No Saticoy

Somewhere along the Santa Clara River Valley,
The Chumash call it “a place protected from the wind”.

Aging men without women, pass it
on their way to a prospector’s desert.
Only want of being temporary Nabataeans, hiding out.

We set up camp at Emigrant Pass.
Vista of wild expanse.
Cold, stony ground – fine comfort for lonesome sleep.

The ravens cack,
fill the air with the woof of beating wings
and follow careless, cashew-dropping emigrants.

Wind whipped through Mesquite Spring
bending bachelors into weather thrashed bristlecone pine.
No saticoy.

Wabi-sabi we are becoming.
Japanese for old, bent, broken.
And as such – beautiful.

Kangaroo rats squirrel into the cab at night,
eat a hole in the bag
and nibble on date crumble.

Out in the desert even your loneliness
is something of value
and will get eaten up.

Or dry up
leaving only salt pan
to rub into your wounds
and wake your sleepy awareness.

Silence reigns supreme here,
and in this silence you need no saticoy,
taking refuge in voidness
and endless desert horizons.

New Born Evening

Along the California coast as the short winter glides into spring, the sunset light changes.  The pink blush fades from the scattered cirrus clouds and amphitheater of mountains, to be replaced with a slightly duller, waning day.  The evenings do get warmer and the promise of the Ceanothus’ bloom soon covering the mountains in a white frost is well worth the trade off.

It was one of these early spring nights when a few of us were invited to Dave’s apartment warming party.  We had all worked with Dave at the library and although it had been about two or three months since he had moved in, the showing off of his current dwelling was the excuse for the gathering.  Dave was a recent photography school graduate and his new walls were liberally hung with portraits of his one year old, adorable daughter Natalie.  To be sure, he hung a few artistic photographs – abstract things – here and there, but the man was predominately interested in displaying Natalie in different lighting angles, different places amongst the bedding blankets or out in the sunshine in the arms of mother.  Baby pictures can be quite intriguing in the hands of a professional photographer.  We all enjoyed the evening chatting and munching on the hors d’oeuvres that Dave and his wife Jen had laid out for us.  The trumpet of a long past jazz musician emanated from the stereo, red wine was poured and we watched Natalie bounce into the coffee table, reach for forbidden objects to put in her mouth or peer coyly at all of us from around the corner of the sofa.  My friend Nicole was there with her husband Dana.  Nicole certainly hoped to have children someday and she couldn’t stop giggling at the antics of Natalie in perpetual discovery of her world.  It is amazing how sometimes a small child can provide bountiful entertainment for a room full of adults.

Out on his back balcony Dave had a small barbecue fired up.  Two or three of us gathered out there as he turned chicken and shrimp kabobs and fat red peppers lined with grill marks.  We listened to the marinade hiss as it dripped into the charcoal.

“Now you’re a vegetarian, right Dow?”  Dave turned to my friend Dow.

“You thought of something other then bird feed for me, that’s great,” Dow smiled anticipating a little jest.

“Well, we mashed up an extra portion for you, of avocado and bananas that Natalie is so fond of,” Dave explained as he reached for a plate of marinating tofu kabobs.

“Oh, I am so glad you considered my dietary preference.  I was hoping of using my adult teeth though.”  Dow is always game for a bit of satire.

Dana sipped from his glass of Pinot and looked at the wreath hanging on the wall catty-cornered from the glass sliding door.  “I see you still got the Christmas decorations hanging Dave.  Are you too fond of the season to let it go?”

Dave shook his head.  “No, that’s not Christmas, it’s seasonal, wintertime decorations.”

“Winter doesn’t last long out here.  The middle of March and we’re well into spring,” Dana said letting the memories of his Canadian winters fade.

“Yeah well, we haven’t taken it down because we noticed a bird’s nest was being built in the bowl of the wreath.”  Dave pointed at the lower part of the wreath where a little dried grass could be seen coming out from behind the evergreen.  Everyone smiled and got up to look.

Dave gestured toward the trees with his barbecue tongs, “They fly in with bits of stuff and cram it in with their beaks.”

Jeff, the friend who could be found more often then any of us, hiking the trails in the mountains, hadn’t been saying much as he sat close to the balcony rail and looked out at the Eucalyptus trees draping their silvery thin leaves over the landscape.

“Yeah, they’re black phoebes, I’ve been watching them try to fly in,” he said.

At that moment everybody saw a speeding bullet of a bird head in toward us and then veer off as it succumbed to the fear of human proximity.  Jeff looked over at the wreath and then back out at the trees.  He stood and pulled a chair up to the wreath, but not too close, and said with a little skeptical curiosity, “Building a nest hunh?  They’re acting a little too anxious for just nest building.”  He stepped up on the chair and peered down into the wreath with a growing smile on his face.  “They’re feeding baby chicks.”  Grins of astonishment appeared on our faces as each person took a turn stepping on the chair or standing on their toes to see four baby birds covered in downy feathers tucked down into the nest.  The tiny altricial young did not make a sound with only slight twitchings to reveal their aliveness.

Everyone’s voice took on a shade of wonder as they discussed the merits and potential hazards of building a nest so close to human habitation.  At some point Nicole put Natalie up on her shoulders and stepped near the wreath pointing at the nest.  It took Natalie a whole minute, while her little blond curls wafted in the breeze, before she saw what she was supposed to be looking at.  When she saw the baby birds she let out a little yelp of excitement.

We decided to cut the balcony barbecue part of the party short and retreated into the apartment.  Who knows how long we held off a crucial feeding.  As the evening whined down we had to content ourselves with discussions of our favorite novels or who was going to do what after graduate school, as our source of entertainment Natalie, had exhausted her energy and was fast asleep on Jen’s lap.  Occasionally one or two of us would move over to the sliding glass door and peer out at the wreath in order to catch one of the parents feeding the baby birds.  We didn’t see much, as the night had poured into the balcony space and concealed the activities of the burgeoning family.

We all left that evening with a touch of wonder at life in its new stages.  I never did inquire with Dave how that bird family made out.  We figured the merits of that nests location outweighed any detriments and left it at that.  Nature celebrates new life not only before our eyes, but also in the secret places folded into our world.

Gardening and the Novel Idea

Something about toiling amongst weeds, trimming hedges and raking plant cuttings that busies my mind on the novel idea.  It can be anything.  A novel I’ve been thinking about writing or a brand new storyline.  I hem and haw over character’s and their potential predicaments as I snap my clippers at the weedy Oxalis, it’s buttercup bloom simple but elegant.  I’d let the yellow flowers grow all over the yard, but my landlady says a yard unkept looks like a place that has been abandoned.  So I snap, clip and trim and yet as I do this, a computer programmer or an accountant falls in love with a strange girl somewhere.  A girl he’s not supposed to fall in love with.  He lives with his mother who is a domineering  critic of all his love interests.  Or no, his mother is a sweet woman and the new girlfriend is the castigating shrew.

I pull up the dandelions, or dandelion-like plants, as these weeds seem much bigger then the dandelions I remember in Michigan.  They come out easy and I let them lie, root ball and all, for the rake that will come by soon enough.  The mallow will grow prostrate for awhile then throw up a stalk with its palmate leaves towering above the other weeds.  Many of the weeds perform this earth hugging trick and the push mower will only cut what extends above a certain height.  If I don’t want to see it again for a awhile I have to come back over with my clippers and nix it right close to the dirt or pull it out completely.  As I weed, the cast of characters in my mind can grow if I keep a running storyline.  Since my last gardening day I may have developed a number of scenes during my walks home from work.  New scenes often introduce new characters.  It can get cumbersome.  It might be fun while the novel is embryonic in my head, but it soon feels like a neighbors yard that has gone fallow.  It makes people wonder if a neglected child lives inside the house of that yard.  I remember one conversation with my friend Dow while on a road trip through the Sierra foothills.  I talked a bit about a Western gold rush story I had in mind.  Somewhere in my litany of characters Dow got a bit satirical, as he does when he thinks I’m carrying on.

“Then there’s going to be this woman that lives on a ranch by herself.  She’s beautiful but fierce,” I say. “She endured a rape and the loss of her child.  Or something of the sort.  She has some Indians that work for her; they also have suffered at the hands of white men.  She is strong and doesn’t take any crap from miners or anyone else.  Sometimes I build characters off of actors I’d like to play the parts I develop.  I picture Cate Blanchett in this role.”

The dry yellow grass of the hills speeding by as Dow holds the wheel and turns to me, “Yeah, you just want to meet her when they make the movie.”  We both have a thing for Cate.

“Well, maybe.  Anyway there is also this Chinese group that dig a claim.  And the patriarch is an old Chan Buddhist or a Taoist herbal master.  He saves the life of the runaway slave who gets sick at the Negro Hill claim.”  As I go on it gets a bit confusing in my head also.

“I think you should leave the Chinese out of it.  You have too many heads in this story,” Dow states.

“Yeah, but this is a historical novel set in gold rush era California.  The Chinese were an integral part of that time.  You know, this is like a Michener novel.  You’ve read him haven’t you?  Alaska, Hawaii, Texas.  He portrays all these different characters through the history of the place he is writing about.’

Dow staring straight ahead now.  “Does he portray them or parade them?”

Dow is right of course.  I’ve never finished reading a Michener novel.  Too much going on for me.  I need to see the story arc of one person and the few characters that play off that person.  So it is the same with my yard.  I clear everything out I deem a weed and rake them all in a pile to be composted.  Maybe the coffee plants will get a boost if the weeds aren’t soaking up nutrients and water.  Cafe arabica is not doing too well in my yard.  One plant seems to have filled out a bit, but the other is still spindly and weak.  Its leaves brown and dying along the edges.  I’m not sure what it needs.  I’m not that good with fertilizer.  I tend to believe if it can’t make it with the compost I give it, maybe it’s just not destined to grow here.  Will I ever develop these novel ideas into published works?  Maybe I need to find the right fertilizer in my head that will turn suffering seedlings into berry fruiting bushes.  Even if it is not meant to grow here.

I have cleared out the Oxalis and some other jungle grass-like thing that grows around the banana plant.  She has been doing well, the banana.  And I don’t think she cares one way or the other whether the weeds root around her rhizomes.  She’s called an Ice Cream banana and she is getting big and gorgeous, though she may never produce fruit here in this subtropic climate.  No, she favors the tropics where it rains every night.  I’ve lovingly tasted her and her kin varieties on the island of Kauai.  Peopleless road stands where you shove in a dollar or two into a little tin box and take a bunch of apple bananas (that’s a variety, not two pieces of fruit).  I meander down the road between the sugarcane fields and marvel at the orange-red dirt, a novel idea sprouting somewhere in my head.  I know, I’ll have this couple on vacation on the island.  They are trying to save their marriage with some restoring time together.  They fight about everything, but do share a love of hiking.  So they take to the Na Pali trail.  It’s winter and wet and the trail gets monsoon muddy.  She did not want to come in winter.  “But it is hot as hell in summer,” he protests.  Soon a tsunami comes and they must fight to save each others lives.  Lives they were ready to divorce from only a month before.  Yeah, two characters.  I can deal easily with that.  Back in the Hawaiian rain forest amongst abandoned, terraced, taro gardens, the domesticated banana and guava have gone feral and the weeds grow into jungle forest plants.  Thick, vibrant life with nothing out of place.