Sunday, September 28, 2014

For Chris and Michael...

A man I never met died yesterday. He was the husband of a person that I admire. The husband of a woman who works tirelessly for peace. The husband of a woman who works tirelessly for the forest and the environment. The husband of a woman who is a very caring Nurse Practitioner. That husband also was an RN.

I never met Michael Pike, but I wanted to. I feel like I do know him because I read about him in Chris Nelson's blog: Veggie Voyagers. Chris writes eloquently and ever so honestly about her life and adventures, so when Michael came down with cancer, she wrote about it with style and dignity. The blog developed after a cross country adventure in their Veggie Mobile--a trip they turned into a book. Chris and Michael would take trips in their veggie wagon, always to lovely outdoorsy locations. Michael kept this old camper, held together with duct tape and chewing gum, running with veggie fuel he processed himself. The sense of adventure in their blog is infectious.

Michael was off cross country skiing up in Lassen National Park just a day after finishing a chemotherapy treatment. He was that sort of man. He never quit. I have never seen a man die so elegantly. Living so ferociously---canoeing, backpacking, traveling to remote locations all the way up to the last week of his life. He wrung and appreciated every last moment he had. I want to live and die like Michael did.

My heart goes out to Chris. Chris has read almost every nature book there is. Whenever I want to know something about a nature writer, I always ask Chris. She always knows the answer. I don't know when Chris will be able to write about this awful loss, but when she does write about it, I know it will be beautiful. These are two beautiful people.

Chris is grieving now, as all of us who knew (and didn't know) Michael are grieving. There will be a silent vigil for peace next Saturday in Chico to honor Michael Pike. Although I never met the man, I intend to be there. I only wish I had been able to meet him when he was still walking the planet. What a man. A hero.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The State of Jefferson, Logging and the Confederate Mindset...

All across rural northern California you can find evidence of a growing secessionist movement.  The feeling I get when I look at all these billboards and flags (yes, flags) that are sprouting up everywhere  like measles spots as I drive around Butte, Glenn and Tehama counties for my job---the feeling I get is that I'm looking at the northern California version of the Confederate flag. And that's what it is essentially.

The State of Jefferson has been adopted by mostly extremist Tea Party types who pine for the days when there were no rules regarding resource extraction. They blame city people for most of the problems in rural areas, and they long for the days when resource extraction didn't come with all those "regulations". They mostly blame Environmentalists for their problems and most would shoot a spotted owl if they saw one.

However, if you look at time sequenced shots of the forests in northern California, you will see that there has been no shortage of resource extraction. The number of clear cuts is sickening and to watch them on time sequence shots is apalling. There is no shortage of logging. Mechanization has created a world where logging takes a couple of people to clear a forest---as seen on those horrid logging television shows. And what happens to the wood? Factories are more efficient, more mechanized and require fewer people. Plus much of the wood is shipped raw to China.

There has been no reduction in cutting of our forests. Ten minutes on Google Earth is all that is needed to prove that assertion. The reduction in work force has come from mechanization and global trade. The Third Worldization of rural California. Yet, it is so much easier to blame an Enviro. Or a spotted owl.

Ban shipping raw logs to other countries and rural California would immediately see an increase in jobs. Ban all clear cutting of forests and move to selective logging of the forests and  you would see an increase in jobs in California. Selective logging is much more labor intensive.

But for those who want to see an end to the onerous regulations that Sacramento supposedly imposes on rural California, well, it is much more fun to blame a bureaucrat or an Enviro for your problems.

Of course the State of Jefferson is a pipe dream. Can you imagine two more US Senators from Glenn and Siskiyou Counties? Can  you imagine two more Senators who would be like Doug LaMalfa and Dan Logue?  It is bad enough that we have to put up with the undue over representation of rural areas like Idaho, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana. Political clout is already skewed towards unpopulated rural States.

But these Tea Partiers are convinced that a new State of Jefferson that would look and behave much like Texas would be the answer to all their woes. Well, their woes have been caused by a lack of vision in their elected Representatives for the past 40 years. Neither the Democrats or the Republicans have a decent plan for reintegrating rural areas into a functioning economy.

But at least the Tea Partiers have a plan. The Democrats have presented no ideas as to how to help rural California. Hence, without a competing vision, the people have bought the lies of the logging and the extraction industries and continue to elect politicians who are tied to the teats of these industries.

It wasn't always this way. Northern California was solidly in the Democratic camp up until 1980. What happened? The Unions were busted and local economies were destroyed in the previous 20 years as economies of scale brought cheap products in and moved the small manufacturers and the mom and pop shops out. Agriculture has been in a free fall from mechanization for seventy years and now is essentially controlled by a few corporations and a few rich families. Local examples of that would be the Butte County Rice Barons found in the LaMalfa family and the Lundbergs.  A tale of those two families would make a pretty interesting contrast: the organic, progressive Lundbergs who sit (and profit) on the same water district as the right wing, reactionary LaMalfas.

What is needed is a competing plan/vision for rural California. A plan that doesn't rely on extraction but on sustainability. A plan that markets beauty. Adventure. Local economies. All the benefits of rural life that creates good jobs without creating rural sprawl.

One thing is for certain: creating a State of Jefferson is not the answer, even if there was a snowballs chance in hell of being created.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Return of the Weekend Warrior

A weekend off.

I haven't had weekends off on a regular basis since about 1998. Its taken a little time getting used to this 9 to 5, Monday thru Friday normal life schedule. I kind of dreaded returning to working full time after working only part time for the last six years. 40 hours a week seems like a lot of time to do any one task. And it is. Actually, this new job is turning into the work-from-8 am-until-10 pm sort of job. I like the independence and the ability to set my own schedule. I don't like the hours and the low pay. Home Health, especially Home Health Psych., is more of a calling than a job. Be prepared to tarry long hours for little pay.

But at this point of my career, I don't really care. The job is fun and I don't have to worry about being bludgeoned to death by a patient--although I guess it is possible that I could be shot, mistaken for being a burglar by some paranoid with a rifle. There's always something to worry about.  I do miss the ability to spend lots of hours just reading what I want to read. Taking long hikes with my dogs and spouse. Spending lots of  time just plunking on this laptop while I read articles suggested by all my brilliant friends on Facebook. Facebook is fun for people who like to read and have friends who are intellectually curious. I miss the unstructured time.

Back to weekends. I haven't had them off for decades. For the past couple years I've shied away from doing any household projects. Last year I was recovering from a severe work injury that laid me up for the better part of 11 months. I still have problems, the chronic pain hasn't gone away, but I've just kind of gotten sick of babying myself so I med up and do stuff. Norco is my friend.

For the first few years we worked so hard to build this place that when we got it semi-inhabitable, we just sort of bonked. We were so sick of building this homemade mud and strawbale Hobbit Home that we just took a break. The break lasted a few years.

The break has ended.

This weekend I had help from a young buck. Kylie has a 16 year old boyfriend, a good redneck kid who loves guns, pickup trucks and constantly wears a baseball cap---he is eager to please us--- so he has been my helper. He worked hard. I've been meaning to rebuild a back wall on the cabin. Got it done. We hung rain gutters that I've been meaning to get around to for half a decade. Got some of them hung. I cut up a winter's worth of kindling while the young buck painted some trim that badly needed some paint before it rots away. Progress has been made. I purged and cleaned  up the yard---creating a large junk pile of unused, broken and outdated implements of housholdness that needs to be hauled to the dump.

We bought this homestead to be able to do things like this. It is intended to be a retirement cabin with enough space to putter and tinker and garden and build the off-grid life. Scott and Helen Nearing were our inspiration. It is hard work. And like many cerebral nerds, I'm more of an idea person than a person that actually completes non-cerebral building projects. Besides that, my handyman skills aren't particularly handy. That's part of the fun.

It probably isn't the sort of life Joni should be living with her disabilities. The bumpy road to get to our place is torture for her to endure. Just getting in and out of here pretty much consumes her energies for a day. When other people who have disabilities like her live in adaptive apartments and have caregivers show up to do the household chores, Joni wrestles with starting a generator and struggles with raising a teenager off-grid, far from civilization.

And yet, I think living like this is important for both of us. It keeps us connected to earth. Nature. The important stuff. I don't mind aging off-grid where a short walk out my door leads me down to my own private canyon. I look forward to the next 20 years of plunking around on this endless project. Maybe we will actually finish it. Doubtful.

My memory card for my camera malfunctioned so I couldn't load any photos of our work.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

A Temporary Top Ten Books List...

Top Ten Books and why...

I was asked by a friend on Facebook to come up with a "Top Ten" list of books. I decided to choose books that influenced me. And as others said, I probably would choose some other books if I was asked the question tomorrow. But, for now, here's my Top Ten:

Desert Solitaire, Ed Abbey. Lots of books have changed my life. But this one changed my life for the longest period of time. Why is it so good? First off, the writing. Nobody could write like Ed. And then there's the ideas. This is the first book I've ever read where I had so much substantial agreement with the author. I just found myself muttering out loud, "I agree" as I turned the pages.

A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold. This is a book I should have read long, long ago. It is musical in nature. Last summer, Joni and I took a trek to where this was written, "The Shack".  Some first paragraphs in books are better than others. This book's first paragraph is legend. I challenge you to find the book and if you read only one paragraph, let it be the first one. By the way, that's me and Joni in front of the shack where Aldo wrote the book.

The Making of a Radical, a political autobiography, Scott Nearing. In many ways, Scott Nearing reminded me of my Grandfather. Scott and his wife Helen wrote the excellent "The Good Life" and were the inspiration for the 70's back to the land movement. I wish I had read Scott's book when I was in my 20's as it is a good primer on how to survive as a Radical. Specifically, it is okay to be a Radical and have a bit of financial security. For a Marxist, the guy knew how to save money.

Deer Hunting with Jesus, Dispatches from America's Class War, Joe Bageant. My God, this man could write. The tragedy is that he only wrote two books prior to his untimely death a few years ago. This book should go down as a Redneck Classic. Joe and I traded a few e-mails before he died. I wish I would have kept them, as they were as good as his books.

Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, John Dominic Crossan. Read this book and you will never see Jesus, nor Christianity, in the same light ever again. Jesus' mission was free healing and a shared meal.

 The Grizzly, Enos Mills. You probably will never find this book, as I found it in the library of the old Nurses Dorm at the hospital I stayed at. Written in 1918, this book argued for the preservation of the California Grizzly Bear. The writing is excellent, influenced by John Muir. In fact, a serendipitous meeting on a beach in California got Enos pointed in right direction for his life's work. And what was that work? He established Rocky Mountain National Park.

Night, Elie Wiesel. This slim book describes the horror of the holocaust better than anybody else. The author survived it.

 Mother Night, Kurt Vonnegut. My favorite Vonnegut book. Under-rated. In fact, I think I will read it again soon and see if I like it as much now in my fifties as I did in my twenties.

 The Cider House Rules, John Irving. John Irving's best book. Forget Garp. Forget Owen Meaney. He put it all together with this one. In fact, there is no need to read another book by John Irving, he could never do better. Disclaimer, I find much of John Irving's books to be really narcissistic and boring. In many ways, John Irving's books epitomizes the worst of late 70's and 80's culture. However, The Cider House Rules was a wonderful exception.

 Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, Hunter Thompson. This is a primer as to how political journalism should be done. Oh, how much fun it would be to follow a presidential campaign from the press bus. I'd love to do that, but, alas, who would give me the credentials?

Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Collossal Life---Alexander Cockburn

I just finished Alexander Cockburn's last book, A Colossal Wreck, last night. I'm old enough now to have witnessed the beginning, middle and end of writer's careers. When I was in Rushford last summer, the young upstart who applied for a job as a journalist at my hometown newspaper, beating me out for the job, announced his retirement. I went on to write for a competitor paper, The Fillmore County Journal. But it felt weird to be old enough to witness the beginning and end of this writer's career.

The same thing sort of goes for how I feel about Alex Cockburn's career. I began reading him back in the early 80's when he wrote his great column for The Nation. Beat the Devil, he called it. Of course, the Cockburn family is one of the greatest examples of nepotism you can find in the US media. Claud Cockburn was Alex's father and a writer of some renown. He wrote for the Communist newspaper in the UK up until 1948. Many have said he was a paid agent for Stalin. Given the Cockburn's financial situation growing up, if he was a paid agent, the Soviets certainly didn't pay very well.

Back to nepotism. Claud had three sons and a daughter. The three sons followed Claud into journalism. His daughter became a mystery writer. Claud's son, Andrew is married to Leslie Cockburn and together they've been working for CBS news for years. They have one movie to their credit and probably the best book on the Soviet Union's military capacity was written by Andrew back in the early 80's. Andrew's book on Donald Rumsfeld is on my reading list.

Another of Claud's progeny, Patrick Cockburn, is a correspondent for a couple of British newspapers and has been covering the middle east for years. His pieces from Iraq and the middle east are must reading. However, he isn't read very often in the US Media, much to our detriment. Patrick has a son named Henry, and together they wrote a book about the development of Henry's schizophrenia. Patrick blames the development of Henry's schizophrenia on Henry's heavy cannabis abuse.

Olivia Wilde is Andrew's daughter and she is making quite a name for herself in Hollywood. She did a breastfeeding shoot for a fashion magazine that recently caused a stir. Oh, those radical Cockburns!

Claudia Cockburn was married to Michael Flanders. Their child, Laura Flanders, is another American left wing journalist who has the independent television show GRIT. She also writes for the usual lefty periodicals.

Let's just call this family the Left Wing Media's version of the Kennedys.

Alex Cockburn created one of the first websites to fully use the Internet to get information out. Counterpunch continues to offer good, and some not so good, news analysis from a variety of left wing viewpoints. They publish everything from the Socialist Workers Party to Ralph Nader. I had a piece published there once.

The thing that bugs me about many writers on the Left is that you can't really pin down their ideology. Alex Cockburn never wrote out clearly what he believed. Yes, he was a critic of all wars and imperialism. But he never came straight out and said what he was. I've read that others said he became an Anarchist towards the end of his life. Many called him an old guard Stalinist. It is obvious that the Russians did influence him, to the point that he followed the Russian line of the abiotic origins of oil. He is probably the last American pundit who quoted Lenin, Bukharin and Bakunin.

Of course, Alexander Cockburn paved the way for his former friend and colleague at The Nation, Chris Hitchens. At one time, they monopolized the pages of The Nation, both with cult followings. Hitchens actually was a Trotskyite at one time. He evolved over the years, as did Cockburn, to a space much different than from where he started. In judging the two, I think it is instructive to see where they both chose to live their lives. Hitchens had a flat in downtown DC with a view of the halls of power. Cockburn chose to live in a very isolated community of Petrolia, on the west coast of California. You couldn't get further away from Washington than Petrolia.

Alex became a climate change denier who even went to one of the despicable Heartland Conferences. Towards the end of his life, he seemed more like an eccentric writer Uncle. Always an entertaining read, but more and more influenced by a Libertarian view. In the 90's he forayed into the armed survivalist movement. And he was a Second Amendment enthusiast who thought that college kids should be armed.

You just can't pigeonhole Alex.

Alex wrote a column critical of Ed Abbey way back when only to become very much an admirer of him towards the end of Cockburn's life. He even took a trip to Ed's secret burial spot with Doug Peacock.

And so Alex is one of the major influences on my life. As such, reading his last book, A Colossal Wreck is both sweet and poignant. So how's the book? I found it less stilted than his earlier works. More approachable. Readable. Enjoyable. Honest. It is a book to bring out every couple of years and read again, if only for the beauty of the writing and the wry wit.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Treadmills, Fox and the Soulless CNBC...

The Swanky In Motion Fitness, my new gym...
I have a new life. I no longer travel 165 miles once a week to work in a hospital in the Napa Valley. Instead, I average around 150 to 250 miles a day, traveling around Butte, Tehama and Glenn Counties visiting homebound patients who suffer from mostly late life depression, anxiety and dementia.

It's a lot of driving; a lot of sitting. I sit to drive and then I sit to talk with the clients. My prior jobs have been mostly active ones---so this sitting for a living thing is new to me.

Plus Kylie, the resident 14 year old, moved back in with us after an attempt to fledge to her Mother's house. She prefers the school in Paradise, California where she likes the Honors program. So I start my day by driving her to school.

All this sitting and driving have led to an expansion of my waist line.

I work long hours--- I've been pulling into our driveway around 7pm. I leave at 7:20 am to get Kylie to school. Upon getting home, I've been much too tired to get a walk in with the dogs. Plus a little walk after work just isn't enough of a workout. I need to sweat.

I sold out some deeply held personal values and joined the swankiest gym in Chico. The place has three pools, umpteen million classes, scads of treadmills, ellipticals and other modern instruments of torture. There's a weight area where the muscles bulge and the men look like they must be using some sort of chemical to bulk up so big. They look like freaks. Yoga pants and pony tails are the fashion with the women---everyone has a smart phone with earbuds. All these people working out and I can count the number of conversations people have had with me on no hands. As in, nobody converses. Ever.

This has got to be the most anti-social, social place I've ever been. All these people go there to workout and are deaf and mute to each other: Each listening to their own secret soundtrack. My own private Idaphone.

I have headphones too. An old set that were new during George Bush's first term. I plug them into the treadmill machine and watch the bank of five televisions that face those of us working out. They have the TV's tuned to a local station, a sports station, CNN, Fox, CNBC/MSNBC (depending upon the time of day), and HGTV.

I alternate between 30 minutes and 60 minutes on the treadmill. Sometimes I achieve a peak speed of 5 mph. Mostly I stumble along at 4 miles per hour. Well, actually, I'm happy with 3.5 mph. We work up slowly.

And so I have that amount of time to watch TV. I alternate between Fox and the business news on CNBC. MSNBC, although advertised on the placard below the television, has never been on while I'm there. Things I've learned: CNN covered the memorial service for Michael Brown; Fox didn't. Fox has one show called "The Five" where one lone liberal, a portly suspender wearing gruff man who is reminiscent of Ed Asner, tries to represent sanity amongst a crew of younger, handsome men and women who do battle with him. He is hopelessly outnumbered. And every show on Fox displays a leggy female in a tight fitting dress, some wearing glasses, the sexy nerd look, who have searing words describing President Obama as a bumbling ineffectual dweeb.

And CNBC? The analysts there, soulless creatures beholden to the dollar, talk in raptured terms about the oil and gas boom and how there's a pile to be made in fracking. And so they suggest hardware stocks that supply pumps and tubing to the oil industry. When Burger King announced they were moving to Canada---the analysts were quick to defend BK, calling it a fine example of Capitalism and bemoaning the 35 percent nominal Corporate Tax Rate in the US (the effective rate is 12%). Of course BK should move: they owe it to their stockholders to make as much profit as possible. If you are a corporation that actually pays 35%, you need a new Chief Financial Officer. There is no talk about citizenship and the civic and social responsibilities of corporations. Follow the money. By the way, with ObamaCare, Healthcare stocks are up; home health company stocks are down (just my luck--if there's a curve to be behind, I'll find it).

I take the agitation caused by Fox and CNBC out on the treadmill. Anger motivates.

By the way, there is even a country song about the women of Fox News.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Thru Hiker Blog Update...

Blogger Extraordinaire, Carrot Quinn, finishing her 2014 Thru Hike of the PCT.

I started out this Thru Hiker season by following 19 blogs written by hikers who were attempting to thru hike the Pacific Crest Trail. It was an especially big year for the PCT, as 1,300 Thru Hiker permits were issued by the PCT Association. You have to have a hiker permit if you plan to hike more than 500 miles of the PCT at a time. The permit enables you to breeze on through some of the more congested areas of the trail in the Sierra. Especially the John Muir section.

But back to the hikers and their blogs. Of the 19 blogs that I followed, 2 of them actually finished the trail yesterday. These are the rabbits. The hardcore hikers who live the Hiker Trash lifestyle. Carrot Quinn was one of the finishers. She has garnered a bit of attention from the PCT magazine when she wrote a piece for that at the beginning of the season. Her blog really is well written---although a bit young and vulgar at times. One Who Cannot is a blog written by one of the herd that traveled with Carrot. He borrows the title from the beginning of Aldo Leopold's classic book, A Sand County Almanac.

As far as I can tell, six other bloggers that I started the year out reading are still slogging it out on the trail. A couple of them look like they aren't going to make it as they are still in Northern California.

One who probably will make it is Lon, otherwise known as Halfmile. He is the guy who created very informative, downloadable maps of the PCT for free. He is a living legend amongst those who hike the trail. He was hiking with his girlfriend, but she dropped out a few weeks ago. He carries on, hobbled a bit by injury, but carrying on nevertheless.

And of those who dropped out? Josh and Mandie were my favorites. They were just everyday people, not in the best of shape, who decided to hike the trail. They dropped out due to injury. Mandie's advice on what they did wrong is excellent. I hope they take another stab at the trail.

Injury and homesickness got the other Thru Hikers. One of them made it all the way to Ashland, Oregon before he had to drop out. Another drop out was Professor Errant, an English Professor who got a sabbatical to hike the trail. He lasted a couple of days before he got hurt. Then he tried again and lasted a week. He still got the sabbatical though.

So the tally so far? 2 have finished; 6 are still plugging along; 11 have quit. Usually about 50% of those who get permits to Thru Hike actually finish the trail.

Of course, all these people are winners in my book. They dreamed big and took a chance. They pushed themselves and I think every one of them came away from the trail loving the PCT even more. And yes, I have some criticisms of Thru Hiker culture, yet, anybody who takes that amount of time during their lives and devotes it to walking, well, we just need more of that. Fewer people sitting on their asses is a good thing. We all should get off our backsides and join them on the trail. It'd do all of us some good.