Guest Posts

Todd Walton: Ball Bear Cat Piano


Photo by Marcia Sloane

From TODD WALTON
UnderTheTable.com
Mendocino

“A hot dog at the ballgame beats roast beef at the Ritz.” Humphrey Bogart

Jon Miller, my favorite bard of baseball, recently used the words egregious, preposterous, cerulean, prodigious, and greensward whilst painting verbal pictures of our San Francisco Giants sweeping the Rockies and the Snakes, and making history as they did so. Jon revealed today during a lopsided loss to the Cubs, that no team in the long history of baseball had ever won six home games in a row in which they scored less than four runs in any of those six games. I agree that isn’t nearly as important as the ongoing meltdowns of the Fukushima nuclear power plants, but it does prove we have some mighty impressive pitching.

Sometimes Jon will quote the Bard (Shakespeare) himself. Fair is foul, and foul is fair:
 Hover through the fog…” might have been written

Hal Zina Bennett: Putting a Dollar Value On The Arts


From HAL ZINA BENNETT
Blue Lakes, Lake County (7/02)

Last month  there was an article in the San Diego Union Tribune spelling out the contribution made by the arts in America. Unlike other polemics arguing the moral, aesthetic and spiritual values of these activities, the author, Robert Lynch, president of Americans for the Arts (AFA) looked at the strictly economic contribution of the arts. Here are some of his findings:

Nonprofit arts groups, including museums, theater companies, performing arts centers, orchestras, dance companies, arts councils and other, generate $134 billion in economic activity nationally every year.

The above groups employ nearly 5 million full-time employees.

Todd Walton: Duck


From TODD WALTON
UnderTheTable.com
Mendocino

“One cannot write of ducks without mentioning water.”  Ernest Thompson Seton

Just when we thought the apex of human stupidity was a toss up between building nuclear power plants and waging wars for gasoline, here comes…

Marcia and I strolling inland along the shores of Big River, a cool breeze wafting in from the Pacific, the sun playing peek-a-boo with wispy white clouds, when suddenly Marcia shouts, “Duck!”

And I reply (hoping for a glimpse of a mallard or possibly a merganser or improbably a McGregor’s Cuckooshrike), “Where?”

“Not a duck,” cries Marcia. “Duck! As in Get Down!”

So I do a belly flop in the sandy duff just as a loud report from a big gun presages a swarm of buckshot flying overhead and ripping a humongous chunk

Jonathan Middlebrook: Local Lessons on the Constitution with the Ukiah Valley Patriots


From JONATHAN MIDDLEBROOK
Ukiah

Last January, the Ukiah Daily Journal printed a story about the Ukiah Valley Patriots offering a class in the U.S. Constitution. They invited anyone interested in the subject to attend. I am not a UVPatriot, but I accepted their invitation, interested both in our Constitution, and in the Patriots themselves.

“Be careful!” several of my friends said, demonstrating that our vile, polarized national political discourse also roosts locally. At every opportunity I tell people who want to hear “the story,” that this is the story: the UVPatriots are neighbors. They are hospitable, interesting to talk with. They share my distaste for international corporations, disgust with Wall Street, dismay at military adventurism. We seem to disagree about spending cuts focused on “entitlements” and bi-partisan free-ride-for-the-rich tax policy.

Todd Walton: Post Office Football


From TODD WALTON
UnderTheTableBooks.com
Mendocino

“Carrier of news and knowledge, Instrument of trade and industry, Promoter of mutual acquaintance, Of peace and good-will Among men and nations.” inscription on southeast corner of post office in Washington, D.C. by Charles William Eliot

Though it may at first seem a stretch to compare the struggle to save the historic Ukiah Post Office with the current labor dispute between National Football League owners and the NFL players’ union, similarities abound. The root cause of the national postal crisis was the great commercial success of the Postal Service; and the root cause of the football crisis was the fantastic commercial success of football. In both cases, ownership i.e. the corporate elite, decided that their employees were making far too much money compared to, say, Mexican peasants, and they, ownership, wanted as much of their employee’s money as they could steal.

The Problem with Rototillers


From KIM CHASE
Chase Farm, Helena, Montana

We do have a roto-tiller attachment for our lawn tractor, which we used to use and will continue to use when preparing brand new ground for garden. But it turns out that roto-tilling every year is not optimal in several ways.

  • It ruins soil structure. It pulverizes the soils, breaks up soil aggregates, breaks up macropores (large spaces) in the soil and destroys all the tunnels your worms have worked so hard to build.  All this space in your soil improves drainage, facilitates movement of nutrients and water.
  • It causes compaction. Once those soils aggregates are broken up and the soil is reduced to its particles, the soil is nice and fluffy. But since there is no real structure, the soil will settle into a more compacted state.
  • And then there is the problem of tiller-pan. The weight and action of the tiller causes a compacted layer just below where the tines reach, further decreasing soil drainage and the ability of roots to penetrate the soil.
  • It inverts your soil. Tilling turns your soil right upside down. The delicate ecology of soil develops as it does for a reason. Certain helpful bacteria, fungi, and earthworms were at a certain depth in the soil because it had the right moisture and aeration conditions. Turn the soil upside down and you will disrupt this ecology for at least a while.
  • It plants weed seeds for you. Ugh.

Broadfork to the Rescue article here
Available locally – Ubar: Bountiful Gardens
~~

Todd Walton: Old Pot Folks


From TODD WALTON
UnderTheTable.com
Mendocino

“How’s your back?” asks Marvin, handing me cash for pruning his fruit trees.

“Pretty good,” I say, lifting my ladder into the back of my pickup.

“Mine’s all fucked up,” he murmurs, looking away. “Can’t lift a damn thing.”

“You need something lifted? I’m good up to fifty pounds.”

“Well,” he says, fidgeting. “I…the thing is…” He frowns. “You want to earn a quick hundred?”

“How quick?” I say, looking at my watch. “I have a couple big apples to get done before dark.”

“Half an hour,” he says, nodding. “Hour at the most.”

“I charge forty an hour for pruning, so…”

“This isn’t pruning,” he says, taking a deep breath. “This is pot.”

“You have a prescription?”

“Two,” he says, beckoning me to follow him. “One for me and one for Candy. Need to empty the old mix and fill the pots with new stuff, but the bags…”

So I follow him to the house where Candy appears on the front porch and shields her eyes from what I don’t know since the sun is hidden behind dark clouds. Candy is seventy-two, petite, with shoulder-length gray hair

Todd Walton: What’s Going On?


From TODD WALTON
Underthetablebooks.com
Mendocino

“You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.” Malcolm X

One of my guilty pleasures is watching sports highlights on my computer, many of which are prefaced by thirty-second ads for shoes, cars, beer, and the Army. I have become adept at turning off the volume and relaxing for those thirty seconds before each highlight, but occasionally a new ad grabs me and I’ll watch and marvel at the senseless inventiveness of capitalism. The last Army recruitment ad I watched began with a video-game-animation of Caucasian American soldiers morphing into actual Caucasian American soldiers interdicting and arresting impoverished American black men, brutally and at gunpoint.

I haven’t the slightest doubt that twenty years ago such an ad would have caused a huge public outcry for its racist violence and for the implication that American armed forces are servants of a racist police state. But this ad, I have since been informed, has been running for several weeks through several mainstream media outlets, and no outcries are being reported (which, of course, doesn’t mean outcrying isn’t going on.)

“I think I’m an actor because I have a very strong imagination and empathy. I never studied acting, but those two qualities are exactly the qualities that make for an activist.” Susan Sarandon

As I was pondering this latest indication of the thorough conquest of our media by the corporate state, my brother sent me a link to an article about a large new study by the American Red Cross that reveals nearly sixty percent of American teenagers (both male and female) think brutal torture

Gene Logsdon: Tired of Tires


From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer
Upper Sandusky, Ohio

Do you know how many pneumatic rubber tires you own? I bet when you count them up, you’ll be surprised. Even on my little one horse farm, there are 40 tires in use, not counting the ones on the car. And ten percent of them are flat at any given time. This is partly because most of my tires were vulcanized in the late Middle Ages or thereabouts. But it is also because there is something unsustainable and unnatural about riding around on air wrapped in a substance that comes from trees that grow half a million miles away.

This is the time of year when I fare forth to another season of mowing and planting. I know without looking, that my first chore, after getting all the motors (6) running, will be fixing flats. I thought maybe this year would be an exception. The green tractor started right up and the hydraulic system on it worked fine. I backed up to the disk to hitch up and the hole on the disk tongue lined up with the drawbar hole perfectly on the first try. Oh perfect joy.

One pass across the field and behold, the left tire on the disk was as flat as a pancake. I pumped it up (by hand) and proceeded on to the gardens which were actually dry enough to disk (the corn ground wasn’t) and worked up two of the plots before the tire went flat again. Pumped it up again and it lasted until I had finished the other two plots. I would not have been so stubborn about it except rain was threatening and it might be another two weeks before the soil was dry enough to work again.

Have you ever stopped to think just how dumb it is to have pneumatic tires on a disk? They are only in use when the disk is not disking and that would mean, in my “operation”, about three hundred feet a year at a speed of not more than two miles per hour.

Todd Walton: Young Pot Moms



From TODD WALTON
UnderTheTableBooks
Mendocino

“Youth is wasted on the young.” George Bernard Shaw

When I and my middle-aged and elderly Mendocino Elk Albion Fort Bragg peers convene, talk often turns to the paucity of younger people coming along to fill the local ranks of actors and musicians and writers and artists and activists. The excellent Symphony of the Redwoods plays to audiences of mostly white-haired elders and is itself fast becoming an ensemble of elders, ditto the local theater companies, ditto the legions of Mendocino artists and social activists. People under fifty in audiences and at art openings hereabouts stand out as rare youngsters; and the question is frequently asked with touching plaintiveness, “Will it all end with us?”

“The supply of good women far exceeds that of the men who deserve them.” Robert Graves

A few days ago I was waiting my turn at the one and only cash dispensing machine in the picturesque and economically distressed village of Mendocino, my home town, and I couldn’t help noticing that the woman using the machine was young (under forty), expensively dressed, and pushing the appropriate buttons with an ambitious energy that made me tired.

When it was my turn to stand before the cash dispensary, I noticed that the young woman had declined to take her receipt, which hung like a punch line from the slot of the robot. Being a hopeless snoop, I took possession of the little piece of paper, affixed my reading glasses, and imbibed the data. Did my eyes deceive me? No. This young woman had a cash balance in her Savings Bank of Mendocino checking account of…are you sitting down?…377,789 dollars.

Todd Walton: Kings and Presidents


Video Clip Here

From TODD WALTON
UnderTheTableBooks.com
Mendocino

“Divine right of kings means the divine right of anyone who can get uppermost.” Herbert Spencer

I just finished reading an excellent book by British historian Derek Wilson: A Brief History of Henry VIII, 386 pages of densely informative prose that is certainly not brief by American standards. I do not often read history, but I’m glad I read this book because it illuminates much of what’s going on in the world today. But before I tell you a little more about Henry VIII and why his story reminds me so much of George H. Bush, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and innumerable bullies and louts responsible for the ruination of our local, national, and global societies, I thought you might enjoy knowing how I came to be interested in Henry VIII.

“Kings are in the moral order what monsters are in the natural.” Henri Gregoire

Several years ago, I wrote a play about a history professor who has a nervous breakdown that features visitations from Queen Elizabeth I, Henry VIII’s daughter. When I came out of my trance and found

Todd Walton: The Play’s The Thing


From TODD WALTON
UnderTheTableBooks
Mendocino

“More relative than this—the play’s the thing

Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.” William Shakespeare

Yes, it will only be a staged reading in a tiny theater on the fringes of civilization, but I feel like my play Milo & Angel is about to open on Broadway. And you’re invited! When I was sixteen years old, I decided to try to make my way as a playwright and actor amidst the roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd, but other scenarios intervened, other roads were taken, and all the plays I wrote remained hidden from public view.

True, the actors will be sitting in chairs and holding scripts as they perform, and they will only have rehearsed a few times under the inspired guidance of Sandra Hawthorne, but they will be on a real stage in a real theater (not a living room or a café) imbuing my lines with character. What an amazing process it has been so far, the blessed night still to come—April 13, a Wednesday evening at 7 PM at the Helen Schoeni Theater at the Mendocino Art Center—mark your calendars.

“If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.” George Bernard Shaw

Mike Sweeney: Ukiah Post Office — What are they hiding?


From MIKE SWEENEY
Ukiah

When the United States Postal Service announced that it had financial reasons to close the Ukiah Post Office, many voices said:  “Show us the numbers.”

Since the USPS is a government agency, I assumed such information was in the public record and filed a Freedom of Information Act request.  The USPS denied it.

Both the City of Ukiah and Congressman Mike Thompson’s office asked for the same information, and they were denied too.

Then the City asked for permission to inspect the post office building so that it could make an independent evaluation of repair costs, if any.   More than two weeks after this request, the USPS hasn’t bothered to reply.

This stonewalling doesn’t do the USPS any good.  It arouses mistrust and casts doubt on the truthfulness of any of their numbers.  As Councilman Doug Crane told a local newspaper, “It appears to be rationalized math. Without their willingness to disclose what supports the math how can we accept or consider that math is valid in any way?”

Getting The President To Laugh


From GENE LOGSDON

The kind of readers who visit this website may have noticed that one of our heroes, Wendell Berry, made President Obama laugh right out loud the other day. Wendell recently received a National Humanities Medal in Washington, and when the President leaned forward to drape the award over Wendell’s shoulders, the two exchanged whispers and the President broke out in a huge grin. It is a wonderful picture and appeared in many newspapers. To be able to get the president of the United States to laugh like that in front of the whole world in these awful times… well, that’s a real accomplishment. I am not surprised, however. If you know Wendell, he can make very funny remarks at the most unexpected times. I asked him what he whispered to the president but he’s not talking. Says he can’t remember.

Two other writers who received a National Humanities Medal this year were Joyce Carol Oates and Philip Roth. Jacques Barzun, the historian, got one too. This is top notch stuff, and I don’t know anyone who deserves the recognition more than Wendell. He is the hardest worker I know, traveling and giving speeches incessantly. He’s written 40 books so far and still manages to do a little farming with the help and support of his equally amazing wife, Tanya, and his son Den and daughter Mary and their families. His message, now and always, is that society is ignoring and abandoning ecological and economic common sense

Todd Walton: Kyoto Amore


From TODD WALTON
UnderTheTable.com
Mendocino

“But a whole school of lady koto players

Best kimono and Japanese hairdo

Perform on tatami platform underneath falling blossoms”

Philip Whalen

I’ll never forget the night in 1989 when we danced at Melarkey’s on Broadway in Sacramento, dancing for joy because in a free and fair election, for the first and only time in history, the majority voted to shut down an active nuclear power plant. And only a handful of people know that Ben Davis started the whole thing, and I, in the beginning, helped him keep the ball rolling.

Ben, an eccentric, stubborn, self-educated advocate for the public good, first tried to shut down the Rancho Seco Nuclear Power Facility by single-handedly taking SMUD (Sacramento Municipal Utility District) to court for not having an adequate emergency evacuation plan in the event of a catastrophe such as the multiple catastrophes ongoing in Japan today. The courts wouldn’t oblige Ben for the usual putrid reasons (putrid as in corrupt), though Ben had more than ample proof that SMUD, for all intents and purposes, had no evacuation plan at all.

Failing to overcome the entrenched putrescence

Bruce Patterson: Animal Rescue


From BRUCE ‘PAT’ PATTERSON
4 Mules Blog
Anderson Valley

About a month before my second book came out, I received a form email from my publisher’s Manager of Marketing and Publicity. At the ripe old age of 29, I was informed, worn down by the workaday grind and determined to follow her heart, she was quitting her job so she could devote herself to doing volunteer work with Animal Rescue. So I emailed her back: “How bout me? Ain’t I an animal?”

Although I never received a response, I like to think she got a chuckle of out my wisecrack, at least until she realized I had a point. I mean, imagine if we people loved each other the way we love our little house doggies and pussy cats. Since we’re taking leaps of imagination here— for this we’d need Divine Intervention—what if we loved each other as much as we love the money in our pockets? Since about 90% of human misery is caused by greedy humans, imagine how sweet and easy our lives would be if ever we got out from under their thumbs.

I’ve been an outdoors person, both as vocation and avocation, my whole life, and I’ve spent more time around house pets, wildlife and livestock than most any busload of the kind of animal rights activists you see on TV. Yet, while my attitude toward animals ain’t nearly as romantic as theirs, we’re on the same page ethically. If “soul” is what makes humans more than the sum total

Gene Logsdon: Oaken Resilience



From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

The one thing that I’ve learned living in the woods is that trees can take care of themselves. All we puny humans need to do to help them is to stop the bulldozers from removing them in favor of more asphalt and corn. But since my inclination is to worry too much about almost everything, learning that trees know what they are doing has not been easy.

I like oak trees, especially white oaks. They may not be the very best wood for any particular purpose, but they rank up close to the top in just about everything wood is good for. One big old beauty stands right outside our bedroom window. We run the clothesline on pulleys over to it from the deck, the way the Amish run a clothesline from a porch to the side of a barn. Easy to reel the day’s laundry out for drying and back in again. I also take great pleasure in sitting on the deck for unseemly long periods of time staring up into its branches.

Taking special notice of this tree every day, I have become aware of just how many dangers the oaken world faces while it goes about its business.  I am beginning to understand the resilience of nature. The trees will outlast us even if they don’t know

Todd Walton: Cliff’s Bowl


From TODD WALTON
Under The Table Books
Mendocino

Cliff Glover recently gave us one of his bowls. Cliff is an excellent potter and a superb cook. Tall, and possessed of a magnificent froth of silver gray hair, Cliff and his partner Marion Miller share a house and ceramic studio a couple miles inland from the hamlet of Albion. Marcia and I met Cliff and Marion for the first time at one of Juliette White’s spontaneous dinners, Juliette being Cliff and Marion’s neighbor for many years. The mugs we drank from that night were Cliff’s mugs; and for my birthday two years ago, Juliette gave me a Cliff Glover teapot, an exquisite two-cupper. Juliette was a big fan of Cliff’s pottery.

The bowl Cliff gave us on Marcia’s birthday in February is now my favorite bowl, and possibly my favorite thing, after my piano and not counting myriad mammals—Marcia, friends, cats; although the trouble with cats…but that’s another story. Cliff made it clear when he gave us the bowl that even though he was giving it to us on Marcia’s birthday, the bowl was for both of us. I asked him to repeat that when I was sure Marcia was listening so there wouldn’t be any confusion…that the bowl was for both of us, or in legal terms: the bowl is our joint property.

My previous favorite bowl, which I still love, (though not as much as I loved her before I met Cliff’s bowl) was given to me by my dear friend Katje Weingarten, an extraordinary poet who lives in Vermont, which is crazy.

Will Parrish: On The Roosting of Nuclear Chickens


From WILL PARRISH
Laytonville

Less than a decade after the United States visited a nuclear iki-jigoku (“hell on earth”) upon the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki, instantaneously killing at least 150,000 and delivering countless more Japanese people to the grim reaper of gruesome radiation sickness, three of America’s leading nuclear technology boosters embarked on a promotional tour across Japan. Their purpose was to help swing Japanese public opinion in favor of the country’s infant civilian nuclear power industry, which was poised for a windfall of technological and financial assistance from the United States.

The international liaison was part of then-US President Dwight Eisenhower’ “Atoms for Peace” program, a Cold War diplomatic offensive aimed at providing nuclear technology loans and exports to so-called “developing” nations, so as to render them reliant on western capitalism for development of their energy infrastructures, rather than on the Soviet Union. A 1955 National Security Council directive framed the matter thusly: “[Atoms for Peace will] strengthen American world leadership and disprove the Communists’ propaganda charges that the [US] is concerned solely with the destructive uses of the atom.”

The American promotional contingent in Japan, which arrived in May 1955, was comprised, respectively, of the man perhaps

Todd Walton: Myth & History



From TODD WALTON
Under The Table Books
Mendocino

“As the heavens are high and the earth is deep, so the hearts of kings are unsearchable.” Book of Proverbs 25:3

“Have you seen The King’s Speech?” asked a friend.

“Marcia has and loved it,” I replied. “I’m waiting for it to come out on Netflix.”

My wife Marcia and I are on the two-movies-a-month plan, and we often don’t find the time to watch even that many.

“Of course,” continued my friend, “they’ve taken great liberties with the historical facts. I read one article that said the movie isn’t even close to the truth and another that said it has some truth in it, but not much.”

“The only way to speak the truth is to speak lovingly.” Henry David Thoreau

Historical facts. Hmm. When I was attending UC Santa Cruz in the late 1960’s (and I really did do that) Norman O. Brown came to teach at our newborn college. His course Myth & History was open to undergrads, so I signed up to hear what the famous man had to say. Who was Norman O. Brown? Having taken his Myth & History class, and having spent a few hours blabbing with Norman about this and that,

Bruce Patterson: Mendocino Stories


From BRUCE ‘PAT’ PATTERSON
Anderson Valley

A while back in the nearby woods a large gaggle of wild turkeys started raising a ruckus to the high heavens. A veritable convention of agitated gobblers, it was, them being in their tribal mood. By and by a bunch of the turkeys came running out the tree line, hopped the pasture fence and started circling in the grass, not so noisy now that they’d switched over to dancing. One Tom turkey froze, puffed himself up like a balloon, shuddered to make himself a teensy bit bigger by getting his chest feathers to stand on end, then fanned his tail feathers, curled his neck and broke into a skittering little soft-shoe, his movements dainty. “Lookee here,” he was saying, “ain’t I something?”

Self-expression is everywhere in nature, everything from the rocks on up tells a story, and each story is inextricably woven into all. We are the creatures of our earthly surroundings, and Delta Blues rose out of the rhythms of stoop labor and sweltering sun; Jazz mimics the sounds of the city, Bluegrass the songbirds, creeks and breezes. If a writer writes about the desert, his or her prose will be spare; writing about the jungle, florid, the sea, in ebbs and flows reflecting the lack of solid ground underfoot. The creator is made manifest in creation and self-expression, whether animal or human, is meaningful to the extent it is social. Art for art’s sake? How about

Todd Walton: Poets and Artists and…


From TODD WALTON
UnderTheTable.com
Mendocino

“The poet’s only responsibility is to write fresh lines.” Charles Olson

With all due respect to the organization known as Poets & Writers, I have always felt that if there’s no poetry in the writing, who needs it? Oh, I suppose a Chemistry textbook needn’t be rife with lovely language, but in the best of worlds all writing would be touched by the writer’s experience of having read and appreciated great poetry and beautifully crafted prose.

I sold my first short story for actual dollars when I was twenty-five. The year was 1974 and the buyer was Cosmopolitan magazine. This was at the very end of the era when that historic magazine along with a few dozen other large-circulation magazines in America still published fiction. Eventually I would sell stories to teen magazines and men’s magazines, along with several more to Cosmo, as my agent called that trashy mag, but I assure you I wrote all my stories with The New Yorker and Esquire in mind. Alas, those lofty literary realms were off limits to the unwashed likes of me. But I’m getting ahead of myself, as I am wont to do.

That first story I sold was about a black female prizefighter who, through a series of bizarre events, gets a shot at fighting a top-ranked male welterweight boxer.

Todd Walton: Your Inner Bushman


From TODD WALTON
Mendocino

“The five groups of San or Bushmen are called the First People. Most call themselves Bushmen when referring to themselves collectively.” Elizabeth Marshall Thomas from her book The Old Way

I wanted to open this article with that quote from Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, a great friend of the Kalahari Bushmen, so I would not be accused of using a derogatory term when speaking of the people from whom all humans on earth are descended. One of my favorite scientific discoveries of the last few decades is that every human being currently alive on the planet can trace his or her lineage directly to the same Bushman woman who lived in Southwest Africa 172,000 years ago.

The gathering of pertinent genetic data from around the world, as well as the complicated figuring that went into determining the identity of our great Mother, has now been duplicated by multiple scientific teams, and there is today universal agreement among physical anthropologists and geneticists (though not among members of Congress) that Eve, as the European-centric researchers have named her, was, indeed, a Bushman. The name I prefer for our Very First Lady is N!ai, the exclamation point indicating a loud click made by pressing the tongue against the top of the mouth and popping it down simultaneously with the sound ai (I).

Among the many groovy things about tracing our collective beginning back to N!ai is that until the 1950’s there were still extant bands of Bushmen in and around the Kalahari Desert living very much as they had for tens of thousands of years, and Elizabeth Marshall Thomas and her parents and brother were among the first and last non-Bushmen to gently interface with these people and to record in great detail, in writing and film and sound recordings, how our Neolithic hunter-gatherer ancestors lived. Thus we know, in a tangible way, from whence we came.

“Interestingly, no anthropologist wanted to join us, although my father tried hard to find one and would have paid for his or her salary and all expenses. However, unlike the modern Kalahari, where the anthropologist/Bushman ratio

Gene Logsdon: Tasty Meat Comes From The Kitchen, Not the Field


From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

Furious arguments sweep back and forth over the landscape about whether pasture-raised meat is better or worse than corn-fed meat. I think pasture-raised might be healthier food depending on the quality of the pasture, but when the debate focuses on taste, oh my. Years and years ago, a similar argument was popular: whether hogs fed on steamed slop (garbage) tasted better or worse than corn-fed hogs. A butcher could supposedly tell by finger-punching a hog carcass, whether the hog had been slop-fed or corn-fed by how soft or hard it was. We farm boys had a sort of ritual. We would finger-punch each other and, if praise were in order, pronounce the boy so punched as “corn fed.” If he were deemed soft and sissified for whatever reason, a finger punch would draw forth a derisive “slop fed.” In that kind of culture, pasture-raised meat was never going to have a chance over corn-fed even if the hams had no more give in them than anvils.

Then along came my father-in-law who raised and butchered his own hogs and smoke-cured the best-tasting hams in Kentucky, so everyone who ate at his table claimed. He told me that the way to do it right was to feed a hog for two years (none of this modern four to five-month wonder stuff) mostly on acorns and then cure the hams by his own special mix of salt (had to be a particular kind of moist salt he bought by the barrel), brown sugar and pepper, rubbing the mix into the meat every day for the first month of the curing process. He even specified how many rubs (ten) each ham should be given at each rubbing. Then he smoked the meat with hickory just so-so and left it hang in the smokehouse to age a month or more. Corn, or lack thereof, had very little to do with it.

I was out in Nebraska once talking to a tough old cowboy type whose flesh was as dark and sinewy as father-in-law’s hams. He sort of snorted at my praise for a corn-fed beef steak I had eaten in Omaha. He declared that a really tasty filet came out of the back strip of a four- year- old range cow that wouldn’t know an ear of corn from a watermelon.

Gene Logsdon: Heating With Wood Is An Eco-Crime?


From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

That’s what a recent (Jan. 20) article suggested in the New York Times. After a few more provocative captions like that and a liberal use of the subjunctive mood to convince us of the dangers of burning wood, the article simmered down to saying what most of us already know: if you use dry seasoned wood and a certified low-polluting heating system, burning wood is as safe as heating with anything, but perhaps not in areas of heavy population like New York City. It is questionable whether automobiles are appropriate technology for New York City either and many people there in fact do not own one. I wonder how the Times would be received if it voiced a notion that driving cars is an eco-crime.

I don’t know the statistics but I will bet anything that the airplanes flying high above us belch out more pollution in a day than the fireplaces and woodburning stoves of New York City emit in a whole winter. I am certain that the millions upon millions of cars, buses, trucks, tractors and bulldozers in this country emit more pollutants every second than all the woodburning stoves do in a year. Furthermore, have the people who think burning wood is an eco-crime ever stopped  to consider how many millions of tons of coal and natural gas and fuel oil are burned every day to provide them with heat or to generate electric heat that they think is so much “greener” than burning wood? Then add on the vast amounts of these fuels that are burned to manufacture the appliances that deliver that heat to all those businesses and high rises and oversized suburban mansions. Then add on the whole energy consumption

Todd Walton: Dead Airplane Kerouac Caen


Jefferson Airplane: Chauffeur Blues (Signe’s Last)

From TODD WALTON
Under The Table
Mendocino

“The past is never dead, it is not even past.” William Faulkner

When my wife and I joined forces four years ago, she came equipped with the nicely aged Toyota pickup I’d always wanted and I came with a Toyota station wagon ideal for toting cellos, so we swapped. The station wagon was subsequently crushed by a falling pine and replaced by a more commodious sedan, but the pickup lives on and I love the old thing.

Marcia bought the truck from the person who bought the truck new, Jim Young, our superlative chiropractor and friend and coach of the Mendocino High School (boys) basketball team. Now and then when I am under Jim’s thumbs, as it were, he will inquire about his former truck and I am happy to report the old thing is humming right along and still getting admirable mileage in this age of fast-rising fuel costs.

The pickup is faded white, eighteen years old, with the requisite rust spots and windows that must be manually cranked up and down. Otherwise non-descript, the truck sports a subtle ornament that Jim affixed to the rear window, an insignia identifying the vehicle as a chariot of the Dead, the Grateful Dead, the band, not my ancestors.

Todd Walton: Creeping Up On God


From TODD WALTON
UnderTheTable
Mendocino

So this guy goes to see a psychiatrist and after fifty minutes the psychiatrist says, “I think you’re crazy.”

And the guy says, “Hey, wait a minute. I want to get a second opinion.”

And the psychiatrist says, “Okay, you’re ugly, too.”

My father was a child psychiatrist. Until I was eight or nine, I had only vague notions of what my father’s practice consisted of. I knew he had a playroom adjacent to his office, and in that playroom there were board games and a sandbox and dolls and trucks and other cool things for kids to play with, and I knew my father wore a suit and tie when he interacted with these kids, and that he was sort of a doctor.

So this guy with a chicken on his head goes to see

Todd Walton: Whales & Predictions


From TODD WALTON
UnderTheTableBooks.com
Mendocino

“The grand essentials of happiness are: something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.” Allan K. Chalmers

Sunday. The second of January 2011. My wife Marcia and I are sitting on a bench overlooking the Pacific Ocean a few miles south of the village of Mendocino, the pale blue sky decorated with flat clouds, grays and whites, the celestial artist in no mood for billowy today. The sea is relatively calm and several pods of whales are passing by close enough for us to see them clearly without binoculars, their impressive water spouts presaging glimpses of their even more impressive enormity, our excitement at seeing them giving way to ongoing joy that the leviathans (my favorite synonym for whales) are right there, sharing the world with us, and saying hello so delightfully.

We have come to this promontory above the deep to give back to the ocean some forty pounds of stones and shells we’ve collected over the last five years for the decoration of windowsills and table tops; and as we throw the pretty gifts into the depths, we send with them our hopes and intentions for the year ahead.

The news of late has been full of predictions by economists and financial prognosticators about what may befall the national and global economies in the coming year,

Todd Walton: All Or Nothing


From TODD WALTON
UnderTheTable.com
Mendocino

“Every day: meditation, chocolate, a glass of port wine, and flirting with young men.” Beatrice Wood at age 98 on her secret to longevity

“I’m never drinking coffee again,” said my friend, reciting his New Year’s resolutions. “And no more alcohol. And I’m off all sugar. And I’m joining a health club and I’m gonna work out for at least an hour a day, every day. Without fail.”

“Wow,” I said, having heard similar declarations from this fellow before. “Sounds draconian.”

“Look,” he said, piqued by my hint of sarcasm, “it’s all or nothing with me. One cup of coffee, I’m hooked again. One piece of chocolate, I’m a goner.” He glared at his big round tummy. “Moderation doesn’t work for me.”

“There can only be one winner, but isn’t that the American way?” Gig Young

I’ve often thought ALL OR NOTHING could be our national motto, for the concept infects virtually every aspect of our political, economic, social, and emotional lives.

“The only way I can figure out what I really think about anything is to write about it.” Norman Mailer

Throughout the 1990’s I worked with hundreds of writers to help them improve their writing. Some were beginners,

Todd Walton: Scholar Jim


From TODD WALTON
UnderTheTable.com
Mendocino

“There are several kinds of stories, but only one difficult kind—the humorous.” Mark Twain

I wonder how Mark Twain would feel if he knew his novel Huckleberry Finn has been rewritten in such a way that the meaning of his book is entirely changed, and that such an execrable mutation of his work is about to be afflicted on the next generation of American schoolchildren. I ask because such a crime has just taken place. Yes, it’s true, and I quote from The New York Times:

“Throughout the book [Huckleberry Finn]—219 times in all—the word nigger is replaced by slave, a substitution that was made by NewSouth Books, a publisher based in Alabama, which plans to release the edition in February.

“Alan Gribben, a professor of English and a Twain scholar at Auburn University, approached the publisher with the idea in July. Mr. Gribben said Tuesday that he had been teaching Mark Twain for decades and always hesitated before reading aloud the common racial epithet, which is used liberally in the book, a reflection of social attitudes in the mid-19th century.

“‘I found myself right out of graduate school at Berkeley not wanting to pronounce that word when I was teaching either Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer,’ he said. ‘And I don’t think I’m alone.’

“Mr. Gribben, who combined Huckleberry Finn with Tom Sawyer in a single volume and also supplied an introduction, said he worried that Huckleberry Finn had fallen off reading lists, and wanted to offer an edition that is not for scholars, but for younger people and general readers.

“‘I’m by no means sanitizing Mark Twain,’ Mr. Gribben said. ‘The sharp social critiques are in there. The humor is intact. I just had the idea to get us away from obsessing about this one word, and just let the stories stand alone.’ (The book also substitutes Indian for injun.)”

Gene Logsdon: Oh What A Beautiful Morning


From GENE LOGSDON

It was 50 degrees and the sun shining here on New Year’s Day. That’s a beautiful morning for this time of year in Ohio, not as beautiful as the one in the musical, “Oklahoma!” when “the corn is as high as an elephant’s eye, and it seems to be climbing right up to the sky,” but beautiful for January. So I went to the barn singing that song, reminding myself once again of why I like it so much. My father used to sing it in the barn where he thought no one could hear him and we used to break up laughing at his performances. He could not carry a tune in a bushel basket and “Oh What A Beautiful Morning” is a difficult song to sing. In the very first line, all sorts of sly half notes and flats and sharps lay waiting to catch the wariest of voices. If you direct church choirs, the perfect way to audition singers is to have them sing that line. Anyone who can do it without accompaniment and nail every note exactly right,  especially on the first syllable of the word ‘morning’, then he or she can sing in anyone’s choir.

But that’s not why this song is so special to me. Its lyrics and that of other songs in “Oklahoma!” are just so very reflective of the farming spirit.  (I write about this at some length in my book, “The Mother of All Arts” if you’re interested.)  In addition to the lines above, there are others just as culturally perfect: “The breeze is so busy, it don’t miss a tree, and that old weepin’ willow is laughing at me.” Even the incorrect grammar is just right. Can you imagine anyone coming up with lyrics like that today?  Especially in the refrain of the song, this line:  “I’ve got a wonderful feelin’, everything’s going my way.”  No one today could write a song that happy. What we hear today mostly in our cowering, fearful environment is: “Uh- uh, baby- baby, eff- word, baby- baby, uh- uh. ”

Whatever happened to joy in this country?

More to the point, how could Oscar Hammerstein II

Neil Davis: Justa’ bikin’ in the rain…


From NEIL DAVIS
Mendo 2 Mile Challenge

Do I look nutty? No wait, don’t answer that!

What is it about bikes that attracts, no I think inspires, so many impassioned nutcases, zealots, and holy roller bike preachers? What is it that makes so many of us feel that we need everyone else to join us? “It’s not enough for me to love this bike riding, I need you to as well”. How do I know when I’ve crossed the line and become a wing nut bicyclist? Are we the nutcases, or is it everyone else? And why don’t more people see the reason behind our passion and join us?I was bundling up to ride home from work the other day – it was pouring down rain. Really wet. I was happy, done with work for the day and getting ready to ride home in the rain. How could I not be happy?

A coworker walked by and offered me a ride home, “really, we can throw your bike in the back of our truck”. I laughed and declined. Another coworker walked by, “I can give you a ride home”. I countered her offer with an offer to give her a ride home on my bike, “You can ride on my back rack”. She laughed and declined.

They think I’m nuts.

I don’t think I am. I know I had more fun on the way home than they did, I can feel it in my bones. They think it was a big ordeal for me, that I went to all kinds of trouble, just to prove a point ( I suppose). I can imagine that it appeared that way. After all, they saw me pulling on my rain gear. They didn’t have to do all that. I suspect they didn’t see that they got as wet dashing to their cars as I did riding home (I arrived with the bottom inch of my left pants leg wet). I’m not sure they appreciated that I only took about 2 minutes to pull my rain pants on, probably roughly the same time it took them to settle into their cars and buckle up etc.

Oh well, they think I’m nuts.

Todd Walton: Propaganda of Childhood



From TODD WALTON
UnderTheTableBooks.com

Mendocino

“What we remember from childhood we remember forever—permanent ghosts, stamped, inked, imprinted, eternally seen.” Cynthia Ozick

The propaganda of my childhood said that Santa Claus rewards children for being good by giving them what they want. And long after I figured out that my parents were Santa Claus, I continued to believe that the reason I never got what I wanted was because I was not good. Every year I was given clothing I did not want, books I did not want, and things my father wanted, so that as I unwrapped those gifts he would chortle, “What a coincidence. Just what I needed.”

However, when I was ten-years-old, my parents gave me a real bow and arrows with steel tips, something I had been asking for since I was old enough to ask for something. And when I went outside to shoot that bow and arrows, and found that my father had also bought a bale of hay to which he had affixed a beautiful target, I was more than happy; I was filled to bursting with the sense of being good.

I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was six. Mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked for my autograph.” Shirley Temple

In response to the depressing fact that the latest tax bill signed into law by President Obama actually increases taxes on the poorest 150 million Americans while allowing the super wealthy to pay no taxes at all, a friend remarked, “That doesn’t fit with the propaganda of our childhood.” And her comment struck me as a cogent explanation for why my peers and I continue to be so deeply disappointed by the machinations of the corporate overlords as carried out by their trusty puppets. And her comment also explained why we, the people,

Bruce Patterson: The Darkest Night


From BRUCE “PAT” PATTERSON
4Mules Blog
Anderson Valley

“When steam first began to puff. . .the wild child humanity was caught and put in a harness. What we call business habits were invented to make the life of man harmonious with the steam engine, and his movements rival the train in punctuality. The factory system was invented and it was an instantaneous success. Men were clothed in cheapness and uniformity. Their minds grew numerously alike, cheap and uniform also.”
–G.W. Russell (1867-1935)

Maybe 30 years ago, back when my wife and I were living “off the grid” (back then we called it living without electricity and indoor plumbing) up near Mountain House, a friend told me of a tribe of people—I think they were Patagonian highlanders—who navigated by the night sky but without using the stars. Instead of focusing on the stars, galaxies and constellations, war chariots, Greek gods and wild animals, they used their peripheral vision to see the web work of black pathways connecting them. Myself having always been a stargazer—under High Sierra skies, Mojave skies, Montana skies—I was skeptical because I’d never noticed such a thing.

Yet my friend was well schooled in life’s mysteries and so I decided to put it to the test. It was a hot August night, clouds were about as scarce as January tourists, and after the last of the sunset’s afterglow had gone out to sea, and before the moon had risen, and in order to get away from the glare of our cabin’s kerosene lamps, my wife and I followed a sheep trail to a nearby a point of land.

The wet blanket of hot air was stone still and, while we were getting settled on our sitting spot, we heard the faint echoing chugging of a locomotive pulling a train up the Russian River Canyon.

Todd Walton: Slow Going


From TODD WALTON
Under The Table Books
Mendocino

“For fast-acting relief, try slowing down.” Lily Tomlin

Five years ago, a few weeks before I made my move from Berkeley to Mendocino, I came within a few inches of being killed by a young man who was driving his pickup truck very fast while simultaneously using his mobile phone. I had just stepped into the crosswalk at the intersection of San Pablo Avenue and Gilman Avenue, having been given the go ahead to cross by the illuminated symbol of a human being taking a walk. The young man who was driving his pickup very fast apparently did not see the red light or me or possibly anything as he sped through the intersection with his phone pressed to his ear. I don’t know if he was talking to someone or listening to someone else talking, or perhaps he was listening to music; I am only certain he was pressing his phone to his ear as his two-ton missile shot by within inches of my puny little flesh and blood body. And whether there is such a thing as fate or whether life is a muddle of meaningless happenstance, had I been one step further along at that moment, I would have been smashed to smithereens.

So today I’m driving our old truck into our soggy hamlet to get the mail and groceries, a cold rain falling, and because I am the unelected president of Mendocino Drivers Not In A Hurry To Get Anywhere, I’ve only gotten a few hundred yards down the Comptche-Ukiah straightaway before my rearview mirror is filled with the sight of a pickup closing fast upon me. As is my custom in these situations, I move to the outer edge of the road and slow to a crawl, timing my move so that whoever is driving that oncoming pickup will have an easy time passing me—the road ahead empty, the broken yellow line entirely on our side. But this particular pickup (going at least seventy miles per hour) zooms to within a few feet of my bumper

Bruce Patterson: Harvesting Christmas Trees



From BRUCE ‘PAT’ PATTERSON
Anderson Valley

I’d driven down this particular beaver slide twice already this year, but never with a full trailer during a cloudburst. My brand-new, one-ton diesel, company pickup truck’s full blast windshield wipers were allowing me flickering peeks of the straight-shot clay road down below, the distant bottomlands seemingly as flat as a pond, and the road looked like a yellow-brown waterfall slicing in two a pure green munchkin Doug fir forest planted at double-arms interval. If I slid out of control, I knew, I was going to wipe out some Christmas trees and, worse, get my truck and trailer mired axle-deep in mud. I’d also scratch the truck’s pristine paint job and maybe even give its front side and fenders some inaugural dings. Imagining such a veritable catastrophe, I could see my boss’s face lengthen and redden and then lengthen and redden some more as I bashfully spilled the beans.

Yet we were already late getting to the landing, and I couldn’t very well sit there idling at the top of the beaver slide awaiting a change in the weather. I couldn’t back out of there, either, or ignore my three soaking wet and shivering compadres huddled atop the load. The only way to take the chill off their bones was to get them back to work, and the best thing about off-loading Christmas trees was how it got your body warmed up and put the feeling back into your fingers. Then, if worse came to worst and I crashed, my body wouldn’t get hurt and we had a D-7 Cat tractor parked not two miles away that could come get us back on the road. “Better late than never,” I recited to myself while steeling my nerves.

After telling my three compadres to climb down off the load and then walk behind me down the hill,