Call Mountain Lookout

In the summer of 1987 I was fire lookout on Call Mountain in the central California coastal range. It was a shared position – I’d work four days on, three days off for one week, then three days on and four off for the next. I took my two cats, Ozzie and Goose (named for baseball players).

Call Mountain is oak woodland and overlooks the Paicines Valley to the Central Valley. I could see the Sierras on the eastern horizon – Mount Whitney to north of Yosemite.
To the west I could see the mountains of the Ventana wilderness.



The lookout is 40’ tall and i could park my truck inside the base. During WWII it was used to watch for enemy aircraft.

Ozzie out exploring on the rock lower right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking down at Goose and a deer as they startle each other.

 

Goose hiding near the water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I loved the fire finder. I’d like to have one on my porch.

Two scanners, a tv, refrigerator, stove, and a radio.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The bed at window level – windows all around. I could live there forever.

The fog flowed like water making mountain tops into islands.

Sometimes it was smoke – this from a fire in Yosemite, 100 miles away. There were no fires to report on my watch.

My parents came to visit one day. It was fun to show it to them.

I think my father would have liked this job.

Mom and I share lunch and a laugh.

I loved this job – the solitude and the fine working conditions.

Dressed for work; on the job.

The next year, the Forest Service closed most lookouts. People were getting cell phones and could report fires before we could see them.

Biography Challenge

One of the best relationship exercises I’ve known came out of a support group many years ago. It can be used by anyone – so I offer it here. For many people their relationship with a parent is difficult. This piece is written as if for a mother and child, but can be used for any relationship.

In this we will tell our mother’s story as if we didn’t know her or as if she were someone else’s mother. It may sound strange, but telling it from a distance, we can view her life differently. If you have photos or other props, use them to illustrate times in her life. When you refer to her, call her by her first name or Mrs. Whatever – for this exercise, she is not ‘Mom.’ And of course, add any information that suits you. There are many prompts because only a few questions may apply or resonate for you. They are there just to jog your memory. We told our stories in the group, but writing them out is beneficial too.

Tell us:
1.  When and where was she born? Was there anything significant happening in the world then? Wars, economic troubles, political problems, epidemics?
2.  What kind of family was she born into? Rural, urban? Economic status? Older siblings? How many siblings were born after her?
3.  What was her childhood like? Did she live with any extended family? What were her feelings about her mother and father?
4.  How were her teen years? Did she have boyfriends or girlfriends? Did she work? Where?
5.  How far did she go in school? Did she like school? What did she dream of doing with her life?
6.  Did she want to get married? When did she get married? Tell the circumstances as well as you can. What attracted her to her partner?
7.  How many times was she pregnant? How old was she when each child was born? Was she pregnant before she married? Were there any special circumstances: difficult birth, multiple births, illness, death of a child?
8.  How did her family feel about her marriage and pregnancy? What did her husband’s family feel about it? How many children did she want?
9.  Was she especially close to any of her siblings? Her parents? Her in-laws? Describe their relationships. Was she gay or were any of her siblings or friends?
10. Did she work? What were her interests? What were her passions? Did she have hobbies or craft skills?
11. Did she join the military? Was anyone in her family in the military? How did this affect her?
12. What were the major events in her life?
13. What problems with her children did she have to face? How old was she at the time? What support did she have? What were her fears and where did they come from?
14. Have her parents or any siblings died? If so, how old was she when it happened? How do you think it affected her?
15. Did her marriage last? If not, did she marry again? Describe.
16. Did she suffer from any major illnesses, injuries, or addictions?
17. How was her self-confidence?  How did she show this?
18. What were her favorite things (color, food, flower, movie, song)?
19. What were her pet peeves?
20. Who were her best friends? Did her friendships last? How diverse was her world?
21. Did she move a lot or stay in her hometown? Did she want to travel?

Add anything that comes to you about this person. There are many circumstances that I haven’t listed – immigrant families, blended families, racial or gender issues. You will know the right questions to ask. If you find that you don’t know much about her life, that may be a part of why it’s difficult to understand why she does things that upset you.

 

Present your report with photos if possible to a friend. Better yet, this exercise is very powerful when done in a group. Even alone telling her story aloud helps you understand her and gain perspective. Pay attention to the parts of the story that are difficult to tell or cause you tears. They are all insights into your relationship with her.

After preparing and presenting this story, do you see her differently? What, if anything, has changed for you?

This project can be done using your father, sibling, or friend – anyone that you issues with. It allows you see them from a different perspective.

Perhaps more importantly, this exercise can be done as a story of YOUR life. Tell us about the person who is you, but tell about this person in the third person as if you just read their biography. Describe their life using the prompts above – as if you never met her, didn’t know her. You might find that you are kinder to this ‘stranger’ than you are to yourself.

What can you tell us about this person?

Multiples

Another fiction piece written when multiple births due to fertility drugs were in the headlines.

Jenna’s curiosity about family history amused her father. Yesterday it was her amazement that he was the first in his family to visit the moon. Today she wanted to know if his great grandfather fought in the Vietnam War.

“Yes he did, so did his older brother Jake.”

“How many brothers did he have?”

“Well, there was Jake, 2 years older, and Todd, 4 years older and then a younger sister and another brother about 8 years younger…”

“Wait! How come he had brothers all those different ages? Didn’t he have any brothers his age?” Jenna was puzzled. She and her 4 brothers all shared the same birthdate.

“Well Jenna, in those days people had just one child at a time so if they wanted 5 children, the children would be born in different years. Sometimes, there were twins or triplets, but not often.”

“You mean the mother had to be cut open 5 different times?” Jenna paled.

“No, the doctors didn’t cut open the mothers. Babies were usually born through the birth canal.”

“Dad…” Jenna backed off this disgusting thought. After a while, she spoke again, “Doesn’t having a brother 4 years older seem like having another parent? I mean, that wouldn’t seem like a brother. I mean, they wouldn’t be in the same grade at school with you!”

Jenna felt sorry for the people who lived a hundred years ago. They had such barbaric medical practices then. It seemed so sad and so unnatural not to have all your brothers and sisters the same age.

Not an Accident

Written for a creative non-fiction class.

Traffic was heavy on the 805, but moving at the speed limit. As I drove south the late morning sun dazzled to the east, but was swallowed up by the dark fogbank still covering the beaches. San Diego in June spins with contrasts. The southern California image doesn’t match the cloudy beaches. Crowded highways dull the carefree car culture.

Just south of Highway 94, about a quarter mile ahead I was startled to see what looked like a man cart-wheeling across the two right lanes. A motorcyclist must have been hit. I gripped the wheel a little tighter, ready to hit my brakes. But there were no brake lights ahead, no slowing. In a few seconds I approached the spot where I had seen the strange acrobatics. There was no downed motorcycle. No debris at all. Off to the side a man in faded jeans and a black and white plaid flannel shirt scrambled on all fours up the steep bank of ice plant.

What had I seen? Nothing made sense to me until a couple of miles down the freeway. I came up behind a light green bus – an Immigration and Naturalization Service bus with bars on the side windows. But there were no bars on the back windows and the left one was now ringed with jagged bits of glass. The man rushing up the bank had shattered the window of the bus, climbed out and jumped into traffic to escape deportation. I tried to imagine the desperation it would take to make that leap. Traffic was heavy on the 805.

For Marilyn

Written for her 50th birthday – a few years ago.

Laughter, Fine Food, and Death

Quick, write a story for my best friend about our times together. Sure. All I can see is a collage of fun times. There we are laughing hysterically. There we are having a fine meal. All the images run together in the pressure of having to choose just one.

Why are we always laughing? Well, there was your story of fleeing across state lines with …well, that won’t be so funny when your family reads this. And we laughed the hardest when Alex sparked the discussion of ethics in choosing body parts at a funeral. Are all our good times dealing with death? Some of our worst times were. But there was that sunny day in the Cambria cemetery. Wait, wait, there was a time when no corpses were involved. Remember in the ID store when Alex tried out the andirons? It was so funny, but there’s no story to tell.

Okay, try to find the best story in our other treasured moments. Countless meals at Cilantro’s with no mariachis and no cilantro. Meals on the island at Phil’s Fish Market. Oh, but the salmon barbecue on your deck with everyone beats that. Of course, nothing can top the New Year’s Eve feasts of steamed crab, bernaise sauce, spinach salad, fresh bread, and one time, flan. That is life at its best. Yes, we do meals almost as well as we do death. Of course, Judy pretty well tied those two together. Damn.

Hey, we’ve had lots of great times not eating or talking about dead people. I know I can find a story there. One of the best times of my life was the full week we spent at Cayucos last March. The story there was day after day after day talking, laughing, eating (can’t get away from it), writing, watching four or five movies, reading, laughing, watching sunsets and zodiac light, and napping. Just over and over and over. There was the Day of Nine Dogs and the Day of the Otter. You introduced me to “Whose Line is It Anyway?” – always good for a laugh. This isn’t a story with a lot of laughs in the telling, but it was a fine time. It gave me the strength to deal with my father’s decline and death. Oh.

As long as I’ve drifted back to death, I might as well mention Linda. You cared for her for all of us, to your own detriment. But that’s not my story. I wasn’t there. That’s my story: I wasn’t there. But I don’t want to tell that. How about our Christmas preparation gatherings at Linda’s. The marathon cookie baking sessions. The long table in the living room, covered in flour – the table and us. It culminated in the body parts sculpted in cookie dough – some with chocolate sprinkles. These are not the same body parts we discussed in Cayucos. These were not from corpses. But it was hard to tell after they baked. They couldn’t take the heat.
And the annual Christmas party at Linda’s where each of us tried so hard not to arrive before the other and tended to leave as soon as was acceptable. We had already been to the top with the cookie festivities.

And how about the big gathering where we sat in her backyard – you have a photo of us. We discussed why a certain fun person stayed with his unpleasant wife. However, later, he became unpleasant, so maybe it turned out okay. I never did get my copy of that photo.

And could you ever forget our art lessons with Pearl? Either at Linda’s or the one at Elk Horn Slough one wintry day. Hey, maybe we can forget the art, but the gatherings were always good for a laugh.

Or the collage making at my place near the slough where the highlight for me was seeing the magnitude of your revulsion at cutting up a National Geographic magazine. Such reverence.
Of course our friendship is not just about laughs. We’ve had some long, deep discussions over the years. You have shared your feelings during these difficult last few months. I hurt for you and want to help, but all I know how to do is listen. And I bless you for continuing to share this with me. It has meant the world to me and helped me through some tough times. These serious heartfelt talks keep me alive. Your encouragement is essential to me. When I told you about the wheelchair book I would write, you were totally supportive. And you haven’t mentioned once my failure to do it. Of course there are serious subjects that cross the line into comedy. The things we cry about (some men come to mind here) often make us laugh ourselves silly.

So where does that leave us in stories? Some of our best stories are in our dreams and plans. And they are an ongoing story. There’s still the RV trip – I haven’t given up on that. And our beach house. I have a vague picture of what the house would be. And a clear picture of what our private cemetery looks like. Then there’s our big Victorian house so we can all live together. And our cottages and community center on acreage somewhere between Arroyo Grande and the Canadian border. The only thing I’m sure of for my future is that I want you and Alex in it. That’s all I need to be sure of. I have complete faith that the sharing and laughter and love will always be our story.

Three Towns

Tombstone, where David lived and died, sits exposed on a gentle slope, visible for miles. Straight streets form right angles and carry names like 1st, 2nd and 9th. The town imitates a theatrical set with people in character and costume making it difficult to separate reality from theater, truth from legend. David fit well here – he was always dressed for 1881. He believed in the script without knowing who was playing the roles. In the town of the OK Corral, a jealous lover stabbed David in the back. A dozen people in Tombstone can give you two dozen perspectives. All illuminate something, but the whole is never seen. No one knows the actors’ real names.

Bisbee, where court was held and justice meted, snakes along a canyon. Streets curve, with no square corners nor long views. On steep hillsides houses perched on minimal foundations and old foundations that outlasted their homes are linked by long flights of steps. Criminal court here documents the witnesses revealing pieces of lives, pieces of crimes that don’t quite fit together. This puzzle has holes and it buckles and twists, first favoring this view, then that. All that is evident is the pain, sadness and futility. Bisbee tries to mine the truth, but most of it still lies unknown.

Douglas, where his remains are buried, lies unprotected by hills, wind-blown against Mexico’s border. Across the grid of streets surrounding the cemetery, winds pile up sand along the gravestones. But the dust can’t hide the delineation between those living above and those buried. No ambiguity. David is dead and lies under this stone in a town he’d never seen, three blocks from the border, in the next world.

BFD

I’m sorting things (again).  I’m going to post several older writings over the next few days.  Just want to put them out into the world and get them out of my files.   This was a fun newsletter my brother and I concocted.  We aren’t technically baby-boomers, but literary license prevailed.

Kindling

For my circle of Birthmothers.

KINDLING

Sun overhead in my youth,
shadows cast neither east nor west,
accenting neither past nor future.
Potentials not clear; dangers not seen.

Childhood ended in motherhood,
Motherhood corrupted by relinquishment.
All light extinguished except the tiny spark
of a son once seen, given a name no one heard.

Motherhood silenced, hidden behind denial.
Whispered vow to find him in a distant future
But then, I was an invisible mother, hollow inside.
A life on hold, locked in pain.

The lock opened with tales of search,
a child located, birthmothers found.
Tips passed from one searcher to another
Illumination of a path that I had not seen.

I grasped that lamp to search for my son
With no maps, no rules, no protocol.
The search belonged to me, but I was not alone.
Along the way, beacons shone unexpectedly.

Other birthmothers on map-less journeys.
Shedding light on my path as I shed light on theirs.
They understood, they comforted, they knew.
They honor my truth, they honor my journey.

This sisterhood grew from births in shame,
Transformed in love and safety, its power heals.
Together our small lamps become torches.
Reflecting our new-found respect.

We honor our voices, and we allow our silences.
We honor our struggles, we allow our missteps.
We are learning to be as gentle with ourselves
as we are with each other.

The lights found in our circle illuminate past and future
You listened to me and I learned to hear my voice.
You trusted me and I learned to trust myself.
You gave me strength and I learned that I had strength to give.

I trusted you with the vision of my son,
that small glow that kept my spirit alive.
I could not have been more vulnerable.
But you treasured him as I did.

You honored him and never forgot him.
You trusted me with your children.
And they are a part of my world .
Those small embers are now bright fires.

The children were our guides, our source of spirit.
They taught us to acknowledge our needs.
They taught us to realize our strengths.
To seek help from those who understand, to risk, to persevere.

They taught us to handle pain and disappointment
when their lives weren’t ready for us.
They taught us to accept and love who we are
even when they couldn’t.

We talk now about our children, relinquished or not.
But also of other issues with the same voices.
We talk of grandchildren, menopause, of aging parents,
the deaths of parents, the loss of sisters and brothers.

This is a sisterhood that knows the pain in families
and still chooses to become its own family.
The search for son has been a search for self.
Both have been found. There is Light in my life.

1997