Friday, August 31, 2007

Change of Seasons

Last Sunday, Horse Girl came back from Iceland, where she'd been spending the summer at her grandparents' horse operation (breeding, horse riding for tourists, etc.) She started school again on Tuesday.

That was the day we had a chimney sweep guy come to clean out to the ranch. Big Steve. With his Big Black Top Hat. I thought he was a strangely theatrical chimney sweep, but who knows, maybe they all are. He told us that we can't have all that tar sealing the chimney at the roof -- it's highly flammable -- so I had to spend the rest of the day and most of the next day hunched up on the roof like a scrawny Quasimodo scraping off tar. A most unpleasant job.

Maybe if I hadn't had to do that, I would have stayed up for the lunar eclipse. I saw one, once, a few years ago in Mexico….

full moon tonight! and a lunar eclipse! at the plaza, full moon is in sight. is the eclipse beginning or just the eye playing tricks?
a quarter to and the eclipse is in full swing. it's eaten up the lower left corner and is slowly progressing up. it's much slower than i expected. so slow that if you keep watching, it doesn't really change.
i thought the locals would be all agog about the eclipse but no one pays any attention. after bd pays 4 pesos for a crappy cookie, we stroll the plaza. everyone is hanging out there. chatting with friends, lovers, neighbors... when church tower clock strikes nine times. the eclipse is nearly complete. but it takes until about 9:20 for it to be completely eclipsed.
the moon has a strange, red/orange/black glow. perfect for hallowee! ! but to the unsuspecting viewer, it might just be another cloud veiled moon.
a kid in semi-cowboy attire comes up to bd to ask for money and gets a spiel about the luna and how it's especial esta noche. different from all other nights. see how it's negra? but later, it will be blanca again. ooooo, it will not be like this tomorrow. only esta noche. only ahora.... until the poor kid leaves, empty-handed, shaking his head at the poor loony gringo and the loony chinese mujere. back at the bungalow, the entryway is covered in small beetle-like bugs. all on their backs! stunned by the lunar eclipse, no doubt.

This time, I stayed in bed. The eclipse sent the dogs barking, however.

A dramatic thunder and lightning show came the following night, bringing a huge dose of rain.

There are only a couple of tenacious peaches, plums and nectarines hanging on. The summer fruit season is just about over and here comes the onslaught of apples, apples, apples.

Everything is pointing the way to autumn.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Legal Aliens

I am constantly amused by how the natives see me here. Even Big Dog's family. His sister bought a pack of paper napkins for me. She didn't want to see me have to wash cloth napkins. I make a point of using as little paper product as I can, thus the cloth napkins, but I guess it looked kind of "backward" to her. Like washing dishes by hand.

(Last year, this time, I was washing clothes by hand. Now, THAT was backward!)

Out on the town, I am just another immigrant. If I'm with Big Dog, then I'm a war bride, even though Big Dog looks like the last person the US Military would take. "Either way, she's here to make a better life for herself, so let's be helpful!" Everyone is kind and generous in her/his own way so I try not to be a bitch, I try to be appreciative.

"Oh, that's handy," I say to The Sister about the pack of paper napkins. As soon as she leaves, I put them away in the pantry for when she's visiting next time. I don't tell Big Dog. He'd lecture her about the environment and trees and what-is-she-thinking-anyway. Why should we make her feel bad when she's only being kind?

Last week, at the vegetable stand, I met a Thai woman. Maybe she, too, had a rich and interesting past, but I found myself viewing her through the Lens of Stereotypes, so I guess you can't blame anyone for any misconceptions they may have about me.

She had moved to this area from Sacramento and we both bemoaned the lack of Asian groceries in our immediate neighborhood.

"There one in Pismo Beach. They order for customer, so you want something special, you just tell them. I order square rice paper. They only have round one. And every Friday, they get fish."

We reminisce about the tiny tasty fish, the many kinds of seafood that Asian markets will have.

"How can we live by the ocean and have so little seafood in the local markets? No squid, no clams, the same 4 kinds of fish…"

I remember how my friend's Thai wife was so friendly, it took me by surprise. We had just met but she walked right into my kitchen, poked around and started cooking for us! Mi casa, su casa, indeed! Sunee was just as friendly. Before I even got my money into the money jar for the fresh-off-the-vine tomatoes and green beans, she had invited me to go to the Asian grocery store with her, given me her phone number and sounded ready to take me home for some green curry.

"Call me," she yelled as I rode off on my bike, back to The Ranch. I really should. If only I didn't have my phonephobia. Sigh.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Too LAzy

I had to go to LA briefly last week. The condo is just a block out of Santa Monica and usually gets the nice ocean breeze to cool us down, but it was strangely hot there, too. Man, is it good to be back at The Ranch. Unfortunately, it's been so good that I haven't been at all motivated to write.

Meanwhile, the Zaca Fire rages on in Santa Barbara County. At one point, several weeks ago, it was more than 50% contained. I guess it was just rearing up for the Big Spread. Now, it's taken more than 200,000 acres and has become the second largest wildfire in California history.

You see smoke as soon as you get out of Santa Maria.

All the roads from 166 going south are blocked.

Driving past the Fire Camp at New Cuyama. It really is a camp! The firefighters live in tents!

All over the West, there are dozens of wildfires. We need rain bad!! It's cooled down quite a bit this week at the ranch, but the unirrigated pastures and hills are still dry, dry, dry. It makes me wince to walk on the crunchy dead grass. But in this area, the motto is "Just add water… Watch it grow" so I know that as soon as we get some decent rain, it will all come back.

This is what the area looks like in the winter. Ahhhhh, greeeeeen!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Back on the Chain Gang

"What do you do every day?" my mom asked me last night when I called her. She's completely mystified with the choices I've made in my life. Why would she walk out on a highly successful career? And move to the country? Eeeew. Mom shares the agri-phobia of many Tokyoites.

The Japanese language has so many derogatory words about farmers and farming and country folk -- they really ARE at the bottom of the social classes. They don't get the respect of basket weavers or sushi chefs or hot potato vendors. Fishermen get more respect. It's probably because farming in Japan is such hard, backbreaking work and maybe there's a layer of belief that if one is condemned with such hard work, one must have done something wrong in his or her past life. Mom, who is embarrassed by my choices, can't figure out the fine line between a "ranch" and a "farm" and farmers are on par with trench diggers and other manual laborers.

"We were digging trenches, again," I tell her. Am I secretly hoping to rile her even more? "It was back on the chain gang from 9:30 in the morning!"
"You know, the problem with getting property that already has infrastructure is that you don't know how things are quite laid out," I answer. My mom was with me for part of our ranch search and saw beautiful ranches with challenging arroyos, rolling hills, endless fields of dry farmed oats and shuddered at the thought of nothing -- not even water -- being on the property. "The last owner inherited the property from his mother and didn't really know much about the place so when we noticed water buildup in a part of our garden, all we could do was dig down to see where the water was coming from."
"And did you fix the problem?"
"No. We dug down to where the pipe was but it wasn't coming from there and so we had to keep following the moist ground and keep digging but still can't find the source. It's a mystery. We had to finally stop because it was getting dark."
"You worked like a convict and the problem's unresolved?? Why couldn't you hire someone else to do it?"
"Do you know how much that would cost? To hire professionals for this job?"
"Couldn't you get illegal immigrants, at least for the trenching?"
I am thinking of how we do work that illegal immigrants won't even do, but I don't tell her this.
"You know the lady that lives with us? She and her guy came home and they got roped into helping us out, it wasn't just us."

I think Big Dog's been over-watering the zone and the clay soil way down can't absorb all that water. Big Dog thinks there's a buried water line that we don't know about somewhere in the garden. Our housemate offers no opinions while her man brought up the possibility that we have a new spring, despite the ongoing drought.

I guess we'll just have to give it a few days and see.

There's water here, but it's not the source.

The trenching continues.

Turkey Family doesn't mind the mess.

Patches, the Old Man Cat, comes to investigate, too...

...and poses for the camera.

Friday, August 10, 2007

They're Back…

Although we've owned this ranch since early 2006, it wasn't until this time last year that we were actually able to spend any time here. I made a quick trip around the property and found golf ball sized droppings all around the house, especially on the decks, and wondered what animal they were from. That afternoon, a flock of wild turkeys provided the answer.

They would spend the day at the neighbor's place (where they were being fed!) and then return to roost in the old twisted oaks next to the house. It became my evening ritual to watch their antics as they lined up, preparing to fly up into the trees from the deck railing.

"Flight control. Tom Number 5, you are cleared for take off." You could imagine some control tower assisting them.

In the winter, they moved to the big evergreens in the back and then, they sort of disappeared. We'd still see them now and again, but not in the numbers we were used to.

"They're probably nesting somewhere," said Big Dog.

Now, a mom and her chicks have returned. Most of the chicks are brown speckled miniatures of Mom, but one is black with a white head and one is an albino. They are all adorable. They're not able to really fly but can leap onto the oak that's growing sideways and walk up the trunk and onto Mom's branch.

I am wondering what happened to the rest of last year's flock. Or is that roast turkey I smell wafting from the next ranch?

Moving creatures aren't the easiest things to photograph!

Monday, August 06, 2007

When I'm 90…

I'm going to throw caution to the wind.
I'll party like there's no tomorrow…because there's less "tomorrow" than ever before.
I'll have unprotected sex with anyone who'll have sex with me, and flash the ones who won't.
I'll try all those recreational street drugs I've never taken before because I just don't trust kitchen chemists.
All the wine I drink will be outrageous vintages.
Not only that, I'll waste my money on all sorts of crap and give out 20 dollar bills to every panhandler.
I'll say what I want to whomever I want, so screw you.
I'll skydive and speed race and dance with wild animals.
I'll do everything I want, no matter how stupid, silly, or suicidal.
And if anyone gives me any shit about it, I'll tell them, hey, I've lived to 90. When you're older than me, you can tell me what to do.

I love the DogFather. He and I are more alike than, say, my own mother and I. And probably more alike than he and any of his children. It makes me sad to see how his children treat him like a child. He's a grown man; an intelligent, open-minded, caring man. He's been through so much and still has so much to share. Even his kids still have much to learn from him, but they, in the protective way kids get when their parents become elderly, keep him down.

His daughter, the Matriarch of the Family now, is especially protective, almost to a fault. I think it's fine that she's Mom of the Family and I treat her with the reverence a Matriarch deserves, but it bothers me when she insists the DogFather wear a bib in public. I understand she's looking out for his shirts but the DogFather is a dapper, young man at heart, a ladies man, who takes care of how he looks (and smells!) and has a very good stain remover for his shirts. Who cares if he gets a little food on his clothes now and again. Can you imagine the humiliation of having to wear a bib in a restaurant?! Obviously she can't.

And because he's the kind of man he is, instead of creating a scene in the restaurant over the Bib Issue, he shuts up, puts it on and looks unhappy for the rest of the meal. I keep wishing he'd make a scene. Shout about how he won't wear the bib, tear it off his neck, throw it down and jump up and down on it. And then promptly pour a spoonful of baked beans right on his chest. Yeah! But he never does. He's too caring and too mature for that kind of behavior (which would be totally in character for his son!)

"He mowed his own lawn the other day," the Matriarch was telling her brother, Big Dog recently. "He's not supposed to be doing any of that yet, you know. I asked him about the lawn and he told me that A. (his grandson) came by to do it but it was really badly done so I knew it was him and I told him, 'Listen, buddy, I'm not going to go through that (another operation) again, so you better watch it.'"

She and Big Dog have gotten even more protective of their father since their brother passed away, but the man is 90! He may be outliving us all. Whatever he's doing, he's doing it right, so lay off a little, won't you? Don't make him eat "diet" stuff! Sure he's a big man but his weight problem comes from his arthritis medicine. Let him have his sweets, his butter, his fried foods, his red meat. If he walks around without his cane, why should we stop him? When he gets tired of falling, I'm sure he'll get around to using his cane on a regular basis. He's not dumb, you know. When he found out he had lactose intolerance, didn't he switch over to soy and other non-dairy products? Stop treating him like a baby!

Of course, I can't say any of this to either the Matriarch or Big Dog. They believe they are doing what is best for their Dad. It's made me kind of glad I don't have any children. That way, when I'm 90…..