Losing My Grip

I’m wondering if I’m not experiencing what prisoners feel in a small cell with the walls moving in, the stale air, the absence of noises from the outside, and only fluorescent lights overhead.

My life feels narrow. I find myself not wanting to go outside because I’ve forgotten how to do it. I no longer know if I can strike up a conversation with the grocery clerk or a fellow dog walker.

“You always had trouble with that,” Alf said.

“I did not,” I said.

“Think back before the lock down, you didn’t want to be bothered.”

“That’s because my life was full of people and I needed a break,” I said.

“Excuses, excuses. Face it, you don’t like people.”

“I like you,” I said.

“I’m not people,” Alf said.

“I like our dog, he’s people.”

“Like I said…”

The trees in my garden are looking limp with yellow at the edges. My flowers have a layer of ash on them. The squirrels have stopped chattering. The bees seldom come out of their hive. My neighbors are playing hide-n-seek. There are no new seasons for my favorite shows. The news is depressing, well when is it not. I thought I’d read the classics, but that’s too much work. Even the idea of starting a new painting stifles a yawn.

Lately I’ve noticed never ending ads for makeup products for women past 40 on all the social media platforms. I guess the cosmetic companies think we look like old hags by now and need updating. I’m tempted, but then where would I wear it if I’m not going outside?

I did watch the U.S. Open without an audience. I think the competition was better. It allowed the players to focus on the game. And there were no theatrics from the typical suspects. Except someone with style needs to speak to the brand names that clothe the athletes. It gets worse every year. The men wore pink, the women wore the ugliest outfits I’ve ever seen. What happened to white?

Calvin says, “So I’m people, huh? Where’s the people food then?”

Eerie Air

I am waking up this week to apocalyptic scenes in the sky. Because of the wildfires raging all around us, the sky is dusty yellow and the sun comes up red. The birds are silent. The bees haven’t left the hive. There’s a layer of ash on the cars and on the street. And then there’s an eerie silence, as if no human beings are breathing and living. I’ve never experienced this before, most of us haven’t. With virus spikes continuing and now this, it’s a wonder what else is in store leading to the end of the year.

The weather patterns are wonky too. Wyoming is under a blanket of snow while Southern Oregon is up in flames.

Some states are regretting opening their schools because apparently children are the biggest carriers of the virus. Children have always been the carriers of everything. They’re children. They have no sense of distancing on a playground or in a classroom. Nor do they wash their hands that often. What did these educators in their high-tower offices think?

I’ve heard in some cities Halloween is cancelled. Why I wonder? Our masks can blend in with the costumes. So can our uncut hair and wrinkly faces. If we make sure our candies are wrapped and washed down with disinfectant wipes, where’s the harm in that? Next, Thanksgiving is in jeopardy. We’ll be told we can’t buy turkeys because they might be virus carriers. It will be an opportunity for the vegans to shine this year. Pull out your veggie recipes.

And let’s not even think about Christmas. Christmas trees will be cancelled in favor of fake ones where no human has sweated to cut them down.

Calvin says, “That means no doggy bones for me this holiday. I’ll have to educate my palate to gnaw on a cauliflower ear.” 

 

 

 

All Lit Up

If it wasn’t daunting enough with the pandemic, we in Northern California have been fighting fires that began with lightning storms two weeks ago. I woke up to the crack of lightning strikes early in the morning that lit up my bedroom, followed by rumbles of thunder. I was transported to my childhood where storms like these were normal every day occurrences. I should have known better. Instead of being delighted with the weather, I should have known it spelled trouble for this part of the world. We’re known for earthquakes, not stormy weather.

Many of the fires started around farms and hillsides. Farm animals had to be vacated to an event arena in San Francisco where it’s been turned into giant stables for horses and cows and housing for smaller animals like chickens, sheep, goats and llamas.

Every firefighter has been on the job for days on end with no respite. Some are volunteers, others are career veterans. All are exhausted. We’re importing units from Southern California and even overseas like Australia. One local restaurant I know prepares meals for free every day for them and residents hand out water and homemade brownies and cookies in the evening.

I wanted to help, but Calvin and I wouldn’t be allowed in or out of those areas. Instead we took a walk to our local fire station to say thank you. I had to keep my distance, but Calvin kissed everyone for me.

Calvin says, “Those guys are my champions, especially the ladies.”

 

 

 

 

Penguin Goodies

Animal crackers, in the large 4 pound container, are my favorite cookies. I have to parcel them out otherwise I can eat my way through the container in a week. There are a few other foods that I love. Cheese, figs, peaches, a French baguette, grilled beef, fries, a strong cup of English tea, and yerba mate.

I’m convinced that what you loved to eat as a child stays with you for life.

Except chocolate. I couldn’t eat enough of the stuff as a child, especially white chocolate with a beehive interior. I gobbled it up every week. However, today as an adult I no longer crave it. I can easily say no and keep going into the cheese store.

“That’s because you graduated to salt better than sweet,” Alf said.

“Except for those animal crackers, they get me every time,” I said.

“You just like the animal shapes.”

“It’s the taste,” I said.

“How can you eat a penguin followed by a koala?”

“Simple, I like the crunch,” I said.

“That’s horrifying.”

“Not anymore that cutting into a steak,” I said.

Calvin says, “I’ll finish the container of animal crackers with you. We’ll have tea together.”

 

 

 

Pretty Ugly

Some animal vomited all over the base of a plant in my garden. Not a pleasant sight. We ignored it for a couple of days, then it hardened, and Alf hacked at it with a spade and dumped it into a plastic bag and deposited it in the garbage, which goes out tomorrow.

I mention this because not everything is pretty in my garden.

Occasionally I come across the body of a dead bird on the ground. This usually happens when it bangs into a window. But I have learned to leave it alone because it could be just stunned into unconsciousness and eventually, after a few hours, it will come to and fly off. I can’t think of how many “dead” birds I’ve thrown away when they probably could have survived.

Have I mentioned that every pet we have ever owned, when it died, we buried in the garden? From Chico the ring-neck parrot, Eternity our Siamese, Baxter and Jones, our two parakeets, and Gwen our Springer Spaniel. Right now their burial plots are springing up flowers. Their bones have fertilized the soil and given new life to lovely plants that house hummingbirds and butterflies.

“The circle of life,” Alf said.

“I wonder what the vomit could have produced,” I said.

“Maggots,” Alf said.

“Don’t they make good fertilizer?”

“Not if you want creepy crawlies underfoot.”

Calvin says, “Don’t you bury me in the back when my time comes. I want to be let free in wild grasses to frolic all day long.” 

 

Roller Coaster Life

I can’t keep up with ups and downs of the COVID spikes. They’re like a roller coaster. All I know is that California remains in quarantine and that means I continue to be stuck at home with Alf and the hound.

We’re barking at each other more than usual. We’re reading more, watching more TV, and needing more sleep. By the time we emerge from this, like bears after a winter’s hibernation, we may not recognize who we are. We’ll need to introduce ourselves all over again to family and friends.

“Remember me? I’m your mother.”

“I thought you were dead,” my daughter would say.

“Not dead, just buried,” I would say.

“You look a little long in the tooth,” she would say.

“That’s better than crinkly skin and hollow eyes.”

“You’re almost there. You need to soak in a milk bath and soften up,” she would say.

“As long as it’s almond sweet with lots of rubber ducks with me.”

Calvin says, “Has someone told you you’re brain is rotting too?”

Fashion in Your Face

Face masks are becoming a fashion statement. They’re no longer the pale blue type worn in medical settings. Now you can buy colorful, creative and attractive ones. Some look like leopard spots, others like Picasso paintings, others like quilt patterns. There’s no end to the choices. And since we’re forced to wear them, we might as well make a splash.

I know of artists that have printed their abstracts onto masks as a side hustle.

“You should try that,” Alf said.

“My art isn’t that wearable,” I said.

“Those faces you paint, they’ll do.”

“You mean my painted ladies?”

“Those,” Alf said. “They need to be outed.”

Some people wear their masks like cowboys in the Wild West, covering their nose, mouth and chin, down to their necks. They’re bandanas really, but they do the trick. I wear a red one. Makes me look like a bandit. It’s my chance of impersonating a villain.

The cosmetic companies need to catch on. We need a new line of makeup to enhance our eyelids and lashes since it’s the only part of our face we show to the public. They can call the brand Flutter.

Calvin says, “We need a line of masks too. It can be branded “Muzzle tov!”

In the Heat

Word has spread and Monarchs are coming to enjoy my butterfly bush. It’s a joy to see these orange nymphs flitting about in the garden. They tend to appear in the afternoon, when the day is the hottest. They’re joined by the hummers, the chattering squirrels and the bees. It’s really quite noisy in the stillness of the warmth.

I’m contemplating installing a gurgling fountain where the birds can bathe, the cats lap up water and the squirrels can have a splash party. I’d put out my favorite rocking chair and be entertained for hours. A friend of mine loves to sit out in her garden, among the flowers, reading her books, with one eye to the wildlife around her. She’s done that in every place she lived, including Beijing. Now she’s in a retirement community and only has a balcony, but that hasn’t stopped her. Her little spot is overflowing with potted flowers and greens, and she’s out there every day with her coffee and books. I’m learning to follow in her footsteps.

“Your footsteps keep you indoors,” Alf said.

“I’m working, that’s why,” I said.

“You’ve heard the word laptop?”

“Of course, silly.”

“That’s what it’s for, your lap, anywhere,” he said.

“My lap gets too hot, then I run out of battery, and I lose focus because the entertainment around me pulls me away,” I said.

“Excuses. Make it work, find the right spot, under the lemon tree, by the garden angel, next to the maple,” he said.

“What if a lemon lands on my keyboard?”

“Make a lemon tart,” Alf said.

Calvin says, “You forgot to include my panting in the heat as part of the entertainment.”

 

 

 

Night Crooner

Around midnight there’s a bird in the tree by my bedroom window that starts singing. His timing is intriguing. I thought birds went to bed with sundown and stayed quiet until sunrise. Not this one. He has a repertoire that is impressive. He must be an opera singer preparing for his role. He keeps me awake. I listen to his notes, and not one is the same as the other. He varies his tone and his melody. You’d think others were answering him, but it’s all coming from him.

I did an Internet search for night crooners and found him. He’s the Northern Mockingbird. He can mimic other birds as well as invent his own songs. His is a playlist that lasts well into the night.

Lately he’s taken the night off. I miss him.

“Thank heavens he’s stopped,” Alf said.

“Why? I quite liked him,” I said.

“You’ve always needed a lullaby,” Alf says.

“I know you can’t sleep with noise, but this is music, not noise.”

“I bury my head under the pillows,” Alf said.

“But it’s soothing. You’re missing out.”

“He sounds like a hand bell choir, wind chimes, and a tin drum all rolled into one,” Alf said.

“That isn’t noise,” I said.

“That’s because you’re tone deaf.”

Calvin says, “There needs to be a bay in there somewhere, then it would be complete.”

 

Overnight

I paint with acrylics on canvas, they are fast drying. Many people paint on paper. Others on wood panels. I don’t know what got me started. I look at something creative and say, “I can do that.” I buy the supplies and go at it. No training, just instinct. My paintings aren’t very good compared to so many artists I know, but I have fun messing around. Except lately the fun has walked out the door and I’m left with only the work, and that’s not cutting it for me.

“That’s normal,” an artist friend says.

“It happens to all of us,” another says.

“Hang in there, it comes back,” a third says.

“It isn’t happening for me,” I say.

“You lack patience,” Alf says.

“You want instant gratification,” my son, the artist says.

“You darn right,” I say.

“What if you were an architect, you want the whole building to go up overnight?” Alf says.

“That would be nice,” I say.

Calvin says, “I understand. You live with people who take years to grow up, you deserve an instant turnaround somewhere.”