Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Egyptian Queen

By Fred Owens

I wrote this in 1996 when I lived in Boston. This is the last paragraph of a thirty-page chapter in a memoir. I called it the Egyptian Queen, simply because the journal had a drawing of Queen Nefertiti on the cover.

I was lonely last night. I’ll go to the shul, and then to the Boston Computer Society again. Visual Basic. Boards. Bread. Beards. Burrs. Bring me the proclamation. Hear ye, Hear ye. Come one, come all. Never mind. It was a joke. Keep your socks on. Wash everything thoroughly. Dilute the vinegar with water and gargle three times daily. To hell with your hegemony. Beware the wrath of Zeus. He awakes. Lichen on the rocks. Rocks tumbling down Mount Washington. The Muse has gone next door. I was in love once. THE INVISIBLE UNION OF ALL SOULS. The silken threads tying me to you and you to me.
Heavy rain -- wind from Africa.

So there I am, at the end of a long cold winter in Boston, writing in this journal titled the Egyptian Queen. This was in March of 1996, in a year that set a record for cumulative snowfall. The snow was three feet high out the front door.
What helped in the long cold winter were two galvanized tubs of papyrus plants blooming in brilliant green in the living room. The papyrus sat in these tubs right by the bay window and got the sunshine they needed to flourish -- saved my life, they did, that winter.
And somehow the journal planted a seed. It was the Egyptian Queen on the cover. It was Queen Nefertiti in a classic profile. She greeted me every morning as I sat down to write.
Her image inspired me in a mysterious way because not one year later I found myself in Africa -- in Zimbabwe, in Mozambique and Malawi.  I was looking for Queen Nefertiti. I even found her. I think it was her. It's hard to tell what is and what isn't when you're in Africa -- all kinds of wild tales and strange scenery in Africa. I should tell you that story some time.
Well, we can't spend the whole day dreaming about Egyptian queens and things I probably only imagined in Africa. Twenty years later, I can scarcely believe that I was even there.
I'm only trying to make a less than abrupt transition to the very local news about Dave Morrison and his new source of video stimulation. Dave lives near Pasadena.
Dave calls it Blue Collar Logic, because he wields a paint brush by day and dreams of a better world by night. Blue Collar Logic is a series of two-minute videos with political comments. Two minutes is long enough, I admire his effort. His presentation is clear. One can be brief and intelligent at the same time. In fact, brevity is a sure sign of intelligence.
But don't get too excited, good old Dave has swung over to the conservative side of things. You might not want to follow his train of thought.  Oh,  he's not such a bad fellow. And you know, if Dave Morrison was President, instead of the truly dangerous man we have now -- if it was Dave Morrison, or fellows like  him, calling the shots, I wouldn't mind too much.
There's one video Dave called Islam and Alabama which is kind of fun. Dave claims that a woman has more freedom living in Alabama than she would have living in Saudi Arabia.
I couldn't say. I was never in Alabama. I did spend a few months living in Mississippi right next store. I had a job working construction labor. That was in 1977. I did not like living in Mississippi, but I did mind my own business and I was not molested.

The Egyptian Queen
This all started 5,000 years ago in Egypt -- what we used to call civilization -- reading, writing and agriculture. Well, most folks used to agree that those three things defined civilization -- reading, writing and farming. But that leaves out all the wandering tribes and the oral traditions of long ago. So we have no definition of civilization. Having no definition, we cannot define courtesy and good manners. Not being able to define courtesy and good manners, we cannot effectively oppose Donald Trump, a man with no sense of courtesy or decency. I hope that makes sense.

Spring Subscription Drive. A $25 or $50 subscription to Frog Hospital comes with the promise that I will try my best. I have been writing this journal since 1998  -- curiously I began writing Frog Hospital shortly after I returned from Africa.
And I have written some hundreds of issues of this journal, and some of it has been very good indeed and I would like to continue writing this, and I would like you to send me a check for $25 or $50 or punch the PayPal button.
You can find the PayPal button on the blog. Go to Frog Hospital.
Or make out a check to Fred Owens and mail it to:
Fred Owens
1105 Veronica Springs RD
Santa Barbara, CA 93105

thank you very much,
Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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

Sunday, March 12, 2017

I was born on a snowy night in South Texas.

By Fred Owens
I know Lois Wauson from when I lived in South Texas ten years ago. At that time I was a reporter for the Wilson County News and I heard many interesting stories of times past. Lois was kind enough to share her story with us. I hope you enjoy reading it.
On this day 85 years ago, it snowed in South Texas! Can you believe it? Well I was there! I remember that day! 

I was born on a snowy night in South Texas.

By Lois Wauson
It was a snowy night in South Texas in 1932 when a baby was born. Snow was not that common in South Texas, especially in March. But an unseasonably cold norther had blown in the night before and it was cloudy and cold and the temperature kept dropping.
I sit here thinking about the day I was born. Imagining what happened that day, in the old Zook house where my Grandma and Grandpa Zook lived in the Camp Ranch Community in Wilson County, Texas. My daddy had inherited the farm after his daddy died in 1927. Mother and Daddy met in December 1930 and married 5 months later in 1931. Some of this is true and some is fiction. I guess you could call this historic fiction.
My mother Bertie Lee got pregnant a month after she married. It had been a difficult pregnancy because she was sick the whole time and didn’t even like her cigarettes. She and Daddy smoked Bull Durham and rolled their own. She knew something was going to happen that afternoon in March, because her back was hurting so bad and the pains had started. She told my father Lawrence to go up the road to her Mama and Daddy’s house, to get her Mama. It was getting really cold out, the temperature was below freezing and snow flurries were starting up. But it was March, almost spring, and snow was very rare in South Texas.
Lawrence walked up the road, bundled up in his overcoat, to his in-laws’ house. He hoped he wouldn’t see her daddy, Earl Goode, because Earl hadn’t spoke to Lawrence since the day Lawrence and Bertie Lee eloped last May, and got married. Earl was very angry with Lawrence and went up to the house to yell at him, and Earl and Lawrence got in a fight and Lawrence had hit Earl. Since that day, they had not spoken. I guess you would say there was a feud going on. That was 10 months ago.
But Sallie, one of the girls, answered the door and Lawrence said Bertie Lee needed her mama to come down because she thought the baby was coming. So Vonie, her mama, and Bertie Lee’s sister Sallie got on their coats and walked down to Lawrence’s house. They walked in the snow flurries and Sallie was excited with the snow and her little niece or nephew coming.
When they got back to the house, Bertie Lee's labor pains had really started up. That is when Vonie told Lawrence it was time to call Dr. Oxford in Floresville. But the nearest phone was several miles away, at the Harrell’s house. They were the only neighbors that had a phone. Lawrence had to leave the house again.
Lawrence saddled up the horse and took off for the Harrell’s farm. He used their phone and called Dr. Oxford who said he would be out there as soon as he could. Lawrence spent an hour or more talking to the Harrell men, rolling a cigarette and drinking coffee. Lawrence loved to talk. When he rode back to the house, the snow was getting thicker, and Vonie was angry, asking why it had taken so long, Bertie Lee’s pains were getting closer and closer. She knew what a talker Lawrence was. Where was Dr. Oxford and when was he coming? Lawrence told her he should be there later.
But Bertie Lee had seen her mother in childbirth before and she wasn’t that concerned. She knew that the time was near. But Vonie was still angry at Lawrence for hitting her husband that day, 10 months ago.
Finally, Dr. Oxford drove up in his Model-A Ford. He came in the house, stomping his feet getting the snow off. The snow was still coming down, and had covered all the fields, making a winter wonderland. But Bertie Lee was only interested in her baby about to be born. Lawrence poured a cup of coffee from the pot that was on the back of the wood cook stove, and sat in front of the fireplace, thinking and talking to himself. Time went on and then he heard Bertie Lee let out a big scream, and it was apparently over as he heard the jumble of voices of joy and happiness, and he breathed a sign of relief. Then Vonie came in, and in her arms was a tiny baby. She said, “Lawrence, you have a baby girl.”
She put the baby in his arms and his eyes misted up and he snuggled the baby close and kissed the top of her head. Then he gave her back to Vonie. She went back to the bedroom and Lawrence took a swig of his coffee, got up, put another log on the fire and looked into the fire thoughtfully.
A little later they called him into the bedroom where Bertie Lee was in the bed, holding her little girl in her arms. He said, "Bertie Lee, you did good.”
It was a little later, after the doctor had left, and Bertie Lee and the baby were asleep, and Vonie and Sallie were in the kitchen fixing something to eat, and Lawrence sat drinking coffee talking about the night and the snow. The doctor sat at the table drinking coffee and talking with Lawrence. Bertie Lee had finally gone to sleep. Dr. Oxford asked what name he should put on the birth certificate for the baby. He didn’t have it with him. Lawrence shook his head. He didn’t know. He said he knew they were going to call the baby Lawrence Jr. if it had been a boy. The doctor said he didn’t want to wake Bertie Lee up. He would get it later. That is why the baby’s birth certificate didn’t have a name for 60 years. It said “unknown”.
Then Lawrence jumped up and exclaimed. “Dammit, I plumb forgot to milk the cows, feed the chickens and the hogs, and gather the eggs ‘cause I was too busy going for help. Dadgum it anyhow!” Dr. Oxford left in his car, and Lawrence put on his warm cap with the ear flaps on it and overcoat, and went out the door, mumbling and cursing to himself. He went out to the barn not even seeing how beautiful the landscape was all snowy and white and beautiful.
But inside the house lay the mother and little baby girl, all warm and snuggled together. Never knowing their future. For now, it was all well with their world. Later Bertie Lee looked out the window at the winter wonderland, and looked down at her beautiful baby girl, and felt a peace and joy she had never felt before.
Next day, Bertie Lee’s daddy, Earl came down to see the baby girl. He came in the house and held and kissed his new grandchild. While he was sitting there holding the baby, Lawrence came in the house. He and Earl stared at each other, then smiled and shook hands. Then they both looked at the baby girl, and talked about how pretty she was. From that day on they were friends. No one ever mentioned the fight they had, especially Bertie Lee.
The End.
thank you, Lois, that was a really good story

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Affadavit of Margaret Lee.

By Fred Owens

If you can't trust Margaret Lee, then who can you trust?

Affadavit of Margaret Lee. She lived next to Fishtown her whole life and here's why she thought it was a special place. She wrote this in 1988 in support of a civil action against the State of Washington and Chamberlain Farms concerning the logging of the Fishtown Woods.

I, Margaret Lee, on oath depose and state as follows:

I am of legal age, reside at 1180 
E. Landing Road, Skagit County, Washington, and make this affidavit upon my own free will and voluntary act.

…. I am the granddaughter of Frederick Gage who purchased the homestead of DeWitt Dennison in 1885 which lies south of and adjacent to the present Chamberlain Farms property commonly known as the "Fishtown Woods" .... My grandfather Frederick Gage and my grandmother Elenore Gage lived on the property for the remainder of their lives. Their daughter Louisa, who was also my mother, and her husband Randolph Valentine lived on the property all of their lives. I was born in 1916 and lived on the property my entire life.....

I am familiar with the historic Indian occupation of our property (the “Lee Farm”) and the Chamberlain property in the area known as Fishtown and the larger area that forms the state historical district. I have both personal experience and the stories and information that I was told about by my parents and grandparents. My mother was quite good friends with an Indian woman named Mary. She and Mary spent many hours sharing tea, toast and jam and talking and sharing stories. Both of my parents would trade and talk with Indians that would bring clams and homespun socks. I remember my dad always wearing Indian-made socks.

Sometime around 1890, a partial dike was constructed along the Skagit River in front of Fishtown Bay which lies just north of Gage’s Point (named for my grandfather). A granary was built on the dike and a road was built in the valley that extends northward from Fishtown Bay connecting the granary to Dodge Valley.

At and before this time, Indians lived and used this area. Several Indian trails that predate the granary are still present and were used by my sister and I when were young to go to school and to walk through the woods.

The Indian valley trail connects the old village area with Dodge valley to the north. It followed the hillside on the southwest side of the valley and was several feet up the side of the hillside. I would often walk this trail as a young girl and I recall my mother warning me to “look but not to touch anything.” Mother said this was a “sacred place” to the Indians and they told her that a big chief was buried there. She said that the chief continued to watch over the Indian people and the Indian spirits guarded the place.

The lake trail connected the old village area to a lake to the east up on the bluff on my property. Indian watchmen used to sit on the tip of Gage’s Point looking west….When Indian raiding parties approached, the Indians moved camp and retreated to the lake up on my property to hide out until danger passed.


Roy Larsen Skull. Around 1911, Roy Larsen discovered a human skull near the old village area in Fishtown Bay. Roy was a fisherman that lived in a shack on pilings near the old granary by the river.

Spruce Tree Skull. I remember personally discovering a skeleton under a log on the north side of Gage’s Point a few feet up the hill when I was nine years old. It was very near the old village site, and I remember covering the skeleton up the best I could.

Indians Move to Swinomish Reservation. When I was nine years old, I went inside an Indian shack next to the river on the dike where the granary used to be. It was small and contained bunks at opposite ends. Around the walls were cattail mats about waist-high and there was a hole in the roof to let smoke out. My mother told me that Indians who had lived there moved to the Swinomish Indian Reservation…. in the early 1900s.

Burial Ceremonies. When my grandfather planted the orchard next to my house about 1890, several Indians came up to him and told that there were Indian burials there. They warned that the spirits would be disturbed if the graves were not removed before planting. My grandparent agreed to the reburial and told me of loud ceremonies and involved a lot of chanting and wailing. A number of artifacts were removed with the bodies including gold coins and a children’s China ring. The bodies were taken to Little Dead Man’s Island to be reburied….

Indian Spirits. I also remember Indian workers and stories that my grandfather and mother told me about Indians that worked on our farm who would not go through the woods because of the Indian spirits they called “Skalatutes” that lived there.

Gravel Pit Bones. The sand spit that the old village site in Fishtown Bay was located on was used to supply gravel for the granary road and by farmers whenever gravel was needed. A big pit was dug near the big Spruce in the middle of the spit. Human bones from the pit were discarded in a pile next to the pit which grew larger over time as more and more gravel was removed. Bones discovered in the gravel … were discarded all along the south side of the road in the valley behind the old village. There were all kinds of bones: leg bones, arms and skulls.

High Water. The winter high tides fill up the Bay where the old village is. Just last year, the tide covered the boardwalk that runs along the river next to Fishtown Bay and several planks floated off. During those tides, the entire bay is under a lot of water all the way back to the hillside. These high tides are a regular occurrence and something my mother was continually warning us about.

I swear on oath that the above statements are true and correct to the best of my knowledge. Dated this 19th day of April, 1988. _________________ [signed] Margaret Lee


 Richard Gilkey Objects A letter to the Seattle Times, dated
January 28, 1988, after Gilkey was arrested at the Fishtown Woods protest.
 I am obliged to respond to implications in some local press coverage of the
Fishtown clear-cut-logging issue.
I take exception to references to those in dissent as ex-hippies, indigents who
pay no taxes, and radicals who put spikes in trees.
Because my name was reported on television and in newspapers, with reluctance I make
the following statement in contradiction.
As a fourth-generation Skagit Valley resident, a World War II Marine Corps veteran
who served in the 3rd Marine Raider Battalion in the invasion of Bouganville, Solomon Islands, I have painted landscapes in the area since 1946.
I was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in painting for travel and study abroad in
1958. My work is in museums and public and private institutions, and has been shown in Europe and Japan. I own my own home, studio and truck free and clear.
As a matter of conscience and social responsibility, and as an individual
concerned with aesthetic and environmental integrity, I stood in the path of logging trucks and was arrested for criminal protesting.
I was pleased to be standing with fellow artists, mothers and fathers,
architects, a carpenter, writers, and university graduates, among others.
My position was that the logging operation should be halted until the outcome of
the court hearing is known.
The fate of eagles, eagles, herons, and 400-year-old trees deserves our careful study. Also, I feel that Fishtown woods should be a refuge for wildlife, plants, and other threatened species, such as artists.

Keith Brown’s Cadillac

Keith Brown was installed in a hospital for the criminally insane in 1986 after climbing to the roof of the Lighthouse Restaurant carrying a can of gasoline. The police stopped him before he could set the match.

Keith’s Fishtown cabin was empty two years later when the Fishtown Wood Massacre began, and his old car was growing weeds in the parking area out by the old quarry on Dodge Valley Road. It was a Sprite, one of those little English sports cars, only Kieth had removed the trunk cover and done some work with a hack saw to make room for a rotary gas-powered lawn mower. That way he could drive to his lawn-mowing appointments in town, to make enough money for Prince Albert in a can, and chunks of cheese, and bags of onions and coffee. Maybe some beer, but Keith didn’t drink much, he was crazy as a hoot, but not a drunk.

The Sprite sat on the gravel by the side of the road, where the other Fishtown residents parked their vehicles, by the old quarry, as I said, and just across the road from Ken Staffanson’s big old farmhouse. Staffanson leased the farm land from the Chamberlains and he grew strawberries, potatoes, cabbages, peas, the usual thing.

You parked your car, if you were a visitor like me, and set out to walk across the field -- there was no sign of course – “Fishtown straight ahead” – no sign, that was part of the magic. If you needed a map and a set of directions, then Fishtown was not for you.

Besides that it kept the traffic down. Farmers let people walk across their fields, but they didn’t want God and everybody doing it -- you kept foot traffic light and waved to the farmer out plowing. If it was across the field going to Fishtown you hoped the farmer had not plowed right up to the ditch because then you had to walk over the broken clods – hard work and muddy, but the farmer wanted every inch of the field. You might walk across, but you could scarcely ask him to leave you a pathway.

So we parked next to Keith Brown’s Cadillac – we called it that for fun – and walked out, very often, me and the wife and the two small kids, out to visit Keith Brown or some of the others, usually Ben and Meg and they lived in Bo Miller’s old place.

That was our habit until they started to cut the woods down, and then we organized a protest and blocked the logging road, linked arms in a circle and sat down to stop the trucks coming in, and then, just for fun, without really planning, Singin’ Dan and a few others walked over to the parking area and began to push Keith Brown’s Cadillac over to the protest zone – pushed it into the road, right behind the protestors.

I was there watching all this. It was a comic interlude, because this was serious business – all those people going to jail, but we had our laugh. “Keith can’t come, he sends his love from the looney bin, says we’re welcome to donate his car for the cause.”

I was sitting on a rocky knoll across the road, smoking a cigar, watching all this. I wanted to join the arrestees, but, being the chief litigant, having the dubious honor of my name on the writ – it said “Fred Owens vs. Chamberlain Farms” – the lawyer, our dedicated friend and companion, J.J. Bode, advised me to stay out of the criminal process. “You’re leading the civil case,” he said, “so don’t get arrested because that just confuses things.”

So I watched from the rocky knoll and smoked a cigar.

The Chamberlains did not own Fishtown

The Chamberlains did not own Fishtown because the cabins were outside the dike and on river tidelands. Nonetheless, they collected a nominal rent and obtained leases.

Here is one of the leases, dated Dec. 16, 1986, in a letter from Christopher Shaefe in Arizona -- he was an in-law of the Chamberlain family. The letter is addressed to Sande Howard, wife to Art Jorgensen, mother to Willow Jorgensen.

"The attached lease will allow your continued occupancy of that certain property owned by Chamberlain Farm for the calendar year 1987.

Please sign the lease, indicating your correct address where provided and return to me along with 1987 rent in the amount of $230.00."

I have a copy of the lease because it was submitted in the legal process that led to eviction. In the legal action, the Chamberlains could not prove title to the Fishtown cabins, but they could establish "superior possession" and the evidence for that were the leases, which the occupants had signed.

Willow, Art and Sande were evicted in 1989 and their cabin was torn down. None of this needed to happen, and I would spread the blame all around. The Chamberlains were not the bad actors in this drama -- but feelings were hot at the time.

Be it said, many years later, that nobody ever owned Fishtown.

And also be it said that the Chamberlains owned the woods and owned the fields that gave walking access to Fishtown. There was never any formal permission or denial of passage across Chamberlain property, but I, feel like they probably don't want me on the premises. I have not been there ever again, except one time in 1999 when I was working on the U.S. Census to correct the maps for use in the Census of 2000. I had a legal right, as a census worker, to access the property and confirm that the cabins were no longer there. Which I did confirm. The cabins were gone and left no trace, only the willows of eternal spring, and the river that flows forever.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Mozart in Zimbabwe

By Fred Owens
Mozart in Zimbabwe

I liked the sound of that phrase so much that I journeyed to Zimbabwe in 1997 and brought this sheet music with me.

The Sonata in C is simple and easy to play -- although to play it well takes years of practice.

I brought this sheet music in my shoulder bag and went to Zimbabwe, and the quest was to find a piano. Surely they have pianos somewhere in Zimbabwe I thought, although the Lonely Planet guide book did not touch on the subject.

I went to the east of Zimbabwe, to the Nyanga Highlands, of such altitude that apple trees and plum trees can grow and the English settlers planted trout in the cold water streams.

I hiked around Nyanga and came upon a chapel, one of those terribly cute Anglican chapels, and it was empty and the door was unlocked, and there was the piano.

So I went back to the hotel for the sheet music, and then came to the chapel, quietly, with composure, and played the Mozart in Zimbabwe.

After a time a small African boy came in to listen. He must have been about eight. I invited him to come closer and listen. And then I said "you can play it, come, sit by me, try playing these keys."

He did. I enjoyed the music. Then I left the chapel and closed the door. I said goodbye to the little fellow who had played with me. I never came back to the chapel and never came back Zimbabwe. But I was there once, in 1997, and played Mozart.
Sciatica -- there 's a lovely word. It could be the name of a resort in the Adirondacks. "We stayed at the Sciatica on our honeymoon. It was a lovely place."
Or it could be the name of an Italian dessert, "Dear, try the sciatica. It is positively scrumptious."
Well, it is a nice sounding word, but the actual medical condition is quite painful. I've been having it for several weeks now, on the right side. It seems strange because there is nothing wrong with my hip or my knee and yet they hurt constantly, or intermittently. I take ibuprofen three times a day and that helps.
I take walks on the beach -- that doesn't help. I take an extra rest and that doesn't help. The only thing that actually relieves the discomfort is a few hours of gardening work. It must be all that bending and stretching that takes pressure off the nerve for a while.
I see the doctor on March 21 for my annual physical. so I will have something to tell him if it still hurts. Let's see what he says. Maybe it will just go away.
Otherwise I favor acupuncture for alternative medical solutions.
Ash Wednesday
Art Najera came to the Santa Barbara Kiwanis Club lunch yesterday. He comes every Wednesday, to the Mesa Cafe. We had fish tacos.
But this week was Ash Wednesday, and Art is a devout Catholic. (I call myself an observant Catholic because I observe other Catholics going to church -- ha, ha !)
But Art is the real deal. He goes to church and his son is a priest. We call his son Father Tom and Father Tom used to come with his Dad to Kiwanis lunch until the diocese re-assigned him to a distant parish.
This week, Art came to lunch with his wife Barbara. They have been married for 58 years and seem to be enjoying it. Art is a retired orthodontist and horseman. He favors western wear, jeans and boots and crisply ironed snap-button plaid shirts.
Yesterday being Ash Wednesday, Art and Barbara come fresh from church with the ashes dabbed on their forehead, a traditional sign of Lenten penance.
I wonder if Art has ever heard the poem by T.S. Eliot. It's called Ash Wednesday. Eliot made this recording in 1930. It sounds too dismal, who died?
My English lit guru, Virginia Smith in Toronto, says the poem is not in fact dismal even though the poet himself seems to think it is. The poem takes 12 minutes to recite. Listen to it while you're doing your nails or washing dishes. Don't try to figure it out, just let it flow. Eliot is quite a good poet after all.

Have a nice week,

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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