Monthly Archives: October 2023

Invasive species

My house turns cold.  Our oak trees rise high enough to perpetually shade the small dwellings in which we live.  This soothes in the short spate of hot weather but come October, the deepening gloom brings chill.  I struggle with whether to turn on the heat.  I loaned my wool blanket to visitors and haven’t gone to retrieve it.  The night will be long.

Migrating flocks return to our island.  On the morning drive, I pass large swathes of them as they settle on the shimmering surface of the Mokelumne River.  I pause to watch their easy drift.  I know my cell phone’s camera would not do justice to the sight of them.  I don’t even try.  I watch from the car window as they lift a lazy wing to change course.  Envy grips me as I press the accelerator and continue towards town.

I take a short cut to Highway 160, headed towards a physical therapy appointment.  Beside the slough, I let my engine idle.  Huge swaths of hyacinth choke the flow of water.  Birds nestle among the clusters of green.  Around one corner, I spy the swans that we’ve been watching all summer.  I thought they must surely be gone, but I see a little group of them.  I take a photo before continuing. Later, I run the picture through an application on my phone that tells me it’s a mute swan, an introduced species that threatens the ecosystem of the environment to which its drifted.  The California Department of Fish and Wildlife cautions that I should report these sightings.  I decline to do so.   I decide instead to pretend that they aren’t what they appear to be.  Perhaps their months of huddling amongst the weeds in the slough near my home has morphed them into an ex-pat, a refugee from the place whose shores they no longer remember.

Meanwhile, the days grow shorter.  I watch the weather in my own home town.  I have not seen a first snow in five years.  I have not stood on cold concrete steps to sling salt across an icy sidewalk since December of 2017.  Someone else will be calling the chimney sweep and stacking wood on the hearth where I once sat reading books to my toddler in front of a crackling fire.  Instead I crank my neck backwards and study the skies for signs of rain.  I look at the air fares and wonder where I will spend Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or New Year’s Eve.  I contemplate the wisdom of trading my Midwestern roots for the loamy soil of the California Delta.  Unlike the long tendrils of vegetation and the heavy brown bird, I chose to come here.  Perhaps, like them, I do not belong in this verdant land.

Yet here we all are:  A Missouri girl, the water hyacinth, and a flock of mute swans, all just doing our best to thrive against the contours of a world far away from anywhere that we feel certainly, surely welcome.  

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



A Day I had Rued

The hardest part about starting with a new therapist has to be all the pretending.

They pretend that their evaluation shows that you’re doing fine.  You pretend that you don’t assume they roll their eyes behind your back as you struggle to lift your leg three inches off the exam table.  They start with that high pitch voice which implies you might be deaf or mentally impaired but at the suggestion of which belief they gasp in overblown chagrin.  You shrug off any intimation that the movements overly challenge you while clenching every muscle and orifice to keep from screaming.

Friday went like that.  I started with this new therapist two weeks ago but the honeymoon period vanished about ten minutes into our second session.  She asked me questions and drew a diagram on the whiteboard as I talked.  By the time she finished, a tortured depiction of the sensations that I strove to explain had emerged, a tangle of red and blue marker surrounding a crudely drawn, genderless humanoid.  She cast a bright look in my direction.  I returned her query with a tremulous smile.  She had written, “Imp CNS, 2nd to Ch Inf, Poss Incr 2 some degree Ch Trauma RW Npth”.  Impaired central nervous system secondary to childhood infection, possibly increased to some degree by childhood trauma resulting in rewired neuropathways.

I nodded, hiding my dismay at being reduced to a succinct sentence.  She pulled the curtain back, crossed the room to grab an exercise ball, and returned with a cheery, “Now, we work!”

The problem, of course, is that physical therapy to forestall what some would consider an inevitable decline only occupies a small segment of my time.  Between sessions, I work four days a week at a straight job, run a small nonprofit, try to write, manage several websites and about five social media accounts, and — in my off-hours — keep my tiny house clean and shop for groceries.  So I lay on the table and waited for her instructions, already dreading how I’d feel by Sunday morning.

In between then and today, I orchestrated the purchase of decor for our Harvest Market, ran into Lodi to buy larger pots for my overgrown succulents, organized my kitchen cupboards, and sorted through the sweaters under my loveseat.  A trip to Michael’s and Goodwill to scrounge for baskets made it to the list; groceries did not.

Thus we arrived at October 15th, the day before I have to mail my tax return.  I rose early, scrambled eggs to eat with leftover veggie stir fry, and brewed fresh coffee.  After breakfast, I sorted laundry, put away clean towels, got a load started, and tallied the expenses for my book release last September to list in my Schedule C.  A few more chores later, noon lurked.  So I loaded my favorite china plate with sliced apples, softened goat cheese, fresh tomatoes, and a handful of gluten-free pita chips.  With the Spode plate in one hand and a cup of water in the other, I started outside, hesitating only a second to wonder if I should have used the old metal dish from my great-aunt instead of something breakable.

I definitely should have.

Two steps out the front door, my right leg collapsed for absolutely no reason whatsoever except that I allowed my new physical therapist to torture it for an hour on Friday.  My years of training automatically assumed control of my body and twisted my torso into fall position, while my brain instructed my right hand not to dare let go of that plate while giving my left hand permission to jettison the tin cup.  Water showered across the deck.  My bum hit the hard wood but that right hand held on tight.  Food tumbled to the ground.  A little table that I’d scored last year at a thrift store collapsed under my weight as I staggered. 

When all motion ceased, I had come to rest in a pile of sliced apples on my Welcome mat, still holding the blue china plate.  My brain derided me:  All right smart girl, how do you plan to get off the ground?  Easy.  Gently set the plate on the pad of the rocking chair.  Ease yourself towards the steps to the little garden.   Plant both feet firmly on the second stair.  Grasp the big brass handle screwed to the side of the deck rail.  Pull yourself vertical.

The person who installed that handle arrived at my place right after I had cleaned the mess and made a new plate of food, this time definitely on that metal plate, a closed door on an empty barn.  My neighbor Bri does various chores for me, and in turn I insist that she let me pay her more than she feels comfortable taking from someone she knows.  Today she finished repotting some of my bigger plants, including rescuing two that she’d recently refreshed but which a critter had apparently tackled in the night.  She worked while I ate.  We chatted about sports (she’s from Texas and does not root for the 49ers) and the comparatively quiet week we’d each had.  I told her about my  fall, and the new therapist, and my recalcitrant right leg.  She gave me some garden advice, waited while I bagged my trash and recycle, then gently took both burdens from me.  She started to leave.  I called her back, thanked her, and insisted that she let me pay for her hour’s work.  She demurred but work is work, and if I didn’t pay her, I’d have to pay someone else.

She finally took the money, and then we thanked each other.  Later, I sent her a message:  You did me a lot of good today!  She replied, “Actually, ditto you – me!”  I could not help but smile.   My neighbor and friend Bri had saved some part of a day that I otherwise surely would have rued.

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

Dust of Snow, by Robert Frost

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

*You can be forgiven if you’ve lost track of how long My Year Without Complaining has endured.  Let me explain.  I strove to traverse 365 days without uttering one complaint. I started on 01 January 2014.  It is now 15 October 2023.  I have thus been on this #journeytojoy for 9 years and ten months.  Once in a while, I get confused and say it’s the “one-hundred and tenth month” when it’s the one-hundred and ninth or one-hundred and eleventh month.  But, I used my fingers and my computer’s calculator to count tonight.  Do it with me:  2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 (yes, we have to count that year), 2021, and 2022.  That’s nine years.  It’s October 2023.  October is the tenth month.  Nine years (9 x 12) equals 108 months.  Plus ten.  We are in the one-hundred and eighteenth month since I start my journey. If I did this wrong, please enlighten me.  In the meantime, I will try to keep track.  

Of books and boots

I live in 198 square feet.  I do not need more stuff.  So I strive to tame my secondhand shopping.  I troll for small iron pieces, books, and — until I completely filled the allocated shelves — hand-thrown pottery mugs.  I cradle each piece in my hand.  Does the handle perfectly fit my clumsy fingers?  Will this old iron winch hold the screen door open if I inch it forward with one foot?  Does the first paragraph of that paperback entice?

When I spied the tall waders, a little thrill ran through me.  I don’t fish.  I don’t muck about in stables.  But I’ve known enough people who do that I recognized the brand.  The heft of them alerted me to their original value, which a quick search on Google confirmed.  Each boot had a nick on the curved surface.  One of them had been poorly repaired.  I imagined a cleaning knife slipping; I pictured an awkward leap to the cluttered deck of a fishing boat.

At three dollars, this sturdy pair had to come home with me. I had no use for them, but I live across from a marina.  Though I don’t spend any time in boats, I know lots of folks who do.  Most of them treat their vessels like summer toys, but a few live aboard.  Surely, I reasoned, I know some serious fisher-folk.  And there’s the rainy season.  And camping.  I live on an island inundated by fierce sheets of water for three weeks each winter.  Someone could use these.

In the dim light of my tiny house, I picked at the bubble of glue over one hole until it pulled away, revealing the damage that it had been intended to remedy.  I searched for my patch kit. Failing that, I deployed a square of duct tape and Gorilla glue.  A day later, my mend had cured and seemed perfect, but by then, I had ordered a new supply of repair squares for five bucks from Amazon.

Once I had executed a perfect mend, I took a photo and showed it to a couple of people with mountain abodes.  I figured they might need such fine footwear.  The lukewarm responses did not deter me.  One evening, I thought about my friend Tim, the Andrus Island pig farmer.  I texted a photo to him.  I found these at Goodwill for $3, I disclosed.  I repaired two small holes and they seem as good as new!  Can you all use them down there?  “Down there” meant two miles around the Loop, at the Delta Community Farm which spans a dozen acres of our island.  

He did not hesitate.  I have a boot library for visitors, he told me.  These will go great in that!  thanks!

A smile crept across my face.  I sent a heart emoji back to let him know that I would save my rescued treasure for him.  I poured a glass of water and went outside.  The evening began to settle around me.  I contemplated a library filled with boots of every size and color.  Children raced to its shelves, hunting for the perfect galoshes.  A tired worker exchanges his worn waders for a shiny black pair.  Teenagers vie for vibrant rainboots and leave with linked arms.  Patrons nestle on comfy corner couches, crowing over glorious finds.  

On the same thrifting adventure, I had found a book by one of my favorite authors.  I stood in the aisle reading the first few pages.  If I had previously enjoyed this volume, I could not remember the plot.  At ninety-nine cents, the risk seemed small.  I set the book in my cart beside the tall green boots, and moved toward the cashier.  I tried not to seem smug, but that’s certainly how I felt.

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

From Tim Anderson’s Facebook page:  “The farm is a giant hydroponic system. there’s a giant sponge of tule peat underneath it that gets constantly soaked from the water pressure of the river being higher than the land. years of farmers have moved dirt into the wet spots so it’s not flat but it’s fairly uniformly damp except for the roads. compare this to the brown hills that have been dead and dry for months. they got the same rains we did, this was a wet year which means it rained maybe four times since spring mostly just sprinkles.
“The community garden got some hand watering but once the plants put their roots down they took care of themselves. had we started it earlier they wouldn’t have needed any watering.”

Time Flies

Lucky Cat sits on the shelf in front of my mother’s green cup and saucer.  I don’t know Lucky Cat’s gender so I’ll just assume the feminine.  She waves as I glance around my tiny house.  Breakfast dishes clutter the counter.  A box of summer hats crowds the tiny drop-down live-edge cherry table.  I can’t see into the laundry unit but I know that a load of clothes which I washed on Thursday threatens to reabsorb the ambient moisture if I don’t soon attend to them.  My tiny life might implode.

I spent Friday getting ready for a meeting about my latest project which consumed Saturday.  I confess that by late on the last day of September, my brain had grown a bit weary and my muscles screamed.  Yes, I can get everything done; but sometimes my aging crippled body longs for rest.  I crawled into bed with a book at nine last evening, and slept until the sound of the new owners of a neighboring tiny house hitching it to their pick-up for removal awakened me at six.  I’m sad to see them go; and sadder knowing that another of my neighbors, who actually left the park nearly a year ago, is pulling her house out on Monday. 

Those of us who remain in the community hope that other folks will join us.  We love all of our neighbors, regardless of their dwellings.  As long as people want to stay and occasionally share potluck in the community room, we make them welcome.  But I like the look of the varied tiny houses marching side by side down G-Row.  I contemplate those who already left.  Derek and Kelly moved to Montana with their cottage on wheels.  Melanie found a spot on private property in Sebastopol.  Laurie went on the road in a converted van and then moved to Asheville.  Michele went back to Tennessee and a traditional house.  Louis and Helix found a community in Florida.  Sarah went to SoCal.  Laura moved back to Colorado.  

I sit on my deck porch and watch the dog walkers.  A lot of my neighbors have little canine companions, mostly some variation of Chihuahua but here and there a larger breed.  They can’t really see me this far from the road.  Occasionally I call out to them.  Now and then one will pause and chat, sometimes from beyond my range of hearing. I nod and smile.  I invite them to come sit with me.  I offer drinks.  Usually they just wave and continue.  I go back to my book and the coffee growing cold in its mug as coffee has grown cold on every porch that I’ve had my entire adult life.  My mother did the same, except instead of an assortment of hand-thrown pottery mugs, she drank her percolated coffee from a green Melamine cup sitting on its matching saucer — the very same cup which now gathers dust on the shelf behind Lucky Cat.

In the nearly six years that I’ve spent in Angel’s Haven at Park Delta Bay, the tiny house section of the community has grown from four to sixteen.  Expansions and contractions take people in and out of my life.  Time flies.  I’m letting my hair grow grey.  I restarted physical therapy to combat the confluence of the natural decline of the human body and the unnatural impairment of a post-encephalitic brain.  The constant battle challenges me.  So far, I think I’m winning.

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

We’ve been watching the swans on nearby Twitchell Island all summer.  I hope they winter here.