Thursday, May 31, 2007


For the first time in eight years, we actually got a crop from the yellow cherry tree on the south side of the house.

On the street where I grew up, there was a wonderful yard with two sour cherry trees (the biggest, fattest cherries I've ever seen, and the best ones for baking in a pie) and two yellow cherry trees. The yellow cherry trees were three stories high, with trunks nearly three feet in diameter.

In early summer, neighbors from all over the adjoining blocks would come, and tall ladders were placed against the trees, and people would fill buckets -- literally buckets! -- with the cherries, for eating and canning. Birds ignored the cherries because they were yellow rather than red; and though they were not as sweet as Bing cherries or black cherries, they had a wholesome flavor to them. Even after the neighbors were done harvesting, there were plenty of cherries for us kids from the street to eat by the handfuls. I don't know who owned the house and yard; it was a rental in those days. But no matter who lived there, the town's oldtimers came there for the cherries to supplement their larders.

Then, when I was about 13, the pastor of a local church bought the house to live in, and immediately cut those magnificent cherry trees down, both the sour cherries and the yellow ones. Neither then nor 40 years later can I find any sane rationale in that action. A shepherd of God's flock destroys trees that have fed people for decades? What sense does that make? My God, if he had at least been sectarian, he could have saved the fruit for members of his congregation and not allowed all the neighbors to come and harvest the fruit. But instead, he didn't give a shit about how poor people were on that end of town, and had the trees felled, never giving a thought to poverty and hunger.

Well, he's dead by now and I'm sure that God mentioned this to him, so I'll drop the subject of fruit-tree-killing.

I remember the taste of the yellow cherries fondly; they were big and meaty and not too sweet, and thus suited to my taste. When I found (about 10 years ago) a yellow cherry tree in Burpee's seed catalog, I tried to order one, but they wouldn't ship to California. Then I found a yellow cherry advertised in Stark Brothers catalog, and ordered not only a yellow cherry tree, but two other sweet cherry trees, two apple trees, and a nectarine.

We left the yellow cherry standing because it shades the south window of the kitchen. The rest of the Stark trees are gone, the apples because they were magnets for fire blight disease, the nectarine because the fruit, though large, uniform, and abundant, tasted like they were made of plastic, and the two sweet cherries because even after the trunks were four inches in diameter, produced not a single fruit. Buy from Stark Brothers, settle for mediocre taste, if any.

The fruit in the colander is from the two clumps of cherries that set this year. The trunk of the tree is about eight inches across; the cherries have a faint taste of the flavor I loved as a kid. Okay, the tree gets to live another year.

On the other hand, the little cherry tree (not quite three inch trunk) that Alex and John bought for us on our 30th wedding anniversary unexpectedly produced over a quart and a half of really tasty red cherries this year.

I didn't take pictures because we ate them all up so quickly.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Treasures from the Woods

Near here is a little road that leads along the top of the levee on the Stanislaus River.

It runs in back of a golf course, bounded on one side by evergreens and grape vines, and on the other by bamboo and cottonwood, box elder and blackberry thickets, wild roses and elderberry bushes. It's a wonderful habitat for quail and coyote and rabbit and raccoon.

When we walk along that path, we take along binoculars so that we can check out the birds we see in the trees. We have lately been keeping an eye on the ground, too, as it's the season for snakes to be chilly and want to lie in the middle of the dirt road to get warmed up by the sun.

And so attuned, we found three very interesting things on the ground: First, a half a robin's egg, whose color I had not seen in more than 20 years (it smushed when Lillian exuberantly tried to pick it up), then a pink egg lying in the middle of the road, cold and abandoned. (Even the dogs didn't notice it as they ran by!) I have no idea what kind of bird lays a pink egg; it's smaller than a robin's egg, so presumably the bird is smaller than a robin.

The pink egg was the chiefest treasure, but I was also very pleased to find a set of cottonwood kernels just starting to pop open. There were no cottonwoods where I grew up, and reading about them in Farley Mowat's "Owls in the Family" made me long for the Canadian plains and the sight of such an exotic tree.

Now I have them nearby, and can report that although their "cotton" is probably largely responsible for my spring sneezing, the sound of the wind in their leaves is as beautiful -- and very similar to -- the crash and pour of breakers along a beach.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Gonna Go Back to Bed and Sleep Until Noon

I should still be asleep, but I'm not.

The very tasty fried chicken I ate for a late dinner has provided me with a nice case of heartburn. Probably would have been fine if I'd stuck with one piece, but I didn't, because it was so good. And because I was quite hungry, having exercised myself in long-unused ways in the afternoon.

I haven't been riding the horse because I've been so distracted by worries about my mother and sister. Distraction + Equine = Disaster. If you're going to mess with a horse, you have to have your wits about you. Dink is the best of horses, but any horse has the potential for a wreck, and I know that I have been far less than observant or present for weeks.

So I wasn't up for riding, but the Stinky Dink did need some exercise. Harry, who owns the ranch where I board Dink, just cut his hay, and it's standing in the arena, waiting to be sold or moved into the hay barn, so I couldn't just turn Dink out and let him wander around. He'd go straight to the hay and try to eat the whole stack, make himself sick or tug the huge pile of bales onto himself. The alternative was to put Dink in the round pen and lunge him.

Lungeing Dink has been ... interesting. In a round pen, the horse is directed by movement of a lunge whip and by gesture and voice. The horse should keep to the border of the pen, and when asked to turn, always turn facing in. He should walk or trot or canter when asked, and stop and face you when done. Well, Dink is supposed to know that, but tends not to listen, speeding up when asked to stop, breaking into a canter when asked to turn, cutting halfway across the pen and bucking, kicking his heels at me. I hadn't really felt threatened by him in times past, just annoyed at his bad manners. However, being distracted by personal problems, I didn't want to take chances yesterday. I put him on an actual lunge line (kind of like a long, long leash) and put him through his paces.

With one hand holding the lunge line, and the other the lunge whip, I directed him to trot five times around the round pen, turn, and do five the other way. To my surprise, he didn't act like an ass. He kept to the perimeter of the pen, and turned like a gentleman. He even sped up or slowed down as I asked him. The lunge line apparently cued him that he was supposed to do his job. After a number of executions of the five-times-and-turn exercise, I held my hand in the air and said, "Stop." And he did, facing me with his ears pricked, puffing with his exertion. Good boy, Dink. He got an apple for his efforts.

And I got sore. Holding up a lunge line in one hand and a lunge whip in the other while walking sideways is not something I've done for a while.

The ache in my right hand was pretty profound yesterday, after the most vigorous workout the hand has had since last October when I had a bad flare of tendinitis, but I have to note that this weary morning, the joints of my right thumb are more limber than they have been since last fall. Huh.

Eat less, exercise more. You'd think that was some kind of good advice or something.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


In the past three weeks, Mom answered her phone for me just once.

It was a short conversation, as I was on my cell phone instead of Skype, and was sitting on the upper observation deck of the dock at the Ferry Building in San Francisco. She told me that "people" were trying to convince her to move to an assisted-living facility, and she said, "But I'm not going to, and that's that."

What she didn't tell me was that the Adult Protective Services caseworker had issued an ultimatum and given her three choices: 24/7 live-in care provider in her home, going to a personal care boarding home with my sister (so that they could stay together), or my sister going to a group home where she would have adequate round the clock care. (APS emailed me to let me know, as Ma thinks she can hide what is going on and deal with it all herself.)

Last week I wrote a letter to a mutual friend, asking him to try to remove the pistols from Ma's house. It's within my rights to do so, as Power of Attorney for her. Yesterday I talked to him, and he told me he was able to get the pistol from her desk drawer (where she'd disturbingly moved it from its former place on a high shelf in the pantry) and it was now locked in his gun cabinet.

Also yesterday, APS asked me to fax them my document showing that I have Power of Attorney over Mom, so that they can see where I might be able to help them.

Indeed, according to the document, I could have Mom placed in a care facility, no matter what she wants. But that would, at this time, be rash. Mom can take care of herself, still -- but she can't still take care of my sister. And my POA has no authority over my sister. I can voice my opinion (and that would be that Jan go to the group home -- my God, she might even end up having nice people around her) but that is all.

The Pistol-Mover told me that Mom is getting really angry that I am in touch with the caseworkers -- and him -- and in her increasing confusion, can't figure out how I'm getting information about her. She's pissed, and the disease just accentuates her lifelong penchant for getting really nasty when she doesn't "win."

And I don't think there is any way she can win this one.

My creative flow is non-existent. I just feel like I'm waiting for the phone to ring, and know beforehand it's going to be sad news.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A Girl and Her Puppy

Lillian was playing with Sebastian, making him "sit" and "stay" and "come" in and out of the studio.

When he accomplished his tasks, she sat down on the floor, and he crawled "into" her lap. The photo opportunity was irresistible.

Sebastian already knows what a camera does, so he's refusing to look at me while I'm holding that wicked device.

I can't believe that hound is not even eight months old yet. How big is he going to get? Surely he's not going to grow into that head ... !

Howie has been teaching Seb to bark at people who come to the door. Good job, How! Today, the mail carrier had to knock on the door and while Howie led the way, bellowing in fury (butt-hackles straight up), I heard that sweet sound of Sebastian's houndy bay joining in.

And though from this side of the door, I can laugh at the sounds of "Bow-wooooooo! Bow-oooooo!" the hound's voice is BIG and DEEP; there's no mistaking the size of the dog behind it.

Interesting dog. Lil had better grow a bigger lap.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Digging, and Howie Has Patience

Friday, and still no word from Back East about my mother and my sister.

"Should I call people back there and ask them what the hell is going on?" I asked my husband. He was kind, and reminded me that everyone who has anything to do with the situation already has my phone number, and knows to call me if anything has happened.

And that is true. I just want CNN-type hourly updates from all of them, so that I can tell them if they're doing it right or not.

Mom herself is not answering the phone in the evenings. I always called her at the same time, so she knows if the phone is ringing, it's me. No answer. Or maybe she just turned off the ringer one more time and blissfully forgot that there was such a thing as a phone.

She did tell a mutual friend (last Sunday) that she was not going to answer her phone any more because she was sick of caseworkers coming around disrupting her routine.

Wow, I think that must have been the inspiration for the cartoon feature, "The Emperor's New Groove."

In the meantime, to try to stop worrying, I went out to the back yard and finally, after what, two years? -- got around to planting our little cherry tree that John and Alex gifted us for our 30th wedding anniversary.
Digging was good, though I got a close up view of the massive weeds on the back bank, and filled up half a 55 gallon recycle can with only about four feet of the bank.

And I finally got Howie and Sebastian to pose together. Seb, in the foreground, looks bigger than Howie -- and almost is.

His head is bigger, but How still has more bulk per inch. But not for long, I think.

Sebastian has that intense, direct stare that wants to know what is happening ... and Howie is just asking, "How much longer do I have to lie here beside this pile of crap?"