Fault line 2009-10-28: Foot. Snow. Earth.

I ran this morning toward the new fields that Philip has plowed. An inch of snow blanketed the ground. Out by his field area I noticed a cottonwood structure – not quite a ramada – that had been erected at some point. It may have been there for three years or a thousand or since yesterday. I only just noticed it. The dogs and I cut down across the wash, across the snow blanketed runnels along the bench and up to the plowed fields on the other side. The structure had no apparent use. And no apparent past or future. Much like many of the discoveries here, it seems to exist apart from time.

Philip had a good year. The monsoons did not come this summer which pretty much did in most of the farmers. But not Philip. His vast field sported dense head high corn. But here is the secret. He had water. But it did not come this year. The rain actually fell in August, 2008. And it sat on top of the dense clay, creating a swamp of his field. He got nothing that year. And it took three months for the rain to perc into the ground. And then the ground froze. And when it thawed, the dense clay would not give up the moisture. Philip planted late and the corn was slow to start, but when the roots finally hit that year old moisture it took off.

Philip watered his field one year in advance. And now he is plowing and preparing fields further up the wash that may not be planted for another two years. And may not produce for three.

If any foundation or philanthropic people are reading this, take note. Not all environments operate on a 1 year funding cycle. Here a full cycle of rain and drought may take 10 to 30 years. A single planting cycle here may span three to five years. Time slows down. Life proceeds as it should. Not as we want it to. We must learn to let life proceed as it should. Problems arise from forcing it.

We must accommodate ourselves to it. We must slow our pulse.

On my run, I notice footprints in the snow, the print of a human foot, complete with heel and arch and toes. I consider two possibilities. The first: at dawn a person ran before me wearing skins on their feet. The second and even more compelling: A person in fact ran barefoot in the snow.

I ponder and decide to explore the more compelling of the two. I strip off my shoes and socks. I stand on the frozen mud. I set off running barefoot across the whitened desert.

The cold instantly hardens my feet to most sensation. I feel a gentle burning pain overridden by a lightness of step. I run fast. I feel a slight bump on my heel that feels uncomfortable. I stop and find a goat head lodged in my foot up to the hilt. I cannot feel it. I pull it out and continue on for close to half a mile. Not much. Certainly not as much as some. My distant ancestors would most certainly have been ashamed.

But we do what we can. If only to feel the cold.


I’m airborne now, soaring above Mt. Bruno, and gazing over the dipping neckline of the Golden Gate Bridge and the gemlike buildings glinting like chiseled quartz at the tip of the Peninsula. Winds blow in from the Farallons sending whitecaps skittering across the Bay. In all, I feel sadness. I need to flee this place. I think of Rannie, of the service for her this afternoon, and the fact that she once breathed life but no longer does, shadows this whole place in illness.

And she wouldn’t have wanted that. Get the heck out and eat some good food for me, she might have said. No one should feel sad. She joked to her friends to be careful because she was going to come back and haunt them, but only in a good way. They just better keep their eyes open. I feel the haunting has only begun.

The plane arcs across the Pacific, over Mavericks. I look down trying to detect that monster wave but to my eye it is indistinguishable from the rage of other froth that embraces the shoreline. Braver folks then I, though, are even now thrusting themselves into that bracing water. We arc again, up from the Monterrey Bay and across the forested coastal hills. Somewhere in there a little Elliot happened across a charming extraterrestrial whom he would take home and secret away in his closet. And the hills give way to the Salinas valley and the slender ribbon of water that feeds this vast floodplain that each season is transmuted into millions of tons of leafing and fruiting vegetables. This water and this soil rendered into food is ingested each day by human beings all around the world. But already below us are the chock-a-block formations of the Diablo range and the Pinnacles, and in the distance to the west the gentle valley home to the Mission San Buenaventura and the Hearst hunting lodge and dry foothills that may yet become carpeted in vineyard. This is Steinbeck’s Red Pony country.

Eastward we cross yet another coastal range – but now the folding hills support grasslands and cattle until even further east when the water gives out and the land becomes laced with winding strings of road that lead to nest upon nest of oil derricks. McKittrick country. The heaving biblical tempest portrayed in There Shall Be Blood. Here you may own the surface skin of the land, but nothing underneath. The oil and mineral rights were sewed up by conglomerates decades ago. Even from the air the expanse feels like an evil infected tract, our machinery sucking the crude oozing up through the seams.

And then the grand big valley, but harvest is over. The pilot carves a wide circle around a broad patch, mile upon mile, of vineyard – undoubtedly low end grape. He essentially executes a sharp right hand turn, and I wonder why he didn’t choose a more gentle route and wonder if it has something to do with the gale winds building over the coast.

I look down and notice the San Andreas Fault, that rent in the earth signifying where California is slowing tearing away from the rest of the continent. I want to consider this formation, but I don’t know enough and I want for a companion to marvel with, someone who can appreciate the intricate delicacies of this amazing landscape. I look about in the cabin. Nearby passengers are engrossed in books or magazines or iPods. And then my own attention drifts away.

I email Danny Feikin many hours later from a motel in Flagstaff.

Rannie Yoo died on Sunday and her memorial service is today. I debated staying all the way up to when I was standing in the security line at SFO and then just decided I needed to get the hell out of that city. Flew into Flag in 60 mph winds in a prop plane. I thought that you must be use to that shit, but I’m not. And I thought I wanted to just fly around the sw with you – you’re the only other person I know who would really give a rip about flying over the san andreas fault or the pinnicles or an open pit copper mine in bagdad (I later learned from google maps because no one else on the plane knew or cared), or the colorado river, or the duststorm blowing beneath us in the mojave. Or some vast tract of subdivided desert subdivided for what? Or over the boneyard.

His reply:

The USG must not have liked what Rannie Yoo did. Barracuda web filter blocking all websites referring to her. Was she the kindred spirit you blogged about during your xrt days?

I can’t wait until life is as simple and immediate as flying over the san andreas fault as the goal and summit of one’s day.

To which I feel there is only one response.

That we can’t wait. That the future does not exist. That Rannie will never know it. That the only faultlines available to her were her final breaths.

A fact that now begs me to seek the fault lines in my own life, no matter how big or how small. I need to recognize them. I need to investigate. If only for Rannie’s sake.

Rannie Yoo 1976 – 2009

Rannie Yoo died at home late on Sunday afternoon in San Francisco. On the message boards she referred to herself as CatsM. It stood for “cats meow.” She was 33 years old.

I first came across her posts on an online forum dedicated to patients with tumors of the parotid gland. Like many I was drawn to the love and joy and humor that was so present in her voice. I would later learn that the tone and words and wisdom that I found so compelling were as well present in her person.

She and I shared the same surgeon. I had been diagnosed with a recurrent pleomorphic adenoma at about the same time that the doctors had discovered her stage IV malignancy.

When she received the diagnosis from our surgeon, she asked him what the worst outcome was. He was a little bewildered. Well you could die, he said.

She received those words and she did more than soldier on. She proceeded to live her life with a beguiling grace. She wasn’t scared of surgery, she said. It was her job to just go to sleep and wake up. It was the surgeon’s job to get rid of this thing. And so she went even as her cancer threw everything it could at her.

After my surgery I looked her up when I returned to San Francisco for my radiation treatment. We met a few times. Although by that time her cancer had spread, she was publicly upbeat and happy. Like others in her predicament, her illness had made her feel strangely alive, perhaps more so than she had ever been. She once said that she was grateful for what was happening to her, that it was helping her become who she was. She could see clearly how much her fiancée David loved her, and how devoted he was. She was grateful to him and to her sister and to her vast network of friends and coworkers. And she was deeply sympathetic to others facing similar or even lesser conditions.

At one point I had confessed to her that I was primarily a lurker on the parotid forum – that although I found the information useful, I wasn’t necessarily seeking a community of illness. There’s a lot of love on that site, she gently cautioned. They are all really good people.

She relied on them, on us, greatly for both solace and as comrades in arms. I believe we also helped her to feel of service and to provide an arena for her to express the wonderful person that she was and and will always continue to be.

Rannie and David married five nights before she died. It was a forestalled wish that she had long been harboring. I would like to think that it was one of many wishes granted her.

With her hair gone she once described herself as looking like a shaolin monk. I will always remember her as beautiful.