Friday, November 22, 2013

The Day America Lost Its Trust

I'm borrowing the title from an article by Lowell Cohn in today's Press Democrat. If you were living, where were you? I was living on Carisbrook Dr. in Oakland and teaching 39 fourth graders at Oakland's Bellla Vista school., except that that day I was home sick with a bad bug, the bane of elementary teachers. Our t-v was a small black and white model, in the bedroom. I remember feeling aghast and thinking how the children would need me, and how would the substitute handle it, and feeling badly for everyone. I was 33, and politically pretty innocent., but still in shock. Maybe I still am. But today I will go to Current Events and hear a lively discussion on what the senate did yesterday to stop filibusters and allow judicial appointments. What I don't understand Catherine will explain to me later. How lucky I am to have her.
Wednesday, watching Obama award the Kennedy Freedom medals, I learned Sally Ride was a lesbian and watched her partner of 27 years receive the honor in her name. A lot is wrong in this country and this planet, but progress in accepting minorities is heartening.
Next Thursday I will be in the bay area with dear friends Andrea and Stacey, so look for my blog a little late.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Autumn Transformations

     Though we have not yet had a deep frost here in Sonoma County most of the color in the vineyards is morphing to mahogany brown but here in Oakmont the persimmons, crepe myrtles, and  pistach are drawing raves. Finally my landscape designer is transforming my front yard as well.
     My fairly old Japanese Maple, shown above, got a hair cut yesterday. Now the light shines through and it is almost smiling. (see below). At the same time a low wall is being built of Cyar rock from Napa. The skilled Mexican rock sculpturers arrive at 7:15 and I hear a steady tap-tap-tap all day from their chisels. Its a pleasant sound. Strangely rhythmic and soothing. Next week the cement will be poured for the new and safer walkway, and maybe, just maybe, the new plantings will be in place.
Hmm....maybe its time to transform myself?

Friday, November 8, 2013

Blazing Color and More on Maacama

     Yesterday, sight unseen,  I downloaded a new book on my kindle called the Persimmon Tree. No doubt my mind was wondering what my persimmon tree on Cathy Lane looked like right now. Neighbors up here, Steve and Chuck, have two in their back yard, and invited me over for a photo fest. Their crop this year is small, only a few persimmons, but they are the size of grapefruit, I swear,  and the leaves are ablaze with color.
Most of Sonoma County is a  photographers dream right now, though rain is predicted by Monday .
Did you like my story last week? Here is the last chapter.  

    By exaggerated gestures and more yelling the highway patrol officer was able to communicate to us over the roaring waters that he wanted our car keys. We only had one set so Lee hunted through the cabin to find something to wrap them in. What she found was ingenious, I thought: a rusty old glass jar about a third full of decayed salmon eggs. Placing the keys inside and tightly screwing on the lid, she posed straddled-legged on the  upper bank of our side of the creek to make the precarious toss. My hands were frozen in a prayerful position. She calculated carefully and then wound up. The glass jar flew through the air some thirty-five or forty feet, making a gentle arc above the raging waters, landing neatly at the officer’s left big toe. He looked down, astonished. 
     Next, he removed the keys from the fish eggs, and waded to our car sinking car. By now the water was lapping on the carpets inside. Lifting the hood, he disconnected the brake cables, so water would not flood the engine. Then Eureka! The motor purred gently as he put the car in reverse, and ever so slowly backed it out along the now underwater track until he reached a high spot where he could ease it onto the highway. From there he radioed for a tow truck from Calistoga to haul it in and restore the brakes. He indicated to us that he would have it brought back the next day and parked along the highway above us, with the keys under the mat inside. That is indeed what happened. By the next day the torrent had receded significantly. It was now just under waist deep, though still fast and strong. The tow truck driver brought a big rope, securing his side to a tree and tossed the other end across, where Lee secured it to a tree on our side. Then we waited a few more hours until the waters reached thigh high. It took two or three trips across, hanging on to the rope for safety, to extract us and our gear, which we tried to balance with one hand over our heads to keep the gear dry.  On the last trip Lee, my hero, untied the rope on the cabin side of the bank, and hand over hand sloshed across. We were mighty cold and anxious, but all was well. 
     This was my first and most memorable trip to the cabin we called Maacama. But in the next twenty years we probably camped there fifty times. It has always remained a magical setting for me, and does to this day remind me of Lee’s pluck and pitching arm.  It was an auspicious welcome to California, a state I have now called home for 57 years. 
     One of my most precious memories of Lee is the picture in my mind of her taking aim and so accurately throwing the glass fish egg jar with keys inside across the raging waters. 
     A driving trip to see if the old cabin still stands is on my agenda for the coming months., and a new friend up here, Joyce, has volunteered to lead the expedition. But I think I’ll avoid April, especially in the rain. 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Safari West and Associated Memories

     About a half hour's drive East from my new home is an African wildlife preserve of some 400 acres, founded twenty years ago, called Safari West. Finally last Monday I indulged myself and signed up for a tour and a night in a tent cabin.  My friend Barb from Alameda accompanied me. We dressed in many layers, knowing it would get mighty chilly at night. It was a delightful and educational experience and as close, I'm sure, as I will ever get to Africa.

     We left the heater on in the tent cabin, as directed, and blessed the electric blankets. Going to the bathroom in the night, though, was an adventure in chilblains. Awake most of the wee hours, listening to the bird and animal calls, I realized the familiarity of the terrain, and suddenly put two and two together: Safari West was situated on land, though separated by a mountain, which must have been less than ten miles as the crow flies from a site I had camped maybe fifty times during my first twenty years in California. No wonder I felt so at home there. It evoked many memories, one of which follows.

     The Highway Patrol Officer, making a megaphone with his hands, tried to yell across the creek over the roaring waters, a challenging task. “Are you alright?” he bellowed repeatedly. We nodded up and down. “Do you have food?” Again we nodded. On routine patrol along rural 128 he noticed our car thirty feet below him along the creek bank and thought we had careened off the highway rather than driven along the old rutted track, now invisible with the rising waters, that followed the east side of the creek. The flow had been so sleepy when we waded across two days previously.
      The rain started gently about 7 pm Friday night. We zipped our two old sleeping bags together, delighted that the zippers were compatible, to make one snug envelope. We spent the night warm and dry inside the old cabin,oblivious to the outside world. All seemed perfect. It was the last weekend of April, 1956. only three weeks following my big move to California from Washington State to live my lifetime with my sweetheart, Lee. It turned out to be the camping adventure of a lifetime. 
     We’d been pen pals for a little over a year and our friendship had grown into a lasting, tender, passionate love story that would endure until her death fifty one years later.
    We were young adults, poor, and starry eyed.  A free weekend alone at her friend Dr. Jane’s cabin north of Calistoga seemed like the perfect honeymoon.  We would haul in our own food, wading across in less than knee deep water through the sleepy Maacama Creek to get to the tiny old cabin.  I remember we had picked up a barbecued chicken from PayNSave, two blocks from our little Berkeley bungalo, and a big bag of Grandma’s Oatmeal Cookies, seconds because they were cheaper but just as delicious. Though without electricity Jane’s cabin boasted an outdoor fire pit and was complete with hand water pump and freshly refurbished outhouse. After all, I was a professional Girl Scout. Roughing it was right down my alley.  Though she was underweight, Lee projected all those qualities I so admired (and personally lacked). At that time she worked for Harvey Williams Wholesale Hardware and was mighty gifted with any tool ever invented. She had the physique of a gymnast and the muscles of a softball athlete, which she was. This will be important later in the story. Her pride, a new ’56 red Ford sedan would take us safely anywhere. The two hour drive North from Berkeley led us through the Napa Valley to Calistoga and beyond, a landscape I had never seen.  Grapes were not the big cash crop then as now, so most of the land was uncultivated Oak hillsides interspersed with the occasional run down farm.  
     Between dark and dawn the waters rose steadily.  We noted it, but were not alarmed. By dusk the rain had increased and the creek bed was showing signs of overflowing. Small logs and debris were piling up, forming eddies and dislodging stones, some ther size of boulders. The water level was getting close to our car on the opposite bank, but still three or four feet away. We lit the kerosene lamps and snuggled down for a second night. 
     By Sunday morning the rain, if possible, increased in volume. Maacama Creek, rising sleepily from the North slope of Mount St. Helena, was now impassible, probably chin deep in places. How come the soil did not absorb the downpour, like it did in Western Washington? By noon we could see the waters creeping  to the running boards of the car. Now larger boulders and whole limbs were crashing down the stream. The tumult would enter into the Russian River near Healdsburg. Would Lee’s new car be carried downstream with it? Would we?
     The nearest bridge was a quarter of a mile away, but the mountainous terrain made it impossible to reach, even in summer.  Wading across was the only viable option for reaching the other side, and now that was impossible. What kind of a new and scary world had I entered? To be continued next week.