Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Fire journal 4, During these COVID times

During these COVID times, much of my writing comes from interacting with friends and strangers on facebook. I never know what will lead to a poem, a prose poem or a memoir. I’ve decided not to worry about what it is and just keep posting.

We’ve an added stress in our lives in California—wildfire, evacuation, etc., so we’re all either living on the run, or are on high alert. Stress factor is through the roof.

Lots of visiting firemen from out of state (Montana and Idaho) camped in our San Geronimo Valley golf course, Because of COVID we can’t even offer them food or goodies.

Guy Fiori has set up a massive kitchen, feeding all the firemen in Sonoma County. Pretty amazing.

We’re grateful Fort Ross didn’t burn, Armstrong Woods is burning, but is controllable. Only the forest floor, not the trees.

Inverness/Pt Reyes fire is still going, keeping us on our toes. But it’s slowly being contained.

Meanwhile we look for solace in a glimpse of blue sky and the cooling fog. One foot in front of the other.

And if we get some good writing from it, that’s even better.

Monday, August 24, 2020

The Last Words of the US Postmaster General

The Last Words of the US Postmaster General

There were some dirty mail boxes 
and shattered glass
beside the post office,
dirty disheveled streets—

Graffitied and nearly covered
with stickers and spray paint,
they roused his ire
and they cried out for removal,

he said. Gimme cleanliness—
They're an eyesore —lock them up.
The people don’t need them
for mail, ballots, medication,
or the delivery of baby chicks.

Give me something to destroy!
He said, Let me take you
to the back room, he said,
and after you’ve come to your senses,
you’ll see it was for the best.

When you’re Postmaster General
you can do as you please.
He smiled, Yes
you can do what you please, first
then, I can do what I please—

Oh, oh, DeJoy of it all, he cried
as the maintenance men
lifted the bar code sorters
and carried them to the hauler —
Is this what you call

By now his mind was made up—
Oh death to the post office
he said, death to the workers
sorting the mail by hand.

No overtime, he said, but I'll tell you
you don't know anything.
Then we started.
On the way

we passed a long row
of mail boxes. He looked at them
awhile out of
the window and said,

What are all those
funny looking blue boxes doing out there?
Well, I'm tired of them
and he rolled them away.

Give me something to destroy!
Let me take you
to the back room, he said
and after you are recovered,

you can do as you please.
He smiled, Yes
you do what you please first,
then I can do what I please—
Run it all into the ground.

a parody on WCWs poem

The Thank God Ledge

John Oliver Simon once took me across a granite bridge between two peaks in Desolation Wilderness, Tahoe. We had to shuffle along the spine that had a foot ledge, we were facing inward, and I could feel the precariousness of it. I could peer into two steep valleys at once, one in front of me—the granite wall was about chest height, and another deeper valley behind me. I didn’t want to look there, well, because, balance, and a bilious stomach. As we shuffled along the ledge, rocks stumbled into the freefall of space into the valley below. I froze and teetered on the brink of disaster. John yelled Stop! and scooted up to me, he reached over and shoved my ass and hips into the granite wall, and he said hug that wall like you’re making love to it. First rule of freeclimbing, become one with the wall. Literally.When I got to the other side, I swear it was my own personal Thank God ledge. Nowhere near as hairy as the Yosemite Thank God Ledge. But it instilled a deep fear that I had to overcome. The only way out was through. Or in this case, across. Of course I said, Never again. Years later, we went off into the Andes, hiking precarious trails that defied gravity, climbing Huyana Picchu using a dodgy rope to pull ourselves hand over fist up a peak that surpassed the angle of declination. I was glad I learned to check my hat on that thank god ledge. Because obviously Never Again never listened to me.

One for Billy Joe Bianchi

Bill Bianchi 1/16/1950 - 9/4/2020

Thinking of you lots, these days, Billy Joe. Like the song, you’ve been on my mind. I was talking to Dennis de la Montanya the other day. A rarity as I hate talking on the phone. We used Messenger. Even worse, with video. No way to hide how we’ve all aged. I remember when we were young, during the 1960s, Pacific Bell set up mobile labs in the San Geronimo Valley Horseman’s Arena, and we rode down to see what the future might entail. Inside the trailers were telephones with video screens. Cumbersome things. I thought it would never come to pass. But here we are. Do you remember? Phone calls to the future, or to the dead. Dennis had sent a photo of the San Geronimo Valley baseball team. Suddenly I was remembering watching you playing baseball at Lagunitas School, running, top of the ninth, the bases were loaded, we were all yelling slide, slide, home run. How you loved baseball. You could’ve been a contender. Or at least a major league pitcher with that throwing arm. Do you remember that first kiss? Or the time you took the old truck into the lower field, with your sister Cottie and me trailing along behind, little pests that we were—how, as you spun us circles in the dirt in that old Ford, it was as exciting as any carnival ride. But the passenger door flew open with the centrifugal force, and you grabbed my arm as I hovered in space, my legs flying like little flags, the dirt spinning past me. It was the closest I ever got to solo flying. But you didn’t let go of my arm. You didn’t let go. Brave, you are. Blessings upon you, old friend. Blessings. May you walk the bridge in peace. You gave the Big C a heroic fight. Showed it what a home run really meant. Bring the team home, Billy Joe. Bring it home. It’s OK to let go. Walk on. 

William Bianchi obituary

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Home Run

We were talking about baseball the other day. Old Lagunitas School friend Dennis de la Montanya was checking in, because of the evacuation. We reminisced about the past, I wanted to see a photo of his father Dean the Milkman, whom I was crazy about when I was a child. Was he is handsome as Dean Martin, the face I remembered? After Dean was killed, Irene married Joe Bianchi. Dennis sent me some photos, among them, a junior league photo of our San Geronimo Valley classmates. I posted it in our San Geronimo Facebook site. Names crawled out of the past: Marc and Wayne Peacock, Johnny Kaufman, the Fahey brothers, Jeff Sousa, and Dennis. No Billy Joe. I guess he had moved on. But in the intricate basket weave of memory, his presence was winnowed. He was our star player. We thought he’d go onto the big leagues. Someone, perhaps Liz Haas, complained that in those days, girls weren’t allowed to play baseball. And she was a good player. I remember one afternoon, everyone gathered at the baseball diamond at Lagunitas school, there were so few of us, that girls and boys played on the same team. It was late afternoon with long shadows, and Linda Gregg hit a home run, her ponytail was a golden stream of sunlight as she ran the bases. Billy Joe Bianchi slid into home. Slide, slide, slide. The bases are loaded, teammates on both sides cheered. Slide. Safe. And now Dennis says Billy Joe is going down for the final count. Bases are loaded, but Billy Joe gave the odd a run for their money.

Three generations of de la Montanyas, Dean, Sr., Dean, Jr., & Dennis 

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Fire journal 3, photos

Coming down from the hill to Nicasio reservoir, I noted that the Inverness has reached the top of the ridge, and in some places, gone over the top. I think it’s Mount Wittenberg. I could almost see the flames. I had to pack everything up and evacuate from my friend’s house this morning, so I spent the morning packing, and the evacuation lines in Sonoma County changed to right where I was. The entire west county has been evacuated. All the way up to Graton. My car was covered in ash by the time I left. I played a mad game of Tetris wedging my things into my car so that I could drive, reverse is still problematic, but at least I can get into third gear.

I took some photos which didn’t come out, very distinct plumes of smoke in different colors, plus a smoke tower. Also one place where a new fire is breaking out on this side of the ridge—the side meaning the side facing Nicasio Reservoir and Elephant Mountain.

I’m in San Geronimo now and the skies are amazingly clear. But to the north, and over Petaluma, West County Sonoma it’s a nightmare. Here the air is sweet in Forest Knolls. It’s hotter than hades, and I’m self-treating for first signs of heat exhaustion, ugh. Delicious chills, first warning sign. Foot cramps, excessive dripping, a lack of thirst, chills. Think I caught it on time. I drenched my head and shirt—wet clothes act like a fridge.

I hate it when heat sensitivity is triggered. When I was younger I had heat exhaustion and didn’t deal with it and so now it’s easily triggered. So if I get overheated I really have to watch it. I often won’t sweat, which is a problem. My grandfather nearly died from the next level after heat exhaustion, which is heat stroke. So, it’s in the gene pool. The first thing is to submerge yourself and cold water. Then take aspirin and Gatorade. I hate Gatorade. Then it dawned on me Alka-Seltzer. Two for one. Both salts, and aspirin. It took a half hour, but it worked.

Some bad air stats coming up today. Staying indoors is the safest thing to do. If you need to go out, right now is better than later on. I know there are better AQI sites than the government site which averages out the readings over several hours. But this is much more violatile. I was so tired I slept on Sam’s landlord’s deck, on the wooden boat trailer. It was lovely watching the Milky Way,  it the stars were red.


Thursday evening was absolutely surreal driving home from West Marin. The combo of fog and smoke created strange red green mercurochrome rainbows at sunset. It was like being inside a Maxfield Parrish painting.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Fire Journal 2, photo

Tangerine light, pomegranate light. A stratocumulus cloud rises like a volcanic eruption. In front of me is a smoke bank so thick that it looks like chocolate.

I am fleeing from one fire to the borders of another fire. This morning I played car Tetris, wedging my precious evacuated things inside—the last game, a puzzle where there is no game. This is real life. I never fully unpacked from the Kincade fire so rustling up my stuff was easy but murder packing all that down the stairs.

Evacuation line was moved up to Graton Road. My friend’shouse sits two driveways away from the evacuation line.I know that I will never come back to this place the same person I was before. I am fleeing the ravages of one fire to the north, headed south to the fringes of another fire. Hopefully the place in between will have air clean enough to breathe.

Meanwhile the highways are filled with service trucks going to and fro. In some cases life continues on. It’s a very strange admixture of carry-on and prepare for the worst.

My car is covered in ash. The lost secret vaults of trees. Pages from an old folio written before we arrived on this continent.

At Chileno Valley, I stop at the lake to take in the beauty, the wild swans and their cygnets. As I walk towards the water, an ocean of blue dragon flies eddy at my feet. Pure magic. Above me red dragonflies flit like embers drifting in the air. A series of explosions in the distance, transformers blowing?

I am taking time out of time during these strange times. Fully in the present.

Fire journal 1, photo

I watched a fiery sun inexorably rise through a thick wall of carmine smoke. I am tucked beneath thick blanket of smoke from the northwest, it’s an oppressive stormfront of dark grey tinged with orange and green—like mercurochrome for a wounded sky above me, with a distinct orange fringe. There is a band of clear cyan blue skies to the east over Santa Rosa, but the smoke from the Solano fires will soon fill that void. The smoke thickens, and even as the sun rises, the daylight is getting darker. Crepuscular. The morning pattern of sunlight on the wall is vermillion, making everything look like a darkly varnished canvas. I know that my exit route to the south to San Geronimo, will be filled with even more smoke from the Limantour fire that is climbing Mt. Whittenburg. But for now, the air is sweet and smoke-free right where I am. I drink deep. For how much longer, I don’t know. Enjoying the serenity while I can. But the birds are silent. Never a good sign. I saw my first falling ashes, like gentle snowflakes drifting down. Last night I fell asleep while poring over a wildfire report, cricket arias, I slept fitfully, not knowing what the morning may bring. The evacuation line was moved up to right before my friend’s driveway. Not mandatory yet but soon. Spent two hours packing my car with all my stuff, and then played car Tetris to be able to drive, not enough room for the stick shift—and see out the window. I don’t think I ever really unpacked all my stuff from the Kincade fire. I can see the smoke on the horizon at Napa, a big plume—like an erupting volcano. As I crossed the llano, the Santa Rosa Valley looks like it’s in the center of a tornado. Smoke from the Stewart’s Point, Skaggs Springs/Sweetwater fire is spreading exponentially. It’s moved into The Cedars too. All those ancient rare trees and plants. Mt. Jackson. Meyer’s Grade right below Fort Ross. Soon the fires will converge into a megafire complex. The fire has been named Walbridge. Hopefully the fire won’t move south, or we’ll lose Armstrong Grove as well. Wildfires all over the state from the lightning. Someone said 500 fires, 5000 strikes. Big Basin is burning. Big Sur is burning. The Sierra foothills. And we don’t have the manpower to fight all these fires simultaneously.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Anne Kent Library roundtable on SF Drake history, 6/26 Rodoni roundtable notes

Marin County Library Drake Boulevard Learning Resources

A video of the recent public online learning session about Sir Francis Drake Boulevard is now available in both English and Spanish on the Library’s Drake History Resources webpage. Our Anne T. Kent California Room librarians were essential in gathering information to support the ongoing public dialogue and opportunity for community learning. Check out the Anne T. Kent California Room Community Newsletter for additional features and highlights about local history and available archival resources.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Massive lightning strikes, three fires on Mt. Barnabe

After a spectacular morning of dry lightning, the likes of which Is ve never seen, reports of fires everywhere. Massive lightning strikes, and ignites three fires on Mt. Barnabe.The first one struck the fire cam and cell tower, another strike exploded a tree on the Portola fire road near Nuneses, and a downed line near Devil’s Gulch in the park ignited a third larger fire which was the most worrisome. A portent of things to come. That dry lightning storm that keeps on giving and giving.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Retroactive racism and the BLM movement

I must admit that I have some ambivalence towards the current trend of calling out retroactive racism via BLM deconstructionism. Call it presentism when something is taken out of time and context and then critiqued with modern values and morés placed upon them.

By this reckoning we would need to throw out Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, William Faulkner, and John Hume, as well as a litany of literary greats. First, get rid of the artists. Playing right into Putin’s hands. When I was in the Soviet Union, I was horrified to see how whitewashed our literary legacy was. From Ginsburg to Levertov—even Robert Frost all of their work censored, gutted.

The article from LitHub on Flannery’s O’Connor was interesting, but the politicized aspect was heavy handed. A lot of preamble and assumptions were made. And it’s unfair to attack they dead for they cannot defend themselves. The work is its own merit, it stands alone whatever their politics of the times. Behind closed doors as it were. 

And I do love Flannery’s visceral work. She’s one of the most innovative and original writers of our time. I think in many of her stories she brings to light the underpinnings of social injustice—just by the sheer brutality of chronicling it. 

It is inherently, and patently clear that people critical of her work are unfamiliar with the milieu and context by which O’Connor wrote, in the politically incorrect colloquial dialect commonly used in the South during that time. If anything, she was deeply critical of an unjust society, especially Catholic hypocrisy. Read A Good Man is Hard to Find, and Wise Blood. It’s a grim, realistic portrait of the south. I suppose they will ban Faulkner next? First, kill all the artists. For they present an inconvenient truth.

In a reference to Nazi Germany, novelist George Orwell wrote, in his science fiction novel, 1984: Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past. In an alarming trend to be "politically correct" replete with an Orwellian twist, we seem to be intent on whitewashing the past. Irony intended. 

Golda Meir said, “One cannot and must not try to erase the past merely because it does not fit the present.” In a toxic move to be politically correct, it seems we’re doing just that. Erasing the past, or inconvenient truths, in order to feel good.

It is so difficult right now, people have completely gone off the deep end with the social justice warrior mode. They’ve even stripped the name Drake from my high school, now they want to change the name of the main road through Marin County. And it just goes on and on....

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Personification poems with Blake More Tomatoes, Carrots & a collage


We arrived in black bags filled with loam
and waited for them to come.
We had no idea of our destiny,
or what was to become of us.
We waited along the fence
in haphazard formation.
The sun rose to its zenith, and we wilted,
uprooted from the coolness of the garden,
we were awaiting adoption,
not knowing who would claim us,
or where we were going.

She found deep pots for us and gave us water.
After we recovered from the shock,
we began to grow, reaching for the sun.
She gave us gilded cages
where we could rest our heavy arms.
And we leaned in conversationally,
we blossomed, and then we fruited with gravitas.
At first, we were shy green orbs that swelled,
and then we doubled in size
with each new watering
until we were constellations,
or perhaps even planets.

And then we reached for the sun
and we became the fire of sunset.
We waiting for the cool green depths 
of salad bowls rubbed with garlic 
and dressed with olive oil. We glowed 
like the glistening blood of rubies.
Summer's gift to those huddled 
around their meager tables
waiting out the siege.



The carrot speaks of the night,
it speaks of the stars
glistening in the gloaming.
Once it was the color of darkness
but then it saw the sun for the first time
and the shape of its dreams
began to change to include the light.
And then it glowed with the tendrils
of the summer sun.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Covid journal, freeway wreck

I’m stuck in a rare traffic jam on 101 outside of Santa Rosa, so I contemplate the mundane roadside attractions, debris, new homesteads in the bushes, in the no-man’s-land between freeway and fence. The traffic jam eventually unveils its ugly secret. A big truck hauling a trailer, someone else’s home, did a 180° turn right off the freeway—facing back the way he came. The trailer crumpled like tinfoil, or a Coke can. The truck, still upright, with a starburst pattern in the windshield from someone’s head. 

Myriad cops circle the scene. I wonder if the couple survived. And I realize that though the driver did 180° turn going back from where he came, he can never go back there again. Was he yet another victim of COVID homelessness? As this pandemic continues on its inexorable path, more and more people are becoming homeless. It too is a pandemic. Seeking shelter wherever they can. During these dark days of summer, it’s not so much of a problem. Pitch a tent, or pitch a tarp. But come winter, then what?

And a jerk in the SUV, seeing a long line of cars, tries to pass me on the freeway shoulder, right in front of the wreck. He is part of the problem. Let’s just say hand gestures were involved all round. 

Some Sunday morning. Our new normal horizon keeps shifting its parameters. What was unthinkable a year ago is now the new normal. But hope is ever present, the Halloween maze corn is growing in the Petaluma field. Waiting for the maze to grow. A bleacher overlooks the green sea of corn. Come October, The Day of the Dead. How many, countless deaths by then?

Indeed, the gates of the Otherworld are open wide, waiting to receive us all.