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

Friday, June 29, 2018

The Snake Protection Program

I was babbling on as we exited the back door of the house, yesterday in the afternoon heat, so Tim had to say, “Rattler!” twice before my ears caught up to my mouth.

“Where, Timmy? I don’t see her.” What was also odd was that I did not hear a thing. The pressure cooker sound of the snake’s rattle is so insistent, that it is not something you can lose in the shuffle. 

Pointing to the faucet, he said, “There, right at the base of the flower box,” and then I saw her too. Once that happened, the price of poker went up. This was no light-weight; she was coiled up, quite the beauty and looked most formidable.

The eight-foot-square flower box is ten paces outside my back door, originally built for one reason only: to turn a huge pile of rocks into something more aesthetically pleasing. Most folks would agree that a flower box is more pleasing to the eye than a pile of rocks.

The first question might be, Why would you expect flowers to grow in a pile of rocks? I started by using scrap 2-by-6 redwood to form a box that was about two feet higher than the now-leveled-out pile of rocks. Because the ground slopes away, this meant only three sides of the box needed to be formed, the fourth side being shaped by the ground itself.

I filled the box with soil so that it was 24 inches deep at the low end, and at least eight inches on the high side. I mixed in several wheelbarrows of my home-grown compost, and planted snap-dragons, zinnias and an assortment of other ornamental flowers. All this took place three years ago and the benefits have been dazzling.

Things get a little jenky at the bottom...
Alongside the corner of this box is a water faucet, with two Y’s and a total of four water lines going out from it. Each Y has a water filter that needs to be cleaned a couple of times a week. This is why our farm technician stopped by yesterday, to do just this. I had wandered out the back door with him to let him know that I had activated the second of the two Y’s. This meant that there was an additional filter to be cleaned: ten altogether, instead of nine.

Now, in my sandals I was not inclined to get any closer than the length of the snake, which was impossible to determine from its coiled form. Grabbing a rake that I had been using earlier, I circled around the back of the box, rounded up Ellie Mae, our little rescue dog, and whisked her back into the house before she had a clue as to what was going on.

In the garbage can
Rake in hand I returned to the scene and found a stand-off going on. Tim had a five gallon bucket in which to put the snake, but the coiled form in front of us made us reevaluate our plan. A snake cannot crawl up the side of a bucket, so if the top of the bucket is taller than the snake is long, she is trapped. The five gallon bucket was looking pretty skimpy. “Let me go out front and get a garbage can,” I suggested.

“Get a lid too,” Tim added.

When I returned, the snake was nowhere to be seen, “It just crawled under the box,” Tim explained, “through those rocks right there,” he said, pointing.

Where the ground sloped away, I had wedged several soccer ball-sized rocks in place, along with lots of smaller ones, to create a solid wall into which dirt could be dumped. The rocks had gaps that I had never focused on before, that obviously had enough room for our snake friend to maneuver through, out of our sight.

Who knew? Did she live here? Had I been blissfully unaware that a non-paying resident had been occupying a back-yard suite? Did I need to post an eviction notice? Or was she just visiting? Most importantly, how could we entice her out of her hiding spot, so that we could trap her and put her into snake-protection-program?

I tried a cool mist from the hose first, to see if maybe water being sprayed into the hole between the rocks would convince her to come out? She might have liked it though, because she never budged. I took the handle of the rake and stuck it into the hole between the rocks, and I started to pry the rocks apart. 

One by one, I levied three of the more sizable rocks aside, flushing out our girl, and giving her no option but to crawl into the trash can-on-its-side, into which Tim had placed some sticks, some straw and some dead weeds.

Breaking for freedom up the road...
Prior to tipping the can upright, putting the lid in place and heading out to the car to take a little ride, I snapped two quick pics. Later, when I released her a few miles up Bell Springs Road in a remote spot not near any driveways or off-roads, I took a couple more photos. When I got back to the house, I posted a brief account on social media, along with two photos.

Within seconds the comments started flowing; responses varied from wildly pleased to shocked disbelief. Some were warm and fuzzy, which is surprising when we are talking about a cold-blooded critter; others were alarmed at the thought. By cold-blooded, I do not mean heartless; I mean the snake is hugely influenced by the temperature outside. 

If it is too cold or too hot, the snake is lethargic, and not likely to be anywhere it could be seen. When the temperature is in the eighties, as it was yesterday, a rattler functions just fine, so it is imperative that the utmost caution be used at all times. At no time would I ever suggest someone relocate a rattlesnake; if it doesn’t occur to you on your own, you don’t need me to light your fire.

That being said, a rattlesnake has no interest in being around people. We’re too big to eat and we have a nasty habit of killing them on sight. I have lived on this property for 36 years; on average I see two or three rattlers each year. That’s somewhere between seventy and hundred rattlesnakes I have come face-to-face with, give or take.

I am out in the early morning darkness every day during the summer, and when the temperature is over seventy degrees, which it frequently is, snakes can be as active as they are during the day. I usually am listening to my music and have headphones on anyway, which does not help.

Maybe the scariest encounter was with the dude:
Note the lack of a rattle...
Nonetheless, I have never been bitten or felt that I was in danger of being bitten. I do know that rattlesnakes can and do bite; I just think it requires special circumstances to allow this to happen. 

Responses to my relocation post were quite passionate, whichever side of the pit you were on. They included phrases such as, 

“Fine looking snake!” “They are so awesome.” “Beautiful!” “Nice!” “Nice fat and green one!” “They sure like hot weather!” “Very happy you do this!” “We always try to relocate.” “What a beauty!” “Always relocate.”

On the flip side there was,

“No. Absolutely no. Under no circumstances. No. I mean, I love you, man. I love visiting HappyDay Farms. But no.”

“Ugggg!!! I’m so afraid of snakes!!! But they are on earth for a reason!!!!”

“Ew. This is scary; be safe with your family…”

“…I see a rattler-I kill it… I kill her babies too…”

The decision as to how to handle a face-to-face encounter is intensely personal, and no one should judge how another responds. When my three sons were youngsters, I killed any rattler I found within the compound. I used the flat side of a shovel in a most methodical and undramatic manner possible. One Whap! and one Chop! and it’s all over. 

I also did not try to capture them back then, because I did not want to instill any ideas in impressionable young minds. I could [and did] always rectify matters down the line, but I did not want these country boys messing with rattlers. 

Now it’s a different story so I handle it differently. How do I know the snakes don’t come back? I don’t know for sure and I don’t even know that they survive where I live them off. I just know that automatically killing such beautiful critters, if it can be avoided, goes against everything for which I stand.

Rattlers, like health or monetary issues, are always going to be around, and you deal with them as you see fit. I just wish I could move a health issue or a money problem, on down the road as easily as I can a rattlesnake.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

The Mad Creek Inn

Feeling on top of the world for a minute or two, Gluten-Free Mama and I threw caution to the wind, Friday, and decided to take a spin north on The 101. We drove twenty minutes from the bottom of Bell Springs Road, and lunched at the Peg-House up by Standish Hickey State Park.

The weather was ideal, the meal was off the charts tasty and the best part of all was that we were not only allowed to keep our little rescue dog with us, we encouraged to do so. The Peg-house has a whole passel of tables in an outdoor setting, and many of the tables came equipped with filled doggie water dishes, so that Ellie Mae would have access to fresh water while we dined. To our complete delight, Ellie Mae distinguished herself beyond our wildest expectations.

As enjoyable as our excursion was, what triggered my fingers this morning was not a desire to prattle on about the Peg-House, but rather, a different establishment now long gone: the Mad Creek Inn. You see, we had to drive right past it on our way north, because as implausible as it seems, the Mad Creek is located only three miles north of the bottom of Bell Springs Road. 

Locals have always been privy to the little wind-mill that marks the spot on the highway, where the inn was situated, but the fact is that unless you are of a certain age, you have never dined there. The Mad Creek closed down some time in the late eighties.

A rambling, old gabled edifice, the floor of the Mad Creek Inn creaked when you walked across it. Your drink undulated slightly as other patrons moved past you to their table, or a waiter bustled through with an armload. It was part of the ambience.

Early on there was also an ice cream parlor included in the mix, located within the Inn, a single counter with about six or seven stools lined up along it. My memory is fuzzy, imagine that, but GF Mama backs my story up, saying that it was gone by the time our lads were old enough to have ordered a root beer float. She remembered us going down to the ice cream parlor with bro Matchu and Charlie, and their two girls.

We were not frequent diners at the Inn because that’s never been our style, but when the occasion arose, we inevitably enjoyed ourselves immensely. Among the memories is one that featured ten-month-old Head-Sod-Buster making his social debut-and killing it.

The old ranch barn
It was late one Sunday morning, following a Saturday night poker game up at the ranch house. Tradition had it that the big winner in the poker game from the previous night, was required to foot the bill for anyone who was able to stagger down to the Inn the following morning.

Jerry the rancher was there, of course, as was neighbor Rex and my folks, HeadSodBuster’s grandparents. There were a few others, probably a dozen of us altogether. I had been at the poker game too, but I was not the big winner, unless you count being only down a paltry twenty bones, a winner by default.

Some of those games could get reasonably expensive if you were a novice-at cards or drinking. Either one was likely to end up being an expensive proposition. No, the big winner was none other than me father, Robert. “It’s a poor dealer who can’t deal himself a good hand,” was an expression that rolled off his tongue, as regularly as the bourbon bottle was hoisted.

Having honed his craft while in the service, Robert was also good for the mandatory tip the following morning. With an appreciative audience keeping track of his every move, little Head-Sod-Buster proceeded to dazzle all assembled with his personality, much to our own amazement. 

We had not known quite what to expect, this being a maiden voyage. Seizing the moment, effervescent HSBuster kept the crowd in stitches with his antics, happily nibbling on an assortment of tidbits provided by a wise Gluten-Free Mama, and bubbling over with enthusiasm at being the center of attention.

There are many ways that ten-month-olds can find to occupy the spotlight, and we were most grateful of the route chosen by HSBuster, bless his blond little head. 

I know a little something/something about attracting the spotlight myself, regretfully, but the one occasion I am thinking about turned out to be more humorous than anything else. Coincidentally, it was another Sunday morning that our little family traipsed down to the Inn for brunch, along with Grandma and Grandpa. We made a party of five and we opened the joint up, both the establishment itself, and the phattie I had had the foresight to roll up and bring along with me.

The fact of the matter was that being on country time, the doors of the Inn had opened promptly at the prescribed time, but the service lagged behind by a minute or two. Robert was a paragon of patience, heaven only knows, but even he began to get just a little antsy after a time when no waitperson turned up. Having the place to ourselves, I did the only thing I thought might lighten the mood: I produced the joint and fired that puppy up.

Lo and behold, the waiter surfaced instantly, gesturing dramatically in alarm, “You can’t do that HERE,” he admonished, his voice squeaking for effect. His exaggerated indignation was delivered in a most righteous tone, to which Robert replied, “Well, there didn’t seem to be much else to do.”

We needn’t have worried-that waiter hovered over us like the elk antlers on the wall and we got great service.

The owner/chef, Mary, once hit Gluten-Free Mama up with the proposition that GF Mama should come cook for her. At the time GF Mama was providing an assortment of culinary delicacies to the Czech Lodge [er, sorry, the GrapeWine Station], six miles south along the highway, and word had gotten around.

Alas, or not-we’ll never know-GF Mama had to turn the offer down, something about our three youngsters being an impediment to the whole plan. Why that should have been the case I certainly don’t know; I should think they would have made grand pot wallopers. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Just Say No to Terrorism

I unfriended someone I have known for 27 years yesterday, because he posted a pro-45 meme on social media about the barbaric practice of ripping babies from their mothers’ arms. I have a no-tolerance policy as far as seeing posts on my wall that express support for the Commander-in-Thief of the Republican Party.

Along with being a cockroach, 45 is a pathological liar.
Support the cockroach all you want and I will be none the wiser, unless you post something that ends up on my wall. Yes, I can unfollow you and still be friends, but what’s the point? I want to clarify that if you are a person who supports the immorality of the current administration, I have no desire to be friends with you.

I would say it’s nothing personal, but that would be incorrect: I find tearing families apart to be most personal and it’s tearing me apart. Try as I might, I can’t conjure up a more evil scenario than the horror going on right now on our borders, in the name of a tyrant with an ego the size of Texas. Vile, reprehensible acts against children, including babies, are now brought into our kitchens daily for us to take in with our morning coffee.

Progressively getting more desperate, the Commander-in-Disbelief has come right out and shared his ransom demand with the rest of the nation: He wants his wall. So he ordered mothers to be parted from their children, while fathers must watch helplessly as their kids are dragged away. 

I hold not only the Commander-in-Fleece accountable, but his henchmen, the Senate. History will accurately record their betrayal for the most pathetic of all reasons: their thirty pieces of silver. That those who were elected to represent all the people, should so blatantly steal for themselves and their friends billions of others’ money, remains the biggest ripoff in our nation’s history.

The others to whom I refer, are the working people of our land who are paid a minimalist wage, instead of one which allows them to thrive and live happy lives. As a culture, Americans are locked into a battle for survival, as opposed to when I was a kid and one wage-earner could support a stay-at-home spouse, to care for the kids.

Now the money that used to come from corporations and the private sector being taxed, has gone into the pockets of the One Percent. There is no longer a land of opportunity-there is only the land of the enslaved and the home of the scared-shitless. That’s what we have become. Why any families would want to come to this country anymore in the first place, baffles the heck out of me. 

That’s the goal, of course, though the why of it goes against everything for which this country has ever stood. The world used to recognize how unique our country was, though we have undergone a heart transplant since then. Our heart was ripped out when money became the American Eagle. By the time the first kid was torn from his family, we were already heartless. I say “his family” because there are no images being released of little girls.

Someone pointed out this meme was
photo-shopped. I couldn't stop laughing.
I wanted to ask, are you sure? 
So yeah, I let what is happening in politics affect me personally, and I simply said no to terrorism. Folks who are good with what’s going on with families being separated, need their own space to hang out in-not my wall. 

These folks are good with families being torn apart because racists don’t see minorities as being anything but “animals,” or insects “infesting” our country. Like Hitler’s Germany, these people are more than willing to stand by and let them come for anyone they like, because they know no one is coming for them-they’re white.

November 7th is rapidly approaching, as is Armageddon. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that sanity prevails and that the Commander-in-Grief ends up with his arms crossed instead-behind his back in handcuffs.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Leave 'Em Laughing

Ellie Mae our rescue dog got skunked, and I tried to give her a bath outside because our bathtub is out of commission. I got her all lathered up but she managed to escape and left me standing there, holding her soaking collar. How was I supposed to know the sound of the water turning on would freak her out so badly? 

So what did I do?

A) I chased after her frantically, apologizing profusely every step of the way, so she would see the error of her ways and come docilely to me.

B) I explored my refrigerator for enticing treats to lure her out from under the car.

Mr. Crips: "I categorically deny all the
absurd allegations being slung my way..."
C) I implored Mr. Crips the cat to do what he does every day of the week: show off in front of Ellie Mae, in order to get her to chase him.

D) I decided that Ellie knew best and retired to the living room to watch the rest of the Giants ballgame, bong in hand.

E) Other

Though choice “D” clamored frantically for my attention, I went with “E” the ever-popular “Other,” after experimenting with A, B, and C. Chasing Mr. Crips after he stole the dog treats was having no positive effect, whatsoever.

I had paused for the cause in my efforts to extract Ellie Mae from under our little Subaru, and glanced out over the surrounding countryside, seeking answers from the gods. How could I rinse off the cocktail of dog shampoo and tomato juice from Ellie Mae’s soaking fur, if I could not even catch her? And where was the water coming from that I was going to use for the job? It sure wasn’t coming out of a hose.

The gods were most accommodating. Right in front of me, as I stood gazing out over the landscape, the shimmering water of the pond called out to me. Since Ellie traveled with me everywhere I went, I would get her to follow me down to the biggest tub on the block, where she could then go for a refreshing swim and all would be well. Maybe then I could stop feeling so guilty.

"Hy-Yo, Silver! Away!"
I moseyed up to HeadSodBuster’s spot to saddle up the quad, Ellie Mae timidly following from a safe distance.  Gunning the engine like a badass, after having thrown caution to the wind and eschewed the fire-engine-red helmet, I got ready to shift into reverse and get started. How did that go again?

Dang, I hope nobody’s watching. I can hear them, “Hey, look at goofy Mark on the quad-can’t even shift into reverse! Ha, ha!” Heck, who needs reverse? If I just sort of thread the needle among some of these lawn chairs, rose bushes and the picnic table, I bet I can just maneuver my way out onto the driveway without that stupid reverse.

If they were chuckling before, they were rolling on the ground laughing by now. Well, never mind. Always leave 'em laughing, I say. Small minds, small pleasures, and all of that.  

“Follow me, Ellie Mae!”

She did! Basking in the glow of success, I roared down to the pond, all the while remaining in first gear. I may have broken the 2 MPH threshold, but more likely-not. An eternity later Ellie Mae and I reigned up at our destination, and I dismounted. Naturally, I assumed Ellie Mae was as eager to go for a dip, as I was to see her jump in, but I was wrong.

Ellie Mae had no intention of going into the pond on her own.

“Ellie Maaaaaaaaaaaeeeeeeeee. Heeeeeeeerrrrrrrre Ellie Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaeeeee, you gooooooooooood dog. Come heeeeeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrre.” 

She fell for it and even though I am acutely aware that you are never supposed to call your dog to you, and then betray her trust, I did it anyway. Desperate times required desperate measures. When she came to me, I gave her a big hug, gathered all 49 pounds of her gently in my arms, staggered over to the edge of the pond where the ground drops off sharply under the water, and gave her the heave-ho.

I’d like to say that she frolicked merrily in the water, easily accomplishing the desired goal of removing all shampoo and juice, but that would make me an even bigger liar than- [Editor’s note: Best avenue?] 

OK, fine. She was in the pond about the same length of time as it takes to sneeze, but it was the best I was going to get. She was submerged for at least one nano-second, but no way would she come near me again, and I didn’t blame her. I didn’t especially want to be around me either, at that moment.

It’s all over now. I’m not sure if Ellie Mae learned anything from the experience or not, but I sure did. I have since replaced the bar-b-cue I crushed, so it’s no big deal, but I learned I better figure out how to use reverse gear on the quad.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

My Kingdom for a Bathtub

I am the kind of person who will let you get away with mayhem, if I like you. If I don’t, then you’d best not blink around me, or you're dead meat. Keeping this sentiment clutched firmly in paw, will allow you to better comprehend why I am able to reflect back on this sordid incident with the skunk in Ellie Mae’s life, with humor and an ongoing air of acceptance.

"Patently, he's lying. Look at this mug. Me angry? He's lying."
I have been smitten by this little female bowser, after a decade of being subjected to the machismo of Dozer the bulldog. Same thing. He could be the biggest d- [Editor’s note: Ahem] turkey in the universe, doing his surly Clint Eastwood imitation any time there was food within 100 feet, and I would still love him.

Predominant in my thought pattern, as scrambled as it may generally be, was the conviction that [poor] Ellie Mae had done nothing wrong. She had encountered a skunk, most likely for the first time. It’s not like the time she liberated the farm of eight chickens, in a shocking escapade that was 100% predictable, and probably preventable. That was her bad.

Encountering a new critter, though? Possibly a future playmate, like Margie or Emma? I can’t fault her for that, unless it happens for a second time. Therefore, the chain of events that followed could have been scripted for the best of the old vaudeville comedians. I say he who can convert drama into comedy in his mind, may not live any longer than anyone else, but he will be a happier guy for it.

The story up until now: Ellie Mae got skunked early Monday morning, Gluten-Free Mama and I were slated to travel down to Willits, we had never left Ellie Mae behind before, but now we had no choice. Ellie Mae felt differently.

She knew we were going to town; she always does. Routine, baby. My backpack, Ellie’s travel bag (in place before the skunk) and the drinking-water bottles had already been set on the kitchen table, and that meant action. Ellie Mae loves traveling, unlike Dozer who detested it, except now? Ferggeddit, Ellie Mae.

I took the precaution of hanging a big tarp over this gate,
in order to prevent Ellie from being able to go through it...
Mechanically I prepared all for departure, my plan being to lure Ellie into my workshop, where I would shut her in long enough to open the gate, drive through, close the big gate again and then let her out.

“We both know escaping is a given; I’m just hoping for enough time to get up on The Bell, and on our way,” I explained to GF Mama. “All right. SmallBoy’s here-good timing!” I had seen his truck pull up out front, so I headed out front to hit him up for some assistance.

His mission, should he choose to accept it, was to wait until we were gone before releasing the unfortunate one from the shop. There was no synchronizing of watches, I was deliberately vague about the prescribed time and I may or may not have mentioned to SmallBoy that we had to stop and make with the palaver with HeadSodBuster, on the way out of Dodge.

In this case the way out was about a football field in length up the driveway. Having felt compelled to share with HeadSodBuster the news that Ellie Mae was going to be a Happy Wanderer on this fine [Market] Monday, I was hustling back toward the car, driver’s door still ajar, when a blur intercepted my line of vision. Before I could react, Ellie Mae was in the car, sharing the space with GF Mama, who froze as though a rattlesnake had just burst in.

Sans cape, I leaped into action. Sorry, I meant limped into action, but that is not the image I was trying to project. I did manage to convince Ellie to vacate the vehicle, while adroitly regaining my seat, ignoring the searing pain in my noggin. I guess adroitly may not have been the best adverb to employ, or I might not have this swelling on my temple where I banged it. 

Ignoring my discomfort, I turned the car around and went back down to our spot, convinced Ellie would follow along behind, which she did. SmallBoy awaited us, having grasped the situation instantly, and all I had to do now was to entice Ellie back into the workshop. 
Right, and I had as much luck with that, as I have had convincing #45 supporters, that they are enabling a despot. SmallBoy, on the other hand, was a different matter, so when he went into the workshop and called her, Ellie came, if not eagerly. 

I departed without a backwards glance, probably best when I consider all factors. With my luck, I’d have run into the oak tree next to the shop while “glancing” back. This time we never stopped the car until we were in the Ray’s Shopping Center in Willits. And yes, I know Ray’s has been gone for a long time, but hell, the Czech Lodge has been gone since the eighties, and it’s still, well, you get it.

We did our shopping, ran a few errands and then I dropped GF Mama off at Ben-Jam-In’s spot, where she was staying overnight. I headed back up on the mountain to take care of bidniz.  In the back of my razor-sharp, cottage cheese brain, I was under the delusion that I had the situation well in hand.

This failure to grasp reality extended itself long enough for me to come down the driveway, and actually find Ellie Mae comfortably ensconced in her customary position in the center of the driveway, within the friendly confines of our fence. Pretending that I actually expected to see her on the driveway, rather than say, down at the quarry a mile away, I greeted her effusively, lavishing praise on her, all the while doing the side-step to avoid her animated advances.

“First things first,” I explained to her. “We have to put the groceries away.” Ellie Mae did not respond, not in words anyway, but I knew she understood what I was saying. I talk to Ellie Mae 24/7, and she has never given me any reason to think she does not understand, that which I say. I talk to Toby the cat too, but unlike Ellie Mae, Toby goes out of his way to let me know that he understands exactly what I’m saying-he just doesn’t care.

"I can do this, I can do this, I can do this...
Getting the groceries stashed in the refrigerator and pantry, I turned my fragmented attention to the task at hand. This bath should be a piece of cake, I thought to myself. I based that on the fact that I had given Ellie Mae baths in the bathtub, with absolutely no issues whatsoever. She was docile, I used lukewarm water, dog treats abounded and all was accomplished with great fanfare.

Maybe that is what was wrong-I forgot the fanfare. I also “forgot” the bathtub because at the present moment, our tub is on sabbatical, temporarily awaiting a minor logistical adjustment before it would be wise to employ it in its usual capacity. There is nothing attached to the drain, so that I can look through it and see the floor below.

You can't give a dog a bath in a shower, so I settled on the only obvious choice: I would bathe Ellie outside in a big tuppie. Yes, I knew the water would not come out lukewarm, and I explained that carefully to her, but she did not have her listening cap on. Apparently.

Additionally, hanging conveniently on a hook in that same cottage cheese brain of mine, was the fact that Ellie Mae does not like the sound of water suddenly squirting out of a hose. I had discovered that early on and had told GF Mama that I was convinced she had been subjected to water spray before, based on her uneasiness when I used the hose.

Unfortunately, when I needed that piece of information, it was nowhere to be found. I could have filled a second tuppie with water, gotten everything in order, and then I would never have had to turn on a spigot. As it unfolded though, I had put some water in the “tub,” placed Ellie inside, and proceeded to lather her up.

I had put tomato juice at the top of the store list, I had plenty of doggie shampoo, so I exercised some elbow grease and lathered that dog up big-time. The tomato juice lent a certain jaunty hue to the proceedings and I was feeling absurdly confident. Not confident enough to stop and snap a photo, but still, confident.

Until I turned the water on. 

Ellie Mae went ballistic, experiencing a psychotic episode before my very eyes. I had left her collar on, naively believing this gave me a modicum of control over her. Act tung, Chucko! She was a dog possessed, and I never stood a chance.

In a flash Ellie was gone with the wind, leaving me with her collar in my hand, a forlorn souvenir, plus a set of soaked clothes. Tinged scarlet from the juice, Ellie was crouched under the car. Without a collar, I stood no chance.

If only I had a bathtub...
You must know that I felt nothing but compassion for Ellie Mae. I would have done anything, but my mind was numb. I could not catch her to rinse her off, I knew she must be miserable because I sure was, and I was fresh out of ideas.

Then, in despair, as I pondered my plight while standing in the middle of our complex, I gazed out across the still-green valley before me, with our shimmering pond way down below, and my little pea-brain formed an idea.

Tomorrow: The best-laid plans of mice and men…

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Not-A-Cat

The aromatic fragrance of the steaming hot latte I was delivering to Gluten-Free Mama, was not enough to overcome the offensive presence hammering away at our nostrils in the early predawn hour. I’m not talking about the roses blooming just outside our bedroom window.

“I hope this helps,” I murmured, appreciating the gravity of the situation. I am normally reluctant to share my insignificant prattling to my Sweetest of Apple Blossoms, until after she has sufficient time to knock back enough of the nectar of the gods, to be able to function. 

"Honestly! I thought it was Mr. Crips's cousin..."
Nodding emphatically, no mean task while swilling the welcome goodness, she spoke, an ominous sign for such an early point in her day. “Where’s Ellie Mae?” she inquired, proving yet once again how accurately she has her finger riveted on the pulse of all that is our world.

Uncertainty reared its pointy little head in a most unwelcome fashion. 

“Ellie Mae?” I inquired casually, stalling for time, my brain spinning out of control while I tried to maintain a certain air of nonchalance. Think of it as false bravado, or even the calm before the storm, if you like. “Why do you ask?” I inquired, feigning ignorance, a status generally not difficult to achieve.

Though GF Mama knows everything, all she was willing to impart to me at that precise moment, was The Look. Well, that and the almost negligible movement of her non-latte-bearing hand. Instinctively I began to edge my way back out of our boudoir, a man on a hopeless mission.
Earlier, by the light of my headlamp, I had spent an hour in the orchard, hand-watering more than 160 just-planted tomato seedlings. Ellie Mae, as always, had not only accompanied me, she had been enthusiastically assisting me, though honestly, who knew that the tomato cages would do that cool domino trick, and all topple over when only one was brushed against?

The last I had seen, she was cavorting with Mr. Crips, the cat, who looked several cups short of the requisite amount of coffee HE needed, to make the rodents of Mendocino County quake in their tracks. Ellie Mae, on the other hand, appeared as though she had received intravenous injections of the Double-Shot, Expresso Special.

I paused as I opened up the kitchen door, through which I could see my tail-wagging best pal, my fur-baby, my-I staggered backwards, my eyes already starting to water. “Oh. My. God. Ellie Mae, what have you done?”

My eyes squinting comically, as though to somehow help block out the overwhelming stench, I stood as though transfixed. Taking advantage of my lightning-quick reflexes, Ellie dodged past me and dashed through the house until she ended up in our bedroom. With her snout one inch from GF Mama’s latte, which she now had grasped in both hands, as if for dear life, Ellie Mae shared her gift. There was no way it could be avoided or ignored.

By now the astute reader has gleaned the essential: The black and white cat that Ellie Mae had successfully flushed out of the manzanita grove, the one with the stripe, was not a cat, it was a skunk.

Terrified, both for Ellie Mae and for myself, I lurched forward and persuaded Ellie to accompany me back out of our bedroom, where we retraced our footsteps to the front door, through which Ellie was ushered. I slammed the door, keeping Ellie Mae outside, if not the scent du jour, and returned to face the music.

Fortunately for me, more serious matters were at hand than informing me of my shortcomings. Besides, there was nowhere near enough time for that, so Gluten-Free Mama got right to the point. “What are we going to do with her when we go to Willits?”

We had to go to town. Never had we left Ellie Mae behind at home, when we left the mountain, in the six months since she joined us from the shelter. To say she experienced anxiety is to say New Orleans experienced Katrina: there was no room for doubt.

Ellie Mae escape? Perish the thought...
Shooting from the hip, and hoping the bullets weren’t blanks, I replied confidently, “We’ll just have to leave her here.” Thinking aloud, probably just to prove I could do it, I waxed on with, “We can’t keep her in the house so we’ll just have to leave her in the yard. I know she won’t stay there, but maybe we can at least get up on Bell Springs Road before she gets out.”

Right, and maybe # 45 will do us all a favor and take a long walk off a short pier, but I doubt it. 


"Working out in the great outdoors, I had Ellie Mae in a big tuppie with a few inches of water in it. Lathered up with a combination of doggie shampoo and tomato juice, Ellie Mae, who had been thrashing around frantically, suddenly slipped out of her collar and was gone with the wind.

At least she was in character: she was somewhat scarlet from the juice.”

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Counting Backwards

Not since I was counting down the days until October 12, 1973, my release from military madness, have I marked the days off a calendar. I do so now with big red X’s, and I do it with the knowledge that the days will pass, just as they did back in 1973. We have 150 days until we can Make America Glorious Again, by voting out of office, the aiders and abettors of our national disgrace.

The volatile trade wars, the petulant behavior and the arrogant buffoonery will soon be a nightmare of the past, similar to Dick Nixon and his tricks. The crimes against humanity will take an eternity to correct, but the crimes against the Constitution and the emoluments clause should occupy the immediate attention of the new [and improved] Congress.

Senator Mitch McConnell in his natural habitat 
The greed and avarice of the Republican Party, combined with its ongoing [successful] attempts to further subjugate the poor and sick of this country, are palpably appalling. The American public will reach out and smite these rattlesnakes, these abominations to all that is genuinely America.

I yearn for a time when athletes can exercise their right to protest, without being accused of being unpatriotic. To enforce patriotism puts us in the same class as North Korea or Nazi Germany. In the Land of the Free, mandated patriotism rings like a cracked bell. 

Senator Paul Ryan (note the lack of a rattle.)
Of course, the habitual human rights violations place our country right up there with those of Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini, to name a few. Are immigrant kids really being separated from families? I know the photos of kids in cages and kids riding cattle cars must be fake, but part of me firmly believes that if it could be so, it would be. 

Will there still be a military parade on November 11th, after the tyrannical toddler is in his time-out corner? Will an obscene and vulgar border wall still be on the table? Will racism and misogyny still be the order of the day? Will we still be the laughingstock of the world?

I’m counting the days down, backwards, until the American public rises up and makes our country move forward again. Good will prevail over evil, intelligence will prevail over stupidity and karma will have a free-for-all. 

It’s not solely about getting rid of the Head Slime-Ball (along with the Vice-Slime-Ball), it’s about taking back our country from the illiterate. I know the Republican senators are illiterate, because if they could read, they would long since have been aware of how loathed they are.

Besides, you don’t have to be able to read, in order to check a bank balance, and that’s all that matters in the end.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Home-Grown Tomatoes

I ended up planting out all of these Heinz seedlings,
once they got bigger.
I opened a half-pint of home-grown catsup yesterday, in which to dip my grilled cheese sandwich, and then moseyed out into the orchard to finish watering and mulching the 160 or so tomato plants I have been putting out for the past three days. The catsup is made from the Heinz variety, which is one reason I planted ninety of the little darlings. 

A second reason is the marinara sauce that I opened up the other day, this one processed with basil and garlic from the garden. I was adding it to my chicken cacciatore, after starting off with a quart of homegrown, cold-pack Ace tomatoes, the third reason I am enthralled with home-grown tomatoes.

There are numerous other reasons why the total number of tomato plants will exceed 160 this year, but the one at the top of the list is that working the soil is good for the soul, if not the soles. March was a daunting proposition, it being devilishly hard to work soil when the ground is frozen and covered in snow.

Shoveling the pile on the right, to the pile on the left...
There were alternating periods of sunshine and gloomy weather, so when it was nice I pounded away. During one such pleasant stretch I ambitiously started four trays of Ace, Heinz and a selection of cherry tomato seeds. If you have never tried to start your own tomato plants, then you do not know that the seeds you use, are not the seeds that you see and taste when you eat a fresh tomato.

No, the seeds are so minuscule that the only way I could complete the process was to use a tweezers. One seed at a time, I transferred them from the little dish I had put them in, to my trays filled with potting soil. The indentations in the potting soil were either one-quarter inch or one-eighth (!) inch for the cherries. 

Getting started, before extending the rows...
As a carpenter, cutting to within an eighth or quarter-inch measurement with any of a variety of power saws, is as certain and elementary as brushing your teeth. But trying to determine just how that translates to soil? Dirt and a one-eighth inch measurement is a guess-and-by-golly proposition from the word go. 

For an individual who functions 99% of the time in a manic mode, the use of a tweezers is already agonizingly challenging. I was putting all of my energy into this task for the simple reason that I was highly motivated, no pun intended. Without the bong and its steadying influence, I would never have even tried it.

Alas, the sad tale continues. Though I covered each tray with its own greenhouse cover to further heat matters up, we did not get a long enough stretch of sunshine to germinate the seeds. I maintained the trays faithfully through the next prolonged cold stretch until it warmed up again, and actually did get a dozen or so seeds to pop.

Add caption
As quickly as I could report the grand news to Gluten-Free Mama, earwigs or some other varmint, had pilfered the little seedlings, leaving me frantic. Of course, I could get more seeds and simply start over; there was ample time. The reality was, I couldn’t start over because of that pesky fork sticking out of me: I was done.

Rather than beat myself over the head with  a sack of potting soil, I appealed to the powers that be, and BossLady made it happen. Though I criticized myself savagely for my shortcoming, GF Mama would have none of it. “You do what you can and you don’t worry about the rest.”

BossLady is BossLady because she can germinate tomato seeds. I’m just a guy who likes to get his hands and feet dirty, working the soil. I got the trays of little starts from HeadSodBuster, and up-planted them immediately into four-inch pots, and plodded away at preparing the eight rows.

I turned the soil over with my pitchfork and extended five of the rows about twenty feet, after which I distributed thirty wheelbarrows of home-grown compost over the eight, fifty-foot rows. I added the organic amendments and worked the soil a second time, to integrate the additives to the original soil. Having done a cover-crop over the winter, I had also worked the dead organic matter back into the soil.

I planted and mulched, and am in the process of making cages made from construction wire, the kind they use in forming slabs with six-inch squares. Tomatoes must be supported to avoid coming into contact with the ground and though I used commercially produced metal cages last summer, I’m gunning for an upgrade. 

In extending the rows, I unearthed these rocks,
what I am convinced are petrified wood. 
Each season is a learning experience and taking the knowledge I gained from the previous summer, helps me plan the next year more effectively. I planted fewer pants this year, giving them more room between each, because I want the fruit to be correspondingly bigger. My Heinz tomatoes last year were not the much bigger than cherry tomatoes, and that needs to be corrected.

I already adjusted the amount of water they were getting and I broke the watering up into two segments, twelve hours apart. I am trying to keep the soil moist to avoid blossom-end rot and dividing the watering in half will help.

I have a theory about the gophers and their cumulative effect on the garden: If the plants are hardy and robust, the gophers can’t kill them. If the plants are weak and not properly watered, they are fair game and cannot withstand what they normally could if all were well.

All done except for the rest of the cages.
I’ll keep you posted on how my theory pans out. What I am not going to waste my time on is trying to snare them in traps. I faithfully moved five traps around the orchard last year, corresponding to tomato plants being killed by gophers, and came up empty-handed.

Ellie Mae, the dog, already showed me up by presenting me one of the little buggers the way a cat would bring a mouse. No, I am going to try preventative medicine this year and see if that doesn’t eliminate the problem.

And if it doesn’t, I’ll always think it should have.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Ellie Mae: Farm Dog

Conventional logic dictates that it takes from six months to a year, for a rescue dog to make a full transition from the rescue shelter setting to her new home. Having brought Ellie Mae home two days after Thanksgiving, it has now been six months and change, since she joined us.

In this time period she has grown from a skittish, under-nourished, attention-seeking hound, to a calm, sleek, confident farm-dog. Yes, I described Ellie Mae as a farm dog, despite her indiscretion so very long ago. The unfortunate chickens involved might object to their demise being termed an indiscretion, but such are the injustices of life on a farm.

She seemed so shocked that I had the unmitigated gall to
block her escape attempts.
In the beginning Ellie’s only goal in life was to escape her two-acre “yard.”  Though the range fence that encloses her is tight enough to keep out wild hogs, Ellie Mae has the ability to dig her way out, seemingly at will. I patched up more than twenty escape routes, easily, in the first four months. Then I stopped searching for-and blocking-the exits, my logic being it was a lot easier of a route-for me.

I had worked extensively with Ellie after the original death-spree, both up at the original scene, and then with our own chickens, on the “leave-it” command. We worked simultaneously on the inside-the-fence concept, something I found easier to accomplish than I might have thought.

The result was that even though Ellie was occasionally missing-in-action for short periods of time, no disasters occurred involving chickens or any other livestock. The other thing that was obvious was that she only took off when she was ignored, or when I was in the workshop or even out in the orchard.

In dog years three-and-a-half went by, and now our girl is revealing the real Ellie Mae, and not the one she adapted for self-preservation purposes, during a past life. A couple of things have occurred to accelerate this process, the primary one being that Gluten-Free Mama has had to contend with some technical difficulties, health wise.

With GF Mama thus “on assignment” and off the mountain, for days at a time, I might have found myself in the void of isolation, were it not for my faithful companion. Faithful would be the operative word, for Ellie Mae is the prototypically faithful canine companion. 

Her eyes, as expressive in their soulful way as ever Dozer the bulldog’s were, fixate on me incessantly. She wants to go out when I do, she wants to roughhouse with her still new-to-her toys with me and she wants to follow me wherever I go, until I leave her hanging indefinitely. Then, in the past, she was apt to look for alternative entertainment, especially if Emma the dog were sounding the alarm up the driveway.

With GF Mama gone, Ellie Mae has found herself the object of much attention and affection, particularly in the wee hours which find me writing, posting photos on social media, and doing housework. Sweet Ellie Mae has responded accordingly, reveling in the whole program, her grin plastered comically to her face in a most agreeable manner.

Fast-forward to this past month, when I have been spending progressively longer periods of time out in the orchard. While I was still pitch-forking the eight, fifty-foot-long rows the first time through, I could only do a couple of hours a day. Now that the thirty wheelbarrows of home-grown compost have been added, along with the required organic amendments, and the soil has been reworked, I am in the planting stage. I can sustain my effort for longer than just an hour or two.

The work, though grueling and time-consuming, is most rewarding. Last year I had 120 plants in the orchard, fully half of them of the Heinz variety for my sauces, salsas and catsups. Having extended the rows by about 25% I will have closer to 150 plants in the orchard.

All this prattling on about tomatoes, is by way of explaining that in this past month Ellie Mae has drastically altered her outdoors approach to life. She has seemingly abandoned the need to explore outside the fence. Additionally, she has deemed it her role to assume a relaxed stance at the head of each row I happen to be working on, as though overseeing my work.

I will make frequent pit stops to acknowledge this allegiance, because it is so easy to do. Unlike Dozer, who never could stay in one spot long enough to flatten the grass, Ellie Mae is content to occupy her spot for as long as I am content to work. Smart dog-she knows the shelf-life on that action is limited…

I continue to be amazed. I followed the formula and the results go beyond my wildest expectations. When Ellie Mae was escaping, and even when she killed the chickens, I was not surprised. GF Mama and I had told ourselves that we had to expect a certain amount of inappropriate behavior. 

What? Me worry?
What surprises me is that the nervous energy that exuded from her for months, is gone. In its place is the relaxed attitude of a dog, who has fully comprehended that her hard times are over. 

My hard times are over too. When Dozer the bulldog sallied off to the great unknown, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I had never allowed myself to think the unthinkable, until after the fact, and that made it all the harder. I won’t forget him-ever-but alongside Dozer, the ferocious A-dominant personality, now resides Ellie Mae, the sweet, not-a-mean-bone-in-her-body, appreciative companion.

And that makes two of us.