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

Spring

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

Flowers

Flowers
Daisies

Papa and Ollie Mac

Papa and Ollie Mac
Priorities, Baby

Beauty

Beauty
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

bellspringsmark@gmail.com

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Four-Wheel Drive


Like Papa, I am happy in my work and it’s a good thing, too, because otherwise the mountain of chores piling up might have the opposite effect. No sooner had the snow melted, than I realized that I was going to have to wrap up this interior work, and shift my attention outdoors.

While doing so, I am also going to have to shift into 4WD, as if working hundreds of hours a day has not been enough. That is the nature of farming-there is never enough time, even if I had the endurance. With March going out like a lamb, after barging in most lion-like, with snow, ice and frigid temperatures, the list of pressing matters grows longer every day.

By this time last year, I had already turned over the mega-compost pile, by pitchfork, in order to promote additional breakdown for the last six weeks. I then worked the home-grown compost into the soil of everything I had going in my neck of the farm: primarily tomatoes and ornamental flowers.

By this time last year, all of the necessary tomato seeds had been started, even though the persistent rain last spring caused us to accomplish only a fifty percent germination rate. Tomatoes need warmth to sprout, but even adding the tight plastic covers to the trays, was not enough to achieve the desired percentage of germination. 

By this time last year, I had already turned over the soil in the orchard, although with the new tractor-like device being employed on-farm by HeadSodBuster and SmallBoy, I will not have to work the soil for Tomato Terrace, out back, this year. 

In this terrace I planted 45-er, 44-Ace tomato plants. I accidentally planted 45, until I realized my mistake and transplanted one out to the orchard. I am going for quality-not quantity-this year, so I am reducing the number of Ace plants to thirty, and caging them with the construction wire, equipped with six-inch-square holes.

By this time last year, I already had a good head-start on the very compost pile I was just prattling on about. 

On the flip side I was still reeling from the water damage which occurred in the downstairs bathroom over the winter of 2016/‘17, due to a leaky roof that just blew up. Unquestionably, it was more than just a matter of patching up some problematic areas-it was going to be more like General Sherman storming through Georgia, and rebuilding again, afterward.
Yes, Sherman marched through,
but did he clean up, afterwards?

I have now only to affix cabinet doors and trim to the laundry room, and then flooring, to call the whole thing macaroni. What we originally talked about doing the week between Christmas and New Years Day, has taken me the better part of January, February and March to accomplish. 

What’s three months here and there among friends?

Over March we were inundated by three separate periods of heavy snowfall, each instance leaving the farm unaccessible for several days while the snow melted. Even had I been desperate to get out and start going for it, I would have had to wait for the snow to relocate.

On top of the logistical work still to be done indoors, and the lengthy list of outdoors chores, I have also acquired the materials I need to create a second piece of wood-working art, comparable to the log-cabin one I put together last month.

At the top of the list, we also have the imminent arrival of baby Ollie Mac, the first grandchild.

I will try to set all of this aside, later on today at 4:08, and adjourn to the living room, to watch Opening Day on the baseball diamond between the Giants and the Dodgers. I will broil hot dogs and produce enough home-made French fries to feed an entire team, and revel in the fact that the game starts at a reasonable time for a guy who retires at seven every night.

And just hope the game does not go into extra innings.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Well-Equipped


I put on my lead sandals yesterday, and drove down to Ukiah with Gluten-Free Mama and Ellie Mae, the dog. This is not a misprint and no, there were no weapons pointing at my head to encourage my cooperation. A hostage to my own hobbies, I needed to get to Ukiah to buy a replacement camera for the Canon SX610H that has served me so well, may it rest in peace.

Though I only managed to snap 19,416 photos over the past 22 months, give or take, I still feel I got my money’s worth. Unfortunately, my camera had a date with destiny, or the laundry room floor, I forget which, and now focuses as well as I do, long about 6:30 in the evening, after having been up for eighteen hours.

I suppose there is an outside chance that the peculiar angle at which the extended camera lens is situated, could be the cause of the out-of-focus photos, but what do I know? At least there isn’t creek water draining out of it, so I am diversifying my talents.
Complete with shutter permanently stuck open...

Prior to springing for the Canon, an upgrade of significant proportions over the little Samsung with which I began my photographic career, I was perfectly content with the quality of my work. As I have intoned incessantly, I have merely to stagger outside the front door, to have access to some of the most beautiful country in California.

Images from the ugliest day in history up here, are still immeasurably better than my own efforts at art. 

That I know nothing about the inner workings of my camera, is significant, because the photos I take are strictly point and shoot. Needless to say, there are more options to tinker with than the dashboard of a commercial jet airliner, but when I accidentally push the wrong button, and the camera wigs out, I just shut it down and remove the battery. This simple act puts me back to where I want to be-blissfully blind to the bucket seats and four-on-the-floor, with which my camera is well-equipped.

I pulled up out in front of Triple S Camera Shop in downtown Ukiah, and scurried through the front door. Greeting the saleswoman behind the counter, I plunked down my old Canon on the counter and announced, “I need to replace this camera. That being said, my shopping experience would be significantly enhanced if I could make use of your facilities. I have come a great distance.”

She gave me directions to the restrooms in the Visitor’s Center next door, and when I returned, Jill, the owner of Triple S was there to wait on me. I remembered her from the last time I had been there, when the initial upgrade from Samsung to Canon had occurred.

I had informed her then that I wanted to upscale my camera, but that I did not want a bulky, cumbersome affair. My experience has always been that the bigger they are, the harder they fall. Jill had presented me with the model that I have used ever since, so I tried the same approach again, yesterday.

Indeed, there WAS an upgrade, from the SX610H to the SX620H, and the price was no different than it had been two years ago. Together with all of the accoutrements, I was just shy of five hundred bones, but that included a 128GB memory card, speaking of wanting to take another 19,416 pics in the next 22 months.


As the transaction came to a conclusion, both of us were far happier on an early Monday morning than folks have a right to be. I could not help mentioning to her how much I appreciated an alternative for camera shopping, than Wal-Fart, a corporate entity which repulses me beyond my ability to describe.

Hey, corporate conglomerates are fine for TP and hair shampoo, but if I am going to pay to play, I’d rather pony up to the counter at Triple S, and hand the owner of a small business my hard-earned loot, than go through the turnstiles at The Wally. Even if I manage to survive the W experience, intact, I still suffer from nightmares for weeks afterward. 

These nocturnal flashbacks are induced by being forced to witness people dressed for success, in the latest of styles, viewed only from within the walls of Wal-Fart, and only with parental discretion. Believe me, I’m 65 and there’s no way my mother would ever give her approval, were she still here to do so.

At Triple S Camera Shop, I was the only customer, and it felt good to brighten up Jill’s day; it just isn’t the same thing to hand over your loot to the cashiers at The Wally. It’s not their fault-they can’t help the way corporate conglomerates dress them in the morning.


I am hard on cameras. If I am not nudging them off of the top step of the ladder, I am dropping them in the creek. I have no idea why this keeps occurring, and those who are snickering in the background, can keep their sarcastic comments to themselves. No one likes a weisenheimer and besides, all medicine has side effects, and cannabis is no exception.

I say, “Viva la side effects, and let’s order us a pepperoni pizza, with mushrooms. Do you suppose they would deliver it up here on Bell Springs Road?”

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Snow Turtle


Snow: whimsical, magical, fleeting, ethereal rapture, or sadistic, murderous, interminable torture from hell? If you dwell in a region which provides regular shrouds of snow, enough so that it stays with you for days on end, you either love it or you hate it; there can be no in-between, unless you happen to be like me: I love to hate it.
 

Ethereal pleasure or sadistic torture?
This is one of the few times in my existence when pragmatism outweighs aesthetics, the way an old 4WD 'Yoda outweighs the prettier, American-made truck. There is no room for doubt. There was a time when I could don my winter, fur-lined boots, and traipse anywhere I liked, to better capture the beauty of what was being presented. I have the pics to prove it. 

Alas and alack! Such is the case no longer, yesterday’s early morning frustration on the driveway, the most recent evidence to thrust its way into the limelight. After hiking up to The Bell from my front door, a ten-minute brisk stroll, escorting leashed Margie Rae and Ellie Mae, without incident, I made it less than ten feet coming back down before my feet jetted out in front of me, and I crashed and burned-and slid-on my left side.

Stunned, I was content to lie there in an ocean of self-pity-dramatically, I might add-the dogs literally in my face. This lasted about seven seconds before I realized that the peculiar sensations I was experiencing on my backside, were icy cold, and even wetter. By the time I tried to scramble to my feet to prevent any more soakage, that ship had sailed.

Besides, any thought that I was going to “scramble” anywhere, or anything besides eggs this morning, departed as quickly as it arrived. Beneath the two-inch-thick veneer of snow on the ground, was a solid sheet of ice, remaining from when last night’s heavy rainfall froze, after the temperature suddenly plummeted below freezing.
Up on The Bell

Whereas hiking up the driveway had been smooth sailing, because gravity was content to keep winding the rubber band propeller tighter and tighter, the return trip was white-water rafting all the way. The snow was sopping, the sheet of ice was lethal, and I was the equivalent of a turtle on its back. 

My left wrist was numb, my problematic left knee was throbbing, my incorrigible right shoulder was four-letter-wording-it and my chronically sniveling right toe, was sobbing like a pre-schooler. Wriggling like a king snake trying to escape the grasp of an eleven-year-old boy, I was an undulating mass of squirming, writhing frustration, and probably entertaining as a destruction derby at the Ukiah Fairgrounds.

I would have found it so, were I not still trying to figure out the best approach, besides calling time out and backing the truck up about eleven minutes or so, when I made the absurd decision to try and stick to routine. Well, I learned something today, and as I have always said, when I stop learning, put me out of my misery and cremate me. I’m done.

I did manage to stagger to my feet, and had just sidled off the slick road and onto the even more slippery, icy weeds to the left, when I was chop-blocked from behind by sweet Ellie Mae, who toppled me as effectively-albeit illegally-as any NFL linebacker in the league.

Yep. I ended up flat on my back again, both dogs once more hovering over me inquiringly, their cartwheeling antics extinguished for the moment. My chagrin elevated from stunned to flummoxed, I turtled my way over onto my stomach, completing the sponge-effect, and once more straggled to my unreliable feet.

"Uh, I don't think he's kidding..."
By now the girls realized that this old man was not going to be able to hold his own in the snow, and they sobered up quicker than a group of middle schoolers, caught with peppermint schnapps on the school field trip.

Truly, both dogs hovered on either side of me, as I made like Bill Murray in “What About Bob?” and baby-stepped my way back home, falling thrice more and catching myself a dozen more times, besides. Those near-falls are just as disastrous, because in trying to right the ship, I end up snapping the mainsail, if I am unlucky.  

Gone are the days when the three boys and I waited impatiently for the snow, in pre-internet days when forecasting was as primitive as “talkies” back in the twenties. “There’s no business like snow business,” I would sing, and we all envisioned the fun we would have, before freezing toes and ears, drove us indoors for hot cocoa and chocolate chip cookies.

We built two different igloos on two different sites, and the memory remains vivid to this moment. We tobogganed, made forts and in later years, the boys snow-boarded down the driveway from up on Bell Springs, something that scared the bejabbers out of me.
Blue Rock and ranch barn

So, hell yeah, my snow days are over. After all, what on earth could possibly entice me to go back out and freeze my toes off again? Knowing I am bound to fall at least twice? Knowing that snow is emphatically not for old dudes? Knowing, in point of fact, that snow is ONLY for kids?

Oh, yeah, I almost forgot. Dancing Girl has predicted that the first grandchild Ollie Mac will arrive today. Dang, kids do love the snow. Dang!

I can hear Ollie Mac and me already, “There’s no business like snow business…” Repeat until snow is sticking on the ground, and then head outside. I am still determined to not only build another igloo, but to spend the night in it. I'm betting Ollie Mac would like that too.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Shoot, Shucks and Ducklings!


The latest ratings are in and you may be interested to know that our little rescue dog-er, ahem, our little dog-Ellie Mae, has made a remarkable comeback from that low point on February 2nd, when she had a fatal attraction to a flock of chickens.

How she achieved this, specifically, is impossible to pinpoint but I know it’s true. I know it because a little incident occurred yesterday that clarified matters once and for all, and made me realize that Ellie Mae is no longer “on trial” here. 
Zounds! Did Ellie Mae travel five miles down to the bottom of Bell Springs Road to meet the dairy guy and bring up some organic half-and-half? Through the shoulder-deep snow? Impervious to her frost-bitten paws? Just for me and Gluten-Free Mama? So I won’t have to cringe through the Creamora approach to life another morning?

Did she invite our flock of fifteen chickens to tea, serving them cracked corn and fresh cabbage leaves as a conciliatory gesture for her fatal faux pas?

Did she make up with Mr. Crips, the cat, practically unthinkable, what with the harassment trial only a few weeks removed? 

Actually, it was not Ellie Mae who did anything to improve her ratings-it was I. And what I did was leave her out in a freezing rain, while I puttered about in the workshop, making a half-dozen or so cuts on my table saw, for a set of cupboards I am working on.

Well, I didn’t do it on purpose!

Whether Ellie Mae is indeed a black-mouth cur or not, she shares many attributes, including an insatiable need to be outside and gallivanting around. That may also include cavorting, carousing and capering on any given day.

When the two of us had emerged from the house, about a half-hour earlier, it was still dry and a tad blustery. Ellie had been more than patient while I was assembling the cabinet in the newly remodeled laundry room, and the forecast snow had held off, though it was in the mid-thirties. What the heck, I had figured, I will let Ellie Mae have some play time.

With my headphones doing their job proficiently and blocking out the sound of the table saw, I was so immersed in my work I was unaware that the weather had taken a turn for the worse. I might point out that in my defense, I still have all of my digits, so I succeeded at my primary goal.

Still basking the glow of that knowledge, and clutching more plywood than was probably safe for a doddering old fool, I sidled out of the cozy workshop and into hurricane-force winds, and raindrops pelting me in the face-horizontally.

Ah, shoot, shucks and ducklings! Where WAS poor Ellie Mae? My ACX plywood getting inundated with water, never a good thing, prompted me to head the hundred feet to the front door, most rickety tic, hollering for my dog as I sloshed through muddy waters.

Propping my plywood against the kitchen counter, I scurried back outside, crushed beneath the weight of the world. How could I have been so neglectful? How could I have allowed my dog to be subjected to this frenzied winter storm?

Each dragging second was an hour in the passing, before Ellie Mae came bounding into view, ecstatically wagging her tail to see me. If I had possessed a tail, it would have been dragging in the mud.

How could I have been so unconscious? Simultaneously it hit me: Why was I so profoundly impacted? And before I knew it, I knew it. I recognized that Ellie Mae had reached that point in her life and in mine, where she was no longer “this cute, rescue dog.”

She was simply, my dog.


Saturday, March 17, 2018

Calluses


I flap my jaws a lot these days about being a farmer, but the past couple of months, working with wood, have compared favorably to farming on so many levels, it bears a closer look. Both professions are physically demanding, both require a fair amount of vision and both allow me to infuse the creative process into whatever endeavors I attempt.

And oh yeah, both produce calluses.

After 35 years of no drawers in the bathroom...
they do not have to be perfect.
With almost everything completed in the bathroom/laundry room renovations, except for the flooring and baseboard trim, and the storage cabinets, I am trying something new. 

I have been assembling a miniature cabinet with six drawers, each only twelve inches by ten inches. Three are four inches deep, and the other three are five inches deep. The project, though challenging, has been quite rewarding, leaving me with the same kind of glow I felt last fall, with the processing of my tomato sauce, salsas and catsup.

I nurtured the tomato seedlings, up-planted them into bigger pots within the greenhouse and then relocated them to their summer abodes. I agonized over the gophers, I rejoiced when the water issues were resolved and I’m doing my best to decimate the supply of preserved goods, before I start the process again in August.

Gluten-Free Mama lists “drawers” on her bucket list, so that’s why I am crafting the miniature cabinet. The wood I am using is repurposed, the result of stripping the aforementioned rooms down to the studs, so there are some inherent challenges present in the project, simply because the wood is 35 years old.

The drawers rest simply on two wooden runners, ripped into three-quarter-inch by three-quarter-inch strips, and I attached some home-grown knobs to the face-fronts, also from the pine that used to serve as interior siding. The siding became dispensable-and thus available-because storage cabinets now conceal the wall behind it, forever. 

The threshold I made from a chunk of old redwood, from the
woodpile over at SmallBoy's.
Repurposing is also a key component to farming, in that I am about to start turning over the compost pile that I have been amassing for the past year. All of the weeds, clippings, dead organic matter from the farm, chicken manure, rabbit manure and everything else that would eventually break down into soil over time, has been added to this pile.

By moving this mountain now, one shovelful at a time and giving it another 45-60 days before relocating it to the beds, I allow the entire shooting match time to heat up and start cooking again, to carry the process forth into the newly-planted beds.

I am starting Ace and Heinz tomato seeds, primarily, though snow blankets the farm, even as I write. Our hoop houses must be attended to frequently, to keep the snow from piling up and crushing them, but snow does not deter forward progress.
All of the pine and redwood in this pic came from
repurposed wood.
When I write that our hoop-houses must be attended to regularly, I mean that the snow must be brushed/knocked  off often enough so that the weight can't damage the structure. 

Needless to say, I am not the one knocking the snow off of the hoop-houses; that would be HeadSodBuster and BossLady.

With my carpentry endeavors coming to a conclusion, for this winter at least, it is only natural that it be time to start the tomato seeds. I can do so, even in sub-freezing weather, if I cover the trays with the plastic covers.

These trap any warmth within the enclosures, to help the seeds germinate. Think of them as mini-greenhouses-within-a-greenhouse. When I complete the turning over of the compost pile, I will commence to work the soil in the orchard with my pitchfork, for planting when June arrives.

I work at my own pace and include frequent pit stops for medicinal purposes only, and drink vast quantities of water. I am grateful that at 65, my knees and my hips still allow me to be so physically active. I know that I am lucky to still be able to form calluses on my hands.

Otherwise, they would undoubtedly be forming on my backside.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Tip-Toe Through the Tri-Tip No More


As paradigm shifts go, my reintroduction to beef recently is an 8.0 on the Richter Scale, the entire notion quite out of the question for an avowed, aging hippie. I have disdained the consumption of red meat since I emerged from the Big Green Machine, back in 1973, more often out of economic necessity than for any other reason.

While teaching I once went five years without so much as a nibble of any sort of meat, let alone beef. I also weighed in at 155 pounds, and had people asking Gluten-Free Mama what sort of cancer I had that was wasting me away. To save my life I could not have told you why at the time, but I could not properly digest beef, so I avoided it.

6-8 of these babies daily, nowadays...
That I was simply dehydrated, the entire time I spent in the classroom, never occurred to me because I need to be hit upside the head with a brick, now and again, to comprehend some of the basics. I remember I never saw Ms Stange without a tall water container-with straw-and instinctively knew that it was a smart thing to do, but still…

No staff bathroom over in our tiny middle school, made the trip across the elementary playground to get to the LES/LMS staff room, necessary. Let’s see how this plays out, “Class, may I have your attention, please?”

Damn. First time in recorded history that I actually got their undivided attention. “So, uh, hey there, I need to make [another?] a quick trip across campus, to uh, you know, uh, use the facilities.”

A hand shoots up in the air.

“Timmy? Question?”

“Yeah, Mr. O, I just wanna know. Is it like always? No running around on the table tops while you’re out of the room?”

Finally, the laughter dies down, though I take the question seriously and am able to respond that yes, it is like always, but that hand shoots up in the air again.
Water! Stay hydrated with water!

“What about the pencil sharpener. If I need to sharpen my pencil, so that I can work harder, is that OK? Or if my throat is parched? Can I get a drink? Of water, I mean?”

More snickering, or maybe it was chortling. Hard to tall with eighth graders. 

“No, it’s best that you stay in your seat until I get back. That incident last month, you know, when poor Billy was accidentally stabbed with a sharp pencil when you tripped? We want to try and avoid that. But enough chatter, or I’m going to splatter.”

The deck is stacked against teachers, when it comes to staying hydrated, but I am long gone from the classroom, and living it up. I no longer tip-toe through the tri-tip; in fact I broil the meanest tri-tip on the block. Since my block extends from the intersection of Highway 101 and Bell Springs Road, all the way up to Mount Shasta, I got this stuff covered.

Choose your weapon.
Because Gluten-Free Mama has a fairly restricted diet, I am on my own when it comes to cooking these days, and I am finding out that a two-pound tri-tip steak, lasts me for at least six meals. I do not even heat it up, because I have already broiled it to the perfect degree of medium rare, and do not want to shove it over into too well-cooked land, for me.

I still confine my indulgence to one tri-tip every month, and I finished my last one only a week ago, so I guess I better hold off for the time being. Though now that I have brought the subject up, I wish I hadn't. I am starving! And now I am facing this self-imposed ban? Arghghghgghghg! What am I going to do?

I could settle for a rib-eye, instead…

Sunday, March 11, 2018

When the Snoring Stops


We just surpassed the one hundredth day since Ellie Mae the rescue dog, came into our home. She has not replaced Dozer the Bulldog, but rather, joined him in a lengthening parade of pets who have each claimed a part of our hearts. 

Dozer, a kennel-bred, pedigreed, papered, licensed and registered rockstar, was Master of the Universe and he knew it. Everywhere he went, people kowtowed to him, acknowledging celebrity status and fawning over him. The Doze accepted it as his due.
Honnnnnnnk-shoooooooo...zzz...
Honnnnnnnk-shoooooooo...zzz...

He could be arrogant, aloof, indifferent, snobbish and a prima donna, and we would love him all the more for it. His comical facial expressions kept us-and guests-in stitches, fulfilling an oft-stated principle: As a farm dog, Dozer is useless, but highly entertaining, nonetheless.

Gluten-Free Mama and I debated the pros and cons of another English bulldog. Though the pros were obvious and needed no discussion, the cons related to the inevitable health issues that bulldogs routinely undergo, such as bronchial issues and the enlarging of their hearts. 

Bulldogs, originally bred to control angry bulls, have not benefited from the smashed-in-face, as opposed to the more typical extended snout. Dogs have infinitely more olfactory capability than we humans, being able to detect aromas from vast distances, and the bulldog is no exception. Still, over time, the path humans have created for them, gives the average English bulldog a lifespan of seven years. 

We did not purchase Dozer but acquired him for the simple reason that he stayed with us so frequently, as a result of his designated human being a Cal-Fire dude, that it was eventually deemed best for everyone (especially Dozer) if he came to live with us full-time.

I guess this made Dozer a rescue dog also.

Always regal
When we got to the point where we wanted to bring another dog into our home, we contacted Maggie from the Inland Mendocino County Humane Society, and after much back-and-forth dialogue, acquired Ellie Mae.

Ellie is not arrogant, aloof, indifferent, snobbish or a prima donna; she is sweet, anxious to please, accommodating, sensitive to my moods and everything we had hoped she would be. She is not perfect but we did not want a stuffed animal for our bed, we wanted a real, live dog.

Ellie Mae wants to go where I go, she mopes when Gluten-Free Mama leaves and she sleeps on our bed for the most part like a grateful middle schooler, at her first slumber party with the cool kids: She stays out of the limelight towards the foot of the bed, and doesn’t snore.

Dozer the bulldog used to sound like an ad for a mattress company. Imagine an English bulldog representing a famous mattress company! When the snoring stopped, I always took note. Though the bowser religiously got his twelve hours in, there was always the quick pit stop outside, to make it through the night, dry.
Perpetually smiling

Ellie Mae is silent, she has never once asked to be let out and she snuggles with me, instead of on top of me. Believe me, when you have 52 pounds draped over your legs, you’re not going anywhere except numb.

Ellie Mae drops what’s she’s doing and accompanies me to the recliner couch, when it’s siesta time, the way any dog worth her salt would do. She does not have a repertoire of different comical looks, the way the Doze did; in point of fact, her facial expression never seems to change much.

She’s smiling like a Cheshire Cat.
Who is the luckier one? Ellie Mae or me?


Friday, March 9, 2018

Keep off the Roof


This roof rule applies to me, and has been in effect for at least ten years, though why my family does not want me on the roof is baffling. I have a good track record, never having fallen off one, despite cavorting amongst the shingles on more occasions than I can remember.

Maybe a half-dozen years ago, HeadSodBuster brought a crew of four to my spot, to peel off the siding from the west wall of my home, and replace it with woodfu**er-proof Hardie-Board. I was not allowed up on the ladder(s) or the scaffolding, being relegated to providing water and moral support for those who were.
By moral support I simply mean that I provided a parade of Bell Springs bombers, in order to keep spirits high. These particular bombers are not to be confused with the baseball team of the same name, playing coed baseball in the greater metropolitan region of Laytonville, though the head bomber himself, SmallBoy, was one-fourth of the crew.

The irony of the whole situation is that never in the history of the universe, have I been so happy to stick to a rule. Those who know me well, are aware that there has been some inconsistency in this area, as my hair continues to gray up. I maintain it is simply the middle schooler in me emerging, the tendency to do the opposite of what I am told.

I maintain middle schoolers do not automatically do the opposite of what they’re told; it depends on who is doing the directing. I have also always believed that middle schoolers respond proportionately, to being asked to do something, rather than being ordered to do so.

“May I have your attention, please?” when asked one time, is infinitely preferable to “Sit down and shut up!” The reason I never had to ask more than once was because of the green book. The few seconds it took for me to stroll over to my desk, leisurely open and poise my pencil over the class list of names, for the purpose of making tiny check marks, is all it ever took.

“He’s got the green book out. Shhhhhh.” I never had to actually assign steps in this little charade; we had long since ironed out the creases in my classroom management style. If I were going to do battle with my charges, particularly the eighth graders, it was certainly never going to be about something as mundane as classroom management.
The culprit turned out to be these two elbows.

Rules were meant to be broken, said no teacher ever, unless he was referring to himself. It’s not that I LIKE breaking rules-it’s more of a gift, especially since it usually comes as a surprise to even me. I never know when that pesky Markie is going to seize control.

About that “Keep off the roof” rule, though? Assuming I have a purpose, there is no earthly reason why I should not be allowed on the roof. In San Jose I used to be able to step out of a bedroom window, directly onto a portion of the roof, in order to better appreciate both the sinsemilla and ELO’s Eldorado. 

The Drifters knew what was up, “On the roof it’s peaceful as can be; there the world below can’t bother me, up on the roof…”
Last summer when HeadSodBuster and various members of the farm crew put a new metal roof of the original cabin, I was once more relegated to ground control. Again, I was more than happy, not because I am a lazy fop, but because when a crew is involved, I try to reinvent my thirty-year-old self.

That dude was savage when it came to physical labor. All of my siblings are fierce workers, that ethic having been instilled early on in life. No one has ever had to convince me to put in my work hours. And for those who are admiring my remodeling job in the bathroom/laundry room, but wondering why it took so long, I say, “This is the first winter since I retired from teaching, that I have not had to spend the winter trimming cannabis, in order to make ends meet.”

There is one more reason why being on the roof is necessary, and that has to do with keeping the stovepipes for our two wood stoves cleaned. In recent weeks the kitchen stove has been smoking worse than an old 235, six-cylinder chevy, with a cracked head.

The kitchen stove pipe sticks out the peak of the roof, but because the design of the original cabin included a dormer, there is an almost flat roof that allows me ready access to this pipe. I have only to take extendo-dog and prop him up against the dormer roof, at the most fifteen feet in the air. 

Back in the day, I not only climbed that ladder, I did so with a bundle of shingles over my shoulder, over and over until the roof was loaded. So climbing an extension ladder to gain access to a roof is not a mystery to me. Possibly the only lesson that I have mastered as an old dude, is that nothing good ever comes from moving too fast.

Besides, if we want talk about risky behavior on a ladder, it would not have been Tuesday’s ascent to inspect the stove pipe, under dry conditions, it would have been last week’s foray far higher up the snow-laden ladder, in order to clear the white stuff off the dish antenna for the net. 

Of course I am joking; luckily there was no one around to say otherwise.

Gluten-Free Mama protested when I told her I had to clean the stove pipes.

Does this ladder look as though some
idiot has climbed it? I think NOT!
“Can’t you ask SmallBoy? I don’t want you climbing that ladder.” Though I was certain SmallBoy was poised on the edge his seat, awaiting my beck and call, I decided to disappoint him and at least scope out the scene myself. After all, only a few weeks ago, the lad had held the same ladder for me, while I made the exact same climb, for the purpose of wire-brushing the cap to remove some built-up creosote.

I did not think the build-up warranted the smoking and indeed, the little spruce-up did nothing to alleviate the smoke. This past week, with GF Mama in Willits, housesitting, I was not as worried about the smoke. That’s why I have windows and a door-to let the smoke out.

GF Mama, however, is susceptible to both dust and smoke, and I have done everything possible to do the heavy lifting on the remodel, when she was out of Dodge. The smoke, however, was omnipresent and that just could not be.

I climbed the ladder one time, the other day, and that was before I even started the job, to see what I would need to remove the cap. That way I could run the brush up and down the pipe to clean out the creosote. Once I had filed this piece of information away in my mind, hoping it would stick around for a minute, I started the job with the basics.

I separated the stovepipe from the stove itself, and then again where the pipe goes through the kitchen floor, and into the guest bedroom above. I had a six-foot section of the pipe, which included a zig and a zag, at ninety degree angles, so that I could keep at least a couple of feet of air space between the stove and the pantry.

Otherwise the stove would have been too close to the wall and a fire danger. Before I even examined this segment of the pipe, I glanced up the pipe still in place, to see just how bad it really was. To my astonishment the pipe appeared to be almost free of the nasty black crud.

Gluten-Free Mama was studying the stove where the pipe had just been removed, and observed that there was a lot of ashes and soot built up here. Simultaneously, I finally got around to inspecting the pipe in my hands, and zeroed in on another problem: The twelve inches of pipe between the two elbows, had three strikes against it: creosote, ashes and soot build-up. What this translated to was that I would not have to climb the ladder again. 

Well, not until it snows again, anyway.
My nephew, Jason






Thursday, March 8, 2018

Art or Dartboard?


My fifth grade teacher Sister Annunciation once smacked herself in the forehead with the palm of her hand, when she saw that I had again created a map, this one of the Liberian Peninsula, during our once-a-week, half-hour art session. 

The author of Mark's Work
“Why do you always making the maps? That not art. Why you do not draw real pictures?” Having only been in this country from Cuba for a little over eighteen months, Sister’s English was progressing nicely, even if I cared not for the message.

Surprised by the question I looked at my drawing, with its vibrant color, the boundaries of Spain outlined with deep red, and Portugal in yellow. I had shaded in the interior with the same colors, lightly, the colored pencils being employed parallel to the paper to efficiently shade in the entire country.

I had used black to print in the name of the capital and those of the major cities, and I had drawn the rivers in blue, the mountains in light purple. I had sketched a few imports and exports to one side, but only the surefire ones like oranges from Spain, or grapes from Portugal, nothing that required any actual skill to reproduce.

“This isn’t a real picture?” I had inquired, clearly confused.

No need to caption this: Cow standing under tree.
I had put genuine effort into it, I had stayed within my own drawn lines, and it was pleasing to the eye, or at least my eye.

“Every week you draw the maps. Draw different picture next week,” as though it were that simple.

“I didn’t trace it! It’s just that I’m not good at drawing other stuff; I like drawing pictures of maps. Am I in trouble?” 

“Arrrrgh! No, you not in trouble. But why not try different next time?” 

I had no frame of reference. Art was frustrating for me; some individual attention, or some basic how-to-draw-a-dog lessons would have benefited, but my class stood at 43 students. 

If that seems a lot, my little brother Tom was in a second grade class one year, at St. Martha’s, with 73 students in it.

I was not a kid who clamored for attention, not as long as I could conceal the book I was reading inside the geography book that the class was following. As far as I was concerned, any kid who couldn’t follow along with the imports and exports of Peru and Paraguay, and read Mark Twain’s “The Prince and the Pauper” at the same time, was not worth my attention.

But that has nothing to do with art. 

At the advanced age of 65, I am still in the stick figure stage of my drawing career, as far as any reasonable attempt to draw or sketch. I have an ongoing goal of taking up painting some day, when I get the right tutor, so that I can learn to paint a cow in a field, under an oak tree, one that is recognizable as such, without any prompting from me.

I wrote recently about sculpting a rabbit from clay, and how affected I was by the experience, way back in the summer of 1993. I was so moved, I retired as champion, in my own mind, having never worked with clay since.

I have never played a musical instrument, though I did acquire a drum last August and frequently let my hands do their thing while plugged into my Dr. Dre’s. A little “Dashboard” by Modest Mouse, or possibly “Heads Will Roll” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and I need no tutor to guide my hands. It matters not whether my beats match those of the artist; they match the ones in my head.

Art defies definition; one man’s art is another man’s dartboard. 

Art is humbling by definition because it is so subjective. In my case you can add that art is humbling because it is also objective; a dog can only look like a porcupine or a possum, if it is Dali or Picasso who defines it that way. Otherwise, go fish.
In contrast to being humbling, art can also be exhilarating. It can be structured or it can be carefree and borderless. What I may find touches my soul, you may find repulses you, aesthetically. The amount of leeway within the world of art is comparable to that of the world of architecture. 

Whether you’re dealing with mud huts, teepees and igloos, or skyscrapers and basilicas, it all fits under one handy umbrella, just as art does. 

Now I find myself immersed in woodworking art, a curious combination of precision mixed in with variation, a tantalizing collaboration of left and right brain centers. In creating the log-cabin quilt that I wrote about in “Off the Leash,” everything was parallel or perpendicular to everything else, and yet the different combinations that could have been formed from 468 pieces of wood, of six different sizes, were infinite.

I spent three consecutive days of around sixteen hours each, to complete the 42 by 92-inch wooden log-cabin quilt, and am thrilled with the result. Comparable to that rabbit sculpted out of clay, the feeling is all-consuming and most rewarding, simply because it was so unexpected.

Gluten-Free Mama is enthralled with the woodworking, I am stoked to have been able to pull it off and the only question of the day is, what would Sister Annunciation have thought? After all, it’s still not a “real picture.”  



Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Off the Leash


Though the aircraft has now landed, I don’t want to unfasten my seat belt-not yet. I am no stranger to an occasional list in my gait, due to the side effects from my meds, but this hesitation has nothing to do with staggering.

Simply put, the glow from the inferno which has consumed me for five days, is too sweet to relinquish yet. I am still radiating from my unparalleled success, in creating something for Gluten-Free Mama of an artistic nature; I simply want time to stand still while I live in the moment. 

I once told my sister JT that if a week ever went by without me posting on my blog, hard times must be involved. Therefore, this past week-sans writing-is a pleasant change from the norm, as if there were ever a norm, in that the gap in the writing was due to positive influences.

When I use the phrase above, “unparalleled success,” I refer not to art which society would deem worthy, but to my own goal, which was to tickle Gluten-Free Mama’s fancy, something I have been preoccupied with since 1981. More than that, however, was the personal joy I experienced at being able to do something genuinely artistic, a joy only once before attained in my 65 years.

I achieved this joy by sculpting a rabbit out of clay, back in the summer of 1993, using a picture from some unimportant source. Taken out of context, it all sounds pretty mundane, but I am the guy whose idea of producing art while growing up, was to duplicate maps of existing countries, continents or counties. I drew maps because they were the only thing I could draw that came out looking the way I wanted them to. 

A sketch of a dog should not look like a blotchy replica of a porcupine, or maybe a possum. The jury is hung up and asking for permission to adjourn to the bar. In any case my illustrations did not look like dogs. My horses were deformed dinosaurs; my cows were curdled and my cats were rats.  

When it came to using my hands to sketch or paint, fergeddit. And yet, halfway across the country, while engaged in an Art-Connects workshop at the University of New Mexico, art truly connected for me. I would confide in you that I wept, were it not for the sheer embarrassment of being so easily moved.

A rabbit? Nonetheless, I had accomplished something that had eluded me for the first 40 years of existence. I had awakened the right side of my brain.

Now, assisting me in this process over the past week, was black lime, a strain of indica that we grow on-farm. I use it exclusively when I work the soil with the pitchfork, to help deal with discomfort. Like all pain meds, black lime has side effects. In addition to helping deal with discomfort, primarily from back issues leaning over my work, black lime provides fortification in the creative process. 
The pattern I chose

Figuring I was going to need all the help I could get, I went so far as to twist up a couple of phatties before I even googled “log-cabin quilt patterns.” Originally I was thinking of something considerably simpler, but when I explained that to herself, GF Mama mentioned casually that what she would really like, was more of the wood-play I had engaged in, when the two of us were doing the finish-work on the dining room in 2010.

I had repurposed about forty feet of 2-by-6 redwood, previously employed as eaves on the original cabin, and ripped it into inch-and-a-half-wide, by three/eighths-of-an-inch-thick strips. I had then used these strips to decorate the inside of the bay window, that stretched three-fourth’s of the way across the north-facing wall of our dining room.

What I had to work with this time around, was pine siding that I stripped off from behind a set of cabinets that had been in place for 35 years. I had a like-quantity of redwood that been acquired in exactly the same fashion, that was originally on the exterior of our 16-by-20 cabin.
Figuring it out-the redwood all runs the same way.

As both a Virgo and a possessor of a Great Depression mentality, when it comes to reusing materials, I was already on-course for astro-plane mode. When options included a task of Herculean proportions, with corresponding rewards, astro-planing went to a new level: It bounced writing right off the chart, when it comes to taking the right side of the brain out for a stroll.

Examining the different options for log-cabin quilt patterns took exactly one “press return,” for one pattern to seize my attention. I spent from 10:30, when I got up one evening, until almost two in the A of M, examining the first pattern I encountered. After doing some [exclusively] mental calisthenics, to figure out a materials list, I came up with:
9, 7.5, 6 and 4.5 inches long

96 pieces of wood, 1-1/2 inch wide by 9 inches long, 48 pine and 48 redwood

96 pieces of wood, 1-1/2 inch wide by 7 1/2 inches long, 48 pine and 48 redwood

96 pieces of wood, 1-1/2 inch wide by 6 inches long, 48 pine and 48 redwood

96 pieces of 1-1/2 inch wide by 4 1/2 inches long, wood, 48 pine and 48 redwood

96 pieces of 1-1/2 inch wide by 3 inches long, wood, 48 pine and 48 redwood

96 pieces of 1-1/2 inch wide by 1 1/2 inches long, wood, 48 pine and 48 redwood

That’s 576 pieces of wood.

I was completely off in my calculations, naturally, actually needing 144, nine-inch pieces of wood, and only 64 of each of the rest, but who’s keeping track, anyway? Not this retired language arts teacher, that’s for sure. I will be honest though, if I looked at that picture of the pattern I used, long enough, I could have come up with dozens of materials lists, all of them different. The colors all seemed to blend into one another.
The shorties

I will also say that once I started laying out the whole thing on a four-foot by eight-foot piece of plywood, it took me four hours to figure out what direction I wanted to take. There are infinite numbers of ways the pieces could have been assembled in a pleasing manner; the key was to choose one and run with it.

With Gluten-Free Mama house-sitting in Willits, and gone for an entire week, I not only took the right side of my brain out for a walk, I let it off the leash. Those days were 16 hours-plus, each one, but fueled by a knowledge that what I was working on, would be something I could truly leave behind as a legacy. 

You see, GF Mama doesn't quilt anymore, so I figured I would try my hand at it. 
Does this mean I can call myself a quilter?
One log-cabin quilt, installed


Thursday, March 1, 2018

Mirror, Mirror, on Your Wall


The two phrases, “Actions speak louder than words” and “Do as I say-not as I do,” both mean essentially the same thing. No matter how hard you try to use words to teach your children, they are going to “listen” more closely to what you do, than what you say.


Hammering home the dangers of alcohol, while keeping your BevMo! membership card current, sends a mixed message to kids. More likely the message that lands closest to home is the one that says, “like father-like son,” or “like mother-like daughter.” 

Or how about, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree?”

My father never said the words, “You kids need to go to college in order to get a decent job,” but from Day One, it was always expected that higher education was the ticket. Himself, having never made it through high school and gainfully employed as a heliarc welder, at $7,000 per year, had higher expectations for his nine children.

Indeed, two doctorates and three masters degrees later, with the rest of us content to stick with Bachelor of Arts degrees, he had made his point. Included are a doctor, a lawyer, three educators, a couple of mental health workers and a couple of postmasters general. Nary a steel factory worker amongst us.

There is nothing wrong with being a person who works with his hands, if that is what he wants to do. Clearly, my father resented it but never varied from the path of what was required to put food on the table.

Every late afternoon, at 3:45, he would arrive home from work, exhausted, his hands grimy from a day of work in a huge steel building, that served better as an oven in the summer and a refrigerator in the winter. 

As I peeled potatoes and diced onions, under Papa’s supervision in preparation for the evening meal, I got an earful about awful work conditions, listening to him relay the day’s injustices to Mama. Over two cocktails concocted from your basic rotgut bourbon, the story would emerge, before the two of them tag-teamed to get dinner ready for the tribe.

I did not need any more motivation that that, when it came to deciding that my hands were better suited for pens, paper and ink, than grease, grime and cleansing powder. It was all about cause and effect: Because one goes to school, one increases one’s options in life.

Not only was my father able to cook, he could build a home from scratch, he could plumb it and do the electrical as well. He could work with concrete, including building fireplaces, and he could craft kitchen cabinets, fine chests of drawers, hope chests and any other kind of finish-work carpentry.


He never specifically “taught” me how to do anything, but I nonetheless learned a great deal being his helper. All of his sons were Robert’s helpers during their upbringing, sometimes individually, and sometimes as part of a work force.

Papa smoked cigarettes when I was a kid, but he quit in the late sixties, when awareness of the harms of tobacco were being heightened. I smoked tobacco recreationally when I was in college, but had my last ciggie in 1985, always aware that what I was doing was harmful.

Papa refused to call into work, sick, asking rhetorically, “Why should I stay home and be miserable, when I can go to work and be miserable, but at least get paid for it?” That way, when his friend Bob Kinney wanted to go fishing in the middle of the week, he could use his sick time to have some fun.

I am a pretty healthy guy, so that probably explains why, in sixteen years of teaching middle school language arts in the local school district, I never called in sick once. I did miss two days, one due to a toxic spill on Highway 101, and one to having such a heavy amount of snow on the ground, our 4WD Trooper bottomed out, wheels flopping in the breeze.

Maybe there is a connection between my father’s work ethic, and mine, and maybe there isn’t. Or maybe writing sub-plans and feeling guilty about leaving my kids with a sub, was enough of a reason to always answer the bell.

How about reading versus television? Do you want your kids to become avid readers for life? Read to them as kids and read yourself. Do you want your kids glued to the TV set? No? Then monitor how much time you, yourself, spend in front of the squawk-box.

And how about relationships, and respect for women? In this house, with three sons and no daughters, my boys were going to take their cues from me. Did they notice that I brought Gluten-Free Mama coffee every morning when I went to wake her up for the day?

Did they listen when I told them violence was unacceptable in any way? I wasn’t sure. Did they listen when I told them not to hit one another? Did they notice that I was willing to back up what I said by not spanking them?

And did they happen to notice that not only did I not lay a hand on their mom, but that I refused to even speak disrespectfully to her? Could that have been because that was the behavior modeled for me by my own father?

At his worst the best Papa could do to diss on Mama at the dinner table, was to comment that “the wall-paper paste [the pudding for dessert] was especially, well, wall-papery this fine evening.” He might even have hollered at me a time or two, but he never raised his voice to Mama.

Throughout their upbringing my three sons watched me and their mom, care for our aging parents. Gluten-Free Mama even did hospice care for her own mother in Willits, being there to usher her mama into the afterlife, all by her lonesome.

We all cared for Pauline up here on the mountain, from 1996 until 2011, after Robert passed. When it became impossible for her 89-year-old-self to remain up here without companionship, we moved her to Willits. The boys were all three a part of this process.

Now, when I am remodeling the bathroom and laundry room and HeadSodBuster fits time into his hectic schedule to bust out the plumbing and electrical, it feels good. When SmallBoy hauls off the detritus from the same remodel job, a pile of rubbish the size of Rhode Island, it feels good, especially when he makes a return engagement, to remove the dead refrigerator.

Finally, when Ben-Jam-In makes life a lot easier for me and GF Mama, by transporting a truckload of kitchen-sized firewood from up above, to the back of our house, and stacking it, it feels good.

You reap what you sow and whether or not your harvest is productive, may depend on what you see, when you look in the mirror. Do you like what you see? Because others see it too, especially your kids.

If you don’t like it, change it, the way my father did when he quit smoking cigarettes. Is that why none of my eight siblings smoke either? I can’t say for sure but the evidence indicates thusly. Sometimes a lesson is more powerful because it is based on a mistake or a poor decision.

Never mind that you made poor choices; we all do. Correcting a poor choice takes a lot of work and therefore makes a bigger impression on the ones doing the observing. 

Remember, little pitchers have big ears, so if you do not want to hear the f-bomb coming out of your child’s mouth, don’t put it there in the first place, by using it in front of her.