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

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Complimentary Vandalism


Despite their best intentions, vandals paid us a call here on-farm to damage property and besmirch our name, but the end result was they ended up paying us a huge compliment. “Anti American Family” and “Trump 2020” were emblazoned in yellow paint on the sides of two of our 5,000 gallon water tanks, yellow being a color that certainly symbolizes the cowardice of the individual now self-serving as President.

He was too cowardly to serve when drafted; he is cowardly enough to intimidate women of all ages with his sexual vulgarities; he is cowardly enough to go after the weak, sick and elderly; finally, he is a coward because he has taken what he wanted his entire life, leaving behind him a trail of broken promises and lawsuits.

I have been outspoken in my criticism of 45 because he is a cad who has no concept of what integrity is. He despises women and uses them as he sees fit, and he abhors people of color. To accept him as a legitimate leader of our country is to capitulate to all that IS “Anti American,” and that I will not do.

So absolutely, I accept the mantle of Anti-American, in the context of opposing 45, and wear it with pride. I will even go as far as to say that I accept this mantle as a badge of honor, and thank the vandals accordingly.

Not only did they award me a badge of honor, they also hit the nail on the head with their timely suggestion that 45 serve 20/20: 20 years for corruption, and 20 years for obstruction of Justice.

We are reasonably certain that we know who performed the vandalism, though it really doesn’t matter. Trump is a coward, just as vandals are cowards, and they deserve one another: Just leave me and my family out of it. 

We are not cowards and will call a racist, misogynistic, Anti-Ameican creep out for being just that: a racist, misogynistic, “Anti-Ameircan creep. And we will do it with pride and honor.




Saturday, April 27, 2019

Thud


I posted a photograph earlier this year of the  collapsed redwood deck that runs alongside our kitchen. Originally, this 16-by-20 foot room was our home in its entirety, with an upstairs loft. Having relocated from San Jose in May of 1982, to this windowless cabin with no water, power, heat, plumbing or stove, the addition of this deck after the aforementioned had all been handled, was a feather in my metaphorical cap.

I remember getting in on a shipment of redwood, newly delivered to Gary’s Building Supply, picking up a thousand feet of 2-by-6 for a round one thousand bones. This wood was gorgeous, and I especially liked how much easier it was to cut with a handsaw than the fir I had employed for the under-carriage.

You see, once the shell of my cabin was framed, I did all the rest of the work by hand, not owning a generator in those first few years. I cut every post, girder, block, joist, plank and brace by hand, and to be honest, took some pride in that fact.

What I lacked in terms of speed, I made up for by not having to listen to the sound of a generator, and by being able to work as little or as much as I wanted at any given time, without hassling with starting her up. Besides, the siding I used on that original 16-by-20 was one-by-seven redwood, even easier to cut by hand.

I had no nail gun and preferred it that way. Not only did one have to listen to a genny, there was the additional racket of a compressor when you use a nail gun. I’ll pass.

By the time I built that deck, I had already spent an entire summer working on a crew on the construction of a multi-level home in BrookTrails, and had helped in the building of my own cabin. Putting up something as elementary as a redwood deck, posed no problem whatsoever to this seasoned carpenter.

After work in the evenings and on weekends, I put in place this elegant deck, with custom railing so that small boys could be confined to this safe environment. The whole ensemble provided such an upgrade over the bare-bones cabin, that I almost dislocated my shoulder patting myself on the back.

Snow piled up beneath the overhang
And then a funny thing happened in the blink of an eye. Thirty-six years skedaddled along, and we got a heavy snowstorm one fine winter day. There was so much snow piled up on the deck beneath the overhanging eaves above, that it took a week for me to realize what had occurred: The weight of the snow had pulverized the deck.

This was not a case of a deck improperly built; no, the 2-by8 fir joists were snapped. By definition joists rest on their edge, which means that the only way they could have snapped is if the wood were literally rotted away.

Thirty-six years of brutal winters will do that to exposed lumber. 

Here is where things start to get a little surreal. When I built that deck with that beautiful redwood, I am quite certain that I thought it would last forever, or at least as long as my forever. I was wrong. I am equally certain that the new deck I will build will also outlive me.

Thud.

Why does that realization feel so much different to me now, than it did the first time around? 

Friday, April 26, 2019

Who's That Knocking?


“Home” for me involved at least ten different addresses between my 19th birthday, and my 30th. Since then, approaching 37 years, I have called this spot, five miles up Bell Springs Road, home. I can recall with some detail, all of the places I have labeled home; there is nothing unusual about that.

Memories are memories, right? They’re all more or less the same, give or take. Maybe they involve loved ones now departed; maybe they depict images of the interiors of specific rooms, rooms I have lived and loved in. Whatever. The memories crop up due to a wide variety of reasons, and I either savor them or shelve them.

I found out recently, though, that my previous assessment of memories as “more or less the same, give or take” requires adjustment. I am contending with a barrage of memories now, conjured up by visits from my grandson, Ollie Mac, and his pops, affectionately known in this space as SmallBoy. 

[Editor’s Note: Hmmm]

Memories “can’t be boughten; they can’t be won at carnivals for free,” sang John Prine, and he is dead on. No, memories are a gift from the gods, to ease the pain of past travails, and to offer solace for that which is gone forever.

However, I am readjusting my opinion of memories based on the fact that I am seeing in front of my eyes, a replay of SmallBoy as, well, a small boy. The setting in the kitchen is identical now, to what it was when SmallBoy would have been one year old, as Ollie Mac is now.

The ’20’s vintage Superior stove is still in place, with the walled-in pantry, rustic and practical, just behind it, the same varnish still adorning it, about seven shades darker than in 1986. The tongue-in-groove, 2-by-6 pine flooring is the same, and the same pragmatic kitchen table sits right where it was back in 1985. 

It was there the day SmallBoy, comfortably ensconced in his infant seat in the center of said table, was unceremoniously shoved off the table to fall face-first on the floor. Fortunately, and most cosmically, his face fell right onto a pillow, unfathomably lying on the floor beside the table. I have no clue why a pillow would be on the floor, partially beneath the table.

During the eight years I worked in the trades, prior to beginning my teaching career, I was the go-to guy in the house, when it came to tending small boys. I was up long before they ever were, I brought them downstairs, either on my back in the backpack, or otherwise, and we hung out together. We did so until GlutenFreeMama surfaced for her nectar of the gods, hot coffee prepared by me, and then the day officially began.

By the time SmallBoy came on the scene, our house was well child-proofed. All doors were affixed with those latches that required an adult's more deft fingers to manipulate, leaving small boys unable to gain access to doors number one-through twenty, or however many. All breakable or potentially harmful items had been rearranged so as to be well out of the reach of stretching arms with grasping fingers, and all steps, stairs and other climbing opportunities, had been effectively blocked off. 
We need to repeat the process, now that Olle is up and running. We also have to get Ellie Mae, our sweet rescue dog, used to Ollie Mac. When she is allowed in, she is the perfect hostess, wagging her tail and bestowing vast quantities of dog kisses on Ollie Mac, or at least she would if I did not remember all too vividly what it was that she-never mind. Let’s just say that Ellie Mae had Ollie Mac in stitches.
The little guy does love doggies.

Of course, I can remember both G’Day and Hazel, dogs of SmallBoy’s youth, and how he also loved doggies. These kinds of memories do not appear in the thrift shops GlutenFreeMama and I frequent, nor in the antique shops, either.

Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!
There are certain unique-to-SmallBoy memories, like the wide circle of indentations on the door of the wood box, right behind the stove. It would seem that GF Mama had the unmitigated gall to try and take a quick shower one fine day, and SmallBoy raised a ruckus. 

When pounding on the door and screaming did not gain him access, he picked up the handiest thing he could find and started beating on the [plywood] door of the woodbox. GFMama could hear the far-off pounding over the sound of the shower and through the bathroom door, and contemplated the myriad of possibilities, but she never came close to reality.

As SmallBoy and I made with the palaver, SmallBoy following Ollie around closely, we chatted about how different it would be in the kitchen, were there a fire in the wood-burning stove. 

“Hot! Will burn you!” both GF Mama and I instinctively interjected, it being the standard after the first time immortalized it forever. 

“Funny thing about hot stoves,” I added. “Adults can warn littles until they’re blue in the face about hot stoves, but the reality is, it only generally takes one time for a kid who is already walking, to figure out that the stove is bad news if you touch it.”

One cardboard box: priceless...
As I watched SmallBoy pulling Ollie Mac around in a cardboard box, as though it were a wagon, I nodded sagely. Kids will find entertainment in the simplest of devices, as we did with blanket forts and toy grocery stores.

Some memories have more clout than others, and seeing your grandson in the identical setting as that in which you saw his father, at the same age, is one of them. Of course it does involve hanging out in the same place for more than a minute or two, but when you are living the dream, you don’t ever want to wake up.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Talking Tomatoes


No, the tomatoes are not talking; I am talking tomatoes because it’s April and the topic of tomatoes permeates my existence. I have “grown my own” since 1974, so this is nothing new. What is different now than in the past, is that no matter how many I grow, HeadSodBuster can sell them.

Perfection
In the past I sent x number of lugs to market and whatever did not sell, came back to me for processing. Last summer was different in that everything I sent to market got sold, due to the expansion of our CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture) program. 

As recently as three summers ago, the extent of my tomato-growing in the orchard consisted of thirty-nine plants, with another fifty or so in my backyard. Two summers ago I expanded the number of plants in the orchard to about 120, and experienced some intense lows and highs. 

Critters extracted a heavy toll on my crop, with gophers leading the charge. Mice, voles, birds and ground squirrels all ponied up to the trough for their share, making me glad that I had put so many plants in the ground. I lost ten percent of my tomatoes right off the top to gophers. The five traps I employed all summer, might as well have been trapping elephants, for all of their success. 

The highs included a fair amount going to market while what remained came back to me for processing. I put up cold-pack quarts of just tomatoes, along with jars of marinara sauce, catsup, pizza sauce, salsa, hot sauce and paste.

Last summer I added ten-fifteen feet to each of the eight rows in the orchard, and I put in about 160 tomato plants, after being told that if I grew them, HeadSodBuster could sell them. And sell them he did. I invested thirty dollars in an electronic device which emitted a sharp beeping sound every thirty seconds, and cut my gopher losses in half.

When the dust had settled and we saw what had occurred, HSBuster informed me that he had sold a total of 1,500 pounds of my tomatoes at market. 

Aesthetically pleasing but sunflowers are crashing the party.
I learned some key lessons last summer, the first of which is to provide a cathedral of their own for the sunflowers. I was lulled by the magic of all that is sunflowers, even though I knew from personal experience, that having a sunflower in the same 33-gallon bag with a tomato plant, squeezed the life out of the tomato plant. 

Therefore, as photogenic as last summer’s mini-invasion of colossal sunflowers was, it stunted the growth of tomatoes in the whole area. I did take countless photos of bees and sunflowers, mixed with tomatoes, dragonflies, butterflies and birds but ultimately, the sunflowers were a detriment to forward progress. 

I can solve that problem this summer by giving the sunflowers their own space outside the tomato beds, and then transplanting the volunteers that will inevitably spring up, to their new home. I have this idea of planting sunflowers in a big enough circle, so that I can put a lawn chair in the center when it gets hot, and rest in the center of all that beauty, but we’ll see how far I get with that. 

The second lesson I learned was that it was well-worth caging every single one of those 160 plants. Unlike my first experience with cherry tomatoes, two summers ago, when they were allowed to sprawl out in every direction, I put them all in cages last summer. The result was quite satisfactory, in that there was more fruit, and I no longer had to crawl along on the ground to harvest it. In some cases I was reaching well over my head. 

Last summer I put one application of fish emulsion on the plants early on, and they responded accordingly. Lugging five gallon buckets of diluted fish emulsion to 160 plants, proved logistically challenging, however, and downright hard work, dampening my enthusiasm for continuing the program. Though I had the best of intentions, that was the only time I supplemented my tomatoes with anything all season. 

Consequently, as the summer progressed into autumn, though the tomatoes continued to produce fruit well into November, the size and overall quality declined steadily. The Heinz tomatoes being harvested at the end of the season resembled cherry tomatoes in size. Therefore, I need to continue to supplement my plants this summer with fish emulsion, kelp and whatever other organic components that HeadSodBuster directs me to apply, for overall quality control.

Finally, I need to sort through my harvest each week, and cull out the bottom ten percent or so each market day, and set it aside. That way I can go back to processing all of those after-market items I did the summer before last, when I was getting a certain percentage of the tomatoes back each week after market.

In March this year, between gaps in the steady rainfall, I extended each of six tomato rows an additional fifteen to twenty feet, giving me an average of about 75 feet per row. I do not intend to add more tomato plants to the orchard, just more elbow space for each plant. My goal is to improve the quality of what I have, not the quantity, through a few of these logistical adjustments.

I am beyond thrilled to be able to establish my own niche here on-farm, one that I can call my own. I am also stoked to be able to do it on my own. I can do it by myself, at least until it comes time for harvest. 

Can you say “sun-golds gone wild?” I know you can-try it.