Thursday, March 31, 2011

Celebrating the Legacy of Cesar Chavez

Chris Ballin with her beloved father

I met Chris at TRW in Redondo Beach in the early 70s. It was a life changing experience. Through our friendship I learned about political activism first hand. I also learned about having fun (dancing our asses off, monthly spaghetti parties, and weekend trips to Baja). She had two daughters, I had two sons. We both had multiple marriages and divorces. We both came from working class families and knew firsthand the importance of hard work and challenging authority. When I met Chris, she had already made a commitment to support Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers boycott of grapes, wine, and lettuce. And Coors beer never touched her lips. It was an exhilarating time. Chris is no longer with us in this dimension, but she will remain in my heart forever.

Monday, March 28, 2011

White Cranes

Our frosty-white wings
not to be tainted by mud,
Delighting in ponds,
long can we stand there;

Excerpt from Poem II, by Liu Yu-hsi, ca. 826

Saturday, March 26, 2011

First Step

Maureen thumbs through the spring catalog of extension classes. Her supervisor has recommended the certificate program in business. Less tedious than a degree, one night a week for four years, she can learn the basics of bookkeeping, how to work well with others, even a little accounting. Having the certificate might lead to a promotion, a little more money. The company will even pay for her books.

Her attention drifts to travel agent classes. She imagines sitting in a sun-filled office, surrounded by bright posters of Hawaii, the South Sea Islands, arranging trips for excited couples. At least once or twice a year she herself will go off on practically free trips, stay in luxury hotels, board elegant cruise ships that dock each Thursday in Long Beach harbor.

She’ll have new luggage, of course, filled with just the right clothes for each destination. And hats, large brimmed ones, a straw sunhat with one perfect yellow daisy attached to the band. There will be parties, friendships made and renewed. And maybe even one special friend, a quiet shy man who is also looking for someone to share walks along sandy beaches and piƱa coladas under shaggy palapas.

Flipping back to the business certificate program, Maureen circles the date and location of the first class and begins to fill out the registration form. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Beauty and Power

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Love in the Trees

A few weeks ago I snapped this photo of a pair of hawks, mating in the top of an old tree in our pasture. Hopefully we'll get a chance to see their offspring when they are old enough to leave the nest.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Life with Picasso

"I met Pablo Picasso in May 1943, during the German Occupation of France. I was twenty-one and I felt already that painting was my whole life." Francoise Gilot

Thus begins my latest discovery as an "accidental reader." I collect books from all sorts of places: friends, thrift stores, and even an occasional bookstore. But my greatest joy comes from the serendipity of connecting with a story somewhat by chance. 

I've loved Picasso as long as I can remember, and certainly with great passion after seeing the massive retrospective of his work in NYC in the 80s.

"Gilot's recall of Picasso's discussions about art, details of private visits to friends such as Matisse, Braque, and Giacometti, and her intimate understanding of his temperament make this work unique." Daily Telegraph

(Get the hardcover as one Amazon reviewer warned of really bad editing of the the paperback.)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Picture Is Worth...

A Thousand Words

Thanks to my niece April and her son James
who are having a great time on vacation.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Float 5

Empty slips separate a dozen fishing boats. Marzy, Yaquina, Nyoda, Morning Tide. Names as unique as their owners, as their owner’s dreams. A blue skiff without rigging, motor, or decking. Lifeless, awaiting rebirth. A green and white double-masted schooner, the Chaser, sports a FOR SALE sign on the front of the cabin.

Twenty feet away on a thin rib of low tide mud a man tunnels down in search of small crabs, bait for hungry Coho, grouper. An official looking letter is tacked to the post at the head of the ramp leading down to float #5. A series of violations—all for improper (illegal?) storage of crab pots on the float. They threaten a fine of $225 with a now past due date for compliance.

The ramp is empty except for mooring ropes and a couple of bright green garden hoses. What makes this otherwise dull stage so appealing? The possibility of dreams fulfilled, the catch that at last pays off the mortgage, the danger. The knowledge that on some grey morning a boat will go out and not return.

Or the independence. Being in charge of your own fate with only yourself to rail against when the nets break or come up empty or the crew doesn’t return.

Starduster, Trinity, Lady Luck. The names say it all.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Pot Luck

Her collection of pots are like her collection of friends, some tall and angular and excitable, others round and full, offering stability. Her favorites are the ones that came unexpectedly—the small misshapen bowl plucked from a garage sale for fifty cents, a beginner’s pot with thick walls and an unglazed bottom that she uses as a mortar for blending spices and dried herbs.

She remembers the guy at the furniture store who sold her the Kokopelli for a couple of dollars. She wonders how it got to his store in the first place, there among overstuffed sofas, Queen Anne chairs, delicately flowered china plates, the Chippendale dining set with twelve chairs. The pot was as out of place as the barrel-chested cigar smoker who owned the store.

Most precious is the lathed redwood burl, a gift from the maker. A renaissance man with a love of knowledge, he fashioned a life for himself in much the same way that he created the wooden bowls and fine cabinetry that provide his livelihood.

The Native American wedding vase, chipped from its topple during the Loma Prieta earthquake, is a relic from an old love that grew toward friendship and away from romance. She wonders if she should gift he and his new wife with the pot, but decides against it. The past is often better left there—in the past.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


she sits in the waning light
waiting for a sign

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Iris and Donald

Iris and Donald were last seen at Lorene’s Packing Shed celebrating their 45th anniversary with tri-tip dinners and chocolate cake for dessert. Their waitress noticed they didn’t seem to be having too good a time. Don kept putting on and taking off his teal sport coat while Iris kept checking the thermostat on the wall behind their booth to see if it was set too low.

Lorene didn’t like it too warm cause she said it made the customers want to get done and get back to their own living rooms instead of stopping for an after dinner drink in the bar. She wasn’t too interested in the couples anyway. It was the singles who were likely to hang out on the tall barstools after dinner on the chance that someone interesting might drop by.

“You didn’t have to wear it,” Iris murmured every time Donald removed the jacket, followed by “It looks so nice” when he put it back on. She knew it was a risk, taking his old blue serge suit to the Goodwill and replacing it with a stylish sport coat and slacks. She was just tired of him looking like something out of a ‘50s Sears catalog. He used to be more daring, to care more about how he looked. She sometimes wished he still worked so that maybe the possibility of an office affair would make him pay more attention to his looks.

It’s the roses

blooming their hearts out that keeps me awake at night

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Gone, Not Forgotten

For years I’ve wondered about Joanne. The last time I saw her was in Denver. She seemed happy, settled, but there was something about her, almost wistfulness, especially when she talked about her children. She did seem worried about their father, concerned that he might suddenly reappear, demanding his parental rights. We talked late into the night about the choices we’d made, how growing up in West Texas hadn’t prepared either of us for the city life, how we might have made different choices if we could do it over.

That was the last I ever saw or heard of her. And then later there was that strange 4:00 am call from her parents, asking if I had heard from Joanne or knew where she might be. I was too groggy to get their phone number and couldn’t find them later. I called the last phone number I had for Joanne but it was disconnected. I sent a card and it was returned, addressee unknown.