Monthly Archives: January 2023

Both Sides Now

Fridays baffle me.  After four days of work, my muscles sag like bags of pudding. I flounder through the house, unable to settle on any of the scores of chores that beckon.  Today held true to form.  I watched a couple of guys install my new generator, then took one of them to lunch in gratitude.  Afterwards, I spent too much time assembling its cover and making a video about it.  Later, as I ate dinner, I sat mesmerized in front of my tablet watching an amazingly talented woman who seems to do a ton of work while her husband films.  Needless to say, my clumsy installation of a generator running cover seemed significantly less impressive.

I make my videos on my cell phone.  Using the editing application, I bootstrap little segments into one movie.  My son tried to convince me to use an open source program but this process seems easier, if less glamorous.  I conceded professionalism many years ago.  I only ever have had one job regarding which I could claim that label and the discomfort I felt in navy blue suits killed the deal for me.  I’m an amateur; and I don’t mind.

As I scrolled through my cell phone looking for the bits and bobs of the afternoon’s activity, I realized that I had taken two shots of the trees above my neighbor’s house in the last week. I studied their stark difference.  A night sky; and the clear blue of today’s crisp January morning.  Both sides of a span of time:  The gloom of dark flooded with rhythmic hoots from the tall trees in the nearby meadow, and bright sunshine rippling with the noisy swell of geese in a neighboring field.  There’s something to learn from those two images.

Back in my other life, as a lawyer, I used a library table for my desk.  I didn’t like to place a wide swathe of imposing surface between myself and clients.  Even so, from time to time I went to the other side and sat. I saw what others saw.  My petite leather office chair; the wooden credenza on which my monitor stood; the photos of my son on the adjacent window sill.  I imagined myself, staring back.  Did they feel my sympathy?  Did I sound competent?  Did I seem. . . professional?  I’d stand and wander around the office, gazing at the paintings, the dusty windows, the toys in a corner basket.  I’d sit in the rocking chair and close my eyes, imagining myself in the grips of personal turmoil that necessitated a family law practitioner.  I would hold that understanding close, and take it back to my side of the desk.

The day has yielded to the night.  Dishes sit in my sink, waiting for me to summon enough energy to wash them.  Another Friday has eased itself into memory.  It’s cold in here.  I’ll make a cup of green tea, and snuggle into warm pajamas.  Before sleeping, though, I will stand in the open doorway and listen for the courting owls.  Then I will lock the door against the chilly air, and take my tea upstairs to the tiny bedroom of my tiny house.

It’s the twentieth day of the one-hundred and ninth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

 

Oh My Sister, I Hear You

At times, my own words fail me.  I fall silent.  I stand in awe; I cringe in pain; I gape in horror; I gasp in delight.  When feelings momentarily grip me with such ferocity that I cannot speak, I turn to the words of a kindred spirit from my native city.  Tonight brought such a moment. 

Oh, my sister!  I hear your voice.  Your song is my song.

It’s the nineteenth day of the one-hundred and ninth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Sunset: St. Louis
by
Sara Teasdale

Hushed in the smoky haze of summer sunset,
When I came home again from far-off places,
How many times I saw my western city
Dream by her river.
Then for an hour the water wore a mantle
Of tawny gold and mauve and misted turquoise
Under the tall and darkened arches bearing
Gray, high-flung bridges.
Against the sunset, water-towers and steeples
Flickered with fire up the slope to westward,
And old warehouses poured their purple shadows
Across the levee.
High over them the black train swept with thunder,
Cleaving the city, leaving far beneath it
Wharf-boats moored beside the old side-wheelers
Resting in twilight.

Pictures taken near the San Joaquin in the Sacramento Delta, sunset, 19 January 2023.  

All pictures copyright M. Corinne Corley 2023,

Every Goose A Swan

The drive to work takes me past the fields of Andrus Island, flooded now from a week of unrelenting storms.  I stop in a precarious spot and check my rearview mirror.  With a small regretful smile, I raise the cell phone and snap a photo.  Even my rudimentary Canon would take a better shot, but I have gotten out of the habit of carrying it.  I shake my head, glance in the mirror again, and shift into drive.

Later, I will scroll through the frames, squinting, indecisive.  Those could be swans, I  will tell myself.  A few years ago, I got a perfect shot of two trumpet swans in the slough, but an online stalker stole the images from my Instagram and blast them out across the internet.  Using the  photograph seems shabby now. I see it from time to time in random searches and want to holler, “I took that!”  But no one cares.  Anytime I think I’ve found another swan, I snap and snap.  But it’s never the same.

Indeed, I think these might have been swans though I’m no expert.  They could be mere geese putting on airs.  I look in the mirror and see a plump, dowdy woman.  But in her eyes lurks the slender lass of fifty-five with her promising middle age still ahead.  She thought herself a swan, like the birds in the pond of Mary Poppins’ park, grandly sailing by, convinced of their smartness.  She got her come-uppance though; but unlike the reluctant souls in that favorite book of my childhood, she’s never seen the virtues of her simple, honest self.

The shimmer of light on water lingered in my mind today.  It occurred to me that the birds might have fancied themselves at sea, rather than just on a few inches of rain in a muddy patch of land.  I paused overlong at the intersection, eyes staring sightless at the road.  Certainly, those water fowl — whether goose or swan — seemed content.  What difference did the shallowness of the water make to them?  The pure sky stretched overhead.  The air rippled with an earthy fragrance.  Beneath the surface,  tasty bugs wiggled in the muck.  Those swans drifted — and if in fact, they were not swans but geese, their drifting seemed none the less pleasant for their inferior status.

The sound of someone’s softly tapped horn shook me from my reverie.  I made the turn and headed into town.  Later, when night had fallen, I studied the photograph of the birds in the flooded field.  I am none the wiser as to their true nature, but I know they swam without the burden of a single care in the misty Delta morning.

It’s the eighteenth day of the one-hundred and ninth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

 

 

Clear skies, Delta sunset

The rain seems to have had its way with us and moved to other prey.  Giddiness overwhelms us.  We find ourselves walking with unbuttoned jackets, tossing our hats on the floor, and making plans for outdoor frolics.  

I drove home tonight in a heightened state of exhilaration.  The new generator (take two) only dragged on the gas mileage a little.  Soon enough some of my younger neighbors will hoist it from the back of the RAV4.  Then the knowledgeable ones will stand around and take stock of it.  The battery will slide into its notch.  A quart of oil and a gallon or two of gas will glug through nozzles into the belly of the beast.  I will hover at the corner of my house, out of the way but still close enough to express interest or encouragement, as need be.

We expect sunshine soon.  Perhaps one small storm will ride the skies into the Delta but by week’s end, we should be through at least the worst of it.  Only one small spot in the ten-mile stretch of levee roads on which I live showed enough signs of weakness for remediation.  We’re lucky; in times past, the levee adjacent to the park completely failed.  Andrus Island stood under water.  As I skirt the sandbags on the reinforced roadway, I picture the place as it must have been:  Cold water for miles; a shroud of heavy fog hiding the shambles made of the marinas by the tumultuous river; tireless first responders in motorboats hunting for survivors, or worse, for those who perished.

But we have been spared such brutality.  We live here at the pleasure of the water, and these few weeks of squalls reminds us that our homes lack permanence.  We walk the gravel road and raise our hands to people in the neighboring lots.  We call around, checking on each other.  We leave a small bag in our vehicles, in case we cannot return after work.  Such is the Delta life, in what passes for winter here.  

When the skies clear, and the glow of the setting sun kisses the hills, we stand in awe.  We would not have it otherwise; we take the good with the bad.  The glory of the sunrise far surpasses the uncertainty of the old bridges over which we must traverse to buy groceries.  I love this place in the billowy air of spring, the warmth of summer with its short burst of daunting heat, and the quiet promise of autumn when the cranes begin to make their way towards our fields.   The Delta charms me with her finery and so, I accept her at my door in tattered rags.  She does the same for me; how can I offer any less allegiance?

It’s the seventeenth day of the one-hundred and ninth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Things My Mother Never Taught Me

The other day, I watched three men stand in the stinging rain struggling to install my new generator.  One of them had just been out walking his dog and stopped to lend a helping hand.  The other two had volunteered.  All three live in the same RV park as I do.  Two also work here, though their job descriptions do not include helping their neighbors.  That comes naturally to each of them.

The area lost power as they completed the task.  One plugged the machine into my house and another tried the electronic starter.  I heard mutterings through the whistle of the wind.  I saw a muscled arm inside a soaked jacket pull the cord.  The machine roared to life.  We cheered and then split, diving for our respective homes.

An hour later, power restored, I stood outside grappling with the connection until one of the men saw me through his window and came to make the switch.

It turns out that the generator which I bought cannot run my house.  Though it could work using the  50 amp / 30 amp adapter, something about the type of heater that the builder installed and the way it is wired inhibits full functionality.  I sat in my house staring at the user book thinking, Why did no one teach me this stuff?  Like the good recovering Catholic that I am, my dark thoughts segued to self-recrimination for failing my son in the same way.

My mother didn’t teach me lots of things.  How to be 67, for example; she never cleared 60, so she had no insight to offer.  I could use a little help with that.  I’m letting the grey overtake the chemical color and my true age will soon be apparent.  I have no idea how I should act.

My mother’s father experienced considerable challenges during the depression.  Mom told a story about a failed investment.  He bought a bunch of beer and stored it in their garage, intending to sell it, hoping for a profit.  The temperature dropped.  I’m not sure at what point beer freezes, but freeze it did, and the bottles exploded.  I knew my grandfather as a strong man, soft-spoken but reliable; sturdy and solid.  As my mother told the story in her low, husky voice so like his, I pictured Grandpa at the side of that garage, hand on the doorframe, staring as his meager savings seeped across the dusty concrete floor.

My mother never taught me how to deal with grief except by adopting the same stoic stare that her father must have worn in the days following that small catastrophe.  If Mother cried, she did it after dark, or in her car on the way home from work, or in the bathroom.  Nobody had invented the term “process” when it might have done some good for us.  We didn’t discuss what we faced.  We put our best feet forward.  We sang as we roamed the darkened neighborhood well past bedtime, waiting for our father to pass out so we could go home.  My mother told us, When my children walk down the street, I want people to say, ‘See those Corleys:  how they love one another.’  She linked arms with a child on either side of her and we strung out in a chain, four on one side, four on the other.  Or maybe just six of us, split into groups of three.  The little boys might not have yet been born.  

The list of things that I don’t know how to do would fill an old-fashioned phone book.  Out here in the west, on the banks of the San Joaquin, my shortcomings loom large.  I know nothing about electricity or plumbing. I can’t hitch a trailer.  Despite forty years of law practice, I didn’t realize that my insurance policy excluded flood damage.  But city life with its intricate social interaction posed just as many obstacles.  I never learned small talk, the art of dressing for a party, or how to apply make-up.  I couldn’t mow a lawn or follow a budget.   

My mother had a certain sixth sense, though; and sometimes I think I might have learned to listen to my inner voice in the way that she did.  I remember a stormy summer Sunday.  She sent one of my brothers to the store for batteries so we could play the radio.  A few minutes after he left, a siren wailed as an ambulance rushed past our house.  Without speaking, my mother rose and walked coatless out the door into the rain.  She followed the sound of the siren to the place where her oldest son had crashed into another vehicle and sat dazed on the side of the road.  I’ve had moments like that, when the phone rings and I suddenly know what tale of woe the long-distance line will convey. 

The wind has stilled.  The rain seems to have paused.  The power held; the lights never even flickered.  A sense of calm seeps into my tiny house.    Light streams through the transom window as the clouds lift.  A distant hum tells me that the storm has moved to the east; another one might yet venture inland from the ever-present sea.  But for the moment, we are safe.  I close my eyes.   I think I hear my mother calling.  Yes, ma’am, I whisper.  I’m still here.

It’s the fourteenth day of the one-hundred and ninth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Stormy Skies

So far, owning a generator has turned into a $1,200 hassle but I intend to remain cheerful.

The Lowe’s third-party vendor delivered the thing at 10:30 a.m. today, in a rainstorm.  My kind neighbor Tom got it ready for use about ten minutes before the power went out.  Alas, for reasons I cannot reconstruct, I had not purchased gas.  

Fifteen minutes drive-time brought me to the Ace in Rio Vista, where a clerk about to go on lunch break walked me over to the gas cans.  He and a younger man stood debating whether I could lift a filled 5-gallon can into my car.  The first fellow shook his head and spoke with a candor that I could see he regretted.  “Not with the way you wobble, ma’am, to be honest.”  I bought it anyway.

I had just finished paying when a voice inquired if I intended to take that can back to the park.  Another angel stood behind me, clad in a yellow slicker and holding a bundle of purchases that turned out to be for someone else.   I grinned at him, called him by name, and asked what brought him to Ace.  I should have known that Rod would be buying supplies for other moderately helpless people in our park.  He glommed onto my gas can and said he’d fill it when he did the others on his list and would see me at home in 45 minutes.

As the rain quickened, Rod along with Ken from the next lot struggled with the 50/30 adaptor and the plug to my tiny house.  I could do nothing but stand nearby, water running down my cheeks and frizzing my hair.  A few minutes later, we shouted “Hoorah!” and everyone ran for cover as the Westinghouse 3700/4500 roared to life.

By two o’clock, I had discovered that the new generator didn’t run my electric heat and that I was supposed to have bought something called a “generator running cover”.    When the power returned at 3:00 p.m., I ran outside to switch the plug from machine to local pole, which it turns out my hands are not strong enough to do.  A few frantic waves brought Ken back to rescue me.  An hour after dark, I finished reading the dire warnings about leaving your generator outside in the rain.  Clutching the (standing still) cover against my chest, with a stout walking stick in one hand and a flashlight in the other, I braved the wind to creep around the side of the house and drape plastic over what I was learning to call my thousand dollar baby.

That electric heater hums.  I’ve finished a book, eaten some jasmine rice, and ordered the right protection for this apparently delicate piece of machinery.  It arrives on Tuesday, unless I find one at a local vendor before then.  I’m praying for clear skies.  I’m researching options for a diverter plug.  My muddy Blundstones stand by the door, beneath the damp wool bomber jacket and cloche.  I have fought back tears that nearly always threaten; and suppressed the endless urge to regret reluctant choices which steered me to this solitary life.  

A friend recently told me that I had no right to grumble about power outages in rural California since I had voluntarily left the city.  “First world problems!” he hissed onto my Facebook page.  “You chose that life!”  He is not wrong.  The reasons that I chose this path made sense at the time; and in calm, clear moments, they still do.  So I will take the stormy skies with the spans of blue.  I hope that an afternoon of rumbling in the rain has not damaged my new generator.  But if by chance it has, I will figure out my next move.  For now, I am warm.  My belly purrs with pleasant fullness.  Cool water sits in a blue tin cup nearby.  The lights hold steady.  I will survive.

It’s the eleventh day of the one-hundred and ninth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

One Day In Between

I’m amazed at how readily I glommed onto a lack of power as an excuse for not finishing my chores.  At 11:30 p.m. last night, a storm crashed onto our island and the whole of the Delta, with a fierceness that shuddered my house and startled me into uneasy wakefulness.  I lay in my tiny loft bedroom listening to the windows rattle and watching the pictures sway.  A sudden thud worried me.  I imagined my mother’s crystal vase tumbling from its transom perch, shattering on the threshold.  My fingers groped for the flashlight on the bedside table; I laughed aloud when I realized that the worrisome noise had been the thwack of a metal cylinder hitting the floor.  

With flashlight retrieved, I illuminated that 200 square feet around me.  Amazingly, the house withstood the first, vicious onslaught.  An hour or so later, I drifted into sleep, soothed by the staccato dance of rain  against the solid cedar of my outer walls.

Now I sit in my darkened house, a little propane heater humming at my feet.  I will extinguish its flame well before sleeping, but it holds the ambient temperature at 70 for now.  I’ve whiled away the day, doing a little work, filming a short piece for my YouTube channel, chatting by message with distant friends.  Another storm will blast the island tomorrow while I’m in town.  With any luck, power will return before too long, and on Wednesday, my generator should arrive.  If good fortune and the irony of fate hold true, once I have that beast installed, we will never see another power outage.

The year has aged by seven days.  I am no worse for the turning of each tide.  True enough, I cannot take a shower just now, but I can flick a flame, light the stove, and boil water. My fridge holds many offerings to cook in a skillet or saucepan.  I have plenty of bottled water and two spare cylinders of propane for the heater.  I have not accomplished much today, but for some weird reason, I feel fine.  Maybe rainy days agree with me, like the delicious  isolation of train rides or idle hours spent among the towering cedars in the mountains north of Santa Cruz during a rolling blackout one balmy September. 

On this day, one day in between a Saturday of chores and a Monday of work, I’ve wasted my time alone with little more distraction than the most recent release of a favored crime fiction author.  My house became a cave, snug, secure.  It occurs to me that no one knows I am here, except perhaps the unknown agent on the other end of the “smart911” for which I felt compelled to register.  I can squander my evening as I please.  I can do nothing, and I can do it with complete aplomb.  What better life than this?

It’s the eighth day of the one-hundred and ninth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

I met this young lady, Genevieve Beecham, at Pigeon Point Lighthouse in 2018. She honored the memory of her mother, of whom I might have reminded her, by agreeing to spend my birthday with me in the mountains above Pescadero. I still remember this as one of my best birthdays ever.

 

In Which I Journey Forth

As hour twelve of the New Year slips away, I enter Hour twenty without electricity.  A fierce storm crashed into the Delta, bringing high winds, cascading rain, and challenges to the grid typical of our northern California winter.  I ask myself, how will you spend the six hours left on your laptop’s battery?  Glancing at the predicted 4:00 p.m. restoration time, I figure, what better way than reaching out to my friends and the handful of followers still interested in my #journeytojoy?

I’ve come full circle.  Nine years closed, another looming large.  The goal that I set for myself not yet attained, I plod ever onward.  A clear sky spans above my house while the trees still shudder beneath the current of our tumultuous air.  I ventured to my porch and saw that one or two items have broken under the onslaught, but nothing irreplaceable.  A plant, a windchime, the latest in a series of old wooden rockers.  My neighbor texts that a large branch hit her house but no damage resulted.  The group intending to brunch in the community room commiserates by text.  No power, no heat, no stove:  No brunch.  Such is life in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

My wool sweaters stand me in good stead today, with my alpaca socks and my merino leggings.  Dishes sit in the sink, waiting for the park’s pump to send water which will in turn trigger the on-demand hot-water source.  I lit the burner to boil water for coffee and fry eggs.  I pondered, for the hundredth time, acquiring a generator.  Solar panels might help, if I can situate them in what would normally be the place for parking my car.  Trees overshadow the roof of my tiny house but with a south-facing end, I could make it work.  Only inertia and a fear of an overbearing physical challenge have prevented these modifications.  But the cold seeps through the warped angle at which the door now hangs, and I’m thinking it might be time to take the plunge.

The afternoon will pass.  Power will be restored.  New Year’s Day will close as it opened, solitary and silent.  My phone stays charged for now thanks to a fifty-dollar gadget that I keep connected to the house current.  I could use the same device to charge my computer, but it hardly seems worth doing.  Better to have an immediate means of getting help, or contact, or emergency alerts.  When one lives on a levee road, a drawbridge away from the nearest town, priorities quickly emerge.

I’ve made my resolutions.  I’ve watched a Pinky Patel video several times, smiling at her good advice.  Let’s not go there again, she tells us.  Don’t say ‘New Year, New Me’.  You know you won’t keep that promise. . . But if you say, ‘I’ll save $2.00 a week for the rest of the year, that’s great; you can do that.”  I quite agree.  I grin as I plunk eight quarters into the pitcher that used to stand by my mother’s beside.  Week one, and done.  

I have other realistic aspirations.  Get my book converted to KIndle.  Edit my website on a more regular basis.  Create that workshop plan for the May session at the Johnson County Library in Kansas City.  Take a few online classes in nonviolent communication.  Secretly, I tell myself to reach a little further:  Learn to count to a hundred before opening my big mouth.  Remember the best advice my son ever gave me:  Changing their opinion is not your job.  And yes:  Smile more, the bane of every American woman’s existence if only we all understood the dangers of that demand.  But self-prescribed, it has merit as a life goal.  Eventually, the whole facade becomes more than a whim.  By starting to build from the outside, we fill up the walls within.

I’m  striving to release myself from the grips of my past,  calming my mind to be serene in the present, and contemplating the impact of my choices on the future.  I sally forth, determined, dedicated, and, possibly, a bit giddy.  Happy New Year, everyone; from Angel’s Haven, on G-Row at Park Delta Bay, a stone’s throw from the San Joaquin River, in the California Delta, on the western edge of the United States of America, Northern Hemisphere, Planet Earth, Milky Way Galaxy, part of a great expanse that only a handful of people and perhaps some celestial beings truly comprehend.  May 2023 hold your heart’s desire.

It’s the first day of the one-hundred and ninth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.

Angel’s Haven lit for the holiday. December 2022.