Blogpost

It’s the Wine Talking

Let?s go wine tasting.

Lake County, California Vineyard
How many times have I heard that and wondered, ?what exactly is the attraction??

It?s the norm for those of us in wine country. We know what to expect. Get a little buzzed, learn a little more than you wanted to learn about the other people there tasting?and maybe have a small revelation about that flavor you have on your tongue?is it really ?hints of chocolate?? why yes, yes it is? how does that happen with zinfandel?

But after having wine-tasted with friends, family, cousins, neighbors, the dog next door as well as the actual wine maker buying my grapes, my standards are now clearly defined. Don?t get me wrong, I love wine-tasting. But I do not have what is described in the biz as ?a cultivated palate.? However, I think my palate is sophisticated and discriminating.

When I taste wine I?ve been taught to extend my proboscis straight into the glass farther than a normal person would. Yes, stick your noggin right in there. And breathe.

If you don?t pass out, the wine is not opening up yet. ?Let the wine open up,? you?ll be told.

But normally the sensory perception you are feeling at this point is called ?the nose.? Then when you actually put some of the stuff in your mouth by sipping it, that?s a whole ?nother thing. You can evaluate the residual sugars, the body, the mouth feel?and you can decide whether the acids are balanced or the wine is too heavy or light or dark or complex or whatever your still-sober brain decides. Then you can discuss these things using adjectives as creative or noncreative (someone drew up a flavor wheel that can help those less imaginative?or preoccupied instead with what this is going to cost.) Then you can swish the stuff around in your glass, which essentially aerates it?and the results can be amazing. Just like if you go running and aerate your body. Feels totally different, hopefully better.

Then usually the person carefully pouring exactly one ounce for you (and if they are more generous than that, it is not because THEY are stupid?remember, alcohol is not only scientifically proven to reduce your inhibitions, it gives your judgment a break too so that $40 bottle of zinfandel suddenly might seem like the best date you?ve had in a decade.)

So the question I like to ask myself is ?does this taste good??

Then I take it one huge step farther.

And this is where most wine-tasting venues dare not tread. How does this wine make you feel? I know that sounds very pseudopsychoanalytic but really, where is this conversation going from here?

And that guy at the other end of the bar? How is he looking right now?

I have reached the age of midlife crisis?you know, where women start wearing purple and forgetting what their cars look like. We also shed a whole lot of crap that has not served us well like tight-fitting clothing, pancake makeup, high heels, politesse ? and we stop inviting people over for dinner whom we don?t really like.

So apply this syndrome to wine and what you get is a pretty damn great barometer of whether the wine is any good or not.

I recently tasted a cabernet from Lake County sold under the label ?Dancing Crow.? I suddenly remembered a guy from my journalism school undergrad?he was a grad student?and he was sitting next to me on the bank of a river, his bicycle?which we had both ridden to the location– tossed against some trees up the hill. On our ride over I had gotten very close to his golden curls and watched shamelessly as his gluteus maximi worked the pedals propelling us toward the river.

And we had been talking about whether obituaries actually are news stories?or should be. Should the world know what killed your loved one? At the time it was a huge issue. It was gay people predominantly who were dying from AIDS. To the extent that if you died of AIDS, it was probably because you were gay. And families didn?t want the world to know that their kids/spouses/siblings were gay.

But, I argued, the community has a right?and legitimate reason to know?what is killing its members. My friend agreed.

But what I really wanted to know was whether my friend was gay. And I couldn?t figure that out. Turns out he wasn?t but I had missed that boat. We had not been drinking that cab so he never released his real self so I went home alone not knowing ?

So what in that sip of wine called up that memory? What is it in the wine that defines its value?

I conclude that the conversation elicited by the wine is the best indicator of its worth. What do people say when they drink this wine? Do they spout clich?s? Do they talk about nose and body and mouth feel? Or are their imaginations emancipated so that they start telling you about whether if Trump, should he not be incarcerated until November, might be replaced by someone with some sanity. Do people start talking about lost loves? Solutions to the world?s problems?

 

If after sipping that zinfandel someone says ?mmmm, this takes me back to cherry blossoms in my backyard in Colorado back in the sixties ?and the body is so rich and inviting I want to make love to this wine ?? well then you know you have a certain level of uh ? stimulation.

But if you taste a zinfandel and you find yourself saying, ?If we elect enough democrats into the house of representatives then the speaker of the house replacing Pence will be a democrat and maybe we won?t lose our national parks to corporate greed … ? then we are dealing with a different level of wine.

 

That, my friends, is what you should expect from your wine. It should give you hope and vision and love and creativity. It should make you come alive.

 

Blogpost

Blue Hair, Uber and Cuba

Tradition makes life easier because you don?t have to think. You just do what others before you would have done.

But when your kid is a music student in Miami and you are visiting from California and he wants to go to his Russian girlfriend?s poetry reading, what do you do?

?Can I come?? I ask.

I am thrilled when mom is approved.

I had installed Uber on my phone but hadn?t used it. I needed someone to hold my hand. So my 20-year-old known here as ?Seth,? shows up at my hotel room on his bicycle, and he does just that.

Pretty soon the white Ford explorer will pull up, Seth says, looking upstream at the river of headlights pouring down Ponce de Leon Boulevard.

?Hello, Victor,? I say as we climb aboard. This is an Uber, my son stares into me. You don?t actually have to talk to the driver. But I am a middle-aged woman and my type just apparently can?t shut up, even if Victor?s dashboard is rapping as loud as my headache. But I try, for both the kids? sake. Wait. Neither Seth nor Victor are kids. I pretty much abandon talk with the driver and instead chatter at Seth, who is an amiable and patient adult.

Kendrick Lamar comes on. Seth is shocked ? and thrilled I suspect?that I recognize him. Then I mention that he won a Pulitzer this week. This is what it takes to unembarrass my music-student son. ?The first non-jazz or -classical musician to win it,? he adds. I don?t mention that if I hadn?t heard about it on NPR I wouldn?t have recognized him?and probably I would have identified ANY rapper as Kendrick Lamar ?

Victor is polite and says nothing?it?s not HIS mom. When we arrive at coffeehouse in strip mall several miles from campus just $12.59 later, I want to hand Victor two crimped sweaty dollar bills. I don?t know the etiquette ?am chastised by Victor when I try to hand him the cash. And by Seth who says quietly that tips can be done online. But I know neither can do much if I leave a couple bucks on the seat.

Victor asks if we?d like him to pull forward 30 feet where another car is pulling out right in front of our destination.

?No, no, no, of course not.? I?m not that old.

 

I expected rows of chairs and a podium with a microphone.

But no, it is three tables pushed together with 12 neat white folding chairs around it ? two of which are empty. As though we were expected. A tall rosy-cheeked young man is reading a rap with clever rhymes and alliteration. I don?t think he notices us as we struggle to not scrape our chairs out.

Then it becomes clear that a woman my age is in some way conducting this, what appears to be a class. She tries to get the woman we will call ?Lina? to read. But Lina, hiding a little behind her brilliant turquoise hair and a light, lilting Russian accent, is not ready and demurs.

Another young woman is very ready to share so we listen as she confidently reads from her phone. I don?t actually remember much of it. But it is lovely and touching. I slowly realize just how confident my kid must be to allow his mom to go to his girlfriend?s poetry reading.

Then Lina shakes her hair out of the way and pokes her chin forward. This is what she says:

I Dyed My Hair Blue

I dyed my hair blue.

Since then, people always ask me one question:

?Why did you dye your hair blue??

I always give everyone the same response: ?Because I wanted to.?

But for some reason my answer doesn?t satisfy them.

For some reason they don?t think

that my own desire is powerful enough to make such a change.

They silence my voice with their laughter,

their smile penetrates into my identity,

ruining what I love,

what I preserve,

with their disbelief.

 

And sometimes they don?t even say the word ?blue?,

they just ask: ?Why did you dye your hair this color??

I mean? Man, is your sky also ?this color??

How about water? How about your mom?s eyes?

What the fuck is wrong with the word ?blue??

Nothing, apparently. People are just not used to seeing it on my head.

They are still not used to this and blame me for being blue.

 

People say I dyed my hair blue

because I wanted attention, because I wanted to stand out.

Seriously?

I stand out because I?m smart, I stand out because I don?t draw my eyebrows,

I stand out because I?m Russian, I stand out because I?m a woman.

I don?t stand out because I have blue hair.

Well? maybe a little ? my friends don?t lose me in the crowd anymore, which is nice, I guess.

 

I?m accused of being different by attention-seekers.

They live in their square boxes of stereotypes,

crunch cardboard cookies of jealousy

and drink soda, as all expired people do.

They don?t see my face behind my blue hair,

they don?t realize that I?m still the same me.

My own self is like an iPhone ? you need to back it up or you?re screwed if you lose it.

So I backed up myself because I wanted to be safe,

because I finally

finally finally finally

wanted to do what I want.

 

So, I think, today is the day when I finally get up

and tell them that I?m not responsible for their narrow-mindedness,

I?m not responsible if they divide the world into brunettes and blondes

because MY world is blue, my world is red, pink, green, purple,

my world is goddamn rainbow.

I wear blue color like a crown, I?m proud of it, it?s a part of who I am,

and my reflection in the mirror has never,

never

smiled brighter.

 

I dyed my hair blue because I wanted to.

You should try it.

Lina moves her head in a final motion signifying the end of her poem in a gesture I decide is distinctly European.

My tongue is dry. I exchange a look with my son.

?Right??? his eyebrows seemed to agree.

This blue-haired woman is a gift to us. Just a huge gift.

 

Soon we are on the sidewalk, the young rosy-cheeked man having bagged and backpacked the remaining pastries, the chairs and tables restored to caf?-configuration by many hands.

My son calls the Uber this time. We stand on the sidewalk, the teacher and I united by our age ? and possibly our pride and glee at Lina?s words, her smile.

 

Seth watches a tiny red car on his screen go by the dot that is us. We both look up and down the street. ?Julio? is nowhere in sight. Then we watch the little red car on the screen turn right and go around the block. Julio is coming our way, it is time to say good-bye.

 

Soon I am climbing in but this time I will talk to Julio as much as I want, I decide. If Lina can dye her hair blue, I too can do what I want. And besides, I need to practice my Spanish.

?De donde es?? I begin.

Julio answers quickly. He is from Cuba.

I learn that Julio has lived in Miami 24 years. He goes home to Cuba every month. Does he miss it? Terribly. He has an 8-year-old son and a new wife; he was just married two months ago. I congratulate him.

But six years ago, after 11 years of marriage, the mother of his son left him. I can see Julio?s eyes in the rear view mirror. He is not crying. He is not crying, he is not crying.

These are bad times, he says repeatedly, knowing not to cross the line into politics. He is trying to bring his new wife to America, I deduce.

Emboldened by the blue-haired woman, I feel I must pass on the gift she has given me.

I try to cheer him up. Our president, is not our president, I say, only about 20 percent of this country voted for him.

Julio?s tentative words emancipated, become a river of passion. He says repeatedly that he loves this country. He talks about Cuba. The music, the old cars, the buildings, the honesty, the people. I don?t understand all he says because he speaks rapidly and my Spanish was learned long ago and far away.

He says Raoul improved things a little since Fidel. Many tourists now.

And today, the new leader, I ask? Julio doesn?t know. I can tell he has learned to temper his dreams. But I can tell by his eyebrows in the rearview mirror that he has some hope.

 

Tomorrow, I say, my son is playing with a Latin Jazz group?a concert. You should go.

?I work seven days,? Julio says. I only relax (he uses the word ?descanso,? which I cannot fairly translate,) when I go home. To Cuba.

Well, I say, if you want to, you could go. The band director is from Cuba. The music is from Cuba.

I leave it up to him as we get out of the car.

I point how to get out of the parking lot the back way.

 

This time my son doesn?t act embarrassed. I don?t know how much of our conversation he understood, but Seth too has learned to enjoy things. He fills me with glee when he tells me that Julio seemed happier than he had when we first got into the car.

Thanks, woman with blue hair.

 

Blogpost

Fading Lights

Lighthouse living in the 1880s.

I have just one weekend with my husband-who-travels-a lot and his mother in San Diego, her home. To simplify things, I agree to just go along for the ride. You?ll see why.

We shall call him ?Lars,? the man I married 25 years ago after being set up by my doctor (proud to be considered ?good breeding stock.?) Let?s call his brother ?Hans,? just for fun.

Oh and that doctor? She is their mother.

Lars and Hans take good care of their mother, though she is almost 93.

Here?s the poem your mind is trying to recall: (https://allpoetry.com/Disobedience)

She?s actually not quite 90 and hasn?t changed much since I met her in 1990.

Today Lars (a logistics guy in the army in a prior life) proposes a visit to the Cabrillo National Monument and its lighthouse. This, I note, will accomplish what I think are his three objectives. He wants to please not only his mother, but me and our family?s 11-year-old dog.?The place is named after Juan Cabrillo who landed here in September, 1542. But things have changed a little in the intervening 476 years.

There?s genius in logistics.

Tools of the light house trade.

Lars has been to the lighthouse before, and so has his mom. But mom doesn?t remember and I haven?t been at all. I navigate from the back seat at his request, i-phone in hand.

We find a parking spot, cross the street to the stairs and begin a slow ascent to the beacon that on November 15, 1855 began to guide ships, fishing boats, drug traffickers, you name it, into San Diego Bay.

I had been attentive, I thought, to the signage about pets as I guided my dog up the hill.

Not attentive enough. Just as our white-whiskered chocolate lab mix was leaving a large mark on the landscaping, a man in a fluorescent green vest approaches, clearly headed straight toward the woman at the end of the red leash: me.

Fortunately I have a thin plastic bag and as I stoop to scoop the poop, he advises me that sure enough, dogs are not allowed, m?aam.

I am not the more patient of the two in our marriage, so I am just fine with returning to the car, rolling down the windows and catching up on emails while hubby and mother-in-law see the sights. But Lars is quicker than me. Reasoning with the politeness I know to be genuine, he points out generously that I have never seen the lighthouse. I continue inching up the hill with my mother-in-law while Lars returns with the pooch.

I learn that the lighthouse, often obscured by fog and low clouds, was extinguished after 36 years and a new beacon constructed at the base of the hill.

My mother-in-law is in many ways quintessential to her role. Her sons can do no wrong, and although I was set up by her, our marriage has always in her mind been the best thing that could ever happen to me. I was expected to be grateful. And for most of those 25 years I have been. But now, I sense all those burdens have been lifted. She could simply enjoy the day, the company, the dog. She no longer needs to decide how I should feel.

I know I have enjoyed her kindness and support in many ways over the years but suddenly, that upside dominates our relationship. She smiles, she doesn?t ask difficult questions, she struggles to remember words and instead uses her hands, waving them about in mild frustration to describe ideas in the air ? but somehow gets her thoughts across anyway. And those thoughts are never complex, her attitude is always upbeat, her outlook persistently optimistic.

Who says old age is not for sissies? It seems pretty delightful to me.

 

My mother-in-law stands in the graduation picture in a frame dominated by men. It?s Stanford Medical School?s class of 1952. Prim and erect, her lips are compressed in a forced and dutiful ?but genuine–smile. That duty would be to treat patients in a rural community in northern California for nearly 50 years. And every other winter she would visit a remote Indian village on the sea of Cortez to treat the Seri Indians there while her husband du jour would go fishing.

 

So when we enter the museum next to the lighthouse it is with interest we both examine the display about the country?s first female lighthouse keeper.

We admire the view, acknowledge the quilts, study the lenses. Then we descend to the parking lot where my husband and her son waited with the dog. As I stand outside the busy women?s restroom listening for any call for help for what seems an hour, I text Lars to pull up out front. The doctor is pretty tired, although I suspect she works to conceal it.

 

After a picnic in a park where I hover over a dog that is expressly existentially prohibited, I watch some bulky but athletic young men wash a fire truck next door. Then we return the doctor to her assisted living quarters. Then we return to our hotel room.

I used to dread visits with my mother-in-law but this time I saw two beauties: My husband caring gently and gracefully for a person who is not in many ways present any more. And I saw a woman whose edges have worn down, whose good will has been purified, cleansed of the criticism she used to feel the need to carry. The intent of the doctor remains, just parts of the knowledge ? and a rough edge ? have been worn away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blogpost

Gunning for reason

Just about everything has been said about guns in the past month.

Because everyone has an opinion.

Yup, I?m getting to mine. If I can just figger out what it is.

I am one of the few people in the middle of this. That is, not entirely decided. And you should be too.

Let me explain.

My friend, who we?ll call ?Brooke,? lives in Montana. We grew up together in the Rattlesnake Valley north of Missoula. She fed her horse in the morning then got on the bus. I fed my horse in the morning then got on the bus. The same bus.

Her dad was a doctor and my dad was a university professor, but at the time, that didn?t matter. I really looked up to her because she knew how to handle a horse. She was a professional. A barrel rider, the real deal. When you talk about girls who are horse-crazy you are not talking about Brooke. Brooke went beyond horse crazy. She was part horse. When she rode she actually became part of the horse.

While I lugged every Bronte sister?s book through the halls of Lincoln school where we both attended first and second grade, she was probably lugging horse pellets, those mechanically condensed lumps of green alfalfa that horses would nuzzle right into your coat pocket for. Brooke smelled like horses. I probably smelled like books.

My pop, well, we called him ?papa,? would go hunting every fall for elk, antelope, venison. That?s all we ate. I don?t remember ever having beef. So, yes, we had guns around. We lived at the end of a dirt road on a hillside. No one ever came to visit? except some of Papa?s grad students, who always showed up just before dinnertime. I can?t remember ever seeing his gun. Or guns. Yes, we had a black bear on the back porch once. And a couple times on the front porch. Although they never figured out the doorknobs, I?m sure it gave my mother some comfort to know we had a gun. But I never saw it used.

I don?t know about Brooke, because I never went to her house?only for 4-H meetings. I don?t know if she ate beef. It didn?t matter.

 

Fast forward 40 years and Brooke has two beautiful daughters I see on Facebook circling the barrels on what looks like an overgrown monster quarterhorse. Brooke sees my two boys, one on scholarship to music school the other directing his first full-length feature film.

Her daughters are growing up in northwestern Montana, mine grew up in the suburbs of Washington D.C.

You heard it coming: these are very different places.

I am posting encouragement to the kids protesting the death machines that have killed their classmates.

Brooke is railing for second amendment rights.

Yes, we live in different worlds. But are these mutually exclusive?

 

We are the same people inside. But she is talking about a hunting rifle for food or perhaps a handgun to deter the unknown?whether mountain lion, bear or burglar. People in cities must fear only humans. I can attest that when you live in a place where no one will hear your gunshot, your fears are different.

Living in the D.C. area I concluded that my family is safer if only one person has a gun. Because if two people have guns, whoever shoots first wins. And someone is going to lose.

I imagine my greatest threat in the suburbs is a burglar?a home invasion robber at worst?who will probably carry a gun. In the calm of the not-actual-situation, I imagine myself holding my hands in the air while the burglar takes my scant jewelry or worse, my children?s report cards off the fridge. I know that I may want to have a handgun so somewhere in the house, locked up, I might just have one.

What today?s discussion, perpetuated by the Parkland survivors, is a different tool. A gun that is a machine designed to kill scores of people in seconds. This is entirely different than what you see on a rack across the rear window of a Montana pickup truck.

THAT is why we are arguing. We are talking about different things.

It?s not the same out there, people. When you don?t hear the bus going by, you don?t hear the sirens or the metro or the traffic or the airplanes. When all you hear is the wind, it is really easy to have fears. Whether those fears are real is irrelevant. What you want is a gun. A simple device that will put you in charge. It actually will help you sleep. Even if you never use it.

So the threat of losing that, or the threat of losing your status as a law-abiding citizen because it is so important to you ? that is a huge deal.

Tell that to those brave kids from Florida who are telling the adults to act like grown-ups. To them, it is simple: Guns. Are. Bad.

So clearly, we need to draw a line here.

And let?s each of us think about it before we decide where we stand. Do we really want only certain people to have guns? Do we really want to allow anyone to buy any kind of gun? What exactly is a gun and how does it work?

I don?t know where the line is. But it is not a fine line. It is broad and easy to see.

Sure, people I respect ? a marine who knows more about repeating rifles and how long it takes them to melt from firing repeatedly than I want to know; a teacher who is terrified at the mere picture of a gun?- these are different people with different skillsets and different ideology. They are both my friends. They are both patriotic Americans. Neither wants to see children die. AND both are capable of higher reason.

 

Let?s just cool off and listen to each other.

Let?s think about what the insurance industry has done for car safety.

Let?s think about why people take guns to schools.

Let?s think about the role of government as a force for good?a road builder, a protector of the whole. Let?s just think this through a little more.

 

 

Blogpost

Shifting Borders

The day I first met “Esmeralda,” she was in a tree, a worn cotton picking sack around her shoulder, picking pears on a 14-foot ladder. In my orchard.

I had never seen another woman in an orchard, besides the Lake and Mendocino County Farm Advisor, Rachel Elkins. When Esmeralda entered my life I realized that I had been living a dream, my struggles petty.

Esmeralda?s husband, Mauricio, worked for Mauricio?s relative, known as ?El Guapo.?

It was a tight labor market that year and El Guapo held a contractor?s license. Still, we were not getting the pears picked fast enough.

It must have been a Saturday, because every weekday Esmeralda cleaned houses.

Esmeralda is excessively polite, to the point I am uncomfortable with it. If I visited her at her patched-together rental trailer in the northern shade of Mt. Konocti in the hard-scrabble seasonal rustic resort of Soda Bay, she insisted on feeding me and whichever child I had in tow. She seemed truly happy when we consented. She taught my children just how rich and exotically beautiful, how exquisitely delicious Mexican food can be.

But we had different lives. Her children went to school in one district, mine, living on the border, went to another.

Then one day, Ginny at the literacy coalition called me. I had often volunteered as a tutor. This time, Ginny called me to say she had a student who would be just perfect for me.

The Lake County Literacy Coalition?s mission is to teach people to read. In the absence of other programs, it often filled in those days, the 1990s, the roll of teaching immigrants to speak?and read?English.

Her name is ?Esmeralda,? Ginny told me, and you are going to love her.

She was right.

Here was Esmeralda, back at my house, struggling to pronounce English words from my children?s early books. Soon Esmeralda moved on to INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) documents. I don?t think I really helped Esmeralda very much. She took it on herself. I told her to stop watching telenovelas, to watch American television. Stop using her children as translators, try to listen and speak for herself.

I don?t know how much Esmeralda followed my instructions. But I know Esmeralda?s efforts to thrive, not just survive, to actually live her life to its fullest, in the often racist community of Kelseyville California.

I was proud to be her friend. I don?t remember the date but it was the first mention of building a wall between Mexico and the U.S. that prompted me to remark to her?and to anyone else who would listen, ?if this wall is built, it will soon serve only to keep gringos out of Mexico.? The idea of reversing the rolls of our nationalities was funny then. It must have been decades ago.

Every year the Lake County Fair reserves a Sunday for Latino Day. Sunday is often the only day the masses of agricultural workers have off.

For most Americans, the work week is limited to five eight-hour days. In northern California the growing season?roughly March through October is precious work-time. Ag employers can pay up to 10 hours a day or 55 hours per week, without incurring overtime pay requirements.

So Sunday is the day you see the Mexican families stocking up for the week at the grocery store. And it is the day they can go to the fair.

This year lodged in my memory, I decided to go to the fair Sunday just for that reason. I loved seeing the Mexican familes enjoying themselves. But I was shocked and disappointed to encounter not one single Mexican family. Indeed, the fair seemed dead, gone, empty, vacia.

I stopped at the Sheriff?s booth?what is going on? I was told that INS had planned a raid and that word had gotten out. I questioned the officer. Is the sheriff, an elected official, required to cooperate with this federal activity? The man became nervous.

I don?t know exactly what I said, but it was something about how agriculture in this county, the largest business in the region, depended on the immigrant workers?that by cooperating with the federal action, the sheriff?s department would be violating the trust of its constituency. I met no argument.

Soon thereafter I told Esmeralda to have her kids memorize my phone number. If anything happened to her or to Mauricio, I would take care of them. If they cam home one day to find their parents gone, if they were one day lifted from their lives?for they had lived here 20 years?all would ultimately be fine. Just tell your kids that if that happens to call me and I will pick them up, wherever they are.

Esmeralda wiped her eyes and thanked me.

Fast forward 15 years.

The youngest among our collective children is a senior in high school, the eldest a recent B.A. cum laude recipient.

Today, the prospect of deportation is greater than ever.

So last week, eager to be of help, I asked Esmeralda over a glass of wine, if she remembered my comment about the wall. She did. That it would only prevent the gringos from going south. It begged my next question:

?What will you do if you are deported??

I had been wary about asking this question. I could only imagine the fear she lived with.

But I was wrong.

She shrugged.

?So they deport me to Mexico,? she said. ?Fine ? I would perhaps rather live in Mexico.?

 

Blogpost

Blossoms

Baby Blue Eyes

Saturday morning came early. It followed a rough week of paperwork, dishonest tenants, legal decisions, teetering hopes.

So when my dear henna-headed friend who I?ll call ?Terre? texted her idea, I rolled back over onto my pillow. I would have to think about it.

The evidence shows she texted me at 8:34 a.m. and I answered at 8:36.

Terre

Terre works for a start-up that is bringing “screaming fast internet? to a rural county in northern California ? in a county that would later that week be called the unhealthiest county in the state, despite having the cleanest air.

She?d had a stressful week too.

So breakfast at a working class small-town purple-boothed restaurant named after a large tree would be followed by a relaxed hike to check on the wildflowers.

I don?t think I have to say much more here. It took me a full two minutes to become cogent, assess my options and make a heartfelt, if not downright enthusiastic, decision.

Bitterroot

The waitress said little and had to set her notepad down on the next table to take down our order. She had a broken wrist, according to Terre. How she knew this I didn?t ask.

The eggs were over easy, the homefries were hard to resist.

Then I saw the busboy.

?Jose,? I said, his quirky last name instantly rolling off my tongue even though if you?d asked me yesterday I doubt I could have come up with either. His eyes were familiar, his mannerisms I knew as well as my own. Jose was part of my family.

Jose is the eldest of four children raised by a single mom on thin wages in an agricultural area. My husband had been his big brother, back when Big Brothers and Sisters brought such kids and adults together. This was 25 years ago.

Jose went camping and rafting with us, sleeping under a tarp in the rain without complaint; he slurped up whatever we were serving for dinner with a huge smile and a thank you. He always took his plate to the sink. He was about 12.

I watched him cheerfully moving through the restaurant, back and forth with his charismatic grin. I noticed a huge vicious scar near his elbow and asked. Without pausing his work, he explained he had fallen through a roof?and had broken some ribs. I wanted to ask more but he was busy.

He has a life now.

Highland Springs Recreation Area, northern California

Going out to look for wildflowers suddenly seemed trite.

First we saw the shooting stars, my favorite flower.

Shooting Stars

I told Terre about Jose and how I?d watched Big Brothers and Sisters pairs work in the community garden we hosted on our 50-acre farm. We?d disced up a plot near the barn where ?Bigs? would come with their ?littles? and work weeding squash, tomatoes, pumpkins, onions. Each little would go home with a bag of groceries from the garden, the fruit of their labors. (Notice how I did not use the word ?literally? in the prior sentence?)

Nemophila

Next we saw a flower I couldn?t identify, but Terre seemed pretty confident in naming it ?nemophila.?

I told her about how the kids learned gardening skills but also took home something to make that single parent proud.

I remembered how my own son, aged 6, had learned to love radishes by planting some seeds and watching them grow. I did not tell my son that I preferred liquid shampoo on my salad to the pretty pink bulbs. His pride defined his taste.

As we explored rough raw hillside that would soon become unbearably hot?and remain so until late fall?I realized that it is up to me to take that power of suggestion and make it into something. Planting seeds isn?t enough.

What the heck is this?

 

Blogpost

Gunning for Reason

Just about everything has been said about guns in the past month.

Because everyone has an opinion.

Yup, I?m getting to mine. If I can just figger out what it is.

photo: durysguns.com

I am one of the few people in the middle of this. That is, not entirely decided. And you should be too.

Let me explain.

My friend, who we?ll call ?Brooke,? lives in Montana. We grew up together in the Rattlesnake Valley north of Missoula. She fed her horse in the morning then got on the bus. I fed my horse in the morning then got on the bus. The same bus.

Her dad was a doctor and my dad was a university professor, but at the time, that didn?t matter. I really looked up to her because she knew how to handle a horse. She was a professional. A barrel rider, the real deal. When you talk about girls who are horse-crazy you are not talking about Brooke. Brooke went beyond horse crazy. She was part horse. When she rode she actually became part of the horse.

While I lugged every Bronte sister?s book through the halls of Lincoln school where we both attended first and second grade, she was probably lugging horse pellets, those mechanically condensed lumps of green alfalfa that horses would nuzzle right into your coat pocket for. Brooke smelled like horses. I probably smelled like books.

My pop, well, we called him ?papa,? would go hunting every fall for elk, antelope, venison. That?s all we ate. I don?t remember ever having beef. So, yes, we had guns around. We lived at the end of a dirt road on a hillside. No one ever came to visit? except some of Papa?s grad students, who always showed up just before dinnertime. I can?t remember ever seeing his gun. Or guns. Yes, we had a black bear on the back porch once. And a couple times on the front porch. Although they never figured out the doorknobs, I?m sure it gave my mother some comfort to know we had a gun. But I never saw it used.

I don?t know about Brooke, because I never went to her house?only for 4-H meetings. I don?t know if she ate beef. It didn?t matter.

 

Fast forward 40 years and Brooke has two beautiful daughters I see on Facebook circling the barrels on what looks like an overgrown monster quarterhorse. Brooke sees my two boys, one on scholarship to music school the other directing his first full-length feature film.

Her daughters are growing up in northwestern Montana, mine grew up in the suburbs of Washington D.C.

You heard it coming: these are very different places.

I am posting encouragement to the kids protesting the death machines that have killed their classmates.

Brooke is railing for second amendment rights.

Yes, we live in different worlds. But are these mutually exclusive?

 

We are the same people inside. But she is talking about a hunting rifle for food or perhaps a handgun to deter the unknown?whether mountain lion, bear or burglar. People in cities must fear only humans. I can attest that when you live in a place where no one will hear your gunshot, your fears are different.

Living in the D.C. area I concluded that my family is safer if only one person has a gun. Because if two people have guns, whoever shoots first wins. And someone is going to lose.

I imagine my greatest threat in the suburbs is a burglar?a home invasion robber at worst?who will probably carry a gun. In the calm of the not-actual-situation, I imagine myself holding my hands in the air while the burglar takes my scant jewelry or worse, my children?s report cards off the fridge. I know that I may want to have a handgun so somewhere in the house, locked up, I might just have one.

What today?s discussion, perpetuated by the Parkland survivors, is a different tool. A gun that is a machine designed to kill scores of people in seconds. This is entirely different than what you see on a rack across the rear window of a Montana pickup truck.

THAT is why we are arguing. We are talking about different things.

It?s not the same out there, people. When you don?t hear the bus going by, you don?t hear the sirens or the metro or the traffic or the airplanes. When all you hear is the wind, it is really easy to have fears. Whether those fears are real is irrelevant. What you want is a gun. A simple device that will put you in charge. It actually will help you sleep. Even if you never use it.

So the threat of losing that, or the threat of losing your status as a law-abiding citizen because it is so important to you ? that is a huge deal.

Tell that to those brave kids from Florida who are telling the adults to act like grown-ups. To them, it is simple: Guns. Are. Bad.

So clearly, we need to draw a line here.

And let?s each of us think about it before we decide where we stand. Do we really want only certain people to have guns? Do we really want to allow anyone to buy any kind of gun? What exactly is a gun and how does it work?

I don?t know where the line is. But it is not a fine line. It is broad and easy to see.

Sure, people I respect ? a marine who knows more about repeating rifles and how long it takes them to melt from firing repeatedly than I want to know; a teacher who is terrified at the mere picture of a gun?- these are different people with different skillsets and different ideology. They are both my friends. They are both patriotic Americans. Neither wants to see children die. AND both are capable of higher reason.

 

Let?s just cool off and listen to each other.

Let?s think about what the insurance industry has done for car safety.

Let?s think about why people take guns to schools.

Let?s think about the role of government as a force for good?a road builder, a protector of the whole. Let?s just think this through a little more.

 

 

Blogpost

Deciding for Your Self

Somewhere in Nevada

Decision-making seems hard but it?s really not.

Once you decide that it is not.

The NOT making a decision is what makes things hard.

Like last week. I had to decide whether to sleep out under the stars or find a motel. And if the latter, a cheap motel it would be, for I was in that vast interior landscape Utah tries to hide?-where franchises with standards cannot reap enough profit to risk it.

I was en route from California to Colorado, on a mission to visit my kid and relieve him of the basement and closet and kitchen cupboards-ful of mom junk I had ditched him with sometime last spring.

I was feeling emancipated. Free. I flapped my wings and flew across Nevada, listening to a random thumbdrive of music ? that thumbdrive the Craigslist dude had thrown in with the title to the car.

I had flung myself to the winds of Nevada, through which I marveled at the spontaneous beauty of clouds condensing and falling to earth.

So.

My favorite campsite or sketchy roadside motel?
This trip I was not trying to lose something, I was trying to find it.

I thought through the ex-boyfriends, the friends-who-are-women, my husband, my kids ? would they ALL have chosen the motel? Well, maybe not my oldest son, no, not him.

And would I?

Roadscape: Utah

To me it was about the stars, about waking to hear an owl, to freeze my nose in the fresh chill of morning?s pure, cold air. Air that had been stirred only by the silent wings of that owl. And oh, did I mention the pure pure blue silent sky with stars?

I was traveling in an empty, nay, spacious Subaru, which, made of love or made of uninsulated metal car body it mattered not. My dog ?and potential source of either warmth (camping option) or trouble (sneaking my dog into the only motel in town can be tricky) was safe in California in the care of loving cousins.

I was alone. It felt delicious.

And I had a moon roof through which to see the sky.

I turned off the big interstate onto the two-lane, (definitely qualifies as Blue Highway in William Leastheat Moon?s vocabulary,) road that would link me in about 30 miles to the dreaded I-70, my express route directly avoiding as much of gorgeous Utah as possible to Colorado. The upcoming turnoff would be my last chance.

My favorite campsite was approaching almost as quickly as darkness. What should I do?

I glanced at the thin gauge showing an outside temperature of 19 degrees. I had only my summer sleeping bag.

The road climbed gently. As it did so, even as the sun had long gone, my world got brighter.

Snow.

Lots of snow actually.

I had no tent. I would sleep in the back of the Subaru. I would open the moonroof cover and look at the stars.

I squirmed in delight.

I glanced again at the thermometer: 17 degrees.

Hmm.

Even if it were the most run-down of hotels it would have a hot shower, I thought. And probably a coffee maker.

Soon the rectangular brown sign came into view, indicating the turnoff to my campground.

Somehow, my turn signal started blinking and the Subaru slowed. I turned onto the dirt road, snow on either side but very little on the road itself.

Hadn?t a friend who borrowed my car said that it drives itself?

Then the concerns arose as they always did here: Would the campground be full? Would I have to take one of the overflow sites among the neighbors? cows? Who would be there? Children playing in the creek like last summer? Or more likely now, skiers? Hunters and guns? Corn-fed Midwesterners with children playing on i-pads in their camp chairs while dull music thumped from an RV?

Where the road turned south I also realized I had no stove so I would be eating what I had on the seat next to me?cheese, crackers, oranges. I looked at the pink horizon. That would be just fine.

Maybe the campground would be empty ? maybe I could get my site –number 11–without worries and the morning light would bounce off the red walls onto the glimmering trees, warming me without need for coffee. Maybe the owl was still in residence.

I made the last turn, toward the west again. The road was really snowy now, with few tracks.

Then the impossible occurred. Bright reflective paint barred my way.

?Campground Closed.?

Shock then pure dismay filtered through the headlights. I must have sighed. I stared at the barrier, considered checking for a lock.

I glanced to my left and spotted a pristine, dark blue city car. Maybe a Honda Civic.

Someone else had met this horrible end also.

Clearly, someone must be in it. Trying to sleep ? or something. It was early yet, 8 pm. Probably awake. If I were in that car, I would not be wanting company, I conjectured. In fact, what WAS that car doing there? I thought about where I?d go if I were traveling across the country in a stolen car?not a hotel.

I backed into the parking lot so as not to shine lights directly into the car.

I thought about who might realistically be in that car.

A woman, slightly worried about being alone? A bird nerd sleeping early to wake for the owl? A hunter who would rise early and drag in dead animals? Probably just college kids travelling cheap.

I slowly headed east. Sad, but still free.

I had made the decision to sleep out.

And in a way, the decision had made me.