Monday, December 31, 2007

Holiday Reflections

Nighttime reflections in the front window
at (son) Otto's and Kristin's house.
Phyllis with camera, Otto (husband) at computer.

Note the computer discs hung in the window - a rainbow room decoration both day and night, as a kaleidoscope of color plays across their surfaces. The Christmas tree itself doesn't show in this photo, but it appears in the previous post.

On this New Year's eve we are reaching the end of wonderful holiday season with four generations of Smiths celebrating together (counting ourselves, the oldest). How we wish that everyone could have a coming year filled with the joy we have had these last two and a half weeks! Unfortunately the news of the world negates that possibility, but we can at least hope for improvement.

And Happy New Year to you, my blog friends!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Our Christmas

Ocean enjoyed playing with new train parts
especially when helped by his father

I hope you all had as happy a Christmas as we did! Port Townsend and nearby Port Hadlock have been our homes since December 13 and will continue to be until the third of January. We stayed first with grandson Joe, his wife April, and great-grandson Ocean, celebrated Christmas morning with them, opened presents, enjoyed a waffle breakfast; then we moved to Port Townsend and did the same with son Otto, his wife Kristin, and grandchildren Anna and Johnny. Then everyone got together at the latter house for a dinner of barbecued black cod - the world's most delicious food - prepared by Joe outdoors in the freezing cold. Thank you, Joe!

This is the tree at Otto's and Kristin's house
That is Anna peeking around the door at the ceiling-high tree.

We have had much beautiful music. Here Otto and Kristin play at the home of friends.

Happy New Year! We hope it will bring peace o earth - although we're keeping our fingers crossed!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

DREAMWHERE Sunday Scribblings prompt: Now and Then

photo by my nephew,
Allen Sterling III

You walked all night to beat the cold
so now you drowse on a sunlit bit of sidewalk
legs sprawled, head lolling on your knapsack
backed against a facade of patterned tile
from Mexico.

Your eyesballs move behind your eyelids
but your face is slack and inward turning.
Surely your dream is not here on the avenue,
hassled by corporate cops, muttered at
by passers-by who must detour around you
as they scan store windows for a way
to spend their money.

Where do you dream?

Do you toss a football to the brother lost in 'Nam'
Weave a mysterious plot that's fraught
with dream significance?
Walk a shaded path you know but can't say where?

Will you remember when you're wakened
by the grip on your shoulder
and the order to move on?

No. Dreams like that escape like noonday ghosts

You stumble to your feet,
grit grinding where your elbows met the sidewalk,
limbs still leaden with fatigue
mind struggling to retain the dream
where lost loves linger—
even your own lost self.
Phyllis Sterling Smith

Saturday, December 22, 2007

December memories

Memories in the making -
Our son Otto, Grandson Joe, Great-grandson, Ocean

As we enter life’s December
pictures help us to remember
the lives that we have led.
A snake casts off entire skin
but only camera eyes take in
the shapes that we have shed.

A baby boy with double chin
sits Buddah-like with happy grin
for everything he sees.
A tiny girl stands on a chair
for studio portrait, will not wear
a false smile just to please.

Posed at first with sister, brother,
later we’re young father, mother,
and years speed up their flight.
Snapshots capture bits of pleasure,
moments with the ones we treasure
as dark hair turns to white.

Monday, December 17, 2007

What's happening

Above you see one of our hosts here in Port Townsend: Ocean, two years old. We flew up here Thursday and are staying with his parents, our grandson Joe and his wife April. Son Otto and Kristin returned from Thailand on Friday, full of enthusiasm and with more than a thousand photos, most of which we have yet to see. Grandson Johnny is home, too, and Anna will arrive on Wednesday on Christmas break from Adelphi.

I probably won't have much time to keep up this blog because we'll be having too much more of the fun we've been having to leave time for the internet. I missed participating in Sunday Scribbling this time around. I was helping Ocean hang indestuctible ornaments on a Christmas tree.

I hope all of you are having a happy holiday season!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Sunday Scribblings prompt: Competition


my sister Martha do you never
lie in the cold still dark and hear
the fallen words that swirl like stars
or sardines swarming
flashing silver?

much too sensible for that
you net them
layer them with salt
and oh so provident
in briny reeking tubs

I hear the muscular swish and turning
star-tossed glitter of silver fish-words
weaving a shimmer of strands to net me
here in wakefulness
their fretting slivers splinter sharp

night-tossed sharded starved for meaning
I fish in His eyes
for silver words to
fullfil me

from the oven you pull forth
crisp brown loaves
sweet smelling
bring savoury fish stew
to feed His hunger.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Balk (Sunday Scribblings prompt: "walk")

According to what my parents used to tell their friends, my first word was "balk", the nearest I could come to pronouncing "walk." It's said that a child of less than three years does not form memories. Yet I feel sure that I remember back to those first toddler days when I would demand, "balk!" I meant that Daddy should stop the model T to let me stagger through ferns higher than my head, among the tall trunks and fragrant scents of the redwoods, with shafts of sunlight dancing on lower leaves of madrone and (sigh) poison oak. Many weekends we would drive over the summit of the Coast Range to Santa Cruz, the two-lane crooked road winding among just such tempting "balks." The floor of the forest might be studded with little gems of flowers such as trillium or calypso orchids, which my parents wisely, in those pre-ecology days, prevented me from picking.

I have never lost my taste for walking. I would like to make a distinction, though, between "walking" and "hiking". The latter implies destination goals and, frequently, strenuous exercise. "Walking" is a more leisurely pursuit, with time to savor each aspect of the landscape through which one is traveling - to stop to spot that warbling bird or to watch a chipmunk burying a morsel.

Even in the city, where I am more apt to walk these days, I want time to appreciate - and possibly photograph - beautiful gardens. Walking gives one a chance to become acquainted with one's neighbors, those who might be out gardening or washing a car. And at night one can catch glimpses of cosy interiors through lighted windows. At this time of year, decorated Christmas trees are a special treat.

Hike for exercise, I say, but walk for simple pleasures.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Losing Myself

(Sunday Scribblings prompt: My Misspent Youth)
Losing Myself
In the years that I was growing up in Berkeley, most Saturday afternoons were spent at the Saturday children’s matinee at the Oaks theater on Solano avenue My friends and I, possibly with my little brother in tow, would first stand in the long line to pay for our nickel tickets, then rush inside to claim the best seats on the center aisle or in the first row of the balcony. There we would thrill to the adventures of Tom Mix or other western heroes, preceded, of course, by the cartoon, the newsreel, the serial with its cliff-hang, and the sing-a-long when we would scream ourselves hoarse on our favorite Anchors Away. “SINK the army! SINK the army gray!” I would then forget the movies until the next Saturday.

Then in 1932, when I was eleven years old, my father was transferred to San Jose and I was uprooted from best friends and the school year that had just begun. I was thrust into a strange junior high school among classmates who already knew one another and the school routines. Since I had earlier skipped a grade, I was the youngest one in my seventh grade class, and, what’s more, I was the tallest. My mother and I were both embarrassed when the gym teacher phoned to suggest that I really needed to wear a brassiere.

Uncomfortable in my new surroundings, the movies became my refuge. In San Jose the programs planned for children were on Saturday morning. I went on Saturday afternoon when the regular first-run movies were shown. I fell in love with Gary Cooper. I began to spend my allowance on movie magazines as well as theater tickets. I immersed myself in Hollywood lore.

I saw favorite movies several times over, as they moved from the first run theaters, which changed the program every week, to lesser second and third-run venues. I saw “The Lives of a Bengal Lancer” thirteen times before my mother put a stop to it, and I could recap it scene by scene with exact dialogue. A new friend of my own age, Lillian Townsend, had moved to the house across the street from our home. She was equally fascinated with the movies. We would act out those we had seen (almost every one produced!), taking turns on the most dramatic parts (usually death scenes).

By the time I reached ninth grade I could recite not only the plot and cast of almost every Hollywood movie but also what studio made it, who the producer, director, and camera-man were, and the salaries of some of the stars. I remember that Greta Garbo made the then unthinkable salary of $1000 a week!

As other interests, new friends, new enthusiasms developed, I finally became a little ashamed of the frivolity of my expert knowledge. I expressed this to my father, who said, “Never be ashamed of knowing everything about any subject.” I moved on to interest in many other subjects, but they have never become the escape from circumstances that movies were to my young self.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Yesterday was Thanksgiving

On the day after Thanksgiving in 1963, I wrote this sonnet:


And still we mourned. While chill November lay
upon your hill, we gathered close beside

our fires, and, as you had proclaimed a day
of thanks, gave thanks to God though you had died.

We thanked Him for Himself, and asked He lead
the s
ad man with the grey November face
who now must bear your load and rue the deed
that forced him to replace your summer grace.

Thanked God, that, through grief shared, our festal board
extended North to South; and that the
sent Brahms to comfort us, and Donne to warn,

sent Whitman's sprig of lilac; that a horde

of vari-colored races sat at last

in common sorrow. And still we mourn.

Friday's Flowers (sort of...)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Too busy!

I have been so busy composing and printing my 2008 calendar (Christmas gift for about 28 dear friends and relatives) that I have not had time for new posts. I missed Sunday Scribblings for the first time since I started writing for it. Now the calendars must be assembled and bound. Above is the 2008 calendar cover, starring my favorite breaking wave, caught in my camera during our Smith reunion at Asilomar.

And here is what the November pages will look like when hung. Well, actually they won't! I looked at my blog after publishing and found that, due to the peculiarities of Clairis Works and its alignments, many elements of the lower calendar part are slightly shifted. The printed page has all the small pictures neatly between the grid lines, and the printed parts are similarly symmetrical.
Otto and Kristin have been in Chiang Mai, Thailand since the first of November giving music classes, taking part in programs, sight-seeing the beautiful mountain girt city, and exercising their cameras. They won't be back until December 15, but have only posted (on Facebook) pictures from their first three days there. Since I wanted to include their trip on the calendar, I went ahead and used the few photos they posted.

The calendar dimensions are 11"x8.5" for each of the two halves - the top "big Picture" and the lower calendar, which has family birthdays, holidays etc. noted for relevant days.

Well, back to Santa's workshop!

Have a happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 9, 2007

Friday's Flowers

All that is left

There are many meanings for "left" which is one of Sunday Scribblings prompts for today. One might be left behind or left over or left in the lurch. One might have left the party early. This post is about all that is left when everything else is gone. I didn't write this poem today, but it seemed appropriate.

,The Gift of Words

You say I have the gift of words.

Someday my words may fail me,
lost in a maze of neurons, wells of words
with no bucket to retrieve them,
or they may tangle on my tongue
like Hannah’s yarn after her stroke
when she worried helplessly
among the skeins and needles.

Gifts are for giving.

Thus I would bequeath to you
a shimmer of words when I no longer
can order them into their patterns.
They will glint like breeze-tossed aspen leaves
or glimmer like showers in sunshine
where each drop holds a rainbow.
They will be as numerous as stars
as facets of waves
as moments of our love
and fragrant like water touching parched earth.
They will hold bird song and wind song
but, alas, no Mozart, no sonnets, no meaning,
just their fragments.

I will scatter them at random on a fragile web
spangled with words and syllables like sequins
and toss it scarf-like over you.

This is my gift.

Saturday, November 3, 2007


Photo by grandson Byron Shock
several weeks after midsummer's
maximum light show.

MIRROR MIRROR (Sunday Scribbling prompt:"Money")

This morning I awoke with the rising sun just as it struck a building across the bay in such a way that it sent a blaze of reflection to my bedroom, almost like a bright message from a San Francisco window to my Berkeley one. For a few minutes it was a brilliant diamond.
My husband still slept peacefully . Knowing that the phenomenon would probably recur for several days, barring rain or fog, I didn’t waken him. Besides, bright as it was, it could not compete with our annual midsummer show.

Starting on about the fifteenth of June at about five minutes before eight o’clock in the evening, the setting sun hits the windows on one of the slanting sides of San Francisco’s Transamerica pyramid at an angle that shoots the light directly to us. The first night it is impressive but affects only a few of the pyramid’s windows, making them sparkle and glint. Then, night by night, it changes, light moving down from the spire to encompass more windows until, at the height of its brilliance, the pyramid becomes a molten pillar of fire, too bright to look at directly, brighter by far than any sight we have seen save for the sun itself. The triangular shape of the tower is lost in the swell of flame.

Each night the show lasts for about ten minutes from first gleam until the last window winks back to darkness, the peak of brightness being at eight o’clock. So too does the yearly spectacle arrange itself symetrically about midsummer. By July we no longer invite our friends to come see “our” Transamerica pyramid.

But by what stretch of the imagination can we call it “our” Transamerica pyramid? We own no part of this temple to wealth. Nor do we wish to. As former workers with homeless poeple, we are all too aware that, in the shadow of this impressive edifice, desperate folk seek a sheltered spot to sleep in doorways and alleys, their meager possessions heaped protectively beside them. We are reminded of what we consider to be one of America’s troubling problems, one that becomes constatly more acute. It is the growing disparity between the rich and the poor.

I would like to call to the attention of anyone visiting my blog the latest issue of National Geographic and the article(s) about the Mayan civilization. One of the main reasons for the collapse of this complex society was that it had become top-heavy, with the privileged demanding more and more.

Is that where America is heading?

Still, I shouldn't be too hard on the Transamerica pyramid. Not only is it a symbol of wealth: it is also the donor of a midsummer gift of pure molten gold.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween Today!

The wooden candy plate, centered with a miniature pumpkin and Otto's artistic arrangement of assorted small packets of M&Ms, is waiting by the door for small goblins. Now, at 9:pm, we no longer expect to greet our first trick-0r-treater. No one came last year either. Our neighborhood seems devoid of small children. Where are they all?

This photo is of great-grandson Jon a few years ago. He is now in kindergarten. This is just my attempt to remember halloweens as they used to be...

Monday, October 29, 2007

photo by Cedric Shock

Enjoy your Hallowe'en!

Saturday, October 27, 2007


Elnor Ragan, 1914-2007
(This photo was at her 90th birthday celebration in 2004)

My beautiful sister-in-law died early this morning. Until a little over a year ago, when she fell and broke her hip, Elnor was super active. She taught violin, trained trios for competition, repaired stringed instruments for orchestras and schools, planted extensive gardens around her self-designed earth-sheltered house, went on Elder Hostel trips that involved long hikes, cared for her latest well-trained dog, etc.etc. I will miss her, although we didn't see each other often. She lived in Stillwater, Oklahoma, a long way from Berkeley, California. She was a lifelong peace activist and, as older sister, introduced Otto to her ideals, now his - and mine.

This week's Sunday Scribblings has the word "hospital" for its prompt. I don't need to stray from the subject of Elnor to find an amusing story. While Elnor was still in the hospital with her broken hip, her daughter Lenore asked her what she might want that would make her happier. What she wanted was her violin! Not flowers or pretty nightgowns or goodies to eat. She couldn't play it, but having it nearby gave her a sense of well-being.

Yes, that's the whole of my Sunday Scribbling. Do I get an award for brevity?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

If I Were Queen Of The World

Sunday Scribblings( Prompt-"If I were king or queen of the world")
The first thing that I would do, were I queen of the world, would to make breakfast for the king. Just kidding! Otto and I have been working with the same motivations for so long (66 years) that I can't imagine going solo with what have always been our shared dreams. Granddaughter Daria took the above picture (which I have abridged) at the August Smith reunion and birthday parties, showing that sometimes we even are arrayed like king and queen.

I will assume that we have but one lifetime to accomplish at least one of our many goals, and we would almost surely choose the one with the most urgency - global warming. It isn't that we would wish to ignore our dreams of world peace and universal brother/sisterhood, for instance. But to neglect the accelerating rate of global warming would be to exacerbate the rest of earth's problems in the struggles for survival that would follow. The naysayers to the dangers of global warming don't understand the nature of positive feedback systems. Global warming is not just a steady state of increase in earth's heat. It is an ever increasing rate of acceleration. If any readers of this wish to joust with me on these points, feel free to do so. I would welcome the opportunity to explain further.

I am assuming that if we are Queen and King of the world we would have a rather large treasury. From this treasury I would draw enough money to build solar-thermal electric power plants in desert areas - such as the Gran Desierto of northern Mexico, the Yuma desert of Arizona, the Sahara and Gobi deserts. The power plants would be the conventional steam turbines now used, with the schematic below showing a more economical design than any current solar plant. Low-cost parabolic trough concentrators would boil water. The wet steam would then be dried and superheated by the focused solar light of tracking heliostats..
This would significantly reduce dependence on fossil fuels. It would be a first step toward slowing the accelerating pace of global warming before it reaches the point of no return.

This leaves the problem of transportation. I trust that we are not the only ones tackling global warming issues. Very good work is being done to improve batteries, which would make electric cars extremely desirable, and an electric car can be plugged into the electric energy generated by the afore-mentioned solar power plants.

Oh, yes. I wasn't entirely kidding about making breakfast for the king. Most days I do just that. But most nights the king brings me a dish of mint chocolate chip ice cream at bedtime. Who could ask for more?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

First Job

Kristin's photo of a jellyfish
at the Monterey Aquarium
First job, worst job, dream job.

This prompt from Sunday Scribblings must extract a confession from me: I have seldom had a paying job. None-the-less I have had a busy and productive life. I have always been part of a cooperative, communal family
who paid little attention to which member brought home the actual cash. This was true of my birth family and of the one that Otto and I created after our marriage 66 years ago.

My first job “professional” job was undertaken when I was somewhere between 11 and 14 years old. I know it was within that time because my family lived on McKendrie street during those depression years (1932-1935). My father represented Fibreboard Products in a large area that stretched from San Jose to Monterey, and helped create boxes in which to ship everything from Santa Clara dried prunes and apricots to sardine cans from Monterey with its extensive sardine harvests. My ever-changing career hopes had turned from astronomer, aviator, cartoonist or movie maker to a fairly steady desire to be an artist - any kind of artist including commercial art.

One of Daddy’s sardine canneries needed a logo for their shipping boxes, and Daddy asked me if I might like to design one. Ever the over-confident older child, I was sure I could do so - and did design one, after the use of much poster board and India ink. It was adopted by the cannery for shipping Portola brand sardines. I don’t remember whether or not I was paid for my work.

Skip over many years to the near extinction of sardines in Monterey Bay and the advent of the magnificent Monterey Aquarium in the old Portola cannery. The aquarium underwent several remodelings as it continually improved. After one such remodeling several years ago, we took a visiting grandchild to see it - and - tremendous surprise! There, at the entrance to the aquarium, was my Portola sardines logo enlarged to wall size!

Susan photographs jellyfish at
Monterey Aquarium
Last August several folk at our family reunion spent an afternoon at the aquarium. The picture below is the only picture that I currently have of my artwor. Daria, who is the photographer being photographed as she arranged her brother and children in front of it, has not yet sent her photograph of the logo and of them to me.

Looking at it now, I recall the reason for those squared ESSes at the edges: I couldn’t figure out how to make even curves that didn’t lean the letters one way or another. And why do some of the letters have serifs while others in the same word are plain block letters? Someone must have thought it was artistry not ignorance.

No time to go into other jobs I have had if this is to be posted by the deadline...

Except to say that I must now get busy with another computer job for Otto’s and my joint project of energy conservation and reducing global warming. I do circuit diagrams and schematics for his various innovations. Here is my schematic of a more effective solar thermal power plant.
I wish you happiness in the week ahead!

Friday, October 5, 2007

The best laid plans...

I had such wonderful plans for this week... To be sure, I started out fairly tired after cooking a birthday dinner for Joni (whose birthday it was) and Sterling and Roxanne. It was fun, though, and we had a good visit. Then on Monday I went to a meeting of the Writers' workshop, which lasted much of the afternoon. (good meeting, too).

But so what? I had two days to rest up before the BIG event. On Thursday I planned to attend, for the first time since high school graduation, a reunion of the class of 1948. I had recently renewed correspondence with two of my high school friends who urged me to be there. So I sent the money for very expensive dinners for Otto and me, planned what to wear, rubbed on lots of lotion to try to get rid of wrinkles, etc. etc.

Then guess what happened? I got out of bed Tuesday morning, called Otto because I was feeling weak, then, when I tried to walk, my knees suddenly turned to water and I slithered to the floor (slithered because Otto moderated my fall although he couldn't stop it. For the very first time in my life I was taken to Kaiser hospital by ambulance, where I was kept until yesterday (Thursday) afternoon.
I also had a meeting of my Book Discussion Group scheduled for Friday (today) for which I had hurried to read Inheritance of Loss which I had been slow to acquire. But we had to go to Kaiser for another test, so I missed that one too. At least Kaiser and I know that I wasn't having a heart attack (determined after every sort of test they could think of)!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Borrowed Power

(Sunday Scribblings)
Why did I choose a dragon as my “special animal”?

I didn’t even think of acquiring such a thing until I was well into my euphemistically-called “golden” years. I appreciated the fact (as I’m sure did most of their friends and relatives) that gift-giving was simpler to those with such a special interest: Josie with her teddy bears, Daria’s pigs, Stan’s elephants, Jon’s zebras. One could give toys to the young, figurines, printed linens, emblazoned T-shirts to their elders, all themed to their animal choices. I wasn’t trying to make life simpler for others when I chose MY beast, but I obviously did, as my house overflowing with gifts of dragon memorabilia attests.

Still, why were dragons my choice? I looked through the archives of my poetry, and this sonnet, one that I wrote a long time ago, caught my eye:

I’ve never tried to trap a unicorn.
It’s not more graceful, say, than a gazelle,
an earthly beast I’m sure would do as well;
and what’s so great about a single horn?

Nor have I tried to snare a horse with wings.
I’ve flown across the sky, but in a jet.
I see no earthly use for such a pet;
I’ll save my sugar cubes to sweeten things.

But dragons! Ah, now that’s a different story:
great flailing tails that slither, thrash, and crash,
tough armored scales to hide the wicked core,
the iridescent wings a blue-black glory,
the knobbly claws whose talons rake and slash!
My favored mythic beasts breathe fire, and roar!

Could it be that finding a special affinity to DRAGON (generic) might let me borrow its power? Let's see... If I were a dragon I could sail high among clouds or stars, confront villains (especially governmental figures) and intimidate them with my fearsome claws. Since I'm a pacifist, I wouldn't tear them to pieces; but they wouldn't know that, and might change their ways. If I were a dragon I could fly through fire without being scorched. I could rescue anyone trapped in a burning building. Just think what an asset I would be to our local fire department!
(these dragon drawings are by me)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Sunday Scribblings

photos by Cedric Shock
Assignment 3

Hi, my name is Tabby Reston (only I use Tabby for friends) and generally but not always I sit way in back at your writing class. The one you teach Friday nights on making up stories. You probably don't know which one of the folks in the extension class is me but I'll bet you remember my stories because you mark them all up with red pencil.

I bet you’re wondering how come I’m writing this since it isn’t even a real story. I don’t know where I’m supposed to put who wrote it being as how this story that isn’t even a real story doesn’t have a title for me to sign under.

Well, Mr. Lathrop, after all you said about the first two assignments I handed in, I thought I’d just show you and write about what’s around right around me like you said I should do. It’s not true though that I stole that last story from TV. I mean I did see something that was a teeny bit like it on Magnum P.I. which we can get reruns of late at night sometimes. But my story wasn’t even in Hawaii. Like China isn’t very close to Hawaii is it? And I changed all the little things. Like it didn’t happen in a church but in a pagoda and the hula dancer was a geisha girl.

What I’m going to show you with this is that if I stick to what I know and what’s right around me it wouldn’t be something that anybody would want to read.

So a minute ago (actually longer than that because it took a lot of time to write those other paragraphs) more than a minute ago I was doing the breakfast dishes at the kitchen sink and I was looking out of the window that looks south. That’s the one right over the sink. There isn’t no one that lives in sight of here so all I saw is the little meadow with the Shasta daisies all blooming and the cherry tree and then it slopes real fast to a road I can’t see (can I put that in? Since I know it’s there?) And then the redwood trees down by the stream only you can’t see the stream either because of all the trees. And behind it all is the hill covered with redwood and Douglas fir and tan oak and madrone.

Rich says there is I-don’t-know-how-many board feet of lumber there and if times get real tough we’re going to sell it to one of the independent operators who truck it down to the mill at Fort Bragg and sell it to WP. WP stands for Washington Pacific. They own all the land around here. They come right up to the edge of our property which Rich owns and they are building a new logging road right behind our hill--not the one I was talking about (hill, I mean)--the smaller one that is right by the east side of the house so we don’t get much sun in our bedroom window.

But maybe I ought not to put all this stuff in because I can’t see it from here. And I would hate to do something you wouldn’t like, Mr. Lathrop, by putting in anything I can’t see from right here. The only thing I can see from right here is my pad and pencil, right? But I hope you will be so kind as like you will permit me to write about what I was seeing when I looked out the window.

There is one Douglas fir at the edge of the woods but not really in the woods and it’s different from the others because it got more sun I guess. It’s about fifty or sixty feet high. When Douglas firs grow tall they mostly lose all the bottom branches so you have this tall skinny trunk with branches not starting until about thirty or forty feet up or more. That’s one reason it’s a good lumber tree. Red wood is like that too. Anyway this tree didn’t lose its bottom branches until just this year when it began to die back a little. It was shaped like a X-tree--a great big huge one like TV shows on the White House lawn every Xmas. We talked about it, Rich and I did, like I said wouldn’t it be fun to decorate it and Rich said how would you get decorations up there shoot them from a gun? I mean we laughed about it but it was so pretty. Sometimes when it rained the rain drops seemed to catch in this tree different from the others and it looked frosted, you know, like the stuff they spray on trees in Christmas tree lots in the city. And then sometimes the sun would come out right after and you wouldn’t need to put tinsel on the tree because it already had it. But, like I said, that was up to last X-mas.
This is May 3 and the tree is now beginning to die back at the bottom. Down at the edge of the woods are some wild rhododendrons and they got little dark pink buds still all curled up but you can see them from here. The cherry tree is all leafed out and you can see little green cherries on it. I’m sure glad because we can’t afford the price of cherries in the store these days and Rich and I sure like cherries.

It’s raining right now. I can hear it right over my head on the roof. I’m sitting next to the stove. It’s made from an oil drum and a kit that Rich bought. I mean the oil drum he got from one place and the kit to make it into a heating stove came from Rossi’s Hardware in Fort Bragg. You know, Mr. Lathrop, the store just a block west of the highway when you come up from Pudding Creek. We shop in Fort Bragg a lot. Things are cheaper at Safeway than closer to home. I won’t name no names, but some folk around here really gouge you. That’s one reason Rich let me take your class. Coming into Fort Bragg so often, I mean. Once a week about. And he said if I really wanted he didn’t see why the day we come couldn’t be the day you give the class.

So here I am, ha! Ha! Only maybe the tree that I seem to keep talking about had something to do with it. It’s kind of hard to explain but when those bottom branches began to lose their needles so it won’t look like a X-tree much longer it made me think like I’m not getting much younger neither, you know what I mean? I guess that’s kind of silly, to connect that to a tree, but then I’m supposed to write about what I see, right? And what I know, right? Nothing interesting like that first story I wrote about the atomic Bomb somebody hid in the White House.
I’m getting a little tired of writing just about what I see.

If it wasn’t raining I’d go sit on the porch and then I could look west but that wouldn’t be all that fascinating neither since what is out there is the place we park the cars. Right now the pick-up truck isn’t there because Rich drove it up toward Wolf Creek where they are going to be felling today only they probably won't on account of the rain. They’re pretty careful since Barney Ellis was killed last summer. Not that it was raining then but everybody knows it’s dangerous to work in the rain. Actually Barney died in a freak accident. Junior Addison was all broke up on account of it was sort of his fault. He felt so bad he married Jean Ellis. So she wouldn’t be a widow, you know.

I got to thinking, maybe you should just forget what I said about Rich not liking it when he comes home and I’m writing. It might give you the wrong idea about him. I mean he’s a really nice guy and has been very generous with me. Like coming into Fort Bragg on the day you give your class. I’ve lived with him for six years now. He wants to get married but I can’t because I’m still married. I use Rich’s name though. Who’d want to use the name of a rat like my ex? Like what kind of father would be so mean as to snatch a little girl out of the arms of her mother practically? Actually I was out in the garden when he come, planting vegetables so we’d have something to eat in the summer. I haven’t seen him or her for five years now. Cindy must be in first grade by now. I’ll bet she’s cute. She was just about the prettiest baby I ever saw. It wasn’t just that I’m her mother neither. Everybody said so. I think maybe they’re in Canada. Somebody got a postcard from there but that was four years ago.

But that’s water over the bridge, isn’t it? Over? Ha! Ha! I meant under of course. Although it was over a lot of bridges last winter, wasn’t it? During the floods? Did you hear about the guy who was driving his car along Highway 1 and he comes to this little bridge on Cottoneva creek just north of Rockport? Well he sees the railings at the side of the bridge so he knows it’s only a few inches under water and he goes right ahead. But what he didn’t know was that the bridge was clogged up with trees and branches so the water went around the sides and tore up the road. So when he was almost there on what he thought was the highway all at once he was in about ten feet of water with the car standing on its nose. He was lucky to get out.

If I could just have Cindy back I’d be perfectly happy living with Rich. I mean he’s really a very good man. He don’t even poach deer, not like most of the people around here, although I won’t name no names because who knows who might read this? I mean we might accept a piece of venison that someone offers us but how do we know he didn’t shoot it nice and legal and keep it in his freezer until now?

We haven’t got a freezer because it would cost too much to bring the line up here to our road. We’re real comfortable though. We buy propane and use it with our gas range and for a real old Servel refrigerator. We heat with the wood stove. It don’t cost us nothing because of all the wood around. It would be nice to have a freezer because we got a pretty good garden in the clearing north of the house. Right now I got chard and rhubarb and that’s about it but in summer we got squash coming out of our ear, we can’t give it away.

We got television too of course. We got a little gasoline generator for that. We only run it a few hours every night. You’d be surprised how high our antenna is though. Rich used his climbers and put it at the top of a redwood tree on the ridge. We get pretty good reception on two stations but we’d sure like to have a satellite dish. Lots of people around here have them but they cost too much for us. Most people who have them grow an illegal crop. Don’t ask me to name names. People can get in trouble that way.

Last month we even had a murder that maybe had something to do with an illegal crop. This guy Pedro, only they called him Peter on the radio (I have a transistor radio), was talking on the outside pay phone at Leggett and somebody stabbed him. They found his body way over in Usal but the blood in the telephone booth told them where it happened. It must have been late at night. There’s people around the store and post office all day so it had to be late at night. Some people liked Pedro but somebody else didn’t. Obviously, ha! Ha!

He was sort of an old guy and some people felt sorry for him. His son was killed in the Viet Nam war then right after he heard about it his wife burned up on their house. I mean he had a very tragic life. He rented places after that. He usually moved owing a lot of back rent. People who rented to him say he left the places a real pig sty. I don’t know whether he grew much of an illegal crop but he sure sold it. I mean everybody knew you could get it from him and other things too.

But why am I gossiping. Don’t speak ill of the dead. He probably got what was coming to him. He was a friend of my ex.

I think I hear the pick-up truck coming up the drive so I better finish this. Do you take in account how many words I wrote when you grade it? This has a lot more words than the other two although you can see it is not as interesting as atom bombs in the White House or geisha girls in China to talk about redwood trees and wood stoves. Do I have permission to write something else next time?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Silly Poem (written Friday, revised today)


An intelligent design?
While I guess the notion’s fine
there is something I find sadly out of whack.
What deity would settle
for an itch as sharp as nettle
in the middle, very middle of my back?

As I grapple past my shoulder
I suspect I’m growing older
for my stretching nails seem to have lost the knack
of reaching to the itching,
helpless fingers clutching, twitching
for the middle, very middle, of my back.

A contortionist I’m not
as I bend to reach the spot,
inching upward from my waist. But still I lack
arms long enough for scratching,
stretched too far, almost detaching
as they’re grasping for the middle of my back.

Anthropologists are fools
when they look for man’s first tools
made of stone to cut or grind or slice or hack.
My hunch is man’s first tool was stick,
with a bark both rough and thick,
that could reach the very middle of the back.

Phyllis Sterling Smith September 14 and 21, 2007

Sunday, September 16, 2007

More Asilomar Photos

Probably I will be adding new photos of our Asilomar reunion for the next several weeks as I get access to those by other attendees. Byron, Kristin, Cedric, Johnny, Stanford and Josie have all posted theirs either on their blogs or on Facebook, and I will be drawing on their albums. For more of their pictures see Jonster's Days (Josie) and Blue Heron (Stan) on "Links to my chain" in right-hand column.
Great-grandsons, Jon and Baxter, share a book.

Anna is happiest when her feet don't touch the ground.
(photo by Kristin)

This was her favored way to reach her room on the second floor
(photo by Josie)

on top of rock at beach
(photo by Kristin)

Guess who else likes to climb?
(photo by Josie)

Kristin is eager to share her love of violin with Baxter

and with Jon, being held by his father Charlie.
(photo by Josie)
Granddaughter Daria in foreground, her brother Loren
behind her, and behind him Terri, his wife.
(photo by Josie, Daria's and Loren's sister)

Many people chose to spend an afternoon in the Monterey Aquarium
where one of many attractions is a whole room featuring jellyfish.
Kristin took this photo.

When Jon tired, Susan, Cedric's wonderful wife-to-be, gave a piggy-back ride...
(photo by Josie)

and they watched the penguins kissing.

Susan and Cedric are accomplished ballroom dancers. (Josie)

Otto and Phyllis watch (Josie)
I was queen at the big birthday party. Here I am with Daria.
(Photo by Josie)

Summer, a girl after my own heart, can become absorbed in a book
no matter what the distractions. (photo by Josie)

I hope I don't bore anyone with too many family photographs. And of course many of you ARE family and
have access to these same photos.