Monthly Archives: October 2009

Always take the good camera

Seen because I left the good camera at home

Above, the best shot I could get of the critter who tried to gatecrash the Mojave National Preserve’s 15th Birthday Party today at the Kelso Depot. The middle of the tracks was as close as he was willing to get to the couple hundred people at the Depot, despite the existence of hot dogs and cake.

The Raven was rapt. I’m a little surprised he didn’t come home with us.

The party also served as the christening of the Mojave National Preserve Conservancy, a “friends of the park” group about which there will be more here shortly.

Significant absence of rabbit mortality noted

I seem to have left a few people hanging as to Thistle’s fate.

He’s recovered about 98 percent from the head tilt thing, and about 99 percent from Interstate Five through the Central Valley. All that’s left of either of those traumas is a slightly rakish leer at the world.

boys

A couple more weeks of recuperation and he should be ready to rent an office in Pico-Union and get back to work.

Envirosexism

Hold up: Let me check the calendar.

Wow, it’s like a quarter to 2010. The feminist movement has been working on getting people (women and men alike) to regard women as more than just sex objects and domestic appliances for what? 40 years?

How does anyone — anyone — with a functioning brain cell post something like this without having that little moment of reflection centering on the thought “maybe this will alienate everyone but the fratboys”?

What’s next, mainstream climate activists? Blackface? (Don’t answer that.)

Homily

“‘But Lord’, I said, ‘Why is there only one set of footprints on the beach during the times when I was in the most sorrow?’

‘Because,’ The Lord said gently, ‘Those times were when you realized that I am just the reified superstitious construct of the quaint primate mentations of a species trying to grasp the immensity of the material universe.’”

Bibliomancy

Running these days through the comfortable neighborhoods of West Hollywood has made me nostalgic for the garden I left last year. During the divorce and subsequent dislocation, I didn’t let myself miss my garden much. My enthusiasm for the garden waned for a while after the dog was planted in it, and for a number of months it was good to get away from that hole in the ground.

But it was my garden. When I’d moved in, I didn’t expect to be moving out again. Moving three dozen times is enough for any person. I’d be able to see trees I planted grow tall, I thought.

One did, but it blew over in a storm on my birthday the year I left.

So I’ve been running past nice gardens, and envying the people who tend them, and resenting that envy, and wondering if I’ll ever trust my life enough again to grant myself the blithe relaxing into a place I decide will be my home. Half a century of never settling is a pretty good indication that the remainder of my allotted time probably won’t be any different, you know?

Gardening used to be part of my identity. I was a garden writer: tens of thousands of people used to read my ruminations on my garden every two weeks. These days I have one plant, a palm, and it’s not looking all that great. Most of last year it wasn’t an issue. I had no garden, aside from the three carnivorous plants I failed to keep alive in my zero-percent humidity shack, but I had the desert. I had Cima Dome and the Ivanpah Valley, I had the McCullough Range and Wee Thump, and I had Joshua trees and creosote and single-leaved piñon and red barrel cactus, I had datura lining the roads to bloom beneath a full moon, and my lacking a garden seemed beside the point.

I lack the desert mostly these days. I’m not really complaining. The Mojave is less than an hour’s drive from here aside from traffic, which is less time than it took me to get to work in North Beach for most of the last decade. I went last weekend and I’m going this weekend.

But there are these gardens here, and I run past them, and I admire them, and I have no garden myself.

The Raven feels bad about this, and tells me we need to be somewhere where I can have a garden. It’s a nice thought. Every once in a while she’ll point out a community garden plot, and I make a mental note to call about space. But there’s something about walking out the backdoor and being there. The ex-is giving away some of the accoutrements of the backyard garden, sensibly enough as I’ve left them there for more than a year and she doesn’t want them and I have no place to put them, and my brother now possesses the smoker our dad gave me ten years ago. He asked what kinds of wood he could use, and I had to think for a while. I rarely bought wood for the smoker. It was all in the yard already: seasonal prunings from the Asian pear and cherry trees, dropped wood from the live oak. Now and then I would saw off an entire trunk of the upright rosemary, grown rampant over five years, and feed it into the smoker in sections over a few hours. Chicken smoked with new-cut rosemary wood and sage leaves is a remarkable thing. The conversation set me off down a melancholy path. Will I ever be in a place long enough to grow a rosemary to that size again?

For the last few months I have been toying with the idea of publishing my garden writing. I put it out in e-book form a few years back, and a handful of kind people bought copies. Surely, I have been thinking, the essays that were in that e-book, written over more than a decade, would find some readers in dead tree form. And then I remember editing the Zeke book, having to put it aside after every page or so for the memories the work stirred up. I do not mourn the gardens so fiercely. But my happiness these days is hardly what I would call robust, and The Raven has been persuading me bit by bit that dwelling on sadness rarely makes it lessen. So I have considered re-editing the garden book, and then I remember another small herb or shrub or bulb that I nurtured in those gardens that I will never see again, part of a life that has ended with characters in it that are with me no more, and I put the task off for another few weeks.

Today I found some resolve. That might have been because Thistle is here with me: another refugee from the same garden. We’ve found some cameraderie, some solidarity, some understanding. He was as much a part of the garden as any tomato plant or clematis, and with him here I feel like I haven’t lost the whole place. I didn’t have to face the work alone, I thought. It was time, I thought, to get the work out of the way, send the book off and get it printed. I found a copy of the page layout document, opened it up.

It opened to the passage quoted below, from a humorous piece on snails.

Once collected, what the heck do you do with them? Squishing a single snail is repulsive: squishing a bucketful is unthinkably vile prospect. Driving them to the hills to release them is a bad idea. Salting kills them, but where can you put a cubic foot of salted snail that won’t kill your garden plants? I do enjoy the taste of escargot, and once thought out loud to my wife that I’d feed my captured snails cornmeal for a couple weeks in order to clean their digestive tracts, then cook them. She allowed as how it was a sensible idea and suggested I start right after our divorce.

Maybe I’ll try again in six months.

The bleakest town you’ve seen?

The Raven and I went out on a long daytrip yesterday, into the Owens Valley then east, towards Death Valley. We passed by the Famous U2 Joshua Tree — the site was infested with pilgrims as we went by — and dropped down into Panamint Springs past the always mind-bending Rainbow Canyon.

After a while spent at the Panamint Springs Resort, which has no springs and applies the word “resort” to itself as a bit of hyperbole, we headed south into the Panamint Valley. The sun dropped down behind the Argus Range. I took some photos and we headed farther south, which is how we got to Trona.

I’d been to Trona once before. It struck me then as one of the bleakest towns I’d ever seen. In the decade since, it’s bleakified even more.

I am speaking here as someone who has lived in both Buffalo and Nipton. Not only does it take a bit more than a boarded up building and a blowing plastic grocery bag to get me to call something “bleak,” I actually appreciate bleakness as an aesthetic. But Trona is one of those places that outbleaks even me. Come into town and a heavy mantle of despair settles in on you. The rotten eggs smell of the chemical plant doesn’t help. It’s the kind of place that after an hour there, you actually find yourself saying sentences you never thought you’d say before, like “I can’t wait until we’re in Ridgecrest.”

I hasten to add that this judgment has nothing to do with the people living there. It’s a company town. Most people who live there live there because they’re paid to. This is not a reflection on their character or qualities.

A few towns I’ve spent time in do rival Trona in overall emotionally debilitating bleakness. Gila Bend, AZ, for instance. Or Ajo, a little ways south of Gila Bend. It’s not surprising Ajo’s gone bleak: it was a company town for the Phelps Dodge open-pit copper mine, which has been closed for years. There’s a recurring chance, each time the economy picks up, that ecotourism will boost Ajo’s fortunes: it could conceivably work as a gateway community for Organ Pipe National Monument and the Cabeza Prieta wildlife refuge. US border policy, which funnels both migrants and smugglers into the back of beyond in Arizona, has stunted tourism in both those places. The last time I visited Ajo, in 2006, it seemed like there were fewer than ten businesses still operating. One of them was a Basho’s supermarket obviously kept afloat by customers from the Tohono O’odham reservation. There was a gas station that sold sandwiches and coffee, and a Mexican restaurant.  A few motels. I think that’s it.

Not that a thriving business climate always saves a town from being bleak, as Golden Valley and Bullhead City, each in Mohave County AZ, prove abundantly.

I remember Hawthorne, Nevada as another such bleak town, or at least one heading in that direction. Sharon and I were there for a morning about a decade ago, heading back to the Bay Area from Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park. We were looking for a place to get breakfast, and we found one, and the food didn’t kill us. Looking it up just now I find that there are about a dozen places to eat listed there: maybe we just caught the town in a bad cycle. It’s anchored by an army base, and I don’t think we had two wars happening at the time. Maybe global instability has helped Hawthorne’s economy some. But I remember a bleakness there that was only partly assuaged by our leaving town and chasing pronghorns along dirt roads in the upper elevations of the Wassuk Range.

Tule Lake, CA, is another, and Dateland AZ, and Searchlight NV: good people there all for good reasons of their own, and each one of them has seemed unremittingly bleak to me on one visit or another. It may be more me than the towns. The bleak towns seem to concentrate in the Arid West, for me. there are dead towns back east, but the profusion of Ailanthus and kudzu and honeysuckle always soothe my mind.

What towns have struck you that way?

Settling in

Though my ex-did get Thistle through the worst of his head tilt it’s still disconcerting. To himself most of all. He’s disoriented, his sense of balance is affected, and it’s clear whatever is causing the head tilt involves some discomfort.

The indignity is the worst of it, I suspect. He’s been unable to clean himself the way he prefers. I spent an hour or so this afternoon carefully freeing a formidable mat of hair and rock-hard fecal matter and a few other things from beneath his tail, which was entirely too familiar a process for his liking.

I learned three valuable lessons during that process:

1) cornstarch is a really good lubricant for extracting solid dried horribles from animal fur

2) himself seems still to trust me, more or less, despite my having disappeared inexplicably for a year and a half

3) tending thus to someone who needs me to seems to fill some sort of void.

After a brief and upsetting few hours in which a certain other household member seemed certain that rabbits are to kitties as zombies are to humans, and that the bedroom closet was thus the only possible safe place, we seem to have arrived at some sort of detente.

Pals

Mojave Wolf

Via Basin and Range Watch, a site you should be checking out regularly, this excerpt of a story from Dennis Casebier’s Mojave Road guide (Tales of the Mojave Road):

image

Last wolf of the East Mojave: Pauline Watson -standing, right -trapped this whitish-colored wolf while getting coyotes near their New York Mountains ranch, on a trapline set at Rock Spring, Cedar Canyon Road, in what is now Mojave National Preserve, 1920s. She did not want to kill it, and some folks from the city tried to take it to a zoo, but it died on the way to Barstow. Photo from the Pauline (Watson) Cote Collection.

There’s a metaphor for you.

Deer Medicine

“That is their medicine,” she said. “They offer themselves up.”

She was speaking of hunting, and so I disregarded her words when they came to me, second-hand. Slob hunters are slob hunters, rednecks in the Adirondacks or wannabe-healers in Montana, and I have heard all kinds of justifications from them, though not usually so dressed in eagle feather jewelry.

“They offer themselves up.”

A feminizing of the wild, the most absurd point to which “she asked for it” could be reduced.

When I was ten — eleven? twelve? — I walked into the woods in Maryland, away from family without their knowing. Narrow trails led me among the red oak and maple, the dogwood, and then the forest filled with eyes. They regarded me for a long moment, then flashed white tails at me and moved away. I followed them to a small clearing, a bit of opening inside a creek’s bend, and though they looked up at me when I crossed over they did not spook. It was as if they had expected me to join them, and I sat among them in the grass as they cropped the century-old apples. It was dark when I returned.

There is a moment every now and then in which I hear one door closing and another opens in my breast. I lose my skin. I cannot move, and the light blinds me.

“They offer themselves up.” It is absurd. It cannot be. No species long survives whose members offer themselves up to hunters, clawed or fanged or drunken orange-clad. Fleet limbs for broken field sprints, hooves honed sharp against dire wolves and short-faced bears and lions, and now even the pumas take the sick and old ones first. A healthy stag, a wary doe could take an eye, break a mouthful of teeth. Two years ago on my way to the creek at night a loud crack came from the woods, too sharp to be anything but a hoof breaking an inch-thick branch, and then nothing but the rustling of leaves in wind.

I ran hard. I can run hard in the dark. In light I cannot forget what shape I am.

It has been a long time since I spent my days in thick forests. In the land where I spent most of my adult life the woods are park-like and broad, except where the way is blocked by walls of poison oak. The undergrowth, the vines and tangles and the head-high shade-growing trees I knew back east burn out too readily there. It has been so long since I simply passed among trees with no way to walk save that the deer made for themselves.

The black-tails to the north have no trouble with poison oak. They eat it. I could not follow them through, except when they presented themselves and ran with me at night.

I wonder sometimes if the puma knew exactly what he was doing. The “deer medicine” story was related to me by one who had found it useful. She had been trying to figure me out. She found some insight in the story. The woman in the story had been justifying her hunting, and so I disregarded her words.

They do not offer themselves up. They fight like hell to live. But they are curious, and we mistake that curiosity for slowness. They face the light in frank wonder. Harts open to the world outside. Their curiosity makes them vulnerable, and the world eats them. At the Deadfall Lakes two years ago we sat in a dark camp, no fire, and something made my hair stand up. I aimed a small hand light: green eyes. “We have eyes,” I said, and Matthew and I discussed who they might belong to for a time. Coyote, cat, and bear were all nearby, and for that matter horse and steer, but there was a fluid, calm motion to the disembodied eyes that felt wrong for any of those, and then I remembered my light had a focus ring. I widened the beam: a stag. Too many points to count in my dim light.

I resist; I resist. The deer medicine is not mine. Despite my staring jaguars down, I am not strong enough to face the world broadside. And why? This is not what courage is about. Taking on the world’s pain as avocation: what a grandiose, debilitating justification for codependence. The most absurd point to which “I deserve it” could be reduced. It is far too much to read into a metaphor.

They do not offer themselves up, but I wonder if I do. All this writing, all this watching an attempt to stare into the light. A walk into the forest and no walk back, and death is not the only path into those woods.

There are deer in the Mojave, planted there long ago for the ease of hunters, but I mainly do not see them: just their spoor. They stay up in the mountains, curl up under rock shelters during the heat of day, come out at dusk to drink from springs, from guzzlers. Not long ago I leafed through a book of photos, shots taken by tripwire of animals drinking from Kessler Spring, coyotes and badgers and bighorn, and a band of black-tailed deer standing lordly among the yuccas. The buck was flare-lit, overexposed, and stood with his head turned leftward toward the camera. He was well fed for a desert black-tail; he showed no ribs. He gazed straight at the camera. His eyes glowed green.