Monday, April 24, 2017

I'm Breaking Up with Little Debbie

Many of you who know me or have been following this blog have an idea (by now) of my affinity for sugar.  As a matter of fact, my exploits into Sugarland are legendary.  One venture into my version of Sugarland can turn an entire pro football team into raging diabetics.  Moderation?  Moderation??  What's that?  Moderation has never been part of my vocabulary.

I don't eat sugar all day.  I don't wake up and consume a box of Trix for breakfast, nor do I eat a basket of bear claws.  I don't even have a doughnut for breakfast because I don't eat breakfast.  I drink it, just like I used to.  Only now it's usually about three cups of black coffee instead of a half dozen vodka and lemonades.

I don't have a Snickers Bar for lunch, nor do I have a milkshake cause I pretty much don't eat lunch either.  Still not hungry.  I mean, I may get enough of a hunger pang so that I devour an entire apple.  Or an orange.  Have a handful of trail mix.  But that's about it.

I do eat a sensible, nutritious meal at dinner.  And then I would venture into Sugarland, population me.  There was NOTHING sensible or nutritious about my excursions into Sugarland.  Every.  Single.  Night.  I think I wrote in great detail about my sugar affliction with Doughnut Delirium

To recap, instead of just, like, you know, having one doughnut for dessert, I would usually have an apple fritter, maple bar, then one or two old fashioned's.  Maybe a bear claw.  Then I'd top that off with a bowl of ice cream, cause, like, it's there.  And it's ice cream.

Hell, I would have an entire philharmonic orchestra playing Souza marches through my veins, every single night.  No wonder I wasn't hungry until late afternoon the following day.  My system was still blazing from all the sugar shenanigans consumed the night before.

So I recently went to the Doc for my every other year annual check-up.  Because one year in my life is like six months anymore.

One of the primary components of the check-up is to see what's going on in the blood stream.  I mean, that's like 95% of the deal, right?

The results came back and everything's fine, except I have a bit of an elevated fasting blood sugar level.  It was like 120, with the optimum range being 70-99.  So it's up there, but just a little bit.  It hasn't really changed in the last couple years either, but the Doc says he'd like to see that number go down. 

And so, knowing what you do about my confection for Sugarland, and knowing the wanton sweet gluttony I have so brazenly confessed to all across the universe via this inter web thingy, I hope you are smiling when I say I then asked the Doc, "So, do you think me having four or five portions of dessert every single night might have anything to do with it?"

To which he responded, somewhat aghast and quite emphatically, "Uh, yeah."

So, the ball was placed squarely in my court.  It's up to me. Diabetes or Little Debbie?  You know Little Debbie.  That smiling, sultry sweet purveyor of all sorts of sugary delights. 

What's it gonna be? Make some dietary changes, feel better and stay off medications?  Or the Highway to Hostess Twinkie Hell?

Well, if you know me or have read Late Night Letters to the Moon, you'll know I've already endured a couple little challenges on this walk upon the planet.  Will it be possible for me to cut down on my sugar, maybe just have one dessert a night instead of five?  Can I possibly survive such an ordeal?

It's been about three weeks now.  Instead of two pieces of cake, a few cookies, a bowl of ice cream and some pudding I had one piece of cake.  Instead of a half dozen cookies, some pie and a candy bar I had two cookies.  And so on.  It's actually been pretty easy.

I've also lost five pounds, bam!  That's a good thing cause the slacks I slid into Easter Sunday were a bit tight around the waist.  Hadn't been tucked into them for about a year.

Bloody hell.

Next stop: London

Friday, March 31, 2017

I'd Go Anywhere With You Honey. I think..

I accidentally swallowed a piece of gum the other day.  Slithered down real easy.  I haven't swallowed any gum since high school, or 45 some years ago.  Peppermint burps ensued, but I figured they were a heck of a lot better than gas, or puke burps.

I was concerned it was going to add about two grams of weight to my torso for the next seven years, but it turns out that's just an old wives tale.  You know, scare the bejezus out of the kids so they don't eat their gum.  Kinda like the worms and raw sugar thing.

A miniscule amount of those two grams of masticatory substance do digest, like the sweetening agent, but the rest of the synthetic elastomers, or rubberlike materials, as well as plasticizing softeners, resins and preservative antioxidizing agents are going to remain intact.  Hopefully slithering out as easily as they slithered on in.  Fortunately I only swallowed one piece and not a truck load.

I definitely try to not get political on this blog, I think I only went rabid once.  And that was to point out that it's hard to have a discussion with someone when the facts they are espousing aren't really facts at all.  You know, alternative facts.  It's imperative, especially NOW, that everyone gets their facts from reliable sources.  And if you're not sure if it's a fact or propaganda, then check a few sources.  Please.  The future of our country depends on it.

And speaking of our country, you know things have gotten potently weird when Senator Lindsay Graham makes sense.  And you see George W on TV and wistfully harken back to the good old days... 

"I'd go anywhere with you Honey."

I made that comment one evening to my lovely wife, and I meant it.  But then, later that same evening, I got to thinkin that there may be a few places I'd probably not want to go.

We've already established somewhere, sometime in a previous post that I'm only good for an hour of shopping.  I don't care what it is.  Clothes, food, hardware, furniture.  One hour. 

No, I take that back.  I'm only good at furniture shipping for oh, say, about seven minutes.  After that, I don't care.  She can buy whatever she wants.  I'd rather do crossword puzzles in the car.  Maybe stare at some air for a while.

There's also a number of planetary locations I can pass on.  Iraq and Iran come to mind.  So does Syria.  And Mozambique.  The entire continent of Africa for that matter.  Kansas.  Los Angeles.

Other than the aforementioned, I'm probably good to go.  She already bamboozled me into a Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit, I mean, how much more challenging and daring could it get?

I just FINALLY finished completing the plantation of the orchard.  That little project only took six years.  In addition to the white nectarine, yellow nectarine, peach, and plum that are now fruit bearing four year olds, we have added: two pears, two apples, a cherry, an apricot, a white peach and a pomegranate.  One more cherry is still on tap.

One of the reasons it took so long is there's a whole bunch of stuff I do when they go in.  First there's the hole, then the positioning of the bare root tree, then the entire hole gets filled with real good top soil, then several layers of wood chips go on, then I introduce a few worms to each tree basin, then a couple T-posts go in and then each little darling gets wrapped with five foot high wire so that them damn flea infested mule deer don't rape and pillage.  And of course, I will now have to dote on them during the hot, dry summer months.

I just made an investment in a new computer.  The old one, I mean ten years really old, running the Windows Vista platform, finally crashed.  For good.  I've been nursing it along for a couple years now, and everyone, I mean everyone who touched the thing told me I needed to get a new one.  Aw shucks, darn.  I'm the fool on this here hill, what do I know about new?

My biggest concern about the crash was my ITunes song collection, close to a thousand hand picked songs.  I routinely back up documents and photos, but ITunes is a bit of a different animal.  Without going into a multi-paragraph diatribe about the cloud, the Geek Squad and the missing close to a hundred tunes, I am happy to say all is now safe and sound and found. 

This new computer is markedly faster, and the screen is massive.  It's also a touchscreen, which I haven't really used yet.  Old dog, new tricks.  My basic writing motus operandi is sitting back with my feet on the desk, remote key board on my lap, looking at the screen from about two to three feet away.  I'd need pretty long arms if I was going to be using the touch screen, know what I mean?

The other night I watched a bit of the epically colossal blockbuster 1963 movie, "Cleopatra", starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.  I say watched a bit because the movie is just over four hours long.  I can't sit still for four minutes let alone four hours.

But, Holy Cow!  What a lavish extravaganza.  It cost forty-four million to make back then, which would be equivalent to roughly three hundred fifty million today.  The sets were incredible, the costumes magnificent.  It's no wonder the movie took home Oscars for both those categories.

The movie went way over budget, which is not surprising when you have from fifty to a thousand extras in every other scene.  Plus those beasts need to eat.  And half the costumes on the principal actors contained actual gold.  As a matter of fact, one of Liz's sixty-five costumes was made from twenty-four carat gold cloth.

Seventy-nine massive, amazing sets.  Twenty-six thousand colorful costumes.

And Liz's eye shadow was epically incredible.  Her face was a double sided mural, bright beautiful colors illuminating from what seemed like a football field between her cornea and brow.  She could have provided the entire light show at a rock concert.  Just by blinking.

Liz also showed off her ample cleavage with just about every offering.  And every once in a while an entire naked leg peeked through her many times quite sheer gown.  As a matter of fact, there were numerous scenes with bikinily clad women dancing around as entertainment for the royalty.  It had all the trappings of, say, a PG rated Roman orgy, including over intoxication and ribald laughter.

And then there was this scene between Richard (Mark Antony) and Liz (Cleo).  She's wearing a sheer lavender gown open to her navel, he's wearing a turquoise, gold,  leather and leopard print tunic type thing that's short.  I mean, showing a helluva lot of leg really short.  Like 1980's OP shorts short.  I mean, his tunic was shorter than Taylor Swift's hot pants.

And thusly attired, Mark Antony says, while walking behind Cleopatra, "I have a fondness for all things Greek."

What does this mean???  Do you think he was talking about salad?

Speaking of Liz and Dick, this was the first of eleven movies they starred in together.  It was also the beginning of a real life love hate relationship between them that lasted until Burton's death.

"May I never be free of you," says Mark Antony to Cleopatra after a tender kiss.  Or was that Dick to Liz? 

And speaking of Richard Burton, that man possessed amazing oratory skills.  He also had remarkable knees.  As a matter of fact, most all the men in the movie were attired in short, leather whatsits when they weren't wearing robes.  There was more visible bare male thigh in this movie than any Annette Funacello and Frankie Avalon beach romp.

Rex Harrison is also in the film as Caesar.  But he gets stabbed, a lot, by almost everybody, about midway through the movie.  I have to admit it was strange to see Rex playing a Roman emperor.  I kept waiting for him to teach Cleopatra vowels and about the rain in Spain.

How does the movie end?  I have no idea.  As I first mentioned, it's over four hours long.

I am currently in the planning stages of an upcoming excursion over land and sea to London, England.  Brexit was a pretty good thing for the dollar, apparently.  We're going to London for ten days for a thousand bucks less than a seven day junket to Cabo.  And trust me, Cabo is a heck of a lot closer to us than London is.  And it's, I mean, in Mexico.

Not only will it be a wonderful adventure, it will also give me a travel subject to write about.  I have discovered it's difficult to be a travel writer if you're not going anywhere. 

I'm going to make a note of that.

I have already been to the London Bridge, which is weird, because it's in Lake Havasu City, Arizona.  I think they sell a lot of fish and chips there, in Arizona, in the middle of the desert.  Doesn't anybody else think that's weird?

So I am in the process of working on an Excel spread sheet for the excursion, figuring what sights work best with particular days.  It's a problem, I know.

Here's some good information for just about everybody.  I was recently gnawed on by a tick.  The last time this happened was about fifty-six years ago, when I was six.  I don't think there's a pattern here, but if there is, I'll take it. 

I had just sat down on that one seat in the house where a lot of folks first sit in the morning and something innocently drew my hand to scratch my right upper torso.  A couple light scratches and whatever it was tumbled off and into the toilet.  At first I thought it was a little scab because it came off so easily.

But when I got up and looked in the mirror, holy cow!  There was one big, red, round circle the size of a quarter with a little crater in the middle. Bastard!  Fortunately I already had a scheduled appointment with my doctor for that afternoon.  He confirmed it was a tick bite, and here's the kicker.  The tick HAS to be in there and actively sucking your blood for at least 30 HOURS before they can transmit the bad stuff, like Lyme Disease.

I'm pretty sure I picked him up that night from one of our cats, so I'd give him from six to ten hours feasting upon my flesh.  Bastard.  I usually burn them when I pull them from the cats, but at least this guy got to go to a shitty demise.

Homestead Update

I was talking with one of my neighbors the other day.  She, like me, loathe day-light savings and the long summer hours.  Our short winter break is over.  Back to non-stop fun and frolic for seeming ever.  We may be getting too old for this.  I already need two of me just to keep up.

I had to put down my first chicken this morning.  I've had plenty of them die on me, or just disappear, but I haven't had to dust one on purpose, until now.  She got sick, or maybe injured, and I actually nursed her back to health over a week or so.  She was eating and drinking on her own.  But one of her legs possibly had atrophied while she was still and her foot had turned black.  She couldn't move on her own.  Sigh. 

It was Josie Rosie Posie too, the girl who survived the ringtail attack a couple years back.  It was the total humane action to take, but that did not make it easier.  She is now buried near the picket fence and will provide excellent fertilizer for the many flowers that will be taking over the area in the coming months.

The rest of the flock is fine, including that damn rooster.  And we have four new chicks in the brooder, two of which are Guinea Hens. 

Let's see; burn piles, cut flower boxes to build, brick planter box to create, brick entry and rose sea, weeds, weed whacking, corn, melons, tomatoes, firewood.  2017.  It's on.  

But first, before it gets too crazy, London.  Look for that first travel post near the end of May.

Happy Spring Y'all.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Last Time I Got Hammered

The last time I got hammered was Valentine's Day, 1991.  No, it's not nearly as romantic as it sounds.  I got hammered all by myself, on the most desolate and lonely road trip one could imagine.   You can read all about that right here: Late Night Letters to the Moon, cause this post is not about that particular excursion.  It's about getting hammered, in general.

The first time I got a little hammered was over at my soon to be step-mother's house for dinner.  Only I didn't know it.  Either one actually.  I didn't go over there with the intention of catching a buzz and I had no idea she was to be our new step-mother.  At the time I figured she was merely dating Dear Old Dad.

And she had this lovely blond daughter, whom I endeavored to pick up after I caught a buzz.  Only she knew we were gonna be step-siblings, so she wanted no part of making out with a soon to be brother.  Or a drunk for that matter.

I caught a buzz that first time drinking a little glass of suicide.  You know, mix a half dozen kinds of alcohol together and then guzzle.  I probably only had about three shots by volume, but it was enough to set this fourteen year old's hair on fire.

I only did suicides a few times.  I mean, drinking suicides is like playing with puke fire.  It seemed much easier on my teenage constitution to down a six pack of Burgie.  Or a couple tall malt liquors.

Then came the age of cocktails.  Mine was Tanquerey and tonic. With a twist.  Mmmm, thirst quenching good.

And of course wine.  Chardonnay and Cabernet.  What can I say?

And then of course Cognac.  

Drinks before dinner, wine with dinner, after-dinner drinks.  Rode that train all the way into my early thirties.  And then, a few life situations and inebriations landed me pretty much towards the bottom of a quite hellish barrel. 

At that time I was drinking a half gallon, or handle of Popov vodka every single day.  Got it in the cheap plastic bottle so I could squeeze it out quicker.  Mixed that up with lemonade.  Drank that until the fateful bus trip to the desert.  My liver, at the time, was the size of Montana.

I have a lot of wonderful memories of the early hammer years.  Actually, I have a fair amount of decent memories from the later hammer years.  In between the puking and shaking.

But now I have been waking up pretty much every single morning feeling good for about twenty-six years.  Hell, that's a longer span of time than my hammer years were.

Do I miss having a cocktail?  A glass of wine?  An ice cold beer?  

No, not really.  After all this time I've learned to live life and have a ball, without alcohol.  There was a time I thought I'd never have a good time without it.  Now I can't imagine life with it.

I still enjoy the aroma of alcohol.  I use it in baking and cooking all the time.  I can also take a real deep inhalation off an open bottle every once in a while and feel that permeation all the way down to my core.  It makes me smile. 

It also reminds me a very special moment with Dear Old Dad.  He'd had a couple of strokes and was interred at a local nursing home.  On one of our visits I smuggled in a little airline bottle of Jack Daniels, his favorite.  It wasn't hard to smuggle in, you know, I just put it my pocket.  The first thing he did was take a whiff, and the glow that came across his face bespoke of warm, golden memories from days gone past.

How can I get away with this?  Inhaling and baking and making very dirty Martinis once in a while for my lovely wife?  It's not an issue.  Hasn't been for decades.

Did I join AA?  No, I decided I'd rather become dependent upon myself rather than a group of other suffering individuals.  Nothing against the group, they've helped a lot of people.  Just not for me.

I have done some internal work.  Read a few books.  Dug in the dirt.  Read a few more books.  Identified a few detrimental issues then screamed and howled at the moon.  It will still be an ongoing process, forever, but I am usually quite happy and at peace most of the time.  Unless I'm in a car behind a moron who flips their turn signal on just as they begin their turn.  Or never. 

I was behind a gal the other day that turned on her blinker a long hundred yards before she started slowing to make her turn.  I wept.  I wanted to follow her into her driveway and get on my knees to thank her.  Only she'd probably think I was a little crazy, call the cops and they'd shoot me fifteen times.  Cause if they're gonna shoot once anymore they're gonna empty their service revolver.  Then reload and fire again.

Whatever happened to just "winging" an unarmed suspect?

I still have a few sideline life diversions.  Like cookies for instance.  And gardening.  Chickens.  Writing.  I've also been known to spark up a little alternative tobacco now and then.  But I could walk away from all that tomorrow as long as I was able to keep one thing.

Some of you older readers may remember the "I found it" bumper stickers from the early seventies.  I think they were mostly religious in nature and soon spawned a number of follow-ups.

"I  smelled it"
"I concocted it"
"I ate it"

I think my favorite, on the bumper of a convertible sports car driven by a pretty blonde, "I fondled it."

Although I'm not a religious guy, I do believe in God or a higher power, a spiritual essence de la orange.  A group of lizards sittin around playing video games.  I know there's some sort of bright, burning, mystically energetic and  frolicsome force that blazes out there though, because I have danced in the bright white light.  I swam in the vast ocean of serenity; a seeming endless dream. 

Or was that the acid? 

I love a good mystery.

I have also been fortunate enough to lose pretty much everything in my mid thirties, so I have that going for me as well.  I was able to keep my record collection, which I later sold for $50.00.  And some clothes, which I later threw away cause they didn't fit anymore.  It felt pretty lousy at the time, but as I continued further down the road I was on I discovered all that crap was meaningless anyway. 

So what's the one thing?  What have I found that's so dang important?  Why that would be the love, laughter, and tears shared with  family, friends and maybe complete strangers. 
Sunsets are nice too.

Grandchildren are even better.

Looking deep into your lover's eyes.  That right there is what's important, that's the Good Stuff.   The rest of it is irrelevant.

Sure, go on out and pursue the grandeur.  Toys are fun.  Why the hell not? 

But don't forget the good stuff.  All the grandeur, memory foam and flat screen TVs will fade away some day, and all you'll be left with will be the only thing that matters anyway. Bright, burning, shining, love.

Unless you're Dick Cheney.  Cause that dude is one loveless, evil looking son of a bitch.

Getting hammered was easy, and for a time seemed to quell the questions.  But it always seemed there was something missing.  Alcohol could only fill the hole in the soul for so long.  Only when I gave it up and let it all go did I really find what I was looking for.  Pure.  Sweet.  Simple.  Love.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Who On Earth Would Name Their Cat "Bob"?

Well, I suppose anyone could name their cat Bob.  Out most recent cats have been named Tom, Joe, Sam, Frank, Daisy and Lily.  So why not Bob, especially since the wilderness and his tail selected this cat's specific name?

A couple days ago a few weeks back last November I was helping our son with a few projects around his homestead.  Gets me off the hill here and I am grateful he can utilize my aging expertise.  Plus we get to spend time together.  It doesn't get much better than that.

Except for that darn retaining wall behind his place.  Apparently I'm pretty good at alignment, slope and level, and apparently I volunteered to lay down the first row.  In the muck.  And the mire.  And blasting, with a pick, several inches deep in some places, an underground boulder the size of Colorado.

See what I did there?

My back hurt for days after that eighty foot experience. But I digress. 

I always "release the hounds" in the morning here, my slang for letting the chickens out of their secure night quarters.  I always get in a quick survey of the territory immediately surrounding their fenced in yard when I do this.  I also get in a survey when I lock them up in the evening, but it's hard to do if I lock them up after dark.  Without a floodlight of course.  Or ten thousand Aborigines with candles.

So I locked them up on a Wednesday night after dark, no survey.  The next morning, when I went up to release them for their all day romp in their yard, I noticed a tell tale crime scene of feathers just outside the fence.

Tell tale crime scene of feathers?  Well... I've seen a few of those scenes now.

See what I did there?

This scene wasn't just a random feather or six.  Nor was it a gargantuan, gruesome head-missing mess a raccoon, ringtail or skunk might leave, like what happened in Massacre at Keet Creek.   Or Raider in the Night.  This was a very neat, roundish collection of about ten gold feathers. This was not a raunchy, cold-blooded, Manson style blood-thirsty free for all party bash 'em up slaying; this was a cool, calculating predatory kill.

It was also a day time attack.  The feather tuft was not there Wednesday morning.  I would have seen it, it was too obvious.  So it happened some time between 8:30 AM and 5:30 PM on Wednesday.

Just to make sure, I went back in and counted the birds.  Actually, I only looked for two because of the feather color.  I knew exactly which breed had been hit.  Sure enough, I had only one remaining Buff Orpington.  If there is any silver lining in this, at least she was a four year old bird, way past her prime egg laying age.

But she was part of our family and one of the original flock.  There are only three hens left now from the original flock of twelve, started in 2012.  One more Buff and two Barred Rocks.  And that damn rooster.  And this is why we add two to four new chicks every year. 

I was a little mystified, not sure what the heck the predator could be.  Most of your chicken predators are night aggressors, a day attack is rather unusual.  I had seen a hawk sitting on the fence edge some weeks before.  I'm pretty sure he was calculating as I had.  He could hop on in but would not be able to get out of the clothesline covered area with his wings spanned.  I chased him away anyway.

But still, I'm not convinced a hawk could get a hen up and over a six foot fence.  He could go in for a kill, but never get the hen out.  A fox couldn't climb over the fence, that species was out.  A bobcat could probably get in and get a hen out.  Hmmh.  I needed to cogitate.

The day after the crime occurred I was outdoors all day catching up on maintenance.  Weed whacking, lawn mower, leaf blower.  Loud power tools all day.  And as I played I cogitated away.  And kept a wary eye up at Chicken Fantasia Land.   No action, no threat.  Nothing was going on.

Had I been hallucinating again?  No, a bird was missing.  Something had happened.

Friday morning I released the hounds as usual.  Then I went grocery shopping.  When I returned the chickens were out in their yard, eating bugs and yakking.  Sun bathing in the dirt.  Doing stuff that chickens do.  I proceeded to put the groceries away and then commenced some house cleaning.

I figured all the outside activity the previous day would have kept any predator away, even Jehovah's Witnesses.  But now I was inside and a bad guy might not know I was around.  I kept a wary eye out, making sure I glanced up there every ten to fifteen minutes or so.  I figured if the girls were out clucking in the yard everything was fine.  Plus they have a very loud and distinctive "mortal danger" alert cluck.  I am so in tune with those birds I can hear that cluck even if I'm in a car with ACDC playing at volume ten.  Six miles away.

As I moseyed along on my cleaning morning, I went out the side utility door for no specific reason at all I recall.  Might have been to toss something in the garbage.  Might have been cosmic.  But as soon as I took one step out the door I glanced up the hill and not twenty feet away stood a frozen in mid stride beautiful brown and grey cat.  It was heading in the direction of Chicken Fantasia Land, about forty feet away.

He, or more than likely she, was just on the high side of the drip line and those silver bushes. Right.  There.  I could have kissed her.

At first I thought it was one of our long haired tabbies, who are both looking glorious now in their full winter coats.

Daisy Cat

And then I thought if this was Daisy or Lily they had to have been taking some steroids.  Whichever they were sure looked bigger than usual.

And then I said to no one in particular, "This is a fucking bobcat."

 Fucking Bobcat

All this thinking actually took about two seconds.  But right then I knew.  And right then she knew I knew.  We stared at each other for about seven seconds. 

Then she ever so slowly started a retreat.  I slowly moved forward and grabbed a rock.  Then I threw the rock in her direction, started shouting and clapping.  She hastened her retreat and scampered off up the hill into the thick underbrush.

Clapping and shouting worked in this particular instance.  It might not work in every instance.  Like if you're confronted with a bear.  Or zombies.  I would recommend a big gun if confronted by either of these two creatures.  Like an AK-47.  Or a howitzer, for instance. 

She was big as far as bobcats go.  I was almost thinking she might be a small mountain lion until I witnessed her retreat and saw her bobbed tail.  She was a big, beautiful cat.  She was also a big, beautiful and extreme threat to my chicken's well being.  I had a problem.

I obviously couldn't watch the hen house all day, every day.  I'd be like the great hen protector Fog Horn Leghorn of Looney Tunes cartoon fame..  All day.  They don't make enough of anything to cover that kind of boredom therapy type situation.

Goldie, our rooster, might have the best intentions, but he would be no match for a bobcat.  And I wasn't going to keep them locked up all day. 

We could get a dog.  We've been talking about that.  But then that would be one.  More. Thing to take care of.  I already don't have ten spare seconds.  Add another dimension to that?  What to do, what to do?

As I did my Bobcat research amid completing house cleaning, I kept a wary eye out.  About the time I finished the house and was going to start researching in earnest up here, I glanced up in their yard.  No chickens were visible.  I immediately went out and found them all inside the hen house, looking rather spooked.  The rooster, to his credit, was standing guard at the door.

I figured they knew more than I did.  I had been watching the hill since I scared her away and hadn't seen a thing.  But then, I was dealing with one of the smartest predators in the wild.  She wasn't going to be seen again.  I decided to go with the chicken's instinct and locked them up in their secure cage.

Then I came back up here and started researching the potential of going electric.  It almost sounds like Dylan going electric at the Newport Folk Festival, but it's not quite that entertaining.  Or historic.

It wasn't ten minutes before I heard the distress cluck chorus.  LOUD.  I jumped up and ran to the appropriate upstairs window.

"Holy shit," I exclaimed, to no one in particular.

That big beautiful cat was inside the chicken's yard, running around the pickle barrel, trying to figure out how to get into their secure cage, which I had closed and locked not ten minutes earlier.  He was actively prowling and the birds were singing.  Not happily either.

I dashed downstairs.  As soon as she heard the door open she turned and looked at me.  Within a quarter of a second she leapt effortlessly about fifteen feet to the top of the back fence.  She was on top of the fence for another quarter of a second and then was down and gone.  It took about four seconds from the door opening to her completely disappearing.  Boom.  Gone.

I shouted and clapped for good measure.  Just to show who's boss.  Threw another rock. 

Again, not sure if this would work for a bear.  Or zombies.  Might need back-up.  Like that howitzer.  And a machete. 

She's been back, that beautiful cat.  I have found evidence of her lurking.  Yeah, I'm not ashamed to say I am becoming knowledgeable about wildlife scat in these here hills.  It helps to know what has been prowling about, especially when one has delicious chickens.

But the girls are safe.  I went electric.  Just like Dylan.  A lifeline for folks in the country.  It cost about $90.00 and took me about two hours to get it all dialed in.  A lot cheaper than a dog and much less time involved too!

The juice runs all round the perimeter fence.  You'll also notice the clothesline, put up to deter aerial assaults from hawks.  So far, so good.  Animals seem to sense there's something actively engaging and alive right there.  Humans seem to want to test first hand.  So to speak.  At least I did.  Twice even.

The first time was a nice little nip to the hand right after I installed it.  Not too bad, but enough to let you know you wanted no future part of it.  In fairness to my stupidity, I did kind of want to know what strength of jolt it offered.  The second time, right after a rain, with water still standing on the wire, was more like a taser.  Ah chi mama, that lit my entire arm up like the 4th of July.  In fairness, I have no idea why.  That was just plain stupid.

Never again.  However, if you're ever over and want to test it yourself go right on ahead.  After you sign a waiver of course.  And next of kin have been notified.   

There hasn't been another attack since we went electric. I currently believe the flock is safe from predators.  But then, I did before.  This is the country after all.  Who knows what form a beast will take to be the next to try and feast on our girls? 

Drought Update

There is no drought, here at least.  Our little slice of heaven, along with most of Northern California has been officially declared drought free.  And why not, we've received 23.25 inches of rain just this month, which brings the total to 51.75 inches already this season.  To compare, we received a total of 51.25 inches last year.  And only received around 32 inches in each of the previous drought years.  56 inches is normal.

Cheers to almost being normal.

Rain wise, that is.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Yosemite's Red Headed Step-Cousins

Everyone's heard of Yosemite.  You got your Half Dome.  You got your El Capitan.  You got your Matterhorn.  Wait a minute.  That's in Disneyland.  Which is ironic, because that's what Yosemite is like, a Magic Kingdom, in a natural sort of way.  But I'm not here to talk about Yosemite, I'm here to talk about those other two magical kingdoms just south of there, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks.

I have lived in the Golden State for 62 years, which is sort of dating myself.  But if I was really doing that I'd have to take myself to dinner.  Which means I'd have to put on a dress, high heels and lipstick and why am I telling you this?  Where was I anyway?

Kings Canyon.  Sequoia.  National parks.  Sixty-two years.  I had never been there before.  I've been to Yosemite several times, but then we're not talking about Yosemite.  Why the heck had I never been just south of there to the adjoining natural wonders?

From a perspective point of view, we met a couple from Singapore at Kings Canyon after finishing our hike.  It was their first visit to this glorious state.  Where did they go after landing in San Francisco?  Lake Tahoe.  Yosemite.  Kings Canyon/Sequoia.  From there to visit a college friend in Monterey and then back to Singapore.  They hadn't even been in the state a week and went to Kings Canyon.  It took me sixty-two years.

Kings Canyon National Park is roughly due East from Fresno, Ca.  Sequoia adjoins and is directly south.  Good old Yosemite is directly north, but we're not talking about Yosemite.  There are two roads in to Kings Canyon from the west, there are no roads in from the east.  Big granite mountains with sheer granite cliffs make that kinda difficult.

We took Highway 99 south from Sacramento to Fresno, and then took Highway 180 East.  Fresno sure seemed bigger than I could have imagined.  The interchange to go from south to east, which looked like a simple two road intersection on a ten year old map, was actually worthy of any Southern California mystical highway maze.  Holy cow.

But once we were out of highway boulevard metropolis land, the road narrowed down to two handsome lanes.  Soon it became "The Orange Blossom Trail", which was a logical name.  We began passing through beautiful, bountiful, and perfectly aligned orange groves on either side of the highway as we cruised into the foothills from the valley floor.

It's only forty-five miles from Fresno to the park's entrance, but it's a world away.  $30 to get in and stay and play for seven days.  What a bargain.  We Americans need to get out and explore and support our national parks more.  They are treasures.  The rest of the world certainly knows this.

When we arrived at the Visitor Center ten minutes later we quickly discovered we, as Americans, were the minority.  I felt like I was in Paris or Southeast Asia.  Or an elevator in San Francisco.  There were foreign speaking European and Asian tourists everywhere.  Well, not everywhere.  There were about twelve cars in a parking lot that could hold a hundred.  High season was certainly behind us.

Besides the very informative visitor center, there was also a gift shop and general store in the vicinity.  Around the corner and up the bend a couple hundred yards sat the John Muir Lodge, our quarters for the next two nights.

There were only two places still open in the park where you spend the night, unless you wanted to sleep in your ice box refrigerator car.  The Muir Lodge was one, the Wuksachi Lodge the other.  All the campgrounds were closed for the winter, and there were plenty of those.  I would imagine the park is a  human freaking zoo in the summer.

The location of the Muir Lodge was perfect for our ramblings.  We were going to drive down into the canyon the next day and do some hiking.  The following day we'd head south through Sequoia Park and then out through the south entrance to parts unknown.  We had two days and nights before a very important dinner engagement with the kids in Oakland.  Babysitting payback.  That's our price.  More quality family time.  On their dime.

The ambiance of the lodge is like rustic meets Denny's.  The lobby, cafe and wifi chill area are all in the same wide open place.  There is a high ceiling with huge, rough hewn beams, a large rock fire place and wrought iron chandeliers.  There's also a few overstuffed leather type arm chairs with Navajo type blankets.

Then there's about fifteen standard cafe type melmac and metal tables with K-Mart chairs.  A couple glass door fridges also graced the cafeteria where you could grab a sandwich or salad to go.  Then there were a couple more candy and soda vending machines leading down the hall towards the lodge's rooms.

The lodge cafeteria boasted an extremely limited menu.  I think there were seven items on it.  The food was also prepared in attached trailer.  There was park signage calling something somewhere a "food court", but it was a lot more like a selection you might find, say, at a Topeka trailer trash pot luck.

In fairness, apparently in summer there were food trailers out in the parking area that offered varied fare.  There was also a new food court/restaurant that was under construction and should be available for consumption in 2017.  Which is good, because the seven item menu lacked, well, variety.  Substance.  Flavor. 

The first night I had a burger, which was palatable, but not even close to an In & Out.  My lovely wife had beef stew, which included two or three bites of beef.  The second night we both had a chicken Caesar salad.  They were OK, except I saw the chef that morning retrieving the unsold salads from the day before from the glass fridge in the lobby.  I'm going to assume some of that lettuce, a bit wilted and brown, made it into our salads that night.

He probably did it on instructions from the Delaware North Corporation, the company that runs the concessions at many, if not all our national parks.  Sorry guys, you get, like a "D" for food service.  And the only reason you get that is because the marinated chicken was good.

What was much better than the food though was the human ambiance factor.  It seemed like everyone dining was dressed in outdoor and/or mountaineering gear.  Except for one European malcontent in sweats.  He could have been anywhere in America the way he was attired, like a Wal-Mart hot dog stand for instance.

I got the feeling we were at a high sierra base camp getting ready for some fantastic mountaineering conquest the following day.  Folks were talking about the current day's exploits, or they were pouring over maps of the gargantuan park planning the next day's assault.  We were all on the verge of something great.  I knew then my lovely wife and I would easily conquer the highway the following day in our sedan as we motored through the glorious scenery.  With snacks and drinks.  We had this.  Piece of cake.

When we initially checked in, the front desk clerk informed us that there was going to be a constellation viewing that night with a park ranger.  Everyone interested was to meet in the lobby at 7:30 PM.

Sounded good to us.  I mean, at our age you can only have so much motel sex before the batteries need recharging.

After dinner we returned to our room and continued planning the next day's assault.  Then we left the room at 07:25 and walked the forty-five steps to the lobby, arriving at 7:25:42.  It was more of a stroll I guess, plus I lingered a couple seconds in front of the candy machine planning that evening's assault of a Butterfinger bar.

There were still a few folks in the cafeteria and there was also another couple sitting in two of the over-stuffed arm chairs.  The foreigner in sweats and his girlfriend were still in the wifi area playing with their phones.  A few folks filtered in and out of the double glass doors.  A party of five young, strapping German lads waltzed into the room.  Rock climbers I presumed.  They bought some candy and disappeared down the hall. 

We sat in the other two over-stuffed arm chairs and patiently awaited the ranger.  We sat there quite politely for ten minutes or so, figuring the ranger had run into Yogi Bear.  Or Boo-Boo.  Then the front desk whiz kid hospitality jack of all trades walked by and asked how we were doing.  We said fine, and informed him we were waiting for the ranger for the constellation show.  He said they had already left.

"Um, what?" I inquired, looking around quickly while trying to ascertain if I had missed something as obvious as a park ranger with tourists in tow.  Three feet away.  Maybe he didn't have his ranger hat on...     

"Yeah, he rounded up five people and left a few minutes early.  He asked if there were any others coming."

And so I pose this question to anybody willing to listen: Without a sign-up sheet ANYWHERE, how is a complete stranger going to know if another complete stranger is going to show up?  And why the hell have a meeting time if you're going to leave before the appointed time?

I checked my watch.  It's a Swiss Army Watch, man.  It's accurate.  It has a toothpick and everything.  Plus our room was about twenty seconds from the meeting spot.  We were on time, actually early.  Man.

The next morning we took the couple mile drive to the view point where the constellation show was the night before.  We didn't see any stars, but found the view vast and enormous.  Majestically supreme.  Granite walls and mountain peaks stretching our forever.  The last range in the distance included a few of the 14,000 foot peaks close to Mt. Whitney, the tallest point in the continental US at 14,491. 

From there we took the incredibly impressive thirty-six mile Kings Canyon Scenic Byway drive down and through the eventually towering granite faced Kings Valley.  Whew.  Everywhere you looked the views were magnificent.

As you might imagine, there are a few twists and turns as the road winds its way down into the canyon.  It's fine for a sedan or just about any four wheel vehicle.  The signs say it's also fine for trucks with trailers, but some of those curves around some of those mountain ridges would be too tight for my comfort.  Not to mention the hundreds of foot fall if one of those tires skid off the lane.

They surely used some dynamite when they cut that road along some of those sheer granite cliffs.  The drive is not for the faint of heart, but eventually it levels out on the canyon floor and then follows the south fork of the Kings River all the way to Road's End.  That's where, well, the road ends.

Campgrounds abound once you hit the river, there's even a lodge down there.  But all of that closes up for winter, as a matter of fact the road we were on was closing entirely the Monday after we would be there.

Autumn is a glorious time to visit the Sierras.  Colors abound and, incidentally, humans don't.  There were five cars at Road's End when we arrived.  The parking lot could hold fifty.  And there were probably fifty different hikes you could take from that location.  From six minutes to six days.

We chose one that was somewhere in between.  It ended up being six miles.  It was nothing short of magical, better than Disneyland and a whole lot quieter.  The route was mostly level, heading upstream first and then back downstream, in a long oval.  The path wound through a hundred foot wide forest surrounded by sheer, several hundred foot tall granite cliffs.  The river ran through the middle.  Foot bridges allowed us to ford the stream at both ends.

Every single view along the river was a post card.  I kept imagining the area encased in snow, the white, clear beauty captured in enraptured silence.  Not a human soul around.

When we arrived back at the parking lot and began unloading our gear, I noticed a young Asian couple holding a map and making a beeline towards us.  She was pretty frantic, he was a little less so but still quite concerned.  They were both just a little bit lost.  Fortunately I knew exactly where we were and exactly where they had left their car.   As a matter of fact it was our next stop, so we gladly gave them a ride.

They both spoke very good English, however a few adjectives haven't quite made it into their far east vocabulary.

When they said they were from Singapore, my lovely wife, ever polite, enthusiastically responded, "Oh, I hear your city is awesome!"

"Why, what have you heard?" responded the husband, mortified and taken aback.

It was then we assured him "awesome" is good.  We chatted briefly, wished each other well and continued on our separate ways.

After the young Singapore couple put Monterey in my head, that evening we decided we'd go from the Sierras to the Sea the following day.  The mileage wasn't that large and we hadn't really been back to Monterey since we lived there in 2005.  What the hell. 

Before we could go to Monterey the next day though, we had to drive by and see some really, really big trees.  I'm talking massive here.  We had already seen the "General Grant" when we first got into the park, it was only a couple miles from the lodge.

The General Grant, the second-largest sequoia in the world, is a 3,000-year-old wonder and the centerpiece of Grant Grove in Kings Canyon National Park.  A massive specimen of Sequoiadendron giganteum, General Grant measures almost 270 feet tall and 107 feet around at its base. The tree was named in 1867 to honor Ulysses S. Grant, and was coined the “Nation's Christmas Tree” by President Calvin Coolidge. It is one of the biggest attractions in the entire national park system.

Yeah, we'd visited Grant, but we had to see the undisputed king, General Sherman.  The King of the Giant Forest, the General Sherman tree is not only the largest living tree in the world, but the largest living organism, by volume, on the planet. General Sherman is:
~ 2,100 years old
~ 2.7 million pounds
~ 275 feet tall
~ 100 feet around at its trunk

And all around the Sherman tree are other incomprehensibly giant trees, all hundreds if not thousands of years old.  Imagine the stories they could tell.  

Once again we ended up being about the fourth car in a parking lot that could hold a hundred.  And once again we two Americans were the minority.  There were a half dozen foreigners at the tree when we arrived.  How do I know they were foreign?  Conversation sounded like an elevator in San Francisco, only, you know, quieter.

As we drove through both parks both days I noticed there were quite a few dead and dying pines.  Besides  the drought casualties, a wild fire had blown through portions of the park a few years back. 

Which begs the question: If a tree falls in the forest and you get squished do squirrels even care?

The road heading south out of the park is not for the faint of heart either.  Or long vehicles.  As a matter of fact, trailers are prohibited that way.  Hell, it's about 10 MPH in a sedan.  Hairpin does not even begin to describe some of the turns.  It reminded me of Lombard Street in San Francisco.  Or my driveway.

Eventually we wound our way out of the park and we were off to the sea, taking the mostly two lane Highway 198 all the way across the state. 

It had been a while since we'd gone a stretch on a road that wasn't a freeway though.  We were getting close to needing gas and we were discovering it was hard to come by.  Freeway's are easy.  Gas is everywhere.  Two lane highways, at least this portion of 198, not so much.

The scenery was gorgeous though.  We were passing through beautiful farm land throughout the middle of the state and having a grand time looking at all the old farm houses that were dotted amid the crops and orchards.  I kept my eye on the gas gauge and figured we should be able to make it to the next town which was about forty miles away.  But it would be do or die.  If there was no station I was going to have to siphon some from somewhere.

Ever have gasoline burps?  You think taco, sauerkraut and beer burps are bad?  Try huffing on a hose stuck in a gas tank and just getting your lips off in the nick of time.  But before you get to that glorious moment you've already inhaled a helium balloon or two of gas fumes.  So not only are you talking weird but you've got gas vapor coming up out of your esophagus.  There's not enough beer in the world to quell that noxious swell, folks.  Not enough beer in the world.

And then, as if by miracle, an oasis appeared before us, sparing me the awful potential of regurgitating gasoline.

It was where Highway 198 intersected with Interstate 5, the main north/south artery in the state.  Speaking of freeways.  We hadn't just stumbled into an oasis though, we hit the Motherlode!  There were no less than three gas stations and seven eateries.  Epicurean gold.  McDonald's, Taco Bell, Subway, Denny's, Baja Fresh, Burger King and Carl's Jr.  There was even a Motel 6 just in case you ate too much and needed a nap.

Sound bite quote of the day, "It was an honorable conclusion to the ending of the completion of the project at hand."  Spoken by a redundant repeater on the TV news that morning.  Must've been a politician.

We gassed up, my lovely wife got a taco and we were on our way.  Another hour or so and we hit Highway 101 North to Salinas, then over Highway 68 Westward Ho past Laguna Seca Raceway to Monterey.
Pardon me.  I guess it's now called Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.  Whatever. 

I had finagled a great deal on the motel the night before on Priceline, $90 for a regular $160 four star room.  We checked in, refreshed ourselves and then moseyed over to the Monterey Fish House for dinnerIt's where the locals goThe hell with the wharf and Cannery Row.  There's always a gazillion tourists over there.

The Fish House is on Del Monte Avenue and is located well away from those tourist traps.  There's an oyster bar and the ambiance is boisterous.  Boisterous fine dining.  It reminded me of Le Petite Colbert in Paris.  We arrived at 5:30 and got the last table, almost shoulder to shoulder with the couple next to us.  A minute later another couple ventured in.  Thirty minute wait.

We had a sumptuous meal, then played tourist and drove down to the wharf.  There we smelled caramel corn and sea urchins and I bought my lovely wife a John Steinbeck coffee mug.  He's one of my well read lovely wife's favorite authors.  So am I, or so she says. 

The last day of our short trip was spent in Oakland with our wonderful kids and grandchildren.  And then that night was our dinner out with our daughter and son-in-law.  At the Cliff House in San Francisco.  It was a wonderful choice, and would have been better if I didn't have to drive in Daytona 500 traffic across the damn Bay Bridge at 6:00 PM on a Saturday night.  Ah chi mama.  Good thing I don't drink anymore.

The Cliff House is a very notable, distinguished and posh San Francisco restaurant.  It's, like, famous even.  It deserves, you know, reasonable attire.  I was not sporting a tie, but I was sporting a coat.  Slacks.  Shiny black shoes.  Son in law the same, sans the coat.  My lovely wife and fabulous daughter were in cocktail dresses.  Our table was entirely respectable and appropriately attired.  There were also several gentlemen in the restaurant sporting ties.

Most folks were presentably attired.  Except for the nimrod in cargo shorts, t shirt and tennis shoes.  I mean, he could have gotten away with that at the John Muir Lodge in Kings Canyon Park, but he would have been cold.  What's wrong with people anymore?

Sigh.  The dinner was splendid and it is always simply marvelous spending time with your grown up children.  It was a fine fitting end for a five day getaway.  The drive back across the bridge was much tamer, and the drive back up to the foothills the following morning was a breeze.

The old homestead was just as we left her, thanks to our pet sitter extraordinaire, Amber.  I'd recommend her but I don't think she can take any new clients, she's that good!  Here's a plug anyway: Pet, Plant & Home., just in case she has an opening.  Amber makes leaving easy.

All the chickens and kitties were fine.  Well, until the big bad but entirely beautiful bobcat showed up.
Stay tuned.

I hope you all enjoyed a splendid Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or whatever you celebrate and I hope we all have a safe and joyous New Year.