Archive for the 'little gorgeous things' Category

farewell to spring

My niece and her excellent husband safely married, we flew home (via shenanigans) to find our little home and our pride of housecats lovingly tended by yarnivore.

Driving to the barn last Friday I had to brake from 65 to a dead stop in the fast lane. The physical shock of deceleration meant I didn’t panic when the BMW that had been tailgating me had to drive up onto the soft shoulder to avoid hitting me. The traffic crawled for twenty minutes around the golf course near Crystal Springs. No one got impatient because as fire trucks and ambulances pushed through us it became evident that whatever had happened was very bad.

The highway patrol was letting one lane through. As I drove past I saw a tarp covering something instantly recognizable in the middle of the empty lanes. I saw a red hatchback crumpled up against the middle divider, and I think I saw the driver’s face, a woman, bereft.

i found a news story afterward that said her passenger had tried to cross the four lanes of 280 to get help, and that he had not survived.

He has haunted me all week. I rode Lenny that afternoon. His coat is like satin over hard muscle. He looks like a war horse. I’d be scared of his vigor if I didn’t already know how to dance with him. My garden is putting on a last glorious show before the heat. My Matilija poppy and hummingbird sage are flowering for the first time. Last night I cut two Frog Hollow peaches into rough cubes and put them in Hendricks and tonics to drink out on the deck while my friends the crows serenaded us.

The world is changing and I have never loved my life more. I feel them all around me, all the dead, and I try to make sure their deaths mattered. I feel him too, trying to get across the freeway to Crystal Springs. What they whisper is that this coffee, this little garden, this breath of wind, life, is a gift.

american savannah

Driving home from a fantastic riding lesson with Carrie (Lenny swinging his back and reaching forward into the bridle), I stopped the car by the side of the road to watch a great blue heron standing on the green hill of the horsepasture.

The heron considered me gravely before returning its attention to a gopher hole at its feet. Faster than thought, it struck and lifted out a soft, blind gopher baby.

To my surprise the heron dropped the baby at once. It fluffed out the creamy feathers on its S of a neck, opened its beak, reared back its head and raised its crest, all dinosaur threat. Before I had a second to marvel, a bright shadow flew in the heron’s face. The heron spread its wings and climbed into the air like a pterodactyl.

A golden eagle landed on the gopher, mantled over it to glare at me, then flew away with the prey in its talons.

vignette

A twenty-minute meeting cancelled at the last moment. I snuck outside into the garden; a guilty pleasure of working from home. We’re having a heat wave and the air is flower-fragrant and full of bees, like it is in the south of France.

I took the cats with me. There are rules. Thimble has to wear a collar with a locator tag, because she loves to vault the fence into the neighbors’ gardens. Since last Memorial Day, when she terrified us by staying away a night and a day, her jaunts seldom last more than an hour. But I fret – there are coyotes on our street. The tag lets us play a cheery mechanical tune. Fugitive cat sonar.

Hazel has to wear a harness with a tag on it. She occasionally tries to jump the fence but isn’t as fast or determined as Thimble. It’s easier to pluck her down. The harness is to acclimate her, so that she can be a good college companion animal for kid the elder.

Alice is not required to wear any equipment. She has jumped the fence twice but is mostly an amiable plush bowling ball.

I did some more weeding. There is always weeding. Thimble rolled luxuriantly on the concrete. Hazel sphinxed narrow-eyed on the lawn. I overshot my mini-break by three minutes and had to race back inside. I scooped Hazel and herded Thimble, but Alice was hidden in the Melica imperfecta and I couldn’t locate her in a hurry. I sent Jeremy out for retrieval. He couldn’t find her easily either. When he brought her back in, her fur was brown and hot from the sun, and dusted with pollen.

vita nostra, by marina and sergey dyachenko

…paragraphs and exercises, the familiar strain and tiny achievements, the ordinary labor of anyone who desires to learn—all this turned out to be the point of Sasha’s existence.

snapshot

The rains started again in earnest yesterday. We had some good rain in November and my garden is brilliant with sprouts, both the sown and desired native wildflowers and my doughty adversaries, Bermuda buttercups, catchgrass bedstraw, white-ramping fumitory and pellitory-of-the-wall. A second soaking will set us up for a beautiful, if weedy, meadow in the spring.

After living for almost twenty years in uninsulated San Francisco Victorians, it feels like a miracle to sit in our warm house watching the raindrops run down the windows. The cats complain about missing their supervised outdoor time but I am curled up with my laptop under a wool blanket my kid crocheted, next to our fragrant Douglas fir Christmas tree. It’s a good week at work, two programs happily completed, a new one in its most exciting nascent phase, my team fresh off meeting in person, energized and seamless.

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.

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.

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!

homie, by danez smith

trees! y’all! they look like slow green explosions!

adventure time: landscaping crew

Because this is San Francisco, a person can rent goats from her local non-profit to clear out her overgrown back garden.

Meet Bic, aka White Lightning, a gentle and friendly fellow.

Bic’s eyeliner game is strong.

His daughter Precious has but a single, dire nemesis: the goat glaring at back her from her reflection.

To all others she is the smilingest of goats.

Mama goat Emma was slow to warm up, but now leans against me and demands scritches.

Emma is topologically unfeasible.

I love them with every particle of my being.

adventure time: neighborhood walks

Everyone’s adventures are appropriately downscaled right now, but our neighborhood is a half mile south-east of where it used to be, and we’re exploring fresh walks. We are now only a couple of blocks away from the beautiful Alemany Farm, with its orchards and running brook and frog pond:

Just up the hill to the west of us are the Harry Street Stairs:

Which lead through fairy meadows:

To the Miguel Street Mural.

Grocery shopping right now feels stressful and unhappy, but walking around the neighborhood at Golden Hour feels like a treat. Everyone is respectful and keeps their distance. We smile and nod at one another, and say: “Stay safe.”

well, that escalated quickly

Last Thursday, Jeremy asked what it would take for us to decide to cancel or postpone our planned trip to Australia. On Monday, we rescheduled our flights. Yesterday, the public schools and our kids’ school all closed. In grocery stores, people are calm and brave, Londoners during the blitz. Online, we take turns being scared and comforting one another.

I’m sitting on my back deck drinking coffee with Jeremy. The gardens are full of birdsong. Hummingbirds are having fierce air battles over the shrubbery. And now I know why the pair of crows I’ve been trying to befriend have been so preoccupied. They’re building a nest.

o happy day

A lazy morning in bed with cups of tea and books and Alice cat, followed by Rebels Within and lattes at Craftsman & Wolves. (Two dogs came in: “Wolves! Truth in advertising.”)

To the house, where Jeremy expressed glee over the extremely solarpunk radiant floor and hot water heating system, while I sat on the stairs daydreaming, only for our starchitect Bonnie to show up unexpectedly for a look around. We all agreed that it is turning out to be a very cute house indeed.

To the barn, for a lazy amble on Bentley. Freya my war mare has a new family, and family photos were being taken in the golden hour. Freya, fat and happy, was striking warlike poses. “This is my person. This is my dog.” God bless the war mares and starchitects and wolves and craftsmen and rebels, every one.

an unexpectedly lovely weekend

Yesterday after my riding lesson, Jeremy, Claire and I went out to Devil’s Teeth Bakery for the special breakfast sandwich (scrambled egg, avocado and bacon on a fresh biscuit). On the way back we visited the new house for some daydreaming. Liz lured me out to the dyke march. I arrived to find her twirling in the intersection at Valencia and 18th. We danced and chanted all the way to the Castro. It was a perfect San Francisco summer evening.

Today after my riding lesson, all four of us went to El Metate for fish tacos, and then to Bay Natives to buy eggs and admire the chickens and goats. We walked to the end of Heron’s Head and saw a sea lion frolicking in the bay. We stopped on Cortland for iced coffee, rainbow macarons and groceries, and when we got home I found a parking spot right on the corner. Now my feet are up and my heart is full of peace.

by the sea shore

We spent the weekend in Point Reyes, which is so beautiful it almost defies photography. The California Field Atlas describes it as an authentic Pleistocene-era prairie by the sea. Philip K. Dick was also moved by:

this wild moor-like plateau that dropped off at the ocean’s edge, one of the most desolate parts of the United States, with weather unlike that of any other part of California.

The giant camels and mastodon that roamed here in the Ice Age are gone, but if you look closely, there’s a herd of not-quite-extinct tule elk grazing out on this headland.

Jeremy was enchanted by the Marconi RCA wireless station, the first and last of its kind. Now that we are home, he’s in his office playing with software-defined radios and emitting atmospheric bursts and Morse code. For my part, I loved the dairy ranches, and imagined myself quitting tech to become a simple farmer, a man of the people, at one with the land.

Of course I am not the first to indulge this fantasy. It forms the substance of Dick’s Confessions of a Crap Artist, Daniel Gumbiner’s The Boatbuilder, and even Summer Brennan’s The Oyster War. All three are at pains to point out that no matter how lovely the place is, it can’t help you escape who you are.

West Marin has dangled before the white mind like a lure for almost five hundred years. In 1579, the pirate Francis Drake in his galleon full of stolen Spanish treasure christened it Nova Albion and claimed it for Queen Elizabeth I. The visitor center on Drakes Beach notes that people in South America used his name to frighten their children, so that’s nice.

The Coast Miwok survive and now form part of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria. Still, anthropologist Betty Goerke calculates that between genocide, epidemic, and aggressive zoning laws designed to maintain high property values, there are fewer people living in Point Reyes today than there were in Drake’s time. It’s a pretend wilderness, like Yosemite and Kur-ring-gai. I’m indebted to its original custodians for how it heals my sore heart.

a genuinely fun thing i’ll assuredly do again

The Bringing Back the Natives garden tour in the East Bay.

Maidenhair and blue-eyed grass. Some of the gardens tumbled down the sides of canyons, but our favorite was this, around a cottage on a flat block. Goals.

Manzanitas, poppies and sages. It was so kind of the gardeners to welcome us into their earthly paradise.

keeping a promise to myself

When I was laid lowest with the busted ankle, I promised myself that when I was up and about again, I’d go to Imperial Spa, Zuni Cafe and Yosemite.

This was a terrific plan.

california in the spring

Can a place be too pretty?

Our experts weigh in.

lucky just to keep afloat

I’ve had the Split Enz song “Six Months In A Leaky Boat” on constant replay this trip. I wasn’t at all surprised to find out Tim Finn wrote it after a nervous breakdown. I complained to Jeremy that everything I want to say about the legacy of settler colonialism and consequent mental illness, this song says in five minutes.

Aotearoa, rugged individual
Glisten like a pearl, at the bottom of the world
The tyranny of distance, didn’t stop the cavalier
So why should it stop me? I’ll conquer and stay free

Ah c’mon all you lads, let’s forget and forgive
There’s a world to explore, tales to tell back on shore
I just spent six months in a leaky boat
Six months in a leaky boat

An old friend tried to argue that Doctor Who isn’t a modern King Arthur myth because “no one cares that much about stories.” And yet it moves. In case you’re not convinced that this song is a miracle of subversive irony, I’ll just point out that Thatcher banned it during the Falklands War.

the green flash

Almost a year after I thought it might, my accidental sabbatical has come to a definitive end. This morning, Laura and I rode Gemini and Bentley around a Horse Park almost violently green from the winter rains. I went to therapy for my weekly ugly-cry, spent the afternoon folding laundry, then dragged J and J to the beach to watch the sunset.

The sea had carved the sand into a cliff three or four stories high. We stood at the brink, inadequately dressed against an Alaskan wind. Just as the sun disappeared beneath the horizon, its light turned a pale celadon. I’ve never seen the green flash before! Conditions have to be perfect. Julia was blinking and missed it. I told her she is young and will have lots more chances.

It’s hard to sum up this long career hiatus in any narratively pleasing way. I wrote less than I thought I would, and did a lot more political organizing than I’d ever imagined. One business venture has yet to bear fruit, but the other two are the most beautiful and gifted startups ever to occupy San Francisco office space. I made some amazing new friends and grew closer to some old ones. I think my kids are doing pretty okay? I continue to love my mister more than I love sunbeams, or meadows, or tea.

Tomorrow’s big adventure is to get up early and take BART to work!