Saturday, December 24, 2011

Bathsheba Beckons

By Fred Owens

I wrote a short story called "Bathsheba Beckons." I will send it to you in the next newsletter. It's not very long, only 2,300 words. I expect most of you will find it tedious and laced with obscure literary references, but a few of you might enjoy it. I know I enjoyed writing the story. It is my first attempt at fiction.

I am drawing on persons from real life of course --- there is a character named Charlie Bones, an artist in Seattle, who bears a remarkable resemblance to Charlie Krafft.

The lead character is named Tom Blethen. Tom is the name of my older brother. Blethen is a Welsh name. The Blethen family are the owners of the Seattle Times, and I once dated a woman of that name who was a part of that family........Bessie Blume is the female character.... The name Blume comes from my friend Harvey Blume, the Tanned Lion of East Cambridge..... and so the story construction process goes.

I put Tom Blethen on a small farm in Ventura County. He is digging potatoes on a winter's day, working in the rain, working on Bessie Blume's farm. He is muttering and cursing his fate, when Bessie comes out of the house to give him some direction -- but I am giving away the story now.

The great joy of writing fiction is that, once you have set up the characters and the scene, you don't really know what is going to happen, even though you are writing the story. You see, a character, once created, has a mind of his own, he does what he will, not what you tell him to do. It all comes down to the truth. Even in fiction, you have to tell the truth -- because all good stories are true stories.

The title, "Bathsheba Beckons," comes from the Thomas Hardy novel, Far from the Madding Crowd, which is set on a farm in rural England. The main character in the novel is Bathseba Everdene, and she owns a farm, and so Bessie Blume is actually very different in character from Bathsheba but she does own a farm.

With Affection for Christopher Hitchens. Of course he did not say Merry Christmas, but can you imagine Hitchens greeting someone with Happy Holidays? He would have choked on his Scotch before uttering such a nonsense. He was way better than that and I miss him already. I heard him speak in Seattle several years ago, on tour to promote his book on atheism. He was a wonderful, witty speaker who converted no one to his belief. Half his audience in Seattle were Methodist ministers of a liberal stripe, attending as a display of tolerance. Hitchens couldn't win for losing in this debate. God loves a scoundrel.

He was a confirmed smoker and drinker. Had he reformed he would not have lived one minuter longer. Had he reformed he would have died of boredom. If one lives for the sake of "health" then one is rewarded with a long and stupid life -- I'm sure he would have agreed with that sentiment.

Hitchens was a fully enlightened being and he made the decision to dissolve upon death. He will not visit heaven nor hell and he will not be reincarnated.

Impossible to find a gift for my brother. I finished my Christmas shopping, having bought seven gifts for under $100 total. Except I don't have anything for my older brother Tom. Every year it is impossible to find him a gift. He has nothing and he doesn't want anything.

Not me, there are many things I want, and I'm working on a wish list for 2012, a list of things I wish to acquire, places I wish to visit, and experiences I would like to have. This is a secret list, of course.

Learning Chinese. I go to for a study of Chinese characters. It is easy to learn Chinese. Just say that to yourself every day. It's easy. Chinese isn't difficult. You learn one character, then you learn another character and you just keep going. If anyone says learning Chinese is hard, then throw water at them or call them a bad name.

No Farm News. The sun comes up, the sun goes down and each days passes in its time and toil.

No Politics. I'm biting my tongue, but I'm sticking to my pledge -- no politics here.

Merry Christmas. Cheers, happiness and prosperity to all. May the joy of the season spread across the globe even to North Korea.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My blog is Fred Owens

send mail to:

Fred Owens
7922 Santa Ana Rd
Ventura CA 93001

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Things Might Improve

FARM NEWS by Fred Owens

"Things might improve," said Andy Dunstan at Love House Dahlia Farm this morning. I had presented him with a problem while he was eating his cereal. He turned his head to me and said, "things might improve" and then he continued with his breakfast.

To Hell with Celery. Farmers in Ventura County grow over $150 million worth of celery every year, making it the celery capital of the world. So you would think I could easily find a celery farmer to interview, you know, ask him about his crop and his field and how he grows things. Nope. It's like pulling teeth to get these old boys to talk. They don't know me and they don't trust me. Well, to hell with them too.

I left a phone message with a local celery grower, but he won't call me back. They never do. I've been through this dance before. It's not really the farmer's fault. They're just not good at talking. They're out there in the field all day working with great skill to produce an abundance of good food for all of us to enjoy. But you tell them you're a reporter with a few questions, and they clam up tight. What did I ever do to them?

Maybe some other guy wrote a bad story about farming, I never did. I'm just trying to make a living.

Moo. Farming is a very interesting thing to think and read about. As you know, I have become an ardent straddler and fence riding moderate. So I don't take a pro or anti position about organic farming versus conventional, or agri-biz versus small farm, or GM food which is either a plot to control the world by Monsanto or a benefit to all mankind. No, I just hang out here with the cows. The cows go MOOOO, which is OM said backwards.

Dry Here in Ventura. It hasn't rained here in a month, and then we get those dry desert winds day after day -- wind sucking all the moisture out of the soil. Not a big problem except I have 12 50-foot rows of sweet peas trying to germinate, and then sticking up their cute little heads, breaking through a crust of soil and spreading out their tender baby leaves under December skies. Short days don't hurt the sweet peas, it just makes them grow slowly. And a hard frost at night doesn't hurt them either. But that dry wind is not good, so I water the sweet peas every day.

Digging Up Tubers. We have about 65 raised beds of dahlia tubers, beds being 25 to 35 feet in length, and full of dahlias, which have all finished their season, dying back to the ground and someone needs to dig them all up and get them to the greenhouse. Nate was a traveler and he dug tubers all last week, but this week it's my turn.

It's not such a bad job -- crispy cold in the morning so the boss said to pick a row in the sunshine. Isn't she nice to say that?

That's all for now. We're just "doing the kind of work that most Americans don't want to do." This is not really true, you just need to find a good farm to work at.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Farm Income on the Rise in California

The following story brings us some happy news on this Thanksgiving weekend -- California farm income is on the rise. I'll step out of the way now and let Ms. Marcum spread the joy.

By Diana Marcum, Los Angeles Times

As Californians savor their Thanksgiving feasts, the states' farmers are especially thankful. California's agriculture sector is on track for a record year, a rare bright spot in the state's economy.
Prices for cotton, grapes and other crops are near all-time highs. Foreign buyers are gobbling California almonds, grapes, citrus and dairy products. Agricultural exports through September are up 16% over the same period last year. Net farm income is projected to post strong gains in 2011 after nearly doubling over the previous decade.

At a time when other Golden State industries are struggling, times are good down on the farm. Just ask Steve Moore.

The Fresno County pistachio farmer recently completed the harvest on his 480-acre spread near Huron, part of what's estimated to be California's second-largest pistachio crop ever. Prices are strong, at around $2.10 a pound, driven by growing demand in places including China and Israel.

Moore started with 160 acres in 1982, planting trees that take seven years to produce. "Looking at those bare sticks in the ground, I thought I must be nuts," he said. But the crop is so lucrative he's looking to expand again.

Indeed, prices for all manner of farm products are so high that Vernon Crowder, an agricultural economist with Rabobank, a major agricultural lender, has been seeing some unfamiliar faces at industry events.

"When you go to ag conferences you now have venture capitalists hanging around," he said. "But they find it very difficult to beat out another farmer for land, and that shows you how strong the market is. There's been a fundamental shift as the global market demands more food and more expensive food."

That's good news for California, the nation's leading agricultural state and the fifth-largest producer worldwide. In contrast with the grain-and-livestock focused Midwest, California farmers cultivate more than 400 commodities, including more than half of the nation's fruits and vegetables.

Looking for artichokes? Dates? Kiwi? Pomegranates? California accounts for more than 99% of the U.S. production of each of those crops, according to the California Food and Agriculture Department.

"You ask the average person what California does better than any other place in the world, where we have the most innovation and natural advantage and they'll probably say Hollywood or high-tech. But, it's farming," said Stuart Woolf, president of Woolf Farming & Processing, with cotton and tomato fields near Huron.

"Bakersfield to Sacramento is like a giant greenhouse with really good soil," he said. "The big picture is that we are going to be perpetually stretching our resources as California feeds more people around the globe."

The world's population just hit 7 billion, and emerging middle classes in countries such as India and China are putting more on their plates. California farmers, always looking for new markets, are finely attuned to shifting economies and tastes worldwide. Pistachios are a perfect example of such entrepreneurial farming.

California is now the world's top producer, knocking off longtime leader Iran three years ago. This year the state's crop is expected to be more than 460 million pounds, but 30 years ago the crop barely existed here.

Then came the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, which led to a ban on imports from Iran, a major supplier to the U.S. market. Some Central Valley farmers saw an opportunity. They gambled on planting pistachio trees.

Innovation followed.

Iranian pistachios traditionally are dyed a distinctive red to cover blemishes left by bits of the hull sticking to the outer shell. California researchers found a way to remove the outer hulls, leaving the tan shells smooth and flawless.

Soon California pistachios were favored by consumers worldwide. The 2010 crop — a record 522 million pounds — was worth $1.16 billion.

In the Central Valley, which grows about 95% of the nation's pistachios, the crop is expected to nearly double by 2017 as more trees mature.

"That's a huge increase. But we think we'll be able to create demand ahead of production," said Richard Matoian, executive director of American Pistachio Growers in Fresno.

Moore, the pistachio farmer, is willing to roll the dice. He's looking to add more trees. "It's a moon shot – a trajectory of seven years. You water, you fertilize, you keep the critters away, and you hope and you pray the demand grows as your trees grow," he said.

The country's largest pistachio farm, Paramount Farms, is capitalizing on Hollywood glitz to build a bigger domestic market.

Located in Kern County, Paramount is owned by Stewart and Lynda Resnick, who created the national pomegranate juice craze in part by putting their POM Wonderful brand juice bottles in gift bags at entertainment awards shows. Paramount is now pushing pistachios with "Get Crackin" TV spots featuring personalities such as Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, who had accused Facebook Inc.'s Mark Zuckerberg of stealing their idea for the social network, promoting "the lowest calorie nut."

"California farmers have guts," Matoian said. "They take risks on new crops."

Sometimes they return to old ones.

California was once a major cotton grower, transplanting the "white gold" empires of the South to the American West. But cotton slowly disappeared as drought and water wars drove farmers to abandon it for other crops.

Then prices spiked in 2010, largely because of poor harvests in China and Pakistan, which are major cotton growers. Some Golden State farmers rushed to plant cotton anew. Now, the Texas drought is expected to push high-end pima cotton prices to the $3-a-pound mark again. California farmers are harvesting 454,500 acres of cotton, almost 50% more than last year.

"Anything, anywhere in the world, affects us," said Ryan Jacobsen, a raisin grower and executive director of the Fresno County Farm Bureau.

So far the concurrence of events has California agriculture prospering and poised for long-term growth. China is still a surging market, and the U.S. recently signed a trade deal with Korea that is expected to boost exports of wine, beef, dairy products and tree nuts.

But Jacobsen said it would be hard to find a big-spending California farmer who would freely admit to being flush. "You know how you make a small fortune in farming? Start with a large fortune," he said.

The most splurging that raisin grower Steve Spate will do is an occasional dinner out with his wife, even though raisin prices are at an all-time high of $1,700 a ton, more than double what they were in 2002.

Fall rainstorms almost ruined this year's crop. And immigration crackdowns and ongoing violence on the U.S.-Mexico border have left him struggling to attract enough farmhands.

Spate plans to invest this year's profits to strengthen trellises to prepare for the switch to mechanical harvesters. "In farming what you buy is the ability to keep farming," he said.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My blog is Fred Owens

send mail to:

Fred Owens
7922 Santa Ana Rd
Ventura CA 93001

Saturday, October 29, 2011

At Shepherd's Farm in Carpinteria

FARM NEWS, Halloween Edition

By Fred Owens

I toured Shepherd's Farm in Carpinteria this week. They grow 40 acres of organic vegetables and have been doing that since 1973. It is a beautiful and tidy farm, well-managed. They sell vegetables at six farmers markets and provide more than 150 CSA boxes each week to customers in nearby Santa Barbara. They also wholesale to local restaurants.

I tasted Shepherd's strawberries. I picked them right in the field -- quite tasty and just sweet enough. They grow the strawberries through a white plastic sheet for weed control. These were first year plants, just set out this summer, and it was a pretty little patch of fruit.

I spoke with Antonio and Mark, two Hispanic gentlemen, brothers, who have worked for Shepherd for twenty years. It's good to have steady hands like that. I also spoke with Ricky and Josh, two interns who had been working there for several months -- they are part of the WOOF program.

And Kjessie, the farm manager, who keeps the ducks not lined up in a row, but quacking to the same tune.

A lot of Happy Campers are working at Shepherd's Farm. And last I met old Tom Shepherd himself. I asked him did you ever grow too much of something and then you can't sell it? He said, yes, that happens.

We had that happen at Love House Dahlias this year. We grew more sweet peas than we could sell, and then we grew more dahlias than we could sell.

This is so typical of American agriculture -- farmers are much better at growing than selling.

Autumn Comes. It's getting cold in the morning these days. I use the space heater for a bit. Pretty soon I'll be using the propane furnace. I live in a spacious motor home. The propane furnace really cranks out some good heat on a frosty morning. I was warm here all last winter. But I don't use the hot water heater -- it's too wasteful. Why would I heat up 10 gallons of water in the morning? It's better to go over to the big house and take a shower there. And then I only have a few dishes to wash, so I heat up some water on the stove for that chore.

I set out more winter vegetables this week -- red and green cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, romaine lettuce. We started all that from seed, but yesterday I bought a six pack of white snapdragons and a six pack of stock -- got them at Flora Gardens in Ojai as a treat, and I will plant them today.

We have two new dogs on the premises -- I want to be careful about what I say -- they bark a lot. Yesterday I was out weed-eating the aisles between all the raised beds -- there's about 75 raised beds here -- so this takes a while. And the dogs kept barking while I worked. They will just have to get used to the sound of the weedeater -- I hope. But I was muttering dog-threats under my breath.

Jobs and Steve Jobs.
Steve Jobs eliminated thousands of jobs. His computers launched the era of desktop publishing and self-publishing, which has resulted in the loss of thousands of editorial, typographic, and graphic design positions.

I think the greatest loss is the editorial positions. The editors were the grown ups, the ones who said let's stop and think about this. Now anybody can say anything to everybody else. It's all freedom and no discipline. It's self-esteem with no self-restraint.

Under the old scheme, we had the writer/journalist -- he was a teenager, rambunctious and idealistic, but a bit out of control. The editor was the grownup, the adult.

And the publisher --- this is key to the understanding -- the publisher was infantile. One can function at a very high level and still be motivated by the infantile ego. Me! Me! Me! That's the theme of Citizen Kane -- he with the monstrous, infantile ego. And this was not a bad thing -- that driving force -- as long as you had that editorial control to keep the train on the rails.

But now, in the era of self-publishing, we have become increasingly infantile. We can mess our pants and no one can judge us for doing that. No one will clean it up either.

Steve Jobs and Being a Father. Steve Jobs, who accomplished so much and changed our lives, said, in his biography, that he wished he had been a better father to his children. I agree with that. If he had been a devoted father and in doing so not created any of the fabulous Apple computers, then the world would have been a better place. Being a good father is the best way to change the world.

Income Inequality. Severe income inequality has often resulted in social upheaval. That's an historic pattern, not an opinion. Just ask Marie Antoinette. Conservatives argue that income inequality is a good thing or at least harmless and that we should not indulge in resentment against our wealthiest citizens. But the pattern persists. Just ask the Czar -- oh they don't have a czar in Russia anymore. He was overthrown. It should never have come to such violence. And the Russian people made an even worse choice after getting rid of the Czar.

But we can do better than that. In America, the great industrial age of the late 19th century led to the fabulous wealth of the Vanderbilts and the Rockefellers. But we did not give in to a violent revolution against the upper class. Instead, we introduced progressive regulation, such as the income tax -- which prevented "class warfare." As did FDR's New Deal, which saved capitalism.

So, to repeat, resentment against wealth is human nature. We should not envy those who have so much more than we do, but we are not angels, we are Democrats.

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Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My blog is Fred Owens

send mail to:

Fred Owens
7922 Santa Ana Rd
Ventura CA 93001

Saturday, October 15, 2011

bums on blankets

We have Occupy Ventura starting today. It will take place in the Mission Park, across the way from San Buenaventura Mission, founded in 1792. This old plaza is very mellow, a fountain, ceramic tiles, bums on blankets -- why do we insist on calling them homeless? That term is too generic. We have unemployed people, mentally ill people, drug-addicted people, drunkards, life-stylers and wannabes, plus plain old criminals. And bums, especially beach bums, a Southern California specialty.

But they all go by the moniker of "homeless" and they all do the stupid pit bull and over-loaded shopping cart thing. There is a samelessness to this group, and a lack of aesthetic appeal. If circumstance or choice put me back on the street, I would be a lot more creative and inventive. This may sound trivial, but I think not.

I think they are called "homeless" because they are a living metaphor of society as a whole. They are the visible sign of our collective homelessness and our collective business.

Laura Wood would say, and I agree, that when the home-makers quit making homes and got jobs, that was when homelessness began. She would say that women are the home-makers and men are not.

I felt differently. When women wanted to go to work, I felt that an equal amount of men should or might want to stay at home and be a kind of masculine home-maker in place of the woman. This is what I did, and I have been the object of abuse and shame ever since, from men and women alike who applaud the careerist and mock the home-maker.

But the result can be seen in the mission park -- homeless people, bums on blankets.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Tomatoes and Sagging Gates -- part 2


By Fred Owens
Georgie started the turnips in the greenhouse before going back to England in mid-September. Last week I took them out in flats when they were about four-inches tall and planted two 30-foot rows.

I put them in the new raised bed that Michael had constructed this summer. He had but good wire mesh underneath to keep the gophers out, then he replaced the topsoil and added a three-inch layer of sifted leaf mulch -- it looked like a work of art after he was finished.

It also seemed like the perfect place to plant the turnips for a winter garden, because it was in such a sunny place.

So I took out the flat of four-inch turnips to plant, but I was concerned about the heat. I figured that transplanting in the heat would put them in a swoon. So, after I got them in the ground, I put a very taut piece of twine between the two poles at each of the turnip bed, and then I flung a 30 by 20 foot piece of shade cloth over the plants, figuring to leave it there until the turnips got adjusted to their new home.

That was five days ago -- and the turnips are doing just fine.

Now I have two flats of red and green cabbage to plant in Row E, near the fence. This is a problem because about a dozen ground squirrels live on the other side of the fence and they love to chew on little cabbage plants. This summer I planted a whole bed of zinnias in Row E and the ground squirrels ate them all.

So I need a plan. I might have enough black plastic netting to cover one or two rows of cabbage plants. This might work, so I will plant a small patch and then wait. If it keeps off the ground squirrels, then I will plant the rest of the cabbages in two or three weeks.

Next I will plant more onions. The ground squirrels don't bother with the onions, so I will just put them in the ground and walk away. I have been doing well with onions this summer, so I'm feeling good about this.

The Possum Tragedy. We are not at war with critters on this farm, we salute all life, and so, not being overly fond of possums, we were still roundly dismayed at a recent tragedy.

Out on the tennis court -- it used to be a tennis court before we turned this place back into a farm -- we store old pots and garbage cans and what-not. One old garbage can had a bunch of culled dahlia tubers in the bottom. Two possums climbed into the garbage can to eat the tubers.

They ate and they ate and then it rained and rained, and pretty soon the garbage can began to fill with water, and you would think that a possum, being smart enough to climb into a garbage can, would be smart enough to get out.

But no, they drowned. We discovered that the next day. I don't know why this made me sad, but I started to think about all the critters around here, great and small, the cute ones and the predators and the pests -- there is a lot of death around here.

I solemnly buried the two possums next to the tennis court and I am constructing a small garden and shrine in their honor. I'm calling it the Tomb of the Unknown Critter. This is a shady spot, so I hope to plant Astilbe, Bleeding Heart and a variety of ferns -- Currently we don't have a budget for buying decorative plants, but someday the shrine will blossom for the possums.

Success with Tomatoes. I grew Brandywine tomatoes from seed this year. Heirloom and organic, low-acid and not too sweet. You can just eat them. I'm trying to eat as many as I can.

Success with Carrots. I have overcome a mental block about growing carrots. You know that feeling, which is "I can't grow carrots. The little seeds are too tiny to plant, and if they come up, they are too thick and I can't thin them out, so I can't grow carrots."

But I gave myself a calm determination to overcome this obstacle and I got the carrots the grow this year.

Sagging Gates. This could happen on any farm. The wood gets soft on the gate post and the screws don't hold and the hinge kind of works its way loose and pretty soon the gate is scraping the ground when you open it. Then you check the gate post itself and it kind of wobbles. We arrived at this problem over at my brother's house. But he said he didn't use that gate very often, and then I said "Well, then we don't have to fix it just yet."

Politics. I don't have much to say. I was going to occupy Wall Street or Los Angeles or something -- I have vast experience in this area. I have slept on the sidewalk a hundred times in a dozen cities. I have dealt with the police. When you live on the street you have to get straight with the police every day. Here's a few things you need to know about "street work."

1. Never scare the police. Never do anything that frightens them, because they will strike back with power. This is what the wise old hobo taught me. He said, "Don't worry about being afraid of the cops, worry about them being afraid of you."
He said, "Never put your hand in your pockets when you're talking to a cop -- they might think you're armed."

2. Cops don't care a fig for political issues one way or the other. With a cop, it's all about turf. If you're on the street, on a certain block in a certain town, then you are on his turf, his beat, and that's all he cares about. He may or may not defend that turf ferociously. You may or may not refuse to move. But don't ever waste your time arguing the issues with a cop -- they don't care. But they do care intensely about the square footage of sidewalk under your feet.

3. Sanitation is not a phony issue. When one or two hundred people camp in a certain spot for over a month, things can get very funky -- believe me, I have seen this many times. You might need to go home for a day to wash your socks and take a shower. I think it would be a good idea to power wash that park in Manhattan -- not as a reason to get rid of the demonstrators, but simply because of basic hygiene.

So, instead of occupying Los Angeles, I went with Laurie to a two-day music festival in a campground next to Joshua Tree National Park. The weather was perfect and the music was wonderful. We had a really good time.

California Will Rise. A while back I wrote a California Booster Essay, about how this great state has wonderful opportunities for personal and financial gain. It was an optimistic statement, and not just a feeling, but grounded in reality. California will grow in a good way. Of course nobody believes that. Public opinion is almost unanimous in declaring that this place is going right down the toilet. All is lost. We are doomed to a squalid future. The California Dream has turned into a nightmare. That's what everybody says -- except me.

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My blog is Fred Owens

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Ventura CA 93001

Monday, September 19, 2011

Tomatoes and Sagging Gates

Farm News

By Fred Owens

I notice we haven't done politics in a while, so it's time.

I never could decide whether George Bush was dumb or just acted that way. But Rick Perry is fairly sure to be dumb from start to finish. It's no act.

It's true there are Texans who, out of modesty perhaps, adopt a low profile in the intellectual parade, but old Rick is the genuine article -- smarter than a cow and equal in brain power to the average Oklahoman.

I hope he gets the Republican nomination, because he will be easy to beat.

Meanwhile, our beloved President has not run out of chances. All you people who think he's finished need to understand this -- Barack Obama is smart and lucky.

California is Not a Sinking Ship. All the numbers and statistics point to a Golden State meltdown.
When I decided to move down to California last year, most people thought it was a bad idea -- the government is terrible, the freeways are falling apart, the smog is bad, the cost of living is outrageous, the state parks are dirty, the schools are radical cesspools and the immigrants are swarming on every block with obnoxious odors and foreign-sounding accents.

True, true, and if you're a quitter, I hope you enjoy your new life in Idaho,

But those same facts don't measure attitude, especially my attitude. I'm not really crazy, I'm just five years ahead of everybody else. I like it here. I see opportunity. I feel energy. I meet people who have dreams. I meet people who are willing to work. The sheer amount of talent in this state is incredible -- from film-making to farming, they have everything in California.

Compare Texas and California. Think of all the wonderful movies about Texas -- John Wayne in Red River, Fess Parker playing Davy Crockett at the Alamo, William Holden in The Wild Bunch, Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove -- so many films that captured the true spirit of Texas.

And all those movies were made in California by the creative energy of California's film community -- with a few location shots, of course.

You know, I think Rick Perry ought to make a personal pilgrimage to the Hollywood moguls, those godless liberals, and thank them for creating the wonderful image of freedom and strength that is so strongly identified with the Lone Star State.

But that's glitter and hype and propaganda, real life is about substance, so we need to look at the basics of life and the good of the soil. Where does our breakfast come from, our lunch, our dinner, and our late-night snacks? Which state is the mightiest, most abundant and most fertile producer of agricultural products in the country, in the world, and in the entire history of agriculture -- California.

California leads all of the other states in farm income. We have food and we have movies, We have substance and style, we have facts on the ground and we turn them into legends on the silver screen.

I wouldn't bet against California. It's not over. Wait and see.

Governor Perry has other ideas. He dreams of a country without a minimum wage law, with fewer restrictions on child labor, no social security, no unions, and no environmental restrictions. But all he has to do is drive south until he gets to Mexico where all his dreams of freedom can come true.

If Governor Perry lived in Mexico his grandchildren would be free to work in the fields and to sell Chiclets by the side of the road, and they better work hard at it too because they will be supporting Grandpa Perry in his old age -- Isn't that the good old-fashioned way?

The funny thing is that so many Mexicans want to give up this free-market freedom and come to the United States.

I talked to a migrant worker last month. He was from Mexico, he said to me in Spanish. Seeing my age, he asked me if I got Social Security. I said yes. And he looked like he had died and gone to heaven, and I thought, good buddy, mi hermano, just hang on, get legal and some day you'll get Social Security too.

Amen to that.

Right here in California, working on a farm -- that migrant worker and me, sharing the same dream.

Note: Texas is suffering from a terrible drought this year. My heart goes out to all those good people I know in Texas. What I said here is just politics. I love you all. I'm praying for the rain -- and it will come.

Tomatoes and Sagging Gates. New readers of the Farm News might have expected a story about Tomatoes and Sagging Gates. Instead they got a political angle about Texas and California. Please don't feel confused and misled. Experienced readers of the Farm News are used to these sudden changes -- they realize they are in the presence of a great mind at work.

And I thank you for your time.

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Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My blog is Fred Owens

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Fred Owens
7922 Santa Ana Rd
Ventura CA 93001

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Olive Trees in the Ojai Valley


By Fred Owens

Waiting. I'm in the town of Ojai, at the library, waiting for some thing or some one. If I look up from this desk and look out the window, facing north, I can see a ridge of mountains close to 5,000 feet high. The highest one is called Topa Topa.

The mountains are green, peopled with low bushes that stay green all summer. They don't need rain. It hasn't rained since May. This is a dry country.

Yesterday Bob Dent showed me around the Deer Creek Olive Orchard in the upper part of the Ojai Valley.

I waited to meet him at 3 p.m., waiting at an outdoor cafe called The Summit. I got there early, at 2:30 p.m. and had a Pepsi with ice.

I like to get places early so I can see the sounds and hear the scenery, watch the cars go by, and look at people coming and going.

It was hot, it's often very hot in Ojai, but then a cloud came in at 2:45 and it was cooler and I took off my sun glasses.

The cafe closed at 3 p.m. but I was still waiting for Bob Dent. I called him on my cell at quarter past -- he said sorry, slipped his mind, be there in a minute.

So he pulled up in his truck and I followed him over to the orchard.

He showed me around. They have trees planted in 2006, doing fine at 6-feet tall. And they will be kept only 6-feet tall. People don't use ladders any more in the orchard work -- too many accidents, and it's tiring, climbing up and down. Better to just keep the trees small and reach them from the ground.

The olive trees are of a type called arbequina, an Italian variety. The slim silver leaves look so natural in this dry climate.

Bob said he had worked avocados for many years, but olives were much better. "You can't miss watering the avocados, they get stressed right away, but the olives are more forgiving, used to dry country and they don't need as much water."

In fact, a bit less water makes the tree produce more fruit.

The harvest will be in late November. It's a small orchard, a crew will come in -- guys who can pick olives like bandits and go from one orchard to another -- they will come in and pick the Deer Creek olives in one day.

Then the olives go to the press to get the oil. This is scheduled and booked. You have 48 hours, by law and by custom, to get those olives to the press, so you must have that arranged with careful people who know their business.

Deer Creek produces EVOO -- Extra Virgin Olive Oil, the very best.

Bob Dent doesn't know the olive harvest or the oil press, but he knows how to tend the trees year round.

He has a dog named Lily, a Rhodesian Ridgeback. She followed us around the orchard -- a very intelligent animal. Bob keeps the grass mowed between the rows. He uses a gas-powered hedger to cut down the suckers that spring from the older Mission trees. And other chores.

This orchard has 40 or 50 old trees, maybe one hundred years old. Olives give fruit for many, many years. But these old trees have been trimmed at the top, and that forces too many suckers to come out of the base, so Bob will be cutting back those suckers for a few years now.

Fruit flies are a problem. but olives don't have too many pests. They are just a hardy kind of fruit, and make such a wonderful oil. Olive oil is good for you in many ways.

That's the Olive News from the Ojai Valley. But don't forget the dahlia Open House at Love House Dahlias. It's blossom time, hundreds of gorgeous dahlias. Open every weekend in September.

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My blog is Fred Owens

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Friday, September 02, 2011

A Shabbat Dinner or Why I Threw a Piece of Broccoli at My Hebrew Teacher

By Fred Owens

Why it's Better Not to Own a Horse, and, in a complete change of subject, a Shabbat Dinner in New England in 1993

First, the Horses. The key thing to enjoying horses is don't own one. If you own a horse it will cost more than sending your kids to college. What you need to do is get on the other side of the income stream, like the way we do it at the Love House Dahlia farm -- we board horses. Some really nice people pay us to look after their horses and it's a really cool deal.

People make tons of money on horses -- like the hay dealer selling bales of orchard grass, or alfalfa, or straw -- all at $15 per bale and higher. Hay dealers love horses. So do ferriers (horse-shoers) and veterinarians.

Or take something like a fence. Somebody gets paid to manufacture the fence, to sell it, to erect it, and to maintain it -- all those people are making money off the horse's owner.

The three horses on our farm live inside a pipe corral fence. Jack, a 12-year-old pony, rubs up against the fence on the south side of his corral and he's gradually pushing it over, so we need to prop it up.

We had a discussion about that this morning, whether to do what I call a "hippie fix" or something more substantial. Michael, the other farm hand who works with me, was for fixing it properly by putting in additional posts. That would be the best way to solve the problem, only who is going to pay for the extra fence posts? -- not coming out of my wages I hope. That's why I suggested the hippie fix, using available materials on the farm for a cost of zero.

The hippie fix would look a little home-made, but it would keep the fence upright.

My point is that I just love these horses -- Jack, the pony, gets his own corral because he is extra ornery and and very bossy. I admire him for his courage, because he will fight and dominate any horse that comes near him. No matter how big the other horse is, Jack will end up being the boss. That's his nature.

The trouble is that Jack is not a good riding pony for small children -- he's just not gentle enough, so the grandchildren of Jack's owner don't get to ride him. Sometimes when he's being bad, I threaten to send him to Wales to work in a coal mine. That would teach him.

But I give him a carrot every morning when I come to clean up his corral, and he's a good guy.

The other corral holds Fiero, the gelding, and Misty, the mare. They are both Arabians, a little over 14 hands in size, and both about 12 years old.

Fiero is a bully. After he eats all his hay, he goes over to Misty's side of the feeder and chases her away and eats her hay too. When I see him do this, I yell at him and threaten him, but he won't stop......On the other hand, I think Misty bites him when no one is looking. Hey -- it's their life, I just feed 'em and clean up after 'em.

And I enjoy saying hello to the horses on a misty morning, I call out "Hey, Hey, and good morning. Are you glad to see me or do you just want a carrot?"

So why would I want to own a horse?

A Shabbat Dinner in New England, or Why I Threw a Piece of Broccoli at my Hebrew Teacher

As I wrote in the last two issues, I had joined Tikkun, a Jewish discussion group. I had also taught myself to read and write Hebrew and was studying the Torah at a synagogue. It was like the old saying in the advertisement, "You don't have to be Jewish to love Levi's." Note to the children -- Levi's was a brand of rye bread and that was their slogan back in the 1950s and 1960s.

So, in 1993, after being in the Tikkun group for more than a year, Lois Isenman invited me and the rest of the group for a Shabbat dinner at her home, the traditional Friday meal. And here's the story:

New England, 1993. “Lois, do you want me to come and rake the leaves?” I asked her.

The leaves fell in Lois Isenman’s back yard from towering oaks. The yard sloped steeply from her red brick home. I raked up all the leaves and determined to build her a leaf-mulch pile down in the corner by the back fence….. “If I build you a leaf pile, it will be simpler and cheaper. If I drag all those leaves up the hill, into the truck and then off to the landfill that would cost too much money. What do you say?”

Lois was wary. I could see her struggling with the notion. Sure, she could save money, but it would seem unfinished -- a pile of leaves left in the yard, when leaves are supposed to go away, leaving the grass bare to freeze and go brown and grey in the winter. “Look,” I said, “I will make an attractive and tidy pile of leaves, it will look organic……way down in the corner, by the fence.”

“All right,” she said.

It was November in New England, and I was “raking leaves for liberals” as I liked to put it. Making a few dollars, enjoying the fresh air, working in Cambridge and neighboring towns, raking leaves and resenting the affluence that surrounded me. “Why don’t they rake my leaves? What am I, some country bumpkin, blew in from the sticks?” I would mutter as I raked.

Lois lived in Newton, a Boston suburb, in the home where she grew up. I knew Lois from the Tikkun group. “Tikkun ha-olam” is a Hebrew phrase that means “to heal and renew the world.” No one in our group thought we could do anything remotely that grand – but maybe, if we all tried, things wouldn’t get worse.

We shared our tarnished ideals every other Sunday, and this week in November, instead of the Sunday meeting, Lois invited us to a Shabbat dinner at her house on Friday night.

She was a biologist at Harvard at some institute – I can’t remember the name, but she was a Fellow -- what a lovely title, I thought.

I told her, “I work on a big scale, in the garden, you work on a small scale, growing bacteria in a dish, but we’re in the same line of work, when you get down to it.”

Lois didn’t buy that comparison. She liked me, but she was wary.

For Shabbat dinner, in Lois’s dining room, it was formal, with a nice table cloth, but very relaxed. We were seven of us, all friends, seemingly unpartnered, Marty Federman was married, but even when we met at his house his wife did not appear... Lois had a relationship with another scientist, but she did not share any details.

Suffice it to say, we were all single -- which makes it seem lonely. So it’s better to say that we would share a blessing and a meal together as a family.

We were all in our forties, except Gladys Damon who was probably past seventy.

Every Shabbat is special and it felt special that evening -- as if our parents were there, because we had grown up by now, being past forty, and become our own parents, and because we struggled through a week of six days -- fought and lied -- trying to make a living, and it was time for some good food and good company, no matter how the week had gone.

Marty Federman, the most rabbinical of our group, deferred to Diana Lobel, the most devout. She said the blessing and lit the candles, and then she said, “I would like everyone to take a turn in speech. Fred is the newest, if not the youngest member of the group, I would like him to pose a question for the group.”

I was embarrassed at being singled out as “new.” But I spoke, “I have been raking leaves all week. I am justified in my labor. See these hands – that’s how I labored. So, my question is, who is a " Jew and how are you justified?”

I turned to Marty Federman, well-fed, bearded, warm and deep, not a show-man or a comic, even a little shy. “Marty, who is a Jew, and how is a Jew justified?” I asked him.

“How do I justify myself?” he said. “I have studied this week, and searched for the one essential Yiddish word. If you only knew one word in Yiddish …. it would be? ….”

He made a long pause, you could see people wanting to guess – “Heymish…..Heymish, meaning homey and homelike…. That’s all of Yiddish in one word,”

Everyone nodded – home and family are the center of Jewish life.

“I am the director of Hillel at Northeastern University,” he said. “Many of my students are questioning their Jewish identity, so this is a good question for me. I’m a Jew because my mother is a Jew. We all know that’s the law. But some people say you’re a Jew if you do Jewish things. That’s a little broad for me, but I like the idea. Tonight we are all Jews,” he said, looking at me directly. “We are all Jews because we are gathered together on Shabbat for a meal and a blessing and the good company.

“Being Jewish means being part of a family argument that’s been going on for 3,000 years. We talk, we argue, we keep each other warm.

“And how do I justify myself, you asked. I wish I could justify myself. But why should I spoil the evening by telling you how worthless I feel and making a false show of humility. Your question is too hard.

“I will just say what’s on my mind. Don’t laugh….okay laugh, I can’t help it. This is it, No matter how much I study and how much I pray I still think that Moses looks like Charlton Heston. I can’t shake the image.”

No one laughed. This was very embarrassing, because everybody at the table knew that Moses looked like Charlton Heston.

“He’s such a goy!” No one said that, but Charlton Heston was such a goy. And as Moses! Such a mental pollution.

“It is awful to contemplate,” Marty said. “God punished the Jews by making them wander forty years in the wilderness. He allowed the Temple to be destroyed twice and his chosen people were put into exile for centuries, subject to persecution and humiliation. He allowed many terrible things to happen to them. But when God made Moses, he made him look Jewish, or maybe like Al Pacino or Robert DeNiro.

“Still the image of Charlton Heston as Moses cannot be erased for people of our generation. Such is the power of Hollywood -- founded and led by Jews -- in creating false images that defy the First Commandment. Sin and sin,” Marty said and he took a sip of water, he was finished.

A stirring at the table, passing the broccoli and the rice, the quiet sound of salad and dinner rolls, a stretching, a clearing of the throat, a sip of wine. I looked up from the chicken on my plate and noticed Diana Lobel, my Hebrew teacher, wreathed in an unworldly halo -- there was nothing on her plate. Even her glass of water was untouched. This disturbed me. We’re humans, we’re supposed to eat.

But the conversation continued.

Daniel Gewertz, film critic by occupation, was the next to speak. He was younger than the rest of us, closer to thirty. His build was athletic and tall. I picture him wearing a Hawaiian shirt in the summer time, although I don’t know why I say that. He was a handsome fellow, but he seemed so unsure of himself.

“Who is a Jew, you ask. I wonder about myself at this time of year with Hanukah and Christmas coming up,” Daniel said. “I get anxiety. I don’t know what to think. People wish me Merry Christmas. And the music, Silent Night and All Ye Faithful, it’s everywhere, Season Greetings…The whole experience makes me cringe.

“It’s the way I was brought up. My parents were secular, never at temple, no menorah, nothing in our house that said Jewish. I think they would have skipped the whole thing.

“At Christmas we had a tree and decorations and a plastic lighted Santa Claus doll and I got presents. It was crazy. I knew we were Jewish. I was seven-years-old playing on the living room rug with a Lionel train, but I didn’t enjoy it that much.

“My parents laughed and shared drinks with friends and neighbors during the holidays -- just like everybody else. I mean, why not? We didn’t look different or act different. My Dad had a white-collar job, we lived in a suburban neighborhood. We had BBQs in the summer. We went trick or treating on Halloween, so why not have a Christmas tree too?

“I cannot disrespect my parents, they did so many wonderful things for me, they were such good people. But you just know, even when you’re only seven, when something isn’t right, and for me the memory never goes away -- every year in December it’s the same.”

That was Daniel telling his life. I heard this with wonder. For me, growing up a Catholic, Christmas was the most uncomplicated joy and pleasure. I knew that Christmas could be hard for people with bad families—being stuck at home with awful relatives and such. Or a lonely time for lonely people. But I never thought of it as being difficult for Jews. Hearing Daniel say it directly was quite a different experience. Obviously it was difficult for some Jews. They cringed.

“But I’ll go out for Chinese like I always do,” he said.

Harvey Blume nodded. He was the most talented conversationalist in our group, but he had been quiet the whole evening. It was November and he was still tan, he had a burnished skin tone -- he hadn’t been to Florida, he didn’t work outdoors, but then I remembered – Harvey was on the street. His tan was not a matter of exposure, but an act of will. Harvey lived for the street and the drums.

So he and I did this rap thing, which makes it kind of fun.

“The Street?” I asked.

“Yes, the Street,” he said.

“And Kafka?”

“At times -- if it rhymes”

“On the Street?”

“With a Beat”

“On a Drum?”

“Some …”

“With a Bat?”

“Nah, I don’t want none of that.”

“Is it like the Grateful Dead?”

“You must be out of your head.”

“So it was jazz and Bebop?”

“Yeah, now you got it. Bebop. On the street, with a drum, with the people, of the people and by the people -- we’re all on the street.”

“So that’s how you get your burnished skin tone.”

“Yeah, you could say that -- it comes from the experience, from the street, from the sound and the smell and the talk and the traffic. It’s a rhythm of completion and fulfillment not deletion.”

“You’re from Brooklyn?”

“Yeah, but I’m not braggin’ “

“Are you Jewish?”

“I thought you’d never ask,” Harvey said and that was the end.

Harvey lived in East Cambridge. He had written a book about a pygmy who was captured in Africa and taken to be an exhibit at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. Ota Benga was the name of the pygmy and the title of Harvey’s book.

Now the room was going quiet, like we were coming to the end.

Then Diana began to speak about Rashi, the great Talmudic scholar from the Middle Ages. She was working for a Ph.D. in Jewish Studies at Harvard and the Middle Ages was her area of research. And she was my teacher.

So people relaxed because Diana had sat in the center of the table, as a guiding spirit, and now she would hold forth in a good way.

“Let us go back a thousand years, thirty generations of our people, to the Champagne region of northern France, in a time when life was good for the Jews, before the Crusades and Christian orthodoxy marked us as separate people to be confined in ghettoes.

“No, it was a good time, even though we were still in exile from Israel, a thousand years of exile, and every year a prayer to return to Jerusalem and no one knew it would take another thousand years, but that’s why Rashi was born to us, to help us endure our exile with an understanding, and even a lightness of being. That was Rashi’s nature. His deep scholarship led to an understanding and that understanding led to a quiet joy.

“Rashi could explain things so clearly, every verse in the Bible. He would state the peshat which is the plain meaning. So simple that a young child could understand, but never over-simplified, if you know the difference.

“We connect to Rashi, and from him we can go back to Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Rachel and Leah, when they lived in tents.

“Here in Genesis it says there was a famine in Palestine and Jacob said to his sons, ‘I have heard that there is grain in Egypt. Go down there and buy some for us, so that we may live and not die.’

“It was a fateful choice. The whole history of the Jews hinges on this one verse. You want to yell from the audience, a hundred generations later – Don’t go – don’t go to Egypt. There’s nothing but trouble down there – slavery, corruption, idolatry, people worshipping monkeys. Don’t go. Stick it out in Palestine. The rain will come back and there will be more crops.

“But Jacob said it is better to live and not die. You can spin that, explain that, write a book on that, or a poem or a song. Fine. Interpret it as you will, and yet the meaning is plain – it is better to live and not die.

Jacob said that…..And Rashi kept it true and simple, deftly separating genuine scholarship from …….”

“Stop,” I said. I interrupted her. “Your plate is empty, you haven’t eaten anything.”

Diana looked at me, surprised. The whole table was silent. I couldn’t stand it. I was angry at her and she was my teacher! How could I be angry at her?

It was the food. “You don’t eat,” I said. I couldn’t explain. Words failed me. I picked up a piece of broccoli, picked it off my plate, and threw it at her. Not at her, but I kind of tossed it or lobbed it over to her plate. Even so, such a physical act was deeply disturbing.

Food is food, you have to eat. Diana was not thin but she was becoming a little transparent. Some parental instinct in me wanted her to eat, for her own good and for my sake too. Eat, for God’s sake. I work in the fields where nature brings us food. My hands are callused. We don’t live by the spirit, but we need bread too.

Except I didn’t say anything. The dining room was tense. But Diana looked at me again, as if she understood. She smiled. She picked up the piece of broccoli and ate it, and she said “Thank you.”

Oh, I felt better. Like I had done something very wrong, but she said thank you, and that was that.

Diana didn’t finish the Rashi story. The verse was about food, and it’s better to live and not die, and here she was not eating and how can you live if you don’t eat?

And it was over. Table talk passed on to other things. Marty and Lois were huddling. Harvey got up to clear some plates. We might be moving back to the living room for dessert.

Then Gladys Damon spoke. “I have something to say.” Gladys was close to seventy or past it, from Manhattan’s West Side, but now retired in an apartment tower in Jamaica Plain. She was stylish, wore a tailored skirt, had good legs. She spoke in a honeyed tone with a good-natured irony.

For her, the plain meaning was only the beginning. It was better to live and not die and she would say sure, but she reminded me that refinement is what made life better.

“This happened to me during the war in 1944. My parents sent me to Smith College, one of the Seven Sisters. You know – Bryn Mawr, Barnard, Vassar, Radcliffe -- all those precious college girls from good families. I could pass, I don’t mean that how you think, but I had nice clothes, good sweaters and shoes.

“And to find a husband and get married, yes, but they hinted, the faculty suggested, and even said so, that we could be what we chose to be.

“I formed surprising friendships with girls who were very different than me.

“But it was war time, and we heard the news from Europe. In May of 1944, the Jews in Hungary – up to that time they had been safe – were being transported to Auschwitz to be murdered. More than 400,000 Jews were put on the trains.

"It was hard to find notice of this in the news. We heard news of stirring military action and home front preparedness -- that was the story -- marching to victory, rumors of the coming invasion of France, profiles of Eisenhower and Patton, the great leaders, but of the slaughter to come in Hungary, it was like a dark whisper. Letters came from Eastern Europe, reliable reports of the real story. We didn’t believe it. I didn’t believe it, and yet I knew it was true.

“I knew it was true because it was far, far worse than anything I could have imagined -- this death and horror.

“But what is so hard for me to describe is the silence. We read those letters, but we were silent, we did not ask questions. We just sat there. We did nothing.”

Gladys was speaking without irony.

“We did nothing to save the Jews in Hungary. Roosevelt did nothing, Eisenhower did nothing. My parents, my friends at school, we did nothing. The Hungarian Jews were loaded on the trains. We knew it was their death and we did nothing.

“It was the most important moment in my life, and I failed.”

. . . . . . . . . . .

Years later I still remember the silence that followed her remarks. It had been a good dinner and we enjoyed being together. In mid-November the night air was frosty and it began to snow as we said our goodbyes and walked outside to our cars. “Lois, thank you for such a lovely evening, you have such a nice home,” someone said.

I walked outside and noticed her privet hedge and how it badly needed a trimming. But that’s me, a landscaper and gardener, I can’t help noticing things like that.

But I thought about Gladys and how she said she did nothing. Not true. Her life was a triumph. It was better to live and not die.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My blog: Frog Hospital

send mail to:

Fred Owens
7922 Santa Ana Rd
Ventura CA 93001

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Why I Threw a Piece of Cucumber at My Hebrew Teacher

Why I Threw a Piece of Cucumber at My Hebrew Teacher

But first the Farm News. August is like you're just waiting. We're working everyday, but our attitude is more like we're waiting for fall to come. Something will happen in September, and we sure hope it's a good thing, but right now we're just waiting.

The dahlias are popping. Stand back! By Labor Day it might be incredible, which is a good thing because we're having an open house and many people are coming to view all 150 varieties.

Onions and Annuals. We picked all the onions -- many pounds -- and left them to dry in a shaded area on the cement patio. Then I made a schematic of the garden, so I can remember not to plant more onions in the same place -- I will plant turnips instead. And some broccoli and maybe a little lettuce. We're going to plant more zinnias and celosia too. We should have 60 more days of summer weather, so if we can squeeze a few more flowers in, then we can sell them -- and get rich!

Critters. It might be bad luck to brag here, but I have been having good luck keeping the gophers under control. I set traps and they get caught. I offer them little gopher treats (poison) and they go off to gopher heaven. I mean the gophers no harm, but it's the way of nature.

Tragedy. We lost a kitten. Tom, the litter mate to Jerry, was out and about around the motor home last Thursday, but by evening, when we scoot them back inside, we found Jerry, but no sign of Tom. Determined searching began with quiet listening for meowing, but no sign of Tom. Sad to say he is gone. It's hard to believe the coyotes came in broad daylight -- we really don't have another explantion for the loss. Tom was a soft-hearted kind of spaced-out kitten -- a dreamer and very affectionate. We miss him. Jerry and I hang together more now. We're all at risk, so let's cherish the moment.

Why I Threw a Piece of Cucumber at My Hebrew Teacher

& How I came to Study Torah in the First Place

They asked me why. Why are you learning Hebrew? Why are you going to the Torah class at a synagogue? You’re not even Jewish.

Buy why is a dumb question. There is only one important question – Is it a good thing?

If it’s a good thing, then why doesn’t matter. If it’s a bad thing, then stop doing it.

It was the summer of 1992, I was living on Blakeslee Street in West Cambridge and working as a landscaper. And I was totally miserable.

I had just broken up with Helen. Her last words were, “Never call me again.” I was heartbroken, tormented, losing sleep, drinking too much, phoning friends late at night -- I didn’t know what to do.

But I had recently joined the Tikkun group, and we met on Sunday mornings for discussion. I had new Jewish friends -- Daniel Gewertz, a film critic, Harvey Blume, a writer, Lois Isenman, a biologist, Diana Lobel, a PhD student in Jewish Studies, Debbie Osnowitz, with porcelain skin and a brilliant mind, Helen Benjamin, who had an impressive collection of Teddy Bears in her Brookline apartment, Ted Pietras, in real estate in Boston’s South End, and Marty Federman, who was director of Hillel at Northeastern University.

It was an ethnic thing. Boston was full of ethnics – Irish gangs, Italian neighborhoods, Armenian restaurants. I should have gone Irish, but that would have been too easy. Instead I picked the hardest one – Jewish. I was going to learn it and figure it out.

So I went to the Tikkun meetings and listened. The talk was really cool. I liked the rhythm of it. I wore clean clothes, but my shirt was always wrinkled -- I didn’t have an iron. It’s not that people were dressed for the occasion, but I felt conspicuous with my wrinkled shirt.

The meetings kept me from suffering – remember, I was heartbroken, obsessively reviewing the very wrong things I said to Helen – and she wouldn’t talk to me, not now, not ever. So the Tikkun meeting kept me from suffering for three hours every other Sunday morning. That wasn’t enough, but it helped.

One day --I was not really looking for a solution, but more or less on a dare -- I found the Judaica section at the Cambridge Public Library. I picked out the books in Hebrew.

It was very bold of me to even look at these books. Loud booming voices were shouting from thunderous clouds, “Thou Shall Not” – you don’t look at these books, you shall not pass, it’s not for you – go back to being a landscaper, pick up your trowel, LEAVE THESE LETTERS ALONE.

I heard the voices, but I didn’t care. I was in too much pain. Kill me, so what!

I took the books home - a Hebrew grammar, a Hebrew-English dictionary and a text book – home to my furnished apartment on 42 Blakeslee Street in West Cambridge. I opened the books on the kitchen table and began to learn the letters – 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet.

In a way, it was easy, 22 letters in 22 shapes representing 22 sounds. How hard is that?

I learned the letters in a day. By late afternoon I was picking out words in the text. And I was drawing the letters on a big sheet of paper. I really liked their shape and the way they flowed.

It was love. It was infatuation. I was so absorbed. Hours passed in delightful study, and I never thought of Helen. I was almost happy. Relief! I could fill up my day.

Although it was a little weird because, like I said, I’m not Jewish, and what if the Jewish cops find out and come over to my apartment and pummel me with sticks.

Oh, the Jewish cops don’t do that. They don’t even care. Well, they do care. Of course, they want you to study the text in a respectful manner, but otherwise you’re welcome to it.

Except they don’t say that. They don’t say anything -- there are no Jewish cops.

But what about the booming voices from the thunderous clouds? Well, yes, those are completely real, the voices of divine spirits who can put you in a world of hurt or shower you with blessings and diamond lights.

The divine spirits are real. I found out that night, after the day when I learned the 22 letters. I had the most incredible dream. I dreamed of black letters in a sea of golden flames.

I never had such a dream in my life, but that night I saw the letters in my dream, living, breathing and on fire.

The letters are alive! Shining black in a sea of gold-red flames!

When I woke up the next morning, I was astonished and full of wonder. And there was no one to tell. I wasn’t going to waste this vision in casual talk. I wasn’t going to tell anyone. That dream was 19 years ago, and I kept it inside my all this time – black flaming letters burning inside me.

The letters kept me warm all this time. If some say it was nothing, fine. Or if they say it was a revelation, that doesn’t matter to me either. I just knew I had found something. I learned the letters and began to study the words. I developed a style of calligraphy and wrote the letters over and over again, like a prayer.

Now I will move ahead to the funny part of this story.

One Sunday at the Tikkun meeting, Diana Lobel was reading a Hebrew text, and I looked over her shoulder and began saying the words aloud. She said, “You know Hebrew?” I said, “I’ve been studying.” She asked “With who?” I said, “By myself.”

She said, “Come to my class. We meet on Sunday night at 7 pm at Beth Shalom.”

So I began learning with her group – not such a big group, three students, me, Bobby Vilinsky and a very strange, very thin young woman who seemed to have wandered in off the street.

I could write a book about Bobby Vilinsky. We became great friends, and we often discussed his disastrous experiences with women or his latest digestive issues. He was an artist of great intensity and poverty.

Diana Lobel was a PhD student in Jewish Studies at Harvard. She had the pale look of a scholar, but she had bright, black curly hair. Diana had a way of seeming so unworldly, as if she did nothing but study and pray -- but that was not true, she was very worldly at the same time -- if she was paying attention. She often surprised me in that way.

We spent several weeks on the first verse, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” She said the whole of the Torah was contained in the first verse – or she may have said that, I’m not sure. But it sounds like something a Jewish scholar would say – that the whole of the Torah, and all of the Law, and a vivid description of all time and all creation are contained in the first verse – so we studied it, from every angle, and believe me, there are many angles -- more than you can imagine. The depth was incredible.

But she was so spacey. Like the time we had a Sabbath dinner at Lois Isenman’s house. It was Friday night, when Jews eat chicken on their best table cloth. I don’t know if we had chicken that night, but Lois lived in a very nice red brick house in the suburbs.

I Have to Stop Now

I have to stop now, or this story will get too long for an Internet newsletter. But you must be excited by now. Did I really throw a piece of cucumber at my Hebrew teacher? Stay tuned for the next exciting segment – coming soon.

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Saturday, August 06, 2011

D'Var Torah on Farming and Writing

Fred's Farm News

By Fred Owens

I am bored with the farm. It's very slow around here these days -- it's the dog days of summer I guess. Low energy..... I feel like my bond-rating got downgraded. Well, collectively speaking, it just did.

"The political brinkmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America's governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective and less predictable than what we previously believed," said S&P, one of three leading credit rating agencies...... It's hard to argue with this statement -- it seems to accurately describe the recent madness in Washington.

Okay, aside from that down-graded feeling, the report from the West Coast is that it's been a cool summer and everything is late, tomatoes for instance. We have an abundance of bright green tomatoes on the vine, but they are taken the very longest time to ripen.....We're supposed to be patient in this line of work, but I am not very patient. I look at the tomatoes and think "hurry up, this is August, for Pete's sake."

I know -- they will ripen in nature's own good time, but I'm an instigator and not willing to just let things happen -- that's my human nature and I make no apology

I did learn about beets from Ann. She said the secret to growing beets is to ignore them. Apparently these dark-blooded creatures do not like being watched. So I forgot about them entirely until Michael, my co-worker from Scotland, discovered the beets were ripe and fulsome. Michael, being Scottish, calls them "beet roots." He picked a nice bunch of beets and made them peeled, shredded and cooked with a bit of sugar and vinegar -- incredibly tasty.

Then we ate some of Brian's leeks at the same meal. Brian, with far less total horticultural experience than I have, grew much better leeks. I can't understand this. I planted three five-foot rows of leeks and they all grew with hard, woody stems, and not a single one of them was edible.

Then Brian, Mr. Moonface, who works so slowly that he hardly even moves -- casually dropped in a few seeds -- his leeks were fat and tender and pale green. I don't get it. I was gardening before he was born..........But maybe I'm impatient and I try too hard.

The real truth is that Brian is a fully-dedicated gardener and I am not. It's my day job, and that's all it ever has been or ever will be. Writing comes first, gardening and farming comes second.

I know the difference. Men and women who make horticulture their life's work often succeed -- they grow better leeks....... I salute them.

But writing matters. Here's what I wrote today, and if you think it has little to do with farming then you would be quite wrong.

D’Var Torah
What is the connection between writing and farming as occupations? This reminded me of a saying from Pirkei Avot, a Jewish book of wisdom.

This is the saying, "Im Ein Kemach Ein Torah, Im Ein Torah Ein Kemach." ---- which means, "Where there is no Bread, there is no Torah, and where there is no Torah, there is no Bread."

This saying answers the question, "What should I do with my life?" You don't choose between writing and farming because you need both. You need to farm because you need to eat. And you need to write because you need to seek and serve the truth.

You don't choose one over the other -- Bread and Torah, Livelihood and the Spiritual Path -- both are essential for a good and balanced life.

Now I will eat lunch.
Where there is no bread there is no Torah, where there is no Torah there is no bread.

This still makes sense today. We're working on the watering system -- there's a leak out there somewhere and the pump keeps running, so we just turn on the pump when we need water for something -- gotta find that leak.

We need water. Fortunately, the farm is right by the Ventura River and there is an abundance of water only thirty feet down. It's ours for the cost of the electricity to pump it -- Not free, but abundant.

Where there is no bread there is no Torah, where there is no Torah there is no bread....... Or, in the original language, "Im Ein Kemach Ein Torah, Im Ein Torah, Ein Kemach."

I used to belong to the Tikkun discussion group when I lived in Boston. Tikkun is a Jewish spiritual/political magazine founded by Michael Lerner who coined the phrase "politics of meaning." Hillary Clinton invited Lerner to the White House shortly after Bill Clinton became President. Lerner seemed likely to become a spiritual adviser for the Clintons -- possibly like Bill Graham had been for previous Presidents. But Lerner's presence at the White House caused a storm of controversy, and I still don't know why. He was a little hippy-dippy and lefty-lefty, but not very extreme. His views were not that unusual.

Anyway, in 1991, living in Cambridge, and wandering around town looking for something to do, I happened to notice that Michael Lerner was giving a talk at Temple Beth Shalom -- the famed "Tremont Street shul" near Central Square...... Never having entered a synagogue in my life, I dropped in that evening, and I liked what I heard, and I liked the people I met, so I joined the group. They never said you had to be Jewish and I wasn't.

We met on Sunday mornings at people's houses and apartments, maybe 12-15 people each week, and we discussed topics based on an article in Tikkun magazine. It was very interesting. The people in the Tikkun group were impressively articulate -- I mean, this was Boston. Myself, I never said much, but listened in wide-eyed wonder and they called me, behind my back but kindly, "the space-case from Seattle."

I'm not from Seattle, but I often said so when I was in Boston, just to make it easy for them -- saying "I'm from LaConner, a small town in the Skagit Valley about 60 miles north of Seattle" takes too long.

Also "space case" seemed apt. I was relatively in-articulate compared to my intellectual companions. I truly felt just as smart and just as well-read as these new companions, but I have never had the ability to "hold forth" at meetings like this..... You might recall how I organized the Winter Writers Group in LaConner, but I never talked very much...... Just can't say much in a group.
D'Var Torah means "a few words, a little lesson." D'Var means "word" and Torah is that long hand-written scroll you see in the photo.

The Torah is the first five books of the Bible -- Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Numbers -- did I get that in the right order?

When they read and chant out loud from the Torah at a service, they have one person doing the chanting, and one or two others following closely to watch for mistakes. If the chanter mispronounces a word or something like that, then they back up a little to get it right.

So, did I get it right? I'm not Jewish, but I studied at the temple and I learned a lot of things. It's very complicated. It seems to be the delight of Jewish tradition to make things complicated rather than simple.....That makes for good mental exercise as well as spiritual development.

Ted Kaptchuck is on the faculty at Harvard Medical School. He wrote a book called "The Web That Has No Weaver" -- it's about Chinese medicine and it's a very good book.

Ted was a member at Temple Beth Shalom when I went there in the early 1990s. As you recall, I wrote that I first attended this temple to hear Michael Lerner give a talk. Basically, I liked the vibrations in this place, so I stayed for the next three years..... and why? Because of people like Ted Kaptchuck. Sure, he is a most distinguished author and a learned fellow, but also he was just kind of a cool guy......Ted used to pray up front in the sanctuary, up near the altar, but over to the side, even against the wall, always on the right side .... so he was sort of in front of us, but not in front ....

Hey, that was a teaching. Ted standing in front of us, but not in front of us. It's right from the book of Chinese Medicine -- the resolution of contradictions -- the realization of the underlying harmony.

But mainly I learned from Ted about wearing a hat. At a temple a man is expected to cover his head. I don't know why. They keep a basket of yarmulkes by the entrance in case you need one. If you don't put one on, someone might kindly hand you one.....It is not strictly, absolutely necessary for a man to wear a hat at the temple, but it would make them happy, so I did......Except I didn't like it. You can call them a yarmulke or a keppah, but if you ask me they're a beanie and they look stupid......I'm quite vain, and I did not like the looks of it.

But I wasn't about to SAY anything, I just took it as humbling experience, until I noticed Ted up front (but not up front) swaying and praying, and he was NOT wearing a yarmulke, he was wearing a black beret --- totally cool..... So that's it, I said to myself. You don't have to wear the beanie, you just have to cover your head..... So I bought a black beret like Ted's -- and it was cool.

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Barn Cats in Training

Fred's Farm News

July 17, 2011

By Fred Owens

We got the old rats nest cleaned out of the barn, and we brought the new kittens over to the barn for the first time, just to give them a taste of their new life. One kitten promptly got up on the roof and couldn't figure out how to get down. This is the lively one.

There are two, Tom and Jerry. Tom is kind of dreamy, but Jerry is mad cap. Either way, they came from the same litter and they stick together. I took them to the clinic this morning at the Humane Society to get their first set of shots -- cost $25 each.

I taped a photo of a rat over their food bowl to get them the idea. I want them to go after the rats, but to leave the birds alone.

View Barn Cats in Training
, here at YouTube

The common notion is that cats are difficult and complicated creatures. I quite disagree. Of course, you can train your cat to be a fussy eater with neurotic habits, and they will oblige you by acting so. But I discourage that kind of behavior in my cats. Dinner is dinner and you eat it. Rats are rats and you chase them. Otherwise you can sleep all day. I can't stop you from killing birds, but I will give you a very grim look if you do.

And we will be great friends.....Also I object to the term Mom or Dad used in relation to pets. I am not their Dad. I am their owner or master. You don't have to get your head in a knot over the notion of "owning" a cat. Of course, you don't "own" any animal. All that means is that the cat belongs to me and not to anyone else......It means I am the responsible agent.

Meanwhile, the weather has been cool this week and the dahlias are just poking along -- they look quite healthy, but they are not growing by leaps and bounds. I predict a good crop, but late -- "It could be worse," like they say in Minnesota

Dry and Dusty. I got the job of dust suppression around the property. That's how it works around here, after I complained more than once about the dust -- that means I was appointed to head the committee.

It's not hard work, You take the hose and sprinkle the main paths every few days. Then you hose down the ground in the horses' corral -- that's where most of the dust originates -- the horses kick up some dust and the wind wafts it over to where the dahlias are blooming -- but you can't sell a dusty flower, so I'm out there on hose patrol for the rest of the summer.

People take flowers and don't pay. You know people steal flowers. This is awful. We set out bouquets by the road on an honor system, and some people take the flowers and don't pay. How could that be right?

Sweet Pea Seeds. I'm harvesting sweet pea seeds now - we should have several pounds of dried sweet pea seeds by the time I finish cleaning them -- this is far more than we need for planting next spring, so we will have enough left over to sell them in small packets at the farmers market.

Saving your own seeds is a true source of independent wealth.

I am also going to plant a batch of sweet peas in late August, just to see if we can get a fall crop.

You Could Do Worse, again. Up in Whatcom County in the northwestern corner of Washington state, hard by the Canadian border, and a just a hop from Vancouver, lies the little town of Blaine, where Tara Nelson labored as a journalist at a weekly newspaper, until she was let go this week in a "cost-cutting" measure.

She was the last working reporter in the Puget Sound region. She actually got paid every two weeks.

But we knew it couldn't last. Nobody gets paid anymore in that business.

Gosh, Tara, now you have the freedom to self publish.

What does this have to do with the Fred's Farm News? Everything. I used to be a journalist. There is no work in that field anymore. So now I work on a farm, where there is PLENTY of work. I will never run out of work on a farm -- it can't happen as long as people need to eat.

I invited Tara to come down to Ventura and work with us -- I could ask my boss to give her some kind of room and board arrangement...... This is a pretty good place where I live and work. They treat me nice and the pay isn't bad.

"You could do worse," I say again.

Jewish Life. This has very little to do with the Farm News, but I was immersed in Jewish liturgy last weekend, having attended a Bat Mitzvah at a Conservative Temple in Pasadena. It was the full deal -- a three hour service, all in Hebrew. You need to wear a hat, or yarmulke. Everybody was kind to me. I stood up when they stood up. I sat down when they sat down. And if I got really bored, I could wander out to the lobby for a few minutes while the service continued.

Afterward they served kiddush -- a light buffet lunch -- and we enjoyed ourselves. The rabbi came over and said hello. The parents were very proud. The bat mitzvah girl was my niece, the daughter of my brother Tom. The mother is Jewish so Jordana, their daughter, was raised to be Jewish.

It was a good ceremony, and my brother wrote large checks to cover expenses. Good for you, Tom.

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Leaving Oklahoma

Too Many Mornings

By Fred Owens

Too many mornings I woke up in different places, because we kept moving.

We lived in Kansas, Chicago, Mississippi, Texas, Los Angeles, the Skagit Valley in Washington state, Boston, back to Chicago, then to Africa and back to the Skagit Valley one more time

It doesn’t make much sense to move around like that. It was poor thinking on my part, but at least we got out of Oklahoma.

That’s why this story starts in Kansas in July of 1976, the day we crossed the state line and got out of Oklahoma.

But I have to back track a bit.

We had done a lot of traveling before that – hitchhiking around the country and riding freight trains, but in February of 1976, Susan Simple and I got married. We decided to settle down and live like normal people in a house and have children and get jobs. We decided to do all that stuff.

That was our plan. This memoir is the story of how that didn’t happen. We tried to stay in one place, but we kept moving anyway.

City Hall in Chicago

We didn’t spend much time in the big cities, but we liked them. We got married on February 14, 1976 at City Hall downtown in Chicago. Two or three hundred couples got married that day – they bring in extra judges for the occasion. Reporters with TV cameras came to cover this annual wedding extravaganza.

We didn’t know that, but everybody wants to get married on Valentine’s Day. Susan said it would be easy to remember our anniversary. My sister and her beatnik husband had come in from Venice Beach in California and they served as witnesses. My mom was there too.

Susan wore a black embroidered Choctaw wedding dress – her Oklahoma heritage. I wore a brown corduroy jacket and tie.

After the wedding, after waiting in line for two hours as the couples got married one after the other, we drove back to the suburbs and had a fancy lunch at the Tower Restaurant in Skokie.

A day or two later, we got on the train for Durant, Susan’s hometown in Oklahoma.

Durant was a town of 10,000 people. They grow peanuts in the red-dirt countryside. They had a large granite peanut as a statue on the courthouse lawn.

We stayed at her parents’ ranch. Bill Simple was a vet and they own
ed a hundred acres or so and some Hereford cattle. Her folks put us up in the guest bedroom in a separate wing of the house and they loaned us an old black pickup truck.
Her Dad put me work, but I didn’t take to it. We mainly slept late and smoked pot. I should have worked harder. I don’t know what was wrong with me. We didn’t want to deal with her folks on a long-term basis, but we were there, and since we weren’t planning on staying forever, there’s no reason we couldn’t dance to their music.

So I should have gotten up early every time and gone out to the field – that would have made the old man happy. He could have said good things about me in town, without lying too much. And poured me a drink after work, and we could sit in the easy chairs in front of the TV and talk.

I could have put up with that for a month or two.

But Susan had issues with her parents and it was troublesome and complicated.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Barn cats explained, Plus a Jobs Creation Program

Farm News

July 10, 2011

By Fred Owens

A Plan to Create Jobs Across the Nation.
But first the farm news. I have two kittens, male, about ten weeks old, grey with stripes, litter mates. These are found kittens. Found in a cardboard box by the side of the road, brought to a home that takes in cats, and then brought to the farm.

I had been looking for a barn cat, to take care of the rodents. But I didn't get a barn cat, I got two kittens who, with a little guidance on my part, will transform into barn cats.

We've had little talks. "Hey, little buddies, this is your home now, and you have a role to play in this great agricultural enterprise, you have a destiny and a purpose in life." Then I carry them out to the barn and let them sniff around a bit. Already the rats know there's a new sheriff in town.

Too many rats. They're everywhere. Not just on our farm, of course. An exterminator once told me that you are within 100 feet of a rat no matter where you are on Planet Earth. You just might not see them or notice their signs.

Rats have been around since people moved into caves. But that doesn't mean you accept the situation. No, No, and No. I pledge eternal resistance. They can be kept at bay. They can be minimalized.

Traps work. Except it gets icky. Poison works, but then you're handling poison, which is not good for children and other little critters, such as dogs and hawks and owls.

Then I remembered that every barn I've ever seen had a cat or two. Barn cats. And the only cat on this farm is close to 19-years-old, which is an incredible age for a cat, and a lovely animal too, but way past the rat-catching days of its youth.

That's why we got the kittens. Only we didn't get the kittens, I did -- get the kittens. My life has gotten more complicated.

Like I need to go to the store this evening because we're almost out of kitten chow.

Anyway, not just on our farm, but in many places, the feral cat population has been greatly reduced because the coyotes are eating them. Coyotes, in the past ten years or so, have learned that hunting is forbidden in the suburbs and they have lost their fear of man and his habitations. They come into town now, and closer to rural homes -- and they kill the cats. Then you get too many rats.

Serious Point. It's all part of the balance of nature. And our job is to keep fiddling with the controls. We are stewards of the earth. Some people might feel alienated from nature, and they might project that feeling onto human society in general, and then believe or create a theory that human beings are a disruption and a curse on the planet. Such people believe that "we" are the problem.

But I do not feel that way, or believe that way, or think that way. I am not alienated from nature. I am in nature, of nature, and over nature. And now I have those barn cats and the rats better watch out.

Jobs Creation Program.

By Act of Congress, in a change of regulation that could be typed double-spaced on one side of a piece of paper -- an act that would create thousands of jobs almost overnight and would require very little government oversight or expense.

Prohibit self-service gas across the nation.

Self-service gas is currently banned in Oregon and New Jersey. I do not know if gas prices are higher in those states because of the added expense for labor -- but if it were higher, the expense would be spread across the gas-buying public which is everybody.

Banning self-service gas would not give any retail outlet a competitive advantage -- I don't think so.

And maybe the pump jockey could check your oil...... That seems a like a small thing, but there's a lot of people who don't know how to do that......There are a large numbers of very competent drivers, perfectly decent people, but they don't know how to check the air in their tires.

Anyway, this plan, to ban self-service gas across the nation is much too simple to be credible.

But it makes more sense than Boehner's slash and burn deficit reduction plan, and it seems more practical than Obama's shovel-ready high-speed rail construction dreams.

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Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My blog: Frog Hospital

send mail to:

Fred Owens
7922 Santa Ana Rd
Ventura CA 93001

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My blog: Frog Hospital

send mail to:

Fred Owens
7922 Santa Ana Rd
Ventura CA 93001

Friday, July 08, 2011

Home, Home, Where is Home?

Washington Park in Anacortes

We came back to LaConner – or, rather, I came back. Precious arrived in her American debut. She spoke Ndebele as a first language, plus a bit of Shona, Tonga, Tswana, and Chewa from neighboring tribes, plus the English which she learned in government school. She arrived with packets of herbs and secret things which I still won’t talk about.

I never could understand her – we managed to get by with a very limited vocabulary. Her English never improved and she had no patience to teach me the African tongue.

We bought a house at 410 Caledonia Street, on the South side of LaConner. It’s such a tiny village, but there is still a wrong side of town, and that’s where we lived.

I didn’t love that house. If I did love it, I would probably still have it. But it was too low, a ranch house, built on a cement slab, and lower than all the surrounding houses – too low.

The one thing I did right was paint it yellow. Yellow is a wonderful color for a house.

Otherwise, nothing went right. She was beautiful and graceful, but we made no sense as a couple -- not to ourselves or to other people.

We lived in that house for six years. Then she left. I was glad she left because she drank too much beer and I was tired of it. But it was lonely in the house after she was gone.

And I wanted to get shut of her business, so we sold the house and divied up the money and got a divorce. I was no longer obligated to her in any way.

Afterward, many times, I wish I had kept that house --- fought for it. Never sell. Never sell. Never sell…… That’s a wise strategy. Then you have something. Most people who own property mange to hold on to it somehow. Not me.

I let it go. Nice furniture too -- gone. Everything was gone except for the content of 12 storage bins – about one pick-up load of worldly goods – mostly memorabilia like my Boy Scout merit badges and a crystal bowl from my mother’s house – stuff like that. I stored these bins in a friend’s garage and I went camping.

It was June, 2004. I went to Washington Park in Anacortes to camp, and it was blissful. The air was kind, blowing through the fir trees, coming cool off of Rosario Strait. I could see the ferry boats going and coming to the San Juan Islands. I took walks and made quick dips in the frigid salt water. I cooked supper and made a fire in the evening – enjoyed a glass or two of wine.

I could hear the fog horn in the distance. I guess I stayed there a couple of weeks.

I really felt all right – sleeping on the ground again. I was planning another trip, but it doesn’t matter where. This memoir ends with me in the campground.