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Novels by Liz Hartley

1 In Experience/ Family

The Rock Gene

"We are shaped and fashioned by what we love." Johann von Goethe
“We are shaped and fashioned by what we love.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

It was inevitable that I would spend all my life working with and writing about gemstones and jewelry. If there is a rock gene, I have it. Probably on every chromosome. I’ve been putting rocks in my pockets as long as I’ve had pockets to put them in. Some of the rocks on my window sills have been with me since third grade.

There’s the rose quartz from Cranbrook Science Museum, with its unforgettable fluorescence exhibit of ugly daytime rocks that glowed in the dark. I have a limb cast filled with quartz crystals. The boy who sat next to me in third grade gave it to me when I told him how pretty it was after “show and tell.” (It’s sad that, although his rock has sat on windowsills and desks ever since, I don’t remember his name.) I have a quartz half encased in what looks like cement that I found in the vacant lot across the street from our house.

The decision-makers at my dad’s companies would have fainted had they known how many boxes of rocks they paid coast-to-coast cartage on. My dad would have fainted, too, had he known. Although I didn’t know about genes at the time, instinctively I knew my dad didn’t have this one and would not have shared my estimation of the rocks’ importance.

Except for my father, though, the rock gene runs like a gem-tree kudzu vine along my paternal line. A couple cousins also decorate with rocks. One of them once shipped a couple (large) rocks from her parents’ farm in Tennessee to my front porch in Oregon. (Heaven only knows how many she carted home for herself.) One of my father’s sisters requested I bring her stones from every place I visited in Greece. I brought some home for me–and my cousin–too.

It’s a miracle I managed to save any rocks from my childhood. Once, when my paternal grandmother came to visit, as a love gift I offered her a rock from my rock collection. She took them all. The trauma of it still requires therapy.

I must make clear that the rocks in my collection are, for the most part, not gemstones or fine minerals. They’re rocks. Rocks with mixed mongrel pedigrees that, for some reason—whether color, pattern, size, texture, or shape—made their way into my pocket.

I’ve picked up stones in Japan, Greece, Turkey, England, Michigan, Canada, Brazil, and Italy from the top of Mt. Vesuvius. I have rocks from the Namib Desert and the Grand Tetons. I have the gold I panned at Knott’s Berry Farm. I have fossils from Fossil, Oregon. I cannot go to the beach without coming home with sandy pockets of rocks. I even buy rocks from souvenir stands. (Goldstone, obsidian, anyone?) Friends give me rocks for gifts. I appreciate them.

My nephew, however, does not.

One Christmas, when he was about seven, as part of his Christmas package, I sent him one of those healy-feely gift-store stones, the ones sandblasted with symbols or inspirational words. This one had his zodiac sign cut into it. All kids like rocks, right? And how cool is it to have one with your own star sign emblazoned on it? I certainly never had a rock like that. Not because I didn’t covet one.

My brother reported that, when my nephew opened the package, he turned the stone over in his hand a few times and said, “A rock? She got me a rock?”

I’m quite sure we share no genetic material.

0 In Experience

Fly-By Looting

In my backyard, right now, I have at least 30 to 40 robins, a half dozen or more cedar wax wings (including one absolutely astonishingly beautiful male–with a brilliant yellow tail band, lipstick-colored wing tips, and lemon-yellow belly) looting the berries fallen from the mountain ash. They are welcome to them! Means fewer volunteers I have to pluck out in the spring. A downy woodpecker buzzed through to see what all the excitement was about, but apparently there was no more seating at the bistro.

I’m always surprised to see the robins–I never know they’re there until I see the brown and orange leaves jumping and realize it’s the birds.

Now if they’d only eat the slugs and slug eggs…

0 In Writing Life

Almost Fossils

Pit 91 La Brea Tar Pits. Photo courtesy Noella Ballenger.
Pit 91 La Brea Tar Pits. Photo courtesy Noella Ballenger.

Visitors to the Rancho La Brea “Tar Pits” are a bit incredulous when told large and powerful animals, such as the American lion, mastodon, and giant ground sloth, were snared in only a few inches of asphalt. Their expressions change, though, as they test their strength against the tar at an exhibit in the George C. Page Museum of La Brea Discoveries.

The puddles of asphalt exert incredible stopping power. Paleontologists at the tar pits report that, at other places where asphalt seeps through the ground, full-grown cattle have died after being trapped in just over an inch of asphalt. Less than half an inch got me.

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2 In Sports/ Travel

The Muneate

My sports ineptitude is legend. The phrase “can’t hit the broad side of a barn” was coined to describe my throwing prowess. So when my dad brought home a couple bows and set up a hay bale-backed target in the backyard, we all expected that I would wipe out half the squirrel population by accident. All of us were surprised (stunned, shocked, amazed) to discover that archery was something I could actually do. No neighborhood pets or small children were harmed as I practiced.

It appeared that all I had needed for my latent athleticism to emerge was a sport that involved weapons. Continue Reading →

0 In Experience/ Sports

Why I’m Not An Athlete

It started when I was in junior high. President John F. Kennedy was determined to get us into shape, so we were condemned to physical education classes every day. Even if it wasn’t every day, it seemed like it because I spent the time I wasn’t in PE class dreading it. On top of that, every year we were confronted with Physical Fitness tests: softball throw, the broad jump, the 50-yard dash and other indignities I’ve blocked out.

I envied the girls who were good at sports. They made it look fun. And easy. But I was one of those who, when it came time to choose teams, was always left on the sidelines until the last minute. And with good reason. Continue Reading →

0 In Experience/ Japan/ Travel


cherry blossoms japan 001 corrected

It’s spring in the Northwest and the flowering plum and cherry trees are luminous against the gray-green of the firs. I never see the return of the cherry blossoms without getting homesick for Kyoto.

I had heard much of Japan’s cherry blossom time before I moved to Japan in the early 1980s, but I had lived in southern California too long to expect much show from spring. So I wasn’t disappointed, my first spring in Kyoto, when the cold wind and rain beat the blossoms to the ground almost as soon as they appeared.

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0 In Family

Living Legend

Twenty-plus years ago, when I decided to freelance full-time, my father wrote me a long letter extolling the virtues of corporate job security, medical benefits, paid holidays and 401(k)s. Not an unusual reaction for a parent concerned his thirty-something offspring had lost her mind. But it was unusual for my father who was always a little too incorrigible for the lock-step of big business.

Different and daring were my father’s watchwords. He worked his way to the top of his profession as a mechanical engineer with no high school diploma. His brilliant mind and unique approach to problem-solving were his keys to success and upward mobility. Continue Reading →

0 In Family

The Gift of Laughter

mom glamour 1Mother’s Day was beautiful here in Oregon. The kind of day where my mom and I would have headed out for brunch, then headed for the coast, hit the iris gardens, or wandered through a nursery. But my mom is gone, so I had brunch with a friend instead.

Standing in the buffet line, I happened to see a woman at a table in the grip of helpless laughter. She was shaking all over and was holding her hand over her mouth as if her shout of laughter would rock the restaurant. I found myself smiling just to see her. And I remembered my mom, her laughter, her joy in laughing, and her joy in making others laugh. Continue Reading →

0 In Experience/ Family

Holding On

Our family had friends who collected. Not one thing in particular, but a little of lots of things in particular. Some of it was purchased with the thought of “investment” for retirement. Some of it (all the magazines and other etceteras) accumulated and was simply kept. Eventually, there was little living space in the house, as everything was packed floor to ceiling. Small trails let from sitting area to sleeping area. When they passed away, someone had a fearsome task to clear things out.

I’ve found that many people I talk to about our friends knows someone whose collecting has gotten just this out of hand, whether it’s family, friend, friend of a friend, or neighbor. The topic makes some of us a bit queasy as we begin to wonder if perhaps our accumulation of “stuff” could get—or is getting–out of hand. The problem becomes worse when a parent or grandparent dies and we become the caretakers of things that we may not want or need, but for which we feel a sentimental or guilty obligation. A lot of this guilt is stored away in off-site storage units and is never seen again. We pay the rental fees, month after month, not wanting to deal with the problem. In fact, I recently read that off-site storage is a $20 billion a year business. That’s a lot of people with “stuff.”

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