Dozer, the bulldog

Dozer, the bulldog
Dozer: Spring training is upon us!

Caught in the headlights...

Caught in the headlights...
The author of Mark's Work, at the botanical gardens inFort Bragg...

Baseball been veddy good to me

Baseball been veddy good to me
SmallBoy doing his thing in the outfield...

HappyDay Farms bees are happy bees.

HappyDay Farms bees are happy bees.
C D B's... D B's R G's

Gluten-Free Mama and Ben-Jam-Man

Gluten-Free Mama and Ben-Jam-Man
Love is the greatest power.

Beauty abounds!

Beauty abounds!
Butterflies know what's up.

If you've seen one skink, you've seen 'em all, said no one ever.

If you've seen one skink,  you've seen 'em all, said no one ever.
Hands R Us

Marigold

Marigold
June gems

Foxy lady.

Foxy lady.
Foxes are back.

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

markyboy1231@hotmail.com

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Can You Say Edibles?

I will be working the HappyDay Farms medicinal cannabis booth at the Kate Wolf Festival this weekend, something I look forward to with the a great deal of anticipation. Working in a cannabis booth is highly enjoyable for me, and doing so within hailing distance of my mountain home, is as good as it gets.

The Black Oak Ranch is close enough so that if the music is amped up and the planets are aligned correctly, we can hear the action from the Bell. Already accustomed to hearing the distant sound of the Harleys on The 101 on Biker Weekend, it just goes to show that sound will travel uphill quite efficiently.

Everything about this local venue is solid gold, simply because we have been working at various Black Oak productions for decades now. Logistics become much easier when you have been connected with the facility over time, and there is mutual respect. 

When I was still teaching back in the nineties and we would do the Well Springs pizza-bread booth, my students used to express amazement that I was there. I did a great deal of bridge-building during those Pig-Nic days, and it paid off over the course of the following school year.

Having enjoyed the Kate Wolf festival as a concert-goer, it will be fun to work the festival in the booth. So many friends stop by and sample the wares, that it’s impossible not to get buoyed by the occasion. Even if thousands of old hippies do not come flooding into the 215 area to afford themselves the opportunity of indulging, we are guaranteed a good time.
That's what I'm sayin/talkin about...

I can’t help reflecting back to those days when I was working the booth, and students, former, current and future, were everywhere. Cannabis was also everywhere but not for me. In order to be able to enjoy the benefits, I had to take great precautions not to be seen. 

Oh for edibles, back in the day! I will gladly pay you Tuesday for my sanity today.

And speaking of the same-only different-I am not an alcohol-kind-of-guy for so many reasons, it’s ridiculous. Therefore, I find it almost comical that I would be taken for one, as was the case a few years back, the year Joan Baez played. It was hot and I was drinking a lot of water, but not a drop of any form of booze.  I had to make regular runs to the rows of Port-A-Potties, and every time I did so, the guards at the gate harassed me. 

I’m not kidding. Every time I went past, they searched my backpack. By the fourth or fifth time, I just went bipolar, left the venue and didn’t come back.

Missed Joan.

With my musteard extending down practically to my navel, how could they have pegged me for a boozer? I was especially incensed because of my long affiliation with the Black Oak Ranch. Was nothing sacred?

I do not anticipate any logistical obstacles this weekend, and I’m hoping Mickey the clown is there. He is a good person and fun to be around, and I like chilling with him.

Besides, when he’s there, I’m not the oldest dude anymore.
Mickey the Clown





Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Thieves in the Night

Being a peace-loving man (I get a piece whenever I can), I cringe to think that I have enemies here in Farm-Land, but the truth of the matter is, I do. These range from ruthless, cutthroat villains, to inanimate objects, whose villainy is purely circumstantial.

I find it impossible to list them in order from one to ten, because at any given moment, any of the ten is able to assert its position at the head of the line as numero uno. Or head honcho; squeaky wheel; unmitigated disaster; insidious infiltrator(s); innocent bystander(s); thieves in the night; thieves in the day; cute thieves/ugly ones. There is a long list.

Enemies of the state:

water leaks: Whether from an old rubber washer between hose and faucet, a leaky connection between white ag pipe and black utility line, a wasted valve that never closes completely, an improperly tightened coupling, bite marks on water lines from thirsty critters or any of a plethora of other causes, slow leaks rob us of the precious water we need to make it all happen, here at HappyDay Farms.

gophers: Is there anything more galling than to see a particularly key garden bed get assaulted by these savage underground predators? Tomato plants, in particular, seem to entice them. I want to take a pitchfork and just start jabbing it along the route the little bandits follow, but I like to think I have a modicum of self-control. It doesn’t matter if I do or not-I like to think it. Oh, and I set the underground traps, attaching a big stick to the traps so they can't disappear back into the depths-WITH MY TRAP. I also use gloves so they can't detect my scent.

burst water fittings: They get one’s attention real quick-like. Nothing shatters the mood faster than the sound of running water. Running? Try sprinting, to the nearest shut-off valve.
The dreaded powder
powdery mildew: Act tung, a worthy opponent, if ever there were one. Like many, our baptism by fire was anything but celebratory, but we learned. We learned a lot in a short time, so until the next strain comes along, precautions are paramount.

weeds: Incessant, draining, they steal from what is good, to nurture that which is unwanted. I will never give an inch.

clogged water filters: At last! Something that is almost 100% preventable with vigilance. A clogged water filter is just doing its job-keeping the crud from getting into the emitter lines, but if they are not religiously spit-polished, crops suffer from a water shortage.

woodpeckers: This might be the only innocent bystander, in that the damage they do is to my home, and it’s as a misguided attempt to prepare for winter. The solution is to refurbish the affected parts, and use Hardy-Board, instead of wood, to sheath the exterior.

I am smarter than they are-just not as capable as I used to be.

Plant lovers other than humans, arranged in alphabetical order AND simultaneously size, going from small to big: 

aphids, earwigs, mice, quail, rabbits, and turkeys  

Where do I start? We wash the aphids off; we keep our crops well ventilated and cleared of excess plant matter to discourage both aphids and earwigs; we set traps for the mice, using the seeds they are stealing as bait; we cover the crops with remay to keep quail out; we reinforce fencing when rabbits are an issue, until we realize they are going under the fence. 

Large Marge helps out with that, as do all the farm dogs.

dust: More about aesthetics in the past, dust is currently a huge issue for Gluten-Free Mama, recovering from a bout with pneumonia, and doing quite well, thank you for asking. I am doubling my efforts to remove dust from places I never thought to look for it. 

time: Time is an enemy because if you stay in one place long enough, you see a lot of history repeat itself, simply because time will insist on passing. From changing the batteries in smoke detectors and kitchen clocks, to replacement of shower curtains and bathmats, to the inevitable water heater/refrigerator/washing machine, et al failure, time will be problematic.

            *                  *                  *                 *                 *
Honorable mention: No list would be complete without a few honorable mentions like deer, rattlesnakes, ticks, mosquitoes and clay, to name a few. The dogs keep the deer at bay, as do fences.
I haven’t seen a rattler in four or five years; it doesn’t mean they aren’t around-it just means they are not the issue they once were, 35 years ago, when we first moved to the mountain.

Ticks don’t seem to like me much, so I only pick one up one every few years. I have been lucky so far, as I am routinely with skeeters. They don’t seem to like A-negative blood. I am rarely afflicted with poison oak either.

Clay is a mixed bag; On the one hand it was critical that we had great deposits of clay for constructing the pond a few years ago; on the other, practically every cubic foot of soil we use on-farm,  has been supplemented with rice hulls. We are habitually trying to infuse organic matter into the soil, so as to lessen the clay influence. We are winning this battle; I used rice hulls in most areas, but none in the orchard, which has been worked for years.


The instant I hit publish, I will think of yet another Top-Ten worthy item for my list, as I am sure you can. That’s OK-I won’t stop the presses; I’ll just start a new list.
Cherry trees and tomatoes

Monday, June 19, 2017

Connections

Connections

The first thing I heard Sunday afternoon, as I stepped out the back door, was the last thing I wanted to hear: the sound of running water. The most precious of all that nature has to offer, hearing water spewing out on barren ground is the same thing as hearing gold coins hurtling out of a winning jackpot, only to see them plop into the ocean.

Never taken for granted, water is the lifeline of our farm. Once the rains have begun to fall in October or November, there is an abundance of the ambrosia of life, but we don’t need it then. The moment the spring rains shut down, however, water takes a back seat to nothing, in terms of paramount importance.

On top of that, it’s one thing to have a pond filled with that which provides life, it’s another to coax that water up to the top of the property, where it can be gravity-fed to all parts of the farm. Logistics, baby. After years of dealing with catastrophic water deprivation, at the worst of times, we have pretty much gotten the bugs worked out.

I say “we” as though I personally oversaw the entire production, when nothing could be further from the truth. After being the go-to guy for close to thirty years, I have been relieved of these responsibilities. Nonetheless, when the water cuts out while practically everyone is at Reggae on the River, and the temperature is above 100 degrees, and you lose close to a full five thousand gallons of water when a fitting blows, you have got to have something in reserve.

Like a second tank of water, filled to capacity, ready to be put into service with the flip if a valve. Of course, there were numerous catastrophes before we could get it together to have more than one tank in place. 5,000 gallon water tanks are not cheap.

HeadSodBuster, just about to park it for a Father’s Day barbecue, on my behalf, decided he’d best amble on up to that tank and find out what the damage was. I had noted with dismay, the river of water had flowed down a few rock steps, roared past Tomato Terrace, and hung a right down [Sour] Strawberry Lane.

Always one to glean anything positive out of any disaster, those four girls impacted, are pretty stoked right now.

“What’s the damage?” I asked, as ‘Buster returned.

“Down about 2 thou. Hey, it happens!” This last because of my crestfallen face. 

The reality is that there are hundreds of identical fittings as the one which burst, in every corner of the farm. All we can do is have our wits about us, take the occasional quick tour, and keep matters in perspective. 

Better to have spare tank(s) in reserve, and need them, than to not have spare tanks of water as backup, and be desperate for them. Besides, a year ago we were coming off the fifth consecutive winter of drought, and we still managed to make it through without undue concern for our source of water.

This past winter saw California’s wettest in history. Whereas we still start out with the same capacity in our pond, the water table itself exceeds that which we have had for many years, so we are in much better shape. Considering we just got the West Forty up on timers Saturday, the fact that we had a minor setback on Sunday might even have been anticipated, had my head not been in the clouds.

I mean, more so than normal, it being Father’s Day and all. It’s one of those artificial HallMark Holidays that actually translates to something special, when you differentiate between a “father” and a “dad.” Gluten-Free Mama and I raised three sons, and they all took the time to communicate with me on Sunday.

Those kinds of connections don’t burst like water fittings on a hot Sunday afternoon. Those kinds of connections are forever.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Baseball and Love


Baseball and love go hand-in-hand; of that there can be no doubt. I’m not suggesting that couples can’t make it without baseball, only that baseball enhances your chances, exponentially. How could it not? If two people can speak the language of baseball, they are well on the way to speaking the language of love.

Take me and Gluten-Free Mama, for instance. When we first hooked up in early 1981, and still lived in San Jose, we took in several of the Giants games at Candlestick Park. That continued in the early spring of 1982, but only a matter of weeks later, in late May, we moved up to the Bell. There was no baseball on the mountain when we first arrived.

Then, over at neighbor Rex’s, a bunch of us carved out a kinda/sorta level field, rimmed with manzanita trees, built a backstop and commenced Sunday afternoon games involving the entire mountain community, including the Cow. It was an epic achievement in community togetherness, and it went on until the late eighties.

We watched our boys play ball on this field, we carted them down to town for Little League, and followed a couple of them as they played high school ball. If two parents speak the language of baseball, that’s a lot of built-in family communication right there.

About a dozen or so years ago, HeadSodBuster and his crew fired that field at Rex’s up again, and it felt pretty good. Community members started showing up and that went on for quite a spell. Folks kept bringing up town baseball, though, and leagues, with men and women playing, and the Laytonville Co-Ed Softball League was formed.

And a grand league it is, I might add. I have been known to patronize this particular venue, camera in hand, to snap a few hundred photos of some of the on-field action. Proving once again that if you take enough pics of anything, you’re bound to get lucky once in a while, I managed to snap a couple of decent shots.

All that did was fuel my enthusiasm.

Well, as luck or life would have it, GF Mama likes to watch SmallBoy play down at this field, part of that language of love I was prattling on about, so we have done so from the beginning. Baseball in all forms is good; in certain settings, it is vastly surpassing excellent. 

Unfortunately, though, while Markie had ahold of the controls early this spring, he went into his act, said a bunch of stuff, most of it politically motivated, and crashed and burned. Among the foul balls he tossed out there, was the one about not attending summer ball games in town anymore. 

Honestly, I tried to follow his logic, but it stayed just out of reach.

It has taken a while to sift through the ashes, but it’s patently obvious that it is necessary. Whereas telling points were made, injustices were addressed and outrage was spewed, it all fell for naught, except maybe, it made Markie feel better. 

Whatever. Markie’s locked up again, for the moment, but I’m not, and I know GF Mama would like to take in a game. So, fake beard or not, tat across my forehead, or not, I’m going to pack up my backpack, bring along my camera, and go with GF Mama down to watch SmallBoy play.

Not tonight, with the Bombers and Sho ‘Nuff going at it, 'cause it's late, but soon.

Hold a seat for me-I’m coming home.
Watch out, Fawn!


Monday, June 12, 2017

"I May Be Crazy But I'm Not Stupid"

"I May Be Crazy But I'm Not Stupid"

Did you hear the one about the mental patient being transferred from one facility to another, when the lug nuts from one of the tires on the van in which he was traveling, loosened up and fell off? The van nosed into the curb, rendering it incapacitated, with a spare tire but no lug nuts.

Watching the driver and the doctor confer, seemingly baffled as to what the next step should be, the mental patient spoke up, “Why don’t you take one lug nut off of each of the other three tires, and use them to put the fourth tire back on? Then you can at least get to a garage where they can hook you up with the rest?”

Plainly surprised, the driver exclaimed, “Why, that’s brilliant, especially coming from, well, you know, a mental patient.”

“Listen,” the exasperated patient observed, “I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid.”

It’s a bit of a stretch, but I feel the same way when it comes to hospitals and waiting rooms in general. Though the objective side of me sees the big picture, and recognizes how challenging the entire medical world is, the subjective side of me struggles in a huge way.

Hospitals are places where miracles occur and health can be magically restored. All three of my overnight hospital stays involved surgery and successful outcomes, so I have not had any nightmarish tales of woe to report. 

Nonetheless, it has become apparent that I am not a person who can be counted on, to remain fully functional in a hospital setting. If nothing else, the confined spaces intimidate me because I simply hate being in tiny rooms. I struggle with things over which I have no control; others’ cell phones are at the top of my list.

It’s not even that it is a pet peeve of mine, that it is rude to conduct telephone conversations that intrude on others’ existence, it’s that the nature of so many of these conversations, defies belief. Abusive language, way too much information, and a lack of control over the situation, all combine to make it unbearable for me.

Were it not for headphones, I would just douse myself with a highly flammable substance, and get it over right there in the waiting room. Happily.

Wearing headphones, however, also cuts me off from any attempt to convey information that I might need, so I have to be selective about when I employ them.

Being in a patient’s room itself, can also be hard because of how intrusive the whole process is. Don’t confuse me with facts about why all of these components must be in place, but there is a continuous flow of official hospital personnel, who drift into and then out of, all of the patients’ rooms.

They have questionnaires to fill out; they have documents to be signed; they even have religion available, should you feel so compelled. They take your temperature, they take your pulse, and they rob you of your dignity, without you even realizing it.

They wake you up in the middle of the night to check your blood pressure, and they wake you up later, to find out if you are having any trouble sleeping. OK, I made the last up, but it just seems that way. 

I mention all of this in passing, because I am mortified that I cannot provide for Gluten-Free Mama, the support in this setting that she deserves. I want to be there, I have been so in the past, but it has become apparent that what I bring to the table, ends up spilling all over it and making a mess.

When I need supervision to keep me from going, well, bipolar, then it becomes patently obvious that I am more of a hindrance than a help.  When it means that GF Mama has to worry more about me, than about herself, then I am part of the problem and not part of the solution. 

Time and again it has been proven that I am better able to contribute by remaining at home and spit-shining the house. Two or three times, if necessary. I’m good at it because it comes under the category of, “I’m helping! I’m helping!” And that’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, which is often enough what my presence translates into.

I’m not a bad guy because of all of this, even if I want to make myself out to be. Better to think myself a bad guy, and not be, than to think myself a good guy, and be a dick.

Those sage words are bound to have been spoken before, so I won’t claim credit. I’ll just try to follow good advice.
I can also grow pretty flowers.






Sunday, June 11, 2017

Options Du Jour


Options Du Jour

Nothing disorients me more than to have excess time on my hands. By definition a farmer never lacks for job security, unless he is the type of guy who has determined that he will no longer work in the rain. Believe me when I say that there is still a vast quantity of work to be done.

I don’t even know why I add the word “still” in there, as though the time will come when we will all sit back in our lounge chairs and announce, “Well, that’s that! The work is now done.” On a year-round farm, you can’t run out of work.

The list is not endless but only because I’ve never tried to jot down the options du jour. Farming is such that I can attack any one of a dozen different tasks, with none being more pressing than the next. One advantage is that I never feel bogged down with one agenda, especially if that agenda happens to be physically demanding.

So much of what needs to be done is logistical in nature, such as caging the tomato plants. To allow the plants to flop in the breeze, so to speak, is to invite later issues with tomatoes in the dirt, breakage, and general mayhem.

To cage more than 200 plants, however, requires first much thought, and then comparable follow-through. Last year we experienced some bruising when the Ace tomato plants simply produced too much fruit within the confines of the metal construction wire cages, in which they were enshrined.

Those wire cages are unforgiving when it comes to crowded conditions. What I have in mind this year, is the six inch by six inch netting, that comes in thirty-by-six feet rolls, give or take. Using bamboo, I will simply enclose the plants, either individually, or more if it seems logical, and figure that the netting will allow for more expansion, without crimping style.

Am I going to set out to enclose more than 200 tomato plants at one go? Baby steps.

With all of the prep work I have already completed, I still have the two lowest terraces to be done. Originally, Gluten-Free Mama wanted to plant winter squash, but tomatoes took precedence, and the squash was planted out by Boss Lady because the time had come.

Considering I am still seeking homes for about 20 Aces and a smattering of others, these terraces make the most sense. Besides, regardless of what will go in, I need to get them prepped. One thing that has stalled the process, is that I have run out of my home-grown compost, and will have to go up to the big pile and rustle up a truck filled with it.

On the list is this same compost prep for next year, as that which just ran out. I have a monstrous pile of pulled weeds, chicken manure, and used straw, to which I need to infuse a truck load of that same compost. So that’s two trucks filled with compost that I need to move.

I have stayed bravely abreast of the weeding throughout my entire complex, but I dare not slack off now. With the new rain will come a late rally and I must be vigilant. Job security.

Having completed the foundation/skirting work, I still have one generator door to build and attach, and one new generator house to build at SmallBoy’s site, for which I still need a slab. I have committed to painting the cabin as well, if we can put together a simple set of scaffolding, so that I do not have to go up and down all day on a ladder. Ladders and bad knees are not a good fit.

Our cannabis has been in the ground for about three weeks now, so we’re not yet to the point where we need to start the ‘booing. We have decided to hold off until towards the end of June, and just let them spread their own wings for the time being.

I have two projects pending, one involving the division of a large herb bed, and the other a far more complex endeavor. I want to relocate the Celtic Cross/Circle that I assembled about two decades ago, to a new location, one which cannot be driven over.

I made the original out of smooth river rock, acquired over time, but it got ravaged because it was at the edge of our parking area, and vehicles kept ending up on top of it. Additionally, winter rains each year gradually covered it with a layer of dirt, from which I had to retrieve it. 

Now it is sadly in need of some TLC, which I have in abundance, possibly fueled by the THC, but that is pure conjecture. And no, the project doesn’t come under the category of farming, but it does apply when it comes to those options, of which I may avail myself on any given Sunday, if’n it don’t rain.
Otherwise, I have a breath-taking idea-I could clean house. 


Breath-taking might be a stretch.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Once Upon A Fox

Once Upon A Fox

When you live off the grid, five miles up a dirt road, you can bet your bottom dollar that you are going to encounter the occasional wild critter. Some of the more frequent flyers are red-tailed hawks, rattlesnakes, deer, wild pigs, coyotes, bobcats, raccoons, skunks and scorpions.

Nonetheless, I was quite shocked to come face-to-face with a little gray fox, early Friday morning, not twenty feet outside my back door. The reality is that the fox was there first, as I strolled out the back door, intent on scouting out “Tomato Terrace,” still grappling with how I am going to cage those 45 Ace tomato plants.

I was standing at the head of the terrace and had been doing so for at least five minutes, when I finally focused in on the little fox, at first mistaking it for an odd-colored cat, possibly up from a neighbor’s house. Then I saw her in profile and got a genuine jolt.

It’s been at least twenty years since I laid eyes on a fox, whereas back in the day, they were an active part of our ecosystem. In those days, we did not keep chickens, and therefore had no occasion to cross paths. I used to see them in my meanderings and we heard them all the time, more so at night.

Think of it as a dog barking with a severe case of laryngitis. It’s a raspy, gnarly, grating sound, and it kind of creeps you out if you don’t know what it is. On the other hand, once you have identified the unmistakable sound, you don’t feel weird anymore because foxes aren’t going to hurt you.

They fall under the category of “if you see me, I’m probably already gone.” They do not want to mess with people so they keep their distance. They do like to mess with the chickens, but if one is not clever enough to be able to build a coop that prevents foxes from getting in at night, then one deserves what Mr. Fox has to offer.
Who? Me?

Now that they are “back,” my question is, where did they go? In discussing this with Gluten-Free Mama, yesterday, she hit me up with an interesting hypothesis: “Do you suppose the rat poison that the cannabis farmers have been known to use, is responsible?”

Ach tung! As heinous as this thought is, I think GF Mama is on to something. It’s no secret that studies done in the past, indicate just how deadly this substance is, up and down the food chain. It just hits a bit too close to home to ponder this as a possibility.

Nonetheless, with heightened awareness and cannabis regulation, hopefully the truck is being backed up, even as we speak. The return of the foxes may be one indication that we are on the right track.

The one I spotted Friday morning, was sleek and velvety and silent. She was beautiful and graceful and seemed unconcerned that I was there. Since I had walked out and then just stopped in the early morning light, she had had five minutes to size me up.

“Nothing to be frightened of here…”

And then she wandered around and let me take a dozen snapshots of her, to prove how happy she was to be back. As I said earlier, my only issue with her would be if she went after my chickens, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.


Meanwhile, I won’t forget to lock my girls up at night.