January 16, 2008
In a couple of weeks, groundhogs will make their yearly predictions, though I’m not sure a prairie dweller afraid of its own shadow is a very reliable sign of the turning seasons. I’ve begun to wonder if we’ll have an early spring, though. The weather has turned sunny and warm, and we haven’t needed an extra blanket for the past few nights.
Weeds have cropped up all over our yard, making everything green, even if it isn’t the commonly acceptable form of green. When the weeds first sprouted they were beautiful, and in some open, flat parts of the yard, from a distance you would almost think we had a lawn. We don’t, and now that they’re larger, from a distance they just look like a bunch of weeds.
We found something new and interesting under the pine trees. It was a strange vine, not anything I recognized, but vaguely reminiscent of a Cucumber, or maybe some variety of Passionflower. (Click photos for larger views.)
It had grown a lot by the time we noticed it, and was on its way to spreading all over that section of the yard, sending out long, tightly curled tendrils that took hold of whatever was in their reach.
It had already started up one pine tree.
I looked it up on the internet and didn’t find anything conclusive, at least not at first. Nope, not a garden-variety Cucumber, and thank goodness it doesn’t appear to be a Kudzu Vine. It wasn’t a Mandrake, which sort of disappointed me, as a fan of Harry Potter movies, though I don’t particularly want a plant that will scream at me.
Possibilities came and went as I searched for vines with multiple-lobed leaves, even the possibility that it was some kind of wild grape, which it wasn’t. One type of vine that seemed to come close was the Bitter Melon, also known as Balsam Apple or Balsam Pear. That narrowed my search to various forms of gourd or Cucurbitaceae, such as Hodgsonia, or Luffa, or the much more likely Chayote, which is sold in our local markets. But the leaves weren’t right for Chayote. The strongest possibility I’ve come up with so far is some variety of Coyote Melon or Coyote Gourd, which grows wild in our region.
If you know for certain what this vine is, please let me know.
How it got there is the easy part of this mystery, and would be even if I’d never seen a house finch scatter seeds. Our local scrub jay friends are always hiding things in the needles that collect under our pine trees. It’s a favorite place to store their seeds, nuts, magic beans, and whatever else they hoard for later, usually scrub oak acorns, or peanuts people have fed them. Last summer, while we trimmed the pine trees and cleared out a thick mulch of pine needles, one scrub jay kept fussing over our activity, and every now and then he darted in to rescue some of his treasures. In some years we’ve had volunteer sunflowers sprout there and grow to full height.
NOTE: The pictures that follow are from past summers, not this winter. Even here, we don’t ever see sunflowers blooming in January.
Out front, we have an entire patch of some kind of creeping yellow daisy that came up there one year, probably also carried in by birds. We water it now and then, so although it dies back each winter, it returns to open a bright patch of yellow flowers every summer, next to our old pickup.
In any case, the strange vine has been eradicated, so we won’t have any cries of “Feed me, Seymour!” coming from under the pine trees, and it won’t grow so large as to strangle a pine tree. Jack won’t have to climb up the beanstalk and see if there’s a giant living up there. Good thing, too, because no one named Jack lives here, so we’d have to pay Jack to do that. Still, I hope we didn’t kill something we would’ve liked. Sometimes the birds bring us weeds, and sometimes they bring us gifts that we enjoy for years.
Maybe we will have an early spring, maybe not. I’m in no hurry. I certainly don’t look forward to the hottest part of summer. But a long spring would be nice.
April 27, 2007
A few days ago I pulled weeds for a bit, while the earth was still damp from the rain. When I needed a break, I sat in a porch chair to cool off with a glass of ice water.
As I watched, a rosy house finch landed on the top of a tall sowthistle I hadn’t gotten to yet. He began pulling seeds out of a seed puff. For every seed the bird ate he tore a few more off and cast them to the wind. I think he was looking right at me as he did it, too, as if to say, “So there!”
I don’t blame him for replenishing his food supply as quickly as I can yank it out of the ground. I just wish he hadn’t let me see him do it. I have enough trouble motivating myself to get out there and weed without a demonstration of how futile my efforts may be.
It’s all a balancing act, birds sowing weeds while I pull them. I’d better not let them get too far ahead of me. Slow down around here, and you’re done for.
April 13, 2007
Has it been more than a week already since I posted? I lost track of time during my panic of the past few days. The other night, after a glitch occurred when I ran my backup program, I thought I’d lost all my files for my current book in progress. Panic ensued, while I scrambled to find and undelete the files. I spent almost 24 hours straight on that, with little sleep, piecing together fragmented files, hoping I still had a complete book there. Finally I came across the directory on the backup computer where my backup program had stored a complete second archive of everything — perfectly intact and up to date, including every last minute of my work on the book.
All that panic because I was too dumb to know my backup program stored an archive of deleted files, and because I had allowed too much other garbage to backlog on my hard drive. (The glitch occurred when that particular hard drive filled up.)
I could sit here and ask why me, or rather ask why I do this to myself, but I’m too busy getting back to normal and on with work. Still, it seems that I go through this sort of panic on a regular basis. It happened two years ago when my old laptop gave out and I lost work that I hadn’t yet backed up. This time it resulted from the backup process itself.
Once I’m finished with this book and it’s off getting a look by some agents, I plan to spend a few weeks getting my life in better order, including both paper and digital files, to prevent future panic episodes.
But one thing I noticed during all of this was that I don’t tend to print out what I’ve written as often as I used to. In spite of what might’ve been lost, overall I consider that a good thing, a good sign that I’m making my personal transition from paper to a digital world.
I admit to some affection for the paper world. It’s what I grew up with, and where I found my love of books and the written word. There is still something sensual to me about the feeling of pen and paper or a book in my hands. I like the shape of the book, the weight of it, the toothy or smooth texture of paper, even the smell of ink, paper, and binding materials. I still recall with nostalgia the particular smell of the book I was handed in third or fourth grade when we studied the culture and geography of Japan. Ever since, I’ve looked for similar qualities each time I open a new book. All these things make letting go of the paper world a clingy process.
At the same time, I love trees. Because of that, I’ve always been troubled that my chosen form of expression — writing — has a history of felling so many trees. So when I went through my computer files and some paper files over the past few days, I was pleased to realize that I recently have less tendency to print as I write. I used to feel a need to print out what I’d written more frequently, to edit or proofread on paper rather than onscreen, or just to get a sense of what the printed story would look like.
Maybe it’s so many years of writing on a computer that’s changed this. Maybe it’s the laptop’s portability and reduced glare being easier on my eyes. Maybe it’s no longer having a job that requires me to stare at a screen all day and then do the same all my evenings and weekends for my fiction writing.
Maybe it’s blogging. The immediacy of blogging tends to encourage me to edit onscreen. My blog is even set up now so I can view what I write in two or three different fonts before I post it, which I think aids the onscreen editing and proofreading process.
Maybe it’s a combination of all those factors. It’s interesting to note that more publishing venues have opened up to electronic submissions just since the CRT monitor has begun to vanish. Hopefully the less glaring monitors that are replacing them will be much easier on all our eyes, and continue to save more trees.
I still write a good half of my personal journal pages by hand, and I still use handwriting to jump-start or unblock my writing process. This blog post is in fact a segue from my morning pages. But my journal pages don’t get reproduced, except by typing them into a digital format, and they’re unlikely ever to be published in book form. The paper is eventually recycled if they do become digital, so I’m not as concerned about my journal pages killing trees. At least that’s what I like to tell myself.
Now if we can get the ebook technology to the point where fewer paper books have to be printed, at least for popular fiction, then we’ll have made real progress in taking publishing from deforestation for profit to a more pure form of edification, expression, and entertainment. Of course there will always be uses for paper. I can’t think of a better way to keep certain legal documents or accounting records, right now, though that’s not a world I work or have much expertise in. There are also some types of books that just work better, for now, on paper. One that comes to mind is the coffee table variety, with color plates of artwork or photography. But the less trees cut down for paper and books, the better.
Even if what this Guardian Unlimited article says is true, that planting more trees in temperate latitudes won’t help assuage global warming, it also states that destroying more trees isn’t the answer, that the greater need, and indeed our motivation for attempting to slow global warming, is to preserve ecosystems, including but certainly not limited to our own.
Perhaps my panic over my files had some value. It got me not only to change what I file away on my computer and how I back it up, but also to take a hard look at how I use paper, to keep heading along the road I’ve started down, of conserving wherever it’s reasonable, and wherever I can.
December 3, 2006
The wind keeps us awake, the past few nights. It blows little black berries off one of the palm trees (they’re too small for me to call them proper dates — though they are as sticky as dates), and they hit the back deck with a surprising amount of force. The fact that it’s these wild gusts instead of a steady wind unsettles me. Just when I doze off, something rattles or whooshes outside and I wake up. And dry — the moisture has sucked out of Southern California, to make snow elsewhere I suppose. We do not have a semi-arid but a fully-arid climate today.
Last night when I took the dog out for his final walk of the evening, I saw a shooting star. You’d have thought the wind blew it, except it moved in the opposite direction. It was there in the eastern sky (slightly southeast) for an instant, slanting in almost horizontally northward, a golden yellow flame, brilliant and burning, soon extinguished.
I thought of the Sara Teasdale poem, The Falling Star — after I made a quick wish.
Was it a late Leonid, or an early Geminid, or something in between — maybe a Puppids-Velids? Or just a stray puppy, for that matter? I don’t know, but I feel lucky since seeing it. Lucky to have seen it, lucky to be here, lucky the wind hasn’t blown the house into the Land of Oz. Luck is good.
October 27, 2006
Today left our region hot and dry with gusts of wind, movement and change allowing for a promise of cooling moisture in response to it, even the slightest hint of autumn-toward-winter chilling — as far as things ever chill here, though they cool quickly when the air is this dry. Dissipating smoke enhanced the golden autumn light, and a pink sunset lightened the colors of bougainvillea against hazy green foliage, under a hazy blue sky. My backyard at sunset today made a sight I wanted to memorize, or paint. Even a deadly fire leaves some beauty behind.
August 18, 2006
After air to breathe, it’s the next priority. We tend to take it for granted. Rhubarb pointed out this article, in which some corporate experts predict economic problems “by 2015 as the supply of fresh water becomes critical to the global economy.”
Thinking about water shortages reminded me of the first business trip I made to Philadelphia. I wondered if Pennsylvania was always that green, or if it was possible the trees and grass were putting on a special show that summer. I recall experiencing the same amazement at the greenery of Western Oregon and Maryland, almost a distrust of so much verdure. It is never that green here. Even with the vast Pacific Ocean beside us, the nearest we come to that quality of green in Southern California is a dusty, grayish imitation in parks, and that in El NiÃ±o years. Our water is imported, much of it from the Colorado River, which is so strained by use that it dwindles to a mere trickle where it meets, or used to meet, the ocean in the Gulf of California. These days the spent river disappears somewhere in Mexico. The rushing torrent that carved the Grand Canyon, and spilled over in flood years to fill the Salton Sea, becomes no more than a creek trickling through irrigation culverts into thirsty Mexican farmland. According to U.S. Water News Online:
The valley along the river south of Mexicali produces roughly 10 percent of Mexico’s wheat, about 17 percent of its cotton, and important quantities of sorghum, alfalfa, and asparagus. Even when there are heavy rains upstream, a few steel culverts under a gravel road can handle what was once called “an American Nile” as it limps toward its mouth in the Gulf of California.
In dry years, the river is devoid of water. Between 1961 and 1978, when reservoirs were slowly filling behind upstream dams, there was almost no water in the lower channel at all.
Recently I read a collection of essays and stories by West Texas women, Writing On The Wind. The emphasis on drought, the importance of windmills, the quality of water in some places (one woman had lived in a house where her toilet bowl was perpetually stained black) carved impressions in my mind. I recognized, even if I’ve known it to a lesser degree, the disorientation and distrust of an unfamiliar abundance of green that West Texans feel when traveling to wetter places.
My limited travels and that book served as stark reminders of what a precious commodity water is. While those reminders centered in the wealthy US, where money so often manages to truck or pipe water where it’s needed, the world as a whole has a more tenuous claim on fresh water to begin with. If the shortage is worsening, we may all be in trouble soon.
July 29, 2006
The heatwave broke, yesterday, leaving me with a slightly higher tolerance for the summer’s warmth. I didn’t flinch when the temperature rose to 83 in the house today. It’s nothing to me now.
The sky today has been mostly gray, thick clouds parting to reveal a diaphanous, silvery powder blue in places. Finally the clouds shrink to gray puffs against that blue this afternoon. A gust of wind now and then sets everything in motion, tumbling through wind chimes.
I always feel better once the first heat wave of summer passes, with a new higher range of personal comfort, and the assurance that I can make it through to autumn. Autumn here begins late. We always used to spend the first weeks of school with sweaty palms and skin sticking to the varnished chairs and desks. Around Halloween, the air finally cools enough for sweaters at night, at the same time kids dress up to make their ghoulish rounds. Three months to go.
July 13, 2006
This is inspired by Eric’s post, Jeepers Creepers. If bug stories bug you, proceed with caution.
Yesterday we had ants, the tiny black ones, in the kitchen. Not scary, just a nuisance that happens every summer. Usually they go for the honey jar on the counter, but not this time. I think they were looking for water, or they knew this heat wave was coming and were seeking a cooler place. We don’t like to use poisons, but when bugs start to take over the house, we’re forced to take action, to draw the line somewhere.
We do try to coexist. We find moths of all descriptions on the outside wall near our porch light. Some are quite beautiful. We leave the hordes of fuzzy caterpillars alone, picturing them as future butterflies, and gently scoop them up if they venture too near the front door. Daddy-long-legs don’t cause us much concern. We get lots of spiders here, outside and sometimes inside where we don’t want them, and now and then an exotic not-so-creepy-crawly wanders through, like the walking stick we found on the screen door—twice. That was kind of cool. Bats eat insects, and sometimes if we sit on the porch at night we’ll glimpse them, fast and silent, swooping in for small flying bugs attracted by the porch light.
Night before last, after a hot day, we waited until after dark to put the trashes out and retrieve the mail. (more…)
July 11, 2006
The cat’s litter box is clean. That mundane detail isn’t your favorite sentence I’ve ever written, I’m sure. Mine either. But my day often seems to revolve around whether that task has been accomplished, and what comes after it. I go through a list of chores, on the days I think to make one, eventually reaching the line that has to do with writing, after checking off a lot of other stuff. Today writing comes after important things like the cat’s box, which is of utmost importance to her, though slightly less to us except through our affection for her, since we don’t use it and it’s out in the garage, easy for us to forget. Vacuuming comes next, mostly pet hair this time of year. That task must be accomplished while the day is still cool enough to have windows open, or not at all. A late-in-the-day shower will be in order, after all the creepy stuff on the list is done. (Bear with me, I do have a point here, this isn’t merely a run-through of my chores.) (more…)
April 23, 2006
I’ve decided there are three kinds of writers when it comes to word count. Those who wind up with too few words, and those who wind up with too many. Then there are those fortunate souls who write just the right amount.
I’m in the second category. I’m a wordy writer, and it frustrates me to see how many extra words I write. If I’d been able to keep my words in check, the story surely wouldn’t have taken so long to come together. Or would it? Why this need to expand so much on what can be said with so many less words? (more…)