Monday, January 31, 2011

Carpet of Leaves

Parts of the path down by the river are covered with little oak leaves of varying shades of brown.

The sound of footsteps is muted; the colors are as rich a feast for the eye as a fine tapestry. They smell organic, earthy, rich.

Imagine having a two inch deep carpet of them throughout the house, soft to walk on, low maintenance ... in the spring, you could just sweep them out the door and put them on the compost heap.

Indeed, I was in a florist's shop in Modesto in which they did something like that with eucalyptus leaves. The floor was adrift with fragrant natural potpourri, the perfume stirred up each time a customer walked through the store. Lovely! And as eucalypts drop leaves year round, they had an unending supply to enhance their wood floor.

Alas, I have something that the florist's shop did not: a dog capable of shedding a bushel basket of undercoat hair every four days. Leaves and dog hair do not make a pretty picture, though mixed with mud might make some fairly sturdy bricks.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Shh -- Only Whisper This

Here's one of our yellow-rumped warblers talking a break from chasing and being chased by other warblers. You can see the touches of yellow on the shoulders and the throat, even in the dim, foggy light.

I feel better this evening; the fog dissipated around 3pm and in an effort to drink in all possible photons, Bernie and I took the dogs to the river park. We had to wear sunglasses!!!

The dogs, of course, loved the outing, and for the first time since Howie broadsided that tree, I saw him go from a plain old run into that glorious gear in which he just flies over the ground -- he's so fast, so graceful -- that did my heart a world of good.

I'm sorry to hear how cold it is in most of the rest of the country. So I'll only whisper this: buds on the trees down by the river are unfurling into tiny bright green leaves. It's Spring.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Close to Hibernation

Last night I dreamt of a river, deep and green like the ocean. I had to swim along in it, let it carry me to a safe place. I knew it would, so I was unconcerned; and I was bundled in layers of clothing to protect me from the water's cold. 

I woke to gray haze again, and really wanted to be able to go back to sleep, back to my dream-river, and not wake up until the weather changes.

I don't actually hate the fog; in the fall I feel a sense of anticipation at the first wisps drifting along the fields and streets. In the fall, fog reminds me that Christmas is coming, and how beautifully the decorative lights will be enhanced by the white stuff in the air. Fog blunts the coldest weeks in January, keeping plants from freezing, and I welcome it for those few dangerously cold nights.

And there can be no doubt that on the foggiest days, when the gray mass parts suddenly and reveals the sky, the wonder of just what an exquisite color of blue exists in the world can just about break your heart open.

Today I watched a small crowd of yellow-rumped warblers cavorting in my neighbor's cherry tree. I know what they're doing -- the same thing the white-crowned sparrows are doing as they whistle their territorial call, the same thing the regular sparrows are doing as they quarrel nastily in the shrubs, the same thing the crows are doing, bringing their ladies little twigs and bits to eat, the same thing the hawks are doing, circling in the sky above the wad of gray beneath. It's time for happy hootchie-cootch, they say, and they're out there dancing and giving each other the eye.

Birds see differently than people do. People are still hunched up, bundled up, fed up, and pretty much consider that this much foggy weather has long outlived its usefulness.

As soon as my comforter is out of the dryer, I'm going to wrap it around me and crawl back into bed. I want to find my green river again and let it carry me into a land with sunshine.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Fog Also Rises

Really, I've had enough fog.

Bernie and I were talking about the weather today, and agreed that this has been the foggiest year since we first moved to California in 1985 -- a tule fog year in which we literally could not see -- no, I seriously mean literally -- the sides of the road as we drove along, a window rolled down so that the driver could see the center lane markings. For like 21 days. It's not been quite that bad, but it has been rather unrelenting. An hour of sun here and there, a day of sun to tease ... but mostly, since Christmas, it's been gray and dim. Let's see, for 32 days or so.

The humidity hovers at 87 to 99 % every day, all day; the weather service promises highs of 63 degrees, but lies. If it hits 55, we're lucky. And while I know that most of the rest of the country is in the freezer, making the acquaintance of leftover soup and bargain chickens, this is California. It's supposed to be better than this.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Murk-ury Rises

Spring is here. The temperatures are rising into the high fifties or low sixties by late afternoon; the skunks and possums and raccoons are committing suicide in droves on the roads; and the red-tailed hawks are doing mating dances in the sky.

Yesterday it was sunny all day, simply gorgeous. Bernie and I took our cars to a little wood lot up the road and loaded them with 1/4 cord of firewood, which will last us until next fall at least. In spite of the lovely day, I was eeping around like a poisoned cockroach, so sore from my exciting horseback ride, and feeling like I was 90 years old. I caved in towards evening and swallowed a naproxen sodium pain-reliever, and a dose of valerian before I went to bed.

When I awoke this morning (not intending to be awake, I just opened my eyes) I saw the thickest fog yet this winter season. I was so astounded by it that I couldn't go back to sleep. I rolled out of bed, noting gratefully that all the soreness and weariness were gone, grabbed my camera, and went out the back door to take this photo.

My mother used to quote me the weather adage: "As the day lengthens, the winter strengthens." Meaning that just because the days were getting longer again didn't mean the weather was going to be nicer just yet. That's one to remember, because it's always true. This year I could say, as The Weather Channel predicts higher temps for us in the afternoons, "As the mercury rises, the murk also rises."

I hope the murk gets over itself soon.

P.S. Hooray for valerian and what it does for sore muscles!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Bee for Me

Oh, the lovely honeybee!
She pollinates flowers, can't you see?
With all the world in which to be,
Why'd the asshole land on me?

It was a beautiful day here, and I wanted to get Dink out and dusted off before we have a riding date with a nervous horsewoman (possibly tomorrow). He was eager to get out in the world, even to the point of reaching out to take the bit into his mouth, a sweet and helpful gesture.

Off we went. Dink was so good and calm that I was able to watch a couple hawks soaring above us, spot a meadowlark and hear its song, and watch a strange dance in the sky between a flock of crows and a huge flock of blackbirds -- it looked like the crows were herding the blackbirds away from their tight formation! The sun was warm, and Dink let me know if he saw any orchard machinery: a tractor, a fungicide sprayer. No worries.

We'd reached the halfway point in our walk-around when I saw that bee boxes had already been delivered to that particular orchard. It was our turning point to head back north along Kincade Road; bee boxes were staged on either side of the road.

I wasn't worried; we pass by bee boxes all the time during almond blossom season, with no mishaps. Only this time, unlike the photo here, the almonds are not yet blooming. Yet the warm temperature (58 or so) had the bees active ... and frantic for sustenance.

As we passed by the boxes (we were on the road, the bee boxes on the edge of the orchard), Dink and I were pummeled by bees zipping back and forth. I felt them hit my arms and face and back, saw Dink toss his head as his nose and forehead were hit. I could feel them land and take off again, but knew my nonchalance had been a mistake.

Dink began to fight the reins, wanting to put his head down and rub the bees off on his leg, which would have made them sting him, and what would he have done, just said, "Hey, no prob" -- no, he'd have either bolted or shied or reared and I would have ended up on the road with a broken old bone and bees on me. I held his head steady with the reins, and he tried to lift a front foot to brush the bees away. Sorry, Dink, no can do! I pressed him forward with my legs, and talked to him. "Just keep on going, Buddy, we're going to be fine, just let's go, let's go, you're doing fine ... "

He switched his hindquarters back and forth, prancing, still trying to get his front legs up to scratch. I sat deep in the saddle, held the reins firm ... and felt a bee land on my head, heard the bee begin buzzing madly. I shook my head much the way Dink was shaking his, but the buzzing only got more frenzied, and I knew what was coming.

While I held Dink steady, the bee snuggled up against my scalp, and cursing in its little bee language, stung the shit out of me.

There was nothing I could do. I had to keep the horse calm and under control.

By the time the bee stopped buzzing -- and died, I presume -- we were out of the craziness, Dink had no more bees clinging to him, and I was able to use my riding crop to flip my hair up, hoping the bee would fall out and take the stinger with her.

Back at the ranch, some half an hour later, I carefully checked for bees on my jacket, the saddle, Dink's flanks before I dismounted. I examined his face -- no beestings. With a quick brushing I turned him back out in the pasture and fled for home, to beg Bernie to comb the bee out of my hair and remove the stinger, which he did with efficiency.

I learned some lessons today:

Stay away from bee boxes if they have no blossoms to occupy the bees.

Wear a hat, not a sun visor. A bee won't get tangled up in a hat.

And finally, if I had shaved my head the way I was wanting to the other day, a bee could have landed on me and taken off, no problem. 

Oh, one last bit of kudos: Dink is one phenomenal horse.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Above the Fog Line

On good days, we've been having an hour of sunlight. On most days since Christmas, if not actively raining, the sky is gray from dawn until dusk, with only the occasional splat of a water droplet condensed out of the 97% humidity hanging coldly in the air. Such is the fog, although this fog season seems rather protracted.

I got fed up the moment I opened my eyes this morning, and when Bernie stirred, I didn't say, "Good morning" or "I love you" first, as I should have, and would have. Instead I said, "What is today? Wednesday? Good, let's go to Sonora and see some sunlight."

Sonora is a town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, about an hour from here. The elevation is such that it is above the fog. That's only 1800 feet, but it's enough. It's a bitty little town, only about 4300 people, and there's not much there: some thrift stores, some antique shops, a few bars and restaurants; some art gallery kind of stuff, a cheap-leather-goods-made-in-India store, a kitchen store, a yarn shop ... There are other things in the town, but not in the "down town." Most of their income in Sonora comes from the tourist trade, as people flock to the mountains for the snow in the winter, and for the camping in the summer. I would not set foot in the place on the weekends -- it's probably a nuthouse of crowds. But I do know that Sonora has one thing I don't at the present season, and that's sun.

Bernie and I walked around, window shopping, wearing sunglasses, feeling nicely warmed by the sunshine. After about an hour and a half, we'd seen what was to be seen, and drove around the foothills for a while to keep the sun in sight. It had been almost 20 years since we were there last, so it almost all looked new to us. Traffic in Sonora was horrible and noisy, so we opted to come home for the main meal of the day.

I sighed as we descended again into the fog, but in the evening, the glob lifted for a little sunset light.

I keep telling myself that in a few days, the fog will hoick itself off and my towels will once again dry normally in the air, my nose will not feel as though it is freezing off, and the green stuff growing on the patio cement will go away.

Yes. Yes, I'm sure it will.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Football, the Unadmitted Failing

Oh, dark secret! Oh, what shame I bear in this regard!

During NFL season, when I wake up, I think of the day as Game Day, or Not Game Day. Now, whether or not there's a game on is not the most important thing I think of, and not even usually the first, but it's right up there. I think about this before I think "Do I have leftover spaghetti available for breakfast?" or "Does the family all have clean underwear from my laundry duties?"

On Sundays during regular NFL season, I do not go anywhere but church in the morning. No. When I get back from church, the early game is in progress, and at half-time, I am in the kitchen making a nosh plate, from which I will snack my way through the day. Cucumbers, celery, olives, summer sausage slices, French bread with cream cheese, strawberries, tomato cubes, Fritos and jalapeno cheddar dip, assorted cheddar cheeses, thinly sliced cold tri-tip sprinkled with cumin ... so much to eat, so many games to watch -- bliss!

I watch the end of the early game, flip back and forth on the afternoon games, glare at the late game.

I know most of the quarterbacks' names, and how well they seem to be doing (except Chicago and Cleveland, for some odd reason, although this year I was incensed to see the constantly-spitting Cutler, so I remember him, with loathing, from his days in Denver); I know many defensive players, more running backs and receivers than any woman my age probably should. I relish watching their performances, frequently shouting advice to them and their coaches, as well as feedback on their plays.

Lillian has learned to play outside; Alex either goes to another room or wears headphones; Bernie has his laptop to amuse him, and -- perhaps it is his way of assuring marital harmony -- is able to tune out my coaching and commentary.

Now we are in Playoff Time, and that means that on both Saturday AND Sunday, my place is in my comfortable chair in full view of the television. I'll cook on Saturday morning, by golly, but that's it. Leftovers and noshes or make-your-owns are the rule of the weekend.

Yesterday, Bernie and Alex and Lil went for a long walk by the river, which allowed John and me to shout whatever we liked at the coaching staffs and the players. He and I were both hugely surprised and mollified to find that our exhortations resulted in a win over the juggernauting Patriots by the Jets, and my grand-daughter's doll, Sanchez. (If you don't follow this blog, "Sanchez" is what my granddaughter named her first doll seven years ago. I cannot watch Mark Sanchez without fantasizing that he is her dolly all grown up, which makes me very sentimental.)

Today was a Not Game Day.

Next weekend, Chicago will be crushed, along with their quarterback, Spitting Cutler (may they sack him a thousand times) by Green Bay, and my allegiance will be torn as Sanchez has to dodge the Steeler defense.

My sentimentality is probably overridden by Polamalu's hair and Harrison's body-flomping tackles, but we'll see.

Tomorrow is a Not Game Day, too.

Under the Fog Monster's Butt

Oh, so dim.

Above the wad of fog that squats in the Central Valley, the sun is shining. In the foothills, people are slathering aloe vera gel on their sunburns, even while grinning at their own discomfort.

People are skiing in the sun, sweating under their down vests in the Sierras, wearing sunglasses to shield their eyes from the glare.

In the Bay Area, diners are sitting outside restaurants, with light sweaters over their shoulders, supping on small sandwiches and sweet, fruity California wines.

But here, from dawn until dusk, the sky is a uniform gray. In spite of knowing that in less than a month, the almond orchards will be beginning their bloom, the gray, low ceiling of the fog weighs on me. We're pretty much out of wood, so the furnace runs at night if the house gets below 64 degrees. During the day, we're setting the temperature at 68.

Crazy! During the sunny times of the year, 68 degrees would figure in my vocabulary as in "Oh, Lord, it's 68 degrees already at 8:00 in the morning! No wonder I'm sweating already! Turn on the fans!"

Today the house was 68, and I was freezing. My hands and feet felt so cold that they hurt, and I could not bear to touch myself, not even to scratch an itch on my bare skin. I put on gloves and a warm jacket, and started walking. Howie was quite agreeable to keep up a gentle jog as I walked as fast as I could. With the damp dark sky above, I prayed a Rosary while I walked, for someone I know who needs prayers very, very much, trying to elevate my mind out of being grumpy and cold.

Howie and I walked through an almond orchard, and my prayer stopped along with my footsteps, for a few moments of thankfulness. There, on the branch of a tree, were buds -- and on each one, pinpoints of white were peeking.

The fog will not last forever.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Little Prophet

The black phoebe was on the deck beside the pool again yesterday, and this time, when I picked up my camera, the bird didn't immediately take off. I got a decent picture of him.

Sure enough, when I checked the weather forecast, they were calling for a chance of showers today. Why does the phoebe fly around by the pool only when it is going to rain? Do insects say to themselves, "Oh, no, it's going to rain, so I might as well drown myself in Pilarski's swimming pool before I have to go out and buy an umbrella?"

Late in the afternoon, we loaded the dogs into our car, and with Alex, Lil, and friend Mei-Mei in a second car, went for a walk in another park by the river. The fog had lifted, and the sun, as it set, was swimming in a watery haze. Thus the sky and the phoebe were in agreement.

There was one fairly heavy rain shower around noon, and then the clouds just milled around smoking cigarettes and threatening pedestrians for the rest of the day. But there was a different feel to the air, a different look to the light.

Yes, there will be some cold days yet, but I believe that tomorrow I will poke my head out the front door and hear Spring giggling.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Salve of Memory

"And have you seen Sand lately?"

"Oh, I usually see her about once a year..."

Yes, she does. She's the technician who does the gentlest mammograms ever, which any woman would appreciate. And who would ask her if she saw me lately? Why, her sister Lisa, who was a good friend and co-worker years and years ago.

Having a routine mammogram is a good idea -- that's what the doctor would say. Still, having one's breasts smushed and scanned is ... unnerving. Yet the greatest worry I had today was: Will Krissy still be working there? I sure hope so!

And so I was at ease when I saw her. The first thing she told me as I was standing by the imaging machine was that she and her mother were talking about me just a few days before, when the subject of Amish and Mennonites came up, and Krissy remembered me describing the lifestyle of the Amish ... 25 years ago, in a class I taught -- indeed, the first class I ever wrote, Comparative Religions, for a cynical batch of high school students.

The mammogram went fine, and I left the hospital feeling fairly warm and fuzzy, remembering how much I loved my sassy and fractious students, and feeling honored that one of them, so long after, remembered what I said.

Monday, January 10, 2011

What Is This Stuff?

Yesterday the weather forecast mentioned a low of 35 degrees, which is cold for here, but not all that unusual.

Alex watered everything (not that anything had dried out from the days and days of wretched fog) and felt we'd prepared well enough for a touch of frost.

She's already planning this year's garden, and noted that the "Last Freeze Date" for this area was listed as January 1st in her gardening book. I sputtered a bit and grumbled in my old hedge shaman way that February 14th was more likely.

I certainly didn't expect to be proven so right last night. When I got up this morning at 7:30, the temperature outside was 28 degrees, and there was ice in the birdbath, and icicles overhanging the fish pond.

I think some of our plants took a beating on this one.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

And Something Unusual

I think the last time we saw this stuff was Christmas Eve.

It's sunshine.


It's so warm, so delicious!

Also, I saw the first bee boxes staged in a farm lot about a mile from here. You know what that means, don't you? Almond blossom season is a scant month away.

Adventure Dog

It's been a week for Howie.

He went on runs through the park by the river with Bernie, and had a great time, burning off all the energy a dog builds up when his owners have cut back on their expeditions due to disgustingly cold fog and heavy gray skies.

After a day of rest, we took Howie and Sebastian over to the big park west of us, which features a huge flood basin, green with neatly mowed grass, adjacent to an almond orchard. We also took the throwing stick, so that they could expend energy chasing a tennis ball.

Before allowing the boys to run on the grassy bowl of the park, we make sure that they are pooped out in the weeds between the orchard and the park. But Sebastian would not poop. So we flung the ball along the verge of the orchard, hoping that Seb would get excited enough to drop his poo NOT on the grass of the park.

With the first throw, both dogs were totally focused on the ball. Fling, retrieve, fling, retrieve, fling ... and Howie was so intent on reaching the ball first that he failed to note an almond tree in his way. As he snatched the ball, his momentum took him broadside into the tree trunk, with a sickening thump.

I ran to him as he staggered to a halt, ordered him lie down. He panted, but seemed in no particular distress. He got up and walked fine, and indicated that he was ready for another ball. We let him rest, but about then, a dog who had been with his people on the far side of the park ran away from them -- straight towards us. He was a little, little dog, and it is a big, big park, so we watched without concern. By that time, Howie was on his feet and poised to run again, so we flung the ball out into the bowl of the park. Off our dogs went, and the little dog intersected them. All three dogs stopped to figure out who they all were.

One of the things I love about our dogs is that they are more interested in us than in other animals. I called to How, "Howie, ball! Get ball, bring!" And he did, with Sebastian beside him, the stranger dog trailing the bigger beasts.

The small dog, a odd-looking, but cute Australian shepherd/terrier mix was absorbed in our dogs, and they tolerated him, but really, knew they were 'way out of his league. The next throw, Howie was out in front with his brilliant speed, but he overshot the ball, and trying to grab it, stumbled and did a double somersault, finishing with a skid across the grass.


I gave him an Ascriptin that night (our vet cleared this).

The next day I enforced a rest for him, but the day after that -- yesterday -- he went for a walk in the woods by the river with Bernie and Alex and Lillian and Sebastian. Too close by the river. He waded right into the icy water and laid himself down. From there it was Crazy Dog Time, splashing and swimming and digging in the sandy bank.

Alex bathed both dogs when they got back, and Howie plainly stated this morning that he was ready to go at any moment; however, as you can see by the photo, Adventure Dog needed a Sunday Nap Day.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Playoff Saturday -- Wild Cards

Football Saturday.

Bernie promised to heat up his smoker-grill and make ribs. I promised to make fried rice.

And while we waited for those feasties to be done, we watched football.

The New Orleans Saints were chewed up by the Seattle Seahawks, much to the surprise of everyone.

The family snarfed food then, exquisite ribs, beans, and "spanish rice" as the second game started.

Peyton Manning played as though it was his job to be a quarterback and nothing else. It wasn't enough. The Colts lost to the New York Jets by ONE POINT. I really wanted the Colts to win ... but then, I really wanted my darling Sanchez to succeed.

Lillian's first doll (I don't know what gender it was when she received it) was a structure of plastic head, arms, and legs, with a cloth body. Within minutes of receiving it, the clothing was gone, leaving a unisex "mannikin." Lillian, about aged two, named it "Sanchez" -- for reasons none of us adults could ascertain.

Sanchez disappeared years ago, in a room-clearing pogrom.

And then he reappeared, playing for Philadelphia.

How can I not love him, and how could I root against him for the Colts?

My grand-daughter's doll has once again proven he is one hell of a quarterback.

Go, Sanchez, go!

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Ending the Christmas Season

I'm enjoying the Christmas lights on the shrubs on the back bank through the end of the Christmas Season. At church last Sunday, the readings celebrated Epiphany, when the Bible readings talk about the Magi coming to pay homage to the newly born King of the Jews, the Christ.

But today, January 6th, is actually Dia de los Reyes, the Epiphany: The Christ is revealed as King for Gentiles as well as Jews.

Our Valley has been under thick fog for days now, which means that it's very cold (for here) and damp and drearily foggy gray. Even with the woodstove going, we've been chilled and -- OMG -- wearing shoes to keep our feet warm.

A month and a week until the trees start blooming.

I can't wait.