Saturday, August 19, 2017

Confronting Racism

Confronting Racism
I didn't go to the demonstration today but I confronted racism and anti-Semitism in the person of Charlie Krafft. He is a confirmed white nationalist and Holocaust denier. He would claim that he does not deny the Holocaust, he only wants to point out some discrepancies in the historical accounts. Sure. Charlie once told me he practiced a "genteel anti-semitism."  I kind of understood what he meant, like your law firm has one Jewish partner, "but we can't have two Jews because you know how they are when they get talking to each other, they're close talkers."
I understand that. My friend Bobby is Jewish and he talks too close to my face. If he could just back up a few inches. But this isn't a strictly Jewish tendency. I think it's more Middle Eastern. Like the time I befriended an Arabic-speaking tourist on the quay at the Santa Barbara Yacht Harbor. We began talking and he kept getting closer and closer and then he practically climbed into my lap. Close talkers!
Anyway, my little bit for making the world safe for diversity is to confront Charlie Krafft once again, and to give him a chance to overcome his disease.
"Charlie, you don't have to explain or apologize for what you've done, but just stop doing it. Throw out the books and the Nazi memorabilia. Stay away from those dark websites. Get some fresh air. There's a better part of you waiting to come forth."
Charlie reads this newsletter, so Charlie, stop doing it! We don't hate you, we just hate what you are doing. Stop staying up late at night watching Nazi porn!
Charlie is well-known in the Seattle arts community and he is celebrated as the "mayor of Fishtown." We would like to forget and overlook his dark side, but maybe it's time for intervention. We all need help.
Well, that's my part on this very active weekend.
I  speak lightly of Charlie's condition, but it is a disgusting disease, and  a contagious disease -- it rubs off on you when you are exposed to it. You can feel the seductive, addictive quality.
If you don't know Charlie Krafft, look him up on Google. You can find his website. Contact him and be nice. He's getting old, past 69. Ask him about Fishtown. Offer to buy him dinner at a Chinese restaurant in the International District. Charlie would like that.

Total Eclipse
I saw the total eclipse of the sun in southern Mexico on March 7, 1970. The path of totality crossed the isthmus of Tehuantepec and we were there to observe.
Dozens of tourists -- not thousands -- dozens of tourists pulled off to the side of the lone highway to stop and stare at the sun. It was very quiet. The corona appeared, and shimmering, quivering light raced across the fields, and all the birds began to sing. The local people hardly seemed to notice.
So I have this one already checked off on my bucket list.
But if you get a chance to see it -- the totality -- then it's worth the expense and the crowds.
We will have 62 % totality in Santa Barbara, on Monday morning. I will be working in Lulu's garden at that time. She lives down the street and will be celebrating her fifth birthday very soon. Her mother hires me to weed and tend her garden.
Dr. Berkowitz Deals with Depression

I can’t even brag about how bad it was. I never went to prison, or fought in a war, or battled a disease, or overcame an addiction. I just screwed up on a small scale and I felt lousy. I remember talking to Dr. Berkowitz about this in 1993 at his clinic in Somerville right outside of Boston.
Dr. Berkowitz was a small younger man with a tight black beard like the Smith Brothers on the cough drop package. He made a good living as a general practitioner, but he could have made three times as much if he had taken up a specialty in cardiology. As it was he owned a nice home in the leafy suburb of Newton.
But he worked in Somerville and served the food stamp clientele that needed walk-in service with family aches and pains, and he liked talking with people.

So it was the winter of 1993-1994 and the winter was dragging on with frozen piles of dirty snow in parking lots and sidewalks. By March half of Boston was suicidal and I was one of them not, not suicidal, but in a very blue funk. Plus I was lonely since I broke up with Louise – which is another story, a long pathetic, embarrassing story – but I broke up with her and money was short and winter lasted too long. I thought maybe to get a medical solution to this.
I said to Dr. Berkowitz, I’m depressed. He took a deep breath, looked me right in the eye and almost laughed. “You’re not depressed. You know I have patients who are actually depressed. They sleep 16 hours a day. They don’t leave their apartment for weeks at a time. They are afraid to even say hello to the mailman. They don’t bathe. But they drink and find pills to take, and they don’t get those pills from me, but they get them. These are people who are clinically depressed, if I might use a clinical expression, and I treat them as best I can, although some of them need extensive psychiatric oversight and perhaps sheltered housing and sheltered workplaces.
But these people are depressed. You, on the other hand, are not depressed. You got the blahs, you got the blues, you need a good fuck and if you can’t get that you need a good kick in the pants. Get out of here and come back when you have a real problem.”
I was taken aback by Dr. Berkowitz’s unusual vehemence, but I had to admit it was a healing experience, because what he said in so many words was that I did not have a problem, not in his experience. I was okay. Maybe all I needed was a week on the beach in Florida, failing that I might go see the afternoon showing of the Marx Brothers film at the revival house in Harvard Square….. This was in 1993 when they had revival theaters in places like Harvard Square -- and film buffs who memorized every line of Ingmar Bergman’s dialog of death and doom and destruction and despair and disappointment.
Bergman was Swedish and those people understand depression. The masters. But Dr. Berkowitz was Jewish and those people understand laughter. “You’re suffering? You’re dying? And I’m laughing my ass off.”
I walked out of the good doctor’s clinic. It cost me $45 to find out I wasn’t really depressed. And he’s laughing all the way to the bank for ten minutes of work. Except he didn’t have to work in Somerville with his food stamp patients. He could have been a specialist with a tony office in Back Bay. He really did like us better than the uptown folks.
But I am not supposed to dwell on the past, but to just go to the past, find something there and bring it back. Today I found Dr. Berkowitz, and this being the present tense in August of 2017, while Confederate statues are being smashed with ball peen hammers like they were peanuts or pumpkins -- I looked him up on Google.
Guess what! – he is still there, now 80 years old and I said he appeared younger than me but he was only smaller and shorter than me – but today, this year, after 54 years practicing medicine he is still doing that, still dividing the truly depressed from those who just need a fast you-know-what and a kick in the pants.
I should write him a letter. He might remember me. I will say one thing about myself – that part about being idiosyncratic – which is distinctive. People want to put me on a shelf and file me away in some forgotten drawer, but I don’t fit in any drawer, I stick out somehow, and for that reason they tend to remember me. So I will write Dr. Berkowitz and show him this story. He might like it.
thank you for reading this, have a calm and productive weekend,

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is  Fred Owens
My writing blog is Frog Hospital

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Suppose you're a cop in Charlottesville

By Fred Owens

Suppose you're a cop in Charlottesville

Suppose you're a cop in Charlottesville, twelve years on the force. You lived here all your life, and you know half the people in town. You daily experience is handling domestic disturbances, pinching shoplifters, and hauling drunk college students to the hoosegow. You have never drawn or fired your weapon on the job, although you are prepared to do that.

Comes now the KKK to hold a rally in your quiet city of 47,000 -- some 500 seriously disturbed and dangerous young men looking for a fight. Comes now the national media, some hundreds of pushy people pointing cameras at you. Comes now the counter-demonstrators, some peaceful, some angry and shouting, some wearing bandannas to cover their faces.

And all of these people -- the KKK, the media, and the counter protestors are from out of town. Nobody you know.

You're a local cop used to dealing with local people. What you wish more than anything is that these people would just leave, all of them.

But your August vacation days were cancelled. No golf. No fishing. You have to face down the mob, only how do you tell the good guys from the bad guys?

Imagine yourself as a cop in Charlottesville, facing this situation. Would you know what to do?

Friendship in America

Much has been said about the American family -- the family is the strength of our nation, the values of a family are so very important, and we need to keep and cherish those values.
Not to defend or define those values here, but to mention something equally important -- friendship.
Friendship is not unique to America, but we might compare our society to the undeveloped world where the extended family is the norm, in Latin America or Africa where a man counts his relatives in the dozens -- large families that depend on and care for each other. In countries where the government is often rapacious and confiscatory, where social services are nonexistent, the extended family is the sole tool for survival.  Care of the elderly falls on the children and grandchildren -- there is no choice in that, and less virtue because there is no choice.
The extended family, this large and warm unit, is also the main source of corruption in poorer countries. If you have a government post, and your cousin needs a job, you will take care of him. If your business prospers, all your relatives will line up with their hands out. It is your duty to care for them above others.
It’s not merit, but relation, that allocates the rewards of society in those countries.
America is different. We send our cousins Christmas cards, but we don’t expect to feed them. Even a brother, applying for a position, would be subject to close scrutiny. “Sure, if he’s qualified,” we would say, but not for a favor.
Blood is thicker than water, and many of us would make a great sacrifice for our close kin, but the sense of fairness, and of equality for all, is so strong here, that the corruption of family ties is at a minimum.
What we have instead is friendship -- smaller, nuclear families and a web of friendship that unites and levels the country. Friendship is freedom. You choose your friends. Friendship is responsibility, because the friends you choose are a reflection on your character. Friendship is voluntary, even a long-standing friendship must be earned from time to time in small or large ways.
We might do a favor for a friend, or even surrender our lives, we might support them in illness, or go their bail, but it is always because we choose to. That’s freedom in America.
The family is good and essential, but it has never been enough.

Shannon Moon is going to be a nurse, maybe

Shannon was sitting at the dining room table scratching her head. I said what's up, and she said I’m just trying to figure it all out…… Oh boy, do I know that feeling….. You get overwhelmed, you can’t decide what is important. Everything matters. Nothing matters. Shannon is a mid-thirties woman with a future  -- I’m sure of that. She’s going to become a nurse. I know she has continuous self-doubts about that, but she has completed the science prerequisites – those boring courses in anatomy and organic chemistry. Right now she is figuring out what nursing school is best for her. The options for nursing  school are bewildering – that is clear. But what is just as clear is that Shannon will make a good nurse. She has that combination of toughness and compassion.
A good nurse wants to take care of people and wants to make a good living too. You don’t want a bleeding heart who wants to sacrifice her life, and you don’t want someone who just counts the dollars.
You want a balanced person, with a strong heart and a strong mind. Being a nurse is a tough job. If you can handle the stress and pressure, then you can make a difference in the lives of the people you care for. And you will always have work.
But sitting there at the dining room table trying to figure it all out….. Nope, doesn’t work. You make a decision, and you make a plan, and then life happens.
She left our house in Santa Barbara and flew to Taos, New Mexico to do volunteer work at the Lama Foundation.  She will make up her mind about nursing school when she comes back in a few weeks.
Shannon is my Laurie’s younger daughter.


I am learning to write in a new style that I picked up from the Norwegian author, Karl Ove Knausgaard. He wrote a six-volume autobiographical novel called My Struggle. I am reading Volume Four which is about his youth. In the story he has just turned 18 and left home for the first time to take a teaching job in a remote northern village.
It’s not that his life is so special or different. This is not a man who flies to the moon and jousts with dragons. This is an ordinary man who writes about his life and he makes it interesting.
That’s the trick, to make it interesting. I mean, I already knew that, but I needed some re-enforcement for my writing. Everything is interesting. The four remote controls on the coffee table in front of me are interesting. The stack of firewood that has been sitting next to the fireplace for several years -- there’s a story.
I'm writing a book called The Quotidian which will have some of these stories. And I will put excerpts in the Frog Hospital newsletter from time to time.

thank you,


Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is  Fred Owens
My writing blog is Frog Hospital

Monday, August 07, 2017

tree blessings

 By Fred Owens

I am late with this issue of Frog Hospital because my daughter had a baby boy and that was quite a celebration to greet the infant and see the mommas be happy and the infant well fed and happy. He was born at 12:48 a.m. July 29, this year, at a hospital in Seattle to Lara Rogers and Eva Owens. They own a home in the Ballard neighborhood in Seattle. Lara works at Amazon and Eva works at SEIU. I suppose they have parental leave, but I don't know the details.
Laurie and I will visit them in early September. That gives them a chance to get settled with the new infant, if it is possible to be settled with a new infant. My daughter says the little guy sleeps well and feeds well too, so his prospects are quite good.
What is his name? We have a pretty good idea about that, but they are still refining the choice, so we will know his name fairly soon.

He weighed eight pounds.

Now here is the story:

Tree Blessings

Enjoying a long neck Budweiser, sitting on the couch, watching the news, and watching Gary Cooper in High Noon on my laptop at the same time. Gary Cooper rides off into the sunset with Grace Kelly. That is so cool.
We’re going to have tacos for dinner – got the fixins – got fresh cilantro, avocado, salsa, corn tortillas and a left over piece of pork loin. All is well in Santa Barbara.
I have a title for this week’s story. Tree Blessings.  That sounds about right. First I write down those two words, then I discover what I meant. Do we bless the tree? Or does the tree bless us?
I immediately veer to Catholic school guilt. Going around blessing trees is a religious scam. A way to avoid the necessary work of planting, watering and pruning. To be really honest with my own motives, I thought of blessing the trees as a non-strenuous exercise, a way to avoid honest labor. I could start an earth religion. There’s a lot of money in religion. I could publish a book of tree blessings. I could establish rituals and sell tree ornaments, …. Now I have ruined a perfectly good impulse. Why not just love the tree and let the tree love me back?
Tree blessings. Just love the trees. Jesus loved the trees. There must be something in the Bible about how Jesus loves the trees.
Tree Blessings and Garden Vigils. Prayers, songs, chants and dances. Things to do in your garden besides work. Garden work is highly over-rated. Get out of the way and let the plants grow.
Garden Vigils. Healing, Watching. Sitting. Reading. Napping. Walking. Visiting. Eating. Talking. Hard work in the spring – sure. But not now in late summer. Let it be.  Time for a vigil, all night watching in the pale moonlight. Night critters coming out of their burrows to say hello. Late at night in the garden – when the gophers party, and coyotes come to catch gophers. Late at night in the garden when the dainty skunks sashay across the street, and walk  so pretty through the hole in the fence and find some juicy insects and sprouts to dine on.
Spring is for hard work in the garden. Not late summer. Let the ripe fruit fall on the garden. Pick the grapes, but let some of them fall on the ground. Be generous. Be lazy. Don’t pick all the fruit. Let it fall. Breathe. Look at the sky. Sit and watch the garden. You can’t see things unless you stop working.
Last week I wrote about Illabot Creek and people liked the story. And I said I would continue the story….. but that would be too hard.
Illabot Creek – the most beautiful place I have ever camped, and I was so unhappy. It was just bad timing. That’s when I broke up with Gail Murphy in the summer of 1971. I was camping at the creek, in the beautiful sunshine and I was utterly broken-hearted.  The pure sparkling water. The fresh breezes. The long northern twilight.  And me suffering. The irony was too painful.
Why couldn’t I find a campground that maybe wasn’t quite so pretty, but where I could be a little happy?
Not possible. So I bought a saxophone. A Selmer tenor saxophone, a beautiful soul-ful instrument. I taught myself to play it and I played it very well. Howling, screaming, moaning. You can’t beat the tenor sax for emotional complexity. Picture me sitting on a very large maroon bean-bag pillow, sitting next to the stream, playing my heart out. And loud. But away from the other camps. Maybe one hundred yards upstream.
That saxophone got me out of Illabot Creek. You just don’t do wilderness with a sax. You do city. I needed to get out of this camp and go to town. So I went to LaConner, all 600 people living there, and no jazz musicians to play with, but more urban than Illabot creek.  I slept in Charlie Berg’s chicken coop and worked in the boatyard sanding vessels, and got the money I needed to buy a car. I bought a pristine green four-door 1951 Chevrolet  for $125.  I loved that car. I needed it too, because you just can’t hitchhike with a backpack and a tenor sax  -- too odd. Either go to the woods or go downtown.
I left Gail Murphy at Illabot Creek, bought a tenor sax and a 1951 Chevrolet and drove to Taos, New Mexico, far enough way to forget her and the creek.
I could not forget her. I forgot nothing. Taos was no help. This is not a happy story which is why I don’t want to tell it. I don’t want to remember it, all the details, the way she looked …. No.
Better to be Gary Cooper riding off into the sunset with Grace Kelly.
Charlie Berg and Beth Hailey did not yet live in the house on Fourth Street with the large chicken coop where I slept while I worked to make enough money to buy the car and leave. At the time of this story in late summer of 1971, the chief tenants were a couple known as Truman and Mary. They were an odd pair. Truman played the Violin. Mary was a Ditz. Forgive my movie metaphors, but picture Katherine Hepburn playing a ditz in Bringing Up Baby. That was Mary. She didn’t have a clue, but I liked her. A lot of men liked her. She was friendly in that way. I think that’s why Truman always had such a sour look on his face. He had two negative choices. Either pay closer attention to Mary and endure her ditz-itude. Or let her be free to share her favors with the gang.
One day Truman changed the flat tire on Mary’s truck. When he was done Mary and I hopped in for a journey up to the Old Day Creek Road commune outside of Sedro-Woolley.
We got as far as Clear Lake when a loud clunk and clatter banged around the truck. The left front wheel had fallen off. The brake drum hit the pavement and threw up a shower of sparks.  The old truck came shuddering to a stop and the errant wheel rolled into a ditch.
The wheel fell off because Truman had not fully tightened the lug nuts when he changed the tire.  He forgot to tighten the lug nuts? I didn’t want to go there. It seemed I was getting between Truman and Mary and maybe I should not be in that place. I don’t know what happened to them, but I expect they did not stay together very long.
Meanwhile me and a dozen hippies were sleeping in the large chicken coop next to their rented house. The house where Charlie Berg and Beth Hailey came to live for so many years before they moved out to Pull and Be Damned Road on the Swinomish Reservation.
New people moved into that old house after Charlie and Beth left. They strung up aluminum foil all over the attic in an attempt to grow marijuana with grow lights. Their hare-brained wiring system and grow lights caught fire and the place burned down.
So the owners bull-dozed the wreckage and installed a double-wide trailer. Life goes on.
But I only brought up the story about Truman and Mary as a diversion. I was miserable, unhappy, depressed, and broken-hearted because Gail Murphy didn’t want me back. This is overlooking the fact that it was my idea to break up, a decision I regretted after only a few weeks, but a decision that she embraced as final and conclusive….. making it my fault, or at least not making it her fault.
Who cares about all this stuff? People are no smarter now than they were in 1971. I did not get any smarter, I just got older. And Illabot Creek still flows. It’s flowing right now, not older or younger, or smarter or dumber, but melting glacier water in the summer sun and flowing down to soft gravel beds where the salmon spawn.
The humpies spawn in odd-numbered years. Thousands of humpies spawned on Illabot Creek in 1971. This year of 2017 is odd-numbered so they should still be there, to love and die and feed the eagles. It’s an awesome natural drama, to sit by the stream and watch the now dark and tattered fish go for their last dance, waving fins over gravel beds, spreading eggs and milt. Tree blessings. Salmon blessings. It goes on forever.

She wasn’t pretty, but she had a voice like silver bells.

Quisiera llorar, quisiera morir de sentimiento
--- words from a Mexican folk song. “I am like a leaf on the wind, I want to cry, I want to die, because of my feelings.”

It was sad for me but good things happened for other people at Illabot Creek. In 1971 Katy came to the creek wearing nothing but a guitar, striding into view like a goddess. She liked Steve Philbrick and they camped together. They camped seven years at the creek. Saved money, bought land, built a house, had four kids, raised them all and now in sweet elder years they have grandchildren running around all over. They had it good, God bless ‘em.

If you got this far, I thank you for reading this. Please send me a comment, critical or otherwise. I would love to hear from you.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is  Fred Owens
My writing blog is Frog Hospital

Monday, July 24, 2017

Illabot Creek

 -- By Fred Owens
Illabot Creek
I had cataract surgery three days ago. Getting used to new eyes is kind of weird. I don't wear glasses now. It's like losing my two oldest and best friends -- first thing I reach for every morning, the last thing I take off every night, my glasses. They framed my world. Now they are put in a drawer -- useless. It feels ungrateful to just lay them aside. Maybe I can mount them on a plaque and hang them on the wall someplace in the bedroom. It's what used to be.
Changes. Seeing the world with new eyes. It seems a little fuzzy around the edges and awfully bright in  the middle.
Being in the Present. I wrote this story about Illabot Creek and incidents that took place in 1971 when I went there to camp, and in 1978 when I returned to that same place.
More than forty years ago -- Why dwell on the past? Then I realized -- the story isn't about me or Young Dave or any of the others. We're just dust in the wind. The real story is the creek.
Illabot Creek is alive this moment, and has been and will be, flowing from a glacier mountain into the upper reaches of the Skagit River. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. And the water! The water is so fresh and pure, so cold and clear, you can just scoop your hand in it and drink like a deer, and the creek never stops flowing. Right now, this very moment, water is tumbling down the mountain over boulders and coming to the gravel flats where the salmon spawn.
That's where we camped. You have herd me tell stories about Fishtown, where the Skagit River flows in to the Salish Sea. But up river, up that same river, a drop of water melts from a glacier in summer heat and begins to flow downhill and down stream, all the way to the ocean, and it goes on forever.
This story is about Illabot Creek.

I was in Marblemount, Washington, in 70 and 71. By 1972 I was living in Manhattan and selling balloons in Central Park. Then I worked at a mental hospital for teenage children outside of New York -- I did that for nine months, then I hitched down to Texas and partied in Austin for the spring of 1973, then I got in with a gang of hippies wandering around Mexico in an old school bus.
I came back to Marblemount in 1978 with a pregnant wife and two kids. I did not have any fun at that time in my life, but I am glad that I had the children.
By 1979, I realized I could never make a living up river so we moved to LaConner. .... I should write a book ---- oh, I have written a book.
That was the email I sent to Young Dave. He lives somewhere in Oregon and I get a nice greeting from him every New Years with news of his family.
We called him Young Dave because he was only 16 or so during the Commune Days…. when we all lived in a heap up in Marblemount, way up in the Cascades, pitching tents in the forest, cooking over a fire, not bothering to clean up. What I remember about cooperative living is nobody wanted to clean up. The garbage piled up in plastic bags, but there was no take it to the dump committee. And old cars that barely made it up from Seattle came to die on the very end of Clark Road where the commune settled.
The commune started with the best of intentions in late 1969 when a van load of hippies, following a star, came upon a fairly nice log cabin at the end of Clark Road in Marblemount. Someone --- I know who, but there is no reason to tell here – someone had money from a family fortune and the cabin was bought and occupied.
First thing they did was tear out the plumbing and electricity – they were gonna live off the grid, and that first winter it was fine. People stayed warm and well-fed and played guitars and danced with tambourines. Glenn and Sheri had their baby born naturally by candle light, and fifteen people shared the upstairs sleeping places.
By spring time word got out and people flooded in. Everybody from Los Angeles to Seattle who wanted to live in a commune got on a vehicle of some kind and rode up to Clark Road and by the  dawn of July 12, there were easily a hundred hippies camped there – July 12 being a memorable day, the day of Henry David Thoreau’s birthday.
Thoreau, if he had been alive to see one hundred hippies crammed into ten acres of second-growth cedar and alder forest, playing with nature, and pretending to live for free – if he had seen it, he would have fled all the way back to Walden Pond.
But as it was, that day was the high-water mark for the Marblemount Commune. Randy Oliver – more or less the leader – filled a large pipe with an ounce of marijuana and passed it around the one-hundred strong circle. It all went up in smoke.
It was just too crowded. The outhouse overflowed and nobody washed the dishes. Once the food stamps ran out, the lightweights hitched a ride back to Seattle and left their debris and sodden sleeping bags piled in heaps.
But a few of us were more serious and that included Young Dave and myself and Larry D’Arienzo, Steve Philbrick and one or two dozen steady hands who actually wanted to make a life of it, and not just a game.
The woods caught on fire that summer and we all got hired for fire crews. Kindy Creek was ablaze and Jordan Creek was a blaze, and both fires were close to the commune. Back then you didn’t get trained for fire crew. If you showed up at the fire camp, sober and wearing a decent pair of boots, then they gave you a shovel or a pick and sent you down the trail, earning good wages, fighting fire 12-14 hours a day. With those fires and several others, we made enough money to get through the winter.
My girlfriend and I did not pitch a tent at the commune like so many others did. We rented a house because we were high-class hippies, with hot running water and a roof that did not leak. We lived in the house that first winter, until January of 1971 when it caught fire and burned to the ground due to the idiotic unskilled attendance of – actually it was my fault – for letting damp kindling dry out too close to the wood stove and then leaving the house to visit some friends.
I remember hearing Mike Stafflin chant a Buddhist prayer as we all held our bowls of rice over at the commune – while he chanted I heard the fire sirens calling the volunteers. Someone’s house was on fire, and I wondered who could that be, and I found out soon enough it was my rented house. I never did meet the owner. I paid the $50 month rent to Ernie Green who owned the Log Cabin Restaurant.
After the house burned, not Ernie nor anyone else gave me a hard time or asked how it happened. It did happen and that was that.
So we pitched a tent somewhere, but we pitched it in a wrong place and a heavy rain sent  a gravel stream into our teepee living room. Then we moved down the valley to the Old Day Creek Road Commune which was more solidly structured in that they didn’t let just anybody live there,
We lasted two months at Old Day Creek Road, but my girlfriend didn’t like it there, so we got another teepee and pitched it by Diobsud Creek on property owned by a dentist from Bellingham. We should have asked his permission, but we thought he wouldn’t mind. He did mind and he asked us to leave.
Now we were stuck. We never thought to ask Gordy Campbell  for help. Gordy was a friendly Upper Skagit Indian and he was always drunk. He would take a quart of whiskey and just drain it until he keeled over and passed out. You might find him passed out asleep somewhere with a sweet smile on his face.
We liked him. Everybody did. But we didn’t know that his family owned twenty acres of land on Illabot Creek.
“You can live on our property if you want to, “ Gordy said, like a miracle. 
So my girl friend and I cut a path through the bush to the property on the creek, followed by at least fifty other hippies who wanted to camp there too  -- leaving all the junked cars that piled up on the end of Clark Road, leaving all the soggy sleeping bags and heaps of garbage and going to Illabot Creek which may have never been occupied by any person on earth – known all the time to the Upper Skagit Indians, but they had other places to live.
That’s a speculation anyway. We pitched our camp there and hoped more fires would start in the woods somewhere so that we could work and make money.
But there were only one or two small fires in the summer of 1971 and we made little money and I broke up with my girlfriend. I was so unhappy about that that I left Illabot Creek and rode all the way down to Taos, New Mexico. I didn’t stay there long. I kept going.
Seven years later I was married to a woman from Oklahoma. She was pregnant, we had a one-year-old boy and we had her son, my stepson, who was 8 years old -- the full catastrophe.
We had been living in a school bus parked in the back yard of my sister’s house in Venice Beach, California. I had a full-time job as a shipping clerk, and when I earned enough money to rent an apartment, we went looking and ran into “no pets and no children.” To this day, because my sister still lives on California Street in Venice Beach, I can walk by the modest bungalow that we might have rented except the landlord said too many children, sorry, no deal. I walk by that bungalow and think how my life would have been different if that landlord had taken my money and let us live there.
But I got mad at this and we headed back to Marblemount – which was an over-reaction to that problem. We went up to Marblemount in June of 1978 and decided to go back to live on Illabot Creek. At least until we could find a place to rent. The other hippies living there didn’t want any newcomers pitching tents. “I can understand that,” I said to them. “But I have never left a junk car at the end of the road. I have never left a pile of beer cans and garbage or soggy wet sleeping bags. I have never stolen from other camps. In short, I have never been the kind of trouble you don’t want. In fact, I don’t want those kind of people either. “
They weren’t quite ready to take my word for it, or my pledge of good conduct, and they said they would think about it and maybe I could live there and maybe not.
“It’s not your property,” I said, “and it’s not for you to say if we can live here. Seven years ago Gordy Campbell said I could come and live on Illabot Creek any time I chose to and until he comes by and says no, I’m planning to camp here.”
Which is what we did. 

To be continued

I’m not saying when I will continue this story. I don’t like to spend too much time thinking about the past. It was only hearing from Young Dave that got me started.
It would take me about 500 pages and a hundred thousand words to tell the whole story and bring in all the people in Marblemount in those days -- Glenn Mazen, Ralph Dexter, Plunker Barry, Chuck and Annie , Pete Cuthbert and so many more people.
Maybe if I just wrote about Glenn Mazen….. The last time I saw Glenn Mazen was maybe twenty years later, maybe in 1998. It was down in Seattle. I went to the Central Tavern on Pioneer Square and had a beer. I heard this guy pounding the pin ball machine, shaking it and cursing. Not cursing hard, but cursing methodically, like what you do if you’ve been playing the pinball machine all day, and the day before and the day before that.
It was Glenn Mazen! And I realized it was him and I decided to leave him be because he never looked up and did not know I was watching him. Even if he had looked up, he would scarcely have recognized me after twenty years….. I don’t know ….. I just had this feeling that he would not care to talk with me…. So I left the moment pass…. And that was the last time I saw him.
Glenn died five years later, in 2003.

thank you for reading this story,


Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is  Fred Owens
My writing blog is Frog Hospital

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Being Useful

 By Fred Owens
Being Useful. Online I read the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. That's the legacy media or what we call the mainstream press. I also read Politico, Slate and the Daily Beast. I used to read the Huffington Post, but it has gotten too fluffy. For conservative balance I read the National Review.
Here's an interesting observation: When the New York Times AND the National Review agree on the same opinion, we have something worth noticing. The Times thinks that Trump, Jr. is a fruitcake with a bad haircut -- not surprising. But the National Review seems to share that view.
The National Review hates to agree with the Times, but they have agreed with the Times on the matter of Trump, Jr.'s character -- he is one bad actor.
Forty Percent. Trump is supported by forty percent of the people, according to the latest polls, 36 percent actually, but let's round it up and say 40 percent. At that level Trump can govern and govern badly, but he can't be impeached. He holds the high ground and occupies the White House. Those forty percenters love him and no amount of Russian chicanery will change their minds. The mainstream press howls and screams against Trump. He doesn't care. The Democrats in Congress are old and weak. Obama is playing golf. ........ Nothing ever happens in late July or August anyway. Everyone is at the beach or in the hammock....
Trump is having his day, but the tide will change -- it always does.

Sharks and Wildfires in Santa Barbara
What we have going on in Santa Barbara is sharks and wildfires. The Whittier fire has been going for more than a week and more than 18,000 acres. We had two evacuees staying at our house this week. There home was right in the path of the blaze, close enough to force the evacuation, but thankfully never got any closer and they went back to their home yesterday.

The Whittier fire is a good five miles from our house. We have seen towering clouds of smoke from the fire and some ash has fallen on the garden and on the cars in the driveway, and the air has gotten a bit smoky.
Out in the ocean, we keep hearing shark reports, some within ten feet of the shore. That doesn't seem to keep me or anybody else out of the water, but those big munchers are out there cruising for snacks. The great whites prefer sea mammals but people will do.
I think we need to call the guy from Jaws. We can have shark for dinner or they can have us.
The Quotidian -- Eye Surgery

“Take off your shirt and put on this gown with the back side open.”
“Okay, but I’m going to be cold.”
“I’ll be bringing you a heated blanket in just a minute.”
Sharon brought in the heated blanket after she got me settled in the bed.
“Which arm do you prefer for the IV?”
I had to think about that.
“Which arm did they use the last time they drew blood?”
“I don’t remember which arm, but they said I had good veins, so you pick the arm that works best for you.” I thought I was being gracious to the nurse, to make it easy for her to find the best vein. I had no preference. It’s an art to install the IV needle with the smallest poke and some people have devilish tough and a hard-to-find veins, but I am one of the easy ones. She  got me stuck and connected to the drip in no time.
Meanwhile she was wondering out loud what happened to the nice Hawaiian music on the radio overhead. She called out past the curtain to the hall and said, “I liked that Hawaiian music. Who turned it off?”
Then she told me about the time she was a single mom with four kids living out in the country and one of her kids got a fish hook in his nose, so she used a wire cutters to cut off the barb and then pushed the hook on through. That had to hurt. “But that’s what you do when you’re out in the country on your own,” she said.
I really didn’t want to hear that little story. She had light-blonde hair cut across evenly around the back of her neck and straight cut bangs in the front. Her complexion made her look experienced. I noticed her feet, in clean white sneakers and guessed her feet didn’t hurt, not yet. It was 8 a.m. figuring Sharon got there at 6 a.m. and her feet didn’t start to hurt until after lunch, if at all.
That’s why she was still working, and ten years older than any other nurse on the staff. Good bones and good posture will save the day if you’re on your feet all day at the day surgery center.
She got the heated blanket and put it over me. Then for good measure brought in another blanket on top of  that. I was going into zen mode, into the pre-anaesthetic meditation state of mind. They were going to hook me up with the happy juice for the procedure, but I figured I would start going there already.
The way you do that is close your eyes and leave your body. I can do that easily because I have such an active imagination and powerful memory. Retreating into my own head is like entering into one of  world’s great libraries – places I have been, people I have met, recordings of long discussions and arguments that I have never actually had, but imagine having. Like what Harry Truman and I were talking about one day when we were out for a walk together.
That was in Kansas City, Missouri, in the late summer of 1954. President Truman was two years retired from the White House at that point, and he continued his habit of an early morning walk in the neighborhood. One day I waited on the sidewalk in front of his house and asked to join him.
He came out striding briskly, well suited, clean-shaven, undaunted, “Mr. President can I join you?”
“Certainly,” he said without breaking stride. I had to jump to keep up with him. We discussed Dean Acheson, and the United Nations and the Soviet menace. Truman was an outspoken man in every respect, but he took his retirement seriously. It was no longer up to him to call the shots. Let Ike do it, he said in so many words.
I was remembering this conversation with Harry Truman as they wheeled me into the operating room. I was about to bring up the career of John Foster Dulles, but I was interrupted by the smiling face of Dr. Hussein, the anesthesiologist.  “I am Dr. Hussein, your anesthesiologist.” He was less than forty years old, slight build, of a South Asian complexion, strong teeth, heavy beard, friendly smile. “I want to be sure you are comfortable. I will put some medication in the IV and it will feel like one or two margaritas. You will be awake, but you won’t care.”
Fine with me. That’s the power of trust. They draped me around the right eye to prepare removing the cataract. They call it routine surgery. I see nothing routine about it. Just because everybody in the room has done this same procedure a thousand times  doesn’t make it routine to me.
This is the most important medical event in the year 2017. This is my life. The entire surgical center, the entire worldwide medical establishment, all depend on the successful completion of this “minor” operation on me, That’s how I see it.
The happy juice takes effect. Dr. Ketchup, the ophthalmologist, arrives. I don’t know how he spells his name. I don’t care how he spells it. He doesn’t care either. Dr. Ketchup doesn’t do the bedside manner. He is not the voice of re-assurance. He is the voice of how are the Dodgers doing today and the pros and cons of investing in real estate in the small town of Lompoc where he owns some investment property…. All the while doing stuff to my eyeball. I don’t care what he talks about because I can feel his hands working and his hands feel good. He’s having a good day, and that is to my benefit. Let the man work, I say. In five minutes he was done.
They pushed me into the recovery room. Waited a while. Gave me post-operative instructions and then called Laurie to come pick me up.
Meanwhile I took off the hospital gown and put my shirt back on. I was done.

Notes. His real name is Douglas Katzev, M.D., chairman of ophthalmology at Sansum Clinic in Santa Barbara…… The Santa Barbara Surgery Center is located on DeLaVina Street right next to Trader Joe’s. They ask you to sign a release to resuscitate, to transfuse blood, to transport you to the big hospital, to allow assistants to help the doctor, and to allow observation.
The basic procedure was covered by Medicare and my supplemental insurance from Blue Cross/Anthem. I chose a slight upgrade on lenses at a cost of $800. They gave me prescriptions for three kinds of eye drops that would cost $600. I balked at that expense.
It was Aurora, the surgery coordinator, who told me about the cost of eye drops. I said “I can’t pay that. My insurance doesn’t cover prescriptions. We’ll have to postpone the procedure.”
“Not to worry,” Aurora said. “I have a solution.”
She opened her desk drawer and took out a handful of samples. “Here’s what you need.”
So, Fred wins and big Pharma loses.

thank you,


Subscription Drive.
A $25 or $50 subscription to Frog Hospital comes with the promise that I will try my best. I have been writing this journal since1998. I have written some hundreds of issues of this journal, and some of it has been very good indeed and I would like to continue writing this, and I would like you to send me a check for $25 or $50 or punch the PayPal button.
You can find the PayPal button on the blog. Go to Frog Hospital.Or make out a check to Fred Owens and mail it to:
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Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is  Fred Owens
My writing blog is Frog Hospital

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

No Collusion Here

By Fred Owens
No Collusion Here
I didn't do nothing. I never colluded with no Russians. I don't even know any Russians. I did read a paperback edition of the Brothers Karamazov in 1996. I brought it with me on a cross-country bus journey. I took the Greyhound Bus from Boston to Seattle and back again. I took this journey because I wanted to see the land, and you can do that on a long bus ride. See the land and clear my head a little. Just watch the miles roll by. For reading I had the Karamazov family story -- 800 pages of sustained Russian intensity.
Why waste your time reading about Putin and Donald Trump, Jr.? Read Dostoyevsky and you will touch the Russian soul.
So maybe I was colluding. Maybe I was conspiring, aiding and abetting. I surrender all my emails here and now. Accuse me. I'm guilty.

Three rules for young men.
1. Get up before they tell you to get up.
2. Get to work before they tell you to get to work.
3. Leave before they tell you to leave.
Do that and it all gets better......... I had a particular young man in mind, but I thought a general statement might serve......
I remember the time we slept in the park..... Audobon Park in New Orleans..... just rolled out our sleeping bags on the grass and slept out. That was in 1967. Well, we should have gotten up at daylight, but being stupid we slept in and a cop rousted us about nine a.m..... It was not pleasant ...... Better to get up before they tell you to.
The Quotidian Continues

This week's rendition of the Quotidian is still inspired by Knausgaard, but it jumps around a little. That would be the difference between his prose style and mine. Knausgaard likes to start his story in the middle and then later on tell about the beginning and the end. He makes these transitions very smoothly. But I jump around. It's not a good way to write, but I can't help it. My mind jumps around from topic to topic and I write it down.... Knausgaard says to write badly, just write.
The Quotidian
Tuesday afternoon. I was resting in the living room in the recliner underneath the picture window. The fan was on high. Laurie was resting on the couch flipping through her iPad.
I was sleepy but I managed to get through a dozen pages of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s six-volume novel titled My Struggle. I am in the first part of Volume Three, subtitled Boyhood.  Karl plays in the forest as a child and he lives in fear of his Father who is very strict and mean. His family lives on a beautiful island off the coast of Norway and young Karl rambles and roams for many happy hours with his friend Geir, just as long as his Father doesn’t find out that he stole a box of matches and almost set the woods on fire.
I was reading that in the recliner. It’s not engrossing, not in a compelling way, more like enjoyable and involving. Naturally, going into the third volume, I have become invested in the characters, but I can put it down and do something else.
This morning I worked at the Italian garden. The owner is a professor of medieval history at the University of California in Santa Barbara. She makes an annual summer journey to Italy for research purposes – studies on the Italian Renaissance, hours spent in libraries poring over musty documents. She said she was writing about college life in Bologna in the 14th century. I said I bet it was all about parties and beer back then. Is it so different from now?  She said some things never change.
I call it the Italian garden because it is laid out formally with a clipped boxwood hedge that borders a small fountain. The hedge also rounds off a stately collection of tree roses, and one enjoys this garden while walking on a path of pea gravel.
It is my pleasure to maintain this garden. Pleasure – that’s a guarded term. I have spent days and days complaining about the boredom of my work, hating the trowel and the rake. If I never see a stinkin’ garden again! I have been doing this kind of work for years and I do not love plants that much. After a while it all gets to be just dirt -- dirt with roots and dead leaves and nasty little bugs.
I do not fear the insects and crawly things. They exist in large numbers everywhere on the earth. I once read a book about ants and took some interest in their complicated lives. It was a famous biologist who wrote the book about ants -- E.O. Wilson. And he was a happy man. So I figure if I studied the ant world I would be happy too.
And that reminded me of when I lived in Texas and worked as a reporter for the Wilson County News. It was a weekly paper of 10,000 circulation and I was one of three reporters on the staff. I covered the farm and ranch news and wrote all kind of stories about cattle auctions and the price of hay. But one time, for the general amusement of readers and staff, I hit upon a weekly contest called Name That Bug.
Each week I would find a photo of a bug, one that was common in Texas, but not too common. Then the readers were challenged to identify the bug, and the first person to call into the newspaper with the correct name would win a free Wilson County News coffee mug and get their picture taken for next week’s edition of the paper.
There was a quite an interest in this little contest. That surprised me, but  bugs – when they don’t bite or destroy your roses – are kind of fun.
That was eleven years ago when I managed the bug contest. Now I am in Santa Barbara, no longer working as a journalist, but scraping by on what I can earn as a gardener. I’ve been complaining a lot. I don’t make enough money in this occupation. Gardening is a lowly occupation.
This reminds me of the time I lived in Africa and met the Garden Boy. He was a lowly and humble man. All garden boys are humble. I am a garden boy and perhaps I should accept my status with a natural pride. That is what I do and what people pay me to do and there is no shame in it.
The Garden Boy in Africa was named Ernest. He wore blue overalls and black rubber boots. He tended the corn patch at a home on Airport Road in Bulawayo in Zimbabwe -- at the home where I stayed for a week or so -- stayed with Precious Mataka, the African woman I should not have married.
Whether we got married or not was no concern for Ernest the Garden Boy. He seemed hopeless. He was paid very little and he worked very slowly if at all. He was not a jovial man, nor somber, more neutral. He did not stand up straight and swing his hoe. He merely held it lightly and he seemed slightly puzzled as he squinted into the sun.
I have his photo in my photo collection. That was in 1997. Ernest is very likely still tending the corn patch on Airport Road today.
Gardening is a lowly occupation. Ernest confirmed that. Garden boy. That’s what they call him in Africa. In all Africa it is a crime to call a man a boy. Not since the colonial British were thrown out. You cannot call a man a boy, or say Hey, Boy, come here, chop chop. No you cannot say that or you will get arrested or attacked,
Except the fellow who lives in the shed in the back of your plot. You call him a Garden Boy. He has not yet been elevated.
I remember these things, bugs and garden boys.
I worked at the Italian garden this morning, to trim the boxwood hedge. That needs to be done twice a year, clipped nice and square. I do not object to the task, but it pains me to spend several hours bent over the hedge. I like a hedge that is waist high, but a low hedge that is knee high means you bend over to trim it and I am getting too old for that.
So I asked Gavin to help me. He lives in his van, which is parked on the street in front of our house. We can’t seem to get rid of him, but I have found him garden work to do, and he is willing to work, so he is not a bum  -- although close to being a bum and I keep an eye on him for that – I don’t care for too much idle hippie drifting.
But he was eager to come with me and see the Italian garden, and he took a great interest in being chosen to shape and trim the boxwood hedge. Gavin is 28 and the world is still young.  So I brought him with me. The professor came out from her study and she was glad to see me and glad to meet Gavin. We had a team! We would whip that hedge in several hours. Gavin would run the electric hedger over the rows and I would rake up the trimmings.
We did it in less than three hours. The professor wrote Gavin a check for $50. She will pay me later. I enjoyed it. At least I didn’t hate it. Gavin can be the new Garden Boy. I will dig out the photo of Ernest, the African man, and share it with Gavin. This is our fraternity.

thanks for reading this,

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is  Fred Owens
My writing blog is Frog Hospital

Friday, July 07, 2017

The Quotidian got busted

 By Fred Owens
There was a dog in the bookstore yesterday

There was a dog in the bookstore yesterday. I was shocked beyond belief. A standard poodle on a leash in the history department. I avoided that aisle. I told the clerk about this and he said "We love dogs." And I said, "well, do you love picnics?" He said yes. "So you wouldn't mind if I spread out a blanket on the floor in the fiction aisle and ate my tuna fish sandwich with watermelon." He said they wouldn't allow a picnic. I said, well can I wash my hair in the your bathroom sink? He said no...... there's nothing wrong with washing my hair, right? but for some reason you just can't do it in a bookstore. ........ Same with goats, pizza delivery and car repair -- all good things but not appropriate for a bookstore...... Right -- he agreed with me ..... So can you tell that woman to remove her dog?
There was a dog in the bookstore...... Any good editor would call that a poor opening sentence with a very weak verb........ so shoot me.
The Language Resource Center
This February I got the idea to collect language dictionaries and start a Language Resource Center. There are at least 5,000 languages spoken in the world and I would collect all 5,000 dictionaries, plus grammars and phrase books and related texts. I would build shelves in Mabel's garage. That was the beauty of it -- because Mabel offered me her empty garage at no rent, It's clean and dry and free of mold -- a perfect place for 5,000 books, and right across the street.
What kind of work would I do at the Language Recourse Center? Well, I had not figured that out, and most of the work would take place online -- but I still wanted the books -- all lined up on shelves from Albanian to Zulu.
Who would pay for the books? I didn't have an answer to that. The only thing I had was a place to put them -- Mabel's garage.
Do you know how rare it is to find an empty, clean, rent-free garage in Santa Barbara?  I dreamed about having a table and two chairs and holding language tutoring sessions.
Well, it never happened. The Language Resource Center died. I just don't have the drive to go against the common judgment. I had no plan and no money, so that was that.
The Quotidian is Busted
I gave up on the novel. It was titled the Quotidian and I posted the first two sections on recent issues of Frog Hospital.

 I got a good head start with 8,000 words, but the world is in oversupply with novels.. I just couldn't sell it. I showed a few pages to a few friends and they tried to humor me. Sure, Fred, write another book, why not? What's it about, Fred?
I don't know what it's about, but I'll find out if I write it.

It will be like My Struggle, the Norwegian novel by Karl Ove Knausgaard. That was my inspiration. I couldn't say what his book is about, I just like reading it. So my novel would be like that -- reader friendly.

The truth is you don't need money or a plan to write a novel, you just need to bang it out on the laptop. Put in a few hundred hours at off intervals and bingo! you got a book.
But it's a lonely journey, with a lot of headwind, going against the common herd.
More Ideas
The great thing about my fabulous imagination it that I get lots of ideas. I get more ideas before breakfast than most people have in a week.  Most ideas go nowhere, so you toss them out, and you don't let that bother you. You don't sigh and lament and think your little scheme went to never-never land. Let it go. A new plan will take its place, and sooner or later you find one that has traction -- an idea with traction and power. Zoom! Off you go!
On the Beach
(Stealing the title from Nevil Shute's wonderful book)
Laurie and I took a walk on the beach last week. The world did not come to an end, like it does in Nevil Shute's, but we had a good time.
One of those damn flies is buzzing around my head. They fly near your ears and make a horrible sound. I hate them.
It was foggy this morning. We went for an early walk on the Douglas Preserve. This is an ocean front park on the Mesa in Santa Barbara. The actor Kirk Douglas and his family donated the money to buy the preserve and keep it natural so they get their name on it. Good people. We parked at Hendry’s Beach. We took the winding path through the forest and up  to the Mesa – a bit of heavy breathing on that climb. At the top we walked across grassland on dusty paths.
Everybody is out walking their dog in the morning. “The morning dog walkers are different than the evening dog walkers. I think I like them better,” I told Laurie.
She said, “Maybe you just feel more friendly in the morning.”
I  have stopped wearing my broad-brim straw hat on these walks. For some reason it makes dogs get mad at me. How is that fair? I said to her, “I have the right to wear the hat I choose. I can send a note to every dog owner in Santa Barbara and tell them to tell their dogs to act friendly to me and my hat. I can win this argument. It wouldn’t be my fault if a dog started barking in my face because of my hat… But I give up. I’m going to wear my baseball hat and the dogs will like me better.”
Then I felt grateful and squeezed her hand, thinking my biggest problem is I’m wearing the wrong hat. I should be so lucky.
We came to the edge of the cliff overlooking the ocean, where the giant Monterey Cypress fell over.
“It got old and it died,” I said. “Maybe it was the drought that killed it.”
We climbed up on the dead branches of the old tree and sat down on a bare limb to look out over the broad expanse of ocean. It was not windy – we usually go in the afternoon and that’s when the wind blows, but mornings are calm.
“…. It’s too foggy. You can’t see San Miguel Island,” I said.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Look over there at those humps.” She pointed to the horizon to the right of Santa Rosa Island.
“You can’t see any humps. You just know it is there, so you just think you can see it.”
“No, I can see the low humps. It’s San Miguel.”
My own theory is that they tow the islands much further out in the ocean on foggy days, so you can’t see them because they aren’t there. And they tow them back in later, back to where you usually see them.
Laurie has never seen a floating island, but I have seen them. In northern Wisconsin, on the Chippewa Flowage where we used to go on vacation when we were kids. You get floating logs and debris and they last so long in the lake water that seeds sprout and trees begin to grow. 
The trees begin to grow on the floating debris, ten and fifteen feet tall,  then the wind catches them and you have this rare sight of drifting half-acre islands covered with small trees, drifting across the lake.
I have told Laurie about this. I am with her six years now. I am running out of new stories to tell her. We’re getting into repeats. I don’t know what to do about that. She’s heard all my jokes.  But old age is on our side. Pretty soon we’ll be forgetting the stories as fast as we tell them. Endless reruns.
We sat on the branches of the huge old dead Monterey Cypress and looked at the waves and then began walking again along the path which borders the cliff, underneath towering eucalyptus and pine trees. We came to the edge of the Douglas Preserve and then walked through the neighborhood for several blocks, past the little garden where we could easily steal strawberries, past the over grown yard that hasn’t been pruned or tended in thirty years, past the expensive landscape-designed front garden with carefully chosen granite stones, past the old yellow boat parked in the driveway on a trailer.
You don’t see yellow boats too often. Boats tends to be blue or green.
“But the Taxi Dancer is yellow,” Laurie said. The Taxi Dancer is the queen of the sailing fleet in Santa Barbara Harbor. The fastest and biggest sail boat. It’s yellow. So there you have it.
We came to the Mesa Lane stairs going back down to the beach, a thousand steps, twenty flights, down and down, holding the railing, watching one foot after another, down to the sand and the lowering tide.
The waves come easy on Mesa Lane Beach, washing up on the sand.  Surging around the rocks, the molten rocks thrown from the cliff top by a giant baby having a tantrum, scattered here and there. We saw two surfers and one seal bobbing its seal head just past the surf line.
The tide was low so the beach was wide. On a high tide there is no beach here to speak of  -- just a narrow sandy strip between the cliff and the ocean. It kind of makes me nervous to sit right under the cliff.
“You never know when the giant baby is going to throw another rock,” I said. “It could happen anytime in the next hundred years, or in a second from now.”
“Do you think we would hear a warning sound – a creaking and cracking?”
Maybe. Better to keep walking and look out over the ocean. You see birds, seagulls going here and there, wheeling and diving. You see black cormorants racing – they fly fast. And the World War II bombers come rumbling in. I mean the pelicans. Stately, serene, lords of the ocean.
“I think they’re just showing off the way they skim so low over the waves,” I said. “Have you ever seen one catch a wing and crash into a wave?”
“I never have seen that, but I’m still looking.”
Pelicans are the biggest, cormorants are the fastest, and seagulls are the smartest. But not the nicest. Seagulls are not kind to each other. You throw out a piece of bread on the sand and they come dashing and fighting and stealing from each other.
Why don’t the seagulls share the food? Why don’t they take turns? Or give to the oldest and weakest. No, it’s just the seagull bullies who chase everybody else away and hog all the food.
“I’m going to teach the seagulls to share. It’s the kind of a thing people do in California,” I said.
“Maybe," she said.
“We could ask the Governor to charter a commission, Teaching Seagulls to Share.”
It’s a good half-mile from the Mesa Lane steps back to Hendry’s beach where the creek flows in and makes a small lagoon. They have a popular seafood restaurant right there, a place to dip your ceviche and watch the waves crash. We have never eaten there – too expensive.
They turned the water off on the outdoor public showers  -- a water conservation measure because of the drought.
“I don’t like that. They shouldn’t turn the water off. It’s bad for morale. Moms take their little kids to the beach and the toddlers play for hours. There is nobody happier than a small kid at a beach in California. But when you take them home you need to wash off the sand. You need the shower. That’s what I think.”
“But it saves water,” Laurie said.
“Better to stop watering the lawn instead. But leave the showers running. In California we need to feel good. Suffering is bad. Getting sand in your car is bad.”
We sat for a while on the benches in front of the restaurant, to watch the surfers and the birds.
“I want to come down here late at night sometime. I think they turn the waves off at night when no one is looking, and then turn them on again in the morning. Why waste a wave if no one is looking and no one is surfing,” I said to Laurie.
“Maybe,” she replied.

thank you for reading this,

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is  Fred Owens
My writing blog is Frog Hospital