Today I drove to a produce market and bought fruit. Not amazing, except it is the first time in two months that I have driven my car. (My husband has used it on alternate weeks to keep the battery charged.)
At the market, I wore my face mask. The market allowed only 10 customers at a time. Within the market, duct-taped arrows on the floor directed me around the fruit and vegetable stands – if I missed something, no turning back. I avoided putting my choices in bags as much as possible – everything went into one bag at the check-out station, which was shielded by plastic curtains except where I could insert my credit card for the check-out.
For a decade we have been asked to bring our own reusable bags to shop. Now reusable bags are possible vectors of infection, and the plastic bag makers are staging a comeback. All I can do is to pile my fruit and vegetables all together in one cart, let the checkout clerk sort, and put my purchases into one paper bag.
Public transportation, re-usable bags, cluster housing – all those ecologically correct ideas are now hazardous – how can we save the planet now?
I love this country. I get a little teary when I first see the American flag flying after a trip abroad, or when “The Star Spangled Banner” rings out over an Olympic podium or a baseball field. My US passport is my most prized possession. I pay my taxes willingly as “The price one pays for freedom” per Ben Franklin.
Still, some facts are hard for me to face:
The United States US has the shortest life expectancy of 21 developed nations – 77 years, compared to top-ranked Switzerland at 83 years. (per a Town Crier article 6/2/22)
The United States has the highest infant mortality rate of the top 8 developed nations -5.9/1000, almost triple that of top-ranked Japan at 2.0 fatalities/1000 (World Health Organization)
The United States has the least effective health-care system overall among 11 high-income countries, even though it spends the highest proportion of its gross domestic product -almost 17%- on health care. (based on % of population covered for core needs, life expectancy, infant mortality rates – the Commonwealth Fund).
The United States has the highest level of income inequality of the seven G7 countries, out-ranked world-wide only by Russia, India, and Brazil. (Brink News, Credit Suisse Global Wealth Data book) Income inequality in the United States is at its highest level in fifty years, and increasing. (US Census Bureau, 2018 figures.)
And for me the most troubling facts, because they hit close to home and seems so preventable:
In the United States the #1 cause of death in those under 18 is gunshot wounds
People living in a household with a gun owner are seven times as likely to be shot and killed as those in a gun-free home. (Stanford University study of nearly 18 million Californians).
Handguns were used in three out of four US suicides in 2018.
Despite claims from anti-gun-control groups that better mental health care, is the solution to gun violence, the amount the United States spends on mental health is only 5% of total health care spending.
I’m waiting for legislators opposed to the Affordable Care Act to propose their modifications or improvements to the coverage.
I’m waiting for the legislature to provide funding for those small local treatment centers which were supposed to be more effective than the state mental hospitals that were closed.
I’m waiting for those who claim mental disturbance is behind gun violence to explain why someone with a history of mental disturbance should be able to buy a gun anyway.
I’m waiting to see Texas GovernorRon deSantis’ proposed legislation for increased funding for mental health services.
I’ll probably be waiting for a long time to come. But the facts keep getting harder.
Ruth Bancroft’s legacy garden in Walnut Creek, California is a small plot of land full of wonders. Ruth Bancroft’s family had a farm in Walnut Creek; she was attracted to a rosette-shaped succulent, and this grew into a fascination with succulents, cacti, and numerous other drought – tolerant plants. The result is a fantasy garden of growing greenery, some of which looks as though it originated on another planet.
Despite years in the general area, and having heard about the Ruth Bancroft Garden, it took a family wedding to draw me there. Now I’m eager to go again with visiting friends.
It’s spring, folks! You’re going to see some gardens!
I spent Earth Day with friends, making a rather neglected park more beautiful by pulling weeds and trimming invasive plants. I hadn’t planned on doing anything to mark the day, but my friend Tao invited me to join her and her partner in a work project sponsored by the Chinese Historical and Cultural Project of San Jose.
The location was Iris Chang Park, shoehorned between a huge apartment block and culverted Coyote Creek. It was established to honor Iris Chang, the brilliant young author of “The Rape of Nanjing” and other histories of the Chinese experience, which opened to much community fanfare in November of 2020. But during the lockdown months care and maintenance fell behind, and the nettles and dandelions had grown almost as tall and profuse as the native grasses originally designed for the landscape.
The park offers a simple strolling path past a cenotaph telling about Iris Chang, a large circular sculpture evoking traditional Chinese artifacts, and several markers and low walls with quotes from Chang’s work. In April, irises planted by Chang’s parents were in bloom in several beds.
So we set to work. A couple of hours later, with a dozen people busy, we had accumulated quite a collection of refuse bags, and the park is ready for its closeup – a May 1 event to mark the anniversary of Chang’s death. Stop by if you are in the neighborhood!
I get the post card. I am on call for jury duty for a week. The new procedure is to sign in at noon and 5 pm to find out whether I am on call to appear the next morning or afternoon.
For four days I dodge the bullet. I manage a blood donation, a Book Club meeting, and a friend’s Anniversary Party, and then the notice appears: “Your report date is 4/22/22.” Following is other information about where to park, where to report, how to check in.
I make it easily to the parking garage, up two floors to the pedestrian bridge, and then the signage ran out. I start for the nearest building – nope, that’s the jail. In the other direction – yes, the Superior Court. Through the bag scan and the metal detector, up to the second floor, where i wait in line for the sign-in kiosks, directed by a friendly young man evidently used to handling clueless questions from silver haired ladies.
I balk at the sign in kiosk, clearly labeled “Step 2” and “Step 3”.
“Where’s Step One?”
The young man shakes his head. “We’re re-vamping the system. Gotta change those signs.” I scan my juror postcard, he kindly takes my parking ticket for validation (saving himself several other clueless questions, I’m sure.)
Into the jury room, full of people scanning their cell phones or filling out forms. What are these forms? Did I miss something? I ask. No, that’s for after you’ve been assigned to a jury. The form looks like it goes on forever. And only one chair in the entire room has a desk arm.
I am on Panel 47B. An announcement comes. 47B is called to the third floor.
We are seated in the courtroom. We rise for the judge, a young-ish woman with brown hair flowing over her robe. We rise to swear to do our best. The defendant and his attorney rise and take off their masks to greet the prospective jurors. They both sport conservative suits and ties. The defendant, a large, square shouldered guy, smiles at us – he has perfect teeth. A charmer. The DA also rises maskless, a woman in an un-challenging beige suit.
The judge read the charges against the defendant: six counts of sexual aggression, forcible rape, sodomy….
I haven’t thought about it for years. When I was eleven years old, my father out of town, my mother at a meeting, she arranged for me to go to and from my dancing class via taxi. The driver had dark curly hair and a pock-marked face. Molestation is the word we have for it now. No rape, but still mystifying and terrifying to my young self.
The judge said “This trial will probably last for five weeks. If you can plead a hardship, you may be excused.” She read the reasons which would justify hardship. Being uncomfortable with the subject matter is no excuse.
Happily, my husband and I have a long-deferred travel planned, which is non-refundable. I have been allowed a deferral until mid-summer. I’m hoping that my civic duty at that time will involve only some financial malfeasance, and will evoke no nightmares.
The entrance to the garden opens to a walkway lined on either side with bronze busts of notables, framed by (on my visit) luxuriant azaleas. It’s a bit difficult to figure out how the notables were picked. Texas historical figures such as explorer Cabeza de Vaca or Sam Houston are expected, but why the president of Chile? and why Robert Burns?
The centerpiece of the garden is a tumulus with a pathway spiraling upward to give you a view of the whole garden as well as the Houston skyline rising beyond. There is no marker to tell you who might be buried beneath this ceremonial mound, but it is precisely reminiscent of burial mounds in China, along the Mississippi, and in Britain.
The pathway is lined with shrubbery and ivy-covered walls. It seems to be a desirable habitat for lizards: I spotted six skittering away from me on my way up, in different shades of yellow, gold, and red. (California lizards are so dull and dirt-colored.) A fountain at the top of the tumulus sends water down a pebble -lined incline to a pond at the bottom; the pathway skips across the stream several times on narrow bridges. The effect is cooling, which is good, as there is no source of shade other than the ivy walls.
At the top of the tumulus are three benches inscribed somewhat cryptically: “In terms of one year, plant a seed. In terms of ten years, plant a tree. In terms of one hundred years, teach the people.” And, one could add, “In terms of one hour, have a seat!”
The rest of the Centennial Garden is still a work in progress. The beginning of a traditional rose garden is visible, but the bushes on my visit were neither labeled nor blooming. Eventually there will be benches shaded by blooming arbors, but not yet.
There is also a family garden, colorful during my visit with lush kale in many shaded of green, magenta, and yellow, and showcasing flowers, vegetables, and fruits which can be grown successfully in the Houston area.
I was charmed to find a Little Free Library conveniently positioned next to a picnic area in the Family Garden, offering books for children, but with a garden theme.
The Centennial Gardens are located within Hermann Park, also home of the Houston Zoo, a lake with paddle boats, and other family attractions. But the Gardens feel quite removed from the more commercial recreations also available in Hermann Park, and provice a lovely place for a quiet walk alone, or a walk-and-talk with friends.
I needed to stretch my legs after a full flight in coach to Houston, so my friend W obligingly scheduled a trip to the Houston Botanic Garden, sorta kinda on the way from Hobby Airport to central Houston. It was a drizzly afternoon, bracing after four hours in a mask, and we had windbreakers and an umbrella, so we strolled the deserted grounds of the garden quite comfortably. After all, in Houston the rain is warm.
The entrance to the garden is austerely modern, but the fence by the gate gives a better idea of the kinds of richness behind the entry. The garden recreates a diversity of ecological settings, punctuated with fountains, raised beds, and a variety of eccentric artwork.
My favorite were the cacti, with all the eccentric shapes and shades they can show.
The major fountain would have been more striking in sunlight with water jets sparkling, I think. Under gray skies it had an effect recalling a set of tiled locker room showers. What do you think?
The raised beds in the culinary garden were beautiful, with richly colored kale and cabbage.
Definitely worth a detour when you are next in Houston! But don’t forget the umbrella!
My father used to say that we lived in Paradise, and in springtime in California, despite threats of drought, global warming, and wildfires, this is still true. I just got back from a week away (which I will write about later, never fear) and found that my garden is in full flush of bloom. So don’t expect travel tips or social commentary this week; it’s all about the pretty pictures.
I ‘m not an assiduous gardener. There are weeds, and a lot of volunteer plants in places where they shouldn’t be. Fortunately, roses despite their beauty are very forgiving of neglect – so I have a lot of them.
I also have geraniums because they just grow, nasturtiums because they reseed themselves, and jasmine which invades from the neighbor’s yard and competes with the roses for fragrance and a basket of miniature petunias which I bought last year and has thrived on neglect.
And to top it off, my mother’s orchids, tucked away in remote corners of the yard for most of the year:
After hours in sterile cars, airports and airplanes, this was such a fantastic welcome I had to share!
Having nothing scheduled, we sleep until 6:30, when we both wake with the same need, scrambling for our camp shoes so we can hustle off to the nearby loo. If we were at home, we would have stayed upright, made coffee, and begun the day. But in camp, it seems still too dark to do anything serious, so M curls up for an additional doze, while I pull out my iPad to churn out another 1500 words of my latest imaginary adventure.
After a lovely camp breakfast of Raisin Bran, blueberries, raspberries and oranges, washed down with French pressed coffee, and milk, I do the washing up while M puts together a portable lunch in preparation for our hike to Buzzard’s Roost. We intend to leave by 10, but what with one thing and another it’s 11:15 by the time we set our feet on the path toward the Buzzard’s Roost trailhead.
It’s a lovely walk under the Highway One overpass, up through stands of redwoods terribly scorched by the Basin Complex fire of 2008, but still bravely pushing out green shoots of new growth. Then we’re in ceanothus and scrub oak country, then manzanita, and finally barren red rock with a vantage point that looks over to Mount Manuel landward and to the brilliant blue Pacific to seaward. We spread our unneeded extra layers of shirts over the red dirt and set out a lavish lunch of hard-boiled eggs, carrots, hummus, crackers, string cheese, grapes, apples, and prunes – all finger food, no grease. We stay looking out to sea until our spines begin to protest against sitting unsupported on the hard ground, then round up the eggshells and cheese wrappers with other leftovers and set off on the return loop.
One of my perennial games on a hike is to count how many different kinds of wildflowers Ican spot. In Edgewood Park near where I live, I have counted as many as forty in the spring, due to the many different micro-biomes there. On this day at Big Sur we tally twenty one, including columbine, native iris, wild strawberry, dandelion, buttercup, trillium, and others of which I do not know the names. Counting varieties is a great way of forcing yourself to be on the lookout and to really notice what is around you.
Our plan after returning to our campsite had been to hop in the car, take care of a couple of small purchases at the general store down the road, and then to drive down to Pfeiffer Beach. But after our purchases M turns to me and asks “Do you mind if we don’t go to the beach? I just want to veg.”
Instead we drive to the end of the road on the side of the river opposite our campground, just to see what is there. We watch a family playing softball on the weedy field for a while, and I want to check out the “seasonal footbridge” that the map shows opposite our campground (See the dotted line crossing the river at the end of Day Use Lot 4 on the above map?) M drops me off at the end of Parking lot 4 and drives away, while I follow the trail from the sign that says “Footbridge.”
Guess what. No footbridge. Must not be the season yet. I debate wading across the shallowest portion of the Big Sur River as it ripples past where the bridge should have been. I’m wearing my water shoes, and my cargo pants with the roll up option, and the water looks shallow. On the other hand, the bottom of the river is paved with rounded stones of varied sizes which could be very unstable and slippery, the water is so clear that it’s hard to gauge how deep it really is, and getting up the steep bank on the opposite side looks chancy. So I opt for the half-mile walk around to the far bridge at the end of the campground. (It would have been shorter, but the most direct route was “authorized vehicles only,” and a ranger directed me in a friendly but definitive way to the trail around, not through.)
By the time I make it to our campsite, M has gotten worried and set out in search of me. By the time we reunite the sun is definitely over the yardarm. She lights the portable campfire, I run cold water from the camp faucet over my tired feet, and we settle to reading, phoning, and munching the last of the crackers and hummus.
Dinner is experimental but turns out well. A vegetable medley cooked in Frying Pan #1, sliced parboiled potatoes with onions sautéed in frying pan #2, and lamb chops sauteed in Frying Pan #1 after the veggie medley had been evacuated, along with a nice Pinot Noir, dessert of shortbread and chocolate squares, and some sisterly discussion ranging from “Do you think Mom resented me?” to “Have you smoked marijuana?” to “I have this genetic deformity. Do you have it too?”
And by 9PM we are snuggled in our teardrop cocoon once more.
We had had a rare rainfall two days earlier, and nothing could have been a fresher, more electric green than the hills of the Santa Clara Valley as we headed down toward Monterey. We went off the freeway at Lamplighter Drive to take advantage of relatively cheap gas near the Army base, and otherwise sailed uneventfully down Highway 1, slowed only by roadwork as crews narrowed the road to one lane periodically as they constructed subterranean aqueducts to prevent washouts and landslides along the perennially unstable coastline.
After setting up, as it was only 3PM, we decided to walk to Pfeiffer Falls, as we had seen the trailhead as we were entering the park. The trail to Pfeiffer Falls had been closed due to fire damage and landslides the last couple of time I had been there. It has now been reopened thanks to extensive reconstruction efforts by a team of conservation groups, and the trail is now a cascade of bridges and staircases crafted of thick wood beam designed to resist erosion, vandalism, earthquakes, and storms. (Fires, maybe not so much). It’s a challenging climb, but there are plenty of landings, and the final destination is a lovely fern-draped hollow with a spring-fed cascade shooting down a rock face, and a couple of wide benches suitable for catching your breath and resting your quads after the staircases.
Downhill was faster. We took a shortcut back to camp, and M brought out a bottle of wine, snap peas and carrots, and minted yogurt and hummus. We polished off the peas and i put together the pre-cooked meal that my PTA had provided – 20 minutes to assemble and cook in a single skillet (recipe below) . We finished off the wine with the casserole, while for entertainment we watched a fellow camper maneuver a HUGE trailer backwards into the campsite across the way. (Trailers seem to come in two sizes, either tiny teardrops like M’s or humongous, with pop outs and canopies and rooftop patios.)
A quick washing up and cleanup of the camp, and we tucked ourselves into the trailer. Everything is as carefully arranged as in a well-crafted yacht, with no nook or cranny left without a purpose and a content, and the aluminum sides and insulation making it much cozier than a tent. We have a plan for tomorrow involving a hike to a viewpoint, a couple of bag lunches, and maybe a trip down to the beach. But nothing scheduled.
My sister M has christened her teardrop trailer “@rchy” a triple pun referencing its curvilinear shape, the name of the manufacturer (t@g) and its resemblance to a classic VW bug, hence the association with Don Marquis’ classic literary cockroach. The Subaru Forester which tows the trailer is, of course, “Mehitabel”.
For my Christmas present this year M promised me two expeditions with @rchy, one short, to a local state park, and one longer, to visit our brother in the Northwest. We set a tentative date in March, and then let it drift, until M went online in January and discovered that there were NO open campsites anywhere within 100 miles of us in the month of March. It seem that everyone in California at the same time got sick of staying indoors fearing Covid-19 and decided that outdoor camping is the logical healthy alternative – outdoors, campsites socially distanced – suddenly this is the hot thing to do.
Fortunately, M is tech savvy, and found an app which would alert her to any cancellations at her desired locations in the desired time frame. So in the third week of March we found ourselves outward bound for Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground – not our first choice destination, but within easy striking distance of my house as a base.
Of course, my Personal Travel Agent was quite discomfited at being left out of this ladies’ outing (@rchy only sleeps two) but he made himself as useful as possible by suggesting menus, precooking our dinner for the first night, and providing maps, hiking suggestions, and special cooking utensils.
We pulled into our camp site just after 2PM, the earliest we could check in. It took less than an hour to set up camp, complete with a carpeted “kitchen” with two work surfaces and a storage cupboard, a carpeted “living room” with mini-fireplace, chairs, and snack table,and a “dining room” with tablecloth, matching dinnerware, and a candle. M does not believe in roughing it.
Besides the many advantages of having your tent, clothing storage, and kitchen all self-contained in one aluminum cocoon, @rchy offers the additional benefit of being a social magnet. There were at least three other t@g trailers within a few campsites of ours, and fellow t@ggers needed no encouragement to give a tour of the modifications and special storage features each had added to their tow-along pet.
We had been a bit wary of Pfeiffer Big Sur for camping as several years ago a major wildfire had burned through the park, closing many trails and destroying many vistas. But the latest news from the site had assured us that trails were open and recovery from the fires is well under way.