Saturday, March 31

Off to the county seat…again

We got a letter from the county telling us of the proposal to name our road. If we don’t agree with the proposed name, we have to contact them within a couple of weeks. That’s nice.

We have to hustle down to the county seat again on Monday in order to give them money for a permit to put in a septic tank at the new house site. The septic tank guy is coming Tuesday, and can’t do a thing without a valid permit and a county inspector. We wouldn’t have to waste more time and gasoline if the road had already been named and our overall permit for the house had been approved, which is contingent on the road being named and a street number being assigned. So it looks like until we get that overall permit, we will have to go down and buy the individual permits piecemeal. Our next action is to get a permit for a water line and another to put a pump in our well. What a pain.

Thanks, first bureaucrat in line, for telling us that naming the road was not important. It reinforces my basic philosophy that governments should never be in charge of anything important.

Thursday, March 29


It was a nice cloudy day, so we took a chance to see if it isn’t too late in the season to graft the “right” kind of pistachio scions onto a tree that went corrupt last year. We had planted some new pistachio trees but one of them died then came back from its root stock, which isn’t like anything we had seen before. We cut off most of the growth, leaving a “nursery branch,” which is one of its native branches, to provide food.

From our established pistachio trees we cut a couple of twigs (scions) to graft on. I didn’t have a grafting knife, so I had to make one from an old cheese cutting knife. It wasn’t ideal, but the blade was nice and flat. We had some plastic wrapping tape and Tree Seal, an emulsified asphalt, so we were ready to roll!

Cut and peel the outer bark.

Slide the scion in nice and snug.

Wrap tightly, then seal the cut ends with Tree Seal.

Protect from hot sun with paper bags.

Meanwhile, we’re hoping it isn’t too late in the season do the same to some orange trees that were killed by snow and frost years back. They, too, reverted to root stock and produce some of the ghastliest excuses for fruit we’ve ever seen. We hope to graft on some navel orange twigs and see what happens.

Would you eat one of these? I tried, but they are so sour and dry and seedy I quit. Let’s hope navel orange grafts take hold.

Tuesday, March 27

Road naming process initiated

We drove to the really nice planning building in the county seat to submit our proposed name for our road. We dealt with very nice people and filled out forms and wrote a couple of checks and smiled and everything is just ducky. When we go back to pick up the fresh brand new road signs, we will have to bring along a red flag to attach to the 12-foot-long post on which the two road signs we are buying will sit. (We opted to install the road signs ourselves.) The red flag warns other motorists to stay away from the pole which will stick at least six feet out behind the bed of the pickup truck as we haul our brand new shiny road name signs up the hill to be installed at the intersection of the old, named road, and our shiny newly-named road.

To celebrate, we ordered a pizza and bought a six-pack of really good handmade ale to take home.

Not counting pizza and beer and gasoline and our time, naming our road has so far cost about $250.

Monday, March 26

Hiccup #1

It had to happen, but I never thought it would happen so soon. Three weeks ago we went to the county building office to submit our house plans. While we were there, I mentioned to the guy behind the counter that we should register a name for the road we’re on. Karla’s dad had put that road in with his bulldozer over 30 years ago, but it was never formally named. The portion we’re on is about two miles long, so it qualifies as more than just a driveway.

The guy behind the counter pooh-poohed the whole idea. “Just write a name on a piece of cardboard and stick it on a pole,” he said. He dismissed the need for a name.

Today we got a phone call from our plan-drawer/contractor saying that we have to hustle down to the county planning commission right now and get our road named, pronto. It turns out that unless you are on a named road, the county can’t assign a street number. And without a street number, they can’t file with the fire department, and without that, we’re toast.

Getting the road name through the approval process takes a minimum of three weeks. We have to contact the people who own the land through which the road passes to get their agreement on the road’s name. We chose the name Winter Ranch Road long ago, a name suggested by Karla’s mom, Adeline. Adeline was the best namer of things and horses and animals I have ever known. The only question we ever had about the road’s name was how to spell it. Should it be one word, Winterranch or Winteranch, and with two “r’s” or one? I decided to keep it at two words so there wouldn’t be any question about spelling. (Spelling our town’s name, Ahwahnee, over the phone is grief enough.)

Tomorrow morning Karla and I will hit the road to Madera with our proposal. We have already contacted the two neighbors affected by the name and don’t expect any big hassle with them. But adding three weeks to the process of waiting to start to build a house is giving me a hint of the potential delays and hassles in dealing with county bureaucrats.

Wish us luck.

Sunday, March 25

What a grind!

A while back I bought a new mortar and pestle. Our old one had a broken pestle, and it was too small besides. This one is huge. This morning we were using every imaginable kind of grain to put together some pancakes for breakfast. We had already-ground flours from wheat, rye, flax and corn, and decided it would be nice to add some oat flour. So I tossed a handful of rolled oats into the mortar and learned something real fast: It takes a whole lot of effort to turn even already-mashed oats into flour!

As I kept grinding and my upper arm muscles were crying out for relief, I kept asking Karla, “Is it flour yet?”

Peering at it, she’d say, “Keep grinding.” Finally after what seemed an eternity, she decided it was floury enough to be tossed into the mix. It really made me appreciate the effort it takes to grind grains into flour by hand.

Lemme at 'em!
Pardon the cell phone pictures, but I was too tired to lug out my whole big 35mm camera for the pix. Besides, that would have taken too long and I was hungry!

Its wheels are too small

Why does it cost so little to insure a Steinway grand piano compared to an equivalent-priced Porsche?

Because no matter who’s “driving” it, you can never get the Steinway to go 180 miles per hour.

Friday, March 23

BIG boat!

 Yesterday I watched a video from a San Francisco television station showing the biggest-ever cargo container ship entering the San Francisco bay. Truly it was a monster ship. The tugboat operators in the bay had practiced using virtual reality software for a year and a half for the ship’s arrival. Bay dredgers made sure the channel it would follow was deep enough and wide enough. The tidal flow through the Golden Gate had to be just right; the wind had to be just right. The conditions yesterday made it all possible, and a local television station put its best-coiffed, deepest-voiced reporter on the assignment to present this historic event to the slavering public.

What followed was the most inaccurate reportage I had witnessed in a whole long time. The reporter described the arriving vessel as being bigger, at 1,200 feet long and 110,000 tons, than even the biggest US Navy aircraft carrier, which was true. But the statistics he used were so off the mark my ears perked up. He said our biggest aircraft carriers were maybe 1,000 feet long. The Enterprise, my carrier of fifty years ago, was 1,123 feet long. He said our biggest aircraft carrier was 70,000 tons. The fifty-year-old Enterprise displaced 93,000 tons. He described the container ship’s capacity as 12,500 20-foot containers. I don’t think anyone is shipping such tiny containers anymore. When Karla and I drove to Death Valley recently, we ran alongside and played tag with a very long freight train loaded with a whole mile of nothing smaller than 53-foot cargo containers heading south from the Port of Oakland.

The whole gist of his report was something you wouldn’t want to preserve in a historical archive. At least half of what he said was way off the mark. It made me wonder about how many times I heard a news report and believed it. When I was on the Enterprise, what I read in Time Magazine about our missions was total bunk. That’s when I started not believing the so-called mainstream media. It’s only gotten worse since then.

As a matter of fact, probably at least half of what I’ve written here is bogus.

UPDATE: Reader Megan says that containerships use 20-foot containers routinely. She should know. She deals with that kind of stuff for a living.

Sunday, March 18

How a vineyard can become obsolete

I read a recent blog entry by our neighbor in which she talked about the beauty of the fruit orchards in our local area. Whenever we drive to Fresno we cross the bridges over the San Joaquin River. To the east of the northernmost bridge are some recently planted orchards in the river bottom. Since the bridge is high above the ground, it’s easy to see the precision of the trees’ spacing and geographic orientation.

Here is a Google Earth picture of our neighbor across the river’s hundred-year-old orange orchard. Its roughly thirty trees are laid out in a kinda sorta not-quite-north-south orientation. The folks a century ago laid out the orchard to line up with magnetic north rather than geographic (true) north. It reminds me of the thousand-year-old olive orchards I saw in Italy fifty years ago, precise in a very casual, very organic way.

Recently I discovered that if an orchard or vineyard isn’t planted a certain way, current commercial harvesting methods can’t be used. Some of Karla’s relatives have a hundred-year-old vineyard that can’t be economically harvested because the rows of vines are too close together for a harvesting machine to be used. The spacing of the rows of grape vines was perfectly appropriate for when they were planted. “Now we would have to uproot every other row of vines to do machine harvesting, and it simply isn’t feasible because we would end up with half a vineyard,” Karla’s cousin explained. “And hand labor costs are too high to make it pay.”

What a dichotomy. Old vines produce some of the best grapes. Hand labor for picking is too expensive. So the vineyard lies fallow, waiting for the monetary investment to change the situation. And the banks aren’t lending.


More weather than you can shake a stick at!

Today we had more weather than I’ve seen in years. Springtime always brings surprises as the earth goes through the convulsions of change. We woke up to snow, then the sun came out, then it hailed, then sleet fell, then it rained, the sun came out then it got colder and hailed again. Oh yeah, there was some thunder. So far, no fog, though I can see it down near the river.

As I write this, there is a great big gray wall of something coming at us. Who knows what it is? Could it be a combination of all the aforementioned: Snail, Hoe, Reet, Flunder, Rog, Snain? There’s got to be a word for so much happening all at once. I’ll have to look that up.

Update: The big gray wall arrived. It’s Snaining.

Friday, March 16

Raccoons are too darned smart!

Two nights in a row we discovered the door to what we call the “back room,” which we use as a pantry, was opened to the outdoors. Inside, it was chaotic with stuff on the floor and a mess that convinced us that the room had been invaded; it looked like raccoons had been inside. To make sure that was the case, we sprinkled ashes on the approach outside the room and locked the door.

Sure enough, the next morning we saw coon tracks in the ashes. In the area under the doorknob, the tracks were feverish. They had been able to reach up, turn the doorknob, and open the door!

My evil dark side kicked in—it was hard to suppress. I made a plan where I would stack a heap of pots and pans against the inside of the door so when they opened it they would be startled by the crash of falling stuff.

But that was sissy. My next plan had me constructing an elaborate electrically-triggered waterfall that would douse them when they touched the doorknob.

Still being evil, I imagined an overhead net full of big heavy rocks that would crash down on them when they approached.

Finally I decided that locking the door every night would be the simplest solution.

That works, but it’s boring. Hardly blogworthy.

On pins and needles

Oh yes, that old expression meaning you’re waiting for something to happen and tempted to think it’s already happening. I have been on those pins and needles after seeing on the weather forecast the possibility of rain. It’s been going on all week, but not quite happening. I sit in the house with my ears perked at the slightest sound of a raindrop. “There’s one!” I yell. Karla says “No, that was a bee dying and hitting the roof.”

“There’s one!” I yell. Karla says “No, that was a gnat hitting the window.”

Then I hear thunder. “There’s thunder! It’s going to rain!” Karla says, “No, that was another plane crashing into the corral. I hope it didn’t hit Pelton. I’d better go check.”

Finally, on Friday night I actually went out and stood in a pattering of a smattering of micro-drops. I am surprised they were big enough to get all the way to the ground before evaporating. It’s real rain. Not much, but the promise is that there will be HEAVY RAIN tomorrow! I can’t wait. I really need some sleep.

UPDATE: The rain is getting more intense. I hope it isn’t so loud it keeps me awake. That would be really ironic.

Monday, March 12


I found a site that plays back the earth movement of the Japanese earthquake that happened a year ago as sound clips. The seismic data is speeded up since the “sound” of an earthquake is of too low a frequency for our ears to detect. On the Web site, the part labeled “Hearing the Japanese Earthquake - Clip 2” is the most frightening. Turn up your speakers and grab your chair arms and remember that the clip is sped up 100 times faster than real time. While you listen to it, imagine an enormous miles-long chunk of the Pacific Ocean floor shoving itself under the crust on which Japan resides.The aftershocks will continue for years, perhaps decades.

Is it a flood? Snow?

This news photo from Australia is a bit mystifying. First it’s from part of the country that doesn’t get snow, and if it’s flood waters, they look awfully clean and clear. So what is it? Go here to find out. Sixteen photos of the most bizarre thing you can imagine, but hey—it’s Australia.

Beware: Arachnophobes be cautioned to stay away.

Saturday, March 10

Late night duty

Dang! It’s that time again when I have to get up at 2:00 o’clock in the morning and re-set all the clocks to Daylight Saving Time. A couple of electronic clocks that are tuned to the master in Colorado don’t need any fussing with, but my wristwatch and the clock in the kitchen require manual re-setting. So does the clock on my portable radio. It seems to me that it’s an awful requirement to get people out of bed for this really dumb ritual. And oh yeah—there's the clock in the car and the one in the pickup. Can’t forget them. I hope it isn’t raining at 2:00 AM.

I wish there was a better way.

UPDATE: I just thought of something. I can’t remember if I’m supposed to get up at the old (non-Daylight Saving Time) or the new (Daylight Saving Time) to re-set the clocks. I’ll have to look that up.

Friday, March 9

Freshness for breakfast

We are lucky to be living in Central California where good things grow. Carolyn, our neighbor across the valley, has an orchard of citrus trees that has been producing scrumptious fruit for well over a hundred years. Recently we traded some of our Seville oranges (tart, nasty things that are good only for marmalade) for some of her navel oranges, the sweetest kind. We have one a day with breakfast and cut the orange into either six or eight pieces depending on how hungry we are.

It reminds me of the joke about the guy who orders a pizza and the order taker asks him if he wants it cut into six pieces or eight pieces. “Better cut it into six pieces. I don’t think I can eat eight pieces.”

It’s an old joke, but I still love it.

Thursday, March 8

Gooey ducks

My friend Ed in Hawaii sent me a menu from a Manhattan restaurant famous for its ultra-chic fish dinners. He said it “would also be a good source for stimulating your creativity.” Thanks, Ed. Here goes:

First off, there’s a prix fixe of $125. At the top of the menu under the heading “almost raw,” is oysters. How many? Six. That works out to a little less than twenty-one bucks apiece. I hope you can at least get to choke on a pearl or two for that price.

The third item on the menu brought back a memory from when I was a kid. Mom and Dad often talked about going to the coast to dig up geoducks, giant long-necked mollusks that bury themselves in the mud at the ever-shifting shoreline. The odd thing to me, beside the creatures themselves, was the pronunciation of the name—using the rules you learned in grammar school you’d think it was jee-oh-duck, but it’s gooey-duck instead. (Click here to hear.) Whoever first established the spelling of that name sure broke the rules by reversing the vowel sounds of the first two syllables. The word is from Lushootseed, the Salishan language of Puget Sound in Washington, and it means dig deep. Like four feet deep! But you get a beast that weighs up to eight pounds for your effort.

To get my money’s worth if I’m going to shell out a hundred and twenty-five clams, give me a ’duck!

Tuesday, March 6

Can I have the salsa at its best NOW?

I was slathering some hot sauce on last night’s serving of home-made tamale pie that Karla and I had collaborated on. On the back of the bottle was the machine-imprinted “Best By” date. “Wait a minute!” I exclaimed. “We bought this bottle only last week, and it says here it’s Best By January 2014! Do I have to wait almost two years before it’s at its best? What a rip!”

Good whiskey is aged for 21 years before it’s bottled and sold. By then it’s truly at its best. A few years ago one of our ranch cooks gave me a hearty glass of bootleg whiskey that had been aged in its barrel for 31 years! 190 proof! It was so potent I could have used it to remove age spots or even to grow much-needed new hair, but I drank it instead because it was so tasty!

I think it’s only right that when buying a commercially-produced food product we should expect it to be ready to consume at its best right now, not years down the line. Exotic wines may get better with aging, but taco sauce? Gimme a break.

Monday, March 5

Number nine

Unbelievably, we are starting to build only the ninth house this year in the entire county. Here it is March 5 and only eight other houses are being built so far. Our house-plan-maker/contractor pointed to our provisional permit number and rolled his eyes. No wonder there are so many subcontractors willing to work for less.

When we went into the office to get a building permit, the guy at the desk asked, with a smile, “You want to build a what? A house?” When he saw the area in which we planned to build, he said “Why would you want to build there? Nobody’s building there!” referring to the palace being constructed down our road a ways from us.

We started the shelling-out of money for various people to look at our plans (or not) and put their signatures on them. That included three sets of plans of our fire sprinkler system inside the house. The fire people charge $275 to look at them (or not) and sign them off. There is a whole long list of people who have to give us their permissions and signatures for various parts of the process of building.

It sure is different from when my dad and I started our mountain house in 1954. The only permission we needed then was from ourselves as to where to put it and how big it would be. The times, they are a-changin’.

The view from on high

Another winner from the Web site, Astronomy Picture of the Day! This is a two-minute thirty-second video made from the International Space Station as it whizzes around the "dark side" of the planet. It's fun trying to figure out what you're looking at. Above is Italy and Sicily to the right of center.

Video Credit: Gateway to Astronaut Photography, NASA ; Compilation: Bitmeizer (YouTube);
Music: Freedom Fighters (Two Steps from Hell)

Saturday, March 3

What makes Ben smile?

Ben had a day of smiles at Echo Canyon on Thursday. Why? Read on…

 First he got to see something that very few people in the whole world get to see—Bighorn Sheep! (although at a great distance) And the next thing he got to see? His uncle Michael and dad Luke standing in…

…the Eye of the Needle. On examining this picture more closely, I wonder how long the Eye will be standing. What a loose assemblage of really big rocks! For anyone standing in the Eye when a big temblor comes along and it collapses on them, I suggest that its name be changed to The Doorway to Heaven for Those Who Deserved It.

Thanks to Luke and Hilary for the wonderful pictures!