I Came to Yosemite Because I Had To

The following post is excerpted from a journal I wrote while on a trip to Yosemite in April of 2013. The photos were taken then as well. I hope the writing conveys the incredible beauty and power of the spot.

I came to Yosemite because I had to; I was dying inside—I needed to visit my mother, Sierra Madre.

She did not disappoint. I thanked God when I entered his country in the rolling cow pastures of Route 140 E leading to the mountains.

red-buds-by-river

At every turn, as we passed the cows and quaint, decaying barns, my spirit orgasmed anew at each unfolding landscape. The thrusting force of spirits too grand but to respect, striating a wall of multi-colored mosaic rectangles—often forming facades that look like elaborate entryways to posh buildings … And then as we fronted the river, I was awed over and over by the ebullient profusion of “Red Buds,” the deep magenta blossoms of the trees that I had never before observed in bloom. I breathed in deeply, trying to contain my bounding spirit within my body. This was BLISS.

All of this as an accompaniment to the white-capped, gray, and very swift Merced River, the breadth of its imminent stateliness unignorable …

bridalveil-falls-1

I love being up here. It’s away from everything. We discovered that our cell phones don’t even work here! After a great day in Yosemite Valley, we came back to our room in the late afternoon and tried the outdoor pool and Jacuzzi. The pool was COLD (as in unheated). I and a couple of kids 7 or under were the only ones who could stay in longer than 30 seconds (that was just about their limit). I did a good number of laps and then went into the burning hot spa. Then I went back into the pool to do more laps, and then back to the spa again. I wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to swim in the beautiful mountain air, with the sound of a very full Merced River roaring close at hand.

bridalveil-falls-2

After breakfast at the lodge, we left for the Valley at about 9:00 a.m. As the weather report had predicted, it started to rain a few, big drops at the lodge before we left for our day’s adventures. Approaching the park, I tried to limit my landscape-gawking and picture-taking stops to 2 or 3. Even in the rain, I stuck my Canon Power Shot out the window, braving the raindrops on the lens, to try and capture just a hint of the glory of the Merced coursing its thunderous yet graceful path, white-tipped, past rocks and boulders in the gorge below.

fallen-log-w-forest-backgrd

Every feature of the surrounding roadside gave me spiritual ecstasy. I would say that I was on overload, but that would describe a state of excess or toxicity; this was more like bliss—like being reunited with everything I love, like coming home to the warm, loving bosom of my Sierra Madre, whose love is rapture, and who opens the souls and spirit to join with her beauty. Who heals above every other healer; whose truth, just in its very existence, is proof of the Great Spirit.

We arrived at Bridal Veil Falls at about 9:30 a.m. There was only one other vehicle in the parking lot near the glorified outhouses: a red sports car. The gently, yet persistent rain pelted us tenderly with wet, clammy kisses. I couldn’t help taking compulsive film clips of the water tumbling down from its 300-foot summit. With every few feet closer I approached, I felt the roar more loudly, and saw the mist shooting up more clearly as it smashed against the rocks below and vaporized.

Never had I seen the falls like this. The spring snowmelt is the most turgid and elemental event in the mountains.

Beauty here—reminding me of a spiritual experience I had at Multnomah Falls in Oregon’s Columbia River Valley on a walkabout I had made in my early 30s. Captivating, gentle, cultivated; a home for wood-nymphs and Native American girls with long, braided tresses, singing in the burbles of the stream. I felt their presence, though their voices melded with the soothing shushing of the water.

moss-by-river

We felt enclosed in a green sanctuary, safe, and invited to experience the beingness of the spot. The spirit sees as it feels, and the mind stops for a moment, as it hears that which does not speak. Wooed by the essence of love, every little drop, leaf, and branch became an expression of divinity.

We were the only ones approaching the crashing water. Even the ethereal mist that evolved from the chute seemed to speed downhill, caught up in the general thrust of the ponderous column’s momentum. We got as close to the base of the fall as we could, sprayed with heavy, wild mist that pelted harder than the rain. Looking up, I could see the gray and white rock-face, scarred on two sides of the fall with features cut into its surface. I saw two eyes, equally spaced around the waterfall: the great spirit of the falls had a face! New respect for its power was instilled in my soul.

leaf-on-ground close-up-of-bark

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Lettering in the Sun and Redwoods

It was a hot late July weekend in Northern California—something of an aberration these days, and likely due to this El Niño year. I am an on-again, off-again, “born-again” Calligrapher, formerly very active with the Friends of Calligraphy, and wanting to rekindle my friendships and skills with this fantastic Bay Area group, founded in 1975 by a handful of very creative and passionate letterers. So many immensely talented artists from around the country and around the world contribute their time and their craft to this organization. I myself joined in sometime back in the ’80s and quickly gained a whole group of genuinely nice and inspiring friends.

Having been deeply involved in my post-secondary and high school teaching for so many years, and distracted by raising 3 kids with my charming, devoted husband, I had gotten away from the creative camaraderie that characterizes this group, and I wanted back in. So I volunteered to help with the production of the 34th Annual International Calligraphy Conference. Entitled “The Passionate Pen,” it happened to be taking place at Sonoma State University, just over an hour north of San Francisco. My good friend Marcia Friedman was co-organizing the event. She had plenty for me to do. My task was to spend two mornings at San Francisco International Airport, directing conference-goers to the shuttle buses that would take them up to the redwoods of Rohnert Park, and on the second day, to meet 3 world-class calligrapher-teachers and personally drive them to the conference. On the way, I picked up a fourth, Alan Blackman, at his home in San Francisco, and we had a merry time winding up Highway 101 to the resort-like campus.

Marimba Band
A concert by a local African marimba band comprised part of the opening ceremonies.

I attended only one day of the 5-day extravaganza, selecting a workshop in hand embossing by Loredana Zega of Slovenia. Loredana is a wonderfully talented lettering artist and performer, whose enthusiasm for her art is matched only by the fun she exudes while teaching, and the kindness she displays while helping workshop participants in their unique projects. Having never attempted embossing before, I learned quickly through her spirited demonstration, and came away with an original piece at the end of the day.

I had no pre-conceived project ideas, so the piece I ended up doing was very much on-the-spot. Since the piece would be constructed around lettering, I wanted to keep the words simple and concentrate on the techniques of embossing, and finally adding color to create a finished piece. I thought for a few minutes about what to write, and decided on the word “sun”—short, happy, and uplifting. So I wrote out the word using two pencils taped together to create a broad italic hand.

The next part was fun, consisting of transferring a pencil tracing of the word to the back of a piece of heavy board, next cutting out the letters with a X-acto knife, and then placing the stencil in reverse over the fancy Arches Wove paper that would be the final piece. (I had to be careful to position the negative spaces of the letters—in this case, the inside top part of the s—exactly where they belonged. For this purpose I retained the original lettering as a placement guide.) The next step was taping the reversed stencil onto the back of the paper for the final piece, and then putting cushioning material underneath, into which the embossed lines could be pushed. Then, using a ball embosser, I traced around the insides of the lettering stencil, onto the paper. I embossed the word “sun” at the top of the page.

Next, we were instructed to come up with a concept for a finished piece, including painting, lettering, and color applied to the surface of the paper, which would later be embossed over. This is where I applied the stylized sun design over the already embossed “sun” at the top, and then wrote out the rest of the wording in a mix of watercolor and white gouache, onto the unembossed part of the paper.

Loredana showed us how to emboss with medium pressure, going over the inside edges of the stencil several times to create a more pronounced line. She pointed out that less pressure and fewer tracings around the stencil created a softer, more subtle embossment, while firmer and more repeated tracings made for a more strident line. She encouraged us to experiment, varying the pressure and number of tracings.

If you look closely at the bottom of my piece, you can see that I have used the same embossing template three times, overlapping the letters vertically. The topmost of these is embossed the most softly, and the bottom is the crispest and sharpest. The middle word has a medium amount of pressure applied to it and a medium number of tracings with the embossing tool.

I don’t consider my work a masterpiece, but I was very happy with the result after only one day, especially as I had not done any lettering in years. I now know how to hand emboss, and I love how simple it is.

Loredana & Anne 2

This was an amazingly fun and creative event; the combined energy of all the artists was tangible and inspiring. I’ll have to find time to pull away from my other obligations to attend another conference in the future.

Mental Break

Lake at Arboretum

Hi faithful followers. It might appear that I have lost interest in blogging lately. Au contraire. I have been morphing into a new career instantiation: that of librarian. I am now a full-time high school librarian, working on a Master’s in Library and Information Science. I find it fascinating to be studying the science of information per se. Of course I have been on a somewhat steep learning curve with regard not only to the job, but also the technology. And it’s all about the technology. A large part of my job is to help adolescents become informed information users. While I love the job, and I see the need to educate students in critical thinking and analysis, I find the concept of teaching these kids technology a bit ironic. Let me explain why. I just finished writing a 21-page research paper on how to make libraries essential communities for teens in the 21st century. All of the research was about how teens use technology and how they find information.

The truth is that this is the first generation to be “born digital”–the storied Millennials. They do everything digitally. In fact, I rely on them to teach me how to use technology. Just today I learned how to use SnapChat. Tomorrow, InstaGram. And then … the world! The irony lies also in the fact that now that now that Google and YouTube and Wikipedia can find and teach you anything you want to know, libraries are looking for ways to remain relevant to users. The Internet is disruptive technology. We are in a state of redefining what constitutes information, where it resides, who makes it, how we communicate it. This shakes the very foundations of our cultural institutions, libraries being a major one.

Lots of libraries are now creating “maker” spaces for the public in general, and adolescents in particular, where people get together and, well, make things. 3D Printers are becoming a popular item in libraries, partly because they fascinate with their novelty, and partly because they are fun. Partly, also, because they can replicate or create anything you can program them to “print”: machine parts, models, sculptures, dinnerware … I recently saw a TV program where a 3D printer was used to create a part to restore a headlamp in an antique car (which was then driven in the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run).One of the justifications for owning a 3D printer is that patrons can use them to create things they need and might not otherwise be able to obtain (specialized parts for a garden hose, a toy, a machine). One young man who had suffered an injury that took away some of his fingers even found plans for a prosthetic hand and was able to print one out and use it. (Amazing!) So access to manufacturing things on a small scale democratizes the whole idea of consumerism.

The semester just ended in my master’s program, so I’m taking a mental break for a few weeks.

Look for my posts again when I’m more caught up on my sleep! 🙂

red poppies

Encounter with a Dead Sperm Whale

(Warning: The photos and descriptions in this post are graphic and may be disturbing. Be advised.)

I had to go see it. It was news. It had happened in one of my favorite hiking/walking spots. And I love whales, anyway. I had never been up close to a real whale before, except last summer when I went up to Newport, Oregon with my family and was lucky enough to be within 100 feet or so of a diving pod of gray whales. But then, all I got to see were a few brief glimpses of them surfacing and then diving again, their graceful flukes displayed for a second or so before re-submerging.

I heard about it from my daughter, whose high school science teacher had told her about it in class: a whale had washed up on Sharp Park Beach in Pacifica. Scientists from the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito and the California Academy of Sciences had come out to investigate, and to do a necropsy.

They found the whale on April 14, a Tuesday. The brief news blip said the whale was beached at Mori Point—the site of an old inn, turned speakeasy in the 30s, that had since burned down. I wasn’t able to go see it until Sunday, the 19th. I drove over as early in the morning as I could, arriving in the gray mist of 10 a.m. Mori Point is at the end of a several-hundred-foot stretch of beach and embankment running along Sharp Park Golf Course, accessed from a parking lot at the north end. I stepped onto the beach and looked toward the other end to see whether I could make out the whale. There were a handful of walkers in the crisp morning air, dressed in layers as they performed their habitual workout. I peered out toward the large black rock marking the end of the point, where a 200-foot bluff rises up from the beach. I could see no sign of the large black carcass that had bobbed around in the news footage. Maybe I’m too late, I thought; the scientists may have taken the whale back to their labs at the marine center for analysis. Or perhaps the crashing waves of the rising morning tide had already taken it back to sea. No matter. I needed a good walk in the fresh air, and this, after all, was one of my favorite walks. I stepped onto the gravel walking path that parallels the beach. About a quarter of the way down the path, I heard the wheels of a vehicle on the gravel behind me. I turned around to see a U.S. Park Ranger truck slowly making its way to the point. I wonder what business they have here, I thought, as the ranger slowly passed me. It gave me hope that maybe the whale was still there, and they were checking up on it in some way.

Whale against cliffDog & Whale blubber

[The whale described in the news blogs was a sperm whale—the species chosen as the object of Captain Ahab’s obsessive vendetta in Herman Melville’s classic Moby-Dick. As it turns out, sperm whales have never exhibited any hostility toward mankind, and were severely hunted for their spermaceti oil, considered the finest oil for ointments, creams, pomades, and candles. Interestingly, they were hunted almost as much in the period following World War II as they were in the 19th Century, during both periods of which their populations were cut to approximately 30%. They are now considered a vulnerable species, as their numbers are slowly recovering.]

As I approached the end of the beach, I looked down at the foot of the cliff. I could see what looked like a long, grayish-pinkish rock formation along its bottom. A woman and her dog were walking around it, seeming to linger as they looked at it. As I got closer, and the pair finally went on their way, I could see the formation more clearly. No, it wasn’t rocks; it had the vague shape of a whale or large fish. Was this it? As I stepped down a small path onto the beach and got nearer, I could see that it was indeed what remained of a once majestic sperm whale, caught between an outcropping of rocks and the bottom of the cliff wall. It was laid out with its head pointing to the water, the length of its right side fully visible to beach walkers. I could see the massive fluke semi-buried in the sand at the other end. While its shape was generally whale-like, its skin seemed to be entirely gone, exposing the pink and gray mass of its flesh and inner organs—the work of the scientists and their necropsy.

Whale headWhale Onlookers


But what was grotesquely evident, even before getting close to the whale’s cadaver, were the huge, yard-long, one-to-two-foot-thick chunks of flesh, unceremoniously flung and scattered along the beach. Crows and gulls lighted on them to peck at a bit of blubber. Dogs regarded them gingerly. Apparently, the men of science had no sense of neatness or propriety. The small, picturesque beach at Mori Point looked like a battle zone, bespeaking a crude disregard not only for the creature that had been so callously butchered, but also for the people who regularly use and enjoy the beach, now defiled with this carnage.

The small, picturesque beach at Mori Point looked like a battle zone, bespeaking a crude disregard not only for the creature that had been so callously butchered, but also for the people who regularly use and enjoy the beach.

Looking again at the whale, I could see that on the side exposed to the beach, about half of the flesh—not just skin but tissue as well— was ripped away from it, and the grayish-pinkish color was the exposed, raw insides. The entire side of the animal that I could see was decomposing, drooping dejectedly into the elements. The jawline, abutting in a characteristic cetacean point, was pinkish-red and grayish-white, the thin bottom jaw having been removed. It was almost surreal. Grayish shapes that looked like sandbags were stacked in the middle of the creature’s body. Could they have been put there to weigh the animal down so it wouldn’t float away while they were taking tissue samples? As I came closer, I saw them buoyed and rocked by the riplets of tide that began to wash in around the huge corpse: they were massive intestines, reticulated in smooth, grayish folds. The smell was there, but not overpowering in the cool air. I felt a great sadness at the death of this noble, intelligent, social animal, likely caused by human insensitivity. I remembered hearing that the sound waves emitted while searching for offshore oil deposits are devastating to whales’ navigational sonar, and increasingly cause whale beachings and deaths. In fact, in the latest issue of the UK magazine New Scientist, whales fatally beached by human-generated noise pollution have been discovered to have not just ear damage, but brain hemorrhages. How sad a commentary on human insensitivity and destructiveness.

When I looked at the side of the poor beast that faced the rocks, I saw that only half of the skin and flesh had been removed on that side. I was troubled to see a tag spray-painted the length of the remaining skin, from left flipper to tail: “East Bay Rats Motorcycle Club.” What glory could they hope to find in further desecrating this poor creature’s body?

I took a lot of pictures of the poor beast, out of curiosity, scientific enquiry, and a need to understand. The tide was beginning to come in almost immediately after I arrived, so I had to work quickly. I took videos and even photographed a man who wanted his portrait next to the whale. I was so engrossed in my task that a small wave that lapped ashore got my shoes and the bottom of my pant-legs wet, with blood-tinged water.

As I turned to go, I was again confronted by the rectangular cubes of whale flesh scattered across the beach.

Turning away from the whale’s body, I looked at a low cliff dropping down from the embankment. There was a makeshift crucifix there, seemingly a memorial to the whale. But upon closer inspection, it turned out to commemorate a dog. “Best dog in the world,” it said, “We love you.”

The death of a dog, I thought, gets more concern and compassion than the death of our mysterious, maligned, magnificent ocean cousin. And as far as defiling the whale’s body goes, or general insensitivity, I don’t think the scientists behaved with any more class or basic manners than did the East Bay Rats Motorcycle Club.

Feet

feet

In honor of National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo) during the month of April, I am unveiling the following poem, inspired, probably, by Shel Silverstein.

Feet are good to walk upon

and good for running, too;

Without them very many things

would be quite hard to do:

like pedaling, kicking, standing, stomping,

wading through the goo;

like dancing, skipping,

skinny-dipping,

frolicking and fun;

playing piggy-toes and footsie,

and swimming in the sun;

and trekking, climbing,

double-timing,

lurking, lunking,

slam-dunking;

car driving,

snorkeling, diving,

bungee jumping,

bumper bumping;

hunting, planting,

lumbering, panting,

slinking, sliding,

marching, riding;

hang-gliding,

skipping, striding,

passing, blocking,

sleep walking;

base running,

engine gunning,

dunking, spiking,

boating, biking;

high jumping,

floor thumping,

volleying, serving,

steering, swerving;

dashing, fleeing,

springing, skiing,

skate boarding,

river fording;

beach yoga

in a toga,

lunging, stretching,

drink-fetching;

standing up and balancing,

or stretching out your toes;

or wearing shoes or sandals,

or snowshoes when it snows;

or socks or clogs or moccasins,

sneakers, skates, or cleats;

flip flops, or flippers; even bare

we love our feet;

Through blisters, cuts, and bunions,

twisted ankles, and stubbed toes,

our feet are always there for us,

just like our eyes or nose;

Digging into sandy surf,

on mud or grass or street,

our feet are here to ground us, so

appreciate your feet!

A New Economy: The Chocolate Standard

Moonstruck Chocolates

Why do people value gold so much?

I think the standard for wealth should be chocolate. It is much more nourishing, more coveted, and more satisfying. Do you ever develop a sudden craving for gold in the middle of the day? (or the night?) Does gold satisfy a deep-down need in your soul as it transits your tongue in serendipitous sweetness, bathing the back of your throat in warming smoothness, as it enters your stomach and fills the hollow of your being? I think not. But chocolate does. Chocolate is love. It is perfection. It is the answer to all prayers, the righter of all evils. Nothing gratifies as well. Nothing else delivers its promise so instantly.

No, gold is only a second measure of wealth, in that you can buy chocolate with it.

Imagine if the world economies shifted their wealth standard to chocolate. At first, people would fight over it, destroy the earth for it, horde and covet it, and lord their possession of it over others. But eventually, the chocolate would melt, get that powdery, grayish film on it, and decay. Mice would break into the chocolate coffers and nibble away at it.

You see, you can’t keep chocolate forever. You have to enjoy it when it’s in its prime. This knowledge would convince rich people to share their chocolate with others, rather than letting their investment waste away. There would be a self-limiting factor to this type of wealth: overindulgence in this commodity would lead to visible and palpable illness: bloating, weight gain, acne, tooth decay, and ultimately, diabetes and certain nervous disorders.

Over time, the wise (or anyone paying attention) would realize that wealth—chocolate—is a fleeting thing that must be shared in order to be fully enjoyed. Failure to distribute wealth would lead to grotesque body deformations such as overextended bellies, saggy butts, and craterous acne. Wealth hoarders would be easy to spot, and would bring shame upon themselves, and, even worse, be openly ridiculed. Fear of public derision would make everyone want to share their chocolate.

On the other side, those who had been shared with would be so elated (by both the generosity of the act and by chocolate’s pheromone-mimicking effect) that they would want to pass the experience on to others, creating over the longer term a sort of Economy of Euphoria. The exchange of chocolate would supplant all other trade, because when people are in a good mood, they don’t ask for collateral, don’t price-gouge, don’t mount hostile take-overs and leverage other people out of the market. They just naturally share what they have, and the good will that sharing creates makes others want to share as well.

Photo: Moonstruck Chocolates by Eszter Hargittai, 2009
Creative Commons License 

 

 

 

Banished Adverbs

Burbles

I book floor sunburst ant across keyboard Pleistocene basement pomegranate son Louis noose. feelings place door cave rat magazine. Smiles hair toothboat wind. Drama detergent.

 

(The above composition was written in response to a WordPress writing challenge (Writing 101) asking for a story with no adverbs.)

The Feral Cat Ladies

Cats in Pot 3

This is a sequel to “Open Your Eyes, Kitty!”, published on May 25, 2014 on Writewireless. It is basically a true story. Only the names and some of the details have been changed to protect the feral—and the domesticated as well.

When I heard the knock on my door, I thought it was someone else—wandering friends who show up occasionally. When I looked through the peep-hole, it could have been Jehovah’s Witnesses. Two ladies, casually dressed, on the other side of middle age. I opened the door. One had white, somewhat tousled hair, and was holding a long cage with a bowl of food at one end. Her face was soft and malleable and looked forgiving. Her companion was thin, with streaky gray hair pulled back into a severe ponytail.

Her voice was strident, and clung to the high registers like the nervous claws of an excited feline, ready to dart off at any minute.

Her long, drawn face looked dry, with faint, parallel wrinkles along her cheeks. Speaking rapidly in clipped tones, her vowels irritatingly sing-songy, the latter explained the urgency of their task in a rehearsed manner: “We are volunteers who save feral cats. We spay or neuter the adults and give them their shots. Then we release them back where we found them.” Her voice was strident and clung to the high registers like the nervous claws of an excited feline, ready to dart off at any minute. “We try to get the kittens before they get too wild, and we vaccinate and spay or neuter them. If they can be socialized with humans, we put them up for adoption. If not, we return them where we found them. We have to catch them at the right time, before their mother teaches them to hiss at humans. We always clip off the end of their ears after we fix them. We already caught the white mother cat and the little sickly white one. We know there are three more kittens in the litter. Your neighbor told us you have kittens in your backyard. May we put out a trap for them?” Her eyes darted around furtively as she spoke, as if sizing me up in some way.

Continue reading “The Feral Cat Ladies”