Thursday, September 24, 2009

Mind the Swale

Swale: A drainage swale is a shaped and sloped depression in the soil surface used to convey runoff to a desired location. (like the neighbor directly behind you!)

from the California Stormwater BMP Handbook

It’s been raining in Atlanta, as you might have heard. Where I come from in California 12 inches in an entire year is considered a really good, wet, year. 12 inches in one flippen day is astonishing and that’s what we’ve been dealing with. I used to be in love with rain. Now I‘d like a trial separation.

Most builders with any sense at all design a building that is low-lying to have a swale around one side or the other. This is because when your foundation sits on the ground without a crawl space you can be flooded unless you tell the water where to go. I know about these things because I am

A) the step-daughter of a builder and

B) Remember all those crazy occupations I’ve had!

So, I knew we had a nice little swale going around our outbuilding, however, the past few years we’ve been in a drought and we’ve been crazy people due to – life. So my nice little swale designed by some builder 100 years ago filled with rocks, vines, dirt, dog poop. And I never even noticed.

Luckily, my house sits way up high on a nice tall foundation. Not so luckily, my studio is in an outbuilding that sits plumb on the ground with a concrete foundation. You see the problem?

One Day+12 inches of rain+unminded swale+on slab building = FLOODED OUT.

As I was out in the pounding rain, soaking wet, shovel in hand digging out my swale, it occurred to me (yes, in between all the F-this-God-Damn-Rain thoughts) that this swale is a perfect metaphor. If you don’t stop to tell the water where to go – and we all have water in our lives – if you let the swale that can carry the flood away fill with crap– you are going to experience a life filled with muddy and stinky water.

So, I have one question for you: What is your personal swale and are you minding it?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Poetry Monday - Abujerar


First, he had been simply handsome;
his hooked Cahuilla nose sniffing her out
as the bobcat circles the cottontail.
Once she noticed the wads of cash
appear in his long Spanish fingers
she was his.
She already had a baby fathered by a chicken-faced boy
who had played one of Alessandro’s foes the year
she was the beautiful and tragic Ramona.
So what if other girls crossed themselves as he came near.
Dueñamamas whispered in her ear, called him the source
of the Santa Anas. The wicked wind, whipping everyone,
came from his easy laugh.
She could not be swayed, ensnared
as she was by a man
who could find water in the desert
and coax it to bubble among the chaparral and rodents.
She was willing to take him in, with his
bent sticks and rough hands.

It wasn’t until he started divining in the rocky hillsides
that his fists gave her roses that bloomed on her face.
The pink rock of the San Jacinto taunted him with hints
of moisture, but day after day his magic failed
and the farmer cursed him.
She used theatrical make-up
left over from the pageant
and created her own illusions.

The child came during a rainy season
when there had been no work for months.
He sat by the window watching water cascade from the sky
and muttered over a daughter. No one to pass on the male magic
of the Aqua Caliente. He would not hold her up to the sky
and bless her with his name.

When the hard winter cold came
he found work in the orange groves.
The foreman’s truck would pick him up at sundown
and he would leave with her sullen, chicken-faced son.
They worked the smudge pots
until a halo of heat cocooned the trees.
Returning at dawn, oil-soaked,
he would strip off his clothes
and plunge into her. Like the hills,
she would give him no moisture.
Like quartz, he could not care.

Calls for dousing stopped coming.
Wells were dug with machinery. His magic
dried up in his calloused palms. A son
never came.

She became one of the dueñamama and cooed
about the boys who came for her daughter.
The day for the girl’s fifteenth birthday
passed quietly and he did not make money appear
in his long Spanish fingers
for her quinceñera.
The girl soon left with a white boy in a yellow Camaro.
The roses were forever in bloom.
When she had no bones left to be broken
and all the water in her body
had been pulled into his hands
she covered her face with the mask of Ramona
and folded herself back underneath San Jacinto.

About this poem:

It's our 8th or 9th rainy day in Atlanta so I'm picking a poem about water for today. Where I grew up in Southern California is at the edge of several different mountain ranges. The one in this poem is the San Jacinto mountains, which is also the setting for Helen Hunt Jackson's classic story of star-crossed lovers - Ramona and Alessandro. Every year for the Romana Pagent a beautiful girl is picked to play the part of Ramona and I've taken that theme and spun out what the girl's life is like having been a tragic character in her own world. The rich Mission and Native American heritage of Southern California collides frequently and sometimes the result is a very rich and mysterious culture, but most often the collision is more about tragedy and prejudice.

The man in the poem is a diviner. I've always been fascinated by the mysertious property of water. You can read more about divining here: (I love that this site is trying to make diving more "professional")

Thursday, September 03, 2009


What’s the first thing you cut in an economic slump? Yeah, the $200 visits to the stylist. And before somebody freaks out – hair care is expensive in the big city, baby! It’s extra expensive when you want to look “naturally” blond. According to my stylist, Miss Jamie Booth, I am naturally blond – just not that halo kind of blond that makes me look like I could ascend to Heaven strictly on the power of my hair sheen alone.

So, today I got to go visit Miss Jamie for the first time in six months. I may ascend any moment because I am now BLOND. My clothes look better, my make-up looks better, I honestly think I look thinner since I have undergone the re-blondification process.

This visit was my little gift to myself for losing ten pounds – a milestone I am one half pound away from achieving. Go me! I’m blond and thin! Okay, not really. What I am is significantly lighter in the important areas – my hair and my ass.

Miss Jamie and I love our visits. I know I pay her and all, but a girl gets tight with her stylist over time. She’s an Aries as well and I always read our forecast for the month and then update her on what we can expect in the coming days. Today I had to warn her that we should not buy anything expensive or electronic this month. Mercury is retrograde, people. Stay away from the store. Don’t sign a contract. Put the expensive shoes back on the rack. We also talk mothering because we have sons who are both Cancers. See, Miss Jamie and I are leading parallel lives. Only her hair looks good on a more consistent basis. Maybe we’re really triplets with Johnny Depp!

She gave me a great tip about mascara today. I’ll try to remember what it was, but I may have to call her and ask again. I was sleepy after baking in the dryer with my head covered in foil.
Why am I blogging about this? Because getting my hair done made me feel fantastic today and I think anyone who is trying to lose weight ought to do the things that make them feel fantastic.
What makes you feel fantastic?

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Poetry Monday - August in Wildwood Canyon

The mountains around my hometown are on fire. Again. In October of 2003 my dad's house up in the San Bernardino mountains burned to the ground. My sister and I watched it happening live from our houses in Atlanta on CNN. We recognized it from the street sign and the windows. The pictures on the right are of the house taken from CNN. Fire is horrible. The path is unpredictable and the destruction immense.
While I miss mountains and canyons, I don't miss fire (although I've chosen to live in a city renown for burning down over and over again, go figure, probably my Aries nature to always be close to the flame).
I wrote this poem about me and my sister as teenagers dealing with a sudden wild fire in the middle of the day while we were home alone. When you grow up in a canyon you live with the knowledge that a wild fire or an earthquake could strike at any moment. In the back of your head you have lists of what to grab because the fires move so fast through the dry chaparral that you often have to evacuate very quickly. I have a hard time doing this poem at readings because the emotions of that day rise to the surface very quickly, like they are this morning as I'm scanning the web looking for news about Oak Glen and Yucaipa. I'm praying for everyone in my hometown this morning. (I'm not, however, lighting any candles)

August in Wildwood Canyon

A hawk riding the hot wind passes us
as we sit eating burritos at the kitchen table.

We do not speak. At sixteen and thirteen we know
only soap operas, suntans, and rivalry. Our silence

is filled with the whine and roar of the discer
stalking the brittle grass on the canyon floor.

I am the first to draw breath at the acrid scent.
Fire. We race to the edge of the deck.

The hillside drops a hundred feet until
orderly iceplant gives way to sage and grass.

Flames race up the power poles. Lines snap
and fly like arrows. The abandoned tractor roves

in circles around the live oaks. Now talking
nonstop, moving quickly, we heap left-overs and jars

onto the kitchen floor and, packing photographs
and films into the refrigerator, we preserve

our childhood, but cannot agree on what goes
in the car. China is too fragile, silver can be replaced.

We race back and forth from house to car,
throw in quilts, yellowed wedding dresses, a box

containing a fall made from our great-grandmother’s
loosely braided hair, our grandfather’s college yearbook,

my box of notes from my best friend, my sister’s softball
glove and uniform because she has a game tomorrow.

All but our mother’s last canvas fits into the trunk.
Planes are filling the air with loads of water and the white

walls of mom's room flicker pink as we grab her jewelry box
and join the line of cars leaving the canyon.

Chunks of ash drift onto mailboxes and fences,
settle in small piles. I need headlights to see my way out.

On a safe plateau we huddle together, watch flames
line the ridges, the smoke shift from white to gray.

At dusk we are allowed back. The wind is changing.
The fire is trapped on a ridge high above the canyon.

My sister and I are quiet again. She refuses to ride
with our mother and sits stubbornly in my car.

The line of cars, longer now that parents are home,
winds back through the naked and smoking hillsides,

around curving roads, charred front yards
and back decks burned black. One home is lost.

Not ours. We ride the hot wind back to nothing
that will ever again safely belong to us.