Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Cutting Down

I cut down a large shrub, almost a tree this weekend. I still have a few more to go.

This one, the first tree to go in my yard, was slow. I cut off all the branches I could to reduce the weight. Using bungee cords, I put some pressure on the tree in the direction I wanted it to fall. I cut a notch out of the falling side. With a band saw, I cut and cut, then came the sharp crack and swoosh of the remaining leaves as the tree fell.

Cutting down trees, even to give me more sun and space, makes me a little melancholy. It's a life and a home and a silhouette that will never be again. To counter this twinge, I use as much as I can from the trees I cut. In previous yards, the small branches served as pea sticks for bush beans and flowers that needed support, and the trunks served as firewood. The felled trees supported and warmed. In this yard, I'm saving the long, elegantly shaped trunks with a few branches on them. I'll use them to build trellises for runner beans and sweet peas. This weekend, I spent a lot of time looking at the first trunk I cut, examining how layers of papery bark fit against each other, how the tree's grain twisted gently through its years of growth. All of this carbon coming together in this particular shape, all this energy, it really is a miracle. This trunk will be in my yard for years to come, just in a different function, supporting a different beauty.

In my world, a tree is never simply a tree.

My friend is dying. In the fall of 2015, when what I had previously understood of stability slipped from my feet, in that very same week, she received her diagnosis. We worked together every day through the school year last year, laughing, crying a little in the beginning, but laughing a hell of a lot more, all the way into the summer. She taught me the practical bits of librarianship, the cataloging, the book sources. We decided together the experience we wanted our students to have when they entered the space, and we made big changes to what had previously existed. The library is a happy place we crafted for ourselves and our students. With the joy in work she shared with me and that we kindled together, I know I can continue to make big, positive changes in the library and the school.

This summer, her sickness worsened, and by November this year, she could no longer continue working and had to leave our daily laughter.

She's a physically small person, and each time I see her, she's smaller. Her spirit and humor are as big as ever though, and when I visit her we talk and laugh until she runs out of breath for words. "What's the scoop? What's the news? What's the juice?" she asks when I arrive. So I tell her what's happening with me and we gossip about work, but we also inevitably end up talking about her death, too.

She is looking at her life now, examining how it has turned and branched, her role as mother, wife, sister and daughter, businesswoman, and eventual high school librarian. She's reflective. She's reading a lot. A few weeks ago, when I visited her, she gave me the latest book she had loved reading, Neil Gaiman's Ocean at the End of the Lane, a book about the wonder of childhood, nostalgia, mystery, and celebration of the unknown. I loved reading it, too.

She is teaching me to die gracefully and appreciatively.

She says she hasn't lit the world on fire. I don't agree. I tell her that her daughters are building mighty flames, and dammit, I am, in my own way, too. She held the match for me.

Sunday, January 22, 2017


I've been doing some research lately, of the online dating sort here in San Francisco. I've collected the following findings*:

  • 88.3% of straight men in their 40s who list themselves as eligible on dating apps include the phrase "I'm looking for my partner in crime" in their profiles. 11% of this group abbreviate the phrase to PiC.
  • 76.7% of men ages 37 to 55 include a picture of themselves doing one of the following activities: jumping out of a plane, skiing difficult moguls in expensive gear, climbing a sheer cliff, charging a giant barrel on a surfboard, or flying over a ridge on a mountain bike. 48.9% of this group include pictures of themselves doing more than one of the activities listed above.** 
  • 93.2% of men from ages 37 to 74 are looking for a woman "preferably in her mid-20s."
  • 37.8% of men over the age of 60 list themselves as being in their low 40s, but in their profile reveal their actual age, along with the following (or similar) statement: "I've listed myself as 42 because that's how I feel, and my friends say I look and act young."
  • The word "adventure" appears at least three times in 73.2% of listed profiles.
  • The older a man is, the higher the chance he will include a picture of himself sitting on a parked motorcycle. 
  • In the profiles of men in their 40s who say they like to read, 85.3% mention the Oxford comma. Only 23.0% of this group use a comma anywhere in their profile.
  • 65.1% state they prefer "meeting in person" to "endless messaging." 52.8% of this group flake out on the dates they arrange with potential connections.
  • When meeting or talking on the phone with a potential connection for the first time, 38.9% will spend the entire time talking, never asking the potential connection a single question.

*These numbers, though exaggerated, aren't as far off as you may think.

**I apparently live in a city full of adrenaline junkies. That's fine. I appreciate adrenaline. I also, however, enjoy reading, cooking, and conversation, among many other non-adrenaline producing activities. The junkies I've been out with appear to struggle unless they are getting their fix.

This sounds miserable, I know. But it isn't. I've actually been (mostly) having fun. People are fascinating, and since I have no deadlines, a date that doesn't go anywhere is not a failure. Instead, I've discovered great bars and restaurants, and I've grown confident in my straightforward exit strategy: "Thank you. I've had a nice time, but I know we're not a connection."

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Meadow Rx

At the home on the edge of the Southern California canyon where I lived for a while, I had a meadow. It was small, it took a while to grow in, but it was a great pleasure to watch fill in and change, catching light and breeze. Here, at my new home on the slope by the bay with skyscrapers and the Bay Bridge rising to the north, I need another meadow. I need a place that adds to the peaceful beauty of my yard, a place where Indy can sit in the sun, that needs little water, that moves with the frequent singing wind, and in which I can tuck bulbs that will poke their petals up like surprise satin gifts throughout the year. Lawn? No way—this is so much better, and I don't need to mow it.

Over my winter break, I've been working on making this happen whenever it isn't raining, but it's been raining a lot so my progress was slower than I liked. I pulled out two banks of rosemary because no one needs that much rosemary. The previous owner, probably in an effort to make the yard look tidy quickly, laid solid white plastic sheeting—not landscape cloth—under a deep layer of mulch. While no weeds can grow up through the plastic sheeting, no water can run through it either, and I want my soil to absorb as much water as possible into the underground aquifer, rather than lose the rain as it runs off into the bay. So, I've pulled lots of plastic sheeting out in preparation for planting. In the corner of my yard, under the robust manzanita tree, probably the selection Dr. Hurd (tall for a manzanita and covered right now with plentiful white flowers), I have worked to install the small meadow.

Unlike the very drought tolerant Carex praegracilis I planted as the backbone of the meadow in the dry Southern California yard, I've planted Carex pansa and lots of it; it is more appropriate for my current damper climate. Right now it looks like bad hair plugs, but it will grow in.

I bought the Carex pansa plugs at Bay Natives nursery, a nursery on the far eastern edge of the city, tucked up against the lapping waters of the San Francisco Bay. There, loose chickens and roosters strut and play soccer with snails, landscape-clearing goats talk happily to each other in the pen near the fruit and vegetable plants, James Taylor blasts over the speakers, and feathers are everywhere, settling over the large propagation area and flitting between the gravel stones in the parking lot. (As a side note, I really, really don't like James Taylor. I had a roommate who would play him every time she was depressed which was often during that period of her life, so in my brain, his music means deep sorrow. I try to avoid it whenever possible. But I won't hold James Taylor against Bay Natives. The nursery offers so much that brings me joy that it easily wipes out the residual gray attached to him.)

Tucked among the Carex plugs, I planted narcissus, ipheon, alliums—all necessarily gopher resistant—some California native bulbs and perennials, as well as lots of poppies. This meadow of mine will probably be too colorful its first spring. But, after having been hungry for my own soil again for so long, I want all the flowers. I may have to edit over time, but this will at least let me know what works well here.

Some people need live music fixes, frequent hits of adrenaline, or a tri-weekly doses of SoulCycle to feel human. Those are pleasant experiences for me, but not necessities. As for me, I'm a dirt junkie.