Sunday, August 14, 2016

Dust If You Must

We got back yesterday from the Memorial for my friend Georgia who found out she had a terminal brain tumor 3 years ago. It was a fine memorial and I walked away thinking what would Georgia say if she had been here to contribute? Many people had recollections of her and they were all wonderful. They said things like she was brave until the end but I had a different experience of her. She was human until the end. She was not brave. She was confused. She was angry. She was extremely sad. And she was also sometimes brave. It's ok to eulogize her as being brave until the end. I don't have a problem with that. Much. It's a bummer to pass but as Mark Twain said someone has to do it.

So I think I will videotape a short speech before I pass and have those guys play it at my memorial. I want to make a contribution, too. Don't worry. I'll try to be nice.

Life goes on as they say.

I'm going to visit my sister in Colorado. I'm really looking forward to it for a number of reasons. My sister turned out to be a really cool person who I get along with really well. Oh boy. It could have been different but it's not and for that I feel grateful. It's really nice to get along with someone who understands you and your family dynamic. It's really nice to have someone like that who you can talk to about anything and they won't judge you. Yes, I'm really looking forward to being with her. Lucky me.
She also gives me free laser treatments because she's a part time aesthetician. The treatments are a drop in the bucket of wrinkles and brown spots but I'll take whatever I can get. Also the weather is so much better out there. It's in the tolerable high 80s instead of the intolerable low 100s. She likes to do things I like to do. We're going to the best second hand store on the planet. I'm going to tell you what it is and I'm not afraid that you will get all the good stuff. There's plenty there. So here it is. It's Mile High Thrift in Denver. I don't even much look for clothes anywhere else. I see something retail and then I think, no, wait until you get to Mile High.

Then we're going to the Peach Festival and maybe learn how to line dance and walk and talk and walk and talk. Yah. We have fun.
So I'm running around trying to prepare so when Marty's here holding down the fort things won't degrade too badly. Marty is actually quite good at holding up his end of the stick. The house will be clean when I return and I'll not worry one lick about the animals. Maybe I'll worry about the plants because he has that black thumb. So I'll call him once a day and say how are the tomatoes looking? And they'll be fine.

I was out in the horse barn this morning after rounds and noticing the accumulation of dust.

I really wanted to get a rag and then I said no. I thought of my favorite poem.
Dust If You Must
by Rose Milligan

Dust if you must but wouldn't it be better
to paint a picture or write a letter?
Bake a cake or plant a seed,
Ponder the difference between want and need?

Dust if you must but there's not much time
with rivers to swim and mountains to climb.
Music to hear and books to read,
Friends to cherish and life to lead.

Dust if you must but the world's out there
with the sun in your eyes, the wind in your hair,
a flutter of snow, a shower of rain.
This day will not come around again.

Dust if you must but bear in mind,
old age will come and it's not kind.
And when you go and go you must,
you yourself will make more dust.

So what are you going to do today?

Sunday, July 31, 2016

A Peaceful Place

It's been hot. Too hot. And there's nothing I can do about it. Of course, one can take solace in the fact that it's a "dry heat". But really? The only solution seems to be the solution we are already very familiar with having lived on The Ranch for four years. We get up early, do as much work as we can outside until we're dying and then we go inside where it's cool for the rest of the day. Then later, as the sun starts to go down, we come out again and do more work until it's too dark to see. Sometimes to extend my endurance I soak my shirt and head with water but that only serves to keep me going about 15 minutes longer and then my shirt is 100% dry.  This system is kind of an inch worm approach to getting outdoor things done.

I am in awe of the field workers. I wouldn't last a minute out in the fields of the San Joaquin Valley. I wasn't born to the heat. As you drive along the highway you see billboards that advise the farm workers, "Agua. Sombra. Descanso." Which means "Water. Shade. Rest." They might be more accustomed but it's still dangerous and everyone knows it.

I grew up in central Iowa and when it got hot it was also humid, too. We didn't know anything about heat index at the time and we didn't have central air conditioning either. We didn't get central A/C until I was a teenager so I remember quite clearly how Mom would put a big fan in the hall way at night between the bedrooms to circulate air that sort of but not really helped to evaporate the sweat off our miserable sleepless bodies.

I don't know how my uncles and cousins did their farm work. They'd come in off the fields and take off their caps and their foreheads were white as snow against their darkly tanned faces. They would drink huge amounts of iced tea and lemonade my grandmother and great aunt would make. There were no air conditioned tractor cabs in those days.

We were out late in the evening the other day and the dusky air took me back in time in my mind. Being out that evening reminded me of the days back in Iowa when we would come out of the house in the evening to play or go for a walk or a swing on the porch. My grandmother, in particular, had a north facing porch the length of the house and a porch swing that we kids wore down until we almost broke it. On those sultry evenings the air was quiet and off high up in the trees we heard the drone of the cicada. The stillness of the air. The drone of the cicada. The dusky light. Swatting a mosquito from time to time.

My mom called them June bugs. I think she really knew the difference but we kids didn't and it didn't matter. You'd find a June bug that had shed its exo-skeleton and left it in the crook of two branches of the tree limbs. Fascinating stuff.

My Aunt J said: "I hated that June bugs would come in through holes in the window screens and would buzz around at night when I tried to read in bed before falling asleep.  I would holler for Mom if I thought there was a chance that Mom would come and get rid of the thing.  Mom usually said ”Turn out the light and it’ll go away." Or  "just catch it and kill it yourself.”  Ugh!  I would usually kill it because I didn’t trust that it would politely leave if I just turned off the light. The cicadas came at night in August.  We always knew summer was going to end in another month or so when we heard them start up.

My mom said she listened to them at night and that their buzzing was hypnotic in a way. Later when she learned a meditation technique she said listening to cicadas buzz was similar to meditation. The buzz of the cicada was like a mantra that helped her transcend the world and go to a peaceful place in her mind.

Monday, July 25, 2016

For Those of Us Left Behind

Georgia and I at the horse pasture a few weeks before she passed.

My friend Georgia Zurilgen Williams passed away peacefully last night. She was 62 years old. She had been living with a glioma brain tumor for nearly three years and had endured chemotherapy and surgery more times than I can recall. For most of those years she was upbeat and optimistic. She was hoping she'd beat it. It's true that some people can live for years with a tumor but it has to be very special circumstances. I have even heard of 25 years. Near the end she was not happy. As a matter of fact, she was miserable. The tumor took her ability to speak correctly and to reason and she knew it. There's no blanket way to deal with these things. It's all personal and if such a thing befalls us we each have to take our individual situation and decide what to do. There's no cookie cutter approach.

Georgia took her way and I was in awe of her bravery. I forgive her the confusion and anger she experienced near the end.

Our Friendship

I knew her for 30 years. We were partners in horses for that whole time. First, we had Magic, an appaloosa gelding, and Majestic, a paint mare. Then we had Dusty, another appaloosa gelding, and at the same time there was Baush and Spice. Seems like there was one more but I can't remember its name because I had moved out of the Bay Area by that time. Of course, before I met Georgia she had a slew of other horses because her history in horses started when she was a girl.

I remember once we went to a John Lyons clinic in Davis, CA. We slept in the back of her pick up in the clinic parking lot because we were both too broke to afford a room. It was better that way anyway. We could get up and be the first ones in the bleachers. We could wander around the grounds and commune with the animals.

There are so many things I remember about her. You know how a lot of times when you eulogize a person that in the back of your mind as you're saying all the nice things you're also thinking I wish I could say the whole truth of my experience with this person? Like he sure was a bastard in many ways and cruel and selfish? I wanted to say this about my dad. But I didn't. There's no point.

Well, in Georgia's case I can honestly say there was not a mean bone in her body. I can eulogize her with confidence about her sweet nature. She was an exemplary person who always looked for how it might feel to walk a mile in another one's shoes. She was kind. She was thoughtful. She had demons like we all do and she battled them and it made her a compassionate person. She lived that compassion in her daily life.

Of course, I'm going to miss her. Like I miss my dad's wife Teresa. Also taken before old age. Also taken while still young and vital. They're both gone on ahead to the ultimate adventure. They've both travelled up the road ahead of the rest of us and have left us behind. We'll follow them on that same path soon enough. May life set lightly upon you and give you have peace.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Fee Fi Fo Fum!

A lot has been happening here. NOT in order of importance:
I'm working on my lesson plan for after school art that I will be teaching in the fall for Madera County School District through the Madera County Arts Council.
I am experimenting with making root beer completely from scratch. That is, from herbs and roots. No store bought extract. Good luck to me.

We got a new roof and windows by participating in a State Program that loans us the money and we pay it back at property tax time. Being poor has a couple advantages and this is one. Other than that you can have it. Being poor that is.
Then we get a hefty rebate from Pacific Gas and Electric for becoming energy efficient. And energy efficient we are now! BWR (Before windows and roof) the air conditioning would not go off on a triple digit heat day. Now it does so we know it's working.

The other advantage of being poor: we're getting a new wood stove completely free! There's this county program to promote clean air in the valley and through it we get a voucher that will pay for a brand new energy efficient woodstove to replace the old decrepit one we have.
We had a great visit in San Jose with my old friend and boss Lisa. Robert and Carolyn, who were co-workers, were also in attendance. Lisa pulled out the stops with food and it was great to reminisce and be amazed at the changes to our old company.

My friend Georgia continues to defy the odds in her fight against The Brain Tumor. It's been over 3 years since she had the seizure in the middle of the span of the San Mateo Bridge that was the first clue to what was going on.

Happy the horse is getting more so. We can now approach him without him running off. Marty has a few rides on him and has performed what I call "Going Through The Motions" even though that's not quite correct. GTTM is walk, trot, canter and the canter is a mile stone as that is where The Buck usually comes out if it's going to happen. But it didn't come out. Marty the Horse Whisperer. Don't tell him I said that. He hates that moniker.

We attended a Career Day at Keller Williams. We're going for it. We're going to sell real estate. We have to do something. The home stead will not be self sufficient for a few years and I'm telling you Social Security is not even near enough to cover expenses. Neither are my savings is going to cover expenses. The good thing about real estate is that we can work when we want (for the most part), it pays really well and is not a commodity that is against life. That is to say, it is not something that no one needs which is what most of the things sold these days are.
I am reading two great books. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and Die Wise by Stephen Jenkinson.

My art room is finally ready to use after a delay of 3 months. None too soon as I now have a commission from the First Christian Church to render 3 views of their altar. For pay, by the way. They need visualizations for how 3 different remodels will look so they can decide which one they like best.

Which brings me to Fee Fi Fo Fum.
We took a day trip to Huntington Lake in the High Sierra. It's at over 6,000 feet so it's pristine and extremely cold being exclusively filled by snow melt. I got in but not for very long I can tell you! I am kind of a polar bear but I have limits. To really swim we went down to Shaver Lake which is not as pristine but warmer. It's at 3,000 feet.

Huntington Lake is very beautiful. It is above the bark beetle devastation that is afflicting the trees farther down the slope. Down there they are all dying and it looks like fall. So many orange trees. Awful. The drought is what did it. The beetles took advantage.
Here's the thing about Huntington Lake though. They want you to pay for everything.

I'm not sure there's any way around this. You're taking a chance bandito-ing a parking place to walk down to the lake for a quick look-see or commune with nature. Rangers patrol like hound dog Beagles. If you own a cabin I suppose you could walk in and not have to pay but that's not an option for us. I guess we'll hop in the car and go even farther up the road to Florence Lake or Mono Hot Springs and see what's happening there.
Love this gnarly old cedar.. or juniper?
A sight for sore eyes that live in the dry San Joaquin Valley.
High Sierra granite.
By the shining Big-Sea-Water...

Sunday, June 5, 2016

A Spider, Mr. Bill and a Horse Named Happy

But First..... Die Wise
I've been reading a very cool book recently. It's about the challenging subject of dying. The book is called "Die Wise" and it's by Stephen Jenkinson who is a psychologist and a palliative care worker. The book is very challenging but I'm getting a lot out of it. What I've gotten most so far is that waking up each morning is a gift and not to be taken for granted or expected like it's a right. When I think of it this way I actually feel happier, brighter, and my recent bout of depression (not debilitating, just garden variety ennui) is dissolving into thin air because I'm thinking about life and death in a different way.
One of my best friends, Georgia, has terminal brain cancer and Lenny, her husband, is right there with her. What an ordeal and I am very proud of them. I can't even think of a thing to say about it. My society does not give me a decent language with which to talk about it.

Ookina Kumo
Years ago I was visiting my friend Betsy and her husband at that time was Minao. Minao is Japanese. As we walked into the house I glanced up and saw a very, very large spider in its web just above the trumpet vine. I called Minao over, pointed at the spider and said "how to you say big spider in Kanji?" Minao says "Ookina ku-mo. Pronounce it Oh-kee-na Ku-MOH. If you say KU-mo it means "cloud".

This is a Black Widow. It's the biggest Black Widow (ookina kumo!) I've ever seen and it was living above our front door until one night I went out to get something in the car. I saw it when I started to go back in. It doesn't live there any more, needless to say and, no, we did not relocate it. Unless you consider relocating it to its next incarnation a relocation. Gone Girl.


We tried to get close to Bill Clinton the other day. This is the closest we could get. That's him and his white hair over there going into the back of the Fresno State University Student Union.

I'm kind of a celebrity junkie within reason. I only want to go see one when it's easy. I would not go out of my way. My best celebrity sighting was when I was in my hometown of Marshalltown, Iowa a few years ago. At the time I was visiting my dad and we were in a downtown antique store. When we went to the counter with our purchases the lady behind the counter said oh did you know that Hillary is going to be at the Court House in 15 minutes. I said Hillary who and she said you know Hillary Clinton. So we bought fast and raced down to the Court House a couple blocks away and sure enough here comes her big ole bus. She spoke to a small crowd (she says I just had a Maid Rite and I can tell you they're Made Right!) (Really Hillary so cheesey) and then they said she would be greeting the audience. Sensing my celebrity opportunity, as soon as she came off the podium I used my height and confidence to push my way to the rope and as she walked by I shook her hand (soft and small) and said I am happy to come all the way from California to meet you. She just kind of smiled and said thank you and went on to the next person. So maybe I've shaken the hand of the next President.

I'm pathetic. I know.

Marty is crazy. Maybe that's what I love about him. He was looking at Craigslist ads yesterday and came upon a horse for sale for $750. He called the owner and next thing you know we're in the car and it's 105 degrees and we're looking at this cute little pony size horse. The owner looked reputable. The horse looked confused and scared. But it also showed this quality that is hard to describe and is something that probably only years of looking at horses will tell you. He looked like he wanted to be a good horse.

So we bought him.

I said Marty you know you have to train him and find him a new home before winter, right? We only have a limited amount of space and budget for horses here. Here's what I think. If this little guy has any interest in jumping I think he might make a great Pony Club pony. In stature he reminds me of my daughter's first pony Spice. Of course, Spice was well broke when we got him. He needed to be. He was intended to be a 10 year old girl's horse. And he was.

Maybe this little guy can follow in Spice's footsteps (hoofsteps?). We'll see.

In the meantime, Marty has a fun project on his hands. Marty is really good at taking scared horses and making their inner gold come out. When we were at The Ranch he took their young mare who was all wound up tighter than tight from who knows what had been done with her and softened her right up. She was well on her way to becoming a really nice horse when we left The Ranch. Now we have Happy. I wanted to call him Apples for my sister's old Appaloosa but Marty insisted it was Happy and I'm letting it go. I want the little guy to grow into his new name. He's anything but happy right now but that's our goal for him. That Happy the appy loves his job.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Always Trust Your Cape

Here's a cool song. Check it out.

The Cape
By Guy Clark (in memory of)
Eight years old with a flour sack cape
Tied all around his neck
He climbed up on the garage
Figurin' what the heck
He screwed his courage up so tight
The whole thing came unwound
He got a runnin' start and bless his heart
He headed for the ground

He's one of those who knows that life
Is just a leap of faith
Spread your arms and hold your breath
Always trust your cape

All grown up with a flour sack cape
Tied around his dreams
He was full of spit and vinegar
He was bustin' at the seams
He licked his finger and he checked the wind
It was gonna be do or die
He wasn't scared of nothin' boys
And he was pretty sure he could fly

He's one of those who knows that life
Is just a leap of faith
Spread your arms and hold your breath
Always trust your cape

Old and grey with a flour sack cape
Tied all around his head
He's still jumpin' off the garage
Will be till he's dead
All these years the people said
He's actin' like a kid
He did not know he could not fly
So he did

He's one of those who knows that life
Is just a leap of faith
Spread your arms and hold your breath
Always trust your cape

© Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Hills east of Madera on the way to Hensley Lake at twilight

Friday, May 13, 2016

Madera Likes Me. It Really Likes Me.

I now have something in common with Sally Field.

I didn't get this feeling that I was liked when we moved to Elk Creek. Well, I should say I knew that our employers, the ranch owners, liked us. For sure, they were going to come to adore us because we were the first caretaker managers that actually did anything. Yeah, the ranch owners were really sad to see us go.

But, honestly? The people who lived in Elk Creek and the area around there couldn't have given a hi howdy about us. Now I can say what I think and I'm really pretty sure we'll not be burning any bridges. No, we'll not be going back there. Ever.
OK, the area folks were "friendly". Enough. But they were not welcoming. There's a difference.  And I've written about this before. I've written that Marty said, "What do you expect? People don't live out here on the edge of nowhere because they're super social. They live out here because, for the most part, they are loners." And I believe that but I also felt a level of, how shall I say it, distance? To the point that I almost felt NOT welcome. When Marty and I would talk we would postulate something along the lines of "Well, we did take away a job from a local." That certainly would not endear us to the local people who are having a hard time making ends meet.

Now I know how Mexicans feel when they go to, say, Marshalltown, Iowa (my hometown) and take a yucky job at Montrose, the local meat packing plant and they get attitude from the local Marshalltonians. It's rude and not right. I could say to an Elk Creekian, "Dude, if you could pass a background check maybe you could have the job." There's a sense that they feel entitled even though they are not qualified. People. Hmmmpfh.
I think if we had bought property out there they may have accepted us more. Just more. Not totally. Because there are the folks we did get acquainted with who would say things like "I'm still a newcomer. I've only been here 20 years." I'm sure there's a feeling of "Well, they won't last so why bother getting to know them or even giving them the time of day much less be welcoming?" Don't you know that your reticence contributes to people taking off out of there when they get fed up?
It took me 4 years and I finally made one real friend. Anna Dearing. And then within 6 months of getting to know her she passed away. She was 88 years old. She was the only  real friend I made in 4 years. Even Anna herself said "The people in Paskenta are much nicer than the people in Elk Creek." (Paskenta is a half hour drive over back country gravel roads from Elk Creek.) Anna had lived in the Elk Creek area for more than 30 years. Maybe they considered her a newcomer, too.
So it's really nice to experience being welcomed into a community. We haven't been here but 2 months and I already am going to be an art teacher for the Madera County Arts Council. When I call Sherril Royce, who runs the program, she greets me with "Hey, You!"

Alma gives a yoga class at Thrive Fitness and she invited me to a get-together at her house and she doesn't even know me from Adam. Just from the yoga class. The neighbors are great, too. Hector, Jaime and his wife, Gustavo and Heidi and her husband.

Madera may be hot in summer but it's pretty cool. I think this is going to be a little bit of all right.