The Hallowed Eve of All Saints Day at the Centre of the World

snow cloud mountain(Hallowe’en is the evening before All Saints Day, the day those in heaven are remembered. All Souls Day, Nov. 2 is the day to pray for all the dead, in heaven or not.)

Darkness fell suddenly at the house in the pines. I sprang up from the dinner table.

“it’s okay,” I said. “It will be lighter when I get out of the woods.”

I flung my various bags onto the golf cart and sped away – at 10 miles an hour. I turned right to where the daylight should be. The  aspens were florescent yellow against the grey sky, but the sun had gone and the mountains on either side loomed ominously. Over rocky Mount Pinos, a rack of black cloud hung and over the San Emigdio Mountains, grey and black cumulus promised a storm.

I hit the dusty trail on the edge of the golf course where I usually go very slowly, but the night-on-bald-mountain atmosphere made me forget. At the paved school bus stop, I passed a couple with two children on their way to the Hallowe’en party at the club house and waved. Now I had to hit the dark streets again.

It’s perfectly legal to drive a golf cart on the village streets because this is a private village, but not entirely advisable to drive an unlighted one after dark. Well, at least, my cart was white. I wouldn’t be making the trip on Saturday and by Sunday, Standard time would solve the problem.

One hundred percent chance of rain by 11 p.m. We had been talking about it all day. Apart from a downpour in July, it hadn’t rained a drop here in drought stricken Centre of the World (according to Chumash legend) for 6 months.

As I fell asleep deep thunder began to roll in from the west. Eventually, I heard what was either a high wind in the trees or rain. Too tired to care. Two very close and very loud thunder claps tried to wake me without success.

I woke up late, after 9 a.m.

“That wasn’t much rain,” said Clara, my house mate, as she stepped out on the porch. “Look,” she cried. “Snow.”

Sure enough the highest range of mountains was  covered with snow.

snow(Okay, you knew all along. The time change means it gets dark an hour earlier.)

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Mountain Diary: moths, wildfire and sand storm

 

helicopter

Moth Wars -Monday

Two moths came in the door with me Monday night.

It was full dark, so dark that I had had to take the car home and leave the unlighted golf cart behind. The sky up here on the mountain was a dome of stars, uncountable and humbling, the streets, unlit, and the driveway so dark I had to feel my way. Sandy here-rocks must be there, etc. I carried laundry, bottles of spring water and my computer bag to the porch, banging my left leg with the car door in the process. I noted two large moths pressed against the screen door as I opened the inside door into the light filled room.

It was the resident cat, Jazz, who saw the moths fly in. She began scaling tall pieces of furniture and gazing longingly at the ceiling. I thought things would settle down once the lights were out. I was wrong.

I was woken up by a series of loud thumps at irregular intervals. Noisey burglar? Clara looking for a snack? Flashlight in hand, I ventured out of my room. There was the black and white cat on the top of the step ladder – we’re still hanging pictures-  staring at the ceiling. She jumped. Not surprisingly she missed the moth but I gabbed her and carried her to Clara’s room. I scooted her through the partly open door and shut it. Problem solved.

But no. One of the moths was now making passes at my reading lamp. I sat weighing moth-murder against patience. Sure enough the moth disappeared. I waited some more. No action. Good. I went back to sleep.

In the morning I felt virtuous. Moths after all, adore light, even though suicidally. No one seems to understand why. Perhaps it is because they migrate by the moon, although most moths don’t seem to migrate. Perhaps they are drawn by the heat or the wave length which they mistake for pheromones. None of the theories seem reasonable. So I fell back on a more poetic and spiritual explanation. Moths and I aspire to the light.

That lasted 12 hours. Tuesday night, same scenario. Both moths revived, one in my bedroom, one in my bathroom. Both flew into my hair. Some barbarous part of me lashed out, more than once, leaving a lifeless winged being and moth dust.

Fire on the Mountain- Tuesday

Around 4:45 a.m., I woke up to the smell of wood smoke. Had someone got up early for work and lit a wood fire? Some people leave to drive down the mountain to work at 5. Was it the smell of our own fire place, cold as it would be, being pulled in by the furnace. No, the furnace didn’t come on until 6. Puzzling, I fell asleep.

At 7:45, I woke up again. A helicopter was circling fairly low overhead, whining off into the distance and returning. Over and over and over. I was about to snooze again, when I sat bolt upright and sprang out of bed, calling myself several versions of idiot. Wrapped in a thick, hooded robe, I dashed out onto the deck and there it was a fire on the mountain.

It was below Mount Pinos, two peaks below on Sawmill Mountain, part of the Transverse Range, running roughly east/west, unlike the Sierra Nevadas next door, which lie north/south. The fire was uncomfortably close to town.

Billows of white indicated steam rising from where the water had been dropped by the helicopter, while darker smoke on the western edge showed where the fire still burned. The helicopter would disappear down to Lake Fern, actually a pond, just below my other temporary home here, the house in the pines. Then I would hear it rising and soon it would come into view, trailing water as it rose. It flew into the cloud of mist and smoke, emerging and making directly for the rock face of Mt. Pinos. From my point of view, it was about to crash when it turned and flew over the smoke, where it dropped its water.

Another helicopter was cruising along the ridge and dipping down over the fire when the water bearing one left. I wanted more water helicopters.

On the internet, I read that it was a small, 1 acre fire. Clearly, the authorities didn’t want a panic. The large LED sign at the club house entrance apparently described it as “a moderate threat”. I could hear the people in the house next door talking about it as they watched from their windows; otherwise, no one seemed to be noticing.

One summer, in Greece, a wildfire broke out on the slopes above our camp ground. It crept steadily down from the heights until it reached the shrub-covered slope across the highway directly above. Huge bellied planes flew down over the Gulf of Corinth, scooped up water and returned to bomb the blazing hillside. The flames were so close that we could feel them. Ash fell about the camp ground and the smokey air was not breathable. I wanted to get the hell out of there, but I didn’t have a car and my Greek host took a typically Greek attitude. He shrugged his shoulders. We could always walk into the sea, he said. True it was shallow for hundreds of feet and it was warm, but cooler than the mid-day heat compounded by the fire.  I was not impressed by Greek disaster planning, but in the end, the fire was quelled, leaving a blackened hillside and an acrid smell.

Meanwhile back at the Transverse Range, two more helicopters had come in and all three were dipping into Fern Lake, one after the other, deafening nearby residents, but making more and more progress on the mountain. By the time I set out on the golf cart, the helicopters were gone, although a small area was still smoking. My path led me past two fireman standing beside their vehicles watching and listening for radio calls from the site. There were 20 others up there on the slope, one told me. They had had to hike in on an old trail that ran into the Chumash Wilderness. They were there with shovels to put out hot spots and flare-ups.

Kern County’s clinics and health care bureaucrats have not impressed me and at least one hospital ward has appalled me, but their emergency services are excellent, not least their firefighting force. A helicopter pad near us stands ready for emergency evacuations of the injured and there is an intensive education program about evacuation of the population in general, whether because of wildfire or earthquake. The village lies squarely over a fault line, which is what created the rift in the ranges that cradle the town.

As we got ready to sit down to dinner, a cell phone alarm alerted us to the message that a sand storm was imminent.

Wednesday – Sand storm

Hyper-alert to strange noises after the fire, I listened for the sound of heavy wind whenever I woke up in the night. (How can you tell I am much older than you?) Nothing alarmed me.

Before dawn two of our family members left for a  specialist appointment in Van Nuys. Around 8, I phoned our recovering patient to see how things were. In fact she had been woken up by an urgent summons to an office in Bakersfield, although for bureaucratic rather than medical purposes. You have to be healthy to survive illness apparently. Since she still can’t drive, I got dressed and high-tailed it out the door.

What was this? A brown fog hung over the entire mountain range. Another and more widespread fire? Of course not. Something different.

If you can’t go to the Mohave, Mohave will come to you.

I’m getting used to dust. By the time I drive the golf cart from one house to the other, it and I and all my goods and chattels are covered in dust. I have been tempted to wear a bandana over my mouth like a cowboy. I tried to tell myself that way over there the air was full of sand, not here. I didn’t believe me.

I thought things would improve as we drove down, but coming down the Tejon Pass to the Central Valley, I had to turn on the car lights. I have driven through blinding white fog and snowy white-outs, but this was the first time I had driven through a brown-out. On the valley floor, we couldn’t see the mountains that normally stand blue at the edges of the wide valley. It wasn’t windy. I suppose that’s why the sand just hung there. Breathing scoured the nose and throat, even in the car.

We got to the office 15 minutes before it closed. On Wednesdays, it closes at noon, another example of Kern County time, otherwise known as mountain time. You can never tell what weird schedule businesses will keep, closing randomly, like the restaurants in our village. But give Kern County credit: it notified us of the sandstorm

 

 

 

Life after the Reality Hotel (just when I thought it was over)

view from Kodiak #4One summer when Blake and I were still married, we visited my Nanny on her hilly farm in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. Hay season is late there and the fields get only one crop. Now it was ripe, but rain was forecast. My grandmother’s hay was already in a neighbour’s barn. She rented the land out now that my grandfather had passed -at the advanced age of 78. Would Blake, she asked, go up the hill and help her sister Eva with her crop. He set off immediately and didn’t return for many hours. When he did, he was very excited.

“You wouldn’t believe it,” he said. “There was an 88-year-old woman driving the stripped- down model T that served as a tractor. An 84-year-old woman was on the wagon packing down the hay and a 78-year-old man was pitching it up.”

We stared at him. He waited for our response. Well, yes, Blake. What else did you expect? That’s who lives there, Aunt Eva, Aunt Betsy and her younger husband, Ralph. They were no doubt happy to have help, but they would have managed on their own.

These were my people. My grandmother lived alone on the farm, out of sight of all her neighbours until she was 93, hauling in sticks of wood for the stove as necessary.

So I should not have been all that surprised when duty called just after my 78th birthday and given the stock I come from, I shouldn’t have doubted that I was up to the task.

I contemplated this as I flew home on the golf cart in the semi-dark, high desert cold, last night, barely able to see the other unlit golf carts who had also outstayed the light. I thought about it as I wrestled one plug out of the battery charger and forced the right one in. And I’m the old girl with such weak wrists that I have to waylay strange men in the street to open my wine bottle.

I also find myself driving mountain roads like a budding James Hunt. They call the part of the road just outside the village the S curves. This is misleading. The entire road is comprised of S curves, all the way down to the Mount Pinos turn. Until you get to know it, you don’t actually know whether the loop with go right or left. The road is narrow, but well marked and there are lots of turnouts, but after 3 months, I seldom need to let the cars behind me pass. Then the road opens out into a straight stretch down through Cuddy Valley. Do you remember the Waltons? This is where they lived, here in Kern County, California, not in the Carolina after all. Lately, my country driving skills have kicked in there and I have a problem sticking at 60 mph.

One quibble: should 78-year-olds sleep on the floor? Fine, I like a firm mattress, but getting up at 3 a.m.? First, you have to think about it. Turn on your knees. Plant the tops of your feet on the floor as you kneel on the mat. Push up with your hands and feet. Stand still until you get your balance. Find the flashlight. Follow its beam.

the podFor we have left the Reality Hotel, Clara and I. We have moved into her house. At last! The first 2 nights, we had a sofa, its matching chair and a mat on the floor. We borrowed sheets and blankets. Yesterday, 4 chairs fell out of the furniture pod when we unlocked it and behold there is a kind of  breakfast bar just like a table built into the kitchen island. Now I can stop eating breakfast while watching Clara sleep on the couch. If I am very lucky, or possibly, very good, I will find a bed in my room when I get back tonight. Various teenaged guys are willing to give up Saturday of Labour Day weekend to unload the pod, piano and all. Then perhaps on Monday or Tuesday, pans and dishes may materialize. At present, I make my porridge in the aforementioned hotpot https://115journals.com/2014/08/22/3024/and eat it from a styro-foam bowl with a plastic spoon.

view #2 from Kodiak

Reality Hotel: Kern County, CA

golf cart drawingWe are universally addressed as girls, although the universe here is miniscule. We don’t actually play golf, so our storage area holds just our purses. In the two weeks since I learned to drive a golf cart, I have become a go-cart cowboy.

We are actually girls despite our combined years – 163. So, by the way, is your aged mother/aunt/ grandma. My grandma remained one until she was over 90.

The golf cart we take to whatever restaurant we can find open in this sleepy mountain village is only half the fun. Which is saying a lot. Taking a left turn on a steep downgrade is as exciting as Magic Mountain.

The other half of the fun is living in the Reality Hotel, so nicknamed by my sister, Georgia,who willfully misread my email telling her that I had moved to the PMC Realty Hotel. It suited our theatre of the absurd experience here.

The Reality Hotel is comprised of three second-floor rooms linked by a balcony and situated above the realty office. My friend Clara, who lives next door, is waiting for a house deal to close in Las Vegas prior to taking possession of a new home here. Did you know that house deals can fall through on closing day? Well at least they can if they involve reservists and Veterans’ Affairs. There is a new deal but … One way or another, Clara’s new home will not be hers until August 30th. Neither will the spare room with my name on it.

Clara has the best room in the Reality Hotel. It has a kitchenette with a little wet bar sink, a microwave and a tiny fridge. She and her cat also have a private bedroom and a flat screen television with a DVD player.

My room next door has no such amenities, but it is large, and well carpeted with balconies on both ends. I can leave both doors open to catch the breeze. If there is a breeze. Most mornings it is 80 degrees inside by 10 a.m. It can get well up into the nineties by late afternoon. There is a ceiling fan over the bed, which  is mostly for show. There is a portable fan that works much better, however. The good news is that the cool air falls down from the mountains after 7 p.m. I shut the front door at night, but leave the sliding door to the front , stairless balcony open. Whatever climbs in through that window, Bruno the Bear included, is going to get a very rude welcome.I’ve got at least that much repressed rage going on.

So you get the picture, high desert with no air conditioning. Most people here don’t have it. After all it only goes up to the high 90s here, whereas in the valley it gets up to 110.

I have whined on about the no phone, no internet and analogue TV set in previous posts, so I won’t bore you with that again. I can always jump into the golf cart and come to the house in the pines or go to the internet cafe -which serves nothing and is often locked, but the signal works on the deck. Clara has her first cell phone, a Verizon phone of course. We AT&T-ers are fresh out of luck. I am teaching her to use it and so, I am able to send a text from time to time.

Using Clara’s kitchenette has its own difficulty. Clara always locks her screen door so that Jasmine doesn’t escape. Then she falls asleep. It’s hard to knock on screen and Clara is hard of hearing. I stand there teabag in hand, but, hey, it’s not so bad if you put into room temperature water and leave it for 20 minutes.

Because where else can I get hot tea? Well, at the amazing bakery, which makes to-die-for croissants. The bakery is open from 7 to 2 Thursday to Monday. Then there is La Lena, the Mexican restaurant. Amazingly you can get hot tea there as well as beer with lime, but it’s at the other end of town.

That brings up the question of what to eat and where. It is possible to eat cheese enchiladas three times a day at La Lena. That hard working family does not work on mountain time. They work seven days a week, breakfast through dinner. The pizza restaurant is open from 2 to 7,  later on weekends, closed on Wednesday. Their chicken Caesar is made with pre-frozen cubes which puts it a step down from La Lena’s meat. Mommy’s Roadhouse downstairs from Madd Bailey’s bar does a decent Angus burger and closes Wednesday. Then there is the club house which is open for breakfast and lunch every day, but serves dinner only from Thursday to Sunday. In other words, it is closed Wednesday night. The best restaurant is Silva Bella, although the chef leans heavily on milk and the prices are high. If you want to eat on Wenesday, however, that’s the place.

If you are working with food allergies, you are up against even if it isn’t Wednesday.

At least once a week, sometimes more I eat at the house in the pines and cook a family meal that often as well.

I am happy warming up leftovers from the house in the microwave or tossing a spinach salad, but Clara -not so much. Often I eat my gluten free breakfast and then drive her to the club where she eats scrambled eggs and I drink tea. If I order toast, I get a special commendation from the wait staff.

So here upon this bank and shoal of time, we wait for the resolution of our various problems. We wait at the Reality Hotel.

What’s that song: They’re living it up at the hotel California…… Then isn’t there something about “You can check out any time you like/But you can never leave.

hotel California

 

Pack in Haste: regret at leisure

suitcase(howtodothings.com)

You’ve see those movies where the grifters have to leave town asap. They throw their clothes, hangers and all, into suitcases. Easy to do, because they had only one suitcase of clothes to begin with. Or the flee-ers scoop everything out of drawers into suitcases, which they slam shut. In comedies, some personal item trails out.

This time I had a 2 hour notice that I had to get from Toronto to Southern California. (Last time I got maybe 20 hrs.) It took me a half hour to figure out how to book  ticket while in a state of shock. (Definitely, on-line. Definitely don’t pay attention to prices.) Signed, sealed, delivered, checked in, bag paid for, boarding pass printed. Now what to pack?

I had made the same trip under more relaxed conditions, in early May, four weeks earlier. No problem, pack what I took then.

I dragged the purple suitcase out of the back of the long narrow cupboard. I set it on the blanket box at the foot of the bed, opened it and began flinging clothes at it. I had to be at the airport at 6 p.m. It was 5. Okay, this isn’t working.

I phoned Blake, my ex-husband. He knew he would have to drive me to the airport already. I said, “You have to come now,” I can’t think. He was with his young female friend. Let’s call her Noreen. “As soon as he could,” he said. They were caught in traffic. I kept flinging clothes. Breaking off now and then to empty the fridge, tie up the garbage, unplug the fountains. Forget the timer for the lights. I could cancel the papers once I got there. I was a whirling dervish.

5:20, they arrived.

“Joyce, this is Noreen” etc. I had heard a lot about Noreen. She seemed amiable enough.

“Can you two roll all this stuff up tightly and pack it.” The first time I’d met her and she was rolling my underwear.

I was stuffing toiletries into a plastic bag. When they finished, I put the dresses, etc. into the top compartment where they stood a small chance of not getting wrinkled.

They dropped me at Pearson International airport at 6:15. Noreen helped me put the bags on a cart and hugged me goodbye. Big surprise. No crowds. I self-served all the way through baggage check, customs, immigration, baggage loading – a nice Jamaician man lifted my bag onto the belt and sang me a song of his own devising- and finally, that metaphysical hurdle, security check, to arrive in good time at the gate for an 8:15 departure.

I forgot to mention the stop at the exchange counter. I have several hundred untouchable U.S. dollars in the bank, untouchable unless I present myself at the bank counter to claim them. I paid $138 Cdn for $100 US.

Fine.

At the first of June, on the mountain, north of Los Angeles, I survey my suitcase. What a difference a month makes! 24 times 31 little hours! It is hot, even at 5000 feet.

The grey wool suit, however light, is a non-starter. The tights will work on cold mornings or for midnight trysts. The desert cools down at night, especially at altitude. I have one t-shirt. No problem, here are 3 t-shirts from my male host. They should work. No shorts. Not even any capris or clam diggers. Well, here are 3 dresses and a wrap-around skirt that my size 2 hostess can give me. I am a size 14, but by some miracle, these are loose and flowing – on her. On me, not so much. I have brought the top of my bathing suit but not the bottom. (You should have some fun even in the middle of an emergency.) You know how they always say, “You can buy what you need when you get there.” They weren’t talking about the wilds of Kern County, but it is true in this one case. I find myself in Bakersfield and  buy a black bottom in Walmart. No sandals. No problem. I order some from Birkenstocks. I do not upgrade the shipping. Two weeks later I try to track the package. It has just been accepted by the mail service. In China. I pull out the silky tank top. It’s not the plain, soft one. It’s covered with glittery bits of plastic, like scales. I bought it for a costume.

Everyday, I discover new left-behinds: the list of my passwords for example. And no one will believe that I know my mother’s maiden name.

Bell has handed my cell coverage over to AT&T. The mountain is served only by Verizon. I send pleading texts from other people’s phones: please water the plant, did my parcel from Amazon come? Have they stopped paper delivery?

I can get most websites on my computer up here, but not my bank’s. I am reduced to telephone banking. How 90s!

They say that new experiences keep the aging brain young. I figure mine has dialed back to 17.

 

 

 

Bulletin #2 from Shangri-La: altitude

The village I am visiting in the Sierras sits in a bowl, at about 5000 ft., surrounded by 9000 ft. mountains. The mountains I was born in are the northern end of the Appalachians in Quebec, Canada. Mt. Hereford is less than 3000 ft. high, but down the way in the New Hampshire, White Mountains, Mt. Washington rises to over 6000. I went up it once with my young children and had to fight the urge to crawl. My additional 5 ft. 4 in. were just too much. I had the same impulse on Mer de Glace in the French alps.

One summer, I went camping in Yosemite with my daughter and her family and my French brother. He joked about being the only member of a film crew on a mountain shoot that had to go down to sleep. Poor thing, I thought. Then I lay down in my tent at 9000 ft.

Half an hour later, I woke up suffocating. I got out of bed, unzipped the tent flap and walked around in the pitch dark. That got tiring. I crawled back into my sleeping bag. Repeat and repeat and repeat. Around 1 a.m., I ran into my brother, who was even worse off than me. He was babbling. My daughter emerged from the tent where she, her son and husband had been sleeping soundly. Being a health care professional, she questioned us about our symptoms. Her most alarming question was, “Are you hallucinating?”  She advised us to go down to sleep.”Don’t sleep in the car. The cops don’t like that,” her husband called out from inside their tent.

I’m not sure what happened next. Rob seems to have set out to walk to the car, some distance away. I must have gone back to my tent to get something. My next memory is of walking the long dark track wrapped in my sleeping bag. A figure up ahead suddenly came toward me.

“Joyce,” it cried out.”Is that you?” Rob walked up to me. His face in the moonlight was full of horror. “I thought you were a giant ninja turtle come to take my soul.”

This was hysterically funny to both of us. We staggered toward the car, laughing. We laughed and laughed until we started to cut down through Tioga Pass where a huge full moon hung in a velvet black sky. Then we both began to cry, convinced that no matter how difficult our lives had been and they certainly had, this moment made it all worthwhile.

It took some time to find a motel. Rob disappeared into reception and came out laughing and waving a key.

“I told her you were my sister,” he chortled. “And I think she believed me.”

There were five beds in the room. It took us an age to chose.

So I scratched vacation spots of 9000 ft. off my list. The town where I was able to sleep was 7000.

Peppermint Creek up the Kern River in Kern County qualified. We spent several vacations there camped under the redwoods beside the rock pools. No problem. Well, there was the time I was getting breakfast food out of the car trunk when something breathed down my neck. Something taller than me. I took a breath. I slowly turned to meet death by bear and found myself nose to nose with a cow.

Then came the year after I had had major surgery, a whole year after. Shouldn’t I be ready to camp up there?

Obviously not. This was my daughter’s dream vacation after a very hard year. Both sons-7 and 16-were there, the latter of whom lived with his father across the continent, her newish man, her best friend and me, old short-lunged me.

Suffice to say that I spent my nights sitting in a car seat, only slightly reclined, the only way I could breath. Well some of the night. The rest of it was devoted to taking the trenching tool and the flashlight and hying myself off into the bushes. This time, altitude sickness featured the runs. But rattle snakes hunt at night and we seemed to be camped in the middle of rattlesnake city. And the flashlight seemed to have a black spot in the middle of the beam. True I could see the bowl of heaven above me and it was absolutely dense with stars. I felt as if God were talking to me. During the day, I got more and more skittish. I was getting about 2 1/2 hours sleep a night. I didn’t want to spoil the holiday. Guess whether I did.

So now I am here at  5000, among pines and bird song. And sun. I’m Canadian, don’t forget, and we’ve had a cold, rainy spring. I  have taken two walks. All roads are uphill! I stop frequently. I aim for benches. Getting showered and ready for the day makes me breathless. I sit gazing out windows at the pines. I sit on the deck gazing at the pines. I sit and read. Once in a while, when I get rested, I do tai chi. Down at sea level, I am full of energy, all those new red blood cells racing around.

I want to stay of course.