Dozer, the Bulldog

Dozer, the Bulldog
Feeling the "Bern"

Ellie Mae

Ellie Mae
No time for gates...

Ollie Mac

Ollie Mac
My cooking assistant

Ollie and Annie

Ollie and Annie
Azorean grandmother


38 years on this mountain, come May 31st...



Papa and Ollie Mac

Papa and Ollie Mac
Priorities, Baby


Annie, my Sweetest of Apple Blossoms

My first portrait

My first portrait
"Mr. Farmer"

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Never the Twain Shall Meet

I am doing the A-Z challenge,  focusing on places or entities that can be found within Mendocino County.  I do not intend to imply that the subjects of my writing are the most significant, only that they have personal relevance to me.  Today’s letter is R for Redwood, as in Richardson Grove.

Never the Twain Shall Meet

I could not possibly do an A-Z challenge on Mendocino County, without including redwood trees.  Despite Ronald Reagan’s assertion that “If you have seen one redwood tree, you've seen them all,” anyone of sane mind, who has ever stood beneath one of these behemoths, and gazed upward, would know that there is no other tree on earth that overwhelms the senses like the redwood tree.

As the Willits Arch proclaims, Mendocino County is “The Gateway to the Redwoods.”  Richardson Grove, about an hour north, is actually at the southernmost tip of Humboldt County, our very closely aligned ally to the north.  However, Richardson Grove is the site of a redwood grove that rivals the best of them, so I am going to stretch the parameters of my A-Z challenge to include it in this discussion.

Because Richardson Grove is an exciting place to take your family and camp, we had been doing this since the mid-eighties.  As I have mentioned, Annie used to be very cautious about taking the boys to the coast, because of the treacherous rip tides in the ocean, so we tended to gravitate north to Richardson Grove, where the Eel River provided a more benign environment, in which to swim.

In addition to individual campsites, Richardson Grove also has a group campsite, with a road leading to the Rangers’ home base, running right through the campsite.  When we started taking groups of students up to Richardson Grove, the road made it convenient for us to assign one side of the road to the girls, and the other side to the boys, and never the twain shall meet.  Logic dictated that there was no way we ever had to worry about boys in the girls’ tents, or vice versa, because there is no way that could be done without others knowing about it.  And if others knew about it, we, the teachers, would surely find out.

In addition to the group campsite, there was also an amphitheater, with benches laid out, so that park rangers could conduct evening activities, that included films, discussions, or readings.  I found this theater to be very useful for conducting various classroom activities, including reading and journal-writing.  We used to get the usual student-complaints about having to do schoolwork while on field trips, but we assured the kids that if we didn’t guarantee the school board that these academic endeavors would be carried out, there is no way that we would be going in the first place.

Science was easy, because of the Eel River, the wealth of vegetation, and the ecology of the area.  Math was also easy, because we could do river flow calculations or use proportion to determine the height of the redwoods.  And we had plenty of opportunities for creative ways to do art.  I remember one year we had the students work within their groups to create wreaths out of anything they could find that was already on the ground.  They can be very creative when they choose.

Of all the school activities, though, my favorite was to assemble those who were in my drama elective, and work on our production, in the amphitheater.  The productions were almost always scheduled for the end of May/beginning of June, so if we went camping in May, the best month, weather-wise, then the actors would be close to having their lines memorized, and the theater was the natural place to carry out this activity.  If we were lucky, then we would also have a live audience of spectators, who would always be impressed with our middle schoolers’ ability to memorize Shakespeare.  I know I was always impressed.  I used to tell them continuously that I asked them to do things that I was no longer capable of doing, and I meant every word of it.

After years of taking kids to Yosemite, Richardson Grove seemed kind of tame.  However, when it came right down to it, when we asked them if they would rather go to Richardson Grove or stay at school, the discussion ended.  Smart kids, I always said.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Fat Quail

I am doing the A-Z challenge,  focusing on places or entities that can be found within Mendocino County.  I do not intend to imply that the subjects of my writing are the most significant, only that they have personal relevance to me.  Today’s letter is Q for The Fat Quail.

The Fat Quail

On the south end of Laytonville is a picturesque quilting shop called The Fat Quail.  Owned and operated by Debbie, the shop features a huge assortment of fabric, along with all of the accoutrements needed to quilt.

I have known Debbie since 1990 because she taught at the same small middle school, at which I taught.  In addition to her regular duties, Debbie taught the sewing elective every quarter until her retirement.  One of the more challenging elements of her sewing elective, included teaching kids who were willing to put in two semesters at the task, to make a quilt from scratch.

Now I have been around quilting for many years because Annie is a quilter.  She once defined quilting for me as taking large pieces of fabric, cutting them up into small pieces, and then sewing them together in patterns, to form a very large piece of fabric.  I also know about quilting because my middle son spent the requisite two quarters in Debbie’s sewing elective making a quilt, which turned out first class.  Lest you think that sewing and making quilts is less than a machismo thing to do, I would say to you, that this same son is now an engineer for Cal Fire, and an EMT to boot.

After Debbie retired, she and her husband Dave, who taught in the high school, at the same school district as Debbie, began to look for a site for this quilting shop.  After an  extensive search in the area, they ended up purchasing a somewhat dilapidated home, which had seen better days.  Because Dave is a handy sort of fellow, and both Dave and Debbie were willing to do the work themselves, they were able to remodel this worn-down home into the attractive shop that it is today.

I know a lot about this whole scene, because after Annie retired from the middle school, she bought a long-arm quilting machine, arranged to have it set up in the back room at The Fat Quail, and commenced to assembling quilts for many of Debbie’s customers.  What Annie’s job entailed, dramatically simplified, was to take the the completed large quilt that the quilter has assembled, find an equally-sized piece of fabric for the backing, select the type of batting that the customer requested, and put it all together.

Batting comes in different thicknesses, so that if a thick quilt is desired, a thick type of batting is selected; if a thin quilt is desired-a thin type of batting.  There are a number of logistical hoops to be overcome, if, for instance, the completed quilt is not square, or if there are inconsistencies in the way it is sewn together.  Ultimately, when Annie would sew the whole project together, she had many different techniques that she could use, to make it all come out.

Some customers liked to have the stitches customized in very intricate patterns; others were not so concerned with intricacy, especially if it were a baby quilt, or a gift for a distant relative.  In either case, Annie was the one to whom they spoke, and depending on how many quilts she was already dealing with, and what type of stitching was desired, would depend on how long it took.  After a few years of having the long-arm in the shop, Annie moved it up here to our home, primarily to avoid the commute to town in the winter months, when the highway is so icy.

One nice thing is that many of the middle school students who went through Debbie’s sewing elective, are now young adults, who wish to keep on quilting.  Lucky for them, there is now a topnotch shop in Laytonville at which fabric and advice can be obtained.  Debbie also gives classes at the shop, both in sewing and quilting.  Laytonville is lucky to have this shop, because otherwise, a person desiring quilting material would have to go up north to Eureka, or down south, to one of several different sites.  So the next time you are traveling through Laytonville, keep an eye out for The Fat Quail and stop in for a look-see.  I think you will find it well worth your time.  And hey, say hi to Debbie for me!

Friday, March 29, 2013

All Worth It

I am doing the A-Z challenge,  focusing on places or entities that can be found within Mendocino County.  I do not intend to imply that the subjects of my writing are the most significant, only that they have personal relevance to me.  Today’s letter is P for Pygmy Forest.

All Worth It

The Pygmy Forest was the site of yet another of Paul’s and my forced marches, where we made those poor middle school kids walk for what they felt was hours beyond what they were capable of doing.  Whereas the students may not have appreciated what the Pygmy Forest had to offer, Paul and I sure did.  
We had read up on the Pygmy Forest and simply stated, over the course of time, terraces were formed on the ocean floor, which were later exposed to the air.  The decomposing of different plant forms made for a very inhospitable soil base which resulted in the stunting of trees and other vegetative growth.  All this took place over hundreds of thousands of years.  Pygmy Forests are found in other parts of the world, but they are certainly common along the northwest coastal ranges, and also in Southern California.

On this particular field trip, Paul and I had brought sixth, seventh and eighth graders over to the vicinity of Jug Handle State Natural Reserve, to a facility called P.E.E.C, or Pacific Environmental Education Center.  It was located within MacKerricher State Park, and featured student access to the beach, tide pools, seal rookery, coastal prairie, unique sand dunes and, of course, the Pygmy Forest.

We had planned this field trip for months, and ended up having to go at the end of March.  Though we warned our students to bring rain gear, we were not expecting the deluge that arrived, at the same time as we did.  Fortunately, we were housed in wooden huts and the food was prepared and served under a huge pavilion, so it could have been a lot worse.

How did we pay for this?  Paul and I had written a grant for $5,000.00, for a seminar to be presented to seventh and eighth graders on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, or F.A.S.  It was one of the most powerful units we had ever attempted, and one of the most successful.  Because we had the money to do so, we rented the huge mansion on the Jug Handle State Reserve, and presented to the students our series of participatory lessons on F.A.S, the only one hundred percent preventable birth defect.  This was back in 1994, and the idea that women can not drink alcohol while pregnant, while not new, was certainly something that we felt thirteen and fourteen-year-old kids needed to learn and learn well.

We had P.E.E.C. take the sixth graders and present them a whole different series of lessons on the ecology of the region, and took the seventh and eighth graders to this very cool mansion, and outlined to them what we had in mind.  The first part of the session involved role playing, which was done in front of their peers.  The best one involved an eighth grade boy saying, in essence, “What does this have to with me?  I’m a guy.  I can’t get pregnant.”  

The resulting dialogue was what we had been hoping for.  The girls were indignant that the guys didn’t get the concept of support.  The guys finally did get it and Paul and I shook hands, thinking if only one of these kids walks out of this seminar, and applies what he or she learned, it was all worth it.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

No Bells

I am doing the A-Z challenge,  focusing on places or entities that can be found within Mendocino County.  I do not intend to imply that the subjects of my writing are the most significant, only that they have personal relevance to me.  Today’s letter is N for Nature Conservancy.

No Bells

When I think back to the times I have spent at the Nature Conservancy, I remember those occasions with a great fondness.  The official name for this facility is Angelo Coast Range Reserve, and it is the site of much research and teaching.  “Since the 1980’s, field research has been conducted at the Angelo Reserve by faculty and students from a number of institutions, including U.C. Berkeley and U.C. Davis, Humboldt State University, and the University of Utah, Logan.  A number of agency researchers have monitored the Angelo Reserve to check on the status of endangered species (spotted owls, marbled murrelets). Field scientists from the UCGS have sampled bacteria and physico-chemical properties of Elder Creek to establish baseline standards of purity for natural waters.” *

However, my fond memories have nothing to do with research conducted here, and everything to do with groups of students that Paul and I brought out here for the purpose of building class unity and teamwork with our multi-graded classes, back in the early nineties.  From Laytonville it is about a forty-minute bus ride out to the Nature Conservancy, and we used to work out a deal with the district bus drivers to take us out before the morning bus runs, so that we had a full day at the conservancy.

The year that stands out to me was one in which Paul and I (and Annie) went out to the conservancy the week before school opened, because we were preparing for sixth, seventh and eighth graders in the same classroom.  The first thing we noticed was that there were apple trees in full harvest mode, with several being loaded to the top with perfectly ripe and ready apples.  Because we were starting out in social studies with the early time period in United States history, and would be studying the Westward movement early on, we wanted to give the students the experience of investigating different ways to preserve food, without refrigeration.  Apple were right on target, as we canned them, made apple sauce and canned it, made apple butter and canned it and made fruit leather.  

We took kids to the river and calculated the rate of flow of the current; we hiked, we did journals, and we engaged the kids in team-building exercises, with the goal being to get them to think of their classmates as exactly that-classmates, as opposed to sixth, seventh and eighth graders.  

This was back in an era when the Laytonville Unified School District applied for, and received a grant for restructuring the schools in our district.  This was before George W. Bush’s inane attempt to inflict the STAR Testing on our state’s schools, an effort that has reduced education to a travesty of teaching to the test, and eliminating the Arts from the classroom. 

We were gratified to see our concentrated efforts at student equality pay off later on during the year, as the eighth graders were much more receptive to the views of the sixth graders inside the classroom, and less likely to give them grief outside the classroom.  There is no other place in our culture, where people are grouped by age level, and we wanted our students to blend together as equals, at least in the context of the middle school.  

I remember one of the hardest parts of the conservancy field trips was the fact that we had to walk from the point where the buses dropped us off, to the point where the apple trees and the “kitchen” where we processed the apples, were located.  But middle school kids need to be active, and we were able to get them to buy into the whole process by reminding them that we could be inside a classroom, waiting for a bell to ring, so that they could move to a different classroom.  There were no bells out at the conservancy.  

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A Neighborly Thing to Do

I am doing the A-Z challenge,  focusing on places or entities that can be found within Mendocino County.  I do not intend to imply that the subjects of my writing are the most significant, only that they have personal relevance to me.  Today’s letter is m for mailbox.

A Neighborly Thing to Do

Like Island Mountain, today’s subject is not one that people are accustomed to viewing, unless they live or drive regularly here on Bell Springs Road.  The first thing you need to know about Bell Springs Road is that it is in a remote part of the county.  Many people are either very uncomfortable driving in such desolate places, or they are petrified.  Annie’s Aunt Marie, when she was still alive, was frightened out of her mind at actually being in a vehicle driving up this dirt road.  

When I think back to 1974, when we first drove up from San Jose to see these parcels, I have no memory of the drive from the highway to here.  I just remember being with a real estate guy who had no clue where the individual parcels lay.  He could find the stakes, marking the parcels, right along Bell Springs Road, but that did no good when it came to traipsing around the property.  

Nowadays, when driving up from the highway, there are still very few actual homes or structures visible from Bell Springs Road-only gates, with roads heading back and away from the main artery.  A few have mailboxes, but most do not.  My folks originally built a structure only a hundred or so feet off Bell Springs, but then had a road put in to get down to their building site.  They do have a mailbox on Bell Springs because my mom always had this idea that she would some day get most of her mail delivered there.  It never happened.  Annie and I have never had a mailbox on the road.  We go to town to get our mail.

All that being said, there is this one mailbox, located not quite all the way up to Green Gate Road, which does have a mailbox, and I might add, one that is as unique as any I have ever seen.  Well, I don’t mean the box itself is all that different, but the fact that it is always decorated, is one the most neighborly things I have ever encountered.  

This driveway has not always been here; I remember when the road was put in and I remember trying to see if there was a house visible from Bell Springs Road-there is not.  But the astonishing thing is that for many years now, the mailbox changes with the time of the year.  For instance, right now it is decorated with green flowers-chrysanthemums maybe?  They appeared a week or so before St. Paddy’s Day.

At Christmas, the mailbox is done up in green and red, with a festive motif to acknowledge the time of the year.  At Halloween there are ghosts and goblins; around the Fourth of July it is done up in red white and blue.  The folks who own this parcel are as consistent as the sun rising and setting.  And there is no gate to speak of.  There may be a gate but I have never noticed it.  And I have certainly never seen it closed.

I firmly believe that the people who do this mailbox-decorating, are simply the most neighborly folks in the county.  The good-will that I feel emanating from this site is very powerful stuff.  I have never seen anyone doing the decorating, and to this day, I do not know these neighbors.  If I did, I would be very effusive in my appreciation for what they do, in brightening up my own spirits.

It may be a small thing, but it goes a long way to feeling a kinship with folks I have never, to my knowledge, met.  I keep saying that I am going to write them a thank-you note, but so far, I have not done it.  Wait a second-maybe I have.  I may just have to drop off a piece of correspondence to them, in that nicely decorated mailbox, a short essay about a neighborly thing to do.  

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Knock Yourself Out

I am doing the A-Z challenge,  focusing on places or entities that can be found within Mendocino County.  I do not intend to imply that the subjects of my writing are the most significant, only that they have personal relevance to me.  Today’s letter is L for Laytonville.

Knock Yourself Out

Laytonville, California (pop. 1,133) is the place I call “home,” even though I live a half-hour north of there.  I have to travel eleven miles up the 101 Corridor, and then an additional five miles up a dirt road, to get to my home.  However, mail service up on Bell Springs Road is limited to three-days-a-week from Garberville, and since I do not get to Garberville, in Humboldt County, all that often, I have chosen to have my mail delivered to a post office box in Laytonville.

The only town north of Laytonville, in Mendocino County, is Leggett, about twenty miles up the 101.  If you were leaving San Francisco, to drive straight through to Laytonville, it would take around three and a half hours.  There are no stoplights in Laytonvile, as there are in her sister  down the road a piece, Willits.

What is in Laytonville, besides a post office and a small school district?  Surprisingly enough, considering how tiny it is, Laytonville packs quite a punch.  To begin there is Pour Girl’s Coffee shop, my most frequent stop, now that I am traveling back and forth between Willits and Bell Springs.  I wrote about Pour Girl’s in my last A-Z challenge, in Latte, Reason to Smile.  Not only are their lattes top shelf, but they already know what I want, so it’s ready in the event that there is one or more car(s) in front of me.

Next there is La Casona del Cielo, a Mexican food restaurant that features authentic Mexican food-none of your gringo grub, thank you very much.  I have heard folks complain because they have to wait longer than they would at say, Taco Bell.  To them, all I can say is, “Taco Bell is right down the highway-knock yourself out.”  I guess I am just biased.  I remember when Mama Lopez used to bring sixty or seventy of her home-made tamales to the middle school when Eduardo and Julieta were there, and the kids just wolfed them down.  Now we get it all at La Casona del Cielo.

Then there is the Chevron station, or the ‘Ron as it’s known in my household.  All three of my sons worked for Phil and Louise, figuring out early on, that if you wanted something out of life, you had to work for it.  Annie used to go into town to pick them up at ten at night and bring them home, because I was long since asleep.  I never could figure out how she could do it, but do it she did.  Now, the ‘Ron is the hip and happening place for the kids to hit each night to see where the action is.

For the over-twenty-one crowd, there is always Boomer’s, an establishment I have only been in twice.  The first time was in 1991, when the superintendent of the Laytonville Unified School District handed out fifteen pink slips, informing us that we may or may not be back the next year.  (I was invited back and stayed for an additional fifteen years.) The second time I was there was a year ago, February, for the benefit concert for Jamal Andrews’ family.  It’s not that I have anything against Boomer’s!  I just don’t do bars.

If you need groceries, there's Geiger’s Long Valley Market.  It used to be right on the highway, low, frowsy, and crowded.  Now, with the old building torn down and a new structure big enough to rival any of the big chain grocery stores, Laytonville has charged into the twenty-first century.  I frequently stop in on my way back up the mountain because they’re friendly and it seems as though they have it all.

There’s the Fat Quail, (That will be the subject of my A-Z challenge, when I get to Q.) Weathertop Nursery, (just ask for K.B.) Foster’s, the two auto parts houses, the bank, another restaurant and plenty of other businesses that a small ‘Ville ought to have.  Not bad, considering you’d miss it altogether, if you happened to blink on your way through town.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Smiling All the Same

I am doing the A-Z challenge,  focusing on places or entities that can be found within Mendocino County.  I do not intend to imply that the subjects of my writing are the most significant, only that they have personal relevance to me.  Today’s letter is K for Kate Wolf Festival.

Smiling All the Same

The Kate Wolf Festival occurs annually at the Black Oak Ranch, five miles north of Laytonville, on the west side of the Highway.  This year it begins on June 27th and runs though June 30th.  The sign goes up along the 101 sometime in May and lists the main performers who are going to be there.  It truly is an amazing sight, if you are traveling through the region, anytime once the event has begun.

One moment you are tooling along through beautiful Northern California countryside, both sides of the highway dotted with oak, madrone, pine and fir trees; the next you are confronted with a vast canopy of vehicles, tents, and people, who gather each summer to enjoy music in an outdoor venue.  Sometime back in the nineties, the highway through the area was customized to include a left-turn-only lane, and an additional lane to the right to allow for through traffic.  Prior to that, each year, CalTrans did a temporary adjustment, adding yellow striping on the highway itself, so that traffic would not do a major bog-down.

Locals all know what’s up but passers through would face a challenge, of which they had no pre-knowledge.  Black Oak Ranch, which sponsors the festival, has always tried to work within the parameters of the system, to help pave the way for an efficient and organized event.  

I first got involved in festivals on the Black Oak Ranch when they did the annual Pig-Nic.  Similar in concept as the Kate Wolf Festival, the Pig-Nic featured musical artists for a three-day run each summer.  Included in the mix, naturally, were many vendors, who signed up months in advance to sell an assortment of food, beverages and goods.  In conjunction with a number of people in the Bell Springs area, Annie and I worked in a booth whose main food item was pizza bread.  Additionally, we might feature organic green salad, snow cones, coffee and various baked goods.

Our goal was originally to raise money for our little two-room elementary school up on the mountain.  Once local politics forced the little school to shut down, we continued doing the booth to raise money for scholarships, bestowed [mostly] upon mountain kids, who needed some financial assistance for academic endeavors.  Never being too focused on the monetary success of our booth, the most I can tell you is that one year we raised $5,000.00 over and above the cost of our outlay.  That will buy a lot of books, pencils and notebooks.

Of course, I will add that many of the kids were also involved in the booth, in a variety of ways.  I enjoyed working for a number of reasons.  The Pig-Nic took place while I was still teaching, and the events were always in August or very early in September, just as the new school year was gearing up for take-off.  Consequently I got to touch base with many of my upcoming year’s students.  They would always be surprised to see me at such a counter-cultural event, and that would set up a pleasant awareness that I was just possibly not your typical middle school teacher.

The booth worked well for me because I very much enjoyed the music, but did not enjoy being in the midst of a large crowd of people, so I could hear and see the performers, but had the security of the booth upon which to fall back.  I always worked the counter, partly because I can do figures in my head quickly, and partly because of my years of working at United Auto Stores, which was crowded and fast-paced.

I worked with a number of folks and got along well with everyone, with one exception.  There was a man who used to come over from the coast, that many of the mountain people knew from the past.  I always thought him rather loud and occasionally vulgar, but I gave him space and the benefit of the doubt.  That ended one very hot Sunday, though, when  he crossed my comfort zone in an intrusive way.  You see, one of the more enterprising of our group used to rig up an emitter system around the periphery of the booth, and when the temperature outside soared into the nineties and above, he would activate the fine water sprayers, so that folks who were of a mind, could stand in the vicinity and cool off.

Well, this is NorCal, and there was certainly an exuberance and free-spirit to be found.  On this particular occasion, there was a small group of young women who chose to doff their blouses and walk around topless, making me terribly uncomfortable.  I did not wish to have these young ladies in the vicinity of the booth in which I worked, because what school teacher needs any kind of unwanted publicity from concerned parents or even district administration?

Well, this man, whose name shall remain unmentioned, was very vocal about his approval of the whole thing, and when I made it clear that I did not share his approval, he called me on it, implying all sorts of nasty things.  I tolerated it for a very brief time before I came down on him like  the proverbial ton of bricks, informing him “that some of us worked and lived in this community, and that to take his line of reasoning was not only inappropriate, it was downright disgusting.”  There were enough folks in the booth nodding in approval to make him back off, and that was the end of it.

The Kate Wolf Festival has long since replaced the Pig-Nic, and I am no longer involved in any of the booths.  I haven’t attended in recent years, but am going to try very hard to get a one-day pass this year to see one of my all-time favorite artists, John Prine.  I was first turned on to John Prine, back in 1972, while overseas in South Korea.  “Illegal Smile” was the tune that first drew me to Mr. Prine, and I have been a fan ever since.

I no longer indulge in that which produces an illegal smile, but I still enjoy his music, smiling all the same.  

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Guess and by Golly

I am doing the A-Z challenge,  focusing on places or entities that can be found within Mendocino County.  I do not intend to imply that the subjects of my writing are the most significant, only that they have personal relevance to me.  Today’s letter is J for Book Juggler.

Guess and by Golly

The Book Juggler is a used book store right in the center of Willits.  I have been stopping in at the Book Juggler for as long as I have lived on the mountain because I am a book worm.  Though my interests have become much narrower, I still know that I can go into the Book Juggler, and find all of my favorite authors well-represented.

Interestingly enough, the Juggler has a program going where a person can bring in a box of used books for credit.  My mom has been trading her old used books for “new” used books for as long as I can remember.  They do not take all books, but if the authors are fairly mainstreamed, and if the books are in reasonably good shape, one need never pay for books-just barter them.

I will confess that in recent years I am more likely to have done my book shopping north, in Eureka, rather than south, in Willits, but that is because I think of browsing through book stores as a leisure activity, one to be savored, rather than as a task, such as shopping for groceries.  Annie and I go up to Eureka as often as we can get away, simply because we like to walk around, browsing in thrift stores, antique shops and used book stores.   Regardless, when I go to the Juggler, most of the time I can find any number of books by my favorite authors, and hope that  I have not already read them.

What I am more likely to look for is an author with whom I am unfamiliar.  Then if I like a book by him or her, I have a new wealth of books from which to choose.  So it is a “guess and by golly” sort of proposition.  I can usually tell pretty much right away, if there is something good to be had.  If I really like a book, then I will probably like its brothers and sisters; conversely, hate one book and forget the rest.  A couple of rare exceptions include Patricia Cornwell, whose protagonist is a medical examiner named Kay Scarpetta.  I read several of her books but eventually gave her up simply because the books were too graphic.

Jonathan and Faye Kellerman are two other authors whose work I have sampled and then bailed out on.  I read two or three of each’s works, but eventually decided that it required too much effort.  Otherwise, one book is usually enough to sort out the appealing from the non-appealing.

I saw an ad on-line recently, saying that the Book Juggler was looking for a full-time employee, and I thought to myself that I could probably get the books really cheaply then.   I dangled that idea around in my little pea-brain for a while, just long enough to decide that if I was going to work forty hours a week, most likely for minimum wage, that I was only going to earn the equivalent of what I could now make in two days.  Yes, I agree that I would not have such creaky knees if I was working in a bookstore, as I have today from climbing up and down the scaffolding, but that’s life in the country.

Besides, I can always start to trade in some of the hundreds of books I have accumulated for new used books, thereby saving the cost of purchasing, and I don’t have to work full-time to accomplish this. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

A Couple of Magpies

I am doing the A-Z challenge,  focusing on places or entities that can be found within Mendocino County.  I do not intend to imply that the subjects of my writing are the most significant, only that they have personal relevance to me.  Today’s letter is I for Island Mountain.

A Couple of Magpies

Unlike the Grace Hudson Museum or the Mendocino Headlands, Island Mountain is not a place where the casual traveler ends up.  From my home on Bell Springs Road, it takes two hours to get to “the Island," over dirt roads, if I am driving.  If Casey is driving, it is closer to ninety minutes, but that is another story entirely.

Specifically, what is up at Island Mountain?  The best response is to say that there is a very hardy breed of people, who inhabit this area.  If you want to know precisely where the Island is, and you have a map of California in front of you, find the exact spot where Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity Counties intersect, and you are within spitting distance of the site where we work.  There is an antique Ford van, long abandoned, which is just off the road, and marked with a large triangle, painted on its side.  There is an H in one corner, an M in the second corner, and a T in the third corner.  

I saw the fellow for whom we work last week, and he said there was still snow on the ground up at the Island.  Considering how mild this winter has been (driest in Mendocino County since 1923) it just goes to show that Island Mountain is a rugged sort of place.  It is located north-east of my home, but to get there, you must travel approximately forty-five minutes, pretty much due north, and then loop around to the right, and start back in the direction from which you just came.  There is a road that goes straight across to it, but the road traverses private property, and is protected by a locked gate.  Needless to say, locked gates are in ready supply as you make your way back to the Island.

The closest store is the one in Harris, which is another half-hour past the turn-off for Island Mountain, almost up as far as Garberville.  Ironically, the first time I ever went to Harris, was back around 1976, after we had purchased our twenty acres on Bell Springs Road, but before any structures had been built.  

We were returning from a camping trip which had seen us get as far north as Vancouver, in Old Paint, my ’62 VW bus, when Old Paint developed technical difficulties-serious to the point where it could not travel more than fifteen to twenty miles per hour, without the engine emitting a clanking noise that unmistakably shouted out, “crankshaft bearings wasted.”  

We were up in the Shasta area, and pulled in at Hayfork, sitting in the shadow of Mount Shasta.  I had a couple of ideas that I thought might buy us a little more time, and stopped in at an auto-parts house to see how extensive their supply of VW parts was.  The man behind the counter was truly clueless, to the point where I asked him if he minded if I came around the counter and looked through his catalogs myself.  “Help yourself,” he said, gratefully.  Though I found what I was looking for, and made the necessary repairs on the side of the road, it was not enough.

Looking at our map of California, we determined that we could make our way down the center of our great state, via dirt roads, all the way to Bell Springs.  Though there were no signs whatsoever, by continuously asking directions whenever we were lucky enough to encounter other folks, we managed to make the fourteen-hour journey and arrived at our property just as night fell.  I had known that my folks were up there (all the way from Los Angeles) and that they had their campsite set up, so we were greeted with open arms, a hot fire and dinner.  Pretty nice, considering this was before the era of cell phones and we had no way to communicate.  It was all part of the plan.

Now when I travel the road to Island Mountain, even though it takes as long as it does to get there, I think back to that first journey, and chuckle to myself.  There is minimal phone service while on the road, but once we get to the Island, we are so high up in the air (4,313 feet at its highest point) that the phone service is restored.  We even pick up great radio reception from Eureka.  The construction work we do is appreciated, and pays well, but we really have to want to be there; otherwise, the three-to-four hour, round-trip commute would put a real damper on our spirits.  
But Casey and I do not like to operate under a cloud, so we make the best of the commute, chattering away like a couple of magpies, as we contemplate the universe of a couple of working Joes.  It pays well and the hard work is greatly appreciated, so we continue to make the journey, as often as we can.  It’s all good, as Casey would say.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Be Sure and Bring Lunch

I am doing the A-Z challenge,  focusing on places or entities that can be found within Mendocino County.  I do not intend to imply that the subjects of my writing are the most significant, only that they have personal relevance to me.  Today’s letter is H for Mendocino Headlands.

Be Sure and Bring Lunch

I have become quite familiar with the Mendocino Headlands, using them as a base of operations a year ago, when I was routinely visiting with that nice Dr. Garratt, at his office in the town of Mendocino, right on the coast, about seven miles south of Fort Bragg.  From Bell Springs Road, it is close to two hours’ drive to Mendocino, but we always gave ourselves some extra time, to allow for road construction, and the inevitable lumbering Winnepiggos, that mosey along at their own pace, oblivious to the real world.  As a matter of fact, I date this time period as that point when I regained patience as a virtue, as a direct result of confronting these maxi-buses with grace and equanimity.

The town of Mendocino, itself, holds no attraction for Annie and me, being a touristy, expensive affair.  We did attempt a meal or two there, but found that unlike most of Mendocino County, this town naturally expected that we were made out of money, and that we had plenty to spare.  Well, that not being the case, we simply cruised through the town, to the shoreline, where we found, to our delight, the most beautiful coastline north of Big Sur.

Truly inspirational for a plethora of different reasons, I will start with the beauty and majesty of the Pacific Ocean.  As if that were not enough, the cliffs that run alongside, long ago crafted by the pounding surf, provide a craggy, aesthetic view, from any angle that you wish to choose. In addition to the cliffs, there is the vast array of plant life, verdant and rich in color, and the unlimited species of birds, my favorite of which were the pelicans.  The pelicans fly in formation, inches off the water, and every so often, they dip their prodigious beaks into the surf, to snag some unsuspecting fish from its home.  I always feel a momentary pang of remorse for the poor fishie, to find itself in the formidable pouch of the pelican, but that’s what the food chain is all about.

I used the time I spent at the headlands, preparing for the imminent session with my shrink, generally having a fair idea what was in store, and psyching myself up for the approaching session.  Dr. Garratt was big into Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, even though analysis was emphatically not what I sought.  I was interested in contending with a mood spectrum disorder, and though Jung and Freud may have held some answers, the questions I had were geared in a completely different direction.   

One of the most profoundly successful visits to the Headlands involved Annie and I making excellent time, so that we arrived with at least a half-hour to spare, so we settled in to watch the birds, and in this case, the people.  Within two minutes of our arrival, I witnessed a scene involving a couple, who were oblivious to our presence.  It inspired me to whip out my computer, and write a short story, that remains to this day, one of my favorites.  *

Without a doubt the Headlands remain fixed firmly in my memory, linked forever with the inside of Dr. Garratt’s office, and his attempts to get me to see the irrevocable connection between me and my father.  But it wasn’t my father who was experiencing technical difficulties-it was I, so I eventually decided that Dr. Garratt and I were not a fit.  

Ultimately, I hooked up with Dr. Mark in Ukiah, and have left the Headlands behind, at least until the next time I feel I need some inspiration.  When that occurs, I will pack up my binoculars and my computer, and head back over to the Headlands.  And, oh yeah, I will be sure to bring lunch.

* The story is “Out of Sight” and can be found on my blog, under May of 2012.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Grace Hudson Museum and Sun House

I am doing the A-Z challenge,  focusing on places or entities that can be found within Mendocino County.  I do not intend to imply that the subjects of my writing are the most significant, only that they have personal relevance to me.  Today’s letter is G  for Grace Hudson Museum, in Ukiah.

Grace Hudson Museum and Sun House

Grace Carpenter Hudson (1865-1937) was born in Potter Valley, California, the daughter of one of the first white women school teachers, educating Pomo children.   Grace’s mother was also a commercial portrait photographer, while her father was a skilled landscape photographer, who chronicled early Mendocino County frontier enterprises such as logging, shipping and railroading.  When she was fourteen years old, Grace was sent to study at the recently established San Francisco School of Design, an art school which emphasized painting from nature.

In 1885, after a brief one-year marriage to a man fifteen years her senior, Grace moved back with her parents.  In 1890, she married John Hudson, M.D. (1857-1935) who had moved from Tennessee, to serve as physician for the San Francisco and North Pacific Railroad.  The couple shared a keen interest in preserving and recording Native American culture.  Out of this interest was born the museum bearing her name.

The Grace Hudson Museum and Sun House in Ukiah is one of northern California’s cultural treasures.  Within this museum one finds the story of Grace and her anthropologist husband, John. The museum showcases Grace’s oil paintings of Pomo Indians and John’s collection of Pomo basketry.  The permanent exhibits outline the legacy of this family whose interests and talents involved them in notable historic events of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Changing exhibits in the museum’s main gallery focus on Western Art, California Indian cultures, the history of the West, and the works of contemporary regional artists.

Grace Hudson painted portraits of Pomo Indians with the intention that viewers should “know them as I know them, and before they vanish.”  She gained national recognition for her paintings by the time she was twenty-eight, and by the end of her life, she had created more than 650 paintings of Pomo people.  

The museum is a study of Grace and her family, of Grace’s personal and professional art works, and contains more than thirty thousand interrelated objects.  The museum also tells much of the story of the white settlement of Mendocino County.  Admittance to the museum costs four dollars per person or ten dollars per family.  The Sun House, a 1911 redwood Craftsman bungalow home, In which Grace and John lived, is situated immediately in front of the museum and is available for tours.

This cultural treasure of Mendocino County provides a terrific venue for one-day field trips from Laytonville.  There is a fairly significant Native population attending Laytonville schools, so this was an ideal way for kids to gain a better understanding and appreciation of Native cultures.  Laytonville is approximately an hour away from Ukiah, so a day-long trip allowed for a visit to the museum, plus lunch at the nearby park, with plenty of time to get back by the end of the day.

One of the best dates I ever had with Annie was spent at the Grace Hudson Museum.  We had the most enjoyable time, circulating throughout the museum, marveling at the oil and water paintings by various contemporaries of Grace and John, not to mention Grace’s paintings of the Pomo people.  Though I have seen Pomo baskets before, I have never had the opportunity to see them up close, and to be able to examine the intricate patterns.  And the sheer volume of baskets is amazing.

There are exhibits of common household objects such as combs, brushes, mirrors, utensils and a wealth of other items, all unique primarily because they are so old.  For residents of Mendocino County, and for visitors alike, this museum is a must-see.  When you finish touring the facility, you will feel as though you have revisited the Old West.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Fire on the Mountain (With apologies to The Marshall Tucker Band for borrowing their title)

I am doing the A-Z challenge,  focusing on places or entities that can be found within Mendocino County.  I do not intend to imply that the subjects of my writing are the most significant, only that they have personal relevance to me.  Today’s letter is F  for Fire, as in Cal Fire, Bell Springs Volunteer Fire Brigade, Laytonville Volunteer Fire Department and Willits Volunteer Fire Department.  (In the off-season my middle son is a captain in the Willits Volunteer Fire Department and my youngest son is a volunteer in the Laytonville Volunteer Fire Department.)

Fire on the Mountain
(With apologies to The Marshall Tucker Band for borrowing their title)

I find it ironic that in the winter I rely on fire, exclusively, to heat my home up on Bell Springs Road, whereas in the summer, I and my neighbors have an incredible fear of fire, that is fire in an incontrollable state.  We rely on a greater force to come to the rescue, in the event that a fire escapes its confines and goes on the rampage.  There is nothing I have encountered that makes my heart pound more frantically than the sight of flames and smoke that are obviously not contained.

Two summers ago, only two parcels over-that is, forty acres to the north-a fire began at a site where these men were conducting some sort of nefarious operation.  They used a generator and a water pump in various ways, to keep their scene happening; something went horribly wrong and these men ran for cover, leaving the site and driving away.  The first I heard about it was a water tanker flying around the immediate vicinity, seemingly passing over my house about every two minutes, not much higher than treetop level.

I raced out behind my place and through a break in the oak trees, I saw a wall of flames.  Smoke was billowing up and the whole conflagration was right there in front of me.  As Bell Springs Road proceeds along the ridge, eventually allowing a driver to reach Garborville to the north, the west side (our side) of the road is mostly heavily weeded, rolling hills, with lots of manzanita, scrub oaks and other types of vegetative growth.  The east side of Bell Springs Road is much more heavily populated with oak, fir and pine trees.

Over the years, my home has been endangered by out-of-control fires at least eight times, with the fires being as far away as a mile or more, to at least five being within a couple of hundred acres.  We must rely on outsiders to come to the rescue, or else run the risk of losing everything we own.  It is a scary proposition at best, and a catastrophic one at worst.

Out of this most recent fire that I mentioned above was born the Bell Springs Volunteer Fire Brigade, an attempt by the local residents, all of whom live on the mountain, or at least have property and homes on the mountain, to instigate a viable force to combat wildfires, that could possibly end up destroying the very fabric of our lives.  Though I would be more of a liability in a fire, than a help, I have three sons and Annie, who more than make up for me.  Two of my sons are Cal Fire studs, who go to work in early May, and do not get off until early November.  My third son is heavily involved in the Bell Springs Volunteer Fire Brigade, and Annie is the Administrative and Dispatch Office of the BSVFB.

Last summer my youngest son worked in the tower in Ukiah, dispatching those water tankers all over Mendocino County, and points beyond.  My middle son, after being part of the county’s Helitack force for three years, spent this past season driving the Helitender, the vehicle which carries fuel and support components for the county’s helicopter(s).   It’s a heck of a way to make a living, but it’s a service that allows Annie and me to sleep at night.  

Early last summer, some folks from out of the area, were visiting neighbors four or five parcels to the south of us, and unwittingly pulled their vehicle off the driveway, into some dry underbrush.  Ach-tung, Chucko!  Flame on Johnny!  It didn’t take long before the Bell Springs Volunteer Fire Brigade was called out, interrupting a Sunday afternoon baseball game/barbecue over at neighbor Rex’s place.  One second there was a high-spirited baseball game happening; the next second there was a cloud of dust hanging in the air.  By the time the Laytonville Volunteer Fire Department arrived on the scene, the BSVFB had the fire under control, preventing what could have been a much more frightening situation.  It’s called community action, and whatever does the trick is awesome.

I do not know if growing up on the mountain contributed to my sons’ desire to work for Cal Fire, but I sure know it means a lot to me and Annie.  

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Down Along the Eel

OK, I finished the A-Z  Challenge, so I am going to restart it.  This time, however, I am going to focus on places or entities that can be found within Mendocino County.  I do not intend to imply that the subjects of my writing are the most significant, only that they have personal relevance to me.  Today’s letter is E for Eel, as in Eel River.

Down Along the Eel

We took the boys up to the Eel River a lot when they were growing up, primarily because Annie had so much respect for the ocean, she was afraid to take them to the coast.  Because the Eel River flows for approximately two hundred miles, there were several places where we could go, for either day use, or to camp, including Standish Hickey State Park, located up close to the boundary line of Mendocino and Humboldt County.  It takes only a little over half-hour to get there, which is certainly a selling point when it comes to transporting three small boys. 

One of the most memorable of these occasions occurred one August, a couple of weeks before we all went back to school.  I say we all, because I used to teach in the school district that the boys attended.  Preparing for the start of the school year was a summer-long exercise, and this particular year my teaching partner, Paul, and I decided to take the kids with us up to Standish Hickey, in order to do some school year planning.

Paul and I team-taught for ten years, combining sixth, seventh and eighth grade students in the same class, and thus a great deal of time went into planning appropriate activities for a project-based, thematic classroom.  Thematic-based education simply meant that we would take a theme and utilize it across all subject areas.  If we were reading Steinbeck’s The Pearl, then we might be studying scorpions in science, and cultures native to Baja California in social studies, while writing a character analysis of Kino, the protagonist: Was Kino greedy, in trying to get the most for his “pearl of the world?”  Of course, there was no right or wrong answer; a student could take either point of view, as long as he/she justified his/her opinion.

One year we turned the octagonal science class into a bathysphere, and students were asked to make paper-mache reproductions of sea critters, from those found near the surface, to those found deep within the depths of the ocean.  We lined the overhanging sides of the classroom with black plastic, so that windows were created, into which were placed the student-produced sea animals.  In literature we were reading Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea."  

And, of course, each year we did a full-length Shakespeare production, rotating through three plays: Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night and Much Ado About Nothing.  I was-and remain-constantly amazed at the things we asked of our students.  Whoever played Romeo, or Beatrice/Benedick, or Viola/Malvolio had to learn more than two thousand lines of Shakespeare. And there was so much competition for the roles.  

Early on I devised a system of try-outs which involved a panel of judges, consisting of me, one or more adults not associated with the classes, and a student, in order to choose the person who would play each role.  With sixty students between Paul and me to choose from, it was never easy.

So in order to try and come up with a framework for the school year, Paul and I would spend time together in the summer, trying to configure the best schedule for everyone.  If we were doing Twelfth Night, and we wanted to show it at Christmas, then that meant we had to be going full-blast from the outset of the new school year.  That took planning. 

Thus we would combine a little camping, a little planning, and I seem to remember a bottle of Bombay Sapphire Gin being employed for creative purposes only, mind you.  The two of us and Annie would take the kids down to the water in the afternoon, and combine some work with some pleasure.  There were many swimming holes from which to choose, depending on the ages of the kids.  Whereas the ocean had those infernal rip-tides, which worried Annie so much, the Eel River was an infinitely more benign environment, in which the kids could cavort.

And it didn’t get much better than sitting around the campfire at night, again, mixing a little work with a little relaxation.  Teaching was always one of the hardest jobs I ever did, but at least there were some elements that made it all worthwhile, and relaxing alongside the Eel River was one of them.