Thursday, July 12, 2018

not mad at anyone

By Fred Owens

I got into a political argument with a Trump man on Facebook. What a total waste of my energy. I did not unfriend the man, I merely said that we were done disputing for the time being and we can get back to it another time. That's Lane Dexter. He lives up in Newhalem in the Skagit Valley north of Seattle. Lane works at Diablo Dam. He's the one who turns open the floodgates when they need to let 'er rip.

Lane and I have been friends since 1970. That summer we worked fire together at Kindy Creek and at Jordan Creek. That was before crews got organized and trained for safety. If you showed up at the trail-head and you had boots on and you looked sober, they would hire you on the spot, take down your SS# and hand you a shovel and off you go.

So we worked the fires that summer and made a nice bundle of money. One day Lane, who was 16 at the time, asked to drive my truck. The truck was loaded in the back with hippies coming back from the the fire. I said sure Lane, it's all yours.
He promptly drove it into a ditch. Fortunately, we were only a half-mile from the commune at this point, so the hippies got out and walked home.

Lane felt embarrassed. The truck was in the ditch and dented, but a quick haul out was all that was necessary, The haul out came from Lane's dad Ralph Dexter, who was quite a resourceful fellow.

Ralph and Lane came over to our rented house the next evening  -- our house was next to Pete Cuthbert's 76 station and across the road from the Pool Hall Hole on the river, where Glenn Mazen lived in the cabin which had been a pool hall. All the hippies went swimming bareback at the Pool Hall Hole. They had a rope swing on the limb of a giant big-leaf maple tree.

Anyway, Ralph and Lane came over to our house the next day in the evening. Ralph brought his Come-A-Long and a few other tools. He hooked up the Come-A-Long to the front fender, hitched the other end to a nearby tree, and straightened out the fender by working the lever.

A few taps with a hammer fixed some dents and she was as good as new, or as good as a 1955 International Harvester with a utility bed could be in 1970, being 15 years old at the time of the incident. The truck was fixed, and Lane got to be a much better driver after that.

Years later, we are still friends, so I won't cut him off on Facebook, but I am faced with this glaring contradiction.

How can this fellow, a dam operator in Newhalem, a former or present chief of the Volunteer Fireman in that village, and a grandfather -- how can such a fellow be a complete idiot over Trump?  The mind boggles.

I can't fix it. Getting mad won't help. We will outlive this current insanity -- I will bet on that.

Summer Time.  The weather has been hot and humid here in Santa Barbara, although it's nothing compared to August in St. Louis, or Houston, or Boston -- places where the weather gets really miserable this time of year.

Yet we suffer in Santa Barbara with the windows open and the fans running, hoping the onshore sea breeze will rise in the afternoon.

This morning it was a bit cooler, so I did the garden work for my customer with a bit of added energy, hedging the climbing rose with vigor.

World Cup. Vive la France! I don't care about the underdog, I want victory for France.

NATO Summit. Why didn't Angela Merkel smack him a good one? The man is an arch bully. He deserves his comeuppance and he will get it one day.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Latin Class

By Fred Owens

I wrote to Fr. Owen Lee at St. Michael's College last week, and he answered back. He was my favorite teacher. I took six years of Latin, counting four years at high school, then freshman year at college, then Fr. Lee's class on the poets Horace and Catullus in my sophomore year.

I last wrote to him 15 years ago asking him for some advice on Wagnerian opera. And he remembered that correspondence. Fr. Lee was quite the expert on opera. For 24 years his voice could be heard on the live Saturday broadcast of the New York Metropolitan Opera -- during the intermission he joined the panel and discussed the opera.

I always enjoyed Latin class. I did well in this subject. Of course my Latin now is quite rusty.

I also took two years of classical Greek in high school. And last winter, for the first time, I read the Iliad -- in English. But I can get through a few lines of the Greek if I try.

How good is your Latin? What languages do you speak or read besides English?

Here are the letters between Fr. Lee and me:

Fr. Lee,

I attended our 50th reunion with my girlfriend Laurie Moon. We live in Santa Barbara near the ocean.

I understand that Leo Boyle visited you during the reunion and I wish I had. I was told you don't get around too easily, but Leo said, "He's got a mind like a steel trap."

I also had the pleasure of meeting Fr. Dan Donovan and received the book of his art collection as a gift. It is indeed a treasure.

The campus looked wonderful in early June, and we saw so many peonies in brilliant bloom. We have such a great variety of flora in Santa Barbara, but we don't get peonies or lilacs -- they both need a bit of cold during the winter in order to thrive.
I hope you are well and enjoying your life. What books are you reading? What music entertains you these days?

your student,

Fred Owens, class of 6T8

Dear Fred,

Nice to hear from you. Sorry I couldn't make it to the reunion, but today on the internet the St. Mike's Alumni sent me a couple hundred pictures of the event, so I feel reasonably up to date.

The last time we corresponded you wanted an introduction to Wagner, and I remember sending you a few pages of one of my books. (I guess Leo was right about me having "a mind like a steel trap.")  I'm still listening to Wagner in my retirement. I was on the Met broadcasts for 24 years, and last month the Met sent me, on my 88th birthday, a lot of white orchids and a box set of 79 (!) CDs of Birgit Nilsson, the Wagnerian soprano. I'm still playing the piano, mostly the songs of Gershwin, Kern, Rodgers, Porter, and Irvin Berlin -- every morning while my confreres are having breakfast. They are patient with me.

I was through Santa Barbara once and was struck by its beauty. You and Laurie are lucky people. I once taught in California for a couple of years, at Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland. Oh, happy days!

What books am I reading? Still a little Homer and a little Virgil in the original languages, every day. It's my heritage.

Stay well, Fred, and thanks for writing.

With a prayer,

Fr. Owen Lee

Other News. We are expecting a heat wave this weekend in Santa Barbara, and like everybody in California we are nervous about wildfire.

There is too much national political news to even get started. But I love the idea of Senators Collins and Murkowski quitting the Republican party and flipping the Senate.

stay cool and be happy,

Sunday, June 24, 2018


Monday, June 25, is my birthday. I will be one year older than I was last year at this time. I hope the coming year will be pleasant and prosperous for all my family and loved ones, and the nation and the world.

My girlfriend Laurie and I journeyed to Toronto in early June for the 50th reunion of my class. I graduated in 1968 at the University of Toronto.

Since then I have been involved in lengthy email correspondence with my reunion classmates. We go back a long way and there has been so much to talk about. Because of that I have neglected the Frog Hospital newsletter these past few weeks. Sorry about that.

I will tell just one thing about Toronto. This beautiful city is on the north shore of Lake Ontario, a lake so big that you cannot see the other side. And it's all fresh water. The six million residents of Toronto run a large pipe out into the lake and they have all the freshwater they need for all purposes. I saw lush, green lawns being sprinkled with  abandon. In Toronto, they flush after every pee, because they can.

The Great Lakes hold 20 percent of the fresh water in the world. In a time of climate change, this is an important fact. Fresh water is such a precious resource.

In Santa Barbara, we have had the marine layer and the fog this entire month -- June gloom they call it. No beach time. Not yet.

More news as it happens. Goodbye for now.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

st mike's college reunion

By Fred Owens

Laurie and I will fly to Toronto this Thursday to attend the 50th reunion of the class of 1968 at St. Michael's College in the University of Toronto.

I wrote a memoir about my college life fifty years ago. There are a few passages that seem a bit smug, but I was simply having too much fun in college  -- is that a crime? If a story needs to have suffering and angst, look elsewhere.

Anyway the memoir is 20,000 words and much too long to put in this newsletter.

St. Michael's College is part of the University of Toronto. In Canada. That's right, I went to school in a foreign country.

Canadian students had no fear of being drafted and getting killed in Vietnam. That was a concern at the time among American young men.. There was little debate in Canada about the Vietnam war because everybody high and low thought it was a bad show.

The Canadian government sent a token force over there, but there was no draft. Canadian students had hazy plans about their future after graduation -- "might spend a little time in Europe, might take a job with my father's firm"..... and so on.  Meanwhile American students were sweating out choices like teaching jobs and graduate school, which got you a deferment. CO status? But you had to pretend you were a Quaker. Flee to Canada? I know a few who did just that.

You don't hear much about the draft these days, but it was serious business back then. Guys like, say, Donald Trump and Bill Clinton, devised ways to avoid military service.

My own status was 1-Y or "available in case of national emergency" which is exactly how I felt at the time. I didn't want to fight but if there was a national emergency I expect I would have showed up.

So they didn't need me in Vietnam, and why were we in that country at all? I will go to my college reunion, class of 1968, and re-hash this episode with my classmates.

Some served. My roommate of three years was drafted into the army after graduation and did his tour in Vietnam. I would use his name, but first I would need to call him at his home in Dallas and get his permission. He's a man with nothing to hide, but he's not inclined to draw attention to himself. He served in the army and did his tour in Vietnam.

We will be ancient ones, fifty years later, discussing the pruning of roses, the bragging of grandchildren and the travails of hip surgery -- so why not bring up some of the old  war business?

Not everybody in Fishtown was an artist or poet. Some residents were simply odd fellows. Here is the story of Keith Brown.

Keith Brown was an idiot, a man with serious mental health issues, who lived in a shack on the North Fork of the Skagit River at a place called Fishtown.
You had to walk across Chamberlain’s field to get to Fishtown, or else, if Margaret Lee let you, you could drive out to her farm, and park your car there, and then it was a shorter walk, but either way you had to walk.
Keith lived in float shack moored to the bank. Years ago he had winched it up the bank during a spring flood, so it never floated anymore, but it was built on top of Douglas fir logs 2-feet in diameter and bolted together in a raft.
Keith’s shack was almost level. A marble, placed on the floor, would roll slowly towards the riverside of the shack, but this only made the place a bit more lovable – giving it a tilt, but not something you could see with your eyes. The shack was soundly built when Keith claimed it and moved in. He added a cupola on the roof  with 3-foot windows on all four sides, for sleeping in the moonlight, or listening to the rain.
He tinkered with electricity. He made a light switch from a fork, by drilling a hole through the handle midway, so it could move back and forth, and if he pushed it one way towards the contact point, the little light would go on.
 He had catalogs from electric supply houses, dog-eared, laying on the counter, next to egg shells, banana skins, diodes, transistors, and lumps of lichen, car parts, fishing tackle, and odd sorts of plastic bottles.. A research scientist in his own way, Keith transmitted the news and the song of the River, via electronics that passed through subterranean granite tunnels, which existed in his imagination. But Fred was no scoffer. He had heard the voice of the man from Venus long ago after the desert murder, so he listened to Keith’s fantastic theories without judgment.
Keith devised a small windmill on his roof that powered a 25-watt lamp.
Otherwise he used kerosene lanterns, and cooked and heated on a wood stove. He packed in his supplies, walking across the fields to Dodge Valley Road, and walking 3 more miles to LaConner unless he got a ride, carrying a canvas rucksack, with empty bottles for recycling on the way in, and beer and groceries on the way back.
His car was a 60’s model Triumph, the English sports car. He parked that at the quarry, what people called a quarry, but was really just a part of the hill that had been carved out years ago for the stone. Keith hadn’t driven the Triumph in a few years and the tires had gone flat, and the blackberry vines were starting to grow over it. He had removed the trunk lid of the Triumph, and inserted a plywood panel, a place to mount his lawnmower – that was back when he worked for people, back when he wasn’t quite so crazy. But the Triumph was getting moldy and starting to compost, as if everything was going back to the earth sooner or later, something that even the farmers approved, because they never threw away their old equipment, they just parked it out in a field and let it rust, and the same way old boats, either sunk, or half sunk, or propped up in the backyard – they all returned to the earth.
The dreamboats were gone in 1986 – the hopeless rotted hulls, the beautiful romantic lines of a wood boat that had once fished the abundant salmon of Puget Sound. The dreamers came in the 60’s and worked on them, to rebuild them, steaming oak planks in water-filled metal drums, bending new frames on the old rotted hulls. But they were dreamboats, and the hippies gave up on them, for the most part, although a few were launched, like the 32-foot Bristol Bay double ender that Singin’ Dan rebuilt and launched and lived on down the river from Fishtown at Shit Creek. Singin’ Dan came from Scandinavian fishing stock, and he knew what he was doing.
But the dreamboats were abandoned. They made picturesque hulks, and the other boats were just let out to die peacefully, slowly sinking in the mud, landmarks with histories imagined or real.
It was the law of the sea, as Fred had read in Moby Dick in the chapter about abandoned vessels. A boat, a ship, or the valuable carcass of a floating, dead sperm whale were all bound by the same law – it was either fast or loose. If it was “fast”, made fast to something, a pier or attached by a line to another boat, then it belonged to whatever entity it was made fast to. But if it was loose, if it was afloat, or adrift, or run aground, but on the sea, if it was abandoned – you couldn’t leave a marker or a note saying you were the owner and intended to come back and fetch it. If it was loose, then it belonged to whoever might claim it, and that’s how Keith got his float shack in Fishtown, because it was stuck on a sand bar just off the bank when he got there in early 70s.
He just moved in and took it over. You could still do that in Puget Sound. Nobody minded anyway, there were lots of abandoned houses and shacks around the Valley back then – that’s why the hippies moved up there – free rent.
Keith had stained teeth and he laughed with a mad cackle, because he was mad. He had brown skin, so dirty it had acquired a patina, a sheen, like an old pair of pants. “I would fuck him if he took a bath,” G* said, in her typical brazen way. B* and G* lived in a shack that B* had built up on pilings, maybe a hundred yards downstream from Keith’s place. You had to get off Keith’s shack on a gang plank over the mud, then walk through the brush, bending under salmon berry pink blossoms if it was Spring, and then cross by the haphazard fence marking Steve Herold’s garden, and then hike up a small hill. It was a small hill, but it would have been a very big egg, because the hill was shaped like an egg, and then what creature would hatch from such an egg of a quarter mile diameter, lying oblong and crosswise to the flow of the river, this hill bearing madrone trees peeling red-orange bark.
Fred would take that path, going through the madrone trees. “You always see them growing near the water. You never see them more than a half-mile from the water,” Fred noticed.
Over the hill and easing down the stone on a rope tied to a tree just for that purpose, the egg-stone of the egg hill, was a composite of small stones – like old cement of geological age, over to the shack that B* and G* had built on pilings, where G* said things like that about Keith Brown and other men.
Keith was the canary in the coal mine, a symptom of changes in the valley. Fred had often visited Keith, taking the stroll across the fields, and then the primeval path through the old woods, coming up on the shack, sometimes in winter, stepping across mottled leaves, working his way through the path, stepping around logs, sometimes in spring when the skunk cabbage thrust up through the swamp near the river.
Fred came to visit, and if Keith wasn’t home, he came in anyway and built a fire and made tea and found a few books to glance at. The porn magazines were under the mattress in the cupola. Fred was a snoop. “I think I got that from my mother. She always found my things and it always seemed accidental, but it was her third eye, and I have the third eye, too,” he thought.
But the door to the shack had no lock. He was always welcome. Or else Keith was there, tinkering with something, and they talked. Keith had a way of talking that made sense, but before you know it, it made no sense at all. “He’s half-mad,” Fred observed. “He’s got one foot in this world and another foot in a far more resplendent universe.
Afterward, after Keith got arrested for arson, Fred said, “We could see he was going off the deep end, but we had abandoned him, and he was all alone.”
Keith spent more time listening to the voices – the CIA was after him because his electronic inventions might generate enough power to over throw the monopoly of the corporations and large oil companies. The CIA was linked with the ant-Christ and Keith was the only one who knew that they had killed Lisa and buried her under the Lighthouse Inn in LaConner.
Keith began writing messages with a magic marker on his jacket and jeans – sayings from the Illuminati, and quotations from Revelations – “Beware, the beast with 600 eyes is coming.”
His cackle became louder. The problem, Fred realized, was that nobody had time anymore. Keith was the village idiot of Fishtown, but the village was itself disappearing, B* and G* moved into town, to that yellow house on the hill. Paul Hansen was building his 3-story log cabin (known as Fort Hansen) on a hillside on the reservation. He didn’t come out to Fishtown anymore. Black Dog Allen was down in Willapa Bay working on oysters.
Avocado Richard had taken over the cabin where Charlie Krafft used to live. It would have been good for new talent to move into Fishtown, but Avocado Richard, besides being a sculptor of dubious talent, was a mean, crazy drunk.
And, therefore, it became obvious, after Keith was arrested, that Keith simply had fewer people who would talk with him in his own crazy way, so he started listening to the voices all the time. And the voices told Keith that it was his duty to expose the CIA plot against him, and he could do that by setting fire to the Lighthouse Inn. “I’ll burn it down, and then they will find Lisa’s body, and then they will know the truth,” Keith said.
That fall Keith came into town with a five-gallon can of gasoline. He climbed up on the roof of the Lighthouse Inn, poured out the gasoline and lit the blaze. The cops came right away, the firemen put it out. There was no damage, but they locked Keith up in the mental hospital down in Steilacoom. He was incompetent to stand trial. “He’ll never get out,” Jim Smith said. “They won’t let him out unless he stops telling that story about Lisa and the CIA, but he won’t stop, and they’ll never let him out.”


Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Meghan Markle is a Democrat, obviously.

By Fred Owens

Meghan Markle is a Democrat, obviously. She is hugely popular, intelligent and media savvy. She and Prince Harry will make a "nonpolitical" tour of our country in coming months. She will make Trump look like dog doo...... Oh, and she just married into  one of the richest families on the planet ..... The Windsors are much richer than Trump will ever be and they got their money the old-fashioned way, through inheritance.

What I just said is only speculation, but the Democrats do need a new face and she is available. Prince Harry does not have a job at this point but he is trained in ceremonial duties and would make a perfect First Gentleman.
Meghan is an American citizen and over 35. She is not prone to angry tweets at six a.m. A careful scrutiny of her early years might turn up something embarrassing, Certainly Prince Harry has to walk back a few stunts in his past. Here's hoping there's not too many show girls telling stories about him.

Assuming Meghan is even interested. But I'm thinking, once the wedding hub-bub is over, she might look around for something useful to do, and the Royal Family forbids meddling in English politics, but why not give Meghan a free hand in her own country?
The media adores Meghan. CNN can't get enough of her. Oprah is gonzo. George Clooney is pleasantly intrigued. Bernie Sanders might even admit to himself that he is getting a little too old for the job.
Or maybe not Meghan Markle, but someone like her --  young, bi-racial and moderate in expression.
Here's a closing touch that warms my heart:
Meghan Markle walked up the aisle by herself, most of the way, but she accepted the hand of an old man, Prince Charles, for the last gap in her journey.....Old men around the globe noticed this small courtesy.
Ben Munsey Leaped Over the Fence

 (it's a bit of a poem, part fiction and not entirely true)

Ben Munsey leaped over the fence that June day in 2002. He crashed the party at the Museum of Northwest Art in LaConner, the annual fundraising auction fueled by high-ticket prices. Munsey didn’t have the money and he didn’t believe he should have paid anyway.

Docents guarded the front gates of the museum that fine summer evening, smiling at the ticket holders, but glaring at street urchins like Munsey.

“I’m too told to be an urchin, I’m past fifty years now. I teach English at Skagit Valley College, but I’ll be damned if I’ll pay $150 to eat shrimp off an ice sculpture and speak nonsense with nobodies from Seattle who come to the valley to ride their bikes past fields full of sweating Mexicans picking strawberries. I live here. I’ve been here a long time, before they built this museum. There was an apple tree right here, the tree was here for years, in a field of tall grass, before they built the museum, which I call a mausoleum, a burial place for the living art which once graced this little town, before the swells came and bought it up, and the before the docents came to keep out the riff-raff. But I am talking to myself,” Munsey said.

He spotted Singin’ Dan, who used to live on the river, a former river rat like himself, a denizen of Fishtown and Shit Creek, a slum dog drummer on Bald Island summer nights. “Dan, I thought you didn’t live here any more,” Munsey said.

“Well, I don’t live here anymore,” Singin’ Dan said, “I sort of got married and I sort of live in Olympia now.”

“Okay, so maybe we can sort of get a beer or something,” Munsey said.

And they stood there on the sidewalk, watching the patrons ensconce from polished vehicles. “Pretty soon they’ll have valet parking,” Singin’ Dan said.

Then it was like – not a plan, no, without any intention, or desire, or any voice of complaint or rebellion, but as natural as the tide rising that Munsey and Singin’ Dan drifted around to the back entrance of the museum, where the busboys unloaded the catered dishes, where the portable fence was installed to guard the premises on this special fund-raising evening -- a fence that looked like a double dare to two old hippies.

Munsey and Singin’ Dan – years later they both said “I thought it was your idea” – but it wasn’t anyone’s idea, more like the purest of action, despite being much too old for such a stunt – they leaped over the fence, Singin’ Dan easily and thinner, but Munsey with a beer-filled paunch dragging over the top rail.

It felt like robbing a bank, Munsey said later, you might spend twenty years in prison, but for a few seconds you feel more freedom than you ever felt in your life – like a vision of ecstasy, like breaking the law is even breaking the law of gravity and you’re flying.

They dashed right into the main gallery of the museum, to the fountain of ice festooned with dainty bowls of shrimp and smoked salmon and real wine glasses for the white wine, people talking in summer dresses and heels and linen sport coats, juggling napkins, and some idiot playing the guitar in the corner to give it that lah-di-dah flavor.

Munsey and Singin’ Dan filled up their dainty plates, but the matron came barreling down – it was Kathleen Willens in a stern, very stern voice who came bearing down with the brunt of the law, because she had been told by the bus boys that two old hippies had crashed the gate and leaped over the fence.

In truth, Munsey and Singin’ Dan stood out from the crowd and, besides that, Willens knew them for who they were, knew that Munsey and Singin’ Dan needed to be watched and suspected. She marched up to them and asked to see their tickets, knowing as well as the skies above that they did not have any tickets

Willens could have let them stay, if only for a hoot. How did all that art get to the musuem if it wasn’t for a hoot?

But the hoot was over, there was no more drinking sake at Fishtown. No, by the summer of 2002 it was all in the can, under lock and key at the museum, and creatures like Munsey and Singin’ Dan may as well move on down the road. If you don’t have a ticket that’s just too damn bad.

Update.  This is a fictional account of something that happened in 2002. I do not have current information about the status of the museum. It might be just loads of fun to go there. I certainly wish them the very best. You can love art all you want, but it still takes a few dollars as well.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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

Monday, May 14, 2018

seven gardens

Dear Friends,

I worked in seven gardens this week. Six of these gardens have roses and all these roses are in full bloom with unblemished foliage. It is a good year for roses in Santa Barbara. The seventh garden has hydrangeas and they are looking good too.
I argued with a friend on Facebook about politics and got agitated. That was Saturday morning. I try not to let that happen. Lane is a good friend, but I do not share his views. Still  it's hard to accuse him. I remember the time, maybe 1998,  when my car broke down in Marblemount, way up the Skagit River, some 70 miles from my home in LaConner. Well, Lane lives near Marblemount. He drives a robust SUV Surburban. He said, "Look, I got a flat bed trailer. I can just hook that up and put your car on it and take you back to LaConner." A seventy mile tow, for a friend. I can't argue with that. Except he is wrong most of the time on politics.
Anyway, the Current Occupant of the White House is the source of much agitation. I call him Captain Chaos, and he thrives on disruption. Argh!
I turned off my iPad and retreated to the garden. We planted tomatoes and peppers. Working side by side with Laurie brought me a sense of calm. I feel that garden work is essential, and I do it everyday. But we must remember the immortal words of Aristotle, that public service is the highest good and we must do our duty as citizens. Vote! Debate! Discuss! Ask Questions! Read History!
But don't get agitated. Participate. Make an iron determination to remain calm.
The inspiring example for calm determination is Barack Obama. What a good President he was. In 2008 he won the popular vote and the electoral vote. In 2012 he did it again. Twice a winner, and retired with honor.
Obama's eight years were untouched by personal scandal. A good father to his two children, a good husband to Michelle. There were no Me Too moments in his life. A quiet home life. He played golf.
I don't golf myself but I applaud the sport and I believe that time on the golf course gives time for reflection and repose -- something every President needs.

Obama could never show anger when he was President. That was understood. The first black President could not show anger. Instead Obama appeared detached, aloof and arrogant, because he could show that. But he could not show anger. This is how it seemed to me.
It's the Jackie Robinson rule. Jackie Robinson integrated Major League Baseball in 1947. He could play hard and play rough, but he could not show anger.... That worked and Obama followed his example.
My friend and college classmate Virginia Smith said, "Obama was also just naturally a cool guy with a long fuse. How did he get that way? -- maybe growing up in Hawaii."
I criticize Obama for one thing, the Affordable Care Act. It was a mistake to pass that important reform without bi-partisan support.  Delaying the bill, or watering down the proposal, as unwelcome as that was to the Democrats, would have been far less trouble in the long run.  No major reform can succeed without bi-partisan support. We can see that in hindsight, as the beginning of all-out partisan conflict which has reached a boiling point with the current president.
But we are talking about temperament. Obama had a calm style that a majority of voters could live with, that's why he was twice elected.
And no, Obama is not coming back for a third term. It's up to us now  -- to confront disruption with calm purpose.
Except for one thing, Obama has, shall we say, a personal stake in the Iran deal. Trump has baited him on that, calling it terrible and not worth a shred of paper. Obama might very well emerge from the golf course to defend his record on that.
Obama is young and healthy. He is well-liked around the world. It's not over.
Israel. It took seventy years to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. We could have waited another seventy years.
thank you and have a good week,


Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Fishtown, not Fishtown

May 8, 2018
Dear Friends,
It could be argued that Clyde Sanborn never lived in Fishtown. He never lived anywhere in the sense of setting up housekeeping and hanging up a dish towel. He flopped wherever he was and kept a few books here and there.
He did stay in that cabin where Black Dog Allen used to live. It was across the slough from Barge Island and downstream of Fishtown proper.
Crazy Peter lived on Barge island, or he did live there years later after Clyde died in 1996. Art Jorgensen spent his last years on the upstream tip of Barge Island. Art died too and I went to his memorial service at Al's Landing, upstream from all that.
Art was more of a true river rat  -- he never went to town, he never went anywhere. I used to go see Art at his cabin in Fishtown before they tore it down in 1989. That's when he moved over to Barge Island for his last years.
So when I call this story Fishtown, not Fishtown, that is what I mean. Art lived in Fishtown until they  tore his cabin down, but Clyde never did, and that makes him not Fishtown. And not Shit Creek, not Sullivan Slough, and not Brown Lily Hill. Clyde never really lived anywhere except where he was at the time.

He was a drunkard and a poet. You could argue that he was not a very good poet, and some people said that. They said he was just a drunkard who scribbled a few lines on scraps of paper. True. Clyde always said he was a poet, he never said he was good at it.
Just now published is Go With The Flow, a fabulous book of Clyde's poetry and biography, edited by Allen Frost. It costs $32 on Amazon, it costs that much because of all the color photos. I am so very happy to own a copy of this book. It captures -- no, does not capture, but does set free -- the moments of Clyde's life and you can read his poetry and hear stories from his friends.
I don't know. Maybe you just had to be there. I was there and I wrote five pages of this book, starting at page 135, in a story called Clyde's Bicycle. The story is not about Clyde or his bicycle, but Allen Frost put it in the book anyway.
A smart editor would have said, "well. Fred, this story you sent me is not about Clyde or his bicycle, so it doesn't exactly belong in here."
But Allen Frost never said he was a smart editor, he just really wanted to publish a book about Clyde Sanborn and I am so glad that he did. This is a really good book. You learn more about Clyde's life than you imagined. It's a wealth. A smart editor would have thrown stuff out and made it tighter, but this happy volume is not tight. More so, this happy volume is open and generous. That's how I got my story in, even though it's not about Clyde.
And yet it is about Clyde's world and where he lived, where he slept, where he drank his red wine and where he kept his boat.
As for his poetry, I will leave it to others to pass judgment. As for his drunkenness, yes, I never knew him to spend a day sober.  But he lasted for twenty years floating between LaConner and the river.  He lasted for twenty years because so many people liked him.
Clyde was always drunk and he could have made himself a better man. But he never hurt anybody, never got in a fight, never wrecked a car, never abused a woman, never stole anything, and never took more than his share. Clyde was rowing home one night in the spring of 1996. He fell out of his boat and drowned. They had a memorial service for him in Pioneer Park and more than 300 people showed up for that.

Later that Same Day. Oh, I could write old river stories all day. But you've already heard them. It's the old saying  -- many rivers flow into the sea, and at the mouth of every river there are some old fishing shacks where fellows hang out and watch the tide come and go. They call it Fishtown. Could be anywhere on earth.
Laurie and I were in LaConner last week for a two-day visit. We saw the tulips and spent time with old friends. We're planning to come back again in early September.
take care,

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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

Monday, April 23, 2018

Sanibel Island

April 23, 2018
Dear Friends,
I called my brother Tom. Thomas Joseph Owens, almost 76, a high school teacher in Los Angeles, lives in Sierra Madre east of Pasadena with his girl friend Marti.
His daughter's dog Aviv, was ten years old and had to be put down for an inoperable stomach blockage. Tom said Jordana was devastated, her being an only child, the dog was like her brother for ten years. Aviv was a good dog and gone now. That's why I called.
Tom's girl friend Marti works in administration at the University of Southern California. She commutes by train and bus to the campus. Her job ends at five, Tom said. His job ends at three but than he has tests to grade and lessons to plan.

I called at dinner time and heard Marti ask Tom if he preferred Thai curry soup or tomato pasta. Tom said tomato.
Well, the dog was the big news. Tom doesn't live with his daughter Jordana, but he is over at the house very often to walk the dog and do other things. So this goes way back. Jordana is 20 and studies dance, especially ballet.
I called because the dog died. I would have called anyway because Tom is easy to talk to. I like to ask him small questions.
Do Marti and you watch TV in the evening? She watches TV, I correct papers.
The TV doesn't bother you? No. I teach high school. I do not get distracted by noises.
I have often admired my brother's ability to command respect in a classroom of teenagers at a high school in Los Angeles. He has two natural advantages. He is tall, over six feet, and he has a natural baritone voice.
But it's mostly skill and experience, quelling the daily riot of teenagers. I personally am terrified about teenagers. I could not teach them. They would howl and whoop and laugh me out of the classroom. I would hide in the closet or throw erasers at them. Do they still have erasers and chalkboards?
Tom is almost 76. He does not care to talk about that. I say to him, you must be one of the oldest teachers still working in Los Angeles.....Pause ..... There are some older than me .... But you keep going ..... Yeah, I like teaching ..... Are you going for the state record, oldest teacher? ... No comment.
In 1952 our dad quit his job after twenty years. He worked  for J.G. Taylor Spink at the Sporting News  in St. Louis.Dad ran the Chicago office for Mr. Spink and sold the advertising. He was good at it. He held this job all through the depression. But in 1952, after twenty years, with a pretty smart wife and five children, he quit his job -- Dad would never admit to the truth -- whether he quit or might have been fired. It didn't matter because he wasn't going back. Instead he mortgaged the house and started his own publication, a fishing magazine. My dad did not take too many risks, but this was a big one. And he bet the ranch on it.
To cap it off, to celebrate confidence in his eventual success, he took us on a three-week vacation to Florida.
That was 1952, in the summer, in an almost new green Buick, all the windows rolled down, going down two-lane highways, no air-conditioning, just the hot wind, all the way down to Florida, Mom, Dad, Mary, Tom, Carolyn and Freddy -- six of us. Katy, the baby, was left with Aunt Mary and Uncle Earl.
Sanibel Island is off the Gulf Coast of Florida -- the first time I had ever seen the ocean, the sky was so blue and vast. We took the short boat ride to the island and discovered the entire beach covered with white, white sea shells, hundreds, millions. It was a paradise, we picket a large bucket of shells to take home and make us wonder.
Mom said the sea shells didn't smell good, but we loved them and we kept a basket of shells in the house for the rest of my childhood, a reminder of far away places.
That trip to Florida was our first family vacation. When we came back to Wilmette, our home in the Chicago area, my mom and dad published the first issue of their fishing magazine. It was a success and continued to be a success for many years.
Correction. My older brother Tom and my older sister Carolyn both insisted that we made this trip to Florida in April, not August. Carolyn said, I remember because we celebrated my eighth birthday on May 2 at a Howard Johnson's.
This is astounding. If we took this Florida vacation in April that means my parents took all four of us children out of school . They never did things like that -- except they did this one time.
Aviv was a good dog. This story seems to have wandered off to my brother's teaching career and our family vacation to Florida, but this story is really about a dog. Aviv, ten years old. He was a good dog and we will never forget him.

The News. Looks like Trump is winning. The Cohen files were supposed to bring him down. Democrats said this time we really got him, only we ain't really got him and he's still winning, grinning, playing golf and going to North Korea..... Now Trump might lose big in November, that could happen. He could lose the Congress, possibly.

The Democrats have Nancy Pelosi, Stormy Daniels and the Teenagers for Gun Control .... and the Starbucks protestors and California Governor Jerry Brown .... Kind of a grab bag of people .... And the mainstream media .... All determined to bring Trump down .... Can they do it?
What the Democrats lack is a leader like Barack Obama. Sure, they can put a million people on the street on short notice, but what good does that do? I expect the Democrats can take back the Congress in November, even without a leader, even without a unifying theme, but with an intensely negative enthusiasm for Trump. That is not an inspiring vision, but it will increase turnout, and a high turnout will beat the Republicans and take over the Congress in November.
This is just my take on the situation and I am usually wrong. Personally I am tired of Trump. He exhausts me. I would rather watch TV news about Prince William and Kate having their third child. Call me an escapist, but I need a break.
Let's finish with some good news, about wind farms in Denmark as reported in the NYTimes. Do you think they made this all up? I don't. I think they sent one or two reporters to the area and those reporters made a lot of phone calls, and toured the facilities and researched their findings on the Internet and wrote an accurate account to the best of their knowledge.
Have a good week,

Spring Subscription Drive. I would write Frog Hospital for free, but your subscription money warms my heart and keeps me from getting cranky. I do not support a cause or represent any group or report to any institution. Your contribution maintains my independence.
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, April 15, 2018

kevin sunrise

April 15, 2018
Dear Friends,
I called Kevin Sunrise last week. He lives in LaConner. Sunrise is his real last name. We talk on the phone every few weeks. He doesn't have email or Internet, so we just talk or sometimes mail each other something.
It is a good thing to keep those old channels open and running -- meaning the phone call and the written letter. You don't need to throw out your smart phone and swear off Facebook, but you just need to shut the damn thing off now and then.
Even watching network TV is an old-fashioned experience. That's what we especially like about the Roseanne reboot  -- it's on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. and everybody is watching it at the same time. You can stick your head out the window and look east and look west and imagine millions of Americans watching  Roseanne, sharing a common experience. I wouldn't want to go back to the old days with only three channels of network TV  -- the choice was too limited -- but we did have great shows like Mary Tyler Moore and All in the Family with Archie Bunker.
Kids today -- you can't get them on the phone, it has to be text. Maybe this will pass in a year or so, and some retro trend will bring back the phone call --- you know, the kind where you actually talk to someone.
I was in Zimbabwe in Africa in 1997, just when the world was making a transition from postal mail to email. I discovered that the postal service from Zimbabwe to anywhere in the US was quit efficient and reliable. You could mail a first-class one-ounce letter from Bulawayo to Boston for little more than the cost of a local stamp. The letter arrived in a week, sometimes ten days. Your American correspondent could write back and that would also take a week. This was actual communication. It worked very well. It just took longer..... much slower than a text.
But Zimbabwe at that time was coming around to email. I began writing my letters by hand, but taking them to an office called the Secretary Bird  -- so-called because secretary birds are a common heron-type of bird in Africa and they do have kind of a clerical look if you should ever be so lucky as to get to Africa and see a secretary bird in the field.
I took the handwritten letters to the Secretary Bird office. They re-typed the message on their email connection and charged me about one dollar for the service. This was the beginning of my email usage...... messages to my daughter Eva who was in her freshman year at Oberlin College in Ohio. I did not send email to my son Eugene because he was out of pocket at that time and fairly unreachable.
Eugene did have the phone number of our family attorney, Ed Burke of Framingham, Massachusetts. I had left some money with Ed as a retainer before I went to Africa. This was get out of jail money for my son, and get out of Africa money for me, just in case I needed a lawyer to act quickly.
I could tell stories about Ed Burke, stories that reflect well on his character, but another time for that, when I get around to writing the Boston Chronicles.

But I was talking about my phone call with Kevin Sunrise as opposed to using social media. It doesn't matter what method you use, fast or slow, the only thing that  matters is the effort you put into it. Communication requires effort, period. You have to reach the person. You have to connect and touch their hearts and touch their minds. Modern methods are good, I use social media all the time, but the universal law still applies -- communication requires effort.

West Texas, 1975.  I was thumbing a ride on this empty highway. Sheriff deputy stops and begins to question me. Then real sudden he throws me on the ground, puts his boot on my chest, draws his gun on me and says one false move and you're dead. So I didn't make a false move. He asked me a few more questions and he put his gun away and said I could get up. He goes back to his vehicle, makes a call on the radio, then walks back to me. He apologizes, said there had been a murder but I wasn't the guy who did it. I said OK.... It all happened so quick that I did not get scared. I was living a real cliche. He actually said one false move and you're dead.

I may have had some resemblance to the killer he was looking for. He said, after he questioned me, that they were looking for this guy and said maybe he was a little on edge for that reason. Not quite an apology but close enough for me. And the line about not making a false move. I had to think about that and I resolved to never make a false move anywhere or anytime. Make true moves as much as you can...... It was so empty out there. If I recall correctly, it was on Highway 90 just south of Van Horn in Culberson County, t
he sheriff and me and no one else for miles. No witnesses, except for the sky and the wind. After that, I figured West Texas was  a good place for me, just don't make any false moves.
Politics. The politics in Washington DC are too nasty. The whole situation makes me nervous and I have no constructive words..... The gardening work I do is constructive however. If we keep doing those good things and don't make any false moves, that is our best choice.

Spring Subscription Drive. I would write Frog Hospital for free, but your subscription money warms my heart and keeps me from getting cranky. I do not support a cause or represent any group or report to any institution. Your contribution maintains my independence.
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, April 08, 2018

Dear Friends

April 3, 2018
Dear Friends,
This is Frog Hospital, but I am tinkering with the format right now, so today I address you as Dear Friends.
I am fortunate to have a wide variety of friends throughout the country. I have friends right here in Santa Barbara. Yesterday I had a stimulating conversation with Hugh Kelly. Hugh is our guiding spirit at the Mesa Harmony Garden. He is often present and usually engaged in some productive task. Someone left a half-dozen Bachelor Buttons in four-inch pots, to share with anybody who wanted one. Hugh encouraged me to take one because this was Crop Swap Day at the Mesa Garden.
Bachelor, bachelor, I mused to Hugh, it's an interesting word. My Uncle Ralph was a bachelor. Never married. He lived less than a mile from our house and he used to pop in for a quick visit. My dog loved Uncle Ralph. My dog's name was Mack and he used to squilp for joy when Uncle Ralph opened the front door and peeked his head in. Being a relative, he didn't knock.
But he was a bachelor. He lived with his sisters, my Aunt Carolyn and Aunt Tessie. My two aunts were spinsters and never married.
How extraordinary, Hugh exclaimed, never married, no children. The three of them formed a household. Actually Carolyn and Tessie and Ralph never left home. They took care of my Granpa and Granma for all their years.
Granma died in 1955 when I was nine. Granpa died in 1958 when he was 94. He used to chew tobacco, being the only person I knew who did that.
But back to the words. We don't say bachelor and spinster anymore. Bachelor acquired the highly inaccurate flavor of some gay blade out on the town -- hardly befitting of my Uncle Ralph who worked as a milk man for Glenora Farms Dairy in Evanston, Illinois -- a close by suburb of Chicago, just to give this account a setting.
Ralph was a bachelor and he lived quite modestly. My dog loved him and most other people did too.
Spinster acquired a negative flavor -- that of a dried-up unwanted lonely woman who pined for love and sat quietly in a dimly lit room.
My Aunt Tessie and Aunt Carolyn were hardly like that, especially Tessie. They went out on the town to concerts and museums and took vacations together in the summer. They seemed to have a fair amount of fun without the bother of seeking a man's company.
They did however look after Uncle Ralph to some degree. I am not aware of of their division of labor, but I expect he kept the yard and the garage, and they kept the kitchen.
Not having children under foot, they could afford to buy cute little ceramic figurines and perch them on the coffee table in the living room.
We visited often and no running and jumping around. Good manners. But the aunts weren't old stuffy things. They wore nicely floral perfume and they scolded us in the most generous manner. I actually wanted to be a gentleman when I grew up under their tutelage.
Anyway, I told Hugh, I thought that was normal. I thought everybody had old maid aunts. But it was just at our house and it was like having two extra moms.
Now we don't say bachelor or spinster. we say single. Single is a word without any flavor. It's accurate, but no more than that.  The language is impoverished.

Well, dear reader, I think that is enough for today. We can hear more about Uncle Ralph another time. And we can hear more about current affairs -- the culture and the politics  -- but now I am only tinkering with the format. And it might look different.
Thank you,


Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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

Sunday, March 25, 2018

We Live in a Ruthless World

By Fred Owens
We Live in a Ruthless World

We live in a ruthless world. We need Ruth to come back and make everything nice again.
Ha Ha --- a serious week so we could use a laugh

High School
I had a hard time in high school but I never got shot at, so I need to keep the perspective. The kids that marched and spoke yesterday were right to do so. They had a justification  -- a failure of the adults to protect younger folks.
"We are not safe."  That's the truth. That's a fact. And if people aren't looking after your safety you are best to do it yourself and speak up.
My brother teaches public high school in Los Angeles. He was at the march. "I didn't see any of my students, but there were hundreds of thousands of young people there, so some of my students might have been there."
My brother supports the effort. He spends most of his working day in the company of teenagers. He likes them and he gets along well with them. Sometimes they even listen to him.
A Story about Teen Life that seems Relevant to me
When I went to high school, 1960-1964, there was no possibility or thought of violence. Inconceivable. It was an all boys Catholic school.  Generous doses of prayer and corporal punishment kept the student body in line. To put it plainly we were afraid of the Jesuits in their black cossacks and swinging, sanctified fists. But nobody got killed. 
Years later when I had my own teenagers they went to public high school in Newton, Massachusetts -- not in a regime of prayer and corporal punishment. Amazingly, they still learned a lot and nobody got killed. This was 1991-1995.
Something happened since then and schools are no longer safe places for children. If we adults cannot ensure their safety, then we are not entitled to their respect. That's how it works.
One More Story
My Dad grew up in St. Louis, born in 1904. They were very poor -- his widowed mom and her five children. My Dad was the second oldest of these five and he had to leave school after only the 8th grade and take on a full-time job  -- to feed his family, he gave his pay to his mother.
My Dad didn't get to be a teenager. At age fourteen he became a man, because he had to become a man, because the adults in his life were not able to provide for him and his brother and three sisters.
So a kid can grow up in a hurry if he has to. Those kids in the high school in Florida had to grow up in a hurry too.
Let's listen to what they have to say.

When I Die... My story with this title about the passing of Stephen Hawking was taken up for the Op-Ed section of the Santa Barbara News-Press in Sunday's paper. They knew it was a good piece and worth a broader audience.
Gardening. It rained all last week, so there was no gardening work for me. But this week I am busy with seven customers and lots of weeds growing now, gotta get cracking first thing Monday morning.
Subscriptions. I would write Frog Hospital for free. The only reason I ask for subscription funds is because I need the money. I make $500 a month and more doing the garden work but it is hard work and I am getting too old for that. So my life plan is  to diminish the garden work and increase the writing income. You can help by pitching in.

 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