stormy seas, hawks, ospreys, and humans

I’m about to go off and live inland for several months and am trying to squeeze in as much ocean time as possible before that happens.  Since the winter storms have finally arrived, the waves have been exciting.  The beaches have all but disappeared and there are places where water and foam splashes over the cliff face and onto the sidewalk.  I’ve never seen the waves so high.

Few animal sightings in this turbulent water, but many in the skies above it.  Beautiful lines of pelicans.  Seagulls, of course.  And a couple of weeks ago, while walking downtown with my friend Joan, my first ever Santa Cruz osprey, a gorgeous bird with a white belly and dark band over its eyes.  It was perched high above us in a fir tree.  Just like the Days of Christmas song: “an osprey in a fir tree.”  That is how it goes, right?

At the other end of West Cliff, out by Natural Bridges a juvenile red-tailed hawk has been hanging about.  Two other walkers have named it — Madge, short for Majesty, obviously female, they told me, though this is less than obvious to me.  I first noticed Madge because she was exciting considerable attention from a group of crows.  They circled, shouted, dive-bombed her in sequence, like rebel pilots trying to take out the Death Star.  She was unperturbed.  She is already larger than they are and likely to become more so.

A final observation on the humans here:

Last Wednesday, I left my purse at the farmer’s market.  I took a pilates class and biked home.  More than an hour had passed before I realized it was missing.

I have a tenuous, temporary relationship with my things — they come into my life, they go out of it.  I’ve probably lost my purse almost a dozen times in the last twenty years, sometimes with large sums of cash, sometimes with all my credit cards, sometimes with my passport, my phone inside.

And every single time this has happened, my purse has been returned to me, contents intact.

I rushed back to the market to find the booths all closed and disassembled.  Also, my purse, being cared for by a representative of Dirty Girl Farms.  ”We kept waiting for you to come back,” he told me.

I know others have other experiences.  But for what it’s worth, this has always been mine.

sooty shearwaters, in great numbers

A few evenings ago, August 4th to be precise, while pushing a stroller, trying to soothe a cranky baby, I found myself on West Cliff Drive just before sunset. I circumvented Lighthouse Field State Park, which meant I walked for several blocks along the ocean. The whole time I walked east, a stream of birds flew west over the water, an abundance of birds, an endless chain. They did not appear to be feeding, though I couldn’t see any individual clearly enough to be sure, just the great cloud of them. I kept expecting to walk past the place where the flock began, but I never did and it’s possible they were moving in a great circle, or it’s possible that the movement originated further down by the harbor or even beyond. I think it’s fair to say that I have never seen so many birds. I was awestruck.
I came home and hit the google and found that they are sooty shearwaters, making an annual visit to Santa Cruz. One online estimate had their numbers at 3000+.
Their migrations are also epic – 40,000 miles, the longest documented migration of any bird — so we are lucky to be on the route. There are pictures on the web that suggest their numbers and resemble what I saw. One can be found here: http://www.mobileranger.com/santacruz/migration-madness-the-sooty-shearwaters-are-back/ along with much intriguing information.

primates, human variety

Just a word to anyone noticing — I am currently in beautiful La Jolla, California where I’ll spend the next week teaching at the Clarion Workshop. I’ll be doing a reading Wednesday at Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego.

We (the Clarion Foundation) are currently running our annual fundraiser for scholarship needs and I’m also part of that. If you wish to feed a hungry science fiction writer, go to http://clarionwriteathon.com and throw us some love.  Many thanks!

Rabbits not wild but brave

Yesterday my husband called me outside to see the rabbit making its slow way down our street. It was being stalked with intense vigilance by our neighbors’ ginger cat, though it seemed unaware of that. They were about the same size — the rabbit fancily colored and tame enough to let me get close, but not so tame I could pick it up. I was able to dissuade the cat, but could manage no more. When last seen it was headed into the state park where the grasses are high and its odds of survival low. It died, if it died, a free rabbit. I don’t imagine there is much consolation in that, but I’m trying to pretend that there is. Like the end of Braveheart. Sort of like that.

Pheasants, labradoodles, and, eventually, pot-bellied pigs

I’ve spent the last week in the wilds of Barcombe Mills, England with my husband.  It’s been a sort of writing retreat slash dog sitting gig with lots of rain and mud and quiet and several little tasks to clear off my calendar.  As I look out the window, a large pheasant is running up the garden path toward the house and the bird feeder.  There is something comical in the way it runs — rude of me to notice. There is probably something comical in the way I run as well. Let’s assume as much.

It’s lovely to be here.  There is a river to the front of the house and two beautiful swans on the green.  Out the back is a pond the shape of Africa, a metal ostrich, a wooden warthog. The birds at the feeder are all exotic to me, even the ones I know must be ordinary — the wood pigeons, blue tits, wrens and wagtails.  There has been copious rain, which I’ve enjoyed since we are getting so little of it back home.  I am trying to send it in the direction of California with only the power of my thoughts. Let me know how that works out.

It’s wonderful to have dogs again, even temporarily, even when I have to walk them in a blistering gale.  We’re sharing the house with two labradoodles, one large, one small, one light, one dark.  They are sweet-tempered, well-behaved dogs and they have the good life a dog has when there are no children in the house to eat up everyone’s time and attention.  Two walks a day, treats, and attention.  They are well-behaved, as I said, thoroughly lovely, and yet it has been a full dog experience – muddy paws, grass and horse-dung eating, humping, farting, snoring, barking in the night. But also the snuggling, the licking, the moment to moment concern for my well-being.

There is a horse barn next door, loads of rabbits.  I’ve seen no foxes, but of course they are here, and one night there was a tremendous row, both dogs carrying on, and in the morning a sad pile of wood pigeon feathers in the back. This is England the way I picture it, not what I see when I’m in London, but the green fields, the public pathways, muddy streams, the stiles I climb through, just like Elizabeth Bennet, my petticoat, six inches deep in mud.

And then this over my email!  I’m thrilled to direct you this morning to an article written by a brilliant member of my Santa Cruz writing group.  The topic is pot-bellied pigs.  Find it here:  http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/02/23/the-manifestation-of-senor-bacon/

PSAs

I’m clearing up the Christmas debris and bracing for New Year’s. Hoping for more rain. Hoping for more time. Hoping for more words, more pages, more posts.
In the meantime, please notice the following: Researcher Matt McLennan is trying to raise $30,000 by January 5th on IndieGogo for his project to save chimps and help Ugandan children.  He has less than a week and about 20,000 dollars still to go.  If you can help out, please do so. The campaign is here:  https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-bulindi-chimpanzee-community-project

 

Second, and more self-servingly — the application period for the Clarion writing workshop, San Diego version, is currently open and I will be teaching there this summer along with Christopher Barzak, Saladin Ahmed, Jim Kelly, Maureen McHugh, and Margo Lanagan.  Details to be found at http://clarion.ucsd.edu.

sprucing up the spruces

September 26, 2014

I have finally come to rest for a bit back home — long enough to resume my usual cliff-top walk in Santa Cruz. To my surprise and sorrow, the Monterey pine I have long used as a ballet barre for stretching out my legs and a monkey-bar for hanging out my back, and an easy climb into a better view has been pruned of all its lower branches. It has a new sleek silhouette and is now unclimbable. Not only that, but the removed branches appear to have been put through the chipper, which has raised the ground around Kyushiro Mine’s bench in ways that also Do Not Work For Me.
I am consoling myself that probably the pruning was essential to the health of the tree — not something I know for a fact, but it could be true. In the meantime, I am reposting here a report that first appeared on the bookanisata site last March, an account of how my walk used to go before these shocking events.

Reposted:
I live in Santa Cruz, California, on the very edge of the continent and one of the most beautiful places on planet Earth. Most mornings I take a walk along West Cliff Drive, where I am joined by joggers, strollers, dogs, bicyclists, and tourists. The ocean is below us; the path winds along the cliffs above.
I do this walk largely for the exercise it provides, so I push my pace with music or I listen to the news on the radio and when I get home, I turn on the computer and read more of the news and when I brush my teeth, rather than be alone with my own thoughts for the two minutes that takes, I read a book. It’s possible that I have a bit of an addiction to the internet or at least to the constant possibility of distraction it provides.
Because none of this (except the book) is entirely pleasant. In fact, it leaves me jangled, as if I have a head full of noise. And I try, from time to time, to withdraw, to take what my friend Ruth Ozeki calls, the backward step. And, specifically, to at least do my morning walk, as god intended, without earbuds.
So this is a diary of a few days in which I managed to be quiet in the head. I know that sounds unexciting, but believe me, it was hard won.

Day 1
It is not really quiet. The first things I notice are the sounds I miss on other days – waves, birds, sea lions, bits of conversation I hear as people pass. More waves. I start off at Lighthouse Field State Park where the first person I see is the woman who drives up periodically to feed the large population of feral cats there. Today she has sprung for the canned food so they are all over her and an embarrassment to the very word feral. They love her, but like an Austen character, only for her estate.
We are deep into drought here in California and the park has a parched look. I remember how, at this time of year, I used to hear frogs, but I can’t remember how long ago that was. I think it’s been a long time. My first year here, there was a storm that uprooted trees and sent the waves crashing all the way up the cliffs and onto the path. My late dog and I went out in that storm for the sheer drama of it. Now I do this walk with the ghost of my beloved dog beside me, and the storms, too, seem a thing of the past.
The sun is just coming up when I reach the sea. I like the color of the water at all times of day, but the early morning is especially beautiful – a color I have no name for, but is overlaid with silver, glints of light in a surface of sharply defined waves.
The benches along West Cliff are memorials, inscribed like tombs and sometimes quite sad to contemplate, but I have a favorite that carries no such sadness. It commemorates Kyushiro Mine, 1897-1993 and has the words “After a Long Journey, Peace” inscribed under his name. If no one has grabbed it for the selfish purpose of rest and contemplation, it is the perfect height for me to do some stretching on.
All trees are equally lovable and one shouldn’t have favorites, but I do. Spreading over the Kyushiro bench is a large Monterey Pine, very climbable, and so filled with invisible blackbirds that it seems the tree itself is singing above me. I have a branch I hang from to rid myself of the kinks in my back and I would resemble the beautiful cover of my own book if its dangling figure were a sexagenarian in an idiotic hat.

My favorite bit of overheard dialogue today – “I am a great fan of germs.”
Me, too! Some of them, anyway. The best of them.

Day 2:
Today all my sea creatures are coming in pairs, straight off the Ark if the sea creatures had needed an Ark, which clearly they didn’t. World domination was right within their grasp until Noah snatched it away.
They need one now.
It’s hard to look out to sea and get that old reliable sense of peace. A few days ago, I saw in an article online that pinpointed the death of the ocean to 2048. That date is very possibly within my children’s lifetimes, and certainly within my grandchildren’s. I think about my grandson who has already loved sharks for his whole ten years and is a fountain of arcane shark lore. He will not like a world without sharks.
Meanwhile, all unaware of the impending apocalypse, two sea lions bob just offshore, watching the dogs chase balls and waves on the dog beach. Two porpoises are arching through the water although maybe they are dolphins – I cannot tell. It matters, because here in Santa Cruz we have the occasional porpicide – porpoise murder perpetrated by bottlenose dolphins – because Mother Nature really does not care if you love her or not. Maybe if you had behaved better. But now, she just sees you as something to be eaten.
Yet I myself am feeling all charitable toward the particular humans I meet today, who, whatever their complicities, are picking someone else’s trash up as they walk along, or adding their own art to the already beautiful vista. I am particularly grateful to:
The skateboarder who has made a Goldsworthy-like sculpture garden of intricately stacked stones and stops daily to repair or revise it.
The unknown and unseen hands that cut empty beer cans into pelicans, wings spread, and perch them on the ledge above the trashcans
The man who stands on the edge of the cliff, looking out to sea and playing marvelous loopy riffs on his trumpet
The woman who took my arm as I passed to make sure I didn’t miss the two sea otters floating on their backs in the surf.

Favorite thing overheard today – a man singing Dock of a Bay quietly to himself as he walked.

Day 3:
My last day at home before I catch a plane and start to book-tour again. The plane is early enough that the only way I can manage my usual walk is to start in the dark. I have the streetlights until I hit the park and then only the light of a very round moon and my familiarity with the paths to see me through to the ocean. My grandsons and I play Hobbit in this park. I know every goblin-filled inch of it.
Now it is quiet. The sea lions cavorted late into the night – I can hear them from my bedroom – and are presumably filled with silent regret this morning. The birds are not yet up. The cliffside walk is deserted except for one man trying to get a picture of the moon and its reflection in the black water on his cellphone.
Because Santa Cruz is on a bay that, in disorienting fashion, faces south, the sun is rising behind me as I walk west. The transformation from night to day is a fast one. The tide is high and the waves are crashing whitely on the rocks below me. Other people start to arrive. A young boy is out jogging with his mother and she is telling him some story that begins “when I was your age,” and then they are past before I can hear the rest, but what remains with me was the interest with which her son seemed to be listening. When I was his age, I don’t think I ever listened past the words “when I was your age” to anything.
When I was your age, children, there was no music in the elevators, airports, restaurants. Nobody thought the ocean could be killed. For most of the games we played, another actual person had to show up, I mean physically, right there in the room, and play with you. It was all pretty weird.
Today’s bird sightings include one gray heron, one snowy egret, two brown pelicans that apparently weren’t invited on the winter migration, a line of scoters washing about in the surf, a rock of cormorants, a fence of red-winged blackbirds, a scurry of sandpipers.
I don’t have time today to stop at Kyushiro’s bench, dangle from my tree, watch the sun rising. The waves are coming in sets and the surfers are doing the same. The moon is still up when I leave and the sun, too. I have noisier places to go, noisier things to do.

Favorite thing overheard today – “I probably would have liked it better if I’d known it was funny.” Words to live by. A very sound philosophy of life.

Hannah Stein, elephants

The great poet Hannah Stein has sent me a poem!

 

ZOO VIGIL

We dream jungle, we dream veld.  Where
elephants go to die:  bare ground
fenced between calligraphied giraffes
and the tender-eyed okapi.  An elephant

lies in state: a kind of earthen wake for
the living, who lumber in needful ritual,
knowledge flickering in their silent feet,
their arcane, undomesticated bones.
They grieve in a dusty oval,
touch their comrade again and again,

to make sure he is dead, to lay
their peace upon him, gather his peace
unto themselves.  Hour upon hour
they circle him and touch him,
the friable ground wreathing up all

that can shade eternity back to them,
whatever more than dust
may spread safekeeping.
—Hannah Stein

 

(First published in And We The Creatures, C.J. Sage, editor)