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

Thursday, June 30, 2016

A Fence Within a Fence

A great success indeed
A Fence Within a Fence

The sheriff will be paying HappyDay Farms a visit-or two-this summer/fall, in order to ensure that our farm is in compliance with the new regulations for growing medicinal cannabis. I’m not sure how many times we will be entertaining the constabulary, but I am quite certain that I look forward to the experience(s) with a great deal of relish.

What’s not to like? Having been instrumental in establishing what the criteria is for growing clean, green medicine, Casey is clear on the concept. There is not one thing that had to change for us to prepare for the sheriff’s visit, except for the fence.

If using caps would place more emphasis on this barricade, then I would use caps; as it is, the fence stands out because it makes my backyard look like a stockade.

The need for this guard was established by the sheriff’s office, as a preventative against minors having access to the growing cannabis. The fence has to be at least six feet high, must extend down into the ground and must include locked gates. 

It matters not that my entire complex is already fenced in as protection against everything from deer to wild boars. Now I must put a fence within a fence to ensure that the kids who visit my home, do not have access to the cannabis out back.

I understand that this measure is one that is meant to help guarantee the safety of minors, and that it’s all a matter of choice: If I choose to jog out onto the diamond, I better be on my game. I choose to grow my medicine so I must build a barricade.

The problem is that I have spent the last 35 years creating a unique environment right outside my back door, one in which a fence would seem horribly out of place. After weaving a tapestry of vegetables, flowers and cannabis throughout the back “forty,” I could not envision a way to factor in a fence, without it creating the effect of a stockade. 
Where to unobtrusively install a fence...

Again, life is full of choices: Did I want my medicine or did I want my pristinely coiffed backyard?

Once that question was answered, the rest was easy. OK, easy is the wrong word. Maybe feasible is more like it. Easy would mean that when the fence was actually in place, I could smile and nod and note that it really didn’t matter, instead of fuming inside, despite the greatest of efforts on the part of the builder to minimize the damage.

It’s been several days now and I still find myself choosing the wrong route to get from point A to point B, due to an obstruction in my path, the obstruction being the stockade barrier.

On the other hand, the barriers to being able to grow my medicine, have been modified to the extent that I will no longer have to fear that “inspectors” will arrive by helicopter, with search warrants and a regimen of terror.

For that I am willing to pay a steep fee indeed, besides that which the government will surely take in the form of taxes.

I am even willing to allow a fence.

Monday, June 27, 2016

"Bad Sex"

"Bad Sex"

The post reads, “Two things I will not accept in life are bad sex and bullshit.”

Bullshit? I’m with you.

Bad sex? Bad sex. Hmmm. I’m trying real hard to get a handle on this, no pun intended, but it’s not working. “Bad sex” has to be the oxymoron of the century. I used to think it was “military intelligence,” but anyone who thinks sex can be bad, has never lived alone.

Now that’s bad sex.

I also have a confession of sorts to make: I have had sex-all of it good-with only one person since 1981 for the simple fact that I would not be able to have sex with another. Not good sex-not bad sex, simply no sex. Contrary to popular opinion, not all men are predatory wolves, lusting after anything in a skirt.

I speak for myself but assume I am in good company when I say that sex without emotional commitment would not be physically possible. OK. Back the truck up. It would be physically possible if a dude were willing to ingest Corporate ‘Merica’s answer to LDS (Limp Dick Syndrome), but that is grist for a different post.

I simply mean that there is a cause and effect thing going on here. Because I am emotionally committed to one person, I would be incapable of physical intimacy with another, unless I severed that original emotional bond first. How do I know? The same way I know that to jump out of an airplane without a parachute would be hazardous to my health.

When my partner and I got together in January of 1981, she laid down two rules with such matter-of-factness, that I never for one instant doubted her word. She said, “If you ever hit me or cheat on me, it is all over between us, without any second chance.”

I gazed at the most beautiful woman I had ever met and thought to myself, “Wow, you’re easy.”

She didn’t mind that I was a bearded, long-haired hippie clerk in an auto parts store, and a “professional student” at San Jose State University. She didn’t mind that I had no television and two cats, and she didn’t even freak out on our first date, when I had to have her pop the clutch on my ’62 VW Double Slug, as I pushed it. 
Ole Paint

On the other hand, she couldn’t help but notice and appreciate the fact that I had the foresight to point Ole Paint’s nose down an incline, to help the process along.

Sex is the part of a relationship which “helps the process along,” the process in this case being that of the business of living life. With three active sons, two highly complex jobs between the two of us and the plethora of challenges that come with this kind of lifestyle, there has to be benefits.

Who would sign up for it all, otherwise?

Woody Allen, that paragon of sexual virtue, said it best when he quipped, “I never met an orgasm I didn’t like.” I can hate the messenger without hating the message, and he is right.
Would you buy a used car from any one of these three?

When two people bind themselves together, no matter which gender(s) are involved, sex had better be the high point of that relationship, if it is to have any chance of success. Of course this is an opinion and there are bound to be examples of couples who place children, careers or other things higher on the list than sex.

And if that works, more power to these folks. It just never would work for me.

I suppose sex could be bad in the way that eating a hot fudge sundae could be bad…don’t you just hate those brain freezes from proceeding too fast?

Aside from that, sex is good-always. 

So until we get tired of the whole thing (“He got tired of the hole; she got tired of the thing…”), sex by definition cannot be bad.

Nether can hot fudge sundaes.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Road Signs of Life

Road Signs of Life

My fingers and heels have gorges and ravines that rival those of the Grand Canyon, and my knees snap, crackle and pop like a bowl of breakfast cereal, but still work just fine, thank you so much for inquiring.

I have worn out three pairs of sandals so far this year, because apparently they do not respond well to pitch-forking, but they’re cheap. And my backyard, known simply as the West-Forty, is planted to capacity with an array of flowers, herbs and vegetables.

These are all signs of great success.

I have caged 75 of my more-than-100 tomato plants, I have gotten the last of the up-planting done with the sixty pepper plants that went into the ground inside the greenhouse yesterday, and I have completed the set of nine rock steps I was building just outside my back door.

These are additional road-signs of life that indicate I am on the right track.

Now I am about to begin the monumental task of trellising the 25 cannabis plants we have growing in the back, a labor of genuine love that will consume me for the next two months. I am up for the challenge.

I cleaned the two outdoors refrigeration units, each a five-by-three-by-three feet chest-size, one a refrigerator and one a freezer, and Casey fired them up. They both run off of solar power and are essential for farm-use, and have been inactive over the winter because we did not have the CSA going.

Now I have ice cubes for my hat, even if the freezer does not keep ice cream firmly frozen. I’m not sure how it is that a freezer can change water into ice at a prodigiously quick rate, but can’t harden ice cream, even if given a three-day weekend to accomplish the chore.

It matters not, though, if I choose to make root beer floats, but the ice cubes for my hat are essential for eighties-plus heat.
Amber is back!

The big news on-farm is that Amber is back! After being in Ohio for much of the past three months, helping out her mom as she recovered from life-threatening illness, and relocating Robin to a new living arrangement, Amber has returned to rejoin us on-farm. 

We have missed her greatly but must also recognize that her absence is what pulled us tighter together as a community, than we have ever been before. With Casey laboring ceaselessly for appropriate cannabis regulation, and being off-farm far more than he would like, much of the burden of maintaining the farm-fires has fallen on the shoulders of Annie, Lito and me, and more recently, Robin.

We are doing pretty well as far as backups go. With the decision to vastly reduce staff from last summer, due to economic restrictions, there was some conjecture that we had taken on more than we could manage.

Oh, contraire!

With a little help from RoseMary a couple of days a week, and the newly-returned Angie for four-days-a-week this summer, we are in serious control.

It is a heady feeling. I have never had this much involvement with the day-to-day farm maintenance of anything other than cannabis and Annie’s little kitchen garden. The feeling of inclusion is a balmy salve indeed. Respect that is earned on the playing field, as it were, is infinitely more rewarding than that which is earned by right.

Even if I am not capable of accomplishing the deeds of a twenty-something person anymore, I can still do OK for an old dude. Besides, I don’t want to do too much.

Management might start expecting it of me on a regular basis.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016



If nothing else life is quirky.

Amidst the pain, joy, confusion, anger and self-doubt, is that which crops up every now and again and makes you think, “Whoa, that was random.”

The more extreme the random is, the more extreme the degree of quirkiness.

So now I behold my recent tech issues, combine them with a one chance in 26,575, and throw in a Holiday Season laced with turmoil because of the declining health of my mom, and we find the ultimate example of quirkiness.

First the tech: I recently replaced Terra Jean, my original MacBookPro, with Suzy Puente, and have been adjusting ever since. One idiosyncrasy is that I ended up with a different method of sending and receiving emails, one which indicated that I had close to 27,000 read/unread emails lurking about.

Did I care? I don’t know. Do they take up memory? I don’t know. Do I want to just dump them? I want to dump the face/book notifications but not the personal ones, like those from my sister JT. 

Of my eight sibs, JT is the only one with whom I carry on weekly correspondence. We are as close as the 360 days that separate us, indicates.

So in cogitating the matter, momentarily, I randomly opened one message from JT from Christmas-time, 2013, and perused its contents.

It was like getting gob-smacked in the face: Mama’s declining health, her need for full-time professional healthcare, the disagreement amongst siblings as to the best method to provide this care, all set two days before Christmas Day itself…it’s no wonder.

The email I had randomly selected (Freudian slip?) was lengthy, detailed and unemotional. It was like a detached summary and I will leave the contents unvisited except for the last sentence, “I even have a pretty gift for you which I cannot very well send…”

This time it was more like being face-punched. Pretty gift? For my sister who is 360 days younger than I? Maybe in a pretty box? Sitting amidst my Giants shrine? Ignored for a minute or two?

Uh, oh. Who turned on the sprinkler system? 

Got it. There isn’t one.

Much love, JT.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Week the Second

I LOVE to see the teams evenly balanced, in terms of gender.

Week the Second

“You gotta get lucky once in a while.” 

That is the caption beneath a photograph that I snapped during the first of two games at Harwood Park, Thursday evening, this one between the Bell Springs Bombers and the Revolution. A see-saw affair for most of the game, the Revolution fought their way to victory in the closing innings, putting a 19-11 win into the books.

I take my camera along when I go to the park because it allows me to orchestrate several instruments in my repertoire of right-brained activities. I like to write, I like to take photos and I enjoy combining the two together when I post on my blog.

I got lucky Thursday night because I snapped a pic of Lito, making a stellar catch on a ball hit to left-center field. This was a snag which showed the left-fielder outstretched to his fullest, the ball clearly ensnared by the ample webbing on his glove. His back was mostly turned to the camera, the double-s from “Great Success” visible, mute testimony to what we are seeing.

Not only was the catch a great success, the entire venue is also. Even though competing with the Warriors/Cavs game on television, there was a fine turnout to see a game between two of the league’s more entertaining teams.

Don’t get me wrong: All of the teams and all of the games are entertaining. With eight strong clubs in the league, Laytonville is experiencing a Renaissance of sorts, when it comes to the dawn of a new era, one in which The Oldtimers’ Game is not the only game in town.

Currently, the league format calls for a double-header every Tuesday and Thursday this summer, until each team has played all of the others twice. Then the playoffs begin. With so many teams from all geographic regions in the immediate area, it is hard to imagine that any cultural factions are being left out.

They are all present and accounted for, from the mountain folk to the townspeople; from the hippies to the rednecks; from those who Berned for Bernie to those who hanker for Hilary. I am certain that there were even those who will vote the Republican ticket and in this venue, that’s just fine with me. I am not here to talk politics.

I’m here to talk baseball.

You see, on the playing field everyone is working together. That’s the part I personally like the most. I also like that all of the teams have a comparable ratio of men and women competing. It’s no secret that Laytonville has always fielded excellent baseball teams, both men’s baseball and women’s softball.
There is unity of purpose on the diamond.

This season was particularly gratifying for the women, because of new coach Jennifer Davis, who returned to her alma mater to lead it to the league championship, in her first year. And it must be quite satisfying for Michael Braught, also, who volunteers his time to umpire.

I say it must be satisfying for Michael because so many of the players in the current league, played under his expert tutelage for so many years, when he coached men’s baseball at the high school. I must have snapped twenty pics of hitters in the batter’s box, with Michael’s visage in the background.

He has a smile plastered on his face in every one.
See what I mean about the smile?

I smiled too, when I caught sight of first, Rudy, and then Duck. These two guys had the misfortune of having me for language arts classes back in the day.

I know. Your worst nightmare. Your middle school language arts teacher.

Rudy had the charismatic personality of his pops, his sardonic humor always making me grin at his quick wit. And Duck? Simply the most athletic individual to have ever graced the middle school campus during my sixteen years’ tenure. 

I exaggerate not. He did not have the physical presence of say, Beagle, but his prowess on the playing field, particularly on the gridiron, was unsurpassed. His speed, his “soft” hands, able to snare any ball within Laytonville’s zip code range, and his frenzy to succeed, all stamped him as eminently watchable.

Nothing I saw in Thursday’s game made me alter my opinion one iota.
Mike has not lost a step.

I did not get a chance to say, “Hey!” but I did pause when I was walking past, while Mike was on the sidelines, and we made eye contact for a nano-second. I watched as recognition came over his face, and I saw the look that flitted across his face.

I saw the identical expression that I saw when he was in eighth grade, that same grin, the same mutual respect that we had always enjoyed, so very long ago. No words were necessary but volumes were spoken, nonetheless. I have all summer to catch up with him.

At least, as long as a few logistical details can be worked out, we will have all summer. These details involve those who volunteer their time to keep this show happening.

I was talking to Shannon, who has donated a fair chunk of her life, to help get the whole league off the ground. She still has to leave work early each Tuesday and Thursday, to help Miguel get the field ready. 
Much appreciation for the time and energy!

Shannon is hoping to get some help in this area, and figures that as the league gains in popularity and attendance, these things will fall into place. There are many of us who can no longer play, for any number of reasons, but who still want to see the whole program move forward. 

If you have the time/inclination, you might give her a call at the tire center, (984-8888), and let her know you would like to help keep adult baseball happening in Laytonville.

I must say, I like it when my community gathers together to celebrate life in its most eloquently simple form. To play ball together, to pull for one another, to laugh and groan together and to win or lose together, it’s all fun. 

More importantly, it is essential for any community to blend and meld together, especially in politically emotional times. Whether your political interests are focused on national elections, or local cannabis policy, there is much room for discussion and dialogue.

Polished mahogany tables are often the setting for these discussions, and that’s fine in its own right, but the most productive exchanges take place when everyone is situated on a level playing field. If everyone is functioning as equals in one area, some of that is bound to splash over into other areas.

Baby steps, you know, but they lead to success.

And speaking of success, I am finally able to give a two-thumbs-up to the Chief, after being somewhat ambivalent on the subject for quite some time. Being served stone-cold food the first time left me “ambivalent.” 

Even “being served” stretches the truth considerably, because I had to go in search of our order myself, after Annie and waited for an interminable period in the outdoor portion of the dining facility. I wondered vaguely at the time, just how long they would have left our order on that counter, had I not come to get it myself. 

I can’t honestly say if the burger and fries were tasty or not; I didn’t eat them. The place was crowded, noisy, unorganized and the thought of trying to rectify the situation was too overwhelming for me. No biggee, right?

So when Benny, Annie and I hit up the Chief, Thursday, prior to the baseball game, we sat indoors, and I let Annie order for me. She thought I should try the chicken strips, with ranch dressing, and an order of fries.

They were prepared promptly, they were piping hot and there was much camaraderie exchanged between Ben and the restaurant staff. Ben was most vocal in his appreciation of the culinary experience. 

Later, when Casey stopped in, the proprietor was overheard commenting to him, “Hey, your bro was in here earlier.” Long pause. “He’s a big ‘un, isn’t he?” 

I think Annie made his day when we got up to make our departure, and she said, “Well, you can expect regular O’Neill family meals together this summer, because everyone likes a great success.

There is a lot going on at Harwood Park, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Just ask Fawn...WATCH OUT FAWN!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

No Escape

No Escape

I’m going to a ballgame tonight! 

No, I’m not traveling down to San Francisco to hit up AT&T Park-the Giants are on their way to Tampa Bay to play the Rays. I am going down to Harwood Park to take in the adult baseball league, which features a double header every Tuesday and Thursday this summer, and concludes with a set of playoff games that rivals major league baseball.

My AT&T Park days are gone, over a long time ago. I can no longer convince myself that the discomfort of the experience, is worth the pleasure it provides. You see, I suffer from claustrophobia. Though many do not realize it, this anxiety issue goes beyond being trapped in confined spaces; it encompasses that feeling that comes over you, when you realize you cannot escape something.

Maybe you must attend a meeting in a small office, with a dozen coworkers. Possibly you hate tunnels, basements, cellars, subways, hotel rooms with windows that don’t open, airplanes, automatic car washes or having an MRI done. In extreme cases you might have commitment issues.

Or maybe you just can’t sit in the middle of the crowd at AT&T Park anymore, and take in a ballgame. It has always been a struggle for me, but with the right amount of cannabis, and various other enablers, I could make it through. I no longer even make the effort.
Style points...

I have loved the game of baseball since I was a young kid growing up in the San Gabriel Valley in SoCal. I played it every day in the summer, and listened to Vin Scully broadcast the Dodger games in the balmy summer nights.

I played it until I blew out my left knee in 1991, but now that I am 63, I no longer regret not being able to get out on the diamond anymore. It comes with the territory. I still love to watch the game, but not necessarily for the same reason that most watch it.

I am not a fan of the offense, so much as I appreciate good defense. Hitting the ball hard, while extremely challenging to do, is still not what really floats my boat. I want to see what happens on the other end of the action-I want to see where the ball ends up.

I used to be a defensive specialist; I could catch any fly ball hit within my vicinity, which was left field. I was fast and I have quick reflexes, a combination which gives an outfielder a leg up on many. Whereas hitting laser-beam line-drives is an impressive skill, being able to catch them is even more epic-to me.

Most importantly, you do not have to be a big kid to have a big glove. 

I don’t care what level of baseball I am watching, I am bound to see a few good plays. Of course there are occasionally balls that are bobbled and there are balls that are misplayed, but there is always some excellent glove work displayed, and that’s what I am willing to pay the big bucks to see.

I also enjoy a good rivalry, like the one between the Giants and the Dodgers, or between the Bell Springs Bombers and the Layton Villains. Last week Annie and I got to see the Bombers fall behind by a score of 7-1, in the third inning, before coming back to seize a 14-11 win.

Last season the Villains went undefeated and took the inaugural championship in our local league, back when there were only six teams. Now there are eight and they all hail from the area around the ‘Ville. 

I can attend the games and sit on the left side, without having to feel as though I am hemmed in by the masses. I can visit with friends, take a few pics, avoid a lot of traffic and see some good baseball, without having to put up with the pitfalls of AT&T Park.

I can’t see Buster Posey or Madison Bumgarner down in the ‘Ville, but then again, I don’t have to go down to AT&T Park to watch the Bombers and Villains play.

Great success, say I.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Walking a Tight Rope on a Slippery Slope

Walking a Tight Rope on a Slippery Slope

Applying the term addiction to me, as it relates to my use of cannabis, can be likened to walking a tight rope on a slippery slope. I have a mood spectrum disorder, for which I have been prescribed an assortment of Corporate ‘Merica’s answer(s) to all the problems a bipolar individual might encounter.

All I can say is that my original issues pale in comparison to those brought on by my “meds.”

Cannabis use allows me some hope of being able to contain the frenzy within my mind, that exuberance for life that has such an iron grip on me, that I cannot sleep more than five hours per night. It used to be no more than four hours, but physical labor has added an extra hour onto my nightly allotment. 
I grow my own medicine.

If you look up synonyms for “mania,” it gets downright ugly. Here are a few of my personal favorites: “craziness, dementia, lunacy, rage, delirium, derangement,” and of course, the coup de grace, “fetish.”

I prefer “frenzy” because that’s reasonably accurate. At least three mental tracks compete for my attention in my mind, most of my conscious existence. This is a phenomenon that I used to think was unique to me, until I conferred with others, and found it to be the same for them.

Music occupies one track, whether it is being funneled in through my headphones or originates in my brain; a flow of consciousness controls the second track and the third is what I simply refer to as my creative track. This third track operates exclusively from the right side of my brain.

I do my most creative work from one in the morning until six or seven. By the time you are sitting down to your first cup of coffee, I have been up for six or more hours. I ain’t proud but I ain’t skeered either.

The three tracks do not so much as compete for my attention, as they simply exist. That alone creates a fair amount of, well, frenzy. Not craziness, or lunacy and not derangement. I’m sorry; I wish I could be more helpful.

Where does the slippery slope come in? Unfortunately, some people still view cannabis as something only musicians and drug addicts do, and it’s OK for musicians because they are cool people. Otherwise, fergeddit, because cannabis is an illegal drug, despite the legal existence of 215 cards.

Everyone knows that if you need to rely on illegal drugs, then you’re not fit for society. I found that out the hard way when I almost got the rug pulled out from beneath my son Ben’s wedding, for the egregious act of not only smoking the devious demon, but making it available to other adults for the same purpose.

I knew the rules, I broke the rules and I had therefore earned consequences, even if my behavior was based on my need to control my social anxieties. Unfortunately, those in control of the facility, threatened to shut down the entire function until I met with them privately and pleaded my case.

It was a demeaning experience and I learned a valuable lesson: Don’t get caught in the future.

I could have relied on edibles; I could have gone out through the rain and sat in the truck (though probably not with 20 others); I could have stayed home. But I should not have jeopardized such an important event by doing something that was prohibited.

That’s the slippery slope. One man’s medication is another man’s object of disdain. “Different strokes for different folks” doesn’t quite cover all the territory here because there is just too wide of a chasm between those who fear it, and those who recognize cannabis as the gentle giant that it is.

Corporate America certainly fears this medicine, and has done so since the government systematically went about destroying its credibility with mainstreamed America back in the 1930’s. Hemp was the basis for so much of our country’s basic needs, that it had to be shunted aside in order to open up the door to a whole new world of synthetic fabrics and plastics, all of them far more lucrative than hemp.

And of course, perish the thought that the FDA should actually recognize this plant as beneficial, and catch up with the rest of the medical and real world. As a medicine for cancer, epilepsy and countless other maladies, cannabis is unparalleled.
I am not the only person who has chosen cannabis
over Corporate 'Merica, as the steady flow of exultant,
215-Card-carrying patients attested to Saturday, at Area 101.

As a money-maker, not so much. 

I grow my own medicine, and aside from basic organic amendments and a summerful of time, all it costs is the ‘boo and a few rolls of green plastic tape. Corporate America knows that it can’t charge ten thousand dollars per month for a cancer treatment that can be grown in the ground, as it does now for synthetic drugs, so it keeps up the “reefer madness” rhetoric.

I would say that it drives me nuts but “nuts” is a bit too close to “lunacy” and “craziness,” for comfort.

How about I just say that this artificially constructed prejudice against cannabis saddens me immensely, and I hope it ends some day soon?

Monday, June 13, 2016

Totally Useless but Highly Entertaining

Totally Useless but Highly Entertaining 

You know you just might be a dog lover if:

…dog kisses elicit an “Awwwwwww….” as opposed to an “Ughhhh.”

…you treat your dog as though he is your fourth son…or first grandson.

…you spend more time getting your dog ready for vacation, than you spend on yourself.

…you talk more to your dog than you do to those around you.

…you are willing to share your perfectly-barbecued ribeye steak with him.

…you worry about life after your dog goes to the big kennel in the sky.

…you share your blankets on those cold winter night.

…you agonize whether to take your dog along with you in the car for what might prove a long day, or leave him at home-by himself.

…folks look at you as though you were nuts because of how much you pamper your dog.

…you practice your Spanish on him and don’t mind that he does not respond accordingly.

…you routinely break the rule about feeding him tidbits from the table. You justify it because, well, chicken IS pretty healthy for him. (Additionally, you promise to slightly reduce his dinner that night…and then forget.)

…your dog gets the last of the ice cubes to rub over his hot fur when the temperature gets into the nineties.

…the cats are always second and third on the “Oh, Boy!” list, as far as meals are concerned.

…you dress to the hilt in all of your rain gear to take him out for a doody-walk, knowing your dog is going to refuse to step outside the door if there is so much as a mizzle in the air. (It is disconcerting to see how much enjoyment he derives at watching me dress.)

…you ache to take him to the Dog-Walk in Eureka, but you know his Alpha-Male personality makes it impossible. Considering he loves every single human who comes into his world, I guess it’s “normal” that he does not care much for his own kind.

…people wrinkle their noses at the questionable scent in the air as they enter your home, the odor you stopped being aware of years ago.
A dog and his dish

…you stopped fixating about dog hair on your pants…furniture…blankets…car seats…jackets…in your food…did I miss anything?

…your heartstrings tug when you see him stretched out, full-length, in the sun on the deck, snoring gently.

…you allow your dog anywhere in your vicinity on those hot summer nights.

…you worry about the heat to the extent that you continuously apply a sopping wet, cool cloth to his exterior every hour or so, to make sure he does not blow a gasket. Bulldogs are especially susceptible to heat.

…you accept the fact that your excursion in the car today with your dog, means that you will be spending a lot of quality time in said vehicle, as Annie runs the errands.

…it offends you to see a dog mistreated.

…you refuse to acknowledge the malodorous fragrance permeating the atmosphere, the one emanating forth from your gassy dog…

…when your dog’s outburst of barking annoys everyone else around you, and you’re not sure why. He’s just doing his job, right? Super well? With enthusiasm? Incessantly?

…you still want to buy him those big chewy rawhide bones, the ones the threaten to choke him, just because you know he would still get a great deal of enjoyment out of the experience…

…you can acknowledge that your dog is totally useless as a farm-dog, but that he is highly entertaining.

…the sound of your dog barfing in the middle of the night, is not worse than anything else on the planet.

…you can watch Emma the Elephant roll playfully over your newly-planted “hot crayon” zinnias, without so much as cringing. Besides, what would I possibly do? Emma thinks she is a chihuahua who is unfortunately-through no fault of her own-trapped in the body of a great dane…

…you are willing to make as many phone calls as necessary, to find a motel that will accept pets. (And then you are willing to pay the price.)

…you can’t go to a certain restaurant for lunch, because you could not park the truck where you could see it as you ate.

…you know all the places to scratch him that make him groan with enjoyment.

…you avoid specific venues on the Fourth of July because your dog wigs out when fireworks go off.

…you religiously check out Emily’s It’s-a-Dog’s World Posts, with special mention going to Maggie…

…you cringe at the sight of a dog running loose in hazardous conditions. You just can’t help them all.

…you want to grab the handiest brick and heave it [carefully] through the front windshield of a car with a dog inside-in the heat of the day.

…you patronize certain drive-through businesses because the employees reward your dog with a dog treat. 

…you develop an obsession for making sure your dog does not pick up any ticks. Nasty bits of business, ticks. “None socially redeeming qualities,” as Mike Krakow would say.

…you try every one of your hats on him, to see which has the cutest effect. Or a Buster Posey shirt.

…you have to stop and talk to every dog you meet.

…the dog you have not seen since December, six moths ago, fawns and writhes on the ground in delight to see you again.

…you try to duplicate his facial expressions right back at him.

…you occasionally confuse him by urging him too break the rules and jump up on the couch with you, especially if Buster Posey is at the plate and you need everything going for you.

…you would do anything on earth to make your dog more comfortable, when that is impossible.

…you can relate the names of every dog you have ever owned, in chronological order. The older you get, the more impressive this becomes.

…you recognize that dogs derive more pleasure from your happiness, than they do from their own.

…you do not want to stop listing the things that you love about your dog.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

"Growing Older but Not Up"

“Growing Older but Not Up” Jimmy Buffett

The question would appear to be, Is this a good thing?

I am getting on in years, as they euphemistically say, so if I am to conform to the norm, I guess I am supposed to adopt a sedentary lifestyle, curb my youthful impulses and retire to my rocking chair. Yes, that’s me all right, wool sweater stretched tightly around me, fuzzy stocking cap firmly in place, gray-muzzled Dozer nodding sleepily to my left, while I take in some pro golf on the tube.

I must admit that I am down for the count by eight o’clock most nights of my life, and I have not participated in a game of baseball since 1991, when I blew out my left knee, but when I take stock of myself in terms of the “norm,” all I can say is that I leave normal for those who are good at it. 

I’m not.

I have tried to be normal; honestly, I have. I taught school in the local school district for sixteen years, and would be there still had I not been driven out by standardized testing. Driven out? Hell, they sent an ambulance for me and strapped me to a gurney. I was a basket case. If not for Annie, I would be making baskets even as we speak, in the nearest padded cell available.
My life's "balancing beam"

I actually retired a full year earlier than I was eligible for, but had accrued more than a year’s worth of sick leave/personal-necessity days, so that I received a “normal” paycheck that last year for no work. I guess never once picking up the phone to inform Donna that I would not be in that day, paid off.

Actually, that’s not quite accurate. There was the time the big rig jack-knifed right out in front of the Black Oak Ranch, spewing its hazardous cargo out onto the highway. Short of backtracking to Highway One in Leggett, and going around to Branscomb Road (before it was paved), to make the run into Laytonville, we were stuck on the outside looking in.

I wasn’t willing to take the scenic route to school and back, so we bailed.

The second time was when Annie had prepared all of the food for the Science Fair judges, one fine spring, and we got hammered with one of those classic Gulf of Alaska storms that dumped more than two feet of fresh powder down on us in the fourteen hours between arriving home Thursday night and getting up Friday morning. The Trooper bottomed out on an open stretch of Bell Springs Road, its tires spinning useless because the snow was piled up so deeply underneath us that the tires could gain no traction. 
Mama's house, or the Big House

We made our way back to Mama Pauline's house, and the folks rolled out the red carpet. They provided the shelter, we provided the food and we all went out and built an igloo.

Oh, we ate well that weekend. 

Why was I a basket case? As an educator I felt betrayed by the System. In my second year of teaching, 1991, I participated in the writing of a grant for restructuring our educational system, and watched as our district not only received the $500,000 grant over five years’ time, but used it wisely.

First we purchased three mini-vans so as to be able to transport students to sporting events at a more economical rate than the bus provided. The idea was to get the students out of Laytonville as much as possible, so as to broaden their perspectives.

In that same vein we also went full-bore into the world of technology, acquiring a class set of computers and the money to pay for a computer lab tech specialist. We wanted our students to have the same capabilities as the kids from urban areas. 

Of course, the internet was still quite a ways off, but when it made its grand entrance, Laytonville was well-equipped to make the transition. This restructuring period was unique in my teaching career because we were forced by the terms of the grant, to work together as a district.

Elementary school teachers, from kindergarten through fifth grade, and middle school/high school teachers, all met together and broke off into small groups represented by all teaching levels, and got ‘er done. The high school AP English instructor may well have found himself hammering out future district policy, alongside the first grade teacher. 

We did team-building exercises and tried to break down barriers so as to make our school perform better for kids. And we took huge strides forward. Paul and I teamed together and spent a lot of time that first summer planning.
Paul and I had a clear view of our school year.

All teachers plan but Paul and I took our families over to Westport, and while they enjoyed some vacation time, we did some serious brain-storming. We put sixth, seventh and eighth graders in the same class, made literature the basis of our language arts program, and integrated what we were reading into all facets of the curriculum.

We developed a hands-on program, made our expectations crystal clear, and watched the students respond accordingly. We created an environment which tried to blur the distinction between eighth graders and sixth graders, asking them instead to regard each other as classmates.

We observed as the eighth graders formed a protective bond with their sixth grade compatriots, and kept an eye out for social injustices on the playground. We also watched as they worked together in the classroom, the eighth graders readily sharing their experience and their knowledge with sixth graders, and welcoming input from them as well.

Cross-age tutoring going on in front of our very eyes. 

We knew we had created something special when the first dance of the year rolled around. The DJ had the music blasting, the refreshments were abundant, and the students were all more or less lined up on either side of the multi-purpose room. 

Boys on one side, girls on the other. Weird, I know.

After an interminable fifteen or so minutes of this, a trio of determined individuals arose, and took over the show. I will never forget it.

Dancing out from the girls’ side of the MPR, were three sixth grade girls, Olisa W, Jacole G and Rachel M, and there was to be no denying their demand that the rest of the school join them. Paul and I just bust out laughing. We could not have wished for a better test of how well our program was working.

Back then we did standardized testing also, but it was just one way of assessing students, not the way to assess them. The STAR testing fiasco destroyed my willingness to go on. Required to meet in small venues with lots of people, for the purpose of learning to "teach to the test,"I simply melted down emotionally.

The No Child Left Behind is and was a joke, implemented by a joke of a President, who could not string two sentences together that made any sense, whatsoever. 

As educators we suffered. Our kids suffered. Our system suffered. I bailed out.

Now I have abandoned all pretext of normalcy. I am approaching 64 years of age, I spend twelve hours a day growing food and medicine for our community, and I have no prescription drugs I must ingest so I am lucky to be healthy.

If I will no longer wear shoes or socks, if the backs of my pants-legs are ripped and torn to shreds, and if I am seen rocking out to music at Reggae on the River, do not pay any heed to it. I mean, I like rocking chairs and all; some of my favorite people have rocked themselves to sleep in their comfortable nests.

Just not me, just not yet. And when I do, you can figure that though I am rocking in my chair, I am also rocking in my head.

Just not so’s you would notice it.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Heartland of America

Mark in full vacation mode

The Heartland of America

That would be me, sitting around the metal fire-ring, suffused in waves of heat emanating forth from the burning oak rounds, listening to the sounds of camp life, and watching the view. There is much to absorb, from the mesmerizing beauty of the sea itself, to the coastal mountains looming over us to the east, and on to the unceasing changes in climate.

I can already hear the chorus snidely observing in the background, that camping is merely ‘Merica’s way of saying that being homeless ain’t all that bad. We are willing to spend big $$’s to emulate a lifestyle that we otherwise, are more than happy to ignore.
I say “we” somewhat facetiously because aside from the entry fee, now twenty-five dollars per night, less two bucks for being old, and some grub, there isn’t any money involved. That would be in our ‘hood, not the next one over featuring motor homes, one of which approaches the size of Rhode Island.

To each his own. I can’t conceive of navigating California’s highways and byways in one of those behemoths, any more than the occupants of said monsters could envision themselves in Annie’s and my dome tent.
In our coastal palace there is room for our air mattress, Dozer’s bed on one side, our backpacks on the other and nothing else. It’s a good thing there are two suspended pouches for glasses and keys or we would be in a world of hurt.

I mean, other than the world of hurt that inevitably accompanies a camping excursion. If there is a way of rising from an air mattress, without the onslaught of a leg/foot cramp, especially when an urgent need already exists within you, I have not yet discovered it.

Annie and I are negotiating, even as I write. She would like me to check out the cool cots she found on-line; I have been designing a lightweight, redwood bed that goes together in a snap and comes apart equally efficiently.

We all know who will win this one… This would be a handy time to refer back to the above comment about big bucks, not that a cot can be compared to a Winnepiggo.

Gone are the days that I could leave for a week’s sojourn down to Baja with nothing more than the clothes on my back, having unfortunately forgotten my meticulously packed suitcase.

Did I say suitcase? Sorry, brown shopping bag, doubled. And what was inside were mostly books, decks of cards, candy and maybe a token shirt or two. Now, of course, I bring along a full array of clothing and still end up wearing the same carefully choreographed “outfit” the entire time I am camping. And that happens to be whatever it was I threw on the morning of our departure. 

What’s the attraction to camping? Speaking for Annie and me, the lure is the idea of nothing-mess, as in nothing to mess with our non-plans. No watering, no chickens, no market, no fuss and no stress. We bring a book or two, some magazines, a camera, some newspapers, some firewood and some camp food.

We barbecue organic chicken the first night, accompanied by the organic potato salad that Annie made in advance, and some foil pouches of piping hot fresh [organic] zucchini squash, the first picked this season. We do a Mexican fiesta the second night and eat sandwiches in the middle, all organic. 

And then we pig-out on chips and candy and Coca-Cola at all points in between. That’s the life.

We cater to the Doze because we enjoy pampering him, especially as he is getting back to full  strength now from his encounter with a truck and trailer. Leave it to Bowzer to not be satisfied with just taking on a pickup truck; no, he wanted the trailer too, it being one equipped with a dual axle.

I would not have expected anything less.

All is perfect with the world for the first hour we are there. The tent is up, the single air mattress is inflated and the sleeping bags are carefully arranged. Unfortunately, the second air mattress is missing the sealing cap so I have put it back into the truck.

Small Sigh. I hear Annie muttering under her breath, her language making a sailor’s seem like that of Shirley Temple as a child, in comparison. Something about having to chain down anything that you do not want to lend out to those-who-are-unclear-on-the-concept. We will cope by turning the one air mattress 90 degrees and letting my legs dangle off the side. Oh, Boy.

At five feet even, Annie does not have to worry about that. It will, however, lend itself to the ambience later on that night as I try to deal with the joys of trying to sleep in challenging conditions. The way I figure it is that I do not sleep at home; why should I expect it to be any different at the coast?

And then there is the Voice. Impossible to escape, it ranges far and above the general hubbub that is camp-life, and penetrates every nerve ending in both ears. It permeates the environment with its shrillness and makes fingernails on a chalkboard seem like Vivaldi’s Four Seasons by comparison.

The Voice is that of Authority. You can tell it is because no one ever questions it. No one has ever asked the Voice, “Have you ever listened to yourself?” Because if someone had done so, the answer would inevitably have been no.
The Voice belongs to a fairly young mom who has four kids and who uses her voice like a karate chop. The oldest is a boy that we put as going from eighth grade to high school. Then there was a seventh grade boy, a fifth grade girl and a second grade boy, as best as we could tell.

They seemed like nice kids as they played an ongoing game of frisbee. At one point as I napped inside our tent, an errant frisbee smote the side of the tent, awaking me and forcing out a yelp. I think the kids thought they bonked me but it just startled me. Kids will be kids.

But Mom could not seem to address any of the tribe, including the dad, in any other voice but that of a drill sergeant. 


“I ASKED WHO ATE THE CLUB CRACKERS? THEY WERE FOR THE ABALONE!” Apparently she saw something in the little guy’s face.

“DID YOU EAT THE CLUB CRACKERS?” she bellowed at him?

A nod. “Yes, I did.”


Apparently not.


A moot point, as it turned out, since Dad had been hitting the beer since ten that morning. The ‘rents returned late that afternoon, empty-handed.

“The ocean really beat me up,” Dad hollered out, as he staggered out of the passenger seat of the truck. You could tell the ocean really had beaten him up by the way he struggled to make it to his lounge chair by the fire-ring. No doubt about it. Quite a beating.

“WHOSE ON DISH DUTY?” A chorus of lesser voices broke out and the beat went on. “WHO WANTS DR. PEPPER? WHO TOOK THE PAPER PLATES? And the ever-popular, “KNOCK IT OFF BEFORE I CLOBBER YOU!”

Even Dozer was in awe, he-who-fears-nothing. He found refuge under the table.

I could handle the voice better than I could handle the country music. No offense intended. I realize I am in the minority here but I just can’t do it. It’s my Achilles heel. I apologize in advance. Normally I would reach for my headphones but there being no way to recharge electronic devices at the beach, my phone was turned off.

Instead, giving the other campsite the stink-eye the whole time, I sidled over to the edge of the cliff and…plunked myself down. For emphasis, instead of carrying my canvas camp chair, I dragged it behind me the whole way.

“See what you are forcing me to do?” my body language screamed out to them.

“Even though it was you who hit MY tent with the frisbee? I have to move away from the warm fire to avoid your music?”

Someone must have been on the receiving end of my message, because ten minutes later when I decided that bad music was better than cold wind, and slunk back to the campfire, the music had left the building.

I guess if that is the worst that it gets, then we are good to go. Besides, I had brought enough of the food of the gods to forget about any music anyway, had I had the presence of mind to remember it.

Chocolate. Dark chocolate. Dark chocolate with almonds. Iced cold. Enough chocolate. All is well with the cosmos. 

And then the sun set. I know that sounds anticlimactic, but it was extraordinary. I remembered the first time that I had really seen a sunset, in 1970 off the cliffs of Big Sur, and I relived it again.

This time I had a camera.

That was the apex of my 48 hours at the coast, sitting with Annie and enjoying the beauty that is so timeless. 

And that is just one of the many components to camping that makes it timeless. From my earliest memories of Papa slinging canvass over a rope stretched out between two poles stuck in the sand, to form our tent, and eating home-made turkey pot-pie, seasoned with sand…up to the present.

Timeless is as timeless does, and camping follows suit. With heart.

Hopefully the new cots will be as easy to put up as the dome tent.