A Change Would Do You Good

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ikjmz_SlGh
Cheryl Crow’s song of the same name
black &white wallI flew back to Toronto on Monday and met my sister Georgia for dinner on Wednesday. I ordered Guinness. She had never known me to order beer. I felt like saying, “It’s not beer. It’s Guinness.” She had not expected that change, but she liked my new hair cut.

Blake, my ex-husband, took me out for dinner Friday. He made no comment when I ordered Honker’s Ale from Goose Island, but he did tell me I looked younger. True, I was tanned from 150 days of sun at 5,500 ft in California, where darkness and silence led me to sleep 10 or 11 hours a night. And I had spent hours sitting beside our patient reading while someone else made dinner. The last seven weeks as recovery proceeded were particularly relaxing.

On Friday, I decided that I hated my minimalist decor and began hanging all the pictures in storage, including a wall devoted to the family and another of Georgia’s colorful paintings of houses. This means that I am giving up on feng shui. I’m not supposed to have red, a  fire element, in my living room during the year of the horse. Georgia’s paintings are full of red. Besides feng shui wasn’t doing  any good. My year has had a deal of bad luck. Our patient had also used feng shui which did not protect her from recession, loss or extremely grave illness. Be that as it may, I prefer now to be creative and bask in the warmth of family fire.

Roberta's wallAt my desk, I rounded up all the receipts I have assiduously saved my entire life and trashed them. I have lived altogether too carefully. During the five months I was away, I didn’t get my mail, of course. I didn’t even listen to the messages on my land line until a month before I left and I couldn’t receive calls because my cell phone got no reception. There was absolutely nothing in the mail or in the messages that was important. Well, there was a thank you note for funeral flowers, pretty much a dead issue.

During my mountain sojourn, I talked about the cold as fall drew on and I adapted to cabins heated in the old way by wood or more modern pellet stoves, both of which meant cold mornings. I have hated being cold all my life. For years, I have included the weather at the top of my daily journal entries. Now I have stopped. At first, I glanced at the thermometer outside my kitchen window. But I’ve stopped doing that as well. I assume that for the foreseeable future it will be below freezing. Snow, ice and wind will be apparent when I open the curtains. What difference does it make? I am going to wear thermal underwear, a heavy sweater, a sheepskin hat and a long down coat whenever I go out. I don’t need to hear a forecaster scaring me silly.

Georgia and her friend, the people upstairs, Blake, my brother on the line from Belgium and others who have called have eased me back into life in Toronto. Not everyone has answered my “I’m-home call”. I am sad, but by their deeds, ye shall etc.

So out of a traumatic and potentially tragic situation, has come new life. As Aunt Mae would say, “Ain’t that grand?”

 

 

 

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Bear Alley

bearalley frontSo we moved from the Reality Hotel (see previous posts) to Bear Alley.

Actually, we live on Kodiak, which runs off Aleutian and is next to Klondike, just south of Grizzly Dr, It wasn’t until this morning that we learned that Bear Alley intersects with Kodiak, running below our deck. My first clue was a tall white kitchen garbage bag that had been dismembered there. This was so shocking that I didn’t even take a picture. So against the mountain code! Not quite as bad as actually feeding a bear –a fed bear is a dead bear. (Once a bear has been tamed in that way, habituated to human contact, the rangers have to shoot it.) Leaving garbage accessible is the second most egregious crime.

There are bear safes for garbage costing a thousand or more, so armoured that bears can’t tear into them, the way they can cars. They have destroyed cars for something as small as a burger wrapper or corn-based kitty litter. The people I know up here use trash compactors or sort the smelly stuff and freeze it. Even recycling material is washed and kept in a locked shed. In short, the trash stays inside until it goes to the transfer site. There it gets shut up in a dumpster with a roof and a door. During bear season the site is open late on Thursdays.

Clara and I picked up the garbage. It consisted of a lot of avocado and other fruit shells, a sodden egg box, various boxes -these people didn’t recycle either- and I don’t know what else. I was too disgusted. Clara grabbed her car keys and took the re-bagged trash to the transfer site.

In the old days in Canadian cottage country, people used to drive to the dump and watch the bears feed at dusk. Now all the dumps there are fenced like POW camps. No bear- watching.

I heard voices across the road and left my breakfast to go over to talk. That’s when I learned about Bear Alley.

The woman who lives there said she had been raking her yard, that is the dirt in her yard- no grass grows here at 7 p.m. when a bear sauntered down the alley. She fled to the other side of the house. In the process, a $20 bill fell out of her pocket and is nowhere to be found. (Clara says, “Bears have to shop too.”)

Her visitor, a realtor, said she had seen a bear at 5 p.m. and that air horns were going off all evening. I had come home on the golf cart at 5:45. I think I did hear some of those blasts, but their significance eluded me. Then Clara turned on Jeopardy and in deference to her hearing problems, I took refuge in my iPod.

The realtor said she lived here eight years and never saw a bear, but this year she has seen ten. This is because of the drought. The berries haven’t ripened as a result, so the bears are hungry. They come down to drink at the ponds on the golf course and to forage. They even turn up in groups of five in backyards.

They move very quietly. Another realtor -half the people here seem to be in that business- tells the story of folding laundry in her bedroom while her husband watched a game. She finished and walked back into the kitchen to be greeted by a 300 lb. bear quietly searching for food. She screamed and ran out the front door, leaving it open. Her husband was trapped. The bear was between him and the door. His wife was screaming bloody murder and running to the neighbours. He remembered his gun. The bear ambled out the door. He ran after firing a shot in the air. The bear just kept ambling on, totally oblivious.

Clara and I reconsider the windows we have open in the evening. Several are accessible from the deck and a small bear could get in my bedroom window. Fortunately, cooking gets done at the house in the pines, where they are extra careful about accessible windows.

We are all going to get air horns.

I feel as if I am back on Hereford Hill in Quebec where a pie cooling for supper could win you a smashed-in window or even a door and air horns were all the rage. But never handy when you needed one.

bear alley backThe exit to our secction of Bear Alley.

 

 

 

Random Notes from Shangri-la

happy squirrelMy last post was called “Of Stillness and Slow Time”, since then things have got more still (stiller?). I am now staying in a small hotel -3 rooms, no wishing well- no phone, no internet. If I hike cross town, that is past as many as six buildings, I arrive at the internet cafe. It is furnished with sturdy tables and chairs and free internet access. Pas du café. Something about a permit as yet not granted. I hear rumours of available phones at, for example, the Laughing Squirrel Restaurant. The laughing squirrel seems to have split, leaving the field to Mommy’s Roadhouse. Excellent Angus burgers and maybe a phone there somewhere. We tried semi-phore. I am on the second floor on a height of land. Smoke signals are out pending an end to the draught. Shank’s mare works. Just walk up and knock on the door. Thus was I summoned to breakfast this morning.

Amazing how restful it is! My smart phone turns into a stupid phone up here where AT&T gets no reception. Still coping with the altitude, I went to sleep at 8 p.m. and didn’t wake up until 6. Blissfully out of touch.
view from hotel 1

When I first got here I received a  relayed call from a shut-in to bring Black American Spirit. I went to the closet to find a black t-shirt made by that company in L.A. that insists on making its garments in the U.S. Only to discover it is the name of a cigarette.

view from hotel 2Before I moved to the small hotel, I borrowed the Prius one morning to go to the Bear Claw Bakery for croissants. I couldn’t find the usual electronic key. I grabbed the second one. I walked up to the car, pressed unlock. Got in. Put the key in the coffee cup holder, started up and drove away. I bought the  baked goods, returned to the car. The door wouldn’t unlock. I tried again. I tried the other doors. I tried the trunk. It’s a hatchback after all. I took out my stupid phone and gave it a good talking to. I left the croissant bags on the roof of the car and went back into the bakery. Could I use the phone? Wordlessly the chap I call the grumpy baker handed it to me. I called home. Eventually, someone woke up and answered. That remote key doesn’t work. Hasn’t for years. How did I even get the car to go? Hard to explain how to extract the manual key. Help would arrive via golf cart. Meanwhile I managed to get the actual key out of the remote device and unlocked the door. Now the dash kept telling me “no key”. There was a slot below the ignition button. I poked and prodded. I swear I was about to insert the remote key -well, I would have figured it out given five more minutes- when the cavalry arrived.

view from hotel 3The town is remote and perched at 5000 ft. The road up is serpentine. For 30 years, people could and did die waiting for an ambulance. Recently, a helicopter pad was built so that emergency patients can be air-lifted to the Bakersfield hospital. Even so, not everyone arrives alive as we learned last week. In addition there are now paramedics stationed here at the new fire hall. Imagine having to wait half an hour to an hour for the fire trucks to arrive in a town of wooden houses and tinder dry forests.

Today the ribbon cutting ceremony for the fire hall was scheduled for high noon. In deference to my low-land lungs, we drove over. “The whole town is out,” my companion declared. “Really?” I replied. “It’s a small town,” she rejoined. In fact it was just mountain time all over again. We stood in the shade with a dozen other people, all willing to chat. Noon passed. Twelve fifteen passed. Gradually others began to arrive. The crowd doubled and tripled. Around 12:25 -I shouldn’t have even noticed of course – the dignitaries arrived. In due course and with blessedly few speeches, events unfolded.

It had taken over 30 years to get the fire hall and much lobbying and in-fighting, marching with banners and the deaths of two beloved residents. Finally Kern County agreed to build it. It cost 9.5 million and came in 10 months ahead of schedule because there were no snow days. That would be because of the 5 year-long drought. President Obama has declared this a disaster area.

The fire hall is a thing of beauty. Since it is our fire hall, we got to tramp through it. It is still waiting for its brand new furniture, but everything seems to be of the best quality. Stainless steel and granite counters. Two person bedrooms with private bathrooms and built in desks set under the window. One room to accommodate a person with disabilities. (Fire halls are also refuges for battered women, as well as collection depots for unwanted new-borns.) A fitness room lined with mirrors. And of course room for the two fire engines.

view from hotel 4Some advice, in case you need it. If the great recession has done you in, move to a place like Kern County where the unemployment rate is double the national average. Such places have access to funds because they are poor. The medical health clinic is 40 minutes down the hill beside the I 5, again beautifully new and up-to-date. Another is due to open up here next month, smaller no doubt but no travel necessary. The new library down the hill has soaring ceilings, an auditorium, a beautiful children’s room, computers, a good collection and remarkable art work. Certainly people are here because the cost of living is much cheaper and many are retired so unemployment doesn’t matter as much to them. Nevertheless, there are service jobs available and every second person seems to be a realtor.

view from hotel 5For several weeks, we have been trying to identify a certain bird call, almost piercing, two noted, pendulum-like. It seemed to me it must be made by a large bird. We hear it in the morning and then again about 5:30 in the afternoon, often from a tall pine across the road. We crane our necks, we sneak around and peer upwards. No dice. We listen to bird calls on the Audubon app. Perhaps it is a woodpecker. That could account for its invisibility. One morning, the mystery is solved. The singer sits upright on a rock pile outside the kitchen window and pipes up. It is a squirrel.

sunset over mtns