Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Day 90: The Scotch Broom Blooms...

Dogs don't care if you have an upper respiratory infection. They need to be walked. To be spared the indignity of having to do their business in their own yard.

So on this cold, cold morning--coffee in hand, and coughing all the while--Angel and I head out. We notice the Scotch Broom is blooming (the dog in the background in the photo above is one of our neighbor's dogs).

Scotch Broom is an invasive species that is becoming quite the problem in northern California. Yet another "ornamental" gone berserk (and an argument against unregulated global trade--especially when it comes to ornamental plants and exotic animals). Briefly, it flowers--and can be quite fetching to the eye; but after the bloom you are left with a thick stand of quick growing, hard to kill, thick stands of plants that crowd out the other native flora. After the Scotch Broom gets established, only a good burn takes them out.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Days 88 and 89: And In Flew Enza....

Joni and I have both been in the grip of what must be something much more major than a cold. Flat on our backs; drained of all energy. Coughing. Sneezing. No energy. Wiped out. Miserable.

We seem to trade off feeling a little better. Hence yesterday, Joni took care of me. This led to her feeling miserable today. My turn to take care of her today.

Out of groceries, I drove to Paradise for some provisions. While there, I stopped into the used bookstore to pick up a copy of Thoreau--as my other copy got beat up by the rain forest in Costa Rica. I had to replace it.

I drove home, put away the provisions and opened the book. Inside the book there was a business card. The business card was for the editor of the local newspaper.

Driving to Paradise, I'd been thinking about approaching this newspaper with an idea about an "I Power" column--something to the effect of encouraging others to get off their Ipods and on to their legs. A get-outdoors-sort-of-thing with a lefty, granola, enviro slant.

I took a short, snot-filled walk with Angel after finding the business card (and showing the card to Joni who thought this coincidence was a bit spooky!)--knowing that this is an idea I have to pursue.

When confronted with an incidence of Jungian Synchronicity, only a fool would not follow it. Or maybe only a fool would follow it? Either way, I am such a fool.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Days 86 and 87: Watching an Oak....

Struggling with a cold, I've only been outside to take the dog on a couple of "comfort" walks. Mostly I've been sleeping. Tried to make some mud yesterday, but after one wheelbarrow full, I abandoned Joni and went into the Cabin to take a six hour nap.

For the past few weeks, Joni and I have been trading a cold back and forth. I don't know if it is the same virus, resurrected in the other person---or a brand new bug with unfortunate timing. Joni is sleeping behind me as I write this.

I awaken and watch the tree above. An oak tree. I've been watching it leaf out over the past couple of days. Every hour the leaves get bigger. What I find fascinating is that the oak hasn't dropped all of last year's leaves yet. So the old and the new share the same branch. New growth next to dead leaves.

I've also been reading Ralph Waldo Emerson's essays while waiting for the fever to break. Specifically: "Self Reliance". I find it a little offensive that good old Ralph would write an essay with this title. After all, he didn't have to really put in an honest days work after he had the good fortune to marry rich--and then to have that first wife die after a year and a half of marriage. He was set for life in his twenties.

Unlike most of the idle rich, Emerson put his money to good use. He lived modestly. Took care of friends. And he financially supported some of the best writers America has ever produced. Thoreau built his famous cabin on Emerson's land. Nathaniel Hawthorne shared meals with Ralphie. Amongst others.

So what about "Self Reliance"? Masterful! Powerful sentences. Like this:

"It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude".


Friday, March 26, 2010

Days 79 to 85: Manics, Friends, Ribs and Flowers...

The Blogger Gods might be angry. This is the longest time I have neglected this self-absorbed exercise in ourdoorliness.

With good reason.

I managed to bust another rib while moving into my room at the hospital. My ribs are vulnerable, having broken them three times in the past. Busted ribs are more annoying than anything. Painful.

I worked through the pain, wrestling with a few patients. It is manic season in the psychiatric world. Season changes tip bipolars into their manic phases. The moon might influence behavior; but I know the seasons have more of an effect! Working the last week was like being locked up in a room with 20 folks who have the combined personalities of Beetlejuice and Robin Williams.


So all I had the energy to do after work was to go to the library, go to the grocery store and go to my room. Except for one delightful dinner out with some friends I haven't seen for twenty five years. Thanks Tina, William, Jim and Inga!

Back to the Cabin on Wednesday. Slept yesterday (nearly all day). Today Angel and I took our walk.


The Lillies are blooming!


Shooting Stars!

It is good to be home for the next week!!

Monday, March 22, 2010


Been busy. Working. Dining with old friends. And celebrating 32 million people who will finally have health insurance. Sure, I'd rather see a public option or a single payer system. But when all is said and done, I'm happy the Dems did what they did...Hooray!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Day 78: Goats!

Egads! I didn't bring any books with me to the Napa Valley. Browsing a bookstore, I settled on a book about a couple's search for the perfect goat cheese.

Two minutes left on the computer at the library...I shall extend this entry tomorrow...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Days 75 to 77: Mostly Mud...

Jesus said you can't serve two masters. The same with blogs. It is hard to fit everything in while making mud and taking walks. You either write about one and not the other.

But these past few days have been perfect! Part of the perfect life: up early, make mud, plaster house, walk the short loop, barbecue dinner--finish the day off with a beer and a book. Is there anything better than that?

And my arms, legs, neck, back, fingers, hands, feet, toes and most every other body part are sore from digging, scraping, sifting, hoeing, splattering and climbing.

I've been re-reading the Nearing's books on "The Good Life". I'm no Scott Nearing. He was much too disciplined for me. But what I do like about their good life is the art of balance. You balance time for self and time for "bread work". You balance off the chores by spending some time improving yourself. All of it is about movement; directing your life forward in a balanced sort of way.

But now my eight days on the Homestead are done. Time to balance things off by doing some "bread work". Time to go to Napa to earn some money...

Monday, March 15, 2010

Days 71 to 74: Busy Days and the Buffalo Commons

Been busy these past few days. First off, fighting a virus that has lodged in my lungs, reluctant to let me out of its grasp.

And then the rain finally decided to give us a reprieve. I promised the girls that they would have their own bedroom by Sept. 1---so I've begun with new vigor on the house.

So there have just been a few small daily dog walks.

I did manage to read Steven Rinella's "American Buffalo: In Search of a Lost Icon". This Outside Magazine contributor (and quite a youngter) writes the book from the perspective of hunting a Buffalo in Alaska. I'm not much into hunting---but I found the book to be a good read.

Rinella does pooh pooh the "Buffalo Commons" notion--essentially calling it impracticle. Curious that the leading Kansas City newspaper called for a creation of a massive Buffalo Commons National Park last November. This isn't such a kooky idea anymore.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Day 69 and 70: Wilderness on the Cheap...

Back across California last night to our little off grid home. I stepped outside after dark to admire the stars. Been awhile since I've taken the time to admire them. A reminder of why I live out here: the beauty of the stars! Joni gave me my birthday present: a topographical mapbook of our Plumas National Forest.

Our little section of the northern Sierra doesn't get a whole lot of visitors. The Pacific Crest Trail is about ten miles from where I type this. All the guide books state that this section is best done quickly. They say it is boring; filled with rattlesnakes and it doesn't have enough water. The peaks aren't high enough; the views not dramatic enough. We can't compete with Tahoe or the John Muir Trail.

So what? It is still wilderness and I can't wait to explore the area with my new topo maps! We can afford to live here because nobody wants to come here. Wilderness on the cheap! A poor man's Yosemite!

Today Angel and I (plus Grady, the neighbor's dog) hiked halfways down the canyon. A fine day!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Days 67 and 68: Homesickness and Che'

Just a couple of brief walks after work these past two days. My legs are tired. The weather is dreadful. And I am homesick.

Enough said.

Instead of doing five days in a row, I now do six. In an act of rebellion, perhaps spurred on by my homesickness (and the total lack of humor that my workplace has exhibited over the last year or so), I left a large photo of Che Guevara on the screen of my computer in the nurses station. A greeting and a gift for the oncoming shift.

I think I will make this a theme and leave photos of Ed Abbey, John Muir, H.D. Thoreau, Fidel, Trotsky, Eugene Debs, Izzy Stone and other heroes as a desktop gift for the next shift. That should confuse those staid psychiatric nurses.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Days 65 and 66: Turning 49....

Here I am in the Napa Valley. Working. And taking a couple walks after work. One around St. Helena, before buying some soup and retiring to my room.

The next day (my birthday) around Calistoga with two comrades. But first dinner: crab cakes, a salad, a hanger steak followed by the best lava torte in California. And don't forget the wine. A bottle of Bennett Lane's "Maximus" and a couple glasses of an "old vine" Zinfandel.

The walk afterwards was a bit bloated.

And so the 49th birthday is reached and overcome. Time sure does go fast...

After the walk, I got back to my room in time to watch "The Cove" win the Oscar for best documentary. Hurrah! As with all things political with the Oscars, they made sure that the camera angle cut away from the banner that they unfurled on stage. And they were quickly whisked away before they said something untoward against Japanese whaling and the butchering of dolphins.

Still, winning the Oscar is a good thing.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Day 64: Sobering Up...

After work I find myself at a brewery, sitting with one of my nursey friends, talking about work issues, life and meaningless trivia. I am drinking organic wheat beer in the smaller sized glass (called "wimps") so that the beer doesn't get warm. My friend is drinking wine. The beer is good. Fresh. Cold. Just the way I like it.

A cascade of hospital employees pass by. One of them buys us a round! We order chicken wings---then later (after a half dozen beers) a lamb burger. My friend has chicken Alfredo. The food is good.

We are blowing off steam. Tension. We talk of the strength of RN's. Emotional strength. The ability to endure some dicey situations and then being able to carry on with the shift. I am always amazed by the sheer emotional strength of my colleagues whether they be ER nurses, ICU nurses or psychiatric nurses.

Time to sober up. R. and I take a walk along a road outside the brewery. We explore an upscale resort and drop in to their front lobby. A wine tasting is going on, but we decide that we've had enough booze. We are walking to get sober---having another snort or two defeats the purpose. Besides, we haven't been invited.

We continue on and find a large winery that has some activity going on in spite of the lateness of the hour. A tour group passes by us going to a barn which holds barrels of liquid gold. The tour group are all carrying wine glasses. Dressed elegantly. We are wearing jeans and our shoes are muddy from cutting across a vineyard; we tag along just for fun.

In the Napa Valley, all you need do is look like you belong there, and for the most part, you are treated like you do belong there.

We loiter behind the group, admiring the barrels of wine. Finally, we are noticed. A beefy gentleman walks up to us and asks us if we are with the tour group.

"Nope, we are just a couple of nurses out for a walk", I tell the man.

Trespassers, we are. The gentleman kindly explains some of the barrels of wine to me. Their age and variety. French oak barrels. His voice is kind, but his body language lets us know that we are not welcome there. We say thanks and tell him that we shall leave the property now. No need to call the cops. We are benign. Just drunkenly exploring. Not up to no good.

We leave. Wind around a little more--sober up---and head back to the brewery, our cars and our lives.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Day 63: Sad Man Walking...

The snow has melted. The rain has stopped for a few hours. The sun is peeking through some white, puffy, marshmallowey clouds. Angel and I head out to do the Short Loop.

The woods are alive with activity. I stop and watch a squirrel doing its acrobatics; jumping from tree to tree, barely hanging on before securing its grasp and moving forward. A group of crows caw at me. A pair of woodpeckers flutter by. And Steller jays cry at me.

All this is delightful. And sad.

Sad because I leave this morning for work and the Monastic Dorm. Sad because I had a change in schedule, which now means I work six days in a row (gotta pay those bills). Sad because I will be away for six days. I'm just starting to have fun. I miss this ridge, dog, cat, mud house, girls and Joni when I am gone.

For one year and nine months I have been making this bi-monthly trip to be away for at least a week. Last year I spent (from doing my taxes) 152 nights away from this house. Had to work a bit more to pay for bills.

So, why not work closer to home? Because psychiatric RN's aren't in demand in Butte County. No jobs. I'm not alone in that predicament, I work with other RN's who commute farther than I do to work because the units that used to employ them closed. Mental Health Units have been closing for twenty years; every year there are fewer and fewer of them.

Not that there are few mentally ill, depressed or people in crises. The depressed folks aren't being hospitalized. Gone are the days when suburban angst (unless you have really good insurance or are rich) will lead to a week or two of hospitalization. Psychotic people aren't being hospitalized as much anymore either. They suffer on the street until they die or a crime is committed. Jails are the new psychiatric unit. And I won't work in a jail.

So I make the commute, happy to have a job. Happy for my hospital's commitment to providing such a service to those in need in California. For how much longer I will be able to make this drive? Who knows...

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Days 61 and 62: Not Fair...

I'm nursing a cold. As such, I've just had a few "comfort" walks with Angel the dog. Raining yesterday.

This morning we watched it snow. Kylie had to get on the phone (at 7:45 am) to notify all her school friends that: "It's snowing up here!". Snow brings glee to a ten year old.

Not so for a man on the cusp of his forty-ninth birthday. Especially such a man with a cold.

While trying to stay warm and keeping my feet dry, I've been watching plenty of the news channels. Watching the agendas of the corporations via CNN and MSNBC. I can't stomach Fox, although even the newsheads at CNN (and less so MSNBC) are giving me dyspepsia.

One question: Why don't they ever cover anyone who wants to reduce the military budget? Why don't they talk to anyone who would close down the hundreds and hundreds of foreign military bases? Doesn't anybody want to talk about the elephant in the room?

Every once and awhile you can catch a glimpse of an alternative vision on the major networks. Ron Paul makes appearances. Michael Moore. Maybe Dennis Kucinich. They aren't really taken seriously. Good people all of them but most of the time they are brought out 1. because they have to (as when Ron Paul wins a strawvote at some conservative convention); or 2. to look like they are broadening the dialogue in a safe manner. Michael Moore might get an hour on Larry King when he has a new movie out. But mostly the three acceptable critics of Empire are presented like they are the Larry, Moe and Curly of political buffoonedness.

Thanks heavens for Democracy Now! on both Link TV and Free Speech TV. These two channels remain the only sane news outlets in Cabledom.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Day 60: Wolves and Rewilding!!

Did the Short Loop with Angel today. Both Joni and I have been nursing colds the last four to five days. Because of this, I've been taking it easy and not biking. When you have a cold, it is a message to take life more gently. Reduce stress. Sleep more. Rest.

Because of the cold, I've spent more time reading. I've read quite a few books over the last week. I finished a lengthy tome of the Rise and Fall of Communism. I finished a book I found in the library that has Jack London's travel pieces and sports reporting in it (quite good actually--especially his reporting of boxing matches). I've also caught up on our magazines.

Two articles caught my attention: A short blurb in Countryside and Small Stock Journal and the feature story of the new National Geographic. Both the stories are about wolves.

We are ambivalent about animals that can kill us. Especially large predators. Two success stories of the last twenty years have been the resurgence of the mountain lion in California and the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone National Park. Both populations have done reasonably well.

In Yellowstone, the wolves have slipped out of the Park and are now colonizing Montana, Idaho, possibly Colorado and even Washington. Their numbers aren't great. But for some ranchers and hunters, even one wolf is one too many.

Bush delisted the Gray wolf from the endangered species list, paving the way for the actual hunting of wolves in Idaho. The season will continue until the quota is reached.

The Countryside piece is disgusting. The author, Aileen Scott, goes overboard to warn readers of the depraved nature of the wolf. She also calls the Gray Wolf a "menace to all livestock and ungulates". She goes on to write that "Every person who raises meat for the tables of America should have the right to kill any wolf that comes onto their property without question."


The National Geographic article is more balanced. The author lists the benefits of having a wolf population in Yellowstone and the surrounding States. And whereas predation of livestock has occurred (and along with predation the cattle have to move--leading to reduced body weight of the herd)--so far the wolf kill has been minimal.

Still, the author leaves the question of wolves in the west open. "When we say we want to conserve wildlife communities in America, does that mean including the wolf, or not?"

For me, both the California mountain lion resurgence and the fragile success of the wolf population are opportunities to get things right. Let the ranchers adapt to having wolves around. Bring back Shepherds! Reduce the hunting of elk and deer (Let the wolves have the prey!). Minnesota has embraced its wolf population; wolves are a matter of pride for the residents there (and predation hasn't been a problem). Perhaps the people of Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Washington and Colorado can develop the same sort of pride?

Isn't this the first step of Recovery? Doesn't this give us hope that we can Rewild America?