Saturday, December 12, 2009

December Walk

Uniform grey, the sky drips down
small drops, alighting on new green grass
resting, rows of neatly spaced crystals on the green blades of new life
each crystal reflecting back the grey sky
the bare dark branches of the towering valley oaks
their only green moss and lichens 

the rain so fine it steals nothing from the silence
only when we near the river
walking over shining wet rocks
the colors alive

one so black, a last red leaf of fall stuck to it
do we hear the water
rushing over rocks
then the call of a killdeer
the splashing and calling of a Merganser taking flight

Sacramento River, Shasta County

Friday, October 9, 2009

Blue Water Grey Mist

The evidence of the long past violence abounds
vesicular andesites litter the beach
interspersed with the remains of tiny freshwater clams
the inner shells gleaming white in the rising sun

the fog of my breath grey in the cold morning of October
even in that early impossibly bright sun

everything peels away in layers
starting at the hot inner core
always described as red,
yet impossible because no light ever emanates from that deep domain
then ever cooling as the surface of the planet comes nearer
the core cooling into mantle into crust into surface
then diving back to repeat the constantly renewing cycle

but sometimes the core must have its say
as on this beach
where molten rock was once pushed and strewn in some upheaval
on some long ago lost day

so I walk and look north
the layers continuing
the blue of the water, grebes afloat, chirping
the grey mist, fingers outstretched entwining
the green of the trees, dry awaiting the snows of winter
the grey of the smoke, curling in and out
the green of the trees again as the mountain rises
the grey of the peak of Mt. Lassen, remnant of the progenitor of destruction
the blue of the clear morning sky, cormorants in flight

Lake Almanor

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Morning Moon and Venus

Moon and Venus, together

the beginning of the hour before dawn

the barest glimmer of light edges the rim of the Cascades to the east

driving across Millville plains, the trees silhouetted black against that glimmer

the thinnest sliver of silver moon rises

Venus glows from above, lighting the way across the brightening sky

the moon, crossed by wisps of cloud, gray then dark mauve, then hints of pink

the whole of the disc visible, just edged in its smile

ever rising in my drive to the east

rushing toward the sunrise moonrise

I lose the moon in the foothills

but Venus still guides

then, a last glimpse of the old moon's thin whisker before the pines crowd in

Written on 9/17/09

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Reflections on the First Week of School

It is noon on Saturday, and I've had enough decompression time to start to contemplate the activities of this last week.

Walking into my classroom, before dawn on Monday morning, it was quiet. It was that kind of quiet that comes right before a storm comes, but there was to be no storm that day. It was still in my room, and I opened the windows to grab all the cool that I could before the sun rose with its August heat. I was ready for the day, with just a few odds and ends to work on.

The first bus arrived and students began to also arrive by car. We have so few students this year, that I knew that the playground was going to seem empty, even after everyone had arrived. A few kids poked their heads in my room to say good morning, and everyone seemed happy to be back.

I have ten students this year: two girls in 8th grade, three girls in 6th grade, two boys in 5th grade, and two girls and a boy in 4th grade. Most are returning students, so introductions are not necessary; we just fall right into the conversations we were having as school let out in June. It is a comfortable situation. I do have two completely new students in 4th grade, and they seem to be very nice people.

We put up bulletin boards, decorated desks, made up some classroom rules, played some games, and the day slipped by quickly for all. It was the smoothest first day of school I've ever had!

As the week progressed we had a few glitches, minor stuff (No one turned on the server when we got back to school!), but my impression was that this could be shaping up to be a dream year of teaching. All of my students are well behaved, caring kids, and willing to work. They get along well together, and can be counted on to help each other, a necessity in a multi-grade classroom. My aide, Dee, fell right back into the routine we had established last year, so, after a day, we were nicely in sync, moving among the subjects and student groups easily. I'm sure, as the weeks progress, people will get grumpy, and all of my kids will be kids, negative or positive. That is normal. Yet, I'm betting on first impressions. This is going to be a much better year.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Eagle Lake

There is nothing like laying on the camp bed, dozing in the afternoon heat, still pleasantly cool from swimming, and listening to the rumble of thunder in the distance. Outside the tent, the breeze ruffles the round aspen leaves in the grove of aspens that skirt our campsite. The cumulus clouds build over Eagle Lake, gulls and white pelicans circling the beach beyond the trees. Children's voices echo up from the beach and water, the thunder still too far away to be of concern. Our dog, Noodles, snaps at a fly, then stretches, before dozing off again. I listen to all of the summer sounds, Stellar's Jays calling out while hopping on our camp chairs, tiny chipmunks chirping in the underbrush, the higher call of the passing osprey, fish clutched in its talons, melodic songs from the blue birds, raucous crows and gulls, all lulling me to sleep. It is why I camp. To catch those moments of just being in a place and being able to quietly absorb it revives me.

It is work to camp, but eventually, after all the planning and packing, the last minute stop at Hawes to pick up the ripest and juiciest peaches, the road stretches out, rising up from the Sacramento Valley into the Southern Cascades, the miles disappearing beneath our tires. Ever upward, the terrain changes, the oaks turn to pines, the air cools, Mt. Lassen pops in and out of view, and I always marvel at how fate allowed me to come to live in this place.

We (my husband, Kim, our dog, Noodles, and I) pass our milestones, Shingletown, Viola, Mt. Lassen, Hat Creek, then Old Station. Next comes the climb to the top of Hat Creek Rim, and on, passing into Lassen County, and briefly stopping at Bogard rest stop. Now we are in the west that is a dream. Vast landscapes, forests, and mountains spread everywhere, making roads and power lines look insignificant. I listen to local radio, country and western twanging out of my pick up truck speakers, as I turn onto A21, the county dirt road that winds behind the Antelope Peak fire lookout and then cuts across a low pass to Eagle Lake. The dust streams out behind the truck.

You have to know your vehicle to drive here. You have to trust that it really is OK to drive 50 over the washboard, but let the truck naturally slow into the curves, avoiding the brake, and always keeping an eye out for range cattle. Sometimes I've been rewarded with clouds of butterflies, other times I've had swarms of locusts smash into my windshield, but I'm always fascinated with the minor changes each time I drive this road. This year, even with the drought, there was more water in the big valley, causing the cattle to stay far from the road, brown moving dots in the distance where water was more plentiful. The road bears to the right, to the northeast, and starts to climb back up into the forest. The cut off to the lookout, then Summit Camp, go by in the dust. We stop for firewood and fill the back of my truck with bone dry old limbs that lie everywhere on the forest floor.

We head downhill toward the lake, entering the crater that the lake fills. Eagle Lake sits in an ancient volcanic crater, and all of the geology in the area is volcanic. Huge lava flows spread out across the basin, marking the hellish nature of what must have been the birth of this lake eons ago. Soon, heading towards the southern part of the lake, we come to the road that leads to where we camp.

More work occurs as camp is set up in the afternoon heat. Our consolation is that it is much hotter back at home, and that a wonderful swim in the lake awaits. Back in camp, drenched in lake water, we sit in grateful rest. Days pass, and starry nights glide by, punctuated by meteors and the rising of Jupiter. We swim, and doze, and eat. We drive up to the top of Antelope Peak and talk to the ranger in the fire lookout. Up there we gaze at the lake down below, off all the way into Nevada to the east, at Lassen Peak to the west, and Mt. Shasta to the northwest. The vista is vast, and man's hand upon it is almost invisible. For a moment, in that rarefied air, there are just three people on earth, my husband, the ranger, and me. It is why we live here.

There are pictures to take, poking around in lava beds to do, and stopping to get ice cream in the tiny store in Spaulding. Back in camp, the clouds build, and we get a brief shower, with delicious thunder. The storm passes and we're back in the lake swimming with Noodles, who was born to be a fish rather than a canine. Our last evening in camp we are rewarded with a rare event. The thunderhead passing to the east picks up the sunlight cast by the setting sun and reflects its odd yellow light back down on us in a strange second dawn. To the west the sun has already dipped below the mountains, but the second dawn lingers as we walk in its fading golden light along the beach, bright enough at first to even cast shadows. A lucky moment, and well appreciated.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Everyday Stuff

Summer rolls along. I take Noodles for walks before dawn over at Anderson River Park, letting her run and swim and chase sticks in the morning cool. Each day we are rewarded by seeing deer and herons and more birds, especially flocks of swallows diving for insects over the cold Sacramento. I do a little housework, read, get my hair cut, and nap, wishing that vacation was longer and I could carry summer with me. Kim and I watch silly 1950's monster movies in the afternoon heat, then eat cool salads in the constant battle to keep the house cool and not use the air conditioning. Summer is good, it returns my life to me.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Best Swimming So Far!

Sometimes it is just the most mundane things in life that you appreciate the most. Yesterday we went up to Whiskeytown NRA to go swimming. We do this every weekend, all summer long, and always look forward to it. My memories of yesterday:

Great conversation with Kim on the drive over
No traffic on the dirt road
Arriving at "our spot" and finding the whole area blissfully deserted
Being able to let Noodles run and swim free
Appreciating living in a place like this with so few people and so much wild area
Watching two great blue herons and one little green heron hunting
Listening to all the birds
Stepping into the cool clean water and watching all the baby bass swim around my legs
The magic of swimming underwater, the delicious coolness surrounding me
Watching Noodles swim and swim and swim!
How good a sandwich tastes on a picnic
The sweet juice of a cold ripe peach on a hot day
Having enough time to be in a place, so that
you can feel the breeze as it first comes through the trees
you can taste the freshness of the morning air
you can feel the warmth of the sun as you emerge from the green cool of the water
you can hear one bird calling to another in conversation
you can smell the essence of summer and store it up for winter
you can see the other world under the water

It was a great day!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

All Things Must Pass...

How strange to find myself watching The Fog of War this afternoon. I had put it on my list ages ago, forgot about it, and sadly remembered it with the passing of Robert McNamara earlier this month. Then, after reminiscing about Apollo 11 yesterday, I hear of the death of Walter Cronkite. All of these people and events, Apollo, Cronkite, McNamara, Viet Nam, JFK, LBJ, RFK, are all so indelibly intertwined in my childhood and teenage memories.

Watching the images of all those years passing by in The Fog of War I felt so sad about all that has been taken from us as Americans. McNamara talks of the withholding of information, and the actual recordings of JFK and LBJ confirming this are stunning. After McNamara leaves, who comes to power in the Nixon era? Cheney and Rumsfeld. No matter the Clinton years, we were doomed. For all of our ability to type words in blogs, one wonders if everything of importance has been lost. Thomas Jefferson, where are you when we need you?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Apollo 11

A few musings on the 40th anniversary of the 1st lunar landing...

Right now I'm watching astronauts at work on the ISS. In many ways it is all so different than the way we imagined it in those years before we went to the moon. Looking at the astronauts moving about the room they're in it all looks so normal. They're wearing comfortable pants, polo shirts, and socks. They float about, busy with work to do. No helmets, no aliens, no strange beeping noises, no robots or androids, just bright nerdy men and women, at the work of science. It seems much the same on the space shuttle, though the danger seems nearer as those vehicles are close to retirement.

I remember peering at a 14 inch black and white TV screen 40 years ago, eagerly anticipating the landing of the Eagle, and the first walk on the moon. I was a fan and always watched, although as time went by the coverage lessened as it became "normal" to go to the moon. How absurd. We are still so far away from it being "normal" to go to the moon. And it is not normal for the astronauts, encased in tiny rooms and vehicles, so far above the surface of the earth, to come and go. The danger is still exceptional, all the time.

Down here, most people alive were not born when that door opened and those legs appeared on that fuzzy black and white picture so long ago. Now, you can look at that footage on an ipod, Zune, or cell phone, as you walk about the supermarket, never thinking that the computer power in your hand is greater than they had to get those brave astronauts to the moon and back.

Happy Anniversary Apollo 11!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Sleeping through Sonia Sotomayor

It really must be summer. I dozed through the Sonia Sotomayor hearings this morning, fortunately waking to the best part, a discussion of old Perry Mason TV episodes. Listening to the right wing nutcases on the radio leading up the hearings I was starting to picture something like the amazing death sequence of Pris in Bladerunner, kicking and screaming in the ultimate outburst of impotent rage at being forced to die before her time. It seemed that the right wing was about to embark upon some similar exercise. But no, in the calm of the senate hearing room, summertime drowsiness crept in causing quiet sedate questions and quiet measured responses. Ahhh... the decorum of the senate still holds sway, the perfect antidote to insomnia.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

7/14/09 Just Before the Heat

Noodles and I make the morning loop

The dawn hangs on to the last cool air of night

Deep summer now and the whole concept of cool

is ephemeral

We walk into the woods seeking the last dark places

Wind high in the trees deceives

It is a north wind coming down the slopes

of the Cascades

Paradox, north brings heat and south brings cool

The purest expression of friction heat

I watch the leaves of the willows shimmer in the breeze

then momentarily feel the warmth of the coming day

We quicken the pace to the river and are rewarded

Air chilled by the always cold Sacramento creeps in around us

We linger by a pond trying to hold back the sunrise

Noodles swimming and chasing sticks

as the tips of the trees turn ever brighter

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Shasta Bally

Sitting on the roof of the valley

it disappears to the south in summer haze

to the east, in morning sun, rises Lassen

streaked with snow

to the north sits Shasta, a lone cloud playing with the peak

to the west the Trinities, jagged gray edges, white flecks of snow

On top of Shasta Bally, the quiet dominates all

looking down at the vast expanse of where we live and move

it spreads out, beyond the limits of vision

we think nothing of it as we drive across it every day

miles rolling by

we think everything of it as we drive up the road to Shasta Bally

each mile an accomplishment, a small victory in the dust of summer

to rest at the summit, and in seeing, understand

Friday, July 3, 2009

Waving Goodbye to Sarah Palin

Goodbye, Sarah Palin. Oh wait, dammit, you're not actually leaving. Your Barbie lips will keep flapping, spewing out all sorts of utter claptrap and drivel. I doubt even a brain transplant would help, though it couldn't hurt. What about electroshock therapy? It might be nice, if you now have some small amount of spare time, that you actually read the constitution (for future reference) and instruct your kids on using birth control.

Suddenly a horrible thought occurs to me! Could Sarah Palin and her family be replacing John and Kate Plus Eight? Lord help us all!
7/3/09 Walk with Noodles

Light green and golden on the very tops of the trees

Sun barely breaking the crest

cool in the dark shade

as I walk over millions of perfect skipping stones

a mix of igneous metamorphic sedimentary

the jumble of the floor of a dry creek bed

walking across the past

across thousands of years of water flowing

wearing away smoothing flattening

perhaps since before human eyes

the leaves yellow and dusty litter the stones

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Reflection on the Writing Institute

Credit (in more ways than can be imagined) given to the Grateful Dead for use of the lyrics from "Truckin'" ... if it's illegal, sue me.

"Sometimes the light's all shinin' on me;
Other times I can barely see.
Lately it occurs to me
What a long, strange trip it's been."

First, the decision to make this trip: I'm teaching 6th, 7th, and 8th grade writing for the first time, and have no clue what their writing should look like. I ask around. Everybody, and I mean everybody, says I should see if I can do the writing project in Chico. Ok, then, I'll check it out. I did the math project and that was excellent.

"Truckin' got my chips cashed in. Keep truckin', like the do-dah man
Together, more or less in line, just keep truckin' on."

I get all the information and now I have to think. It has been the most exhausting bone crunching year of teaching I have ever had. And now I'm looking at giving up a big chunk of my summer, weeks of camping trips, weeks of dedicated time in Mr. Lawnchair by the waterfall reading whatever I want, and most importantly, weeks of my time to write. I have no time to write when I teach, so this is a big consideration.

"Arrows of neon and flashing marquees out on Main Street.
Chicago, New York, Detroit and it's all on the same street.
Your typical city involved in a typical daydream
Hang it up and see what tomorrow brings."

Oh, what the hell, I'll do it. My husband is less than pleased, but at least I'm not going to be stuck out of town.The first meeting in Chico, on that cold rainy day, sounds intriguing. So, I finish school, and gather the student work requested and get ready.

"Dallas, got a soft machine; Houston, too close to New Orleans;
New York's got the ways and means; but just won't let you be, oh no."

The first few days go by in a blur. The mansion is cool, the writing is promising, the people are friendly, but then there is the reality of the work. I wrestle with that, but it's not something impossible.

"Most of the cats that you meet on the streets speak of true love,
Most of the time they're sittin' and cryin' at home.
One of these days they know they better get goin'
Out of the door and down on the streets all alone."

Now something strange starts to dawn on me, something that I had never really considered. We're in the first week of this institute and, slow though I may be, it is occurring to me that most of the people here, people who are teachers and college professors and so on, don't think of themselves as writers. I'm stunned. I go home and speak to my muse, my husband, Kim, about this. He doesn't know what to make of it either. Born of different mothers, but somehow out of one womb, one strange womb, we have always thought of ourselves as writers. We reminisce , and can't really remember not thinking of ourselves as writers. Then we start thinking. Did our English teachers in high school not think of themselves as writers? Oooohh... that's different...a time honored assumption blown... what about college? Oh some must have, they did write books... but maybe not all of them. Ok... now I'm out of my comfort zone, I feel different from the group. I have to think on this.

"Truckin', like the do-dah man once told me "You've got to play your hand"
Sometimes your cards ain't worth a dime, if you don't lay'em down"

I make a decision. I'm just going to write whatever I want from now on and let the chips fall... And it's ok. I share my feelings with Mike and Jocelyn on the writing marathon. They seem to be ok with it, too. I don't feel like a fish out of water as much.

"You're sick of hangin' around and you'd like to travel;
Get tired of travelin' and you want to settle down.
I guess they can't revoke your soul for tryin',
Get out of the door and light out and look all around."

So I write and I learn, because you can never not learn something everytime you write. I get good feedback on my writing. I listen and I learn. I get really good ideas from everyone on what to do in my classroom. I feel like I have some new tools, tools to use, tools to wake kids up and clue them in on how wonderful it can be to create your own reality, sitting in front of a keyboard. A place where you can just be... anything and anyone.

Tomorrow I'll drive away, heading back to Mr. Lawnchair, and Borges, and camping, and writing, and I'll have much to think on as the days roll by and school approaches. Anticipation of the new year has returned, as I'll have new things to do, and new ways to teach. This is is good.

"Truckin', I'm a goin' home. Whoa whoa baby, back where I belong,
Back home, sit down and patch my bones, and get back truckin' on.
Hey now get back truckin' home."

Friday, June 26, 2009

Beavis and Butthead

This is a response to the NWP assignment concerning popular culture.*oKZjZWU9aNZB9i48Nla9srtOAAjsUmVbJWZfTuXk-wxsA0OkAUApQqkO59xecF2ZKku4WXMZcFPhum4beF*fo2uY9Dgs/Boys.pdf

Some Crap about Writing

The prompt from the writing institute: Think of an extended metaphor that you might choose to describe your writing process. Is it a marathon? Deep sea diving? Archeology? A biological phenomenon? Feel free to stretch out into wherever the metaphor takes you...

My response:

This morning I was walking across the high school field barefoot in the cool grass and feeling the cool wind blowing across me and I was thinking about the flow, the flow of wind, the flow of water, the water you want to linger in forever, becoming water, and the water that shocks you, the water that takes your breath away, sending you rocketing to the surface, sharing its cold with everyone around you. So I write. It is flow, fluid rolling away from my fingers even as I write these words. Sometimes it eddies, sometimes to comes to little dams requiring a bit of explosive deconstruction, sometimes it boils like rapids on the Trinity River, often it is tranquil and I float along with its gentle current swimming in a sea of words and unlimited possibilities.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

My Arms

My Arms

My arms enter the cool water of the lake before the rest of me

They pull me down towards the green jungle at the bottom of the bay

They let me explore and chase the fish before I have yo leave to go back up and breathe

My arms push Noodles, my big dog, out of the way as I come up to the surface

My arms stretch out to encircle her as I swim, all happy licking and splashing

My arms stretch out again, this time along the surface of the water, pulling me in long slow strokes toward the bobbing snorkel

Now my arms help me dive under the water again so I can swim under Kim and blow bubbles under him

We all come crashing to the surface in bubbles and laughing and avoiding Noodles' sharp claws

We swim to shore, my arms getting tired, but still pulling me along

As we sit in the warm mud on the shore my arms and Kim's arms entwine as Noodles gives us an impromptu mud bath

Kim spreads the warm mud on my arms and then I wipe them on Noodles

We jump back in the water, my arms losing the mud in a cloud that trails behind me

It is glorious summer and again my arms pull me down to the cool green underwater of fish and lakeweed and crawdads and muted sounds to just swim

Saturday, June 13, 2009