That is an unfortunately proud legacy, in fact, a childishness which has stuck like glue to me and which I secretly hope never to leave behind.

Having said that, I certainly look at this project as something fairly serious and I absolutely relish the challenge.

Lord love a duck, we have all been through some incredible times.

Thus armed with qualifiers, I’m going to begin with a statement which comes from that era and which I feel has always more or less defined our group as placed inside the world’s “Whole Shebang”:

September of 1963 was one hot deal. My earliest memory was pre-admission ….I remember myself practicing football in weather that would shame Las Vegas. It stayed in the high 90’s with unendurable humidity during our 2 practices a day in August as classmates Steve Bare, Danny Howes, Roy Kennedy, Tom Higdon, Wayne Catron, Sam Tandy, Bill Smith, Larry Adkins, Sam Estes, Larry Moorman and others I probably should recall all lined up for Coach Ralph Genito’s uncompromising torture chamber. A group of 60 plus eventually made its way downward to just 31 players in a reprise of the Bear Bryant “Junction Boys” film. That Genito played for Bryant was readily – and painfully – obvious.

What eventually transpired was a very successful season, which led to even better seasons by the time this group graduated. This brutal introduction made for a supremely tough bunch of lads. I believe the eventual total record during our time at Senior High was along the lines of 34-6, if memory serves. Each season also saw OHS ranked at Number 1 in the state at various intervals.

When school commenced, we had already been there, is what I am saying. Of course, so had the marching band members, among many others in the various clubs and organizations which reached out to incoming sophomores.

I so remember my initial sense of finally walking the halls at Senior High at what seemed a vast, unending stream of friends and total strangers passing hurriedly by from class to class in an incredible maze of personality, style and vocal tone.  My own experience very much included choosing faces of strangers as symbols of my own strangeness – every single day I literally and silently recorded new faces for my entire high school sojourn. Every trip down a hallway represented an experience of seeing people for the first time.

As freshmen at Eastern, Southern, Foust and Western Junior High Schools, each and every one of us had looked forward to finally “getting there” to the Big O – Senior High. It was a virtual and shared Rite Of Passage. In many ways, we all felt the same nervous energy and curiosity. The sight of our friends provided us a comfort zone which we regularly relied on in our strangeness. There was no Hubris to be found. We arrived as the “tourists” in a gaping maw of high school energy, the smallest and perceived youngest of them all. As Captain Beefheart so eloquently put it in his song “Ashtray heart”:

“It was a case of the punks! Right from the start!”

Honestly, how were we to know that what we entered then would set us up so incredibly well for our futures during the upcoming turmoil and amazing churn which was and always is American history? The lessons experienced in Crystal Edds’ or Louise Brodie’s English classes had ramifications over which I have long wondered at their persistence. The Math classes of Mr. Puckett’s resonated hugely for Jim Nation, Jim Gilmore, Denise Hilliard, Susan Parish, George Dejarnatt, Jimmy Walker as they patiently picked their ways through intellectual puzzles which led to eventually terrific and successful careers as achievers, Moms and Dads. Speech and debate classes so overlooked by so many led to some eventually marvelous political awareness on the parts of so many who embraced them then. We had a virtually world class chorus. The Rose Curtain Players presented near-professional dramas.

The intellectual growth fed to our class by such a competent teaching crew has led to many accomplishments by high-end intellectuals, but it may have formed an even more important lesson plan for the less renowned among us. In the end, it is my belief that a good education supplies more than simple job qualifications. I honestly believe we were taught that absolutely anything is possible. The promises of a bright shiny future, which are the staple of Valedictorian and High School Principle’s speeches upon graduation led us to understand the subtle relationship of idealism and personal success. When they kicked us out into the world, 3 years after we entered, we joined the speedy maw of history, some in ways far more direct and immediate than others.

We eventually lost friends in Viet Nam, that great vacuum of turbulent idealism and counter idealism which sucked us up and tossed us around like dice in a cup in Las Vegas at unfortunately tender, barely mature ages. As a result, for some of us, our collisions with reality contained the absolute and most horrific “worst of Mankind” – War – death and destruction on a scale which was so incredibly hard to fathom. It killed James Conkwright, a person I am still delighted I was enabled to spend time with, (even if Tommy Jones and I once cheated him out of $8 in a poker game, a shame we both still talk about in a wry admission that we both miss him to this very day). The Viet Nam veterans in this class were numerous, a list I am afraid I cannot render. But, know that within 4 years of our matriculation at Senior High, we had men falling physically to wounding and death during a controversial war which sucked up numbers of young men like an out of control industrial vacuum. Nor does this begin to cover the psychological and spiritual wounds which many of us carry to this day.

We moved along, graduating from colleges, many of us already reading the future and just plain going to work, some of us even before graduation. We began the hard work of being citizens and many of us moved directly to the equally hard and rewarding work of being Moms and Dads. We mowed our own lawns. We had some beer. We flirted and searched for acceptable mates. We got married and bought homes.

Some of us traveled, unready to settle down entirely while so much mystery remained to be studied and seen. These were the restless ones, people sort of like myself, actually, to whom I always feel obliged to seek out to discover what they found themselves. Their captivating stories of their adventures in France, Tokyo, Saudi Arabia, or merely their fascinating inner journeys to psychological continents and planets of which we know little we let  speak of in poetry and art. Or they inform us in words we learn to value, in dimensions of time and space we had not seen before this. I am unaware of anyone who became a preacher or Priest, but I am willing to bet top dollar that we produced some.

It is my belief that the rudiments of our educations alone put us in an excellent vehicle to make whatever journeys we all embarked on. At the time of our experience, Owensboro High School was exceedingly proud of what their students were accomplishing. And, make no mistake, this piggy-backed on top of what had already been accomplished by others who went before us and resulted from the successful educators who led us to these moments. It was obvious to us all that a high quality of student and eventual citizen was not some weird anomaly from our school. We were – in the last analysis –  an extremely fortunate group.

We discussed values and often economics in our school. We were forced to study our histories in those classes we were so hilariously reluctant to attend. We studied higher mathematics, from Plane and Solid Geometry to Trigonometry to Calculus. We had Physics and Geography classes, Government, Chemistry. We were required to write out in long hand form and, of course, in some cases typed form, entire thematic choices for our Senior English subjects. We were made to pay attention whether we liked it or not. To this day, I respect the manner in which we were taught. It was a tough love in so many ways, added to which were the expectations of our instructors which were etched in rock. Those expectations as much as anything else were the engine which drove the bus.

It was a good, high quality education. We had an education which, in the very highest sense, kept our curiosity alive. This was the essential gift of our lives. Curiosity knows no age. It is as timeless as the memory of our first kiss.

Real Life

And we moved along with the river of Time itself. Our children matured, politics raged as some of the vital material of good citizenry. Controversy abounded as the best of us relied on the give and take of dialogue to try and reach clearly imperfect decisions. We oversaw so many social changes it frankly boggle the mind. The racial and gender-specific changes which occurred since our graduation, while bumpy as hell, have produced a far more egalitarian society.

We have watched the incredible birth and development of technology and the Internet. The global nature of life has become immediate. I regularly communicate with Israeli’s on a near daily basis. Got a question? Just ask. In 5 minutes now, we know the answer from another perspective, even if it comes from Mexico, Australia, Iraq or Israel.

Our careers have been recorded and, for most of us, they are also finished. The achievements here are frankly as off the charts excellent as would be the case almost anywhere. A recitation of special accomplishments by the members of our Calls of 1966 could occupy our time for literal days and weeks.

Make no mistake – successful families are duly noted here. Indeed, nothing is more important.

The shame in my recollections is in the sparse reward I can offer such an immensely successful, still smiling and popular group. Nor are these successes surprising. We expected no less and so did those who taught us. Now we are somewhere else, altogether, aren’t we?

Things got real. And then it got really, really real. The 50th Class Reunion. I mean, how real is that?

We now find ourselves collectively approaching our 70th birthdays. This 50th Reunion surprises us – well, at least me, anyway. We seem to have arrived here on some amazing Express train – maybe on of those Japanese or Euro models that travel up to 300 MPH. As we collect ourselves and dust off the accumulated dust from our most recent 50 year experience, we pause as we consult the world as we now know it. Amidst the love and caring we receive upon this reunion – as we bestow the gratitude of decades to one another and to those others so intimately and objectively responsible for our journey’s fate, our wisdom comes to the fore as the gift given to those who age with the curiosity planted by teachers whose greatest accomplishments are a restless mind.

Carl Jung has an interesting take on this era we now share together. His quote:

“The afternoon of life is just as full of meaning as the morning; only, its meaning and purpose are different.  A human being would certainly not grow to be 70 or 80 years old if this longevity had no meaning for the species to which he belongs. The afternoon of human life must also have a significance of its own and cannot be merely a pitiful appendage to life’s morning. I believe the approximate time between ages 56 and 83 offer each of us the opportunity to make the process of aging a positive and life-enhancing experience. Regardless of whether we find ourselves only approaching that “afternoon” of life, or deep within it, we need to learn and stay conscious about what we can do to live an ongoing life of quality and purpose.

Jung implores the aging personality to discover himself “while sweating the small stuff less”.  I believe we all understand the glimmers of wisdom in these remarks, even as we live in an age which too often is prone to devalue the elderly. I believe the combined wisdom derived from the experiences of one widely-informed, OHS-educated person such as every single man jack one of us offers a window into eternity all on its own. So many connections are made when we find ourselves dropping the pretensions of competing with younger people. For most of us, that sort of work is already done.

Our actualization is beginning, not finishing. We are far more able to tie together strains which avoided our intellects owing to a lack of interest or because of competing impulses and needs based on the stages of life which delivered us here. I feel this reunion takes place at a juncture for many of us which faces us with choices we never appreciated until now. We can now remember our private nightly dreams, for example. We are better able to verbalize our thoughts, worked out in precious solitude which is a right of our maturity. Our imaginations should be getting a boost and our recognition that so little changes in spite of the strident claims of media outlets so dependent on fear to sell themselves as somehow necessary.

Our paths are not finished, is what I believe. In fact, we face a richness of experience which only concentrated truth, memory and love can give. I am extremely proud to be able to offer my own experiences as an equal member of our OHS Class of 1966 tribe in relishing our experience together from not only the past, but also into a very colorful, disciplined and delightful future.

The Nature Of Genius – Werner Herzog & Ernst Reijseger

Once again I have opened up the archival Vault of Uselessness in this blog to give another look at some of the things I like most. As is the case in any blog, the selfish interest of the author is thematic – and, in this case, plain fun. I watched this movie again the other night just for giggles and it amazed me for a second time. The carcasses of ancient animals which had become glazed with stalagmite juice, basically “Quartzified” into stone, reminded again me of the sheer scope of this discovery.

Human art dating from over 20,000 – 30,000 years ago and just as subtle and beautiful as if it been accomplished by talented modern hands, displayed gallery-like on the walls of ancient caves, is only one of the fascinating wonders which Werner Herzog takes us through. His mix of music throughout the film is another glory of novelty. The best browsing of this post would be to begin the music video below and then read the text. Try that.

Reading Henry Miller some years ago, I never forgot his delighted discovery and his fascination with the term “Chthonic” – as if it had appeared to him as a magical key to describing ineffable events. This film and even its sounds are completely “Chthonic” and of a piece. It reminds me of nothing – they both stand on their own.

chthon·ic
ˈTHänik/
adjective
  1. concerning, belonging to, or inhabiting the underworld.
    “a chthonic deity”

To the archives, then……….(pictures enlarge by clicking).

For further investigation, here is the delightful Wiki entry for these incredible caves:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chauvet_Cave

OK, this is a stretch for a simple landscaping blog. Just know this: I know that and let me say my piece. 😉  It’s never stopped me before, has it? This one deals with the Earth, having said that, and that’s my own area. Dirt rocks and so do rocks.

I recently went to the movies, chucked on my 3D glasses and watched one of the most stunning movie events I have ever seen. The film is called “The Cave Of Forgotten Dreams” and I cannot possibly recommend it high enough. It was directed by Werner Herzog and deals with an inside look at the astonishing Cave of Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc, where artists as long ago as 32,000 years plied their art of cave-paintings, using the walls of this gorgeous, previously-hidden cave as their canvas and using the folds and 3 dimensional aspect of the terrain itself to provide depth, apparent motion and breathtaking artistic ability.

chauvet_rhinos

The extremely cautious French Government goes overboard in scrupulous preservation paranoia, and the film mentions this. Protecting the inside treasure is testified to when references to them shutting the cave off to visitors for a few months was felt necessary owing to “The breath of visitors is causing a mold to adhere to the walls.” This is a look inside – a rare moment in time and one which may or may not ever be replicated.

The cave simply reveals life at that time in a manner which nothing else possibly could. The genius is inside the art itself, of course, but the creative genius of Werner Herzog amplifies it, juxtaposing all this with modern perceptions of an era, seen from the best anthropological, psychological and paleantological minds of our generation.

cavepainting2

Borrowing this piece of breathless excitement emitted by  a movie review in the New York Times:

“The cave was discovered in December 1994 by three French cavers, Jean-Marie Chauvet, Éliette Brunel Deschamps and Christian Hillaire. Following an air current coming from the cliff, they dug and crawled their way into the cave, which had been sealed tight for some 20,000 years. After finally making their way to an enormous chamber, Ms. Deschamps held up her lamp and, seeing an image of a mammoth, cried out, “They were here,” a glorious moment of discovery that closed the distance between our lost human past and our present.”

How cool is that?

a172_Chauvet5

The movie possesses so much depth and range of emotion and the hidden tension of discovery, that it nearly stands alone as an experience of brotherliness linking ourselves with our incredibly ancient past. I have to suspect this is an instant classic, no matter how uneven it might seem at its start. The punch is delivered as we advance, revealing all the incredible wonders this cave has to offer. Bear skulls, complete vertebrae of gigantic land animals, pictures of the rhinos, the Ibex, horses, lions, bison adorn these walls in graduated impact as the camera gets released later to fully explore.

Anyway – I guess you can tell I enjoyed the film!  😉

And here is where we return to the premise of this post. That Herzog has created a masterpiece I have little doubt. When you feel literally blessed and extremely fortunate to view a film, then these emotions tell us something very important: either we are nuts, or else this guy put together a magnificent piece of pure genius. I naturally choose the latter. As I said, the uneven beginning to the film requires a bit of patience. There is information coming in rather placid and somewhat pedantic ways, although there are indeed gorgeous pictures of the paintings and the access to them at the same time. The geological wonders alone are fantastic and impossible. Calcite galore, stalactites and stalagmites adorn the view – some literally impacting the paintings as well as such things as footprints of a bear as well as that of a child. The protective measures taken by the French is also droned on about at length – but – and here’s the thing:

It all makes sense and comes together incredibly effectively as we witness what a treasure this is. The drama of this discovery is served well by Herzog and the ineffable music streaming from the cello of the master cellist, Ernst Reijseger, which takes on an increasing urgency and even pathos as we discover this enormously ancient past of all of ours. The musical work of Reijseger is of a quality I have rarely seen before – it is clearly evocative and it seems utterly spontaneous as it impacts us concurrently with the images we behold and the verbalized statements from the long list of exceptional people. It courses through the film in a sensuous, even mysteriously sinewy way – somehow absolutely perfectly emotive and even responsible as we peer into who we once were. It is somehow totally fitting that we should answer the very height of their art with some of our own.

There is humanity here and a respect for our past. I mean a deep respect for our past. Oddities galore – it appears Neanderthal man was around as well as our own Homo Sapiens species evolved in the same neighborhood. Entire skeletons of the animals of the day appear, close up and personal.

I’m including aspect of Herzog and Reijseger’s traveling “Cine-Concert” which is entitled “Requiem For A Dying Planet” which toured to rave reviews globally. The reason I include this apparently non-related and somewhat disjointed piece is merely to illustrate the level of artistic genius this group operates at. Obviously, their goals are as high in terms of the stewardship of our planet – a message it would seem we could use ample measure of. I give you the “Requiem”:

Portland’s Chinese Garden – Part 2

This is an installation perspective on Portland, Oregon’s Chinese Garden which last saw the light of day 8 years ago. I’ve edited and added a few things for this iteration, but the substance remains relatively unchanged.

We pick things up at the “chain design” section, as we prepared to lift and lower the months worth of acquired plants and trees into their positions, some of which were simply gigantic.

So John had the chain designed for our needs – we needed something that could handle the weight without snapping, obviously, while shuttling these massive hand-dug trees with gigantic root balls into their eventual homes. But we also needed something we could uncouple quickly, especially difficult considering the expanse involved: many of the root balls were up to eight feet across! Anyway, this was accomplished well.  It turns out, we had learned, during a first hand tutorial at the surprisingly massive chain factory down the street of the wonders of the famous “Quick Coupler”. I pointed this small element out merely to indicate the unique problems besetting an enterprise like this. Imagine an entire city block and the numbers alone of mature trees needed to complete the look. Imagine as well a stationary crane grabbing these big suckers and then delivering them to the “holes”.  The word is, the crane nearly toppled handling this huge Magnolia for a really far spot.

When we got there and actually commenced the work, it was early in the process. The project was basically a great open massive hole in the ground with pockets of formed concrete piers and foundations for things such as the buildings as well as support structures for bridges and walkways.  Irrigating this mess was intense.  We spent nearly a week just coring holes through all the foundations walls with a diamond drill to poke pipe through and deliver water throughout the entirety. Fortunately, the service was to be completely drip irrigation so the pipes required tended to be in the 2 inch range. We complete a complete enclosed circle, which was always the goal, and then fed off that to supply the valves and the nearly above ground piping. I hasten to add, we also had the unenviable and often nearly fruitless task of running the electrical wiring for these remote vales to tie into a central control clock. Why “nearly fruitless”?  Because of the insane amount of construction yet to perform before the soil we supplied and introduced could supply the padding and insulation fro construction wear and tear. Those nasty things like boots of the workers, shovels and machinery is why, any of which could expose the copper wire by cutting through the plastic sheath and render it useless and an absolute bear to locate and fix – a common lament in irrigation circles.  Indeed, it turned out we did lose a couple of wires by having them cut somewhere.

The most fascinating part of the project for me was when the Chinese workers showed up. There was supposedly 150 involved, but I think that included a substantial corps of engineers and architects as well. The workers were fun and very easy to get along with.  The fact that I smoked cigarettes turned me into a popular figure, lol. I swear, I believe they all smoked. Very James Bondish of them!  But they were all easy to get along with, talented as heck, focused and extremely hard-working.  It was a pure pleasure working next to them.

So many elements of this Garden were brought from China, it’s mind-blowing.  Indeed, the bridges themselves were made of granite, hand-crafted back in China, many by the same guys who installed them here. Needless to say, the awesome rocks featured here were all delivered straight from China as well, including those composing the entire water feature and small mountain.

 

 

Portland’s Chinese Garden – Part 1

It’s been a while – 2008 – since I began this series on Portland’s Chinese Garden. In the meantime, as is the case with any garden, much has occurred. A very few plants failed, a few were relocated, some overly ripe stuff was replaced based purely on taste. For a notable period, a leak was found in the water feature part of the garden, chased down and then repaired – a relatively constant plague or at least a danger, for almost any water feature, anywhere.

Generally, however, little has changed overall. Eventually, the huge Weeping Willow will become problematic with its invasive root systems and the softer wood becoming perhaps snow – or ice – laden during some Winter storm and affecting its shape. But all in all, it has matured very gracefully into a focal point destination inside a gorgeous city.

I have revised some of these older posts, tinkering around with pictures and script, but altogether I am very happy with these posts. I hope they give as much pleasure as I got from writing them and from helping construct this masterpiece. This series deals with some of the tales of its emergence out of the city block-wide big hole where it began.

The Portland Chinese Garden was a combined effort between a company from Portland, Oregon’s sister city, the incredible Sou Zhou, and, well basically, the Mayor of Portland. It was at various points a hot political potato with mounting criticisms from all the usual political-type sources (which usually means an opposing party, naturally) in an era of average or worse resources, following the ‘Dot Com” bust which negatively impacted Portland having long since gone “all in” on high tech. However, Portland was even then showing the strength of a reasonably well-planned expansion, complete with very innovative and successful local corporations, such as Intel, Nike and a million smart subsidiary businesses to Microsoft just up the road in Seattle.

We spent an interesting meeting in the Mayor’s office once, proposing an idea that she accepted with joy and hopefulness – naming various trees and baubles for the largest donors. For a price, of course. 😉  Well, it worked. But my favorite interactions were always with the Chinese who also worked hard ion this lovely project. Constant smiles, elaborate bows and exclamations, tons of laughter and the joy of sharing and cooperation made it entirely special to me.

I’m going to recirculate an entire series of Chinese Garden construction factoids and tales from its construction, which I was integral to. It was easily the neatest gig I was ever a part of and I was fairly high up in the work and liaison stream, then working for Teufel’s Nurseries, a $40 million a year business in early 1996.

Enjoy a ride through some of the highlights of this project.

Oh – by the way – Portlanders are inordinately proud of this Garden. It gets heavy traffic 12 months a year.

(You can enlarge each picture by clicking – sometimes twice.)

Set solidly right in the very depths of downtown Portland, Oregon, the Chinese Garden is serene and mind-boggling at the same time. The fact that the locals understand it is basically placed smack in the middle of the Chinese District, it has a congruity in the city itself. Leaving the Garden, you can go shop at stores specializing in Chinese items or eat at any number of bordering restaurants.

But of course, that is not the entire story, and especially as it relates to this blog. That the Garden is a gorgeous feast for the eyes and senses is pretty much a no brainer. I will address that pictorially. How it relates here is my own small involvement with it and it may take a post or two to finish.

At the time, I was living in Portland and working for Teufel’s Landscaping, a very large and successful nursery and landscaping firm who counted their clients among those they have worked for or supplied for over 100 years. Among their clients were the Nike and Microsoft Campuses, golf courses, Intel’s booming Portland base and countless others. In residential landscaping, I have myself worked for some notable people. When the mayor of Portland decided she wanted this Garden in conjunction with Portland’s sister city, they tried and eventually found the approximately $12 million it took to make it work. I salute Vera Katz here and now for her wonderful addition to the city and her bulldog-like tenacity in seeing it come to pass. You da gal, Vera.

Well, Teufel’s got a contract to do a number of things under the project. Once again, my good friend John Stone was instrumental in all this and was my supervisor. John’s rather bizarre mandate was to provide the local landscaping expertise dealing with irrigating the grounds, locating all of the plant materials, installing the soils and planting the plants for a project no one wanted to look “brand new”. Naturally, what this meant was that fully mature plants were to be supplied which matched the specifications and artistic needs supplied by the Chinese portion of the engineering and landscape architect class who basically designed it. It implied some stuff you just couldn’t make up, it was so far fetched. For one example, I accompanied John in an expedition down to a plant who specialized in fabricating chains. Why? Because as we found and excavated the trees, we began seeing some intimidating issues with their weight. The root balls on some of these behemoths were in the tens of tons. We already knew we would be using a 180 ton crane for placement – at the time the largest vehicle made for street travel.