Thursday, May 31

It’s busy busy time

I’m sorry not to post daily right now, but we are juggling several activities. Down the road on the house site the concrete contractor is building some gorgeous (never to be seen again unless the house burns down) foundations. I opened the tap to empty the water tanks for the fourth time, as recommended by Jay, the pump guy. By now we should have pure-as-the-driven snow water. I’ll have to get it tested. My main concern, besides seeing if it is full of uranium like the water in Oakhurst, is to determine the amount of calcium. If it’s anything like the well water we get here a mile up the road, we will have to put in some filtration to reduce it before all the plumbing clogs up with lime.

It would be so nice to spray some water on the car when it’s covered in dust from our road, and not have the water droplets dry and leave calcium rings behind. Maybe that’s just a country boy’s dream. Maybe I could dream up a water distiller that I could use as final rinse. I really don’t like to have to use a towel on the entire car to keep it pretty. Maybe that’s just a country boy’s dream.

Meanwhile we are preparing to open both the lake operation with its rental boats and ferries, and the ranch with its cabins and power plant and hiker resupply operation. We have already taken one boat to the maintenance guy in Madera to get it prepped for a summer of heavy use. Another boat goes down soon. And the really big boat that lives at the lake will get its engines spiffied up so it can haul people and cargo all summer long. The floating dock suffered some damage last winter and will need some work before it goes into service. And people want our rental fishing boats ready for use, plus we need a new engine for one of them. We bought a nice brand new very quiet generator to supply power for the lake but haven’t even started it up to see if it works. It’s a Whisperwatt so it should be flawless. It’s the only generator the United Rentals people have since it always works and needs nearly zero maintenance.

Soon (like tomorrow morning) I’ll be getting up at five o’clock to start the summer-long routine of answering emails from people who want resupply bucket labels (hikers on the Muir Trail send packages to us) and reservations for tents and cabins at the ranch. The last few years I have spent the first two or three hours in the mornings answering their requests. Then I go outside and water trees and plants around the place while wearing a wireless phone to get customers’ calls. Then I come back to the house and pay bills online. At least it’s hot outside. I love heat, being a valley native. Karla makes me wear a hat, but I figure what the heck, my head’s already fried.

The cat is going to the ranch, so that reduces my duties by a bit. I feed the ravens who fly in for some sustenance. I figure if I feed them it will reduce their need for eating all the other wild creatures’ babies around here. It’s working—we have lots more wild pigs.

Tuesday, May 29

Forms going in; gold going out

As you can see, we're not building on a flat, level site!
We stopped by the house site this evening before the sun set and saw that the forms are going in. It will probably be a couple more days before they’re finished, then there is grading to be done for the detached garage up the hill a bit. More forms go in for the footings on that building. We haven’t yet decided what kind of roof to put on the garage. We can get away with using our outlaw ceramic tile on the garage because it doesn’t have to be Energy Star rated for heating and cooling. What a crock!

Tomorrow it’s back to the County Den of Thieves to pay the bribes needed for garage permits, then to the roof place to order the fake tile-looking roofing. Then to the windows place to order the genuine wood-framed glass with color-infused fiberglass exteriors that resist weathering.

We sold a bunch of gold today to keep the project rolling. So far we haven’t had to touch any of the Apple stock; we’re putting that off for as long as possible in hopes that it goes back to an insanely great price. I mean after all—that’s how Steve would have described it.

(I just noticed—this is my 1,200th post.)

Wednesday, May 23

A Bee in the Key of G above Middle C

Karla and I led two mules and two horses down to the neighbors’ place this evening. It was interesting because we used lead ropes that are not ideal for tail ties. You put a rope loop around the neck of one horse and tie the following animal’s lead rope to both the neck loop and the tail of that leading animal. The old three-strand-braid cotton rope is best because it holds onto tail hair. The ropes we used were smooth round synthetic ropes, and they come loose more often than not. As a result two tail ties kept coming loose, so instead of re-tying them again, we simply removed them, took off the halters, and let one mule and one horse just lope along without ties. At one point as I looked back it looked like a perfect string of horses and mules only there weren’t any ropes. I called it “using invisible ropes.”

Karla leads one mule, and the following horse and mule pretend to be tied into the string.

We relaxed after our adventure by having a nice Mexican beer while sitting by the fish barrel behind the house and watching the local raven eat some dog food off Raven Rock, about eight feet from us. At least one raven has little fear of us, and I figure by filling him up with dry dog food he won’t be so ravenous (pun intended) and eat up other birds’ babies and eggs. It’s only a theory but I’m probably right.

As we relaxed we were aware of a black bumblebee, the kind that likes to eat wood (our house is all wood) buzzing around behind us. I asked Karla if she knew the note its humming made. She and I lack perfect pitch, so I reached into my pocket and pulled out my iPod Touch which has reminders and alarms that schedule my every day and went to the piano keyboard application. I determined that our bee hummed a perfect G. I didn’t know if it was above or below middle C, so I went out to the Steinway grand in the studio and played the note. Above middle C it was. Hitting any note on that magnificent instrument runs a chill up my leg, so I had to plunk out the only tune I ever really learned as a young’n (besides Chopsticks). What a waste of years of piano lessons!

Tuesday, May 22

Let the holes begin!

This afternoon we heard a machine arrive at the house site. Driving down, we were pleased to see a little Bobcat excavator at work, turning the lines in the sand into holes in the sand.

When we returned home, we were greeted by a passel of horses near the corral. We had been keeping the horses off our entire place for the past several weeks so they wouldn’t interfere with construction, but on Sunday there was the annual roundup for their hoof trimming, shots, dental checks and so on. After each horse was dealt with, it was released instead of being led back down to the neighbor’s place. Oh well. We’ll pen them up, then string them together, then return them to where they’re supposed to be at least until the foundations are poured and the forms removed. They won’t be able to do too much damage to hardened concrete with long steel bolts sticking out.

We think the house parts may arrive in a little under a month. Until we’re ready to assemble them, they’ll be stacked to the north of the site.

And the horses will be far, far away!

Monday, May 21

Drawing a line in the sand

Today our builder Randy and our other builder Kim came by with their tape measures and bag of marking lime to lay out the foundation for our house. They measured out the perimeter then laid out all the lines where the undergirdings of the house are to be. It was hard to keep in mind that their marks weren’t where the walls go, but where the floor joists rest on concrete supports. Once the subflooring is nailed down, then there will be chalk marks that define the rooms.

Randy, left, and Kim, right, lay out the perimeter.
It was fun to walk over the ground and imagine where the rooms will be, and what the views from the various rooms will be like. Our covered patio on the south of the house looks even bigger than we had planned, and with the possible addition of sidewalls becomes almost a courtyard. We’ll keep that in mind.

We signed the contract telling the structure builders to go ahead and build all the walls in their factory up north. It looks like a mid-June delivery will happen and we will finally get to see what the place will really be like.

Randy, our chief builder, will be able to direct the erection of the whole structure before he goes off to Lebanon to supervise another project for his company. He’s also built in Japan. How’s that for American exports? Did you realize that some complete houses around the world are actually made in the USA?
Karla imagines what it will be like in the covered patio to the south.
By the way, thanks to all of you for buying Apple stock! It went up $30.90 today. Maybe we’ll be able to afford the gold plumbing fixtures for the bathroom after all.

Pardon the less-than-brilliant pictures. All I had was my three-generations-old cellphone camera.

Thursday, May 17

Buy Apple!

Part of what is making it possible for us to pay for the construction of a new house is selling some of our Apple, Inc. stock. Unfortunately, the price is dropping. Drastically. I have limitless faith in Apple, and the price will go back to its astonishing previous highs, and even beyond that to where the stratosphere is merely a minor impediment in its rise to infinity. Meanwhile get together with friends and neighbors, buy a ton of AAPL and get that price back up!

Yesterday we went down to the Madera County office and got our master building permit. Then, following the advice of our builder, we made dozens of copies of various pages of plans for the various sub-contractors we will be using. (Hint: Don’t make large-format copies at FedEx Office stores (formerly Kinko’s). They’re way way overpriced! Like triple!)

I am into the second emptying of both water tanks, as advised by our pump guy. Both sprinklers clogged again for some reason. Yesterday we had bought some large-diameter garden hose in order to replace the old hose we were trying to use and which was falling apart. I must have missed some of the crud left inside the sprinklers by the first attempts.

As part of the building permit process we have to contribute to the education of our young’ns. We wrote a check to the Yosemite school district in the amount of $6,600 and change. In return, we got a receipt. I hope kids get a little smarter for our contribution. Next the County office billed us $5,353.53, an amusing amount that was reduced from a larger amount since we had already paid for some individual permits earlier. We got our street number, not what I had wanted, but okay. It’s 41143 Winter Ranch Road. It doesn’t seem logical, since some people “earlier” on the road have a higher number; theirs should be lower. A mile down the road a neighbor has a number much higher than it should be, and the county admitted to their mistake and will change it. But he’s complaining since he had already informed people of the originally-assigned number. I wonder if they have something like a Lotto number generator spitting out addresses.

Monday, May 14

Not much happening…

This weekend was marked by watching our water tanks fill, then turning off the pump and draining the tanks. Jay, the pump guy, said we should fill and empty them at least two times, and better four times. I rounded up some old garden hoses and hooked up a couple of sprinklers. Might as well use the water constructively, I thought. Imagine my shock and dismay when in turning on the water it squirted mightily out of the sprinklers, then shut down to a dribble. What’s going on here?

Well, the old garden hoses were really old, and the insides of them were coming apart. When I disconnected the sprinklers, whole big wads of stringy plastic stuff blasted out of the hoses. So skip the usefulness; we dragged one hose over to an old dead stump and laid the end on top of it so the water could gently dribble onto the ground without causing a lot of erosion. This morning we’ll go down to see how much water we’ve removed from the tanks and how far it got running down the hill.

Meanwhile, we entertained ourselves by flying over Vesta.

Friday, May 11

Remembering Jeff Breckenridge

We weren’t sure where the small church in Prather is located. I tried putting its address into my Garmin Nüvi GPS gizmo, but it refused to cooperate. We ventured on anyway, Karla thinking she kind of knew where it was. As we ascended into the foothills, we suddenly ran into a mob of parked cars along the highway and everywhere there was a flat place. Holy cow. We had heard that maybe 250 people would be attending this memorial, but were surprised that the California Highway Patrol had a car stationed on the road to make sure people didn’t clog the highway.

We were directed to a sort of flat place way up the hill where we could park. Right behind us was a Corvette, a car that couldn’t follow us (we needed four-wheel drive to make it). That car tried to park on the side of the highway but the officer in the cop car used his loudspeaker to tell him that’s a no-no.

Our intention was to arrive early. After seeing the mass of cars, “early” probably started an hour before we arrived. We walked down the hill to the small church and were amazed at the crowd surrounding it. Many people were already inside, so we worked our way in and found the last two folding chairs against the back wall and sat down. Loudspeakers were set up outside for the people who couldn’t fit inside. Many folks lined the back wall and both side walls; it was standing room only. The six or eight ceiling fans worked hard to keep us supplied with oxygen. This was way over the carrying capacity of the little church.

We sat next to John, a man who for many years worked for the local propane company and kept us supplied at both Florence Lake and the ranch. He was a good friend of Jeff’s and had a lot of tales to tell about their trips into the High Sierra. As we looked around at the crowd, we couldn’t find anyone else we recognized.

The pastor opened with the story that Jeff wasn’t a church-goer. But that was all right because he was a good and honest soul who helped many people during his life. The speakers who followed with their tales of Jeff’s impact on their lives made the certain impression that his entry to Heaven was assured.

Karla knew Jeff from the time he was in high school. I knew him for a short time, then occasionally met him at parties we attended. When I first met him, I was impressed with his sense of fun and his playfulness. Only later did I find out that his body was ravaged by disease. He was at the Muir Trail Ranch at the behest of his father, who had asked Karl and Adeline Smith if Jeff could be there for the summer. He was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, had been given heavy doses of radiation, had only a short time to live, and he loved horses. This would be a good place for his life to come to an end. Jeff was 14 years old.

Jeff at Muir Trail Ranch, 1973
He worked summers at the ranch for many years thereafter. Then he got a job with the Ponderosa Telephone Company and worked his way up to foreman of the construction crew, after mastering the operation of every piece of construction equipment they had. He even won them a national award for safety by putting in a half million miles of heavy equipment operation without a single accident.

But Jeff’s real love was the High Sierra. He lived in the foothills. On one occasion he had a trip to the back country all planned out. To get his horses to the trailhead in the high mountains he needed a horse trailer. He didn’t have a horse trailer. So he packed his animals and took off from his house. From doorstep to high mountains and back to doorstep. One of the speakers told a tale of being with Jeff when their party ran across an avalanche and tree fall that completely closed the trail. They moved rocks aside until they ran into hundreds of trees that blocked the trail completely. Jeff hacked at the branches with his machete till it became apparent that they couldn’t go any farther. He decided they were in a place big enough to turn the horses around and head back the way they had come. Around that time one of the horses slipped and fell on him. He was fine, though (the horse, that is). His companions recognized the signs that Jeff had suffered a concussion. Jeff insisted on continuing, and someone had to actually sit on him to keep him down. The word “impossible” didn’t mean much to him.

On several occasions the horses would simply go home without the packers, usually at night. Jeff would hike the dozen or more miles back to the ranch to gather them up and return. You’d think he was built like a mountain man, but his Indian friends dubbed him Skinny Horse.

Two of his daughters spoke of him, relating many funny stories. One said that Jeff had always wanted a son, but had only girls. So she said she took on the role of son by joining the Army and going to war in Afghanistan.

A highlight of the memorial was when one of his Mono friends sang what he called a traveling song in his native language. His resonant voice reverberated in the little church and brought tears to many an eye.

On closing the ceremonies, the pastor told of Jeff’s association with Stanford University where he was first treated for his disease. He participated in a study, returning to Stanford every year for the rest of his life, and as a result the doctors there now have some far more effective treatments for Hodgkin’s.

The lessons we learned from him: Don’t give up. Nothing is impossible. And don’t take life so seriously.

Jeff made it all the way to 59 years of age.

Thursday, May 10

Being born on a memorable date

My grandson Benjamin has a birthday that’s really easy to remember—Cinco de Mayo, which means the Fifth of May. It’s a Mexican holiday, mostly celebrated in the United States and in the Mexican state of Puebla. It commemorates the Mexican defeat of the vastly superior French army in 1862 (see this Wikipedia entry of the event).

My own birthday, January 25, is one of those dates on which nothing happened that most folks relate to. And that’s kind of hard for me to live with. It’s usually a couple of weeks or even longer after the date that friends write apologetically to say that they missed saying Happy Birthday. Or they simply don’t write at all, which is even worse.

So in my defense I have compiled a short list of memorable events that occurred on January 25. I hope my acquaintances can associate them with my own personal memorable date. 

January 25 in history:
Sunlight’s warmth initiates life on earth.
Wheel is invented, revolutionizes travel.
Beyond that, nothing much. Thanks for listening.

We have water!

Today as we returned from a memorial service for an old friend, Jeff Breckenridge*, I noticed that we now had solar panels on the well site. We stopped the car, went over to the hose bibb, turned it on, and voila! Agua! The pressure gauge indicated 65 pounds per square inch, so the water had at least made it most of the way to the tanks. We will have to check that out tomorrow afternoon, when the sun will have made the tanks warm and the deep-well chilly water should show us how much is in the tanks by its lower temperature when we feel the side of the tanks. We’re going to have to get a ladder up there since the tanks are way too tall for us to peer in without one.

Now the thing to determine is the rate of flow. Are we getting five gallons per minute as the well folks thought? Less? More? We can’t wait!

*I’ll describe Jeff’s memorial tomorrow.

Saturday, May 5

Ben is two

It’s Cinco de Mayo, so naturally our thoughts go to our grandson who is now two whole years old. Happy Birthday, Benjamin!

Friday, May 4

Tanks, guys!

The water well guys snuck in under our noses and placed both tanks on the pad, hooked them up, and snuck away. They also put in the pump and hooked up the pipes to the well. The only thing that didn’t happen is the solar panels. Even though they were ordered two weeks ago, the order didn’t go through and they probably won’t arrive for another two weeks.


Thursday, May 3

A busy yesterday

Thurman starts scraping "botanicals"
Yesterday was busy, with us driving all over the place multiple times. When you live on a road that others refer to as “a trail, not a road,” you can get pooped out if you drive on it too much, especially if you’re a geezer.

Karla and cousin Bill check out the cleaned-up house site
Thurman came back and used his backhoe/tractor to scrape off the “botanicals” (as weeds are called by foundation contractors) from our house site. He did a wonderful job.

A nasty hump has disappeared!
Then he attacked some of the problem areas of our “trail.” He and his son, Chad, suggested that a bulldozer would be much better to do the conversion to a real road. We are very open to the idea. It’s a thousand bucks a day. Well worth it since they work fast.

Trench for culvert going in. Then the hydraulics quit from a broken fitting.
We were putting in a culvert when a tree limb that was cut out in order to make room for straightening the road fell on a hydraulic fitting and broke it. “That little bitty thing broke my fitting?” Thurman exclaimed. He has a very cool demeanor. I would have blown up and made a fool of myself with a tantrum. The tractor had to be hauled out for repair. So much for road building for the day.

Wednesday, May 2

I'm pooped

So much happened today. I could write about it all, but I’m more ready for bed than anything. Check in tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 1

A mix of activities

Yesterday Hilary had an appointment at the Fresno offices of Senators Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer as a representative of the packers who have been stopped from operating this summer in the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. She joined five others in supporting the case for letting the packers operate in compliance with the recent bill in the US House of Representatives which keeps the right to operate in effect for at least two years. The meeting went on for over two hours. One thing on our side is that Senator Boxer’s chief at the meeting said his wife had been a guest at the ranch and loved it. We’ll see if the Senate follows the House in their enthusiasm for keeping the status quo, following the example of the House’s speed in writing and unanimously passing their bill in only twelve hours.

Luke continued on up to the foothill ranch with a trailer load of horses. While Hilary attended the Senators’ meeting, Karla took Ben to the Fresno Chaffee Zoo in Roeding Park to see the newly-born baby giraffe. Ben apparently loved the trash containers and puddles in which he could splash. He liked the giraffes and elephants too, and got to reach out to touch the manta ray.

This morning, the following happened—

Heading up to the water tank site.
Ben likes the new tank site.
Even more, Ben likes the huge pile of dirt left over from making the tank site.
The obligatory family portrait.
This kid is too cute for words.

Thurman fills in the pipe trenches, all thousand plus feet of them!
Thurman backfilled all the trenches and the remaining part of the septic tank he had left revealed because he was unhappy with how the input pipe was fitting. Fussy Fussy. Gotta be perfect or he’s not happy. We will meet with him tomorrow about getting our house site cleared of weeds so the foundation can be laid out, and getting some ghastly parts of our road fixed so big trucks and trailers can haul in house parts. Maybe he can rough out the space for our garage. I have no idea what we’ve gotten into cost-wise. Oh well, it’s only money. You can’t take it with you but you can use it to maybe make a really nice house.

Gratuitous pictures of our grandson are included to answer my readers’ incessant requests.