Technology Is a Foreign Language


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I bought a new laptop last week. The woman who assisted in the Seattle store was nearly my age, as rare in an Apple store as in Trader Joe’s. She obviously knew the language or she wouldn’t have been there, but she didn’t flaunt it like the youngsters do. She probably still remembers the foreign language she learned in high school too. Some people just have an affinity. Also she and her four sisters shop at HUBBUB every year, which gave us common ground.

I bought a new laptop last week. Tammy, who assisted me in the Seattle store, was nearly my age, as rare in an Apple Store as in Trader Joe’s. She obviously knew the language or she wouldn’t have been there, but she didn’t flaunt it like the youngsters do. She probably still remembers the foreign language she learned in high school too.

Two days later, I dropped off the newby―still sealed in the box―and my “old” computer at the Tacoma store for data transfer. I have never been able to bring myself to pay someone to clean my house, but I had no trouble paying someone to transfer data, which is probably a lot easier than cleaning house. Kind of like using a roomba to vacuum, I expect: just plug it in, push a button, and let it do its thing; but I wasn’t going to go there. I had xenoglossophobia too. (Yep, there really is a word for fear of foreign languages; and it’s a lot more interesting than “technophobia.”)


My mother’s computer

The pony-tailed guy who helped me was snippy. He was working with a table load of elders and was probably skating rapidly toward the end of his last nerve. Whoever told me the transfer would take 48 hours, he said, should not have. “We always say 72 hours.” (Maybe it takes longer in Tacoma than in Seattle.)

Twenty-four hours later I got a message saying it was ready. Which meant I could pick it up on the way to Seattle to spend a solo overnight with the Littles, rather than on the way home. I signed up for a 90-minute “open studio” workshop to ask a bunch of questions I’ve had for a long time followed by a 60-minute camera class cuz why not as long as I was there.

Emily was a sweet young thing and talked to me like we belonged to the same club, even though she was better at foreign languages. She and I both commiserated with Mary, whom it seemed had lost 1000s of photos because her grandson told her she could remove them from her phone after she put them in the Cloud. (iCloud, I learned from Tammy, is backup, not storage.) Smarty pants millennial, busted! Emily helped her remember, though, that he had moved them to Google Photos! And there they all were. Phew! I felt her pain, and her relief.

In the next workshop, Kyle was like a robot programmed to work with stupid old people without letting them get on his last nerve. Even though every person told him they take a lot of photos, he started at the very beginning and stuck with his automaton script. Maybe it’s a gender thing, rather than an age thing.

In three visits to the Apple Store, I observed that all the people at the workshop tables were late silent generation and early boomers. Gen X and xennials wouldn’t be caught dead, I don’t suppose; and millennials speak technology as a first language.

Enter the Littles, ages four and two (post-millennials) who came from the womb speaking technology. After the moms left, we had movie/pizza night. Elliot was in charge of the movie. They don’t have a TV, but as a special treat, the DVD was cast from the laptop to a stand alone monitor they inherited (E’s mom taught me the word “cast” and how to do it when I got a new generation flatscreen TV and wanted to watch Netflix on it). Elliot knows all about casting and pausing, and at one point decided—having seen the movie before—to skip several scenes and deftly made it happen.

The next morning they got more screen time before breakfast and getting dressed (it was 5:10am), which, Elliot informed could happen on “staying-in” day—i.e. the weekend. I didn’t know the truth of that as their screen time is very limited, but whatever.


Later in the morning, the moms still gone, things started getting a bit out of hand and I let them have screen time again. (I told them it was a special Gigi treat lest they think they could get away with it another day.) Adrian decided he was in charge this time, and opened the kid’s shows they can watch, picked Wild Kratts (my personal favorite), after ejecting the previous night’s DVD from the drive and returning it to its case, plugged in headphones for whatever reason, skipped the introduction, changed his mind and picked a different show, paused it while I changed his diaper. Did I mention he is two?


I’m back at home now trying to figure out how use the Photos program on my new Mac, having decided, finally, to put on my big girl pants and let go of the no-longer-supported iPhoto and whining to myself about it looking different, while grumbling about the changes in my WordPress blog site.

In the new year I AM going to start using Instagram, after I figure out how. And I’m considering hiring someone (whom I know from last spring’s Whidbey writing retreat and who advertises as “non-geeky, friendly help”) to create a better website for me. I also learned from her blog not to switch to the new WordPress until they work out the bugs. I switched back to classic layout. I figured out how to do it myself.

Meanwhile, I’m pretty excited to have this sweet one-and-a-half pound space grey MacBook Air that cost about as much as a hover craft (purchased from the sale of my 20-year-old Honda) and won’t bombard me, at least for a while, with messages that my memory is nearly gone. At least my computer memory.


Flora & Fauna Friday


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Every cold winter day, my mother would ask, “Is there hoar frost?” Of course the first time I had to ask her what it was; but once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it. It is surely one of nature’s most amazing works of art.

There have been several mornings lately that it was probably out there—suspected when a Seattle friend posted photos from the north—but I didn’t want to get dressed and leave my cozy chair to go look. Or maybe the sunrises lately have just been more than enough. Can your heart burst from too much beauty?

Today was no exception, but this afternoon I noted when I drove up the driveway, that my garden in the meadow had escaped the weak sun in the cloudless sky and was still frosty. When I returned from my errands, I went to check it out before embarking on today’s mission to move some wood from the partly cut up downed tree to the woodpile.

And not to slight the fauna, at the woodlot I found more art: woodworm, nature’s carvers.

Happy 75th Anniversary


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Today is the 75th anniversary of my parents’ marriage. They only got 51 of those years together.

They met as co-workers at the Tennessee Valley Authority, where he was a college graduate at his first real job; she was secretary to management. He was a happily displaced Michigander; she grew up in the shadow of the Appalachians, the trails of which became their courting grounds.

They fell in love on the brink of World War II, she refusing through their letters to each other while he was in officer training at New York University to tell him she loved him, even as he poured out his heart to her. He nearly gave up. She never told him why she wouldn’t say the words in the letters she saved for nearly eight decades. But she told me. “I needed to be sure. We had never even spent time alone together. The mail was not a good foundation for a relationship.”

She moved to Spokane, Washington to work a Civil Service job. She hated Spokane. He finished his meteorologist training and moved to an air base in Texas. Thinking he would remain there for the duration, he made a rare phone call to her.

“Do you wanna get married?” he said. “Yes,” she said.

Two weeks later they were joined for life at the biggest church in Dallas, the only venue he could book on short notice, with his friend and her sister the only attendees.

Six weeks after that he got his orders and spent the next three years in Europe.

When he returned, after a brief re-employment with TVA, they moved to Washington.

The rest, as they say, is history.

After 23 years apart following his death in 1995, I want to believe they are celebrating this anniversary together again.

Happy Day, Mommy and Daddy. I miss you.

Notes from Three of Earth Farm: Stopping by the Woods


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I’ve been thinking for some time it’s been too long since I saw my neighbor and one of these days I needed to go knock on his door with muffins or homemade soup. At 91, he has had some heart health issues this fall. I’ve been concerned, I check in with his daughter now and then, but I’ve not rung his doorbell for a while. You know how it is, best intentions.

I’ve been thinking for some time it’s been too long since I walked in the woods. How many times have I promised myself to get in there at least once a week? You know how it is, best intentions.

After Thanksgiving weekend with the Littles and their moms here at Three of Earth Farm, I didn’t go to Seattle for my weekly 30 hour gig away from home―including five hours driving time―and by Tuesday it already felt like I had an expanse of time not usually available. When the rain stopped and the sun unexpectedly came out, I went out in my orange rain boots to check on the supply of firewood left to lie in the woods near the house when the man I hired to cut and split a fallen tree just stopped working on it.

After seeing there is indeed still a lot of wood scattered about that’s small enough for burning if I pull it out from under branches and blackberry vines and wheelbarrow it down the trail to the rack where the supply is rapidly diminishing, I spontaneously head across the meadow to the trail by the barn to walk in my mother’s playground. She didn’t hike in the mountains like I do, but hour for hour, she spent far more time on the trail than I.

Reaching the main trail, I see Robert coming toward me. He has walked the trails most every day for years, but for the past several months I was thinking he wasn’t able to. I’m ecstatic to see him out and about again. His dog Gracie trots down the trail toward me. I’m not a dog lover, but I am very fond of Gracie. I put my arms around her broad neck and pull her in close; then give Robert a hug when he reaches us.

We stand on the trail and talk. I have no where else to be and nothing else I need to be doing that is more important than this. Robert had emailed me a month or two ago that he had discovered an apple tree on the trail he’d never noticed before; spotted it because it bore a single apple. I haven’t figured out where it is and I ask him now. Turns out we are standing under it. It’s spindly and unformed, imitating the miles of vine maple in these woods. No wonder no one noticed it. It’s near where there were remnants of a rotting ancient puncheon road when I was a child, the boards that kept the wagon wheels from sinking into mud on alleged cattle drives through here, returned to soil now.

Robert muses that a wagon driver—or maybe a child sitting on the back, legs dangling—threw an apple core out and a seed took hold. The single apple was good, he says, maybe a Gravenstein.

We go on to reminisce about our former neighbors. The Holits were a  German couple, still with thick accents even after decades in the States. I told Robert I remembered making fudge with Margaret at Christmas, standing on a stool in front of her stove stirring the bubbling chocolate. When their house was cleaned out, after they moved to California to live near their son, I happened to be home and acquired the spoon we used to stir the fudge, it’s end worn down from years of scraping the bottom of the hot pot. He tells me, when the home sat empty for a time, he found a box of silverware overlooked on top of a beam in the basement; and later a box of sample awards ribbons from, presumably, Gene’s father’s family business in Germany before WWI in a dark corner, and something (I’ve forgotten what) with the Kaiser’s picture on it.

Robert remembers helping Gene cross the steeply sloping road to get his mail out of the box. Paying it forward, as it turns out, he says, as now the Holit’s niece, who raised her children in her aunt and uncle’s house, brings Robert his mail. (I really need to get my newly purchased mailbox painted and back in its rightful place between theirs.) We’re silent for a moment then, remembering times and people who are gone.

He tells me another maple tree fell recently behind his house. These damp woods that were my childhood playground are so old. The big leaf maples are nearing the end of their long lives, their grey crowns broken and leafless. They are host to mosses and licorice fern, adding to the rain forest feel of these woods. Lichen clings to everything, making the forest look like a host of hoary old men.

Centralia from Staebler Point, named for my parents for their conservation work here.

I go on to Staebler Point, and Robert and Gracie continue their trek home. I turn back toward the house as the clouds drop into the trees, rendering the forest mysterious and a little spooky in the mist. As I walk back through the now empty arching vine maples where we had stood talking, I realize that, like my mother and father and the Holits and Robert’s wife Sandy, someday Robert will no longer grace these woods with his presence. Like the maples, we all come to the end.

The woods without Robert.
Fallen maple tangle.

I’m hanging up my coat as the earlier rains return, pouring onto the roof I need to clean off again. Just a pocket of time, snatched for a rendezvous in the woods with a neighbor. I vow—again—to stop by more often, and hope I run into Robert and Gracie.

I found this poem when I Googled big leaf maple (acer macrophyllum). Overlooking the exclusive language, it seems a serendipitous find.

A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds.
A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy
reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.
                                                                  – Basil