Friday, October 28, 2011

Elusion of Peace

A light haze hugs the bay. Predicted high winds have not appeared to blow it away. The roses out my window are still bearing but getting cranky with neglect. Up here things appear calm but that is a deception. Oakland is experiencing trauma once again, not by fire this time but by the tear gas removal of over a thousand wall street protesters camping at the plaza. Meanwhile less than a mile west the last two ton steel section of the bay bridge retrofit is being jiggled into place this morning. Attaching it to the adjoining structure will take 4,500 bolts. Like the rest of the project, it was all made in China. The irony goes without saying.
At Cathy Lane the last of the kitchen crown molding is in place but the cupboard doors remain handleless and a few other things undone. Some days I churn at the contractor but mostly I've become philosophical about it. It seems unimportant in the larger scheme of things. Kodi is eating fairly well but still behaving like a basket case at night.
I've yet to figure out what scares him or hurts him and have no more discretionary funds to invest in doggie specialists. Mostly he wants to build a cave under my recliner which is fine as long as I remember to warn him to move when I go to jump up. I don't wish to deal with a squished Husky.
Last weekend Catherine, Kodi and I refreshed ourselves at Cath and Mary's other house in Santa Rosa. We took in two of the art displays in Santa Rosa's Art Trails which is somewhat like open studios. What fun! It surprised me to see that the vineyards around there are still green as green can be. Its almost November. Where is our fall color?
In my own small orchard my ten year old persimmon tree is exploding. It looks like there will be plenty of fruit and leaves for subjects to paint this year but its going to be late. The photo above is my rendering from another year's crop. I am always seeking peace but only finding it in my paintings. Perhaps I should go back to Bali. I wonder if they'd take Kodi?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Poppies for the Pensive

A different kind of memorial was held near me today, one covered by the news media but hardly front page except in the Oakland area. October 20, 2011 is the 20th anniversary of the tragic Oakland firestorm. The evacuation point was two miles west of where my hilltop house sits so we were spared any property loss. In all 3500 Berkeley and Oakland dwellings were turned to ash, among them the homes of eleven of my friends who lost nearly everything as the firestorm spread to the upper Rockridge area. Some of them had ten to twenty minutes to evacuate. After your pets, how do you decide what to take? One of my friends, an elderly woman psychologist who had become agoraphobic, refused to leave her home in the Hiller Highlands and lost her life. Just down the slope from her house two Hiller residents took refuge in the athletic club outdoor pool where they hovered for two hours, their beach bags and cosmetics on the pool deck turning to liquid, before they evacuated safely.

Compared to the fire victims my loss was insignificant. Still, it has affected me deeply, as it has my whole community. In October I find I never sleep deeply and then it hits me why… Shortly after the fire I had my picturesque shake roof removed in favor of somewhat ugly but fire resistant asphalt shingles. As soon as I could afford it I had my wonderful brick fireplace replaced with a metal insert and a fake gas log. Shrubs and trees I loved were pruned back to ten feet of the house. These were appropriate but hardly elective modifications and small accommodations in lieu of being spared the trauma of loss so many suffered. For months one wall of a bank in Montclair was smothered with photos of missing dogs and cats, among them Herbert Henry, a long-haired monster sized cat with an equally monstrous personality belonging to my friends Judy and Marlene. Like most of the displaced animals he was never found.

My old ranch house sits on a natural level ridge with deep canyons on either side, canyons that would be the natural pathway for a fire moving from the west to the east. Of course the pathway of fire is unpredictable in our fall winds. I have careful evacuation plans in event of fire, of course, but I hope I never have to take refuge in my own deep pool, for the unheated water temperature rarely exceeds forty. Double brr. I still keep at least one car gassed up and emergency water and dog food in the trunk. Somehow these concessions to safety do not comfort me. The events of twenty years ago still haunt me and hang like a dark cloud in my otherwise sunny hall of memories.

Nature is fickle. Curiously a 3.9 earthquake hit South Berkeley as I wrote this, reminding me to avoid any sense of complacency no matter how hard I try to feel prepared. To calm myself I finished painting the Matilija Poppy shown above that grows so contently on my front bank oblivious to threat of fire or earthquake. This summer they reached seven feet. Curiously to my pleasure the gophers find them less than tasty. I love their delicate papery leaves and find them amazingly soothing as they flutter in the evening breeze coming in the Golden Gate.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Salute to Jeanne

This week the ten of us in Water Color Connection stretched our talents in a delightful three day portrait painting class with Pablo Villicana Lara. I still have a lot to learn about portrait painting but I hope you can see from my rendering of my friend Jeanne Squires that she always has a twinkle in her blue eyes and a smile engraved just above her forthright chin. It’s been that way as long as I have shared her friendship, which is certainly over fifty years.

Today she hardly looks 84 and her spirit of adventure is more like 17. To me she is a model of embracing change with grace.

Next week Jeanne and her partner Edith head to Phoenix for the winter, having bought a unit in a retirement complex there. It will be a long winter without her presence in the Bay Area.

Life hasn’t always been a cup of tea for Jeanne. After her mother died when she was eight, Jeanne and her two brothers mostly made out for themselves. In the small Wyoming town of Douglas where her dad ran the local motel and bar, Jeanne helped with the bed-making and other chores. From time to time a housekeeper would appear to cook for the kids, but this was hardly parenting. When Jeanne had decisions to make her father always said, “Well, dear, what would an intelligent woman do?” It must have been good advice for Jeanne grew up healthy, well educated and self-sufficient. She mourned for the older brother that she lost in the 2nd World War but it never deterred her from moving ahead. For many decades she taught P.E. and history at Castro Valley High. That was in the days when girls were given short shift in athletics and PE teachers were low on the totem pole. Later she became a union leader and a cracker jack at negotiating benefits.

As if kidney cancer weren’t enough, Jeanne has also survived two hip replacements and lots of little skin cancers, hence the hat to protect her vulnerable nose.

She’s travelled widely, photographed abundantly, motor homed avidly and partied vigorously. She’s generous and loyal to her friends. Always on the cutting edge of new inventions, she demonstrated her skill on a Mac long before it was the in thing to do. In retirement she taught investing, owned a sail boat, volunteered at the Monarch butterfly preserve, petted whales in Baja, and travelled extensively. Her friendship is precious to me and I take delight in trying to capture her spirit with my brushes.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

No One Else To Blame

  • If you are following the saga, three quarters of my kitchen cabinets are done now. I’m disappointed with the results so far and if I had the decision to make over, which I don’t, I would have gone with refacing, not refinishing. One thing about living alone is that you have no one else to blame for wrong decisions. But as the Norwegians say, it could be worse. Jenn and I are beginning to move things back into the still doorless cabinets. If she has lost patience with me at least she has not quit. She keeps saying “Where does this go?” I shrug pathetically. If its ceramic it might be something I haven’t contemplated using in over ten years, or can’t even remember. If it’s a food item we check the dates. The bags of throw-aways hauled out match in volume the bags of thrift shop donations, yet the cupboards are still crowded. One reason is that I have in the kitchen four different sets of dishes. Two sets were donations, yet I love them and am willing to rededicate space to them. A third set now nests in a very high cupboard above the fridge. I fear none of this set have been used in thirty years; still I can not part with them, for I bought them in 1953 with my very first pay check teaching school. They are heavy Franciscan ware. To me they were a symbol of being employed in the real world. Kind of emancipation though I don’t know from what, as I was pretty much emancipated from age seven or eight. I brought the symbolic set from Tacoma when I moved down in 1956. The fascination wore off in about 1960. For one thing, the knife would never balance on the side of the plate when one was eating. Guests would be embarrassed and I would be annoyed and apologetic. Tut!
Where we are now in the cabinet refinishing is at least creative. Even sanded down to bare wood the sixty year old Birch doors would not forgive the impression of their original brass knobs leaving a white circle to mar the clean lines of the new Swedish handles in brushed nickel. The arc of the handles is just fat enough to accommodate my arthritic fingers. No backplate was made to cover up the span of the two inch diameter in the original knobs. So a couple of days ago Chris, the contractor, and I made a trip to McBeath lumber in Berkeley. There I picked out a panel of veneer in a contrasting color. Its called Mappa and has gorgeous designs in it, like burl. Today using a plastic template we traced in mechanical pencil the outline of the template in various spots, trying to pick the most artistic burl patterns. From here the pattern will be laser cut for the handles of 25 doors and fourteen drawers. Maybe the results will be stunning and we will be on the cover of Sunset magazine. Dream on, Bonnie.