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Shoes

Yesterday was Sand Canyon Road clean-up day. I love walking along our country road picking up trash, especially on a crisp October day. At the beginning of my trash trek gunshots echoed through the canyon from the large group gathered at the gun club, and a fighter jet flew low over the wind turbines. But eventually, those sounds died down, and there was just me, the rabbitbrush, and the occasional pickup zooming by.

I always find some interesting trash, and this time was no exception. Among the empty beer cans and Marlboro packs, was a pair of shoes. New white sport shoes. It looked as if someone had walked right out of them and into the brush.

I’ve always wondered why so many shoes litter the edges of the local freeways and roads. Are shoes not expensive, and also important protection for ones feet? Why would people just chuck them out the window as if they were empty cans?

Many years ago, my husband and I were walking our dog through the canyon along a route we rarely took when we saw a family that had recently moved onto a vacant lot. There they had constructed a crude cabin and hand dug a well. They did not speak English but some foreign language I didn’t recognize. I guessed they were Eastern European, perhaps refugees, the mother and three children all blondes, the grandmother as dark as a gypsy and the father somewhere in between. We stopped to say hello to him as he sat in his muddy SUV reading the bible. He spoke English but was neither friendly nor forthcoming.

Six months came and went before we walked down that narrow dirt road again. By then the shack had been knocked down, and in a pile of cast-off belongings on the top of a knoll were several pairs of shoes. Children’s shoes. Perfectly good children’s shoes. Why would they leave their shoes? Why would anyone leave their shoes?

The lone shoes.

Wind Turbines

The mouth of Sand Canyon where HELO wants to erect seventeen 500 foot tall wind turbines.

My friend Maya showed up on my front porch a few weeks back with a bottle of horse liniment for my shoulder. She was in tears. One of the many wind turbine companies that have suddenly sprung up, Rising Tree Wind Farm, was harassing her, trying to buy her property so that they could put up more of the 50 story tall wind turbines with flashing red lights that have destroyed the views of the Tehachapi Mountains from the city of Mojave, not to mention the beautiful night sky.

I first met Maya over a decade ago when she and her husband Tomio stopped at my house asking for directions. When I invited them in, Maya told me all about the house and property they’d bought in the Mojave hills. She said she’d had a dream about a dirt road and a cabin, and shortly thereafter found that dream house in the desert. She and her husband fixed it up, and added to their property. When I visited, she introduced me to all the injured birds that live with her. She adores birds and taking care of them is one of her callings. And she showed me the collection of old bottle she’d unearthed on her walks. She loves to hike up in the hills, to feel the desert breeze, to see the huge blue sky, and to hear the silence, or the howls of the wind when it blows hard from the west.

Maya is 79 now. She is a well-respected yoga teacher in Southern California. Her cabin is the place she can go to find the solitude her soul requires.  But soon, they will start erecting the five hundred foot tall turbines in her backyard, right behind her tiny cabin. Wind turbines are noisy. They block the view of the hills. They kill the birds that she loves. They turn the desert into an outdoor industrial park. Her heart is broken.

Sand Canyon has been fighting wind turbines too. This is a place of incredible beauty and a very unique landscape, molded by extinct volcanoes and a seasonal stream, with the Pacific Crest trail just to the east. It was the winter home of the Kawaiisu Indians. Tomo-Kahni State historic part is located here as well as an Indian cemetery, a Buddhist Temple, and a donkey rescue sanctuary. Yet a company named HELO wants to put the same 50 story tall wind turbines at the mouth of our canyon. Besides the aesthetic considerations, there are also significant dangers to the human inhabitants and the wildlife. If you are interested in this subject, go to the Friends of Sand Canyon link. There you will find some interesting U-Tube videos and other important information. And please don’t call me a NIMBY. Put one of these in your backyard and then we’ll talk. Our wide-open spaces are what have always given Americans their strength, and that includes our beautiful Mojave Desert. We need to think carefully about where we put these “new technology” giants and the impact that they will have.

Fortunately, the community at large is behind us in our fight to save Sand Canyon. And we thank them!!!!

In my book, The Butterfly Basket, the first view my ten-year-old heroine has of the Tehachapi Mountains, is from the old train station in Mojave. The rolling silhouette of the foothills, like something from a Japanese print, is now obscured by tons of steel, rows of rotating blades as long as football fields, and flashing red lights. That gorgeous view is gone forever.

October 1st meeting of Friends of Sand Canyon at Dr. Billingsley's Vet Clinic.

Suddenly Starlings

Suddenly Starlings

We don’t get many starlings in Sand Canyon because they don’t like desert chaparral, but the other day I heard an unholy cacophony of birdcalls from a juniper across the road. I got out binoculars and sure enough it was starlings, those annoying birds that were introduced to Central Park in 1890 and now number in the millions. We don’t have any fields of grain out here for starlings to feast on so I hope they’ll leave, but so far no luck. They’ve been hanging out on the telephone line in front of my house.

This morning I looked out my window and saw a huge flock of them whirling through the air like a cyclone, their bellies flashing silver when they turned like the undersides of cottonwood leaves. A hawk was after them and they took the same defensive posture as schools of sardines, only instead of swimming in an ocean of water, they were flying in a sea of air. I didn’t see the hawk get one but I suppose he did, because the starlings quit flying and settled back onto the wires like discordant notes, quiet at last.

 

 

 

 

 

Rabbitbrush

Fall in Sand Canyon is colorful in its own way. The rabbitbrush that covers the canyon floor is blooming now. The yellow flowers glow in the sunlight, as beautiful to the canyon’s inhabitants as any forest of fall leaves.

Rabbit brush is called Chrysothamus nauseosus because it smells nauseating. After a rain, its aroma permeates the entire canyon. Having lived in the foothills of Los Angeles, an area that is as fragrant as flowers after a rain, I was dismayed when I first smelled the rabbitbrush. Oh no! I thought. I’ve moved to a place that stinks! But my nose soon adjusted, and now the smell of the canyon after a rain is one of the simple pleasures of life.

A monarch butterfly adds to the colorful fall display.

Togowa

When we had the fire, we also had a snake. I was too busy deciding its fate to take a picture. It was a beauty, a Mojave Green, that decided it liked our new patio. Our black lab gave warning with her ceaseless barking and we’re glad she did. Luckily, Togowa (the Kawaiisu word for rattlesnake) did not bite her. The dog was certainly within the snake’s striking range.

While Togowa rattled menacingly and reared up toward my husband hissing, I took out my binoculars to get a closer look. It’s hard to tell a Mojave Green but its skin had a green tinge and its behavior was very aggressive. I knew that the snake was deadly possessing two types of venom, a neurotoxin and a hemotoxin. Experience told me that it was unlikely to leave. A few years back a rattler bit one of my dogs and then came back the next day to bite the other. That was quite a vet bill!

The handle on the shovel was too short for such an aggressive snake. We called the neighbor. He arrived in his old safari hat and hospital gown and shot it with a silver pistol armed with buckshot. I felt sad about killing something so beautiful and so powerful. I wish there was some way I could honor Togowa, and thank him for not biting my dog. But the neighbor took him home and ate him for dinner. I guess that’s the way of the world.

Fall Fire

Start of fire caused by plane crash.

Fire and fall often go together in California. The air is hot and dry and the tinder ready to explode. The first fire was caused by a small plane crash in the local mountains.

Those mountains are filled with trees and when I need a fix of tree energy I like to drive up Water Canyon Road to Tehachapi Mountain. An important scene in my book takes place there when the young heroines go up to the mountains to gather materials for a basket. They commune with one very special old tree, based on a real ponderosa pine that would have been growing there when Andy Greene was a child. I hope it’s still there, its thick trunk standing strong, its silvery needles shining  bright against the deep blue sky.

A few days later many more fires were started by lightning strikes hurled to earth by a blustery storm. It graced us with some much needed rain, but unfortunately not enough to put out the fires that consumed tens of thousands of acres of brush and trees.

Here is a poem I wrote about another fire in the mountains – one the kids and I could see from the schoolyard. It’s written in the Dead Man form invented by the poet Marvin Bell.

The Dead Woman and the Fire

1.

The dead woman walks through the schoolyard while children,
bright embers, scatter before her.
From a towering mushroom shaped cloud, a leaf falls to the desert floor.
The dead woman picks it up – oak – scorched.
The inferno bigger than Seattle and Minneapolis combined,
lets go its flakes of snow that settle on cars and turn hair gray.
A school of droning clownfish flies off to spit at the burning bush.
The dead woman watches them go.

2.

“My mother says it’s the end of the world,” the school girl whispers.
“Oh,” the dead woman replies, not knowing what else to say,
the girl’s mother being right.
Just look at the roiling black clouds, the sun orange at midday,
the moon smoldering in the midnight sky.
A life lived for the next generation is over, this the dead woman knows.
All will perish but the hard seed that for hundreds of years has lain in wait
for fire to crack its shell.

September

My son says that a dead blog is worse than no blog, and I suppose that’s true. I’ve decided that the only way I can keep up with this blog is to write all the entries for the week on the weekend and then post them one by one. So if I say, for example, that we had a thunderstorm today and you know it was five days ago, that’s the reason, and I apologize for it in advance.

Last night I dreamed about the late Kawaiisu elder Andy Greene. My subconscious mind must have remembered that he had died in September for in the dream I was standing in line at his memorial service wondering how I would tell his family how special he had been to me. When he was a child, he often stayed in Sand Canyon with his grandmother who lived in the old ways in her brush Kahni by a spring and he maintained a special love of the place. He helped to found Tomo-Kahni State Historic Park to preserve his tribe’s winter home. And his spirit still lives there. I feel it every day when I look toward the peak where he prayed.

Andy inspired me to write my book, The Butterfly Basket, and I thank him for that. If you want a copy of the book for the eight to twelve year old in your life, you have to wait until I find a publisher. I’ll let you know when that happens.