Monday, November 12, 2018

Ten Days in Hawaii

Nov 6, 2018
Ten Days in Hawaii
By Fred Owens

Today is Election Day and you are probably glued to the tube or out canvassing for your candidate. Good..... but life goes on, so while we wait for results let me tell you about our recent trip to Hawaii, to the Big Island.

We stayed five days in Kona on the fourth floor of a condo with a balcony overlooking the sunset and the pounding surf. The air was warm and humid. Let me say something right off about humidity. I like it. Dry air is just air. Humid air is like a warm pillow, you just move slowly and the clouds are comfy.

We went snorkeling and saw golden fish. Snorkeling is light exercise, at least for me. I'm a floater -- why paddle after fish? why not let them come to you? I saw a sea turtle moving slowly along side me, unconcerned and friendly, about 2 or 3 feet across on the hard back shell. The sea was calm and gently swelling.

We took the helicopter ride over the volcano. It's really big. The pilot played dramatic volcanic music on the headphones, right out of Lord of the Rings. Plumes of smoke rose over plunging craters and roads destroyed by recent irruptions. Then she, the pilot, flew us to the waterfalls and she played Elvis Presley singing Blue Hawaii as we drifted over cascading ribbons of rain water. It was quite special, so calm we floated above the green valley.

It was delightful. We walked through Botanic Gardens and ate Poke, delicious.

That's all, but after ten days on the island you begin to get Hawaiianized and it stays with you.

Everyone, Be Well on this Election Day.


California is Burning

By Fred Owens

"California is Burning," I wrote that a few months ago when the huge Ranch fire swept through the northern part of the state. Now it's happening again. People are exhausted and despondent. I mean people like me in Santa Barbara and all we got is a little smoky air and a TV news show of helicopters red-bombing the flames. Let alone the tens of thousands who had to evacuate, let alone the thousands who have lost their homes and the many who have died in the fire. It has been quite awful and if I look out the window I see a tinder-dry landscape. There has been no rain for months.

We expect the rainy season to begin in late October, but so far we have had only one sprinkle and the blues skies that make us famous now make us worried. Clouds feel better. Hoping for clouds.

Some people have a better attitude than me. I have lost nothing, but I am bummed out to even be near this. Neil Young lost his home in Malibu or was it in Topanga Canyon? Or was it Bob Dylan? Either way, famous people who have pets and memories just like the rest of us have lost everything.

We can build new homes in California. We have the resources to replace the 6,000 homes lost in Paradise. We can build 60,000 homes. We can make a new city. What else can we do? 

There is no replacing the lost oak trees, not in a hundred years, but still we will plant them.

The next issue of Frog Hospital. The next issue of Frog Hospital will include political talk, fundraising plans and medical concerns. A friend of mine is undergoing kidney dialysis and he is in line for a new kidney. Talking with him about this has been interesting. And, if he agrees, I will tell his story.
For politics, I have in mind something like "In Praise of Nancy Pelosi." And for fundraising we will announce the Go Fred Me fundraiser which will commence in mid-January.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Me too and the patriarchs, plus lawyers and medieval history

FROG HOSPITAL -- Sept. 28, 2018

Me Too and the Patriarchs

Fred Owens

I saw the Patriarchs sitting on the left, lead by Sen. Grassley of Iowa. I saw Me Too on the right, lead by Sen. Feinstein of California.

I have to admire the stamina of these people, sitting through a nine-hour hearing, especially Feinstein at age 85.

I wouldn't last an hour in that room. I supposed that's why I work in the garden.

Having heard most of the testimony on Thursday, I was most impressed by the vehemence of Lindsey Graham of South Carolina -- he got really lit up and he is usually the calm one.

Blasey was direct and clear, maintaining her composure. Her presentation was credible. Kavanaugh was defensive, maybe because he was defending himself.

I certainly liked Blasey a lot better than Kavanaugh, but that doesn't make her right. And I go out of my way to avoid guys like Kavanough, but that doesn't make him wrong.

I wished Blasey could have put a time and place on the event in memory. She described the assault in detail, but where on this earth was it? Time and place would give it an anchor, if that makes any sense.

Kavanaugh talked too much. He didn't really have much more to say than I'm a good guy and I didn't do it. His opening statement was way too long at 45 minutes. I would have advised him to limit his words.

If I was on the Judicial Committee I would have to come to a decision and vote, but I don't have that responsibility. I do not have to decide this. I can mull it and chew it and sit on it until things fall into place and that might never happen.

Most of the people I know believe Blasey. But I'm hearing a lot of talk that goes like this -- "you can just tell"

Well, maybe you can just tell, but I can't just tell. That's how it seems to me this Friday morning. I'm still listening. 

new post starts here

Writing a 750-word Frog Hospital essay requires focus and discipline. Normally, I just sit down in front of the laptop and start typing, even if I don't want to, even if I have no ideas. I never wait for the inspiration. I just write.

That spirit had been guiding me since 1999 when I began the Frog Hospital journey. But these past few days, nada, no energy. I did have enough energy to shovel pea gravel on the path down the hill in back of the house. That was yesterday.

Today I will get a haircut at 10:30 --- I should write about that barber shop. After the haircut, I go to the Santa Barbara Kiwanis Club for lunch --- I should write about that club.

Or I could write about my friend, Attorney Matt Moore. We are scheduling an appointment for legal advice in November. Oh, I don't need a lawyer, not for any pressing problem. But that is the point. The best time to meet with a lawyer is when you don't need to. That means you will actually have to like him. That means you will have a bit of social context and he or she will know your story. That way, when you do have a problem, you just call the guy and he or she already knows who you are.

You don't want to be looking for legal help when you're under the gun and a little desperate. It's like buying property insurance when the house is on fire.

Beside that, I like lawyers. I mean I like the lawyers I like. And being free of a prejudice against that profession, I can choose the agreeable ones -- the ones who can stand with me should that ever become necessary.

Did you notice that Brett Kavanough stood alone in defending himself against the accusation of sexual assault? He being too proud and arrogant to appear to ask for legal counsel. He being too entitled to realize that a man who represents himself has a fool for a client.

Okay, that's politics. Back to the law. I love the law. The law protects me. The law is a shelter in the storm of nature.

I finished reading a medieval history book about the law, 1215, the Year of Magna Carta by Danny Danziger. It's quite a good book and easy to read. For me it was the antidote to watching the Kavanaugh hearings, knowing that brave men struggled with legal issues 700 years ago, and seemed to be getting nowhere, and seemed to be writing powerless words on sheets of parchment. Yet the words of that day were strong and true, and written down, and they have lasted 700 years.

Seven hundred years give us a context. The Kavanaugh debacle is a bump in the road. No, it was more than that. It was important. I just can't find the right metaphor.

So that is my Frog Hospital essay for this week. I tricked myself into writing it. Now I have more gravel to shovel on the path below the house, and trumpet vine to trim next to the garbage bins. These ever-growing vines partially conceal the brown, green and blue trash bins, but after a while it gets too complicated and I must cut them off.


FROG HOSPITAL -- Oct. 20, 2018


By Fred Owens

Trump is unstoppable. He is flying around the country and banging on his war drum. I am disturbed and pessimistic and it feels like there is nothing I can do about it except mourn for the future.

But wait. There is an answer. I can go to Hawaii. In fact, we are going to Hawaii, on Tuesday, to the Big Island, for ten days. Enough of this election gloom that I have been generating. Instead I will be lying on the warm sand and soaking up the ultimate energy of sublime relaxation. That is how we win in the finally analysis.

Did you know that Hawaii is part of the United States and that babies born in Hawaii are American citizens? Barack Obama himself was born in this tropical paradise and he is an American citizen and he was a darn good President too...... But I see the point about Hawaii not being so American -- because it doesn't look at all like Kansas. I have been to Kansas and it looks very different than Hawaii. I lived in Kansas for two months in 1976 and I should tell you about that sojourn some day.

But if you have a big heart and a big mind, you can imagine Kansas and Hawaii both being part of our grand and glorious country. Each place special. Each place a home and way to make a living and do good things.

Yes, we are going to Hawaii, and it is we who are unstoppable.

Elizabeth Warren for President in 2020. I'm starting to like Warren, but she needs a nickname. Not Elizabeth, not Liz, not Betty. Certainly not Pocahontas. But I am beginning to warm up to her since the DNA fiasco. Her effort to prove her native American lineage didn't fly right, but I liked seeing her vulnerability. She made a mistake in doing this and good for her. She will make a good president and she will make a lot of mistakes.
Trump never makes mistakes. He is always right and never wrong. That's scary. Warren is more like the rest of us. Normal.

Warren, if elected, will be the first Okie in the White House. Almost everybody from Oklahoma is part some-teenth Native. Go to Oklahoma, and you can almost feel it, that Native air.  Warren is one of those Oklahoma people and it's a good thing. I call them Not Quite White..... and unstoppable.

Raising Children. This is a complete change of topic. Raising children is an important responsibility. I raised two children and it was the most important thing I have ever done. Every morning when I woke up, I knew what my priority was -- to take care of those two kids. Nothing else mattered very much. You do the mom and dad thing until you are finished or until you drop dead, but you never stop doing it until they grow up.
And they do grow up and move out and that breaks your heart. I remember when my youngest went off to college in 1996. It was fun for about two weeks, but then I began to miss them and I had this emptiness all around me. What was I supposed to do? Work? Have fun? I was lost without those kids to look after.... Well, a lot of people go through that.... which is why we have grandchildren, to get some of that feeling back, of being a part of something very important, which is raising those little children. They need us and they keep growing and they are unstoppable.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Issa Rae is Insecure

By Fred Owens

Issa Rae created the HBO series known as Insecure. This link goes to a news story about Season 3, Episode 4, which is current.

Our housemate tipped us off about this engaging show. Issa Rae plays the main character, a 29-year-old single African-American woman living in Los Angeles, working at a non-profit, liking her job and her pals, and looking for love.

Issa is Insecure -- the title of the show. We can all relate to that. Insecurity means being self-conscious, keeping score on your wins and losses, worrying about your hair, or the style of your shoes. "Maybe people don't like me. Or they don't understand what I just said. Hell, I don't understand what I just said. How am I supposed to feel? What am I supposed to think? I guess I'll have a drink. I ain't that girl from Pretty in Pink."

Insecurity strikes most people at age 15, and gives you that stuttering gaze where you keep rubbing your head, and it lasts until age 35 when you realize that nobody cares, and nobody is keeping score, and some people like you and some people don't. Period. It's over.

A lot of people get married and have children at age 35. That is a solid cure for insecurity. You get a spouse and a squalling baby in diapers -- you are too tired and too busy to feel insecure. Insecurity is a small luxury that most of us can afford, like a triple grande latte.

In the first season of Insecure Issa lives with her boyfriend Lawrence. Issa goes to work every day, but Lawrence sits around the house in his sweat pants waiting for the phone to ring.

You know the phone is never going to ring for Lawrence. Issa knows that too because she's a realist. "You may have to take a job a notch lower than you already had," she tells him.

Lawrence hears that. He goes Man Up and takes a small-wage sales job at Best Buy. That's doing the right thing, in my book.

You see, the men in Issa's life are not losers and toxic abusers. Not hopeless causes, but like men really are which is to say "in good condition but needs work."

Then Issa  goes looking for what she already has, and she does something very stupid. She has a one-night fling with her old ex-boyfriend and Lawrence finds out and walks out of her life. Stupid. Major Stupid.

What I like about Issa Rae as an actor is that she doesn't try to sell it. She doesn't over-act. She's happy when it's fun, and angry when it's bad, and she can be major stupid if that's what's going on. Not a Drama Queen.

The young woman who told me about the show said it was the story of her life. Reality can be painful, but sometimes it's just funny.

We like this show. All the characters and all the Los Angeles neighborhoods are African-American, so you get an education in culture and language if, like me, you're 72 and you live in Santa Barbara.

The rap music in the background goes right over my head. I just don't get it. Well, I get some of it. But I don't try to get it, because if you try to get it, you won't get it. Better to just let it come to you as it does.


Meanwhile Pope Francis is in a lot of trouble and the Supreme Court hearings are underway in Congress.  The news is full of breakdowns and tragedies. The old saying is "Heads will roll."  But we have progressed as a society because in centuries past courtiers who fell from favor were executed -- heads actually did roll --  now the losers get a book deal and a spot on MSNBC or Fox.

I wish, more than anything, that Donald Trump was not in the White House. I can put some substance behind that vacuous statement, but I am through writing for today.

The days are getting shorter. Here in Santa Barbara we see a lot of dried leaves on the ground, more from dry weather than from the approach of autumn. We are harvesting apples from the tree in the backyard and making apple sauce.

Nice talking to you,


Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

To Get My Fair Share of Abuse

To Get My Fair Share of Abuse

By Fred Owens

I have a story to tell about how I went to a wedding in Chicago in 1968, just a week before the infamous Democratic Convention and Police Riot.

It was the wedding of Mary B Mueller and Peter Ahr -- two classmates of mine at St. Michael's College. What made that day special to me was the arrival of Mayor Richard Daley as an honored guest because Daley was the cousin of Mary B's mother.

His black limousine was parked right outside the church. He greeted one and all, being careful not to stay too long and upstage the bridal couple. I enjoyed a brief conversation with the Mayor, and then off he went, speeding in his motorcade.

That's the kind of mayor he was -- going to weddings and funerals, and giving that hands-on neighborhood family feeling.

I was disarmed by his warmth. I decided not to go to the demonstrations at the Democratic convention the following week. I knew the Yippies were going to challenge the cops and pick a fight. I thought picking a fight with the Chicago cops was about the dumbest thing you could do. There were better ways to protest the war beside getting your head smacked with a club.

Anyway, I stayed home and watched the cops club the Yippies on TV. Well, they were looking for a fight and they got one.

My brother Tom went downtown for the demonstrations and he said that the cops might have distinguished between the peaceful demonstrators and the ones causing violence. He said the cops just waded into the crowd with clubs and they didn't need to do that. My answer to him -- and we still disagree fifty years later -- is that if you're standing next to the guy who is calling the cop a pig, then maybe you should go someplace else.

I remembered how the Chicago cops protected  Martin Luther King and the civil rights marchers in 1966. I was in those marches and the cops protected us from a violent racist mob. The civil rights marchers behaved lawfully and the cops protected them. That was the way to do it. I had no quarrel with those policemen.

I did not go to the demonstration in Chicago in 1968. The following year I did not go to Woodstock -- too many people.

Last Week of Summer

The weather on the West Coast has been too interesting. Fire and Flood. Flood and Fire. Hot days and sultry nights. It has been cooler this past week so we are relieved in Santa Barbara. But September looms and that month can be hottest of all....

Such a dreadful vision of climate catastrophe, but we are resourceful and determined people and we will get thorough this.

John McCain dies.

I voted for Barack Obama in 2008, but I always thought John McCain was a decent fellow and might have served as President.

From the Department of Getting Right to the Point

Mabel Rye, age 97, lives across the street from us. I often take her grocery shopping. Yesterday I picked her up. As I helped her into the car we had this conversation.

Good morning, Mabel.
"Good morning, Fred"
How are you feeling today?
What's that like?
"It's kind of hard to describe."
Well, I guess I'll find out.

take care and happy last week of summer,



Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Do the Right Thing

By Fred Owens

This is a variant on the theme of summer vacation. This one is about the Worst Summer Job I Ever Had.

In the summer of 1965, I came home from the excitement of freshman year at St. Michael's College to the crashing boredom of suburban Chicago. My Dad said not to worry, I have work for you. My folks published a fishing magazine. It was a cool business and they made a good living. Dad worked at the office about ten minutes walking from the house. He did the publishing and editorial chores. Mom worked at a desk on the back porch and kept the books. We Owens children got drafted into various chores. They didn't have to spell it out -- "You get to eat, you get to live, and you get to go to college, so here's the job."

Circulation work. The mailing list. 12,000 names and addresses in a stack of binders over a foot high. In 1965 the Post Office decided that you had to have a zip code on every address or you would lose your second-class mailing permit. So they handed me the zip code directory which weighed about ten pounds. I started with Abbot and Anderson, one address at a time. Look it up in the directory, write it down on the binder. Look up the next address. I think it took me more than six weeks to finish. Boring? This was the dark underbelly of a family business.

But necessary. Dad said never argue with the Post Office, you don't have a choice.

Actually, since that summer of 1965 I have had other boring jobs. It happens. You get used to it after a while.

Do the Right Thing

The title of Spike Lee's 1989 masterpiece is actually a question. What is the Right Thing?  This is a profound moral question that we all face.

I need to see it again. There was Mookie the first time and he was right. Then Mookie the second time and he was wrong. Now I'm ready for Mookie the third time..... It's a pretty good movie that keeps you wondering whether Mookie was right or wrong.

Why Read Moby Dick

Why Read Moby Dick is a slim volume written by Nathaniel Philbrick. He has read the novel 12 times. I have read it twice. We both love it. The book answers the question, but I have not needed any encouragement. Like those long so-called divergent chapters about whaling technology  -- they're the best part of the book. And so politically not correct. This book is about killing whales. We don't do that anymore.

California Senator Kamala Harris for President in 2020

Harris might run. We'll get a decision from her after the November election. One friend told me Harris had little experience since being elected to the Senate only two years ago. But she was Attorney General of California for six years. That's a tough job.

I hope she runs. She has the grit and the stamina. She has the smile and the laugh. Not the charisma, but she engages well with a crowd. She can work a rope line and give a good speech. Women will vote for her because she's a woman. Men will vote for her because she's good-looking. Young people will vote for her because she's only 53.

She speaks for Dreamers and immigrant families. Her career is not touched with scandal. She can win against Trump. She will not scare away the moderate Republicans who don't want to give Trump another chance.

She grew up in Oakland, attended Howard University and then law school. Her parents are both immigrants -- father from Jamaica, mother from India. She is married with step children. She had an affair some years ago with Willie Brown who was married at the time  -- imagine how her life will be examined for stories like this if she runs for president.

Kamala Harris is well-known and liked in California. Let's see how she does when she visits Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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

Sunday, August 12, 2018


By Fred Owens

Saturday and the beach was crowded, so we went to the afternoon movie, choosing BlackkKlansman.

I like Spike Lee's work, especially Do the Right Thing. You can interpret that 1989 film several different ways.

So it is with this new film, based on a true story, about how a black police detective infiltrated a Ku Klux Klan outfit in Colorado Springs in the 1970s.

I thought to myself that I have never met a genuine Klansman, but then I thought maybe I have. Maybe, when I was hitching rides around the country, and the guy picked me up, he seemed friendly enough, he sounded me out on various topics of conversation as we loafed along the highway at high speed -- maybe that guy was in the Klan. I mean, how would I know? It's not like he would tell me.

I never met Stokely Carmichael either. He was a true-to-life firebrand. He got a lot of press in those years -- Black Power! His speech before the black student union in Colorado Springs is a high point of the movie. I did meet Jesse Jackson back in 1966, and saw him daily for several weeks in the basement of the Mount Olive Baptist Church on the south side of Chicago. Jackson wore a big Afro back then, like the Ron Stallworth character has in the current film.

You should go see this movie. It is a compelling film. It's not a documentary. but far from a work of fiction. Spike Lee doesn't make things up, he records what he sees and tells what he knows and does not qualify his language. Spike Lee lays it on pretty thick.

Not a small thing, but the sound track is wonderful. Plus there are a few scenes that are played for laughs. It's a more powerful drama that inserts a bit of humor, like the comic interludes in a tragedy by Shakespeare.

Almost the last scene is a re-enactment of the KKK burning cross ceremony -- a powerful image and most terrifying. Is it a real cross? Are those real flames and real Klansman in real robes? Who lit that fire?

Spike Lee closes the film with footage of last year's white nationalist march in Charlottesville. That was a one hundred percent real. And who lit that fire?

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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

Monday, August 06, 2018

California Senator Kamala Harris for President in 2020

By Fred Owens

California is burning. Horrific fires are spreading across northern California, and it's hot everywhere. More than a thousand homes are destroyed in Redding. Yosemite Park is closed. Fire crews are stretched thin and exhausted. It seems unbearable, but they will get through this somehow.

That's in northern California. Down here in Santa Barbara it's just hot and we can't complain.

California Senator Kamala Harris for President in 2020

California Senator Kamala Harris might make a good President. If she runs in 2020 she could beat Trump.

I would like the next President to speak for all Americans and be someone we can all live with. Maybe she is that person.

I'm doing a little research on Harris. We like her a lot in California, but I need to hear from some friends in Ohio and Michigan to see how she does in the heartland.

She's 53, in her first term as Senator, formerly California Attorney General, a graduate of Howard University, has a husband but no children.

She embraces identity politics

"Harris’ remarks follow criticism — including from some within the Democratic Party — that a full-throated embrace of racial, ethnic and gender issues could distract from a broader Democratic platform."

Quoted from Politico but that registers with me. I don't understand identity issues and prefer to avoid them. I try to go after issues without the dimension of race and gender.

I support reproductive freedom, a $15 minimum wage, a reduction in student loan debt, and Medicare for all residents of our country. That seems uncomplicated to me.

I don't have to agree with Harris on where the emphasis should be on identity, but I can help her get votes from crusty old white men like me.

Let's talk about unimportant things, like her name. It has a good sound, it rolls off the tongue. Ka-ma-la. If you met someone named Kamala you would start to like her right away. And her last name, Harris, is common and easy to remember.

She has a husband, Douglas Emhoff, who is a lawyer. They got married four years ago. Does he fit the bill for First Gentlemen? I don't want to hear about any trouble or anything "interesting."  I want an unremarkable, affectionate marital team in the White House. She will be President. He will have his own occupation  -- one hopes.

For President I want someone who is likable and not quick to anger, who wins friends easily and enjoys the crowd, who feels at home in Missouri or Colorado, who works hard, but not too hard, who fights like hell, but would rather not, who can cut a deal when deals can be cut, who can make a joke on herself now and then, and who can give a speech that will stir the blood of the nation.

Finally, thinking about Kamala Harris in 2020 gives me hope.There is life after Trump. There is a good future ahead.

And we say goodbye here, marching out the door to the old Democrats' tune, Happy Days Are Here Again.

stay cool if you can,


Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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

Sunday, July 29, 2018

California is on fire.

By Fred Owens

California is on fire.  The latest news said the Redding fire had torched 89,000 acres and was five percent contained. At least five are dead, many more missing and 500 structures burned. When they say structure they mean including barns and garages and stores, but you now it's mostly homes that were destroyed by the flames.

The Redding fire is the biggest of almost a dozen fires in the state. Crews are getting overworked and tired. Resources are thinly stretched. All eyes are on the weather, which is expected to continue hot into three digits.

None of this is near us in Santa Barbara. A light smoke was in the air Friday night from a one-acre blaze three miles from our house. It is reported to be contained this morning. And there is no smoky smell.

You think it was just a one-acre blaze, but all the big fires start out with just one-acre -- just one spark. You look around your property and you don't see trees and shrubbery, you see fuel. The fire loves fuel, the fire leaps the Sacramento River and leaps the freeway on the wind, racing toward more fuel, and so much of what we have and where we live can catch fire.

This is California this summer. We don't over worry. We might keep an eye to what we might throw into the car if we had to leave, but otherwise we -- like yesterday, we walked down to the harbor and out to the breakwater to watch the sailboats racing and the seals splashing and the pelicans cruising.

Every Saturday at 2 p.m. the Santa Barbara Ukelele Club gathers under the coral  trees by the Harbormaster's office, gathers on the lawn in a circle, 25 players with their ukes playing Sloop John B and other old tunes. We sat on the grass and listened for a half hour.

Sunday, this morning, we had avocado omelettes. Anita gave us three giant avos from her backyard tree and they got ripe and it was time for omelettes. This is what keeps us strong and keeps us hopeful while the fires are raging.

And we banned plastic straws in Santa Barbara. You can laugh all you want..... but when you come to visit our beautiful city, you can bring your own straws, or you can ask for one at the counter, or just sip straight from the cup.... Yes, the joke is on us, but you still won't get a straw. Plastic straws, banned or not, might seem trivial while the fires are burning. Maybe the ways and means of California folks seem frivolous. Think what you will.  When we have a problem, we grab a towel and head for the beach -- we find our strength that way.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend,


Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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

Thursday, July 19, 2018

I threw a jar of grape jelly out the window

By Fred Owens

I wrote these stories for my classmates. They give off the air of innocence and times of long ago -- the Sixties.

We didn't worry about paying off our student loans, but we did worry about getting killed in Vietnam. Fear of getting drafted added a personal motive to the late night discussions of those days.

I was 19, a sophomore in college in 1966. I was in a state of sheer exuberance, which is what got me through stunts like this. Plus I read many, many books and kept in good academic standing. I could give details to this incident, like I could tell you about Tom, my roommate, and what school we were at, stuff like that, but I think I like this very short version of the event.

I threw the jar of grape jelly out the window.

Tom cooked pork chops and made the best mashed potatoes. We ate off of aluminum plates, which we had bought figuring to keep them until they wore out. Heck, they lasted all year. The handle was off the refrigerator, so you had to pry it open with a knife. And when you got the door open, a jar would inevitably roll off the shelf and bounce on the floor, because the floor underneath the refrigerator was tilted. Boy, that was annoying.

One late night I came weaving home, and opened the frig door for a snack. The grape jelly jar came rolling on to the floor, and I was pissed. I picked it up and heaved it with all my might out an open window and on to Church Street. Unfortunately, it splattered and broke on the windshield of a car. I had the presence of mind to quickly turn off the lights and watch, as the driver got out of his car. I noticed his stunned and perplexed expression as he turned and looked up at my darkened window. Then he drove off, and twenty minutes later one of Metro’s finest, all starched and ironed, very large but also very polite, came knocking on my door.

“Did you throw a jar of jelly out the window?” he asked, or words to that effect. I, a master of undergraduate insouciance, had begun to see the humor of the situation -- Toronto cops were such pussycats. I mustered up my most serious intellectual expression and said with feigned amazement, “What! That’s the craziest thing I ever heard of. Why do you wake me in the middle of the night? This is really ridiculous.”

The cop quickly realized he had more important matters to attend to, as I rather abruptly closed the door in his face and laughed myself silly.

So much for college hijinks. The thing about college, at least for me, is that I simply had too much fun. I did not suffer. Do you need to suffer to make a good story? Where is the anguish and pain? Not here, not in these tales.

These are prime summer days. Time for lazy days at the beach. I work mornings for various garden customers, but afternoons can find me stretched out on the sand with an umbrella overhead to keep out the strongest sun. I like the water at 65 degrees or warmer. I like to paddle around in it and just float. I love the sound of the waves and I watch for dolphins out past the surf......And pelicans, I love the way they fly.

For beach reading I have $3 paperbacks from the used book store -- Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling and a collection of short stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer.

Thanks for staying with me.


Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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

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