Category Archives: Essays

Light on The Feathers

In a timeless cataract at Frenchman Coulee the future clings to the past.

For the 13,000 or so years before Frenchman Coulee became wildly popular among humans who like to climb rocks, a striking formation of basalt spires near its core stood merely as a graceful monument to the astonishing power of water and ice. The massive pillars are still here. It’s just that on any warm day, and many cold ones as well, fit and well-equipped people are attaching themselves to forty-foot walls of stone. The climbers’ resolve and athleticism offer what is, at least, a touch of poetry and elan to one of Washington’s lesser known natural wonders.

Woman on the edge of The Feathers

At first sight—as you look up beneath the rim of the coulee’s central alcove—it’s hard to trust what you’re seeing. Known as “The Feathers” it is a formation of exposed basalt crystals that barely withstood a succession of devastating floods. From the air, it looks as though a creature with jaws the size of the Rose Bowl has taken two bites from coulee’s upper terrace. The Feathers somehow survived as a gently curving causeway between the bite marks. There are places where you can easily walk from one side to the other, stepping through gaps between the massive crystals.

A decent camera can take the picture, capturing the nearby rock faces as well as the distant giant blades of the Wild Horse wind farm, straddling the flanks of Whiskey Dick Mountain on the far side of the river. But only a soul can register the deeper dimensions such a scene evokes.

Continue reading Light on The Feathers

Life in the Key of K

Kendall Feeney dazzled audiences with her passion for eclectic music. Off stage she was just as inspiring.

My favorite memory of Kendall Feeney is from a bowling outing, one that now seems like a lifetime ago.

It had to have been in the early 90s and the three of us—she and I and my then-spouse, Connie—must have wanted to get out of our heads for a while. So, here was this restless musical scholar and wisp of a phenom—in four tone, rental bowling shoes. Her eyes were crossed and her tongue was sticking out of her mouth as she pretended to be drunk after rolling a gutter ball. It was deliriously funny. She could be that way.

photo courtesy Patricia Ratcliffe

I wouldn’t be the one to even try to summarize K’s extraordinary musical legacy. I’ll just inject that if there were any questions about her talent, her passion, and her insatiable explorations, she answered them many times over with the aptly named “Zephyr” project she created and sustained in Spokane for over a decade, until 2002.

Even so, there was so much more to her career as an artist and teacher. For those reasons, it was more than fitting that the first person to speak publicly about Kendall’s passing was fellow musician Verne Windham who, for a generation, has also been the voice of classical music for Spokane Public Radio. With perfectly eloquent silence, Verne said nothing at all to start his tribute to her. He simply allowed her piano to speak in Bach for two and a half minutes before softly informing his audience of her passing and talking wistfully about her life and her formidable contributions to the Spokane music scene. The 17 minute piece includes a fairly recent recording of Kendall teaching Bach and in it we hear the energy and fluctuations in her voice as she writes out loud about how the composition unfolds. It is the voice of a woman who would not be extinguished. She led an indelible life. Continue reading Life in the Key of K

How My Country Lost its Mind

(and why it will recover its soul)

by Tim Connor

Earlier this year a survey by the Pew Research Centers reaffirmed an unspoken boundary in American politics: being an atheist essentially disqualifies you from being elected President of the United States.

However unfair this is for atheists, the barrier rests upon a deep-seated expectation that those seeking the nation’s highest offices ought to embrace virtues deeper than a hunger for power. And to enjoy the benefit of the doubts, he or she must at least publicly identify with a church and a deity. To admit to being godless is tantamount to political suicide.

So how is it that the same nation that effectively disqualifies atheists for high positions of public trust just elected a habitual liar and provocateur? How is it that we’ll soon inaugurate an unapologetic racist who ranks and treats women as sex objects, mocks people with disabilities, refuses to apologize for anything, and spends an inordinate amount of energy excoriating and seeking revenge upon his critics? This is no mild case of cognitive dissonance. It’s a deeply disturbing reflection of our nation’s moral deflation.   Continue reading How My Country Lost its Mind

Of Mustangs and Warriors

Can wild horses and broken soldiers help each other?

By Larry Shook
Ah Kah Tah is a Blackfeet Indian phrase that means “Going Home.” My friend Earl Barlow, a Blackfeet, told me that.

Ah Kah Tah is also the name Nate Ostrander and I have given to the five-year-old mustang gelding we brought home from the Bureau of Land Management’s wild horse holding facility at Burns, Oregon. We’re going to experiment on both the horse and me.

Here’s our question: can you take a sixty-nine-year old veteran whose heart and psyche have been shattered by war and teach him to train a mustang—a creature arrested in the heaven of open range for the crime of freedom—in a way that gives both him and the horse a new life? Continue reading Of Mustangs and Warriors