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TALES OF AN ORANGEPEELER

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08.05.04, thursday night

In the afternoon light strained by our red-blond blinds, V's eyes were walnut. I would say roasted but I have never seen or eaten a roasted walnut. Perhaps I would if I had grown up on the east coast, in a spacious colonial house, where my large, affluent family carols blissfully gravy-sticky after the big Christmas dinner & eggs are thrown at the doors of cranky old women during Halloween. But this is only a collage of images culled from movies & t.v. shows; are there really families & homes & towns like that?

. . .

We talked about bird-watching. Is Jim really into it? I shrugged. Jimmy says he's a birdwatcher by default; he drives me up & down the coast, to shoreline parks, to the birds. All the same, we line little shelves with images of birds. We tell each other over coffee or wine about the birds we have seen that day or yesterday. Yet when we bird-watch at the shoreline, we do not simply discover their names.

For us, to identify birds is to explore a place's natural history & its intersection with human history. We must talk, from trail's beginning to its dissolving end, about California, history, industry, cities, suburbs, placeness. What & how many birds are present? Why do some neighborhoods possess a cornucopia of calls but not others? Why fret over the eyes of house finches? What happens when developers replace a woodlet with a golf course? How are the migratory habits of certain birds disrupted by the suburbanization of the Californian landscape? We look around at our surroundings--a grove of redwood trees, a cemetary, restored salt marshes, tourist hubbubs, fisheries, affluent & poor neighborhoods--& wonder: how is this place determined by laws, migration (of birds, of labor, of money), factories, a fad, the trampling foot, even absence?

. . .

V.'s baby started to cry. She unzipped her shiny black hoodie, pulled down her shirt. As the tot, big-blue-eyed, suckled, I looked away. I don't know the proper etiquette. She chuckled & I looked, at the baby suckling, her sparkling eyes, like walnuts crackling in a fire, maybe. The conversation ebbed, but the words still hung there between us, like dust stirred. When I think of her now, it is as if I stand near a lake that is calm & rippling, abounding with the living.






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