Travels with Lemmy: In Search of


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After two years of exploring some of California, barely making a dent,

I’m heading back east (and south, to a place I’ve never been…) with a lemon tree and two stacks of books. Trying to make room in the put-put mobile for a case of water, flashlight and other good-to-have survivally things, just in case, but it’s a small car and choices must be made. Forget the cooler and pillows. Who needs cold drinks and refreshing grapes when there’s a lemon tree in the back seat ready to experience the world beyond this balcony and listen to me sing with Tom Waits for hours then days? I don’t know when the lemon tree weaseled so much precious space for itself, it makes more sense to gift it to a neighbor, but I’m attached. I don’t have any animals or young humans but there’s a good thing going between the flora and I. If this tree survives I’m giving her a name and crocheting her a scarf. It’s just you and me, Lemmy.

As for the stacks of books, they’re my friends. If anything bad happens, I can chew the pages, wear the pages or fashion some kind of shelter from the pages. Defend myself with the threat of papercuts or throw a heavy book, grab Lemmy and hide. I’m not Vin Diesel.

I’ve always wanted to take a cross-country road trip. This dream road trip took place in the kind of car you don’t look at and wonder if it has 3000 miles in it. I imagined bouncing from the biggest ball of yarn to towns like Williams, Arizona with kitschy main streets where you can taste the dirt off Route 66. And I was always heading west. Westward bound road trips make more sense as the landscape unfolds. Some day I’ll take that trip. This one’s about transportation and shaking things off. Someone wrote that the desert empties you out and that sounds good.

I love California, but haven’t loved living here. Plus I miss my nieces! I can’t wait to go to band concerts (my little drummer girl) and track meets (another runner). This week I’m filling boxes, stubbing toes and bidding adieu for now to the Pacific and California’s awesome vegetation.

Poppies in Golden Gate
Glass Beach, Fort Bragg, CA
My most favorite food in the bay area…veg tacos from the Cochinita food truck = avocado, sweet plantains, cabbage, red sauce and pickled onions!

Questions: Which way do I go? Where do I stop? Who’s out there? Would anybody watch a reality show exactly like Shark Tank only without the sharks in which I tell you about all of my good ideas? Tease: Bean bag train!

You’re not special agent Dale Cooper


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Washington state is as green and Twin Peaksy as promised. I was riding with special agent Dale Cooper (in my mind), marveling at the Douglas Firs while Angelo Badalamenti’s dreamy soundtrack carried us away. The purpose I’d arrived with went out the window once we were free of traffic and really actually nearing hollowed ground a most special place. Yes, let’s do this instead.

You think David Lynch took this road? He must’ve, right? This isn’t the road from the intro. 

Where’s that road? Why didn’t we take THE road?

Someone might’ve wanted to wrap me in plastic and drop me in the river by the time we arrived. They can’t all be special agent Dale Cooper. None of them are. To be fair, I’m especially annoying after flying. It’s all the bundled nerves and restlessness to blame, not me. Somewhere deep inside I’m awesome and forgiven because if loving Twin Peaks makes some people a little nutty, stepping into the place casts a spell. We were there! You hear Snoqualmie Falls then turn a corner and there’s the lodge posing as a fancy spa place. It’s almost too much. Curses to me for not planning this. I only had about two hours to soak it in.

Here is the land of log lady. The park is small and busy, a lovely place so lush those of us sick of California’s smoggy, droughty blahness slurp the air.

Yum. Tastes like Christmas trees and donuts.

All we need, all we’ve ever really needed is, excuse me, a damn fine cup of coffee.

An angel at the falls urged us to check out another place just down the road. (There’s so much to see. Locations we didn’t have time for include the sheriff’s station and place where Laura, Donna and James had their picnic.) None of this was part of the day’s plan. I love Twin Peaks but it wasn’t top of mind when I unboarded the plane. I haven’t re-watched it in years in order to preserve the atmosphere for future me. Greatness is basically like scratch n’ sniff stickers – get greedy and the strawberry shortcake turns back into a piece of paper. I went to Washington for a reason. Didn’t I have things to do? Maybe, but they couldn’t compete with sitting in Norma’s booth at the Double R diner, aka Twede’s Cafe.

Hello, beautiful. My pictures don’t do this place justice. It’s a surreal experience, stepping inside to the booths and long counters down the middle, the ordinary smell of fried sides and fresh coffee as a few alluring notes from Audrey’s Dance quietly accompany each swaying step. If only people would sway more.

Not a single fish in the percolator. Can you believe it?

They have the original menu from the show!

And a section in the back with photos from the filming and merch. Yeah, of course it’s touristy and pricey, but so worth the visit. Below you can see the trash can and floor mats. Ahhhh. I didn’t think to get many pictures when we first arrived and the place was mostly empty. They were busier when we left and I didn’t know how to politely ask diners to get out so I could get better pics. GET OUT NOW, PLEASE JUST LEAVE YOU’RE RUINING EVERYTHING didn’t strike as quite right. Oh, well. Being here made me so happy I didn’t feel like myself. What’s this thing on my face making my lips turn up?

I couldn’t try the pie (allergies) but my not-Dale-Cooper friend approved. Sadly, his exact words were not “I plan on writing an epic poem about this gorgeous pie.” Coffee was fine if not served in the correct vessel. Details! But that’s okay. Just sway.

My very fine, totally real soul mate once said to Harry and, by extension, me: “I have no idea where this will lead us. But I have a definite feeling it will be a place both wonderful and strange.” Here’s to hoping he’s right. See you in my dreams, Twin Peaks.

When The Blair Witch Project was real


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The annual October Horror Movie Challenge has commenced in my world. The challenge is Xtreme: My sisters and I must watch 31 horror movies, shows or whatever in 31 days or else. Stakes are Xtremely high: To fail is to not win. To win is to receive a package containing something nobody knows they want. Last year I sent completers my old karate trophies.

It’s already the 5th and I’m behind but that’s okay because everybody loves an underdog. M. Night Shyamalan’s Old (1/31) was quite the disappointment. His movies are all over the place, but I’ll watch anything he makes once. When he’s good he’s really good. The Visit is everything I hope for when turning off the lights and pulling up my feet. To watch scary movies with your feet touching the floor is to tempt a killer into chopping them off. It’s not worth the risk. Old was not worth pulling up my feet for. It’s hung on a what-if concept perfect for a short, but doesn’t manage to go anywhere with any of the boring characters until finally we reach the oh-good-it’s-over end. No fun.

I’m feeling homesick so tonight the lights are going off for The Blair Witch Project. I don’t re-watch this movie often because the memory is special and every time I re-watch a little bit is lost, like trying to preserve the smell of someone’s shirt by keeping it locked away. I saw it for the first time with my sister and her then boyfriend-now-my-brother-in-law when they were visiting from college an epoch ago. We lived in a house we haunted ourselves surrounded by horse farms and woods in Central NJ, the same sort of scrappy woods the movie’s set in. The nearest movie theater was a 40-minute drive along a dark wooded backroad. The long drive was part of the appeal as we took my silver ’86 Saab with maroon interior and I’ll never love like I loved that car.

None of us knew anything about the movie other than that it was possibly real. We heard it was a true story, not based on a true story, but that the footage was…real. It didn’t occur to us to doubt. Who’d lie to us? Why would they do that? Now I know that’s exactly what they were going for. They pulled out some old tried and true marketing tricks for this movie, creating viral campaigns before social media platforms existed. Our need to see The Blair Witch Project was propelled by word of mouth, but whose mouth? Who said those kids and what happened to them was real? It worked for us. We didn’t know what found footage movies were. Cannibal Holocaust (1980) was just a title on a VHS box that we weren’t allowed to rent yet and didn’t really want to because ew.

The movie scared us and not in a momentary gotcha jump scare then we all laugh way. The woods looked like the same woods along the Delaware River where we camped every summer. The college students were like us, interested in local lore. Heather probably read magazines like Weird NJ then went on long drives hunting for vortexes and figures under bridges. We felt their early unease when everything starts to look the same, the sick feeling of realizing you’re lost and just spent hours going in a circle. The physical discomforts of hunger, exhaustion and feeling dirty and frustrated combined with escalating dread when the noises and the hanging sticks show the problem is bigger than a lost map. They’re in danger. Something is out there. We whispered from our seats, Wait, didn’t it say they disappeared?

We drove home avoiding eerie silence still not sure if the movie was real or not. It was later and darker and the woods looked different. Nobody wanted to ride alone in the backseat so I got to play chauffer while my sister joined her fellow in the back. I reminded them the driver usually dies first, heroically, while the passengers climb out broken windows and make a run for it, never getting very far. Such silliness wouldn’t happen with the Blair Witch though. First we’d suffer for days, thinking we had every opportunity to find our way home, to save ourselves and we couldn’t.

We tried to fill the drive with what-ifs and agreed to not go into abandoned houses in the woods. We haven’t kept that agreement. Now abandoned houses are hiking highlights, oddly referred to as ruins even though they’re maybe 100 years old. Who can resist ruins? At night, I can. Anyway, as the driver I kind of had to keep my eyes open but tried not to see anything beyond the small pocket of road illuminated by the beams of my beloved. From the safety of the crowded backseat my sister encouraged harder pressing of the gas pedal, but I’ve always driven like a grandma basically sitting on top of the steering wheel even that night with darkness chasing us and the terrified voices of three disappeared students echoing in our heads.

Finally, we pulled up the gravel driveway to a dark, empty house full of heavy antiques and one worn Ouija board with faded letters and our fingerprints all over the planchette. It was a first, coming home from a horror movie still frightened by what we saw and didn’t see. Bravo, Blair Witch. See you soon.

can you hold this for me?


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My sister gave me a clutch for my birthday because I don’t do purses or wallets and she was sick of me asking her to hold my necessaries like license, debit card, lip balm and tissues, sometimes I like to bring a hat to maybe wear and always a book. She’s a mom and happens to have a gigantic purse with plenty of room for me. It’s a symbiotic relationship. I don’t travel light and it’s nice to have a human with me to hold all of my things. That’s why I was very excited back when they started making fanny packs for men, but nothing came of it. Call it a failure in my powers of persuasion. You try convincing a man that fanny packs are hot.

The clutch is my favorite color and it dangles off my wrist so my hands are free to wave and communicate when drivers nearly bump us in parking lots. I’m cleaning up my language here, but there are loopholes.

Are you giving them the finger?


The clutch isn’t big enough to hold a book, if it were it’d be a purse and I hate purses so books don’t come with me on errands anymore. The end of an era. Tata. That’s fine. The habit was out of control anyway. I’ve never read a book in the grocery store yet I used to bring one, sometimes two, in my boyfriend’s bag. Why? It takes at least six hours to read a book. I try to be in and out of grocery stores in about six minutes no matter how many things don’t get crossed off the list. An up-and-down-every-aisle trip would probably destroy me. Gotta go.

The books were mostly for subway reading or the-person-I’m-meeting-is-late-and-I’m-uncomfortable-in-public reading. Regardless I don’t ride the subway anymore, I ride my bike. Nobody reads and rides a bike. Some people can ride bikes and when their hair gets in their face they can take a hand off the handle bars and brush the hair away. Not I. This lady must stop all forward motion, disembark from the seat and then tuck the rogue hair into helmet while cursing it. Live the life you deserve, hair.

My sisters and I lead very different lives. I’m cursing my own hair while they’re running businesses and raising children. I admire and envy them, and somehow give them the worst gifts. There was the year of the spiralizer. Everyone I love got a spiralizer for Christmas because I couldn’t sleep and informercials came on and by the third hour I was convinced we’d all be living it up on zucchini noodles. What made the spiralizer year sad wasn’t only that they all broke right away, but that it came in a box the size and shape and weight of something good, like a toy from the Fun Box Monster Emporium in Portland, Maine (luv this place). They were all so excited, tore off the dollar store paper at the same time and then they got spiralizers.

This year my sister gave me a clutch that I use all the time when she’s not around. I would like to find her something as thoughtful and handy. If it’s just that thought that counts I’m good to go. The problem is I keep going back to bloody toes and fingers in this one Etsy shop I want to be best friends forever with, DeadGoatCompany. Does she need them? No. They also have severed ears and ripped out eyeballs. You get to choose gore and rot level! Ew. Just a little bit for her, thanks. I put them in a cart with her address just to see how it’d all look in the cart and it looks right. The heart wants what the heart wants. She’ll get her package of severed body parts and call to tell me I’m her sinking ship on this sea of shitake and I’ll finally forgive myself for the spiralizers and say That’s what sisters are for.

banana slug club

roaming mode


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I rode an elevator with a judgy dog this weekend. She was some kind of mix with three different types of fur and she sat on my feet as we rode up. Her human said she only sits on lonely females. Excuse you, sir. I think he meant to say “solo” or “females who are alone”, maybe, but he called me lonely and I laughed my elevator almost-to-my-floor laugh then stepped off and stewed. Where’d my good mood go?

Garden of the Gods

I flew back to Colorado to hike a mountain not to be pity sat on by a cute dog. California has mountains, but California is on fire and many of the forests not on fire were closed in case of fire. On the way over, the pilot directed our attention to thick grey smoke from the Caldor fire near Tahoe and the enormity of what those firefighters are confronting once again. A little phrase races around my head now in place of knocking on wood or tapping my chin or any other auto ticks performed to break a jinx or detract something dark. Instead it’s a chant of protection for firefighters, animals and homes – even the bears. Okay, sometimes I include myself as in please keep the bears safe AND away from me.

The big plan was to hike a 14er. One whole day of not thinking about anything but the path in front of me all the way to the peak and back. I wanted that top of the mountain satisfaction and a peaceful lunch with the birds. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches taste better on mountains. Viewing other mountains from a summit and wanting to hike every one of them is a similar sensation to walking through the shelves of a massive library and wanting to read every book and knowing we can’t. There are more mountains and good books than we have time for in our short lifespans.

Sometimes it’s fun to be choosy and make a destination of a particular mountain that’s gotten under your skin, for me that was Mount Washington. It’s fun when it works out, but lately smoke and heat are stopping me.

I didn’t hike my 14er. Maybe it was the altitude or being a mile closer to the sun on a hot day. I turned back because everything felt off and shaky. Maybe I didn’t train or acclimate enough. In any case, I was still in a beautiful place surrounded by a skyline of mountain tops and feeling physically better when the dog plopped on my feet and the dog’s human threw me off my balance with his presumptuous translation. To react or not to react?

They say Cathedral Spires, I say “okay” fingers or hand goggles

My library offered free subscriptions to Calm, a meditation site, and I signed up because my body won’t nap and I need a mid-day activity to keep from going mentally stir crazy. So far it’s been worth the two minutes it took to sign up. Meditations are guided in soothing NPR voices and afterwards I feel very adult. One of the calming anxiety meditations focuses on not wasting energy reacting. Instead you label thoughts like “Okay, that was a sad thought” or “Okay, that’s an anxious thought” and then move on rather than dwelling. This all sounded very doable during the 12-minute meditation. Then it ended and I went back to the workity work on the computer, forgetting my lesson for a few weeks. Reacting to a stranger’s thoughtless comment would’ve cost more than I cared to spend on what was supposed to be a break. A friendly dog said hi was all. That was a disingenuous thought.

I do miss my family. I’m still nursing a trampoline injury from my last visit so every time I twist my leg a certain way I think of bouncing around with my darling nieces. I wish I was there.

Pikes Peak

Colorado was a nice respite. I wandered around the mostly flat Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. The city is at an elevation of over 6,035 ft., just under Mount Washington’s 6,288 ft. It was storming the night I arrived, but the place felt like a desert by day – I guess I’m spoiled by fog and ocean breezes. Arriving early meant beating crowds and the worst of the heat. I wanted to stay and watch how the shades and shapes change throughout the day, but my layers and layers of sunscreen were no match for the sun.

Curious to see how it’d feel to run at a higher altitude, I went for a run at Bear Creek Regional Park before leaving. Olympians train here! I shall run with the Olympians, like an Olympian. Never have I ever needed so many walk breaks on a 4-mile run. I was up early, I thought, but the sun was up and firing even earlier. Hardy residents were out with their dogs smiling like we weren’t roasting in an oven. A woman with a golden doodle stopped to help me figure out a loop on the map. Her dog rubbed against my hand. She kindly refrained from existentialism and instead directed me around through a sort of canyon where, after a mile of not seeing any people, I came across a track and then fresh bear scat. It was time to turn around anyway. All humans of dogs are against me. That was a paranoid thought. A bear is going to get me. That was a frightened thought.

While we’re on the subject of Colorado, Resident Alien on SYFY is set there and it’s a funny show full of wintry mountains. You may recognize the star Alan Tudyk as Wash from the space western Firefly, and the movie Serenity. Horror fans know him as Tucker from Tucker & Dale vs. Evil. Well, now he’s in another charming gem of spacey entertainment. As someone who has trouble connecting with other humans, I lala love this show.

Say cheese, naked ladies. Sayonara, skanky flip


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One of my sisters was a florist before allergies made her change professions. Still I assume she knows everything about every flower because she almost does. She’s one of those incredibly intelligent, capable maniacs the world is lucky to have. Regardless of where it grows or how delicate its petals, if one of her brides wanted a particular flower in her hair, bouquet or twirling in the air just so, my sister found a way to make it happen. So I didn’t think much of sending her pictures of naked ladies. Lots of pictures of naked ladies with appropriate subject lines.

Oh, more naked ladies… Naked ladies by the beach…

I thought they’d make her day. When she didn’t respond I did what I do: took offense and doubled down.

Naked ladies by the highway!

Why are you ignoring me? Do you not like naked ladies?

bare in the Presidio

I couldn’t stop with the naked ladies. It takes me a minute to figure out how to text her these delightful pictures. Never occurred to me she assumed all my naked lady pics were spoofy spam.

Finally I go old school and ring her up on my fancy phone. This is my first call on my very own smart phone and I’m an adult. According to the guy in the Sprint store in Brooklyn before we moved, it’s just oldies, skankies, dealers and me holding on to the flip phones. His actual words were something about people only using flips for burners or to give to grandparents for emergencies but I took his words to heart, mildly. It was almost time to upgrade, maybe. Another year and some months later, behold a free upgrade swings my way. Alas! It didn’t apply to the one flip phone model the store carried. So I upgraded and now empathize with my dad’s horror when my sister gifted him his first microwave in the 90s. These things are not to be trusted, I know, but they do take better photos. Sorry, Flip, your memory will live on every time I send a text message and don’t have to hit the 1 button three times to get the letter “c”. Good times.

My sister never heard of the Naked Lady, Amaryllis Belladonna. I couldn’t believe it. They smell so sweet, especially clustered in a eucalyptus grove. Come visit, I text. Then, like lightning, I text No don’t. If I had to text on my flip phone she may have booked a ticket by the time it took me to remind her of the lousy air quality. I think that’s why I missed the naked ladies until now. So far this year I’ve only been here for a few really bad air quality days. Last year, the fires were much closer and all around. We basically stayed indoors from mid-August until October.

Other places have it much worse right now, but I’d love to get back on a plane heading east.

Unfortunately, air quality is too unpredictable for family visits. Now is the time for west coast peeps to visit east coast peeps, but I just got back. Bad timing for me. I spent June in Maine and Colorado, and most of July in NJ and PA savoring the green and humidity. I took a nap on a hammock on a rainy day and woke up soaked and happy. At night we watched fireflies then projected Grease on an outdoor screen. It was my nieces’ first time seeing the movie and what a different experience for aunty me. Danny Zuko was a jerk to Sandy over and over again. What? After all these years we’ve been singing and dancing with him, he changes? His big arc is putting on a sweater while she changes her personality to be with him, takes up smoking and sews herself into leather pants? Pass.

That’s strike 2. Strike 1 was Killer Klowns from Outer Space (a favorite of mine – don’t pass). Apparently they’re not old enough to appreciate the glory of practical effects and makeup, the horror of shadow puppet monsters.

The girls didn’t love watching Killer Klowns. I didn’t love what they made me do either. They made me wear a VR set and play Five Nights at Freddy’s. I fell down when Chica came for me. I fell down when Bonnie came for me. Then they made me take an elevator the top floor of a skyscraper, walk the plank and jump off. This is what they do for fun. I fell down again. VR is too much for me. Maybe I should’ve stuck with my flip. Oldies and skankies, rollout!

shot through the arm and dogs don’t fly


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I forgot my fellow is afraid of needles, pale cold sweats sometimes fainting phobic. I forgot because I love them. Give them to me. Ouch. More. Ouch. More. I was thinking of how long it’s been since I’ve been stabbed and thinking of Ren and Stimpy giving shots to each other for some reason. Remember Ren and Stimpy, fellow young people? And of course Bon Jovi accompanied us on the drive. The first appointments we could get were at the Levi’s Stadium. Thought it’d be fun to see where the 49ers play, but then we read that people were standing in the sun waiting for hours. We were lucky enough to get appointments at a nearby pharmacy instead.

Vaccination means moving on, seeing my little buddies for the first time in over a year. We’ve read the first two Harry Potter books in our Zoom book club and on weekends we squeeze in a few rounds of Among Us so they can murder me, but it’s not the same as seeing them in person. Once I’m fully vaccinated, I’m going surprise them, hide in their closet and scare them so good they’ll never open a closet door again without a bracing pause. It’s cool. This how we express love in my family.

I was thinking of my nieces when the pharmacist asked me to comfort him. Who? Oh yeah. Last time my fellow got a needle for a blood test he nearly passed out. So I went in to hold his hand. The pharmacist was nice but she kept talking about the shot and doing a count down that made him jittery. He needed some distraction but my mind was back to Ren and Stimpy and gigantic needles that go straight through you.

I squeezed his hand and reminded him to be thankful for the pointy things. Like at least the needle wasn’t going up his bum. He took issue with that. My sister swears booster shots used to be administered in the cheeky bottoms area and the needles used to be much bigger. My only childhood needle memories involve this sister drawing my other sisters and I getting stabbed by needles bigger than our bodies. She does love us.

The pharmacist pinched and then it was over. No big deal now do me. Best of all, our site was next to a Trader Joe’s so now I’m eating cookies because I was so brave. We were advised to pop & lock to reduce soreness, which means it’s time to switch up the tunes, Bon Jovi.

Hopefully any side effects are gone by the weekend. The green hills are already turning brown and I want to enjoy a few more trail runs with the wildflowers before they’re gone. This past weekend we went to Pinnacles National Park hoping to see a Condor. Small for a national park, Pinnacles is a beautiful place to hike and it’s always fun to add a stamp our park passports. We arrived at 7am and the parking lot at Bear Gulch was half full. There was a line of 80+ cars waiting to get in when we left in the afternoon. Heading back we stopped in Gilroy so my fellow could try garlic ice cream. He’s very brave.

We turned a corner and saw a big black dog in a tree? With a pink head and ruffled collar? With a wingspan of 9 feet?
wildflowers at Pinnacles
view from High Peaks trail at Pinnacles

not a ghost, just me beasting


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Yesterday I was so happy. Blue skies at last. Yay! The CZU fire is the one closest to us, not so close anymore, and it’s now 26% contained thanks to the thousands of firefighters working endlessly for a second week in a row. It felt so good to step outside and open our windows. The air purifier we ordered last week is still on its way so our apartment got pretty stuffy. We’ve tried to keep the doors and windows sealed tight. A few days ago our air quality was close to 250, which is very bad. Yesterday strong ocean winds took it down to the 20s. Now we’re back in the red.

Flights to the east coast are so cheap right now. I was tempted to fly back to play with my nieces, hike in the Catskills again and escape the smoke, but nooooo. Covid risk is the reason why flights are so cheap. Oh yeah, the pandemic. The fires were all consuming this last week; I almost forgot we’d be wearing masks outside anyway. I almost forgot now’s not the time to fly and visit family. Inside this apartment we stay.

My calves started to melt a few days in, that awful feeling of atrophy. I jogged around our apartment loop after loop. It didn’t go well. Grumpkins started making cameos. Moody Me takes over whenever I miss more than a few days of running. We decided to try some HIIT workouts on YouTube to get some cardio. I couldn’t do more than 10 minutes at a time because it’s so steamy in our apartment, but beasting 10-minute HIITs twice a day is equivalent to running up and down a dozen mountains. Didn’t you know that? Okay, we didn’t “beast” the workouts, but we tried. In order to “beast” a workout I think you have to be able to say “beast it” like you mean it.

HIITs are magical. I started feeling like myself again with a pumping heart and everything. Pamela Reif’s classes are my favorite. Her workouts are like eating too much wasabi – first very painful and then your whole body wants more and then you eat more and you’re like Why? But the after feels so good. It’s a brutal cycle.

Waking up everyday to heavy smoke outside and red dots over our area started getting to me this week. I’d check purpleair first thing hoping our windows were just dirty. Must distract myself. We do still have six boxes to unpack but now I have a block on that. Staying indoors, having zero physical interaction with the outside world makes life feel like one long bad news, steamy stale day. I miss the screams of kids playing outside and riding their scooters around.

What if we’re residual ghosts trapped here? We’re going through the motions while living people occasionally feel the floor shake from our side jump squats or the whoosh of heavy breathing after another burst of high knees. Disembodied voices chanting Higher! Beast it!

I shared this nagging suspicion with my fellow now that we’re once again in the triple digit air quality zone and back to being trapped inside, not expecting judgement because we did just watch Beetlejuice and I think the movie holds up. This would explain why we keep finding the cabinets open. It’d also explain the light over our dining table. Flick the switch and 90 minutes later it turns on. How is that useful? He made the point that if we were ghosts we wouldn’t be doing HIIT workouts in an apartment we just moved into. I like to think that’s true. I may be the one leaving the cabinets open but the dining light is a mystery.

Yesterday we were able to run a few miles and start shaking off this heavy feeling in my calves. Last night we watched Zombie Tidal Wave to keep our spirits up. Today I started crocheting Sam Hain dolls for the ones I love. Some positive local news is trickling in. Though fires are still burning, the marine layer seems to be helping the firefighters gain ground. They managed to save the Lick Observatory from flames of the SCU fire. Many of Big Basin’s ancient redwoods are reported to have survived the fire and that’s something to be thankful for.

People have lost their homes. Keeping our windows shut for a few days is nothing really. I think it was the first book I read on California since moving here, Trees in Paradise: A California History by Jared Farmer, that described the state as a land of extremes. Yesterday we ran with bay breezes and sea fennel. This morning my mouth felt like I’d licked a camp fire after watering the plants for 2 minutes. We’re already getting a taste of those extremes.

Walking among redwoods that have stood for thousands of years is a special experience I’m still hoping to share with my nieces if they ever visit. There’s a sense of protection and physical connection that stays with you and pulls you back. I’m hoping Big Basin and the communities impacted recover with the support of everyone who values them.

No exploring for us this weekend. Fingers crossed for open windows and heavy marine layers.

Inside a fairy ring in Purisima Creek
Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve on the western slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains

Smoke on the ridge and everywhere else


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I just told my fellow “I don’t need to smoke your ear” in response to his question “Do you want more coffee?” Smoke is in my head and outside our closed windows. The second big negative I thought about when he told me about his Bay Area job offer back in February was wild fire. Now here we are with fires burning north, south, east and southwest of us. According to the Chronicle, the Bay Area has the worst air quality in the world right now.

Smoke rolled in yesterday evening and we immediately closed all windows even though we’re in a heat wave. Dozens of fires were sparked by the thousands of lightning strikes that hit Sunday-Monday. The lightning was beyond anything I’ve ever seen. The sky rumbled and it felt like a dozen crotch rockets doing donuts around you. Lightning bolts cracked, throbbed and flashed with splintered bolts that lit up everything like flicking a light switch in a dark closet. It was mesmerizing to watch. I had no idea how dangerous lightning is here when it’s so dry. I was only thinking about how much I miss summer storms on the east coast.

The storm woke me up at 3 am Sunday morning. The sky was still ripping apart when we started our long run at 7, thinking it had to be almost over. Guess who turned around real quick? Suddenly all I could think about was what the lightning could be hitting. We saw some smoke on the west side of the Santa Cruz Mountains just south of Half Moon Bay on Sunday. We reported it, feeling a bit silly because maybe it was just a camper. We later learned dozens of fires by lightning had already been reported.

I had an appointment in Palo Alto this afternoon and watched smoke rise and spread from the ridge line while people went about their day. The doctor said the fires happen every year, but not usually everywhere all at the same time. Now we’re getting the smoke from the burning woods and hills. From where we can see it looks like some of our favorite places are burning, including Russian Ridge. Big Basin, California’s first state park is surrounded by fire.

Here’s a picture from our first Russian Ridge hike in May.

Russian Ridge on a foggy morning
Russian Ridge fog

Big Basin on a better day.

Big Basin redwoods
Berry Creek Falls trail
summer waterfall in Big Basin
Big Basin fairy ring

Our car had a layer of ash on it today. Little particles of ash in the air look like gentle snow. The sun was a bright red dot in a dark grey haze this morning and I realized before checking the news that the fires probably spread and more people were probably forced to flee their homes. Where do they go? Evacuation orders yesterday detailed which roads and directions to take. Some places provided evacuations centers but with Covid concerns I wonder where most evacuees go if they don’t have family nearby. Meanwhile there are empty apartments all over the peninsula and San Francisco.

I have a California folder and until this week it was full of only fun stuff: places to hike, eat, run, swim, ride, paddle and take people when they visit, as well as long road trips. I love bookmarking fun things to do later when Covid is a bad memory. There’s also a file for books, movies and shows about or set in California. I want to make the most of our time here because it doesn’t feel like a place to build a life in long term. Now I’ve added another no-fun but necessary file to fill with pragmatic things like emergency supply checklists and the Chronicle’s Air Quality Tracker.

I ordered an air purifier because this is all a first for us and we don’t know how long we’ll be sealed inside. It already feels like we’re living inside of our face masks, breathing the same hot still air. For the foreseeable future we’re staying inside as much as possible and wishing the weather would be as generous with cold rain as it was with lightning.

eucalyptus lifemarks and moving bookmarks


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Matt Davis trail from Stinson Beach

We moved into our new apartment two weeks ago. It doesn’t have vaulted ceilings or a fireplace. I know, life is tough. At first glance, it seemed like all Bay Area apartments were luxurious shoe boxes. What we really wanted was a little breathing room within our budget and we finally found that. Only after moving in did we realize the property is shaded by eucalyptus trees and therefore naturally smells like we tried to make our Brooklyn apartment smell via essential oils. The real thing is much preferred and also sounds comforting on breezy days. I made the mistake of telling my dad and he promptly smashed that comfort. This is why we call him DadSmash.

DadSmash strikes at random and not very often so I forget. I call to tell him something fun and sometimes he smashes it. Like when we were planning a camping trip on Lake George. The beauty of camping there is some of the spots are on islands you have to paddle out to. Bears don’t paddle and I’m afraid of bears soooooo I was excited to spend a few days hiking and camping on a lake without fear of bears. Then DadSmash calls to laugh at a fact I’d neglected to acknowledge: Bears can swim.

My father puts horseradish on everything. I brought him a jar of beet horseradish last summer thinking he’d like to try something new. DadSmash says beets’ll kill you. I didn’t exactly insist he eat his weight in beets, but now I can’t be trusted in the kitchen.

I sent him a picture of the eucalyptus trees outside our balcony and he responded with the subject line ‘LOOKOUT’ (all caps his) and a link to an article on wind knocking over limbs and whole trees in another part of the region. I can’t stop trees from falling, but I can enjoy inhaling through my nose after a decade of mouth-breathing. My only concern with the trees is in having a good time, positive associations since smell is the strongest memory sense. Eucalyptus will always remind me of our first year in California, like a lifemark, so it better be a good one.

It’s been a long time since I had to unpack in a new home. When we started cleaning, purging and packing in March and April moving often seemed impossible to do at all let alone during a pandemic. Yet people do it all the time. I tried to imagine getting here then getting past apartment hunting to this point, and I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t see beyond uprooting our life in Brooklyn to us actually living here with our mugs and pans and blankets. Now we’re here and those things are here, too.

Now it feels real. This is where we live now.

The next challenge will be unpacking the rest of the boxes. We set up our living room, bed and pulled out what we needed to cook. Then we got tired and, inspired by Community’s pillow fort episode, made a fort with the boxes instead of finding places for the things inside of them.

We lived out of suitcases for two months and it was relaxing to have so few clothes to choose from, so few things in general. Moving made me very aware of our things, every physical object we hold on to. The movers said we were average in terms of the quantity and weight of our stuff, but I think it’d be nice to continue pairing down. Later. For now, I think it could be fun to work and eat and watch our stories in a box fort. Then again, we mostly used boxes from the liquor store so that might not make the best impression on new colleagues.

The suitcase I flew here with was stuffed with running clothes, hoodies (I thought it was supposed to be chilly here) and books. I was feeling very adult in our temporary relocation housing because it was so fancy. Then I hosted the first Harry Potter book club meeting via Zoom and it was my 9-year-old niece, as usual, who gave it to me straight. “We’re wearing the same play pants!” So not feeling very adult anymore. I should probably dig into the clothing boxes and put on something with structure.

The book boxes are what I’m looking. I knew I’d regret my lazy labeling in March and April, but being here was so far away. I spent hours at a time packing boxes and yet grabbing a sharpie and jotting down what was in those boxes was just too much work. So I’m sifting through boxes of Jameson and Sauza, looking for pencil scratchings. If I’m lucky, I’ll find a word like “dots” written in my handwriting because back in March I thought future me would remember wrapping my picture frames in polka dotted tissue paper. I guess I did.

Most of all I’m looking for my old bookmarks. I used to have a nice stack from Strand and libraries. Then we changed address and I fell to an old habit of using what’s within reach. My fellow took some pictures. Moving bookmarks have included the following.

a classy cookie wrapper
other books
They can’t tell there’s a snack inside.