Fire escape

Fire that’s closest kept burns most of all.

William Shakespeare

Stuck inside. The air is a blanket of nothing but smoke and fog.

California is burning at both ends and I haven’t opened the windows in my house in almost a week. The one day I did go into the office, I took Lyft both ways. The first driver kept staring at me in his rearview mirror. I stared out at the haze, but I could still see the rim of his glasses out of the corner of my eye, and it made me uneasy. I finally figured out he just wanted to chat, but his English sentence construction was so bad, and his car so filthy, that I couldn’t wait to get to work. There’s a first. On the Lyft home, I could tell the driver smoked as his car smelled like an ashtray. My head throbbed.

On the days I’ve been working from home, I leave nuts out for the crows, and a small amount of water in a dish as I know they are all parched. Both the crows and the eastern grey squirrels are getting more bold; they don’t immediately bolt when I get close, as they know I am the purveyor of all the nutty goodness. It’s such a thrill to be that close to a squirrel, only its head peaking over the side of the fence. We have a staring contest that lasts a few seconds, and then it goes back to playing its game of peek-a-boo. It’s a welcome delight that is fleeting.

My hands are so dry. My trees are limp and starting to drop their leaves, but there’s no beauty in it. No moisture to mark the coming of winter. So we wait, and maybe go a little mad. When can we breathe again?

Such strange dreams at night, too, born of anxiety. Last night I dreamt I dipped my feet in a stream, and as I did three fish appeared, and I was happy. Then, one of the fish bit my foot, and as it clung I lifted my foot out of the water. Someone snatches the fish away, its rainbow body writhing, mouth agape. I knew, out of water, the fish would die.


“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will ensure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” – Rachel Carson, “Silent Spring”

Sometimes I sit in my front room and let the darkness envelop me. I don’t watch the sun go down; I let the dark slowly wrap me like a grey blanket. It’s always the same view — the dried out sycamore, the streetlamp that lights it up at night, and the wires that obstruct the view of the airport and the bay.

If I walk my dogs instead, I walk into the dark. Less light makes my neighbors’ colorful doors more vibrant, and dried lawns become desert patches. Before all the stars come out, the sky is a cornflower blue, peppered with stratus clouds.

There are fewer bird calls now, just the sound of the ravens and crows returning to nest in the eucalyptus. If I’m lying on my ancient couch, I tune in to whatever calls I can identify, and let them lull me into a restless sleep filled with strange dreams.

One night I dreamt that I opened my kitchen door to see a lone pigeon staring up at me, with smooth gray feathers and an inquisitive golden eye. I couldn’t bear to close the door, so I woke up instead.






“The first — killing the Angel in the House — I think I solved. She died. But the second, telling the truth about my own experiences as a body, I do not think I solved. I doubt that any woman has solved it yet. The obstacles against her are still immensely powerful — and yet they are very difficult to define.” — Virginia Woolf

Lately I’ve been so up in my own head with work that when I go outside I have to force myself to look at the world. So, I’ve started naming things as I walk…tree, roses, leaf, sign. If I don’t do this my walks are daydreams, lacking so much presence that I have to refocus.

I don’t know what to say today, so I’ll lead off with that. Lately my head has been hijacked by to-do lists and narcissists and the endless opinions about how to deal with narcissists. Kick them in the privates was one piece of good advice.

I’m ideal bait for narcissists and mean people in general. They see my kindness as weakness, and they rent space in my head. I’m always hyper-vigilant, whether there’s a threat or not, but this just compounds it. And I spent most of my waking hours today determining how to deal with it. And just for a few seconds I feel sorry for said people, and then I snap out of that really quick.

Many mental disorders are induced by acute stress or traumatic events. And heap on top of that a lack of community, very little vacation time, and you are a recipe for obesity, physical and mental illness. One of my fun little mental quirks is spartanism — I sometimes get so obsessed with getting rid of things that it becomes compulsive, and I have to CBT my way out of that mess. I’m hoping I don’t end up with a home with no furniture or lights, but I don’t think I’m quite there yet.

It seems that animal mental illness can be triggered by many of the same factors that unleash mental illness in humans. That includes the loss of family or companions, loss of freedom, stress, trauma, and abuse.

This is most easily seen in animals that are held in captivity. I would argue that many Americans are captive — owned by their phones, their jobs, fear of missing out, and not enough stuff, or the right stuff. Maybe my spartanism is a way to say “you don’t own me,” and yet the compulsion does. Yet, maybe I’m trying to strip away to truth and bone.

I’m not usually referential but I need to explain my Virginia Woolf quote. You see, after reading Rebecca Solnit’s essay that included this quote — it was like a sucker punch, an arrow through the heart. I’ve so wanted to be myself for so long, this quote floored me. I can solve. I can be more than how society defines me, I can just be myself, angel or not. It’s so simple, yet as Virginia Woolf says, the obstacles against us are still immensely powerful.



The colony

“Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don’t they should, for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers.” ~Ray Bradbury, “Dandelion Wine”

Several weeks ago, on the ever-persnickety website Nextdoor, someone freaked out because they had some bees in their backyard.

It’s still beyond me that every question today has to be crowd-sourced, that we don’t trust ourselves enough to do the research on our own. However, the thread turned out to be useful, because shortly after it was posted, a colony of honey bees  moved inside my Catalpa tree, finding a crack in a hollow.

My gardener (David) told me they were there, and that he would be careful with the blower around them because he “fuckin’ doesn’t want to get stung.” As he shared a few other stories of “almost got fuckin’ stung,” a ground squirrel popped his head out of my lawn and David focused his homicidal tendencies toward it, reminiscing about the creative ways he’s killed them. I reminded him that I pay him extra each month to not kill the ground squirrels.

Anyway, back to the bees.

Ever since my friend Tina started beekeeping several years ago I’ve stopped being afraid of honey bees. The few times I sat in her backyard filled with fruit trees, chickens, and bee boxes, I loved the serene way they floated in and out, making their honeycomb. The bees in my tree are no different. In fact, I got very close to the opening and watched them  go in and out for several minutes.

Honey bees collect pollen and nectar from flowers as food for the entire colony, and as they do, they pollinate plants. Nectar stored within their stomachs is passed from one worker to the next until the water within it diminishes. At this point, the nectar becomes honey, which workers store in the cells of the honeycomb.

The one thing that surprised me, though, is that bees don’t live very long, just a few months. And bees that are dying are taken out of the hive by other workers and dropped several feet away.  I’ve watched them clammer back over the dead lawn, only to die on their return, or be eaten by a wasp. One afternoon I watched a wasp eat the body off a honey bee, leaving the head. I have to say I was a bit mortified.


I am breaking your heart


Well, now,
if little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you little by little.

If suddenly
you forget me
do not look for me,
for I shall already have forgotten you.

~ Excerpt from “If You Forget Me” by Pablo Neruda

I sit with blood, and I am tender. I really see the moon tonight; half out, half dark. I keep the glass door closed, though I want it open. I am cold, and I ache.

I know this will be another night she kicks me, my long-legged dog who sheds too much and insists on sharing my bed. Her dreams and her heat will make me throw off my socks and sweatshirt, or fall out and move to the cold pillow on the other side.

But I’ve gotten used to her, this shared intimacy with no strings and no words. I’ve gotten used to her long body, and she is comforting.

And when she is gone, she will be gone. I don’t usually grieve too long.

My friend says that people come and go, that who is in your life always changes. But when they go, I sit in heartbreak.

I watched my old friend cross a city street the other day, and I stared at him begging him to see me. But he’s all up in his own head, so I hung my own and kept walking.

The single butterfly, the baby dragonfly. So tender when they appear their wings are like silent breaths, tears. They visit, then disappear.







A sighting


Photo by Kitty Terwolbeck:

Much of human behavior can be explained by watching the wild beasts around us. They are constantly teaching us things about ourselves and the way of the universe, but most people are too blind to watch and listen. ~Suzy Kassem

When my Saluki, Grey, fixates on a creature outside, his growl is terrifying. To keep him from ruining the front window with his nails, I sometimes have to pull him back to draw the shades. When you touch him in this state, you can feel the rumble in his fur. It’s primal, and sometimes I think he’s going to whip around and bite me.

It’s been a quiet spring, but I’ve been seeing more starlings than usual. Though I have to check again, I think they are trying to make their nests in the neighbor’s Eucalyptus, where the wrens were last season.

There used to be a season for everything. You could count on when the finches show up at your feeder, and October was always skunk month. You couldn’t walk outside late at night or at sunrise without getting a good whiff. I learned to check for the scent the hard way, when my Greyhounds were skunked not once, but twice. It’s a different smell than the roadkill smell — it permeates your sinus and there’s no escape, for weeks.

I was feeling uninspired, staring out at the sycamore, and thinking how still everything felt. I could just make out the planes over the airport, turning into moving stars as it got darker. And this is still a game I play at night with the window open — plane or star?

And there it was. A skunk. In April. Yeah yeah, I know they live year round somewhere.

It was beautiful. I saw him leave my neighbor’s yard, disappear behind a car, then walk across the street toward us. It might have heard that I was leaving out peanuts, was my guess.

Grey rumbled. I had to close the drapes, but then I snuck out the back door to see if I could still see the skunk. I got on my tip toes and peered over the fence, but he was gone, not even a whiff.




Loneliness adds beauty to life. It puts a special burn on sunsets and makes night air smell better. ~Henry Rollins

This morning a sparrow came to visit me; he stood on the back fence and waited for me to move so he could feed on any leftover nyjer seed or small flies in my backyard. The sparrow species in the area are numerous, and you have to know what season their plumage is in to make an identification, and even then sometimes you’re wrong.

Silent days are always met with interjections: The screaming kid two houses down, the sound of a pinball machine in the front room, and the sound of my own brain, always looping.

The day is bright and warm, high 60s with a chance of boredom. It’s days like this that the animal kingdom enjoys the sun on their backs and Americans drink. Americans drink every day, for whatever reason. But we’re so afraid of being bored because that means we have to get creative, and the truth is that’s how creativity is born. Because inside we’re all still children and we’re bored with each other, so we make up things that will give us that dopamine hit, like sex, alcohol, and drugs. We’ve lost a sense of community and connection, like when you meet that person who really “gets you” and you get that hit in the best way.

I couldn’t figure out why I was so opposed to apps that would help me organize, help me meditate, help me be calm, tell me where to eat, how to get there, and reconnect with my friends. And I figured it out — I’m not calm because I’m not meditating or listening to rainforest noises, I’m agitated because there is an unrest and a loneliness in the world that can only be solved by connecting. Forget humans, I believe they are irretrievably broken. I mean, we spend our entire lives trying to fix ourselves, and what if there’s nothing to fix?

When I looked into the sparrow’s eyes I see something whole but otherworldly, a messenger. A silent reminder to connect.

I reach out to my friends or have the occasional interaction with a coworker or someone at a local store. I know I’m going to be one of those old ladies that bores the shopkeepers because she’s lonely, but that’s if there are any shops left. As Greg Brown once wrote “as the world becomes one big bland place” as soon enough there won’t be any plazas, just a world staring into a screen, begging to be understood. I think we’re already there, at lightning speed.

It’s physiology folks…we can’t undo hundreds if not thousands of years of relying on each other for our basic needs, but we’ve become these weird semi-bots, obese and needy and grasping for something outside of ourselves, but not grasping for one another. We can’t formulate replies in real time as it’s too risky, and interactions are forced and unsatisfying.

Wind chimes. That’s it. They make a melancholy sound. The earth has become so still some days I never hear them.