Ginkgo

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A Literal Metaphor

 

Photo by Xiaolong Wong on Unsplash

It’s a gray, cold winter morning. I open the front door and gale force winds push me back. I try to believe it’s a sign that I shouldn’t go to work today, that Mother Nature needs me to stay home, but even I don’t buy that story.

I turn to lock the door behind me while sideways rain pelts my back. Once the tumblers fall into place, I turn into the wind and face it head on, squinting at the horizon as fog rolls and swirls in the street. This is winter in Northern California. This is what it does. I remind myself that as a Californian I am supposed to be thankful for the rain. I am thankful in an existential way. But I am not thankful, not today.

Holding the handrail with both hands, I make my way down one, two, eight steps to street level. Slow progress, necessary due to the slick wet palm and maple leaves stacked up on each riser.

At the sidewalk I stand up straight again, and realize my car is not where I left it. Sleep addled brain has something to tell me. Wait for it. Oh right, I got home late last night and had to park well down the street. This should be fun.

The best word to describe what I do is trudge. I trudge down the block and find my car where I left it, parked in front of a neighbor’s house. The neighbor with the adorable corgi dog.

Also the neighbor with the small ginkgo tree growing on the berm between the sidewalk and the street. I’ve left my tired and faded black Jeep safely under the branches of this little tree. The wind and rain have assisted in the removal of leaves from branches and deposited them on my car.

The bright sunny yellow ginkgo leaves are a startling contrast to the dark clouds both hovering low in the sky and infused in my mood. I’ll allow that the yellow ginkgo leaves are kind of pretty. This bright pile of nature’s sunny hue against the black paint of my car is a delicious morsel of something joyful in an otherwise dull day.

The leaves are piled high, covering the roof and windshield. I’ve only recently returned from a work trip to a place where it gets really cold. The kind of cold that requires ice scrapers and snow sweepers. I look at the pile of leaves on my windshield and wish I had one of those small snow brooms in my car, but I don’t. And I’m glad that I don’t need one. I hate scraping windows.

I opt for the “drive very fast” methodology of leaf removal. Windshield wipers give me enough space to see out the window to drive and off I go in a bright yellow cloud of beauty, fluttering like butterflies in my rearview mirror.

Most are gone by the first mile, but a few hang on, shellacked to the windows by a sturdy winter wet. Adhered. Stuck.

When I pull into the parking lot at work, there is one particular ginkgo leaf that has become my little buddy. Right there on the left side of the windshield, we became ride or die on the commute. I drove faster and it hung on tighter. I imaged a little leafy “whoo hooo!” when we really got going on the highway.

Now at rest, I pluck the leaf from the glass and gaze at it closely, studying the lines and whorls. I can’t bear to drop it on the ground and walk away, so I don’t. Inside it goes with me. I set the leaf on my work desk and spend all day looking at it, picking it up, examining from every angle. It’s so cute. So pretty. So yellow.

A bit of cheer during another dreary work video conference call. While we pick low hanging fruit and maximize our ROI, I turn the leaf over in my hands just off camera. It makes me smile. A reminder that something beautiful exists.


Photo by the author,©2019 Karen Fayeth

But as the days will do, time passes. The sun goes down, and I pack up and go home, leaving my friend on the desk for the next day. And the next.

Then it’s the holidays and my employer shuts the doors and I slip in a few extra vacation days too. Two weeks away from work and I forget about my ginkgo friend.

When I return to work it’s a sunny day. A new year. A new outlook. The same old me. My personal clouds are a little less dark.

The leaf is still on my desk. The bright yellow has faded to a dull beige. The sides have curled in. The broad leaf is now a tight roll. And yet it is still beautiful in its now gnarled and aged way.

I can’t bear to throw it away, so I don’t.

Not yet.


Photo by the author, ©2020 Karen Fayeth

It is only after writing this true story that I remember Ginkgo leaves turn bright yellow just before they die.

This item first appeared on Medium, find more of my work @karenfayeth over there.

Fickle Beast

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Oh Mother Nature, how you vex me. I mean, you and me are usually good. Real good. I mean, you do you in your own way, and that’s fine. Of course it’s fine.

Musically riffing, I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain. I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end.

I’ve also seen tornadoes, lightning I thought would crack the sky in two and 120 degrees with nary a cloud.

You gotta do what you gotta do, sister, and usually I’m okay with that.

This morning I stepped out of my house and felt a little rain dripping down. Yes! Rain! Good.

Only, Mom Nature, you are a real fickle beast. Was it a good deep soaking rain? A nice drink of water for the poor parched state of California?

Nope!

It was like this:





Just enough to knock dust and schmutz from a nearby tree onto my car. You just created a rolling mud bog.

Just enough to moisten the roads so people could slide real good into each other.

Just enough rain to REALLY piss me off and not enough to make a difference.

Look lady, do more than spit at us, all right?

Be better, Mother Nature!




The Roots of My Raising Run Deep

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Part V, and the conclusion of a five part series.

It was a short plane ride, take off, cruising altitude for something like a minute, then get ready for final descent into Las Vegas.

Las Vegas. My kind of town. Vegas and I go way back. Now you know my not so secret secret, I wasn’t actually born in New Mexico, I was born in Las Vegas, Nevada.

My dad was working out at the Nevada Test Site and one thing led to another and…

Growing up some of my friends liked to tease me that my parents took a gamble and lost. Oh! Hey! Good looking crowd. We’re here all night. Tip your waitress.

My folks loved living in Las Vegas, but for various reasons moved back to Albuquerque when I was very small. Really too small to remember much of life in Las Vegas. All I’ve ever known is New Mexico, so I still rightfully call myself a native.

I scrambled off that Southwest Airlines jet, through the jetway, and hit the carpet in McCarran Airport. I walked without hesitation to a bank of slot machines that were unoccupied and pulled up a seat.

My family likes to gamble. A trip to Vegas was my present for my twenty-first birthday. My folks used to get out there at least once, maybe twice a year and we kids often went along. I didn’t grow up in Vegas but I grew up an awful lot on the many casino floors through the course of my life.

The Vegas I know is an old school Vegas, from the 1970’s, and it always feels a little right to be there.

With twenty dollars in the slot machine, I managed to make it play for a little over a half hour. I’d get down to the last dollar then the machine would pay off again. I was on a nice hot streak. Not hot enough to cash out, but hot enough to have some fun.

When that was gone, I picked another machine and chased another twenty dollars around for about fifteen minutes.

When that was gone, I got up from the seat with a sigh. I felt hungry and went in search of something not airport-awful to eat. Over a really disappointing slice of Sbarro’s pizza, I stopped chewing for a minute and smiled.

A thought occurred to me. In that same day, I had been in New Mexico, I was in Las Vegas, and I’d soon be in California. Those are all of the places I have ever lived. Those are all of the places I know.

Those are all of the places I belong.

Kind of cool, really. Kind of a nice way to end my journey. A full circle kind of a thing.

My trip to New Mexico was, all in, pretty good. I was so glad I made the trip, so glad to see my best friend and my goddaughters, so glad to go home and immerse myself in memories (and make new ones too).

My trip to New Mexico was also a little difficult. You see, my dad died in 2005 and he’s buried in the National Cemetery in Santa Fe. There was no way I could live with myself if I was in Santa Fe and didn’t go to the cemetery. And yet I really, really didn’t want to go to the cemetery. It’s not a joyful thing.

The last time I had visited was in 2009 and I was without a job and had lost my mind a little bit. I was scrambling to find a way to get back on my feet. That year I took a trip home to New Mexico to see if going back to my roots could help me find my compass needle.

I had cried a bit when my dad had died, but I was also a little stoic. My mom had asked me to be strong so that she didn’t have to be, and I agreed. I was as strong as I knew how to be back then, and a few years later there may have been some pent up stuff that needed to come out.

In 2009 when I found the stone that marks the place where my dad’s ashes are stored, it was a surreal experience. Gray skies opened up with rain and I stood there with my hand tracing the letters in stone and I cried, I keened, I howled. I scared the grounds crew. I honestly did, I freaked out this nice man taking care of the row of headstones nearby.

I guess back then I had some things I had to work out. On that recent spring day in March 2014, I was afraid that monster was still inside of me. I was terrified I’d find myself keening again at my father’s graveside. When considering going to the cemetery, I balked, I stalled, and finally I borrowed the keys to my friend’s new Suburban and set up Apple maps on my phone and took off on the highway, dreading it all the way.

Apple maps led me on quite a merry chase through the streets of downtown Santa Fe. That is a very old city, built by the Spanish Conquistadors so the roads are narrow and the sidewalks are high to accommodate horse drawn carriages.

With a little bit of axel grease and a shoehorn, I was able to navigate a huge Suburban through the streets, getting more lost by the moment.

Eventually, Siri found her head and I found my way, and there I was again, at the Santa Fe National Cemetery, both ready and not quite ready for what lay ahead.

That cemetery is always a difficult place for me. Rows upon rows of headstones mark all of my fellow New Mexicans who served in the military and who passed on, either in service of their country or later, as my dad had done. It is quite a humbling place for me, and that is even before I get to the place where I have to face my personal sorrow.

I had a bit of a false start, stopping at the wrong row of stones and realizing I was off by a bit. It didn’t take me a long time to find the right row and my father’s stone.

His ashes are in what is called a columbarium and it’s covered with a lovely piece of what I think is marble and secured to the wall with these connectors that look, to me anyway, like conchos.

They are so beautiful and so New Mexico appropriate.




Copyright © 2014 Karen Fayeth


For personal reasons, I will decline to post the entire stone, but I wanted to share a nice photo of that fastener. It stands on its own as a useful reminder.

On this visit I didn’t keen and I didn’t wail, but I sure did cry an awful lot. I put my hands on the now weathered stone and I traced his name and the word “Korea,” the war in which he participated. I felt the cold marble and I noted the sand blasted wear and tear and laughed at the unyielding New Mexico elements that caused the letters to already become faded. It’s only been nine years.

“Well, dad, I guess I’m doing a lot better than I was the last time I was here,” I said aloud. And I was.

Seeing my father’s name carved into stone never fails to break me on some level. After pacing a bit and having a pretty hard cry, I walked up the row and sat on one of the benches. It looks out over the valley and has a gorgeous view.




Copyright © 2014 Karen Fayeth



The mountains at my back and the dried grass and valley in front of me. The New Mexico unrelenting wind dried my tears the moment they slipped from my eyes. I laughed as the wind whipped at my hair. “Goddamn springtime wind,” I said to no one as I sat there alone.

Tumbleweeds of thoughts bounced in my mind. Through tears of sorrow, I smiled, because of that view, that place, that moment.

I had spent the past three days wondering I was even a New Mexican anymore. Sitting there, letting the climate steal my moisture and feeling grounded, I remembered that I always was and will always be.

I can never not be a New Mexican. Just as I can never not be born in Las Vegas. And I can never not be a damn near twenty-year veteran of California.

I am all of that. I am none of that. I am more than that.

I am greater than the sum of all my parts.

My version of New Mexico may not exist anymore but it’s mine. My particular brand of Las Vegas may not exist anymore, but I own it. My California is still telling me its story.

There is a lot left to learn about all of those places and as I gaze forward to the celebration of another revolution around the sun, I humbly admit there is an awful lot yet to learn about me.

What started as a fun trip to see my best friend in the entire world and my gorgeous godkids turned out to be something of a journey. A grounding moment in time that changed me, humbled me, reminded me and helped me grow.

I had no idea that was going to happen. I’m kind of glad I didn’t know. To paraphrase one of my oldest goddaughter’s favorite songs (that dates back to my college years), I might have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss that dance.

And there is no way I’d ever miss out on a good dance with some of my most favorite people in the world, back home where I belong.





Both photos Copyright © 2014, Karen Fayeth, and subject to the Creative Commons license in the right column of this page. Taken with an iPhone5 and the Camera+ app. The fastener photo was further edited in Instagram.




Que Bonita

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This past weekend was something like a “what weekend?” as I worked my tail feathers off both days. About 1/3 of the tail feather workout was due to my job. Yes, I get to work for free on behalf of my employer, even on my days off. The joys of being a salaried employee.

The other 2/3 was working on my own sideline creative stuff. I did about 25 story submissions, I edited a photo that I will be showing later this week (that takes such a long time…a little burn here, a little dodge there), and I wrote a story for the first round of the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction contest.

The contest works this way: They give you a location, a genre and an object. All three have to be there in the story. This can be both liberating and constraining, depending on what you get. My draw for this first round was romance/haunted house/marshmallows. Not bad, not great.

Sunday around noon I found myself starting at that cursed curser blinking at me and I tried to find a story idea that was scary and lovey and marshmallowy all at the same time. A challenge. I was writing words but they weren’t coming easily. My iMac sits on a table near a window, and something caught the corner of my eye as I labored. I looked out the window. Seems on that sunny creatively frustrating Sunday I had an auspicious little visitor.

I grabbed my camera, put on the longest lens I own, popped the screen out of the window and started clicking away.

I’m so glad I did.




Photo copyright 2013, Karen Fayeth

This gorgeous lone Monarch Butterfly was just hanging out in the warm sun, using the ol’ proboscis to gather some pollen and doing its butterfly thing. As I watched, a couple bees were highly displeased at the presence of the butterfly and kept strafing him (I say him correctly, I looked up Monarch butterflies online and the dots around the wings signify a male. edit: Upon further Googling, I think this is actually a female).

These bees were executing deep aggressive fly bys that only caused the butterfly to flap his wings a bit but stay put. Man those bees were persistent. And I kept snapping away. I have some awesome action shots that I’m still editing.

After a while, the butterfly flew off and I downloaded and looked through my photos, very pleased with the results.

Then I sat back in my chair and I smiled. After the visit from Mr. Butterfly, I felt totally motivated and completely creative. I turned back to my story and banged out about 1,300 words in one sitting. Then set it aside and let it percolate while The Good Man and I went to local street fair.

When we came back I edited the beejeezus out of the story, got it to 999 words (the limit is 1,000) and submitted it about 45 minutes before the deadline. Man oh man hitting send on that story sure felt good.

I owe my creative surge to a visit from a pretty orange butterfly on the first day of Autumn.





Photo copyright 2013, Karen Fayeth, and subject to the Creative Commons license in the right column of this page. Taken with a Canon Rebel, edited lightly in Elements.




Noise Pollution & Tasty Morsels

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So there I am, Saturday morning, sleeping in a quiet bed in a quiet room at an undisclosed location somewhere near Radium Springs.

It’s the first real quiet I’ve enjoyed in six months. That was the last time I visited Southern New Mexico.

And then, literally cutting through the early morning hours comes, this:



That’s a lot of saw blades!

It’s tree trimming time at the pecan farm next door to my best friend’s place.

A piece of heavy farm equipment with six whirring saw blades cutting through hearty pecan wood sounds, well….just about as awful as you’d expect. Every once in a while they’d hit an especially green branch and the sound was the stuff of nightmares.

After the saw passed by, the trees looked like a line of military recruits with brand new flattops.



Evidently pecan trees will immediately put out new growth in the areas where they have been cut. Futher, pecan nuts flourish on new growth, so pecan farmers cut back the trees to boost production.

I gotta say, back in my formative years, I don’t remember pecan farmers cutting back trees so much. But then again, we didn’t have the robust demand for pecans from Asian markets that we see today.

From a 2011 WSJ article: “Five years ago, China bought hardly any pecans. In 2009, China bought one-quarter of the U.S. crop, and there’s no sign demand is abating.”

So farmers will do just about anything to boost production.
.
.
.
Hey, did you know that pecan trees are notorious water hogs? And right now, the drought in New Mexico is palpable.

Oh, but that’s a different story for another day.



Photos Copyright 2012, Karen Fayeth and subject to the Creative Commons license in the far right column of this page. Top photo taken with my Canon Rebel, bottom photo taken with my iPhone4s and the Camera+ app.


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