January 15, 2017 – SUNDAY

Forever ant:  When I was a child growing up in Michigan, with the kids in the neighborhood, I dug into anthills looking for a queen. We saw adult ants carrying grains of soil, eggs, larva, pupa, but we never glimpsed a queen. We learned that the bite of the Red Ant stung but that of the Black Ant less so. We saw ants with head-abdomen-thorax of different colors, indicating the mixing of the colonies from ant wars or crossbreeding. I, because of ants and because of the life in the fields surrounding our houses, became interested in biology.

Mother said ants in the house indicate a bad housekeeper. She never had ants in her Michigan pantry, but in Congo, African ants marched through her home. Just as the ants were leaving, she opened the door of her bedroom and saw the bottoms drop off of her dresses. Ants decimated, in an instant, her entire wardrobe. She learned to pack important papers, clothes, anything she wanted to keep into trunks.

Back when J. Michael and I lived in North Carolina’s Research Triangle, I asked a Duke University biology graduate student what to do about our ant problem. The zoologist said, “You can do nothing. If it is any consolation, the presence of ants indicates that you have a healthy home and a house which is also not likely to be infested by termites, because ants attack termites.” Having read of danger of pesticides to people and the environment, I had stopped using them. We found a solution. By putting virtually every un-wrapped food item into Tupperware, we reduced the ant population (which was actually minuscule) to zero.

When we arrived in California, I asked about the ants and was told that were two kinds of ants – protein-loving ants and sugar-loving ants. Not so. There is one ant, the Argentine Ant (Linepithema humile). We have in the state one giant colony stretching from Mexico to Oregon. The Argentinean ants are almost identical genetically so can go from one nest to another without being attacked, and each nest, unlike other ant species, has multiple queens. This invasive ant (perhaps the most invasive of any ant species) is so successful that it has driven out (or caused the extinction of) California’s native ant species and some non-ants as well. They did it by numbers, by sheer numbers. I read not to use poison on them because if one does, it increases the number of queens, increasing the number of eggs, increasing the number of ants. Using my knowledge as a biologist, I have tried interrupting their entrance paths with dish soap, with soda, with borax, with … but nothing has worked. I’ve read about the ants and after spending a lifetime hoping to see a queen ant, I’ve discovered that I have indeed seen a queen ant. The ‘big’ occasional ant on my countertop – an Argentinean queen, for queens in this species sometimes forage.

I try to maintain a clean house, especially a clean kitchen, but the ants keep coming. Last summer I had to relocate the content of the baking cabinet from where it had been for 25 years to another cabinet. Ants squeezed between the metal rod and silicone gasket of the honey pot to get at the honey. They ate through plastic bags to get at sugars and dried fruits. The even managed to get into Tupperware. One morning, when I opened our glass 5-pound sugar canister, there on the white crystalline cane sugar, a crust of ants, thousands upon thousands of ants. So sugar to the garbage and the container moved. I store much ant-luring foods in the freezer. In our previous home, ants foraged in refrigerator. Cold slowed then down, but it did not stop them. I wipe off our counters constantly, but ants keep coming looking for a drop of syrup, a crumb, a morsel of some kind. We rinse every object before putting it in the dishwasher, yet they climb over the dishes, drawn by the fumes of food, so after running a cycle we find limp-bodies of dead ants on surfaces of clean dishes.

Usually ants are worse in one season than another, but this year there has been no let up. Our house, it appears, is built on top of a mega colony. They forage throughout our house: in the cat’s water bowl, in the upstairs closet, in the bedroom, in the bath. Look down and an ant, everywhere ants. Nest merges with nest. Sister follows sister following sister — an infinite invasion, a never-ending line of ants turning into a swarm. They enter through cracks, march along plumbing lines, move over walls, floors and ceilings searching for food / water. I wince and say as I wipe them up, “Sorry, little girls, but it is you or me. – into eternity!” No matter how I discourage them they keep coming. They are a menace, an unrelenting menace.

January 16, 2017 – MONDAY


Circus Stamps

Dazzle:  This morning Michael read in one of our papers that Ringling Brothers Circus is shutting down. On one hand it is not surprising, on the other it is sad. Ringling Brothers has a huge operation: trains, a village, performers, animals, equipment as well as road and office staff. Attendance has been dropping, and some of their acts were being protested and boycotted. Animal rights activists disapprove of the treatment of elephants and big cats. We visited the elephants pre-performance in a tent one year here in Oakland. Gray pachyderms, side by side, trunks down, swayed side to side in unison. It was a sight to be remembered, but at the same time frightening, because it reminded us that these were wild animals, not allowed to daily range across miles as nature intended – programmed – them to do. We, as I in my childhood, did see a man shot from a cannon; trapeze artists; jugglers; clowns acts; big cats following commands to the crack of a bullwhip (after one visit to a circus, JM trained his cat to jump onto a stool, to sit up and paw the air); elephants following one another – the tail of the elephant before held by the trunk of aft elephant; the rings; the spotlights; the barker in his top hat and tails. All delighted but seemed something from another era. The circus, an organization, its people, a way of life, it is also a concept captured – featured often – in television and the movies.

The son of a cousin (who lives in Florida) fell in love with a circus woman. The last I heard of my 2nd cousin – gone with the circus. The daughter of a friend of Michael’s rather than attending college joined the circus, and to this day is a trapeze artist with a small circus we were told she helped to found. Lovers and husbands, circus men: acrobat, gymnast, trapeze artist. It sounds exotic and I suppose it actually is.

JM wrote a story on Circus Soleil in the early days when it was traveling around the country in small tents. He got us front row seats for the show, and I thought it the most amazing, the most dazzling live event I’d ever seen: Acrobats, defying gravity, amazed; contortionists twisted themselves in unimaginable ways; trapeze artist, seemingly at arms length, dangled just above our heads, flipped and twirled with daring precision; high wire artist tiptoed across thin lines performing breathtaking balancing feats; jugglers juggled; clowns ran about miming and interacting with a delighted audience. All movement choreographed, bodies fused with brightly colored uniquely designed skin-tight apparel, kept one mesmerized. Spotlights on, then off; fog revealed, then swallowing up performers; one act moving seamlessly into the next. An up-close and personal circus, without the animals, was, I imagined, much like what circus’ of old, performing in tattered small tents, must have seemed like. Circus Soleil, a contemporary re-constituted circus, utilized the latest technologies, while maintaining ancient circus tradition. And, unlike the Ringling Brother’s Circus’ preformed in giant venues, observed at great distances, and from which one – even while great daring acts were preformed – was emotionally unattached. Soleil was there, not just viewed by the eye, but experienced by every fiber of the body. The daring, the artistry, the endless movement became an extension of self. I felt as if, I too, were part of the performance.

So now Ringling Brother Circus is no more. It is history, and as a result its culture lost. I prefer the Soleil circuses, but am sad about Ringling’s demise.

Many years ago a friend met a juggler performing in Normandy, France. That juggler (who later returned to his native Quebec and developed a show as part of the bi-centennial of the province) became her best friend’s boyfriend.   That man, the developer and owner of Circus Soleil, remembered the friend of his youthful girlfriend and gave her front-row tickets to his Las Vegas shows, and also invited her to private inauguration parties for his new Vegas shows. The parties themselves were legendary, and just hearing about them is entertainment. That man, if I recall correctly, is the owner of a Spanish island, and sold his show for several BILLION. Who would have thought a juggler would have ‘done so well?’ He imagined and executed and, by doing so dazzled. His dazzling brought us delight and brought him fortune.

January 17, 2017 – TUESDAY

to ‘waffle’:  Mother used to fix waffles. She loved them, and her first waffle iron, I recall, was one she had been given to her by a rich woman for whom she worked. The waffles my mother turned out were round and crisp. We buttered them lightly, then drizzled with maple syrup (or more frequently with a cost-effective substitute syrup she made with sugar, water and maple flavoring). Mom and Dad, shortly after JM & I married, gave us a square Sunbeam waffle iron. That waffle iron made terrific waffled, but the waffles were huge and square. Before moving to California, I gave it to a cousin of JM’s, and when we settled in San Francisco, we bought a round waffle iron from Williams-Sonoma. The new iron makes round, small waffles, but it is not as good an iron as the one I gave away. I miss the old iron because the waffles it made were always perfect, but I wish its waffles had been smaller, round and not square. Perhaps someday we’ll get a perfect ROUND waffle maker, but the current iron makes good waffles, but they could be better. Our favorite waffle recipe, a cornmeal one from the Sunbeam waffle maker’s cookbook, was lost. I tried to recall it, but could not. My waffle memory was not intact, and my numerous attempts to reproduce it failed.   I got many recipes off the Internet — not even close — and very few even good. Fortunately for us, I happened upon a copy of the typed cornmeal recipe card I had photocopied and made Sunbeam’s cornmeal waffles again. They were as we remembered, although the new machine does not make the crust as crisp as our Sunbeam Waffle Iron.

When cooking and baking, I use bowls, dishes, measuring spoons and cups — each a memory. Today the pottery bowls I used we bought from folk potters in North Carolina decades ago. The measuring spoons and cups I bought for myself (& a set each for Mother and sister Lois). Mother cooked with wood spoons, and one of the first items I bought for homemaking was a set of maple spoons.

Those wood spoons, after 50 years of use, have thinned. I have new cherry ones. However, I still, with a smile, stir with the now thin Maple spoons, remembering Mother. I often bought my mother new cooking equipment. She loved and wore out her first Cuisinart food processor (and said of me that I was old fashioned not to use mine as often as she used hers) which we gave her one Christmas, but new pots and pans and spoons and knives we gave her went unused. I thought the reason for her not using those things was to keep them ‘like new.’ As my own cooking equipment ages, and has been augmented by new, I find myself preferring the used, worn, familiar items. Preference is not just their familiarity, but also for their past. So one triangular pot recalls fudge making with Mother; a spoon — her stirring a sauce; a reamer –– Mom’s tendency to add lemon juice or vinegar to almost everything she cooked; a glass — my great grandmother and the family’s farm. So, just as my mother did, I find myself preferring the well worn to the better new – to hold the familiar, to use an object again is to remember my life, and the lives of those I loved. Some objects are valued because of the object themselves. Some objects are precious because of what we recall when using them.


Cornmeal Waffles

And so eating a favorite breakfast of cornmeal waffles and bacon I remember our yesterdays. And making breakfast with familiar spoon and bowl and pan I recall Mother. Mother, I believe did the same. When she died, her pots and pans and knives and utensils became simply generic, no longer imbibed with memory. The spoon I hold is not just the spoon I hold, it is life recalled. And when I die, its value will have died with me.

 January 18, 2017 – WEDNESDAY

Between the drops:  Another rainy day.  Charts show that this year’s California rainfall could match, or exceed that of the wettest winter ever recorded.  The sound of rain on the skylight seems like music.  The taking in of clean damp air clears the mind ad the same time that the all-enveloping dull grayness puts one to sleep.

Today seems a day made for sleep, but we will defy nature, turn on electric lights, bath, dress and head for “The City,” to San Francisco for a day at its major design center. We’ll peruse fabric and look at built in kitchen appliances.


Old Bridge from New

—- Or at least that’s what we thought we would do. We drove through the rain, past what remains of the old Oakland-SF Bridge, the one JM rode over minutes before a section collapsed in the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake and which resulted in the construction of the new bridge, which also has structural issues.


Pat at start of Old Bridge demolition


Last year, JM & I rode our bikes on the new bridge and observed the start of the old Oakland-SF Bridge’s demolition. Since then, I’ve been to San Francisco, but have gone by Bay Area Raid Transit (BART) traveling under the Bay to San Francisco. Today only a few sections of the old bridges’ trusses remain, and so history dissolved while my attention was elsewhere. We drove from Oakland to San Francisco – rain, hard rain and wind gust, traffic crawling over the bridges and through the City.  J. Michael stopped off at his university. We wanted to go to the Design Center. We intended to do so, but unrelenting rain snarled traffic, made progress so slow, that we decided to return home immediately — immediately took an eternity. Home in time to dress for dinner at friends.

JM asked his Garmin to select a route to the friend’s home. It was rush hour. Roads were clogged. One could hardly see to drive. A pedestrian dressed in dark colors and carrying a dark umbrella popped out of nowhere in front of the car. JM, driving cautiously, slowly was able to avoid hitting him, but had he not been as alert, easily could have done so. Because of the intensity of the rain, the darkness, the lack of visibility any pedestrian should have proceeded with caution when crossing any road, especially a heavily traveled city street. The pedestrian was lucky. We were lucky. Garmin changed its mind 4 times, re-routed us 4 times to avoid traffic. We turned one way then another, looping through congested streets in rain that made gray pavement and sky almost indistinguishable from one other. We arrived, on time, but barely. Had it not been for Garmin, we would have arrived late, stuck between taillights and headlights in the great traffic snake, winding along the great San Francisco Bay.

An evening of fine food, fine wine, lively conversation and after-dinner drinks.   Returning home – easy. There were few cars and no rain.   Garmin directed us over the interstate, seemingly a mathematically straight vector, one plotted in a math class decades ago, the same path we would have driven to dinner if nature and traffic had permitted. The going had been difficult and our destination impossible to find without Garmin. Return trip – Garmin was not needed. No one, not even us needed the 30-second traffic updates of a Garmin. On the drive to dinner we relied on technology to guide us as never before and laughed at ourselves. Before tonight Garmin had always been option we used to proposed alternate routes, tonight Garmin made it possible for us to get to our destination. Thank you Garmin!

One other memory: When we arrived at our friends’ home, we found a walkway paved with stones, Palomino hued, quartz flagstones, the same type, perhaps from the same quarry as those of our patio. And then we knocked at their front door – glass etched panels on either side, the kind of Art glass I would wish for our own home, if the entrance could accommodate it – a door, like ours, painted a light turquoise. We have similar sensibilities and throughout their home, contemporary art, original art and a bright, open kitchen. Sharing similar sensibilities, we could easily live in their home.

January 19, 2017 – THURSDAY


rain, rain go away:  Another day of rain, a day where earth and heaven unite into a wet, drab oneness.   In a normal year, northern California has two seasons: Wet and Dry. — In drought years, only Dry. A day or two ago I showed JM a graph tracking this year’s rain. If the pattern persists, it is likely to be the rainiest year on record for our region. A downpour of rain woke me early. The furnace has been turned on, yet dampness persists, penetrating into house, into pore and bone. I think of the Native Americans to whom this land belonged and wonder how in their bark long houses they endured winter rains. How they must have shivered. How difficult it must have been keeping fires burning with damp wood. Those living here have always needed rain. We need today’s rain to save trees (stressed by lack of water, record numbers have died or are dying), to replenish groundwater, to fill our reservoirs, to maintain our way of life. Looking out on the gray dawn, I’m reminded of nature’s power and complexity and how little human beings understand it. (In my first draft, I wrote “man,” not human beings. How powerful habit is.)

On April 22, 1970 in Durham, North Carolina, I, with my students, participated in the first ‘Earth Day.’ To get funds for science equipment, some students sold Earth Day items to the public. JM bought a bumper sticker.   “Nature bats last,” it said.   Nature and natural cycles -which modern humans have disregarded- are there. In spite of being altered, they continue. Nature, bigger than we will ever conceive, remains. Mankind – yes, I’m calling out the men here – has set in motion forces that may not destroy humankind, but will cause it and all of nature great harm. We may deny, turn our backs on Global Warming, but it is here. ‘Nature bats last!’   That lesson will be taught in years to come. We will, despite our reluctance to pay attention, be forced in our world classroom to face the reality of Global Warming. There is no escape. We will learn in spite of ourselves that Global Warming is real and its reality brings consequences. Drought, rain, storms, rising seas, loss of species threaten both ‘civilized’ societies and aboriginal ones.   ‘Civilized humankind’ thought, because of knowledge possessed and mastery of technology, the entire world ours. Like the ancients whose understanding of the world and total mastery of it were an illusion, we will find that much of what we thought we controlled an illusion. We understand little of forces we set into motion. Humans have always lived in a complex natural world, have harmed it without understanding what they caused. Modern humans seem to think that we can solve any problem. We have created a more uncertain world by altering its cycles. What we have done we may not be able to fix.

With energy derived from carbon dioxide emitting fuels, I warm my home and contribute to perhaps the greatest global disaster humans will have ever known. So this morning I am warm in my home, warm and dry as rains drenches the landscape. I’m glad to be warm and glad of today’s rain, but as I look out I am well aware that tomorrow may bring drought, drought, on-going drought which might exceed that of the past 5 years, an epic drought more severe than this region has seen in 5,000 years. More dry years will come. How many thousands of years of records (recorded in the natural world) will that drought shatter? And the dreary, unrelenting rain that today I, in part, wish away (“rain, rain, go away. Come again some other day.”) I will beg nature for tomorrow.


Quince in Bloom

And soft pink blossoms cover the branches of our quince. The rain has renewed life. Last year we had only 3 blossoms and 1 fruit. What a difference precious water makes!

January 20, 2017 – FRIDAY

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA                                            Sun & rain photo:  Devil beating his wife


Drive over new bridge to SF in Rain

The Devil is beating his Wife:  Rain, the state needs rain desperately – 5 – 6 years of drought — water needed. Northern California is out of the drought, or at least on its way to being out of the drought, but much of Southern California, still in drought and severe drought.

Daily we check our newspapers, our local weather recording stations to make sure that the water our parched earth so much needs is still coming. We are tired of the rain, but want it in spite our fatigue with it. The sun shined and JM called out,“The devil is beating his wife and she must be getting a good licking.” I rushed to the window, and rain showers as the sun shone. Rain, but the sunshine was there too.

I’ve tried not to think much about Trump. The man has shown little evidence of any moral character and much evidence of depravity, or narcissism, and much behavior which shows him to be a sociopath. So, ignoring the larger world, I look out at nature, find myself laughing at a bright sun’s light and rain.

We visited a large fabric vendor in San Francisco’s design center and had lunch in the large atrium: spinach salad, clam chowder, pulled-pork sandwich (a very good version, but not as good as North Carolina barbeque) and a brownie. We went home after collecting dozens of samples partly to avoid traffic, but mostly because Michael developed ‘fabric fatigue.’ Once home, we spread swatches of fabric about so that we could see in context, in our home’s own light to discern what we liked and did not like. Subtle difference in texture, sheen, color make a difference. We are thinking of re-upholstering the Brannon sofa in Michael’s study or replacing it with a Saarinen love seat. We both love the contours and feel of our old sofa, but we also love Saarinen. Our favorite dinning room set was designed by him. Would we like his sofa as much as we like our current one? We look for a new fabric, but Michael wants to sit in one of Saarinen’s loveseats before he makes the decision to keep or replace.


January 21, 2017 – SATURDAY 

March photos

Walk on:  — Our cats awoke us as they frequently do. A little coffee, a little reading then off to march. We walked past park, past beautiful Lake Merritt, where on the shores of this urban lake we met up with hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, perhaps as many as 100,000 others, walking Oakland’s streets — not just in protest, but in a united declaration. We were walking to proclaim our values, our desire to unite and to work for our values. Those there represented every walk of life, every stage of life. There the elderly (with canes, with crutches and wheelchairs) in large numbers were making their statement. There too babes in arms, on chests, on backs and shoulders of their parents, pushed in strollers, pulled in wagons, many walking slowly – holding the hand of a parent they moved block after block down Oakland’s streets. Youth walked, steps strong, signs held high, voices chanting, hugging and laughing as they walked. There was no age not well represented. And it was not just women who walked. There may have been a few more women than men, but it was not a ‘woman’s march,’ it was a ‘peoples march,’ a march that stretched for hours though our streets. There, mile upon mile, representatives of our diverse America – male, female; gay, straight; ethnic group after ethnic group; red – yellow – black and white (but predominately white), there we were – the full-spectrum of humanity. There Christians, Jew, Muslins, Agnostics (certainly an atheist or two) walking, standing, singing, raising our voices together saying, “Trump, the Electoral College may have given you the office, but we did not! We will unite. We will remain active and we will work hard for our values, the values that many Americans (& some that voted for you) claim to hold.” You may have the power now, but we will try to check your power, the power of greed. More of us voted for Hillary than for YOU and we want to remind you of that!   And as JM and I looked at the marchers and as we became part of the march, both of us felt tears well up in our eyes and pride filling our chests. We delighted in the cleverness of the signs, the diversity of the crowd, the joy of the crowd. Towards the end it drizzled, the temperature dropped, but people seemed to take pleasure in being with likeminded citizens. We were walking and while walking making a statement that we had not lost hope, that we are here and that we will be watching.

Many of us lived here in California when Republicans used divisiveness to win elections in the state. They won and won. Then came the day when the demographics changed and a Republican state shifted Democratic, shifted policy trajectory. California Republicans are now a minor party, a minor party because of its policies / behavior. They brought it on themselves and in so doing, they did California much damage, damage we are working to undo.

Much of American prosperity today is due to California’s prosperity, California’s innovations. We now look out across our great land and consider how we can work to bring about the attitudinal changes we in California have experienced to other states. Although Californians are a passionate people, we, for the most part, believe in science, in facts and we will not, as Republicans hope, drop off into the sea. We will work for the ‘Californianization’ of the nation, so that this nation and the larger world will have a sunny tomorrow. Political cycles, like nature’s, sometimes swing between extremes. For the past 50 years moderates have disappeared and the conservative right, the right of right has ascended. The left, those that believe in a socially responsible government, diminished. Republicans ascended defying facts, defying logic, acting against the well being of America. Republican politicians, by voting policies that benefitted Wall Street and Corporations, left individual Americans behind. Somehow Republicans convinced the population that it was the Democratic Party, the very party that worked for the average American (and not them), had caused the damage. Americans bought Republican propaganda, Republican lies and voted them into power time after time. Obama and the Democrats took an economy on the edge of depression and brought it to almost full employment. Unfortunately, many Americans seemed to have had no knowledge of the economic disaster they were saved from, nor the heights the economy had achieved during Obama’s presidency. Facts be damned. Americans were told lies and believed them. (Right-wing radio and FOX News, a non-news organization, helped spread and reinforce the lies.) My late Mother, an intelligent woman, refused to watch FOX News. Early in her life Mother, who had attended a religious college, learned the power of propaganda. She came to believe that a religious education could be detrimental. “I regret that as a result of my religious education, I believed there was only one way to look at the world. My education narrowed my view of life, it limited my perception and it took me years to learn that the world was not as I had been told it was.” Many Americans will see the world as Trump sees it, but I believe that many will, as my mother did, start to see that reality is there, beyond Trump declared reality! And so in the rain, among others of like mind, I feel hope and feel warm in spite of the cold and the new president.