Archive for July, 2013

Earth Of Foxes

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

earth of foxes

Fox Kit photo by Marcia Sloane

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser July 2013)

“‘Men have forgotten this truth,’ said the fox. ‘But you must not forget it. You become responsible forever for what you have tamed.’” Antoine de Saint-Exupery

“The baby foxes are here again,” says Marcia calling to me from her studio across the hallway from my office.

We have a large old plum tree growing on the north side of our house, and in this first year of our residency the tree has gifted us with several hundred sweet red plums, which are ambrosia to deer, appealing to squirrels, and irresistible to a trio of baby foxes who visit the tree daily, scampering around in the branches like monkeys and going way out on the spindly limbs to get at the fruit. There is nothing I would rather do than stand in our living room and watch these tiny foxes, aptly called kits, climbing around in our plum tree doing their utmost to reach the sugary orbs.

Speaking of aptly named, the little canids have inspired me to read a bit about foxes, and among the many things I’ve learned about these delightful creatures is that one of the names for a group of foxes is an earth of foxes. Other expressions for gangs of foxes are a skulk of foxes, a leash of foxes, and a troop of foxes, but I much prefer an earth of foxes for the implication of what the earth once was and might be again if only humans would stop fracking and over-populating and despoiling everything.

Where did the expression an earth of foxes come from? According to my trusty Oxford English Dictionary, one of the definitions of earth is the underground lair of an animal. Since a fox den can also be called an earth, and since almost all groups of foxes are composed of family members, it would follow that a group of foxes emerging from the same earth within the earth might poetically be called an earth of foxes.

“All the intelligence and talent in the world can’t make a singer. The voice is a wild thing. It can’t be bred in captivity. It is a sport, like the silver fox. It happens.” Willa Cather

Curious about Willa Cather’s use of the word sport in the above quote, I looked up the word and found she used sport to mean a surprising mutation, an animal that deviates markedly from its parent stock.

We have been trying to think of a good name for our two-acre homestead ever since we moved here nine months ago, but nothing struck a loud and unanimous chord until the baby foxes arrived and we realized there is an earth nearby where the little cuties were born. Given that our house and land sit in something of a hollow, we have settled on the name Fox Hollow, which, if not particularly original, sounds just right to us.

Speaking of foxes in the plum tree, Marcia has now produced twenty jars of delectable plum jam from plums that the foxes, squirrels, and deer were unable to reach before I picked them. The labels on the jars read Fox Hollow Plum Jam, July 2013, Marcia & Todd. What a tree! Who knew? Well, the deer and the squirrels and the foxes knew, and now we know, too.

 “It’s the movies that have really been running things in America ever since they were invented. They show you what to do, how to do it, when to do it, how to feel about it, and how to look how you feel about it.” Andy Warhol

When I was a little boy and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I usually answered cowboy or dump truck driver. I pronounced cowboy gowboy and dump truck drive dump twuck dwivoo. When I was twelve-years-old I saw Jacques Cousteau’s then-amazing movie The Silent World and became so enamored of Monsieur Cousteau and his oceanic adventuring that I decided to become a marine biologist. By sixteen I knew without a doubt that I wanted to be a writer musician actor movie director, but in order to appease my parents who disapproved of such frivolity I told them and their inquiring friends that I wanted to be an anthropologist. I then dutifully majored in Anthropology during my brief stay in college, though I spent most of my time at UC Santa Cruz playing basketball, throwing the Frisbee, and writing poetry and short stories.

When I left the womb of academia and parental support, I began to write novels and practice the art of screenwriting. I was an avid moviegoer and considered seeing movies on the big screen a fundamental part of my life, not only because I was an aspiring moviemaker, but because the great movies of the 1960’s and 70’s were exciting and inspiring myths that helped fuel the counter culture in that revolutionary time. A Thousand Clowns, If, King of Hearts, Coming Home and dozens of other popular motion pictures gave us fascinating stories and compelling visions of men and women stepping away from the suffocating conventions of the old world order into much less restricted lives, an ethos that rejected militarism and stifling sameness and sexism and racism, while promising…well, we would find out!

I was determined to carry on the great tradition of humanist film artists who used this most powerful medium to show us possible ways we might live and relate to each other more lovingly and creatively as we roamed the cosmos on spaceship earth. Movies, the ones I loved and the ones I aspired to make, were heart-opening visions of personal change and resurrection starring all kinds of different kinds of people shaking off the powerful controls of their selfish lizard brains to escape the clutches of our violent greedy lizard-brained society and become emotionally, psychically and sexually liberated lovers with great senses of humor who walked lightly and tenderly upon the blessed earth.

As you undoubtedly have noticed, the lizard-brained humanoids who now control mainstream media as well as most of the side streams, no longer allow movies modeling social revolution and sharing the wealth and living lightly on the earth and rejecting materialism and embracing gender and racial equality into your nearby multiplex or onto your television screen or computer screen or phone screen. No, the movies we are allowed to see today are the quantum opposite of those movies we went to in the 1960’s and 70’s and inspired many of us to break away from the deadly gray sameness and stultifying hierarchies that ruled America in the 1950’s.

When my first novel Inside Moves was published in 1978 and was subsequently made into a film, I made the erroneous assumption that more of my novels and screenplays would soon become movies, too. But while two other works of mine, Forgotten Impulses and Louie & Women came tantalizingly close to being filmed, nothing more of mine has ever (yet) reached the silver screen or any other sort of screen.

However, despite the twenty-year delay in selling my growing stack of novels and screenplays, I have continued to write scripts and books I think will make fabulous movies. Indeed, just last week, hungering as I often do for a good new movie, and finding nothing of the kind to eat, I put on a little film festival and read five of my screenplays in three days, watching those movies on my mind screen as I turned the pages. Wow! They were exactly the kinds of movies I long to see. No wonder I wrote them.

Having made a multi-year study of the current movie scene by watching movie trailers on my computer, while skipping hundreds of trailers for horror movies, I know perfectly well why none of my scripts and stories have yet to attract anyone with sufficient clout and cash to make them. My movies are not about super heroes, vampires, zombies, murderers, gangsters, morons, aliens, bimbos, or materialistic narcissists and amoral sociopaths and their hapless victims. They do not feature painfully shallow dialogue, car chases, massive gunfire and explosions, the constant objectification of women, gratuitous violence, or toilet jokes. Instead, they model challenging funny sad dangerous transits through and away from the emptiness of self-serving separateness into the emotional and spiritual fullness that manifests when we share our wealth, whatever our wealth may consist of.

Our plum tree would make a perfect recurring symbol in a movie I long to see. The leafless branches in winter giving way to the nascent buds of early spring leading to the fabulous eruption of blooms followed by the coming of the leaves, the fruit, the green orbs turning yellow and finally red, the myriad creatures sharing the fabulous bounty of the earth—a little fox balanced on the branches at the very top of the tree and dropping plums down to his runty sibling—thunder sounding in the distance on this fabulous earth of foxes.

Todd’s novel Inside Moves is now available in a beautiful new paperback edition at Gallery Books in Mendocino and at Mendocino Book Company in Ukiah and online from all the usual suspects.

Choices

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

marcia playing

Marcia Practicing photo by Todd

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser July 2013)

“There are two sentences inscribed upon the Delphic Oracle… ‘Know thyself’ and ‘Nothing too much’—and upon these all other precepts depend.” Plutarch

The Mendocino Music Festival is upon us once again, and that means several things to me now that I’ve lived in Mendocino for eight years. The village will be cloaked in fog for many days of the festival, a majestic white tent will stand upon the headlands across the street from Dick’s, my darling wife Marcia, who has played in the festival orchestra for all the twenty-seven years the festival has been going, will practice her cello even more diligently than she usually does, the village population will be peppered with sophisticated classical musicians from urban areas who have come here to play in the festival orchestra, there will not be enough Mendelssohn on the program for my taste (I love Mendelssohn), and there will be so much fantastic music to hear, both classical and otherwise, that it will be impossible to attend but a small fraction of the musical delights on offer.

On the day of the festival’s opening night concert, I walk to town in fulgent sunshine and wonder if this brilliant clarity will attend the concert tonight or whether the fog, hearing the orchestral strains emanating from the majestic tent, will swiftly come hither and blanket the headlands.

At the corner of Highway One and Little Lake Road, my path converges with that of a young white man with long blond Rasta locks, a bulging knapsack on his back, and two enormous dogs on rope leashes. As we wait together for the light to turn green so we might be among the living when we reach the village side of the highway, I say to the young man, “How you doing?”

“Not good,” he says angrily. “This fucking place doesn’t have a laundromat, so poor people can’t wash their clothes. Fucking elitist enclave.”

“Well, the problem as I understand it is that the village has a chronic water shortage and laundromats use an enormous…”

“Bullshit,” he says, as we embark on our journey across the five lines. “I lived here twelve years ago. I know all about this place. They just don’t want any poor people around here. In Israel they have laundromats that use hardly any water. They could get some of those. But they won’t.”

“I’m sorry,” I say, feeling the need to apologize for having a washer and a dryer and a good well that, knock on wood, has yet to go dry this year.

“And try hitchhiking with two big dogs,” says the young man, scowling at me. “Not easy.”

We part ways and I think to myself that the absence of a laundromat in the village is certainly unfortunate but also understandable economically and environmentally, while hitchhiking with two enormous dogs seems to be this man’s choice and not something imposed upon him by a cruel and unjust society. Then again, maybe he needs those dogs in order to feel safe in this cruel and unjust society, and from his point of view he doesn’t really have a choice about hitchhiking with giant dogs or not. Indeed, when I lived in Berkeley, I knew several women who owned large dogs for the express purpose of feeling safe when they went walking anywhere, and not just at night: anywhere any time.

“If you arrive early, you’re neurotic; if you arrive on time, you’re compulsive; if you arrive late, you’re hostile.” Kay Hannah

After I shave away my three-day beard, I exchange paint-stained shirt and trousers for much cleaner clothing, load Marcia’s cello into the trunk of our car, and chauffer Marcia and our delightful neighbor Marion Crombie, viola, down to the festival tent for the long awaited opening night concert. Both gals look beautiful and full of equipoise in comfortable but elegant black attire, and they both express quiet optimism that the concert, despite the absence of anything by Mendelssohn, will be a good one. Verdi, Prokoffief, and Rachmaninoff are on the menu, and the sun, miraculously, is still shining brightly as I navigate the crowded lanes of the village, the air vibrating with the collective excitement that composes the prelude to the orchestral miracle we are about to witness.

I was going to bring along my little silver transistor radio so I could listen to the Giants game before the concert and during the lengthy intermission, but I chose to leave the tiny thing behind so as not to appear gauche and insensitive and possibly more interested in baseball than in my wife’s life work. Tim Lincecum is pitching tonight, and the dramatic arc of Monsieur Lincecum’s career especially intrigues me. After a stellar first few years, the wunderkind has fallen on hard times and is now in the throes of trying to reinvent himself as someone with a fastball in the low nineties instead of a fastball in the high nineties.

Finding every parking place within three blocks of the festival tent taken, I commandeer a space near the post office and traipse from there through the lovely flower-infested grounds of the MacCallum House and down the walkway that begins behind the Mendocino Hotel and pops out on Main Street across from the fabulous festival tent. Seeing I have nearly a half-hour before the music begins, I wander down to the trail across the street from Out of This World and traverse the headlands to the cliff’s edge from where I look down on the shining water, the surface of the sea as calm as a lake on a windless day. Intoxicated by the glorious scene, I fall into a reverie about Felix Mendelssohn and Tim Lincecum and Sergei Prokofiev and Madison Bumgarner and Jimi Hendrix and Sergei Rachmaninoff, geniuses all.

Fortunately my reverie concludes in time for me to join the tail end of the pre-concert melee outside the grandiloquent tent where I bump into Sam Edwards who kindly invites me to join him in a glass of wine, his treat, but I demur because of my deathly allergy to alcohol. We discover we both have complimentary tickets for seats in the nosebleed section courtesy of our partners who play in the festival orchestra, and upon comparing our tickets we find that my seat is directly in front of Sam’s.

“See you in there,” I say, as the bell clangs to summon the masses to find their seats.

With a few minutes remaining before the trouble begins, as Mark Twain liked to say about his public appearances, I wander down the aisle to the epicenter of the tent to say hello to Peter Temple, our local sonic master manning the bridge of his audio Enterprise, so to speak, riding the soundboard controlling the microphones suspended above the stage where a hundred and twenty-some musicians are vigorously sawing and tooting and banging away on their instruments to ready themselves for the exciting adventure they are about to embark upon.

When I inform Peter that I have been assigned a seat way in the back, he taps the chair beside him and says, “Sit here,” and so I do—best seat in the house. Am I lucky or what? I have a clear view of Marcia in her seat next to Stephen Harrison, our superb Principal cellist, and I have plenty of room to stretch my legs and wiggle in my seat as much as I want while the music plays. Yes, I’m lucky, but I suppose I made choices along the way that made such luck possible. Do we make our own luck? Is luck really luck or the manifestation of karma?

The lights dim. Allan Pollack enters from the wings. The crowd erupts in applause. Allan steps up onto the podium, faces the audience, smiles radiantly, and bows. I’ve seen Allan conduct the Music Festival orchestra and the Symphony of the Redwoods orchestra dozens of times, and I always have the same three thoughts whenever I watch him conduct: 1. What a cool guy 2. He reminds me of Groucho Marx in the best sort of way 3. How does he manage to get all those people with their separate egos and divergent inclinations to perform so harmoniously and with such unanimity of feeling?

“A man has only one way of being immortal on this earth: he has to forget he is a mortal.” Jean Giraudoux

The concert a smashing success, the pianist James D’Leon triumphant over the monumental Rachmaninoff, Marcia and Marion in a celebratory mood, we arrive home to the news that Tim Lincecum just pitched the first no-hitter of his illustrious career, and I unashamedly burst into tears, having been cracked wide open by the metaphysical music and feeling Tim’s historic victory as a resurrection, both his and mine, however inexplicable that feeling is—proof of the interconnectedness of all things, the orchestra in that tent on the headlands supplying the quantum physical musical soundtrack to Tim’s remarkable achievement.

I find a video on the interweb that shows the final pitches of all twenty-seven outs recorded in Tim’s phenomenal game, including thirteen strikeouts and three great plays at Third Base by Pablo Sandoval and a truly miraculous diving catch by Hunter Pence in Right Field. I watch the twenty-seven outs twice and cry each time Buster Posey grabs Tim in a bear hug the split second after the last fly ball settles into Gregor Blanco’s glove, the ever stoic Lincecum breaking into the fabulous grin of a man who has finally conquered his greatest enemy—self-doubt.

Tapestry

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

Tapestry

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser July 2013)

“In individuals, insanity is rare: but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.” Friedrich Nietzsche

My brother sent me an email with a link to a page at Amazon where one can purchase, for just three hundred dollars, a Parrot Drone Quadricopter. This drone weighs four pounds and is twenty-three inches by twenty-three inches small and is equipped with a video camera. The drone can be controlled using an iPhone, iPad, and android devices. The four-prop drone records and shares video while flying. There were three hundred reviews by people who have purchased this particular drone, but I did not read any of the reviews because I feared one or more of them would include complaints about the limited bomb-carrying capacity of the drone.

 “There are only two dangers for a writer: success and failure, and you have to be able to survive both.” Edward Albee

A friend sent me an email suggesting I read something by a fantastically successful American novelist I had never heard of. I was not surprised I had never heard of this writer, as I read almost no fiction by living American writers. Why? Because nearly every time I give one of these writers a try, I am more than disappointed, I am horrified. I suffer from the knowledge of proper grammar and syntax, and when an author reveals in the first paragraph or first page of his or her novel or short story that he or she knows little about grammar and syntax, I find it impossible to proceed.

But when a friend emphatically recommends a writer, I will at least give that writer a look-see. Alas, this latest fantastically successful writer failed the grammar/syntax test before I was three sentences into his multi-award winning novel, and seeing that these failures continued regularly thereafter and were clearly not the fruit of an intentional stylistic choice, I gave up and went back to working on my own fantastically unsuccessful, but grammatically sound work.

“Democracy don’t rule the world, you’d better get that in your head; this world is ruled by violence, but I guess that’s better left unsaid.” Bob Dylan

A young professional football player named Aaron Hernandez has recently been arrested and charged with murder. The owner of the team he played for, the New England Patriots, assembled a group of reporters to announce that Hernandez had duped them by pretending for two years to be hardworking and polite while also proving to be a fantastic football player. Now it appears Hernandez was a gun-toting, drug and alcohol-using criminal who may have killed even more people than the one person he is accused of killing.

The owner of the New England Patriots was outraged that Hernandez was not the person that he, the owner, thought Hernandez was. Indeed, many people involved in professional football, a sport that celebrates violence and encourages players to try to severely injure each other, also expressed outrage that this young man, who grew up in an ultra-violent society listening to ultra-violent rap music and playing ultra-violent video games and watching ultra-violent movies that glorify gangsters and guns and senseless killing, might prove to be criminally violent.

“The two biggest sellers in any bookstore are the cookbooks and the diet books. The cookbooks tell you how to prepare the food and the diet books tell you how not to eat any of it.” Andy Rooney

Recent news suggests that the vast book-selling conglomerate Barnes & Noble may soon go out of business. In my youth there were only independent bookstores. Then the era of chain stores dawned and chain bookstores such as B. Dalton and Crown Books popped up everywhere and put many independent bookstores out of business. Then along came chains of giant bookstores such as Barnes & Noble and Borders and they put the chains of smaller bookstores out of business and put many more independent bookstores out of business. Then along came the interweb and Amazon and the advent of e-books, and Borders was wiped out and now Barnes & Noble is collapsing, which should portend a few good years for the remaining independent bookstores patronized by a shrinking number of people who are still willing to pay full price for books and have not yet converted to e-readers.

In the course of this swiftly evolving bookstore landscape, the personal computer became as ubiquitous as television, cell phones took over the world, and the proper use of grammar and syntax became a dying art, not quite yet entirely dead, but nearly so. And the amazing thing (amazing to me) about the pervasive misuse of our beautiful language in most of the books published in America today is that very few people are aware that anything is amiss with the writing they read.

Several people have responded to my lamenting the demise of good writing with eerily similar proclamations along the lines of, “I don’t care how good the writing is so long as I like the story.” This strikes me as deeply ridiculous, as ridiculous as saying, “I don’t care if there’s any water in the river, so long as I can catch some fish.”

“The one thing the public dislike is novelty.” Oscar Wilde

On July 9, 2013, NBC news reported: “New research shows the more pollution, the higher the health risks.”

That startling news brings to mind those feature articles that appear in Lifestyle and Home & Garden sections of Sunday newspapers everywhere and have been appearing in those sections every few months since the 1960’s, articles about an amazing new phenomenon called organic gardening. These articles invariably feature smiling people who have been gardening in this revolutionary new way for at least a year or so and just love the results. These radical gardeners don’t use pesticides or chemical fertilizers yet somehow still manage to grow vegetables and fruits that taste wonderful.

I wonder why it is that organic gardening is forever being characterized in the mainstream media as something new. I find this to be one of the great mysteries of my lifetime, every bit as mysterious as the constant rediscovery that walking is good for us.

“And this, our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.” William Shakespeare

When I was a young man, I read an obituary that had such a profound impact on me that I can still see the entire layout of the obituary in my mind’s eye. The large black and white photograph accompanying the long article was of a slender man with a long white beard sitting at a table and writing with a pen on a large piece of parchment. This man (I can’t remember his name) was famous for three things. The first thing he was famous for was that he had been one of several dozen people involved in a renowned (now forgotten) research project concerned with the relationship between human health and walking. The second thing he was famous for was the invention of a simplified English alphabet (now forgotten) that he believed would usher in an era of universal literacy that would in turn lead to universal prosperity. And the third thing he was famous for was that he lived until he was a hundred and seven and was mentally and physically fit as a fiddle until the last day of his life.

I don’t remember much about his simplified alphabet except that he had eliminated the use of most vowels, which struck me as a bad idea since I loved vowels, a love that continues to this day. I do, however, remember the details of the research project he was involved in that evaluated the effect of walking on human health. According to the obituary, when this man was in his sixties, he was in such poor health that his doctors declared he would soon be dead. He was obese, his heart was failing, he was anemic, pre-diabetic, his liver was shot, on and on. It was at this point in his life that he got involved in the research project with several dozen other elderly people who had also been declared hopelessly ill by the medical establishment.

The project required that these people take long walks every day, and by long walks I mean walks of ten and fifteen and sometimes twenty miles, with only occasional days off from walking. According to this obituary, nearly all the people in the study not only got completely well—theretofore incurable diseases and ailments literally disappeared from these people—but they all lived well into their nineties and beyond.

“There are seven different souls in each person: the mineral soul, the vegetable soul, the animal soul, the human soul, the angelic soul, the secret soul, and the soul of the secret of secrets.” Sheikh Muzaffer Ozak

Last night I dreamt I was helping Aaron Hernandez clear away branches hanging down into a small meadow where Aaron was going to be acting as a psychotherapist for people coming to him for help. We worked in silence, I doing the pruning and Aaron dragging away the branches. I felt peaceful and optimistic, and I had no doubt that Aaron would be a great help to the people who came to see him. Strangely, the more branches I pruned, the more branches there were to prune, yet I felt confident that we would soon get the branches cleared away and Aaron would be able to proceed with his work.

Interdependence Day

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

Todd Hudie Piano

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser July 2013)

A very large though not especially tall man is blocking the open doorway of Mendocino’s recently enlarged GoodLife Café and Bakery. This very large man is in his late thirties, I would guess, with short brown hair and wearing a white T-shirt, blue shorts, white socks and red tennis shoes. He is standing with his back to the outside as he shouts at his wife and two daughters inside the café. His wife is at the counter yammering at the patient woman behind the cash register, while his two young daughters rush around shouting that they are starving and don’t want to wait to start eating.

“Don’t eat those cookies yet,” shouts the very large man, as if he and his wife and daughters are alone in the wilderness and separated one from the other by great distances. “Wait until after lunch. Not a medium, Connie! I said I wanted a large. And I want my salad dressing on the side. Did you tell her I want it on the side? I said don’t eat those cookies yet.”

A line of hungry people wishing to enter the café has formed behind me, and a man in the line, also very large though not particularly tall, wearing a red, white and blue baseball hat, says to me, “Hey numb nuts. Yeah, you. Get a move on.”

“I would if I could,” I reply, refraining from calling him poo poo head or tiny balls or some other mean name, “but there’s someone blocking the doorway.”

I had already made two appeals to the very large man in the doorway that he please move out of the way, but he had studiously ignored me and begun to diddle his cell phone while continuing to yell at his wife and daughters.

“Pardon me,” I say loudly to him for the third time, “but I and several people behind me would like to enter the café. Would you mind stepping out of the doorway so we can get in?”

With great reluctance, the very large man turns to me. “We’re getting our food,” he sneers. “Do you mind?”

“What we mind,” says the not very large woman in line directly behind me, “is that you’re blocking the fucking doorway so we can’t get inside to get in the actual line to order our food and meet our friends.”

“What a bunch of assholes,” says the very large man in the doorway, moving a few inches to one side so we can just barely squeeze by him into the largely unoccupied café.

And as we squeeze by him, he continues to shout at his wife and daughters, and his wife continues yammering at the patient woman behind the cash register, and his daughters continue to screech, “We’re starving!” though their largeness belies their claims.

Finally having gained entrance to the spacious eatery, I find myself in line behind a woman studying the screen of her cell phone and speaking to the man beside her. “There’s a showing in Fort Bragg at one,” she says, “but it’s not in 3-D. The next 3-D showing isn’t until two-thirty.”

“Two-thirty?” says the man, grimacing as if someone has just slugged him in the stomach. “That’s like three hours from now. God, I hate small towns.”

Now someone shoves me in the back. “Sorry,” says a very large though not particularly tall woman. “I’m trying to read the salad list and you’re kind of blocking my view.”

“That’s because I’m kind of in line,” I explain, losing my cool, “and since I don’t want to trample the people in front of me, I thought I’d wait here.”

“Hey,” says the woman’s enormous though not very tall husband. “She apologized. You don’t have to be rude.”

Two gluten-free chocolate chip cookies purchased, I head for the exit and find the doorway blocked by a huge man and a large woman trying to decide if they want to come in or not.

“Excuse me, may I get by?” I ask, expecting one or the other of them to move aside, but neither of them moves because apparently neither of them heard me.

“Smells good,” says the woman, diddling her cell phone and staring at the little screen. “Let’s see if Yelp says this place is any good.”

“This is a very good place,” I say to them. “May I get by you, please?”

The man glares at me, but reluctantly moves aside. “Pushy pushy,” he mutters as I squeeze by him.

Welcome to Mendocino on July third, the start of the Fourth of July weekend, the town bursting at the seams with visitors who have come here to escape the inland heat and the hustle and bustle of their urbanized digitized lives, except they’ve brought their digital devices with them and their astonishing (to me) lack of civility and respect for anyone or anything other than their own individual persons.

Fortunately, right before I came into the village to get my mail and purchase the aforementioned chocolate chip cookies, I spent a wonderful hour on Big River Beach and had two remarkable (to me) encounters there that rendered my annoying experiences with those out-of-town visitors wholly unremarkable.

The first encounter was with a hummingbird that came to me as I was standing in the little waves on the edge of the ocean. Imagine my surprise to see a tiny iridescent rosy golden hummingbird hovering just a few feet from me, and my further amazement when she waited for our eyes to meet before she zoomed away. Wow I thought that was amazing, a hummingbird hovering right next to me on the edge of the ocean. And then the dazzling little bird returned, our eyes met again, and she zoomed away; and it dawned on me that maybe she wanted me to follow her.

So the next time she appeared beside me, I did follow her, crossing the wide expanse of sand to the cliffs that rise up to the headlands. There, in a grotto with walls adorned with wildflowers and flowering succulents, the hummingbird moved from flower to flower imbibing the precious nectar. Every few minutes, she would take a break from her feeding and come hover near me, looking at me for a moment before returning to the flowers. And after I had watched her for a good long time, she flew away out of sight.

The second encounter occurred twenty minutes later as I was making my way across the beach to climb the stairs to the village. I was heading for a log where I intended to sit and put my shoes on, when I heard a man and a woman calling, “Tina, no! Tina! Come here!”

I turned in the direction of their voices just as a beautiful brown dog came running up to me, a happy smiling dog who was the spitting image of my dog Cozy, my boon companion from my sixth birthday when I got her as a pup until the week before I left for college when she was hit by a car and died at the age of twelve.

Tina shoved her head up under my hand to let me know she wanted me to pet her, and I happily obliged. “Well aren’t you lovely?” I said as I petted her head and scratched behind her ears. “How nice of you to come see me. You are so sweet.” She held very still as I petted her, leaning against my legs just as Cozy used to lean against me, and then I cried for the first time in a long time, crying in memory of my childhood friend, in memory of my childhood, in memory of loved ones now gone, and for joy and sorrow at the beauty and poignancy of being alive in the world.

Dancing With Destiny

Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013

Fred & Ginger

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser July 2013)

“Do not blame others for things that you have brought upon yourself.” Alexander McCall Smith

Do we, indeed, bring things upon ourselves? Are we the masters of our own destinies or are we pawns of forces we have no control over? These are questions I entertain myself with while walking to town today.

Having learned from my trusty tide chart that there is a negative tide attaining negative zenith at 9:30 in the AM today, and being a lover of negative tides, I decide to begin my daily trek to the village by walking down to Big River Beach, communing with the oceanic sprits, and then accessing the village by climbing the seventy stairs from the beach up to the headlands and from there meandering along the little trail through blackberry bushes and wild roses to the Presbyterian church.

“But is this what I really want to do?” I wonder as I amble down the steepest stretch of Little Lake Road. “Or have forces I have no control over made me think this is what I want to do when, in fact, it is what they (whoever they are) want me to do?”

I make a left onto Clark Street and head south toward Big River Beach. I am excited about the prospect of exploring the mouth of Big River with the tide so low and…or is my excitement merely a trick of those forces that want me on that beach at that particular time because…

Two bearded men approach me, one holding a leash connected to a large brown dog. As they draw near I instinctively give them a wide berth, and I’m glad I do because the large dog lunges at me as they pass, and the man is barely able to keep the dog from getting to me.

“Sorry about that,” says the man. “He’s never done that before.”

“Well, I’m glad you have him on a leash,” I say, having heard that same He’s never done that before line from dozens of unconvincing dog owners.

The lunging dog behind me, I wonder what brought me to that place on Clark Street just in time to encounter a lunging dog? A few minutes earlier or a few minutes later, no lunging dog. Coincidence? Or are the unseen ones trying to tell me something? I dunno.

A hundred yards further along, I get a panoramic view of Big River Beach in the distance—not a human being in sight on the vast expanse of sand. I wonder why. Gorgeous day. Extremely low tide. Summer upon us. Where are all the people? Or where are some people?

And now for the most obviously dangerous part of my journey, a quarter-mile stretch of walking against traffic on Highway One down to Big River Road, which is the main entrance to Big River State Park. There is a wide shoulder here, but not wide enough as far as I’m concerned, as cars and trucks come hurtling toward the walker at sixty miles an hour, cars and trucks driven by people who are often oblivious to pedestrians. Having nearly been killed at least three times by people talking on cell phones while driving, I am extremely wary of putting myself in situations where such thoughtless people might kill me, but this is the most convenient way to get to the beach on foot, so I hug the inside edge of the shoulder and prepare to jump into the bushes should an oncoming vehicle appear to be making a beeline for me.

Arriving at Big River Road, I find the park entrance closed to vehicular traffic by several big white saw horses, three of which bear giant traffic signs reading EXAM UNDERWAY. I kid you not. The signs don’t say ROAD CLOSED or PARK CLOSED, but EXAM UNDERWAY. Seeing no sign saying DO NOT ENTER, I saunter down the steep drive to the beach parking lot and espy three uniformed park employees standing beside two white dump trucks. One of the employees, a muscular man wearing reflective dark glasses says to me, “Yes, sir. What can I do for you?”

“I’m heading for the beach,” I say. “Is that okay, or will I be disturbing the exam?”

“No, that’s fine,” he says. “We’re keeping vehicles out because we’ve got some folks undergoing heavy equipment operation tests, but we’re not using the beach.”

“Thank you,” I say, having solved the mystery of why there was nobody on the beach.

“No worries,” says the man. “Enjoy.”

Big River’s flow of fresh water is so little right now and the tide is so greatly withdrawn that I can, for the first time in my eight years of living here, wade all the way across Big River and back, which I do before wandering out onto the greater beach. A few folks have come down the stairs from the headlands, so I am not entirely alone on the vast expanse of sand, but nearly so.

As I follow the widening river to where the stream of fresh water meets the salty sea, an osprey plummets into the river and quickly rises into the air with a little fish in her talons—a breathtaking sight and reason enough to have made this trek to the beach.

I roll up my pants’ legs and wade out into the ocean up to my knees, the breakers perfectly formed for surfing, though there are no surfers in the water yet, no doubt kept at bay by the heavy equipment exam. The water is relatively warm compared to how I remember it being a week ago, and I smile at thoughts of going swimming in the ocean, one day soon if not today.

Finding a likely spot on a sandy slope some fifty yards from the water’s edge, I eat a breakfast of nuts and seeds and a juicy navel orange, and get out my notebook to write. A story grabs me and I have the feeling the hidden heart of the tale is the question of whether we are masters of our own destinies or merely pawns of forces we have no control over. And as I write, I think of Buckminster Fuller and his notion that wisdom is knowing how, after much experimentation and experience, to harmonize our efforts and actions and designs with Nature’s principles for our own good and the good of all people and things.

I fill several pages of my notebook, and when the words cease to flow I look up and see five surfers out in the water, one of them just catching a wave and having a lovely little ride. I also see several people walking on the beach, including a few who are both elderly and obese, which suggests the heavy equipment exam has ended and the parking lot is now open for business. There are mothers with children, a woman looking for rocks and shells, a man with a dog on a leash, and a woman with a dog not on a leash. Everyone is taking pictures with their phones. A woman strides by talking on her cell phone and I hear her say, “…yeah, it may go up some more, but let’s not get greedy and lose…”

Feeling nicely energized by the oceanic fumes, I traverse the warming beach and sit on a log at the bottom of the stairs to wipe the sand off my feet and put on my shoes. A ten-year-old boy wearing a Giants baseball cap comes skipping down the stairs ahead of his parents and shouts, “See? I told you! It’s perfect!”

I count the stairs as I climb, but right before I reach the top I lose count because I’m distracted by a homeless guy sitting on a log overlooking the beach saying to another homeless guy, “Seriously, man, I watched the game on my phone and LeBron was not to be denied.”

As I arrive at the Presbyterian parking lot, a dusty expanse the church generously allows the general public to use, I am met by a muscular young man with curly brown hair, his sternum adorned with a lifelike tattoo of a pink rose. “How you doin’, man?” he asks, frowning at me.

“Great,” I say. “Beautiful day.”

“Would you be interested in buying some hash?” he asks, nodding.

“No, thank you,” I reply, wondering what made him think the likes of me would want to buy hashish from him. Or maybe he asks everyone he meets if they want to buy hashish. Or maybe…I dunno.

I get a little cash from the ATM machine at my bank, Mendocino’s one and only bank, stroll to the post office and pick up the mail featuring this week’s Anderson Valley Advertiser, and transect the village to reach the hardware store where I buy three bolts to attach a vice to a table in our workshop. As I’m searching the bolt bins, two men down the aisle from me are having an animated discussion about a construction project. One of the men says, “You know, I think it might look better if we do that, but I’m afraid we’d be tempting fate. You know what I mean? I’d rather be safe than sorry.”

Home again. Gardening. Writing. Snacking. Practice the piano. Writing. Hours pass and evening approaches. Marcia has been away for two days concertizing in Santa Rosa and is due home for supper. What shall I make? I sit at my desk awaiting inspiration. I could heat up some rice and sauté some garden vegetables. That sounds good, yet I remain at my desk. I feel pleasantly ensnared, held in my chair by unseen powers. The phone rings. It’s Marcia calling from Boonville and suggesting she stop at Libby’s restaurant in Philo and pick up some superlative Mexican food. What do I think about that? I think Yes! and surrender to the beneficent spirits.