Saturday, December 17, 2011

excerpt for a New Book, Balloons


Who is it who does not like balloons: the colors, the symmetry, the fact that they float. My first memory of balloons was that of my older cousin popping them. I was appalled; in my three year old mind, popping balloons was sacrilegious. To this day, I identify with children who cry when their treasure explodes, and what remains is ragged and so gone.
An escaped helium balloon is quite beautiful as it waggles into the air and finally disappears. I have found the collapsed remains on beaches, have seen them surfing on the waves. I have found them on mountain passes, have noticed them waving like flags in tree tops. (I carried a heart-shaped balloon in my backpack for a week and was reluctant to part with it in the trash at the trailhead.) I have found balloons on my five acres. There once was an extraordinary red balloon that lasted for weeks, lodged high in a fir tree in the woods. Then one day, its brilliant color and its oval shape were no more; I like to think that it floated - away.
Latex balloons are not allowed in hospitals; I forgot that, and was turned away when I went to visit a hospitalized third grade student. I felt so disappointed as I took the balloons back to my car, so lonely.
Black balloons are an antithesis of balloon essence – the colors and the weightlessness of most balloons represent lightheartedness; black balloons are quite grim. On my fortieth birthday, I was presented with black balloons. I popped them; those were the only balloons I ever popped on purpose.
Balloons are so like wishes: bright and light. When I consider my wishes, I feel impractical – but, nevertheless, I still wish . . .
I were walking across Tuolomne Meadows with Ben,
through a garden of nasturtium and Four O'clocks with EJ,
on a warm sandy beach with Greg,
on the mossy lake edge at Rae Lakes with Jesse,
down Kiwi Road with Gem.
Wishes are like that: figments . . . like the bright, colorful balloons that make us happy.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

excerpt for a New Book, Misplaced Spring Day

A Misplaced Spring Day

January, 2011. Finally, warmer, sunny days. On the first of these, everyone was “out,” cordial and loud – even squirrels and bush birds. Finches, Juncos, Nuthatches, Sparrows - though the Raven pair watched me without a sound, still and regal, great thinkers. In the wetlands, I noticed the tentative song of the frogs, the sounds of spring - in winter.
The light is beautiful, reflections silver-bright, even the pine needles hold the light. The scents are beautiful: warm pine and cedar, ethereal flowery scents that are here, and then gone.
I anticipate misplaced spring days in winter – misplaced summer days in spring, although they often make me feel nostalgic, make me feel a longing, an anxiety – because I know that loss is as inevitable as love?
Running, I spread my “wings;” the essence of the day lightens me; I feel brave. (In memory, I hear Stu singing, a phrase here, a phrase there. I hear his voice when I listen to the recording of BeatusVir; hear him among the other baritones; hear a voice that is mellow and true.)
It is on misplaced summer days in spring that I rush into my garden to set my seedlings. It is on misplaced summer days in the fall that I long for the dust of the trail; and in summer, in the high mountains, I feel the winter cold of blowing snow.
I am more inclined to collect things on misplaced days. Today, I pocketed a rock, black and shiny with stripes of quartz; I will carry it for awhile. I pocketed laurel leaves, the scent of California wild.
Beautiful days bow to cold nights - when we ask, “Wasn't it a beautiful day?”
There will be others, though.
In the seasons, we will learn to bless the passing of time and the days that take our hearts – with the splash of ache and the rush of ecstasy.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

excerpt for a New Book, Gift-Giving


When it comes to shopping for gifts, I am the worst. I get frustrated, and anxious – and indecisive. Usually, I ask my daughter to shop for me. (Actually, I enjoy giving gifts, but I am compulsive about giving the “right” gift – which always seems unlikely.)
My stories and poems are meant to be gifts, but I must admit that they are not received with the enthusiasm that is my hope. (At age seven, I gave a clutch of dandelions to my teacher. I thought of these little flowers as the perfect gift – bright, soft, symmetrical. My teacher's initial response was encouraging, but when she was presented with a bouquet of roses by another student, she forgot about my little bouquet. I watched the flowers grow limp, bowing their heads over the edge of the book where they were left, a reflection of my disappointment.) Often, when outcome does not match my expectations, I remember fading dandelions and the feeling that my expectations will rarely match outcome - but that has to be all right (since that's the way it is).
I have received gifts that are perfect. I have a leather briefcase that my father gave me when I was a teen. I still use it; it is was what I expected, and I felt his pride in me. Once, I received a tiny African terracotta Jesus from a friend. It has significance. In my shadow box, I have a toy soldier that I found while digging in my garden in Oakland. This WWI soldier is made of lead and belonged to a young man who died at age 19 in WWII. His sisters to whom I presented it, gave it back to me - as a gift. I treasure a baby doll that was given to me at eighth grade graduation by an anonymous donor with a note: Dear Mrs. Hoffmann, This is your promise doll: someday you will be a grandmother! And then there are others: My mother gave me the nine symphonies of Beethoven after my third baby died. My sister, Grace, beaded me a beautiful bracelet, a testimony to her thoughts and blessings, and Stu gave me a hairbrush with a note that read: “The first gift in a lifetime of gifts. I love your hair!” (My hair was very long and wavy then.)
I will never forget the Christmas when my parents were able to gift seven children with several presents each. I do not remember the gifts; I remember a huge pile of packages wrapped in red and green tissue paper, flowing from under the tree into the living room. The real gift was that of abundance.
Recently, I gave a ukelele to my three year old grandson; it was one of the best gifts I ever gave anyone. I was excited to buy it, excited to present it to him. I was joyful as I left the store and walked back to my car. I kept repeating, “I am happy. I am happy right now!” It was the same joy I experienced frequently before Stu passed away - when I climbed mountains, when I was successful.
(I am a teacher, after all.) I show and share what is beautiful in nature, and maybe, just maybe, the gift is received. “No, Grandma, I have decided that it was not a fox that bit that apple, 'puz' of the teeths (ibid teeth marks). It was a raccoon.” For me, words are the most perfect gifts, and the best words have been from the children I have taught as well as from the best friend with “the elegant heart.”

Saturday, November 19, 2011

another excerpt for new book


I know someone who can lie down in the middle of a party and sleep. Incredible. I, on the other hand, will wake up completely if I attempt to sleep in the middle of the day. The exceptions are my five minute naps alongside a trail, probably because I prefer open, cool, airy, clean places to sleep – and deep fatigue. I will say that I think naps are one of life's great pleasures, and I have been denied them for the most part, though I have had naps enough to know what I am missing. (I do not count the nap assignments I had as a child which were profoundly boring – unless I actually went to sleep, but then I woke in a wicked mood, feeling horrible.)
I have had a few wonderful naps, and what I appreciated most was being conscious that I was having a nap, that I was completely comfortable. Once, I fell asleep, crouching at the edge of a lake on Taboose Pass while filtering water. This sudden sleep must have lasted seconds, but when I fell back into the silky grass at the water's edge, I reflected on that comfort, that perfect comfort, and that deep, deep blue.
I think that the best nap I ever had was on a trail in Yosemite. Even though I dreamed – in color – I was aware of the fact that I was asleep, and that I was leaning against a tree, by a trail, in Yosemite, and that I was 18, and strong, and smart, and attractive, and happy with myself . . . Ironically, muttering the words, “I am so tired,” woke me.
Occasionally, meditation has served in place of a nap. Not too long ago, that happened . . .
on one late afternoon when I escaped from mosquitos by taking refuge in my tent after a long hike at altitude. At first, I just enjoyed the fact that I had escaped the pesky mosquitos, that I was not being bitten, and then I began to enjoy the scenery that I had missed while defending myself from these voracious insects; the granitic character of domes and spires. Eventually, I just watched my comrades as they moved about the camp doing chores, cooking, and swatting and swatting and swatting with a singular patience that comes with being resigned. It was rather hypnotic. I felt restful and not bothered. I considered doing something: reading, writing, looking at the map, listening to my i-pod. I decided to do nothing for a change, think about nothing in particular except my breathing. As a result, I was carried away (as they say) into a place of conscious rest, a meditative state, best ever.
Sleeping at night has always been easy for me, but I had to learn to rest. I have, and it was Stu who taught me (yet another gift) - when we were on our way for a hike in the region of the Mokolomne River. There was a change of plans; Stu wanted to stop for a little “shut-eye.” We stopped at a picnic area by the river, and found a lounging place on a picnic table. There, we both lay down. Stu slept briefly, and I received on my reclined person, fall leaves that gently landed on and around me. I did not remove them. “What's that about?” Stu asked.
“I am the resting place.”
He said, “Not a bad place to be.”           

Saturday, November 12, 2011

for new book: Berries


Firethorn (Pyracantha) grow in my mother's front garden. These very old shrubs bear dense garlands of red berries, cascades of fire orange and red in the winter. It is an event when the Cedar Waxwings: the little birds with cap, black mask, and yellow belly, come in flocks to feed, to literally devour the berries.
In the fall in my woods, there are a few berries: red bunches at the tips of the Honeysuckle vines, some red on the Toyon, and the celebrated berries on the Madrone – each resembling a spherical strawberry, fire-red. The tree I notice is below me so that the crown of the tree is visible. It looks like a huge red and green bouquet. The berries of the manzanita are dry and brown in fall (but they make delicious tea). They are inconspicuous, unlike their spring blossoms that smell like honey.
In summer, we all experience the indomitable blackberry. Delicious as they may be, they are invasive. They were introduced centuries ago, and they have naturalized to the west coast – and beyond. But who is complaining about a plant that provides food and cover for wildlife, and a taste treat that is at once sweet, sour, bitter, and earthy like the plot in which it grows . . . though they are somewhat treacherous to pick, thorned as they are and growing in company with poison oak and stinging nettle.
I have a hate-love affair with blackberries; they attack when I try to control them on my land, and they harbor the berries in thorns - but a just-ripe berry is heaven. Besides that, in summer, they have a scent that makes the air smell wild; it is leafy, woody, sweet – it makes me happy – that scent – because it is the scent of summer, of summer energy.
As an adult, I go berry picking. As a child, I went cherry picking – in an orchard. What a bonanza: all the cherries one could eat while sitting in a tree like a bird with a view of endless cherries in endless trees.
Cherries have always had a special significance for my family. In season, guests in-the-know bring cherries, and they always announce the cherries instead of themselves: “I brought cherries!”
Long ago, and far away, I went blueberry picking in a national forest in the Catskill mountains. We were run off by a wicked guy with a shotgun who insisted that we were picking his berries. In Alaska, I was not game for competing for blueberries with grizzlies.
Strawberries: I grew five rows of them once, but wondered why the ripening ones disappeared. I blamed the disappearance on raccoons until I went out one early morning and discovered my three year old daughter helping herself to strawberries. Picture this: a night gowned, barefooted three year old, an Oakland foggy dawn, boldness, secretiveness, and love of strawberries. I dream of an infinite field of strawberries, rows and rows and rows, vanishing into distant mountains. There are such places.   

Sunday, November 6, 2011

for new book, Rainwalking


Not many people purposely walk in the rain, but there are some – like me. Just like the Eskimos have many words for snow, I have strings of words for rain:
Summer rain, First rain, Windy rain,
in desert rain
I have recently walked in misty rain, ethereal rain, rain drifting through the trees and softening the light. I feel safe then, in contrast to how I feel when I walk through a storm, when the blinding light and crack of thunder make me need to take cover, to be unobtrusive, small, humble – while still being energized, exhilarated, acutely (almost painfully) aware – though I am thinking, how will I dry my sopping shoes?
I raise my face so that I might catch the first sleet-turning-to-snow. The flakes feel warm on my lips. I think that the summer before, I danced in the desert rain ; I streamed water like the granite faces, and I shed drops like the desert pines. I bowed to the white peak, to the place of distant thunder. I danced to the light, was awed by the rainbow, was spellbound by the colors of green: iridescent, dark, quick silver, tender. I breathe green.
I have walked in snow-falling, becoming part of the stillness, part of the cold, part of the hiss and tick of the flakes as they strike the few leaves hanging doggedly to the tender twigs of the previous spring. I have walked in the blue snow, shimmery under a peek-a-boo moon in the clouds, color of daguerreotype.
Then, there is one mountain night when I went out into the bitter cold . . . staying out long enough to see the rising moon create cloud shadows. . . Though my winter clothes feel seer in the cold, I wander farther and farther from the lodging into a moonlit clearing, all cold light. I see an apparition: a skier materializing on the edge of the clearing, coming toward me, double poling, rhythmic and graceful. He belongs here under the moon, I think - as I wish I did, but I am too cold to surrender to moonlight and falling snow.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Excerpt for a New Book, Keep to the Right

Keep to the Right Except to Pass

When I go jogging in the park - early enough, no one passes me. If I go later, it seems like everyone passes me, but I love jogging Union Hill anyway – aware of the bird songs and the green shadows, and the scents wafting from the trees and the Kitkitdizze. Occasionally, I do pass someone, and then I feel faster. Funny.
My thoughts wander when I jog; I do not seem to have the desire to direct them. Sometimes, it seems as if I reflect only on what I sense; this state is very restful, but the irony of it, is that it is reserved for when I am expending a lot of energy.
When I was in my late teens, I decided to run over Fossil Hill and back. Not far, but steep and hot. I felt strong; I made a meal out of that hill, gobbling it with gusto – that is, until the heat began to affect me; then I began to feel weak and shaky. I made it home and collapsed on the front porch, hoping to cool myself on the cement. I did, and eventually I felt euphoric, a young adult without any cares. Everything seemed so simple.
I was the last of our party to climb out of LeConte Canyon into the Palisade Basin; everyone passed me, and I felt enervated long before I got to camp where I would need to muster enough energy to make camp, filter water, and cook. I talked to myself, coached myself, was kind to myself and tried to be proud of myself as I climbed . . . and climbed . . . and climbed.
“We've been here for quite awhile. Are you all right?” (My son.)
“All right, now that I'm here.”
“What happened?”
“I keep to the right, except to pass.” (But I surprised myself once.)
Like I said, I surprised myself once. I had entered an “off limits” area in a state park in a quest for a certain plant with swollen pink-tinged bladder-like pods, a delicate locust-like plant that I wanted to identify. I was a little jumpy about being in a forbidden area, but I knew the area, and was confident that I could go undetected in my quest.
It was a quintessential autumn day: random dust devils, peppery scents, autumn colors, and helicopter seeds from the cedars. It was deliciously quiet – until . . . until I heard the sound of an engine – coming my way, down the trail/dirt road. Of course, I thought to hide, but hiding meant climbing through the Poison Oak . . . and so I ran – outrunning the vehicle to a place where I knew I would be hidden; a small clearing with a hiding place behind a fallen tree. I ran like a young person, leaping and skipping, hopping over branches and boulders, and then collapsed behind the fallen tree to hide and breathe. (I was impressed with myself as I crept to collect my leaves and lovely seed pods.)
With pride, I told Stu about my exploit. “It doesn't surprise me,” he said with that smile.
“I was actually fast for a change,” I insisted.
“You were a track star,” he reminded me. “A sprinter. Did you forget?”
“Passed on the left,” I reminded him.
(I still have not identified this exotic plant, and it has since been bulldozed into oblivion.)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

New Book Excerpt


irony: a combination of circumstances or a result that is the opposite of what might be expected or considered appropriate

I do not laugh enough; it is not that I fail to find humor; I do. I am talking about deep laughter; I envy my friends, Deni and Margaret as well as my sister-in-law, Jane - they really know how to laugh – with a sense of abandon to the universal irony. My experiences of deep laughter have been far between, but they are glorious gems that are radiant in memory: I giggled as a child; I remember the feeling when an adult would question my logic, and I would laugh at my own lack of it. For this reason, I tolerate giggling in children, and sometimes I feel the surge of a giggle myself when I am with them, always wishing that I was not the adult on those occasions.
I revisit certain incidents in my life, keep them alive in memory, and sometimes I laugh again.
Revisited: My son, Jesse, and I were eating lunch with my three year old grandson, Aiden – on a latticed wrought-iron table. Aiden found it very funny that we kept losing pieces of our lunch through the lattice holes. He giggled, and soon, both Jesse and I were laughing with tears. It was wonderful!
Revisited: Late at night after a long day of travel, Stu and I went on a laughing spree that I will never forget; we had failed in our effort to find a campground. Not funny? We had a map, which I was reading while Stu drove, but none of the backroads were signed. We were lost; not funny; not until Stu abruptly pulled to side of the road and asked to see the map. I impatiently shoved it at him. After trying to manipulate it against the steering wheel and peering at it as if he were half blind, he suddenly wadded it in a ball and threw it out the window. We laughed about that forever!
Revisited: My friend, Tiffany, and I found it curious when we noticed two armed men guarding a panel truck at a motel in Fort Brag. The contrast of their relaxed, cordial greetings and the shotguns was too much irony to bear. “Why the guns?” I asked when the men greeted me. “Gold,” they said. “Morel mushrooms,” corrected a reputable source.
Revisited: I often laugh on backpack trips, that sudden, overwhelming mirth when, inexplicably, the absurdity of living comes into focus. My friend, Joe, was trying to make a rain shelter out of a flimsy plastic poncho, but the wind would not have it; it stuck to his face, wrapped his head, and then entangled itself in a bush where it self-destructed. His perseverance made the incident even funnier, and when another in our party came along, wearing a garbage bag, we were touched by the universal truth of ridiculous, and were seized with paroxysms of laughter – and acceptance of our own propensities to take ourselves too seriously. Give me laughter, deep, soul-shaking, humbling laughter; it is real!                  

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

excerpt for a New Book, Spook

Spook House

An old house on a hill, hidden in the Eucalyptus trees, was reputed to be haunted – and so we “haunted” the eucalyptus grove around the haunted house. From our cover, the house looked abandoned, but I remember seeing a broom on the porch at the rear of the house, and I remember an old truck that groaned up the hill from time to time, and so surmised that the house was not abandoned, but that it was haunted – because that was what was said about it by the kids in our neighborhood, some of them older (and more experienced) than us.
Then one day, when I was creeping around the woods by myself, I spied the spook, and the spook spied me. I froze with fear, staring at a tall, thin man, wearing a plaid shirt. Straightening, he slowly placed one hand on his hip; I noticed that his fingers were very long and very brown. His face was shadowed by a wide-brimmed hat, and he wore glasses, but I could feel the question in his eyes: “Who are you, and why are prowling around my house?” I do not remember what happened after that, but somehow the stigma faded, and we grew up – and then, and then . . .
Recently, my brother brought up the case of the spook house and the spook. He had heard that black people were called “spooks,” at one time and in some places. Our spook was a black man (I think) but we did not know prejudice. I remember that people who were different in some way made me feel shy, and I imagined that it was the same for them. That was the extent of it. Anyway, don't all kids need a haunted house?
I did not learn about the meaning of prejudice until I was school age; my parents did not teach it: they taught kindness. My mother encouraged my sister, Grace, to make visitations to the old ladies in our neighborhood, curiously, something she was inclined to do. She helped me become organized so that I could collect pennies for Meals for Millions. My dad approved when I gave my pencil box to a little kid in school who did not have one, but he discouraged me from parting with my blue bunny – which I could not have done anyway; I felt rather guilty about that.
Speaking of guilt: I fabricated sins when I went to confession. Seriously, I did, but eventually, Father McLaughlin caught on and asked me if I told other lies. Ah ha!
“Why do you lie?” asked this good man.
“I don't know.”
“Lying does seems like the best thing to do, sometimes, doesn't it?”
(I had imaginary friends; somehow, they were not lies.)
He asked me if I had ever heard the story about the boy who cried “wolf.” He said, “After awhile, people won't believe you anymore - if they catch you lying – and they will catch you, just like I did.”
I decided to be a storyteller (rather than a liar). Stories were received better than lies, I decided. My sisters appreciated the imaginary friends who came to visit me (and them) in my bed every night, and would often say, “Tell us a story.”

P.S. This story is subjectively true. Hopefully, that does not make it a lie.

Friday, September 30, 2011

another excerpt for new book

Auburn Road

I cry on Auburn Road – sometimes – because Stu and I, together, drove the rural five mile stretch from our house to the fairgrounds thousands of times. Our children learned to drive on Auburn Road, and it became their way to town and school. Besides that, Stu and I de-trashed Auburn Road twice a year, and so came to know the intimate features of the roadside. Besides that . . .
When my son, Gregory, was in middle school, I transported him and his bike to the ranch (now a nine hole golf course) where by the light of dawn he relocated irrigation pipes. When the sun rose, he rode his bike to school. My pride in that boy-just-becoming-a-man squeezes my heart to this day.
I remember the last time Stu and I drove together on Auburn Road. It was a week before he passed away. We were returning from the hospital after a pain-relieving procedure. I observed that it was a beautiful day, bright and cold. I cherished the fact that Stu sat beside me, and though his head was bowed, his hand was resting on my hand. I can still feel his hand; a touch memory. I thought, “I will remember these minutes for the rest of my life; we are together, we are in our car, on our road; there is no other reality now, and we will not die today.
Auburn Road is a segment of the original 49er trail, still quite rural even though there are numerous modest residences, tucked away in the trees as well as a few small ranches. The vegetation is native: oaks and pines, meadows, wetlands, and some chaparral. The people are, for the most part, refugees from cities and suburbia, and they have chosen Auburn Road because they love it. There is also a sizable piece of BLM land on Auburn Road which ought to be a park.
Drivers using Auburn Road as a shortcut drive too fast and tailgate. Bicyclists use the corridor, but I don't know why; it has punishing hills, blind curves, a narrow shoulder. I even find it harrowing to walk on Auburn Road, much less ride a bicycle. Ah! but Auburn Road is a beautiful drive: it is essentially “country.” It bursts with iridescent green in the springtime, yellow leaves scatter on the road in the fall. In the winter, the lower elevations may be dusted with snow while slightly higher, the trees and brush are mantled with snow. In summer, there is a coalescence of scents from oaks and pines, blackberries, creeks and sun-baked brush and red dust that makes one feel well and hopeful . . . and young.
Tomorrow, I will drive Auburn Road again.   

Monday, September 19, 2011

excerpts for a New Book

The Long Haul . . .

. . . was an expression my father used. “Over the long haul,” we will accomplish this or that. In other words, patience and perseverance are in order.
When I visualize the long haul, I see lumbering wagons, pulled by long-suffering horses, laboring in a desolate landscape that is intolerably hot or intolerably cold, and always accompanied by thirst. The long haul takes endurance and courage.
I have had my share of long hauls: pregnancy, some teaching assignments, certain tasks like moving, house and yard work, learning to sew, type, use the computer - or other painful life adjustments. The long hauls are so long that when they are over, the “over” feels unreal, or . . . they are so long that they seem to be endless, and the process is not pleasurable for the most part.
My father called trips “long hauls,” because for him, they were. For me, trips were, and are, liberating. For me, the most mind-bending long hauls are those where the outcome is uncertain – like trips undoubtedly were for my father.
When I was eight, my father invited me on a trip, a “long haul.” It stands out in memory for me, and always will, as perfectly wonderful! We took the night bus from Pasadena to Oakland. I slept, leaning against my father. How wonderful! We spent the next morning in a park, where my father took a nap on the grass, and I played in wet sand at the edge of a little lake. In the afternoon, we took the bus to Walnut Creek where my father had business, where I tagged around the little town with him, feeling very important. In the evening, we went to see Captain Horatio Hornblower at the Paramount Theater in Oakland (and then we took the night bus back to Pasadena). The theater was like something out of a little girl's dream, all gilded, curlicued, and gorgeous. I can still see the color and hear the kettle drums in the movie. I can still hear my father saying, “That movie was worth the trip.”

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

another new excerpt for new book

Memory Serves

One year, Stu and I went to Pasadena to see the Rose Parade. We stayed with my sister in Hollywood, and went early in the morning so that we could find parking and locate our seats on the bleachers. Our plan was to go for an early morning walk after that – which we did.
During the walk, I said to Stu, “I know where I am, even though I was last here at age 10.”
Stu said, “Huh, and hum.”
“Walk with me, and I will show you.” I was excited and dreamy.
Without a blip, I took him to Saint Philip's which was a few blocks away. I predicted, and then showed him, where my second grade classroom had been located, where the church was located, where out hideout on the bottom of the basement stairs was located.
Then a believer, he walked with me to my kindergarten/first grade school: Hamilton School. Again, I predicted, and showed him the terrace on the kindergarten room. I told him about how I had escaped kindergarten by climbing over the balustrade and running home. The predicted big tree at the entrance to the school was no longer there, but the stump of some giant was hidden in the grass.
After that, we walked to Seneca Street. There were residences I remembered; Pasadena-style bungalows with shrubbery and exotic trees. I described two busy streets that had to be crossed in order to walk from Saint Philip's to Seneca Street: Allen and San Marino; I even remembered the names of those streets.
Seneca Street was still a dead-end, and some of the houses were as I remembered – except for a condo where the orchard and windmill had been. 2426 was smaller than I remembered it, of course. The privet hedge had been replaced with roses. The apricot trees were gone. There was an addition where the big porch had been. But . . . wonder of wonders, I could see the top of the avocado tree in the back yard, leaves as big and shiny as ever.
“Did you get in trouble for escaping Kindergarten?” asked Stu, sliding sideways into my dream.
I remembered the scent as I skipped home; it was peppery, because on the sidewalk, minute fruits, fallen from dark foliage overhead, had been squashed underfoot.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

another excerpt for a new book


My mother often referred to my little brothers as ragamuffins. I believe that “ragamuffins” was a term of endearment, yet when she used the term, my brothers were noticeably unkempt and not so “dear.” Eventually, I thought of my little brothers as ragamuffins, wearing hightop scuffed leather shoes, ragged, soiled jeans, spiky hair, dirty hands and faces. They emanated a smell, peculiar to little boys: leaves and dog and grass and dirt and grease? After I'd left home, I noticed that homesickness was more acute when “little boy smell” happened to waft my way. I missed my little brothers after I went away.
I admit that I envy little boy spirit. Where do they go? What do they do when they go out to play – without supervision? I never investigated back then because I feared that I might be obligated to put an end to some adventure. Neither did I investigate the activities of my own sons; they were ragamuffins, especially when they were playing at the creek. (Add to “little boy smell” the distinctive smell of algae.) When they returned from their escapades, they acted happy, and they acted proud. To go turkey hunting, fishing, dam building, creek hiking, fort building, bike jumping; these were their ideas, not mine. They were free! “Bored” was an unfamiliar word at our dinner table. My little brothers and my boys were free to play until dark and to enter into the timelessness of childhood with license to be a ragamuffin.
In the early 80's, we lived on our land. It was a hot summer to live without air conditioning; we went from the marine layer reprieve of the coast to the desert-like heat of the mountain foothills. (The nights, however, were cool and sensual.) On impossibly hot days, we went to the river.
Bear River is beautiful. The canyon walls are dense with tree and vine greenery. Clear water flows over a bed of cobbles and silky stones, punctuated with sculpted boulders. Perfection is a sandy beach, shaded by old oaks, with sunny riffles in the river. We found such a place by floating.
The problem with floating on inner tubes is that you have to return on foot – which can be a trial when you have to negotiate thorny vines, poison oak – and hooligans.
That was the name that we gave to the squatters on the flat near the road. (We did not call them ragamuffins.) They lived in trashed trailers or tents with the boundaries of their campsites indicated by bags of reeking garbage and hysterical dogs. We avoided them by walking in the river, and minding our business. I thought then, and I think now, that if it were not for the trash everywhere and the excrement in the rocks, I might be more tolerant of these nearly homeless people. As it was, access to the river from the road was eventually blocked, and the squatters went away.
I did not want to be afraid of the “river rats” we encountered on the rivers when we first moved to the foothills, and if I had not had five children with me most of the time, I might have engaged some of these folks out of curiosity: “Where do you live in the winter? Are you really a gown-up ragamuffin?”
“Why do you carry a gun?” I asked once (for real).
“Rattlers. Mam.”
“I thought maybe, claim jumpers.”
As I walk away, he calls, “You don't recognize me do you?”
“You do look somewhat familiar.” (Like Indiana Jones.)
I am embarrassed when he identifies himself as one of our teachers in the county.
I say to the kids as we begin our climb out of the canyon of the Yuba, “Well, that just goes to show.”
They don't ask what it “shows.”    

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Excerpts for a New Book


At a conference with my creative writing teacher, I was told that I was the only writer he had ever known who could “get away with so many flowers.” I do because I romance them. I am not referring to the flowers in my garden: dahlias and roses to cut, flowers chosen for color and hardiness. I am referring to flowers I love for where and when they bloom. I am referring to flowers which scent is so complex that it stirs thought, feeling, memory.
The flowers that bloom in the spring are elegant - and fragile. Hardy summer bloomers are dazzling catchers of color. There are flowers that grow in arid places, and flowers that grow in the wetlands. There are flowers that I associate with times in my life. I romance them all, and I “get away with it.”
Hiking friends and I, in the attempt to shorten our descent from Darwin Canyon to Evolution Valley, decided to descend by zig-zagging, switchbacking; a presumed shortcut. The slope proved to be so steep that negotiating it was painstaking and painful. We dislodged rocks that had lain in repose for hundred, thousands of years. We crushed and ripped apart moss-like vegetation and spongy carpets of miniature flowers. We destroyed radiance in the form of penstamons and clovers and paintbrushes and shooting stars and lupines. We never dreamed that we would be tramping through gardens. (From the basin floor, the ridge looked like talus through which we could pick our way.) What appeared to be the debris from crumbling mountains were the randomly placed retaining rocks for spring-watered gardens, habitat for birds and rodentia, and flowers in abundance! The route was so hazardous that I was forced to appreciate the marvel of those gardens in retrospect – which I did, and do.
There are flowers that induce olfactory meditation – permit me. Scents that induce feeling, free of pesky thought. For Stu, it was lilac, and so I brought him lilac. For me, it is any flower which scent is wild, spicy, fruity, musky, and vaguely perfumed. It is a flower with a scent that is subtle and unique.
As a child, living in Southern California, I was in love with dramatic flowers: hydrangea, cana lillies, bouganvilla, jacaranda, naked ladies; exotics, except for California Poppies, which were favorites. But I also remember being impressed by the wild flowers that grew on the “skirts” of Mount Diablo. They grew in the grass: the yellow, coiled fiddleneck and the tiny, delicate Indian Pink – and the always present pea-like purple lupine. I sing of the many species of lupine: bushes of fragrant flowers growing in the dunes on the ocean, the diminutive species that grow high in the mountains on sandy flats, the lush “candles” of purple, blue, and yellow flowers that occur after a wild fire . . .
I write last of the hidden aspects of flowers: pistil, stamen, sepal; creation! What a stunning world is available with “power 10.” How intricate. How perfect. How complex. How lovely. How romantic.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Excerpts for a New Book

Welcome to the Nevada County Fair

On a sweltering August day in 1981, I went to the Nevada County Fair for the first time. It was an act of faith; a friend insisted that I would like it, but I had my doubts: I have never been attracted to concessions, milling crowds, and mass confusion. Furthermore, cigarette smoke in public places has always been a trial for me – but I went, and I liked it.
The setting: tall pines and marigolds. The people: everyone greeting everyone else; it was like a reunion of thousands. The events: animal shows, music, displays, demonstrations; I did not want my children – who were school age at the time – to miss out on a single demonstration, even though they were drawn to the rides, instead (of course). The food: corn-on-the-cob, baked potatoes, barbecue, goodies, and . . . and . . . all affordable and sold by various non-profits.
In the succeeding years, my children became involved in the fair through 4H. In 1984, Gregory entered a goat, a sheep, a pig, and rabbits in the fair. He won Best of Show for his dairy goat as well as a Showmanship award for his goat and his sheep. His pig won a blue ribbon and sold at the auction for a nice sum. Ben and Elisa Jane also showed pigs and sold them at auction. I will never forget that fair – not just because of the animals but because Gregory, along with a cousin and a friend, put on a break dance show, which, because break dancing was new and different, attracted the largest audience of any performance at the fair. Their three performances were energetic, true to the music, obviously, rehearsed, and, yes, cute. The audiences were enthusiastically receptive.
The point of this narrative is to tell you that I still go to the Nevada County Fair; there is no place where I feel more welcome. I begin by going the morning before the fair opens when the competitors are bringing their animals, and there is a chorus of animal and people voices, when the air smells like hay and resin and dust with a hint of vanilla. When the atmosphere is charged with expectation and busy-ness. When my children are children again, and I am young - in memory.
I return to see the 4H goat show before the fair opens in the early morning – after coffee, wearing summer clothes and sandals, even though the morning is cold. I watch the competitors grooming their animals and raking pens. I say “good morning,” a lot. The sounds and scents take me back to the early mornings at the fair when my children camped overnight out behind the pens with other 4Hers, remind me of how the fairgrounds became for them a huge place to work, compete, and play; a dream of freedom and responsibility, a childhood paradox.
Before the shows begin, I find a place to sit in the sun on the grass out behind the food booths. There, I enjoy a plate of pancakes and a cup of coffee. I watch people, and I try not to become too nostalgic for past times. I anticipate the exhibits, the shows, the food, and greeting friends. The old feelings of excitement, anticipation, and happiness wax and wane. I remind myself that those days are not lost; they happened, after all; though they are past, they are as real as the present time and this reverie – watching my son, Greg, accept his Showmanship ribbon and shaking the hand of the judge; such a lovely memory, intense and sharp with love and pride. If my thoughts are quiet, my heart open, and the air is summer air, I have lost nothing.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

New Excerpt for New Book

The Red Wagon

We sat around a campfire iterating our earliest memory, and I was prepared. Overalls with pockets: I love pockets, and I need them, just like I did when I was a child. I wore pants because they had pockets; no dresses for me unless they had pockets for my jacks and ball - and a nickel. As a teacher, I needed pockets. As a hiker and traveler, I need pockets for various items – and rocks.
Pockets and a red wagon, I say to the people gathered at the campfire.
A red wagon: Evening and chilly. There is traffic. I am holding my father's hand and pulling a red wagon – which has been just purchased from Sears, and has been assembled by my father right there in the store. I am very happy.
In 1967, I bought my first new car, a '67 Opel wagon. Red, of course. It accommodated me for 20 years, taking six kids camping the whole of one summer. (Stu said that we looked like a Mexican bus.) It made a rattling sound all its life, and once in awhile, I hear a similar sound and am reminded of the '67 Opel – with joy and a sense of loss.
In the early 90s, Stu and I bought a Toyota T-100 truck with a camper shell. I wanted a red truck, of course, but there were none available. I settled for a white truck, but Stu surprised me with a red one. It was a lot of trouble for him, but worth it as far as he was concerned. Stu and I used the camper from that time on; our last camping trip was to Sonoma State beach, three months before he died. He wanted to go, and we enjoyed our time together in the comfort, coziness, and intimacy of our “red wagon.”
In that camper, we traveled all over California and to parts of the west, including Moab, Utah once a year. It had a comfortable bed, room to sit, space for storage, and gadgetry. It was airy and bright, very pleasant.
Periodically, I dream of the red wagon. It is bright and beautiful – and useful. I feel safe even though the environment may be threatening: dark, cold, noisy. I can go anywhere, carrying all I need – and holding a loving hand.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Excerpts for a New Book

Memorial Park

In my travels with Stu, throughout the west, we always made it a point to visit city parks, and often these were Memorial Parks. Once, not so very long ago, we stopped at a park in a very small desert town. It was not defunct or depressed (as they so often are). The commercial buildings were dated and patched, but they were not vacant, and the advertising was new. The residences were small bungalows with weedy yards, but with bright flowers in pots or little plots. There were leaning fences, old model pickup trucks, and old people sitting on warped wooden porches – who either looked suspicious or friendly.
There was a plethora of children, wearing flip-flops and beach towels; evidently the city park pool had just opened. We “followed” the parade of children to the city park (sponsored by the Lions and the Rotary, of course) a plot of green grass, a grove of mulberry trees with purple fruit. It was a Memorial Park, of course, commemorating the fallen in the World Wars, Korea, Vietnam. There were names, family names - inscribed for more than one war. We walked to the nearest shady picnic table, a distance from the pool, and lay out our lunch.
Memorial Parks have much in common besides the memorials: grass and trees and restrooms that smack of jail cells. Often shoeless children; old, bowed men; young mothers with young children; stray, playful dogs. Always, the transient or vagrant or lost, sitting in the shadows, hoping for anonymity. Teens, seeking camaraderie, and people, just passing through.
Some park people are friendly, especially children who are being babysat by the park. They are talkative, inquisitive, and will volunteer to tell you anything; they have no secrets. They have a toughness and energy that is envy-able. They are comfortable in their own skins, and they trust their surrogate mother, the park, as well as the park people.
People who are new to the park read the memorial plaques. Their children do not climb on the monuments, and they do not use them for clothing racks or tables.
Parks make me sleepy; I like resting in them. Stu always preferred the hardware stores in small towns to parks; he found them relaxing, and occasionally, he went to the hardware store while I rested in the park. I only remember a few times when he bought something, but I think he liked the ambience of old hardware stores in small, thriving towns. It was a treasure hunt that reminded him of his child-self, making his first discoveries of tools and gadgets. He liked the smell of oily, wooden floors, he said.
During the lovely years when Stu and I visited Memorial Parks alone, I always longed for my children or grandchildren – even while relishing our time together – because parks are primarily for children and their random play. (Adults may be too goal oriented for parks. They are often ready to go as soon as they arrive.)
“Why is this name Memorial Park?” asks my grandson.
“'Memorial' means to remember,” I say, and I mentally prepare to answer the inevitable questions to follow.”
(What, no questions?)
And I promise myself that I will remember the feeling of his small hand in mine – that I will never forget the picnic with my Stu beneath the mulberry trees in that quintessential Memorial Park – or its reason for being.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Excerpts for a New Book

Fenchers Park

I looked up Fenchers Park, but could find no record of it – this place from my childhood in the Los Angeles basin or the San Fernando Valley – somewhere. I must have the name wrong, but I am certain that it existed (and still does) along with Saturday night shrimp and Sunday evening ice cream; these childhood memories that stand out (because according to my beliefs, we remember what we remember because the experiences were either life-changing or life-confirming).
It was a narrow park, accessible from a busy boulevard. (This is according to my child memory.) It was terraced on a slope, was grassy green and canopied with huge, old trees. It was very long, so long, according to my child memory, that finding the beginning or end of it was just not possible. It was vast. The terrace retaining walls were made of stone, accessible, one to the other, with steps that prompted jumps and leaps while the terrace walls cued balancing acts. Play at Fenchers Park was random, a here and there, until sunset, until long shadows and apparitions appeared in the darkness. Fenchers Park was a place to feel safe, even though parents were not in mind. Where hearty breaths and a fast heart beat energized - until one could fly! Where there was nothing intrusive: not traffic, not far-away voices; where time was still, and there was nothing else.
Yet, how can an experience end that is so compelling and so liberating? (How can life end?) I crawl into the car, and suddenly feel sweaty, itchy, and crushingly tired – when seconds before I was a night bird. I sob, and my father says, “I know, I know.” I think he does; I think he remembers.
If it was at Fenchers Park that a joyful life was confirmed, it was also at Fenchers Park that my life was changed. Something I saw: a young soldier sitting on a park bench plastered with shiny scars where his ears should have been. “Don't stare,” scolds my mother. She whispers, “He was in the war. Don't stare.”
“In the war?” I had heard a lot about the war, but nothing about soldiers begin maimed. Up until that time, the war had been about flags, marching bands, Victory Gardens – I suddenly understood that war is about lies.
But I also understood that parks are truths – about the people who dream them, about the people who make them, about the people who go there – like me.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Excerpts for a New Book


Barefooted and pigtailed, the little girl stood in the weeds by a dusty roadside. She was selling watermelons at a makeshift sawhorse table. I thought to myself that I was once that little girl – even though I never sold watermelons by the roadside – and so I went back to buy one – because, somehow, I know how it is to watch the cars go by. And somehow, I know how it is to be a farmer. Maybe it is because I have extrapolated from my gardening-self, or maybe my universal-self is remembering what it means to grow food and to try to live on the selling of it.
I have watched the seedlings uncurl and reach for the light. I have observed the serrated clusters of leaves, tender and pale, appear, cradled in the robust cotyledon. On the crown of my head, I have tested the intensity of the sun's heat. I have coaxed the water rivulets in the furrows, and have watched the earth grow dark with moisture. I have worked until dusk.
I also have also known the pathos of trying to sell something – and the triumph. I buy three watermelons from the little girl and ask, “Are they sweet?”
“Sweet and juicy.” She adds, “and crisp,” as if prompted.
I say, “You ought to have a sign,” and am immediately sorry for that comment since she looks as if she has been scolded, but then I notice that two other cars have stopped, and so I add, “Of course, people stopping is the best advertisement.” She happily nods.
When I get back into the car, Stu says, “Three watermelons?”
At the next park we see, we stop and eat one of the watermelons. We give two away to a gathering of Mexican migrant families who are picnicking nearby. It is too hot to stay long, and so we go, watermelon-filled and sticky.
“There is something that makes all of us farmers,” I say, energized by air conditioning.
“Some of us,” says Stu.
We have a discussion about the disappearing farmlands in the Great Valley; a discussion we have had before.
“Farming takes love,” I say. (Love of the earth, love of water, love of growing things, love of good food.)
“Farming takes patience,” says Stu, “and courage.”
I think about gardening, because it is what I know about farming. I think about my modest crops: squash, tomatoes. I think about how the fruits are unbelievably beautiful, how satisfying to eat. I mention my persimmon tree which bears fruit in winter. “Better than a good apple,” I say.
“The raccoons think so,” says Stu.
I am reminded about walking in the apple orchards in upstate New York in early fall; questing the perfect apple; a red one, streaked green, a good fit for the hand. (Those apples were the epitome of apple-ness: all crisp-ness and sweet with a zest of tangy.) I say so.
I reminisce: the remnants of an early snowfall chill my feet because I wear summer shoes. I yank the chosen apple from a lower branch, take a bite, walk and savor, stop, take a bite; I walk down the row and then along the path along the cloister wall. I think that my choice of an apple to eat is an inspiration.
I think about another apple tree, a volunteer that thrived in a pile of tailings from a mine. It had small, green apples with complex flavors like the perfume of blossoms. I looked forward to the ripening of those apples and would walk that way when the time was right in summer. (It was a calamity when the CCC cut down the apple tree because it was disturbing the tailing pile; tailings are historical and must be preserved. Geez.)
I say so: Stu is accustomed to my abrupt changes of topic, and he nods. He smiles his sweet smile, his indulgent smile.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Permission to Pass Revocable at Any Time

Permission to Pass Revocable at Any Time

It was a sign somewhere that I repeatedly read as a proud new reader. For some reason, the words go in and out of my head whenever I feel the tedium of life - to this day. (I see the sign in my mind's eye, in black paint, on a plank.) I never thought to ask my father about the word, “revokable,” and it wasn't until I was old enough to be curious about the meanings of words that I began to use the dictionary. “To take back.” In this case, to take back permission. How impudent!
Such constraints made me ornery as a school ager. I did not honor “no trespassing” signs; I regarded them as dares. Furthermore, how could a shortcut be denied to anyone, by anyone? Shortcuts belonged to humanity. Wild places and vacant lots belonged to everyone – and so we went to those places, careful not to be discovered.
We had look-outs when we trespassed on the ranch adjoining our neighborhood, on the ranch that was “posted-no trespassing, no hunting, no fishing.” We played in the creek, caught pollywogs and lizards, hijacked them. We trespassed into the orchards and ate pears and pomegranates until we were bilious. We even engaged in rotten pear “wars.” That was because we believed that no one had the right to say, “no trespassing.” On summer nights, I lay in bed and sniffed the wild scent of trespassing on my skin. Felt lucky.
When we moved onto our ridge in Grass Valley, there were many weathered, battered, bullet riddled no trespassing signs in evidence – which my children and other neighborhood children ignored. They wandered meadows, hillsides, wetlands, woods, forest, and the canyon of Wolf Creek. When we camped on our land, we bathed in that creek to get clean and to escape the heat. Occasionally, we would see fishermen; they, too, were trespassing.
For years, I made a little hike down into the canyon falls – every Sunday afternoon, after correcting eight sets of papers. There, near the mossy rocks where the silver, glassy water slides over the black rocks, beneath the evergreen oaks, I would remember to love life – love it for more than “getting a lot done.” Love it for the miracle of that place: for the summer evening shadows, for the winter snow that softens and brightens, for the truth that that place belongs only to itself - and by some primitive right, the right to pass is irrevocable.   

Sunday, June 5, 2011

I Share

Following is a personal narrative that may find a home in a new book.

Yard Sale

I have never entertained the idea of having a yard sale, and I have only been to one -which is the subject of this narrative. I have friends and family, however, who frequent yard sales (and thrift shops). I think of them as “hunters and gatherers.” For many years, my mother was a bargain hunter, and to this day, she tries to make gifts of objects of clothing with “good fabric,” clothes that are too hot or too formal for California, and shoes that are “practically new.” Now me, owning things can panic me; too much responsibility, but I do have some things that I treasure. Perhaps that is why I get excited when I pack my backpack: every item is important, most items have multiple uses, and I am dependent on every item; very exciting.
The one thing that might attract me to a yard sale? The possible stories there – which was the reason I went to the one yard sale: We were camping on the east side of the mountains, in the desert. Stu saw an advertisement for a yard sale in a small desert town called Benton Station. The idea intrigued him because we knew Benton Station and found the place to be poor and rather an eyesore – a very dusty place with nowhere to hide old hulks of cars, appliances, sofas, etc.. What kind of yard sale might be found in such a place? Well, it happened that it was a yard sale for a rock collection, and such a rock collection! Even our three little kids appreciated the scope of it: sawhorse tables and more sawhorse tables of rocks and other desert collectables including bottles, rusty tools etc.
To get there, we drove north out of Bishop for awhile, with the imposing Sierra in the west and the closer, even more imposing White Mountains in the east, through a long irrigated valley giving prominence to alfalfa - and carrots? The green against the pale colors of the desert was soothing; it was devilishly hot, and in those days we had no air conditioning, just wet cloths and squirt bottles, and so the green served to cool the eyes and trick the mind into thinking that it was cooler than it was.
After finding a place to park on the edge of a pool of shade provided by a cottonwood, we ventured into the backyard of a quintessential desert bungalow, beaten by hot summer winds and winter freeze, and discovered that the yard sale was an estate sale, and that every rock, every artifact had been found on the local desert areas and in the mountain canyons by the same collector, a “desert rat.”
Among the customers were Hippies, other families like us, typical (for the time) 50's retirees who emerged from campers, clean and pressed and pastel-ized, some serious rockhounds whose focus on the rocks made my browsing feel silly.
Straightaway, we passed by the household items and work shoes, paintings on velvet, tools, and greasy engine parts, and made for the long rows of sawhorse tables. There were hundreds of rocks, no, thousands of rocks; there were crates of rocks, pans of rocks, shoeboxes, packing boxes, tubs of rocks – and no prices, just an older lady wearing an apron who quoted prices, nervously, seemingly, arbitrarily.
We left with a few rocks (serpentine, I know now) and many questions that intrigue me to this day. How could one man collect so many rocks? Did he feel pride of ownership when he carried them home and stashed them? Were the rocks more valuable to him in his crawl space than they were on the desert floor or under a Creosote bush in the mouth of a mountain canyon where they had lain for 10,000 years?
It's true: I would have liked to go rock hunting with this rockhound. I would have liked to add a pebble to my shadowbox, chosen for me among millions from underfoot on an alluvial fan – chosen by this man whose passion remains a mystery. It's true: I am still curious about the nervous woman who wore an apron, but I think I know now: I think I recognize the silent language of loss. But Stu and I were many years from that reality; we had a lot of living to do together, including two return visits to Benton Station for reasons other than a yard sale; there is something about bareness that grows on you.
I confess that if there were a yard/plant sale, I would be a yard sale junkie. I do collect plants, although most of the plants on my five acres are natural and were there when we came in 1981. I enjoy two stands of Ponderosa Pines, five species of oak, cedars, etcetera. I have planted shrubs, a locust tree, a Sequoia, a Bay Laurel, and three Redwoods – which Stu watered for two summers; they are part of his legacy.
Most of us collect information. I collect information about natural features. My dad collected information about food and diet. So does his granddaughter. My sister collects words. Any collection is an encumbrance, though, because it has to be maintained in someway – even my shadow box needs to be maintained; it needs to be dusted.
At one time, someone asked about a plain rock in my shadow box collection. “That has a story?'
“Absolutely,” I said. “I (unknowingly) carried that rock from Tyndall Creek, over Mount Whitney, and down to Whitney Portal. It was a stowaway; it was used as an anchor in the wind, and then overlooked when I went to pack my pack. I discovered it when I got home. It reminds me of my backpacking 'prowess,' but more importantly, it reminds me of the patience it takes to travel on foot, carrying everything needed. It reminds me that we are simple in our needs.
The one person, truly simple in his needs, was Stu; he was “poorer” than a monk. His entire wardrobe could fit into a small suitcase. His tools could fit into one tool box (but he could fix just about anything). He owned a stereo system – which he built himself – a guitar, a bicycle. When he moved to California, he carried everything he owned in the smallest U-Haul trailer available, pulled by his VW Hatchback, his only car.
Stu recycled before the word was coined. He purchased items carefully, keeping in mind the possibility of recycling as well as maintenance and repair. He tried to buy from manufacturers who made and sold quality goods. He was proud of American-made products, planned for dependability rather than obsolescence. It was a sad day for him when he had to acknowledge that American manufacturers had lost the edge.
Stu liked to shop, though he rarely purchased anything (except food). For him, shopping was like going to an exhibition; he really enjoyed innovation, but he did not need to own it in order to enjoy it.
His music, however, he did own - in the form of a record collection. I regard that collection as sacred. It is, since it was one of the few things that he truly did heartfully own.

The novels: The Signal House Blessing and Forgiving God may be purchased for the cost of shipping (for blog spot readers).  See my website for details,  My Solitude, a personal narrative, may also be purchased for the cost of shipping by e-mailing me.  More information may be found on my website at

Excerpted from The Signal House Blessing:

We respect his memory. He is our great-grand and our great-great grandfather.
Some of us are descendants of his first wife who was a slave, a Piute Indian, sold to a Campoodie near Signal House, California. Some of us are descendants of Nancy, a butter vendor who kept a boarding house. We say that the Piute was bought by a man named Gregor, and that when Gregor died, Didacus came to help the widow – and stayed. Only two children survived her: one by Gregor and one by Didacus.
Nancy had eleven children, most by her former husband, but her descendants all lay claim to Didacus.
Didacus was old when he died. He disappeared one day, and months after, Nancy found his clothed bones in the Saint Joachim woods. This was fitting, we believe, since Didacus had been a monk at Saint Joachim’s as a young man.
We believe in his goodness since he gave his soul to God in habit and ritual – in 1876 – instead of prospecting in the California gold fields – like every other youth.
Some of us say that we know him when we work the land; he was a farmer. Some of us say that we know him in ourselves when we live ardently. And then there have been those of us who have said that we have seen his ghost . . .

Excerpted from Forgiving God :

The way above the inlet followed the cascading creek through deep shade that made the steep climb easier. The sounds of the celebration were fading and were being replaced by sounds of splash and gurgle.
After walking about a mile, and ascending several hundred feet, she began to anticipate actually seeing the famed Red House.
Was it not remarkable that she had never been there? She had seen it from a distance, of course; situated at the mouth of Alder Creek Canyon, the brick two-story Queen Anne, painted red, a splash of brilliance against the stark tones of the steep rocky canyon. Strangers often asked about it, and when locals mentioned it, it was with awe. It was an incongruity, an imposition–a protest against the ruggedness and wildness of that country. She admitted to herself that she was somewhat afraid of approaching the Red House. . .
But suddenly, she was there. The pathway emerged from the alder woods onto a strip of mown grass. Beyond the strip was rose garden, and beyond the garden was the Red House; its dormers burned gold in the light from the setting sun. She shrank back into the shadows. What now?
She thought about boldly approaching the house. She thought about calling out. She thought about skirting the lawn and rose garden and approaching the front door by way of a gravel driveway. Though her inclination was to retreat since she felt more like a trespasser than a guest, she finally decided to wait and observe.
Lush lawn, radiant roses–plenty of water, probably more than any other garden in Alder Creek enjoyed, she thought; there was a sprinkler running on the lawn. Brass doorknocker on the shiny red door, lace curtains on long windows. This was prideful ownership. Tidiness achieved with rake and broom, shears and mower; even the old cottonwoods that grew on either side of the house had been excised of dead wood. There was an inveterate quality about the house, as if–contrary to the impression it made from a distance–it were part of the mountain, a natural oasis at the mouth of the canyon. There were fan palms growing in a cluster between the gravel driveway and the creek. So this was where her mother and her aunts had grown up!

Excerpted from My Solitude:

Going To Yosemite, 1955-1960

Going to Yosemite meant going around Mount Diablo, the mountain “in our back yard.”
Diablo is one of a triumvirate in the San Francisco Bay Area, along with Tamalpais and Saint Helena. From any one mountain, one can see the others. But from Mount Diablo (on a clear day) one can see the Sierra Nevada to the east, Mount Shasta to the north, the Pacific Ocean to the west, and the long ridges of the Diablo range to the south. Within view are the agricultural lands of the Great Central Valley, the delta of the Sacramento River, and the San Francisco Bay!
On the west side of the mountain, one finds grasslands and oak savannah. Hidden, are the ravines and canyons of the watershed where oaks and California-bay Laurel saturate the air with the scents that are inimitably California. The east side of the mountain is formidable; it is steeper, and it is wooded with dense chaparral. There are springs on the mountain, surrounded by deep woods of oak and Laurel. There are oases of sycamore: great-leafed trees with tree bark, mottled white and grey. There are regions of spindly Coulter and Foothill Pines, and stands of fragrant juniper. The air on Mount Diablo is spicy; it smells like the mountains, like desert, like farmlands. Like the sea, when the fog rolls inland and makes it an island in a roiling sea of clouds.
We always start early, since summer days in valley and foothills are scorchers. Packing the station wagon is done the night before so that in the morning all that is left to do is to wedge us between the bulky sleeping bags and army-navy surplus camping gear. We eat donuts and oranges as the wagon travels into the dawn on the backside of Mount Diablo.
We head east toward the great central valley of California, winding along Marsh Creek, while in the mirrors, the sheer side of our mountain glows. We watch the colors of the summer landscape appear with the light, distinct olive-green imposed on the tawny colors, and in the shadows of the rounded hills.
We enter the great valley just as the sun rises. Here are the orchards of cherries, walnuts, almonds, and pears.
I know the walnut trees by their perfect symmetry, their profusion of large, green leaves. I know the almond trees because they are pale and their foliage is thin in comparison. The cherry trees have rough, dark bark, and the limbs are almost vertical. I can see the golden fruit on the pear trees, and I can smell it: like beer, like honey. My mouth waters.
We swoosh through fields of alfalfa, clover, and corn. I hang out the window so that I can smell the fields. We pass a roadside stand where melon and sweet corn are being stacked on slanted tables. I smell the melon, and then I smell the corn. Then I smell the hay again. I am left with the taste – of corn, of melon, but then I smell the earth; it smells like the water in the creek bed toward the end of summer. I see across the glowing valley to the dark wave that is the mountain range where we are going.
We pass a truckload of brown-skinned people. They are standing on the flatbed; they are holding on to the stakes. There are children among them. I pull my head in and duck. I don’t know why I do this, but I forget the question as soon as I ask it of me.
We stop and buy a watermelon. It is carefully nested in the stiff canvas folds of the tent. At that place, we relieve ourselves in a jail cell restroom, a cinderblock cube with stained fixtures and no toilet paper. There are red hollyhocks, taller then me, growing in the dry sand around the door. It seems strange that they should thrive there.
As soon as we leave the flatlands, the orchards and fields end, and the grazing lands begin. These are rocky grasslands with oak trees clustered in the folds of the golden hills. There are fences, watering troughs, and windmills. There are soft, rounded hills, table mountains, and rocks that look like monuments – like tombstones, like dinosaur teeth. These are the wide-open spaces. I breathe deeply of the warm, dry air. I smell oak trees and dry grass.
We go up, up. The engine whines. It gets hotter, and heat waves shimmer on the road; they look like puddles up ahead. The land is rockier, and the grasslands are giving way to brush lands – a steep and winding road is cut through these wild lands of dense, brittle, vigorous, scrubby plants that can live on the rocks and in the hot wind. They are the color of shadows, of fire, of bright light. We have already passed China Camp. We have already crossed the green river. This is Old Priest Grade, and we will soon be in the sweet Pines and passing through defunct towns with sorry looking buildings; there I hide my eyes.
When I open them, we are in the mountains at last! As we climb, it will grow cooler and brighter. The air we breathe will be spicy. We will be excited – then, more excited. We will chant, “Yosemite, Yosemite, Yosemite, Yosemite.” And though we remember how it is, we will always be awed by the spectacle of it – of perfect mountains and pure rock.

Excerpted from Hungry House:

I Begin My Story In The Middle

I went to the rose garden in our complex and sat on a bench. Surrounded with color and fragrance, and the lulling sound of buzzing insects, I realized that I was painfully bored, and Ben’s long letter had made me anxious, besides. Boredom is a luxury, I reminded myself. My brother Ben was not bored and had never would be.
When I was a young mother, I was purposeful. I was happy, and my happiness protected me from the pain and suffering of others, from the volatile inequity in the world. I was even inured to the discontent of my husband!
It was long after my children left, after the husband had made his declaration of independence, that I woke: I realized one day that I had not laughed for a long, long time, and that I was not excited about anything!
I leaned into the fragrance of roses. I had had purpose in my life, and my children were a gift. My adventures were imposed. True, the Hungry House stories of my childhood were of my own device, but I had forsaken them – even though the characters needed me in order to find some denouement.
I reflected on the day that I had just lived and compared it to other days. I could dispense with it, I thought, and never feel the difference. “I am considering erasing today,” I murmured. There was nothing worth saving, and I would not have to recall my sister’s ridiculing laughter ever again. Verily, the only part worth saving was the decision to erase today, I thought. “Verily!” I imagined my sister exclaiming. “How archaic!”
I leaned into the color of roses. “What if I could erase certain days?” I thought. What if I could even consider erasing certain days? Would that not be a relief?
What days would I save? Days of my children, certainly. The journeys with Ben, absolutely. Conversations with Father. Even, lessons with Mother. Gemetti. Gemetti. Ben. (What exactly did he do when he returned to the scene of the bullet-riddled doll? I wondered about that.)
I thought of my journals, the days recorded in dingy composition notebooks, records of days worth keeping as well as empty days. I leaned into the aura of roses.