Thursday, September 30, 2010

Hoo-hoo, hooo hoo hoo

Where I live in the Oakland Hills adjacent to the regional park, many critters abide, besides the skunk in last week's tale. For forty five years a pair of Great Horned Owls have serenaded me at certain seasons, one perched on either side of the house. Invariably their call, beginning at late dusk, sounds the same: hoo-hoo, hooo hoo hoo.
First discovered in Virginia, their Latin name is Bubo virgianus, after Queen Elizabeth I, the virgin queen.
I've learned to stand on the deck and mimic them, and invariably the one on the top of the cedar tree off the kitchen will crane his or her neck (for their necks turn 270 degrees) and talk back to me, sometimes carrying on a lengthy conversation. How stupid, I thought. I've sometimes focused a flash light in their yellow eyes, meanie me. They are quite huge, and when they alight, which is silent, the top of the tree bounces. I marvel at the wing span, three to five feet. They have excellent sight, which improves in the dark, and their hearing is even better. Strangely the ear tufts, from which they get their name, have nothing to do with hearing, being just tufts of hair. What makes their hearing so good is that the right ear is set higher than the left, giving better sound (up and down) elevation.
Last Wednesday night about midnight the first arrival of the season started hooting, only this time from the rose garden side and the call was hoo hoo hoo hoo. I found that terribly disconcerting. It took me two hours to get back to sleep, as it puzzled me so. Was this my same talkative owl? Was she hurt or lost or looking for her mate? I've since researched and found that it is a known variation. Of course an owl's life span in the wild is 13 years, so in the almost fifty years I've lived here, I calculated, I've probably hosted four or five generations. This awareness came in the night, as I tried to unweave the puzzle.
Synchronicity rears its head again. For the last twenty five years or so, I've been troubled with a hearing loss, a rather strange one, so the experts say, which I experience as stressful. Audiologist after audiologist has tested me and pronounced my loss so slight as to be untreatable.
Recently I've been consulting a Walnut Creek audiologist, who is very much into the science of sound. After eleven hours of testing (believe me, I've counted) he fitted me today with temporary hearing aids. He explained that it remains to be seen if my brain will learn to accommodate the difference in sound from what I am used to hearing. Hmm. I had always thought of hearing as in the ear, not the brain. When I told him my owl story of this week he shared his own back yard owl story, which was not so different than mine. Perhaps I am going to revise my opinion of Great Horns as being more than giant dumb birds!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

What the Autumnal Equinox Brought Me!

NASA warned that Wednesday was a rare autumnal equinox around here and to watch out! The moon would appear inflated and there would  be a rare glow, with Jupiter hovering nearby.  So when I awoke for the third day with a raging sinus headache (or allergy?) I was not encouraged.
(I'm getting a CAT scan of my sinuses this morning). Jen came to clean, which cheered me, and I managed to paint and read a little, comforting myself that the second episode of Survivor would be on at 8pm and I could distract myself with pizza and silly women in bikinis, this series featuring the old versus the young, except that Survivor's opinion of old is 40, not 80. My practice is to bring Kodi in before dark, to avoid any night critters, but it was a hot night and he seemed so blissed out sprawled in the patio on the cool I decided to procrastinate until the first commercial.  Suddenly about 8:09 I heard a single bark.  I leaped to my feet. Then the odor struck me.  Skunk! Kodi was nowhere to be seen.  I armed myself with a spoonful of peanut butter, which usually attracts him. Leash and flashlight in the other hand, bedroom slippers flopping, head throbbing, I stumbled around the greenhouse, through the orchard, down the paths, calling, Kodi, Kodi.  No response.  The moon mocked me. The odor grew more intense.  I cursed the moon and all the planets, my headache, and especially my own inertia.  Finally I caught him down the front bank.  Of course now we both smelled like skunk.  I coaxed him inside to the laundry room, where on the top shelf of a cupboard I found an old bottle of "Skunk-Off".  It probably had not seen daylight in ten years.  At nine and a half, I think it was his first encounter with a skunk.  Memories of other days and other dogs saddened me.  I remembered forty some years ago when Lee and I came home from work to find our two Schnauzer puppies had played tug of war with a banana slug.  That was the worst! Meanwhile, here was I alone to deal with Kodi.  I doused and scrubbed for about twenty minutes.  Then I closed him in for the solution to do its work. Still the whole house reeked.   I got back to the tv just in time to see the ending.  Apparently the "young" lost the challenge, and one was being eliminated.  Meanwhile, this old woman was facing her own test of survival.  

Friday, September 17, 2010

In And Out House Stories

Family members and friends are still sending me outhouse stories, but my allergies have kept me IN, so time to change subjects.  To amuse myself indoors I've been painting happy scenes, sun flowers and sea turtles.  A week ago last night a gas main explosion in San Bruno lighting up the sky directly across the bay from me.  From any window on the west side of the house I could see flames shooting 100' feet into the air.  This included the view from my front deck, kitchen, living room, and study, where I now sit.  Not a view I relished. Sadly seven people died, and many were left homeless.  The flames raged over two hours, triggering for me memories of the Oakland Hills fire over a decade a go, which killed one friend who was housebound, and destroyed the homes and disrupted the lives of so many others, including many close to me.  Like a stone that skips over the water. loosing momentum with each plop, I find that each fire around here awakens a memory of a previous one.  About thirty five years ago, asleep in bed one spring night, I woke to notice the strange yet beautiful glowing color of the rayon draw drapes. This was long before I painted, and took interest in unusual colors.  This window faced south, towards the rose garden, a canyon, and San Jose. I glanced at the clock on the night stand, a digital readout, in a time before most clocks were digital: in large read numbers it flashed 4:44.  Strange, I thought, for the sun to be rising so early...  I rose and peeked through the curtains.  It took a minute to register.  On the other side of the canyon a large home was an inferno of fire.  I screamed, waking Lee and the dogs, and called the fire department.  Shortly sirens could be heard.  The structure was a beautiful new house, just ready to be occupied.  It burned to the ground quite quickly.  No one was hurt, fortunately, and it was eventually rebuilt.  Other than photos and movies, it was the first structure fire I actually witnessed.  The imprint it made on me was the clock.  For about five years, I woke almost every morning with a jolt.  I would glance at the clock, and leap out of bed.  It always said 4:44.  The trauma of it all was imprinted on my unconscious.  Thank goodness I eventually processed this.  Nowadays if I am lucky I sleep till 4:10.  Old age seems to do that for me.  I move to the living room lounger, where, with a cup of tea, I pick up on whatever book is enchanting me.  This week is Ivan Doig's the Whistling Season.  Each page is like a poem.  What a great writer.   

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Last of the Outhouse Stories

My Mother had a way of enhancing all stories, which, as a child, entranced me.  As an adult I learned (and at 80 am still learning) that most of them were giant exaggerations.  None the less, growing up in Moosejaw, Sask., most of them centered around small town life.  I loved the stories, and wanted to hear them over and over.  They were in such contrast to my life as a city girl.   One such yarn centered around Halloween, when, according to her, she would lead the gang of kids, (all boys except her) as they raided outhouse after outhouse, pushing them over, and then running for cover, apparently never getting caught.  The way she described the gyrations was probably overdone, but others have told me that this was a common practice for kids in rural settings at the turn of the century, and later.  
My personal experiences with outhouses are much more limited.  When I first moved to California, in 1956, Lee and I were often the guests of a beloved friend and physician, Jane.  At that time Jane owned a rustic cabin north of Calistoga on the Maacama River.  It had incredible charm, and much poison oak.  It was without electricity or running water, but being a doctor, Jane kept everything in pristine condition, including the outhouse.  For all the years we camped there, the following sign was posted on the inside of the outhouse door, in lovely caligraphy:

O Cloacina, Goddess of this place,
Look on thy suppliants with a smiling face.
Soft, yet cohesive let their offerings flow,
Not rashly swift nor insolently slow.

Like my mother's stories, I loved the composition.  Recently I have learned that Cloacina was the Roman Goddess of Sewers and Drains, and that the main drain in the Forum was named Cloaca Maxima in her honor.  How enchanting.  I think now I need to make a copy an post it in my own digs.  

Thursday, September 2, 2010

More Outhouse Stories

No one answered my request for more outhouse stories, but a little research revealed that many books have been written about outhouses.  Not only that, some art books have been published with nothing but pictures of outhouses.  I'm flabbergasted.  I'm still hoping to tease out more stories from my buddies.  On coaxing, my friend Nancy, a retired teacher, revealed this story: as a child she once attended a country school in Arkansas.  It sported a six holer.  Her modesty prevented her from ever using it, she thinks. Now Nancy, who probably always was the teacher's pet, was given the highest honor, that is, of guarding the door while the teacher availed herself of the facilities.  Nancy was so proud!
Just this week I recalled a true story by a former Girl Scout colleague.  It occurred one summer when Cappy, now an adult,  went home to visit the rural country home of her childhood, somewhere in Oklahoma.  It was a primitive place, so that, in the night, when Cappy felt the call of nature, she followed the well-worn path in the dark to the facility she knew so well.  As she started back towards the house, something struck her leg. It hit hard.  She screamed and screamed.  It turned out to be a rattler, a huge one.  Apparently she stepped right on it.  She spent a few days in the hospital and several weeks recouperating.  I guess the moral of this story is that a Girl Scout should never go out unprepared... 
Can you top this?  I'm still searching for more stories, so send me yours.