Dozer, the Bulldog

Dozer, the Bulldog
Feeling the "Bern"

Ellie Mae

Ellie Mae
No time for gates...

Ollie Mac

Ollie Mac
My cooking assistant

Ollie and Annie

Ollie and Annie
Azorean grandmother


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



Papa and Ollie Mac

Papa and Ollie Mac
Priorities, Baby


Annie, my Sweetest of Apple Blossoms

My first portrait

My first portrait
"Mr. Farmer"

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Twenty Acres or a New Car?

May 31st, 1982, was a day like any other day, except for the fact that Gluten-Free Mama and I pulled up stakes from San Jose, and moved five hours north to a ridge-top in Mendocino County. We loaded up Old Paint, our olive drab, 1962 Double Slug, crammed the rest of our belongings into de Lova Machine, our Chevy Nova, and headed out.

I took two of our cats, Carrie and Manny-Cat, in the bus, and GF Mama took our other feline Sarah in de Lova Machine, and we caravanned on up. Sarah was my favorite, a petite gray and white kitty, who strolled into United Auto Story Road one fine day, and ended up coming home with me.

I had awfully high aspirations for such a short ladder...
Not an adventurous person by nature, our relocation was not only uncharacteristic, it was off-the-charts for me. We were expecting the arrival of a little Sod-Buster in September, and we were moving into a 16-by-20 cabin with no windows, no running water, no power, no heat and no bathroom. We had a Coleman lantern and a flashlight for lighting. And we had candles.

As is frequently the case, June presented us with fog, drizzle and cold. It was a discouraging start to our long-awaited adventure because I had no frame of reference. How DID one go about heating a cabin? I was a grocery man-turned-soldier, not a pioneer.

With the help of a couple of my brothers and a neighbor, the cabin had been erected in three days’ time the previous summer. I was learning carpentry on the fly, having labored with the boys, on a spec house in BrookTrails that same summer. This was my first experience with a cat’s paw, a Skil-Saw, or a miter-box, and all of the rest of the tools of destruction. Sorry, I mean construction. 

Brothers Tom and Matt, summer of 1981
I was used to stocking shelves and working the check-stand, and filing orders for troops about to board a red-tail for home, not problem-solving. We had no electricity, we had no propane and we had no wood stove. A Coleman lantern will warm your hands, but it will not warm a cabin.

What’s missing from the tale is the fact that there was already a support system in place up here on the ridge, several family members having previously made the move. One of the first days we were there, I was taken under wing by Bro Matchu, and led around the ‘hood, first stopping up at the barn to get an ancient cast-iron wood stove, brought from SoCal but currently not in use. 

We then traipsed across The Bell and up to neighbor Rex’s spot, where we scored some gnarly six-inch stove pipe, starting to rust and long-since set aside, but still more than serviceable in a pinch. The boys had fortuitously installed the chimney pipe assembly in the roof and through the loft, so all we had to do was install the pipes, and we were good to go. 

The windows had to wait a year before they got installed.
Though the wood stove was ancient and minuscule, it was more than sufficient to get that little one-room cabin warm and cozy. We were also in the midst of a gold mine, when it came to downed, dry manzanita, a fuel that burns clean and hot, so we were able to easily correct the dismal setting. I also had the windows ready to install in the currently boarded-over openings, so as soon as I got one in place, our cave began to come alive. 

The windows were recycled wood-sash, old and drafty, and a poor choice, but we had gotten them for next-to-nothing at a salvage yard in San Jose, and they were what we had. It would have been smarter to simply get dual-paned, aluminum windows from the building yard, but we did not have that kind of loot. 

Between the two of us, we had about fifteen hundred bones to build the cabin in the first place, so there was not much leeway when it came to basics. Drafty windows in-hand were better than airtight windows down at the building supply place.

I find it helps to keep the context of the times on the front burner: We’re talking about a period when land was available for four hundred dollars an acre. I wrote the words out on that figure, to make sure that no one got confused with a pesky decimal point. My friends at United Auto were buying new cars for the same eight thousand dollars, that I was buying twenty acres of land.

We home-schooled the boys until local politics dismantled our little educational collective, and then we sent them down to the local school district in the ‘Ville. I had taken on a role with the two-room schoolhouse, acting as a liaison between it and the school district, and I had had to acquire a California Teaching Credential to do so. It was a natural step for me to apply for a vacant middle school position in town the following September.

I’d be in the classroom still if it weren’t for standardized testing, bless its pointy little head, but then if I were still teaching, I wouldn’t be planting somewhere in the neighborhood of 120 tomato plants in the next week, so there’s that.

I love being a farmer as much as I loved teaching, maybe more. After all, tomato plants can’t write spelling essays that need to be graded, and they’re not asked to pass any test, except the taste test.

You leave that up to me-that’s one test I am happy to administer. Would you prefer the regular, or the chipotle-flavored tomato catsup that I put up last fall? Or possibly some marinara sauce, chunky salsa, or smooth hot sauce? Got it. Pizza sauce it is. 

Pizza is as good a way as any to celebrate thirty-six years on the mountain.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

She Ain't Heavy

Or not...
Out of respect I do not prattle on about the health issues of loved ones, preferring to focus more on the effect these problems have on me. “I” messages help me to keep centered on the big picture, without having to create a “National Inquirer” kind of environment.

I have long since shared that I am a wanderer in a hostile land, when it comes to hospitals, particularly waiting rooms. I’m not proud but I am realistic: If my presence is not helping, then it must be hurting. If the person being visited is more concerned for my welfare, than for her own, something is amiss.

Therefore, I remain on the mountain, stoking the home fires and trying my hardest not to dwell on the negative. In point of fact, I seek out the negative and attack it. Chicken coop needs cleaning because it’s gross? Excellent! The grosser the better.

Though not on the same level of gross, I also attack house-cleaning. As opposed to dusting, I wipe the house down with a damp washcloth, brush the ceilings and corners for spider webs, and sweep and mop the floors. I do the laundry, hanging out Gluten-Free Mama’s clothes indoors on racks, while stringing my stuff outside on the clothesline. 

When I finish cleaning the entire house, I begin again, going deeper and more thoroughly into nooks and crannies with my toothbrush, for the simple reason that it gives me a sense of purpose. I wash the bedsheets, I go through the coat rack and gather up dirty jackets and hoodies and I round up all the throw-rugs and bathmats. 

In lieu of me, I send flowers...
Somehow, all of this industry helps me combat the hollow, empty feeling that accompanies me everywhere, when GF Mama is gone. As I explained to HeadSodBuster the other evening, I feel as though I have been wading deeper into the ocean for the past six years, and I’m now in over my head. I feel so appreciative I get overwhelmed.

He stopped me. “You don’t have to say anything; this is what family is all about. You provided support for Grandpa and Grandma-now it’s our turn.” He said a lot of other things also, for which I was grateful.

I have gotten over the feelings of guilt that at times I cannot be with GF Mama; guilt is counter-productive. Instead, I focus on how much support there is for her. Any thought that she might be a burden is balanced by the simple fact that GF Mama has spent a lifetime caring for others in their times of need. Karma may seem slow at times and unsure of herself at others, but when it comes to balancing an entire lifetime of giving, Karma will be instant.

It’s like this: If you’ve walked the walk all of your life, then you get to be carried when your legs get jerked out from under you, until you are back on your feet. You don’t have to worry about being a burden, if there are many willing to help lighten the load.

Excuse me, one sec.

“May I have your attention, please, especially those of you in the back? Please, no pushing or shoving! You will get your chance to help!”

OK, I’m back. Where was I?

Sunday, May 20, 2018

I Am Not a Wimp

That may have been me splayed out on the kitchen floor, one night not long ago, pasty-faced, sweat-soaked and hanging onto consciousness the way I might clutch my bong in moments of dire need, but I am not a wimp.

Or so I have been told, much to my relief, because I had formed just the opposite opinion. After all, what’s a little blood here and there, among friends? OK, if I am going to do this at all, I am going to be accurate: There was blood everywhere.

Before proceeding any further, allow me to assure you all is well-it was “just a nosebleed.” ** Those words seem so innocuous because that’s generally what a nosebleed is-just an inconvenience. No big deal-Ferris wheel, you know? 

There I am, seconds before waking up. What DID wake me?
Context comes into play here. Had I not just gone to sleep, in what is the only deep sleep I get per 24 hours, I would not have been quite so dingy. As it was something awakened me, and in a scene right out of “The Godfather,” the first thing to greet my eyes was blood.

The sheet on Gluten-Free Mama’s side of the bed was soaked in it.

I staggered up and followed the spatter. You can talk about automatic pilot; I experienced it, following the crimson crumbs until I was peering into the bathroom and trying not to act as though I were terrified. My instructions were to call SmallBoy. 

Mechanically, I did so; phone records prove it, indicating that the time was 7:54. I gave terse details to my son, the EMT, and asked him if he could drive his mama to the hospital. I also told him that I loved him. I do so always, unequivocally, but I loved him more at that instant than I can ever remember.   

That’s all I recall because I was under attack by an old acquaintance, one I thought I had kicked to the curb: I was in full-blown panic attack mode. 

I was desperate for oxygen yet unable to breathe, and perspiration poured down my face like droplets of water do when my hat is jammed with ice cubes in the summer heat. The overhead light was blinding me and heat radiated through me, and all I was hoping for was to make it to the living room couch. As I watched that ship sail off into the sunset, the kitchen floor rose up to greet me.

I never lost consciousness-I just wished I did.

At least I was sprawled out on a newly refinished floor...
Objectively, I know that no scale of justice would hold me accountable in the big picture, for my inability to function at any given moment. I can serve Gluten-Free Mama 23.5/7, but I obviously can’t do it all the time. I can clean house, cook and keep an ongoing flow of fresh water, tea, juice, and anything that remotely appeals to an unresponsive appetite, but I can’t do blood.

Well, not until the next day, anyway, when I was more than happy to help by cleaning up the mess.

** Health care providers wanted GF Mama to stay in Willits for a couple of days, just for precautionary measures, but the cause of the nosebleed was dry sinus tissue from seasonal allergies. With Ben-Jam-In being right there in Willits, GF Mama was in excellent hands.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Don't Bet the Rent

One of the scariest propositions I can think of, is starting out life in the work force. Just the thought of clocking in for an eight hour shift, regardless of what kind of job, is enough to make me queasy. Granted, I was part of the work force from age 14 through 54, so that’s a quick forty years, though the last job I had that required punching in, was back in 1982.

Though retired, I still put in full days of work, in a wide variety of venues, but I am the one who pencils in the job descriptions, and I am the one who determines the schedule. I base this on how my knees, shoulder, toe and back are feeling. Sounds like a chant: Knees, shoulder, toe and back-bend all you want-just don’t crack!

When I am by myself, I work longer hours than ever, as I have been the past two days. What with Gluten-Free Mama sashaying over to the coast on Mother’s Day, and then to the ‘Ville to hang out with her former teaching buddy, Debbie, yesterday, I had couple of days to myself.

My primary focus yesterday was sprucing up the house and preparing a couple of home-grown chickens for the fam. I also put in several hours out in the orchard, and ended up by doing some spring cleaning with my rose bushes.

The long and the short of it all, is that I have determined that today should be an “off” day. I’m scrambling to think back to the last day off I had, and my failing memory is having a good laugh at my expense. Whatever. If anything, it reinforces my point-I rarely pause for the cause.

However, GF Mama is exhausted after two days of being off the mountain, and has made a reservation for one in her recliner. I am inspired by her resolve to not move, and have decided to join her. Well, not specifically in her recliner-just in her goal of not moving. It's good to have lofty goals.

I am rereading Jack Schaefer’s “Shane,” certainly an enjoyable sojourn back to a time and place when men also rarely took days off. I will wait on GF Mama, hand and foot, maintain the home fires and hope that the forecast for showers is accurate. As much as the sun has been good for everything, a few May showers would go a long way.

Returning to my opening statement, I see friends make announcements about starting this job, or that one, and of course, it is a good thing. For them, that is, not me. I can’t turn back the clock, nor do I want to, so it’s a moot point, but if I found myself back in a position where I had to show up at a certain time, take my lunch an eternity later, and then work until the magic hour, I’d slit my throat.

And that’s not even taking into consideration what my boss might be like. Of course, teachers are more or less their own boss, until such time as they rock the boat. Then, at any time of the day or night, the principal could stroll into the classroom, and you had better be on your game.

I actually selected this process for my personal evaluation each year that I taught. We had the choice of having our principal come in for a formal observation, which meant an entire class period while a lesson was presented, or having her come in multiple times over the course of a school year, none of the visits announced.

To some the idea of having your boss pop in might be disconcerting, especially if things are already a tad chaotic. On the other hand, since there is never any notice, there is also no stress. If you are a together teacher, far better to have your administrator see that the majority of the time your stuff is tight, with an occasional lapse, than to place all of your eggs in one basket, and have them scrambled in front of your boss’s eyes.

Johnny picked the wrong day to go off, and you are the one who gets written up. I never liked my odds for a one-visit evaluation, as much as I liked them for many visits. I would expect that the more competent a teacher you are, the more you might prefer the light and breezy approach to evaluation, over the more traditional, formal ritual.

Bosses never posed any problem for me, just the idea of being enslaved for eight hours, plus. It’s funny how the older I get, the less inclined I am to toe the line, not to mention less inclined to be told what to do. In that regard I am the equal of any middle schooler who ever took his gum out of his mouth, and stuck it to the underside of the table.

Tell me to stop and watch me go; tell me to toe the line and watch me kick it; finally, tell me to learn and watch me do everything in my power to disrupt the flow of information-to everyone.

Becoming ancient and decrepit has so many perks it’s hard to come up them all on the spur of the moment, but not having to clock into work every day of my life, belongs at the top of the list. OK, maybe list is being too optimistic; there are other benefits, though. You can bet on that.

Just don’t bet the rent.

Monday, May 14, 2018

One Pint? Coming Right Up!

I am pleased to announce to my oodles of readers, that I have now achieved “god status” with a certain segment of my followers. Indeed, they flock from side to side as I pass, clearly prevented from swarming me only by the reinforced barrier that divides us. I am grateful for this intervention.

They clamor for me; of that there can be no doubt. They raise their voices in unison, pleading for my attention, begging for a tidbit of time from me, and maybe, just maybe, something more. They know from experience that at some point during the day-every day-I will pause in my farmer duties to share a pint with them, a pint of cracked corn. As if you weren’t already aware, chickens do love their corn.

That I am perceived as a god by my flock of chickens cannot be disputed. Once upon a time, such was not the case-I was the demon from hell. Assaulted by the cacophonous clamor, constantly colliding caustically with my ears, I returned the attack. Bellowing had no effect; the same could be said for throwing rocks against the outside of the coop. 

My bad.

Getting rid of the rooster that mimicked the “egg song” every time one of the hens went off, helped considerably. I remain in Meadow’s debt forever, and demonstrate such by purchasing all of my feed supplies from her shop in town. Appreciatively. She did not have to go out of her way to take that rooster under her protective wing, and it soon had a happy home.

The turning point for my change in attitude, came when I assumed full responsibility for maintaining the chickens. This occurred when Gluten-Free Mama found herself with more significant issues to deal with than chickens. Just as listening to the Giants back in 1974, when I couldn’t listen to Da Bums, made me a Giants fan, attending the chickens has made me a chicken fan.

Somehow, that statement lacks the glamor I had hoped to achieve but nonetheless, I have become more than just fond of the little savages. I keep their home maintained, a mutually beneficial arrangement if ever there were one, and I stay on top of gathering the eggs, another benefit from the clucky ones.

I call them savages because I have been around them long enough to recognize the origins all of those references to the hen house. I note the pecking order, and their willingness-nay, eagerness-to gross me out at every second of every day.

Don’t misunderstand me. They are beautiful, fat and sassy, and obviously happy to keep the farm well supplied with eggs and fertilizer. They just can be so mean to one another it defies comprehension. Might makes right in the hen house, and all I can do is make sure that everything is spread out for maximum accessibility for all.

When I first came on board, they must have been stunned to go from GF Mama, gentle and kind, to the farm fiend. And yet I was providing food, water and whatever else I had to do to convince GF Mama that she no longer had to fret about chickens. Or me and chickens.

I lavish Miners’ lettuce on them, send the kitchen compost greens their way, and now, the crowning treat of all, corn. Too much is not good but a little corn goes a long way. I also use it to get them from point A to Point B, as easily as you can say Hansel and Gretel.

At this point in the game I no longer even need the corn to convince them to follow me. They adore me. I try not to let it go to my head, but it’s hard not to feel something. You know? Luckily their adulation has not prevented me from enjoying one of my favorite breakfasts: a well-crafted omelet.

I am inordinately sorry about that, girls.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

The 365th Day

Every day is Mother’s Day at our house, which is why I felt comfortable making the decision to stay home today, while the rest of the clan traipses off to the coast. I do not have to demonstrate to Gluten-Free Mama that I love her by accompanying her to the coast; I show her that I love her every day of our lives.

I could have gone; I have the tools to accomplish the task. The problem is that I simply do not enjoy myself. I try-honestly I do, but it’s like asking an animal rights person to wear a genuine mink stole and do it comfortably. I know I couldn’t. I mean, if I were inclined to wear women’s fashions in the first place. Which I’m not.

Moving right along, we did a similar excursion a couple of Mother’s Days ago (I have the pics), and I struggled. The drive is long, I have issues being in a vehicle in the first place, and I am simply afraid of casting a pall over the whole group. Even if it were Father’s Day, I could probably pull that stuff, but not on Mother’s Day. 

So why jump through the hoops? Instead, I will stay home, spruce the place up a bit and prepare for what is a far more significant family event the very next day: GF Mama’s birthday. I am going to roast a couple of home-gown chickens, mash some potatoes and invite the fam over here for din-din procedures.

I will do so, that is, providing GF Mama has not wound up in the hospital, for the third consecutive birthday. I will not elaborate, already being on shaky ice and thin ground at the same time, but let’s just say a birthday at home would be the best present of all.

Only a year ago, on the best day of the year, GF Mama stumbled in a gas station parking lot, smacked her head on the concrete and ended up in the local hospital. After precautionary x-rays were taken, and the brain tumor discovered, she was whisked to another hospital, closer to her doctors. 

I have written volumes on the subject inside my head, as I am accustomed to doing, but they will never see the light of day, or in my case, the dark of night. Meanwhile, staying home and cleaning the house is the best possible Mothers Day present I could provide anyway. 

That’s what the meme on face/book would have us believe: All Mom wants is to be carried off to bed for a well-deserved nap, to awake to a clean house. In this case substitute a trip to the coast for a nap. Besides, I don’t even know why I am prattling on about cleaning the house for Mother’s Day: I am the one who cleans and maintains the house anyway, not only on Mother’s Day, but the other 364 days as well. 

I ain’t bragging but I ain’t skeered either. Hand me that toilet scrub-brush, will ya?

Neither Gluten-Free Mama nor I ascribe to the Hallmark approach to life, where we buy into the artificial holidays, and feel compelled to shower each other with gifts. There is nothing wrong with setting the day aside, and honoring everything about motherhood, as long as we don’t lose sight of the fact that if Mom is appreciated every day, then we need not feel pressure to artificially inflate the importance of one specific day.

It’s better to honor the mothers of the world 364 days a year, and skip the 365th, than the reverse.  
Possibly the coolest photo I have ever taken:
Do you see the arctic fox, in the reflected clouds?

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

What If?

A vague sense of impending doom has been hovering over and within me for a while now and no, it’s not about kicking the bucket. At the risk of catastrophizing, an activity I have foresworn, I recognize that at 65, I am one misstep away from any number of possible calamities that could change my immediate future, rendering me incapable of doing basic chores.

I have been fortunate, and though I am not one to prattle on about gratitude, preferring to place either blame or credit for success in life, on my own shoulders, I recognize that what I have going could end in a nanosecond.

What do I have going, besides being the primary care-giver for Gluten-Free Mama?

      * I am three-fourths of the way through prepping the soil for my tomato plants. I have turned the ground over for six of the eight rows, including extending each enough to accommodate two extra plants. 

     * I am three-fourths of the way through through the process of moving my mountain of compost, just to the left, so as to redistribute all of the goodness. Specifically, I am mixing and blending the decomposed vegetative matter, together with the manure provided by the chickens and rabbits, and the wheelbarrows of decomposed soil/straw/compost/manure removed from the chickens’ yard.

* I am about one-third of the way through the weed-eating of my two-acre enclosed yard. As anyone knows who has ever tackled this chore, I must be able to overlook the discomfort that weed-eating imposes on my back, or I am doomed from the beginning. I therefore refuse to acknowledge that there is any discomfort, helped immensely by the judicious use of the CBD of my choice, AC/DC. A little rip will do you.

* I need only two sheets of ACX-quarter-inch plywood, to complete the renovation of my bathroom. This will require temporarily relocating my claw bathtub, heavy enough to be gainfully employed as a boat anchor in its next life, after being used as a horse trough in one of its past lives.

* SmallBoy and I are almost through building that little 8-by-10 laundry/pump house; all that’s left to do is the Hardy-Board and the installation of the door.

* At this precise moment in time, and for at least the next fifteen minutes, I have whipped this house into shape; by mountain standards it is immaculate.

* I am 90 % of the way through completely emptying out our mammoth [dead] kitchen refrigerator, providing for the chickens a spread that makes Babette’s Feast look more like a bad trip to Micky D’s.

* I exercise Ellie Mae every morning by walking her up to the top of the driveway and back and I care for our flock of fifteen chickens.

I fell again yesterday morning, the result of a completely unnecessary clamber over treacherous terrain, recently dug up by the excavator, to obtain a chunk of plywood. This was after two other recent tumbles, certainly an indication that I either need to go even slower than I already am, or I need to reexamine my “judicious use” of cannabis. 

The only way I can go any slower than I already am, is to walk backwards, and as for “judicious use,” I only used that phrase because it sounds so, I don’t know, sophisticated, I guess. Truthfully, I hit the bong whenever the situation calls for it. 

I don’t make the rules, you know. 

But that’s not what I want to prattle on about this morning. I am after bigger fish. What if my surgically-repaired knee suddenly decides to flake out on me? Or my similarly repaired shoulder? What if any of a number of old dude issues reaches out and pulls the rug out from under me, rendering me incapable of doing the basic work of a farmer?

On the one hand I know I am already getting more bang for my buck, at 65, than many; on the other hand, why should now, be it? I do not care to ponder an immediate future in which I cannot do the rudimentary tasks I now perform on a daily basis, even if I creak a bit.

What then is the right age? 68? 70? If I am still up and at ‘em every day, it’s hard to imagine I’d feel any differently. And I guess that’s the answer to when is the right age to call it quits: when I feel differently than I do now.

If that’s sidestepping the whole issue, then I better not-moving sideways is the worst possible thing I can do to my knees. And I would refer to the manual, as I am wont to do in these times, but when I went to check it out and explained why, the librarian laughed uproariously, and said, 

“You’re 65? And you want to know what your physical shelf-life is? lol. You’re so old you predate the “shelf-life” date requirement.” 

Oh. Now I wish I hadn’t asked.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

A Sound Investment

When Gluten-Free Mama and I made the decision to adopt a rescue dog, we did so knowing full well that it was an iffy proposition. Weren’t dogs from the animal shelter, well, damaged? I mean, why else would they be there, right?

If by “damaged,” you mean neglected, abandoned and unloved, then yes, I think that would be accurate. However, if you think that rescue dogs are somehow incapable of making a successful transition from the bottom of the ladder to the top, then I must beg to differ with you.

Stupid squirrel-why don't you come down here
and say that?
Like those who volunteer their time to work with these dogs-formerly-known-as-pets, I believe that practically all dogs will respond accordingly to time, attention, affection and concern. Show me a dog in need of love, who receives an abundance of it, and I will show you a dog who will deliver it back, tenfold. A sound investment if ever there were one.

Take our Ellie Mae, for example, a mid-sized bowser who came to us as a sweet, eager-to-please dog, but one with insecurity issues. I might have described her as hyper, but that comes dangerously close to describing me, so I want to tread cautiously here. Let’s just say that Ellie Mae needed a minute or two longer than the average dog, to get the message that she wasn’t going anywhere, ever. 

When asked originally what my goals were in going through dog obedience school, I responded that I was ultimately interested in having off-leash control. Though Ellie Mae has constant access to two acres of fenced-in play space, she also resides on a twenty-acre farm, so there are unlimited sugar plums for a doggie-on-the-wide.

I am a Mark-of-all-trades, forking soil on Monday, pounding nails on Tuesday, scrubbing toilet and floors on Wednesday: I ain’t proud, just busy. In my perfect world, my pup goes where I do. As is often the case, I have never dwelt in a perfect world. 

Is that plastic crinkling?
Even our beloved Dozer, whose unexpected-and abrupt-departure led to the adoption of Ellie, would never have been content to just mark time while I labored on something. Not being the kind of individual who can walk and chew bubble gum at the same time, I find it impossible to work on anything of import, and keep an eye on a dog simultaneously. I can do one or the other but not both at once. Not much gets done under those circumstances.

Over the past six months, I have worked with Ellie 24/7, to establish a strong enough bond that I can trust her to accompany me, and stay within the sound of my voice. I started by taking her with me on short jaunts, with her running free, and recognizing that even if she races off at any point in time, she always comes right back.

I have worked for months now on the “leave-it” command, especially as it relates to chickens. Ellie Mae is programmed to respond to any critter she encounters, certainly a product of her country venue. It’s not good; it’s not bad. It simply is.

I am convinced she recognizes that chickens, though critters, are off-limits as far as entertainment goes. Except for the gopher she brought to me, in the same manner that Toby the cat brings rodents, I have never seen her attack or kill anything. 

Ellie Mae has no chance of tracking down the usual suspects: deer, rabbits, squirrels, quail, et al. She could probably nail a skunk, but fortunately we don’t see them anymore unlike the past, when they were plentiful. GF Mama and I were once chased by one; terror is a marvelous motivator.

Still unwilling to take the plunge, earlier this week when I ambled over to SmallBoy’s spot to put in some piers for a little pump/laundry room, I left poor, neglected, obviously maligned Ellie behind. She howled like a hound dog the entire time, reported poor GF Mama, who handled it graciously enough.

She donned headphones.

Two guys, ten hours
Returning to the job site two days ago, to assemble the gathered Tinkertoys, recently obtained from the local building yard, I decided to allow Ellie Mae to accompany me. My plan was that Ellie Mae and bff Large Marge, SmallBoy’s dog, would have a play day.

I was there five hours on Friday and five more on Saturday, and it was my perfect world, at last. There was only one time over the ten hours, that I called for Ellie Mae, and had to wait. It was also the only time that both Ellie and Margie took off together on their own adventure. 

For all of five minutes I fretted, but they both returned, tongues-a-flopping in the breeze to pound the water bucket. When I inquired icily where they had been, I was met with such innocent faces and wide eyes, that I backed the truck up. Why was I catastrophizing, they seemed to inquire, when there was no reason for such behavior?

Who am I to argue with sound logic? Then don’t, those in the peanut gallery all urged simultaneously, so I’m not. Arguing, that is, just basking in the glow of a goal accomplished. 

Now if I could just get Ellie Mae to wear a nail belt, and put in some time on the job, I’d really be sailing.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Preventative Medicine

I may be retired but I’m not dead. After working yesterday out in the orchard, first turning soil with a pitchfork, and then weed-eating, I can assure you I feel very much alive. All this discomfort can’t be coming from a corpse. 

Despite some minor technical difficulties, however, today I am ready to take hammer in fist, and embark on what can only be described as a truly enjoyable bit of frippery. I have a brand new box of Tinkertoys and together with SmallBoy, am building an eight-by-ten pump house/laundry room over at his spot. 

We did the pier foundation two days ago, allowing 48 hours before we start pounding on the undercarriage. All materials and tools are on-site, which is why I liken it to two kids with a brand new box of Tinkertoys. The fir is green, unlike what I have been working with all winter in remodeling my own bath/laundry rooms, so the entire process becomes much more straightforward.

Building is diabolically straightforward, with the most delicious sense of balance and precision imaginable. We strive for perfection and settle for what we get. I remember working on a job up at Island Mountain, when our crew of four showed up to build a 20-by-24-foot structure, on a foundation already in place, and we found after some perfunctory measurements, that the whole shebang was out-of-square by nine inches.

No plywood-stretcher to be found in the tool box...
Putting this in perspective, the normal range of acceptability (settling for what we get) might be an eighth to one/quarter-inch, not nine inches. It’s hard enough to get the old board stretcher to do its thing, let alone the plywood stretcher. If the floor joists are not perfectly in line, then you end up customizing every single sheet of plywood. 

Oh, by the way, that customizing must extend through every phase of the construction, because if the floor is out of square, so are the walls and the roof. Without question it is a builder’s worst nightmare, right in broad daylight.

Up on the Island, our crew faced an enormous challenge in rectifying the problem, without simply starting over from scratch, something that would have been a logistical impossibility. Getting materials to such a remote spot, over a road more closely resembling those down in Baja, California, back in the sixties, is not something accomplished while a crew sits around waiting.

Baptism by fire notwithstanding, the four of us checked our egos at the door, and worked together to make it happen. Cantilevering floor joists out over nothing on the two sides necessary by four-and-a-half inches at the outside, we made the whole thing come together with a minimum of customizing cuts needed.

I have done two more rows since I took this pic.
I anticipate no such challenges this morning.

I did give SmallBoy a heads-ups last evening when he popped by to pick up the miter-saw. “I’m not sure how much gas I have in the tank. I work until I can’t, and then I go home.” I made it clear years ago that I can no longer work on a crew; I’m not thirty anymore.

That being said, I’m not seventy yet, either, so I figure I’m good for five or six hours. After I leave, there will be ample pick-up work for SmallBoy to keep him occupied until we resume action on Saturday morning.

I am usually OK while on the job; it’s recovering from my exertions that poses the challenge. Luckily for me I have the key, in the form of some AC/DC. Speaking of that, I better roll up a phattie or two before I venture over there this morning. 

I like to think of it as preventative medicine.