Monthly Archives: May 2008

The last post on Creek Running North

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He has populated this blog as much as anyone with fewer than four feet, but I’ve written little of depth about him here. I’m not sure why that is. Perhaps I’ve merely practiced the same circumspection toward him here that I really ought to have practiced regarding the other people in my life. And on Sunday, June 1, he’ll be the last person I see before I formally move out of the Bay Area.

He’ll also be the first person I see afterwards. My friend Matthew is the kind of person who’d volunteer to help you load the U-Haul, then drive with you to Barstow to help you unload at the other end. “Hey, you know me,” he said on the phone. “I’m always up for a U-Haul trip.” We did this in 1987, cross-country. My ex, Elissa, and I had moved to DC for a couple years so that she could go to law school, and when we moved back she flew to Berkeley with the cats, leaving me to pack and clean and dismantle the household in Arlington.  Matthew used the other half of her round-trip ticket, showed up at Dulles, and we meandered west for five days in a severely underpowered U-Haul pickup.

This weekend will be a much shorter trip, and the kinds of stories that accreted themselves to our mutual experience on that trip will not likely be involved in this one. There is no world’s largest cement prairie dog along I-5, nor will we wake in a Kansas campground to watch bass the size of U-Boats hurling themselves at the sky. We will load everything as fast as we can, then roll on down the hill past the California buckeyes I’ve watched grow for six years — they’re flowering this week, brilliantly — and we will be in Barstow somewhere around dark, I hope. And then unloading and back the next day to drop him off.

I fetched up against the Bay Area’s shores 26 years ago almost by accident, insubstantial as spindrift sand. I met Matthew within a month of arriving, introduced to me by Elissa, who I’d just started seeing, as her high school sweetheart. He’d just seen Blade Runner, and held forth on the merits of the movie at some length, late at night. I was a bit befuddled at the guy. His enthusiastic geekery neatly outstripped my own. Before long he and I were annoying the crap out of Elissa with our animated and apparently impenetrable conversations, rarely using a word like “spider” when “chelicerate” would do. Matthew was studying fisheries at UC Berkeley. (The fish were far more suited to schooling than he was, and he graduated with a sigh of relief and commenced to learning in earnest.) It was Matthew who re-awakened my interest in the wild world, merely by asking me on stray hikes what I thought a particular conifer, or flowering herb, or vein of mineral might be. It took a few years before I was any likelier than he to ever have the correct answer.

Our friendship has affected me profoundly, and I chasten when I try to recall any times I’ve attempted to repay his immense kindnesses. I have offered him the profound gift of my company. He has flown across the country to help me move. I gave him a t-shirt once with a wombat on it. He came over in February 2007 to help me bury my dog. I have hired him once or twice, but he’s done the same about as often. And we’ve had dry spells. There have been a couple stretches since 1982 where we didn’t speak to each other for months at a time, perhaps years, too distracted by our lives to stay in touch.

We may be facing more times like that after this weekend. It’s one thing to keep up with a friendship when you eat lunch three times a week, like we did at Earth Island. It’s another to keep up with several hundred miles between you.

On Sunday I will roll in that truck down the hill and away from my life here, away from the hole in the diatomite where my dog’s remains dissolve gently, away from the garden I nurtured and then abandoned, away from this community of readers I have cherished these last five years, away from Becky, away from the Bay and Berkeley and the place I have lived my entire adult life but when you look at it objectively, when you take the true measure of effect and value and persistence in this all-too-short a life, my moving away from the Bay Area is moving away from Matthew. He has bracketed my life here.

California buckeyes drop their leaves in summer, then grow them again in the winter. Counterintuitive-seeming to some, the habit is a defense against drought. Set flowers when there is water in the soil and let the seeds that grow therefrom ripen slowly hard and brown in the summer heat, and those seeds will be ready to sprout with the first touch of moist October. I walked past them for years without seeing them, the soul of California’s inner coast ranges, the expression of the California seasons made treeflesh. Buckeyes and redwoods and Joshua trees, Darlingtonia bogs and Mono Lake’s tufa towers, receding Sierra glaciers and fell-fields ablaze in mule-ears and sky pilot and salt flats 282 feet below sea level and 120 degrees above zero, sliding down snow-covered slopes in winter at 8000 feet and digging for red tide phosphorescence by the ocean, my life in California has been conducted with Matthew near at hand, and I wonder how it will be to go on without him right there.

But I don’t have to worry about that until Tuesday.

Walking With Zeke now available in stores

For instance, on Amazon. (Paste those reviews in!)

I still get more money from each direct sale through Lulu than I do if you buy from a retailer, but if you, say, have a store credit you want to use, you can now do so by buying the Zeke book.

If you prefer bricks and mortar, you can special-order through your favorite 3-d bookstore: give them ISBN 978-0-6151-9611-4 or ask them to look for my name and Zeke in Books In Print.

(This entry, being promotion of my offline writing, doesn’t count as a blog post.)

Exfoliation

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It rained in the Mojave this week. Driving up onto Cima Dome on Friday was driving into a wall of electified sleet. Immense bolts of blue lightning snaked horizontally for miles just above the surface of the Dome. I fretted about fire until I got under the storm. The windshield filled up with melting hail. The Dome was sodden.

Home.

Home.

I filled the pickup with four-fifths of my books, at least those I hadn’t given away in the previous month, and coaxed that overloaded truck over the mountains and into the desert. 420 miles of heavy wind and awkward center of gravity, an ungainly migration, and it had daunted me Thursday morning as I carried the boxes. Flinging yourself into the abyss is a scary thing to anticipate. I needn’t have fretted. Rolling down the east slope of the Tehachapi Mountains I felt it leave, this stale and cloying sadness I have carried in me the last months. It evanesced, blew off toward Harper Lake in shattered wisps under Mojave’s constant wind, and I was free.

Home.

A notable change, this change. The human lifespan being what it is, the number of times you can leave a place you’ve lived for a generation is somewhat limited. This will be my second time. I suspect that if I live in any other place for a generation, I’ll leave it with my bootsoles pointed at the horizon.

Right now I’ve got my gaze pointed that way.

I’ve got a place to stay starting in July, in Nipton, in a small house 400 feet from a mainline train track, and only 16 miles from Joshua trees. I’ve got a post office box in Cima, CA, 92323 — something I’ve long desired — and you can send me a letter there at PO Box 43. I’ve got a storage locker in Barstow with four-fifths of my books in it. I’ve got a 14-foot truck reserved to haul the rest of my belongings down there on June 1.

Which means my last full day in Pinole, and quite possibly my last day living in the Bay Area, will be May 31, 2008.

This will be five years, almost to the day, since I started Creek Running North. I find the logic irrefutable.

Creek Running North is shutting down.

I’m a firm believer in the merit of a finite lifespan for projects artistic and otherwise, and my intent in starting Creek Running North was to describe the world around this creek down the hill from where I sit typing this, and I may never see it again after this week. I ranged crazily afield, but the creek was my pole star: For five years I always found my way back to it.

Obviously, I can’t do that anymore.

I’ll still maintain a website here, and it will still have some of my writing on it, and after July some of that writing, from time to time, will be quite new. I expect to spend almost all my writing hours working on potential print, but there will likely be observations and passing thoughts and photos and such that fit nowhere but on a site like this. Many of you have invested in the work I’m doing this summer, and in any event the site represents a little income I can’t walk away from too blithely. It won’t be a blog in the sense of having a blogroll and linking to slagfests and playing the circular-argument status game. It will be a place for the writing, for occasional photos, for environmental politics in appropriate measure, maybe a podcast or two. Lots of ambient sound out there in the desert, you know?

But not until July at the earliest. And it won’t be called Creek Running North.* Because Creek Running North is shutting down.

This isn’t, however, the last CRN post. I have one more left, a good closer, on a topic that’s long been an undercurrent here and whose subject really deserves a bit of notice.

That final CRN post will be up before the end of May.

This morning I woke up in the Central Valley, got in the truck and intended to head for home. Pulling to the mouth of the motel parking lot, though, about to turn onto Route 46, I realized I didn’t know where home was. I sat there, turn signal indicating a left, waiting for the traffic to clear, and I looked rightward. Down that way lay the Carrizo Plain, the Coast Ranges, the Salinas River and the coast. I had a talk with myself sitting there.

It’s longer, I said.
I sneered at me in response. So? It’s not like anyone’s waiting for you up North.
But I have work to do. Packing and such.
And you’ll get that done today?
No. But still,
Still nothing. When’s the last time you were in Paso Robles? Was Reagan still president? When are you gonna be this way again?
But the gasoline. 4.10 a gallon here, and this was cheap for the neighborhood.
So do the math. It’s what, an extra ten bucks to go this way?
I’m already in the left turn lane.
You’re such an idiot. No one’s behind you.

I waved the sirenian me away impatiently. Places to go. Things to do. The traffic cleared, and I pulled out into the road, and I turned right anyway, went toward the coast.  I just figured it was time to start setting an example.

* And I have no ideas for names whatsoever.

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Ten things you could do instead of reading this

1) Go for a walk.
2) Call someone you haven’t talked to in a while.
3) Search the back of your refrigerator for items you’d forgotten you had back there, take the ones that are still good, cook something inventive, and invite a friend over.
4) Read a book, whether it’s by me or someone else.
5) Take a nap.
6) Find a nearby wilderness, arboretum, botanic garden, commercial nursery, hardware store bedding plant section, or unkempt vacant lot and consider the lilies.
7) Go to a local café, diner, donut shop, or the equivalent, get something to drink, and people watch.
8) Take a notepad along on #7. Write or sketch something. If you’re better at writing, draw. If you’re better at drawing, write. If you excel at both, sing.
9) Buy a bag of dog biscuits and take them to the animal shelter. Tell them “Zeke sent me.”
10) Do something that will actually make a difference in the world.

Because Zeke isn’t here, this task now falls to me

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That’s machine oil all over the two-week old kitten’s body.

He was so cold when I touched it that I thought “dead for an hour at least.” And then I picked him up and he yelled at me.

I figure his mother, a feral, couldn’t pick him up what with the oil on him. Must have tasted evil.

There was another, healthier, bigger kitten right there, who’d apparently fallen out of a shelf the (not very sensible) mother had put him in, and I grabbed him her. “Your brother needs a heating pad, and you’re the lucky winner.”

Three baths, and some homemade kitten glop, and a session with the blowdryer, and a couple of ruined towels later, they’re snoozing on a low heating pad.

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(This, incidentally, is not a good idea for newborns: they can’t move around, and they get burned, and don’t try this at home. These guys are able to roll, and the healthier one is actually tottering around unpredictably. Besides, it’s a high-tech heating pad I bought to sleep on when my back goes out, and it’d be hard to burn yourself on it if you tried. Still, as soon as the little guy was warm, into the box they went.)

More photos here.

On topics other than kitten rescue: I’ll be living in Nipton from July through September, looks like, in an artist’s residence type house, a fifteen-minute drive from my campsite at Cima Dome.