Thursday, May 26, 2011

That Paradigm Thing

A New Yorker joke shows one city bum saying to another, "Good news--I hear the paradigm is shifting."  Which might then bring up the question, "Which means ... ?"  When I asked this of someone in the paradigm department in Santa Fe a few years ago (since the term has been around for awhile), he said it portended the change in our belief systems.  How we see the world.  Though a lot of people benefited from (and would try to keep) the old limiting ways, most people were now looking to more expansive views, more peaceful solutions, equity for all.  As for the old paradigm, he said, "It's so stale, it's growing green mold on it."  He also said we were all going to feel the process ... and the earth was, too.

Well, this little year of 2011 has been jam-packed with movement already and it's still only May.  One friend reminded me of that Kingston Trio song, "They're rioting in Africa."  They're also blowing away in Alabama and Missouri.  Being flooded out in Japan and Louisiana.  Tumbled about in New Zealand and Spain.  Covered with ash (again) in Europe.  And so forth.

Even our little town felt a jolt last month when our biggest commercial building right smack in the middle of things went up in flames.  Or the top part anyway.  Previously an old hotel where, the paper said, "Rudyard Kipling and his cronies had once played poker," it now housed ten street-level businesses and some fifty-nine apartments.  Plus a local radio station where two family members were once d.j's.

Apparently, a construction staple started it all by coming in contact with an electrical wire.  A six-alarm fire resulted with trucks arriving from two neighboring states.  No one was hurt and only the top floors burned, but over a period of ten hours, 1.8 million gallons of water were poured on top.  The Red Cross set up shelters for the occupants.  And the businesses either folded, hustled around for a new spot, or decided to conduct business on-line.  Mucky, dripping, and contaminated Provençal table cloths, Indonesian dresses, Turkish carpets, French milled soaps, an entire bookstore of books, plus the remains of a blues bar, restaurant, tailor shop, and hair salon were all junked.  But in our good old American positive way, someone remarked, "This town is good at making lemonade out of lemons."

Later, to quote the paper, the building's owner said that "if there was a silver lining" it was that the fire "altered people's perspectives and united the community."  Considering the Big Picture, that could seem the essence of what's going on all over.  Perspectives are shifting; communities are uniting.  (Which can be accomplished without having to suffer disasters ... but disasters are sure-fire prompters.)

Of course, things are always shifting, change being the one constant, as someone remarked ... though it seems, of late, that the world is being tsunamied with events.  But, though the times are going to roll around us or under us or over us whatever happens, if we aren't at hand to help out, then, as my Santa Fe friend pointed out, we can take some time to renew ourselves ... in whatever way.  Even by doing small things like getting in a good walk around the block.  Or going for a run.  Or driving to the seacoast and listening to the gulls.  Or bringing cheering flowers into the house.  Or helping strengthen our towns by supporting our local vendors.  Or telling someone what a good job they're doing.  Or organizing a pot luck and, with it, a feeling of esprit.  Or getting out a favorite book to re-read.  Or looking up Mae West quotations....

        "When I have to choose between two evils, I always try to pick the one I haven't tried yet."
        "He who hesitates is last."
        "Too much of a good thing can be wonderful."

They're gone now, but some days ago I went out and said hello to my apple blossoms.  At the same time, I found extensive deer damage.  Lower (chewed off) branches weren't leafing out, all having been nibbled too severely when the land was snow-bound and the deer were searching for food.  I called a tree man to see if anything could be done.  But I also decided:  blossoms ... nibbled branches:  they're all part of the whole. 

(The Santa Fe people, José and Lena Stevens have a web-site (here) with monthly commentary.)

What Makes May May

Blossoms blossoms everywhere
Farmers markets
A green landscape once again
The sound of lawn mowers
Orange construction cones all over the place

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Word Play

As many a family, we used to engage in word play on car trips, especially long ones to see relatives on the opposite coast.  Those days are gone, but I can still be stirring a pot of soup or washing a window when, for no reason in particular, I'll remember one of those games and chuckle.

Here's one, made popular by a member of the family who liked to recite it with a twinkle whether we were crossing Wyoming or giving a dinner party.  To wit:  What did the little boy who couldn't pronounce "R" say when he was given this sentence to repeat aloud, "Robert gave Richard a rap in the ribs for roasting the rabbit too rare."  Answer:  "Bob gave Dick a poke in the side for not cooking the bunny enough."

We also played hink pink.  A hink pink is a riddle with two one-syllable words rhyming.  To the question, "What is a rotund feline?" the answer, of course, is a "fat cat."  If the riddle calls for two-syllable words to rhyme, the game is then announced as a hinky-pinky.  Three-syllable rhyming words would be a hinkety-pinkety.  As it was told to me (because it happened long before I entered the picture), one answer called for the rhyming of two six-syllable words.  (A hinkety-hinkety pinkety-pinkety.)  Admittedly, being a three-word answer, the rules were bent a bit.

The question:  What is a charitable yellow jar for burial bones?
The answer:  An eleemosynary yellow ossuary

Tongue twisters made a good game, too.  Here's one:

A tutor who tooted the flute
Tried to teach two young tooters to toot.
Said the two to the tutor,
"Is it harder to toot, or
To tutor two tooters to toot?"

Finally, here's an amusing little something a friend passed along.  Read each letter aloud.  If it doesn't come through the first time, go a little faster.

O-K, M-N-X


Since I like to try and include a photo with each blog posting, here is a hinky pinky:  What is this flower I found in Bali?

An awesome blossom

As Porky Pig used to say, "That's all, Folks!"

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Go West, Young Woman: A Few Words About the Emigrant Experience

In my Southern California college days, two friends and I spoke of going over to western Nevada--to the Great Basin region near the Humboldt Sink--and prowling around its salt stretches for old piano keys, grandfather clock parts, leather bags ... anything.  We were taking a class called The West in American Lit and our professor had just informed us that we could still pick up emigrant cast-offs.  Things tossed out to lighten loads on that particularly bad stretch before attempting the Sierras.  In fact, we later drove to Las Vegas for ditch day, but that's as far as we got.

With my own wanderlust, I admired these adventurers and even did my senior paper on Francis Parkman's The Oregon Trail.  Then, maybe a decade ago, I learned that family members had made the trip in 1845, ending up in Sonoma in time to participate in what's been called The Bear Flag Revolt--when the settlers declared California a republic, independent of Mexico.  So ... when I saw Lillian Schlissel's Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey at a recent library sale for $2, I bought it.

I found that with few exceptions, women only made the trip because their men-folk made it.  For men, it was a good time in their lives to go--whether to start over, escape debt, look for gold, or "simply" follow their adventuring spirit.  For many of the women, however, it was the worst time, for most were in the middle of their child-bearing, child-rearing years.  A good fifth of them started out or became pregnant on the trip.  Such personal matters, however, were not discussed.  Diaries did not refer to pregnancy.  Nor to child-birth other than to mention (almost in passing) that someone in the next wagon had a new sister or a new son.  Or that a woman and her new-born had just been buried--only then to discover that the woman had died in child-birth since the diarist had only ever referred to her as "being sick."  Nor did child-birth hold up the day's travel ... or at least not for long.  Stopping meant possible confrontation with Indians.  Or eating up food reserves.  Or running the risk of having the rest of the wagon train carry on without you, then making an unforeseen turn-off and never catching up again.  It took one woman something like three years before she learned where her children were.  (As I recall, she'd ended up in California and they in Oregon. She obviously hadn't even known if they were alive.)

In that one Nevada stretch (as I learned later), there were innumerable animal carcasses and graves in what were still the early years of migration.  Even from the beginning of the trip, illness was a constant threat.  Cholera was rampant as was dysentery.  Children fell out of wagons and were run over before anyone was the wiser.  River-crossing drownings were not uncommon.  And then a woman hoped that another woman would be around to help her give birth.

Then, too, finding a good burial site could be agonizing. The soil was often too hard to dig deep graves, so wolves habitually dug them up.  Or Indians did, wanting the deceased's clothing.  Some travelers buried their dead on the trail itself so that the wheel imprints would disguise the grave.  Of course, it would be impossible to find later if one ever wanted to return to collect the remains and bury them closer to home.  And markers were generally useless:  they simply could not withstand the weather. 

As for the Indians, the emigrants were constantly apprehensive, sometimes with reason, sometimes not.  Being better at hunting and fishing, the Indians often bartered their catch ... or helped ferry wagons across a river for buttons, socks, shirts, blankets.  Sometimes, on waking, travelers found that their blanket had been stolen in the middle of the night.  Or they found the cholera they'd by-passed a week or two earlier had just begun infecting the region they were now entering--passed along by the Indians who, in stealing the clothing of those who died of cholera, had now contracted the disease.

Since the women felt that the long trip eroded their social sensibilities, they did their best to keep up appearances.  Though old photos show them in men's boots when the rains and mud got too bad, they also show them in ribbons and bows, in starched white aprons, in petticoats.  And petticoats proved useful as well.  In the tree-less, bush-less prairie, a woman required the assistance of another woman with a good full skirt.  As the author says, "So simple a matter as bodily functions on a terrain that provided no shelter could make daily life an agony of embarrassment when there was no other woman to make of her extended skirt a curtain." (1)  

Here's a part of that great tree-less plain.  It's an early evening shot I took out my window when taking the train one summer.

As well as doing the domestic chores and caring for the children, women sometimes drove the ox teams.  Or they collected buffalo chips for fuel as they walked.  Or they searched for berries.  One "managed to roll some dough on a wagon seat and bake a pie over hot rocks in order to lift meals out of the tedium of beans and coffee." (2)

After reading ninety-some diaries, the author says, "One must suspect, finally, that many women judged the heroic adventure of their men as some kind of outrageous folly thrust upon them by obedience to patriarchal ritual." (3)  But she concludes that "when disaster struck, when a husband or father died, the women picked up their children and continued on.  There was no turning back." (4)

(1) p.98
(2) p.13
(3) p.15
(4) p.158

Saturday, May 7, 2011


When I was thinking of a word to describe this time of year, I came up with "perfection."  (Though I then remembered that lemon Jell-O salad by the same name.  Canned crushed pineapple, grated carrots, celery, and cabbage.  Very '50s.)  Except for the black flies in the garden that can bite real chunks out of you, the entire month of May seems perfect.

Bleeding Heart now in bloom by my front walk

Tender leaves have now uncurled on all the trees.  Violets proliferate.  Women (mostly women) line up at our local farm stand to buy pansies, pots of sage and parsley, six-pack trays of lettuce and snap pea seedlings.  I put on gardening gloves and pull out thorny tendrils or dead grass from around day lilies.  I breathe in the loamy air and let my mind roam as my fingers do the work.  Or I sit out in the afternoon with a glass of white wine as I look up at the pines, listen to the crows, and think what to plant in the garden.

And then, just today, our local farmers' market opened for yet another season that runs from the first Saturday in May to the end of October.  I am always an early customer--there to bag a vendor's excellent spinach while it lasts.  Or to position myself in front of the French pastries before the queue lengthens.  Even at that, the croissants were gone by the time I got there.  But I was early enough for two vendors to tell me that I was their first customer of the season.  And for a third to say that I was her first customer, ever.

The man selling olives and artisan cheeses was there.  The pottery woman.  (But not her partner, the meat man, mad at his butcher, it seems, and so not selling his breakfast links and grass-fed lamb this year.)  The apple orchard people who sell pies were there.  The flower man with his jars of honey and maple syrup--from his own bees and trees.  The coffee man with donuts on the side.  The Thai, Nigerian, and Indian food vendors plus a Chinese family making dim sum. The Scotsman with cups of hot chai.  The woman with hand-made cloth bags.  And a multitude of farmers with seedlings of all sorts--from parsley to johnny-jump-ups.

As the season progresses, this is where I will get my bouquets of flowers, ingredients for pasta sauce, chickpea masala, crisp heads of lettuce.  People sometimes ask about my garden.  I don't do veggies, I say, just flowers. (And then I don't pick them, preferring to let them have their day in the sun.)  I did try growing veggies for a time, but the sun wasn't right, or the soil was too acid, or the resident woodchuck got to them first, or the deer.  With the farmers' market just down the street, I decided to let others do the growing for me ... and I'd be their faithful customer.  It's a community thing.

When I got home from the market this morning, I spread out my purchases.  Sweet potatoes, bok choy, sunflower sprouts, spinach, alu palak in puff pastry, a lemon and blueberry pâtisserie, rhubarb, daffodils, and ... a fabulous lemon tart sprinkled with powdered sugar and decorated with candied violets.

And, hey, I may have cracked the "Comments" problem.  If anyone is of a mind, go to the Comments box at the end of any posting, write in a comment, click "Post Comment," check "Anonymous" when a box comes up asking who you are, then click "Post Comment" again (or maybe it's "Publish").  I'm still running tests on this, but give it a try.  (If you want me to know who you are, put some sort of identification with your comment.  Even just your first name.)

I still promise to write up a posting at some future date explaining the name I've given this blog:  Door Number 8.

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Gallery of Trees: Honolulu

I've always been drawn to trees.  Maybe it's because I've always enjoyed drawing (and painting) them.  They're good companions, sentinels, landmarks.  They age well, like Cary Grant.  They can offer up deep silence and don't require chit chat--though you can talk to them if you like.  They even smell nice, especially after a rain.  Sort of fresh and spicy.  Except for fruit trees which need pruning, they're self-grooming.  They've picked out the soil they thrive in.  They flower and leaf out on time; they draw their cholorophyll back inside and drop their leaves before winter sets in.  They let birds nest in their limbs, squirrels run up and down, and shade-seekers sit under them.  They inspire poetry ("I think that I shall never see / A poem lovely as a tree").  And when the wind blows and they toss (or even thrash) about, I like to think of them as getting their exercise.

So, when I was in Honolulu two winters ago (and again this past winter), I made a point of photographing a variety of trees.  Some in color.  And some in black-and-white which seemed to enhance their design quality.  Here they are.

I particularly love this picture.  To me it looks like elephants' legs.  But it's really a Baobab.

A wider view.

This is a Cannonball tree with its flowers and cannonball-like fruit growing up its trunk.

The giant tree here that looks as if it's about to shoot off into space is a Quipo.

This is a Monkey Pod tree, especially popular along residential streets.  I took this particular photo at Punahou School, the private K-12 that Obama attended.

Here is a close-up.  I couldn't resist a better view of its intertwining limbs.

A Mindanao Gum, in the eucalyptus family ....
...and a better look at its bark

An unidentified tree with a wonderful twisty quality ...

... and some sort of palm

The last two trees (below) are especially noteworthy.  The first is a Bo tree--the Bodhi or Pipal tree (the national tree of India), the same kind under which the Buddha achieved enlightenment.  And (take note) this particular tree is a descendant of the Buddha's tree!  It's right inside the entrance to the Foster Botanical Gardens in Honolulu.

The Bo tree

And, finally, here are three shots of the popular and spectacular Banyan tree with its aerial prop roots.

This is a single Banyan in the middle of Waikiki's International Market Place's open-air shops.

This big one is just outside the entrance to the Waikiki zoo.

And this gives a better look at the aerial roots

The Baobab, Cannonball, Quipo, Mindanao Gum, and Bo (Bodhi) trees were all in the Foster Botanical Gardens in Honolulu.  More information appears here.