Ode To Autumn Leaves

IMG_1175on a late-October hike
along the roaring Nooksack River
autumn leaves
— mostly Bigleaf Maple —
drifting down from the trees
in a beautiful, unplanned aerial show
to their final resting places
… some would say

but no rest here, really

each falling leaf
as unique as snowflakes
flying stem-first
some traverse across the sky
others travel downward in wide or tight spirals
some, make it to the river bed
others to the trail
and others still, caught on a branch
like our leaf here
held in a kind of limbo

bringing her attention to the falling leaves,
i say to my wife,
“look, next stop decay”
but, she says, “no,
first they land in a big pile
with their friends”

Eyecatchers: Upcycling: Allied Arts Recycled Art Exhibit

Allied-5It’s been ages since my last Upcycling installment, but this weekend I visited an exhibit at a local art gallery that focused entirely on pieces made from recycled materials, and I just had to share.

Allied Arts of Whatcom County hosted their second annual Recycled Art & Resource Expo (RARE) this past weekend, an event that included exhibits, workshops, and presentations at various locations in town.

My favorites were on view at Allied Arts’ Cornwall Avenue gallery, where the majority of the works took the form of multimedia sculpture, like Graham Schodda’s Magneto, featured in the lede photo here, fashioned from: a vintage drill, piston, rods, fuel filter, insulator, and radio antenna.

I LOVE the imagination on display here, how the artist saw in these discarded scraps — once intended for much more utilitarian purposes — that they might be pieced together to form various subjects or some new functional item, like this clock by Karin Mueller, titled Time To Call Mom, made from a vintage cigar box, telephone, clock:


The exhibit will be up through April 24th, so, if you are in Bellingham consider checking it out. And/or, check out my other Upcycling installments, or just Google ‘upcycling’ if this kind of thing strikes your fancy.

In the meantime, here are some of my other faves from the RARE show:

Graham Shodda: vintage thermos, jigsaw, window winders, spatulas, gas can spout, etc.
Graham Shodda, “Thermo” – vintage thermos, jigsaw, window winders, spatulas, gas can spout, etc.
Karen Mueller, "Chicken or the Egg" - mixed media
Karen Mueller, “Chicken or the Egg” – mixed media
Rafael Mithuna, "Bomb Fin Lantern" - WWII bomb fin, WWII military transport parts
Rafael Mithuna, “Bomb Fin Lantern” – WWII bomb fin, WWII military transport parts
Launi Lucas, "Gnarwall" - mixed media
Launi Lucas, “Gnarwall” – mixed media
Rafael Mithuna, "Budenberg Steam Lamp" - early 1900s steam test equipment, lamp parts, plumbing parts
Rafael Mithuna, “Budenberg Steam Lamp” – early 1900s steam test equipment, lamp parts, plumbing parts
Alana Coleman, "Lovers Tango" - mixed media
Alana Coleman, “Lovers Tango” – mixed media

City of Subdued Excitement: Origin Story

Photo: mountainbikefarm.wordpress.com
Photo: mountainbikefarm.wordpress.com
Yesterday, I wrote:

As far as I know, the origins of Bellingham, Washington‘s unofficial nickname — The City of Subdued Excitement — are a mystery.

Some claim it derives from a locally famous mural on the side of an antique shop downtown, painted in 1994, and yet others swear that the nickname significantly predates the mural.

I’d heard this ‘mystery’ discussed many times over the years, including, as I say, disagreement on the facts, with some insisting that they’d heard Bellingham referred to by this nickname years prior to the painting of the mural (pictured here).

However, shortly after I posted that yesterday, since Fish & Bicycles posts are automagically shared on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Tumblr, it was seen on Facebook by Bellingham Herald arts and culture reporter Margaret Bikman, who commented:

[the ‘City of Subdued Excitement’ nickname] was coined by Mr. Peanut aka, Stephen Stimson, previous owner of Lone Wolf Antiques, next to Whatcom Museum’s Old City Hall, in 1995. You can research this.

Photo credit: poppiespoppy.blogspot.com/
Photo: ifeltit-poppiespoppy.blogspot.com
Well, I truly am grateful to Margaret for giving me the opportunity to set the record straight!

I had done a brief Google search, but nothing seemed definitive, and I didn’t see specific credit given to Mr. Stimson. If I had searched a little longer, I would have found the painfully obvious URL http://www.bellingham-subdued-excitement.com/history-of-bellingham, where Mr. Stimson is indeed credited.

But, since Margaret has access to the Bellingham Herald archives, she copied and pasted into the Facebook comments the definitive article on the subject, a March 25, 2007 piece by fellow Herald reporter Dean Kahn. (I subsequently tried every form of search I could think of in order to find this article online, but the Herald online archives do not go back that far, Archive.org‘s Wayback Machine was no use, and it doesn’t appear to be available anywhere else.)

And so, without further ado, here are some highlights from Mr. Kahn’s article, titled Mr. Peanut radiates ‘City of Subdued Excitement’:

  • Stephen Stimson – aka Mr. Subdued Excitement – was wearing a black top hat when I met him at Rocket Donuts. That would be eye-catching enough, but there’s more. His black hat topped his Mr. Peanut costume.
  • Back in 1995, he explains, his mother suggested that he paint a “Welcome to Bellingham” sign on the north outside wall of the Lone Wolf building at 109 Prospect St., next to Whatcom Museum. Stimson opened the antiques shop in 1988 in the building that had been family-owned for decades. He decided to think up and paint a slogan for Bellingham…He thought of “s” words that would flow well with the soft “c” of “city.” He thought of “subdued excitement.”
  • But what is “subdued excitement?” … For many people, the appeal of Bellingham lies in its quieter attractions, ones that might not immediately attract hordes of tourists. Attractions like our trails, parks and waterfront views, the golden sunsets of late summer, residents’ love of the city, people who wear Mr. Peanut outfits.
  • The reason that “City of Subdued Excitement” rules…is that it feels right. We’ll know the city is changing, and not necessarily for the best, when the slogan no longer fits.

And, that last bullet item brings us full circle, back to the theme of my post from yesterday, titled You Can’t Take The ‘Subdued’ Out Of The City Of Subdued Excitement.

May the slogan ever fit!

You Can’t Take The ‘Subdued’ Out Of The City Of Subdued Excitement

WWU Bellingham(1)As far as I know, the origins of Bellingham, Washington‘s unofficial nickname — The City of Subdued Excitement — are a mystery.

Some claim it derives from a locally famous mural on the side of an antique shop downtown, painted in 1994, and yet others swear that the nickname significantly predates the mural.

Regardless, most people who visit or live here pick up on our subdued vibe and enjoy it.

And yet, various efforts are underway to un-subdue Bellingham, an idea that I strongly oppose.

About a month ago, the Downtown Bellingham Partnership, a non-profit organization self-described thusly (my emphasis added in bold):

The Partnership is the best source of information on upcoming events, public policies, and opportunities for downtown. We work closely with the City of Bellingham to provide leadership in the development of public policy that affects downtown, and we generate solutions to ensure downtown retains its vibrancy, life, and culture.

…hired a new Executive Director, Nick Hartrich, who, in a subsequent interview, said:

We need to set a trajectory to un-subdue our urban core.

What the what?!

Their About page says they generate solutions to retain Bellingham’s vibrancy, life, and culture, and yet, Mr. Hartrich wants to un-subdue.

How is that retaining?!

Subdued excitement is an integral part of Bellingham life and culture, and we’ve managed to earn spots, often near the top, on those ubiquitous ‘best places’ lists, in magazines and on websites, especially lists focusing on outdoor activities and retirement, partly on the basis of our unique subdued character.

To be fair, most of the ideas Mr. Hartrich shares in the interview are good ones, and none of them seem in conflict with subdued excitement.

I simply fail to see the need, therefore, for his “un-subdue” language.

This morning, I came across an article in the Bellingham Herald that couldn’t do a better job of capturing our subduedness (again, my emphasis added in bold):

Reminder: Bellingham officials look for new big event to draw tourism, business

BELLINGHAM — The city still is looking for ideas for a new “signature event” that will bring tourists to town to fill up hotel rooms and boost business, as well as highlight the many things Bellingham has going for it.

Applicants have less than two weeks left to submit their ideas for events that are unlike anything already done here or in nearby cities: The deadline to turn in proposals is 5 p.m. Feb. 13.

No one had turned in a proposal as of Friday, Jan. 30.


Let’s see…a new, big, signature event…um…well…we could…um…

…oh, never mind.

Cognitive Dissonance: A Green Jail?

homer-simpson-dohWhen I saw the following headline and lede paragraph from our local daily newspaper, here in Bellingham, Washington, in lovely Whatcom County, it really made my head hurt.

Whatcom council wants more cost info before deciding jail ‘LEED’ status

Whatcom County leaders are not ready to give up on building the new jail in Ferndale to a widely recognized green-building standard, despite the high-energy needs of the facility.

–Bellingham Herald

LEED, for anyone not familiar with sustainable building practices, is, as the Herald describes, THE standard for sustainable buildings, but the question that begs asking is:

How sustainable is it to have over two million people incarcerated in the U.S.?

LEED standards, sadly, don’t apparently consider this question at all, and, according to the New York Times, this is not at all a unique situation.

While it is admirable that, as the Herald reported:

[Whatcom County] committed in 2005 to constructing all public buildings to the LEED silver standard, “where feasible.”

…the Times reports:

The Washington State Department of Corrections boasts 34 LEED-certified facilities, with 923,789 square feet of LEED-certified space added in fiscal year 2008 alone.

Irony can sometimes be funny.

This is decidedly not one of those times.

The News From Bellingham

It’s been a big week in Bellingham, Washington, my adopted hometown, out on the edge of Puget Sound…

…and it’s only Tuesday.

First of all, it’s election day for the Whatcom County Executive and City of Bellingham Mayor primaries. The race couldn’t be more important in the context of the debate over the proposal to build a coal shipping terminal just north of the city at Cherry Point, with candidate positions running the gamut, from ardent support for the project to outright rejection, as well as several shades of grey in between.

Second, after a many-years battle over plans to build a housing development on forested property alternately called the 100 Acre Wood or Chuckanut Ridge, the Bellingham City Council approved the purchase by the city of that property in order to protect it as a public access natural area. It’s a victory that could be a source of hope for those who oppose the coal terminal, a reminder that a committed citizen opposition can triumph over moneyed interests, although it should be noted that the political and financial powers pushing for the coal terminal are many, many times more mighty than the small LLC that hoped to build over 700 housing units on Chuckanut Ridge.

Finally, focusing directly on the coal terminal, two weeks ago SSA Marine, the company proposing the building of the terminal, was fined by Whatcom County for clearing some of the property for service roads without a permit, and today an attorney for the environmental group Earthjustice called on Whatcom County to enforce a county code that requires a 6-year development moratorium as a result of their illegal road work.

And while it might be tempting to celebrate, local land-use attorney Jean Melious warns:

That sounds tougher than it is – the “moratorium” in fact will only apply until the County’s hearing examiner decides that the applicant didn’t “intend” to violate the law and will meet other conditions.

Time will tell, but even if the moratorium is enforced, this is no time to go complacent. The forces behind the terminal will not take this lying down, they will protest, they will try every legal maneuver they can think of, and they have the financial resources to do so.

So, I cast my vote today with our current mayor, Dan Pike, who, as I wrote previously, courageously took an unequivocal stance against the coal terminal, and with county executive candidate David Stalheim, who has voiced opposition as well, and I’ll continue to do whatever I can to protect Bellingham and Whatcom County from Mr. Peabody’s coal train.

Sanity Update

Well, it looks like the Rally To Restore Sanity was no match for the insanity gripping the United States of America.

The news media are reporting that the Republicans will win a majority in the House of Representatives in today’s midterm election. And, make no mistake about it, insanity is the only reasonable diagnosis for a nation willing to hand power back to the political party that created the miserable mess that the country is mired in.

Antidote: Focus locally. Support Whatcom & Skagit agriculture. Vote for progressives in city and county government. Join the vibrant local community of people committed to sustainable living. Love as much and as widely as possible.

Photo of the Day: Mt. Baker

I found the following photo, submitted to the Bellingham Herald, to be absolutely stunning.

Herald reader BJ Toews sent this photo of the sun rising behind Mount Baker, creating a shadow in the sky, at 7:39 a.m. Monday, Oct. 18, 2010. Toews took the photo from the family’s backyard in Everson.

The art of photography fascinates me. It exists as the result of a collaboration between technology and the human element, but not just any human. Heck, all you have to do is spend a little time looking at your friends’ photos on Facebook to see that some have an observant, creative eye and some are simply archivists, documenting moments in time with no regard to aesthetics.

Conversely, it was one thing for BJ Toews to notice this spectacular sunrise, but without the technology it might have remained a memory in his mind, or, at the most, a story to tell over breakfast.

Stuff We Need: Green Building

One of the things that I love about Bellingham, my fair city, is the very strong sustainability movement afoot here. It’s rare that a few days go by wherein I don’t catch wind of some event having to do with buying local or organic farming or rain water catchment or salmon habitat restoration or…

…and it goes on and on.

Sure, there are setbacks and disappointments. Just last week the Whatcom County Council ruled to open up growth areas for development that had been declassified for growth in order to control sprawl and protect our drinking water source: the Lake Whatcom Watershed.

And yet, I’d never come to the overall positive view of Bellingham that I have if I interpreted every setback as the beginning to the end or the continuation of everything bad I’ve read in the past. To use an apt metaphor, doing so it’s hard to see the forest for the trees, to see the many good things that happen, large and small, everyday.

So, a few days ago I read this, and thought that this is stuff we definitely need:

Faster permitting for green projects part of Bellingham’s Ten in ’10 effort

BELLINGHAM – The house Grant Myers plans to build is environmentally friendly, incorporating everything from wider-spaced studs to save wood to a central air system that stays within the insulated part of a house, saving energy.

But perhaps the most amazing thing: He submitted the building permit application on Thursday, April 15, before he went on vacation, and it was ready on Tuesday, April 20.

“I never expected the permit would be ready before I got back,” he said.

The project qualified for what city officials are calling a “bin-bump-up,” meaning it scored high enough on an environmentally friendly construction rating system to qualify for expedited permit review. That’s part of the Ten in ’10 initiative, where the city will do 10 things this year to encourage green-building techniques.

See, I read this and I remember that my employer, Western Washington University, is currently constructing its third LEED Certified building, and that the Pickford Film Center got a $250,000 state grant that will help them finally move forward with the renovation of their “Dream Space”, a project that will also be LEED certified…oh, and the Pickford has pledged to be a zero waste operation…seriously…it’s a movie theater!

I love this town!

When cynicism is coldhearted

While I have definite spiritual tendencies; while I believe in certain transcendent truths, transcendent realities, even a transcendent power, like the force in Star Wars as silly as that might seem; and while I dabble in Buddhism; my attitude towards religion tends to range from apathy to cynicism to anger and rage.

As much as I try to breathe and let my persistent thoughts drift on by, thoughts of the horrors religion has manifested throughout human history tend to stick around, right under the surface, ready to pounce at the slightest reference.

But, sometimes this cynicism can be cruel and coldhearted.

Enter Jake Finkbonner.

Ferndale boy’s recovery could be final link to Blessed Kateri’s sainthood

Finkbonner family prayed when Jake had flesh-eating bacteria


FERNDALE – His face was scarred by the flesh-eating bacteria that had invaded his body, her face by smallpox that killed her immediate family.

They are both American Indians and both Catholics.

And if the Vatican decrees that Jake Finkbonner’s survival is a miracle that can be attributed to Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha’s help, they also will be bound by the canonization of the first American Indian saint in the Catholic Church.

Elsa Finkbonner certainly believes her 9-year-old son’s victory over necrotizing fasciitis is miraculous…

…Jake was fighting for his life after falling and bumping his mouth in the closing moments of a basketball game on Feb. 11, 2006.

Necrotizing fasciitis, or Strep A, invaded his body and bloodstream through that small cut, and the aggressive bacteria raced across his cheeks, eyelids, scalp and chest as doctors worked desperately to stop its spread.

To save him, each day they surgically removed his damaged flesh. And every day for two weeks, they put the boy, who was then in kindergarten, in a hyperbaric chamber at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle to deliver oxygen to his body to help quell the infection’s progression.

I have a son who is only two years older than Jake. If my son, transcendent truth forbid, were to be stricken with a flesh-eating bacteria, I would be devastated. Yet, I hear the faint voice of the cynic preparing to say something like, “How can these people believe this hocus pocus mumbo jumbo?!!”

No. I won’t go there. I won’t do that to this family, just as I wouldn’t want them to do that to me. I won’t be that wet blanket. I won’t cynically mock and dismiss the faith that brings meaning to their lives and a cause to celebrate this victory over a nearly unthinkable stroke of bad fortune.

My heart goes out to the Finkbonner family.