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.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Going to America

Getting married in Zimbabwe, then moving back to America.

We were married September 1, 1997, the day after Princess Diana was killed in an accident. Her family, some fifty members, came to our wedding. But me, I stood alone, except Mr. Jones, the Coloured Man who lived next door, agreed to be Best Man.

In October we took the long journey to Malawi to visit Precious’s ancestral village -- a place called Chembe, high in the mountains, way off the road, where the Yao and Chewa people lived.

Mr. Mataka, her grandfather, and two of her Aunties came with us – a thousand miles by train and bus, and then ten miles by dirt track to the village. The village people, all relatives to Precious, did not know we were coming, but they were very glad to see us. We brought boxes of town food – flour and cooking oil and Coca-Cola – but no beer, because this was a Muslim village of some 600 souls with a mud-brick mosque in the center, and an ancient imam with a white beard who called the prayers, morning and evening – a haunting sound, not by loudspeaker, but just his voice in the still mountain air.

We stayed there a week – “lived there” – I should have put this on the listing of places I have lived – because we were not visitors, we were family. The chief of Chembe was my host, and now my relative by marriage. He invited us to choose a place to build a home – we could stay if we wanted.

No, we were going back to the world -- back to Zimbabwe, and then, four months later, back to America.

Getting Precious her visa was an interesting story. She needed a police record to qualify. It was then I discovered that my lovely bride had been convicted of assault some years previously. She could pack a punch!

It was things like that – her determination and courage – that led me to believe she could handle a life-changing transition to American ways.

We got on the South African jet – her first plane ride and she was completely relaxed – flew to Johannesburg, but changing planes required going up an escalator – this terrified her – so we took the stairs instead.

We landed in New York City in February, 1998 – it was so cold. We took a small plane to Boston and rented a room at a B & B in Brookline. Precious seemed okay, except she broke out in a rash of pimples -- being terrified. “Everyone here is white!” she said.
“Yes, dear, I told you a hundred times, they are all white here in America,” I said. It was tough for her -- yet I had survived a year in her country, now she would see mine.

We visited friends in Boston and then flew to LaConner -- that little town in the tulip fields, in the Skagit Valley, where we decided to make our home. I determined that I would choose the town – how could she choose a town? – and then I agreed that she would choose a house for us to live in – having more domestic sensibility than I had.

But why the hell did I decide to go to back to LaConner? It was a far from inspired choice. I have to say I chose it be default, by lack of inspiration…… I had already lived there and owned a home there with my first wife, and my children had been small there, and I had started two business there which both failed, and my first marriage failed --- it was a pretty town, to be sure -- and other people had been happy there and well settled – but why did I go back?

That’s the theme of this memoir – Too Many Mornings – too many bad choices. I don’t know – people who find lasting homes might just be lucky - they might, by sheer chance, pick a spot, on a whim, and yet that very spot will nurture them for decades, and they will build a most happy home.

I never had a home. But here it was February, 1998, going back to LaConner, with an African bride, and enough money, based on the sale of my deceased mother’s property, to buy our own place in

God, we tried to make it a home, to finally have something for keeps. But it never worked.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Sweet Peas and Dahlias

Farm News
July 4, 2011

By Fred Owens

We spent all weekend tearing down thousands of sweet pea vines. We had a bumper crop and sold bouquets by the boat load at the farmers market -- but spring flowers have only their short season for shining. Here it is early July, and the old sweet peas were getting mildewed and haggard and gone to seed.

Farming is so rich with cliches -- "gone to seed" being one of them --

And here at Love House Dahlias, the sweet peas are gone to seed literally. We chose the very best, tallest, most abundant, and most beautiful stand of sweet peas to save for seed. We will let them dry out and die -- they will die because they are annuals -- and then pick the peas -- more cliches -- pea-pickin' -- we will pick the dried peas and save them to plant next year.

Meanwhile the dahlias are set for take off -- 150 varieties, planted in some 70 raised beds, the raised beds being 25 to 35 feet long -- and the dahlias spaced every 18 inches or so......Okay, I admit that we are late with the dahlias -- we got a bit over-excited with the sweet peas and spaced out the dahlias a little bit -- should have got them in the ground a few weeks earlier than they did -- but dahlias are good at playing catch up - all they need is plenty of sunshine and water -- and some fertile ground, and a good defense against gophers.

So that's the dahlia news.

Otherwise we have vegetables -- more than we can eat and not enough to sell -- chard, onions, carrots, turnips, lettuce and so on.

We're adding a greater variety of herbs this year -- like Rue. Isn't it wonderful to have an herb named Rue? It's so Shakespearean -- so old-fashioned -- so politically incorrect. "I rue the day....." Let us celebrate all that we have rued and regretted.

I will sit by the Rue,
Pass my life in review,
And you might too.

So much for the herbs of regret, let us pass on to the Rants of the Moment as the Farm News ends and Frog Hospital begins.

My two Least Favorite Political Women. Continuing the Frog Hospital tradition of heaping abuse all around, we begin with Michele Bachmann from Minnesota.

What ever happened to Minnesota? That used to be Hubert Humphrey country -- lots of Scandinavian socialists, tidy farms and good wall-eye fishing. We rode into Minneapolis on a freight train in 1974 -- they not only put us up at the shelter, but they gave Bartholomew some free dental care -- and he really needed it.

But no more free dental care for wandering bums with Ms. Bachmann in charge of things. We are cursed of Adam's sin and we shall labor by the sweat of our brows and women will give birth in pain if she has her way.

You see, I'm not a conservative. I'm what you call a social liberal, in that all my friends and relatives are liberals -- they have no particular merit or distinction, but they're my people and I am one loyal dude.

Except can't we get rid of Ariana Huffington? I despise her. I refuse to read her web-page. She's rich enough to be a Republican, so why does she hang out with us? I am tempted to use strong language, but I won't. She hoodwinked hundreds of earnest young writers to become "citizen journalists" and write the news for free. Then she sold her web portal to Yahoo for some hundreds of millions of dollars.

In the old days the publisher got most of the money and the reporters only a little -- fair enough, because reporting the news is too much fun and restricting access to the profession is not possible on account of the First Amendment (meaning you don't need a license or the approval of your peers to be a journalist)

But that was the old days. Ms. Huffington has the new model, where she keeps ALL the money, and the citizen journalist, tirelessly blogging, paying for their own lattes -- and they get NOTHING.

Let's Find Two Awful Men. To balance criticism of Huffington and Bachmann, I need to find two awful men, but that's too easy.

Cultural Relativism. This next piece requires thinking. Frog Hospital readers tend to be highly intelligent people, so I'm sure you can handle it.

The powerful and wealthy French minister was arrested for the rape of a hotel maid -- an African woman newly immigrated from Guinea. Her story was convincing enough to bring the minister's immediate arrest and he was held at a very high bail, lest he flee the country.

But she told too many stories, too many conflicting details, and the prosecutors knew they had no chance of a conviction, so the French minister has been let go -- still to face charges, but that seems more like a formality.

This is the sentence that caught my eye and inspired the following remarks:

"Over time, the well-placed official said, they discovered that she was capable of telling multiple, inconsistent versions of what appeared to be important episodes in her life." -- quote from the NY Times, said of the alleged rape victim, an African woman.

I understand this far too well -- having lived in Africa, having lived with African immigrants in the United States -- I very often heard stories, told over and over again, and never the same way. I met people with multiple identities. I knew a woman with two passports, from two countries, with two different names and two different birthdays -- she showed them to me -- this is not remarkable in Africa.

But in America we have facts, and objective evidence, and we struggle through argument and research to come up with something we humbly call "the truth." And we swear to tell that truth in the court of law. And also, but not sworn, in our daily lives. Ours is a literate culture and our law is the English common law. "Facts are facts, Mister Dumbarton." Charles Dickens might have written something like that.

"The Law is a ass." Dickens did write that. But the law is the law, and we cannot support the testimony of a crime victim who presents multiple, inconsistent versions of important events.

I'm telling you this because I argue against any appreciation of cultural relativism. I am a strong opponent of "diversity" and multi-culturalism. Let Africa be Africa, I say. It is a most wonderful people who live there, and they can tell their stories anyway they like to. One name, two names, three religions, four languages, you can be who you want to be today, and be something else tomorrow -- Africa is a rich and varied land.

But not here. Our crime victim -- and I suspect something bad happened to her in that hotel room, and not of her choosing -- will become an American if she stays here long enough. I would welcome her, but she will learn we only tell it one way on this our Independence Day. We are founded on facts and principles. We serve these ideals poorly, but it is our path.

We ought not to become like other people, but to become ourselves better.

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Frog Hospital and Farm News Subscriptions. Don't be like Ariana Huffington who expects journalists to write for free. If you find this newsletter worthwhile -- Send a Check for $25, made out to Fred Owens and mail it to Fred Owens, 7922 Santa Ana RD, Ventura CA, 93001.

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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

Saturday, July 02, 2011

The Aunties

The Aunties

I left Nyanga, walking alone, and traveled to Matopos, where the most ancient granite stones form fantastic shapes. The African woman emerged from the very earth -- or maybe it was that I met her at the Palace Hotel in nearby Bulawayo over a beer -- but I like the version where she emerges from the earth better.

We talked about her life and her family. I told her I was single -- divorced. She asked, not innocently, "Who cooks for you?" What little resistance I had disappeared.............I began courting her. I rented a car to take her to fountains and night clubs. She brought Her Aunt Janet and her Aunt Winnie on these dates. The aunties rode in the back seat.... I bought them plenty of beer and chicken and won their approval ....... We were properly and legally married some months later -- renting a house in suburban Bulawayo.

It was a good home, very strong and solid. The cement walls and tile roof kept us cool even on the hottest days. The front yard had an enormous pepper tree blessing us with shade. I built an herb garden in the back yard. I worked as a volunteer at a nearby nature preserve..

My wife's relatives constantly besieged us. They would sit for hours in our living room, waiting for food, leaving when they were fed and given bus fare home .... I learned the African word for "son-in-law" is Umkunyani, meaning "he who pays for everything.”

Mr. and Mr. Jones were coloured people who lived next door and fairly prosperous. They said we must move away or the relatives would consume everything..... And I was getting too homesick, so I asked Zodwa, my wife, "Do you want to go to America?" -- I had never mentioned this possibility before, but I think all the time her answer would have been yes.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Why are you Walking Alone?

Nyanga -- the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe

I should have stayed in Kalk Bay. I could have written a book of poetry and romanced the waitress at the Cafe Matisse -- gone swimming in the warm salt water, but no ......
Fatima Laher was my hostess at Chartfield House. I mentioned an interest in seeing Africa. "Then you must go to Nyanga," she said.
But why? What is so special about Nyanga? "You must go there," she said. I guess she was trying to tell me something. So, a thousand miles and two weeks later, with an interesting diversion to the Karoo, where the Bushmen dwell, I arrived in Nyanga......Nyanga is in the eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe. The name means "moon" or "witch doctor" in the Shona language. Being at high elevation, Nyanga has pine forests, apple orchards, and rushing mountain streams. Small farm plots yield abundantly because there is ample rain....... I took many solitary walks around the countryside. I visited homes..... One day a young woman, really a girl, about 12, said, "Why are you walking alone?" ...... Such a good question, and I had no answer.