Friday, April 24, 2015

Across Navajolands

We've been traveling for travel's sake across Navajolands to see what was there. We took a jeep deep into the back country with a new friend who lives in the canyon we're staying in. Though he's lived here for over a year, he's still discovering new places. Bill was a medic in the army, and serves as a nurse health practitioner at the Diné Health Clinic, so we're in good hands.

The jeep lumbers over rock reefs, and surfs and bucks in deep red sand. We yell Heehaw! Sing Surfin' USA. Myriad tracks braid their way through the bluffs and gullies of Mystery Valley, I worry about getting lost, but Bill's son, young Samuel from Brazil knows the way. He leads us unerringly to arches, holes in the walls.

The sandstone hills are steep. I scramble on hands and knees. My knee braces are only of so much use, so I can't see the inside of the Toilet Bowl. I scoot down cliffs on my butt when all else fails. I can't fathom using the handholds etched into cliffs. Not on the descent.

Yesterday we traversed Anvil Mesa where a petrified forest once stood. Downed logs the size of young redwoods, turned to stone, as if they had gazed upon Medusa's eyes. Some trees looked like huge swamp cypresses. Not junipers. The brewing storm had us shrieking as we stood patiently for the obligatory photographs, as an arm of lightning, the size of a vast tree limb, struck behind the photographer. Talk about using a flash.

Last night I dreamed that I ran into an old childhood friend at the ruins. It was an odd telescoping of time. What was Pete doing in my dream? It was great to see him. We reconnected on Facebook, but I haven't physically seen him in decades. I realized we had a common shared  history. If anyone would understand, it was Pete. A spirit guide of sorts.

We found makeshift homage altars made of potshards at the Kayenta Anasazi pueblos. I was explaining to our hosts how the pots were made. How the thin walls were made by hand, some pots were formed by pressing them into baskets, or against woven mats, others were pinch pots. (Didn't see evidence of coil pots).

The Anasazi used a slow black reduction firing, the designs were painted on with calcium and iron ore stains, no glaze was used. The pots were burnished with smooth stones to align the silica spicules in the clay. I rub shards thousands of years old, still smooth as skin, against my lip.

The Navajo or Diné people are superstitious, they won't visit the ruins, they say there are ghosts and evil buried within bone. If the Navajo guides do visit, they lay shards as offerings to belay any present danger. There are many shards stacked up. The tourists have followed suit. Better than everyone taking a small shard.

Suddenly I remembered our pottery teachers Jim Brown and Thano Johnson telling us how to construct pots when we were young. So, we're merely passing it onto the next generation.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Dark Winter Days at the Hermitage

Greek-made Scythian gold comb, Solokha, Ukraine, 4th c. BC, Hermitage —Wiki

During the fall of the former Soviet Union, in the early 1990s, I spent a few seasons living in Leningrad with a noted pop singer. As winter closed in, and light diminished, I became stir-crazy, desperate for outside contact. I was living in isolation with a man from Grozny who spoke no English. But that's fodder for another story. One thing that enabled me to retain my sanity, other, than black market treats, including Earl Grey tea, was art for art's sake. I lived near the largest museum in the world, The Hermitage.

I literally spent my dark winter days in the dreary basement of the Old Hermitage. I discovered that I could waltz in the back door, for free, and avoid the long lines, if I attached myself to a busload of tourists....

Pop singer Valera Stupachenko, my Soviet fiancé, sometimes dropped me off at the museum when he had rehearsals at the Leningrad Rok Opera. I was lonely, isolated by language, or a lack thereof, though I could communicate basic needs in Russian.

I often divided my time between the Scythian, and the Fertile Crescent displays. The winged bull of Nineveh, the bust of the Akkadian king. Mysterious clay seals of Mohenjo-Daru, and cuneiform shards. Thracian gold. 

Of course, everything was explained in Russian, so I had to make do with what I remembered from my distant college art history classes. I painstakingly transcribed the Cyrillic placards into English. The guards did not seem to mind that I spend hours in darkened rooms gazing at these ancient wonders. 

Having grown up on horseback, I was particularly fascinated by the Scythian horse trappings. Intricately designed saddles, felt applique blankets, bridles, stirrups, bits, and silk rugs—the oldest pile carpets in the world. Soft riding boots with roses beaded on the soles. A woman's feet never touched the earth, except for maybe to dance at her wedding, or when she was buried.

Oldest carpet in the world, Pazyryk, ca. 4th c. BC. Hermitage

The elaborate gold Scythian pectoral collar made me weep, as did the golden reindeer, with horns so elaborate, they were like shining star-filled trees in a treeless tundra. They were more ancient and mysterious than the elaborate Greco-Scythian synthesized pieces. They were imbued with magic. Nomadic talismans.

Gilded wooden reindeer, Pazyryk, 5th c. BC. Hermitage

Afternoons were best spent in the (Post) Impressionist rooms, often the only direct sunlight I ever saw in winter was in those beautiful rooms with huge warped glass windows so old that I imagined they had somehow survived the Siege of Leningrad. 

Henri Matisse, Dance, 1910, Hermitage (they aren't that red!)

I didn't know those Scythian finds were the foundation pieces for the genesis of the Hermitage. I had unerringly gone to the heart of the matter. During the early 18th c., Russian explorers brought Scythian gold from burial kurgans to Peter the Great. Catherine the Great, a fierce collector of art, and artifacts, was so amazed by Scythian artifacts that she ordered scholars to systematically research them—this was before modern archaeology got its groove on.

Scythian pectoral, Ukraine, 4th c. BC. Horses torn apart by (Greek) griffins. Hermitage —Wiki

A woman ahead of her time, Catherine the Great had the largest collections of paintings in the world (4000), including hundreds of Impressionist paintings. They had to hang somewhere along with all the other art she had collected—some 3 million pieces. One of the oldest (and largest) museums in the world, the Hermitage, a collection of buildings fronting the Nevsky River, was founded in 1764 to house her treasures. (There was Scythian art in Moscow, Kiev and Budapest museums—but nothing matches the Hermitage collection.)

The Giottos, da Vincis and Raphaels were all wonderful, don't get me wrong, but I lived for Impressionism. The impressionist rooms in the southern wing of the Winter Palace were filled with movement. I clattered up three flights of stairs to see Matisse's Nude Dancers, and the old babushka guarding them said she saw them as messengers. It was not just a job to her. She put her hand over her heart. She had to be there every day to keep them dancing. To keep the world dancing. And so she did.

Both the Hermitage, and Moscow's Pushkin Museum had replicas of the world's greatest statuary (for art students). I stood before the Dying Gaul of Pergamon, and marveled over Greco-Thracian artifacts...another abiding interest. The Celts settled among the Thracians. Albania and Bulgaria retain scant traces of lost Balkan Celtic cultures.

The Dying Gaul, Gladiator, or Galatian, a Roman marble copy of a lost bronze Hellenistic statue, 3rd c. BC. Capitoline Museums, Rome. Livy recorded that the Celts of Asia Minor fought naked. There's a modern copy of the Dying Gaul against a Naples yellow wall at the Hermitage (see a copy here—there's no free Wiki image), in St. Petersburg, and another at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow.

And the Scythians of the steppes probably had contact with the Celts (and Tocharians)—especially along the Silk Road, as some artifacts seemed to have a curious cross-influence. Yellow embroidered silk slippers were found in theLate Hallstatt Celtic Lady of Vix's cart burial mound, and site of the world's largest wine krater (500 BC). She must've been thirsty after death.

Early Irish origin myths named Scythia as the Irish homeland and the Scythians as their kin. Perhaps the Irish scribes were miffed, and maybe it's an accretion, because Old Irish wasn't listed in the Tower of Babel, but the Bible included a reference to the Scythians, followed by barbarians. (Colossians 3:11) Better to be Scythian, than barbarian.

Modern archaeology links Scythia with Iranian (not Turkic) cultures, but I'm not entirely convinced. Satem (Avestan, Old Persian; Thracian may have been a transition language) vs. centum (Old Irish, Hittite, Hellenic, Tocharian). Soft vs hard C/K sound. Herodotus recorded that the tattoed Gelonii, were formerly Greeks; they "use a tongue partly Scythian and partly Greek." Sounds like a centum language.  He also placed the Keltoi homeland in the steppes at the source of the Ister/Danube. Like pots, gold doesn't speak much, other than of beauty.

This belt boss seems to have a Celtic echo. Note the wolfhound (lion?) riding the tail of the horse (deer?) has swirls similar to Hallstatt or La Tène art, as does the distinctive shape of the horse's body. No triskles, but plenty of swirls.

Gold Scythian belt boss, Azerbaijan, 7th c. BC. —Wiki

It was easy for me to spot the Classical influences, and/or Greek imports. I have a prodigious memory for art images. The saying goes: beware of Greeks bearing gifts. But these gifts from antiquity were no Trojan Horse filled with the enemy, or shiny objects to steal, or intended to usurp one's culture, they were bridges, or windows into ancient worlds, lost to time and memory. All we have left of so many cultures are shiny artifacts from another time.

Gold plaques: resurrection of a dead hero; Saka culture, 5th c. BC, HermitageWiki

I never married the singer. My heart wasn't in it. I never danced with him, for he loved God more than me, but my days were filled with wonder and beauty in that dank, dusty basement of the Hermitage. I could not resurrect what was never lost. The lower depths of the Hermitage was my only refuge during that last Soviet winter before the Fall.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Atacama Floods

Dear CBS,

The thunderstorm wasn't the worst storm to hit Chile in seven years, it was the ONLY real rainfall to hit northern Chile in over a hundred year. You do know it's the Atacama Desert, the driest place on earth?

The last recorded rainfall was about 80 years ago. According to the Chilean deputy interior minister, Mahmud Aleuy, it's also “the worst rain disaster to fall on the north in 80 years.”

But any rain in the Atacama region is a disaster waiting to happen. When the rain falls, it has nowhere to go. No vegetation, no soil. Nothing to absorb rain. So, it's all runoff. Rain never ever falls on the Atacama. Not even on the plain.

OK, so there was a freak snowstorm in 2011. Now that was an anomaly. It was meant for the southern Andes but the high pressure marine layer was disrupted. And it snowed and snowed. No flash floods were recorded but no one knew how to drive in snow.

CBS reported that thunderstorms dumped the equivalent of 7 years' worth of rain in 12 hours. That's technically true. But how you presented the facts was a bit skewed. How much rain? Seven years' worth of rain is 24 millimeters which is 0.94488189 inches. OK, so that's almost an inch of rain (divided by seven years), not a lot of rain, but it had nowhere to go, and the desert certainly wasn't going to soak up that weird, alien stuff. Think of thick dust on on pavement. Now add water. what happens next? Flash floods.

Normal precipitation (in the from of fog) in the Atacama is about 0.07 inches (1.7 mm) a year. And the southern region's been experiencing a huge drought. But if normal is 0.07", then I guess it's been about 0.1" moisture a year in the Atacama for quite some while. 

The Atacama Desert, the driest place on Earth, has been deluged by torrential rains and floods have caused at least two deaths, swept away homes and left the region without power or infrastructure. So, yes, horrific flash floods were in order. And sadly lives and homes were lost. Seven rivers, including the Copiapo River all leapt their ancient banks, such as they were. The rivers don't get much of a workout as most of the Andes rain and snowmelt runs east to the Amazon.

What's weird about this weather is that virtually no rain ever falls this time of year. If it ever falls at all. That's the real story. The sudden autumn downpour on the heels of an unusually hot, dry summer in the throes of an eight-year drought, has left parched fields. A disaster waiting to happen.

Northern Chile is normally cloudy (la garúa), but it never rains, as the marine front blocks all showers and thunderstorms. No moisture makes it over the Andes from the east, the mountains are too tall. According to a Chilean expert, Sagliani. "It is estimated that it has not rained in some places in the Atacama Desert in hundreds, even thousands of years." The surface is so like Mars that the Mars expedition test drove its robocars in the Atacama.

I was in Lima one winter, and there was no rain there either, but la garúa, the thick fog cap, blocked the sun for weeks on end. The only precipitation along the entire South American coast from Perú to Chile, is the condensation from la garúa. Not exactly rain falling in a rainshadow.

It's so weird to walk on bone dry dirt, there is no soil. It crunches under your feet like dried clay tailings or saltine crackers. I met people in Nazca who had never seen rain in living memory. But they told stories of deluges in Biblical proportions. And there are numerous ancient flash flood scars on the desert floor to support their stories. 

Sometimes rain happens in the Atacama Desert. It may not be related to global warming.

But the drought in southern Chile is certainly related to global warming. And this storm, destined for the Maipo vineyards of southern Chile, snuck past the desert goal keepers to weep in the driest of deserts and the world's largest open copper pits. Meanwhile, Villarica, a volcano in the south, which erupted on March 3rd, is rumbling again.

I gleaned my bits from several sources, but this webpage is the most enlightening.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Runaway Rhino Went off the Rez and on the Randan

How the Rhinoceros got his Skin, woodcut by Kipling —Wiki
Runaway rhino off the rez and on the randan (or should I say ram-dam?)

At least eight people were injured and an 61-year-old woman named Hari Maya Dahal was killed by a rampaging rhino that entered a bazaar shopping mall in Nepal. Perhaps it was attracted by the bright, shiny clothing. Videos of the rhino's Project Runway rampage took Twitter by storm before local authorities were alerted and got to the scene of his latest crime spree.

The homicidal one-horned rhino held the city of Hetauda (50 miles south of Kathmandu) hostage all day Monday. The runaway rhino tore through the streets, threatened bystanders and chased after motorcycles. Talk about right of way. Tipping in at 4,000-6,000 pounds, you might say he owned the mean streets of Hetauda.

The rhino then sat down in front of the Hetauda Hospital for a wee rest before terrorizing folks there. Somehow I don't think he was there to pay last respects to his victims. It seems he holds a grudge. Or maybe he wants to go into internal medicine, or was waiting for his anger management class to begin. 

The irritated rhino, nicknamed Makwanpure, also killed an innocent cow and a buffalo (so much for ungulate solidarity) before a four-team elephant task force was able to shepherd the cranky rhino back to the rhino reserve in Chitwan National Park. 

Rhinos suffer from extreme myopia and don't have much by way of excess brainpower. They're about as bright as a railroad crossing lamp. They make up for this deficiency with a keen sense of smell and hearing—augmented by razor sharp tusks. Forget the horn. Rhinos are extremely sensitive to noise, and they really don't like loud clothing.

Built like armour-plated locomotives, they are surprisingly agile on their feet, can outrun a human, and turn on a dime and give you pause for change. These behemoth twinkletoes would make good futba' players. And not even a referee would contest their goal points. 

This is Makwanpure’s second known rampage offense. There might be others. I'd say that more than a few people are after chapping his hide, he's the alleged red-eyed one waiting for tourists to tumble off their elephants at Chitwan National Park situated in the marshy lowlands of the Himalayas.

Not only do rhinos have very short fuses, they are extremely territorial, the official advice is to never run from them and don't turn your back on them, as they'll attack and gore you from behind. Talk about playing dirty.

Apparently there are several casualties in the park every year. But a steady stream of tourists keeps the rhinos ship-shape. In 2013, Bharat Pandey, a tourist guide at Hotel Royal Park, was gored by an unidentified rhino, and died. I wonder if Makwanpure can account for his whereabouts on the morning of Friday, September 13, 2013? Did he suffer from acute trixadexaphobia? Friday the 13th was certainly unlucky for Bharat Pandey.

If something like that happened here in America, the rhino would've been put down. Pronto. Pity the poor peckish puma caught trespassing in Gourmet Ghetto backyards in 2010. Shot. Daid. Yup. Didn't even try to eat anybody, not even a baguette or the really ripe homeless guys.

During the 1960s, the endangered Indian rhinoceros numbered fewer than 100 individuals. Once mistaken for unicorn horns, rhinoceros' horns are considered an aphrodisiac.

Rhino means nose and ceros means horn in Greek. There are five species (once there were 60—ranging from 3 stories tall to dog-sized): white rhino (the largest), greater one-horned Indian rhino (the tallest), and the most critically endangered species are the one-horned Javan, black, and Sumatran (oldest and smallest) rhinos. A herd is called A Crash of Rhinos. Two rhinos constitutes a crash, they're solitary creatures. A rhino’s horn is not attached to its skull: it's basically a massive ingrown hair or toenail (or two) made of keratin, on its snout. (Explains its crankiness).

The guy who thought rhinos were unicorns mustv'e misplaced his coke-bottle glasses. But they are related to tapirs, horses and zebras. And the other guy who thought rhino horns were the precursor to Viagra must've been a serious cokehead. If it were true, then chewing your fingernails would yield similar results.

How fingernail/ horn shavings help raise the one-eyed one up, is beyond me. For that natural rush, rhino numbers nearly plummeted off the cliff of extinction. Speaking of the limitations of logic, what would Ionesco say?

Nepal is one of the few places in the world where poaching has been met with zero tolerance with a zero rhino poaching record in both 2011 and 2013. I guess they fell off the wagon in 2012.

Apparently the Nepalese government was set to begin their rhino census count, held every four years, on Monday. I guess Makwanpure went on the lam so he couldn't be counted. I am not a number! Perhaps Leap Day would have been a better day to begin the count.

This is not Makwanpure’s first walk from the park. Eleven months ago, he went on walkabout and wreaked havoc in the Chattiwan 'hood, was tranquilized and treated for lacerations at a lakeside resort. It's not known whether bright clothing set him off.

On his latest outing, the rampant rhino managed to evade the forest guards, the Nepal Police and the Nepal Army before surrendering. Sort of. Apparently, like Godzilla or a T-Rex, a rhino goes pretty much anywhere he wants. So much for rhino-free buffer zones.

Who knew that rhinos were consummate escape artists? In January, three large white rhinos tiptoed past a sleeping guard and made a run for it from Ramat Gan Safari Park to a nearby car park in Tel Aviv, Israel. Apparently rhinos have a thing for pavement. Must be that itchy skin. Or something from one of Kipling's lost Just So stories.

Caught off campus without a hall pass, Rhianna the rhino was cited as the ringleader, but her cohorts, Keren Peles, and Karnivala, had nothing to disclose. However, the groggy guard was relieved of his post. Hit the road, Jack.

Nepal's famous reserve, Chitwan National Park, located 30 miles from Hetauda, has the largest herd of one-horned rhinos in the world—503 rhinos of the world's remaining 3000 beasts. Maybe cross-breeding, or rather, inbreeding has something to do with Makwanpure’s terrible temper. Maybe it's hormonal.

Poor Hari Maya Dahal. Poor Bharat Pandey. Some unicorn.

Wonder what his name means in Hindi? मकवान The whole Makwan? Namaste? Dirty Harry? Johnson? Number 1? Number 6? The whole nine yards?

Nope, not on Snopes. Ya just can't make this stuff up. 

Not even on April Fool's Day.

My sources:

Rampaging Rhino Terrorizes Small Town in Nepal Wall Street Journal, India Real TIme

What Happened to the Rampaging Rhno? Wall Street Journal, India Real TIme

Runaway Rhino Returns to Chitwan National Park eKantipur

Runaway Rhinoceros Rampages through Bazaar in Nepal eKantipur

Hotel employee dies in rhino attack Nepal News

Cougar killed near Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto - SFGate The "mountain lion was in the parking lot of the former Elephant Pharmacy near the corner of Shattuck and Cedar Street."

The great escape! Daily Mail CCTV footage shows hilarious moment security guard chases Rihanna the rhino and friends after they sneak past him to break out of safari park


How the Western Black Rhino Went Extinct At the beginning of the 20th century, one million black rhinoceroses from four different subspecies roamed the savannas of Africa. By 2001 that number dropped to 2,300 black rhinos and just three subspecies. It is a story of greed, indifference, hope and despair.

World's Last Male Northern White Rhino Placed Under 24-Hour Armed Guard In Kenya

Keep the Rhino Rangers Safe in Sudan. They're guarding the last of the rhinos. A GoFundMe project that could use your help in reaching their goal of £75,000. For press inquiries please contact: Elodie  +254 727 341612

Rhinos Without Borders RWOB plans to airlift 100 black rhinos from South Africa to Botswana in order to save them from poaching and develop a new breeding nucleus.They could use some help with funding too.

Conservationists Plan To Airlift 100 Rhinos To Save Them From Poaching Catch up on African black rhinos being airlifted to sanctuaries

Largest Rhino Airlift Ever to Move 100 At-Risk Animals National Geographic
this is the story that kicked off my rhino fixation this morning.  Visit it for the iconic blindfolded black rhino photo alone.

25 Things You Might Not Know About Rhinos World Rhino Day is September 22 (you knew that, right?)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


I stood at the massive gates 
of mighty Caernarfon Castle
one sultry summer evening, 
my back to Avalon, and the Holy Isle. 
I marveled at its tawny leonine beauty, 
reflected on twilight's indigo shoulders,
crowned with stars wavering in the moat.
But it was a fortress built by the enemy, 
with shackled native hands, for Longshanks, 
an agent of suppression, along with Beaumaris,
a triune kingdom on the edge of Anglesey.
Conwy Castle to the north, was once called
Aberconwy Abbey, founded by Llywelyn the Great,
the Prince of Wales. It was settled by English squatters,
where the Welsh were forbidden upon pain of death.
Such a gentle, pastoral word: colonization.
Images of sheep gamboling in green pastures.
Fields strewn with a hard culture of white bones.
And then the turbulent tide in the Menai Straits
began whispering a jumble of older names: 
Cair Segeint, the Roman garrison, Segontium,
or Cair Custoient, where stood the fort of Constantius,
he who begat Constantine the Great,
and Caer Aber Sein, the fort on the River Seiont.
And what of the hammer of the Ordovices?
In this rugged pasturage of bone, Caratacus still walks.
Not even Agricola launched the last sling and arrow.
In the kingdom of Gwynedd, the dream
of Macsen Wledig may have called me home
to the mouth of the River Seiont,
but the natives are still restless,
two dragons still fight in Dinas Emrys.
Owain Glyndŵr, the last prince of Wales,
returned and turned the bloodied tide,
a sleeping hero awaiting the klaxon call
of sword against stone—once and future king.
In my grandmother's house, the name
Longshanks, Hammer of the Scots,
was a curseword, along with Cromwell.
I found the dark road leading
to the bailey gate paved over
with the historical intent
of oppression.

3/24 and 4/1/2015

I stood there at dusk 
one summer 
marveling at its sublime beauty, 
built by the enemy, 
an agent of suppression. 
Longshanks was a dirty word, 
along with Cromwell 
in my grannie's house.


Sovereign Medbh
of the Welcoming Thighs
was a force to be reckoned with. 
Ask the Ard Rí, 
Tara's honeyed hills were her breasts; 
the sacred wells, and the harvest, her gift. 
Watch for the white mare. 
She knows where the sacral kings lie.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

First Day of Spring

Sunlight falling on an antique plate nailed to the wooden fence took my breath away, but I was posting photos, and so, let the image go back into the void...then I saw a photo of early morning light and wished I'd snagged that moment. But it is indelible, in the mind's eye.


First day of spring,
an eclipse of the sun.
Annealed grief rains
in the form of ash
drifts over the River Foyle.
David Best's temple burns
the troubled past.
I remember Sunday,
Bloody Sunday.
My grandmother sobbing
as she cradled the radio.

Annealed grief in the form of ashes
drifts over the River Foyle.
I remember Sunday, Bloody Sunday.
My grandmother crying as she cradled the radio.

Drought Diaries

Drought Diaries: Yesterday's bathwater, destined for the two-gallon flush, missed the toilet, only to hit a Costco package of toilet paper rolls, which promptly swelled up, doubling in size like a tight school of bloated pufferfish holding their collective breath.

I won't mention finding knives and forks in the flowerbeds after dishwater is recycled to thirsty plants feeling a bit peckish for water. A good thing I don't have any real silver! Otherwise it'd add another layer of dimension to seeding the clouds with silver to make it rain.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Shetlandish Escape Artists

My Shetlands were a mighty pint-sized force to be reckoned with. Talented escape artists. I got so desperate that I'd hobble their front legs as they were grazing, (a long lead was useless), but they'd nimbly hop over to the neighbor's lush lawn. So I hobbled their back legs too. They GALLOPED in double spancels, then I cross-tied the hobbles and the little frickers stag-leaped their way down the road, looking like little Lippizanners in Airs Above the Ground. I was so desperate,  considered hog-tying them. Don't mention electric fences. Already been there, done that. They simply dove right through electric fences. Not like Ralf the Cow who got her udder hung up on the wire. My aunt called them the Little Shits. My vet eventually bought them, they were a matched dun pair, and I had to laugh, as he spent the next decade or so chasing them all over Bear Valley and Olema.

Friday, March 6, 2015


Chestnut-backed chickadee
viciously dukes it out 
with his own reflection 
headbanging his beak
in 4/4 time, day after day, 
chattering a storm of outrage, 
with his mate in the sidelines,
egging him on to drive 
that cheeky impostor off
so they can just get down 
to the business at hand.

He's so exhausted from fighting
i scoop him up and hold him
in the hollow of my hand
giving him a "time out"
but as soon as I release him
he's back at the mirror
banging away in a frothy rage
at his doppelganger
his mate, a grass widow, waits
for a time that will never come.

This little headbanger exhausted himself attacking his image in the mirror the entire afternoon. Apparently my outside mirrors have captivated the two of them. They were headbanging like rockstars last year. He fell down between the pillows, panting, still he wouldn't give up. The top of his head's even dented. So I cupped him in the hollow of my hand to give him a "time out" until he calmed down. When I let him go, he went right back attacking his image until dusk drove his demons off. He plans to win that battle with his reflection. Meanwhile, I fear for his beak. Surely he must have the headache from hell.

Q is the loneliest letter

¿Quien sabe? Because Q, number 17 in the Latinate lineup, 
is one of the loneliest letters. Only Z is lonlier—so it picked up a French tail to compensate. Call it a Qu cluster. Blame the dangly bits.

Q rarely ventures out without its sidekick, U. It's a Geminid twinning. It's an Indo-European thing. But there's another IE pairing nobody ever wants to talk about. Q & P. Yep. Qoppa and Phi Φ are deep-throated soulmates. Fraternal twins, I think. Or maybe it was the milkman. Certainly Indo-European.

There's a reason why Q and P are 16 and 17, roommates in the Latinate lineup. Joined at the hip, or maybe at the back of the throat and lips. It was a weird palatovelar land grab. But then they split up, both keeping their dangly bits. They were both a bit queer. Or maybe Q just had a digraph breakdown constantly switching between languages like that (or bad scribes), and lost its courage or its dangly bits. Or both.

Then Q expanded its horizons, it became Latinate triplets: C, K and Q were all one sound. One thing. But Q had this thing for  voluptuous rounded vowels. Why, you might ask? Ask Verisimilitude. Or Carol Doda. She knows. UU.

See, K had this exclusive thing going on with pointy A, it only had eyes for A. Especially two AAs in a row. K also coveted its neighbors cows. Forget about wives. No one had the heart to tell K the As were olly-olly oxen bhoys. Good for a ploughman's lunch. We all have been known to revise history to suit our needs.

And so, C, an omniglot at heart, took all other juicy vowels hostage. Especially E. But I'm off task. We were discussing (or maybe cussing) Q and U. Always parters in crime. perhaps a little QU-QU. Say it isn't so! It was U too. QU and double U! (2Us). Out, out damned digraph!

Rules are rules. But Q had a bad gamma cough, (Qôp), it peed its pants in church (remember the dangly bits?) and ran off with U. Forever partners. Except for the Etruscans, they used QV, but hey, there was no V yet. Let's not quibble. Once F carded wool. But F was a rake. F was a cad. (Forget about carding wool. Sheep lie.) 

Why? Por quoi?  See, F had other plans. F was raking chaff from straw, and busy sowing wild oats. The problem was that U was a bit of a johnny-come-lately to the literacy scene. F was U and V's father. So the Etruscans should've used QF. I dare you to say it three times out loud on a crowded train.

And, there you have it. U was the progeny of F, yes, F. That's faw, or waw, if you insist (mind your Ws and Vs). F was a bit of a rake. F got around, F begat almost as many children as Robbie Burns or Niall of the Nine Hostages (and none of them kids in the feckin Irish alphabet, I might add). F was ancestor of UVW and Y. Don't ask me why. F needed a lot of progeny to tend the fields.

A deep throated sound: uvula vulvula. Yeah, when the soft C crept into Church Latin, it was hell inniu, I mean in a handbasket for those hard Cs expectorating on the church floors throughout the liturgy. No more Celts but selts. Ask the cwen. Incanabula quern, quunt. The quack in the cosmic egg.

Because gimel was once a camel, a ship of the desert, and kappa was the hollows of the hands, as if scooping water from the stream, it held an offering of water. I heard that BUT! We're not discussing Arabic here. Besides, there's no one sound to which that Arabic sound corresponds, we get Qoran, or Koran.

And the poor monkeys of Gibralter were so lonesome for the wine-dark sea, that one skull turned up in someone's crannóg hillfort in Navan. An archaeological mystery, or mishap by sea. Blame the Phoenicians. Quoph = monkey. That poor monkey must've froze his brass baa's off In Ireland, in winter, like that. Did they make him a little fur coat? Did he pick up Irish? Meanwhile the Irish scribes were busy inserting blank spaces between all the words. The Oirish also invented lower case letters and paragraphs too. Probably invented punctuation too. OTHERWISEWEDSTILLBEREADINGTEXTSLIKETHISNOWONDEREVERYBODYWASILLITERATETHETEXTSWERESHOUTING.

And what about Hannibal's elephants queueing up to cross the alps, did the Cisalpine Celts knit them tall sweaters amid the snow flurries? Ah, snow.

It all comes back to those white maidens of Delphi, the flurrying snow, Brennius's downfall, and CuChullainn, himself, fighting the waves with his sword, after he slew his only son in battle. Prophecy biting the ass it begets.

I don't think the Etruscans had any say in the matter. QV That's a bit of a red herring. There was no V yet. Blame the Phoenicians, maybe. All on the QT, of course. But they discovered all that tin at the end of the world, nuggets of tin in the riverbeds of Wales, to make faence and blue glass to ward off the evil eye. There was a great need to ward off the evil eye. So Q got around. Flip sides of the same coin, heads or tails?

¿Quien sabe? Because Q is the loneliest letter, and picked up a French tail to prove it. A geminid twinning, fraternal, I think. Because it had a bad gamma (cough, (kof), because it peed its pants in church and ran off with U. And U, a johnny-come-lately, raking the chaff from the straw, faw, that garden rake, ancestor to UVW and WHY? got around, begat almost as many children as Niall of the Nine Hostages (and none of them in the Irish alphabet, I might add). A deep thhroated sound: uvula vulvula. Yeah, when the soft c crept into church Latin, it was hell inna handbasket for those hard Cs expectorating on the church floors throughout the liturgy. Ask the cwen. Incanabula quern, quunt. The crack in the cosmic egg. Because gimel was once a camel, a ship of the desert, and kappa was the hollows of the hands, as if scooping water from the stream, and the poor monkeys of Gibralter were so lonesome for the wine-dark sea, that one skull turned up in someone's crannóg or hillfort in Navan. An archaeological mystery or mishap. quoph = monkey. That monkey must've froze his brass baa's off In Ireland in winter, like that. Did they make him a little fur coat? And what about Hannibal's elephants queueing up to cross the alps, did the Celts knit them tall sweaters amid the snow flurries? It all comes back to those white maidens of Delphi, the flurrying snow, and CuChullainn, himself, fighting the waves with his sword, after he slew his only son in battle. Prophecy biting the ass it begets. I don't think the Etruscans had any say in the matter. That's a bit of a red herring. Phoenicians, maybe. All that tin at the end of the world, nuggets in the riverbeds of Wales, to make faence and blue glass to ward off the evil eye. There are both sides of the coin, heads or tails?

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Old Photo Found in the Woodrat Nest

Found in our basement last weekend, among the rubble and woodrats' shingle scrap nest, old photographs. The woodrats also hauled up all the old plastic Christmas ornaments too. Shiny! Must've been the braces on my teeth that attracted them to this picture. Grandma, my cousins David, Sinead and me sporting a tin-grin in Forest Knolls ca. 1971-72. Photo says August, but it's clearly not, the grass is too green, so that must be when the roll was developed. But I do know it was late afternoon, the shadow of the bishop pine. Grandma's Manhattan in hand, nearly drained. Sinead's elbow is freshly skinned, she must've been crying, so I picked her up. but somehow, she'd gotten too big for me to hold.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Aptitude Test

When they gave us aptitude tests in our Junior year at Drake, I tested highest at becoming a nun—just because I knew a bit about religion, then some Spanish, then a smattering of science...a lot of good that did. So, I was supposed to be a Spanish-speaking nun-scientist—a la Sor Juana de la Crúz? Is that why the shoved me into the typing pool to watch me drown?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Me & Meltzer

I wrote on David's Facebook wall:
A birthday is a two-way mirror.
The outside looking in and the inside looking out.
You have to be ready to reassemble the years.

David Meltzer: *Thank you, Maureen. Valuable insight!*
and: *Onward!*

I said: I used to read that poem of yours to all they kids when I first started teaching poetry with CPITS in Sonoma County. I still quote bits of it from time to time. It serves. It serves.
Many Happy Returns, David.

David Meltzer *Many thanks! By the way, it was spectacular!*

Monday, February 16, 2015

Tapping Trees: a Sappy Story

Anthropologist and writer, K. Kris Hirst posed a question on the process of tapping maple trees, who invented it first? Northern Europeans or Native Americans? An interesting chicken or egg dilemma.

K. Kris Hirst, who writes for, posted a story on the process of "Maple sugaring—obtaining sugar and syrup from maple trees—primarly a North American phenomenon. Although maple trees (species Acer) are found throughout the world, only North America has sugar-producing species (especially sugar maple Acer saccharum and black maple Acer nigrum), combined with the right mix of cool nights and warm days that generate enough sap to make sugaring worthwhile."

I love Kris's posts, they get me all Wiki-fingered, thinking parallel thoughts. I leave a small comment. Then another, and so on. Soon, I have enough material for a blog. Lovely story. Especially the chicken or egg dilemma part. Who invented tree-tapping first? Europeans or Native Americans? Especially when there's no archaeological evidence to prove or disprove it?

Another reader, Bill W. commented on Kris's Facebook post: "Last year I had an interesting—and surprisingly lively—debate about whether some of the objects labeled "dugout canoes" are actually maple sugaring troughs. There are historical accounts in Iowa of settlers reusing old Indian wooden sugaring troughs as hog troughs."

My mind had already run off with the idea of maple sugar-cured ham and eggs for brekkie. The idea was beginning to tap-dance itself into a bad Abbot and Costello archaeological joke with a sweet punchline. Why did the yellow-bellied sapsucker cross the road? Turns out it may be an even sappier story involving sap-swigging squirrels.
"Legend has it that, during a spring of famine, an Aboriginal was watching a squirrel bursting with energy. After noticing that the squirrel drank water from a maple tree, he realized that this was where the squirrel was getting its energy from. Maple water became a food prized by the people of the First Nations and later of New France.” —
I'll leave you to visit Kris's page and read up on traditional maple sap collecting practices. But come back, OK?

However, squirrels aside, I envisioned another solution. It's possible that Northern Europeans and Native Americans both independently came up with the process of tapping and reducing down tree sap. Convergent evolution, if you will. The Natives may have taught some European settlers how to tap maple trees, but the concept of tapping trees for sap was already a long-standing tradition in Russia and other boreal regions, as well as in Eastern North America.

Indigenous maples do grow throughout the Northern Hemisphere, but the sweetest sugarbush stands grow in North America. Three maple species are tapped: sugar maple (Acer saccharum)black maple (A. nigrum), and the red maple (A. rubrum). You can tap other maple trees, but they're more stingy with their sugar content.

But there other other deciduous trees in the forest you can tap for sweet sap. Not just those three maples. For example, Sycamore (OK so false and true sycamores are related to maples—Acer; somebody was trying to cop a Biblical feel by naming those trees sycamores, but those Biblical plane trees (ficus/mulberry) are not our sycamores). Somebody posted that sycamore syrup tastes vile. They didn't mention if they were swigging Biblical sycamore sap or Acer sap.

And you can tap the equally related box elder (Acer negundo) AKA the ash-leaf maple. But there's also birch, lime/linden (Tilia), walnut, and even beech and oak trees that have been tapped for sap. (Palm trees too may be tapped for sap, they may be Biblical, but they're not exactly a northern tree…)

Now Birch is classified as a Rosid, as are most of our food sources. The birch family, Betulaceae, includes some 130 species of aldershazelshornbeamsbirches, and is closely related to the beech/oak family.

Finnish birch trees
When tracking down sources and ideas, I tend to lean toward folk customs, and oral tradition for clues. Sometimes, if I'm lucky, a particular tradition has survived into the modern era. In the case of Northern European tree-tapping, it seems to be true. Only with birch trees, not maple trees.

There is a related old Russian / Ukrainian folk custom, to tap birch trees at the break of winter to spring, boiling the syrup down to make an alcoholic berezovyi or birch beer (considered to be a spring tonic). 

I can't believe I still remember the word (I always think I don't know any Russian—until the words arise unbidden from memory). I was in the USSR collecting and translating poetry from 1989 to 1991. My Ukrainian translator, Oleg Atbashian was very emphatic explaining that berezovyi was a very special spring beer made from the sweet sap. And that old peasants drank it. (Russian: byeryozovyi).

So I Googled it, I found that birch beer is also made in North America, flavored with sap, or a twig oil distillation, but it's also made with added sugar. Coals to Newcastle. Not exactly authentic. I needed a paleo-source, not these modern shortcuts, using raisins and lemons and sugar to make a carbonated soft drink flavored with bottled birch oil.

Besides, most New Englanders erroneously assume that birch beer was invented in America ca. 1800. Well, that just didn't sit right—especially when I began to uncover posts from homesick ex-pat Russians trying to locate a source of the authentic ancient brew. (Hint: it predates root beer, it's made with sap, not roots, or twigs.)

My understanding of Russian birch beer was that only the natural sugars in the birch sap were used (and fermented). Apparently birch sap runs a month later than maple tree sap, and is more copious (but has less sugar content). The reduced birch sap is dark and molasses-like, sweet, slightly tart, maple flavored with vanillin with wintergreen/piney overtones. But it has a shorter shelf life.

During the regime of the USSR, sugar was not readily available, and it was a hot black market commodity. Probably why Russians have a mad sweet tooth today, they add jam and sugar to their tea, so sweet, that your cavities will positively beg for fillings. Birch trees are ubiquitous in Russia. Gather birch sap at the dacha, equals a free sugar fix.

Googling along, singing a song, I found a British birch beer recipe dating from 1676 that must've found its way to North America. John Worlidge was the go-to man for cider-making and his Vinetum Britannicum was the brewer's Bible, a 17th c. Amazon bestseller for at least a quarter of a century. The colonists had a prodigious thirst, and knew about fermenting the blood of several trees, and birch trees were the best (and the cheapest). Since the Middle Ages, laborers were routinely paid two gallons of cider (or birch beer/wine) a day.

(Note that Worlidge added refined sugar, which would've been a luxury item from the West Indies.)
"To every Gallon whereof, add a pound of refined Sugar, and boyl it about a quarter or half an hour; then set it to cool, and add a very little Yest to it, and it will ferment, and thereby purge itself from that little dross the Liquor and Sugar can yield: then put it in a Barrel, and add thereto a small proportion of Cinnamon and Mace bruised, about half an ounce of both to ten Gallons; then stop it very close, and about a month after bottle it; and in a few days you will have a most delicate brisk Wine of a flavor like unto Rhenish. Its Spirits are so volatile, that they are apt to break the Bottles, unless placed in a Refrigeratory, and when poured out, it gives a white head in the Glass. This Liquor is not of long duration, unless preserved very cool. Ale brewed of this Juice or Sap, is esteem'd very wholesome."  From Vinetum Britannicum, p. 176, London, 1676. (Free Google Book download.)—Wiki
The sugar addition to the recipe bothered me. Why add sugar to a sap already ladened with natural sugar? Sounds like a shortcut to an older tradition. I did look up the book and found that honey was also used. I've included a facsimile of the text as it's tho charming. And after you read it, I'm pretty thure you'll be lithping  ath well. Yeth.

The book provides my terminus anti quem. We do know that forest trees were being tapped for sap by the British as early as 1676, and probably since the Middle Ages. It took Worlidge several years to ready his manuscript for the printer, then it had to be hand-letter-set. Safe bet to say it was written ca. 1670. Jamestown was settled in 1607. Quebec 1608.  There is no mention of tapping North American trees for sap, Asian, African and Northern European trees, yes. From the 1620s on, there were Indian raids and wars, safe to say, there wasn't a lot of sharing. The English civil war from 1640 to 1659 meant England was a bit distracted. The French and the Dutch patrolling, more wars. Not a pretty time.

A fortuitous accident more fruitful (sapful?) was to search the internet for birch sap, or syrup. I found that "Making birch syrup is more difficult than making maple syrup, requiring about 100-150 liters of sap to produce one liter of syrup"    —Wiki
In the Ukraine and parts of Russia the sap is collected and sold as a type of mineral water, so they clearly value it. A fantastic, easy to make and reliable white wine can be made with a very distinct and pleasant taste, as well as beer, vinegar and a rich caramel and molasses-like syrup.... The sap then, which is actually about 95% + water, minerals and a little sugar, can be evapourated off to make a sublimely delicious syrup.—Fergus the Forager
Then searching under "birch sap," I hit paydirt:
"Birch sap is collected only at the break of winter and spring when the sap moves intensively. Birch sap was a traditional beverage in Russia (берёзовый сок / byeryozovyi sok), Latvia (bērzu sula), Estonia (kasemahl), Finland (koivun mahla), Lithuania (Beržų Sula), Belarus (Бярозавы сок / biarozavy sok, Byarozavik), Poland (Sok z Brzozy), Ukraine (Березовий сік / berezovyi sik), France, Scotland and elsewhere in Northern Europe, as well as parts of Northern China. Heterosides present in birch sap release methyl salicylate by enzymatic hydrolysis which is analgesic, anti-inflammatory and diuretic."   —Wiki
Then I Googled "birch juice" and garnered even more payola. For centuries, birch sap has been a staple in Russia, Scandinavia, Northern Europe, and Northern China (must be that Russian influence). Described as divine nectar:
Beryozovy Sok (birch juice) is the sap from a birch tree. It is a water-like sweet liquid. It’s the only kind of juice in Russia that is venerated in songs about the love of the Motherland. The ancient Slavs worshipped various Pagan gods. And birch was one of the most sacred trees. At that time it was forbidden to take the juice out of the tree for regular use – it was to be saved for rituals. But after the introduction of Christianity the ban gradually disappeared. And people started to collect birch nectar for everyday needs.  —Russiapedia
(Apparently Chernobyl led to the downfall of large scale birch sap collecting). But it's making a comeback among bodybuilders and athletes. Besides, most of them are already on steroids, so what's a little radiation, besides the glow-in-the-dark teeth bonus? Forget about hydrating with coconut water. Birch sap and maple sap, or rather, xylitol, is the tastier and new improved Gatorade and mineral-rich detoxicant. 

Sok means juice, or sap in Slavic languages. And dang if birch sap isn't just loaded with an aspirin related derivative, methyl salicylate, AKA wintergreen oil.  And birch sap, a diuretic, is a veritable wunder-drug, reputed to restore virility, cure baldness, rheumatism, prevent scurvy, and get rid of freckles (must be an anti-redhead thing). Health tonic indeed, and since the Russians are mad for fermenting all manner of things, birch beer is a natural. I guess there's no hangover. A nice spring ritual. LOL!

And if that doesn't float your boat, you can always buy hangoverless vodka made from birch tree sap, it’s called ‘brzozowka’ in the Ukraine.

In Old Slavonic, a cultural poem is embedded in the names of months: the Latinate Апрель (April) was called берёзозол, from берёза (birch tree) and зол—the month of greening birches. Any gardner worth their salt knows not to prune trees when the spring sap runs, or a fruit tree can bleed to death. Birch juice, collected during the first thaw, when the sap flows, is called the "crying of a birch."

The other weird Russian custom I encountered while in the Ukraine one winter, is birching. You wet your birch switch, or broom (ве́ник), and then flagellate yourself (or a lover) all over while in the (ба́ня) banya. Never personally witnessed it. A birch broom switch was thought to have magical powers, a sweet love potion. Does that make the banya the equivalent of a sugar shack? But it's an interesting aside. Think of it, a wintergreen-like substance is in the bark. Sort of like tiger balm on a stick, with a laced beer chaser, anyone? Sounds like a good spring tonic plan. Elixir of the gods.

And of course, birch is associated with the goddess Brigid in Ireland, and in Siberia, it's considered to be the world tree. The Latin name, betula is from the Gaulish betua; birchm in Old Irish: bethe, is the second letter in the alphabet of trees. Birch bark, the Northern Hemisphere's first paper, the wood, also used for writing. Famine food, and a hangover-free beer, as well. 

A child's IOU birchbark drawing from Novgorod ca. 1240-60AD:
     надо    митрѣво     зѧти     доложзи       кѣ

See also:

Russian Birch Tree Juice (English Russia)

Plant Profile: Birch (Betula ssp.)

Taste Test: Birch Beer (An East Coast phenomenon). 

Alaska Wild Harvest produces Kahiltna Gold Birch Syrup.

Fergus the Forager

Forget coconut water... birch sap is what clean-living Londoners are drinking in 2015

Tree Sap: Nature’s Energy Drink

Maple Water The story according to "Legend has it that, during a spring of famine, an Aboriginal was watching a squirrel bursting with energy. After noticing that the squirrel drank water from a maple tree, he realized that this was where the squirrel was getting its energy from. Maple water became a food prized by the people of the First Nations and later of New France.”
Betula alba (white birch), 
Betula pendula (silver birch), 
Betula fontinalis.

The common name birch comes from Old English birce, bierce, from Proto-Germanic *berk-jōn (cf. German Birke, West Frisian bjirk), an adjectival formation from *berkōn (cf. Dutch berk, Low German Bark, Norwegian bjørk), itself from the Proto-Indo-European root *bʰerHǵ- ~ bʰrHǵ-, which also gave Lithuanian béržas, Russian beréza, Ukrainian beréza, Albanian bredh ‘fir’, Ossetian bærz(æ), Sanskrit bhurja, Polish brzoza, Latin fraxinus ‘ash (tree)’. This root is presumably derived from *bʰreh₁ǵ- ‘to shine’, in reference to the birch's white bark. The Proto-Germanic rune berkanan is named after the birch. The generic name betula is from Latin, which is a diminutive borrowed from Gaulish betua (cf. Old Irish bethe, Welsh bedw). Birch holds great historical significance in the culture of North India. Birch paper (Sanskrit: भुर्ज पत्र, bhurja patra) is exceptionally durable and was the material used for many ancient Indian texts. They are also associated with the Tír na nÓg, the land of the dead and the Sidhe, in Gaelic folklore, and as such frequently appear in Scottish, Irish, and English folksongs and ballads in association with death, or fairies, or returning from the grave.  —Wiki

At Russian banya there are special bath brooms (ве́ник) that are used. These brooms or venik sare bundles of twigs and leafy branches bound together from some kind of tree—usually they are from birch or oak trees. The veniks are dipped into cold water and then smacked briskly all over the body. There is a special person who is responsible for this, called banschik(ба́нщик). But usually people don't need banschik's help because groups of friends typically go together and are able to smack each other with veniks.
В ба́не ве́ник доро́же де́нег.
A bath-broom in the banya is worth more than money.  —Russian Banya

Whitsunday: Young birch is the traditional tree of the holiday and a symbol of life. Churches, houses, gates and wells were decorated with birch branches. After the holiday, birch branches were either placed in rivers or spread out on fields, symbolizing long life. In some other places birches were not chopped. Early in the morning on Whitsunday young girls decorated the birches with scarves and ribbons. Then they would sing and dance in a ring around the birch. Also on Whitsunday every girl twined a wreath of birch branches with flowers and grasses and wore it around her head. In the evening the wreaths were thrown in the water. The girl would marry on the side of the river, where the wreath landed. 
A wedding broom made of birch branches and decorated with ribbons was a symbol of beauty.  —Russian Culture

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Choose Three Famous People

Molly Fisk asked on Facebook: Name three famous people you'e known.

Mine would be a litany too long to post. How do I choose just three?
Then there's "what kind of famous?" Do I choose from writers, poets, actors, musicians, public figures, etc.? By how well I knew them—an actual event vs. a one-off? 

Writers: I shared a wee drop of whiskey with Seamus Heaney in an elevator in Rotterdam with the African poets. Rita Dove was my partner in the Breyton Breytenbach translation sessions. We did not drink whiskey.
I went drinking and sang Irish songs with Tess Gallagher and Raymond Carver at the Port Townsend Tavern in Washington. Let's just say alcohol was consumed and I was a lightweight. They weren't.
I hung out with Maya Angelou and her son Guy at National Poetry Week. 
We sat backstage with Lucille Clifton waiting for Maya to come offstage. They talked about the gravitational speed of their breasts reaching to their waists.
I also spent time with Andrei Vosnesenski. I wanted to give him a tabloid anthology I had edited with Oleg Atbashian, Soviet Poetry Since Glasnost. But Andrei was more interested in my friend Celia Woloch. So I took photos instead.
I spent an afternoon with Boschka's ex husband, Irving Layton at her wake. The bastard grieved real leonine tears. He, who caused her such pain, gave her fodder for poetry. Boschka's brother is Donald Sutherland. Not Ordinary People. Not Six Degrees of separation. No separation at all. Prima source. All of them crazy.
I chatted with Isabel Allende and Steve Woz over lunch at an arts advocacy caucus in Sacramento. I gave them poetry books which later showed up on AbeBooks, as signed editions.
Tommy and Dick Smothers babysat me in Sausalito. I loved Tommy. Dick was a crabbit.
Sterling Hayden dandled me up to the sky at the elephant fountain. Moses!
I spent a week with the Bridges: Lloyd, Jeff and Beau in Sacramento, it was Guys and Dolls—live televised theater in the round, at the Music Circus. My mom made the costumes (uncredited, of course). I sat on Bat Masterson's knee. He gave me a crystal star necklace which I promptly lost. I cried elephant tears. 
I took photos of Kenny Rogers with his friends for his friends, but I was asked to take photos. I did not meet them on my own steam. I got to see him perform too. Not something I normally would've done. But then, my camera took me strange places.
I cooked sweet potato french fries with Tom Waits (he dyed his hair eggplant). I also taught his kids art. I did not take photos. He was paranoid, I was exasperated. The fries with chili powder, cilantro and Lime, were divine.
I spent a weekend schmoozing with jazz greats including CHick Corea, Blossom Dearie, and Dave Brubeck, who wrote a nice letter to the editor about my photos of him and the Russian River Jazz Fest. How many people have gotten a letter of recommendation from Dave Brubeck, who grew up in Livermore, BTW? Does that count? Take Five. Something my mother always said, but then, she was in theater. She knew lots of actors and musicians, she probably knew Dave too.
I met most of the rock stars who lived in Marin. Not willingly. I had to hitchhike to school and they all gave me rides. Santana, Starship, Big Bro, Dead, Sons, Youngbloods, etc. Sometimes we talked, sometimes we didn't, I was in high school. I had an empty mind. Or I was high, or both hight and empty minded. I lived in the moment.
I worked for Mimi Fariña at Bread & Roses... So I saw her once a week. I did all the incidental calligraphy signs for her big concerts.
 Robin Williams I went to school with. Eric Idle had the craziest eyes. Imagine sitting at a table with Big Mikie—Michael Pritchard, Robin Williams and Eric Idle? Wish my mind wasn't so empty in those days (I wasn't yet a writer), so that I could actually recall what they said, other than remembering that I nearly peed my pants laughing.
I hitched a ride home with Ken Kesey and got on the bus Further. Farthest thing form my mind to ask for an autograph. He later wrote to me from his 40-acre farm in Springfield, Oregon, and sent me anthologies: Spit in the Ocean. Signed, of course. Gone now. Sweet Old Bob, my ex, took them all. 
I met Craigy Fergie (Craig Ferguson)—his uncle introduced us. I did ask for an autograph that time, had him sign his movie, The Big Tease, as our Welsh friend Titch Jones was in the film too. Titch is legendarily infamous, himself, too. 
I could choose from a gazillion poets. Jane Hirshfield and Molly Fisk. How do I choose just three?

Monday, February 9, 2015


   —for Neil Astley

Counting sheep: 
Insomnia at 3AM, 
I watch all the BBC 
farmer sheep clips 
thrice over.
And still I can't sleep.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Call Me Skinny, But Don't Call Me Late

In the early years, during those golden days that defined some of my earliest memories, the Lagunitas school bus dropped us off at the highway at the bottom of Arroyo Road, and it was over a mile to my house. Pete Sutton's house was about a quarter of a mile up the road from the highway. By then, I was tired of walking, so I'd follow him home.

I was also nearly a year younger than most of my kindergarten classmates, so I was a baby walking that long walk home. My grandmother did not walk down the road to greet me after school, I was on my own. I guess she figured that because we walked to church in Lagunitas every Sunday, I knew the way. True.

I literally dropped out of kindergarten because the walk to the bus stop was just too far for my short four-year-old legs and, wandering attention span. Too many distractions: the creek, the water nymphs, the gopher snake stretched across the road, shooting stars and milkmaids bordering the road just waiting to be picked.

Sometimes Mr. Dingman would wait for me at the bottom of the road, or, if I missed the bus, he'd angrily honk and pick me up me on the reverse run after he'd collected the rest of the kids in Lagunitas, hollering at me all the while. But more often than not, I stood forlornly at the empty crossroads of Arroyo Road and Sir Francis Drake Boulevard waiting for a school bus that would never come.

By the time I got to first grade, I had to catch the bus. I had to go to school, or else I was a truant. It was the law.

By then I had developed some quirky bus neuroses. I'd dream that I finally caught the bus to school on the wrong side of the road (coming back from Lagunitas—which meant I already missed my bus, this was my second chance at hell). The door hissing like a dragon, and Mr. Dingman's wrath, was the first obstacle. Then, facing down a sea of staring kids frightened me so much I nearly peed my pants and swooned with fear. Finding an empty seat or a friendly face was like running the gauntlet. Clearly, this tripartite dream was based on real-life experience.

But there was more: When I took my new red wool coat off, to hang it on the coathook in the back of Mrs. Ramsey's first grade classroom, I discovered, too late, I had forgotten to put my dress on. There I was in my frilly knickers and grubby undershirt for all the world to see. Kids sniggering. I died of embarrassment every time, as it was a vivid reoccurring dream Freud would've loved to sink his eyeteeth into.

Or I'd dream of catching the bus home, but no one else was on the bus, not even the driver, as it barreled and careened through Lagunitas canyon at dusk, like it was possessed. Forget Stephen King's "Christine." Vroom!

Coming home from school was a different matter. I had classmates to walk with. Sort of. But Jeff Sutton, Joan Lindsey, Diane Moyle, and Billy Joe Bianchi would ditch us little kids, or walk too fast for us to catch up. That left me and Pete standing at the crossroads. (Pete's dad, a pianist, had already gone down to the jazz crossroads at midnight, but that's another story). So I took the easiest route, I followed Pete home. Pete's mom, Chuck (Charlene), fed us peanut butter and exotic store-bought grape jelly sandwiches, and sometimes she even gave me a ride home in the green VW bus. 

To his credit, Peter never ditched me, though he could have. I'm sure I was a little pest. I remember playing in the creek, hiking up to Forest Farm Camp, and building Lincoln logs with him in his room. Kid stuff like that. Jeff was far too cool to hang out with us. I wasn't allowed in the army blanket chair fort. And besides, I was, you know, a girl.

(I don't remember when the school bus started coming up to the bend at Barranca Road to turn around where Joan Lindsey's house was, but that was a year or two later, as more families with kids were moving into the Valley. By then there were so many of us, they couldn't NOT pick us up.)

I was devastated when the Suttons moved to Lagunitas. I'd lost a playmate. No more free lunch. No more reason to drop by the Sutton house as he lived way up the hill. Then, as I got older, I was  too shy. Then, we all got way too cool (or too stoned), and we hardly spoke to each other during that long stretch of gravelly road that transported us across the gawky years of high school and hormones. Or even at College of Marin—though we were in the same pottery class for years.

(What's funny about this aside, is that when Ralph Sutton died, Pete said his father was a man of few words: "every couple of years he completes a sentence." That pretty much summed us up too. Until Facebook came along. This bloggy bit was inspired by a running rantlet with Pete. He's paying me back for all the times I ate his peanut butter sandwiches. It really was a long walk home and his house was the closest refuge…)

Nobody ever had any money in those days, and feeding the neighborhood kids was what families did. I remember eating cereal at 5PM (I thought it was scandalous) with the twins, Adrian and Adair (Lara) Daly. Their house was a mob scene and it was a free for all, with Connie and Mickey yelling at the top of their lungs, not to drink up all the milk or eat up all the cereal. Shannon was a kid of few words, he'd merely hitch the bowl up closer to his gaping maw and shovel it all in before the empty cereal box even hit the ground.

There was "poor" and then there was "really poor." The Bagleys, who were newcomers, were in the really poor camp, right out of Grapes of Wrath. After a good game of olly-olly-oxen-free, or kick-the-can, with the Weavers and the Magnussens, we were all skinned knees and grubbier than dirt. No formalities, like washing up before dinner, were enforced.

We gleefully ate the wilted vegetables Mr. Bagley couldn't sell from his vegetable truck. There were so many of us, the Bagleys set up a couple of doors on sawhorses in the bulldozed lot, and we'd have at it. Mountains of white welfare rice with salt and butter, watery zucchini and catsup under an indigo sky and wavering stars never tasted so good.

Seeking nourishment for an inarticulate hunger, I went from house to house, grazing with the other Valley kids. Scott Weaver's mom made the most outrageous raised yeast doughnuts, I'd eat them, still warm, granules of sugar crystals riming my lips. Nothing else even comes close to those airy doughnuts of memory. Forget Dunkin' Doughnuts.

Billy Joe Bianchi's grandmother dragged me into her kitchen and fed me raviolis and spongecake, saying, "Mangia, mangia." "Eat, eat." And so I did. As I tucked in, she grated cheese rinds into a big jar; and when the golden sponge cake hanging upside down in its cake pan, was cool, it'd slough onto the table, whispering unintelligible secrets, and we'd eat divine food of the gods. Billy Joe usually ditched me to do chores, so I was fair game for Mary Bianchi's brand of cheek-pinching ministrations. After all, she'd fed my grandmother's children too.

One of my best friends, Stephanie Stone's newly blended family was so large, they never even noticed another ravening mouth at the table. New step-mom Helen was doing a bang-up job feeding her small army. Shopping was a field expedition. We'd load the shopping carts with gallons of condensed milk and field provisions. Then a dozen of us would stand in the cattle truck all the way home, leaning into the turns over White's Hill.

Micaela Miranda Wall's stepmom Betty Lang, a potter, held an open larder policy too. Dense homemade honey wheat bread and slabs of sharp cheddar, and garlicky salads, so hot it burned your tongue. My job was to rub a clove of garlic into the wooden salad bowl. I practically lived at Micaela's house when we were tweenies. We'd get long skirts from the Goodwill and slit them in two to make twin miniskirts. We were peas in a pod.

I'd also head over to another neighbor's across the way for Second Dinner. They didn't have kids, but they had a TV, which was part of the draw, I'm sure. There was only one or two channels to choose from, and there was also a lot of snow—depending on the vagaries of reception so far from civilization.

During the summer months, I used to peer through a knothole in the fence, watching kids play in the pool until Barbara Scott took pity on me and invited me in for a swim. I learned to swim late in life, I was ten. I was floating on a big sausage balloon and it popped in the deep end. My grannie dragged me down to Barbano's Summer Camp across from Pete's house, for my first swimming lesson. But lessons cost money so, after I mastered the dogpaddle, I finished learning to swim at the Scott's pool. Barbara Scott put me to work, lifeguarding the little kids, babysitting, or making props for a play she was producing.

I was never turned away from anyone's table. It was as if I was trying on different families, to see how they all lived. For the most part, the common denominator was a large family. I had only my baby brother, and my parents had dumped me off at my grandmother's house by the time I was four. So I had issues of abandonment. I was like a stray dog turning up at the dinner table.

You'd think my grandmother wasn't a good cook, but she was. I rarely missed a meal at home either. She'd already raised eight kids, so we were unofficial numbers nine and ten. She was done with parenting. The way I was eating, I should've been the size of a house. But I was a lonesome, skinny little kid, so skinny, that Jimmy Bohman, who was at least a year younger than me, used to sneer, and call me "Flaco" and "Skinny" at school.

I must've had a tapeworm or something, I ate like a horse. And I was horse crazy too. Horses were my saving grace, they offered me a steady circle of friends, they also exponentially expanded my dining horizon, and getting home was a piece of cake. But that's fodder for another tale.

Now I'd give anything to be able to eat like that—and still be called Skinny too. Guess I'll nibble on these words instead.

Sir Francis Drake High School jettisoned our bus system. There was no bus and It was a long walk to Drake, then home again over White's Hill. 
Seems like trouble getting to school was a reoccurring theme. For an expanded version of this IJ article, see my previous post, Shank's Mare Ironically, when we got to high school, our school bus was cancelled by Reaganomics.