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.