Saturday, August 30, 2008

Color The Skies 2008

Over at the Piker Press, I have an article about the Color The Skies event in Ripon, CA.

This morning I went to the 2008 launch, and it was just as wonderful as last year's. More so, really, because I knew where to stand and what to look for.

Once again, I got some grand photos, and a couple videos, too. Photos can be seen here, and I'll post the link to the videos tomorrow, when I'm not so brain-weary.

Bernie came home around four, and rather than miss the event, stayed up instead of going to bed. We were at the Mistlin Sports fields by 5am, standing in line for breakfast. Then we went to hang out by the balloons as they were unpacked and laid out on the ground.

Not only did we have the thrill of seeing the propane burners tested -- in the dark before dawn, so impressive! -- but got to stand right in among the balloons as they were being inflated. They are so huge that our sky was literally filled with color.

After the Piker Press article was up last week, I dropped a line to Jessica Coleman, the founder of the event, and let her know where to view it on line. She wrote back a very encouraging message, saying she liked the article a lot.

This morning, I happened to recognize her from her website photos, and as she walked by, I called out her name, and introduced myself to her. One of the coolest things I've ever heard myself say was, "Jessica?" (I extended my hand) "I'm Sand Pilarski. I wrote the story on the Piker Press."

I'm still giggling over her enthusiastic thank you.

Weather Change

On Friday afternoon the sky was filled with this kind of cloud.

They always make me nervous, as sometimes they precede horrible wind storms, sometimes nasty heat waves.

24 hours later, the wind has picked up, not too badly, and the temperature is about 10 degrees cooler than it was yesterday at this time.

Tomorrow, they say, will be 10 degrees cooler still.

Glad I got my swimming in yesterday.

Friday, August 29, 2008

10k for Labor Day, 2008

I have no idea why I think I can write ten thousand words over Labor Day Weekend.

I've never succeeded; I can't even remember where the idea came from. This weekend is loaded with visitors, the balloon launch, the pledge to start cleaning out the garage so that I can set up my studio there ... I think that pledge was from last fall, wasn't it? ... the purchase and installation of new mini-blinds in the kitchen.

It's a stupid idea, and now I've opened a blank document and am going to start. What a sucker for punishment.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


Still continuing to write each day. Today was a measley 457 words.

I still have to fix the timeline of this project. When I began it, I didn't plan out a timeline, and thus, gave myself weeks of agonizing over how to repair the temporal gaffes.

Hint to self and others: do a timeline before you get into serious keystrokes.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Morning Gift

There is not a lot I have to say in this post, except that I looked up from my morning prayers and saw this exquisite bit of lighting outside the window.

This is what it's all about, not money, or toys, or what people think of you. Life is all about Joy in Existence. I believe that is why we were created, to find those instances of Joy in Existence, and delight in them when we can find them.

If everyone could look for them, there wouldn't be crimes of violence and crimes of greed, or even crimes of neglect, because we would all look for them all the time, and in the process, see in each other the light of life, itself a joy to behold.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Good Horse

Just the other day I came across pictures from the Pre-Digital days, and found this one of my friend Cathy and her horse Rusty, and Dink and me. We had wickedly ridden from the ranch into town and onto my front lawn. Bernie brought us glasses of ice water; the 2 1/2 hours of riding along orchard roads had left us parched.

Taken in April of 2003, the picture shows that neither Dink nor I have changed our looks much, although I don't have that shaggy blond mane any more.

I was out at the ranch to ride Dink this morning; he was eager to get out and be the horse.

I've been a pig lately, and haven't been riding much. I don't know why, unless it's sheer laziness. Inertia. By the time I read the morning comics and look at email, I think I should go to the store or play a couple games of Spider Solitaire, or do something repellent like clean up the kitchen. And when a rider is a pig, and stops riding regularly, bad things can happen. The horse may decide that he has retired from being a mount and refuse to go anywhere, or the horse may give the lazy rider a really hard time, which only makes it more miserable to want to go ride.

When I approached Dink's paddock, I saw that a bunch of fillies had been let loose in the paddock area to play. I shooed them into a paddock, and went to get Dink's halter and lead rope. When I rounded the corner, he called to me to come back. Awww. Any thought I had about just turning him out into the arena to walk around left my mind.

He draped his head over the fence for me to put the halter on him, and when I took him across the road so that I could step from the bank right onto the saddle, he stepped down into the lower area and stood like a statue without me even asking. We set off, and he was so thrilled to be going out that he broke into a little jog as we turned east toward the orchards.

No bucks, no conniptions, no reluctance. He was as perfect as if I had been riding him every day.

He's a genius. Halfway down the orchard road, there was a hole with a bunch of stakes in it, and each stake had long, brightly-colored plastic ribbon on it. The breeze lifted the ribbons and made them wave. To a horse, such a sight is exactly equal to seeing Medusa raise her head and let her hair-snakes all wave around. I wondered if I would have to dismount and lead Dink past -- my first horse would have been snorting and fighting to run away as soon as he saw the Monster Ribbons. I began counting out loud, both so that Dink would hear my voice, and so that I would focus on the count rather than tensing up my legs. (That would convince the horse I was afraid of the ribbons, too.)

He stopped and stared at the floating ribbons, then went on when I told him to walk forward. He stopped again a little closer, and we watched. And then, though he kept an eye on the Medusa, he walked on by. When we saw another batch of ribbon-stakes on another road, he never even twitched.

This gave me pause for thought. What would I have to pay to get another horse like him? He doesn't buck, doesn't kick, doesn't bolt or balk; unlike many horses, he can be ridden out on a trail by himself with no problem. Riding out with other horses, he's a gentleman. He's got a really comfortable gait for me. He's in good health. He has a great personality, too. And he's a handsome little fellow.

Good, good horse. Priceless little horse.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Sebastian, the Self-Drowning Dog

He really does swim like this, and although he looks like a dog in a washing machine, he really does love it.

He will swim and splash and bite his splashes until he's trembling with exhaustion. Then he has to go pee every fifteen minutes for the rest of the evening.

Unlike our previous border collie mix, the smooth and debonair Desi, Sebastian loves to swim. Des hated the water, and could only be induced to swim if one of us shoved him into the shallows of the river and the other held out cheese puffies as a reward. Even then, he'd swim to me, gulp the cheese puffies, and grasp my leg in both front paws, loathing the swim back to shore.

Not Sebastian. He wasn't even invited into the pool today. Howie led the way, hopping into the pool uninvited, to sit on the top step and cool his buns, and Sebastian plunged in and proceeded to splash the pool water into a fountain.

If we ever want to get rid of Sebastian, all we have to do is throw a tennis ball into the river. He'd splash and chase the ball all the way to the ocean.

But not wanting to get rid of him, we keep a close eye on his antics in the pool. We know he's an idiot for water.

Monday, August 18, 2008

My Husband, The Hero

We were headed up to Manteca late this afternoon to pick up the Vibe from Phillips Automotive Repair -- the Vibe having developed the loud hiccups in its air conditioning and needing some routine maintenance work -- when Bernie pulled the Prizm over unexpectedly to the berm, and did a U-turn, and sped back down the road.

I was confused, of course, and a bit jarred by the change in direction. Bern mumbled something about "smoke" and I immediately was alert. This is fire season, when the golden dried grass can catch fire at any time, and everyone in the dry Central Valley would do well to be alert to any instance of fire.

Another U-turn, and then he saw again what had alerted him: a small plume of smoke by the side of the road!

We pulled over, and he jumped out of the car to see if he could stomp out the burning grass before it went wildfire. We'd just come from the grocery store, where I'd bought two gallons of drinking water; I opened the trunk and got one of them. We stomped and doused the smoldering fire until it was out.

Out: watch and wait for any tendrils of smoke to reappear.

Douse and stomp again and wait: any tiny spark can ignite the super-dry grass chaff and weeds.

Satisfied that we had quenched the fire, we went on our way. Driving home, however, I noted that the fire, had we not put it out, would have been blown along on the west wind and traveled for a long way along Moffat Blvd. and the railroad tracks; maybe it would have been stopped by the intersection of Woodward Road, but maybe the west wind and the fire's energy would have allowed the sparks to jump the road and continue south, toward the orchards and a propane gas store.

I didn't see the smoke when we passed, even though this is a season to worry about fires, and I do. I was looking at the other side of the road, and missed it.

Bernie didn't.

His sharp eyes caught the filmy wisps of smoke, thereby saving local taxpayers thousands of dollars in emergency responses, and avoiding horrible traffic backups on Moffat Blvd. and Highway 99 during the heavy commute hours.

He's not only a good man, he's a brilliant one, and I love him so much, and I'm proud that he's such a humble hero.

And yes, we found the fire-starter: a Marlboro Light cigarette butt, callously* tossed into the dried grass and chaff at the side of the road. Heaven knows I smoked for 20 years, but I ground out all my butts and pocketed them, not flinging them into brush or out a car window. Though I never smoked a cigarette I didn't enjoy, I would gladly support the banning of them altogether for how many wildfires they have started in our local community.

Kudos to Bernie Pilarski!

*Callously, stupidly, moronically, insensitively, irresponsibly, (did I mention fucking stupidly?), childishly, gormlessly, idiodically ... can we enact a law somehow that prevents cigarette-butt flingers from reproducing?... dangerously inadequate for living in this state or any other during other than a monsoon season.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

So Much for Blogging

Well, I was going to blog about pesto today, but by the time I was done indulging my fancy, the blog entry turned into a Piker Press article which will appear next week, I guess.

Instead, I'm trying to think of the first time I ever saw pesto.

Growing up in rural Pennsylvania -- rural means the county seat had a population of 1000 -- amidst an ethnic mix of German/Scotch-Irish/GodAloneKnowsWhatButTheyWereWhiteAndAtePotatoes, I never even heard the term "pesto" let alone saw it. It's quite possible that the first time I ever dealt with pesto was when my 8-year-old daughter ordered a dish called "Prawns Genovese" at a restaurant in San Francisco and recoiled at the shrimps lolling in a puddle of it.

It was GREEN. EEEE! Nothing in the mountains of Pennsylvania is served GREEN!!!

I have no memory of what I had ordered, but I traded her plates, and gingerly tasted the concoction. Whoa! It was so tasty that I could hardly talk during the meal; pesto became my bridge partner, my jogging buddy, my pen pal, and my daughter was so amazed that she tried a bite of it and became from that moment onward, a lifelong afficionado. I did not trade her plate back. She was to be bitterly shown what the consequences of choices were about. You choose, you lose. Heh.

Anyway, that was the first time I ever saw pesto, and I have never forgotten it. It is with me always.

But as good as it was, it did not even come close to holding a candle to the pesto I made today, from fresh organic basil. Wow. Yum.


I'll link to the Piker Press article when it appears, for the recipe.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Twenty Years!

The Valley air is filthy with agricultural dust and smog, the temperatures today are in the 100's, and the almond orchards are full of branches cracking from the weight of their fruit.

A hazy mountain range borders the Valley to the west, today barely visible through the dirt in the air; the Sierras to the east are invisible until the weather changes in a few days. The Valley itself is flat, and dry, and its culture is that of farming and commuting.

I was thinking about these things today as I drove along the Stanislaus River, taking "back" roads to Modesto to avoid the freeways.

The first time I encountered the Central Valley was in 1985, when my husband took a year-long job assignment here. Instead of the lush green wild fruitfulness of Pennsylvania, I found sere dried grasses in the pastures. Instead of compact little (nearly) self-sufficient towns, I gazed upon tasteless, wasteful sprawl. Instead of my towering four-bedroom Victorian, I set our luggage down in a dumpy three-bedroom ranch style house with an ugly carpet and hard-water-stained bathrooms.

A year passed; the work assignment was done. We went back to Pennsylvania, to fishing, to berry-picking in July, to walking through magical nights when snow fell through the streetlights in a dizzying dance ...

And remembered how instead of towns of 12,000 white people, most of whom were related, there were every imaginable color of people in the sprawling towns of California, and how Yosemite National Park was only an hour or so away, and how San Francisco used to welcome us, with its glorious smells and smiles and celebration.

This morning I remembered again the Friday in 1988 when my husband came home from work after a harrowing week of arguing with his bosses about whether or not to be honest, with an ultimatum that he'd been given, three choices: knuckle under, come to work at the corporate offices where his penchant for honesty and fairness could be subdued, or quit.

There was no doubt whatsoever in my mind when he told me. My heart leaped and my eyes filled with tears. "Quit!!!!!!!! Then we can go home again!!!!"

In two weeks, both of us had been offered jobs here in the Valley. It was a time of grace and blessing, being brought to where we had come to love more than any other place.

Twenty years later, I still remember, and still thank God for bringing us home. Hot and dusty, flat and crazy ... hey, Dorothy, there's no place like Home.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Real Live Girl

Yesterday morning, before this picture was taken, the foxtail asparagus fern was invisible, and bindweed nearly obscured the yellow euonymus.

Truly, it was a mess. But yesterday, something wonderful happened: I felt good, and healthy, and ambitious. Ta-daa! The weeds are gone!

I can't wait for the fern pine to grow tall. Should be in about 4 years. It's grown four feet this past year.

Eventually, after I gain control of this garden, and kill off the bindweed and nutgrass, I want to plant geraniums in those bare spaces.

On the right is my shovel with its yellow handle; the blue thing is a "Garden Claw" for breaking up soil for easier weed-pulling, and in back of that is a wooden pole that keeps the fence from blowing down in the storms.

We DO have to replace that fence.


Friday, August 01, 2008

Heaps of Horseshit

Yes, I could have said "meadow muffins", but there were few muffins in the mix.

I could have said "droppings" but there were few of those as well.

"Poop", "excrement", "waste", "doodie" ...

This morning I went out to the ranch to check on Dink. He was moved from a little pasture back into a paddock a week or so ago, so I knew the paddock would need to be cleaned and he could be let out into the big arena for some exercise and a nice roll in the dirt. Pasture is always nicer than paddock, but I wasn't upset that they brought him in ... he's an easy keeper and he was getting really fat again on pasturage.

I found out that wasn't the reason they brought him in, though. They'd put a young filly out there with him, and the sassy little snot beat the hell out of her, chasing her around the pasture like a tyrant. The owner of the ranch said, "So that's why he's in jail."

Unfortunately, the paddock they bunged him up in was NOT cleaned, so that paddock was pretty deep in ... doodie.

Now before you gasp and think that's horrid, let me say that Dink didn't care. His food is out of the doodie, and anyway, out here in the hot summer valley, horse doodie dries and crumbles to a non-icky powder much the consistency of dry sawdust.

Nevertheless, no matter how other people let their paddocks get deep, I don't like it, and so I went to shovel the stuff out. With a wheelbarrow and a tined scoop, I began moving manure. It's not a particularly hard job, but when the wind blows the crumbled dung-dust, well, you better hope you're upwind.

After ten wheelbarrow loads, there is no euphemism in one's head. It is shit.

I don't know how many wheelbarrow loads I took out; more than ten, I know, but I wasn't really keeping track. I've never minded the smell of horseshit in my whole life, and really, oddly enough, in the quiet of the ranch, with just the sounds of horses moving around and no task to have to worry about, shoveling the paddock clean was a peaceful exercise. The enormous draft horse in the next paddock watched me, his great head over the rail so that I could occasionally stroke his nose. A couple times Dink thundered across the arena, head and tail in the air, to see if I was ready to let him back in to finish his breakfast; when he did, I took a break to watch how beautifully he gallops.

On Sunday, the shoer will come by and trim Dink's feet and put new shoes on him; now his paddock is clean; and if I am tired out by the morning's labor, I can take satisfaction in knowing that it was a way of restoring some order to the world. And it was a hell of a lot easier than stacking wood, which I would have had to work on had I not opted to move horseshit.