Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Monterey Bay Aquarium

You may ask what the Monterey Bay Aquarium has to do with California Homesteading...absolutely nothing, except that we are on vacation from homesteading, and soaking up all the urban experiences we can while here in Santa Cruz and surrounds. Nothing preserves our sanity, nor enables our endless list of toiling for future comfort at home, nor cements our appreciation for our amazing Mattole Valley, than going on a trip to somewhere else.

On Sunday, we left recently arrived-in Santa Cruz for Monterey to visit Drew's family and take Ella to the LONG AWAITED aquarium. We have been visiting their website in preparation for weeks. She has asked about it daily during the entire 10 days before. After securing our guest passes, courtesy of Drew's dad and step-mom (THANK YOU!!), we drove on down and spent about an hour and a half relaxedly wandering through the exhibits, following Ella's lead and interest. We explored the life-size hanging whales, the jellyfish, the tunafish and pacific sunfish in the outer bay tank, spent a lot of time feeling starfish and such at the touchtanks, experienced what it might be like to be under a wave in the "Splash Zone", and peered into tiny tanks to search for itty-bitty fish. Ella thought all of it was great. And the one item she chose over all others in the gift shop: toy binoculars. Ah, a girl after her own mother's heart!

Afterwards, we visited a local chowder house with Dad, Ann, Katy, and Drew's uncle and aunt Mikey and Jane, and all enjoyed fried seafood delectables before exploring Wii Fitness back at the house (perhaps to negate the effects of beer batter and tartar sauce!) A great first day of vacation! Looking forward to more days...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama Day!

What can I say? What a day to be alive in America! I cannot claim to know what it must feel like to be black in America today, but I can say that I have at times cried over the brutality of slavery, been angry about Jim Crow, and wondered if we would ever have an equal society. I definitely wouldn't say our society IS equal today, but that a black man can attain the highest office in our nation is a dramatic and beautiful continuation of all that has been done and suffered until now. I wonder how far we can run with all of this...

And for sure, Obama struck me in his speech as a powerful, fair, and keenly observant leader, one who is listening to us the people. I can hear in his words that he grasps where we stand in the context of present circumstances, as well as in history. This is such a breath of fresh air, I can hardly believe it.

We gathered with about 30 or so people at the Mattole Valley Community Center this morning, over a breakfast potluck consisting of a yummy array of muffins, coffee cake, fruit, and coffee, to view the swearing in ceremony and Inaugural Address. We laughed and cried and clapped, and left uplifted. I couldn't help but feeling inspired, knowing that all across America today, people were celebrating and feeling excited. That feeling of hope is powerful, and calls us to something higher than ourselves. At last, we are here, and we wave a hallelujah farewell to GW.

Below are my favorite excerpts from Obama's speech. You can read the entire transcript here.

"On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord..."

"...Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short, for they have forgotten what this country has already done, what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose and necessity to courage. What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long, no longer apply..."

"As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals..."

"Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake.

"... our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, [the founding fathers] knew that our power grows through its prudent use. Our security emanates from the justness of our cause; the force of our example; the tempering qualities of humility and restraint."

"And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to the suffering outside our borders, nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Birthday Serenade

I'm guessing that the inimitable Ellen started the tradition, as she is the regular instigator, of gathering together a last-minute, motley crew of willing singers to surprise an unsuspecting birthday celebrator, on the eve of their special day. As singers, we usually gather at a house close by, spend a too-short period of time learning a strange new interpretation of an historic madrigal tune, or a modernised version of a well known classic (such as the Beatles' "When I'm 64", or Elvis' "Love Me Tender"). After we have sufficiently realized we don't know the song, we pile into cars and snigger up to the person's front door.

At this moment, Ellen begins to play her accordian, a Spanish birthday song, that we've all heard a lot, but can't remember the words to. We sing it loudly, baudily, as we stream into the person's living room. We cheer, and sing our other numbers (which sometimes include theatrical antics), and then maybe the host opens some apple juice, or maybe their spouse is prepared with a secret birthday cake, and we all revel and talk, eat and drink, and go home glowing.

Such is life in a small community. We especially do serenades for people who are our elders, or folks who need extra cheering up. Seems they are mostly in the winter, when we all need an excuse to get together. It only happens because somebody decides we ought to, and that there is no one else to do it but ourselves.

Well, last night, we went to sing Ruth a serenade for her 86th birthday. Ruth is much more well known by many of my community compatriots, for some of whom she acted as house parent when a group of them went to high school in town, many others for whom she and her husband Rex provided their only telephone access for during the years before they had their own, in remote corners of our village.

We sang her a silly little round, whose words went like this:

"When dark winter's darkest dark is
And we're all in boots and parkas
Ruth, forsooth, our brightest spark is
In we come to park our carcass!"

Once we finished that, we did a two-part-harmony rendition of "Love Me Tender", complete with a trumpet and accordian musical interlude, as well as a two-tuba interlude. (Really!) And then we all shared cake and champagne, to celebrate not only Ruth's birthday, but also to celebrate Ruth's recent entry into the club of grandparenthood, at last. Her son, Dan, and his wife, Nieves, had their long-awaited baby last week, a little boy!

Moments like these, I often sit back a moment, and marvel at our unlikely community, nestled into the Humboldt hills...where else in America could I have the experience I have? It is such a lovely, caring group of collectively-minded people, I am proud to be a part of it.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Spring Already?

I took a long walk home yesterday, from my massage office, out along Chambers Road. There are already undeniable signs of spring cropping up all around. I heard a robin sing yesterday. I saw some pink cherry blossoms unfolded. The bay trees have scores of yellow blooms, just waiting for a sunny day to burst open. And I found the lance- and spade-shaped cotyledons of miner’s lettuce stretching above the fir-needled ground just before I reached my driveway. I even sampled a small taste. Mmmm, delicious!

But as much as I am delighted to see this collection of omens, I admit to a deeper sense of guilt and worry. It does seem a little early, doesn’t it? We only just passed the darkest hour of the year at solstice a few short weeks ago. My short-lived recollection of such seasonal markers seems to tell me that these things are occurring several weeks in advance of where I remember them last.

I tell myself that I have only been living on the south slope for less than three years. That the robins don’t leave, and just because I don’t hear them sing at my very house until February doesn’t mean they don’t sing earlier in other locations. That the expanse of warm daytime weather we had in November set the bay blossoms early. That we are still having nighttime frosts every time the sky is open to the stars. And yet, I am still uneasy. As a system’s thinker, I have a difficult time viewing the procession of blooms and the emergences of insects, and the arrival of birds outside of the context of appropriate timing for appropriate food supply. I know that variation happens from year to year and can affect outcomes for a particular poplulation. But we are potentially looking at an unprecedented shift of resources available for entire species. Entire species shifting their ranges north. And what of shifting weather patterns, driven by localized temperatures that make up larger gyrations of wind and rain?

It's unsettling to say the least, largely because I feel so powerless to do anything about it, in spite of having the sense of being able to register the changes. It reminds me of a poem by one of Drew's friends from college, Drew Dellinger. Here's an excerpt from it...

Heiroglyphic Stairway

"it's 3:23 in the morning
and I'm awake
because my great great grandchildren
won't let me sleep
my great great grandchildren
ask me in my dreams
what did you do while the planet was plundered?
what did you do when the earth was unraveling?

surely you did something
when the seasons started failing?

as the mammals, reptiles, birds were all dying?

did you fill the streets with protest
when democracy was stolen?

what did you do

What have I done, now that I know? What have you done?

Crab Season

Drew and I have an ongoing tradition of spontaneously purchasing fresh crab for dinner on our way home from our approximately bi-monthly winter town trips. As the season approaches, while we are heading south after a long day of errands, I will fantasize about that sweet, ocean flesh dipped in butter as we race past the King Salmon exit. I will mentally check my internal calendar: Is it December yet? January?

Once, we passed a sign along 4th Street in Eureka, which through downtown is Hwy 101 South, for Fresh Crab at the waterfront. We intuited our way to the docks, and found a boat with fisher people selling cooked and cleaned crab, neatly packaged for taking home. And at the King Salmon exit I mentioned earlier, there is a storefront like something from Cape Cod, wooden and painted green, with a friendly man behind the counter wearing orange, rubber overalls and black rubber boots, the fishing boat parked right out back. They used to put out a sign on the highway, which would remind us they were there, and we'd stop in and buy three crabs for dinner, and invite someone over when we got home.

On our way back from the cabin, we were headed south after an already long travel day, but there was that sign: "Fresh Crab: Dock D, Woodley Island Marina". "Where's that?" I asked Drew. "Down here" he said as he turned right at the next light. We pulled into the marina, and parked as the sky was blushing sunset. A large yellow fishing boat bedecked in white Christmas lights looked cheerful with a fabric banner reading "Fresh Crab". Ella was excited about the boat and the very mellow dog sitting on deck. She became even more excited when she realized we were bringing crabs home!

That night, we boiled our water, and they met their watery death, but not before Drew accidentally dropped one and it tried to get away. Ella became very animated, and said "The cwab was (s)crambling!" After they were cooked, she insisted in being involved in the cleaning process, by dragging her stool over to the sink, and hesitantly touching the orange shells, until she realized they were immobile, and proceeded to handle them profusely. The most interesting thing to me was how she said she felt when we were putting the crabs into the hot water: "What are we doing to the cwab?" We explained that we were asking it to give its life so we could eat it. And she responded by saying "Mommy, I feel a little sad about this", or "Aww, poor wittle cwabs". We got to emphasize our thanks again at the table the following evening, appreciating the crabs for their service to us.

I always appreciate the proximity of locally harvested food, available directly from the source who collected it here on the north coast. I feel very fortunate to have such relationships with the food I eat, especially so when it comes to meat of all kinds.

Western Gray Squirrel

The Woods Behind the Cabin

While at the cabin, I had the welcome opportunity to try out a sit spot in snow country. As a naturalist, the snow gets me over-excited, because animal tracks are so visible and follow-able in the snow! I snuck out one morning, attempting to move quietly in my nylon snow outfit, while breaking through the crunchy crust underfoot. Needless to say, I made a racket audible for a long distance, while making my way toward a sitting place.

I decided to choose a spot underneath a large black oak tree on a little rise, overlooking a snowy meadow. There were tracks leading through the meadow, and I had a feeling if I sat still long enough, I would see some sort of wildlife. So I sat down and got quiet, letting my mind wander and listening for critters.

I wasn’t there long before I heard a little skittering behind and above me. I sat still for a moment, but my curiosity got the best of me, and I slowly turned around, craning my neck to see who was there. Ah ha! A Western Gray Squirrel (Sciurus griseus), frozen in fear, staring right at me mid-movement. I averted my gaze in an attempt to help it feel a little more comfortable. It then protested at a medium volume, “chuck chuck chuck!”, which caused a small bird in a thicket to my left side to complain and alarm a little bit too: “Someone is in our home! Who is it?! What is their business?!”

After a few moments, however, the squirrel decided I wasn’t much of a threat, and proceeded to climb up the tree it was on and work on its project. I wasn’t sure what it was doing until it scampered down the trunk, holding a wad of bark, pine needles, and leaves in its mouth. I’ve never seen a squirrel do this before! It paused mid way down to readjust the bundle, to consolidate it and get a better grip, before running back up the tree and disappearing on the other side of the trunk. It was then I noticed a nest-looking object a little ways above where the squirrel had collected its treasure. Ah, I think I see, a nest in process, getting ready to bear the young of the year.

I’m guessing at this, anyway. We have a squirrel nest in the forest by the yurt, and it is MUCH larger than this bundle of twigs, leaves, moss, and bark I saw. I guess I will have to visit it again, and see if I can learn more about it.

New Year's Cabin Trip 2009

Smoky Cookstove Haze, New Year's 2004

Ella playing with snow in the front yard

New Year's Eve Burn Pile

Ella and Miller share New Year Grapes

Though a not-so-obvious fact, Drew and I are part owners of a rustic cabin near Trinity Lake, 45 minutes north of Weaverville. Kyle (Drew’s friend from high school) and his family had a mining claim near Paradise, in the Sierra foothills many years ago. Drew and his high school cohort would go there at New Year’s and other times of year to experience the freedom from parental oversight, and to practice back-woods living arts. There are some pretty rowdy and colorful stories from those early years, of cars getting stuck in ice and snow, a little too much alcohol, and a lot of ridiculous fun.

About 7 years ago, the timber company who owned the cabin land decided not to renew the mining claim, and informed Kyle and his family that whatever was left after a specified time would be burned.

Determined not to give up the cabin experience and all it entailed, Kyle hatched a plan to preserve the cabin, so that it might rise like a phoenix at an unknown point in the future. He gathered the fellow cabin visitors on a mission to deconstruct it, piece by piece, label the parts, make drawings, and haul it to his rural acreage near Kelseyville. Which he successfully did.

Then began the process of finding a new home for the cabin. Kyle and his wife, Kathy, searched far and wide, and finally found a location on Hall’s Gulch, a small tributary to the East Fork of the Trinity River. The price was very affordable, and they, Drew and I, and another two partners went in on the five acres of mixed oak, doug fir, cedar, and ponderosa pine forest, with scars of mining left behind. We crafted an ownership agreement, which basically guarantees we can never sell it at a profit, so that it will remain in our hands in perpetuity. (For example, the agreement can only be changed by the oldest great-grandchild among us after we’re all dead. Really).

The cabin itself is a very rustic affair, with one 20’ x 24’ room, with a partial divider to separate the sleeping quarters from the kitchen/living area. It has a 1912 cast iron wood cook stove that we cook on while we’re there. We have to haul water from the creek in the winter for dishwashing and toilet flushing (there’s a flush toilet in an outhouse, lovingly named the “Darkroom”). If it’s raining or snowing while we’re there, we hunker down and cozy up, there’s not really anywhere else to go.

So as is traditional, we converged at the cabin this New Year’s, though without any cars getting stuck, and enjoyed a relaxing, do-nothing holiday of snow play, too much meat, solo reading, burning brush piles, and catching up with Kyle and Kathy and their 18 month old son, Miller, who moved across the earth to South Africa two years ago. Ella was so excited about snow, we went on long walks through the trees and underbrush, following fox, rabbit, and squirrel tracks, eating handfuls of snow, sliding on our bums, and making a snowman. Ahh, the good life.