field notes:


My trip down I-5, through the belly of California yesterday, was ecstatic. I hit the Central Valley at 4:30am. Have you ever stuck your head down under the hood, into the heart of an overheating engine? That's how the air hit me when I got out for gas. It curdled an unopened box of soy milk that rode down in the camper shell of my truck. If Dinah-dog hadn't been in the air conditioned cab with me, I'm afraid it would have curdled her as well. The chocolate, needless to say, rode up front.

After I lost KQED, I roamed around a bit and finally gave up on radio, popped in a tape that a friend loaned me for the road: Poets of the World (reading their own work). I'm not sure I've got the name right, but it was a great companion. Frost leads off with A Road Less Travelled, and from there the poetry continues, from Edna St. Vincent Millay to William Stafford, Dylan Thomas to Ogden Nash. I don't have the track list with me, it's back on the CD cover at home. I'll try to be more accurate later. For now, all that matters is that I let the poetic language play on and on, not caring where one poem began and another ended, or who was speaking, just letting it all flow over me like hot air. That language infected me, the beauty of the language infected my blood with ecstacy, the metaphoric ideation tumbled the world of "shoulds" and "what ifs" into a mosaic of color and grace where every single thing fell into its place, like the click of a kaleidoscope, and I knew my place, and I had no questions.

I drove fast and hard and nothing could catch me. At the top of the Grapevine, last barrier to Los Angeles, rain formed, cooling and misting the air. A revelry. I love coming down the Grapevine into LA, there's still a promise that carries me down. It's the heat, the speed, the descent. The road is free of concerns, mountainous. The Los Angeles of Chinatown beckons, an open land of convertibles and space and opportunity and lust, and I love this place I'm entering for all that it has been, for the dreams it's held and the hearts it's broken. I love it for the stories that live here, and that it contains my past.

posted by Lisa Thompson on 7:04 PM link | comments []


The sun must love these yellow daisies,
they line I-5 standing tall as children,
the only unpale color in the central valley.
The grasses of yellow, brown and green have
been stretched to the edge of whiteness by the heat.
Even the sky opens to white here--not the white of painted lines
--but the white that remains when all color has gone.

Sunrise on I-5 in the Central Valley of California

Sunrise somewhere in the Central Valley this morning
posted by Lisa Thompson on 5:59 PM link | comments []


Down the path, under oak and redwood canopy, I stopped to watch swallowtail butterflies over the creek in dappled light. A wrentit began to sing, and I glanced down to a spot below me on the bank where the wrentit sat on a live oak branch out in the open. In some tangled branches of a fallen tree nearby a butterfly stretched outward parallel to the ground as its wings fluttered rapidly, an impossible hovering. I stood, the wrentit sang, and the butterfly danced. If I could have stayed forever, would we all still be there? I had to break the spell, my dog was impatient and a friend waited on the beach at the end of the path.
posted by Lisa Thompson on 7:49 AM link | comments []


I've never known any place the way I knew Lubec Street. I knew it as the center of the world, before I found out that the center was someplace below, and that I was alone on the earth's spinning surface. I knew that street from the ground up.

My memories are still there, tethered to the house, to the front lawn. To find them I need only go back to Lubec Street. We played baseball in that yard, climbed avocado trees, played games, hide-and-seek. I remember taking my first solo bike ride across that patch of grass, but that might be my brother I see riding unsteadily across the grass, triumphant and vulnerable. The outdoors was our own domain, theater for neighborhood alliances and the small betrayals of early friendship, and the easy-flung daggers of brother and sister. We didn't consider the exposure, didn't need walls to hide our games, not then. Later, back yards were better.

But early the front yard spilled easily into the street and onto other patches of grass, some not as well kept as ours. But I only notice that looking back now. In that neighborhood time, the only distinctions we made were between parenting styles. Our friends across the street, exotic and Greek, had stricter parents than the rest of us. Their home was more mysterious, dark inside, and we never played there. But their backyard had frogs, and it led through childhood corridors to the backyard of Billy and Jon's house. Billy and I were going to marry and live at Big Bear. I can still feel him whispering in my ear, then see him dive down into the otherworldly blue green waters of his backyard pool. Their Mom taught them the song 'Billy Boy' but inserted "Bill and Jon" instead. So it went like this, "Can she bake a cherry pie, Bill and Jon, Bill and Jon?", and I could never convince Billy that it went any other way.

Lubec Street was an almost parentless place as I remember it. The parents were in the background, feeding us, arranging overnights, buying our toys and tucking us in. The pools were cleaned, meals cooked, mortgages paid and birthday parties thrown. I remember one pool party though: a little kid was in the middle of the pool being held under by a struggling toddler. For long moments, we watched. Then my mom, glamour queen, threw off her wig and sunglasses, dove in and saved them. I remember her rigid determination, the set of her mouth. Life had prepared her for a moment like that. Ocassionally a parent would star in our world for a moment, but they always sat back down with their magazines and their drinks and their chatter so we could get on with the important commerce of neighborhoods: occupying the small spaces, the hollows under hedges, the shaded places between houses, the underwater Marco Polo worlds, places where adults didn't ever go, didn't want to know.

All that was before. Before Dad left. Before we moved to the city away from the swimming pool and the shiny new cars in the driveway; away from the neighborhood where every porch, every lawn and shrub and tree, every hiding space was ours, and where the constellations of childhood were unbroken and steady, watching children run across the lawns of Lubec Street as a small girl counted out to one hundred with her eyes closed, hands pressed into the bark of an avocado tree.

Read more posts about Suburbs at the Ecotone: Writing about Place today, and join the discussion.
posted by Lisa Thompson on 6:54 AM link | comments []


Yesterday, bloggers Numenius and Pica from Feathers of Hope spent the afternoon with me here. We'd gotten to know each other a bit through our readings and writings and our discussions at the Ecotone: writing about place. This was my first experience with embodying online friends. I just can't tell you how wonderful it was to do that.

We hiked simply from Pierce Point Road down to Heart's Desire for a picnic. We talked about the bear, of course, and then happened upon this tree

Could a bear have done this?

Click the image for a better view (200+k)

Could this be the work of the bear? I don't know what else might have wreaked this particular havoc on a tree. I just wonder that the strippings of wood are still extant on the ferns, I imagine a bear would have knocked them all to the ground with his thrashing about.

Both Numenius and Pica are astute birders. Pica found four feathers on the ground and identified them as young Spotted Owl feathers. I confirmed with a friend later in the evening that he had seen a pair near that spot. At that point, we had veered off the main trail and followed the trail hacked into the terrain by
firefighters. This trail winds through the acre or so that burned and meets back up with the Heart's Desire trail. I hope that the park will keep this area accessible because it's fascinating to walk through a recently burned wood. Amazingly, young green ferns have already poked through the charred understory in green defiance.

We lingered at one spot on the path and watched wrentits, a wilson's warbler, pacific-sloped flycatchers and a young rufous-backed chickadee. The fog held back and we were treated to a rare hot day and incredible blue skies. The conversation was varied and fun and scored by the constant song of hidden swainson's thrushes.

posted by Lisa Thompson on 8:39 AM link | comments []

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