Watching Too Much Escapist TV

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I’ve always wanted to find a hidden passage behind a bookcase or though a trap door in the floor. Wonderland or Narnia. A priest hole would work. Maybe that’s why British mysteries hold such appeal for me. So when Rosie the Roomba mapped a passage from my study to the street, I was ecstatic, if confused. Was the opening hidden under the rug? Had we covered the exit to the street with a raised bed like we did the clean-out for the sewer?

My husband says the new room is a mapping error from Rosie getting stuck. I hope not.

A Year Later, A New Landscape

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I send my mother cards because she has trouble answering the phone. Today’s is a Hungarian landscape from World War II. It’s remarkably free of destruction and death, unlike what we see in war photos from the newspapers.

The place in Texas where she’s living resembles the card’s frontpiece. There’s a lake. There are houses. The hills are a dull green, shot through with bare soil. A year ago, when she hated where she was, my mother threatened to move to Czechoslovakia. Next to Hungary. Close to Ukraine. I’m glad she didn’t. Here, she imagines escape without confronting the reality.

How Long Before the Lake Dries Out?

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In 1975, I biked my dog to Stanford campus. At Tressider Union, I drank coffee. He rested under the table. Afterwards, we stopped at Lake Lag. Cas retrieved sticks, swimming murky water. “Two-thirds what it was,” the old timers said.

In 2012, my niece moved into a dorm that backed onto a weedy, muddy shadow of Lake Lag. I expected it to fill with rainy season water. No luck, dry like this year.

Hundred year drought we’re in. Arsenic blows off a drying Great Salt Lake, a hazard to fish and people. Climate cycle, climate change, it’s too damn hot.

The Maid

Photo by Monica McHenney

Rosie is our new Roomba. She’s a little ADD. Childlike, each day a new adventure. She wanders off course though I’ve set a map and a schedule. On her trial run I followed like an anxious parent noticing the places she missed, wondering how to help.

Our little black dog was much more chill. He relaxed on the rug watching while I said, “I think you should move.” He thought her harmless until she ran into his foot. He made a reluctant retreat. But he came back, ears perked. He’s right to think that Rosie is no threat to him.

A Surprising Sight

Photo by Monica McHenney

Can you find the hidden alligator lizard? Imagine squatting in an iris bed, pulling unwanted grass. The grass is what you see first. But before you reach in, ready to tug, a pattern emerges and then a snout and then the wary lizard, eyes unblinking, body unmoving. What a cutie!

Not everyone has that last reaction, but I do. They have personalities, these reptiles. Two fence lizards who lived in our backyard were inseparable, protective of each other, the Romeo and Juliet of lizards. Great extroverts, they enjoyed relaxing on their backs, exposing the blue line that bisected their tummies.

New Beginnings

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In her dreams, the fetus pleaded for life. The girl woke in a sweat, knowing that she wanted to indulge this creation, but love must be firm. A new life takes years to nurture. Time, money, patience, support. She had no one she could count on for that long, not even herself. It came down to being responsible. She hadn’t been before. 

She prayed to a God more forgiving than any politician. Followed a gospel that permitted free will. Took the legal option. Mothers need a choice. Children, a future. Hers are old now. They have gained from her loss.

Opossum on the Move

Photo by Peter Kessler

Our fence, her highway, three times that we know of. Once struggling in thick ivy, an ashen color, a naked tail that made us mistake her for a white rat disturbing the leaves. Next, she cased the neighbor’s vegetables. Finally, she came with two juveniles following in a line.

It was daylight, an unusual time for them to be about. Overcast, so that might have helped. The mother was scruffy, the youngest sleek with soft fur. We didn’t see them after that.

Maybe the camera scared them off.

Or is it that they change hunting grounds every few days?

Death, Natural and Not

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“The moment you accept your own death, something in you changes.”* Words spoken by a Ukrainian refugee slumped on a shelter bed, phone in hand. Resigned. Her words resonate, a reminder of my mother’s decline. 

Mom has changed. She says very little, sleeps a lot. No more raging temper tantrums over how much butter there is on the toast. Little things matter little, big things less. Nothing big like Russian planes threaten Mom. Nothing external. Nothing like this Ukrainian woman faces. And yet she is upended. Shuttling from hospital to rehab, death has crept inside my mother, weighing her down.

* From The Economist April 30, 2022 “The Wreckage Within.”

Migrants

Photo by Peter Kessler

They flew in shield shape, banking together. Not a bird was out of formation. The fluid group landed in a mulberry where they plucked juicy fruit, bringing the tree to life with their acrobatics and mid-air high jinx.

Such handsome fellows, masked like robbers, with subtle rusty red and muted yellow highlights on their mourning dove grey cigar bodies.

My camera disrupts them, but not before I have a picture. A silent order travels through the troupe, wings flutter together, they move with one mind. They will be back; they have no choice. It’s how they earn a living.

Wildscape

Photo by Peter Kessler April 2022

There’s a bunny peeking from alyssum and rosemary where a rufous sided towhee, dressed in orange tails with black trim, dined last week. Earlier in the month, a flock of pale looking robins plucked hard blue berries from the ivy on our wooden fence. They ate what was left after cedar waxwings migrated through in February.

A cuckoo wasp, a white-lined hummingbird moth, butterflies, and two kinds of lizards populate a native meadow that grows where our thirsty grass withered away during past droughts. We leave culled weeds to compost and pruned branches to shelter wildlife. The yard has become a preserve.