Posts Tagged ‘Mendocino’

Of Apples and Accordions

Monday, June 5th, 2017

Thinking of You

Thinking of You by Todd

“Around 50 to 65 million years ago, the apple ancestor separated from its Rosaceae cousins on the evolutionary pathway.” Dr. Roger Hellens

Long before there were humans, there were apples. More recently, as in right now, for the first time since I moved to Mendocino twelve years ago, the local apple crop is minimalist, and some orchards hereabouts have set no apples at all. Last year was an epic apple year, and this year the blackberries and huckleberries are promising massive fruit deliveries; but the wonky weather, the cold persisting after blossoming—something—blocked the fruiting of many of our local apple trees.

Last year our own seven not-very-big apple trees produced more fruit than Marcia and I could greedily consume. We canned several big batches of spicy applesauce, gave bags of apples to friends and horses, made gallons of apple juice, kept big boxes full of apples that lasted until January, and refrigerated several dozen apples, too, with some lasting until May. But today I counted but a couple dozen apples on the trees in our orchard, so we will have to go begging or buying apples this year. Darn.

 “I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’” Kurt Vonnegut

I was trying to remember the name of a certain apple and resorted to a favorite book I got at a yard sale in Berkeley twenty years ago: Fruit, Berry and Nut Inventory, subtitle: an inventory of Nursery Catalogs Listing All Fruit, Berry and Nut Varieties available By Mail Order in the Unites States. My paperback edition came out circa 1989, and a quick search of the interweb shows there have been subsequent editions with web sites added to the information. The Inventory, however, seems to be out-of-print, with used copies going for hundreds of dollars. My copy, albeit out-of-date and falling apart, cost me a dime and has provided me with many hours of delightful reading.

Trusting the editors of the Inventory won’t mind, here are a few tasty tidbits from their goodly tome.

PEARMAIN, WHITE WINTER (Winter Pearmain) — Oldest known English apple; dates back to 1200 A.D. Medium to nearly large, round to oval, light greenish fruit turning pale yellow with numerous dots. Fine-grained, crisp, tender, juicy flesh. Pleasantly rich, aromatic flavor. Fine quality, all-purpose apple. Excellent keeper. Tree is a healthy, vigorous grower; bears regularly and heavily. Splendid vitality; widely adaptable. Excellent pollinator. Old favorite dessert apple of the Middle West in early 1800s. Today is grown primarily in warm winter areas where its low chilling requirement renders it one of the few possible apples there. Ripens in late October.

Wow. I have never knowingly eaten such an apple, but reading about the White Winter Pearmain makes me want to plant seven White Winter Pearmain trees and eat hundreds of White Winter Pearmain apples every year.

POMME ROYALE (Dyer)—Greenish yellow fruit usually covered with veins of russet. Fine, highly spicy flavor. Believed to be an old French variety brought to Rhode Island by some Huguenot settlers who fled France after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Introduced in 1685.

Fleeing France in 1685. What shall we take to the New World? Cats, of course, to quell the rats. Favorite vegetable seeds. Pumpkins and rutabagas? And, of course, Pomme Royale rootstock so we can grow our trees and harvest apples from which we will make the hooch that has gotten us through hard times for generations, while from those same sacred orbs we will make our famous spicy Huguenot apple pies.

SCARLET CROFTON —Small to medium, flattish fruit. Orange-yellow with brilliant scarlet flush, sometimes solid scarlet, always overlaid with singular network of russet veins and conspicuous dots. Crisp, juicy flesh. Old Irish apple from County Sligo grown since Elizabethan times. Brought to general notice by John Robertson, famous Kilkenny pomologist and nurseryman. Introduced [to America] in 1819.

Oh wouldn’t it be wonderful to be a famous Kilkenny pomologist bringing apples and intriguing short stories to general notice. I wonder how John Roberston went about bringing things to notice. Did he have a wide correspondence with other pomologists? Did he wander around Ireland giving talks and preaching the gospel according to apples? Did he have a column in a popular Irish newspaper?

Or was there a large board affixed to the south-facing wall of the Kilkenny Post Office known as the General Notice Board upon which John Roberston posted articles about apples as well as compelling short stories with endings that could be interpreted any number of ways, so the people of Kilkenny were forever discussing John Robertson’s stories over apple crumble and tea? No wonder the man was so famous!

So…I was in the middle of writing this article when I took a walk into town, the town of Mendocino in County Mendocino, and in our post office box (I’m not making this up) there was a letter to me from Ireland writ by the marvelous accordion player and composer Karen Tweed, and included in the missive was a handout informing her many admirers of what she’s up to these days. And front and center in the handout (which is no doubt the very kind of thing John Roberston posted on the General Notice Board at the Kilkenny Post Office) was the following:

New & fruity project all about apples. Karen TWEED (accordion)—Karen STREET (accordion/saxophone) & Fiona TALKINGTON (voice) explore fact, myth & magic through music, cider, crumbles, poetry & spells…

Karen Tweed Update

Huckleberries

Monday, April 10th, 2017

turn left at the moon tw

Turn Left At the Moon painting by Nolan Winkler

“For when you see that the universe cannot be distinguished from how you act upon it, there is neither fate nor free will, self nor other. There is simply one all-inclusive Happening, in which your personal sensation of being alive occurs in just the same way as the river flowing and the stars shining far out in space. There is no question of submitting or accepting or going with it, for what happens in and as you is no different from what happens as it.” Alan Watts

If even half the blossoms on the huckleberry bushes in the Mendocino area this year become fruit, then the huckleberry harvest will be by far the greatest since I moved here eleven years ago. Bushes on our property and in the surrounding woods that previously sported no blossoms or only a few are now white with hundreds and thousands of the lovely little bell-shaped flowers. And friends in nearby Albion report the huckleberry bushes thereabouts are also heavily freighted with flowers.

My guess is that the great rains of this seemingly interminable winter following four years of drought inspired the huckleberries to such prolificacy, though we must be careful not to celebrate too soon. Those myriad flowers must be pollinated, and the primary pollinators of huckleberry bushes are bumblebees; and the bumblebee population has been in decline due to the use of pesticides that should never have been invented, let alone deployed.

Alas, even if you and I and our close neighbors don’t use those ghastly poisons, it only takes a few shortsighted fools in the watershed spraying their shrubbery with bad stuff to decimate the bumblebees and honeybees in our area. Thus the fate of those blossoms is, literally, in the hands of fools and which way the winds blow.

But assuming we do have a bumper huckleberry crop, a few days of picking will fill our freezer with the dark little orbs for smoothies and pancakes and crisps throughout our next winter. And if the harvest is truly epic, we will make great quantities of jam and not have to wonder what to give our friends for Christmas this year.

Whenever I see huckleberries on their bushes, and especially when I am standing by a goodly bush grazing on the delicious fruit, I think of two novels by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, Reindeer Moon and The Animal Wife. These marvelous books are about a small population of hunter-gatherers living in Siberia 20,000 years ago, when wooly mammoths still roamed the earth and wolves were yet to be domesticated. And in each of these books there are vivid scenes in which bushes of wild berries are all that save the people from starvation and dehydration.

We think of the wild huckleberries hereabouts as delicious additions to our store-bought main courses, but twenty thousand years ago, such berries might have been the only thing we could find to eat for days on end, and we would have been gleeful to see the bushes as laden with blossoms as they are in Mendocino these thousands of years after the last wooly mammoth succumbed to human hunger.

I am currently reading a collection of intoxicating essays entitled Sightlines by Kathleen Jamie, a Scottish poet with a most intriguing way of writing about birds and stones and landscapes and the ocean. Published in 2012, two of the longer essays in this volume are about remote islands—St. Kilda and Rona—off the coast of Scotland. Jamie writes with exquisite sensitivity about the birds and plants and seals that live on these islands, and the killer whales patrolling those seas. Inhabited by humans for hundreds of years, these islands are no longer home to any people, with only the decaying ruins of the old colonies remaining.

For me, Jamie’s collection of essays composes a deep meditation on the interaction of humans with the natural world, and how that interaction has evolved into estrangement for most of us, though we need not be estranged. Jamie is obviously enmeshed with the natural world, and her essays show us how we might experience ourselves as integral parts of the fantastical whole of life on earth.

I’m hoping the local huckleberries will set in profusion and turn darkly purple and come to taste of divine earthly sugars, so I may stand in the dappled forest light and eat my fill as I give thanks to the nature spirits for bringing me the boon of life.

Screen Time

Monday, October 31st, 2016

news

News photo by Todd

“In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then he made school boards.” Mark Twain

Dipping into the national news for the first time in some months, I found several articles about the American Academy of Pediatrics rescinding most of their previous suggestions that parents limit the number of hours their infants, toddlers, older children, and teens interface with media-blasting computer gizmos with screens. The pediatricians decided they were being too alarmist about how damaging computers and other television-like devices can be to the brains and psyches of infants and children and teens. Now, say the pediatricians, basing their new guidelines on no credible science, parents should feel fine about children watching as much media garbage as they want.

Never mind the myriad studies proving conclusively that bombardment by projected imagery and incessant sound severely interferes with healthy brain development. The American Academy of Pediatrics has now declared that parents need not worry about their children developing healthy brains, so long as they, the parents, encourage their zombified children to occasionally roll their shoulders, eat fruit, get some sleep, and possibly interact with other actual human beings. Possibly.

“Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” Mark Twain

Also in the news: AT&T purchased Time-Warner for a measly 86 billion dollars. This makes AT&T the biggest media something-or-other in the world. Whatever happened to our anti-trust laws? Oh, that’s right. We don’t have those anymore because they were beneficial to the majority of Americans. What a silly concept. And if you already thought your media choices were largely controlled by anti-creative mega-corporations, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

“I am greatly misunderstood by politically correct idiots.” Brigitte Bardot

I know many people who used to think compulsive television watching was unhealthy, but now they think constantly looking at mindless junk is fine and dandy. That is, they do not consider computers, cell phones, pads, and pods to be televisions. But they are.

No, Todd, texting and playing video games and being connected to the worldwide web twenty-four hours a day is a vast improvement over life before we could carry computers with us everywhere. Life was empty and meaningless and we were all desperately lonely. Everything is so much better now that people have been rendered eternally infantile by being tethered to their phones and television-like devices from morning until night.

Remember when you didn’t know anything and couldn’t find out about anything? Now we can, you know, check on stuff constantly. Sure, most of what we access is mind-rotting junk, but there are good things, too, like Wikipedia and, um, restaurant reviews written by idiots and, um, the weather, and blogs. You have a blog, Todd. Quit complaining.

And don’t forget news and sports highlights. Plus you can read books and watch movies, and now Netflix and Amazon and YouTube and Apple and AT&T are producing hundreds and thousands of new shows, incredibly great shows, the best shows ever to go along with every show ever made since the very beginning of television.

And don’t forget YouTube has billions of videos about everything and everything that has ever been filmed, and everything.

Which is why everything is getting so much better. The environment is being saved, and we have wonderful mass transit that goes everywhere so we don’t need cars, and solar and wind and wave power is totally replacing the need to burn fossil fuels, and our educational system is better than ever, and our government has stopped spending money on war, and nuclear arsenals are being reduced and more and more people have good and meaningful jobs, and our culture is thriving. And it’s all because we can watch new shows and old shows and videos about catching flounder and group sex on our various screens from the moment we wake up until we take some sort of pill to help us sleep.

Social networks have brought us all together and made us more tolerant. We’re so much better informed, too. Racism has vanished, violence has decreased, and look at the people we elect to represent us now. Gads, talk about an improvement.

But best of all, our children are growing up so knowledgeable, so thoughtful and generous and kind. So incredibly kind. Those video games that hundreds of millions of people play constantly, those games are all about kindness and generosity and solving problems with logic and foresight and a deep understanding of the fabulous information the web provides for us with the touch of a whatever.

Thank goodness the pediatricians stopped believing those silly studies saying screen time was perilous to brain development. Look how good everything is now that our children are growing up with those screens virtually implanted in their bodies. All those great games and movies and videos of cats running into walls and people wrecking things and…

“The two most common elements in the known universe are hydrogen and stupidity.” Harlan Ellison

The pediatricians have capitulated to the conquerors. In the past they tried to sound an alarm about the negative impact of screen time on the mental and physical health of children and other living things, but truth interferes with profits and the doctors have been swayed.

When I lived in Berkeley, I helped raise a boy from the day he was born until he was six-years-old. I was his nanny six hours every day. He and I did not watch television when he was with me because I didn’t have a television. He was fine with that arrangement until he turned six and was addicted to watching television for several hours a day while with his parents.

At my house, he and I contented ourselves with reading, drawing, going on walks, cooking, gardening, making music, playing ball, talking, making up games, telling stories, playing with other kids…things like that. But when I went to his house to take care of him, he screamed and cried and broke things if I didn’t let him watch television, so eventually I capitulated to his addiction and then made my escape to Mendocino.

Camera

Monday, October 17th, 2016

best apples

First Picture by Todd

In the days before digital cameras, I had several bouts of being a serious photographer, serious in the sense of owning good cameras, taking thousands of pictures, and even getting paid to take some of those pictures. I was primarily a black and white photographer, though not a darkroom person, and therefore availed myself of the excellent photo labs in the towns and cities where I lived—Santa Cruz, Sacramento, Berkeley.

When I moved to Mendocino eleven years ago, photography was completing the grand switcheroo to digital everything, while I was still possessed of a three-pound Nikon requiring actual film. Shortly after arriving in these hinterlands, I discovered there was no easy access to an excellent photo lab, so I stopped shooting and eventually gave my camera away.

Marcia brought a little digital camera into our marriage, and over the past decade I have occasionally borrowed her camera to snap pictures she then uploaded to her computer and sent to my computer via email.

A week ago, after several years of yearning to have a camera of my own, I purchased a diminutive Nikon weighing a mere five ounces. I must confess that electronic gizmos, even very simple ones, befuddle me, and that is the main reason I waited so long to buy a digital camera. I do not own a mobile phone, either smart or dumb, nor will I ever. For the likes of me, owning such a device would be akin to carrying around an incessantly yapping dog that can never be appeased.

In any case, my new camera arrived at the post office today and the package was so small and light, I assumed the box couldn’t possibly contain a camera but must be the memory-card-reader thingy I ordered to go with the camera. I left the little box in my truck parked in the Harvest Market parking lot and went to shop in the hardware store and in the market, today being 10%-Off-Wednesday.

And on my way into the grocery store, I saw a photograph I would have taken if I’d had my new camera and knew how to use it. A balding jowly middle-aged man was standing at the back end of his station wagon and gazing across the street at Harvest Market. In the man’s station wagon, with their heads sticking out the open back window, were two dogs gazing avidly in the same direction the man was gazing.

One of the dogs was an enormous basset hound, the other a gray frizzy-haired mutt. I surmised the man was overseeing the dogs while the man’s wife was shopping in the grocery store. The picture was poignant and hilarious; poignant because the dogs and the man were all obviously yearning for a glimpse of the person they were waiting for, and hilarious because the man’s face resembled the basset hound’s face to such an uncanny degree, man and dog might have been twins.

So taken was I with this untaken photo, upon entering the market I asked the first person I met if he had a camera (since nowadays many people carry phones that are also cameras) but he did not have one. He did, however, look out the window at the man and the dogs across the street and say, “Now that’s a great picture.”

Returning to my truck with a shopping cart full of discounted groceries, I came upon another photo I would have taken if I’d had my camera and knew how to use it. The picture was of my old white pickup, which I used to think of as a regular-sized truck, parked beside another white pickup one-and-a-half-times larger than my pickup, and that second pickup was parked beside a third white pickup one-and-a-half-times larger than the second white pickup, and that third white pickup was parked beside a fourth white pickup easily twice as big as the third white pickup—my truck now seeming toy-like.

When I got home and unloaded the groceries, I brought forth my new camera and handled the tiny thing as if it was made of rare Venetian glass. With the utmost care, I inserted the battery and memory card and started charging the battery. Two hours later, when the green light stopped blinking, I took my first pictures.

Alas, the memory-card-reader thingy I bought to go with my new camera did not come in the same box with the camera, and after checking to see why the memory thingy hadn’t arrived, I learned that the package arrived at the Mendocino post office four days ago and must have been misplaced. So I will go there tomorrow and beg Robin or Lara to find the blessed thing for me.

Perhaps by the time I finally get the memory card reader, I will have stopped handling the camera as if it is an uncooked egg. Perhaps not. Since the advent of computers, I have tried and failed to use digital gadgets and apps and keyboards and other electronic things most people have no trouble with. Why have I failed? Because I am not merely a techno doofus, I am techno-phobic.

When I was in my early thirties, I was robbed by incredibly thorough thieves. They left only my piano and a queen-sized mattress. They not only took my stereo and records and books and guitar, they took my dishes, silverware, furniture, electric typewriter, food out of my refrigerator, linens, clothing, shoes, brooms, garden tools, vacuum cleaner, and my most excellent camera.

I eventually replaced everything except the records and the camera, and for several years I was content not to take pictures. Eventually, I bought a new camera, found an excellent photo lab, and got back into shooting black and white photographs. In retrospect, that break from taking picture was good for me and my neural pathways—freed me from obsessively looking for pictures to take and allowed me to just be in the world.

Strangely Early

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

All that you ask of me tw

All That You Ask Of Me painting by Nolan Winkler

“The mystery story is two stories in one: the story of what happened and the story of what appeared to happen.”  Mary Roberts Rinehart

One of the great pleasures of living in this rural area is that many of my neighbors and friends are avid observers of the natural world. And so in early August when I began sharing my observations that maple trees and fruit trees and blackberry bushes here on the coast in Mendocino were behaving as if it was late September, many folks concurred with similar observations about the local foliage and fruit.

In reading about climate change, I have come upon a number of reports by credible scientists suggesting that those physical indications of what we used to associate with fall—leaves changing colors, fruit ripening, colder nights—will henceforth become much less predictable in terms of when they manifest. Thus fall may come in summer, spring may come in winter, summer in spring, and…will we have a winter this year in California?

That’s an interesting question. We just had our first relatively wet winter in the last five years courtesy of a huge El Niño. The long-running drought in California and throughout the Southwest was barely dented by the glorious but not excessive precipitation. Here in Mendocino, where our aquifers are not directly dependent on Sierra snow, our water supply was much improved.

Now, however, the National Weather Service is reporting a formidable La Niña taking hold in the Pacific. Given this dramatic cooling of the ocean waters, what do the precipitation maps recently released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association say will be coming California’s way in the months of October, November, December, January, February, March, and April?

Not to be an alarmist, but NOAA’s maps indicate that California’s rainfall for those seven months will be Nada. Nothing. Zilch.

Oh what do they know? Well, actually NOAA has been highly accurate in predicting precipitation in California over the last decade, and if these predictions are even close to being accurate, the state of California will soon be gripped by a disaster of epic proportions. And what about right here in Mendocino? According to those NOAA precipitation maps, we are facing disaster, too.

There is a possibility, of course, that Mendocino may receive more precipitation than those NOAA maps suggest, if, and it is a big if, some of the storms predicted for Oregon and Washington extend far enough south to douse us, too. Then our aquifers might be somewhat replenished and the scope of the local disaster somewhat diminished.

Then again, given that no one expected August to be October this year, maybe several massive storms will unexpectedly dump thirty inches of rain on us in November and December. Stranger things have happened. Yes, this is wishful thinking, but wishful thinking may be the best response to a climate verging on chaos and another year of drought looming

“One has to fear everything—or nothing.” Jean Giraudoux

I recently broke my self-imposed ban on listening to or reading any news of the great big world outside Mendocino County. I turned on the radio and caught the end of National Pentagon Radio’s daily news program Only A Narrow Spectrum Of Reality Distorted For Your Consideration.

There were two young women talking to each other about this year’s crop of summer movies. I listened for a moment and decided this must be a special feature of the news program encouraging people of extremely limited intelligence to share their incredibly simplistic ideas with a national audience—some sort of diversity-enhancing show to end the doctored news on a folksy note. In any case, I couldn’t bear to listen and turned off the radio.

Then my curiosity got the better of me, and having remembered the names of the two women, I fired up my computer and did a little research and discovered that one of the women is a regular host of Only A Narrow Spectrum Of Reality Distorted For Your Consideration, and the other woman is that esteemed program’s regular movie critic. And because August is now October, I was not surprised.

“There are three things to do in dealing with a crisis—search for the guilty, punish the innocent, promote the incompetent.” Louis Goldman

Once upon a time there were billions of humans on earth and the biosphere began to disintegrate under the pressure of their personal and collective habits. And so there came a time when much of the earth became uninhabitable and nearly all those billions of humans perished along with many other living things. However, some of those humans survived, and here and there on the earth, plants and animals and sea life began to thrive again. After several thousand years of recovery, the biosphere was healed and the earth a verdant paradise once more.

But humans were no longer the dominant species on earth. Something had changed in their nature during the holocaust of biosphere collapse and they never again aspired to anything more than growing vegetables and fruit, catching fish, making and wearing comfortable clothing and footwear, singing, dancing, telling stories, and traveling hither and yon on foot or in canoes. Since there were no roads or sidewalks, skateboards did not make a comeback. No human possessed any more or any less than any other human, and the few times someone invented a weapon deadlier than a bow and arrows or someone built an engine requiring the burning of fossil fuels, such weapons and engines were ceremoniously destroyed and the inventors required to undergo extensive psychotherapy and live naked for seven years surviving on roots, berries, and small mammals caught by singing enticing songs, after which they were re-integrated into society and allowed to resume wearing comfortable clothing and footwear.

Thus the earth continued to spin on her axis and speed around the sun for a hundred million more years until the Cosmic Metamorphosis began and…but I’m getting ahead of myself.

 

Voting For Bernie

Monday, May 23rd, 2016

i march in the parade of liberty tw

I March in the Parade of Liberty painting by Nolan Winkler

Today I filled out my absentee ballot and voted for Bernie Sanders to become the Democratic Party’s nominee for President of the United States, and I felt great about casting my vote for him. Then I tried to remember the last time I felt this good voting for someone who might end up the leader of our country, and I realized I have never felt this way before. When I voted for George McGovern and Ralph Nader, I knew they wouldn’t win, so I felt kind of wistful about voting for them. And you might say, “But Bernie can’t win either. You’re deluding yourself to think so.”

Well, I don’t believe the oligarchy’s media, and for once in my life I voted for a possible President of the United States representing what I want for America, someone who, in my current perception of reality, has a chance to win, regardless of what the lying distorting mass media tells us; and that makes this voting experience unique in my life. That got me thinking about other unexpected Firsts in my life that came later than sooner, and for which I am grateful.

When I moved to Mendocino from Berkeley ten years ago, there was something palpably different and better about living here than anywhere else I’ve ever lived. Having lived in a small town in Oregon, I knew the different feeling was not related to city life versus country life, and I had also lived in coastal towns, so I knew the different feeling was not proximity to the ocean. Still, it took me three years to figure out what the difference was—something I’d been missing since childhood.

This is the first place I’ve lived since I was a boy where the vast majority of people living here, want to live here. That was certainly not true in Berkeley where everyone I knew was being priced out of the area, and where the stress of that urban scene was unbearable for all but the young and the very wealthy. When I lived in Sacramento, four out of every five people I knew were desperate to leave as soon as they could afford to.

Thinking back over the many places I’ve lived, I could not come up with another place, except my childhood neighborhood, where the majority of people I knew in that community wanted to be there. The ramifications of this are vast, especially when one considers how highly interactive human beings are. We are hardwired to mirror the actions and emotions of others—so to live with mobs of people who don’t want to be where they are is, in scientific terms, an ongoing bummer.

After ten years in Mendocino, I have yet to hear anyone say, “I must leave here or go insane.” When I lived in Berkeley and Sacramento and Seattle and Medford and Eugene and Santa Cruz, I heard people say things like that daily, sometimes hourly.

True, this might say more about my acquaintances than about what life is like for most people in those other places, but I’m not talking about why nearly everyone I knew wanted out of where they were; I’m talking about how for the first time in my adult life I live in a place where virtually everyone I know and meet and overhear, save for the occasional disgruntled teenager, wants to be here.

When I turned sixty, six years ago, I decided to experiment with eliminating gluten and dairy products from my life, not including eggs. I had long ceased to eat cow dairy, but I still ate goat cheese. I was having digestive issues, notably bloating, and after decreasing my goat dairy and starch intake with little positive effect, I thought I’d see about doing without gluten for a few months.

After six weeks without gluten, the bloating problem was solved, and so I continued to abstain from gluten. And some six weeks later, I had an incredible experience—one of the best Firsts of my life. From the age of fifteen onward, I suffered from chronic debilitating joint pain, and was therefore a chronic user of aspirin and other anti-inflammatory drugs. Western medical doctors diagnosed me with ankylosing spondylitis, for which I found daily yoga practice helpful, though yoga did not cure the pain.

Thus every evening and every morning for the last forty-five years, I have done twenty minutes to an hour of stretching, without which I would be so stiff and pain-ridden, I would barely be able to move.

So…three months into being gluten free, during an evening stretching session, I was lying on my back on my mat and got up to turn off a whistling kettle. On my way to the kitchen, I was astonished to realize I had arisen with ease (in itself miraculous) and without any twinges of pain.

In a state of near disbelief, I returned to the living room, knelt on the matt, placed my fingertips on the floor behind me, and bent backwards a good five inches further than I had been able to bend in forty-five years—without the slightest pain or discomfort.

Over these subsequent six years sans gluten, I have not experienced any joint pain (save for the occasional injury from overzealous gardening or exercise.) I’m not saying this wonderful cessation of joint pain will occur for any other sufferers should they lessen or eliminate their gluten intake, but that is what happened for me. Now in the evening before bed, I look forward to getting on my mat to do some stretching by the fire, rather than dreading a confrontation with pain.

Voting for Bernie makes me happy in the same way stretching without pain makes me happy. After a lifetime of reprehensible narcissists running for and occupying the joint known as the White House, I finally got to vote for an intelligent, compassionate, generous person with a meaningful plan to improve life for all Americans, a person I believe has a chance to become the nation’s leader as we hurtle into massive economic and environmental turmoil.

Go Bernie!

Town Life

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

there is always more life tw

There Is Always More Life painting by Nolan Winkler

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser March 2016)

“Life is a long lesson in humility.” James Barrie

I have now lived in Mendocino for ten years, nine of those partnered with Marcia. Our little town gets flack for being a tourist trap, and there is no question that tourism and cannabis fuel the local economic engine, but so do carpentry, plumbing, school teaching, real estate, dentistry, nursing, doctoring, selling groceries, photocopying, and writing speculative fiction to name a few of the many things humans do hereabouts to make money. Which is to say, having lived in Berkeley for eleven years and Sacramento for fifteen, if Mendocino is a tourist trap, I’ll take it.

This past Saturday night I gave a reading at Mendocino’s Gallery Bookshop to celebrate the new Counterpoint Press edition of my book Buddha In A Teacup. Twenty people came to listen. I knew half the twenty and didn’t know the other half, but everyone got along, enjoyed the complimentary wine, and when I finished reading three stories, the audience requested another story and then another.

After reading, I sat at a little table and signed copies of the book and chatted with some of the people I knew and some of the people I didn’t know. One fellow introduced himself and said, “I enjoyed your stories. Thought I’d say hello because we both live here and…why not?”

I asked him what he did and he said, “Oh, nothing linear.”

“Did you used to do something linear?” I asked, not wanting to be too nosy. “To make a living?”

“Oh, quasi-linear maybe,” he said, shrugging. “Not really.”

I liked him, though I’ve never been great at non-specific small talk.

A woman I didn’t know said she wanted to hear me read all forty-two stories from Buddha In A Teacup and I said she could download my reading of the book from iTunes or Audible or the Audio Bookstore, as well as my readings of three of my novels. She frowned. “How do you do that? Download something?”

I said I didn’t know, but I knew it could be done because I’ve heard of people who do that sort of thing. She said she would ask a friend who knew about computers.

A woman I do know, the force behind the Mendocino Gluten Free Baking Company, bought two copies of Buddha In A Teacup, one for herself and one as a birthday gift for a friend. I couldn’t help calculating that my take from the sale of her two copies, according to my publishing contract, would be two dollars and twenty-two cents, which would not quite pay for one of her delicious gluten-free oatmeal cookies. However, my take of the sales of the book for the night would buy four cookies, which made me feel fat and sassy.

Another woman I didn’t know said, “You mentioned you were a voracious reader of short stories and on the lookout for good ones.” She then rattled off the names of several writers she thought I might like, but I couldn’t hear her clearly because the next person in line was telling me how she wanted me to sign her copy of the book.

I thanked the bookstore folks for hosting me, and then Marcia and I went to Harvest Market and bought chips and salsa and went home and got a fire going and drank beer and played cards, and I had to laugh about how nervous I was prior to the reading. I hadn’t done any sort of public anything in many years and I had nightmares for three nights prior to the reading. Silly me. My imagination helps me write stories but it also turns innocuous things into giant monsters.

On the Monday after my bookstore appearance, I walked to town thinking what a neato friendly place Mendocino is, and then I came to the beautiful field across the street from Friendship Park, the field I have walked across every day for the last four years to avoid walking on the narrow shoulder of the road. Dozens of people have walked across this field every day for decades and possibly centuries, but on Monday, planted in the ground at either end of the narrow footpath traversing the block-long field, were two menacing No Trespassing signs.

Seeing these signs, I felt more than sad, I felt sick at heart. Neato friendly Mendocino was instantly transformed into elitist, anti-homeless, anti-pedestrian, anti-dog, pro-rich people Mendocino. I suppose whoever owns this lovely field had an unpleasant experience with a dog owner not cleaning up pet poop, or a homeless guy taking a dump in the bushes, or something equally horrendous, but I still felt sad about those No Trespassing signs.

Now when I come to the field and see those threatening signs I take a different route to reach the commercial sector of town. We own a house on two acres and if people we didn’t know were walking across our land every day, we would probably feel intruded upon and want them to stop. This field in Mendocino I’m speaking of isn’t adjacent to anybody’s house, but I no longer walk there because I don’t want to get hassled by gendarmes alerted by the owners of the field.

However, as a result of bypassing the lovely field, I now go down streets I rarely used to go down, and I frequently meet people walking their dogs or working in their gardens or pushing their babies in strollers, and nearly everyone I encounter is friendly and open and as sad as I am about those No Trespassing signs on the field everyone used to enjoy walking across.

Thus kindness and generosity and friendliness have transformed Mendocino in my mind from an elitist, anti-homeless, anti-pedestrian, anti-dog, pro-rich people place into a hotbed of super-neato people—every last one of them supporting Bernie Sanders for President of the United States.

Ganesha

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015

Ganesha

Ganesha photo by Marcia Sloane

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser September 2015)

“It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.” Arthur Conan Doyle

Ganesha, also known as Ganapati and Vinakaya, is the male Hindu god with a human body and head of an elephant. His Rubensesque androgynous form is most often represented with four arms, each arm with a five-fingered hand, though some drawings and statues of Ganesha have as few as two arms and as many as twenty. Revered as the remover of obstacles, the patron of arts and sciences, and the deva of intellect and wisdom, he is also the patron deity of writers.

I knew nothing about Ganesha until nine years ago when Marcia and I got together, and Marcia revealed she was a devotee of the chubby multi-talented deity. She owns two small statues of Ganapati, one a handsome two-armed drum-playing fellow carved from wood, and the other an alluring six-armed dancing guy made of brass.

A remover of obstacles is my kind of deity, so with Marcia’s permission I placed her wooden Ganesha on top of my upright piano where he shares the lofty plateau with two statues of Buddha, one a happy standing fatso, the other a mellow lotus-positioned fellow with his thumbs and fingers touching each other in an intriguing mudra. The only other idol atop my piano is a tiny glass baseball player currently stationed in the shadow of Ganesha—my last gasp plea for the removal of the Dodgers from the path of our floundering Giants.

The more I learn about Ganesha, the more I like him, and when we recently removed the obstacle of an unsightly outhouse from a cirque of redwoods viewable from the eastside windows of our house, we decided to look for a large statue of Ganesha to stand in the grotto previously occupied by the ugly pooper.

And lo we were directed to Sacred Woods in Noyo Harbor in Fort Bragg, an impressive yard containing hundreds of statues imported from Thailand and Indonesia by Rachelle Zachary, the owner of Sacred Woods. After a delightful hour of statue shopping, we settled on an exquisite four-and-a-half-feet-tall white-stone statue of the elephant-headed god, hand-carved by a Balinese master, and a few weeks later the weighty objet d’art was delivered to our south-side deck.

Our plan was to have the redwood trees surrounding the proposed location for the statue limbed up before we engaged a trio of strong men to transport the statue to the grotto. However, after two weeks of gazing out the south-facing dining room windows at the magnificent statue standing on the far edge of our ground-level deck, we decided to move the statue just a few feet off the deck from where he was. We had fallen in love with seeing him from the dining nook, which is also where I do much of my writing.

And so I began clearing away the dense grass and brambles and vines and dead fern fronds clogging the ground where we envisioned Ganesha standing in the embrace of two stately ferns, and after a few minutes of work I uncovered a massive flat-topped granite stone butting up against the deck. We briefly considered placing the statue on top of the granite stone, but the top was too narrow and too close to the deck where rambunctious dogs and exuberant children and clumsy adults might unwittingly topple the statue.

When Marcia came outside to see how my work was progressing, I gestured at the mass of dead branches and fern fronds and chunks of old bricks and rotting abalone shells left by the previous owners and said, “The ideal thing would be a little brick pad right in there.”

Marcia nodded, winked at Ganesha, returned to her studio, and as I filled my wheelbarrow again and again with the brittle remnants of the past, I held in my mind’s eye an image of our magnificent Ganesha standing on a small brick pad surrounded by an expanse of gray gravel populated with large stones.

Then something astonishing happened, something a non-believer would call a fortuitous coincidence, and something a devout follower of Ganesha would call His doing.

As I clipped away the last of several dozen dead fern fronds from the lower reaches of a large fern, I espied the corner of a pink brick lying in the ground. Having previously removed several chunks of old brick from the vicinity I thought this might be another such chunk. However, upon removing more of the detritus, I exposed a perfectly level pad made of eight whole bricks.

And that is where our statue stands today, surrounded by an expanse of gravel populated with large granite stones. We have no idea what stood on the brick pad prior to the coming of Ganesha, nor are we certain the brick pad was there before I suggested to Marcia and Ganesha that such a pad should be there. Judging from several other artifacts left behind by the previous owners, I would guess a statue of John Wayne or possibly Ronald Reagan stood where our Ganesha now lords it over the ferns and stones.

I was inspired to write about Ganesha today, remover of obstacles, after a visit to Main Street in Mendocino to view the sturdy white fence recently erected on what is now the end of the sidewalk just to the west of Gallery Books.

A public servant, or as A.A. Milne might have written, a Person Of Very Little Brain, is no doubt behind this blood clot, so to speak, in a major artery of our little town, and as I stood at the ridiculous fence and gazed out over the headlands and Big River Bay, I thought of Monty Python and Mark Twain and the Marx Brothers, for this travesty of a mockery of a sham is a hilarious commentary on how far we humans, collectively speaking, have not come since we climbed down from the trees millions of years ago and sallied forth to people the earth.

Oh Ganesha, Ganapati, Vinakaya—we implore you to help us remove the Dadaesque obstacle on Main Street.

Refugees

Wednesday, September 16th, 2015

Homage to the Kumulipo

Homage to the Kumulipo (Na Lei Hulu) © 2012 David Jouris / Motion Pictures

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser September 2015)

Number of people displaced internally in Syria: 6 million

Syrian refugees registered in other countries: 4 million

Mediterranean Sea crossings by refugees so far in 2015: 300,000

Expected asylum seekers in Germany 2015: 800,000

Refugees United States will accept in 2015: 70,000

Hundreds of thousands of refugees from the ongoing wars in the Middle East have walked and are walking to Western Europe. Thousands of Africans have traveled through Spain into France and reached Calais where they hope to walk or ride through the tunnel under the English Channel to get to England. Thousands of Libyans and Tunisians have crossed the Mediterranean in boats, hoping to find food and shelter in Greece and Italy and Spain.

Germany reports they have accepted a million refugees in the last few years. Austria is receiving thousands of Syrian refugees who rode buses from Hungary because Hungary lacks the financial resources to take care of tens of thousands of refugees. Hungary is erecting a huge fence along its entire border with Serbia from whence the Syrian refugees are coming. Iceland and Finland say they will accept Syrian refugees. France has taken in millions of migrants from Africa in the last few decades, many of them now living in poverty, the social infrastructure of France inadequate to support the vast numbers of migrants, many of them unemployed and unemployable.

The prevalent narrative is that the refugees are fleeing war and squalid refugee camps where they lacked adequate food, shelter, and medical care—families desperate for a better life willing to risk everything to reach the more affluent countries of Europe.

What is not much discussed in the mainstream news is that this refugee problem is but the tip of a crisis so vast, the mind boggles when one reads what climate scientists are predicting. As many parts of Africa and the Middle East become too hot and drought-stricken to support human life, and with those areas now grossly overpopulated, 50-200 million people will attempt to migrate into Europe in the coming decades, depending on how quickly the earth heats up and drought causes massive crop failures.

In other words, what was predicted twenty years ago is now underway. Yes, wars have exacerbated the crisis at this moment in time, but social chaos resulting from skyrocketing food prices, lack of water, and inevitable famine will make the current refugee/migrant situation thousands of times worse.

And the governments of the world are doing nothing substantive to address the underlying problems causing this now irreversible crisis.

I find it incredible that the German government in collusion with Goldman Sachs is willing to torture the entire population of Greece in order to keep the international financial Ponzi scheme going, yet Germany is going to spend hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade to take in millions of refugees from the Middle East and Africa. Why not take in millions of refugees from Greece? Or better yet, why not leave Greece alone so the Greeks can recover from economic brutalization and stay in Greece?

Here in California, the ongoing drought threatens to change our social and economic reality so dramatically our state may not be recognizable a decade hence. People from southern California are moving to northern California in droves, and every other person I know in northern California is moving to Oregon or Washington. Ere long, the Canadians will find millions of Americans trying to cross the border into those cooler northern climes where scientists tell us wheat and other grains will still be able to be grown when southern North America becomes uninhabitable a decade or so hence.

None of what I have written is hyperbole. Nor can the ongoing insanity of our national policies be exaggerated. When a recent New Yorker article described what might happen to Washington and Oregon and northern California should a massive earthquake and tsunami strike the area, millions of people bought survival kits, and contractors were besieged with calls from people wanting to bolt their houses to their foundations. Yet permanent life-ending disaster from climate change barely causes a ripple of concern.

Thus, I suppose, it has always been. Many times in human history our species migrated north and south and east and west in response to climate change. Our arboreal hominid ancestors came down out of the trees when climate change caused forests to become veldt, and fifty thousand years ago our ancestors moved out of Africa into Europe en route to becoming Vikings.

The difference today is that the world is divided into hundreds of nations with borders and unwieldy governments and armies possessed of sophisticated weaponry, none of which makes mass migration as natural and doable as it must have been when much of the earth was uninhabited.

Chaos may soon be the new norm everywhere, as it is in vast areas of Africa. A recent National Geographic article about the illegal ivory trade reads like a post-apocalyptic horror story, describing in gory detail how most of the slaughter of thousands of elephants for their ivory tusks is being carried out by guerilla soldiers fighting against the governments of Sudan, Darfur, Chad, Central African Republic, South Sudan and Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The illegal sale of ivory is the primary funding source for the guerrillas’ war efforts, which involve raping and slaughtering thousands of women and children and men. Meanwhile, the soldiers of those corrupt and barely functional nations frequently collude with the elephant-killing guerillas to supplement salaries inadequate for survival.

On a hot sunny day last week, I stood in front of the Mendocino post office talking to a man who moved here in the early 1960s. He opined, “Most of the people who moved here in the last fifteen years would not want to live here if the weather was like it was back in the 60s and 70s. Long wet winters. Freezing cold from November to April.”

Which reminded me of my first winter here ten years ago when it rained eighty inches and the days and nights were icy cold. On many a morning I found the water in the cat’s bowl frozen solid and the front steps covered with ice. I would hunker down by the woodstove and gaze out at the tempest and wonder if I’d made a big mistake coming to this place of perpetual rain and cold.

Skid Marks

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

200dpi

Escape photograph by Todd

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser August 2015)

Monday. July 27, 2015. I’m coming home from Fort Bragg, heading south on Highway One in my little old white Toyota pickup truck, going fifty-miles-per-hour. The time is one o’clock on a warm sunny day. I have just been to the doctor and I’m thinking about the long wait, the hurried examination, and the course of antibiotics I have agreed to embark on. I have just crested the rise at the southern exit to the little town of Caspar and I’m on the downhill slope crossing the bridge over Caspar Creek, when a giant white pickup truck loaded with kayaks sitting at the stop sign on the west side of the highway on Road 409 suddenly pulls out and completely blocks my lane.

Before conscious thought, I slam on my brakes and yank the steering wheel to the left, and now, as I have experienced a few other times in my life, everything happens in slow motion.

My little truck arcs to the left, the steering wheel locked, brakes locked, and I numbly await the terrible collision. The nose of my truck passes so close to the nose of the giant white pickup truck I can see into the cab. There is a young man wearing sunglasses sitting behind the steering wheel and beside him is a little boy, not wearing a seatbelt. They are in bathing suits and they are both horror-stricken.

Somehow my truck does not hit their truck and I become aware of a screeching sound and can feel my little truck tipping precariously as only two of my four tires are in contact with the pavement as my truck continues across the oncoming lane where by chance there are no cars coming, and my arcing transit continues into the opening of Road 409 on the east side of the highway where by another chance there are no cars, and my truck settles onto four tires and completes the arc so I am now pointing north toward Fort Bragg and blocking both lanes of Road 409.

Now my truck rolls backwards toward the downhill side of the road and I yank on my emergency brake before I bump into the guardrail. I am alive, but not entirely here. I would be amazed I am still alive but I have apparently lost the amazement function for the time being and am seriously dazed.

Now someone says, “Shall I push you out of the road?”

I turn to my left and look into the face of a handsome young man, not the young man in the truck I almost crashed into.

I say, “Okay,” and he gets between the guardrail and the back of my truck and I release the emergency brake and he pushes me across the road into the wide parking area to the north side of Road 409 on this east side of the highway, and I notice the young man in the truck I almost crashed into is helping him push.

Clear of the road and safe in the parking area, someone opens my door and I get out. That is, my body gets out. Where most of my consciousness has gone, I couldn’t say.

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t see you. Are you okay?” asks the young man who drove his giant truck out into the highway in front of me as I was going fifty-miles-per-hour. He is shorter than I, or maybe he just seems shorter because I seem to be looking down at him.

“I don’t know,” I say, wanting to ask why his son wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, but the words won’t come out.

“I want to make sure you’re okay,” he says, wincing. “I’m so sorry.”

“May I borrow your phone?” I ask, thinking I’d like to call Marcia and ask her to call a tow truck because the brakes of my little pickup are locked and the engine is dead as far as I know.

“I don’t have service here,” says the man who almost killed me.

Now he vanishes forever.

But the young man who pushed my truck across the road is still here. I ask if he has a phone I can borrow and he hands me a little oval thing I suppose is a phone, but in my current state might as well be an onion.

“I need to call my wife,” I say to him. “Call a tow truck.”

“Won’t your truck run?” he asks, smiling curiously.

“Are you local?” I ask him. “I’m local. I’m Todd.”

“Jalen,” he says, shaking my hand. “Yes, I’m local.”

“Do you know about cars?”

“Yes,” he says, getting into my truck and starting the engine and driving forward and testing the brakes. “Seems fine.”

I thank him profusely and the next thing I know I’m driving south on Highway One toward Mendocino with no memory of anything since I got into my truck after Jalen got out.

Now I am in the post office in Mendocino, mailing some packages. I walk to Corners and purchase a dozen eggs. Walking feels odd to me. How do I know how to do this without falling over? I drive home and find Marcia and Marion working in the living room. They say they were hoping I would bring eggs so we can have egg salad for lunch.

I tell them about the near accident and the intercession of the young man and how I am not fully in my body and can’t remember things.

After lunch, I lie down and fall asleep for two hours. I wake up feeling so tired I can hardly move. But even so, I get in my little truck and drive into Mendocino and get my antibiotics from the pharmacy in Harvest Market.

Two days later, I am still spaced out and now I am afraid to drive anywhere. My friend Bob is helping me haul firewood to the woodshed. When we come inside for a water break, Marion and Marcia are working in the living room and Marion says to me, “I was coming back from Fort Bragg this morning and saw the skid marks.”

“The what?” I say, having no idea what she’s talking about.

“The skid marks you made when you swerved to miss that truck. They arc across the highway. Dark black skid marks.”