I hear you knocking

by Lorin Michel Saturday, January 17, 2015 8:15 PM

It happens all day long but I don’t always hear it. But come the night, the sound is impossible to ignore. At first, it frightened me. What is that? Then it annoyed me. Come on. Again? Now I find it almost comforting. It’s the tat tat tat tat tat tat tat and then some of the Frigidaire side-by-side refrigerator in our rental house.

When we moved in, in August of 2013, it was hot as it often is in the desert. The house, with the exception of the swoosh of the AC as it blew cool air through the ducts and the soft whirl of the ceiling fan, was quiet. The only sound that came from the refrigerator was the usual electric hum, the occasional drop of ice into the tray from the automatic ice-maker.

Then the temperature turned colder and suddenly the fridge began to keep a steady beat. It wasn’t constant, but it was often, and it got more often as winter descended. We called a refrigerator repair guy who came out to inspect the machinery and gruffly told us that he could find nothing wrong with it. Naturally it made no sound while the man was here just like when your car is making “that” noise that it refuses to make when you take it to the mechanic. Since it gave us the silent treatment that day, it didn’t get fixed. As soon as the guy left, it started again. Tat tat tat tat tat tat.

Several days later I suggested that perhaps it was the temperature as the advent of the tapping seemed to correspond with the arrival of the cold weather. Kevin essentially said that was impossible.

Summer came and the refrigerator got quiet again. It hummed and dropped ice but there was no knocking. For six months or more we had silence emanating from the kitchen. Then came the cold weather and with it, the knocking. It started slowly. Tat tat. As winter continued and the temperatures remained cool if not actually cold at night, the tatting continued, growing steadily. It never gets any louder; it simply lasts longer. Kevin has started counting the knocks. 11 became 22, 22 became 37 became 67 became even more.

It happens during the day but we hardly notice it. At night, though, when the world is quiet, when there is only the occasional woosh of heated air pushing through the ducts, when Cooper sighs heavily, the weight of it all, when we’re supposed to be sleeping, that’s when it comes. The tapping, the tatting, the knocking.

Kevin has now come around to the idea that maybe it does have something to do with the change in temperature though it makes no sense to his logical mind. It doesn’t make sense, but there it is.

Tat tat tat tat.

I always want to say come in, come in already. As the knocks continue, though, I find that they bring me something akin to comfort. I don’t know why. It’s really an annoying sound. Maybe it’s the mechanical-ness of it, the machine-like continuity of it. I can’t put my finger on it. But when I hear the knocking I am somehow soothed. I don’t count the knocks; they don’t keep me up. They simply are. Like the ticking of a loud clock, they record the passage of time and become a reminder of the life before and the summer still to come.

I hear you knocking. But you can’t come in because it would ruin the illusion, it would solve the mystery. And take all the fun out of wondering why.

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live out loud

So I return to my (desert) home and my (desert) life

by Lorin Michel Friday, December 19, 2014 9:29 PM


I have five favorite books of all time, one of which is Pat Conroy’s The Prince of Tides. It is an exquisitely written fictional memoir about a man, Tom Wingo, who grew up in the south and who has traveled to New York to help supply the memory of his nearly catatonic twin sister after she tries to kill herself. He has left his wife and children behind. His wife is having an affair and Tom is having an existential crisis. He has his own affair with his sister’s psychiatrist. It’s a brutal story but the prose is lush and poetic. I remember reading it on an airplane, finishing it as the plane was landing in New York. I was in tears.

I thought of this book and its gorgeous last paragraph today as I drove across the desert, alone. I’ve been in Los Angeles for several days, having meetings and securing more work that will begin in earnest in the New Year. I had driven rather than fly because it just seemed easier. It’s a long drive but an easy one, and I don’t mind it. Plus, as I was leaving Los Angeles today, the news channel was talking about how it’s the busiest travel day of the year at LAX and what a mess it was, especially on the upper level which is the departure level. I hate the airport; I was glad to already be on my way east even if it would ultimately take me a bit longer.

As I drove through the desert, surrounded by cars and trucks and trailers, one of my favorite passages, the last from both the book and the movie popped into my head. I have no idea why.

“So I returned to my southern home and my southern life, and it is in the presence of my woman and children that I acknowledge my life, my destiny. I am a teacher, a coach, and a well-loved man. And it is more than enough. In New York, I learned that I needed to love my mother and father in all their flawed, outrageous humanity. And in families there are no crimes beyond forgiveness. But it is the mystery of life that sustains me now. And I look to the North and I wish again that there were two lives apportioned to every man and every woman. At the end of every day I drive through the city of Charleston, and as I cross the bridge that will take me home I feel the words building inside me. I can't stop them or tell you why I say them, but as I reach the top of the bridge, these words come to me in a whisper. I say them as prayer, as regret, as praise… I say, "Lowenstein… Lowenstein..."”

All I could think of was that I was returning to my desert home and my desert life. And that it is in the presence of my husband and dog that I acknowledge my life, my destiny. I am a writer, a creator, and a well-loved woman.  And it is more than enough. In LA, I embraced  the  love I have for my family and my friends. And that in both, there is only joy and wonder. But it’s the mystery of life that sustains me always.  And I look to the East and I wish again that there was less miles between my Tucson and my LA. At the end of the day I drive through the vast Sonoran desert, and as I cross the border that means I will be home in three and a half hours I feel the words building inside me. I can’t stop them but you’ll understand why I say them, and as I reach Phoenix and turn south, these words come to me in a whisper. I say them as prayer, as promise, as joy … I say, “I’m home… I’m home.”

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live out loud

My dad's gloves

by Lorin Michel Monday, December 15, 2014 8:15 PM

When my dad died in May of 2002, one of the morbid chores to be done was cleaning out his house. As I didn’t live there and wanted to help as much as possible, I went in right away to get started. My mother went with me; I honestly can’t remember if my brother and sister were there. It’s not surprising. The entire week happened in a bit of a fog.

We cleaned out his refrigerator and his kitchen in general. We went through closets, stripped the bed. I remember my mother asking me if there was anything of his that I wanted to take, things to keep him close to me. I’m not overly sentimental, and honestly didn’t know what I wanted. I don’t generally covet things that belong to others, including my parents. The truth is, I needed no reminder of him. I took some of his medals, the ones he had received for tennis, maybe basketball or baseball. I took a game set that he kept in his living room though I have no idea why. When we went through his hall closet, my mother asked me if maybe Kevin would like his leather coat. I said I thought that would be nice.

The coat is sport coat length; it zips up the front. It’s a deep, chocolate brown leather, soft and sophisticated. I think my brother might have bought it for my dad several years earlier, as a Christmas present. I don’t ever remember seeing my dad in the coat but I wasn’t there very often in the winter. It smelled of leather but it also smelled of my dad, his spicy aftershave and stale tobacco. We boxed up the coat along with several other items, including the game box, and addressed it to me in California. It wasn’t until after I left New England to go back to the West coast that it occurred to me that maybe Kevin might think it was morbid, essentially getting willed my dead father’s coat.

He didn’t end up thinking that at all. He loved the coat. It was a little big on him – Kevin is not quite a tall as my dad and not nearly as thick – but it looked good. He zipped it up, put his hands into the large flapped pockets in the front and pulled out a pair of black gloves. My dad’s gloves.

My dad's gloves, on our 1935 radio, atop the two record recording of A Christmas Carol

While I didn’t remember the coat, I did remember the gloves. My dad had them for years. Black leather with raised ribs of texture on the fingers. They were short, as if perhaps they were driving gloves. There was a very soft lining, nothing that would necessarily keep his hands warm, but enough to ward off the chill when inside the car or walking to dinner. Kevin put them on. It was strange to see gloves I remembered so well on my husband’s hands now on my husband’s. It was also comforting.

Kevin wears the coat when it’s cold and we’re going out somewhere nice. He wears the gloves all the time, and especially in the cold desert mornings when we walk Cooper. This morning he had them on and asked me if my dad had small hands. I said I didn’t remember him having small hands. My dad was a fairly good size man. 6’2”, 225 pounds. His hands had a broad expanse across the knuckles. His fingers may not have been as long as Kevin’s but his hands weren’t small.

He must have used these for driving, Kevin decided. The leather is too soft and unworn, even though they were worn a lot, to have ever seen harsh climate or hard work. My dad used to keep a pair of big, thick, heavy-duty gloves in the car, Kevin said, so that he could dust off the car, scrape the ice off the windows, dig himself out of wherever he happened to be. When he’d get in the car, he’d throw those gloves in the back and put on another, lighter pair.

I could see my dad doing that. He didn’t have a garage so his Jeep Grand Cherokee sat in front of his home, always out in the elements. When it snowed, and it did often as he lived in the mountains, I imagined he would put on a pair of snowmobile gloves. That he’d pull the scraper from the back. That he’d zip up his heavy ski jacket and ready the car to drive. That he’d throw those gloves onto the passenger seat while he drove. That maybe then he’d put on these other gloves, these gloves that my husband now wears. My father’s gloves. Every time he does, I see my dad’s hands and I remember. Maybe I’m more sentimental than I thought.

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live out loud

A lost sole in the desert

by Lorin Michel Friday, November 14, 2014 8:54 PM

Several years ago, I had an idea. It occurred to me in the night, as some of my most interesting ideas often do. I hastily scribbled it down on the paper next to my side of the bed and the next morning I approached Kevin. We had been toying with finding something to do together. I don’t remember why. We often do projects together, especially when related to the house. Actually, he does the project. I help. I’m not even remotely good at building anything but I’ve become remarkably adept at holding large pieces of wood steady as they travel through the table saw. I can also lay tile. We were looking for something more creative, something that would make use of both of our talents.

Kevin has long been involved in photography. Sometimes long stretches of time will flow between photos, but he loves it. It’s something that started when he was young. His father was involved in the Kankakee camera club; Kevin was, too.

He had a SLR camera, I think it was a Minolta. It shot film. This was before digital cameras were as accessible and affordable as they are now. Certainly it was before smart phones and the cameras they all possess, making the smaller digital cameras nearly obsolete.

Every weekend, we’d climb onto the motorcycle, the camera bag and its additional lenses packed into the saddle bag, and off we’d go. To Ojai, to Camarillo; east to Lake Hughes; up into the Angeles Crest forest. We mostly avoided freeways and stuck to canyons and other side roads. We preferred places that were somewhat away from society. We searched for shoes.

I had long been fascinated with the abandoned shoes that litter the roads. I always wondered, and still do, how one shoe ended up in a ditch, or just tossed along the roadside. Sneakers, dress shoes, boots, children’s sandals. It didn’t seem to matter type, style or size, adult or child. Shoes were and are everywhere. We called our project Lost Soles: Stories from the road. Kevin took photographs, often lying on the side of the road while I stood by and tried to look nonchalant so as not to alarm passers-by. Most of the time it worked. Often people who slow down and call out to make sure we were OK.

After the film was developed, we would decide on a photo and I would craft a back story for the shoe, turning it into a character. It wasn’t about where we found the shoe, but perhaps why the shoe was there.

We pitched the idea as a book and had some interest. I need to get back to it and re-pitch it as I still believe it has merit. The shoes become metaphors for others who are struggling. Lost soles are lost souls and vice versa.

Yesterday, Kevin was out at the new house. He parked his motorcycle half way up the drive because there were too many workers at the top and he’d have no place to turn around. He hiked the rest of the way up, and when he returned back something made him decide to investigate the area where two trucks have flipped over into the desert. The first was a small pickup hauling a load of dirt. The driver lost control, it slid through the curb, breaking it, and flipped, dumping its load of dirt. Naturally, we got a call.

The truck was righted by a small piece of equipment, and continued its work. The spilled load of dirt was lost.

Just a couple of weeks ago, another truck went over the side. It was carrying spools of electrical wire. The driver had stopped because a turtle was crossing in front of him. He got out to move the turtle, but he neglected to set the parking brake. The truck rolled back and flipped. He too was pulled to safety and the spools reloaded so that work could continue.

Kevin went to the scene of the crimes and found this:

Someone lost a shoe. It’s now a lost sole, alone in the desert. I don't yet know its story, but I know this much: it's living it out loud, serene and resolved in the surrounding beauty.

The bewildering case of the 52” table saw and why we absolutely, positively cannot live without one

by Lorin Michel Saturday, August 30, 2014 10:42 PM

The road to Catalina starts out as six lanes, narrows to four and then becomes a two lane highway. It winds north of the city, into an area that has become the definition of a bedroom community. There are beautiful homes that all look mostly alike, with slight variances in color from desert tan to light terra cotta. They are neatly arranged on equally neat and small pieces of land, landscaped with sparse saguaros, plentiful ocotillos and chollas, mesquite trees and birds of paradise. During the summer, there is rarely any life outside, save the hawks circling above, as everyone stays inside where temperature controlled central air conditioning leads to a false sense of comfort. Kids play basketball and tennis on their Wii for exercise. Even the dogs are inside. It was into this community that we drove this morning in search of a table saw that the husband unit found on Craig’s List and decided that we needed.

We have a table saw, I pointed out. It’s a piece of crap, he said.

But you’ve used it to build some lovely pieces of furniture, I said. I referenced the entertainment center, the credenza in the bedroom, the bed frame in the guest room that was once a queen size loft bed for Justin, complete with a curved staircase rather than a ladder. It’s been perfectly fine up until now.

It’s a piece of crap, he reiterated.

I had gone along begrudgingly. It’s Saturday and I’m not big on just hanging back in the house alone because that might mean I’d have to do something like clean and while I desperately need to dust, I wasn’t in the mood. I also wasn’t particularly in the mood to buy a table saw when we already have one. But it’s a long weekend. There are plenty of days left.

We made our way north to Oracle and continued on into Catalina. Civilization got more and more sparse. There were few homes and no shopping to speak of. There was a place called the Catalina Marina, which made us both laugh. It’s in the middle of the desert. There wasn’t so much as a puddle visible, but it was a boat place. There was a Mexican restaurant called Lulus, and a barbecue place called Bubb Grub.

We should ride out here some day, when your back is feeling better, I mentioned, meaning on the motorcycle. He nodded.

It’s supposed to be 16 miles and then we’re supposed to continue on Saddlebrooke, he said as we meandered through the nothingness. Because of all the rain we’ve had, the desert is remarkably green. If lush could be used to describe what can be a desolate landscape, I would say lush. To the east, the Santa Catalina Mountains reached high into the blue of the sky, the jutted, craggy rocks stark. Below them, on the hills, more greenery. It was striking. Beautiful.

As the road split, there was a sign for Oracle. We had passed a turn for something called Saddlebrook Boulevard about four miles earlier but the directions said to continue on. We decided the directions were wrong and turned around, made our way to Saddlebrook and turned. As we climbed a hill and began to descend into a valley, a sea of houses met us. Entrance ways into communities beckoned, stucco walls with metal sculptures and the names of each development. We turned on Desert Bluff and found ourselves in the middle of a neighborhood. We quickly found the house. The owner of the saw was in his garage. Even I knew immediately that whatever saw he had, the 52” that we had come to look at, was going to be in remarkable shape, pristine.

The man, Jim, had just about every kind of tool imaginable, all well cared for, clean, in neat order. He was a wood worker who, in the past, had built furniture, but he had recently turned his efforts to making classical guitars and wooden clocks. A table saw was no longer needed.

OK. You need a new table saw, I whispered and my husband started to laugh.

And that’s how we came to own a new used table saw that I was pretty sure we didn’t need but now understand why we absolutely, positively cannot live with out.

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live out loud

The art and practice of active denial and why you should consider both especially if things keep you up at night

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, August 27, 2014 10:07 PM

When I sold my townhouse in 1997, I wanted to sell it without a realtor. I had already lost a lot of money and didn’t want to lose anymore. I had bought it when the market was better and then it tanked. Plus townhouses don’t appreciate nearly as well as single family homes.

I had a friend at the time who was in real estate and she promised to help me free of charge. If she had listed it, she would have had to charge commission because she worked for ReMax. Kevin and I had bought a house in Oak Park. We weren’t married yet but we needed more space. When I bought the townhouse in 1992, I was single. By 1997 I had acquired a man, a child and a puppy. In that order. The townhouse, which had two bedrooms and two and a half baths in two stories was lovely. There were a lot of kids for Justin to play with; it was in a decent area. We even had a two-car garage. I loved it. But the three of us were quickly outgrowing it. The new house afforded us another bedroom, plus a contained yard, perfect for a six year old boy and an 8 month old male pup.

After months of not getting very many people looking, a neighbor, a single guy who was renting a townhouse two-doors down decided to take the plunge and buy mine. I was thrilled. I was also nervous. We went into escrow. The close of the new house was contingent on the close of the townhouse. I was stressed and it manifested as insomnia.

I couldn’t turn my brain off at night. After Justin and Kevin and even Maguire would go to bed, I would stay downstairs. The TV would be on, turned way down, as somebody droned on about something that I wasn’t paying attention to. I’d spend hours writing instead. When I’d finally go to be bed, I’d lay there for hours more. Finally, somewhere around 5 am, I’d drift off only to have to get up two and a half hours later to get ready for work. I wasn’t full time anywhere – I had already gone freelance – but one of my clients had an office for me and I gave them three days a week. It was a great way to start my business, with a steady stream of money, while also building additional clients.

I went to the doctor who prescribed 10 Ambien, to be used sparingly. He said that everything would probably return to normal as soon as we moved. He was right.

For the last year, I’ve been in a similar situation, with selling the Oak Park house and moving. We’re in a rental while our house is being built. Selling meant showing and holding out for the right amount of money, which we did and which we got. Then we had to pack and purge. We had asked for a two-month escrow; we got five weeks. The day we finally moved was an experience I don’t ever want to repeat. It was brutal, and long – we didn’t go to bed for nearly 48 hours – and exhausting.

Now that the house is being built, we are constantly bombarded with decisions. It started with the design. Do you like it? How many bathrooms, how many bedrooms, what about the square footage? It has progressed to what kind of windows? How thick do you want the interior doors? What are you doing for a front door? How about a wine room door? Can you pick a bathtub for the master bathroom? Do you like this style of fireplace? How big do you want your built-in grill? Will the gas cooktop have a hood over the island? Are you doing granite countertops throughout? Where do you want the area for the dog?

It goes on and on and on. I simply don’t think about it. I take each question as it comes, answer them as I can, and move on.

In the midst of all of this, I am also slammed with work. I’m not complaining about either but I start each day with my hair on fire. By the end of the day, I have nothing but a smoking scalp left. It’s not pretty, but it is lucrative. This is good because the answers to every one of those questions I rattled off costs money.

I’ve been asked how I do it, how I don’t break down or explode; how I sleep at night. The answer is simple. I practice the fine art of active denial. I simply don’t think about it. It’s the 21st century version of pulling a Scarlet O’Hara. I’ll think about that tomorrow.

It works. I’ve had no insomnia issues. I go about my days and nights and deal with what’s in front of me at the time. It’s also living completely in the present, and that’s living it out loud. I highly recommend it.

And the cat's in the cactus

by Lorin Michel Thursday, August 14, 2014 11:16 PM

Living in the desert is an interesting experience. It can toggle between blisteringly hot and rainy day cool in the span of 20 minutes. It can seem dry and desolate and green and lush. It can be unforgiving, merciless and then it can welcome you with open arms and swooshing tails, with creatures darting across the road, meandering across a path, lazing in the sun.

The Sonoran desert is the biggest desert in North America, covering quite a bit of the American Southwest, in Arizona and California to be specific, as well as the northern part of Mexico in Baja. It spans 110,000 square miles. The area contains 60 different mammals, 350 types of birds, 20 amphibian species, over 100 reptiles, 30 native fish (!) species, over 1,000 types of native bees and more than 2,000 native plant species. In Tucson, it is also a habitat for the only population of jaguars living in the country.

Today, the Facebook page I Love Tucson posted a picture of a bobcat nestled securely on a saguaro, between the cactus’ arms. Cradled. It reminded me of several things. How much I love Tucson, but also how interesting the desert is. And yes, it made me wonder how a cat can nestle itself on a cactus and not be hurt.

I wondered if it was hurt. Everything I could find said that bobcats often climb cactus to escape mountain lions. I guess getting a little prickly is better than getting a lot eaten. Often times, after the danger passes, the cat simple extricates itself from the needles and jumps down as easily as it jumped up. Sometimes it has to be rescued by animal control or the fire department.

I stand in the desert surrounded by different types of cactus. The saguaros that rise majestically; the prickly pear, flat panels close to the ground; the cholla, or teddy bear cactus, a cuddly cactus that breaks off easily and sticks to everything; ocotillo, spindly branches that shoot up from the ground but contain dangerous, thick, inch-long thorns hidden within the greenery of the plant. There are more, of course, ones that I don’t know the names of; others that I think I know the names of; more that I guess the names of.

There is a hawk that swirls above our property, majestic. His wingspan is incredible. He soars. I’ve never seen his wings flap, I’ve never seen him land. He floats above the earth, above the desert, above the cactus. I know he’s searching for prey, something to eat. Hawk’s eyes that scour below for a rabbit, a rat, a desert mouse, any other small creature, perhaps even a small bobcat perched in a cactus.

Other birds sing and chirp. Mule deer race up and down the canyon, through the cactus, across the rocks, seeking whatever it is that deer seek in the desert. Gila monsters climb, snakes slither.

Water flows down over the rocks, especially after a monsoon. The sand of the desert becomes damp and clay like. Above, a rainbow arches against a still dark sky and the desert is alive, the moon silver. In the cactus sits a cat, waiting, wondering about the cradle and the silver spoon, little boy blue and the man in the moon, when you comin’ home cat, I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then, yeah. We’re gonna have a good time then.

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live out loud

Hoodoo you think you're foolin'

by Lorin Michel Saturday, July 5, 2014 8:32 PM

Yesterday we journeyed up to Mount Lemmon. It is the highest point in the Santa Catalina Mountains, rising just over 9100 feet above the desert floor. In the winter, they get snow. They have a small ski area called Ski Valley, three lifts and about eight runs. It’s not Mammoth or Lake Tahoe, but it’s close. We might even ski this winter.

The desert is in monsoon so while the temperatures haven’t been excruciating, the humidity is. The clouds gather every morning, thick with an incoming storm. They get blacker as the day progresses. Lightning flashes and thunder rolls. It rains. To escape the heat we jumped on the motorcycle and made our way east to Catalina Highway, then north toward the mountain. It was hot and we were in shorts and t-shirts, but as we climbed, the temperature started to drop. We felt it first right around the 5000 feet mark. It was slight but perceptible, and welcome. We continued to wind our way up the twisting road, huge clouds above us.

Catalina Highway, officially General Hitchcock Highway, was cut into the mountain in 1933. It rises 8000 feet above the desert floor before ending in Summerhaven, the tiny resort town that serves the ski area. Summerhaven has a population of 40 full time residents.

There are a number of places to pull off the highway to view the incredible vistas. The road drops off on at least one side at any given time and sometimes on both sides. As you climb, the cactus, so plentiful on the desert floor, gradually give way to pine trees. Interspersed between are some of the most thrilling rock formations we’ve seen.

Arizona has ridiculous politics but what if offers in terms of desert and landscape is stunning. It is home to the Grand Canyon and part of the painted desert. The red rocks of Sedona are positively mystical. In the canyons and mountains of the Catalinas, there are hoodoos. And they’re magical.

Hoodoos are tall, thin spires of rocks that rise out of the dry terrain bedded with softer rocks and clay soil. This type of terrain is commonly called a badland, and it’s characterized by impossibly steep slopes, little to no plant life and lots of water running through. Hoodoos can be as short as 5 feet and as tall as 150 feet, and look like someone placed rock on top of rock to create towers. They’re found all over the world, in this kind of desert. Bryce Canyon and Moab, Utah are known for their hoodoos, as is the area below Mount Lemmon. They rise up and stand at attention, and look as if the slightest push could topple them. They’ve stood for thousands of years; they will stand for thousands more.

As we wound our way up to Summerhaven, we marveled at these glorious tributes to geology. Once we got close to the top of the mountain, the hoodoos were replaced with towering pine trees and cold air. We had to buy sweatshirts. On the way back down, we had an even better view of the hoodoos. There are a number of lookouts from which to view them. Some people were even climbing the ones that were shorter in stature. I understood it but it bothered me. Somehow people standing atop a symphonic rock formation seems to diminish it somehow, removes it from its otherworldliness and brings it into our realm. I know why people do it. It’s to have the photo for posterity sake. And to post on Facebook. Still.

In places like New Orleans, where magical forces are thick, hoodoo is practiced as a spiritual influence on the physical world. Many people look down on it, believing that it has hurtful intentions, and perhaps confusing it with voodoo which can. Spells are cast and the supernatural reigns. Looking at these rocks yesterday, the first time I’d seen them other than in photographs, I could sense the magic. Something supernatural had to be responsible for this kind of beauty. Something supernatural like nature living it out loud.


by Lorin Michel Thursday, July 3, 2014 8:46 PM

I feel like I should actually title this post Monsoon! But I’m not big on the use of exclamation points. Still, it would be a better way to announce that it is officially monsoon season, that I’m excited, and that last night it absolutely poured. Dogs and cats, puppies and kittens kind of rain. It was 3 am and as such I had been sleeping because that’s what most people do at 3 am. Suddenly I was awake. There was a strange sound. It was a thundering that seems to flood the room. A steady pounding as if someone was on the roof and trying to get through the skylight. Then, through the fog of sleep, I understood. Rain!

I reached over and grabbed Kevin’s arm. This was something he needed to be awake for. It was raining. In July. In the desert. During a horrible drought.

Pardon my giddiness. I know those of you on the east coast who have been living with rain and the threat of Arthur for several days are rolling your eyes, maybe even stomping your feet. You’re thinking: she woke up her husband, in the middle of the night, because of something as arcane as rain?

Yes. Yes she did.

In the Sonoran Desert, monsoon season starts on June 15 and runs through September 30, though the first appearance is generally today, July 3rd. We get an average of nearly 12 inches of rain a year. Not much by east coast standards but about average for the desert southwest. The last few years we’ve gotten even less than average so we’re drier than normal. The ground is hard; the plants parched. The water supply is strained. Enter monsoon.


It should be a movie poster, don’t you think? Like one of those 1950s posters proclaiming the end is nigh, or near, or whatever.

Monsoon’s are caused by warm air creating surface low pressure that draws moist air from the oceans. The winds usually come from the west but in the summer, they shift to the southeast, blowing in moisture from the Gulf of California, also known as the Sea of Cortez, as well as the Gulf of Mexico. Those moist winds run smack into the rising heat from the ground, heat that has been hovering between 100º and 104º just this week, and clouds form. Those clouds eventually build to the point of storms. The rains unleashed are heavy but a monsoon doesn’t last very long. They can, however, occur daily. According to the weather app on my phone, we should be getting storms today, tomorrow, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

The word is from the Arabic word mausin, meaning season or wind shift. It’s a word that’s now used in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and here in North America.

I love this season. It makes living through a summer in the desert almost fun. Scratch that. It makes it very fun. I watch as the moisture gathers into clouds, first as wisps then as darkly tinged pieces of cotton. Finally the sky drifts toward black. In the day, it covers the sun. At night, it blots out the stars. The wind whips into a frenzy, turning the tree leaves upside down, tossing anything that isn’t secured. The sky and the earth collide, however briefly, in an orgiastic frenzy of wind and water and desert. It’s glorious. It’s Mother Nature living it out loud, and we’re loving every minute of it.

It's a dry heat

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, June 25, 2014 11:02 PM

The heat that wraps around the desert southwest is like nothing you’ve experienced if you’ve never experienced it before. It rises up from the ground and pushes down from the heavens and when those two forces collide, the explosion is suffocating. And beautiful.

This morning, when we left on our bicycle ride, it was 81º. It was 7:30. There was no breeze to speak of, nothing even trying to move the air to make it more comfortable. As we pedaled along, I felt the sweat begin to pool. We both sucked down water to keep from dehydrating. We rode into the sun, feeling it on our skin; when we returned, the sun beat on our backs. Lizards, cold-blooded creatures, darted across the path. Birds flitted from tree to tree. People walked and jogged, others cycled. It was gloriously early, tremendously hot.

My mind drifted to my pottery class because why wouldn’t it. I was there on Monday, for my last class though I’m signing up for another starting on July 7, another hot day in the desert. June and July are the hottest months and so far it is living up to its reputation. It has been 100º or slightly over for three weeks now. The nights drop to 70º so it’s pleasant. But the days are on fire. We haven’t ever experienced the extended desert in summer but we know heat. Southern California is hot. The summer’s in the Valley regularly top 100. I’ve driven through and across when the temperature gauge on my dashboard reads 115º. I know that’s not real as it’s the car, but 115 is probably at least 105. Hot. Smoggy. Uncomfortable.

On Monday, I was at class. It’s held in a house, a small desert adobe that has probably been there for decades. Outside, in the back, is the equivalent of what was once a covered patio and is now a place for storage, for shelves that hold pots that come out of the kiln. To the side is more storage as well as pieces of pottery, tacked to the wall, with different colors of glaze. In a small room, tucked inside like a cave, is where the kilns are. When I was there on Monday, the kilns were running. The exterior temperature was 100º; the temperature in the kiln room was well over that. Kilns fire clay to upwards of 1700º. Toasty.

It was like walking into a furnace.

I was talking to my mother and she asked me about the heat and I said it had been hot. I didn’t want to say how hot. I knew she would shake her head and even though she wouldn’t say it, I knew she’d be thinking: Why do you live there. Why would you choose that. I could say the same for New England, especially in the winter. Why.

She laughed and said what we all say: “But it’s a dry heat, right”

A dry heat implies that there is no humidity, of which there is very little in the desert. A dry heat somehow says that it’s more manageable. A dry heat. We love it. We are desert rats. We choose the heat and the glare and the melt; the lack of breeze and wind. The way the hair on our arms prickles, the slight burn of the sun. In the early morning, it’s not nearly as deadly. It’s just a tease of what’s to come.

We love the heat, the desert, the dryness, the richness. Because it is rich, it is real. It is on fire and laps at the soul. It is alive. It is our way of living it out loud.

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