Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Martin the Arsonist and Paul the Schizophrenic
By Fred Owens

I wish I had more imagination. I wish it was easier to make things up. Like these two guys -- Martin and Paul. I actually had to live with them in order to write this story.
I should have spent my time with a classier kind of people -- people with connections, people who are making a bit of a splash, good-looking, well-read and widely-traveled people ---- I should have spent time with the up and comers instead of these two losers -- Martin and Paul.....

Martin the Arsonist and Paul the Schizophrenic

Martin was a Latino man of age 30, quiet, with good manners. He had served a prison sentence for arson, but I never got the details -- didn't want the details..... Mainly I noticed small things about him -- that he had no nervous twitches and he enjoyed petting the cat. You can co-inhabit with such a fellow.

At this point in 1989 I was separated from my wife. She and the two children were living a mile away and I had dinner with them most nights. But I was living at the old farmhouse on Martin Road. This was in Mount Vernon. The old farmhouse was on a forty-acre plot that once had a dairy, but in 1989 it was only blackberries and alder -- plenty of firewood from the alder, but not much else.

It was given to Friendship House, the homeless shelter, to be occupied. And Friendship House gave it to me. There was no rent to pay -- of course there was no running water and no electricity either, and not much basis to charge any rent.

The owner didn't care about the money anyway. He just wanted someone to occupy the house and keep the ruffians and vandals away.

So that was me and my wife and two kids. After a year's time I had the money for a waterline from the road. That cost $1,000 just to get the water on the farm side of the road. But how to get the water to the house involved digging a ditch 250 long. I did that, with the help of Singin' Dan from Fishtown.

Later we got electricity. And later the marriage broke up and my wife and two kids took a good apartment nearby.

But the old farmhouse was good enough for me, and they asked me at Friendship House if I could take Martin and Paul off their hands. I knew Martin would be all right. But Paul was a challenge.

Paul was 22, big, fat, and jovial. His mental development was about age 10. He was schizophrenic and medicated.

The idea -- and I really think it was me who was stupid enough to have this idea -- was to bring Paul out to the old farm and get him to work. A little fresh air and exercise would do him some good. If he helped me chop and load the firewood, he might feel a little confidence that he could do some honest work like any other man. He might lose a little weight. He might need a little less medication.

Worthy goals. But it wasn't easy working or living with Paul. It was like this -- he would look up at me with a big smile and say, "Fred, you're my best friend." Fine. Except he would say that again five minutes later. "Fred, you're my best friend." And 25 to 50 times a day, those same words. It got tiresome.

The problem is that I had Paul to look after seven days a week and that wasn't the deal. Friendship House figured if they left Paul with me that would solve their problem of looking after him. But they never gave me the backup they promised.

So sadly, I sent Paul back to Friendship House after about two months.

Martin was never a problem, but he had to leave when I had my two kids move back in with me and my ex-wife went down to Seattle for a while.

I was more involved with homeless people back then. Today if I see some fellow with a cardboard sign by the road I avoid eye contact.

The Cat

She sat on Martin's lap by the wood stove. We called her Twiggy because she had two tails. It must have been the result of an injury that had healed nicely but left about one inch of tail with a muscle and a separate inch of tail with a bone.. a cat with two tails is good luck if you ask me.

The Girl Friend

My girl friend at the time thought my home with Martin and Paul was disreputable. I don't know why I listened to her. The housekeeping wasn't too bad for three bachelors living in a drafty old farmhouse. It was our home! She wanted me to get rid of them. I should have gotten rid of her....... I did have to send Paul back to Friendship House and Martin just kind of moved on.

The End.

So ends the year at Frog Hospital. We are wishing all of you a peaceful and prosperous year in 2018.
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Subscription money helps to maintain Frog Hospital as an independent voice. I lean left and Democratic, but I don't work for those people. I do not support any cause. I do not promote an ideology. I only write about what I see going on.
 Send a check for $25 or $50 to Fred Owens, 1105 Veronica Springs RD, Santa Barbara CA 93105 or go to Frog Hospital blog and hit the PayPal button for $25 or $50.
But There is More. If you want to hear more about Martin and Paul and me at the old farm, then you can read this expanded version of the same story.
Rebecca -- Sunday, November 27, 1989

A day at the Farm and an evening at Barkley’s Pub, rather ordinary -- as the world turns, and things happening in Eastern Europe are changing our lives in more ways than anything that has happened here lately.
I worked all morning on the farm, cutting and splitting wood, pulling weeds, raking up debris and re-planting daffodil bulbs. Martin had the hardest work, he was crawling underneath the house to put insulation on the plumbing and did not come up for hours. Paul slept until 11:30, by permission. When he got up he stacked all the new wood on the front porch.
I was going to cut the wood with the handsaw when I got up that morning because we do not yet have a chainsaw. But caution and past experience was guiding me and telling me to approach this arduous task very slowly.
As I approached the pile of 6-foot limbs which we had snaked out of the woods, a man drove into the yard with a pickup truck. His name was Kelly; he lives in Avon. He asked me about the old boat in the barn, and he said that a friend of his wanted to buy it, to plant in his front yard and fill with flowers.
The boat had been in the front yard for two years. It was 17-feet long, built of wood, with a stout keel and mounting for an inboard engine. It had been recovered with fiberglass and was painted red. The boat had been stored in a shed at Fishtown for many years. Bo Miller was the nominal owner. During the Fishtown Woods Massacre, we decided to have a fundraising auction, so Bo and Jack Hubbard somehow manhandled the old boat on to a truck and brought it over to the farm.
The auction fizzled out due to a lack of planning and interest and there the boat sat. Six months later I moved off the farm into an office-cum-lodging facility in LaConner -- but I was rudely evicted from that spot when the landlord sold the building to a new owner who simple didn’t want me around. After a three-month odyssey of temporary quarters, I moved back to the farm, which is at 3325 Martin Road in Mount Vernon, under the auspices of Friendship House. The boat was still there.
And Kelly wanted to buy, but I didn’t really want to sell it -- I like old boats. I was planning to drag it out of the barn someday and turn it upside down on blocks and just let it set there for decades, so I could admire its beautiful lines.
So I said “$50”, hoping to discourage him. Then he said he really didn’t want it, that it was for a friend, it wasn’t really worth much...
Obviously he preferred to pay nothing, and I began to think that he was lying, that he wanted the boat for himself, because he told me he was a fisherman and had three other boats. His little lie did not disturb me because I felt that if he really wanted the boat, he might give it a good home.
I was thinking this as I stood by the woodpile with my handsaw trying to avoid brute labor. Then I got a flash, I asked “Do you have a chainsaw?” Kelly said yes, he was cutting cords of wood for spare money at the time. “How about if you cut up this wood, and help us cut up some more wood in the forest by the road, and we’ll give you the boat?”
And I thought, thanks, Dad, for sending me to college -- so I can use my brain because my back is not that brawny.
The wood was cut, the boat was hauled out of the barn and on to Kelly’s truck, and we have not seen him since.
Later in the day, about 3 o’clock, Paul and I took a walk around the farm. The farm is 40 acres -- about 15 acres of overgrown unfenced pasture, and 25 acres of woods. It lies on top of a hill just to the north of Skagit Valley College. On the south and east sides of the farm, it is abutted by new housing developments, but the north side joins other farmland, and the eastside is just up the hill from Barney Lake, where the trumpeter swans line in the winter. Rainwater from the farm drains into the Nookachamps River. And although our farm is located within the city limits of Mount Vernon, we consider ourselves to be Nookachampions just like the folks in Big Lake and Clear Lake.
The farm forest is primarily alder interspersed with towering cottonwood trees, vine maple, wild cherry, and here and there a heavenly-scented grove of young cedar trees. A small herd of deer inhabit the woods and have left well-marked trails.
Paul and I call our walks “surveying the property.” We found a lovely fern garden, and I discovered red berries growing on a small tree, of a kind which I have never seen before. We picked small branches of the red berries plus some ferns to put in the cookie jar (we use it as a vase) on the dining room table. Martin got the cookie jar at the Salvation Army thrift store where he works. It looks like a pig sitting up on his hind legs and wearing overalls and a straw hat -- we call him Farmer Pig.
The Friendship House Farm is probably the last low-rent old farmhouse in the valley. The property is owned by a logging company which owns extensive acreage throughout the area. The owners plan to log off the woods and then sell the property to a developer who will build more housing. In the meantime it has been offered for our use free of charge. The house needs a lot of work, especially the plumbing and insulation. So we make improvements in lieu of rent. The farm is ideally suited for additional housing because of its flat hill top location. We don’t object to the plan, but only hope that some of the trees are spared, especially the cedar groves. We also hope that the farmhouse and barn plus a few acres around it could be sold to Friendship House at a reasonable price -- we have plans to do some serious gardening and chicken-raising.
Oh, we also have a cat with two tails. Her name is Twig, she’s a calico, about five months old. It’s really a split tail, about four inches long; one part has the bone and it doesn’t move, the other part has the muscle and it wiggles around.
At four o’clock I took a bath; I was very tired. I put on nice clothes and went to visit Susan and the kids. The kids were playing upstairs. Susan had laryngitis and was talking in a whisper. She had made a beautiful quilted wall-hanging with warm, rich winter colors. She invited me to dinner and heated up some turkey, gravy and dressing.

At Barkley’s Pub
I left Susan’s house, got into the car and didn’t want to go back to the farm. I tried to think of any place to go besides Barkley’s Pub in LaConner. I had not been to Barkley’s for a week because I had drunk too many brandies on the Saturday night previous and felt stupid about that.
But I went there and had only one. I sat with Rebecca and artist Richard Gilkey of Fir Island. I sat with them in the booth and listened mostly because I was too tired to talk. Steve was sitting on a barstool with his back to us. He turned and asked Rebecca if Amy had come back for Thanksgiving. Amy is Rebecca’s daughter. She is a freshman at Smith College in Massachusetts.
“No, she’s not,” Rebecca answered, and she said that Amy had been a bit homesick, but she has a boyfriend now. The boyfriend drove Amy down to Baltimore to stay with friends for the holiday and then continued on to South Carolina.
Steve remarked that it had been snowing back East. Steve is from Massachusetts and travels frequently on business, going from one big city to the next, although he rarely has time or energy to look around these distant places -- just the airport and the hotel. He lives with Sue Dental in Bonnie McDade’s old house on Snee Oosh Road.
Steve has a round head and face. A rim of black hair surrounds his evenly bald head and is balanced by a neatly trimmed beard of the same proportions. He is both cheerful and quiet.
He mentioned that he had a frequent flier discount coupon good for a roundtrip to the east coast for only $175 and offered it to Rebecca, who said she was interested.
Then Rebecca began talking about what she calls “mama drama” and she as able to embarrass her 18-year-old daughter at a distance of 3,000 miles. Amy had been calling home more frequently in the past week because she was homesick. So Rebecca wrote a note to the senior student in Amy’s dormitory, telling her that it would soon be Amy’s birthday and asking her to give Amy a birthday hug from Rebecca. Apparently the senior student made a big production of this at dinnertime in front of all the other students.
Rebecca and Amy are a two-person family. They moved here to LaConner from Mukilteo about seven years ago. Rebecca works as a waitress at the Lighthouse Inn and has rented several housse and apartments in LaConner since then. She does not like waitress work although she has no complaints about her employers at the Lighthouse, who provide Scandinavian security and stability to their employees, who, in return, do not leave to work elsewhere. Both mother and daughter are gifted with a fine intelligence and a yearning to do and be more than what they are.
Richard Gilkey, the artist, sat across the booth from Becky and me. He is over sixty. He has short, grey hair, rugged wrinkles and dark, sparkling eyes. He was wearing a logger’s hickory shirt and drinking Cutty Sark and water. He had a car accident about five year’s ago which messed up his shoulder. It has pained him ever since. Two months ago he had an operation which repaired the rotator cuff and “cleaned up the debris”, as he put it. The operation had been successful and Richard praised the doctors. But he talked about how awful it was for him to be running down to Seattle for treatment. Truck drivers splashed mud on his car as they passed him.
Rebecca agreed that truck drivers drove much too fast, were strung out on amphetamines -- how they tail-gated at 65 mph, etc. This was said without any animosity, but more to continue the conversation which seemed to want another topic altogether. I supplied one. I mentioned that Lloyd Trafton commuted down that same freeway everyday to his job in downtown Seattle.
That reminded Richard that he and Lloyd had been high school classmates years ago at Ballard High School. Lloyd is in middle management at IBM and has a 25-year pin. “I don’t know how he does it,” Richard said. Lloyd frequents Barkley’s and provides an interface between the corporate world and the rest of us.
Rebecca sat next to me in the booth with her knees up, relaxed as if she had her shoes off. She told me two times, first when I entered, and second when I left, how much she liked my red shirt. I replied, “Yes, I took a bath”, and she laughed.
What I meant was that I looked good because I felt good, and I felt good because I had done some good outdoor work and got cleaned and got dressed afterwards. But I was tired and I could only manage that short phrase. I would also have said that I bought the shirt one day when I was feeling low. I had driven over to Clear Lake to visit Helen Farias. She was wearing a red dress which I found very cheerful. She and talked about how different colors create different moods. I left Helen’s house and drove directly to J.C. Penney’s where I bought the reddest flannel shirt I could find for $30. It does tend to cheer people up.
No one else was in the bar except Ben, the cook, who fills in as bartender on Sunday night. Ben was wearing his special paisley vest which everyone admires. He has a long and rather interesting story about how he acquired it in exchange for a painting. I have offered to rent the vest from him by the week, but he declines. He lives in Burlington and is devoted to his work at Barkley’s and to his employer, Michael Hood.
Michael came in just then, stood behind me and talked to Richard. Michael and I do not get along well. We ought to get along well, but we don’t.
He talked to Richard about the opening of the Kaleidos Gallery on December 1. Susan, the owner of the gallery, had mailed out over 2,000 invitations to God-knows-who. Michael was wondering how many people would actually show up, since he was catering the event. Richard said, “Put out a lot of peanuts”.
Richard talked about Janet Huston’s gallery. She is Richard’s dear friend and show his paintings. She has been collecting names for her mailing list for 15 years, he said. She is very sharp and professional about this. The artists approve of Janet because she shows many of them and brings in buyers with big bucks.
Michael has been a bit short lately, not his usual gracious, humorous self -- most likely because he lost the election for town council to Jerry Hedbom by only three votes. Ben had turned the radio to KPLU in order to hear the jazz and blues program which starts at 7 p.m. and which everyone likes. The problem is that it was only 6:45, so we were listening to “Car Talk” with Click and Clack from Massachusetts -- two guys bantering about mechanical problems and fielding calls from the listeners. Michael wanted the station changed. Ben registered a mildly strained expression on his face and then switched to classical music for the remaining 15 minutes.
During a lull in the conversation between Rebecca and Richard, I decided to talk about recent events in Czechoslovakia. I said that I enjoyed watching the huge crowds on television -- so full of life and hope. They both nodded with approval and looked like they were ready for me to continue on that subject and all the big changes in eastern Europe, but I was too tired to elaborate.
The conversation drifted on, but slowly my mind came into focus, and I said, “Can you imagine the conversations and the people talking about things they never could talk about before, and people talking to complete strangers, pouring their hearts out -- endless exciting talk?”
Again they nodded with genuine sympathy. And I wanted to say more, even loudly something like this, Look, I read the newspapers every day and often watch the TV news. Every little story they cover, they smother, they frame it up tight and interpret it; they make it clear that this little bit of news has been “brought to you by CBS” and Dan Rather is spoonfeeding this little slice of life to you from the network government.
But what is happening in Eastern Europe is so alive and incredible that the media cannot interpret or filter or “present” this torrent of life and awakening. The wall has been torn down, the East Germans are flooding across, real life is cascading through the airwaves and into our newspapers and living rooms -- real life, direct, live, unedited. It’s wonderful.
But I didn’t say it, I was happy just to sit and listen. I left after one brandy and drove back to the farm. I stopped at Safeway to buy cornflakes, milk and sugar, which Paul had earnestly requested. I also bought ten Medjool dates at $2.98 per pound and three golden delicious apples.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Thirteen days of smoke and ash.

By Fred Owens

Thirteen days of smoke and ash. Containment is up to 35 % but high winds are forecast for the weekend. The high winds are what we fear, blowing embers up to a half mile and starting new fires -- that might happen or might not.

They have a good evacuation system. They blast an emergency message to every cell phone in the vicinity of the area to be evacuated. Your cell phone starts squawking like a wounded duck and you get a text message from the Sheriff saying that if you live north of Highway 192 and east of Mission Canyon Road, then you better pack up and leave.

That's the voluntary warning. The mandatory warning might or might not come later. That's when they come and knock on your door and say we can't force you to leave, but we're not coming back to save you.

Fortunately, most of the people just leave ahead of time. Let the fire fighters be the heroes. Let the rest of us be grateful for their effort.

A special note is that we lost one fire fighter. Hopefully this will be the only fatality. His name was Cory Iverson, age 32, up from San Diego, left a wife and daughter age 2. They are expecting a baby in the spring. We saw the cops and firefighters all lined up on the highway waiting for the hearse to pass by. That was yesterday,

More facts, and some I have repeated. 252,000 acres, 13 days, 8,400 fire fighters, 80 bulldozers and 32 helicopters, uncounted fire engines and trucks.

They fight it. Never head on. When the fire is raging and the winds is strong, they drop back, but when the wind dies and the flames rise straight up, they move in.

Even the backfires are huge on this fire, Yesterday they deliberately burned over 3,000 acres to deny fuel to the onrushing conflagration.

I get fire news from our daily newspaper the News-Press, from Noozhawk on the Internet and from KEY-TV.

At home we are passing the time, staying indoors for the most part. Laurie is writing Christmas cards.


Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Ten days of smoke and ash in Santa Barbara

By Fred Owens

The fire is 230,000 acres and growing. Containment is 25 per cent. Winds are calm. Humidity is five percent. Schools are closed. Most Christmas events and parties have been cancelled. People are staying home and staying inside as much as possible.

The wind blows hot and dry from the east, from the high desert..

The sky is full of helicopters. Fire fighters in yellow shirts are coming into town to take breaks from the flames.

At night the creeping flames are visible from town. The fire crawls westward, across the foothills.

They say it will burn until Christmas or even longer, unless it rains.

What we really need, more than anything, is rain. There is no rain in the forecast, but anxious eyes look out to the west because the onshore breeze comes from the west and that wind blows in the rain clouds from the ocean.

Yesterday we saw surfers at Leadbetter Beach. The waves were decent. Four or five surfers were catching good rides. They were wearing face masks to keep the smoky air out of their lungs....... But the waves were good....Surfers don't quit.

One more thing and it's remarkable. Many hundreds of homes have been burned and many thousands of people have evacuated, but there has been only one fatality so far.

It's not over.

The Queen

One of the great and special aspects of Queen Elizabeth's reign of 65 years is that she is not Trump.

What we can learn from her is that one can preside over a nation without being a total jerk.

It's always been fun for Americans to root for the Queen. And why not? We would never have a monarch in our country. We kicked King George out a long time ago. But we can give three cheers just the same.

Actually I have never paid much attention to the Queen or her horses and Corgis, but two things compel my interest.

One is her longevity. She has been the Queen for my entire life, or for as long as I can remember. She is 91 and in good health.

The other thing that attracts my interest is the escapist nature of it. She is not Trump. I can't stand him and I need a distraction, so we are watching Season Two of the Crown on Netflix. Such a delicious break from reality.

Subscription Appeal.
Subscription money helps to maintain Frog Hospital as an independent voice. I lean left and Democratic, but I don't work for those people. I do not support any cause. I do not promote an ideology. I only write about what I see going on.
 Send a check for $25 or $50 to Fred Owens, 1105 Veronica Springs RD, Santa Barbara CA 93105 or go to Frog Hospital blog and hit the PayPal button for $25 or $50.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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

Sunday, December 03, 2017


By Fred Owens

"I've looked on a lot of women with lust. I've committed adultery in my heart many times." So said Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Everybody cringed. It was TMI back when people didn't call it TMI.

The word is almost archaic -- Lust! Lust! Such a solid Shakespearean word. Lust!

Jimmy Carter wasn't being challenged or questioned about this. He faced no accusation or allegation. He volunteered this -- Lust! - because he wanted people to know that he was more than just a peanut farmer from Georgia. He was more than just a Sunday School teacher in a Baptist church.

No, he told us all, even though we really didn't want to know -- that he had lust in his heart.

Jimmy Carter was one of the guys after all.

Lust was a great word. Today we say objectify, which is an ugly technical word. I would never objectify a woman. No sex appeal in that, no erotic tension.

But lust! How many times did Jimmy Carter want to do the Al Franken thing, or the Donald Trump thing? He had the same urge. A little grab here or there. Who's going to mind? The thought ran through his head, and not just once, but every day, and many times each day, for his whole life since he was 14 until his old age.

I'm always hearing that men ought to express their feelings -- they shouldn't keep them inside. Express your feelings, they say.

No way. The prisons are full of men who expressed their feelings. "I got mad so I shot him." "I stole the car because I wanted to have it." "I grabbed her because she looked sweet, and maybe I should have asked, but I didn't."

You say these guys didn't hear it right. They were not supposed to act out their feelings, they were supposed to Ver-Ba-Lize them.You know, talk.

But you don't understand. You think that feelings and words just go together naturally, and maybe they do -- for you.

But some of our feelings don't have words. Not in the English language, not in Spanish or French. You think talking is magic. It isn't magic, it's just talking.

Jimmy Carter managed to stay out of trouble. He was never accused or alleged or rumored to do anything untoward. There are no women "coming forward" to tell their story about what he did.

The women did not come forward to tell their story about what he did because there was no story and he didn't do it. So he denies nothing because there is nothing to deny, and he apologizes to no one because there is no reason to apologize.

But Jimmy Carter thought about it, he wanted to do it, he came really close to doing it a few times. That close. And he could have gotten away with it. That whisp of hair in the air near his face, when she came a little too close. It would have been so easy, so natural.

Tax reform or tax reform disaster. I haven't got a clue. There is hardly a man or woman in this country who is as poorly equipped as I am to discuss this subject.

However, I am reading the Iliad, in a new translation by Caroline Alexander. My son Eugene gave this book to me as a gift. His name is Greek. "Eu" means well or good, and "genos" means birth or identity. Put these two Greek roots together and you get "eu-genos" or Eugene.

I can understand Homeric Greek, but I cannot decipher the tax code.

The only reason I bring up these topics is because it gets me off the question of sexual harassment. This scandal will haunt our halls right through the Christmas holidays. Some people understand the tax code, some people understand Homeric Greek, but no one understands sexual harassment  -- there are no experts. Your guess is as good as mine.

The Ten Commandments of Love, as Revised.

1. No means no. Well, it's supposed to mean no, and when it does mean no, then it means no. But does it mean "no not now" or "no not ever" ?

2. Yes means yes. This is the gold star and the green light. But yes has an expiration date, it does not ever mean yes anytime, in fact it usually only means yes right now.

3. The victim is blameless and innocent. It is never her or his fault. No question of appearance or past behavior will be entertained, This is one of the new absolutes. Absolutes are somewhat jarring. Absolutes are not dependent on context. They are very judgmental in fact.

4. The victim is telling the truth and should be believed. This is not quite so absolute. The victim may not be totally accurate in recollection, but the testimony is still credible.

5. Gender is a social construct, and there is no fundamental difference between men and women, except when men are behaving badly.

6. Flirtation and sexual harassment are very like one another, but you're supposed to know the difference. Here are two examples that can serve to explain that difference. Think of Jimmy Carter, previously mentioned. He never flirted or harassed. Not once.

And then think of Bill Clinton. He flirted and harassed all the time. It was a sliding scale.

Bill Clinton, aka "happy hands", was charming and very popular, He was elected for two terms. Jimmy Carter was dull and sanctimonious. He only served for one term, to be replaced by Ronald Reagan who was a lot more fun.

Oh God, now I'm trapped. I'm a Democrat. I will die a Democrat, but I have to say that the Republicans win this one.

Let's review the results.

Jimmy Carter, never flirted, never harassed, one term.
Bill Clinton, always flirted and sometimes harassed, two terms.

And the winner -- I hate to say it -- is Ronald Reagan, who did flirt and had the handsome smile, but he never harassed. So Reagan sets the good example. Except ketchup is not a vegetable and you have to be past forty to get that joke.

That's only six commandments. Four more commandments will be issued by the Committee and in due time you will be notified.

Subscription Appeal. I need the money. I work part-time as a gardener for seven different customers, but I am getting too old for this kind of work. Most of the gardeners and landscapers I see in the neighborhood are half my age.

If I had more subscription money, I could get out of gardening and I could do a better job with this newsletter.

Subscription money helps to maintain Frog Hospital as an independent voice. I lean left and Democratic, but I don't work for those people. I do not support any cause. I do not promote an ideology. I only write about what I see going on.

Send a check for $25 or $50 to Fred Owens, 1105 Veronica Springs RD, Santa Barbara CA 93105 or go to Frog Hospital blog and hit the PayPal button for $25 or $50.

Thanks a lot,



Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Tears in Sutherland Springs

By Fred Owens
I received four deeply personal emails from friends in Wilson County. They each live only a few miles from the church in Sutherland Springs and they each know of people who were in that church last Sunday when the shooting started.
I've known Wilson County since I went down there to work at the newspaper ten years ago. I stayed for 18 months and made many friends. They still send me the newspaper every week, so I keep up.
Jack. No last name. He does not like his name and business used. I would have to ask his permission,  and I  expect he would decline. His message to me was private. He employs well over two dozen people in a manufacturing business some ten miles from the church where the killer shot the people. Jack knows the Holcomb family that lost so many members. He knows the road that goes by the church, and the trees and the sky and the weather. Jack has lived most of his life in south Texas. In his email he gave me news of various people who were in the church or related in some way.
Then Jack ended his message by writing: "Thank you for your prayers. We all in Wilson County have heavy hearts and this will stay with us all our lives."
--- "heavy hearts and this will stay with us all our lives."  That's what he said and I know the man. He is  friendly, courteous and not inclined to emotional display.
Elaine wrote to me, a woman my age, we discuss family news  on the email and debate politics. Her views are fairly conservative and mine are not. We were having just such an argument last Sunday morning when the shooting started. She had just written, after a disagreement, "but we're still friends, right?" and I replied yes, of course.
Elaine has spent her life in Wilson County. Actually she grew up in Karnes County, just a few miles away.  Elaine is the oldest of nine children, and from that role of being the oldest, she has developed a good habit of giving direction to people. She runs a business with a staff of 25 or so.
But she wrote in her email, after the tragedy,  that she can't sleep. She wrote, "Al and I do appreciate your comments. Things will never be the same here. I wake up in the morning (when I can sleep) and then realize all over again that this horrible thing really did happen to our friends and neighbors."
She can't sleep. That seems to be a small thing, but to me it's huge -- to be robbed of the peace that comes over Wilson County on a quiet evening in November.

Lois is the oldest of my friends in Wilson County. She writes a breezy column for the newspaper most weeks, and talks about old times on the farm where she grew up.

She wrote:

Yes, it was horrible, IS horrible. When you are in the midst of something like this, it changes you. It has changed me. This week, since Sunday, every day my mind goes over and over, how the people in the little church must have felt, the fear, the horror, etc. and the First Responders who had to go in there after, to retrieve the wounded and those that had expired. Even thinking about it now, brings tears to my eyes and a lump in my throat. Those families and friends will never be the same. They will have to live with this all their lives. I knew no one personally that was killed, but some of my friends did..they had kinfolk and friends.
The whole county has been traumatized -- Floresville, Stockdale, La Vernia, and Poth. 
I have been depressed all week, but I am better now. Life must go on. But I am still sad.The people of Wilson county are strong, loving and help each other.

Lois reads the Bible every day and she does not get depressed. It takes a calamity of this proportion to rob her of the joy of every single day. She said she was depressed all week and now she is better. I believe that. She has great strength. She keeps on praying and sharing the consolation that comes to her.

Nanette is the editor of the newspaper in Wilson County, has been the editor for ten years now.

She wrote:

Sunday’s act was the slaughter of the innocents, and it was evil.

The power of good will prevail. We are seeing it daily, the love and compassion that are being poured out on the survivors, our communities, and the world around us. Good will continue to prevail, as long as there is love. And there is abundant love here, despite the horrific events of last Sunday.

The slaughter of the innocents, 26 people, young and old, in a church deep in the heart of Texas, all heads bowed in prayer, and they died. I don't call them victims. I believe I will never use that word again.  They were all innocent.

Those are the emails I got from four friends who live very near to the church in Sutherland Springs where the shooting started last Sunday morning.

I'm going to tell those four friends something good, because I watched this all on TV. The whole nation was watching it, and what they saw and what they felt is that Wilson County is a very good place to live, and the people who live there are good folks from top to bottom.

The national media circus overwhelmed the area with a hundred satellite trucks and two hundred pushy journalists, but they're gone now, gone to the next disaster.

Wilson County is left to itself once again, and they will deal with this as they must.

Thanksgiving comes in less than two weeks. The people of Wilson County will cook turkeys and watch football games and eat too much just like the rest of us. They will bow their heads and give thanks for what they have, and they do have a lot to be thankful for.

With heavy hearts and many tears, we give thanks.

until next time,


Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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

Saturday, November 04, 2017

A New Song

By Fred Owens
I was humming a tune, a nice little ditty that I had composed. Then I realized I wrote the song twenty years ago. It's time  for a new song.
Seven Years since I left LaConner and moved to California

Seven years ago, I closed up Hedlin's Produce Stand for the winter. I packed up my 1993 Red Toyota and drove out of LaConner, leaving that blessed town once and for all, heading for sunny California.

Seven years in California. I miss my friends in LaConner. I miss the Skagit Valley and all those green fields, but I am much happier in Santa Barbara. I love the blue skies. I love wearing shorts and sandals. If I start to complain about anything, I just head for the beach with a towel and a book.

A Democrat, but not a proper Democrat

I have this unfortunate tendency to think freely and wander off the reservation. I keep writing what I honestly think, and then I delete it.  I cannot seem to get it right. The situation is too confusing. But let me try with a few common progressive goals that I support.

I support an increase in the minimum wage. I support the forgiveness of student loan debt. I support the estate tax  -- you can call it the death tax if you want, but I support it.

I support legal abortion. I support legal marijuana. I support same sex marriage. I oppose the death penalty.

Those are fairly standard positions for a Democrat like me, but when we get to cultural issues I am somewhat of a dinosaur.  I admire Christopher Columbus, Robert E. Lee and Mickey Mantle. Yes, I have read Howard Zinn. Zinn serves as a useful corrective to the main story, but he is not the new gospel of truth. Don't give me new myths and don't ask me to believe in new idols.

I have never respected the political judgment of  actors. I intensely admire the film work of Meryl Streep, George Clooney and Matt Damon, but off screen they have nothing  to say.

If I was a Democrat running for Congress in 2018 I would keep my distance from Hollywood. Don't go to their parties and don't accept their money. It's getting very toxic in La La Land.

Enough of that.

Garden News. I made $532 in October doing garden work for my seven customers. I charge $20 per hour and I work several hours each day. Last week I pruned the Cecil Brunner hedge rose for the Swiss people. Next week I will strip the ivy off the back fence at a rental property. It will take me two hours to strip the ivy. I know that because I already did it once earlier in the summer. Then the darn ivy grew back again. I suppose I can look at that as job security.

Every week I go to work at the pre-school garden. It is great fun working among the little tots. I trim the trumpet vine, I dead head the geraniums, and I look about for what needs doing. The last time I was there they had spilled straw all over the parking place in front of the school. They buy bales of straw to strew around the play area as a protection against injury. They unloaded the new bales of straw in the parking area, leaving heaps of little straw pieces all over the place -- that took a half an hour to sweep up.The pre-school also has a topiary giraffe. I trim that as needed.

Next comes the Italian garden, built in terraces on a hill side. It is three stories from the street to the top of the garden in the back yard. I worked there yesterday and I loaded six cans of green waste and carried those six cans down two flights of stairs to the street where they will get emptied on trash day. That was a bit strenuous.

That's my work. Do I love gardening? A little. You could say I love it a little. My customers are very nice people, but honestly, I just need the money. This is no easy way to make a living. I get hot, tired, dirty and dusty. I tell people that I do gardening work and they imagine it's a cool job. It's not.

The Writing Workshop

I read four very short stories at the writing workshop last Saturday. Bathsheba Beckons is my favorite story, about an old farm hand and his romance with the owner of the farm. I stole the plot from Far from the Madding Crowd,  but my reading put them all to sleep. I was reading it out loud and the other writers were struggling to stay awake and pay attention. Well, what could I say to that? I liked the story and they did not.

However, I read three other stories as my turn came up -- Berkowitz, about a doctor advising a depressed patient, The Woman with Scars of her Face, about a woman with scars on her face, and The Ten of Swords, where a man goes to a psychic to discover why his ex-wife stole all his money. These three stories were received with enthusiasm .  The other writers made sharp and interesting criticisms of this phrase and that phrase, criticisms that will make useful improvements in the three stories.

My Struggle

It may seem natural to you, but I had the hardest time writing the newsletter this week. I typed then I deleted. Then I typed some more, then I deleted. I felt so confused and conflicted -- but I realized it was not me, it was the culture I live in. Trump won the election a year ago this week, and our nation has become confused and conflicted. I cannot fix that. I can only write down what I see, and this is a painful exercise.

Just the same, be well, and have a good week,


Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Sending Manuscripts to the Editor

By Fred Owens

I mailed a check to the new editor. Then I will send her several manuscripts, short ones and long ones. She will read what I send her and then we will have a discussion as to their worth and ultimate destiny....... this could be fun..... One manuscript is a memoir of 30,000 words called the Falcon Journal. I wrote this in 2005 in two weeks at a campsite in Falcon State Park, located in Starr County, Texas, on the banks of the Rio Grande River.... My girlfriend Laurie read the Falcon Journal and said she liked it a lot........ Another manuscript is a novel of 41,000 words called Push the Bus which I wrote in 2007 but did not complete until last year. The novel takes place in the same campground where I wrote the Falcon Journal, so we have a connection -- a short novel and a short memoir, both set on the banks of the Rio Grande River in Texas.

Mabel, the old woman who lives across the street, likes to read every thing I send her. I print out a manuscript and walk across the street and give it to her and she reads it. She likes me, but she doesn't like me that much, so her opinion has a degree of detachment..... Well she liked Push the Bus quite a bit and she told me so two times. I had been concerned that she would be offended by the salty language. There is one character in the novel who is named Tucson and he cusses a blue streak from morning until night. You get used to it after a while.

Mabel grew up on a ranch on Montana and she said she had heard that kind of language before, so it was no account to her.

Talking with Stuart Welch, former owner of the Rexville Store near LaConner

Stuart Welch, my good friend, is an expert on everything. The words "I don't know" never pass his lips. If I ask him a question, he will have a ready answer and he is often right. We discussed the upcoming World Series. In a previous conversation, more than one month ago, Stuart stated that the World Series would be between the Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Dodgers. "Stuart, you were right about that!"

Stuart and I discussed the World Series because it is "normal." Normal is getting to be important because the world is getting very weird -- fires and hurricanes and the fury of potential wars. The weirdest thing of all is that man in the White House. You can say a lot of things about Donald Trump, but nobody thinks he's normal.

I miss normal. I need normal. I'm a Democrat but I wish Dwight Eisenhower was President. He wasn't the greatest President of all time, but he was normal and he had a good smile.

Some of the world is still normal, like the Santa Barbara Kiwanis Club. The Santa Barbara Kiwanis Club has been meeting every week for lunch since 1922. It used to be all men, now it's about half women. The club has evolved over the years, but it is quite normal. I belong to the club and all the members are more normal than me and I like that.

And my girlfriend Laurie is having new vinyl windows installed in her home. Six new windows and two sliding doors. Getting the whole house done. Using a local contractor. Installing new vinyl windows is a good thing and very normal.

So maybe the world isn't going crazy, although Ireland got struck by a hurricane and the woods are on fire in Santa Rosa in northern California....... Santa Barbara is safe so far, and has been spared the wildfires, but it is bad luck to even say that, so erase that thought.

You can drive only two miles from Laurie's house and see the charred black scars on the old palm trees where the Painted Cave wildfire leapt the freeway in the high winds and destroyed 427 buildings. That was in 1990, but you don't forget something like that.

And we are not lucky in Santa Barbara because the fire could strike anytime and everywhere you look  it is dry and combustible.

Unfortunately, wild fires in October are normal, although many people would dispute that and declare a connection with increased drought as a result of climate change. I'm not getting into that discussion.

To repeat:

The World Series is normal.

The Santa Barbara Kiwanis Club is normal.

Wildfires in  October in California are normal.

Donald Trump is not normal. Definitely not normal.

Blowing Hot and Cold

I'm blowing hot and cold on this manuscript. It's a memoir I wrote in 2005 called the Falcon Journal, because I wrote it at Falcon Dam on the Rio Grande River in South Texas. I had a winter camp site right on the banks of the river. I could see Mexico on the other side of the water. I could see the twinkling lights of the little village in Mexico.

I wrote about the birds, because South Texas is a big winter attraction for birdwatching folk. The tropical birds come this far north. The northern birds come this far south. There are more species of birds in South Texas than any other place in the country, and the birds congregate along the banks of the river.

I didn't even have binoculars or a guide book. I just liked camping there under the acacia tree. I left out crackers for the road runners.

I wrote the journal -- about my second grade teacher, Sister Virgina. I had a crush on her. I wrote about the Roman philosopher Marcus Aurelius. I wrote about my girl friend Gail Murphy and the trip we took to Mexico in 1970.

The journal is spare and strong and rooted in a place -- Falcon Dam -- that made me whole. That's why Laurie and Mabel liked  reading it.

I said I was blowing hot and cold on this manuscript while I am reviewing it. I always feel that way. Why would anybody want to read it? I ask myself that question.

I prefer the living room

I sit on the couch in the living room with my laptop. I keep it plugged in because my battery is iffy. I set the laptop down on the coffee table when I need to stand up and do something.The coffee table was custom made by Laurie's grandfather, made from maple or ash -- she's not sure about that -- but it is a very sturdy coffee table and not cluttered with magazines and old fishing reels and ceramic what-nots. A very uncluttered coffee table, I would say. A very tranquil, un-busy coffee table.

I have imagined writing in a proper writer's study, with a desk and a lamp and a bookshelf lined with treasured volumes. A window to look out of, or an aquarium. A radio. An easy chair. A door that closes and shuts out the world so that I might focus on my writing.

But the truth is that I don't really like to work in a quiet, austere environment. I prefer the living room, which has a front door, so I can leave. I prefer the living room because my three housemates are coming and going and I might say hello and have a brief chat. I prefer the living room because it has the TV and the radio. And it's near the kitchen where there is food and coffee.

I like the sound of traffic, so I keep the front door open. I can hear the crows cawing this time of year, they are busy feeding on the pecan tree in the back yard.

In short I prefer working in a sea of distractions. I had ADD before it was cool. I have the attention span of a gnat in heat.

thank you for reading this,