Vacation Ending

20150530_072606I thought I’d lead with the picture I just snapped outside our vacation rental a few moments ago. This is the view we’ve been waking up to every morning for the last two weeks. There is a lot of birdsong at the moment, but otherwise, it is very quiet. The other day, we startled a deer in the tall grass, walking along the road down to the little pond just below us: the deer was less than ten feet away from us when it leaped up and bounded away. Frogs and crickets grace the evenings.

We’re coming to the end of this interlude, and are both looking forward to settling into our new home on Monday.

As vacations go, this one has been mixed. We are living out of suitcases, which is normal for a vacation, but we’ve got two cars packed with junk we’d never take on a vacation, such as our work computer equipment. Which we’ve both been using, since this has been a working vacation.

It’s been doubly busy for me, since — in addition to an elevated degree of chaos at work that has demanded long days — I’ve also been in the process of changing jobs, which is now far enough along I can talk about it. So in addition to filling out rental agreements and setting up bank accounts for our new home, I’ve been filling out I-9 forms and reading new employment contracts.

Fun vacation.

Still, the environment has been idyllic.

Last Saturday morning we went to the farmer’s market, which was a delightful affair. The farmer’s market is held every Saturday morning (except Christmas, if Christmas falls on a Saturday), and I understand it gets pretty big in late summer and fall as the harvests roll in.

mashup1Stephen and Jessye joined us late Saturday afternoon, and stayed over until Sunday. It was a sweet and relaxed time.

On Monday, we had the Memorial Day parade. I remember going to the Cheyenne Frontier Days’ Parade when I was a little kid, and it was quite the big deal. It was very hard to find a place to watch: the streets were lined with people, some of whom showed up hours in advance to get good seats, and for a child, your choice was to worm your way to the curb, or spend the parade watching some adult’s butt. It was a big, lengthy affair with dozens of floats, marching bands, vintage cars, clowns, and candy they threw from the trucks that we all scrabbled for.

The Ukiah Memorial Day Parade was a considerably smaller affair, but Marta and I loved it. We missed the beginning, and by the time I thought to take my camera out, we were down to the vintage cars, the horses and the hogs.


We got out again on Thursday evening for an astronomy geek-fest. Ukiah was one of six International Latitude Observatories around the world (the others being Cincinnati, OH; Gaithersburg, MD; Carloforte, Italy; Charjui, Uzbekistan; and Mizusawa, Japan) used as part of the 1899 – 1982 International Polar Motion Service program that measured the “wobble” of the earth’s polar axis.

Observatory Park, where the observatory still sits, is just one block from our new home. Shown in these pictures are the big oak tree in the center of the park with Marta standing beneath it, and some of the telescopes on display. The big brass telescope in the observatory itself was built in the late 1800’s, and had some of the finest optics of any in this lot. They had it set on Jupiter, and the four Galilean Moons (Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto) were all clear, even though the sky was still light.


The rest of today, and tomorrow, are our last days of “vacation” — on Monday, the chaos of moving in starts. It will feel good to get settled.

Bernie Sanders

I don’t know if Bernie is going to complete the entire Presidential gauntlet, but he already has my vote. If he isn’t on the ballot, I’m going to write him in. Even if he drops out of the race, I’m going to write him in.

Goddess Knows, neither Hillary nor Jeb represents my vision of the future of the United States. Or rather, they represent perfectly my most dystopian vision of the future of the United States — one I’d rather not see come to pass.

It’s only May of 2015, and the Presidential race proper won’t begin for another seven months, when the Iowa primary caucuses vote. But I had already decided to drop out in 2016. I hadn’t quite decided whether to boycott the election entirely, or just leave the presidential check box empty. I was leaning toward just boycotting the presidential box.

So don’t anyone tell me that a vote for Bernie is a vote for whatever Republican nut-cake makes the ballot. My vote was already lost to the Democrats, so voting for someone other than Hillary doesn’t make any difference at all.

I don’t have anything specific against Hillary, except for her support of the HMO version of universal health care back in the early 1990’s, which is a stain on her common sense that probably won’t ever fade from my memory.

But I won’t vote for her, because she doesn’t seem to stand for anything but the latest results of the latest focus group. I have no idea what she stands for, and no way to find out. What that tells me, however, is that she doesn’t have the fire to address any real issues in the nation. Frankly, I suspect she lives entirely inside the wealthy Washington Beltway bubble, and doesn’t even perceive the real issues in the nation.

Bernie sees and speaks to at least some of the issues, which is a long sight better than the rest of the posturing mannequins on the stage right now. For that, he has my vote. And while the best I can hope for is that his presence scares the living shit out of the existing political establishment, I can at least hope for that.

Bernie has my vote.

House of Glass

We have arrived safely at our two-week way-station outside Ukiah.

download (1)The last two days were difficult, particularly in the afternoons. Rain. Not torrential rain, but utterly miserable rain for driving. Dark. Gusty. Cold and sloppy. The roads didn’t seem especially slick, but then we’d go past flashing patrol lights where someone had taken out a road sign, or where two cars had assumed a pose from the Kama Sutra. The drive sucked.

Let’s back up a bit.

Despite our “no-stress” mantra, Thursday and Friday in Fort Collins grew increasingly stressful. Thursday was actual moving day, where the big, strong guys showed up to move boxes onto a big, strong truck, and Friday involved coordinating cleaners, final inspection, and closing. Heavy rain dumped on us Friday afternoon: combined with multiple trains running through town, and the beginnings of spring construction season, traffic was thoroughly snarled — the one day we truly needed to cross town multiple times. By Friday evening, we were all grouchy and mentally exhausted.

20150513_195203Our nephew, Jonathan, arrived Thursday morning to help with the driving, and he and I were agitating for celebratory pizza on Friday while Marta inexplicably dragged her feet. Then our friends, Mark and Deborah, showed up with steaks, potatoes, salad, and wine. Marta had known, of course: she and Deborah had arranged matters a week before. My son, Stephen, was in town and joined us. Deborah grilled the steaks over an open fire, and we all told stories and drank wine until it ran out.

We got moving by about 9:30 on Saturday morning, after breakfast at the Ever-Open Cafe on North College. It’s the first time I’d ever tried the restaurant — for some reason, I’d always feared it was a terrible little greasy spoon. It was not; I can happily recommend the food and the service.

The drive across Wyoming on Interstate 80 was uneventful; a bit windy in spots, which, if that surprises you, means you’ve never heard anything true about Wyoming. Toward late afternoon, the clouds started to mass over the western range that drops into Utah.

downloadFor those of you who have never been to Salt Lake, the eastern mountains rise like a wall, and portions of the city have built out onto some of the mountain spurs, making the descent into Salt Lake a decidedly three-dimensional experience. The sky was not blue as it appears in this stock photo, but black, filled with great boluses of darkness interspersed with sheets of pale rain and tides of steaming fog. You could see everything surge and boil, driven about by the winds. We raced along the highway, surrounded by trucks that threw up a blinding, greasy mist from the road. It was like descending into a playground of the gods on a night where they’ve had a bit much to drink and are growing belligerent.

20150516_192800-1We finally started to see light as we drove across the salt flats to the west of Salt Lake City, and by the time we reached Wendover, it was cold and windy, but clear. We actually felt the last few fingers of direct sunlight on our faces as we drove into the KOA and ran for the rest room.

I have not much good to say about Wendover: it’s someplace wedged between nowhere and nothing. It’s a casino town, the first (or the last) in Nevada along Interstate 80, a kind of run-down mini-Vegas like most gambling towns that aren’t Vegas. There is really only The Strip: a long stretch of garish lights each promising “better odds” than the next place along the strip. There seem to be no restaurants as such: only casinos, and the food is definitely an afterthought. I commented to Jonathan that our dining choice, which reeked of stale cigarette smoke and cheap perfume, sounded and smelled like a cross between a strip-joint and Chuck E. Cheese’s, and he thought I’d pretty well nailed it.

20150515_165916Still, we had our indomitable adventurers’ spirits, and our clown noses. We made a fine evening of it.

The KOA itself is a little patch of parking spots on rocky gravel, stuck behind one of the more garish casinos with rocky desert at its back. I went to sleep to the sound of wind rattling the canvas walls of the Casita, and the skeletal dance of tree-branch shadows cast by the ten billion watts of light from the nearest casino.

A word about sleeping arrangements: we had three adults, a dog, and two cats in our little 8′ pop-up camper. I’m not going to say it was comfortable, but it worked.

Nevada was an exercise in negatives. No one fell asleep at the wheel. We didn’t run out of gas. We weren’t stopped and robbed by any county sheriffs under the guise of “civil asset forfeiture.” We spotted no federal prisoners trying to hitchhike. No space aliens abducted us, no giant praying mantises devoured the semi-trailer in front of us, and The Mob stayed safely distant to the south, in Vegas.

20150517_140158The weather remained semi-overcast and cool through an uneventful day of driving, until we reached Reno and started to descend into California. Once again, clouds gathered and rain dumped, giant trucks threw greasy spray, and we once more despaired of ever seeing sunlight. Jonathan told me that he wondered if we, like those unfortunates passing through the self-same Donner Pass in 1846, would end up having to eat each other.

This, too, did not happen.

Just before reaching Sacramento, where the sun had begun to shine weakly through the clouds, we took a detour northward at the direction of Google Navigator. It probably added an hour to the trip, but it took us through very light traffic on rural highways. Our route took us up highway 20, through the mountains and around Clear Lake and Mendocino Lake, to drive into Ukiah from the north. Although we are only 2-1/2 hours north of San Francisco straight up highway 101, coming around the back way felt like we were in the opening scenes of The Shining, driving to a remote, remote, remote place far from civilization of any sort.

We arrived, again, right at sunset, which set the sky on fire in glorious oranges, reds, and magentas. I missed the photo-op. We fell into bed, too exhausted from the long drive to do anything else.

This morning afforded us the opportunity to finally look at the place we will call home until June 1.

It appears to be a house constructed to make it seem you are living outdoors, without the disadvantages of actually living outdoors. To which end, most of the walls are floor-to-ceiling windows. The living room. The bedrooms. The bathrooms.

20150518_104617It is a House of Glass.

I am surprised to find that I like it.

It does mean early-rising, because when the sun rises, it fills the house with light. There are no curtains or other blinds. You can pull the covers over your head, but nothing keeps the room around you dark. Nothing protects you from the steady gaze of the deer and the house wrens that stare at you from the outside, like you were the odd creature in a zoo. But there are no people up here, no neighbors within line-of-sight.

Today, after running some unavoidable errands in Ukiah, we visited the Montgomery Woods State National Reserve, just up one of the twisty roads into the mountains about a half-hour from here. It’s one of the few remaining Old Growth Sequoia forests, and the ancient trees are spectacular. These look like more-or-less ordinary mountain forests until you spot something — like a human body — that gives you a sense of the scale of these trees. These forests are silent, and dim, and cool, and full of living energy.




And now, sleep calls. It has been a busy day, and tomorrow, we have to supervise the unloading of the moving truck into local storage units, where everything will sit until June 1.


The packers finished today, and I watched the piano go.

We sold the piano to a CSU music professor, a clarinetist. His wife plays piano, and they want to teach their children. So it goes to a good home, and the kids will grow up never appreciating what an unusual experience they’ve had, learning on a grand piano. It’s best that way — children, in my opinion, should never be burdened with the obligation of gratitude for things they don’t understand.

I learned on a little spinet — a horrid little piece of noisy furniture. My parents bought it for us kids, and we dutifully practiced (though usually under duress), and even developed some skill. But the so-called “action” — the mechanism, and the feel — of a spinet is totally different from that of a grand, for a top-end spinet, and ours was not top-end. It was almost impossible to tease any nuance out of that box. It was literally a forte-piano — a loud-quiet. Like a Volkswagen bug, it had only two speeds: on or off. If you weren’t ciphering half the notes, you were banging on it.

Not that I fault my parents. They bought us a piano, and on my Dad’s salary, that was a Big Deal. A spinet was what they could afford, and it was the only thing that would fit in the house. Grateful though I am, however, it was a nasty little instrument.

When I got to high school, I would sometimes sneak into the auditorium during lunch and play their 8′ Steinway Concert Grand. In those days, our high school had the newest and best auditorium in town; the local symphony would rehearse in the orchestra rehearsal room in the evenings, and would perform in the high school auditorium. Why I never got kicked out, I’ll never know, though perhaps no one ever heard me: it was a typical high school, and during lunch break, it would take an air-raid siren to cut through the general din. Of course, I was also very active in the school music program, and I actually played in the civic symphony, so maybe they thought my presence was legitimate.

In college, I got to use the pianos in the practice rooms. It was a new music building, and the pianos were new baby grands — Yamahas, if I remember correctly. Yamaha was just becoming known as a piano manufacturer, and their instruments were bold, bright, and wonderfully responsive. And relatively cheap, for the quality, which is why they ended up in practice rooms.

I started looking for a piano of my own in 1983, shortly after taking my first job, and it was amazing some of the crap people wanted to pawn off for an exorbitant price. Most buyers were, of course, looking for furniture, so things like the condition of the finish and (gag) color were of utmost importance to them. I only cared about the touch, and the sound.

I fell in love with an Ibach at Pianos Unlimited in Denver, but the $10,000 price tag — remember, these are 1983 dollars, and I was making only $27,000 a year with a new family — was entirely out of reach. I’d never heard of the brand: it’s one of the oldest piano manufacturers in the world, dating back to 1794. Beethoven could very well have performed on an Ibach at some point in his career. This piano was a little weak in the high register, but the bass was round and full and smooth as chocolate with wine; it had the most magical sound and feel I’ve ever experienced. I could tell that the salesman wanted to let me have it, but he couldn’t lower the price, and I couldn’t meet it. So I would come back from time to time to see if it was still there and play it a little, and he’d look at me sadly and listen. They never had any rush business that late in the day. I imagine the salesman, also, had too many buyers looking for a piece of furniture at furniture warehouse prices; the Ibach was always there. Like any first love, I’ve sometimes wondered where that piano ended up, and hope it found a good home.

I kept driving around town, answering newspaper ads — remember, this was before the Internet — and finally answered the ad of a little old woman who needed to get rid of her piano because she was moving. I seem to recall she had been a piano teacher, and she was very reluctant to part with the instrument, a 5-1/2′ Wurlitzer baby grand manufactured in 1926. She made me play for her before she would agree to sell it. Apparently, I passed muster — she sold it to me for $2000, more like $10,000 in devalued modern dollars. We had to take out a loan to buy it, and the bank was reluctant, since the only collateral we could put up was the piano itself, which was the last thing they wanted to repossess should we fail to make payments — but in the end, they relented.

We moved it into the basement of our home in Westminster, the haunted room. The first notes of the third movement of my Piano Concerto in f-minor popped out of my fingers there, and I worked out the rest of the concerto on that keyboard.

Over the years, I pounded out Rachmaninoff’s C#-minor Prelude when I was angry, Chopin Preludes and Nocturnes when I was pensive or sad, a little Schubert or Beethoven or Mozart when I was feeling happy. I took insincere flying leaps at a number of piano concerti, fell on my face, and moved on to simpler things. I wooed women with song, and then celebrated their departure with more song. I annoyed and charmed the neighbors by turns, though I was (mostly) religious about shutting down by 10:00 at night.

That piano was a fine little instrument, with plenty of subtlety in the action. It could use a little refurbishing — new felts on the hammers, new friction pads for the posts. But it plays very nicely.

Yes, I’m terribly sad to see it go.

But I don’t play any more. Playing piano is a physical skill, and when you don’t play, you lose the edge. You can bring it back — but like trying to lose weight and give yourself a set of six-pack abdominals after being a middle-aged schlub, it’s very hard work and requires dedication, not wishful thinking.

I’d rather be writing new music.

The Journey Begins

Saturday we had a final farewell party in the house that has been such a wonderful place to entertain. Old friends dropped by, and we tried to drink up the liquor cabinet, and failed. I opened some bottles of mead that have been sitting around for fifteen years, including the Mystery Mead, labeled 2000. Only one person guessed the flavor: garlic. Yes, a garlic mead. I don’t think it was anyone’s favorite, but it wasn’t bad, and by the end of the party the bottle was empty.

Sunday and Monday were final clean-up and pack days, and it was a bit overbooked, but we got most everything finished. I still have to finish mowing: the rain last week kept me from getting ahead of it, and it looks terrible. Marta is intent on leaving the new owners with a clean move-in: one of the many things I love about her.

20150512_080747Monday — yesterday — ended with us packing the cars and hitching our little Conestoga — maybe we should rename her the Conistogita — as our temporary home while the Packer Ants descend on the house.

We decided to move out early, to save stress on the animals. When we moved to the house in 2012, it was just a cross-town move, and we put the cats in the new place and locked them in the upstairs bathrooms with litter boxes and food. All the thumping and bumping in the new environment left them decidedly unhappy; there was a lot of fur on the carpet when we finally let them out to explore their new home.

When we had the roof replaced after the huge hailstorm last summer and the entire house became the inside of a djembe with a thousand insane drummers on the roof, Marta packed up and left with the animals in our Casita. That’s when she found the KOA camground north of Fort Collins. Surprisingly, after a round of largely symbolic growling, both cats settled down and rather liked it.

That’s what we’re doing this time, too.

20150511_204126We left the house to the sight of a gorgeous orange sky behind the foothills, and arrived at the KOA just as the stars were coming out in an indigo sky. As usual, the propane furnace didn’t work, but we were toasty under our comforter, and the animals had their own little warm nests.

Today promises to be a lazy day for me. We need at least one person at the house to supervise the packing (required by the moving company), and one person here to supervise the animals. If we took the cats out a lot, we could probably leave them in the Casita for extended periods. But our mantra for this move has been “NO STRESS,” and that includes feeling stressed about whether the animals are stressed.

Though supervising the packing is a lot more work than pet-sitting, Marta said she’d feel better if she was on top of the movers. Frankly, so would I.

It’s about ten in the morning, the animals are all catching a morning nap, and I’m blogging away. Birds are chirping outside, and the chill is finally just starting to leave the air.

This is, by far, the nicest KOA I’ve ever encountered. Aside from the spacious and well-kept grounds, they have things like this:


Or this:


I can’t help thinking about travelers in other times and places. At no time in the past — and perhaps no time in the future — has a move like this been so easy, and painless.

We’re moving 1200 miles, give or take. Horse-drawn wagons could make about twenty miles a day under ideal circumstances, and only ten (or less) otherwise. At ten miles a day, this trip would take 120 days, or four months. Heading out today, we could reasonably hope to arrive by mid-September, “God willing and the creek don’t rise,” as they say. But ordinary little things like broken wagon wheels, lame horses, local flooding, brush fires, or just good, old-fashioned rain-soaked mud could easily push that out a month, to mid-October, and now we’re flirting with winter. A bit of truly bad luck, or a bad (or misread) map, and we could find ourselves holed up for the winter, far from our destination, in some truly inhospitable place.

We’d have left most of our belongings behind. We would have only necessities with us, or perhaps some inconveniently large heirloom we absolutely refused to part with, for which we would have to sacrifice other comforts in order to accommodate. We’d be traveling in company: we’d need spotters, trackers, and a gunman or two in case we encountered bandits. We’d have some kind of constitution or compact for the traveling group, which would spell out rights and responsibilities, and tensions on the road could turn deadly.

Our stresses seem trival to non-existent in comparison. Other people are packing virtually all of our belongings, down to the paper clips, and it will all arrive, almost magically, within days of our arrival. Our own journey will take two not-very-long days: we plan to leave early Saturday morning, and arrive late Sunday evening, those 1200 miles vanishing under our wheels like a swift bird’s dream. We will eat well on the road, relax in the evenings, sleep soundly during our one night on the road, and will be surrounded on our trip by an enormous infrastructure that is designed to facilitate rapid, safe, convenient travel.

In addition, Marta and I are in constant communication though we are several miles apart at the moment, and she can ask whether I want my regular shoes packed, or with us in the car. I’m blogging on a laptop, through a local hotspot built into an Android pad that uses the cell phone network to get to the Internet.

It’s really quite astonishing.

Heading Home

Beltane was delightful, terrible, joyful, sad, and a thousand other things all rolled into one.

We gathered at Treehenge, our eponymous grove in north Fort Collins, and the day blessed us with sun and warmth. We had a large group — nearly 20 people, and all of them bearing familiar faces. Iannin led the rite, and wanted to honor Marta and me as Flower Queen and Green Man respectively; we played it up and pranced, and danced, and ran between the fires like two young lovers on their way to the woods. It was beautiful.

The sadness comes of leaving this community of Druids, of course. They are, each and every one, remarkable, irreplaceable people. Thoughtful people. Compassionate people. Deep, rich-in-spirit, listening people.

If we lived in the 1800’s, and were joining a wagon train headed West, I’d be in tears much of the time — because the odds that I would ever return or see any of them again would be close to zero. But we don’t live in the 1800’s. We live in the early 2000’s, and while our advanced computer and transportation technology may eat itself and most of us in the next fifty years, it is there right now, and — as I keep reminding people — we are only an e-mail away.

Even so. I am both joyful and sad.

After the rite, Tina asked me an interesting question. She asked how I felt about leaving my Home. I’ve capitalized this word, because the capital letter was clearly present in her question.

My answer, which was spontaneous and unconsidered, surprised me.

“I’ve never felt at Home here,” I told her.

I’ve been thinking about that answer for two days, now.

I grew up forty miles from here. I’ve travelled a little — parts of Italy, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Amsterdam, England; then Colombia, recently Sydney — and spent about thirty months on Long Island. After the Long Island stint, I came back to Denver and Fort Collins, and have never strayed for more than a brief vacation. You’d think this was my home.

But the truth is, it isn’t Home, and never was.

I could not leave my hometown fast enough as a young man. For all my deep familiarity and childhood memories, my hometown was never Home. Now that my parents and late mother-in-law have passed, there is nothing there for me: merely one friend, one of those permanent friends who would be no less close if she moved to Antarctica and I to the North Pole, and we exchanged letters once every five years.

Those thirty months on Long Island were traumatic, for many reasons; one of them being that it was definitely not Home. While I was there, I gained an appreciation for the idea that a vampire cannot rest unless he is on his home earth — I never felt I could truly sleep, and I relaxed for the first time in two-and-a-half years as I was driving westward in the mountains of Pennsylvania with the City far behind me. I came back here seeking refuge in the familiar. Kids happened, work happened, houses and divorces and girlfriends and parties happened, and I’ve stayed for thirty-three years.

But it isn’t Home. It never really was.

Part of it is the people. I don’t fit in around here.

J.M. Greer commented once in passing about the “failed colonization of the Western Plains,” and it gave voice to something I’ve long felt. This entire area, West of the Mississippi all the way to the deserts in the rain-shadow of the Rocky Mountains, is hard country, high country, dry country. The further from the Mississippi you travel, the harder, higher, and drier it gets. You can’t become a prosperous farmer here with one mule and a mail-order bride. Call it a “look in the eyes” — people who call these high-plains deserts Home have that look, and I don’t.

I don’t fit in.

This is the land of cattle barons, and nomads, and reclusive mountain people: of grifters and drifters; of survivors; of the lucky and the unlucky, and (in these latter years) of grasping urbanites and shallow suburban Libertarians, who shout about “freedom from taxation” while using chlorinated, cholera-free city water to keep their Bluegrass lawns green and their garages clean. City folk will pass you on the right and flip you off as they roar past. Townies drive “compensation trucks” that don’t fit in any parking spots, yet don’t show a spot of rust or old manure in the truck bed. Rural folk vote for Sarah Palin and post anti-abortion signs in their fields near the highways.

I don’t fit in.

But the deeper question is about the Land, and Tina pressed the point. Do I feel at home with the Land?

I’ve been sensing the Land for a long time. I used to sit outside at night in the freezing cold as a child to watch the stars and feel the omnipresent wind in my face. Nature — raw, wild nature in her untrammeled form — has always been a part of my life, and an essential part. Since I’ve embraced a more Pagan, animistic world-view over the last two decades, I’ve become more adept at giving language to what I’ve always felt.

In becoming more aware, however, I’ve also come to understand that I don’t really “get” the Land here.

In the late 1990’s, I went to Dallas on a business trip in July. Dallas-Fort Worth is a dual city deeply mired in Christian Fundamentalism and early-twentieth-century Prohibition, mixed with the anything-goes abandon of the desert whorehouse. On my way through the sweltering afternoon furnace-heat to the airport, I stopped for a beer in one of the few venues that served beer, and noted that the empty back corner of the restaurant was roped off with a big sign proclaiming “Bob’s Bible Study” or some such sentiment, a reflection of the smarmy “Jesus Saves” billboards all over town. While I sat there, enjoying the mild buzz from the beer, I decided to see if I could touch the spirit of the Land.

I think I did. Something like a giant lizard deep beneath the ground, a creature of fire and earth and little else, sleeping. This encrustation of loud Christian piety on its back was barely enough to irritate it a bit: the hint of a vague dream of an itch to be scratched. It made me pity the Fundamentalists of the area when the Land finally rises from its sleep and notices them. I bid it good slumber, and withdrew.

Texas is not Home.

Or there was a visit to Portland, Maine, where Poseidon reigns. Wet beyond imagining to a desert-dweller like me: deep water, oceanic abysses of water, dark and cold, powerful, ubiquitous and overwhelming. Only hard basalt could stand as earth against it: all else was varying thicknesses of water, whether murk or mud or damp black earth. Wind was heavy with moisture, and even the candle flame was subdued and chill.

Maine is not Home.

The Land here strikes me as new, not-quite formed. Not that long ago, in geological time, it was a deep seabed, and the Rocky Mountains did not exist. Mountain edges are still raw, still glowing with the energy of recent fracture. Where we live, tilted slabs of sandstone form the “foothills” that preface the sharp slopes of the Rockies, something once flat and stable that crumpled catastrophically in a huge geological fender-bender. Trees and grasses are the newcomers, along with migratory bison and the flickering bird-shadows of humans who follow them.

This is a place full of pockets of deep magic, and when you find them, they inspire, energize, fill one with awe. But the Land, mostly, doesn’t yet see us humans — we’re too recent. There is no relationship.

If there is, then it isn’t working for me.

I don’t fit in.

Something is calling me Westward, from a land of fire and flood and drought, to a land of earthquake and flood and drought. I don’t know what the experience will bring. But the call is clear, and I’m answering it.

We’ll see if I come Home.


Trusting the Process

We’re at a difficult point, now, with the move. Everything is in motion, nothing is at rest, and the logistics are starting to weigh on us. This must be done before that. That cannot be started before this. When will we have time to do the other thing?

A brief update.

This was all more-or-less hypothetical before two weeks ago. Yes, we’d engaged the activities of a lot of people on our behalf, including the imaginations and well-wishing of our old friends in Fort Collins, and potential new friends in Ukiah, and it would have been downright rude to say, “Nah, just kidding.” We’d have had to cancel our contract with our realtor, which would have been a little worse than rude. But we could have easily backed out of the whole thing.

Two weeks ago on Friday, the house went on the market and entered the Fort Collins multi-list. On Saturday, the realtor held an Open House, and over 100 people showed up to look at the place. Sunday was Easter, but we had two informal indications of interest on Monday, and two written offers by Tuesday morning. So if we ignore Friday (late listing) and Sunday (Easter), the house was actually on the market for two days.

We signed a contract to sell on that Wednesday, and now it’s real. Really real. On May 15, 2015, we lose the right to live in this house, and while it isn’t done until the ink is dry, it’s done: inspection was waived, appraiser has come and gone, and now it’s just the paperwork grinding forward. Movers are hired and scheduled. We’ve sold stuff we don’t want. A buyer is delivering a check for the piano tonight, and will arrange to move it before we go. I’ve pulled books off my shelves for donation. We’ve worked out how to move the money around for the necessary expenses.

The only thing missing is our destination.

That isn’t exactly true. We’re working on the destination, and will hopefully have the logistics worked out sometime next week. The place looks perfect for us, is within budget — it’s a rental — and the owners, who are currently living there, have reviewed our rental application and are thrilled with the idea of us renting from them. There is willingness on both ends. It’s a matter of formalizing it, and the logistics.

But the T’s are not crossed, and the I’s are not dotted, and we are this weekend engaged in that terrifying void that is usually called a “leap of faith.”

It isn’t the kind of leap of faith made by an eighteen-year-old who hitch-hikes to New York or Los Angeles to become a star, much less the leap made by immigrants who walk across multiple national borders hoping for asylum in a far-away country named only in local legends. We’ve studied, estimated, visited, and conferred. We aren’t immune to bad judgment, but we aren’t entirely naive. We have contingency plans.

But as of this moment, with our house vanishing from under us on May 15, we do not yet have a new address. It’s a little scary.

Which brings me back to this idea of a “leap of faith.” What does that really mean?

I’ve gradually come to the understanding that the word “faith” is — like most words employed for political purposes — almost useless as a word. As Iñigo Montoya said in the film, The Princess Bride, “I do not think that word means what you think it means.” It’s been employed to invoke God or the gods, to signal political affiliation, to declare support for absurdities. I think that faith is a much simpler thing.

Faith means a perspective that declares the world to be fundamentally either livable, or unlivable. One can believe in a “good world,” where the air is breathable and the water and food wholesome, where people will help you in your time of need, and where the sun and the rain and the earth are generally sufficient; where life is, despite hardships, worth living. One can equally believe in a “bad world,” where the air chokes and the water and food are laced with poisons, where people will turn their backs on you or try to cheat you, and where the sun and water and earth are toxic; where life is, despite its momentary pleasures, not worth living.

Any faith beyond that simple assertion of a “good world” or a “bad world” is politics.

Despite my occasional pessimism, especially when writing, my faith rests in a good world. When I read the opening creation tale in Genesis of the Christian Bible, I see that God looked on all he had made, and it was good. When I look at evolution in the larger sense, I see congruent adaptation, life-forms that match their environment, not life-forms that struggle against their environment. Even in my callow youth, I never believed in the “conquest of nature” for human purposes. We are not inherently at war with our environment.

We belong here, on Earth. It was made for us. Or we, for it. Or both, for each other.

In our case, there is a wholesome sense of rightness to this venture, this adventure, which has been there from the first moment we contemplated it. We could debate where this sense comes from, but given the smoothness with which everything else in this process has moved, I like to see a kind of destiny involved: a congruency, if you will, like a parrot flying north due to global warming and finding just the right habitat. A sense of flowing with a river that is bigger than our arbitrary day-to-day decisions.

So even though we hang in a momentary weekend void where we know we are leaving, but do not know (exactly) where we are going, I find that my faith leans toward believing that it will all work itself out, as it should, as it must, as it will.

Drying Up

images-1Two people responded to my Facebook post about moving to California with concerns about water. I’d like to talk a little about this, because it’s certainly been on my mind, too.

In the very worst case, if our experience turns out to be intolerable, we’ll leave. This move is a venture, even an adventure, not a life sentence.

In the meantime, I note that we’re coming from a low-water, drought-prone region. We’re accustomed to minding our water use. Marta replaced all of our toilets with low-flow units (she’s the handy-person in the house), and we’ve spent the last couple of years test-plotting various low-water vegetation around the house, with an eye to eventually eliminating the lawn and the sprinkler system (though we’d keep the drip lines in place). We’re prepared to do the same there.

I’m just beginning to learn about the water situation in California, but what I already know is that it’s considerably more complex than the simplistic disaster-porn headlines you see on the Internet.

The first thing to know about the water situation (anywhere) is that it’s almost always, and almost entirely, about agriculture. Here in Larimer County, only 17% of the water goes to non-agricultural purposes, and only 7% to “domestic use,” meaning those lush suburbs with their green lawns and automatic clothes-washing machines and backyard swimming pools.

The same is true in California. The water crisis is primarily about agribusiness, with the possible exception of the Los Angeles and San Francisco urban areas. If I were planning to buy a vineyard in Mendocino County, with the intent to make a living as a vintner, I’d certainly want to know a lot more about the water situation than I do. On the other hand, the existing vineyards aren’t pulling out their vines and replacing them with agave just yet.

The second thing to know is that seven-year droughts are normal to Northern California. With global warming, this could turn into fifty- or hundred-year droughts; it could even desiccate the entire state and turn it into a true, long-term desert. But the time-scale on global warming is fairly long, fifty to one hundred years on the inside, a thousand years on the outside. Yes, it makes sense to take action now to mitigate human behaviors that exacerbate global warming for centuries to come; that mitigation does not, however, include living in one place or another.

Another way to put this is to say that, yes, a century from now, Mendocino County may be an uninhabitable, waterless desert wasteland, in which case our great-grandchildren will not live there.  We do nothing to help or hurt the matter by living there now, while it is habitable.

Of more concern is the politics of water. The ghastly pictures you see on the Internet of dried-up lake beds and reservoirs has to do with draining them. They aren’t lakes that are just drying up of their own accord. They are reserves of water that are being used.

The same is true of the aquifers under the soil. These are not drying up: they are being used.

What drains the lakes, reservoirs, and aquifers is politics and free-market economics, and the lion’s share of that water goes to agribusiness. Perhaps it goes to fracking, too — I’m not sure where that boondoggle stands in California right now. Researching all that will give me plenty to blog about.

How it will play out over the next century is anyone’s guess. Neither of us will be around to see it. At the moment, however, Northern California got some rain this last winter, if not as much as they’d like, and the county has negotiated some additional foot-acreage in Mendocino Lake for local use, so the area continues to be eminently livable.

Far more important to me than any of these rational considerations about water, and foot-acres, and NASA climate modeling, is the question of whether our personal actions and life-choices are dominated by fear of what might happen, or joy in what might happen.

Our brains are wired to give more weight to fear than to joy. A big part of what we call “spirituality” has to do with overcoming this tendency to focus on the negative, and to instead cultivate an attitude of gratitude and joy. That’s true of Christianity (in its non-pathological expressions), Islam (in its non-pathological expressions), Tibetan Buddhism, Confucianism, Wicca, Druidry, and most other spiritual paths and practices you might care to list.

We’re moving from a land of forest fires, spring flash floods, drought, tornados, blizzards, and West Nile Virus, to a land of earthquakes, winter floods, drought, and whatever else.

It will be an adventure.

As the Imagined Becomes Real

Sometime back in mid-February, an odd series of events sent Marta to the web, and what she found there made my jaw drop! (Isn’t that the Internet formula to draw readers?)

What she found was that the cost of living in Northern California is not very different from the cost of living in Fort Collins.

Marta and I both work from home, via the Internet. We can both live anywhere in the world with Internet access.

We have been restless and looking to move since 2006. We just didn’t have a place to go to, and it was important to us to be moving toward something. We’ve considered places as far away as New Zealand. We’d seriously considered Spain, and were in the early stages of planning another trip there. We’d talked about every region, and virtually every state in the United States. Every state, that is, except California.

I’ve always wanted to live in California. My first choice of graduate schools was Stanford: had I been accepted there, I’d have gone in a heartbeat. I wasn’t, so I didn’t. Then later in life, I accepted the common wisdom that anyone who owned a doghouse with attached water bowl in California could sell it, and use the profits to buy forty acres in Colorado and build a McMansion, and still live comfortably on what was left over. I’d heard many stories of well-paid (by my standards) IT and tech wizards living in their cars, because they could not afford any kind of housing. Some corporations would buy out entire floors of office buildings, or even entire office buildings, then convert them to dormitories for their key workers.

No, thank you.

Marta has lived in California, while she was in school in Monterey, and has always wanted to go back. Again, the barrier was cost.

So this cost of living information was Big News, and we started to investigate. The investigation turned into imagining, the imagining has turned to planning, and the plan is becoming real.

290-wagonTrain2Marta and I are moving to California!

Our landing spot is a very small town about two and a half hours north of San Francisco, near the headwaters of the Russian River, in the middle of the northern wine country and redwood forests: it’s called Ukiah, population 16,000.

There are two main issues driving this change of location.

The first issue is weather.

I’m pretty much done with snow and ice. When I was younger, the smell of snow in the air was always exciting, because it meant ski season. But I know too many friends — better skiers than I ever was — who now set off metal detectors in airports and have a first-name relationship with a physical therapist. I sold my skis and boots years ago, and don’t expect to be buying new ones in this life.

Nothing has taken the place of skiing for me in the winter. Nothing except shoveling walks.

There’s a story of a sailor who grew tired of the sea, so he threw an oar over his shoulder and started to walk inland. Many weeks later, a child asked him, “Hey, mister, what’s that thing you’ve got over your shoulder?” and he decided he’d walked far enough.

I want to throw a snow shovel over my shoulder and start walking.

Marta gets up early to walk the dog — I rise later, after a hard night’s blogging. More than once, I’ve awakened to the sound of Marta crying in the kitchen or dining room, and I’ve leapt out of bed to find that she slipped on a sidewalk during her walk and smacked her head, or her hip. I even blogged about one of those incidents. We’ve both had more than enough of that.

imagesUkiah has what is called a “temperate Mediterranean” climate. It does get hot in the summer — days can peak at over 110° F. However, it’s dry heat, and unlike Texas or parts of the Midwest, the temperature invariably drops at night into the 50’s or 60’s. In winter, they see snow every two or three years, a light dusting that closes all the schools and then melts in a day or two.

No one owns a snow shovel. Many might not even recognize one. It sounds like the ideal place for me to stop carrying that snow shovel over my shoulder.

The second issue is more subtle.

When I moved to Fort Collins in 1988, it had a population of 85,000. It now stands at 152,000, and it’s one of the fastest-growing urban areas in the nation.

Some time in the last twenty-seven years, Fort Collins changed from a town into a city. It’s a beautiful city. But it’s a city now, not a town.

The change from year to year has been subtle. Each year, the traffic is a little heavier. Driving across town used to take seven minutes; now it takes twenty. Supermarkets are crowded. Lines are longer. There is more noise, and fewer smiles. Even the bike trails, which used to be exercise in relative isolation, get crowded on a fine spring morning.

It all came home to me the Wednesday evening after we returned from our trip to check out Ukiah in person. I discovered that Joshua Bell, the violinist, was playing the next night in Fort Collins. I ran to my computer, but tickets were, of course, sold out. They’d probably sold out within 24 hours of announcing the concert. That exemplified, for me, the whole problem.

A little town like Fort Collins in the 1970’s would probably never have attracted an artist like Joshua Bell, certainly not on any regular basis. A city like Fort Collins in 2015 can attract such talent, but you have to be quick and aggressive to take advantage of such opportunities. If you aren’t quick and aggressive, you miss out. Events sell out; venues fill up; there are no parking spaces.

When I was in my twenties and thirties, I enjoyed opportunities like these. It didn’t bother me to brave traffic into the heart of Denver to see New Year’s Eve fireworks, or to park in some dodgy downtown parking lot to attend a talk or see a show. I would stand in line for hours at the theater to catch the first showing of a new film. I was perfectly happy to catch dinner at ten in the evening, stay out drinking until two in the morning, then get up the next day to drive to Larkspur for the Renaissance Fair.

That doesn’t work for me any more. I am not, in fact, growing quicker and more aggressive as the years pass. Nor is Marta. We miss most of the opportunities that a city offers, and a missed opportunity is not much different from no opportunity at all.

For a town of 16,000, Ukiah is surprisingly vibrant. We timed our trip there to coincide with First Friday, the Art Walk the town sponsors on the first Friday evening of each month, similar to the First Friday that Fort Collins sponsors. The event in Ukiah was more active and far more sociable, and we felt welcomed, though we were complete strangers. We went to the Saturday Farmer’s Market, held every Saturday year-round (unless Christmas falls on Saturday), and found the same kind of sociability, as well as fresh organic produce: the entire county was doing “organic” back in the 1960’s. There’s a symphony orchestra, an active music scene, and a long tradition of fine arts. There are numerous good restaurants, and they were all busy the nights we were there, in the middle of the town’s off-season (they do have a tourist season). They have festivals of one sort or another nearly every weekend, starting in spring and extending into the fall, like many of the small towns in Germany that I visited in 2002.

The best part is that the way people interact reminds me a lot of the town that Fort Collins used to be. People meet your eyes, smile, and greet you in the street: it’s a small town, not a city. It feels like going home.

So the imagined is becoming real for us.