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, October 3, 2019

The Clueless Leading the Blind


Dealing with tech issues for me is like playing Pin the tail on the donkey, in that I would appear to be blindfolded every step of the way. Pin the tail on the ass is more like it. There is no other way to better describe it. At least when I look back on my various antics in these matters, I derive a fair amount of comic relief.

Not that trying desperately to pay a computer hacker is THAT funny. I thought we had agreed to let that one go.

It's hard to tell us apart when one is blind, the other clueless.
The beginning of the end began a month or so ago, when the screen on poor Suzy Puente's monitor went blank, and I was left in the dark (I give my computers names; this one was Suzy). I handled it pretty well until I got to the part about replacing her. There I encountered some technical issues. The saltier I got, the more comical it all seems to me now, after the fact. The gestation period for cooling off is generally around two weeks. I can hold a grudge but my grip is shaky.

Torturing my computer is an art; it’s a miracle I don’t have to replace it more often. Take coffee, for instance, but first let me just shift this mug a bit more out of range. And yeah, sorry about that; it won’t happen again. For sure, bro. There can be no food or beverages anywhere near a computer.

Let’s begin this most recent fiasco with my decision to go up to Arcata, instead of down to Santa Rosa to replace my Apple. I wanted a calmer experience than what one generally receives, when heading down into the frenzy that is 'Rosa. 

Calmer? The MacIntosh computer shop in Arcata was as peaceful as a mortuary. Arriving just as the store opened, I was the only customer and there were at least four employees. Having a veritable ocean of tranquility did not help me one iota, just as it probably would not have helped were I actually in a mortuary.

What would have benefited me I can now see clearly, would have been to have written down those things which were crucial to me. I could then have handed the list over to the clerk. If there were a problem after that, at least we would have had a starting point. As it was, I dug my own grave and then was surprised to find myself buried in it. How was I supposed to know that the new computer would have completely different ports than Suzy Puente, other than the fact that it was predictable?

This dude is good. I can fire specific instructions about the set-up on the new computer, even as he is buried in his own computer, looking up prices and information, and typing them into place. But, you know, these tech guys just absorb information. The rest of us have to listen first, and then write everything down. 

I was wrong on so many levelsHe was certainly pleasant and most eager to help, but I had walked into the shop determined to leave with a computer, even if it did not match the one I was replacing. I announced as much at the outset of our conversation. The story behind the shattered screen, by itself, is comical enough, in a twisted sort of way. That's where I began.

This whole photo is what my screen looked like...
I had murdered poor Suzy Puente by simply closing her lid with something sitting on the keyboard, thus rendering her screen about one-fourth of the way unreadable, along with anything on the desk-top beneath the blackness. I was able to do that remarkable thing because I was not sitting down in front of the computer, but instead, I was standing behind the monitor, and had simply pushed the computer lid shut. 

The sound I heard was enough for me to immediately recognize that I had disabled-if not destroyed-this two thousand dollar tool. I might not have thought so much destruction could result from one, number two, yellow pencil. The irony of the pencil on my keyboard (I had been making a grocery store list) has not been lost on me.

In a perfect world I would keep the computer arena free of everything, to prevent this sort of accident, but in a perfect world, the valet would attend to these matters, and the cook would prepare fantastic feasts and the butler would-

[Editor’s note: My Dude…]

Poor Suzy. She lingered on for a couple of months before one day, just going blank, kind of like my mind. Call it blindfolded if you please. Instead of pausing for a week or so, to allow the dust to settle, I went off half-cocked, as my father used to call it.

I knew that my sister who lives in Sebasketball, which is coincidentally close to Santa Rosa, was off gallivanting around in The Big Apple, making her unavailable to help me with my little Apple. That contributed to my decision to go north. Had I chosen to mark time for a week, she would have been back in town, and we could have run a few ideas up the flag pole, maybe even saluted one. We’ll never know.

It’s not that losing poor Suzy Puente cut me off from civilization, it’s that I had to-gasp(!)-acquire some telephone skills. I thought I did that back in the late fifties, but now I need to do more than say, “O’Neills’ residence, Mark speaking…” Take a picture with my phone? Access face/book with my phone? Did you know there is this thing called Messenger? I had more than a thousand messages, heretofore ignored. And something called Chat? Ditto. I still do not know how to access them on my computer.

I can say one thing for sure: My new computer is no female. I know that because my new computer is clueless. Draw your own conclusions. As for the clueless leading the blind, I needed no assistance from the shop; I was perfectly capable of mucking things up on my own. 

I have the gift, you know.



Next: My sanity for an adaptor









Tuesday, October 1, 2019

The Case of the Lost Smile



This story is for Ollie Mac, a little man who is always smiling. 

One soft summer morning a small boy named Ollie Mac woke up to find that he had lost his bright, cheerful smile. Normally the happiest small boy on the mountain, this was quite a change and everyone noticed it.

When a scrumptious breakfast of hash browns and chili omelet failed to bring the fat, sunny smile back to Ollie Mac’s face, Papi suggested that maybe Ollie Mac should go searching for it. 

“After all,” Papi said, “It can’t be far away. Maybe you should take a walk around the land, and see if any of our friends have seen it. What do you think, Ollie Mac?”

Ollie Mac tried to smile to show that he thought it was a good idea, but that was hard to do when his smile was missing. He held out his hand for Papi to take and asked, “Will you help me, Papi? I don’t even know where to look or how to talk to my friends when I do see them.”

"I don't care for the way that cat is looking at me..."
“Oh, that’s easy,” Papi responded. “We will just have to go outside and start walking around, keeping our eyes open. There are many of our friends out and about today, if we only pay attention. As for talking to them, we’ll just wait for them to start the conversation.”

Papi was right. No sooner had they stepped out the back door when they heard blue jay on the railing, screeching his head off at Toby the cat. Toby was looking at the bird with a different kind of smile, one that alarmed the blue jay. It was certainly not like Ollie Mac’s bright, happy smile.

“Hey there, blue jay,” began Ollie Mac, but the bird did not even look at him, keeping his eyes fastened on Toby. “I know you are busy, but I was wondering, have you seen my smile? I woke up this morning and it was gone. Can you help me find it?”

"Can't you see we are busy?"
“I would love to help you, but I have a certain cat that has me on his menu for breakfast. I am sorry I cannot help you. Why don’t you ask the bees? They are everywhere, so maybe they have seen your smile.” The blue jay flitted from the fence to a nearby tree, never taking his eyes off of Toby, so Ollie Mac and Papi had no choice but to go looking for some bees.

They did not have to go far because bees are everywhere on-farm. Walking up to some sunflowers, Ollie Mac waited for one of the bees to notice him so he could ask about his smile. The bees ignored him.

“Hey there, bees!” began Ollie Mac. “Do you have a minute? I can’t find my smile. Will you help me?” He asked so nicely.

At first none of the bees answered, but when Ollie Mac asked again, one said simply, “Bees are too busy pollinating flowers and making honey and to help find smiles; maybe you should check with a butterfly. They seem to have plenty of time on their hands.” The bees droned on about their work.

"I hate to boast but I am beautiful..."
Heading over to some zinnias, Ollie Mac and Papi found exactly what they were looking for, painted lady. This butterfly was gorgeous and she knew it. She was perched on a brilliant red zinnia and she kept opening and closing her wings, staring daintily at nothing in particular.

“Hey there, painted lady, I can’t find my smile. Can you help me?” Ollie Mac began. The butterfly seemed not to hear him.

“Try using the magic word and see if that helps,” Papi suggested.

“Oh, I mean, please, Mrs. Painted Lady?” Ollie Mac tried again, but it did no good.

All the butterfly said was, “Can’t you see I am busy? It’s my job to go around looking pretty; if your smile is gone, then you will have to get someone else to help you find it. Why not try the hummingbird? He’s been hovering around here all morning, humming up a storm.”

"I will gladly help you Tuesday, after I have dined..."
And sure enough, just as Ollie Mac turned around, there was hummingbird, its wings beating frantically as it dipped its beak down into a flower, and then did it again and again.

“Hey there, please, hummingbird, can you please help me? My smile is missing and I can’t find it,” Ollie Mac pleaded, but the hummingbird ignored him. A little louder, Ollie Mac repeated, “Hummingbird! Can you stop for a minute and listen? Please?”

The racket stopped and all was silent. “What DO you want, Little Man? Can’t you hear I am busy?” the hummingbird spoke softly for a bird that was so noisy.

“I am looking for my smile, please, hummingbird. Can you help me?” Ollie Mac tried to smile up at the hummingbird, but as we all know, this morning his smile had called in sick.

“I cannot help you look for your smile. Can’t you see I am famished, and must visit hundreds of more flowers before I can take a break? I suggest you ask red-tailed hawk. She is at the top of a tall tree, so she can see more than anyone.”

“Thanks, hummingbird! I will do that,” said Ollie Mac. “That shouldn’t be hard,” Papi added, looking up at the ancient pine tree on the side of the nearest hill. “She’s right where she often is. You may have to shout.”


"Do I look like I'm smiling?"
Ollie Mac and Papi climbed down into the gully and up the other side, where they stood behind the dead pine tree, admiring the huge bird. Her back was to them. “Do you think she knows we are here?” Ollie Mac asked. 

Papi chuckled, adding, “Oh, she knows. She can see a mouse at night from a great distance. She is just resting. Go ahead and ask her; just yell loudly.”

So Ollie Mac tilted his head back and looked straight up at the red-tailed hawk and bellowed, “Hey there, hawk! If you can hear me, I have lost my smile. Because you are so high in the sky, I thought you might have seen it somewhere. Please!”

At the last word, the hawk bent her head forward, and without seeming to raise her voice, spoke clearly, “A smile is not something I can find from up here, even if my eyesight is excellent. The only person who can find your smile is you, but maybe visiting some of your friends who live on the ground, will help you find it. They walk the same soil as you. The best of luck,” she finished and then resumed her siesta.

"No smiles loitering down here...A"
No sooner had Ollie Mac and Papi walked back down into the gully, to climb back up the other side, when Ollie Mac saw a flash of blue. He knew that it had to be a skink because the sunlight shimmered and shined off of it for a second in the morning sunlight, just before it disappeared under a medium-sized rock. 

“It probably won’t come out again. Maybe you should just ask him without turning his house upside down. He might appreciate that.” Papi waited.

Ollie Mac decided to try Papi’s advice, so he got down right next to the rock first so the skink knew that Ollie Mac could only be talking to him. “I’m searching for my smile, and I thought maybe you could help me. I have asked many things with wings and they all said no. How about you?”

The skink knew it would do no good to ignore Ollie Mac, so he poked his head out and squeaked, “I’m not the right guy to ask because I never get out of this gully. I find it hardly likely that your smile would be loitering around down here. Why don’t you check with Jerusalem beetle, who lives in the middle of the garden?”

“That’s smart thinking,” Papi exclaimed. “I like a skink who is always thinking! Let’s go!”

"16 tons and what do I get?
Another day older and a deeper in debt...".
They found Jerusalem beetle doing what he always does, digging. He paused when Papi’s foot narrowly missed crushing him, sticking his head out of the ground and sputtering, “Why don’t you watch where you are going? You almost stepped on me.”

“Please forgive me, good sir. This young master has a question for you. Do not allow my rudeness in almost stepping on you to interfere with your good judgment.”

Clearly pleased, Jerusalem beetle glanced at Ollie Mac, who was quite fascinated by the zebra-bug. “Well?” he inquired. “Say something!”

“Oh! Yes! Please! I am looking for my smile; I did not mean to ogle. It’s just that I have heard so much about you, I had to stare.” 

The giant beetle never stopped moving, zigging this way and zagging that way, his two long antennae waving frantically.
He was a sight to behold and not one that made Ollie Mac want to smile. It made him want to count his fingers and toes before he got out of there. 


"I can't say why people do not smile when they see me..."
“This might come as a shock to you but people don’t generally smile when they see me, even though I eat lots of things that harm gardens. You smile is safe from me. You know who I would check with is scorpion, not that folks smile a lot when they see him, but because he’s not such a bad guy as people might think. I saw him over in the freshly dug dirt by the new steps.

“Thanks,” Ollie Mac ventured, as he and Papi moseyed over to the newly created rock steps. Upon their arrival an unusual looking specimen came scuttling out from a small pile of pebbles. “You looking for me? I heard you were looking for me.”

Without even wondering how the scorpion knew he had been looking for him, Ollie Mac nodded. He had never seen a blue scorpion. One thing he did know, though, is that the scorpions who lived in this neighborhood were not dangerous. Though it was not recommended that you pick one up, if you did and it stung you, its venom is comparable to that of a bee or yellow jacket sting. It would hurt mildly but otherwise would be no big deal.

Ollie Mac repeated once again that he was hunting for his missing smile, and assured scorpion that he knew scorpion wouldn’t know. “I just thought you might be able to give me your best guess as to who could help me find it. Please? I know you go inside our house, even. You seem to know a lot,” he added. A little flattery couldn’t hurt, he figured, especially since the scorpion seemed highly interested in his toes.

"Smile when you say that, Partner."
“Oh, well, I do know some stuff. Let me see. You know who also knows a lot? Mr. king snake knows a lot. You can find him in the orchard, hunting.

“Of course! Why didn’t I think of that? Come on, Papi!” And Ollie Mac trotted off towards the orchard where the tomato plants grew. Papi followed behind, glad to see that Ollie Mac had regained his enthusiasm, if not his smile.

When they arrived at the orchard, it did not take long to to find king snake, who was enjoying a morning nap after having dined on a pesky gopher. This little varmint had the misfortune of poking his head out of his tunnel, and right into king snake’s mouth. What was a bad day for gopher, was pretty much a good day for everyone  else.

"Ribbet, ribbet..."
“Good morning, king snake. You may have heard that I have lost my smile. I was wondering if you could help me find it. Scorpion said you know a lot so I thought I would check with you.”

King snake nodded his head sagely. “This is serious business,” he responded, “but I think I can help. Let me ask you something. Do you remember the last time you had it with you? That seems like a good place to start.”

Ollie Mac frowned and tipped his head to one side. “I’m not sure but I know I had it yesterday. Papi, do you remember?”

“I do remember you having your fat, saucy smile yesterday, especially when we read that book that had the frog in it. Do you remember? There was also a dragonfly, and those guys were chasing mosquitos and gobbling them up by the dozen.

"Here's looking at you, Kid."
And right on cue, a little frog poked his head out from under a cherry tomato plant. “My ears are burning. Are you talking about me?” To complete the picture, just then into the orchard flew a dragonfly, a brilliant orange fellow with huge eyes. He settled down on the top of a fence post and basked in the morning sunlight. 

And that was all it took, for at the sight of that frog and his dragonfly buddy, Ollie Mac burst out into the brightest smile ever, like magic.

“Just like in the book!” he exclaimed. And he smiled and he smiled, not only happy to see his friends, but happy to have his smile back. 

And Papi smiled too.
A smiling Ollie Mac



















Thursday, September 26, 2019

I Just Didn't Know


Standing at the kitchen counter Tuesday afternoon, peeling and cutting up potatoes for the homemade French fries, I had one of those Ah ha! moments. You know, when you suddenly figure out the answer to a question you have always had, but maybe didn’t know you had? In my case it dealt with the question, What’s the big deal with being a grandparent?

I have experienced GlutenFreeMama’s angst in the past, at the possibility of not living long enough to hold and cherish a grand baby. I have felt her anxiety as a palpable force, and I accepted it unconditionally. I kind of had to because the feeling just wasn’t there for me.

Don’t get me wrong, please, I love kids as much as anyone. My thought process had always been that grandchildren would be very cool, and I would embrace that phase of my life when I encountered it. Or not, whatever happened.

Besides, the way things had been developing the past few years, what with that pesky mood spectrum disorder cropping up, I have gone so far as to question whether I would even be entrusted with a munchkin. There have been times when I wouldn’t have trusted me.

Something happened along the path, when I became a partner-in-crime with Ollie Mac. After all, in the beginning, I had laid out specific guidelines such as, I need notice, mornings are better than afternoons, evenings are out of the question, and all of it was subject to what was happening on-farm.

That changed almost overnight, as Ollie Mac and I got to spend more time together. All stipulations regarding time and farm dissolved. Four in the afternoon? Perfect! Evening Bell Springs Volunteer Fire Department fund raiser? Even better! Watch Ollie Mac on Market Day? In the morning? Oh, heck yeah! Easy peasy… 

I had no logical explanation for my transformation of thought. What had changed? What made Ollie Mac more than “cool?” Why did all of those original requirements get dropped by the wayside? Why did I labor so hard with the communication process with Dancing Girl, so as not to miss out?

I could not seem to nail it down, other than to say that every minute I spend with him, is filled with wonder and pure joy at the way this lil dude views the world. Isn't that enough?

The things that fascinate him, fascinate me too, by extension. But still, there was something more, something that applied salve to my soul every time it occurred, without my conscious knowledge. Then, standing at the counter the other day, anticipating the arrival at some point of Ollie Mac, I saw him in my mind, running toward me with his arms out, and just screeching with delight.

And I suddenly got it. The element I had never factored in was simply how overwhelmed I would feel at having this little human being love me in return. Being told early on by Dancing Girl that “he loves his time with Grandpa,” had sent me home glowing. I never bothered to overthink the feeling, just accepting it as, you know, cool.

That glow has been replaced by a bonfire, and though I am approaching the winter of my life, I hope to infuse some of that bonfire into the soul of this small boy. I see him derive joy from being outdoors, and his awakening curiosity over books, music, popcorn, stories, Buster Posey, dragonflies, balls of any size, wheels, farm animals, fresh-picked apples, frogs and a wealth of other worthy subjects.

Love. I want to shower him with unconditional love, so much so that he carries around with him an access, to support him when the ups of childhood morph into the inevitable downs of adulthood. Love is the greatest power, as I am once again discovering. 

It’s nice to still experience new discoveries, even as my beard completes its transition to white. And it’s nice to be a part of my grandson’s childhood, allowing me to vicariously participate in the process of exploration and wonder, all over again.

I just didn't know because I couldn't know, not without experiencing it. You're never too old to start living life all over again.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Pebbles in His Pockets-Dirt in His Shoes


If you felt the earth move Thursday evening, it might possibly have caused by my making an appearance at a most noteworthy event, the Bell Springs Volunteer Fire Department fund raiser. After all, it required me to actually first, make a public appearance and second, extend that remarkable set of circumstances past my bedtime.

Truth be told there was a mitigating circumstance, because by itself the fundraiser was enough to pry me out of home, but still not for more than a minute or two. A certain LittleMan was that proverbial carrot, which enticed me to stretch my social boundaries just a smidge.

DancingGirl had told me she planned on bringing him, and I was stoked, plain and simple. Nothing floats my boat like spending any amount of time with this young human being person. To follow him around and view the world through his eyes is a humbling experience. To witness an awakening awareness of the reality of what simply exists, is something to cherish.

LittleMan’s fascination with flowers, pebbles, trees, little orange beetles, grandfather’s beard, sticks, pine needles, dandelions, twigs, ants, flies, pine cones, thistles, leaves, bees, tree bark, acorns, straw, birds, rocks, branches, lizards, dirt, a king snake, a raven’s feather, and manzanita berries, puts electronic devices to shame.

All items are worthy of the same scrutiny, especially in the venue filled with smiling, happy folks, presented Thursday night. LittleMan led; I followed. He was mesmerized by a young man who was juggling out in front of the live music, using three of the brightly colored plastic balls that were magically gathered together in the Kid Zone.

As the guy juggled, LittleMan started to get into the act, heaving first one and then the other of the two plastic balls he had been holding right at the unsuspecting performer. Laughing, he redirected two of the colorful orbs to LittleMan, who was delighted. This juggler had it within his capacity to include LittleMan and he did so, as many times as the child kept the game in play.

Later, when he saw the pony that was so short that the two saw eye-to-eye, LittleMan was enchanted. Heck, Emma the dog was darn near as tall as that horse, at least from LittleMan’s perspective. He stood gripping the fence where the pony was temporarily stationed, ogling him. As we were standing there, a young couple approached, both to see the pony too, but also because of LittleMan. 

“That is so cute,” the gal said, indicating the intent focus that LittleMan was exhibiting. “What’s his name?” When I informed her, she exclaimed, “I know who he is, and I know his dad!”

Her response epitomized the gathering; community connects people and those bonds create a sense of comfort. Comfort is seeing kids everywhere, with appropriate options for entertainment. Of special note was the woman who was painting faces. Again, LittleMan stood transfixed, watching her do her artwork.

We are not talking flamboyant strokes, with a face instantly transforming into a unicorn. No, she was creating a tiny swirl on this child’s forehead, but it may as well have been a rainbow, crisscrossing her face, for all of the attention she garnered. LittleMan was transfixed.

Then there was the woman hula-hooping. LittleMan sees hula-hoops in action from his own parents, and his Auntie BossLady, hula-hooper extraordinaire, so this woman had his undivided attention. It took the little keyboard and the bongo to wrestle his attention away; LittleMan played them both with equal enthusiasm. 

There was another small boy there, silently watching him. After a few minutes, still without speaking, the other boy waited until LittleMan paused, and then dispensed a few crucial tips on keyboard playing. I watched the interaction with great interest.

Letting his index fingers create single notes, rather than the more exuberant fist pounds to the keys by LittleMan, the small boy played and then paused for effect, tossing the ball metaphorically across the court to LittleMan. To my surprise, his tiny index fingers began duplicating what I had just heard coming forth from the small boy.

It’s the little things, I tell you.

And speaking of little things, I had been wanting to hear Blue Luke, but my assumption was that he would not appear until late. That’s what the sign said, even if most people would not consider sunset “late.” Therefore, I was pumped when I saw Luke striding toward me from the front entrance still early on, instrument case in hand, obviously intent on the stage.

As he moved past me, I suddenly felt his arm drape around my shoulders, as he stopped, stooped and gave my shoulder a squeeze. I don’t even remember what I said, just the warm and fuzzy feeling any kid gets when someone he admires acknowledges him.

I knew Luke a long time ago, when he was a student of mine in middle school, so I have followed his career from the beginning, from a distance. Now, I got to hear his band in person. I wondered idly if these were the same musicians he played with when he was touring with Julian Marley. 

Ray and the Revelers
What a show that must have been and I don’t even know if there were other artists too. At our fundraiser, we had been highly entertained from the outset by Ray and the Revelers, comprised tonight of Jeff Daniels, Bear Kamoroff, Cory Hannah and Lauren Kaplan. 

All mountain folk, I have been listening to at least three of them for more than thirty years, and the fourth one was born and reared on the mountain. I never enjoyed them more than Thursday night. 

VelvetAntlers
The Velvet Antlers followed, and though I was unfamiliar with them, I was immediately drawn to the lively music they were producing. What’s more, LittleMan was attracted to the music as well, which is where he encountered the juggler and let the right side of his brain absorb it all.

When Blue Luke began their set, we were not disappointed. Considering the venue was not located in a concert hall, somewhere in Europe, those musicians put on quite a show. I know LittleMan and I got our money's worth.

Live music rocks the soul and mine was rolling as well all night. The combination of enjoying the moment, while watching LittleMan take it all in, was most uplifting. It made me want to do something, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

That was fortunate because GlutenFreeMama nailed it the next day when she announced,

“I ordered this pretty cool keyboard for LittleMan; it will be here next week.”

See what I mean? It’s the little things.



Wednesday, August 21, 2019

When You Have Lemons, [Make Dried Tomatoes]


I wear my discomfort like a badge of honor; if I ain’t hurtin’, drop the curtain. By definition farming is a demanding profession, and a young person’s profession at that. I got into the game late in life and I can’t possibly play catch-up without it all, well, catching up to me.

The author of Mark's Work, circa 1983
My special area of interest is tomatoes, primarily because of their versatility when it comes to preserving them for winter use. Beginning in 1974, the summer following my release from the Big Green Machine, I began growing tomatoes in San Jose, and putting them up in a couple of different ways.

I cut them in quarters and cold-packed them, and I made a marinara sauce, to the extent that I always canned enough to get me through to the next year. Still, I am talking maybe twenty or twenty-five tomato plants, not enough to call in the cavalry.

Compare that to this summer, where there are a total of 295 tomato plants on the west end of HappyDayFarms, or as I like to call it, my back yard. I harvest Sunday and Monday for Monday’s market, and Wednesday and Thursday for Thursday’s market. About three-fourths of the work must be done Kaepernick-style, taking a knee. Either that or I must just plop myself down on my bottom, and scoot along, because I sure am not popping up and down like a weasel.

Already I have done a marathon marinara sauce batch, and a mammoth batch of catsup, each producing almost exactly seven-and-a-half gallons. I have plans to put up varying amounts of pizza sauce, tomato paste, hot sauce and salsa, along with as many cold-packed tomatoes as I can get away with.

There is one additional player in the lineup this summer, making its debut (for me) in quite a splashy style, and that is the drying of tomatoes. Though GlutenFreeMama has dabbled in the past, it was always for use in her own kitchen. Now, I am drying tomatoes for either selling at market, or putting into one of the CSA’s (Community Sponsored Agriculture) that HappyDayFarms orchestrates.

I was motivated by the dozen Giuseppe tomato starts given to me by BossLady, back in April, but since then the whole drying tomatoes thing has taken off. After I had harvested the first flush of drying tomatoes, I did a little research to find out more about preserving them.

The one common theme in all the sites I visited was that you can pretty much dry any kind of tomato you want. The difference is simply the amount of liquid contained within the tomato itself. With that thought in mind, the realization that I could also dry the Heinz sauce tomatoes hit me upside the head like a big squishy tomato.

I have more than 120 of these sauce tomato plants, and many of them are producing fruit as small as cherry tomatoes. Now catsup doesn’t care if the tomatoes are big or small, but small lends itself more to drying them because it takes a whole lot of little tomatoes to make even a teaspoon of catsup. 

A whole lot of little tomatoes, on the other hand, will produce a whole lot of dried tomatoes. Right now I have ten quarts of dried tomato chips, far beyond anything I originally envisioned. And this is only the third week in August.

As a farmer I am humbled every day of my life at the vagaries of growing food. Whether it’s critters, heat, blossom end rot, water issues, inconsistent production, or the harvest itself, I trip over my shortcomings daily. I know there is too much nitrogen on the newly extended part of the rows, because I was nonchalantly liberal with my distribution of chicken manure last March, straight from the coop to the fields.

Ach tung, Chucko. By skipping the time spent amidst the decomposing matter in the compost pile, I planted tomato plants in soil that was simply too hot. It was a rookie mistake and produced magnificent plants with fruit that is tainted. 

Additionally, I was nonchalantly stingy with both compost and amendments on the rest, taking for granted the potency of the topsoil. As a result the fruit is plentiful but small, making drying them seem so attractive. I call it making dried tomatoes out of lemons, if you get my mixed metaphor.

So sure, my surgically rebuilt right shoulder was aching this morning for some unfathomable reason, and my surgically rebuilt left knee was grumbling too, but both have rallied bravely, thanks to my meds. There is just something too magical about a pristinely clean bong, and a rip of AC/DC, to get my body parts all in synch.

I’ll need them running on all [two] cylinders today because GlutenFreeMama wants to make batch of smoked paprika catsup, my favorite!

Monday, August 5, 2019

Eh?


I completed the dismantling of a redwood deck this weekend, stacking the denailed planks neatly off to the side, along with girders, posts and what remained of the 2x8 floor joists. The wood was rotting and the nails were reduced to a fraction of their original girth by rust, the result of thirty-five years of summer heat and winter snow. 

Whereas I might have contemplated the absurd notion of a refurbishment as time passed, nothing hastened my thought process quite like having a good portion of the deck collapse under the weight of snow slip-sliding off the metal roof above.

Bombs away!

I posted photos to this effect on face/book last February, but until a couple of weeks ago, that had been the extent of my response to this particularly rude gesture on the part of Mother Nature. Now I was at least clearing the detritus out of the arena, that costing nothing more than my time.

The significance of this rather mundane bit of business is simply that I was taking apart, that which I had put together, so many years ago. I am quite certain that at the time, I firmly believed that the redwood deck I was building would outlast me. Swing and a miss.

Time has this funny way of prevailing, regardless of whether we choose to acknowledge this or not. My belief that I was building a deck which had no shelf life, was as naive as me thinking that I will still be around when the new deck I am building, decides to give up the ghost.

That I am even having these reflections shows I am getting along in age, approaching my 67th birthday early next month. I can still mix and pour concrete, and build the undercarriage of a redwood deck with my eyes closed, but now when I fall, I don’t bounce back as easily as I did when I was thirty, so I don’t try it with my eyes closed anymore.

I also have my eyes wide open when it comes to realizing that I will collapse and fall some day, metaphorically, just as the redwood deck did. We lost Brady recently, a voice that I thought would always be there, eh? You too?

But Brady talked about his coming demise with a familiarity of an old friend. I think the only thing he hated was the confusion around him he felt towards the end, not that which was inside his head. He also had health issues which pointed to an inevitable conclusion to a long and productive life. His dry sense of humor and his wit were present in all he wrote, and I miss him dearly.

For those of you who did not know retired high school teacher, Bruce Brady, he was a colleague at the school district, teaching among other things, AP English. That GlutenFreeMama and I survived HeadSodBuster's senior year at Laytonville High, is testimony that we all thought the little guy had big 'tings to accomplish. 

Just as Brady was, I am prone to sharing what is going on inside my noggin, with the universe. I remember Brady noting-and I'm paraphrasing here-that in a hundred years’ time, it would matter not whether he lived an addition x number of years, or y. The passage of time would blur all events so that a hundred years down the line, who would be around to know or care? 

A wise man, Brady.

That I am still able to do manual labor, or grow and harvest tomatoes, I am grateful for. I am also grateful for the presence of a sixteen-month-old child, our grandson Ollie Mac, with whom I have been hanging lately. I look forward to the day when he can help me “hold the board and cut the wood.” I look forward to teaching him.

That way, when the redwood deck I am rebuilding now, collapses and needs to be replaced, Ollie Mac will be able to do so. That’s a little part of me living on, eh?

But still, in a hundred years?

Seize the day, embrace the moment, smell the roses and love those with whom you come into contact, madly. That's all that really matters.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Blunt Force Government





According to my careful calculations,
the helicopter landed right where the
pond lies today.

Like the spinning rotor of a helicopter, my thoughts swirl around my head as my own Day of Infamy arrives on the summer calendar, July 23rd. It was a day like any other day, back in 1985, except that a helicopter came out of the sky and set down in the field below our ridge top home.

Out streamed a crew of rent-a-cops, wannabes being paid ten bones an hour to eradicate cannabis, and up the hill they charged. Though the front gate was unlocked, instead of opening it and passing through, they kicked the gate in, splintering it, and requiring that it be replaced. They did the same thing with the gate onto the front deck, though they did manage to restrain themselves, entering the house without kicking in the unlocked door.

These thugs ransacked our home, using a crow bar to pry open GlutenFreeMama’s unlocked hope chest. Exactly what they expected to find in a woman’s hope chest, that would link us to a grow, is beyond me. They took nine hundred dollars from us, money that had been prepaid to me for carpentry services. In other words, before I could start earning income again, after the bust, at ten bucks per, I had to first work ninety hours just to break even.

Sweet Baby Lee
When the chopper set down, pregnant GlutenFreeMama had snatched up fifteen-month-old BenJamIn and grabbed not-quite-three-years-old HeadSodBuster by his hand, and headed out overland. They were trying to get three parcels over to my folks' place, where they waited for the invasion to end. 

I was nowhere in the vicinity, being gainfully employed installing blocking, while working on a construction crew building a new house. I received a phone call from a terrified GlutenFreeMama, after clambering down form the top of a ladder to take the call on the land phone inside Jeff and Carol’s old house, back when we were still anchored to kitchen walls.

Michael sang at our benefit.
No warrant was ever issued for my arrest and I never faced charges on the local scene. Instead, the raid having been conducted by federal “agents,” my home and twenty acres of land were seized by the government, a notice to that effect having been affixed to the destroyed gate on their way out.

For the dastardly crime of growing cannabis plants, I was going to lose my home.

I hired Ron Sinnoway, the pro from Dover when it came to cannabis. His specialty was land seizure cases, and he waved his magic wand and made it all go away, nine months to the day after we had been CAMPed on. For this service I was charged $17,500 and I paid it with a smile. 

About a third of the loot came from family and community contributions; we even had a benefit or two done in our name. The other two-thirds was given to me for services not yet rendered, by Michael for whom I was doing carpentry. In exchange for helping him the following year with his grow, he paid what was left of those lawyer fees, around ten large.

Indiana Slim and Bear
Thirty-four years ago today, the government tried to seize my home and property for the “crime” of growing plants. Its agents invaded my space, created havoc, stole from me and left a seizure notice behind, and all I could do was defend myself or lose everything.

All of this occurred because of 33 plants.

Placed in a historical context, what happened to me was not out of the ordinary for the time period. Just up Bell Springs Road the previous year, a couple had experienced the same invasion, but instead of fighting it, they had given up and moved along, losing their home and land. 

I was sweating blood.

I personally use cannabis daily to treat my mood spectrum disorder, and I use it exclusively for pain management. As a 66-year-old farmer, I have my share of aches and pains. 

Here at HappyDayFarms, we are licensed to grow medicinal cannabis on both the local and state level, no longer outlaws. We played the game, we pay exorbitant taxes and consequently, do not have to worry about the current eradication efforts going on around us. 

That does not mean that I have forgotten, or those around me have forgotten, what it's like to be invaded by agents of the government. I am outraged to learn that current efforts in Mendocino County, in Humboldt County and in other places near and far, include similar invasive tactics. I continue to struggle to understand why growing six or twelve plants, or thirty-three for that matter, gives authorities the right to invade and ransack people’s homes. It’s grandstanding, nothing more nothing less, on the backs of small farmers doing no harm.

As someone who has experienced Blunt-Force-Government, I call bullshit. Get a warrant, take the plants and then leave. It’s as simple as that. Treating these victimless crimes as though they were some sort of abominations, is reprehensible.

It needs to stop.
My parents, Pauline and Robert, and neighbor Rex at a benefit,
1985.









Friday, July 12, 2019

Got Zucchini?


I feel pretty much the same way about zucchini, as I do about reading. If you do not like to read, I maintain it’s because you are not reading the right stuff. If you (a) do not like zucchini, (b) are tired of squash in general or (c) have gotten bored with the green submarines, I might suggest that you expand your horizons as far as how to prepare this summer staple.

Have you ever tried:

…simply sautéing thinly sliced zucchini, with onions/mushrooms/pretty much anything, and adding desired spices?

…thinly-sliced and sautéd squash as a last-minute add-in to pasta sauce, over spaghetti/any-kind-of-pasta?

...roasting sliced zucchini in an olive oil/balsamic vinegar mix, along with peppers, onions, broccoli, mushrooms, and serving it over pasta? Or putting the mixture on a pizza?

…the ever-popular fried zucchini patties, with grated zucchini, some onions/scallions, flour, egg and salt/spices? Lightly salting the grated squash and allowing it to drain in a colander, prior to cooking, helps prevent soggy patties. Adding a topping, such as guacamole, salsa, sour cream, ranch dressing or anything that piques your taste buds, is a must.

…preparing patties using equal parts drained, grated zucchini, and grated, rinsed potatoes, and then the rest of the ingredients? (Cheese optional)

…simply steaming cut-up zucchini and adding butter, salt and black pepper?

…zucchini casserole, a dish that layers zucchini, rice, pasilla chili peppers, fresh tomatoes, cheese and is topped with sour cream?

…including zucchini in such traditional dishes as [minestrone] soup, shepherd’s pie, quiche, veggie tamales, enchiladas?

…making an omelet, including onions, cut-up baby zucchini, mushrooms, sweet peppers and cheese?

…wait for it: zucchini bread? With coffee in the morning?

…zucchini on the grill? Whether pre-steamed for a brief visit, or sliced length-wise and grilled over the coals?

…a variation of zucchini on the grill, wrapping cut-up squash in foil, with butter, salt and black pepper, and grilling it over indirect heat?

…stuffing one of those got-away-dudes with a rice/ground meat combo, and baking it with cheese?

…zucchini noodles or zoodles? Using a spiral vegetable slicer, prepare zucchini and add olive oil, garlic, salt and anything else you choose, and serve cold. 

…zucchini tacos? Grate zucchini and sauté it with diced onions and add beaten eggs, paprika, salt and hot sauce, and cook until eggs are done. Put the mixture into corn tortillas that have been heated on the griddle and add cheese. 

…raw zucchini sticks, served alongside sliced cucumbers, carrots and cherry tomatoes, with ranch dressing?

On-farm we eat zucchini every day, and why not? It’s fresh, it’s free and it’s tasty, if you are willing to broaden your horizons. If you do not grow zucchini, but know someone who does, chances are that person would love to share some with you. 

Be sure and bring a truck when you stop by to pick “some” up. Chances are, you will need it.
zucchini casserole



















Wednesday, July 3, 2019

These Little Piggies Got Sunburned


“Peace, pot, love, groovy, posters, candles and incense,” was an old expression dating back from my childhood home on Fellowship St. I turned eight years old in 1960, so I was seventeen in 1969, formative years to have come of age. To this day I am not certain whether the expression above was intended to mock or glorify hippiedom.

I battled my boss(s) at Sunrize (sic) Market about sideburns and hair over the collar, from 1967 until I was drafted in December of 1971. I indulged in the Devil’s lettuce from 1968 onward and once I was finally released from the Big Green Machine, I officially accepted my vocation as a hippie.

Complete with 199th PSC fatigue shirt...
I wore my hair in new location, along with a fiercely red beard, long enough to once get caught in the spinning fan belt of my VW bus, the generally accepted hippie coach of choice. I didn’t shave afterwards; I just learned to keep my head out of the immediate arena of spinning pulleys. 

I wore bell bottoms, attended college from September of 1970, through May of 1982 (With that two-year hiatus as a draftee in the United States Army) and believed nonviolence was of paramount importance, the irony of my military service having a good chuckle. While overseas, I was a clerk in a redeployment division, the second-most powerful position for a grunt, behind only those who labored in finance. 
What is all of this leading up to? Well, I have been in crisis for the last eighteen months, my hippie lifestyle severely jeopardized by an inability to acquire correct footwear. Fortuitously, I managed to find salvation in the form of a severe paradigm shift, by changing to a different style sandal.

What happened was simple enough: The company manufacturing my old-style sandals went out of business, throwing me into crisis. This disaster led me to question my very existence. After all, I don’t even own a pair of shoes anymore, just two pairs of boots that I can’t get my right foot into.  

New look sandals...
My new sandals don’t have that problem because my toes simply flop in the breeze. It is a new-to-me style of sandal, one that is infinitely more carefree and daring, but one that leaves my toes exposed. I had resisted this approach to life-steadfastly-but capitulated when forced to admit that my feet were tied, at least metaphorically. 

Nowhere in the vastness that is Mendocino County, were the desired sandals available. I went as far as Ukiah, for heaven’s sake. Ultimately, I made the journey up to Garberville, in Humboldt County, where I felt I had as good of a chance as anywhere, only to be similarly disappointed.

However, for $71.00, I could refit my feet with what appeared to be the only viable option, eschewing the ever-popular flip-flops. I am a farmer, after all, but the reality is that both of my dilapidated pairs of sandals had given up the ghost within hours of each other, the second via Freddie the French bulldog, and I was desperate.

So I gave the pleasant woman the required loot and donned my new footgear. My initial assessment was that they were working out better than I could ever have hoped for, and I simply loved them. This balloon burst, ending up distributed amongst several of my toes, which took their time expressing unhappiness and then blistered up like fat, little pink sausages.

The funny thing is I had anticipated this response and had been cautious about how much time I spent in the sun in the early going. It was not until a full ten days after I had begun wearing the new sandals, when I had forgotten about caution, that they showed the cumulative effects of being in sunlight far too long.

What’s a respectable hippie supposed to do? When I asked my 295 tomato plants if they could get by without me for a few days, while I remained indoors, they cringed while the weeds chortled. GlutenFreeMama inquired-innocently enough, I suppose-why I didn’t just put socks on.

Horrified, I informed her that no hippie worth his salt, would ever wear socks with sandals. (It. Simply. Is. Not. Done. Period.) No, this was obviously a case for cannabis salve, and why not? It fixes everything else. But such was not the case, the salve making the little pink sausages squeal with discomfort. I was clearly out of my league.

The only thing that helped was soaking them in cool water, and time, which heals all wounds. Time was the big factor, but time refused to take, well, time off, and I was stuck having to carry on. 

Then, from the dim recesses of my cauliflower brain, came the answer, two days too late, but still welcome: baking soda. I put a tablespoon of it in a little dish, made a paste using water, and applied it to my tootsies. The discomfort, and equally important, the itching, ceased instantly, and the crisis was averted. Not only did the baking soda soothe, it served as a protectant from additional discomfort by an unforgiving sun.

With, I might add, my reputation as a bona fide hippie, still intact.








These little piggies got new shoes,
These little piggies got sunburned,

These little piggies turned red.