Emmett Oliver by Kayti Sweetland Rasmussen

For at least 8,000 years before Euro-Americans arrived, there flourished on the western shores of the North American continent a people and a culture highlighted by the omnipresent dugout canoe.  They hunted the sea, the woods were full of game and berries, and the air with fowl.  Food was easy to find.  They created masks and totems and made their houses and canoes from the wood; they shared an essential friend in the cedar tree.

They made clothes and blankets from its thick brown pelt.  They created masks and totems and made their houses and canoes from the wood.  They built strong seaworthy racing canoes to engage in annual competitions between the villages.

All the young strong men helped paddle the large canoes, and one of the best and strongest was Emmett Oliver, a young Quinalt Indian from the Western coast of Washington state.

By 1985 dugout canoes were almost a lost art in the Pacific Northwest, found mostly in museums.  Some had not carved a canoe for over 50 years, and some tribes had never done so.

Emmett Oliver, then the Superintendent of Indian Education for the State of Washingon, remembering the unifying effect the canoe races had had in the early years, decided to return the  event, giving particular pride back to the various tribes.  Each group would of course be responsible not only for carving their canoe, but for obtaining permits, raising money, and cutting their own trees.  Carving workshops were formed and finally, framed by the rising skyline of the city of Seattle, 18 canoes were ready to paddle across the Puget Sound.  With Emmett aboard a Coast Guard command vessel, and with 5,000 people ready to greet them, Paddle to Seattle was accomplished on July 21, 1989.  The paddlers performed as though they had manned those canoes lifelong.  Their shoulders bore the traditions of 8 millenia.

This year Emmett’s son, Marvin Oliver, well known artist and professor of Art at the University of Washington, has designed a North Coast painting on the sides of the Oliver Family canoe, and Emmett’s daughter Marylin Bard, along with 2 granddaughters, will be included in the crew.   The race has grown exponentially year by year, with 89 canoes taking part in 2011.

This year in July,  when the first of 100 canoes are spotted, and with sunlight reflecting off the waters of Puget Sound, a very old man in his 100th year will be on the shore, waiting for the first canoe to beach.  The strong muscles of his youth have long been absent, his eyesight may be weak, but his heart is strong, and in his memory he feels the pull of the water, the sunlight on his back, and the thrill of the race as each paddler chants and shouts out his encouragement to his companions.  The pride in his family is strong, knowing that this race is part of the legacy he has left for his family and for his people.



Many years ago, before I discovered a classier way to earn some extra Christmas money, I painted signs and Santa Clauses on store windows.  It was seasonal of course, and on the first of December, your hands froze on the glass windows, but lots of people stopped and passed the time of day with me, and you’ll have to admit, it was easy and fun.

One morning a woman stood watching me and then said she was writing a children’s book and wondered if I was interested in illustrating it.  Wow! would I!

The story was about a little Eskimo boy named Nootka of the North.  (Not too original,but it could always be changed.)

Her parents had been missionaries in Barrow, Alaska, and she brought old photo albums of their life to our house that evening.  It looked like the main excitement of their village was being tossed high into the air off a sealskin blanket, or perhaps a share in a little seal meat if the hunters got lucky.

I returned the albums to her a few days later after making a few drawings I thought she might like.  She lived  on a boat in the Redwood City marina, which was just across the bridge.  When I found her small boat, nearly hidden among larger and more posh ones, she called out to “come aboard”!

As soon as I stepped into the small cabin, a loud voice shouted “Fuck you!  Go home!”  There in the middle of the cabin sat a very large cage containing the largest and ugliest parrot I had ever seen.  She told me she had bought him from a bartender in Anchorage, Alaska, and since she lived alone, he was her “watch bird”.  It made a lot of sense, but I asked her if she would kindly cover him with a blanket while I was there, since he so obviously did not like me.

I made another couple of visits to her when the book got going, and we were both filled with hope that she could sell it to a publisher.

Time went by, and it became apparent that the book was going nowhere, so I thanked her very much for the opportunity.  The only payment I got was a few glasses of cheap wine, and the chance to be abused by a very loathsome  parrot.  But hey, it’s a great memory!


They sat quietly, the boat drifting slowly, watching a ripple line on the clear and sunless water.  A run of humpback salmon was entering the river to spawn and two or three feet beneath the surface they could see hundreds of silvery fish, pressed tight, moving secretly, almost stealthily, with a kind of desperate urgency, to reach a destination they knew not where.  They watched, fascinated until they had passed and for a moment they were not sure that this silent happening  had occurred at all.

The boy and his grandparents were fishing in the Queen Charlotte Strait north of Vancouver, British Columbia.  The Kwakiutl people of the North Coast call the salmon “the swimmer”, and he usually enters the river at night on the way upstream to spawn in the place where he was born.  On the way, he passes thousands of fingerlings on their way downstream to the open sea where they are free.  Nobody knows how far they go or where.  When the time comes to return, their bodies tell them, and those hatched in the same stream separate from all the others and come home together.

They pulled their boat up onto the sandy shoreline to eat their lunch, and as ate they told the boy stories of the Indian people who have lived along these shores for millenia.  “I would like a tattoo” the boy said .  The grandmother told him he should have something to show what spirit  lives in him, in  the way the Indians did to show their family clans.  “But what am I” asked the boy  “You are a salmon” said the grandmother.  “Why is that?” asked the boy.  “You have been a swimmer since you were a small child, so you are a salmon.  If you like, I will design a small salmon tattoo for you.  It will be your clan sign”

The boy grew up and finished his education and was ready to leave his family and earn his own living far away from his home.  He was leaving his boyhood behind and would not find it again.  As the grandmother said goodbye, she said to him “Be mindful of your salmon tattoo.  It will remind you that you must always return to your home.”

May you all walk in balance.  Aho


Another Lady of the Night  KSR

Red hair is the rarest natural color in humans.  Maybe that is why I so desired having it.  As a teenager I once knelt on our kitchen floor washing my hair in a bucket filled with chamomile tea because someone said it would make my hair turn red.  Alas, no such happening occurred as I emerged with the same natural mouse shade that I went in with.

In various times and cultures, red hair has been prized, feared, and ridiculed.  A common belief about redheads is that they have fiery tempers and sharp tongues.   I have a cousin and a daughter who have red hair and neither fits that description.  Although an aunt, who was a redhead, once said of my daughter that “She doesn’t have that red hair for nothing!”  My husband had several cousins who had red hair and they were all perfectly presentable in polite company.

Another belief is that redheads are more highly sexed and mischievous than the rest, which is also untrue.  Many painters including myself, have exhibited a fascination with red hair.  The Renaissance and pre-Raphaelite artists were notable for their redheads.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s story  “The Red-Headed League” involves a mysterious group of red-headed people.

Queen Elizabeth I of England was a redhead, and during the Elizabethan era in England, red hair was fashionable for women.  In modern times, red hair is subject to fashion trends, and depending which current actor or actress is currently popular it  can boost sales of red hair dye.  To name a few, Robert Redford, Nicole Kidman, Red Skelton or Lucille Ball come to mind.

In Britain, any dislike of red hair may derive from the sentiment that people of Irish or Celtic background, with a greater prevalence of red hair were ethnically inferior.  In America, film and TV programs often portray school bullies as having red hair.  The nicknames “ginger” or “red” distinguishes the recipient as being someone separate from the rest.  Medieval beliefs included moral degeneration, witchcraft and vampirism.

The color red itself, signifies danger, stop, look out  for roadblocks.  Redheadday is the name of a Dutch festival that takes place each September in the city of Breda, the Netherlands.  It is a gathering of people with natural red hair, but is also focused on art related to the color red.

All of which continues to endear myself to red hair. Maybe because it denotes a spirit, or a certain “spit-in-your-eye or “don’t tread on me” attitude that is so appealing.


Consider the nose; of course we all have one, but do you ever REALLY look at the other remarkable noses?  Billions of noses and not one alike.  Remarkable when you think about  it.

As an artist, I am invariably aware of that protuberance when I look at those around me, whether to admire or to wonder how I could improve its appearance.

Many years ago, while working in my sculpture studio a young friend of my daughter suggested that I sculpt a nose for her that might improve what she thought lacked a certain panache.  I studied her carefully and kissed her on her nose and told her she was beautiful.

My mother was the possessor of a lovely Roman nose which caused her to be self-conscious the whole of her life.  She was a beautiful woman and not just because she was my mother.  Today people think nothing of trotting into the plastic surgeon store to choose any type of nose they desire.  No problem, but in some cases, they all look alike.  The real problem arises when repeated surgery is done.  (Think Michael Jackson).  They don’t realize that the nose they came with fits their face and gives them individuality.  Young girls in particular, stress over such things while growing into their own adult appearance.

In my sculpture and in painting as well, I am drawn to people who have distinctive noses.  Why waste time on a “perfect” nose?  Think of Michelangelo’s David.  Without that magnificent proboscis he might never have smelled Goliath’s garlic breath as he came to attack, but using his nose as well as his brain, he was able to whip out his slingshot and do the giant in.  Once on a trip to Florence, Italy, while browsing through a bookstore, I purchased a replica of David’s nose, which makes a majestic paperweight.

Certain races have similar nose construction.  The Asian races have smaller breathing apparatus, while others are frequently quite prominent.  The Scandinavian nose, such as my wonderful husband, and the Italian nose, such as my handsome son-in-law, are distinctive.  Remember, you are what you breathe.

The next time someone complains about his or her nose, just kiss their nose and tell them they’re beautiful.



We are a dog-loving family, never having gone more than a month or two without benefit of loving brown eyes waiting to see what else they can do for you.  After one such period, I answered an ad for German Shepherd pups, and came home with an adorable black puppy whom we named Bella for beautiful.

However, it soon became apparent that there was something very wrong with the pup, so I took her to a well-respected breeder in Washington state to have her evaluated.  The breeder was a German woman whose mother had a large kennel in Germany.  She looked at the pup’s papers and then called several employees over to see the dog.  It seems that through ill-informed breeding this little thing would have a limited life-span, demanding constant care and expense.

After telling the breeder what we wanted in a dog, she asked us to come back in a few days after she had chosen several we might like.  When we returned, she had us go into small stall with about 4 cute 8 week old pups while she waited outside a Dutch door to watch.  As the little pups scrambled all over one another, climbing over and under, one went under a small bench seemingly wanting our attention.  As we went to collect her, the breeder crossly asked “What are you doing?”  We answered that this was the one we wanted.  She said “But THAT is the one who wants YOU!”  pointing out the tiny pup who was trying to shred my raincoat!

I learned a good lesson that day.  Don’t answer an  unqualified ad, and always choose the pup who wants to be with YOU.  Training is easy and fun with someone who wants to please you from the get-go.  You can have a wonderful dog otherwise, but it will take longer to make them trust you implicitly.

I returned Liza to the breeder in a few months to have them look at her.  She was becoming a fabulous looking dog, and they felt they had made a mistake in selling her as a “companion dog”.  She was descended from a long line of international champions, and they tried to convince us to show her.  However, we opted not to take on the responsibility of long hours of care and dog shows.

We lived in the country at that time, with a horse corral in the rear of our property.  When a very young grandson came to visit, Liza herded him away from the fence and back into his proper place.  She guarded us that same way the rest of her life.

Liza was our constant companion for many years, going everywhere with us, whether camping, to the mountains or the seashore, or simply grocery shopping.  She was a fixture in my sculpture studio greeting people as they came in to chat or to share a cup of coffee.  She was a party animal with a big tail wag for everyone.

There is a small sculpture and a large photo of Liza in our home, reminding us that she was a great part of our lives.  Though we have had a number of lovely dogs since then, including a terrific Jack Russell terrier now, Liza will always hold top honors in our hearts.  She was truly a Champion.


Glenn Miller’s recording of Moonlight Serenade was made in the summer of 1939.  World War II broke out that summer.  For the young of dancing age no sound recollects that time more than the sound of the Glenn Miller orchestra.   It was a time for having fun and perhaps falling in love before those boys were swept away into the war.

Maybe it was because there was a sweetness to his sound which made it especially irresistible to teens and 20’s who still wanted to swing but who were painfully aware of the sadness of departures.  Maybe Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw, or Benny Goodman made more sophisticated music, but Glenn Miller topped the charts.  Record stores had listening rooms where you could sample the sound and the beat in quiet while you decided which you were going to buy.

He had America’s music pulse–he knew what would please the listeners.  He exuded little warmth on the bandstand, but once the band struck up, audiences were done for.  Throats clutched, eyes softened.  Can any other record match Moonlight Serenade for its ability to induce a Pavlovian slaver for so long?  His recording of the telephone number of the Pennsylvania Hotel in New York; Pennsylvania 65-OH-OH-OH was on everybody’s lips, and American Patrol  created the proper patriotic lift.

Miller enlisted and formed a band playing for the troops in Britain and France.  He boarded a plane in December, 1944 to fly across the English Channel.  The plane never arrived.  It was the night the music died.


Don’t Worry Be Happy KSR

I heard Bill Cinton interviewed the other day, and he made the statement “Be present where you are”.  When I was young I was accustomed to be where I was, because actually there was no place else to be.   Adults talked, you listened.  Often you learned information which you could use much like Saki’s cat, Tobermory did to disrupt the status quo if you were of a mischievous bent.

Today’s people, through the creations of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and others, have made it possible to sit for hours within sight of other family or friends and not utter a word.  The ubiquitous cell phone, tiny though it is, has destroyed conversation as we learned it.  I expect to see arthritic old fingers made somewhat flexible by the constant movement engendered by texting still sending silent messages well into their 80’s.

I spoke to a group of women in their 70’s and 80’s some time ago, none of which had nerve enough to use a computer, but all of whom had cell phones, and most of them opted to use texting a a means of communication.  Amazing.  I felt out of touch because I genuinely like to “be present”.  Who knows what delightful things might come to your attention by simply listening.

I shudder to think of a young couple sitting side by side cell phones in hand, just as the young man decides to “pop the question”!

I don’t know about you, but I like to look at the person I’m talking to, and honestly engage in what he is trying to tell me.   Be present where you are.

You can make more of everything but time.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   


Alaska Bears  KSR

It has been said that nothing is so bad it can’t get worse, and I’m sure that is so.  The Great Depression was certainly one of those bad times for a great many people.  Having weathered  through that one, I can vouch for a degree of discomfort and a few stories my kids think are highly unlikely, but even so, we had it good compared to a lot of people.    The pundits seem to feel that the entire world will be having another Depression soon enough.  It has become serious enough to put a capital “D” on it already.  Since the first one was “The Great” I wonder what the next designation will be.

I remember two friends we met years ago in Washington state.  They were small town kids when they married in 1939 during the Great Depression, and in her words, they were “Depressionate”!  They were both teachers, but had to keep the marriage a secret in order to keep their jobs.  When World War II was declared, they quit teaching and both went to work at the The Boeing Company in Seattle.  She worked as an IBM operator on a “monstrous, enormous machine!” ( Times have changed, now we carry computers in our pockets!)

When the war ended in 1946, thousands of people lost their war jobs, along with Nonie and Jack.  They started out thinking they would like to work in fish and wildlife management for the government, but instead were both offered jobs teaching Aleut natives in Alaska. Within 10 days they were on a boat bound for tiny Saint Paul Island, in the Pribilof Island group of Alaska, in the middle of the Bering Sea.  The nearest land mass was 150 miles away.  Jack taught all the students from fifth grade up, and Nonie taught the third and fourth grade students.  Their one and only co-worker taught first and second grades.

Japanese fleets had been located within 15 miles of the island during the war, and Japanese fishing floats came ashore regularly. There was still a feeling of unrest about the people.  They were iced in in the winter, and had no way out and no communication except for telegram and short-wave radio or the emergency weather plane.  In good weather the wind swept across the island, bringing Russia’s icy chill.  The men hunted seals, and in the short summers Jack worked in an office counting seal pelts for the government.

The U.S. Coast Guard also had a station on the island, but only five boats arrived each year, not counting a supply vessel which brought in coal and large items once a year in the summer.  A lonely existence.

In 1948 , after having been there for two years, they returned to Seattle and  resumed their teaching careers in a small town in western Washington.   Another couple of survivors of the Great Depression.

“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul.” Emily Dickinson


We joined a land tour along with about 40 other people of a “certain age” all trying our best  not to look like tourists.  Along with the famous landmarks familiar to all of us in France, I was longing for “real” country French fare, which necessitated leaving the larger cities and seeing how the farmers ate.

We arrived in Avignon in a light rain which didn’t reduce our delight in the old homes and the charming winding streets which beckoned a traveler to explore a little more.  Our exploration led us to the palace of the ancient popes.

I love the quiet moments in a trip, so as we left the palace , staggered by the concept of the immense power they wielded even in the Middle Ages, we were thrilled to come upon a lone flutist who was sitting alone in the middle of the huge square and filling the air with the glorious sound of Mozart!  Truly a memorable moment.

We took the back roads through the countryside quietly listening to lovely French music on our way to Arles.  We were all lulled by the warm sunshine and the music, when  the bus came to a sudden stop, and as we looked through the windows we saw a large herd of sheep with a grizzled old shepherd keeping them in line as they slowly crossed the road to the other side.  Memorable moment number two!

The wondrous light in Arles, so beloved by Van Gogh and Cezanne, proved to be hiding its glory behind a few clouds during our entire visit, so I packed away the paints and brushes and dragged out the camera.  I could “wing it” with the light when I got home.  Not quite the same, but still OK.

Still not a taste of “real” country cooking, but we soon came to the Dordogne River and La Rogue Gageau with its quaint houses clinging to steep rocky cliffs.  The shops all front onto tiny cobblestone streets, which would be disastrous for a fashionista in sky-high heels.  We found a cute little cafe advertising its menu on the front, and there in white chalk on the blackboard was Cassoulet!  Oh delight!  But by the time we were served, they had removed it from the menu!

Feeling like a wounded warrior deprived of a victory, we bought some great bread, meat and cheese, and a bottle of red wine at the next door shop and walked until we found the river.  An old willow tree beckoned us to shelter beneath it while we had the nicest lunch so far on this trip to France.  A small boat with a young couple slowly sailed along in front of us.  Memorable moment number three.  (I bring this moment out quite often while sitting in a dentist’s chair.)

When we boarded our bus once more, a fellow tourist complained about the cassoulet at the cute little restaurant:  “Why, it’s just French Baked Beans”!

For those of you who are not familiar with this marvelous country dish, it is made with large white beans, ham and several types of sausage all cosily nestled into a stoneware crock with garlic, wine and a few tomatoes and left to languish in a warm oven for a few hours while it drives the hungry diners wild with anticipation.  It can contain any number of meats; duck goose, game, etc.  In the Toulouse area it must include among its meats some goose.  After all, somethng must be done with all the geese which housed the foie gras!

“French Baked Beans” it may be, but I make a 30 minute version which goes pretty well with a loaf of homemade crunchy French bread and a bottle of red.