Our Nest

by cheri sabraw

Those of us who have been in long-term relationships can speak to the power of silence.

All that might be said, has been said. Many times over.

So I’ve taken, at times,  to employing non-verbal communication signaled by a pair of fake birds that sits in our entry window.

For example, last week Hizzoner and I engaged in one of our weekly verbal arguments about how many hours he continues to work and preoccupy himself. How I am tired of it. How I want change of some sort. Change.


The next morning, I found that my residual feelings left over from this unresolved conflict in our marriage still lingered. But why bring it up again? So I reconfigured the birds. They can do the talking.

He, on the other hand, saw no conflict worth engaging in. At all. When I came home from my day out, he had realigned the pair to signal how he felt.

IMG_6240That’s funny. Not really.

Later that night, because of his incredibly long day, he fell into bed like a redwood tree going down in a storm. Good! He’s asleep, I thought, as I entered my side of the bed, hoping to sleep as close to the edge as I could possibly balance for the entire night. But he wasn’t fully asleep and moved over in hopes of mimicking the birds.

Oh well, I thought. Practice gratefulness. That always softens your heart. So the next morning, on my way to my busy day, I communicated my thoughts.


When I arrived home again to a dark nest house, on my way into the kitchen with logs for a fire and my iPad for entertainment, I let the birds do the pecking.


I made the dinner, seasoned it with cayenne pepper and spicy curry, and settled onto my perch.

The headlights turned down the driveway, the garage door opener grumbled, the door to our entry opened, the roller briefcase clicked across our tile, and the big bird entered, preening and pruning, dusting off his feathers, including the turquoise one in his hat.

I had nothing (at that moment) to say.

He went upstairs to unload.

I went outside to lug in more wood.

On my way out, I noticed the birds had been realigned.


Alright, I thought. That’s sweet.

How was your day, Your Honor?


Posted in Life, People | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

The Frog Princes

by cheri sabraw

Since my mother died, it’s been a reflective several months for me.

I have thought a great deal about aging but more about vitality–how to keep it and nourish it.

This evening, the glorious rain that has pounded Northern California for four days took a momentary break as if to say, ” There! Are you happy? Now that I have doused your fear of fire in the hills, what are you thinking?”

Good question. What am I thinking?

I stepped outside on my adobe porch tonight with my Labrador, Dinah. To be honest, I took with me a glass of Wente Chardonnay and sat down on the step to consider and reconsider how, under the constant pounding of both rain and time, I should approach the next decade.

Add to those thoughts and to the reflective nature of the night, the blowing of the North Wind Boreas and the croaking of thousands of frogs–maybe Leto’s peasants?– across our road, swimming and flirting in the old watering trough.

Talk about vitality.

The moon breaks through the rain clouds, creating a lovely halo around her visage.

The creek, anemic until this rain storm, its flow down to 12 inches, now carries leaf duff and little walnut-shell boats on a thrilling ride to the San Francisco Bay and to the sea.

The caterpillar I found on the fern, inches upward, looking for a safe haven in which to pause.

I am reminded of the energy of the visible and the invisible universe where atoms collide, where frogs bark into a dark moor, and where a yellow dog looks for affection.

| Tagged , , , | 14 Comments

The Humbling of the Olive Farmers

Maurino olive tree marker

Maurino olive tree marker

by cheri sabraw

One of the images that blackens the literary sky of The Grapes of Wrath occurs before the wandering Joads even reach the “Promised Land” of California.

First, Tom Joad crushes a grasshopper on the dashboard of the truck whose driver has just picked him up. This insect, one of billions to swarm into the Midwest, takes on symbolic meaning. Soon California will be overrun with “Oakies,” migrating like locusts toward work and  survival. In Chapter Three, Steinbeck writes of grasshoppers so thick they block out the light of the sun. He was referring to  July 26, 1931, when such an event happened in Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota.

The siege visited upon the Midwestern farmer was conducted by Uber-vermin, insects whose jaws grew larger as their swarm became a living machine that could chew through a wheat field more efficiently than any man-made combine.

Those of us who do not make our living tilling the soil have no idea how hard it is to produce a natural product or any product at all. When I buy red-leaf lettuce or  peaches, and nestle  kiwis into my basket alongside organic strawberries and blueberries, never do I consider the farmer who grew them, the insects who invade them in one way or another, and the patience it takes to bring them to market.

Never did I consider these factors until last year when the olive fruit fly destroyed our olive crop for the second year in a row.

And this year too, save for about 75 pounds of assorted leccino, arbequina, maurino, and frantoio olives, our crop again fell victim to the ravages of the fly.

Frantoio olive tree marker

Frantoio olive tree marker

On Monday, my husband and I picked the lucky little olives whose insides are not being turned out by fruit fly larvae feeding on such sweet oil. We hustled as  olives must be pressed within 24 hours of harvest.

My husband then drove them to the Central Valley to be pressed.

Trucks lined up at the press in Modesto, California, and the foreman asked, “Where are your  olives?”

“Why in a bin in the trunk of my car,” replied the gentleman farmer.

I’m sure good manners and some sympathy kept the pressman from laughing out loud.

This year, our harvest might yield 13 bottles of oil. I do not intend to calculate what each bottle cost us.

My husband asked my sister Cindy, who is producing the label for the bottles of our first harvest, to include this small paragraph on the back of the label:

WARNING: THIS PRODUCT IS NOT FOR SALE. This oil was not “organically grown.” Yes, we used Roundup and some pesticides to kill weeds and some of the olive fruit flies so that we could actually make the oil.  While this product is not a GMO, we would have done so if we knew how.  Consume at your own risk.  If you are among the very happy few to have been given a bottle of this oil, it is because we thought enough of you that we were willing to share the fruits of our labor. Please enjoy in peace and harmony and among family and friends, this splendid, mild blend!

There’s always next year. We have 60 trees. Each tree should produce a gallon of oil.



Posted in Growing Olives | Tagged , , , , , , | 12 Comments

A Proton


by cheri block

Joan left the earth’s atmosphere the other night after lingering for several weeks in and about her children’s homes.

Now a spot of energy in the Grand Scheme of Things, Joan is on her way.

I did not expect to be privy to the experience that took place on Thursday night last.

I had just taken a break from a long day of correcting papers and had stepped out onto our patio. My awareness heightened by the deepening darkness overtaking the Western sky, I looked toward the flickering city lights around the San Francisco Bay, and there in our meadow among the English walnut trees, moving at a tremendous speed without regard for limb or earthly life, was Joan in her new iteration.

A proton supreme, she arced and dove through my vision like Tinkerbell on her way to Never Neverland.

Not one to miss an opportunity to speculate about the Life Beyond, I telepathically caught her just before she left.

Where are you going, Joan? I whispered into the night.

Her hearing restored, she murmured, I’m drawn without resistance to the Supernova, Cheri. The one where exist other sources of inspirational energy. I’m hoping to locate Hugh and my father, Jimmie.

Oh. I communicated silently to her. I’m sure you will meet Eleanor Roosevelt there.

Perhaps, she twinkled back.

And then, before I could offer salutations, she was gone.

Posted in Life, People | Tagged , , , , | 14 Comments

Queen Joan of Ours


Princess Joan 1935, Dallas, Texas

Princess Joan
1935, Dallas, Texas

by cheri block

This Morning is quiet on the Rancho.

Oddly, the turkeys and their racket are absent.

A light wind flutters the oak leaves, so laden with acorns. My dear sycamores rustle; the creek dribbles with sympathy.

Light is still off on the eastern horizon; is it possible for this dawn to linger longer?

Queen Joan is dead.

Her legacy—for all who had the great good fortune to know her—is one of courage, resiliency, and gratitude.

Her approach to life in the face of adversity rivals the testaments of the great men and women whose stories color the biblical canons of human record.

May we all be inspired by her example.

Long live the memory of Queen Joan!



Posted in Life, People, The Dragon in the Lobby: a fairytale about Assisted Living | Tagged | 28 Comments

Twin Bridges, Montana



by cheri sabraw

Every town or city in which we stopped, especially in Montana, became an opportunity for speculation. Is this a place where we could live part of the year and exit California congestion?

This line of questioning we pursued from Hamilton, Montana–a charming town in the Bitterroot Valley still undisturbed by tourists–to Great Falls–a city on the Missouri River, protected from California investment by its spartan offerings–frigidity in winter and wind velocity in summer.

Lured by the confluence of four famous Montanan rivers–the Beaverhead, the Big Hole,  the Madison, and the Jeffereson–we drove into Twin Bridges, population 350.

At the end of Main Street we found our lodging, the Kings Motel, owned by Don and Marsha and their son, Matt.


Don’t let the trim outside and gravel road deceive you. Marsha and Don take pride in the cleanliness of their rooms, complete with kitchens, lounge chairs, and homemade furniture.


While my husband fly-fished the Big Hole with Matt, I walked to the Shack for lunch and then crossed the Beaverhead on one of the Twins (bridges). I was on my way to the vacant fairgrounds, around which I had been told, was a walking path. The dry air, hovering at 85 degrees, along with almost a complete absence of other people, put me into a dreamy mood.

The Shack at lunchtime.

The Shack at lunchtime.

IMG_3511Should I order a Bud Light or a Brownie Sundae?

Later, I headed to the fairgrounds, imagining myself on my daily walk here in the Ruby Valley, free of the snarl of cars, the clang of my neighbors’ heavy equipment on Sunday mornings at 7:00 am, or the roar of the 737’s heading into one of three airports in San Francisco, Oakland, or San Jose.

IMG_3524The fairgrounds were vacant alright. Not a steer, lamb, or hog to be found.


I’m sure the dear and deceased Paula, God Rest Her Soul, is thrilled that in her honor, bulls have their way with trapped cows. Makes me wonder what Paula’s hobbies were.

This sight caused me pause: will they name a room at Mission San Jose High School after me when I die? That freakish thought was answered before I could get Paula out of my mind. “Absolutely not, shouted the representative from the California Teachers’ Association! “

The day became hotter; my checked cowboy shirt and jeans began to feel heavy.

The mile loop seemed like part of the arduous  Lewis and Clark expedition, which passed by Twin Bridges at Three Forks. There, to the relief of Meriwether Lewis, Sacajawea saw the Beaverhead Mountains and remembered her homeland.

On my walk by a tributary of the Beaverhead, a fella  enjoyed himself.



I rounded the bend,  about a half a mile from my motel room; the day was as still and dry as cornstarch.

Not much was happening in Twin Bridges. Should I attend  the Gun Show over there in  one of the fairground buildings?


Instead, I headed for the Kings Motel. The path freshened with the river. I called out to moisture. Moisture! Surely you will sooth my parched skin and slumping body.



And then it appeared–the Twin Bridges Oasis–Main Street.


Back at the King’s Motel, I fell into one of the Barca-Lounger chairs in my comfortable room and picked up the book I had deliberately brought to reread while here in Montana–A River Runs Through it.

In my view, this novella is as good as anything Hemingway ever wrote about nature, conflicted relationships, and sport as religion. As I asked my husband later that night at dinner at the Old Hotel in Twin Bridges, ” What do you think the “it” refers to in A River Runs Through It?

Could the pronoun have referred to Twin Bridges?

My husband, settled, loose, and unpreoccupied after a day on a river, and having enjoyed several glasses of Pinot Noir, missed the joke.

“Why Cheri, the ‘it’ refers to the tangled relationship that Norman had with his brother Paul.”


The Big Hole River, Twin Bridges, Montana

The Big Hole River, Twin Bridges, Montana




Posted in Life, My photography, People | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

The Palouse

IMG_6075 by cheri sabraw

We entered the Palouse without knowing it.

As far as the eye could see were golden undulating hills that looked like Mother Earth  had experienced a serious case of the shivers.

From Spokane to the Snake River and on into the Columbia River Gorge, the Palouse astounds the eye with her quiet vast blanket of bumps. On these hills, enormous combines–bigger than any others I have seen in Iowa or Kansas–crawl upward, cutting the wheat in an act that seems to defy gravity. It is a stunning sight and nothing like any other land form I have ever seen. IMG_6070My husband reminds me that in the old days, when the USC  football team would travel to Washington State University in Pullman, the network sports announcer, Keith Jackson, would say, “Well, here we are…..ready for the Trojans to take on the Cougars…here in the Paaaaaa–looooose!” IMG_6069 IMG_6071 The top of this hill has been tilled, ready for new planting. Truly, this is the grand home of Shredded Wheat. Eventually, the Palouse allows herself some some variation on her legumish theme. IMG_6103In a scene that hardly looks real, the Snake River offers a different style of life to the Palouse but she ignores him. In a spontaneous desire to experience the recesses of her hills (as opposed to riding a combine), we stop to play golf. The clubhouse is visible, but the course lies in the secrets of the Palouse. IMG_6086

Posted in Education, My photography, Writing and Teaching | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

In search of buffalo

These markers indicate where members of the 7th Cavalry fell to the Sioux and Cheyenne.

These markers indicate where members of the 7th Cavalry fell to the Sioux and Cheyenne.

by cheri sabraw

In my last post, I left you hanging.

I do apologize.

The sheer size of Montana and the hours it takes to drive  from famous rivers (the Missouri, Yellowstone, Big Hole, and Gallatin) to a Western artist’s  home  to a battlefield  to  famous bars DO tend to set one’s tight schedule back a bit. From Charlie Russell’s studio in Great Falls to the site of Custer’s last stand 20 miles outside of Billings to a good ol mahogany bar in Bozeman (14 North), we have covered vast territory efficiently, like a couple of Great Plains grasshoppers.

For those of you who wondered if we did, in fact, revisit the site of the Battle of the Little Big Horn, I am pleased to report, “Yes.” If you  remember, one of us had a hankering to go back, sure that it had changed. Funny. It looked the same to one of us as it did 30 years ago although the Indians’ point of view and sacrifices are now a part of the narrative and the monument, as they should have been in the first place.

I could have been dreaming but the same corny and over-animated U.S. Government Park Ranger, let’s call him Marvin, gave the same talk he did thirty years ago about the logistics and personalities that clashed in 1876 on these dry Montana hills.

Does anyone feel sorry for George Armstrong Custer, other than his long-dead wife, Libby?

Does anyone feel sorry for George Armstrong Custer, other than his long-dead wife, Libby?

I erroneously reported in my last post that the site where Custer died was marked with a black headstone. Sorry. The headstone, in fact, is white but with a black shield to emphasize the white letters.

Satisfied to have seen the place where Sitting Bull’s warriors, for a brief moment in the late 19th century, rose upon their ponies with bow and arrows and guns to defend their way of life, we turned our mechanical pony south to Yellowstone, where I hoped to see the buffalo.

In the Lamar Valley, we glimpsed from far away, a herd of buffalo.

In the Lamar Valley, we glimpsed a herd of buffalo from far away or are those cattle?


My patient husband tried to keep his eyes on the road while responding to my entreaties to find a place where I could  see a buffalo other than through a pair of binoculars.

Here! Through those willowy cottonwood trees. Here! Cheri. See? There! See them? What a view? Doesn’t this scene look like the Serengeti?


Are those buffalo? I  cannot tell.

Oh my. Here come two buffalo bulls.

Oh my. Here come two buffalo bulls.

Then, to my ecstatic delight, these two creatures, representing in one sense, a lost time in Native American history, begin to approach our car.

At last, that iconic image of a gentle giant moved within 20 feet of my camera.

At last, that iconic image of a gentle giant moved within 20 feet of my camera.

And there he stands!

In order to steady my heart and draw me back from my thoughts about the heartbreaking devastation that was the Battle of the Little Big Horn, symbolic of Native American losses of land, spirit, and buffalo, I asked that we stop and gaze into the Yellowstone River.

IMG_5998Which we did.

Posted in Life, People | Tagged , , , , , , | 14 Comments

On the way to Great Falls, Montana… and the Little Big Horn




by cheri sabraw

We have begun to listen to Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage, as we travel out of the stunning, rugged landscape found in Glacier National Park.

Great Falls, Montana, is the home to the Lewis and Clark Museum, as well as to the iconic Western artist Charles Russell. These rich deposits to our early cultural heritage we hope to see today.

Very quickly, the thick forests that blanket the sharp and towering snow-capped peaks of Glacier are gone, replaced by low hills topped by rock formations. As we approach Browning, a humble city in the heart of the Blackfeet Indian Nation, the Great Plains of Montana meets our eyes. The scene is hard to describe; to put such space and sky into words seems a task fit only for heavenly scribes.


Some further information must be supplied to this narrative, if not for informational purposes, then for insight into the mindsets of two people—we—who are eager to drive hundreds of miles through vast golden valleys shaded in splotches by clouds, floating like large comfortable pillows in an expansive and glorious sky that Montanans refer to as “Big Sky.”

Although one of the two of us has professed a lifelong desire to experience Montana—one of the least populated states in the Union (a million people)—one of the two of us has also carried a fascination with the events that occurred at the Little Big Horn in 1876, where George Armstrong Custer met his fate at the hands and guns of the Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne Indian tribes.


Both of us, along with our two children, visited the Custer monument in 1988. If my memory serves me, we all walked in blistering heat along the knoll of the grassy hill, and inspected the soldiers’ gravestones, lying haphazardly where each of them  met his death in what historians have described as a furry of rage. In the middle of white headstones, our eyes focused on  a black one.

In short speed, we found ourselves staring down and only a few steps away from the spot where—as other historians have speculated— Custer’s brother Tom fired a bullet into Custer’s left temple, ending Custer’s life and the pain emanating from a fatal wound at the hands of the Indians. The Sioux had exacted their revenge.

That visit was our last to the Little Big Horn. After all, it is all the way across the State of Montana. It is one of those sites that only need to be seen once. Or so I thought.

I should have known that while on our way to Montana, as we listened to The Last Stand by Nathaniel Philbrick,  the narrative would engender such keen interest that it would rekindle in one of us such newly minted curiosity that two of us now are headed, once again, to see where Custer got what he deserved.



Posted in Life, My photography, People, Writing and Teaching | Tagged , , , | 15 Comments

An earthquake of years

IMG_6576by cheri sabraw

In my walk around a little beach community where we have a tiny house, I am amused by all of those old folks feeding birds.

Some of those old folks, in their retirement, have taken up bird-house building. Three-story English cottages, Berkeley bungalows, and modern metal Deco homes–sure to entice the most discriminating of birds–dangle from eaves in front of breakfast nooks.

Oh those poor souls, I muse. Souls without active lives anymore. Souls who can’t wait to awake at 5:00 am to retrieve their morning Tribune, pour their cup of Folgers, and watch the birds chittering and tittering, from cottage to bungalow to Deco.

In that same beach town, on my usual walk with my dog tugging at her leash, her keen peripheral vision scanning from left to right for a pretzel or chip crumb, I crinkle my eyes, hidden under enormous sunglasses, and secretly smile at the collection of windmills, tchotchkys, and feel-good signs in these old folks’ gardens.

Welcome to Gramma’s Garden, Life’s a Beach, Relax!

Good God, I thought. Is this what it is like to get old? 

Last night, the San Francisco Bay Area experienced a serious 6.0 earthquake. Although not  on my fault line–the one that our home sits directly upon–the Hayward Fault line of the mighty San Andreas Fault, the temblor rattled every dish and glass in the house, awaking me from a deep sleep at 3:20 am. The dog barked.

I jumped out of bed with a start since my husband was not home.

I ran down the stairs and outside to our patio to make sure that my decorative glass hummingbird feeders had not fallen off their hooks.

Luckily the fresh bird-seed I had just purchased to fill my little nuthatch, junco, and finch feeder had not tipped off the counter, sending 20 pounds of cracked sunflower seeds onto the floor of my kitchen.

As I trundled back up the stairs in the dead of night, I glanced out our front door to see that the Welcome sign was still vertical.

All is well, dear.




Posted in Life, Writing and Teaching | Tagged , , , | 21 Comments