Saturday, January 27, 2007

…and then, just as suddenly, he was gone...

Big Bro passed away yesterday morning. Suddenly. Cardiac arrest, they say. Big Dog is devastated, as is his entire family.

I am…numb. I am always numb when people close to me die. I don't think I've cried because of a person's death since my father died when I was 18. Even then, I remember being angrier than sad. People always talk about how we're on borrowed time, how you never know what may happen, that life is short so you gotta make the best of it, but few people actually live like this. Maybe it was the trauma of my father's death but that thought has never been very far from the surface of my mind.

A few years ago, Big Bro got laid off from his job. That was the first Summer of Renovation -- 3 months up in Arcata trying to renovate Big Dog's old Victorian -- and we were on our way north when we stopped by Dog Town and heard the bad news. Big Dog asked his brother if he would come up with us and help on the renovation and to our surprise, he agreed.

It was the first time I was able to witness the amazing bond these brothers had.
"Why would you doubt it?" Big Dog might ask, but never having seen them together in such close proximity, I never imagined how deep and fat and true their bond was.

"What a blessing in disguise," I thought to myself last night, in bed, "for Big Dog to have had the chance for such a good stretch of intense and intimate time with his brother."
And for me, to be able to be there with them! We were also able to see how close and caring Big Bro and his wife were with each other, what a tight, special relationship they had.

Big Dog has an emptiness in his heart that will never be filled, but we all miss him deeply.

Monday, January 22, 2007

High and Dry

I am in the high desert of Lancaster, north of Los Angeles. The air is so dry I am poppin' and buzzin' with static electricity. I feel like the moisture in my body has been sucked right out. My eyeballs are dry and scratchy. I am ready to disintegrate into dust at the slightest push. Or spontaneously combust.

Big Dog's Big Brother underwent emergency surgery day before yesterday. An untreated hernia problem got worse. Much worse. But the surgery went well and Big Brother should be able to go home in a week to ten days. Still, it was only 2 days since the major operation and Big Bro was in a lot of discomfort from all the tubes and pins and straps, not to mention the pain from the operation and a cough that made the pain worse.
"And there's all this noise," Big Bro wheezes.
"At least you've got some white noise to drown it out," Big Dog whispers, cocking his head towards the window.
Big Bro is sharing a room with someone, snoring fairly loudly but rhythmically, beyond the thin beige curtain.
"Did you see him?" grimaces Big Bro's wife. "He's all covered in tattoos...he got shot in the stomach."

Someone who was shot in the stomach is right there? A mere couple of feet away? I have to look. I'm from Japan. Nobody ever gets shot.

Hoping he won't suddenly wake up and freak out at me, I edge myself closer and peek in. He's a young-ish man with words tattooed on his stomach. It's covered just enough by a sheet to render it undecipherable. He's kind of good looking. He looks like.....Tupac Shakur? It's hard to tell if he looks like a man who was recently shot in the stomach, but obviously, he is still alive, so if it was an intentional shooting, won't the bumbling assassins come after him again? Will it be while we're visiting Big Bro? I hold back the urge to peel his sheets back so I can read his chest and stomach, to see if there are any clues.

After dinner, Big Dog and I go back to the hospital to see how Big Bro is doing. He's looking much better and is much more talkative. The TV is on. I can tell it's on the National Geographic Channel by the yellow box in the corner. The World Trade Center towers are in smoke. We cut to President Bush in the school room. Deer in headlights. The scene we've seen over and over again.

Tupac is awake behind the beige curtain.
"I've got another chair here," he offers to Big Dog.
"Thanks, but it's okay. We don't have all the tubes and stuff coming out of us like you guys do," Big Dog jokes.
Tupac laughs back and says something.
"Gall stones? Ouch," Big Dog says back.

"Gall stones? Gall stones? That guy next to Big Bro had an operation for gall stones? But I thought Big Bro's wife said that he was shot in the stomach?" I am incredulous that I just believed her, without a shred of doubt.
"That was just her 'projecting.'"
Sheesh. And here I was, getting paranoid about a violent scene in room 210, with more injury, blood and possibly a few more gun shots!

But wait, I think, as I brush my teeth. Why do I now believe Tupac, just as completely as I did Big Bro's wife? Maybe it wasn't gall stones. Maybe it was gall bullets. Maybe he was only saying that to appear "normal" in front of us. Big Bro's wife was probably "projecting" but why should I believe anything anybody says anymore?! What is truth anyway?!?

The air is so dry, I think all rationality has been sucked out of my brain.

Saturday, January 20, 2007


With all our winter work -- or as much as we are doing this year -- done, we are in wrap-up mode.

I realize what's been keeping me so absorbed the last few weeks.
It's hard for me to explain to people I used to work with why I needed to get out, stop doing what I was doing. It's even harder trying to explain it to people who thought they knew me from some radio show or another. My attempt was usually reduced to some glib "I'm trying to get better acquainted with my home, the earth." The thing is, that's really the whole truth. It just sounds so stupidly glib.
My new adventure is in opening doors to rooms I've always dreamed about entering, doors to rooms I never knew existed. Traveling to a new country, experiencing a new culture and so on.
But that's only one part of it. The wonders of the world are all around us. You could study a leaf forever. (The sad thing is that we are usually all too busy to do something like that -- but we should!) And just look at the diversity! Even in this teeny tiny corner of the planet! I feel so privileged in being allowed to become more deeply connected to our planet the last few weeks. I am so grateful the 3 dozen or so trees allowed me to get to know them so intimately.

Humankind is eternally fascinating, but the miracles of nature...leave me breathless.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

What a day!

It was Martin Luther King Jr. Day yesterday in the U.S. But for Rancho Kuma, it was Disaster Day.

Horse Girl and her mom are living in the Big House now -- we are still so transitory -- and Horse Mom is on one of those crazy diets: only vegetables one day, only fruit another, fruit AND vegetables the following day, etc. She can have all the vegetable soup she wants anytime and so she spent Sunday making a huge pot of the stuff.

"I heard from Old Timer that the septic tank stays clean if you add cabbage now and again," I mentioned when she was chopping up some cabbage.
Old Timer used to live on this ranch, two owners ago, as the caretaker. He and his wife are in town visiting their daughters/grand-daughter/great-grand-daughter and has been stopping by his old stomping grounds every few days to have a look around. I think that in the process, he's developed a keen desire to move back. Though at 77, I'm not sure what he can still do around here, Big Dog and I are both keen on having him back, even if it's only for a few years so we can learn the deep secrets of this ranch. Like, where all the water systems are. On one of his visits, he boasted about how the septic tank stayed clean during the 17 years he was on this ranch, thanks to cabbage.
"It's got all sorts of good enzymes!"

Cabbage is one of my least favorite vegetables so we rarely have any, so I thought we could try a little scrap cabbage in the disposer while Horse Mom was preparing the soup. A little chunk of outer leaf went in, got ground up and forgotten about.....til the next morning.

"This side of the sink is plugged up," Horse Mom tells me as I stumble into the kitchen to make coffee. "But the left side seems fine, so we used that side."

Can't imagine how a little chunk of cabbage in the disposer could plug up the drain so badly, but there it was, calling us to crawl under the sink to fix the problem.

But as soon as that problem was fixed and BD had finished swearing at the pipes, the disposer, at me and the whole situation, Horse Girl calls from outside. Water is spewing from a busted pipe in the back orchard.

There's been a freak cold spell in Central California for a few days now. Citrus and avocado farmers are taking a royal beating. All of the succulents on our ranch are limp or dead, the calla lilies and cannas are dead, geraniums suffering badly... During the day, the temps go up but the early mornings are cold enough for plenty of frost, unusual for our valley. And now a busted pipe.

"We're selling," BD snarls as he goes off to stop the geyser.

The rest of the day was relatively uneventful but that afternoon, we get a call from Glass Guy, the glass blower who now lives on the ranch. He wanted to know if it was safe to come home.
"Apparently there's a huge fire in Montana de Oro."
"I think a caretaker's mobile home in Diablo Canyon started the fire."
"Wow. We didn't see any smoke. Or smell anything..."
Far enough to feel safe, but close enough to make you wonder.
Maybe we can hike up there and get warm.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Limbs against Limbs

10 days of pruning, pruning, pruning and we are finally moving away from the Ruby-Pearl Orchard into the Kinu Orchard, bypassing the Waka Orchard for the moment. Despite our normally active lives, I am NOT physically prepared for the giant task of dealing with adult trees in 3 orchards! My hands, elbows, shoulders, neck and back are all beaten to a pulp. But the trees ARE looking better and, I am hoping, feeling better.

It's funny how I get completely involved in things. When in TV and radio, I was a total workaholic -- I had no other life, really. no hobbies or anything. When I'm loafing, I'm happy to just loaf. When traveling, I'm happy to devote my complete energies to traveling, absorbing new cultures, new sights. Well, right now, I'm just completely involved in pruning. I get up when the sun comes into the bedroom, have a cup of coffee, put on my work clothes and go out with my pruners, lopers and pruning saw. then I'll keep working, one tree at a time, until hunger makes me stop for some food, then back at it until the sun goes down. It's backbreaking work -- muscles I didn't know existed hurt. And the trees are tall so there's lots of balancing on ladders and limbs, straining your neck and shoulders. At the end of each day, it's all I can do to make dinner, crash out, then start all over again.

I am surprised at how I can be pruning for days and not be bored. I am also amazed at how I can be so single minded. Of course, after 10 days, I am completely spellbound again by the Ranch. After cutting a bunch of dead stuff off a tree, I'll rest my arm for a moment. It's then that I notice how delicate and lovely the new grass is. It's growing on the ground like baby hair. Neon green baby hair! So fragile looking and yet so powerful with the life force. And I smell the sweet air, look up at the still blue sky, watch the juvenile hawk return to his perch high up on the highest tree and sigh with the wonder of it all.

Big Dog who has never shared my spell, is cursing at the tree he's pruning. The twigs get in eyes, the limbs scratch us to smithereens.
"Damn you,! Take that!"
He talks about "doing battle with the trees." It sounds like such a European concept! Man against Nature. As if we were here on earth to subdue the forces of nature. It's strange because if you talk to him, he's not of that mind at all! He loves the trees, supports ecological groups, believes that we are NOT here to subdue nature but here on our property, I guess he is King and the trees must obey his command. (I haven't talked to him about any of this -- pruning is a silent, solitary job and there is too much time to live inside your own head.)

Being a captive of this glorious land, I am as much in love with these trees as I am with the whole valley. So pruning is more an act of love than it is general maintenance. I talk to the trees, try to be gentle when pruning so that it hurts as little as possible. If I inadvertently make a bad cut that rips a bit of bark, I apologize.

Some gardeners believe you need to use a tree seal when pruning. It seals a cut and is supposed to prevent disease and keep pests out. Others believe that trees heal themselves. For now, I am going with the latter, gambling on the power of nature over man-made chemicals, but I talk gently to the trees so that they can heal faster. I feel privileged to be able to care for these trees. I just wish I had a 20-year old body!

Friday, January 05, 2007

Return to Paradise (Rancho Kuma)

We finally escaped LA on New Year's Day. It was a gorgeous day as we drove up the coast. There had been a little storm just after Christmas and the swells were still happening, so we passed by a bunch of surfers -- all wrapped in neoprene or whatever they make those wetsuits out of. It looked so cold out there in the water, but what a glorious way to welcome a new year, huh.

The water was the bluest blue, and then, after the Gaviota Pass, the hills open up and, BAM, you are in magnificent wine country.

I had finally broken the spell of the ranch during the weeks in Hawaii, but as we got closer and closer, I could feel the enchantment coming back. And 5 days later, she's completely got a grip on my heart now!