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.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019


And PG&E said, Let there be light. Then half of Sonoma County burned down. Time to decommission PG&E. Third time’s a charmed fuckjob in my books. Everyone who was affected by the outage should refuse to pay their bills all at once. And this isn’t the first time. it’s part of a long standing problem that’s decades in the making. Let’s call it negligence. It all began when PG&E gas lines blew up a San Mateo suburb. Whatever did PG&E have against San Bruno to blow it up like that? And now it’s burning down half the state? I see it coming, Pg$e, the musical, Edipuss is wrecked. Fire is at nearly 77,000 acres, 30% contained. Geyserville, Alexander Valley and Healdsburg are still under evacuation orders. PG&E shut down the power grid for most of Northern California—to prevent wildfires, so we’ve been without power for nearly a week, and then the colossus forgot to shut down its own part of the grid at the Geysers? And guess where the fire started. Congratulations, PG&E, you just sponsored the largest mass evacuation in Northern California history, when 150 thousand county residents were forced out of their homes by the Kincade fire—because of your negligence. Instead of spending the rate hike tariff on rebuilding infrastructure, you chose to give bonuses to stockholders and CEOs. May you all burn in hell.

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.


Gawd, a kingdom for a bath—or even a shower. I’m holed up in Nicasio, there’s no power and the well is on an electric pump. But I can light the gas stove with matches, bypassing the ignition. My matches are in bad shape. Most are too soggy to ignite. But I find an old lighter wand, out of butane, but the striker still works. Ah, the magic spark of flint. I make camp coffee, and camp toast. Gobs of Irish butter and raspberry jam dribble like blood on my street-find cashmere poncho. I suck it off, not wasting what little water I have. It’s been so cold, I live and sleep in the turtleneck poncho, it’s like wearing a large cat.

I scouted the lake for a likely spot to dunk my head. The water is low, and the mud is deep. Zana said water heaters have a faucet at the bottom. May not be warm but potable. Compared to others caught up in this mass evacuation, my exodus spot is sweet. I have propane. I can heat water. What little water I have. TG my car has always been a big messy go-bag. I’ve several bottles stashed under the seats. Wine too. At least I can recharge my iPad in my car, and can get limited cellular exception by the lake. I still have nearly a half a tank of gas. All is good. 

When I returned from Hawaii, I had planned to do some writing, instead I’m thrust into barebones survival mode. All thoughts of writing about Hawaii are gone. I can’t even look at the photos. Right now, it’s day by day survival mode, or as Anne Lamott would say, bird by bird. I watch the wild geese and pelicans  dip and sway on the lake. Today is a red flag warning. The winds are expected to pick up again this evening. We’re not out of the woods yet. You can see the smoke columns from here. The sunlight is red. I mourn the loss of Pine Flat ridge in the Mayacama Range, all the old historic homesteads are gone. Ember, ash and coal mantra.

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.

Sunday, October 27, 2019


Evacuation Diaries: I will be needing more gas soon, I’m down to a half a tank. I’m hoping the Richmond Costco will be open but  I don’t want to attempt it if I 80/580 is congested. People are still fleeing from Santa Rosa area and all the motels and evacuation centers are full. I’m pretty sure there is no gas to be had anywhere in Marin. No power means no gas pump, or credit card machines. I heard rumor that there’s power in Petaluma at 101, but is there any gas to be had? I imagine the mass exodus has impacted availability. And I’m sure there’s price gouging going on. And I’ve got a slow leak in my tire. 

I had to evacuate late at night from Sebastopol with a fully loaded car, and only 15 pounds of air in that tire. So I drove slow down the back-backroads to Nicasio, No traffic at all. Only the stars. Not like all the feeder roads to Hwy 101. One massive traffic jam that lasted for hours. This was the single largest mass evacuation in California history. I’m still wrapping my mind around that one.

I heard that all the bay bridges were still jammed bumper to bumper yesterday with the latest Santa Rosa exodus. Thanks to Facebook friends, I can keep appraised, and wait another day or two if needs be, but I will need enough gas to get to point B, wherever that may be. And enough air in that tire. It seems to be holding. TG for slow air leaks. Planning ahead is tantamount to survival.

I also need to drive around a bit to keep my iPad charged, Very spotty reception requires more driving. The iPad is the only link I have to the outside world at this point. I can get reception at one pullout along the Nicasio Reservoir, I am in line with the cellular towers on Big Rock Ridge, but it’s a very small, if distant window. At least the view of Elephant Mountain is spectacular in the morning.

Radio is freakin useless out here. No reception. Sometime I can get KPFA if the wind blows in the right direction. Messenger and Facebook remain the best way to keep in touch. I’ve asked friends to post fire updates on my Facebook page, whenever possible. At least when the pages load, I can keep apprised. Text is better than links.

My cousin’s Nicasio house, where I’m staying, is empty, and boarded up from the accident, it has no power, the water is down to a trickle, because it’s on an electric pump. Not gravity fed. The water supply is whatever is left in the pipes. I have bottled water in my car. At least there is a propane stove so I can make my morning tea. Breakfast was camp coffee, camp toast. Gobs of Irish butter, raspberry jam dribbled all over my warm poncho. At least we know how to live large and be happy despite all odds.

Think I’ll visit Sam in Forest Knolls in a bit to see how he’s getting on, his landlord Jay has a generator so if it’s  running (generators need gas), I can plug in there. I need to make sure he has food, so I will stop by the San Geronimo community Center, my old alma mater.

More high winds predicted. Any news on the status of Kincade Fire, someone said it was back to 5% contained.

Saturday, October 26, 2019


Yesterday, an old friend chastised me for the amount of firestorm posts I’ve posted on my Facebook page. As it turns out I had adequate reason to be concerned as I did have to evacuate to the empty house in Nicasio. I was completely devastated.... I’m sure she meant no harm by it, but the effects were gob smacking, as keeping abreast of the news was the only way I could stay calm and rational.

I’m safe in West Marin for now. No power. So I’m on limited cellular. And I have to travel to the Nicasio Reservoir  to find any cellular reception. There are only three spots where I can get reception.

Facebook won’t always load but Messenger works. Please send me updates about the progress of the fire spreading west to Forestville and Sebastopol. I can’t get radio reception, and few places where I can get cellular reception. 

I’m by the Nicasio reservoir looking at Elephant Mountain. It has become my talisman. The lake is the only place where I can pick up a weak cellular signal from T-Mobile.

Sad, all night long trucks hauling trailerfuls of horses and hay headed south. Returning empty, going north for another load, unsung heroes. I can bear almost anything but the thought of those poor horses makes me weep. Maria Perrin’s cousin in Sebastopol needs someone with a horse trailer. Spread the word.

I’m keeping an eye on my charge, Sam, I made him some camp coffee, and his landlord Jay Potter set up a generator. Jay rocks, he fixed my low tire with an old school bicycle pump. It was down to 10 lbs pressure. Now has 40 lbs. That was pretty scary evacuating—driving down from Sebastopol on a low tire with my car loaded to the gills, as no gas stations are open.

Friday, October 25, 2019


Translating Lorca, from one of John Oliver Simon’s poetry recipes, my mind went way south. Rather than uselessly cry jetlag inspired tears in a Petaluma parking lot, as Sinead gets her hair done, 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 from the Tubbs fire. I foolishly thought I wouldn’t need it again. And here we go, 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.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Kincade Fire


As I was headed down  Occidental Road to Santa Rosa, and points south to work, I took a quick photo of the Kincade fire, which started last night at the Geysers, thanks to PG&E, again. Here we go again. Wasn’t the Tubbs fire enough? This does not look good. I’m still jetlagged from Hawaii, and now this, WTF.

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 Drake’s Bay Oyster Farm in 2012, and now the same thing seems to be happening with the elk versus the cattle on the point, I am disillusioned with the NPS. One of the reasons why the Pt Reyes National Park was created, was to prevent rampant development, and also preserve the historic dairy ranches operating on the point. Currently ranching occupies 30% of the land, 70% of that land is wilderness. The rancher are not against elk. That’s a false narrative cooked up by eco justice warriors.

This schism that has developed between the historic agricultural use versus wildlife 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 Center for Biological Diversity’s claims, and I now also distrust the NPS or GGNPS in regards to Pt Reyes because the larger agenda is to destroy the historic ranches on the point, in favor of urban recreationists, and to hell with historic facts. Remember the Drake’s Bay oyster fiasco? We’ve seen them in action and they re not above twisting the facts and ecological reports to suit their agendas.

The imported tule elk are diseased. And yet protestors are making such a racket over the culling of a handful of elk at Drake’s Bay, when there are more than 700 elk 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 a political agenda. 

I don’t mind the Conservancy, or some of the work that the Center for Biological Diversity has done, but I dislike their gaming and hidden political agendas. Once upon a time I thought the NPS and environmental groups could do no wrong.To my naive way of thinking they were upholding the vision that Teddy Roosevelt had put in place, but now the NPS too has become a self-serving organization. It saddens me to no end. Ditto that with many of the eco-warrior groups—especially the Center for Biological Diversity, and another group closer to home, SPAWN, has joined the ranks of manipulating facts and misrepresenting ecological reports  to suit their political agendas.

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.