Friday, January 30, 2015

Cutting The Mustard

Before the new growth appears, just as the buds begin to swell, wild mustard consumes the rows in the vineyards. It makes quite a spectacle for the eye and quite a burden for the grape grower. I am told it is a noxious weed, but I await each early spring with joy hoping to capture the glowing contrast between the shimmering yellows and deep browns and greys of the root stock--- a feast for a photographer, a ten star metaxa for a painter. 
Last Saturday Catherine and I had such a day. We had set out on this specific journey, never hoping to be so successful. It was getting towards the late sun when, upon pulling into a ranch  to turn the car around, we looked east and saw this awesome sight: mustard that topped the car windows, with even a small pinkish flower at its base. We both gasped. The rancher strolled out, but instead of being rudely ordered to leave his land he invited us to follow him along a tractor trail to a deeper part of the vineyard where the mustard grew even higher.    

Since I've lived up here I note that some vineyards spray roundup between the rows to control the mustard. Others bring in sheep to eat it. But at this particular vineyard, which turned out to be 54 years old as well as organic, the rancher only used a mechanical cutter. He confided that he planned to cut the very next day. The following day, he told us, he would plow in the other direction in the rows. Not only were these grapes organic, it was dry farming. Not a bit of irrigation water was used. 

We revelled in our wonderful fortune. An awesome day. We topped it off with turkey on a bagel and frozen yogurt. Its a day I will never forget. 

My new eye doctor up here tells me this week that I have wrinkles on both of my retinas, which may or may not be worrisome. My eyes were squinting and bulging so at the sight above I would not be surprised if the mustard caused it. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Dr. Jane's Cabin

Jane Paxson was raised Quaker, and though she never practiced the religion, she lived it all her life.
A kinder more gentle, loving soul I never met. When Jane graduated from UC medical school it was the depression. There was no work for most people, let alone women doctors. Still she rented a large upstairs office on Solano in Albany, Ca.
With few patients trickling in, she played solitaire to pass the hours.
With time her practice grew and grew. When she realized one day she had delivered over 2,000 babies, the school population of Albany High, she quit that part of her practice but still had a booming business. I imagine she delivered many babies gratis. That was her style. I was lucky enough to have her as my doctor and my friend for over forty years.
Early in her career she purchased property north of Calistoga on Macaama creek. It was very rural in those days. The creek featured a wonderful swimming hole. The woods were thick with oak and laurel.  The poison oak thrived. The outhouse was decorated with poetic inscriptions. With no electricity or running water, it was rustic as well as secluded. Each July she retreated there for a month to renew herself. The rest of the year it was available to her friends. Lee and I spent many enchanting weekends there, and even once got flooded in. "Macaama" as we called it, is dear to my heart. I hope to travel there this spring and see if it still stands.
In my sketching class Wed. the homework was to draw a house or barn. What better memory to evoke! I miss you, Jane. You touched my life in such a tender and deep way. So did your cabin. When nothing is left of me but ashes, I hope someone will deposit me by the big rock in that creek.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

What Is Your Wall?

This week two Yosemite climbers, Kevin Jorgenson of Santa Rosa and Tommy Caldwell of Estes Park,  having completed the first free climb of the Dawn Wall route up El Capitan, challenged all of us to face and conquer our own walls. Something for me to dwell on. I figure at my age the walls left to conquer are psychological ones, and of those, I have plenty to contemplate.
Last week at a dinner, surrounded by so many lovely new friends, I felt sadness envelop me. A smile was still plastered on my face (curiously exposing my new dental implants of only two days before) but inside I was swallowing my sobs. It happened to be the twentieth anniversary of the death of my dear sister, Lorraine. Death anniversaries carry a special kick, as any sensate person knows. But my sadness was compounded by being with new friends, rather than old ones who had experienced that phase of my life with me. In my mind I found myself judging my new friends for their shallowness and lack of compassion. Of course everyone was oblivious of my feelings. How could they not be?
What I realized, on reflection, was that I needed to look in the mirror. Alas, it is me that is withholding tender and vulnerable parts of myself. To be real, among friends either new or old, I have to choose to take the risk; to be vulnerable, to take the chance of falling. Like climbing El Capitan, this takes courage and perseverance. I hope I have it.

From my deck in Oakland (on the right) I would
often study the winter cloud formations and
find insight and peace. A soothing and spiritual
experience not so available in this valley where
currently hang my hat. Even so, this county is abound with beauty of its own kind, and new friends can become as precious as the old. I have
lots of walls yet to climb.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Not a Happy Coincidence

Last week my memories were wound around Valerie's dear small village in France where I painted with Sandy's group first in 2004, and where Jac and Valerie's wedding will be, probably in February. Valerie is hanging out her upstairs window here, looking out at the small market place directly in front of her home.
 This week my mind can not get off the terror in Paris where at least 17 French citizens were killed in the massacre Wednesday. France is a country where political satire has long been cherished, perhaps in a more intense way than in this country. Though I have never seen the magazine Charlie Hebdo, I understand from Jac that "it makes you think." Jac shares that in recent years she has not often bought it at the newsstand because it has become for her, too vulgar, but that Valerie values it greatly. Valerie shares that a spontaneous rally broke out in the market right in front of her home in the night following the shooting, as I imagine it did in every French community, a rally that might easily have gotten out of hand, and that at her high school she had to get a boy to apologize to a Muslim girl for saying, insultingly, "Now see what your people did to us."
My deepest wishes are that the unity rallies scheduled tomorrow in all the major French cities will go smoothly, and possibly help to heal the wounds. However I can't say I'm not anxious.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Goodbye 2014

How perplexing for each of us to look at an old year ending and a new one beginning. So long ago I quit writing resolutions and just wrote goals. As a matter of fact, Catherine's birth mother, Eva, would share the task with me each January 1. We'd race to see which of us could could write the ten best goals and then which of us could achieve them first. It tickled the competitive gene in me when I won. I remember the year I achieved all ten by June. Actually, boastful though I was, it was sort of a let down.
Just now I looked back at my last blog of 2013 to refresh my dwindling memory. I was just returning from a week at a motel near Stanford where I camped while Catherine endured her stem cell transplant. She survived, and has now been back to work for six rather grueling months. Nothing I could say about the year 2014 tops that.
She celebrated with not one but two birthday parties. And so I wish her all the joys that one wishes a one year old: learning to run and balance, playing with new toys, soaking in warm water, adventuring out to new places, wading in mud puddles. Oh yes, and splashing paint around.
And for my self I wish another year of somehow making my new home more "home"; continuing to thrive in this new and wonderful community; at the same time continuing to love and cherish the past.

In the last few days I've been tickled to spend parts of two days with two precious friends, Jac and Valerie. And permission has been granted for me to share the news they are planning to marry this spring in France. Eventually Valerie will rent her dear house in a village there, and move to this country to live with Jac in San Leandro (when Jac isn't leading tours of the continent.) How lucky for me. I will get to see them more often and occasionally Valerie will cook me exquisite French foods.
Here they are at Cath's birthday party posing in front of a painting I did so many years ago with Sandy.