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

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

X Number of Six-Packs

So you never use algebra in your life, huh? You’ve never in the course of your life’s journey, paused and reflected on how old you are, and then ruminated on just exactly how much time you still have left?
For me it would go like this: I’m 65 and my pops lived until he was 74. If I followed that course, I’d have (x) number of years left, or nine. If I made it until eighty, I’d have (x) number of years left, or fifteen. Algebra can be as simple or as complex as you want to make it.

Take your generic, serious beer drinker, who likes to keep a case of 24 cans of his favorite light beer on hand, just in case, so every time he heads up to the corner liquor store, he takes stock of what he still has. Down to only one six-pack? Guess that means you need (x) number of six-packs in order to total four. Hmmm. That’s a tough one. Sure glad I paid attention in school.

Algebra in action, hooking a beer-drinking brother up with the answer.

You’re heading from The ‘Ville to Ukiah to dine at In-N-Out, and you want to get there just as it opens. You allow (x) number of minutes for the drive, depending on how fast you drive, and you allow (y) number of minutes for the five-or more-times that you will have to stop for road construction. 

See, now your basic life algebra is getting more complex. We have (X) + (5y), and you didn’t even know it. Say you have to stop three times, and you cruise through twice. Shall we assign (z) value to the…

OK. Fine. Enough of life’s complexities on The 101. Besides, I do not want to have to start accounting for the possible 45-minute delays, foisted upon an unwary public, as Cal-Trans continues to hold travelers as hostages.

I cannot fathom how that is legal, to block both lanes, instead of having one-way traffic going at all times. It is highway kidnappery, nothing more and nothing less. 

[Editor’s note: Ahem.]

Back to your least favorite subject, and one you swore you never used in your daily life, so what was the point? How about insomnia? You have to get up at the absurdly early hour of 6:00, and you couldn’t get to bed until 11:00. Of course, just because you are desperate to get to sleep quickly, you can’t.

It takes an eternity before you allow curiosity to get the better of you, and you peek at your phone. Noooooooooo! It’s already midnight, and you are now down to-you guessed it!-(x) number of hours before that alarm goes off.

Now the pressure’s on, and it’s not long before you are doing your algebraic calculations in minutes. Isn’t this fun? Seconds? Expand your horizons and recognize that you do use algebra in your life, every day, in numerous ways. 

You just don’t have to do it on paper anymore, and turn it into the homework basket.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The UnHalloween

Never did there exist a holiday with less appeal to me as an adult than that of Halloween. As a kid, of course, I had no such reservations but somewhere along the line, I started to get uneasy at the thought of costumes in general, and costume parties altogether.

Were I to be situated in the middle of suburbia, I know I would enjoy the distribution of candy on Halloween night. I would be the guy who gave out the full-sized candy bars, even though I might have to borrow the loot to defray the cost of said candy bars, at today’s prices.

Candy bars are not a nickel apiece, or three for a dime anymore, as they were when my sister JT and I used to make the trek to SAV-ON Drugs Store, back in the sixties. We went to buy-I don’t exactly know what, except that we searched for the coveted soda pop bottles along the way, so as to be able to redeem them for three cents per. 

Not until I delved into the topic of my own anxiety issues, did I make the connection that the inability to know who was behind each mask, was the source of my problems with others wearing costumes. It is enough to break the deal. 

Social situations are challenging enough under the best of conditions for me, let alone having to figure out who it is I am talking to. As a kid, figuring out who was behind the mask, is what it’s all about, but as an adult, not so much. Adulting can be such a challenge!

As kids, our family stuck together, as we made the rounds in the ‘hood, the big boys being entrusted with the little ones’ safety. We knew where the “good” houses were, including the one where the nice lady preferred to throw a few pennies into each bag.

Like the three nickel-candy-bars for a dime, it was a sign of the times that those pennies held much attraction to me. Hey, it only took five of the little darlings to buy a bag of M&M’s, even if those were the pre-dark-chocolate days.

Regardless of how far our wanderings took us, or what time we rolled back into the house, all of us kids surrendered our bags of loot to Mama, who then spread it all out on the kitchen table. With all eyes glued to the action, she then proceeded to redistribute the mound of treasure. She included in this division a pile for Papa, who had his sweet tooth also, and a pile for all who remained, including the “little kids” and even Mama herself.

No one moaned and no one complained. It was the process and a small price to pay for what would then come our way, parent-sanctioned and all.
My teaching partner, Paul, who
loves Halloween.

When our boys were small, Gluten-Free Mama and I either ran them down to Grandma Beverly’s in Willits, and took them around the neighborhood, or we had a Halloween shindig up here on the mountain, and maybe, just maybe, we would get one or two adventurous mountain folk, to bring their kids by for candy.

These days there is always a party here on the mountain, a few of them even held right up at HeadSodBuster’s spot, a two-minute stroll up the driveway for me. I would retire at my usual 7:00 time, arise at eleven after four hours of sleep, and meander up to the party site, which would be in full swing.

It being the first thing in the morning for me, I was raring to go, and I never gave costumes a thought. I can’t help the way Gluten-Free Mama dresses me, anyway.

The weather is supposed to be good this year, unlike last year, when it rained. There was a big tent set up at the Rusty Shovel, and a bonfire, so the rain was only as much of a factor as you wanted to make of it. HeadSodBuster didn’t seem to mind it. 

He was regaling us with a story just the other day, that made me chuckle. “There I was in my spaceman suit, lying out in the rain, just a-smilin’ away. ‘Hey, come in out of the rain,’ folks said. And, hey, eventually, I did.” 

I recognize that I am in the minority, when it comes to Halloween, so I usually keep my jaws from flapping excessively on the topic. Occasionally, such as this morning, I let my fingers make a statement, but I wear gloves when I do so, in keeping with the occasion.

Who are those masked fingers, anyway?
With a get-up like this,
who needs a costume?

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Art of Making Catsup or Give 'er a Stir

“Have you ever thought about doing canning classes?”

The question was posed to me by my friend, Ashley, the other day on my post about processing catsup, the one made with smoked paprika. I must admit, the question is intriguing because like Tom Sawyer, I know a good thing when I encounter it.
Do as I say, not as I do...
Suppose I had six interested pupils, and a hundred pounds of tomatoes I needed to have harvested. You mean, instead of having to painfully pick the tomatoes myself, my back aching with every stoop and squat, I’d have enthusiastic volunteers harvesting the tomatoes for me? 

Instead of having to examine, wash, and prepare the hundred pounds of goodness by myself, I’d have six pairs of hands to do this for me?

Instead of gathering, examining and washing the approximate number of appropriate jars for canning, I’d have it done for me?

I think you see where I’m going with this.

“It looks like fun. I wish I knew how to do stuff like this.”
The tomatoes are small and low to the ground,
and there are so many...

That was Ashley’s parting comment the other day, following mine: “It is a relaxing and enjoyable way to make use of the garden.”

Having been harvesting and canning tomatoes since 1974, I do indeed find this to be one of the most rewarding of summer experiences. The hard work is balanced by a continuous reward system, one which allows me to experience summer repeated, all year long, including-and especially-through the dead of winter.

To be able to reach into the pantry and snag a quart of cold-packed tomatoes, a pint of marinara sauce, a half-pint of pizza sauce, or a pint of catsup, “regular” or smoked paprika, is the height of luxury, the dividends paying off handsomely.

And if you believe the catsup is "regular," then I have this bridge you may very well be interested in.

These canned goods are available to everyone on-farm. I make it clear that the ongoing goal is to finish it all before the next year’s tomatoes are ready for harvest. It’s nice to have goals and objectives in your life. 

My objective right now, is to make some baked sweet potato fries, under the direction of Gluten-Free Mama, so that I can dip them in the newly created smoked paprika catsup.

Directions for making catsup, recipes:
The most recent batch, flavored with
smoked paprika.

I use the recipe that Gluten-Free Mama created, and I am not interested in losing any digits this morning, so I will tell you in advance that I cannot share that recipe. Not today, not on my deathbed, which I am trying to delay, even as I write.

That being said, I googled “homemade catsup recipes” and was able to find them without any problem. That right there tells you something significant: If I can access this information, a chimpanzee could also. It is that simple.

So I will tell you how to make the catsup, and you supply the recipe of your choice.


I use the Heinz variety because it is a paste tomato. I have tried using Ace tomatoes, a conventionally juicy tomato, but it means having to cook them down for double the length of time that it takes with a paste tomato. I have had mixed results, from delicious to atrocious. Any paste variety will do fine. 

These are diffusers.

It is hard to keep from scorching the tomatoes if they are on the oven-top for as long as 48 hours, and you are not as experienced as you might be. Also, the length of time does seem to affect the taste, but if you don’t cook them this long, then your catsup is too watery.

So I start by using diffusers, devices which sit on the burner(s), and help to prevent the burner in a gas stove from providing too much flame on the bottom of a sauce-pot. This lessons the possibility of scorching the batch. No matter how big or small the scorch, the entire batch has just become chicken feed. 

I have also processed catsup without diffusers, by being ultra-cautious, but this does require a high degree of patience. Additionally, if you are using an electric stove, I do not know if the diffusers work the same.

Preparing the tomatoes:

I wash the tomatoes, remove the external vine, and cut them small enough to fit into the mouth of the strainer, which will cull out the skins and seeds, and anything else that will not go through the tiny holes of the strainer. I do not remove the core because it will not pass through the tiny holes of the strainer.
This is the strainer, before it is assembled.

What emerges is silky smooth tomato sauce, which I transfer into a large saucepan on the stove-top. The pans I use cover two full burners, they are that huge, so I use two diffusers. Again, you can do this without the diffusers, but you need to constantly stir it, and you need to keep the burner below medium, even, it is that easy to scorch the base. You will probably be using a smaller saucepan.

If I start with six gallons of sauce, it takes from 20 to 24 hours to cook it down, the house imbued with the vinegary fragrance of fresh catsup being made. However, no matter how much you start with, your time will vary, so you just monitor it until you get to the consistency that suits your fancy. When you go to bed, leave the burner on at simmer, and if you get up in the middle of the night, give ‘er a stir.

Adding the spices:

Once I have finished straining the tomatoes, and they are on-pace to come to a rolling boil, I put in the ingredients that will transform the concoction into catsup. I use a cheesecloth bag to put the spices in that are not already powder. Such spices might include cinnamon sticks, allspice berries, or other spices that can be used in dried form. Some recipes do not call for anything other than spices in their powdered form, so you can avoid the cheesecloth approach to life.

A 12-quart pan of tomato sauce might require as much as two quarts of organic apple vinegar, so that’s a lot of moisture to add to the pot, that must now evaporate before your catsup hits the right consistency.

Preparing the jars: 

Add caption
You cannot mess around with mayonnaise jars, or other jars which allow the seals to be used. You have to use jars that are made specifically for canning, such as Mason or Ball, and you have to use new seals. If you buy the jars brand new, then you do not need to wash them before filling them with tomatoes. All research agrees, that if you are water-bathing your tomatoes for more than ten minutes (which you are), then your jars will be sterilized by that process.

You do not have to sterilize the seals and rings either, but you do need to heat the seals up so that they are warm, so you stop before the water boils and let it sit. I use a kitchen magnet to remove the seals and rings from the hot water.

If you are reusing jars, examine them closely for cracks, chips or anything that varies from the norm. Run your finger around the rim to make sure it is perfectly smooth. If there is any compromise, recycle the jar.

When filling your jars, do not fill them to the top. Leave a half-inch of airspace for good measure.

Up here on the mountain, my time for processing in a water bath is longer than for those who live at lower elevations. Again, simply google the time for your location. I must add five minutes to the 35 minutes I process pints of tomato catsup, in order to ensure that it is properly processed.

The sources I googled did not recommend a pressure cooker for catsup, though I did use one when I canned quarts of uncooked tomatoes, earlier this summer. The water bath method is one in which you cover the jars with water, adding another inch of water on top of that, and bring the whole thing to a full boil, before starting to tick off the required length of time.

Once the time is up, and you turn off the burner, you can either let the whole thing cool off, or you can carefully unload it, if you are making more than one batch.

And that’s it, except to remember to label what you are canning, not only for others’ sake, but your own, if your memory is anything like mine: That would one which resembled the aforementioned strainer, the one with all the holes. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

High Expectations

I ransacked my extensive collection of jigsaw puzzles recently, it being near enough to that time of year, and found the perfect one to kick off the season. The last time I assembled this particular puzzle was 2009, and I had the wherewithal to insert a little note indicating that all 1,500 pieces were present and accounted for.

The note also included the information that the reason the puzzle box was taped up with Gorilla Tape, was due to Dozer the dog having a bit of a lark. I can smile now because enough time has gone by, but I also smile because this Holiday season promises to be a different one for us here on the mountain, and not just because the Doze will not be with us.

Who will be with us for the first time in the history of the universe, is BossLady, who traditionally goes back East for the Holidays. Not only will she be here but her mama will be here too. Without amping expectations up to elevated heights, I foresee this Holiday season being a gentle, low-key affair, with emphasis on warm and fuzzy and not bright lights and glitz.

Farm folk don’t do glitz that well. 

One reason I like puzzles is because they are a community event. Pull up a chair, lean forward, and who is to know whether you are a champion puzzle worker, or simply someone who wants to be part of the scene? It is all one and the same. That’s why jigsaw puzzles have always been a part of this season for me. I have a wide array of choices, and among them are a couple dozen with wintry, seasonal themes. The more pieces, the more fun.

Last year Gluten-Free Mama and I broke tradition, and bought a Christmas tree from Spare Change, down in Willits, instead of going up Bell Springs Road, to where there are vast quantities and you bring your own bow saw.
A little too perfect for a
Bell Springs Road production...

We spent a fair amount of time decorating the place with branches of fir, photographs and moments from years past. Many of these include tree ornaments given to me by students. Not a year goes by that I do not pause to reflect upon those small tokens of students’ appreciation.

On the one hand I might have thought they considered me their worst nightmare. On the other, there was always a a half-dozen wrapped packages on my desk the day Christmas break began, many of them Holiday baked treats, some of them actually containing chocolate.

A few years back, I got seriously disenchanted with the Holidays, because they never could seem to match up to my expectations. Then I changed my strategy, eliminated the concept of expectations and had a much better time of it.

There is nothing especially glamorous about working jigsaw puzzles, listening to Holiday music and enjoying one another’s company. There is to be no swinging from chandeliers, and no dancing on table tops, so we can toss grandiose expectations aside.

A few good meals, maybe a throw-back game of poker somewhere in there and tamales for sure, if I know SmallBoy. If it snows, there will be a little more ambience, but it’s not necessary.

No, I prefer “high” expectations to “grandiose” expectations, any day of the week, and especially on Christmas Day, and I am reasonably certain that I will not be disappointed.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Pay As You Exit

In this carnival called life, there are attractions that allow you to sample the goods for free, and pay as you exit the ride. Such is the defining moment of owning a pet. By owning I do not mean whose name is on the tags, but rather, whose heart is imprinted on the mind of your pet.

Every single dog lover on the planet, over the age of 14 or so, has had to suffer the pangs of that final separation. Says so in the manual-you can’t have one without the other. The more intense the friendship between human and dog, the more intense the separation.

We knew Dozer was past his seven-year shelf life, approaching his tenth birthday, and we knew that he had an enlarged heart. His panting in the middle of the night, his inverted sneezing and his throat-clearing “barks,” as raspy as any fox I have ever heard, were all indications that there was trouble in the attic.
The Doze

Our vet had been keeping us informed on what to expect for some time now, but honestly, when we ran the Doze down to Willits eight days ago, I was still only thinking that we would up the ante, and hook a brother up with some better drugs, and he would be good to go for another spell.

Why were we running him down to Willits? He had been having some “doody” issues, and when I followed him outside last Wednesday morning, the issues had not abated. Furthermore, as he headed back to the house, he was lurching in a most un-bulldog manner, alarming me that something was not right.

If it’s not right, then it must be wrong, but never could it have been more wrong than what the X-rays presented to us, when we looked at the images of Dozer’s heart and lungs. I’m no vet but it all looked bad and it was. Always big-hearted, Dozer’s heart was now almost double its original size.

Logistics aside, Dozer never returned to his mountain, except for his ashes, which will be placed in an appropriate spot. I say he never returned, but the reality is that he never left. He is in our minds and our hearts and he will never leave.

I’m not going to bore you with tales of woe and grief-not while folks all around us lost not only pets, but everything they owned. Besides, exactly how much empathy should one old fart expect, when the reality is that the dog was old, he was in poor health and he had to be released.

I would not have allowed the old boy to remain alive for my enjoyment even one minute longer, if he were really in distress. Dr. Jacobs could only assure us that he was in distress.
“I can make him ‘comfortable’ for a couple of weeks, but that’s it,” Dr. Jacobs said, but we were having none of it. I was not about to bring my cherished dog home, only to see him suffer side effects from the drugs, while I followed him around, trying not to weep.

[Editor’s note: Ahem.]


Moving along, The thing I am trying to say is that it was worth every iota of pain I am feeling right now. Everything that makes me weepy in this moment, is the stuff that will make me smile for as long as I live. Why it makes me sad now is obvious. 

I am paying that price of admission, as I exit the ride but it was worth every nickel, and I will be gladly paying it for a long time to come.

At least as long as it takes for Gluten-Free Mama and I to hook up with Maggie; my guess is that there are hundreds of dogs who were displaced from the fires, looking for a good home.

We have an OK home, right now, but another dog would make it a good one. 

Dozer, Bowzer, Boo-Boo, Fat-Chaw, Biggie Fats, Biggie, Fatty, or just plain old Double D for Dozer Dawg. I miss you but I would do it again in a nano-second. 

Much love.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

A Snort of Good Bourbon

Mine is a simple existence: I get up early, I work all day and I retire to bed while the sun is still shining, at least in the summer time. I do not clock in, I have no boss and I am on-salary, which means I get paid the same each month, whether I spend my time pitch-forking soil, manicuring cannabis or processing tomatoes.
Processing marinara sauce
I work until I can work no longer; sometimes that is at five in the afternoon, and sometimes it is at noon. No one is keeping track and no one especially cares. I spent somewhere in the neighborhood of forty hours building SmallBoy’s power shed recently, spread out over three weeks.

I spent probably the same length of time processing four different kinds of after-market tomato products. Of the two jobs, surprisingly, processing tomatoes is the harder, physically, because of discomfort that sets in whenever I work at the kitchen counter.

In either case it’s all part of the master plan. For someone who professes to live in the moment, I did a good job of looking towards the future, when I first got out of the army at age 21, when I pursued the goal of obtaining a parcel of land.

I had a dream back then, one which saw me getting out of the Los Angeles Basin, and up to Northern California. My dream was not one which took place while I was asleep, but slowly grew and took form as I corresponded with various siblings about a shared vision, from 7,000 miles away.

We saw ourselves acquiring land after migrating up north, once we had finished school. I was attending San Jose State University, after relocating to San Jose to help facilitate the search, while investigating available tracts of land all over NorCal.

I recall one such venture, when I and a couple of my brothers, with their respective significant others, responded to an ad for a ten-acre parcel somewhere in Marin County. It was autumn, the ground was parched and we had to pass through three different locked gates to get to the prospective piece.

This tract of land was uninspiring, being not only dry, but rocky as well. Everywhere we walked, there were areas covered with outcroppings of rocks pushing their way up from the depths below. There were oak trees scattered sparsely, but not much in the way of vegetation. 

Nancy, a science major at San Jose State, was bothered by the telltale green streaks in the soil she kept seeing. “Serpentine soil,” was her assessment, a term I had never heard before, but one which would bode ill for growing gardens, at any point down the line.
Serpentine soil

As we drove out of the maze, following the real estate agent who had escorted us to the site, we conferred briefly, agreeing unanimously that we had not found that which we were seeking. As I remember, we continued our search that same day, circling around to East Bay, where we checked out one more piece of land, before returning home.

Though not discouraged, we also recognized that we needed to expand our horizons, which included a trip up to Brook Trails, in Willits, to look over a ridiculous piece, which went straight down one steep hillside, and back up the other side.

Clearly dismayed, we surveyed the impossible terrain and inquired, “Exactly where are we supposed to build a house?”

The real estate agent looked at us and said with a perfectly straight face, “You know, they’re doing a lot of stuff with pole-construction.”

This time we did not try to hide our disappointment. “We’re talking about building homes here, growing our own food and raising kids. Where are you coming from?”

It was not until years down the line that we understood where the dude was coming from: He thought we were looking for land to grow cannabis on. From that vantage point, he may very well have been accurate.

As fate would have it, we were only minutes away from a San Francisco Chronicle ad, which told of a ranch in Northern Mendocino County, being broken up into twenty and forty-acre parcels. We contacted the real estate office to set up a time, piled into Noel's VW van (named Molly) and made the five-hour trek from San Jose to Bell Springs Road for the first time. This was in the fall of 1975.

We made several more trips up to the Bell, one of them in December, when we were inundated with one of those classic blowers, coming in on the Pineapple Express from the South Pacific. Drenched, we made our way up to the rancher’s sprawling home, about three more parcels up the road. The rancher had been born in that house, back in the 1920's.

He was more than just neighborly. Inviting us to gather around his glowing wood stove, while we thawed out, he also offered libation, of a most warming nature. This happened to be a trip when my father came with us, after flying from La Puente in SoCal, to San Jose, where we had picked him up on our way out of Dodge.

Papa and Jerry, the rancher, were more or less the same age, and got along famously, in that first of many times they would share a snort or two of good bourbon.

Jerry did warn us, however, not to be fooled by all of the running water, which coursed along every possible avenue in the downpour. “Next August, this land will be all brown and there will be no running water, anywhere.”

He was right, of course, but we weren’t skeered and inked our names shortly afterward on three 20-acre parcels. Considering there was no water source on two of the three parcels, you might feel we got somewhat ripped off.

What do you think? Was four hundred dollars an acre too much?

Friday, October 6, 2017

"On Vacation"

Papa, on vacation, 1972

“A-a-aye, I’m on vacation
Every single day cause I love my occupation…” Dirty Heads

How many folks go off to work everyday, lunch pail in hand, with a smile on their faces? How many employed people actually enjoy their work? Conversely, how many people, do you suppose, hate their jobs with a passion, and if it weren’t for the rent, they’d chuck it all and go fishing?

More of the latter than the former, I fear, though I have nothing other than a gut feeling to back it up. By gut feeling I mean, as I go through the check-out line, or am served in my favorite restaurant, it’s pretty easy to see from attitude and body language, how happy-or otherwise-people are with their jobs.

I used to emphasize to my middle school students that money was not the most important component to being employed. It’s all about the clock, I suggested, and why you look at it. As my father used to intone, "Let us be happy in our work." As a teacher, I fought the clock because there was never enough time in the day (or an individual class period), to get everything done.

In five of my six careers, time has always flashed by because I was too busy to have time to look and see what time it was. Let’s face it: Checking the clock is not to see what time it is, but rather, how much time is left before you get to leave. Not much of a life.
Playing touch-football down in Baja,
California, 1975ish...

The one career I had where the time dragged was Uncle Sugar’s all-expenses-paid military merry-go-round, where I worked in a personnel service company. My job was to file stuff, lots of stuff, so I had to know the alphabet real good. 

In the beginning, I handled about twelve-and-a-half percent of South Korea’s 50,000 troops, in terms of getting them home from The Land of the Morning Calm. Not too long after I arrived, I suggested to the nice colonel, that I take over the filing for all 50,000 soldiers, and leave the grunt work to the rest of the crew. All I did was handle all the records…

Getting these troops home did not apply if you were a lifer; then you were reassigned, somewhere StateSide. The 199th Personnel Service Company was second only to Finance, in Korea, in terms of status, and we wore our insignias proudly.

I used my lofty position exactly once, in my sixteen months overseas, to weasel out of a sticky wicket. I was already out of the office and in Project Transition, which loosely translated, meant I worked on officers’ cars under the guise of being trained to be an auto mechanic.

I let discipline get a little lax, as hard as that is to believe, and I let my beard relocate, from a clean-shaven Specialist IV, to a red-bearded savage, over a five-week period of time. With only days remaining before I caught a red-tail homeward, ** I was accosted by the most “stract” MP I had ever seen, while I was dressed in civvies.
The author of Mark's Work, 1977,
on vacation...

Long story short, as he was writing out the citation which would have resulted in an Article-15, and would have immediately yanked my records from the about-to-ETS, to the world-of-hurt file, I asked him one simple question:

“Sergeant Smith (probably not his real name), where would you like to be reassigned, when you leave this Vacation Paradise?” I asked the question innocently enough, holding his gaze meaningfully in mine, with an iron grip.

I mean, how hard was it to look up this by-the-book clown’s records, since he wore his insignia on his shoulder, and his name over his shirt pocket, to find out where he called home. How hard was it to make sure he ended up on the opposite side of the country, in a pit like Fort Polk, Louisiana, or the granddaddy of them all, as far as fear tactics, Fort Hood, Texas?

Not hard at all, though Ft. Hood was a scary thought for a California lad.

He remained in character for one more, brief moment, retorting, “I know you’re in the 199th,” flashing my ID, “and that doesn’t worry me one bit. You’ll be long gone before I leave.”

I let fly my best chortle, glancing almost shyly at him, in obvious amusement. “No doubt, Sarge, no doubt.” I added a few chuckles and allowed a snicker or two escape. As if I did not have any brothers remaining in Korea, after I made my break.

He got it, before I even finished my little act, and closed up his neat metal file-folder. “Fine,” was all he said.

I wasn’t quite finished though. “May I have that document, please? The one you were just filling out?” I smiled benevolently at him as he reopened and tore out the ticket, both copies and the carbon too. I would still have it today, except that I tore it up myself right on the spot, and threw it in the nearest garbage can.

True story.
Noel, Papa and Matt, on the trip to La Paz, 1972.

I hated my time in the service because it was not my choice to be there in the first place. I was drafted. I have never worked anywhere since, that I did not want to, including my current profession as farmer. Maybe it’s because of the many hats I have to wear, but it’s more about that clock, and how there is never enough time.

“My life may be crazy
My lack of the lazy has let me do shit that I love on the daily
Daily, daily
Get to do this shit I love upon the daily
Daily, daily
Everybody go and live your daydreams up… 

If you don’t like your life, then you should go and change it…”

** Unlike today, when a red-tail designates a bird of prey seen frequently here on the mountain, a red-tail was a freedom flight “back to the world.” 

Monday, October 2, 2017

Who's Your Sawyer?

I wrote a piece recently entitled “Outside My Door,” a chronicle of the different careers I have pursued in my lifetime, including a grocery store clerk, war monger, auto parts clerk, carpenter, teacher and farmer. I concluded that the greatest of these is my current profession: that of a farmer.
There is nothing wrong with any of the first five professions; it’s just that being a farmer requires far more variation from what constitutes a day’s work, than any of the others. I like routine as much as the next hippie, but I prefer to break up a work day into as many variations on a theme as possible. This keeps me happy in my work.

Take one recent Sunday, for instance, a day in which I had to switch hats so often, it made my head spin. Try doing that as a teacher with 37 eighth grade students, and you’ll wish you hadn’t.

On this particular Sunday, I stumbled out the back door just after four in the A of M, to do a half-hour’s worth of hand-watering on some problem areas. This was only after having already removed my writer’s hat, having written something trivial for posting on Mark’s Work, and donned my farmer’s hat.
"Official" farmer's hat

Included in my hand-watering are two beds of ornamentals, the peppers in the green house, my hollyhocks, the basil and about a dozen problem children. These are cannabis plants that just need an extra allowance of water every day to help them with their trials and tribulations.  
I then proceeded to flip a series of on/off valves, allowing twelve little areas of ornamentals to get their five minutes of bliss for the day. I have to stay focused during this hour’s time because water is precious, and there is none to spare for gratuitous flapdoodles.

Just as it was getting light, I switched to cleaning the ten water filters in my system, so as to ensure that there is maximum water flow. Water flows through each filter at increasingly reduced rates, if more than a day or two goes by without cleaning. I perform this chore every other day and it takes about a half-hour. 

Pausing long enough to quaff a homegrown latte, while I throw some potatoes and eggs together and eat a quick breakfast, I head over to the Pepper Pot. Here I am wrapping up the construction of a power shed, a project that Jason and I have reduced to only the installation of the Hardy Board exterior siding and the painting. Because Jay is on-assignment this week, and not on-farm, I am finishing the siding by my lonesome.
All finished except for installing a door.

Being on salary with no boss and no time-clock, this has been a fun project. The nature of the task is a perfect example of the way that I am utilized on-farm these days. Whether the task is part of the cannabis-regulatory process, or whether it is simply farm-related, I am available to plug in where needed.

I don’t work as part of a crew anymore, and I rarely spend more than four hours on jobs like the building of the power shed, but I can also say that like the turtle, slow and steady gets the job done. If I am part of a crew, then I function as the sawyer. 

Also, occasionally, I am able to sift through the sawdust in my brain, and provide a key pointer to facilitate a given endeavor. Take the just-completed kitchen roofing project, for instance; I was able to assure HeadSodBuster that cutting through the metal roofing, to accommodate the kitchen stove-pipe, was a piece of cake. The pitch is reasonably extreme, and HeadSodBuster copped to letting it get under his skin, in the time leading up to the start of the project.

When it comes to geometry, I am the pro from Dover: algebra and trigonometry, not so much. There was just too much done orally, for me to have a chance of keeping up. Geometry was all about shapes and angles, something that I am good at.

Pepper Pot
Coming back from the Pepper Pot in late morning, I put away my tape measure, and took monster-colander in hand, and went to roust up some Heinz tomatoes, for a batch of catsup. I was only in the harvesting stage because Jay was expected back on-farm soon, and I wanted him to be in on the processing part.

Still, I allowed ample time for the task because I don’t bend as well as I used to.

About a million pounds of smallish tomatoes later, I stopped, figuring I would finish when I had some assistance in the form of Jason. No sense in killing the job, I am sure you will agree.

Besides, I had a six-pound organic chicken I wanted to roast up for SmallBoy and Dancing Girl. Knowing they were making some logistical moves as far as relocating Dancing Girl to the mountain, I had invited them to Sunday night dinner, the time being affixed at 5:30.

Because my chicken was almost as big as the smallest of our meat birds we raise, I wanted to roast it slowly, at 325 degrees, instead of a more robust pace. I scrubbed up some potatoes, poked a bunch of holes in them to preserve the somewhat tenuous integrity of the inside of the oven, and put them in on the bottom rack.

I also had a fresh head of farm cabbage, that I quartered, steamed and served along with the chicken, baked potatoes and homemade gravy. The gravy could have been thicker (I added a couple of tablespoons of tapioca flour), but it was pretty tasty.

Both SmallBoy and Dancing Girl were effusive in their appreciation, and I was happy to be a part of their day, so it was a win/win situation. Cleaning up was easy-peasy and I knew there was another dinner in the chicken for the next day, regardless of how it was repurposed. 

Besides, as many dudes have discovered on their own, what could be easier than the meal I just described?

Go to de fridge, get de chicken and poot it in de oven…

Go to de pantry, get de taters, and poot dem in de oven…

Finally, the most difficult job of all because it involves handling a knife: go to de fridge and get de cabbage. Cut it in half and then into quarters. Be veddy careful.


For dessert there was farm-grown watermelon, the crispiest, sweetest melon I have ever tasted. Being one who refuses to eat store-bought melons, I am in paradise right now. 

I wandered around after the kids had left, picking up my hats from wherever I had strewn them, making sure to get my author’s hat, farmer’s hat, my constructo hat and my chef’s hat, before trading them all in for my night cap, one which obviously does not fit properly.

I know it doesn’t fit because if it did, I would get more than four hours of sleep every night, but I’m not complaining. I always have the option of going back to my health care provider at the VA, and obtaining Big Pharma’s answer to a mood spectrum disorder. Can you say chemical sh*t storm? Try it. I know you can. 

On the other hand, I can just keep wearing that night cap that doesn’t fit, and call it a day.