Saturday, September 24, 2005

How can I write with any seriousness about nature for two or three readers when centingenarians are blowing themselves up on idling buses in record-breaking traffic jams to escape the inevitable sea-borne storms of September? Rather than dying unattached to oxygen tanks that keep them alive well past their due date, rather than dying with the wind and the rain that come along as part of a cycle of the seasons, these children who became seniors so suddenly can only cling to their lives. I guess they can't help it. Humans are attached to themselves and to each other, to living forever, no matter how. This instinct may be due to an assembly of atoms, perhaps an ancillary to one of Newton's laws my mom recalled on the phone: "Objects in motion tend to stay in motion." If we are so used to living, how can we accept a cessation of that motion? It is natural to die, but everything living struggles to survive at all costs. In fact only man seems to have the capacity to move beyond this obsession, but acceptance takes its time. Sometimes we never get to that point. If anything, Hurricane Rita can teach us to take a deep breath and know that if we choose to live, we ultimately choose to die. Deciding how --if not when-- is the question.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

A handful of neighbors, and there are so many of them, must have been either watching a sporting event in Asia or playing a visceral video game that made them holler like drunks last night, past 12. No different than usual, except that behind their backs, outside, an old, ragged phantom dragged its chains through the sky, causing sparks; every moment or so a new flash, sometimes a classic crooked finger, sometimes the flickering strobe of Pegasus flapping his wings followed by the crash of cymbals, a military drum salute. Even the loud bass boom overhead, a five-car-alarm deal that made horns sing like coyotes, didn't seem to distract these Monday night revelers. The power never went out.

The rain was intermittent, so I could leave the windows open. In fact the water that fell seemed an afterthought, as if shaken from an emptied bottle, the last remaining drops. And it was still hot, as it will be today when this dead Mexican hurricane disippates like fragile cheesecloth and scatters north and west. It was the most apoplectic storm I'd seen in years, seemingly more resentful in its tantrum because it could not find an audience. The vigorous crashing overhead surpassed the quota for thunder in Southern California. Most storms, like those of last spring, dump like waterfalls with a boom here and there; this was a sick monster dry heaving to no avail. How anyone could ignore its attempts to claim our attention, I don't know; I could not read or watch TV or turn away from the redolent ozone in the air, recalling wilderness and danger centuries old. In this new millennium, Nature can be turned away; it is, as I've mentioned before, a mere nuisance now, an afterthought unless it really breaks things up and becomes a spectacle worthy of being televised. And still people will leap to their mobile phones so they can laugh about it with their friends. Keep the booze flowing and the lights on, don't evacuate us from floods, don't shake the ground we walk on too violently, and we can go on with our lives pretty easily. Nature disrupts, but not much.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

It isn't cheap to live on the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach (not that it is cheap anywhere in California), and residents there have little interest in making their community accessible to just anyone. It's a drag to park or even wind one's way through the stop lights and surf shops in order to get to the trucked-in sand.

I'm south of Newport by fifteen miles (an hour in drive-around-and-try-to-find-a-place-to-park time), and have only attempted to penetrate it twice. The land strangled by homes and "Fashion Island," the water gooped up with leisure boats and floating seafood restaurants; from the point of view of a window shopper, it's an exploded Nantucket trinket shop where rich people go shopping across the street. Even sea lions, indigenous but not endemic, are no longer welcome in these parts.

A lot of California cities revisit--a kind word--the architecture and lifestyle of other places. There is no more disingenuous a section of the nation in some respects. With its gold-country history long footnoted, the state remains a place to make money by recreating fiction and distraction. A housing development in Orange County resembles an Eastern Seaboard town, another is faux Italian; countless others are displaced from any main street in 1905. It's a realtime Disneyland, without Donald Duck or any store within walking distance. All boards and no resilience; closed doors, tiny lawns, groomed under committee bylaws.

Further north, Hollywood and Beverly Hills are still dotted with Old English office buildings and homes built by Charlie Chaplin (the inhabitants of which change over the years). Driving down the street in any neighborhood in LA, one home is Spanish-style bungalow, the next modern, the next French Colonial. In San Simeon, Hearst's paean to all things froufrou remains the quintessential Riviera ripoff. And Scotty's Castle in the middle of the desert defies even that excess. Then there are the miles of suburban development scattered all over the state, where cookie-cutter homes seem more like arms factories guarded by high gates.

No matter the scale of their endeavor, men with money build because they can, where they can. In the meantime, cultural landmarks, cities and neighborhoods overtake a place of natural beauty and wealth, not of the mineral, timber or acreage kind, but of wilderness and geography, of intangibles. Neighbor to countless bars, jazz clubs and millions of beachgoers, the Newport resident who claims the sea lions' bark "is far beyond normal-sounding sea life" has missed her calling as a true dramatic ironist.

Monday, September 12, 2005

LA in Lightness

I dunno about electricity blackouts or stuff like that or why they happen. But I do remember the darkness when the great natural disaster of 1994 struck Los Angeles (um, you may remember it as the most expensive of its time... I think it made headlines internationally, too, because it was so important) and how nobody could use candles for fear of gas explosions, and at 4:31 a.m. it suddenly became dark. I might have been able to sleep if it hadn't been for all the wreckage nearby and the poor people shouting at each other to grap their shit and get out! Well, I'm sorry, but that's the word they used.

Now here it is 11 and a half years later and someone cut a cable or something. I can't get far into the articles about it, as I am not a superintellectual able to grasp the great ramifications of temporary power outages in the middle of the afternoon. But it appears that these days every glitch in the superfluous grid that has weaved its way over the surface of our earth is a catastrophe. We're so dependent on the inventions of 125 years ago that we can't imagine living without elevators or microwaves or these infernal blogs, which...I know, are not so old... I could live without those three things, I think, maybe. But then technology has its high points; modern medicine keeps us alive when we're too young to die (cough), though it's no fun being a consumptive in the 21st century... you can't milk it for sympathy at all, they just stick you with a needle and you're back to dancing the two-step or whatever it is you do, back to cyber chatting or watching DVDs in your car or lollygagging around the house with your iPod or mobile phone or Xbox (I haven't quite figured out what an Xbox is yet, but it sounds dirty).

An unintended problem with technology is the reverse of one of its purported salvations. In its attempts to make all men equal, especially as it becomes either affordable or universally institutionalized, technology strips us of freedom and liberty. All people regardless of wealth must stop at red lights. We can't just start and go as we feel. And we're not free from the noise and lights created by modern man's mechanization. No matter where we live--outside of, apparently, North Korea--someone else's noise is our noise, we share the incandescence of others and remain at their whim off-switch-wise. Worse, weak and frustrated men can now find a way to make bombs. There are disparities that remain, but these differences decrease as prices lower. More and more people have computers and TVs, but less have knowledge of how they work. Devices superfluous to natural survival carry great weight, but people need them to be user friendly.

Meanwhile, "looters," which I have to put in quotes because according to some it's the wrong word, felt the necessity in some cases over in NOLA to steal televisions, without concern that they would have to deep sea dive in order to plug them in. I personally would have looted, that is, "rescued," books and other precious artifacts worth holding onto historically, but then that's just me. I don't eat much.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

As an entry in the vast Earth(TM) Encyclopedia, the geologically adolescent land east of the California coast has a chapter all its own, with multiple sidebars: the hills as fertile pasture, where cows and sheep can roam and graze year round; flowers in the spring, golden grass in the summertime, green sod in January. Home to indigenous wildlife that threatens livestock, a place of American wineries, of sleeping volcanoes and winding old roads, the story told of oak groves and endless golden acres has enticed many a reader to its pages.

But the essence of place, its "value", radically changes from creature to creature. A different reader, looking up the same hills, sees them not as naturally productive and helpful to her bottom line, but as an unfinished canvas, as the ground for her work. She alters the land and builds, layer upon layer, as investor and developer who suffers a parodoxical obsession with transforming paradise. Each stunning ridgeline presents engineering, legal, social and marketing puzzles worth billions if solved in a certain way. The real becomes illusion.

A third person, anachronistic as the Chumash, might find in the pages of this listing an aesthetic and sometimes spiritual escapism. He may view the open space as sanctuary, as friend, as a land still alive. He may wonder why others skip this section of Earth(TM)'s book altogether, why they speed-read
the pastoral vista toward a cityscape of integrated developments, rooftops, driveways, intersections and traffic. The difference may not even register to these disinterested people, as they head home, focused more on destination than journey: a nice big house in the suburbs, nestled somewhere in these hills, or somewhere beyond them.

Having read and reread it, I may need to put down the book myself, just to spare myself the horror of knowing.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Meanwhile on the other side of the country, the grass which gives this state its nickname has dried crisp and turned golden. It shimmers brittle in the wind and heat with the rusty bramble and brown shrubs that were so green last spring--of course, only where threads of the ecosystem remain. The rest is a garden, constantly watered; the sudden phish-swish of sprinklers cranking up at night must cause heart palpitations in the brush rabbits that hop around on coastal golf courses.

Hungry masked raccoons had invaded the Dumpsters the other night when I got home from work, and they hesitated just a moment, made sure that I was not a cop and returned to their loot. Their paw prints, fossilized, remain along the dusty trail up here along the ridge, where only six months ago everything seemed under water and oozed with life; not that California dies once a year. It just becomes combustible. The flames both cull the old and create the new, but we call it a natural disaster when uncontained wildfires breech civilization and consume homes along the edge of where the world, beaten and battered, has some semblance of its old identity. Over in the heart of Napoleon's territorial giveaway, similar ethics apply; the natural world, so hidden beneath the unnatural, gains no friends by making an appearance. If we have fires out here this year (and we should, given the amount of rain last winter and how much non-human life the waters brought to fruition), our complaint will also be that due to the vagaries of nature, humans suffer all too much.