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Unstoppable creeper

In many areas, English ivy is considered an invasive species. It can crowd out native plants, cover and smother trees, and deprive native animals of the flora they need for food and shelter.

While I was going to work in Seattle and Bellevue, the ivy that clung to the Douglas fir tree behind my house and grew in the bed between the foundation of my house and the lawn, spread over the back of my house. The creeping vine crept over the bedroom windows, crawled over the kitchen window, colonized the gutters.

From my back deck in the bright summer the wall of green seemed somehow institutional to me. Ivy covered the brick of the cookie cutter Collegiate Gothic style. The massive buildings with ornate cornices and perpetual ivy signified the liberal education as much as golden arches signified rapidly produced hamburgers.

Whenever I see ivy I think of the University of Washington’s Gothic style, or the phrase Ivy League. I don’t really know much about the ivy league. Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Cornell, Columbia, Dartmouth, Brown, and U Penn, U Penn is an ivy league school. Some of these names have crawled into our vocabulary as a kind of verbal tinsel. These linguistic faux-marbling imply prestige: a development of tract homes in a Cape Cod style named Harvard Heights, a driving school called Princeton Academy of the Wheel, the Dartmouth Grill next door to the movie theater called The Harvard Exit Theatre.

Ivy fills the forests near my house. The vine clings to the trunks of Douglas fir. The vine strangles maple trees and cotton wood trees until they suffocate and become covered in lichen and mushrooms. The vine finally splits the tree into hunks that fall into the bed of ivy on the forest floor. The bed of ivy covers the forest floor in a knee-high blanket of meaty, fibrous leaves. Spiders, raccoon, and rats live under the cover of the ivy. At first, when you enter the forest you feel that you entering a verdant space filled with life, bird song, plants, and the somehow prestigious shape of ivy. The ivy transforms the trees into columns of ivy. Ivy hangs from the canopy.

On my first walk from my house to Puget Sound, I found myself in the bright and green woods. My house is in a subdivision modestly named Pinewood. The division is in a neighborhood with the humble name of Woodmont. The neighborhood is in a city named Des Moines after Des Moines Iowa and distinguished verbally from Iowa by the locals pronouncing the terminal S, as in “Des Moine-sss”. I walked through the fuzzy, vine covered trunks to a steep slope. I could see white caps on Puget Sound and then came out to the rock shore of the sea. The forest stood on the slopes of the hill, a solid mass of vegetation.

Despite densely inhabited strips of apartment buildings, condos, and small lot houses, my neighborhood retains a rural feel. Up until the recent boom in Seattle, much of the neighborhood had green belts required as noise mitigation from Sea-Tac. A constant stream of jets heads north as planes approach Sea-Tac. At other times the stream heads south as planes depart. Around the airport, the neighborhoods seem frozen in the 1960s and 1970s. There are less sports utility vehicles here than in Seattle or the East Side. People drive Ford trucks or newer Toyota Tahomas. There are many Datsun Z80s around. Only recently have the Toyota Camrys from the 1990s given way to Ford Focuses and Toyota Corollas. You find cars with body damage and primer in the parking lots.

The green belts stuffed with all consuming ivy right next to the densely packed urban apartments were dangerous. It is in the green belts that the community dumped toxic trash. It is in the green belts where temporary shelters house meth lab. It is in the green belts where the Green River killer executed his victims and stored (for easy access) their decomposing bodies. The ivy covers these things and gradually gnaws them out of existence. When you enter the forest you feel that you entering a verdant space filled with decay and death.

Occasionally, the community attempts to clear the ivy. Crews cut the veins at the root of the Douglas fir trees. They pull up the sheets of ivy revealing the rat trails, the piles of garbage, the bones of missing people. But within a season the ivy returns.

I realized about five years ago that the ivy was gradually covering my house. It wasn’t going to transform my house into an Ivy League college, but instead the tiny brown roots would finger their way into the siding of the house, crack the cement foundation and rip the house down until I was living among the spiders and rats.

As I cut the vines down, I cut the telephone land line to the house. The land line was no longer in use. I ripped out the copper line. I ripped out the vines. It came back in sheets with the roots clinging to strips of house wood and paint. After a weekend of labor the house was revealed. A few pieces of siding had been ripped up. The window screens held tiny filaments of ivy root that could not be removed. But the house has been restored, sort of, to how it looked when I first moved into it.

But the ivy has started to creep back. It has sent tentative feelers up the wainscoting. It will not rest.

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Ann Rule and the Green River Killer

Not a single victim wore shoes like this; they tended to wear tennis shoes.

Not a single victim wore shoes like this; the dead tend to wear tennis shoes.

I read Green River, Running Red by Ann Rule book a while ago.  The book left me a lot of questions. I was puzzled by Ann Rule’s own handling of her role in the events. There is a meta aspect to the story where as the author of the story, she considers that doesn’t have the chops to handle, nor does the entire True Crime genre have the chops to handle Gary Ridgeway’s story and the nearly epidemiological causes of the environment that gave rise to Ridgeway, the teen age runaways, and the initial reluctance of the law enforcement and community to do anything about it. Ridgeway himself was aware of his future fame as the Green River Killer and was partly a serial killer fan boy. He anticipated his notoriety. In that sense, then, Ann Rule, contributed to his crimes. She doesn’t have the answer to that, and she does focus the narrative on the stories of the children who ended up murdered by Ridgeway.

One of the puzzles of Ridgway’s story is how he settled down with his third wife and moved to Auburn and essentially stopped killing because of his happy home life. I can imagine Rule interviewing his third wife and asking about the strange bumps on the Green River Killer’s penis. Did you notice any bumps? It is this sort of tasteless, lurid, and trivial that is essential to the True Crime genre. The first season of HBOs True Detective works so well because Matthew McConaughey’s Rust Cohle manages to infuse the closer observation of the trivial with existential angst; his rambling autodidactic musing are rooted in the trivial, and in turn the trivial is lifted and connected to the larger movements of a fictional serial killer. Rule however struggles with the banal killings of a killer who is not captured partly because the task force didn’t take Ridgeway seriously as a possible killer: he was too stupid, too ordinary. And this ends up being the enigma at the center of the narrative of Green River, Running Red, the killings are routine for the killer. Ridgeway would sometimes kill while out running an errand. At one point he picks up a victim with his young son in his truck, drives to a vacant lot off of Pacific Highway, has sex with and kills his victim, and then returns to the truck. Continue Reading →

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Salmon Berry Jam

Location: Saltwater State Park

I picked raincoat pocket full of salmon berries while walking past the just mowed portion of Saltwater State Park. The campground section on the east side of McSorley Creek is lined with dense salmon berry bushes that carried massive loads of suddenly ripe berries.

I often walk asphalt drive on the park and then cross the bridge at McSorley Creek that passed under a tall maple tree onto a gravel road that edges along a muddy slope restrained by Douglas fir, old logging stumps, and brush. A flowering plumb had fallen at the end of the gravel road where the bridge crosses the creek. It has been flowering for weeks. I walk on the gravel road, along the edge of the steep slope. A massive Douglas fir tree grows on the road there. It has gnarled grey bark, and massive gaps in the roots that always suggest that animals live there, or that maybe there is some passage that would lead down into a system of tunnels and caverns under the forest. Faux mother of thousands crowed the forest floor in the spring. The damp clefts where streams start support Devils Club. The camping spots are empty during the week and when it rains. The road passed around back to McSorley Creek again and I cross another bridge and I’m back on the paved road. I walk to the very end of the paved section to a turnaround under 16th Ave S which passed over the creek and the forest on a bridge supported by several massive cement pylons that collects graffiti and then splotches of grey paint to cover the signs. I can hear traffic noises at the street level, above the forest. I can see the edge of a subdivision, and then I walk back and this time the slope on my right is more visible to me. It is covered in sword ferns and then back in the main part of the upper campground, I pass a muddy slope with sword ferns, and those tiny leafy plants with a stalk that has tiny bell shapes pods. As a child I would pull my hand along the length to harvest handfuls of the pods. This time I found salmon berries that had ripened in the last week and the forest was full of then when I began to look for them. I would walk through the forest looking for them, and I wasn’t really aware of how damp and leafy the valley of the McSorley Creek was before. If I fell down, I would fall through the layer of foliage on the mucky forest floor and no one would be able to see me.

I pulled the salmon berry from the bushes. Some of them were salmon colored, yellow or slightly pinkish, and would come of in a thick sheet of berries. Most of them were a bit larger than a quarter. However, a few were huge like commercial strawberries and filled the palm of my hand. When I pulled them from the bush, they released a fragrant smell of vegetation. Salmon berries smell like the forest, woody, and they taste the same, except for a very faint sweet taste that always seems to me as though it should lead to more, but doesn’t. They are related to raspberries and blackberries. I have never been able to do much with them when I pick them except eat then When I eat them I always find myself ruminating on their elusive taste. I sometimes eat handfuls thinking, that they seem so bright and raspberry like, shouldn’t they taste better? And now the taste, too, reminds of the beginning of summer and damp Junes. The berries taste more like a leaf then a berry. I picked an entire pocket of them to bring home. And then, I brushed against a stinging needle and this was a faint memory of a sensation of pain, a nostalgic pain, like losing a tooth.

At home I looked up a recipe, and this is the one I followed. The recipe didn’t use pectin, and I didn’t follow the sterilization method I remember from my mother making actual jam when I was growing up, so it won’t keep. The jam had that elusive flavor, but since it was mostly sugar it was a faint, citrus flavor like a marmalade taste without the citrus bite. It also had a tremendous number of seeds that I liked, but would probably strain out next time I make it.

Salmon Berry Jam

This creates a cooked, but not sterile jam meaning it won’t be properly sealed in a jam jar. But the jam is kind of faintly citrus and berry flavor and excellent as a flavoring for ice cream, on bread, and with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups crushed salmon berries
  • 1/2 cup sugar

Instructions:

  1. I washed the berries, and found I’d picked an earwig. It ran down my sink drain, so it may come back sometime.
  2. I used a handheld blender to puree the salmon berries. Next time I make it, I think I’ll strain the puree to remove some of the seeds.
  3. I put the berries and sugar into a pot on the stove.
  4. I set my burner to high and boiled the sugar and berries on high for 5 minutes. At the end of the boiling period the entire mixture has become kind of frothy.
  5. I then reduce the reduce the heat to medium-low and simmered for 20 mins. I read somewhere that the fluid should begin to “sheet” and toward the end of the twenty minutes I noticed that the jam clung to my spatula in a jammy like glob. I guess that is beginning to “sheet.”
  6. I put in the fridge to cool for a couple of hours, and then spent the next couple of days eating it.
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