Dozer, the bulldog

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

Rockin' and rollin'

Rockin' and rollin'
The author of Mark's Work

Coleus flowers

Coleus flowers
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.

Beauty abounds!

Beauty abounds!
Heinz tomatoes, used for catsup

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

If you've seen one butterfly,  you've seen 'em all, said no one ever.
Painted Lady

Fall Jewels

Fall Jewels
Praying mantis, attending services on a zinnia...

My souvenir from Reggae on the River, 2017

My souvenir from Reggae on the River, 2017
Something I have always wanted...

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

bellspringsmark@gmail.com

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Spotlight by Default

HappyDay Farms will be at Area 101, eight miles north of Laytonville on The 101, all day this coming Saturday, celebrating Summer Market Day. We will be bringing an assortment of farm products, from freshly cut flowers, to preserves and fresh produce. We will also be featuring several strains of our medicinal cannabis.

Though I abhor the spotlight in every way, this setting can’t help but deflect a little of the glare from the bright lights in my direction. I am, after all, one reason why HeadSodBuster and BossLady are the proprietors of a burgeoning organic farm.

It’s one thing to have a dream to accomplish great endeavors; it’s another matter to have the land available to set the process in motion. Let’s just say that wanting to farm and not having any land, is like that Beatles song in which, “I’ve got no car and it’s breaking my heart, but I’ve got a driver and that’s a start…”

I share a small portion of that spotlight by default, simply because it was not an effort to “return to the land,” that brought Gluten-Free Mama and me up here in the first place, so much as an effort to “get out of Dodge.” We did not want to raise kids on the streets of San Jose, preferring the rolling hills of Mendo.
The original, sans windows...

Nestled in those hills was a 16-by-20-foot cabin, built by me and my brothers the previous summer, with no windows, no running water, no stove, no power, no shelves and no furniture. Into this tiny, dark box GF Mama and I moved, in May of 1982, with HeadSodBuster scheduled to make his debut in September. *

It took almost five months, sometime in October, before I got a hot water heater and a bathtub installed, and we could actually call ourselves civilized. For almost the first month of his life, HeadSodBuster was given baths with water heated up on the top of a stove.

Ah, pioneering! You have to love it.

So now, in a venue such as Area 101, I will sit behind the scenes in the back of our booth, helping out as needed, and bask in the shadow of what HeadSodBuster, BossLady and SmallBoy are accomplishing. 

Should the topic of “back to the land” arise, and it inevitably does, I will smile and accept the respect being directed at me, while knowing inside that it was more like the “Great Escape,” than “How the West Was Won.”



* It’s long and detailed: everything you wanted to know about pioneering… http://markyswrite.blogspot.com/2011/07/blue-rock-ridge.html
Who? Me?

Friday, August 25, 2017

Bell Springs Morning

My closet is lined with a wide array of hats, from which I choose a couple each morning, to direct my actions for the time being. Though I can only wear one at a time, I may have to grab several to get me through the day.

I grabbed the wrong hat on the way out the door.
Thursday morning I lassoed my construction hat on my way out the door, and headed over to the Pepper Pot, where I have been working with my nephew Jason to build a generator power shed. The work has gone smoothly, with the two of us having four mornings invested in the project thus far, not counting the slab.
All that is left to do is to finish insulating and plywooding [Editor’s note: Since when is plywooding a verb?] the interior, shingling the roof, inserting a partition wall and Hardy-Boarding [Editor’s note: Sigh…] the exterior. Finally, we will paint it to match the cabin and check it off the list.

What I had wanted to accomplish on Thursday morning, was some prep work that was better suited to one guy. Jason was employed elsewhere on-farm, so it seemed an opportunistic moment to get a little ahead. In order of preference, I wanted to prep the Hardy Board first, because this was the biggest job still yet to go, and if I could get us to the point where both of us could attack it, the job would go much more efficiently.

Alas, I could not find the electric scissors used to cut the wood-infused-with-cement Hardy Board, despite ransacking tool sheds all over the hill. No problemo, right? Plenty of other tasks. I passed on the roofing, because that is going to be a learning experience for Jason, and I want him to do it.

Besides, neither my surgically repaired left knee, nor my back, will allow me to tack shingles into place any longer. It’s all I can do to apply fertilizer or harvest cherry tomatoes, while dealing with discomfort, let alone using a lethal weapon so close to my exposed thumb. 

It has been three decades-at least-since I served myself a dish of hamburger finger, having learned slower than most how to employ a hammer without harming myself. I would like it to remain thusly.

I could not install the partition wall until the interior plywood was in place, so that became my choice of tasks for the morning. Easy peasy, light and breezy, was my predominant thought, an error in judgment on my part, if ever there were one.
Jason on the roof; project after 3 mornings.

Expectations can be a powerful motivator, but they can also lampoon a project and send it crashing to the ground in flames. Such was the case Thursday morning because I underestimated how hard the job would be. It started off well enough because I did manage to locate the R-13, 16-inch-on-center insulation, which comes precut to 92-and-a-quarter inches for easy installation. 

I installed it, and moved on to cutting a full sheet of half-inch plywood, for installation in the center of the south wall. It required an angled cut because the shed roof dips from eight feet tall on the east wall, to six-and-a-half feet on the west wall.

My cut required that I measure from the bottom of the plywood up to 95 inches on the left side, and from the bottom up to 87 inches on the right side, a routine endeavor. Yes, the measuring and cutting were perfunctory, but the installation was not. The shed is six feet by eight feet, but only eight feet tall at the east side. 

Maneuvering this sheet of half-inch plywood, a simple enough task in open quarters, became problematic in this small space. Nonetheless, with some colorful invective, including repetitive use of the word which starts with “f,” ends in “uck,” and is not firetruck, I sweet-talked it into place.

Now, I turned my attention to the right side, the mirror image of that which I had just completed. My vocabulary now being warmed up, I was ready for action-ready for danger. What I was not prepared for was any hint of adversity.

For whatever reason, and cannabis need not be given exclusive rights here, when I went to measure and cut the complementary piece of plywood to the one already installed, I made the cut from 87 inches on the left side, but forgot that one inch on the right side. I therefore cut the sheet of plywood from 96 inches down to 87 inches, and tried to install it.

When it refused to cooperate, I was dumbfounded. How was this possible? I knew the dimensions of the two walls had to match, or I would never have been able to install rafters correctly. Still, I could not “talk” that plywood into place, even with the threat of the ten pound sledge hammer.

Fortunately, I did not try that approach, only threatened it, presenting an entertaining image for you to savor.

By the time I finally discovered my error in measurement, my strained vocal cords were almost gone. I made the cut without measuring, and when I was done, I heaved that Skil-Saw thirty feet away before the blade had even stopped spinning. It is, after all, lighter than most because it is made from titanium aluminum.
I remove all interior branches
and leaves for good ventilation.

It was at that moment when I realized I was wearing the wrong hat.

I needed to get my cannabis hat out, and go home and sweep. That way the worst I could do was stab myself with a scissors.

Back in the day, we had a name for a morning when nothing went right: We called them Bell Springs Days. It’s been while since I experienced one, but at least I know what to do about it-change the venue.

That’s something I can do on a farm, as easily as changing my hat, which is why I usually grab more than one only way out the door.


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Wrong, Wrong, Wrong

I will keep this painfully short, simply because I am well aware that the targeted audience will not be reading it. If you still support Number 45 as President of this country, then you are a racist. There can be no back-pedaling, no disclaimer, no feigned shock at the notion and no denial.
Smirk away, Cheeto.
I present to you-this-as
an example of white
supremacy. 'Nuff said.

Possibly the one good thing that has emerged from the debacle at Charlottesville, is that 45 has clarified any doubt as to where he stands on human equality. Of course, his previous comments about the Constitution being outdated, because not all people are created equally, might have been a clue.

The President’s assertion that there are “good people on both sides,” is equivalent to saying that being a Nazi sympathizer, is an acceptable position to hold. 45 has already set the Constitution aside with his ban on Muslims; all he has done now, is take it down, down, down to the next level.

Not only are Muslims undesirable, they are inferior to the white “race.”

It’s no secret that I have found 45 to be the most contemptuous and despicable individual alive, based on his greed, avarice and misogynistic frame of consciousness. Now, however, he has forged a level even deeper into the quagmire of my disgust, with his stance on human equality.

Coming from a swollen, fetid, odious worm of a man, the words ring out hysterically wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

45 supporters can no longer say, “Well, I don’t like him but he’s our President and we’re stuck with him,” because we’re not “stuck with him.” 
Impeach the son of a bitch, already, please, and remove this blight from our sight.

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Rookie

Farming can be the most satisfying profession on earth; it can also be the most frustrating. Take my orchard, for instance, where we are growing fruit trees and tomatoes. After all, tomatoes are a fruit and fruit grows on trees, so it seems appropriate to lump the two together. 

In the orchard we have an ideal south-facing slope, an abundance of direct sunshine, and vast quantities of enthusiasm all going for us; we also have water issues, gophers and inexperience working against us. If I were to evaluate the process of growing tomatoes in the orchard up until two weeks ago, I would have quoted the venerable Herb Caen, “Fergeddit!” 

Now I am feeling much more optimistic.

For ten thousand years, give or take, farmers have had water issues. When they arise we do our best to solve them. Then they arise again. Ditto with gophers. And the only cure known for inexperience, is time in the trenches, both metaphorically and literally.
From the beginning my tomatoes in the orchard have not kept up with fellow cousins, no matter where they might call home. The sixty Ace tomatoes and the dozen Evitas that are behind my house are infinitely better, and the ones up at HeadSodBuster’s spot are like the ones I imagined I would have.

I have known from the outset that there was not enough water being delivered, but except for acknowledging the bad news, I was powerless to do anything about it. The farm infrastructure is complex, sophisticated and way beyond my ken.

As I approach my 65th birthday, my desire to possess this knowledge has receded faster than the average hairline, because if I had this knowledge, I would then have to act on it. For pushing thirty years, I was the go-to guy when the water stopped running. I went-to a lot. 

Pin-pointing the issue and solving it are two entirely different matters, The usual methodology includes two steps forward, three steps backwards, then repeat ad infinitum. The intricacies of trying to distribute water to such a vast number of destinations defies comprehension. Pressure, temperature, foreign objects in the line, elevation, gravity, dirty filters, and Buster Posey’s batting average, all factor into whether or not I get adequate water to the orchard.

Fine, I was lying: Buster’s team-leading average (.321/.410/.488/.887) cannot have an impact on my tomatoes.

That being said, HeadSodBuster has already outlined a plan for next year that centers on the acquisition of a second three-thousand-gallon water tank, to match the existing one. The second tank will feed my spot exclusively, which means that many of the problems outlined above, will be either eliminated or helped considerably.

Two weeks ago HeadSodBuster descended upon the orchard like a man on a mission. The first thing he did was change the timers from going off once a day for 30 minutes, to going off twice a day, for 25 minutes, each time. Zounds! From 30 to 50 minutes per day, and delivered twice? 

Be still my throbbing heart!

The second thing he suggested was to hit them up with some fertilizer, little pellets that I was to distribute beneath each emitter, allowing them to dissipate into the soil and feed the plants. The emitters occur on six-inch intervals, which means over a fifty-foot row, a hundred emitters. Say there are three water lines in a row.

I was’t the math teacher at the middle school, but I can still tell you that that adds up to 300 little stations, beneath which I was to place between three-eighths and a quarter cup of the little pellets. As enthusiastic as I was to try and right the sinking ship, the thought of having to deliver the goods to so many deserving stations, was mind-numbing.

There are eight rows in the orchard; 8 times 3 is 24. That’s two thousand, four hundred little pit-stops I would have to make, in order to deliver the most effective remedy possible, to getting my tomato plants up to at least par.

The alternative was to apply liquid kelp to them, in five-gallon allotments. Naturally, the old no-pain/no-gain principle applied: The harder the task, the more effective the results. My thought was that if I were going to try and salvage the summer’s work, I should not pick this time to shirk.

Still, 2,400 emitters? 
I decided a trial run was in order. In addition to distributing the pellets, I was also going to make a concerted effort to make sure the emitters were as close to the tomato plants as possible, something I  had not realized was critical. I had thought that if the emitters were anywhere in the vicinity, that the roots would reach out to them.

Inexperience.

I chose the one row that had the most issues with water line placement, and decided that even if I only did this one row, I would be ahead of the game. Not being able to kneel, due to that reconstructed left knee, I had to let my back endure the brunt of the work.

Thus the job ranks among the hardest of the summer. Nonetheless, the process was simple enough and before I knew it, I had completed the first row. Nothing begets a great success, like a little one. One row down and seven to go. 

In the end I only distributed fertilizer to six rows, because the other two had cherry tomatoes, and those kids were off and running so fast, I would never be able to catch up with them anyway. I just sliced off 600 pitstops on my way to success.

The work’s done now and the immediate results are beyond what I had hoped for. There're still ten days of August, all of September and all of October to harvest tomatoes. 


Who knows? Maybe three steps forward, and only two backwards?

Friday, August 18, 2017

"Chicken in the Car-The Car, She Go"

Of all my hobbies writing provides the biggest kick. I love photography, I am passionate about gardening and I follow the Giants, even when they have MLB’s worst win/loss record, but it is still the act of writing that rocks my world the most.

Most of the pieces that I have posted on my blog, were prewritten in my head before I ever sat down at Suzy Puente, to formalize the process. Exceptions to the rule are the 100 or so pieces of short fiction, posted during the winter/spring of 2012, which were written extemporaneously. 

I would pick a subject, invent characters, and then proceed to write off-the-cuff short stories, that literally unfolded as I typed, surprising me more than anyone. The process was one that overtook me that year; I posted 66 pieces of writing in March alone, followed up with another 45 in April. 

Gotta love that mania.
Laugh the f#%k out loud...

What I almost forgot about, because it was such an isolated piece of writing, and predated my blog by five years, was a novel-length piece of fiction called Chicago, or Chicken in the Car-The Car She Go. The book featured me and HeadSodBuster making a cross-country road trip to Chicago, in the dead of winter, to deliver serious weight to a prospective buyer.

While writing, I got out the old-fashioned road atlas, and traced our route across the top of the country, selecting random cities along the way to spend each night. I invented scenarios that fit into our cover story of a dad escorting his son off to college, and even had a whopper which explained his starting college in January, and not September. 

The book is set amidst the flurry of excitement in Chicago, because of the NFL’s Bears opposing New Orleans’ Saints, a game won by the Bears, much to the delight of the locals. We were holed up in a brand-name hotel, about twenty miles to the west of Chicago, and the weather was frigid.
Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith

A subplot of the NFL playoffs that year, was the possibility of seeing the first black head coach in a super bowl. The two candidates were Lovie Smith of the Bears and Tony Dungy of the Colts. Gloriously, they squared off in Super Bowl XLI, with Dungy’s Colts defeating the Bears.

The winter of 2006-2007 was only a year or so removed from my retirement from teaching, so my book was a combination of the action of the cross-country caper, mixed with reflections on my career as a middle school language arts teacher.

The juxtapositioning of my school-teaching career, with my new occupation as drug runner, was too delicious for me to pass up. That being said, as contemporary, successful ‘Merican novels go, it was a total bust: There was no sex and no violence, and so nothing to attract a modern audience.

What can I say? I’m not that exciting of a guy.

Anyway, I have gone on record-incessantly-as claiming to have written the great American novel in my head, but that I have no time to put it on paper. It is the three-generational story of my family, and our eventual migration to Mendocino County, and it is ongoing, even as we speak.

Nonetheless, sitting on my shelf in my newly reorganized “office,” is this 150-page piece of fiction, that featured me as an anxiety-ridden, meek school teacher, hauling a trunkful of cannabis to Chicago. 

Right.


Chicken in the Car-The Car She Go, but only on paper and not very fast.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Board Stretcher

I can smell smoke this morning, a clear indication that it is likely to be August. The fire need not be anywhere in the vicinity, because it can travel down from Oregon, or up from Lake County, at the drop of one of my many hats, depending on the mood of the winds.
Tomato sauce on a cherry tablecloth? Zounds!

Ignoring the smoke, I worked from one o’clock in the morning until noon, yesterday, mute testimony that retirement is more a state of mind than a physical reality. The first four hours of my day involved washing and sterilizing jars, filling them up with thick tomato sauce, and then processing them for eventual storage in our most efficient root cellar.

I then donned my farmer hat for three hours, while I cleaned water filters, fed and watered the chickens, and made my rounds of HappyDay Farms, West Forty. I walked the terraces, making sure there were no water line issues; I hand-watered my problem children, both cannabis and tomatoes; I flipped the valves on and then off, on fourteen stations of ornamentals, giving them a few precious minutes of water each; and finally, I took a few minutes to refuel, potatoes and eggs being the general go-to these days.

On came the apron, as I spit-shined the kitchen, which I do religiously when Gluten-Free Mama is gone, she being in Ohio to attend the funeral of BossLady’s precious grandmother. I am more than just obsessive-compulsive about keeping the house clean while she is gone, having long since made the connection that it is far easier to maintain a clean abode, than it is the clean it up, once it has been destroyed.

We’re talking time here, pure and simple, because there is so much to do, and so little time in which to get it all done. That’s where the irony of retirement comes in: If I am retired, why am I working so hard? I am working hard because work is life, and we on farm are happy in our work.
Jay pounding on a different kind of drum...

At precisely 7:55 yesterday morning, I grabbed my hard-hat and headed over to SmallBoy’s spot, where Jay and I are building a generator house/tool shed. This is part of an ongoing effort to become 100% compliant with cannabis regulation. You can tell we are almost there, when the genny house hits the top of the priority list.

Jay is the son of GF Mama’s brother, Joey, and he contacted HappyDay Farms in the dead of last winter to discuss a career change in his life. He wanted to become more connected with the land and his roots. Those are my words-not his. He talked more about getting back to basics and acquiring some life skills that were simply unavailable in the public sector.

With that philosophy, building a power-shed seemed like the perfect project, and it has proved so. Whereas Jay is an apprentice with a hammer in his hand, he approaches the job with enthusiasm blended with realism. What the mind often wishes to accomplish, the arm refuses to obey.

Fir will insist on being hard to drive nails into, and the knots are always in the wrong places. Jay will battle until the law of diminishing returns rears its ugly head, and then he will ask for help. He admires the way I can manhandle a nail out of any predicament, employing my two best friends, Mr. Cat’s Paw, and Mr. Crowbar, both accomplished jail breakers, but I assure him it is only a matter of experience.

I too was once a novice, using my newly discovered Skil-Saw skills, to cut a four-by-twelve, twenty-foot-long, fir girder, to a length of 19ft, 10in. Unfortunately, that was one inch too short, and since Rex had left the board stretcher at home, I was dispatched from Brook Trails to Mendo Mill in Willits, to acquire another twenty-foot-long fir girder. 

Mind you, I was not in trouble because the length I had butchered, would still be 100% usable; I just had to be the one to go to town and get a replacement. 

What is fascinating to me in light of Jay’s apprenticeship, is that when it comes to the world of music, I am the apprentice, and Jay is the master/maestro. He has grown up enveloped in the world of music, and has done the concert circuit, performing among other genres of music, heavy metal.

You see, I just acquired a drum and except for the general concept of making a lot of noise with my hands, I am clueless. 

[Editor’s note: Well, never mind.] 

I mean, more clueless than usual. 

[Editor: That helps.]

So the other afternoon, when Jay was here having some lunch, and my drum was out on display, he asked if I minded if he indulged. Intrigued, I readily agreed, and he sat down and proceeded to give me a five-minute tutorial, that expanded my horizons as though a fresh north wind had just come up and cleared out the smoke from the neighborhood.

Again, the man is a master in the world of music. He treated the drum reverently, admiring the craftsmanship, before he ever tasted the fruit. And when he did, he made it clear that the fruit was available to all. Specifically, I watched/listened as he rhythmically created a wide range of different sounds, by moving his hands from the outer rim to the center.

I also listened/watched while he maneuvered intensity from a soft pattering to a heavy thunder, as he hit the drum softly or hard. He gave me some elementary pointers in a non-intimidating way, inviting me to explore different approaches to my drum-play.

Two different worlds, two masters and two apprentices. It is a match made in Fantasyland, a clear case of labor exchange if ever there were. As I simultaneously give Jay instruction in the art of carpentry, he is giving me instruction in the world of music. 
There can be only one question: Are the tails in line?

Should my head swell beneath my ice-filled hat, while on the construction site, it is just as likely to shrink, while trying to figure out why my hands won’t do what my brain wants them to do, when sitting in front of the drum. Kind of like that hammer in Jay’s hand.


The master shall learn and the pupil shall teach, regardless of which is which. When I get too complacent to learn anything more, put me out of my misery and scatter my ashes on the playground of the nearest kindergarten.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Great Pretender

Suppose you could design the perfect job: one that was vital to the mission, so as to make you indispensable; one that required a fair set of skills, which you possess; and finally, one which required no actual work on your part, which could prove to be convenient.

Such turned out to be the case during ROTR, 2017, though it must also be said that in another year, in a different galaxy far away, it could have backfired, and turned into a disaster. Allow me to elaborate, if I may.

The whole caper had its origins last summer at ROTR, early on Friday morning of the four-day gig, when an emissary from the kitchen stormed into our camp, without glancing left or right.

Heading straight at me, he snapped, “I need to talk to Bull.”

“My, you are brave," I observed. "It happens to be,” I added, glancing at my phone, “5:52 in the morning.” I paused, expectantly. “You do know that Bull was up late last night?” I left the question dangling, waving carelessly at the detritus on the picnic table, multiple dead soldiers giving mute testimony to the amount of alcohol consumed. It probably need not be mentioned, that none of the dead soldiers owed his demise to me. I do not indulge.

“I know what time it is,” the dude snapped at me. “Which tent is Bull’s? I need to talk to him.” 

He had my undivided attention. “Yes, so you have indicated. And I asked, what was up. Is there a fire? Are you out of propane? Does Melody need her coffee heated up? Is it possible that I could help you so that Bull can get his beauty sleep? We, here in camp, have taken a poll, and feel Bull needs his beauty sleep. Therefore, I ask again, what the fuck is going on?”
Mel, is that you?
Somehow, I got through to him. “Well, nothing right now, but Mel is paranoid that the shit is going to hit the fan, and no one will be there to handle it. She’s wound up like a top and I need to make sure that Bull is around, but I guess I don’t actually have to talk to him…not if you can give him a message,” he finished lamely.

“Gosh, I don’t know. That’s a pretty tough assignment,” I said, giving him my best Eddie Haskell impression.

He looked properly admonished and backed the truck up. “OK, look, I’m sorry I burst in here, but she's on my case, and I just wanted to make sure…” His voice trailed off.

“Yes, that someone is here to hold Melody’s hand, should it need holding. I think I have grasped the essentials, thank you so much for your time and attention. Not only that, but I think I am up for the job, no pun intended, should the need arise. And if I can’t handle it, I will find someone who can,” and with that, was born my scheme to be indispensable.

Mollified, the dude not only went back to the kitchen happy, he sent over a box of sandwiches, for anyone to partake of, as a peace token. “I don’t know, Bull,” I said later as we sampled some Sour Strawberry, just to get the cobwebs reestablished in our heads. 

“It’s as if the kitchen has anxiety issues,” I continued, “and all we have to do is have a warm body available, to pacify Mel. Should a problem arise, said dead body can either fix the problem, or at least find Lennon or A.J. All we have to do is find some poor schmuck who is willing to drag his ass out of bed at 5:30, so he can be at the kitchen by six, and maybe again at eight,” I finished, looking down at my sandals.
Bull and Nan-Cy

Bull was smiling broadly. It may have been early but the Sour Strawberry was working just fine. Having detailed my unorthodox sleep-cycle in earlier posts, multiple times, the reader might already have gleaned that I was that vital cog in the machine, to which I had been alluding.

A cog so vital that every morning of ROTR, 2017, I presented myself to the person in charge of the kitchen. It was Kerry on Friday morning, Galen, on Saturday morning and a woman named Sariah, on Sunday morning. Ironically, each of the mornings I had to introduce myself, and explain my mission.

Nowhere was Mel to be seen. Later, I found out that she didn’t even get up until eight this year. Meanwhile, each morning I was [secretly] thrilled to hear that there were no issues. 

Mission accomplished! I had based my credentials on this component that everyone agreed was necessary; I had carried out my responsibilities to perfection, not only presenting myself at the kitchen at six, but at eight as well; and finally, I had kept Mel happy. A sleeping Mel is a happy Mel.

Of course, the caper could have backfired, had the kitchen actually encountered serious technical difficulties, but that was what distinguished this gig from the beginning. It was a risk, freely taken, that cost nothing but paid off like a slot machine. 

After all, it was simply about communication and I had provided the vehicle. Everyone was stoked because communication was continuous throughout the festival, between kitchen and site crew, now that the morning gap had been plugged. 

Plugged by The Great Pretender.













Monday, August 14, 2017

Souvenir

I have never played a musical instrument. The closest I ever came was having Santa bestow upon me a guitar one Christmas. Stunned, I gave that guitar a wide berth, unclear on why, exactly, I had been selected as the recipient of an unknown commodity such as this. Sure, I played a mean air guitar, but still, sheesh.
With carrying case
Eventually, I decided to invest an hour or so in leaning to play it, and when that worked out the way one might have predicted, I gave it up. As I explained to Mama, “I think Santa got confused this year.” I was twelve.

Fast forward to two years ago at my first Reggae on the River, when HeadSodBuster gave me some ducats to go out and do a little souvenir-shopping. Clutching my loot I took advantage of it by circumnavigating the vendor area, researching, always researching, taking notes even.

So many choices. I ended up with the usual: a few tee-shirts, a piece of Meadow's art and a bong that I never use, but what I wanted most I saw in a shop with about a hundred drums in it. There were all shapes and sizes, with some being brand-new and pristine, while others showed much use. I ogled and I drooled, but left empty-handed. 
It's nice to see friends at ROTR. Meadow had
some of her art and I bought this one.

In navigating the venue this year, I was disappointed to notice that the drum vendor was no longer at ROTR. There was one booth which had, maybe, a half-dozen drums, almost all the same size, but that was the extent of it. 

Still, I only wanted one.

When I had talked to HeadSodBuster, earlier Saturday afternoon, he had hinted strongly that he thought it was time that we went out and did some souvenir-shopping. I protested that I did not have the pecuniary measures required, but he insisted that we at least go see what was available. I should not worry about $'s.

I had marked the spot of the drum "hoard," carefully on the map within my fragmented brain, so I was able to lead HSBuster back to the booth without problem. Auntie was out front, a short woman with a round face and beaming smile. She was bustling around, shifting this item here, organizing that display over there.

Though neither HSBuster nor I said a word, the matronly woman made eye contact with me, and said, in a low voice, “So, a drum, huh?” She moved past me, a knowing smile on her face. HeadSodBuster was a man on a mission and did not hear the comment.
On-stage drum

I looked at her in surprise. How did she know we were looking for a drum? Still doubtful that I could actually find the perfect one, out of a field of merely six, I watched HSBuster zero in one unit immediately. He examined it closely, seated himself in an opportunely positioned chair, and let his hands flutter lightly over the surface of the drum, nodding imperceptibly as he did.

“What do you think?” I inquired.

“I like it,” he replied simply. “I think we should get it, along with a carrying case.”

Not one to argue with a great success, I nonetheless reeled at the spontaneous nature of this whole transaction. The instrument is incredibly beautiful and well-crafted; it is also deceivingly heavy, being made from teak. I only hope I can do justice to it. After pounding on everything from my knees, to books, to the dashboard in whatever vehicle we were driving in for the past 20-some years, I was ready to make it official. 

Am I prepared to jam yet with other musicians? Not hardly, but I am having a lot of fun, notwithstanding. “In A Gadda Da Vida” never sounded so good…

As we left the drum booth, I still was curious about the matronly woman’s comment, “So, a drum, huh?” As HSBuster was taking care of the logistics, I went back out front of the booth and asked her how she had known we were after a drum.

“I saw it in his eyes,” she explained simply.
HeadSodBuster showing me that the drum works.
Vendors' booths line the bowl.






Sunday, August 13, 2017

Extra Hot

I identify with the meme which says, “Camping: Spending a fortune to live like homeless people.” I spare no expense, at least when the expense is no more than my own time. Having borrowed a tent from HeadSodBuster, because both my tent and my big ice chest were missing, I went in search of a second mini fridge to add to my little red one.

There happened to be a good-sized one out front by the little shed that used to house our generator, but at first glance it seemed to be pretty gnarly, dirt encrusting the inside in a most unappetizing manner. Upon closer examination, however, I found that a liberal application of scouring powder, combined with copious amounts of elbow grease, attained great success, and a practically pristine ice chest.

This turned out to be most fortuitous for me because it meant that the little red ice chest I already had, could be used exclusively for (big drum roll, please…) dairy products. Specifically, I brought along half-and-half and plenty of milk, on a block of ice that stayed with me the whole time, supplemented by a bag of crushed ice (for my hat, to keep my head cool).

I wrote last year, about my frenetic desire to acquire coffee, early one morning, while at ROTR. ( http://markyswrite.blogspot.com/2016/08/rye-whiskey-i-cry.html ) May I be candid here? The most advanced and sophisticated of camping gear means absolutely nothing, if when you awake in the morning, especially after only four hours of sleep, there is no coffee. I mean, it’s not like at home where you can say, 

“What do you mean there is no coffee? 

Is the pot not plugged in?

Where’s the plug?

Is there a problem?

Is the pot not plugged in?

Is there no electricity?

Is there no coffee?

Is there no water?

Is the pot not plugged in? 

Can we plug it in?

Please? Right now?

WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?” *

Why, only last summer, if you can believe this, GF Mama and I ended up over at Westport, having forgotten the coffee on the kitchen counter, along with the filters. We had all of the rest of the necessary implements of construction, to create that which we desired, so we sallied forth to the little mom and pop store in Westport itself, and bought a pound of coffee.

They did not have the filters so I went back to camp and used a paper towel. Crude but passable coffee was the result. When it comes right down to it, my old socks would have sufficed. 

George Carlin put it best when he classified coffee as the lowest end of the speed spectrum, not that I need coffee to enhance my mania. I can- and have-stopped indulging in coffee abruptly multiple times within the last five years alone, without the accompanying headaches that others complain of. In that regard I am lucky.
My whisk

On top of it all, in acquiring one of those little mechanical whisks that run on Double-A batteries, I now whip hot milk into foam, combine a cup of freshly brewed, reheat it it to “extra hot,” and rotisitate. I have no clear idea what this word means, but it was used by my father and therefore, I reserve the right to use it also. In whatever manner I so choose.

I made lattes for fellow campers Zoe, Timo and AnnaBryn, besides the several per morning I prepared for myself. 

Er, excuse me, but could you hold on just a sec? I need to refill my cuppa…

“What do you mean there is no coffee? 

Is the pot not plugged in?

Where’s the plug?

Is there a problem?

Is the pot not plugged in?

Is there no electricity?

Is there no coffee?

Is there no water?

Is the pot not plugged in? 

Can we plug it in?

Please? Right now?

WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?”



* As I posted the other morning on social media, I provide for GlutenFreeMama as many hand-crafted cups of goodness as her heart desires, every morning of her life as I have done for 35 years, and I smile all the while. And there is no “plug” on my propane stove.



Saturday, August 12, 2017

Uncle Josh

I slept twelve of the seventy-five hours that I was at Reggae on the River, this year, but who’s counting? Obviously, I am or I wouldn’t have pointed out that 4 : 25 ratio of sleep to waking hours. That’s a bit more than two hours of sleep per twelve hours of being awake. The funny thing about it is that if you had asked me prior to the start of the excursion, how many hours of sleep I predicted I would get, I would have unhesitatingly said, “12.”
I am a predictable sort of fellow. Three nights times four hours equals twelve.

Think of it as “Sleepless in Seattle” meets “Insomnia.” I normally sleep four hours per night, give or take. While at home I most likely will nap at some point during the day, that was not going to happen at French’s Camp. I forgot to pack the living room sofa, even though I lugged in ten times more stuff than I ever needed, including grub.
The weather at night was ideal.

I had the usual creature comforts available to me in my tent, which means I had a cot, a sleeping bag and a pillow. The weather was as close to perfect as possible, with the temperature in the mid-fifties, and the ever-present gentle breeze coming off the Eel River.

Finally, I had the campsite to myself-our campsite that is. Otherwise, the camping area back behind the hippie gas station, housed the 3,000 or so volunteers that ran ROTR. In reality, I was sharing my space with approximately 2,980 others. Many of these folks mistook the campground at night for a screamathon.

Almost shoved up against the back of my tent, which “faced” another campsite entirely, was a super-sized ice chest, which according to one individual “had enough beer to float the Titanic.” Judging from the number of times it creaked open and thumped shut, I’d say the entire crew of the Titanic was on hand, partying like there was no tomorrow.

I understand the urge to party, and I understand that one does not come to ROTR and expect to sleep, but not everyone else does. I felt a little bad for poor Josh, or Uncle Josh, as his friends started calling him, a guy in that campsite right behind me. 

“Oh, Josh! Oh, Joshhhhhhh! Oh, Joshie! Why are you trying to sleep? We didn’t come here to sleep…” It was around 3:00AM and Josh's friends were letting him know what was up because, obviously, Josh was not.

Unintelligible mumble from Josh.

“Is poor Joshie tired? Oh, Uncle Josssssshhhhhhhh… It’s time to come out and party!”

Unintelligible grunt from Josh.

“May we have your attention, please? We have a missing partier: last name, Josh; first name, Uncle. If you see this individual, please inform him that there is a party going on…” They were getting into it like a meditation.

Josh finally spoke, but not loud enough for me to hear.

“Ouch! My horse too? What did he do to you? Fine. Go ahead and sleep. Uncle.” Uncle is a term fastened onto any male who is deemed an elder.
Be it ever so humble:
My tent is the blue
 one to the right, with
lots more behind me.

My facial hair is as white as the driven snow, so I qualify. Retiring early in our deserted campsite, I slept my four hours Thursday night, and then just lay there for the next five. I basked in the glow of a comfortable bed and the knowledge that when I got up, I could make myself a frothy, steaming latte, having brought all the necessary accouterments for this magical concoction of the gods. I had to be over in the kitchen at six, so there was no sleeping in for me.

Cacophony prevailed outside my tent, with babbling, bellowing and boisterousness right behind. I heard ear-piercing air horns going off every few minutes, quite possibly the same ones I saw the next day in the hands of a couple of middle school-aged kids. Finally, at one point, a Harley serenaded us all with the purr of its unmuffled engine, as it meandered its way through the campground, seemingly in a random manner. 

My original plan was to get up, make coffee, and then listen to my music with my headphones on. I was simply too tired to rise and shine, so I lay in my comfortable bed, ignored the racket, and just rested. There are worse things in life, than to just lie in bed and reflect.

After all, I could have been Uncle Josh with a boat-load of friends harassing me.





Friday, August 11, 2017

Past My Bedtime

Stick Figure, 2015
For the second consecutive year I did not see any of the headliners from Reggae on the River. Of all the artists performing, there were only two I had ever heard of, Stick Figure and Slightly Stoopid, and both played past my bedtime.

Considering I go to sleep every night of my life before the sun goes down, that’s not saying a whole lot. Am I disappointed? Not on your life because I have discovered that I actually prefer to listen to bands I have never heard before, than those which are world famous.

My world being topsy turvy from most, I have discovered that the artists who play in the late morning and through the afternoon, are more appealing to me than the big dawgs. First, they are playing to a much smaller crowd, second they are lesser known bands and therefore have something to prove, and finally, the originality and vitality of these backup artists, often exceeds that of the more well-established bands.
Mighty Mystic and The Hard Roots Movement

Take Saturday, for instance. At 11:00 in the morning, Mighty Mystic & The Hard Roots Movement got matters started, playing a brand of music which combined reggae with hip-hop. The bowl was practically empty when they began, but folks started to trickle in, especially under the pavilion, where blankets were spread out all around, and revelers were sprawled out, trying to beat the heat.

Ojo de Buey followed Mighty Mystic, this band hailing from Costa Rica, and playing reggae blended with salsa. Without fail these artists who are getting a golden opportunity to show off their style, seem to respond accordingly, playing with an enthusiasm that cannot be contrived.
Ojo de Buey

Additionally, for the purposes of my personal enjoyment, I am standing up on one of the two side-stages, and I have it to myself. Not only do I have the stage to myself, but I have a dilapidated folding chair, undoubtedly left over from the individual who was doing security for Stick Figure, the previous evening.
The chair

It may have been old and ratty, but my chair might just as well have been the cadillac of reclining armchairs. Unless you are in the campsite, sitting anywhere but on the ground, at ROTR, is a luxury. So finding this unoccupied chair on stage, with no one to care one way of the other if I sat in it or not, was truly a bonanza. So much so that I asked the first person who joined my on that side-stage, to take a photograph of me.

Kkulee Dube, an artist from South Africa, followed Ojo de Buey and mixed jazz and soul into her music. She put on a rousing show combining her singing with dancing, electrifying me and others with her repertoire. She played to a bowl only one-third of the way filled, but that’s kind of the way it works.
Nkulee Dube

Nonetheless, if you are like me and do not care for the crowds, there is no better venue than the afternoon sets that are readily available. I did stay up last year for Jah Sun, New Kingston and Protoje, artists with whom I was unfamiliar, and enjoyed them immensely, just as I stayed up the previous year for Stephen Marley.

However, the last two years I was surrounded by a bevy of family and friends, and almost transported telepathically to the bowl at night, for emotion-laden performances. I cried like a baby during Stick Figure’s performane, and again when Stephen came on. 

This year I went solo, because life on-farm will not release its death-grip on adversity, so HeadSodBuster and SmallBoy had to toe the line. HS Buster broke loose Friday and Saturday nights, and it was fun to hold court with him, at Any Spot in the bowl, where the whole world passes by at one time or another.

The “kids” do the adulting while the “adult” goes off to frolic at ROTR. I guess it just goes to show that I raised them right.





Thursday, August 10, 2017

Garçon!

If I were to assign a letter grade for my performance at the dining table, the four days I was at Reggae on the River, I would have earned a solid “D.” Even with the best planning in the universe, I did a bad job of keeping myself fueled.
I was prepared, I could access my ice chest at almost all times, but the reality is that I would simply forget to stop and fuel up. If that sounds like a little kid on holiday, then I guess I will have to accept that, but it’s no different at home. Mania will do that to a guy.

Despite the fact that there was a vast array of choice within the bowl, with more than twenty vendors serving lunch and dinner, I know it will come as a revelation that I brought my own. Not only did I ensure that there was no one else to blame if matters went awry, I also guaranteed that I could eat whenever I felt so inclined.

My first ROTR, in 2015, I took advantage of breakfast in the very kitchen that I repped. It was fresh, organic and tasty, and I combined my pleasure in dining, with that of a little business: charging my electronics. With our relocation in 2016, across the 101 to the campground behind the hippie gas station, we now have power to the people from the chapel, alongside which we are camped.

I no longer have to arrive at the kitchen when it first opens, in order to claim one of the half-dozen electrical outlets. Any port in a storm, you know? With all factors being considered, I decided to go with an out-of-ice chest experience.
Table for one, please.

Last year I roasted a chicken before I left for ROTR, stripped it off the carcass, and packed it on ice, along with a container of rice. I packed fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, peeled, hard-boiled eggs, already-baked bacon, and an assortment of chips and nuts. I also packed a bag of Snickers candy bars, the little bite-sized ones.

This year, the first time I walked into the hippie gas station to get ice and double-A batteries, I fully intended to indulge in some chocolate. I spaced it out and afterwards, marveled at that turn of events. I was so enamored with the thought of trying ROTR without sugar, that I formed the resolve to never yield to temptation, this year at least.

My food agenda all flowed well enough last year, except I got tired of cold chicken a bit faster than I might have thought, so this year I decided to keep on exploring. I couldn't improve on bacon and eggs for breakfast, with a sliced tomato and a banana, so that took care of the mornings. 

I bought a small package of organic, skinless chicken fillets, and roasted them in the wee hours prior to leaving on Thursday morning. I used a mustard sauce to season it, that Gluten-Free Mama was sweet enough to have prepared for me on Wednesday night.

Finally, to ensure there was no gappage, my sweetest of apple blossoms hooked me up with a pair of sandwiches that couldn’t be beat. Those sandwiches were a life saver when I rolled into the venue on Thursday, and was immediately shanghaied by Bull, and chained to the grindstone.

When I got hungry, at least I was able to wolf down a ham and cheese on rye arrangement, that inserted a new outlook on life within me, and got me through an unexpected foray into the world of work. I don’t mind work, in and of itself, unless I am expecting vacay instead.

Bread for the sandwiches was a huge concession because I stopped eating it a few years ago, except on rare occasions. As much as I love sourdough, I found myself using it as a go-to in the past, far too often, and at the same time I saw my stomach go-to pot. 

When I stopped eating all forms of bread-cold turkey-I found myself losing an average around of two pounds per month, for 24 months, almost fifty pounds of bread basket goodness, with absolutely no additional effort on my part.

Whether it was adrenaline, logistics, the heat, my mania, the timing of the music, or any of a variety of other reasons, I ended up eating my breakfast of bacon/eggs/tomatoes/banana on Friday morning, but nothing else except the second sandwich that GF Mama had fixed for me, during my 16-hour day.
I used the Coleman stove to make lattes.

Saturday was worse because besides breakfast, the only thing I ate was one slice of rye bread, with a piece of chicken breast crammed into it. I wolfed it down as I hot-footed it out of camp after deciding that I would pass on the J Boog experience. 

The artist and his band were dining with us due to connections with the Hawaiian contingency in our campsite. Us became them as I gazed out over a sea of unfamiliar faces, upon cruising into camp, and therefore, I never stopped. I merely paused at my tent to grab the half-sandwich, sans mustard, and carried on.

Sunday found me consuming the one meal that I consistently managed to eat, my eggs and bacon. I brought home unused lunchmeat, chicken, a couple of eggs, some bacon, and almost all the chips, peanuts and snacks I had thought to pack.

It’s neither good nor bad-it just is. 

Why am I not interested the food booths? Ninety-nine percent of it is the lines. If you are over there early, then no problem, but early is when I was still full from breakfast. Later, it’s a matter of luck, but if I really am hungry, and then have to stand in line, I can’t do it.

Can’t, won’t, whatever.

Taking the uncertainty out of eating was my one goal, and in that regard, I scored an”A.” You can’t win them all, but as long as no one breaks the bat over my head, I am good to go.

And oh yeah, sugar-wise, HeadSodBuster bought me the best tasting root beer float, Saturday night, that I have ever had, but that's still not chocolate.