new people, by danzy senna

Was I molested? No, I wasn’t fucking molested. I mean, no more than the average female born circa 1970.

white magic, by elissa washuta

Every day, the universe reminds me that, yes, I am safe now, but I am in America.

having and being had, by eula bliss

The barriers that prevent people from entering the middle class are the defining feature of the middle class

the life of the mind, by christine smallwood

How typical of her not to know something was over when it was over.

the devil comes courting, by courtney milan

Belonging in two places makes you a bridge.

my father and myself, jr ackerley

Of my father, my mother, myself, I know in the end practically nothing.

annoyed by books

In general my reading life is a richly satisfying one. Between my e-reader and my membership of one of the world’s great city libraries. I have more excellent books at my fingertips than I can ever read. It’s churlish of me to complain about having begun three this week that irked me. Nevertheless!

The first was told by an early hominid who was acutely aware of her sloping brow, hairy feet and other differences from Homo sapiens, much as female characters written by misogynists are always breasting boobily down the stairs. The third was nominally about a saintly college gardener, but actually about the author who hired him and who was such a raging snob that he managed to make everyone appearing in the book, from the gardener to his own six year old daughter, seem repulsive. A feat that would be hard to do if you were trying! Which he wasn’t.

Second’s the worst though, because the book itself is fine and the audiobook performer is great… as long as he isn’t trying to do the accents. Every American, from Whitman to Emerson to Merrill, has a Texan drawl. Rousseau sounds like Peter Seller’s Inspector Clouseau. I don’t know what Wittgenstein’s supposed to be but it isn’t Austrian.

And it turns out the only thing worse than taking Bruce Chatwin’s Songlines at face value is making Chatwin himself, born in Sheffield, sound like Crocodile Dundee. Excuse me while I walk into the sea.

late ride

It was sunset when I got to the barn. The moon rose over the arena, pale gold against a deep blue and purple sky, so bisexual it might have been a Janelle Monáe video.

Lenny’s a different animal at night, gentler and stranger, made of warm shadows, the moonlight bright on his white nose. Time slips sideways. I might be twenty, calling my red horse by another name, or it might be twenty thousand years ago, and me carving his likeness in ochre onto a bone.

the garden of earthly delights

(As I was thinking about this post and its title, I pulled up Bosch’s altarpiece of the same name and looked at it on my large high res monitor. Did you know that it is a motherfucking masterpiece? I shared this insight with my pocket coven, most of whom, unsurprisingly, were already fans.)

Between coaching sessions with engineers, I sneak outside to pull white-ramping fumitory and Bermuda buttercups out of my garden. It’s the same meditative headspace as doing a jigsaw puzzle, with added sunshine and birdsong. I actually like and respect the buttercups and especially the fumitory, with its feathery leaves and pink-tipped white flowers. But I like the hummingbirds and native bees and the sprouting meadow wildflowers that support them even more.

The first time I remember wanting a garden was reading Kate Llewellyn’s The Waterlily, years ago. While “some outdoor space” was high on our list in hunting for this house, a large, level, undeveloped yard seemed so unlikely it didn’t even occur to me to want it. (Large by SF standards: 25 by 45 feet. A fortieth of an acre.)

The me who didn’t garden seems a stranger to me now.

I’m out here every chance I get. My fingernails are black with loam and clay. I meant to restore a postage stamp sized patch of Ramaytush land. Who’d have thought that the land meant to restore me.

the events of yesterday

Sumana is wondering what we’ll end up calling it. I’ve seen it called the Capitol breach, the insurrection, the putsch (with a nod to Hitler), and my favorite so far: Trump’s riot. It’ll probably resolve into something non-committal like January 6th. Right now, though, I can still hope for a name that makes it clear who was at fault: the crime boss in the Oval Office and his murderous fascist thugs.

My coven and I watched the march from the White House with gradually increasing concern. We have day jobs so had to fit this in around meetings, but also, out-of-control pandemic, so we were already glued to our screens. Being a conscious citizen of a failing democracy is a whole nother full time gig.

A friend who’s an experienced protestor on the side of justice pointed out just how unprepared these weekend warriors were to meet any real show of force from the authorities. But of course the authorities did nothing. There were off-duty cops and military among the rioters, apparently flashing their badges and ID to reassure the Capitol police. My anger at this, at shots fired in the chambers of my government, at the sight of some unspeakable shitheel with his feet up on my Congresswoman’s desk, is enormous. It’s exhausting, to be in such a state of cold rage.

The one friend from my old fundamentalist church who lives in America and votes Republican posted to Facebook that this has made her want to retire to central America. I have spent five years trying not to snap at her but after repressing a dozen much more inflammatory comments, I wrote: “You voted for this.” She deleted my comment, and later, her original post.

This is the situation in which we find ourselves. Healing and reconciliation can’t even begin until those who brought this horror upon us can acknowledge the great evil they have done.

May this turn out to be the death-spasm of white supremacy, of unearned privilege fighting the emergence of a better and fairer world. May we name it accurately and know it for exactly what it is.

my favorite murder

My garden has been a gift all quarantine. My whole life I’ve hardly enjoyed anything as much as I enjoyed Bic, Emma and Precious, the City Grazing goats who took down the worst of the weeds. After Marco and his team pulled out the raised beds I didn’t want and built a retaining wall and stairs, I started planting, and I haven’t stopped. There’s still one big raised bed at the back for a kitchen garden. So far I have nasturtiums, white sage, rosemary and wood strawberries, plus a young Eureka lemon to complement the neighbor’s Meyer lemon that leans over our fence. The rosemary, lemon and a potted jasmine are the only non-natives I bought.

Everything else is hyperlocal, from Bay Natives, Mission Blue or Yerba Buena nurseries, Annie’s Annuals or Larner Seeds. Ceanothus, ribes, coffeeberry, coast live oak – the keystone species. Bay laurel – much more delicious than dried bay leaves, we put it in all our soups and stews. An arroyo willow. Native grapes, Dutchman’s pipevine for the swallowtails, silver lupine for the Mission Blue butterflies, narrow-leaved milkweed for the monarchs. Hummingbird sage, blue eyed grass, variegated yarrow, coast buckwheat. A bog with sword fern and chain fern and douglas iris. A pond with seep monkeyflower and rushes, which is doing extremely well and which I hope will attract frogs. Yerba buena trailing down the retaining wall. Two elegant Dr Hurd manzanitas that, goddess willing, will grow into sinuous, sculptural rainbow beauties.

It doesn’t look like much yet. I am in constant battle with the Bermuda oxalis, wild radish and those bastard arum lilies. Everything else is barely knee high. But every chance I get I loll out here in a comfy blue lounge chair, listening to contentious crow parliaments in the neighbor’s lillipilli, watching hummingbird aerobatics, loving the sweet descending melody of gold-crowned sparrows. There are fat red-tailed hawks who coast from the hill to the canyon, often with an escort of angry crows. I leave almond offerings on the deck railings for the members of this murder, whom I dearly love. I planted a bog. I am a real bog witch now.

the wow signal

I’ve been riding at the new barn for a year and change now. It’s a serious barn, although not serious about showing in the jumpers (like Glenoaks and McIntosh) or in the Welsh breed shows (like Heather Hill). Not even super serious about dressage shows, although it does that. Serious about correctness, starting with correct position and then continuing through tempo and line to rhythm and bend. An intense, meditative practice, conducted in partnership with large livestock animals.

Russell, who is Heather Hill Rhodri, drew me to this barn in the first place, being literally the dream horse I described to my former trainer Laura: “Rhun, but younger.” Rhun is Laura’s horse, and Russell is his nephew. Laura bred them both.

Russell is exactly what I was looking for. I call him Black Beauty. He has a small, refined head with a big unmistakable fan-shaped star. He likes you to rub his velvet nose and cheek-ridges and fuzzy ears. It’s as tender as petting a purring cat. He’s gentle and obliging and talented and experienced, and he has taught me a lot about how it’s supposed to feel, what it’s like when you get it right, how you know.

Lenny is the horse I didn’t know I was looking for. He is a mouthy, bratty sorrel mustang with a tentacle-shaped white snip licking up the end of his Roman nose. He looks like a little Belgian draft horse, like Ice Age megafauna painted in ochre on the wall of a neolithic cave. I call him, and this is even more embarrassing than Black Beauty if you can believe it, I call him Bright Angel because the expression on his face when he sees me and knows I have sugar in my pockets is like a messenger of God’s grace. I have often been infatuated with ponies but Lenny represents a severe and ongoing case.

I rode Lenny for months when most other people weren’t very interested in him, but as he got stronger and rounder he has started to be a sought-after ride. Of course now other people can ride him better than I do, and we had a few weeks where I was frustrated about this and we lost our groove. But yesterday I somehow got over myself and found my balance again. Maybe it was watching the Spanish Riding School show and remembering to sit like a pair of wings folded into his back.

Whatever it was, he found the round soft trot of his that’s like a Zen monk deep in prayer, and I’m still thinking about it a day later. Holding the reins like I am holding hands with a little kid, dancing like we’re Nureyev. People call it round or collected or on the bit but the best word for how it feels is contact, like a burst of radio waves from a beautiful, friendly alien. The wow signal.

eleven books i appreciated this year

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus

Alta California: From San Diego to San Francisco, A Journey on Foot to Rediscover the Golden State

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States

How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy

Miracle Country

Real Life: A Novel

Savage Dreams: A Journey into the Landscape Wars of the American West

The Dreamt Land: Chasing Water and Dust Across California

The Shepherd’s Life: A People’s History of the Lake District

Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart: An Adventure on the Pacific Crest Trail

When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities

As is abundantly clear, I was craving books about Californian and Indigenous history, as well as strong landscape writing. Rebecca Solnit’s Savage Dreams hit both nerves hard. It’s an unjustly neglected masterpiece.

I read more fiction and poetry than this list would suggest, but Brandon Taylor and Chen Chen were the absolute standouts. They’re also both fantastic on Twitter, which probably helps them stick in my mind.

I read 142 books, give or take, which is pretty normal. I might’ve expected more in a quarantine year, but I started a new job and house and garden and got two new horses and it’s a golden age for television, so. 92 books by women, 37 by identifiably queer folk, 5 of whom were trans, 30 by POC. It’s hard to read enough books by trans and POC writers, but I should try harder.

I read two separate books of nonfiction called Horse Crazy, which is probably all anyone needs to know about me.

hidden valley road, by robert koller

embrace the cards you are dealt or it will eat you alive. If you go to the heart of your own matter, you will find only by loving and helping do you have peace from your own trauma.

our malady, by timothy snyder

We would like to think we have health care that incidentally involves some wealth transfer; what we actually have is wealth transfer that incidentally involves some health care.

a charmed life, by liza campbell

both Sleeping and Snow attracted the attentions of princes with necrophiliac leanings.

savage dreams, by rebecca solnit

the great curse of Euro-American history is its shallowness, its failure to take root in a place so different from its place of origin.

miracle country, by kendra atleework

If I spent years clawing toward sunlight from the bottom of a dry well, that summer I looked over the edge for the first time and saw my sister.

adventure time: the sea, the sea

It was Dad’s birthday on Saturday so I drove over to see him and Mum.

There is beauty even in lost things. Lucky for me!

harrow the ninth, by tamsyn muir

Somewhere out there exists a home not paid for with blood.