Archive for the ‘Mendocino’ Category

Northern California County Fair

Archetypal, the dusty parking lot

with hand-scrawled signs,

willows thick along the stony creek,

late-summer dry.

Body flattened to the ground,

small brown curly-haired dog

wills her three sheep smoothly

through all four gates.

Oblivious to all else,

a child sits in the dirt.

His hand through the chain-link fence

caresses a miniature goat.

Scent of fresh hay,

sweetness of animal dung.

At the ice-cream stall

a tot in her father’s arms demands

a chocolate-covered cone.

Unseen by the child,

the server also hands the man

a bowl and spoon.

Slices of heirloom apple

crisply tart on the tongue.

Angora rabbit pants as she

submits to being shorn.

Her cloud of fur becomes yarn

on the spinning wheel close by.

Ferris wheel whirl and squeal,

diesel rumble, carousel tunes.

Pink-cheeked above the white and green

of her 4H uniform,

a child sets down her golden trophy,

takes her bantam cock from the cage.

It nestles in her arms.

A Fine Muddy Walk

Just in from celebrating the grand opening of the Caspar Uplands Trail. Very rainy and muddy but an excellent walk up from Caspar Beach through a lovely stretch of forest, including the southernmost grove of Sitka Spruce in North America. The brand-new trail, which is part of the California coast trails system,  is the work of the Mendocino Land Trust, in collaboration with State Parks, county and state government, and the Caspar community. An excellent addition to the community.


In this unseasonably gorgeous January weather, I started thinking about wildflowers. This morning I took a walk at Glass Beach to look for Blennosperma. Sure enough, they’re up. Not yet the carpet of gold,  but a few bright yellow stars dot the green of our  coastal prairie, the uplifted strip of land at the edge of the cliffs. Like many of the California wildflowers we amateur flower seekers call “little yellow jobs,” the Blennosperma flower is daisy-like and shiny. Our variety, Blennosperma nanum var. robustum,  is on the Endangered Species list. It grows only on the Glass Beach Headlands and at Point Reyes.

Glass Beach, now part of MacKerricher State Park, is a popular place to walk. There is talk of putting a cycling trail through it. Seeing those early flowers, I realize again that we’re in danger of loving this place to death. I try to be careful where I walk.

Season Words

A small group meets at my house once a month to talk about poetry. We take turns to choose the topic and lead the discussion. Yesterday’s topic was haiku, a classic Japanese form. We considered the arguments about Robert Hass’s poems in recent issues of Poetry, and agreed that the small fragments quoted have to be considered in the context of the whole poem. They should not be thought of as haiku. We read translations, by Hass, Jane Hirshfield and others, of the great Japanese masters. We pondered Gary Snyder’s comment:  “I do not think we should even ‘think’ haiku in other languages and cultures. We should think brief, or short poems. [Haiku] has elements that can indeed be developed in the poetries of other languages and cultures, but not by slavish imitation. To get haiku into other languages, get to the ‘heart’ of haiku, which has something to do with Zen practice and with practiced observation—not mere counting of syllables.” We read some of Snyder’s haiku-like fragments and some of Hirshfield’s “Pebbles,” her tiny poems that she describes thus:  “A pebble … is seemingly simple, but also a bit recalcitrant: it isn’t quite completely present until it has been finished inside the reader’s reaction.”

We also talked about some of the rules of classical Japanese haiku: the “turning” that often occurs, from outward observation to inside the poet’s mind, and the use of kigo, words or phrases associated with a particular season. We decided it would be fun to come up with a set of season words that would fit the environment of the Mendocino Coast. Here’s the start of our list. We’d welcome additions.

Whales swimming south

Whales swimming north with calves

Blennosperma spreading gold over Glass Beach Headlands

Catching my breath

Countdown to the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference, which starts next Thursday, July 29.  Amazingly, I’m caught up for the moment on co-director tasks. Time to take a deep, relaxing breath and think about the wealth of wildlife with which this place is blessed. Last evening, on the hill behind our house, we saw our first California gray fox of the season.  A cottontail scampered out of sight as a pair of angry scrub jays attacked the fox. Later, the stags emerged, two of them, both with magnificent six-point racks of antlers. We’ve been watching the new season’s fawns gradually lose their spots. A jack rabbit family shares the front garden with the quail family. Hummingbirds and bees have discovered an exotic treasure from my native New Zealand: a young Metrosideros excelsus.  It is commonly known as New Zealand Christmas Tree because on the northern coast of New Zealand its spectacular clusters of red flowers bloom in December. Here on the other side of the world, where summer is on the other side of the calendar, it has been brightening our gray July.  We call it by its Maori name, Pohutukawa.

Where the flowers are

It is one thing to know as a fact that high rainfall tallies in California’s rainy season result in more spring wildflowers. It is quite another thing to feel with your whole being that exuberant burst of fecundity.

At MacKerricher State Park this morning the air is misty and the sea is calm. Out by Laguna Point, swathes of Goldfields (Lasthenia chrysotoma) dazzle the eye. Up close, I see that among the Goldfields are patches of Purple Butter & Eggs (Triphysaria eriantha ssp. rosea) whose complementary color makes the gold even more eye-popping. Scattered among them are California Poppies (Eschscholzia californica). Not the orange poppies we coast dwellers snobbishly refer to as freeway poppies, but our own coastal variety, the leaves more fleshy to resist the salt wind, the flowers a prettier yellow.

South along the headlands trail, I know a place where Coast Delphinium (Delphinium decorum) grows. Never more than a foot high, each plant has a head of deep blue flowers that glow with intensity. This year they are magnificent. As I crouch to admire, I remember renewing their acquaintance in previous springs.

This is the way an immigrant learns to belong: to come back and back to a place, to remember its varied moods, to remember where the flowers are.

Natives and Exotics

My friend Diana, who lives in New Zealand, has a wonderful piece in her journal today about the “exotic” species in her garden. It set me thinking about where I live. The English sparrows and starlings that forage in town don’t have much chance here at the edge of the forest, where the native birds are so dominant. Our resident Red-Shouldered Hawk argues noisily with the ravens, an American Robin sings his heart out from the top of the tallest fir. A dozen quail putter through the garden, and the returning Violet-Green Swallows inspect their nest site in the porch.

Of plants my garden is a mixture: some natives, but more Mediterranean and Australian dry-summer species. My little apple tree is in glorious blossom. But the tree I treasure is a young and flourishing Pohutukawa, a New Zealand native that reminds me of the beaches of my childhood.

Mendocino Coast Arts Community

I’ve just posted a piece on the Mendocino Writers Blog about the growing connections between our local arts, business, and social services organizations.

Poetry Out Loud

Poetry lives. I’ve just spent the morning helping to judge the Poetry Out Loud contest at our local high school. From the excited buzz of student voices as they entered the auditorium at Mendocino High School, to the respectful silence with which they heard each contestant, to the enthusiastic applause, it was clear that poetry has an important place in these kids’ lives.

Launched in 2005 by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Poetry Foundation, Poetry Out Loud is a national competition  that “encourages the nation’s youth to learn about great poetry through exploration, memorization and performance.” Participating schools begin in the classroom, where students select poems to memorize from an anthology containing a huge and varied selection. This morning, for instance, I heard poems by Theodore Roethke, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Rudyard Kipling, Sherman Alexie and Kim Addonnizio, to name just a few. Advancing through school, regional and state competitions, winners get an all-expenses paid trip to Washington, DC for the high-profile national finals. The states are high: the national champion receives a purse large enough to finance a good portion of a college education. More than 300,000 students participate each year.

Whether or not a student advances beyond the classroom competition, the program has value as an entry point to a lifetime interest in poetry. “I’m so envious,” a fellow judge murmured to me. “We had nothing like this when I was in school.”

Between Storms

Mid-morning the sky clears, a break between storms. Our generator rumbles. The power is out, a downed line somewhere back in the forest. So is our cable internet service. From the house we can see spume lifting high over the cliffs. Nothing for it but to go there, to walk the cliff path around the Mendocino Headlands, to exult in the roar, the tumble of white, the spritz of salt spray on our faces. At the big blowhole near Main Street, huge plumes of water rise with a satisfying ker-thump.

We decide to avoid the muddy parts of the trail further on, and head up to Main Street. Nearly all the stores are closed because of the power outage. But Gallery Bookshop, on the corner of Main and Kasten, is open, though unlit. We step in to say hi.

“Electricity, schmelectricity,” laughs Christie, the owner. “We never close. We just do everything on paper and input it later. We have the little swipe-swipe machine for credit cards. The only thing that’s hard to do without the computer is book searches.”

Tony finds a novel he wants, Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, winner of the 2009 Man Booker Prize. At the checkstand in the center of the store we chat with Christie and two other staff members, Johanna and Jane, about this book and another we’ve been reading lately, A.S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book. I love the cosiness of these conversations about books. I love being a local in this remote and beautiful place.