Remembering Katherine

I just realized that today, May 11, marks the one-year  anniversary of the death of Katherine Dunn. Just as that realization hit me, I looked up to see a rather robust crow land on the roof of the neighboring building. It hopped to the gutter, reached in and pulled

A Clever Corvid

A Clever Corvid

out to be what appeared to be a peanut.

“Good going, Katherine!” I cried. You see, Katherine was fascinated by birds, particularly by the highly intelligent and crafty corvids: crows and ravens. Naturally, I would recognize Katherine’s spirit in a visiting crow.

But that crow wasn’t done. With the nut clenched in its beak, it hopped a few feet over and dived in to the gutter, surfacing with a second peanut. Holding both nuts in its beak, it flew away.

Since Katherine’s death I have thought of her often, with or without crows in my proximity. We were fellow writers but we bonded over boxing. For years we had a standing

Katherine & Chuck

Katherine & Chuck

date to go to the boxing gym and meet up with other women and our coach, Chuck Lincoln. I would pull up in front of Katherine’s apartment house and a few minutes later she would emerge, gym bag over her shoulder, smiling and greeting her neighbors as she came to the car.

“Hiya, Hellcat!” she would call to me.

I had the luxury of a ring name, Hellcat Hauser, given to me by a boxing promoter who had read my 1987 article about boxing in The Wall Street Journal. At the gym Katherine was just, well, Katherine, and that could be daunting enough if you ever faced her in the ring. We sparred once, and once was enough. Man, could she hit!

But most often when I think of her, I remember how selfless she was in promoting and encouraging other writers. Having Katherine in your corner, in and outside of the ring, brought the most wonderful and warm feeling of security in a tough world.

In a conversation with my daughter today (who was also part of our boxing group), I remarked how certain deceased relatives of mine were always seeking recognition, while cutting down people they saw as competition. “But to receive recognition you have to give it,” Meriwether wisely remarked. “Your appreciation and recognition of others is what makes you stand out to other people and gain recognition for yourself.”

And with that, my mind returned again to Katherine. As the acclaimed author of Geek Love, she was justifiably recognized around the world for her great talent as a writer, but among those who knew her she was loved for her generosity of spirit. She always had an encouraging word, a supportive pat on the back, a confident “You can do it!”

Now I’m more convinced than ever that the crow I just saw was Katherine. She found one peanut for herself, but took another one to give to a friend.

Rest in peace.

R.I.P. Packy

Packy as newborn

Packy as newborn

Sad news from the Oregon Zoo. Packy, Portland’s star pachyderm, was euthanized today after all efforts to relieve him of the effects of a drug-resistant form of tuberculosis failed. He was 54.

His birth on April 14,1962 made international news because he was the first elephant born in the Western Hemisphere in 44 years. The fuzzy little fellow (a mere 150 pounds at birth) became every Portland child’s favorite animal and from 1963 on, his birthday party at the zoo was well attended, sometimes by thousands of kids and adults.

Everyone wore elephant ears, including the elephant, and everyone got cake, including the elephant. In fact, Packy’s annual birthday cake was a major production. With carrots instead of candles and made with elephant-healthy ingredients (e.g., peanut butter instead of frosting), the culinary creation was placed in the elephants’ outdoor area by someone who then had to run for his life before the seven-ton bull elephant was released.

As Packy’s trunk made the first swipe across the surface of the cake, a live band would begin to play “Happy Birthday” and all the zoo visitors sang the song.

Packy at 52

Packy at 52

In 1995 I wrote about Packy’s 33rd birthday for the Leisure & Arts Page of The Wall Street Journal. I had proposed the article several weeks before the birthday event, but my beloved editor, Ray Sokolov, didn’t see the humor in an elephant birthday party and he turned me down. What I resorted to was something I had learned as a child: if one parent turns you down, ask the other.

Ray had to go out of town and he turned over the editing of the page to a deputy. I pitched the same story to him and he told me to go for it. By the time Ray returned to the office, my article, “Seven Tons of Birthday Fun,” had already been assigned, written and published.

Fortunately, Ray was pleased that I’d gone around him in order to write the story, which he had really enjoyed. He ended up complimenting me on my trunk, er, nose for news.

(With thanks for the photos and condolences to the staff of the Oregon Zoo.)

 

An artist’s photo images of refugees

Today I went to a reception at an art gallery to see photographs — or to be precise,

Friderike Heuer

Friderike Heuer

photomontages — depicting the plight of refugees that were created by my new friend, Friderike Heuer. Friderike, who was herself an immigrant from Germany and is now a US citizen, takes her dog to the same dog park where I take my dog. When Friderike’s dog Milo and my dog Matilda began to play one day, Friderike and I began to talk. We had a lot to talk about, including photography, writing and politics.

In an artist’s talk given to the dozens of people who attended her opening at Camerawork Gallery, Friderike explained her process and her artistic expression regarding the suffering of refugees. She travels often to her former home and she is well aware of how Germany’s population has swelled from the influx of refugees and how much the system struggles to accommodate them. By comparison, the United States has taken in a mere fraction of people hoping for a better life.

"Confusion"

“Confusion”

Although Friderike once tried her hand at painting, she confesses that it is easier and more productive for her to use the computer to create painterly effects. Her photomontages begin with a landscape that may be from a number of European or Middle Eastern countries, or even from Sauvie Island, just north of Portland. Then she superimposes photos of refugees, mostly Muslims, as well as various structures or shelters that she has photographed in Europe and elsewhere. To add a mottled effect, she then superimposed photos she had taken at an abandoned steel mill, where the remaining pieces of metal had been tarnished and discolored by exposure to the elements. Finally, she applied color, usually vivid colors that helped express the desperation of people in transit.

Some of the photos had added elements of symbolism, such as “Seeking Shelter,” which

"Seeking Shelter"

“Seeking Shelter”

has Christian statuary and symbols scattered throughout. It was meant as an ironic statement, she said, recalling the Christian tenets of kindness, generosity and protection of the weak.

She prints her photomontages on German etching paper, rather than photographic paper. That is meant to lend more credence to the idea that these works of art are paintings.

Each of the large prints sells for $400 and Friderike will donate all proceeds to Mercy Corps for their continued work on behalf of refugees. Friderike’s art will be on display until March 3, 9 am to 4 pm Monday through Friday, and 9 am to 5 pm every Saturday.