Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Light Touch

As I walk the long beach under a patchy morning fog my senses are open, alert, receptive– to the rhythmic plunging of the waves, the wind’s feather touch on my face, the scent of the salty sea. And yes! There are the Franklin Gulls recently arrived from their journey from the Northern Hemisphere in their black and white summer plumage. They surge up to then dart into the shallows plucking morsels to their liking. They likely worked up a hearty appetite on their migration south.  Sharing the shoreline with the gulls are several brown curlews that take off and cry in alarm when I get too close. A pair of black and white, orange-beaked oyster catchers mingles with the shoreline avian gathering.
This beach has few shells or pebbles for the beachcomber. Clumps of tangled brown seaweed are strewn about, like abandoned tresses of sea sirens. What I notice are the interweaving prints in the sand: the deep tread marks of an outlaw jeep, imprints from shoe soles, dog paw prints and the faint, dainty three-toed patterns of the shorebirds.
While residing in northern climes, Franklin Gulls construct their floating aquatic nests from vegetal materials on hand, while their diet helps reduce the population of pesky insects, garbage and mice. These handsome, agile fellows molt twice a year. Two outfits a year. How lightly they tread on this earth.

Back in the capital, my attention switches from seagulls to a tortoise, our pet, Speedy Gonzalez. Out of hibernation for more than a month, he’s not his usual tortoise self: eating very little and squeezing into small places between flower pots to sleep. I take him in a box to see a vet specialist in exotic animals. He paces around the box looking for escape.
Dr. Harrison informs me that Speedy is a chilensis something-or-another and weighs a kilo and a half. How old is he, asks the doc. Well, we bought him about thirty years ago, a present for my son’s sixth birthday, I say. The vet examines Speedy’s shell and checks inside his mouth. He suspects a respiratory problem but needs an x-ray to make a definite diagnosis. A turtle x-ray? The only vet hospital with the required x-ray machine is in a nether world south of downtown, somewhere I've never been. Great. Meanwhile, we must start him on antibiotics. The doc demonstrates how to administer the drops to Speedy, holding onto his neck and prying open his mouth. OK. I can do that.
It was clearly a two person job, so I ask our cleaning lady to help. “I’ll grab his neck and pry open his mouth and you drop in the medicine.” Every time I attempt to grab his head/neck, he whisks back into his shell. Finally, after a tug-of-war between Speedy and me, I manage to pry open his tiny jaw and the drops are delivered. I call the doc. “This is a real struggle.”
“Try relaxing him, petting him.” A gentler touch is needed.
The next day I lift Speedy onto my lap, talk to him and tickle his back legs. My lap is not where he wants to be and in his efforts to escape, out comes his head and neck. Quick as a flash, I grasp his soft squiggly neck skin. He resists. I insist, sticking the finger nail of my other hand into his jaw.
From what I can understand from the x-ray report, Speedy has a cold. Now, after several days, he and I have gotten the knack of this medical ordeal. Though he has the strength of an ox, he is a gentle creature and has earned my respect. Like the Franklin Gull, he treads this earth lightly.
Today I saw him eating grass. Good boy, Speedy!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Wake-Up Calls

An explosion of purple sways outside my window – our jacaranda tree. Tiny goblet-shaped blooms blanket the ground below. Some call them “messy”, but why not just enjoy the burst of color while it lasts? It’s a matter of perspective and choice. Choose to notice the wonder of these fleeting purple weeks – or focus on the work required to sweep away those fading velvet petals.

The hot days have descended upon us, the hills now singed brown, and the local supermarket bulges with gaudy, Chinese-made Christmas wreaths, snowmen, reindeer, Santas, elves and plastic trees. This in-your-face inducement to buy and consume, this blaring excess, sickens me.
Late yesterday afternoon we went to a wedding, much like the many we've attended here over the years. The four hundred and fifty plus guests filled the old San Francisco Church, a historic national monument, situated on the Alameda, the main downtown thoroughfare. In this wedding of Chile’s upper echelon, I was distracted from my examination of the church’s old stonework by the young ladies in the row in front of us, dressed in black miniskirts and shorts, and teetering on spindly-heeled, platform shoes. One tugged during the whole ceremony at her very tight stretch miniskirt which insisted on creeping up over her ample bottom. The choir sang the same familiar hymns while women patted at their salon-coifed hairdos and looked about for familiar faces. A few passersby straggled in from the street to view the famous church, wandering along the side naves.
 Pedestrians in their worn clothes stood and stared as the elegant crowd emerged from the church into the late afternoon sun. I wondered how we must have looked to them, we, the beautiful people, the privileged, laughing and talking, as we made our way down the cobble-stoned street to the reception where a banquet awaited us. Perhaps I’m judging harshly this gathering, among whom are friends of ours, but the contrast between the crowd, dressed impeccably in black and shimmering wedding attire, and the sidewalk onlookers suddenly struck me.

The city’s metro jumbles up the population like a giant cement mixer, producing
a rich, enforced diversity. A massive breakdown in the metro’s electric system last Friday morning disrupted the city’s inhabitants’ normal routine, forcing them to look for alternatives – walk with the masses, grab or share a taxi, squeeze into a bulging bus – creating an atmosphere of “we’re all in this together.” 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Return to Paradise

Back to my Tarweed Spirit after a month’s absence. Contemplating my California sojourn, all I can say is --  my cup runneth over. Immersed in the Ultimate Information Society, I became a sponge, soaking up the abundance of ideas and opportunities, stimulated, energized.

Things I noticed:
Americans shaking hands when meeting for the first time! So accustomed to the Chilean kissing society, hand shaking feeling stiff and formal.
The sex change process now being referred to as gender reassignment.
Baseball becoming exciting, especially if the San Francisco Giants are playing (and winning) the World Series.
Frisky squirrels, noisy blue jays and shiny, coal-black crows harvesting the abundant acorns.
A guitarist playing for money by the line for the cable car sporting a tee shirt with the slogan: Legalize gay marijuana. Love it!
The neighbor’s goats, Buff and Sunny, crunching on dry magnolia leaves as if they were potato chips. Petting the goats leaving the scent of goat cheese on my hands all day.
 The habitats of vegetation in the Fairfax hills varying according to their orientation: pungent redwood, madrone, bay and dry grass each marking their territory with their distinctive scent.

Euphoric moments:
Longing to soar like the gulls while viewing the resplendent Pacific Ocean from the Muir Beach Lookout on a clear day.

On the trail detecting the scent of tarweed and realizing I was standing in a field of tarweed, their tiny yellow flowers winking in the sunlight.

A flying sensation filling me as I crossed a bridge over the San Francisco Bay. From its silken surface, tiny, sun-struck wavelets sparkling like stars fallen from the heavens.
Laughing and at ease with old classmates.

Staring down a coyote over a farm fence and admiring his bushy tail.
Antlered deer crossing the road before our car headlights in the black night.
Hearing a childhood playmate relate the story of our adventurous ride down my steep road on our red scooters, a ride which ended in screams and crashes upon encountering a long snake in our path.
Becoming addicted to chocolate chip cookies.
Discovering The Little Free Library on Sycamore Avenue.

Realizing I’m still capable of reaching the top of Mt. Tamalpais.