Hillary lost, singers and strummers proved all too perishable, but it wasn’t such a bad year

I’ve heard the moaning, the pleas for calendar year 2016 to hurry up and end because the national election was a travail and some say travesty and so many actors and singers died in so short a span and how much are we supposed to take?

It has been a good year for me, though, and some of the advances, the felicitously exploited resources, and the pleasures are here listed in no particular order.

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My phone continues to present new wonders. Whether it’s the speaker feature that I use more and more often during calls like the one just now to Experian to ask for a refund after inadvertently signing up for CreditWorks at $21.95 per month or the implementation of apps for bill paying, I take pleasure in it. iOS 10.1 was a pain, though. For one, I could no longer upload photos to my iMac. The message says, “iTunes could not connect to the iPhone ‘iPhone’ because an invalid response was received from the device.” Additionally: “Photos in the Camera Roll on ‘iPhone’ cannot be viewed or imported because the iPhone is locked with a passcode.” Like a person with one leg much shorter than the other who can nevertheless walk a straight line, I have compensated–in this case, by emailing the photos to myself and downloading them to the hard drive. But it’s a nuisance. Controls on the camera app were scrambled around, too–Apple would say “rearranged”–and I still fumble for them. Another problem (not related to iOS 10.1) was the alerts about insufficient memory. Text messages were consuming 2.5 GB of the 12 GB total memory, so I reset to have them deleted after 30 days. What I’m trying to say, of course, is that I love my phone. Without it, I couldn’t have taken the above selfie when I was in Bologna last June. 

Living so near Joshua Tree National Park’s boondocks is a boon. This nowhere is someplace special. The west entrance is 30 minutes away unless I heed my best instincts and stop for an excellent polenta-and-eggs breakfast at Crossroads Cafe in Joshua Tree town. I got better acquainted with the park this year, and it has become obvious that I need to buy the annual pass. Features within Joshua Tree—a park that would cover 22 percent of the area of Connecticut—have such great names. For instance, in November, Todd Blickenstaff and I hiked to Lost Horse Mine. (Alas, it’s not directly accessible from Chuckwalla Bill Trail.) I hope in 2017 to explore Fried Liver Wash, the intermittent streambed that cuts through the rugged and desolate Hexie Mountains and meets a secondary trail to Hexahedron Mine.

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Todd Blickenstaff leads the way on the Lost Horse Mine trail in Joshua National Park.

My plants and shrubs started to take off. The fourth growing season at my desert hideaway presented a tough, hot summer: the highest temperature at the nearest weather station was 120.7 degrees. Yet the grafts and seedlings I’d planted in the previous seasons struggled along and finally got better established. Part of the challenge of desert gardening is learning how much or little water any given plant prefers. In some cases, contrary to my inclinations, I’ve reduced irrigation. And when native plants like burro bush (Ambrosia dumosa) and brittlebush (Encelia farinosa) germinate in a good location, I’ve let them grow—no irrigation required!

Fifty percent of my favorite people came to Palm Springs. It was nice to see Alex and Evelyn, Jeff and Sara, Daanesh and Melanie, Peter and Joanne, Laura D., Susan, Kristen, and Kate. Has anyone been forgotten? Not even Mary E., who bought me lunch. And of course my aunts and uncle, who also bought me lunch. I enjoy having the opportunity to give some of these visitors my tour of the midcentury modern architecture that so distinguishes the city. Next time he’s here, Joe D. needs to stay a while and ride along. 

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Taking a lunch break, this Sturgis vendor shows she has better taste and style than most rallyists.

I enjoyed varied travels. Despite time-consuming medical appointments and treatments, I still managed to go on some journeys. Domestic destinations were Aspen in February and Jackson Hole in October, Maine for Thanksgiving and Florida immediately afterward for my mother’s memorial service. At the Tampa airport, I rented a car and was free, in spare moments, to poke around; even though my favorite beer is noticeably cheaper at the Publix supermarket, I have to say that visiting Florida makes me boundlessly happy to live in California. Florida is flat, featureless, and fraught with the tension arising from Baptists grinding against American lowbrow culture. It’s like biomass conversion, which generates a low level of energy, but as a human phenomenon. As for travels abroad, I went to Europe three times and must say I adore the French and Italian Alps but don’t much like Italian cities. I had an excellent time in northern Germany when Laura B. and I were driving partners on a Mercedes-Benz press preview. Hamburg’s harborside promenade failed to impress us, but the rest of the city wasn’t too bad and there was a stupendous selection of beer in the Netto supermarket just a few blocks from the hotel. You see how little it takes to keep me happy.

Speaking out more often was my New Year’s resolution. And I did speak out about a couple of issues. One is the animal abuse I’ve observed next door, where two dogs have died in neglectful circumstances, the most recent death having occurred last January. And it just so happens that the next-door house is one of three (two across the street) being used as an old folks home in defiance of neighborhood bylaws. The other occasion for my speaking out was soon after the general election, when my commentary pleased some, displeased others, and satisfied me. More yawping is to come in 2017.

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