venice


beans3

My hands remember
what mind does not: just so my
father planted beans.

As I’ve said elsewhere, I’ve long been fascinated by Green Men. I’ve only figured out recently that this may be because my own father was a Green Man.

It’s funny the things that set you to remembering.

The other day when I was in the cafeteria at work, I had a semi-meaningless conversation about pickles. That conversation sparked a memory so keen I had to write it down immediately.

My father planted a vast vegetable garden every year in the immense back yard of our rental property in Venice. He had no tolerance for flowers and, like as not, he’d pull them up if he needed more space for edibles.

Still, the garden he planted was a work of art: lovingly conditioned soil, weeks in churning and amending, row upon neat little row of carrot, onion, parsnip, red radish, bell pepper. Beyond those rows, beautifully rounded little mounds held cucumber, ringed round with carefully dug irrigation channels. The leaves of the cucumbers were hairy and pointy-edged, the stems thick and fuzzy, bobbing green in the summer breeze, yellow in the fall. The tomato plants on the other side of the cucumbers always started in orderly, well-staked rows, but by fall they danced in an entwined frenzy. Along the back fence, wire with a spiky top, banana squash climbed. Sometimes corn grew beside it.

Between the back fence crops and the tomatoes ran an arbor for string beans—a porous frame of wood and chicken wire during the fallow months, ten feet tall and perhaps twenty feet long. In the summer months, though, it became a green tunnel as the beans climbed up the sides and over the top. The sun shone liquid green through the leaves, and even in the hottest summer the earth beneath—near-black with fecundity and never dried completely during the growing season—felt cool to my bare feet. That soil made all things seem possible. I would wander up and down it daydreaming, getting a buzz from the green smell of the beans.

If ever there was a place my soul felt repose, it was there. I suspect my father felt the same way. He preferred spending time in his garden, in the green bean tunnel, to time with my mother and I. Perhaps that wasn’t so, just my perception, but it felt to me as if he couldn’t find a way to bridge the gap between that shining green light and the warmth of the hearth. After the day’s gardening, he seemed empty and at a loss. The demons that tormented him grew thicker in the air.

He’d nearly reached retirement age by the time I was born. When I was small, I adored helping him in the garden, just being with him. When I hit puberty, our worldviews had grown too divergent. At least two generations separated us, and only in the green space had we any hope of reaching across the decades. Even in puberty, the garden and that cool green tunnel seemed like a magic place. When the churning of my brain and growing body got to be too much, I’d return to it and wander up and down. I had this feeling, way down deep, that if I could just make it to the end of that tunnel, the true end, not the one I saw with my eyes, I’d be changed. Or maybe all my wishes would be granted. I never made it that far.

I’d see Dad in the tunnel, slowly walking up and down, lifting the bean pods tenderly in his hands to check their progress, seeing if they were ready for the ritual of the canning process. Mom and I were not allowed near the kitchen when the canning sacrament was underway. Mornings in late summer and early fall, I’d wake to the smell of green beans cooking, ready for the mason jars; or dill, alum, and vinegar boiling to turn fresh-picked cucumbers into the best pickles in the world. An astringent smell, but to me it held the promise of something delicious in the heart of winter.

I still see my father in that garden, and wonder what he found when he took the final walk to the end of that shining green tunnel. I wonder if his wishes came true?

There’s a quote from Vincent Van Gogh that reminds me of my father: “I am a burning hearth. People see the smoke, but no one comes to warm themselves.”

But there’s another quote from Albert Camus I like much better, and hope applies to Dad equally well: “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”

Green Men are found in many cultures. They are commonly a symbol of rebirth and regeneration, the spring greening that inevitably follows the dying of winter. I’m fascinated with them. I have two of them, one in the back yard garden near the peach tree:

IF

The lovely lady to the left of him is the Roman goddess Flora, and the lady on the right is simply named Ivy. The man himself is cast iron and ages gracefully, rusting in interesting patterns.

I also have a Green Man inside:

greenmancloseup-sm-1

He’s smaller, also made of metal, but I doubt he’s copper as the green of him suggests. I believe the “aging” on this one is artificial—but I still think he’s rather cool. I’d have more Green Men if I had the space and money (so it’s probably a good thing I don’t). I like the ones with serious and slightly sinister expressions, and I like them to be made of serious natural materials like metal, not these comical cast resin ones that you see here and there and everywhere (though I admit, Flora and Ivy are cast resin). Why am I so fascinated with these Green Man images?

I’m a city girl, born and raised. If I want to get in touch with Serious Nature, I have to drive quite a ways out of town, and when I was a kid we never left town, unless it was to drive to Pomona for the county fair or to Disneyland in Anaheim. There wasn’t enough money for anything else, nor any time and inclination with my parents working hard. It just wasn’t in the program. As a consequence, I was 18 before I ever went on a real vacation, and as for nature spots? Mom didn’t see much sense in going places where you had to sleep on the ground and cook over campfires. She’d had enough of that “nonsense” in her roughing-it country girl days and found no romance in the experience. Why would any sensible human being want to give up modern conveniences?

So I grew up having to take nature where I found it. Fortunately, back in the olden days of Los Angeles, there still existed patches of it here and there. An immense vacant lot existed on my block on Fourth Avenue in Venice, for one. (It is now a public storage facility.) For another, my father planted a magical garden every year, a place of communion and nourishment. (I’ll discuss that another time, in The Green Man, Part II.) Occasionally, I got to visit my older brother in the Santa Monica mountains, where my nieces and nephews (all mostly older than me) would lead me on fantastical trips over the hill and through the woods following streams…until we popped out of the rough onto the manicured lawns of the Bel Air Country Club golf course. Then we’d hightail it back into the woods. These things were extremely important to me, as were long walks on the beach, about five blocks west of where we lived.

I loved the beach best when it was cold and rainy, partly because the things that drifted up on shore—the glass, the driftwood, the truly odd and puzzling things, were more interesting and less picked over by other beach walkers. Mostly, though, it was because I could walk there on cold days without much interference from other people, thinking my thoughts, communing with the vast rolling heart of the sea, feeling the chill pierce me to the bones. That chill always felt purifying rather than cold. I could not return from those walks with any black spots in my spirit. The wind off the sea blew them all away and gave me bliss in return.

That garden and that vacant lot saved my sanity during childhood; those walks along the sea saved my adolescence. Nature, my small neighborhood version of it, never failed to renew me. That, I think, is part of why I am so fascinated with the symbolic representation of nature: I want to recapture, to remind myself, of that need for renewal, that need to physically get out and get in touch with something green and greater than the mere mortal.

In my twenties I went on long hikes in the Angeles Crest. It’s a great, sprawling wilderness within easy driving distance of Los Angeles. Some of it, like Dart Canyon, is at a low enough elevation that on smoggy L.A. days the bad air penetrates them. You have to hike higher up if you want to avoid the city pollution. But on lovely, clear days Dart Canyon is a enchanted place, with maple and sycamore trees, waterfalls, the ruins of cabins and of a lodge destroyed in a great destructive flood in the 1930s. Higher up, there’s pine forest, ski summits, abandoned mines, and scrambling over big boulders to cross streams.

Those hikes were literally peak experiences for me: cleansing, renewing, exhilarating.

My favorite parts of any vacation, whether in this country or another, have been those times when I get into the countryside, touch the green, listen to the birds, feel the wind sweep through my spirit and blow away the black clouds. Nature is my touchstone.

These days—and in the long years of caregiving—that touchstone is mostly limited to the back yard. There wasn’t much time for anything else when Mom was alive; these days I still seem to be decompressing from that experience, trying to recoup my energy and my creativity. I’m far enough away from the beach that I’d have to drive, find parking, and my legs…no.

But the funny thing is, it doesn’t really take Grand Nature for me to get that sense of renewal. The Green Man is alive, curling in every leaf and bud; his skin is easy beneath my palm in the smooth trunk of my peach tree; he dances in the swaying branches of the white willow that volunteered to grow in my yard. All I have to do is sit for a few minutes, enclosed by walls and trees and wildish overgrown patches, listening to the birds, smelling peach blossoms, feeling the earth and grass under my bare feet…and the magic still happens. I am there. He is there. I am lifted up, I am renewed. Maybe the Green Man is watching over me, I don’t know. All I know is that I am grateful.

Forgive me, LJ. It has been three months since my last confession.

Time has really slipped past me. I’ll spare you some of the Christmas whinging as that is so last year…

Dec 18
1 in 200 Women Say They’ve Had a Virgin Pregnancy: http://yhoo.it/1dPsJwS   Ooookay.

Dec 18
It wasn’t something I needed, thought it a bit extravagant, but I will admit that I sure enjoy my new latte maker. Best part? It was a gift!

Dec 19
More structural rewrites are in my future. I had so hoped this one was good to go.

Dec 19
If only my name was Felicia. Then I could change my Twitter handle for the season to Felicia Navidad.

So now of course I’m earworming Feliz Navidad.

Dec 19
My new most-hated phrase: “Clear all the jelly!

Dec 19
So beautiful! Worth sitting through the annoying ad.

)

Dec 23
Having occupied my office chair for 4 hours I will now go to lunch. 4 hours after that I will be off for 9 blessed days.

Dec 23
Ooookay. Candy Crush has now moved beyond divertissement to obsession.

Dec 25
My cousin’s Christmas gift to me: coming to take care of Mom while I have knee surgery. God bless you, Francie.

Note from March: there’s an unhappy ending to this story.

Dec 25
I still think the Miami Heat’s logo looks like a flaming butternut squash.

Jan 1
One half of the gay couple who married on the Rose Parade float was a former hair dresser of mine. I’m thrilled for him!

 photo aubrey_zpsd4438e72.jpg

Jan 3
I hate cutting characters out of stories even when I know it’s necessary. I feel like I’m denying them there chance at the limelight.

Jan 4
You know that thing where you’re unintentionally full of shite, where bad memory and public pronouncement collide? That thing.

Jan 6
This guy! who flew his plane under the Eiffel Tower to chase and shoot down a Nazi:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2533373/WWII-fighter-pilot-flew-THROUGH-Eiffel-Tower-dies-Virginia-aged-92.html …

Jan 7
Mom had some issues at dialysis last night so we had an outpatient procedure this morning. Home again. Everything’s fine.

Jan 7
Michael Easton on General Hospital always reminds me of Dr. Drake Ramore.

Jan 8
Back in the ER again. This week is a clusterf*ck.

Jan 9
Mom’s CAT scan was OK so the hospital kicked her loose late yesterday afternoon so I could take her to dialysis. I was not pleased. We didn’t get home from dialysis until after 10 and Mom was hurting. I had to do two hour watches on her all night long to make sure the head wound didn’t go south. But she’s doing much better than we had any right to expect. She’s got a 4 cm cut on the back of her head and 10 wee. She fell in the street when the transport guy came to pick her up to take her to the clinic.

Jan 9
I used to live 2 blocks from here in 79 (and other inane facts)—Venice Beach, 1979: http://twitter.com/History_Pics/status/421099026046808064/photo/1pic.twitter.com/i6p2z7Jwoy 

Jan 15
A vivid and profound dream last night. Clearly a message from Self to self, but I haven’t quite figured out all it was trying to tell me.

Jan 18
A belief which keeps you prisoner in a life you hate should be done away with. It is not a thing of the Spirit, it is an aberration of Man.

Jan 19
All Ma wanted to do today was watch football and all I wanted to do was read philosophy. What a ridiculous conundrum.

Jan 20
I think Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber should date. Then the gossip media mill would implode and none of us would have to listen anymore.

Jan 24
So I says to my friend, “If the Apocalypse comes, I’m going to shelter in place and let it get me.” I’m not cut out for dystopia.

Jan 24
I’ve getting so tired of manufactured crises. I’m tired of the real ones, too, but the manufactured ones are really wearing thin.

Jan 25
I’m a committed mediocritist. It’s exhausting trying not to do better, but I can’t compromise my principles.

Jan 27
It’s official: I get my bionic knee on March 20.

Note from March: As previously stated, this may not be true.

Jan 30
CCF is one of the most decent people in FSF. RT @Catrambo Charles Coleman Finlay produces some tips for rejectomancy. http://ccfinlay.com/blog/nectar-for-rejectomancers.html …

Jan 30
If you believe in the possibility of a fair trial in Italy, read The Monster of Florence by Preston & Spezi. Their legal system is a joke.

Jan 31
I think my cat is as likely to answer to “You little t*rd” as she is to Min.

Feb 2
RIP Philip Seymour Hoffman. Stunning. Heartbreaking.

Feb 7
Actually, I’m not really having knee surgery in March, I’m headed here.

 photo candycrush_zps209ef385.jpg

Note from March: In fact…

Feb 9
The rages come out of nowhere like they always have. Why do they still have the power to surprise me?

Feb 10
He’s so cheerful all the time he gives me the creeps. No names please.

Feb 10
RIP Maxine Kumin, one of the best. http://tpr.ly/1ddOkBz 

Feb 11
Both beautiful and sad. Help take care of Baby Iver:  http://yhoo.it/1lxsoTZ 

Feb 12
Daily Mail article on sitting down: “those who sat more than six hours a day were 37 per cent more likely to die” NEWSFLASH: everyone dies

If you MUST read it for yourself:

http://dailym.ai/1omhzX3 

Feb 19
People assume that because you aren’t ambitious in the same way or for the same things as they are that you have no ambition.

Feb 20
Pussy Riot is brutalized by Cossacks while trying to protest, then Livejournal goes down. Probably not a coincidence.

Feb 20
So I won’t be getting my bionic knee after all, not for awhile. My cousin can’t stay with Mom. Not her fault, just life. She got sick herself.

Feb 24
Ah, farewell Harold Ramis. One for the ages.

Feb 26
So Der Weinerschnitzel is using a tiki motif to advertise their new chili cheese dogs which have no tiki motif that I can tell. ??  I’m a big fan of tiki so I don’t mind, but…

At home sick and watching too much TV I suspect.

Feb 27
Dear Marketers: If you make me create an account to shop at your site I won’t be shopping at your site.

Feb 28
My cat answered to “Farthead” today. In other news, I’ve been home since Tuesday with an awful cold. Am sick of being sick.

Feb 28
I watch my mother destroy a vintage pattern I bought her so she could make something from her past. Things don’t matter, just what they mean to people, and she is so present and content recreating that past. And I am content.

Mar 2
In Braveheart it always sounds to me like Mel Gibson is saying, “You may take our wives but you will never take our freedom!”

Mar 2
Watching the Oscars, Mom is confused. Spike Jones and Steve McQueen are not who she remembers.

Mar 4
Dear Nekkid Girl with “Individuals” emblazoned across your nekkid picture: all nekkid girls are exactly the same.

Mar 5
They’re getting Social Security and Medicare now—New Year’s Eve party, c.1960:

 photo 60sgirls_zps73fb9e7e.jpg

Mar 6
She has no pattern recognition left since the stroke. She was a crafter/artist. This was key to her identity. Life is a cold-hearted bitch.

Mar 6
If I start receiving ads in my car as some bright sparks are proposing I’ll drive my car through the front door of the first ad agency I see.

Mar 7
And sometimes a miracle occurs and the way becomes clear again and the universe seems a warmer place. You just never know what Life will do.

OTOH, Miley Cyrus still thinks she’s the only person ever to discover S-E-X.

Mar 11
My latest Etsy obsession:

http://etsy.me/1nHBVJa 

and a continuing one:

http://etsy.me/OiQOVN 

Mar 11
In my Twitterfeed I saw a story about shamans bilking relatives of those on MH370 claiming they can find the plane, followed by another claiming the loss of the plane was a giant government conspiracy. These seem to be the inevitable exploitive accompaniments to all tragedies these days.

Green Men are found in many cultures. They are commonly a symbol of rebirth and regeneration, the spring greening that inevitably follows the dying of winter.

I’m fascinated with them. I have two of them, one in the back yard garden near the peach tree:

Photobucket

The lovely lady to the left of him is the Roman goddess Flora, and the lady on the right is simply named Ivy. The man himself is cast iron and he is aging gracefully, starting to rust in interesting patterns.

I also have a Green Man inside, in my room:

Photobucket

He’s smaller, also made of metal, but I doubt he’s copper as the green of him suggests. I believe the “aging” on this one is artificial—but I still think he’s rather cool. Here’s the grouping in which he sits, right next to Freya and the prayer sticks, which you may remember from past entries:

Photobucket

Truth is, I’d have more Green Men if I had the space and money (so it’s probably a good thing that I don’t). I like the ones with serious and slightly sinister expressions, and I like them to be made of serious natural materials like metal, not these comical cast resin ones that you see here and there and everywhere (though I admit, Flora and Ivy are cast resin). Why am I so fascinated with these Green Man images?

This post is really about Nature.

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That’s the name of this pen and ink drawing, done by my friend, Francesca, back when she and my roommates-at-the-time shared a studio in Venice, California. It’s a fairly accurate portrait, in an abstract way. Back then, I had one of those long, very curly perms. I loved my hair like that, but it was such a commitment of salon time to keep it up because my hair is naturally fine and string straight (all except for one mutant wave at the back of my head). Also, those perms really damaged my hair. So I didn’t keep it for long and I have hardly any pictures of me like that. Certainly none that I’ve scanned.

I did receive quite a bit of positive male attention with that hair, though. Lynn and I spent many weekend nights going to the Whisky à GoGo on the Sunset Strip, Madame Wong’s in Chinatown, and many other places of the rocking and the rolling variety. Great fun and we saw a number of good bands. Later, I went the full punk treatment, with hair only an inch long except for one long trailing bit of hair down my back and a little crest on the crown of my head. The boys were not quite as fond of that haircut. In fact, some of them stopped talking to me, assuming I’d lost interest in boys. It’s amazing what some people will assume on scant evidence. C’est la guerre, c’est l’amour. I don’t even have a pen and ink drawing of me with that haircut. I was quite camera averse in those days. Carl moved in with us about this time, which confused the upstairs neighbors a great deal. They wondered if he was gay, but they also wondered about the sleeping arrangements because…only two bedrooms. We didn’t clarify things to straighten out their rumpled assumptions. Not their business. We found the whole thing rather funny.

Also accurate about this portrait is the worried look on my face. I suspect I looked like that quite a lot in those days. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. But I don’t think I’ll talk about the worst of times. Maybe in another post. Maybe not. When I look at this drawing, I tend to only remember the good times, the laughs, to feel warm inside.

This post is really about where we lived.

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