Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Goodbye, California

Goodbye, California. It's been a wonderful three weeks. The weather was very good. I got that needed shot of sunshine and I feel fortified and ready to go home now.

Los Angeles is such a lively place. Everything awful you ever heard about this place is completely true, but the excellence shrines through the smog and debris. I have seen ugly art, hideous architecture, dirty streets, and pathetic people desperate for attention. But the sheer vitality of this city amazes me.

Looked at rationally, Los Angeles shouldn’t even exist. There are too many people living in a desert landscape and the doomsday scenario is compelling, but it’s like riding the big wave -- you’re on the nose of the surfboard riding for hell with a thousand tons of water about to crash over your head and smash your bones on a rocky shore. So you just keep going because there’s no way to go back.

Los Angeles is the future, and with all its problems, this city could turn on a dime. It’s amazing what people can do when they finally get focused. That’s why I said it’s only five years away from paradise.

HAPPY NEW YEAR. Every news writer in the country is posting a ten-year review, and most have said it was a dismal period of failure. I agree. We’re worse off now than we were in 1999.

Personally, I haven’t done so well these past ten years. I can’t wait for this decade to end. There’s a lot of bad luck and poor decisions that I want to put behind me. But we do get more chances. And 2010 is looking sweet. I have plans to work on and dreams that might come true.

Likewise, the nation can rise, and it will rise. It’s such a beautiful country. Maybe we got kicked around and fell flat. So? Stuff like that happens. We just dust ourselves off and get a little smarter because there isn’t anything wrong with this country that can’t be fixed.

THOSE AWFUL CALIFORNIA TOMATOES. Boy, here’s something that needs to be fixed. First I read the harvest report at the Western Farm Press website. In 2009, California growers harvested 13.3 million tons of tomatoes on 308,000 acres, with an average yield of 43.2 tons per acre.

These tomatoes are hard as baseballs, tasting like cardboard, soaked in pesticide, and destined for the processing market, for Hunt’s tomato paste, for wholesale contracts with Domino’s pizza, and for the shelves of Wal-Mart SuperCenters across the land.

California produces more than 90 percent of the nation’s processed tomatoes and nearly half the world’s total processed tomato tonnage. This is industrial production and a lot of us would like it to be better, meaning better tasting and with fewer chemical inputs.

We want the growers to make a profit, but we want the field workers to -- not just get paid better -- but to enjoy a higher status.

California tomatoes need irrigation, but this precious water must be carefully husbanded, and what flows off the field needs to be as clean as when it flowed in.

So, if a can of crappy cardboard tomato paste cost a dollar, would you pay $1.25 for something better? I would.

THE MARKETS. The industrial growers of Central Valley have given California produce a bad reputation. But I visited four farmers markets while I was here -- in Santa Monica, Venice, and nearby communities. I saw mouth-watering beautiful fruits and vegetables. I bought sumptuous table grapes. I tasted fresh, local strawberries that were actually good.

One friendly farmer, as a New Year’s gift, gave me a pint of his own fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice -- it was spine-tingling tasty.

These are the smaller growers. They truck it fresh to market and they get a higher price. They don’t sell much wholesale because they can’t compete with the giant growers.

Instead they sell quality and freshness and the demand is growing year by year.

This is the future in California, and similar changes are taking place in the Skagit Valley and around the country.

We’re going to fix the farm and grow tastier food with fewer chemical inputs. We’re going to husband the soil and use water prudently. We’re going to pay good wages to willing farm workers.

And that isn’t pie in the sky. That’s just something we can do when we decide we really want to do it.

The history of American agriculture is about innovation. Farmer have never been conservative in that respect, but among all professions, most willing to try something different.

PROPS TO THE PEOPLE. I want to give a generous round of applause to my fellow Americans. They can talk all the want about how the system failed on Christmas Day when the Nigerian tried to ignite his underwear in an airplane flying to Detroit -- because we know what a bunch of alert citizens can do. They jumped all over him -- no waiting for instructions -- they put him down and got the fire out.

The government is doing a poor job defending us against terrorists. President Obama is sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. That is a waste of American lives.

But I have a confidence in the strong and alert citizens of America. They kicked the would-be terrorist right where it hurt the most and took him down.

MALIBU, HOME OF THE SURF GODS. On my last day in California, I drove up to Malibu to visit the surf gods. These are men my age who have dedicated their lives to being on the beach at Malibu. Some of them are bums and some of them are millionaires, but it’s all about the beach and the surf. It’s all about being there, and whatever you have to sacrifice or give up in order to be there -- every day, all year, for your whole life, in the waves and riding the surf. These guys are my people.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Love of Nature

On Sunday we drove to the edge of the San Gabriel Mountains in Pasadena, where the city stops and the wilderness begins. The boundary is really quite abrupt. The city lies flat and to the south, extending for many freeway miles. The canyon and the foothills rise to the north, too steep for a road, and no one has ever lived there.

We walked up the canyon in a family party. The first mile is an easy stroll. At the beginning, it's not really a canyon with steep sides, but just a wide stream bed.

The stream runs cold and clear coming out of the foothills. My brother says the creek runs until June and then it dries up. He lives nearby and hikes this trail often.

Here it is late December and it's still autumn -- the sycamore trees have golden brown leaves falling down around their trunks in piles, waiting for the wind to blow them someplace else. The sycamore trees favor the stream side in this dry country and they can get very big. They have beautiful smooth silver trunks.

The other tree is a kind of California oak with shiny, tough leaves, the color of dark green. You look at these oak trees and you know it can get really hot and dry around here. They just look kind of desert tough, like they're going to hold on to their water root by root and leaf by leaf.

Away from the stream, the foothills rise quickly with no trees at all. Looking up you only see brush on this south-facing slope. Of wildlife, there are bears, lions, coyotes, deer, foxes, hawks, eagles, and less glamorous species such as possum, raccoon and rabbit.

The mountains rise up to snow-capped peaks. You can see them in the distance driving on the San Bernardino Freeway -- snowy mountains far away, in the winter-time, when the air is clear.

The Station Fire last August was one of the biggest burns in California history at 250 square miles. After our canyon hike, we drove a few miles to the west where we could view the burned out area. The blackened hills extend for miles.

The fire was not completely extinguished until mid-October. Many residents at the base of the foothills were evacuated. Many others were safe in their homes, but for the choking smoke. The fire was just barely stopped here at the edge of the city. Unfortunately, the stronger winds blew north, and there was nothing to stop it going that way, so the fire just took off like a freight train and raged across the Angeles National Forest until it was spent and then finally corralled.

Now the residents fear the mudslides. In Southern California, mudslides follow brush fires. So the residents at the base of foothills held their breath last week when we got 2.5 inches of rain. There were sandbags installed ahead of time, and concrete abutments in critical areas, and the damage was minimal.

The danger of mudslides will not diminish until the soil is settled with new grass and brush. The winter rains should get things growing again, and it is reasonable to expect a show of green on the foothills fairly soon.

Far into the mountains, the Singing Springs Resort burned to the ground during the fire. It had been a group of small cabins and a big house and barn used by the gatekeeper. The Webb family has owned this 16-acre property since 1947. They used to have a roadside store, a gas station, even a post office. But business dwindled in recent years and maintenance was poor.

The Webb family found that they could rent out the property to film-makers as a location. They made less money than when it was resort, but the costs were lower and they were able to keep the property and pay the taxes. But the Station Fire last August destroyed all the buildings and filled the abandoned swimming pool with ash and debris.

They were at a loss until they discovered they could still rent the property as a movie location -- to people making disaster movies.

Do you need burnt-out ruins amid a bleak ash-ridden landscape for your next apocalyptic film? Then call the Webb family and they will rent you their recently destroyed property. They’ve had three takers so far, and life goes on, because this is Los Angeles, and no matter what the trouble, you just make a movie out of it.

The caretaker has moved a small trailer on to the property with a generator. He reports new shoots of green in the burnt land. He has seen mice and other rodents and even a rattlesnake or two. One of the singed sycamores recently sprouted shoots of new leaves. The Singing Springs Resort has survived another disaster.

The brush fires and mudslides in a desert landscape make you wonder how anybody can live in this desert climate. Throw in the earthquakes, and it’s a miracle that one of the world’s biggest cities exists here at all.

SUBSCRIPTIONS. It's all right to buy a subscription any time of the year. Like right now. For $25 you can become one of the honored subscribers to Frog Hospital. Subscribers have no special influence over what gets written, yet they are held in the highest esteem by this writer. You can mail a check for $25, made out to Fred Owens, and mail it to Box 1292, LaConner, WA 98257. Or go to my Frog Hospital blog and hit the PayPal button and pay that way.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Insulation is Sexy

Before flying to Copenhagen to discuss climate control with the important people, President Obama stopped at a Home Depot in northern Virginia to pitch energy independence as a surefire way to produce jobs.

And he said, several times, that weatherizing or insulation is sexy, explaining that it's cool to save money.

"Insulation is sexy." That is probably the most profound thing Obama ever said and I really mean that. It's so totally cool. Let's retrofit the entire country -- caulk every window and seal every crack, and wrap a blanket around every hot water heater in the land.

Insulate the ceiling, then crawl under the house and insulate the floor.

Good insulation makes your house warmer in winter, cooler in summer, and helps to keep out the noise from traffic. It's an investment that pays off in the long run.

That's why President Obama said insulation is sexy.

Now I would like to hear someone like Glenn Beck say otherwise. I would like to hear Glenn Beck say that insulation is stupid and a waste of money.

Glenn Beck would say, why those people in China and India aren't going to insulate their homes, so why should we?

Then Glenn Beck would start to wonder about those people at Home Depot who sell insulation -- they're communists. They hate America. They want to take control of the government and bury us under intense regulation and taxation.

Boycott Home Depot! We're madder than hell.

That's probably what Glenn Beck is saying right now, as President Obama flies to Copenhagen.

Well, Obama is no angel of environmental perfection, and Air Force One spews a fair amount of carbon dioxide in a trans-Atlantic journey, but I think he's working in the right direction when he talks about weatherization and the benefits of insulation.

There is no dramatic solution to global warming. It's going to take a thousand small steps and adjustments to make our economy fit the changing conditions.

And one of the things to keep in mind is the following principle:

EVERY SOLUTION CREATES ANOTHER PROBLEM. An important principle that undergirds any attempt to improve our environment and conserve our natural resources is this: every solution creates another problem.

Here's a very clear example. Municipalities across the country have been replacing the incandescent bulbs in traffic lights with LEDs -- or Light Emitting Diodes.

The LEDs consume far less electricity and the bulbs last much longer. This brings considerable savings in energy and money.

So it's all good, right? No, it's only partly good because this solution has created another problem.

It was something nobody expected. The old incandescent bulbs generate a lot of heat, which is wasted energy, but that heat comes in handy on a cold snowy day in the Midwest.

Because when snow falls on the traffic lights, the heat from the bulbs melts the snow, and traffic lights remain visible -- in places like Minneapolis and Chicago.

Now, when the LEDS were installed in the traffic lights, they don't generate any heat, which is great, except when the snow falls.

When the snow falls, the LEDS cannot melt it, and traffic lights becomes obscured and invisible.

This has resulted in a rash of accidents -- fender benders mostly, but people have been injured.

So we can see that this energy-saving solution, to replace incandescent bulbs with LEDs, has created another problem.

Now, we'll listen to what Glenn Beck might say about this -- with dramatic emphasis, with tears in his eyes, he says, "LEDs are killing Americans! Killing them! Environmental wackos, intent on taking over the government and forcing us all to submit to tyranny, have forced LED traffic lights on unsuspecting communities in the Midwest.

"LEDS are dangerous, This is further evidence of a terrorist/communist plot. Real Americans use incandescent bulbs. Only pinkos and wackos use LEDS."

But the rest of us, guided by the principle that every solution creates another problem, are not dismayed. We simply have to figure out a way to remove or melt the snow that can obscure LED traffic lights. We just tap into that can-do spirit, that All-American ingenuity, that Yankee know-how that is our birthright and tradition.

We just tinker with it until we get it right.

You want to know who my guiding spirit is? Not Glenn Beck, that's for sure, but Thomas Edison.

Edison invented the incandescent bulb, and I'll bet a hundred dollars that he would be a champion of the new LEDS if he were alive today.

Edison would say, "LEDs are the future. They burn cooler. They use less electricity, and the bulbs last much longer. Sure we might discover a few problems as we develop their uses, but we're not going back to the old way of doing things. We're headed to the future, and the future is lit with LEDs."

SUBSCRIPTIONS. It's all right to buy a subscription any time of the year. Like right now. For $25 you can become one of the honored subscribers to Frog Hospital. Subscribers have no special influence over what gets written, yet they are held in the highest esteem by this writer. You can mail a check for $25, made out to Fred Owens, and mail it to Box 1292, LaConner, WA 98257. Or go to my Frog Hospital blog and hit the PayPal button and pay that way.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

It's Only Five Years to Paradise

It rained pretty good on Friday and Saturday. It was a warm, easy rain. The earth smells sweet now and the air is clean.

The roses are getting ready for the Rose Bowl Parade. I was over in Pasadena yesterday -- it's the old part of town. There is no movie money over here, it's too conservative. You see lots of mansions set back from the road behind tall hedges. And lots of roses blooming.

The summer is very hard in Pasadena, because it gets seriously hot and the smog backs up against the San Gabriel Mountains. But it's nice in the winter.

It's also less frantic than the West Side. Everybody on the West Side wants to be like Hollywood or be near the beach and be young, pretty and well-connected. The traffic is terrible, the streets are crowded, and everybody's in a big hurry on their cell phone.

So you get off the West Side and drive east, going through downtown Los Angeles -- past the new skyscrapers, past Staples Center where the Lakers play.

You go past downtown, you go by Chavez Ravine, the home of Dodgers -- a fine ball park nestled in a hillside covered with eucalyptus trees.

But you go keep going east to Pasadena, where the old money lives -- the bankers, the railroad fortunes and the big landowners. It's not Hollywood, not "cosmopolitan," but quieter and the traffic is slower.

I went there to visit my brother. I hate being accurate, but my brother actually lives in "Altadena," which is right next to "Pasadena" so we have to respect local usage.

Okay, they still have some of the movie business in "Pasadena." Like down the street from my brother's house lives a man who makes a living as a "location agent." He represents the owners of more than 600 houses which can be rented and used for location shots.

The shots might be for a movie, a TV show, or a commercial, but the agent has a portfolio of homes and the producer can pick just the right one for his shot.

When I was there, they were using a classic California Craftsman home as a set-up for the new TV hit "Parks & Recreation."

Now, the owners of the home have to vacate the premises for several days, and then ALL their furniture is put out on the sidewalk, to be replaced by furniture suitable for the film or TV show. But the owners get paid well for the inconvenience.

So, if you watch Amy Poehler come home from work on "Parks & Recreation," then you will see her enter a house just down the street from my brother's house.

As I said in the previous newsletter, it's how people in Los Angeles make a living, and there are hundreds if not thousands of jobs involved besides the the famous names and faces you see on TV -- like all those guys we saw moving the furniture in and out of the house and setting up lights, bringing in the portable toilets, and taping NO PARKING signs to the trees so that residents nearby won't interrupt the shoot.

It's a big deal and it's really cool to watch.

THEME. Now we have arrived at the THEME of today's newsletter, titled "It's Only Five Years to Paradise."

Or it's more like a hope. I look around Los Angeles -- the air is dirty and the traffic is terrible, but it would only take five years to turn this city back into a paradise.

A paradise, if only the people who lived here wanted it to happen. You shut down the freeways, and you rebuild what was once the nation's biggest system of street cars. That solves the traffic problem. Then you tear up all the lawns and build luscious organic gardens on every block.

You retrofit every house and building with a roof-top rainwater collection system that drains into an underground cistern. That solves the water problem.

Then you put solar panels on every one of those same roof tops, and the solves the energy problem

Bingo, the air is clean, the streets are quiet, and every one is happy. It wouldn't cost that much money. You could still use some stretches of the old freeways for racetracks and custom car shows.

It would take five years to do this, whenever the people around here decide that's what they want.

Five years to paradise. I can see it right over the horizon.

SUBSCRIPTIONS. It's all right to buy a subscription any time of the year. Like right now. For $25 you can become one of the honored subscribers to Frog Hospital. Subscribers have no special influence over what gets written, yet they are held in the highest esteem by this writer. You can mail a check for $25, made out to Fred Owens, and mail it to Box 1292, LaConner, WA 98257. Or go to my Frog Hospital blog and hit the PayPal button and pay that way.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Los Angeles in Winter

Los Angeles is wonderful in the winter. The cooler temperatures and occasional rain make people subdued, flannel-wrapped, and easier to take. Even the traffic, I swear, is just a hair slower. I was crossing Abbot Kinney Blvd in Venice this morning -- jaywalking -- and the drivers weren't trying to kill me, they weren't even aiming at me. I felt just the barest touch of consideration. It's really great.

I love Los Angeles. I looked at a favorite garden, just down the street from my sister's house. Roses were blooming. They looked so pretty.

Then I went to the coffee shop -- I have some old friends there, habitues, they go there every day. I sat with Eric and Evan and Chaz, reading the Los Angeles Times.

The most beautiful women in the world walk into this coffee shop. One after another, it's so stunning. It's a good show. Don't tell me it's an illusion. It's how people make a living around here. I love the movies and I love being around the people who make them.

Meanwhile, across the world, Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize just a week after announcing a troop increase in Afghanistan. He shits diamonds. I don't know how else to put it.

I'm not having such a bad week myself, so I don't complain. I read Thomas Friedman's column on global warming, and I agreed with him. I think it's a problem and we ought to do something about it:

"If we prepare for climate change by building a clean-power economy, but climate change turns out to be a hoax, what would be the result? Well, during a transition period, we would have higher energy prices.

But gradually we would be driving battery-powered electric cars and powering more and more of our homes and factories with wind, solar, nuclear and second-generation biofuels. We would be much less dependent on oil dictators who have drawn a bull’s-eye on our backs; our trade deficit would improve; the dollar would strengthen; and the air we breathe would be cleaner.

In short, as a country, we would be stronger, more innovative and more energy independent."

That's how Friedman puts it, and I agree.

The problem is that I don't know any scientists -- only a few, and them not well, so it's hard for me to make a judgment on this question. It's not something I can verify with my own observation.

I have always kept a small carbon footprint, before it was called a carbon footprint, and before I ever heard of a global warming hypothesis, so I'm already going that way, and there are many compelling reasons to conserve our natural resources besides prevention of global warming.

When they had the climate convention in Copenhagen, there were too many limousines and there was too much conspicuous consumption. We should have seen electric cars, and carpooling, and people walking instead of driving -- even if it was hypocritical posing, it still would have been more persuasive.

These are people with big carbon foot prints telling people like us with small carbon foot prints how to be have. That isn't right.

It bolsters the conservative objection that a global elite is using the climate change hypothesis to impose radical restrictions on personal freedom. This objection is plausible and needs to be addressed squarely.

But then there was the stolen e-mail scandal showing that some scientists in England cooked data to prove a pattern of global warming caused by human activity, and also conspired to prevent opposing views from gaining access to prestigious publications.

Cooking data is cheating, pure and simple, and stifling opposing views is just as wrong. But it only looks like a few bad apples. It doesn't look like a widespread conspiracy.

True, academic people, as I have known them, are subject to fads, social pressure and careerism, just like the rest of us.

Therefore, one remains skeptical. To say one "believes" in global warming is ludicrous. Instead, one makes a judgment based on the best available evidence. Belief has nothing to do with it. Climate change caused by human activity is plausible. We should cultivate a careful regard for whatever emissions we pump into the atmosphere under any circumstances. We can achieve a cleaner environment without excessive austerity and without excessive regulation. This is very possible and a good thing, and it's what I am working for.

THE HYPE. Los Angeles is all about the Hype. I went for a walk on the Venice Boardwalk. I spotted a film crew working in a roped-off area, with bright lights on poles, and electric cables snaking all over the place, generators, utility trailers, tracks laid for the camera to move one, a side tent with a catered meal, and more equipment -- there were at least forty people working there, including one Los Angeles cop astride a motorcycle doing crowd control.

All this was for a short segment of a commercial for Buffalo Wings, I was told -- because I talking to the cop on the motorcycle. He was taking it easy, working a cross-word puzzle. His cycle said "Film Unit." He said the LAPD had 150 retired officers who worked the Film Unit on an as-needed basis.

The cops get a lot of variety on the Film Unit, working all over the city on different days. Plus, it was a fair-weather job -- the film crews can't work on location on rainy days.

I would have said the cop had it easy, but after we lost four policemen in Seattle last week, I won't ever say that again.

Anyway, it was good to see the forty people working on the commercial, plus the cop on the Film Unit. They were all getting paid, even if they weren't producing Art for the Ages.

SUBSCRIPTIONS. It's all right to buy a subscription any time of the year. Like right now. For $25 you can become one of the honored subscribers to Frog Hospital. Subscribers have no special influence over what gets written, yet they are held in the highest esteem by this writer. You can mail a check for $25, made out to Fred Owens, and mail it to Box 1292, LaConner, WA 98257. Or go to my Frog Hospital blog and hit the PayPal button and pay that way.

Monday, December 07, 2009

The War on Terror

I heard President Obama speak about Afghanistan and how he was going to send another 30,000 troops to that country. I think it's a bad idea. I don't know what to say -- I voted for him.

Maybe I just heard what I wanted to hear when we had the election last year -- how Obama said he wanted to get our troops out of Iraq. I heard that part. But when he talked about Afghanistan, I thought he was kidding -- you know, some campaign rhetoric to make him look like he wasn't afraid of a fight.

Now I find out he wasn't kidding. Somehow, our military forces are supposed to accomplish something in that far away country. And then the troops will come back home again.

I'm very skeptical. We still have 28, 000 troops in South Korea. We have not yet won the war in Korea. There has been no victory and no parade, just a tense truce, and going on 50 years now.

Why would it be any different in Afghanistan?

Somehow, in Afghanistan, they're going to build up an army which will look respectable in Western eyes, and when that happens the troops come home.

It doesn't make any sense. But I voted for the guy, so I don't know what to say.

LACONNER TOWN COUNCIL REDUCES THEIR OWN BENEFITS. In an almost unheard of development, the LaConner Town Council voted to discontinue their own health care benefits. This should be national news. It is exceedingly rare for a legislative body to reduces its own pay or benefits.
But they did it in LaConner, by a fair and square vote, taking money out of their own pockets, as it were.

The town had been paying the health insurance of town council members at a cost of over $30,000 per year -- which was a nice little fringe benefit if you could manage to get elected. But this year revenue was too tight, and voters were saying to cut back expenses anywhere possible, so the town council did the right thing and eliminated their own town-paid health insurance. It can't be easy to give up something like that

The council members do have alternate means of obtaining health insurance, but it will cost them money out of their own pockets.

THE WINTER OLYMPICS IN VANCOUVER. The Winter Olympics in Vancouver are a looming disaster. It would be a hollow gesture on my part to boycott the event. The fact is that tickets are incredibly expensive and nobody I know can afford to go.

The site of the Olympics is a only a two-hour drive from LaConner, but you have to get across the border.

That used to so easy. Now, crossing the border in to Canada or coming back can be a nightmare -- long waits and being asked stupid question by intimidating border patrol agents.

It's not like it happens very often -- a hassle at the border. But it used to never happen at all.

Anyway, seats at the Winter Olympics are reserved for the global elite. The rest of us can watch it on TV.


War on Terrorism

War on Drugs

War on Crime

War on Poverty

This dates me, but when I came on the scene, we had the “War on Poverty,” which didn’t work because (a) we didn’t try hard enough, and (b) we got distracted by the War in Viet Nam, which didn’t work either.

Then we had the War on Crime, which worked because crime statistics are way down, But it didn’t really work because everyone is still too scared, and there are too many young men in prison.

Then we had the War on Drugs, which hasn’t worked at all -- there are tons of illegal drugs everywhere.

Now we have the War on Terrorism. In this case expectations are being carefully managed: This war, we are being told, will go on for a long time.

Oh, I forgot: we had the War on Communism. It’s over and we won.

But we still have these four enemies, these four horrifying horsemen: poverty, crime, drugs, and terrorism -- all misery, all connected, each one causing the other.

Taking it all together, I think we should go back to the War on Poverty -- that being the best way to work on solving these problems.

KUKLA, FRAN & OLLIE. Kukla, Fran & Ollie decorate their Christmas tree on YouTube.

SUBSCRIPTIONS. It's all right to buy a subscription any time of the year. Like right now. For $25 you can become one of the honored subscribers to Frog Hospital. Subscribers have no special influence over what gets written, yet they are held in the highest esteem by this writer. You can mail a check for $25, made out to Fred Owens, and mail it to Box 1292, LaConner, WA 98257. Or go to my Frog Hospital blog and hit the PayPal button and pay that way.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Love and Real Estate

"A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of. It certainly may secure all the myrtle and turkey part of it." --- Jane Austen

In times of trouble and emotional tribulation, we turn to the calm outlook of Jane Austen. Love may come and love may go, but real estate lasts forever -- or nearly so.

And when Jane Austen talks about income, she means the income from the securest investment of all -- property, land.

With great sympathy to those underwater or facing foreclosure, a good home with the mortgage paid is a wonderful blessing.

A dear relative called me this weekend with news of a love affair gone bad. There were so many tears and such pain. But later, as things calmed down, we began to discuss her property -- the home she owns, what it might be worth on today's market, whether it might be a good time to sell. This was such a soothing topic.

Keeping the house is probably her best option, but prices in her neighborhood are still pretty good, and selling could be a good alternative.

But if you sell, then you have money. Money makes me nervous. It sloshes around and other people want to take it from you. It's better to take your money and put it back into land.

Therapists say we need to be grounded. I take that literally. A good fixed-rate 30-year mortgage is the ticket.

THANKSGIVING. I had Thanksgiving with very good friends in Anacortes. One of them, the one who sat next to me during the meal, insisted on talking about politics. I did not enjoy the meal.

But afterward, over pie, the hostess brought out her advertising inserts, listing all the special sales and bargains on Black Friday. She and her husband were going to make the 4 a.m. show at Wal-Mart, Kohls, Best Buy, and so on. I hate shopping and I am a life-long critic of American consumerism, yet their sheer enthusiasm and dedication won me over. With elbows sharpened, the two of them plunged into the crowd and fought their way to the best bragging deal in town.

They were buying things they could easily do without, but I'm not going to be a party pooper.

WHO'S HAVING THE MOST FUN? This might be the first weekend this year, when I had more fun than Tiger Woods. He's a wonderful man and a superb athlete. Did his wife really try to brain him with a golf club? It's none of my business, really.

FOUR POLICEMEN KILLED NEAR TACOMA. The execution-style slaying of four cops happened this morning in a suburb near Tacoma. This is awful and frightening. A Seattle cop was killed in this manner last month.

I have to think about this. I was going to write about how we all have blessings and so many things to be grateful for, but now I can't. I have to think about these four cops who were killed. What can I do about it?

BARBARA CRAM DIED. Barbara Cram died in the early hours of Thanksgiving morning, at her home in Seattle. I had a chance to say goodbye to her on Wednesday. She was calm and receiving very good care from her family and the hospice nurses. Barbara had so very many good friends in LaConner. For those who didn't know her, she was the founder of Friendship House in Mount Vernon, a homeless shelter.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Flight of the Owl

I got up before dawn this morning and drove four miles to the Conway Store because I was out of coffee, and on the way back to the farmhouse, an owl flew over the road, going home after a night’s hunt.

Owls fly so quietly in the darkness. But I am fairly glad to be a human being who gets his groceries at the store. If I had to fly around at night looking for mice to eat, I would starve. Then you have to eat the mice raw, fur, bones and all. I wouldn’t like it.

Speaking of groceries, I will be interviewing a local potato farmer on Monday for a story in the LaConner Weekly News. Skagit Red potatoes are the number one cash crop in these parts -- some 13,500 acres planted this year. We have a warehouse near our old farmhouse (one of several in the valley) which holds countless tons of red potatoes in a huge pile.

That’s why I live here. Sure the people are friendly and the scenery is beautiful, but I’m here because I’m close to the food. It’s the old Scarlett O’Hara instinct in me. “As God as my witness, I’ll never go hungry again.” Not with all those spuds just down the road.

That reminds me of one of the most important functions of the federal government, the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Conservatives object so strenuously to “government interference” and burdensome regulations and taxation and so forth.

I have seen some very conservative ranchers and farmers go on at length about this, like it was a matter of principle, and why can’t we just get the government off our backs?

But they change their tune when the farm bill comes up for a vote. All of a sudden agriculture becomes an essential industry that can’t be allowed to fail. Government money is not wasted on their livelihood.

I agree with that. Government support of agriculture has been highly effective over all. The evidence is our fertile fields and the abundance of low-cost food at our grocery stores. It works.

Now, these same conservative farmers and ranchers might consider that the government can provide some useful assistance to other occupations and other problems, don’t you think?

OFF THE ISLAND. I will be moving off Fir Island in a few weeks. I have been living in this beautiful old farmhouse for two years. The view from my window, across the fields to Mount Baker, is a daily inspiration, watching flocks of snow geese in the winter, and flocks of sparrows in the summer.

But it gets cold living in a house with wood heat, and I’m ready for a move into town, to civilization and central heating, where you just twist the dial on the thermostat and pay the bill every month.

Besides that, I feel like being more sociable. In a compact town like LaConner, you just walk to the grocery store or the post office and you see people you know, and there’s always someone to talk to, and generally we talk about the other people we live with -- not that I’m a gossip.

I will be engaged in a three-month house-sitting situation, which is a great opportunity to concentrate on the book I am writing. Having this low-cost housing plus an advance from the publisher will make it possible.

Speaking of the manuscript -- the working title is “Best of Frog Hospital” -- it will be edited. The publisher and I have agreed to find a good editor and get that thing done just right. This is very re-assuring, because a writer can look at a page of his own words and stare at that page for an hour and know that something just isn’t right, but he can’t quite put his finger on it.

But when a good editor comes along, he or she reads the page, identifies the problem, gets out the old red pencil, and tells you what to do. It’s a wonderful process, although it can be testy at times, because the writer often feels that his own formulations are almost sacred and perfect. When that happens a discussion may ensue between the writer and the editor and things get worked out. For the best, I hope.

LONG-TERM LEAVE FROM THE HOSPITAL. Besides moving off the island, I am taking a long-term leave from the hospital where I have worked the past two years. It is very stressful working on the medical unit in the midst of pain, suffering and death, and I’m not being dramatic in describing it that way because that’s just what goes on at the medical unit.

It’s stressful. Most of the full-time nurses and nursing aides are well under the age of fifty. When nurses get past fifty, they tend to work part-time or to find less stressful assignments

I’m 63, so I need a break. I had a talk about this with a retired doctor and he recommended a long-term break, until mid-January at the earliest. He said to take some long walks and spend time playing with children, and that is what I am doing.

I wish you and your family peace and prosperity and the very best of Thanksgiving.

GARBLED TRANSMISSION. Several readers reported receiving a garbled transmission of the text last time. Thank you for telling me this. I may have identified the problem.

SUBSCRIPTIONS. It's all right to buy a subscription any time of the year. Like right now. For $25 you can become one of the honored subscribers to Frog Hospital. Subscribers have no special influence over what gets written, yet they are held in the highest esteem by this writer. You can mail a check for $25, made out to Fred Owens, and mail it to Box 1292, LaConner, WA 98257. Or go to my Frog Hospital blog and hit the PayPal button and pay that way.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

If You Feel Guilty You Are

In LaConner you're a local if you were born here, or if you went to high school here, or if you no longer give a shit whether anybody thinks you're a local.

This is where I used to live, but I am moving into town:

Room to rent in a lovely old farmhouse on Fir Island. $400 includes utilities. Spacious room with a view to die for facing east across the fields to Mt. Baker. Nice quiet house, good people. Available December 9. Call Patty Detzer 360-445-6281.

This is from Old Frog Hospital -- the kind of thing that will be included in the book I am writing:

If You Feel Guilty You Are

Why do people say “I feel guilty”? Why don’t they say “I am guilty”? If you feel guilty because you are guilty, that means you are doing something you shouldn’t do, and you should stop doing it. If you feel guilty, but you are not guilty, then you need to visit the Head Doctor, or take some Clarification Pills, because you cannot actually feel guilty unless you are guilty.

Do you feel guilty because of what somebody else did? Then you have your emotions on backward. You might feel sad because of what somebody else did, or disappointed, or angry, but you cannot actually feel guilty about what somebody else did.

Ah, but what about collective responsibility? There is a group, a social unit, that you identify with, that you belong to, and this group has done something wrong. Now this is the right way to talk – we say, “We are guilty,” not “We feel guilty,” certainly not “I feel guilty.” To say that “I feel guilty” because of what the group has done is to give yourself an unwarranted importance.

But, in most instances, people say “I feel guilty” because they don’t actually want to take any responsibility – it’s a clever way to avoid saying “I am guilty.” It’s a clever way to avoid making a judgment – either you are guilty or you are not, being fully contextual and using your very own standards, not someone else’s, not what you were taught, but what you actually know – Did you or did you not do this thing? And was doing this thing right or wrong?

Come, come, it’s not that hard. We have the well-known grey area of course. Does everything fall into the grey area? Actually, not.

So let’s say, having gone through this exercise, you reach the conclusion of “I am not guilty” and “I didn’t actually do anything wrong.” Then it’s not your fault – this harm. Either it was not a harm, or else someone else did it.

But if you reach the conclusion of “I am guilty” then you better stop doing it. That is the point of the exercise – to stop doing it. Making amends and apologizing does not serve much purpose, but to reach a decision and then to change behavior, that is character development.

Guilt is not a feeling, it is a state or condition. Feelings, famously, just are, and we accept them–we do nothing. Guilt is the result of a decision or judgment, by ourselves or by others, which points to an imperative--to do something about it.

I could edit this essay, written in 2004, and stop it right here, because the point is well-made, in a general sense. But I wanted to put this exposition on guilt in a context, so I went on to describe this meeting I attended in the town of Langley on Whidbey Island.

I recently attended a meeting of the Peace & Reconciliation Network in the town of Langley on Whidbey Island, at Neil’s Clover Patch Café. The invitation said:

“The Whidbey Peace and Reconciliation Network invites you to a relaxing evening of conversation with your neighbors. We believe that community spirit can be nurtured through good conversation – and great pie and coffee! All points of view are most welcome as we discuss the question: Given the world situation, what do you regard as beautiful and worth preserving on Whidbey Island and, what are you willing to do to preserve it? We will use a process called the Conversation Café…”
I especially like the Conversation Café format of small group (6-8 people) discussion, because I feel awkward speaking to larger groups, and I get very bored. With the smaller group, I get more chances to talk, and because I know I will get a chance to talk I am more likely to listen. The facilitator urged us to listen to each other and not rehearse our own speech – well taken.

Langley is a small town on south Whidbey Island – even cuter than LaConner. Lots of arts & crafts, many long-distance commuters to Seattle via the ferry at Mukilteo – no farmers, no Indians, no Hispanics – it is a liberal town, Democratic.

And I didn’t go there to make fun of these people, or to characterize them – I drove
there, and it takes more than one hour, to join with them and to see if they finally got their act together and their heads on straight. But I was disappointed – they still feel guilty.

But guilty of what? A competent group with mastery of social and technical skills that assures a high standard of living, yet in the context of this group discussion they expressed doubt, uncertainty, and insecurity. George Bush runs they country and they do not. Bush spearheaded the war on Iraq, which they opposed. They’ve lost money in the stock market, and they have lost environmental battles with developers on Whidbey Island.

Given the question about preserving the beauty of Whidbey Island, they felt unworthy even to live there. They said that right-wing fundamentalism was the bane of America. Yet they provided the opposite and contrary attitude of excessive doubt, confusion and inaction – stalling, feeling guilty, avoiding decision.

In conclusion ( a formulation rarely used in Frog Hospital ), the prime directive is “Do the Right Thing,” citing the Spike Lee version of that phrase.

This essay is good, but it needs a better ending. I’ll work on that.

A rare Frog Hospital poem follows, from July 2003:


Mercy for Slobodan Milosovic,

Mercy for War Criminals,

Mercy for Cop Killers,

Mercy for Drunk Drivers and Deadbeat Dads,

Mercy for Wife Beaters,

Mercy for Tyrants and Manipulators,

Mercy for Drug Addicts and Winos.

Well, it’s easy to be merciful to people you like.

SUBSCRIPTIONS. It's all right to buy a subscription any time of the year. Like right now. For $25 you can become one of the honored subscribers to Frog Hospital. Subscribers have no special influence over what gets written, yet they are held in the highest esteem by this writer. You can mail a check for $25, made out to Fred Owens, and mail it to Box 1292, LaConner, WA 98257. Or go to my Frog Hospital blog and hit the PayPal button and pay that way.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

why men don't go to yoga class

dunja, the yoga teacher asked me one day, “Why don’t men come to yoga class?” I said to her, “Let me think about that.”

It’s true that most of her students are women, with the odd guy here and there, and dunja correctly chose me as the odd guy who could explain masculine psychology to her.

I came back with the answer the next week, “dunja, men don’t go to yoga class because there’s no equipment and you don’t keep score.”

Which is obvious, once you thinks about it. There’s no gear. I mean, if they had a yoga launcher or yoga stimulator or something like that, than I could buy one. But then one of the other guys would buy a yoga launcher with chrome bushings and a genuine leather handle, and then he would have bragging rights in yoga class, until I bought a four-point turbocharged yoga massicator with a built-in electronic monitor.

Yoga would be more exciting, instead of all this “breath in, breath out, keep your center, be mindful” stuff.

Then we need to have teams, like five-man squads -- the Yoga Bears versus the Dharma Dudes and cheerleaders going “Down Dog! Down Dog!”

We’ll give dunja a whistle, and she could put people in the penalty box for e Egocentric Manipulation and Past Lives Interference. They would put this on ESPN and all the guys would show up for yoga class.

YOGA WITH DUNJA. Sunday at 9:30 a.m., Tuesday at 8 a.m., Wednesday at 7 p.m., Thursday at 8 a.m. and Friday at 9:30 a.m. Classes are $15 for drop-in or $108 for eight classes. Held at Keystone Center, 619 Commercial Ave, Anacortes. Call 360-770-7891, if you have any questions. Classes have been cancelled for Nov. 18 and Nov. 19, but will be held as scheduled for the Thanksgiving holiday.

RUMANIAN WOMEN. An Anacortes resident and world traveler returned from a long journey to Rumania, the Eastern European country with one of the most corrupt governments on earth, its stream fouled with pollution from Stalin-era factories, it’s economy in shatters. It seems to be such a mess.

“The women are too beautiful,” the world traveler said. “Rumanian women are the most beautiful women I have ever seen. And the men are all crazy. There’s no one left to run the government. I was in a daze myself the whole time I was there. The women are so beautiful that I couldn’t think straight.”

An interesting comment, but not confirmed by other sources.

THE MUSIC MAN. Meredith Wilson’s wonderful musical, The Music Man, opens at the LaConner School Auditorium Thursday, Nov. 19. I have sat through several rehearsals and the singing is wonderful. Watch your friends and neighbors as they transform themselves by the magic of theatrical drama and become the characters they portray.

You will really enjoy this show. And Meredith Wilson is a genius. Anybody who can write a song about Gary, Indiana, deserves the highest praise.

FROG HOSPITAL SIGNS A BOOK DEAL. Fred Owens, referred to as “Author,” has signed a two-book contract with an independent publishing firm. The contract involves a cash advance from the Publisher, and an obligation from the Author to produce one manuscript on May 15, 2010, and another manuscript September 15, 2010.

The first manuscript will be a collection of essays. The working title is “Best of Frog Hospital.” The second manuscript will be a story or collection of stories written by the Author.

The contract has all kinds of neat bells and whistles with clauses about royalties and clauses about good faith, etc., etc.

This is such a good deal. The cash advance makes all the difference in the world. It will give me the chance to concentrate on the work, which is necessary for a good completion. Plus, the publisher has on obligation to publish same.

So it makes you think it’s really going to happen.

The publishing firm will be making its own announcement at a later date, so this is all I can tell you right now.

The Best of Frog Hospital. We really have to have a better title than that, but I am going through the old stuff and picking out what I am not tired of. If you have a favorite, please let me know.

Here’s one from last year, kind of serious, called “Poverty is a Misfortune.”

POVERTY IS A MISFORTUNE. Poverty is a misfortune, it does not provoke nobility or generosity. It must be accepted, endured, fought, and overcome.

Poverty is no blessing, except in the larger sense that all life is a blessing, or pancreatic cancer is a blessing.

Certainly one can learn from the experience. One can exhibit grace.

But to say, Wouldn't it be fun to be poor, is like saying, Wouldn't it fun to be sick.

One does chose the state of poverty as better than a dishonorable life, but one does not seek it for its own sake.

Poverty is not simple living. In fact, it can be both immensely complicated and continuously boring.

But simple living is a happy state. Defined as this: You are living simply if your income is greater than your expenses. Poverty is the reverse of that condition.

AND, a bit of political satire

we’re not like that here (written Nov. 2008)

I was reading about the scandal in Illinois and how Governor Blagojevich
was arrested for selling favors. Like many Washingtonians I was shocked at the depth of corruption coming out of Chicago. I am so glad that we're not like that here.

Take our Governor, Christian Gregoire -- she is an angel of the highest ethical standards. It's true that the tribal casinos made substantial contributions to her campaign fund, but does that grant them any special access? Of course not, Gregoire doesn't even return their phone calls.

Bud Norris, the mayor of Mount Vernon, is so careful not to do any favors for his friends that he doesn't even HAVE friends.

Our Skagit County Commissioners are utterly beyond any attempt at influence. It's true that they sometimes play golf with local business leaders. And it's true that those same business leaders might benefit from zoning changes, but of course those subjects are not discussed. Our commissioners simply cannot be bought.

No, we're not like those crooks in Chicago and thank goodness for that. We can trust our local leaders. In Skagit County, we pay our property taxes with the complete assurance that every penny will be honestly allocated.


"It's a routine surgery."


"Well, it's a fairly common procedure, and the outcome is almost always positive."


"Of course, in a very small number of cases, it's possible that..."

That's what I thought, I'm gonna die.

"Look, it'll be over before you know it, and you won't feel a thing.... I mean, again, there is the slight possibility of some discomfort, but that's not likely, and we have very good pain medication."

I'm gonna die. You're going to put me unconscious and cut me open with a knife. I can see my guts spilling all over the place and there's blood everywhere.

The patient screams. The surgeon makes a wordless, reassuring gesture. The patient shakes his head, looks out the window for a moment and says, "Okay, whatever, give me the form, I'll sign it."

Thus concludes the world's shortest medical drama.

SUBSCRIPTIONS. It's all right to buy a subscription any time of the year. Like right now. For $25 you can become one of the honored subscribers to Frog Hospital. Subscribers have no special influence over what gets written, yet they are held in the highest esteem by this writer. You can mail a check for $25, made out to Fred Owens, and mail it to Box 1292, LaConner, WA 98257. Or go to my Frog Hospital blog and hit the PayPal button and pay that way.

Monday, November 09, 2009

What Is A Lie?

EDITORIAL: A jobless recovery is not a recovery. The recovery has not yet begun. It doesn’t begin until the rate of unemployment goes down.

WHAT IS A LIE? If I tell you a lie and you don’t believe it, then I didn’t tell a lie, I just attempted it. It takes two people -- one to tell the lie, and one to believe it.

Most of the time when someone tells you a lie, you know it’s a lie, and you let it go. That makes you a co-conspirator. I’m not being too hard about this. The average human being can’t get through the day without telling one or two small lies. Except for my first ex-wife -- she was the most honest woman I ever met, but sometimes the truth hurt too much, and I wish she had told a few lies.

Jesus began preaching at the age of 30. He didn’t tell a single lie for three years straight and it made everybody so mad they crucified him. His record still stands, by the way. The rest of us tell lies now and then. Although I wouldn’t say I was a liar, or that you are a liar. To me, a liar is someone who is in the habit of telling lies all the time, and has no regret or conscience about it, whereas most of us feel a bit squirmy when we tell a lie because we know it isn’t right. Most of us try not to tell lies.

Unless it’s a story, of course. Like here at Frog Hospital, which is almost always the truth, except when I make things up. I have standards, I don’t bend the truth, not ever, but sometimes I make the whole thing up from scratch, like this summer when I wrote about Sheila the Tarot card reader on Beaver Marsh Road. There is no Sheila, she was a complete fabrication, but it kind of ruins the story if I say that.

In the past year, I have only told ten or twelve lie that I know of, which is as good as anybody in the business.

WRITING A BOOK. I am finishing a book I started two years ago. I half-wrote it, but I began to have doubts about whether it was good or not. That’s foolishness, I now realize. I’m not in charge of deciding whether it’s good or not, I’m just supposed to write it. So I think I can finish it now.
What’s hard is living with these characters who are traveling through South Texas in 1973 and then going into Mexico -- that’s the story I’m telling, but after a few hours of concentration in this world I have created, I start to feel like I’m in outer space and it's time to come back to earth -- like a transition.

I wrote two hours early this morning on the book, and then went to Rexville for coffee, but the transition made me feel shaky. This is real work, this book-writing, and I am making this place and this story for readers. You’ll like going there if you read it, you’ll enjoy the ride. I want the book to be enjoyable and exciting. I don’t care for a rough story or anything bizarre. And I want to work as hard as I can to make it look like I wasn’t trying at all. When you read this book, you won’t see me sweat. You won’t even think about me, but you will just be in the story. That’s my goal.

But I need to learn this in-and-out business and make it smooth, so that I can work on the book with focus and concentration, like nothing else is happening -- but it’s just me and this gang of thieves in South Texas in 1973 and I’m finding out what happens next just like I’m in a movie.

I keep expecting to run into Marlon Brando playing Emiliano Zapata. Zapata was never in South Texas, but I can put him there, because it’s story. In fact, they filmed Viva Zapata in South Texas, in a little town called Roma, which is near where things happen in the book.

That’s the fun part of book-writing -- finding out if Brando or Zapata wants to be in it or not. I’ll let you know how that turns out.

But after writing for a few hours, living in this other world, I need to have some breathing exercises, as a way to get back to Planet Earth, and be here this November 9, 2009, on Fir Island, Skagit County, Washington state, USA.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Easy Street

Hot cocoa and a warm fire. Good friends and lively music. A lake of stew and candy for the children. Robust health and money in the bank.

Man, that sounds like easy street. Just thinking about it makes me feel better -- my destination, my goal, my well-deserved reward. And I know I’ll get there someday, but first I need to shake off this gloom.

I feel the gloom when November comes, and the fear of winter creeps over the land.
November brings the Day of the Dead. And if you’re in rightness, you will feel no dread, and laugh at the skeletons and bones.

But if you’re not in rightness, you will tremble and your dreams will be disturbed by dark visions of winter -- because the landlord is cruel, he wants his coin. Heat isn’t free but hoarded and sold.

Now, gather in closer and hear my words. You can’t act on the fear, if it’s the fear of winter or any other demon. When you act on the fear, the winter-bully keeps coming back. You pay him off today, and he comes back tomorrow and wants more. He will never go away and you will always be afraid.

But we have learned to prepare for the winter months. This is not acting on fear, but simply being prudent. We learned that in the old hippie days Up River, when we lived in camps and learned how to cook over a fire and grow a garden.

In November of 1970, this conversation between Honcho and Rico may have taken place:

“Well, dude, it sure has been raining a lot. It’s cold all the time now. Man, it’s not that much fun. I was thinking we could, like, get some firewood or something, get a big a pile, you know, stay warm. We were working on that forest fire this summer -- I saw this big slash pile up by Kindy Creek.”

Okay, Honcho, you’re talking a major effort, like you have a plan. Far out, we don’t just go out and find some sticks, but like serious stuff -- a big pile of wood.

“Yeah, Rico, dig it, we stay warm all winter. We could use your truck and go to tomorrow. I’ll come by in the morning. You roust up Toothless Tom and Bobby and we’ll make it a gang. I’ll come by about nine o’clock.”

Uh, nine? Like on the clock nine? Dude, we threw the clock away. We’re just not into that time thing. You know, the rat race, the pressure, buy a new car….

“Okay, forget nine o’clock. I’ll just come by in the morning and we’ll get going.”

But the truck don’t work. The battery’s no good. I mean, we could jump start it, but then it will just die again.

“All right. I got a plan. I come by in the morning. We take the battery out of my car, put it in your truck, and we’re good to go.”

Yeah, that’ll work, but we gotta get the chainsaw from Glenn, swing by his place.

“That’s a problem, you know. It’s not like it’s his chainsaw, like he owns it. I mean, it’s our chain saw. I mean, we’re all in this together, right?”

Yeah, but Glenn kind of figures he’s in charge of the chainsaw. He’s on this like power trip.

“All right, I need to tell him the truth.”

That was the conversation between Honcho and Rico, huddled by a smoky November fire in a tepee up by Marblemount in 1970.

The chain saw in question had been liberated from the Forest Service that summer. It was Glenn and his sidekick Andy who stuck it in their duffel bag and brought it back from the fire.

The August forest fire over on the Eastside was a big burn, thousands of acres in flame, hundreds of fire fighters -- loggers, winos, Mexicans, hippies. We lived in a big fire camp with hot showers and free food, all the steak and mashed potatoes you could eat, and getting paid to work 16 hours a day.

And all that government equipment just laying around like it didn’t belong to anybody -- which is why Glenn and Andy liberated the chainsaw.

This was discussed in council while passing the pipe. “Like it’s ours now. I mean, this is America, and we’re Americans, so this is like our chain saw.”

Everybody saw that was righteous. It was ours, but it always seemed to be sort of more Glenn’s chainsaw than just anybody’s.

Anyway, he cut loose of it when Honcho and Rico and came by the next morning. They had swapped the batteries and brought some food, and picked up Toothless Tom and Bobby.

They found the slash pile on Kindy Creek, cut wood for a few hours, and drove back to camp.

Sure, they had a big pile now, but the wood was green and wet. You spent half the morning on your knees blowing into a smoking fire, you could hear the water sizzle in the wood. Yeah, it burned, if you kept puffing on it, but it didn’t keep you warm at all.
All winter it was cold and wet. No easy street. No lakes of stew. Half the hippies bailed and went back to California, or drifted down to Seattle or got food stamps, or borrowed money from their parents.

It took the hippies two or three years to learn what was easy to see and plain as day. You only had to look at the long, dry, nicely stacked woodpiles alongside the old timer’s place.

Like at Old Jim Clark’s cabin. Old Jim was on easy street. He lived in a small cabin with a wood cook stove, and it was almost hot in there -- so much wood -- but dry wood, and he was cooking beans on the stove all winter, laughing and telling lies.
“You damn fools, I cut this wood in the summer when you were all skinny dipping at the pond. Now you’re freezing your ass off and coming by my place to get warm. That’ll learn you.”

Some of the hippies did learn and they stuck it out and they still live Up River with lots of dry wood stacked outside the door, wood they cut in the early summer, and laid by.

Now, that’s easy street. And the fear of winter -- be gone!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Confessions of a Medical Tourist

Considering that no country will ever have a perfect health care system, it makes sense to cross borders in search of a better deal. Americans go to Mexico to get their teeth fixed, and they drive to Canada for prescription medicine.
Canadians get stuck in the MRI line, so they come down here where they don’t have to wait, if they have the cash.

This is going to expand. If a common surgery costs $20,000, and a round trip ticket to Europe or Asia cost a little more than a $1,000, we can see that various countries will offer competitive deals, to offer the same surgery for $15,000 plus airfare.

Right now, Filipino women come to America to work as nurses and nursing aides. But it could work the other way -- if you needed six weeks to recover from an illness or a surgery, and it’s winter here -- why not fly to the Philippines and get your rest at a seaside care center. Insurance companies have started to offer these options on an incentive basis.

Or fly to India or Bulgaria and buy a kidney -- oops. People sell kidneys in poor countries, to unscrupulous middlemen, who then forge documents and pass on the kidneys and other body parts to people in desperate need of same and not willing to question the source.

In fact, if you can imagine a way to abuse new choices in international health care, there’s probably already some shady character who is already in that business. The corrupt mind is highly creative, being motivated by greed. The mind of the honest reformer is usually one or two steps behind.

Medical tourism will expand and -- cover your years, Libertarians -- it will be regulated by international agreements that make sure your new kidney was honestly donated.

I’m only writing about this because I don’t want us to get stuck in a deadlocked debate over the health care reform bill. This is not a two-dimensional situation, it is far more complex and far more interesting than that.

Reform? A hundreds ideas come to mind. I think that no one should enter nursing or medical school until they have served at least one year as a nursing aide. Everyone in health care needs to begin at the beginning. As it is, doctors today do not know what nursing aides do. They think they know, but they do not know, because they have never done it.

If a doctor or nurse had, for that one year, the experience of being a nursing aide, then they would never again treat nursing aides like idiots. This is such a good idea, but it’s too simple and too easy to understand, so it’s not in the health care reform bill.

Tort reform is not in the bill either. Conservatives are crying for tort reform. They’re right about that. It is a corruption of the Democratic Party to ignore health care reform because of the enormous financial contribution of trial lawyers.
And we need a new army of nurse practitioners to spread out across the land and do battle with the common cold, the flu, the aches and sprains and minor injuries that make up half of all the medical problems we deal with.

I went to the doctor two weeks ago because I had the flu. He was overqualified for that. It would have been much better if I had been seen by a Nurse Practitioner. The flu is her game and she’s good at it.

In Massachusetts where they have tried to insure everybody, they discovered that they did not have enough doctors to handle a flood of newly insured patients. Not enough family physicians, not enough pediatricians, and not enough nurse practitioners.

It’s not in the health care bill -- the means and the cost of training thousands of more people to do primary care.
But they have a surplus of barefoot doctors in Cuba. Could we induce some of them to immigrate to our shores, as part of the long overdue mutual recognition between our two countries?

Most objective reviews of American health care state that we are good at the high end and poor at the low end. Good at dramatic interventions and end-of-life care, but poor at the broadest primary care and prevention.
At my hospital, we have a brand new portable kidney dialysis machine. It has to cost near to $200,000 and it can be wheeled into a patient’s room -- for patients with kidney failure so advanced that they cannot be transported for dialysis at the kidney center.

If it was you or your relative, you would be glad we have this machine.
That’s what I mean by the high end. At the low end, where we are not very good at all, you only have to look at the waiting room of our Emergency Department -- full of people who should have seen a doctor or a nurse practitioner, but who did not, primarily because they lacked the money.

Transparency is needed. My hospital is owned by the residents of the hospital district it serves, and yet if you tried to find out just how much the hospital paid for that kidney dialysis machine -- paid partly with our tax dollars and partly from other sources of income -- they won’t tell you, which is why I am guessing it cost $200,000.

We should know the cost of that machine to the penny. Such information should be instantly available on the hospital’s website.
But it’s not and that makes you think they’re might be some monkey business going on. I sometimes see the medical equipment salesmen waiting in the lobby. They wear very expensive suits.

So, be a medical tourist and take a cruise through our wonderful but troubled health care system. And don’t just talk to the people who already agree with you, because that accomplishes very little.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Murder in Cambridge

These are weeping birches by the slough. I thought Patty had planted them, but she said they were volunteers, she said they sprang up after the flood in 1990 when there was five feet of water in the yard.

It’s a brisk wind blowing the branches. It’s raining all day out here. It will never stop raining. Rain and Rain until the Day of Judgment. Biblical rain today.

We have Buddhist rain too, it comes slow and steady and it bores you to death.

At times we have Scandinavian, suicidal, stay-drunk-all-winter rain, but I see a glimmer of hope out there -- somewhere the sun is shining.

That would be the Irish rain. If we just had a little bit of luck, then things would turn out right, and the blessings of heaven would sweeten our hearts and enrich our bank accounts too.

The birch trees and the giant cottonwoods still have their leaves on. I give the leaves just a few more days and they will be coming down. We don’t have to rake leaves out here, the wind takes care of that.

ESCAPE FROM FIR ISLAND. I’m planning my escape. I can’t tell you any of the details, because when you’re really serious about something, you can’t waste energy with idle talk. You have to focus. You have to want it. You have to hold it inside and let it build.

So I look out the window. The window faces east, across the fields, five miles to the foothills. All rain, all day on muddy fields. Riley drives the potato truck, but he said they have stopped working -- they would just get stuck in the field.

Jimmy said they left four rows of Yukon Gold potatoes in back of his house. He went out and dug a bucket of really fine potatoes, but it was muddy work, he said. I’ll go over there later and get some for our house.

For the Irish rain. We’ll have buckets of Yukon Gold potatoes and eat good all winter. Gold ! Good luck and pretty women. Or when you’re lucky, the women look prettier. Either way.

But this Thomas Hardy landscape gets to me -- the desolate moors, the faraway cry of the geese

I can tell you this. One day, poof, I’ll be gone. Because I have a plan.

“But you’re coming back, Fred. You always come back.”

SOME READERS OBJECT. In the last issue, we discussed Suicide and Depression -- a dismal topic. Some readers out there in Frog Hospital land turned away, averted their eyes, and tried to ignore the whole thing.

I got a call from Vicki in Spokane. Years ago, we worked together in the Forest Service. Now she and her husband are in real estate.

“Fred, can’t we have happy, pleasant things to read about? Or exciting, dramatic things to read about? We don’t care to discuss these unpleasant topics. We really don’t want to know what you do when you go to work at the hospital. It’s too icky.”

So, I should spare you the details because it’s not appetizing.


And you want health care reform.

“Oh, yes, we want health care reform very much -- so we can write a check, pay a tax, and have it done.”

Wouldn’t that be nice?

MURDER IN CAMBRIDGE. Mary Joe Frug was murdered by a knife-wielding assailant on a quiet street in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1991. No one was ever been arrested for the crime, and no motive has been established. I lived only a few blocks from where the killer stabbed Frug, and many days I walked down that quiet leafy street on my way to Harvard Square.

Mary Joe Frug was murdered on Sparks Street on a Thursday night, right outside the Armenian Trinity Church while the choir was practicing and making so much noise that nobody could hear any screams, if there were any screams. Frug, 49, a law school professor and mother of two, was stabbed to death by an unknown assailant with unknown motives, on her way home from the grocery store -- the same grocery store where I shopped

The next day, Friday, carnations and daffodils were strewn over the pavement near the curb at the corner where she died. People walked by slowly and gathered in knots.

At Pentimento, a neighborhood restaurant where I worked, everybody was talking about it. Diane, the owner and chief cook, was very distraught. We discussed the crime while we made soup together.

“I knew her,” she kept saying. “She was a very beautiful, intelligent woman....Oh, damn it, I burned the apricot crumble,” as she rushed to the oven to pull it out.

I said, “You’re upset. This is very terrifying.”

“I’m going to get more locks on the door,” she said. Talk about the murder had been buzzing about the restaurant all morning. Bob, her 23-year-old son, walked into the kitchen. “Locking yourself in is not the answer, you can’t give in like that,” he lectured.

I was about to agree with him, but I held my tongue.

Diane brushed the hair out of her eyes. She said, “I have this recurring nightmare of being beaten to death. Can you imagine how horrible it was to die that way? I knew that woman.”

After work I called Nora. She had read about the murder in the Boston Globe. She said, “It was somebody who knew her.” That was her intuition. A day later the newspaper reported that “police were investigating reports of a man lurking in the bushes near the scene of the stabbing. The man, described as white, in his 20’s, with brown hair, 6-feet tall and wearing dark clothing, is being sought by the police.”

THEY NEVER FOUND THE KNIFE. Where is the knife that killed Mary Joe Frug? Or, I should say, the knife that was used to kill her. The police never found it. But unless it was thrown back into the furnace like the Lords of the Rings, that knife exists somewhere, at the bottom of the Charles River buried in sediment, or rusting in a landfill…. or laying in plain view in someone’s kitchen -- if the murderer had loaned it to an unsuspecting neighbor, wiped clean.

Now Mary Joe Frug merits an entry in Wikipedia for her legal scholarship. Her radical feminist views were controversial at the time. She taught at a non-prestigious Boston law school and her husband, Gerald Frug, taught at Harvard Law School.

This was all common knowledge and very small-townish, if you lived in Cambridge, especially if you lived in that neighborhood -- who the Frugs socialized with, what faction they belonged to in the intensely partisan atmosphere of the law school, and who wrote bitter denunciations of the Frugs in obscure law journals.

I don’t know why this crime came back to my memory 18 years later. I went to the website of the Cambridge Police Department to discover if there had ever been an arrest for the Frug murder. No, it’s a cold case.

But they won’t forget, not in Cambridge, not in New England. They never forget anything.

I bet, if I were there today, and walked down Sparks Street, past the site of the murder, and then spoke to somebody, on the street, or at a nearby store - I bet they will remember this crime in great detail. I bet many of the same people are still there, in the same houses and flats, in the same jobs, going to the same summer resorts every summer -- because nothing every changes in New England.

Where is the murderer? Probably still alive, walking the streets of Cambridge.

Why did he kill Mary Joe Frug? Did he know her and hate her? Or was it a random act? Some people, admitting to a guilty selfishness, hoped the killer was known to Frug, a personal enemy, because that was less frightening than a random stranger who might have attacked anyone -- just killing the next woman who walked by.

In that calculus, you felt safer, because none of the people that you knew were crazed and mad enough to kill you.

Sparks Street intersects with Brewster Street. Robert Frost, the great poet, once lived in a house at 35 Brewster Street. They have a plaque near the front door of 35 Brewster Street telling of Robert Frost.

Two blocks past Brewster Street, you will come to 22 Reservoir Street, the home of Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard Law professor, a colleague of the Frugs, and a very well known scholar of great controversy himself.

I had an opinion -- very negative -- of Alan Dershowitz, but one day, when I lived in the neighborhood, I walked past his house, and there he was -- in the driveway in his front yard, playing basketball with his son.

How could I dislike him after that? He was a good guy that plays ball with his son. He lived in a house down the street from me -- two blocks from Reservoir Street.

I lived at 42 Blakeslee in the first floor of a two-flat building.

It was two blocks to Alan Dershowitz’s house, then over the hill, down Brewster, past the Robert Frost house, then to Sparks Street, the site of the murder.

When I got there, I looked around to see if there was a good hiding place in the shrubbery, but there were only low plantings near the sidewalk, so it was more likely that Frug was attacked suddenly from behind, as she walked.

The homicide detectives know where the knife wounds struck. They would know if she put up a struggle. They will never tell us, unless there is an arrest and trial, which is now very unlikely.

Yet there is a very thick file kept secret by the police, compiled in 1991, with photos, and forensic reports, and interviews with neighbors.

“Did you hear anything? Did you see anything?”

And, “Where were you last night?”

Nineteen years later the homicide detectives will pull out the file in a yearly ritual, and try to make it more than a ritual, try to bring it back to life, not just be a memory of a horrible crime. As if it happened last night.

If she screamed, why did nobody hear her? Possibly, some one heard her scream, but still has not come forward, and nineteen years later those same people live on that street, because this is New England, and people never move.

I think she screamed, but nobody heard her. Sparks Street has a very lovely kind of classic New England feel to it.

Screams become absorbed in the historic stillness.

A scream was heard faintly, but from what century? 1991, or 1854, or 1743, or 1697 ?

It goes way back to other crimes, other murders not solved, going back centuries to ghosts from long ago.

IT CAN’T HAPPEN HERE. But we’re safe in LaConner, here, all the way across the country. Nothing like that will ever happen here. No knife-wielding assailant brutally murdering an unsuspecting woman -- her screams not heard, a pool of blood, and no answers.

It couldn’t happen here.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

You Almost Made It, Frankie

(this is a story, not a factual account)

I’m telling this story to get it off my mind. Patients don’t usually stay with me. I put my heart into the work when I’m on the unit, but I forget the whole thing by the time I get to the parking lot when I’m going home at 11 p.m.
It’s a good rhythm. You go home, read a book, have a glass of wine, and sleep without troubles. The next day you do it again
But Frankie stayed with me. He was 78, in assisted living. His wife had just died and he was in pain from hip surgery. He overdosed on his pain medication and the medics found him on the floor with seven Fentanyl patches pressed to his skin.
Fentanyl is a powerful narcotic and widely used in the form of dermal patches to relieve pain.
The patch releases the medication in a careful slow way and -- sometimes with unpleasant side effects -- it works.
But seven patches all at once will send you through the door, down the river and on your way to the next life.
Such a patient will not be left alone in the hospital, lest they try to harm themselves again. Standard procedure. Suicide watch.
Frankie was deeply asleep when I got there at 4:30 in the afternoon. Comatose? I don’t know the medical term. But past danger, I think.
Kelly was the nurse. She’s one of the angels. They make you feel good just walking in the room. I don’t know about the patients, but I know I feel good when she’s around.
Frankie had a heart monitor, just in case. These are four wire leads pressed to the chest, connected to a monitor room where someone could watch his pulse and breathing rate.
The monitor, besides being watched by a live person, is set with ding-ding-dings if the patient’s heart rate exceeds the parameters.
They have ding-ding-dings all over the hospital. You can’t relax for a minute.
So there’s Frankie, on his back, sleeping peacefully, with thick white hair closely cropped, a trim spade beard, round face, and good skin color. He looked healthy, if you asked me, and he was resting well.
I was sitting beside the bed and I turned on the TV to watch the baseball game -- kept the volume low. It makes good background noise -- the sound of a murmuring crowd.
No ding-ding-dings at the baseball game.
Maybe that’s what’s bothering me. How can anybody get any rest at this hospital? It’s a process of continuous interruption.
Kelly floats in and out of the room. She gives Frankie a bladder catheter. He barely wakes during the procedure. The urine bag fills up promptly. He needed a good pee, but he was too out of it to use the urinal, and the narcotic relaxed his muscles over much, so he wouldn’t just go without help.
If there’s one thing that matters around here, it’s urination. They get really worried if you’re not peeing, and they get happy if you do.
It’s all about moving the fluids -- things you’ve been managing by yourself since you were two-years-old, but when you’re sick you need help.
Kelly leaves. Frankie sleeps, I watch the game -- Dodgers and Phillies.
That’s it. Six hours and I go home. Only this time, when I get to the parking lot, I keep seeing Frankie’s peaceful face.
I keep thinking -- Frankie, you almost made it.

DISCUSSION: Depression and Suicide. (making no claim to any expertise on this subject) Everybody gets the blues now and then. But real depression is much worse than having a bad day -- real depression is staying in bed all day, being unable to leave the house, no appetite, insomnia, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts.
One of the things I do at the hospital is suicide watch. Obviously, I don’t see those who have made a successful effort to end their lives. But I see the attempts and the failures. These are some mighty unhappy people -- everything’s going so wrong and they can’t even kill themselves.
Usually it’s an overdose -- a cocktail of legal and illegal drugs. The doctors would sure like to know just what it is you took when you get to ER -- perhaps if you pinned a note to your shirt before you passed out.
Either way, when you get to the ER, they give you the charcoal syrup which soaks up the poison. The charcoal looks awful, but it has no taste.
Don’t try suicide with Tylenol. A sufficient amount of Tylenol will kill you, but a less than sufficient amount will merely damage your liver, resulting in prolonged hospitalization and enormous medical expense. The opiates are actually better, because recovery can be fairly quick after a less than fatal dose.
Wrist slashing requires determination, and a failed attempt will leave scars that might embarrass you later in life.
As I said, I deal with the failures, and my medical knowledge is strictly anecdotal -- I only see the patients after they have been medically cleared -- when they just need to be watched.
The patients are almost always quite young, 20 to 35, and two thirds female. They are very withdrawn. They seem to be terribly embarrassed. They just lie in bed and I make no attempt at conversation.
I don’t think they want to die.
I don’t have much faith in therapy and social work, but that’s what happens after the attempt. You have to talk to somebody. This somebody comes into the patient’s room and an earnest conversation ensues -- as in, let’s find out what’s going on, and let’s see what we can do about it.
This is just my bias, but I don’t see the point of “doing anything” about it. I’m quite glad to be alive myself, and I would recommend that status to anyone who asked.
But it’s your life, not mine. The social compact requires us to live until we die, so I would not help you if you wanted to kill yourself.
Having said that, I think the highest respect and kindess for someone is to let them be the way they are. Are you depressed? Yes, that happens. Do you want my help? Ask for it. Do you want my attention? Then do or say something that interests me.
I just don’t want to treat a patient as if they were pathetic. I stay in the room with them and we’re going to get through the day together. I can promise that -- we’ll get through the day. And we’ll see about tomorrow.
Now Frankie was different than the others, in my own limited experience. He was much older, for one. And he made a fairly serious attempt to die, taking seven Fentanyl patches. As I said, he almost made it. If they hadn’t checked his room for another hour, he would have been gone for good.
So what happened to him after I left him at the hospital? I don’t know. I suspect they won’t let him have his own supply of Fentanyl anymore, but will give it to him one dose at a time. He’ll get counseling, but I hope it comes with respect.
There’s a time when you might tell a younger person that she’s a fool and that she’s throwing her life away. That can be a good thing to say.
But the old folks -- you really shouldn’t tell them anything. They are way past the rest of us.
A doctor or a nurse, no matter how experienced or how well trained, will have no idea what it takes to be 78 until they get there themselves.

FACTS ABOUT FENTANYL (Wikipedia is the source) The opioid Fentanyl was first synthesized in 1960 by Dr. Paul Janssen. Its chemical formula is C22H28N2O. It is approximately 100 times more potent than morphine. It is used as an intravenous anesthetic.
In the mid 1990s, the Duragesic dermal patch was introduced, and the patch is now used for long-term pain management.
Fentanyl can be abused as a substitute for heroin. For that reason it is a Schedule II drug according to the Controlled Substances Act.
A Schedule I drug has no approved medical use. Schedule II drugs have approved medical uses, but are also illegally manufactured and abused.
Fentanyl, Duragesic, and their generic equivalents are often the first choice to control pain in cancer patients.
Fentanyl has side effects in 10 percent of patients -- diarrhea, nausea, constipation, dry mouth, sweating, and confusion.
Fentanyl and Duragesic are trademarks of Johnson + Johnson, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical corporations. Sales of Fentanyl and Duragesic exceed $1.3 billion worldwide.

WHAT WOULD WE DO WITHOUT THE LAWYERS? An Internet search, in pursuit of information regarding a drug or medical procedure, will easily produce the website of a law firm which makes a living suing those same purveyors of drugs and medical procedures.
I found this website, (a real website, I’m not making this up) which hypes the diligent adversarial talents of Saiontz & Kirk, a law firm in Baltimore, because, if you have a problem, it must be someone’s fault and they should be sued.
Take our fictional patient Frankie. It wasn’t his fault. He was depressed because his wife died. Surely the doctor knew that. Did Frankie have a history of suicidal thoughts and attempts? Did the doctor ask him?
And what about the pain management? Was Frankie carefully instructed in the use of his Fentanyl patches? Was he warned of the danger of an overdose and that it could kill him?
Or maybe he was told about the danger of an overdose, and that’s what gave Frankie the idea of putting on seven patches all at once.
Has the law firm of Saiontz & Kirk sent one of their attorneys to lurk about the lobby of the hospital where I work, to press his or her business card upon weeping relatives? “Aye, I will take up your battle, I will smite the physician and pursue the drug company, I will obtain damages. We will fight and fight until justice comes.”
Saiontz & Kirk is eager to help, dear citizen, if you have had any problems with your Duragesic patch. Call them today. You can find their number plastered on the side of the nearest Metro Bus.

ADOPTION. Now, I’ve finished writing about Frankie. I will send it to the Frog Hospital audience and then I get closure.
But I’m afraid not. I’ve done patient care for five years, not all at once, but a year here and two years there -- at a hospital, a psychiatric hospital, and a nursing home, but it adds up to five years.
In those five years, I have adopted about 12 patients. It just happens. These are the ones that get into my psyche, make themselves at home and just stay. That’s why I call it adoption.
I see their faces, and I mean going back thirty years, and I still see their faces.
It looks like Frankie has joined the roster, along with Rachel, James, Eddie, and the others.
Twelve patients are enough. You don’t want to encourage this adoption. You want to shake them off by the time you get to the parking lot, but it happens anyway.

Seeking a Room to Rent. I am looking for a room to rent in LaConner. I am accustomed to sharing a kitchen and bathroom. I have a steady income, moderate habits, and good references. Call 360-739-0214.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Goose Hunting on Fir Island

I can hear them, but I can’t see them -- a flock of snow geese flying through the morning fog. I can’t see past the birch tree in the back yard, but I can hear the pop-pop-pop of the hunters’ guns.
Yesterday I was walking along the road, and a sparkling red SUV came to a stop near me. The driver rolled down the window to speak. She was very pretty and so was her companion.
“Are they allowed to hunt snow geese?” she asked me. “Yes, they are,” I replied with a big, toothy smile. I felt like an ambassador of the NRA sent to explain the facts of life to urban visitors.
“Yes, we, that is the human race, have been hunting water fowl, such as the snow geese, since the dawn of time, for many thousands of years, using shotguns and other implements.”
I might have said that, but the sparkling red SUV had driven off, I could heard them tut-tut-tutting about those poor little snow geese getting shot at. Pretty ladies, though. I’ve always liked pretty ladies.
Pop-pop-pop. It gets annoying after a while. Some hunters are so dumb that they can’t tell the difference between a snow goose and a house. I live here -- in this house in the middle of the field
You could put giant letters on your house that spells H-O-U-S-E, but that wouldn’t help.
Hunting season goes on for several months, and then the hunters go home, the human ones. But the coyotes and eagles continue. It’s serious. They get hungry and a snow goose is a meal.
I hardly see the coyotes, they move around more at night. But the eagles perch at the top of the cottonwood tree in the back yard.
It’s a very tall tree. Eagle eyes can see for miles. It’s not sport. They’re not looking for a fair fight, but scan for the wounded, aged, or sickly birds.
I look for a bird out there in the field, amid a thousand snow geese, but this one bird is hobbling, as if something were wrong.
The eagle saw that bird too, before I did, and that crippled goose will not live out the day.
I can walk in the field the next day and find the feathered remains. That’s how it goes.
Eagles are inspiring, but for them it just gets cold and windy sitting up there on the top of the tree. They’re not trying to impress anyone, they’re just looking for their next meal and hoping to stay alive until spring.
Tourists pull their cars to the side of the road, and take photos of the eagles in the tree tops. They are part of nature too, human nature.
We humans bring justice to nature. It could be our defining quality, compared to other creatures.
We instinctively recoil at the unfairness of the eagle’s predation, saying, “Pick on somebody your own size.”
From a sense of justice comes law and government and the whole shebang, with me walking by the side of the road, and the ladies in the sparkling red SUV, and the hunters going pop-pop-pop.
All trying to decide what is fair, and doing it poorly, but it is our Star-Trek human prime directive. Be fair.

FOLDING SWEATERS. As I have declined the social ramble and spent more time on the farm these past few weeks, I did something I have never done before in my life. I folded my sweaters.
I have a nice collection -- a maroon Pendleton sweater that is so thick and warm, I can’t even wear unless it’s bitter cold.
I have two light merino wool sweaters. My daughter helped me find them at the thrift store. I didn’t know about merino wool -- it’s extra warm.
I have two light-weight cotton sweaters, one maroon and one baby-blue. I bought them two years ago at Target for $10 each.
Then the red cotton sweater and the cashmere -- which I mentioned in the previous issue of Frog Hospital.
And, my 100 percent cotton, No Logo, earth green XL sweatshirt.
I had my sweaters all jammed into a shelf on top of a rack of clothes in my closet. But I took them all out on Sunday, and folded them in the proper manner, and placed them back on the shelf.
Why did I do this? It seemed to mark a change in my life, a beginning which I have hoped for, a new direction.
This may not seem important. Very little of what I do is important. I want my life to be interesting and meaningful. But I can’t think of anything that’s important about it, except that my niece Rosie in Colorado is hoping that her husband Travis will come from Iraq for Christmas. That’s important.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

It's Raining

I usually write Frog Hospital at the library or the café, where they have a wireless connection to the Internet. The Internet is handy for checking facts. For instance, in the last issue I wrote about Cape Ann in Massachusetts and its wild, granite seascape.

But was it spelled Cape Ann or Anne with an “e” ? I checked the spelling on the Internet.

Besides that, I just like being connected, and being able to interrupt my writing so that I can dash off an email to a friend. This is called multi-tasking, but when I was a kid, this was called a lack of concentration.

Somehow, the world turned upside down in this respect. To be able to do one thing well and ignore all distractions -- that was good.

Now it is the mark of a dullard -- you’re only doing one thing at a time? -- you must be a little stupid.

I am writing at home this morning, at the farmhouse on Fir Island, and we don’t have the Internet here, thank God.

….Pause. Sip coffee. Look out the window at the rain coming down across the field. The branches on the weeping birch are not moving -- almost perfectly still, meaning that the wind is calm.

The clouds behind the birch tree are not moving either. The clouds are very low to the ground, and I can’t see the foothills, which are five miles east of the farmhouse, across the flats.

It rained all last night. It was the first real rain for many months, and the fields are puddled like a sheet of water.

The monsoon is here, although to what degree? Will it rain every day for months and not have a spot of sunshine until next summer? It could happen.

Or bitter cold and snow in January, like last year with icy roads, and we were marooned in the house for days? Maybe.

Or a thaw and a burst of warm weather in the middle of winter -- so warm and sunny that fruit trees burst into blossom.

Or a winter unknown and terrible with weather worse than a nightmare and storms of climactic extremes?

This cannot be known, except that it rained last night and it has begun.

All this without recourse to the Internet, I simply looked out the window.

Also, I have a way to check spelling -- a paperback dictionary. I can look up “recommend.” It’s one of those words that trouble me -- is it two “c” s or two “m”s ?

Traveling has only one “l” -- I think it should have two “l”s, but it does not.

Pause. Go into the kitchen, prepare cold cereal with brown sugar, let it set for a few minutes to make the flakes less crunchy. Let the dog out. Wash a few dishes from last night. Do a quick dry mop on the kitchen floor. Eat the cereal.

I can see my cashmere sweater lying on the un-made bed. Janet Laurel had a yard sale at her home in LaConner this summer. That’s where I found the cashmere sweater. I bought it for only one dollar -- that’s a pretty good find. And it’s so warm that I practically can’t wear it without sweating.

So I think I’ll bring out my red cotton sweater and wear that instead.

I was sick last week. I had the flu. I had to stay home, in my room, and under the covers for several days. It was an interesting experience. I discovered that I liked staying home all day and I was tired of running around all the time, and the things that I could not do because I was ill were things I hardly needed to do, and that it’s much better to relax on my own premises and read a book.

Or draw, or cook, or walk around the field. I discovered this is actually my home and it’s good to be here.

It’s still raining. The clouds are very thick and low. The wind is starting to blow -- I can see the branches moving on the birch trees.

I can’t see any birds, but I know the birds are out there somewhere. There’s lots of birds around here, especially the snow geese.

So, what I’ll do, is just stay home all winter. We have tons of firewood. I have to go to work and make money, and I need to go into town to buy groceries, but otherwise who needs it?