Saturday, September 12, 2020

What I Did on My Summer Vacation


Last spring, I was cleaning up the recordings on the cable DVR (?) and I found a new recording of a horse race that I didn't know was there. When I viewed the details, I discovered that one of the sports channels was covering horse races.

This is unusual, because horse races are among the most obscure of sports on TV, and I rarely get to see more than the Triple Crown (Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes). But this year, of course, thanks to COVID-19, sports were kind of shut down -- except for a couple tracks where the managers had their ducks in a row, had quarantined the hell out of everyone, had stringent rules about who could or couldn't set foot on the premises, and so the horse races at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas and the Tampa Bay Downs were being televised. Run without fans in the stands, but running races nonetheless. I began spending my Saturdays watching horse races.

By the end of April, I'd had about enough of television and internet news. Everything revolved around the corona virus. Close it all down! Open it all up! Make kids go back to school in the summer to catch them up! I have a right to open my business! Masks make you smother! It's a pandemic! It's a hoax! On and on with the self-righteousness and accusations and worldwide protests, why isn't someone saving us from this disease? Why are you making us suffer by 'sheltering in place'? I have a right to party! Don't we have a right to health care? 

The race season shifted to Belmont Park in New York, where they put the proper protocols in place to allow racing again. I've always loved the big, sweeping track there, so I began to watch that track on the weekends. Then the reporting team said that when the Belmont meet was done, they were going to Saratoga, and that the channel would carry ALL the Saratoga races.

That was that. I let the family know I was heading off to Saratoga Springs, the oldest and arguably most beautiful track in the USA. On Mondays and Tuesdays, I'd feverishly catch up on all the in-house chores I had to do, and then Wednesday through Sunday mornings, off to Saratoga by 10am and stay there until the last race was done, studying my racing forms, listening to the racetrack team chatter about bloodlines and past performances, history of racing, tack and horseshoes, condition and temperament, jockeys' riding abilities and the strengths and weaknesses of trainers, the hopes of owners, the eerie feeling of the big track without spectators.

I don't have a 'bucket list.' And even if I did, it wouldn't have had on it Go to Saratoga Springs for the Entire Race Meet, because that wouldn't have been possible. I never thought in my life, that I would be able to spend a season at Saratoga. That was a luxury beyond my imagination.

But this summer, I was there. And it was wonderful. I've now done something I never thought I could do.

A stack of racing forms sits beside my work desk, shrouded by a dust cover to keep the ash and harvest dust off it. On the forms are scribbles of notes, names of horse sires circled, names of really proficient jockeys and trainers underlined, what the track was like that day. Maybe this winter, when the rain and wind rattle the door of my garage studio, I'll pull the stack out and look through it, day by day, and remember the shadows of the trees on the track for the late afternoon races, and smile.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

The Low-light Morning

There are fires all around us, close enough that everything outside is sprinkled with fine gray ash.

When the dog woke me up this morning, at 6 am, it was dimmer than it should be. The sun wasn't yet up, but instead of a lightening blue sky, it was ... gray. Not clouds, smoke.

A couple mornings ago we had an unseasonable thunder storm roll through the state, and although we love the sound of thunder and the spatter of rain, the lightning set off wildfires in the baking August heat.

I took this photo with my camera at about 10 am. Yuck, right?

The air stinks, burns our noses, makes us sneeze and cough. No outside exercise, no sitting on the porch, no swimming for the dog, no working in an open studio. No barbecue, no gardening, and forget 'social distancing' -- 'environmental distancing' is the order of the day.

Monday, April 27, 2020

What You Can Do While Watching Horse Races All Day

This coming weekend should have been Kentucky Derby day, but it won't be, thanks to the pandemic. Most horse racing venues have been closed down to halt contagion, so all the prep races for the Kentucky Derby were cancelled, also. Only a couple tracks stayed open, and Fox Sports 1 has been having horse races televised from Oaklawn Track in Arkansas, and Tampa Bay Downs in Florida. And since the only prep race for the Kentucky Derby still open happens to be the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn, I've been watching horse races on the weekends -- bingeing, so to speak, from 10:30 am until 4 pm.

Yesterday was a beautiful day, and since I was going to watch horse-racing in front of the TV in my studio, I cleared a spot on the work table and indulged my latest craze: cadmium red oil paint. Same palette as the last painting, but I added a little touch of ultramarine blue and the very slightest pinch of alizarin crimson.

Enjoyed the races, loved seeing the paint go down onto the canvas in rich swathes.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Sheltering in Place (SIP) and Painting Party

Last evening, Alex caught me during a suggestible moment and invited me to a Painting Event with her and her daughters. "We can drink wine and paint," she said. "Come on, it will be fun."

I knew they would be doing watercolors and acrylics. "Do you mind if I use oils?" They didn't mind at all, and so this afternoon, I hoicked myself off to the studio to join them, cleaned my filthy work table, and set out a palette of cobalt blue, cadmium red light, cadmium red medium, cadmium yellow medium, and titanium white.

"The theme is 'cactus,'" I was told. Fine. Cactus it is. Howabout cactus in Red Rock Country?

Oh, yes, and every time I accidentally got my hand in my oil paint, we had a ... sip. (*SIP*) This made for a very agreeable afternoon, and since we were in the garage studio, my solvents and paints did not bother anyone at all. This is the result:


Thursday, April 09, 2020

The Simplest Seder

Normally, we'd sit Seder on the Saturday before Passion Sunday, since the readings for Passion Sunday include Jesus at "The Last Supper" -- which was the Passover meal, that is, a Seder.

Normally, we'd have table friends (haverim) from some of the past 20 years of Seders, new friends, neighbors, guests of former guests gathered around tables in the big front room, for Seders that would begin at 7pm and last until 10pm, with plenty of time after for more wine and conversation.

Normally, I'd begin the day of Seder going to the party rental place for chairs and place-settings, and to Trader Joe's for fresh flowers to arrange for the table.

And normally, after Seder, I'd see the guests off, send the family to bed, and spend slow, quiet, beautiful time putting things away in their rental crates and our things in the dishwasher, getting food into the fridge, pushing the tablecloths into the washer, having a last glass of wine, and remembering the evening.

Not this year, of course. The pandemic has us all locked down, so to speak, so no Seder.

Or so I thought.

We'd decided to roast a lamb shoulder in honor of Passover (which began last night), and eat it with flat breads (basically gorditas) and tzatziki (cucumber and Greek yogurt) and goat cheese spiced with chili-garlic sauce. But before we could begin the meal, Bernie showed up with pages of paper -- printouts of the shortest Seder haggadah I've ever seen. He collected our song books and wine glasses from the Seder basket on the shelf. At that point, Joma screeched, "Are we doing SEDER???" in an ecstasy of delight.

Well, I guess, of course we were.

An emergency candle holder took the place of the usual crystal ones, and Joma picked snapdragons and nasturtiums for the table flowers. Alex lit the candle to start; I was crying too much to be the Table Mother this year. Lillian read the haggadah, the story of the salvation of the Israelites, by God, led by Moses, out of Egypt.

We sang, and raised our glasses of wine, and then had a delicious meal of some of the best lamb I've ever made. Then we concluded the Seder with more song, more wine, and the silly rendition of "Who Knows One?" (That'll be for a later post.) I cried a lot more.

Because I miss the haverim.
Because I miss the preparation and the participation and the peaceful quiet and perfume of the house afterwards.
Because Seder is always good.
That's why I cried, for longing and for joy.

Lillian took care of the clean-up afterwards; this was the first Seder that she was allowed to have wine instead of grape juice, and ya gotta step up when your grandmother is dripping tears. Bernie and I went out to the garage studio and watched the clouds and passers-by until the sun went down.

This morning I got up before it was light enough out for me to see the clock (to take Kermit out) and saw the remains of the Seder on the table, wine and flowers and candlestick.

I am content, and God is good.

Sunday, April 05, 2020

First Sunday in April

A Sunday without Mass would feel pretty barren.

Our bishop, Bishop Myron Cotta, was one of many bishops in the world to give his diocese a dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass, to stop the spread of (specifically) the corona virus.

Fortunately there is technology abounding, and we are able to "attend" Mass by watching a televised service.

Doing so is simply a matter of choice. Since Bishop Cotta gave us the dispensation, we wouldn't have to worry about it, and don't have to even think about it if we don't want to. But I've come to find consolation in the Liturgy; it is prayer, a way of bringing me to accept the contact of the God Who created me. It's a prayer that's been going on for over two thousand years, and each time I experience it, my heart can renounce time and space and be a part of the Sacrifice that happened once, for all, for all time -- like tips of lightning bolts that spread across the sky, all part of the same electrical discharge. Mass is all one thing, no matter where, no matter when. I like that feeling of unity, a unity that is completely about love.

What does that have to do with the flower in the picture?

Not a lot, unless you look for God in all things, and that the Liturgy and the tulip -- no kidding, it really is a tulip -- are both beautiful, and allow me to be lost in wonder in a world that some would like to paint as terrifying and heart-crushing, either because they have been indoctrinated to fear and avoid the world, or to improve their ratings.

And now I must encourage myself to see God in the rain outside that unseasonably is keeping me inside the house when I would rather be outside slobbering over my little tomato plants like an obsessive mother. Thank you, God, for the rain.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

And Yet Good Things, Too

Kermit doesn't care about corona virus. He cares about getting his food on time, sleeping close against my legs, and about those darned cats that keep using our fence as a path, which is what he's watching for in this picture.

I'm trying to let him be my teacher in this. Yesterday we went out to see if we could buy some potatoes (we were out) and there were simply none to be had. But there were still plenty of people piling shopping carts high with anything they could grab. It made me cry, right there in the store, that people -- in whom I have faith that they can be good -- would continue to be so selfish and amoral in the face of a crisis. My sadness discolored almost my whole day ... then we got a text from Alex that said that the transplant center was releasing John to come home to recuperate the rest of the way.

They were home safe and sound by the time we awoke this morning, and it was a joyous and festive kind of day. Yes, we're all prohibited from having guests in the house, or visiting other people's houses, but except for Joma, we're all heavily on the hermit side of social, so that's not a hardship. John looks great after his kidney transplant, and Alex, Lil, and I had fun planning a schedule that will keep us active and productive.

We made a monumental feast of Mexican rice and frijoles refritos; tacos with home-made tortillas. After the meal, Bernie and I went to Ripon's excellent bike and hike path and walked together, admiring the trees blossoming and the geese ambling about. We were surprised by how many people -- families -- were there, too, walking, biking, exercising their dogs. This is not a time to go to a movie theater, and with so many folks working (or not working) from home, what do you do? You get out in the open air and see the sun splashing through the fluffy clouds and hear the voices and laughter of people.

Maybe not such dire straits on all levels.

Bernie split some kindling for tomorrow's fire, and found a little sagebrush lizard torpid on top of a log. He picked it up in his work glove, and we all got a chance to admire the tiny creature close up.

Oh, yes, the girls' schools closed after classes on Friday, not due to reopen until mid-April (ha, ha, so they say officially) and so Joma and I began working on the Forbidden Basics: Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic. Our text for reading is a big book of Dr. Seuss books, and we're starting with classic "1 + 1 = 2" etc. Which she has never experienced, recitation and memorization not being in style with teaching methods these days. A couple hours ago, I heard her chanting the numbers to herself.

I think, if I live through it, I will see this as more of a time of promise than of curse.