Friday, October 20, 2017


Find five things you can see:
His old guitar leans on the stand,
body like a leathern curragh of the saints,
strap curled up like a cat's tail. Silent as death.

A corduroy dog my grandmother made,
something from my childhood.

A friend's mother's ornate framed mirror,
a bejewelled beveled arch, a portal to the past.

A vase of wing feathers from the wild geese
long since departed from this shore.

My latest gift: a soapstone carving
of Chaak-mool waiting for the sacrificed heart,
something that I already gave away long ago
to a man who didn't want it.
After the cancer scare, he cleaned out the past.
Thought I might want it as a memento
to remember him by.

Four things I can touch:
An old sheepskin rug on the couch,
once a seat cover I made for my first car.

The polished floorboards of a house
built before the Crash, before my mother was born.

A dead poet's worn Balouch rug
hides the couch where I sit in the sun,
where a splash of rainbow light hovers,
a gift from a crystal in the window.

My latest favorite tea mug, empty,
yet filled with unspent grief. I still cannot eat.

Three things I can hear:
The incessant tide of freeway traffic,
everyone hurtling down the road in all directions,
but going nowhere. Occasional growling of trucks.

The tinnitus in my ears, like midsummer crickets,
distant caroling of bells. Imaginary sleighs.

An early robin yelling Chock! at the squirrel
burying his acorns in the water bowl. Again.

Two things I can smell:
Faint lavender odor from a cashmere sweater,
but the moths had their way with it.

Acrid dust, the silica souls of trees,
houses, the sum total of people's lives,
reduced to base metal, carbon and ash.

One thing I can taste:
Bitter gall on the tongue
the aftermath of fire,
mixed with salt tears.

I've grounded myself in the past.
But the muscles surrounding my heart ache,
the obsidian blade cannot sever the pain
from time present. So I offered it up to Chaak-mool.
Then the blessed rains fell, and the skies wept.



               —for Monte Kerven 1936-2017

We never knew what to believe:
his tall stories and epic fish tales,
cliffhangers woven into tapestries.
This man who helped to ban DDT.
After the dinner guests had departed,
the falconer shuffled off to bed, sated—
but an inferno raged, a river of fire
swept though Larkfield and Wikiup,
flooding the vast Santa Rosa plain.
No time to escape with his bird, still caged,
while my own kin fled a funereal pyre.
May the lone pern in the gyre
lead him onward to ride
the thermal updrafts
of those wide
 open skies.

Oct 20, 2017

Much love to Brian Kirven during this time of grief and sorrow.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

What is the most random thing you grabbed when you evacuated?

In the heat of the moment, people grabbed the oddest things. A cat tree. A hole punch. An eraser. Homework.

Shana Berger Van Cleave a pediatric dentist at The Children's Dental Health Center, in Santa Rosa, posted a question to a Facebook group, Santa Rosa Firestorm Update
She asked the group: What is the most random thing you grabbed when you evacuated?
The Facebook post took off like, er, wildfire. Shana got more than 2000 hits on her question in less than 24 hours. Most people's responses were hilarious. I was laughing hysterically well into the night as I read the posts, and decided to pull a few. But soon I had hundreds. Single shoes, inappropriate clothing, sex toys, electronics. These are a few of my favorite things in no particular order. (It's been shared 1.2k times, just about breaking the internet) thus proving that laughter is the best medicine.
Some of my favorites:

"The FIRST things I grabbed were my bow and a sword. Then I was like, "First aid!!" So all the medicines and healing modalities were next, then food and camping stuff. THEN I realized I had packed no clothes!!! I guess I was planning on being the naked healing warrior!
• Ran out of the house, with embers the size of golf balls falling from the sky, with my golf clubs. 
• The disco ball. 
My husband grabbed 2 tvs and both ps3 and ps4. (Quite a few hubbies did this).
• Overdue library book. 
• I took 3 pairs of slippers and 2 pairs of underwear...hum? 
• A bunch of dress shirts and no pants. 
• A pair of jeans I love but don't fit into anymore.
• I packed two pair of panties, my critters and what they needed...but remember thinking, ah hell! Let my bras burn. 
• I took a single sock, All 3 snow boards. 
• Saddle.  • wrong saddle. Tack.
• All my boots, none of my undies. COMMANDO! 
• When the Neighbors came I ran out as is; snapped out of it when they all said "grab a blanket or pants?" Then instead of grabbing clean clothes I got on my dirty jeans from camping and a bag with all my dirty camping stuff from the day before... 
• Kelsey grabbed one boot..... just one. • One black loafer and one brown sandal.
• All my clothes and no clothes for the hubby or kids.
• Grabbed the thumb drive, left the laptop. It was a LAPTOP
• An old cuban cigar box of my mother's filled with small mementos, jewelry, cards, and as it turns out, sequined pasties I bought at an artsy burlesque show in SF 10 years ago. We showed up at our friend's house in Petaluma and I had no clean underwear, but dammit I had my pink tasseled pasties! 
• Seriously Natalie, a typewriter? 
• I went back to get our roomba. It felt like forgetting a pet. I know that's ridiculous, but I couldn't bear the thought of our adorable robot vacuum trying to outrun the flames, cleaning our floors as it went. 
• Both my husband and I looked up at each other as we discovered we each had a roll of TP in our hands! Good to know what's important to ya. 
• Cash, guns, ammo, and kids. In that order.
• I asked my kids to pack their own bags (bad mistake!) My eight year old packed ALL her underwear and 3 small white pumpkins.. my fiver year old packed like she was going to the French Riviera, sun dresses and a bathing suit. 
• I grabbed one shoe. I forgot to pack socks. 
• I had the dog in one hand and vodka in the other. • i put my turtle in my bra, grabbed my dog and cat, meds and dabs. 
• my 7 year old filled our car with stuffed animals! My accordion (had it for years and never played it). 
• My tuning fork.• Harp. • The accordion! Figured i would have nothing to do for a few days, so i would finally learn how to play lol. 
• My dog's tooth brush and forgot my own!! (He can share). 
Rubber duckies that remind me of my friend i lost at the beginning of the summer. 
• Sons baby teeth. 
• The negatives from my wedding of a man I am divorcing. 
• Tickets to Spamalot. 
• Underwear, guns, prosciutto and beer. That's all I grabbed. A very humbling way to learn those were all of my assets. 
• We evacuated a life-size velociraptor for a friend. 
• When we got to the hotel everyone asked what I had brought and I pulled a loaf of bread and a big box of goldfish out of our emergency bucket. Everyone stayed silent. 
• Ukulele! Also some extra birth control packs yet managed to lose my current one! 
• His car is packed with literally no clothes to evac, just his magic cards and his guitar. 
• I don't even wear makeup and I grabbed my makeup bag. I had been trying to get back into the habit and I had just purchased brand new makeup I didn't want to lose. 
• My bowl of vegetables! • Dog bowl. • Cat bowl. 
• My husband grabbed my wand I got this summer from Universal Studios. I'm a Harry Potter nerd. 
• my husband was the weirdo! He had to pack his prized ninja fighting stick! I think it’s called a kendo. I gave him so much shit! It’s this expensive ass stick that was custom made for him (I call it his $800 closet pole) That said he also uses it at a walking stick when we hike and our 2 favorite places to hike are sugarloaf and hood, once the fires started there, I too got a little more sentimental about it so I guess the jokes on me! 
• My mom grabbed my collectible barbies. I’m 27 years old, mind you. 
• My oldest broken laptop. 
• My ukulele. It’s not even worth much, and totally replaceable, but it gives me joy and I need every little bit of that joy. 
• The grass-fed butter! Couldn't leave it behind. 
• Toilet paper and mac and cheese. 
• For some reason I put two rolls of TP in the catfood bag. 
• Hotsauce. • ground cumin! • A case of wine.
• Lol My 10x magnifying mirror in case I wanted to put makeup on at some point!!! 
• My friend grabbed her glasses and chopstick that was it lol. 
• My husband packed the rice pot. 
• My Vitamix and KitchenAid mixer! 
• Nail polish and canned tuna. No opener. • Set of 6 antique whiskey glasses. 
• My husband grabbed a OLD Star Trek book.I looked at him like he was crazy. 
• I grabbed my back scratcher. my engagement ring and all his guns! 
• My dirty clothes - they were still packed in a suitcase. • I took a suitcase full of my wife's heels from Vegas. 
• The Christmas presents I ordered online that were all delivered the day before we evacuated! I was NOT shopping again!! Hahaha. 
 • My fricken rain boots. Not hiking boots or sneakers. My floppy doppy rain boots lol. 
• My moms remote to her air conditioner. I needed to mail it to her in Idaho! 
• my neighbor laughed at the ping pong paddles he grabbed. 
• Wine I packed everything for my 3 dogs, bird and turtle and almost nothing for my husband and myself. 
• A three pack of chapstick, you know, dry air and all! 
• My wife packed an entire backpack full of sex toys. 
• My hairbrush, BUT NO other toiletries, underwear, bra or socks (I grabbed everything for the hubby and the munchkin, and hairbrush!!!!) LOL. 
• I took 6 pairs of socks...but I left with only flip flops. 
• A friend told me her friend grabbed the bottle of Patron. Mom grabbed led light bulbs. 
• An acorn squash from my garden because I'd nurtured them all summer and hadn't eaten one yet. (it was delicious). 
• Garage door opener. 
• Cats, important paperwork, some clothes, but forgot the hamster. Luckily my house is still here.
• My vintage Turkish rug. It hangs on my wall, rolls up into a small bundle in seconds and is one of a kind irreplaceable. I picked it out of thousands in the Grand Bazaar and it's my favorite piece of art. Oh also my 5 string banjo. The rug and the banjo are still snuggling together in my trunk. 
• Elmer’s white glue. Tweezers
• My blow dryer with out a roller comb. And my hair is curly asf when puffed, I looked like a fluf bichonefraise. 
• I made sure I had a jar of coconut oil. A box of rice milk
• My swimsuit. It's October, for crying out loud. 
• My co-worker told me he grabbed 2 umbrellas. One for each of his cars. And Reese’s Puffs. (He was laughing at himself when he told me this.) 
• I grabbed a random manilla folder while I was in our important drawer because it was very thick and seemed like it might be important. Hours later I checked and discovered love letters and cards. 
• 1 Croc flip flop. My favorite shoes. I couldn't find the other in the dark. We only had 5 minutes. I wish now I'd not spent the 2 minutes on looking for that and grabbed something of value... 
• One of my guns, I didn't even think why or what for. Too many zombie apocalypse movies I guess haha. I took the lock-box (sane decision) and the label- maker (questionable decision).
• My wedding shoes! Amongst all the practical items sat my sparkly, jelly wedges. My thoughts were my dress was measured to those shoes, if I don't have them, the dress won't fit right!  
• I grabbed my dog's flea medicine... never mind the family photos. 
• my nine year old son's stuffed giant octopus from his bed. 
• My 5 year old insisted on bringing a pool noodle from The Dollar Store. 
• Jacobsen sea salt and Spanish saffron. 
• I brought my teaching bag to the Vets bldg for my 9am class. Oh & no change of clothes, for any of us. 
• My brother-in-law came to help us pack & I handed him my coffee beans and creamer, that’s it. 
• I love how many people grabbed a change of underwear. Does that mean we all have our mothers ringing in our heads that we should all wear clean underwear in case we ever get in an accident?"

What would you grab In the heat of the moment?

Press Democrat turned it into a funny article. Which has spurred another spate of hilarious stories. Someone commented that it was a wonderful side road off such a sad highway.  

One of my favorite comments was  from Nicole Dunham who said: Hey, kudos to those who packed their cat's climbing trees!!! I've been stuck in a Motel 6 with 5 cats, a rabbit, a parrot, 3 chickens, and a rooster since 3am last Monday. My cats are bored and stressed in a weird place and I'm kicking myself that I DIDN'T bring a cat tree of theirs! Granted, I had no time and only could pack critters and pet food. (no clothes, no make up... it's been a stinky week. But my pets are safe.)
They're ok with the small space. We have a small home to begin with so they're used to it, plus we've been incorporating some environmental enrichment for them to make it better. When we got here, we walked up the stairs with a cage full of chickens (3 hens and a silkie rooster) past the cleaning lady. We gave her an exhausted smile and she smiled and nodded. They get it. Nobody has complained about my rooster crowing every morning either.

Brad Davis Grabbed a bottle of wine worth maybe $5, while 5 feet away in my wine fridge I had THE bottle I was saving for a special occasion...and to boot I opened the drawer and took a picture of it "just in case I lost everything." Why didn't I just grab it and go? Not a clue...
Shana Berger Van Cleave said: My favorite on the thread was a pregnant lady who grabbed an apple out of a fruit bowl in case she got hungry and, when they lost the home with the apple tree from which it grew, they decided to use one of seeds to plant wherever they go.

Monday, October 16, 2017

After a week of wildfire, what phoenix rises?

There's no way I can even begin to process this last week of hellfire. I can only hope that the words will come. I am desperate enough to turn mindless Facebook questionaires (at bottom) into poetry. I removed all the questions and worked on that skeletal poemography. Then, I revised, tosssed some lines, and reposted it. Because it's a random assortment of bland facts, it forces the mind in different directions with odd juxtapositions. I came up with this:

Yes, I dislike blue cheese but I once shot a Luger.
It kicked my shoulder back into last week.
My ears roared for days. Like an inferno.
Forget coke. Forget Pepsi. Or Dr. Pepper.
Look, I barely passed the electric candy Kool-aid test.
Wish I could say Jack Daniels or Four Roses
but I don't like the taste of whiskey, or whisky.
I don't like hot dogs either. Give me haggis any time.
I never could shake the image of Atticus Finch
standing up to the mob like that in To Kill a Mockingbird.
I wear my Celtic necklace and amethyst rings as talismans.
I don't have hobbies, I do everything full tilt,
as if my life depended on it, I'm an artist and a writer.
Am I ADD? Yup, and/or dyslex.... What? Ohhhh. Shiny!
I can't add either. Forget long division.
Even Archie Williams couldn't teach me algebra.
I don't know which I prefer, Roadrunner or Coyote. Meep-meep.
The past week I've posted countless Facebook PSAs, and wept.
Then I wept some more. Salt tears of grief. For no reason.
Not enough to douse the flame inside.
Daily I drink tea, milk and wine. Definitely need more wine.
This year's harvest is ruined, and next year's too.
And the year after that as well. No more good cheap wine.
I worry about fire leaping across the valley,
my cabin in Forestville, and the literary memorabilia in it.
Letters from Seamus Heaney, Galway Kinnell, Dave Brubeck, etc.
Yeah, well, I dislike .45. Celebrate the new year? Why?
Didn't bother. What's the point? Like I said, .45.
Yes. I miss the mountains, and the sea. The sea, the sea.
I love violet skies, with a side bar of royal blue
tinged by distant cerulean dreams.
I would like to visit Ireland, again, and the Baltic.
The moaii of Easter Island. Maybe the Caribbean.
Go back to Angermeyer's farm on the Galapagos.
Forget satin sheets. Overrated. Give me flannel sheets
or give me a sleeping bag. Or a lawn any time.
I can put my lips together, and I can blow,
but I can't whistle. However, I can drool in tune.
Where am I? At home. The air is toxic with smoke.
The statue of the Cotati accordian-playing mayor 
wearing a smoke mask made me laugh out loud.
He was a nice guy, Jim Boggio, the mayor of Cotati,
whom I once met on a swingset in the park.
We talked until dawn rasped its fiery claw on the sky.
Yes, I love cats and horses. And red-tail hawks.
What about all the animals? Who will survive?
Someone spotted a giraffe ungulating in Larkfield.
I fear that all the birds are dead. What about the deer and mice?
When I tore my knee. When I had a kidney infection.
When I tore all the muscles on my lower back.
When I smashed my nose on a rock
doing a faceplant on the Continental Divide,
that day, my blood ran in both directions at the same time.
It all hurt. And keeps on hurting. Like this fire.
I'm an orphan. All my aunts and uncles are gone too, save one.
I'm the last generation of my family, and the eldest grandchild.
Sometimes it seems that I am channeling my grannie, 
who was both mother and father to me.
Yes, I loved to dance, but you see, my knee....
Of course I love life. Mightily. With a passion.
My advice? Become the light in a darkened land.

Oct 14, 16

(This was from Liz Haas' questionaire, Oct 11)
Then I turned it into a poem.

Today, I cried useless tears. California is burning.
Ashes fall like daisy chains and pikake leis.
I want the soothing coolness of ice cream.
Chocolate, coffee, or vanilla will do. Or an iceberg.
I can't read, I can't write, I can't think,
even a road trip of the mind won't do.
All I can do is listen to is fire updates, and worry
about what I cannot control. Acts of God, they say.
Everybody praying, what good is that? 
Thoughts and prayers don't rebuild a life.
After a fiery sunset, the angry sun 
dipped into the ocean to cool off.
I long for the indigo supplication of clouds and rain.
My hair, redbrown embers, my eyes swollen with grief.
Even salmon, and chocolate cannot assuage this pain.
Thanksgiving and my birthday is coming soon
(but no one remembers, the turkey, center-stage, again).
I open another bottle of Chardonnay.
Why not? The vineyards are burning.
Soon the wine will run out. and the bitter harvest 
of ember and ash will be our distillation for years to come.
These days, I am both night owl and morning person,
burning the candle at both ends. Afraid to sleep.
After a week of wildfire, what phoenix rises?


Saturday, October 7, 2017

22nd Annual Watershed Environmental Poetry Festival

22nd Annual Watershed Environmental Poetry Festival
Saturday, October 7, 2017, 10:00 a.m.
Strawberry Creek Walk, poetry, talk, and a walk along beautiful Strawberry Creek through UC Berkeley and its underground path through downtown Berkeley to the Watershed Festival at Civic Center Park.�Led by poet/eco-educator Chris Olander with readings along the way by poets Raphael Block, Tiffany Higgins, Jahan Khalighi, Maw Shein Win, El Cerrito Poet Laureate, nature commentary by Tim Pine, UC Berkeley Environmental Health and Safety, and naturalist Glen Schneider. Meet in the Cypress Grove, often called the Redwood Grove (southeast corner of Oxford at Center, near the sculpture of the World Globe as you enter the UC campus) at 10:00 am.
Saturday, October 7, noon-4:30, Martin Luther King, Jr. Civic Center Park, Berkeley

"Stand Up for the Earth" with music and dynamic readings by over thirty poets and writers, including Robert Hass, Pulitzer Prize-winner and US Poet Laureate 1995-97; Maxine Hong Kingston, Camille T. Dungy, Tongo Eisen-Martin, Malcolm Margolin, Alison Luterman, San Francisco Poet Laureate Kim Shuck, Tess Taylor; Invocation by Berkeley Poet Laureate Rafael Jesús González, with Gerardo Omar Marín on conch and flute; Malcolm Margolin on The Way We Lived: California Indian Stories, Songs, and Reminiscences, 35th Anniversary Edition; Kirk Lumpkin, Chris Olander, Raphael Block, Tiffany Higgins, Jahan Khalighi, El Cerrito Poet Laureate Maw Shein Win; California Poets in the Schools K-12 students read led by poet-teachers John Oliver Simon and Maureen Hurley; Chapter 510’s The Biography of Water read in English and Arabic by North Oakland Community Charter School students; emcees Kirk Lumpkin and Richard Silberg. Music by The Barry Finnerty Trio; WE ARE Nature Open Mic (enter drawing on site at noon); RIVER VILLAGE exhibits with Haight Ashbury Literary Journal, Sixteen Rivers Press, Ecology Center, Poetic Matrix Press, Sugartown Publishing, California Poets in the Schools, River of Words Children’s Poetry & Art Contest, St. Mary’s College MFA in Creative Writing, Poetree writing with Sharon Coleman, Berkeley City College, Milvia Street Art & Literary Journal, and more; readers books for sale and signing at the Pegasus Book Tent. Bring your lunch or visit the Farmers’ Market; one block west from Berkeley BART; 100 Thousand Poets for Change event. Presented by Poetry Flash, co-sponsored by the Ecology Center/Berkeley Farmers' Market, Pegasus Books Downtown, Moe's Books; wheelchair accessible.For more info, visit, call (510) 525-5476, or e-mail: Save the Bay Day partner event.
Join us at the Watershed Environmental Poetry Festival—October 7, 2017!

Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Blogger update that keeps on giving

Ah, the Blogger update that keeps on giving. My old posts with photos are rendered into blank boxes. Sections of text are randomly supersized, or there are inexplicable gaps and multiple carriage returns. Or the typography is an odd color. Makes me look like an idiot.

Wiki links are hardest hit. Cleaning it up is not an easy task. I'm tip-toeing through my 2014 posts, HTML and visual landmines! It's taken me hours to clean up the posts, about a quarter of them had HTML warnings, and I have 135 posts. Ironically it was in 2014 when I really began to run afoul of Blogger, with hanging posts, and disappearing posts. Dear Google, Using Blogger is a Painful Experience. 

I am painfully reminded of the original name of this blog which was Literrata and Cybernalia. Yes, the cybernalia coming home to roost. 2015 looks a bit better, but I'm bogged down at September (beginning from Dec. and working backwards).

Any posts I've revisited to correct typos, etc, seem to be updated. Minor miracle. Except for the extra random carriage returns....they seem to be breeding.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Adding old journal entries, part 2

I seem to work in spates, bringing my old journal entries and poems into the electronic age. I've had a stack of journals haunting me at the foot of the bed for months, now. So I've been revisiting old writing for the past week. (Besides Facebook, where I continue to mine bits from the recent past, is boring as feckall these days.)

Right now, I'm mostly revisiting work from the 1980s. There's more to choose from. The 1990s and early 2000s will be lean years, as it was about that time when I sloughed off writing in my journals. Well, I was writing, but it had more to do with going back to school, academics, rather than writing, or art.

I finally got around to adding my Azores and Lisbon journals from 2001 (high on my To Do list), and it proved to be a rich trove. Only thing is, I didn't particularly need more work from 2001. The years 2000, or 2003-06, were lean, yes. But it seems to work that way, they years where I don't need more work, I have lots of entries.

My goal still is 52 posts per year, and I have finally fleshed out the lean 1980s years, 1984 in particular, was spare, until I discovered there was a whole lot more to my Hawaii journals, as compared to first read, or rather first skim.

Once I gave myself permission to type up journal entries, mostly travelogues, and musings—I found many bits of embedded poems. My 1981 Port Townsend journal entries are much richer than I expected. (July, August ).  It's really strange delving back into the past like this. But it's also a unique opportunity to reclaim the past, sans the emotional minefields I seemed to inhabit at the time.

Also, with an eye to the past, I am looking at that old work with a new eye, envisioning what can be moved into prose. Besides, it serves as a timeline of sorts. How many of us, other than Samuel Pepys, can say with certainty what we were doing September, 1987? Apparently not much, as I have no entry!

But 1997, I can reconstruct the past. After I had read with Gene Ruggles, at the Cafe International, I was huckleberrying and then, cleaning berries. Lots of them. Which, by 2000, turned into a monloogue piece for my MA/MFA correlative. (Probably why I have no new work for 2000 is because I was revising so much old work.)

My last spate at rendering (wrestiling?) journals into an electronic format, was June of 2017. (See Adding old journal entries) I've made some progress. The years 1980, and 1982 may be hopeless as I've exhausted my writing journals. The Napa journals, which I have yet to delve into, promise to be squirrely as I often used them to revise existing work, so the dates are faux amis.

I also try to post original entries from journals beneath revised poems (when I find them—and I'm often surprised by the genesis) so there's a record. I was surprised to see how much I revised certain poems, or how I revisited a theme over and over (William T. Wiley, for example), trying to put it right.

And to think all this madness began when I opened a corrupt file, dated ca. 2000, then another, and another, back to the mid 1980s, and realized I needed to update my electronic work, and bring it into time present, before all was forever lost. I suppose, at one point, I will also need to make hard copy of all my files as well. Ugh! Until then, Blogger will have to do. I have close to 2500 entries published.

After all, if I don't curate my own work, who else will?

Monday, September 18, 2017

Storm Alphabet

Well, hurricanes Harvey and Irma certainly trounced us. So, I take it that Hurricane José fizzled out? Steve said no, José was last seen off the Carolinas and was headed for The Big Apple. Did someone call ICE? Will it reach The White House? What were the names of hurricanes K, and L? Someone said it was Katia, not Kyle X (no bellybutton). Maybe we should switch to Cyrillic. After all, the election was stolen. I was in the Dry Tortugas when Ivan struck. We've literally run out of storm grade categories. Let's face it, both Harvey and Irma were both way larger than Category 5. Tell me again how climate change is a myth. How did we get to tropical storm Maria so fast? It's only September. What about L? Do we even want to meet a girl like Maria under this context? Someone said Lee was a tropical depression. Sounds like an old boyfriend of mine. And now Nate's brewing in the Pacific. Storm Ophelia is yet to be born. How did we get around to naming storms anyway? How come we still name most tempests after women? Apparently “Female hurricanes are deadlier than male hurricanes.” But people think they can outride the storm if it's named after a woman. What happened to naming hurricanes after the saints? It's nearly October, and we're running out of hurricane names. Then what? Hurricanes Andrew, Ivan and Katrina's death kills were so high, their names have been retired forever. Add Harvey and Irma to that list. Since 2000, some 30 cataclysmic Category 5ish storm names have been retired. When a tropical cyclone reaches tropical storm intensity (40MPH winds), it's christened with a name. Irma's winds reached 185MPH. What happens when we get to the letter T? Call it Trump? Last time we hit storm T (Tanya) was in 1995. What's the last highest alphabet named storm? Did we ever get to storm Z? Did we invoke Zeus? We got up to Wilma in 2005, it was a watershed year, with Katrina, Rita, and all. That year five storm names were retired, a record. I just found out that the storm alphabet excludes the letters Q, U, X, Y, and Z, because it's a challenge to come up with names: you can only have so many Quinns, Uriahs, and Xerxes. What happens if we run out of alphabet? Then what? Do we start over at the beginning, switch to the Greek alpha-and-omega-bet. Storm Chi and Hurricane Omicron sound smallish, and Storm Psi is rather onomatopoetically wettish. Like I said earlier, maybe we should switch to Cyrillic. Or maybe we should just invent catastrophic new letters for the new monster storms.

Saturday, September 16, 2017


At 6000 feet we are that much closer to the sun
I watch the vagaries of heat and wind
leave ripples on the pond
while words surfacing like hungry fish
feed upon the vagaries of air.

Olivas Ranch Road
Above the Alabama Hills

Friday, September 15, 2017


I hiked a couple of hard miles 
up the first two long switchbacks 
past Carillon Creek, the north fork of Lone Pine Creek
into the deep gorge at the base of Mt. Whitney, 
well above the waterfall at Whitney Portal. 
I gained just enough altitude 
that with each step I hiked backwards in time 
back towards the very beginning of summer.

Mt. Whitney


     After John O'Donohue's poem, At the end of the day: a mirror of questions

The night dreamed of its own beginning.
My eyes lingered on the spires of mountains
I was blinded by the dawn light.
I was wounded and no one knew
I read the dark script of canyons.
The trees closest to me whispered old secrets.
I forgot about the old speech of the mountains.
I neglected that part of myself
that traversed the secret trail heads, into the past.
What did I begin today that might endure?
These small words, everyday conversations
are meaningless next to that of the ravens at dawn.
I keep forgetting that  kindness costs nothing
so I greet everyone with respect.
And when I smile my heart is lighter for it.
For I remember the dead today, and every day.

I remember my cousin who died too young in his sleep
Whom my family will honor at the Druid's Hall in Nicasio
With the cows looking on, while I, here,
gaze upon the face of beauty.
These mountains comb the indigo sky
Sometimes it's the only love I allow myself to receive.
The moment of self, a friend unexpectedly hugs me
on the back side of the Sierras
where the past and the present are one thing,
a deep imprint on the psyche.
The poets see me as I see myself,
a speck of dust in the vastness of what is.
I did not avoid that gift I was given-- only to ask:
Why was I given this day?

Lo Inyo High School
With Kathy Evans
Lone Pine, CA



Last night I dreamed the moon spoke in tongues.
It talked of distant dreams, and far horizons.
It whispered of the past and it splashed
across the stone faces of the mountains.
It danced with the shadows of dark trees.
It sang with the lonely coyotes
who consider it their mother.
The moonlight was well pleased with itself
and the stars seemed brighter still,
if only for a moment, and then the mountains shifted.
They stood a little taller in the darkness.
The world turtle shifted in its sleep,
and the earth moved in its slumber.
There was no one there to translate.

Lo Inyo Elementary School
With Kathy EvansLone Pine, CA

(there was an earthquake)

The Scandinavians in the parking lot

The Scandinavians are having breakfast in the Lone Pine parking lot at dawn with their rented Harleys. I can almost understand what they're saying... I keep thinking that if I tilt my head a little more, it will become clearer.

Last night I listened to the Norwegians and Finns sing American folk songs badly. But they knew all the words. They've ridden rented Harleys from San Diego to Zion and are headed to SF fog.

They are mostly from Oslo. They're singing Happy Birthday to one of their friends in English. I will miss them.  Today is a birthday of sorts. They're off to San Francisco. Where will they park all those bikes?

My next door neighbor was from Finland, but didn't speak a word of English. He leaned on his bike in the parking lot and smiled. I tried to communicate, and realized that Finnish has few cognate words with English. I was hoping that via the dialectic continuum from English to Norwegian... nope. 

I was looking for loanwords. I didn't even know the word for poet in Finnish, so I said Kalevala. It was pretty surreal. He laughed, and said I no speak English, coughed over his cigarette, and smiled again. The universal language.

Dawn, Mt Whitney, from Lone Pine (photos)

The firebird of dawn only sang for a short moment and Mt Whitney was ablaze. I was not expecting to see the magenta shadow fading to purple. If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I would've thought the camera was fibbing. The smoke is a prism. The edge of the rainbow's spectrum revealed on the face of Mt. Whitney. 

I watched the shadow of the White Mountains draped on the Alabama Hills, the sun rose in a gap in the White Mountains which followed the contour of Whiitney's foothills. A cradle of light. 

When I first got up, the mountains were a drab dove grey. I was disappointed. But then, sometimes magic happened. Sometimes you just have to wait for it. Channeling Galen Rowell light this morning. it's a gift from the gods when you catch that moment.

Lone Pine Peak, a band of magenta above the shadows. 

A slightly better photo of Mt. Whitney a few minutes later. 

And then the color was gone. A lone raven in the sky.

Thursday, September 14, 2017


It snowed at Tioga Pass, just a sprinkling.
The vagaries of weather, still in the high 80s,
back side of the Sierras. No respite from the heat.

When we drove over Tioga Pass,
the air was so thick with smoke from wildfires,
we could see godbeams piercing the clouds.

I watched the sun set on the crest of Mt. Whitney.
Magical. Dow Villa is loaded with movie memorabilia.
The light still shines on where Duke slept here.

Lone Pine

Thursday, September 7, 2017



So much depends
(no, I'm not there yet)
upon what route
to take to the Eva
to Lone Pine
What deep canyon
to traverse?
The wildfires
are raging
licking at the venerable
heels of giant sequoias
What pure poetry combusts
in the form of stardust?

Old poets debate
on the best route
to take: Highway 50
over Carson Pass,
or ascend 10,000 feet
to Tioga Pass
and risk a blizzard?
Mono Lake eyeing
our descent
to the backside
of the Sierras
that Range of Light
It's all smoke
and more smoke
no mirrors
Other than

Tioga means where it forks

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

On the publication of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and the rise of literacy during the Industrial Revolution

A Facebook friend posted an old link from The Economist magazine on Mary Shelley whose birthday it was. She prefaced it with "When Frankenstein was published only 10% of people could READ and WRITE, /there is a big historical tell."
The Economist,  August 30, 2016 · The author of “Frankenstein”—who was born on August 30th 1797—was marked out from the beginning. As a child, Mary Shelley was intensely interesting to intellectuals for being the creation of an anarchist political philosopher, William Godwin, and a feminist, Mary Wollstonecraft, who died—like Dr Frankenstein?— in giving life.  Mary Shelley: complex and unpredictable, a woman of hidden fires. The poet was born on this day in 1797 The Economist 
The 10% literacy rate figure grated upon what I knew of 18th and 19th c. England. So I said: That's not entirely true. It is estimated that literacy was about 12% worldwide. And how would anyone ever be able to figure that out? It's some scholar's guesstimate.

I'm sure literacy was significantly higher in Great Britain, and Ireland. People who could read, read aloud to their families. Reading aloud was a family social affair in Europe. And, thanks to John Knox's teachings, the Bible was read aloud in many households. Direct experience to the Word of God, and all that.

During the Middle Ages, in Ireland, the need for literacy became significant. Especially after the Viking invasions. True, only the learned scholarly class would have been literate. But the Irish went on to found the universities of Europe.

So I let my fingers do the walking, erm, Googling. I discovered that by the end of the 17th c., the Industrial Revolution (which began in 1760) created a new class of male readers (read how the Mechanics' Institutes, Mechanic's Museums, and Mechanic's Libraries were founded in the 1790s).

Also, concurrently when gaslight illumination was introduced in 1825, literacy went way up. The former darkness of night was suddenly illuminated. People could read by gaslight. Think how that must have changed people's lives. Gaslight changed night into day. By 1825, most middle class and upper class boys went to elementary school in England, and there was also education for the poor. By 1900, school was compulsory for all.

The rise of the serial novel drove newspaper publication as it was still expensive to produce books in the 1700s. (In France, L'Astrée ran from 1607-27, and the TEN volume Le Grand Cyrus ran from 1649–53). I'm sure they were rambling, confusing tomes. I dare say literacy rate was higher than 10% in western Europe during 1810 when Frankenstein was published.
"The wild success of Charles Dickens' The Pickwick Papers, first published in 1836, is widely considered to have established the viability and appeal of the serialized format within periodical literature... In literature, a serial is a printed format by which a single larger work, often a work of narrative fiction, is published in sequential installments. The installments are also known as numbers, parts or fascicles, and are either issued as separate publications or within sequential issues...  Serial (literature) - Wikipedia
Well, unbeknownst to me, my friend took umbrage that I: a) challenged her statement, and b) gave examples to support my thoughts. As if it were a personal affront.
She said: Depends on where you read I guess you seem to believe everything you research but facts are reported differently by different people...I used this as a teaching tool for 8th grade English Summer School for the students who had failed. The two best A+ students were from China and Mexico wow in a class of 30
Still oblivious to the fact that she was upset by my posting of facts, I replied:  And I'm sure the literacy rate was different in China as well (books were published during the T'ang Dynasty). The literacy facts are entirely dependent upon which group you're looking at. I hate sweeping generalisms, so, yes, I do tend to research to understand the story behind the sweeping 'facts'. The Industrial Revolution radically changed social customs. And reading became a critical thinking skill.

The more I delved into the literacy issue, the more, fascinated I became, and the more I uncovered. And the more I shared (I tend to revise my comments, so I don't post too many separate comments—just long ones): My bad. I was on a roll. I said: Also, in Ireland, England deliberately quashed all education for the Irish, hence the rise of scoil chois claí, or "hedgerow schools." My family was a part of that movement.
Catholic schools were forbidden under the Penal laws from 1723 to 1782...The laws aimed to force Irish Catholics of the middle classes and gentry to convert to Anglicanism if they wanted a good education in Ireland.... Subjects included primarily the reading, writing and grammar of Irish and English, and maths (the fundamental "three Rs")." Hedge Schools, —Wiki
I explained to her: You see why that 10% literacy rate figure grates...there's too much proof otherwise, to suggest that people attended school, and it was not just the aristocracy. My Irish teacher was the chair of Rhetoric at UC Berkeley, so we learned early on to ask questions, and to examine the basic tenants.

(I later discovered that according to East Yorkshire parish registers, 33% of grooms and 66% of brides in the 1750s were illiterate (60% average in England); by the 1800s that percentage dropped to 50% for women, then 0% illiteracy rate was achieved by 1900. "...many children in the eighteenth and ninteenth century could read by the age of seven or eight." University of Leeds. But, writing (like math) was taught only to boys, never to girls. So this Leeds literacy study only measured who could scribe their names, not IF they could read.)

Well, hand me down in a hand basket, she had lost her shit and claimed I was harassing her. And here I thought we were having a conversation. Silly me. My first clue that something was amiss was when she began deleting my comments. Luckily, I managed to save this paragraph. (She then attempted to undermine the veracity of my posts because I used Wiki, as if the dates would be wrong).

I reiterated: That by the time Frankenstein was published only 10% of the English-speaking populace could read, simply isn't true. Look up the foundation of the Mechanics' Institutes, about the time Mary Shelley was born...main emphasis? Reading. Libraries. Books. Periodicals. The Industrial Revolution changed literacy rates. That has nothing to do with the veracity (or lack of) of Wikipedia. Dates are fairly accurate.

She then messaged me: Please stop trying to undermine my osts  (stet)

Stunned, I replied: Got it! Truth be known, I don't necessarily note whose post it is when I reply, so I didn't notice it was yours. If you post it in the newstream, it is a public forum, BTW. So, I'm no longer "following" you which means I won't see your posts in my newsfeed. That should resolve the problem. Done!
Her reply: Just drop me as a friend ever heard of rounding off to the nearest 10 Actually you made me feel HARASSSED in your mind you are the winner...I have a different style  (And this woman is a teacher.)
I had to laugh as it was a case of coming full circle, and said to her: Well, you also harassed me every single time I posted in the traditional Irish music group. So I just gave up. I guess it all depends upon the context. It's not about winning or losing. My intent was not to harass, but to share. And for that I do apologize. It was not my intent.

I was responding to an unsupported fact that was wildly inaccurate. I said: I didn't even know it was your page. It said The Economist on it. A repost. I assume the 10% figure was from The Economist?

FWIW, By the time Frankenstein was published in 1818, lots of people could read...because of the Industrial Revolution, and the rise of the Mechanic's Institutes. (Glasgow was in the forefront). Mostly men belonged to these clubs, mind you, but that was also during the era of the wildly popular serial novel. Newspapers flourished. It was a very literate time. People were not illiterate troglodytes like the 10% figure suggested...

Anyway, not too sure why you're so upset as it's not your original post but The Economist is a known right-wing rag that often skews facts to the point of clickbait. 

I mused on: I guess one could count Maria Edgeworth's first historical novel, Castle Rackrent as the forerunner to widespread popularity of English historical fiction (1800)....because she published a 2nd book the next year! And a 3rd book in 1805. Wow. And of course, Jane Austen began publishing as well.

It always amazes me, as those books were writing in longhand with goose quill pens. At first I hated 18th c. literature, but as I began to learn of the era, my opinions changed. I grew to like Castle Rackrent. Thaddy's line Yes sor! for sir (it meant louse, in Irish).

I said to her: I know you don't like Wiki, I also don't lean on its veracity, but it's a copyright-free handy reference for dates. Check out the 1800 in literature link. See what was being published in 1800, or 1810 or 1818 Not only Mary Shelley, but also Maria Edgeworth, Jane Austen, and Walter Scott—not to mention the poets Gordon Ramsey, aka Lord Byron, and PB Shelley).

It really gives a wider perspective of the era. Lots of books were being published, which means people were buying them. (Over a hundred books of fiction were published in ten years (1800-10), not counting all the children's books, and non-fiction). Doesn't sound like an illiterate populace to me. (The reason why Scotland became literate earlier during the Enlightenment, was because of John Knox wanting the populace to read the Bible first-hand.)

Well, I guess I should thank her for this rather one-sided exchange, because because in my trying to over-explain (and support) why I thought that unsubstantiated fact was just plain wrong, I seem to have the makings of a blog post. Who knew?

And her loud response was to unfriend me. I guess my apology was not accepted. She is now a former Facebook friend. Apparently she's not too keen on facts or differing viewpoints. Oh bhuell.


FWIW, this transcript is, for the most part, verbatim. I added transitions and explanations for clarity. Thanks to Margaret Maugham for the Coffee Party Movement meme!