Monthly Archives: January 2021

Through wind and pain

The wild delta wind buffeted my car as I huddled near the door frame.  I strained against the air and the cold as the sight of a thousand snow geese unfolded in the field below me.  The slough ran north and the trees swayed.  My fingers curled around the body of my little Canon.  

Back in the car my head fell to the steering wheel.  Long nights and the torture of hopelessly pinched nerves have driven me to sleepless hours of agony.  As I rested, the snow geese rose into the wind.  A hoarse whisper escaped me:  So many endure so much worse so many so much worse.  I can endure this new and awful malady.

I switched on the motor and backed out of the little lay-by.  In a few minutes I joined the morning traffic journeying into the small town where I work.  I held the steering wheel as softly as prudence allowed.  At the light, my eyes drift closed as I leaned into a wave of pain.  So many so worse so many so worse.  

A noise brought me around.  I peered through the windshield into the wide expanse of sky rising over the bridge.  The flock had arrived.  In formation they flew, west though they usually head east into the preserves near Lodi.  My foot fell onto the gas.  Together we made our way forward.

It’s the nineteenth day of the eighty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Passing through the Delta on a Saturday Afternoon

Once again I find myself at sixes-and-sevens, nothing to do and no one with whom to do it.  I drive into Isleton, check my postal box, and order a kombucha at Mei Wah’s Beer Room.  I sit in the beer garden casually eavesdropping on the couple at the table behind me.  The owner briefly emerges and checks my status with the universal signal, two thumbs held high, and then saunters back into the building to pour more beer.  People wander outside and chatter rises.

I go across the street and timidly enter a little store where my friends used to have a tattoo and art shop.  I browse the oddments and marvel at the fifty-year old shoes.  I skirt around a knot of women debating whether to buy huckleberry syrup, made in Montana but with the store’s label prominently displayed.  I make a small purchase and retreat, down the street to my car and then along the river road back to the lush green park in which I live.

Along the way, I see a flock of mergansers, three red-tail hawks, a distant field of snow geese, and a lone egret stepping with precision through a flooded field of reeds.  I speak to no one other than the barkeep.  I raise my camera several times, enough to remind myself that I live in a beautiful place and the weather rolls fine and easy on my shoulders ten months of the year.  The other two months provide critical rain for the grapes and the willows and the migrating birds which grub in the soggy earth for their nourishment.

At home I stop as I drive through the kiosk and speak to several of my neighbors, exchanging light, airy platitudes that leave everyone smiling.  Kind and clever, that’s us, and the world shifts, and the sun sets, and the night begins to gather.  In my tiny house, in this infinitesimally minute plot of the wide wide world, I listen to the crickets in my head and wonder about tomorrow.

It’s evening, on the sixteenth day, of the eighty-fifth month, of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

A virtuous discovery

I parked my car outside the Goodwill in Lodi and studied the line.  A sign on the window announced the new normal:  Capacity – 30.  I had come in search of a couple of household items that weeks of reflection had finally convinced me to acquire.  My dedication did not extend to the funds necessary for a new item. Used would suffice, at least until I determined the wisdom or folly of the purchase.  

But did that compel me toward a growing queue?  Should I endure the chilly air, scrolling through social media on my phone?  Would the wool poncho keep me sufficiently warm?  Could the odds of discovery justify the tedious shuffling forward, keeping six feet from the next in line?

I eased myself from the vehicle and closed the door.  When I had steadied the wobble in my legs, I stepped onto the curb and judged the distance between myself and my destination.  A glance through the car window confirmed the availability of a walking stick but I disdained its awkwardness and proceeded forward.  With a few wary glances, the line shifted to allow me safe passage to its end.

It took fifteen minutes and the decampment of the guy in front of me to gain admittance.  With a small cart, I began navigating the home goods aisles.  I found a large plant pot (score!) and headed for the appliance aisle.  No toaster oven.  No small dresser in the meager furniture section.  I skirted the clothing (my no-clothing-buy rule holding fast) and surveyed baskets (adorable but unnecessary) before turning the corner to books.

Like most writers, I think I should be journaling.  The idea of owning a plethora of notebooks appeals to me.  I usually get two or three days into each new year before abandoning the effort.  Crises draw me back and inevitably I decide that remarkable trauma or joy justifies the purchase of a fresh book.  But living tiny and wanting to save money  have of late combined to dissuade me from  acquiring any more notebooks.

I found a novel by a favorite author and studied its back cover, straining to recall if I had already enjoyed its passages.  Into the cart it went.  I started forward when suddenly I spied a spiral binding, a sure sign of a journal.  Whether or not it contained someone else’s thoughts remained to be seen.  I carefully slid it from between a Gideon’s Bible and a vegetarian cookbook.

Empty pages!  Its price appealed to me — $1.39.  Small enough for my everyday handbag.  I could carry it with me!  I debated.  You have four or five barely filled notebooks at home!  But none so cute, none so thin, none so small, none so cheap. I leafed through the book to make sure its pages bore no one else’s scribblings.  I stopped. 

On the last page, someone had, indeed, recorded a brief, stunning message, incomplete but somehow self-contained.  I lightly ran my finger over the ballpoint ink.  My breath caught as I noted the homonymous error.  I saw the one-word entry at the bottom of the page.  I read and re-read the line so carefully penned on the last page of a virgin notebook, by an unknown person, who then donated the book to Goodwill or left it on their bedside table for someone else to donate.  For me to find.  For me to take home, on a cold clear Saturday in January, on the first day of the rest of my life.

It’s the sixteenth day of the eighty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


The unexpected vagaries of Friday

For most of 2020, I did not have my usual carefree Friday.  Some fell to the stretch of time in the early pandemic when the logistics of a clumsy work-week took part of the day.  Others yielded to the planning of the summer’s Sunday Market.  For two months, I worked Fridays to bank hours for the ultimately failed Thanksgiving trip to Missouri.

Today I found myself with an entire day of unallocated time.  Over coffee, I scrolled through social media, searching for news of my friend whose household succumbed to the coronavirus.  I studied my cup for a few minutes, with its graceful clay contours.  Then I asked myself:  Why don’t you just call?

Katrina’s cheerful voice shimmied through the wire.  She might have been on the other side of my old kitchen table, the twittering of Brookside robins outside the window.  I could nearly see the tip of the Japanese maple peaking over the sill. She told me who had been negative and who had been positive, and the state of symptoms.  We talked of her daughter’s pregnancy, the death of a close friend, and her plan to resume her copious hours of volunteer work as soon as she gets vaccinated.  When the call ended, I could have cried; it felt, for just a few minutes, like going home.

After a few hollow moments, I showered, dressed, and threw myself into a spate of work.  Then I shook my head, barreled out the door, and pulled my car onto the loop.  Around the bend of Brannan Island Road, a heavy freighter made her ponderous way east to Stockton.  I caught her in backlit relief, and then marveled at the sight of her in my side view mirror.  On the way home, I strained my lens toward a distant red-tailed hawk.  It lifted from the fragile winter branch one second before the click of my shutter.

Back at the park, I found the water off.  An hour later, not to be outdone, the power failed.  In my silent, cold house, I’ve read by flashlight, eaten pasta, and wrapped myself in wool.  Eventually, still in silence, I will lay down to rest.

It’s the eighth day of the eighty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Finding Delight in the Heart of the California Delta

I stopped listening to This American Life for a few years.  My then-husband asserted that the host of the radio show cheated on a friend of his.  He expressed outrage that I would patronize such a scoundrel.  He insisted that his Republican family values dictated that cheaters should be disdained.  I clicked off the radio if he entered the room during the broadcast.

In the last five years, I’ve gotten into the program again.  I like Ira Glass.  I enjoy his voice and his insight.  He and his team present intriguing anecdotes of people who could be my next door neighbors.  I feel a sense of commonality with what they experience and how they react.   

The show plays twice each weekend on my local public radio station.  This week’s episode explored delight.  Delight!  How can anyone not enjoy an entire hour in which people describe events during which they have experienced such a delicious emotion? 

As I drove home from a grocery run to Lodi, I waited for my second listen to Act II: The Squeals on the Bus with particular eagerness.  A five-year-old’s enthusiasm for his first trip on that iconic yellow vehicle?  Sign me up.  I heard the wonder and excitement in his voice with a little bit of envy though.  What wouldn’t I give to luxuriate in the delirium of such anticipation!

Then I came around the curve of Brannan Island Road in front of the home of my friends Judy and Skip, and beheld one of the visions which make Delta life so fabulous.  I pulled my car as far against the brush as I could safely maneuver.  I glanced in my rear view mirror as I groped for my phone, the only camera at hand.  I snapped, and filmed, and grinned.  In the background, my radio kept playing and little Cole squealed, “Is that my bus?  Is that my bus?” 

I’m with you, kid.  I’m with you.

It’s the third day of the eighty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.