Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year


Festive Chihuahuas in the Jardin

Well it's new year's eve and the town is abuzz with people- lots of Mexican tourists and visiting gringos.Tonight there will be fireworks and music and of course lots of noise. We are learning to listen selectively, which is really an art in itself. The morning begins with the announcement of the trash truck by a man banging on a piece of scrap metal with an old spoon, which triggers the barking of the roof dog that lives 2 doors down. Then the scratchy music from the propane gas truck and the clinking of tanks as they are unloaded. Church bells clang, calling people to daily mass. And amidst it all is the cooing of doves.
I can't say that it does not get annoying sometimes, but mostly I find that I am glad to know that life is happening all around me, that I am not alone. That we are all a part of this chaotic cacophony of sound.
May this be a year of inner peace, of profound discovery and and of the sound of hearts opening everywhere.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Feliz Navidad

Here's wishing you all a very special Christmas and New Year, however you choose to celebrate it. Here in San Miguel, Santa and Jesus are getting equal time. We have followed posadas behind Joseph and Mary seeking lodging down narrow streets with inflatable snowmen looking down at us from the rooftops. Christmas trees and mangers adorn the town and music is everywhere. No shopping frenzies here, and we haven't missed it one bit.

Friday, December 21, 2007

La Virgen de Guadalupe


On December 12 Mexico celebrates the Vigin of Guadalupe, the spiritual mother of Mexico. Everywhere there are shrines to celebrate her- in the markets, on street corners, churches, shops. Here are a few of them.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

In the Jardin



Una piedra en el camino me enseno que mi destino
Era rodar y rodar, rodar y rodar.
Luego me dijo un arriero que no hay que llegar primero,
Sino hay que saber llegar.*

In the Jardin, the central plaza in San Miguel, the still point in the midst of this bustling town, a blind man wanders slowly and aimlessly amidst Mexicans and gringos alike, tapping his cane on the stone pavement, against the iron legs of the park benches, scattering the pigeons as he moves along,. He is clutching a small box of Carlos Quinto chocolate bars. “Cuanto?” I ask, as he stands before me. “Cinco pesos”, he says, and I place a coin in his hand and take a bar of chocolate from the box. He does not move on but stands there, as if waiting for his next cue. “Donde estoy?” he asks. “Where am I?” “You are in front of the Parroquia” I say, pointing ignorantly towards the towering dusty pink ornate church across from the plaza that serves as the town anchor . “Ah, si. La Parroquia.” He says, and shuffles his feet, turning tentatively in the opposite direction. No, I say, and touch his sleeve to steer him. Finally a young Mexican man comes up and takes his arm, and together they walk towards the church, slowly and patiently.
I unwrap the chocolate and take a bite. It is bittersweet, and tastes of dust and longing.


Coming to Mexico has always felt like kicking off a pair of shoes you didn’t know were tight and putting on a pair of worn and comfortable old tennies. Stepping out of an exhausting world of ambition and consumption to just stop and sit on a park bench, pondering whether or not you should wander over to that little cart for a coconut ice cream cone. It takes a while to slow down.
The first day I arrived in San Miguel I did what most gringos do. I walked down the cobblestone streets past old Spanish colonial buildings painted pink and ochre and rust, dodging busses and taxis and cars and street dogs and children, to come and sit here in the Jardin. To watch life happen around me. To turn my face up to the glorious Mexican sun and smile. Sometimes a parade or procession will pass by with blaring musicians, or a little cart will roll by selling popsicles or steamed corn or balloons. An old man will wander by, singing Mexican corridos. Fireworks will explode in the sky for no apparent reason at all.

The iron benches are scattered with people. Mexicans, tourists, expats.
Here are the retired couples from Texas fondling real estate brochures, the single middle aged women with poodles in their arms. Ex corporate types who have shunned their salaries for a simpler life. Artists and writers and wanabees.
Some have names you would recognize. For various reasons we have all come here to San Miguel.
The beauty of being an expatriate, of living in another country like Mexico, is that after awhile you are no longer a part of the American culture, nor are you a part of the Mexican culture. And so you have a sort of a freedom to be yourself.
Already Mexico is teaching me the things I need to learn. Charity. Patience. Tolerance. My heart begins to open it’s rusty hinges. Donde estoy? it asks. The church bells begin to clang and clang. Aqui! Ahora! they shout.
You are Here! Now!

*A stone in the road taught me that my destiny
Was to roll and roll, roll and roll
Then a mule driver told me that one need not arrive first
Rather one must know how to arrive.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Winter in Mexico




So here we are escaping the cold and wet northwest winds and living the good life in San Miguel de Allende. We are renting a little house near the bustling town and spending our days sitting in the glorious sun listening to church bells, barking dogs, crowing roosters, fireworks, traffic. Eating spicy food, exploring the narrow cobblestone streets and high desert countryside. All of our senses assalted and awakened. What's next? Who knows, who cares? I am just beginning to feel the tingling of new creations and will be writing and painting them soon. So please keep checking in.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Relative Seasons

September 2007

My dad calls me from his house in the southern California desert and asks about the weather.
“Cold, I say. “Rainy.”

“What?” he exclaims. It’s the middle of August, for chrissakes!”

“I know that, dad. I have a calendar.”

“Hell, it’s about 80 degrees here. I’m standing in front of the air conditioner right now.”
I can’t help feeling that he gets a secret thrill from telling me this. He’s been doing it all year long. Ever since we moved to Whidbey he has been exuberantly comparing the weather, and offering detailed descriptions of how he has been enjoying the warm balmy breeze, swimming in the pool, basking in the warmth in the lawn chair on his patio, etc.
He’s not usually such an exuberant guy, but this has become like a sport to him. A game he can always win. Now that he has had to give up racquetball in his late 70’s I guess he needs other forms of competitive entertainment, and this is it.
“What’s the temperature?” he wants to know.

“Oh, around 58 degrees, I guess.”

“Wow! That’s cold! Unbelievable! And here I am in nothing but a pair of shorts! It’s gotta be about 75 at least!” (Goal!)

I won’t say I’m not an avid participant in this game. There is a somewhat perverted sense of satisfaction in reporting these harsh conditions and sharing my suffering, hoping for sympathy. Not to mention priding myself on the extremes that I am able to endure. The cold! The rain! Snowstorms and hail! I may like to whine about it, but at the very least I have survived.


Now it’s September, and the Indian summer we were promised has not manifested. No doubt it is vacationing somewhere in southern California after a warm but short summer season, while here we don our sweaters and jackets once again and watch the leaves fall from the trees, bright yellow and rust against a slate blue sky. Honestly, I am as tired of talking about the weather as I am hearing about it, but it certainly has been a main character in our lives this past year. It is true that we moved here during the worst year anyone has ever experienced. The long harsh winter followed by a tentative and too brief summer, and now this arctic chill again as the days grow shorter and darker every day. We can feel our old familiar friend winter waiting impatiently in the wings, smiling his cold and icy blue grin.

My father and I are different in many ways, but we do share this annoying restless urge to move and try out new places, like some kind of wild gene, that has been both a curse and a blessing in our lives. Ever since I was a child I remember him taking off on trips, or moving us from one place to another, always with that hope and enthusiasm of the new home being better and more exciting than the last one. Before I was 5 years old we had lived in four different states and three countries. After we moved to California, however, it became the place we always returned to. The place we eventually called home.
“Dad, we want to move back.” I say.
“I know, honey. I know exactly how is.”


My dad and I, we disagree on a lot of things. Politics, art, books, lifestyles. But when it comes to travel and moving, we share a deep rooted bond, a knowing, if you will, that places have energy, and they call to you. Sometimes they spit you out, but you still have to try. At least they give you stories to tell. And you can’t beat that delicious satisfaction and magic in discovering and exploring them, even when it is only in your imagination. We can pull out our mental maps at any given time and we are there, sharing our dreams and our memories. It makes us feel vital and alive and connected. It ties us together as accomplices in something other people don’t necessarily understand. It’s an odd game, perhaps. But at least for that moment, we’re batting on the same team.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Endless Desire


Yesterday at an art fair in Anacortes I found a print from an artist named Yukie Adams who was married to an Alaskan Tlingit man and paints her own designs based on northwest Native American legends. The piece is called “Endless Desire” and has the image of a stylized raven carrying the sun in its beak and a salmon in its talons. The story goes that Raven kept the sun captive in it’s beak until one day it became hungry and asked a fisherman if he would trade his catch for the sun, secretly planning not to hold up his end of the bargain. The fisherman agreed to the trade, but when the raven opened its beak to eat the fish the sun flew free up into the sky, where it remains to this day. The fisherman, seeing that the raven no longer had anything to trade, took back his fish. So the raven that wanted everything for himself, ended up with nothing but his own humility.
This is a state of mind I can relate to, and because the raven feels like a totem to me, I bought the beautiful print and took it home, where it sits on the mantle and reminds me of my tendency to constantly live in a state of endless desire, instead of, say, gratitude and grace.
Here is what I am grateful for this summer. The way leaves sprouted from the dry twigs of bare trees into a myriad of colors and formations that I am just now starting to recognize. The drooping hemlock tree, the sweet smell of cedar, and a snow of birch seed scattering in the wind. The mother deer and her two newborn fawn that wander by my open garage/studio door and watch in blank curiosity as I paint. The gnarly twisted lichen ridden trees in our back yard that are suddenly sprouting cherries and apples and pears. The little black lambs born to white sheep at the farm down the street that are miraculously growing plumper and lighter by the day. Little miracles. How many different ways a flower can grow, a plant can send its seed into the world. The other day we sat in a dirt path in silence, listening to the seedpods of the scotch broom rattle softly in the breeze, then snap and click as they explode and twisted into perfect twin spirals under the heat of the sun.
We have seen cedar waxwings snap up dragonflies in their beaks just a few feet away from our faces, heard the deep bellowing of bullfrogs in a pond at the Earth Sanctuary. Seen eagles peer down from an enormous nest perched high on top of a telephone pole above the highway. Watched the huge bulge of a freshly caught fish work its way down the throat of a great blue heron as it stands motionless in a pond teaming with life. Dozens of crows wake us each morning with a raucous cawing and squawking and lurk in the trees like clumsy shadows or pluck ripe plums for their endlessly hungry offspring. Bats squeak and fill the night with eerie silent flapping of velvet wings from the bat house above the Bayview store. Barn swallows that perch like a row of commas on the telephone wires, then slice through the air in swooping arcs. Scarlet tanagers. Electric yellow goldfinches. The rambling briar of blackberry bushes that skirt our back yard and house the countless bunnies that feed on our lawn every morning and evening. The blackberries are almost ripe now, and each day we go out to check them, dreaming of pies. No, not yet, but soon.
Then there is the surprising realization that I am no longer just observing all of this, but that I too, am being observed. Every animal I see is acutely aware of my presence, and possibly plants as well. I am a participant in the great miracle of life, changing and growing and ripening with each passing moment.
All of this has been a gift, and I am nothing if not grateful for this oozing abundance of nature on my front doorstep. Who wouldn’t be? But is it enough to quench the Endless Desire? So far I have not been able to make a living in this place, not been able to sell a single painting. After all, even with the sun in my mouth, won’t I still get hungry?
There is also this: The solid experiential knowledge of just how temporary this moment is. Knowing that winter will come again, bringing with it all of my fears and discomfort of the cold and rain and snow and long dark days, lurking just a few precious months away.
We are hoping to spend the winter in Mexico, to find solace in the sun and lively culture. How we are going to manage this logistically remains to be seen, but the desire is there, and we are exercising our faith muscles daily….
In preparation for our trip and because I slipped it onto his bedside table, Mark is reading “Rain of Gold”, by Victor Villasenor, a fictionalized history of modern Mexico. He tells me that during the Mexican revolution when people were starving at the borders trying to cross over to the US and scraping by for their survival, they still managed to find gratitude for what they had: life, family, a sun that rises every morning and a sky of stars to sleep under. The gift of hands to work and pray with. The less you have, it seems, the more you have to believe that there is something to be grateful for.
Sometimes you just have to let go of what you are holding on to, and let it fly free.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Island Time 2


Waiting in the Mukilteo ferry line



A friend of mine tells me that there are three main reasons that Californians don’t last in the rural northwest. One, of course, is the weather. Secondly is the lack of culture and diversity, and thirdly is the inconvenience of shopping. Well, Amen to that. It’s not easy being spoiled, and I find that I constantly have to bite my tongue to keep from sounding like a California snob. Never say the following, for instance:
“You call that a burrito?”
“Is it Summer yet?”
and, "Can’t we just hire a Mexican to do that?”
But you must adjust, even if it means giving up ethnic food, wearing long underwear well into spring, mowing your own lawn, or learning how to shrug when the yellow ink in your printer runs out in the middle of a big project and no one on the island carries it. When the list of stuff you need gets long enough you just take the ferry to the other side for a shopping frenzy. Also known as The Mainland. Off-Island. The City. Amerika.
Waiting in the ferry line, that fragile link to civilization and passage to another world where freeways and stores and art galleries await, is like a purgatory between two worlds. Half the time you miss it and have to wait for the next one, spending the time cleaning up your car, taking a well deserved snooze, quaffing beers at the nearby alehouse in Mukilteo or talking to people you know on the Clinton side about when the weather may or may not clear up.
There are people who live here and never cross over, are happy to live amongst the trees and the cows and small shops and have no contact with the frenzy of civilization. Some people live here for the community, but most seem to live here to retreat from civilization altogether.
I thought I would be one of them, and have discovered to my surprise that I am not. In fact, I am a cultural snob, whining for a sushi bar, an art opening and good movie.

Here on Whidbey they proudly refer to “Island time” which sounds like a romantic vision of slowing down. It’s a kind of manana mentality with the sense that you are always waiting for something to happen. Like a sunny day, for instance.
But it’s not as easy as it seems. Because when your “to do” list is narrowed down to one or two things and you can’t remember what they are and don’t care anyway, and when it occurs to you that maybe you should at least read the newspaper from time to time to see what is going on in the world and then you forget to buy one, you wonder if you are missing out on the important things of the world, though what those might be you cannot say. After all, do I have a responsibility to know how many more innocent people are getting killed in senseless wars? I look outside the window at the prancing bunnies as I wash the dishes and listen to news on the radio about the roadside bombs and American idol and wonder how all of these worlds can even exist simultaneously. It makes me crazy to even think about it.

So after hanging out where life is quiet and slow and simple and there are less people, surrounded by silence and empty roads leading to nowhere, suddenly I find that I am restless for action culture and a calendar of events to choose from. So I go over to the city for a day and fight the traffic and crowds and return with a sigh, remembering why I moved away.
A few weeks ago I attended a local play called Three Sisters, by Chekhov. It was long and drawn out and for the most part awful and painful to sit through. In it a family longs to move back to Moscow, knowing that when they move there everything will be perfect and life will be full and good. Of course they never make it to Moscow and end up resigning themselves to ordinary compromised lives. The end.
Because as we know it’s not where we are but who, not the stuff we leave behind but the stuff we carry with us everywhere, inside our own heads that keep us dissatisfied.
It is possible that I will always have a Moscow to long for that I may never find. I can come to terms with that. It’s the idea of a compromised life that scares me the most.



Monday, April 16, 2007

Eagles and Orcas and Bunnies, Oh My!



Tulip fields in La Conner


One thing I can say about this place is that the seasons do express themselves with exuberance. It begins with the crocuses, peeking through the frozen soil close to the ground, and the next thing you know there are sensuous tulips and happy yellow daffodils and deep purple hyacinths, the pink and white fluff of cherry and plum trees, their petals scattering in the breeze. Bare trees begin to fill in with subtle color- rose and greens and goldens. Spring begins gushing forth like a sappy poem, coming to life so quickly and with such urgency that it’s difficult not to be suspicious of it all. Bunnies hop through the backyard, disappearing into the dense brambles that promise blackberries. Crows and eagles cavorting in the sky, little birds with twigs in their beaks preparing nests, swallows darting under the eaves. Fat robins tugging at worms from the damp earth. I feel as if we have entered some Walt Disney movie and soon all of the animals and flowers are going to break out into some corny song and dance routine. And there, across the sound, those silent snow covered peaks, reminding us to enjoy it while we can.

The other day while walking along the shoreline here in Langley I heard a loud whoosh and turned to see the fluke of a grey whale disappearing under the surface of the water just a few yards away. This is the time of year when they circle the island to feed. I watched it dip and surface several times, grazing and languishing in the blue mirror of the sound.
Meanwhile, people are hunched over in their gardens, mulching and planting, filling their chicken coops with baby chicks, sprucing up houses, planning beehives. I do my part and buy a plastic birdfeeder and a pound of birdseed and hang it from a tree in our back yard from a bent coat hanger, then smugly sit back and wait for the birds to fine me and entertain me with a feeding frenzy. After several minutes none appear, so I go inside for lunch, and when I return the birdseed is gone. A few crows are picking at the seed that has spilled to the ground, and a pair of suspicious squirrels scurry noisily in the trees above. The next day I bought a squirrel proof feeder at a garage sale and watch thes quirrels leap and swing from it, determined. Meanwhile at the farms down the road, little black lambs frolic against a verdant green, brown calves suckle, a newborn colt wavers precariously on it's spindly legs. Sometimes, it’s more than I can bear.

We are renting a house above the quaint town of Langley, and I have set up my studio in the garage, overlooking the rooftops and the Puget Sound below. This is the beginning of my 52nd year, and I can feel the burden of time in my bones. The restlessness still present but with less energy for it. Painting is the only thing that keeps me centered and sane. I am painting layers of color and I am painting the ravens in my front yard that gather in the trees when I sit outside with a cup of tea. Most days it is still cold and cloudy, with occasional blessed bursts of sun. I still long for warmth and wonder if I will last here, adapt to changing seasons and changing hormones. The ravens, my trickster totem, chortle and caw from the branches, placing their bets.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Spring at Last!



spring blog coming soon.....!

Monday, March 5, 2007

Life in the Convergence Zone


Kitsap, Snohomish, Nooksack, Issaquah, Sequim, Nisqually, Skagit. Names that sound like random syllables thrown in the air, then clipped and pasted together where they fell. Cool and jagged and alien. The Native Americans named the land for what it meant to them, what their spiritual connection to it was. The Anglo settlers reformed them to fit their own tongue. Place of the moon, Mother of waters, the sound that a thousand cranes make.
Later the European explorers chose names that reflect an entirely different experience of the land as they searched for the elusive Northwest Passage. Mutiny Bay, Deception Pass, Useless Bay, Possession Sound. Port Defiance. Much more interesting and colorful to them to name places in memory of disaster and bad luck.
British explorers named the places they discovered after each other, Whidbey, Ranier, Baker, Puget.
Much later, land developers have named their plots to inspire romance and intrigue. Or, more to the point, to make them marketable. Sunlight shores, Sandy Hook, Bayview, Shangri-La shores.
All of them so different than the soft Spanish names I am so familiar with. Santa Cruz, Marin, San Diego, Los Angeles, Monterey, Santa Barbara. The Spanish were not so successful in their exploration of the Northwest. One of the only Spanish place names I have found is the strait named after San Juan de Fuca, and he was actually a Greek.

I have just learned that this particular region has another name and it is this: The Convergence Zone. Don’t think for a minute that it has anything to do with a spiritual vortex or an enlightening cultural phenomenon, because it does not. It has to do with, what else? The weather.
One moment I am taking photos of the bright purple and yellow crocuses that have appeared like little miracles from the barren ground to announce the coming of spring at last. The next thing we know, snowflakes the size of quarters are swirling from the sky, changing to marble sized hail and back to snow again, as if some cruel magician of the sky were showing off his tiresome bag of tricks one last time. Soon the roads are slush and cars are sliding into each other, wedges of white appear on the rooftops and trees against an icy chalk colored sky. People are walking the streets in sweaters and pumps, totally unprepared. And here’s the thing. Ten miles away, the weather is clear. Cows are munching the green grass in Coupeville, roads are clear and dry in Tacoma. Weather systems from the north and south collide, or rather, converge, on a regular basis it seems, right above our unsuspecting heads, causing extreme and sudden weather from South Whidbey and across the sound to Everett and beyond. 50 car pileups on I-90, cars pulled off to the side of the road unable to maneuver in the slush, schoolchildren unloaded from useless busses.
It snows all through the night and in the morning we wade through half a foot of it, pick it up and throw it at each other. Roll it into giant balls and make snowmen with pine cone hats and snowwomen with stone nipples. The dogs go wild, disappearing nto white clouds of fluff. We are actually laughing and having fun. How can this be? As the weather slowly warms up to around 37 degrees the only sound comes from the clumps of snow falling from the silent trees. Before long the crocuses appear again, chuckling amongst themselves, shaking off their frozen jackets, once again offering up their little cups of joy to the trickster sky.





Saturday, February 24, 2007

Borderlines


I have returned to revisit my old haunts in Mexico, where I once painted behind these crumbling walls, made love, swapped stories, and faced demons. Much has changed here, but the sabor remains the same.
I am staying at the Casa de la Turca, named after the Turkish Madame that reportedly ran a bordello here many years ago, now converted to a charming guesthouse by a friend of mine. The other day I met a man whose aunt had actually worked here during it’s heyday and in fact just passed away at age 101, taking with her the sordid memories of whatever went on behind these doors now housing pampered gringo travelers like myself.
San Miguel de Allende. So much busier and and bigger than before, bustling with retired gringos and Mexicans alike, each inhabiting entirely different worlds in the same place. Texan and California retirees, giddy with the charm of the Spanish colonial architecture, the novelty of cobblestone streets, clutching their Frida Kahlo shopping bags and swapping tips on remedies for various Mexican illnesses, and methods to keep high tech devices working and connected. Artists, writers and wannabees abound, but not like the old days when real live bohemians like yours truly wandered the cafes and art galleries. They are now conspicuously missing. Where have they gone? In a doorway near the jardin a blind man squats, holding out a plastic cup. I swear I recognize him from twenty years ago. A platinum blonde woman in a hot pink tee shirt with a poodle I her arms squeezes by on the narrow stone sidewalk, navigating the uneven pavement in high heeled sandals. Children in plaid uniforms on their way to school, maids on their way to the market, tourists on their way to the internet caf├ęs all winding their way through the ancient stone streets while cars and busses and taxis rumble by. Colorful and alive and noisy as hell.
I feel as if I have made a 180-degree turn from the quiet grey world of Whidbey Island.
I eat gorditas in the marketplace, chicken mole in terraced restaurants, roasted corn on the streets, smothered in mayo and chili. I am invincible, alive and in my element. Until, of course, the last day.
It has to happen. It always does. It only takes a few bites of a fatal flan and I’m a goner, hugging the toilet for a long and woeful night under a slice of yellow moon, stripped down to the bare bones, cursing my own arrogance, once again.

Mexico is a brujo, a grinning mask, a broken carnival ride. A clown with fangs, a clanging, squawking, laughing, sobbing demon of delight.
Mexico is a mistress in black lace and tacones, her long fingernails painted as red a blood. It is a dancing skeleton forever grinning, clackety clack through your dreams, opening up the chambers where you keep your deepest secrets, reaching inside to pull them out like a beating heart and offering them up to a god who cares less. And what you thought was so precious becomes dust, what you held onto so tightly becomes a flock of white birds that disappear into a white sky.
Mexico is a rooftop dog pacing back and forth over the streets below; it’s gravelly bark sending red cinders into the black night and into the restless dreams of sleeping blind men. You may create your fragile web of safety, build it out of dollar bills and promises, but Mexico will get you through the water that you drink and the air you breathe. It will turn your insides to mush and spit them out, purging you of anyone you remotely even thought you were.

Doves coo from the rafters, a sad and lonely song above the clanging church bells and the grind of traffic. The heart of Mexico beats like a deep drum, you can feel it vibrating in your veins. The only way to survive is to let your blood pulse with it as it beats out a cacophony of sound that you cannot decipher. And after a while, you just stop trying.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

sun break


"Coming soon- tales from Mexico."


"Ya me voy por otras tierras..."
I'm off to Mexico for some sun!
AyAyAy!
I will try to blog from there.
Meanwhile,here's wishing you all magical journey of your own....

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Awakening


"Let that which is awake in me speak to that which is awake in you,
rather than that which is asleep in me be annoyed by that which is asleep in you."

Still inside the frosty pearl of Winter, I am slowly unfolding from a dream, surrendering to a new awakening, different than anything I have ever known. What does it mean to stop waiting and to arrive, finally, to what has always been awake, waiting for you? Waxing poetic here at the Langley library, coziest spot on the island, gazing out the window at the melting snow, the sleepy sky like a silver skin as far as the eye can see.

* * *

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Animalia


Shorn Alpaca at Greenbank


I am looking out across Lone lake through a pair of binoculars, trying to spot a friend’s house on the other side. When I put them down there is a man standing next to me. “Did you see that? He asks.
Uh, what?
“That bald eagle! It just swooped down and caught that fish right out of the lake!”
This proves that it is possible that I am sometimes in the right place at the right time. I’m just looking in the wrong direction.
So I’m going to turn my focus away from the direction of the weather (and from the view of frozen snow on the ground that everyone says never happens here) and talk about something else for a change.
Like the fascinating world of animals, for instance.

Here are some interesting stories that I have read and heard about animals of the northwest:

Here on south Whidbey island and northwest Washington in general, there are many stories of people discovering the bones of ancient woolly mammoths in their back yards. In 1977 a man was digging a pond outside of Sequim and discovered two enormous 12,000 year old mastadon tusks, 9 feet long. Several other bones were found, including the bone spear point of the prehistoric weapon that was used to kill the animal, lodged firmly into one of it’s ribs.

One pair of northern spotted owls require 2,200 acres of old growth forest for their food supply.
Because old growth forests are in short supply these days, they make do with what they can
It has been reported that a local woman discovered an owl’s nest with no less than twelve cat collars scattered about inside it.

If attacked by a grizzly bear it is recommended that you curl up in a fetal position with your face down. Talk to it so that it knows that you are only a mere human.
On the other hand, if a black bear attacks you, fight back with any weapon you can find.
It is a recommended that you learn to distinguish between these two bears.
(Actually, there are no longer bears on Whidbey island, thanks to the enthusiastic shotguns of earlier settlers here.)

Geoducks (pronounced gooey ducks) are phallic shaped clams weighing from four to fifteen pounds found by digging deeply into the sand on beaches at low tide. Aside from their unappetizing description, they are an essential ingredient in many clam chowders as well as a few colorful local jokes.

Puget Sound is home to the largest species of octopus in the world. It grows up to 12 feet across and can weigh up to 30 pounds or more. They can make themselves incredibly flat to get where they want to go, and legend has it that one of them once slid out of it’s tank and under the door into it’s owner’s bedroom. The book doesn’t say what happened next, and I am not about to speculate…

The fact that Orcas do not intentionally attack humans is one of the great mysteries of nature.

Transplanted Californians, a common type of homo sapiens found in abundance on South Whidbey, are often known to make annoying whining sounds, especially during the winter months. Otherwise they can be quite agreeable and even charming. Really.

Monday, January 8, 2007

License to Rant


I am standing inside the grey walled building of the Washington DOL (department of licensing) looking out the window at the slightly darker grey skies of Everett, and a tight lipped man in a white turtleneck is taking my picture. “Okay, Californie girl, smile! He says, as he leers at me “Or not.”
He hands me a grey card as a temporary Washington drivers license, All right then, so this is it. I am now an official resident of the great state of Washington. I feel strange, as if I am betraying something, though I’m not sure what. As if I am renouncing my own familiar and loyal state in favor of this one, which I hardly know at all.
My California license is handed back to me with a large hole punched through it that renders it null and void. It is like my heart, I think. The something that is missing. The part of me that hasn’t quite arrived yet, that is stretched out in a hammock somewhere on a beach in Mexico, sipping margaritas. The rest of me is here, of course, bundled up and barely recognizable as a human form, watching the street signs bend with the force of the biting wind outside as it prepares itself for yet another storm. It seems that while the rest of the country is luxuriating in the romantic warmth of El Nino, we are experiencing what is fondly known by the local weather persons by the far less exotic term of “Arctic Push.” Everyone tells me that the weather has never been so extreme, that this is a fluke, and I have to believe them, because I so want it to be true.


We take the ferry back to the island and it rocks and heaves over the white capped Sound. All night long the wind moans and howls, breaking off 100 foot trees at their trunks, sending branches flying through the air. In the middle of the night one of them falls onto a nearby power line, and our cozy electric heater abruptly stops humming. As I feel the temperature begin to drop one degree at a time, I lay awake fretting over our freshly stocked freezer. It had taken a ferry ride and several missed freeway exits and wrong turns to finally locate the oasis of Trader Joe’s, and now it seems that all of our precious and hard earned booty is poised for spoilage.
By morning the roads are littered with the leafy carnage of branches and fallen trees, like some arboreal war zone. The grind and whine of chain saws and generators fills the eerily still air as we wander out into the day, shivering and and yearning for the simple pleasures of hot showers and coffee.

Winter continues to chip away at my comfort zone. My bucolic fantasies have now perished in the face of unexpected inconveniences. Sometimes I want to shake my clenched fist at those intimidating mountains and rant. Don’t you arctic push me, you goddamned white capped turtlenecked rainsoaked sonsofbitches. Hey! Don’t you know who I am???
But of course they do. I am merely a small and very temporary resident of this wild and ancient earth.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Happy New Year


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