Monday, February 28, 2011

The Pedagogy of the Decade

Up early. Coffee in Calistoga. And a walk before work.

As a young man I thought life would be much different by the time I turned Fifty. In some ways, things are much better. The Internet has made it possible for an intellectually curious person to have a ravingly good time with all the access to information. Literally, at my fingertips, I can research almost anything.

The experience of being Human, I think, has been diminished over the last thirty years. How so? Over crowding. Non civil behavior. The lack of investment in communal values. And more.

I'm big on the Decade transitions in life. They are so very important as we look at our lives. The Age 20 transition. Age 30. Age 40. Age 50. I think we under emphasize the importance these mile markers have on the psyche. And how choices we make at the beginning of a decade, become a point for a near Pablo Freire-like dialectal synthesis in which to start our new decade. The pedagogy of the decade.

My age 40 Transition consisted of selling all my stuff: house, books, possessions--except for what I could fit into my car. The ultimate down sizing. My plan was to spend my 40's traveling here and there; enjoying new places and people. I met Joni on that journey and so, at the close of this decade, we bought a place to settle down.

But now it is Age 50 Transition time. Study your Erickson, Allan. Eric Erickson is someone I use in my job (as he just seems to be right about these critical crises; development goals through out the lifespan). Yet, at the same time, I think I would break down these stages more along the lines of the Decade. Especially from Age 20 on.

A person in their Fifties is on the downward slope physically. Important to pay much more attention to the physical challenges. Yet mentally and creatively, I think the Fifties signifies the height of a person's development. Occupationally, most certainly. Your Fifth Decade should be the height of your "Generativity" as Erickson called it.

This is the decade to write that book. To take those challenges and dares because, now, you have the wisdom and the physical prowess to pull it off. Failure to not do so ends in Erickson's "stagnation". Plenty of that around. Ask a Fifty year old what kind of TV shows they watch and how much TV they watch, and, if the answer is anything other than PBS or something educational, and if the time spent is in the "hours a day", well, that person is not successfully completing the Erickson's challenge for that stage of life.

Time to generate.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Hunter's Last Words

I escaped the winter storm, taking chances with the 42 downed trees and branches on our two mile gravel road that threatened my passage to the Napa Valley. Survival is exhilarating!

A walk in Calistoga this morning. Down 3 pounds. I'm a week away from turning Fifty years of age. I had grand plans earlier. Now it seems that I'm just gonna work on that big day.

All this reminds me of Hunter Thompson's last written words:

"No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun -- for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax -- This won't hurt."

Poor Hunter. For as smart as he was, he just didn't get it.

Friday, February 25, 2011

A Rarity: Snowboarding in Concow

Our phone line has a tree on it. No phone. No cell phone. Across the canyon in Paradise, 12,000 people don't have electricity. Trees are down everywhere. The Red Cross has opened a "warming center" in Paradise.

We are toasty warm here. Electricity working fine. Snug in our wood fire warmed home. And the satellite dish keeps the Internet available (our only means of contact to the outside world).

I counted 42 trees/big branches down along/beside/across our two mile gravel road. Takes a chain saw to get out of here. So, might as well make the best of it and GO SNOWBOARDING! This is a rare event at this home...

Can you say "climate change"?


I'm supposed to be on my way to the Napa Valley, but our road is closed. Powerlines down. Trees down. A few inches of heavy wet snow have closed our road. So we've been having fun with the wood stove. Dogs and children playing in the snow.

Gonna try and get out of here this afternoon.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Canyons and Madison

Back in Concow. I took the dogs down the canyon today. It isn't the Grand Canyon, nor the Glen. It has no fancy name. Not many go down there. But someone has to make the trip once and awhile; might as well be me. And the dogs.

Grady, one of the neighbor's dogs, came along with us today. Most days either Grady, or Teddy, will join us on these expeditions. Nice to have the company.

A word about Madison and the unions. I earn a very livable wage because nursing in California has strong unions. Although the facility I work at is non-union, they still need to compete with both private sector and public sector unions. That elevates the wages, and I reap the rewards.

This nationwide attempt to break unions (which are pretty much on their last gasp) is the logical conclusion of a process that began in the mid-70's. When corporations decided that making products overseas elevated their profit margins (short term) by dramatically lowering labor costs: that was part one. We all watched the jobs move overseas. The factory where my mother worked for thirty years moved to Mexico. Union membership in the private sector took a nosedive over the last thirty years. Add to that a lowering of the tax rate for the very rich--and now we end up with a two tier society. The Haves (who are doing very well, thank you) and the Have Nots. A new Plutocracy. Mother Jones illustrates just how bad this inequality is.

The only places left with unions are the public sector, a few fossil factory unions and certain service industries where you can't ship the jobs overseas. This attempt at breaking up the public sector unions will only accelerate this unjust, inequitable transfer of wealth to the top one or two percent of the population.

Unequal societies don't do very well. An interesting book: The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett makes a powerful argument for the restoration of some semblance of income equality to our political landscape. If you don't want to read the book, the link will take you to an excellent review of the book by the London Guardian.

So these brave people in Wisconsin are fighting for all of us. Does this slide to inequality end in Wisconsin? Or is it the last gasp of a labor tradition that has benefited my family---and in fact, all of us who work for a living?

If I were a betting man, I'd bet on inequality. In a sense, the Reagan Revolution has come home to roost. Say good bye to the Progressive Era which began with President McKinley.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Ancient Scale

Drove across northern California on Sunday. A winter storm had come through and had left more snow than I have ever seen in these parts. Trees were down across roads, the weight of the ice/snow too much for them to hold. I got cleared by the occupational nurse to go to work and got my room at the Monastic Dorm.

This morning I summoned up the courage to step on the scale. This is a lovely, ancient scale---probably been in use since the 1940's. Built to last. Sixty or Seventy years of doing its accurate measurements.

Bad news.

If a person lies around with a broken rib, raiding the refrigerator at regular intervals, sitting in the Lazyboy while watching a revolution in Egypt, well, one should expect to put on a bit of weight. And I did. Fifteen pounds worth in six or seven weeks. An accomplishment. Everyone is good at something in life, even if it is to serve as a bad example.

So I began the process of undoing the damage today. I did my hill work behind the Monastic Dorm. Forty minutes up 110 stairs (I counted them) to climb along the ridge and then down. Repeat three times. Gotta push myself away from the table now too---as summer will be here soon and many adventures are planned.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Snow Again...

Freezing rain last night which turned to snow. I worried a bit about our roof--as there was quite a bit of ice on it. The roof didn't fall.

Kylie made a rather dapper snowperson.

This was a sit-by-the-wood-stove-in-the-Lazy-Boy-and-watch-Book-TV sort of day. A favorite weekend ritual for me. Of course, this makes me very unpopular with the nine and ten year olds in the house. They would rather play with the Wii or find out what iCarly is up to. I'm thinking we are one of the few households in the US that has only one TV set. Negotiations on who gets to watch what are as pressured as the SALT talks were. Cases are pled. Arbitration done.

When I used to go to Green Party meetings in Nevada, we made all decisions by consensus. Party members would pass the "talking stick" around, while we each discussed what sort of things we needed to talk about. This was in 2000; we were ineffectual, and thankfully, Nevada went for Gore that year. I think Nader got around 2 percent of the vote (we wanted 5 percent).

But that's how the television issue is decided in this household: consensus. Learning to share. When we get the loft done (someday in the distant future), we might designate a "kid only" TV. Maybe not. I like how we make these decisions now.

In the next decade, when oil is on the downward slope of production, I'd like to think that exercises in sharing one coveted item just might pass along a few skills to these youngsters. It is a good exercise for the adults of the household too.

Friday, February 18, 2011


The snow has melted. A one day affair, pretty while it lasted. You can still see some snow in the lower elevation mountains above.

One of my daily walks takes me through the area that burned back in 2008. As you might know, the first day we moved into this homestead, a fire nearly burned us out. We were evacuated by the local sheriff, went to a shelter, and watched the "burn map" with sadness as the fire was said to burn over our home (that we got to spend one night in).

Well, gloriously, the fire department of Beverly Hills saved the house--and we are an island of green amongst 38,000 acres of totally burned out forest. It was sad at first. Now I watch the area slowly recover. I watch the burned trees break over time. The trees come down in sections; first the top, then the middle. Windstorms blow down more trees.

How long before this "stand replacing fire" is healed? From what I've read, it will be longer than I will live. But I will watch the process on my daily walks. Someone else will have to take over the job of watching the forest recover after I'm gone.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


I had originally intended to traverse off to the Napa Valley to be medically cleared to go back to work. Then a snowstorm descended on California, so I decided to stay home and enjoy this winter wonderland. The wood stove keeps us snug.

The dogs flushed out a covey of quail. Great fun for them. We also had a coyote pass through. The coyote stopped and looked at us. The dogs and I looked back. Domesticated canines and wild canine looked at each other. I asked the coyote to please leave our chicken alone.

The coyote left. Scampered off in that beautiful fashion they have. Quick. Lithe.

Then we flushed out a jackrabbit ahead of us. Dogs pulling at the leash. Hopefully the jackrabbits are abundant enough to feed the coyote.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Six Weeks

The dogs and I got soaked in the rain today.

I've had six weeks off from work. Six weeks at home--not doing much. I've gloried in it. I've read books. I've done almost nothing. And I have very rarely gotten into the damned car and gone anywhere.

I love this home.

The rib is better. I could take a couple more weeks off, but the political situation at work probably means I should get back as quickly as possible. However, I have come to the point where if I never had to go back to the workaday world of psychiatric nursing, I wouldn't go. It isn't that I don't like what I do: I do.

It is more that I like it here. I like the smell of the wood stove. I like this solitude. I like my dog walks. I like spending time with this family. I wish I didn't have to leave.

But I do. Soon. It sucks.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Bring Back McKinley!

The rain returned last night. It is supposed to continue for the next ten days or so. That's okay. We need it.

So I took the dogs out for a sloppy walk today, thinking about a book I just finished on William McKinley. The early progressive era from 1896 to 1916 is something I wouldn't mind returning to. I wrote the following on a local web-site in response for a return to a "cut taxes" approach to the economy.

I appreciate Brad trotting out an economic model for us. A model which has been attempted over the last thirty years, with success, depending upon which segment of the economic ladder you inhabit. Corporations doing well; the decline of the middle class; the creation of an underclass that gets bigger every year. More economic insecurity for the common worker. An unequal economic system more unequal than Egypt.

Growth is always the answer(both on the Left and the Right). Yet, as Ed Abbey was famous for saying: "Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell". So giving more money to corporations is the answer? The corporation, as currently chartered (and considered a person by the Supreme Court), has only one responsibility: the fiduciary responsibility to the share holder, in essence, to seek out profit. Without other checks on the Corporation, they are free to "invest" their money elsewhere. And they have. That is why China is booming and you can't find hardly any American products anymore at Walmart.

Every era of politics has their own problems. Looking back to Ronald Reagan (the old military Keynesian) with fondness and devotion doesn't address the problems of our time. In fact, RR has created much of the problems of our time.I wish we would look back further. To adopt attitudes that worked once upon a time. I'm talking about the era from 1896 to 1916 when Progressives ruled. I think we need their skepticism of corporations and a new found commitment to economic equality with an emphasis on the environment. Bring back McKinley! Teddy Roosevelt! Bring back the reform mindedness of those early Progressives!

So what would such a new Green Progressive agenda look like for out time?

1. The establishment of responsibilities of the Corporation to go beyond just fiduciary responsibilities to share holders. No more "off shore" tax havens. Limits on CEO pay to more modest levels. An actual application to re-establish the Corporation every few years with a justification to what the Corporation has done for the public good.

2. Healthcare for all. Allow workers the ability to take risks with economic enterprises without losing security for their dependents.

3. Increase taxes on the wealthy. It worked from 1945 to 1975; it can work again. How many yachts does one person need?

4. Decrease the work week to 32 hours a week. The fact is we have way too many people attempting to get too few jobs. Americans need more free time. More time with families. Workers are exhausted.

5. A crash investment in transportation and renewables.

6. Cut the military budget in half. Do we really need over 900 bases in 135 countries?

7. New Urban planning. Move away from the car dependent suburb and let some of that space return to more useful purpose. Increase population density. Reconfigure land use to encourage space for plants and wildlife. Let kids have woods to frolic in once again. They need that.

8. Bring back the tariff. Promote bio-regionalism. Let's build our cell phones here--and let the Chinese build cell phones for their own economy. Share information. Limit the use of low wage workers.

The truth is we need not go back to a laizze faire economy that just supports ever expansive growth without doing the environment and humanity any good. That's been the model for way too long. I suggest we create a different economy that is more sustainable and just.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

New Clairvaux Vineyard And The Famous Unknown Writer

Down the canyon on Thursday.

On Friday, Joni and I went with the Abbot and his wife to check out a restaurant in Vina and also to explore a monastery. The monks make wine there. We had fun investigating a 12th century chapel they are building on the grounds. William Randolph Hearst brought the chapel over from Spain in pieces many years ago. The unfortunate thing is that they lost the plans as to how to put the pieces back together. So when the monks aren't making wine, they are busy trying to figure out how to reassemble the chapel. Blocks sitting around; a big jig saw puzzle.

The wine is unbelievably good. I've tasted other wines from this region--most aren't good enough to put on salad. The monks were smart enough to hire a top notch winemaker. The brothers grow the grapes (barbera, some Spanish reds and a couple of whites) on the Sacramento Valley floor. This is not an area known for raising wine grapes.

But they pull it off. We will have the bottle in the photo above with dinner tonight (rib eyes on the grill to boot).

Today, a short walk with the dogs.

I've been invited to give my first speech as a writer to Butte College students (for you Packer fans, that is where Aaron Rodgers played his first two years of college football). I'll be talking to a class of writers on the challenges of being a Famous Unknown Writer. I've been invited by Jaime O'Neill (around here, the most Famous Known Writer), who writes for scads of publications, including the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle.

So I get to address the college crowd wearing a radical t-shirt, blue jeans and hiking boots. Scratch another entry off the bucket list.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Bald Eagle

I saw a bald eagle today. Which makes me give thanks to Rachel Carson that I would have the pleasure of seeing this magnificent creature today.

How much money is seeing a bald eagle worth? Can you put a monetary value on seeing such beauty? When will we learn to see value where no exchange of money changes hands?

Rachel Carson has been villainized by some right wingers in this country as being responsible for the deaths of millions of people in the third world because of not being able to use DDT to eradicate mosquitoes. She has even been called a mass murderer. They hate almost every environmental law and have spend much of their time scheming and telling lies in order to discredit a heroine of the environmental movement. There are those who think that the use of DDT was not injurious to the eagle population (this argument can be found on the website Junkscience, which is financed by Exxon and R.J. Reynolds). Of course, this is rubbish. DDT can still be used in the Third World. Simple Mosquito nets are an effective barrier. And the real reason for the increase of mosquitoes in the world are an ever changing, and warming, climate.

For me, Rachel remains a hero.

Monday, February 7, 2011

New Boots

Off with the dogs in my new boots. I took my first hike with them yesterday. A long hike. They aren't broken in and I find that the pinch my ankle a bit.

Sorry about the monster photo of me at the top of the page. As you can see, I haven't fully figured out how to size photos correctly. We'll keep working on it.

And Joni went to the bank the other day. The Teller Lady saw her name on our check and asked if she was married to me. When Joni said yes, the Teller Lady then went on to state how much she enjoyed the CNR piece from last summer. She said she wasn't much of an outdoors person, but from reading the piece, she felt she just had to do something like that this summer. She was going to try and hike that stretch of the PCT.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Hiking and Swimming the Canyon in February?

Another enjoyable day here in the Foothills. Four adults, four tweeny girls and three dogs ambled down the Canyon for a hike today.

Trying not to fall off a boulder (I've got broken ribs you know...)

Enjoying the rapids...

A neighbor girl, sitting high up on a boulder...

Joni and the dogs watching the rapids...

Joni testing her bouldering skills...

Angel swimming...

The girls wave before they go swimming in the very cold snow melt....

Ah, spring. A bullfrog egg...

This is why we live here. Just an hour's hike down the canyon brings us to isolative beauty.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Apricot Tree Blooms

We noticed it yesterday: our apricot tree is blooming. On February 4. In 2009, the tree bloomed on March 12. That year was also a year that it bloomed early. We didn't get any apricots that year because a freeze came along and killed the fruit. The same will probably happen this year.

Our neighbors are all complaining that their fruit trees are blooming too. An exceptionally warm January has a gotten all the plants out of whack. Climate change? Probably. The danger is as mentioned: that a cold spell will kill all the fruit. Plus I haven't seen a single bee pollinating the flowers. The bees are absent.

A good day. Near 70 degrees, both Joni and I went to our favorite outfitter store and bought new hiking boots. Yes, the old ones will be retired. I'll try out the new ones tomorrow as we are going to take a family hike down to the bottom of the canyon.

Tonight we had a camp fire. Roasted hot dogs and made s'mores. We looked at the stars and had a glass of wine. All in the first week of February?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Sutter Butte View

Joni, looking out over the Sacramento Valley, with the sacred "Sutter Buttes" rising up above the valley fog.

On the edge of our canyon (everyone should have a canyon of their own)...

Take a short fifteen minute walk out our front door, and you come to a promontory where views of the Coastal Range mountains and the Sacramento Valley greet your eyes. The valley, the mountains, the Sutter Buttes are always there. Waiting for us. All we need do is take the time to enjoy them.

This Joni and I did this morning. Dogs got to romp. We got to walk. The usual adventure: Angel found something smelly to roll in. The neighbor dog joined us. We did our three mile loop at a slow pace; took breaks to enjoy the views.

I'd rather live in beauty in the country and visit the city once and awhile then vice versa.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Getting Crowded...

Put on my new Che t-shirt and headed out with the dogs for a long walk. Another fantastic day here in the Foothills. In the photo above, a turkey vulture soars. We watched him for awhile as the vulture did his loops along the Ridge.

Met a new neighbor who just bought a small parcel. I guess it is inevitable in California, where millions of people are looking for a bit of legroom. It's a little different out here though: you have to have some form of steady income to survive. We get around the income question by me working part time in the Bay Area. A sacrifice to be away so much, for sure. But with careful management of money, we are able to support two adults, two children, one chicken, two dogs, two bunnies, one cat and keep two cars running--all off my part time generous income. So far, anyway.

That's one way to deal with it.

The other way is to live on disability, which many do. Same for this new neighbor. With his back payment disability check he could buy a small parcel and a camper. Of course he has plans for improvement, which generally means hauling in a bigger trailer. If he is still here in five years he might have some modular constructed. But very few acquire that status. Curious that all these people on disability still have the strength to climb a tree with a chain saw.

Mostly those who have fixed incomes live in trailers with a generator blaring to run the TV's. The other day I was out and ran across one such person who lives that way; I stopped in, as I was looking for another residence to convey a message. The gentleman arose from his trailer, looked at me with suspicion, eyes reddened, speech slurred. Nothing like a morning drunk to get your day going.

Still, it is a creative way to make a life for yourself. I don't know what the stats are on people who live on disability who move to the sticks to eek out a life. I suspect it is a growing trend in California.

During the summer, I know of several chronically mentally ill folk who tent in national forests as a way to live on their $800 a month SSI checks. They like living that way. Mentally ill people tend to have a hard time maintaining a residence in section eight housing. They tend to have a few episodes where they go off meds and end up doing harm to the property. They tend to end up in group homes, three or four to a room, being fed peanut butter sandwiches while case managers drop by (getting their billable hours) making things quite easy to manage. Mentally ill people tend to have problems with substance abuse along with having a mental illness--which often are anti social in nature. It is hard to squeeze someone with an anti-social illness into housing that requires social skills. So a tent in a national forest can be quite beneficial for the mentally disabled person. Look for them in their campers and tents next time you visit such a place.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Romp...

Chilly; cold; but sunny. I took the dogs off for their daily romp.

Teddy, the neighbor dog (the red one), joined us along the way...

We've been gathering more Three Rivers Slate for a patio...

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Stacking Wood...

Got the old Gateway Dinosaur Computer up and running. So now I can throw a couple of photos in. Excuse the mess, but this is our new wood stove that has made our lives oh so wonderful! (and warm).

Took my broken ribs outside and did a little stacking of firewood this afternoon. After a month of not doing much, my jeans are starting to get a bit snug.