Thursday, March 28, 2024

Indiana Bones

Indiana entered my life in October of 2011.

He changed my life.

He moved with me, in all ways.

I moved from southern California to Northern California at the tail end of 2014, and my life changed dramatically within a year of my move. But Indy stayed with me, and he became my best friend and stalwart companion even when so much around me shifted. Reggie, the cat he had previously tolerated, became his dear companion, and three of us made a whole new home and community. 

He grew up alongside me.

He hiked with students, with neighbors, and with all kinds of community. He fell in love alongside me. He took on my stepkids as his own pack.

In the second half of his life, Indiana developed a new behavior. He would push his head into my thigh, asking to be pet. When I would stroke his long, velvety ears, scratch under his chin, and massage around his neck, his hackles would rise in pleasure. Always a defender of me and our home, his hackles otherwise rose defensively. But Indy felt love just as deeply as he felt a need to protect, and his body reacted accordingly. We called this reaction his Happy Hackles. 

He mourned Reggie with me, the only other creature who knew the depth of loss. When Reggie died, he found Reggie's small cat bed, pulled it down, and kept it close to him. Sometimes, he would sleep in it, curled in a tight ball in order to fit, just to be near Reggie's scent.

He aged with me. He hurt with me. He feasted with me--including eating half of one of my wedding cakes.

Everyone on my block knew Indy. When I told my neighbor he had passed, his eyes became wet. "He was a good guy." The best.

Indy's beloved dogsitter, A. Henderson, took this last picture I'm posting of him. His brown feet have become white, his muzzle and eyebrows silver, his nose freckled, but age has given him an understanding of humans, and his gaze towards all of us was full of love and companionship. He loved people.

I don't quite know what to do with myself in a life without you in it, Indy. I'll miss you forever, my loyal, generous, funny creature. I better understand love because you have existed.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

On Running: A Brief Playlist

Last year, after Indy grew too old to take the long hilly walks with me, I started running again. It didn't take too long for me to hurt myself, and I spent my spring and early summer working through physical therapy to strengthen up so I could get back to it. (New Body Rhumba, LCD Soundsystem)

By late summer I was running regularly, and now, late winter, it's part of how I think about myself.

Because there is nothing like running for me. 

I don't run fast. My left knee twinges and probably always will. I have mild bursitis in one hip, but I stretch well, and it certainly isn't getting any worse. My knees won't let me run down my steep hill or even walk down it if I'm going to follow that with a run, so I drive down my hill, park at the bottom, and run the flats of my neighborhood in circuitous routes around parks and schools, along our neighborhood's high street, and past all the ice cream colored row houses. I can run four or five miles without feeling like I'm going to die, and I smile when I run. I do. I am so happy to be running even though I'm lame at it. (Soy Yo, Bomba Estéreo)

It's a love affair, running and me.

When I run, I love the man walking the three legged chihuahua. The guy at the bus stop who always yells "nice Beats" at me, even though they're not Beats, but $35 hand-me-down headphones. My neighborhood's high street: Mexican food, a variety of dim sum, a funny furniture store with velvet covered cabinets, the banh mi shop, the sadly defunct bar that hosted Scott's and my wedding reception, the little bodegas with really good bananas. My friends who live down the hill and their little girl who has a penchant for wearing a unicorn horn on her walk home from preschool. Other friends and neighbors, their cars and waves, their dogs on leashes. Each body I pass carries such a big life. (Billions of Eyes, Lady Lamb)

I run with my head in the air, looking where I'm going, not at my feet. A boy I dated in college used to tease me about walking head-up, never looking at the ground. He couldn't believe I wasn't tripping over everything all the time. The truth is, I trip all the time, he just never witnessed it. I fell down a whole flight of stairs on a family trip to England; I tattooed my thigh with my keys on a fall a few years ago in McLaren Park; I slipped down my deck stairs a couple weeks ago and landed so hard on my right butt cheek that it bruised the entire cheek, resulting in a butt that looked, according to Scott, like a blood orange. I have been well-taught: every horse trainer I've worked with through my life spent with horses has told me that looking down instead of ahead is just looking for a place to fall. So I look ahead, and when I fall, it's a surprise every time. I'm okay with that. (Can't Run But, Paul Simon)

When I run, I hear music in the best way, with my whole body. My breathing is in the rhythm of what I'm listening to, my legs moving with my breath and my heart. I can't think about work or family. I can only think about my run and the music in my ears. I'm consumed by physicality. Dancing is running's only competition. It is a place without a place, a feeling with no home other than my senses. (No Cars Go, Arcade Fire)

When I cross an east-west street on my run, the afternoon sun throws my shadow across the street, long and lean. I've never been lean and I am happy with my round butt, but I like that look of my shadow, too: so strong, striding across the intersection. I love my body, imperfect and aging. It works. (Masterpiece, Big Thief)

I'll keep doing it as long as I can.

Here is the playlist again:

1) New Body Rhumba, LCD Soundsystem

2) Soy Yo, Bomba Estéreo 

3) Billons of Eyes, Lady Lamb

4) Can't Run But, Paul Simon

5) No Cars Go, Arcade Go 

6) Masterpiece, Big Thief

P.S. I've written about my relationship with running before, but fifteen years ago, at a time when I had a very different relationship with my body.

Tuesday, July 04, 2023

It's the berries!

McLaren Park, the big park of the southeast corner of San Francisco in which I walk almost every day, is is kept in a state of loose order. Trails are cleared, fallen trees cut and new ones planted, and playing fields mowed. Poison oak allowed to grow? Nope. Most everything else that makes itself comfortable there? Yes. It is home to redwood groves and eucalyptus forests, open meadows and scrublands. Tucked into its center is an old green house (green house, not greenhouse) where the maintenance team keeps their offices and a large, fenced vegetable and fruit garden. Most of the fruit in McLaren Park, however, is outside of that fence. The park is full of blackberries.

Blackberries are in the rose family, clearly evident in their thorns, caning habit, leaf structure, and flowers. Two species of blackberry compete for superiority in McLaren.

This is a Himalayan blackberry, Rubus bifrons. It is a vigorous invasive plant that can take over whole hillsides if there is even a little water available. Himalayan blackberries have five (sometimes seven) leaves on each stem, arching canes with large recurved thorns, and relatively large white flowers.

Most of the berry thickets south of Mansell, the biggest road that splits the park, are Himalayan blackberries; there are also other large thickets on the park's eastern edges, and of course, near the "lakes" and the spring.

This is California blackberry, Rubus ursinus. It has three leaves instead of five on each stem, slender thorns that stick straight out of the canes, smallish white flowers, and the whole plant grows a little lower to the ground than the Himalayan blackberry. While the plants will grow with little water, they won't produce much fruit without access.

Most of the California blackberry I have found in the park is north of Mansell, near the two "lakes" or fed by spring water. In the park, I have only seen it growing in partial sun.

Both Himalayan blackberry and California blackberry produce very tasty fruit and every August and September, I fill containers of fruit to munch on and cook with.

But, they're not the only two varieties of Rubus in the park. There are others that are causing me a lot of delight as I try to figure out what they are.

Consider this, which looks to my eye, like a boysenberry, a hybrid of a bunch of different Rubus, including Rubus ursinus. Is it? Or, is it a different hybrid that emerged from the crossing of ursinus and bifrons? Or a crossing of one of the two and the maintenance team's berry bushes from behind the fence? A fence won't stop a bee. I have only seen one patch of this type, growing in a willow thicket fed by the spring. Its leaves are big and floppy, its fruit over an inch long, and its thorns slender.

And what about this one? It has smooth leaves, usually three per stem, completely thornless canes, and bright pink flowers. I've found several large thickets of them on either side of the meadow near Gambier Plaza. Could it be some kind of cross with a Rubus canadensis, a thornless berry? How would that cross even happen? And, where did that pretty pink flower come from?

In some cases, a couple varieties grow all tangled up together, like this.

I'm sure there are those who would like all the berry bushes gone in McLaren, replaced by well-tended flower beds or more pickleball courts, both of which are good, important things. But so is all this undefined wildness. Something inside me has to observe and and seek out plant patterns, then question and research. These Rubus thorns (or lack thereof) scratch me in ways I need. 

Thank you, maintenance team in the old green house. You keep the park just right.

Monday, June 12, 2023

Early June Wildflowers of McLaren Park


Lupinus nanus (unpollinated), Sky Lupine

Lupinus nanus (pollinated), Sky Lupine

Choloragalum pomeridianum, Soap Plant

Leptosiphon grandiflorus, Large Flowered Leptosiphon

Aesculus californica, California Buckeye

Lupinus arboreus, Yellow Tree Lupine

Lupinus arboreus, Yellow Tree Lupine

A mass of Triteleia laxa, Ithuriel's Spear

Triteleia laxa, Ithuriel's Spear

Eriogonum latifolium, Coast Buckwheat, in foreground and Allium peninsulare var. franciscanum, Franciscan Onion, in background