Tropical Storm Hector: Day 2

The Vinorama Arroyo began to run on Aug 15th.

August 15, Day 2 of rain compliments of Tropical Storm Hector

Last night the wind picked up tremendously, same hour as last night, 2am, but this time the whole house shook and the windows were flexing and groaning in a way that made me uneasy. No naked patio forays this night. Instead I said a little prayer and tried to go back to sleep. No dice…too much wind, too much noise. It was probably close to 5am by the time I fell back to sleep. At 7am I was groggy, but awake, and discovered it’s still raining with little indication of letting up! I get up, excited to see if it rained enough for water to penetrate the crust that’s been baked solid over the last four years. But first I check the bucket out in the driveway to see how much rain fell – just short of one inch. It’s a good start.

Downstairs I inspect the rooms and discover that some rain has managed to come in under a few doors. I retrieve the mop and return to the North bedroom when suddenly something scuttles behind the door. I let out a small cry as I instinctively jump back. It must be a mouse, so I call Peanut, but expert mouser. She ignores me and so I take a closer look. It turns out to be a sand crab! He’s holding his pincers high in defence and has shoved his large, for a sand crab, body between the doorstop and the door, using the stop as armor I suppose. Apparently I wasn’t the only one unsettled by the storm’s surge last night. I get a bucket and after several attempts to coral him into it, I’ve got him. Back to the beach with him.

Do you suppose he’s going to EAT that cockroach?

I decide to take a drive down to the arroyo and see if it’s flowing. Zee and Lobo follow me down the driveway, so at the gate I tell Zee, “Stay home Zee.” She’s such a sweet and obedient dog, unlike Dakini and Lobo, she never follows me – even when she could still see. At the arroyo, the water is running slowly in a narrow rivulet, making large pools here and there, turning the fine dirt of the arroyo into sticky mud. I drive out to the beach and marvel at the colors of the waves – sandy brown, aquamarine and then deep marine blue closer to the horizon. The sky is light grey closest to me, but there is a dark, grey-blue cloud bank marching towards us from the Northeast and I can just make out the sheets of rain at its leading edge.

That’s my house on the hill off in the distance.

It’s best to get going if I don’t want to get caught in the downpour and turn to see Dakini and Lobo, followed by a caramel colored male Pitbull I’ve never seen, crossing a large pool of water in the middle of the arroyo. Silly dogs, I think.

On my way home I stop to say a quick hello to my neighbor’s Cris and Dave. On my way up the hill to their house, I notice a heavy-set Mexican man with unkempt curly hair in a white t-shirt carrying a heavy chain in his hand with a white and brindle female pitbull. I nod in his direction and figure that the other pitbull is his and he’s going to retrieve him (the chain being his version of a leash).

Cris greets me as I pull into their driveway and before we finish our greetings, David yells something unintelligible from inside the house. We look at each other curiously and then David comes charging out the door and gasps, “There’s a dog fight on the road down in front of the house!” I picture Lobo or Dakini in a pitbull’s vice-grip jaws, jump back on my ATV and tear down the hill to see what’s happened, my heart in my throat.

Curly already has the two pits behind the now closed gate of the property he looks after. There is a third short white dog, not mine, limping and holding his right front paw up, blood trickling from a small wound on the back of it. I ask the caretaker what happened and who attacked who. He points up the road and tells me there is another dog that was attacked. I take off down the road and turning the corner, see Zee zig-zagging into the bushes on the side of the road. She is clearly confused and limping, holding her rear left leg up. I choke on the emotion that tries to bubble to the surface and drive over to her. I give her a quick once over and see that she has several puncture wounds on her leg, but the rest of her appears to be intact. Relief floods through me, but is quickly overtaken by anger, anger that I could be looking at an uglier situation, anger that this is not the first time this has happened. Only two days earlier, Lobo lost a chunk of ear to one of these dogs.  I realize that this is going to be an ongoing issue and decide I’ll have to talk to the owners about letting these vicious animals run loose in our neighborhood. Ugh, village politics, I think.

I put Zee on the ATV and drive her slowly home, one arm around her to keep her from jumping or falling off, one on the throttle. Rather than drive in first the whole way home, I shift into second using the big toe of my left foot – thank goodness for flip flops. At home I do a more thorough review of Zee’s wounds – several are deep punctures, the kind that like to get infected – and douse them in rubbing alcohol, making her cry and bark in pain. I detest causing her pain, but it’s imperative that we get these wounds clean. Who knows if we’ll be able to get to a vet tomorrow? And I’m leaving on Friday. I must prevent infection from setting in. I give her an antibiotic that I have stored in the fridge for just such an emergency. Thankfully, Lobo’s injuries at this point appear to be healing nicely with minimal inflammation.

As I finish with Zee that front finally arrives and the rain finally starts coming down hard. It’s such a unique event that I am filled with gratitude and sense that the whole desert is giving thanks as the large drops fall faster and faster until I can barely see to the other end of the property. This is what we’ve all been waiting for.

Finalmente bastante lluvia!!

It rains on and off for the rest of the afternoon and I alternate between mopping and trying to write a review of a local hotel, but I can’t concentrate on it (probably because I am bored by such things). Instead I decide to research the book 50 Shades of Grey to figure out what all the fuss is about. At this point, all I know is that it is erotica that focuses on a guy that’s into S&M and three of the men in my life are reading it! I thought it was chick lit. Apparently, I was wrong and because it’s captured their interest and the imagination of the entire planet, I figure it’s time I stop resisting the flood. I read what I can online and become frustrated because they have conveniently removed all of the juicy bits.

As night descends, I have to take Zee by the collar to get her to go outside to pee. She’s not putting any weight on her leg and it’s quite inflamed. The worry and anger rises in my chest again. I check the bucket before heading to bed and find we’ve received 3.5 inches of rain throughout the day. That’s more than we’ve had in the last four years. !Que milagro! Puddles of water have reformed inside two of the doors, so I mop before heading upstairs to bed, Zee tagging along as best she can, blind and on three legs.

Check in tomorrow for Day 3 of rain from Tropical Storm Hector.

Sensory Poetry

Cinnamon Peeler OndaatjeMichael Ondaatje is one of my favorite authors. While attending Ondaatje’s alma mater, Queen’s University, I read his first novel Coming Through Slaughter (published 1976) that depicts the life of a jazz musician in early 1900s Louisiana. It was love at first read. I was still a teenager and the sensuousness of Ondaatje’s prose delighted and tickled my senses, felt a tiny bit wicked. It was unlike anything I’d read before – beautiful, literary and arousing.

Later, thanks to my boyfriend at the time, a brilliant Fine Arts major, I would be exposed to his poetry. It likewise often aroused me, but it was the playfulness displayed with metaphor and the exotic qualities of so many of his subjects that took hold of me.

Here is one of my favorites.

The Cinnamon Peeler

by Michael Ondaatje

If I were a cinnamon peeler
I would ride your bed
And leave the yellow bark dust
On your pillow.

Your breasts and shoulders would reek
You could never walk through markets
without the profession of my fingers
floating over you. The blind would
stumble certain of whom they approached
though you might bathe
under rain gutters, monsoon.

Here on the upper thigh
at this smooth pasture
neighbour to your hair
or the crease
that cuts your back. This ankle.
You will be known among strangers
as the cinnamon peeler’s wife.

I could hardly glance at you
before marriage
never touch you
–your keen nosed mother, your rough brothers.
I buried my hands
in saffron, disguised them
over smoking tar,
helped the honey gatherers…

When we swam once
I touched you in the water
and our bodies remained free,
you could hold me and be blind of smell.
you climbed the bank and said

this is how you touch other women
the grass cutter’s wife, the lime burner’s daughter.
And you searched your arms
for the missing perfume

and knew

what good is it
to be the lime burner’s daughter
left with no trace
as if not spoken to in the act of love
as if wounded without the pleasure of a scar.

You touched
your belly to my hands
in the dry air and said
I am the cinnamon
peeler’s wife. Smell me.

Can You Hear Me?

When you read do you hear the voice inside your head? Are you conscious of your own voice saying each word or do you absorb each sentence as a concept rather than reading each word as though reading it aloud?

A friend of mine has multiple names depending on whom he is interacting with: to the Mexicans he has one name, to Americans and Canadians another and to his countrymen he has a third. This is a common phenomenon in a land filled with foreigners who’s names are not always easily pronounced by the native tongue. In my friend’s case, he has a common name easily translated into the usage common for the language spoken.

I make a habit of rereading an email before I send it. I do this mainly to ensure that my meaning is clear, knowing through ample experience that email is a notoriously poor medium for communication. [Never before have I had so many misunderstandings as I have since email’s explosion as a form of communication.] So I take the time to reread and edit what I write in emails in an often-unsuccessful attempt to avoid pissing off my family, friends and acquaintances.

Rereading the email I noticed that although I used the “native” spelling of his name, the spelling that he uses, I still “said” it using my Canadianized version of his name. I did not read what was written, I said what I have come to call him. And it struck me: How often, when we read something, does our interpretation suffer from the effect of our biases, cultural and otherwise? (I realize this is not exactly a groundbreaking concept, but it became very glaringly apparent and tangible for the case in point.)

Using email again as an example, it is clear that often times if someone is in a pissy mood or you’ve had disagreements with them previously, they approach your messages with a certain bias that leads them to read them with certain expectations and, well, at times a real chip on their shoulder. The chances of them misinterpreting your message in this case is, I would venture, incredibly high – higher yet if it addresses a topic for which a certain disagreement already exists.

Similarly, in the case of a novel or essay, the subject matter may trigger memories or belief-systems that are loaded with emotions, positive or otherwise. Is it even conceivable to read something from a purely objective standpoint? How do our biases affect our ability to understand and, perhaps more importantly to the author, appreciate what the author is trying to share?

I once picked up Michael Ondaatje’s The Collected Works of Billy the Kid and could not get into it, did not like it and was mystified by the hype surrounding it expressed by my fellow university students (many of whom were in the Fine Arts). I therefore attributed my distaste for it to a scientifically stunted brain, to some lack or artistic handicap I surely possessed. A year or so later, under different circumstances, I picked the book up again, curious to see if I might find some shimmer of the beauty it was attributed that years earlier I could not see.

Low and behold, I could not put it back down. It spoke to me like nothing I’d read before. It was hauntingly beautiful, the most unique literature I’d ever read. I devoured it, read it non-stop, my head buried as I bumped into people in hallways moving from one room to the next, and then leaning against the counter in the lab where I pretended to be “working.”

In Boot Hill there are over 400 graves. It takes
the space of 7 acres. There is an elaborate gate
but the path keeps to no main route for it tangles
like branches of a tree among the gravestones.

300 of the dead in Boot Hill died violently
200 by guns, over 50 by knives
some were pushed under trains —a popular
and overlooked form of murder in the west.
Some from brain haemorrhages resulting from bar fights
at least 10 killed in barbed wire.

In Boot Hill there are only 2 graves that belong to women
and they are the only known suicides in that graveyard.

What had happened in the intervening months to change my ability to be touched by this work of literature is still beyond my comprehension. But there is a divinity in it, something mystical and other-worldly, something to do with voices we can only hear when the time is right. And I believe similarly that my previous inability to appreciate it must have something to do with a bias, or perhaps closedness is the better word (made up or not). A writer’s work is informed, we presume, by their experiences and their interpretations of these. Our work as reader is similarly enlightened (my choice of word is not at all accidental), lending a inherent bias to our interpretation of everything we read, but may further be influenced or, dare I say, stunted by the degree to which we can remain open to the message contained therein.

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