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:
Fred Owens, 1105 Veronica Springs RD, Santa Barbara, CA 93105

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

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Quotidian continued

Joe La Suza lives in Carpintaria which is twelve miles down the 101 from Santa Barbara. They have a great beach in Carpintaria, smooth sand, no rocks, no seaweed and no tar. Everybody goes there in the summer. I don’t mind crowds at the beach. Everybody is happy and relaxed, they don’t bother me. Teenagers used to blast their boom boxes at the beach, but no more, they have ear buds and smart phones, lying on their towels, as quiet as clams. They don’t bother me.
A good beach day, we bring big towels, two Tommy Bahama folding beach chairs, and one large Tommy Bahama umbrella with a screw-into-the-sand pole.  Almost everybody around here buys Tommy Bahama chairs and umbrellas. We are part of that crowd.
Except if you go up to Coal Oil Point where the college kids go – they just bring towels, they don’t being chairs or umbrellas, for whatever reason – to be different? It’s just something I have noticed.
We bring books, one for her and one for me. Sometimes I bring a rolled up magazine, like the Economist or the New Yorker. Laurie might bring a section of the newspaper, but that seems too hard to deal with at the beach with the wind and sand. Mainly I just bring a book, and, as you already know, this year it’s My Struggle by Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard.
Sunblock lotion, SPF 30. Chapstick, SPF 30.  Don’t forget to protect your lips. A thermos of ice water. If we think we’re going to stay a long time, we bring sandwiches. Here at the beach you don’t want anything too messy. I favor peanut butter and jelly sliced into halves, one sandwich for her and one for me.  Or to be more ambitious, for a longer beach flop, bring the small ice box with a shoulder strap to carry, put in Persian cucumbers and hummus, and sliced apples in a small plastic bag plus the sandwiches.
This is where experience and team work pays off. Bananas and citrus are messy and might even be sticky. Apples slices are neat and can be very tasty.
Finally, a flannel shirt for me and some long-sleeved cover for her – when the sun gets to be too much, or when the wind begins to blow late in the afternoon.
Lately, we have left the boogie boards and wetsuits in the garage. Those days might be over for us.  Now I skip the boogie board and skip the body surfing, and just paddle out a bit further and swim back and forth, up the beach, then down the beach. Good exercise beyond the crashing waves. Loving salt water, feeling it seep into my bones.
Except for Jaws – you know – sharks! I’m not going into the whole shark question here, but there are more of them out there these past few years. Too many if you ask me. Better that we eat them, not them to eat us. Resume shark fishing is my solution.
I love to merge into the salt water. Laurie, being a California native, is more fastidious. She goes in the water only late in the summer when it is good and properly warm. Her beach history is different than mine. My yearnings, coming from the Midwest, are not the same as hers, yet we have met and stayed together these past six years and spent many happy hours at the beach together.
Joe La Suza is a retired contractor. His voice used to be gruff, now it has a velvet tone, smoother, less bellowing, no more barking orders. He smiles underneath his broad white mustache and greets me with pleasure at the Mesa Harmony Garden where we both volunteer.
Joe drives the twelve miles from Carpintaria to the Mesa Harmony Garden. You wonder why he couldn’t find a volunteer garden job closer to home, but I guess he doesn’t mind.
Joe has dedicated himself to installing an efficient drip irrigation system in our 100-tree fruit orchard. He has the plastic pipes laid out in four sections, each with its own timer. Each fruit tree has two driplines to plunge the dripping water six inches below the ground.
You don’t drip out the water on the surface, less evaporation steal it. You bury the dripline outlet six inches down and you put all that water to work. Then you put in two driplines, one on each side of the tree for balance, because the tree sends out roots to where the water comes in.
And you have to maintain the system by walking the lines at least once a week. Hoses break, connections slip, water gushes out and gets wasted.
Once a volunteer left the hose running and we didn’t find out until two days later, and $50 worth of water got wasted.
Joes maintains it all. He has been faithfully coming to the garden every Saturday for months. On his hands and knees, pushing his blue foam kneeling pad from one tree to the next, under peach and plum, under apple, pear, fig and citrus, each tree gets two driplines, and if they get plugged up with dirt, Joe unplugs it.
But he’s doing all the work lately, and no one is helping him. He wants help or he wants to quit. I think he should stop working and take a rest. That’s what I’m doing. I noticed two things – that he was tired of doing all the work himself, and that I am darn sure I don’t want to do that work either, so we should take a rest.
Let nature take its course. Our fruit trees have deep roots and many inches of mulch for ground cover. They are strong. They will keep growing. But Joe and I need a rest. I told him – lemonade in the shade for you and for me, maybe a small bag of Kettle potato chips to pass back and forth, talk about grandchildren, watch the trees grow. Just watch. You find out things when you watch. Time to rest. Time to watch. Joe, don’t get mad, just put down your trowel and pull up a chair under the pine tree.

Randy Stark is not so easy to talk about. He is difficult. I have needed to defend his behavior, saying oh he’s not so bad.
He became very angry when he discovered that the Fund for Santa Barbara had donated money to the Mesa Harmony Garden. This was filthy money in his opinion. The Fund for Santa Barbara had also donated money to Planned Parenthood  -- baby killers! The garden should not accept money from that fund.
Other board members found that view extreme, as did I. Randy is a very conservative Catholic, and this is how it gets sticky:
The Mesa Harmony Garden is a community garden sited on a piece one-acre of land that belongs to the Catholic Church. We are a formally organized non-profit with no affiliation to the Church, yet our one hundred fruit trees are planted on Church property. In other words, the orchard belongs to Pope Francis and we’re just passing through.
Remember Joe, out there on his knees, using the blue foam rubber knee pad, going from apple tree to peach tree to hook up the drip emitters. Joe could give a flying fuck about the Catholic Church and its sacrosanct dogma, its ancient ritual and its perverted priesthood. Yet Joe toils on Church land and you must pay the piper.
And the piper’s name is Randy. Randy is the deacon for Sacred Heart parish, not quite a priest, he was a wife and a daughter in college. He has a remodeling contracting business and makes a decent living when he isn’t in church assisting at daily Mass, at funerals, weddings, and baptisms.
The old priest, Father Louis, speaks with a slight accent. He is from Belgium and he longs to return to his homeland next year when he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 75. He is content to let Randy do the heavy lifting.
Randy is fifty-something, a native of Santa Barbara with a beer gut, a buzz cut on his over-large round head and a voice to match his buzz cut, loud and rasping.
His devotion to serving God is sincere. His face twitches when he tries to focus. He represents everything that is wrong with the Catholic Church – what some people say is wrong. Or maybe he is just a pain in the ass.
We can’t get rid of Randy, I have explained that to the other board members, but Randy can get rid of us. He drops broad hints of influence – talks about a recent phone conversation with the bishop, talks about old Father Louis not being up to much and leaving the major non-sacerdotal chores to Randy.
What can we do? Pack up our fruit trees and leave? We are stuck with Randy and this makes him happy. I am an observant Catholic myself. That is, I work in the community garden and I observe other Catholics going in the church for Mass, but I never go myself, except some days, during the week, I come in the church and light a candle at the side altar. Close enough. But I went to Catholic school all the way through – Saint Joseph grade school with Franciscan nuns, Loyola Academy for high school with the Jesuits, and St. Michael’s College in Toronto,  run by a French order known as the Basilians – they are priests who enjoy a good glass of wine and know the difference.
So, even though I am lapsed, I can trump Randy on Catholic trivia, or hold my own, and he needs a friend.This is where my adopt-a-stray-dog personality comes in. Because Randy is not a very likeable man and he knows it. He talks loudly, adamantly. He can’t help it. But he serves at Sacred Heart parish, he does the yeoman chores and sees to it that someone keeps the parking lot swept, sees to it that Father Louis does not allow too many homeless people to sleep in their vans in the parking lot, sees to it that the Mexican families don’t make too much noise at the parish center when the wedding or quinceanera comes around.
He does all that because he wants somebody out there to like him. Me, I have plenty of friends and I know how lucky I am to have all these friends, close friends, medium-range friends, long-distance friends, every day friends, now and then friends, every kind you can imagine, in abundance. So why don’t I be a pal to Randy?
The other board members at Mesa Harmony Garden accept him with difficulty. Two Jews serve on the board, Larry Saltzman and Josh Kane.  They are quietly aghast at Randy’s tirades, and cringe at his friendly smile that often conceals a tirade about to commence. Our board president has a particular angst. Hugh Kelly is of British descent, his pleasant accent pleases our ears. He is a devout and formal atheist. What an exquisite punishment for him, because it has been Hugh’s life dream to plant and maintain a fruit orchard using the most advance organic methods. To do it right!
And we do it right at Mesa Harmony Garden, but we do it on church property, within sight of the rectory where Father Louis nods his nap, within sight of the parish center where the Mexican familiar have their feuds and parties, within sight of the Sacred Heart church itself, where at least one candle burns night and day.
Where else will they tolerate two Jews, one atheist, and one lapsed Catholic to operate a fruit orchard whose fruit is donated to the Food Bank? We all get along with each other and with Randy. We have to get along. It’s our middle name. Mesa Harmony Garden. Harmony.
We gathered for a board meeting of the garden, sitting around a square picnic table underneath a huge pine tree. The orchard is surrounded by a cyclone fence on all four sides. We have planted table grapes and dragon fruit along the cyclone fence. We have planted rosa mutabilis roses outside the fence for beauty. We have done a tremendous amount of work over the past seven years.
I told the board members, because Randy wasn’t there that time, “Supposing we kick him out  -- which we can’t do because he’s the deacon – but just supposing we do kick him out. He’ll just go and join another group and be a pain in the neck to them. Is that fair? I say Randy is our problem, and it wouldn’t be fair to the next guy to send him down the road. He’s never going to leave anyway. We’re never going to leave. That’s it. Plus he does a lot of work.”
Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ our Lord Amen.
Try forgetting that prayer. We only said it every night at dinner for as long as I can remember when we were kids. The same exact prayer with the same exact words.  Everybody said it back then. Everybody meaning Catholics. Us. Protestants had to make up prayers on the spot, but why? We had one memorized and ready to go. And Jews, who knew what the Jews did?  Mom said the Jews were as good as us but they were clannish.
I was ten-years-old when I heard her say that and I almost choked. Clannish? Mom, we’re clannish. We visit with our  relatives and people from the parish. Period. Us. As in everybody who says grace before dinner just like we do. We don’t visit with other kinds of people. We’re not in the international friendship market.
My Dad liked Jews. He did business with them and they were his friends. Mom and Dad often had dinner with Art Shapiro and his wife. Shapiro was a fishing tackle wholesaler in Chicago. The business was called Faber Brothers after the previous owners. There were a lot of Jews in the fishing tackle business. They didn’t fish, but they bought and sold and my Dad liked them.
The Suns lived on the corner of Forest Avenue and 17th Street, on the block where I grew up. It was a dark and lovely red brick house. As a child I found it very pleasing, and so quiet. They only had one kid, Billy. They had so much room. I walked by their house every day on the way to school.  I knocked on their door a few times to see if Billy could come out on play, but he was younger than me and seemed to be very sheltered.  They were the Jews. The rest of the block was all Protestant except for the Giambalvos. I knew that because if they didn’t go to school or church with us, they couldn’t be Catholic. I don’t remember the nuns saying anything  bad about the Jews or the Protestants. They were good people. Too bad they were going to hell when they died. The nuns didn’t dwell on that unfortunate fact. They kind of glided past it. My life was not full of glaring contradictions, so I could live with that one.
I walked away from the Church when I was 18. When I left for college I stopped going to Mass. Didn’t say anything to anybody or get mad, I  just stopped going. That’s how it has always been. It would be too much effort to take up some other religion. Why would I want to be a Methodist or Buddhist or whatever? Or formally renounce my tradition like it was some kind of debate and I needed to choose the right side? I would rather stick with the teaching I grew up with. Stick it in my pocket, or hide it in the garage under a used tire. I didn’t raise my kids Catholic.
Why do I bother thinking about these things? Memories are a curse. Bad memories remind me of my stupidity. Good memories make me wish I was younger which is also stupid. Better to forget and be here now…… but O God that is vapid hippie logic! Be present? Well, you cannot really be anyplace else, except the present is such a narrow, tiny space, and the past is huge, the past is bigger than a cathedral with echoing marble halls, the years marching by gloriously.
I slept poorly last night, I began to think about the time we camped on Illabot Creek in the late summer of 1978. Susan was pregnant with Eva. Eugene was one-year-old. My stepson Tommy was seven, and  we weren’t really camping, it was more like we were homeless and had no place to go.
We didn’t even have a tent, and the other people wanted us to leave. But I was a defiant. Steve and Katy Philbrick said the camp was full and there was no more room for other people, but I said, “I don’t have to ask you if we can stay here. This land belongs to Gordy Campbell and a long time ago he said we were welcome to live here, and we will live here unless he says no.”
Gordy was an Upper Skagit Indian and a dead drunk. But it was true. In 1971 when my house burned down and we needed a place to go he told us about his small property on Illabot Creek and we were welcome there.
I had that right, at least as far as Steve and Katy Philbrick were concerned and they became quiet – and barely friendly.
Where else could we go? We slept by the creek. I borrowed tools and split cedar planks and made a lean-to. We had a cast iron kettle – made oatmeal for breakfast and beans for dinner. Eugene slept in a suit case. Susan and Tommy and I slept on the ground.
Illabot Creek runs right off the high mountain snow banks in the Cascades. The water came gushing down the foothills and spread out to flow smoothly over gravel beds. It was purely delicious water. Even one cup full was worth a million dollars, worth a mother’s smile and a father’s heartbeat. This pure water was our salvation. The wind blew through the shivering alder trees over our head. We stayed there all through August and then found a cabin to rent in Marblemount for $40 a month.
But why remember that? Today is Thursday, almost the end of June and many years later. Illabot Creek is still rushing by in cascades of  pure water, but I will never see it again.
Now I live in Santa Barbara and the creeks are dry most of the year. Mission Creek flows from the foothills past the Mission, through the downtown area and into the ocean, but this time of year all you see are rocks and sunshine filtering through sycamore trees. We are going to the Mission this afternoon. We go every Thursday in the evening, to the Mission rose garden to do some pruning and dead heading. The garden has over 800 roses of many varieties. Laurie and I are assigned as volunteers to one plot of four roses – The four varieties are A Touch of Class, Duet, Sweet Surrender and Falling in Love.