A red jacket or shirt serves to show them that I am there. My ears stay pricked for their sounds: snatches of rapidly approaching conversation, a circle of clicks from their wheels, and a whine not unlike the wind blowing through electrical lines. I watch out for them and they watch out for me. One hit me a few weeks ago. A shout and the scream of brakes told me that he was coming in an uncontrolled sloping fall down the trail. I stepped up to the raised dirt siding to avoid him. Alas, he had the same idea. His handlebars punched my lower back. He fell sideways. I took two steps forward and bit down so hard that I cracked a temporary crown. There was no animosity between us afterwards. The day was hot and salved my spine. I walked off the pain and the surprise.
I stopped in the middle of the road to shake my pack off my back and look in it for the red self-charging flashlight so I’d have the torch in hand should night fall before I was off the hill and out of the canyon forest. As I re-shouldered my bag, I looked down the dirt fire road. A small black creature which seemed in my hasty glance to be a dwarfish black bear cub scurried to the right ahead of me and climbed the steep road cut. What was it? I considered many possibilities including a bear cub, a badger, and a tail-less skunk. Then — could it have been a bobcat? I did not know if jet bobcats existed: the size was right if the shape was ambiguous. I cursed my distraction — I had had a camera. The mess that entangled me prevented swift action. The animal had got away and with it the hope of a picture. Several hours later, I checked the facts: black wildcat was a real probability. A photo could have proved the rare sighting and given me a gloat.
Who is this darkening counsel with words lacking knowledge? Job 38:2
Saturday is the night when I lay out my morning meds for the week and I nearly always find that I have misplaced one of the bottles. I mark that it is my Effexor once more. Frantic digging in my medication box and begging Lynn for assistance help find it inevitably — if it is there to be found. The Universe seems particularly keen on hiding it from me. If I am well, I curse the coincidence and forget about it until the next time; if not, I go even more mad.
Most of the time, I don’t pay much attention to the random patterns of life. But when I am in an episode, a motif like the Effexor that goes missing week after week without any sign of the mechanics that cause its disappearance obsesses me. How come it is always the Effexor? Why do my hands and my brain conspire to hide it from me every time? I ask the question repeatedly until my neurons deflate beyond exhaustion. Someone must know the answer. So I ask the people around me to shed light on my finding, but either they don’t know or don’t want to be bothered with my question. Why is this? Are they cruel? Are they out to get me? Is it part of a greater plot to reduce my brain to a loose mass of gummy worms?
I constantly question the whirlwind. There must be an answer. And that takes over and diminishes the mind.
I was seriously misdressed in a last detail. The dark Old Navy khakis could pass a rudimentary inspection. The dark blue wool shirt was arguably seasonal. No one would dispute the cuteness of the red suspenders. But when I looked down at everyone’s feet, I knew I was a bane to the fashionistas. All others wore something made of black or brown leather, stylized with waxed shoe laces or brass clips. My feet were shod with walking shoes of white plastic, dirtied white mesh, and gray cloth. I had sinned.
I wonder if Ansel Adams and Edward Weston produced photos that they loved but others just did not get? When I look over the photos that other people have taken of Whiting Ranch Wilderness, they all seem pretty much the same. They hike the same trails, see the wildlife in pretty much the same way. Deer have to look like the stag on the old Hartford Insurance Company seal. Landscapes must have blue skies. The brown and the yellow by themselves must be avoided.
This photo ignores those conventions and I am happy that it does. While I label it with the name of the promontory in the background, it is really about the rough, yellow ridge. And as someone who has hiked Whiting quite a bit, that tells a new story about the park, about wild California.
Perhaps people skip it because it reminds them of that long terrible season when the foothills lose their green. Perhaps they’d prefer that I wait to capture the easier scenes of the late winter and the spring. I love this photo because it reminds me of the heat and the dryness, the long intervals when the climate desiccates the land nearly to a desert.
I always get a kick when people tell me that private industry always does things better than government. Consider this true story: A couple of weeks ago, our microwave began acting funny. First, the clock slowed down. Then the timer began exhibiting one of three behaviors: Sometimes it would operate correctly. Sometimes it would turn on the timer, but not microwave. And sometimes it would start to microwave but then become stuck somewhere in the cycle — if you weren’t looking, it would burn the food. So we called our insurance company to see about fixing it. A repairman came, checked things out, and told me that he had to order an inexpensive part.
A week later, I get a call from Sears informing me that the part was no longer being made and therefore the microwave was unfixable. My insurance company was buying me a new one. OK, if you insist, we thought and agreed to their selection for the replacement. Now, I know what you are thinking: they came with the microwave one day, installed it and hauled the old one away. No, it doesn’t work like that. First, Sears delivered the microwave today. They put it under our dining room table and had me sign for it. The next step is for the installer to come in tomorrow — always “sometime” during a four hour long block of time. Once they have done their job, the old microwave goes into the box that the new microwave came in — to wait. Yes, wait until a third party comes to haul away the old microwave for a fee of $30.
The moral of the story is this: Any organization run by accountants and/or Republican politicians is going to take the least efficient route to getting the job done. Corporations want us to think that they will do it better, but examples like this and like the privatization of things like toll roads, prisons, and parking meters show that their rules can be even worse. You may not have much say over the quality of service in private industry but you can choose representatives who don’t pull tricks like Darrell Issa did on the post office so his pals in UPS and Fedex could seize some of its market. Insist that government is run right and run well. Don’t let things get managed in the public realm like they are in business today.
It never fails at many homes across the nation. We are ostensibly brought together to experience gratitude as families. We sit down at the table, watch as the turkey is carved, pass the cranberry sauce and the stuffing, eat, and then listen to a harangue by one member of the family about the current state of politics in our country which, inevitably, is countered by another, driving many to the kitchen or the living room while the dinner table was dominated by the venomous talk. Some people stay away from their families at this holiday precisely because of it. It is even worse in households where one party is outnumbered. A pack mentality emerges and that one person is battered by words and quotes from Fox News into silence. When the person fails to come at future Thanksgivings, either nobody notices or they are excoriated for not wanting to be with the family. So much for this family holiday, when the ties that bind us are severed in the name of our own political egos.
While I still enjoyed thanksgiving at my mother’s house, we had a rule: no politics at Thanksgiving. This didn’t make certain people very happy because they seemed to live for strife or the sound of their own voices having little or no effect on the state of affairs in the country, but I enjoyed the feasting more. So did others.
This year try no politics at Thanksgiving and see how much better a time you can have.
The crowns in my mouth are falling off, leaving stubby posts where teeth once stood along the gum line. (Which is what they actually look like underneath all that porcelain and gold.). Then top — just the top — of one of the molars comes off. I pull it out of my mouth to find that it is silver that has been welded onto the tooth. How are they going to fix this, I wonder.
The mind is not only its own place, but its own population. I dream of many faces. The breakup of sleep shatters them. They lose their bodies, but I am hectored by their voices at all hours. These are your failures, they say as if their task were to humiliate me so that I may not enjoy any of the peace of mind that comes with humility. I stumble as they scratch my eye with the light of their taunts. When they call out, I lose my focus on the landscape or the interior in which I am situated. An insult might crash into my brain as I am hiking a sinuous trail, tumbling my consciousness into a different dimension: I stop, stamp my feet, and try to feel the grit beneath my shoes that tells me where I am.
The other day a trail biker ran me down. Not out of malice, but due to ragged chance. I heard the brakes screaming and a voice shouting behind me, so Instinct had me step to the right onto the grassy siding. Alas, he had the same idea. The handlebars caught me in the small of my back. I gnashed my teeth because of the force rather than out of rancor and stumbled a couple of steps forward until I found my balance again. He was lying under his bike on his side, so I gave him a hand and pulled him up. His new brake pads had failed. We both marveled at our lack of injury, so we shook hands and went on our ways. Some hours later, I found I’d cracked a temporary. Instinct told me nothing about how to handle this, so I spent the weekend eating soft foods and snaking my tongue around the pillar of tooth left naked by the absent crown.
Death showed me one of its faces here, where the dust holds a track until the next strong wind. The sun did not warm me on that day. The cold chewed on my hands and dusk shoved the light aside to make way for the darkness. A clump of toyon bushes stood at the high point of the hike. I stopped at the sound of their branches cracking as a mountain lion hefted itself out of the shrubs and landed on the dirt road in front of me. We two stared at each other for an endless second before the cougar bounded away, his paws pounding the ground as he fled. I did not follow. Now when I go there, I look to the source of every rustle of the leaves, every shake of the branches, every whisper of the grass. This is uncertain country.
Note: Two months later, this same cougar slew one biker and mauled another. The incident made the national news.
When my footsteps came too fast I felt a burning in my lungs like I had swallowed a mouthful of chlorinated pool water. I stopped and let my body find the breath and heartbeat that restored its calm, then start more slowly, my eyes on the diminutive, grass-crowned peak that was my object. The sun warmed my torso and shoulders: a hat kept it off my head. Later I felt the reddened skin burnt by the penetrating afternoon light. It, too, burned, but only when I stroked it.