Monday, October 13, 2014

Maybe we should change I-5 to "Dry-5"

Weed after the fire, Mt. Shasta in the background

View of Lake Shasta from the rest stop--no water
As I sit here on the Oregon coast with rain looming in the weather forecast, it's hard to believe that I was in San Jose a little over a week ago, that the sun was shining every day and forecasts of rain were met with laughs because actual rain was so unlikely.

I spent 28 days back home helping my father, who broke his hip in late August. Dad, who is amazingly resilient, is healing well. Now we're back to comparing weather over the phone. Those 700 miles make a big difference.

Me: It's cold. I had to light up the pellet stove and turn on my electric blanket.
Dad: It's hot! 91 degrees right now outside, and about 85 in the house. I've got all the fans going.
Me: They're predicting rain here.
Dad: Hah. We don't know what we're going to do if we don't get some water pretty soon. Send some down here.
Me: I'm trying, I'm trying. I keep telling the rain to go south.

Most of my trip between San Jose and South Beach takes place on Interstate 5. It's a nice wide road with lots of rest stops and plenty of places to eat, sleep or shop. It's also loaded with trucks and RVs.  I keep awake by playing "dodge-truck," passing the slow-moving 18-wheelers, muttering when they try to pass each other and block all the lanes.

Traveling I-5 in the fall, it's usually hot. But this year, the heat and the drought have had dramatic effects. Fire is a big problem. Watching the news, it seems as if half the state is burning. While I was in San Jose, one of those fires destroyed a large section of Weed. This town of 3,000 at the foot of Mt. Shasta is a place where we have often stopped on our trips.We have stayed in its motels, eaten in its restaurants and walked its streets. The news reports were awful. Homes, schools, and churches destroyed. Was anything left? I had to see. I also had to see Mt. Shasta, where it was reported a glacier at the top was melting, causing a giant mudslide.

As I headed north last week, tearful from saying goodbye to my father, the reporter in me was anxious to see what had happened while I was gone. Most of the way, nothing had changed. The hills and fields were brown. The cows still grazed and dozed in the sun. The road was still lined with trucks. It was still hot. Lake Shasta was still nearly empty, vast areas of exposed dirt between the road and the water.

Then I rounded a bend after Dunsmuir and there was Mt. Shasta. When I drove south in early September, the mountain was brown, except for a small area of white on the very top. Now it looked like someone had taken a giant knife and spread that white thinly down the sides of the mountain, almost to the base. It had melted like frosting on a cake left in the sun.

Then came Weed. I expected to see exits closed and signs covered, but no. I exited and found myself passing the usual restaurants, motels and businesses. Where was the fire? I drove a few miles north before I came upon charred hills and police cars blocking roads leading into the hills. Only residents were being allowed in. About two weeks after the fire, all I could see of what was left was . . . nothing where a whole neighborhood used to be. The ruins had been cleared away. What happened was tragic, 157 homes were destroyed, along with numerous commercial properties, including two churches, the library and part of the lumber mill, but most of Weed was still standing, still in business. They will rebuild. Meanwhile, I needed to drive on.

I spent the night in Yreka, the next town up from Weed, exactly halfway on my San Jose-South Beach run. Room 30 at the Best Western Miner's Inn, dinner at the Purple Plum, a walk through the old gold rush town, some Internet, some TV, some sleep, and back on the road toward home.

Once I crossed into Oregon, the landscape turned green and clouds dotted the sky. Go south, I said, go south.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Torn between San Jose and South Beach

You know how when you've been away from home for a while, you wake up and aren't quite sure where you are? That's how I've been feeling the last couple of days. I open my eyes and expect to see windows at the foot of the bed, but no, there's a closet there. I go to the bathroom and reach for the toilet paper on my left, but it's in front of me. I open the refrigerator and reach for the milk I just bought, then realize I bought that milk in San Jose and it's in my father's refrigerator. 

After a month in San Jose, I find that things are pretty much the same here in South Beach--except for the lawns and berry vines being out of control--but they look different to me. I'm noticing so many things that I never noticed before. Were there always so many trees? Was my bathtub always so pink? How come I let so much junk pile up in my garage? Did they always help me take out my groceries at the J.C. Market?

I feel as if I have come from another planet. In many ways, I have. I spent most of September and the beginning of October taking care of my father, who broke his hip in late August. We were together constantly. I spent my days cooking, washing dishes, doing laundry, buying groceries, answering phone calls, keeping track of visiting nurses and physical therapists, tying and untying shoes, and listening to Dad's stories. In a way, I was living my mother's life. At night, I lay awake in the room I occupied for the first 22 years of my life, ready to jump up at every noise I heard from down the hall. At first I was afraid to leave my father for even a few minutes. He seemed so fragile and helpless. But Dad is a cat with more than nine lives. By the time I left on Friday, he was elbowing me out of the way to do his own dishes. The doctor had cleared him to bend  and to drive his car. He still needs to lean on his walker, but he's ready to return to solo living, with occasional visiting helpers.

So here I am back in Oregon, trying to catch up. I have thousands of emails to deal with, bills and mail piled high, stories to write, music to practice, and lawns to mow. My dog Annie is thrilled that I'm back, and I'm glad to be with her again, but she has developed a new pre-dawn barking habit in my absence. I'm happy that the weather is pleasantly cool after San Jose's incessant heat. But I find myself just sitting still, trying to grasp where I've been and where I am. I'm not as worried about my father now, but I miss him. Both of us widowed, I think we both enjoyed having someone to hang out with. But we each have our own lives. He is very old, and I have no doubt there will be another crisis. Someday he will be gone. Meanwhile, I am here, unleashed in Oregon again.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Dripping with sweat in San Jose

Once upon a time in California, I preferred shade to sun. I touched the steering wheel of my car on a hot day with caution and knew better than to leave chocolate or butter inside. I only wore sweaters for a few days in winter, and I bought a new pair of sandals every spring. I did not worry about things left outside getting wet, rusty or moldy. It rarely rained, only a few inches a year. My natural color was tan, and I believed I was a person who did not sweat. Eighty to ninety degrees was normal, and 70 was cold.

Then I moved to the Oregon coast. I sat in the sun whenever I could. We had plenty of shade. The steering wheel was cool, and you could leave groceries safely in the car for hours. I wore sweaters, hoodies and socks every day of the year while my sandals grew mold in the closet. Everything left outside got wet, rusty or moldy—or grew moss. Fifty to sixty degrees was normal, and 70 was hot. We had one or two days a year over 80 when we languished inside while the bugs went crazy out in the yard. Carpenter ants and flies swarmed our faces and knocked against the windows. But no worries. It would be back to 60 and foggy the next day. Or it would rain. It rained a lot. 80 inches a year. . I discovered my natural color was several shades whiter, but I still believed I was a person who did not sweat.

Not long ago, I discovered it was only 65 degrees out and I was warm. I did not need a sweater or socks. I could wear my California sandals. I had acclimated.

Now I’m in California. My father broke his hip and I’m back at my childhood home taking care of him. He’s healing, but progress is slow. The temperature has ranged from 75 to 95 outside and hovered around 84 in the house, with no air conditioning, minimal insulation, and windows left open all day. The living room faces east, the kitchen faces west, so the sun beats through the paper window shades. I never perspired so much in my life. Under my hair, down my face, down my neck, down my shirt, I’m soaked and salty. Cooking or doing dishes, I drown in my own juices, occasionally stopping to stick my head in the freezer or stand up against one of Dad’s fans. At night, I lie with my head at the foot of the bed trying to grab a hint of breeze from the wide-open windows. Meanwhile, Dad says it’s “cool,” asks me to shut the door, turn off the fan, and fetch his sweater.

A couple nights ago, the San Jose weather forecasters predicted rain. Big black clouds filled the sky toward sunset. A man I passed on my nightly walk broke the Silicon Valley code of silence and said, “Isn’t it a marvelous evening?” “Yes,” I replied, soaking in the cooling breeze and the hint of rain in the air. But it did not rain on San Jose. It has not rained on San Jose for four months. Clouds appear and promise rain, then fade away without dropping their load of precious water. The area is in a severe drought. The yards I pass on my walks are full of dead lawns and dead flowers. Cobwebs hang off of everything. Water is rationed, and people can be severely fined if they are caught wasting water.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Running Away to Seal Rock

It's only 10 minutes south of my house, but Seal Rock is a great place to get away. Not long ago, I took my camera and notebook there, joining the tourists as if I were one of them. For a little while, I was on vacation. I wrote, I took pictures, I walked on the beach. It was cloudy but warm, and the waves lapped gently over the tidepools and against the sand.

After my beach walk, I went to lunch at Seal Rock's Japanese restaurant, Yuzen. With soft music playing, I sat at a window seat eating miso and sushi and thought again about how lucky I am to live here.

Photos copyright Sue Fagalde Lick 2014

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Oh Rats! A Tale of Rats, Cats and Runaway Dogs

This is a story about rats. Once upon a time, I would sit in my hot tub at dusk, warm water up to my neck, stars brightening up above, dog chewing on a log from the woodpile, and I’d see something scurry from the deck to the fence. Something dark, something small, something that was probably a rat. 

This went on for months, maybe years. In my childlike way, I thought he was cute. I welcomed him to the family, naming him Ratatouille. Ew, rats, people said, but I think everything’s cute until proven otherwise. Remember Sal the Salamander? Ned the Newt? Gary the garter snake?

One day, I found a dead rat on the lawn. No blood, just a black rat corpse. Did Annie kill it? I’ll never know. Grieving the loss of Ratatouille, I carried the corpse out to the woods. Bye, bye rat.

Now at the same time, also for months, maybe years, I was aware of a missing vent cover at the base of the house, over near the fence. Annie noticed, too. Every time she went out, she ran over to sniff its cool darkness. Got to fix that one of these days, I thought. The old metal cover had disintegrated in our coastal wetness, so critters could get in. And out. I never imagined they’d back up the U-Haul and take up residence.

It turns out Ratatouille was not alone. One night as I was washing the dishes, I started hearing noises under the stove. It sounded like something was chewing at the underside of the floor, trying to get out. “Annie!” I called to the dog. “Listen!” Her ears pricked up. She stared at the floor and began to whine. Rather than save me from this marauder, she snuggled against me for protection.

It chewed and chewed. I opened cupboards and looked behind things, afraid something would jump out at me, but it didn’t. I stomped the floor hard, and the chewing stopped. Maybe it was gone. That night I dreamed it was a litter of kittens. The noise came back again and again, under the table, under the toaster oven, under the hallway. The morning it woke me up chewing under the bedroom, I stomped the floor and said, “That’s it.”

I called a company out of the phone book with a name that sounded humane and ecologically sound. When the guy arrived in his VW bug decorated with pictures of ants, it was not a good time at the Lick house. It was 91 degrees in Newport, about 30 degrees hotter than usual. Confused bugs swirled  around my head. My back had gone out and I was hurting from my morning trip to the chiropractor. I was also preparing for a trip to California to help my dad, who had fallen and broken his hip. 

The new dog sitter had just come to meet Annie. Harley, the giant Lab from across the street, had come to the door with her. Annie, seeing her buddy, had whooshed out the door and run away.

“Uh, that was the dog you’ll be taking care of.”

“Well, she looked nice. Hey, there’s somebody else here.”

Rat guy. While Annie romped in the woods, I showed the exterminator the crawl space in the master bedroom closet. A man of size, he blanched. Small doesn’t begin to describe the space under my house. Or so plumbers and house inspectors have told me. He squeezed himself down, looked around for a minute and popped back up, brushing dirt and rat poop off his jeans and shirt. "Ya got rats, he said, an infestation of rats, droppings all over. They have shredded your insulation so it looks like a cave full of stalactites. For the equivalent of two mortgage payments, plus a car payment, we will put out bait, remove the corpses, remove the polluted insulation and sanitize the whole thing. I’ll get one of my skinny young guys to crawl underneath."

I was in shock. “You kill them?” I had had visions of the rats being lured into a box and being driven to someplace nice to start new lives. Meanwhile, where the heck was my dog?

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Well . . . I’m heading to California to take care of my dad who broke his hip. How about if I let you know when I get back?”

He looked at me as if I was stupid. “You want to wait two more weeks? I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

Which is how I ended up writing him a check for most of what was in my checking account and letting him place bait/aka poison under the deck and under the house. In two weeks, Rat Guy will return with his crew to remove the corpses and ruined insulation and sanitize the area under my house.

As we walked out the front door, Rat Guy pointed out a rustling in the trees west of my house. We listened. In a minute, my big yellow dog emerged, panting, tail wagging. I snapped on her leash and hugged her hard. “You brat. You scared me.”

She smiled her doggy smile.

I turned to Rat Guy, who was laughing at my worn-out dog. “You’re sure she can’t get at the poison? She’s sneaky.”

“I’m sure. She’ll be just fine.”

After he drove away, the rats were eerily silent. Annie lay exhausted on the lawn. I cried awhile about the devastation of my finances and my inability to keep up with everything that needs taking care of at this oversized house. I grieved for my dead husband, who left me to manage everything alone. Then I ate a piece of cake and moved on.

When I talked to my dad on the phone later, he said he would have put bait out himself. It shouldn’t cost much. So, was Rat Guy just trying to help or was he a great salesman? All I know is I’m not crawling under my house for any price.

Ah, Ratatouille, you rat.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Hobnobbing with the Archibishop of Portland

 It's not every day the archbishop visits our small-town church in Newport on the Oregon Coast.  In honor of Sacred Heart Church's 125th anniversary, we welcomed Archbishop Alexander Sample, head of the Catholic church in Western Oregon, for a special Mass and reception on Friday night. It was the first visit by this archbishop, who took office in January 2013.

It was a big deal. Our songs and programs had to be approved by the archdiocese. The Archbishop needed three altar servers, one to serve, one to hold his staff, and one to hold the tall gold hat, the mitre, that he wore during Mass over his magenta beanie, I mean zucchetto. We had three lectors. The Knights of Columbus paraded in their regalia, and we combined the choirs from all the Masses for the occasion.

The church was packed, the yellow and white flowers and candles were glorious, and the music we had been practicing for weeks sounded good.

Archbishop Sample has a glorious tenor singing voice, and he sang most of the prayers. In his homily, he preached about the past and future of the church and our role as followers of St. Peter.

After Mass, we gathered in the hall, where it was so crowded and noisy my throat still hurts from shouting to be heard. And the cookies, oh Lord, for a cookie monster like me, it was heaven.

But the archbishop did not indulge. Instead he stood for over an hour as people lined up to meet him. He blessed the sick, listened to the stories of the old, young and in-between, and kidded the kids. In the picture above, he is talking to Rose Troxel, the church historian responsible for most of the photos and memorabilia on display behind them. Meanwhile, we all fell in love with the tall, handsome archbishop.

Sunday it was back to church as usual. I hope the archbishop got a chance to walk on the beach between events. He did take a few cookies back to his hotel room. He was due in Lincoln City for another Mass on Saturday. Meanwhile, my father is pretty impressed that I sang a solo for the archbishop and shook his hand, and I know the leftover cookies are hidden away somewhere.

Monday, August 25, 2014

If You Look Past the Dirt . . . Russell's Song

A couple months ago, I was helping register people to have their pictures taken at church for our new parish directory. I was having fun seeing old friends and meeting new ones when this homeless guy walked in. Maybe walked is the wrong word. Shuffled? Sneaked? Whatever. I knew he was not there to get his picture taken. He was dirty, and he wore so many layers of clothes I couldn't figure out how big he really was. He walked right past my table toward the kitchen--where nothing was happening. I looked around. I was the only staff person there. It was on me to deal with this guy.

I went over to him. "Can I help you?" He muttered something that didn't make any sense. I finally grasped that he needed a restroom. I turned him around and directed him to the men's room. He stayed in there so long I got worried. I was about to send one of the male parishioners getting photographed to check on him when he emerged. He came up to me at my table and started talking. And talking. He told me all kinds of things, some of which might have been true. He was a photographer. He was a musician. He had kids somewhere. The DA owed him money. Our pastor had promised to help him get it. I listened and nodded and wished he would go away. I offered him nothing. Finally he walked outside. People coming in told me he was hanging out by the door to the hall. They told me his name was Russell and he came around all the time. They told him to go somewhere else. They told me he left the restroom a mess.

I mostly wanted Russell to leave because I was afraid of him. But is this the Christian way? What should we have done? If I see him again, I vow to be more welcoming. Meanwhile, I wrote a song. With luck, the link will work and you can hear it. This is "Russell's Song."