Sunday, March 29, 2009

The recluse walks at dawn

My cabin sits just back from the rim of a small canyon, which is actually a finger—a glorified arroyo, if you will—of a larger canyon. At the top of ‘my’ canyon, a tall waterfall brings icemelt cascading down from the top of the mountain. In late winter and early spring, if we’ve had enough snow, the stream of runoff from the falls, which normally goes underground, trying desperately to fill the aquifers of this arid mountain, runs along up top, rushing, gurgling, pouring down the canyon, eager to meet the larger San Antonio Creek. From my cabin, even with the windows closed, I can hear the water music down in the canyon.

This morning when I walk at dawn, it is this sound that greets me as I leave the cabin. Standing on my front porch, I can look down the mountain to the lights of the city beginning to fade in the dawn glow. A wide band of blue stretches across the sky down there. Another band of color—sunrise pink—hovers above the blue as the sun stretches and thinks about rising.

It is 50 degrees. I pull the hood of my sweatshirt up, stick my hands in my pockets, and start up the road.

Eric’s curtains are closed this early. He lives in Connecticut but comes here to his cabin several times a year to de-stress from his crazy-busy job. I look down to the Murdock cabin and the curtains are closed there as well. (Cabins here are identified by their people—not necessarily the current residents or visitors, but by the owner with the most notoriety. Thus, Eric’s cabin is “Finnegan’s cabin,” after the Irishman who lived there for years. A Murdock still owns the Murdock cabin, but someone else is staying there right now. My cabin—unless I live here for thirty years or so—will probably always be known as “Stutsman’s cabin,” because Richard Stutsman lived here for three decades and made it, with his wonderful woodworking skill, what it is today.)

Since last night was Friday night, I try to walk as quietly as I can past Rob’s cabin. Above Rob’s, none of the cabins on our road are currently inhabited. Because my lungs are small and the road is quite steep, I stop to catch my breath a hundred feet or so past Rob’s. Below me, I watch the flow of water over rock. Then my eyes scan the slope on the other side of the canyon. I look for Bighorn Sheep, which visit often, but today there is no one there.

Now the blue of the sky below has paled, the pink faded, as more light enters the valley. The perpetual layer of brown air that blankets the cities below is now more apparent. But it’s not a heavy blanket today, and I can see to the ocean—or at least as far as the hills that separate our valley from Orange County. The OC is covered with marine layer. The valley is not. This dictates what I will wear when I head down the mountain for a writers group meeting later today.

I continue walking higher, to where our road dead ends, and I keep going, across Doc Brauer’s front yard and around behind his cabin. (“Doc” has been dead for over a decade.) The trail winds past Deborah’s cabin, and I do a quick check to make sure it is undisturbed. Her father is in his 90’s and has been ill recently. The last time we spoke by phone, she told me, “He just wants to get well enough to travel, to visit the cabin one more time.” In her driveway, I find an empty beer bottle, freshly thrown. I pick it up and carry it with me. Her driveway leads up to the fire road, which leads to the falls. Ambling up, I stand in the wide turnout of the road, glance one more time to the valley below, across the canyon to the spectacular, thundering cataract, and then start down the trail on a circuitous walk home.

The fire road leads to the main highway. As I go, two hikers pass me. Here they are, wearing hundreds of dollars worth of gear, carrying water, off to hike for the day. Here I am at 7:00a.m. in my hooded sweatshirt, carrying an empty beer bottle, headed back down the trail. What must they think?

I cross the main highway at the trailhead where several other hikers are gearing up to hit the trail. They too, watch me as I pass, return a tentative “hello” to my cheery “Good morning!” I wander into the campground, where boy scouts huddle around a picnic table while grown men set out snacks. There are no women in this group. I have to make a conscious shift in my mind away from the resentment I still carry at not being allowed to join the scouts when I was a kid.

Several spaces down from their group I spot an empty cardboard beer carton—with 12 empty bottles—sitting on a picnic table. Under the table is an empty plastic water bottle. I grab it, add it and the empty I’m carrying to the box, then pick it up to carry it home for recycling. Across the highway, someone honks a car horn impatiently, waits several seconds, then honks again, then honks again a moment later, each time louder and longer. It’s time to get back to my sanctuary.

The campground is directly across from our road, so I quickly cross the highway and start the steep walk back up to my cabin. I pass Jimmy as he throws a jacket into his idling car, and he says good morning, not even questioning the box of empties that sits heavily in my arms.

I huff and puff my way up, past the Walker’s, who are probably just turning on the morning news, past Dr. Nicki’s. I can see a light on in her kitchen. Last winter, when I found myself walking home more often than I would have liked in twilight, through deep snow, the lights of her cabin always cheered me as I passed. Now, finally, I make the final turn and I am once again walking along the rim of the canyon. As I pass Eric’s, I see that his curtains are open and his computer is on; he will spend the day ‘telecommuting’ to his job in New York. And then I smell the sweet rich scent of wood smoke. Patty is up; I can see the smoke drifting up from her chimney. We will probably walk together later if time allows.

At my cabin, blue jays are gathered in the pine tree branches above the porch, squawking loudly and waiting for me to throw them some peanuts. “Hang on,” I say aloud as I hurry inside to trade empty beer bottles for bird seed.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

On choosing to live in the shoe

Just as inevitable as beginning to blog (check back here soon for a rant on what an ugly word that is) will be the posting of my thoughts on Nadya Suleman--"Octomom." Truth be known, I have thought about this young woman often in the past few weeks, and every time her name comes up in the news (most recently last night, when she 'fired' the free nanny service that was helping her with the tiny ones), I shake my head.

No worries--I'm not about to join the masses with torches and pitchforks trying to break down her garage door to demand she give up what she has created. (Note to Gloria Allred: Please, dear god, stop trying to tattle on her to social services. You have no idea--most people have no idea--the utter devastation that can be visited upon a family once Child Protective Services comes to take over.) My issue with Nadya is not the number of children she has. (A good rule of thumb for parents is, Can you feed and clothe all of them, and can you take them all to Disneyland at the same time? If you can afford to do so--go for it!) My issue has to do with how she acquired her children.

I know she sees Angelina Jolie as a role model. (In some ways, a lot of us do.) I think the point she's missing is that Angelina has attempted to provide homes for kids who weren't scheduled by the gods to get lots of nice things in life. And let me tell you, there are a lot of those kids in the world. Which is why it doesn't make any sense to me when people spend fortunes on IVF. (Yes, yes, I understand you want to look into the face of your child and see yourself reflected. Ohhhh, mommy, I hate to be the one to say be careful what you wish for... but....) Look, if it's really the joys of parenting you want--along with the constant stress of trying to do the utmost for your child and the guilt over never doing the utmost for your child--just grab a child and get started. It's as easy as, well, blogging. (Well, almost.)

People always find it shocking when I tell them that there are thousands of kids--hundreds in the state of California alone--awaiting adoption. No, you don't have to go to China or Africa or Mexico. Walk into your local Department of Social Services, introduce yourself to the person in charge of adoptions, and ask to see the profiles on available children. You will look through hundreds of photos of kids who are languishing in the system, floating along in the limbo of foster care while they get older every year, desperate for 'real' parents, a permanent home, a dog they can actually say is theirs... or a room of their own. Their stories are not publicized by bright lights and paparazzi. Their stories are often not pretty. They can be children of addicted mothers. Children from abusive situations. Childen who were neglected in infancy. Children who are not "perfectly" healthy. Or children who are not deemed 'desirable' by young couples seeking to adopt.

You want to embrace the challenges of parenting because you love children? I dare you to jump in there, grab one of those kids--or a sibling group, because there are many of those kids who end up getting separated and never reunited because most folks' fantasy involves that one little orphan child that brings her bright happy smile into the family to warm everyone's heart. If Suleman had been so daring, she could have adopted two or three or four sibling groups. Instead of being villified, she could have become a hero. At least to those of us who know the truth about how many kids are out there, waiting. Imagine you are that child in a foster home, hearing about Nadya Suleman, who made lots and lots of babies because she 'loves children' and 'loves being a mom.' Wouldn't you just want to start screaming, "I'm here! I'm here!"?

My friend Janice once told me, "Unfortunately, we don't all live in Kay's world." She said this in a conversation we were having as she waited for the results of an amniocentesis. She and her husband had decided to terminate her pregnancy if the baby had inherited her own congenital defect. My point to her was that the desire to create the perfect child is ludicrous. Kids are kids as much as people are people--flawed and floundering, we make our way through each day as best we can. Only kids are more resilient, more adaptable, more hopeful than adults. Kids can find the silver lining in a situation quicker than any grown-up can. Kids will speak the truth, no matter what their starting point in life was.

Nadya, sweetheart, you have my best wishes on every one of the little lives you have begun thus far. But please--if you decide, you know, once the octuplets are in kindergarten and it's quiet around the house again, at least for half a day, that you still have more energy (after fourteen baths and bedtime stories) for more children, please consider opening those all-embracing arms to a child who may have to face life later on with nowhere to go home to on Christmas day. Trust me, those kids are out there. Just look.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

It is a cold and windy day on the mountain. On most mornings, I can see down into the valley from this seat. Today I see gray cloud. Directly above me, the skylights are being covered by freezing rain. It's Sunday, so I don't have to go anywhere. A fire crackles and sparks behind me. A small black cat, her feet tucked beneath her, sits on the short space between the front of the monitor and the edge of the desk. It's not as warm here with me as it is by the fire, but she finds the wind and rain disturbing, perhaps reminiscent of her days spent huddling somewhere, homeless. I stroke her fur periodically as I write. When I'm at home, she is my constant companion. My dog-cat. Having her makes it not-as-hard to live without dogs in my life.

Because it is Sunday and the weather is what it is (not bad--we need every single drop of water), I suspect I will go the entire day without talking to anyone but this little Sugar Plum of a cat. Friends tell me I have become reclusive in recent years. I understand their perception.... But the truth is, I am more 'out' these days than in. Yes, I do live waaaay up on a mountain. But coming here has brought me more friends and neighbors than I ever had when I was a flatlander. It is true that, despite opportunities to socialize, I often keep to myself. This has to do with time constraints, mostly. But yes, I will admit to having the compulsion to withdraw sometimes. I don't get on well with people who are mean... or controlling... or derisive. I don't like to be in large groups of people who begin to whine or complain or attack others. There is too much of that in the world. Too much competition to be the most beautiful, the most glamorous, the most popular, the guy with the most toys or money or both. We have lost sight of the simple pleasures of life... the blessings we've been given that we so often take for granted... the sound of water falling over rocks... the music of the first mockingbird of spring, singing at dawn... the scent of wildflowers and warm pine... the warm rich flavor of an oatmeal cookie fresh out of the oven... the smile of a friend.

I want to remember to be thankful for those things, and others. I want to be in the present, hearing, tasting, seeing, smelling--touching what is here now, and appreciating the blessing of this life which spans the blink of an eye.

Because, other than Sugie and Boo, I am without a partner in life, I find myself talking to myself... about life, about blessings, about what makes me angry and sad and joyful. I have begun this blog with a mind to writing some of those thoughts down. I know from time to time others will read what I write. I hope that knowledge never keeps me from writing the truth as I see it. And I hope that when my words touch or comfort or resonate with someone, he or she will take the time to let me know.