Calla Lily

“Don’t doubt your value. Don’t run from who you are.”

Aslan

 

Another boring day in front of my screen. I seriously think my history teacher runs searches for “most boring details from early American history” before making her lessons. Wow! Crazy boys rode horses at breakneck speed to deliver mail to California. Who cares what happened five hundred years ago before there were aircars or globalnet?

I sighed and started drawing on my notekeeper. Ever since I took that virtual tour of the LA Arboretum, my doodles took the form of various flowers I had seen. Not seen in person of course since there were no flowers outside of state-run sanctuaries. I loved drawing all their varied shapes and colors. My favorite was the calla lily with its graceful sweeping hood and bold yellow stamen.  

“Ms. Stamly.” I heard my voice and jerked my attention back to the class display on the screen wall. Oh no, she was calling on me.

“Yes, Ms. Hill,” I said as I frantically paged back on my notes trying to discover what we were talking about in class.

“I thought maybe your audio went out,” she droned. “My question was whether you thought the railroads were unfair in their domination of early California transportation?”

So that’s what happened after the Pony Express. All I had were sketches of flowers.

“I’m sorry, Ms. Hill, I think I missed that part. Globalnet problem,” I offered.

My teacher’s face scrunched up like she’d just tasted something sour. She straightened and wrote something on her notekeeper. “Well, you’d better get the newest update.” Then she called on someone else, and my mind drifted away.

I hoped she wouldn’t message my parents. They had big plans for me after secondary school, and getting a bad grade in American History was not part of them. If I did badly in school, they’d take away my screen time, my only escape from our apartment’s sterile white walls. I would go crazy in less than a week, and then they’d put me on those pills that most of my friends took.

It’s not my fault my mom and dad were doctors at the university hospital and my destiny would be to join them one day. The thought of sealing up a bloody wound with a Sealit wand made me want to swoon like a lady wearing a corset in those ancient texts.

Locked up in our sanitized apartment tower, I longed to feel dirt on my hands. Hear the drone of bees and cheerful gurgle of a rushing stream. Like the rest of the ill-fated children of my time, we were quarantined to our homes until our secondary graduations. Viruses and bad influences they said. When she was home, Mom would tell me stories about how teens used to drive cars and meet for bonfires at the beach. Going anywhere seemed a fairy tale. Fires? I couldn’t imagine the government allowing anyone to set one for personal use.

I needed to get out of here. Maybe I could get Amy to go with me. I texted her on my watch.

“Log out of school, and meet me in the rec room.”

She wrote back right away, “Are you crazy?”

“Just the right kind.”

A few minutes later, a tall girl with spiky yellow hair met me by our apartment’s pool. Without a word, I waved her over to the changing room, the only place without cameras. I unpacked the duffel I had brought, dumping out adult clothes, wigs, and makeup.

“What is that for?” she asked, her voice wavering.

“We’re going to smell flowers,” I said.

A short time later, we were riding in an Uber aircar on our way to the LA Arboretum. Mom and Dad would probably blame Amy and never let me speak to her again if they found out what we were doing. They refused to believe I would resist any of their plans for me. My heart was racing, but it would all be worth it.

The car dropped us off without a word. I was so glad self-driving aircars were the norm, as the AI wouldn’t see that we were teens under our disguises. However, we would still have to get past the front gate.

I exhaled in relief when I discovered the entry kiosk was only a machine. I waved Mom’s spare cash card that she left for emergencies and the gate opened with a click. 

“Come on,” I said as I pulled Amy with me into the Arboretum.

Wild pungent aromas overwhelmed us. Competing layers of sweet smells combined with a musty undertone, scents that I had never experienced. Some reminded me of candy or cakes, while others were dark and mysterious. The plants were so green they hurt my eyes. Not only green, but so many shades of green I lost count.

And flowers! In every shape and size, shades of red, purple, yellow, orange, and a white so brilliant it must have been copied from a cloud.

“Penny, are you alright?” Amy shook me by the shoulders.

“I’m more than alright. I’m perfect.” I had stopped in front of a long stemmed white flower, its curving bell shape holding me in awe.

“I’m not going to medical school,” I said almost like a prayer.

“Penny, these flowers are making you dizzy. Every child has to take their parent’s place. What if all doctors’ kids decided to choose a different career? We wouldn’t have medical care.”

“But that’s not who I am,” I insisted. I waved my arms toward the paradise surrounding us. “I belong here. Caring for plants and flowers. Adults can make laws and control what kids do, but we’re born with our own talents.”

“We’d better get back,” Amy said, looking around to see if anyone was close enough to hear us.

I nodded, and called up the ride service on my watch. “I’ll be back,” I whispered on the breeze.

The calla lily bobbed its head in reply.

 

The Frozen Ride

frozen

 

“You’d better wear your thermals,” my husband warned as he came inside with the motorcycle cover bundled up in front of him. “It’s only 39 degrees out there!”

“Don’t worry, I’ve got them on,” I assured him in a muffled voice as I bent over to zip up my stiff leather chaps. As I added layers of clothing, it had become increasing difficult to move. Currently I had on a thermal top, sweater, leather vest, and a heavy leather Harley jacket. My arms came to rest at nearly right angles from my body, and I couldn’t raise my leg higher than an inch.

So began a Harley overnighter that became known as our frozen ride. (Here I insert my disclaimer that if you are a permanent resident of Iowa, Minnesota, or Wisconsin, you will not feel one ounce of sympathy for us. Please suffer the whining of southern Californians.) Our HOG group set out from Riverside, California to Death Valley, ending up in Beatty, Nevada for the first night. It was the end of February, which for us meant weather anywhere from 60 degrees to 80 degrees, and usually clear skies. We did get the clear skies, but desert temperatures never got above a brisk 58 degrees.

As we approached Death Valley National Park, I noticed a thin coating of white on the land surrounding us. “What is that white stuff?” I asked my husband through our com system.

“It must be salt,” he answered.

Our pack of twenty motorcycles had been on the road since 7:00 a.m. with one breakfast break, and my leather gloves were not doing their job. Fortunately, I was the passenger, not the rider, so I could hide my hands behind the windbreak of my husband’s broad back. Although my neck and chin were wrapped in a thick wooly gaiter, my face under my helmet felt like it would crack if I smiled. As the hours passed, I passed from chilly to freezing cold to numb to final acceptance of the cold. The sun on the back of my jacket felt less cold than the racing wind that flowed around the front windshield and fairing before exiting over the tour pack behind my seat.

As I continued to ponder the patches of white crust that continued on both sides of the road, I began to have the sinking sensation that it was not salt. It was snow.

When we reached the tiny town of Beatty, I was ready to sit in front of our motel room heater for as long as it took to not feel cold. My husband and I both took steaming hot showers that night. We slept huddled under the blankets.

The next day, our road captain led us out in the middle of nowhere to a ghost town. It was so remote that he had to call the sheriff to let him know we were headed there. After riding under the frozen shadow of towering snow-covered peaks for about an hour, I could see wooden buildings huddled on the side of a foothill. This morning the temperature had been 32 degrees when we roared away from the motel. I was already sitting on my hands to keep them warm. In addition to the layers I wore yesterday, I had added two long sleeve shirts and my rain gear pants.

Jumping off our bike as soon as we arrived, I waddled over to the saloon, hoping for heat. However, I was greeted by a wood burning stove right inside the door, which began to heat the area around it, but did nothing for the rest of the large, open raftered room. Some of the other riders joined me, holding our hands as close as we dared to the giant cast iron stove. A few of the passengers had a shot of something the sheriff promised would “heat us up quick” but I passed on it, longing instead for coffee.

Soon it was time to move on, so we thanked the man, and headed up into the icy mountains. Our road would cross over them and dump us down to Bishop, where we would turn south to Lone Pine. Now the white crust became drifts of deep snow on the sides of the road, and I remembered the conversation one of the guys had with the sheriff at the ghost town.

“Is the road to Bishop open?” one of our leaders asked.

“I guess so,” the bearded man said with squinty eyes. “We haven’t had any rain in a week. You know they don’t plow that road if it snows.”

The road before us continued up and up, and the snow on the sides got deeper and deeper. Finally we reached the top of the pass, and the road captain waved us over to the side of the road. Oh no, I thought. We couldn’t see the road on the downside of the pass. Was it blocked with snow? Would we have to go all the way down the mountain and take a different route?

“Let’s take a picture,” my husband said, so I reluctantly unzipped my jacket to take out my phone. Suddenly one of the women passengers headed toward a huge snowbank. She scooped out a pile of snow and threw it at her husband. This began a brief snowball fight which I watched skeptically, with no desire to get my gloves wet. Then one of the men fell back into a drift and began to make snow angels. I was glad I didn’t have to sit behind him on a bike.

I reluctantly took a picture of my husband standing in front of the snow laden pines, and then he took a picture of me, my teeth chattering in my helmet. The group stood around talking and eating snacks. What about the road? Apparently there was no problem with the road ahead. Our road captain stopped so we could play in the snow.

Many frozen hours later, I huddled up to our motel heater in Lone Pine, looking through the window at the snow-covered peak of Mount Whitney. My hands gratefully clutched a scalding cup of instant Starbucks coffee. My husband checked the weather report on his phone, which cheerfully informed us that we could expect rain the following day back in Riverside.

At dinner that night, we talked about the brilliant mountains and sweeping valleys that we had ridden through that day. And of course we talked about the varying degrees of cold that we had endured. The riders who wore heated jackets and gloves that plugged into their bikes offered no complaints. But the rest of us wearing regular gear had plenty to talk about. Yet no one regretted the trip. For us to see that much snow on the mountains was rare for drought-stricken California. Surviving the frigid weather was the price of admission to an adventure that held a unique coolness unlike any other Harley trip.

Cook’s Corner

Cooks corner

First there was the gathering. One by one the Harleys roared into the parking lot, and riders popped off their helmets. They joined the circle standing nearby, which grew minute by minute until the magical KSU time. Old friends met some new friends; names were exchanged, as well as handshakes and hugs.

Suddenly, the appointed time arrived, and riders scattered to their motorcycles, adding layers of leather, earphones, and helmets. The dog pack obediently emptied into the street, patiently holding back the thunderous power that its riders sat astride. The bikes passed through the gauntlet of traffic lights and stop signs, growling with anticipation.

At the appearance of an open road, each bike roared as it took off, eager to stretch its legs in the desert. In the backyard of the city, each twist and turn brought cobbled together mobile homes or spreading mansions into view. Both poor and rich shared the dream of the pioneer—build on the land and claim it for your own. Brick and wrought iron fences did not prevent us from viewing the piles of toys inside, apartment sized travel trailers, boats, vintage cars, and off road vehicles. The next turn revealed boarded up and crumbling shacks that told the story of dreams cast aside.

The road climbed up the side of the desert mountain, and I peered cautiously over the edge. The lake below us was wreathed in mist, deep navy blue. As I looked up, I was dazzled by the snowcapped mountains in the distance. Yesterday, my boots crunched in the January snow up in those mountains, but today I rode behind my husband on our Harley in 60 degree sunshine. Again I was reminded why Californians find it difficult to be transplanted in other states. We take our climatic diversity for granted.

With the top of the mountain reached, the snarling pack of Harleys threaded themselves through the narrow pass between the peaks. The tree covered mountains stretched before us, looking like a fleece blanket thrown over unknown items. Their mystery remained unrevealed to us as we sped past them, concentrating on the curves of the road. The wind rushed in our faces as impatient sport bikes passed through our line, determined to push the boundary between the capability of their motorcycles and eminent death.

After some time had passed, the mountains spit us out into the hills near the beach. The pack turned, and we enjoyed the tame shrub dotted hills after the rugged pass. The wide, multi-lane road, bordered with elaborate landscaping, spoke of the area’s affluence. The major intersections boasted stores on all four corners, including upscale fast food restaurants. After all, after Mommy’s busy day at the office, or shopping, she doesn’t have time to cook.

A few turns later, we left the red tile roofs and bird of paradise behind and dropped down into a narrow canyon. The crowded big box houses gave way to sprawling ranches nestled under towering oak trees. Elegant horses lounged in white fenced corrals. Bicycle riders in full racing gear shared our mud streaked road. Our Harleys obediently slowed on hairpin turns as we crawled to the bottom. I realized how close we were to the beach when I saw the hull of a large boat under construction in someone’s front yard.

A long line of parked motorcycles signaled the end of our journey, Cook’s Corner. We pulled up next to custom choppers, full dresser cruisers, and lean sportsters. Live music called to us from the patio, smells of hamburgers and fries caused my stomach to rumble. After I peeled off my chaps and stashed my gloves and helmet, I followed my husband and our fellow riders across the wooden bridge. A carnival atmosphere assailed us with booths selling motorcycle clothes.

Inside, men, many bearded and wearing hats, were crowded at the bar, cheering at the flat screen displaying a football game. Spandex coated bicycle riders, an older gentleman in a wheelchair, and bikers with leather jackets announcing various motorcycle clubs all patiently waited in line to order food. A man at the bar turned back to tell my husband, “You see those guys in line? They’re part of this riding club. The dealership sponsors them.” With a laugh, my husband shows the man his patch, and they exchange a few more words.

After picking up our tray of food, we joined the rest of our group seated at a long table outside. The band was cranking out classic rock on the patio a few steps above us, but we were far enough away to enjoy conversation. Looking around, I was again amazed at the variety of people gathered at this place. Not all motorcyclists, yet sharing the love of spending time outdoors on a sunny winter afternoon. For this moment, it was enough to connect us.

 

 

 

 

Deer in the forest

deer

Because of pneumonia, I saw three deer in the forest.

Six long months ago, I booked our camping trip at the beach. Those of you who have made reservations at California state beaches know the degree of difficulty is at least an 8. But I did better than that– I booked one of the sites directly on the cliff at Carlsbad. These camping spots are wide, and trailers are allowed to park sideways so that your dining table window is facing the ocean. In order to secure those sites, you have to be on the ReserveAmerica website at exactly 7:55 am on the first– wait a minute! I’d better not reveal my secrets.

Six months later, time is approaching for our trip. The October weather forecast is promising days of 80 degrees and nights down to 60. Perfect. I’ve made my camping checklist, scheduled each day to do part of the prep work. School’s been tough, and I’m ready to check out of the desert for a weekend.

Three weeks before the trip, our six year old grandson goes into the hospital suffering pneumonia. His mother, my husband’s daughter, is a nurse practitioner, so we know she’s on top of everything. All of the family takes turns visiting him. After a week of treatment, the doctors send him home. Everyone takes a sigh of relief.

But one week later, our grandson goes back into the hospital again, sicker than he was at first. Raised voices from his parents produce a specialist who determines that our grandson’s lungs need a procedure. By now, his mother, who knows too much, and did I mention she’s in her first trimester of pregnancy, has become officially hysterical. (Who could blame her?) Her husband has now become the last sane person standing. Family members come and go to the hospital, like the changing of the guard.

A few nights before our camping trip, my husband and I look at each other. How do we dare leave the area while all this was going on?

I called and cancelled the reservation.

Meanwhile, our grandson started to recover, and that weekend, the weekend we had planned to go camping, he was allowed to leave and receive treatments at his home. Sunday the family was getting together to celebrate. But we had Saturday free.

A friend called and asked us to ride with him up to the mountains. After all the tension of the past weeks, we were ready to jump on our Harley and escape the heat. We rode up Highway 18 to Lake Arrowhead for lunch. We sat outside eating sandwiches, enjoying the sunshine and crisp cool air. After that we rode through Big Bear Lake. Our friend suggested we take Highway 38 through the mountains down to Yucaipa, a little used road that served as the access to a few campgrounds and fire roads.

Leaving the traffic of Big Bear behind, we cruised up the narrow winding road that would through the towering pines. Forest surrounded us on either side, and for most of the way there were no other cars. We swooshed back and forth in the curves like snow boarders. Lulled by the hum of the motorcycle engines and the rustling of the trees, we settled into the rhythm of the road.

Then three small heads with pointy ears turned our way from the forest’s edge. We had startled some young deer, which stared at us with suspicion, and then showed us their white tails as they bounded away. Although we had frequently visited our local mountains, this was the first time we had been far enough away from humans to catch sight of any wildlife.

If not for our grandson’s pneumonia, we never would have seen them.