Dinnshenchas: Places, names, and things in California
Ecological systems and change in the California Landscape.
Elizabeth Creely lives in San Francisco, and has explored almost every type of environment California has to offer: coastal, riverine, grassland, desert and montane. This blog features an new essay (hopefully) every month. I like quality more than quantity, and intend to write substantive, research-based essays that reflect the best of my conversations, childhood memories, discoveries and reflections of California. What's Dinnshenchas mean, you ask? It's an old Irish narrative genre that takes its inspiration from a genre of Irish story telling that recounts the origins of place names. It concerns itself with the mythic, and California is nothing if not that.
Tonight at about 12 midnight, Eastern Standard time, the government will likely shut down because of women’s wombs. Yep. Legislators who object to provisions within the Affordable Care Act of 2010 that cover contraceptives, are threatening to stop all government services. It’s like time-traveling back to the heady year of 2010 when the Act was signed into law except then the Act came close to failing because of abortion. For many of us who have had abortions and fought for women’s reproductive integrity, this was a hard, hard sideshow to watch: the politicians scrambled over themselves to see who could disavow abortion more passionately, something they’d never, ever support. This procedure, one that millions of women use, is still so stigmatized that the merest suspicion that the ACA might be used somehow to fund it almost sent the first meaningful health care act of our lives back into legislative limbo....
Summer is almost over. In nine days the inevitable slide into darkness begins. I'm ready. I don't know if it's a function of getting older, but June and July are tough: there is so much sun, a surfeit of it. Summer is many-houred and hotter now. For about twenty years, the heat of the sun has lain differently on my skin, more intensely, even in the exceptionally moderate climate of coastal California. My skin shrinks and begs me to get out of it. And into the water.
I'm a Leo, beloved of the sun, born just after Lughnasadh. And yet for most of the three months that make up summer, I'm always looking around for the nearest source of water to jump into. This is tough when you live in a city. San Francisco does not get that hot, really. And the water is chilly. But on those rare occasions when the sun broadcasts intense heat across San Francisco, the ocean is there. Then, I hop on my bike and ride across town to China Beach, a tiny cove situated under multimillion homes. Grey water and urban sludge leak from the houses and the streets in a sluggish stream that divides the beach. I would enjoy the beach more were it not for this. But it's mostly a clean beach. When the sun is high, it's easy enough to walk up to the ocean and the nearest green wave, which I treat as a portal. I knock three times. A door opens. I slip into the ocean, and under the waves for twenty minutes or so of ecstatic play. It's good times.
Ye shall know the summer by the water you find: this has been (until this writing) an unspoken maxim of mine. This was a three-water summer: a lake, a wetland pond, and a river....
I walked down an escalator into the 24th Street BART station in San Francisco's Mission District. I was in a hurry, as I always am in BART. I don't enjoy BART with the same wonder that I felt 23 years ago, when the then-gleaming gray cars of the underground light rail stood for everything my former home of Orange County did not: efficient futurism.
Now BART has become another feature of the city, and it is worn down, besides. It's now simply a well-traveled, still efficient, but sadly familiar semaphore for the agitated haste of the city commuter. I walked rapidly down the moving escalator steps.
I saw people everywhere and the entry gates and the BART musician of the day, and my mind and energy were at least 30 steps ahead. My spirit was already waiting on the platform: everyone moved with practiced, controlled impatience. We were none of us really there: we were really at home or a restaurant or maybe even in the office, although it was late afternoon....