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.