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Meyer Lemons

Every year something in the garden flowers and makes more fruit or vegetables than any one human can possibly manage to consume or deal with. Unless you’re a farmer you just watch while things fall on the ground and you feel slightly guilty about it all. You might even, depending on how disorganized you are, find yourself buying the very same fruit at the grocery store as is rotting in your garden. I did this with my plums one year. But this year I have Meyer lemons and I’m determined to gather them up and make marmalade. It feels great to bring them in the house all fresh with life. That sounds odd to me to say it. It’s the feeling a predator must have while closing in on prey, the lion with the gazelle’s neck in it’s mouth. Anyway, they are here, in the kitchen and soon I will cook them down, dark and sweet, to make the richest lemon marmalade ever.

It makes me think of a quandary I’ve had recently, which I realized had something to do with life and death. I’ve moved recently into a new house, new town, and am buried beneath the weight of making my life and my family’s life function again as I want it to, to make sense and be reliable. There is always something to do and always something, many things, I feel I haven’t done. Friends seems to be getting away from me, I’m not keeping in touch and that nags at me. I fall into bed each night aching and exhausted. But the other day the certainty descended on me that at every moment I’m doing the right thing, there’s nothing left to be done, nothing is undone. So that was great, while it lasted. I’m still sure it’s true, but today I was finishing a sad book in bed before getting up, reading helplessly as one of the main characters is getting ready to die, to leave the love of his life, I had that feeling again, of my life getting away from me. And I realized it’s all part of the same thing, there’s a very real and true thing about how things go away, and how we miss them and how no matter how hard we try, the fruit will rot on the ground one day. Maybe that’s part of being in the world and of loving the world.

I still have the thought that in another few months I will be less busy, I’ll have the feeling of having turned back the tide of entropy and will sit in my comfortable chair with only one thing at a time on my mind. But there will be a moment when I can’t hold entropy back anymore, even though I consider that to be one of my areas of expertise. I wonder if it’s even possible to die with bills unpaid and lemons on the ground, but I know it must be. Maybe the taste of Meyer lemon marmalade, bitter and sweet and tart, is somehow about all this.

Drawing on My Cell Phone

new toy

Sometimes I love unintended consequences. In fact, they’re my favorite.

A few months ago I got a new phone. My old phone was fine, but Verizon kept tempting me with new models. I could get a new fancy touch screen “droid” for free at the time (well, $30/month for data, but otherwise free) and after considering how profligate I was probably being I ordered mine. It was frustrating at first, i couldn’t hear it ring, for one thing, and the battery seemed to last about 3 hours, but eventually I made friends with it and all its little applications. “apps” for short, we’re on a nickname basis now. There was one app called kidspaint. It’s Japanese, not very sophisticated, for little kids,  but it does some cool things. Each time you touch your finger down to it, it chooses a different color to draw with and a different thickness of line. I like not having to decide those things, it turns out, and so I get these wild colors together. And I draw something almost every day, sometimes many times a day. And I use my finger. And I can’t erase, but every line covers the last line, so I’m encouraged to layer. And I don’t give a damn what I’m drawing, because it doesn’t matter.  The effect for me has been that I’ve drawn more than I ever have in my life before, and I really love my drawings. I’m even thinking of branching out and using paper soon, although that’s hard to do in the car when I’m waiting for my daughter to get out of school or in a restaurant when I’m waiting for the food to come. So maybe that will come later. When I have more time.

The Dressmaker’s Story

South Pacific Islands

Driving home from a Zen retreat in the Northern California in October we took the scenic route, something I’d not done before.

The road goes in through the redwoods and back out at the sea. As you get closer to Santa Rosa there are little towns. Little means 3 shops and maybe a café. One of the towns had a dressmaker’s shop that John knew about. It had a sign that just said “Dressmaker”. Inside in the window you could see a Japanese woman with long grey hair sitting at an industrial sewing machine, looking happy, sewing something black.

Inside (wooden door with one of those jangly bells that shop doors sometimes have) there was music playing, loudly, old musical comedy music. Not what I had expected, incongruous even. It was from South Pacific, There is nothing like a dame. Nothing in the world. There is nothing you can name that is anything like a dame…

We looked at beautiful colorful silk drapy outfits. Colorful, loose, probably would look like a shopping bag on me, although I wished I still had a living grandmother or a different sense of style. We picked out a couple of scarves, it seemed the sort of destination you want to bring something home from and the one I picked was beautiful, bright pinks and corals and greens, all water-colory.

We called the dressmaker over from her sewing machine so we could pay. She talked about the fabric of the scarves, where it came from and who had designed it. I commented on her shirt which was white silk charmeuse like butter. She said she had woken up and it was cloudy and she was going to be sewing black all day so she changed into it to make herself happy. Just talking like you do when you suddenly have people to talk to.

Then she started talking about the music.

She said she’d gone in to the city and seen the show last week and had been playing it ever since. For some reason I asked if she’d ever been to the South Pacific. And she began to tell the story. She said when she was a child she was very protected. Her father was a highly placed government official and she lived in a big house, but she could never go out to spend the night away with her friends. They would come and stay with her. But she said she listened to the music of South Pacific and decided that some day she’d go out and see the world, to see that it actually was round. Then she said she had made her way to living in the United States in her early 30’s and one day she heard on the radio that the government had blown up a small South Pacific island in a nuclear test. That was it for her, she said. She had a small business, but she closed her doors the next day and packed her backpack and for three years she traveled in the South Pacific. She went all over, to all the islands, and Papua New Guinea, Australia, New Zealand.

In the end, she said, after she had seen it all she decided that Sonoma County was the best place to live in the whole world. Anyplace she wanted to visit, she’d just find it here, and there wouldn’t be so many people. And now she was listening again to South Pacific and feeling like she had completed the circle. She talked more, about silks and sewing machines and she looked really happy.

art at the park

After I did the project with the tadpoles and frog, which originally started as a neighborhood playground renovation (I was involved in writing grants, which I wasn’t very effective at, and had a foolhardy hunch that I could make bronze sculpture myself) I was approached by another group of neighbors to consult on another playground. They decided that they wanted art to be an important part of their project and I gave them lots of ideas of what might be interesting. Having no idea that I would eventually be making the art I was suggesting. In the end they had me do a number of elements. One of those was a series of animals, squirrel or smaller, that would be put in the park for any donor who wanted to give $1,000. I let them choose from a list of more-or-less native animals, species you could find within 50 miles of here, anyway.  I installed them at the beginning of last winter. They’re scattered around, some fairly hard to find, which is nice for the kids. They make the playgound seem alive.

park pictures

Touching Things for Luck


Last week I decided to take pictures of all my bronze sculptures, at least the ones I can get to easily. So one thing I did was go down to the park to photograph the first set of pieces I ever did (around 10 years ago), the life cycle of the Pacific Chorus frog.

Every once in awhile I go down to check on them, make sure they’re still attached to their moorings and that they’re not tagged with graffiti. I can tell that I’m not the only person to look after them, although I’ve never seen anyone at it. I can also tell that people feed them, little bits of wood chips and pebbles are around their mouths. I think that must be little kids, mostly.

One time I was there and three kind of marginal looking guys (it’s a very urban park, favored by homeless teens) walked by and one of them said to the others, as a tour guide might, “hey, that’s the life cycle of the frog.” I was touched. Somehow other people had started to own them.

So, when I was there this week, an older woman came down the stairs and patted them. She said to me, “these are great.” I thanked her and told her I was the one who made them. I always feel self conscious when I do that. I don’t think people quite believe me. Anyway, this woman told me that she always touches them for luck. How is it, I started to wonder, that something I made has become an icon? It wasn’t my intention, but objects have a life, and art objects must somehow become things that we all share. It’s a big thing, making images. I like it that I’m part of that.

The Loot

dragon's hoard

one possible solution

I have watched the number that represents my money get smaller. And while I’ve heard myself uttering cries of distress and betrayal, occasional heretical thoughts pass through my mind as well about the current state of affairs and what it really means and what I might ought to be doing or have done. I’ve wondered, what about remembering not only to buy low, but to sell high, the next time? But I didn’t, and here is what I think:

What were mattresses created for? well… for putting your money under. Now I remember when I started having the sophistication to scoff at people who (figuratively in most cases) just put their money under the mattress. The expectation over the past many decades is that there are better things to do with money, it shouldn’t just be kept safe, it ought to get bigger. But perhaps at one time, the mattress was considered an innovation, hiding money was better than losing it. When you have something of value, you don’t want to lose it and that is always, always, always a problem. “Better to have nothing, than to have something good,” goes the Buddhist saying. But the history of human culture is marked by new and better ways to keep what you have. And it never really works. You break your favorite spear, your cows get sick or eaten by wolves, your gold gets stolen, your house burns down, your stocks go through the roof and crash back down. The way of all flesh. Why am I whining? It’s a really lovely fantasy that I can have something that no one will take away and riches almost seem more real and safe as numbers on paper, but when I look inside myself, I never really believed it.

what to do
Okay, so then what? If my assets aren’t really that number on the piece of paper maybe there’s a different way to think about what makes  me rich or poor. And perhaps my expenses aren’t so immutable either. Stress makes it harder to be creative, but if I’m not lazy I can imagine my way into more sensible categories. I’m rich when what I want matches up with what I get. And it’s surely just laziness to want so adamantly what I already had and what I thought I would get if nothing ever changed. Why, maybe I didn’t even really want that at all. I just didn’t have the imagination to think of anything else. I’m finding that more and more likely.

An old Fiat in Elberton, Washington, near the border with Idaho

The Mayor of Elberton has a lot of old cars and trucks in his front yard, including this adorable 1950’s era Fiat Cabriolet with a very special hood ornament. It even has the keys in the ignition, although that may imply a fair amount of wishful thinking. Having the job of Mayor of Elberton, WA might also imply some wishful thinking, although it occurred to me that it’s a noble thing to be a mayor of a town, however small. I believe Dr. Seuss’ Whoville had a mayor. The Mayor of Elberton does many other things, among them tuning pianos and running some kind of a farm (growing old cars, perhaps). Elberton, WA became a much smaller town after the prune factory (said to have been the largest prune factory in the world at the time) burned down around the time when it became possible to get fresh fruit year round, perhaps almost 100 years ago now. They never rebuilt, and when the resort hotel on the hill burned down, it was also left that way. The church, though, didn’t burn and it still stands with robust looking boards over the windows and doors, but otherwise looking very solid and respectable with its red bricks and steeple. Nobody lives in the house next door and it’s very quiet and green and peaceful at that intersection near the bridge over the river.

The Barrier is the Gate

eye of needle

This is a Buddhist truism that recently took on an “”of course” subtitle for me. The idea is that what seems to block you is where you’ll find understanding, insight, enlightenment. This isn’t always intuitively obvious. But I was walking the dog the other day and thinking about a recent error I had made. Rose and I were in a disagreement about how to clean up her room and I decided that I could be a better parent if I would buy her another bookcase where she could put the piles of books that were accumulating on her floor. So I dragged her to the consignment store to see what we could find. The short version of the story was that we ended up with a piece of furniture that was old and charming and only by a wide stretch of the imagination could be considered a bookcase. But she loved it and cleaned up her bedroom entirely and completely and meticulously going through everything she’d owned and accumulated since toddlerhood in order to make room in her life for it. And I started to think about all the wrong pieces of furniture that have become parts of my life and what I’ve had to shed or alter or understand to make room in my life for these things and people and projects that I love.

a gallery

I’m experimenting with the gallery function in WordPress and it’s pretty cool. Soon I’ll put up actual portfolios of series’ of pieces, these are just samples, extremely random, of  my work.


I had the thought recently that we’re asleep a lot of the time. Ideally I’d be asleep about 1/3 of my life, except if there was something in the waking world I really didn’t want to miss. But then there’s the sleeping world. It’s as though it doesn’t exist. Like eating food or going to the bathroom on Star Trek. Sleeping is hardly depicted in my mind, let alone in the books I read or the movies I see. We unconsciously eliminate from our own view what is unconscious, and sleep is such an obvious example. What if my favorite novels were occupied 1/3 of the time with depicting sleep states? What would that do to my appreciation of the world? The falling asleep, as you sink under, the disjointed dream images and efforts to make sense of them, then the moment when the bits of dream all begin to be a language of their own, not needing to be understood… then just sensation, broken by half waking and questions or touches,  a presence or absence in the bed, a touch, warm, or lack of touch, cold, then dreams again, evaluation, I’m afraid, I’m not afraid, optimistic, curious, and the looking at the clock as waking begins, the bargaining and clinging and resignation and rising. All that is as real as conversation or car chases or battles with monsters. I wonder what else is hiding in plain sight.