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?”

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.”

 

 

 

 

I’ve Had It

I’ve had enough of staying home. It’s been two months now and I’m feeling it.

The days are bleeding into each other. Last week I lost one whole day. I don’t know where it went. It didn’t tell me.

The nights are quiet – no overhead planes – not even a dog barking anymore or the roar of my neighbor’s motorcycle at midnight. Gone too is the noise from our neighbors who love to take their parties to the street.

I want to rush to my second-hand bookstore except they’re closed. I’m raiding my own bookshelf for titles to read. At the moment I’m reading how to do electrical wiring in the kitchen. I need a few more lights and wall sockets for my high-speed blender. I want to make smoothies with all the broccoli Alf keeps buying.

I’d like a walk by the beach, but I’m sure I’d be stopped, handcuffed and dragged away to the nearest police station.

I’m cutting my own hair and that’s not a pretty sight. The right side is shorter than the left so I’m walking lopsided to compensate.

“Do you think I’d look good in a pony tail?” Alf said.

“Better than me,” I said.

“Okay. Don’t be upset if I look furry.”

“You already look furry.”

“I do?”

“Your hair is migrating around your neck.”

“The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde look.”

“More like Herry Monster from Sesame Street,” I said.

“That was before my time,” Alf said.

Calvin says, “Aren’t you glad I don’t need grooming? I’m hunky gorgeous all year round.”

 

 

Shared Greenery

“It’s time to cut the lawn,” our neighbor told us today. We agreed it was looking a bit furry, but we thought it gave the front of the house some character. Plus it looked like we do, two months without a haircut.

“Let’s wait til May,” Alf said.

“By then you’ll need to hack your way to the front door,” he said.

“Come on, it won’t be that bad,” Alf said.

“Yes it will, it’s all the watering you do every morning that’s causing the jungle to spring up.”

Truth is our neighbor keeps his lawn as short as a barber’s haircut and ours was irritating him.

So after a lot of back and forth, Alf allowed the mower to come across our driveway and into the front lawn.

Our neighbor did a fine job of hair cutting. The equipment made all the right rumbling noies and the blower whined throughout the neighborhood. It was done in less than fifteen minutes.

He was satisfied with the results and took his mower back to his house, went inside and we won’t see him for another month.

We guess this is his way of coping with the lockdown. Every leaf has to be a certain height and no higher. He turns on a fountain every day with a yellow rubber ducky bobbing on the surface. The basket of flowers at his front door are artificial and look grey around the edges. Everything else is real, including a rhododendron tree that explodes with purple flowers every spring.

Three fig trees line up tall between his property and ours. He doesn’t like figs so we get the harvest. I love them. We in turn give him oranges and lemons from our trees. A polite exchange.

Calvin says, “How can he not like figs? I like figs, and that’s crazy because beagles hate fruit.”

How to Connect. Let Me Count the Ways.

I’ve heard everything now. A friend’s daughter is hosting movie nights with her buddies via computer. Don’t ask how they’re doing it, I haven’t a clue, but they have dinner together and then sit back and relax and watch the movie. I’m sure a lot of people are doing this. What an ingenious way to stay together. It’s like having family when you want it without the drama. Clever.

I have to think of something like this with my siblings, but it won’t work. We can’t agree on anything, especially what movie to watch. It’s the same with music. This forced lockdown is making me guilty that I’m not putting aside my differences in order to re-engage with them. But I know better. I spoke with a neighbor today and she’s going through old photographs of herself with her family. That might work, but I’m afraid it would bring up all sorts of things we’d rather leave buried, like the dog that disappeared, and that scar we’d rather not talk about.

One thing that might bring us together is to talk about funny memories we all lived through and see how each remembers them. It might make us realize we lived a totally different life from each other even while in the same house sharing the same DNA. Like the time we almost set the kitchen on fire. Or when we painted the bathroom blue instead of red and who was to blame for the color mix-up.

One thing is for sure. We’d all remember the pets we had. Especially the flamingos.

Calvin says, “Flamingos? Now I know you’re making this up.”

 

A Jungle Out There

I’ve been in lockdown since the end of March. Like most of us, it’s taken a bit of adjusting. My daughter came over to do laundry. She wore a mask and gloves the entire time and stayed in the garage. We talked in muffled sounds.

I’m getting to know my backyard quite well. That’s where I walk two miles a day. I look like a robot, back and forth, until whatever phone call I’m on is over. I’ve watched the maple tree sprout its tender leaves. Flowers are poking their heads up from the ground. Squirrels are snickering up and down the fence. My rose bushes are bursting out all over and the bees are deliriously happy.

Speaking of which, while I was doing my walk I suddenly heard a loud hum overhead. At first I thought it was my neighbor’s lawnmower. But when the sound came swirling around my face and almost into my ears I ran inside.

“Do I have any bees stuck to me?” I asked Alf.

He put down the paper and looked at me. “Do you mean the buzzing kind or something else?” Then he saw what was happening out the window. Hundreds of bees were swarming in circles in front of our eyes, taking up every inch of airspace, like a convention in the sky. We stood transfixed. Not one bee was bumping into another. They had their flight path well mapped out. The buzzing was almost deafening.

“There goes the neighborhood,” Alf said.

We continued with our projects and soon there was silence. It was as sudden as the humming. We looked out the window and the bees were gone. Not a one lingered on a flower or a tree.

“Where did they disappear to?” I asked.

“To the local pub for a drink,” Alf said.

The following day the same episode happened at the same time of the day. By then we had become pros. We left out some cut oranges on the picnic table in case they needed a snack. Instead, the squirrels pounced on the slices and flicked their tails in excitement.

Calvin says, “Thank God my doghouse is inside. They would have moved right in with all my smells.”

 

 

More Than Dirt

Alf and I got tired of the lunar look of our backyard, with its deep ruts and crevices and dead everything. We used to have steady visitors of cats and squirrels and noisy ravens, but lately even the butterflies do fly-overs instead of landing. So with the help of a longtime neighbor, who builds commercial nurseries for plants, we are working on a new garden together. photo (47)

I quickly sketched my idea of an English garden with pathways and gravel and flowering plants. Something that Alice in Wonderland would choose as she read and conversed with the Cheshire Cat.

I didn’t want a lawn. I was convinced of the versatility and beauty of drought-tolerant plants. I’m a survivor of too many droughts and didn’t want the demands of water guzzling green things anymore. They remind me of crying infants when they’re hungry. I don’t have time to invest in pruning, trimming and talking to them either. I hardly have time to do this with Alf.

I’ve been learning a few things about myself through this. I’m impatient. I thought the re-design would take a month. In my mind it was a simple idea without a lot of fuss. Dig up the dead lawn, and then stick some Woolly Bluecurls, Tree Anemones, and Sticky Monkey-flowers in there, and let them duke it out. I was wrong. I have no understanding of soil, bricks and greenery and what it takes to put all three together in an artful way. It’s taken all summer.

Another problem arose. My neighbor’s taste and mine are not in sync. It’s an act of high level diplomacy every time we disagree. We compromise. We change things. We discard stuff. Always smiling. It’s like a marriage. I’m sure he goes home muttering under his breath. But through it all, a glorious garden is coming into view, and the best part is we haven’t filed divorce papers. That’s the important thing. It may not be ready for the fall, and by winter it will be too cold for tea parties, but then there’s next year. The plants will be settled and feeling good about their new home. And maybe the squirrels and ravens will return chattering and cawing their approval.

When the project is complete, I expect my neighbor to be over many times, showcasing me as his still-friend and my garden to future drought-tolerant fans.

Calvin says, “I’m not so stinking happy. You took away my favorite pee spots.” beagle

Coming Up Spring

Alf surprised me with daffodils and purple flowers that are popping up this spring. My azalea is bursting red so the garden is draped in the primary colors these days. My garden has never looked so colorful. It makes me smile.
We have the worst soil on the planet. The Mojave has more chances of sprouting flowers than my front and backyards. It’s hard clay, and when broken up with toil and sweat, it winks at you for a moment, and then scampers back to form its impenetrable layer of steel. No matter how much rich soil and delicious nutrients you pour down its black hole of a gullet, it regurgitates the clay. I’m convinced the clay runs deep to the core of the planet.
It’s a wonder Alf is succeeding where I haven’t. IMG_0173 (1)
“What’s your secret?” I asked.
“Patience,” he said.
“That’s never worked for me,” I said.
“Maybe it’s the rain. That helps.”
We used to have a rainy season, but that was so long ago. I had given up on it.
“It must be the rain,” I said.
“And not my green thumb?”
“You don’t have one. You’re from New York,” I said.
“How do you think Central Park came into being then?”
I checked Wikipedia.
“Not by New Yorkers. The two landscape architects were from England and Connecticut respectively. It proves my point. Brits know a thing or two about gardens.”
“Then we should import one and really go mad,” Alf said.
Calvin says, “I love our clay soil. I like hearing the splashing sound my pee makes on it. Kills all things green. Adds character to the command, ‘Go potty!'”   beagle

The December Dilemma

Yesterday evening I took a walk around the neighborhood to see the Christmas lights on houses, Santas in front yards, and wreaths on front doors. Except there weren’t any. I asked myself if I had the right month. I checked my phone. Yep, I did. What happened to my neighbors? Then it hit me. Most of the neighbors that traditionally went wild with their lights and front lawn decorations have fled the area for warmer pastures. I miss them. They had a spirit of Christmas I didn’t so I lived on their enthusiasm. They brightened up the neighborhood and made us smile. We were proud people who basked in their twinkling lights. We could count on them every year. Now they were gone and took the spirit of Christmas with them. Santa’s sleigh and reindeer are now flying high over sand dunes. And no, I’m not going to take over the tradition. You’re lucky if I have a bow on my front door. Inside the house is another matter. I enjoy displaying  several trees in the living room, lights over the mantelpiece, and Christmas cards on a table.

So I gave up on Christmas decorations, and settled for the natural growth around the neighborhood. Here are some pictures.

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Calvin says, “Yeah, I miss those midnight walks. I tingled with excitement.” beagle

Christmas Craziness

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This is what I saw on my way to the office this morning. A beautifully decorated tree on the street, curbside. No lights. Was it waiting for a taxi, I mean Uber? Maybe since it was standing there in front of the building where Uber has its offices. If it was a gimmick, it worked on me. I asked a security guard and he said, “It was leaking so they brought it out.” Wait till the dog walkers and their pups notice this. A Christmas tree just for them!

The things one sees during the holidays.

I had coffee last weekend with a friend. I ran into a woman and her beagle at the entrance of the shop and bolted inside before she captured me. She will talk to anyone for ages about her dog and how much it’s costing her to keep him alive.  FullSizeRender (11)Something in the vicinity of $20,000. He pooch has two bionic knees otherwise he wouldn’t have made it. He’s now on expensive drugs for skin allergies. And the list goes on. Every time I’m at the coffee shop she’s there, so I suspect she goes every weekend in search of an audience. The man in the picture? That’s her husband. Notice the delighted expression on his face.

I thought this planter decoration was great. Different. Colorful. Something to use all winter long. It was lobby decor in a building that used to be home to the local post office. Now we have to hunt for where it moved to. No forwarding address.

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Calvin says, “I’m signing a DNR. Do not reconstruct. Me.” beagle