Thursday, December 31, 2009

21 years

robin's picture of the foggy road ahead

a short version of our meeting. here's a longer version.

robin and i met at a party on new years eve 1988. we exchanged a hello early in the evening. she is the twin sister of a man i knew already. i did not see her again that evening till midnight. we caught each others eye and danced together for one whole minute. it was a good dance. we have been together since then.

21 years!!!

if our relationship were a person it could drink brandy legally, in california anyway. if it were a dog it would be 147 years old in human terms. did i get that right?

robin and i have been together for 21 years. that is longer than i have lived with any one else. we both worked for the first 17 years together. we even worked together at one job for a while! after we cobbled together just enough security, which included selling our house and relocating, we retired. since then we mostly spend all our time together.

it has been a long strange trip from our home in santa cruz apres work: port townsend, wa. arcata, ca. capitola, ca. nevada city, ca. we still cook for each other, very well if i may say so. we walk together. we spend hours together without speaking, each lost in a book or our blog buddies stuff or some new science info or even a bit of political news. then we offer each other what we have discovered.

we both heard and heed james taylor's advice:

Just shower the people you love with love
Show them the way that you feel
Things are gonna work out fine if you only will
Shower the people you love with love
Show them the way you feel
Things are gonna be much better if you only will

we are not cheerfully optimistic about the future of humanity. even on a fairly short scale. we are solid in our love and happy with each other and our families.

happy new year to all. may you, as the buddhists put it, be free from suffering.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Quoting Voltaire

Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien.

I've been thinking lately how Roger and I tend to make perfection the enemy of the good. That's what the above quote means. I had no idea the quote is from Voltaire, I've only seen it in reference to politics, like the health care bill fiasco. Oh sure the bill's not perfect, but it's good enough... so went the argument.

It's what we're doing now with our home search. Did we tell you we made an offer on a house on ten acres in the mountains? I'm pretty sure we must have, but it's been so long ago that it's hard to remember anymore. Let's see, we made an offer on a house that's a short sale. A short sale is when the house is listed for less than what the owner owes the bank. The mortgage is now what is euphemistically called "underwater." Okay, so we made an offer on a short sale almost two months ago and have not heard a single word from the bank. Not one. They haven't even breathed or nodded in our general direction. We've been getting weekly updates from our real estate agent who has been getting updates from the listing agent. The listing agent calls the bank negotiator who keeps putting off making any decision about whether to let the owner off the hook and sell the house to us at a whopping $150,000 loss. We as buyers are merely incidental to their considerations.
Stupidly, though, the bank has given us all this time to think about that house and let our misgivings mount. The house is located only about a mile up the road from us. We can head up there at any time of the day or night and look around. We've been doing that, especially now that it's vacant. We're finding imperfections. We've discovered that the winter sun doesn't clear the trees until a little after 10:00 in the morning. And, even though we've looked around and found places where we could easily put up solar collectors that would be in the direct sun as soon as it rises, the house will be in the shade until later. So the doubts begin to rumble.

Perfection demands the earliest morning sun, doesn't it?
I wander around the land wondering if there is enough sky for dreaming. This dark forest where we are living now has completely depressed me. We live under a forest canopy where few birds make their home, save the occasional brown creeper and migrating warblers for a day. Enough sky implies open space and meadow where all the creeping crawling critters go to find or become a meal. There is a wonderful two-acre garden spot. It's not range land vista, but it's still some open space.

Perfection demands big sky and prairie land for dreaming, doesn't it?
There is a leaky outside faucet; the fences need mending; the summer ozone comes and sits like invisible heated exhaust spewed from all the cars that trudge between here and San Fransicso. That's over 150 miles away! Yes, it's true for the entire county, but we take it rather personally.

What if we have to live with the pangs of disappointment? What if we make a mistake? Do you love everything about where you live?

Then we remember the good things: two acres of beautiful garden spot where organic biodynamic gardening has been done; feathers on the ground from unknown birds; a daily gathering of beautiful moths; splendid beetles on the screen door; deer poop in the garden (see fence mending). These are good things all, full of promise and life.

Ah, Voltaire.* We wait with the good and struggle with our desires for the best. We don't know whether to say, damn you, Bank of America, or thank you. But if that bank gives any more time to think about it, it'll be f*ck you for sure.

*Whenever I write "ah, someone" I am reminded of Allen Ginsberg's Howl. "Ah Carl, while you are not safe I am not safe. And now you really are in the total animal soup of time."

Thursday, December 24, 2009

From The Middle Of The Road

We are always zooming by on the highways and interstates when we see Red-tailed Hawks on poles. We can't stop, and can only acknowledge them in a blurry haze of speed and destination. But luckily for us, my sister asked us the other day to go look at a house and some property in our general neck of the woods, and we obliged her by driving over with the camera and taking a look around.
Oh yes, the place she is interested in is quite beautiful, like a park of rolling hills with oaks and Acorn woodpeckers. On the way back, on a lazy and lightly traveled country road, we spotted this hawk on a pole. We had to stop, right there in the middle of that road to take a good look. I opened the passenger car window, leaned out as far as I could and took a few shots. It's something I've been wanting to do for all the thousands and thousands of miles we've traveled. This hawk let me take several shots, and then flew off in search of peace and mice. Out of my focus, but definitely in its own. Just as it should be.

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas, friends.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Solstice In The Forest

Roger has been working on a post about firewood. I asked him on Sunday around 4:00 pm if he was going to post it for Monday. Nope. Uh-oh, that's disappointing. I was really hoping he would have a post here for you, but he said it just wasn't ready. So, I made this one up.
What is there to write about these days that's not a fist-shaking lament about health care, the environment, or the weather? Monday, December 21 at 9:47 am (PST) is the winter solstice. Living here below the tall cedars, pine and fir of the mountains, we are mostly aware of the transit of the sun like the shadow in Plato's cave. We don't see direct light but only the reflection of it. The reflection is the closest we come to seeing the real thing for what it is. (The above excellent photo is borrowed from the internet without permission.)
Just last year I watched that blazing sun rise over the bay every morning. I marked the earth's journey by the sun's angles day after day, week after week. An intimacy is created by such a ritual. I trusted it. I expected its golden presence to pour through the windows, up over the horizon and through the arch of the sky everyday. This was our reliable calendar. We knew it equally well on the clear days in Port Townsend, Wa. We knew the sun.
Here we are learning something new. We are learning to live where we don't directly see the sun, save for those halo moments from behind the tall trees. We see its light in the morning turning the trees a very warm rose and amber. But we don't even know where on the horizon it actually peeks up and rises. The little bit of sky we do see changes color at the beginning and end of the day. But the thing itself, the sun, we don't see from any of our windows.

Soon it will rise higher and go above the trees, but for today, it is at its lowest point. We only know it is there because we believe the rumors.

Happy Winter Solstice.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Safe Forests, Old Trees

COPENHAGEN — Negotiators have all but completed a sweeping deal that would compensate countries for preserving forests and other natural landscapes like peat soils, swamps and fields that play a crucial role in curbing climate change.

We call this the wise old owl tree. It looks back at us on our walks along one of the ditches.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Rain Rain and More Rain

For all of the 21 years that Roger and I have been together, we've lived where average yearly rainfall totals were never more than 20 inches (and that would have been a good year). Now that we're here in the Sierra foothills, we've moved to where the total average rainfall is twice as much. Right now, it looks like we've struck it rain rich and with no let up in sight. We may be seeing the first signs of El Nino since 1998, and damned if it's not right on schedule. NOAA said December, and December it is.

We're talking rain. Days and days of it without end. It amazes me how many people complain about it too. I always ask if they haven't noticed that we actually need the rain? That California is bone dry and shriveling into dust? Yes, it's annoying. But we can't go out and romp in eternal blissful sunshine, and sustain life, can we?
You would not believe the local news. A few inches of rain and you'd think we'd been invaded by martians. Hello, TV news broadcasters, it's only rain. Really, don't be afraid, and quit scaring your viewers. You don't have to stand in a puddle to show us how wet it is. You don't have to pick up snow and toss it to show us that it's snowing. You don't have to treat us like infantile boobs. You could tell us how much rain has actually fallen. How, or if, it deviates from averages. You could, you know, report the actual weather news.

Yes, it's raining, and we desperately need it. Now, get over it. Since when did we become such babies? Anyone remember?

Monday, December 07, 2009

Signs On A Highway

We drove a lot of miles the other day, heading south to see my mom. Now that we're living in the Sierra foothills, we took a different route than our usual Highway 101. Interstate 5 is a challenge in so many ways. Speed limit is 70 mph, which means traffic zooms by between 80 and 90. The land is flat and endless for hundreds and hundreds of miles. If the heartland is the breadbasket, this stretch of earth is its fruit and vegetable basket. Corporate farmlands stretch to the horizon in neat lines that make kaleidoscope a verb in a speeding car. We noticed interesting signage every couple of miles for about a hundred miles, where orchards have been laid to waste and empty acres and tumbleweeds press against field fencing. The signs said: Congress Created Dust Bowl. Mmmm. I said to Roger, well, they also created the orchards, the highway, and the water system. A drought makes everyone suffer. Sometimes someone has to decide who suffers first. These are the times in which we live.

Roger sez: Water supplies in California are an insane hodge podge of claims based on first claim, and on down, seniority. Also crime and bribery, aka political donations. Check out "Chinatown" the movie by Roman Polanski. Also the book "Cadillac Desert" by Marc Reisner.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Perseverance Furthers

I woke in the middle of the night and two words floated mysteriously into my head: perseverance furthers.
What the heck does that mean? It's 2:00 am, and I am trying to remember where I know these words, when it hits me, it's from the I Ching. The I Ching? How long has it been since I counted out yarrow sticks to divine meaning from the moment? More than thirty-five years. Yet here I was lying in bed, contemplating two words straight out of those sweet, new-age hippie days on the 14-acre farm in West Linn, Oregon circa 1974, and now stirred the night with their mystical divinations.
Perseverance furthers.

So, in the morning I googled "I Ching" and found this from the very first hexagram:

The creative works sublime success,
Furthering through perseverance.

It actually doesn't matter that this really means nothing to me. I am more struck by the remembering of the words than considering the absurd poetry of hexagrams divined by yarrow sticks or coin tosses.
What I know is that I have been trying to photograph trees that are lit like fire by the setting sun.

I had Roger show me how to use the digital camera with manual settings to open the aperture more and close the shutter more quickly. I needed light and speed to capture these wildly lit moments.

Light doesn't always materialize in exactly the place it is expected. The trees stay green at the end of the day, their needles dark and calm, where two days before they had been utterly transformed. The rains come too, folding sunset into its endless gray. The sunset orange glow rays move on, especially now that the sun is diving south as quickly as it can to reach solstice at its celestially appointed hour.
But I did persevere and found the lingering light in some trees across the road. I've read that this affect is called alpenglow, the low angle of the sun and maybe a bit of high altitude. I don't know. I am just awestruck by the fire of it and am glad to see it burn like blazing embers in the trees.

Friday, November 27, 2009

I Keep Trying Without Much Luck

The previous post's photos simply don't capture the crazy thing that happens around here at the end of the day's light. Some trees simply catch on fire with the last of the sun's rays. But what's weird is that not all of them do; trees right next to each other look completely different in the waning light. This tree all lit up is NOT deciduous. That's a fir tree in the setting sun. How is that possible? Have you ever seen it before? I haven't. (Definitely embiggen the pic.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Wordless Wednesday: Forest Light

Monday, November 23, 2009

Driving As Fast As We Can

I had a funny conversation while Skyping with my twin brother the other morning. Well, it was funny to me, but that's because I have a terribly morbid sense of humor. You don't know that about me but it's true. My brother is a sweetheart of a man. He is a social worker who serves the schizophrenic and bipolar community in the county just south of where he lives. He commutes 80 miles daily (that's round trip), and is very conscious of his mileage and his carbon footprint. Well over a year ago, he decided to not drive over 60 mph, which is slow for California drivers on almost any highway, but that was his commitment. Until the other day, when it occurred to him that the earth is a complete mess, and is really not going to recover while we humans are still on it. So rather than driving slowly to impede the slow destruction, he's decided to drive as fast as he can to assist in the demise. He told me, "I'm driving 75 mph now." We laughed about it until tears rolled down our cheeks. I told him I wanted a bumper sticker that says:

We roared.

Except some part of us was solemnly serious. We grew up in a household without formal religion, so we always placed our faith in our fellow humans, in community and in government. But we see that even a faith in things that can be seen and known can be as absurd as any other. We had a dark awakening, a bleak epiphany accompanied by a bit of hysteria. Perhaps there is a certain relief in not believing anymore that we can effect a change, work to make things better. That head-banging gets old pretty fast, well I mean after 40 years of it, you finally do have to see what's in front of you. A handful of earth-firsters and recyclers are not going to save the world. For the most part, it's already over. Is that an awful thing to say or think out loud? It won't be a dramatic 2012 scenario, but the slow agony of little losses that will eventually amount to the loss of everything. Do you see that too? Or is there some shining hope on your horizon that actually makes sense? We see there is hardly the will in our government to end wars; provide a basic human right to health care; or even to have a serious conversation about global climate change (Oh Copenhagen, you can drop dead). We're a mess on every measurable scale. It is completely acceptable to privatize profit and socialize loss; to protect the mighty while they stand on the backs of the weak and fallen. Our fellow citizens exalt inanity; foster the apotheosis of insipid politicians; and stare blankly at television screens while eating foods that will never in a million years actually nourish them (but have a shelf-life lasting that long). It's a mighty bleak landscape, one that requires maximum speed for traversing.

So, how could we not laugh? We laughed. I mean really laughed. Like there's no tomorrow.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Wordless Friday: Alert and Asleep


Monday, November 16, 2009

For The Thousandth Time...

You'd think with something as momentous as the one thousandth post, we'd have something lined up to dazzle you. Hah! Slackers like us? You must know us better than that by now. Although it's certainly not for lack of trying that a dazzling post didn't materialize here. Not even looking back at our humble beginning and our forays into politics or our first encounters with:bald eagles in Port Townsend;
or the neighborhood bobcat;or this luscious tidal estuary; or amazing sunrises;or sunsets that set the sky ablaze;

could spark something to set this post on fire.

Suffice to say, we have seen things that confirmed our wildest dreams, and
our deepest fears.

We've tossed our lives so high in the air, we have yet to securely touch down. Who knew that our private lives would intersect with a global economic crisis that would have a direct impact on the very thing we need to settle down? Not us. Still we keep looking around with our aging eyes and challenged spirits, seeking out the things that invoke awe and inspiration.
Luckily, there's always something. Like this young orphaned doe that comes to our yard to sniff out the apples (that we furtively put out for her) and nibble away at them. She reminds us that the instinct for survival is intrinsic to life from the beginning.

Roger sez:

our one thousandth post, a kilo-gram if you will. a time to look back over the past year's posts and consider blogging. we humans do like numbers with zeroes. how fun it is to look back at our life through the lens of blogger. yes, my own contributions have dribbled off to almost nonexistent, and i was not prolific in the best of times. without a blog though i would probably have written zilch.

while i do enjoy looking back, i realize that what i value most about blogging is the people we have met online, and in a few cases, in person. such a wide range of opinions, ages, interests, and locations. i've gotten an at-least-college-intro-class level education in botany, marine science, medicine, evolution, politics of all sorts, and economics. i know quite a bit about many places i will never visit. all of this reading the posts of interesting and vital people speaking for the most part in conversational language.

So, will there be a second thousand? It may take us ten years instead of this speed-by five, but hey, who's counting when it's been so much fun? Hah!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

We Saw A Bear, But Here's A Squirrel

Squirrels are just easier to photograph, and the bear was running so fast, I wasn't even sure it was a bear until my brain registered BEAR! We really did see bear on Tuesday (my very first one!), while we were hiking the Banner Cascade ditch trail. It came bounding down off the hillside, splashed into the irrigation ditch, crossed the trail about 25 yards in front of us and then thrashed down the very steep ravine on the other side.

When we see a squirrel, our brains don't shout SQUIRREL, but when we see a BEAR, the shout is unmistakable.

Photo is of a Western Gray Squirrel. We have a very rambunctious family living in our yard. They are really cute rodents, and incredibly industrious.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Life in the New Country

This is post #998.
Here is our little yearling photographed in mid-October. Her small loneliness made us want to run out and learn how to be her comfort.
Here she is on Saturday. We have grown very fond of her and look forward to every one of her tentative visits. She's tiny and has the most beautiful soulful eyes. She is always alone.
On Sunday I stuffed my pockets full of apples from a tree that grows along one of the ditch trails. I scattered them about the yard for the little one to find. I don't feel guilty about it.
Last Sunday we walked to the little falls at Rush Creek. Every place we explore opens our eyes to the nuance of local color and light.
Even just looking out the window across the road, the light is beautiful especially in the late afternoon.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

local stuff

the red things in the foreground meter irrigation water in miner's inches drawn out to paying customers.
along the banner cascade trail

my beginning look into the history and development of the canals in nevada county, sometimes called miner's ditches, confirmed how little i know and how fascinating are the canals and the larger story of gold mining on the western slope of the sierra nevada mountains.

nevada is a spanish word meaning snow covered. sierra (literally saw, as in handsaw with teeth, related to serrated) translates as jagged mountain range. kind of stuns me that i grew up in california and didn't know that. from the superb history section of a very nice book titled "Yuba Trails" by Susan Lamela and Hank Meals (here is the updated edition by Hank Meals. Susan Lamela died in 2000) i learned that in 1873 60% of the miners in california were chinese. also that the gold found in the modern rivers was washed out of a 50 million year old river system that ran on a north-south axis and is now located mostly on the ridge tops. hence hydraulic mining to recover the gold still on the ridges. mmmmmm geology.

from the county website

"By 1867, the total length of ditches in the county had reached 850 miles at a cost of construction of $4,250,000. The two leading systems were the Eureka Lake and Yuba Canal Company and the South Yuba Canal Company. By 1880 there were more than 1000 miles of ditches, and construction costs had reached $7,000,000. It was the elaborate ditch systems that made hydraulic mining possible. This form of mining dominated all other methods of obtaining gold until it was stopped by court order in 1884. Today that network of ditches have been absorbed by the Nevada Irrigation District, with some of the old ditches still in use."

see what i mean about fascinating. i need to spend some time in the library and local bookstores. meanwhile we continue exploring the actual local area. we walked on the banner/cascade trail along a canal that supplies water to two treatment plants which produce potable water for grass valley and nevada (snow covered!) city.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Where The Sun Don't Shine

I have finally come to the conclusion that Roger and I are hopelessly and irrevocably insane. Why else would we consider making an offer on a house that we have rejected at least six times in the past five months? On the other hand, we've gone back to look at this place six times in five months, so something keeps calling us back. Oh right, isn't that some twisted definition of insanity. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome?
We have this thing about light and southern exposure. We especially think about it now, in our rental in the dark woods (see above photo ). We think a house should be built with an architectural consideration of the four directions and the four seasons. We have driven our real estate agents crazy with this obsession. We say, "The house really doesn't matter. It's all about the land." They show us houses that really don't matter, but we still reject them one by one. Oh, we tell them, orientation does matter. It may not in sexual preferences, but it sure as heck does when the winter light is only something to be seen in the sun-drenched meadows across the canyon or street. We don't want to be staring longingly out some window at mesmerizing golden light, while shivering in a moody dark room. We talked to an architect the other day. He agreed that most houses are simply not built with any notion of the sun. The underlying assumption is that it's oriented correctly if the front door faces the street. What ever direction that might be.

So, why do we keep going back to this house? Because the 10 acres of land it's on provide a great buffer to the rest of the crazy world. It's completely livable with plenty of space and big windows. There is a fantastic and huge garden space that has already been used to do organic biodynamic gardening. It has two 1500 gallon cement holding tanks underground for water. But there are issues: The main part of the house is an older manufactured home. The stick built addition cuts out all sunlight to that part of the house. The trees that block much of the morning winter sunlight are on the neighbor's property.
I added a compass to the roof of the house to give you an idea of where things are happening, and labeled each section. But we keep coming back here to check the light. We go in the morning. We go later in the day. We've gone in summer. We've gone back in fall. We've walked around and listened to the birds in the trees. We've had toast there (oh yes, we brought tea and toast one morning) while sitting on the back steps. It is utterly serene and peaceful.

So we finally finally finally decided to make an offer. Guess what? Someone else had the same idea, a day before we did. We'll keep you posted.

Roger sez:

we have looked at a lot of houses and properties. some with our agent, many more just doing a drive-by on our own. nothing on the market now intrigues us anything like this place does. it is in an area of high end houses, not that that is important to us in itself, but in the real world it means that roads are plowed in the winter, and electricity and phone are fixed rapidly if interrupted. it is fairly close to town. it is ten acres, mostly of forest, to insulate us from (ugh) other people. we like neighbors and count ourselves to be good neighbors. we don't want fences to be the separation that works, we want trees and distance.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Okay, So I Lied

Roger isn't doing Wednesday's post. He got sidetracked by a surfeit of information on the history of gold and the irrigation ditches. It's pretty interesting stuff. In the meantime, my back is mending slowly. For each day I do something stupid, I extend my recovery period. Today we hiked over three miles on one of the ditch trails. It's just too hard not to head outside. The fall weather is so beautiful, and the hummingbirds are making quiet clicking sounds in the manzanitas. How would we know, if we didn't head out and take a look and listen?

Monday, October 26, 2009


I thought Roger was going to do this post for Monday. It was supposed to be all about the Nevada Irrigation District. But he got sidetracked by making me some dinner. I hurt my back pretty bad last Tuesday and have been down on the couch since with my ice pack and my blues. We've ventured out twice to hike the irrigation ditch, because I am a lousy and impatient patient. The ditch is an amazing thing, with miles and miles of trails and water.
So here's a sneak preview of what we saw, and what is truly more precious than gold. If all goes well, Roger will tell you more about it on Wednesday.

Friday, October 23, 2009

A Covered Bridge, and LadyBugs!

I suppose experiencing this 18-month home-search odyssey has its perks, like exploring new places in an attempt to get to know an area. Truth be told, though, walks that provide us with views like this are what's keeping us sane (or at least as sane as we claim to be).
Otherwise, there's really no way of knowing how wacky we'd already be. Even a view of at least a million ladybugs made us happy.
What does that tell you about our sanity? We ask you.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009