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

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.