Change

Morning darkness has begun its inevitable descent, and I’m sorry to say that high beams have once again made their appearance, at least for the first part of my drive to work.

Darkness to me is like winter for Canadians. In Canada, you get about 9 months of winter or winter-esque weather, and about three months of summer. Of course, both of these are extremes of cold and heat. Don’t forget the humidity! In my case, there are about nine months of driving to work in the dark, and maybe three months of morning light. Don’t forget the cruelty of Daylight Saving Time! As soon as there is a glimmer of morning light, it is wrenched away from me, and I plunged once again into darkness, blinded by oncoming traffic and praying that I won’t hit a deer.

Arriving at work, I now have to put on my office lights:

I am reluctant to do this, since it signals the decline into darkness. Much as I dream about moving to Alaska, so I will never, to paraphrase Scarlett O’Hara, be hot again, I know I couldn’t live with the darkness of winter there. I would be fine with the cold, just not the endless blackness. When I lived in Canada, I always minded the summer way more than the winter. I used to start dreading summer along about February. I still do.

Along with the darkness, the garbage-seeking bear has made his possibly annual appearance. I think he is drawn by the crabapples that I fail to pick. I used to make crabapple jelly with my American grandmother, picking the fruit from her trees, and it was a beautiful, jewel-like clear red when we were finished. I remember that the actual production made the kitchen pretty hot, and that we sealed each jar with a white paraffin cap. Nana was very proud of her root cellar and preserves, as befitted a former farm girl who lived through the Depression.

She would not be proud of the bear-attracting crabapples or the fact that I just let them fall off the trees and rot (fertilizer!). This year, the bear seems to be limiting his garbage exploration area to right beside the house. Easier to clean up than when he dragged it away to investigate it, but I wonder if this means he feels more comfortable. That thought makes me distinctly uncomfortable. Also the garbage looks quite sordid when it is strewn around the house.

Time to start spraying the garbage cans with ammonia again and hoping that will deflect the ursine invader.

A YEAR AGO: A first attempt at making Montreal bagels. My technique has improved, and I’m now pretty good at it.

FIVE YEARS AGO: A close encounter of the deer kind.

TEN YEARS AGO: Sigh.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: Something pretty. You will have to take my word for it, since the photos did not survive.

Drinks

Megan got very little sleep during the blistering hot plague. It’s particularly difficult to sleep during the day when your bedroom is likes its very own little oven, even when you have just worked twelve fun-filled hours in the ER.

Megan got maybe three hours of sleep, and decided that she was too impaired by lack of sleep to go to work that night. She agreed to be on call, hoping that nothing would happen. Of course, something happened.

A car turning off the highway was rear-ended, and the force of the rear-ending pushed it into oncoming traffic, with predictably unpleasant results. One of the people involved was flown out from the scene and another was brought to the ER to be packaged up and flown out in turn. There was blood and chaos. The road was closed for some time as well.

Fortunately, that was Megan’s last shift of the week, and the next day, she suggested that we go to our favorite seaside bar for a well-earned drink or two.
We sat at the shadiest possible table, right outside the restaurant door, hiding under an umbrella. I was wearing SPF 100, just in case. I’m like a vampire. It’s surprising that I don’t burst into flames upon exposure to the sun. We still had a lovely view of the ocean, though I am sorry to report that it was a completely unreasonable 83 degrees. By the ocean, people. Where it should be 65 with a sweater-requiring breeze.

Although we’re not normally bourbon drinkers, we were unable to resist the blackberry bourbon smash:

It was inspired by the abundance of local wild blackberries. They are muddled and then bourbon is poured over them. The mixture infuses for four days, and when it’s cocktail time, simple syrup, a dash of lemon, and some soda is added. Garnish with mint leaves. It was delicious. I would like to try making it with vodka. Maybe even berry vodka! We could also throw in some of the raspberries from the garden. The cocktail shaker awaits!

FIVE YEARS AGO: Everyone needs a drink after a visit to the dentist. Maybe before, too.

TEN YEARS AGO: It was hot and heinous.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: Riding the bus was educational, to say the least.

Nostalgic

I took a couple of days off, and you know what that means! That’s right: a searing heat wave! There was an extreme heat warning for Friday and Saturday. And extreme it was. It hit 100 at the family estate and was probably in the 90s at my place, though I don’t have a thermometer or the room temperature readout on the heater like I did at the old place. Sometimes, you’d rather not know.

Despite having an irrational fondness for the old place – In spite of its faults and quirks, it will always have a special place in my heart – I was glad I wasn’t still living there. Its total lack of insulation meant that it was a nightmarish oven, particularly in the sleeping loft, where the heat gathered and loitered with intent. The new house is well insulated and has a water tower on top, which helps to insulate further. So it was (relatively) cool inside while the onslaught of heinous heat raged outside.

I did venture to the Village on Sun Stroke Saturday, though. Usually, I try to avoid shopping on weekends, but sometimes it’s inevitable, and this was one of those times. As I stepped outside, I noticed it was definitely warmer than I would like at 9:00 am, and also that it smelled like summers in Maine, with the sun heating up the pines and scenting the air with the distinctive scent of sap and sun-warmed forest. This was further reinforced as I got closer to the ocean and could smell low tide, which always makes me think of Maine, no matter what the time of year.

Arriving at the rather old-fashioned grocery store, I was lucky enough to park right out front and find that the store itself was delightfully uncrowded. I didn’t even have to wait in line. My shopping style tends to be grabbing what I need and getting the hell out. I later regretted not getting those tangerine popsicles, though. Note to Self: Popsicles are always a good idea. Especially during a heat wave.

As I drove home with surprisingly few cars impeding my summertime progress, I thought of how this shop was quite similar to the Don’s Shop’n Save* in Bar Harbor. Also that the summers that I was nostalgically recalling were half a century in the past.

*It is no longer the Shop’n Save, having been bought out by a chain called Hannaford, but I am pleased to say that Don himself is still around.

A YEAR AGO:Drinks with the girls at our favorite watering hole.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Harvest time.

19


Dad at Ocean Beach, San Francisco, 1993

Nineteen years ago, my life changed forever with a phone call. I will never forget hearing my sister’s voice telling me that our beloved father was dead. I understood the words individually, but not together. They seemed to hang in my brain, jostling each other and moving through a cloud as I struggled to understand what Megan had just told me.

To be fair, we had been informed that he was recovering well from routine gallbladder surgery and was expected to be released from the hospital just a couple of days later. There was no expectation that he would die.

Dad was only 70 when he died, just twelve years older than I am now. He was still editing a monthly scientific journal, and was slated to chair an international meeting OECD meeting in Germany a couple of weeks later. Plants he had ordered for fall planting in his beloved garden arrived a few days after I did, and the bird list he sent weekly to the RSPB lay on his desk, with his pen and glasses on top of it. When I first saw his study after his death, it looked like he would walk into it any minute and pick up his work. The work he loved.

There was no reason for him to die.

The hospital staff took Dad off blood thinners before the surgery so he wouldn’t bleed out. Then they forgot to put him back on them afterwards, and he died of a blood clot. Totally preventable.

He died in his sleep around 6:00 in the morning, the time when he usually arose for the day. My sister told me later that all the lines were gone from his face. She got into the hospital bed with him and put his arms around her. She stayed there until physically removed. She could feel the broken ribs from the pointless CPR efforts. She could feel his stopped heart. She could smell his scent. She knew he was gone.

She wasn’t even 30 years old.

Nearly 20 years after his death, I can understand why Queen Victoria mourned for the rest of her long life after losing Prince Albert. I will be mourning the rest of mine, too. Some days, I feel as devastated as I did that summer morning when the phone rang. Sometimes I remember Dad with a smile, thinking of the many happy times we spent together. I still think of him every single day. And I will always miss him. I will always mourn him. I will always love him.

Bounty

I think I say this every year, but the Naked Ladies, those harbingers of fall, seem to have arrived early this year:

It’s the canning and preserving time of year, the season that follows the watering and weeding season in the family garden. As usual, I am the work-free beneficiary of my siblings’ labors. Recently, I was gifted with still-warm jars of peach jam:

and pickled onions:

as well as my annual ration of peaches for my yearly peach pie:

Every year, I wish had just a few more to really fill the pie crust, but I can’t complain about free peaches. Oh, wait: I just did. The pie came out great. This time, I used a new recipe for crust from the trusty New York Times. Secret ingredient: Vitamin V (aka vodka)! This is my go-to crust from now on.

The filling was my American grandmother Nana’s style. Like me, she was a “pinch of this, pinch of that” cook. It’s hard to share recipes, since I don’t measure very often and just add ingredients until they look about right to me. For the pie filling, I peeled the eight peaches, cut the fruit off the pits over a bowl, and squeezed some lemon juice into it. In a separate bowl, I mixed together two tablespoons of sugar, a tablespoon of flour, some nutmeg and cinnamon, and then sprinkled it over the fruit and tossed it together. I like to think that my grandmothers and my father live on in the way I cook.

Last weekend, I had a text from my landlord Danielle, asking if I’d like some basil. I said yes, and she appeared with a huge bag of it, fresh from her garden. We chatted for a while, which was nice. I hadn’t seen her since the “inspection” a few months ago, and it was good to feel like our relationship (or coexistence, anyway) is in a good and positive place. I don’t think there is any weirdness left between us, and she did not mention the cats, which was kind of a relief.

After she left, I spread the basil out to dry on my state of Maine tea towel:

That’s summer, right there.

A YEAR AGO: Trying to survive a marathon of work and obligations.

Sadness


The Albion Bridge

Our little corner of the world has been hit pretty hard lately.

Usually, it’s pretty uneventful here, and that’s the way we like it. So all these things happening in a town with an official population of 169 within less than a month really feels like a lot, even if the real population is, as I suspect, closer to 1,000 people.

A house next to the road my friend Jim lives on burned to the ground. Driving past afterwards, it was clear that it had burned fiercely and intensely and there was no hope of saving it. It was eerie and upsetting to see the charred remains, the brick chimney presiding over a heap of black.

Investigators discovered a badly burned skeleton that was later identified as one of the sons of the family who lived in the house. I didn’t know him personally, but he was a legendary wild man who grew up in Albion and was known for his outrageous antics, some of which can still be seen on YouTube. His was not an easy life, and it can’t have been an easy exit from it, either.

Speaking of exits, I unwittingly passed by the scene of a suicide a week or so ago. It was about 6:15 in the morning, and as I approached the Albion Bridge, I thought that the white SUV on it was driving really slowly. Getting closer, it was clear that it was parked on the bridge with the lights on. Fearing oncoming traffic coming around the blind curve there, and thinking it was a tourist admiring the view, I drove around it and kept going.

A few miles later, a highway patrol car passed me, and in another few miles, an ambulance. I didn’t make the connection with the car on the bridge until I heard on the radio that someone had jumped. It’s 150 feet to the ground (or the water) from the Bridge. The man who jumped did so facing the land rather than the ocean, much like suicides from the Golden Gate Bridge jump facing the City rather than the ocean.

He was an older gentleman and long-time resident who was recently diagnosed with dementia. I’m sorry to say that my landlord’s boyfriend, who had gone fishing early that morning, was the one to find him. My landlord told me that her boyfriend had a difficult home life and lived with the victim and his family when he was a teenager. It must have been so painful to find his protector like that. Heartbreak on top of heartbreak.

A few days after that, my former Ridge was closed for nearly six hours when a man from the South Coast doused himself and his car with gasoline after a long police chase from Point Arena, threatening to blow himself up. He was armed and apparently under the influence of drugs as well as having serious mental health issues. Together with the volunteer fore department, the Sheriff’s office was able to subdue him and take him into custody without any one being hurt or killed, a small but significant victory in such a situation.

In all the years my siblings and I have lived here, I don’t think I have ever heard of this kind of thing happening here, or of anyone jumping off the Albion Bridge. It makes me sad for our little town, and I wonder if the Wide World is now encroaching on our little haven here at the edge of the earth.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Losing a filling wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

TEN YEARS AGO: File under miscellaneous.

Memorial


Harriet’s Tree

Soon after the loss of the Beautiful Harriet, my friend and coworker Michelle (who loves Megan and shares an office with her at work) and I bought a memorial tree in her honor. We had it shipped from nearby Humboldt County, and it arrived safe and sound, with lots of roots. It is a Moon Mountain Dogwood tree, just like the one on the Ridge I think of as the Dr. Seuss tree. Our family friend Blue Jay identified the tree for me so Michelle and I could buy it for Megan.

Harriet’s tree is about three feet tall, maybe a little more. I’m not sure how long it will take before it starts to make the flowers, but I’m looking forward to them. For those who haven’t seen this kind of tree, it looks like this:

The flowers last a long time and have that Dr. Seuss look. The whole tree looks like something out of one of his books, and I love that.

Rob made a really beautiful container for the tree. If you’re wondering why they didn’t just plant it in the ground, the ground is hard and the soil is poor here, so good soil has to be imported, whether it’s a big project, like the one acre family garden and orchard, or a more modest one, like Harriet’s tree.

The tree container is made from reused ceramic tiles. Rob found them and carefully beveled the edges so they would fit together. He also made the metal frame, soldering it together, and then planted flowers around the tree. It’s going to look amazing when it’s all grown in and the tree is flowering. It’s planted where it can be seen from the living room, too, so it can be enjoyed inside and out.

I think The Beautiful Harriet would approve. I wish she were here to see it.

A YEAR AGO: At the movies.

FIVE YEARS AGO: A visit from Erica. I miss her so much!

TEN YEARS AGO: A whole new window!

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: Farewell to my mother, after a long and courageous battle against breast cancer. She was a fighter and never gave up. Rest easy, Mom.

Stella


The velvety Stella having fun in the woods

Megan noticed a bump on Stella’s velvety grey leg. She took Stella to see Dr. Karen, who did a needle biopsy and then said the C word. You know, the one no one wants to hear. The lump had to go, but it was a long two week wait until Dr. Karen had room in her schedule to do the deed. It gave Megan time to scrape together the shocking amount* of money needed for the surgery without knocking over a liquor store or going on a multi-state crime spree. It also gave us a lot of time to worry.

The day finally came. Megan decided that while Stella was knocked out, they might as well clean her teeth and trim her nails, so we knew it would be a long day. Megan joined me at the clinic after she dropped Stella off, thinking she could get in a couple of hours’ work before Stella was ready.

It ended up being almost a whole day. Dr. Karen removed several moles, just in case, along with the lump on Stella’s leg, and also found one “near her jugular”. This did not sound good to me. They did a scan which revealed no other lurking C, to our relief, but we will have to be extra vigilant from now on. Fortunately, Stella doesn’t have a lot of fur and loves to be petted, so that will help.

The poor girl looked in worse shape than Megan’s wallet when she was released. She is the Patchwork Dog of Oz, with stitches all over that somehow have to be kept magically clean while they heal up:

Star, of course, was worried about her beloved companion, and sniffed Stella carefully when she finally got home. She has been staying close ever since. It is sweet how bonded they are and how much Star has come to rely on the calming presence of the younger Stella (much like my neurotic self relies on my much younger and wiser sister to get through life.)

We are now waiting to hear what stage the cancer was at when it was removed, which is nerve-wracking, though it was encouraging to hear that there were clean margins. So we are hoping for the best, keeping Stella as clean as we can, and petting her as much as we can.

*Nearly $1,800!

A YEAR AGO: A neighborly day (and evening).

FIVE YEARS AGO: Terrifying wildfires in nearby counties. They are every Californian’s worst fear, and reasonably so.

TEN YEARS AGO: Making fruit crumble, with apologies to the great Jacques Pépin.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: What I am.

Garden

Summer is in full swing at the family estate. Apples are appling:

Peaches are peaching:

And pears are pearing:

There are more zucchini than we know what to do with – suggestions welcome – and strawberries, herbs, and raspberries galore. Peppers are close to being ready, and we were able to pluck a few Sungold tomatoes in the greenhouse. The San Marzanos are further away from ripeness and the saucepan, but the Meyer lemons are ripening nicely. I picked one and put it in my pocket after sniffing the stem end. It smelled amazing.

We are between lettuce crops now. The old ones are too old and bitter and the young ones are too small. So there’s more lettuce in our future, as well as in our past. I’m thinking of harvesting green coriander seed from the blooming cilantro. It’s supposed to be amazing.

I’m so lucky that I have access to the family garden. It’s further away than it used to be – 20 minutes each way, instead of 2 minutes each way – but I’m trying to shop there more often and enjoy the fresh produce while we have it. It’s already getting darker in the mornings, and summer is slipping by.

TEN YEARS AGO: The view from my bed at the old house. I still love that place.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: Overheard in the city. And a couple of random Calamity Suzy epispodes. That’s how I roll (out of a hammock).