Sunday, July 31, 2022

Hearty Prickly Survivor


She's a survivor.

This prickly pear cactus nearly died several years ago in a rare (for here) winter storm, which left parts of Portland OR under inches of snow-ice-snow for days. We get a little snow, we get some ice, but not usually for very long. People laugh at us because longtime Portland residents can get a bit panicked if there is a forecast of inches of snow. 

But people not from here should understand: we don't get very much or very often. The snow might come in a day here or there in winter. It might leave a dusting or an inch. If there is more, for a day or two, it is generally accompanied by ice and/or freezing rain on the transition back to our typical milder winters. So, when we get actual winter weather, a lot of people don't know what to do - how to drive, for example, and many people have no experience in the stuff. So, yes, sometimes we panic a bit.

And sometimes with reason.

That time about five years ago, it came down hard and long and parts of the city were stalled and stuck for several days.

This beauty was much smaller than now, though still a good few feet in diameter and the tallest paddles were probably two or more feet high. Before the snow storm hit, we assumed, with everyone else, that it was going to be another situation of Pacific Northwest Snowpocalypse warnings, followed by an inch or so out in our east part of town, maybe two inches in the West Hills and bare pavement out near my work near Hillsboro. 

So it was a surprise when the snow started and didn't stop. For a long time. For days. 

So this beauty was in our front yard. This storm was accompanied by freezing rain and layers of snow, ice, freezing rain, repeat. The prickly pear was covered in ice and so beautiful in the blankets of snow.

Several major paddles were lost when things started to thaw a few days later. The poor plant looked a bit scraggly and tired. And still very much alive.

It grew little by little, sprouting new buds turned to paddles and grew and grew. There were no flowers for a couple of years and some of the older paddles which survived were scarred; some are still there, with holes from the very cold and frozen winter.

But the prickly pear is now over five feet tall in places with a diameter of probably six feet or a little more at the widest. 

This is the first bloom this summer. And she is poised to show many more. There is an abundance of new paddles alongside the flower buds. 

We truly weren't sure if she would survive that winter storm. She did. And is thriving.

A note to those who don't know: if you've never touched a prickly pear cactus paddle, don't be fooled by their soft appearance and the lack of spikey thorns. I knew that and I was still surprised. Last fall we have a heavy windstorm, which batted the cactus around and a few paddles and one branch separated, fell on the ground. I was picking up some yard debris and, looking at the paddles, they did indeed seem harmless. I didn't have on gloves. I picked up a couple of the paddles and in seconds regretted it.

The "fuzz" on the side looked like soft fur, but it wasn't. Each was like a needle poking my fingers and my palms. I spent a long time with a flashlight and tweezers, pulling out those very fine hairs.

The prickly pear cactus is a survivor. Do not judge her by her appearance.

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Exactly Two Years

In the time of the pandemic, there have been milestones, markers, of the passage of time. Time has been variable, sometimes feeling like an eternity and sometimes moments seeming to disappear when they'd barely begun.

Today was another of those markers.

The first big marker of event time passage was a year ago. In March 2021, I was one of the interpreters for the Oregon Poetry Out Loud competition. The event itself was virtual, but the host and coordinator (the amazing Deb Vaughn) and the two interpreters were live in a recording studio. We were masked until the recording began, and we were spaced about twelve feet from each other. The second interpreter has been in my pandemic pod since the beginning, still is, and we work and write together. The time marker of that event is that Poetry Out Loud had been the last live event, in-person, that I'd interpreted in March 2020. I had been preparing and rehearsing to interpret a play - which was canceled. But Poetry Out Loud, regionals, was the last in-person event. So Poetry Out Loud was both a last and a first.

Tonight I interpreted a Portland Community College Theatre Arts production, Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind. This is another marker of a sorts in pandemic terms. While TMLMBGB is a very different production than the one in March 2020 (Our Town) - I was at PCC exactly two years ago today, when theatre started shutting down, when stay at home orders were beginning to be issued.

I had gone to PCC on March 12, 2020, to work with an interpreting team - watching them to a sign-through, practice run - to be followed by feedback session and discussion about the show, their interpretations. When we arrived, about an hour before the show was to go live, we went backstage and found the director talking to the cast and crew, in costumes, standing in a large circle on the stage set and ready for act one. The director was telling them that the college had made the decision to close the school and the production was canceled immediately. There were tears. Lots of tears. And confusion. 

One of the interpreters and I left after a while, after the second interpreter showed up late and then left after learning about the closure. The other two of us walked to the parking lot. I received an email notice of a cancelation of another play at another theater. We stood at my car, talking about the virus, the state of things - it wasn't yet being called a pandemic (I don't think). I received another email with a "hold" on a production (which would be canceled two weeks later) and then another.

The other interpreter and I decided to drive to the coast. To get away for a few hours (we're lucky we live close) and think and breathe fresh air. We did.

As the days went by things changed quickly. More pauses and postponements from those who were hopeful. Cancellations from some who were near the end of runs or couldn't extend. One by one by one things fell away as the COVID-19 numbers increased.

Then, today, exactly two years to the day, I was on the (volunteer) interpreting team for this PCC production. It seemed fitting to be here doing this play at this time. It is not the first PCC play on Zoom that I've interpreted since the pandemic begun - and yes, they have all been pro bono. Keeping the access alive and supporting the creative and innovative and passionate work of theater that PCC has continued throughout this time. 

This is a photo of the setup the other interpreter and I used for tonight's interpreting set-up. I don't think we're done with this pandemic; or, more accurately, the pandemic is not done with us - the virus is not done. I would love to be wrong, but numbers around the globe are growing in the BA2 variant. And I, for one, do not want to get the virus. I have genetic conditions and a prior health situation which put me at risk for severe illness and significant complications - so I do not want to get it at all. Simply "surviving the virus" is not an option, not a risk I want to take.a

So - I may be doing more of this. Or less of this. I have to see what's ahead, how the numbers actually go and not just the wishful thinking of the wealthy, young, healthy, White people who are wishing it was already gone, so they are "acting as if."

Exactly two years ago today I know where I was. A vivid memory. And what a pleasure and a full circle to be working with the same theatre group. Their hearts are warm and glowing and their passions are clear and directed. Thank you for letting us be a part of your circle - in 2020 and now and in the future.