Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the category “climate”

Freeway Free in Texas: The Good Life in San Saba

Imagine:

You wake up in the spacious master suite of the home you designed yourself on 140 acres of open land. You make your coffee and stroll out to the spacious veranda which runs across the front of the house, looking out over a pasture with cows and pecan trees, and an occasional herd of deer or feral hogs around the pond. It’s bluebonnet season, and the blossoms are carpeting patches of the pasture.

Next to the white ranch house, but not too close, is the barn/workshop which stores equipment for maintaining the fence that keeps the cows, deer, and feral hogs away from the nearby vegetable garden, green with lettuce beginning to bolt, sugar peas just ready to harvest, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant well along. It’s a bit too early for the strawberries and blackberries. You check the chicken coop for eggs and find enough for breakfast for you, your spouse, and guests who are bedded down in the wing on the other side of the kitchen.

Breakfast includes the eggs, bread you made yourself, and blackberry jam from last year’s berries. After breakfast you see your daughter, son-in-law, and three granddaughters walking over from their house just kitty-corner across the pasture. (You designed their home also, when you and your spouse and your daughter’s family agreed that buying the property together would be a good move.) You leave the guests to entertain themselves while the two families jump into your SUV and off you go for a morning of soccer.

Back in time for lunch, you serve everyone goulash made of home-grown broccoli, ground venison shot and butchered by yourself on your property, and wild rice.

After lunch you take the guests for a tour of the new San Saba County Musuem, assembled and curated by volunteers, very creatively arranged by types of activity (law, business, church, school, home , children , agriculture , ranching, etc). You are a board member of the Museum, and can regale your guests with a fountain of info and anecdotes. including why Queen Victoria named San Saba “the World’s Capital of Pecans”.

Then you take the guests on a tour of the town of San Saba starting with the “Longest continuously used jail in Texas”, the refurbished courthouse (painted in authentic avocado green and harvest gold), lovely old homes in various states of repair, and the Methodist Church, “the only church in Texas built entirely of local marble” with lumpy white pillars like stacks of slightly bubbly marshmallow on a skewer.

Back at the ranch, your spouse prepares the charcoal grill while you take the guests on a tour of the property on your electric golf cart, checking out the wildlife feeders and adjacent hunting blinds, but no feral hogs or deer to be seen, only placid cows.  At 5 pm the family across the pasture arrives preparatory to dinner. You sit on the veranda, the men talking hunting, fishing, trapping, the girls playing hobby horse or doing gymnastics on the lawn, the women exchanging information about cooking, planting, and coping with energy blackouts, (Your houses have solar panels and backup generators, so no worries) while the girls are playing hobby horse or doing cartwheels on the lawn.

Dinner is home-grown broccoli, oven-baked new potatoes, and the grilled chicken. After dinner you all sit on the veranda and watch the stars – the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper, and a glowing cloud that may be the Milky Way.  It’s not quite a Dark Sky, as the moon is rising over the roof and the horizon is lit by the surrounding towns, but pretty close. “Orion just leaps out of the sky at you,” says one of the guests.

You tell the guests of a visitor from Boston who looked up awestruck and said “I can’t believe this!  how come you have so many more stars in Texas than we have in Boston?”  He couldn’t believe that the stars were there in Boston, but obscured by urban glare.

A fantasy? There are some downsides to being some distance from a grocery store or a doctor or a local school or a library, but overall, the Good Life outside of San Saba looks pretty fine to me. I was one of the guests.

A Piece of My Mind: Weather or Not

Photo from CalFire CZU

For three years in California we have bewailed the drought, the shrinking reservoirs, the lowering aquifers, and debated whether or not to build additional dams and pipelines despite the environmental cost.  High winds threatened to snap power lines, spark fires, and drive them at breakneck speed across our forests. My gray water from dishes was poured onto any handy plant that would be grateful, my faucets were not allowed to run, I limited my dishwasher to once-a-day, and recklessly combined colors and whites in my laundry to save an extra load. Something called the Peculiarly Persistent Pressure Ridge was pushing rainfall northward, blocking rainfall during what were normally the soggy months.

Now the pattern has changed, at least for a while.  The Peculiarly Persistent Pressure Ridge has melted away, and now we have Atomospheric Rivers from Alaska (COLD!) or Hawaii (WET!) aiming straight at the midriff of California.  Instead of drought, we have record snow pack and rapidly filling reservoirs.  Instead of wildfires, we have floods and landslides.  Instead of talking of building more dams and pipelines, we are rushing resources to repair and maintain the deteriorating system of levys which protects our farmland.  High winds are still a threat, as toppled trees land on power lines and block roadways.

So instead of moaning about the drought, we exchange news of which house was crushed by trees, which roads are blocked, which neighborhood is without power and for how long.

Still, it’s better than arguing about what “woke” means, or whether racism is ingrained in our society, or if a tax cut for the wealthy will ever trickle down to the middle class, or whether the Ukraine will be our next Viet Nam, or the science behind vaccinations.  At least we haven’t politicized the weather. Yet.

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My debut novel, Fox Spirit, is appearing episode by episode on my sister blog, ajmccready.wordpress.com. New episodes arrive every Monday and Thursday. They’re short, so you’re not too late to check them out, and sign up for future happenings

Freeway Free in Florabundance: My Spring Garden

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!

Freeway Free at Lake Tahoe: Besides Skiing…

Hiking boots still damp [See two posts ago] we decided ice skating would be the best option for an afternoon. . C started phoning.  One place had a disconnected phone – probably not an option.  We decided to check out the outdoor rink at Heavenly Village. 

HV is a skier’s Disneyland.  The gondolas leave from the middle of a pseudo alpine village with outdoor musicians, an ice-covered fountain, and various boutique shoppes and eateries.  But the rink was dinky – smaller than the San Jose rink beneath the palms.  so we tried Edgewood Lodge – sorry, not open to public. then the inside south Tahoe city Ice rink – reserved for hockey team practice and lessons except for Th-Sun. c thinks she might go on Friday when she is here alone – she brought her skates!

We were inspired, though, by the sign showing where those gondolas ended up – far up the mountain and on the other side of the ridge was the true Heavenly Valley. So we drove up the Kingman Grade (N-207) to HeavenlySki Resort. The gondola that goes up from the Village on US50 ends at a cluster of condos and cabins surrounding a take off point for several busy ski runs. This is literally another side of the Tahoe area, invisible from the Lake.  We were hoping for some impressive lake views, but too many trees.

Nowhere to walk in the resort unless you were carrying skis over your shoulder on the way to one of the lifts, so we descended the Kingman Grade again, parked next to HWY 50, and took a walk along the South Tahoe bike way, then went down to the snow-covered beach and made our way back to our car.  As we returned the sky turned blazing peach and pink and purple, celebrating our explorations.  You can always count on Lake Tahoe to take your breath away, one way or another.



Freeway Free Around Tahoe: Through the Ice

Trail to Emerald Bay is under there somewhere!

C and I deliberate about how to spend our first day in Winter Wonderland, and decide to go hiking at Emerald Bay, maybe down to the bay from the trailhead, maybe on the “moderate” trail up to Eagle Falls. After some wrong turns with me driving, we finally plug in the GPS and find the right road, skimming along on ice-free pavement between six-foot snowbanks on either side of the road – until we get to the ridge where the side of the road simply drops away on both sides and I dare not take my eyes off the asphalt to look at the stunning views in either direction for fear of plummeting to our doom.

Bridge is under there!

Six-foot snowdrifts means that access to the trail down to Emerald Bay is blocked by snow, so we default to the “moderate, 400 ft elevation” Eagle Creek loop.  The hike to falls would be easy if the path and all markers were not obliterated by piles of snow.  We struggle, using existing footprints as toeholds, to the bridge, which is covered with a two foot cushion of hard packed snow (fortunately not in the sun, so not slick or icy).

On the other side, it looks like a path has been blazed to go down and cross the creek at a narrow spot, less steep and icy than either the way we had come or the longer loop back to start – so we try it. C goes first, with no trouble until we reach the narrow place where it seems others had crossed the creek.  She gets across but with one foot through the ice bridge down to water.  “That looks dicey,” I thought. “I’ll try a different route” – bad idea!  I break through the ice bridge with one foot in the creek down to my ankle. As I struggle the other foot breaks through also, and suddenly I’m up to my knees in icy water, with the surrounding snowpack almost up to my waist, and me on my back with my backpack sinking into the surface.  Fortunately, C manages to get to solid ground and grab a hand, and I finally flip over and manage to get a knee onto fairly firm snow.  Yes, the way back is less steep and less long, but I squish at every step. 

Next week: Plans B and C

A Piece of My Mind: Groundhog Day? Groundhog Decade?

It’s become a cliché to compare living in the year of COVID-19 lockdown to the movie Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray’s character is doomed to relive the same day over and over until he gets it right.  I’ve certainly had that feeling, as Laundry Day seems to come around faster and faster, and the only difference from week to week is what color sheets I put on the bed.  

But hey!  We’re getting through it, right?  I’ve been waiting for the New Normal for a while now, with the anticipation of looking forward, rather than looking back at How Things Used to Be.  But this week I had an unsettling discovery which challenges that anticipation.  

Like many people, I keep a stack of unread magazines in the bathroom which I am going to get around to reading sooner or later. During lockdown, I made a lot of progress.  This week, near the bottom of the unread magazine pile I found an issue of Time from summer, five years ago.   

There was a two-page photo spread showing a scorched playground swing among the smoky ruins of a school, one of at least 2400 homes and businesses in a community destroyed by a wildfire. 

A lead article talked about how to achieve equity and inclusion for black students at colleges and universities, using the line “Black Students Matter”.  

Another article featured edible cutlery as a way to keep plastic waste out of landfills. 

An op-ed article discussed how to help your children interact with and understand artificial intelligence. 

A second op-ed article worried about how the aging of the Baby Boomers would impact our society, especially if they are siloed in retirement communities and lose engagement with their communities. 

The lead articles discussed the need to reform our tax system in order to narrow the wealth gap and the lack of political will to address our crumbling transportation systems.  The entertainment section featured an article on the retreat of movie and television drama into endless fantasies where magic and superpowers prevail over reality.  

In short, if you changed a few political names, updated the titles of the books, movies, and TV shows, and overlooked the lack of mention of pandemics, there was almost nothing in the magazine that couldn’t have been written this week.  I have the horrible suspicion that once I am out of lockdown, the New Normal could just be 2016 over and over again, until we get it right.  

There are still a few magazines in my pile, even older than the copy of Time from 2016. I’m going to wait a bit before I look at them, though.  If we are stuck in a Groundhog Decade, I don’t think I want to know. 

Freeway Free in Texas: Take Me Home From the Ball Game

          It’s 6:30 am and we are off to Kyle (touted by Wikipedia as the fastest-growing town in Texas, which also makes it a strong candidate for the ugliest – lots of big box stores and pop-up housing.) My nephew’s team, the Texas Gunners, will be playing the Triple Play in the Battle of the Basement. (Winners get to sleep in. Losers play at 8:30, and the team meets for warm-ups an hour earlier) The Gunners have beaten Triple Play in two previous games but we must not be overconfident.

          We arrive at the ball park.  My nephew and brother stride off toward the dugout with the duffel bag full of gear.  My sister-in-law and I note the rain spangling against the windshield and decide to huddle in the SUV for a few minutes longer.

          Twenty minutes pass.  The rain is still spatting against the windows, but we unfurl ourselves from the SUV, add a couple of layers of warmth from the back seat stash, and make our way to the bleachers, happily sheltered under a tin roof. The other parents are cuddled in sleeping bags, or afghans, or double layers of fleece. One family has brought a tent, which is pitched under the tin room for added protection.

          First inning.  The wind picks up. And up. The sky grows darker. And darker.  My nephew distinguishes himself as pitcher during the first inning, and the second.  Rain continues. Wind increases.  25 mph, says the weather app on my smartphone.  It is now the third inning, and my nephew’s  pitches are getting wilder.

          “Will the game be called on account of rain?” I ask my brother through chattering teeth.

          “Nah.  Only if there’s lightning. If there’s lightning they have to stop and wait for a half hour since the last thunder clap.”

          As if on cue, there is a bright flash of lightning. A long roll of thunder.  The umpires blow their whistles.  The teams retreat to their respective dugouts. The parents shiver beneath their blankets.  The kids seem immune to cold, not even donning their team sweatshirts as they wait out the interval.

          A half hour passes.  No more thunder. The teams resume the field.

          Bad news:  My nephew’s team loses again. They are eliminated from the tournament

          Good news: They don’t have to play again.  We can go home and get warm.

Life in a COVID-19 Hot Spot – Week 25: Getting Hotter

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Not enough to be locked down by fear of the virus. For two weeks I have been locked in, surrounded in my bayside bubble by wildfires raging out of control to the north, to the east, to the south, and to the west. The outside air has ranged from Moderately Unhealthy to Hazardous, as a high pressure dome presses down on our region, keeping the sea breezes out and holding the ash and soot in.

The beginning of the maelstrom was a week of record-setting high temperatures, punctuated by a freak lightning storm which lit over 600 blazes in tinder-dry brush. We had a week of relief from the heat, and then it returned, with temperatures a full 25 degrees above “normal” for this time of year.

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September 7,2020

At the same time, in other parts of the country the most powerful storm ever to make landfall made its way from the Gulf to the Atlantic shore. The Weather Service is all the way to Rene in naming tropical storms, and the hurricane season has not reached its peak.

How can anyone look at these events and not be afraid, not for their own personal well-being, but for our planet? I have grand-children. Scientists have warned for a decade that what I live through in these weeks will be the “new normal” if we are not able to change our destructive patterns of life.

If no other good comes from it, the pandemic has shown us that, if forced and if fearful, we CAN cut carbon emissions by 7% a year. We CAN move out of cars and onto bicycles or our own feet. We CAN live without the latest Something New.

And the trusting faces of our children and grandchildren tell us we MUST.

Life in a COVID-19 Hot Spot – Week 12 – Silver Linings

I had an eerie experience today.  I drove south on a major freeway at 4:45.  I was driving to a destination about 15 miles from my house. Normally (at rush hour, going in the commute direction) it would have taken me nearly an hour to go 15 miles.  Today – 15 minutes.

I looked up from the road. Today was an unusually hot day, in the nineties. Normally, in that heat, smog would have blanketed the valley I live in.  I would be fortunate to see the foothills five miles away.  Today, despite the heat, I could see the mountains at least thirty miles away.  The observatory buildings at the top of the highest peak in our area gleamed white. No traffic = no smog.

This evening I heard laughter from across the street.  The family whose children are normally in camp or in nanny care while their parents are at work was outside in their front yard,  parents and children playing volleyball with an invisible net.

In hard times, divisive times, there is upside.

Life in a COVID-19 Hot Spot – Week 7: Nature’s soft side shows in Spring

Nature has been throwing  us a lot of nasties in the last months – pandemic, killer tornados, smothering snow, torrential rain, and historic drought levels, to name a few.  And then, as if to make up for the tantrums, she sends us a Spring as lavish and luscious as any I can remember.  From native-plant gardens,  to cultivated rose gardens, to bursting containers, everything that has ever thought of blooming in my own garden and my neighborhood is out-doing itself this year.

Above: Poppies, sage, lupine, and blue-eyed grass from a native-plant garden in a nearby park.

Above: calendula, roses, raphiolepsis and orchids in my own garden.

Above: ranunculus border, tulips, wisteria, and rhododendron from a heritage garden nearby.

Above: cultivated roses at a neighboring university campus.

I hope these pix refresh you a bit, especially those of you who are still snowbound as well as lockdown-bound.  Spring still arrives, in spite of everything!

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