pWdumaNjA-6CEEBhRoD5euxNETs When All This Actual Life Played Out: 2017

25 June 2017

Ghosts in their natural environment


Hedge maze
Governor's Palace
Williamsburg, Virginia
23 March 2016

I was the weird kid who loved history and wanted to know how things got done. I learned to cook, to bake bread from scratch, to sew, to knit, to make adobe mud, to spin, to weave, to embroider, to dip candles, to plant flowers and vegetables, to work wood and to fix cars. I've milked cows, and though I've never sheared a sheep, I've watched it done. What I couldn't do in a hands on sort of way, I read about. But I tend to pursue knowledge and experience in a very physical way.

The daughter is much like me in that regard.

I visited Williamsburg for the first time when I was 14. A young teenager, an impressionable teenager. I was traveling with a passel of women: my mother, aunts, a cousin. When everyone was tired (I wasn't), I was given permission to go off and visit the gardens on my own. I loved and still love gardens, herb gardens, knot gardens, formal gardens, flower gardens, secret gardens.

All gardens have secrets.

It was actually a cool spring day when I took this photo, but I look at it and I feel the weight of weather, of heat and humidity. It was August the first time I stood here, decades ago.

The hour was late, and the gardens were close to closing, all those years ago. I was short on time, but long on enthusiasm, and I jogged along the paths at a good clip despite the August heat, despite humidity carried in on a hurricane coming up the coast, referring to my pamphlet periodically to get my bearings. I was enchanted by the maze, running through it, then gazing down at it from the mount. But as I sought out paths less traveled, I saw a little sign:

Icehouse

An icehouse! I'd read about them, and now I could visit one. I chased along the path until I came to a low brick arch.

These days, the arch is sealed by iron bars, but I swear that when I was a young, impressionable teenager, it was open and accessible because I have the most distinct memory of carefully treading down the dim, curved stairway and peering into the dark pit at the end, marking the chill air and the fact that I was underground and all alone at the edge of a big hole in the ground, a place that would be a fine setting for a murder. The hair rose on the back of my neck, and I didn't waste too much time finding my way back up to the arched doorway. When I exited into the heat, humidity and failing sunlight, it wasn't lost on me that the hour was late, I was due back at the hotel to dress for dinner, and I was very much alone there behind the mount at the far edge of the gardens.

So I started back along the paths that were likely to lead me to an exit, eventually. I expected that an adult would show up to chivvy me along.

And I did see a woman as I made my way out of the maze. But that's another story.

It's not a story that I often share.


Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D7000. Yes, all this is true, even if from the mind of a 14-year-old with an overactive imagination. It's as true as the impossible pipe tobacco I smelled in my hotel room in a historic house, and that was as true as the ginormous cockroach I killed in the en suite bathroom.
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22 June 2017

Her horizon


Near Badwater Basin
Death Valley National Park, California
24 November 2015

When I get out of bed, I lurch to one side. Which I expect because it's become more frequent. But as I catch myself, I lurch the other way and then back again. Stop, right the ship, move forward.

If you'd pay more attention... I tell myself. Though I know it probably makes no difference. Sometimes, if I concentrate very hard on taking steps, my feet don't drop and drag along the pavement. Sometimes it makes no difference. Like the small misstep that landed me back at a food-free diet.* If only I'd paid more attention.

****************

Yesterday, stuck in traffic, wrists resting on the steering wheel so I wouldn't clench it with my hands, I realized that here I am. There is management but no cure. I want to argue, as my doctors have done with me so many times, that I am too young for this. I stare hard at the license plate on the SUV in front of me without seeing it. Death lies somewhere up there, and I test that theory. I mean I've always known that, it's just that I felt I had some control in the process.

I probably don't. And it suddenly feels more real.

Then in the afternoon I find the story of Kam Redlawsk, an artist with a rare genetic condition which will ultimately completely paralyze her. My soul aches for her. My story is different, but I know the anger and pain of each progressive loss. I also know that in comparison, I am lucky.

And then the daughter tells me of the announcement that one of her college classmates has died. The young woman withdrew from school a few months ago because of illness.

I am lucky in more ways than one.

***************

I know that I promised happier words. It's a process. I am not particularly sad or depressed. Just working through...everything. It's been hot and humid, which makes me irritable. I've been stressed by people under my house, putting up fences, cutting down trees. Which makes me irritable. I've been trying to stay away from all the nonsense going on in the world, which makes me irritable. I've been half ill, which makes me tired. And irritable.

It's a process.

I suffer from the idea that I have worked hard and I should be happy. But that isn't how life works. You work hard and you have good days and bad days. You do good, but bad things happen anyway.

This makes me irritable.

It's a process.

That I can't control.

Which makes me irritable.

**************

I was talking to Deb today about Death Valley. Talking to Deb makes me happy. Travel makes me happy.

Grace in those things.

Eyes on the horizon.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D7000. *I took two doses of Motrin last weekend because I had a wicked headache because of what happened in Death Valley. I am not supposed to take Motrin, which is basically the only pain reliever that helps. Other than the high test narcotics they like shooting me full of in the ER. Also, NO, I am not dying any faster than usual. Just to be clear.
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20 June 2017

Narcissus


Cooper's hawk
Orange County, California
20 September 2011

The sustained drought, which finally and unexpectedly broke this winter, has done so much damage. I've lost so many trees--today, the 15-ft. tall magnolia in the front of my house was pulled out. In a month, the ficus that form a lovely green wall to shield me from my neighbors also will be removed. The magnolia was drought-stressed and dying. The ficus are still doing well, in part because they are finding other sources of water, and now have become an invasive nuisance.

When we bought this house, the gardens were described as "park-like" but we learned the truth when spring rolled around and we discovered that the many of the trees were dead, others dying. One of my first acts was removing them all, including the loquat that both dying and planted too close to the house, the tree privet that stank to high heavens and was planted at the foundation of the house, and a podocarpus, a plant I dislike on general principles, and a raft of long-expired stone fruit trees. In the front, that left us with 3 river birch and the magnolia, and I planted a large buddleia which delighted Milton for years with its afternoon bounty of butterflies, along with a bougainvillea that cheerfully banged and scraped on the daughter's bedroom wall every dark and stormy night for years.

The river birch, which should never have been planted in So Cal in the first place, rapidly succumbed to oak root fungus (I took at least one of those out on my own...because I used to be able to chop down trees), but the magnolia was a haven for the parrots and mockingbirds who ate its fruit every fall. I already miss it.

Last week, before the current heat wave, I went out and measured the front garden, and am creating a plot plan. I have ideas, and I'm calling landscape contractors. I put horrible mirrored film on all the front windows now that I no longer have any shade from the afternoon sun.

Some good will come from all this down the road. Sooner rather than later, I hope.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40.
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19 June 2017

Imprisoned


Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary
Alcatraz Island
18 March 2017

When the daughter and I went to San Francisco, visiting Alcatraz was high on the list of things to do. It turned out that we were able to book a tour that took us both to Angel Island and Alcatraz, so we did both. It was quite foggy, gloomy and chilly that morning, but eventually the sun broke through.

Sunlight did not necessarily improve Alcatraz. It is a creepy place. With a capital "C."

Despite the eeriness and the unpleasant history surrounding the island, I'm glad that I visited. I think the daughter was too, even though once she got a look at the steep path to the top, she decided I was going to ride the accessible tram up to the top.

Talk about imprisoned.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone6. Don't worry. I'll eventually cut through all the crap and get back to relative cheerfulness.
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18 June 2017

It's complicated


Healy Hall, distorted
Georgetown University
Washington, D.C.
31 March 2012

I've seen a lot of #CallYourDad on social media and in the news. And I suppose given it's Father's Day...

My own father is long dead. He died when I was in my 20s, post-stroke after a good, long session of binge drinking, and emphysema after 50-odd years of chain-smoking. I cried when he died, not really for him, definitely not for myself, but for what was wasted, for what he wasted. All those wasted years.

So, Father's Day. It's complicated.

I wish that it had been different. I wish he hadn't seen the world through a distorted lens, and I wish he had cared more for his families and his children. And if wishes were horses...

But they aren't. We are human. We are complicated. One greeting card doesn't fit all.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4. In this case, the photo speaks volumes, but I still feel a certain desire to protect my father, though he in no way earned that during his life. Though the words might seem to belie my true feelings, he is only a fact that is peripheral to my existence, and I see him in a wholly neutral way, tinged with regret for what might have been different.
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17 June 2017

You're the worst thing I ever got addicted to


Going-to-the-Sun Road
Glacier National Park, Montana
12 July 2010

There are words...

Or there is the moment.

(Moments.)

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D40. Photo isn't particularly significant. Just a pretty picture.
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16 June 2017

Line in the sand


White Sands National Monument, New Mexico
10 July 2007

I've largely held my peace since the general election last November. Don't mistake my silence for approval, however. I've actually written a great deal about it, but little of what I've written has seen the light of day. (Short version: I'm enraged with politicians in general, and both political parties specifically. But also idiocy along with its friend incivility.) I decided that I didn't want to be part of the rage and the hate, though I certainly feel both in abundance. But to add mine to the general melting pot is so pointless. Yes, I have a point of view, but sometimes keeping one's opinion to oneself is the better part of valor.

In the wake of the shooting during practice for the Congressional softball game, I've finally seen two major news outlets acknowledge that we no longer have civil discourse in this country, just hatred. Everyone has an opinion--and you know what they say about those--and few people seem to mind airing theirs in the most definite and profane ways possible. Hey, I get the frustration and the sense of being unheard, but what should be reasoned resistance has turned into something (or rather, many somethings) else entirely.

But by continuing in this vein, I risk doing exactly what I'm trying not to do. So, I'll return to silence on the matter.

Just know that for me, this is the line in the sand.

Tech stuff: Taken with a Canon PowerShot S110. I think this is the first time I've ever deliberately reused a photo. What is actually funny is that I re-edited it...to create the identical print I'd used before. Nothing like consistency.
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14 June 2017

Better in black and white


Golden Gate Bridge from Crissy Field Marsh
San Francisco, California
21 March 2017

It's beautiful in color but so alien in black and white.

"So...," said the daughter. Leading question.

"I haven't written since May," I said, hurriedly.

"You're grieving," she replied matter of factly.

So much grief.

And I don't want it anymore. Any of it.

I can photograph in color or black and white. Both are valid. Each is a point of view.

It's so much harder to bring the color back into my own life.

We'll see how brave you are.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone6.
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02 May 2017

Current affairs


Unknown artist*
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
Washington, D.C.
6 May 2014

Doesn't that sort of feel like the current administration?

I love the Hirshhorn, but sometimes the installations creep me out. This one was unsettling; there was something so wrong about the figures.

And the only reason the artist is listed as unknown is because I don't know who did them.

Tech stuff: Taken with my Nikon D7000.
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30 April 2017

Start again

 
Brothers
27 April 2017
 
It's too soon--for me, anyway--but they've been living in a cage for months. They're very sweet and they needed a stable home. I can give them that.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone6.
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13 April 2017

Echoes, silence, and absence


12 April 2017

The days have been soft and warm, sunny and breezy, lovely low 70sF.

The house is silent. No small snores, no sound of stretch and roll, no little songs suggesting meal time. No dripping of his water dish. The sounds of the washing machine and dishwasher startle me because I'm unused to hearing them without the white noise of his water dish.

I wake at night, testing the bottom of my bed for a small warm body. He liked to sleep on my feet or behind my knees. Only when he was wearing the cone and it was a cold night would he consent to getting under the covers.

The windows where he used to sit and chitter at the birds or watch the butterflies are empty now. He had a funny habit of beating on the crank handles of my bedroom windows, trying to close them when the a/c came on, as if he knew they shouldn't be open. Or the sound bothered him.

He didn't like loud noises, and he abominated, separately and in concert, the vacuum cleaner, the washing machine and the piano. He had come to something of an accommodation with the piano, and would sometimes sit next to me on the piano bench while I practiced. I still find myself planning out cleaning so as not to disturb him.

There is no one to pounce on the bits of things that inevitably fall on the floor while I prep meals. He would play soccer with a piece of celery or ice cube and gobble stray things that he enjoyed like cheese or meat. He was a champion oven-watcher, and would wait cheerfully for the chicken or roast to be taken out, sitting demurely on the floor to receive his portion.

He was noisy walking across the wood floor of the dining room and we were mystified how a 10-lb cat managed to sound like a fully grown adult.

Slowly, traces of him are disappearing. Tuesday afternoon I put his carrier and his bed in the bin for today's pick up along with the dozen or so catnip mice I got him for Christmas, knowing it would be his last Christmas. His food bowls have been washed and put away; his water dish is gone. I gave a neighbor who has cats the rest of his food and extra litter.

I haven't been able to bring myself to vacuum the chair where he spent most of his time the last two weeks, so white fur is still enshrined there. He didn't like the vacuum, though I repeat to myself that it no longer matters. Part of me is still sure he's just in another room and I expect to find him luxuriating in the sun on my bed, or around that corner.

But the house is silent and I am alone.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone6.
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12 April 2017

The streets of San Francisco


Montgomery Street
San Francisco, California
19 March 2017

The daughter was supposed to take an interterm class in January on noir film and literature. Not enough people signed up and the class was cancelled, so I said I would take her to San Francisco and we'd do our own class.

Which is what we spent her spring break doing. Walking the landmarks by day; watching movies by night.

"Humphrey Bogart stood here," she crowed at one point.

We had fun and it was a reprieve we both really needed.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone6.
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11 April 2017

In the end

 
Milton
9 April 2017
 
When I first held Milton in Tucson, August 11, 2001, he was a frightened 5-month-old kitten who tried to bury himself into my chest, purring deeply and wildly.
 
He died today, April 11, 2017, victim of a cruel joke called a rabies shot. It was his last rabies shot that gave him cancer.
 
I stroked him and murmured to him as he died, thanking him for all the love and comedy he'd given me. I told him how much I loved him, how glad I was that we belonged to each other.
 
The last thing he did was purr.
 
Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone6. Milton was very susceptible to catnip. I made him pillows and filled them with his drug of choice. This last one I made a couple of weeks ago. He slept on it even after he became too ill to be amused by it.
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22 March 2017

Vertigo

 
Golden Gate Bridge
San Francisco, California
21 March 2017

21 March 2017

The conversation

 
Union Square
San Francisco, California
21 March 2017

19 March 2017

Dark passage

 
Filbert steps
San Francisco, California
19 March 2017

18 March 2017

Scarier for real

 
Alcatraz Island
18 March 2017
 
 

17 March 2017

Adventure time

 
California coast
17 March 2017

26 February 2017

The new thing

 
Milton
26 February 2017
 
He continues to do well on steroids, though the tumor continues to grow. You can see it in this photo, in the patch of white fur just below the black at his hip. Part of me wants to have the vet just pop it out, but the voice of reason reminds me that it's only been two months since the last one came out. I know there are at least two in there. He will be 16 Wednesday. VoR says more surgery is rather unfair.
 
He seems happy. Less aggressively kitten than a couple of months ago, but still tending toward risk-taking kitten. A kitten who gives no fucks about anything that previously frightened him. I think it's the steroids. When I've been on a dose pack for the spinal nerve damage, I've been the same way. Weirdly fearless. Though while I lose my appetite, he's eating anything not nailed down.
 
The weather seems to irk him. It's been raining a good deal, so it's been cloudy a lot and today, the high is in the 50s. He's a heat-seeking feline, and prefers to have many patches of sunshine from which to choose. Those have been in short supply. But when it's been sunny, he's been galloping around quite happily.
 
But he's developed a new thing: he parks himself on my desk chair, a place he formerly shunned. We're not sure why he suddenly loves that chair, but if I put a dining room chair by my desk, he will sleep there and let me have my desk chair. Mostly he seems to want to be on me or next to me.
 
Some months back, I'd commented to the daughter that I'd always expected that Milton would outlive Olivier, and recently discovered that instead they will probably be racing each other to the finish line. His owner told me that Olivier has stopped eating and is refusing to go outdoors, both extremely anomalous behaviours. Olivier was successfully treated for cancer some years back, but his may have returned also.
 
It just breaks my heart.
 
Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone6.
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26 January 2017

Drought? What drought?

 
To end the weekend's rain: Hail!
23 January 2017
 
I went out this morning to do a bit of clean up, post storm. Or more accurately, post three storms. We were hit by a line up starting last Thursday.

I am not complaining. Too much.

I emptied out a garbage can that probably had 5 inches of water in it. It wasn't uncovered until Sunday afternoon, so that would give you an idea of how much water came out of the sky.

My garage flooded despite my standing out in the cold and wet putting plastic up to keep water from advancing under the wall. The drains were overwhelmed. There was so much water pouring down the street that you couldn't even see the drain outlet in the curb. The inside of the house smelled of mud and water because of the damp under the raised foundation.

According to the stats I saw in the paper this morning, DTLA has gotten 14 inches of rain since the beginning of the season. That is almost an entire season's worth of precipitation, and it's only January.

We need the water. But it would be good for things to dry out a little before the next storm (next week).

Last Friday, watching the water whip around the street, I caught sight of a crow in the neighbor's driveway, having the bath of a lifetime. And I realized that for this crow, it was the bath of a lifetime. It had probably never seen that much rain, ever.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone6. Milton update: In a word, sardines! Why die when there are sardines? Seriously, he's doing fine. And no, the friendly water agencies assure us the drought is not over. Even this much water isn't enough to make up for lost time!
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19 January 2017

Where do we go...?


Newport Beach, California
14 January 2017

I've been longing to visit my hometown--actually I've just been longing to get out of Dodge, if you get my drift--but at this particular moment don't really feel like I can do that.

Somewhere. Some time. Soon.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone6. Milton update: still holding on, happily and energetically. And eating with enthusiasm. Playing. Etc.
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17 January 2017

The devil you know


Goats
17 January 2017

We call them Azazel and Beelzebub. Mainly because the first time we saw the one on the left (he wasn't posing for photos today, just showing his chin and teeth), he scared the living hell out of the daughter and I. He was completely unexpected and just appeared in that window as we walked by. A few weeks later, the spouse and I ran into the owner and had a nice conversation about the pair (we hadn't known there was a pair, just the holy terror on the left, who apparently isn't a terror at all) along with life in general. Now, when I take anyone on walks, the route is determined by the answer to the question "goats or no goats?"

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone6. Milton update: he seems to be doing well on the steroids. Currently stretching and suggesting dinner.
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15 January 2017

The Wedge

 
Newport Beach, California
14 January 2017

12 January 2017

Always up to something


Milton
10 March 2007

I was the enfant terrible, always asking the questions I wasn't supposed to. And of course, one day when I was 7 or 8, I asked the question about my dog going to heaven. And was told that my dog didn't have a soul, so wouldn't be going to heaven.

"Then I won't go to heaven either, " I announced.

You can see how I ended up raised-as-a-Catholic but at the end of the day, not a Catholic.

So this is where we are.

The tumors have returned. Their growth seems to have accelerated. We are out of options. I would like weeks, but I suspect days.

And there it is.

I hope that if I gave him anything in all our years together, it was knowledge that love and security existed for him. That he and his perfect little cat soul have been so loved. That if there is an afterlife, I am content to spend it with the animals.

Tech stuff: Taken with a Canon PowerShot S110. It's true. I prefer animals to most people.
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02 January 2017

Stormy skies


Newport Beach, California
31 December 2016

[Paragraphs raving about idiot climatologists who lack humility redacted]

It's been raining.

This is a good thing.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone6.
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01 January 2017

The last one


Tree detail
1 January 2017

As a toddler, the son was particularly taken with trains. The December that he was nearly 2, I found a glass train garland at Macy's that I knew he'd like. I carefully unhooked it from the display tree as one was supposed to do, and I cradled it in my palms as I continued to peruse the trees for any other likely ornaments. While I looked, happily enjoying the festive display, another shopper, a somewhat older woman, approached me.

"That's the last one," she said to me. I looked at her, perplexed. She pointed to the garland in my hands.

"Oh," I said, not sure why she was telling me this.

More forcefully, she repeated, "It's the last one."

"I see," I answered, and moved toward the register to make my purchase.

Decades later, I'm still bemused by that conversation. I can only guess that she expected me to hand the garland over. Or something. Whatever the case, when the kids unpack the ornaments every year, they dangle the trains in front of me and announce, "It's the last one."

Which, I suppose, is how weird little stories pass into family lore.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone6.
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