Posts Tagged ‘gardening’

Ignorance

Monday, February 20th, 2017

strength for tw

Strength painting by Nolan Winkler

The earwigs are a plague on the garden.

Jonathon—a thickset man with an unruly gray beard—wanders up and down the rows of decimated bean plants searching for surviving leaves, finding none. How curious, and what a disaster for the community. He has been gardening for fifty years, since he was six years old, and he has never experienced such an infestation—nothing even close to this. Only the garlic shoots have weathered the onslaught of the ravenous bugs, and even they show signs of being nibbled.

Having tea with Malcolm, his predecessor at the helm of the abbey garden, Jonathon says, “I went out last night at midnight and there were thousands and thousands of earwigs clinging to every stem and leaf. I’ve scoured the garden for their nests, but except for one small concentration near the old greenhouse…”

Malcolm, eighty-seven, a slender man with boyish dimples, shakes his head. “You won’t find concentrations.” He swirls the tea in his cup to bring out a last burst of flavor from the leaves. “They’re everywhere in the ground.”

“But why this year?” Jonathon gazes at the slice of garden he can see through Malcolm’s open door. “There’s nothing much different about the weather this spring than last. Our methods haven’t changed.”

Malcolm settles back in his rocking chair, a smile playing at his lips. “I must tell you, I’m glad it’s not my worry now. I’d be out there all night picking the buggers off one by one.”

“But what do you think it is?” Jonathon frowns at what he can see of the ruined planting. “We’ll have to start over again. And we’ll have to buy vegetables this year. I feel like such a fool.” He turns to Malcolm. “Can you make a guess?”

“No need to guess,” says Malcolm, finishing his tea. “The same thing happened to me my third year here—forty-four, no, forty-five years ago. And ever after we always dug the compost in deep and never top dressed with young compost that had any wood chips or sawdust in it. That’s just elixir to an earwig.”

“Oh my God,” says Jonathon—awareness dawning in his tired eyes. “The sawdust we got from the mill in January and mixed with the manure.”

“Yes, and you have five new apprentices who don’t know how to thoroughly rake the clods out of the new beds. Those warm little pockets under the clods are perfect boudoirs for earwig orgies.” Malcolm rocks forward and rises from his chair. “But even so you might not have had this plague if there’d been a good freeze this winter to kill off most of their eggs, but it never got terribly cold.”

Jonathon stares in amazement at Malcolm. “How long have you known?”

“All along,” he says, stepping into his garden clogs.

“And you didn’t say anything because I told you not to butt in anymore.” He closes his eyes and shakes his head. “I’m such an idiot.”

“No, no,” says Malcolm, putting a hand on Jonathon’s shoulder. “You’re a fine gardener. We can’t know everything.”

“So what did you do back then to kill them off? Poison?”

“Never.” Malcolm laughs as he steps outside his cottage—his sinecure for fifty years of service to the sangha. “What we did was double dig the ground and make the new garden immaculate. Then we sunk big bowls every six feet along the rows and filled them with beer. Earwigs love beer even more than they love baby basil. That drowned a good many of them, and we were out every night for two weeks picking the rest of the buggers off by hand until the plants were strong enough to fend for themselves.”

“I guess that’s what we’ll have to do,” says Jonathon, relieved to have the mystery solved, however difficult the remedy.

“Have you seen my little vegetable patch?” asks Malcolm, starting up a narrow trail leading away from the main garden. “Up in the old orchard?”

“I didn’t know you’d planted anything this year,” says Jonathon, watching him go. “I’ve been so busy with the expansion of the fields, and the master classes, and…”

“I’ve been fortunate.” Malcolm beckons him to follow. “Not many bugs up there. Might get enough beans and such to see us through until yours come ready. Come on. I’ll show you.”

(This is a story from Todd’s book Buddha In A Teacup. An audio version is also available.)

Facts

Monday, January 30th, 2017

now i'm sailing tw

Now I’m Sailing painting by Nolan Winkler

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” Martin Luther King

I recently watched several interviews with people attending the inauguration of Donald Trump, and I had to keep reminding myself these were not actors in Saturday Night Live skits, nor had clever cynics written the bewildering dialogue. These were real men and women, old and young, gay and straight, who were excited enough about the election of Donald Trump to travel great distances to witness the swearing in.

Each of the people was asked which of Donald Trump’s plans for America most appealed to them. One woman said, “He’s pro-Israel. All our other presidents have been anti-Israel, so this is fantastic.” Three of the men interviewed said they most resonated with Trump’s promise to strengthen the military, one of them saying, “I’m tired of us being so weak.”

One young man had traveled all the way from Georgia with his wife and son because, “This is the first president who ever cared about me.” When asked how he knew Donald Trump cared about him, the young man said, “Because he’s finally doing things for regular people instead of just rich people.”

A woman opined, “He’s about America first. Obama gave more money to other countries than to America. Trump will keep our money here and grow the economy.”

And there was a man who said, “Trump is gonna kick the corporations out of government and get things back to normal.” When asked what he meant by normal, the man said, “If you don’t know, I can’t tell you.”

“War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” George Orwell

I ran into a friend at the post office yesterday. When I asked how he was doing, he sighed and said, “I miss Obama.”

“What do you miss about him?” I asked, thinking of those interviews with people who love Trump.

“Are you kidding?” said my friend, glaring at me. “Compared to Trump?”

“Not compared to Trump. What do you miss about Obama?”

“He wasn’t a lunatic,” said my friend, waving his arms. “Trump is a fascist crazy person.”

“Yes, but I’m curious to know what Obama did when he was president that you liked.”

My friend thought for a moment and said, “He pardoned Chelsea Manning.”

“I’m so glad he did,” I said, nodding. “How are your knees doing these days?”

“Much better,” said my friend, nodding with me. “How’s your shoulder?”

“Coming along,” I said, and then we spoke of the weather.

“Where ignorance is our master, there is no possibility of real peace.” Dalai Lama

Facts, it turns out, are things people think are true because they want those things to be true. My facts are not necessarily your facts, and my facts are certainly not the facts of those who think Donald Trump is a wonderful guy doing wonderful things for America. Nor are my facts the facts of those who think Obama was a wonderful guy who did wonderful things for America.

And this is where gardening and the weather and rooting for the same baseball team come in handy. Humans enjoy agreeing with each other. My mirror neurons rejoice in agreement with your mirror neurons, and when our mirror neurons rejoice together, our entire body/mind/relationship systems rejoice, too.

When I was living in Sacramento a long time ago, I frequently went to McKinley Park to throw the Frisbee with a friend or by myself. I loved flinging the disc into an oncoming breeze and having the disc boomerang back to me. One morning on the greensward, I made an overzealous throw and my disc got stuck in a tree bordering the field, and by stuck I mean lodged in a dense tangle of branches about twenty feet off the ground.

I found a two-inch-diameter length of tree branch, about two-feet-long, and proceeded to heave that club at the tangle of branches in hope of dislodging my disc. I managed to hit the tangle several times, but the disc remained ensnared, and I was just about to give up when a man came sauntering toward me and raised his hand in greeting.

I had seen this fellow many times before because he was often at the park. I had never spoken to him, but I had seen him sitting in the bleachers watching tennis matches, sitting on a bench by the duck pond, and playing basketball on the asphalt court. He was often in the company of other men I guessed were unemployed, and I was afraid of him. He had never menaced me, but his clothes were ragged, his skin was dark brown, and he was one of the biggest men I had ever seen, and I do not mean obese. He was seven-feet-tall and his shoulders were so broad he must have had to turn sideways to get through a standard-sized doorway.

I stiffened at his approach and made ready to flee.

“Man,” he said, his voice deep and full of sympathy. “You hit that mess right on, six seven times. Wonder why that thing don’t fall down. Mind if I try?”

“Not at all,” I said, handing him my club.

“I seen you over here lots of times throwing that thing. You good,” he said, looking up at the tangle of branches.

Then he bent to one side, took aim, and hurled the club with such force and accuracy that the nest of branches was obliterated and the Frisbee fluttered to the ground at my feet.

“Wow,” I said, grinning at my hero. “Amazing. Thank you.”

“No problem,” he said, returning my grin.

“Would you like to play?” I said, miming a toss of the disc.

“I don’t know how,” he said, humbly.

“I’ll bet I can teach you in five minutes,” I said, not so humbly.

“I got five minutes,” he said, laughing.

So I taught him, and he was soon as good as I, and many times after we met on that field to play.

Jehovah’s Witness

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

Mixed media, Shall We Dance, by Todd

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser August 2012)

A friend recently wrote to me about his philosophical discussions with a Jehovah’s Witness, and his letter brought back boatloads of memories of my friend Woody, an African American Jehovah’s Witness, an elder in his church, who visited me every month for the eleven years I lived in Berkeley.

The first time Woody came up my stairs and knocked on the front door, I intended to say to him what I had been saying to Jehovah’s Witnesses since I was a boy. “No thank you. Please don’t come again.” That was the little speech my mother taught me to say to Jehovah’s Witnesses when they came to our house, and those were the words I dutifully repeated to every Jehovah’s Witness who called on me until I was forty-five and opened the door to Woody and the young man accompanying him.

Woody was about fifteen years my senior, handsome, honey brown, bald, slender, wearing a beautifully tailored suit and a royal purple tie. Before I could recite my oft-repeated rejection, I found myself totally disarmed by Woody’s mischievous smile and charming southern accent. “Good afternoon,” he said pleasantly. “We saw the moving truck here last week and wanted to welcome you to the neighborhood. Where did you all come from?”

“Sacramento,” I said, struck hard by the realization that this stranger was the first person to welcome me to my new home.

“Awful hot up there in the summer,” he said, nodding knowingly. “You’ll be glad you live here and not there come August.”

To which I replied, “Amen,” and then immediately regretted my choice of words.

“This is Aaron,” said Woody, introducing me to his companion. “He’s helping me spread the word today and we were wondering if we might share a short passage from the Bible with you, something I think you will find quite interesting and relevant to the situation in the world today.”

“Sure,” I said, enjoying the company. “Read to me.”

So Woody opened his well-worn leather bound Bible and read something about the terrible state of the world and how God was going to clear things up any day now. And though I was not moved by the words themselves, I was deeply touched by the halting way Woody read, as if he had only recently learned to read, and each word was a challenge to him.

When he finished reading the brief passage, he smiled like a boy who has accomplished a difficult feat, his eyes shining with pleasure at having conquered the troublesome words. And then, for reasons I have no explanation for, our eyes met and we both burst out laughing, and we laughed until tears ran down our faces.

Thereafter, every month, Woody would stop by to deliver the latest editions of The Watchtower and Awake! and to share a passage from the Bible apropos of the terrible state of our society. If Woody found my door ajar, which it often was, he would call to me as he climbed the stairs, “Tawd! It’s Woody. You home?”

I admit there were times I did not answer the door when Woody came to visit, times when I was in no mood for a Bible reading or for hearing brief synopses of articles in the latest Awake!, but I usually opened to him, and I was always glad when I did. Woody was a beacon of friendliness in a largely unfriendly world, and I greatly enjoyed our few moments together—moments filled with appreciation for each other.

For two of those eleven years, Woody came to my house with Clarence, a very serious man who was learning to grow vegetables. If the weather was good, Clarence and Woody and I would go out into my little garden and I would answer Clarence’s questions about my methods for growing vegetables and garlic, my tricks for catching earwigs, and what I thought about various methods of composting.

Now and then, after Woody read to me from the Bible in his halting, innocent, enthusiastic way, I would read to him from Buckminster Fuller’s Critical Path, which I told him was my Bible. I vividly remember the time I read him Fuller’s passage, “I assumed that nature would “evaluate” my work as I went along. If I was doing what nature wanted done, and if I was doing it in promising ways, permitted by nature’s principles, I would find my work being economically sustained,” and Woody frowned and pondered and finally said, “Well…that’s what God does, isn’t it?” And then we burst out laughing.

Only a few times did Woody urge me to come to a Bible interpretation meeting at his church, and each time he invited me, I said something along the lines of, “I appreciate the offer, but I’m not really interested in studying the Bible. I’ve read the good book, and I’m glad I did, and now and then I dip into Psalms, but I’m more interested in Buddhism these days.”

“Oh, Buddhism,” he would say, nodding thoughtfully. “We have a number of former Buddhists in our congregation. Wonderful people.” Then he would smile his mischievous smile and say, “Well, you let me know if you change your mind.”

One day, Woody came to my door accompanied by a beautiful and vivacious Eurasian woman with long black hair and black-framed glasses. “This is Carmen,” said Woody, gesturing to her in his gallant way. “Carmen, this is my good friend Tawd. I’ve been coming to see him for seven years now and it’s always a pleasure.”

Woody then asked Carmen to read a passage from the Bible, and she did so beautifully, her voice melodious and full of passion, her enunciation perfect. What’s more, Carmen proved to be the only one of Woody’s many companions who laughed with us when he and I laughed, which was almost every visit, and I flatter myself to think Carmen really liked me, and I know I really liked her. Yes, it was like at first sight, and being single as I was and seeing she wore no wedding ring, I often regretted I hadn’t met her at a café instead of over religious magazines featuring silly drawings of grinning people picnicking with tigers and lambs.

Carmen came with Woody four times, and the thought of seeing her always propelled me to the door with a greater than usual momentum. Alas, the last time she came with Woody, as I was enjoying her graceful descent of the stairs, Woody tapped me on the shoulder and whispered, “I know Carmen would sure like it if you came to Bible study. She told me so, Tawd. Yes, she did.” And when I didn’t go to Bible study, Carmen ceased to accompany Woody on his visits to me.

During my last two years in Berkeley, Woody’s congregation fulfilled their dream of building a new temple near the North Berkeley BART station, and Woody invited me to attend the grand opening, but I did not go. Looking back over the years, I wish I had gone to the temple opening because I know Woody was immensely proud of that accomplishment.

When I told Woody I was moving away, he put on a sad face and said, “Where are you going, Tawd? I’m gonna miss you.”

“I’m moving to Mendocino,” I told him. “On the coast a hundred miles north of here.”

“I have heard of Mendocino,” he said solemnly. “And though I have never been there, I hear there are some very good people there, and I hope you meet them, I do.”

Then much to my surprise, we did not burst out laughing, but shook hands as tenderly as hands may be shaken. I cannot explain what it was about Woody that so appealed to me, or why we recognized each other as kindred spirits right off the bat, or why our good feelings for each other never waned. I just liked him and he liked me. He never once asked me about my personal life, nor did I ever ask him about his.

I especially remember one cold wet winter day as I was kneeling on my hearth and failing repeatedly to get my fire going due to lack of newspaper, when I heard Woody and a companion coming up the stairs, and I thought, Oh, good. He’ll leave an Awake! and I’ll be able to start my fire.

With that shameful thought in mind, I opened the door to behold Woody and Clarence, their raincoats soaking wet, Woody saying, “We can’t stay long today, Tawd, but we wanted to make sure you got the latest Awake! and Watchtower. Some very interesting articles.”

“You growing anything in your garden this time of year?” asked Clarence, ever serious. “Besides your garlic?”

“Lettuce and kale and chard,” I intoned. “They grow year round in Berkeley.”

“See,” said Woody, handing me my fire starter, “I knew he’d have something illuminating to say on the subject.”

Then, as we were wont to do, Woody and I burst out laughing, with Clarence perplexed as ever by our inexplicable gaiety.

Everything Connected

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser May 2012)

“When we express our true nature, we are human beings. When we do not, we do not know what we are.” Shunryu Suzuki

Planting sugar snap pea seeds yesterday, I was thrilled to find the raised bed rife with earthworms, young and old. We garden in soil known hereabouts as pygmy, which left to it’s own devices will not grow vegetables or much of anything except bonsai pines and huckleberries and the nefarious Scotch Broom. Thus we have eight raised beds in boxes and four beds in the ground, all requiring manure and compost in addition to the local soil to give us a decent harvest.

This past fall I scored a truckload of rabbit manure and I surmise it is this precious poop that has proven such an elixir to the worms. When I moved here six and a half years ago and set up my above-ground composting bin (and before the bears demolished that flimsy plastic thing) I was dismayed to find nary a worm coming up out of the ground and through the slots in the floor of the bin to gobble the tasty leftovers and give birth to myriad wormlets. In Berkeley where I gardened a small plot for eleven years, my composting bin (a gift from the city to encourage us to do the rot thing), produced gazillions of worms in collaboration with the local ground. But in pure pygmy soil, earthworms are as scarce as pumas, and it took a good three years of feeding massive amounts of worm food to the soil before any sort of worm population took hold.

This rabbit poop is apparently some sort of earthworm Viagra, for now when I turn the soil, the good earth literally dances with hundreds of little wigglers. May they grow large and happy, and may our vegetables and flowers and herbs thrive on their castings.

“Once you are in the midst of delusion, there is no end to delusion.” Shunryu Suzuki 

One sunny day in my Berkeley garden, about ten years ago, I was enjoying eavesdropping on the conversation raging among three teenaged boys and one seventeen-year-old girl gathered around a table on the deck that jutted out from our house and looked down on my garden, the girl being my de facto daughter Ginger, a beautiful and sociable young woman who attracted males as catnip attracts cats and pineapple sage attracts hummingbirds. As a consequence of Ginger’s charms and sociability, our house was frequently overrun by young men, many of them from good Berkeley homes and heading for college, if they were not already in college. Of these three on the deck that day, one was bound for Harvard, one for Stanford, and the third had recently matriculated at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

When Ginger sashayed into the house to fetch drinks for the thirsty lads, two of them came to the railing of the deck and peered down at me as I thinned carrot seedlings in ground next to my verdant broccoli.

“Is that…” began Jeremy, the Harvard-bound Physics major, “…um…hey, excuse me. Is that like broccoli in those little bushes?”

“Yes, it is,” I said, smiling up at him.

“Oh my God,” he said, his jaw dropping. “Jason, you gotta come see this. Broccoli is like growing on a little bush right in their garden.”

Soon to be studying politics at Stanford pursuant to becoming a lawyer, Jason joined Jeremy and Raul at the railing. “Where?” he said, looking down on the mass of greenery. “I don’t see anything.”

“There,” said Jeremy, pointing emphatically at a head of broccoli. “Right fucking there, man. I never knew it grew like that.”

“Me neither,” said Jason, shaking his head. “Jesus. Look at all that food. Is that like lettuce?”

“Indeed,” I replied, wondering if perhaps they were spoofing me. “Would you like a garden tour?”

“I would,” said Jeremy, skipping down the stairs, “but those guys are like totally fixated on you-know-who.”

So I gave Jeremy a ten-minute tour of my patch of vegetables and herbs. He pulled a carrot for the first time in his life, washed it in the hose while watering the parsley, took a bite and declared, “God, that is so sweet I never would have known it was a carrot.” Then he smiled beatifically. “I’m blown away. I never knew how any of this stuff got here. What a trip.” Then he frowned and shook his head. “Hey, not to change the subject, but we were just arguing about the Vietnam War. Jason said it was kind of an extension of World War II and was about trying to get their resources, and Raul said, ‘Like what resources?’ and I thought it was like to stop the communists. But was it the Russians or the Chinese we were trying to stop? Or…like…do they have oil in Vietnam? I mean, if they had oil wouldn’t they be like rich today?”

“Buddha was more concerned about how he himself existed in this moment. That was his point. Bread is made from flour. How flour becomes bread when put in the oven was for Buddha the most important thing.” Shunryu Suzuki

I just returned from the farmers’ market in Mendocino with two vibrant young tomato plants, Sun Golds, orange cherry tomatoes with delicious flavor; cherry tomatoes being the only kind of tomato we can grow in our cool clime without the sheltering warmth of a greenhouse. Buying Sun Golds at the Mendocino farmers’ market has become a tradition for me, five years running now, and though I could easily start my own Sun Golds from seed, I prefer to buy my starts from a grower at the market. I suppose if I had a greenhouse, I would be more likely to start my own tomato plants from seed, but maybe not. I like the tradition of going to market to get plants, and I look forward to hunting for the most promising ones, speaking to the growers as I search, maybe sharing a tomato growing story or two. All of which begs the question: why don’t I have a greenhouse, even just a little one, to enhance my gardening experience?

I have now been a renter for eighteen years following fifteen years as a homeowner following ten years as a renter, and for all twenty-eight years of my life as a renter some part of me expected to become a homeowner any day now. When I rented my house in Berkeley for eleven years, I did not plant a lemon tree for the first five years because I was convinced that if I were destined to live in Berkeley for more than a few years, surely I would find a way to buy a place and plant a lemon tree there. And now I have lived for six years in this wonderful house we rent on a piece of paradise a few miles from the village of Mendocino, and though my rational mind knows we may never own a house in this kingdom of expensive houses, I have yet to plant blueberries or grapes or fruit trees, or to build a small greenhouse because of that same expectation of possibly owning a home one day. Of course, what makes my reluctance to build a greenhouse entirely silly is that I could easily build the greenhouse to use in our garden now and take the blessed thing with us should we ever fulfill our dream of owning our own place.

“When we become truly ourselves, we just become a swinging door, and we are purely independent of, and at the same time, dependent upon everything. Without air, we cannot breathe. Each one of us is in the midst of myriads of worlds. We are in the center of the world always, moment after moment. So we are completely dependent and independent.” Shunryu Suzuki

I vow to be more consciously a swinging door, to do the things I want to do now and with much less care for what may or may not happen in the future. I vow to plant a lemon tree if a place in the ground calls out to me and says, “Hey you with the arms and legs and shovel. We could use a lemon tree right here, whether you stick around after you plant it or not.” I vow to live in this house we rent as if we may never leave here until we die. The moment, as Shunryu Suzuki would say, is what we’ve got. The rest is illusion.

I’ve been here before and made similar vows, which I am just now remembering. Five years ago I was quite ill and wondering if I would be around in this body much longer. I had long been planning to publish my book of short stories Buddha In A Teacup, and I kept saying to Marcia, “I will, I will…after I’m completely well.”

Marcia was wonderfully patient with me through my long ordeal, but one evening she said, “By waiting until you think you are completely well, might you be suggesting to your body and the universe that you don’t entirely believe you will get well? Why not go ahead and publish your book and trust that in doing so you will speed the process of your healing?”

So with great trepidation, I followed her counsel and published my book, and in the process of bringing forth Buddha In A Teacup my health improved and life became rosy again, rosy and suffused with the energy of no longer waiting around for some other moment than this one. And because everything is connected, I have since received a good many letters from people who read Buddha In A Teacup and wanted to thank me for reminding them that when we live in the past or dwell in the future, we aren’t really here; and what fun is that?

 

Of Trees and Money

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

This is about firewood, water, the San Francisco Giants, and Single Payer Healthcare, among other things.

Marcia and I rent a house on Comptche Road, our backyard abutting a vast redwood preserve last logged some eighty years ago. In the wake of that clear-cut came madrone, manzanita, pine, fir, tan oak, spruce, and redwoods. Now, left alone for the span of three human generations, the redwoods have re-established their supremacy on the north-facing slope and the “transitional forest” is swiftly dying in the persistent shade of the towering monarchs.

Thus our backyard is both fabulous forest and graveyard to thousands of dead and dying trees—fallen, falling, or easy to fell. It has become my practice to harvest a tiny portion of this perfectly seasoned wood with a buck saw and ax to help keep us warm through the winter, give my body a good workout, and to absent myself now and then from the human realm.

I walk down into the forest this morning en route to a copse of several dozen dead fir trees, their trunks eight inches in diameter, each tree about sixty-feet tall, the whole bunch of them sun-starved by an uphill gang of surging redwoods springing from the trunks of giants cut down a moment ago in redwood time. I’m thinking about the San Francisco Giants, another exciting and frustrating baseball season about to end, our valiant squad ultimately no match for the big money teams, and I have a vivid memory of Jack Sanford, a heavyset right-hander who threw for the Giants from 1959 to 1965. My memory is of a picture of Sanford in the off-season staying in shape by sawing up logs and chopping wood. The picture, which must have appeared in the Chronicle, shows Jack working next to his small house. Big-time professional baseball player. Small house. Chopping wood.

As my buck saw cuts into the standing firewood, I realize that when I was a kid idolizing my Giants, it never once occurred to me how much money any of the players made, and most of them didn’t make much to speak of. Doctors and lawyers and plumbers made more than most ball players in those days. Contracts were for a couple years, and if a player ceased to be productive, the team was not encumbered by a long-term contract that kept them from letting the player go and buying or trading for somebody younger and on the upswing.

I further realize that much of my latter day frustration about our team is related to the mess that money has made of sports, all sports, and of our society in general. We’ve got Aaron Rowand, a chunky over-the-hill center fielder making six million a year and we are bound to keep him for three more years because nobody else wants him and our dimwitted general manager signed him to an absurdly long contract. We gave Barry Zito a zillion dollars for what turns out to be almost nothing, and we couldn’t trade him today for a cup of coffee. But we’re stuck with these guys for years to come. Meanwhile, our young stars can now ask for what we gave Barry Zito, because they are unquestionably better than he. And if we don’t give them what they want, the Yankees or the Dodgers or the Angels or the Red Sox will.

The fir falls cleanly down the slope, and it occurs to me that the drought may have something to do with the sudden swiftness of all these trees dying, in combination with the deepening shade beneath the redwood canopy, the same drought that has hastened the disappearance of the salmon as the dunderheaded powers-that-be divert the dwindling Delta flow to the millions of people who shouldn’t be living in southern California because the place was never meant by Nature to sustain more than a few hundred thousand people, if that.

When my folks were born in Los Angeles in 1922, the entire population of southern California—that’s everything south of San Luis Obispo, including LA and San Diego—was less than a hundred and fifty thousand people. When they were cutting down the redwoods in my backyard here in Mendocino eighty years ago there were less than a million people in the entire state of California. Today there are forty million if you count the ones they don’t count.

I cut the dead fir in half and drag one thirty-foot length at a time up the steep slope to my woodshed. I’m fairly winded by the time I get the second piece home, so I take a break and water my vegetable garden. We water our garden with gray water caught in a hundred and fifty gallon tub I sunk in a hole not far from the tallest redwood tree on our property. Without the gray water, we couldn’t have a garden since the spring that supplies our water is perilously low this time of year and serves to quench the needs of two other homes on the property.

So we catch our shower water, bath water, washing machine water, and sink water. Only the kitchen sink and the toilets flow into the septic field; the rest we recycle. And I have to tell you, now that we’ve been growing a big garden with gray water for the last two years, I don’t understand why everybody in this drought-stricken state isn’t compelled by a reasonable law to install such a system.

Reasonable law. Hmm. Something about those two words together sounds funny. Someone, probably Michael Parenti, once said that nearly all the laws in America, federal, state, and local, are essentially about protecting those with property from those without property. What that has to do with recycling water, I’m not sure, but I am sure that for many people the idea of being compelled to reuse bath water to water their gardens would seem like the onset of socialism, so forget about it. Let the salmon die. And let the whales that eat the salmon die. Let everything die, but don’t tell me I can’t take long showers with the last fresh water from the high Sierras. It’s a free country, right? Anybody should be allowed to do anything they have the money for even if it means ruining the environment. So what if some out-of-state corporation wants to buy the local election and evade local oversight to build a monster mall that will be the ruination of Ukiah? Let the free market decide everything, unless the free market turns out to be a massive Ponzi scheme, in which case, please, have the government bail us out. But don’t call the bail out socialism, because, well, socialism is bad.

So I’m sawing up the length of fir. Based on the ease of cutting, I guess the wood has been standing dead for three years. Perfect. I buy a cord of wood every year from Frank’s Firewood in Anderson Valley to augment what I drag out of the forest. We heat the house with two woodstoves, wood heat being one of the rare luxuries of living so far from urban areas where too much wood smoke combines with too much automobile and factory effluent to make the air unhealthy to breathe. Or so they say.

As I’m sawing the wood, my thoughts return to money and how out of whack our culture has become since I was a kid, and how this out-of-whackness and money seem inextricably bound. By American standards, Marcia and I live simply, our three largest expenditures being our rent, health insurance, and food. I didn’t have health insurance until a few years ago when I suffered through a medical emergency and felt threatened with the loss of everything I owned or might ever own.

I remember when I was living in a commune in Santa Cruz in the early seventies and I had an abscessed tooth, though I didn’t know that’s what I had. I only knew my head hurt and I was blind with pain. So my fellow communards drove me to see Doc Willis. He was an old man, a real doctor, and he charged ten bucks a visit. I waited a half-hour to see him. He came into the examining room, winced in sympathy, touched my upper lip, and said, “You need a dentist. Call this guy.”

When I tried to give his nurse/secretary ten dollars, she waved me away. “He said no charge.”

So today the San Francisco 49ers are without the services of their first round draft pick because this misguided young kid Michael Crabtree won’t sign with them because he’s been told he should get ten million dollars a year instead of eight, though he has yet to prove he can do anything as a pro except complain. Today, actors without talent made famous through media saturation get twenty million dollars to be in truly awful movies. Today corporate executives get hundreds of millions of dollars a year for successfully stealing money from a gullible supine population. And today we have a medical system that is the number one cause of homelessness.

If you go see a doctor today, about anything, your usurious medical insurance premium will almost certainly go up. So maybe you don’t go to your doctor, though you really think you should, because you really can’t afford to go to the doctor, either because you don’t have medical insurance or because you do.

The nights have turned chill this early October. I’m about turn sixty. If I had eight million dollars, no, if I had eight hundred thousand dollars, I would never have to work again, and that would be after I gave you half the money. And if we didn’t spend a third of our income on health insurance we’re afraid to use, who knows what we and everybody else might do with our lives?

In the meantime, I’m cutting wood, recycling water, hoping the Giants can re-sign Lincecum and Uribe, hoping we dump Molina and Rowand and Winn, and wishing Sabean would have an epiphany and move to Tibet. I continue to write to Obama and our corporate congress folk urging them to push for Single Payer. I continue to tell my Mendocino friends to vote No on Measure A. And I continue to believe the wisest course to follow is to spend at least as much time being a good friend as I spend trying to make money.

(This article first appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser in October 2009)