Thursday, October 31, 2019

Counting my DNA before it’s hatched

There was a story my Aunt Jane told me that my father Joe had some French blood, which he denied. He said he was pure Corkonian Irish by way of San Francisco. We never knew what to believe. But a DNA test revealed that the family rumor to be partially true at 3%. But upon closer inspection, it looks like it could be from Brittany, which was settled by the Welsh.

See, here's the problem, Joe's grandfather Michael Hurley, an Irish speaker, came from Cork, and settled in Weymouth, MA, where Joe’s father was born. That left slim possibility that Michael's wife, Joe's grandmother was of mixed blood. And Joe's mother Viola Mae Heaney was born in San Francisco, but her family was said to be from Boston, via Ireland. What was Viola's mother's maiden name? One way or another, we're back to an unaccounted for great-grandmother again. There's a Canadian in the woodpile somewhere.

Viola Mae Heaney, b. SF, 1906, died ca. 1936 -1940.

But the DNA math doesn't add up. If I were to go back 3 generations to a great-grandparent, that would be 12.5%, and 4 generations (100 years), or my great-great-grandparent, that would be 6.25%. Seven generations would be 1.56%, and eight generations (200 years) would be a mere 0.39%. All this is compounded by the fact that in France it is illegal to collect DNA, I suspect that Ancestry plugs the gap with the closest connection. Also, my DNA math doesn't add up, 9% is not 12.5 %, ergo, it's no a great-grandparent.

Someone said DNA doesn’t work like fractions. It’s more like soup ladle with holes. You get what you get. All I know, is that this is the third time my DNA sequence has been updated, and each time, the French percentage diminishes. It went from 8% to 3%. Unreliable French!

Whatever, the math, I might or might not have had a stray French-Acadian ancestor from Nova Scotia, who had a Native ancestor sometime in the 18th c. That got me looking at various possibilities. The rest of me, all 94% is pure Irish ( first estimate was 91%). No Viking, no Anglo blood on my maternal grandmother's side, at least. So that part of the ancestral story holds true. Recently that French DNA was split to include an odd 2% English/Welsh/NW Europe (Belgium/Finisterre) splash—well, our family name is Walsh, after all.  So that’s up for grabs.

Then again, I found this on the Ancestry page: approximately 40 sequences are taken, and averaged out the results, which might account for my odd numbers. Furthermore,
The next level includes Low Confidence Regions. For each of these regions, the possible range includes 0% and does not exceed 15%. Since there is only a small amount of evidence of genetic ethnicity from these regions, it is possible that you may not have genetic ethnicity from them at all.
According to The Untold Story: The Irish in Canada, the Irish were among the first settlers in the Canadian Maritime provinces, and that the Irish language predated that of French and English. I think this odd bit of flotsam sheds some light on my mysterious DNA results uncovered 3% French (it was 8% which in my bones, I knew it was wrong.) I suspect some Cape Breton/Acadian ancestry, and a stray 1% Native American ancestry—probably Micmac, given that the Acadian DNA was from Cape Breton Island.

 My maternal grandmother, who came from the small fishing village of Bantry, used to tell me a story of how the Irish and the Micmac/Mi'kmaq and the Morimac peoples joined forces. She insisted that there were Irish loan words in the Mi'kmaq language, not that she even spoke Mi'kmaq, an Eastern Algonquian language. The equivalent of yes in Irish is ach, and aqq in Mi'kmaq. (How on earth did she manage to find that in the pre-internet days?) But I found no other words that were similar. She said some of the Micmacs had blue eyes and red hair. But suddenly, with this post, her story, from the oral tradition, gains some credence, however slim the DNA record is.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019



I’m sitting by the half empty reservoir
Watching the fire trucks and horse trailers go by.
Wildfire smoke stacks up to the west,
seeking the coolness of the Pacific Ocean.
The wind is picking up,
the dry summer grasses gyrate, a frenzied dance, old as the hills,
the air carries the odor of summer picnics and more—
the souls of trees released to the sky.
A pale ash veil coats the car, muting its red paint to salmon.
The sun has barely reached its zenith,
long shadows claw toward the blue shadows of the night.
Without lights, the entire Bay Area was rimed—
studded with an extraordinary tapestry of stars.
And the coyotes sang arias to the waning moon in chorus.


WILDFIRE JOURNAL: We're all gathered in the parking lot outside the community center basking on the sun. It's a street party of sorts. I'm reading poetry while waiting for my iPad to charge on the generator, my car is taking too long to recharge it and I worry about the car battery. I have contingencies, I park on a grade in case I have to pop-start it. Having a working car right now is tantamount to survival. My gauge has dipped below the half-way mark.

Still no power in most of the North Bay, and PG&E is planning yet another power shutdown. We never got any power restored during the golden window of opportunity. So it’s all moot.

There are evacuees sleeping in their vans all along the roads of West Marin. While waiting for my iPad to charge, I read an unintelligible poem called Irish Poetry by Billy Collins, I'm thinking of calling Sam to come down the hill as there is free lunch and iced coffee. Coffee!

But I don't know where my cellphone is, and besides, it doesn't get good reception. Time to kill, I flip to another random poem: what was the likelihood I would turn to a poem by Molly and Sam’s uncle, called Colonoscopy, the title says it all, and I realized, No shit!

We're all being reamed out and annealed one way or the other by this wildfire. Even Paul Muldoon has a few rhymey bits in this issue of PEOTRY, and yes, it's really spelled that way on the cover, I kid you knot.

Reminds me of some of the kids I teach poetry to, who can't spell poetry on their poetry journals, but they're been burned out of their homes. I'm supposed to be teaching them poetry about fire, floods and other disasters, and here I am smack dab in the middle of it all, an involuntary evacuee, staying in an abandoned house with no water or power, worrying about whether or not

I have enough gas to get to the nearest gas station with electricity—over the bridge to RIchmond, the twisted intestine of the Bay Area. Truth be known, I need my tablet charged because when the sun sets, its only yourself that needs looking to in an empty house in the dark. Downloaded bits from Netflix, and Solitaire helps me make it through the night. That, and a poncho to cover my head, it’s that cold. Dressing requires strategy.

The stars outdo themselves dazzling us with their brilliance, despite the smoke, because there is no artificial light whatsoever in most of the Bay Area. All the Pleiades sisters have their dancing shoes on, and the Milky Way is a river of light. The sliver of a fingernail moon is a promise of the light that will return. We've set our clocks back to the early 1900s, and I think we are the better for it.

Monday, October 28, 2019


Kincade Fire, 8AM, Thursday morning, from Occidental Road. That’s not fog. —MH photo

Much more smoke has blown south this morning, Tues. The winds have shifted. Hopefully they don’t have the velocity of Saturday night’s howling winds.

The Kincade FIre on the Mayacamas Range is now  estimated to be at 74,324 acres and 15% contained, but Saturday night’s 103 mph winds  really fed the flames, which reached the historic 2017 Tubbs Fire boundaries. The lack of fuel, acting as a firebreak, may help to contain the fire along those old boundaries.

Last report I heard, firemen from across the Western United States have joined our exhausted firefighters, and they were concentrating on saving Windsor.  Meanwhile, the kincade fire is frogmarching its way northeast towards the direction of the wind, Cobb Muntain and Middletown in Lake County. Here’s hoping the Tubbs, the Atlas, and the 2015? Camp Fire left little fuel for the Kincade Fire to take purchase.

Most of northern and western Sonoma County, some 190,000 people, were evacuated Thursday through Sunday, the single largest evacuation in California history, which created colossal traffic jams on both the bay bridges, and to make matters worse, the Carquinez Bridge was out of commission due to another grass fire in Vallejo in Solano County. Not sure how it started, someone said wind-blown embers from the Kincade Fire.

Mandatory evacuation notices have been lifted for most of West Sonoma County, but more winds are expected tonight,and the wind has shifted the smoke south. So we’re all holding tight.

Sonoma County supervisor Lynda Hopkins reported: “The next 24 hours will give our amazing firefighters — now more than 4,000 strong, with 10 helicopters, 444 fire engines, 53 dozers and 30 water tenders — a fighting chance to increase containment....our firefighters fought like hell, and saved entire neighborhoods overnight in the Shiloh Ridge and Lockwood area. I want to be very clear that without the mass deployment of firefighters — we are now a mutual aid event, which means that we have firefighters from across California as well as other western states — we would NOT have been able to make this stand. I am filled with gratitude every time I see a fire truck... and there are hundreds here both out on the lines and awaiting orders at the Fairgrounds incident command post, with insignia from communities across the state.”

Though mandatory evacuation notices have been lifted in western Sonoma County, but there is no electricity, or water which makes it easier for us to stay in place. People are sleeping in vans along many West Marin roads. Most of the evacuation centers, both human and animal evacuation centers—are filled to capacity. In general, neighbors, near neighbors, and strangers are all pitching in to help each other out. A steady parade of trucks laden with alfalfa for the horses, headed south.

There have been other fires in Contra Costa County, a small fire in Lafayette, and in Southern California, the Getty Fire, closing I 405, and 618 acres have burned, with 10,000 people evacuated. So many fires, I can’t keep up, nor do I have the bandwidth. I have to hunt for cellular reception sweet spots. The sweetest hotspot, if I can still use that term, is by the Nicasio Reservoir, with a view of Black, or Elephant Mountain, it’s hazy, due to smoke.

Freezing cold this AM, no heat, my hands take turns freezing as I type. But cold is good. I could kill for a shower, dump my hair in a bucket. Otherwise, all is well.

Friday, October 25, 2019


Translating Lorca, from one of John Oliver Simon’s poetry recipes, my mind went way south. Rather than uselessly cry in a parking lot, I bought eye drops, & wrote a poem to the Mayacamas range, still burning. My throat is raw. I am careful to take small sips of air, as my N95 mask was packed away, I foolishly thought I wouldn’t need it again.

Madre, llévame a los campos
con la luz de la mañana,
a ver abrirse las flores
cuando se mecen las ramas.

Mother, take me to the countryside
with the light of morning
to see the flowers open
when the branches sway.
—Translation of Frederico García Lorca


My imagination wants to take me to the mountains
to witness the incandescent light of morning
to see the late blossoms opening their small hands
to the Diablo winds trembling the harp strings of reeds
in the marshes where the egrets and herons
patrol its dark depths for fatted frogs and curled snails.
My mind wants to fly to where the branches sway
to the rhythm of dark sap coursing
to the song of distant rivers and birdsong.
But the sodden sky is the color of putty,
all the trees have been reduced
to their lowest common denominator,
carbon and smoke and ash
as the wildfire devours the ridges,
barns, and vineyards with an insatiable hunger
and a prodigious thirst that cannot be quenched.
No birdsong, only the dark wind whispering
secrets into the pale ear of the sky.
A lone raven caws his one warning note
over and over again.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Tule elk cull at Pt. Reyes

In general I am in love with the Golden Gate National Park. However, what has happened out on the Pt Reyes National Seashore, with the National Park Service falsifying reports in regards to the Drakes Bay Oyster Farm, and now the same thing is happening with the elk on the point, I am disillusioned by the NPS. The reason why the Pt Reyes National Park was created, was to keep historic ranches operatimg on the point. 

This is a deep grievance because I witnessed the beginning of the Pt Reyes National Seashore. I know the backstory. And for this reason I cannot support the the NPS or GGNPS in regards to Pt Reyes because the agenda is to destroy the historic ranches on the point, in favor of urban recreationists, and to hell with historic facts. 

The tule elk are diseased, fergawdsakes. And yet proponents of the NPS are making such a racket over the calling of 100 elk, when there are more than 700 of them on the point, and the point was only supposed to sustain 300 elk? I don’t like the double speak, and the manipulation of facts to suit your own agenda. 

I don’t mind the Conservancy. I dislike the gaming and hidden political agendas. Once upon a time  I thought the NPS could do no wrong, it was upholding the vision that Teddy Roosevelt had put in place, but now it’s become a self-serving organization. It saddens me to no end.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Napali Coast

After traveling nearly 80 miles in a Zodiac, this is the half-way point. The sea is calm so I’m still smiling. The next leg home will be brutal with afternoon waves whipped by an oncoming storm stacking up on the diagonal. Trough and crest. Rise and fall. Slide into the trough at an angle, but hit the next crest head-on. We nearly ran over a startled sea turtle basking in the waves. Dip and sway. Like riding an unsteady horse side-saddle, over very rough terrain. At least no petticoats were involved.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

California time, island time

Sitting in the dark, in a stranger’s house, on California time, not island time. Drinking tea and trying to convince my body that it’s OK to be up at 4 AM. The tropical air is balmy and the stars on this end of the island are much brighter than at home, where frost rimes my windshield. But then, I have no home, other than what I carry inside me. That was taken from me. What is home, other than a collection of memories, of things both ordinary and plain, that fill our waking thoughts. The stars, my constant guide.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Mammatus clouds

Mammatus clouds over Hawaii, 
the conception and cradle of life.
We descend towards the sea.

Flying to Hawaii

Outside my window, an untrammeled wilderness of clouds rear their heads over a sterling sea, and one can almost hear the rustling taffeta gown of the Pacific, laced with positive imprints of the air currents. Clouds commute toward the land, and out to sea again in Peregrinó colors—capturing fleeting glimpses of the spectrum, and the burnished gold of the morning sun is a deep ache of copper, or perhaps it’s Homer’s wine dark sea, beneath us. An odyssey of thought escapes its earthly confines, as we wing west to the land of the ever-young. Or at least a hunkering back to the beginning of time. Perhaps we are all pilgrims here. Some are arriving for the first time, others returning home. One way or another, it is all a journey. A cluster of fishing boats, huddle like whitecaps on the outer banks. The wind singing arias. Strong headwinds leave us in suspended animation. Cirrus and stratocumulus clouds, odd lone whips of fog, perhaps a squall, I think of how useless the rain is on the ocean. Then a scurry of mare’s tails, scud clouds surfing on the surface of the sea, all following the currents, seemingly alive, a sentient slipstream or a dance cotillion. Clouds give way to the illusion of continental shapes, or ice sheets. Then, for a moment, I forget my worries, and think I am among the Gods. I am mesmerized by the separation of sea and sky, the horizon is both obscured and melded by the clouds. And that dark beyond, the great unknown, is both the nursery of stars and the crèche of death. The curvature of the earth is a subtle plain. Below us, the Marianas Trench, the deepest place on earth, and beneath us, the Farallón Islands, slip by unannounced, they are the last landfall and handholds of the Pacific Plate migrating north to return home to Pangeac depths, but the poles are shifting, north is changing its mind once again and the ice is melting, all that archaic sweet water, slipping into the bosom of the sea from whence we came.