Morning Visions

Waking heavy-limbed, my first conscious thought is If we were not meeting Sally and Molly at the beach this morning, I would surely sleep for another couple hours.

But we are meeting Sally and Molly, so up I get and Marcia gets up, too.

I splash some water on my face and traipse through the quiet house to my office, and espy a beautiful doe just outside my window, her browsing ground so very dry, and at least another month until the rains come, if they come. As I take her picture, I am keenly aware of how parched the earth.

in the Cotswolds

On my computer I find an email from Marion in England, recently returned from trekking in the Cotswolds. She has sent several pictures of what are called kissing gates, clever designs that allow humans to pass through, but not livestock. I’m glad to see things are not so dry in England.

Vito in Switzerland

In the same email batch is a missive from Clare, Marion’s daughter, with pics of Vito looking happy to be in Switzerland. Though I miss Vito and Clare and Nick, I’m relieved they are living in Switzerland now, away from the fires and smoke and political chaos and rampant pandemic in California and America. The Swiss have been quite successful, so far, in containing the virus and political chaos.

baby lettuce

I visit the orchard before we leave for the beach, and I’m pleased to see our final lettuce planting of the year is coming along nicely, the big tub keeping the babies safe from voracious redwood roots.

nearly ready

The apples look ready to eat, but they are hard as rocks and will need another two weeks to ripen before we pick them.

Molly at river’s edge

Big River Beach is half in shade when we arrive, the air wonderfully free of smoke. Hallelujah. Nine in the morning, the air is already quite warm, and I think ahead a few days to the weekend and the predicted heat wave that will bring thousands of people from inland towns and cities to the coast.

Molly in Big River foam

Molly chases her ball out into a great expanse of foamy surf, and I think of the arctic ice sheet breaking up and melting away as it will now more and more every year.

emerging from the waves

Molly’s exuberance lifts my somber mood. Hurray for life!

Molly in the river

We walk up river to complete our morning sojourn, and Molly has one last swim in the green blue waters of Big River before we head for home.

Morning Prayer


our farewell visit

This was my last conversation with Vito before he and his parents left Mendocino for their new life in Switzerland.

Vito: Todd, I want to tell you something about my mind. Every second I remember everything that ever happened to me. And then the next second I remember everything again.

Todd: And you can talk to other people and eat apples and play with your friends while you’re remembering?

Vito: I do it at the same time. My mind is just always remembering everything.

Todd: I remember things about my life, but not everything.

Vito: Do you remember when you were 6?

Todd: I remember what I got for my sixth birthday.

Vito: What did you get?

Todd: A puppy. I got to pick her out and I named her Cozy. (I describe Cozy)

Vito: What did you get when you were seven?

Todd: I think maybe a bicycle.

Vito: How about when you were nine?

Todd: A bow and arrows.

Vito: Could you shoot an arrow higher than those trees? (points at giant redwoods)

Todd: Not as high, but almost.

Vito: How about when you were eighteen?

Todd: My mom gave me her electric typewriter.

Vito: What’s a typewriter?

(I explain)

Vito: How about when you were forty-nine?

Todd: Hmm. Possibly a new frying pan.

Vito laughs.

Ceremony of the Child


Vito’s Birthday Surprise

an adventure starring Vito, Jeremy, and Doofus

There are three best friends named Jeremy, Doofus, and Vito. They live in the same neighborhood. Doofus likes building interesting wooden structures and eating pizza. Jeremy likes playing Frisbee and singing. Vito has a big workshop and likes building machines and engines. They all love hunting for treasure.

One day Jeremy comes over to Doofus’s house and says, “Hey Doofus. Guess what happens five days from now?”

Doofus thinks for a moment. “The sun comes up. We ride bikes. I take a bath. We have pizza?”

“I mean something special,” says Jeremy. “Something about Vito.”

“We go on a treasure hunt?” asks Doofus. “And then go get pizza?”

“Maybe,” says Jeremy, “but that’s not the special thing.”

“Tell me,” says Doofus, frowning. “My head hurts from guessing.”

“It will be Vito’s birthday,” says Jeremy. “Let’s make him something really special.”

“Like a giant pizza?” says Doofus.

“Better than that,” says Jeremy. “A super duper treasure-hunting machine.”

“Oh but Vito is the best machine builder in the world,” says Doofus. “He’s the smartest, strongest, fastest, and cutest. How could we ever make a machine as good as the machines he already has?”

“Well, I don’t know,” says Jeremy, “but I think it would be fun to try.”

So they get lots of wood and bolts and nuts and build a structure as big as a giant house and they put forty-seven wheels on it. Now they make twenty-four engines with levers and gears and wires and batteries and attach them all over the inside of the structure.

“Wow,” says Doofus, admiring their work. “Let’s have a pizza break.”

After a lunch of delicious mushroom and cheese pizza, they get back to work.

They add five digging arms, a big saw arm, a telescope, wings, propellers, and a control panel with seventy-nine buttons and forty-three dials and nine screens.

Now they take the machine for a test run and fly down to the beach where they dig a giant pile of sand and using the special sculpting arm they create the biggest and strongest sand castle ever made that no waves can ever knock over.

In the sand castle they make bedrooms, a kitchen, a dining room, a living room, and a gigantic playroom with swings and a slide. They like the sand castle so much they decide to live there. They build a second sand castle where they keep the machine.

Now everything is ready. On Vito’s birthday they go to his house and tell him they have a surprise for him if he will agree to be blindfolded so he won’t know where he’s going.

“Sure. No problem,” says Vito, letting them blindfold him. He’s so smart he guesses they are taking him to the beach. When they get to the beach, they remove his blindfold and shout, “Happy Birthday!”

And even though Vito could easily build a bigger and better sand castle and a much bigger and better machine, he really likes the ones Jeremy and Doofus made for him. Now they go into the sand castle and there are lots of people waiting to shout SURPRISE!

Now everybody sings Happy Birthday to Vito and they have a huge birthday pizza followed by ice cream and chocolate cake. On the cake are five lit candles. Vito makes a wish and blows out all the candles with one breath.

“What was your wish?” asks Doofus.

“I wished everybody in the world could be happy,” says Vito.

“Yay!” says Jeremy. “That’s the best wish of all.”

The End


Ongoing News

These three beautiful does are sisters. Seen from our north-facing living room window, their mother is partially visible far left center, obscured by the deck railing. The four of them come to visit us every day and are not terribly afraid of us if we keep our distance.

We don’t feed the deer, though I occasionally throw an apple core out there for them. The resident ravens know of these occasional apple cores and frequently get to them before the deer come around again. Our neighbor Defer does feed the neighborhood deer, which explains why many of them make his yard their base of operations.

Every year, save for one of the eight since we’ve lived here, the mother of these three does has given birth to twin fawns. One of these three young does gave birth last year for the first time. We have yet to see any fawns this year, but the time is fast approaching when fawns emerge from their nests to follow their mothers about.

 As reported in a previous news report, I am splitting rounds of bull pine and stacking them to dry. This is a view of the stack from the west.

And this is a picture of the second track of pine that will soon be as high or higher than the stack to the left. I stack firewood this way to create lots of air space around the pieces to hasten the seasoning process. We want that wood ready to burn when we move it into the woodshed six months hence in October.

This is the most recent jigsaw puzzle Marcia put together. I helped a little, and by a little I mean I placed three or four pieces where they needed to go. Marcia very much enjoyed assembling this jigsaw puzzle and I found it delightful to walk by and see our precious world coming together.

This is Vito the day before he turned five feeling happy about getting to preview his birthday cupcake, photo courtesy of Vito’s mom Clare. Vito is my story pal. We talk on the phone every day since I can’t visit with him in-person due to the dang virus. The phone visits started out with me telling him versions of stories we invented together before the pandemic and those stories have evolved in all sorts of surprising ways since the daily phone sessions began.

These stories all involve three boys who are best friends: Vito, Jeremy, and Doofus. Vito is quick to point out that the Vito in our stories is not him, but another boy who just happens to also have the name Vito. And purely by chance, I’m sure, the Vito in these stories is possessed of intelligence, strength, and magical powers second to none.

This is a picture of Vito’s dad Nick. For Vito’s birthday, Nick arranged a Zoom gathering. Vito’s aunts and uncles and grandmothers and grandfather and friends came together on a dozen computer screens in California and Philadelphia and England to wish Vito a happy fifth birthday. We watched Vito open presents and eat a birthday cupcake. We also watched each other watching Vito.

I took a picture or two of the screen during the Zoom party. I found the experience both sweet and strange. This new way of gathering holds little appeal for me, though I did enjoy seeing all those people focusing their loving attention on Vito.

Later on Vito’s birthday, Nick and Clare drove Vito over to get his birthday presents from us, those presents being two of the Vito-Doofus-Jeremy adventures printed out in large type for his folks to read to Vito and for Vito to read when he is a little older. They brought birthday cupcakes and a jigsaw puzzle of England for Marcia.

Vito was sequestered in the car and Marcia and I were wearing masks at the start of the visit, but eventually Vito negotiated his release and got out and ran around and climbed on things while we kept our masks on and maintained the required distances between us all. A fun visit, minus hugs at the end.

Vito and his mother and father are moving to Switzerland in a few months to live there for many years. They are eager to make the move, but enjoying their last few months here in Mendocino. We are hoping to have a few more in-person visits, however brief, before they depart.


Undivided Self


Standards by Max Greenstreet (click on image to enlarge)

“I would suspect that the hardest thing for you to accept is your own beauty. Your own worth. Your own dignity. Your own calling to learn to love and allow yourself to be loved to the utmost.”  Alan Jones

I recently made a recording of thirteen of my songs, and when I first listened to the recording I experienced what I’ve always experienced when I hear my own voice: aversion.

I’ve only ever liked my voice when I’m pretending to be someone else. When I used to hear recordings of my readings of stories, I would cringe. Why? And why do so many people dislike the sound of their own voices?

Well, I don’t know about other people, but I know I haven’t liked the sound of my voice until very recently because I have had a deeply divided self since I was an adolescent. Yet I wanted to sing for people and read for people and make those recordings, and I continued to do so despite disliking the sound of my own voice. Why? Because many people told me they loved my singing and reading, loved my performances. Why was my self-perception so dramatically at odds with the perceptions of others?

And what do I mean by the divided self? I mean that the various parts, seen and unseen, conscious and unconscious, composing who and what I am have rarely worked together harmoniously; and more to the point, parts of my psyche and my neurological system have been in dire conflict with each other for most of my adult life.

I’ve been in therapy for the last ten months with an excellent psychotherapist, and to summarize the work we’ve done together in the fewest possible words, I would say I have been learning how not to be separated from my essential self, how not to be a collection of divided parts, but a unified being.

So I decided to listen to the recording of my songs a second time, only this time I would listen as a person who is no longer divided. Before I fired up the stereo, I said to myself, “Every part of who I am appreciates every other part of of who I am. Everything that makes me what I am is unified, and this unification empowers me to transcend my old patterns of self-abnegation.”

Headphones on, I press Play, and the music begins. Solo guitar. Lovely. Now the voice begins to sing. I listen with no expectation of aversion, and I can honestly say that until this moment I have never actually heard my voice. What I heard before was a voice muffled by shame and confusion and impossible expectations, drowned by the din of voices telling me to be someone other than who I am.

Now I have no problem with the part of me that made this recording, the person singing with this voice. What’s more, when I record these songs again, I will be able to really hear myself singing, which will make the experience new and exciting and enjoyable, and give me much more control of my instrument, so to speak.

Thus the revelation is that my dislike of my voice was not a dislike of my voice at all, because I never actually heard my voice. My dislike of how I sounded was something taught to me by other people when I was a child and when I was becoming an adult. I learned to reflect and mimic the disapproval of my parents and teachers and societal elders. My self-hate was not original with me, but copied from others. No wonder I kept singing and performing and writing. Some part of me refused to believe I should hate myself. How amazing!

So to celebrate liking my voice, I made a new answering machine message, and wouldn’t you know it, I sang the message.

Speaking of liking our voices, our friends Clare and Nick and their son Vito, who is three, were here for the month of August and I had a few play dates with Vito and his grandmother Marion. We had endless fun with a big box Marion saved in our garage specifically for Vito’s visit, and wheelbarrow rides also figured largely in our agenda of Important Things To Do. But my favorite game with Vito was a game called Here I Am.

I’m standing on the deck at the bottom of the nine steps leading up to the garage. In front of the garage is an ivy hedge about three-feet high. Vito disappears behind the hedge and I say, “Hey, where did Vito go? He was here a minute ago, and now he’s disappeared.”

Hearing the feigned alarm in my voice, Vito dashes out from behind the hedge, stands triumphantly at the top of the stairs, spreads his arms wide, and proclaims, “Here I am!”

To which I respond, “There you are!”

After a few delicious moments of basking in the glory of being seen, Vito dashes behind the hedge again and disappears from view.

“Hey, where did he go? He was just here and now he’s disappeared again. What’s going on? Is Vito some sort of magician?”

Vito dashes out from hiding again and shouts, “Here I am!”

There he is, the undivided self, thrilled to be alive, thrilled to be seen, thrilled to be engaged in the marvelous game of life.

Nowadays I’m using my memory of Vito standing at the top of the stairs, smiling in delight, his voice ringing with clarity and sureness, whenever I feel the divisions beginning to reassert themselves inside me. I imagine a three-year-old Todd standing where Vito stood, arms open wide, singing, “Here I am.”

He is unburdened by feelings of shame or failure. He has never felt he wasn’t good enough. He does not feel inadequate or stupid or wrong. He is there. He is recognized. He is loved for being his undivided self.

And being undivided, with the greatest of ease, he can give his love to others and receive their love.

Undivided Self

Undivided Self photo by Todd