Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Hilarious Tragedy

There's a lot of hilarious tragedy surrounding this ranch.

First, let me explain how Big Dog and I searched up and down the coast of California for years for this property. I wanted to get out of town and live a life of self-sufficiency. BD wanted to be "naked on a quad, playing an electric guitar as loud as possible." We looked at small-ish hilltop places above Malibu, a dairy farm in Sonoma, a beautiful 400-acre chunk of land with an adjoining 400-acres, 1800 acres that was probably too far inland, a hilltop place with a stunning 360 degree view and an oh-too-Martha-Stewart house, a 300-acre place in a dry, redneck-y area... the list goes on. I think we must have visited every largish piece of land for sale between Santa Barbara and Humboldt counties. It got so we knew more than the real estate agents.

"Well, there's this 64 acre walnut farm.."
"Been there."
"Oh. We also have a working orange farm in Cayucos."
"Seen that."

We came across Rancho Kuma last summer, as we were hurrying up the coast from LA to SF to pick up our friends who were flying in from Paris to spend a few weeks with us in Humboldt while we renovated a 120-year old Victorian in Arcata. This ranch was certainly not big enough, private enough, nor cheap enough, but to our misfortune, we took a bit of one of the nectarines growing on its many fruit trees and that was it. Like Adam and Eve with The Apple, the nectarine was our fall I guess. We kept looking at other properties but this one just kept gnawing on us until we began considering it seriously, and by the beginning of this year, it was ours.

Needless to say, Rancho Kuma is a long ways from the Garden of Eden.

First, although it's located in a perfect little pocket micro-climate banana belt, protected from the marine layer by the surrounding hills and just as gorgeous as it can be, it's not the hundreds of acres of privacy we craved. It's a miniscule 42 acres, allows an easement for the neighboring nursery, so trucks come in and out most days and you can see several houses around us. There won't be much nude quad riding. Nor will there be much blasting guitar music -- without someone pitching a fit.

Then, it came with the strange karma of a bitter divorce. The previous owner's parents had bought this ranch in the 70's but he had to sell as part of the divorce settlement. Maybe it was that karma, but the "friend" who lived here since the beginning of the year as the "caretaker" of this ranch, went wacko after a few months (that's the only way I can explain it!) and took all of the funds in our ranch account and disappeared after a few months. He even took the check that BD had written to pay for the utilities so that when BD arrived here in late May, the phone was dead, there was no electricity, no propane, no nothing. Just a bunch of trash and dog hairs everywhere.

Instead of vast acreage and a place to park a trailer, this property also has several residences. The main home is huge and cavernous. It has a giant bathroom that's bigger than the bedroom. It makes me want to laugh every time I see it. There were bats in the attic (gone, I think) and rats in the chicken coop (still battling) and by the time we arrived here a few weeks ago, everything was either dry and dead or overgrown. The furnace was "red tagged" and water systems leaked everywhere. We didn't think we were buying a full time job!

Until last week, there was a half-Japanese Harley Davidson mechanic living in the second floor of one of the residences who hadn't paid any rent for at least 5 months! What kind of landlords are we?? But maybe it was a good thing -- the "caretaker" would have taken that money, too, anyway. The mechanic finally moved out. But he left behind a bathroom that was completely covered in hair (yes! hard to imagine, but all too true!) a fridge so full of rotten food you could hardly stand to open it and a giant pool table in the garage downstairs.

All of this work was driving BD crazy and he becomes horrible when he is stressed out. Some people just stress. He's the kind that will stress and then get on your case until you are even more stressed out. Now that he's got me all stressed out, I think he's starting to chill out a bit. Some friends are coming around tomorrow. Maybe we can all talk him into going kayaking.

Friday, August 25, 2006


I spend my days in solitude. So much solitude it feels like I'm at a retreat. A work retreat. Maybe a labor camp of one. Or a hard-labor zen monastery. Some days I speak to no one. Sometimes so much solitude hurts.

But I also like the silence. I've spent decades blithering on endlessly about so many unimportant things. It's good to have time to live inside your own head.

I think it would be fun to go to the Thursday night street market and bbq in downtown San Luis Obispo, or the Fisherman's Market in Morro Bay on Saturdays. And today, there's some sort of music and art street fair going on in Avila. But I never do. Why not? Part inertia, part guilt, I guess.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Corn Silk Girls

There is so much beauty around us. I mean, in this little valley of our, as well as the world in general.

The corn I was husking last night had the most beautiful, pale green silk. Straight and silky, like a young girl's hair before she's learned to muck it up with styling products and stupid hair styles. Every strand was soft and perfect. So why did I feel like such a weirdo stroking it?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


The wild turkeys are thugs.

At first, I thought, oh, how cool! A flock of wild turkeys!

Sure, they're starting to make the porch area smell a bit like a chicken coop and the thought of avian flu HAS crossed my mind more than once, but I'm a nature doco addict so it never bored me to watch their antics: feeding, courting, play-fighting.

The two huge toms got into the Kinu orchard. (I am calling the back orchard after my paternal grandmother who had peach trees of her own that would yield outrageously yummy peaches. Since the back orchard is named Kinu, or Silk, after my paternal grandma, I decided the front orchard would be called Waka, or Song, after my maternal grandma. Which means the lower orchard has to be named Pearl for Big Dog's paternal grandmother... Anyway...) I didn't realize it but the chickens (their coop is in the orchard) refused to come out that morning, no matter how much I coaxed them with feed. After I got rid of the toms, though, the chickens were happy to be out of their coop.

The same day, later in the afternoon, S's chihuahua and Australian shepard were yapping up a storm so I go to see what's disturbing them and the turkeys are all around their pen. I think they're trying to get at the dog food. One of the smaller turkeys has his/her head right in Magic (the shepard)'s face! Through the chain link fence! Magic is barking, the turkey's squawking. I go to get the turkey to stop harassing poor Magic with the pale blue eyes, but the turkey is a thug and has to be booted (literally) out of there. I lift it up with foot and fling it back to the rest of its flock. It was heavy. A nice thanksgiving dinner, for sure!

The next day, though, Magic gets his revenge. He gets loose from his pen and chases one of the turkey hens. Maybe the very same bitch that harassed him the day before. Big Dog put an end to it all but not before Magic had taken a bite out of the turkey's ass. Magic 1 - Turkey 1.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Serenity (Los Osos, California)

I've dropped off the face of the planet.

At least it feels that way. After 5 days wrapping up projects and such in LA, Perro Grande and I have come up to The Ranch. We don't have a name for it yet. Not really. At one time, I called it Rancho Kuma because it's in Los Osos (The Bears.) The story is that when white explorers first came here, they were able to survive the winters eating the bears. I guess they're all eaten up now, because the only bear that's here is the statue at the entrance to town. A sad, and sadly all too familiar, tale.

The ranch is in a serene valley, a few miles from the town of Los Osos. The hills around us protect this area from wind, the colder coastal weather, the hotter inland weather. In other words, the climate here is just about perfect! It's not the hundreds (thousands?) of acres we started looking for, but the 40-odd acres is keeping us maxed out.

Every day is all new for a city-bred girl like me, but I am rising to the physical challenges! ("She's only 90 pounds but she's like an ant -- she can lift twice her weight!") And believe me, EVERYTHING is physical around here. This is not a suburban home. You don't put your yard clippings in a roll-away garbage bin once a week. You get your truck, fill it up, ride it to the edge of your property and fling the truckload. There is no end to battling weeds, so you pick your battles: "The lawn around the house will be weed-free!"

You learn to look forward to the egg one of the four hens will lay every other day or so -- because you've never tasted a store-egg as sweet or as tasty -- until a mysterious wild thing kills the only layer, leaving you with 3 free-loaders.

You take a ladder to the roof to see if you can battle the mice that seem to be thriving in the rafters, only to find out that they are not mice at all, but bats! Yes, BATS! And you love bats because they'll keep the insects down, but you can't have them in your attic stinking the place up, so you pound on the roof, driving out a few, wait for dusk when they go out hunting and cram in some rolled up chicken wire so they can't get back in. Hoping all the time that all of them are gone, that there aren't baby bats left in the attic.

You anticipate the flock of wild turkeys that roost in the big oak in the middle of what we call "Treasure Island," a rocky mound next to the main house. There are 16 of them. Two huge toms that look menacingly at you if you get too close. They do not fear humans at all. They should fear me. I'm going to go online to see how you kill and dress a turkey.

You stop by the lower orchard (there are 3, none of them named yet -- we call them "back" "front" and "lower") to pick up a few apples. There are so many. One of the trees was so overloaded with fruit that a branch broke. S, who lives in the converted barn on our property, has 2 horses. The larger, brown one will eat apples from my hand, gooing it up with chomped up apple juice. The smaller, blonde one is more aloof. She's a bit bitchy and bossy and will never stoop to eating from my hand, but if you toss her an apple, she'll gladly munch, too.

We missed nectarine and peach season, which is a huge bummer because the nectarines and peaches here are out of this world! But we are into plum season and I'll be making some plum jam soon. Maybe when it's not laundry day -- we have no washing machine here and so far, I've been washing everything by hand.

I feel like a pioneer. Days go by without much human contact. I have absolutely no social life here. Even sitting at my laptop, like I'm doing now, seems like an unaffordable luxury when there is so much that needs to be done. If you don't see a new entry for a while, you can be sure I am still hard at work...

Monday, August 07, 2006

I Love LA? (LAX, California)

With kisses and hugs and promises to come back soon, we left Mississippi and drove back to Birmingham (the "H" is pronounced in Alabama, unlike Birmingham in the UK) to catch a flight back to LA. The flight left a little late and by the time we got to Houston, our connecting flight had already departed... or so it seemed. As it turned out, there was a problem at LAX and they were down to one runway so our plane was delayed a couple of hours.

On the flight, behind us were a gaggle of women who talked (loudly) the whole way. With "motherf--ing" this and "motherf--ing" that, they sure sounded like a group of ghetto ho's! I was able to get a good look at one of the women sitting behind us when we were waiting for our baggage.

She was huge. No, not gianormous, like many Americans, but still giant, her kelly green sweatsuit stretched to the max. As she waddled by, I saw that there was a bright, silver "GUESS" sequined to the stretched out butt. Guess? Guess what? What's packed inside the stretched out pants? You mean it's not a fat ass??

Another guy who walked by had a huge "HARBOR (something)" tatooed to his shaved skull. I couldn't read the smaller writing, but I am sure he rented out his head to some place like "Harbor Brews."

We are back in LA!

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Highway 61...Visited! (Leland, Mississippi)

This is the famous highway that Delta bluesmen would take to find work up north. I never imagined I would be driving up this blues corridor! That I'd stand by the side of the road, gazing at the fields of cotton.

For any blues lover, and many a music lover, Highway 61 is not just a road connecting small, insignificant towns. It's a Highway of Mythical Proportions! I don't know if Bob Dylan ever visited this Highway before recording HIS legendary album, but he knew. I think all poets are aware, consciously or subconsciously, of symbolism, and Highway 61 is almost like a religious icon.

"In the beginning, there was the road..."
Or maybe it's the Star in the Christ birth story...

I wanted to sit there, by the side of the road, in the blazing sun until I got sun stroke. But we had a flight to catch in another state. Next time! Next time!

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Another King (Indianola, Mississippi)

Big Dog's second cousin (his father's cousin) lives in Indianola. It's smack dab in the heart of the Delta. Delta, as in Delta Blues. In fact, I think the crossroad where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil is not too far from here!

From Tupelo, we took the Natchez Trace Parkway to French Camp and then up to Winona and then down Highway 82. This area sure has a lot of churches! Especially Baptist churches. Even miniscule towns have 4 or 5 churches. Some are large, others are in trailers, but God has many, many homes here. No wonder they call this area the Bible Belt.

The countryside is green and clean, uncluttered with billboards, shopping malls and other eyesores. Once off the Parkway, you drive down a rollercoastery road, down, down, down into the delta, vast and flat, perfect for the cotton growing that has supported it for centuries.

As we approach Indianola, we whizz past a sign declaring it the Home of the King of the Blues, B.B. King.

Wow! Who would have thought I'd be connected to B.B. King on TWO continents within several weeks!

He grew up in Indianola but was born on a plantation near Itta Bena. When we passed it on our way to Indianola, we were making fun of its name but you can be sure that when we drove back past, we were only thinking of B.B.!

Indianola is another small Mississippi town, but we were still surprised when we found out that BD's second cousin knew just about everybody in town (turns out he works as a judge and is in local politics) so he was able to take us around town to all the B.B. sites, including Club Ebony where B.B. got his first real gig.

The club, in a wooden building that's lengthened with add-ons over the years, was once a brothel. I remember reading about how jazz was born out of the brothels, but maybe there was also blues being played in the brothel lounges. (Of course, blues music was born in the plantations -- they were work songs, initially.) Mary Shepard, the current owner has been running the club for 33 years and probably saw the transition of the club from brothel to music club. Now, she's as interesting a story as Mr. King himself, so it was really fortunate for us that BD's cousin knew her as well.

What was most impressive about the club was that it had all its original honky tonk ambiance intact! It was so real! In California, so much of everything is faux-this and faux-that. I guess to find anything real, you have to travel a long way from Hollywood.

Just as I was thinking how cool everything was, a guy drove up in a white car, hip-hop coming out of his radio. Guess it was too much to ask for a beat-up old truck coming by, blues seeping out from its battered stereo, huh.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Tupelo Hardware Company (Tupelo, Mississippi)

The video production in Birmingham finished Thursday night. It was hot and difficult, but we managed to get everything -- just. The shoot, for a new motorcycle, came with a VERY ambitious storyboard. It would have been doable in 3 or 4 days, but 2 days was asking for a miracle. But the weather cooperated, we had a fantastic rider/talent, a great crew and we managed to get all the shots in the can before the racetrack kicked us out. If we had more time, we would have done some cooler things, but that's the way it always is, I guess.

On Friday morning, Big Dog and I left Birmingham for Tupelo, Mississippi. We were on our way to Indianola, to visit some of his relatives, and went via the birthplace of the King of Rock and Roll.

Elvis Presley was born in a tiny 2 room house that his father built for $180. The house is still preserved in its (mostly) original state. It's a white wooden house on "the other side of the tracks" in Tupelo and when you go in, you really see how very, very small it is. There's one room that serves as the kitchen/living room and another room that's the bedroom. Elvis lived in this house with his parents til he was 3. His father couldn't pay back his debts and so Elvis moved in with his grandparents til he was 13, when the family moved to Memphis to find a better life.
I think if you visit this house, and then the opulence of Graceland, you'll have a pretty complete picture of The King and a little insight into why he was the way he was.

Once you get to Tupelo, it's Elvis this and Elvis that, but it's also pretty amazing how much the city DOESN'T cash in on his name! Sure, there's the Elvis Presley Lake and Presley Heights and plaques placed on Presley-related landmarks, but Johnnie's Drive-In where the young Elvis used to hang out with his friends, munching on a "dough burger" (hamburger made with meat and flour to stretch the meat) is still the same little shack of a drive-in and has not turned into a merchandising pit. There are a few Elvis pictures on the walls, and the staff will tell you the exact booth that was Elvis' "regular booth" but it's not the Elvis Shrine and Shop that it could have turned into. Thank God!

A driving tour of the city will also take you to the Tupelo Hardware Company where Elvis got his first guitar. An elderly employee is on hand to tell you the exact story, too.
"Elvis' mother brought him here to buy a bicycle for him when he was 11, but when he got here, he saw a 22 caliber rifle which he wanted instead. His mother wasn't about to buy the boy a gun and there was a bit of an argument so the salesman who was standing right here where I am, pointed to a guitar in this here case and asked Elvis if he wouldn't like a guitar instead. He looked at the guitar, touched it. His mama asked him, 'well, do you want the guitar?' and he said, 'Yes, ma'am, I do.'"

If you were wondering if YOU could buy a guitar in the same shop where Elvis got HIS first guitar, you can! In the back, there is a small selection of guitars from cheap and cheesy to fairly nice. Howard, the Elvis authority, told us that Joe Perry of Aerosmith also bought a guitar here. "That one there. It's the Sunburst model."

Aside from the guitars, a bowl full of magnets and keychains, and some T-shirts, the store is just a normal hardware store selling hammers and nails and such. How cool is that?!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

"...the Southern girls, with the way they talk, they knock me out when I'm down there..." (Birmingham, Alabama)

So goes the Beach Boys classic, California Girls. Everybody likes the way Southern girls talk. (Big Dog says it only works with women. When guys speak like that, it makes them sound like "Bubba." Or so he says. I beg to differ, however.)

From the time we got off the plane in Birmingham, we're surrounded by the loveliest Southern drawl and the soft, gentle disposition that goes along with it. Before I got here, I only had a few preconceptions about Alabama -- rednecks, klansmen, birthplace of the civil rights movement, gospel music... BD joked that you could find Klan outfits in local souvenir shops. I imagined a state that was racially divided, perhaps uncomfortable for an Asian. But it has been nothing but nice! All the locals are so gracious! If it weren't for the blistering heat and humidity of August, it might be a really nice place to hang out for a while.

Then, I could talk like they do without feeling self-conscious. This Southern drawl is toooo comfortable for me. It feels too natural. What is it? I don't know. But it feels "right" when I speak like this -- like this was the way I was meant to speak English but somehow my upbringing gave me another accent instead.

I'd love to be able to talk like this all the time, but I know it will be too strange anywhere outside the South. BD won't let me do it either. "It sounds too fake," he says.
How could it sound so fake and feel so right?