Weather Report from Portland

I’ve been living baroquely lately, coming into the new year, the confused seasons out of control – fall to winter for now though here seemingly obvious. It’s cold and wet and dark out, the darkest days of the year, the longest nights, the hardest streets. The homeless are between a rock and a hard place. They are the meek inheriting the earth, for what that’s worth. A week ago, when it started to snow, we were exactly six months from the freak heat wave of late June when one day we reached an absurd 116 degrees. Where I came of age, the southwest side of Los Angeles County, near the beach at the north end of South Santa Monica Bay, South Bay, for short, the mostly small, originally factory lodging, houses, and our little corner house, were plotted between the oil refinery and sand dunes and ocean and the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant and the sprawling airport and the growing aerospace industrial parks, while there were on the east side of our small town still strawberry fields, a few horses in stalls, and a railroad track from the east running behind our backyards through a curving dusty chasm, what the kids called Devil’s Path (or Devil’s Pass), a short cut along the tracks into town, that ended at a small depot near Main Street and Grand Avenue. But in spite of all the brouhaha surrounding us, the ocean nearby was the weather.

There were only two seasons in my childhood: summer, which was the school vacation season, and the school year, the months on either side of vacation. The weather had little to do with our sense of seasonality. The sky was close to blue, the water almost blue and hues of such, the yards and parks and baseball diamonds multi shades of green, the streets mostly clean. Of course there hung about our heads the gunbarrel-blue cake of atrocious smog, though not so much nearer the water, unless the Santa Ana winds were blowing, maybe for a week or so once or twice a year was all in those days. And June might have been the foggy season, but the breezes off the ocean usually pushed and cleaned as they blew east across the big basin, through the canyons up into the hills and up the long boulevards that ran east and west, and blew too through our house because there was always a window open (or broken) somewhere or a door might open or close any time of the day or night as we came and went to and fro through the blues and greens and sandy yellow days and well lit nights of Los Angeles and environs.

Why did humans leave Africa? If that’s what happened, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that our history, what little we can be sure of, might be a bit more compound-complex. In any case, I can’t answer that; I don’t even know why I left Los Angeles.

We live, it’s been suggested, but I don’t remember where I first saw or heard this, at the bottom of a sea of atmosphere (I googled the phrase just now and came up with about 30,000 results, so instead of quote marks, I’ve italicized it). But nothing like water, the rain, to wash out one’s punctuation marks.

Punctuated equilibrium suggests a paragraph whose flow of ideas is steady and stable, one thought logically following another in a gradual evolutionary movement that can be traced forward and backward and annotated. Sudden changes are more difficult to explain.

In Steve Martin’s movie “L. A. Story,” the main character is a television weatherman. But there is no weather in his Los Angeles, by which is meant change in weather. That is a paragraph without a main idea.

Locally, on the television news, consisting mostly of stable formatting, the studio news teams, that is, the players on camera, consist of an anchor, the sportscaster, and the weatherperson – the great American Triumphant (one pictures Benjamin Franklin flying his kite in a lightning storm, the on location camera crew shaking in their boots). The weatherpersons rarely seem to be given enough time to elaborate, as evidenced by their speed of speech. They sound like hawkers at an auction. The numbers and maps, highs and lows, radar of fronts, systems, and directions all whiz by, “put in motion,” and “hour by hour,” as they say, so quickly that as if to include the weather at all in the newscast seems to have been an afterthought. And the channels devoted to weather 24 by 7 are no different, everyone in a hurry to get out of the weather, whatever it is.

The newshour (or half hour, as our attention spans continue to wane) is not an essay, even though the principal parts may seem like paragraphs in some unified whole. The news relies on something new happening, but not even sudden changes in the fossil record can satisfy our quest to know, let alone understand, what’s going down.

Are we in the midst of a sudden change in the fossil record? Story at 11.

Of an Old Style

When you need to get close to each season,
to know which direction our vast Earth spins,
come sit under the apple tree and reason,
pink blossoms now against winter winning.
Life is not much of a competition;
most creatures make the best of and endure.
And then there’s this endless repetition
of flowers come-hither with alarming
allure. Such is the plan it would appear,
since the same thing happens every year.


Sitting in the City

Maple out spray maying
ribbons of flowers
twirl the girls
round the pole boys
pulling with bicycles
festoons falling
yards full of toys
and fickle mud.
Sitting out warm summer evenings, distant wildfires raking up the dry brush, smoke seen by astronauts as far away as January, surf still rolling up the beaches all around the world, I think of those days and nights six months opposite and reflect on the perfection of earth time.

 

We have “seen the travail”:

“A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away…That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been” (Ecclesiastes, 3:6-15, KJV).

 

But from the time the alarm clocks call and coo across the great divide, and while some rush to it others delay with snooze, to the resetting of the alarms at night, all grow quickly and remain forever impatient with time.

 

So time moves on: the commute doglegs left as the slow lane stops while drivers get out and pee behind the rail; cells go dead and news is lost forever; the lady in front of you in line at the coffee drive-thru is ordering lattes with lemon twists and chocolate sprinkles atop whipped cream delight – for her whole office; you stop for a jam filled doughnut, already late, and you don’t give a damn about the new diet.

 

Walking to the front door from the parking lot you wonder if you’ve worn the right clothes for the day. You forgot your sack lunch. The café is serving mac and cheese. You promise a nice salad for dinner. Someone has tossed a cigarette butt in your path – how rude is that! By the time you leave the office, it’s dark out and you’ve forgotten the doughnut and the salad.

 

July table in the shade
under the apple tree:
pickles, potato salad,
baked beans, deviled
eggs, bottles of beer,
water balloon toss,
evening of pops,
night of dust.
By the end of August,
the sun slipping south
at an alarming speed,
the activists suggest
a presidential decree:
a declaration of
a state of emergency,
plan parades in glee.
Winter whistles restlessly,
inflows of wet and dry cold,
floods and long lines
at the flu counter,
impeccable timing,
seasons on earth,
neither hurried nor harried,
quit nor balked.