Dozer, the bulldog

Dozer, the bulldog
About those fireworks...

Ellie Mae or may not...

Ellie Mae or may not...
In through the out gate...

Rattler relocation

Rattler relocation
Snakes are beautiful critters.

HappyDay Farms bees are happy bees.

HappyDay Farms bees are happy bees.
"Let us bee happy in our work..."


Nothing says summer like zinnias.

Pink Yarrow and carnations

Pink Yarrow and carnations
Life on the farm

HappyDay Farms grows it better.

HappyDay Farms grows it better.
Home-grown by HeadSodBuster

Where the living is easy

Where the living is easy
Garlic drying, with our newly painted water tank in the background

July magic

July magic
Artichoke-strictly for ornamental purposes

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Standish Hickey: All Things Alive and Bright

Standish Hickey
All Things Alive and Bright
Lito and I were the first to arrive at Standish Hickey State Park, one Friday afternoon last August, backing his truck in with the left rear tire, resting up against a Doug-Fir tree, so as to be able to squeeze every last vehicle into the prescribed spot.  The chain-link fence, stretched out along the top of the campground, was the first thing about the campsite that we noticed.  The fence protected those within the campground from a steep cliff, overlooking the river below.
“Probably to keep old stoners from stumbling out of the tent, and falling into the river,” I remarked, trying to ignore the fence itself.
“Yeah, and the drunks who are looking for the restroom,” said Lito, who may have some experience in that area.
Deciding that the colossal fir trees, extending up into the green canopy so that we could not see the tops, were infinitely more worthy of our interest and discussion, we promptly forgot about the fence.
Our campsites were the very first we encountered, upon leaving the ranger check-in point.  The rangerette who filled out our little windshield tag was pleasant and just a little frazzled in appearance.  She seemed a little perplexed that one of us was not actually Alex Roa, but tried to keep it together while she selected one of the camp maps, while saying at the same time, “Let me show you guys where you are at.”
From my passenger seat, I gave her a big wave and said, “Boy I sure do appreciate that.  I’ve been trying to figure out where I’m at since I was ten.”
That got her high-beam smile activated, and she looked suddenly like she wanted to be doing exactly what she  was doing.  Actually, we agreed amongst ourselves that the rangers were absolutely wonderful, and felt the pangs of knowing that, unless the economic picture brightens, Standish Hickey will be closed this time next year for good.
Lito set up a dome tent for me and for Benny when he showed up,  while I unloaded his truck of all of the essentials.  We immediately made the command decision to centralize the two camps’ kitchens at the second of the two sites, because the table and the fire ring were set back farther from the road, and afforded a more protected view from the roads running past the campsites.

We hadn’t been there more than an hour, before Alex and Claire arrived.  Alex had been the organizer behind the whole gig, having secured the sites and kept the communication process flowing, including arranging it well in advance.  We were meeting Claire for the first time, and as I observed to her upon our departure, “I couldn’t imagine a more comfortable setting to get better acquainted with someone you just met.”
The first thing Alex and Claire did was to set up a hammock, and take a “power nap.”  That is exactly what I’m saying/talking about.  It seemed the most logical thing to do, and Lito and I ambled down to the water hole to see what the swimming might be like the next day.  The rocks along the river climbed out of the water, straight up, at least seventy-five feet high.  The water was mesmerizing in its multi-shades of green, the sunlight forcing its way down into the undulating depths, reminding me the the water was at least fifteen feet deep.
“So when you think back to when you were a kid, and I refused to allow you to jump off of the rocks, in retrospect, did you think I was a jerky parent?”  I found it fascinating to ask my adult sons these kinds of questions.
Lito took a long look up at the top of the rock, and said most matter-of-factly, “Dad, I would have been scared shitless to jump off of that rock.”
“You mean that for once in my life, I told you not to do something, and you actually said, ‘Whoa, that makes sense...?’  It just goes to show, parents have to get lucky once in a while.”
“Exactly.” was Lito’s succinct response.
By the time we made it back up to the top, Alex and Claire had surfaced, and were getting things organized shortly afterward, when Ben and Monica arrived.  Monica positively glowed, and I thought back to our ongoing dialogue, all about gray walls.
Monica had written, “I am counting down the hours until I bust out from my little gray cubicle, and see the beautiful land again.  Earlier this week I was sitting in a windowless meeting room.  I felt so cut off from all things alive and bright.  I ached to be in Bell Springs.”
She came bouncing away from the truck to give everyone hugs, as effervescent as a six-year-old, making everyone around her feel it too.  Her cubicle now featured mammoth firs and a weekend ahead of her to relax with her Ben, and re-immerse herself in all things bright and alive.
Ben strode directly toward me, right hand extended, saying simply, “Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you,” and I knew exactly what he meant.  Upon Monica’s departure from Bell Springs Road after a weekend visit to Grandma, I had included a little something something for her to give to him, and he had not forgotten it. 

“You are more than welcome, good sir.  We aim to please, are we on target so direct?  I am so glad to see you.  This is a great occasion, and we will make the most of it.”  I was already rambling and they’d just gotten here.
“Did you get the swimming pool fixed?” he was asked, upon which he replied.” I did,” and I thought back to the weekend Monica was up here on the Fourth, and how Ben had not been able to make it.
“Having your own place is great, until something goes wrong...”
“And then you have to fix it,” several voices chimed in at once.  And so the conversation drifted along as tents were set up, and ice chests arranged along the end of the table, leaving enough room to stand, and cook on the Coleman stove, that actually used gas, as opposed to propane.
Alex and Claire had brought the makings for a Mexican feast, for dinner that night, which was an excellent selection if you were not certain how many people were going to be eating.  Included in their preparations, were the ingredients for the salsa that Alex is so well-known for, the one with the cilantro.  He had made up a batch on that earlier weekend up at Pauline’s house, and it was to die for.

Not long afterward, JT, Megs and Izzy arrived.  Ben and Monica had regaled us with a story of how they had passed “the chicks” and they were laughing uproariously.  Alex immediately looked confused.
“You passed my mom?  Are you sure?  That almost never happens.”
I interrupted.  “Are you trying to convince me that my sister would exceed the speed limit?’
“No,” said Alex.  “I’m saying she drives fast, and that it’s hard to believe you passed her up.”
“Well, if she was laughing, then she must have been having a good time.  Maybe she can’t laugh and drive fast at the same time, though I do think she is a very talented girl.”  I was getting on shaky ground, so I shifted tactics.  After a bear hug for Jeannie, I asked, “Where’s Michael?  How come you couldn’t talk him into coming?”
“Oh he’s doing this and that, and besides, this isn’t really his scene.  We’re going to go on another special date when I get home on Sunday.”
Of course, the girls wanted to know what was up with that, and they went off to chat about the qualities of special dates.
Our Friday night group was now assembled, though there was some conjecture that Dan and Jenny would make it in time for some late night action.  However, a phone call determined that they would not even make it into SFO until ten in the evening, thereby meaning that our scene would have to make it until two in the morning.  Not this old cowboy.
Besides, I would have had to know in advance if it was Present Dan who was coming in, or Future Dan.  There’s a difference, you know.  Monica explained the concept like this.
“See, there’s two Dans.  Once you understand that, you understand Dan.”
“Two Dans?  Is the world ready for two Dans?”
“No, there’s only ONE Dan-everybody knows that.  But he makes appearances as both.  For instance, he’ll go into McDonald’s and order a Big Mac, fries and a coke, eat it, and then go back for a second Big Mac.  
When I ask him why he didn’t just order it in the first place, he says he couldn’t because he doesn’t know how Future Dan is going to feel at any given time.  I think it explains a lot about Dan.”
We all nodded knowingly, the Emperor’s New Clothes alive and well in Northern Mendocino County.
Meanwhile, the dinner was outrageous with something for everyone, and that awesome salsa.  We fiested, and that’s a fact, even if I just created a new verb.  The conversation was animated, as we basked in the glow of our fire, and enjoyed the balmy evening.  We lucked out on the weather all the way through, with the evenings being warm and reasonably wind-free.  Lito and I had raided Casey’s wood pile, and brought a fair amount of chunky oak, fir and manzanita.  Alex had brought beaucoup boxes of redwood chunks and kindling wood, a nice combination for ambience. 
In fact the coals were still alive enough the next morning for me to get a fire started without paper or matches, always a supremely satisfying way to get off the ground on a camping trip.  Speaking of getting off the ground, I also took this opportunity to brew some coffee and eat a couple of my gluten-free, home-made oatmeal cookies, which serves the dual purpose of fastening a glowing smile on my face, while getting me off the ground.
In this case my feet remained close enough to the ground for me to sashay over to the previous evening’s detritus, and wave my magic wand to make it all disappear.  When that didn’t work, I started a couple of available saucepans of water on the Coleman Stove, and washed up the dishes, in the finest Robert tradition.  He always did the dishes while camping, an act that defied explanation, but produced euphoria for a certain small boy.  I don’t mind doing the dishes now anyway, but doing them on a camping trip is always more enjoyable.  There is that Virgoan impulse in me, and it emerges in the setting of the campground more prominently than in my kitchen at home.  Sigh.
Dan and Jenny had arrived and set up their tent in the wee hours, with only Monica making an appearance to greet them.  Saturday saw a steady stream of visitors to our arena, including Matt and Charlie, Lindsay, Annie, Casey and Amber.  We were close enough to Bell Springs Road, so that those who couldn’t get away for the whole weekend, could at least come up and spend some of Saturday with the group.  Some went down to the river, and some stayed in the campground, and some did both.  No rules.
JT found herself enveloped in comfort, as she snoozed in the hammock, and planned the rest of her summer.  I sat out around the now-extinguished campfire, and rattled Terra Jean’s key’s gently, so as not to use all of her power.  We had been able to tune in the Giants’ game the previous night, enjoying the victory, a trend that seems a part of camping.  I remember a May in Yosemite, with fifty-seven of my best middle school friends, in which the Giants were in the middle of a hot streak, and won every contest during those five days we were on the road.  It seemed only fitting.  And I would apologize to Dodger fans out there, but I don’t think I will.  The Dodgers are not done-I fear they will be back, but that’s good for baseball.  What would we do if we didn’t have the Dodgers to kick around?
Saturday night is when the action heated up.  We had enjoyed a dinner that had evolved out of a request from Alex that I bring some home-canned tomato sauce from Bell Springs, so I had made the pasta sauce in advance.  Annie had brought up a large saucepan for the pasta, at our request, it being maybe the only thing that ended up not at the site, when we put our heads together Saturday morning to see if everything was ready for that night’s dinner.  Alex had brought salad fixings, and I had brought some of Paul Newman’s Italian dressing, and we rocked.
We were expecting firefighter Ben to roll in at some point and he did about ten or so.  Conversation on this evening was spirited, the theme being, “Let’s put each of those present on the hot seat.”   The idea was diabolically simple: extract some element of personal history from each person present, so as to induce a certain amount of squirming.  No one escaped unscathed, except maybe Isabel, who was perched on the brink of her departure for college, and was still in the planning stages for next summer’s version of “How the Hot Seat Turns.”  Claire was also spared, out of a sense of fair play, although she was happy to share some background on her long-standing school friendship with Alex.  Their account seemingly validates the concept that being friends first, makes the process of love afterwards, that much more binding. 
I will not relate all that occurred, the tape recorder in my brain still radiating heat from the scorching tales unfolded during the subsequent hours of grilling.  I will only summarize a couple that kept us in stitches for the duration of the telling.  Alex told the most hilarious tale of international intrigue, involving the placement of a half-dozen containers of garden variety deodorant into a suitcase going down to Brazil to a very good friend.
However, the deodorant came from the brother of the good friend, a person unknown to Alex, and Alex proceeded to invent a scenario involving terrorism, convoluted mechanics, for a duped, tired and naive self, much to our amusement.  The whole story  already had us howling with laughter, before he even got to the part about actually talking to airport officials and telling them that he had sent a suitcase with these suspicious containers inside, and what should he do?  In this modern era of travel, it is amazing that he was still free to tell his story, and had not been taken out and shot, but it was entertaining and gets serious consideration for top spot in the hot seat competition.  
Monica regaled us with “Tales from the Gray,” a soap opera extraordinaire, complete with an accusatory boss.   This man convinced himself that the hushed voice Monica had adopted, out of necessity from the omnipresent grayness, was hushed because she was a gossip.  We all agreed that he had his head up an anatomically challenging region, thereby rendering the account more amusing.  We have to work on that cubicle dilemma-maybe transplant a Douglas Fir into the center of the work area, after first putting in a skylight to the sun.
With minimal prompting from Monica, Ben related a saga of seventeen-year-old angst and a policy of tough love from his parents.  When you understand that there may have been drinking, the setting may have been Mexico, and the actions may have been suspect, you understand the complexity of the complete picture.  To view this upstanding citizen at this juncture of his professional career, is to be amazed at his tale of high-spirited youthful vim and vinegar.  Was it possible that behind this stoic, responsible paragon of citizenship, there once lurked a miscreant?  Ask him about it.
Lito relayed a tale of tropical suspense, involving a visit to Barbados with a girl who was sweet as pie, until she’d had some liquid libation.  At that point in time, Lito maintains that things could get very lively.  Since an interesting side trip to New York by himself resulted, I can only nod in agreement.  In this tale, he told of soliciting advice from his brothers, and the consequences of acting on said advice, which was hilarious, if not from Lito’s perspective, certainly from those gathered around the campfire.  
I told the tale of the Big Deal at Big Sur, which earmarked my own seventeen-year-old rebellion, and coupled it indelibly with a spat with my mom, which went on for an eternity, or a few weeks anyway, before it slipped into the cauldron which comprised my upbringing.
I liked Dan and Jenny’s passionate account of Love Within The Cubicles, as we followed the machinations of Dan’s vise-like mind while he went for all of the marbles.  In an initial foray, he texted Jenny, asking her if she would consider going out with a non-Korean dude; Jenny politely said no.  Non-plussed, Dan texted her, asking if she would consider going out with a co-worker; Jenny said no.  Finally he asked her if she would consider going out with a person of a different religious faith; Jenny said no.  Three strikes, you’re out.  Right?
Thus encouraged, Future Dan took over, obviously determined to straighten out the mess Present Dan was creating.  He got down to basics.  The heck with “going out,” he figured, “Let’s just get some pizza, so that this intelligent, perceptive woman could get a more complete look at my talent and charm.”  Notwithstanding the previous exposure to said charm, Dan succeeded in wooing the lovely lady and his tale was inspiring.  It was also side-splitting. 
During an early segment of the evening, I had been listening to Lindsay describe her work for Heathy Start.  I wished she had been available back in the day.  She described a spot where middle and high schoolers could go after school, away from campus, to do homework with tutoring available.  She talked about sexual harassment workshops for sixth graders, with topics like sexting, and girl bullying included.  
Sadly, she told me of the decline of the middle school, 130 students strong in its heyday, with fewer than fifty now.  Students must eat in the MPR, instead of having the run of campus for outdoor munching.  There is no drama program, no electives and the entire environment has dimmed.  I think back to team-taught, multi-graded, thematic, project-based, literature-driven curriculum, and I sigh.  Hats off to JT and others still in the ring, and those preparing to enter it.  May the man never count ten.
The most revealing conversation for me, took place not around the campfire, but the next morning when I was chatting with Past-Dan, about a caper that involved someone not even present at this gathering.  I asked him about the famous car-moving venture that took place on a family camping trip over at the coast.  It involved transporting the little white Plymouth that Benny used to drive, from the parking lot, over a knee-high wall, and into the inner sanctum.  
We had awakened to find the car parked in the center of our camping area, with no visible means of bypassing the low wall that divided parking from camping.  All had been choreographed during the wee hours and had been directed by none other than Uncle Kevin, in a transmorgrification of his Black Avenger role from 1984 to the present.  Past-Dan had all the facts at his fingertips, thus bursting a mental balloon that had existed in my mind for about a decade.  How could I not have known it was Kevin, already grooming Dan for his future place amidst the legal jousters, who had jockeyed that little white chariot into our focus.  All Laura had said was, “That’s very funny.  Now move it before Doug sees it.”  

This weekend in August was only a weekend, like any other weekend, except that a whole bunch of people got together to camp out in tents, and get reacquainted with life outside the cubicle.  We ate like royalty, and laughed a lot.  It was the kind of experience that you look back on with fondness and humor.  We’ll do it again, if for no other reason than inquiring minds will need to see just exactly what Izzy did find, when she burst on the scene in college, and just what Claire does have to say, now that she no longer wears the cloak of invulnerability. 

Until then, keep your fingers crossed that Standish Hickey survives the budget crunch, or better still, uncross them and write a letter to your local congressman and tell him that Future Dan says, “Three strikes does not necessarily mean you are out.  It just means you need a change in tactics.”  Let’s have a bake sale to save the campgrounds.  


  1. LOVE this piece. I remember that weekend well and this sets the scene for this year's adventure. I do appreciate having time especially with the "next generation". They are so interesting to me.

    1. I think it's kind of nice to still be invited along. I'm not sure it's that way in all families...

    2. I very much agree. I am flattered that the younger part of the family invites the older group along...maybe they know we crash early but still it's kind of them to include us. I know there are plenty of families where this would not happen....