Sunday, July 29, 2018

California is on fire.

By Fred Owens

California is on fire.  The latest news said the Redding fire had torched 89,000 acres and was five percent contained. At least five are dead, many more missing and 500 structures burned. When they say structure they mean including barns and garages and stores, but you now it's mostly homes that were destroyed by the flames.

The Redding fire is the biggest of almost a dozen fires in the state. Crews are getting overworked and tired. Resources are thinly stretched. All eyes are on the weather, which is expected to continue hot into three digits.

None of this is near us in Santa Barbara. A light smoke was in the air Friday night from a one-acre blaze three miles from our house. It is reported to be contained this morning. And there is no smoky smell.

You think it was just a one-acre blaze, but all the big fires start out with just one-acre -- just one spark. You look around your property and you don't see trees and shrubbery, you see fuel. The fire loves fuel, the fire leaps the Sacramento River and leaps the freeway on the wind, racing toward more fuel, and so much of what we have and where we live can catch fire.

This is California this summer. We don't over worry. We might keep an eye to what we might throw into the car if we had to leave, but otherwise we -- like yesterday, we walked down to the harbor and out to the breakwater to watch the sailboats racing and the seals splashing and the pelicans cruising.

Every Saturday at 2 p.m. the Santa Barbara Ukelele Club gathers under the coral  trees by the Harbormaster's office, gathers on the lawn in a circle, 25 players with their ukes playing Sloop John B and other old tunes. We sat on the grass and listened for a half hour.

Sunday, this morning, we had avocado omelettes. Anita gave us three giant avos from her backyard tree and they got ripe and it was time for omelettes. This is what keeps us strong and keeps us hopeful while the fires are raging.

And we banned plastic straws in Santa Barbara. You can laugh all you want..... but when you come to visit our beautiful city, you can bring your own straws, or you can ask for one at the counter, or just sip straight from the cup.... Yes, the joke is on us, but you still won't get a straw. Plastic straws, banned or not, might seem trivial while the fires are burning. Maybe the ways and means of California folks seem frivolous. Think what you will.  When we have a problem, we grab a towel and head for the beach -- we find our strength that way.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend,


Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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

Thursday, July 19, 2018

I threw a jar of grape jelly out the window

By Fred Owens

I wrote these stories for my classmates. They give off the air of innocence and times of long ago -- the Sixties.

We didn't worry about paying off our student loans, but we did worry about getting killed in Vietnam. Fear of getting drafted added a personal motive to the late night discussions of those days.

I was 19, a sophomore in college in 1966. I was in a state of sheer exuberance, which is what got me through stunts like this. Plus I read many, many books and kept in good academic standing. I could give details to this incident, like I could tell you about Tom, my roommate, and what school we were at, stuff like that, but I think I like this very short version of the event.

I threw the jar of grape jelly out the window.

Tom cooked pork chops and made the best mashed potatoes. We ate off of aluminum plates, which we had bought figuring to keep them until they wore out. Heck, they lasted all year. The handle was off the refrigerator, so you had to pry it open with a knife. And when you got the door open, a jar would inevitably roll off the shelf and bounce on the floor, because the floor underneath the refrigerator was tilted. Boy, that was annoying.

One late night I came weaving home, and opened the frig door for a snack. The grape jelly jar came rolling on to the floor, and I was pissed. I picked it up and heaved it with all my might out an open window and on to Church Street. Unfortunately, it splattered and broke on the windshield of a car. I had the presence of mind to quickly turn off the lights and watch, as the driver got out of his car. I noticed his stunned and perplexed expression as he turned and looked up at my darkened window. Then he drove off, and twenty minutes later one of Metro’s finest, all starched and ironed, very large but also very polite, came knocking on my door.

“Did you throw a jar of jelly out the window?” he asked, or words to that effect. I, a master of undergraduate insouciance, had begun to see the humor of the situation -- Toronto cops were such pussycats. I mustered up my most serious intellectual expression and said with feigned amazement, “What! That’s the craziest thing I ever heard of. Why do you wake me in the middle of the night? This is really ridiculous.”

The cop quickly realized he had more important matters to attend to, as I rather abruptly closed the door in his face and laughed myself silly.

So much for college hijinks. The thing about college, at least for me, is that I simply had too much fun. I did not suffer. Do you need to suffer to make a good story? Where is the anguish and pain? Not here, not in these tales.

These are prime summer days. Time for lazy days at the beach. I work mornings for various garden customers, but afternoons can find me stretched out on the sand with an umbrella overhead to keep out the strongest sun. I like the water at 65 degrees or warmer. I like to paddle around in it and just float. I love the sound of the waves and I watch for dolphins out past the surf......And pelicans, I love the way they fly.

For beach reading I have $3 paperbacks from the used book store -- Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling and a collection of short stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer.

Thanks for staying with me.


Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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

Thursday, July 12, 2018

not mad at anyone

By Fred Owens

I got into a political argument with a Trump man on Facebook. What a total waste of my energy. I did not unfriend the man, I merely said that we were done disputing for the time being and we can get back to it another time. That's Lane Dexter. He lives up in Newhalem in the Skagit Valley north of Seattle. Lane works at Diablo Dam. He's the one who turns open the floodgates when they need to let 'er rip.

Lane and I have been friends since 1970. That summer we worked fire together at Kindy Creek and at Jordan Creek. That was before crews got organized and trained for safety. If you showed up at the trail-head and you had boots on and you looked sober, they would hire you on the spot, take down your SS# and hand you a shovel and off you go.

So we worked the fires that summer and made a nice bundle of money. One day Lane, who was 16 at the time, asked to drive my truck. The truck was loaded in the back with hippies coming back from the the fire. I said sure Lane, it's all yours.
He promptly drove it into a ditch. Fortunately, we were only a half-mile from the commune at this point, so the hippies got out and walked home.

Lane felt embarrassed. The truck was in the ditch and dented, but a quick haul out was all that was necessary, The haul out came from Lane's dad Ralph Dexter, who was quite a resourceful fellow.

Ralph and Lane came over to our rented house the next evening  -- our house was next to Pete Cuthbert's 76 station and across the road from the Pool Hall Hole on the river, where Glenn Mazen lived in the cabin which had been a pool hall. All the hippies went swimming bareback at the Pool Hall Hole. They had a rope swing on the limb of a giant big-leaf maple tree.

Anyway, Ralph and Lane came over to our house the next day in the evening. Ralph brought his Come-A-Long and a few other tools. He hooked up the Come-A-Long to the front fender, hitched the other end to a nearby tree, and straightened out the fender by working the lever.

A few taps with a hammer fixed some dents and she was as good as new, or as good as a 1955 International Harvester with a utility bed could be in 1970, being 15 years old at the time of the incident. The truck was fixed, and Lane got to be a much better driver after that.

Years later, we are still friends, so I won't cut him off on Facebook, but I am faced with this glaring contradiction.

How can this fellow, a dam operator in Newhalem, a former or present chief of the Volunteer Fireman in that village, and a grandfather -- how can such a fellow be a complete idiot over Trump?  The mind boggles.

I can't fix it. Getting mad won't help. We will outlive this current insanity -- I will bet on that.

Summer Time.  The weather has been hot and humid here in Santa Barbara, although it's nothing compared to August in St. Louis, or Houston, or Boston -- places where the weather gets really miserable this time of year.

Yet we suffer in Santa Barbara with the windows open and the fans running, hoping the onshore sea breeze will rise in the afternoon.

This morning it was a bit cooler, so I did the garden work for my customer with a bit of added energy, hedging the climbing rose with vigor.

World Cup. Vive la France! I don't care about the underdog, I want victory for France.

NATO Summit. Why didn't Angela Merkel smack him a good one? The man is an arch bully. He deserves his comeuppance and he will get it one day.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Latin Class

By Fred Owens

I wrote to Fr. Owen Lee at St. Michael's College last week, and he answered back. He was my favorite teacher. I took six years of Latin, counting four years at high school, then freshman year at college, then Fr. Lee's class on the poets Horace and Catullus in my sophomore year.

I last wrote to him 15 years ago asking him for some advice on Wagnerian opera. And he remembered that correspondence. Fr. Lee was quite the expert on opera. For 24 years his voice could be heard on the live Saturday broadcast of the New York Metropolitan Opera -- during the intermission he joined the panel and discussed the opera.

I always enjoyed Latin class. I did well in this subject. Of course my Latin now is quite rusty.

I also took two years of classical Greek in high school. And last winter, for the first time, I read the Iliad -- in English. But I can get through a few lines of the Greek if I try.

How good is your Latin? What languages do you speak or read besides English?

Here are the letters between Fr. Lee and me:

Fr. Lee,

I attended our 50th reunion with my girlfriend Laurie Moon. We live in Santa Barbara near the ocean.

I understand that Leo Boyle visited you during the reunion and I wish I had. I was told you don't get around too easily, but Leo said, "He's got a mind like a steel trap."

I also had the pleasure of meeting Fr. Dan Donovan and received the book of his art collection as a gift. It is indeed a treasure.

The campus looked wonderful in early June, and we saw so many peonies in brilliant bloom. We have such a great variety of flora in Santa Barbara, but we don't get peonies or lilacs -- they both need a bit of cold during the winter in order to thrive.
I hope you are well and enjoying your life. What books are you reading? What music entertains you these days?

your student,

Fred Owens, class of 6T8

Dear Fred,

Nice to hear from you. Sorry I couldn't make it to the reunion, but today on the internet the St. Mike's Alumni sent me a couple hundred pictures of the event, so I feel reasonably up to date.

The last time we corresponded you wanted an introduction to Wagner, and I remember sending you a few pages of one of my books. (I guess Leo was right about me having "a mind like a steel trap.")  I'm still listening to Wagner in my retirement. I was on the Met broadcasts for 24 years, and last month the Met sent me, on my 88th birthday, a lot of white orchids and a box set of 79 (!) CDs of Birgit Nilsson, the Wagnerian soprano. I'm still playing the piano, mostly the songs of Gershwin, Kern, Rodgers, Porter, and Irvin Berlin -- every morning while my confreres are having breakfast. They are patient with me.

I was through Santa Barbara once and was struck by its beauty. You and Laurie are lucky people. I once taught in California for a couple of years, at Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland. Oh, happy days!

What books am I reading? Still a little Homer and a little Virgil in the original languages, every day. It's my heritage.

Stay well, Fred, and thanks for writing.

With a prayer,

Fr. Owen Lee

Other News. We are expecting a heat wave this weekend in Santa Barbara, and like everybody in California we are nervous about wildfire.

There is too much national political news to even get started. But I love the idea of Senators Collins and Murkowski quitting the Republican party and flipping the Senate.

stay cool and be happy,