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.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Mendocino Week

We're home from a week at our house in the Mendocino County redwoods. I find myself imagining that I am still in the canvas deck swing (the most comfortable seat in the world) swaying slowly and rotating to look into the jungley green of the undergrowth of the redwoods to the west or up to the the towering redwoods to the south. Even facing the house, I see the reflections of the woods in the floor-to-ceiling windows that face the deck.

Not that this was exactly a vacation - especially not for Otto. He met with the roofer who will install the new roof on the fenced house (the sometimes guest house), climbed to our roof to waterproof around the brick chimney where it leaks, and went many times up and down a ladder in the house to drill a hole in the ceiling through which he blew boric acid with a compressor and hose. We hope it will encourage the carpenter ants to move elsewhere.

The upper photo shows the dense undergrowth of the redwood forest in front of the house. The second photo is looking south across our meadow and up toward the redwoods whose base is far below us, down by Cottoneva creek.

Our dinner bell - 2 sawmill blades.
We beat between them with an iron bar to call to meals

One unanticipated pleasure was to find the old apple tree behind the house, its trunk long riddled with woodpecker holes, still bearing a large crop of apples. Otto was the apple picker (more ladders!), and I was the cook who made delicious apple crisp.


Oak tree and redwood tree,
madrona and pine
sing, "Close your eyes and sleep
baby of mine."

Mother bird on her nest
beasts of the wild
sing, "Close your eyes and rest
Sleep little child."

Someday my child will go
far from the trees,
no longer hear the low
whispering breeze

But, while you choose to stay
the forest's strong arm
will guard you night and day,
keep you from harm.

Oak tree and redwood tree,
madrona and pine
sing, "Linger close to me
baby of mine."

I wrote this lullaby well over sixty years ago.
I'll try to post more often now that we are home for a spell.