Friday, November 9, 2018

And the ETA on the Zombies is when?

Seriously, I just came back from walking Cooper around the block and it is a ghost town out there, like Zombie-land. No one is on the roads, I could have prostrated myself on Mendocino Avenue and read my Bible (if I was carrying it) for five minutes before a car even came into view. The only time I have seen the road this quiet was Christmas morning, and this is Friday night!

Same thing last night, no one on the roads. The smoke was annoying last evening but today it was awful.  The smoke index (aka Air Quality Index but come on, it's all about the smoke) starts at zero for good and 500 for bad. Today in Santa Rosa it was around 320. It was around 410 in Guerneville, home of Autocamp, my place of employment. It is supposed to be the same tomorrow, Saturday.  Another reason to be joyful about going to work!

Walking Cooper around 4:30 this afternoon for a short jaunt, the sun was a hellish red-orange combo, as if someone poured blood into orange juice and stirred it up. It was as defined as a canonball in the sky, clear and hot and creepy. A young guy was standing outside my neighborhood tattoo parlor as Cooper and I walked by and I pointed to the sun and said "fucking freaky, right?" and he replied "I don't want this, we had this last year, I am done with this."  My feelings exactly.

Shootings and fires in Los Angeles. More fires 100 miles from us right now. It feels like death and destruction are leaching out from Washington, D.C., a crawling plague of evil, leaving nothing whole or safe in its path.  Yes, I am making that up but come on.... you know you can feel it too.

Be safe out there. Evil does abide. 


Tuesday, November 6, 2018

November, and I have been such a slacker

Where does the time go?  I actually created an account at work yesterday and labeled it "October shop account" because in my mind it was still October.  Yes, that's a very sad sign about the state of my mind, but true nonetheless. 

November: one of my favorite months, along with all the months after summer. (Well, actually, I am not usually a fan of March for some reason. Go figure.) Leaves on trees change colors as do all the vineyards I pass driving through the Russian River valley. From my front desk post at work I can see dozens of trees and sometimes a breeze comes up and thousands of leaves get blown from their branches and float down, like a snowfall of color. It's mesmerizing.  This week the days are overly warm but the nights are very cold. It's rather odd, you start the day with layers and by mid-day you are down to a t-shirt and by 4:00 the layers are back on and by 9:30, when you take the dog out to pee, there are even more layers! Crazy!

I had a mediocre lunch today but with the best company, my Stacey, but it made me not hungry for dinner. But one must eat something, right? I cubed up a chunk of butternut squash that was languishing in the fridge, salt and pepper, and a chopped piece of bacon, and baked it until the squash was tender and caramelized and the bacon was crisp. Delicious, and I am pretty sure that since it was lean bacon and the fat sort of cooked off and the squash didn't absorb ALL the fat that it was almost fat-free!  Who cares, it was really good, the soft, sweet squash against a little crunch of crisp, salty bacon.  So autumn.

Two weeks and a few days until Thanksgiving. The highlight of autumn, of course. One can walk down any street in any neighborhood and smell turkey roasting and pies baking and hear the elastic chatter of groups of people and kids gathering. It's a good day.

I will try to be back here more.  Yeah, I know, promises, promises.  But there you have it.

And here is a photo of main room of the clubhouse at Autocamp. You can see a few Airstreams and the little Redwood Suite (the ADA unit.) That's the view from the front desk where I see leaves pouring down. (The front desk would be farther to the right.) Not a bad thing to look at all day. Redwood trees on the left. 

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Wednesday, October 24, 2018

"Jack Whitehall: Travels with my Father" on Netflix

I am not sure I would have stumbled upon this short series (11 episodes in all) had my friend Tom not recommended it to me. But it is totally worth checking out. Jack Whitehall is a 30 year old British comedian who looks like a kid who never grew up. He decides to take his 78 year old Dad on a trip around parts of Southeast Asia in order to bond and pretend to beef up their relationship. Jack's Dad, Michael, counters that Southeast Asian trip with one of his own to Romania, Moldova, Kiev and Istanbul.

To characterize their relationship as "dysfunctional" is to pretend that Kentucky Fried Chicken is wholesome food. Jack rolls his eyes at Michael while Michael simply walks away from Jack and checks them in to a 5 star hotel instead of the youth hostel Jack has chosen for them.  Jack tries to buck up and be stalwart but his father has him folding at every turn.

This series is both poignant and laugh-out-loud funny, sarcastic and sweet all at the same time. In the end it is simply about how family members can love each other while at the same time considering stabbing each other in the eye with a fork. (Not literally.)  Check it out, roll with it and bet you get to the end wishing Jack and Michael had a few more journeys in mind.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

"Where the Crawdads Sing" by Delia Owens. Book Review.

Sometimes books exceed their plot line. Sometimes the plot is conventional and predictable (boy meets girl, etc.) and sometimes we are happy with that because it meets our expectations and that's all we wanted.

But now and then there is a typical plot with atypical prose attached that makes the book so much more than its simple parts. This is one of those books.

Delia Owens has written a few non-fiction books about nature and wildlife. Her knowledge of biology and the unexplored world shows in this debut novel. (Disclaimer here: I am tired of debut novels because I find them to be trite and they writing tries too hard. This novel moved above that marker.)

The story is simple and at times very dire.  A young girl is slowly abandoned by her parents and her siblings, left to survive alone in the marshes of North Carolina. That a six year old could survive for ten years with no one and with almost nothing is a bit of a stretch but we buy into it because of the grit and determination of the young girl.  She grows into a lovely yet remote and scared young woman and attracts the attention of a couple of young men in the outskirts of her solitary world. Things get complicated, someone gets killed and thus the mystery begins. 

But Owens lets us into the world of Kya, the marsh girl and thus into the world of the marsh and the swamp and the ocean. She is at home in this world as she will never be in a civilized society, which suits her fine but also alienates her from everyone else.  "A great blue heron is the color of gray mist reflecting in blue water. And like mist, she can fade into the backdrop, all of her disappearing except the concentric circles of her lock-and-load eyes. She is a patient, solitary hunger, standing alone as long as it takes to snatch her prey. Or, eyeing her catch, she will stride forward one slow step at a time, like a predacious bridesmaid. And yet, on rare occasions she hunts on the wing, darting and diving sharply, swordlike beak in the lead."

Owens' writing is sometimes lyrical and sometimes plain, as the setting of the scenes dictate. "Here, instead of the estuaries and enormous sweeps of grass as in her marsh, clear water flowed as far as she could see through a bright and open cypress forest. Brilliant white herons and storks stood among water lilies and floating plants so green they seemed to glow. Hunched up on cypress knees as large as easy chairs, they ate pimento-cheese sandwiches and potato chips, grinning as geese glided just below their toes."  Or "At the chirp of a chipmunk she whirled around, listened keenly to the caws of crows - a language before words were, when communication was simple and clear - and wherever she went, mapped an escape route in her mind."

I really enjoyed this book and I readily forgave its few overwritten paragraphs. The portrait of a solitary girl/woman trying to survive on her own and her realization that the only power she has is within herself is moving and forceful. I am looking forward to Owens next novel.

Two thumbs up. Check it out.

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Movie review: "First Man"

"First Man" is not the first depiction of astronauts and the Space Race but it might be the most honest. For me the whole of this movie was not as good as its parts. The moon landing was in 1969 and fifty years later our world is a different place. Computers now control space exploration, the communication, engineering, etc.

But in the late 1960's there was none of that. The space mission was fraught with sometimes deadly mistakes. So to see a small team of men who were ready to strap themselves into a very small capsule and take several days to land on the surface of the moon and rely on ground control to pretty much make it happen, well, that was a leap of faith in more ways than we ever knew.

Many of us remember the first landing on the moon. It was surreal because many of us grew up thinking that being on the moon would be the pinnacle of ..... everything. How could a person get there, what would that take and why even attempt it?  What would be the point?

"First Man" skirts around some of those questions but since it is based in the late 1960's and since the space race was predicated on beating the Russians into the outer atmosphere, the mindset was different than we see it today. In the setting of that era, the movie shows how it must have felt then, not how we see it now.

Ryan Gosling is a decent Neil Armstrong. The taciturn characteristics he exhibits are a little too much for this movie, in my opinion. I wanted to shake him at times and ask "Anyone in there?" It's clear he is very intelligent but he has such a disconnect from everyone including his children that it became, for me, a physical flaw, one that I couldn't ignore. Like a scar on someone's face, I was focused too much on his unmoving face and his lack of emotion.

My favorite character was Armstrong's wife, Janet, played by Claire Foy. She seems to understand Neil's sadness (especially after the death of their daughter) and for the most part she can accept it and move past it. But her patience is tested several times and she gives an excellent performance, she is a pleasure to watch.

However, what I really enjoyed in "First Man" was the science behind the moon landing and the mental and physical accuity the astronauts had to exhibit. The actual moon landing sequence was brilliant. The silence of the moon, after the noise and clatter of the space capsule, was gripping in an odd way.

It's a really good movie. Not an A but more like a B+.  Or a solid B, very good but not outstanding.

It's worth noting that the only other movie that one can compare it to is "The Right Stuff" and that movie had the amazing (in every way) Sam Shepard as Chuck Yeager and the always smiling Ed Harris as John Glenn and it had that air of hope and exploration that encompassed the early days of the space program. But for me, as much as I really liked "The Right Stuff" I think "First Man" is probably more realistic.  Well, if we could get Neil Armstrong to relax his face once and give us a little, tiny smile. Or a frown. Or something other than sadness and ennui.

But check it out. It's good.


Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Something's coming, don't know what it is.......

I wake up with song lyrics in my head.  All the time.

Could it be, yes it could, something's coming, something good, if I can wait.....around the corner, or whistling down the river, come on, deliver......

The Mississippi's mighty, it starts in Minnesota at a place you can walk across with five steps down. And I guess that's how you started, like a pinprick to my heart, but at this point you rush right through me and I start to drown......

Screen door slams, Mary's dress waves, like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays Roy Orbison singing for the lonely......

Drive up the coastline, maybe Ventura, watch the waves make signs out on the water, I wanna watch the ocean bend, the edges of the sun then, I wanna get swallowed up in an ocean of love ....

I could go on and on. Every morning I get up, I walk the dog and lyrics from years and years ago swim in my head. I can't remember what's on my grocery list for that day but I can remember words from years past. It comforts me and annoys me at the same time.

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Friday, October 5, 2018

"The Overstory" by Richard Powers

To say that this is one of the most (if not the most) powerful, intense, intelligent and moving books I have ever read would not be a stretch. It would be close to the truth, maybe the whole truth. "The Overstory" is remarkable in ways that are so difficult to articulate. But here I go, trying to rope you in.....

Most books I can read in a couple of days. (I came home last night at 7:30 and finished a novel by 10:45, just to give you a clue.  It was a trashy, fun, light-hearted novel, but still.)  Some novels, those I really like and those that grab me, usually take closer to a week. "The Overstory" kept me reading for three weeks and I read two other novels in the middle of it. It was that intense and that powerful.  I hated to put it down and I hated for it to end but at times I had to walk away. It is consuming.  At least it was for me.

The first third of the book introduces us to several very different characters, times, places and concepts. All are intriguing and sometimes beguiling and often frustrating but in their introduction they all seem round and approachable, if not in real life but in this novel. Most of these intros have trees as supporting roles or, in the case of a few, major roles along with the people. Trees are paramount here.

The second third of the book brings those characters together somewhat and other, deeper themes are revealed, botany and biology and ecology come into the picture. The scope widens and we see not just the characters and their alliances with trees but we see the world and its alliance against flora. But we are also shown some of the inner workings of botany and biology and the amazing connectivity that people and trees have. (Trust me, it might sound boring but it anything but that.)

Finally, the last third of this novel is so ripe with themes that I cannot even tell you much about them. Situations and characters fly out of control, good and bad stuff happens, people act according to their beliefs and those beliefs are bludgeoned. And so much faith is tested, not just that of the characters but of the reader as well. 

It sounds esoteric, it is not. It is gorgeous.  I can open the book and pick any paragraph and it resonates with beauty and brains:  Out in the yard, all around the house, the things they've planted in years gone by are  making significance, making meaning, as easily as they make sugar and wood from nothing, from air, and sun, and rain. But the humans hear nothing. 

Or what a portrait this is:  Dennis shows at noon, reliable as rain, bearing broccoli-almond lasagne, his latest midday masterpiece. She thinks, as she does several times a week, how lucky she has been, to spend these few years married to the one man on Earth who'd let her spend most of her life alone. Game, patient, good-natured Dennis. He protects her work and needs so little. In his handyman's heart, he already knows how few things man is really the measure of. And he's as generous and eager as weeds.

Seriously, as eager as weeds.  Wow.

There are situations in this novel that are frightening and the reader fears for the characters' lives and hearts and minds. There are other times when things go right and the reader smiles and enjoys a moment of tenderness.  But underneath all of it is the heartbeat of trees, their connected roots, what they have given to the earth and the atmosphere and how we mortals are ruining them and the atmosphere and how we cannot stop it. Richard Powers has written a masterpiece, one that has deep meaning and such soul. Please find a copy and read it. It is not for everyone, it is not light, fun, airy, quick. But its meaning is deep and incredibly meaningful to all of us.  Read it and tell me what you think.

Steve, who loaned it to me, said something like "this would be a great book for book clubs."  My answer was "this would take a book club a year to discuss."  It is that massive in scope, and yet it is about small people doing small things wishing for massive results.  And then there are the trees.....

Check it out.

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