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It happened fast. One minute I am looking for the lentils that I will make for dinner. The next, I am in total darkness.
My first instinct is to find my boyfriend, J. He is studying for an exam scheduled for tomorrow. His first instinct is to locate flashlights and batteries. J sets up a flashlight on the coffee table in the living room and floods the room with soft white light. I peer outside to confirm that the problem is not a fuse blowing in our house. Except for the lights from the occasional cars on the road, the neighborhood is shrouded in darkness.
It is a little past 6pm on Thursday night, November 21st. The darkness is furnished with a soundtrack of winds blowing between 20-30 miles an hour. I was aware of the high winds but too busy to pay much attention. Now, the sound is pervasive.
As J dials the number of the electric company, there is a loud knock at the door.
“Don’t open it”, J says, in a cautious voice. We are both accustomed to city living. We know that we live in a safe neighborhood of Santa Rosa but the reaction is automatic.
“Who is it?” I ask.
“It’s the neighbors…candles.”
We have a dozen or so candles and we are not using any of it so I am happy to share, I think. I open the door to a couple. He is holding a flashlight. She is holding candles and matches. She hands several candles to me.
“Oh, I already have some,” I say. When she continues to try to give some to me, I gingerly take a few. I accept a large box of matches too. Those could be useful because I do not know where mine are right now. They say something about us being new to the neighborhood and probably being unprepared. I am touched by their generosity and thank them profusely.
J continues to study in the living room, using the laptop batteries that are fully charged. I eat a peanut butter sandwich and read a novel on my iPad. When I get bored, I draw.
We take a break at 7:30ish to start a fire in the fireplace. The neighbor’s matches come in handy. It is a beautiful fire and warms the room quickly.
The lights come back around 9:48pm. My plan for the evening was to cook, eat, read, and write. I was unable to cook. But I ate, read, and drew. I also wrote most of this blog on my iPad while the lights were out. Plus, we enjoyed our first fire in the fireplace in our new home. I make a note to return the candles and matches tomorrow. Since I do not know which house they are from, this will be a good excuse to meet the neighbors.
I am not accustomed to power failures but this one was not so bad at all.
After hours of labor, the ground awaits seeding. I can hardly believe it. But see for yourself.
On the left is the untouched soil. On the right is the same land but freed of weeds, tilled into softness, and mixed with organic soil. To further make the land hospitable for cultivation, I pummeled it with a cultivator (as seen in photo). This process helped to remove rocks and mulch and to even out the ground.
After a few more days of cultivation, the ground is ready to accept herbs that will survive the upcoming winter chill: cilantro, sage, and fennel. There is a chance that the cilantro may not survive the frost but the other two are hardy herbs that should make it. That is, if the sage and cilantro seeds are not gorged by birds first. I have re-planted the fennel from seedlings bought from a gardening store. After some internet research and some time spent at the local hardware store, I have a strategy that I hope will work in protecting the seeds from birds: an iron edging border to which bird-repeller mesh can be attached.
There is another possible predator. As much as I love the neighborhood cats, I fear they will be interested in feeding on my herbs. The bird-repellent net is probably not sufficient to deter them since it is made of ultra thin plastic that they can easily paw through. I will replace the plastic nets with chicken wire once the seeds start showing signs of life to the extent that a cat’s curiosity might be piqued.
For now, the cilantro and herbs have started to germinate. The fennel is surviving and showing minor signs of growth. I expect to see more viable results of my labor in a few weeks.
As the ground crumbles below my feet, I feel the thrill of possibilities. Stepping off the tiller, I admire the effectiveness of this simple gardening tool. Then, giddily, I plunge the tiller right back into the soil and repeat. As an urbanite with zero gardening experience, the possibility of coaxing this hard dry soil into producing crop is very exciting.
When I first saw this house in Santa Rosa, the abundance of outdoor space was overwhelming. I was living in a 824 square foot apartment in San Francisco with no outdoor area. All the herbs that I enthusiastically (and illegally) planted on the fire-escape struggled to survive. The only real growth that happened out there was that of a pigeon family that made a nest in one of the flowerpots.
This house is my chance to redeem myself, to prove that I can nurture a plant. I am preparing the grounds to create an herbal garden, starting with cilantro and sage and maybe some other herbs. Before I could start tilling, I had to pull out all the weeds in the ground. I bought an impressive tool which grabs onto the roots and removes them in one easy sweep. I get goosebumps looking at all the fancy gardening tools online and in the store and learning how they can be useful in my project. So, instead of worrying about the extra expenditure, I was happy to purchase a shovel to help clear the ground for weeding the plants with tougher roots.
In addition to learning about gardening tools, I am learning about materials that increase soil’s organic properties. My mom and I have something new to talk about on the phone and we are connecting on a passion that we did not know we shared. And, I am excavating writing material from this new project.
The work gives me an unexpected sense of fulfillment. The crop of cilantro and sage will wake up my senses with their fragrance and nourish my body with a rich cocktail of nutrients. For now, the route there is nourishing my spirit.
Bella and Preston. That is “Bella Vineyards and Wine Caves” and “Preston Vineyards and Winery” in Healdsburg. They each offer an entire tasting for only $10 and Bella includes a small batch of truffle fries. I am here with friends visiting from San Francisco. After the tastings at Preston Winery, we amble around in the farmlands near the vineyards and are treated to dramatic views of pumpkin patches, dozens of hens running around in a coop, a cornucopia of plant and flower life, and even an old-fashioned pizza oven. Later, we splash around at the Healdsburg Beach.
It is a joyful day and a reminder of the special relationships I have developed in my 15+ years of living in San Francisco. We talk about everything from Pinot Noir to places in Switzerland we have all visited to the properties of organic food to breast cancer to women’s rights to the current government shutdown. The conversation flows with or without the wine. It’s often this way amongst the four of us but the surroundings, the long trek that my friends have made from San Francisco, and the variations in scenery make this a a particularly memorable day.
As I discover and create a new life in Santa Rosa, I am thankful for the years spent in San Francisco, developing relationships, that I hope will last no matter where in the world I go.
A sparrow is pecking away at the dead leaves on the roof of the neighbor’s house. As if sensing my enjoyment of this breakfast scenery, a blue Robin tweets, from its perch on a large tree in our backyard. The green pods, hanging from the branches of this tree, resemble tamarind and the leaves appear to be similar to internet photos of tamarind leaves. Once the pods ripen, its identity can be confirmed. The orange and grapefruit trees self-identify by producing fruits. The grape-vine, jasmine, and bamboo bushes are also not a mystery,
In San Francisco, I lived on a tree-lined street, a block away from Dolores Park. On some mornings, I heard birds chirping. I walked to the park for more intimate connections with nature. Living amongst trees, however, feels like a completely different experience. There are trees and bushes visible from every window of the house. Their presence soothes me. I feel a connection to the flora and fauna when I sweep or rake the dead leaves. I feel my own mortality when I see the big tree in front our house with its deep roots and thick branches. How long it has been here and how much longer will it continue to be?
Later, while sipping tea in the living-room, I wonder about the extremely tall and thin tree in our front lawn. I recognize the white oleander bush, near the mystery tree. The half-dozen or so rosebushes, all around the house, are easy to identify because they were flowering when we first moved into this Santa Rosa house in August. The giant tree near our front path might be gooseberry. I wish I had a better knowledge of flora and fauna so I can identify each and every tree and bush gracing our house.
Now in my home-office, I am aware of the trees and bushes lined outside my window, providing shade from the mid-day sun and privacy from the other houses in our little cul-de-sac. Simply gazing at the greenery often releases any pressure or tension.
As I think of a wrap-up for this piece, a bird chirps on queue, reminding me of the chirps I heard from my apartment in San Francisco. Despite having spent much of my adult life in cities, I have strived to be near nature. It is a new world now to be surrounded by it.
[If you recognize any of the trees in the photos with a ?? under their name, please respond to this post and let me know what they are]
A highly functional mannequin that can give birth. Now, that is something I had never heard of before. I am in a Simulation Lab in Santa Rosa, at my boyfriend’s nursing school. One of the instructors is telling us about a hi-tech dummy that can simulate many of the symptoms of pregnancy and child-birth and can actually give birth. I look forward to seeing this modern dummy, but when we are taken to see it, it is behind locked doors and we are only allowed to peek through the large glass windows. In the same room is another functional dummy, a much smaller one. It can simulate ailments common among children.
As we walk around on this family night tour of the nursing school facilities, we discover another room with a very realistic looking mannequin. It’s a man who can fake many illnesses and can even talk. The microphone is manipulated by the instructor. Again, the access to the room is closed. These dummies cost thousands of dollars and even nursing students are only allowed regulated access to them. The students use these to practice and fine-tune their newly acquired skills.
When we moved from San Francisco to Santa Rosa, I was prepared for a change in lifestyle and in being a supportive partner to my boyfriend as he transitions from technology to a career as a registered nurse. I had expected a vicarious experience of nursing school but this intriguing peek into his new life opened up another world.
I want to get a closer look, to experience the high-tech human persona of these dummies. Unfortunately, my boyfriend will not have access to these precious commodities until later this semester. I’m looking forward to a vicarious experience of these human-like creatures. I hope they don’t disappoint.
The car in front, on the left side of the street is flashing its headlights. The woman on the sidewalk is saying something. It is chaotic. I am confused.
Crazy people, I think, as I make a right turn. The car with the flashing lights must be trying to pick up the woman, I assume, and they are both trying to get each others attention. Just as I turn right, happy to get away from the chaos, her words and the flashing lights suddenly form a clearer picture. They were trying to tell me that I was going the wrong way on a one way street. My decision to turn right is the right response albeit unintentional.
I am the crazy one. The one way sign was blocked by a van that was parked on the corner of Valencia and 15th in San Francisco.
I lived in this neighborhood for ten years and walked around the streets hundreds of times. I thought I knew the streets. The roaring tiger, in the mural on the side of the Peruvian restaurant Pica Pica, always wakes me up. It’s at the corner where I had turned into the one way street. The van is blocking the mural also.
I am driving because I don’t live in the neighborhood anymore. My mission is to eat at Pica Pica. I love their Arepa and am excited to experience it again tonight.
I find parking within five minutes of my blunder, on the same one-way street but this time I am headed in the right direction. As I walk down 15th street towards Pica Pica, I am reminded of how easy it is to walk in San Francisco even late at night. I love the flowers and fauna of Santa Rosa, where I now live. But those can only be enjoyed during the day. At night, my Santa Rosa neighborhood is dark and quiet and easy to get lost in since the streets are not arranged in a grid.
At night, I am lost in the streets of my old neighborhood when I am in a car. At night, I am lost in the streets of my new neighborhood when I’m on foot.