Tobogganing When I Was a Boy

East of Salem there is a small community called Pratum. This is where I grew up. About 1/2 mile East of Pratum there is a river called the Pudding River.

One Winter day it snowed a lot–12 inches–and it was cold, as the snow did not melt.

A group of boys, including my older brother (6 years older than I), had a toboggan which would hold about 5 fellows. We got it out and started going down a nice hill toward the Pudding River. There was an old rail fence made out of wood at the bottom of the hill, next to the river.

When we went down the hill we would stop approximately 100 or 150 feet short of the rail fence. “Oh, what fun!” We were having a great time when the older boys came and took the toboggan. When they got tired of it, we were back at it again.

That evening they got buckets of water and put it on the hill. The temperature was cold, so the water turned to ice.

Well, the next morning was Saturday, so no school. Us little guts got up early and beat the older boys to the toboggan. We were having lots of fun and would stop before the rail fence. The older boys came and took the toboggan away from us. We thought that was so mean. They got on the toboggan and went down the hill just zooming. When they got to the bottom of the hill, they couldn’t stop. They went right through the rail fence and onto the ice on the river. The ice was not thick enough to hold all the weight and they broke through the ice. All the boys went in the river. The water was only about three feet there, but they all got sopping wet.

Well, do you know what? Us little guys were able to toboggan the rest of the day. The older guys had had it. This happened about 1940. “Oh, what fun!”

–John Wenger



“In the late 1920s and early 30s, Jefferson was quite a town. Sometimes I would ride in Bob Terhune’s Star Car when he delivered milk and cream to Jefferson. The Terhune children, Bob, Betty and Ruth were my age and I got to go along. My favorite stop was the ice cream parlor. It was the in the old Jones building that burned. It was a long room with candy counters up front. Lots of candy! I believe for 1 cent you could get your pick of two pieces of candy. Then there was the ice cream bar with high stools where you could get an ice cream cone. In the back was the ice cream parlor with little round tables with glass tops and cute chairs made of heavy gage wire. There you could sit and have ice cream sodas, sundaes, etc. Oh what a treat that was.”

–Louise Looney Cox

Post-It Note

I’m in my 7th month working at a job I really enjoy: selling jewelry and stringing pearls for Olufson Designs, a jewelry store in downtown Corvallis. This gig began as a part time job working at their silver shop on Madison Avenue in the front retail shop of the TOBY POMEROY company (where the BEST jewelry is created by Brandon, Brandon, Hank, Toby and Les). Just before I started work, I was told that Les’ dog Tawny had recently died. “Oh,” said, “I’ll paint her portrait for you.”

In my efforts to tidy up at the shop, I found an old wooden platform that would make a perfect canvas for an Australian Shepherd named Tawny! For Les’ birthday I finished the painting. Overall I was happy with the results: I included a bird (Les, his wife and his 3 year old are avid bird watchers) and Les’ favorite strand of pearls from the Olufson’s Jewelry store). Most importantly, I was able to include the “snaggle tooth” that Les’ sister Elisa insisted be in there! It sounded like Tawny’s most recognizable feature. Les kept the painting in his work office where he at first said it made him feel sad, but now makes him smile.

Just yesterday, Les passed on one of the best stories I’ve heard in a long time; one that makes my heart melt to a warm liquid consistency.

As I was putting my son to bed, he had some Post-It notes and he asked, “Papa, what are these yellow papers for?” I told him they were made for people to write things on that they wanted to remember. His son replied, “I want to remember Tawny Pup.” So he drew a picture of a dog with a big tooth and we posted it to his bedroom wall.

Then Les told me the best news! He and his son were in the work office together when his son noticed the painting of Tawny.

“I miss my Tawny Pup,” he said as he reached over to touch the snaggle tooth.

He recognized his dog in my painting! It makes me ridiculously happy to know that what I painted can convince a three year old that it is his former dog, and maybe bring back some sweet memories of his beloved canine family member. Knowing that Tawny (as a visual image) won’t fade away in the early memory of this boy is what really matters to me. It’s what my work as an artist is about.

Continuing The Walk, 4

The view from my apartment window is mostly dusted in large, dry snowflakes today, though this rain that is nearly ice might change that. I am deciding when to venture outside with Pearl, my terrier mix. She would choose to go out now, but there are things to consider that she doesn’t consider: it’s cold out there on little feet and a little low rider like her is going to get wet, no matter how many jackets we put on her, especially a low rider that explores like she does. One look at her, pointing at her soccer ball, convinces me that I need to take her out for the air, even if it’s only a short gallivanting walk. We suit up in our cold weather gear together; I have learned to put mine on first, otherwise Pearl’s patience wears thin as she stands, stiff in her two jackets and harness, watching me go through my own process.

We step out the door, looking both ways as we’ve learned to do in order to avoid foot traffic and threats, such as skateboards and wanderers with hard-edged dogs without leashes. Today, the sidewalk is empty and calm, though evidence of the Saturday evening crowd at the Peacock (the infamous bar across the street) is littered in stark contrast with the white snow. Small patches of yellow mark the places where the last customers relieved themselves after 2:30 am, when the bar closed. Corvallis, according to on poll, ranks the 20th/22 most drunk town. Pearl is checking everything out by sniffing every new scent in her path.

This morning, we walk to the left. There is a fire hydrant Pearl enjoys sitting next to in warmer weather. I think she might like to check in with it today. We walk past the parking lot, a place I rarely use because the parking patrol pays particular attention to it. I get my hair cut at Salon 101. Garrett, my hair guy, does a great job and he happens to have a terrier named Oliver that looks a lot like Pearl. Oliver is one of the Downtown Dogs I painted last year; one of my favorite paintings. We walk on to the end of the block to the hydrant, covered in at least an inch of snow, right outside Squirrel’s Tavern (another fixture of downtown Corvallis). Today there are no customers sitting in the outdoor area, but usually there are humans and dogs dining together. Pearl has learned to walk on by, even if growled at by either.

Pearl hasn’t an interest in the hydrant today, and requests that we turn right, toward the Julian Apartment building and the river. Just last week, Pearl learned that Gettu, her best dog friend, lives in the Julian Apartments with her human, Michael. Gettu and Michael are sometimes enjoying a romp in the grass swath at the river park at the same time we are, which always means at least 15 minutes of playtime/entertainment for passing pedestrians. Even though Gettu is much bigger than Pearl, she doesn’t spare Pearl from her best wrestling moves, often taking Pearl to the ground and waving her open mouth playfully. We don’t see Gettu or Michael today though, so Pearl busies herself by checking in on “the morning news”–all the scent messages left by animals along the river. She leaves her own message for the next dog.

After playing in the grass together for awhile, we begin the amble back to the right again, toward home. It’s cold out. Kicking the soccer ball ahead helps keep Pearl going in the right direction. We pass Flat Tail Brewery, Bellhop (THE place to get chocolate pie), and Tried and True coffee shop. Usually Pearl and I stop in at the door to say hello to the Barrista, but we don’t know this one and she is busy. We walk on, across the street after sniffing the corner garden in front of Irenes’, where I work some days. Pearl lets me know she would like to walk left, toward the dog park, but I enforce a right turn. She takes it all in stride.

We’re back at the front door of the apartment building. Pearl has done her job–getting me outside. Now she’ll continue doing her job as we go in, by just being her companionable, lovely self. I’m happy to share an apartment with this little dog. She makes me very happy and I think I’m not the only one she makes happy.img_0790


Working Dogs of Downtown


“Redda” from Sibling Revelry

During the past two years, as I pined for the past dogs in my life, I gave myself the project of attempting to paint the dogs I had been visiting along 2nd Street (which has since become my neighborhood). I began with Redda, the dog who had participated in my interview at the clothing boutique Sibling Revelry. She is a  sweet girl who had been showing me love when I thought no one else could. She lets me hold her on my lap and has participated in my small art show at the boutique. She is easy to love.

Next was Indy, who I met as I walked near my apartment on a particularly busy downtown October day. I remember seeing children,


“Indy” from The Shoe Hutch

dressed up in Halloween attire, trick-or-treating at various businesses when I happened to turn my head toward The Shoe Hutch door. This little puppy face was peeping out to see the kids while James, his human, handed out candy.  I immediately put on my ‘brakes’, turned toward the door of the store (nearly trampling the unfortunate holiday revelers) and bristled my way inside to give Indy love. Seeing him made me so happy! He still gets excited to see me, though it’s a little more complicated nowadays.

Cammie from Bob’s Mirror and Glass was not so eager to make friends, which I took as a challenge. My daily walks took me to the south end of 2nd Street often and once, as I turned east toward the river, I saw her in the store front window. Again I put on my brakes, turned and entered the store (the fact that I have no immediate business to give any particular store never deters me, evidently). Cammie didn’t budge from her curled-up position in the middle of the floor. I asked whether it would be alright if I gave her some love and the young man at the desk said, “She doesn’t warm up to everyone.” My previous dogs had been heelers, so I felt the need to make friends with Cammie intensely. After some cautious sniffs, she decided I would be okay and now lets me scratch her belly without hesitation. It helps that I carry treats.


“Cammie” from Bob’s Mirror and Glass



“Merlin” from Zooey’s

By now, I was on the hunt for other dogs who work at downtown locations. I was between jobs and needed a project to keep my focused and productive. I also needed this project to fend off impending depression that comes with lack of work and the lack of confidence that comes with that. Someone told me about Merlin who worked at Zooey’s. I made an appointment to photograph Merlin and his human helped pick the pose, saying it was kind of “iconic” for him to sit there on the velvet couch. Merlin let me pet him just a little, but seemed kind of nervous about it all. I took the photos and left, thanking them for the opportunity, of course.

Since The Shoe Hutch is the place I frequented most, and since Indy had by now become one of my favorite animals in the entire world, I also became easy friends with Huckleberry and Bella (dogs who also work at the shoe store). Many days I’d have nothing more on my schedule other than to take treats to Bella, Huck and Indy. The humans that work at The Shoe Hutch made me feel welcome, even though I rarely purchased anything. I can easily admit that I felt so guilty about being such a pest that I bought one pair of shoes and several pairs of socks that I didn’t truly need over the course of the year.



“Huckleberry” of The Shoe Hutch


Up to this point in my self-guided project, I felt I was definitely practicing the art of painting dogs, but it wasn’t until I saw all the paintings in order that I realized practice really does pay off. My technique was improving and I gained some confidence. It’s extremely hard for me to face a blank page/canvas and I have procrastination down to a science when it comes to beginning a painting. All kinds of negative talk passes through my mind until I’ve convinced myself that I’m wasting time.

I decided to attempt painting the dog of my heart, the Blue Heeler that stayed at the farm when I divorced. Ruger and I tried visits for the first year, but logistics made them difficult and both our hearts hurt a lot. I had taken a photo of him at my Corvallis apartment and wanted to try to capture that look of love in a painting. I was scared. It was painful. But I really did find him in my painting. My sister’s comment was: Jaqui’s paintings are getting more and more realistic. My heart was in all of the initial paintings, but my soul was in this one. I still miss Ruger and he still has part of my heart.


At this point in the Working Dog Project, things get a little sketchy; there were roadblocks. I began really searching for all the dogs that work downtown. I found there were more than I could fathom! The project became a socialization practice for me–a chance to force myself outside when all I wanted to do was sleep, or go teach overseas in Indonesia (which I came a hairs-breadth away from doing). I arranged for meetings and took photos of more and more dogs: Peak Sports, Corvallis Home Brew Shop, The Frame Shop, Troubador Music. These dogs’ pictures are waiting for me to paint them.

But it doesn’t stop there! One incredible aspect of this Working Dogs of Downtown project has been very personal. One of the roadblocks of staying right here in Corvallis has been living in an apartment, and the thought that I could not have a dog of my own. Once I crossed the hurdle of that limiting thought, so much changed for me. And it happened all at once: 1. A new co-worker shared information about her companion dog, 2. I happened to look at Heartland Humane Society’s website and found “Moonstone”, a terrier mix that looked a lot like a puppy I had met and loved three months earlier, 3. I talked with my landlord about the possibility of having her as a companion animal, 4. “Moonstone”/”Pearl” came home to live with me!

Pearl currently works with me at Irenes’ Boutique and I am so grateful to Rebecca Robinson for making this arrangement work. Because I live and work downtown Corvallis, Pearl has become a recognizable presence. When I first brought Pearl home, she surprised me in so many ways (positive ways), but my veterinarian cautioned me that I’d need to work on several problems with her, especially since it was just her and I. She needed some interventions in the way of confidence and socialization. Of course I took this as a challenge and wore it every day as my “job”. We went to the dog park downtown, I walked her all around the riverfront, took her to the outdoor restaurants, asked every dog/human I could find to give her treats. She was always with me for the first few months–I didn’t go places to which I couldn’t bring her. I was exhausted!

Pearl is a lightning fast learner and met our challenge like a champ most days. I took her to visit my former neighbor Jo (96 years old). There was mutual love immediately and I was impressed with Pearl’s ability to discriminate play time from serious time.


Jo, with son John, and Pearl

Pearl also has her favorite stops along our daily walks, including the shop across the street run by Reed and Colin. It’s her favorite because feeding her tortilla chips has become a tradition. She loves these guys a lot. It’s pretty obvious they kind of like her too.


Reed, Colin and Pearl

Pearl and I have become inseparable, and I am lucky we found each other. The unconditional love of a dog is the closest thing I’ve felt to the love of God. Ever. And Pearl is exceptional. What I love about her is her ability to bond with other people too. She adores the newest member of her pack. They also have a close bond, which makes me happy to see. I love seeing her love in action.


This post is the encapsulation of my past two years. What I’d like for the next two years is to paint more and more dogs. I have finished my first commissioned dog portrait–‘Atticus’ who lives with my dear teaching friend Alicea. It was scary to do and to be paid for, but I loved doing it and I hope to do a lot more commissioned portraits!




Marvelous Leap, or Leaving a 20 Year Partner and Stable Job With Benefits for No Job, No Benefits, No Partner

And I said, “Oh, I know! My work is one of joy, kindness, something to live up to.” I said I also cradle a song in my heart. In time it is morning and I look out my window. I prepare for a marvelous leap. (jaqui eicher, 2014)

Most of the time, I don’t think of this “leap” as marvelous, unless it’s used as an adverb and followed by the word ‘frightening’ or ‘awful’. Most days, I wonder what I have done with my “one wild and precious life” as Mary Oliver says. But on the days that count, I know that something in me awakened and has driven me toward this move. I have become mindful of my hours and days; how I spend my time matters much more to me than it ever did before. In this way, I have taken a marvelous leap toward mindfulness.

So far the journey has been painful and filled with such a powerful lack of confidence that each step further, each day, leaves me with nearly as many questions as answers. Only the more confident voices of my friends and neighbors have grounded me with good reflections and reminders of my better qualities. I’ve covered new territory (that which I didn’t know existed); wild and dangerous terrain. But I’m still alive! And still there exists in me the will to wake each day and take the next step.

Lately I have wondered when this “marvelous leap” will end. I’ve got to land sometime, right? I’ve considered turning back on the worst days, but instead I take the next step forward, toward the distant unknown. William Stafford wrote: “it is legitimate to crawl after the wings are broken.”  So some days I crawl toward the unknown.

Soon I will need some greater force to pull me because I will be spent and have no energy left with which to move–either forward or back.

My path seems to be leading me toward teaching English overseas and I am happy to finally see something on the horizon besides a bank of fog. Recently I heard Sinead O’Connor’s song, “I Am Enough For Myself” and though I’ve never before  believed this, I’m learning that it might be true and I may have to sit with this for a time.

Circle of Light

My Language Classroom

My Language Classroom

“What does everyone want in life? To not be alone.” Stephen Colbert

In a recent collection of short videos about his Catholic Faith, Stephen Colbert made the observation at the beginning of this post, referring to his show, The Colbert Report. (“Stephen Colbert Opens Up About His Devout Christian Faith, Islam, Pope Francis, and More” by Barbie Latza Nadeau, 9-9-15, The Daily Beast). The entire collection of videos is worth watching because Colbert’s thinking and communication are both so clear, but this one line in particular stayed with me and I’m still processing days after watching it; the idea resonates with me because I’ve already been seeing this thread of a theme throughout my life as I reflect back and back, even to childhood.

One of my favorite ways to spend time is listening to or watching stand up comics and my favorite comedians are those who include everyone in the audience in their jokes: Ellen Degeneres, Mike Birbiglia, The Smothers Brothers, Carol Burnett, Bob Newhart, Victor Borge. After an informal analysis (i.e.: watching hours of Youtube sketches, to my delight), I’ve determined that these folks tend(ed) to draw the audience into their story, as if into their own family, so that the audience feels a solidarity with them by the end of the routine. We feel as if we have a new friend and if we met one of these comics on the street, we’d greet each other with a hug or a handshake. These comics don’t leave us alone, outside of their circle of light and humor which they’ve created, but draw us in with them. This is what makes a great comic, I think. I want to be part of their happiness.

On a larger scale, I agree with Colbert: what any of us want is a place to belong, a family, a village. It is in this circle that we feel secure in our own bodies and spirit, as if we can be ourselves without fear of persecution. The art is to create this “family” without causing others to feel persecuted or left out, which is an easy way to create a group–putting up a boundary or wall of some kind to demarcate the differences involved.

Growing up as the youngest of three sisters provided many opportunities for any one of us to have hurt feelings throughout our childhood years. One vivid and early memory I have related to this was on a summer day in my Grandma’s back yard, near the swing set (which had no swings–we had ingeniously converted it to a large tent by throwing table cloths and bed spreads over it). My memory, like a silent movie, includes my siblings and neighbor boys running off to the next adventure without me, and being left alone, I stand there wailing, immobilized by the feeling of being left out of the group. But then one of the boys returned to reassure me that I could join them, I just needed to hurry up and run with him. I might have been 6 or 7 at the time, I’m not really sure.

Maybe spending my life as a teacher has taught me more about this idea of the circle of light I’m thinking of because in my classrooms, the highest goal of all for me was to create a kind community; this was of utmost importance in order for learning to happen. I still know this to be true as I teach adults in a second language setting. I’ve learned to find what we have in common before teaching the hardest concepts.

I have read and re-read Sharon Salzberg’s book, The Force of Kindness, which I stumbled upon at the city library’s 50 cent book store. In Chapter Four, entitled “How We See the World”, she says:

If we are willing to take a risk anyway, and consciously practice kindness, we see that, unlike the world’s message, which is ‘buy more,’ ‘compete more strongly,’ ‘It’s a dog eat dog world,’ a much more refined happiness comes from feeling joined, from a sense of belonging–both to this life, and to one another. We need to hone our own sense of purpose. We need to understand what will actually allow happiness beyond acquisition, what will help us realize happiness more steadfast than any temporary pleasure of fleeting triumph.

Salzburg also tells a story in the same chapter about a woman she overheard on a New York Street saying, “I was sick all winter,” and when Salzburg turned around, she witnessed this woman handing a street person some money. The woman said, “I had pneumonia, and every time I started to get better I’d have a relapse. Now I am finally getting better, and I just wanted to share the joy.”

Sharing the joy is including others in a circle of light too, and it’s what I aspire to every day of my life. There are so many days that I know I have failed in this aspiration, but I want to keep trying. I hope to continue my study of comics in the hope that their wisdom infuses my life. I think Colbert has it nailed when he said: “What does everyone want in life? To not be alone.”