Sequential Day

Despite my arithmetic challenges, I’m a number freak, so today matters for being 12.13.14. Since this numerical sequence won’t happen again for a hundred years, I want to give a shout out for the day. And the big sky that arrived after an evening of rain. The air feels full of the fresh chill of the coming Winter. At least, I think it’s coming. Eventually. Unless we just skip along to Spring.

going places on 12.13.14 day

going places on 12.13.14 day


Consulting Grandpa YouTube

My husband’s work takes him away for long periods of time, sometimes a whole day, and for me each time is like a rehearsal for widowhood. I get to test life without him. When he’s away, I either indulge in things he doesn’t like…writing or watching movies about tormented writers…or I pick a chore I don’t like, but feel I need to prove I can do in the event that my husband dies before I do. Today I decide to tackle weed-whacking, a job that involves power tools as I understand them…anything that runs on electricity and can be held in my hand. There are few power tools I feel comfortable with…an electric pencil sharpener, electric eraser, a toaster, and some vacuum cleaners. But today, I feel an urgency to validate my self-sufficiency.

So I go out into the back yard and hunt through my husband’s collection of large rusty metal things and find his Black and Decker GrassHog XP. I scrounge further for a cord, plug it in and away I go. Whack, whack, whack and it’s done. Easy peasie, I am woman and all that…

No such luck.

His GrassHog has none of the plastic line that whacks the weeds and the bundle of it I found on the ground by the shed doesn’t fit in the tiny hole in the bobbin thing inside the whacking part I’ve dismantled. So I drive to Ace Hardware and talk to a friendly young dude who seems to know more than me. This is a no-bump whacker which means the line uses centrifugal force to come out. That’s what the kid at Ace told me while I had flashbacks of the physics class I got a C in thirty years ago. I buy a roll of smaller line and head home, follow the instructions the youth gave me, put the thing back together and turn it on. Well, some force sent the line flying out in a blast of ankle-biting segments.

My grandpa’s lived in the generation that knew how things worked. They were fixers. Not my actual grandpas, but other people’s grandpas from that generation. So today I consulted Grandpa YouTube. On my phone, I watched a helpful stranger sitting on his back steps as he explained for 9 minutes and 5 seconds in a kind and patient old-man voice how to refill a Black and Decker GrassHog XP. Turns out there is a magic screw that needs unscrewing. Before I consulted with my online grandpa, I had removed the spool without unscrewing the screw and doing so led to chaos and bloody ankles. When I took the screw out before removing the spool and then put it back in after the spool was in place, the machine worked. It’s mysteries like this that make me leery of power tools. I used the magic screw method three times before I finished a third of the backyard and ran out of line.

The yard is done enough for me to know I’ll be able to handle widowhood, at least as far as whacking weeds goes, so long as I subscribe to Grandpa YouTube’s uploads. Time to go inside to write this. Or maybe watch Angel at My Table again.


Before. Yes, Bermuda grass is a weed in the desert.


After. Notice how if I don’t rake it, it almost looks like we have a lawn.

The Autumn of Our Discontent

It’s often said by many that Arizona lacks seasons. This isn’t true. Take now, for instance. I can tell beyond doubt that Fall has arrived…at long last. How can I tell? The mornings have a slight biting chill to them. I walk out my front door, take a breath and think, “Huh, it must be getting cold somewhere.” And flowers look happy all by themselves. I can relax for a whole day without worrying they might die from my neglect. And I crave soup…even chile…something to make me break a sweat, a bodily function I’ve spent all summer getting intimate with. And there’s driving.

I know the seasons have shifted when I swear more in my car.

Is it the Seasonal Affected Disorder (SAD…yes, that’s what it’s called. Aren’t doctors hilarious.) that haunts me whenever the sun slings low in the sky? Perhaps. But I blame Winter Visitors (aka Snow Birds), the hoards who flee the winter that has already descended on Iowa, Ohio, Michigan…all of Canada. They migrate here before my week-long Fall season is even half-over and flood the streets. They tote along their regional traffic rules—yield on green, weave between lanes whenever it strikes your fancy, apply left turn signal a minimum of five miles before your anticipated turn—and in response, I swear and shake my fist…and maybe, just for a tiny moment, I get nostalgic for summer.

p.s. When I’m feeling down, I find solace in cheerful authors, like Albert Camus, who once said, “Autumn is a second spring, when every leaf is a flower.” Or Kafka, who no doubt year-round asked himself, “What am I doing here in this endless winter?”

Fall  flowers

Fall flowers and our Happy Jack smiling in the morning sun

Weather Report

Just returned from the southern hemisphere where winter is waning into spring: high seas, cold winds and blossoms just starting to open on the fruit trees. I came home to a late summer storm: streets flooded, thunder scaring the dog and my daughter’s school closed for the day due to the weather. A Rain Day. That’s a first and she’s in her last year in high school. The rain gods are stirred up all over the world. Hurricane Norbert even dropped some much needed moisture on parched California.

So, in the hour it took to drop my son at school and get home (usually 20 minutes tops), I rolled down the windows and shuffled my seventies playlist. First song: Allman Brothers “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More,” with its lyrics about hurricanes and pouring rain, followed by Hot Tuna’s “Water Song.” I love it when small things seem in sync with the larger forces of nature.

The Pacific calmed enough on the last day to get a quick freezing swim in.

The Pacific calmed enough on the last day in Australia to get a quick freezing swim in. That’s not me with the stream-lined free style stroke. I’m the one in the foreground recovering from the shock of the dive in. The pool fills in high seas or high tide and is used on days like this by a group of old polar bear men and strangers desperate to taste salt water.



Celestial Sighting

Despite a fixation on things in and on the ground, I often marvel at the sky, especially when a friendly hiker passing me on a trail says, “Look up at the sun. Do you see that?”

Okay, so I had to abandon two childhood laws in that instant:

  1. Never talk to strangers
  2. Never look into the sun

In that instant, I was hiking along a steep canyon trail in Walnut Canyon National Monument, immersed in my ponderings about how people ever lived in the many dwellings tucked in the crevices midway up the striated cliffs AND planning the best way to fall from the trail without dying (like a loose rag doll or liked startled Wile E. Coyote).

I looked up and saw this:

The halo, nimbus, gloriole, icebow

“It’s a Sun Dog,” said the friendly hiker and her friendly companion in unison.

I did what I always do when presented with situations like this…tucked this cool term into my mental file of cool terms for natural phenomenon, snapped a picture and blurted an awkward reply to the couple, probably “cool.” Then, after the hike was done and I was back in the car with the family, I googled Sun Dog.

Even though, according to Wikipedia, the ring around the sun is not an actual Sun Dog, I’m glad I risked breaking two laws of childhood to witness it. Formed by refraction and reflection of sunlight on ice crystals in high clouds, the halo (aka a nimbus, gloriole and icebow) appears like a hazy mist around the retina-burning sun. Poets and Beatles fans might like to know that the ice crystals are also called diamond dust (tis true). The halo may be a kind of Airy Disc, which would be more poetic if Airy was an adjective, but it’s just the last name of a guy who studied them…George Biddell Airy.

p.s. Here’s how small the universe can feel sometimes. Turns out George Biddell Airy, like my great grandfather John Edensor Littlewood, was a Copley-Medal-winning mathematician at Cambridge and had things named after him (Airy had a disc, a point and a function, while Littlewood had a conjecture, a polynomial, an inequality and a grandson (if you believe the family gossip)). They probably never met, since Airy had already fallen from grace as the UK scapegoat for missing out on Neptune’s discovery before Littlewood was born.




A Simple Test for Garden Nerdliness

So I’m watering my heat-beat pots of petunias and spy this little critter hanging out in the flower foliage.

A baby Praying Mantis in my petunias

A baby Praying Mantis in my petunias


Here’s the test:

  1. Did you, like I did upon seeing this bug, exclaim “Awwww” and feel a sudden surge of elation?
  2. Did your heart race, making you feel giddy like when you see an old flame, new flame or aspirational flame?
  3. If you saw this little Mantis in your garden, would you dash for your camera, so you could share a snap of this creature as though it were your own child taking it’s first bite of solid food?

If you can answer YES to any or all of these questions, you may be a garden nerd.

What’s so awesome about the Praying Mantis?

For me, it takes me back to when I was a kid and we lived in the San Joaquin Valley raising Lima Beans. Gigantic Praying Mantises, bigger than my kindergartner hand frequented the neighborhood where we lived in Modesto. A few years back, to share the wonder of this lanky bug with my offspring, I bought an egg case from a local nursery. After securing the case in a small bug house, we watched in awe as the tiny babies oozed out of the case.

baby mantises hatching

baby mantises hatching

Then the lessons in Praying Mantis ecology began. Turns out, they eat only live things, fruit flies for starters, then crickets and eventually each other. Delightful. The kids and I became frequent shoppers at the local exotic pet shop  where all manner of live food could be purchased. (And by the way, I watched lizards pole dance there…well, twig dance anyhow, but it was exotic) I kept the fruit flies in a plastic tub in my kitchen cabinet. They lived on a paste that smelled like rotting trash (see an old blog for further gross details). When the fifty or so Praying Mantises snacked themselves down to the three largest bugs, we set them free on the rose bush in the front yard.

I had never seen Praying Mantises in the garden before the release, but since then have infrequent sightings. The one I saw this morning may be a descendant of that batch of three. Seeing it reminded me of being a kid, having my own little kids and the beautiful cycle of life. Pretty sweet for a bug that eats its lover’s head off during sex.

Desert the Bittersweet

This is the kind of friend the desert is…the kind that tells you he just gave you the clap, but on the up side, he thinks you’re the one.

Here’s a question, does anyone even know what the clap is anymore? For those of you who weren’t sexually active in the seventies, or perhaps not yet born, it’s an STD. But for this analogy, it’s the caterpillars in my garden. And the upside is that my friend the desert can bring on beauty overnight just as easily as it can deliver decimation, often simultaneously.

To wit, the triple digit temperatures arrived this week and set off a flurry of blooms. Maybe the plants think the world is about to erupt into flames, so they must make hay while they may. Kind of like how everyone ran out and got laid for the Y2K Armageddon.

This happened in my garden:

Texas Sage exploded overnight. A gorgeous plant that usually is mal-pruned, so no one gets to see its blooms.

Texas Sage exploded overnight. A gorgeous plant that usually is mal-pruned, so no one gets to see its blooms.

The Tranquility Tree I've pruned to cascade over the courtyard entry went nuts with its tiny yellow flowers this season. Best blooms to date.

The Tranquility Tree I’ve pruned to cascade over the courtyard entry went nuts with its tiny yellow flowers this season. Best blooms to date.

The blooms up close.

The blooms up close.

p.s. Thanks to Anne Carson for writing Eros the Bittersweet…well…for writing everything she’s ever written.

Toil Becalmed in the Infinite Leisure and Repose of Nature

I’d like to say it was the Gandhi in me that opted a do-nothing approach to the Western Grapeleaf Skeletonizer infestation, but I was just too busy to deal with it. It took only a few days for the caterpillars to reduce the grapevine to this:



Gandhi was not one to advocate inaction anyhow. Didn’t he say: “Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.” So the question I now face is what to do? The post-modern philosophers are too busy debating Delmore Schwartz’s thesis that “no one else can take a bath for you,” so perhaps the new age self help crowd can guide me in the aftermath of this feast (link to post on the PMP’s earlier advice on caterpillar infestation). Do I continue to let nature take its course? Deepak Chopra has noted that “nature reflects the moods of the wizard,” so there’s that. Other than make me feel warm inside, because I have a fondness for wizards, what tangible help is Chopra’s astute observation?

Here’s something else to ponder…The bugs this spring are super abundant, in part because we had a mild winter. We had a mild winter, perhaps due to climate change or urban heat island…or both. Either way, cars were involved, or cow farts, deforestation, dark surfaces, maybe the tangle of plastic trash twice the size of Texas that swirls about in the ocean and no doubt shifts marine currents (which are the true drivers of climate). The question, then, isn’t should I let nature continue to take its course, but has nature been steering the course in the first place? To deal with the caterpillars, should I direct my attention to these gigantic global ecological dilemmas, figure out how to turn the world thermostat down, and then just wait for the caterpillars to respond? Tony Robbins, famed motivational speaker and lover of the word GIANT, says “the path to success is to take massive, determined action.”

If Shakespeare weren’t dead, he might say to Robbins: “You speak an infinite deal of nothing.” And I would agree, in this case, since I believe in the butterfly effect, the idea that one small human can make one small gesture and set off a chain reaction that can impact huge problems. Well…one small human and a pair of pruners. While consulting my information guru, the Google, I came across this quote (without even having to read Eat, Pray, Love or see the movie!): “I am a better person when I have less on my plate.” I’m hoping Elizabeth Gilbert’s wise observation applies for caterpillars too.

The grapevine as a clean plate for better caterpillars. See how like infinity it looks. That’s the wizard of nature at work. 🙂

p.s. thank you, Henry David Thoreau, for the title of this post…and for inventing a better pencil that helped free American pencilers from dependence on pricey British graphite, so they could afford to saunter about pondering our connection to nature.


Imagine if gardens were tended only by post-modern philosophers

Some days the garden offers more than pretty flowers. Some days it evokes ethical discourse…in my head this morning, since no one’s around when I go out to water and find the grape vine infested with yellow and black caterpillars. Here’s the dilemma: do I go all Spartacus on them and KILL THEM ALL! Or seek out my inner Gandhi and let the famished beasts continue to feast on the fleshy leaf parts until all that remains is lacy skeletons?

Western Grapeleaf Skeletonizer Caterpillars snacking in my garden

Western Grapeleaf Skeletonizer Caterpillars snacking in my garden

Maybe Derrida has some helpful advice…”The circle of the return to birth can only remain open, but this is a chance, a sign of life, and a wound.”

Kind of on the fence there. Perhaps his pal Nietzsche will be more helpful: “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.”

So I must decide if these caterpillars are monsters. Lyotard would probably suggest that to do this, I need to investigate their narrative, not the Grand-Narrative (which in this case is no doubt mine), but the meta-narrative of each tiny caterpillar.So, here goes.

Meta-narrative of the Western Grapeleaf Skeletonizer: “My hunger knows no bounds. I must eat and eat and eat. And poop. These poisonous thorns on my body that welt your skin don’t make me a monster! They merely shield my soft body from harm while I eat and eat until I’m consumed with the desire to crawl under a scrap of bark to weave myself into a cocoon. And then emerge a moth that flies in the daylight. The daylight! Not under the moon with my moth brethren, but like some freak butterfly. My life’s a sham.”

Well, that’s no help. I empathize, yet want to put it out of its misery. Maybe Baudrillard can lend me a hand in deciding whether to kill the caterpillars or not: “You need an infinite stretch of time ahead of you to start to think, infinite energy to make the smallest decision. The world is getting denser. The immense number of useless projects is bewildering. Too many things have to be put in to balance up an uncertain scale. You can’t disappear anymore. You die in a state of total indecision.”

It may be time for wise old Hippocrates to chime in: “To do nothing is also a good remedy.”



Poem Out

Life has been busy.

I had a poem published in the anthology Not Somewhere Else But Here: a Contemporary Anthology of Women and Place in March. Night Dive off of San Miguel (Sundress Publications, edited by Erin Elizabeth Smith, T.A. Noonan, Rhonda Lott and Beth Couture)

And I’m drawing/writing a lot.

Sketch from the verse/cartoon memoir I'm working on. A guy who used to bring food  (scavanged from supermarket dumpsters ) to the commune where I lived when I was eleven.

Sketch from the verse/cartoon memoir I’m working on. A guy who used to bring food (scavenged from supermarket dumpsters ) to the commune where I lived when I was eleven.