Fallen Giant—the Last Days of Our Monterey Pine

Sad day for our house and neighborhood, watching our huge Monterey pine cut down. With a diameter of over three feet, the old tree was already a giant when we moved into its yard in 1994.

We had it trimmed and topped several times to reduce its weight, but age and drought finally won, along with the attacks of beetles and fungus. This spring the new fronds at the ends of its branches began to brown and drop, beginning its death march.

For several days this week, the loud staccato wails and grinding drones of chainsaws and chippers seemed to come from inside my head like a trip to the dentist. Even in its final state the old tree is hard to bring down, resisting and only giving itself up chunk by chunk.

We always thought the yard belonged to the pine. Everywhere we dig we find a tangle of roots, some thicker than utility pipes, pushing through native slate and skimming the surface before diving again. If the tree ever fell it would take the yard and house with it, which is why we had to remove it once it died. We are its tenants, but for once in history the tenants are evicting the landlord.

Our sky will seem so bare. I find myself apologizing to the tree the way I always apologize when I cut down a Christmas tree, but this giant requires deeper remorse. I won’t take all the blame for the drought, but scientists tell us our cars, furnace, and power plants are much to blame, and I own some of the polluters.

We have plans to replace it with a redwood, natural to our dry hillside and our dripping Bay Area fog, assuming we can find a space in our yard relatively free of resistant pine roots. Although it will take several decades for the redwood sapling to fill the ecological void left by the Monterey pine, it feels like penance. Not enough but a start.

New Video Recording: Lucky Ride from Memoir to Novel plus an Excerpt  

I recently described my process of transforming Lucky Ride into a novel and read a brief excerpt from Lucky Ride for the California Writer’s Club. Memoirs and novels share many characteristics, but I eventually chose the creative freedom of a novel. In short, I lied.

https://youtu.be/NK2KIe8P9kk

Find out more about Lucky Ride HERE.

The Sanctity of Garbage Days—A Lucky Ride Outtake

While editing my irreverent 60’s road novel Lucky Ride, I left several of my favorite scenes on the cutting room floor, including this cameo appearance from Grandma Roller.

I had liked Bobo better when he was a puppy, before my wife Ronnie countermanded all my attempts to train him. She claimed he was a free spirit with all the inherent rights of existence, and it was not our place to discipline him; he should answer to his own being, not what we wanted him to be. He was his own dog. And ever true to his own sense of purpose, he raced for the Rollers’ garbage can as soon as I let him loose. Our neighbor’s trash was set out for the Wednesday pickup, which I had forgotten. Bobo gathered his momentum and launched himself like a canine Evil Kneival, a small white and black stunt dog, hurling over the rim, expertly catching the edge, and tipping the can. By the time I caught up with him, he had torn a hole in the plastic garbage bag and pulled out a ripe chicken carcass. It was a revelation. The Rollers’ garbage smelled even worse than ours.

He growled ferociously and shook the remains back and forth as I approached. Smiling, I whispered soothing praise and grabbed his collar, pulling him away just as Grandma Roller ran out. She wore a blue house coat with big yellow daisies and she walked with a limp, but she moved fast enough in a moral emergency. A small woman, she was squat and dwarf like, her wrinkled face pressed into a constant scowl as she tightened her house coat so I couldn’t cop a cheap look at her privates. Her voice, when she began to lecture me once more about the sanctity of garbage days, rattled like marbles in a jar. She smelled of incense, even over the stench of the chicken bones. Burning incense was the one thing we had in common, that and not having enough money to move out.

Yes, I should never let my dog loose on Wednesdays, and I promised never to transgress again. But she went on and on, telling me the history of garbage days in our times and all the neighborhood cans tipped by delinquent dogs released by delinquent owners, making it hard on the God-fearing women who had to pick up the scattered garbage. Then she complained about people who don’t even own garbage cans, which were required by law, and put out plastic bags that attract dogs. Ronnie and I were habitual felons on that count, but we were innocent so far that week. We were keeping our garbage to ourselves.

Meanwhile the dog strained at his collar, yipping and snapping, crazy for a bite of yellow daisy or a chunk of grandma’s fat white ankle. I smiled through her lecture while gritting my teeth from the pain of the leash twisted around my hand.

Suddenly she ended her complaint with an apology on my behalf. Stunned by her change in tone, I didn’t say a thing. She hadn’t given me a chance to respond anyway. Grandma could talk even when she was inhaling.

She said she knew I tried to be a good man, and I worked hard in school. Sometimes she seemed to like me in spite of my decadent soul. Since I started college I often studied at home during the day, and when we met on the stairs I listened to her latest news, which was all the news I heard until the afternoon paper. Ronnie and I didn’t own a TV, just a portable stereo and a handful of pharmaceuticals to help relieve the extraterrestrial fatigue of astronomy and literature homework, but Grandma kept me informed of earthly affairs. She was the anchorwoman of the local moral network.

Her subject changed to the events of Monday evening when I had taken my astronomy exam. I switched the dog to my unmarked hand and recalled how I had calculated the life of protostars, estimated the distance to several stars in our neighborhood of the galaxy, and figured the amounts of residual elements left over from collisions of heavenly masses. While I was away modeling stars, other masses were apparently colliding in our immediate neighborhood. Grandma had spied a yellow car parked on the curb outside our apartment, and an older man had visited my wife for several hours. Knowing Grandma, she probably got a close look at the visitor by cracking her door to check for the evening paper just as he crossed the landing to climb the stairs to our apartment. She searched for her paper whenever she heard footsteps at any hour of the day or night, and she observed all of our visitors in case she might be called to testify at church or the local police station.

This time I cut her story short. I didn’t need a detailed description of Bardeen, my wife’s boss and erstwhile lover; his piss‑yellow Buick was clue enough. I could have said our private life was none of her business, but Grandma would never understand. All sin was her business. I found myself telling her he was a friend of ours, and I was sorry I missed him. The latter half of my statement was true. I felt my fist clenching the leash even tighter.

Finally, her phone rang in answer to my own unarticulated prayers, and she scuttled away to answer it, her limp hardly perceptible.


Learn more about Lucky Ride HERE

Lucky Ride will be released on 12/31/21. You can preorder from the publisher, Unsolicited Press, and most retailers, including Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Bookshop.org.

The Disasters of War Poetry Anthology is now available from Moonstone Press

https://moonstone-arts-center.square.site/product/the-disasters-of-war/315

I was honored to join a reading by the contributors to The Disasters of War, new poetry anthology honoring veterans and those touched by veterans from Moonstone Press. I find the poems haunting, uplifting, and stoked with universal themes that always resonate.

Here is a description of the anthology:

Regardless of one’s feelings about the various wars or one’s politics, I think we can all agree that our veterans have been treated poorly. Some veterans suffer combat-related injuries; mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, traumatic brain injury as well as other medical issues including extreme fatigue, neurological issues, insomnia, migraines, joint pain, persistent coughing, dizziness, respiratory disorders, and memory problems. These issues can lead to homelessness as well as addictions. 

The real disaster of war is what it does to human beings.  

Whether you are a veteran, are related to a veteran, or a person who has had contact with veterans, poetry can allow us to express our deepest feelings. Join us as some of the 55 contributors to this anthology read their poetry.

The anthology includes my poem, “Shaky Charlie Talks About His Youth,” which recalls my great uncle who suffered shell shock from his service in WWI.

Although the anthology is already out of stock, the eminent publisher Larry Robin will likely print more copies.