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!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Focus on Photography

I've been focusing a little extra attention on my photography lately, studying other people's awesome shots, and working on incorporating some of the successful elements I see into my own. Thought I'd do a gallery post here...enjoy. Click on an image to see it larger.