One summer, I was invited to go camping in the San Juans. My dog was so old that I worried about leaving him at home alone. So I brought him with me. It rained so hard for those two days the waterproofing on my tent gave out. I had to leash the dog to make him leave the tent to pee, and when he came back in, he coated the entire inside of the tent with mud and the scent of wet dog, a scent that also pervaded my car for at least a week afterward. His toe nails punctured my sleeping pad. It was the last time I ever took that dog camping. He died a few months later. I’m so glad I took him with me to the island.
The San Juan Islands hold a special place in Northwest hearts. Idyllic islands not too far from the comforts of home, they seem to exist with an Instagram filter that blends nostalgia and progressiveness. The first time I went camping on Lopez Island, I turned down a little dirt driveway onto a farm that had posted a “Fresh Produce” sign by the street. Pulling up in front of a big barn, I couldn’t see any sign of recent habitation. But just inside I found these refrigerators, a table with a scale, a chalkboard listing the prices of everything available that day, and a cash box with a piggy bank slot for payment.
When you travel, have you ever noticed that there cat cities and dog cities? Tokyo is a cat city. When I’m in Japan, I always carry a package of dried fish with me to tempt the stray kitties. Everywhere in India, stray dogs roam the streets. There is not a cat to be found. Reykjavik is known for its cats. They even have their own Facebook page. But I didn’t know that at first.
The first time I went to Reykjavik was for Airwaves. It was early November and we partied amidst hurricane-force winds. I didn’t see any cats. The next time it was April and warmer, but I was in class all day and didn’t wander the city much, except in large groups that would scare away any half intelligent animal. But the third time was in July. I was in the Eastfjords most of the time, but I spent my last day at the botanical garden in Reykjavik, marveling at how it looked like a Seattle garden in May, and making friends with this guy.
He never let me get close enough to pat him, but he followed me for nearly an hour as I wandered through the lilacs and buttercups. Reykjavik is a cat city.
I visited the Reykjavik Botanical Garden one July, and discovered that it looked a lot like any Seattle garden in May. Lilacs and rhodies, spring bulbs – the usual. Probably quite an achievement in that cold climate, but ordinary to gardens from warmer climes. There were some interesting near-arctic natives. And then there was this. The Himalayan blue poppy, Meconopsis. Stuff of legend and 4-inch pots costing $10 or more. I have tried so often to grow them, and never with any success. But here they were, happily blooming in Reykjavik.
Icelandic horses (don’t call them ponies!) are famous for their extra gait, the tolt, which is unique in the world. But it’s not the only thing unique about them. Unlike horses everywhere else in the world, they do not necessarily sleep standing up. In fact, they often take a break flat on the ground, legs out, in a position most of us associate with dead horses.
Life is tough for Icelandic horses, who stand out in the snow and wind year-round, and rarely enjoy the shelter of a heated barn like horses elsewhere. Do they get dead tired battling the weather all the time? Or are they just clever little horses that know how to below the wind when there’s no shelter to be found?
Eighties movies were all about stereotypes. The gym teacher was always a brain dead meathead, or a butch lesbian. My own gym teacher didn’t fit the stereotype (morbidly obese, she sat in the shade while we played volleyball or kickball and only interfered by blowing a whistle when things got violent) but was equally useless.
I also grew up steeped in the Christian mind-body split that pitted brains against brawn. My loyalties were strongly with the former.
So maybe I can be forgiven for arriving so late at the conclusion that gym teachers are educators, and like most educators, could be interesting, intelligent, artistic people. The man above is a gym teacher, presenting here in the persona of DJ Tofri, host to Iceland’s largest and most storied heavy metal festival. He is also a musician, and has played in a series of underground bands.
Earlier this year I discovered that “Mr. D,” the P.E. teacher at my daughters’ elementary school, is also a playwright. I found out because I chaperoned a field trip to see a play at Seattle Children’s Theatre (which I have often touted as one of the best theater companies in our theater-strong city) and his name was on the cover of the brochure.
I don’t know if this realization would have made much of a difference in my life – I am and always have been a klutz, so my preference for books over sports was probably a given regardless of world view. But I wonder how many people I might have been friends with had I not made assumptions based on their jerseys?