Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Walk #272: Early Morning Commotion...

We are up early. Joni dresses for work. The kids get ready for school. I pack the car, coffee in hand. In goes clothes, suitcase, books, backpack, walking stick, camera, CD's, toiletries, a pillow and sleeping bags.

The girls leave.

I take one last walk with Angel on this cool morning. Just like that, Fall is here. Got down to 50 degrees last night, which made the place feel like the Tundra. After four months of excessive heat, a twenty degree temperature drop at night feels like Siberia.

I tell Angel this is our last walk for a week. Does she understand? I feel sad.

Now. Off to Napa. 165 miles down the mountain, across the Sacramento Valley, over a couple of mountain ranges to the hospital that provides for our daily needs. I have a bunch of shifts lined up. A few doubles. I will be back home in a week.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Walk #271: Return of the Plaid Hiking Shirt...

Finally it is cooler outside. I could actually take my walk in blue jeans and my favorite shirt.

Favorite shirts should be sufficiently ugly. They should be threadbare; have a few holes in them. My currently favorite hiking shirt replaces another one that Joni threw away a couple of years ago---without my permission. I thought that shirt was totally usable; Joni felt differently. So what if it had a few holes in it? Consider it seasoned.

That old shirt was just as ugly. Plaid. It did have a Ralph Lauren logo on it to give it some upper class style. My new, old hiking shirt has been waiting for this day. I took it off it's hanger with anticipation and joy. Like greeting a long lost friend.

I'm not known for much style. I wear black jeans and some old Tractor Supply shirts to work. Three of them that I wear in a monotonous rotation. They fit; can get roughed up; and it saves me the mental energy of trying to figure out what to wear.

Angel and I did the Lollipop walk yet again. Me in my shirt. Angel in her fur. All is well again.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Walk #270: Mud Plaster....

The hot spell broke today. This enabled me to do some mud work on this silly house I'm building. Hard work. It involves digging clay, sifting clay, digging sand, chopping straw, mixing the whole thing in a wheelbarrow, then climbing on a rickety ladder to apply the mud to the strawbale walls.

Inevitably, half the mud falls off--so you climb down the ladder, scoop up the mud and reapply. Repeat this process about a hundred times.

Good honest work. Good honest sweat.

My walk was in the dark of the evening with my dog. Muscles tired. Covered in mud head to toe. The Good Life!

Watched Ken Burns documentary last night (part one). I think this National Park series might strike a chord in the American a little ditty I wrote about John Muir last April has had around 280 visitors in the last 24 hours.

I only wonder if Mr. Burns will give Ed Abbey the credit he deserves for his contributions to both the National Parks and Wildness in America. I hope so!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Walk #269: Last of the Foothills Heat?

We are still in the midst of a late September heat wave. Yet another day of 100 degree Fahrenheit weather. And, being off grid and all, we don't have air conditioning. The nice thing about a late September heat wave is that the temperatures ease when the sun starts going down. Since the sun is going down earlier; so do the temperatures.

The lollipop walk with my dog. I didn't notice much. Just more acorns. I haven't seen a new plant in months. Everything is crispy brown. Torturedly hot.

The best thing about walking in such weather is returning home to the thermos that we keep filled with ice during the summer. Our drinking water. Having ice in a heat wave is a lovely treat. Wards off the kidney stones, ever a danger for a northern European male living in a hot climate. On days like these you can't get enough water. No other liquid tastes as good.

We mix the store bought ice with our well water. This water, which comes from our 110 foot deep well, also tastes sublime. Heaven. Are there health benefits from not drinking chlorinated water? I think so. Can't tell you what they are, but I'm sure it is there...

Tomorrow is supposed to be a cooler day. Perhaps the worst of the heat is over?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Walk #268: Good Bye to the Feather River Salmon...

I spent the day learning about our local salmon. Drove down to Oroville to attend the weekend festivities of the Salmon Festival. Salmon were once plentiful in the Feather River. The Festival has a street fair feel to it. People selling trinkets. One church was serving salmon at a reasonable price ($6 for a salmon fillet, potato salad and beans). I like festivals that celebrate the natural environment of a given region. We need more of that!

Thousands attended. There were Maidu Tribal folk doing a ceremony. Belly Dancers. Trinket sellers. Even Tupperware distributors.

I spent a couple of hours walking around, and ducked into the local museum to have a look (it was free today). The Pioneer Museum in Oroville had quite a beautiful collection of items. One photo of a Sugar Pine amazed me, a whole family lined up around the (at least) ten foot diameter tree.
And in a corner of the basement of the museum, this photo of Oroville's most famous resident: Ishi.

But I was there for the panel discussion on the fate of the Feather River Salmon. Four experts lined up to talk for two hours regarding the demise of (what once was) the area staple. Of the thousands outside who attended the street fair, I counted 46 people who actually wanted to hear about the salmon (including the panel discussion leaders). Sad.

The salmon population in the Feather River has gone down by 80 percent in the last 7 years. Since 1966 we have seen a decline of nearly 95 percent. What are the culprits?

1. Dams. This caused both a barrier for the salmon to spawn and also changed the stream flow. Salmon need wide rivers that flood periodically. Dams changed that so now we can build McMansions right up to the river. The monstrous Oroville Dam (completed in 1966, the year the salmon population plunged to near extinction levels) did away with 75 percent of the salmon's habitat.

2. Invasive fish...brought in by sports folks who would rather catch a bass than a trout.

3. Overfishing in the ocean. Hopefully this will no longer be a factor, as salmon fishing has been outlawed south of Eureka, California.
At the end of the seminar, I asked an expert what dam removal would do for the salmon population? He said, "That would be the best would solve 80 percent of the problems".

He went on to elaborate: "But it isn't politically feasible. Everyone needs water". During the lecture he was sure to state that agriculture deserves it's water.

But do they really need Sixty percent of the Delta drainage systems water? That is how much they use. In the meantime, we trade the extinction of six species of salmon in the Feather River so that we can ship almonds to Minnesota. That is not worth it, in my view. Shame on us..

And counterproductive. Without the conveyor belt of salmon, who bring nutrients from the ocean to the soils of the Delta Valley, our fruits and vegetables will lose their taste. Even the wines of Sonoma and Napa depend upon dying salmon for part of their flavor.

Tear down the dams. Conserve water. Change agricultural practices. Will that message ever be heard?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Walk #267: The Feather River Bike Trail--Oroville

Brought our older car into the car doctor today. Seeing as I had around five hours to kill, I took a three hour hike around Oroville. Specifically, the Feather River Nature Bike Trail. Here is the Feather River Nature Center (in an old bath house from 1935). Closed, in these lean times:

I didn't see any bikes on the bike trail. I did see three cars. I didn't see any snakes, as this sign warns:

Oroville has done something right, I am happy to announce! When they had to replace this bridge, they left it up as a pedestrian and bike bridge:

Very few users of the bike trail on this 98 degree Fahrenheit day. There were four covered picnic areas along the bike trail. Three of them were being used by high school students smoking pot. Here is one of them:

A duplicate photo. How do I know they were smoking pot? Well, there are little information signs next to the picnic areas. I had to read them. My nose can still sniff out cannabis:

I hiked up to one dam:

And then the next. From here the water is diverted into channels for agricultural use. A small amount of water gets to continue on as the Feather River:

The sign where the bike trail portion of my hike ended:

Oroville has done a good job with this trail. The only users today (in the high heat of the day) were yours truly and around a dozen pot smoking high school students.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Walk #266: Acorns!!

I couldn't resist this photo of a girl and her dog, napping...

Another hot day. Angel and I did the Lolipop walk. The acorns have been falling from the oak trees. The acorns around here get snatched up by the critters: squirrels, deer and bear.
At one time they were the staple grain for the Native Folk who lived here. With all this emphasis on "eating local", I don't quite understand why this food isn't back in vogue.

We have made flour from acorns. Works well to mix it with 50 percent whole wheat flour. The process of obtaining the flour is a bit onerous. You have to pour water over the squished grain to leach out the tannins. One guy who lives on the ridge leaves a bag of it in the creek overnight. If you don't leach out the tannins, the oak flour can make you quite sick.

We will do it again this year: make flour from acorns. Not as a staple, but as a way
to honor those who lived here before us.

Me? A Wine Blogger?

Somebody sent my name into Scribnia.

Scribnia is a new website that intends to find decent writers and columnists on the web. The editors verify that "yes, you have been published", and then they let your web stuff on to their site. Once on Scribnia, readers can give you the thumbs up, or down, or write a review. They can call you names or proclaim you to be the next Hemingway.

The good people at Scribnia put your writing into categories. The editors there decided I was a Wine Writer!

I probably got that designation because of all my walks in the Napa Valley. Edward Abbey didn't like being called a Nature Writer. I'm just happy to be called a matter what the category.

But I am not a Wine Writer: I am a Wine Drinker. My pallet is not better than others. I'm no somnelier. I hardly know the difference between a bouquet or a finish. I don't know what maloactic means. I can't recognize a grape hanging on the vine. I'm no Robert Parker.

I do like wine though. And I walk to wineries now and then.

I wrote a review of myself for Scribnia--and with that review, I catapulted myself into the Number One status. I guess Wine Writers aren't all that popular on Scribnia yet.

Feel free to follow the link to the right and write a review of this blog--or just give the Scribnia people a look-see.

In addition, I've also started the laborious task of labeling these walks as to their location. So if you want to read about various walks in the Napa can just hit that icon and do so.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Walk 265: Angel On Obama...

100 walks left. That is, if I haven't gotten my count off somehow. I had intended to hike down the canyon today, but laziness and sloth won the battle. Instead, Angel and I walked to the gate.

Along the way, I asked Angel her doggy sense of how Obama is doing? Her answer surprised me:

Allan: "So what do you think of Obama?"...

Angel: "I am hopeful about things. It looks like Obama might be taking a significant turn to the left".

"How so?" I asked my canny canine.

"First off, the public option is still on the table. In the Senate, it is still a part of four of the five bills. Obama still gives it credence, despite some trial balloons to get rid of it. This is courageous, given that he is taking on about 20 percent of the nation's economy". Angel then stopped to sniff some other creature's scat.

"Anything else?", I asked my Lab.

"Why yes", Angel woofed. "The decision to pull those missiles out of Poland is the first time any dog can remember that we actually pulled out of an aggressive posture. Some hounddogs state that this might be the very first, slight, tentative move towards retracting the American Empire".

"Really!" I said.

"Sure", Angel the Yellow Lab barked. "And now Obama is reconsidering our position in Afghanistan. Looks like he might be rethinking our commitment there".

"Wow", that is great...

"Of course, Obama should have replaced my long lost relatives, the Wolves, on the endangered species list. He has a long way to go when it comes to those policies". Angel tugged on the leash--and made me head for home.

Obama, from the pup's point of view...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Walk #264: Back From Exile...

Ah, at last: home. Back from my nine day exile in the Napa Valley.

Got home in time to do the Lolipop walk with Joni. We don't usually do this, but we left the girls at home. Angel was happy to join us, as we talked of our adventures. Joni's brother Ed visited while I was gone. And sleepovers for the girls.

I told Joni about how I got attacked at work, and managed to protect myself with a well timed shove with my foot to the attacker's abdomen. Nearly got my clock cleaned.

I told Joni of my ER visit, the abscess and how the thing cleared today with the help of Penicillin (yeah!).

Getting back to this wilderness home brings sanity and peace to my life. I love it up here with all the critters and the Rednecks, Potheads, Disabled folk living cheap off the land. Comparing Concow to the Napa Valley is as disparate of socio-economic groups to be found anywhere. Think Calcutta meets Madison Avenue. I love the diversity it brings to my life.

Good to be home. Photos have been added to a couple of the previous posts...check 'em out!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Walk #263: Saguaro Allan

A T-shirt in a St. Helena shop...

Had to call in sick to work this morning. The cactus in my mouth grew to the size of a saguaro during the night. Time to let the Penicillin do it's work---which it has. I've got myself on a clear liquid diet. Good thing I have famine insurance around my mid-section.

So I slept in. Off to St. Helena for my latte' (five bucks!) and took a walk around town for an hour. Hot today, as the temperature is supposed to get up to 105 Fahrenheit.

Walking amongst the tourists and trust funders, it seems I'm the only one who sweats. My t-shirt is soaked with perspiration. Everyone else looks fresh and cool.

Back to the Homestead in the afternoon tomorrow. I should be able to work my last shift, as this abscess has gotten less angry. A long put off visit to the dentist awaits...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Walks #258-262: Doubles, Death, Dentition and Baby Boomers...

Well that sure did go fast.

I'm still here in the Napa Valley. A nine day exile. A new rule: on days that I work a double shift (from 6:30 am til 11:00 pm) the shift work alone counts as a walk. That takes care of three of the last five days.

Walk#258: A double shift.

Walk #259: Work, a quick walk. And then a visit to Napa to visit with a friend whose recently ex-girlfriend passed away. My friend was a bit torn up by the a few of us gathered at his house for a barbecue and also to show some support. A mini wake. A sad day.

I threw my sleeping bag down in his backyard for the night. Up early for my next...

Walk #260: A double shift.

Walk #261: A double shift.

Which gets us to today:

Walk #262. This walk was after work. I had to go to the emergency room. Employee Surveillance---a nice program the hospital has which means that while working, I can stop in for medical care. I broke a tooth a few weeks ago and the thing has flared up. Incredible pain, exacerbated by an abscess. In case you've never had an abscess in your mouth before, imagine putting a multi-barbed cactus between your cheek and gums. That is what an abscess feels like.

I've been working all week with this bugger; been switching back and forth between ibuprofen and Tylenol every two hours. That hasn't been working. I can't chew. I can't sleep because of the pain. So I broke down and visited the Emergency Room to get some good pain medicine and an anti-biotic.

So my walk was after getting a prescription filled (paid out of my own pocket because my pharmacy, where my health insurance pays, is not open on the weekends). I took a quiet, tired, pain free walk around the hospital grounds under the influence of Vicodin.

Looks like I will finally have to break down and darken the doors of a dentist. Another sign of aging, which is fine with me. Baby Boomers have been resistant to this aging thing. They first announced it in The Who's "My Generation"...with the line " I hope I die before I get old".

Well, Baby Boomers have gotten old. So what do they do? Figure out a way to not appear to be getting old. Hence we have this Revolutionaries-In-Their-Own-Minds total obsession with cheating the Grim Reaper. This is a generation that refuses to grow up, or to age properly. Hence we have Dennis Hopper telling us how to save our money, not to retire, but to engage in some dream. No need to point out the mysteries of Viagra and the sudden development of Erectile Dysfunction: Baby Boomers figure they should screw like they are twenty years old. Baby Boomers want to cheat all aspects of aging: physiological, emotional, behavioral and spiritual.

Aging is about wisdom, something sorely lacking amongst most Baby Boomers.

For a Baby Boomer, to age and look like your parent is a sin. They want to be young forever. And they will be...this sad, sad, hopelessly vain generation.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Walk #257: Kortum Canyon and the Redneck Pickup Truck...

A hillside vineyard. Enviros in the Napa Valley have done much to stop this practice.

The view from the top...

Looking across the Napa Valley

Ed Abbey said that he thought walking uphill was just so "unnecessary". Agreed. But alas, sometimes it must be done.

Kortum Canyon Road is an uphill beast of a one-lane black top road that heads into the Mayacamas just outside Calistoga. Seeing as it goes into the Mayacamas (a small mountain range), the direction is all uphill once you leave Calistoga. Straight up.

A sign says "winding road" and gives the speed limit: 15 mph. That is about 12 miles an hour faster than what I am walking. A white pickup truck, doing much more than that, nearly whacks me as it careens up the hill.

What is it about men and Pickup Trucks? I spend much time on rural roads. I drive 165 miles to work on rural roads. I rarely drive in the city anymore. I go for the blue highways when traveling.

One thing I've noticed in these travels is the sheer stupidity of the male Pickup Truck Driver. Granted, I am a bit extreme in my beliefs. I think that 40 miles per hour on rural roads, that break up major wildlife corridors, is what the speed limit should be. Give the varmints a chance! Drive slow.

But Pick up Truck Drivers rarely drive slow. They careen along at light speed. Heading off to the next construction gig. Or home to their televisions and beer. These drivers are dangerous folks. They will pass on a blind curve; have no regard for any known laws.

And their bumperstickers are just as offensive. "Obamaism" with Obama wearing a Che Guevara beret. Most still have Bush/Cheney bumperstickers. And then there is always some sort of reference to taxes being too high. My bet is that 80 percent of those who attended the Tea Party Rebellion rally in Washington got there by driving their Pick Up Trucks.

I would like to get a Pick up Truck...but is anti-social behavior and stupidity a prerequisite before buying one?

Back to Kortum Road. I hike straight up for forty five minutes. Then back down. The views on top of the hill are worth it. The scenery is delightful. The mixture of oaks and redwoods fantastic. A delightful walk.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Walk #256: Calistoga and Labyrinths (Rat Mazes for New Agers)

The Labyrinth in downtown Calistoga...

I am in the Napa Valley. I will, more than likely, be here until the middle of next week.

Worked the day as a Social Worker. Gosh, they have nice hours. How luxurious to get up rested after a nights sleep and begin work at a more civilised hour. 8:30 am is a treat to begin work. Nurses always have to put up with some of the most atrocious of hours. I mean, who, besides bakers, actually starts work at 6:30 in the morning? Those hours are for folks who aren't like me. People who are disciplined. Healthy. Have good sleep habits. Early to bed sorts of folks. Not late night readers and ruminators like myself.

My walk was in Calistoga. I took an hour and a half to just mosie around this beautiful little town. I stopped to take photos; savored memories of the time I actually lived in this town. I noticed what had changed.

I looked at the first apartment Joni and I rented when we moved here in 2003. I looked at all the cottages from the 1860's. I noticed that the video store had closed (a victim of Netflix?). I noticed all the new wine tasting places in town--turning the downtown into a Upper Class Bar Crawl. I also noticed that such proletarian things such as "happy hours" have started to be advertised. I guess the Recession/Depression has hit the Napa Valley too.

And I stopped to notice a labyrinth walk. This labyrinth was put in a parking lot by one of the more upper crust resorts. I didn't stop to walk it. First off, it is right downtown, and walking in a circle downtown makes me feel sort of foolish.

And secondly, my walks are rather psycho/spiritual/political/humorous experiences all on their own. Walking leads to reflection for me. It also leads to just noticing what is going on around me--even if what I notice is ironic, or contradictory, or just downright foolish. I don't need a little rock circle to help me be more deep, or spiritual. That is much too pretentious for me.

Just let me walk and, more often than not, something interesting will pop up. Walking in circles is silly.

But what about the tradition of circumambulating large mountains? Well, that makes sense. If you want to hike around Mt. Shasta to get in touch with its energy vortex, or await some spiritual enlightenment, or with hopes of encountering a Lemurian or a flying saucer: I'm all for it. I'll join you for that one. The scenery is awesome. And it is in a wild place.

But itsy bitsy little labyrinths are trendy rat mazes for spiritual hipsters. I'll pass on that one.

Walk #255: Becoming One with the Wheelbarrow...

Sunday. A short walk, with the dog, full of aches and pains from having become One with the Wheelbarrow. Mixing up all that mud made me sore. My arms, back, even my legs were sore.

Hey, I'm a Psych Nurse. We don't generally work all day. We talk. Sometimes we have a "show of force" in order to de-escalate someone--but mostly we talk.

After the walk, I hopped in the car and drove to the Napa Valley.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Walk #254: Mud Day!!

Saturday. We had 12 children, 10 adults and 5 dogs over to put mud on the house. We worked hard all day and got quite a bit done. Afterwards we had a celebratory barbecue, and two families camped out on our property. We talked theology and politics deep into the night under the stars.

So my walk consisted of a couple potty walks for Angel. Not too far...but the hard work on the house made up for the walks brevity.

Thanks to Jonathon, Linn, Jason and Julia (and Santiago), Joshua and Summer (and their three children), Patrick (who organised the day for us), and Rachel (who was a trooper hanging out with the older adults). Six other neighbor kids came over to spend the day and have mud fights. Even the adults had a mud fight.

A grand time was had by all....

PS...You can see photos of the "Mud Day" on my other blog...or just click here.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Walk #253: Getting Ready For Mud...

103 degrees Fahrenheit today.

We are getting ready to plaster the house tomorrow. We should have anywhere from 2 to 15 people showing up. We spent the day planning and getting ready for the event. We figured out work stations. Cleaned the cabin. Set up chairs. Bought food for a celebratory barbecue. Got stuff for snacks. Bought beer and wine. Cleaned out ice chests. Got some sand delivered. We hope to put the first (of three) layers of mud on the Addition.

And it is supposed to be hot.

Angel and I took a walk towards evening. The short Lollipop yet again. It continues to be tinder dry here. In the photo above, Angel drinks after the walk. Her coat blends into the dry, dry grass that sits dormant.

The Earth needs a drink as much as Angel does.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Walk #252: Back Home..

After dinner, a short walk with Angel. The lollipop walk.

It is good to be back home with Joni, Kylie, Jazzy, Angel, Rocky, PePe', River, our half completed strawbale house, hot water bags, olive trees, solar panels, computer, the heat, no air conditioning, three walls, mud, dust, the lazyboy chair (yes!), wrangling kids, yelling kids, grumpy kids, oak trees, ponderosa pines and an excellent homecoming dinner.

Finally Home!!

Finally, I am back home for a few days. Photos have been added to many of the previous walks. They help tell the story of those walks... Feel free to peruse back over the last week.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Walk #251: Crickets and Decompression

My last day in Napa. I worked overtime and felt like I couldn't make the drive home. As I age, my night driving seems to be a bit impaired. Can't see worth crap. And I didn't want to put the elk, deer, raccoons, possums or myself at risk.

So I am staying another night, and will drive home in the morning.

I can't really write about my work life--confidentiality precludes me from doing so. But I can say that the last eight days have been some of the worst days I have ever spent as a Psychiatric RN. Everyday, I have been thankful to leave work without having been bludgeoned to death.

People who work in mental health have the highest work injury rate in the nation. We deal with the most unpredictable folks, with the scantiest amount of backup support. I have seen those TV shows where, in a prison, whole teams of armor covered guards subdue a violent, psychotic prisoner. Well, my job has the violent psychotic prisoner, without the armor or a team. We have a needle and maybe another guy or two to subdue the client.

After a 12 hour shift where I didn't stop to even eat, I figured I had done all my walking. I have experienced much violence over the last week. I'm tired. So I bought a bottle of mineral water (in glass---nothing should ever, ever be drunk from a plastic bottle) and headed out to my favorite decompressing spot in the Napa Valley.

It is on Bale Lane. It is a place where I can watch the sun finish going down. A tunnel of ancient oaks gives me perspective. It is a place where I can hear the crickets, in unison, chirp the current temperature. A place where I can unwind. Relax. Process the day. Look forward to tomorrow.

For me, these places have always been outside. No matter where I live, I always have a place of seclusion and beauty to retreat to when beaten up by events of the day. A place to go when I feel upset. Or anxious. Or blue.

Do you have such a place to go? Is it outside?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Walk #250: Larkmead Lane...Walkers Rights and Larkmead Vineyards Winery

Boycott this winery!

The Larkmead Thug wanted me to walk on this road...

He wouldn't let me walk on this dirt path....

Maybe I'm becoming a marked man. Perhaps I am acquiring a reputation?

After work I decided to walk a very small road that bisects the Napa Valley: Larkmead Lane. Larkmead sits a few miles south of Calistoga. Not all that long of a road; it takes about an hour to walk it (back and forth) at an unhurried pace.

There are two wineries on this road. Frank Family Wineries I have visited before. So I stopped just to admire the 1905 winery for its beauty. Across the lane is the Larkmead Vineyards Winery. I stopped there, but the nice lady who came out to greet me said they were closed. She said I would be welcome to come as a literal "walk in" another time.

So I continued on my way.

I walked to the end of the road, walking along the vineyards on a small dirt path--that sits next to the road. A worker in a golf cart passes by me as I walk the path. I wave as we intersect.

Down to the end of the road and I turn around to walk the mile and a half back to my car. I stop in the shade of a tree at the bridge over the Napa River.

It is then that "it" happened. A monstrous white pick up truck pulls up. I get that feeling in my gut that tells me "you are in trouble now, Allan". The window of the truck rolls down.

It felt like a Salvadoran death squad had stopped to check out yours truly. A man hollers out of the window: "Stay on the road!".

I could see he was a bit agitated. After all, a very dangerous walker was present. Is there an all points bulletin out stating: "beware of the pudgy man with the turkey feather hanging from his walking stick"?

I tell him I had obeyed all laws.

He scolds me: "Wasn't that you walking up by the winery? Stay on the road."

Perhaps I should describe the scene. Larkmead Road has no shoulder. Next to the road there is a dirt road that is used by farm equipment. About fifteen feet divide the two. The dirt road is lovely to walk on. Soft. Squishy. The black top road has no shoulder. Traffic travels at seventy miles an hour on it. The man was asking me to share a small road with two ton metallic beasts.

Having sufficiently given me his opinion of my walk, the paranoid Larkmead Vineyards man turns on to the small dirt road I had been walking. He pulls his pick up truck on to the dirt road, as I watch. I guess this road was meant only for his truck and not my hiking booted feet.

I watch him drive off and later, as I restart my walk, he comes by again--making sure I was walking on the road. I wave enthusiastically friendly-like to this nearly psychotic man.

This has not been my week. First the EST minion doesn't give me permission to look at one of the oldest buildings in the Napa Valley, and now a paranoid winery thug asks me to stay on a black topped surface road that imperils people who walk on it. This property owner would rather have a death on the road than somebody walk the dirt road on his property.

So now I can categorically give my first bad review to a winery. I've never tasted their wines. But I have to fight their ugliness with the only tool I have: this keyboard.

First off, don't go to this winery. Boycott them. Send this entry to your friends who might be contemplating a visit to this winery. Or if you have just found this entry by Googling it, take this winery off your travel plans. They are paranoid, thugish people.

Secondly, if you happen to be in the Napa Valley, go for a walk on the dirt path next to Larkmead Lane. Let them know that walkers have the right to be safe when out walking.

If someone from this winery does happen to read this entry (and I have learned that trolls do google their wineries and reputations daily)...I would appreciate an apology. And perhaps an admonition to the death squad fellow who just yells and doesn't stop to get to know why a man might be out for a walk? A free tasting and a bottle of wine would be appreciated too. And permission to walk the vineyards.

I am a forgiving man, if given the right vintage.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Walk #249: Dark Early...

Up at 5 am having slept in R.'s backyard. My sleeping bag was drenched in dew. The nights are getting colder.

Off to work. Worked all day and back to the Monastic Dorm. I fall asleep for three hours.

My walk was a short one in St. Helena (in order to buy soup and bread, my evening meal staples). I am not fully awake. When I awoke this afternoon, I thought it was the next morning. I feel something like that character in Kafka's novel.

The evenings are noticeably darker early now. Less and less sunlight every day. Soon the rains will start and we will slide into the hellish northern California winter. Hellish you say? Yes. Winter in Northern California means that you are wet all the time. Your shoes are always soaked. It is dark by four pm. It is not unusual to have thirty straight days of rain. Thirty straight days of overcast skies. Not much sunlight.

Rain is worse than snow for outdoors activities. You can play in the snow. Playing in the rain leads to hypothermia, swine flu, soggy skin and an early death.

Walk #248: Friends of the Napa River...

Saturday night. Another barbecue after work, this time with oysters, salmon and steak. Afterwards, R. and M. and myself walk to the "Friends of the Napa River Festival".

This gathering is to celebrate the Napa River. The efforts to protect this river, and the agricultural preserve, are documented in two excellent books by James Conaway. The result is that this river is making progress.

For seventeen years this festival of the Napa River has occurred every labor day weekend. What a grand idea! To celebrate the natural environment of your own community! Thousands of people show up for this event. The evening is capped off with a concert by the local symphony orchestra (they are quite good!) and fireworks.

But something is missing; something more sinister is present. The roots of this radical movement to save the river have been co-opted. What is missing is a political agenda. What is present is corporate sponsorship by Target and some of the big wineries. The sponsors even get their own white glove section, complete with free wine, waiters, tables and comfy chairs.

No political talks. No visits from local and national environmentalists. No Pete Seeger. No reports on how the river is doing. No reports on the lack of salmon.

There are booths. Lots of food. And beer. I buy a Sierra Nevada and notice that the throng has overwhelmed the court house. The same court house where Joni and I recently had a hearing and were sneered at by those who make decisions for children. This is where our lawyer was called enmeshed and Joni was called "over protective" and "pathologically unwilling to let go".

I decide to drink my beer on the top step of the courthouse. Certainly, this must be illegal? I drink my beer there to thumb my nose at our recent treatment in court. I drink to celebrate that you can defeat the powers that be who have made the wrong decision. I drink for all those dreamers out there who fight for things against impossible odds. I drink to my family, who I haven't seen for way too many days.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Walk #247: White Sulphur Springs Road, The Hoffman Process--a California Cult?

Tried to work a double today, but alas, the hours were not there. Fine. A work colleague had told me about a walk to an old hot springs spa on a picturesque road that starts in downtown St. Helena. "There is a retreat center there that does stuff for businesses". Piqued with curiosity, I decided to explore it.

The road starts just outside of downtown St. Helena. A one lane, black topped road that goes for a few miles up the side of a mountain (the Maycamas). Mailboxes on the side of the road advertise daily delivery of the New York Times. I wonder how many small towns in California have daily delivery of the New York Times?

Up the road we go. A eucalyptus tree on the side of the road. There are many eucalyptus trees in the Napa Valley. They were imported from Australia and are water hungry fiends. They smell like cat piss to me.

After awhile I come to the White Sulphur Springs resort entrance. An old gate across the road advertises that it was started in 1852. Wow. I walk through the resort and continue up to the road. My goal is to explore to the end of the road.

Up the hill.

I come across some redwood groves. Even a two or three hundred year old redwood is impressive. Some of it has been logged. In this area the logging was selective. They would take down one off shoot of the redwood, but leave the forest pretty much in tact. A better way to log if you ask me.

I have often thought that logging should be harvested according to the life span of the tree. For example, if a tree's lifespan is 2,000 years, then take one tree every year for every two thousand that are in a specific area. If an oak lives to be 200 years, take one oak down per year for every 200 that are in a particular region. Simple. Sustainable. A smarter, selective way to log without compromising the forest. While you are at it, have the trees cut and hauled by hand and horse. Do it the way our Grandfathers did it.

I come to an estate. A fence guards it, but by reaching my camera over my head and above the fence, I can see what lies behind the enclosure. An opulent meditation garden. I get the feeling this is one of those places that celebrities rent for a month when they come "to do" the Napa Valley. By voyeuristically putting my camera over the fence, I have become a paparazzi. Shame on me.

Up to the end of the road, with a sign to announce such. I turn around with the intention of exploring this resort from 1852.

When I get back to the resort (where a sign states they teach the "Hoffman Process"), only one car is around. I can see a few cottages. An Inn. I go to the office and peek into the windows. Closed.

I walk around some more when a very thin man, quite pale, with effeminate qualities comes down to see what I'm doing.

"I'm just on a walk and I was looking around the resort". I tell the emaciated man (I had gone by one car, a newish Beetle with Marin County on the license plate). I assume the whippet thin, fiftyish man is the owner of such. "What is this place?" I ask him.

"This is a private resort". He emphasises the word "private" as in YOU ARE NOT WELCOME HERE.

I ask the man who the resort is for? He tells me it is for doing eight day self awareness seminars.

Intuitively, I say, "You mean like EST"? and I added a negative description of that group.

The man says "yes", and in fact, many of the board of directors were involved in EST. I can tell he can read my skeptical look. He is amongst the unfriendlies. Perhaps I shouldn't have mentioned sitting in a group, holding hands and peeing into our trousers to describe EST?

I comment on the beauty of the grounds, and ask him if there are any buildings left from 1852? He tells me there is one cottage left...up on the hill.

"Do you mind if I look around and take a look at it?", I ask him.

He responds by telling me that I was NOT welcome to look around. He adds that I could only view the grounds from the road. I guess he could feel a certain negativity from me. And perhaps he didn't trust this Michael Moore look alike, walking and poking around with a camera and a walking stick that has a wild turkey feather hanging from the end of it.

To be considered looking weird in California is a special feat. Takes practice.

I obey the ghostly waif of a man's command and return to the road. I walk down the hill the mile or more to my car.

The Hoffman Process was invented by a man by the name of Bob Hoffman. He started doing some heavy interpersonal, intensive group experiences in 1969. The gist of it is that we all are negatively programmed when we were kids. The Process is designed to quickly undo the programming, in a very short time...releasing us to greater health, vitality and love.

Isn't it just like a baby boomer group to blame our pathologies on our parents? Good grief what a self absorbed generation we are!

When EST got into trouble and was sued, one of the EST people took over the Hoffman Group. This group has been accused of being a cult...and shows up on cult awareness websites. I think these cult awareness folks can be a bit hard on legitimate efforts by people who are developing alternative religious and psychological paradigms. Not that groups like the "Hoffman Process" aren't dangerous.

The emaciated man should have let me look around. I meant no harm. If he would have used his highly developed, intuitive and spiritual skills (that the process advertises a person develops after giving them $6,500 dollars for a week of intensive programming)---he should have known that I am harmless.

Or perhaps the Hoffman Process folks have something to hide?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Walk #246: The Fall...

Worked a twelve hour shift. Got off and headed down to St. Helena to walk amongst hundreds of revelers in Cheers! St. Helena! This has got to be one of the best deals ever. For a few bucks, you can buy a glass...and then walk to dozens of merchants who are pouring premium wine. Taste the wine and move on. Hundreds of people are milling about with wine glasses in hand.

I couldn't participate due to 1. not wanting to drive after such an event and 2. knowing that I would get a bit too caught up in the festivities and 3. not wanting to get up and work the next day after participating with full gusto in the wine event. So I walked and watched others celebrate. A marching band played. A Farmers Market was set up selling local fruits and veggies.

Isn't this how shopping should be done? Festively, with a glass of wine in hand, while listening to a marching band of aging baby boomers, dressed in Hawaiian shirts, play "Fat Bottomed Girls"? Why not have our economic lives be festive and social?

Unfortunately, I didn't pay attention to where I was walking.

I tripped by the Farmers Market and skinned my knee pretty good. Blood oozing...I managed to trip in front of--oh--- about a hundred people. A concerned woman rushes over. Sheepishly I get up; my new camera is smashed. There is just no way to recover gracefully after such a fall.

I piece the camera back together (still works) while the concerned lady makes sure no bones are broken. "I swear, I wasn't drinking", I tell her.

I high tail it out of there as fast as possible...

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Walk #245: Bella Oaks Lane--Biodynamic vs. Organic

Bella Oaks Lane is a sleepy little, black top road just a couple miles south of St. Helena in the Napa Valley. Named for "beautiful" oaks, I pull over and start to walk this small road. It is after five pm, so there is no hope of pulling into a small winery for a snort: they are all closed.

Still a tad warm here in the Napa Valley. A lovely afternoon. A hawk flies past. I walk along and discover the vineyard for Pine Ridge Cabernet. I like it when vineyards state what the grapes are, and who they belong to.

Two tractors are parked. They have their yellow grape collection baskets stacked in trailers behind each of the toy tractors. It is the time of the "crush" in the Napa Valley. The white grapes (sauvignon blanc and chardonnay) are being picked. The luxurious red grapes need a bit more time to mature. The grape harvest--called the "crush"-- lasts almost three months in the Napa Valley.

Yet the scent of fermenting grapes is in the air. It will continue to get more rich in aroma as the fall progresses. All that wine rotting puts a sweet, pungent fragrance that hangs in the valley. Think of your old running shoes in the closet--mixed with molasses: That is what the Valley smells like in the fall.

I continue down the lane.

On one side there is an organic vineyard. The flag outside its entrance is at half mast (in honor of Teddy Kennedy? Does this winery ship their products to the Kennedy Compound in Cape Cod?). Organic vineyards aren't strange, as there has been an explosion of "certified organic" vineyards in the Napa Valley.

On the other side of the Lane sits a "biodynamic" vineyard. Sycamore Vineyard grows grapes for Freemark Abbey.

Biodynamic vineyards take organic principles a step further. If Shirley MacLaine had a vineyard, it would be "biodynamic". Biodynamic vineyards pay attention to everything from husbanding beneficial insects to burying horns full of steer manure on the equinox. Some call it a mystical way of farming; a gimmick. Definitely Pagan.

Being America and all, it has been branded as being "certifiable", so now you have a rule book to be a "biodynamic vineyard". And yes, one of the rules is that you have to bury Steer poop, in horns, on the spring equinox.

I love it! How Pagan! How California!!

As always, photos will be added when I return to the Farm.