Playing with the durm und strang

My daughter has been wearing earrings in the form of black cats, spiders, pumpkins and ghosts for a couple of weeks now.  She works at a pre-school, where naturally a dress-up holiday featuring yummy snacks is a Big Deal.  When I visited the pre-school earlier this month the walls of all the rooms were covered with kids’ renderings of colorful leaves, witches on brooms, fluttering ghosts and lots of other scary things.  Piles of  drying leaf cut outs  were painted and puckered on stacked trays, ready for tiny fingers to squash them into new collages.

This isn’t a holiday I’ve had enthusiasm about over the past few years, since we stopped finding bunches of kids at the door.  It’s become such a commercial event  for adults on the calendar.  It’s fair to mention that my dad was in retail while I was growing up, so a jaded attitude about over commercialization of traditional events occupies space in my mental territory.  I love seeing the fun kids can have with this season, though.

One of my last jobs featured annual decorating contests which got so extreme that long, wide sheets of black plastic were hung from ceiling to desk height in a big central area everybody had to pass through, making it tricky to walk around.  It was supposed to suggest a castle, but the impression was more landfill.  Desks got wrapped and speckled with protruding skulls, swords, broomsticks and rear ends of witches.

Costumes were not quite a job requirement, but came close.  Not everyone working there flourished amidst the hoopla of people racing around demanding admiration for their efforts, leaving their work for others to do.  A few of the Native Americans were distressed — in certain traditions a few Halloween symbols are reminders of darkness, evil, even.  Hispanic people might be saving energy for the highly colorful and more spiritual tradition, the Day of the Dead at the beginning of November. People cook for loved ones who have passed, bringing food to the graves.  Amazingly decorated sugar skulls are way less scary than realistic ones.  Edible artwork.

This year I’m not expecting much activity around the condos.  The west coast has gotten into a rainy spell, for one thing.  Which all causes me to consider how to illustrate the familiar theme of A Dark and Stormy Night for a Facebook creative group I participate in.  This gentle California rain is what the Navajo would call female rain.  New Mexico, where I spent twenty four years of life, rarely gets that, abounding instead with crashing great downpours called …. guess …. Male rain.

Which evokes images of regiments of alpha males, duking it out  up there till the battered clouds are squeezed and crushed out of existence, pouring their misty lives out onto the unready desert below.

And will this appalling US presidential election never end?  Durm und strang, every day dominating news  outlets with its addictive reality show quality.

It sneaks in and sucks people’s brains out — or so it seems. Pay attention to who we really are in our hearts and heads, or we’ll turn into a nation of political zombies.

The essence of male rain, to me, is streams from fire hoses colliding with rooftops, trees, the unprotected.  The soil can’t absorb that much water slamming across it in so short a time, which causes flash flooding and the erosion that gives the Four Corners its amazing mesas and cliffs.  If only something also amazing — and enduringly good for people — would come out of the election…

California rain feels more the way things should be.  Quieter, offering the earth time to open up to it, plant roots the opportunity to take in the bounty without losing their hold or getting their leaves torn off.  Given the multi-year drought in the region, soaking rain is a great bounty.

But… it doesn’t conjure up the kind of image I wanted for a Dark and Stormy Night picture.

What I finally did was pick a favorite model (Elf the Willing Corgi), a window in the condo, and a stormy evening sky from New Mexico.  She’s got a big ball nearby to whack around  AND a biscuit she dropped onto the window sill in her eagerness to see where all the racket was coming from.

Elf on a Dark and Stormy Night.  Drawing by Emily Lee, via iPad and Procreate

The bottlebrush tree

Early fall south of San Francisco and the bottle brush trees burst out with their brilliant red fuzzy flowers.  Legions of bees, hummingbirds and other pollinators flock to them like so many bits of iron to magnets.

And here was I, a bit cooped up in my second floor condo, observing a few bottlebrush trees around the buildings, noting the build up of the hummer population, planning ways of getting a few nice photos of this familiar California tree that I once thought quite exotic.

Coming from sandy, rocky coastal area of New England with its deep winters and potent winter hurricanes known as Nor’easters, California took my senses by storm with its wild pallets of color in trees, gardens, rolling hills and craggy mountains.  Even its deserts — the Mojave with its Joshua Trees being the first one I encountered — are unique and colorful in their own timeframes.  It was here, while living in Santa Maria along the central coast from 1978 to 1981 that I seriously set to work on my bird carving hobby.  As it slowly moved into a living from a pastime, so did my understanding grow for the myriad connections between the birds I would observe and study for my work and the natural world.

The bottlebrush tree, native to Australia, forwarded my interest in keeping wild things well supplied with sources of sustenance because in my wanderings around home base there would be clouds of hummingbirds at their flowers, even more bees.  Unlike another cool tree I encountered in Hawaii, the autograph tree, bottlebrushes are not known as invasive trees that are destroying native peers.  Birds — of which Hawaii has a great many endangered species — eat the autograph tree’s pretty little red seeds from its neat star shaped flowers and spread them far and wide.  The autograph tree often grows high in ohia trees, sending air roots groundwards and even straight through its host, killing it slowly.

Nice to feed the birds, particularly endangered ones, bad to kill the trees the birds have long been accustomed to.  It is very hard to keep up with the score sheets in nature…

Leaves gathered beneath an autograph tree on Oahu.  The name comes from the fact that you can scratch words or elaborate drawings onto the top surface of the leaves.  The next layer is light in color. … The pot was given to me by my late Native American friend, Dolores Abeyta of Isleta Pueblo.

The bottlebrush has no dark side like that.

Earlier this week the bushes here were about at their zenith, a visual feast for the likes of me, a set-the-table kind of feast for the flying creatures.  A virtual friend was just becoming a friend-in-the-flesh as she was visiting me for the first time.  A fellow blogger from a couple of Facebook blogger communities, Barbara is a like-minded soul with a lively mind.  Another friend who spent many years in New Mexico.  Our visit — blessed  by the instantaneous acceptance of her by my two small, noisy dogs, Elf and Opus — we were deep in conversation when from below came the overwhelming decibels that are generated only by power garden tools, wielded by landscapers.

Eventually I made my way to the balcony door.  Horrifying is a mild word for the shock my system absorbed on seeing the red glories from every bottle brush tree wilting on the ground.  The man waving the trimmer high over his head to shave the top of the last tree off looked like a demon to me.  Barbara was right with me in chagrin:  “Think how much damage this does to the bees!” said she, who had just brought me a jar of honey from her own hives.

“And the hummers who are migrating,” noted I.  It is true that of late there had been more as-yet-unidentified hummer species at my feeder (and the bushes) than there were all summer.

My quick sketch of a bottlebrush flower.  Note:  The leaves don’t really flow like that.  Frieda Kahlo was simply standing behind me while I drew on an iPad Pro.

Keep in mind that for most of my life I’ve lived in houses that my family, or I, owned.  Nobody trimmed a flowering bush or tree when we didn’t want them to.  The concept of renting a place may relieve me of loads of work but here is the dark side.

We two environmentally minded ones, however, had to acknowledge that the condo HOA (homeowner association) does what it does for its own reasons, and the Mexican men wielding the noisy pruners did not deserve my ire.

What sort of dimwitted thinking puts small flowering trees in places that need the kind of thing easily kept round or square?

In the days since the tree trimming hummingbird numbers had gone down to nearly nothing at my feeder.

Which all has put me to thinking about the way in which a sense of contentment, or acceptance, or comfort or even just acquiescence builds up in me about the big changes in life.  Slowly, steadily.  How, often, once the appropriate feeling settles over my psyche like a comfortable bubble of fresh air, the tree pruners of life come along and reshape the entire experience.

I guess that like the bottlebrush trees it is my challenge to aim my creative energies towards new growth, even as the inevitable future pinching back of that effusion is bound to come.

I just hope that my efforts will feed metaphorical bees and hummingbirds before the noisy blades do their chopping.

All of this gives me the opportunity to heave a big sigh and get on with squirrel watching.  This fluffy tailed rodents leap from balcony to balcony in this condo complex, shoot up the corners of buildings to the rooftops, twirl themselves around railings.

On with the show, you bottlebrush tailed varmints!

Elf and Opus go to the sea

Elf and Opus went to the sea, in a beautiful pea green Jaguar.

Really.  Here they are, cruising by Pebble Beach….

Elf and Opus in Jag

During a morning walk on a lovely holiday weekend in September the pair  observed a vintage auto parked right in front of their rose-covered front yard.  Slung temptingly low to the ground, it had no roof to bar canine entry.  Best of all the tan leather seat was open to the air with nothing to stop occupants from following their noses wherever they led, the flow of delicious air in their ears.

Both canine minds instantly awoke to possibilities when they further observed that keys dangled within.  Most astonishingly, the old machine was fitted with hand controls for the driver, who must have been challenged for leg mobility just like their own person.

Lightning struck.  Elf and Opus looked at each other, light of possibility blazing from their eyes. They knew exactly what to do.

Managing to keep their condo door from latching as their person brought them back inside, out they sneaked at the first opportunity. Lurking in the dark hallway, still as statues beneath a usually useless silk philodendron, they waited until an elderly German neighbor, burdened with bags, opened the elevator door.

Whoosh!  In the duo hurried, tight behind him.  He being tall and they being about eight inches at the shoulders, they were never noticed. Out they flew behind his heels in the basement garage.  A squeeze through the bars of the rolling door was simple for them.   From there making their way to the front of the building was simple.

Before they were missed upstairs those two were seated in the beautiful machine — Opus had to leap in first, then open the door for Elf.  With her sturdy but short little legs she lacked his jumping abilities.

Being bossier, and aware of her status as royalty on the British Isles, she promptly took over the driver’s seat and off they went.  One powerful paw on the wheel, the other moving the hand control.  How many times had this intelligent Pembroke Welsh Corgi watched her person operate such adaptations.  She knew perfectly how to manage.

Not wishing to attract attention she piloted sedately as she and Opus used their noses to aim for the ocean that they had never seen.  She remembered the hop and skip to the Highway Going to Everywhere.

And see the Pacific they did, rolling up and down the coastal highway with the wind in their ears, ruffling thick fur and filling keen noses with scintillating whiffs of salt water, fish, sea birds, heavenly hot dogs and steaks cooking.

As for the people who gasped, pointed and stared at two dogs out for a holiday cruise, Elf and Opus steadfastly pointed their noses ahead and ignored them.

Maybe they’d think this was a new kind of Google self driving car.

They stopped long enough to chase somebody’s abandoned purple beach ball across a sandy spot on the shore — where there was even a yellow brick road to lead them back to the Jag when their tongues hung out almost to the ground from all the exercise.

Elf and Opus with palms and beach 3

…And when they woke up, there they were in their own condo, Opus sprawled on his blue duvet, Elf curled up in her bed beneath her person’s computer table.

All the person ever knew of this adventure was how deeply her beloved companions were sleeping today, and yet how their noses kept sniffing and snuffling…  How fast Elf’s front paws moved occasionally, what joyous little yips she let out, just like when she chased her purple jolly ball around their old back yard.  And how fast they had emptied their water bowl the moment they awakened!

The vintage Jag has vanished.  The purple jolly ball, tucked away in our storage vault, seems to have been moved around.

So here sits the human, haunted by a waking vision of her canine cutups.  Into her head pops a sketch:


Uh oh, have they been up to something again?

Opus on duvet
Sleepy Opus on his duvet.  This boy, eleven years of age, is ready to take off on an adventure at the drop of a kibble bit.

Give life a mad shake up, with joy

Blossoms below balloons, chaser trucks and Jedi master with Vader

Saying it’s spring now in the desert. Give life a mad shake up, with joy

Sun shafts and plum blossoms

tight plum buds


Plum buds are swelling

as errant dove broods doomed eggs —

atop garage lights

dove on garage light nest



dove detail


Small man in b-i-g truck 

rolling by my place each day– 

pointing at the house…

House for sale


sun and thin cloud


sun shafts pierce dry air —

bees,  white butterflies work in

flowering plum trees

plum blossoms opening


Certain we are not

what happens the next hour, day…

what’s in motion now?

The dog view of New Year’s Day

paws on snow


Day one of the year broke open quite drear,

freezing fog, the look of a shiny glazed doughnut.

Isn’t it great that dogs aren’t prone to shed tears

over weather? We simply get busy with the human, so sleepy!

We waggle and snuggle and march with no fear

into the frozen back yard, jumping, pulling our paws from

fog icing that glazes fast to our feet, so hard and quite sheer.

Sliding and sticking we go after those doves

who try roosting and claiming our personal spaces, right here.

Indoors we fly-y-y for our breakfast, then off to warm spots,

while the person lights candles to bring us some cheer.


candle in jar


Happy new year, indeed.  More buffalo, please.


Falling into fall

ginkgo leaves fallen

leaf with cacti

Golden ginkgo leaves

fallen, await windy transport

like feathers stalks nabbed

Cacti catch zelkova

gold.  Bonsai … now sticks,

distinction mere form

And is this process not like us, the human, flaring bright with our age, inevitably losing much of what made us so rare in our youth.  Yet we retain these colorful blazes of essence, beacons of what we have learned, given who we have been and now are.  Essence distilled from youth and midlife into a glowing offering of love, to be taken up or cast off into the winds with no one to know.  Finally, bare sticks, making ready to move being onwards, awarded fresh life.  A pattern drawn from the previous, yet not quite the same…

feather in agastache plain

ginkgo bare