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 27, 2014

A Letter to Chico Liberals and Environmentalists: Yes on A; No on B.

Last month, the Butte County Central Committee of the Democratic Party voted to endorse a "No" vote on Measure A (which restricts the size of marijuana gardens to a very small scale) and a "Yes" vote on Measure B (which creates a commercial industry for cannabis). I was told by a person who attended the vote that it was the urban Chico contingent that pushed the party to make the endorsement. Rural Democrats on the Central Committee were against this endorsement.
It is the politically correct position these days to be “Pro” anything having to do with Cannabis. We rightly see legalization and decriminalization as a way to end the war on drugs that has led to so many people getting rap sheets, and not treatment, when it comes to the abuse of drugs. Yes, I agree. The war on drugs must end.  

But as a person who has been both a life-long Lefty and an Environmentalist who lives in rural Butte County, I do not see how endorsing Measure B protects rural Butte County from the ravages of greed. Let me explain.

In the past few years a new industry has sprung up in one of the most environmentally sensitive eco-systems we have left in California. The late environmental writer, Philip Fradkin, estimated that 75% of the wildlife in California lives within the environmental sweet spot between 1,000 and 4,000 feet in elevation. The great valleys of California have mostly been taken over by agriculture. Wildlife has been extirpated to what little habitat they have left.

The Foothills is what they have left. We should be very careful about letting any large scale commercial enterprise develop in that zone. Up until the cannabis boom, settlement in the rural Foothills was limited for a number of reasons: zoning, commute distances and the difficulty of the terrain. What little settlement there was in the far rural areas was limited to recreational cabins and a few “Mountain People”.
That has changed. Suddenly, just like the Gold Rush, the Green Rush made it economically viable to live in the Foothills. The fuzzy legal status of the Cannabis Industry has pushed it into the nether, unpopulated regions. Out of the way and mostly out of sight of Chicoans. In Butte County, the number of grows burst overnight to around 5,000 gardens. More are created every year. And these aren’t the Cartel Grows--- these are the Grows that are encouraged by a much too generous Cannabis Cultivation Ordinance such as Measure B.

So what has the impact been? Untrammeled growth in a sensitive environment. New roads going in. Water being diverted from streams. Wildlife are shot on sight by paranoid gardeners who want to protect their million dollar grows. Pit bulls and wolves are being reintroduced to the area, killing critters and menacing any recreational hiker. It has become a dangerous place to live, not because of the mountain lion or rattlesnake, but because of the need to protect grows (that can be worth up to a million dollars) with guns and aggressive canine.

From talking to the Fish and Wildlife employees in the area, the number of deer are plummeting, just like they have been plummeting in the marijuana rich counties of Mendocino, Lake and Humboldt. Population pressure and poaching are taking their toll.
We are mismanaging the Foothills and injecting a large commercial industry into an environmentally sensitive zone that should be left to the raccoon, squirrels, ring tailed cats, bear, deer, mountain lion, badger, marten, fisher, rattlesnake, wild turkey, quail, trout, salmon.

A vote for Measure B ensures that we will have less wildlife. Less wild space. More pit bulls and guns and mismanagement of rural areas. I know. I live there. I’ve witnessed the growth and the loss of habitat.

And so, dear Chico liberals and Environmentalists, please vote to limit the size of gardens. Vote Yes on Measure A. There are limits to growth. Let’s vote to limit our impact by maxing out the size of the gardens. We don’t need another commercial industry in the Foothills.

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?