Monday, November 23, 2009

more learning - imagine that!

the great thing about being in school is that you're constantly learning new things.

(of course, the downside to being back in school is that you're constantly learning new things, too. for example, my math professor is fond of saying, "consider a set..." or "consider the relationship..." which, in my opinion, simply begs the retort: "how about we don't consider it, and go home instead?" this reached the maximum of ridiculousness at our recent midterm, which i no doubt failed. the last question began, "consider an arbitrary universe...". you can perhaps imagine what my impulse response was. hint: it wasn't the answer.)

anyway, originally i was going to write this about the great things i'm learning in a fire management class, but that got preempted by a seminar i attended the other day. the main speaker was a man who, at age 88, is mostly retired, but who has been a major force in the rural studies field. he had an interesting talk about a conceptual frame for considering rural places, something i'm genuinely interested in.

then the discussant got up. a professor at psu's urban studies program, he proceeded to talk about regionalism in general, and where we could go from here as a rural studies program. in his brief talk, he said several things that were so fabulous i intend to steal them and run with them in my own future work. until then, i at least have to give them breathing room here.

first was the notion that perhaps, as technology advances, place becomes more important, not less. part of the difficulty in advancing a philosophy of 'place matters' is that, with our increasingly homogenized landscape, we may be moving to a future in which built places are no longer so different from each other. his point, however, was that increasing technology has enabled more choice in people's location decisions - thus, enabling place to matter more. if i can choose to live anywhere, that says more about where i do live.

he also talked about the fact that, along with this, as people choose more consciously where to live, the importance of place is allowed to interact more with their lives. as an example, he used a jazz musician in portland; a world class caliber musician who chose to live in portland and is now, instead of seeking to make his music more cosmopolitan - instead of striving to be more truly urban and fit into the music capitals of the world - is seeking to identify, purposefully, what role living in portland may have on his music. in other words, letting the region influence his music and work. a la dvorak, coming to the US - but maybe the first time a classical musician went to portland to be influenced by the region.

two classic views of regionalism are that you can define your region in opposition to the whole - rural is what urban isn't - or, you can define by what it contributes to the whole - rural is the things that it contributes to the overall state. here the discussant also made an excellent point about oregon in particular. we have an outstanding opportunity - should we want it - to explore this idea of rural and urban in our own little exemplary, non-standard place - oregon. not only is our one urban area not very urban, in the grand scheme of things, our rural areas also aren't the typical rural. portland as an urban area doesn't even register on the national or global scene. and certainly, one of the defining things about oregon is their interconnectedness - a rural resident can easily drive into portland and be comfortable, and our urban residents surely spend more time than the average in rural areas. isn't that outdoor lifestyle what Oregon's all about?

well, for those of us excited by ideas but getting lost in the math sometimes, and forgetting the magic of possibility and thinking of ways to redefine where we are and how we identify ourselves, all this was a much-needed motivational shot in the arm. at least until the midterm grades come back.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"all that the rain promises"

i'm not a good sleeper. i often spend a large portion of my nighttime awake. lately it's usually a cat or a kid inside, or a screeching raccoon fight outside, that wakes me up. once awake, there are then a million things that can keep me awake: hooting owls, random thoughts, the rain and wind.

last night, trying to get to sleep at about 1 am, all i could hear was the sound of the pouring rain. it had been pouring steadily for hours. once i focused solely on that sound, i was suddenly overcome with an extreme feeling of peace and contentment. i'm so happy we don't live in the middle of an apartment building; it is the unique patter of heavy, solid rain on the roof above and broad green leaves - like the large rhododendron outside my bedroom window - that is the sound i remember from my childhood. rain is never far from a northwesterner, from anything we write or talk about; and suddenly a phrase popped into my head, clearly connected in some way to something literary: "all that the rain promises". what was it from? it's not from the usual rain-soaked PNW literary oeuvre ("The Good Rain", by Egan; "It Rains All The Time" by Laskin; etc etc). finally i remembered: it's nothing more nor less than the title of a mushroom identification book by everyone's favorite wacky mycologist, david arora.

still, i love that phrase. it seems somehow so meditative and evocative and hopeful. it kept running through my head last night (this morning), resonating something deep inside. all that the rain promises. all that the rain promises. what does the rain promise (apart from mushrooms)? why do i love it so much?

to me, it promises green, growing, living things; it promises the need for a hot cup of coffee and fires in fireplaces; it promises books to read and a repetitive sound to lull me to sleep; it promises flowers and trees and yes, mushrooms, streams and fish; it promises a slowing down, a rest, a family pulled together for the fall, winter and spring.

what does the rain promise to you?

Friday, November 13, 2009

in the interest of time

let's face it, loyal (15) readers, this going-back-to-school thing is kicking my ass, no two ways about it.

i have several posts in line but can't seem to find the time to complete anything these days, not even simple knitting projects.

but just to keep y'all interested, i'm going to take a moment to promote a blog i stumbled across and love:

i don't know how this guy can do it - or exactly what it is - but it's almost invariably great. be sure and check out the recent post on everyone's favorite governator and an uncanny coincidence in a letter he wrote...

and especially, if you look at nothing else, read this enormously clever look at regional speak via word clouds from internet-harvested blogs and social sites, comparing the relative frequencies of words used in the northeast as compared to the south...

there, now you have something to read this long afternoon. enjoy! i'll be back soon to promote the blogs that i love that are actually produced by people i love. how fabulous that is!