Monday, October 16, 2017

When Men Behave Badly

Quick background: I live in a mobile home park. (No, not like that--a really nice one with plenty of green space, two swimming pools, a fitness room, a library and a dog park.) A mobile home park is like a small town--a really tiny small town. Fewer than a thousand people live here. If I sneeze in the morning, my neighbor a half mile away will call in the evening and ask if I've been sick. You get the idea.

So this happened:

Last week my neighbor--Man A--allowed me to park my truck in front of his home for a day while my street was being repaved. That evening, he called to tell me his buddy--Man B--had stopped by to tell him this:

'You must be feeling pretty good--ha ha ha--since you spent the morning getting laid--ha ha ha--I saw Kay's truck in front of your house all day.'

Man A found this humorous and laughed as he shared it with me--until I told him "That's not funny" in a tone so flinty you could've started a fire with it. We went on to have a brief discussion on why it's not appropriate for a man who has never met me to talk about me as if I'm a whore.

See, we all know that this is--What did the President call it?--"Guy talk" or "Locker room talk." Giving it a testosterone-spiced name does not give it credence or respectability, and it does not excuse it.

In cases like this, women face the same universal dilemma that they always do when dealing with sexual inappropriateness or harassment: If we speak out against the source, we suddenly become "a bitch" or "psycho" or "the psycho bitch from hell."

But hey, I don't care what Man B thinks of me. He's already demonstrated that he's not a nice man. I've got nothing to lose in confronting him, right?

So I waited.

And tonight, I saw him sitting in his golf cart with his cute little Pomeranian in his lap, talking to another neighbor. So I parked my truck across the street and strolled over. The conversation went like this:

Me: Hi. We've never been formally introduced. I'm [Man A's] friend, Kay Murphy.

Man B: Oh, yeah, I know who you are. I see your truck around....

Me: Mm hmm. I just wanted to let you know that I'm a pretty nice person--

Man B: Oh, yeah, [Man A] says you're a real nice lady--

Me: So I don't really appreciate being talked about as if I'm a whore.

At this point, for a moment or two, the conversation got very loud. Man B used a technique that people sometimes use when they don't want to hear or accept or take responsibility for something you're confronting them with: THEY BEGIN TO TALK VERY LOUDLY. Which is what he did, raising the volume each time I tried to speak until I quite firmly but calmly said, "Please let me finish talking." And with a wave of the hand, he shut up.

Which gave me the opportunity, in a few sentences, to explain that, while he may have been joking with his pal, he had no right to speak about me in such a disrespectful way, especially since he'd never even met me. And that, yes, I realize he might think of it as "guy talk," in the same way our President does, but that doesn't make it any more appropriate.

And that is the point at which he finally said, "Geez, [Man A] and me was just talkin' but now I feel bad about what I said." I took that as an apology--or as close to one as I would get. I stepped forward, reached out my hand to shake his, thanked him, and told him that now when I see him I can wave and say hello "as if we're friends" (which we are certainly not and never ever will be, but still--we live in this tiny community...).

If you're a woman, you're probably cringing and nodding as you read this, because you've had similar experiences. If you're a man--and you haven't had a wife or a mom or a sister describe similar experiences and how men can make us feel like we're pox-ridden alley whores for their own amusement--let me just say that you need to stop and think about the impact of what you're mouthing off about.

As for me, I drove away feeling proud of myself, and definitely stronger as a woman.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Wherein my childhood dream is--almost--realized

That's my Cub Scout handbook. Not because I once was in the Cub Scouts (oh, how I wish!), but because I saw it at a yard sale and bought it.

This week the Boy Scouts of America announced that girls would be allowed to join. In reading some of the news and editorial pieces about this proclamation, I learned that some Boy Scout troops have been allowing girls to join for years--for decades, some of them.


I am so, so happy for all the like-identifying young girls who are eager to go on those camp-outs and attend those rallies and, most important, get started on that prestigious Eagle Scout status.

And I am so sad and bitter that it has taken this long.

Seriously, what is the deal with all this gender isolation agenda?

And by the way, yes, yes, I know many modern-day Girl Scout troops do many of the wonderful things Cub Scout and Boy Scout troops do, such as hiking and camping, but they certainly did not in the 1960's when I wanted to join. And can I just be totally honest here? As a young girl, I didn't want to hang out with other girls. At all. Ever. I never played with dolls--I found it creepy. (It's a dead baby, after all, isn't it?) Playing "dress up" was like trying on really ugly clown costumes. (No. Just... no.) I didn't have the patience to sit and color in a book for hours (though I could sit somewhere quietly for long stretches putting words on a page, but that's an entirely different activity, isn't it?). I never understood the concept of "playing house," because the entire reason I wanted to play outside (with my male friends) all day every day was to get away from the chores and dust and drudgery of all that.

Plus I wanted to climb trees and dig in the dirt and plant things and play Cowboys and Indians and play with any toy with wheels made by Tonka--bonus points if the thing had winches or pulleys or sirens or a backhoe. 

Mind you, I was not what would be characterized as a healthy, outdoorsy kind of kid. I was a tiny, underweight thing with poor vision, malformed lungs, no muscles, and a constantly sniffling nose. But that didn't stop me from wanting desperately to go on fishing trips (never the hunting trips) with my dad, or to go camping or exploring. (Kind of like the kinds of things I like to do now--but no still no fishing.)

Alas, I was not allowed to go. "You're a girl. Girls don't do that sort of thing" still rings in my ears.

In the fifth grade, I tried joining the Girl Scouts. I barely survived a single meeting with my dignity intact. For that abysmal, torturous hour, we sat in the elementary school cafeteria with bars of Dove soap, pink netting and sequins spread on the table before us, our goal being to somehow transform all that girly stuff into a lovely gift for our moms. Dear Jesus, get me through this hour somehow and I promise I will never, ever be unfaithful to my true identity ever again, amen, I prayed.

So I hounded my mom for a year or two to let me join the Boy Scouts, to no avail. (By then, my dad had passed, but he would have said no, too.)

And so, yeah, if you know me well (or follow this blog on a regular basis), you know that I spend just about every spare hour of my life making it up to myself by roaming in the woods, hiking, going exploring and having similar adventures.

Label me as you will--tomboy, androgynous, gender fluid--this is who I am. No shame--I had enough of that as a child, so don't even bring it now. I'll cut you (not with my really cool Boy Scout pocket knife with the letters BSA right there on the handle, but with my words).

We are fifty years gone from my childhood, and still there is (shockingly) push back on the BSA allowing those-identifying-as-female to join--even from the GSA (of all people!). FOX News ran a story three days ago entitled "Eagle Scout: RIP Boy Scouts of America. You were great for 100 years." Because apparently folks still believe that once girls join a club, they ruin everything.

Please, America, I implore you on behalf of all the little Kays out there, whether identifying as "male" or "female" or somewhere in between (You know "Kay" is both a "boy's" and a "girl's" name, right?), to cast aside this ridiculous gender separation agenda and simply let kids choose. Girls and boys who want to play dress up and rock the (dead) baby will do so. Girls and boys who want to learn how to build a campfire and catch a lizard and operate the manual transmission on a Hemi-powered dually will do so. Trust me. Dear god, please trust me--you don't have to tell them which gender to choose. They already know what they are.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Let it burn

Bear Canyon fire, Mt. Baldy, 2008

NOTE: I am not a pyromaniac, and I am certainly not an arsonist. Although I no longer live in the mountains (see photo directly above), fires still scare me--wherever and whenever they start. But I have to say this:

Forest fires and wildland fires are not bad.
In fact, they are good. And we should let them burn.

As I write this, a wildfire (dubbed the Canyon Fire 2) is burning out of control in nearby Orange County. So far, it has burned 5,000 acres and is 0% contained. It began this morning, driven by high winds and fueled by dry brush that has not burned in decades. Thus the explosive, quick-moving nature of it.

These same circumstances--and a couple of kids lighting firecrackers--sparked the Palmer fire that burned within three miles of my neighborhood a month ago. I've been a flatlander for four years now. After I left the mountain, I never expected to once again be watching a fire burn a few miles from my home, wondering if the wind would shift, and I would be running for my life.

I love where I live (just as I loved living in the wilderness in Mt Baldy). I chose this place because it was rural, nestled into the rolling hills at the foot of Mt. San Jacinto and Mt. San Gorgonio, with lots of open space and trails through the canyons so I could walk for miles. But just like everyone else who has chosen to live in similar settings in California, in making this choice, I have consciously chosen to live where there is danger of fire. Really, really dangerous fire.

And to say I am conflicted about this is an understatement.

I can't live in the city. For the sake of my mental health, I need the relative quiet of rural life and the opportunity for long, meditative walks in Nature with my dog. This place--a "senior" community comprised of mobile and modular homes--was developed on the outskirts of town, literally right on top of a long, deep arroyo that is used as a wildlife corridor for coyotes, bobcats, skunks and possums. Perfect. I love them all. But... the park is surrounded by hills covered in tall grass and dotted with oak trees, wild lilac and old stands of eucalyptus. Or, to characterize it in another way, firewood.

The aftermath of the Palmer fire, just a couple miles from my home.

And now, because we live here, every time there is a fire, that fire must be contained and controlled as soon as possible in order to protect human life and avoid property damage--all at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment, manpower, aircraft fuel, operational costs, Phos Chek (fire retardant), etc., etc., etc.

The Palmer fire, like the Canyon Fire 2 in Orange County, was pushed on by high winds. It raced up and over the hills to Live Oak Canyon, where it came within feet of these homes.

The truth is, if we truly love Nature, we would simply allow fires to burn instead of going to all that expense of putting them out.

Because without interference, Nature does a fine job of housekeeping. Lightning strikes spark fires in the wilderness or the forest every few years, the fires burn off the layers of duff and debris--and thin the trees, which makes the stronger, older trees healthier (which is especially important now that those trees have less water due to drought, climate change and human encroachment).

But in the last hundred years, as we've sprawled out into the wildlands to build homes, we've mustered together great firefighting armies of hotshots, pilots, bulldozers and trucks to knock down wildland fires as soon as they start--and in doing so, we've simply been stacking all that unburned fuel up to create unholy conflagrations every time one gets out of hand, as the Canyon Fire 2 has done in just hours.

When fires don't burn through an area for decades, once they do they burn so hot that everything in their path is reduced to ashes.

Of course, at this point, it would be impossible to undo what's been done. We can't expect all those people with those beautiful homes and ranches in the hills and canyons of Southern California to give them up and leave them. Hell, I wouldn't. Still, we have to find a way to let fire do what it should do without endangering property or homeowners--or the firefighters who endure excessive heat, smoke inhalation, danger from falling trees and limbs and other hazards while battling these fires.

Due to some strategic Phos Chek drops during the Palmer fire, this home was spared. I'm kinda thinking the homeowner would have just as soon seen it burn.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

This very special trip to Missouri

The Bend Bridge over the Meramec River

Good grief and hallelujah, it was so great to get back to Missouri after an absence of two years. Two years! How did I let the summer of 2016 slip past without a quick trip to see the folks I love? This trip was all the sweeter for the absence, but mostly because this guy came with me:

We are posed here in front of the infamous "big red barn" on Old Bend Road just a few yards from the farmhouse where my mother lived for a while with her grandmother, Bertha Gifford. Showing my son the farmhouse where his grandmother lived, where some of her ashes are scattered, was one of the highlights of this trip for me. He said later, as we were driving away, that he felt "serene." This did not surprise me; it is the same feeling I've always had after spending time at the farmhouse. Others see it as the "House of Mystery" and some have claimed to have seen apparitions here. I've never felt any presence other than light and peace. We were fortunate that Tim Fiedler, owner of the farm with his sister, Joyce, was gracious enough to walk us through the old farmhouse... and I could show my son where his grandmother, eighty years ago or so, took the mule upstairs to her bedroom....

In the foreground here is Ginger Collins Justus, one of the most amazing people on the planet, and next to her is Marc Houseman, historian extraordinaire and also one of the most amazing people in my life. Ginger took this photo while I was demonstrating some very complex karate moves. 

Marc and Ginger are trusted companions while I'm in Missouri, introducing me to countless interesting places, adventures and food items:

Marc is in his favorite pose here--resting in peace--at a beautiful old mausoleum that we wandered through. This was after we'd had lunch "on The Hill" in St. Louis, an Italian community so strong I wondered why my cousins hadn't moved down from Illinois to live here:

The day before, they also introduced me to deep fried pickle chips. Yes, Missouri, good job!

More than menu choices, though, I was deeply grateful for their help with the two speaking engagements I did, hosted by the libraries in Pacific and Sullivan. Marc answered questions and helped with book sales, Ginger did the same--and took photos:

Folks turned out in large numbers to hear more about Bertha Gifford. To me, the most treasured person present was David Gail Schamel. His older half brothers, Elmer and Lloyd Schamel, died while under the care of my great-grandmother. Mr. Schamel always shows up when I speak in Pacific, and he is always incredibly gracious, sharing photos of his brothers and this time, a photo of his beautiful great-granddaughter. I always look forward to these events as they give me the opportunity to meet readers face to face, some of them, like Mr. Schamel, direct descendants of people who were living in Catawissa or Pacific in those same decades Bertha lived there. The night I spoke at "The White Chapel" in Sullivan (photo directly above), I also met young Emma. She asked a question during the Q & A portion ("Does anyone still live in Bertha's house?"), and after the event came up to give me the portrait she drew of me while I was speaking:

It's a pretty true likeness, don't you think?

It's probably clear why some of these Missouri folks have become true friends over the years. Their warmth, grace and acceptance encourages and inspires me, and makes me yearn every year, as spring folds into summer, to see them once again.

Monday, September 18, 2017

What would you do?

Yesterday, while I was driving Thomas around the park where I live, a guy in a golf cart in front of me dropped a lit cigarette butt in the street.

These were my thoughts:

Whoa. Seriously? Is this an episode of "What Would You Do?"

Does he not realize how the toxins in that cigarette butt can harm the wildlife here?

Should I stop and pick that up?

Should I stop and pick that up and follow him and as soon as he stops hand it back to him? (Side note here: I have done this twice before with people I witnessed littering. "Excuse me," I said nicely, handing it back to them. "You dropped something." This produced a very satisfying feeling in myself both times, though I was cussed out twice, once in Spanish and once in English.)

Should I stop and pick it up and follow him to where he lives, then wait until dark and leave the butt in his mailbox or on his front porch or some other conspicuous place where he will be disgusted by it, as I am disgusted by seeing it there in the street?

I would not have said, "The world is not your ashtray, pal," but I would have thought it, and that thought would probably have been reflected on my face.

In the end, I did nothing. By the time I'd thought through all of these scenarios, I was a half mile away from the smoldering butt, and the man had since putted out of sight. But it bothered me all evening that I did nothing.

Would it have changed his behavior if I'd said something, done something? Probably only in this way: The next time he started to toss a butt away, he would have looked around to make sure no one was watching. But still....

I wasn't afraid to do or say something. I was simply indecisive. Because I didn't already have a rehearsed scenario for this. (If you're an extrovert, you may have trouble grasping this. All my introvert readers are nodding their heads knowingly. It's what we do; 'If they say this, I'll say that.' We have to know in advance what to say or do because the portion of our brain containing language shuts down and we go into fight or flight mode when faced with confrontation or any kind--even if it's, "Hi! How's your day going?")

Even when it feels uncomfortable, though, I need to respond. Because this community where I live (fifty-five and over, so this guy was certainly old enough to know better) is a microcosm of my town, of my state, of my country. And I love my town and my state and my country. So I should always be ready to assert myself if there's an opportunity to speak up, to say, "Hey, that's not appropriate here" in any situation.


Sunday, August 27, 2017

No Fur Kid Left Behind

Can you see her? Little Sugar Plum discovering snow for the first time.

When I moved up to my cabin in Mt. Baldy in 2007, I did so in the company of Boo Radley and Sugar Plum, my two black cats. I still had to go to work down the mountain every day, so my two companions would spend each day while I was gone either down in the basement chasing mice out of the house or up in the loft, where they could watch birds at eye level.

We'd lived there one year when a man who was camping with his daughter accidentally started a forest fire in a canyon below us on a very cold, very windy night. When my neighbor called to alert me to the fire burning several miles south of us, I called in sick to work. My cabin was not in immediate danger, but I worried that if I drove down the mountain, I wouldn't be allowed back up, and there's no way I would have left my cats up there alone.

As the fire pushed its way up the canyon toward my neighborhood, the neighbors kept in close contact, working out exit strategies. There is only one road that leads up and down the mountain, but there is a dirt Forest Service road that goes up to the ski lift and over the mountain, down the far side. We would caravan in our trucks if need be, only leaving if we absolutely had to. We had been advised earlier by the Forest Service that if our cabins caught fire, they would be allowed to burn; no fire crews would be risked to try to save them. If my cabin caught fire, I would lose just about everything I owned except what I could fit in my Tacoma--and the cat carriers took up most of the space.

After several days, though, the Hot Shots and other crews contained and controlled the fire, though there were still some hot spots burning deep in a few side canyons. Before I returned to work, I made sure that if the fire flared up again and law enforcement closed the road, I could still get home. I'd have to walk, and it would take me four hours or so (as near as I could figure), but I devised a plan with a friend who would drop me at the base of the mountain where I could follow the creek trail to the village. Then I could simply walk the road the rest of the way up to my cabin. If I had to walk out carrying two cat carriers down the mountain, I would. No cats left behind....

I promised them that. Every time we had a big storm, friends down the mountain would offer guest rooms and couches so that I didn't have to drive to work or home in treacherous conditions. I would have happily taken them up on their offers had it not been for the two furry individuals who waited for my return every afternoon.

One winter a sudden and severe storm developed while I was at work. From outside my classroom door, I could look up to the mountain, and I knew it was bad. As soon as the last bell rang, I ran to the parking lot, jumped in the truck, and headed up the mountain. By the time I reached the switchbacks (the steep, winding road that led up to the ski lifts and my cabin), the California Highway Patrol had closed the road and officers were escorting drivers down. But I had to go up. My cats were up there. "Not without chains," the CHP officer told me. "We're in blizzard conditions." So I had to turn around and go back to the village to put on the cables I always carried in winter. When I stepped out of the truck in the post office parking lot, I was pelted with freezing rain. (It's a lot like having a Slurpee thrown at you... or a lot of Slurpees all at once... with no lovely sugary sweet flavor.) Still, with the help of a neighbor, we got the cables on quickly, and I headed back to attempt to get up the switchbacks. If I couldn't drive, I would have to walk the three miles, but by then the sun was beginning to set, so I'd be doing it in the dark if I didn't hurry.

The five minute drive took twenty-five that afternoon. Slowly but surely, I wound my way up that icy road. When I reached the top, the narrow road to my cabin was covered in a foot of snow and ice, so I found a safe place to tuck in the truck for the night, grabbed my backpack and started walking.

Snowfall is beautiful, and I love walking in it. But a blizzard includes high winds that whip the tiny ice crystals across your face and into your eyes (even if you're wearing glasses). I tried to trudge with my head down, but doing so caused me to take a wrong turn in the waning light, and I ended up disoriented at the end of a side road that led to another cabin. 'Take a breath and go back the way you came,' I told myself. I did, and it worked. I found the road again, and finally made it home just as total darkness fell. Both cats were waiting for me at the front door--and they nearly fled when they saw me. I was completely covered with ice and snow. But I was home. And we were safe.

"I told you," I said, as they huddled nearby, watching me shed several pounds of soaked clothing, "I will always come home. I will never leave you here."

The back side of my cabin after the blizzard of 2010.

I think what made me feel so strongly about never leaving them behind was watching the heartbreaking news coverage of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. My mom was living with me at the time, and we watched together as Coast Guard and law enforcement helicopters plucked survivors off porches and rooftops, often forcing them against their will to leave their pets behind.

Best Friends, the animal rescue group based in Kanab, Utah, were the ones that organized the biggest concerted effort to go into New Orleans and the surrounding areas just days after the storm ended to rescue dogs and cats that had been left behind. Hundreds and hundreds of dogs and cats. As days went by and the extent of the devastation from Katrina unfolded, I mentioned to Mom that I felt like I should send a donation to Best Friends. "I already wrote a check for a hundred bucks," she told me. "I just don't know where to send it." My mom, my hero. I went online, found the address, wrote out a check myself, and mailed both in the same envelope the next day.

Nowadays, of course, it's much easier to donate, just a couple of clicks.

And we've learned. As you watch the coverage of Hurricane Harvey and the rescue effort now taking place, you will see people being helped to safety--along with their dogs and cats. In all, 600,000 dogs died or were abandoned during Hurricane Katrina. That won't be the case this time, but there will still be a huge need for groups like Best Friends to rescue pets that were left when people were caught away from home when the hurricane hit. I have no doubt that a team from Best Friends is already preparing to gear up and meet that need as soon as they can possibly get to Houston.

If you'd like to help with that effort, it only takes a few clicks to donate. Click on the link below, and it will take you to the Best Friends site. In my opinion, you're a hero if you do!

Click here to donate to Best Friends.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

More Garden (and Wildlife) Notes

A week in the life of a back yard gardener:

Every night a possum sneaks into my tiny back yard and eats exactly one half of one peach. How do I know? Because I pick up the fallen peaches every day. And every morning there is always one fallen peach--one big, beautiful peach--lying on the ground on the far side of the tree, so carefully incised down to the pit that it looks as if someone with opposable thumbs cut in half with a knife. I have never seen Ms. O. Possum. (I had to do a Google search of "What does possum poop look like?" in order to differentiate between skunk poop and opossum.) I did, however, see one of her young 'uns very early one morning in late spring when I went looking for Purrl. Both were in the planter area. Purrl was sitting sedately on the retaining wall, watching the little critter with wonder and amazement. ("Mom--is that a weird looking cat?") The little joey (yep, that's what they're called) was backed up against the neighbor's fence, growling fiercely.

By the way, "possum" has now become an accepted spelling of "opossum," so you folks my age can stop spelling it like this: 'possum. (Further note: According to the Oxford Dictionary, we are still using the apostrophe for young 'un--because it is a contraction of 'young one'--although most spell check software will then redline the "un." Less stuffy wordsmiths simply use "youngun" as the spelling--though they claim only old folks like myself use that slang term. Hmph.)

Around midday Monday I noticed a small mantis on the hummingbird feeder outside my kitchen window. I saw it periodically throughout the day, and again first thing Tuesday, hanging out to wish me a good morning. Can you see it?

I wasn't sure how to proceed, as the feeder needed refilling, but I didn't want to disturb whatever she was up to. Apparently the little diva hates paparazzi, though; as soon as I'd taken her photo (with my iPhone, no flash), she exited.

A couple of days later, when I went to fill the feeder again, there were two very tiny--mantises? manti?--hanging out on the plastic "flowers." When I very carefully the feeder, they climbed capably onto the Mexican Bush Sage and proceeded to blend in nicely.


This actually happened on Tuesday evening. I left Purrl sitting happily on the patio at dusk and walked across the street to ask a neighbor if she needed help loading something into her car. We talked. When I realized it had gotten dark, I hurried back across the street, looking for Purrl in the back yard. No Purrl. I walked into the house through the open patio door to find her hunched over the recently deceased Mr. Rat. Yes, I know, it's another life form that should be honored because-- okay, no, no, no, there are rats living under the house and they're using it for a toilet down there and just, NO. They need to vacate or die. I'm sorry I can't be more Zen about this. Good girl, Purrl-Jam!

But this made me rethink who was eating the fallen peaches. Now I wonder if it wasn't both Ms. Possum and Mr. Rat. Which, during my morning meditation after yoga practice, elicited this imaginary conversation:

Ms. Possum and Mr. Rat are two feet apart in the tall grass under the peach tree at midnight.

Ms. P: This lady is very nice. She leaves these peaches out for us. Also, she didn't let her nasty gray cat eat my Joey a few weeks ago.

(In my mind, the possum sounds very kind and feminine, like a hippie earth-mother or the type of mid-western woman who bakes pies for people in her church.)

Mr. Rat: Oh gawd I've smelled that cat. That thing needs to choke on a chicken bone and die.

(In my mind, the rat sounds like the governor of New Jersey. Don't ask me why.)

Ms. P: Oh dear. That's harsh to say about any living creature. Well, except perhaps for slugs and snakes. But they are delicious! And a girl's gotta eat! Ha ha ha ha!

Mr. Rat: Ha ha ha ha ha! Yeah, lady, I get yer point. Eat all the yard snakes ya want. I don't want 'em comin' down to my resort. We got it all to ourselves down there.

Later that morning, I went out to water and checked beneath the peach tree. For the first time in three weeks, there is no half peach gnawed down to the pit. Such is the circle of life....

After watering, I went out to walk Thomas and heard Mr. and Mrs. Raven calling repeatedly. They're raising two teenagers right now. I feel for them. Although their chicks are almost as big as they are, they still look babyish with their unruly feathers and gangly body parts. The patient couple continues to help them hunt and eat. One day last week, when the temperature was 102, I heard one of the ravens calling repeatedly over the course of twenty minutes or so. I was trying to write, but the loud "SQUAWK!" repeated every ten to fifteen seconds finally drew me away from my desk and outside.

"Raven! What do you want?!?" I called to the rooftops. (By now, I'm not concerned about what my neighbors think of me. I believe I've sufficiently established the odd-reclusive-writer persona.) In answer, one of them (Mr.? Mrs.?) flew down to the street and stood by the gutter, looking my way. Oh. Of course. Water. At that moment, someone's automatic sprinklers clicked on, and run-off began to trickle into the gutter. Suddenly all four Raven family members were in the street, guzzling water.

On Wednesday morning, when I heard Mr. or Mrs. calling, I looked up to see what was amiss this time. Nothing. Mom and Dad were just calling Junior and Junior to breakfast. What was on the menu? A rat, much like the one Purrl caught. When Thomas and I walked up the hill to the corner, I could see the roof of the neighbor's house, the proud parents standing by as one of the juniors tore into the flesh of the lifeless rodent. Again, the circle of life....


One of the recurring themes in Herman Melville's work is the underlying rot, decay and erosion under all things beautiful. (Thus, if you look closely at a rose bush, you'll see the aphids and leaf fungus beneath the blooms.) I see this constantly in the garden. Just look at my beautiful squash plants:

If you look closely at the photo above, you can see a tiny crookneck squash that has formed and now just needs to grow bigger before I can eat it for lunch in a week or so. The squash plants in the photo above the crookneck are zucchini, and while there is a tiny zucchini on one of them, alas, I will probably never get to eat it. All those big broad beautiful leaves are covered with tiny black insects on their undersides which are sucking the life out the plants. Sigh. I worked so hard! I dug out my bottle of Spinosad (a natural insecticide that kills insects in a very fascinating way without harming the other creatures in the garden or the creatures who eat those creatures) and sprayed everything--the zucchini, the crookneck, the tomatoes, the kale and radishes. Arrrgh. Being an organic farmer is hard.

I had to call my friend Harry, who has grown practically everything you can grow in his eighty-six years on this planet, to ask him when I will know when the corn is ready to eat.

"Well, when the tassels are brown and dying and it looks like a fat ear of corn," he said.

Oh. Well. Okay.

My son is visiting from San Francisco. If we'd taken a selfie together this time, I would post it here so you could see my giant smile. But we didn't. So here's a photo of Harry (mentioned above) talking to other writers (about writing--but just imagine him telling you everything you ever wanted to know about gardening):

I'm only growing radishes because my son requested them, so I pulled up a big juicy fat spicy one for him and watched him eat it. "It's good" was his less-than-lavish praise of the thing. "Good" was pronounced in a short, clipped manner, the entire sentence pronounced in less than a second without him making any eye contact. Which led me to thinking about how the pronunciation of that word--as he did, with a shrug in his voice, or in this fashion: "It's gooooood!"--can vastly alter the communication of a thought. I think these things because I'm a writer. I truly cannot help myself. I really did spend some time pondering that one word. Good. So that was good.

I had to pull up the zucchini plants and dump them in the green waste barrel today as they were so very full of the little black aphids I wanted to scream and light the plants on fire.

To comfort myself, I harvested two ears of corn and took them into the house immediately to boil and eat. It was tender, sweet, delicious, and worth all the work I put into it. Yum.

The crookneck squash, so far, is surviving. Fingers crossed. The tomatoes look beautiful.

And there is a pair of Roadrunners--the real kind, not the cartoon kind--hanging out in my neighborhood, which makes me very happy.
PLEASE NOTE: Real roadrunners are about the size of a chicken. They are not the size of Wile E. Coyote.

Note: This post was originally scheduled to go up on Sunday, August 13th, 2017, but in the two days before, all hell broke loose in Charlottesville, Virginia, and subsequently my heart spilled out onto the page in the piece that follows this one.