Fantastic Insurance against a Day Being Totally Bad

I got coffee for Christmas. It’s several shades lighter and brighter than my usual brew. It’s tasty, but different.

I was in my mid-twenties before I knew I liked coffee. Be still my heart, well, almost literally, yeah, I know. I made this discovery thanks to my boyfriend Peter who gave me a cup of Medaglio d’Oro. Another schoolmate had introduced me to espresso a few months earlier, but it didn’t “catch.” Too many rules. “Rub the lemon on the side of the cup, put in sugar, stir.” C’mon, seriously? NOT my coffee style. It is SOME peoples’ coffee style, and I’m not dissing them, but not mine.

And, then, coffee houses of the 1970s were a different thing from today. Muddy Waters of the Platte and Cafe Nepenthes furthered my interest in this magical liquid.

One of my cousins in Oregon introduced me to the principle of grinding my own coffee and THAT was another door to amazement opened to me.

Another boyfriend went to Guatemala to climb and study Spanish and brought back five pounds of raw Guatemalan beans for me to roast myself. I did, too. THAT was fantastic.

My family was made up of coffee drinkers — the all-day kind of coffee drinkers. As my sophistication level deepened, I realized they were drinking brown water.

The dean of my department in China gave me a very special gift of Hainan Coffee in one of the surreptitious, sweet and secret moments in China. He had stored it in the back of his cabinet until I got there and then, one morning, gestured to me to come into his office, “I have something for you.” It was wrapped –as many other things were in China at the time — in newspaper tied with pink string. “It’s coffee, real coffee, from Hainan island. There is no coffee like it. It is not like American coffee. You will see.”

All of that was absolutely true and it became a constant quest for more while I was in China. I had no proper coffee maker in China, so I adapted a tea pot into a drip coffee maker by lining the tea strainer with weishengzhi (toilet paper) as a filter to hold the boiling water in long enough to make a decent brew. It wasn’t bad at all.

In San Diego, we rented one of our cars (we had 3, don’t ask me why…) to an Italian student to use for the term. When the term was over, his father came to travel around with him. They brought the car back with a gift — a Bialetti. I got careful instructions on how to use it and the rest is history.

My international students all knew I loved coffee and I was privileged to drink Arabic green coffee several times, poured from a dallah. I liked it so much that when one of my students left America, he gave me a gift: a small gold dallah on a gold chain.

Time passed as time does and there I was in Milan at a coffee kiosk near the Duomo. In front of me was a young Korean woman. The young woman’s spoken English was about like my Italian — it will work but nothing really interesting is going to emerge. The young man working there didn’t speak English OR Korean. He was trying to tell her what to pay. He looked at me, pleading. I’d bought coffee from him many times, so he knew I would be able, at least, to translate to English. I nodded. It was in the pre-Euro days so it was a couple thousand lire. For that small effort I walked away with a free espresso and a bottle of mineral water.

The coffee I was given for Christmas is Italian coffee — Lavazza. It’s delicious and, to prove it, my cup is now empty, and Teddy has cleaned the sides. Time to return to gainful employment.

Oh the coffee I usually drink?

“Dark and moody blend, just like those who drink it!”

Merry Christmas!

This is my annual Christmas post. I don’t think I’ll ever have a better story. Merry Christmas, everyone, however you observe this season.

Linoleum cut print on rice paper 18 x 24 inches
Linoleum print on rice paper, 14 x 20 inches

Part One, 1956

I am 4 or 5. Small enough to sleep in two arm chairs pushed together, facing each other. One of the arm chairs has velvety grey upholstery in a swirly design. The other, my favorite, is red velvet. I sleep the strange sweet sleep of that place, of childhood. Outside the window is cold Montana, the clear dark pierced by stars and lit by a distant radio tower. Some nights there’s dance music coming from the Red Barn down the road. Among the songs is Gene Autry singing “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Trains whistle through the night.

It’s still dark when I hear her, coming out of her room, humming softly, tying on her apron, buttoning her sweater. She walks to the kitchen and lights the stove. I smell the fire catch. She comes back singing.

It came upon a midnight clear, that glorious song of old.

“Are you awake, Martha Ann?”
“Yes, Gramma.”
“You want to go with me to get the eggs?”
“Well, get up then. Put on your socks and your boots and your coat. Be quiet!”

Peeeeeaaace ON the Earth, goodwill to men

In the back room she reaches for her coat and a wool head scarf. She ties it over her ears.

“Put this on your head or you’ll catch your death.” She hands me a paisley scarf. Well, she has good reason to warn me. Already by then, I’d nearly caught my death in more than one Montana winter.

Of angels bending near the earth, to touch their haaaarrrrps of GOLD!

The snow crunches under our boots. She opens the hen-house door, “Shoo, shoo,” she says to the hens, “Shoo!” She reaches under the sitting birds, putting their eggs in our basket. “There now. We can make breakfast for Helen and them when they wake up.”

“Helen and them” is my mom, dad and brother — and anyone else who showed up for breakfast.

The snow crunches on our way back to the kitchen. The light comes through the small window of the back room, yellow and human. All around is cold grey/blue light of dim December Montana morning.

And through the cloven skies they come, with peaceful wings unfurled, and still their Heavenly music floats, o’er all the weary world.

I open the door. The kitchen now warmed by the stove is friendly in the light. “Set the table, baby. There are,” she stops to count on her fingers, “there are four of you, and Jo and them will be down, that’s four more, set it for nine.” I still have to climb on a chair to reach everything. The big table fills the kitchen with its chairs and benches from all epochs of Montana history. I love the chairs. Even then I know that they are chairs with stories.

Gramma’ lays the bacon slices carefully in the black iron skillet. The December sun struggles over the horizon, appearing as a golden gleam. Blue shadows stalk the trees. Morning.

And all the world send back the song, which now-ow the angels sing!

Part Two, 1979

I snarl at the lousy weather, the hanging gray cold, and all the people, I push through the crowd on Seventeenth Street. After two blocks, I catch up to a crippled blind guy banging his cane against the two-by-four supports of the narrow entrance to a construction sidewalk.

“What is it? What is it?” he screams frantically, “Would somebody please help me? Help me!”

“Damn it,” I think. But I squelch my inner asshole, not because I’m a good person but because clearly going WITH this obstacle is more productive than fighting it.

“It’s a new building,” I tell him, catching up. “They’ve built a covered sidewalk. It’s like a tunnel. Here, take my hand and we can go through it together.”

He tells me he is catching the Colfax bus which is now a block behind us, loading passengers. He is about five feet tall, if that, a little shorter than I. I look at him and see that every aspect of him is wrong. His watery pale sightless eyes, his pinkish hair flattened from sleep, his crooked, red, too-large nose, his feet twisting toward each other just enough to make his stride unsteady. Some of his teeth are gone and his fingers are gnarled. He seems to be my age, in his mid-twenties. His helplessness compels my trust.

“Can you run?” I ask. “Your bus is behind us at a red light. I’ll hold your hand. I think we can make it. There’s no ice on the sidewalk here.” We have a half a block to go and the traffic light behind us has just turned green.

“OK,” he says, and we run to the bus.

“This is fun!” he laughs a snorting little laugh.

The bus driver must know the blind guy because he holds the bus at the corner. The man struggles up the steps and shows his pass to the driver. He turns around, facing me. “Merry Christmas!” he says, “Thank you! See you again!”

I raise my hand to wave goodbye, but at the last minute, I put it in my pocket. “Merry Christmas!” I say.

I reach the Presbyterian church on top of the hill just as the carillon begins;

“It Came upon a Midnight Clear, that glorious song of old, of angels bending near the earth, to touch their harps of gold. Peace on the earth, goodwill to men, the Heavenly host proclaimed. The world in solemn stillness lay to hear the angels sing.”

Suddenly my grandmother is alive, singing in her kitchen, and I am only four years old, stretching awake on the bed made for me of two easy chairs pushed together. A Christmas tree stands in the corner of the tiny living room. My mind’s eye sees her in the dark Montana morning wearing her egg-gathering jacket and hat, putting wood in the stove.

“Are you awake, Martha Ann?”

The Museum

Yesterday I went to get my paintings at the museum. While I was there an elderly couple (80s and beyond), their grown kids and teenage grandkids were there looking at exhibits. The woman had grown up in Del Norte and remembered some of the people — doctors and dentists — whose old time tools are part of an exhibit. The tree had been decorated with old postcards, and one of them had been written by the old lady’s father. K, the woman in charge yesterday, asked the old woman if she’d like to take a photo of it. I think I would have given it to her. It’s just paper.

I thought about the purpose of a museum, especially a small local museum. In one more generation, the old things in there aren’t gong to evoke much of a response in people except as they might remember going there on an elementary school field trip. I wonder how they will see the ephemera, like the Christmas postcards? I asked myself, “Where do our memories actually lie and what do they mean?” Christmas is a nostalgic time.

I didn’t put up a Christmas tree because, honestly, why? BUT…when I pulled out the stained glass box that is a candle holder I found some Christmas ornaments inside it. Well, to cut to the chase, I “decorated.” In front of me right now is my “tree.” It’s a little museum to Christmas past, memories. The ornaments seemed to say, “For the love of god do SOMETHING with us!” I put them all on my tuner in front of me here on my table. The angel, in particular, with her chrome, foil, plastic, pipe-cleaner little self, her wooden ball head with its sweet expression that so enchanted a little girl that her dad bought it for her.

The real museum is probably in our minds, the stories behind the objects, artifacts, ephemera, like the elderly woman in the museum seeing her dad’s handwriting on the back of a postcard from the 1920s. I would have given it to her. “Here. Merry Christmas.” Yep. I would’ve done that.

Selective Memory

“…you must know that there is nothing higher and stronger and more wholesome and good for life in the future than some good memory, especially a memory of childhood, of home. People talk to you a great deal about your education but some good, sacred memory preserved from childhood is perhaps the best education. If a man carries many such memories with him into life, he is safe to the end of his days.”

Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

I don’t know if anyone ever described Dostoyevsky’s work as “scintillating,” but I loved his books. Thinking of them, though, I have to laugh. When I was writing The Brothers Path, and I was (briefly) in an online writers workshop, one of my “classmates” asked what I was trying to do, be Dostoyevsky? Like there was something wrong with that as an aspiration? My novel, The Brothers Path, has no central protagonist, and that may or may not be a failing, but since the story IS about six brothers all living in the same historical moment in the 16th century, contending with the sudden smorgasbord of alternative Christian faiths, and it’s a book about a family not about a person.

A long time ago I did a dramatic reading of a play for a graduate seminar in James Joyce. The professor had invited my friend, O’Donnell, to read his play and he needed a “Maeve.” It was fun, and I met the chairman of the English department, Sherry Little. She was amazing. We got to be friends and the three of us would sometimes meet in Irish pubs and read to each other. As a result of this, when an opening for a lecturer appeared in the Creative Writing Department at San Diego State, she nominated me. The jury of the Creative Writing Department categorically said, “NO. She doesn’t have a masters in creative writing.”

“No,” said Sherry, “but she can WRITE! And she’s been teaching writing for years!”

“Not creative writing,” they said, and that was that. I was disappointed, but the three of us went out for Guiness, discussion, poetry and stories. I figured I’d gotten the better end of the deal.

The quotation from The Brothers Karamazov has stuck with me since my Dostoyevsky days back in the mid 1980s. I believe it is true. I suspect that those memories emerge when things are dark and in some small, quiet way move us forward out of whatever trench we’re in at the moment. I also suspect that we horde those memories and keep them where we can see them. I say this because all the abuse my mom heaped upon me has never been in front of my mind; in fact, my aunts had to talk to me straight to get me to look at those events as they really happened. I’m grateful for those talks and the truth revealed, but at the same time, except for a deeper personal understanding of myself and “mistakes” I made as a result of deep-seated fear, my life has gone on in its comparatively optimistic look-at-the-brightside kind of way. In fact, I didn’t look at what she did as “abuse.” It was just the way she was.

The holiday season brings up memories for most people, I think, and I hope for everyone it brings up good memories from childhood, but I know that’s not the case for everyone. I’m grateful that, for me, it is. Sure, some of my good memories involve Lutefisk, but… Anyway, the thing about memories is we can make new good memories.

Featured photo: My family on Christmas Eve, 1961. We opened our presents Christmas Eve as was traditional in my mom’s family and over much of German speaking Europe. Christmas Day was for more serious, less materialistic, endeavors such as dinner and playing with presents though there were stockings with an orange in the toe, some walnuts, small toys… I still have the stocking on which my grandma embroidered my initials.

Once Upon a Time I Sang

As a kid living in Nebraska for six of my life’s formative years, I met some refugees without fully understanding their stories or their situations. One of them was my piano teacher, Hans Baer, a refugee from Nazi Germany. He told as much of his story as he felt a 13 year old needed to hear, but in the past few years, through a really amazing series of events, I learned more. Through this blog, I was contacted by a German historian who was putting together a book of the stories of the Jewish musicians who fled Germany for Shanghai. I’d written about my piano teacher. The book was finished recently, MUSIKER UND MUSIKERINNEN IM SHANGHAIER EXIL 1938–1949 . The ultimate sweetness of THAT — for me — was that she attached her articles about my teacher and his wife. As I read them I was happy that I’d actually contributed a little something. He was a remarkable, unforgettable, inspiring man, and I was so lucky to have had him as a teacher, not only of piano but of life philosophy.

The other refugees I met during that time of my life came from Spain. Was one my 7th grade Spanish teacher, Dr. Espinosa, or Espinotha. The very school to which I rode the bus. 🙂 He was pretty adamant about that th sound. He organized our class one year to come to the Spanish/American Club in Omaha to sing Spanish Christmas songs.

Eight of us learned to sing some traditional Christmas carols in Spanish and a few South American songs. We had to dress up in grown up clothes. It was my first time in nylons. They felt creepy on my legs, like they were crawling around. It was pre-pantyhose and maybe I was wearing my mom’s girdle. We all went out in the very cold Nebraska December to sing to a group of old people from Spain. They were refugees from Franco’s regime about which I knew nothing.

Over the course of my teaching life I got to know refugees from all over the place and the stories carry one common thread — hope. My student from Somalia was walking across the campus with me one day and said, “Ah, my classmates. Everything bothers them. They just haven’t had to run away from bullets or watch their village burn.” He and his sister had fled their home, not knowing if their family would survive. Their mother had said, “Go!” and they ran. They did find their family and all of them refugeed to the US, but…

I’ve thought a lot about the role of hope in our lives. Hope is totally absurd. To take this absurdity forward into the dark and dangerous unknown, and sometimes with NOTHING else? “Well, what do I have to keep moving forward with? Shit. I got nothing. Necessity. Wait, I have this, too, this small and irrational thing, this tiny bird…

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

Emily Dickinson

Hope keeps humans from sinking into the twin abysses of dread and loss. The irony of real hope — in contrast with “I hope Santa brings me a” or “I hope I get the winning lottery ticket” — is that when you need it, you probably don’t have anything else. I believe it’s an evolutionary strategy that kept our ancestors going forward when they had no reason to. “Tomorrow will be a better day.” Well, probably not, but it’s a lot easier to go to sleep if you think so. Hope fuels determination and will, powerful forces for change.

Back then, we sang this beautiful Chilean Christmas lullaby, “Arruru”. I don’t think we sounded like this. The melody is what we sang, but the words are a little different. I’ve pasted the “real” lyrics below.


Señora Doña María aquí le traigo a mi hijito
Señora Doña María aquí le traigo a mi hijito
Para que le meza la cuna cuando llora su niñito
Arrurú, Arrurú, duérmete Niño Jesús
Arrurú, Arrurú, duérmete Niño Jesús

Bajando de las montanas allí vienen los pastores
Bajando de las montanas allí vienen los pastores
Para ver el nacimiento han sufrido los rigores
Arrurú, Arrurú, duérmete Niño Jesús
Arrurú, Arrurú, duérmete Niño Jesús

Iluminado el camino la blanca estrella en Belén
Iluminado el camino la blanca estrella en Belén
Resplandece en el cielo sobre Jerusalén
Arrurú, Arrurú, duérmete Niño Jesús
Arrurú, Arrurú, duérmete Niño Jesús

Loose translation: First verse; Here Mary brings her little son and lays him in a crib, she rocks the crib when he cries and sings, “Arruru, sleep little Jesus.” Second, The shepherds come down from the mountains. It’s a hard journey to see the birth. Third, Their way is lit by the white (bright) star over Bethlehem, lighting the sky over Jerusalem.

Angie the Centerpiece Angel

Yesterday, finding I was going to be “stuck” with the tea party centerpiece, I decided to decorate it. It’s not much of a “tree” but how much of a tree does a woman living in the back of beyond with two lively dogs need? THIS is about right. So…

The angel on the top came from Philips Department Store in South Omaha, Nebraska in 1960. My dad and I went shopping for Christmas presents for my mom and brother and he let me pick out an ornament. At the time, I was enchanted with “Sweet Angie the Christmas Tree Angel” and I wanted to exchange the star we usually hung with an angel. We never did, but that strange little angel was — and perhaps still is — “Sweet Angie the Christmas Tree Angel.” I loved her and she’s been with me throughout this whole time when other things I cared about have vanished into the mists.

Yesterday I glue-gunned her broken wing back in place and refreshed the glitter on her dress. Her skirt is cotton thread starched into a mesh with gold glitter on the bottom. Her bodice is foil with some plastic stuff with holes punched out over it. Her arms are pipe cleaners. Her wings and halo are heavy-weight aluminum foil. She has a wooden head painted with a gentle expression that hasn’t changed through all this time. I believe she is supposed to be singing.

The bright, red ornaments came with the centerpiece but the others were on the tree we put up for my dad when he was in the nursing home the last two years of his life.

The little clay angel in front came from the Christmas fair held in Tijuana each year in front of the Cathedral. It was so much fun to go to that, this crazy, two-block-long open air market of vendors and spontaneous restaurants, the doors of the Cathedral wide open, the elaborate, life-sized, hand carved Christmas scene ready to receive the Christ child at midnight on Christmas Eve — not a Protestant thing at all. The way I was raised, “If crèche, then Jesus.”

Speaking of broken wings, on the injured shoulder front I have good news. Yesterday I was able to get down on the floor, do some simple yoga poses and get up again. First, if you can’t get up off the ground, you shouldn’t put on skis. Second, it felt good; it was a huge relief psychically and physically. It’s been a long haul.

A Good Time Was Had by All (even me!)

“But you can’t do that if you don’t stay for a while. A tourist never gets to know the people.”

“Wow. The Chinese seem like really nice people. It’s nothing like we hear on the news.”

“You’re a good story-teller, Martha.” (Wow…)

Nine people showed up to listen and I couldn’t have had a nicer more responsive or welcoming audience. The first two who showed up were my special guests, Perla and she brought a surprise, Nancy, a really nice woman I seldom get to see. She works two or three jobs. They came from Alamosa, 32 miles away. It was good they arrived early because I needed help setting up. Then two women I didn’t know arrived and they pitched in, too. For this event, Louise daughter and one of the members of the County Board made cookies. I brought my electric tea kettle and tea. I also had some Chinese “cookies.” They exclaimed over the dragon napkins and no one complained that there were no spoons, no sugar, but no one cared. I was charmed again by the reality of life here.

The lectern was almost as tall as I am, so I sat on a chair and spread my reading on a piano bench. We started on time and, like the teacher I once was, the “reading” was, yes, a reading, but almost equally a conversation. I have never spoken to such engaged listeners. Everything that was supposed to be funny, they found funny. The spots that made me cry made THEM cry. “Home on the Range” in particular. That told me clearly I’d done a good job conveying my love for China, its incredible distance from Colorado, and the inevitable moments of homesickness. I hadn’t obfuscated anything.

I read in two parts — Chinese New Year and then a break for tea and cookies (and questions and to talk to people) then Christmas. No one wanted it to end. That blew me away. One of the most fun parts was the part in my book where the title — As a Baby Duck Listens to Thunder — is made clear. My audience learned the meaning of that phrase and how to say it in Hainanese. Ah-kyak-a-looie. I could use it through the reading and it was beautiful to see them smile in recognition. ❤

One thing I meant to take with me yesterday to the reading was my little statue of the story teller. I guess I didn’t need him, but I’d have liked his company.

Why would I take it? Well, I believe that people who tell stories are a chain of mutual inspiration throughout time. Lao She inspired me, he and his beautiful play, “Teahouse,” which is about (hold on) a tea house in the old days when people came to hear stories and drink tea. Lao She haunted the teahouses of his Beijing neighborhood as a child and dreamed of growing up to be a story-teller himself. Here is the beginning of the play, as Lao She sets the scene:

SCENE: Large teahouses like this are no longer to be seen, but a few decades ago every district in Beijing had at least one, where in addition to tea, simple snacks and meals were served. Every day bird fanciers, after strolling about with their caged orioles and thrushes, would come in to rest awhile, enjoy a pot of tea, and compare the singing abilities of their birds.

Go-betweens (marriage arrangers) and those who had deals to discuss also frequented such teahouses. In those days there were always friends about to calm things down. The two sides would crowd around these mediators who would reason first with one side then the other; then they would all drink tea and down bowls of noodles with minced pork (a specialty of the large teahouses – cheap and quickly prepared), hostility transformed to hospitality. In sum, the teahouse was an important institution of those times, a place where people came to transact business, or simply to while away the time.

In the teahouses one could hear the most absurd stories, such as how in a certain place a huge spider had turned into a demon and was then struck by lightning. One could also come in contact with the strangest views; for example, that foreign troops could be prevented from landing by building a Great Wall along the sea coast. Here one might also hear about the latest tune composed by some Beijing Opera star, or the best way to prepare opium. In the teahouses one might also see rare art objects newly acquired by some patron – a jade fan pendant, recently unearthed, or a three-colour glazed snuff bottle.

Yes, the teahouse was indeed an important place; it could even be reckoned a kind of cultural centre. We are about to see just such a teahouse. Just inside the main entrance is the counter and a cookstove – to make things simpler, the stove can be dispensed with if the clatter of pots and pans is heard off stage. The room should be large and high-ceilinged, with both oblong tables and square ones, and traditional teahouse benches and stools. Through the window an inner courtyard can be seen with more benches and stools under a high awning. In the teahouse and under the awning there are hooks for hanging bird cages. Pasted up everywhere are notices: “Don’t discuss state affairs.”

Lao-She, “Teahouse”

For an hour, as I took those nine people on a time machine to China, there were no “state affairs,” or disputes, or politics, or Covid. It was just The Old Mother and “Home on the Range.” Lao She understood the magic and power of a story told by a human being to other human beings. I didn’t, fully, until yesterday. I’m not an “aural” person, but most people are, more than I am, anyway. It was a lesson for me if I do this again, not to underestimate myself but to continue doing the thing I believe my life and my art deserve and that is my service to them.

It was a beautiful experience and I appreciate all of your encouragement as I’ve contended with, you know, public speaking…

Here’s a beautiful piece of music. Jean Michel Jarre was in China when I was. I’d already enjoyed his music. I don’t remember when I bought this — or how. An LP? A cassette tape? A CD? But it is — for me — very evocative. There are films on Youtube of his concerts and travels at that time.

Wonderful Tea Party

It isn’t much in the grand scheme — or even in the normal scheme — but that we could meet in my actual house, drink from my actual coffee cups, and eat from my dishes? Not bring our own tea and our own cookies and sit out in the dust and cold? This is something that hasn’t happened since sometime in 2019. It was very lovely and simple and real and normal.

Friendships have been one of the boons of my post-retirement life. When you work ALL THE TIME (writing teacher with 7 classes), planning and teaching classes, grading infinite numbers of papers, and all your social energy is drained by the classroom, you don’t make friends. I had some in spite of all that, but sweet, simple socializing was very rare especially in the last few years of my career, during and after the recession.

I moved here 7 years ago without knowing anyone, but, to my great good fortune, two really great women live within a hundred yards of me. I made the snowball cookies my Swedish grandma always made. Elizabeth made Saffron buns, Karen made Spritz cookies. I made coffee in the French press. We talked about nothing in particular for an hour and a half. It was great.

I wonder if any of us will take this kind of thing for granted ever again. I hope I don’t.

Lamont and Dude Ponder Sand

“Hey Lamont! The Sand Snowman should be done today. They finished the Sand Christmas Tree yesterday.”

“You don’t see anything strange about that? Consider how many people passing that creation have never seen a real snow man?”

“Yeah, so what? Have you?”

“I don’t know. I’ve been wondering about that, how many iterations I don’t remember and why I just remember those I, well, those I do. I do remember the Ice Age, a couple of times. The good time and the bad time.”

“Oh I guess the ‘bad time’ was the one where my family took you down at the Tar Pits?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Oh Lamont. Sometimes it’s difficult enough with the memories we DO have. Think about it. Because of the persistence of memory, you, for example, you look askance on all human revelry. It might be fun to go out there and enjoy the lighting of the Sand Snowman or the Sand Christmas Tree. Just because it’s NOW doesn’t make it less of a party.”

“You’re right, Dude. I don’t dispute that at all. If I could enjoy it, I would. But I don’t. That kind of facile, systematic, seasonal joy seems contrived.”

“It IS contrived, but it still might be fun. It’s a human thing to have these traditions and seasonal way-stations.”

“Signaling the ever closer approach of our mortality. Do they think about THAT when Santa throws candy from a parade float? No. All this — whether it’s sand or snow — is just a reminder that we are temporary fixtures on this planet. Before long, Mother Ocean will come in and undermine the Sand Snow Man and the Snow Tree but long before THAT they will have been forgotten. Humans are fickle.”

“Joy is in the moment, Lamont. Drag it out too long it just becomes an orgy or a war.”

“Good point, Dude.”

“But, since you’re such a downer this morning, I’m going to catch some waves. Wanna’ come? It might cheer you up.”

Lamont and Dude are characters I came up with a few years ago. They have the uncanny ability to remember many of their past incarnations which gives them a unique perspective on life, the universe and everything.


Bear and I took a ramble yesterday as per usual and the changes happening in the Refuge right now are right up our alley. On the way, I watched a murder of migrating crows — maybe 100? — take flight from the field they were gleaning. That was the first time I’ve seen that at all EVER, and it was spectacular.

“There’s nothing out there” seems to be the word of the day as far as other people are concerned which means it’s empty and silent. The ducks and geese have adapted to the mostly frozen ponds. It’s hard to say what they will do in the next weeks. That depends completely on what the weather does, but my guess is that soon the Refuge will be mostly deserted except for me and my dogs. Temps are still warm(ish), but 1 F/-17C night temps are predicted for the end of this week. Of course, I’m not out there 24/7 so there could be all kinds of stuff going on that doesn’t coincide with my activities.

We talk a lot about change and have a million memes and clichés to advise ourselves and each other. I remember when I was young (25) thinking that change is the only constant. I thought I was pretty deep. If I were as deep now as I was at 25 I’d say change is infinite, but I’m just not that deep any more.

In a couple of days the ladies and I are going to have a real tea party, our first one INSIDE SOMEONE’S HOUSE since the big sudden change wrought by Covid. Everyone is very happy, even excited, about this. I don’t even have to cook! I just had to have the idea, then to set the table and make coffee.

It is more or less in honor of St. Lucia’s day which is Monday, December 13, but that’s not a good day for all of us so we’re doing it earlier. The last time we celebrated that was 2017 and it looked like this, including Swedish fruit soup that I made and Swedish Saffron Buns made my my Aussie friend.

When I was a kid, we put up our tree on St. Lucia’s day. It was the start of Christmas. One of the two ladies is a Swede, and the day means something to her, too. This year the big change is purely and simply that we’re doing it. I may make the cookies my Swedish grandmother made.

Change is not always change per se. Sometimes it’s just that we don’t know something and then we find out. On one hand, I don’t care about the European nationalities that comprise my ancestry; on the other hand, I find it very interesting as a matter of curiosity and strangeness. I did Ancestry’s spit test some years back. They consistently refine their findings as new techniques evolve. In the beginning I was told that I’m mostly British with a big splonk of Irish. Well, yeah, I have an Irish last name and even legit, brogue-speaking Irishmen have asked me, “When were you last home?” as they sang sad songs into their beer in Irish pubs in San Diego, but Ancestry’s newest even MORE accurate assessment is that I’m barely Irish a’tall. I’m a Scots bohunk, a Scandahoovian, a Swedish Viking. Consider that the Vikings invaded and colonized Scotland over and over for 500 years? Still, I know where my mom’s DNA originated; in the Tyrol. I don’t care WHAT reality says, I’m sticking with that. Me, Ötsi and Reinhold Messner. 🙂

Ancestry could revise all that tomorrow, but for now I’m preparing my ships and strapping on my skis…

As for the meme — I don’t know if Stephen Hawking said that and I’m sure he didn’t write it like that, but it’s still cool.