Sunday, December 25

Just a thought…

If my last name were Moss, would I have the nerve to name a daughter born on December 25 Mary Chris?

Probably not.

Mary Chris Moss to all my readers anyway.

Monday, December 19

Chainsaw carton gets extended life

The carton containing our new chainsaw was perfect for cutting into the shape of a rear door’s now-missing window. I cut it with my trusty Swiss Army knife and tucked about four inches of it down into the window channel and the rest of it into the guides along the sides and top. It will help keep us warm when we go to town tomorrow morning when the temperature will be 32°F (0°C) and we’ll be zipping along at the speed limit. 

Last night Karla came back from seeing a play (she loved it!) in the old gold rush town of Sonora, and after dropping off the neighbor who had invited her, approached one of our gates where there was a clot of our horses waiting, anxious to get through. The roadway at that particular gate is narrow, and Karla slowly eased by the horses, one of which must have swung her head the wrong way and smashed the glass. The horse wasn’t hurt.

We made an appointment at the glass-fixing place for 9:00 AM tomorrow. The car will also be going in for routine maintenance at the Toyota-fixing place just a couple of doors away, so we’re doing that two-birds-with-one-stone thing. Good for us. Oh yeah, just a few doors down the road is the horse-fixing feed store where we’ll stock up on horse feed. Add another bird to that stone!

But don’t feed any goodies to that head-swinging, glass-breaking horse. Not till she comes up with a couple of hundred bucks to atone for her crime.

Update: Today we took the car in. I mentioned to the glass-fixer that we were lucky to have only a side window broken, rather than the windshield. “If it had been the windshield, I don’t know what I would have done. I don’t have a big enough piece of cardboard.” I’m not sure he got the joke.

Saturday, December 17

Biting the bullet

Bullets taste awful. I suggest that if you’re going to bite one, you contact it with only your teeth, not letting either tongue or lips touch it. Lead is harder than I thought. I bit down pretty good, but only left a little polished mark. Probably the same mark would have occurred on the brass part had I bitten it there.

Saturday morning we got a faxed quotation from a contractor we had interviewed, a bid on the foundation of the new house we want to put up a mile down the road from the old house. It came in several thousand dollars under the estimate we had gotten from the house plan designer, so we said “Yes.” We’ll give him a small payment to seal the deal. Karla and I committed to going ahead by ceremoniously biting the bullet shown above.

We’ll take our plans over to the County Planning Commission to start the permit process, which shouldn’t take too long since practically nobody is building houses around here these days (except our neighbor down the road who’s putting up a little 7,000-plus-square-foot bungalow). I’ll use our road grader to cut away all the grass growing on our house site so the workers can see their marks in the dirt to lay out the foundation and carport slab.

I have to pick a spot from which I’ll take pictures of the progress. But for now, a shot (pun intended) of the bullet with barely perceptible bite marks will have to do.

Thursday, December 15

We miss the Bentley

We had the chance to get some much-needed rain, but unfortunately the Bentley was in the shop getting the fly-potty stain removed from the leather-wrapped steering wheel. (Whoever let that fly in the car had better be on guard—I am ANGRY!)

Our usual “put the Bentley outside with the top down” method of getting it to rain wasn’t available and as a result the storm passed over us with nary a drop. The forecast for the next week is dry. The horses are eating acorns instead of grass. We might have to break the lock on the barn and start tossing out very expensive hay.

Can we borrow some of our readers’ Bentleys? Please?

Monday, December 5

Osprey spotted

This should interest our closest neighbors, who are avid birders.

Today we saw an Osprey. Actually we heard it first, a deep throbbing sound from the north. Karla and I were hiking up to what we call Dragon Hill when the whole valley seemed to be infused with a very loud wubba wubba sound, more felt than heard. There was a component of the sound that reminded me of turbojet engines. I had heard the same thing yesterday but never discovered the source. It was obviously an aircraft, so I scanned the sky and finally saw it—an airplane with two enormous propellers. The Osprey takes off as a twin-rotor helicopter, with wings. Once airborne, the two huge engines/rotors swivel forward on the wings and it becomes a regular airplane and goes twice as fast as a fast helicopter.

It’s an aircraft that uses a great idea, vertical takeoff with fast horizontal flight, and took nearly two decades to perfect. It has commercial potential. The last time I went from our foothill ranch to our high Sierra ranch by helicopter, it took a whole 40 minutes. In an Osprey, it would take only 15. That would make a daily commute much more practical.

I’ll have to present the idea to the board of directors.

Photo: US Navy, via Wikipedia

Saturday, December 3

The real origins of bedrock mortars

I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that the holes in the rocks around here were a little too symmetrically perfect to have been made by people in ancient times using ancient methods. Recently I got reinforcement of my suspicion from NASA, of all places.

Local bedrock mortars, supposedly made by people

Where I live there are many outcrops of granite with holes in them. Local lore maintains that the holes were made by early inhabitants, and were used for grinding foodstuffs such as acorns into meal. That may be true in part, the meal-grinding part, but as for the making of the holes by people—well, that’s probably wrong.

Asteroid Vesta with abundant bedrock mortars, ready for oak trees and human inhabitants.

Here’s my theory. As the earth began cooling after its birth, granite was still hot enough that when hit by meteorites it could be dented instead of shattered. As NASA’s picture of the asteroid Vesta shows, meteorites make bowl-shaped dents in rock. Many of the dents look just like the holes in the granite around here.

Time passes, rock cools and hardens, humans arrive on the scene. On discovering these meteor-made holes, people decide to settle down where they don’t have to buy expensive imported mortars in order to grind acorns. The evidence proves my theory—where there were many bedrock mortars, there were large populations of both people and oak trees, all thanks to ancient meteor strikes. 

I should’ve been a college professor.
Image Credits: Top picture Tom Hurley. Bottom picture: NASA, JPL-Caltech, UCLA, MPS, DLR, IDA

Friday, December 2

An interesting exception

When making an abbreviation from the initial letters of something, it is customary to not include the initials of the minor words, like of, the, and and so on. For example NASA stands for National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The “and” is left out. NAACP stands for National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, leaving out for, the and of.

POTUS stands for President of the United States. If that abbreviation were to follow the rules of leaving out the minor words, it would be PUS.

And that might not be too flattering.

Tuesday, November 29

Leading versus chasing

Today Karla and I went to town and stocked up on horse feed to last for a week or more. As we were loading our booty into the barn, a cow moseyed by and looked in. For several days, we have had eight or nine cows on the place due to a nearly-impossible-to-repair fence. There is a path that could be decades old that leads to part of the fence where the cows simply push through. Remember, these critters are covered in cowhide, and mere barbed wire is kind of like cobwebs to them.

They seem to be craving salt. We always keep a block of salt out for the horses, but our neighbor may be remiss in providing salt for his cows. We’ll have to put some on his place. Anyway, I thought it would be nice to lure the cows off our place and back to their own territory.

A few days ago we failed at chasing them down to the gate—they scattered. So remembering our late neighbor’s method of grabbing a handful of sweet hay and saying, “Come on, cows. Come on, cows,” and walking to where you want them to be, we lured them down to the gate, then onto the land where they’re supposed to be. All except for a young’n who took off along the fence on the wrong side away from his/her mom. Oh well, the young’n is covered with the same cowhide, and will probably survive his/her squeeze through the barbed wire to rejoin the family.

It’s been a long time since I was so close to bovines, and I was interested to see that they pick up their food by wrapping their tongues around it, almost like a giraffe, which can have a two-foot-long tongue to grab leaves from overhead tree branches. The hay I had in my hand was in a loose bunch, so it was easy for the cow I was leading to grab a mouthful by wrapping her really long tongue around part of it and pulling it in. They also do very strong breathing through the nose, sniffing and exhaling loudly. They’re sniffing the bait to see if it’s worthwhile. And the nose itself seems to be covered with sweat. Cows’ noses and mouths are very wet! I can see why they need so much water.

Horses use their prehensile upper lip, much like an elephant’s trunk, to gather their food. They have both upper and lower incisors, while cows have lowers only and a soft upper gum. Cows are very interesting creatures, and I could develop a hankering for them. If only they would drop their pies where I don’t walk!

Our dog Sioux loves the scent of a fresh cow pie, and often rubs her right shoulder in one to enhance her personal scent. She gets several baths a week from us in exchange, usually a cold shot from the garden hose. Is she really telling us that she loves cold showers?

Life has so many questions. I’d really like to know some more answers. Maybe I should have a long talk with a cow.

Monday, November 28

Sea for Sioux—NOT!

For the first time in her life, doggie Sioux got to see the sea. We walked onto the beach at San Simeon with dog in tow. Karla was anticipating her reaction on first tasting salt water. Unfortunately, Sioux was having none of that nonsense.

The tide was high and the waves were coming in with some force. Karla took off her shoes, rolled up her pant legs, and went for a run with the dog. Sioux stayed on the high (shore) side both out and back, and didn’t appreciate it a bit when the water rushed over her paws. Karla loved the run up and down the beach.

There were other dogs on the beach, and their people were throwing sticks into the surf. The dogs bounded through the waves to retrieve them. Sioux isn’t a retriever, so that option was out.

Sioux laid on her big soft cushion in the back of the car as we left, and finally got a taste of the ocean as she licked her paws clean. She didn’t beg to return, and seemed to be happier as the car got farther from the ocean.

Sunday, November 27

Wine tasting

We stayed two nights over the Thanksgiving holiday in Paso Robles. In our hotel room there was a book that featured some of the wineries in the area. It had a guide for newbies on how to act at a wine tasting. The server pours a little wine into the glass, you hold it by the stem, then lift it to the light to judge its color (bright is best), swirl it in the glass, and notice its “legs” (the stringy lines it leaves on the glass). You sniff it and try to identify what you smell and compare those smells to familiar flavors and then take a sip, rolling it over your tongue while noting all the tastes. Finally you spit it out into the little bucket on the counter and wait for the taste in your mouth to subside (the longer it takes, the better) while noting those lingering tastes.

Flavors like cinnamon, citrus, rose petals, vanilla, oak, cloves, and apples were listed. But not rotten grapes. Did we miss something? Is there such a thing as being Tongue Deaf? Apparently, since the wines we tasted at two very different wineries mostly tasted that way to us. As for the sniffs before tasting, I completely missed the secret odors.

I wonder if the tasting room servers are simply filling all the bottles with the same cheap stuff and chuckling to themselves while watching the rubes go into ecstasy as the tastings get up into the $125 per bottle range.

It’s pretty obvious to me that I haven’t developed the essential discernment to make a distinction between shiraz, chardonnay, merlot, or cabernet sauvignon. Yet I can surely spot the ersatz flavor of Ripple or Mogen David and other swill that merely poses as wine. There’s a California wine maker whose rock-bottom-priced Charles Shaw (“Two-Buck Chuck”) gained a tremendous following as he pooh-poohed the whole tasting culture and its pie-in-the-sky hoity-toitiness, enraging the high-end vintners. Perhaps he too suffers from tongue deafness.

When we got home, I tried the sniff test on some red wine that had been opened a week ago and was left out on the kitchen counter. I was pleased to discover that I could discern the following: distant skunk, damp dishrag, and a subtle hint of wet dog. So maybe there’s hope for me yet.

Wednesday, November 23

Thanksgiving day

Tomorrow morning we get up early and head southwest to Paso Robles for a Thanksgiving gathering of the Smith clan (Karla’s people) at her cousin Rowenna’s place. The following day we will return to witness the wedding of Ro to our friend Frank Hoke. We have known Frank for decades since he worked for the Edison Company at Florence Lake as the dam tender. 

Frank once saved our lives. We were returning from the far end of the lake in our ferry, the Sierra Queen, which at the time was powered by a couple of iffy outboard engines; one had already pooped out. The lake was full, and water was spilling over the dam at a furious rate. Dangerous! As we approached the store end of the lake in the evening, the second engine quit. I punched the horn on the boat, sending out an SOS call in Morse code; three short toots, three longs, three shorts. I repeated the call. There was a party going on outside at the Edison Company camp beside the lake, and hearing the horn, people cheered and waved. But Frank got the message—SOS; Save Our Souls! He ran to the company boat, came out to us, and pulled us clear of the spillway.

The next morning we ordered two new engines and I drove, breaking every speed limit, to the distributor in Sacramento to pick them up before they closed in early afternoon. The following morning we were wondering how to haul a couple of 265-pound engines down to the ferry, when who should show up but a weight-lifting club from Fresno. They wanted a ride across the lake. “It’s free if you haul these engines down to the ferry,” I said.

Serendipity strikes again.

Have a great marriage, Frank and Rowenna! And may you never have an SOS situation.

Monday, November 21


We took a walk this morning down to our first gate, stopping to feed that ol’ Pelton horse, the late Geronimo’s buddy. Peltie misses Ger and still hangs around by the corral.

We stopped at the gate and slowly realized that it was eerily quiet; there was no sound coming out of the sky. We normally hear airplanes high overhead all day long—not loud, but aways there to some extent. An acorn woodpecker piped up with its “ch-racka-racka” call and took a few pecks at a tree somewhere off in the distance. Otherwise, dead silence.

We walked up to the water tank to see how much was left after doing a lot of cleaning and several loads of laundry yesterday. Heading back home from the tank, we walked over to the big rock outcrop near the western edge of the property. From that vantage we can see most of the valley below, and spotted the house being built by the Gerbers down near the river. (It’s hard to miss a 7,000-square-foot house!) Line of sight, the distance is over two miles, and in the stillness we could clearly hear the sound of hammering.

“That’s a sixteen-penny nail,” I remarked to Karla. “I can tell; first a tap to set the nail, then three hits to finish. Probably a vinyl coated sinker.”

Adjacent to the rock outcrop is about an acre of ancient graves on Graveyard Slope, so dubbed by a woman who used to work at the ranch and is an archaeologist with a specialty in pre-lithic Peruvian culture. Rock mounds mark each burial, nine or ten of them scattered over the wide open space. One of the graves is a little harder to spot since there is a three-foot-diameter oak tree growing out of the rocks, which are pushed away to make a ring instead of a mound.

The carpenters put down their hammers. Again we were engulfed in silence. Awesome thick rich deep silence.

Saturday, November 19

Taking the high road

Our friend Audrey, whose horse Vanessa is staying with us, wanted to come up to see her one more time before she ventured off to Ethiopia for a half-year.

Found them!

 As would happen, Nessie wasn’t hanging around on the lowlands, so Audrey, her friend who recently retired as a computer science professor at CSUF, Karla, and Sioux had to hike a mile or so north and go up a couple of thousand feet to find her. The view from there includes California’s coast range mountains and a stunning view of our surroundings, so it was a worthwhile trip.

Karla and Sioux, coast range in distance.

Photos: Audrey Spach

Thursday, November 10


“I know, I know. The President is waiting for his horse, but I promised Ben a ride so tell him to cool it.”

I love my dad.

Photos: Hilary Hurley Painter

Animal trainer

Ben is getting an early start to his career as an animal trainer. Here he is showing how, with a subtle movement of the leash, he instructs Bella to look to her left. Most people, on watching Ben’s near-imperceptible moves, can’t believe that he has her complete attention and cooperation. Imagine—if he’s this good at one-and-a-half years old—what he’ll be able to do when he’s two!

Photo: Hilary Hurley Painter

Friday, November 4

What a downgrade!

When grandson Ben is at the Furnace Creek Ranch Stable during the wintertime, he can go for a ride in a great big wagon pulled by two great big mules. But when he comes to our foothill ranch in Central California, the only wagon is a little Radio Flyer.

And it’s pulled by a creaky old grampa. Oh well. Life can be tough, so he may as well get used to it while he’s still young.

Photos: Hilary Hurley Painter

It worked!

Last night I was awakened by the pitter-patter of raindrops. Quick as a bunny, I dashed to the door and ran out to put the Bentley back in the garage, but it wasn’t there! I guess Karla put it away before coming to bed.

We got almost a quarter of an inch, and more in the afternoon to nearly a third of an inch. We’ll just leave the Bentley where it is for now.

Thursday, November 3

At home in the grain barrel

One of Ben’s favorite places is in a grain barrel. Not only does the grain move around so you can get a really comfortable seat, it’s good to eat! Here Grandma Karla is watching as Ben samples what we have here at the foothill ranch. Yum!

Wednesday, November 2

Goodbye, dear friend

Tonight the vet will be showing up after dark to finally end the pain of our old friend, Geronimo. Ger-Ger is over 30 years old, older than Hilary and one whom we consider to be one of her best teachers. Hilary rode him first with saddle and tack, then with just a bridle or halter, and finally with nothing but her skill—her hand grasping his mane. She claimed that Geronimo could go from zero to 60 in just a couple of seconds, beating even the fastest Porsche. In her bedroom as she grew up, you would find thoroughbred horse models and an equal number of Porsche models.

As so often happens with old horses, he has arthritis. It is really difficult for him to get up after he has been lying on the ground to rest. His walking is labored. His balance is compromised by the pain he has been feeling in spite of our medicating him twice a day. He had an injured foot that we spent a couple of weeks medicating. It is healed now, but he still has trouble walking.

I just now got a phone call from our three-miles-away neighbors saying that a truck just went through our furthest gate—probably Doctor Seamans.

The kindest thing we can do now is to have him put an end to Geronimo’s cruel pain. Ger-Ger will be going to a much better place, where you don’t need a body to keep going on your adventure through the eternity of living.

Monday, October 31

How to make it rain

This is one of the oldest tricks in the book, but when you need rain you’ll try anything. It’s been awhile since it rained and the grasses and forbs shot up and it looked lush. Now they’re looking pretty tired and the outlook is bleak. But the old trick should work, I told Karla—let’s put the top down and leave the Bentley out of the garage.


Ghostly spooks are watching you from out there in the constellation Cepheus. Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 29

Our brush with fame

For a few weeks we have been listening to the radio station in Fresno that has a feature called Valley Legends and Legacies, short stories that are played a couple of times a day during their news hours. The stories are repeated several times over a period of more than a week. For a couple of weeks we heard about Frank Thomas, Walt Disney’s lead animator and native of Fresno. In one of the stories it was mentioned that he along with his wife and children spent two weeks every summer at the Diamond D Ranch, later to become the Muir Trail Ranch. He studied the movements of wild animals, later using his observations in his animations, including Bambi. (Karla and I visited him once at his home in Flintridge after he retired from Disney. In his studio, we were especially drawn to the marvelously lifelike wooden puppet, Pinocchio, that he used to model his drawings for the movie.)
We received a phone call from the Legends author, Catherine Rehart, who has been writing about the history of Central California for several decades. Cathy wanted to chronicle the history of the Sierra in the Huntington Lake area and its surroundings, and was planning to include the Muir Trail Ranch and its history. We referred her to Ed Selleck, the biographer who had interviewed Karla’s mother, Adeline. He would have a more comprehensive viewpoint since he was documenting the history of a larger area of the Sierra for the Central Sierra Historical Society.
Cathy’s stories are compiled and published as books, but first they’re produced and presented by Fresno’s KMJ Radio. A few weeks ago we started hearing her stories about Andy Ferguson, Karla’s great-grandfather, and his role in planting the Golden trout throughout the Sierra. Next came Andy’s son, Edgar Smith, Fresno County’s engineer who was responsible for planning and building the Tollhouse Grade, a road that at the time was considered impossible to build. Then the stories moved to Edgar’s son, Karl Smith, who graduated from the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and whose trombone skills gained him a close friendship with jazz musician Al Hirt.
In the summer of 1947, Karl’s wife Adeline drove him and his friend Sam Peckinpah, later to become a famous movie director (The Wild Bunch), to the east side of the Sierra so they could start a hike over the crest. During their hike they came across the remnants of a plane crash, and Sam cut his hand rather badly on the wreckage. They had to find a way out of the mountains in a hurry, and after checking their map decided to drop out at Florence Lake. The trail led them through the Diamond D ranch. Karl got acquainted with the ranch’s owner, Jack Ducey, who gave him a tour of the ranch.
Karl fell in love with and wanted to buy the ranch to balance his “other life” as a musician and librarian with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, but the ranch wasn’t for sale. So he and Adeline bought the nearby Florence Lake Resort from its owner, Dick Morrison, who had diabetes and was going blind. Sam Peckinpah and his wife, Marie, helped them run the lake operation in their first year of ownership.
Meanwhile, Jack Ducey sold the ranch to Nate and Pansy Combs who five years later sold it to Karl and Adeline. When Karl died, followed thirty years later by Adeline’s passing, Karla and I ended up running the ranch.
Cathy spread the family’s history over several episodes. Nothing grand and historic has happened under Karla’s and my ownership; we are simply mentioned in the conclusion to the story.
You might ask what it feels like to be part of an interesting story, even if our role is only seen as being the period at the end of the last sentence. Fifteen seconds of fame? Maybe in thirty or forty years we’ll be recognized as titans of industry, at least that which involves service to backpackers on the John Muir Trail.

Friday, October 28


Those who have followed this blog know that I live amongst horses. This story doesn’t involve horses, but cows.

When I was about 18 years old, I had been working at a television station in Fresno for roughly a year. During one summer the station’s owner, a well-known cattle and cotton baron in the San Joaquin Valley, sent his grandson to the station to get some work experience. The kid was about my age, and we connected immediately. Since we were both unpredictable (even though I was dedicated to being responsible), we decided that the TV station’s elaborate chemistry set was way underutilized. I have no idea why a TV station had such a thing as a chemistry set, but that’s irrelevant. We read up on rockets, and decided to make one. We wrapped several layers of newspaper around a broomstick and secured it with masking tape. That made a sturdy and lightweight rocket body. We slipped the tube off and attached an aluminum foil nose cone.

The chemistry set provided all the necessary ingredients to make, essentially, gunpowder. We packed the paper tube with our mix, went out behind the studio to its manure pile (remember, the owner of the place had plenty of manure for gardening around the station), then carved a groove in the pile, placed a broken fluorescent light tube in the groove, put our rocket in the tube, and made a fuse out of a long string of crumpled newspaper.

It was early afternoon when we set a match to the fuse and were thrilled to see our rocket shoot out across the empty fields surrounding the TV station. It must have gone a thousand feet! Cool!

We made more rockets that afternoon and adjusted our manure-pile-fluorescent-tube groove to get more elevation. More successful launches only fed our desire to achieve more-spectacular results. As evening approached, we weren’t sure we would be able to see where our rockets were going, so I had the idea that we needed a tracer, something that would illuminate our rocket in flight when it was dark. Aha! Add some powdered magnesium to the mix. Magnesium burns hot and very bright. So our last rocket of the day had its usual gunpowder mix plus magnesium.

It was probably 7 or 8 o’clock when we launched it. Actually, it didn’t launch—it exploded! Turns out that magnesium powder burns really quick, and instead of the steady burn of our gunpowder mix, we had made a bomb. A really loud bomb. The manure pile, our faithful launch pad, was blown to oblivion and within an hour the sheriff was at the TV station, asking if we knew anything about the huge explosion that had the neighborhood in turmoil.

Denial was rampant. The on-duty director of programming pleaded ignorance of even hearing the explosion. The owner’s grandson had driven off in his expensive car, and I was only a low-level kid, obviously innocent.

A few days later the manure pile was replenished by the owner’s ranch hands.

Tuesday, October 25

More magic from an Apple alumnus

Tony Fadell, the engineer who designed the iPod while at Apple, has come up with a terrific innovation, a smart thermostat. His thermostat is different from others because it learns as you use it. It could save a tremendous amount of energy if several million of them go into houses and replace the old dumb thermostats we’ve been using for most of a century. “Smart” thermostats have been around for decades, but people don’t bother to get the Ph.Ds necessary to program them. I am sure other companies, like Honeywell, will try to come up with a competing product, but can they make them simple and gorgeous? Not likely. Mr. Fadell has Apple in his DNA.

Read a good article with a video here, and a more comprehensive one without a video here. Order now and be the first on your block to have one!

Thursday, October 20

Idiocy is cheap

Maybe that’s why there’s so much of it. The City of San Francisco passed a law requiring cellular phone retailers to post warnings about health risks from radiation. That’s about as relevant as warning about the risk of light reflected off the screen at a movie theater. Lumens from a movie screen could be potentially more harmful to human health than the radiation from a cell phone or a bluetooth dongle hanging on someone’s ear.

Radiation causes damage to living cells by ionization. When electrons are torn from the molecules making up DNA, it causes replacement cells to be altered from what they should be. Two things are required to make radiation harmful: Frequency and intensity. The frequencies at which cell phones or bluetooth devices operate are orders of magnitude lower than that required to cause ionization. Intensity, or power, of cell phones or bluetooth devices is millions of times too low to cause even localized heating of flesh. A bluetooth device hanging on your ear, which operates at the same frequency as your microwave oven, is putting out the power equivalent of a gnat compared to a whale.

The Board of Supervisors in San Francisco should be ashamed of their unanimous vote to require the posting of power levels of cellular phones. The city is surrounded by bright people who actually understand radiation—Silicon Valley to the south, UC Berkeley, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Stanford University. People at those places know that it is far more dangerous to lie with your skin exposed to sunlight on the warm sand of a beach than it is to use a cell phone. Ultraviolet light, cosmic rays, and X-rays cause ionization; cellular radio waves don’t. Being at high altitude exposes you to even more radiation from the cosmos. Hiking in the High Sierra exposes a person to radiation from the atomic decay present in granite. (An aside: Are granite countertops contributing to cancer deaths? There’s a whole new regulation pursuit for the Board of Nannies!)

San Francisco’s government is straitjacketed by its perceived mandate to control and manage its citizens’ lives at all cost, with total disregard of scientific evidence. In the supervisors’ minds the citizens must be protected from evil corporations that are so eager to kill all of their customers in their ardent pursuit of profit. The city’s principal source of income, like that of Athens, Greece, is tourism: Keep it attractive and amusing—a playground. The Board of Supervisors should be recruited from Disneyland, not from home-grown despots.

Idiocy is hard to fight. Especially when it has the imprimatur of official decree.

A couple of interesting links:

Wednesday, October 19

What did they expect?

An odd thing happened yesterday when Apple Inc. reported its earnings for the quarter. When the numbers came in lower than “Wall Street expectations,” the stock fell in after-hours trading. In fact, Apple exceeded its own prediction of earnings, but fell short of outsiders’ expectations. Since the company has exceeded outsiders’ expectations for the past 20 or so quarters, but came in below them (for good reason, by the way) this one time, the stock was punished by “the Street.”

What a bunch of bogus nonsense. The actual earnings and profits were the highest ever. The reason for not being as high as “expectations” was that Apple was preparing to introduce a new phone in the following quarter. Potential buyers of a new phone stopped buying the older model and that reduced sales for the reported quarter. This is to be expected—if you know a brand new magical gadget is just around the corner, and you don’t need a new phone right now, you wait to buy the new one which, by the way, set an all-time sales record—Four million units in the first three days worldwide.

But most distressing were the headlines of the articles, all of them implying that Apple was on the skids and everybody had better get out NOW. We are staying in for the long haul. We’re not going to abandon the company we watched pull out of almost certain bankruptcy to grow and become the most valuable company on earth. Our personal stock in Apple has increased in value by about 300%, and our daughter’s cache of shares has gone up over 5,000%.

Not bad for a fading star of a company.

Monday, October 17

Jury duty

Early tomorrow morning Karla heads off to Madera, the county seat, for an appointment with the criminal justice system. Perhaps she’ll end up sitting in the jury box at a trial to decide the fate of a robber, a rapist, a murderer.

The best way to get on a jury is to deny any knowledge of the case, sound like you understand the English language, have no preconceived notions regarding criminal justice, and look like you’re intelligent.

We’ll see if she’s selected to be one of the twelve, out of hundreds of thousands of county residents, who will have the fate of a human soul in her hands.

My experience with being a jury member leaves a sour taste. When my team presented the verdict of guilty of first degree murder, we all wanted to go home and hide under the covers for a week to diminish the guilt we felt for coming to that verdict. None of us felt good about it, and each of us probably blamed our decision on the perceived inviolability of the orders from the judge: If so-and-so is proved, then so-and-so must be the verdict. On reflection, we as a body should have rejected the judge’s instructions and nullified his orders. Problem is, the court system is rigged. Juries are told that the judge is the boss, and his or her instructions are to be followed. You would have to be on a jury at least once previously in order to game the system.

So why have a jury if that’s the case? One thing that is never told to the jury before they go in for deliberation is the instruction to “Vote your conscience.” Probably no judge in the last fifty years has used that phrase, which was routinely spoken a hundred years ago. Had we voted our conscience, the kid we sent to prison would be doing a sentence of a couple of years for bad behavior instead of twenty-five years to life for a really minor part in a crime committed by a dozen youngsters. I’m sure the prosecutor was interested only in enhancing his image of toughness, hoping to advance in the ranks of nasty bastards so he could get a higher-ranking position in the political game he was into.

Shame on me. I won't commit that crime again.

Update: After being held for hours, the prospective jurors were released around 3:00 in the afternoon. Thanks but no thanks.

Sunday, October 16


It’s been more than a whole 24-hour day since I relied on what has to be some powerful Honest-To-God trust. Karla and I had hiked up to check the level in our water tank and to gather a few of the empty Crystalyx drums to return them for the deposit. On the way I spotted a really big puffball, a ground-growing fungus that grows all over the ranch. It was the size of a medium orange, and heavy. I wondered if it was something we could eat, and Karla said “Audrey said yes.” Audrey is our organic/holistic/young friend who studies local Indian lore and has spent time in Alaska counting migrating whales and is heading to Ethiopia in order to teach prenatal care to women. She’s a nutritionist and yoga instructor and is beautiful besides. We trust Audrey.

I took the puffball home. I planned to make it part of a really exciting gourmet breakfast—fresh wild mushroom and eggs. Karla demurred, deciding to have Grape-Nuts cereal instead.

Slicing into the puffball was delightful, its texture firm and smooth like a young banana. The first slice I consumed raw. The rest was cut into rounds and sautéed in butter. Then I fried a couple of free-range vegetarian-diet-hens’ eggs and flipped them in the pan without a spatula, a skill which I am always willing to demonstrate to anyone within eye-shot.

I laid out the tender golden puffball slices, overlapping them in a C-shaped curve along the plate’s edge, then slipped the skillfully-flipped eggs into the C’s negative space. As I sat down at the dining table next to Karla and her Grape-Nuts with milk and Greek yogurt and locally-produced honey, I felt like gloating. What a prize! What a brave guy! I was actually going to consume a wild mushroom after only hearing an anecdotal “sure, you can eat them” from Audrey through Karla. What if Karla had mis-heard? What if Audrey had actually said the Indians had used them to kill people, not fill them? After all, the local natives had done some pretty potent things with wormwood leaves and crushed buckeye nuts and mistletoe berries.

As it turned out, this meal wouldn’t top my list of requests for a last meal that I’d submit to the executioner, but it was good. I had a lot of attention on my liver as I swallowed each bite. Once during the meal I felt a gas bubble stab my abdomen but dismissed it as mere coincidence. After all, how often does that happen even during a perfectly safe federally-approved meal? Often, I assured myself. The twinge of pain I felt in my big toe was something I had experienced before, the result of stubbing it on a rock during our hike. Nothing to do with this meal. I assured myself that the slightly giddy feeling I was becoming acutely aware of had to be caused by my recently-consumed cup of strong black coffee. The entire dining experience consisted of me assuring myself that everything was just fine, and there was nothing, absolutely nothing that was going to keep me from really enjoying and relishing this wonderful natural organic meal. Nothing!

Hours later I was mildly pleased that I felt no bad after-effects. But it could take time, I thought; not every poison is fast-acting. Sometimes the effects can take hours, even days to manifest. Decades in the case of radium salts or mercuric oxide or fibrous asbestos or bad booze. Millennia in the case of bad karma.

But that was yesterday. This is today. And I’m still here, proving that putative puffball poison is at least very slow-acting. I even went out this morning and plucked a few more of them. This time they’ll be used in tonight’s salad.

Karla says she’s also going to try something new for dinner—Grape-Nuts.

Saturday, October 15

Just add water…


…and a little time, like a week. The greenery is popping out all over the place. The grass is three or four inches (75 to 100 mm) high in many places, but the real treat for horses is what we call filaree, a forb that they love. They discovered the filaree when it was barely out of its seed form (mm-m-m! filaree sprouts!) and have continued munching it wherever they can find it, which is almost everywhere.


As a testament to filaree’s appeal, we put out six drums of Crystalyx, a hardened molasses-and-protein-and-other-stuff mix, in various places around the ranch. Each drum weighs about 250 pounds (113 kg) and the horses found them quickly. Being hierarchical (kind of like chickens) the meanest horses get to eat first, then the second-third-and-fourth meanest horses, and finally the wimps get in a lick or two before the meanest ones get hungry again. Usually the Crystalyx is gone after a couple of weeks, but we found three drums with some of it still uneaten, and no horses around! All we need now is more rain in order to keep the green stuff growing.

Or we’ll have to spend the other green stuff on more Crystalyx. Or feed hay. Or move onto a more rewarding way to make a living, like raising worms or chinchillas.

Wednesday, October 5

A rousing night’s deluge

The center tube, measuring one inch, is full and has spilled over
to the outer tube.

Starting around midnight, the skies opened up and by 8 o’clock in the morning had dumped nearly an inch and a half of rain on us. A record-setting storm for sure, giving us what normally falls in the entire month of October in just eight hours. Later in the morning, another five hundredths fell giving us a total of 1.52 inches (39 millimeters). The grass will definitely start very soon and be ready to eat in maybe a month.

Can we take our hay back? We contracted for 120 bales and loaded 60 of them in the barn last night. Oh well, there are always bad-weather years to come. And hay keeps well without refrigeration.

A bonus was the thorough washing our solar panels got from the heavy downpour. Since they’re up where it takes two ladders to get to them, and I don’t do ladders without another person steadying them, they didn’t get washed all summer. I checked the power when the sun poked through the clouds and was happy to see 2,475 watts coming from them into the thirsty batteries.

So we now have early upcoming grass and tons of solar electricity. Who could ask for more?

Update: Storm total—1.93" (49 mm)

Tuesday, October 4

Please! Rain!

What a disappointment. Checking the Internet for weather forecasts, looking longingly at radar pictures of storms, hoping that the dark green—or even better, the yellow and red (even, if I dare, purple)—portions showing rain intensity fall over your location. So far, nada. Disappointing. The forecasts were so much more encouraging. What happened? Why aren’t they coming true? Who do you believe? Is the tooth fairy a myth? Is there no justice? Will mediocrity overcome deep thought? Is nature capricious? Should the government never be in charge of anything important? Was I lied to?

There is one consolation. Hilary is bringing up a load of 60 bales of hay tonight. We have to get it out of the trailer and into the barn before it’s ruined by rain. It would be nice of it doesn’t rain during that time. Let’s hope. Please! No rain! I take back all my pleadings!

Please! Don’t rain!

Monday, October 3

Rain! Yay!

I stepped out of the house yesterday evening and saw to the east some nice cumulous clouds, with brilliant white tops lit by the sun shining through low clouds to the west. The lower parts of the clouds were in graduated shades of lovely pearly gray. You know the kind of moment, when the skies get together and say to themselves, “Let’s give ‘em a light show!”

Of course, we humans who need to record this kind of stuff for broadcast to friends need to grab their cameras and capture the moment. In my case I was too late. By the time I had ripped into the camera case, yanked off the lens cap, flipped on the power switch so forcefully I was surprised I hadn’t broken it, and arrived at the scene with the smell of burning rubber from my sandals assaulting my nostrils as I dashed out of the house so fast I could look back and still see my fading streaked image lingering in the air, the sunlit scene got dull and dark. I must move faster!

So instead I took a picture of the clouds to the west.

The latest weather forecast says that by Wednesday we should have RAIN. Not a 30% chance, or even a 70% chance—just RAIN! That’s exciting. While many people consider rain as something either nice to look at or maybe a commuting nuisance, we who are closely connected to the soil and the elements consider this an important moment. We have literally tons of horseflesh on our near-square-mile ranch and early rain means free horse feed. If the horses find green underfoot, we find green in our bank account. People in our neighborhood stocking up on hay are lamenting the high price, almost double what it was a year ago. To hedge our bets, we are filling some of our new barn space with a few tons of grass-alfalfa-mix bales that we found at a decent price locally. If we don’t need them this winter, they have a long shelf life and we will have them for next winter. It’s always a crap shoot. People whose lives closely depend on weather are the real gamblers.

Monday, September 26

From out of the blue…

At just around noon the phone rang and it was Hilary’s clear-as-a-bell voice on the other end. “Where are you,” I asked. “On top of Turret Peak” she answered. If you’re not familiar with where that is, it’s way off in the middle of the John Muir Wilderness of the Sierra National Forest. If she were flying an unpressurized airplane, she could only stay at that elevation/altitude for a half hour before needing supplemental oxygen. The only time I was on Turret Peak, there was no such thing as a cell phone, so this was an odd experience for me.

She listed the points of interest she could see from there which included the entire Muir Trail Ranch of course, the stone hut on Muir Pass, Paiute Pass (where our horses will be in just a few days), and myriad other things that I’m sure existed when I was at that same spot decades ago, but were unknown to me. The air was clear so the view was incredible.

I asked if she had taken her “real” camera. No, this was a pleasure trip, not a photographic assignment. She and two of the other women had decided to take a day off and do some horseback riding. Just one of the perks you get when you work at the ranch, like having your own goose down pillow and all the cool spring water you can drink and hot spring baths you can soak in.

Jewelry in the making

Gold and white enamel are combined into a fine filigree for this brooch. But don’t wear it or it may freeze to your skin. This picture shows dry ice beds at the south pole on Mars. Carbon dioxide freezes into ponds that later sublimate (turn directly into gas) and disappear for the rest of the year. So far nobody knows what gives the pit walls their gold color.

Boy, you just never know what you’re gonna find out there in the big ol’ universe, do ya?

Image Credit: HiRISE, MRO, LPL (U. Arizona), NASA

Sunday, September 25

Two cheetahs and a gopher

Last Thursday Luke and Randy dropped by the lower ranch with one goal in mind—to finish putting a roof over our double barn. Several months ago we had a couple of 28-foot-long truck trailers, without their wheels, installed next to each other. There was a space between them that, once roofed over, would provide a nice place to park our aluminum ferry boat, which we bring down every year from the lake. (The bigger all-steel ferry boat has its own storage building at the lake.) Off to the east we extended the roof to protect the aluminum “luggage boat,” which also gets hauled down yearly.

The project had remained in a partially-roofed state for several months. The cheetahs arrived and in less than one-and-a-half days finished the job. I, the gofer, was near finished myself, not accustomed to that kind of work speed. They both agreed that they could have completed the job in just one day if it hadn’t been so hot and humid—near 100°F. They had to take breaks in the shade and dip their heads in the cold spring-water-fed horse trough for cooling.

When the two of them left, the place felt empty and a little dead. Randy will be heading back to his home in England after a whole summer at the high ranch, while Luke returns to finish some projects, supervise the removal of some hazard trees, and take the horses over Paiute Pass to the Bishop side for trailering down to Furnace Creek Stables in Death Valley for the winter.

Saturday, September 24

Caught in the act

I was wondering if my skill at Solitaire was waning when I noticed something odd. This deck has two Jacks of Clubs! No wonder I couldn’t win no matter what! I couldn’t drag the offending double away off the board, so it seems the only thing to do is restart the computer and hope the glitch is only temporary.

It reminds me of how people think computers and electronics in general are so infallible. Several years ago I was shopping for a thermometer at a pharmacy and saw that there weren’t any plain old mercury thermometers, only the digital ones. I asked the pharmacist if he had any regular analog types and he said Oh no, they’re illegal anymore. “And besides,” he added, “the new ones are all digital!” as if that were a marvelous improvement. I worked in electronics for way too long to be fooled by that belief.

I think I’ll just go to bed.

I’m back

I’ve been away from the blog for awhile, and am glad to see that some of my readers kept the fish and the gopher fed. Thanks!

Re-reading Atlas Shrugged kind of takes all your time and energy, but I’m recovered now. That book changed my life at a young age. I was sixteen when I first read it. I recommend that you wait till at least 25 or so so you have some more maturity and don’t end up hating the idiotic world. Of course, the world is still a mess anyway…

Saturday, September 10

It’s a start…

Raindrops smatter the windshield

Today at about a quarter past five in the afternoon there was a terrific lightning flash really close, followed by a clap of thunder that made me jump, right after jumping because the lightning caused snaps on the ground as I walked along. I didn’t quite see what snapped, but I sure heard it. One lightning bolt, two jumps; that’s pretty good. So far it hadn’t rained even a drop. The National Weather Service is publishing Red Flag Warnings for lightning-caused wildfires here in the foothills.

Dang! That’s all we need! It has been very windy off and on, enough wind to have actually blown two socks off the clothesline! Then, finally, a smattering of rain. But nowhere near enough to suppress any wind-blown wildfire, that’s for sure.

Off in the distance to the south I can see dark bands of rain pouring out of the clouds, but it hasn’t gotten up here yet. I lived through the most destructive wildfire in history in this area in 1961, and I don’t want a repeat of that awful experience. The fire was clocked at between 45 and 60 miles per hour. There was no escape, 200 houses were lost and two people died. This area has grown up so much that now 2,000 houses would be lost if that fire came through.

Think rain. Lots of rain.

Friday, September 9

Rain? Rain? Please! Please!

I stepped outside a few minutes ago and smelled rain. Then I felt a drop on my forehead. The weather prediction is for low percentage chances of thunderstorms for the next two or three days, so if we can get the wet stuff before we get hit with the hot sparky stuff I’m a happy camper. If we get an inch or so of rain, that’s the best of all since it will start the winter feed growing for the hungry horses we have here.

Now if the horses and mules will stop their silly ballet moves and get to the down and dirty rain dances, I’ll be very happy.

Saturday, September 3

Nineteen Eighty-Four

As promised, getting the Kindle edition took only a few minutes. I dove in and was captured by Orwell’s powerful prose. It had been decades since I read the book, and fortunately for me, I had forgotten about 110% of it, so it was an all-new experience. It ends, sadly, with the protagonist’s total mental and spiritual defeat, but for quite awhile your hopes were up that he could make it and triumph against the dystopian state of the world. The upshot is that it was hopeless to fight the system because the system was so thoroughly established and meticulously maintained. Nobody is to be trusted, though again there are glimmers of hope. It’s a wrenching experience, but one you shouldn’t miss.

Occasionally I was shocked when the story mimicked what is happening today! Reminding me of my last blog post—Scary.

I wish Amazon could produce a flawless Kindle edition of anything. This one had page numbers popping up occasionally in the body of the work. Annoying, but the price is right. And you can’t beat the speed of delivery. I was thinking about which books people buy in the physical paper versions versus the ones they buy as ebooks. I came up with two reasons for the ebook: Nobody will see it on your coffee table and think you’re a radical or a creep, or belong in jail; the other is that you’re cheap.

Or three: You’re green. Or all of the above. What do I know! Ask Big Brother!

Wednesday, August 31


I got the picture shown here in an email, and sent it off to a few people on my mailing list. The signs at first make me laugh, then they make me fearful of living among people who need signs like these. One of my correspondents mentioned hearing someone say that he has a couple of kids in school and they’re not being taught longhand writing; that form of writing is like hieroglyphics to them. I recalled that the original United States Constitution is written in longhand.

Yesterday I heard government agency representatives talking about how the victims of hurricane Irene could count on assistance from the federal family. Not federal government—federal family. Remember when people on the leftward end of the political spectrum called themselves liberals? Now the preferred term is progressives. When I was in high school, the term progressive was used by those who didn’t like being called socialists.

I don’t believe any of this is happening by accident. I just bought the Kindle edition of Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. Gotta brush up on Newspeak.

Sunday, August 28

Another astonishing…

…astonishing what? How can I describe the most thrilling moment in Solitaire? This game went so smoothly and well that when I finished it I wondered—did I actually do that in one time through the deck? Fortunately I can back up the game completely with the Undo key and replay it, card by thrilling card, feeling my heart pound, the tingle running up both legs, the shortness of breath, the sweat gushing from my brow, the dry mouth, and finally the exhausting elation of playing all the way to another once-through-the-deck fabulous win!

Excuse me, I have to go lie down.

Saturday, August 27

Wrench stretcher

When the most prevalent sound around here is twin-engine airplanes with bright red tails flying over the house, you know it’s that time again. Now we have a wildfire burning to the northeast, shutting down Highway 140, the middle way into Yosemite National Park. The park is being powered by its emergency generators since the utility lines are down. The fire was caused when a motorhome’s propane tank caught fire. The motorhome was completely lost in the conflagration, and the residual effect was that several thousand acres of rugged country are now burning.

When I discovered a few weeks ago that the valve controlling our fire hydrant was split, I bought a replacement. Installing it was something else again. The old one was on so tight I couldn’t budge it with my puny eighteen-inch pipe wrenches. I had a 24" and even a 36" wrench but they were nowhere to be found. Probably went to the high ranch where the pipes are bigger. So I put together the rig shown above. The green nylon strap load binder can exert 1,500 pounds of force. It worked. I got the new valve on. Now if only those noisy airplanes would stop flying over all day long, things could be pleasant around here once again.

Thursday, August 25

I just love this illusion

I had first seen this illustration many years ago, and ran across it again today used in a Scientific American article about making a better light bulb. Without diving into the article, I tried to remember what the picture demonstrated, and came up with this: Two squares are labeled A and B. Which is darker? Well obviously A is darker than B. Duh.

Wrongo! They’re the same brightness! To prove it, put the fingers of both hands together at the tips, index to index, middle to middle, and ring to ring. Leave little diamond shaped holes between the fingers and superimpose them onto the A and B squares, masking the surrounding squares. Surprise! A and B are identically bright.

The whole idea of the illusion is to demonstrate context. You can try another experiment yourself that involves taste, not vision. A lot of people don’t like the taste of broccoli, for example. That’s because they are probably eating broccoli alongside things they do like such as mashed potatoes and gravy and fried chicken. But try this: Take a swig of a mixture of paint thinner, mashed ants and cat pee. Swish it around for a few seconds then spit it out. Then take a bite of broccoli. Wow! It’s love at first bite!

Wednesday, August 24

Google math

I was checking into using Google for Business to handle our ranch’s email. We already use their Gmail, but the Business mail offers more and only costs $50 per year.

I was checking out the features and had to view their introductory video twice because I thought something didn’t quite add up. As background, do any of you remember Google’s billboards recruiting people to work for them? The boards showed arcane symbolism that only a geek could appreciate. Like the sum of primes of factors of mathematical constants, or zeroes and ones that spell out something that no normal human ever heard of. The billboards were very successful in recruiting some very smart people to do Google’s magic. The problem was (and still is), very few normal people work at Google, the kind of people who can communicate effectively with the unwashed masses that make up Google’s audience. And some of their communicators don’t speak very clearly nor can they do simple math.

To illustrate my point, click on the link and view the short video titled Gmail Overview. The “announcer” mumbles his way through the script. At about the 1:10 mark listen to him say “that’s more than fifty times the industry average.” Google gives you 25 gigs of storage while others give you only one gig. Twenty-five times one equals fifty?

Google, you make me giggle.

Friday, August 19

Odd wasp

Some ground-nesting birds use an interesting behavior to lead intruders away from their nests. The grouse, for example, will make a fuss and lead a possible enemy far away before returning to the nest and its babies. But have you ever heard of an insect that does the same thing?

Several times, when coming back from my morning chore of feeding a couple of horses, I have seen a brilliant iridescent blue wasp staying just ahead of me on the trail, fluttering its wings, darting back and forth across the trail, always leading me up the hill until I’m safely away from whatever it is the wasp is trying to hide. Of course I don’t have a camera with me when this happens.

Today is different. I hung my nifty little Flip Ultra HD video camera on the doorknob so I wouldn’t forget it when leaving to feed the horses. After giving them their feed, I quickly headed back up the trail, hoping to see the blue wasp. And wouldn’t you know—for the first time there was no wasp! I guess the baby grouse it was raising grew up and flew away.

Sunday, August 14

Windy day

In the summertime, I always hang my laundry on a clothesline instead of putting it in the dryer. It saves gas and makes for less wear and tear on the fabric. The days are hot enough to get the job done quickly, and shaking the items as I take them off the line gets rid of the stiffness that normally sets in if there’s no wind to fluff things a bit.

Imagine my surprise when I went to take clothes off the line and discovered an entire sock blown clear to the ground! This year has been a big one for wind damage across the country. We here in California don’t usually get big blasts strong enough to lift a whole cotton sock clear off the line, and when it happens, it’s blogworthy.

Just thought you’d like to know.

Saturday, August 13

Warning! Your PayPal account has been limited!

It amazes me how people for whom English isn’t their first language (or if it is, that’s even scarier!) think they can pull in victims with the like of the wording in the screen shot shown above. I hovered the cursor over the link, and it shows that it’s a place called “surf in israel.”

My PayPal account doesn’t even do shekels.

Monday, August 8

They’re ba-a-ack

I hadn’t seen raccoon tracks in a long time, but when I headed uphill to start the olive tree soakers, there they were. The picture above shows them along with several other tracks: Car, Me, Cat, and Rabbit. A record of our passing is made daily in the sand, and if we stop to study it, we are reminded that we’re not alone. The tracks are spread out over time mainly because we can’t all occupy the same space at the same time. If the car makes a track, I will be in the car. When I make a track, the car is elsewhere. When the raccoons make their tracks, I, the car, the cat, and the rabbits are absent. You get the idea.

People of an analytical bent could create a chart showing the presence/absence/time relationship of the various actors in this scenario. One thing that could be anomalous is that some of the bunnies around here are fearless regarding human presence; we could make tracks together. One of the rabbits has actually befriended the cat (or at least isn’t afraid of it)! That’s probably a temporary situation; I better keep the cat well-fed so he doesn’t get any ideas.

When I feed one of our old horses, sometimes I almost have to boot a couple of rabbits away in order to pour the feed into her trough. Currently only one squirrel is fearless enough to sniff at my sandals. It reminds me of the times a decade or so ago when we had a low-to-the ground horse trough that would nearly fill up with squirrels (fourteen at a time!) waiting for the raining down of grain and pellets. I would have to stand in the trough and shove the squirrels to one end to give the poor old horse access to his feed. Our bunk (an off-the-ground trough and hay-holding combo feeder) gets visited by the ravens, who only rarely use it as a toilet, much to Geronimo’s approval.

I really enjoy the company of our wild animals. As for man-made animals, I reserve judgment. Well, no, I don’t reserve judgment. People have created house cats, for instance. Ours is a cross between [deleted] and [deleted]. Horses are…I better hold my tongue since there are dozens of them around here most of the year, along with people who really like them. Dogs are cool as long as they retrieve a thrown ball and don’t get it too wet and slimy.

It always amuses me—

when I see this printed statement:

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Sunday, August 7

I took off running!

This afternoon I went over to the corral to let Geronimo out. He had been working for over four hours to eat his two-bucket ration of senior horse feed, something that’s so full of nutrition it makes him look like a real horse. He has all his incisors so he can bite things off, but the few molars he still has don’t match up. Chewing is not possible, so swallowing lots of pellets and ground-up grains works to keep him healthy. He still acts like he’s chewing, though, probably just a habit.

A few days ago I had sprayed him with fly repellent which is effective for several days. There is a species of smallish black flies that land in hordes, covering parts of the horse and making it look black. His normal brown coat is nice and shiny, but the flies can change that quickly. It’s funny—when he shiver-shakes, as only a horse can do, the flies take off and he’s a brown horse for a few seconds. Today I noticed that some new flies, very large yellow ones, were bothering him. I was familiar with the really nasty black “regular” horse flies which are about an inch (2.5 cm) long, but these big yellow ones were new to me. We have had smaller yellow flies before, and they pack a painful bite. I went to the barn and grabbed the big bottle of repellent and started to spray his back and belly. Flies flew off in clouds. The yellow ones were especially bothered by the spray and were very angry that I had made their meal ticket off limits to them. So what did they do? They came after me! I, with a bald pate, a thin t-shirt, and shorts and sandals made a very tempting target. I tossed the repellent into the barn, slammed the door, and took off running back to the house.

Felt good. I hadn’t run in months.

Monday, August 1


For some odd reason, the grapes around here are hanging in there without being munched by all the wild critters. No wasps, no birds, no vine snakes are eating them as fast as they ripen. Maybe Karla will get to eat some of them; they’re one of her favorite fruits. All she has to do is get down to the lower ranch once in awhile….

Monday, July 25

So many subjects…

I have a ton of ideas for blogs, but I always like to accompany them with pictures. It seems that whenever I go to take a picture, the light is crummy, or the tadpoles run and hide, or the huge colorful spider dashes off to the hidden corners of his/her web, or some other thing. Like when the horses were engaged in their version of Swan Lake, the ballet, over by the corral, I didn’t even have a camera with me. Imagine! Huge horses and even huger mules twirling on their tippy-toes! Stunning. And when the squirrels and the rattlesnake were sitting on a flat rock playing poker, once again—no camera. (The snake appeared to be winning by a huge margin, by the way. Unless those “chips” in front of him were actually squirrel turds.)

Dang! It’s really getting to me. I makes me want to start making things up and not even using pictures.

Tuesday, July 12

Summer snow

Early this morning I went to check the irrigation to the olive trees up the hill. When I came back toward the house, I noticed the hood (bonnet) of the car was covered with a thin layer of what looked like snow. Mid-July doesn’t often give us that phenomenon. Sure enough it was tiny blossoms that had fallen from the privet trees near the car.

The trees were alive with bees and wasps taking advantage of the millions of blossoms coming into full nectar-bearing, and they were knocking them off by the handful. A steady shower of pale blossoms landed beneath the trees, making a wintry scene till the wind blew them away to make drifts against any upright surface. Nature’s abundance is astounding. Who knows—maybe one of the mature seeds from one of the seven trees may become a tree some day, but most likely that won’t come to pass. But that’s okay; Nature made a lot of fat bees instead.

Sunday, July 10

Abundance strikes again

Sometimes abundance can cause a lot of work. For the first time ever, our apricot tree started to crank out fruit like it was going out of style. Many dozens of apricots fell to the ground daily for weeks. I couldn’t just scoop them up, eat a few, and toss the rest away, so I dried some (turned out ugly) and finally decided I had better make jam.

Birds and insects found many of the fruits before I did, and did minor to catastrophic damage to them. A few apricots received only a tiny bruise from hitting the ground. Overall, most of the fruit was usable after only minor trimming. It is always surprising to see that a large pile of fruit in the food processor shrinks so much when the whirring blade does its duty.

The first batch I made was tiny. But it was gaggingly sweet because of its nearly-one-to-one ratio of sugar to fruit. For the second and subsequent batches I picked some lemons (huge!) off our tree and added a generous amount of lemon zest and juice to cut the sweetness. I thought I might be in trouble altering the basic recipe with lots of acid from the lemons, but it worked out just fine. It seems jam-making isn’t as touchy as candy-making.

I sent the first batch of jam to the crew at the high ranch. They loved it. If they’re nice to me, maybe they’ll luck out and get some of the second batch.

Hey! Get outta my plum!

For several years I have been feeding local birds. While I’m sure they appreciated my generosity, they were risking their lives because we always seem to have at least one cat living with us. The hummingbirds were a tasty snack when the cat would lie in wait under a quince bush. The little birds seemed unaware that the blob of fur beneath the bush had claws and sharp teeth. Other birds would gather under their seed feeder to pick up the seeds that had fallen to the ground. The furball with claws kept nice and fat feeding on them.

So I stopped feeding the birds. As a benefit, the cat now gets only veterinarian-approved official government-inspected cheaper-by-the-ton Costco dry cat food. He’s getting fat and lazy and lethargic. Another benefit is to our fruit crop. Without an artificially-boosted gang of birds around, the plum tree is actually producing enough for us humans to harvest. So far the raccoons haven’t been by to break the branches, probably because of the growing abundance of feral/wild pigs eating what the raccoons used to eat, crowding them out. And we all know that pigs can’t climb trees worth a hoot. I don’t think they can even stand on their hind legs to reach up.

Only one local natural creature remains a threat to our plum crop—yellow jacket wasps. They seem to be growing in number because there was a bumper crop of apricots this year, and the plum tree is trying to catch up. I don’t know what to do about the yellow jackets. They usually only eat half a plum before moving on, so I get to eat lots of half plums. I just hope I don’t bite into one that still contains a wasp, though.

Friday, July 8

We both have dangerous jobs

Our favorite helicopter company, Ambrosini Helicopters, Inc. in Fresno is run by a man who faces danger every day. A few days ago he flew one of our guests in from Fresno, and he came back to the ranch a few days later to pick her up and take her to Mammoth, on the other side of the Sierra. For several days we had been getting afternoon thunderstorms up there, so he asked me to get ahold of the ranch and make sure she was ready by 9:00 in the morning. That way he could beat the storms. “I hate flying in hail,” he told me. I emailed the ranch and got a response: She was ready.

Contrast what he faces daily with what I face daily. Last week I slipped on some dry grass as I walked down a steep slope to the creek on the way to feed horses. I fell flat on my back. My head missed a rock by mere inches (mere centimeters). The following day a horse, anxious to get to the feed I was putting in his trough, pushed me into the steel teeth of a hay bale cart. I still have a very swollen shin. While I was stirring a pot of 220°F (105°C) apricot jam, the boiling got especially vigorous and I got splashed by hot jam. I can still find the red spot on my arm in the right lighting conditions. I am dreading the day, when opening a bill from one of our suppliers, that I get a paper cut.

Thursday, July 7

Another astonishing achievement

Life has few moments as exciting as going through the deck one time and getting a win in solitaire. It’s happened to me maybe six times in my life. But every time it’s something to swell up with pride about, kind of like getting a triple Ph.D or becoming pope. While those are pretty decent achievements, they don’t quite have the—what can I say—visceral thrill of turning one card after another and placing them with such skill and certainty and knowing a win is coming. As it starts to look like it’s going to happen, I slow down a little just to prolong the excitement. Then, finally, the “Bravo! You did it” pops up and I am elated for a couple of hours at least. Nothing like it.

Tuesday, July 5

Why I bought Apple stock way back when

Here’s one more reason I love Apple. This company has its finger on the pulse of the future. It’s astonishing the number of industries and enterprises that are adopting the iPad as a fundamental part of their operations. Airlines expect to save millions of dollars annually in fuel costs alone by adopting the lightweight iPad instead of the 40-to 50-pound flight bag with its paper charts and manuals required to be on the flight decks of airliners. I don’t know why the iPad won out over the myriad of tablet computers available now, but I think it is because of Apple’s reputation of “innovation that simply works.”

Don’t be surprised if your San Francisco to Tokyo flight crashes and the cause is that the pilot was playing Angry Birds instead of monitoring the killer storm that brought the plane down. We’re all human after all. I mean even in the paper chart days, he could have been doing the New York Times crossword puzzle.

A friend of ours who is a retired Delta Airlines pilot said that after he gets the airplane off the ground and aimed at its target, he just punches the autopilot button till the airplane is ready to land. In the interim, his chief responsibility is to keep the toilets working.

Photo: New York Times