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

Monday, December 23, 2013

Free Six-Pack, Anyone?

Free Six-Pack, Anyone?

Life is glorious!  I finally have time to write a quick piece, after being immersed in a new project for a week or so now, ever since I posted a little blurb on f/b about getting feedback on a half-dozen short pieces of fiction I had written in the past.  The response was very generous and I considered each and every comment carefully, as I sifted through what folks had to say.

First of all, why was I asking for feedback? I was instructed to do so as part of the process of finally getting something published in the form of an e-book.  This procedure for cyberspace publishing is fascinating to say the least, but daunting at the same time.  I have been marking time for a couple of years now, as stuck as Ella Fitzgerald’s Santa Clause in the chimney, not able to go forward, and certainly not wanting to fall by the publishing wayside.

So I asked for feedback as a way of beginning the works, and have begun the task of making changes.  I find the process to be enjoyable and fairly effortless, primarily because there is no timeframe.  Having the flexibility to go forward, without the pressure of a deadline for the whole project, is the best of all worlds.

Of course, I needed a conductor, and the time to set aside sufficient pecuniary measures to defray the cost of the first leg of the venture.  I am enthusiastically involved on face/book and have made many invaluable connections, one of them being Jack, who has “dabbled” in writing certainly from back in his middle school days, when he used to delight me with his humorous stories, sprinkling those fifteen spelling words throughout his essays.  I noted particular posts on f/b in the past which referred to specific works of his that Jack had published in cyberspace, and communicated with him over a year ago.

Jack told me about SmashWords, and showed me how to order the free do-it-yourself manual, which I did.  It was informative but when it came to the logistics of formatting work from my computer, to the language of cyberspace, the book required that I be more versed in technology than I am.  As I say to people, I am a self-taught computer person, which means I am totally hands-on, without the ability to speak computerese.  

My plan is to begin with a six-pack of stories, which I will offer for free, with the intention of repeating this step at least twice more.  By the time I have put three of these six-packs of stories out, then I would like to try an eighteen-pack, maybe for the nominal sum of $0.99.  After all, I have more than a hundred of these stories already written, with plenty more available from where those came.  

Having waited for this long already, I am content to allow the process to unfold at its own pace.  I am excited without being manic.  There’s a difference, you know, and I’m glad I have figured that out.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Vacancy at the Pine Street Motel

Vacancy at the Pine Street Motel

This business of maintaining two residences is still quite new to me, and not being one much for adventure, I am still considering all factors.  This does not prevent me from taking advantage of the best each has to offer.  We have lived full-time on this mountain for going on 32 years, and have managed to survive all of the harsh elements that have come our way.  This includes at least ten storms which dumped in excess of three feet of snow, storms which dumped rain on top of heavy snow, and then froze solid, and southwest blowers, dumping thirteen inches of rain-horizontally-in a weekend’s time.

When I think of the countless times I drove a vehicle up to the top our driveway, so as to park on Bell Springs Road, in preparation for potential snow, I marvel at the difference technology has made.  I can monitor the weather via the internet, and at least have a much better idea of both the snow level, and the quantity.  That was always the kicker: How much?  Our Trooper could easily make it out in less than three or four inches, without chaining up, but we could never be sure that we would not get dumped on.

I had a reputation to uphold down at the school district.  I only had to make that fatal phone call twice in sixteen years of teaching: I can’t make it in today.  Once was when a double oil tanker jack-knifed near the Hog Farm, closing the 101 for sixteen hours, and once was when we bottomed out in the deep snow, while packing all the food for the Science Fair judges, one fateful March day.  Sad for them-great success for those of us snowed in on the mountain.

Now we have taken a residence in the center of Willits.  Annie initially took this step when she was first diagnosed with cancer and had one kidney removed, along with a softball-sized tumor.  She had to be near Howard Hospital and she had to be near her healthcare provider.  Now it continues to serve this purpose, while also affording us the opportunity to escape the rigors of the ridge, using that aforementioned technology to keep us appraised of the weather outlook.

When this most recent example of extreme weather hit, we were cozily ensconced in our motel room in Eureka, with Dozer, and no specific agenda.  And when we left Eureka, it was to return to the residence in Willits, commonly referred to by us as the Pine Street Motel, where the water pipes do not freeze, even when the temperature sank to twelve degrees, and the heat comes magically out of a metal box in the living room, requiring no firewood.  What will they think of next?

There was no water at our spot on the mountain for ten days, first because the pipes were frozen, and second because we simply have not had enough precipitation this season to kick-start the springs.  No rain equates to reduced amounts of spring water, with which to run three households.  Normally at this time of year, the creeks are flowing, and we can simply turn on the front faucet and let it run for months at a time, thereby keeping water flowing through the entire system, preventing the pipes from freezing.  Not this year, yet.  We're still waiting for the new pond to fill up.

Additionally, at least two of the exterior on/off valves had been ruined by the freeze and had to be replaced.  By bailing out, it gave Casey and Lito the time necessary to get the parts and do the work, without the stress of knowing Annie and I were sitting around waiting for something to happen.  And no, my arm isn’t broken, but I am on the disabled list with some kind of lingering muscle tear across my shoulders, rendering me about as helpful as a one-armed man in a wheelbarrow race. 

So what’s not to like about this new arrangement?  I don’t know and I guess that bugs me.  I have a sneaking suspicion that I will get over it the very next time I see that a front from the Gulf of Alaska is heading our way.  Load up, Dozer!  There’s a vacancy at the Pine St. Motel.  Besides, I’ve been wanting to finish up that jig-saw puzzle I have going down there.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

My Friend, Mountain

My Friend, Mountain

The weather is all the rage these days, with historically cold temperatures and snow, and all that accompanies this nature-sent circus event.  You have only to drive on any public street/highway to gain entry into The Big Tent.  You’ll be reminded you’re there constantly by the antics of your fellow travelers.  Think of it as the main stage in a  Barnum and Bailey production.

The two predominant “acts” we see so regularly that it would seem that reruns are already in style, consist of speed-sters and impede-sters.  There are those who [remarkably] drive so fast they obviously feel impervious to icy road conditions, with or without four-or all-wheel drive. And there are those who not only agonize over their own safety by traveling at a crawl, but agonize over your safety and mine, because they will not pull over.

You’ve heard of David versus Goliath?  Think manic road rage meets grandpas out large.  Bubba is in his monster pickup with tires that are almost as high as the roofline of Grandpa Gus’s Oldsmobile.  Gus is already terrified to be driving in the first place, and is only doing so because he’s more terrified of Grandma Maudie’s driving.  She’s too inexperienced to even realize she should be seriously frightened.

So Gus is dashing along at twenty-five MPH and feeling pretty good about it, when the sun is blotted out behind him by a mud-spattered monstrosity that Gus at first mistakes for a Sherman tank.  His flashbacks to WWII cause him to temporarily close his eyes.  The act of closing his eyes freaks Maudie out so badly, she grabs the wheel and almost solves Bubba’s problem for him, the Olds fishtailing crazily for a full five seconds.

Fortunately for them both, Gus’s right leg cramps up, and in straightening it out spasmodically, has applied enough pressure to the accelerator to bring the Olds nicely back into a smooth rhythm.  Gus gets a kink in his neck from the extreme angle he has attained, grinning savagely at Maudie, as if to say, “Got us out that mess, Missy.”  In the rear-view mirror, the tank looms again.  Time passes.  Gus again glances over at Maudie, triumphantly.

As his eyes shift front again, it is just in time for Gus to witness a Winebago sliding neatly across all lanes, plowing through the snow, into his lane, coming head-on for his Cutlass.  No time to think-just to react.  Gus does the worst possible thing and slams on the brake.  In slow motion, the Olds does a complete 360, ending up facing the correct direction when the spin has stopped, only shifted into the center lane, which is no-man’s land.  The Olds sails past the motorhome in a blur, as Gus shakily nurses it back into the correct lane.  

He’s too wiped out to gloat at Maudie.  Behind him he can see that Bubba has ended up against the righthand bank, after plowing a path a block long.  Bubba, please meet my friend, Mountain.

I try to avoid driving in treacherous conditions, but if I’m forced to, I attempt to reach a happy medium between Gus and Bubba.  I keep distance between me and the guy in front of me, and I pull over for the bullies of the road world.  A bully is going to get his way and there’s nothing I can-or want-to do to stop him.  He’ll meet my friend Mountain some day, and find that there are bigger bullies on the block than he.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Pretty Scary Stuff

Pretty Scary Stuff
We ate breakfast this morning at The Chalet, an omelet house in Eureka, a ritual as etched in concrete as the names of the boys in the concrete floor of the generator house, which I built back in 1985.  The same gal-we’ll call her Chrissy-always waits on us, even when we come in as early as six o’clock.  

“Long time, no see,” she greeted us.  “Running from the cold?” 

“More like ambling," I responded, "since we came up before the worst of the cold arrived.  It began snowing on the mountain yesterday morning, and the pipes have been frozen since Tuesday.  We’re just here to escape the big chill.”

She poured coffee and handed us menus.  We did not need to look at them, but it was all part of the ritual.  I always order the vegetable omelet, this time without toast, while Annie gets the #2 special, also without toast.  I am conducting the most extraordinary experiment, trying to eliminate bread from my diet.  I’m not compulsive about it, but I am trying to see what life without sourdough bread is like.
What Annie thinks about first, when we contemplate The Chalet, is that this is the restaurant we were sitting in, when she was attacked by the tumor enveloping her kidney.  At the time we diagnosed her affliction as a kidney stone attack, which is bad enough; losing one of your kidneys, along with that pesky tumor, elevated the stakes to a much higher plateau.  The ensuing “drive” down to Willits was epic.

This morning, however, we were miles away from kidney attacks, as Chrissy returned to take our order.  After she wrote down the pertinent information, she asked, “So what kind of a farm does your son operate?”

Since the subject had not been raised this morning, it showed she has a pretty good memory, obviously returning to a topic we had bandied about at some earlier time.
“IIt’s an organic vegetable farm, with a CSA component,” said Annie.  “He and his partner Amber run it.”

I joined in with, “See, when we bought our property back in 1975, much of it was covered with manzanita trees.  Casey cleared two-three acres, and formed terraces, some by hand and some by hiring heavy equipment.  Now he grows in the same style as the ancient Incas.  He has around 25 customers a week, with as many as 55 in the summer.”
“Nice,” she said.  “I put a garden in this year, but I had a lot of trouble with bugs.  Aphids ate all my cauliflower.”  She went on.  “It’s just in this era of GMO’s, you want to do what you can.  I cooked up some corn the other night, and my husband ‘bout had a fit.  I wasn’t thinking.”

She bustled off to the kitchen.  I read some of the hype surrounding the football game tomorrow between the Niners and the Seahawks, a contest that featured two teams with no love lost between them.  As Dwight Clark said of the Seahawks, “They’re good players and they’re mean.  That’s a dangerous combination.”  I think the Seahawks have played the best ball this year, but I also know that the Niners have some key players back in the lineup, and there are still four games left in the regular season.  It ought to be an engaging affair.

Otherwise, weather reports and road closures were at the top of the news in the rest of the paper.  Apparently Annie and I were not the only ones who were impacted by the extreme conditions.

Returning in a timely manner with our plates, Chrissy placed them on the table and casually said with a bright smile, “I see the cops have come for you.”  The door had just opened and two of Eureka’s finest had just strolled in.

Without missing a beat, I replied, “It took them long enough.  Well, if they’ve got a warrant, I guess I've gotta go in.” (Sorry, Jerry.)

Later, after boxing up the leftovers for lunch, and leaving some loot on the table, along with an excellent tip, we strolled out the front door, under the baleful gaze of the aforementioned officers of the law.  They appeared mean.  If looks could murder, I was road-kill.

I delivered my most charming smile at them as I strolled out the door.  “You all have a real nice day.”  

Like the tundra outside, their faces remained frozen in place.  I guess maybe they thought I was a thug, or maybe they just recognize an old hippie when they see one, though I reckon it could have been the napkin I forgot to remove from the front of my shirt.  A bib does make for some pretty scary stuff.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Are You Trying To Make My Baby Cry?

Are You Trying To Make My Baby Cry?

Annie and I fled the mountain for the more temperate climate of Eureka yesterday.  The temperature on the ridge the past few nights has been hovering around twenty degrees, only warming up to the mid-thirties during the day, not even enough to unfreeze the pipes.  Though it is raining here in Eureka, we have managed to make our way to the mall, where the only snow we see has Santa in the same picture, and the temperature hovers around 72 degrees.
The “official” reason we are up here is because we are celebrating our thirty-first anniversary, an annual pilgrimage that we first started back around 1985.  North has always been the direction-of-choice for us, the pace down south in Santa Rosa being prohibitively fast for a couple of mountain folk.  Humboldt County over Sonoma County any day of the week, as far as the mellower pace of life is concerned.

Our itinerary rarely varies and includes Christmas shopping, strolling the streets of Old Town, and dining in our favorite restaurants.  It’s early enough in the Season that there are no crowds, and there’s the double bonus of avoiding the extreme weather conditions on the ridge.  We plan on having the big anniversary dinner at Seamus T. Bones tonight, but last night, because it is right next to our dive of a motel, we ate at Appleby’s.

Yes indeed, no holding back when it comes to classy eateries.  We originally set aside our misgivings about Appleby’s simply because of the convenience of being able to mosey right next door; plus, they have a bar.  It’s run by a gal named Kelsey, who asks her patrons their names once, and then remembers them.  Oh yeah, she serves a mean Jamie on ice.

So when we were escorted to our table by Garrett, who congratulated us on our anniversary, we were feeling downright comfortable.  We’d perused the menu while sipping our libations, Annie nursing her cabernet, I my Irish whiskey, so we had our entrees selected by the time Sally arrived to take our orders.  All was well in Paradise.

While luxuriating in the glow (regardless of whether induced by marital bliss or the alcohol) we watched a table for about a dozen people start to fill up, half with adults and the other half with kids, the oldest being probably five years old or so.  And no, they were not noisy or obstreperous in any form.  They were very well behaved, and we would not even have noticed them, except for the youngest child of all, a little blonde-haired boy, no more than eighteen or twenty months old.

This tiny tot was at the head of the table, a man to his right, around the corner of the table, and a woman similarly positioned to his left.  The two adults were engaged in deep conversation, one monopolized by the man.  His voice seemed to blend into the hum of the restaurant, becoming synonymous with the drone of the television.

The little guy started off complacently enough, but after five or ten minutes, began to fidget and fuss, seeking some attention.  Mom and Dad were oblivious.  The little tyke began squirming, and the volume went up a notch.  It was as though he were sending out signals, but the transmitter was not receiving.  Annie and I became gradually aware of his antics and turned our gazes in his direction.

He was just the cutest little guy and he really was not being a jerk-he just wanted someone to look at him, maybe get him a cracker or some juice, but no one was paying him any heed-except me and Annie.  When he became aware that we were sitting to one side, apparently more than happy to give him our undivided attention, he paused.  He looked at us; he looked away.  He looked back and repeated this series several times.  His face flitted through a series of expressions, from surprise, to puzzlement, and then rapidly through interest, amusement, uncertainty, delight and acceptance.  He was ominously quiet.

When his mom suddenly remembered that she had a child and turned to him, the little guy seemed startled and burst out wailing.  Simultaneously, she became aware of Annie’s and my existence, took in our beaming countenances, and asked us the most astonishing question, “Are you trying to make my baby cry?”


We were still chortling over the whole incident a few minutes later, as we got up to go.  Mom and Dad were once again engaged in their mesmerizing conversation.  As we passed the little guy, his arm slowly rose and he waved it once, before allowing it to once again settle down on his lap.

Good luck with that little dude.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

You Either Get Old or You Die: or The Pluses and Wishes of Aging

You Either Get Old or You Die:
The Pluses and Wishes of Aging

I have always enjoyed the pluses and wishes exercise and would like to apply it to the aging process, being qualified by virtue of being sixty-one years old/young, depending on how you view yourself.  At any given point, on any given day, I can feel very young one minute, and very old the next.  It’s kind of a mixed blessing.

I will begin with the biggest plus of all, the fact that I no longer have to be somewhere, at a given time, because I was so instructed.  If there is an itinerary, it is because I approved it.  When you’re a kid, with ample time and freedom on your hands, you do not have the life experience to compare it with the loss of that freedom that comes through job and family responsibilities.  I now revel in the idea that I can pursue that which appeals to me most, every single day, even if it involves 12-14 hours of sedentary work.  I get to make that choice.

I wish I could still walk up to the 7.25 mile marker on Bell Springs Road, (eighty minutes, roundtrip) instead of just to Blue Rock, a forty-five minute jaunt.

I love the fact that I no longer have to worry about hurting myself with a chainsaw; no one will allow me to pick up one anymore.  Another tragedy...

I wish the gray in my beard kept the same pace with that of the hair on my head, which seems to be on a slower track to gray.  I hate shaving so my graybeard gives me away.  I can shave ten years off my appearance by picking up my electric shaver.

I love the fact that I no longer am required to keep up with the twenty-something men, when we head out to construct, or out to gather wood.  Anything I do is viewed as gravy, especially if I am able to drive my truck to the site and manage not to hurt myself.

I wish I could still eat sourdough bread, which I have given up in an effort to curb my ever-burgeoning stomach.  I am trying to eliminate processed food from my diet, but some things are so much harder than others.

I love that I am able to see the accomplishments of my three sons, as they choose their varied paths among life’s many options.  All display characteristics of consummate community contributors.

I wish I could take advantage of available senior discounts; unfortunately, I forget to ask for them.

I love that I lived long enough to enjoy the modern technology which allows me to renew friendships and communicate with so many good friends.

I wish I could better figure this darn technology out, so that I could publish in cyber-space.

I love that my life has gradually allowed me to move farther and farther away from the complexities of urban life, to that of the country.  Life can be harsh in either environment, but the hardships endured on the mountain, often do not compare with the kinds of challenges that living amidst countless others, provides.  I’ll take three feet of snow over the smoggy Los Angeles air, any day of the week.

When all is said and done, I still like my old saying, “You either get old, or you die.”  Right now, I love the path I am on, and wish to continue, and that’s the bottom line.