Monday, December 29, 2008

Maintaining Connection

We left home today to head to our little cabin in the Trinity woods, which is even more rustic than our yurt (although it does have a flush toilet, albeit in a water closet 50 yards from the building!). Tonight, we are staying at our friend's little studio in Arcata, which is a cute, has-all-the-essential-features unit, walking distance from downtown. What a different reality than our rural homestead! Most people leave the city to get a break: we enjoy going urban and eating out to enjoy a change of pace.

But the urban scene challenges the locavore and the naturalist, in that the earth beneath your feet is more veiled and obscure. Whereas it has become commonplace for at least several ingredients in each of our nightly dinners to be from our very land, when we patronize restaurants, unless they focus conscientously on local food, we don't know where the lettuce, or fish, or anything else came from. And visiting buildings can be rather disorienting, when you can't remember which way north is, or if they don't take advantage of passive solar day-lighting.

Though I feel like a fish out of water at moments, for me, it is sometimes an opportunity, to re-orient and re-locate, to hold that space as I walk through the world of disconnect, to hold the space of connection to natural cycles. I hold this vision for the future, where the passage of the sun across the sky is a primary informant of design for buildings and public spaces used by humans.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Rainy Day Birds

This morning, I headed to my sit spot without Ella. She wanted to stay with Daddy and read books. So I pulled on my fleecies, donned rubber rain boots, and goretex rain hat, and headed down the hill. It's rather drippy today, what with the constant weeping leak of light rain falling from the sky since yesterday. One thing I noticed, however, is how distracting the raindrops falling through the leaves are: I kept thinking I was seeing birds out of the corner of my eye. You could all try this, to see what it's like...just soften your gaze while outdoors in the rain. Make it so you are using all of your peripheral vision. Then notice movement! Let me know if you try it.

After I sat there a while, I got bored, and remembered that the dog smelled like fish two nights ago, so I decided to walk the creek and see if I could find a salmon carcass. The creek is bigger than yesterday, and more brown. I had to walk on the flat above it because in places the water was deeper than the tops of my boots. I tromped through the blackberry and stinging nettle, finding little mushrooms, or little rivulets I didn't quite know about. Eventually, I left the creek to head home, no spawning salmon to speak of.

I walked back the way we normally travel from our neighbor's house. About half-way back, I heard the feeding flock of birds I heard two days ago with Ella. They are a rowdy little bunch. It's Hutton's vireos, chestnut-backed chickadees, and sometimes sparrows, and probably others at times. Instead of walking up on them and causing them to scatter, I stopped, and turned my body aside, to communicate my passivity. They fed for a while on coyote brush (It is preparing to flower, and there are little tiny seeds at the base), poison oak (maybe there are insects on it?), and other brush. They slowly made their way closer, until one little brave vireo soul flew to a California hazelnut branch just three or four feet from me! I got such a lovely look at it! It was a treat. The rest of the flock was arriving into the bay across the trail, and I also got a really clear look at a chestnut-backed chickadee, who kept flashing the white stripes on the back of its head as it darted between and around branches. They sure brightened my foggy, gray day.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Frogs and Skunk Cabbage and Wild Ginger

It feels so wonderful to have new momentum with the sit spot routine, an excuse to leave the house, whatever the weather, and to explore and learn about our back yard! Ella and I bundled up to brave the slow, weeping rain to visit our little log backrest in the dripping, moist, and mossy forest. Ella ventured to touch the mushrooms we found yesterday, again. We heard a small feeding flock of chickadees and maybe other birds pass overhead while we whispered to each other.

After only about 8 minutes, Ella said she wanted to go home, so I took her back, and asked Drew if he would watch Ella so I could go back out. I had a more adult sit, and I centered and grounded into the earth, said my thanksgiving address, and dropped into my awareness exercises. I began to notice some details about where I was sitting. I had thought the log against which I rested was on old, burned fir tree, but I realized it is a bay log. And the stump to my northwest is the bay stump from which it came! And there are not one, not two, but three wood rat nests within sight distance of the spot.

After a long collection of minutes, I decided to wander a little, to look at our northern spring. As I crept through the damp leaf litter and the overhanging sword ferns, I noticed the first leaf buds of the skunk cabbage emerging from the moist earth, and a quick look underneath the spade-shaped wild ginger leaves revealed its tightly curled flower buds. Ah, the very first evidence of spring approaching! Not sure if this is earlier than is should be, but hey.

And finally, I first noticed on Christmas Day the song of the tree frog, a joyful response to the wetness we are at last experiencing. And not a day later, I have begun to hear them here, in the swamp, and even right close to the yurt, I believe in the garden. I'll let you all know if I locate the little singer.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Sit Spot: A New Year/Solstice Resolution

Merry Christmas to everyone! I hope your holiday, however you choose to celebrate, was full of health and happiness. We had a wonderful, adventuresome day: after opening presents, we ventured out for a traditional beach walk, which lasted only a short while due to heavy rain, hail, and cold, cold wind. After nap, we paid a visit to our wonderful friends and neighbors, Jen, Blase, Ossian, Nola, and Jen's mom and stepdad. We shared a delicious meal with them (THANK YOU!), and then traveled on to the sauna to sweat out all the junk food we'd consumed all day.

Today dawned with more blue sky than clouds, at last. It's been many days since we've had a day so nice! It was the perfect day to introduce Ella to the "Sit Spot" routine! Over the last several years, I have off and on been pursuing a self-guided natural history curriculum, called Kamana, offered through the Wilderness Awareness School in Duvall, Washington. I've fallen off the wagon several times, the most recent fall being due to our move here coupled with giving birth to Ella.

But thanks to Drew, I am climbing back on, in pursuit of that elusive goal that I can feel but can't see, out there in the forest ether. It is a goal that is something like wanting to feel myself part of the fabric of animals, birds, plants, water, and everything else that converges on our specific place here, to be able to hear a sound a know that it means a coyote is slinking through the underbrush, or to be able to find food in any season or weather. I'm looking for indigenous knowing of this land, and all it's faces.

How did Drew help me climb back on? As a Christmas gift, he bought me Wilderness Awareness School's "No Child Left Inside" package, which includes three books: Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv, Sharing Nature With Children, by Joseph Cornell, and Coyote's Guide to Connecting With Nature, For Kids of All Ages and their Mentors, by Jon Young (Wilderness Awareness School's founder), Ellen Haas, and Evan McGown. What better way to help me reconnect with my goals and desires than to encourage me to share it with Ella.

The Sit Spot routine is the core of the Kamana program, and basically involves choosing a place, close to your home, that you can visit every single day, in all kinds of weather, at all times of year. You go there and practice awareness exercises. Over time, you begin to have some odd, and at first, seemingly random experiences. Though I've not yet mastered the routine, and have always had trouble going every day, I did it enough at one time to begin to have strange and coincidental encounters with animals, like deer, squirrels, chickarees, and birds. You begin to notice things you somehow missed before.

So this morning, I asked Ella to go on a special walk with me to a sit spot. We talked about being quiet and listening and feeling, and smelling and looking at everything. And we walked quietly to the spot I've chosen, down the hill behind the yurt, into the forest, next to an old charred log, next to a bay tree, with a wonderful view of the lower meadow by the creek, and the wet seepy area below one of our springs. It's perfect. We crept in there, and sat together, listening for birds, drinking in the rushing sound of the full creek after all the rain of the last few days. We touched some yellow jelly fungus, and some stiff capped mushrooms that were growing out of the log. And after she got bored and couldn't sit still, we went on a little walkabout, to look for some deer, to play in the creek, and to see what else we could find. It was lovely, to wander with no agenda, and to find unmelted hail unexpectedly, and to follow a deer trail, hoping to find them. Ella was remarkably quiet and attentive the whole time. I would call it, unabashedly, a complete success.

So we'll be sit spotting every day, from now on. Who wants to join me?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Happy Solstice!

The fire is lit!

Overlooking the Mattole Estuary

The sky blushes pink for sunset

Ella bundled up

Friends gather round the burning solstice fire

Already, we have arrived at and surpassed the longest night of the year. It seems to have come quickly this year...

We gathered a plethora of outerwear and a few snacks, and extracted our playing toddler by 4:30 (by threatening to leave without her!), and headed for the bluffs above Mattole Beach, site of this year's Solstice celebration. For 15 years, the party has been at the home of Freeman and Nina, and last year, they declined to host a potluck, and this year, due to Freeman's healing broken back, Michael and Ellen volunteered to host out on their grazing lease.

We parked the car just as the fire was lit. The new location is just breathtaking! There was the looming pile of brush and limbs, set to become a bonfire, perched on the edge of the continent, overlooking the blue and serene Mattole Estuary, while scalloped black sand outlined the roaring ocean below. There were already a handful of revelers, all donning rain pants and coats, parkas, and barn boots, braving the winds and threatening rain to honor the age old tradition of lighting a fire on solstice sunset, to keep the light alive on the longest night of the year, to welcome back the light. The sky turning pink was the only indicator of sunset, as thick clouds obscured the view above.

After about an hour of chatting, we circled for our formal business: to cast into the fire things from the previous year we wish to release, to honor the births and deaths of those close to us, to call out the things we are grateful for, and to sow the seeds of our intentions for the coming year. We write the wishes and intentions on little pieces of paper, and tie them to a fir tree, which is tossed onto the fire at the end.

We have not had as much rain as some would hope so far this year, especially the salmon. Our neighbor Clarence offered up a Native American rain chant, in hopes of bringing on the rain. We all agreed to give it a go. I'll be damned if that rain didn't open up while we were still singing the unfamiliar syllables! And it kept up, effectively bringing our family's attendance at the party to a close.

The Solstice gathering is one of my favorite annual events all year in Petrolia, a chance to gather with intention with our small, but large, community of fellow Earth travelers. It feels like an ancient connection, to honor so old a tradition. Indigenous peoples all over the world honor(ed) this annual marker of the passage of the Earth around the sun. And shouldn't we honor that glowing orange orb that truly provides all that we consume and enjoy on this sacred planet?

Solstice Blessings to all of you, and may your coming year be filled with fulfilled intentions!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Some birthday pics

Here I am today, 33 years old, my Jesus year! I'm having a wonderful day. Slow morning start, breakfast, letting Ella open my presents, Ella off to babysitter, Drew and I have a hike date, and I got some camera nerd time in. The photos above are from said hike, of this fabulous Bay tree. Ella is now napping, and we will attend the annual Petrolia White Elephant party tonight. This is a fabulous shindig, with too many contestants elbowing and bumping their ways around a medium sized living room.

In case you don't know about white elephant, it's a gift exchange. Each person brings one gift, and picks a number when they arrive. Each number is called in succesion. When it's your turn, you can either open an unopened gift under the tree, or you can steal a gift from someone else who already opened one. Rules are: 1. Each gift can only be stolen three times. The fourth owner is the FINAL owner. 2. You cannot steal a gift from a relative/family member. (This is significant as a lot of our community members are related and could easily collaborate to get a certain gift!) 3. You MUST take your white elephant home!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Health Care for ALL

I hosted a Community Health Care Discussion tonight, as prompted by the incoming Obama-Biden Transition Team. They are compiling the opinions of ordinary Americans like you and me as to what is broken, what needs fixing, and what we think they should do about our current health care system. I couldn't resist the opportunity to contribute to the larger conversation, as health care has risen to the surface as a personal top priority.

A whopping 7 adults and two toddlers gathered at the Community Center tonight to answer the questions, and to create a policy statement to submit to the team. We had a healthy critical discussion about lots of things that are wrong, and there was generally a consensus that everyone should be entitled to health care. Wouldn't it be fabulous if we could go to the doctor when we wanted, and not feel worried not only about our health, but about how are we gonna pay for it, or what if our insurance goes up, etc. We were all in favor of a single payer health care system. Even beyond that, what if our health system encouraged health, by supporting nutrition, education, preventative care, and alternative health modalities? I sure hope that the Obama administration can pull something together in this arena, for the benefit of all.

If you would like to host a discussion wherever you are, it's really easy. Go to, and click the link about signing up to host a Community Health Care Discussion. They provide all the necessary instructions. You can invite as many or as few people as you'd like.

The Statement we created is copied below:

"We believe the government should create a Health Care System, as opposed to the Sick Care System that we currently have. We believe insurance companies have no place in a Health Care System, and that the government should provide payment for medical services that people require as recommended by their doctors and other health care professionals. Health care professionals should receive a healthy living wage. Drugs should not be patentable, and should be available at low or no cost for all people who need them. Public policy should support public health, by encouraging wellness, nutrition, and preventative care. Alternative modalities such as acupuncture, chiropractic, massage, and others should be supported and encouraged in service of maintaining the HEALTH of our population."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


I know that anyone living up and down the west coast has been blasted this week with a comprehensive mass of [relatively] frigid Arctic uncle, who lives in Oakland, remarked that when he left his building to walk to work on Monday, he thought that there might have been an earthquake and he had been transported to Chicago. My friend in Montana showed her son playing outside in -20 degrees in a Facebook photo. And friends in Oregon shared that there have been lovely blankets of snow lying all around their towns, making driving treacherous, and beauty common.

While we haven't seen snow here at sea level on the Lost Coast, we have had two nights of hard freeze, and a third, tonight, of lighter frost (there is a change in the weather afoot). We have needed to keep the fire going almost all day, and areas in the shade to the north of the yurt have maintained frost all day long! This is not unheard of here, but it's really a rare few days a year that it gets this cold.

The road into town has been covered in the dangerous, invisible black ice at night, and motorists who tried to get to town on Monday, as well as each successive day since, have had to wrangle with snow in places. Ella and I went to the store yesterday, and a guy had driven down from Wilder Ridge. His truck had snow all over the hood and roof. A large clump laid next to the truck on the pavement, and Ella was just beside herself about it. We ran circles around it, touched it, prodded it, stomped in it, and squealed with joy. Who knew that just a little lump of snow could be so much fun?! The weather people keep threatening that we will see snow, even down here at sea level, but we'll just have to see about that, won't we?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Country Christmas Tree Hunt

It has been something of a tradition to seek and collect a Christmas tree on my birthday, which is December 20th. But this year, since Ella is old enough to be excited about trees and ornaments, I couldn't wait to venture out to find one early. Our lovely neighbor, Deva, offered up her large knoll, which has a spontaneous eruption of small fir tree acne on its north side.

We left the yurt in the late morning, wearing rain coats and boots, and carrying no less than one large tree saw, a rainbow umbrella, a dog, and a toddler. The moment we left, it began to rain. It's been an on and off affair of showers, snow, sleet, sunbursts, and rainbows, as of late. Down the hill and across the creek and up up up, past the spring, coming into sweeping vistas of our flat, Apple Tree Ridge, other people's burn piles, far away cows, and amazing, fluffy cloud-scapes. We met Deva, who joined us for the wet walk. As we reached the tree area, we noticed a buck at the ridge, who uncomfortably strutted away, hoping to evade the dogs.

At last, we selected several trees, and asked Ella to make the final choice: "Dis one, no. dis one, yeah yeah yeah..." Drew and I each took a turn with the hand saw, and then we collected our harvest, and began the trek back. It began raining harder, and was a pretty steady downpour most of the trip home, until, of course, we arrived back at the yurt. Ella was rather non-plussed, but she made a valiant effort nonetheless, hiking in her non-waterproof blue poncho and pink rain boots.

In the fading afternoon light, after the tree dried off a little, I brought it inside and set it inside a white bucket with rocks in the bottom to stabilize it, and dug out the tree ornaments. Ella LOVED this part, and has been so delighted to play with and talk to the animals now inhabiting the tree. She even played peek-a-boo with the raccoon this morning during breakfast! With Ella being older this year, things are setting up for a really fun holiday, full of new family rituals and traditions.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Full Moon and Sick Times

With all this clear weather as of late, we've had an amazing string of moony nights here on the Lost Coast. Crystal clear, twinkling stars, frosty grass, and white liquid moonlight spilling all over everything. No need for headlamps, and it shines in on our faces through the skylight while we sleep in our cozy yurt loft. Yesterday afternoon, we were returning from town and took a pit stop while on the Wildcat (the road between Ferndale and Petrolia), and as I chanced a look behind me to the east, a giant, transparent moon was just above the golden horizon. Oh, it makes the heart sing! And tonight, as the sun was setting, there it comes again, hovering over the dip in the ridge to the northeast.

The neat thing about the solstice full moon is that it describes the path of the summer sun. In other words, where the moon came up tonight is where the sun rises on summer solstice. This is a valuable piece of design information, if you want to get a sense of where the sun is on your site and you don't have access to other kinds of tools.

Otherwise, this is also a time of year when everyone and their brother is sick, getting sick, overcoming sickness, or worried about getting sick. Our whole family was sick during this last calendar week, and everywhere I go, I hear of others, and hear the coughing and congested noses. More time indoors with windows and doors closed + drier air to dry up throats and noses, due to woodstoves + holiday eating of rich and sweet food along with extra alcoholic beverages + less exercise + more time spent in indoor places with lots of people = ripe breeding ground for viruses of all walks. Our little family is always working on eating well, but especially this time of year, toning down the dairy and sweets, trying to exercise more, and wash hands wash hands wash hands. It's amazing how far hand washing will take you! While we were sick, I made

Kira's Sicky Soup...

1 onion
2 stalks celery
2 carrots
5 cloves garlic
grated ginger (to taste, optional)
1 bunch chard, chopped, including stems
chopped (or a can of) tomatoes, about 2-3 cups
chicken stock
cayenne (to taste)
1 pkg. bean thread noodles
tofu (optional)

Saute the onion slowly in some olive oil in a big soup pot until it is transparent. Add the celery, mushrooms, garlic, ginger, cayenne. Saute a few minutes longer. Add the stock, some extra water, and tomatoes. Cover and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer. When carrots are cooked, remove some water to a small bowl. Dissolve several teaspoons of miso with the small amount of water and set aside. Put bean thread noodles, chard, and tofu into soup pot and boil a few moments longer. Turn off the heat. Add the miso slurry into the soup and serve with whole grain toast and a tall glass of water or tea. Eat for several meals in a row, even breakfast! Yum! I was grateful the other night for garden carrots, chard, and tomatoes.

May you all enjoy lovely full moons and good health throughout the winter season!

Sunday, December 7, 2008


Yesterday, Drew said, 'We should go to the beach this weekend.' Yeah. We should. We have been having this gorgeous weather, which makes for nice beach time in the winter, with low angle sun and a rather slack wind. Somehow, I often forget to go visit the ocean, even though it's only a short 7 miles away. So we gathered our snacks and extra layers, the dog and her chuck-it, and piled in the car.

We arrived shortly at the mouth of McNutt Gulch, the place where the Mattole Road spills onto the beach flat when you head north out of Petrolia. We drive by it several times per month, but until today, Drew and I had only been there together once, and I had only been there one other time besides. It's a beautiful beach, bordered on the east by impressive sand dunes. It's a wide, flat, plain-like beach with a fantastic view in all directions. McNutt Gulch is generally a small volume stream, and its water usually snakes back and forth wildly before disappearing into the sand before it reaches the ocean.

We walked out and immediately were all drawn into searching for tiny, smooth, orange, green, and yellow agates, with the unlikely idea that we will use them someday in a concrete countertop. There are so many! There is sea glass too. We could spend all day collecting odd shaped trinkets and pieces of shells made smooth by the action of sand and waves and time.

The wind came up rather suddenly from the north, the cold strong wind, unfolding white caps out beyond the surf zone, so we retreated to the dunes, to a south face that was warmed by the sun but protected. Ahhh, reclining in the sun next to my husband while my daughter throws the ball for the dog, snacking on salty almonds and crackers in there any better life?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Winter Patterns

Suddenly, we arrive here. Though the 70-degree temperatures lately are deceiving, the shortness of the days and the crispy chill at night is presenting winter as arrived. The darkest season presents some different daily patterns than the warm, long days of summer. We have to watch our power usage, and therefore the weather, closely. This significantly affects our ability to do laundry. We need not only full sun on the solar panels to run the machine, but sun to dry the load outdoors. With the days so short, the laundry is still cool and damp an hour before sunset when the dew drops. We can barely squeeze one load onto our indoor drying space. So we have to get strategic. Sometimes, a day is this morning, though foggy, we could plainly see it would be sunny. We ran the laundry, only now, high clouds obscure the sun, and the temperature has fallen. Onto the indoor racks we go!

Winter also changes other routines: we keep a fire going most of the time; we cook dinner in the fading light or darkness; we wear waterproof footwear; I no longer visit the garden daily; we watch more movies at night; we spend hours poring over seed and nursery catalogs fantasizing about spring, fruit trees, and edible goodies; we see more of our neighbors than during the summer as everyone's projects have slowed down; and we prepare for the coming of the light with much social revelry.

We also spend time worrying about the fish, and about climate change. The river mouth opened in November, but it just closed again the other day. Spawning surveyors are reporting that adults are spawning in the mainstem, and that none have made it past Honeydew. The river flows peaked after our last storm and have continued to decline, meaning the salmon can't get to their spawning gravels in headwaters streams. And it seems so darn warm. People keep saying that it didn't used to be like this. And maybe they're right. But the crazy thing I realized today is that no one has been here long enough to truly know. We are absent the long term, generational connection to times past, there is no oral history about it, and our mobile culture confuses us: I don't remember it being this way, but I have spent winters in 4 locations in Pennsylvania, 3 in Connecticut, 4 in L.A., 2 in Danville, 7 in Santa Cruz, and 7 in Petrolia. But even given this, that I have no roots here, something seems different, not right. There are alarm bells going off in my viscera, at my deepest level the worst yet to come? It's so difficult as a single human in the flow of it all to get a sense of where the river is leading...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Giving Great Thanks

I have a lot of things to be thankful for...

I can start with gratitude that my life is calm and without fear, abundant with food and resource, family, friends, and community. I am grateful for all the opportunities given to me by way of all my life experiences and my connections to all those in my life. I'm grateful for all the things that provide an opportunity for growing my spirit and my heart, even when I sometimes don't recognize it as such an opportunity.

I'm grateful for my little immediate family, reinventing what it means to love, and for my wider blood family, who has nurtured and supported me through lots of hard and wonderful times, and for my even wider family of "kinfolk" and friends, all of you who have reflected me back to myself and offered an incredible array of gifts, assistance, friendship, love, laughter, and happiness.

I give great thanks to the earth under my feet, both where I stand today, and at the location I call home, for feeding my body, mind, and soul.

May we be grateful every day, may we love each other in gratitude for all we give, all we are given, and all that is still to come.

I love you all!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Visions and Dreams

There's been a lot of talk lately of visions for our country, what with Obama getting elected. If you haven't already, I recommend checking out his transition website The thing I am particularly amazed about is that there is a button to push called "Share Your Vision". I have been spending a lot of time recently contemplating what my vision for our country, let alone my own community, is. I mean, what if there really were no limitation on what kind of society we could live in? How big can you dream?

I'm working through a letter to send to that transition team in Washington, and I encourage you to as well. Now, I'm not a political analyst, nor am I an expert in anything in particular. But I do think that I have a handle on some of the issues facing my own neighborhood, as well as our entire species. Whether they're actually reading them, or just tallying topics, I think it's worth contributing my little two cents. The ability to contribute to the wider conversation of our nation is exactly part of my vision for democracy. Once I finish my letter, I'll post it here for you all to read.

This all dovetailed nicely with a speech I read recently, by Kenny Ausebel, the co-founder of Bioneers. Bioneers is a non-profit organization dedicated to spreading the word about solutions to human problems that use nature as a design template. Their annual conference in San Rafael has been an inspiring complement to my ongoing studies of environmental issues and permaculture. Anyhow, I received a transcript of Kenny's Plenary speech, called "Dreaming the Future Can Create the Future", from the conference (I've been unable to attend the last few years because of becoming a mommy). I recommend it as important reading describing the incredible crossroads we are at as the human species, and the tremendous opportunity we have to redesign our world, from one of pain, suffering, and poverty, into one of abundance, beauty, and ecological balance. May we attain this goal!

We Started Our Walls!

Last week, in a break in the weather, and when the mason crew happened to have the time, two guys came out to lay the first course of wall block on our house. Professionals are necessary so that the first course is perfectly level and plumb, making the future stacking much smoother. I didn't expect how excited I would be, but it feels SO EXCITING! Maybe it's just that you can see where the doors will be now, or that it already feels a little more enclosed when you stand inside of it, but in either case, it's just plain awesome.

With this task done, we are eager to move on to working through the slab, and getting Karl up here to do electrical, so that we can do the real glory work, dry stacking the blocks. This part will go relatively fast, giving a lot of bang for your buck. FUN! But before we put the cart TOO far in front of the horse, we are thinking we might be able to get the slab done before our winter walkabout, which starts the last week of January. We'll see how far we can get.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Apple Time

Washing the Apples and Grinding Them

Grounds in the Press

Racheting the Press, It's Old School Mechanics

One thing for sure is that the old-timers and settlers to Petrolia recognized the place for ideal apple growing climate. In addition to newer fruit orchards on the newcomer's places, there are a lot of old, old orchards around here. There's even a locally developed variety, called the Pink Pearl. It was "discovered" by Mr. Etter (of Ettersburg), the Luther Burbank (renowned plant breeder) of the north.

Being that this is fall, there are a plethora of apples to harvest, everything from juicing globes, to sweet, crisp fresh eating fruit. Some of my favorite varieties are Fuji, Yellow Delicious, Macintosh, and Gravenstein. I do like the Granny Smith's, too, for baking and juice.

Last weekend, we pressed juice at our previous residence, on the banks of the Mattole River near the old Hideaway. Several of us gathered to collectively harvest, grind, and press apple grounds into the luscious, amber elixer. It was an overcast morning, threatening rain, but we pressed around 30 gallons of the good stuff to take home and make into goodies. Drew and I used ours to make hard cider, which is happily bubbling away in its primary fermentation jug as I write. We also took home several gallons of apple grounds to make applesauce with, which we canned that evening. I'm looking forward to sharing our home brew with you in several more weeks, or longer, for a nicer finish.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

25 Years of MRC Restoration Work

I have spent more of my years living here involved with the Mattole Restoration Council than not. From the first moment I was introduced to the Council, I was inspired by its roots as a community-driven effort to preserve and restore native salmonids. The group formed in the early 1980's in response to the effects of widespread logging. When I first moved to the Mattole in 2002, I became the MRC's "Resource Center and Development Associate", working primarily on grant writing, contract management, and outreach activities. I left my post to pursue my Master's in 2004, but joined the Board of Directors a year and a half later, where I've served as the Board Chair.

Last night, we were celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Council. We dined on a locally-inspired meal of Wild Alaskan salmon, roasted potatoes and winter squash, green salad and apple crisp. We viewed a newly created movie called "Voices of Restoration". Kids performed a few silly restoration songs. We silent auctioned. We hob-nobbed. And we danced to the great gypsy-jazz tunes of local band the Absynth Quintet.

The MRC has grown over the years from a shoestring, project to project budget to a $3 million annual budget with 25 regular staff. Large, watershed-scale projects that were only a dream are coming to fruition right now, subbasin by subbasin, project by project. Beyond our historical involvement with landslide stabilization and tree planting, the Council now works in fuels reduction and fire safety, forestry, grassland restoration, public school environmental education, GIS and data management, and outreach. It's a pretty impressive list of activities for so small a community, that aims to address most pertinent ecological issues of our time, not only to restore salmon, but the interwoven fabric which includes all flora and interconnected fauna.

I often think of the first few words of our mission statement, which reads something like this..."We look forward to a time when restoration is no longer necessary..." I hope that someday this mission becomes reality, and that the land stewardship of an entire watershed will be supporting the long-term health of our river and it's contributing streams. I hope that someday, we can harvest our own Mattole salmon to feed our families through the winter, as the Mattole people did, and that our grandchildren's grandchildren may as well.

History repeats?

I spent some time surfing the NY Times yesterday during naptime, and came across some very interesting articles. Seems our financial crisis, which was IMMINENTLY threatening our economy, lest we take immediate action, has not rebounded much even given our immediate action, and has in fact continued to decline, leaving almost anyone with any kind of stake in worse shape than a month ago. I haven't confirmed it, but I keep hearing that there were 200,000 job losses in one month!? I'm not sure about this statistic, but certainly, we lost more jobs in October. There is a sense that this will be "the worst holiday shopping season in decades", and retailers haven't cleared out their autumn inventory, and are discounting stuff to move it. Hey, not SO bad for us peons, eh?

I also read an interesting parallel editorial piece called Talking Business: 75 Years Later, A Nation Hopes for Another FDR, about the transition from Hoover's administration to FDR's administration, and the seeming similarities to present day circumstances, even though our economic hardship is definitely on a much smaller order of magnitude than that of the Depression. In their day, unemployment was at 26%, to our 6%, for example. But certainly, these are the hardest times we've seen since the early 1930's, and all indicators seem to show that it's gonna get worse before it gets better. How far it goes is anyone's guess. I do feel confident that help is on the way with last week's historic Democratic victory. I guess we'll hold on to our seats until January and see what comes beyond.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Walls and Wheat

I've never been well versed in the world of trucking, but we've rubbed elbows a bit as of late as our wall block needed to be shipped, via 45-foot semi, to Petrolia from Corvallis, Oregon. We received a call last week telling us that our block would be delivered Wednesday. The details seemed a little vague, particularly regarding a specific arrival time. This mattered since we needed to have forks on site to offload the 28 pallets, and we do not own forks.

When we returned home from our town trip Tuesday, there was a message stating that the block would arrive the following day. First thing in the morning, Drew called the trucker up, and they talked about specifics. Finally, Drew asked where he was, guessing he was on the road somewhere in Oregon. "I'm in McKinleyville". Whoa. That's just north of Arcata. We had to figure out the fork thing in a little less time than anticipated. Fortunately, a neighbor had forks that would fit Drew's tractor, which was great, as this meant Drew didn't have to go right back to town to rent equipment.

So the truck arrived around noon, and they got in here without a hitch. The only challenge for the day was that it was raining pretty steadily, though not as bad as it was several days earlier. Drew unloaded the neatly wrapped pallets, and lined them up to the north of the house site. They now resemble an odd, post-modern cubist sculpture, or random installment, or maybe a castle, depending on your art persuasion. We haven't opened any yet, but I am dying to tear into the plastic, and handle a block, and maybe even place it atop our foundation, just to see what it looks and feels like. I didn't really anticipate it, but having the blocks here feels really significant and exciting!

My other exciting project is my winter wheat beds. Drew machine tilled long, four-foot wide rows to the east of the existing veggie garden to plant winter wheat, which to me seems to be a brilliant use of winter rains to generate useable, nutritious, edible biomass/green manure. It's been difficult to locate a known entity of wheat seed. Not only is wheat rather scarce due to high prices this season (resulting in scrambled buying), but hardly anyone is growing wheat and other grains on a small scale. I had an extremely difficult time finding any cultural information about the wheat seed I did find for sale. At long last, I found DirtWorks in Vermont, through a local farmer, Kevin, who runs Shakefork Community Farm in Arcata. His business is a grain CSA, growing small-scale organic grains right here on the north coast. Thanks for the tip, Kevin!

My 25-pound sack of wheat seeds arrived today in the mail, and I immediately enlisted Ella to help me spread the tiny, elongate seeds on approximately 800 square feet of bed space. Ella loved shoving her hands into the bag, and pushing the box along as I scooted down the rows sowing. I kept telling her "We're growing loaves of bread!" Since it had rained after tilling, I had to chop-rake the area just to get the seeds lightly mixed in with the soil, a lot of work when you consider the amount of bed space. I am definitely feeling the tension of that job in my neck and shoulders tonight, not to mention the hot spots on my palms. Anyhow, with luck, I will be harvesting wheat berries come May, and the weather will be right for drying it...I'll keep you all posted.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

VICTORY! For now...

Tonight the unimaginable became a reality. Wow. I'm still reeling from the truth of it all. Did I dream it? Or did an African American truly just get elected to the presidency of the United States? I almost cannot believe it. Drew and Ella and I traveled to town today to perform errands, but not until I spent a little while making get-out-the-vote calls to voters in Colorado.

All throughout the day, we listened for anything to cling to on the radio news as we went from store to store, but all we heard was news of election difficulty, long poll lines, precincts running out of paper ballots, people needing to vote in the rain. But by dinnertime, returns were trickling in, and as we careened over the snaking, twisting Wildcat road home, we listened in disbelief as it became increasingly clear that Mr. Obama would be our next president: New Hampshire, Ohio, Colorado, Pennsylvania (my home state!), and so on, were all in the blue. Just after we drove up to the yurt, as I was holding a sleeping Ella on my shoulder and watching a hazy, champagne moon, Virginia was announced, sealing the deal. By the time we got the media up and running on the computer, McCain was delivering his concession speech, which was respectful and upstanding, despite some icky audience members.

I was overwhelmed several times on the journey home tonight with tears of joy and gratitude, that this day has come, that the intentions set forth by the Founding Fathers, who practiced ownership of other human beings because they were a different color, their words in the Declaration of Independence were fully realized: "...all men are created equal..." (We'll worry about getting women included later!) It feels like a great day for our nation, one I am proud to witness.

I especially appreciate Obama's speech, that he did not gloat, nor get too excited. He reminded us that we have A LOT of work to do, and he is right. This is just the beginning, of a long road toward an America we can be proud of again, but for tonight, I am exhaling, and celebrating!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Welcome Home, Mattole Salmon

A progressive cycle of drying typically unfolds across our northern California locale, whereby the spigot turns off somewhere in May or June, and remains off until sometime in October or November. As the dry season wears on, a sense of waiting permeates the land. I don't know how else to describe it, but I can almost feel the river yearning for rain, the earth begging for sweet, wet relief, the birds and amphibians, mammals and fish alike, waiting, waiting, waiting. Things become very quiet, dusty, crispy. When at last the sky opens up, and the rain begins to fall, it is as though manna is pouring down from heaven: the air becomes sweet and freshly green, new seeds germinate in a matter of days to hold the soil together, and the creeks and the river sing once again. Oh my, it is a lovely change, which is important to remember come March, when I wish I would never see another day of rain as long as I live.

So beginning Friday afternoon was the second significant storm of the season, though it's already much larger than the first, and there will be more rain before the next sun arrives. As of about 6:00 PM this evening, we have received 4 inches of precious precipitation on this driest year ever on record. Not only are the frogs and toads happy, as I see them leaping across wet pavement on the way to my evening social events, but tonight on my walk to the neighbor's for dinner, Ella and I saw a rough-skinned newt, (Taricha granulosa). These cuties begin showing up as they conduct their plodding, land-based search for a mate.

But the most exciting of the news in the animal kingdom is that the river mouth opened again today, which means that there are now adult Chinook salmon(Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) (and maybe other species, though I understand the Chinook are the early run) returning to spawn in the river. Though the mouth opened with our first storm, it only remained open for a short time, and only a few salmon made it in to try their luck in the early season, low water flows. The rain of the last few days is going to allow the salmon to strive for the spawning gravels in the headwaters of their natal streams, so long as flows sustain. And with the dark moon right now, it is ideal traveling conditions. So welcome home, Mattole salmon, may you prosper and sustain our animals, plants, and people, as you have done for generations....and may it be so, for generations to come.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Rainy Halloween

Our second significant rain event of the season is upon us as we speak, a large band of showers is poised to drop several inches of sloppy wet skywater upon our heads between now and tomorrow night. The winds are quite strong, gusty and loud in the yurt tonight, i hope I can sleep well. It rained most of last night, too. I'm certain that the Mattole River will force its way through the sandbar tomorrow and open itself to the incoming tide of adult chinook salmon...welcome home, silvery, slick, lovely fish. I hope that flows will remain high enough for them to reach their headwaters spawning gravels.

Halloween was kind of a wash. Drew is in Santa Cruz for an aikido event, and Ella didn't even want to dress up today. She said "I just want to wear fresh clothes". I tried twice, before we went to the store this morning, with no luck, and tonight, as I was donning cowboy duds, to venture out to a Halloween party. I was kind of the ghost of grandfathers past tonight...the core of the outfit was Drew's work pants and work shirt, with his dead grandfather's leather vest, my dead grandfather's suit jacket, bolo tie, leather hat, and fake mustache. Phil's authentic heeled, leather cowboy boots, which haven't been worn in several years and were harboring unseen spiders that bit me, covered my feet. I also had leather work gloves, and a rodeo lariat (wow, I finally learned what that word means!).

The party was fun, just to see all our friends and neighbors dressed up silly. I think my favorite was the party host, Michael. I asked if he was a stock broker. He said he was dressed as a polygamist, read guy in a suit. He said none of his wives were around. (I hope this doesn't offend any readers out there). Ella spent a long time playing with Legos in one of the kids rooms, so I was able to have adult conversation, even though I was flying solo.

Once again, I don't have any photos, sorry, you'll just have to use your imagination.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Rye and Tide 2008

Youngest contestants get ready


Ceremonial Rye Whiskey

Families that race together....

The starting line

Serious contenders

Ellen reviews the rules

"That creepy guy"

See Kai Run

Poppa and Ella cross the finish line

Rex, at 88, completes the race!

Father and Son

Ceremonial Weenie Roast

Chili dogs by Santagelos

The Crowd

Many years ago, at an unknown time, a race was run, called the "Ride and Tie" which involved two people and a horse. By a stroke of brilliance, this tradition was revived here in Petrolia, and morphed into the "Rye and Tide", which involves two people and a bicycle. A pair of contestants must race from the bridge just past the Yellow Rose bar seven and a half miles to Mattole Beach. Contestants must take a swig of rye whiskey at the beginning of the race (though a midway whiskey refueling station was provided this year at Evergreen Way), and must trade roles of runner and biker at least 8 times throughout. Others may choose to participate in modified forms, though no prizes are awarded for such manifestations. For example, Drew rode a bike the whole way towing Ella in the bike trailer.

The scene at the junction of Mattole Road and North Fork Road at 1:00 PM is a colorful and random assortment of kids, dogs, bike helmets, pumping stations, and folks preparing in earnest. Long-legged joggers are importantly trotting around to warm up, others are stretching, while still others are donning sparkly or silly costumes, including wigs, leg warmers, and/or capes. You never know what running superhero might show up. One can purchase a Rye and Tide t-shirt, too, though there always seem to be all size L and XL.

At last, everyone lines up at the edge of the bridge, and Ellen reviews the rules. Her voice is rather quiet and someone almost always yells "LOUDER!" above the din of pre-race blabber. At last, she calls out "On your marks! Get set! *whistle*. The race is run along the roads with bystanders cheering (well, there are only a few since we live in so small a place). A runner is greeted at the end with a curving aisle of international flags leading to the finish line. Once everyone arrives at the beach, a weenie roast ensues, whereby all voracious children, teenagers, and adults alike devour fire-roasted hot dogs. For the last three years, Mr. Santangelo has provided homemade chili to adorn the dogs in spicy, tomatoey goodness. Mmmmm. Sodas and marshmallows are consumed as well, and unique prizes are awarded. This year, after a lengthy and nerdy quiz and discussion of the history of rain gauges, all those who completed the race properly were awarded a small rain gauge attached to a smooth piece of redwood with the words "Rye and Tide 2008" inscribed.

Just another piece of small town reality...


James Brown and the Famous Flames

Legions of people in this little coastal village streamed out of the hills to fill the Mattole Valley Community Center for plates of homemade lasagne, salad, and bread, glasses of wine, conversation and sardine-packed dining a la firehall raffles. It was a full house for food and fun, quickly becoming so loud it was difficult to converse even with the person next door. There was some rumor about the Cabaret show happening earlier than usual, but as usual, it was 7:50 PM, and Doc had to ask the rowdy assembly "Are we going to put the tables away?" I'm not sure, but I think they ran out of dinner.

"Could we get the band up on the stage?" is usually the second question Doc is asking. Tonight's theme song was James Brown's "Funky President". The "band" is a rag tag assemblage of local talent, some regulars and some intermittent participants. All told, we had 13 bodies on stage, ready to butcher another great song: a drum kit, electric bass, piano, hand drum, three back-up singers (that's me), three trumpets, a saxophone, a trombone, and Doc with his guitar and vocal mic. Doc had penned his own funky new raps to go with the song, one of which went like this:

Hey People, it ain't heaven sent,
Gotta vote yourself a funky new president
Gotta be Obama, can't be McCain
Four more years, and the world'll be insane

Stock market going down,
Nobody knows how far to the ground,
Try to get a job? Try the doggie pound
Ain't no funky jobs to be found
You want some money? Try the Mob!
Don't try Wall Street, they just rob
People people it ain't heaven sent
Gotta vote yourself a funky new president!

Even with all the transitions of verse and bridge and refrain and such, we managed to pull off some decent funk! People ate it up, and I wasn't even that embarrased singing things like "Funk motor" and "Sexy sexy".

A lot of the first set was dedicated to political skits and songs, including an appearance of Katie Couric and Sarah Palin, and the Godfather of Soul himself, David Simpson playing James Brown. He came on stage dressed in a dashing white suit with his chest hair sticking out. After doing several rediculous dances, such as the "hostile homesteader" and the "stoned hippie" (imagine the head-nodding dancers at Grateful Dead shows), he introduced me and my ladies, the Famous Flames. We were dressed to the nines in hot dresses, fishnet stockings and heels, and we did a little stair dance for our entrance, and then took the stage, each of us dancing with James. At this point, James does a political rap, referring to McCain as a honky, though Obama's running mate is a honky too. Oh it was funny! At last, we transitioned into a rousing rendition of "Sex Machine" where the ladies and I did a silly dance routine. I had so much make up on, as well as a wig, that many people genuinely didn't recognize me! I'm trying to track down some photos, but so far, none have turned up.

Second set was, as is typical, a lot of men or women with guitars, the whole singer-songwriter thing. I tend to get a little bored here, but one highlight was that local professional musician Lila Nelson came on and sang us two of her little ditties, which was a treat to see her perform live. She is a DJ on our awesome local radio station, KHUM, but I'd never seen her in person. Yay Lila! You are COOL!

At 11:30, Ella and Drew and I had to go home, since Ella was too distracted to fall asleep in all the excitement, and we wanted to make sure we could all make it through the Rye and Tide (see next post) the following day, so we bid goodnight to our fellow revellers, who apparently didn't end the program until nearly 1 AM. Who says there's nothing to do in the country?

Friday, October 24, 2008


Three times a year, our little valley puts on a Cabaret, a dinner and a show evening at the Mattole Valley Community Center. There is always a theme song, with music arranged by the wild-haired doctor, played by a many-piece band: drums, bass, guitar, horns (trumpets, sax, and sometimes trombone), back-up singers, and occasionally other elements.

Now most of us are amateur musicians, and usually we have an average of one rehearsal where everyone is present. There are often others where most but not all people are present, which creates some challenges in getting everyone up to speed the next time we get together. And even though this time through we have gotten together early, and rehearsed many times, we still have a lot of starting and stopping, loose notes, missed entrances, garbled words, and an uncomfortable relationships with microphones, monitors, and other sound equipment. It seems I am always worried, as I am tonight, about what our performance will sound like tomorrow night. But somehow, it usually all comes together...usually. When it's really hitting, I love the feeling of being inside the loud, rhythmic jam. When it's not, well, it's a little hard to swallow, and to not feel totally off kilter.

At least my ladies and I got the chance to practice doing our back-up singer dances tonight while wearing actual costumes, and I was actually wearing the heels I will wear tomorrow. (You should know by now that I am not a high heel wearing lady). I don't want to ruin the surprise of what we are performing, so I won't say more, but if you are a Petrolia resident, you really don't want to miss the first set closer tomorrow night.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A New View

The View Looking Down from the East

An unusual day, today. Ella and I were given a tour on the back of a four-wheeler into the backcountry of a local ranch, in search of a new perspective of our lil homestead. I love these sojourns into never-before-seen geography of the Mattole. Especially since today's trip explored territory that we can see from our own house.

Ella and I rode up the steep, steep hills behind our neighbor, holding on tightly, sitting haphazardly on some extra cushions. Ella was sandwiched between us. She wasn't so sure about the riding part. Up and up, through open, grassy meadows, dense fir and madrone forests, through brushy knolls covered in coyote brush, until we arrived at a little brief window through the vegetation, where you could look downhill and see our little yurt, shed, and house foundation, all in the shadow of the landmark knoll. Out beyond it was the sea, though the fog at the coast prevented an actual view of the ocean.

After snapping a few photos, we continued to the top of the hill, and rendezvous'ed with a few cows. We took in a view of Cooskie Mountain and King's Peak, and admired the large, old-growth fir trees on the ridge. It was a gorgeous day, warm and sunny. It was the kind of day here in the Mattole that makes you thoroughly glad that you live and breathe here, a day you don't forget.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Politics, again

Sorry about all the political stuff, but I just can't help myself. There is so much going on out there, it's difficult not to make commentary...although today's business has something to do with the overall topic of this But first, check out this film clip from a McCain town hall meeting:

McCain clip

A little frightening, eh? And at least we see Mr. McCain trying to stand up for the decency and humanity of Mr. Obama.

Anyhow, check out this Michael Pollan article about food politics, and our food system's connection to energy policy and foreign policy. It's long but very interesting.

The Food Issue: Farmer in Chief

Friday, October 10, 2008

Worldwide Economic Disaster

Did that catch your eye? It's catching mine in the news media. The thing is, of COURSE markets are going to fall, or rather recalibrate here. The entire engine has been running a little ahead of itself lately, with the TRUE value of assets bought, sold, and traded far beyond their real net worth. The shit has just hit the proverbial fan here, and the value of assets are coming back into a more realistic place.

The more difficult question remains: how does this actually affect us ordinary, every-day citizens? Certainly those of us tied to a corporate reality in one or several ways are going to feel effects. But really, for ME, well, I don't own any stocks, nor is any of my money in large, corporate banks. I rarely shop in corporate businesses. And I live in a small community of 250 people. Life here is not different at all really, except that we're all talking about it. Well, and gas prices continue to fluctuate wildly.

The other question I have is how long all this is going to go on? The worry, yes, and also the hype. Let's just get down to business, for goodness sakes, and pull ourselves out of the mess. There's a lot of important good work to retooling our entire energy economy for sustainable sources. Now there's a meaningful purpose full of economic promise for America: create jobs, clean up the environment, reduce our dependence on foreign oil and therefore our need for overseas wars which drain our budget, et. al. It's not really that complicated. Seriously.

Restoring Mistakes

Our road is torn apart again, not because a freak storm washed through, but because Drew made a mistake in his original bridge installation. The bridge needed to be lowered 3 feet, and the channel widened, and the slope of the banks feathered back to a lower angle.

Yesterday, the excavator tore out the bridge, and today the operator is placing "rip-rap", large 1/2 ton boulders to secure the banks and therefore the bridge abutments. It's pretty exciting to watch the giant insect-looking machine effortlessly pick up large rocks, and gently nudge them into place with hand-like precision.

This is Drew's last stretch in a project which has gone on now nearly three months. I am excited for his focus to return to our family and our homestead projects, and maybe we will even go on a vacation, which we have been talking about for two months now.

I'll try to post some photos of the exciting excavator work soon.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Ella, Wind, and A Tomato Recipe

It's been quite a while since I have written an update about Ella, who is changing so much lately, it's difficult to keep track of it all. I really can't document it fast enough, not that I have that kind of time anyway. But let's see, the best of late is her singing. She has learned several of the standard little kid songs, like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Yankee Doodle, the ABC song (did you ever notice it's the same melody as Twinkle?), and so on. So she sings these regularly, and asks me to sing them too, but sometimes, often first thing in the morning, after we descend from the loft, she will play by herself, and sing these wonderful, inventive songs about whatever is on her mind. Like this morning, she sang, in between words from Baa Baa Black Sheep and Yankee Doodle, "When I eat candy, I feel kind of nervous." Whoa! I mean, this kid hasn't ever eaten any true candy! So funny.

I also recently told her the "Do you know what?" schtick (you know, "chicken butt") and she likes to ask me the question. But sometimes, she will retort random things like, "Soap!" instead of the real punchline. Of course it gets a laugh, so she thinks it's funny.

We also discovered, while we were waking up a few days ago, that Ella refers to her left foot as "doughy" and her right foot as "toe-y". Not sure at all where that came from, but we think it's hilarious. She talks to them as though they are embodied friends.

Other than her joking skills and what not, I am enjoying finding new ways to engage Ella in my grown up activities, since all of our childcare has vanished. We plant garden seeds, water things, move stuff around, hang deer fences, and visit our house-to-be, and talk about where all the rooms are. The whole time, she is a continuous stream of words, describing what is happening then, or what happened "last-day" (yesterday), or last week, or whenever. She's become quite the story teller, stretching some words (usually "biiiiiiig"), pausing for effect, whispering, gesturing wildly with her hands, or dancing around to illustrate her yarn.

We're beginning to lose some of the really fun and cool Ella pronounciation words. Like music used to be "oomick" and the other day it came out as "moo-sic". Ok, still cute, but we LOVE oomick, and will miss it terribly.

It's unbelievably windy. I have to stop saying to myself, "We're all done with wind for the year" which is exactly what I said three days ago as I was working in the garden. I kid you not, that very afternoon, we had the crazy winds nearly rip our sheets off the clothesline, and we are all losing sleep. Looks like at least another day, maybe two, until it calms down. Ugh.

Tomato Recipe
Today, I picked all ripe tomatoes again, which included a lot of giant, beautiful, luscious red brandywine tomatoes. Ah, I suddenly remembered a recipe I have long wanted to try, Tomatoes Provencal (excuse the lack of the hook on the "c"). Here's the recipe. Easy and yummy.

Tomatoes Provencal

2 large tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, pressed
1 cup bread crumbs
1 1/2 tsp thyme
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsely
salt and pepper
olive oil
chopped basil for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix the garlic, bread crumbs, thyme, parsely, and salt and pepper in a bowl. Slice the tomatoes in half and place in a lightly oiled pan. Top with the crumbly stuff, drizzle with olive oil, and bake for 15-20 minutes.

Simple and delicious!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


Garlic Cloves Laid Out for Planting in Our Raised Beds

As promised, I planted my garlic this morning, into our raised beds. The soil was so nice to work in, and I added some more chicken manure and oyster shell flour. The moisture level was PERFECT for planting. I also planted some more fava beans in the beds closest to the yurt, and took out a giant tree collard, the peppers, eggplants, and cucumbers. Yep, summer is coming to a close.

In any event, I am hopeful that we will have LOTS of yummy garlic to eat come next summer. May we never have to buy garlic again!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Black Beans and Winter Squash

I'm not sure what possessed me this morning, but after a lot of hemming and hawing about whether my beans and squash were ready to harvest, and wondering how to go about harvesting the beans, I decided this morning that the time was NOW. After the several inches of rain the other day, the bean understory had become dank and slimy, with all the dead leaves turning into compost. I was afraid the bean pods themselves would begin to rot, and compromise the viability of the beans. Or maybe it was the fact that I kept seeing the hint of gopher activity in the bed, like gnawed pods, and snipped stems. And the squash, having grown themselves into shady tall-grass (weedy) spots around their bed, were nestled into moist retreats without hope of drying.

I clipped all the bean stems in my 20-foot by 5-foot bed, and laid them on a tarp. With all the forecasted dry weather, they should air dry and then be ready for shucking soon. This action reminded me of the saying, "Make hay while the sun shines," or do things when it makes most sense to do them. Some individual vines had 20 or more pods on them. I felt excited seeing all those future beans. I'm not sure about quantity yet, but I am sure that I out-produced last year by a long shot. I plan on weighing my harvest, so I'll post it another time, and compare with what John Jeavons says is possible in a 100 square-foot bed.

I also had the pleasure of conducting a winter squash scavenger hunt, digging through the understory of grass, cornstalks, pole beans, and squash vines to find all the lovely mottled and swollen fruits. I knew there were a lot of them, but I was surprised, even so, by the quantity: 12 butternuts, 6 spaghettis, 10 or so acorns, 4 delicatas, 6 kabochas, and 3 of an unknown buttercup-type. Wow! It's a decent amount of squash, certainly all we need for the season, enough for us to eat squash when we want it, up until the fruits go bad. Some of the butternuts are truly large, probably 5 pounders! (All the spaghetti squash are that size, but we both find them less desirable...) I became further enamored with our squash because of the fact that this same 100 square feet has already produced a delicious and abundant corn harvest, and an ongoing supply of string beans. Now that's stacking functions!

On to the winter garden projects...tomorrow I will plant my garlic in the raised beds around the patio. And we received our RainTree Nursery catalog today. It's already time to dream about long-lived perennials that we will plant next spring.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Of Caterpillars and Rain

Tomato Hornworms and a Half-Eaten Tomato

Ella Gleefully Running Through Surf Foam at Mattole Beach

Three days ago, I ventured out into our lovely garden to pick all ripe tomatoes, in preparation for the season's first serious rain. We woke up on Friday morning to very ominous and steely looking skies, and one glance out the window left us no doubt that the predicted showers would arrive hours earlier than forecast, which effectively meant at any moment. It was already raining up in Mill Creek to the south west. We were suddenly into high gear, getting breakfast eaten so I could cover up some last minute things like, oh, a table saw, and Drew could finish up his mulching and seeding at his project site.

Anyhow, tomatoes don't like to get wet on their very ripe skin. When they DO, their smooth, red, and luscious skin splits, and creates ugly scars. Hmmm, something isn't right here. What looks off...? Hey, someone has been eating my tomato plants! I found a tiny scat on a leaf. It looked like a small blackberry, with several rows of individual balls, arranged in a cylinder. I have never seen such a scat. It appeared that the critter had scaled the tomato trellis, and nibbled the top leaves of several of the vines. Ella and I picked all the ripe tomatoes and headed inside, as the rain was beginning to fall. Well, off to my Peterson's Guide of Animal Tracks and Sign to search for a culprit.

These were definitely not mouse or rat scat. The closest I could get was squirrel. But the drawing of scat was not detailed enough to be sure. Besides, I don't often hear squirrels in our forest, and I have never heard of them eating tomato vines. I complained about my thief to several people that day. They had even eaten several green tomatoes!

Well, on Saturday morning, I enticed Drew to the tomato patch in our brief, before-breakfast moment outdoors, to show him the damage. We talked about it for a minute, and then we found more scat, and THEN, Drew said, "Could this be your culprit?" A large, green caterpillar! But however large, it was not big enough to eat a tomato, or make poop of the size I found. And then Drew found another one, MUCH larger, oh yes: this one could make the poop and eat a tomato. And THEN we found two more that were successively larger. Ha! Squirrels!

The intrepid Tomato Hornworm, I presume. I've never had them as a pest, but apparently, they found my vines delectable. We could only find the four, and are hoping that there aren't any more. They are VERY difficult to spot, but my, are they impressive. I guess they sometimes have a late summer hatch, clearly what we are experiencing here.

Oh, and Cooskie Mountain did receive about 3 inches of rain, though we ourselves probably only got 1.5-2. The earth has just soaked it up, and the creeks, though a little larger, are still rather lazy. We went to the beach on Saturday, hoping to see the mouth of the Mattole open, and it was closed, but we got a call today (Sunday) that it had opened. Darn! Missed it again! I guess we'll have to try again next year.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Ranch Day, For Preschoolers

Every fall, our delightful ranching neighbors, the Browns, invite the preschool to come over and press apple juice, feed the cows, and generally muck around and have fun at their place. Josie always invites other little kids, like Ella, even though she's not old enough for preschool yet.

Immediately after arrival, we trekked off to an apple tree with buckets to collect fruit for pressing. On the way back, we got sidelined at the chicken coop, where the kids were all fascinated by the fluffy birds (even though many of them have chickens at home!). John and his son ground up the apples and pressed the juice. While they were tightening the press, he sang an old sailor song in his infalliable and beautiful baritone. All children, large and small, enjoyed some fresh-pressed juice.

Next, Josie invited us to view her giant pumpkin, which will be entered in the pumpkin contest, hosted annually by Ian, the prize being a truckload of composted horse manure. Ian has won half the years, I think, but Josie won last year. Personally, I think she's gonna win it again this year. The kids all took turns climbing onto the gigantic orange behemoth, and fought for rights to stand on top. Afterward, we took an expedition through the cornstalks, which were waving wildly in the arriving storm winds. There was a lot of screaming and laughter here.

Next, we congregated for preschool lunch, which amounted to about 7 minutes of the kids sitting still to fill up their reserves, and then we headed out on a hay wagon ride to feed the cows. Talk about exciting, riding in a flat-bed trailer with approximately 15 children under the age of 5! We threw the cows spent corn cobs and flakes of home grown hay. The kids loved it, especially the part where they are requested to call the cows, like John does: "COME ON, cows!!" Well, it's kind of hard to write it, but it's a loud bellow with COME ON, followed by a quieter "cows". They really do come a running, too, including their large, black bull.

Finally, it was time to walk back to the house and prepare for departure. I took a lot of pictures, mainly to send to the preschool, but I've included a few of my favorites. Ella passed out in about two minutes into our car ride home...full morning!