Wednesday, May 29, 2013

If You Come From Iowa



If You Come From Iowa…

“After all, you are as your land and your air is. You are brilliant and subtle if you come from Iowa and you are as you are, and you live as you live and you are always well taken care of if you come from Iowa.”
- Gertrude Stein
Everybody’s Autobiography (1937)

I heard that Gertrude Stein never stepped foot in Iowa. I heard that she had planned to give a lecture in Iowa City, but never did because of a snow storm. So what did she know? On what did she base this statement? It’s certain that she had met Iowans in her circle of writers and artists. She might have been referring to writer and photographer Carl Van Vechten who was born in Cedar Rapids and who met her in Paris in 1913. It’s hard to think she could have been talking about Iowans in general. Was Carl Van Vechten brilliant, subtle and strange? Who knows.
What could she have possibly meant? I’m from Iowa. I know lots of people from Iowa. I think Iowans would think that it was the epitome of arrogance and conceit to believe what she said. To even consider it. Iowans aren’t self absorbed. They’re generous to a fault. My sister, for example, is very Iowan. She’ll bend over backwards and ruin herself in trying to help you.  She’d never even consider that she’s wonderful for doing this. It’s just what she does. It’s just what Iowans do.
Maybe it’s the weather. The weather in Iowa is an adversary. No, it’s not as adversarial as North Dakota or the Yukon for example. But it’s pretty unpleasant. The weather in Iowa is like the little girl with the curl right in the middle of her forehead. When she’s good she’s very, very good. When she’s bad she’s horrid. So Iowans have to band together against a common enemy. They’re too distracted fighting the elements to be selfish. All over the world strife unites people and brings out their best. Adverse weather is a kind of strife. Just ask anyone who’s lived through a tornado.
Iowans are brilliant when they are being helpful. I have to disagree with the subtle part. If anything Iowans are anything but subtle. Iowans are direct and say what they mean. There’s nothing strange about them either. Iowans are transparent and open as a book. The one thing I agree with is that Iowans live as they live and are well taken care of. Iowans take pride in what they do. Everywhere I go in California I see farms and small ranches that are literally dumps so much garbage do they have. You simply don’t see this in Iowa. Iowans take care of themselves and they take care of their stuff. In The Bridges of Madison County Francesca sums it up when she describes her Iowa farmer husband to Robert Kincaid. “He’s clean,” she says.
I guess that I’m proud that I come from Iowa. Being Iowan is a good thing. I thank Gertrude Stein for her kind and odd words. I think I’ll just stick with that.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Not Everyone has This Problem



Not Everyone Has This Problem

Especially people in town. But out here on ranches far from town water is a seminal issue. Having it or not having it is a matter of life or death. Wars have been fought over it. So when you don’t have enough or the right kind you have to get some. Here on our ranch we rely on wells for our house water and catch ponds and a lake for our stock. Here we have two seasons – wet and dry. This is well known to most people from California. They’ve made movies about California water. Chinatown with Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway was one. I’m not going to get into the politics of Delta water or even the Owens River here. Chinatown did a great job on that. That’s a much bigger subject than this ole girl can fathom. But I can talk from personal experience about water on our ranch.
Our latest debacle has been water for our vegetable garden. We did everything right up to a point and then were caught blindsided by one major thing. First off, we can’t dig in our “soil”. It’s so hard pan I’m not even going to call it soil. It's more like pulverized rock. So we got punctured horse water tanks, put drainage rock in the bottoms and custom blend soil on top of that. We were going to run a line from a small tank on our dam that theoretically would be filled with pumped water from the lake. Then a gravity line would come from there to our garden. While this system was being worked on I optimistically went ahead and planted my garden and watered it from our house well. Things were going along pretty well at first but time passed and the plants weren’t growing vigorously. They were downright puny. I went down a check list. Good soil – check. Plenty of water – check. Good temperature past frost – check. Sun – check.
What could be wrong? By process of elimination I figured it had to be the water. But what could it be about the water? I got out my pool test strips and lo and behold I was shocked to see the alkalinity, pH and hardness were off the charts. Alkalinity was 240. pH was 8.4. Calcium hardness was 450. No wonder my poor little plants were not thriving. They were swimming in the Salton Sea!
I knew thriving plants were possible here in this – as it was turning out -  inhospitable place. Every time we drove over to Orland we drove past Jackie’s garden. Every thing in her garden was a monster. One day we drove past and there was Jackie herself. I made Marty stop and back up and I jumped out of the truck, ran up the ditch and hailed her over the fence. Jackie was so nice. She explained that they had wonderful water and plenty of it. Oh, woe! What could be done for us?
I tested the pond water. Same results as the well water. Then we had something unexpected happen. It rained. It rained pretty good. Frantically, I grabbed every container I could find to position under every dripping corner of the house. Oh, did I tell you we have only two small sections of gutter and no down spouts? Well, I can tell you I made the best use of the minimal gutters we had. I was able to catch a good deal of rain in a short time. Out came the trusty test strips. Holding my breath I swirled the requisite 3 times and peered. I had Perfection! We had collected the typical slightly acidic rain that plants love and thrive on.
Next year I am not letting anyone talk me out of rain barrels under a full length of gutter with down spouts. Mother Nature knows what she’s doing. We just have to pay attention, take her gifts when she offers them and work on her terms. If we do, we’ll be all right.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

My Brilliant Aunt J

My Brilliant Aunt J


I had a long phone conversation with my favorite aunt J last night. We talked about all the recent things that had been happening to both sides of our family. There were the medical issues and there were the people issues. Then she gave me a great quote. It was perfect. I guess you could call it American as apple pie but I think it just plain fits for the whole human race:

“It’s a Great Life If You Don’t Weaken.”

So because I’m like Butch Cassidy (“You just keep thinking, Butch. That’s what you’re good at.”) I thought about that quote. Did it fit? Does it apply to my life? I’ve had my share of issues over the last couple years. I was in the hospital for 16 days in 2011 and a few people weren’t all that sure I was going to make it. The road to recovery continues even to this day. I got sick with something that’s rare and isn’t easy to treat. Recently I thought I was really making progress because the aches and pains caused by the drugs finally went away. It took the better part of 3 months after I’d been taken off the drugs for the side effects to subside. Unfortunately the “critters” that caused my illness in the first place were still present unbeknownst to me and every one else and they came roaring back with a vengeance. Now I’m on a different drug. In the month or so that I enjoyed freedom from joint pain I realized that one of the aches was not caused by the drugs. Now I’ll be making a visit to an orthopedic surgeon for a rotator cuff tear. As my dear old mother would say, “Oy vey is mir.” She was not jewish but she could have been honorary.
My allies: my partner, my sister, my doctors and my friends. My antagonists: the insurance company. Oh, I wish I could say that my insurance company has been at my side. It hasn’t. First they rated me up and wouldn’t insure me without a very high monthly premium. On top of that I am paying a high deductible. In a way I can understand that and sympathize. What I can’t understand is nickel and diming me and challenging every last little claim screeching “Pre-existing condition! Not allowed!”
This is where I decided that the quote fits my life. Getting your doctor’s attention, then getting his diagnosis, then getting the insurance company to authorize the treatment and finally getting your treatment and medication takes weeks. You can’t weaken. It starts feeling like the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party when the least little thing causes every one to have a meltdown and move down a chair. It feels like they’re changing the rules. They aren’t. You just didn’t understand the rules in the first place. Now you begin to understand the rules. Now you can’t weaken.
So if there’s any lesson to be learned here it’s always do the best you can and don’t weaken. There’s no way you can predict what will happen to you and how you will be treated. You could get employed by your enemies and that might help you understand them and how they work but if it isn’t really your thing you’re left with just doing the best you can, hope for the best and don’t weaken. If you do weaken, don’t beat yourself up for it. Just get back on the horse as soon as you can and keep going. It is a Great Life and it’s worth it to not weaken.