Trapped in the World’s 2nd Largest Library

I like to meander through beautiful places alone.

I didn’t mind that my brother Matt had to work while I was visiting him in Washington DC, because Washington DC has many beautiful and free things to see. I set off on a muggy morning and meandered up the shady side of the street to the National Mall, past a huge United Mine Workers rally, through the lovely botanic gardens, and then finally up Capitol Hill to the Library of Congress.

“How are you doing?” asked a friendly security guard as I struggled up the hill, perspiration running down the back of my shirt.

“It’s…so…hot…” I panted.

“Don’t worry, you’re almost there!”

Finally, sweaty and disoriented, I reached the Library of Congress. Through the door, around the corner, and down a long hallway I went, not paying much attention, just following the crowd. I stopped then, enthralled at the sheer beauty of this hallway. It was covered in art. Ceiling, floor, walls, everything.

Suddenly I noticed that everyone around me was dressed very nicely. Also, they were all wearing official-looking name tags. I got the distinct feeling that I had wandered down the wrong hallway and was somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be.

I left the hallway the way I’d entered, and there at the entrance was a sign I’d missed before in my heat-induced disoriented state. It advertised an international literary event. All the people filing past looked very important. Were they famous authors? I looked at their faces but didn’t recognzie anybody. I guess I should spend more time staring at book jacket photos.

I gave up and went to look at the Gutenberg Bible for a while.

Still, the literary event kept nagging at me. If there was any way the general public could attend, or any way I could sneak in, I would never forgive myself if I didn’t try. So I walked down the enchanting hallway again, toward the open doors at the end that led to some sort of large meeting room. My t-shirt was soaked with sweat and I had a denim backpack instead of a calfskin purse, but I tried to look like I belonged as I sauntered past the table where name tags were being handed out.

“Excuse me, did you get your name tag yet?” One of the name tag table attendants asked me.

I could have come up with an excuse. “I just need to pop in and tell Katrina something, is that okay?” However, being an honest person, I said, “Do I need one?”

“I’m sorry, this is an invitation-only event,” she told me.

Oh well. At least now I knew. I exited the hallway once more.

Most of the actual books in the library cannot be accessed by the general public, but I began meandering around admiring the artwork and the book-themed exhibits. Aimlessly, enchanted, because the rest of the library was just as beautiful as that hallway. I felt a weird ache, and suddenly I wanted to cry. It was just that beautiful.

I’ve never in my life seen something so beautiful it made me want to cry. I’ve read about it in books, but never experienced it. (My camera was acting weird and wouldn’t let me take very many pictures, but you can get the general gist by doing a google image search for Library of Congress art or Library of Congress architecture.)

Finally I decided that if I wanted to see everything I would have to start in the basement and work my way up.

The basement was full of long beautiful hallways lined with locked doors. The doors had letters and numbers on them and I assumed that’s where the books were kept, sorted out according to some vast and complicated Library of Congress sorting system. The only part of the library that resembled a city library was the children and young adult section, where the books were on shelves and you could pull them out and read them.

I was exhausted, so I plopped down on a beanbag chair and read for a while. The perks of going places alone.

I suppose the Library of Congress gets a copy of every book published, even the advanced readers copies, because there was a whole table full of YA books that aren’t coming out until 2017. You couldn’t check them out, but you could read them.

The main floor had some ancient Bibles on display which I’d already looked at, as well as a map exhibit that didn’t look too interesting, so I went back to the second floor, where I was able to go out on a small balcony and look over the main reading room. This room is for people who are doing actual research projects, and when I saw it I decided that someday I’m going to come back with a research project, and I am going to sit in that beautiful room and look through stacks and stacks of books.

I was going to look at an exhibit about books that have shaped America, but first I went to look at Thomas Jefferson’s library in an adjoining room. Thomas Jefferson once had the largest library in America, but when the original Library of Congress burned down in the war of 1812 he donated his personal library as a replacement. 2/3ds of his books burned down in a subsequent fire, but his remaining books, as well as exact copies of the missing books, are on display.

As I was meandering around, thinking about how much this library was like Mr Norrell’s from Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, A library employee walked in. “This exhibit will be closing in four minutes,” she said.

Were all the exhibits closing or just the Jefferson Library? She didn’t say, but I quickly left to explore the books that have shaped America. Soon I was absorbed in reading summaries of The Cat in the Hat, and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and The Fountainhead, writing down the books that I wanted to read. I meandered from contemporary books all the way back to Common Sense, and then I gave a satisfied sigh and turned around and saw that every single exit was closed.

Was I locked in? I tried the handles.


Was there another exit? I walked to the back of the room, where another row of doors led to the Jefferson Library. They were all locked too.


I imagined myself going all From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler and spending the night on the floor of the exhibit. Then I tried to think of the most non-dramatic way of exiting. Banging on the door? Calling 911? Waving out the window and hoping someone below saw me?

“I wonder if I can just unlock the door,” mused my practical side.

I examined the door again. There was a brass knob at eye level, so I twisted it. Click!

I tried the handle again. It opened.

A janitor was mopping the floor outside. I wondered if this was a common sight to him, people exiting exhibits that were supposed to be already closed. Maybe he was the one who had to answer the desperate knocks of those who tried banging on the door before they tried twisting the knob.

Was it okay that the exhibit was now unlocked? Oh well. I supposed the janitor could tell the appropriate people if it was a problem.

I’d spent so much time in the library that the day was now growing cool. I walked back to Matt’s place on the opposite side of the street, catching the shade of the setting sun.

Thus ended my adventure in the most beautiful library I’ve ever seen.

Dear Atlantic: You’re no Pacific, but You’ll Do

The wave rose above me like a yellow wall of death. Time froze, weirdly, as every terrifying tsunami dream I’ve ever had flashed through my mind. “You have to jump into it!” Janessa yelled, and I closed my eyes and jumped into one of my biggest fears.

This was a terrible idea.

The wave completely knocked me over, smashing my head into the pebbly beach. I got up, my lungs burning with salt water inhalation, and here was another wave, smashing into me again. Janessa, cool as a cucumber in the midst of the biggest waves I’d ever experienced, waded over and helped me up.

“What happened? Did the wave smash you into the rocks?”

I nodded, coughing salt water out of my lungs. “My head hurts,” I said, stumbling towards my beach towel, spread across the sand. “I need to lie down.”

I’ve always been afraid of big waves. I don’t know why. Growing up near the Pacific I’d gaze at the huge swells of water way out in the ocean, and a tight fear would grip my stomach. Maybe the wave would keep coming and coming, big and crushing and scary. But by the time it got to me it was always a tiny thing, icy cold and lapping at my toes.

Sometimes my cousins and I would hold hands and wade deeper and deeper into the water, jumping the waves as they came. First ankle deep, then knee deep, then waist high. A few very large ones hit me in the face. But there was security in the chain of cousins. If I fell, they would help me up before the next wave hit.

I didn’t know much about the Atlantic Ocean before I took this trip, but I’d read enough books to know a few things:

  1. You can swim in it
  2. There is something near it called a “boardwalk”
  3. The waves are smaller

My friend Janessa lives in a camper with her husband Jon, and when they visited Oregon this summer I confessed to her my curiosity about the East Coast. “What is a boardwalk like?” I asked. “I mean I guess it must be a sidewalk on the beach. So there must not be a cliff on the East Coast. But wouldn’t the sand blow over it, then? And how can you swim in the water? Even if it’s warm, doesn’t the water level change too drastically as the waves come in and out?”

“You’ll just have to go see it for yourself sometime,” she said. And indeed, when I told her of my plans for an Eastern trip this summer, she told me that she was going to take me to the Atlantic.

My thoughts, upon viewing the great Atlantic Ocean, were as follows:

Thought #1: “Wow, that boardwalk is WAY bigger than I expected.”

I still don’t know how the boardwalk doesn’t get covered in sand. However, Janessa said it was a “windy day” even though there was barely a gentle breeze, so maybe the fierce gusts of wind that sting your legs and bury your things in the sand just don’t happen on the East Coast?

Thought #2: “Wow, that beach is tiny.”

I wanted to swim, but Janessa kept looking for a place to “put our stuff.”

“Can’t we just set it over by that dune?” I asked.

“Oh no! It’s a thing, here. You have to find a specific plot of land, and lay out your beach towels, and set your things on the beach towels. Then that is your spot. After you swim you go back to your spot and lie in the sun for a while.”

We staked out a spot amidst the other beach-goers, and I laughed, imagining doing that on the vast Oregon beaches.

Thought #3: “That is a huge wave.”

I don’t know where I got the idea that the Atlantic has tiny waves. The Atlantic just had one wave and it was huge, its vast bulk breaking right on the shore instead of comfortably far out in the ocean. I was terrified. But I really, really wanted to swim in the Ocean, and Janessa was wading in like it was no big deal.

“We have to go out past where the wave is breaking if we want to swim,” she said.

Finally, the mystery of how people swim in the ocean was solved. They go out PAST where the waves break. I was sure the water out there was going to be far over my head, but it wasn’t.

“I can do this. I can do this.” I told my trembling body as the swells picked me off my feet and then gently set me down again before breaking between me and the beach.

And then the yellow wall of death broke right over me, and I was at the mercy of the water, and I couldn’t do this after all.

We later learned that a hurricane had come through that weekend, making the waves bigger and the beach smaller, and pebbly where it was usually sandy. Despite that, the water was perfectly safe for swimming in. I just didn’t know how to handle big waves. You have to jump through them, not into them. I watched people, trying to memorize their technique.

“How hard did you get hit?” Janessa asked, worried, as I lay on the towel. “Do you have a concussion?”

“No, I think my headache is from inhaling water,” I said. “I just want to lie down.”

I’d only rested for a few minutes when something landed on me and I felt a small pinch. Then another, and another. I sat up. “Are these flies biting us?”

“Um, yeah,” said Janessa, slapping her arm to dislodge an offending fly.

Goodness. What else could go wrong? I started laughing, and she joined me. We laughed and laughed as the flies swarmed around us, biting faster than we could dislodge them, and I began pulling handfuls of pebbles out of my swimwear.

“I’m so sorry!” said Janessa. “I wanted to give you your first glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean, and your first chance to swim in the ocean, and you’ve just had a horrible time.”

We continued to laugh at the utter ridiculousness of it all.

“You know,” I said later, as we strolled down the beach so the flies wouldn’t bite us, “I faced my fear and it was just as awful as I was afraid it would be. But I’m okay. I mean, I got salt water up my nose and a swimsuit full of rocks but I’m perfectly fine.”

We thought there should be some grand life metaphor in that, somewhere, but we couldn’t find it at the moment. So we strolled down the boardwalk, and got ice cream, and enjoyed what was left of our beach day.

Oh, Hi, Ohio

First stop: Ohio.

I spent six hours in the Denver airport on a layover, browsing the internet, reading the e-books I borrowed from the library, and trying to overhear people’s conversations. When the older lady next to me declared to her daughter that the grandchildren didn’t need any more gifts because “you already got them play dough and hand sanitizer” I laughed out loud and then tried to pretend that Huckleberry Finn was just a hilarious book.

I finally made it to Ohio as the sun was setting. My cousin Stephy met me at the airport, took me to the tiny town where they live, and showed me around her 100+ year old home. Besides being related to me, Stephy is one of my oldest and dearest friends. I’ve seen her off and on since she married Chris and moved to Ohio two years ago, but I’ve never visited her.

Chris and Stephy being cute.

“This is weird,” I said as we relaxed on the porch and watched the cars drive by. “I mean I’ve hung out with my married friends, but I’ve never, like, visited one of them, and stayed at their house.”

“It was really weird for me too, when I first had company, and I had to, like, make sure there was food to eat and stuff,” she told me.

The front porch

The next morning, Saturday, we all climbed into the car and Chris gave me the Amish country tour. “This is where the first Amishman settled in Holmes County,” he said, pointing to a farm. Chris told me that the guy was his great great (I don’t remember how many greats) grandfather.

“Woah, so you’re descended from the first Amishman in Holmes County?”

“Yeah, well, pretty much everyone around here is descended from the first Amishman in Holmes County.”

“Are all of your relatives still Amish?”

“On my mom’s side many have left the Amish, but on my dad’s side they’re pretty much all still Amish.”

“Did you grow up Amish?”

“No, my parents left before I was born, but my older siblings were.”

I mostly found Amish country to be a completely bizarre urbanized form of the countryside. I’ve lived in the country most of my life, where in the winter you can see your neighbors’ houses across the large fields but in the summer the trees are so thick with leaves you really can’t. Houses only cluster together in the small towns that dot the valley.

Holmes County is different. Living in the country is part of the Amish identity, but there are so many around that they end up with houses right next to each other. A stoplight will sit on an intersection next to a cornfield. Chris told me that 150 acres is considered a really big farm in the area, whereas I’m used to an average farm being closer to 500 or so acres. Most of the Amish don’t even farm, he said. They get other jobs, such as building furniture. I guess furniture is a big Holmes County export. But they still kind-of-ish live on a farm because that’s the Amish thing.

Anyway. It was all very interesting.

The two of them also introduced me to geocaching, a nifty treasure hunting game where you use an app on your phone to find a small container hidden in a random place, containing a paper to record your name and the date, and sometimes a few trinkets.

There was supposed to be a geocache in this old horse shed but we couldn’t find it.

Our Sunday geocaching expedition yielded nothing, so Stephy took me around town Monday morning to some local geocaches she’d already found.

Can you spot the geocache on this old bridge?


There it is!


They took me to an orchestra concert in the park, to the local “waterfalls” that dribbled down over the (admittedly very cool) rocks, and to an Amish bakery to buy a local pastry called  “cream stick.” But the beauty of the trip wasn’t in all the fun stuff we did, it was in the comfort and beauty of spending time with an old and dear friend.

We sat on the porch or in the living room and talked for hours. Remembering old times. Talking about how things are changing, and how much effort it takes to, as introverts, form close friendships with people we didn’t grow up with.

“I didn’t realize how much I missed you until you came to visit me,” Stephy told me as I was walking out the door Monday afternoon.

“Likewise,” I told her.

We had such a great time that I decided to stop in again, just briefly, before I fly back home. But for now, it was on to Lancaster County and the East.

Going Places

I get itchy feet if I stay in one place for too long. I’m also trying to get through college debt-free, and I have an income based almost solely on odd jobs. I’m sure you can guess how well that works out.


I’m a firm believer in the idea that if you pinch your pennies hard enough and wear hand-me-downs and bring sack lunches when you go on all-day excursions with your friends you will eventually save a few hundred extra dollars to travel with.

At the beginning of the summer my brother Ben and our friends Jon and Janessa took a road trip back east together and Ben went to the Faith Builders college student retreat and I was insanely jealous, but also out of money. So. I determined that at the end of the summer, when I had money, I would take an Eastern Trip.

Goodness me. SO many people that I like live back east.

I’m going to try to blog this trip, because travel is one of my favorite things to blog about. Also, because I haven’t been blogging much recently. My Instagram kind-of ate my blog this summer, not gonna lie. Mostly because I worked so intermittently that I’d do something fun and then not have time to post it because I was working. So I’d just Instagram it instead.

Instagram is a beautiful mysterious thing, and it’s finally gotten me into the habit of taking pictures, but ultimately blogging is my favorite. I like words.

The Weather is my Real Boss

In midsummer, the sun rises in the northeast, shining through my north bedroom window and straight into my eyes. In other words, if I don’t wake up at 5:45 AM, there is enough cloud cover that I might not have to go to work.

I used to read old books and wonder why everyone was so obsessed with the weather. Who cares? I certainly didn’t, unless it was hot enough to go swimming or snowy enough to cancel school or windy enough that the electricity went out. But now I get it. When your job is about growing things, the weather determines your schedule.

Typical Oregon weather is very wet and drizzly throughout the year, and then completely sunny and dry during the summer. Little known fact: this is the perfect weather for growing grass seed. Grow it while it’s wet, harvest when it’s dry. As a combine driver, I don’t start work until the hot sun has evaporated the last of the morning dew.

When a freak rainstorm hits in July, as was the case last week, the harvest frenzy draws to a halt. Instead of working dawn till dusk, my farming neighbors took a spontaneous family vacation to the coast. I sat on the porch and worked on the short story I’ve been totally procrastinating on.

It was a week before things had dried out enough for me to get back on the combine. And “dried out” goes in quotes here, because it was still wet enough for me to plug my combine up over. and over. and over. “My arms are going to get so strong,” I thought as I cranked straw out of the header with a giant wrench the length of my arm.

I consoled myself with the fact that Farm Boy, my co-worker, was plugging up more than I was.

I also consoled myself by looking around at the absolutely brilliant beauty around me. It was warm, but not hot. Gentle clouds blew across the sky. Sheep grazed in a meadow to the west, and the world smelled like wild mint. If I could ignore the dust and the grass seed filling my shoes, it was much nicer out here than in my cab anyway.

We quit for the day during the golden hour. There were long purple clouds in the sky, and so much wild mint, and the dust, when subtly scenting the air instead of flying in my face all at once, smelled like summer. What a beautiful, beautiful walk back to my car it would be.

I heard the old red pickup truck coming up behind me. It was Farm Boy, in his highlighter-green shirt. “Boss Man says I need to give you a ride,” he said. (He literally calls our boss Boss Man.)

“Okay. Thank you,” I said, halfheartedly, climbing into the pickup.

Farm Boy and I can never find much to say to each other.

“So, were you plugging up much?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said, wondering why he was asking me this when we’d been in the same field all day. Surely he saw me plug up. “Were you?” I asked back, to be polite.

“Yeah,” he said with a chuckle, and I realized that he’d asked in a sarcastic way and I hadn’t gotten the joke.

“Did we plug up because of how wet it was?” I asked, just for something to say.

“Yeah. It was at 60%. It’s supposed to be at 20% or lower.”

What exactly was at 60%? Humidity? Is there a scale of wetness besides humidity? I didn’t know. I didn’t ask.

“Thanks for the ride.”


This morning I woke up at 7:30 because my Dad was loudly talking on his cell phone in the room below me. “Hmm,” I thought, “I didn’t wake up at 5:45…”

I looked out my window. No rain, but the cloud cover would keep the dew from drying up.

Boss Man texted me: “Let’s shoot for 12.”

I might start work at noon today, but we all know that the weather is my real boss here.


Stop Being Spooky, LinkedIn

I have a very weird story about LinkedIn that has puzzled me for three years.

It actually began six years ago, when I started my very first term of college ever, at Bridgewater College in Virginia. Bridgewater required that every student take a class called “Personal Development Portfolio.” It was kind-of a weird class. We read Siddhartha, and the Sermon on the Mount, and a lot of random philosophers.

There were only about ten students in the class, and for some reason the other students really disliked me. One day we had to take a bus somewhere and do a service project, and no one let me sit by them, which was the kind of weird petty thing that happened in books but that I’d never actually seen in real life.

To be honest, it was the first time in my life that I’d ever felt disliked, and it was kinda tough because I didn’t know what I was doing wrong (though looking back I have a few guesses). Now, granted, I’m sure it wasn’t literally the first time anyone had ever disliked me, but it was the first time the dislike was obvious enough for an oblivious person like me to notice it.

I only went to Bridgewater College for one term, and then I moved back to Oregon and went to community college, which was, to be honest, a much less snobby and entitled environment.

Three years ago I took a journalism class. The teacher required us, as part of the class, to set up a LinkedIn profile.

In my profile I said that I went to Bridgewater College in 2010, but that’s the only info I disclosed about my time there.

Imagine my surprise, then, when LinkedIn sent me an email suggesting I connect with, of all people, a girl that had been in that class. One of the one’s who’d disliked me. We didn’t have any connections in common. We hadn’t had any contact with each other since I’d left. Yet there she was.

This has continued to happen throughout the past three years. One by one, LinkedIn has sent me emails with the LinkedIn profiles of various members of that class, trying to get me to connect. I  just got another one this morning.

I don’t get it.

Besides the people in that one tiny class, no one else from Bridgewater College has ever been suggested to me as a connection.

No one from that class has mutual connections with me.

No one else has ever been suggested to me as a possible connection unless we already have some mutual connections.

After I left Bridgewater, I had no connection anywhere on the internet with anyone from that class.

I just don’t get it.

While I was attending that class I did, once, send an email to the whole class through my personal email. But surely LinkedIn doesn’t have access to my email records? And if they do, wouldn’t I get connection suggestions about the gazillions of other people I’ve emailed in the past six years?

I am completely baffled.

The River Beckons

river 4

I love the way the river smells.

I love the way it feels to guide the course of a canoe with a small flick of my paddle. I love being on the water, maneuvering around rocky islands thick with birds and wildflowers.

river 7

As a middle kid in a large-ish family, it was very difficult to find things that I was better at than my siblings. I particularly remember one day when I spent an entire afternoon learning to skateboard. Then Ben came along, thought it looked like fun, and gave it a try. Within fifteen minutes or so he was better at it than I was.

For some reason, paddling a canoe was the one non-artsy thing I was good at.

river 9

My family used to take canoe trips down the Willamette River every summer. On Saturday my sister Amy, intent on showing her friend Aemie all the delights of Oregon during their short visit, arranged for us to take an old-fashioned family canoe trip.

river 8

Ben, Aemie, and Amy were in the purple canoe. Amy, who was the photographer of the trip, didn’t want any pictures taken of her because of her ugly rain coat, but I assure you she came along.

river 1

Also on the trip was my roommate Ashlie, who was particularly good at madly steering the canoe from the front when I began daydreaming and drifting near the bank.

river 3

I feel so lucky to live next to this river.