Saturday, August 31, 2013

The State of the State in Margaritaville

Ocean a flat blue sheet stretching all the way to the islands while
Waves wait their turn, each one  building into slow a curl.
Surfers ride, laughing like children.

Friday, August 30, 2013

California is Burning

"Every story happens in a particular place at a particular time," a writing teacher of mine once said. Place has always loomed large for me. I long for places I've lost and yearn for places I haven't yet seen. California was just blot of color in my grade school geography book--one more thing I had to memorize until I heard the Mamas and the Papas, The Beach Boys, and Jan and Dean. That music and those silly romance/surfer movies transported me to an imagined beach blanket of adolescent perfection. 

I was 22 years old when I finally got here. The palm trees were real--not cardboard prom decorations, the ocean was surprisingly salty, and people ate strange green-fleshed things called avocados.

I've travelled  the entire length and breadth of California. Driving, camping, backpacking, touring, sailing, eating, drinking. Coastal redwoods, Yosemite, Sequoia National Forrest, Mineral King, Mojave Desert, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Palm Springs, Visalia, Stockton, Fresno, Bakersfield, San Diego, Monterrey, Big Sur, Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley, Mendocino, Cambria, Anza Borrego, Montana del Oro, Anacapa, Catalina, Calistoga, Lake Tahoe, Lake Arrowhead, Lake Shasta, Big Bear, Death Valley, Ojai, Oxnard, Ventura.

Each day when my feet hit the sand for my morning walk, I renew my sense of amazement at what a stunningly beautiful state I live in. But while it's a balmy 75 here in Margaritaville, there is beauty burning farther inland. Fire season is a given in Southern California. But climate change is making it worse here and in many dry western states. There's this from a piece in Mother Jones: "Thomas Tidwell, the head of the United States Forest Service, told a Senate committee on energy and natural resources recently that the fire season now lasts two months longer and destroys twice as much land as it did four decades ago. Fires now, he said, burn the same amount of land faster." 
My mother is always cold here where the coastal breezes blow. "It's never summer here," she grumbles to everyone. If she gets her wish and breaks the family record by living to age 99, we may have to send her long underwear back to relatives in Iowa as the climate gets hotter. But then again, if a mile of coastline disappears as the seas rise, we'll be living on a boat. It might be drafty.

Visualize rain clouds, everyone, and send them to the fires burning around Yosemite National Park. And while we're at it, let's visualize tall corn, waving wheat, healthy livestock in green pastures, plentiful fish in pristine waters all over this land which is your land which is my land. Let's visualize stories and places that speak to us. Let's visualize politicians and people with some wisdom about climate change.

photo credit: Ansel Adams photo from the Yosemite National Park website

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Postcard from Divorceville

Dear Friends,

I have been kidnapped and taken against my will to a place called Divorceville. I am trying to get back to Margaritaville or to the town down the road called Pillville. My i.d. has been stolen, and I think I may have forgotten my name. My divorce attorney has sent a huge bill to my email address, but the last name is not my own--though it sounds vaguely familiar. I am confused and have been having weird dreams. They might be putting something in the water here in this place called Divorceville. I dreamed that The Someone refused to admit he'd been lying to me about his income and the bonus money he owes me. In the dream we met face-to-face, and he looked odd and somewhat terrifying. He had false teeth and they were very large. I kept trying to be clever, wanting to connect the idea of false teeth with bearing false witness, but I couldn't get the words out.

Please wire tequila immediately.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Pelican Rescue

I found a pelican yesterday.

In my 300 and some days of beach walks, I have not once--until yesterday--found a pelican parked on the sand. I approached the bird to see if it would fly. It did not. When I got within three feet or so I backed off and observed for a bit. The pelican was alert. It was looking around and flexing its wings, but the wings seemed asymmetrical. I decided I would try to get in touch with some sort of bird rescue. Given the fact that the only breeding colonies for the California brown pelican in the western United States are just off shore in the Channel Islands, and that the bird only made it off the federal endangered species list in 2009, I figured a 411 call would be pretty straightforward.


I decided to call the marine mammal rescue hot line that I put in my phone earlier this summer, thinking they could refer me. The outgoing message from was a weary sounding guy saying that his number was not the correct one for marine mammal rescue. He did however give out the correct number, but that number yielded a very long and detailed outgoing message including a list of every animal that qualified as a marine mammal. Meanwhile the pelican on the sand was still flapping one wing.

I think I tried 411 again, and got another couple numbers. Both were recorded messages. One was up in Santa Barbara. The other was a hummingbird rescue.

I called daughter C. Now living in St Paul, she's spent a lot of time sailing in these parts. Since I do not have a smart phone, she got on the internet for me and gave me a couple more numbers. I was thrilled to hear the voice of a real person, and the young woman on the line was very enthusiastic. "Oh! Can you transport the bird to us?" she asked. For a second I imagined myself hitch hiking, the immense bird tucked under my arm with my jacket thrown over its head in order to help it remain calm. But I came to my senses. These rescuers were in Malibu, I think, and did not travel this far north.

After a bit of pondering, I decided to call Harbor Patrol. A couple of time a day, and every evening about the time I'm ready to go to bed, I see their boat pass by my house. A real live person answered the phone. The guy asked me a few questions. Was their any blood? Was the bird in any visible distress? What were the nearest cross-street? "Okay," he said. "I'll call the bird lady. She'll be by to get the pelican as soon as she can."

I decided that I should hang around. What if a big dog was galloping down the beach off-leash? I'd have to call my mom and explain that I would be home late. I was already 20 minutes behind my usual arrival time for retuning from my morning walk. As I pulled my phone out one more time, I walked a little closer to the pelican...and he lifted off. The pelican flew a few feet and landed back on the sand. I followed, and then the bird took off again and flew away.

But I'm going to find out who this bird lady is and put her number in my phone.

And did you know that the brown pelican is the only pelican that's a plunge diver? It's breathtaking.

My mom and I were spellbound last February when they were diving right outside our windows.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Report from Pillville: Caregiving/One Year of Living with My Mother

"Let us just make it through one year" was my mantra in the first months after I brought my mother to California to live with me. I couldn't quite imagine then how I would survive in my new role as caregiver. Not to mention my mother. She seemed so impossibly frail that I wanted to hover behind her whenever she crossed the room.

She still smoked then, and despite convincing myself that finding the house with the perfect patio would enable a truce between the smoker (her) and the adamant cigarette hater (me), the fact was that the smoke from the patio wafted up and into my bedroom windows. Smoking on the bench along the side of the house was no better--it only insured that the laundry room smelled like an ash tray.

Medical issues intervened last November. Vascular surgery on her feet and legs to restore some measure of circulation was punctuated by an order from her doctor to quit. She did. I can't help wondering if the doctors who removed tumors from her lungs on two separate occassions might have wrought the same result if they'd had the balls to issue an edict back in1970-something or in 2009. If they had, it's quite possible that my mom, soon to be 89, would still be living on her own.

While quitting smoking has not been a panacea for everything that ails my mother, it does seem that she's more even-tempered. We nearly came to blows over my dishtowels a few months back. She likes the large white flour sack towels. I prefer smaller, colorful towels. Every night as she dried the dishes there'd be cursing. When I figured out what was going on, I stuffed the pretty towels into a bottom drawer. Every dislike in those first months seemed to be punctuated with drama. Lamps, phones, soap, lotion, the arrangement of her furniture--none of it was right.

I had my own fits over things, too. Why didn't she have a coherent list of her medications which actually matched the names of the meds on the pill bottles? Why had she brought boxes of pens and pencils and weird scrub brushes and a drawer of old tweezers but not her C-PAP machine? All of it seems trivial now.

One year to the day after the unlikely merger of the states of Pillville and Margaritaville, we're both still on our feet. My mother might be stronger and healthier. She might make her weird muttering/growling noises less often. Then again, I have been with her almost every day for the past year and I have absolutely no perspective. Her hearing has further deteriorated--so the latest hearing test claims, and I believe there's a bit of cognitive slipping and sliding. But the thing is, I'm an inmate here in this pretty asylum, and you're crazier than I am if you think I'm in control.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Anacapa and Santa Cruz were both lost behind a veil of fog this morning. My brain felt much the same as I tried to remember what the yoga teacher said. It was something I needed, something I relished when I heard it, but then it was gone. Hidden like those islands, sunk inside me somewhere, and I am mentally stretching out my arms to it, trying to pull it back, this perfect thought that meshed with the gears of my particular now.

Beach glass comes in four basic colors here on the sands of Margaritaville. Clear, amber, blue and green. There are, according to my inventory, two shades of amber, perhaps three or four distinct types of green, and two vastly different colors of blue--cobalt and aquamarine. Yesterday, for the first time in my 15 months of collecting, I found a piece of red beach glass. Today I found two more. Like the bit of illusive yogic wisdom, beach glass can shimmer right there at your toes and then be swept back out to sea again.

I berate myself sometimes for the beach glass hunting. Is it some weird compulsion like egg collecting? Unlikely, I suppose, since it's doubtful that I'll wipe out the world's supply of Heineken bottles. But I worry about the recognizable gleam in the eyes of other beach glass fanciers if we happen to lift our eyes from the sand long enough to speak. I'm sure the heart of the man I spoke to this morning began to beat a little faster when I showed him the two ruby morsels.

All I know is that I can arrive on the sand, heart sometimes still pumping residual dread even after yoga or t'ai chi chih, and after my fingers trace the sanded curves of what was once sharp and dangerous, I feel smoother too. I bring my pocket full of jewels home and rinse them in the laundry room sink, then lay them on the kitchen counter so my mother can see them. Each time she's amazed, and some mornings we hover over them, marveling like two old dragons, proud of the treasure amassing in our lair.

Only the wildlife at the shore can easily pull my fickle eyes from the treasures on the sand. Pod of whales, school of dolphins, flock of pelicans, or willets, or curlews, or other birds--and I am at the mercy of the intangible connection I feel to the creatures who inhabit the place I love best.

There were birds this morning flying from north to south, barely visible at the smeared line where foggy sky met foggy sea. Almost like floaters in a damaged eye, they felt both real and like a hallucination, these birds who must have numbered in the tens of thousands, moving across the parchment of the horizon like an infinite calligraphy. So many birds that I stood watching, awestruck--almost frightened--at their numbers. Too far away to i.d., they kept coming. I walked for an hour shifting my eyes from the sand to the the horizon, and always when I looked up, the line of birds was there, winging onward as if they knew something I didn't. Something I should flee or fly towards, something I can almost see, but not quite.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Tidal Wave of Endorphins Swamps Brain

I lost my wallet yesterday morning. I thoughtlessly set it on top of my car while I went back into the house to get my favorite jacket...which I couldn't find. Being in a bit of a hurry to get to the farmers' market (the fishing boats sometimes sell out early) I forgot the wallet was on the roof of my car and drove off. The man who loves me lent me some dough, and so we shopped, thinking I'd probably left the wallet in the house when I went back inside for the jacket. But no, the wallet was not to be found. And I couldn't find my phone either. The man who loves me called my phone and found it on the cooktop. At least the burner wasn't on.

Armed with the phone, we retraced the route to the market. Except for a smashed blue plastic something, the streets were empty. Back home again, I checked my email and Facebook just in case someone had messaged me. No luck. I sat down at my desk and began to contemplate the task of canceling my ATM and credit cards. Oh wait, now that I have my phone, I thought, I'll check my messages. Yes.

The guy who found my wallet in the middle of the street is named Wright. Nice. And the wallet made it, riding on the roof of my car, through two left turns and a right turn almost all the way to the market before hitting the pavement. It, unfortunately, did not survive.

Take the guy a bottle of wine, the man who loves me said as I wondered out loud about how much of a reward to give him. So I did. A very nice one. A vestige from the days when I collected nice bottles of red. I gift bagged it. Of course, when we got to the street the guy lives on, I couldn't find the piece of paper on which I'd written his house number--which I was certain I'd put in my pocket. But it was in my backseat.

Today as I drove my mom back from a trip to the pulmonologist, I decided to stop by the nail salon where I got a pedicure on Saturday to see if I'd left my white fleece jacket there. I did.

I'm blaming all of this on an irregular distribution of endorphins.

But it's a win. Hoping to fix my blog layout problems soon.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Never Fool Around with Your Blog While Drinking Wine with A Cat on Your Lap

So, I fucked up the layout of my blog. Can't fix it after hours of googling and trying. HTML this and that, and margins, and reset, blah, blah. I've tried it. Can't do it. So the blog looks hideously stoooopid.

I might be done here cuz the layout is just too unbearable to behold. Dang.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Bird of the Day: California Least Tern or There is a Season....

I missed August in Margaritaville last summer. Instead of hobnobbing with the terns, I was hanging out with the goldfinches in my brother's backyard in Iowa. There really isn't much bird activity in the marina right now compared to wintertime when the migratory birds arrive. Oh, there are regular visits from great blue herons, but they're solitary types. They don't bring their friends. The same goes for the occasional egret or black-crowned night heron. Every now and then, there are a couple of cormorants, or a grebe, or a few coots, but they're more numerous in winter, too. It was pretty dull around here until the terns began fishing. The California least tern is not a large bird, so the fishing acrobatics are nothing like the pelican dives of last February, but it's pleasant enough to watch a pretty white bird snap up a silver fish even if it's not exactly breathtaking.

The tern scene at the ocean is more dramatic. I first noticed the terns on the beach a couple of mornings ago. I heard them before I saw them. The chorus of peeping came from the sand as well as overhead. The flying terns had little fish dangling from their beaks, and instead of gobbling them up, they were delivering them to the birds on the sand which must have hatched somewhere nearby--though I can't quite imagine where since the beach is not exactly untrammeled. These birds on the sand appeared to be adolescent birds. Somewhat downy, but half-grown and conveniently a speckled sandy brown instead of the brilliant black and white of their parents, they sat peeping enthusiastically for fish, tucked into the footprints left by walkers and joggers. They could fly, though not expertly--which explains why their parents have to feed them. Terns--millenial generation of the bird world. Not like the snowy plover chicks who hop over to the seaweed and start devouring sand fleas almost immediately. But then I guess eating a sand flea is a bit less risky than diving for a fish. So perhaps those of us with adult children doing some human version of peeping for fish would do well to keep in mind that learning to fish is probably better than eating fleas even if it takes longer to learn.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Kicking in the Wall

I have a lot of books about writing. 

Last night at Vroman's books in Pasadena, one of the the most amazing book stores on the planet, I got to read from Kicking in the Wall by Barbara Abercrombie because a few snippets of my writing are in it. Kicking in the Wall and Barbara's previous book A Year of Writing Dangerously are full of writing prompts that will keep you in your chair. She also has a book called "Courage and Craft." Barbara's books, Abigail Thomas's book, "Thinking About Memoir,"and Anne LaMott's Book "Bird by Bird" keep me going.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some writing to do.

Do you have a favorite book about writing? Or about creativity in general?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Photographer Tom Hussey's series "Reflections"... and some of my own

I walk after dinner. My mom sips what's left of her martini and cleans up the dinner dishes. She insists on doing her part. She loves helping out, she says. Earning her keep. It can get noisy this dinner clean-up. One of the aspects of being hard of hearing that I didn't think much about prior to my mom moving in with me is that the almost-deaf person cannot hear the racket they are making. I walk to escape the bedlam of china and pots and pans, the din of silverware and glass.

There's a house on my street with a better-than-average display of flowers in its front yard. Well tended and colorful, it's sometimes presided over by its owner who sits alone at a tall table for two in the alcove outside his front door. Last night his glass of white wine looked like liquid gold in the evening light. Cool jazz wafted out from the house."Good-evening, "I said (as I always do whenever I see him.) Mr. Tall Dark and Handsome returned my greeting (as he always does.)

"You know, you're one of the coolest people I've ever seen," he said then. I laughed. I admit I was taken aback. "You are," he said. "I can tell." I laughed again. Smiled and gave a goofy wave. Despite the fact that I found this a tad bit creepy (not to mention objectifying,) for a minute, in my mind's eye, I looked like this.

Or maybe like this.

Two vastly different versions of cool. Neither of them me. In those earlier angsty phases of my life, I longed to be cool in a way I couldn't be. I think getting older creates a longing for something equally unattainable. My almost 89-year-old mom comments frequently on her wrinkles. She says her hair is thinning. She abhors the fact that she's shrunk in stature. My mother-in-law, who's now in her 90s, once told me her reflection in the mirror always surprised her. She expected to see a younger self, she said. Not that old face looking back

These photographs by TomHussey have been making their way around the web. If you haven't already seen them, take a look. I found myself studying each one.