A Life of Servitude

After reading atleasthaveafrigginglass’ post https://atleastihaveafrigginglass.com/2022/03/10/training-myrtle/ about his cat, Myrtle, training him to do her bidding, I was quite gratified to realize that my cats are actually rather benevolent dictators. Unlike Myrtle, my feline overlords are reasonable in their demands and not too severe in meting out punishment.

Shola Ebola is our little sweetheart who sneaks into your lap before you realize you’ve been pinned to your chair. Any attempt to dislodge her is like moving a dead animal. She simply goes limp and gives you a look that says, “I’m quite comfortable right here, thank you.” She came from the neighbors, in heat, and refused to go home after we had her spayed.

Ava Braun is the take-no-prisoners, suffer-no-fools, female Hitler. The dogs are wary of her and the cats show due respect. We pet her cautiously when she demands it, watching carefully for that twitch of displeasure that says a bite will follow. Her elderly staff had died and we took her in when the surviving children threatened to euthanize her. Arriving at her new home, she stepped out of the carrier and was immediately in charge. There was none of the typical cowering under furniture or showing deference to the cats already in residence. She had witnessed her litter mates being devoured by coyotes and watched her beloved benefactor wither and die. Life held no terrors for her.

Jet Lee, our only male, tolerates the females, avoids the dogs, and shows up at meal time, which is about twenty times a day. He demands the costliest of manufactured cat foods, tries to bury the homemade chicken and liver pate that I make for the girls, and will only eat when his bowl is placed in the proper place. His name came from his youthful antics but he’s long since outgrown the moniker.

And last to join our crew is Cholla, so named for the jumping cactus she resembled. This cheeky kitten trotted out of the brush and joined our pack when she was about six weeks old. Too confident and inquisitive for her own good, she is the only one who is not allowed to go outside without a chaperone. Even with supervision, she went over the fence into the neighbor’s dog run. She believes she’s a dog but I doubt the dogs would have recognized her as such. Another time she escaped and came home with one of Mike’s beloved finches in her mouth. That went over like the proverbial turd in a punch bowl.

All things considered, the dogs are easier to please: they eat whatever is put into their bowls; they are happy to stay inside and happy to go out; they eagerly jump into the car even when I tell them we’re going to the vet; they go outside to do their business, though they don’t bury it. We’re working on that last bit. So far they have the hole digging down pat but they haven’t figured out the most important part of the operation.

Weighty Issues

So, the United States Senate has voted unanimously to extend daylight savings time to year round. If it takes something like this to get bi-partisanship, I guess I should graciously accept it but it does make me wonder why this issue is even on the agenda when historically, states have decided what time they want it to be. According to this article in the Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/03/17/senate-time/, many of those voting didn’t even know what they were voting for. My guess is, that’s not uncommon, just based on some of the questionable things the Senate has passed in the past.

Just Another Walk in the Wash

Let me introduce you to a friend about whom I haven’t written before; Karen is a woman who wasn’t easy to like initially. Dishearteningly attractive in a seemingly careless way, she’s slim, fit, and appealing to the men in our cycling group because she can actually keep up with them on a long climb. She’s a kindergarten teacher and has cultivated a sweet way of talking that men just react to like a bee to a heavily pollen-laden flower. I’m betting that her students of twenty years ago still sigh when they think of Ms. Karen. Her charms were not lost on my partner who glowed when she turned her gaze in his direction. So, obviously, I wasn’t that charmed by her since I couldn’t keep up with her, much less hold a conversation with her when I could. As luck would have it, there was an after-ride party planned and I, having decided that jealousy was coloring my opinion of this woman, decided to put myself in the seat next to her and get acquainted. It took about two minutes to discover that we were both avid readers and had more to talk about than the evening would allow. Subsequent conversations revealed that she was caring for an ageing mom, like I was, and Mike’s girlfriend became mine. When our moms died, the friendship was cemented as we grieved together.

So, back to the walk in the wash. Karen agreed to walk with the girls and me before she had to go to work. We set off towards the wash, on my regular turf, at a more brisk pace than we usually go on our own, so I calculated that we would be able to cover what I call the Seadoo loop in the allotted hour. But, the faint coyote trail that I usually take to the Seadoo trail was obscured by spring grasses and I missed it.

The Seadoo trail

The stimulating conversation had distracted me and I found that we had overshot the trail so I headed cross country, with a stern reminder to be wary of snakes. After a short distance, we came to a sharply cut bank that had been carved by last year’s flash floods. Karen and I each picked a descent that appeared to be navigable but hers proved to be unstable, and she fell on her backside and slid down the embankment with some good-sized rocks following her. Thankfully, she regained her feet with nothing more than a bruised bum and we struck a path towards the southern bank.

Within minutes, we were confronted with an old flood control levy that I didn’t recognize. Thinking that climbing to the top of the embankment would allow us to get a better view of the terrain, and get our bearings, we scrambled to the top. This more level area was dotted with cactus, but spurred on by our time constraints, we pushed on in the direction we knew we had to go to get back to the car. After making very little headway, the cactus growing more dense at every turn, I decided that we were totally !@#$ed. We could neither go forward nor retrace our steps without serious danger of getting punctured by either cactus or snakes or both. I told Karen to take my car key and make her way back to the road without me and get to work as fast as possible. I would wend my way back to the sandy wash bottom with the dogs, at my own pace. The dogs were more vulnerable to the cactus than we were because we could step over some of them and they were forced to jump. Molly isn’t much of a jumper.

We parted ways. I was more worried about Karen than I was about the dogs and me because we were in familiar territory and Karen wasn’t. I encouraged Molly to find a way back to the sandy wash bottom and it took her only a couple of minutes to find a coyote trail that wove through the cactus, back to the embankment we had climbed earlier; but since we were considerably farther upstream than where we had climbed out, there didn’t appear to be any safe way down to the wash. Between the proverbial rock and a hard spot, we chose the precarious and precipitous route the coyotes take. A loose, rocky chute led straight down the twenty-foot embankment. Remembering Karen’s fall earlier, I took the seat-of-the-pants stance and crabbed my way down with the dogs following carefully behind.

Now safely in the sandy, rocky wash bed, I texted Karen to make sure she had found her way back to the road and the car. She had made her way through a quarter of a mile of cactus maze, only to be confronted with a six-foot high, chain link fence barring her way. Undaunted, she found a space where the wildlife had made a narrow space under the fence and proceeded to crawl under it. My car, with it’s antiquated emergency brake pedal, on the floor, stymied her briefly, but after accidentally releasing the hood latch, she managed to find it and drive the mile back to my house to retrieve her own car.

My route up the wash bottom was easier going but with cactus quills stuck in both thighs, walking was an uncomfortable affair. As soon as I reached the road, I called Mike to come to pick us up. Quill removal took up the rest of the morning.

Karen reported nothing worse than a few scratches and bruises and, astoundingly, proposed another hike next week, though she added, “Next week, let’s do a walk with a little less adventure. We can save those for less time constraining days!!” See why I enjoy her friendship?

A Change in the Hood

I’ve mentioned in previous blogs that my modest (read ramshackle) neighborhood is racially and age diverse which means we enjoy (using the term loosely) the sounds, smells, and sights of other cultures up close and personal. The most noticeable cultural difference between my neighbors and me is their appreciation of noise. Fireworks, loud automobiles, barking dogs, and raucous parties, blaring music at concert level only elicit sighs of resignation among the older contingent who can barely remember those pleasures and now crave the sounds of silence. There’s nothing like tinnitus to hone one’s appreciation of silence.

When I moved into this neighborhood, I was the youngster (twenty). There was a middle-aged family in the house on one side and grandparents on the other side. I’m sure they cringed when they saw us move in with a horse, dogs, cats, and friends who partied until all hours. So, frankly, I deserve whatever I get in my old age.

Over the years, the grandparents to the north died, leaving the house to kids and grandkids who didn’t bear any resemblance to their tidy fore bearers but eventually their deferred maintenance of the property overwhelmed them and they sold the derelict property to me.

Restoration in progress
The gentrification completed

The house to the south was sold a couple of times during my tenure, the last time to a family with two pre-teens who grew into typically obnoxious teens, became adults, moved out, had kids, moved back in with mom and dad along with their dogs and chickens and finally moved out again. Just when it looked like we were going to have a nice quiet, adult neighborhood, they sold their house to live in an RV.

So, we have new neighbors and everyone is watching with bated breath to see what kind of neighbors they will be. Of utmost interest is what kind of person pays $535,000 for a house in this neighborhood?

https://www.redfin.com/CA/Mentone/1358-Opal-Ave-92359/home/3471855

Is it the beginning of gentrification? Despite the glowing description on Redfin, the new owners are busily working evenings tearing out tile and peaking our curiosity about what improvements they have in mind for the recently renovated interior. I’m excited because I can hear them speaking Spanish and have high hopes of having opportunities to practice my limited speaking skills. The vanity plates on the truck in the driveway say, “El Jefe8” (the boss) so I wonder if he’s driving his wife’s truck.

Feeling Like a Ten-year Old

Scabby shins, helmet hair, farmer’s tan lines, bruises of forgotten origin, deeply satisfying exhaustion, well-deserved hunger, and a profound appreciation of a nap, these are the side effects of a bike ride that a ten-year old rarely considers. What registers with a youngster’s consciousness (and I’m using the term youngster figuratively here) when she swings a leg over her steed is a euphoric sense of freedom, a visceral joy of the physical body and the anticipation of sights, to be seen, smelled and heard at a pace determined by her own legs. It’s said that there’s no pleasure without pain and cycling illustrates that in spades. Grinding in a tediously slow, low gear up a hill, is rewarded by a wind in the face descent that gives you the sense of a conquering Mongol, galloping her pony across the plain.

This time of year, the hills are green and carpeted in wildflowers. Cool, sunny days are made for outdoor activities. Knowing I should be home pulling weeds and preparing the garden for spring planting, makes escaping to the trails all the more delicious.

Simple Pleasures for Simple Minds

Photo by Joey Genovese on Unsplash

Rising gas prices trouble me little in spite of the fact that I drive a shamefully inefficient vehicle, because I rarely fill my tank more often than once a month. So, whether it costs $50 or $150, the impact is negligible to my budget. However, my disdain for opportunistic capitalists who use every rumor to immediately raise the price of the refined product does influence the way I think about purchasing it.

It irritates me when the media make dire predictions of gross increases in price for a product that’s months down the line, paving the way for purveyors to immediately raise prices at the pump. For instance, the US has not yet stopped purchasing oil from Russia (thought there is talk) and yet the prices at the pump are already reflecting anticipations of shortages. Depending on the source, the U.S. imports about 40% of its oil (though it is a net exporter of oil and petroleum products), of which a scant 3% (of that 40%) comes from Russia. Now I’m no mathematician, but I can’t seem to make that evolve into a $2.00/gallon increase at the pump without considering that someone is profiteering from the war in Ukraine. I’m willing to consider that transportation of the raw product accounts for a portion of the cost but there are many sources closer than Russia.

So, here’s my proposition, and admittedly it’s rather simplistic, but I am a simple minded person, everyone should cut consumption. Remember, when folks first started staying home in 2019, and gas prices tumbled? It wouldn’t take much of a cut in consumption to make up for that .012% of oil that Russia will have to sell elsewhere on the world market.

So, here are my tips for conservation:

Slow down – instead of driving 10 – 15 miles per hour over the speed limit, drive just 5 mph over. The additional reaction time allowed by traveling just 70 mph will make texting considerably easier and safer.

Accelerate as if you’re driving grandma’s 1979 Buick – most fuel is consumed while achieving velocity, so go easy on the accelerator pedal.

As expensive as jack-rabbit starts are, sliding stops are almost as costly. When you see an impending stop ahead, remove your foot from the gas and allow your vehicle to coast for a bit before using the brake. Every second you coast, you are driving for free. And a bonus is fewer brake jobs and less frequent tire replacement.

Never pull the car out of the garage for a single errand. Always combine trips to the grocery store with a drive to work, a visit with your folks, a dentist appointment, a trip to the auto body repair shop (don’t bother with those little scrapes where the speedier, unenlightened drivers have resorted to pushing you through the intersection).

As a last resort, and this should probably be first, ride a bike. At first, a two mile ride to the fruit stand might seem daunting in the uphill direction (here, in my valley, everything is either uphill or down) but with some conditioning, you will learn to enjoy traveling farther and farther. Next, pick up a little trailer for your bike at a garage sale. Folks are always buying them, thinking they will tote the little ones around, but then those tykes grow into chubby adolescents and it’s not so much fun anymore. It’s actually fun to come out of the grocery store with 40 lbs. of provisions and then try to sprint home before the ice cream melts. There are few pleasures greater than a bowl of soft ice cream at the end of a hot ride.

Bad-Ass Women

Another weekend of perfect weather made outdoor adventures mandatory. Sally and I were feeling lazy, so I proposed a route that promised very few steep grades. Starting from my driveway, we pedaled companionably across town (if you can call Mentone a town) on paved streets, until we reached the conservancy in Marlboro Hills. There’s only one steep climb and that’s preceded by a thrilling downhill that allows one to use momentum to ascend at least a quarter of it with no effort.

We paused at the secret spring at the college entrance where a tiny pond collects enough water for small fish to propagate. Though it’s within sight of the road, it feels secluded as it’s surrounded by the natural canyon wall and some strategically planted eucalyptus trees. After a short rest, we continued up through the college, taking the most gradual route to the Crafton Hills Conservancy. Due to our lethargy, we contemplated turning towards home at various points but found ourselves at the Back Breaker intersection and again paused to consider our options.

Intersection of Back Breaker and the fire road

Sally lay in the grass while I reclined on the bench, reveling in the childlike pleasure of having nowhere to be but in the moment. Continuing east meant climbing the fire road, which was mostly not very steep, and turning back involved one hike-a-bike climb (the previously mentioned thrilling downhill), so we opted for the continued gradual ascent. I suppose our old-lady-paced ascent had us feeling appropriately guilty, so I suggested we take the Long Cut which meant a short effort with a meaningful descent back to the fire road. By “meaningful”, of course, I mean exhilarating. We lowered our seats and pointed our bikes downhill, scouting ahead for ruts or other obstacles. The very end of the Long Cut drops off an embankment that’s about 15′ high and you can’t really see the trail until you’re committed, so it lends a bit of excitement.

The confidence-building part of Roller Coaster

Having roused our inner mountain biker instinct with a smidge of adrenaline, I continued down the ridge without consulting Sally. She, naturally, followed me. The next section of confidence-building trail had us at the intersection of three options: climb back up to the Yikes trail (not going to happen); continue down Escalator (not all that interesting); or ROLLER COASTER (shudder!). To my utter amazement, Sally voted for Roller Coaster. We were tired and it offered the shortest (read “steepest”) route home.

I know I’ve described Roller Coaster before, but each time we ride it, it’s a new adventure. The trail changes with every rain storm and the traction varies from non-existent to barely noticeable. What never changes is how sweaty my hands get when I describe it. After an introductory, gentle swoop down and then up, the trail simply disappears. Until, that is, your front wheel is over the edge and the hill falls away into an abyss with a menacing rut meandering along the line you want to ride.

Once you have gathered the courage to slide down the steepest part, navigated the berm that forces you onto the edge of the rut, there’s a lovely rollout to the next ascent. And then the trail rolls benignly through a tunnel of aromatic brush, until….you arrive at the final descent to the highway. Oh, I skipped a couple of interesting sections but they pale by comparison to the FINAL descent.

Honestly, the traction was pretty good and Sally was right on my wheel as I made the turn onto what’s probably, no definitely, the most challenging section of trail. At first it’s steep, but there are no real challenges as you can pretty much either control your slide or not, as long as you regain control by the time you get to the part where the ruts start to vie for your attention. At this point, you had better be looking ahead for a place to bleed off some speed because, if you brake too hard here, you will certainly slip into the rut. Okay, if I’m honest, you can ride the rut because it’s not that deep and it’s fairly straight. But, for the sake of the story, let’s say I skillfully avoided sliding into the treacherous rut. There was a point at which I was thinking of looking for a place to bail out, but short of laying the bike down sideways, there were no options but to focus and ride it.

Arriving at the bottom of the hill, breathless and pumped, I looked back to find Sally coming down, skillfully and in perfect control. She had never managed to ride this entire hill before and was justifiably proud of the accomplishment.

Feeling like champions, we rode the rest of the way down the wash trails, our fatigue completely obliterated by adrenaline. When a couple of manly-man, four-by-four, trucks rolled by with their tattooed drivers piloting them, I said to Sally, “They think they’re bad-ass.”

She replied, “They don’t know what bad-ass is!”

You Can’t Love ’em and You Can’t Kill ’em (warning: nudity and gore ahead)

My sister is scanning and organizing her old photos and journals and frequently sends me the gems from our past. We looked so carefree and untouched by any premonition of what lay ahead in life.

Remembering, my sister and I refer to periods in our life by which man had been our partner for that decade. I was married for ten years to the love of my life. His joie de vivre was unlimited. Wine, women, song, there was never enough. I moved on. I’d had enough women!

I brilliantly chose another alcoholic, thinking I could fix this one because he wasn’t a womanizer. I spent another ten years on that fixer-upper. He was clean and sober when I figured out alcohol wasn’t the problem.

I finally chose a man who had a reasonable relationship with both alcohol and women AND could fix things. Thirty years later, I still love him beyond all reason. I mean that literally. He’s the smartest man in any room, rabidly opinionated, egocentric to the point of narcissism, honest to a fault, genuinely egalitarian, kind to animals, patient with children, profligate, introspective, unsentimental but eternally romantic. There are so many times when I wonder how it came to this…

A Winter? Ride

A regular winter ride in my neck of the woods is normally one of several local trails, either in the wash or the foothills that surround the valley. But February, in Southern California isn’t your typical winter, with warm sunny days and sleep-with-the-windows-open nights. Daytime temperatures in the high 80s, motivated Sally and me to load the bikes onto the bike rack and drive to Mountain Home Village (elevation 3,700′) where the Mountain Home Creek trail begins the ascent to Angelus Oaks (5,800′). Just a few weeks ago this route was impassable with snow, but today the trail was in fine form.

A couple of years ago, a utility company had restored the abandoned road to a navigable two-track in order to bury fiber optic cable. This had destroyed what had become a beautiful single track trail over the years. Fortunately, there had been a bit of a flash flood in the mountains, in November, which all but restored it to its previous condition. Rock slides, fallen trees, deep sand and wash outs all made the trail interesting again.

When we came to The Avalanche, I had some trouble making it up the steep incline because the traction was loose and mostly because I’m a klutz. I made it half way before spinning out, so I turned the bike back downhill to try it again. A couple of hikers were closing in which was incentive to clear it on the second attempt. Nearly to the top, I stalled, this time high centered on my seat and unable to clip out of my pedals as I was momentarily unsure of which way the bike was going to go over. As luck would have it, the bike tipped towards the outside (towards the downhill side) which probably looked pretty exciting from below, but I got my foot on the ground before there was any danger of toppling over the edge. When I turned around for the third try, the old hikers (probably my age) were standing in the trail waiting for me to clear the way. The old gentleman kindly mansplained to me how I needed to put more weight on my back wheel and then stand up to pedal to the top. I showed what I thought was commendable restraint by not saying anything unkind in return. In his defense, I did look like quite the novice. On the third assault, I found the sweet spot, the perfect speed and gear, and sailed up as I’ve done at least a hundred times before and I’m sure the gentleman was left with the belief that his generous coaching had enabled me to succeed.

Cresting the top of The Avalanche

We climbed as far as The Bench and decided that there was no compelling reason to pedal the last two miles to The Oaks restaurant as the food wasn’t that good and we were tired, so tired, in fact, that even the downhill seemed like more effort than we cared to expend. But, of course, as soon as we pointed the bikes down the newly restored trail, we regained our enthusiasm. Riding The Avalanche from the uphill direction is merely a matter of carefully gauging your speed as you come into it. Approach too slowly and you are going to have to pedal to the top, which as described previously, can be problematic. If, on the other hand, you sail up too fast to make the slight turn at the top, you could fly right off the trail. Oh, and one more consideration is that approaching from the uphill side, you can’t see if anyone is ascending from the downhill side. I really didn’t want to mow down the elderly hikers…well at least not his woman companion. As fate would have it, just as I accelerated for the ascent, a guy on a gravel bike crested the top of the berm coming from the opposite direction, oblivious to his peril. I skidded to a stop with room to spare but his eyes were as big as saucers.

The Bad Ass Great Grandma
https://unsplash.com/photos/9q5vptiE2TY?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditShareLink

Seventeen weeks or 119 days, which sounds longer? How about almost four months? If you had told me when I was ten years old, that you were taking me to Disneyland in four months, it would have been excruciating to have to wait so long; but ironically, at this age, when active life ahead looks like a narrow window of time, I will treasure every one of those 119 days of planning and anticipation. Maybe it has to do with how quickly time passes as we age. I read somewhere that there’s a reason time speeds up as we grow older; it’s because our brains form fewer memories which condenses our memories into a fast-motion scene when we review them. Probably pseudo science.

At any rate, my Word Press ramblings serve as a detailed memory that should entertain me when I’m confined to a nursing home but not yet drooling in my laptop.

MFN Tamera expressed an interest in attending her high school reunion, but didn’t want to leave her Mini-Aussie, Lucy behind, which precluded flying from Denver to California. While the idea of leaving my girls behind wasn’t ideal, I offered to fly to Denver and join her for a girl’s auto trip across my beloved desert Southwest. I’ll miss the Wanderlust with it’s cozy bed and efficiency kitchen, but the convenience of popping into a hotel for a hot shower, a clean bed, and mediocre coffee has its appeal too.

I’ve already plotted the itinerary, complete with breaks in the driving (I have very limited tolerance for sitting still), that include hikes, ghost towns, a burned suspension bridge and stops at favorite restaurants. Our first night is four hours from DIA where I land mid-day, so the drive is proportionally long compared to the hike. Rifle Falls State Park should be just perfect for a late afternoon walk. https://cpw.state.co.us/placestogo/parks/RifleFalls

Our next hotel is in Moab. I’m steeling myself for the changes tourism has brought to this “ugly little town” that Edward Abbey so loved/hated. All of the things that curmudgeon loathed have reproduced themselves exponentially. I usually read parts of Dessert Solitaire before I visit Moab to refresh the sense of loss. I first started going to Moab once a year in the 1980s and each time we turned off the freeway towards this mountain biker’s paradise, my heart would swell as if I were returning to a home I’d known in a previous incarnation. Even then, the scars of human abuse were everywhere, beginning with the uranium tailings that covered many acres at the edge of town, adjacent to the Colorado River (a major source of water for much of Nevada, Arizona, and California). I read recently that there is a clean-up operation in progress. Once it’s completed, a hotel chain will probably build a high-rise on the site. Bring your Geiger counter if you book a room there.

After a hike up Grandstaff Canyon, (formerly known as Nigger Bill Canyon, then renamed Negro Bill Canyon when the trail namers became aware of the offensiveness of the original name, and finally William Grandstaff was appropriately remembered when it was renamed Grandstaff https://moabmuseum.org/william-grandstaff/ ) we will grab a bite to eat in Moab before checking into our sterile, chain hotel. It’s called something reminiscent of a boutique hotel but is probably owned by Hilton. Energy levels permitting, we will do another short hike or stroll the main street, where my favorite bookstore, Back of Beyond, still lives, or so I’m told.

If we can tear ourselves away from the splendors of this scenic area, we will proceed to Escalante where our “cabin” at Yonder awaits. I’m hoping we have the strength, after an afternoon of hiking along the Escalante River, to wander over to the drive-in movie theater for some popcorn in a vintage car. https://www.stayyonder.com/?gclid=Cj0KCQiA3fiPBhCCARIsAFQ8QzVFmlIXRelSKILI0BQ0P4xX_He9DqqaWYT8pvG4-px0GlkBSruYpn8aAiOHEALw_wcB

Another four hour drive, through Bryce Canyon and Cedar Breaks, to Overton, will bring us to within striking distance of Valley of Fire. It may be too hot for little Lucy and my heat-sensitive niece to hike in June, but VoF lends itself to auto touring as the Big Horn Sheep graze obligingly close to the road and pose for photos when approached.

I will fill you in on all of the exciting events of the trip as they happen. I hope “exciting” is an exaggeration, but as you well know, I do play fast and loose with the truth.