Posts Tagged ‘trees’

Blackberries & Firewood

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

a9-Promise of Spring

Promise of Spring photograph by Ellen Jantzen

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser August 2013)

“Looks can be deceiving—it’s eating that’s believing.” James Thurber

A few days ago, Marion Crombie, our musical neighbor and fellow fruit forager, reported that two of the most promising and easily accessible stands of blackberries hereabouts have begun to fulfill their promise, so the next morning Marcia and I set forth with our knapsack full of glass jars (with lids) to harvest the luscious berries pursuant to making blackberry jam.

This is that marvelous time of year around here when the garden is producing copious edibles, the local apple crop is coming ripe, the plums have peaked but are still hanging about, and the berries—huckle, black, rasp and boysen—are profuse upon their vines. We managed to pick three quarts of black beauties in an hour or so, and with five apples cut up in the mix and using only one-third of the sugar called for in the jam recipe, we cooked up three quarts of the best blackberry jam money can’t buy.

“As an instrument of planetary home repair, it is hard to imagine anything as safe as a tree.” Jonathan Weiner

Yesterday, with the Mendocino air by turns muggy and cold and muggy and cold, the huge green dump truck from Frank’s Firewood arrived from Boonville to deliver two cords of seasoned tan oak destined for our wonderfully efficient Norwegian woodstove. The driver of that well-known truck is Neil Vaine, a master backer upper and superior dumping strategist, accompanied on his rounds by his trusty pooch, a handsome dog with a sweet disposition and a love of riding hither and yon with Neil.

The two cords had to be dumped a good fifty yards from our woodshed, and I look upon that great mass of yet-to-be-released solar power as hours of invigorating hauling and stacking that will ultimately result in thousands of hours of comforting heat when winter is upon us and the rains and cold keep us inside more than out. I am well aware of how lucky we are to live where we’re allowed to heat our homes with firewood, and luckier still to live in a place where firewood is available at all.

I love building fires and feeding them and watching the flames, and I have loved all that since I was little boy. When I was six-years-old, my father taught me how to build a campfire without the use of paper or lighter fluid. He showed me how to build a spacious little structure of tiny twigs around which and on top of I would lay slightly larger pieces of wood, and so on, while being careful to leave an opening for the match to reach those underlying twigs. For some years thereafter it was a point of pride that I make my fires in the fireplace at home or on backpack trips without resorting to paper to ignite the kindling. Nowadays I have no pride when it comes to using old newspapers to start the fire, though now and again I will build a fire without paper just to prove I can.

“Why, if a fish came to me, and told me he was going on a journey, I should say, “With what porpoise?” Lewis Carroll

Speaking of abundance, this used to be the time of year when we would frequently partake of delicious and nutritious locally caught salmon, but now we have drastically reduced our intake of fish in response to the ongoing meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan that have permanently poisoned the Pacific Ocean, with millions of gallons of radioactive water being released into the ocean every day from those dangerously crippled reactors because the Japanese lack the technology and sufficient money to stop the radioactive bleeding. Where are you when we need you, President Obama, Senators Feinstein and Boxer, billionaires Gates and Buffet, along with the rest of the entire supposedly civilized world?

Yesterday I read an excellent and terrifying article online from which I learned that a huge mass of radioactive contaminants dumped into the ocean from the Fukushima plants is fast approaching the west coast of North America, this on top of the enormous amounts of radioactive molecules that have already reached our shores and spread through the air around the world. And then I did something I rarely do; I read the comments from readers at the end of that online article, most of which contained the line, “I’m glad I don’t live on the west coast,” and many of which contained the shocking (to me) sentiment that the radioactive onslaught would “serve those rich people in Carmel and Malibu right.”

“Food is an important part of a balanced diet.” Fran Lebowitz

Today I stop in at the GoodLife Café and Bakery and purchase a loaf of excellent gluten-free bread, and the thought of a piece of toast made from that yummy bread lathered with our homemade blackberry jam propels me up the steep hill to home, my daily walk to and from the village of Mendocino the centerpiece of my current fitness regime that now also includes hauling and stacking firewood.

As I climb the hill, I rejoice about the abundance of fresh blackberries and our ample supply of firewood while simultaneously feeling sad about the ongoing catastrophe at Fukushima and the radioactive tides approaching our shores. I wave to a smiling friend driving by and try not to think about the corporations of mass destruction holding sway over the United States and much of the world. I stop to marvel at a hummingbird visiting the fanciful blooms of a fuchsia and think about brave Bradley Manning, one of the great heroes of our time, being sentenced to thirty-five years in prison for trying to do something about the out-of-control military-industrial complex that has made of the entire world a battle field.

“There is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.” Gore Vidal

I think we humans made a terrible mistake when we stopped living in or near villages, and by near I mean within a couple miles. I have the feeling that if humans are to survive and thrive on earth beyond the next little while, pretty much all of us will have to become villagers again, and even those who live in large cities will live in village-like neighborhoods within those cities. I think we will also have to become an egalitarian society again if we are to survive and thrive.

When were humans egalitarian? Haven’t there always been people who had much more than other people? Actually, no. Having much more than others made no practical sense for most of human evolution. Have you seen the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy? A purely egalitarian band (mobile village) of Bushmen, who have never left the Kalahari and never encountered non-Bushmen, come upon a glass Coca Cola bottle dropped from an airplane, and the Bushmen assume that this amazing thing came from the gods.

This glass bottle, duplicates of which the Bushmen cannot fashion out of animal skin or ostrich eggs or bones or wood, becomes the source of conflict among a people who cannot tolerate conflict because conflict seriously endangers their survival. And so it is decided that the man who found the evil thing must travel to the end of the earth and throw the thing into the abyss so it shall nevermore disturb the peace of these peaceful people.

I think the reason that little movie was so hugely successful all over the world is because we saw ourselves in those hunters and gatherers, and we saw most of the world’s problems in that Coca Cola bottle. Yes, people all over the world loved the idea of solving our biggest problems by getting rid of the sources of those problems, those sources being inequality coupled with the manufacture of things harmful to the earth and all her children: nuclear power plants and genetically modified organisms and pesticides and gasoline-powered automobiles and guns and bombs and poisonous chemicals and power plants that burn fossil fuels, to name a few.

And as I veer off the main road to check on a promising berry bush, I am fairly certain the gods are not the crazy ones.

“We must risk delight.” Jack Gilbert

I arrive home to a letter from a friend containing a poem by Jack Gilbert entitled A Brief For The Defense, which is about the mystical and unfathomable and beautiful and horrible and ecstatic and painful experience of living amidst the sorrows and joys of life. Gilbert wrote: “We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world. To make injustice the only measure of our attention is to praise the Devil. If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down, we should give thanks that the end had magnitude. We must admit there will be music despite everything.”

Carma

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

(This article originally appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser: April 2010)

Yesterday a tree fell on our car. Fortunately no one was in the car when the wind snapped the top third off the pine tree and a thousand pounds of soon-to-be firewood fell twenty feet though the crystalline springtime air and smashed the roof, the windshield, and the hood of our dearly beloved cello-toting 1996 Toyota Corolla wagon.

We had just gone for a brief spin in our old pickup truck, eschewing the wagon because she was low on gas, and I had just said to Marcia regarding the formidable westerly winds, “This is a trees-falling-on-power-lines kind of day if I’ve ever seen one.” Upon our return from the spin, there was Zephyr (so named in a fit of poesy when I bought her five years ago) half-buried under the glossy needles and sappy timber of the former upper reaches of a quasi-stunted pine doing his best to survive in that nutrient-stingy soil known hereabouts as Pygmy. The bottom two-thirds of the still-living tree loomed over the wreckage; the scene only lacking a raven perched on the stub cawing, “Nevermore.”

We were in shock. When we got married two plus years ago we not only exchanged rings, we exchanged cars. I needed a pickup for pruning jobs and toting manure, Marcia needed a zippy little car for the aforementioned cello toting and friend toting in all sorts of weather. Now Zephyr was totaled. Marcia immediately called AAA and within the hour we were on our way to Fort Bragg to pick up her rental car so the cello toting could continue unabated. Say what you will about the decline and fall of the American Empire, if one has comprehensive auto insurance, the system will seamlessly keep you rolling along. Now if only health insurance would work so seamlessly when trees, as it were, fall on your health.

What does it mean when a tree falls on your car? Well, the most mundane interpretation is that a tree falling on your car means that a tree has fallen on your car. But why did that particular tree fall on that particular car at that particular moment in our lives? Is this a sign? An omen? A message? Was this an act of divine intervention or an attack by the forces of evil? We will almost certainly never know. However, when things like this happen to me, I like to interpret them as I would interpret a dream. What for? Fun, of course.

I’ve read numerous books about dreams and dreaming, countless articles both scientific and fanciful, and I’ve even taken a dream interpretation class, which is the only class of any sort I’ve taken since dropping out of college forty-some years ago. My father was a Freudian psychoanalyst and cursorily introduced me to dream interpretation when I was twelve by giving me a copy of Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams, a tome I found to be largely useless for my adolescent purposes. But what really got me interested in dreams and dream research was/were beagles.

I was a freshman Anthropology major at the University of California Santa Cruz in 1967, the campus just beginning to spread its concrete tentacles over the former cattle ranch and throughout the third and fourth-growth redwood groves. One of my favorite extracurricular activities was to head off into the largely unexplored woods and hope to get lost, so that in trying to find my way home I would have an adventure. This was a free and fairly safe way to experience the thrill of being lost, because going downhill from anywhere on the campus eventually brought me to a road; and I knew all the roads in that watershed.

So one sunny day I got lost in the forest, had a splendiferous daydream by a sun-dappled pool in a grotto of ferns, and at day’s end I headed downhill. I emerged from the forest in a place unknown to me and espied a cluster of a one-story buildings and a cyclone-fenced enclosure containing several dozen beagles. Curious about this remote installation, I made my way thither. The dogs saw me and charged en masse to the cyclone fence to bark at me. But their barking made no sound. I could see they were barking, but no noise was emanating from their mouths. So, yes, I thought I had gone deaf if not mad.

Totally freaked out (to use a popular expression of that era), I continued my approach and when I was within twenty feet of the pen, several of the hysterical dogs hurled themselves against the cyclone fencing, and I heard the noises their bodies made striking the fence, though nary a sound emerged from their furiously barking mouths. At which moment, a man emerged from one of the buildings, deduced I was the cause of the commotion, and said to me, “Looking for something?”

“I’m lost,” I said. “What is this place?”

“Dream research,” he explained. “We’re using the dogs to map sleep patterns, REM sleep and…”

“What’s REM sleep?”

“Rapid eye movement. Indicates dreaming.”

“What’s wrong with the dogs? Why can’t they bark?”

“We snip their vocal cords,” he said, inadvertently touching his throat. “Impossible to work with the constant din of their barking.”

“Oh,” I said, aghast at his nonchalance about taking away the dogs’ voices. “Why not use humans?”

“We’re laying the groundwork for that,” he said, somewhat condescendingly. “Establishing baselines. Things you probably wouldn’t understand.”

My reports of this canine gulag failed to incite my classmates to storm the lab and rescue the dogs, but something about that encounter and the dreamlike experience of coming upon a pack of silently barking hounds got me reading about sleep and dreams, which took me to Jung and back to Freud and eventually back to Jung, with my simultaneous readings in anthropology leading me to the Dreamtime of the Australian Aboriginals and the Bushmen of the Kalahari who believed there is a dream dreaming us.

Meanwhile, my pal Rico was en route to becoming a psychotherapist, and he, too, was fascinated with dreams and dream interpretation. It was Rico who taught me to recount my dreams out loud in the present tense, which technique invariably improved my recall of important and otherwise overlooked details of the dreams.

Eons later, I would enroll in a ten-week dream interpretation class taught by a brilliant man who was not keen on interpretations that deviated from his, so we butted heads, though I learned many things from him and appreciated the consistency and clarity of his system. And what I especially loved about his class was that we got to act out our dreams, with my fellow students and I taking parts of people and things in each other’s dreams, which enactments often exposed hidden emotions underpinning the dreams.

Then some years ago I caught the end of a radio program featuring a wonderfully articulate woman taking callers’ questions about dreams. A man called to say he wished he had a dream for her to interpret, but that he had never in his life remembered even the tiniest fragment of a dream. And the articulate woman said, “Then tell me what happened to you today and I will interpret that as a dream.”

I don’t remember much else about their interaction, but I have ever since interpreted puzzling and momentous events in my life as I would interpret dreams, from which many groovy insights have emerged. Thus I recommend the practice to you.

Here is the dream version of the tree falling on our car.

Marcia and I emerge from the house we rent and walk toward the Corolla (definition of corolla: the inner envelope of floral leaves of a flower).

“Oh,” says Marcia, “can we take the truck? The wagon’s low on gas.”

“Sure,” I say, noting the Corolla is parked in a place where we almost never park it.

So we take the truck and wend our way along a winding road through the forest, the spring day gorgeous and sunny. The next thing I know we are parking the truck on the side of the road and walking down a wooded driveway to a beautiful house set in a lovely park of old trees and verdant meadows. We pass the house and come to a vast barn-like structure, a fabulous studio on the shores of a lovely lake. In other words, paradise.

“If only this were ours,” we say and think and feel.

We get back in the truck and drive home, each of us lost in fantasies of such a paradise belonging to us. And as we arrive home, we find that a tree has crushed our car.

In short (and drawing from a variety of interpretive schemata): the car (low on gas) represents the means by which the ego navigates the outside world. The tree represents the intelligence and power of Nature. To acquire a house (self) so much larger and more magnificent than our current house (self) and to own (control our destiny) rather than rent (accede control to others) such a grand home (self) would require an entirely different way of conveying our egos in the outside world.

So the question is: do we get another wagon or a sedan? Another Toyota or a Honda? We’re thinking something around three grand.

Todd’s web site is UndertheTableBooks.com.

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)