Tuesday, January 21, 2014

California Drought

No rain in sight. Brown lawns and dusty cars. The Governor declared a drought. This proclamation hardly made the front page -- because everybody already knows.

It was the heat wave in mid-January that finally pushed public awareness over the edge. We had a string of strong Santa Ana winds and daytime high temperatures of 85 degrees and higher. It just feels like it's never going to rain again.

But I am no native, so I contacted the folks with 50-year memories. Oh yes, they say, it was like this in the 1970s, seems like it went on for years back then, endless blue skies, water rationing, short showers, saving the dish water to pour onto the roses, you just hunker down and hang on -- that's what they said.

Walking on the beach we see a lazy haze over the water. Air pollution is up. Dust lingers in the air and not washed by the rain. Spring flowers are unlikely. The weather people are more accurate than they used to be and the long-range forecast is bleak.
But you never know -- it could rain in February and March. Everybody would be happy if it did.

Yesterday we saw a bobcat just sitting in the corral in the backyard. The bobcat lives in the ravine past the edge of the property. The bobcat just sauntered off when he saw us looking at him. But that got us thinking about how all the critters suffer when there's no rain. Where do the little birdies get their drink of water? Maybe they overcome their fears and drink from the pond in the garden near the house. Maybe the bobcat is waiting for them.
And the trees. You know some of them are dying even if they look fine today. The old ones and the weak ones. Drought culls the forest and the hills.
But the tougher plants have deep roots and they will survive.

Rain washes the mountainside. Sediments and minerals flow into river and into the sea. Plankton feed off the milky stew. Fish eat the plankton. Pelican eat the fish.

But there's no rain, no nutrients falling to the ocean, less plankton, fewer fish and the pelicans are getting hungry.

There are two things you say for certain about a drought:

Droughts always end, and
We never know when.

Civil Rights.
I can't remember the name of the church on the south side of Chicago where I heard Martin Luther King preach in the summer of 1966 but I remember being there a half dozen times. It was a large Baptist church and it was packed to the roof. King gave long and mighty sermons -- what a preacher he was! I never did care to hear a sermon, but I did listen to him. You had to be there -- it was hot, sweaty, crowded, and electric.

King marched with hundreds of people through white neighborhoods, surrounded by even more hundreds of Chicago cops who were there to protect us marchers from thousands of very angry people who were yelling and cursing and throwing rocks and tossing garbage cans at us. You had to be there. King's presence started an argument that raged through every home and church and tavern in the city. The thing is, the man was right in his actions and he had a right to be there, but he wasn't from Chicago. Not a local. Jesus could have walked through some of those neighborhoods and met the same reception -- not a local. You had to be there. The locals weren't right, but it wasn't all about race, it was also about territory. That's the way I see it. Of course, they might have welcomed Rev. King and rented him a house and brought him a tray of cookies and then none of this would have happened.......This was all a long time ago. They made a holiday after him, but I never liked that. It seems to usurp my personal memory of those days. You had to be there.

Long Disheveled Black Hair Tumbling Down Her Back

(a very short story about college years at St Michael's College at the University of Toronto)

I remember being in the second floor lobby of Carr Hall, in September, 1964, just starting college, waiting there to get into Father Waldron’s office. He was the assistant registrar, a grey-haired bespectacled priest who assigned the Freshman students their courses.

Waiting in the line in front of me -- on the second or third day since my parents had delivered me, now emancipated, 18, a baby-man, to St. Mike's -- was Curley Dowling. Boy, was I ready for her. She was a vision in beatnik black. She had a black trench coat and high heels. She had long disheveled black hair tumbling thickly down her back. She was tall. She was not pretty, with a blotchy complexion and a round nose. She chewed her fingernails and smoked Pall Malls.

We struck up a conversation. I had just spent four miserable years with 1,600 snotty, spoiled suburban punks at Loyola Academy in Chicago -- all boys. Here was a woman. I immediately began to see the possibilities. She recognized something in me that I had never dreamed of. We were kindred spirits. Things happened fast. It became too boring to wait in line to register -- all this administration nonsense. We decided to go to Yonge Street for a cup of coffee. I didn’t even drink coffee, but I was game. The conversation became -- what’s a good student word? -- intense. In those years I had a lot of intense conversations, and this was the first one.

Oh, the world was new, and I was just born, the structure fell away and I was free. Curley, it turned out, unlike all the other Freshman women, did not live in the dormitory. She shared an apartment with her older sister Gretchen, a senior. Heaven.

We went to the apartment and someone brought over the beer that night. Curley and I walked around town and made love in the elevator late at night. Or maybe it was just drunken groping, we didn’t know better. It was very passionate.

Curley didn’t stay with me long. She hooked up with David, a “hippie” who lived in Yorkville. This was 1964, so I put the word in quotes, it being the first time I ever heard it.

But I loved her still and we became friends. During our school years it seemed that she was available for me when I was going with someone else, and then I would break up with that someone, but she had a new boyfriend.

Once, several years afterward we met at a bar across from Grand Central Station in New York. We drank the place dry and had our last intense conversation. She caught the milk train back to Greenwich, and I never saw her again.

Five years after that she sent me a postcard: she had married an attorney and was living in Portland, Maine.

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