A Cute Couple

My Tom Bihn ID messenger bag and Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45 travel bag

In early August I started an 11-day trip, the longest I’ve ever taken, that included three cross-country flights (thankfully all non-stop) and a two-day drive. I started off flying to Baltimore to visit my brother’s family and help sort through my dad’s papers, then flew to Texas to help my mom finish packing for her move to Georgia where she’ll be near my sister, drove with my mom from Austin to Atlanta, then flew back home from Atlanta to Portland. I was going to constantly be on the move and didn’t want to risk lost luggage, and I also didn’t want to take up much room in the car, and I was going to be walking home from the train at the end of the trip, so I took just two bags, my Tom Bihn ID messenger bag that went under the plane seat, and my Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45 travel bag that went in the overhead bin.

Inside the two bags were an array of smaller bags that kept me organized, most also from Tom Bihn. The big bags have o-rings inside for attaching key straps so my keys, a small flashlight, and a USB drive were easily found. I used one of my mesh organizer bags in the ID for cables, medicine, and food that I wanted on the flight, while the other in the Aeronaut held cables and other items I wouldn’t need until I landed. Travel stuff sacks held a raincoat (which didn’t get used) and my camera and lens (which did). My daily pills went in a clear organizer and smaller items went into the flat organizer pouches. The organizers worked well in the side pockets of the Aeronaut, making it easy to get to my 3-1-1 bag at the airport, and also provide easy access to food or medicine or cables without having to open the main compartment.

The Aeronaut I’ve used before, both while flying and driving, but it really shone on this trip. I used the backpack straps while moving through the airport, then neatly tucked them away for the plane rides and at my destination, but they were most handy when walking home from the train station. Rolling bags have their uses, but since the Aeronaut wasn’t heavy it was much nicer to just slip it onto my back. I’ve been surprised at how using the mesh packing cubes for clothes and the organizer bags for other items makes living out of a suitcase so much more enjoyable, everything stays organized and it was always easy to find what I wanted. Despite staying somewhere new about every other night, by the end of the trip everything was still in its place, which is not normal for me but will be from now on. The Aeronaut is well-built and I could have checked it if I needed to, but it was easy to carry and so easily fit in the overhead bins that it was never an issue.

The trip didn’t get off to the best start as I had a miserable headache the first morning, one of the worst in recent memory, but by evening medicine was keeping it at bay and it was never that severe again. It was a tiring but productive trip and I enjoyed getting to see most of my family, even a cousin and his son I hadn’t seen in years. Coming home I even got a cheap upgrade to first class, a welcome treat as I despise flying. While I’m never going to enjoy flying I am thankful that all the flights went off without issue, as did our drive, and I’m thankful for the little company that designs and makes the bags that I love so much (all a bit to my north in Seattle).

My Tom Bihn ID messenger bag and Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45 travel bag along with all the other smaller Tom Bihn bags that went inside them

Women

Our dog Ellie sits in front of a door labeled 'Women'

When I was growing up I began to struggle with the difference between how the Bible says women should be treated and the way they were treated. I was happy we weren’t following the Bible’s teachings, I felt women should be the equals of men, but how can you claim the Bible is the word of God and then choose to ignore the words? Were people created in God’s image or the other way around? The teachers I talked to never gave a convincing answer, mostly just that it was a cultural difference, but that didn’t make sense to me as it was a cultural difference back then too.

I started reading the Bible cover to cover and struggled with some of the old heroes of the Bible, some of whom seemed to me to be monsters, and sometimes God too. And then I got to Judges Chapter 4.

Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time.
Judges 4:4

Wait. What?

According to Judges, Deborah was not just the person the people chose as judge, but also the person God chose as prophet. God tells Deborah he’s going to give Israel a great victory against their oppressors, so she tells her commander to gather his troops. Such is the commander’s faith in her and in God’s faith in her, and such is his fear of the fearsome chariots of the enemy, that he says he will go but only if she goes with him. She goes, and rout the enemy they do, not just in this battle but in others that follow. The book of Judges has many judges set as examples, some as good and some as bad, but Deborah is one of the greats.

So I began to wonder, why is her story forgotten, why did our religion choose sexism instead, to the harm of billions over thousands of years? And not just sexism, but racism, and homophobia, and on and on? I eventually decided the Bible was not the words of God but the words of men trying to understand the nature of God, and of themselves.

We need not be monsters. This is how Deborah’s story concludes:

Then the land had peace forty years.
Judges 5:31b

If you take the Bible at its word, two generations grow up in peace because of one woman, their judge and God’s prophet.

God took delight in her, pity we don’t.

Spring Comes to Irvington

A wreath of flowers hangs on the cross on Easter at Augustana Lutheran Church in Portland, Oregon

Easter arrives at Augustana Lutheran Church with a wreath of flowers on its cross and a tree in flower behind. Augustana is a neighborhood church, snuggled in at the corner of 15th Avenue and Knott Street between the homes of Irvington. Homes such as the one below, a short walk from the church, taken a few minutes later as Ellie and I made our way back home. There is much I love about this old Portland neighborhood, from the walkability to the old trees to the variety in the landscaping and the homes. And especially what you don’t see in the pictures but I see in my mind when I look at them, the faithful pup beside.

A house in Irvington in the spring

Layers

The base of fence shows layers of wood, brick, and concrete, all covered by moss

Ellie and I came across this archaeological dig in our neighborhood where the excavation has revealed several layers that allow you to see back in time across Portland’s geographic past. There’s the oldest layer on the bottom that dates from the Concrete Era. What creatures must have roamed the land back then! After that comes the brief Brick Era, followed by the Wood Era. Unfortunately the dig was accidentally left uncovered one night and has now been exposed to the modern era, the Moss Era.

In Memory of My Father

A view of green trees and moss and plants in the Columbia River Gorge

My father passed away earlier today.

He was diagnosed with an untreatable brain tumor months ago and had been in slow decline since. We weren’t close, I hadn’t seen him in a couple of decades, but there were parts of him I loved. I post this in his memory because many of my fondest memories of him were when we hiked in the hills of eastern Tennessee where I grew up. They weren’t grand scenes or amazing vistas, just what became my favorite hikes – through forests and past mountain streams. This picture is from Oregon, not Tennessee, taken a month ago in the Columbia River Gorge up above Horsetail Falls. It’s too chaotic to be pretty but illustrates one of the reasons I love hiking here, the explosion of green in many shades from the leaves, moss, and ferns. Behind the trees are basalt walls, as covered in moss as the trees. Large ferns grow below the trees with little ferns growing on the tree itself. Not far away are mountain streams that plunge through the canyons in beautiful waterfalls. I think of him most when I hike, wishing we could have had an emotional bond, but very thankful that he taught me to appreciate the beautiful and the quiet and the serene.

I grew up knowing I was loved, unconditionally, I never felt like I had to earn it through good grades (which I had) or being good at sports (which I wasn’t). That’s a powerful gift to give a child. He never encouraged me to seek money or power and get blinded by the rat race that I saw in some other fathers. There were plenty of happy times, like playing ping pong in the basement as I grew up. I’ll never forget the joy I felt the first time I beat him, or realizing years later that he must have let me beat him as a kindness. We camped and hiked. We spent hours in his workshop in the basement as he made things with his table saw and other tools, despite the fact that his son hadn’t inherited his mechanical skills and would be far too absent-minded to ever use dangerous power tools.

But as I grew into adulthood I came to realize that being in a close relationship with him was going to be destructive emotionally. The details aren’t important but by leaving them out I don’t want to make things sound worse than they were, he wasn’t abusive, but he had a way of seeing the world, and a tendency to take things in a negative light, that made it hard to get close to him. One incident in particular during my college years, after I spent a summer with him and thought we had set a more positive baseline for moving forward, made it clear to me that I was going to have to keep him at an emotional distance and hope for better in the future.

One of the last times I saw him was when I was in graduate school and he came to pick up his old Pontiac that he let me borrow when I needed a car to go between school and home on holiday breaks. I didn’t need it anymore as my stepfather had found a used car he thought I might like near his hometown and that ended up being the first car I bought. Dad came into my apartment for a while and when it was time for him to go, as we walked to the door and he turned to say goodbye, he had tears in his eyes and I wanted to grab him by the shoulders and let him know that this was the side of him I wanted in my life, the part that took pleasure in spending time with me and didn’t want it to end. I didn’t expect our relationship to be perfect or even easy, but at least open and honest. It wasn’t to be. He had a vision of me in his head that fit a narrative he needed it to, something we all do to an extent with others and even ourselves, but his was a wall I couldn’t climb.

At some point during those years I asked him if I could keep a picture he showed me, he was surprised and said yes but couldn’t understand why I wanted it. I didn’t tell him but it was simply because he had the most wonderful smile on his face. Not the kind you make when you smile for the camera, but a natural one, caught in a moment of pure joy. I hadn’t seen that smile in a long time and hoped one day to see it again. I never did but I’m sure others did and I’m thankful for the friends he had over the years, even if we couldn’t be close I’m glad he found happiness with others.

That picture, that smile, was a reminder of the beautiful part of him and it’s how I’ve visualized him for the many years since. It’s not that I don’t remember the bad, the bad is obviously why we’ve never been close, but I didn’t want to forget the good. We sent email occasionally over the years but never very often, but there was never a point where I felt like we could have a meaningful relationship. He knew about the blog but I don’t know how often he read it if at all. I sent him an email months ago when I first heard he had a brain tumor, letting him know how good my life was and how I still loved to hike like we had when I was growing up. I tried not to phrase it as a goodbye, he was still in decent health even though the long term prognosis wasn’t good, but it was a goodbye. I have no idea what he thought of me over the years or in the end, but I wanted him to know I love my life and am grateful for his part in that.

When I was young we were traveling somewhere to camp when someone in the car asked him what he would be if he could be anything he wanted (like me he was an engineer). He said he’d want to be a forest ranger and I laughed, thinking he was goofing around, and asked him what he really wanted to be. He said no, really, a forest ranger, and he said it in a way that even as a child I realized he was speaking a fundamental truth about himself. I reflected on his answer often, he didn’t choose a job that would make him wealthy or famous, but one that let him be out there in the quiet, near the trees and the babbling brooks, helping others enjoy them too. I didn’t ask him why he didn’t become a ranger, maybe he chose a higher paying job with a family to raise, maybe he realized that about himself too late. Maybe I took him too literally.

I don’t know if he continued hiking through the years, but even if not it was certainly a gift he passed on to me. He also was interested in computers even in the early 80’s and bought a Mac when they first came out to use in his business, he let me type my school essays on it at night and I fell in love with computers because of that beautiful thing. We had a wonderful dog that was with me through most of my childhood and if you’ve been here long you know how much I love my pets. Part of me feels like my father’s son, part of me not at all. I’m sure I could have been a better son, but even at the end some of his behavior reminded me why he hasn’t been a meaningful part of my life for so long.

The tears I shed as I write this are for decades of frustration, at wishing I could have known more of the beautiful part of him. I’m thankful that some people got to know it, and that for a while I did too.