Friday, December 17, 2010

Being Nice to Chickens

FARM NEWS from Fred Owens, December 18, 2010

Being Nice to Chickens

But first, the Harvest News. Lots of apples in Washington this year -- 102 million forty-pound boxes are predicted. The mind boggles at that huge number of apples, and they didn't just jump into the box.

Somebody had to pick each and every single apple -- hard work. I hope they were paid well, and the farmer should get a profit too.

Red Delicious is still the dominant variety in Washington, followed by Gala, Fuji, Granny Smith, and Golden Delicious.

These are the "industrial-strength" apples that get shipped all over the world. Persons of more refined taste can shop the farmers markets and buy the tastier varieties.

Oranges. Likewise in California, the orange harvest is underway. Yield is predicted to be 93 million forty-pound boxes.

Just to push this point a little farther -- Every orange you ever ate, somebody picked it, had their hands on it before you did.
May that person prosper, and the farmer who hired him deserves a profit.

Quality is good for California oranges this year. More than 85 percent is good enough to sell as fresh. The rest get sold for juice at a lower price.

And the harvest is running two and three weeks late -- that's because of the cool, wet spring that pushed every crop late this year on the West Coast.

It doesn't matter, early or late, eat your oranges every day, and a blessing for the people who grew them.

Ventura County in California. Strawberries are a big crop in Ventura County, where I am now living. Last year, they harvested berries with a total value of over $500 million. It's kind of hard to visualize how many strawberries that is.

I don't have figures for this year, but it should be in that range.

Again, these are the "industrial strength" strawberries that get shipped all over the world. You could criticize their quality, but it would be better to feel grateful that you have berries at all.

There is no machine that picks strawberries. Somebody had to bend over to the ground or crawl on their knees to pick each and every single berry. Hard work -- you should try it some day.

May the strawberry pickers prosper, and the farmer deserves his profit.

Being Nice to Chickens. We have nine chickens on the farm -- to be exact, we have six hens, two ducks, and one bantam rooster.

It's colder now and the hens are not laying so many eggs, but they are the very best eggs you can eat.

I let the birds out of the coop first thing in the morning and feed them. They also get table scraps and whatever they can find by pecking around.

These are well-housed and well-protected chickens. They move into the coop on their own every evening because they know it's safe inside. Nonetheless, someone closes and locks the door, just to be sure.

Lots of critters around here would love to eat a chicken -- hawks, owls, and eagles ready to swoop down. Raccoons and coyotes too.

Chickens are domestic fowl and we protect them, feed them, and gather the eggs.

Now, if you want to buy eggs as good as what we have, you can find them at the farmers market at $3, $4 or $5 a dozen.

You can buys eggs for a lot less at the supermarket, mass-produced eggs, laid by chickens who don't live the life of luxury like ours do.

That is the problem. Now comes the politics. In 2008, by a margin of 63 percent, California voters passed an initiative requiring poultry farmers to be kinder to their chickens, banning the small confining cages that chickens are often kept in.

"They need fresh air, they need to scratch in the air and flap their wings. They need to live like chickens in days of old, when the housewife went to the yard and scattered her scraps of vegetable parings and bread crusts."

By law! By a vote of the people!

I am very suspicious of efforts like this. I believe that the government ought to have a minimum of regulation against cruelty toward animals.

Because the voters, by and large, simply do no know enough about chickens to have an opinion about how they ought to be cared for.

I don't want to sound like an expert or anything, but I know a happy chicken when I see one. and I know the abuse too, abuse that can arise from carelessness or a wicked desire for profit.

But the government can only prosecute the grossest offenses.

Everybody wants the chickens to be happy. No wonder the proposition passed by 63 percent. Who would vote against it?

But it was not properly worded. It should read, "We favor better care and more freedom for poultry and we are willing to pay more for our eggs."

Not that's being honest.

And this kind of thing is happening all over the country anyway -- people are paying more for eggs from free range hens. More and more people are raising their own birds. Search "urban poultry" on the Internet -- it's everywhere. People doing it themselves, and becoming real chicken people.

We're going to have happier chickens, and we're going to be eating better eggs. But it won't happen by law.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

send mail to:

Fred Owens
Box 1292
LaConner WA 98257

Monday, December 06, 2010

Back By Popular Demand

A certain lady from Orcas Island has lamented the lack of political content in recent editions of the Farm News. She wants to hear some snap, crackle and pop.

I am not sure what good that would do. Could my remarks possibly improve our nation's circumstance? That is doubtful.

I think it has been good to be quiet for a change. But I have been reading, mostly on the right. My special favorite is the Thinking Housewife, and I often post my own reactions on this blog.

Laura Wood is the hostess at this Internet salon and she invites you to consider a remarkable premise -- that men and women are different, different from each other, or, to put it another way, not the same.

It's an astounding thought, and the discussion is rich. Her conclusions, derived from this premise, are quite conservative, or traditional, as she terms it.

Not me. I'm not conservative. I've decided to call myself a Merry Christmas liberal -- to wit -- I support the extension of unemployment benefits for as long as jobs are scarce.

And how do we pay for that? By jacking up the tax rates paid by wealthier people.

I'm not inviting any disagreement here, I'm just telling you what I think.

That makes me liberal, a Merry Christmas liberal, because I really hate this Happy Holiday nonsense. Christmas is about Christmas, and the other religions can just lay low until it's over. I do not support diversity.

Jews, for instance, have wonderful, meaningful spiritual feasts. Passover and Rosh Hoshannah are world class and deeply impressive, but Hannukah is boring and over-rated.

Kwanzaa is contrived and pointless. And what do the Hindus do in December? Nobody cares.

To be even handed I should now insult Moslems and pagans. Except I do not support "inclusion."

I oppose inclusion. I invite whom I choose to my party, and if anyone was left out, it was deliberate.

Well, that's a part of what I think. Here in California, we have Jerry Brown as the new governor.

Jerry Brown was not the safest choice. In California, being foolish can be the wisest thing to do.

You can hear all about the mess -- the long list of problems. The place is going to hell, it can't be fixed -- just move and get out and put your equity into someplace that isn't so crazy.

Good, I hope all those people leave right now -- maybe they should all go to Texas. Governor Rick Perry would be glad to have them.

But I like California. I'm glad to be here. And I'm going to be a part, a very small part, of what is going to make things better.

That's my attitude -- with a good attitude, you can make plans and solve problems.

And I will keep working on the farm, because that's where a lot of the good energy comes from.

This is another piece from the Thinking Housewife. No politics here, but the very best words to someone facing a life with a chronic illness. I include this because many Frog Hospital readers will find Laura Wood's politics to be very wrong

Laura writes to the woman with a chronic illness

It sounds as if you are thinking about what you
can’t do and not focusing on however little that you can. You have to expect less in every department and remember that no matter how much you can’t do, you are still irreplaceable. Your presence alone matters.

Do as little as necessary to get by. Someday your children will be older and they will help. You should enlist their help as soon as you can. Don’t feel sorry for your children or your husband because they have a sick mother and wife. Don’t feel sorry for them at all. They have you. You have given them life. That is enough. Besides, sickness provides the opportunity for an entire household to slow down and to spend more time talking or doing simple things.

Your illness is not a detour from reality. There’s a temptation to look at the rest of the world, so energetic and vital, and think they are more alive while you live in some kind of lesser, shadow world. This is false. You are more alive at these times than those who are filled with so much vitality. You are closer to the center of things. They cannot see their own mortality and the fact of death. It awaits us all and fortunate are those who see it clearly.

No moment is wasted. No time is lost. You are not on a side path, but on the main road, heading step-by-step to your ultimate destination. When you arrive there, every moment you have loved God despite your misery will be remembered. I don’t say this out of pie-in-the-sky sentimentality or wishful thinking. I say this because it is logically deducible from the facts of our existence, from the laws of nature, from our subjective experience of the world, and even from the love you still feel for your children despite your illness. This love is a form of self-forgetfulness. Where did it come from? It must have come from a Being capable of even more love.

You are confined by illness, but still you are alive and on the move every hour of the day.

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Subscriptions and Signed Copies of the Frog Hospital Book. It used to be that you sent in $25 and did not get much more than my appreciation, but now you get a signed copy of the Frog Hospital book.

This book is a treasure that will still be worth reading ten years from now.

Send a check for $25 to Fred Owens, Box 1292, LaConner, WA 98257. Or go to the Frog Hospital blog and pay with PayPal.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Agriculture is the New Golf

FARM NEWS from Fred Owens

November 29, 2010

"Agriculture is the new golf."

I saw this story in today's Los Angeles Times. Don't mock this notion, it bodes well for the future of farming.

I have spent the weekend in Los Angeles, where new companies have spring up -- they will plant a vegetable garden in your yard, if you don't have the time to do it yourself, and -- going further, because this is Los Angeles -- they will plant and cultivate the vegetables for you.

Then all you have to do is go into the back yard before dinner and harvest some arugula for your salad.

This service is for persons of affluence, and it's a good thing -- they're taking the money they would have spent on golf and yachts and put that money into a more wholesome activity -- their own back yard for growing food.

Back to the Farm. I am leaving Los Angeles in thirty minutes and driving the 68 miles up the coast, back to the farm in Ventura. I had a great time in Los Angeles. I really love this great big city although I can't say why.

Winter. It's been cold here -- in the low 60s with wind chill making it even colder. Still I see some locals wearing shorts and sandals. I figure they simply don't own any pants or shoes, and they just endure the chill when it comes.

New Terms. We say "hobby farm" or "weekend farmer" or "gentleman farmer" -- using these terms to describe people who do not make a full living from their work in agriculture. The implication is that they are dabbling, or doing it for fun. But that is far from the case. These part-timers, as I have known them, do some impressive work of high quality and they deserve a more respectable name -- possibly "artisanal farmer" -- that term has been suggested, but it's too much of a mouthful.

A Short Newsletter is a Blessing. This newsletter is short because my ancient laptop is not working and I must borrow my sister's machine to compose this message. But short stories are good for their own sake -- I should not apologize.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

send mail to:

Fred Owens
Box 1292
LaConner WA 98257

Monday, November 15, 2010

On a Farm in Ventura, California

FARM NEWS from Fred Owens

November 15, 2010

I drove 1,312 miles from LaConner to this small farm in Ventura, California. I spent $108 for gas and used two quarts of oil. My old Toyota has had a small oil leak for the past 50,000 miles, but it's not getting any worse. I listened to Books on Tape -- CDs, actually -- and that made the drive very easy.

I have a little cabin for myself on the farm. I am working part-time for my room and board. My hosts, Ann and Andy Dunstan, are really nice people and we get along well. And there is plenty of work to do.

The farm has a website, Love House Dahlias.

Here's how I found this farm. I joined Worldwide Opportunities in Organic Farming, or WOOF. All the kids know about this website. It lists hundreds of organic farms around the country and around the world -- places where you can work for your keep and where you can learn about farming, or just for people who want to travel on the cheap.

Back on the farm. First thing, I get up. I let the chickens out of their coop, collect the eggs, and then give them food and water.

Then I go back to my cabin to drink coffee and do some email -- this place isn't primitive - I get wi-fi from the main house, which is about 75 feet away.

Then I go clean up after the horses in the corral. They have four horses here, being boarded. I am getting to learn a lot of about horses, so this is very interesting.

After that, I go to the greenhouse and right now we are getting ready to plant 30,000 sweet peas.

The sweet peas will be a winter crop to fill in the space left by the dahlias. Dahlias are what they grow here on a commercial scale.

The dahlias are finished blooming for the season and slowly dying. But as long as they stay a little green, they will keep sending nourishment down to the tubers -- so we wait.

We wait until they're finished, and then let the plants sit for a couple of weeks, before we begin the big job of digging them all up -- all the tubers, dig 'em up, bring 'em into the greenhouse, wash and sort them and divide them -- some get sold, some get saved to re-plant in the spring.

That will be a lot of work.

Meanwhile, as we wait for the dahlias to finish, we plant the sweet peas in the trays in the greenhouse to get them started.

The dahlias will come out, the sweet peas will go in the ground -- being legumes, they will fix nitrogen to the soil and help the dahlias to grow. They will also provide spring blooms for sale.

That's the job. Plus feeding the chickens, looking after the horses, and I'm doing a bit of landscape gardening around the place as well.

And there's a vegetable garden to work on. Plenty of things to do on a small place like this.

And so much to learn too -- this is a very different climate and there are so many new plants to learn about.

After work, it's a six mile drive to the beach, where it's nice to go and watch the sun setting...... or six miles into town and various amusements.

Corn Harvest. The US Dept of Agriculture estimates a corn crop of 12.54 billion bushels this year -- the third largest crop on record. Average yield was 154 bushels per acre.

Most of the corn was harvested at less than 15 percent moisture. This is very good, because if the corn is harvested when it's wet, they have to run it through a grain drier and that costs time and money.

Dry corn is the best. What they do is order up a weather forecast and have it rain when the corn's growing, and have the sun shine when the corn is ready to harvest --- right!

Twelve billion bushels! That's a lot of corn -- mainly grown back there in the Midwest. All those farmers in Indiana growing corn year after year after year. Nothing but corn for miles and miles, billions of bushels.

U.S. Grains Council. Corn harvest news comes from this website.

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Subscriptions and Signed Copies of the Frog Hospital Book. It used to be that you sent in $25 and did not get much more than my appreciation, but now you get a signed copy of the Frog Hospital book.

This book is a treasure that will still be worth reading ten years from now.

Send a check for $25 to Fred Owens, Box 1292, LaConner, WA 98257. Or go to the Frog Hospital blog and pay with PayPal.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

send mail to:

Fred Owens
Box 1292
LaConner WA 98257

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Hazelnuts & Strawberries

FARM NEWS from Fred Owens

November 6, 2010

On my way to California I stopped in Eugene, Oregon, to visit some friends who just bought some acres on the outskirts of town. They have planted trees all over the property -- poplars, cedars, pears, and -- for an experiment -- they planted eleven olive trees.

Olive trees may or may not grow in Eugene's climate, and they may or may not produce fruit -- but you don't know until you try, and my friends won't know for a few years.

Isn't that exciting?

Olives are iffy in Oregon. Hazelnuts are what matter, and Oregon leads the nation with an expected crop of 38,000 tons this year.

Let us attempt to visualize a 38,000-ton pile of hazelnuts -- the mind boggles.

But that's peanuts -- I mean, that's nothing. Turkey is the world leader. The Turks will harvest 630,000 tons this year -- it's a Moslem threat. They will bury us in filberts! Oh No!

Italy is number two and will harvest an expected 100,000 tons, followed by Georgia & Azerbaijan at 85,000 tons.

Okay, the USA is number four at 38,000 tons, but Oregon hazelnuts taste better.

Thinking about all that, I visited a local farm stand and bought a sack of roasted unsalted hazelnuts -- got them for a road sack, because I left Eugene the next day and headed for San Francisco Bay.

Information from the Capital Press. You can find a wealth of information about agriculture in the Pacific Northwest by reading the Capital Press, either online or in print. This weekly journal is published in Salem, Oregon, hence the name -- but the content is all about farming.

Strawberries in California. I drove to Alameda, on the San Francisco Bay, to stay with relatives. We visited the Saturday Farmer's Market just a walk down the street from their house.

We saw such an abundance of late season vegetables. It was the end of summer squash and field-grown tomatoes, but they will have strawberries and raspberries through most of the winter, plus winter greens, broccoli, turnips, carrots, and lettuce. It never ends in this climate.

Don't forget persimmons! Actually, I don't quite understand persimmons, but I respect people who do.

Anyway, I spoke with a woman from Gilroy, the Garlic Capital, the home of the renowned Garlic Festival. She was selling strawberries and raspberries, and proud of her family farm in Gilroy.

"We don't grow garlic anymore. There's only one farm left that grows garlic now," she said.

t's because most of our garlic comes from China these days, more than 75 per cent. Especially if you buy processed garlic -- powder, flakes, minced garlic in oil, and so forth -- it will likely be the cheaper Chinese garlic.

California grown garlic costs more -- and tastes better, a lot of people will say -- but you have to look for it and ask for it.

It's Time to Plant Garlic. While we're on the subject -- now is the time to plant garlic for summer harvest next year. A good catalog supplier such as Filaree Farm will mail you some high quality bulbs to plant in your garden.

Or, at no cost whatsoever, take whatever garlic bulbs are in your kitchen, break them into cloves and plant them somewhere in your garden -- you might do very well.

Like I said in the beginning about the olive trees -- you never know until you try it.

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Subscriptions and Signed Copies of the Frog Hospital Book. It used to be that you sent in $25 and did not get much more than my appreciation, but now you get a signed copy of the Frog Hospital book.

This book is a treasure that will still be worth reading ten years from now.

Send a check for $25 to Fred Owens, Box 1292, LaConner, WA 98257. Or go to the Frog Hospital blog and pay with PayPal.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

send mail to:

Fred Owens
Box 1292
LaConner WA 98257

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Ode to the Lone Kohlrabi

FARM NEWS from Fred Owens

Nov. 1, 2010

Yesterday day the farm stand closed for the winter. It was sad. The frost came two weeks ago and the flower season ended -- but the fields kept pumping out fresh sweet corn and lettuce, so our shelves were well-stocked right until the last day.

The farm will continue to harvest and sell vegetables to restaurants and other wholesale accounts into November, but the farm stand is closed now and my job is over.

I had an exit interview with management. I said, "I would like to work here next year." They said, "We'd love to have you back."

That would be sometime in April, when the farm stand opens again.

So I will be going to Southern California for the winter, to work at another farm, but it will only be part-time, and I will be taking it easy.

I will be in Ventura, which is about one hour north of Los Angeles, if this was was 1970 when the freeways ran free, but more like ninety minutes to LA these days.

My sister lives in Venice near the beach, and my brother lives way to the east side in Altadena, so I can spend some time with them.

My son also lives in Venice, working at the Barnes & Noble bookstore in Santa Monica.

I have lots of family down there, several nieces as well, plus the sunshine.

Oh, they have what they call "winter" in Los Angeles, but it doesn't amount to much.

And the delights of California culture --- this I have to see and comment on. If America has lost its sense of confidence and optimism, then LA is the epi-center of decline

If America was and is a dream to fulfill, then LA is where dreams are launched -- or were launched. Is it over? or will it begin anew?

I want to see for myself.

Otherwise I will be working at this small farm in Ventura County, learning the soil and the climate.

You will notice, perhaps gratefully, that I am not writing about politics these days. We're having a national election on Tuesday, and I have followed these events closely, but I will not comment.

Except to say that it's good to be working on a farm, and I lead by example. I will say this, "Young man, go to the farm and go to work."

There's plenty of work on the farm and you will find it very satisfying. It will truly be a "growth opportunity."

If you're in the city, build a garden. Start today.

Here is my closing video-poem for the last day at the farm stand. It's about the end of things -- as you see the past slip away and you wonder what the future will bring.

Listen to the "Ode to the Lone Kohlrabi"
-- it's very short and you will enjoy it.

Subscriptions and Signed Copies of the Frog Hospital Book. It used to be that you sent in $25 and did not get much more than my appreciation, but now you get a signed copy of the Frog Hospital book.

This book is a treasure that will still be worth reading ten years from now.

Send a check for $25 to Fred Owens, Box 1292, LaConner, WA 98257. Or go to the Frog Hospital blog and pay with PayPal.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

send mail to:

Fred Owens
Box 1292
LaConner WA 98257

Friday, October 22, 2010

Kim Chee Shortage in Korea

FARM NEWS from Fred Owens

October 22, 2010

Kim Chee is the soul food of South Korea, that fiery concoction made from Napa cabbage and hot peppers, but the crop failed this year because of bad weather, down to half of the usual amount.

Facing a national shortage, the Koreans had to make humble and import cabbage from China, suspending the tariff that usually keeps foreign cabbage out of the country.

This story in the New York Times
describes the national custom -- making Kim Chee at home every autumn as a family ritual, but now it's more often bought at the store because people are too busy.

The New York Times story only stated "crop failure due to bad weather." I wanted to know what kind of bad weather -- too much rain or too little rain are the most common causes of a crop failure. Insect damage, or an epidemic of plant disease are other likely causes.

How can I find out? I don't know any farmers in South Korea.

I went to Google to search. I found many news items reporting the same thing -- a kim chee shortage, but no explanation of why the cabbage crop failed.

I checked out the website for the U.S. Embassy in Korea, and I discovered the U.S. Agricultural Trade Office.

Of course! Our farmers export billions of dollars of fruits and vegetables, meat and dairy products to Korea. So naturally we have a trade office there.

(Don't tell the Tea Party about these people -- government employees, waxing fat on our tax dollars, interfering with the free trade of farm products.)

Well, my tax dollars paid for the farm trade office, and I found it useful in providing some statistics.

We export billions of dollars worth of food to Korea -- beef, rice, potatoes, oranges and apples -- everything but cabbage.

I sent an email to the Agricultural Attache Officer in Seoul, and he replied that the crop failure was caused by an excess of rain and a typhoon -- so I had my answer.

One more thing -- we do not export cabbages to Korea, but here in the Skagit Valley we grow most of the cabbage seed that Korean farmers use for their crop.

Pomegranates from Iran. Boy, we're really going to stick it to the Ayatollah now. The market report from our embassy in Korea says:

In the past two years, the U.S has gained a 99 percent market share of imported pomegranates in South Korea due to a devastating freeze and consecutive bad crop years in Iran, Korea’s past top exporter. A great opportunity to secure this market has presented itself as Korean importers prefer the uniformity and consistency of U.S. pomegranates. Pomegranates are increasing in popularity and there is currently not enough supply to meet demand.

So that's the international farm news, here at home:

The Frost Comes. In the Skagit Valley, the hard frost came a few days ago, on a still and cloudless night. The cold sunk in and by early morning the dahlias and zinnias were bejeweled with crystals of frost on their petals - - a beautiful sight, but by noon those same flowers had turned to brown mush, and the floral display is over for this year.

So Much More. I have so much more to write about, but working full time at the farm stand takes up all my energy, and then I'm getting ready to head for California pretty soon.

The farm stand closes October 31, and I leave a few days later.

I kind of miss the scattered and random format of Frog Hospital, but I know it will be good to stick with this more focused effort, so I will continue to write about farming and I hope most of you readers will stick around to see how this develops.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Largest Kohlrabi in Captivity

FARM NEWS from Fred Owens

October 11, 2010

The frost is not yet on the pumpkin, but on some mornings it feels a little crisp and we all know what's coming.

Watch this video for a detailed report about the weather and the "largest kohlrabi in captivity."

The long-range forecast for the Pacific Northwest is for a cold and wet winter. Nobody is thrilled about that.

You have three kinds of people in this country. The first kind love the rain and it makes them happy. The second kind say they love the rain, but they're lying. The third kind just endure it and try not to complain too much.

I'm one of the third kind, and I'm going to Southern California this winter because I need a break.

A lucky break, it turns out, because that same long-range forecast predicts a warmer and drier winter down south.

So, here's the news.

Grape Harvest, from the Los Angeles Times. California's signature crop, the grape harvest is coming in late. What a surprise! It's been a cool, wet summer from San Diego to Seattle and everything is late.

The article states, "most red grapes remain on the vine statewide, anywhere from 10 days to three weeks later than last year."

Late -- and what can you do but wait.

Here's another quote from the article, more complicated, but intriguing -- if you ask me.

"This is a normal cyclical pattern for La NiƱa," says Peter Cargasacchi of Cargasacchi Winery in the Santa Rita Hills. "If you were aware of that, you could incorporate farming practices based on the historical patterns of the weather." For Cargasacchi, that meant leaving a cover crop between vine rows to suck up excess winter rainwater, then deficit irrigation to stimulate the vines into ripening — "to give them a sense of urgency," he says.

Okay, this vintner did more than just wait. He was expecting the La Nina pattern to bring cooler, wetter weather. So he planted grass and clover between the rows of grapes to soak up the excessive rain fall.

Then he did deficit irrigation -- this is the sexy part, almost a tease -- meaning he cut way, way back on his watering in mid-summer -- to make those grape vines work harder, to put down their roots deeper, to conserve their energy and not produce too many leaves -- that is, to give them a sense of urgency.

That is highly anthropomorphic, as he put it -- to give the grape vines a sense of urgency.

Do plants feel urgency? Are they like us in some ways? We gather the grapes, we make the wine, and then we drink it.

That spirit, from the earth, comes to us through our palates.

That urgency, from mid-summer, has now, in fall harvest, become a fullness, and a good vintage is expected for 2010.

It's never a sure thing. Urgency is natural. And Harvest-Home is often the reward.

So, that's the farm news from California. I will be driving down that way in three weeks, and this newsletter will have more reports on the vast complexity of California agriculture. I hope you find it interesting.

Subscriptions and Signed Copies of the Frog Hospital Book. It used to be that you sent in $25 and did not get much more than my appreciation, but now you get a signed copy of the Frog Hospital book.

This book is a treasure that will still be worth reading ten years from now.

Send a check for $25 to Fred Owens, Box 1292, LaConner, WA 98257. Or go to the Frog Hospital blog and pay with PayPal.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

send mail to:

Fred Owens
Box 1292
LaConner WA 98257

Sunday, September 26, 2010

More Farm News

It seems that last week's newsletter went out to only half the mailing list -- due to technical problems and pilot error. But I announced last week that "Frog Hospital," after ten years and a book of the same title, was finished, and I am now writing under the plain title of "Farm News from Fred Owens."

I am working on a farm right now, selling premium organic produce from the market garden, right on the outskirts of LaConner. I can look out the back of the farm stand and see the fields where these vegetables are growing.

I have the easy job, at the stand. I am too told to work in the field. I worked in the field three years ago on the transplanting crew. I lasted five days and I got so worn out that I just couldn't come back to work anymore. That was no disgrace -- everybody else on the crew was thirty years younger than me.

But I became a senior farm worker after that. Now I load the truck every morning at the packing shed. I back the truck up to the cooler and pick out about thirty different boxes of vegetables to sell at the stand -- looking for the very best Swiss chard and English cucumbers and Kohlrabis and not picking the stuff that looks too tired -- that goes to compost or it goes to Kevin's pigs -- but I load the best stuff for the farm stand.

The farm stand is a few hundred yards from the packing shed. So I drive over to the stand and unlock the door, then I unload the thirty boxes -- nothing very heavy. My motto is don't work fast. Fast and farming are two different things.

After I unload the boxes and set them about in an attractive way, then I drive over to the farm office and get the cash register from Mary.

Mary counts the till and keeps track of it all. She has assured me that the I have been keeping the dollars and cents in good order - balanced to the penny one day, she said, and close enough on other days.

First Frost. We have a lot of interesting conversations on the farm. Like when I made a joke on Monday morning, when I traipsed into the office and Mary asked "What's the word today, Fred?"

I said, "Walk softly and carry a big lunch."

They all laughed.

Today we discussed the first hard frost, which will kill all the flowers just like that. Bright blooms turn to brown almost overnight, and it's over for the year. The dahlias, zinnias, yarrows, and delphiniums -- the whole glorious show will end.

Last year the frost came in mid-October, but who knows when it will come this year.

Would that be like your first kiss? Frost is the first kiss of winter, the end of innocence, the nearness of mortality, and the quickening of time.

Frost improves the sweetness of some vegetables, notably the cabbage family. They say to wait until after the frost for the Brussel Sprouts to get tasty.

Some varieties of apple improve with flavor after a frost.

Winter squash seems hardy enough, but actually, a hard frost will hurt the pumpkins, and it is better to get them in storage before that -- if you can tell when the frost is coming.

Why is the frost like a kiss? You don't know when it's coming, but it changes things. And, with an Irish sense of humor, you know that every beautiful thing in life brings us one step closer to the grave.

Think of Orville and Wilbur Wright tinkering in their garage in Dayton Ohio -- not inventing an airplane, not inventing machines that harvest crops more efficiently, but inventing machines and technologies that improve the lot of farm labor.

American farmers are awesome innovators -- I have seen them do that with my own eyes.

Yet they have a blind spot to the comfort of labor, seeming to believe -- "it's hard, it's always been hard, and it will always be hard."

There are a thousand ways to improve the working conditions of the farm worker -- if we decide to focus on that problem.

Most agricultural technologies, beginning with McCormick's reaper in the 1830s, have been "labor-saving" devices, but the main result of these labor-saving devices was to get the workers off the farm and into the big cities to work in giant factories.

We see a different situation today -- an opportunity, if you will -- because so many Americans want to get involved in agriculture. They don't know how hard the work is, but they will find out, and I hope they will not give up, but instead, will finally insist on making the conditions and technology more suitable for the modern worker.

And those improvements will make food more expensive for the American consumer -- a topic I will be glad to address in a future newsletter.

Jane who was reading my Frog Hospital book, came into the farm stand and told me how much she liked my "stream of consciousness."

Well, I tried very hard to put things in an orderly fashion when I wrote the book, but it might only seem orderly to me -- marching forward from point to point and building to a conclusion.

We don't control how other people interpret things we have done. Frog Hospital is widely considered to be "at random."

I guess that's fine. Anyway, Jane is enjoying the book quite a bit.

Subscriptions and Signed Copies of the Frog Hospital Book. It used to be that you sent in $25 and did not get much more than my appreciation, but now you get a signed copy of the Frog Hospital book.

This book is a treasure that will still be worth reading ten years from now.

Send a check for $25 to Fred Owens, Box 1292, LaConner, WA 98257. Or go to the Frog Hospital blog and pay with PayPal.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

send mail to:

Fred Owens
Box 1292
LaConner WA 98257

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Farm News from Fred Owens

My friend Karen in Alaska asked me what happened to "Frog Hospital" because she hasn't received one in more than a month.

I told her that I wrote the Frog Hospital newsletter for ten years and then wrote a book with the same title and I guess I am finished with that name and that concept.

So I came up with this very plain alternative -- "farm news" -- because that's where I have been this past month -- working at Hedlin's Farm on the edge of LaConner.

Specifically, I am working at Hedlin's Family Farm Stand selling premium organic vegetables to friends and strangers alike.

This takes up all my time. I can't complain. The farmer hasn't had a day off since April, but he lets me go home once in a while -- like today, for instance, Sunday morning, I'm sitting around the house drinking coffee.

Since this is the farm news, let's start with the weather -- awful, nothing but rain and overcast for several weeks now, which is bad for the sweet corn but good for the crucifers (cabbages and their relatives)

You can't grow sweet corn without heat and sunshine to make those ears pop out. Customers drive up to the farm stand, get out of the car, trudge across the sawdust to the little shed where I stand behind the cash register and ask me plaintively, "Is there any sweet corn?"

No, I tell them, and how many ways can I say that. "No sweet corn today, but we might have some in a few days. We have corn trying to grow out there, but all we can do is hope for it.

"How about some broccoli? We got boucoup broccoli. Heaps of it, luscious and green. The broccoli thrives in this wet weather."

But they want sweet corn, and they trudge back to their cars with their heads hung down.

I want to sing out, "We have cabbages too. Ten pounders. Solid and crisp. You could make enough cole slaw for your entire Bridge Club."

But they leave, heading down the road to some other farm stand, which might have sweet corn. I don't blame them if they want to keep looking, because they get this idea that it's late August and early September and you're supposed to have sweet corn.

But not this year, not in any abundance....

With the rain, as a way to be happy, flowers sales are strong. We are selling bouquets as fast as we can make them. I am learning to love dahlias. They are just astounding -- ranging from light lemon colors all the way to red darker than a bull fight in medieval Spain.

I can pick the zinnias and yarrows when the stand is not busy. These annuals grow right near the stand, so if I hear the crunch of the gravel, meaning a car is here, then I can get back to the stand and wait on the people.

But the dahlias are too far out in the field. I never go there, except last week, I asked Mary if she could cover for me to give me a chance to walk out to the dahlias and see them all. It was wonderful.

Anyway, I need to talk with the boss about this -- I can't hype the farm stand without coordinating with him, and her, and her -- it's a family farm -- so I will stop for now.

Subscriptions and Signed Copies of the Frog Hospital Book. It used to be that you sent in $25 and did not get much more than my appreciation, but now you get a signed copy of the Frog Hospital book.

This book is a treasure that will still be worth reading ten years from now.

Send a check for $25 to Fred Owens, Box 1292, LaConner, WA 98257. Or go to the Frog Hospital blog and pay with PayPal.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Old Barn

You can make friends with an old barn. This one was built in 1906 by John Basye's great-grandfather on Beaver Marsh Road in the Skagit Valley, out in the flats where the wind is blowing and the soil is fertile.

You need to watch the video, which is only 90 seconds long, to get a picture of it. This Old Barn.

They're harvesting wheat right now -- farmers loving this hot, dry weather, good for harvesting wheat. Drought in Russia makes wheat scarcer, raises the price. They were looking at $4 a bushel, and some farmers sold their wheat this spring on the futures market at $4 a bushel -- often a smart move -- but not this year. It's gone up to $7 a bushel on the spot market because of the drought in Russia, causing a trading frenzy at the wheat pits in Chicago.

Our Skagit farmers grow wheat as a rotation crop, it's not how you make a living, like potatoes, or seed crops, or berries, but you grow wheat because you cannot grow potatoes every year. And this year at $7 a bushel, it doesn't hurt.

John Basye's barn is getting a new roof. He tore the old cedar shingles off and they can't be replaced. All the cedar has been logged in this territory, and good cedar for roofs would come from Canada at a very high price. Instead, the new roof will gleam with metal, which is a long-lasting material and has reflective qualities, brightening the sunshine and bouncing the rays back into the sky.

Metal roofs ping-ping the rain. It will be a different winter this year with a new metal roof. It will be louder.

Right now, the roof is off and the rafters are exposed to the weather -- for the first time in 100 years, seeing the sky, breathing and drying out in the heat of summer. You can hear the beams groan like arthritic grandfathers.

But this essay is not an exercise in nostalgia, not some hearkening back to the old days when the big trees were logged, and the stumps were blasted out with shovels and dynamite.

No, "This Old Barn" is about the future. You put a new roof on your barn because you're betting on the future. You're betting on one hundred more years of farming in the Skagit Valley, growing food for our children's children's children on broad, flat and fertile acres.

One hundred years from now we will need this barn. Of course, you never know, it's a flood plain. A big enough flood could float this barn away. And there's fire -- the old barn is built of wood. And it gets windy in the flats -- a really strong wind might damage the barn beyond repair.

But you bet on the future when you put on a new roof. There's no sure thing and where else can you put your money?

Please unsubscribe if you don't read Frog Hospital, or if you got on my mailing list by mistake. Even if you are a close personal friend, it won't hurt my feelings.

Subscriptions and Signed Copies of the Book. It used to be that you sent in $25 and did not get much more than my appreciation, but now you get a signed copy of the Frog Hospital book.

This book is a treasure that will still be worth reading ten years from now.

Send a check for $25 to Fred Owens, Box 1292, LaConner, WA 98257. Or go to the Frog Hospital blog and pay with PayPal.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Will they celebrate Gay Marriage at the Ground Zero Mosque?

Will they celebrate Gay Marriage at the Ground Zero Mosque?

I'm getting the issues confused.

But if New Yorkers can tolerate a mosque at Ground Zero, shouldn't it be a highly tolerant mosque?

Back to gay marriage. I've thought about it for about ten years, and I've decided it's a good thing. It really bothered me that judges were interfering with my own thinking on this question, because it is not a matter for the courts to decide.

Marriage is customary, legal, and moral. They all go together and the nature of marriage ought to be determined by the legislature, and failing that, by referendum.

The courts are the very worst place to decide questions like this, and that judge in California is doing no one a favor by ruling in favor of gay marriage -- or against it. He is a usurper against my own voice and I resent it.

It would be much better if people are persuaded, as they can be. Proponents of gay marriage have full access to the political process and can take their case to the people. I expect they will win if they take that course.

But if they keep going to court, the question will remain unsettled for decades. Keep the lawyers out of this, please.

Going to court is always the very, very last option in any dispute.

The Mosque. I was married to a Moslem woman for seven years. She was from Africa. Her ancestral village was in the mountains of Malawi. We visited this village shortly after we were married in 1997. Chembe village it was called, with a small mud brick mosque in the village square, and an ancient bearded imam in a blue robe.

The imam had several tattered copies of the Koran. He sang the call to prayers each morning before dawn -- no loudspeaker and no electricity in this village -- only the haunting call to prayer.

Five or six men would come to the mosque in response to the imam's call.

There were no dogs in Chembe village I liked that, because there was no barking in the night and it was quiet.

There was no alcohol -- not exactly, more of a low key kind of thing. In the evening the women gathered in the cooking hut down the hill. The village chief would invite me to join him at his place where we sat in chairs -- probably the only two chairs in the village.

He would bring out a bottle of rum and we had a drink together. It was fine. We treated each other as equals. I was proud of my life and my American heritage and education. He was proud of his village. I was married into his family and was welcomed in that way.

After some conversation, we would go to the women's cooking hut -- they had a fire going and it was warm in there, and we sat around the fire on mats and talked.

That's really all I know about Islam from personal experience. I think the villagers took their religion very lightly, and I wish we were all like that.

Having said that, the Ground Zero Mosque -- actually I don't know what to think. Legally it's a slam dunk -- they can build it wherever zoning ordinances permit a house of worship.

Otherwise, it's entirely up to the people of Manhattan, who are not likely to notice it amid the roar of commerce and culture

But if they do build it, this mosque should be the center of a mission to Islamic countries, which often forbid the construction or even the repair of churches and synagogues in their lands.

If the mosque is built, it should be a shining example and we should seek reciprocal treatment in Moslem countries. "Allow the free interchange of ideas, welcome our preachers as we welcome yours. Respectful argument is a good thing. We can challenge each other."

I was married to the African woman for seven years, but other than going to Chembe village to visit the graves of her ancestors, we had no more exposure to Islam. She claimed it as an identity, but only that. She had no knowledge or practice of Islam, but was more familiar with Christianity and indigenous spiritual practices -- in the way that Africa people can mix these things all together.

I have learned and thought about Islam since then -- from reading books and newspapers, from knowing about the attacks of September 11, 2001, and our military invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, and reading about the endlessly complicated disputes between Palestinians and Israelis -- but I will not let those images intrude on what I actually experienced first hand -- I think I will cherish and remember the evenings with Chief Chembe in his village, a man just like me, except he had two wives.

So we end. And we realize that the Mosque and the question of Marriage are actually related.

And there is a lot to talk about -- if we can keep it out of court.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

send mail to:

Fred Owens
Box 1292
LaConner WA 98257

Friday, August 06, 2010

A long, long time ago I picked flowers for my mother. I picked violets and lily of the valley. They grew in the wild area on the north side of our home. I gave the the flowers to my mother and she put them in a vase on the table. She was happy and I felt like a good boy.

The yard was mowed and fenced except for this wild area. The grass wouldn't grow on the north side, so it was left and the flowers just grew all by themselves. I could go out there in the summer and lie down and have my own dreams.

We lived in a white stucco house in the suburbs of Chicago, under the shade of very tall oak trees and elm trees. The high-dappled shade is the best because the air flows smoothly on hot summer days. A white wooden fence ran around the back yard. We played baseball and badminton and left bare spots in the lawn from playing all summer long. Mother grew peonies and roses in the back of the yard, just a small garden, but it was pretty.

In the winter, when the ground was frozen, she had me cover the roses and peonies with oak leaves to protect them through the coldest days. That was an easy chore and I was glad to do it -- only once a year, and then in the spring I would take the leaves away. It was something special I did for her.

Outside the fence, between the fence and the alley, the tiger lilies grew thickly -- day lilies, but we called them tiger lilies because of their bright orange color. They grew wild, all by themselves.

One of my regular chores was taking out the trash, out to the alley. I put the trash bags in a wire basket and lit a match and set the trash on fire. I liked standing in the alley, all by myself, outside the fence, watching the flames in the wire basket -- bright orange flames, but green and blue muted flames from the coated pages of magazines and the wrappers on tin cans.

I liked being out in the alley, outside the fence with the tiger lilies and the unpaved alley way with gravel and mud puddles, where I could have my own dreams. I think this is what made me how I am today.

I hated Little League baseball. I didn't like Lilttle League. They had rules and uniforms and grown ups bossing us around -- they called it "coaching" but I didn't like any of them. I liked playground ball much better. We were kids -- we chose up teams and made up our own rules. We had huge arguments too.

"He was out."

"No, he was safe, I saw him touch the base."

"You liar, he was out by a mile."

So, we had our own arguments, but we didn't need a bunch of stupid grownups hanging around to show us how to play baseball. Geez.

Skateboarding. Kids don't play ball like we used to, they want to be skateboarding. But it's like playground ball --- it's not officially sanctioned with umpires and coaches and stupid grownups. The kids can do it all by themselves on skateboards and create their own form of play.

A few of the skaters in LaConner are known to be ill-behaved. I was told that one of them cursed at the librarian. I could ask the librarian if that was true, but it's bad enough that rumors go around like this. How are the kids going to get a skateboard park this way?

What they should do, the kids that are serious, is have a talk with the smart alecks who cursed at the librarian -- and then beat the crap out of them, because they're messing it up for everybody else.

Just my opinion. These kids want to skate without a lot of adult interference. I know the feeling. I can hardly stand grownups myself. But then you have to make your own rules and enforce them.

I don't tolerate too much attitude in children, but then, looking it at from another perspective, if the worst thing they did is curse at the librarian and leave some trash in the parking lot at the grocery story -- how bad is that? You know, how does cursing at the librarian compare to a drive-by shooting? Pretty light weight stuff.

Unless you're the librarian, who I happen to know and like.

Now, to change the subject:

You Can't Write. This message is for all the new writers who are planning to self-publish their memoirs. You can't write. I know what you heard on the Oprah Winfrey show about how you should express yourself and why your story is valid and strong and worthwhile. It is your story and a true one. That d't mean anybody else wants to hear it.

In the old days you kept a diary and kept it private -- as it should be. Writing, that is writing something of value to a larger group, is a skill and not everyone has it -- like being a carpenter or a farmer. It takes years to get good at it, and not every one can succeed.

So this message is for you, my friend. You are surely very good at something, but it might not be writing.

Let me explain it another way. It's like the difference between gardening and farming. I can garden. I can grow a pretty good garden, but there's no way I can farm. Farming is when you can grow enough food to sell it and make a living at it. But gardening is a past time.

So maybe my few words are put before you to re-establish a boundary between writing as a past time and writing as a profession -- a friendly, but meaningful distinction.

Subscriptions and Signed Copies of the Book. It used to be that you sent in $25 and did not get much more than my appreciation, but now you get a signed copy of the Frog Hospital book.

This book is a treasure that will still be worth reading ten years from now.

Send a check for $25 to Fred Owens, Box 1292, LaConner, WA 98257. Or go to the Frog Hospital blog and pay with PayPal.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

send mail to:

Fred Owens
Box 1292
LaConner WA 98257

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Ronald Reagan would be proud

That's the title of a video I made for YouTube.

"I have six part-time jobs and no health insurance, and that makes me a real American hero, in the kind of America that Ronald Regan dreamed about. No Pension! No Paid Vacation! None of that Democratic sissy stuff."

"No, and I am grateful to the wealthy people, the top one percent, for making my working life possible, because it is their wealth, trickling down from above, that sustains me."

"What if I get sick? Well, I don't go running to the doctor. No, No. I'm tough. I just rub on a little of grandma's lotion, then I take a shot of whiskey and sweat it out."

"Isn't it wonderful living in Ronald Reagan's America?"

Well, it's kind of funny, I hope. And relevant, because the Congress will now decide, in its painfully difficult process, whether to keep or repeal the Bush (son of Reagan) tax cuts --those tax cuts to the wealthy who can take that untaxed money and spend it to hire us little people and create thousands of jobs.

If they spend it. But they don't have to spend it, being wealthy, and they don't have to spend it in America. They can take their pre-tax dollars and invest in textile manufacturing in Thailand -- no jobs for us.

So I favor the repeal of these tax cuts for our high-income friends. Better they should pay taxes rather than you and I. The Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution permits progressive taxation. It's a good thing.

Fishtown Blues. I've almost recovered from the Fishtown Art Show Disaster The pronounced euphoria this show produced among so many people is a matter of profound shock to me. The experience has been deeply isolating, because I think the show isn't half what it could be, and I look at the other people who loved it and I think -- we're not from the same planet, are we?

But I will try just the same. Kathleen (speaking to Kathleen Moles who curated the show), Kathleen, you tried and you made a great effort and I truly appreciate that. It's not a bomb. It's not a failure. It's even worse -- it's that thing that's close to being good, but not really good. And every artist and writer I know has had that experience.

You write something or you paint something and it's good, but there's a nagging feeling, there's some little something wrong and you can't quite put your finger on it. You step back and you realize that it's almost good. That's the key word, "almost."

And comes now the hardest part for an artist -- when it's almost good, you THROW IT OUT. You crumble it up and toss it in the wastebasket.

So the Fishtown art show is almost good. The right thing to do is to scrap it. Take it down and start all over again. Get it right. This is how we get to the truth, by accepting our mistakes as part of the learning process.

Am I wasting my words? Once the concrete sets on a museum show, it can never change. We are doomed to this inviolate display until October, when the show formally comes down. But I'm saying something worthwhile here. This initial euphoria from the show's opening will be wearing off. It's like the honeymoon rush, but the tired days of August will bring a truer appreciation of this show -- the beauty will have faded.

Don't let that happen. Fix the show now, before the beauty fades.

Back to the Video. Frog Hospital readers have indulged me -- bellyaching for three consecutive issues about the Fishtown art show, and most of you don't live around here so it doesn't matter, and everyone else who has seen the show thinks I'm wrong.

So, let's go back to the Ronald Reagan video. It's really good. I have been making great progress in this new medium. Learning to speak -- mumbling a few of the lines, but that's all right. Getting the light right -- I shot this one in partial shade in the park in Anacortes. Practicing my lines -- what I said I spoke out loud two times before I turned the camera on. Keeping a good pace to it, with changes in intensity -- now light-hearted, now strong and serious, some expressive hand movement and body language. There's a strong ego present -- I love the camera and the camera loves me.

But there's a really scary part to this video -- I'm kidding, right? But am I really kidding?

Three Dreams. I am working my six part-time jobs with three dreams to guide me.

1.A little dream -- to go whalewatching. Forty years in Puget Sound and I've never seen a whale. It's time. I'm going this week.

2. A medium dream -- a kayak trip with my daughter, paddling around the islands someplace, camping under the stars. My daughter Eva is my favorite camping buddy.

3. A large dream -- I leave the Skagit Valley in October, when the weather is still good, so the parting is sweet, but a little sad. I go south for the winter, to southern California, where the roses are still blooming in January. I stay south until winter is over.

Subscriptions and Signed Copies of the Book. It used to be that you sent in $25 and did not get much more than my appreciation, but now you get a signed copy of the Frog Hospital book.

This book is a treasure that will still be worth reading ten years from now.

Send a check for $25 to Fred Owens, Box 1292, LaConner, WA 98257. Or go to the Frog Hospital blog and pay with PayPal.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Turkish Woman Who Lived in Fishtown

I'm trying ...... trying to appreciate the Museum of Northwest Art (MONA) in LaConner, but I fear the judgment of small minds in small towns. The way the small mind works is this -- since I wrote a critical comment about the Fishtown Art Show, currently at MONA, I am henceforth and forever branded as an enemy of the museum. That is far from the case, but it is the kind of talk that goes around a small town.

In fact, I am on the best of terms with Kathleen Moles, the curator of the show, and with many of the artists whose works appear in the show.

I had a long conversation over dinner with a museum staffer, and she warmly understands me as a supporter of the arts, of museums in general, and of our NW museum in particular.

In that conversation we compared MONA to internationally recognized places such as the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, and the de Menil Museum in Houston, those being two of my favorites.

I want MONA to be that good, which is a very demanding standard. Should we settle for less? No, we should not settle for less. Making allowances for the size and scope of our regional effort, we should be as good as the best.

Having cleared that up, I viewed the Fishtown art show again today. It made inexpressibly sad, and this is entirely a projection of my own miserable state of mind. I saw failure and lost chances where others see a soft beauty..... I viewed Ralph Aeschlimann's paintings but I wanted -- needed -- to see see his beautiful, hand-built flying kites. I remembered long ago seeing my two small children chase Ralph and his kites across a field of grass. We were prescient kite runners then, and it all seems lost now.

Gull? Where is Gull, the Turkish woman? Why is she not included in the Fishtown Art Show? She was extravagant beyond measure. She was the original terrorist from the Middle East. Even barefooted, she wore spiked heels. And she lived on the river, someone's wife, not a poet or artist, but making meals, tending the fire, minding the children. And she left no trace of art? Are you kidding? She was an awesome anti-Zen Buddhist, a non-Sufi miracle of contempt for boring people.

Gull was never boring. She was alive and that scared the hell out of people.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Everybody Liked the Fishtown Art Show Except Me

Everybody liked the Fishtown Art Show at the Museum of Northwest Art in LaConner. We had the Opening Day this Saturday and the museum was packed with happy people, looking at walls dense with art and minutiae from days gone by, of poetry and late-night sake parties, stories of Fishtown back in the day ....

Everybody liked the show except me. I'm sorry to be the designated heavy in this picture, but I was not swept away. I thought the show was nostalgic and sentimental. A little too sweet, like a cherry pie made with too much sugar -- it needs a little tartness.

I felt very emotional viewing these old familiar pieces -- like Bo Miller's Chevy Mandala. But I didn't trust the emotion.

It was like a high school reunion or "Old-Fashioned Hippie Days" at a theme park.

Charliev Krafft had a great time. He was one of the featured artists, and I liked seeing his earlier paintings, back when he was making beautiful paintings. His current art is quite a bit different. You can see it at the Smith & Vallee Gallery in Edison. You can see the connection between the past and the present in Charlie's art.

But the connection was missing in the show over all. It was musty-dusty, moldy-oldy stuff dug out of attics and crumbling shoe boxes. Memories.

I don't have much use for memories unless they connect to where we are going today.

Where are we going? I don't know and I got no sense of direction from the Fishtown show -- just an old path down a road that used to be.

I love the past and the history of our lives -- when it serves, when it's real, and when it gives strength.

But I didn't get that from the current show. There was something missing. The show was all about the beginning of Fishtown and not one piece about the end of Fishtown.

So let me have an opinion -- the end of it matters, the end matters as much as the beginning. The end was about drama and conflict and an almost violent destruction of the cabins so sweetly depicted in the show.

The beginning was stillness and quiet, the end was a theatrical crescendo.

Some young artists came out to Fishtown in the late Sixties to escape the turmoil sweeping the land -- the demonstrations and riots and raging war in Viet Nam.

They left the city to connect with a larger presence. They cultivated quiet and nurtured simplicity.

But the conflict which they escaped came back with a vengeance in 1988. The conflict was real and genuine, over the logging of the woods behind Fishtown, and a radical challenge to property rights that the Fishtown residents launched, in order to stop the logging.

It's a long story, but the protest and resistance was as much a work of art and a work of beauty as any ink-stained sumi poem composed by candlelight.

It's too bad they left that part out of the show -- that essential bit of truth, and that's why I didn't like it.

That Photo of Richard Gilkey. See a video version of this Fishtown art show rant at my Facebook page, LaConner Views.

I wanted to see the photo of Richard Gilkey, a great artist, a native son, an ex-Marine, being led away in handcuffs by the Skagit County sheriff's deputies in January, 1988. He was arrested, among many people arrested, because he stood on the ground, on the property of the Chamberlain Family, and blocked the logging trucks.

Gilkey and the others made a radical challenge to the dominance of the old farm families. This rebellion of artists-without-property had to be crushed. And it was crushed.

So the story of Fishtown ends in a tragedy, and the old farm families won.

But did they really win? The farmers themselves are threatened today and asking for help to preserve their way of life. Isn't it time they realized that the Fishtown artists were their true friends?

But no, the conflict remains unresolved. I was involved in the Fishtown Woods Massacre of 1988 and I am still persona non grata on that hallowed ground.

Charlie Krafft went out there last week -- tried to go out there but he was shown the door. Get lost!

Maggie Wilder still has access. She lives in Steve Herold's old place. Steve stayed out of the conflict in 1988, perhaps wisely, and his cabin was spared the vengeance of destruction.

We just need to add that one photo of Richard Gilkey to the Fishtown Art Show. To make it real. To make it whole. Otherwise it doesn't matter. Otherwise, it's just an old story about some old men and what they did when they're hearts were young and gay.

Campground Meditation. I have been tent camping these past few days at the campground in Washington Park in Anacortes.

This morning I went for a walk and left my package of Fig Newtons on the picnic table.

Dumb and dumber. You know what happened. "Caw, caw, caw," the crows were laughing in the trees when I came back from my walk. They ate every one of my cookies.

Rascals! This is serious. They're not getting any more of my snacks. The food is in a box with a lid and a frying on top of the lid.

Just try, Mr. Crow, just try. Caw-caw yourself. Find some other fool.

Subscriptions and Signed Copies of the Book. It used to be that you sent in $25 and did not get much more than my appreciation, but now you get a signed copy of the Frog Hospital book.

This book is a treasure that will still be worth reading ten years from now.

Send a check for $25 to Fred Owens, Box 1292, LaConner, WA 98257. Or go to the Frog Hospital blog and pay with PayPal.

Thank you,

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

send mail to:

Fred Owens
Box 1292
LaConner WA 98257

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Fourth of July Manifesto

What is this thing about Harvard? Elena Kagan was the Dean of the Harvard Law School -- that makes her no smarter than a dozen people I know who read this newsletter.

There's is nothing special about Harvard. It's a fraud, an institution encrusted with prestige and the aura of power. They really know how to work the hype, but it's not an especially good school.

President Obama seems to fall for this kind of thing, as if they were the anointed ones -- those attending Harvard Law School and Yale Law School.

Isn't there a law school in Wisconsin? There are probably one or two really good law schools in the Badger State, whose graduates have become distinguished attorneys and judges, whose politics align well enough with our Democratic President -- why not pick one of them, instead of Elena Kagan with the Harvard mystique, who will probably serve on the high bench with decent distinction, meanwhile fueling the anti-elitist fury of the Tea Party.

It would be better if the nominee came from Wisconsin. Cheeseheads vote, you know.

I was in Cambridge for a few years in the 1990s -- they're a real bunch of snobs at Harvard. Thinking about this wakes up an old anger in me. They can teach, but they can't learn. They can talk, but they can't listen. They can give directions, but they can't join the team.

President Obama isn't that smart either -- he should listen to me more often, and less often to those tired saints on the Charles River.

Tea Party Demographics. I'm an old white man making far less money than I thought I would. The Tea Party people are recruiting me big time. I mean, I fit the demographic and I'm angry enough. I understand what's making them work. I have coffee with them several times a week.

We tell jokes. I said yesterday, talking to a scurrilous, foul-mouthed Cajun, "Is that what they mean by the right to bear arms? Like if you can pick it up, then it's legal."

He said, "That's right. If you can bear it, you can own it."

I said, "You can't pick up a tank, so you can't own one."

"Yeah," he said. "That's right."

"But machine guns are all right," I said.

"Sure," he said.

"What about one of those blow guns that they use in the Amazon that blow poisonous darts? What if you owned one of those blow guns and had some darts dipped in Anthrax powder, would that be legal?"

That puzzled the old Cajun, but we were interrupted by the cook bringing out some strawberry shortcake for us to taste.

I like the Tea party people. They're not stupid, except for Joe, who brags about how he never reads books. Actually Joe isn't stupid, he lives pretty well, and he knows how to do a lot of things that I can't do.

But the old Cajun is surprisingly well-read and well-informed. He's pretty sharp, and sharp-tongued too.

Those Tea Party People -- they're honest, God-fearing, hard-working people, but I'm not, I'm a Democrat.

Hard work? Are you kidding? Not for me. I wake up in the morning and use the brain God gave me and the education my parents paid for, and I start to think, "How can I make the most money with the least amount of effort?"

Taxes? Don't tax me, tax the rich. When I get rich, I'll pay a lot of taxes and complain about it while I'm riding on my yacht. Some day I'm going to be so rich that I'll hire a lawyer just to shine my shoes.

But in the meantime I think we ought to extend unemployment benefits until the true rate of unemployment gets down to under five percent. And I strongly support increased deficit spending by the federal government -- Prime the Pump, just like FDR did in the 1930s. It worked then, and it will work now.

Let's build a few more highways and dams. Let's have the government hire all the laid off construction workers and have them retro-fit every old house in America to be more energy efficient.

That is what I favor, so I guess I won't be joining the Tea Party, even though they are my kind of people.

Instead I am following a narrow path between the extremes of fundamentalism and the terrors of feminism.

I run to the Tea Party people because I am fleeing the Language Police on the left -- you know, the ones who chopped off "fisherman" and made it to be "fisher." Oh, that hurts my ears.

And then they took "Founding Fathers" and shrunk it down to "Founders." Horrible language.

I am a foe of inclusive language. I am an opponent of the gender-free vision.

But I support substantive feminist ideas, like government-subsidized day care, which could be a great help to working parents of either sex ….. just …. don’t …. correct …. my speech.

It is a narrow path, because I can't stand Fox News either. I wouldn't listen to Glenn Beck for a hundred dollars.

I attack the Right, and I irritate the Left.

It is a narrow path, but it is the way to freedom, and there I will go.

Living in Season. I get a newsletter from Waverly Fitzgerald. It's called Living in Season -- all about catching the natural rhythm of things as times passes -- days pass, weeks and months pass, the season changes, we age, the river of time flows on. But she says it much better than I can say it.

Waverly inspires me and many other writers. It isn't so much what she says, but it's the generosity of her spirit.

If you get discouraged as a writer, then you can read what Waverly wrote and she makes the effort worthwhile and you keep writing.

Being Transparent About Money. Here's what I think about money -- if I act like myself, no one wants to pay me. If I act normal, then they pay me a little bit, but it's hardly worth it.

Mainly the money dragon flies overhead and craps on my parade. I can't ever fix it.

The good thing is that I get Social Security at $551 each month, so I should always have enough money for rent. And, in my experience, if you have the rent money in hand, you can figure out the rest.

Like this week. My checking account shows $858 on hand. I pay $400 to rent a room and that includes utilities. I gave my housemate $155 on top of that for groceries, and that leaves $303.

My other bills are the car insurance at $65, and the cell phone at $50.

Oh, don’t forget health insurance -- zero, don’t have it, planning to stay healthy for one more year until I get Medicare at 65.

Do NOT mutter something about the joys of simplicity. I am neither complaining nor bragging, I am just stating what it is.

So I have the $188 left over. But wait, there's more. I have a check for $150 which I earned from Katy's Inn -- doing their gardening, and then a check for $50 which I earned as a freelance journalist.

It's really piling up now -- more than $388 on hand -- the bills are paid and I’m rich!

I could get a tuneup for my old Toyota -- long overdue. OR, I could drive down to Eugene, Oregon and visit my friends who just bought a small farm.

That would be a working vacation -- go down there and help them with the chores. It wouldn't cost me, except for the gas money to get there, and they can use the help.

I spend a lot of time in libraries, parks, and at church. I'm not religious, but I go to church because it's free, same with the library and the park.

On July 10, I expect a LARGE check of $450 for some freelance writing at the farming newspaper.

Some days I dream about owning property again, like having my own place. I would go out in the yard and pee on the bushes -- my bushes. It's a dream like out of a John Steinbeck novel. "Lennie, can we have rabbits at our place? And can we grow some carrots, and can I feed the carrots to the rabbits? I wouldn't ever forget to feed them."

How did I end up in a John Steinbeck novel? I don't know.

Previous acts of financial insanity have resulted in the squandering of money I inherited from a share in the family business -- resulting in the loss of my home and property in 2004.

That's when I bought the Toyota with the money I had left and began to roam the country.

It doesn't make any sense to me at all. I'm not asking for any understanding here. I just know that I have been ashamed of my penury, and I'm tired of feeling that way. I'm tired of the judgment I've been getting from other people. It's my money and my life.

If anybody writes back to me and says I should be grateful for what I have, their name will be removed from the mailing list -- unless they are a paid subscriber.

If anybody writes back to me with some friendly advice about how I can do better, I don't want to hear it.

This is my Fourth of July message, and my Declaration of Independence. Don't tread on me. I'm all right, Jack.

Us All One. This Fourth of July, it’s not me, it’s us. E pluribus unum meaning one from many, from diverse sources we forge a unity and harmony of sweet voices raised in songs of praise for our wonderful home and country.

Read a story about me and my book in the Wilson County News .
-- Fred Owens

cell: 360-739-0214

send mail to:

Fred Owens
Box 1292
LaConner WA 98257

Friday, June 25, 2010

Let's give the Farmer a Day Off

I went to the wholesale farmers market in Mount Vernon Thursday morning -- just being around all those sweet raspberries made me feel pretty good.

Farmers grow raspberries and sell them, and if they can sell them for enough money, then they can keep on farming. It is not the custom of farmers to brag on making money. That would be tempting fate. Even to admit they had a good year might bring on a plague of locusts or a punishing drought, so mainly you hear the bad news and "it could be worse."

Ray deVries farms near Mount Vernon. He's a major producer of leeks and beets and other vegetables. He has proposed a national Day With No Eating for all Americans. Ray said that most Americans could get by with skipping a few meals and that would give him a day off from farming.

On Ray's farm they don't work on Sundays, or on Thanksgiving or Christmas right now, but an extra day off would be appreciated, he said

I told him I would launch his proposal to the Frog Hospital readers and ask them "Who wants to skip a day of eating?"

Steamed Greens. Molly, my housemate, said I ought to wash out the pot with soap after steaming vegetables because it leaves a taste if I don't. She noticed this because I didn't wash out the pot with soap -- and then she made tapioca pudding, but the taste of the greens was still in it.

I told her I saw her point and I would use soap on the pot, whereas in the past I had merely rinsed it out.

It was probably the collard greens that caused the problem. They have a particularly strong scent. I grow collard greens and I give them to some friends who moved here from southern states. I call it my Feed a Cracker program. Everybody needs good greens, especially the people who have been eating them all their lives.

I also give my collard greens to genteel southerners of good breeding and refined education -- just in case they read this and think I was referring to them as Crackers.

And I share my collard greens with a family that comes from Harlem, which is located on an island at the mouth of the Hudson River. The island is known as Manhattan, the city is called New York, and my New York family loves their collard greens too.

"Feed a Cajun" is a new addition to the program. Our resident Cajun in LaConner lives on his boat at the marina.

They all get their greens. Greens are what makes America strong and free.

The lighter greens -- chard, kale, and beet greens -- are just as good and just as good for you.

In a garden, the greens produce the most food, over the longest period of time, for the least effort.

Mid-summer is a good time to think about planting a fall crop of greens. Start them now, and they will keep producing until Thanksgiving.

Housecleaning. I cleaned a trashed-out rental property this week and I discovered that housecleaning pays as well as gardening, but it's only half as hard. Heck, it's easy compared to landscaping. And you can do it in bad weather too.

I've done a lot of work on my hands and knees in the garden, so dusting off the baseboards is not too much trouble. Cleaning windows -- a breeze. Scouring the oven and scrubbing the tub -- no problem. Garages, basements, and attics -- that would be my pleasure. If you have work for me, give me a ring.

So, one way or another, Frog Hospital continues through the summer of 2010 and looks forward to an always uncertain future.

Birthday. Today is my birthday. I was born on June 25, 1946, in Evanston, Illinois. I want to thank my mother because she did all the work.

Subscriptions and Signed Copies of the Book. It used to be that you sent in $25 and did not get much more than my appreciation, but now you get a signed copy of the Frog Hospital book. This book is a treasure that will still be worth reading ten years from now.

Send a check for $25 to Fred Owens, Box 1292, LaConner, WA 98257. Or go to the Frog Hospital blog and pay with PayPal.

Thank you,

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

send mail to:

Fred Owens
Box 1292
LaConner WA 98257

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Winter in South Africa

It's winter in South Africa. In Johannesburg, the BBC reports the current temperature at 45 degrees with a probable low of 37 degrees.

On a high plain at 5,500 feet elevation, Jo'burg gets a biting, freezing wind in June and July -- flu season. People bundle up in sweaters. Most houses don't have any heat.

People who work in offices sit at a cold desk all day because the office building has no heat.

Watch the coaches on the sidelines of the World Cup soccer matches-- they're wearing winter jackets.

And snow. It snows in the South Africa in the higher mountains.

Capetown. I was in Capetown in 1997. It was the opening of parliament, so all the politicians were in town. I interviewed a member of parliament in his office. His name was Jannie Momberg, an Afrikaaner who had supported the apartheid regime but switched to Mandela's party, the African National Congress.

Momberg said, describing his change of mind and heart, that he had been wrong all his life, and the power of Mandela's actions and words convinced him of that.

I suggested his change to the African National Congress may have been opportunistic -- after all Momberg had just joined the winning side.

This charge of opportunism made him angry. "I will make no attempt to convince you of my sincerity," he told me with an icy glare. "But many of my Afrikaaner friends no longer speak to me. They revile me as a turncoat, as someone who went against his own people. But the future is clear and I am with Mandela and a vote for every man and woman in the new South Africa."

Those were hopeful days, in 1997, when Mandela served as the head of his country, and the racial barriers came tumbling down.

I took a seat at the curb of the main street to wait for Mandela's motorcade -- to see the great man himself as he drove by on his way to Parliament.

I struck up a conversation with a middle-aged white man in a chauffeur's uniform. He said proudly, that he served the mayor of Capetown, and drove her to her appointments -- the new mayor was a colored woman, as she would be described in their culture, meaning a person of mixed African and European descent.

The chauffeur was effusive in her praises. "She is such a lady."

And we waited. Mandela was late. The street was lined with thousands of people who came to see the great man. Europeans come on time -- it's their invention. Africans are never on time -- they don't get it, or choose not to get it.

Mandela came by in a limousine with mirrored windows. He could see out, but we could not see in. He could see me -- maybe, if he was looking my way. So I didn't see Mandela, but he saw me.

Afterward, I took the train back to Kalk Bay, on the Indian Ocean side of Capetown. I was staying at an old hotel. Kalk Bay was a fishing village, boats in the harbor, seafood restaurants, shops and galleries with antiques.

Kalk Bay was a fishing village, a fish town -- Fishtown, get it? All you kids asking me about what it was like in Fishtown here in the Skagit.

Well Kalk Bay was Fishtown in Africa. We drank beer at a pub by the train station, watching the surf crash against the rocks just past our window. I listened to obnoxious Afrikaaners argue about rugby matches.

Everybody in Africa drinks too much. This year you can see it. Remember the opening ceremony for the World Cup? There was a news story about Nelson Mandela who could not come to the ceremony because his great-granddaughter had died in a traffic accident.

This was no surprise. South Africa has a rate of traffic accident fatalities that is close to five time higher than what we have in the United States. In South Africa, drinking and driving is a way of life. Truck drivers pull off the road -- not for coffee -- but for beer. Then they get back on the road and drive drunk, and crash into school buses loaded with children, and the school bus driver is often drunk as well.

So the children die by the dozen. The roads of South Africa are very dangerous.

At what point does one criticize the customs of another country? With traffic fatalities surely. South Africans drive like idiots, they should learn from us.

Then we should get rid of the vuvuzelas at the World Cup soccer matches -- those cheap plastic horns are driving every one crazy. You can even hear them on TV. All the beautiful music in the world comes from Africa -- so get rid of the vuvuzelas, please. They sound awful.

I spoke with my ex-wife two weeks ago. She is from Zimbabwe. She lives in Pennsylvania now. She told me about her many relatives living in Johannesburg -- people I knew when we lived in Zimbabwe in 1997. Her relatives fled the poverty and political violence in Zimbabwe, and went to the big city -- Jo'burg -- to find work.

Her relatives have found work , but several of them have died in non-political criminal violence. Jo'burg has an incredibly high crime rate. It is a dangerous city.

In Botswana. Botswana has the only decent, democratic government in all of Africa. The result is peace and relative prosperity. It's just like in the books about the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.

The books have been made into an HBO special -- well worth watching, I checked the DVD out of the LaConner Library and watched Lady Detective Precious Ramotswe work her magic, which is really only common sense. Many real people in Botswana are very much like the fictional Precious Ramotswe. And yes, the ladies can be quite big, and beautiful too.

Our friend in Zimbabwe was Jerry Thebe. He was from Botswana, meaning he spoke Tswana -- their language. And went home to his village near Francistown.

The last we heard from him was by email from Gabarone, the capital of Botswana, where Jerry was learning about computers.

He was such a happy fellow -- I wonder where he is now.

Happy Birthday, Friday, June 25. This Friday, June 25, I will be 64. The coming year will have prosperity and good fortune. Join me in celebrating this important day.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

send mail to:

Fred Owens
Box 1292
LaConner WA 98257

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Making a Vegetable Garden

I was watching President Obama on TV on Tuesday describing a "national mission" to get away from using too much oil. After I thought about his speech, I realized I was already doing that.

I built a raised-bed vegetable garden for someone in Anacortes. That's part of the solution. The customer is full of enthusiasm and absolutely new at it. This is her first year to try to garden anything and she's so proud. She showed me some basil plants that she grew from seed -- they looked healthy and strong.

Each plant would cost $3 or $4 if you bought them as starts, and "our family eats a lots of basil," she said. So she will grow her own and save money.

She had some old potatoes. They were wrinkled up but sprouting new buds and all ready to put in the ground. She said she got the potatoes from Charlotte Johnson at Mother Flight Farm. Charlotte drives her truck to the farmers market in Anacortes every Saturday to sell her vegetables. She always has time for advice to people with home gardens.

Anyway, Charlotte gave her the potato buds, and I told her how to plant them, maybe three inches deep. "Which side up?" she asked. "Doesn't matter," I said, "they will find the light."

I had built her a raised bed for the vegetables, two rows 15-feet long by 3-feet wide. I laid some weed block cloth on top of the grass, and heaped the soil up on top of the that -- soil she bought from Maillard's nursery on the west side of Mount Vernon.

It took four to six yards of soil to make the beds. The truck came last week for delivery and dumped the soil on a blue tarp I laid down near where we built the garden.

Then it was my pleasure to shovel that whole pile into the wheelbarrow and cart it over to where the garden is -- just pile it up and rake it out until it looked right.

That was quite a lot of work -- moving four to six yards of soil -- and it tired me out, but it looked quite fine when it was done, especially when I realized that I was supporting our national mission. We will do it and we will succeed.

Does building a vegetable garden support our national mission to get off foreign oil? Of course it does. And is it just me? No, there are signs of this happening everywhere. People are getting serious about it and not waiting for instructions from President Obama.

The other part of the garden project was to build a deer fence. Deer are a suburban plague if you ask me. I am not sentimental about their existence, but suffice it to say that the deer like to eat tender vegetable sprouts, and we sure didn't want that to happen. So she bought a hundred feet of deer netting and a bundle of 8-foot stakes. I used that netting and made a fence around the new garden.

When I left her yesterday afternoon, she was planting bush beans.

If you go to my Facebook page, you can see a photo of this garden. Go to "LaConner Views"

Ironing. I wrote a story about how my mother used to iron my shirts. She died in 1996 and I miss her.

But the story was too personal and the thrust of it was reactionary and patriarchal. I mean, who needs a fight?

I could use it in a book that I will begin to write in November. I have two different ideas for this book.

The first idea is about how my mother used to iron my shirts and why I went to Africa in 1997. You might not see the connection, but it will make sense if I write it all down in a story of great psychological depth.

The other possibility for a book is a story about California -- a subject that fascinates me. This is how I would write that book -- I would head south in mid-October, well before the rains set in. I would get myself set up somehow in Los Angeles or near by. Then I will just write it all down.

California is one of those places where a writer needs no imagination. You just look out the window and right it all down.
They say that the streets are paved with gold in California -- well, they used to say that.

1989. I would like to end this newsletter on a sour note. I just don't like living in the Skagit Valley half as much as I used to. I think it all went down hill after 1989. That was the year they tore down Fishtown. That was the year the Cascade Mall opened in Burlington -- when all the big box stores opened up and the pro-growth people won a resounding victory. All I have to say to the pro-growth people is "you won and I lost." I used to like the valley a lot better than I do now.

Because it used to seem so special. Now it seems a lot like every place else.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

send mail to:

Fred Owens
Box 1292
LaConner WA 98257

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

"Fred, how is your book doing?"

Quite well, thank you. We've sold a lot of copies at the Next Chapter in LaConner. I'm getting it placed in various bookstores from Bellingham to Seattle.

I will have a book-signing and informal reading this Friday, June 11, at 7 p.m. at the Bookworm Exchange in Columbia City in Seattle.

Several newspapers will be reviewing the book this week, and that should ramp things up a bit.

Meanwhile I've been getting good reactions from the readers. One fellow bought a book, started to read it, loved it, and then bought three more books to send to his friends back on the East Coast.

The Wilson County News, down in South Texas, where I used to work -- they've ordered some books to sell on their website and over the counter at their newspaper office.

That's a great deal of support. And they're not just doing me a favor -- they think it's pretty good book.

Frog Hospital is not a local or regional book. It's about America. It starts in LaConner, because LaConner is my home. But Texas is part of my home too, and Boston and California, and everywhere in between.

Like Kansas. There's a piece in the book about Kansas called "Lunch with Bob Dole." It's funny. You try to make a joke about Kansas -- that's not easy, but I did it.

It's not really a funny book, but I keep it light with some jokes here and there.

Take this piece, "The African Woman." It's tragic and even harsh:

The African Woman

The African Woman told me that long ago she was Our Mother. She said, “I borned you. I taught you to breathe and I taught you to speak. Are you a Greek, are you a Jew, are you Chinese, are you a Celt, are you from America? I borned you all and I taught you. I loved you very much, all you children. I protected you, I fed you....”

“I don’t remember that,” I interrupted. “Can you prove it? Do you have evidence or any records that say that you were my mother?”

“No, I have no records, I have no proof. I only know it, I only say it.”

“You have no proof?”

“Then you must be my slave. Go back to work and don’t bother me with your foolish stories.”

This is so compact that it's a poem. It tells the whole story of Africa and African slavery in America. I could explain this at length, but that would ruin it.

The Publisher. Frog Hospital was published by Cello Room, a small outfit in Anacortes. The publisher himself is a private person, so I won't share that except to say we made a good deal.

He made the offer to publish my book in November. We drew up a simple contract and he paid me a generous advance for the manuscript.

He did not tell me how to write the book and made only the most general inquiries as the work proceeded. That was very good -- what any writer would want.

The Editor. Jim Bertolino edited the book. He's a poet and retired professor of creative writing. Jim lives in Bellingham and working with him was really an excuse to go to the pub and drink some beers. It was pretty easy.

The Cover. It shows me standing in a boat in front of a shack on the river. The river is the North Fork of the Skagit. The cabin was the summer home of Robert Sund, a poet who died in 2001. There is quite a bit of back story to this image and this place, but I won't tell that story and you won't find it in the book.

Better to see it as some quiet retreat -- it could be on any river, someplace near where you live, perhaps. The image is an invitation to look at the book inside.

You can buy the book at some local bookstores, or get it online at or

I will mail you a signed copy, if you send me a check for $25, made out to Fred Owens, Box 1292, LaConner, WA 98257. Or you can hit the PayPal button on the Frog Hospital blog for the same amount.
Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

send mail to:

Fred Owens
Box 1292
LaConner WA 98257