I started this blog just a little more than one year ago, with the intention of its being first and foremost a documentation of reasons to be hopeful, but it evolved into a potpourri of memoir, reflections, and random ramblings, hopefully not too self-indulgent. And I’m not even sure what compels me to keep it going, but I tell myself that blogging is a discipline, an impetus to write, a self-imposed requirement to now and then produce some kind of ‘piece’, although there’s certainly a lot of leeway in that. Maybe more important, I actually enjoy doing it, and once in awhile my words connect to other souls out there, and I like that best of all.
Today, though, my thoughts can’t seem to progress beyond the sofa. It’s hot, and I have an overwhelming desire to lean back and close my eyes. So I won’t take on anything substantial. Maybe I’ll just list a few cool things from the course of the week, and I’ll catch a snooze now and then as I write. Okay with you?
Yes, I understand that the mustard is an invasive, non-native weed. In fact, I recently read a quote by one native plant expert admonishing us that mustard should be ‘destroyed, not enjoyed!’ Not only is it a fire risk, mustard also crowds out native plants and ruins habitat and food sources for wild animals. But at this time of year, it literally carpets the California hills in glorious yellow blossoms, and it is impossible not to sneak a bit of pleasure from the sight.
It’s called black mustard, and its fancy name is brassica nigra and according to legend its seed was scattered by the Spanish padres to mark the road from mission to mission. (The padres also brought disease and enslavement to the native people -- yeah, a peculiar kind of love -- but let’s not dwell on that, since history and current events are strewn with the victims of righteous believers who know only that their way must prevail. Okay. Enough. Sorry.) Anyway, coastal breezes and cattle further spread the seeds, and eventually that ‘ribbon of gold’ became a sea of it.
Around here at this time of year, the mustard is absolutely dazzling and impossible to ignore. There is a kind of psychedelic brightness to it as it shimmers wave-like in the wind, or in its stillness, washed in shifting light. On blue sky days the scene is shocking in its brightness, but even when muted by morning or cast in the silver gray of an ambivalent sky, the yellow hill season is strangely and surrealistically beautiful. (No wonder I can’t get any work done.)
Yikes. I didn’t know I would write so much about the mustard. Let us move on.
THE CENTURY PLANT IN BLOOM
I think its botanical name is agave parryi, and Nancy planted it about thirty years ago on the hillside behind her house. A huge spiky looking mass, it has minded its own business ever since, surprising no one. Now a tall spike has suddenly shot upward, thickening like a giant stalk of asparagus, curving over a bit like a cane. It is about six feet high at this point and beginning to change color and emanate blossoms, and it isn’t done yet, but it’s happening quickly. This picture shows what it looks like at the moment, but I’ll get a photograph at its culmination. I feel oddly honored to bear witness.
AND IT’S NOT ALL BOTANICAL
Other kinds of coolness unfolded in my universe this week, including social contact via the wonders of technology.
For example, Ming sent me one of her updates from Mongolia. Now there’s a girl who can write. Her emails are rich and dense with musings, just the way I like them. When you get an email from Ming, you first get up and make some tea, enjoying the anticipation of reading, and then you sit down with your tea and your computer and you savor it.
And Mr. Harbor called from England! How wonderful is it to be able to have a conversation with a gentleman from across the Atlantic Ocean and a generation? Pretty wonderful indeed. He had been listening to Glen Miller’s ‘In the Mood’. It took him back sixty years, he said. Hard times, six years of war, but there was refuge in that music.
Speaking of music, Marc sent me an mp3 file of Nina Simone singing ‘Strange Fruit’. Aside from the fact that I am always thrilled when Marc sends me music (or even spam for that matter…I just like hearing from him) this song is unbelievably powerful and haunting, even more so than the Billie Holliday version. It evokes the profound sorrow and pain that is part of our nation’s history, the shameful inconsistency that was woven right into the foundation.
And also about music, I’ve been listening to Andrew Bird. Good stuff. I especially like a song called 'Sovay', and another called 'Scythian Empires'. His lyrics are brilliant too: poetic and literate, if a bit enigmatic at times. So that's the soundtrack this week.
Back to technological communication: Jill (who happens to be Mr. Harbor's daughter) and I enjoyed a real-time frenzied-typing-chat yesterday. That probably seems mundane to the younger folks, but I'll never cease to be amazed. It's like passing notes in study hall but with no fear of being caught, and our desks just happen to be separated by an ocean and a continent.
Oh, and I acquired several new Facebook friends. I decided not to fear rejection and I went ahead and invited their friendship, which I now understand does not imply friendship at all but at least opens a door if you care to check in on them fondly now and then and also beefs up your numbers so you don't look like the weird unpopular middle aged lurker that others may suspect you of being.
To be honest, I still can’t take Facebook seriously, but it’s a curious phenomenon and I figure it might be a fun way to keep vague track of former students as they head off to college and beyond. True, it sometimes it uncovers a bit of sleaze and silliness that I'd rather not be privy to, but I don't pay that much attention. I guess I still don't know what Facebook really means. I'm starting to think a lot of it is just kids trying on images, but I'm kind of interested in its bigger sociological ramifications, although I am not among the alarmists who think it is somehow destroying authentic interaction.
When I was a teenager, I was always being yelled at to get off the damned phone. Wires constrained the radius of our wanderings in those days, so we had a long coiled extension cord that I would stretch all the way from the kitchen to the bottom of the cellar stairs. I would sit there talking for hours, and I seriously doubt that any of those conversations had great substance or significance. (In ninth grade a boy named Joe actually read to me from the telephone directory when he ran out of things to say: "Here's a guy whose first name is Dairy. Oh. His last name is Queen.")
Maybe it's always been more about connection than content. (And I hope I'm not doing that to you now.)
Major digression, that one. I could probably write a whole post on the subject.
Just a few more cool things before I go.
FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD
I tried those 'Ultimate Vanilla Wafers' from Trader Joe's. The description on the container says it all: a butter cookie with flecks of Madagascar vanilla beans. I have singlehandedly consumed almost the entire tub in three days. I guess that means I like them, but I won't buy them anymore unless Monte will help me eat them.
A new cheese store opened in Santa Barbara and I bought a cheese from the Netherlands called Leerdammer. Sweet, mild, nutty -- an amateur cheese-lover's cheese, no doubt, nothing stinky or controversial about it, but oh, it was good.
Finally, let us sing of oranges straight from the tree. This is how I know I am rich. I go outside, drink in the fragrance, gather a couple -- often right from the ground -- and eat them for breakfast.
AND A DOG
This is old Terra, a little red (now mostly white) heeler. You wouldn't know it to look at her now, but Terra was quite an athlete in her day. She used to run with us when we rode our bikes, chase cattle (bad dog, but it's instinct) and leap tall buildings in a single bound. (The last one is a lie, but she did have a lot of boing in her jump.) Terra has fallen from a cliff, been run over by a car, and is probably about 90 in human years. So she's understandably slow, deaf, arthritic, and a little out of it at times. On the other hand, she is still a velcro dog, sticking to us with a determination that is both touching and annoying. She follows us from room to room and feels terribly heartbroken and abandoned if we go someplace and do not take her with us, barking with indignation as we make our getaway. (I've tried to explain to her that it isn't always possible or practical to take her along, but she doesn't get that.) I even used to take her to school with me, but at some point it was against the rules to bring a dog to school, even if it did make the children laugh and play, or maybe that's why. Anyway, what I wanted to mention is that every once in a while, Terra completely forgets that she's old, and she breaks into sudden playfulness, all frisky and rambunctious. She does her cute pose with the paws outstretched and the rear up, then circles around and invites you to be young with her again, at least for a moment or two. She did it yesterday, in fact. And it worked.