Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Town Where I Live

When I left the mountain to head to my brother’s house for a family dinner last Sunday, it had already been raining since Friday. Other than water draining over the highway, road conditions weren’t too bad. There’s a drainage—“the dip”—across the road about a half mile from my cabin, and when I drove through it, my thought was, ‘That’s gonna be deep when I get home.’ Indeed it was.

When I returned at 6:00p.m., there was a bulldozer down in the dip, pushing rocks and debris over the side and into the canyon. Several cars were waiting to cross. I watched a Honda Passport make it across, so I knew the Tacoma would easily. I wasn’t expecting the water to splash all the way up and over the cab. Whoa. Deep. I planned to stay home for a few days, until the rain stopped falling or turned to snow. Good thing.

The next, day, Monday, it continued to rain, and by the end of the day the water flowing near the dip had undermined, then broken, a water main. We were without running water.

By the next morning, the highway just below the cabin was a riverbed. I walked down early in the morning, only to find that the entire road in both directions had become the run-off for the higher elevations, and it wasn’t just water—the pavement was covered over with aggregate, rocks, branches, chunks of trees and a few boulders. The dip had filled with dirt and debris and the water was now diverted in front of it, creating a huge gash in the top of the canyon over which the water was falling.

The residents of Mt Baldy keep in touch via a Google email group entitled Baldy Bear Telegraph. On Tuesday around noon, word came via email that the highway lower down the mountain, north of the village, near Icehouse Canyon, was washed out in one spot. Friends who were below the dip and above Icehouse couldn’t go up or down. Or so I thought.

My phone started ringing Monday night and didn’t stop until the rain did. I averaged one call every 30 minutes during that time—people on the mountain were calling to make sure I had food and water, people down the mountain who couldn’t get home were wondering if I could accomplish one small chore or another, turning off heaters, checking on pets. At one point, I had the keys to three different cabins. No way could I run out of food or water.

In the meantime, stories began to be exchanged. While I was sitting before a roaring fire, catching up on my reading or watching my recorded NCIS marathon, brave Baldyites were out in the pouring rain, cutting dead trees to divert the flow of water back into the streambed, bringing in heavy equipment to start work on the washed out road—and repairing the water system. (By Tuesday afternoon, our water was completely restored. I had expected to be without running water for days. Fourteen hours didn’t seem long at all—but man, was I glad to take a hot bath.) Others did what they could; two of my neighbors are nurses. On Tuesday, as I brought in firewood, they stopped to chat—in the pouring rain. They were soaked to the skin, and had hiked in from their cabin a mile or so away. They were making the rounds of the cabins in my neighborhood, checking to make sure everyone was OK, asking if anyone needed food or water.

When I found out last month that the, er, gentlemen who were going to buy my cabin had changed their minds, someone said they were “sorry” and hoped I wasn’t “too disappointed.” No. Eventually, when the cabin sells for real, I will cry when I leave this community. People wonder why I ‘put up with’ the challenges of living on a mountain. It’s more beautiful here than I can say. Beyond that, I love these people who are willing to experience inconvenience and to sacrifice personal comfort in order to make the lives of those in their community better. In a world that becomes increasingly more selfish with every passing day, I cherish that quality.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Book of Bunk

I know I’m really enjoying a book when I start reading it aloud to my cat. Such was the case with the much anticipated new novel from Glen Hirshberg, The Book of Bunk. Hirshberg is a tremendous story teller—even when the man tells stories during his speaking engagements, the audience hangs on his words—and this book showcases his story-telling prowess in its most favorable light to date.

I don’t usually use my blog to promote the work of others. Heck, I hardly use it to promote my own work, except for a mention now and again. But this book has not been printed by one of The Big Five fancy schmancy publishers. It was done by a small press, and I’m all about small presses and print-on-demand these days. Besides all that, this is a damn fine book. Trust me. I read a lot of books as a Vine Voice reviewer for Amazon. Most of the stuff being offered to readers by The Big Five is not literary—it’s “mar-ket-a-ble”—schmaltzy or gimmicky or depraved, but not well written or well edited. Actually, it’s not edited at all.

The Book of Bunk takes place in the 1930’s (already I love it—my favorite decade) and concerns one Paul Dent, a young man who leaves impoverished Oklahoma during the Depression (the other one) and ends up in Trampleton, North Carolina, working for the government as a writer with the federal writers’ project.

That’s all I’m going to tell you. No really, I can’t give any more away. This book is magical and surreal and very real but fantastical. I think this is why I love Hirshberg’s writing so much. He leads his reader down a path that looks at first as if it winds through a pleasant garden. With a couple of turns, you find yourself in a dense forest, jogging to keep up but slowing down to take in the dark beauty that surrounds you. This is how I felt when I read Hirshberg’s previous novel, The Snowman’s Children, and the experience was renewed in reading The Book of Bunk.

I have placed an Amazon link to Bunk on this page in case you want to give in to that temptation to click on the “Buy it now with one click!” button. For more of me going on and on about Hirshberg’s work, there’s a review posted there as well.  Here's the link to Amazon:
The Book of Bunk: A Fairy Tale of the Federal Writers' Project
Or to order from the publisher directly (and get more information about what you're getting):
Earthling Publications

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Old Stuff, Part 3: The Dresser

When they moved from Illinois to California in 1954, the year I was born, my parents could fit very little in the U-Haul trailer they pulled behind their Buick station wagon. One of the few items of furniture they brought with them was an oak dresser. It was a solid piece of furniture with birdseye maple drawers (except for the bottom drawer, which was made of cedar and had a hinged cedar cover).

After my father knew that he was dying, he and Mom embarked upon several home improvement projects. I think that Dad, since he couldn’t work, wanted to feel like he was being productive. Unfortunately, one of their projects was to “refinish” and “antique” the beautiful natural wood of the dresser, which meant painting it a hideous color of green, streaking that with a garish gold color, and then applying a coat of shellac which gave everything a sickly yellowish hue. They also spray painted the brass knobs the color gold you see as trim on merry-go-round horses. Yeah, it was awful. But they put the thing back in my brothers’ bedroom and we mostly just forgot about it.

Dad passed away, the boys grew up and moved out, and the dresser was shifted from one home to another. Finally, when I married in 1972, Mom gave me the dresser but made me promise that I would someday refinish it. I had every intention of doing so, but life happens.  Decades later, the dresser ended up in my two boys’ room—still the same awful color it had been since 1963, but also still functioning as a very solid piece of furniture.

Three years ago, when I moved to Mt. Baldy, we put the dresser in the basement on the day I moved in. Space is limited in the cabin, the master bedroom has a beautiful, rosewood-topped built in dresser (thank you, Richard Stutsman) and frankly I was reluctant to move the old green monstrosity into my beautiful new living space.

A week after I moved in it snowed, and a week after that we had pouring rain for hours on end. It wasn’t until several days later that I went looking for something in the basement and discovered that water had leaked (a repair that was supposed to have been completed during escrow) through the ceiling down there and had been dripping for days—right on top of the old green dresser. The wood on the top was peeling up and the drawers were warped and wouldn’t open properly. I was devastated, angry, disappointed in myself for not taking better care of something that had grown in meaning for me with every year of my life. I moved the dresser away from the leaking spot, covered it up, and tried not to think of it.

Two years went by. Last winter, after I put the cabin on the market, I knew I would have to deal with paring down, getting ready to move. I went down to the basement with the intention of breaking the dresser into pieces and taking it to the dumpster. As I examined it, though, I realized it wasn’t as bad as I’d thought. The top was ruined, but it was just a thin veneer that could be replaced. The drawers were also finished with veneer and it was that which was warped, not the oak itself. Slowly, painstakingly, I began restoring the dresser, using wood glue to repair in some places, finding wood to cover the top, sanding, painting—and replacing the knobs.

Yesterday my friend Michael came up to visit and I enlisted his help. Together, we brought the green dresser out of the basement and into the bedroom where it belongs. It’s beautiful, I’m proud of the work I did on it (sorry it took so long, Mom!), and it will always be with me, truly the possession of a lifetime.