Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Lake Superior is calling, and I’m anxious for the cold.

I’m working my way through The Best American Travel Writing of 2005, and this morning, I came to an essay by William Least Heat-Moon. “By the Big Sea Water” is a wonderful account of his first time seeing Lake Superior while in the North Woods of Minnesota. On a trip away from their Kansas City home, he and his father stop for some smoked fish in a questionably constructed shack on the water, a meal that has him craving a repeat for years.

At first I was enjoying the essay merely because it was about that great Great Lake of ours. But then he broke my heart a little, as the essay ends with a nostalgic longing that can’t ever be alleviated.  As an adult, he returns to the area and attempts to recreate his experience, but as we all know, most memories full of that degree of magic and wonder can never be reconstructed. Even when he tracks down the fish of his past, he learns it was only a small part of the experience he sought.

Obviously this made me think about my time in Marquette, about how there may be a day when we are able to return, and how it might not present the same magic I remember. The time and place and people that make our Marquette are so intertwined that it would be impossible to recreate those memories. Even if that is so, even if we can’t ever go back, isn’t that why essays like Heat-Moon’s exist?  Because even if it was only on paper, he found his way back. 

And he does say some wonderfully accurate things about the lake:

With a topographical abruptness hardly typical of the state, the road seemed to fall away as it rolled down a cliff; ahead was a distant horizon, not of dark trees but of a pencil line linking two radiant shades of blue. It was impossible to discern which reflected the other. There I had my first glimpse ever of a body of water showing no opposite shore.

The blueness, its depths, the wind having it all, bespoke remoteness and cold even in midsummer.  I couldn’t then have articulated it, but I felt I was on the brink of a wilderness, and intimidating mysteriousness.

That is what Lake Superior does to people, hypnotizes them with its size, its attitude, its cold. And who would change it? What’s better on a gray October afternoon than an angry lake, hurling water over the roadside rocks and throwing a cold mist into your face?  Warm, small pools of water don’t offer the same intensity, and they don’t make you feel as insignificant, as grateful, as alive. 

            “That day, Lake Superior wrote itself into me.”


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Bike Ride

 Yesterday Joe and I decided to check out one of the nearby bike trails and picked the one that begins in town. Even though Joe thought the trail was just going to be a marked route on all the main roads, I showed him the map, where the dotted line for the bike route was at least half of an inch to the left of the line for the road, and insisted there had to be a bike path next to the road.

Soon into our trip it was obvious Joe was right. I don't think you should call something a "trail" when it is just miles of biking in traffic. Once we got out of town though, and the roads became less busy, we saw some nice views of the Spokane River.

I'll leave out the part about being beaten by a very large hill. Joe made his way up it pretty quickly though! Here's what we saw:

Monday, August 29, 2011

Bike Rides in Limbo

This morning I took the Cream Dream for its first Spokane ride. I went to the post office and my bank, which are both right downtown. The streets weren't very busy--maybe nine a.m. on a Monday morning is calmer than other times?--and a couple of the main streets even have bike lanes!

The only issue is that the traffic lights are timed in such a way that I end up stopping at every street. Maybe I just need to become a faster biker. After finding the post office, which reminds me of a larger version of Marquette's, I rode around looking into the windows of restaurants and coffee shops. Even if we can't afford to go out to eat now, it's nice to plan where our first meal might take place. 

Spokane is starting to look a little better, but I miss everyone. Right now, with no local friends, or internet, or furniture, it feels like we aren't really living here. It feels like we are going to pick up and leave at any time. Nothing is on our walls or covering our windows, and nothing will be for at least another month. But on the bright side, I've been doing a lot of reading.

One Elizabeth Bishop poem really made me smile yesterday. When I finally post pictures of our apartment, you'll see that, outside our front window, is a tree, whose deep purple leaves shimmer like a glass of Merlot in the evening. Reading Bishop's poem made me think of my tree:

Oh, tree outside my window, we are kin,
For you ask nothing of a friend but this:
To lean against the window and peer in
And watch me move about! Sufficient bliss

For me, who stand behind its framework stout,
Full of my tiny tragedies and grotesque grieves,
To lean against the window and peer out,
Admiring infinites’mal leaves.

Later today Joe and I are going to go for a bike ride. Maybe we'll make some more tree friends.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Sweltering in Spokane

No one here seems to notice that it's 92 degrees. But for now, in the air-conditioned coffee shop, life is pretty good. Classes are over for the week, the outside of our apartment building is being painted, we can finally close our bathroom door all the way, and I just took a nap (I woke up earlier than necessary to make sure I got to my morning class on time).

All three of my classes seem like they will be a lot of fun. The students all seem so friendly, energetic, and just plain cool. And, the drive there, about 30-45 minutes, isn't as bad as I expected. Today I got a good morning laugh in when this thing passed me on the road:

Can you believe something like this can go fast enough to pass me driving 70 mph, or that whoever was behind the wheel would feel comfortable driving it that fast? I had to show my students when I got to class. I just looked it up; it's called a Tango. These cars are 41 inches wide, can go up to 150 miles per hour, and cost something like $108,000!  And where are they made? Spokane.

Anyway, we are still without internet or TV or furniture and may be for a while, but we are good at taking turns with the blue chair! Plus we are good at improvising. Here is us eating dinner in style:

We knew that framed map was worth bringing!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Still Adjusting

I was feeling pretty good about myself Monday night, having found my way home from Couer d’Alene without using Onstar for directions. And, even though it was my first time driving our new, massive truck, I somehow managed the perfect parallel park in front of our apartment. Now, I don’t mean perfect in the sense that I eventually, after a series of reverses and repositioning, got the vehicle in the parking spot. I mean this parallel park job was so flawless that it could be used for driver’s training videos.

But yesterday it all evened out when I did something I’ve only ever had nightmares about. Yesterday afternoon I drove to campus for the first day of two of three English composition courses I’m teaching at North Idaho College. I brought my lunch to eat during the hour I had between the two classes, and after the first class, I called Joe while eating my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. After chatting for a bit, he asked when I had my next class.
            “Oh not ‘til four.”
            “Why? What time is it?”
I don’t know where I got the idea that there was an hour between my classes, but there is not. Luckily my classroom was just down the hall, so I was only a couple minutes late. Maybe now I can stop having nightmares about it.  

Other than that, it was a good first day. All the students seem really nice, and the classrooms are wonderful—big windows, dry-erase boards, and all sorts of fun technology. One of my classrooms even has small round tables instead of rows or desks. Oh, and the windows even opened! The only downside is that I don't have my own desk, so I'll have to carry everything home with me each day.

When I got home after classes, Joe and I went for a walk downtown. There are some neat areas in town, but I’m still waiting for Spokane to grow on me. It just seems like something is always happening...and not in a good way. Two nights ago, I was at home typing up my syllabus while Joe cooked dinner, when I heard a shouting outside. I couldn’t see where it was coming from, but it sounded like a large group of people. Soon after, we heard sirens, and a little later, a police car was blocking off the road next to our apartment. Since we don’t have internet or TV at the moment, we had to wait until I drove to campus on Monday to look up what happened.  It turns out a big house a block behind us set fire.

And tonight, as we were walking through the park right downtown, we heard some shouting. A group of people were standing around pushing each other and yelling things like “get off her!,” “mind your own business,” and other things I can’t remember. We couldn’t see what was happening, and didn’t have our phones to call anyone, but eventually the police came. It was just odd for that to be happening in the same place where tourists were taking pictures of themselves on a bridge, a younger man was reading by the river, and a couple was feeding the ducks on the bank. One group of people with a stroller walked right by this commotion without seeming to notice. 

A couple minutes later, we found this mug next to a statue:

Unfortunately we don't have any mugs we can give away at the moment, so we left it for the next person. 
My point here is that it's new for me to live in a place where the disturbing and charming happens almost simultaneously. I've been in the upper peninsula bubble for the last four years, where the worst thing that happened was that my bike was stolen...and even then, the thief returned it a few days later. 

Nevertheless, maybe these pictures I took will cast the city in a better light than my words have. 

Leaving our little neighborhood and heading into town.

Can't remember what a lot of these buildings are.

In case anyone was wondering what Spokane's fire hydrants look like.

I love this building because it reminds me of one in Marquette that they lower the ball from on New Years!

A little room/entrance thing on a bridge.

The Falls

My hand is in the way because I was trying to shade the camera from the sun.

More of the river.

On the way to the park.

Our view as we were listening to the group of people yelling at some man.

Joe says he looks funny in this picture because just as I took it, a man walked by who seemed to be very enthusiastic about the ice cream cone he was eating.

This man on the street asked me to take a picture of his harmonica and speaker and put it online. Done! You can't read it very well, but his name is on the harmonica.

He also guilted Joe into writing something on the sidewalk.

Joe and I have decided we're going to live in this building instead. 

More street views....

Oh, I almost forgot to mention the parking ticket got this morning in front of our apartment. There were no signs or pavement/curb markings warning us, but apparently we were in a no parking area.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Moving Day

 I've only got ten minutes before the coffee shop closes (we don't have internet). Last night I scrubbed  cupboards, walls, drawers, etc. and things are starting to feel a little less contaminated.

Today we cleaned and unpacked quite a bit, but the place still needs some furniture and decoration before it doesn't feel depressing. Joe just rode his bike into town to check out his downtown campus and I'm going to finish typing up my syllabus. Here are some random pictures I took yesterday:

Spokane as we were driving in for our first night in our apartment.

This has no significance. I just liked it.

The sign for the area of town we live in: "Browne's Addition."
Joe surveys the mess.

The landlord stopped by and seemed a little disturbed by all the deer heads.
Tired! Our chair that Joe and I timeshare at the moment. But hey, I get paid at the end of September, so we'll buy furniture then!

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Today we moved into the apartment and will go back there tonight to clean and unpack. My least favorite part about new apartments is that I always feel the need to clean every inch of it before I feel comfortable in it. Tomorrow we will unpack more and I'll finish typing up my syllabus. We also still need to find some furniture.

Yesterday, after we took care of some errands, we visited Turnbull, a wildlife preserve outside of town. It's a neat area, and even though not much of the wildlife is out and about in the afternoon, it was still a pretty visit:

We made some new friends.

Saw some weird twisty trees.

Looked at a lot of moss-covered branches.

We got to this lake and realized we had lost Cedric!

But we found him! He's still a little shaken up.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

New Job

Now that the whining about apartment hunting has been taken care of, I can say that the interview today at North Idaho College went well. At first they said I would probably get at least one class, and I just got an email saying they have three classes for me to teach! And the best part is that they managed to give me a three day a week schedule instead of five. One crazy detail is that classes start on Monday. 

Also, Coeur d'Alene is an amazing area. The campus ends at a lake! For a while before my interview this morning--as we were at this really neat, open coffee shop with huge windows where everyone seemed really happy and kind--we thought, hey let's live in Coeur d'Alene! Then we realized that it wouldn't make sense since Joe would have to drive an hour to one campus at least four days a week. Plus it's supposed to be quite expensive. But for about ten minutes we were really excited about the idea.

But now that we found a decent place to live and we know we'll be able to pay for it, I think Spokane might start looking a little better. I felt like this when we first moved to Marquette too--lost, disgusted, unhappy. But I think these feelings only come from not knowing a place yet. Also, I've never lived in a big city before, have never had to worry about bad parts of town.

So, if our credit/background checks work out tomorrow, we may be able to move in as early as tomorrow evening or Saturday. This is good because we only have the Uhaul until Sunday morning, and it would be great if we could just unload once. The area of Spokane where our apartment is located is called Browne's Addition. It's a historic area with a lot of neat old houses and brownstone buildings. It's said to be a happening area where a lot of graduate students live. I'm mostly excited about our apartment's really large windows (and the windowsills where we will have to put all sorts of plants).

We were looking forward to sleeping in tomorrow. But the neighbors are having a garage sale and say they are putting out a loveseat that's in good condition, so we may have to wake up early to check it out.

Apartment-Search Marathon

Yesterday I avoided writing partially because I was so tired from our day-long apartment search and partially because I knew I would say some mean things about Spokane that I would probably want to take back later on.

I will say this: if you're looking for a way to really hate a city, move there with no place to live and try to find a cheap but clean/safe apartment in two days. Call 54 places and look at any apartment you can. Slink through musty hallways, squeeze into tiny bathrooms, don't mind the unclothed child on the stairway. Talk to the landlord with the gold tooth who is so drugged up that she has to sit down while she talks to you. Climb up to studios at the top of crumbling buildings. Wonder what the cat is doing in the empty apartment. Wonder how bad the raccoon problem really is. Wonder what's going to come next when the landlord says "Just so you know..." Look into the windows of one apartment because the landlord didn't remember the keys. Stumble into side hallways that smell of smoke, and step aside for the dude in dreadlocks that reaks of incense and is carrying his chihuahua to the curb. Ask the two kids smoking a joint on their roof how much rent is. Then ask the guy loading his couch into a truck if you can look around. When locals tell you not to go lower than tenth street, consider eighth--how big of a difference could it be?

Also, and this is something you'll want to remember forever, check out the place where the kitchen is so small, you can't completely open the fridge door. Avoid getting too much sleep, and wake up at 6:30 a.m. for a job interview on day two of the apartment search.

Finally, don't shower. Don't bring extra water. Don't nourish yourself in any way. In fact, instead of stopping for lunch, press on and split a piece of beef jerky that you've had roasting in the glovebox since North Dakota. This is the way to success.

By the way, we turned in an application today but can't remember what street it's on. We'll find it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Day Three

We made it! After sleeping a little and eating breakfast, we left Billings and drove to Missoula to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho to Spokane. It was dark when we drove through the city, so we are looking forward to seeing it tomorrow.

Montana and Idaho were beautiful, and we look forward to exploring what's over there when we aren't pulling a U-Haul.

Tomorrow we start the apartment search (and hopefully end it on the same day). But first, we might just sleep in! Here are some pictures, which are looking pretty sloppy since it was difficult to keep the windshield clean for more than five minutes.

Excited to drive through the mountains in the distance.


These huge rocks looked like someone had stacked them up and left them there.

The view from those tracks must be amazing.

Butte, Montana

Can''t get enough of the barns!

Coeur d'Alene, Idaho--where I have a job interview on Thursday.

Our new home! I couldn't get a good picture on the highway in the dark. Tomorrow!
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