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

Friday, May 31, 2019

"What Have I Gotten Myself Into?"


Dateline: June 1st, 1982
Pictured in Old Paint (our VW bus) on our wedding day
We relocated from San Jose to a 16-by-20 foot cabin, its windowless openings boarded over with plywood, a structure with no power, no plumbing, no running water, no heat and no refrigerator. There were no cupboards and there were no stairs to get up into the loft.

When we awoke our first morning, it was still dark, it was drizzling outside, it was miserably cold and we had no way of heating our little cabin. GlutenFreeMama looked over at me, her face an open book, Chapter One reading, “What have I gotten myself into?”

Due in September with none other than HeadSodBuster, she looked as though she had just awakened from a deep sleep, and found that her heaven was actually-not quite hell-but certainly, purgatory. I mean, we were warm as long as we stayed in bed, but that was not going to get breakfast cooked, nor heat in the cabin.

Though we actually did have two stoves, one a 1920’s vintage Superior stove, which still resides in this kitchen, the other a conventional four-burner range, we relied exclusively on our trusty Coleman stove in the beginning. Before I could convert the gas stove to propane, and hook it up, I had to install the pipe to get the gas from out front to the kitchen, and I needed some propane.

My finest moment: blazing up on the DMZ
They could draft me into the military,
but they could never draft my soul.
I was a grocer, an army veteran, an auto parts clerk and a professional student; I was not a hands-on, handyman sort of guy. Everything I accomplished in the early days came from on-the-job-training. Just as my father Robert had helped me with the foundation of my little cabin the previous summer, I was able to rely on family for technical advice.

My bothers Matt and Tom had helped me build the cabin, along with neighbor Rex. What I mean is I helped them. I had never handled a Skill-saw in my life before that summer but I was a quick learner. I had my first lesson the day I made my debut on the “crew,” working down in Brooktrails on a spec house.

Told I needed to cut the twenty-foot-long, 4-by-12 chunk of green fir, to a length of 19 feet, 8 inches, I proceeded to cut it an inch short. It was a simple logistical error, a 4-by-12 having to be scribed on both sides of the board, in order to cut it. The depth of a Skill-saw blade is only 2 3/4 inches and in flipping the behemoth over to scribe the second line, I had marked the wrong side of the framing square. 

When I realized what I had done, I went to Rex and informed him. Not only had I cut the girder too short, it was the last one on the site.

“No problem,” he said, drawing out the word “problem” as was his custom. Reaching into his pocket for his truck keys, he flipped them to me saying, “Take my truck into Willits and get another one.” He didn’t yell at me or make me feel like a heel; he just sent me to get another one.

I learned as I went along, especially since I had others who had gone before me, to help me.

Ah, Home sweet home
As stoked as we were to have busted out of San Jose, right now, with this mizzle (mist crossed with drizzle) making our lives miserable, I was ready to trade my kingdom for a fire. In answer to my quandary came my knight in shining armor, Bro Matt.

“How’re you guys doing?” he inquired brightly into our dim interior, that dreary first morning. Moving right along when he sensed all was not well, he went right for the jugular, “Kind of chilly in here. Let’s see now; what do we need to do to get some heat in here?”

Triple-walled stove pipe extended down into the kitchen, but stopped just below the ceiling. That was it.

“It looks like we need to start by finding you a stove. This old Superior you have here requires a custom piece, so let’s go find something we can use today.”

We hopped into the Limo, the name for the old Dodge truck, and drove up to Papa’s barn, where Matt knew an old Tin Lizzie was stored.

“This old dog came up from La Puente,” he informed me. “Not a damn thing wrong with it-it will do perfectly.”

We loaded it into the back of the Limo and headed over to neighbor Rex’s spot. Rex was off somewhere but that did not stop Matt from taking me in tow, and heading out behind the house. Beneath an old storage unit, we found several three-foot lengths of somewhat rusty, six-inch stovepipe, that would work just fine.

I took Matt’s word for everything, even though I secretly may have had my doubts about that funky-looking wood stove and that crusty-looking stove pipe. When it came right down to it, starting the fire using wet manzanita wood, proved more challenging than getting the system up and running.

This is not the one but it could
have been.
In that tiny cabin, the old Tin Lizzie worked its magic, and the cabin was transformed within minutes into a snug little cave. 

I can’t begin to describe the feeling that overcame me at that moment, when the heat from the manzanita battled back the cold effortlessly, and a seemingly impossible task was dealt with so easily. If we could take it one crisis at a time, and be content to get something in place until it could be refined, then we were going to make it.

I needed to know that early in the game, and there it was.

Well, the game is in the fourth quarter for me, and I’m good with that. The score is in my favor, no matter how I look at it, and who could ask for a life to end any better than that?
When I bought Old Paint, the engine was in the back seat.

GlutenFreeMama and lil HeadSodBuster
Bro Tom and the author of Mark's Work


Monday, May 27, 2019

"Eau de Country"


“Do you think our Ellie Mae may be just a tad high-strung?” I asked GlutenFreeMama of an afternoon, not too long ago.

The sound that emerged from her mouth, stopped short of being a snort; it was more of a guffaw. “I’d say that’s putting it mildly,” she responded.

I glanced over at her, genuinely surprised. “Really? You know, when I think of high-strung, it’s generally a euphemism for highly destructive. High-strung is the dog who chews up the phone charger; it is the dog who rips the car upholstery to shreds, while you’re in Geiger’s; it's the dog who knocks the plants off the window sill, trying to see if you are home yet.”

I continued, “The high strung dog barks a lot when you are not in the immediate vicinity; finally, inevitably, the high strung dog wears out its welcome. Ellie Mae is none of these. Yes, she had one incident, a few weeks after she got here, but that was a year-and-a-half ago. And the only time she barks is when the front door opens.”

GlutenFreeMama managed to get a word in. “Still, the separation anxiety, the edginess when Little Man is here, the way she gets wound up when Margie or Emma come around you, I’d say our girl is high-strung,” GFMama concluded.

“We can label her high-strung but what’s in a label? Here are a few crayons that color my thinking. What about the times when she never moves, from seven in the evening until seven in the morning, snoozing away on the sofa. To me high strung means an inability to check anxiety issues at the door.”

I went on, “She’s great with puppies, and she has never done anything around Little Man except give him doggie kisses and wag her tail hard enough to power the electrical needs of the household for 24 hours.” I paused for oxygen.

“I have never been around a dog as affectionate and appreciative as Ellie Mae, and sure, I lavish attention on her. She is a country dog, though, and is aware of every squirrel, raven, rabbit, blue jay, farm cat, SKUNK, bobcat, coyote, possum, fox, chipmunk, and deer that comes within her range. Don’t forget she is a Covelo girl.”

I bring this conversation up because a few hours ago, not too long after I got up this morning, Ellie Mae got skunked-again. I have chronicled a couple of these incidents in the past, finding it easy to infuse humor into the equation. I think of it as humorous more than anything else, because the scent of skunk is nothing more than “eau de country.”

The odor can’t be compared to the putrid stench that clings to her, after she has been rolling in something dead. In fact the skunk essence is similar to some potent forms of cannabis, and I am never going to find cannabis offensive.

I let her out this morning in the most routine of manners, and she returned five minutes later with no balderdash. I was therefore unprepared for the olfactory disaster, hidden in that disarmingly sweet face peering so trustingly at me through a window pane.

The time was 1:47AM. GlutenFreeMama was asleep in the other room, with no walls or doors to block either scent or noise. My sole option for administering a bath is the shower unit inside my bathroom, one that I have employed in the past for this same purpose. Our bathtub is temporarily on assignment and unavailable for use.

There was no other way to proceed; Ellie Mae remained on the front deck, on her tethered leash, while I got the arena prepared. This included filling two five-gallon tupperware containers with mildly hot water which would cool a bit before being used.

I put a clean rug in the shower on the floor, and a towel on the floor right outside the shower. I had the doggie shampoo and I had a small container with her favorite dog treats in it, handy to grab. Having done this number before, I knew what the pitfalls were, the biggest one being the sound of running water, such as comes out of a hose. I found out the hard way but I know it now. That’s why I pre-filled the tuppies.

When I finally brought Ellie into the bathroom, she was acutely aware of what was about to befall her. Whether it was clear why, remains unknown. With the taste of one dog treat still with her, I took the time to sit her down outside the shower while I explained in a low, calm voice, exactly what was coming down, and why. I could have been reciting Casey at the Bat, for all she understood, but she stopped shivering during my talk and when she did, I went to work. This bath was unlike any other because Ellie Mae was completely calm as I lathered up every inch of her body.

There was none of this splash a little soap here and there and hope for the best. No, every square inch of her hound dog body was lathered, massaged, and coerced into subjecting to the magic fingers and the suddenly user-friendly water. 

It had been chilly outside, at around 45 degrees and Ellie had been forced to stay out there while I prepped the venue. Now, with still quite warm water being gently poured over all of her, she seemed to give up any semblance of resistance. From the time I went to bring her in, until the time she was on her bed in front of the hot wood stove, 45 minutes elapsed.

I think the longest I was ever able to sustain a bathing experience, was nine minutes. 

Ellie Mae is resting comfortably now, no worse for the experience. The last thing I want to say about Ellie and high strung, is that I am high strung too. I struggle to take in information through my ears; it’s one of the symptoms of being bipolar. 

That being said, I have been listening to baseball for sixty or so years. The way I explain this anomaly is that I absorb baseball, just as I firmly believe that Ellie Mae absorbed what I explained to her, before I began her bath. I think it calmed her and led to a thorough and mellow encounter with water, and I’m not sure a high-strung dog could have done that.

Ellie Mae is a country dog; they’re not the same as city dogs. Country dogs need a couple of acres to sprint around in, and they need patience when it comes to the inevitable results of being just that-a country dog. When I saw recently that “Bubba” (not his real name) was returned to the Inland Mendocino County Humane Shelter, I was saddened.

The explanation was simply that it was not a good match for “Bubba,” a country dog trying to fit into the city. And that’s what I mean: Ellie Mae is a country dog, living in the country and doing things that country dogs do.

That’s not high strung-that’s high living.


At Nancy Skelly's Obedience School









Sunday, May 26, 2019

Kaput!


Being of the retired variety, I have the time to do just about anything I want, that does not require more than nominal pecuniary funds to defray the cost. Cooking falls under that category, mainly because so much of what GlutenFreeMama and I eat comes from the farm. Besides, I kind of have to cook anyway. 

Oh, you too?

Kale to the chief!
I posted some pics this morning from last night’s quiche, inspired by the bountiful bag of kale that was dropped off here the other day by HeadSodBuster. I know it was not so very long ago that I posted photos of a quiche inspired by the bok choi that we received in similar manner. I cannot tell a lie: I eat quiche.

I will even have a small glass of white wine, if there is no red to be found. There, I said it.

I must also confess to finding joy in cooking, as long as I am not exhausted. That sound you are hearing is the snickering of countless moms everywhere, trying to remember the last time they cooked a meal when exhaustion was not a key ingredient.

Again, retirement allows me to pick and choose the times for my assigned duties each day. Yesterday found me doing battle with our too-powerful-for-my-own-good quad, around mid-morning, after I had had my way with a pitchfork, over a twenty-by-six-foot tract of front yard.

I fought the quad and the quad won. Again. 

I was attempting to haul home-grown compost out of the orchard to put on my sunflower bed, using the quad with its little trailer. Up until yesterday, all hauling of compost to all sites, had been done by five-gallon bucket. Unfortunately, I view my relationship with the quad going the same route as that of the chainsaw: We won’t be seeing each other anymore, or if we do, it will be only as friends. 

I am now in a relationship with a spatula, one that has never tried to either cut off my foot, or make a deep impression in my head. My spatula has no moving parts.

I fought the quad and the quad kicked my tush.
Yesterday, while towing the little trailer up the slope, about two-thirds of the way filled with compost, I glanced over my shoulder to see it sailing merrily backwards and picking up speed, until it became one with a massive pile of branches and manzanita burls, destined to be burned. The trailer was exhibiting a certain flair, or joie de vivre. I took some comfort that the trailer’s bolt for freedom did not include me doing another 360. 

Parking the quad for the final time, I directed my feet stage left, into the house, for a quick dose of my meds after first refreshing my trusty bong. I would like to point out that my bong also has never tried to amputate a foot or flip me over its bowl.

As I was rinsing it out, my somewhat fractured attention was lassoed by the kale that HeadSodBuster had dropped off on Friday. Kale also has never-

[Editor’s note: Ahem…]

I moseyed into the other room and confessed to GFMama that I was finished-kaput-outside, and no fork would prove me wrong. I was ready to do some damage to that innocent kale, beginning with the dicing up of some scallions, leeks, sweet peppers and mushrooms.

In a collaborative effort, reminiscent of Black and Decker, GFMama and I put that quiche together. I did the mindless chopping and dicing, while she made it all come together with her usual magic. She added a cookie tray of roasted potato pieces, her own blend of spicy goodness blanketing them, and we traded in the Giants being thrashed by the Diamondbacks (10-4, over and out), for a light-weight film.

I managed to get into and out of my recliner, without incident.




Wednesday, May 22, 2019

"Don't Blink"


Until a short time ago, aside from cooking and pot walloping, the most exhausting thing I might have been expected to achieve after four in the afternoon, was cleaning my bong. I mention this in passing because yesterday, when I got the text message to come on over, it was already 4:15. 

We had set it up that morning, Dancing Girl and I, that Papi would come over in the afternoon to be with Little Man. What’s truly ironic is that when my interaction with Little Man began, shortly before his first birthday, I had been firm that my visits be confined to mornings, if at all possible.

I wanted to be at my best.

As extraordinary as it seems [to me] all that has changed. I have become imbued with a force that can’t possibly be described as adrenaline, and yet seems to function as adrenaline’s little sister. 

I regard this force as feminine because my energy has the power of a Sherman tank, and yet is as gentle as a falling oak leaf. How much energy does it require to follow a 14-month-old child around? On the one hand when I am done I am drained; on the other my soul has dancing shoes on, every minute of the time I spend with this little human.

He is a congenial lad, with a passion for wheels. Right now, most of the time his interest is focused on placing any vehicle with said round orbs, on its back, so that we can spin them around and around. Spinning our wheels, you might say. Whereas, this may seem pointless, it is good practice for life.

Monday found Little Man engaged in a new [for him] activity, pulling a little wooden duck-on-wheels around behind him. And right behind that duck, of course, was Papi. I would follow behind him on his route, eleven-teen hundred times, if that was the sole item on the activity log that day.

When the duck needs a rest and Little Man expands his attention to his assortment of playthings, the “activity” log takes on a slightly different look. My activity consists in being the trusty sidekick of my partner-in-crime, and I can’t do that towering over him.

I do what comes most naturally, and sprawl out on the floor, so that we are on the same level, until such time as Little Man makes a run for it. I see field and track in this lad’s future, not to mention baseball. Then I must forget that my beard has long since turned gray, and spring up like the daffodils, after the snow melts away, and race after him.

It only hurts if I allow myself to notice it, so I don’t.

Because music accompanies me everywhere I go, or is provided where I end up, it seems natural to make as much music as is humanly possible. Little Man gets it: He plays the xylophone, the bongos, the tambourine; he shakes the balls with rice inside, he claps his hands and he dances.   

The time “Shut Up and Let Me Go,” by the Ting Tings came on, his face lit up like a bottle rocket, and he started rhythmically bouncing to the music. It warmed the cockles of my heart and I started bouncing as well. And why not? When I stop dancing, put me out of my misery, puh-lease.

Frankly, there is far too much on my plate these days, for me to be spending time with a little munchkin. The reality, however, is that simply because there IS so much to do, and I can never really be caught up, I can justify anything. 

There is nothing in my universe more important to me than Little Man, and that includes tomatoes, so there’s that.

When the time for grub came along yesterday, Little Man was in his high chair, manhandling his lunch, I was seated in front of him, and Little Man’s dad was at the kitchen counter. As is sometimes the case, I was swept with a wave of emotion, as I replayed scenes out of the past of me feeding SmallBoy in a similar chair. 

I glanced over to Little Man’s pops and said, “Don’t blink or it will be you sitting where I am, while Little Man is standing at the counter, and a mini-Little Man is sitting in this chair. You know?”

I am slated to traipse over to visit again today and I could not be more pleased. The tomatoes will get planted out, as well as the snapdragons, zinnias, cosmos, bells of Ireland, black-eyed Susans, coleus, alyssum, sunflowers, marigolds, bachelor buttons, and peonies bulbs-eventually. The weed-eating and the mulching will get done, as well as the completion of the watering-system refurbishment. 

Everything I mentioned will get done and twenty different chores will have replaced them on the list, and I will still put Little Man first. It is one of those many perks of the aging process: I get to do what I want, when I want, and right now, I want to spend time with a little dude with a bright, happy smile, whose face lights up when he sees me.

It makes my face light up too.
Add caption


Monday, May 20, 2019

To Spare Time, Or Not


My pearl-handled six-shooters
I had some spare time the other day, after completing my errands in Willits, so I stopped in at the town’s big garden supply spot to pick up a couple of ultrasonic gopher detour-ants, er, deterrents. These are the solar-powered devices that send out an electronic beeping signal on 60-second intervals, and I have found them to be a legitimate force in the ongoing battle with these subterranean scoundrels.

My previous experience with this garden supply outfit was confined to that which was available outside in the yard. GlutenFreeMama would go inside to pay for materials and I would track down a yard person and tend to the logistics of loading what we had purchased.

Since what I sought was not going to be found outside, I ventured into the low-slung building, noting the counter on the right, behind which stood three employees. Directly ahead of me, the shop sprawled out, with various options available in which to stroll. As much as I am certain I would have enjoyed the tour, GFMama was waiting patiently in the car, and I had no interest in trying her patience.

Turning to face the broad counter, I noted there was one customer at the cash register. “Great success!” I thought to myself. The other two workers were engaged in conversation. I waited patiently, until after a minute, the older of the two men glanced up at me and tilted his head back. 

My high school photo
“Help you?” The man looked at me as though I were an exhibit at a zoo, an entertaining one at that.

“Yes. I’m looking for those electronic beeping devices that deter gophers,” I answered.

His smirk broadened. “De-ter? De-ter.” He nodded for emphasis. “You mean, de-tour. I like that. Detour ‘em.” He giggled at his own inventiveness. 

I grinned, appreciatively and said, “Great success. Where will I find those de-tour-ants?”

He said some words that eluded my cauliflower ears, and I know he thought he was done by the way he turned back to his buddy. I managed to snag his attention at the last tick. “Yikes! I missed that. Can you repeat those die-wreck-sions?”

He squared up again, facing me, and said some more words that did not compute, except for the last phrase, “…back against the far wall.”

Granted, it’s not his fault that I have a hard time processing information through my ears, but I do understand “straight ahead, left and right,” and none of those words were involved in the instructions. I decided I could navigate my way to the “far wall,” and that ought to put me in the right church.

My tools enable the little varmints.
I may have been in the right church, but I was in the wrong pew. There was, however, an usher-sorry, employee-right there for me to pester. He seemed far more willing to listen to me than the dude up front. When I explained what I wanted, he was genuinely apologetic. “I know what you’re talking about, but I’m not sure where they are. Let me check it out.”

Time elapsed. 

In reality, probably a lot less time went by than I may have imagined, but my “don’t-give-a-sh*t-o-meter” had been activated at the front of the shop, and was pinging in my ear in a most annoying fashion. 

“I should have just gone to Weathertop’s in the first place,” I chided myself, and went out to the car, snapping my seat belt into place with a certain finality, while explaining to GFMama, “They evidently do not want my business.”

Before I could commence to begin to start my rant, I was interrupted by a face appearing suddenly at my window, and a voice saying, “I found what you wanted, if you are still interested.”

In the space of an eye twitch, I waged a Battle Royale in my head, one side clamoring for me to “…hit the road, Jack…” the other arguing that someone with a sense of integrity, had pursued me out into the parking lot, to tell me that he had done as I requested.


Integrity won out over petulance and I reopened my car door and got out. As we walked back toward the shop, the thirty-something man escorting me, looked sideways at me with a look that indicated he knew something, I didn’t.

“I recognize you,” he started out. “You used to teach at the middle school in Laytonville. You may not remember me.” 

Well, I did not recognize him and I said as much, just as I do any time this scenario comes up. I never tried to fake middle schoolers out when we shared a classroom, and I wasn’t going to start now. “You got me. You’ve changed,” and I accompanied that with a chuckle, to acknowledge the understatement.

“John H,” he responded, only he told me his name. J.J.? Not remember Johnny? I vividly remembered him as a sixth grader, respectful, friendly and popular. Somewhat caught off guard, I said the first thing that came into my pea brain. 

“Dude!” I made him stop while we did the impromptu greeting old friends will always do. “How could I not remember you? I’m pretty good friends with your sister, actually.” If that sounds lame, I can’t help it. Carissa and I got along just fine, back in the classroom and when the 21st century finally caught up with me in the form of social media, I was delighted to reestablish a tie with my former student.

I encountered her once in person a couple of years ago, at Samantha and Caleb’s wedding in the redwoods. As a retired teacher, I pause and reflect at the wonder of it all, how technology has allowed me to see how they all turned out. Carissa’s sense of humor and her pride in her kids reveal much to me, and I cherish the connection.

“Yeah, what you wanted is in the Poison Room,” John explained. Well, that explains that. My internal radar would have sent a jolt to my solar plexus that would flatten a rhino, had I ventured accidentally into that room. 

Though there is nothing about the electronic devices that would be considered poisonous, they would-just like poisons-be considered, well, deterrents. There’s that pesky word again. 

“I gotta tell you, Johnny, I was on my way to Weathertop's when you flagged me down. You kept me as a customer,” and I headed out front to pay the man.

Trapped once again into assisting me, because there were no other customers at the counter, the man with the neatly trimmed, mostly gray goatee, stepped forward and began to work the register. In a last-ditch effort to make with the palaver, I offered, 

“You know, I planted 156 tomato plants out in the orchard last week, and this is the only thing I have ever encountered that-“

“That will be $45.50,” he interrupted. Talk about rudeness abounding.

I stared at him, appalled, and waited. It took a few seconds but he figured out that just maybe he had come across too strong. “So they work, huh?”

As if you care, bro. “Another day in Paradise awaits. Great success!” was my response as I headed forthwith out the front door.

This garden supply place, in its new location, practically across the street from the other, has been around too long to have its reputation sullied by rude cashiers. 

Fortunately, there was Johnny to save the day.



Sunday, May 19, 2019

I'll See Your God and Raise You Two Oak Trees


If I were asked what my religion was, while in the waiting room of a dentist, for purposes of determining whether or not I was Christian, I might want to know why. What possible reason could a dentist have for needing this information? Though annoyed, I would nonetheless respond that I am an existentialist. That would probably end the discussion, except it would be uncertain whether or not the interrogator, would know whether an existentialist is a Christian or not.

Any love I had for the Catholic faith was ground to paste in
this cold, forbidding structure.
I don’t believe in God, I think the idea of an afterlife is absurd and my main requirement out of life, is accountability. I have practiced existentialism since age 23, a big word for a simple religion. At the end of each day, if I ask myself, was I part of the problem or part of the solution, I must be able to render an accounting of my stewardship. What problem? What solution, you just might be asking? 

If you have to ask, then I’m glad you did.

Even with an afterlife being dangled, people still struggle to figure out what life is all about.  Burt Bacharach and Hal David wrote, “What’s it all about, Alfie? Is it just for the moment we live? What’s it all about when we sort it out?”

Though heaven still enters the picture in this song, the answer actually is love. Love is what it’s all about and that works for me. Love will solve an infinitely greater number of problems in life than hate, but love by itself is only a bandaid. Love and a willingness to put your back where your heart is, comprise a sacred ritual in my religion.

When I say I do not believe in God, I am referring to a specific deity, who manages to keep track of me, among the billions of people on earth. I am supposed to believe that He watches over me, somehow, and monitors whether I am behaving myself, or not. 


Kind of like The Church did back in the Dark Ages. 

Crowd control became much more manageable when the masses were convinced a Supreme God was ready and available to smote them down, should someone step out of line. It worked then because there was no internet to tell them that it just wasn’t so. Maybe He can and maybe He can't, but even if He can, how was He supposed to have done so, before there were computers?

The required faith that I must possess, just isn’t there. I can’t manufacture it up out of nothing, so Christianity simply does not work for me. If it does for you, then more power to you-whatever gets you though this long and stormy journey of life. I mean that in all sincerity, for just as I don’t want folks thinking my religion is weird, I will never criticize another for any choice of religion.

What does work for me is to find a piece of God in every tree, rock and living creature I encounter. Granted, there isn’t much God in a tick, but then there are sunflowers, so what are you going to do?

Besides, I don’t know how much time, specifically, God spends in dentists’ offices, but I suspect it’s not enough. Otherwise, there’d be no need of laughing gas.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Maestro with a Mop


Being of strong back [and weak brain], I was in a better position to provide some down-farm hospitality this past weekend than GlutenFreeMama, when her brother Tommy and his partner Amy (and their pooch, Milo) journeyed up to visit us on-farm. I did so by assuming the responsibilities of head chef, pot walloper and all around facilitator.

With a few open days left on the calendar, prior to moving onto a new-to-them home, Tommy and Amy had managed to time it perfectly for birthdays. Tommy’s and GF Mama’s are only one day apart, she being the elder the two.

The reason I was swapping my farmer’s hat for that of a chef, is because GFMama’s primary healthcare provider (me), has forbidden her to undertake those pesky domestic annoyances, which will interfere with her ongoing efforts to regain her good health. 

Simply put, her feet were tied.

Not having the power to untie her feet, I did the next best thing and tried to make her forget that fact. Any and all effort I put in, I did because I would do anything for her; cooking and washing dishes seems inconsequential compared to the job she has.

I spent the day before the visit sprucing up the old farm house, simple enough because the old farm house was already in pretty good shape for the shape it’s in. Being the housekeeper that I am, my policy is that an organized house requires minimal time and energy, so I just never allow it to get cluttered.

Straight from the farm
If I leave my water mug, an empty can of peanuts, a gently-used napkin, an apple core, the salt and pepper shakers, a dirty set of silverware and the remote, sitting on a TV tray in the living room of an evening, it takes only seconds the next morning to remedy the oversight.

I am quite adept at remedying oversights in a timely manner, just as I am a maestro with a mop.

Friday morning actually posed the most challenging task of all, a drive into the ‘Ville to get some reinforcements in the grub department. I struggle mightily with driving off of the Bell, not because of the driving part, but because of the other diverse [and extreme] personalities I encounter on the road.

I thought about texting Tom and asking him to “pick up a couple of items,” before hitting him up with an annotated grocery list that would challenge Guy Fieri, but decided against it. I can’t imagine being on the road, and being able to accommodate a half-dozen filled grocery bags, within the confines of your vehicle, especially if you also have a dog.

So I grabbed that bull by the horns and manhandled it, without being gored by any Seattle-to-LA-bound yahoos. Geiger’s provided me with everything I needed, so I checked this off my list, after also checking the box which read, “Prep rancho-styled steak in wee hours, Friday morning.” 

I had diced up a formidable yellow onion, along with eight or ten little sweet peppers and some mushrooms, and got them sautéing on a low-to-medium burner, while I resharpened the big red cutting knife. I then sliced a 40-ounce cut of London broil into inch-long strips, and got it browning on the stove, while I stirred the colorful contents of the big cast iron pan. After the two components were cooked though, I let them cool and put them into separate tuppies and into the fridge, awaiting the next step.

One of the reasons I was going into town was to get fresh tomatoes for this dish, my 156 plants in the ground so far, notwithstanding. I suppose it is a tad unreasonable to expect ripe tomatoes, eleven days after planting. 

I also had at the top of the list heavy whipping cream, to accompany the two squash [pumpkin] pies I was planning to bake in the wee hours, Saturday morning. Though accustomed to enjoying these delicacies sans whipping cream, we were pulling out all the stops for this visit.

The cutting board is 16 inches long. This chicken
weighed in at more than eight pounds.
Prior to embarking for town, I carved up two corpulent HappyDay Farms chickens, obtained the previous day from one of the on-farm freezers. I had defrosted them overnight, and now placed them in a brine. One of these two chickens tipped the scales at more than eight pounds so a brine seemed essential.

Upon my return from shopping, I immediately fired up both barbecues. GF Mama had suggested this course of action, so that I could separate the cuts of meat into two categories, one requiring maybe a third more time on the grill than the other. My plan was to have the chicken prepared on Friday, so that all we had to do on Saturday was heat it up in the oven.

I also put eight pounds of red potatoes on to boil, so that I could peel them for potato salad. I had made sure I had celery, pickles and olives, and I ended up fortifying our egg supply with a couple dozen, needing them for pumpkin pies too.

Here I must confess that GFMama broke protocol and made her way to the kitchen table, where she may as well have chanted incantations, for the magic she worked with that potato salad. Everyone lavished praise on me, and I allowed it to happen, but truth-be-told, in this instance I was nothing more than the sous chef.

Again, with ten people at least for dinner on Saturday, I wanted no spotlight on me. If the chicken and the potato salad were both done, and  a gigantic green salad, and some hors d’oeuvres in place, all I would have to do is stand around and pretend I wasn’t really spinning.

Meanwhile, I now had the necessary tomatoes to put Friday night’s rancho steak dinner together, and it was going on two o’clock. Din-din was slated for six. Onward and upward! Assembling the dish that my father had enjoyed so much was heartening, and I added salt, black pepper, pasilla chili powder, cumin and some smoked paprika, with a flourish.

I had already picked two heads of lettuce from the backyard, of a gorgeous red-leaf, butterhead variety. I washed and tore them into salad-sized pieces, before putting it all into the lettuce dryer and spinning it until the water was sitting at the bottom.

Spinning is as spinning does.

Fine. So this isn't the tomato I
bought from Geiger's. It's a photo
of one of my own home-growns...
I diced a humungous organic tomato that I had just swooped from Geiger’s, grated a carrot, cut up some snow peas that I had picked from the greenhouse, and added them all to the lettuce. The salad was now ready. I cooked up a pot of rice as a bed upon which to place the rancho steak, and I prepped some fresh asparagus, provided for us by Danielle from on-farm.

I was ready for action-ready for danger: I was ready for Friday night’s meal.






Next: I cleaned, cooked and collapsed

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

I Carry A Pitchfork


The month is May, the weather is spring-perfect, I work at HappyDay Farms  (https://happydayfarmscsa.com/), and the boss is BossLady. I work the Tomato Division down in the orchard; my name is Mark; I carry a pitchfork.
The one on the right,  please. Please!
Contrary to popular belief, there is more to excitement around here, than watching seeds germinate. You probably think it’s all about hunting down and killing rogue weeds, and sure, some perks warrant headlines, but the real thrill around here-for this farmer-comes in being able to sneak an extra thirty days into the growing season.

Conventional wisdom mandates waiting until June 1st up here on the mountain, before planting the fruit of the gods, in order to avoid a late-spring freeze, which would decimate a crop. Telling me not to do something is like telling a middle schooler no: I’m going to do the opposite of what I’m told frequently enough that you can’t make any rash assumptions. 

I started planting on May 2nd this year and I am at 156 in the ground.

One year ago, I did not even begin planting my close-to-200 plants until June 5th, due to a certain remodeling project I was engaged in. According to the norm, I was only five days behind schedule. The net result, however, was that by the time our tomatoes hit the market, everyone else’s had already flooded it.

Not to worry. HeadSodBuster took every tomato I sent his way, and between market and the CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture), found happy homes for them all, 1,500 pounds in all. Being a benevolent fellow, I was dazzled, and determined that I would like more tomatoes to find happy homes. The most effective means of accomplishing this is to get them to market earlier in the summer.

You can see remay, top left.
Now, if there is a danger of a May frost, why would I take such a risky course of action as putting them into the ground so early? The answer is because if cold weather were forecast, I could drape remay, a lightweight, cloth-like material over the plants. This would protect them from a freeze, assuming the freeze did not take on arctic proportions. 

Being able to monitor the weather via internet, gives me up-to-date information, allowing me to go ahead and install the remay in a timely manner, should the need arise. On the other hand, the weather since the third week in April has been stellar, with the fourteen-day forecast calling for more of the same, putting us at the 22nd of May. The later into May we get, the better the chances become for no frost.

I’d like to see ripe tomatoes in July, something accomplished here only once in the last 37 years. What GlutenFreeMama and I did was to put the tomatoes in the ground on May 1st, placing giant pickle jars over a dozen or so plants at night, to see if we could promote an early crop. It worked and we got tomatoes by the third week in July.

How risky is it, exactly? With still more than a hundred tomato starts in my greenhouse, which are well protected from the cold, I would just be back to square one should a disaster occur, my own labor the only price extracted from me in the exchange.

Living on the edge is part of the game, here on-farm, and I’m not talking sandals and pitchforks. I’m talking about food for the soul and bringing it to table thirty days early. Thirty days in tomato years is ten years, based on a seven-month growing season (May through November). What more can I say?

I’d walk the extra mile for an additional ten years of summer tomatoes, wouldn’t you?

Thursday, May 2, 2019

No Music, Per Week


The most absurd thing I was ever required to do as a child is attend daily mass, prior to the start of the school day at Saint Martha’s Parochial School. From the beginning of my third grade year, through and including my eighth grade, I attended a mass conducted in Latin, in a freezing church, while wearing nothing more than the school sweater to keep me warm.

The church was cold because the pastor was trying desperately to save money, St. Martha’s having only come into existence a matter of two or three years before I became a pupil. I actually attended St. Joseph’s as a first grader, where we did not attend daily mass, and where the church was warm and cozy.

At St. Martha's in an effort to have all students appear the same, we were not allowed to wear anything other than the school uniform of salt/pepper cords and white shirts, with light blue school sweater the sole option for outer wear. We were not allowed to wear jackets.

At the time, though I intensely disliked the practice, I never questioned it because that is the way young Catholic children rolled. To question these matters was to bring into doubt, the salvation of your soul, and we certainly couldn’t have that, could we?

Now, I have no compunctions questioning the practice. I wasted close to an hour per school day for six years, including herding us to and fro as a school, lining up outside in front of our classrooms, and being led inside by our nun-in-charge to begin the real school day. It's not quite the same thing as noting that a particular class, in any given year, did not help with forward progress.

If we arrived late for mass, we were required to enter the church unobtrusively, and adjourn to the back to a special pew for miscreants. After mass, Father Mac came around to where we were lined up out in the cold, and grilled us individually as to why we were late. 

I hated it because if I were tardy, it was inevitably due to a carpooling development, and out of my hands. It was embarrassing, unnecessary and served to do nothing more than stress me out. For six years attending mass is the way I got ready for my school day.

I wonder if an hour of art, music, PE or study hall might not have been more beneficial? The year I graduated from 8th grade I got 45 minutes of PE per week, one-half hour of art per week and no music, per week. That’s a lot of weeks without music.

I have tried, diligently, to envision what that would look like today. I’m talking specifically about escorting about 40 eighth graders (the number in my class back in 1966) into two long pews, while they sat through an incomprehensible religious exercise. 

I might also have included "pointless" to that description, but the question remains: How would you keep a class of 8th graders focused on a religious rite, rather than on their media devices, today? Check them at the door? 

I don’t know that I have suffered irreparable damage from the experience, but I do suspect that after age nineteen, when I bailed from the Catholic Church for good, I have chosen a life which will-gasp-leave my soul damned for all eternity.

Eternity? It can’t possibly last longer than any one of those interminable sessions in St. Martha’s Parochial School, attending daily mass.