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15 May
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Writing by the Columbia

Hanging out in Astoria., originally uploaded by lordog.

Writing by the Columbia

by Kerri Buckley

You don’t always get to change or choose locations for writing a book, but last summer I moved to Astoria, Oregon, to write in a room that overlooked the Columbia River — the huge, legendary, Lewis and Clark marine highway. The Columbia spills into a bay that connects to the Pacific, and the view of the sunset from my room was spectacular. At night I could literally see ships pass in the night, and small fishing boats illuminated as they bobbed on the river. Not only could I watch the river, but four miles across were the misty blue mountains of Washington.

This view was everything to me as I worked. I put together my first collection of poetry with the river always in sight and in mind. The room was a few stories up in a hundred-year old building on a hill, and I’d frequently look up from my computer or paper to see factory-sized ships painted in bright colors floating up or down river.

Sometimes I’d jump in my car, grab a chai, park facing the river and write for hours. When I needed a break, the path along the river was the perfect diversion–full of bicycles, dogs and wild flowers. The fishing boats drifted in and out; sea-lions yelped their constant barks to one another, and the sky over the river changed color and hue from moment to moment—from clear to a cold, mysterious fog. And then, shortly, a rainbow arced down into the river through sun-filtered clouds.

There was always a breeze, and through the window in my room, I could hear strains of The Magic Flute, or Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, as the musicians and performers of the Astoria Music Festival rehearsed at the nearby Liberty Theater. The Liberty, opened in 1925, was grand inspiration itself, beautiful, elegant, and undergoing extensive and careful renovation. I could cross the street to a flower shop, walk a few steps and duck through the alley to The Rusty Cup, a coffee shop next to the Liberty that always welcomed writers, artists and creative projects. Sunday mornings I could hear the crowds down below at the Sunday Market, and the distant bells of the trolley. Always, though, there was the river–the perfect writing companion: moving, changing, reflective as I wrote, revised and rewrote.

This essay appeared in the “Write This” section of Seattle Writergrrls UNCAPPED ZINE in 2005.
19 August
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Summer Memories

Summer Memories

by Kerri Buckley

Summer. It does have its own feel – bicycles and blueberries; picnics under blue skies; golden hours and evenings that meander into nights never seeming to end, loaded with stars, music, cool foods and laughter. Yes, summers have magic. Alex Romer, just old enough to have a job at a movie theater in Tualatin could spend days off in air-conditioned coolness doing movie marathons for free. Instead, he chooses to skateboard in almost all his spare time, cherishing dry weather as an opportunity to perfect skateboard skills. “The best summers” he says, “are complete with friends, family, sunshine and smooth hills.” His sister Aleah has spent most of her teen summers working with horses, also coveting dry, sunny days. Time indoors will just have to wait.

Experiences Matter Most

What’s your favorite summer memory? Studies show that people remember experiences most, not material things. A recent poll among Portlanders echoed these findings – summer memories are most unforgettable when family, friends, places and events are interwoven. Little else is remembered. All these comparisons led me to consider my significant summer memories. Most remarkable involved yearly family vacations to South Dakota as a kid, outings with friends, and events only summer could offer – like Fourth of July fireworks displays, camping trips, days spent at lakes and beaches, the Astoria Music Festival, silk dresses, and regular frequenting of jazz clubs with my sister. Summer clocks are synchronized by fun.

Haunting Summer Memories

A few summer memories are hauntingly etched in my mind, mixed with feelings of the new, unexplored, and fleeting rarity of connecting with people you will never see again. One such memory includes my friend Caren, who, several decades ago, was a painting student in Philadelphia. Everything about her was bohemian and original. The summer we met, we were each newly alone in a huge city working at a restaurant on a ship docked on the Delaware River. Most days we worked hard. Days off, we explored the city, beaches at the shore, and talked about all future possibilities. I remember sitting on the sills of her ten-foot high windows, all of them thrown open, overlooking Chestnut Street, drinking tea and watching a rare summer afternoon rain explode over the city, chilling and emptying the streets below. It was Caren who first introduced me to iced coffee, wine coolers, and the ability to survive without a chest of drawers. What I remember most is her laughter, a joyous, musical experience I still hear distinctly. That summer was so short! In a few months the days would cool, our lives would change, our paths separate. In the same haunting vein, I remember my father taking my sisters and me on another rainy summer day to a huge library, remember painting alone for hours, oil on canvas, in our study. They are ribbons, these days of summer, with definite beginnings and ends, connecting all main bodies that make up our lives.

Summer Friends

Alex Romer thinks friends are vital to great memories. His favorite summer was his thirteenth, when he and two buddies, Larry and Zach, had no worries except mastering the art of skateboarding. They spent the entire summer learning how to ‘drop in’, collected and recycled cans, shared single sodas and sunflower seeds as if they were feasts, built stick forts, and explored abandoned buildings – a perfect boy’s summer. Lately, I’ve noticed my young neighbor Josh, thirteen, with a new skateboard. I hear the familiar sound of someone jumping – over and over again. He’s often alone, and looks intensely determined. Soon enough, though, he’ll be skating with friends in the sunshine and looking for smooth hills.

Kerri Buckley is a writer and artist living in the Pacific Northwest. She teaches freelance writing, and hosts a literary radio show, The Literary Cafe’ in Astoria.

This article appeared in August 2007 in Portland Family Magazine