Category Archives: United States

Spies, sex, and snow – a new ‘Fairytale’

'Fairytale of New York'

‘Fairytale of New York’

It’s December 13 and I’ve yet to hear ‘Fairytale of New York‘. Is that a record? (Sorry.)

After 30 years of the song every Christmas, this is probably not a bad thing. Over the years I’ve heard it often enough – at Pogues’ concerts, in convenience stores, badly sung in crowded bars, blared out in taxis, whistled by a guy at a bus-stop, and so on.

The fact that I now live in a city where the song is rarely played on radio (in my experience, at least) or in a bar, and is unknown to most people I encounter, has been something of a relief. There was a time when it wasn’t Christmas until I heard those first piano notes but, away from Ireland, they’ve become less, not more, resonant.

Of course, as an Irish immigrant in the U.S., this surely amounts to a form of treason. After all, there are few songs of the last 30 years that speak so specifically to one particular aspect of the Irish-American experience. (A gritty, mid-century, Irishman in New York experience that seems a million miles from what’s sold nowadays to planefuls of shoppers by Aer Lingus, it must be said.)

Much as I still admire its craft though, Shane Macgowan and Jem Finer’s song doesn’t speak to my experience. But that also doesn’t mean that I haven’t been seeking out voices from home, and so, in recent weeks, I’ve been listening at length to another emigrant Irish songwriter.

Seamus Fogarty

Seamus Fogarty

Seamus Fogarty is a Mayo man based in London, who writes songs about bodysnatchers, Vincent Van Gogh’s ears, working on building sites in England, missing a bus and sleeping in a church in Carlow town, the health of Irish traditional music, and burial at sea, among other topics.

Luckily enough his new album, ‘The Curious Hand’, also contains a Christmas song, and – joy to the world – it’s not a million miles removed from the beer-stained, exhausted mood of ‘Fairytale’.

‘Christmas Time On Jupiter’ begins with the singer waking on Christmas Day in a Chicago hotel room, to find a Mexican spy he’s spent the night with rifling through his wallet.

From there – with a touch Shane Macgowan would be proud of – things go downhill.

I struggled out her door, into the winter snow,
I was alone with my thoughts, my feet were crunching away,
I was sitting by a fire on Christmas Day.
‘Mented from the drink, a shadow from the night before,
When I got into my house I was offered more.
And we sat around, a momentary family, raising a brief glass to our asylum…

As family Christmases go, it’s hardly traditional, but – as much as ‘Fairytale’ three decades ago – Fogarty evokes one type of immigrant life at Christmas, where casual friends and booze might be just enough to keep the loneliness or the homesickness at bay.

It may not prove as enduring as the Pogues’ song but it updates it, and so it’s taken the ‘Fairytale’ spot on my Christmas playlist. Not that – thankfully – I’m likely to hear either in the store tomorrow.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Reaching the dizzy heights of Hollywood

The view south from summit of Mount Hollywood

The view south from summit of Mount Hollywood

It isn’t the biggest mountain I’ve climbed, but it’s probably the most glitzy.

The clue’s in the name. Mount Hollywood sits among the hills in Griffith Park in Los Angeles, overlooking the famous ‘Hollywood’ sign and within squinting distance of film stars’ luxury pads.

It has to-the-horizon views of the metropolis of L.A., including its downtown and, to the southwest, the waters of the Pacific and Catalina Island. Just beneath the summit lies Griffith Observatory, a stunning 1930s landmark, itself perched high above the city.

The trailhead.

The trailhead.

Even the trailhead itself has a little showbiz sparkle – hikers take their first steps past the George Harrison tree. (The second of its type, after the first died following an onslaught by beetles in 2014 – I kid you not).

It’s not all glamour though. The four mile (with diversions) round trip up and down the Mount Hollywood Summit trail is a dusty outing and, on many days, the views are obscured by the city’s notorious smog. Beware the heat too – hiking it last weekend meant temperatures in the low 80s, even near the summit saddle, and a searing sun, with zero foliage cover.

That said, for someone who’s spent most of his hiking hours in rainy Ireland or soggy Oregon, the hot, blue sky was a welcome relief.  The heat was also worth enduring for the scenic payback that followed a 45-minute workout, and 262m ascent, up the trail.

In recent years I’ve hiked a number of the popular routes in L.A. – traversing trails in the San Gabriel Mountains, Debs Park, and Topanga State Park. Each has its own charms, but Mount Hollywood is the best all-rounder for taking in the view and vibe of the city.

It won’t tax a hardened outdoors person, and fitness freaks will prefer to jog rather than walk, but it’s worth braving the  hordes who start from the Charlie Turner trailhead, near Griffith Observatory, each Saturday morning. Just bring some water – and a camera for that photo.

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Out of season – and with good reason

Rain in Portland, winter 2016

Rain in Portland, winter 2016

As an Irishman, winter’s here.

It began on November 1, not December 21 – the incomprehensibly late date observed in the United States.

The timing of the seasons is something the Celts got right. The drenching skies, low clouds, and fading daylight of November mean winter, not autumn/fall.

Leaping into the hardest season on the morning after Halloween means that, by the time Christmas arrives, you’re halfway through. And the days are getting longer by then, too. How could winter just be starting at that time?

I picked up the ‘winter in November’ belief at school in Ireland, and I’m fairly sure that it’s a commonly-held belief there to this day.

So, it’s hard – as someone who now lives in Oregon – to accept that the forthcoming 48 hours of chilly rain is just another fall weekend. And don’t get me started on the other cultural divide that pops up at this time of year – the pumpkin spice latte.

Whether I’m living in the right season or not, I’m guaranteed to be doing one thing this weekend – spending too much time sheltering indoors. Which for me, means a lot of time listening to music.

And what better music to listen to in Portland, in November, than an album called ‘Winter Light’, by an acoustic jazz combo called ‘Oregon’.

Who says I’m not in tune with the seasons?

_____

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Fall sees me tripping over my words

<p>2018 Benefits Open Enrollment (OE) runs from Oct. 30 to Nov. 13, 2017. Refer to the <a style="TEXT-DECORATION: underline" href="https://nikehr.nike.com/node/17356" target="_blank">Benefits Open Enrollment page</a> on the NIKE HR Website for complete details and enrollment guides.</p> <p>The <a style="TEXT-DECORATION: underline" href="https://nike.ent.box.com/s/w8dhd296uxv7axlrb551s7jeft1rt5g5" target="_blank">Benefits OE Training Deck</a> (presented on Oct. 11, 2017) covers:</p> <ul> <li>What’s New?</li> <li>Roth 401(k)</li> <li>Open Enrollment Timeline</li> <li>Healthcare</li> <li>Prescription Drug Coverage</li> <li>Dental/Vision</li> <li>Security Benefits</li> <li>Dependent Care/CERA</li> </ul> <center> <h2>DATES</h2> </center> <br /> <ul> <li><strong>Oct. 16</strong>: OE guide mailed to eligible Employees.<br /> <strong>Note</strong>: DC & Retail will have posters displayed as well as an option to opt-in for text reminders.</li> <li><strong>Oct. 24</strong>: HDHP Flip Book mailed.</li> <li><strong>Oct. 26</strong>: Soft OE begins (early OE start for HR)</li> <li><strong>Oct. 30</strong>: OE begins - email sent to eligible Employees. Separate customized email sent to expats.</li> <li><strong>Nov. 3</strong>: Reminder email sent to Employees (this will be sent after 5 pm PT).</li> <li><strong>Nov. 10</strong>: Final reminder email sent to Employees.</li> <li><strong>Nov. 13</strong>: OE ends (soft date)- email sent to non-enrolled.</li> <li><strong>Nov. 17</strong>: OE ends (hard date). <strong>Note</strong>: This should not be communicated to Employees.</li> </ul> <h2 align="center">WHAT’S NEW?</h2> <br /> <ul> <li><strong>Healthcare premiums</strong>: Employees will pay one rate for adults they cover and another rate for children. Premium costs will be based on plan type and number/type of dependents covered.</li> <li><strong>Prescription drug coverage</strong>: Nike is changing coverage from a 2-tier to a 3-tiered design. <ul> <li>The cost Employees pay will depend on which tier their prescription falls under for the Basic and PPO plans.</li> <li>A new mail order program called Mail Service Member Select (MSMS) is being added – an easy way to fill prescriptions and save money.</li> </ul> </li> <li><strong>Dental plan enhancements</strong>: <ul> <li>Preventive care will not count towards the annual maximum.</li> <li>Dental Plus Plan will include a new PPO Network – to provide bigger savings.</li> </ul> </li> <li><strong>Roth 401(k)</strong>: OE communications mentions the new Roth 401(k) feature that allows Employees to contribute to retirement savings on an after-tax basis. NIKE matches up to a combined 5% for Employees retirement. (<strong>ex</strong>: Employee contributes 1% to Roth 401(k) and 5% to regular 401(k), NIKE will only match 1% to Roth and 4% to the regular 401(k) account.)<br /> On Jan. 2, 2018, Employees will be able to login to Fidelity to make an election. Refer Employees to <a style="TEXT-DECORATION: underline" href="https://nb.fidelity.com/public/nb/nike/home" target="_blank">netbenefits.com/nike</a> for more information.</li> <li>The <strong>Recommendation Path</strong> scenarios-based tool in the Benefits portal will not be available this year. The results weren't found to be a very accurate guide during OE last year. Advisors should not be advising Employees on what they should select, it's the individual's financial decision.</li> </ul> <h2 align="center">AFFORDABLE CARE ACT (ACA)</h2> <br /> <ul> <li>No changes for 2018. ACA queries are handled by Benefits Team.</li> <li>NIKE must collect and report accurate SSNs for all enrolled Employees and dependents.</li> <li>Nike must offer “Full Time Equivalent” benefits to Employees working an average of 30 hours a week.<br /> Eligibility is based on a 12 month lookback period (Oct - Oct), this year it's Oct. 17, 2016 - Oct. 17, 2017.</li> <li>Notices are mailed to all eligible Employees. Benefits are only applicable for 1 year, and re-evaluated every year. When coverage ends, they would be eligible for COBRA.</li> <li><strong>Mid-year Employment Status Changes</strong>: Benefits will look back from termination effective date and look back to October of the previous year to determine eligibility. Route questions to Benefit Ops.</li> <li>At the end of the year NIKE provides a 'W-2 Like' form, called the <a style="TEXT-DECORATION: underline" href="https://nikehr.nike.com/node/17470" target="_blank">1095-C</a> (sent by Towers Watson) to Employees, with confirmation of their medical enrollment and covered dependents.</li> </ul> <center> <h2>FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS</h2> </center> <br /> <p><strong>Why has my premium increased?</strong><br /> Any increase arises from the normal cost of doing business. Premiums change every year, and last year's premium changes were minimal.</p> <p><strong>Who can termed Employees contact regarding their retirement planning questions?</strong><br /> Employees termed under the Organizational Transformation should be routed to Securian (a Minnesota Life affiliate). Call: 1-866-881-3348.<br /> Non-termed Employees with retirement planning questions should also be routed to Securian.</p> <p><strong>What is Alight Solutions?</strong><br /> Alight Solutions is the new name for the dependent verification vendor AON (previously called AON Hewitt). Rebranding will occur in Q1 or Q2, 2018.</p> <p><strong>How can I check if my dentist is in the PPO network?</strong><br /> Network queries should be routed to Moda at <a style="TEXT-DECORATION: underline" href="http://www.modahealth.com/nike" target="_blank">www.modahealth.com/nike</a>. Employees cannot check if their dentist is in-network under NIKE's PPO plan until Jan. 1, 2018. Moda offers generic network information prior to this date.</p> <p><strong>Can my dependents be covered on the Vision Plan if I am not?</strong><br /> No. Employees do not have to enroll in every available plan, but they must be enrolled in a plan for their dependents to receive coverage under that plan.</p> <center> <h2>ADDITIONAL RESOURCES</h2> </center> <br /> <ul> <li><a style="TEXT-DECORATION: underline" href="https://nikehr-1.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/5089">Employee Self Service (ESS) training deck</a> for HRD Advisors</li> <li><a style="TEXT-DECORATION: underline" href="https://nikehr.nike.com/node/17356" target="_blank">Benefits Open Enrollment page</a> on NIKE HR Website</li> <li><a style="TEXT-DECORATION: underline" href="https://nikehr.nike.com/sites/default/files-public/primary-downloads/benefits-oe-faqs-en-us.pdf" target="_blank">Open Enrollment FAQs</a> on the NIKE HR Website</li> <li><a style="TEXT-DECORATION: underline" href="https://nikehr.nike.com/node/15762" target="_blank">Medical Coverage page</a> on the NIKE HR Website</li> <li><a style="TEXT-DECORATION: underline" href="https://nikehr.nike.com/node/15757" target="_blank">Dental Coverage page</a> on the NIKE HR Website</li> <li><a style="TEXT-DECORATION: underline" href="https://nikehr.nike.com/node/15753" target="_blank">Vision Coverage page</a> on the NIKE HR Website</li> <li><a style="TEXT-DECORATION: underline" href="https://nikehr.nike.com/node/16837" target="_blank">When Coverage Ends and Cobra page</a> on the NIKE HR Website</li> </ul>

Oscar Wilde in New York, 1882

Fall or autumn?

‘Tis the season – of mists and mellow fruitfulness, and attempting to call the time of year by its American name.

Unlike the unrelenting stacks of leaves blowing into our driveway – despite my occasional efforts to remove them – I’m not sure ‘fall’ will stick.

Because a season of low light, cool evenings, and chilly air presaging the arrival of winter is an ‘autumnal’ one. Full stop (not ‘period’).

The word itself has a long history, stretching back to the 8th century. Its origins are in the Old French ‘autompne’, which crossed with the Latin ‘autumnus’ to create the late Middle English ‘autumn’. From there John Keats and his ilk ran with it.

‘Fall’ is fine, but it just doesn’t have the same historical heft. It’s more of a verb – part of ‘autumn’, but hardly the full experience.

And so, the season of spectacular leaf color, and equally spectacular Oregon rainfall, remains ‘autumn’ – in my company at least.

But my annual wrangling with the topic is part of a bigger question. As an immigrant to the U.S., should I drop the old words for the new?

Is it an auto shop or a garage? A line or a queue? Fries or chips? A restroom or a toilet? I could go on.

Should I adapt? Or should I instead adopt some advice. Another Irishman who spent time in America, Oscar Wilde, remarked that, “we have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language”.

Little has changed since Wilde made that comment more than 130 years ago. Some things never change, it seems.

To that end, autumn will always be fall here. Just not to me.

_____

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Power out, Stevenson WA

At 5am the Columbia River Gorge is mostly in darkness.

Returned to an earlier state.

But here and there the black is specked with lights

Driven by generators and engines, that assure us that we own the night

And that we control the darkness. That the gorge is ours.

But the fire-blackened hills and the tang in the morning air tell a different story,

Of how our control is an illusion,

And how we have been, and will be, here only a brief time,

And that our preoccupations don’t matter,

When cast against an enormous darkness.

Tagged , , , , ,

‘Brilliant and bleak beyond words’

Remnants of a fire lookout on Bald Mountain, Oregon

Remnants of a fire lookout on Bald Mountain, Oregon

All that remains are two large, oblong stones, which lie perpendicular to one another in a small glade.

Yet it’s here that, for decades in the middle part of the last century, fire watchers spent their summers, perched on the summit of Bald Mountain, beneath the huge glaciated wall of Mount Hood to the west.

Only the two stones remain on the mountain top these days, surrounded by the tall trees that have grown up in the 60 or more years since the lookout was abandoned.

Standing at the summit last weekend, on a blazing hot Oregon August day, I wondered if any of those who watched on Bald Mountain were still around? What could they tell of the long months spent up here alone, binoculars in hand, scouring the ridges, tree lines and valleys for storms and smoke?

Since I was a teenager the job of fire lookout has seemed hugely romantic. Long before I encountered Thoreau, and at a time when the highest peaks I’d climbed were the lowly Slieve Bloom mountains in the Irish Midlands, I was fixated on the job.

The weather, the remoteness, the desolation – all undercut with a grave responsibility to protect people: was it any wonder it appealed to a young scout?

Fast forward a few years and – now in my late teens – I discovered the writings of Jack Kerouac. Better known for his cross-country beat jaunts, the writer also spent two months as a lookout on Desolation Peak in the High Cascades range, in Washington.

Writing about the experience afterwards, Kerouac noted: “Sixty three sunsets I saw revolve on that perpendicular hill – mad raging sunsets pouring in sea foams of cloud through unimaginable crags like the crags you grayly drew in pencil as a child, with every rose-tint of hope beyond, making you feel just like them, brilliant and bleak beyond words.”

While brilliant, the crags of Mount Hood National Forest are not bleak – not in summer at least. Every hour dozens of hikers walk the Timberline Trail beneath Bald Mountain’s summit, while dozens more saunter down the nearby level stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail.

But the peak itself is quiet, if not desolate, and a few moments spent alone there are enough to remove you from yourself, and connect you to the generations of people who hiked there before, and millennia of flora and fauna that existed in that spot.

And cause you to think of, as Jack the Lookout put it, “a blade of grass jiggling in the winds of infinity, anchored to a rock, and for your own poor gentle flesh no answer”.

_____

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Hiking the ‘geography of hope’

Mount Hood. Pic: Clare Kleinedler

Mount Hood. Pic: Clare Kleinedler

“We simply need wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in. For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.”

So wrote the novelist Wallace Stegner in 1960, in an appeal to a U.S. government official involved in a policy review of America’s ‘Outdoor Recreation Resources’.

Stegner’s point seems self-evident 60 years later. In 2017, after hundreds of years of human erosion of natural resources, the wild country in public ownership is clearly worth more than its simple economic value.

While this is clear to many – particularly those who’ve visited a national park – the country’s current president may take some convincing. Meanwhile, hope seems thin on the ground these days.

But, as Stegner argued, it’s still there – for now. With this in mind we recently travelled from our home in urban north Portland’s to the Mount Hood National Forest, and specifically to the Lolo Pass Trailhead, a waypoint on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).

From there, my wife and I hiked the PCT for a couple of hours, before turning off on the Timberline Trail, which we cut away from to ascend Bald Mountain.

In the course of the hike we met a handful of people, who quickly passed with a nod; at times, we seemed to be the only people standing beneath the gargantuan west face of Mount Hood above us. The higher we hiked, the quieter the undergrowth sounded – even the fauna appeared to clear the way.

We felt, to borrow another phrase from Stegner, “single, separate, vertical and individual in the world, part of the environment of trees and rocks and soil, brother to the other animals…”

After months in the cities, and traffic, living with ambient freeway noise outside our home and multiple screens within, the hours also felt like ‘sanity restored’.

On Bald Mountain.

On Bald Mountain. Pic: Clare Kleinedler

We ate our lunch yards from Bald Mountain’s summit, where the only imprint of civilization was the few stone remnants of a 1930s fire lookout, facing the huge hanging glaciers on Mount Hood. The scale of the view was vast and silencing; our meal over, we sat and breathed and just looked on, a part of the landscape ourselves.

Having hiked in Europe, the British Isles, and Ireland, I’ve long been familiar with the restorative powers of the outdoors – whether in a blizzard on Ben Nevis, crossing a sun-bleached glacier on the Monte Rosa, or on sunny moorland in the Wicklow Mountains.

I still agree with the elderly man I met when descending Croagh Patrick in heavy weather on a November afternoon, who shouted to me above the wind: “It’s good for the soul!”

It was, and it still is. The wild places – to borrow a term from Robert Mcfarlane – remain repositories of peace, beauty, and natural communion. But they’re also places of hope – regions that remind us that – despite everything else that confronts us in 2017 – we’re still part of something awe-inspiring. For now, at least.

_____

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Lost memories of Death Valley ’99

Death Valley, August 1999.

Death Valley, August 1999.

The older I get, the more I forget.

What was the 21-year-old guy standing near a small copse of joshua trees in Death Valley thinking about, as the shutter clicked on an August afternoon in 1999?

For a kid from drizzly Athlone, Ireland, visiting the area, aware of some other Irishmen who claimed the joshua tree for themselves, must have been a big deal.

It was, but all that remains now is an ageing print, the negative lost, which is itself decaying. Is that a moon over my right shoulder, or just a mark on the print?

My shadow indicates that it was shot in the late afternoon. I can’t remember who took the picture – it was one of a group of friends I was travelling across the States with at the time. More to the point, I can’t recall where it was taken – though, given the heat, I’m sure it was just a few meters from the blacktop of highway 190.

Hindsight might tell me that is a photograph of a young man staking a claim of some sort – to an interest in the outdoors, or to a love of travel, or to the country where I would relocate to 17 years after this shot was taken.

It’s nice to think of such explanations, but, in truth, I’ve no idea. It’s more likely I wanted to get out of the 110 F heat and back into our air-conditioned van. (The only clear memory I have of this day is from hours later, when we approached Las Vegas as a lightning storm broke over the city.)

Looking back today, on finding the picture in an old folder, I see a kid starting out – on a journey across both a country and something vaster. I still feel like I’ve just started.

Which puts me in mind of a song we listened to in the van that summer:

There is a road, no simple highway
Between the dawn and the dark of night
And if you go no one may follow
That path is for your steps alone

_____

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

‘I can hear the fireworks’

I can see the boats in the harbor, way across the harbor
Lights shining out, lights shining out
And a cool, cool night
And a cool, cool night
And a cool and a cool
And a cool and a cool, cool night and across the harbor

I can hear the fireworks
I can hear the people, people, people shouting out
I can hear the people shouting out
Up and down the line, up and down the line
And it’s almost
And it’s almost Independence Day

_____

 


Tagged , , , , , , , ,

More Perry Como than Kurt Cobain

Headed to Bainbridge Island

Headed to Bainbridge Island

Rain. Grunge music. Starbucks. The G8 Protests. Sleepless In Seattle.

In a few words, this is what Seattle meant to me. Until last weekend, when I visited the city for the first time.

Of these signifiers, there’s no doubt which was the strongest. Growing up in 1990s Ireland, where rain was the standard weather and Starbucks unheard of, grunge was our default listening.

Rainless in Seattle

Rainless in Seattle

From the first time I heard Smells Like Teen Spirit, to the death of Kurt Cobain less than three years later, Seattle was the center of the world for a music-obsessed kid like me.

Little did I think I’d ever get there. But when I did, 25 years later, I encountered a place a million miles from the rain-lashed slacker-town of my teenage mind.

Over the course of a 48-hour stay, my wife and I took a ferry to Bainbridge Island in blistering sunshine, drank horchata amidst the madness of the tourist-jammed Pike Place Market, saw the first Starbucks store (turns out it wasn’t, actually), and ate some of the best pizza and potatoes in the Pacific Northwest (at Delancey and Heartwood Provisions respectively). And there wasn’t a plaid shirt in sight.

What would Kurt Cobain make of all that? He might complain that it hardly reflected the mournful, disconsolate side of the city. To which I’d respond: well, I also went for a morning run, wound up in a big graveyard, and found myself standing at the last resting place of Bruce and Brandon Lee.

Away from the cemeteries, and the gloomy final morning, when the clouds rolled in over Puget Sound and city was delicately drenched in mist, Seattle lived up to expectations but being…nothing like them.

Put it another way, I went in humming Nirvana, I came out singing Perry Como.

 

 

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,