Your name means mountain ebony,
a certain Bauhinia,
common to coastal California,
but I call you moody.
You own my front yard,
dominate passages and pathways,
burgeoning weight of verdure or
leafy reaches for spider’s webby catch to
neighboring anchors–rose bush branch or
car parked side mirrors.
How you please my wispy-boned mother braked still,
the dog leashed to the wheel chair,
under a relenting shade,
cooling an afternoon zephyr.
In spring or autumn, sometimes winter too,
you boom-blossom burbling orchids,
delicate pink and purple hazy bells
that sometimes ring in summer too.
That’s when your leaves burst butterfly hearts
of hunter green fringed in lemon-lime edges, a
hovering, healthy, verdant vibrancy.
But on any given week without reason,
your leaves brown at the edges,
then all the way through,
baring skeletal bramble
like bones of the cancerous,
for the winter–or summer complaint,
marring the yard, baring the hidden wreckage behind you.
That’s when the pods hang dry in rusts and reds, seeds
to bake or burst, sturdy uterine drip packets,
like dry, pea pod icicle tears crying,
yet unyielding to the grip.
And the next week,
replaced by the brilliant buds as
poking penile plants peek through tightly tubed petals,
the softer side on a misty Monday.
When the mood strikes.
Which outfit to wear for today?
When I came to California, a gruff New Yorker,
well nigh 38 years plus change ago,
the first time I heard, “Have a nice day!” from
a super market clerk after I had purchased
a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter and milk,
I thought to myself, “What the actual fuck?!”
I had no idea what she was up to or what she meant.
And then I heard it everywhere, “Have a nice day,”
said the ice cream store clerk and the sandwich shop
cashier and even the gas station attendant.
I thought I had landed on some spooky, sticky planet
of gooey good cheer, totally fake and reflexive.
So now, much more accustomed to the saying,
as common as “Where should we go to eat? Or
“Did you finish your homework?”, I jokingly reply,
“Don’t tell me what to do! I have authority issues,” and
I wink, the closest I can come to a smiley faced emoticon.
A yellow school bus slices open a wide swath of chaparral, the road it travels invisible to the distant traveler, me, him and them. We travel north til nearly the northeastern edge of the state, destination Davis soccer tournament. Mounds of tomatoes peek above the semi’s trailer, slowly steaming along this blanched roadway from heat, oil, dust and wind.
Passing telephone poles look like cemetery markers, wired crucifixes, testament to scorched lives and anonymous death.
Stockdale Highway in one mile, roadway to The Tule Elk State Reserve and CSU Bakersfield. Never far from a Jack in the Box and Subway at a gas station, even when the surrounding desert flecked with patches of green, low lying crops of indecipherable genus paint the landscape endless. Astonishing that this waterless wasteland harbors any life: bleached rock and sand. But there they are, tiny patches of great pines and firs engulfing secluded ranch homes visible from the highway, a contrast forest green to the sage, amber and tans of the desert floor.
A glance at a blur-by motel housekeeper outside the door of a room leaning upon her cleaning supply cart, seemingly hinged on the highway’s terrace, checking her phone. Who texts her at work? Who stays at this hotel in the midst of nowhere?
Long green corn stalks half grown, foreshadowing the kernel largesse to follow in a month’s time when seeking the sun’s vigor–sustenance–the sturdy stalks stretch open to the sky 8, 9 and 10 feet tall, or so it seems.
The hay tractor kicks up the dust as it slowly rounds the corner of a field’s dirt pathway, and of course, he has to say it, “Hay!” Hominem of humor on repeat. Now I know I am on a road trip. That and the question, “How far are we?” To which we reply in unison, “Half way.” No matter where we are, we are half way. That is our tradition–to torment further our restless children, now adults, or nearly so.
The almond trees. I’m not sure why they pique curiosity in me: Where did Christo install his umbrellas? Was it in the Grapevine or somewhere past Bakersfield? I tell my students the latter when we read Dillard’s essay about the stunt pilot who renders the air art in shredded ribbons of lines drawn and dissipated.
Lost Hills Paso Robles sign reminds me of the trip we made in the 90s to the Central California wineries. The two-lane highway dips and dives through hilly tree covered expanses ranches tuck into. We found our dream ranch home hidden just off this little traveled wending way.
San Francisco is 238 miles away. She wants to go to school there. She and her teammate traveling with us plan to attend SFSU. Or prepare to by attending the JC there. Far away enough to inhabit her styled rebellion and independence but still an hour’s plane ride for safety net parents.
Romas on the side of the road arranged like marbles readied for the game do not look like they fell off a truck so much as were placed there, a peculiar sight.
Low lying shrubs dot the clean shaven desert floor in tans and ecrus. Twisselman Road. Spell check tried mightily to fight that last road name.
Heather lined highway, peppered with sage colored brambles and bushes, blonde dirt, sticks, twigs and tumbleweeds every where halved by the steel girded dividing rails. C.R. England semi sidling by. Slower traffic to the right. We travel the passing line a bit just like the other California drivers. Except we know better. They probably do too. Some of them–with impunity.
I tease, “You think you’re thug coming all the way from Huntington Beach? Oh wait, you were actually born in Fountain Valley. Oh, you bad.” I laugh.
She pipes up in a flash, “I’d kick your ass even if I came all the way from Belmont Shores!” Her friend and teammate spits her water in laughter. Some of it splashes on my face turned to my opponent in the rear most bench in the van.
Coalinga Canal, near Fresno. Trucks parked, their cargo brimming over in red roma ripened in stark contrast to the surrounding dessert. A dairy farm, dismal to witness and inhale. The heat, dung, lethargy, exposure and pollution overwhelm the senses. Factory farming.
A burst of Gerber daisies or black eyed Susans flash by, a couple dozen in a row, brightening the heather in sun bursts. Card board boxes fallen from some speeding vehicle mar the steady stream of browns and tans, sage and hunter greens. We swerve. He’s typing on his phone. “Do you want me to drive?” No. Apologetic and slightly defensive.
A faraway lover professes sweet adoration in my memory chewing upon the scenery. Warmth in the desert.
Leaving the usual haunts along the same paths to and from work, market or eateries, draws out the dormant words, smoldered sparks awaiting flint.
Nothing but changing scenery piques alertness, imagery and observation so profoundly.
I eat nature.
Travel bits piece large land masses speeding roadside to tiny impressions, ideas and memory fragments, creating a large mosaic of tile-words.
As I write, I fly over the Pacific on my way to Seattle to meet a connecting flight to Spokane, where she awaits.
More likely she waits for my call: “I’m here.”
She and I will drive the distance Google reports as 19 and a 1/2 hours, but I know better.
Last June, we drove her to Spokane for school.
She left school–and Spokane–in December to come home and heal.
Last week, she finally returned to the life she began to make there before the unfortunate detour, the accident.
She, who took me to a radical feminist art show last April, who sometimes wears a “cunt” pin, who sports Klimt’s The Kiss line drawing of two women tattooed above her ankle, and who smirkingly cranks up Taylor Swift’s “We are never getting back together” on the car radio, will be my car companion across three states homeward.
Just like last year, the rain astonishes us, its violent insistence.
And again, the greenness of green, the way rain pelts the tinny Honda framed windows reminds me of crackling gum chewers, and the nod to engineers knowing that windshield wipers need three or four speeds, these three I recall in a whirlwind road-swallowing marathon beside a semi-conscious travel mate.
She peered into satan’s screen for 23 of the 24 hours.
But she never could figure out how to find the nearest vegan restaurant to the five freeway in downtown, perhaps too daft from sleeplessness or not acquainted with practical phone features as much as the camera, social media apps and texting.
I grow older in bounding leaps, too old for freezing, middle-of-the-night rest stops along two-lane, farm-house roadways without gas stations for 94 miles and cramped, compact car cabins designed for legless sleepers.
It could have been the blue moon.
I drove and drove, sidling mountain edges; through snowy pines and meadows, rain-soaked forests and cloud-burst flashes drenching miles of almond trees squared off in rows blurring into golden heather fields dotted with black Jerseys ruminating time and space in their masticant jowly bovine stares prescient with the soon-approaching L.A. traffic psychosis.
Only my biceps carry the road residuals: the mindless painful wheel gripping in the desperate fight against gravity’s theory.
Walking out of the market, it suddenly hit me. Something different. Oh, that’s right. No one asked me if I would like to buy a bag for ten cents, and my two hands carried one plastic food-stuffed bag each. I wondered how long I had been unaware of the … (read more here)
The California plastic ban that will be before voters in California next general election has been on my mind. Since I live in the only city that has repealed the ban after two years, I thought I would investigate the city council’s doings to earn such an honored historic distinction.
As usual, the war between environmentalists and big business wages. Environmentalists claim the plastic bags pollute and harm marine life. Big plastic says not so, and people will lose jobs if the ban is instituted.
No surprises in the world of politics. Both sides accuse one another of cheating, irresponsibility, and undue influence by monied folk, special interests. And so it goes.
In the end, it matters little the motivations–money or environment–behind the law so long as the law does what it is purported to do and people support it. The larger matter lies in individual responsibility to others, and not just with plastic.
When do we cross the line between a seemingly innocuous lack of consciousness of those around us–say, like my forgetting recycling bags–and conscious disregard of others? The “rugged individualism” (pride of this country’s founding generation and their progeny), pitted against the social contract based on a benevolence toward others with whom we live in society–an agreement to let live–always calls up that question. And not only for people.
Philosopher Peter Singer, in an interview with the New York Times opinionator blogger, George Yancy, earlier this year defined human disregard of animals’ as “speciesism,” when humans give “less weight to the interests of nonhuman animals than they give to the similar interests of human beings.”
Interests like survival in clean oceans, I imagine.
Whether we consider ourselves the shepherds of other species, a posture of assumed superiority, or we consider ourselves on par with other species and posit survival as the burden of each species, there is still a path that is neither too philosophical nor too patriotic.
When we teach ourselves good habits, the correlative benefits to all society reverberate small and large. And we are such trainable creatures, we humans, if we have the will, both personal and political.
Layers of landscape stacked on the side of the road, the mountains sporting their billowy cotton-cloud-topped effusion, preceded by the barren slighted desert floor sandwiched between the tawny mountains and the tree dotted fields of golden grasses. The blur of the road smears the beauty of the region, the chaparral shrublands, open oak savannas and woodlands, smattering of pine forest, among the California buckeye, manzanita, redbud, chamise and scrub oak.
The vistas are heavenly golden blankets of downy cover, resting the blue of the sky, but for the serpentine wend of the wire fences, the blare of bill boards for fast food fare and home cooked rest stops miles upon miles of scarred two-lane highways, truck lined and road sign adorned.
We will be leaving the Cottonwood historic sections, headed to the border, through Redding to Ashland, Oregon, where we intend to dine like the gourmandisers we cultivated lo these many moons. The Sacramento River tags us “it” now and again along our straight and narrow, sometimes three-lane highway, connecting the trailers and cows and tomatoes with the rest of the world. Shasta approached.