Friday, January 25, 2008

The Mountains Are Out To Get Us

It's easy for us to think that the mountains are out to get us this winter, the naive newcomers who blithely plopped down out here in the Santa Cruz mountains in the fall, when there was sun, to admire the view. Racoons ate the chickens on Christmas--they dug under the pen and took four to eat, killing the rest and leaving them behind in grisly, feathered angles of repose. And now my daughter, who found them, is inseparable from her stuffed chicken toy we'd (unaware of the carnage) left outside her door just that morning. She's drawn up plans for a new chicken house now. The future chickens will have metal walls, and an elevator up to an observation tower where they can keep an eye out.

This was followed rapidly by a succession of great, voluminous storms coming on off of the Pacific. The crest here on the ridge of the mountains, breaking against us before raining down into the valley. Great whoppers of storms, these were, with fascinatingly high winds that our landlord David says topped 120 MPH, whipping up from the bay and in over the ridge just west of the house, blasting fog and rain and sleet vertically up at the house and the trees. They severed tree limbs and slammed doors and tried to lift off the lid to the hot tub like little levitating Reagan in the Excorcist (I'd roped it down, not planning to give that up easy). Screen doors slid back and forth in their spots, as though the wind was both coming and going, and the deck furniture that I'd braced up against the wall shifted and changed places, like some bizarre shell game played by poltergeist.

Power went down, the generator was out, and it took nearly a week to come back on--we're on a spur line that winds it's way up into the hills from somewhere over near Cupertino. We camped in the master bedroom around the wood stove, listening to an old yellow transistor radio Giselle had gotten me for Christmas. We struck out to friends houses to check email, stash our frozen goods, eat food. PG&E ventures out into these mountains only after everything else is done, scared off by the steepness of the roads and the looming oaks, by the mountain lions hiding in the fog. When the power finally did come on it blew the transfer switch between the generator and the house, cutting off all power once again. It was only the attentions of our landlord and a really great mountain electrician who will work at night that kept us out of a hotel in the valley, refugees in the flatlands.

Should I also mention the poison oak? Who knew it grows as a vine? (Anyone who's put a little effort into researching it, actually.) I'd cleared the long dirt driveway after that storm, and a spot on my arm burst into a tremendous, full-blown histamine burn across 80% of my dermal layer that lasted for two weeks, and leaves me now looking ragged and peeling, spotted like someone diseased, like someone physically transformed into something that shambles and sheds, scratches and flakes off large dry pieces of itself in corners.

The truck is battered, from where I turned against a large rock in the driveway, and it's dirty too with inches of mud inside and out, spattered all the way up to the roof rack. This week was snow, which I'm told is rare up here. An inch or two across the ridgeline, heavy slush on the winding roads. Tonight it's wind and rains, moaning around the doors and windows and battering down on the metal roof. Flooding in the valley, and minor mudslides on Bear Creek Road.

No mountain lions spotted yet. But if I see one on the driveway, looming there in the fog and waiting for me, I'll know for sure I'm right.

Fireball in the morning