Monthly Archives: April 2006

More than One Way to Peel a Pole

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Okay, so I’m out in the yard on Saturday getting it ready for May Day. The biggest task remaining is preparing the tree that will be the maypole. It is already cut down, which is good, and the branches are all cut off, very good. But it’s got this thick bark on it, and lots of short little nubby former-branch parts, that have to be somehow smoothed down in a week’s time. Distressingly, no one has shown up to offer to do this work for me. No strapping fisherman from down the street, no neighborly construction guy who just happens to have a draw knife in his back pocket. Not even a nearby lesbian phone company repair-type who’s not afraid to use a chainsaw.

Nope, there was only me and Vince, who is pretty pathetic when it comes to this kind of stuff. All he cares about is whether I go out of his sight for too long. I was getting a little sick of that kind of attention. So I went out and bought a draw knife, borrowed a chisel, found a hammer and a pry bar, and then stood over that pole for a good long time. It was a classic surreal moment of my new life. Now I will figure out how to peel the bark off a freshly cut tree. How did I get here??

A friend helpfully said, “you’re looking at about 4-5 hours work,” and declined to offer assistance. Lyra kindly suggested that I not get too stressed out, because otherwise I might not have much fun. I’d already washed the windows, weed whacked the entire place, re-graveled the whole driveway and cleaned out all the cobwebs from indoors. I had run out of excuses. So feeling like an absolute fool I sat down on my new maypole and began peeling the bark off it.

It did take several hours, and I had to stop a few times to rest my aching back. Using the draw knife from the top down was kind of like peeling a huge carrot, only with an adjustable blade. The bark was too thick down on the trunk to use the skinny little knife I bought, so I used the pry bar to peel it back a ways, then just tugged it with my hands for as far as it would go before breaking off. I must say, the first time I peeled a strip from one end clean to the other, it was quite a thrill.

The only thing that kept me going through the process was laughing at all the double entendres such an activity affords. Now that it’s done, aside from a little knot-trimming work and final smoothing down, I thought I’d open up the phone lines and see what kind of jokes you all can make of the situation — no holds barred! The winner gets a delicious margarita made by me, and also gets a chance to sit on my front porch and admire the sturdy pole in my front yard. Oh, and if anyone can actually make it into a limerick, double margarita!

The Heart that Rejoices

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This morning I got the news that the only son of an old friend of mine is dead, a suicide at age 18. I have been sitting with this unbearable loss all day, wondering how it is that we pick ourselves up and go on with our lives after such a tragedy. He had had a turbulent youth and was beginning to exhibit signs of a mental instability that runs in his family. I don’t know all the details but I know very well the effort involved in trying to protect and shepherd an unstable youth into adulthood before he causes irrevocable harm to himself or others. It is exhausting, thankless, relentless. We do as much as we can, and being human there is always a moment we let down our guard, our constant vigilance. It is called rest, sleep.

I try to imagine this loss happening in my own family, and find that my psyche won’t allow it. I imagine though that the loss of a child might be easier to bear if it had come at a moment when I was doing everything I could to prevent it. If it came at the one time when I heard a sound and decided not to investigate, I don’t know how I would bear it. Grief like that, as my friend Donald says, is a Force of Nature.

The weather today has been perfect for a prolonged meditation on grief. All day long a storm has been building, the high, thick clouds beginning to sprinkle and then not; instead, more clouds come in, creating deepening shades and layers of gray that make it impossible to imagine why the downpour is being withheld. Stepping outside with Vince just now, the wind is whipping the trees and the faintest of sprinkles is spitting its way out of the gathering dark. I think when the sky does finally open, it will do so with a vengeance.

I have had two fragments of poetry going through my head today. The first is Paul Simon’s great line in “Graceland”: “Losing love is like a window in your heart. Everybody sees you’re blown apart, everybody feels the wind blow.” This popped into my head as I heard the news of Jeremiah’s death. The actual wind, combined with the wind blowing through my friend’s life and my life, has also left me with a vague nausea, a feeling of vertigo as though the earth under my feet were in constant motion.

The second fragment came similarly unbidden, and is from Doreen Valiente’s beautiful Charge of the Goddess: “Let my worship be in the heart that rejoices, for behold, all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.” Why this celebratory pronouncement should come through on a day obviously custom-made for grief, I don’t pretend to understand. It probably has to do with my mind’s quirky insistence on handing me paradox whenever I think I have certainty, combined with an Aries trait of always jumping to the next thing just a little before its time. Maybe it is also reminding me that grieving the loss of a child is an act of love.

It is my birthday today, a day custom-made for celebration. And in spite of having a heavy heart, I am enjoying the luxury of taking the day off to eat cake and let my heart feel whatever it wants. Right now, I am tired of grief, it is fading and in the hollow carved by the winds a row of candles is burning. The storm has started outside. All is as it should be.

At the Edge of the Marsh

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Today I was out at Laguna Farm helping a friend with her computer. I took Vince out to stretch his legs after awhile and wandered around the farm, which is at the edge of the Laguna de Santa Rosa. We meandered in the glorious afternoon sun past sheds, trailers, chickens, fallow and planted beds towards open land.

The gravel driveway had a slick layer of mud over it all, so I hopped from grass clump to grass clump until we reached an area where a path had been built up with wood chips. Gratefully, I jumped onto the higher ground it afforded and continued strolling. But even the wood chips were no match for the soggy soil, and in places I watched my foot sink three inches down into what had seemed moments before a nice dry spot to step on.

Just past the last fenced-in area, past the ancient pickup that probably still ran because the tires weren’t totally sunk in mud, the wood chips ended and we were back in grass again. I looked down to watch my feet for a second and when I looked back up, just ahead of me emerged from the grass a pair of mallards, scooting between two clumps of grass into water that was deep enough to swim away in. The male’s plumage was radiant, iridescent, like he had been tremendously envigorated by all the rain and didn’t care who saw. The pair walked in step with each other with such confidence and intelligence that they were clearly wild, and I watched them paddle under tufts of tall grass then re-emerge, following the bobbing of their heads until they were completely obscured by the vista of the marshland as a whole.

What is the boundary between land and water? Our language is full of phrases that explore the question: walking into a quagmire, on high ground, a slippery slope. What seems solid ground transforms beneath you in a split second and suddenly you’re not looking at a marsh, you’re in one and have only one foot left on dry land. It was a beautiful moment, that looking up and realizing that I had crossed a boundary from domesticated to wild land without even knowing it.

If this were a dream, that would be the good news of the dream. If this were a tarot reading it would be about a positive reversal of fortunes and hidden riches emerging. If this were a car commercial, I would now have a car with actual padding in the driver’s seat cushion. But I prefer the marsh, my wet shoes, and the breathtaking, ordinary sight of a pair of ducks, disturbed but unhurried, disappearing into the wild.

It’s Spring — Drinks all around!

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What a weird year this is. First our New Year’s flooding and drenching gives way to a balmy, gorgeous January, and everyone is worried that winter is over and the rain has gone. Then Wednesday we finally got a single sunny day in the midst of over a month of straight rain, with more rain on the way through April. There is just no making sense of the weather anymore.

I spent Wednesday morning hauling in straw bales to help with the landscaping, then worked at one job, then another, walked the dog, returned the truck I borrowed, brought in some firewood, worked some more, and then sat back and marveled at such Spring-like, energetic behavior. I didn’t know I had it in me.

I started this blog last year right before May Day, and talked about how making those preparations always changes me. This year I would have happily taken a year off from organizing a big happy party, even though I love having May Day at my house and it always gives me a boost of energy. Any vineyard tender will tell you that after a year of heavy output the vines yield a much smaller crop the next year to recover. I have felt like those vines needing a rest, but my daughters insisted that we keep the tradition going even though the family was splitting, so I bowed to their greater wisdom and started in on the to-do lists.

Starting from ground zero in a new place that’s still basically a construction site has been a huge amount of work, but now that I’m halfway through it’s actually becoming enjoyable. I have been blessed with many friends who have helped me do the heavy lifting required — a special tip of the hat to Corby for cutting down a tree and hauling it up here with Macha’s help to be the new maypole! I somehow managed to overcome my torpor in large enough doses to make the phone calls and emails required to set things up, Lyra created an absolutely beautiful flyer, the landscaping is now inspiring rather than daunting, and things are looking up.

All this is a microcosm to me, a personal footnote against my greater concern of how we as a society cope with cataclysmic change. At the moment, there is nothing in the collective imagination that so much represents cataclysmic change than the weather. We are in for it, no doubt about it. Global warming is here to stay until possibly our great-grandchildrens’ time, and the only thing we know is that the weather is guaranteed to get even weirder than it is now.

Obviously we must work like hell to stop doing the stuff that will make it more severe and long-lasting. Any elected official who does not take that work seriously must be educated or replaced, and quickly. We need to protect ourselves and each other as best we can from dangers we can foresee arising from bizarre weather: tornadoes, hurricanes, flooding, mudslides, drought, locusts, dying forests, rising seawaters, etc. All that is clear, and is daunting work all by itself.

But the personal piece is just as important, especially as it tends to get overlooked in our worst-case-scenario planning and preparations. Our personal challenge is to enjoy the weather we are given, as best we can. So instead of fearing Spring, worrying about whether it will ever stop raining, worrying about whether after this rain we’ll never see another drop, I’ve changed my tune. It’s “Drinks all around!” to quote Captain Jack Sparrow. (but you have heard of him)

So this weather is making us all feel like we live in Portland or Seattle. The good news is that we get to be there without all the travel expenses — and when it clears up, we’re right back in California. The only bad side is not getting to hang out with friends who actually live in Portland or Seattle; we’ll have to read their blogs to find out where the weather is teleporting them to.

Anyway, an upbeat post for another gray day in a string of gray days. And now Jojo and I are going to the Bodega Bay Fisherman’s Festival to witness the blessing of the fleet at the beginning of another precarious salmon season. Drinks all around!