Friday, December 31, 2010

Day 365: The Year 2010

Still bitterly cold here. I enjoy this whole business of going out to the woodpile and transporting in a few logs for our new stove. We huddle around the fire and watch the friendly flames. We feel the warmth. What's missing? Maybe a cup of hot chocolate. Or a dram of single malt during the evening.

Thinking about this last year, I'm happy with it. A new job (albeit much too far away from home). Three backpacking trips last year provided memories and enough adventure to wet my taste for more. The Addition makes progress--and someday might even be finished. The girls are doing well in school and seem happy with their frontier lifestyle and their friends who spend much of their time outside.

We've had a few special visitors this year. I like it when friends and family show up, spending a week or more with us. Ben Franklin was wrong about visitors, fish and three days (that both stink).

I spend time with the girls watching all those "pre-teen" and "teen" shows. Not much exposure to the natural world there. The only thing that happens outside in any of these shows are the segments of Hannah Montana (shot on an indoor set) at the beach. iCarly is urban and mostly hi tech. The Wizards of Waverly Place is urban. Not much exposure to nature on kid's television. Kids who spend time outside are becoming extinct; extirpated to the mall, Taco Bell (Taco Smell?) only to grow up, live in the burbs and maybe make a dash to Starbucks (if you are rich). Nature (for many American children) is having a deck with a smallish backyard that is fenced off from other neighbors much like a calf waiting to become veal.

So I'm thankful for the everyday contact with the wild within this "off the grid" home. Nothing excites me more than to see a bald eagle fly overhead or to run across a bit of bear scat thirty yards from our home. No monetary value can be assessed to such experiences, yet, in Mastercard terms, they are priceless.

And I have free time. Working part-time (and being able to support a family by doing this) is unusual and a blessing. It makes me feel like I'm "earning to live"--rather than-- "living to earn" (to borrow from Ed Abbey). That's a good idea. Guys like me need lots of leisure time to read a book or just enjoy a beverage, observing the goings on of the forest.

Frankly, I had a successful year. I got outside. I spent several weeks on the trail. I read many books. I wrote some. I got to spend time with loved ones. I learned much. We also spent much of the year being incredibly broke. That too, has its own blessings.

Tomorrow we shall plop out some goals for the next year. Join me?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Day 364: Warmth...

We had a hard freeze last night. Inside our Addition, the temperature was 40 degrees Fahrenheit this morning. Kylie took me outside to admire all the ice. We made sure all the water lines weren't frozen. Outside, the temperature got into the lower 20's. Too cold for this ex-Minnesotan.

So when the kindly Wood Stove installers showed up this morning (as promised), I was more than happy to greet them with a big smile and a check. A couple hours of work and we now have a fully functioning Wood Stove. A Lennox. It has space shuttle technology within; low emissions and we get a $1,500 tax write-off for installing it.

We are burning some oak from a fallen tree even as I type this in this newly toasty warm house. Oh modernity!

And the rain has stopped for a day. The dogs and I took a walk, watching the small bit of smoke arising form the shiny new stove pipe from the top of the house. Last night Joni and I had mortared in place the Three Rivers Slate that (I have to admit) Joni has been gathering when she takes the dogs for a walk. I wish I could load a photo or two, but the Gateway is still broken. We'll have photos when our computer dilemma is solved. Trust me, the Wood Stove and the Slate looks great.

And it is warm inside. We are getting downright civilized here in this house made of mud and straw.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Days 362 and 363: A Wii and a Wood Stove

Another winter storm marooned me in the Napa Valley last night. More rain. Of course. We are at 62 percent of normal rain fall for the rainy season---and the traditional rainy months are January and February. At this rate, we could see well over 100 inches of rain for the season.

So, in order to retain some semblance of sanity during these rainy months, we have two large Christmas presents: A Wii for the girls and a wood stove for all of us.

I'm not too happy about this Wii sell out. Worthless electronic contraption. Yet, Jazzy and Kylie really wanted one---and they are happily playing with the thing right now; their sibling rivalry war at a truce for the moment.

The wood stove should be installed tomorrow, just in time to take advantage of a $1,500 tax credit for this low emission, high BTU more worthwhile contraption. Joni (after having had very little heat for two and a half years) states she is going to stoke up the stove and wear nothing but a bikini for a month. Good bye wool hat and socks. Hello constant summer.

Ah, civilization...

Monday, December 27, 2010

Days 358 to 361: Working on Christmas...

Christmas was spent at work. Today it is slightly sunny, after days and days of rain. A walk this morning through a vineyard. The mustard is blooming---get a few more sunny days and it will be even more beautiful.

I hope your Christmas was merry----and that you took sometime to get outside...

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Days 356-357: Merry Christmas

Back home for a couple of days before returning to Napa for five. A couple long walks with the dogs. Abbey, the new puppy, samples water from every puddle we come across (as it has been raining for what seems like years). Dogs don't need potable water. Hell, dogs can eat and drink most anything. Joni thinks this near love affair with puddle water is a natural way to get minerals into the doggy diet.

The girls are gone for a week, so Joni and I have the place to ourselves. My how quiet this place is without the wrangling, skirmishes, and general may-hem which constitutes sibling rivalry.

I may not have a chance to plunk away at a keyboard over the next few days---so Merry Christmas! I will be at the hospital doing the Nursey thing...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Days 352-355: The Deluge

Lots and lots of rain. I'm here in the Napa Valley--doing the work thing. Called Joni last night who said that we had had 6 1/2 inches of rain over the last day and a half.

The Sierra has had up to THIRTEEN FEET of snow in places. Rainfall totals from this current series of storms could be around 18 inches of rain.

I've been reading a History of Butte County. Volume One encompasses from the 1840's up to 1920 or so. A line caught my attention, talking about some floods in the 1870's: " A storm dropped six inches of rain". This was seen as an abnormally high 24 hour total.

This is routine at our household today. This year we've already had one storm that dropped ten inches of rain; this current storm should match that. And every year, over the last three that we've lived up at the Ridge, we have seen storms that drop ten inches or more of rain.

Evidence of climate change? I think so. For our part of the Foothills, the models predict stronger and wetter storms. We've certainly seen that. Generational climate change lulls one into a slumber that believes things have always been a certain way. We lose track of trends. You have to read an obscure history book, or talk to someone who is 90 years old, to see that, perhaps, things are a bit different now.

So I will drive home tonight. Through more rain. Dodging the trees that inevitably fall because they were burned from the "freak" lightening storm that burned up thousands of acres of Butte County. A freak storm (because of the thousands of lightening strikes) that is yet another argument for climate change.

The backlash against climate science is in full regalia in America. My own 3rd district Assemblyman is a climate change denier. Dan Logue led the efforts to dismantle California's carbon emission laws through Prop. 23. He lost. Does the guy ever go outside?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Day 351: Frugality

More rain again. Cold. We bundle up and head out in the rain to enjoy these short, short days. Congress is upset about possibly having to work over the Christmas holiday. I will be working 9 of the next 11 days. Yeah, I know--most folks work a whole lot more than I do. I'm lucky to be able to support a family on a part time job.

I finished Scott Nearing's autobiography last night: "The Making of a Radical". Talk about being frugal. His approach to money was blessed by the frugality apparent within my own Grandparents' generation. Nearing was smart enough to save money when young, so that he could do his Homestead thing when he got to be my age (of course he also was unable to work or get published due to his socialism).

I wish I had read this book when I was a twenty something. It is a primer on how to live an independent intellectual life.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Days 349 and 350: Public Safety

The old Gateway seems to have met a near certain death. So I'm typing this on an even older laptop that has the annoying habit of deciding to put text where ever it damned well pleases. No photos for a bit too, until we decide either to buy a new computer, or get the old Geezer resurrected one more time.

I'm back in Concow. I took a long, long walk with the dogs. Thoughts of the events of yesterday weighing on my mind. You see, I had to testify in court yesterday. I can write in a closeted fashion about it, because now that I've been in court, well, things are public.

The day after that gun crazed man took on a school board in Florida, I was in criminal court testifying in a case in order to prevent such an event from occurring. Unusual to be in such a position. The Defense Attorney was quite rough on me. Even the Judge was a bit rough on me (told me that I needed to have "thicker skin"). I held my own. In the end, Public Safety won the day.

A victory for the safety of Nurses.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Days 347 and 348: Duck Hunters

I drove across the Sacramento Valley yesterday. Duck hunters everywhere. They dress in camouflage, and to save them from a walk, many had matching camouflaged ATV's with dog kennels riding on a back platform.

We owe a debt to these duck hunters. It was through a coalition of duck hunters and ranchers that has preserved a small bit of the Sacramento Valley. Before deep ecology came on the scene, as far back as the 20's, ranchers and duck hunters fought the agriculturalists to preserve some semblance of wetlands in the Sacramento Valley. Not near enough land was saved; enough to preserve some habitat for the Pacific Flyway.

In a couple of the tiny towns along the way, the duck plucker businesses were open. Family ventures that earn a little cash from suburban duck hunters who don't want to take the time to pluck their own ducks.

And my foot? Not broken. Dropped into the ER before work yesterday to have the kindly doctor take a look at it. We took an X-ray; not broken. However, there was evidence of "mild degenerative disease" on the the large bone on the bottom of my right foot. What does that mean? It means I'm turning fifty. It also means buying better shoes, getting some inserts and taking along Ibuprofen on twenty mile hikes.

The foot is swollen and bruised. Painful. No extra walks for a bit: doing 10,000 steps at work is enough to leave the foot engorged, black and blue and throbbing this morning.

Note to self: Get lots of hikes in this decade; the writing is on the wall.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Day 346: Plywood...

A nice day. I decided to do some work around the house. Then I dropped a large sheet of plywood on my right foot. Big old scary, swollen welt across my foot (I'll spare you the photos!). I hope it ain't broken. Time for ice and rest. Maybe an x-ray tomorrow if things aren't any better.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Day 345: Oh Christmas Tree...

We sauntered off into the woods to find this year's Christmas Tree. Jazzy is standing next to it with Angel looking on--giving her approval.

The Christmas Tree selection is always an item of controversy. We have rules: 1. the tree needs to be in a place where it is crowded out by others (thinning); 2. I prefer if the tree is half dead (Joni nixed the tall one I wanted to cut because it had too many dead needles); 3. We all need to agree on the tree. This is a process that takes hours, has multiple arguments and a few shed tears.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Days 343 and 344:Where is the Sun?

This is getting awful. Clouds and light rain yesterday. Rain all last night and today. I can't remember the last time I saw the sun.

Some years the rainy season doesn't start until Christmas. This year we've had rain for what seems like an entire month now. The past two days I've taken the dogs out for a long tramp along the ridge. The dogs come home tired and wet. I dry them off. And then they nap.

All work on the house has been suspended because it is cold and raining. No, we hunker down in sleeping bags and pull out books to read. We run the generator and watch TV. It'd be cozier with a woodstove; we are actively pricing them now and hope to have the thing installed within a month. At least then we can watch the glow of fire (and be warmer) as we listen to the steady rain on the tin roof.

Four more months of this? Rain. Since the rains began early, I'm hoping Spring will do the same.

Cocooned in a sleeping bag, or walking through the wetness, it is hard not to dream of next year. This past year has been one full of hikes and adventures. A week in Costa Rica with Ian; a week on the Pacific Crest Trail; a week on the Appalachian Trail: I'm happy with it.

So how about next year? What plans are going through my silly little head?

Stay tuned. And thanks for stopping by.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Days 341 and 342: Oroville Brewery...

During this unusually long, early rainy spell, our generator's rip cord died. Had to go to Oroville to the Honda dealer to get it fixed. Which, of course, meant a five hour wait.

So I walked around this town which has hints of greatness to it. "Never marry a potential" a wise person once told me (I did it anyway---yet another personal disaster!). Oroville is much like that: full of potential. If I had enough money, I'd buy the entire downtown and wait for Bioregionalism and New Urbanism to win the day.

Walking around the town, I enjoyed the wonderful turn-of-the-last-century architecture that just calls out for restoration. Instead the buildings either sit empty or have tattoo parlors in them. Such a waste!

Time for a beer.

The new brewery sits in the old depot building that was built in 1910. Unfortunately, it was turned into a restaurant in 1979---meaning that the restoration of this building was done during a time when American architecture was starting to go into its dark period (and still hasn't emerged). Stucco on the outside. The inside has hints of greatness--but the restoration 70's style does its very best to hide it.

The beer is uncannily good. Much better than Chico's famous Sierra Nevada, which is much too hoppy for my tastes. I had an adequate sandwich and sat next to the railroad tracks and watched a freight train ramble through. Ten feet from the tracks with a beer in hand is a good way to watch a freight train.

Passenger service to Oroville stopped in the early 70's. I look forward to the day this starts again. You could catch a train through the Feather River canyon and the Sierra, all the way to Salt Lake City. It will happen again.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Day 340: Scott Nearing, Chickens and Bobcats...

Cold in the Napa Valley yet again. Still raining. I'm already sick of this wet and cold weather. Time for a bit of sunshine. Please?

A few events have cheered me up: While looking for a book by Murry Bookchin in the PUC library, I stumbled upon a book that I've been trying to find for years: Scott Nearing's "The Making of a Radical". His autobiography. I look forward to curling up with it tonight.

And the other day I saw my first bobcat. Like most Americans, I saw this creature from within my car. He loped in front of me as I approached Clear Lake, California. My what big feet they have!

And the day before I left for the Napa Valley, our chicken (whose name is Pot Pie) laid her first egg! Photos to follow.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Days 336 to 339: Napa Valley Rain and Books

This year the rains seem to have begun early. I'm here in the Napa Valley working and sitting at this computer in wet clothes and soggy shoes. I'm not smart enough to bring rain gear and an umbrella with me to work. So I suffer. And I sit here wet, at the library at Pacific Union College.

College libraries, at least this one, are quite different than my time spent in them in the early eighties. First off the students look like mere babes. As in children. As in really, really young people. The other night when I checked out around five books on various subjects (from Ecoterrorism to a biography of Emerson) the young college age checkout person asked: "Are you really gonna read these?"

"Yup", I replied.

Kids don't seem to check out many books. Mostly they sit around with their lap tops and talk much too loudly for what I consider to be hallowed ground. And I mean loud. And their content doesn't seem to be too scholastically minded. Looking around right now, I see the boys (and I do mean boys) wearing hoodies and baseball caps.

It is winter and unseasonably wet. I get out here and there; for the most part I read. For the last couple weeks I've been devouring books. I don't have them with me, so I can't quote their titles. I read two books on energy policy. One of them has the premise that renewables are decades away and the best way to prevent global warming is to make more efficient use of burning fossil fuels. The author makes the assertion that we only get 20% efficiency out of the current use of fossil fuels; he'd like to see that get up to 60%. Combining factories with multiple uses (as in using spare steam to make electricity) would be a greener way to reduce carbon emissions.

I don't buy the premise (that there isn't political will to bring about a rapid change to the use of renewables). I think the public support is there; what is in the way are the biggest and largest and richest corporations in the world with their army of servants and scads of cash.

I also read a book on Ecoterrorism which is a history of the radical and more direct action oriented environmental movement. From the Unabomber, GreenPeace, Seas Shepherd, Earth First! to the Earth Liberation Front. What surprised me was the shere number of actions that ELF and ALF (Animal LIberation Front) have pulled off in early 2000's (when the book was published). There must be a cell of such Activists in Chico, California---as there have been quite a few actions taken against fast food restaurants there.

Am I sympathetic to such juvenile actions? On a mass scale (like Redwood summer and the current mountain top removal operations in Appalachia) the answer is yes. When it comes to spray painting local McDonald's restaurants I'm more inclined to say no. With exceptions. Always exceptions. Removing a ribbon on a mature Ponderosa pine that is slated to being axed is an act of divine mercy, in my opinion.

According to the author, the FBI designates the brave Paul Watson as the first ecoterrorist in the US. How ironic, as he is the guy with the very sympathetic and important television show: Whale Wars. The author also designates between the Romantics and the Social Ecologists. Earth First and Ed Abbey fit into the former category; Murray Bookchin and other social minded Anarchists and Lefties fit into the latter category. Abbey versus Bookchin. Too simple of a summary, but one worth considering.

I also read a book from 1976 on Gary Snyder. A snoozer of a book---I'm not much into poetry. And books about poetry are even more boring.

Right now I'm reading a fantastic account on Bioregionalism. It is written by a professor from UC Davis and is written about the northern Sacramento Valley. A fantastic read that I will write more about later.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Days 334 and 335: A Walk With Joni...

Rolled back in to the Homestead around 1 am last night. Glad to get out of there alive...

Joni and I took a peaceful, hour-long stroll this morning. We let the dogs run. Appreciative of the time. And also appreciative of a totally unexpected, anonymous financial gift of a few hundred bucks that came just at the right time. I didn't have to buy gas with dimes (I used our spare quarters to get me to work). Check out clerks look at you in an annoyed fashion when you spread out twenty bucks worth of dimes on the check out stand. Not to mention the people who are waiting behind you with their sodas and chips, thinking thoughts of malice as you stack the dimes.

Note to self: remember to pay it forward.