Dozer, the bulldog

Dozer, the bulldog
Dozer: the last photo shoot. He was the best dog on the planet.

Tomato Madness

Tomato Madness
The author of Mark's Work

Hollyhocks and zinnias

Hollyhocks and zinnias
Why I grow flowers

HappyDay Farms bees are happy bees.

HappyDay Farms bees are happy bees.
Air-borne bees

HeadSodBuster and BossLady at the coast

HeadSodBuster and BossLady at the coast
Love is the greatest power.

Tomatoes are us.

Tomatoes are us.
Smoked paprika catsup, here at HappyDay Farms

Packing some heat...

Packing some heat...
These peppers know how to party!

Halloween fun

Halloween fun
Lito and Keelee

Our house

Our house
The snow season approaches...

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

bellspringsmark@gmail.com

Monday, July 31, 2017

Credentials


We joke here on-farm about how important it is to keep the ignition keys inside each respective vehicle, in the event that a neighbor might need to borrow one, some time. Well, I’m that neighbor and I have been driving HeadSodBuster’s rig, the black Yodi, the one which was given to him as a gift a decade or so ago.
Can you say styling?
It may appear to be only a hop, skip and a jump away from becoming a hill vehicle, but that just goes to show that appearances aren’t everything. Besides, after driving an automatic since 2002, it was nice to get back to a stick shift.

My old Chevy truck has three forward gears to go with reverse; my old Nova had a four-speed on the floor, but this Yodi truck has five-count ‘em-five forward gears. I have to admit that I don’t often get the rubber band wound up tight enough to warrant fifth gear, but when I do, I am bound to try and slip it [carefully] into reverse, when downshifting out of fifth gear.

It doesn’t want to go-and I AM sorry about that.

It’s kind of amazing that I am driving up to French’s Camp by myself in the first place. A year ago, when I had my own little Ford Ranger, I couldn’t muster up the moxie, settling instead for a ride up with SmallBoy, an adventure I wrote about in “The Attack of the Killer Seatbelt.” http://markyswrite.blogspot.com/2016/08/the-attack-of-killer-seatbelt.html

This year both HeadSodBuster and SmallBoy have been too jammed up to put in time prior to the festival, so I am representing HappyDay Farms, and the pressure is on. I told Bull after last year’s festival had ended, that I wanted a bigger role this year, so that I could earn my credentials.

I prattle on about credentials a lot, because I want to be able to access the music back-stage, but there are different kinds of credentials being established at ROTR. There are two types of volunteers, those who sit on the Group W Bench, blazing away, awaiting the next carport to be set up, and those who have a list of jobs to do, requiring some basic skills, who simply get shit done.

A set of steps, new table tops, a cabinet for an oven, whatever is on the list is what I am there to do. And if you do something that helps others out, they tend to notice that stuff. My role this year includes being at the kitchen, when Mel gets there at 6AM, to be sure there are no issues.

Again, folks tend to notice these efforts, and credentials are further established.

Therefore, if I need to up my personal ante, by finding my own way up to French’s Camp, then at least I must want to be up there pretty badly. Last year I risked life and limb in the back of SmallBoy’s truck. Laughing out loud, I remain. Not.

This year, I am bolder, but I still needed to have the briefest of instructions as to how to operate HeadSodBuster's Yodi. For instance, how do I take it out four-wheel-drive, when I hit the highway, and then return it to that position, when I got back on the Bell? It was really easy, especially after I learned that I needed the clutch to perform this operation, unlike the automatic in my Ranger. 

I also had to have some basic instructions in how to access the driver’s side door, because you see, the handle is broken. There is a colorful piece of orange twine tied to the inner door handle, and extending out to be tied to the handle outside the door. One has merely to grasp the twine, and pull firmly in order to release the inner door catch and open the door. What’s not to like?
This is where it gets tricky...

Hey, that’s nowhere near as challenging as trying to open up the tailgate, which requires a sophisticated knowledge of trowels, which I happen to possess. You see, the handle is broken. One must insert the trowel into the opening mechanism, after lifting the tailgate latch, and twist accordingly, in order to pop the gate. Closing it requires similar machinations, with the addition of a good clout to the inside the passenger-side wall of the truck, to ensure that the mechanism clicks into place.

It has a music system but I have yet to extract any music, which is OK because I feel I need to keep an ear out for that rhythmic squeaking noise, which I have identified as related to the chassis. It does not increase when I rev the engine, so I figure I am good to go-until I can’t.

Which is exactly the way I would describe my participation in ROTR: I’m good to go, until I’m not.

Tomorrow: Setting up Camp





Sunday, July 30, 2017

Meatball Carpentry

Did I mention that it was nice and warm up at French’s Camp, as I logged in my time helping to set up Reggae on the River, 2017? I mean, compared to last year’s 106 degree weather, prior to the start of the festival, 91 degrees is kind of mild, but it still warranted ice cubes in my hat.
Bull had suggested that I arrive Friday morning at ten, which I did, once again finding that I was the only kitchen volunteer on hand. Fortunately, having worked on a set of steps on Thursday, carved into the sloping path from the food storage area, to the kitchen itself, I had job security.

From Thursday afternoon until I arrived Friday morning, the newly installed steps (sans rebar) had fared well, with only a couple requiring immediate attention. Bull has mentioned that he is going to bring some rebar that I can cut into short sections, which I will then use to anchor each of the steps.

I will drill holes through the 24-inch-long steps on either side, and drive the rebar through each step and into the ground, thereby ensuring that someone can’t dislodge a step and possibly take a tumble. Since I can accomplish said tumble, myself, under the best of conditions, I wanted to try and limit the possibilities for further demonstration of my prowess.

Furthermore, having crafted a railing from the top to halfway down, I now commenced to completing the railing, by adding another post at the base of the steps, and using an eight foot length of 2 x 4, that had also come off of Bull’s truck, for the railing. For the post, I used an eight-foot length of 2 x 6 fir, chopped in half, and screwed together to form a four-foot length of 4 x 6 fir, perfect for my bottom post.

By the time Bull had arrived, the railing was completed, and all I needed was to borrow a hasp from him, so that I could smooth out some of the wrinkles that the fir had developed over time. Souvenirs, in the form of slivers, are not that much fun.
As the sign suggests, "Watch your step."

“Bucket seats and four on the floor,” I explained, as he examined not only the railing extension, but the rock step at the bottom, because I had run out of lumber for any more steps. 

“If I had it to do over, Nate, I would have used river rock for the steps, since it’s what I’ve been doing all summer at home anyway. But this will suffice,” I added, nodding at what was already in place. “What’s next?”

And we were off, striding over to the Ambassador Lounge, where in past years we had set up a second kitchen for the performers and other VIP’s. Not so this year, since the powers that be had decided one kitchen would serve all.

“Are you pretty bummed that we only have to set up one kitchen this year?” I asked Bull as we headed over there. He actually started off with the party line that there were substantial other responsibilities that were still pending, and that we had our hands full, blah, blah, blah.” He kept a straight face the entire time.

I gave him the look and he couldn’t pull it off, breaking off into a wicked chortle. “Half the work, Bro, half the work. Another tragedy.”
Last year's Ambassador Lounge

“So here’s what we got going on-I need to have these four table tops replaced with that plywood that’s on top of my truck.” I surveyed the scene. Each was four feet by three feet, and the tops had been destroyed through water damage, the composition material simply peeling and shriveling up, making the tables unusable.

I got the specifics and then we returned to the far corner of the kitchen, where he pointed out an oven, sitting on the concrete, that he wanted a cabinet built for. Again, he laid the numbers on me, and showed me a small pile of freshly purchased, green fir, which included both 2 x 6’s, and 2 x 4’s.

“Any questions?” 

“What time’s lunch?” I’m kidding, of course, because Gluten-Free Mama had hooked me up with a lunch that couldn’t be beat. I am not one to take matters of the stomach lightly, always ensuring that I can’t be caught without sustenance readily available. I rarely pig out; it’s more of a graze. A half-sandwich here, a banana there, and-gasp-some gross-for-you, but nonetheless tasty potato chips. 

Fresh tomatoes for my sandwich and water, always lots of water. There was lunch offered at one point, somewhere around 2:30, but that’s my point. 2:30? For those who ate breakfast at nine or ten, maybe. I am not one to wait around for an arbitrary lunch-time, not if I can avoid it by simply planning accordingly.

Table tops cut and installed, without complications, I moved on to the cabinet for the stove. Bull had told me, “It wants to be six inches off the ground, and it needs a counter-top, I don’t know how high-I’ll have to check with the ladies.”

I looked at him and said, “If it’s a counter-top, then it wants to be 36 inches-that’s pretty standard.”

Clapping his hands, he responded, “Say no more. I’ll leave you to your work,” and that was the last I saw of him. I absolutely love it when I am given a task(s), and left the heck alone. All three of my jobs on Friday, the steps/railing, the table tops and the cabinet were in the shade. That takes careful planning.

Now I took precise measurements of the oven, took them again, fired up some Chem Valley/Ogre Berry and sat there for a full ten minutes, while I drew up the blueprint in my head. So elementary. Four upright posts, 35 and 3/4 inches long, four at 28 inches for the depth, and a total of six cross pieces, four at 27 inches, and two at thirty, and I was set to go.
Fresh off the assembly line from G.E.

I stepped behind the bamboo of the kitchen wall, off the concrete slab, and made every single cut before I started assembly. I was working in the dirt, in the shade of the huge oak trees, for the cuts, but moved back on the slab to assemble my tinker toys.

The entire job, from start to finish, including going back over to the Ambassador Lounge, in order to cut a piece of 3/4 inch plywood, 30 inches by 30 inches, for the counter top, took two hours.

It’s not Ikea, but the oven is no longer sitting on the slab, with an unusable surface. 

Like I said, meatball carpentry, with bucket seats and four-on-the-floor.


Tomorrow: My Wheels





Saturday, July 29, 2017

Watch Your Step!

I rolled into French’s Camp at precisely noon, Thursday, after having carefully calculated my departure time from home, based on road construction estimates as far as time delays, on the way up the 101. Bull was nowhere to be seen, a state of affairs that I had already predicted would be the case, when discussing the venue earlier with Gluten-Free Mama.

Before the crush. Last year there was almost
no water.
Another tragedy, you know? I sat there in HeadSodBuster’s truck, ate one of the two tasty sandwiches that GF Mama had prepared for me, fired up the first AR of ROTR, 2017, and read my copy of “The Girl in the Spider’s Web.” This set-up for ROTR is a real bitch…

Thirty minutes later I decided to text Bull, just to confirm that I was indeed, putting in my time, awaiting his arrival. Ten minutes later he responded verbosely, “On way.” I struggled though another half-hour of labor-intensive reading, before the man showed up, his truck brimming over, not unlike the depression-era Okies, heading cross-country to start life anew.

Nothing in the truck seemed to have much relevance to me, just a couple of eight-foot chunks of 2 x 12 fir, kind of gnarly, and other assorted sizes of lumber, to go along with his tools. There were all of the parts to a carport, in a big jumble, and several metal racks that needed to be assembled. He also had tools of mass construction, including a pick, a shovel and a big iron, a ten pound sledge hammer, which was inclined to have its own way.
2016's projects...

Where was the green fir for new tables? Where was the paint? Where was Mid-sized David, all six-feet, six inches of him, a mainstay in past years for the set-up? Bull had charged off when he first rolled in, but when he came back and checked in with me, I hit him up with, “I thought we were in Table-Land today. Where’re the materials?”

He showed me a bull-sized grin, and pointed to the pick and the shovel. “I have a special job for you, because I know you are up for the challenge.” Leading the way over to the edge of the embankment that overlooked the area where the big rigs would back huge, refrigerated food storage trailers up close to the base of the incline, he paused. “We need a set of steps leading down, so that old ladies don’t have to worry about tripping on the path,” he explained. We were talking maybe ten steps here.

“Or old dudes, either,” I added. “I am perfectly capable of tripping as well as the best of them. I get a lot of practice.”

“So I want you to cut up those 2 x 12 chunks of fir into 24 inch pieces, and use them as the steps. We’ll get some rebar and anchor them when I get it together to get some on-site,” Bull concluded.

Stifling the chortle that was desperate to escape, I put on my game face and refrained from mentioning that this is exactly what I had been doing earlier that very morning, at home. Talk about landing in my comfort zone. I was even assigned an assistant, a kid who was probably just out of high school, who was anxious to help.

I had seen this kid's dad in action only moments before, as a truck with a utility trailer had backed up to the kitchen, with a refrigeration unit that would have taken four of any of the rest of us to remove from the trailer. David’s dad sauntered up to the upright cooler without so much as glancing to either side, wrapped his mammoth arms around it, and removed it from the trailer as though it were nothing more than a big bundle of bamboo.

Of course, the fact that he was taller than Mid-sized David, and weighed well over 300 pounds might have factored into the whole business. They grow ‘em big in Samoa. In greeting him earlier, I had addressed him simply as, “Uncle.”
A work in progress...

Now my assistant and I proceeded to attack the project with enthusiasm. Before the next three hours flew by, we had carved the steps, cut the lumber, and using my little torpedo level, had leveled all the steps so that they were uniform in terms of the rise and the run.

As we worked, folks would use the newly formed steps, commenting frequently, “Wow! They put in steps for us!” You’re most welcome.

Realizing that I was about to kill the job, and desperate to stay working within my comfort zone, I set out to add a railing to the project. You really can’t have steps without a railing for those of us who need a little stabilizing now and again. 

If only it were as easy as installing a railing, to stabilize me, but the cannabis helps.


Tomorrow: Meatball Carpentry

Friday, July 28, 2017

Paradigm Shift

This is the first of a series of installments, covering Reggae on the River, 2017. I posted 23 episodes in August of 2015, and another 21 last year. I ain’t proud, but I ain’t skeered, either. Not anymore.

I was doing hard time, excavating with pick and shovel just outside the back door, Wednesday, when HeadSodBuster showed up. He had a peculiar expression on his face and my first thought was that there was another water crisis.

“Whoa! Look at you go!” He was surveying the results of my labor along the west wall of my house, admiring my efforts to bury a perforated water line to help with drainage.

“Yeah, it’s something I have delayed, what, five years now?” Whew. No water crisis!

“Great success! Hey, listen, Nate called yesterday and said there was an organizational meeting up at French’s Camp this morning at ten o’clock. I was supposed to tell you yesterday, but I forgot.” That explained the odd facial expression. HeadSodBuster doesn’t lose track of much.
French's CampPristine, at this moment
but not for long.
Glancing at my watch/phone, I noted that it was already 9:15. “Well, that ship has sunk. What do you think?”

“Let me give Bull a call and see what’s up,” he responded, using Nate’s more commonly known moniker.

I continued on with my digging, while HeadSodBuster made with the palaver, and moments later he was back, saying, “Yeah, like you need another meeting. Bull says tomorrow is fine because today is just a logistics gig.”

“That’s what I’m sayin’/talkin’ about. Is your truck available?” I figured I get that question right out there, but even if it was not, SmallBoy’s truck was parked right outside my front gate, while he and his better were gallivanting around New Orleans. Yes, the truck was available.

My own truck is dead in the water, a blown transmission weighing in at over three large, making the decision to abandon ship relatively easy. Big Steve is on it, even as we speak.

I also knew that the 101 was questionable because of the ongoing effort to shore up the mountain that decided to share its bounty with the highway, spewing across and and continuing on down to the river below. It’s a mess.

I could drive the Bell up to Garberville, if it gets extreme, but that would not be my first choice. Maybe on Monday, when the festival is breaking up, and I need to get back up there to break it down, but not yet.

I knew better than to ask what HeadSodBuster's schedule was like, in regards to ROTR, because Gluten-Free Mama had informed me a few days ago, that nether he nor SmallBoy was likely to have that big of a role this year, both just being way too busy. She hastened to add that she didn’t think they were completely bailing out, just that there would be limited attendance.

I did not get the memo.
Fatoumata Diawara, performing at ROTR, 2016.
For me it is all about the music.

Were this two years ago, my first attempt at ROTR, I would never have gone without the support of these two dudes. This year, I am not fazed; disappointed, of course, but that’s not the same thing as being down and out.

That I am still willing to first, drive up by myself to French’s Camp, and secondly, continue with this set-up business, knowing I am in for a completely different experience from that of the past two years, is a paradigm shift.

Furthermore, it’s not something I do with misgivings; I have come a long way. Even if the entire concept of attending a music festival, at my advanced age, seems somewhat questionable, simply being able to do so, is a huge step forward for me.

I wrote 23 episodes, the first year I attended, the overwhelming theme being that of anxiety mixed with euphoria. Last year I penned another 21 installments along the same lines. It remains to be seen how this year will pan out, but I am ready for action, ready for danger.

I am ready for Reggae on the River, 2017.


Tomorrow: Watch Your Step 

Monday, July 24, 2017

"Are Your Fish Gay?"

Katelyn's arm shot up into the air as though jet-propelled, as I sauntered past the ten gallon fish aquarium located on the side counter of my classroom, just to the left of the sink. I was reading Tom Sawyer aloud to the eighth grade one lazy afternoon, drifting around the classroom putting out fires before they had time to get started, by the simple concept of proximity. 

It’s tricky to carry on a conversation-or write a note-when the teacher is standing alongside your table. I had the ability to stockpile a couple of sentences in advance, so that by delivering the lines slowly and with inflection, I could keep my eyes off the book, and on the class, for relatively long periods at times. Long enough, anyway.

Anyone who was contemplating mischief, who looked over at me and made eye contact, while I was “reading,” thought twice before doing anything rash. I nodded to Kate (not her real name, of course).

“Are your fish gay, Mr. O?” she asked in mock seriousness, her eyes blinking several times, as though willing her face to maintain its air of deadly calm.

Nine tines out of ten, I would have responded, “Great question, Kate! See me at 3:20, once we are on your time, and we can chat. Right now, it’s my time,” and I would continue to read.
In this particular instance, however, I saw an “Ah Ha Moment” flashing off and on in my brain, so I stopped reading and addressed Katelyn, one of my five anarchists (no rules) in this particular eighth grade. Interestingly enough, this entire crop was female. 

“Gosh, Katelyn, why ever would you ask that?” knowing full-well exactly why she had asked it. That morning, shortly after arriving and putting the coffee on, I had changed the colorful paper behind the fish tank, from green to pink, for no other reason than to present a different look.

“Well, their home is decorated in pink, now, so I was just wondering if that meant they were coming out of the closet.” She kept her voice evenly modulated, her face as serious as a heart attack, and most importantly, she had the class actually up and at ‘em.

“Got it. Well, Kate, this would seem an appropriate time for me to point out to you that what you are doing here, is stereotyping. You are connecting pink to being gay, and even if you are correct some of the time, it’s dangerous to form conclusions based on faulty logic. If I wear my pink shirt and tie, tomorrow, does that make me gay?” It was exactly the question she seemed to have been waiting for.

“I don’t know, Mr. O… Does it? Hey, I’m a poet, and I know it!” The class weighed in with an appreciative chortle, while I gave Kate the benefit of a brilliant smile. She had played right into my net.

“Am I gay? Rudeness abounds! It’s not considered proper etiquette to ask personal questions like that of anyone, unless you are close friends. Besides, that would come as surprising news to my three sons and Annie, don’t you think?”

She accepted my response with aplomb, her question having been dealt with, and I resumed reading Tom Sawyer. I could have brushed the question aside, I could have even gotten annoyed, but where was I going to get the greatest mileage?

I could go toe-to-toe with eighth graders bent on disrupting my class all day, and not gain as much as I did by pausing for one moment, sharing a smile that did not hurt anyone, and then moving on. I had similar experiences with all five of my anarchists, over the course of that memorable year, and I look back on those moments with special fondness.

The first year I taught, there were five anarchists in my class: four boys and one girl. Kate's class, as I mentioned, featured five girls in this role. If eighth graders questioning authority comes as a surprise to you, then you are probably not an eighth grade teacher, nor have you ever had a 13-year-old kid living in your home. Questioning authority is their job in life and some do it better than others.

Questioning authority: it’s a game either gender can play well, especially at the eighth grade level. That way, when we really need to question authority, as grown-ups, we will already know how to do it.
Are you ready?








Sunday, July 23, 2017

45ers

I’m not stupid but I am frightfully naive. I am just now figuring out why 45ers still support their fatuous mouthpiece, after wracking my disheveled brain for six months and a few odd days, trying to work it all out. 

And why shouldn't God bless the One % of
Americans who really matter?
These individuals yearn for a return to the good old days, when ‘Merica was white, we were “one nation under [one] God,” and homosexuals were securely closeted away. The basic human rights that I have fought for all my life, are the very same ones, which 45ers would like to see tossed into the rubbish bin.

I kept asking myself, why would these otherwise perfectly pleasant folks, want to see the elderly and kids punished, for no other crime than that of being poor? 

Then I figured it out.

Why would these otherwise perfectly pleasant folks, want to support political leaders, who blatantly, immorally and illegally continue to shirk their elected responsibilities to represent all of the people?

Then I figured it out.

Why would these otherwise perfectly pleasant folks, want to continue to support political leaders, whose sole ambition in life is to line their own pockets-and those of family members-with incalculable wealth?

Then I figured it out.
Oh. Boy. For. Us.

Why would these otherwise perfectly pleasant folks, continue to spew on about some ridiculous e-mails from the opposing political party, when their own leader-and his family-are blatantly, immorally and illegally, profiting from his position of trust?

Then I figured it out.

Why would these otherwise perfectly pleasant folks, be willing accomplices to the overturning of safeguards, designed to protect our earth?

Then I figured it out.

I could go on, but it nauseates me. It sickens me because I now realize that what I have fought for all my life, means nothing to 45ers.

They are content to see debasement, debauchery, degeneracy, degradation, and depravation, replace political correctness. 

I got it.

I just wish I could get rid of it.


Friday, July 21, 2017

To Oz and Back


If you have the dubious distinction of being a friend of mine on face/book, then you are well aware of my current infatuation with bees. Originally, it was the flowers that drew my interest, but one can’t very well spend much time among the flowers, without noticing the bees.

When I was a kid, I was terrified of anything that buzzed because I got stung a lot. I have been stung inside my mouth, directly in the arm pit, and up on my inner thigh, when I had the bad luck to have a yellow jacket fly up my short pants. 

The thing is, being petrified of the little varmints upped the price of poker considerably, because they can detect the mood of human beings, and they respond accordingly. If you are traumatized by stinging insects dive-bombing you, they will pick up that vibe. If all their efforts produce nothing more than a yawn, then they will collectively yawn along with you, while they work.
Laughing? More like yawning...

I am so fascinated with bees that I am willing to stand (sit, kneel, squat, bend, stoop, dip or pause) for long periods of time, without ever reflecting on any need for alarm. There are times when a bee will spring out at me from its endeavors, as though having an object a hundred times bigger than it (camera to bee) thrust in its face, left it less than thrilled.

I don’t take it personally.

By way of explanation, though, for my current interest, aside from the obvious connection between bees and my current profession, is that every photo I take, presents me with something different than what meets the eye in real life.

I never know what I am creating until I have moved the digital images over to my computer, and brought them up on the screen. I can then crop, or zero in on only a small portion of the original pic, even if the quality of the photo diminishes as a result.

I know so abysmally little about pixels, and what constitutes the correct number to guarantee clarity, that it’s just guess and by golly most of the time. What ends up happening though, is that in cropping the pic, I get a close-up glimpse of another world.

If I take a hundred photographs of a given flower, I can only see it from so many angles, before they all blend together. That is not the case in the world of bees, because I can take a hundred pics, and none will resemble anything I have ever seen before.
Pollen-laden...

The interior of a flower, blown up thirty or forty times the original, is like a quick visit to Oz, in that I am seeing landscapes unlike any I have ever seen before. Upon these exotic landscapes are mammoth, hairy, pollen-laden, winged chariots, transporting their loads back to the hive, before heading back out for more.

If it seems as though there are more bees this year than in past years, maybe it has something to do with more hollyhocks, zinnias, cosmos, bells of Ireland, statice, daisies, snapdragons, lavender, sage, oregano, cannabis, et al.

So yeah, I get into posting pics of bees like a meditation. If it annoys you, remember I could be one of those individuals who likes to plaster graphic, colored, edited depictions of abuse, anger and frustration. Blackened eyes, frightened kids, emaciated horses, abused dogs, and beached whales.

I could be posting photos of # 45, or one of those other creeps.

Moving right along, if I had to select one critter from the animal kingdom, with which I identified, it might be the bee. Let’s take a tally: I stay busy, I’ve been known to do my share of flying, and I am community-minded to a fault. I hate to spend time by myself.

Just remember that once summer is over, the flow of bee pics will trickle down to nothing, while water in the creek beds will go from a trickle to a roar.


Then I will be back to posting white-water, action photos, until I drop another camera into the drink. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

"Off With Their Heads!"

We had a film crew on-farm recently, an occurrence of such frequency as to warrant nothing more profound than a yawn. Of course, when I say “we,” I am talking about HeadSodBuster and BossLady, kind of “we.” The closest I came to the film equipment, was the snapshot I took during lunch, to prove that they had been there.

Chris and Derek were lively individuals, and were obviously enjoying their work. As I sauntered up from my spot for lunch, and introductions were made, Derek greeted me with, “I was just hearing about the origins of the farm, how you came up here 35 years ago and all about the roots of all this.” I am certain there was no pun intended.

“Great success! One of those rare times in the history of the universe, when the plan worked out the way it was supposed to,” was my immediate response.

We shared conversation over a feast, a decadent display of farm food at its finest. Gluten-Free Mama had shifted into high gear and prepared for our enjoyment, a banquet concocted entirely from ingredients grown and produced on-farm, beginning with two chickens that she barbecued.

When he found out the chickens were raised on the premises, Derek asked, “How hard is it to get the feathers out of those birds?”

A quick burst of subdued laughter later, it was explained that a machine now did the chicken plucking, but just so he knew, I elaborated, “When I was a kid, my sister J.T. and I were assigned the task of plucking the feathers, after Papa had plunged them into boiling water, not long enough to start the cooking process, but long enough to soften matters up. He would wrench the bulk of the feathers out quickly, and hand the chickens over to us for fine-tuning.” I decided to limit my conversation to just that, but if I were going to continue, this is what I would have said:

We thought the feather-plucking was kind of gross, but hey, we didn’t think it was too gross to watch Papa tie the chicken up by the legs, suspend it upside down, and then with one quick flick, as the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s sing, “Off with their heads!” Papa NEVER butchered just one chicken; usually it was three or four.

The just-decapitated chicken would go off like fireworks, flapping its wings spasmodically while spewing blood everywhere in the vicinity. Nah, plucking feathers was really rather tame after the main performance was over. Even easier is picking up an organic chicken at Long Valley Market.

Besides, if we are going to rehash childhood memories, we would have to include details about rabbits, that I had long since hoped were buried in my quicksand-like brain. My brain is like quick-sand because so much enters it, only to get sucked down into the void, never to be encountered again. 

Now, where was I?
Rabbits! Mind you, again I was only an observer of life, when it came to dispatching the luckless critters, although my participation at the dinner table was a guarantee. My older brothers were assigned this task, and though I found the process odious, it was not so odious that I skipped viewing it.

That was then-this is decidedly now. Because I still have a choice, I bypass rabbits as eagerly as I bypass Willits, these days, as the town has found a new way to torture its residents. Three years wasn’t enough, evidently, because once again there are long delays on the main thoroughfare, and everywhere else in town, due to construction.

Fortunately, we needed Willits like we needed thousands of acorns in our water tanks, thank you so much for asking. In addition to the home-grown chickens, GF Mama prepared zucchini fritters, sweet potato pancakes, a roasted cabbage and bacon (from hogs raised by SmallBoy) delicacy,  and a cucumber salad in a creamy white sauce, that is now our new go-to cuke dish.

Included in it were garlic, sour cream, dill, salt, pepper and probably a couple more spices, and it was to die for. OK, the sour cream and black pepper were not produced on-farm. What was produced on-farm, and what got the biggest reaction, was some of GF Mama’s Stun-Gun, Face-Punch Home-Grown Catsup, a condiment guaranteed to have you salivating for more.

The entire extravaganza was a Gluten-Free Mama Production, of astonishing proportions, but was nonetheless what we have come to take for granted. With two more hogs, Pork and Beans, being raised over at the Pepper-Pot, and two flocks of laying chickens, not to mention freezers packed with recently processed meat chickens, we have much to offer, along with an All-Star cast of fresh produce and herbs.
Some of my best friends are cucumbers...

I’d say we were lucky, but only in so far as luck and hard work go hand-in-hand. We’re lucky that we have a good water year and that Cal Fire has such an exemplary track record when it comes to quick responses to local fires.

But hard work is what produced the ingredients to the feast, and hard work is what got it to the table. And judging from their response to the feast at the banquet table, I’d say Chris and Derek had figured that out for themselves.


My personal experience is that hard work, without luck, is more likely to bring success, than luck without hard work.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Call a Putsch a Putsch

I have to hand it to the Republican Party for being able to seize control of the government, without the use of violence. Let’s call it a putsch. I would use the more familiar term coup, or coup d’├ętat, except that there is no violence involved in starving poverty-stricken citizens to death. 
It's all so blurry to me.
As the meme on face/book pointed out, the Constitution anticipated that there would be Presidents like # 45, but it did not anticipate that a treasonous Congress would go along with his circus act. The Republicans, so desperate to seize power, are allowing an emperor with no clothes on, not to mention no brain on, to openly extort every last penny from the American public.

Not content to simply pad their overseas accounts with the blood, sweat and tears of the American working class, where minimum wages are being lowered, the Republicans have gone after the weakest and most vulnerable of all citizens: the elderly and kids.

Additionally, the Republican Party is circling the wagons around every conceivable source of revenue, no matter how unique, beautiful or cherished it is by the American public, and it has renewed with a vengeance its efforts to destroy the earth.

The rest of the world remains stunned, with criticism being heaped from all corners of this round world, upon the buffoon who continues to thumb his nose at all that is decent and right. He has no concept of the meaning of integrity.

And though I am willing to concede that dismal fact, I am incensed that the men and women who back him up and who are equally responsible, are not being held accountable for their actions.

I know it’s because the American public has voted them into office. I get that. However, in the past, when elected officials refused to do their jobs, they were held accountable. Not so, anymore.

Now, men in suits and ties, with pens in hand, have seized control of our government, and are sentencing countless innocent citizens to death.


And they are getting away with it.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Only Two Things That Money Can't Buy

If I thought it would hasten the process, I would plop a lawn chair out amongst the tomatoes, and watch them as they ever-so-slowly ripen. They say the only two things that money can’t buy are true love and home-grown tomatoes.
Well, I am here to say that I can’t do anything about the first item, but I can hook you up with home-grown ‘maters, just as soon as they arrive. Like the Irish, I enjoy sliced tomatoes for breakfast, not to mention lunch, dinner and snacks. 

Salt and pepper is essential, but welcome additions include a little basaltic vinegar, some drizzled olive oil and hopefully some feta cheese. Cooked tomatoes, tomato sauce, pizza sauce, tomato paste, cold-packed tomatoes, marinara sauce, catsup: You name it, we create it.

I’d say the ‘maters were taking their jolly good time, but that would be ignoring the fact that I did not get them in the ground until the first week-to ten days into June.

We had an inordinately wet and cool spring, delaying the germination process, and in some instances, derailing it entirely. I do not have the 120 Heinz tomatoes that I wanted, but I have more than sixty, so that will have to do. What I am seeing out in the orchard, right now, assures me that I am ahead of the game in terms of what I was expecting.

My memory of tomatoes in the orchard in past summers, as questionable as said memory is, has me pleasantly surprised at what is developing, gophers and all. Part of it is the cleaning of the water filters every other day, to ensure maximum water flow. 

Part is the ongoing effort to keep all weeds out of the arena, again, for the simple reason that water diverted to weeds, is not water available to tomatoes. Finally, viral defense of my territory against the land-sharks, submarining beneath the surface of the soil, and attacking my plants, is high on the agenda.

With the use of the traps, I feel as though I am getting their attention. This is no go-through-the-motions exercise; I am getting sophisticated as I proceed. My earliest efforts at setting the baitless traps were primitive, at best, with me locating the tunnel and digging a hole which intercepted it. Simply placing the trap in the hole, and tying a stick to the trap to keep the gopher from escaping down the tunnel with it attached in some way, I covered it up with a small piece of plywood and hoped for the best.

Well, the best would be a trophy gopher for me to skin and hang on the gate, as a message to the legions of other land-sharks, that I ain’t fooling around.

Short of that, I am pleased to accept the next best thing, and that is a cessation of the attacks on my defenseless soldiers. Only one additional victim has joined the original four, and that is what matters most. I am more than happy to give credit to the presence of the traps, but I must also inform you that I have upped my game.

Now I am digging a smaller hole, taking a smaller trowel and clearing the dirt out of the tunnel in either of the two directions. I next insert the trap well into the tunnel tightly, so there is no way the little varmint can bypass the trap, and again attaching a wire to the trap to keep from losing it down the tunnel.

I still have not caught any gophers, but I am holding my own on losses. One revelation occurred when I realized that gopher tunnels do not go east to west, following the same route as the terraces. No, they gallivant off in any direction whatsoever.

I have a theory as to why I have not lost as many tomato plants, proportionately, as last year. My theory is that the tomatoes are better cared for, while receiving more water, and are therefore better able to sustain the relentless attacks of the hidden miscreants.

We also have three cats now, and we have adjusted their daily rations to include kibble only. If they want meat, they’re gonna have to go hunting. I shouldn’t be in this alone. 

Besides, all I want is the skin-they're welcome to the rest.


Friday, July 14, 2017

Quick Karma


I once lived in an apartment in Covina, California, for eight months, without ever exchanging words with the folks who lived in the units on either side of us. A head-nod or a casual wave was the best I could ever manage. 

However, up on our mountain, though the nearest neighbor is a quarter-mile’s distance away in any direction, I feel as close to those around me as I possibly can, considering I may not see certain individuals for months at a time.

I remember back in the mid-eighties, when friend Richard motored up from San Jose on his BMW motorcycle, and when he came into the house from our parking area, he wore a worried look on his face.

“You know, you left your keys in the ignition of your car; you might want to take care of that,” he reported when he came into the house.

“Oh, that’s OK,” I responded. “We always do, just in case one of the neighbors needs to borrow a vehicle, and we’re not around.” It was an old line we first heard from a buddy who hailed from Oklahoma, but it still applied.

“The thing is, Richard,” I went on, “Up here we are so remote that we rarely see anyone. I’m not saying slicky boys can’t rip us off; I’m saying it’s highly unlikely.” In point of fact, we have never had any sort of unsavory incident, in the 35 years we have lived on this mountain. 

Hell, until 2010, when I added on and relocated the back door to the house, I didn’t even have a door handle with a locking mechanism. I still do not lock the doors for the simple reason that if someone wanted to truly get into my house, a couple of good kicks or a rock would be all that would be needed to break the glass on one of the panes of my front door.

No thanks.

Small communities, even the ones that are spread out in rural areas, are generally tight knit, an expression that simply means we have each other’s backs. Karma is karma; what you put out will inevitably come back to you. 

Sometimes, particularly in negative situations, it seems that karma takes her jolly good time. Are you listening, Karma? Number 45 and his henchmen…

That being duly acknowledged, let’s return our focus to the immediate present. During the recent four-day Kate Wolf Festival, a scant three weeks ago, HappyDay Farms was immersed in a series of water crises. 

You know, SS-DD. (Same shit-different day.)

Almost simultaneously, as these things are apt to do, we lost a 5,000 gallon tank of water, down the side of the hill, and we had two more five thouies end up saturated with thousands of acorns, from some industrious pack ratty sort of critters.

We’re still trying to figure out how the acorns entered the sealed tanks.

The bottom line is that we were in water crisis mode for a couple of weeks, during which time neighbor Rick, graciously and generously, offered SmallBoy the use of his pond, if that could be of any help. 

The most precious commodity to a farmer, offered in time of crisis, with no strings? That there is some good stuff.

Fast-forward to yesterday, all of about twenty days later, you know? Somehow a grass-fire was ignited (perfect application of the passive voice) over at Rick’s, and before you knew it, Cal Fire was on the scene. Almost within spitting distance of Rick’s spot, is our pond. Not all ponds can be accessed by helicopter, and Rick's was not.

Whereas our pond is still more than three-fourths of the way filled, having the water located below the farm, means we have to pump it to the top of the land, which explains why we have crises. We can only pump so much per day, via our solar pump, and it takes time to recover from water spilled.

Hence, SmallBoy’s need for water at his spot at the top of the property.
However, the helicopter had no problem scooping out the H2O from our pond, allowing HappyDay Farms to repay Rick for his generosity, in a way that will not be soon forgotten.

Disclaimer: Hey, it’s not like someone could stand at the water’s edge and wave his hands around, shouting, “YOU CAN’T HAVE MY WATER!” You know?

That being said, had we not spent the loot to put in the pond, the water would not have been available, and Rick knows it better than anyone else.

Whereas the situation does not qualify as instant karma, a few weeks having elapsed, it might be thought of as “Quick Karma.” 

Unless you are Rick, of course, and watching a wildfire go ape-shit. Then, helicopter with water = instant karma.




Thursday, July 13, 2017

Outside My Door

I’ve been a grocery clerk, a war monger, an auto parts clerk, a carpenter, a teacher and a farmer, and the greatest of these is the last. The highs, pun intended, are essential in order to balance out the lows, a symbiotic relationship that also exists in this thing called life.
I speak only for myself. That must be understood because each of us must derive-or not-that which we can from the fleeting moments we have here in our own existence. No one can presume to direct another’s take on what is going on inside the mind. My mind, your mind, anyone’s mind. 

In any given day, on-farm, the highs and lows vie for my attention, with the highs winning out 97% of the time, simply by virtue of what I can see every time I step outside my door. And you thought I was going to say, simply by reaching for my bong. That too.
Tomatoes claim their due.
Lows, in the form of water issues, critter issues, discomfort or logistics, are temporary impediments to the satisfaction of growing your own food and medicine. They say you can either fork out the loot to eat properly now, or fork out the loot to pay the doctor(s) later. The choice belongs to each and every one of us.

Organic to many folks simply translates into more money. It’s not about choice when your pocketbook does not stretch far enough to include the octane in your tank. That’s why Walmart is so popular. For pennies you can fill your pantry with poison, but the kids are going to bed with something in their stomachs.

It’s a temporary tradeoff that takes its toll.

We are on the brink of hot-weather crops coming in, the cucumbers and tomatoes joining the ranks of the summer squash as staples in our households. As busy as we are these days, the price of poker will go up exponentially, when mid-August comes around and we are harvesting/processing our crop of tomatoes.

My expanded focus on tomatoes, leading me to plant more than 200 of the versatile fruit, will have extreme consequences, in the form of my being confined to the kitchen for a month or two. I’m happy to pay the price of admission.

Needless to say, “farming” includes wearing many different hats, like being able to pour concrete and pound nails, so that the finished product can pass a county inspection. What with cannabis regulation, we are finding ourselves tightening up the ship, so as to be able to withstand the stream of inspectors who will flow our way, eager to extract this fee or that one.

We are jumping through so many hoops these days, it’s hard to tell if we are gaining or losing. One thing is for certain: I’d rather work hard and have achieved the respect we have in our fields of fresh produce and medicinal cannabis, than work hard and be considered criminals.

That’s one of those highs I was talking about. Even if the outdoor cannabis farmers markets must end, it was still a grand era, and continues to be one. We produce the highest quality organic vegetables and medicine possible. Our efforts are unified, with each of us doing all that we can to further progress.

Highs and lows go hand-in-hand, but when you work hand-in-hand with others, the lows are not as bad, and the highs are snow-capped.



Sunday, July 9, 2017

"Blazin' on a Sunny Afternoon"

Heat radiated up from the parched ground, all day Saturday as I went about my tasks: cleaning water filters, checking gopher traps and caging tomato plants. Whereas my hands were busy with chores on-farm, my thoughts were drifting northward, up to French’s Camp, and the upcoming Reggae on the River 2017 music festival.
Back-stage access is what it's all about...

Oddly enough, an old Kinks song kept traipsing through the frayed edges of my mind. You know the one,

“Now I’m sitting here, sipping on my ice cold beer
Blazing on a sunny afternoon.” [Editor’s note: Check lyrics for accuracy?]

What’s an extra “B” here or there among friends?

Speaking of B’s, I have already communicated with Bull, the dude who is in charge of setting up the two kitchens that will be preparing and serving food throughout the festival. One is for the 3,000 or so volunteers, and must be up and running immediately as volunteers begin arriving on-site. The other is for the VIP contingent of the show, and is not required until the festival starts. 

My experience these past two years is that everyone functions on Indica, the week leading up to Reggae Week, leading to great stress on the part of those who are in charge. Then, about two days, before the music actually starts, the crew switches to Sativa to get the edge they need, and it all comes together.
Last year we built and painted these three tables.
I am determined to alter that program this summer, and have made it clear to Bull that I am willing to back my words with actions. I will make the run up to French’s Camp every day for the two weeks leading up to the festival, if that is what it takes. My goal is to have nothing better to do by the time Wednesday comes, than to clean the bongs, rather than running around like stoners who cannot even find the damn thing.

I would term it comical, but after relocating the two huge refrigeration units, first across the concrete slab, and then back to the original sites, the humor begins to lose out to dismay. I mean it’s pretty fun and all, but not that fun.

Once the festivities begin, I will be the morning dude, presenting myself at 5:45 to Melody, otherwise known as Mel, to put out any fires that have erupted overnight. It could be a propane issue, a water problem or any of a vast range of mostly mechanical tasks, that must be dealt with before the day can unfold.

If it’s electrical, I won’t be able to do anything about it, but I will know where the electrical guru is, and can get ahold of him in an emergency. Ultimately, that’s all I really have to do: keep Mel happy by simply being around, sipping a latte like a G.
Duct tape-the secret to success!
In the past not having someone over to soothe Mel’s ruffled feathers, early in the AM, has resulted in visits to our campsite from various emissaries, in a vain effort to rouse Bull from his slumbers. Easier to rouse the Sphinx than to get Bull to rise before he is ready to shine.

That’s what I will get paid the big bucks for, in the form of the key wristband, which will get me backstage to take in the music. That’s all the fee I demand and it’s well worth the price. 

All together now,

“Help me, help me, help me sail away
Well give me two good reasons why I ought to stay
‘Cause I love to live so pleasantly
Live this live of luxury
Blazing on a sunny afternoon…”