Wednesday, January 11, 2017

That Hard Rain Has Been A-fallin'

The rains started late Saturday night in Sonoma County, thick and heavy and wild, rattling the old wooden casement windows and sluicing down the sloped streets toward the river. By Sunday afternoon, the rivers were rising and sliding over their banks here and there, stranding some motorists and causing a few roads to be closed. I drove across town late that afternoon, rain pattering on the windshield, blooming into thick downpours, then quieting to thin mists. The Petaluma River was running high, easily visible down at the end of B Street as a wide milk-chocolate brown swale. I glimpsed it through the trees and buildings on my right as I drove north along Petaluma Boulevard. I turned on Corona road where the river had swallowed up its banks and flowed over the neighboring roads, running rogue through the slender willows and scrub trees, submerging all the brush on one side of the low bridge I was crossing and turning a meadow on the other side to a shallow, flowing lake.

As I drive, I glance  to the left at the thick dark water flowing briskly around the slim tree trunks like a series of winding snakes, going wherever it wants, free of the constraints of the banks. The movement now is all sweet force and freedom, but with more rain, it promises destruction. Will it  leave behind only a huge mess --  or an actual rerouting of the river path? It made me a bit queasy, the way the oily water moved so quickly under the pale, occluded light of late afternoon. It made me wonder - after this political debacle, will we have only a monster mess to clean up -- or such a significant change in our institutions that recovery itself will be in doubt?

Friday, January 6, 2017

How Wild It Is* - January 3, 2017 (revision)

The red-shouldered hawk sat on a short fence post close to the entrance of Shollenberger Park, putting it almost within arm's reach of folks heading out on their New Year’s Day walk. Odd to see the large hawk so close up – as if it was a tamed animal, used to having humans stopping to take phone-photos, to having them nudge and whisper, look, a hawk! No one wanted to spook it – we wanted its presence there on the fence post, where we could see the elegance of its black and white barred wings; the rusty-red breast, the hooked beak. We wanted it to validate us, to accept us. Within a few moments though, it flapped over to another post, just a bit further away from the people-path, where is could continue to monitor the marshy bank without hassle. 

It felt so unusual, this close presence of the raptor, yet unusual has become our norm, hasn't it?  These past few months have felt so twisted, so disturbed; it’s been difficult to get a handle on them.  Even under the blue skies and bright sun, we were a subdued lot walking along the two-mile loop around a dredging pond bordered by the Petaluma River on the waterside and industrial buildings on the landside. I wished a “Happy New Year” to a few folks; most of them startled, looking at me quizzically; some of them mumbled a soft  “you, too,”  or even a “Happy New Year” in return.

Small hordes of sparrows, rufus-capped and white-capped, hopped in and out of the brush lining the walkway, melting into the bushy shadows as we approached, hopping back out after we’d passed. I try to imagine what New Year’s Day 2018 might be like – and I can’t. Too much unpredictability right now – an unstable man-child in the White House, perhaps there by illegal means; an Administration out to gut all government, as if we don't need any at all (anarchy, anyone?); a sense that all the social-support gains we’ve made in the past 100 years could be wiped out with a few pen strokes by a man of little moral integrity, vindictive and thin-skinned, willing to lie, or so it seems, for no reason whatsoever, abetted by his cronies, so willing to go along with him. They don’t seem to want a country in which citizens can thrive, but a hegemony to plunder for their own personal wealth.

Further along the path, a northern harrier buzzed the dried-up reeds of the marsh, swooping back and forth and roundabout, casing for rabbits and rodents; the fastest bird on the planet, a grizzled, stubble-faced man said to us, as he sat on one of the benches, his bike and radio playing soft rock music next to him. He looked like this was his personal living room and he was inviting us to share his view. It was magnificent –across the sparkly river, soft green hills edged the horizon, but I’m plagued by my mind; I can’t even keep track of all that bothers me. Nuclear posturing has already begun, awakening the dormant terrors of an annihilating war still lurking in the back of brains of the Boomer generation. Impeachment is a possibility – the President-Elect seems to be unable to give up his businesses, required of all presidents. He hasn’t put them into a blind trust, possibly because they’ll go belly-up; seems like being a billionaire is far more important than being a President to him. He flirts with the Russians; invites a Neo-Nazi, KKK-supporter into his Cabinet. Really? What is he thinking?

He is a provocateur by nature and training. Reality-TV shows are based on setting up circumstances in which people are emotionally driven to engage in conflict then filming the results, because viewers are drawn to conflict, disaster, fights. It is all about the ratings, the eyeballs, whether approving or horrified. But is this the way to run the country? Especially a country that, whether you like it or not, has been seen as a leader in international relationships.

Two egrets flew by, earnestly rowing over the marsh through the chilly air, close enough overhead that we saw their necks tucked in tight s-curves, unblinking eyes, long legs trailing fluidly behind like thick ribbons. What do they think of us perambulating around their territory, absorbed in our concepts, our internal sussurations of fear and dismay?

The whole situation seems so untenable, so unreal, so preposterous – it doesn’t cohere. And so I wonder – will the fabric somehow tear? Could we end up with a civil war? Will something unpredicted happen to sideswipe his presidency? And us, to boot? What about an asteroid? Is this where we have been left, praying for a deus ex machina to solve this unsolvable problem?  But why do I think this is unsolvable?

Perhaps I am too pessimistic, too reactive. Perhaps things won't unfold the way I project they will. Perhaps I feed too often at the trough of social-media, that amplifier of emotions and rumor, the dampener of facts and reason. So I've decided to keep track of what I see, think and feel over the next year, hoping for the best, while keeping my eyes peeled for the worst. 

Last night I heard the soft gurgles of rain; this morning is soft and gray and damp. Perhaps today we will put away the holiday gear; perhaps we will finish reading our holiday books. I will proceed  - with more caution and less joy than other years, with gripped teeth and a sense of bedevilment. I will make the effort to be out in the wilderness where the political posturing can be ignored for an hour or two, and mental health restored. Perhaps I should be like the red-shouldered hawk, moving over to another fence post to continue my work, to dodge the worst of the annoyances, until things are set straight again.

My word for 2017 is "wild." 

*with thanks to Cheryl Strayed author of Wild, from which this quote came.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Four Hours Off - not such a great start

October 15, 2016

So I decided to try out the Four Hours Off project my English Comp students will do in a few weeks, in which they have to go four hours without any screen interaction: no phone, no computer, no tablet.  Shouldn’t be too hard, I figure: after all, I spent at least 40 years without a computer in the house, and almost 50 without a pocket-phone to check so obsessively.  I figured I would begin this morning (sleeping hours don't count in this project, haha), deliberately not setting the alarm on my phone so I wouldn't reach for it to start the day. But I failed almost immediately, reflexively grabbing my phone when it pinged with a text about my bank balance a few minutes after I woke up. A good thing really when I read the text, but I realize I’ve come to rely on these alerts to manage my account. A simple deposit yesterday would have avoided this situation and the need to respond, as I quickly wrote a check and photo-deposited it. The result: I’m solvent again.  But I have to start over on my Four Hour Phone Fast.

I do pretty good after that – breakfast, dressing, plotting out my exercise in light of the dour, damp gray skies and promised rain, a few maintenance chores I would probably have put off to play WWF or  to check FB to see what debacle the Orange Haired One has created. Those Dr Suess Trumpisms on Twitter were pretty hilarious last night, but they don’t assuage the anxiety I feel about Trump’s calls for violence to his base. Something bad is going to happen. Last night, on Dailey KOS, (HuffPost?) I did see that the FBI had foiled one home-grown terrorist bombing plot already, arresting three men with plans to bomb a mosque in NYC the day after the election. Such a sickness. He refuses to obey the rule of law. He should be arrested and thrown in jail. 

I do want to find out what has happened since then. But FB and social media is such an amplifier, increasing anxiety and angst; it is so thick with emotional reactions, so thin with reasoning and rational though. I counsel myself to have patiences: all that rage and vitriol will still be there this afternoon. Meanwhile, I continue with my knitting, completing another two inches on my arm-warmers. I fiddle with an earlier, failed attempt at a fingerless glove; I could just throw it out, though some catnip and fringes could turn it into a cat toy, I think. Hmmmm. 

I’m sailing along pretty well, until I go into my workroom to shelve some books (see, I’ve been tidying up instead of gnawing my fingernails over FB or WWF or Pinterest) and instantly I’m drawn to the quiescent computer screen to check if X replied to my message about Tuesday, which he hadn’t. Shoot and shenanigans.  But then I congratulate a friend on her new position aaannnnd --- I  realize I haven’t even lasted three hours without a screen, two and three-quarters to be exact. Will this workroom have to be off limits, too? I am shocked at how quickly I forgot my vow and got sucked into the need to check, the need to communicate. 

Oh, well, I’ll try again tomorrow. Maybe a Sunday, a day of theoretical rest, will be easier. I could try again today, but there’s grades to enter (online, natch) and I want to text or call the kids, see how they are doing on this rainy weekend. It’s the kind of day that calls for hot chocolate around the fireplace with a good novel. Though we don’t have a fireplace, I can’t eat chocolate anymore and --- I have essays to grade.

Until the morrow.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Fall Creep Is On

Monday morning, the screen door on the back porch opened with a soft scritch to thick, moist air; the wooden back steps were black and lustrous with moisture; the whole back yard was dripping. Not quite rain, but mist, mist so thick there wasn't much difference.The dropped shoulders of the world.

Tuesday, actual rain. Enough to speckle the windshield, then spread out in feathers along the side-windows as  I raced up the boulevard, anxious to get to campus in time to make copies before my first class starts.  Enough to know that the lounge cushions would be soaked and there was nothing much to be done about it - I would have to rely on the afternoon's heat to cook them out. 

On my way out to the second campus in Napa later that afternoon, small children dwarfed by back packs, thick with no longer needed jackets and sweaters from morning, walked away from the elementary school in threes and fours. Driving home from my evening class, a spectral silver glow fanned along a ridge line: night work in the vineyards. And then rounding a corner, I was startled by workers near the road, backlit by this same halogen-glow coming from three pairs of lights stacked high, ladder-like, on the front end of a yellow four-wheeled tractor, resembling nothing so much as a mechanical, headless, yet six-eyed, centaur.  

One small sprig of red leaves amongst the vines as I drove by, lickety-clip.

And this morning, on a walk around Shollenberger Park, the muted fragrance of alkaline dust and brittle oat grass. The marsh is completely dry, the bottom cracked and white; the grasses whorled and matted, cowlicks on some tawny-beast's hide. The touch of rain from the beginning of the week, the dripping morning fog has done little but freshen up the creeping bushes. The little sparrows hop about, busy with seeds and insects but most likely no longer under the non-stop grind of feeding nestlings. This is the small trough between seasons; the full melancholy of fall has not descended, but the onerous demands, the tenacious grip of summer is lessening.  

School has started but the big papers have not been assigned. 

We all breathe deep, grateful for space. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

One Word To Bind Them

The tradition of selecting a word for the New Year has not been forgotten – simply delayed. 

Well, actually, it has had me buffaloed for many weeks, vacillating among several tempting choices – compassion, forgiveness (myself and others), transitions, focus, create, hygga. That last word is not a typo, btw  – it’s Danish and the spelling is easier than the pronunciation, which uses that particularly Scandinavian “ooya” sound that bollixes up my tongue. “Hooyga” is only a written approximation; the best is to listen to native speakers say it over and over again as they explain this concept. Try this link, to start: .

The concept bears deep explanation for there is no exact English equivalent. Hygga, as I understand it, is a state of cozy comfort and ease that engenders contentment for a person and community. It’s an atmosphere and a state of mind: its coziness and warmth and contained spaces; it’s good books and a long afternoon to enjoy them; it’s tea and crumpets, or coffee and bagels; it’s a warm nook in solitude or shared with a beloved companion. It's creating comfort and enjoyment during a season of no light and extreme cold that can break a person's spirit. It’s companionship of the right, comfortable kind to get those denizens of the North Countries through the Long Dark of a Scandinavian winter. Heck, I'm hoping hygga will take me though the brief rainy season of Northern California.  

You would think my fascination with hygga would guarantee that it would be the word for 2016. But, sorry to say, you would be wrong.

I have declined the nouns, English or Danish, and I’m going with the verb: create.  Primarily because any of those other states (compassion, forgiveness, transitions, focus) can be created within myself; hygga is created in a home, a pub, a cafĂ©, a mind, a soul. I can create tidiness, journals, work spaces, writing times; I'm planning to create stories, blog posts, essays, a bestiary. The word “create” is a vehicle that can take me to all those places.