Wednesday, July 30, 2008

California Earthquake Rockin' & Rollin'

Yesterday morning (Tuesday 7/29) around 11:42 a.m. PDT I was completing a responsive blog comment when I suddenly felt a gradual rolling sensation under me. As the feeling increased in intensity I realized we were having an earthquake. I stopped proof reading and started counting seconds out of curiosity in order to determine how long this expected short little interruption would last. I soon realized the rolling was intensifying, not stopping at all, so I ceased counting. I thought I'd best refocus my attention on what I needed to do for my own safety. I glanced at the bookcases along the wall nearest to my right to see if they and the books were staying in place. They were.

Motion ahead and above on my left caught my eye next causing me to notice the pull down light over the dining table at one end of my kitchen was swinging back and forth like an exceedingly active pendulum alternately extending approximately 15 inches each way. I was mesmerized by this sight as the seconds raced by leading me to think sufficient time had elapsed so this quake must surely be about to end. I determined it was probably best if I just stayed seated in my cushy desk chair since the final shake would come within the next second or two.

Then I felt the whole house begin to shake slightly as the structure began to stressfully creak and groan as though trying mightily to maintain its composure. I sensed and heard successive sharp jolts and cracks as the rolling slowly ratcheted down to usual stability and quiet. Sitting motionless for a brief moment, I quickly posted my incompletely proofed comment, and shut down my computer. Arising from my chair I began to consider hasty safety preparations should this be simply a foreshock of a larger quake to come.

As the moments passed by I scanned the living room from the entry to which I had walked in preparation for whatever I might have only short seconds to do. Surprisingly to me I saw no signs of cracks in the walls, nor had any items fallen. Correct or not, I began to gain confidence the worst was over. I decided to risk taking care of some personal business I had been postponing while at the computer. My gamble was I could hastily relieve myself before any more shaking might commence, should it come. At least I would be comfortable for a while in the eventuality my house's indoor plumbing was suddenly no longer useable.

Just as I emerged from the house's guest comfort station my cell phone began ringing. I answered to hear my son inquiring as to what was going on out here. A co-worker in his office had given him a heads up the California shaker had occurred minutes before. Assuring my son the house and I were still standing so far, I began surface scanning other rooms in the house for gross telltale signs of damage. Everything appeared to be intact with all utilities and appliances functional. One lower kitchen cabinet door under the long-out-of-commission oven was uncharacteristically ajar, so I closed it.

We laughed, just as I did with his sister later, when I was able to startle her with the rockin' and rollin' description of events here. Recently she's had to make do with traditional media since her computer crashed over a week ago but hadn't been watching news stations. She and I simultaneously listened and watched some radio and TV news accounts together while talking on our phones much as we did for hours on 9/11 years ago when she awakened me with her call from the east coast early that fateful morning. Today, my children and I could only reassure one another, finally speculating this appeared to be just another earthquake.

I can't help reflecting on the fact I've become so inured to earthquakes here over the past 30 plus years, I actually sat watching the light swinging when I should have been dropping and covering, hopefully at least with a pillow to protect my head. Fortunately, my children have firsthand familiarity with the earthquake experience so they don't panic over the situation, but retain a respectful attitude toward potential possibilities for a worse case scenario.

Perhaps my earthquake attitude is much like my brother's toward his Big Island volcano, though I must confess to feeling a bit antsy about their potential danger when Pele' starts spewing, or especially when the Trade Winds stop blowing the desired direction.

I didn't always feel so nonplussed by earthquakes. I could jump and get anxious just like many newcomers to Southern California when, I, too had not yet adapted. The rolling ones I tolerate much better than the sharp cracking jolting ones. This is the first quake I've experienced since I've been alone and a widow. I did just fine.

I can recall several strong quakes during my years here. Some have been quite destructive in the Los Angeles area, including 1994's Northridge Quake. Then there was the Quake in Claremont that news media attributed to nearby Upland angering some local Claremont residents. This was just one more instance for them of media disrespecting our fair city, just like when the Los Angeles paper would identify our Pomona College as being in nearby Pomona, or write of the Claremont College as just one school omitting the plural "s," indicating a consortium of many colleges. All I could think then was, who is so anxious to have our city identified as being the epicenter of even a small earthquake, accurate or not?

My favorite earthquake, though that's probably not the best descriptive adjective to use, is the1987 one along the Whittier-Narrows Fault. My then young adult daughter and I share a special memory of this shaker. Neither of us was completely adapted to the earthquake experience, or maybe the power and strength of this one made us anxious. Part of our problem was that each of us was in separate bathrooms when it hit. At that time a recommended safety position was to stand in an inner wall door frame, but that has since been determined to be unsafe. We rushed independently to door frames opening out on the hallway leading to the bedrooms at our home's first rumbling quiver. I can still picture the questioning "Is this the big one?" look on her face which I am sure was reflected on my own as I gazed down the hallway toward her. Oh, did I mention, how vulnerable we felt? We were both completely nude with no towels or clothes within arms reach wondering if we would need to make a mad dash outside.
We didn't have to.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Blackberry Patch Stealth Invasion

This memorable experience was unique and of special significance to this then-twelve-year-old. I was adapting to living in a different place again, following a move more than two years earlier to a rural somewhat isolated existence from the city life I had always known. Now I was even further away, U. S. States away, from familiar friends and family other than my parents – again no other young people around except when I rode a bus considerable distance to school, but this was summer vacation, there were no classes.

One early morning that late summer I rubbed insect repellent lotion over my body, then I dressed in what I considered my grubby clothes for the excursion ahead. I wore blue jeans, a pair of mid-calf-high rubber boots, a long-sleeved multi-colored predominately blue plaid flannel shirt layered over a plain white tee shirt. I hoped the boots would, at least partially, protect me from wet muddy ground, unfriendly snakes, and unexpected encounters with other small creatures.

I needed protection from insects, all bug types, though chiggers seem to be immune to deterrents in those years before some chemicals available today existed. Additionally, I needed to guard against the harmful effects of prickly thorns, stinging nettles, bushes, poison vines, and, especially, the sun with my redhead's fair skin. I vividly recalled the itching assault unpleasantness of Poison Oak from a city park vine years earlier.

I looked forward to this outing in which I would be accompanied by a neighbor, Mr. H., who could easily have been my grandfather. Since all my grandparents were deceased (grandfathers had died before my birth, one grandmother soon after,) I liked those rare opportunities when I could be with this neighbor and his wife. Mrs. H. hadn't come along for this outing, but had expressed relief her husband would not be alone and wanted me to take care of him as he would me.

I heard the motor sounds of my grandfatherly co-adventurer's car coming up the hill from their nearby lakeside retirement home. I quickly grabbed my metal gallon bucket, went out our door to meet him at the hilltop end of his gravel drive. Once I was safely seated beside him, he turned the car to the right, driving down a steep hill for about a mile on our less-frequently traveled graded dirt road, before pulling over to the road side, stopping to park his Studebaker automobile.

Each carrying our own bucket, we exited the car, crossed the road, and carefully climbed through a barbed wire fence. We were entering one small corner of a much larger wooded acreage belonging to a neighbor, who we knew wouldn't mind our berry picking there. We tromped side by side, sometimes single-file with him leading the way, deeper into the wild green growth. We made pathways through the brush, trampling dead leaves, as we pushed aside low hanging tree branches that quickly snapped back to lash the face of any follower not guarding against such a split-second sudden whipping attack. I kept one raised arm extended out from my face to carefully protect myself, especially my eyes. Eventually we circled around trees and shrubs to a more open but bushy area near the woods furthest edge.

As we drew closer to those bushes we were thrilled to see clusters of the large dark indigo blackberries, some hanging openly, others hiding among the branches and leaves. These tightly compacted wild thorn-laden bushes growing profusely, spread irregularly above the ground. In places their branches appeared to be reaching for the sun with new twig tips extending well above our heads. I had never seen so many berries and such large ones.

We began picking those luscious-looking dangling fruits, dropping them into our buckets as we slowly wound our way around the bushes' exterior edges. Sometimes, despite the prick of needle-like thorns, I pressed into the thorny growths indentations where fewer branches met and intertwined with others. I would twist and turn my body, twinging from the sharp thorn's points jabbing like a rapier, maneuvering to reach even larger purplish blue-black berry fruit clusters.

We each concentrated on filling our buckets while pre-occupied with our own thoughts. We had little or no conversation, but sometimes collaborated to identify the different unseen bird species from their songs and chirping commentary. I'd encountered no mucky mud to tread through, no cow pies in which to avoid stepping, and no snakes, at least so far. Even the few bees I noticed seemed to defer to me by flitting to other pollen harvesting grounds. So, my initial heightened sense of alertness at the beginning of this adventure had slowly modulated as I gradually internalized my environment's features.

I could now automatically recognize in this bushy wooded area sights and sounds that were quite normal from what had been strange, possibly even threatening when I first arrived. I knew I would be able to recognize instantly any change in environmental sounds -- rustling leaves, alterations in birds songs or their sudden quiet -- all possible indications something might be out of the ordinary or amiss. This information reinforced my perception this experience would add to my continuing gain in outdoor living skills. Skills that I had only begun to acquire a few years prior at a much earlier age.

I thought at the very least I would be equipped to recognize advance danger warning signs of sight and sound should anything untoward occur. My talents would especially surface, as I humorously fantasized to myself, if it was a dinosaur lumbering out of the forest, a herd of stampeding buffalo rumbling through, or a sky-darkening flock of giant flesh-eating parrots descending toward me. I felt confident in this environment with my newly acquired knowledge. I experienced a sense of comfort I could cope, and felt a high degree of personal safety. If necessary, I could probably even defend or rescue my blackberry-picking partner, whose care his wife had entrusted to me. Meanwhile, I'd just keep picking blackberries and maybe eat one or two for strength, energy and endurance as a cautionary preparation for whatever might come.

Several hours later we each were feeling humidity's tiring effects from the emerging sun's penetrating heat. So we picked our way back through those woods to the car with our blackberry-filled buckets and returned to our homes from what had seemed an uneventful outing.

While picking berries I also filled my thoughts with just how delicious these juicy dark amethyst-like gems would taste, and exactly how my Mom would prepare them. Whenever I picked berries of any kind, I rarely ever ate any, maybe just a few, during that process, instead contemplating the eating pleasures to come once I was home. Perhaps I was unconsciously motivating myself to continue the fruit picking by delaying gratification.

I created mind pictures of my favorite blackberry cobbler Mom was sure to prepare. During the cobbler's baking process, she would skim into a small deep high-sided bowl, spoonfuls of rich cream gathered from the inside top of bottled milk, refrigerated fresh from our neighbor's cows the night before. She would create whipped cream to top the hot baked cobbler by rapidly cranking a hand-operated beater, until the bowl's contents reached a degree of thickness resulting in the cream mix independently standing upright when the beater was removed.

The visualization conjured aromas and tastes that were real to me. But as I returned to reality from this stimulating titillating sensory daydream toward the end of the blackberry picking adventure, I had begun to realize that something was unusual. I was becoming slightly aware of a strange feeling around my ankles and lower legs. I had discounted it then to just being my jeans rubbing against my flesh.

Eventually when we had returned to our homes, I relaxed. With no other activities to distract me, I soon noticed again the sensation experienced in the blackberry patch, now extending all the way up to my thighs. The faint feeling was as though a million fine hairs were brushing lightly against my skin.

When I finally removed my blue jeans, glanced at my lower body, I saw hundreds, perhaps thousands of barely visible minute' dark spots moving upward on both my legs. Clearly these were living insects of some sort. The only solution my mother said, was to quickly hose them all off with water as best we could, then subject myself to her close visual examination to be certain none were left behind in any crevice or orifice. This was no simple task since she was having increasing vision problems.

So, we decided to also lightly rub kerosene over my lower body to dislodge any remaining attached creatures that we now thought might be ticks. This treatment was supposed to cause ticks to open their little jaws and release their hold on any host, including humans. We had never seen almost microscopic-sized ticks like these before.

When I described my experience to others later, these tiny dark-colored predators were identified as being seed ticks (larval stage of any tick species.) These newly developed ticks had emerged from their host parent's nourishing sack en masse (thousands,) then rushed out into life in search of a food source of their own. Their nourishment came from affixing themselves to a living creature, embedding themselves deeper and deeper into that being's flesh while extracting their needed nourishment from their host's life-giving blood. I think these infant ticks had not yet strongly attached themselves to my body as we were successful in separating them all from me.

[Bernie Rains at "Missouri Conservationist" explains ticks typically meet their mates where both gorge themselves on some living host. These are another of those insects where "...after feeding and mating...the adult male dies. The female drops to the ground to lay thousands of eggs, and then she dies, too." Once these seed ticks emerge from the eggs " find and attach to a host...," they use what Rains describes as "...a wait-and-watch technique called questing."
He describes "They climb to the top of grass stems or take a position on the branches of bushes. When a potential host brushes against the vegetation, the tick's extended legs snag fur, hair or clothing. This pulls them off the vegetation. Ticks sense exhaled carbon dioxide and emitted body odors, and will crawl a short distance to the source. They also detect vibrations and changes in light intensity caused by movement. These alert them to an approaching potential meal."

[Rains notes, "They frequent woods, tall grass, weeds and brushy areas. Overgrown, vacant lots, waste farm-fields, and weedy edges of paths and trails are prime tick areas, particularly where wildlife is abundant. They are not typically found in well-maintained lawns." Rains cautions "Any tick bite is dangerous because of the threat of disease. The three most prevalent tick-borne diseases are Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease and ehrlichiosis"(bacterial.)]

I had prepared myself for many potential hazards that could occur with blackberry picking, but all my defenses had been penetrated. Actually, because those stealth attackers had finally been defeated, I derived special pleasure eating the treasured blackberry fruits. They were, after all, harvested during the time I was under assault in the seed tick invasion.

My sensory vault has stored only this experience's most important memories -- comforting feelings from the quiet companionship of my grandfatherly neighbor, the inviting aroma of my mother's baking cobbler biscuits and berries, the smooth textured rich real whipped cream's flavor and the combined sweetness but slightly tart tastes of the blackberry cobbler. Sometimes, though, I can still feel that crawling ticks sensation, much like a multitude of tiny loose hairs or cobweb filaments squirming against my skin and I can't quite brush them away.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Peacock Feather Dilemma

(After writing this piece, I learned a dear friend is literally off her feet for a while with a cast on one ankle and a boot on the other. Having only recently retired, she's much too young and in too good a physical condition for this inconvenience, though it could happen to anyone at any age. I dedicate this post to her. I wonder, should I give her some peacock feathers?)

Are peacock feathers displayed inside the house good or bad luck? This is my dilemma. The owner of several male peacocks offered me some of the birds' feathers. "No," I was assured by the feather-giver, "I did not chase down the birds and pluck their tail feathers. These colorful birds are molting. Peacock feathers displayed inside your house may bring you good luck!" That was all I needed to hear to convince me to give these iridescent green and blue colored feather plumes an opportunity to work their magic in my life.
I welcomed these good luck omens to thwart Murphy's Law that continues to impact my daily life since I first wrote about a series of persistent undesired events to which I have been relentlessly subjected. Murphy's Law is the one that predicts everything that can go wrong will go wrong. In my case, that has included household mechanical objects breaking down, with a few even beyond repair, along with a sprinkling of unusual personal medical matters. (See earlier posts with links on right side bar.)

One reader suggested I was experiencing bad juju brought on by evil spirits which I determined was hoodoo for sure. Certain suggested remedies to counteract these malignant forces may have played the devil with those spirits, subsequently lessening the ill effects of some of those original problems. Also, my personal ongoing efforts have been reaping results and resolutions, despite new unwelcome issues that perversely persist in emerging.

I'd been ripe for needing more magic, when coincidentally I discovered on YouTube that John Fogerty recorded a tune "You've Got The Magic" on an unreleased album titled "Hoodoo." I immediately concluded that song meant I had the magic all right, now that I had these lucky peacock feathers. That's what I thought until I later learned the rest of the male peacocks story. I then began to wonder if those birds had encountered evil spirits and bad magic, too.

But I didn't know about possible bad magic connected to peacock feathers then, as I was busily conducting a quick Internet search about positive belief systems associated with these good luck bearers. I learned peacocks and their feathers are described as representing protection, safe-guarding, harmony, good luck, serenity, peace of mind, and relaxation. The unnamed Google site writer additionally notes:

"This bird is also valued as a protection for the psychic self. There has been lore that writes that to have a peacock feather within the home this helps to safe guard any of the energy in the environment. I personally have always had peacock feathers in my home, even when I was a child in my room. I also know that some native people also use the peacock feathers in fans and some crafting. While I have heard some individuals speak of not having them in the home but I can say that nothing has never come about for me. I found the feathers and consider them to be a gift from The Creator."

What was meant by, "...some individuals speak of not having them in the home but I can say nothing has never come about for me"? Is possible bad luck being intimated here? I also note the writer to whom bad luck has not occurred "...found the feathers... ." Does the fact I was given the feathers rather than having found them make a difference in the magic flow of positive versus negative energy? I think it's important to consider all these little intricacies. These may be the fine print guiding how magic works, just like the fine print of legal agreements. Perhaps magic shouldn't be over-simplified any more than life can be.

So, suddenly complicating matters is my encountering unexpected new information indicating that peacock feathers displayed inside a home are not always considered good luck. The Google link notes that while
"In India the peacock was believed to have a thousand eyes in its feathers... In Java, the peacock was associated with the Devil. In Mosul in northern Iraq, there is a sect of Yezidis who hold that the Devil is not evil, and call him the Peacock Angel.' Also, I noted, "Myth has the peacock representing fidelity, as it dies of grief, or remains single, if it loses its mate."

Additional contradictions between good versus bad luck omens emerged as I learned more about the story of the male peacocks from whom my feathers came. I don't like to even think about the misery to which those birds have been subjected. Not only are they molting, but I wonder now if they may be depressed, too. How would that affect the magic? Consider this, the three cocks were each deserted by their mate. How else to say it, other than, those female birds abandoned my feather-donating male birds -- the peahens literally flew the coop together.

What does that say about fidelity? The whereabouts of these missing partners, the much more drab appearing hens, is unknown. They have been absent for so long, their owners no longer expect they will return. Speculation is that after fleeing their mates, the hens may even have been victims of the area's wildlife predators. On the other hand, the hens may well be living a whole new life. Surely they wouldn't have aligned themselves with new bird companions, would they?

Obvious to me is the fact the abandoned male peacocks have been decidedly unlucky birds. Molting or not, no wonder they're dropping their tail feathers. Life must be disappointing to them, with or without their awesome filigree-like plumes tipped with those strikingly penetrating eyes that have been compared to an evil eye.

Have I been mesmerized by evil spirits, because I think the delicate peacock feathers projecting a play of sharp bright dark blue and green colors, are most attractive and fascinating to gaze upon? The colorful patterns provide glimpses of white accents surrounding those hypnotic piercing black eyes.

I hope I've made the correct decision, because these frond-like feathers stand majestically tall in a corner of my home, hopefully bringing me good luck.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Art/Nature/Environment Thoughts

Celebrating our Nation's Independence

I've been thinking about what the arts to which we are attracted say about us as individuals. I was viewing a television program featuring paintings of Monet the French painter, who is among my favorites. I like the attention Monet gives to water, reflections, light on many of his canvases.

Then, I was reminded that another famous artist to whom I have long been attracted is Debussy. He, too, focuses on water in some of his work, but with music.

I long ago became aware that whenever I use visual imagery for relaxation, the scenes my mind often conjures are mental pictures of water. Often I'm sitting alone in a boat gracefully resting on the calm clear blue waters of a small lake that in turn is surrounded by a narrow sandy beach leading to green forests of tall majestic trees.

Since I started writing here and subsequently in a writing class, I have sometimes used metaphors to describe my feelings. I have noted the emergence of the language of water, including references to streams, creeks, rivers, lakes, oceans, waves, storms, rain and its variations.

Our natural environment and nature is such a part of life for so many of us. We value those park and wilderness areas around us. We attempt to bring some part of that nature to our homes. Some of us delight in carefully designed and planted garden areas -- a specific place for certain plants and flowers, all planned much as certain types of artists organize the color in their paintings.

Others prefer plants, flowers in random placement much as they would appear in nature. Some have a combination of both approaches. I have lived with the structured design that clearly conveys to me the desire, or need, to exercise control over one more aspect of life.

What I know is that I prefer and feel most comfortable in the setting where the randomness of nature prevails, where nature is permitted to exercise some freedom, too. Just as I do not want to overwhelm and impose myself upon nature, I do not want nature's plants, vegetation, flowers to do the same to me, and so we reach agreement with each other.