Monday, July 30, 2007

Quick Update

Okay, so it took me a week to update my blog. And I am still behind on my "doodle-a-day" project. So, just a quick update on what's been going on here the last week:

- we got trained to take care of the horses while Horse Girl's Mom was on vacation
- Red, the caretaker, and his wife who were here in their RV taking care of the ranch for us while we were gone, left for the rest of the summer
- Wendy, the red hen that Big Dog and I called "Red" until the other "Red" showed up, died a mysterious death
- each day the peaches and plums get better and better
- painted the trim on the garden shed
- mended the retaining wall that was falling down
- we met the rattlesnake that lives near the chicken coop (which is also near the rats nest.)
- Big Dog's extended family showed up for the weekend and filled our house so much that we wound up sleeping on the floor in JD's house
- they left yesterday without the DogFather, who will stay on for another week
- Pooka is back

And now I am slowly getting back into the swing of things.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

"Going to the country, gonna eat a lot of peaches…"

Can't get that song by the Presidents of the United States of America out of my head. We're on the brink of peach season at The Ranch!

But first, an update on the last two weeks… I'm posting them all at once. You may want to go back to where you left off. Or don't. Pretend this is the movie Memento and go backwards and forwards in time.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Road "Home"

Southbound on 97, through Oroville and Tonasket… 195 through the Colville Indian Reservation where every home had its own used auto cemetery… Coulee Dam, one of the major public works projects instigated by FDR… NBD (Natural Born Driver) keeps us moving southward.

195 from Coulee Damn to Soap Lake turned out to be one of the coolest drives on this trip. It goes by Coulee Lake, created when the dam flooded the valley. There are lower mesas and mesas that turned into islands. On the other side, the canyon is dry and you can see how large and deep it is. We drive through the canyon floor, enchanted by the landscape. It looks like Wyoming or Utah.

After 195, it's Rt. 17 and then 395, the highway that goes all the way to Southern California.

Over the Columbia River, through Richland, then over the River again after it makes the hairpin turn to go west out to the Pacific. Through Umallia to Pendleton ("Is that where Pendleton shirts came from?" "You keep asking me that. I don't know." "Well, make something up!") and then south again. We will be on 395 for a looooong time.

The eastern part of Oregon is made of plains and bits of forest. Lots of farming. Lots of grazing. There are big parcel ranches -- we've seen them in ranch real estate magazines -- and more little towns placed sporadically along the way.

After Lakeview, we enter California. A night in Alturas at a motel run by a Thai family (not East Indians!) and more forgettable Mexican food, then it's on to Carson City, where Big Dog's niece and her family live.

Carson City is still on 395. It's a suburb of Reno is pretty much like suburbs all over California. But this is Nevada. The Sierras loom close by. It must be walling in the heat from the deserts to the east because it's HOT, HOT, HOT. It's good to see K. and her family, but we want to get back to the ranch before the weekend brings higher prices and more people so the next morning, we are essing our way up and over the Sierras, stopping in Arnold for lunch with an old friend of Big Dog's, and then back through the San Joaquin Valley to…ahhhh…the coast. Oh, how I missed you! Oh, how I missed your temperate climate! Oh, how I missed my own simple, fresh, down-to-earth, everything-from-scratch cooking!!

Until this summer, I still thought of myself as being "homeless." Not homeless homeless like really homeless people -- I mean, we DO have a roof over our heads most of the time -- but just not having a real home. "Home" is as much a psychological concept as it is a dwelling. Now, I can feel that The Ranch is slowly becoming "home" in my heart and in my mind. It's a little frightening, but I suppose I can get used to it. Especially now that it is Peach Paradise.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Borders (Penticton, B.C.)

"Can you remove your sunglasses, sir?" the border guard began his interrogation.

Tuesday morning, we were at the Canadian border, about to drive a few miles north to have lunch with an elderly couple we had gotten to know in La Manzanilla, Mexico. They had invited us to their house in Penticton many times, so we thought we would at least drive up and have lunch with them.

The border was only a few miles away from Oroville and it was early enough in the morning to not have a queue, but the Canadian border guard scrutinized us far longer than we thought necessary. Don't they want us here, dropping our dollars?

"Where do you live?"
Big Dog thinks we live nowhere, so there was a moment's hesitation before he said, "California."
"And you live there, too?" he asked, eyeballing me now.
"Why are you visiting Canada?"
"We have some friends in Penticton and we're having lunch with them."
"You drove all the way from California to have lunch in Penticton?"
Yep, and so what if we did! We wanted to say, but just answered "We're on a road trip. This is just a part of it." People with badges rarely have a sense of humor anyway.
"Do you have any firearms with you?"
"No. I don't even own any. Wait, that's not true. I think if I look, I have an antique shotgun somewhere..." BD mumbled.
Why do they always eye us so suspiciously? Is it because BD escaped into Canada for a time during the Draft Days? Maybe they smell fugitive status. He claims they only hassle him when I'm with him.

We passed the test, at any rate, and were soon driving through the valley filled with fruit orchards, passing dozens of fruit stands (Let's not buy any peaches, okay?), the town of Oliver that had orchards with exotic East Indian names and turbaned Sikhs driving tractors, up to Penticton.

So many of the new friends we made in Mexico during the months we lived there come from this region of Canada but somehow we got along best with L. & M. I think it was their international-ness. M. is part Turkish and French and L. is French Canadian, but they lived in California and other parts of the world and had been to Japan many times.

The elderly couple live in a lovely little house on a hill. The interior is tastefully decorated in a minimalist style, with a few well-placed pieces of aboriginal and ethnic art and outside is a small but lovely garden with flowers and fruit trees. We happened to have barged in on them when their son and daughter were also visiting with their respective families, so instead of us taking them to lunch, they graciously invited us to join them for lunch on their canopied porch.

Lunch with M. & L.:
Kokanee beer
Sliced salami
Chickpea vinaigrette
Garden salad (made with greens picked from L.'s garden)
4 kinds of cheeses
Oven-fresh herb bread
Spaghetti with butter and grated parmesan

And let me tell you, that after all our terrible, or simply forgettable, meals on the road, this truly was a little slice of heaven before the long road back to the ranch.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Natural Born Driver (Montana to Washington)

We leave Yellowstone on Monday afternoon and speed through Montana as fast as we legally could. Route 191 from West Yellowstone, through the Gallatin Forest, to the I-90. The I-90 goes northeast, over the Continental Divide.

"Wow, look at those boulders!" I exclaim.
"You've never seen the Rockies?"
"I guess not! They really ARE rocky!"

Giant, round edged boulders, like river stones from the land of giants, are stacked artistically on top of each other.

"Come to Testy Festy!" shouts out a billboard near the eastern end of Montana. It's an advertisement for their annual Testicle Festival. Eat a dozen Rocky Mountain Oysters!

By Tuesday, we are in Spokane, Washington and turning up on 395. It looks more like Northern California here. Lots of mountains and evergreens.

"We treat you right!" shouts a billboard for the Chewelah Casino in big happy letters. There's a photo of a giant grinning white woman, with a fan of bills.

A few hot little towns later and we are finally coming to Chewelah, another hot little town.

"Was that the Casino?" I ask, astounded.
We've just sped past a corrugated tin shack with an eagle mural painted on its side.
"And they're going to treat you right?"
"Yeah, with a hole in the slot machine where you can get a blow job while you gamble your quarters away," deadpans Big Dog.

From Kettle Falls, we take 20 West, a scenic route that winds through the Kettle River Range. We'll catch 97 at Tonasket and go north from there. Or so we thought. 20 West led us straight to a wildfire, just a few miles from Tonasket.

"You have to turn around, sir," a red-haired police officer at the roadblock is making all the cars go back.
"Jesus Christ," Big Dog murmers under his breath. He is waaay less than thrilled at having to turn back -- you can hear his mental calculator adding up the cost of wasted gasoline -- but there is nothing we can do.
"No traffic beyond this point. It's too dangerous," the officer says, but tell us that we can find our way through the mountains to Oroville.

I only have the AAA map of Washington, but hey, we got to Cocucho in Mexico, didn't we? It's not dark yet, is it? This is fine. I am not frightened, or freaked, and we enjoy the detour that actually drops us off in Oroville. There are tons of beautiful farms and ranches on the way. This is the Okanogon Forest area. Okanagon Valley straddles Washington and British Columbia and is the northernmost tip of the Sonora Desert!

It's been a long day and we are both a bit grumpy. When we get to Oroville we find no campsites appealing enough for us and return to the motel we saw in town. There's a sign telling us that the staff will "be back soon" but I need to go to the bathroom, Big Dog is hot, hungry and tired, and we start arguing about who's going to be the one to check in.

I hate interacting with others. It's not as bad as my phone phobia, but I'll go through a lot of effort not to have to interact with strangers. Besides, I had to do everything in Japan, so why can't Big Dog do everything in the States? But he bitches about how he's had to drive all day. He's only saying that, however, because he doesn't want to have to check us in. He's really not as tired as one might be after a long day of non-stop driving. Because he is a Natural Born Driver.

How he can drive for 12-15 hours at a stretch is beyond me. He can't sit still for 2 minutes. And yet when he gets behind the wheel, he can stay calm and even happy for hours. He may not be the most stable driver. He may not always be careful. He can get distracted easily and he, like many drivers, seems to have a double standard. What he expects of other drivers, he doesn't always practice. Some drivers are better, more skilled or know more about cars, but Big Dog can drive forever and ever. It's almost as if the vehicle is an extension of his body. I've come to the realization that some people are just natural born drivers and he is one of them.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Tourists, Paparazzi & Patriots (Yellowstone National Park)

There are people here at Yellowstone from all over the world. Europeans seem to be the best behaved. They always wait for Big Dog to finish videotaping before talking, or walking through the shot. Americans seem to be oblivious to everything other than themselves.

"You must be from Europe!" Big Dog says to one family who wait politely for him to turn the camera off before walking by.
"We are from Austria," they say. When BD admires their sensitivity, they tell us, "Well, if you want to see badly behaved Europeans, you have to go to Europe!"

That's not the case with Asians. They are pretty badly behaved everywhere. At one large, colorful spring, two guys from Korea walk off the boardwalk to get photos of themselves in the "do not enter" area. Big Dog blasts them. Yells at them to get out of there, didn't they read the signs, what are they thinking. They grudgingly oblige.

Japanese people tend to be better behaved in their own country. Too much scrutiny to get too out of hand. But there's even a famous saying in Japan: A man away from home need feel no shame. Once away from their island nation, they can turn into complete assholes.

"They're so nice and polite when they're by themselves, but get them in a group, or even with another Japanese… THEN you have to watch out," I say.

Everyone behaves badly when there is an animal sighting. They'll stop in the middle of the road and take pictures, from their vehicles, ignoring the massive line of cars behind. A small bear cub crossing the road at a parking lot turns tourists into Instant Paparazzi. You'd have thought Elvis had come back to life. If there is a car stopped at the side of the road, you can be sure there's something to be seen. An elk, a deer, a bear or bison.

Of course, I am not immune. It's not often you can be this close to a mother bear and her cub hoarding berries. So close that you can hear the heavy breathing, almost feel their foamy saliva. I am riveted by a giant bison at the side of the road who first lies on its side, then rolls around in the dust. It is huge and beautiful and both Big Dog and I are completely disgusted to hear that some of these amazing creatures are being killed right here in the park! Apparently Montana has a Zero Tolerance policy towards bison -- to protect the cattle ranchers -- and will kill bison even on federal land if it's inside Montana. We hear about this distressing practice from an activist who has a stand near Tower Falls. It totally wigs out Big Dog.

"I don't want to spend any time or money in Montana and I'm going to write to every politician I can think of," vows Big Dog. I love him for standing up for his beliefs. I love that he immediately asks the next ranger he sees if it's true that they are killing bison, arguing that the activists have video when the ranger tells him they're making it up. These animals are descendents of the 23 bison that survived the massacres of the 19th century. It makes me want to cry to think about how close they were to total annihilation and it angers me to think that there are still some (many?) who don't consider them to be one of the Great Natural Treasures of the Americas. A true patriot would do anything to protect his land's treasures, and Big Dog, for all his dissention, is one mighty fine patriot.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Mad Hallucinations (Yellowstone National Park)

We left Boise Thursday morning, taking the long route across the southern "crescent" created by the Snake River. This is Lewis and Clark land and there are many references to the early explorers.

Our journey takes us to Craters of the Moon National Monument with its volcanic cones, lava covered landscapes, gnarled, painfully twisted trees growing up out of jagged black boulders. It looks like hell. I can imagine how awe-inspiring it must have been for those early pioneers, people who have never seen volcanoes or volcanic land.

But nothing prepares you for Yellowstone… like Disneyland does!

I read in the guidebook that it was a land of legends for the longest time. For the earliest humans, it must have been a spiritual place. Lewis and Clark skirted it, but a member of their expedition, a John Colter, went to look for the Land of Thunder after their epic travels. When he got back to St. Louis, three years later, and relayed stories of the land, people just thought he was crazy. "Mad hallucinations," they nodded, sorrowfully.

For us who grew up with Disneyland, however, we've seen Walt's recreations of these wonders on that train ride (which turned into Thunder Mountain or some other roller coaster ride much later) and I marvel at how authentic all of it was as we go from one thermal feature to another.

What a wonderland of water in all of its strange and spectacular forms! Steaming, spurting, crystallized. Gushing, bubbling, gurgling, burbling. Trickling, hissing, foaming.

Rivers flowing hot and red would feel at home in Hades. Green and blue algae grow in the more tepid waters. Some hot springs are so pure and clear, they look glacial even though they could melt your hand off if you were dumb enough place it in the water. Geysers and mudpots and terraced springs… I almost wished I'd never been to Disneyland. The amazement would have been that much more.

But, yes, it's just as it should be. Although some of the terraces were disappointingly dry, there were others that flowed. And, yes, when Old Faithful goes off, it really is a king-size magnum bottle of champagne, uncorked for the cheering throngs.

We get the extra treat of driving through a hailstorm with hail the size of M&Ms. It almost doesn't matter that the corn we've been toting the last few days is old and dry, that the baked potatoes are no longer edible, the fire pit was not the right place to start our barbeque, and we would really, really, really like a beer but the only option would be to go from campsite to campsite, asking the campers if they'd sell us a bottle or two and that would be too pathetic. It almost doesn't matter that the seams on the tent leak, bringing water into our tent during the night's thunder and lightning show. Almost.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Not So Loud! (Idaho)

Boise, Idaho is not a place I thought I would ever visit. I am sure Big Dog felt the same way, but this was one of our planned destinations.

It must be strange being a guy and not knowing if you have a bunch of progeny floating around in the world unbeknownst to you. I can't imagine how many children Big Dog might have out there. He went through a shotgun wedding at 19, that gave him a daughter along with a wife, but about 15 or more years ago, a phone call from a trusted friend in the middle of the night informed him that he had another daughter.

Apparently, she was the offspring of a friend's sister, a girl Big Dog partied with and slept with one fateful night (or morning, or afternoon…) And, girls, yes, it can happen. All it takes is ONE.

The friend's sister was still a teenager and gave her daughter up for adoption. Fast forward 20 years or so and W., now a grown woman and having children of her own, is frustrated at her inability to answer any medical questions that have to do with heredity. She begins her search for her biological parents. She first finds the mother, then begins the long, slow process to find her father. Needless to say, it was not easy finding Big Dog since he wasn't even in the US, but she persevered and finally tracked him down.

They were in touch for a while, then out of touch, and then back in touch again as she went through several marriages and the birth of four children, but there had never been a father-daughter reunion. Til now.

It was a long journey to Boise and not just geographically, either. Big Dog is not very open with his emotions, so I had no idea if he was nervous or excited or what at the prospect of meeting his long lost daughter, but here we were, about to meet "the other family" for the first time.

Meridian is a suburb of Boise. Typical of suburbs, it's got strip malls and blocks of nice houses. W. and her family live in one of them, in an area where the streets are named after water fowl. Pelican, Eider, Egret… Birds from the oceans, lakes and marshes. The city planners didn't seem to care. Theirs was the one with a banana colored van in front and a giant rose bush covered with dead roses. I am sure it was beautiful a few weeks ago. The bush is overgrown, evidence of their busy lives.

W. works at a local pizza parlour. Her 16 year old daughter, H., works there, too, several nights a week. Together, they somehow make ends meet. It must be tough with so many kids -- there's S., the hyper-active 12 year old, F., the precociously sweet 7 year old and C., the whacked out almost-3-year-old who seems to be from another planet. (I love his oddity!)

It's funny (and fun!) having an instant family. The first night, we were all a bit shy, but by the time we spent a few hours looking over photos neither side had ever seen before, having burgers for lunch and then waiting around for W. to return from her doctor's appointment, we were completely family -- in all ways good AND bad.

"25 dollars?! Each?!"
"C. is under 5 and free. Plus it's after 3pm so it's 17.75 each," I corrected Big Dog who was having a mini-coronary over the fact that he might have to shell out $175 for all of us to get into the water park where we had promised to take the kids.
"Are you sure you want to go in? Wouldn't you rather go to mini-golf next door?"
"You can't renege on your promise now!"
It's still more than $100, but he finally let the park have some of his hard-earned dough and in we went.

The kids were no longer shy with us and F. was the charmer of the bunch, holding our hands, pretending to be scared so that we would stay with her, laughing and hugging and screaming "Granpa!" and "Granma!" at the top of her lungs. She didn't care that I was the lone skinny Asian in a sea of half-naked white people, or that Big Dog's "Speedos" (which would have been embarrassing enough in Baggy Swimtrunk Land) was really his underwear.

Big Dog, being the weirdo that he is, loved that she was calling me "Granma." Me?" Granma?! I was merely amused.

"It's okay for you to call me Granma but you don't have to shout it out so loud," I laughed. "They might hear you in Winnemucca."

Monday, July 09, 2007

Basque-ing in Winnemucca (Nevada)

The speed with which we toured Yosemite was a bit comical. During one of our family's many trips to Yosemite, I distinctly remember driving through the High Sierras. It might have been when our uncle was with us. It was early summer, maybe mid or late May, and there was still snow in patches on the ground. From the wet marshy areas where the snow had melted were explosions of wildflowers. It was misty and mysterious and completely enchanting. Even at the age of 10, I dreamed of one day living in a place like this. Nature enthralled me like nothing else. Would I find the spot that burned its image in my memory?

But B. Dog was a driven driver. He had hundreds, thousands of miles ahead of him and that thought propelled us lightning speed through Yosemite. A loop of the valley floor, a boulder field with the top of Half Dome shining in the distance, trees sprouting from boulders, oh, there's Tenaya Lake! It's all aglitter in the high altitude sunshine. Uh, I think we're at Tuolumne Meadows. There it went. Now, it's Tioga Pass, a sharp V cut through jagged rocks. And then, another world: flat, barren, other-worldly. Mono Lake shimmering in the distance, a crystal blue circle in a beige mirage world.

"We never stop." That's our motto. We stop for gas and MAYBE some food.

It is hot. Hotter than Fresno. And dry. Dry enough to suck sense from your brain. Here, where the scenery stays unchanging for hundreds of miles, each hour slogs by. The sense of time and distance has shifted in the never-ending expanse of desert. Low beige hills dotted with sagebrush and Russian thistle -- tumbleweed embryos -- waiting to dry out enough to hatch as tumbleweeds and embark on their next windblown lives.

There are towns in this barren desert. Military base towns. Dusty former cowboy towns. Towns that are made of a few houses. You wonder who lives here and why.

Actually, Nevada is pretty unpopulated and you can drive for a long time without coming across civilization. Maybe that's why certain people are attracted to this area. Basque people were drawn to oddball parts of the US, too. I am surprised to find that there is a sizable Basque community in Winnemucca, the town where we decide to stop for the night. This town, too, is in the middle of nowhere. It's halfway from nowhere and halfway to nowhere. But there are shops and motels and casinos and restaurants and we cruise the main drag looking for a cheap motel.

We stop first at a motel that proclaims "Budget Rates" but the rate is 57 bucks for the night and it doesn't sound so budget to us. The next motel advertises "Depression Rates." Sounds good.

"Hi. We need a room for the night. What are your Depression Rates?" I smile and ask the middle aged Indian lady. East Indian. Not Native American. It's funny how I have never been at a motel run by Native Americans but 90% of the motels we stay at are managed by East Indians. Or Sri Lankans and Pakistanis. They must come from the same village. There must be a motel cartel somewhere.
"72 dollars," she deadpans.
"72 dollars?! That doesn't sound much like a Depression Rate..." I say, but she just looks at me, so I thank her and go out.

Third try, Park Motel. It looks run down enough to be cheaper.

A wrinkled lady with pink hair and matching lipstick tells me a room is 33 dollars. That sounds good to us and we move in. As I a couple of beers for us thirsty souls, Big Dog is already making new friends. The guy who lives in the room next door has just moved here from Elko. He's got a new job at a mine. They still mine here!

The tourist magazines we picked up at the front desk tell us that Winnemucca is Basque Capital of the West. What made them come all the way out here from the Pyrenees? Did the heat and dryness blow their minds?

We choose one of the town's many Basque restaurants for dinner. Never having had any Basque cuisine, I can't tell you if the meal was very authentic or not but our server was a pretty Hispanic lady and the manager was from Colima, Mexico. That's Basque-ing in Nevada for you!

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Looking for Elmer? (Yosemite National Park)

Big Dog and I thought we were being so clever by avoiding the 4th of July week, but this is the height of summer vacation! So it's maybe not the crush of the past week, but it's still a zoo out here.

With the back seat of our Toyota Tacoma packed with camping gear, food, camera gear, audio gear and our personal stuff, and with Big Dog complaining about how much junk we were traveling with, we left the ranch. There was still a thick layer of fog around Morro Bay that drifted into Los Osos Valley, but a patch of blue, as always, above our ranch.

"Maybe the heat wave is over."
"Wishful thinking."
"So tell me again, why are we leaving the ranch now?"
We bantered as we drove towards 101. We were on it only until Santa Margarita where we turned east, going through Creston…(getting warmer now)…Shandon…(yep, it's hot out here)…into the San Joaquin Valley….(Bake-o-rama!) Searing, brain-shriveling heat.

"Isn't it amazing that in front of us is a mountain range with the highest point in the contiguous US and we can't even see a shadow of it?" marveled BD as we kept driving towards Fresno. Heat, haze, dust, smog…who knows what it is, but all I could see was a huge expanse of ag land that just disappeared into the distance. No hint of a mighty mountain range beyond.

You know you're approaching Yosemite when you are in a long convoy of vehicles. Once inside the park, it's even more congested. I've been here many times as a child so I was looking forward to revisiting our favorite vacation spot but somehow I am distracted by the sheer number of visitors…and the size of the vehicles today.

From an overlook, you can see how the valley was carved out of glaciers. Sheer silver cliffs all around and a lush, forested canyon floor spread out in front of you. What was it like before the first illegal immigrants arrived from the east? Were the Ahwahnee Indians welcoming? Friendly? Did they have misgivings? Were there debates at night about what to do with the Illegal Immigrant Problem? Did they ever wish they'd killed every newcomer so no word of this beautiful land could ever reach beyond the valley? Who knew there were SO MANY others? Who knew it would turn into this flood of people!

July in Yosemite is overrun. When we finally make it to our campsite after several wrong turns, I'm shocked by the density of vacationers. Luckily, we were on the edge of the campsite and not boxed in by giant RVs. The spot next to us was vacant and our neighbors on the other side were two women and a man with tents, a guitar, a drum and a harp. Thank god we were in the Mellow Zone. Everywhere else monster sized RVs, small campers, vans, generators and screaming kids filled up spaces not designed for so much.

Packing and unpacking seems to aggravate Big Dog.
"I'm never packing this much stuff again!" he steams as he pulls out our camping gear from the car. "We are carrying way too much food!" he yells as he carries two boxes of food and cooking utensils, a shopping bag with more food and a small cooler to the bear box, a metal bear-proof locker to store your food.

Happy Hour in Yosemite:
Margaritas on the rocks
Watermelon chunks
Queso fresco

Strange combo, but it calmed BD down some, as did our little walk to the stream at the other end of the campsite. The water dancing over fallen logs, covered in velvety moss, was clear and cool. I splashed some on my face. Ahhhh. That did as much for my hot, grubby face as it did for my frazzled soul.

Hamburgers grilled on a funky 10 dollar fold out grill
Baked potato
Roasted bell pepper & broccoli in olive oil
Tomato slices
Apricot-granola bars

I'd like to say how peaceful it was, how awesome to be in the stillness of Yosemite, how moving it was to be so quiet you could almost hear the twinkling of the stars, but that was probably back in John Muir's days. It certainly wasn't that way in mid-July. Instead, there was a cacophony of kids yelling "Elmer!" "Elmer!!" "Where's Elmer?" "Elmer's gone!" "Have you seen Elmer?" "Elmer's not here!!" Their chants were contagious and kids all over Yosemite Valley were screaming about the mysterious Elmer. I wanted to shout "Elmer's here!" and gag every kid who came to our site. The generators, too, were a horrid distraction, but eventually, the kids were put to bed, the generators were silenced and it was very quiet, very still…almost like John Muir's days.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Wish Upon A Star

Today's Tanabata, Festival of the Stars, in Japan. It's a lovely story of two stars, separated by the Milky Way (which is called Amanogawa, Heavenly River, in Japan) who get to meet once a year, on this day. To celebrate, you write wishes on colorful strips of paper and then decorate a bamboo branch with them,, along with origami cranes, paper chains, tin foil stars, etc. Sort of like a Christmas tree. The irony of it all is that in the Western calendar, used in Japan today, July 7th is smack dab in the middle of rainy season, so there are usually no stars to be seen. In the Old Japanese Calendar, July 7th would have been about a month later and just right for a summer festival.

I should go get an oak branch or something and make a Californian Tanabata Tree. My wishes would be: continued health, a tsunami of adventures, a little more rain for our thirsty State…

We did get a nice cooling sprinkle this morning here in our little valley. Last week, the heat wave hitting the interior warmed up the coast quite a bit, too, and we had highs into the 90's for an hour or so in the height of the day, but it's cooled off back down to normal temps. Which MUST be why we're leaving tomorrow for the interior! We MUST be crazy enough to want to drive into the scorching heat. Neither Big Dog nor I like it that hot, but we're all set to leave tomorrow. First stop, Yosemite.

Big Dog is such a Boy Scout. He's been gathering our camping stuff for days and even did a practice "load-in" to see if it would all fit into the back seat of our truck. Not having a trunk can be a problem!

It's a free-form road trip, with a basic outline: a loop that goes from here to maybe Yellowstone, up north into Canada, then back down through Washington and Oregon. It will be good to be on the move again. It will be good to see new sights. It'll be GREAT not to have to watch NBC night after night. (I have no real dislike of that network over any of the others, except that it's the only channel we get out here at the ranch, and Big Dog likes to have the tv on before he goes to sleep so I've seen all too many episodes of Law & Order. Dum-dum.)

Our ranch, above, after the rain. Tanzer's saying, "You call that little drippidy-drip 'rain'? Give us something to get the grass growin', man!" Keep wishing, Tanzer. Keep wishing.

Thursday, July 05, 2007


Big Dog is less than thrilled with my new relationship. He finds me talking with and hugging my new boyfriend all the time. I must be feeling guilty because it embarrasses me when he does.

I've known Magic, Horse Girl's blue-eyed, tailless, butt-wagging Australian Shepherd since we got to the ranch after our Dixie Adventure last summer. They had all moved in earlier in the summer but I was still in Tokyo and then Europe. Recently, though, our relationship has jumped to a new level.

First, I discover his real name's Magique. Of course. Horse Girl's mom is French Canadian. And then, thanks mostly to a box of dog treats she bought and I promptly dispensed to the pooches (Pooka, the 15 year old Chihuahua was still here then) I became their best friend. When we were gone, they spent most of the time in the Waka Orchard since Horse Girl was busy with school, horses and human friends and Mom with old folks to care for. When we're here, they get to roam around the ranch with us, watching us work "like dogs."

"How did we get that expression? I know we use it all the time, but look at them!" I laughed, pointing to both of them lying on their sides, nodded out. Sometimes when Magique's napping (again) Patches, the Old Man Cat, will come and start licking his face and kneading his side.

The real change came when Pooka was taken away. She's old and has cataracts and can't see well so she barked at everything, driving Mom to send her away to live with another old dog and old lady. She came back briefly just before Horse Girl left for Iceland and Magique kept chasing her, trying to mount, so Mom set up house for Pooka in the barn but she was able to sneak out no matter how tightly we thought we had the stall secured. When Horse Girl left, Pooka also went away again.

I think Magique was a little heartbroken to lose his "mom" and transferred his affections over to me. But now I realize I am developing a strange co-dependent relationship with him. It's bothering me a bit. Emotional dependency has always freaked me out and we are getting too close. He hates it when I pay attention to the other animals and I must admit to the teeniest twinge of jealousy when he's happily playing stick with Glass Guy.

Plus, you know you're getting too close when you start bragging about your "boy."
"Magique is soooo smart," I'll tell anyone who's willing to listen. "He's a super fast learner and knows more words than you think. He amazed me when he understood me when I said 'where's the ball' and one day when Big Dog was looking for me, he asked Bowser Boy and was lead right to me!"

He's a bit of a mess right now, shedding like crazy, but he's still very handsome and good smelling. In fact, he smells better than a lot of people!

"He thinks you're wonderful," emailed a friend when I explained my predicament.
"You're just the Treat Supplier," counters Big Dog.
Maybe the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

What A Week

Bitten by mosquitoes (in a non-mosquito area!)…top of my foot stepped on by Miracle (horse)…growled at by Pepper (Ranger Lady's lab-mix)…cut by twigs…scratched by thorns…same injured foot stepped on by Magic (dog) and Riley (visiting friend's lab-mix) while they were roughing it…a blown cap on a buried water pipe…a river of water down the side of our house into the pasture…5 hours of manual trenching…

But now, we have water taps by the cannas and by the deck, the mosquito bites have settled down, my foot, while numb, seems to have nothing broken, and we're ready to fill the trench. Manually. Like the Amish. No, worse. We don't even have draft animals. We ARE the draft animals!

It's another gorgeous day, however, and I am basking in all the miracles of the world for just another moment longer...