Category Archives: Heart

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Desert senna, Senna armata

Senna armata

I drove a few days back, with a friend I had not seen for years, through the Pinto Basin and into the Chuckwalla Valley. She drove, which afforded me an unusual opportunity. Living alone except for Heart I am usually the one behind the wheel. On Saturday I had the chance to gawk at the desert through which we drove.

There were wonders. The Pinto Basin ocotillos are in fine bloom, and psychotropically magenta flowers blaze from every clump of hedgehog cactus, and the roadsides were lined everywhere other than the pits of washes with desert senna blooming yellow like wallflowers in a cottage garden.

The palo verdes bore sprays of blossoms, translucent yellow veils showing uninterrupted blue sky beyond. Even the desert ironwoods outside looked greener, their usual washed out olive drab leaves and charcoal trunks a bit less washed out drab.

I looked past them all to the bunchgrasses, the big galleta grass overflowing from the washes. Near my house, where big galleta is the third most common perennial plant after creosote and senna, each bunch is maybe a foot tall, with a dozen or fewer new flower stems per bunch. They bring me joy, to watch them knitting the desert together, but it is a special kind of rarefied, austere joy, the feeling that seeps in to fill the void when you give up, at long last, on disappointment.

In the Pinto Basin, though, the big galleta is lush and green, fair billowing across the smoketree-studded washes, and I fell into place with a click so profound I looked at my friend to see whether the noise had startled her.

My life is good these days. I have frustrations and sadnesses in full measure, fears and regrets, and yet I think when I look back at the full run of my life from some vantage point toward its end, the weeks since last autumn will be one of the highlights, one of the stretches of which I will say “that. That was the entire point of this exercise.”

A few weeks back I walked in the Oakland Hills, along trails I once knew well, and counted one wild plant species after another that I had not seen in years. The weather was perfect, the company even more so, and I had a moment of unnerving split perspective, like the one provided by the bifocals I have finally relented to wearing: I was suddenly seeing the world from two perspectives at once. I was in my old haunts but looking forward to future happiness, no Marley’s Chain of memory and regret dragging behind me. I was home at last and yet I was away from home, a long haul over the Tehachapis between me and the thin joys of big galleta.

Pleuraphis rigida, big galleta grass

Pleuraphis rigida, big galleta grass

 

 

Commands I have so far failed to train my dog to obey

  • double espresso for here
  • stop! in the name of love
  • get down with your bad self
  • smoke ’em if you got ’em
  • what’s the word?*
  • what do we want? when do we want it?
  • stay; just a little bit longer
  • check the oil
  • meet the new boss
  • don’t turn your back on me, baby

* acceptable response: “Johannesburg”

This weekend

In Lost Hills, California, the dog sleeps on a motel bed. A hundred yards east the long haul truckers drift gently off to sleep at 75 per. Their trailers sway sinuously, sensuously, heedless of the dotted white line. 

I got off the road. 

At Rodeo Beach today the brown pelicans skimmed brisk surf flawlessly, the wave crests missing their breast feathers by millimeters. We watched them fly in their characteristic perfect formation, bonded to each other inviolable and unseen. 

In Maxwell Park, the scent of jasmine and the scent of citrus. The dog pulls me up steep night streets, past Art Deco ghosts, past the shed feathers of owls. 

Heart

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I have a new family member.

Her name is Heart, named partly because of a black Valentine’s-heart-shaped patch on her left side, and partly because of who she is.

When I first met her, in November, she couldn’t bring herself to make eye contact with me. A series of events I can only guess at had persuaded her that most people, men especially, could not be trusted. She came to live with me in December — a dogsitting-fostering arrangement, I insisted, not to be considered permanent — and it took her several days to stop flinching violently when I’d absently reach to stroke her head.

After a while, in which I spent a lot of time moving very slowly and deliberately, and treating her according to a very smart friend’s advice, we won each other over just a bit.

That advice:

after gaining her trust with walks and ignoring and humor and nothing ever being a big deal, then you expose her to absolutely freaking everything so the shy doesn’t wreck her quality of life.

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Now, she’s devoted to me, and I am in my inevitably inferior, non-dog way, to her. Here’s Heart waking me up on my 55th birthday earlier this month:

Heart1

We walk four miles a day on average, and she is slowly starting to learn that words mean things, and she is training me how to listen to her so that she can tell me what she wants, and she leaps onto the bed each morning and wakes me by punching me in the face repeatedly.

We made the decision this week to make our collegial relationship a permanent one. No one who knows me is the slightest bit surprised, excepting me.

Life is good.

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