Saturday, December 28, 2013

Back in the Fold



            One of the best paintings my dad ever did is back in the fold. It’s my favorite painting. When my dad passed in 2010 his wife was a mess. She was depressed and distraught and not herself. She was pretty much out of her mind. My sister and I did not think it was a good time to broach the subject of what was to become of “the paintings”. Our dad’s paintings. We let her be with her grief and confusion and we bided our time. We knew our dad had wanted us to have his paintings. He had said so as he lay there declining. But Teresa was not her normal self. She had made a scene when he suggested to my sister that we should have his paintings. So my dad let it go and did not change his will. We took his lead and when he finally passed we let all his paintings go to her. We hoped that she would sell a few to help her gain her footing. My dad had taken so much of the lead in their marriage. We weren’t sure she could cope financially. But she never did sell any.
            So time came and went and we bided our time waiting for just the right moment. Then the shock came. Teresa had passed away quickly. The diabetes that she had suffered from childhood put her in a coma and she never came out. She had gotten the flu, didn’t hydrate well and her blood sugar went through the roof. I had just spoken to her the day before she got sick. We were unprepared. The next thing you know we’re being named as executors of her will and we’re in the thick of it. We’re wondering what is to become of our dad’s paintings?
Then the second shock hits us. The remaining 80 originals by our dad are to go to to Teresa’s brothers. In a fluke of legalese “all my paintings” become our dad’s paintings as well. Her brothers don’t care a fig about our dad’s paintings. They’re righteously angry that instead of giving them her farm, the homestead part of the family farm, she’s asking us as executors to sell it and give the proceeds to the University of Iowa diabetes research facility. The milk of human kindness does not enter into the equation. They’re all about the money, honey.
But it has a “happy” ending. Not “HAPPY” just “happy”. I scrounge and find enough money to buy two of the best. I can only afford two out of the entire 80. But they're the two that I’ve seen so often for years and years. The ones I’m most attached to and seem in my estimation to be quintessential Dad. Now one hangs on my wall and it’s like an old friend that I know and love. The other I give to my sister who can’t afford any. It just looks right over there on my wall. I was supposed to have it and it’s back in the family like it was supposed to be all along. 
It rankles me that I had to buy it but I think that before long I’m going to be in this frame of mind: “Quality is Remembered Long After Price is Forgotten.”


This is Teresa. Heroic and Humanitarian. She had a grand idea and she made it happen.







Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Winter Solstice


To all my dear friends and readers

Marty and I had our winter solstice bonfire last night. It was a modified version of what we’ve had before and actually it was our First Annual Winter Solstice Bonfire. In years past we had our bonfire on New Year’s Eve and sometimes it’s been on Ocean Beach in San Francisco with the wind roaring in off the Pacific in the rain. There are only a few hardy souls when that’s going on and it’s wilder than wild. Every one else is indoors imbibing their New Year drinks. When you drive away the streets are empty and nothing is open. An interesting feeling in the normally bustling city.
But this year I had a different thought. New Year is a man made event. The Solstice, on the other hand, is a natural event and a marking of solar time. Now the days will begin to slowly get longer. Now the past cycle is over and the new cycle begins. I thought this is a much better day to reflect on the old cycle now complete and consider the new cycle that is just beginning.
So we went out to the burn barrel. It’s been much too dry to do what we did last year which was have a monster bonfire at the burn pile. We would have needed to have a water truck at the ready in case an ember made its way to something that might catch fire. There is plenty to catch fire around here since we’ve only had an inch of rain since the start of the “rainy season”. We almost had that happen one year when we built a bonfire in a large non-functioning cement water trough. That was a sight to behold. We had it going sky high and then realized that the old PVC water pipes were about to melt and probably proceed to the ruination of the fence a few feet away. A garden hose was swiftly procured and a roaring column of steam commenced to envelope the night sky. The remaining fire - that was not that easy to douse - glowed within the steam like a volcano in the old goat pen.
The burn barrel was a safer choice this year and we filled it full of dead fall wood. We had a merry sized fire going. A bucket of water from the rain barrel was enough to control it when the wind started to rise. The old cycle is now passing and a new cycle is beginning. I wonder what this year will hold for us? The past cycle was not bad at all. 

Ariane (middle) 21st Birthday in Santa Cruz


Open Air Art Show in Orland
Marty with JB at the tie rail
We made progress on a number of fronts. I had my artwork in 3 shows. I found I was adept at doing caricatures. I kept up with my blogging and I was published in some local periodicals. One piece, though technically published within the new cycle, was written and accepted to a national periodical in the old.
My San Joaquin Valley Fever is under control. I hope it won’t be something I have to live with for the rest of my life. I hope it will go away 100%. At this time I just have it under control. I have an expert from UC Davis Med Center following my case and I am participating in a study. The subject is why do some people fight it off with just an immune system response while others don’t and need medical assistance?
It’s been almost a year since I developed Frozen Shoulder in both shoulders. I’m definitely in the thawing phase which is a relief. I can get both arms above shoulder height although reaching up and behind my back still continues to be impossible. No more burning, searing pain though and that is a good thing!
Marty has zeroed in on teaching tracking for Search and Rescue and first responder groups.  He was a tracking teacher for years when he was a member of Kern County SAR. He’s already taught two classes, developed a website and publishes the Glenn County SAR newsletter weekly. He trains his border collie Sam for cow work and rides his horse Blue for the same. I was shocked and pleased when he allowed me to ride his mature saddle horse Zip (11 YO). I guess I earned the right by being amenable to suggestion, to give proper cues and leave Zip alone the way Marty approves of. 
Marty and I continue to partner well with each other. We have fun and adventures and we get things done. We’re not flush with cash so we take day trips and we camp. Just being on the Ranch is an adventure in and of itself.
Yeah, it’s been a good ole old cycle. If the old cycle is any indication the new cycle will be even better.
So as we stand around the Solstice Bonfire we think about our place in the universe and in the lineage of ancestors, of the human race and it’s good. (Sorry, Hemingway, but you didn’t invent the phrase.)

Greetings from Grindstone Ranch. A toast to the old and ring in the new!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Stalking the Wild Christmas Tree One Year Later



There’s nothing like living in a place long enough to get to know the area. Last year our Great Christmas Tree Hunt was the subject of endless joking and mirth. We didn’t know what the heck we were doing or where we were going and I suppose the folks at the local constabulary who gave us “directions” for where to find a good tree had a laugh, too. (You can't get there from here. uh ya.")
This year we had already done our homework by scouting way up high in the Mendocino National Forest. Last summer we drove from Elk Creek to Covelo on FH7. FH stands for Forest Highway which is not necessarily a "highway" by anyone's definition. It was about 15 minutes of pavement and then winding gravel the rest of the 2-1/2 hour way. We drove over the top and down to Covelo. Then out through the Eel River Watershed and over to Willits. It was a great drive broken up by camping overnight at Plaskett Meadow. This is a picture of Plaskett Meadow in summertime.


En route to Eel River Station - which is west of Covelo - we saw a number of very good stands of Red Fir also known as “Silver Tip”. Martha Stewart mentions the dang tree in her latest edition of good things, for crying out loud. This is a tree that only grows above 4,800 feet. It is native to Northern California and Oregon and is a relative of the Noble Fir which grows farther north into Washington. It has wide spacing branches and is sturdy which makes it good for hanging ornaments. With our $10 tree permit from the Forest Service and an ample picnic lunch we set out one early morning to have plenty of time.
We eventually made it to one of our previously scouted areas. Out of the truck and into the forest it was like looking for a tree in a lot. Except no people. Just the wind in the pines and the occasional crunch of snow on the ground. Hmmm this is a good one, what do you think? No? Let’s keep looking. Finally we narrowed it down to two trees. We paced back and forth between the two discussing each ones good points and bad points. We finally made a decision, got out the chain saw and in two seconds we had our tree.


When we got it home we found to our surprise that we had a tree with a slightly “wavy” trunk. I love this effect. It gives the tree a certain “je ne sais quoi”. An organic loveliness that a completely straight tree doesn’t have. Sort of like a bonsai but without human intervention. I am delighted with our tree and peaceful in my life and I hope you are, too, this holiday season.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Perfect Day



If you’ve been following my writings you will know that we’ve had a cold, cold snap in the last week. Pipes were freezing and breaking right and left. We have a couple houses on the property and one is not fully heated because if we do we may as well buy PG&E so high will be our heating bill. We hoped to prevent busted pipes in areas we knew were especially vulnerable by using a small space heater there to heat the floors. But wouldn’t you know it the first night of well below freezing we had a power outage that was area wide and the electricity didn’t come on until 2 am. So the pipes went their merry way and there was nothing we could do about it except pray.
The next day and the next revealed even more broken pipes. The cold snap continued unabated. We couldn’t get relief and so we did what we had to do. That was buckle down, bundle up and go out there and fix 'em! I shouldn't say "we" because it was mostly Marty doing the work. We were getting way more familiar with highway 162 into Willows to go get yet another group of parts we didn't have in supply. That I can say I participated in. The drive into town. Gotta keep the moral of the plumber up by lending support and companionship! I can do that!
I kept thinking about folks living points east of us but figured they’ve been dealing with this sort of thing for so long that they are well prepared and don’t indulge in wishful thinking like Californians do. They’ve already got their pipes well underground, well insulated and well protected. They’ve got the stock water heated and don’t need a sledge hammer or a pot of boiling water to make “chicken tea” every morning.
So when the weather started warming up we were very, very grateful. It was that warm today so we decided to take a walk out to the creek which is getting more water in it daily. This is Grindstone Creek from which the ranch gets its name. It originates way back up near the divide in the Mendocino National Forest. It’s full of gravel, rocks and clear cold water. We walked a long way using the animal freeways. I was glad I took my walking stick with me. This way I can negotiate narrow trails on an eroding slope and hop over the narrows in the creek without getting soaked.


Later on in the season where I stand in this picture there will be a torrent of water as wide as the picture and waist deep. But for now it's good enough for walking and picking up blue green rocks like serpentinite from the Franciscan complex that makes up the Mendo range that you see in the background. 
It was great to get out in the sun. We saw a badger den but no badger. We saw thousands of animal sign. I thought a pile of scat might be bear scat but realized later it was more than likely wild pig scat. Marty made video of tracks and sign for his Search and Rescue videos. I picked up rocks and drift wood. Who needs to go to the ocean when you have Grindstone Creek and a perfect day?

Monday, December 9, 2013

Chicken tea and Christmas Coming Soon.




Nature dropped the deep freeze over us last week. It’s been in the teen’s and it hasn’t been fun because along with that cold came the wind. Dry and cold, cold, cold. The lack of moisture in the air has made my hair stand out on end it’s so dry. In a futile attempt to soften the effects I boil a pot of water on the stove to put moisture back in the air. But it doesn't really work. The air is a sponge for the moisture. It sucks it up and never gives it back.
Last night Ma Nature did a switcheroo and we got what we’d been praying for. Big, big lazy flakes of snow floating like parachutes out of the inky blackness above. We tried to catch them in our mouths. It was glorious. Back sitting in our living room with the wood stove glowing like a Besemer furnace we gazed out the window past the Christmas tree framed by pure winter joy. It didn’t stick but it sure was nice while it lasted.


Now it’s gone back to dry, dry cold. Every morning when I go out to feed the stock I have to take an axe to break the ice that has formed over the water in the tanks. I think “Man I sure am glad I don’t live in Wyoming” because for me Wyoming is the pinnacle of hard living in winter. If I thought about it actually North Dakota or Canada is worse. How about Alberta or Saskatchewan? Brrrrrrr. When I lived in Iowa we got the left-overs of the winter they had up there. It blew straight down across Minnesota to us. The snow blowing over the ground sizzled and hissed.
But that was back in the day. Weather out here is actually mild by comparison.
Still I can describe it accurately as not technically pleasant. It’s only just bearable. To we humans. The animals don’t seem to mind but they’re still undeniably ready for their hay when it’s feeding time. In addition to the large animals we take care of - the horses, cow and bull - we have one lone chicken. She lives by herself in her nice chicken house. Her four companions passed away from old age this year. She’s by herself until spring and then if she makes it she’ll have some new younger gals to get to know. She has food and water but not chicken companionship. She doesn’t seem to mind. I go over there and give her greens and we talk. Each morning I heat up a kettle of water until it boils and then I drive it over to her pen and pour it on her little frozen water trough. It steams and melts and she comes right over to drink. It’s chicken tea.

Friday, November 15, 2013

I Love the Nuthatch



We have a bird feeder hanging from a tree limb in our front yard. While I’m getting ready for the day I look out the window and watch the little guys going back and forth from the feeder to my makeshift bird bath. They’re so sweet and if I ever get locked up in a nursing home they can put me in front of the birdhouse and I’ll be all right all day long.
There are many different birds that come and go. Mostly sparrows and the odd flicker or dove. Flickers are the P-51 of the bird world. Doves are like a Douglas DC-3, those elegant silver vintage aircraft. Sparrows fly in under the radar with their modest color. I wish I could attract a bird of prey like an eagle. Now wouldn’t that be a sight! I’d probably faint. All the other birds would faint, too. But eagles don’t go for the nuts and seeds. We won’t see any today or even tomorrow.


The bird I really like is the nuthatch. It looks like gravity means nothing to them. They’re the spidermen of my bird world. At our house as through most California we see the white-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis). It is a stocky bird, with a large head, short tail, powerful bill and strong feet. The upperparts are pale blue-gray, and the face and underparts are white. It has a black cap and a chestnut lower belly. I love how it feeds upside down on our feeder. I just love to try to imagine what its world is like going head first down the side of the feeder.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

I Speak Out from Where I Am

I recently had a little kerfuffle involving whether or not to discontinue this blog and switch to WordPress. WordPress is a really nice little tool to make really nice looking blogs and a lot of people use it. So I went over to WordPress and signed up. I even signed up for the $99.00 a year premium version so I could get a "free" domain name. I now have a domain name "rlbenoit.com" through WordPress. The problem was how in the world could I transport everything I'd done on blogspot. It seemed a herculean task to copy and paste and add all the photos one at a time. I even started doing it and then I realized it was going to look weird when so many blogs were registered as being created all on one day. Word Press is robust and what I would call "thick". There are so many layers and it's not easy to lift each one to find answers to your challenges. I quickly become tired. Then there was the question of how to let all my readers know I was switching over.

I finally decided to abandon the idea and make the WordPress blog my art blog and use it to promote my artwork. I hope it works out. It's a pretty steep learning curve and I haven't found a template that lends itself to displaying art. But I paid my $99.00 and the templates do look good so I'm going to keep at it until I get it right. I hope my friends will bear with me while I make mistakes and publish bloopers like I did last night.

One thing this all made me realize is how complicated life has become. When I was a girl there was only one or two ways to communicate. There was the telephone and long distance phone calls were expensive so most people wrote letters if there wasn't an emergency.  You couldn't tweet your every thought in every given moment. There were no computers or email. Nothing was instant. You didn't feel like you were a slave to the latest technology because there wasn't any.

There's no way to go back to this simplicity. Well, there is but you have to be really committed and you have to have a job where it wouldn't matter if you went analog. It's really too bad. People get amped up and they can't relax and what we need is more ease instead of less. All these devices are causing an undercurrent of unease from where I sit. I'm very much in a quandary. However, I feel that as long as I am aware of this quandary that a solution will eventually present itself. In the meantime I'm trying to stay present and not let myself get unconscious about it all. That's when the "frazzled" feeling starts to creep back in. I really hate feeling frazzled. We came out to this ranch to get away from that. It's a constant vigilance to keep the wolves from the door.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Always Something



I haven't posted for a while so this nostalgic piece is very topical. The piece is about an cherished object and my ancestors. This past month month was full of "something's". I could never get to the computer to write. I actually wrote this piece for Grit magazine and then I got to thinking. It really fits what's going on in my life more than I realized. I hope you enjoy it.

It’s lovely how the most utilitarian objects can take us by the heart. They assume significance much greater than their originally intended use. A humble kraut cutter is such an object for me and my family. When my step-mother passed away it became imperative that we find it amongst all the clutter she left in her house and when we did find it that was a day of joy and celebration. Isn’t that curious? That kraut cutter isn’t just a kraut cutter. It is a symbol of the past, of the joys and love we experienced. It was like we had found a long lost member of the family. It was like we had found our great great grandfather, the original owner of the kraut cutter. 


I come from a long line of German farmers. They were good at what they did. They were prosperous and talented and I wish I could go back in time and meet every single one. They could make anything, grow anything and fix anything. They were a hands-on bunch. They had to be. For the most part they didn’t have “labor-saving” mechanized devices. They certainly didn’t have every connected to a gasoline engine. What they had was their skill, care and devotion to doing a job right. The kraut cutter was a device but it was run by hand power not gasoline or electricity. You needed to have a special touch to make the shreds of cabbage come out just right.
My grandmother was particularly adept at this as well as making any food you could think of. For example, she was so good at making angel food cake from scratch that she had a little side business making and selling them from her kitchen to all the residents from far and wide. She could make grape juice and can all sorts of meats and vegetables. Her larder was always packed. My dad would drive straight through the night for an early morning ham sandwich from a ham she had cured. But everyone’s favorite was her corn relish and sauerkraut. In her day kraut was a tonic and a source of vitamin C. In the winter the family would have spoonfuls of the home made kraut to ward off the cold or flu.  Eating so much fermented cabbage this way earned Germans the nickname “Kraut”.
Along with the kraut cutter came a family saying “Immer etwas”. We all said it. We said it whenever life presented us with something unforeseen. I guess it was a way of reminding us that we must expect that we were not going to be let off the hook by life and that to be prepared was the best way of dealing with whatever came up. It was German for “Always something.”
Now that the kraut cutter is back in the fold we feel that even though it is still quite functional we feel that it shouldn’t be used. It’s been in the family for so long. Every time I see it or lay my hand on it and feel the smooth texture from the many years of service it gave I’m linked to all those wonderful people in that long line of German farmers. It’s a tangible link to the past and the link is so strong that I can hear my grandmother sigh “Immer etwas!” and see her shred the cabbage. It’s a good feeling.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Camou Pants




I wore my camou pants today for the first time this season. A lot of people wear camouflage at this time of year. It was dove season and now it’s deer season and pretty soon it will be pig season. I don’t hunt but I like my camou pants. They are super comfortable and I get compliments all the time. “Nice Pants” in the check out line. But camou pants mean more to me than that. It means it’s cool enough and it means the weather is changing and it means it’s going to be winter soon. Bittersweet. I’m happy because the weather is not so awfully scorching that by 10 am you have to shade up next to the AC. It’s not so awfully hot that you have to get up at O’Dark Hundred to get anything done. What did Noel Coward say? “Mad dog and Englishmen go out in the noon day sun.” I ain’t English. But on the down side it also means no more refreshing dips in the reservoir and windows wide open at night.
So when the camou pants come out of the drawers it means a lot of different things and they’re all significant to me. My tan that I got from working outside will fade. The summer tomatoes will be replaced by kale and broccoli. The windows will now be closed. Not because the AC is going full blast but because it’s too cold to open them.
Eventually the camou pants will go underneath what I call the Jumpin’ Johnny suit which is a Carhartt brand full-metal-jacket-neck-to-ankle jump suit and lined with quilted comfort. But I can hardly move. Still I’m toasty when I’m throwing hay and it’s coming in sideways.

But let’s not think about that now. It’s still Indian Summer.

The camou pants mean it’s time to finish cutting and splitting firewood. We do four cords for the main house and two cords for our house. The camou pants mean it’s time to plant the winter garden. The camou pants mean it’s time to set up the rain catchment system. Today I looked at the lovely yarn in the store and thought, hmmm, should I take up knitting? When the weather changes next spring I’ll probably have a similar thought about the cargo shorts. But for now, it’s me and my camou pants.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Escape to the Coast



It doesn’t rain here from March until the end of October. We get little miserable sprinkles once in a great while but nothing of any significance. That’s a long time to go without the refreshment a nice rain shower gives. Our humidity hovers around 35%.


We got coverage for the animal care so last weekend we decided to bite the bullet and make the long drive to the coast where it’s not necessarily raining but the humidity is more like 93%. We were not disappointed.
We took 299 west out of Redding and drove, well, west. It took us 4 hours to hit the coast at Arcata. I had not been in Arcata since the Maharishi days and I was eager to see if anything looked familiar. It didn’t. But it was still sweet and quaint anyway. Still has the hippie element that I came of age in. So it was familiar that way. And comfortable.
We had lunch at Surfside Burger Shack at 445- 5th St., in Eureka. We’d been holding out on the long drive which took longer than we’d expected so we were starving but in no hurry when we got there. It was a properly funky hole-in-the-wall in downtown Eureka with a wide spectrum of clientele. They had the best burger I’ve ever eaten and it wasn’t because I was starving when I got it. It tasted sort of like In’N’ Out animal style only much better because it was bigger and the meat was high quality grass fed beef. The French fries were like In ‘N’ Out because they were from fresh potatoes but they still had the skin on to prove it. YUM!
We hightailed it over to the coastal town of Trinidad. As a matter of fact I could get into a little tomfoolery by saying we’d been to Trinidad, Samoa and Manila over the weekend and I wouldn’t be lying.


It was classic California coastline. Breathtaking.


Then we went up to Prairie Creek State Park to see the Fern Canyon. We’d heard that parts of Jurassic Park were filmed there. On the way in we saw that there was a meadow for the Roosevelt elk but we didn’t see any. We didn’t worry. Fate had something really cool in store for us.






This is what fate had in mind.





Got a little close to the parking lot.




After that peak experience - and all in the first day - we headed back to our Best Western motel on the AARP plan. What a great motel in a perfectly ugly part of town! Fortunately, they make it a little oasis and you don’t even see the industrial neighborhood once you’re inside the compound.
The next day we couldn’t see how we could top what we’d already done so we decided we’d just have a relaxing time.
That’s when we drove out to Samoa and so glad we did. It was the quintessential California day. Beautiful, clear, no wind, perfect temperature. There were surfers bobbing in the waves. The fog was way, way out there near the horizon. Hi, fog! Be nice and stay where you are. I dipped in the Pacific and was glad to be alive. The sand was soft and warm. The water was, of course, freezing but that’s what you have to expect in Northern California. Who cares? Everything else is perfect!


It was hard to tear ourselves away but we knew we had a long drive back. We drove south to Ferndale and CA Hwy 36. Ferndale is the cutest tourist town. The downtown is all Victorian houses.
On the way back we found Mad River which is a town and a river. In the “town” you find the Mad River burger bar so we had our 2nd burger in two days. This one was not as good as yesterday but the setting couldn’t have been wackier. You have a small and funky travel trailer under a nicely built wood roof awning and from there they serve burgers and shakes. Since the weather was great we had a little feast there by the side of the road as the RVs and the bikers came and went. But I’d had my fill of hamburger so off we went stomach kind of gurgling and not super happy.
The trip back was uneventful and I am so glad we went. I wish I could have remembered a jar so I could put some of the Pacific in it so when I get all dried out here I can open the lid and smell the ocean once again.  

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Beat the Heat




It gets really hot here at certain times of the year. As we were driving back from Woodland the other day it was 103 degrees. I looked out over the landscape and thought “Serengeti. Should be lions and giraffes shading up under the acacia trees.” It was just that dry, dusty and hot. When it gets hot like this we look for ways to beat it. Sometimes we go to the lake and submerge up to our necks. I haven’t been so tan in such a long time and, yes, mother, I am using sun screen.
Other times we head up in elevation. It’s supposed to be 3.5 degrees cooler for every 1,000 feet you gain. One of our favorite spots is Plaskett Meadows. It’s up in the Mendocino National Forest west of our home. There are silvertip fir, ponderosa pine, incense cedar trees and two spring fed lakes that are  full of rainbow trout. It’s quite lovely. And cool.
This time we decide to head in the other direction to Lassen Volcanic National Park. Its elevation is over 8,000 feet.  




 I had recently been re-inspired by my daughter taking California Geology in college. I always had an interest in geology. When I was a kid I was a “rock hound”. We found calcite crystals in the gravel road in front of our house and trilobite fossils frozen in sandstone from the gravel pits. On a vacation to the Black Hills in South Dakota I was thrilled to find agates, garnets and fool’s gold (iron pyrite). Bling for a 10 year old.
So we could kill two birds with one stone. By going to Lassen we could escape the heat and I could do some rock hounding. Lassen is not far off the main drag. From our house you drive up Interstate 5 to California Highway 36 out of Red Bluff. There’s a lot of volcanic evidence right outside of Red Bluff. As a matter of fact as a cattle rancher you’re looking at the terrain and thinking to yourself how would you gather cattle out there? So many large rocks and all over the place. We decided you would need a herd of very well trained cattle dogs. The terrain is not suitable for an ATV or even horses. You couldn’t work at speed on a horse picking your way through the rocks. No, dogs would be the only way.
We stop for lunch at the Mineral Lodge in none other than Mineral, CA. It’s run by a lady and her husband and their kids are either babes in arms or trying to help mommy with serving the patrons. They’re cute and it’s rustic and the music played on the sound system is first Irish fiddle and then old timey piano alternating. They must make their own buns. Marty’s hamburger looks really good and I love the Cole slaw.
Lassen itself is well taken care of. The first stop we come to after the entrance ($10 fee to get in) is Sulfur Works because we come from the south. I think coming in from the south is best. Most of the stuff to see is on the south end. Sulfur Works has the boiling mud. I imagine what a cooked chicken taste would like if you put it in a pot and lowered the pot onto the mud. I’m thinking of the witches in MacBeth. Double double toil and trouble fire burn cauldron bubble. It looks nasty and smells worse.



Try to come early in the day so you have time to hike to Bumpass Hell. Bumpass Hell is the largest concentration of hydrothermal features in the park. It was a hell of a time for poor old Bumpass who was an early settler who severely burned his leg after falling into a boiling pool. The hydrothermal features can be reached today from a well-marked 1.5 mile trail that starts from a parking area opposite Lake Helen. 
The trail is quite easy, though the altitude (8,000 feet) can make the trail seem moderately difficult. Hiking boots are recommended as the trail crosses generally rocky land with some tree cover, and without much change in elevation until the 100 foot drop into the thermally active basin. The active area can be seen (and smelled!) from far away - a wide basin filled with various steaming pools and unusual multi-colored soils, stained orange, brown, yellow and green by sulphur and other minerals. Together with the occasional white snow patches, the (usually) deep blue sky and the aquamarine waters, the spectacle is extremely beautiful and colorful.
There are cool rocks all over the place in Lassen. There was this pile of white stuff by the road. Gypsum? 


Layers and colors and textures. By the way, the daughter tells me you can’t really rely on color to tell you how to identify a rock. She says you have to get up close with your magnifying glass. Still I find it fun to speculate.


The trail to Lassen Peak looks challenging so we satisfy ourselves by taking pictures at the bottom and fantasizing how we could hike it. How about very, very slowly with lot and lots of salt tabs and electrolytes.



At the bottom of the trail to Lassen Peak Marty is in front of me and I notice something crawling near the neck of his t shirt. It is the most lovely long antlered something which of course I go ahead and capture in my hand. I’m thinking of the joke what’s green and black and purple? The answer: I don’t know but you’d better pick it off your neck. So I’ve picked it off his neck and hold it out to show him. Look! How beautiful. Here’s the cam….but before I can give him the camera he’s flicked the darn thing right off my hand onto the path. I yell “NO!” but it’s too late. I have everyone in the parking lot looking at us. Perturbation! He only did it to help he says. But I think it’s more human instinct than thought. I’m momentarily peeved. Aren’t I perfectly capable of doing my own flicking?
But as I say, it’s too late so let’s move on. When we get back to the car Mr. Bug has a junior brother and he’s sitting on the windshield. Trust me. Older brother was so much more spectacular. Here's where older brother had been sitting. 


Here's the more modest version of the Spectacular Bug with the long, long antlers.


Think 3 times as big and antlers twice as long. He was a pleasant bug. Not doing anyone any harm.



Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Worth Their Weight in Gold


Hopefully each and everyone of you in the horse world has met and partnered with a horse worth its weight in gold. If you haven’t it’s sad because having a special horse is a great gift. I’ve had two horses that were worth their weight in gold. Both were older when they got to be like that. They don’t get to be like that if they’re mistreated so I take a bit of pride in that. I also give credit to the people before me in the case of one. They didn’t screw him up and for that I thank them.
Both the horses were appaloosas. Yes, everybody jokes about appaloosas. You may have heard the term “appa-loser” or some such thing. I think people say stuff like this because they’re jealous or trying to be cute. Appaloosas aren’t any more this way or that than any other horse. In my humble opinion.
The one horse started out a handful and you had to bring your brains to class. In his younger days he was kind of like a mule only more so. If he didn’t want to do something he let you know. You had to be the leader, be determined and take charge of the situation. You couldn’t wimp out. But you above all you had to be fair. Not arbitary. Not thoughtless. Getting rough wasn’t going to cut it.
That horse was a good teacher and in the process of him teaching me his inner gold began to shine through. As he got older he became the “go-to” guy of the bunch. Maybe he didn’t walk out so fast but you were sure of him with a beginner. He still had things to teach but they weren’t at freeway speed. When the hill got too steep we found a place for him at a therapeutic riding school. They gave him a nickname but he’s still the same old guy as before and worth his weight in gold.
Here’s to the good-un’s!

 Dusty Giving a 92 year old woman a ride at Project Ride in Elk Grove, California

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Lined Paper



Miss Struble is rolling over in her grave. The depths to which the legibility of handwriting has sunk would disturb her greatly. Miss Struble was my 3rd grade teacher. She proffered the lined paper like it was fine parchment, handed out the pencils and intoned that we were to “Stay within the lines!”
Oddly enough this did not put me off handwriting entirely but started me on a life long journey of a love affair with the pen and calligraphy which, to me, is just the high falutin’ way of saying “cursive writing”. When I was learning to write I practiced so much I got a knob on my middle finger from gripping the pencil but now people comment about how they like my handwriting when I do the simplest things like write a check. Miss Struble would be pleased.
I once saw a movie and in it the main character, a Jesuit priest, was demonstrating the written word to a bunch of Algonquin Indians. He asked one of the braves to tell him something no one knew. Then he wrote that secret on a piece of paper. When he was finished he gave the paper to his companion to read aloud. Can you imagine the surprise and shock of the Indians upon hearing the secret? How did he do that? But what if the writing was so illegible that the companion couldn’t read it? How embarrassing would that have been? “Uh, what’s this word? Its looks like ‘pigslop’.”
Imagine if one of our most famous founding fathers, John Hancock, had not been taught proper cursive writing. We’d never be using that phrase “put your ‘John Hancock” here.” We’d also be having a difficult time deciphering our constitution and the English might have laughed so hard we’d have given up trying to get our independence.
Nowadays we don’t need legible handwriting. Cursive writing seems to be dying a slow death. We have the modern word processor. Even now I’m using it to write this piece. The knob on my middle finger has disappeared. But I still enjoy writing and reading a beautifully hand written letter. If instruction in the art of cursive writing was brought back the world would be a more beautiful place.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Mind is Like a Monkey



I spent all day yesterday using no words. I got this suggestion from Gwynn Turnbull Weaver while I was attending a riding clinic given by her and her husband Dave. She noticed I’m a big lover of words. I like to use them and plenty of them. The odd thing is I have times when I just don’t want to talk. But when I do, watch out! You can hardly get a word in edge-wise. Part and parcel to this is my chosen avocation which is writing. Yes, I love words. To be specific – and specificity is a symptom – I love language. For example, one of my favorite books of all time is “The Story of English”.
But I digress. Gywnn had suggested trying to get in touch with “feel” by living without words for 24 hours. I thought this was an intriguing idea. To be honest, during my Transcendental Meditation days I had gone without speaking for a whole week. So I had a bit of experience. I vaguely remember that the first couple days were the hardest but that when the week finally came to a close I found that I had little to communicate that was of any importance. During that time I was allowed to write notes to people. So it wasn’t a week completely without words. I was in retreat so my meals were made for me and I had a whole pine forest to hike in and commune with the wind in the trees. This time it was going to be different. I had animals to take care of and I had to make my own meals. I was not going to write anybody any notes. My partner Marty was gone camping with his daughter and her family. I was going to avoid any human contact. I was not going to go on email, watch TV,  listen to music or anything like that. I was just going to spend the day in silence and see what happened.
Almost immediately I came upon a challenge that I was not expecting. My cat doesn’t work off “feel”. Looking back I’m not sure why I was so surprised at this. My cat doesn’t understand pretty much anything but his own version of “my way or the highway”. What made this worse was that he escaped the fence right away and went bounding off into the coyote-infested brush. So there I was trying to figure out how to call him back without calling. I must confess I gave up. So there it is. I called only long enough to get him back and then I resolved not to get caught that way again.
The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. I found my dogs work off feel for the most part. Instead of calling “get in the truck” I simply looked toward the truck and made a big sweeping motion with my arm. Satisfying! My horses totally work off feel. When I was giving my gelding his meds and the sassy little Don-keh (a miniature mule) came sidling in to see if he could horn in I gave a big kick-out with my foot. He gets that! I’m sure he was kind of laughing inwardly so awkward my kick-out actually was but he got the idea. I’m glad no people were around. It must have looked really stupid! The other geldings and the mare get the kick-out, too. Horses don’t really communicate much vocally. I haven’t been able to imitate it anyway. So fortunately feel is already working there.
I didn’t have any trouble with talking to myself out loud as I thought I might. I satisfied this need by talking sublingually to myself. The mind is like a monkey! It was chattering away to itself a mile a minute the whole day. This is fair warning to you. If you ever go 24 hours without words you’ll be frustrated trying to keep your mind quiet so don’t even try. As a matter of fact, not trying, Yoda-like, might be the best way to handle it. There is no try, only do!
When I got bored with being in the house I decided to go to the reservoir and bob around in the water on my inner tube. There were people there. I observed how much we talk! There were a couple little girls playing and they kept up a constant chatter. A man and a woman swam nearby and they, too, did the same. Language sets the human race apart. We have the ability to communicate with a look but we need to explain and expand. We often misinterpret a look and don’t trust it. I don’t advocate getting rid of language but it’s a revelation to go without it for a day. Try it sometime and see what happens.

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Learning Belt




My daughter recently called to ask my advice about a little predicament she had gotten herself into. I immediately thought of a similar situation that I had experienced when I was only a little bit older.
It was in Berkeley probably in 1982 or 3. I had just gotten divorced and was trying to find my new way. I had decided to try freelance graphic design so I could have more personal freedom. I was already experienced in the field but not at going it alone. I had always worked for a company. I don’t know how I met the nice married couple. They had a little boutique on Telegraph Avenue. They sold marvelous hand made clothing and accessories. They wanted an identity package and we decided that since I wasn’t as well dressed as I would have liked that we would barter. I would do the identity package and trade it for clothes.
All went well. They loved my work and then it came time for me to go over to the store and get my clothes. At the store they introduced me to the woman who was going to help me. They said “Watch out, she’s our best sales person. We call her The Shark!” I thought nothing of this. After all I was not paying money. No worries, right?
So gleefully we went about the store with her pulling out this and that and saying won’t these look nice together. I went into the fitting room and came out with my new ensemble feeling pretty snazzy and cute. One of the pieces she put me in was an amazing lizard belt with sterling silver fittings. It was handmade and had no holes. But this was not a problem. She went ahead and punched holes in it and put it around my waist. Voila! We were complete. I was on cloud nine.
Then we started adding everything up at the cash register. Within a few minutes I could see I was in trouble. The items were adding up way over my credit amount. I was starting to feel crushed. There was no way I could make up the difference. So I told her and we started taking away items. We got all the way down to a couple pieces and the belt. It still wasn’t enough. So we took away everything but one sweater and the belt. I would have rather declined the belt. It was by far the most expensive piece. I could have gotten many items of clothing just for the price of the belt alone. But the holes that were punched in it, she carefully explained, were now customized to my size and no one would be able to buy it the way it was.
Walking out of the store I felt cheated. I was no longer on cloud nine. I was down in the dumps and then some! I walked home more depressed and bummed than I had ever felt. When I got home I looked at the beautiful belt that wouldn’t go with anything I owned. It would be a silk purse sticking out like a sore thumb on all the sow’s ears I had in my closet. The only thing I could do was learn my lesson. From there on after I called it the “Learning Belt” and I never forgot my lesson. It was to not get carried away emotionally and consider my actions carefully.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Mexican Restaurant Survey




Marty and I have made it our mission to try all the Mexican Restaurants in North America. We’ve got a ways to go but we’ve made a dent. Recently, we took a road trip to northeastern California and south central Oregon. For a long time I had wanted to show him the largest escarpment fault in North America. I call it the Church of Abert Rim. Most people just call it Abert Rim but it’s a spiritual place for me. It’s a place that makes you think of the Creator and you come away a better person just for looking at it. The Church doesn't look so impressive here because the top is shrouded in clouds. Trust me. It's an awesome piece of geology.


I also wanted to show him Ft. Bidwell. It’s a dinky town on the eastern side of the Warner Mountains. Whenever I would feel stressed in my previous existence as a production manager for a publishing company I would think “I wonder what the people in Ft Bidwell are doing now?” and I would feel peace. It’s a peaceful place. It isn’t “no where” but you can see “no where” from there.


While we were in nearby Lakeview we had Mexican food at a little establishment on highway 395. The people were warm and friendly and their pico de gallo was the best thing going. We ate copious amounts of it on chips and asked for more. I put it on my rancho beans and my rice announcing “This is my salad”. My tacos were good but not great. But the cook was flexible enough to bend the rules and let me have chili verde on them. I forgot to specify soft tortillas so they came crispy and already folded into that “U” shape I detest. The best tacos we have around here are the fish tacos at La Corona in Orland. They’re big and the fish is flavorful and if you say go light on the ranch dressing they will and they are pretty darn good.
But back to the trip. We like to drive so we headed over to Crater Lake on the Oregon Outback Scenic Byway, Highway 31. We met a new friend who didn’t have much to say. She was nonetheless colorful and macabre.


From Highway 31 we went over to Crater Lake. We had come for “very different” and we got it. Back home the thermometer is heading up to 107 degrees. At the rim of the caldera it was in the 50’s and blowing cold and wet.


Crater Lake is very special. But there aren’t any Mexican restaurants up there so we headed for Klamath Falls and the Lava Beds National Monument. Here’s where Kintpuash - also known as Captain Jack, a Modoc Indian - held off the US Calvary for 5 months with 60 warriors. There had been trouble over at their new home with the Klamath Indians. Kinda like the Israelis and Palestinians. The Klamaths said this isn’t our idea and we don’t want you guys here so we’re going to pester you until you leave. The Modocs tried to tough it out but then the government didn’t give them the supplies that they had promised. This put them over the edge. They went back home and holed up in the lava beds waiting for the army to come and try to take them back. They probably wished they had a Mexican restaurant because having only enough wood to cook with and not enough to keep warm finally made them leave. They got pretty far to the south and the cavalry caught up with them. If there had been a Mexican restaurant they might have all gone in for Margaritas and guacamole and forgiven each other. There’s something about great Mexican food that really makes people forget their troubles.

I had to come back and add an addendum. I realized that my summary might sound flip and insensitive to the plight of the Modoc people. By way of explanation, I would like to offer here that I believe that people in general take the issues before them much too seriously and if they could only meet in a spirit of generosity and compassion that many of the world's problem would simply melt away. We are all nations caught on this beautiful green and blue sphere. We're all worthy of respect and consideration. Animal, vegetable, mineral.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

What's Up With the Red Trucks?



What’s Up With The Red Trucks?

I was in Iowa recently. Iowa is my home state. When I go back I always like to look around and compare what I see to my adopted home state California. In California white trucks are “de rigeur”. I’ve been told that white reflects the sun, keeps the cab cooler and the paint doesn’t look crappy so fast. So imagine my surprise when in Iowa I see one red truck, then another, then another and then yet another. It seems to be a conspiracy. There are red trucks all over the place!
Here’s some evidence. You’ll just have to trust me that it’s not just my imagination.

An average Iowan getting into his red truck
A good red Iowa truck waiting patiently at the light
A red Iowa truck zooming out of the picture

Stealth capture of yet another red Iowa truck
I could paste more but you get the idea. Now I just have to ask. Why do you think there are so many red trucks in Iowa?