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Monday, December 4, 2017

Going To the Dogs

I had just hired her. She was older and a bit overweight but energetic and in a busy groom shop, energetic is a plus. Her name was Annie but we called her Red, as both her hair, nails and truck were cherry bomb red.

A new client came in for her appointment for Lucky, a Yorkshire terrier. They say the owners look like their dogs and this lady looked a lot like the scraggly beast she handed to us.

Tangled, matted and filthy, the dog's teeth, the ones still in her mouth, were a rotting shade of green. One tooth jutted out to the left and her tongue flopped out on the right.

Red volunteered to groom Lucky, and as the day went on, she became increasingly emotional over the dog's condition. It wasn't until she actually stole the dog, yes, took it home, that I realized my mistake.

All she ever talked about since being hired was her "yorkie babies".  If she wasn't bitching about her husband, she was bragging about her  four-legged wonders.

When the owner came to get her little Yorkie, the fun began.

On one side of the counter was Lucky's mom, yelling at everybody in sight and in the corner was the store manager on the phone, pleading with Red to come back,
preferably with the dog.

A day later, the manager convinced Red to return the dog by threatening her with arrest and jail. The thought of jail did it, who's going to take care of her precious pooches while she's in the clink?
I'm a soft-hearted person, which makes for a very poor manager. I liked Elaine as soon as the interview began. She was articulate, intelligent and had a sense of humor, albeit dark.

 Elaine was also a recovering crack cocaine addict. I bought the story, hook, line and sinker.  She was living in a halfway house with three other addicts, far away from her home turf of Oakland, the drug capital of northern California. I can save this soul!

We had long talks while bathing the dogs, everything from her children and husband to her previous grooming experiences. She purchased a large amount of grooming equipment and seemed serious about the job. 

I didn't notice the increasingly higher prices she was charging for haircuts or that she had stopped mentioning her kids. Elaine phoned her mom about the new job saying "and I have to be NICE to people." I thought that was funny, knowing what a pain in the ass customers can be.

Then one day she never showed for work. A bouquet of flowers stood on my grooming table. Two days later, I was still waiting for her to return when she called, " I just couldn't do it anymore."  Oddly, her husband had just given her a used car so she didn't have to take the bus anymore.

All her equipment and tools were neatly arranged in the toolchest, at least $500 bucks worth. The blade sharpening guy was livid when he realized her large debt was never going to be paid. That was the last time I saw him too.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Story of the Story-A Mystery

"Put your John Hancock right there." Did Mr. Hancock really sign the Declaration of Independence or was it photo-shopped in, asks historian B.T. Raven.
Of course he did, they did not have the digital foolery we have today, which brings me to my present mystery, the letter from the Grateful Dead to their fans.

 The show at Deer Creek was a disaster, even the police said they were not going to risk the human stampede again for the second night's show. The show was cancelled and a letter written up and sent to the fans, threatening to end all tours by the group if the rioting and destruction did not stop.

The Prologue of my memoir, Miss Hippie In Mississippi, states, without question, a letter was signed by the band to their fans asking them to stop the anarchy (25 sec. film clip) ruining the good vibes of a Grateful Dead concert.

But did Jerry sign the letter? Some Deadheads say yes, some say no. His signature could easily be photo-shopped in. I've seen a digital copy on Flickr.

 The newly released documentary movie  Long, Strange Trip is in the "no" camp. The reason makes perfect sense too, Jerry was anti-authoritarian, so to tell people how to behave was against his nature. A live and let live kind of guy. Hell, he didn't even want to be front man, but Ron McKernan's death created a void someone had to fill.

So, until I see a actual physical piece of paper containing his signature on the letter-which can also be forged-my jury is still out. The mystery remains.

Band Letter

Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Big Bill Chronicles-Carmel Woods

Photo taken in  2011.  House looks neglected.
A simple wooden box with hinged lid sat inconspicuously on Dad's large oak desk.
It could've held paper clips or other office type items. Hidden in plain sight, Dad's box held loose leaf marijuana ready for rolling.

When the cops knocked on the front door, Dad wasn't nervous, he was sweating bullets. A lawyer, he could lose his license to practice law if busted. I don't know how he managed to stay calm and answer their questions about an attempted burglary in the neighborhood. They were just canvassing the area. The three  8-foot-tall plants in the guest room  closet were safe for now.

 Happy Hour started real early that day.

Dad and Gale's new home in Carmel was  different from previous residences.  You could say they went suburbia, Carmel-style, meaning every house and  street was on a hill, shaded with pine trees, flowers and ornate fences. Beautiful but a far cry from the country house in Santa Cruz encircled by a creek, a meadow and a county park.

My first impression of the new pad was the design. Tall fencing covered in ivy provided privacy for the walkway and the small patio. Did I mention hills yet? The garage was tucked under the living room with its high open-beam ceiling and French doors that opened onto a small porch where one could look down through the branches toward the unseen ocean. The guest room had its own entrance next to the garage.

Dad and Gale were happy here and filled the house with sunshine, love and music. Gale's baby grand piano occupied  most of the living room's west corner.

The small, winding street behind the house was up the hill, so when dad  harvested  his marijuana plants, he  shut all the windows in the brightly-painted kitchen. He worried the neighbors would grow suspicious as the windows were otherwise open to let the sun in.

My step-sisters, Julie and Kendra would come over with their friends in tow and the feel of a party was in the air. By nightfall, everyone had a  noisemaker gadget in one hand, a fat joint in the other and Bob Weir's song Mexicali Blues playing on Dad's stereo at top volume.

One of Julie's friend was a young homosexual man. At first he stayed in the background, watching the party, self-conscious, then he felt the love and joined the festivities. I remember being happy he relaxed and knew there was no negativity or even a care as to his orientation. 

 Once he relaxed though, things got a bit wild. He wanted to see the ocean, so we all piled into his van around midnight. He drove the narrow, tree-studded streets to the beach while clapping to the music, no hands on the wheel. Someone spoke quickly to him and he settled down. On the beach, he began singing while running around having a joyous time. Then everyone started singing too.
Carmel beach, Carmel-By-The-Sea, Calif.

Dad and Gale's love also went into  fostering a teenage boy named Blake Ramsey. One summer, I arrive to have a young teenage boy my age taking up residence in my Heaven. Of course, we became friends. He wanted it to go further but I resisted his advances. Then the brother-sister arguing and fighting ensued. It was too much for Gale. She would grab her asthma inhaler. I was sent back to Biloxi early.

 I harbored no animosity toward Blake though, as he had a difficult future. His Dad was on the run from the law for armed robbery and his mom lived in a tent on the Carmel river. She walked the several miles (uphill) with a Hershey candy bar for her son during their once-a-month visits.
To this day, I wonder if Blake survived and got beyond his dire situation. He didn't even know if his dad was alive or dead.

Blake was moved to another foster home some time later and I never saw him again.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Chapter 5, Miss Hippie In Mississippi, a memoir

 Hello Carmel
Gale and Dad moved to Carmel Woods from Branciforte Drive in Santa Cruz a few years earlier. Condito
the donkey had a new residence also at a summer camp in the Santa Cruz Mountains called Camp Kennelyn.
This new Carmel Woods home was located up in the hills behind the town, bounded on the west by Pebble
Beach and in the east by highway 1. Although completely built up, the area was thick with mature pine and
Gale played Chopin, Bach, and Beethoven on her piano, wrote stories and poetry. Big Bill concentrated
on everything from building a kiln to bonzai trees to painting and sculpting.
And growing marijuana in the guest cottage closet.

The guest cottage is where I settled now. The closet was locked, darn it! Every weekday morning I’d
awake to the sound of Gale starting up her lime green VW bug. She taught English to soldiers at Fort Ord in
Monterey, which was down the hill.
Also down the hill, way down, was Big Bill’s law office in Salinas. On every trip I took with him to the
office, we’d drive through this fertile Salinas valley. Every time he’d tell me, “This is the artichoke capital of
the world.” I must have said something, as he shortened it to “this is the ...” Of course I’d finish the line,
couldn’t resist.
Gale thought it best that I finish this school year at the continuation high school in Carmel Valley. “This
way you can ease in and adjust.” Sounded practical. Today they are called 'alternative' schools. Easing in was
easy, there were very few actual lessons, or tests or anything of a school-type nature. I felt these kids were at
the edge of making that fateful decision on whether to become total and complete fuck-ups, or not.
Next year was at the high school proper. Biology class put me in the honor roll list for the first time in
my school life. Carmel High was built in an open mission-style architecture, the school halls were covered
outdoor walkways, the posts wrapped in ivy. New friends at school were a variety of nice kids; a petite
Japanese girl, the ultra-conservative Filipina gal, a Mormon chick and beyond school, Valerie, a Carmel

Where trees are sacred
Even today, the town of Carmel preserves its personality in the general plan’s description of “a village in
a forest overlooking a white sand beach.” The Monterey pine trees are sacred and new buildings are built
around existing trees. There are no parking meters, street lights or house numbers. There is a city park and a
shopping mall set below street level.
The town is on the slope between highway 1 and the ocean. Anywhere one walks in town, eventually it
will be uphill. Downtown is quaint, cutesy, woodsy and famous, even without Clint Eastwood. There is a
who’s who list of famous people that settled here, from Ansel Adams, Robert Louis Stevenson to actress
Betty White.

My very best pal was Valerie Ewing. She had graduated from the high school a year earlier and worked
as a housekeeper. Val had a job, was independent and had her own apartment. When she told me of a job
opening at the small motel where she worked, I made the mistake thousands of teenagers had made, I dropped
out of school and took the job.
She was experienced with taking LSD, and I wanted to try it, so I made a deal with her. If Val turned me
on to acid, I’d get her into a Grateful Dead concert.

Petite and short, only a bit over five feet in height, she was always carded at any liquor store.
Shoulder-length mousy-brown hair flapping against a blue down jacket on a bicycle, you couldn’t miss her.
Val lived in a tiny wood tumbledown apartment tucked behind an art gallery. A narrow walkway between
the gallery and a posh white brick hotel gave access, opening to a cramped patio, the centerpiece of which
was a lonely tree.
Daily walks, or more often bicycle rides to the beach after work was her routine. She had no driver’s
license or car. I doubt she ever stepped foot outside the city limits on her own. She always bicycled,
evidenced by her calf muscles.
My deal didn’t work out as planned, for I found someone who was selling acid and I bought one hit of
blotter for a buck. At Val's apartment that weekend, I cut the already small piece of paper into quarters, gave
Val one-quarter and chewed the rest. Like a cow chewing its cud. We sat in her tiny kitchen and chatted,
while she drank beer. The hotel next door was so close, I watched a man settle in his room as the afternoon
shadows advanced.
“The Dead are playing the city next month, I can get tickets for you, me and Jim.” I announced.
“Oh heck yeah, let’s do it. I’d love to see them play.” She was so excited! This would be her first
Grateful Dead show.
I looked out the window again. Outside was pitch black, the hotel room curtains closed against a sliver of
moonlight. Three hours had just disappeared in a five-minute span.
What the hell?
The dark night outside contrasted sharply with the bright, whitewashed kitchen. All white. Too white,
like a blank easel. “Your kitchen needs color Val,” I told her.
She laughed, “Sure we’ll paint the fridge purple.”
“Oh, c’mon, think big!” I jumped up, totally into it. “The rainbow will start here in the corner at the
floor, go across the cupboards, over the stove into the ceiling and disappear into the mirror on the closet door
over there.”
“Yeah!” Val yelled, she was all for it. Thank God we didn’t have paint.

Val never cooked that I saw, she always ordered out. Her favorite take-out was from a Chinese restaurant
downtown. I showed up that weekend bearing Grateful Dead tickets.
“Come on Val, we've got the tickets, lets’s go. It’s a two-hour-drive to San Francisco.” She tossed the reminder of the pork-fried rice in the trash and we headed north, her boyfriend Jim at the wheel.
Twenty minutes later, Val began throwing up. She was sick for the whole trip. “Stop here Jim so I can get some plastic bags for her.” Forty minutes later, we have to stop and get more. She never got better.

At the venue, the backstage folks were really kind and set her up on a cot inside the tent of the kids’ room. I’d go upstairs to check on her, dodging the guy juggling and the happy, screaming kids running around, hoping she would improve enough to come and enjoy the show.
 Never happened.
Disappointment colored her voice the next day, “I heard the concert through the floor vibrations.”
 Miss Hippie has never ordered Chinese take-out since.

The Gale
Gale loved the critters as much as Dad did, but her asthma forced a life-style change. The home in Carmel had no pets, not even a dog, although they tried. His name was Rags, a terrier, and lived with them for less than a year. I never even got the chance to meet him.

Dad met Gale, according to family lore, at the lending library he opened while working at a stationary store. Gale was a 1941 graduate of San Jose State, with a degree in music. Interestingly, Dad’s older brother Hank was also
a San Jose State graduate, class of 1950.

A multi-talented lady, she wrote songs, poetry and children’s books, taught English and gave piano lessons. She established a workshop for struggling musicians called Gale, The Musician’s Friend. Eventually she closed the
workshop because Dad worried about her being out so late at night for the shows.

Gale’s family hailed from Ohio. She was one of three daughters, the other two were Janie and Katherine.
Born in 1909, Katherine or “Ketti” was the oldest and famous.
In 1958 Ketti was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her stage adaptation of Thomas Wolfe’s book Look
Homeward, Angel. Her writing career began as a free-lance fan magazine writer for Photoplay and
Screenland, then she worked for United Press International writing feature stories. She married German boxer
Kurt Frings in 1938, nephew of Cardinal Frings of Cologne who had denounced Hitler from his pulpit and
was persecuted for it.

Entanglement in Tijuana
Ketti and Kurt bunkered down in Tijuana, Mexico as they waited for the U.S. government to change its
mind about Kurt Frings being a “a notorious international character.” Ketti came to know the other refugees
in the Mexican camp and wrote both a novel, Hold Back the Dawn, and a screenplay titled Memo to a Movie
Producer about the people in the camp, as well as her married life with Kurt. Meanwhile, President Roosevelt
rejected Kurt Frings’ appeal for citizenship titled Message from the President of the United States Returning
Without Approval the Bill (S. 3673), “An Act to Enable Kurt Frings to Enter and Remain Permanently in the
United States.” on June 19, 1940.

Ketti received $4,000 from Paramount for her screenplay before Billy Wilder and Charlie Brackett got hold of it and completely changed it into something so bad, diplomatic relations between the United States and Mexico
were strained. Kurt threatened to sue Wilder. Mexico’s ambassador said this film would “damage the friendship
between the two countries,” and called Wilder and Brackett “two terrible gringo writers.”

Ketti and Kurt made a name for themselves in the Hollywood scene. KurtFrings was referred to as “Attila the Hun” in George Hamilton’s book Don’tMind If I Do; was the agent for various movie stars including Elizabeth Taylor
and Audrey Hepburn. Hamilton described Frings “as scary as his heavy German accent.” Kurt finally became a US citizen in 1947, and died in Los Angeles, August 29, 1991. Ketti died of cancer one day shy of her 72nd birthday on February 11, 1981 in Los Angeles.

The Billy Visits: Never a dull moment
Visits from 'Bill the drummer' were somewhat rare, but always special and exciting events. The schedule included movies, music, food, and tall tales told around the campfire.

Only thing missing was the campfire.
Dream Theater interior. Photo used with permission.

Dad treated us to either the Dream Theater or the 812 Cinema. The 812 Cinema had no seats, only fat pillows stacked on the carpeted floor in a narrow building on Monterey’s Cannery Row. As we settled down on the pillows, I heard giggling. Big Bill put a finger to his lips, then reached up into the sleeve of his sweater and pulled out a bottle of wine! “Oh yeah, life is good” I whispered.

The 812 Cinema was inspired by Federico Fellini’s film, “8 1/2”. John Harris, a singer with Nat King
Cole’s group, watched Fellini’s film seven times and credits it for his courage to follow a creative path. Later
Harris was making films with Jim Morrison, Terri Garr and Ann-Margaret and had a screening room with
pillows in his Hollywood apartment. His screening room was so popular he expanded the idea into a public theater. The 812 Cinema was such a hit, Harris then added the Dream Theater a block away on Prescott Avenue in 1974.

Big Bill, Gale, myself and Billy attended the showing of The Grateful Dead Movie at the Dream Theater, probably in 1977 or 1978. The burgundy seats were custom-built, kick-back comfortable.
The air changed colors as the lights from within the large stained-glass ceiling fixture cycled from purple to red, green and yellow.
Halfway through the movie, I glanced over at Billy to see his reaction, and the seat was empty. “Where’d Billy go?”
”He’s up in the projectionist’s booth.” Gale answered. I asked him afterwards why he left the room. “I can’t watch it, I only see all my mistakes.” he explained. What mistakes? This movie was fantastic in my view. He’s a perfectionist I
guess. It captured the feeling and experience of a Dead concert, almost impossible to do, and producing it
almost killed Jerry Garcia in the process.
Billy's next visit included a trip to a little record store called Odyssey Records that was tucked away a
few doors down from the 812 Cinema. He planned secretly to buy a copy of his newest album for me, and
for him, the Meters latest release, Rejuvenation. The young clerk recognized him. I watched with amusement
as the clerk visibly got his excitement under control. He then handed Grateful Dead From The Mars Hotel
album across the counter. “I can’t sell you your own album. Here.” My jaw dropped to match the store
Billy turned dad onto a cat named Paul Horn one summer. Dad played the album on his hi-fi stereo. It
was a recording of flute music and very beautiful. But what stood out were the echos from the flute Paul Horn
played, as the recordings were made inside the pyramids of Egypt. There was some mysticism involved there
that echoed right over my head.
Billy was excited about the band's new music (the song Loose Lucy in particular), excited about his
Porche, and excited about the new chef the band hired to feed them healthy meals. Playing the big brother
role, he showed me how to chop vegetables, a skill he’d just learned from this so-called chef. I worried about
him, and this 'healthy food' was good news to me. All of which was most likely big-brotherly bullshit.

“Last night I woke up with a weird feeling, so I looked around the house,” Dad said after Billy had left
after an overnight visit. “I find him asleep on the couch. Centered on his chest, gently rising and falling was
our candelabra, fully lit and burning brightly.” Dad wipes his brow and shakes his head, “Boy! that was a
close one.”
I was told tall tales over the years by both Billy and Dad: “He hit a patch of ice doing 95 mph and
flipped the car. The seatbelt saved his life.” Actually the seatbelt did save his life as the car was upside down
in a tree. I wasn’t told of this event for a long time and still did not know the details until I read Billy’s book,
Deal-My Three Decades of Drumming, Dreams and Drugs with the Grateful Dead.

Billy on the Colorado River.
And my tall tale favorite, “He got in a fight at the bar, kicked the guy in the crotch because the guy tried to cut in on his dance with a beautiful lady.” These tales were more colorful then the reality. You don’t want to know the real story ... money. Isn’t it always money?

Dad and Billy would spend the better part of the evenings in deep philosophical debate. “You kicked me out of the house.”
“No, you left.”
“You kicked me out, I remember.” All spoken in a tone of high-good-natured-it-really-doesn’t- matter-now feel.
“It grows in segments called buttons, kinda like an orange and you eat the buttons”. Billy told Dad.
Dad is going to try peyote with Billy? They already smoked pot together and probably had dropped acid
together. We have the world’s coolest father!
The world’s coolest father had a T-shirt made with the words “Grateful Dad” on the front, but stopped
wearing it when a reporter spotted him backstage and included a description in his story. Too close
to the limelight.
Nepenthe restaurant in Big Sur, CA..  Dana Timm photo.
There is a restaurant the family loved named Nepenthe. Located in Big Sur, almost an hour
drive south of Carmel, it was a long ride to get there. Built on a spit of land jutting out from the coastline, it has breath-taking, postcard-making views of the Pacific Ocean.We ate 'ambrosiaburgers' in the glass-walled dining room, or on the patio next to the giant chessboard painted on the concrete. A redwood bench bordered the patio, blending with the redwood and glass construction of the restaurant..

Originally a log cabin occupied the site, until Bill Fossett and his wife had the restaurant constructed in
the late 1940s.
Ghosts of famous people drift in the fog here as Fossett purchased the land title from Rita Hayworth and
Orson Welles. This cabin was their “love chalet” (or at least that is the rumor.) Henry Miller’s typewriter
clickclack might be heard in the fog if you listen carefully. This cabin was his first home when he moved to
Big Sur.
But the restaurant itself was anticlimatic. It’s the drive on a curvacous ribbon of highway to get there that
was heart-stopping. California Highway 1 hugs the precipice of the continent. The end of the world is five
feet from your car at any given moment.
No mistakes allowed, if you didn't pay attention on a curve, you died. You became the lead actor in
your own movie where the automobile flew off the road and hung airborne for what seemed like minutes,
until it crashed and burned on the roaring surf hundreds of feet below.
We arrived in record time in Billy’s Alfa Romeo. I'd never been so happy to eat a hamburger, any

Just Before The Touch Of Grey Explosion
Sold out was the standard for Grateful Dead shows. I thought they had reached their apex. (You can
reach your apex but don’t play with it).
Touch of Grey proved me very wrong. Before the massive success with Touch Of Gray MTV video, we
saw them perform at Winterland Arena, at the Orpheum Theater, and Oakland Coliseum.
Winterland Ballroom
Winterland opened in 1928, originally an ice skating rink. On one side of the backstage curtain was a
festive-looking table, loaded with food and drink. My Alice-in-wonderland motto for Grateful Dead backstage
was 'look but don’t touch.' The curtain’s other side was seating, all empty except for one chair. Actually two
chairs. A very beefy Hells Angel had his leg propped on the chair in front of him. The leg had a cast from
ankle to hip. Look but don’t touch works for Angels too. Remember The Altamont!

There were always people in Billy’s dressing room and I never stayed longer then to say hello.
The mood backstage was relaxed, good friends getting together for a good time. That also would change.
Women sitting on equipment nursing babies disappeared. Women dancing on stage, gone.
During the second set of the Winterland show, the hallways beckoned and I roamed. Around a corner I
came upon a room. People were sitting in the dark, watching the concert happening on televisons mounted up
on the wall. Confused, I thought “Why watch it on TV when they can see it in flesh and blood?” The movie
Closing Of Winterland was being filmed that night, unbeknowst to me.
Orpheum Theater
The Orpheum Theater’s marquee announced ‘Grateful Dead Sold Out’ to the crowd on Market Street.
The front of the theater was noisy with people and traffic, but the back of the building’s green space was
quiet. That’s where I was, at the backstage entrance, chatting with a hippie-type fellow. I was waiting for the
arrival of Billy and Dad.
The hippie guy I chatted with corrected me on the pronounciation of Phil’s last name. I had been
mispronouncing it all those years. It rhymes with fresh, not peach. Don’t get me wrong now, fresh peaches are
a real delight to the palette and may have a connection to the Allman Brothers Band, but that’s another story entirely.

Once inside, Dad and I were introduced to Donna. Her and her husband Keith Godchaux joined the band
in 1971. They eventually replaced an ailing Ron “Pigpen” McKernan on piano and organ.
Excited, I sputtered, “Nice to meet you Donna, I love your hair, it is so beautiful.” She said nothing. I
think it made her nervous, the idoltry of it all.

Billy then assigned a young, pretty chick to me, why I’m not sure, but she knew the theatre well as I soon
found out. She took me by the arm, “Let me show you somthin' really cool.”
Trying to keep up with her, she went past the seating areas, then climbed a stairway, then another
stairway, and after more stairs that went on forever, we loped down a hallway and into a dark room.
“Holy shit” I whispered, as I realized we were ducking under the giant spotlights that focused on the
stage and the musicians playing there. I expected a voice to tell us to leave any minute. She led me to a small
alcove with a viewing window low on the wall. We were closer to the ceiling than the floor and this was the
nearest I’d ever come to being “in the rafters” as I termed it-when Jerry’s guitar notes carried me up and
away. The musicians onstage looked like stick figures.

My escort disappeared later, and I was free to explore, which I promptly did, beginning with the stairs I
noticed near the backstage exit. The narrow, steep metal staircase was filled with happy people coming and
going. The dressing rooms under the stage were a rabbit warren of hallways and small rooms no larger than a
walk-in closet. Some rooms were empty, some were filled with partygoers in various states of mind.
I rounded out the evening seated Indianstyle with some folks behind Billy’s drum riser. A joint was
passed, accompanied with a warning, “careful, it’s strong” and I inhaled deeply.
”No problem ” I thought.
Then things got strange.In the middle of a song, the cymbal on Billy’s right exploded. He kept on playing, barely able to stop himself from hitting it again. His arm a blur, would suddenly freeze in mid air in perfect focus. The cymbal
tilted at a crazy angle.
The song ended, and Billy, blinded from the stage lights, stumbled off the riser, while several crew guys
came up to make repairs. The stoned, sitting Indians needed to get out of the way, and at almost the same
instant that I stood up quickly, Bill Graham was walking toward us, snapping his fingers. Jumping up fast was
a mistake. My huge head rush hit and I lost my balance, almost colliding with Graham. He was experienced
with this behavior backstage at Grateful Dead shows, for he deftly sidestepped me without missing a single

The Explosion, or Birth of the Touchheads
The mood backstage did a severe shift, from good friends getting together for a good time, to good
friends getting together to make good money. The hallways to the dressing rooms now had men in nice outfits
walking with purpose. I didn’t like it. Didn’t care for it one bit.

Touch of Grey was released as a single in 1987 and hit number 9 on Billboard’s “Hot 100” chart. It is the
only Grateful Dead song to ever reach the Top 40 music charts. MTV then aired the video for the song, often,
a lot actually. That clenched it. The Grateful Dead were no longer an “underground” band.

After one concert (I don’t remember the venue) I rode the elevator with Billy to his hotel room. Billy was
talking nonsense, but I figured it’s just me not catching the punchline of a joke. In the hotel room there was
already a man there I’m introduced to. The man then moved to the far shadowed corner of the room, and
waited. Bad vibes were all around the man in the corner.

After I had a moment of stilted conversation with Billy, he placed his hands on my shoulders, leaned
down and said, “someday it’ll happen.” I felt I’d been dismissed, so I said goodbye and left.
What will happen? Who did he think I was?
I bet the conversation between Billy and the man waiting in the corner wasn’t stilted at all.

Mountain-top castle
Billy’s 'castle' was a custom-built home on top of a mountain in the wilds of Mendocino county. “Last
house on the powerline.” he boasted.

Built by drummer John Barbata who worked with the Turtles, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and the
Jefferson Airplane. It was a 3-story home in a shape you won’t find in any architecture books. The back half
was square, but the front half facing downhill to the west was curved tipilike, with 10-foot tall glass panes
that captured the setting sunlight. The centerpiece of the structure was the red brick fireplace and chimney.
The outside was wood shingled with a wraparound open deck. The pool, sundeck and bathhouse were a short
stroll away.

Our dad loved the game of croquet and any games played here at Billy’s mountain-top house were
known as tournaments as there wasn’t a flat space to be found, anywhere. Except for the parking area
between the back door and the barn, it was all Downhill From Here.
Big Bill had a knack for knocking your croquet ball off the field with his ball. He would then stand
there grinning like a fox, while you watched your ball disappear into the tall weeds, knowing damn well it’ll
take you 15 minutes of steep hiking to retrieve it. If you found it at all.

The Wives of William II
Susila and Billy married in 1970 in Reno, Nevada and divorced nine years later. Susila was Billy's
second love, his first had been Brenda Bass. A fiery redhead and mother of Billy's first child Stacy, born in

Some of my earliest Palo Alto memories are of Stacy and I playing bump-butt down the stairs.
Wife number three was Shelley, a local Comptche gal. She became everyone’s favorite. She spoiled us. Every Christmas Shelley took care of the family’s wish list. “We have the money, why not use it.” she explained. Dad received his Access All Areas pass, in the mail for each tour. One year, I asked for Grateful Dead music, and she sent 10 or 15
cassette tapes of soundboard recordings from various years and venues. A teacher, she possessed a natural ability with children and animals,especially horses. She had a barn, stables, corral, tackroom and a covered
rink complex built down near the road. The driveway grade was too steep for horse trailers. Susila’s horse Princess, a beautiful bay, was now under Shelley's care.

During one summer visit, Shelley and I went for a trail ride, across
neighbor Philbrick’s ranch and into the woods. I rode Princess. A bit worried and nervous, I saddled up as I
remembered this horse had been almost wild. Billy’s broken wrist was from a fall off Princess. After a lunch
break of beef jerky, we came upon two hikers, an older fellow and his wife. Nice folks, they lived farther up
the Comptche-Ukiah road. We chatted a bit. Or rather Shelley chatted as I did not know where to put my
eyes, they were both stone naked.

Parties at the Comptche ranch were wild affairs with both alcohol drinking contests and the bloom of the white powder. But not until Pam, another local lady, showed up, the party had not really started. Pam was the Queen and would dress up in the most outrageously beautiful outfits, draped in beads, bracelets, flowers and necklaces. Jangles, bangles and sparkles. Her flowing gown an exotic mix of colors. Her smile, a lighthouse beam.
She was the show. Sober, she was meek, gentle and spoke in almost a whisper.One of the kindest people I’ve ever met.

At some point, Shelley tried to get the ship back in balance. She joined the local Alcoholics Anonymous, becoming the secretary for the Comptche group. It was too late. Billy would disappear upstairs and Shelley paced in the kitchen muttering, “Fuck him, just fuck him.”
Things got raw. They divorced, Dad was ill, and Jerry died.
Shelley called me crying, "Billy is my life, I take care of him, it’s what I do.” I felt helpless.

Memories of Shelley flooded my mind. That day I helped her clean out the lower
barn and suddenly she stopped and said “I’ve got to go up to the house and make his sandwich.”
“He doesn’t even make his own lunch? ” I asked.
“Well, he likes his sandwiches made a certain way.” she explained.
I thought of him as a regular guy who had a special talent and was real popular. I did not think of him as
King William The Second. He did though, almost by habit, he’d give orders, including to me, a visitor. I was
to vacuum out the spider webs in the red barn by the house, which I did. I just rationalized that, on the road,
he had to give instructions to people who worked for him, every day for months on end. It was habit. And the
barn looked much cleaner when I finished.

 Maybe I thought of myself as royalty-junior.

I had boycotted Billy and Shelley’s wedding. Turned down the invitation. I was straddling two worlds,
and as a teenager, not doing a good job of it. I was angry at Billy, this was my way of expressing it. For once
I was on Janice’s side. I felt sorry for her, as her only son never came to visit and only called her when he
was drunk and emotional. She complained about this many times over the years. His last visit was after the
New Orleans drug bust in 1970 and the next visit only happened because our cousins Denny and Kevin, drove
to Jackson, Mississippi where the Grateful Dead were performing in 1978, and brought him back to Biloxi.
So I refused to attend what looked, in the photos, to be one beautiful outdoor mountain-top castle wedding
Beach on Kauai, Hawaii.
Saltwater pool with waterfall (not shown.)

After sweet Shelley came Linda, whom he referred to in his book as his “oops.” Billy had moved to
Hawaii after Garcia’s death in 1995, and it was in Hawaii where he met Linda.

This wedding was scheduled for the full moon in October, 2000. Hundreds of people were coming to this
grandiose shindig.

I was mature enough at this point to say “Yes I’ll be there.” Besides, he took the time out of his busy
music career in 1980 to attend my wedding ceremony, reception and party afterwards in Monterey, the least I
could do was return the honor, right?

Driving away from the airport, Billy looked over at me, and asked, “Do you think I’m doing the right
thing?” I bit my tongue.
“Uh yeah,” I answered, but my thoughts were sharply different, “Well it’s a little too late now to be
asking that, don’t ‘cha think Billy boy?”
Reception room on the lawn.

After the outdoor Hawaiian style wedding ceremony and roasted pig buffet, but before the live music and dancing, I was standing with a group of people including Justin. Billy walked by, stopped, handed Justin a fistful of
cash and turned away. Justin looked at his fist, looked at his dad’s back, looked at us, then said “What the fuck is this for?” I doubled over laughing.
A Smothers Brothers Moment executed perfectly.

Billy’s Hawaiian 'pad' was gorgeous, palm trees lined the driveway into acreage so large, you might get lost in it. A pool with a realistic waterfall using salt water that his Golden Retrievers swam in, was just beyond the giant
banana tree. A surfboard with the art of Blues For Allah album cover stood under the deck. Walkways curved around tropical trees. All the walkways were curved and after I smoked too much pot, I realized why as I got stuck inone. Like an ant on the rim of a cup. Around and around.

After seven years Billy and Linda divorced. Then one day Billy wondered, aimlessly, into an organic
farm somewhere in Hawaii, fell in love with the owner, wooed her into marriage, and both Billy and Aimee
are pesticide-free to this day. So far so good.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch
Let me back up here for a moment and return to the Comptche story.
Billy saved dad’s life. He talked dad into taking the job of grounds-keeper at his mountain top home in
Comptche. Stepmother Gale had just died in 1981 at their New Mexico house from cancer. They moved from
Carmel to Albuequerque, recommended by Gale's doctor on the belief the dry desert air would be good for
her. Getting Big Bill away from all those years of memories was the smartest thing Billy ever did.

Comptche, the name of a Pomo ancestral chief, was just a wide spot in the road between inland Ukiah and Mendocino on the coast. Dad adjusted well to life in the wilds of Comptche, even practiced a bit of law for a large cattle ranch when the owner died. His lawyerly advice included dating the widow for a short time.

By now I had broken my promise to Mom, got married and had a family. We’d visit Big Bill and his new lady friend Patricia. Patricia was renovating a large farmhouse down the road from Billy’s, called Raamwood Ranch (named after an
ancestral hippie chief.)

Patricia wrote about that event: “I awoke one night not long after we had
started dating to music from outside my window. I was on the second floor at
Raamwood. He had driven up and was parked under my window playing Love
Duets from Puccini on his car’s tape player. He had probably just come from the
Booneville bar. He was irresistible.”
Too bad he sold his banjo to Jerry Garcia.

Raamwood Ranch
Dad loved Raamwood. Just shy of 100 acres, there was a lot to love, from the tumbledown barn to the
dormer windows on the second floor of the house.
“We had wonderful parties at Raamwood. Bill was the acknowledged king of the frogs. Guests loved
going to the pond at night to see how he could make all of the frogs stop croaking. There were hundreds of
frogs and there would be dead silence for a minute or so after he had commanded that they be quiet. It was
very impressive. He built benches and fire circles and trails through the woods. He created sacred spaces in
redwood rings. We had corn fertilizing ceremonies and croquet parties and barbecues. We built a bath house
which he tiled and a cabin out of an old carriage shed. We sat on the porch and watched the fog come across
the meadow in the evenings and watched the vultures dry their wings on the fence posts in the mornings. I
believe that Raamwood was a dream-come-true for Big Bill.” -from Patricia's biography of Dad.
The last words Big Bill spoke from his deathbed were plans he had for Raamwood.
Being at Raamwood was like walking into a sepia-toned photo from the 1880s. There was no electricity.
The spring, located one-quarter mile uphill, fed the pair of giant water tanks on the steep hill behind the
ranch. The overflow from the tanks then filled a pond and from there, to the vegetable garden downhill across
the road. You could always hear the water coming into the tanks. A background sound along with the crickets
and frogs.“Do you hear that?” Big Bill asked me one morning.
“No, I don’t hear anything.”
“Exactly. There is no water coming in.” he said, worried. It took a long time to find the spring and trace
the pipeline from it. Late that afternoon, Big Bill and Billy returned tired but triumphant, “A banana slug.
Poor guy was smashed against the filter in the pipe.” The sound of water dripping filled the evening air. Billy
gave thanks and blessed the water. Billy was in his Indian period and explained how one should always give
thanks for the water. I admired his attitude.
Raamwood Ranch, Comptche, California 

The Indian Period
The Beatles had Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
Mickey and Billy had Rolling Thunder. Rolling Thunder, before his fall from grace, was known as the
'hippie spiritual leader.' Born John Pope, he must’ve impressed the heck out of Billy and Mickey Hart. Mickey
even recorded a solo album Rolling Thunder with the first track featuring the “Shoshone medicine man.”
Bob Dylan was also a fan of Rolling Thunder, putting together a national series of concerts titled Rolling
Thunder Revue. (Dylan denies this. Who are you going to believe, me or a harmonica player?)
The movie Billy Jack is supposed to be loosely based on his life and which he played bit parts in. He
died in 1997.
In Adrian J. Ivakhiv’s book Claiming Sacred Ground, he accused Rolling Thunder of teaching Indian
rituals to non-Indians for money. (the fancy name for this is ‘cultural appropriation’.)
In a 2001 on-line discussion by Al Carroll of Arizona State University, Mr. Carroll wrote:
“Rolling Thunder was actually John Pope, a white man who claimed to be part-Cherokee and at various
times also claimed to be Shoshone or Hopi. What he taught had virtually no resemblance at all to any traditional native teachings and much more to do with counterculture fantasies of what they wished natives
were like.”
This was Billy’s Indian period, even to the extent of learning how to hunt deer with bow and arrow.
“You must be quiet and invisible because the range of an arrow is much shorter than a gun.” he explained.
“Bow hunting evens up the odds somewhat. The buck has a better chance.” I, like our dad, didn’t believe in
killing animals. I said nothing. I had already seen the carcass in the freezer drawer. There was no arrow in it.

The Indian sweat ceremony
A local Mendocino area Indian (possibly a real one) offered sweat lodge ceremonies to people willing to
pay. Billy paid and invited me.
A large bonfire next to a full-size, unadorned tepee came into view as Billy drove up. A group of maybe
10 or so young people were gathered. We entered and sat on rattan mats in a semi-circle (Of course it was in
a circle, we’re in a tepee!) The center had a fire ring. The old Indian introduced himself and gave a short
history of the ceremony. Then came the insurance disclaimer, “if anyone feels this is not for them, you can
leave at any time.” He opened and closed the triangle flap door. “The door is right here and is always open.”
He then brought in rocks from the bonfire outside with a shovel. Level one had begun.
At level two I began to worry. The old man repeated the disclaimer as before and larger rocks were
brought in. Water and sage were added to the red-hot rocks. He chanted in a low vibrating way that soothed
me. The beads of sweat joined together in a flood down my body; the Colorado river coursed down my left
side, the mighty Mississippi down my right. I listened to the drops splat against the mat. One young person
quickly left the tepee. A lady began a soft humming.
The third you-can-leave-if-you-wish rap just made me more determined to stay and hang tough. (Not
unlike mom’s refusal to leave in the face of a hurricane, oddly enough.) The old man made sure to get
everyone’s individual agreement to continue. At this point, I was amazed at the amount of water leaving my
body, not unpleasant, no stinging in the eyes or itchiness, just totally wet. Even the old Indian had to leave the
tepee for a time.
I couldn’t breathe. The air was too hot to inhale. I imagined vivid pictures of tiny hairs in my nose and
throat curling up and dying. Fear possessed me. The fear was just about to slide into panic when the man to
my left helped out, “Bring your knees up to your chest, wrap your arms around them tight and put your head
down in that space.”
Did he just tell me to kiss my ass good-bye?
The fear shattered like a plate glass window. Beyond it was a vision: I’m on the back of an eagle flying
high and slow over a forest. The grass meadow of Raamwood valley comes into view beneath us and I’m set
gently on the hill behind the farmhouse.
Probably just the mind reacting to the body’s extreme stress. I must be at least a quart low.
The ceremony ended, and outside Billy looked refreshed, energized, and sopping wet. In the truck, he
asked, tongue-in-cheek, “Wasn’t that cool little sister?” I then recounted my vision. He smiled and said,
“Dad’s Indian name is Flying Eagle”.Journey to the Center of the Earth I couldn’t put down.

Gravy Train
Visits to Comptche were special for the insight they gave me. Billy was, to use a southern term, 'high on the hog' and as a result, people were in line for his money. Friends asked him to co-sign large loans, he was supporting family members of his wife, and possibly his ex-wives as well.

On top of all that was the lawsuit against him by Matthew Kelly hanging like a dark cloud over everything. He and dad would confer in serious, head-bent-down-talks.

At some point, I made the decision not to be a party to what I began to refer to as "Billy's gravy train."
Thus began the Ed McMahon story. Dad was well aware of my marriage problems, even helping to craft the divorce
agreement. He also knew my stance with asking my brother for money, so he got Billy to somehow agree to buy me a car, which I desperately needed. Problem was, they knew I would turn it down, so the plan was
hatched-someone would call me saying they were Ed McMahon and I had just won the Publishers
Sweepstakes and a new car.

It was a 1995 Nissan single-cab truck, black with a green stripe along the sides. When I handed the check
to the finance lady at the Santa Rosa dealership, she became flustered. "We don't often have people come in
and purchase the car in full." I kept quiet but my thought was "Marin County, one of the wealthiest counties in
the state of California is just south of here, and you can't handle someone giving you a check for 12,000
Although neither Ed McMahon nor a stand-in needed to call, Dad told me his secret behind the plan, "If
you can make Billy believe it was his idea all along, he'll go for it."

Thursday, September 21, 2017

A Jambled Rumble

I'm a lefty in a right-handed world. It's fun at times, confusing otherwise.

I get Kate Bush mixed up with Kate  Wolf. I call a certain brand of corn  chip "Sandinista"

Luckily, I'm not too politically buff  or wonky, as I'd get the 2 Roosevelts confused, although I could never make that mistake with the Bushs, one of  whom may be related to Kate.

C.S. Lewis is not the author of Alice In Wonderland, nor is the Mississippi river the "Big Muddy"  although the jury is still out on that argument. Depends on how much stock you put into  Yahoo answers (answer: not much.)

My husband's face turns bright red when I confuse Ambrose Bierce with Stephen Ambrose, who, fortunately is deceased now. In fact, they are both dead I've been informed.

In school,  no one else I knew wrote their sixes backwards. The letter "C" gave me Hell too.

We won't even talk about the preference of scissor-makers for right-handed people. It's a conspiracy I tell you!

In my job as groomer, my sharpening guy will not even touch left-handed scissors saying "they don't lay right on the stone."  Well then lay them left ...  I've learned to use the right-handed ones fine but inside I'm steaming, groveling to the right-handed majority like a peasant is not my style.

And to make matters worse, I've read that lefties use the right side of the brain, in addition they say we "only use about 15% of our brain's capacity" so, I'm using less than one quarter?
How about 2 dimes and a nickel?

Going into high gear now, you ready?
You ain't seen nothing yet Yeti.
Yet I was the lover of
 English ...
 at the Gymkhana. Jim's Kana was held in the rink at summer camp called Camp Kennolyn, named after the owner's 2 kids, Kenneth and Carolyn. Snazzy huh?

Each morning, wee kiddies in our cabins would hear Cat Stevens played from the loudspeakers. I was 12 going on 13 or 21 depending on my mood.

Deep in the Santa Cruz Mountains, I'll never sing On Top Of Old Smokey again as long as I live.  No meatballs in my spaghetti either thank you.

I wasn't good at anything the camp offered; the guitar strings hurt my fingertips, the clay pot broke, my horse almost slid down the embankment.

Then I made my Real Bad Mistake ...
standing in the infirmary hallway door for the pledge of allegiance, I said something like "why do we do this, its just a cloth with colors on it." the kid next to me nodded to show he heard but the office workers on the other side of the wall heard me too and I was duly punished.

I should've let that horse backstep off the trail, we'd of been happier in and up the creek.

Brought again to Mr. Brautigan, one of the world's greatest penmen. Saddled with alcoholism and depression, pure genius flowed from his mind until he kissed that bullet and ended the pain. I don't have the guts Richard, I can't do it, at least not yet.
Wanna bet?
No I don't. Besides, I don't have a gun.

And I want to stick around for the end of this clown show in politics.

Luckily, everything changes eventually except the dust in the museums whose sole job is to keep the past frozen in

A longtime friendship has just ended  today between myself and a Deadhead over politics. We are both entrenched in the trenches and refuse to budge. He called me a "socialist" ... as if that was an insult. 
Sad, confused, but like Jerry Garcia, I let  what happens happen most of the time.
 A second civil war says Rush Limburger. Damn right, and not too soon either. Might as well face the music ... or the gun.
Bloody Rock, Eel River area, Mendocino Nat'L Forest, California


Do you have any?

Only a dime and two nickels.


Saturday, September 2, 2017

A Narc, Stormy Night

by B. T. Raven

In those times, Los Angelenos were divided into either burrito camps or pastrami camps for  takeout dining.

 A tiny contingent became drive-through burger folks who tended to be Zombies from the Midwest who mistook  'Night of the Living Dead' as a news documentary shot in L.A.

They would chance the drive-throughs in the twilight in the hopes of snagging a few tasty ladyfingers as the food passed through the tiny windows.

Greg was in the pastrami camp for at least this night. His cooking skills were limited to Bisquick variations. There were no microwave ovens, SUVs, mobile phones  or other such poppycock.

He was the lone pedestrian in a seedy North Hollywood district, that was redeemed by good burritos at one end of the block and decent pastrami at the other.

Greg was walking east across the parking lot of the Greek-owned pastrami place when things went south. He glanced to the back of the parking lot and noticed a junkie standing beside a beater Oldsmobile from an earlier decade.

The junkie had a gun.

Since L.A. is a friendly town, whose principle entertainment is serial killers, Greg complied with the junkie's command to come to the car.

"Oh fiddlesticks," Greg thought. "I'm going to be robbed and murdered without any dinner."

The Junkie produced a badge claiming he was an undercover LAPD narc, deputized Greg as a fellow narc, and ordered him to stand on the other side of the Olds to guard a prisoner laying facedown, uncuffed, on the backseat of the car.

Mr. Junkie/Narc appeared to be holding a Browning nine, the kind that carries 15 rounds. Nines have a bad habit of keeping their trajectory even when traveling through Oldsmobiles.

The suspect didn't make any furtive moves requiring gunplay, which was good.

The uniformed backups arrived, which was bad. It was  quickly obvious that the narc was not a local narc. The deal may have been setup in Hollenbeck, or Hollywood or Venice and migrated to North Hollywood.

The cops surrounded the Olds and everybody near it with weapons drawn. Greg tried to leave, but the cops decided otherwise, until the narc eventually told them it was OK.

Greg  beelined towards the restaurant to finally get his pastrami sandwich, and maybe some french fries. He passed two teen boys in a booth. "He's a narc!," sneered one boy loudly. Technically the kid was correct. The Greek counterman was as friendly as Greeks are capable of being. He tried to give the suspected cop free food.

Greg declined the offer, because of the possibility that it could screw up his sainthood application when he finally caught the bad end of a nine.

The Church requires  saint candidates to have performed a verified miracle  The miracle here was that Greg actually got his friggen pastrami on a steamed roll with just the right amount of pickles, mustard and onion. He kept the receipt to prove it.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Leaning Tower Of Glory

       This trellis is going to fall ... any day now. You can''t even see the trellis for the massive amount of Morning Glory vines draped like a solid green curtain, slowly pulling it over.

Each day I check for flower buds. A daily ritual guaranteed to disappoint, for there are no flowers, or hints of anything resembling a Heavenly Blue Morning Glory.

 I thought I was such a green thumb, an engineer of plants, a more intelligent being, ready to manipulate  nature to my will. The laugh is on me.

Why are humans so bent on changing things; rivers are straightened and dammed, bays are filled in to extend coastlines, mixed forests are clear cut then replanted with another species.

My 'design' looked beautiful in my mind's eye, yellow sunflowers peeking out among brilliant blue flowers on a green canvas.
Guppy the sailboat with last year's bounty.

Last year's garden was astounding, as it was all in pots and it produced  much food. I had to use Greg's sailboat for the tomatoes and, let me tell you, that 13-ft. sailboat is a much better planter than an actual in-the-water-type boat.

The experience in the sailboat at Clear Lake taught us so well. Being at a 45 degree or more angle is just mentally weird. My brain screamed, "Danger, danger" while I argued with it, "he'll turn us into the wind, we'll be fine."
Well, there's this small island you see, so the wind then whipped us from the other side.

Did we take sailing lessons?
 Of course not!
Nor did we wear floatation jackets because a capsize was not  possible, thus no need.

 The reasoning escapes logic, I agree.

We started the motor and removed all sail as we headed back to the harbor, the safe but boring option.

 Boring until the mast crashed down. Greg failed to see the low-hanging oak branch above the take-out. I distinctly heard a collective "gasp" from the boaters in the parking lot.

Once again, nature had the last laugh.

Guppy is the world's prettiest planter and that's that. The pots all lined up on the cockpit seats as she sits on her trailer in the parking lot.

Every residence we've lived in was a gardening challenge; first the desert of Mojave with no shade, all heat, then the dark forest of a mountain with all shade, no heat.

The desert was easiest to garden in. Spaghetti squash greened out the chain link fence and the lattice panels added shade and cut the wind blasts.  Greg would do his morning duty and hand pollinate the  golden yellow female squash flowers, a task he enjoyed, "Better then meditation and yoga."

 The mountain garden did well considering it was located in a tiny open area under the mixed deciduous forest of black oak, Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir trees.

In the  fifteen years we lived in our little 600-square-foot redwood cabin, the garden lost its spot of sunlight as the conifers grew. When we added the chipped remains of a big-leaf maple, that really did it, as the seeds in the chipped mulch began to grow, although the fall colors were delightful.

The local denizens of the forest stopped in to say hello. He had large ears framing the antlers, so I named him Prince Charles. He told his gang "look, a salad bar!" then mowed down the tomato plants to the nub. With full bellies Charles and his does paraded down the middle of the street like they owned the joint, which they do.

Other visitors included skunks, moles and bats. The 1950s-era cabin had been enlarged with a deck at some point in its life and that's where the bat show began each evening.

 As I sat in the twilight more sensing the creatures than seeing them, I'd remember that night at Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park. Never had I experienced so vicious a mosquito, not even in Biloxi. Right though the shirt fabric they attacked us, then suddenly ... Thousands of bats darkened the air over the campsite. I ducked but was too fearful to move away. They swooped and circled and flitted over and around us until all the insects had been eaten, then the bats disappeared as silently as they had arrived.
Looks like a face coming out of the ground.

We discovered the home turf of the bats on the next camping trip to Ajhumawi State Park. The area was once a volcanic field and has cinder cones and lava tubes and caves. Of course we had to explore a large cave next to the hiking trail right?
The cave of bats we entered slowly, and left quickly.

As we turned a corner in the cave, Greg stopped and said, "I'm going to take a shot of this."

It took Greg only half a nanosecond to rethink his bad idea as the whole cave was solid with sleeping bat bodies, moving now from our disturbance.
"Turn around and leave slowly ... now" he whispered. Any minute I expected to be flooded with flying bats, wondering what this experience is going to be like and will I get them out of my hair.

There are no bats around here in the potted garden with its trellis. A few turkeys will wander through, glancing at the turkey standing at the sailboat, but that's all.

Maybe by the time you read this story, I'll have success and can return to calling them Heavenly Blue and not Dante's Disappointment.

The 8th of September was a heavenly day for there appeared one single Morning Glory in all its Heavenly hue of Blue
Worth the wait.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017


             The drivers speeding by on the state highway barely notice her. She is just another small pond under the tall pines in the forest. Just another body of water, one of several in the area. But Vern is a special body, unlike Boggs Lake or Forest Lake, Vern will disappear in the summer and transform herself into a flowering meadow.
If she could, Vern would tell you of the history she witnessed, going way back to the volcanism that laid ash on her bed of clay. In more recent times, she suffered baseball games, bicycling  and horseback riding from the folks at a resort on her southern flank.

The resort was completely destroyed by fire in 1967, with part of a stone wall remaining.

She will tell you of her enemies and of her rescue. Her owner began excavation in 1984 to force her into a recreational lake, but he somehow skipped getting the required permits.

About this same time, friends she had not yet met came and introduced themselves. They were seekers of rare plants, so she showed them her jewelry box.

Among her treasures they found a plant that grows nowhere else and named it the
 Loch Lomond Button Celery.  Discovered in 1941 and collected by botanist  Beecher Crampton  in 1954, two more occurrences north of San Francisco were later found. (This plant is so rare, no pictures online allow for copy. A written request for use must be sent to California Native Plant Society or the photographer.)

Loch Lomond Resort, late 1940s
By 1993 Vern had a new owner, the state of California and a new unladylike name, the Loch Lomond Vernal Pool Ecological Reserve or LLVPER. Yuck.
"Honey, me and the dog are gonna go visit Vern."

"Okay, be careful. Say hello for me"

The state agency Dept. of Fish And Game, built a post-and-rail fence with a dirt path skirting the perimeter. Next year the agency drafted a management plan, a fun read if you like  fantasy, for the interpretive signs never appeared,  neither the "repair fence as necessary" (page 16).  She was ignored and neglected..
We visited her almost daily, although in the rainy season, parts of the path were flooded, for Vern did not care about the fence.

By 1995, the fence was crumbling, whole sections had fallen over, other sections missing entirely.

    The Damage
On this warm afternoon in April of 2008, Vern was drying out and the path was muddy and full of recent and deep tire tracks. Not only was the path destroyed, the tracks went beyond a missing section of fence and into the meadow.  Vern's enemies had returned, riding ATVs. In the surrounding woods live scalawags and parolees of every type. The Chamber of Commerce will not tell you this though. They will tell you what a nice resort Loch Lomond is, all the amenities it offers, including "occasional snowfalls" at Christmastime.

"Honey we're back .. and I need your help."

   The Rescue

Knowing how much Greg hated off-road vehicles, I tried to cushion the blow he was about to receive. Rage was not going to help me in my rescue effort.

" I need your photography skills and your camera at the vernal pond. There is real bad damage and I wanna document it."

"You can take the camera, what's the big deal?" he asks.

"No, you don't understand, it's bad hon."

Finally, he agrees and again I caution that the damage is extensive, "steel yourself for this." I add.

The ruts where the path used to be are a good eight inches deep, serious ankle breakers. The mud was beginning to dry and turn to concrete already.  The damage went from the fence to the treeline.

Several photographs (seen here) were scanned onto the bottom of the letter I carefully composed,  then mailed copies to all state and federal representatives of the Cobb Mountain area. I included a 'cc' list of each name receiving the letter. Then waited.

   The Response
Two replies came back, one from U. S. Senator Dianne Feinstein and the second from Mike Thompson, California State Senator at that time. Senator Feinstein's letter stated, " ...  the land in question belongs to the State of California and is not a Federal issue."  The second reply from  Mike Thompson had, "we will look into this, my assistant will be calling you soon." Next day the call came and very soon, no trespassing signs appeared along the undamaged portion of the path. Sheriff's deputies were seen talking to people in pickup trucks, the truck bed holding an ATV.  Then came the surveyors, placing brightly colored sticks in the middle of the pond.

I put the pressure on. I emailed the state agency responsible for the property, California Dept. of Fish and Game, only to find out they were "unaware this reserve exists." I promptly sent them the 1994 Draft Management Plan they themselves had published.

Next on my email list was the strong environmental  group, the California Native Plant Society. This organization publishes a list annually of endangered and threatened native plants used as the reference by other agencies.

Then came the Great Recession. Vern's tale may not have a happy ending for by the time we moved away in 2012, nothing more had been done.  The survey markers were long gone. The gouges were tramped  down to a semblance of a path by feet and horse hooves willing to risk it.

At least the no trespassing signs were still visible, having been nailed to living oak and pine trees.

Beecher Crampton (1918-2002) is the author of Grasses of California, published in 1974.

Other Federal and State-listed endangered plants in the reserve are :
 *Many-flowered navarretia
 *Few-flowered navarretia
Wikipedia's article on the LLVPER here.
Few-flowered Naverretia c michael hogan  License
"Vern" as seen from State Highway 175.
More information on vernal ponds here

Thursday, July 27, 2017


by B. T. Raven


All lakes, at some point in their careers were once rivers.

Most rivers, against their will, become lakes. They are dammed to become lakes as some sort of punishment. River prisons. The waterfowl and fish are innocent victims of this scheme.

Rivers have no right of free speech, but the brooks often speak out. They babble, mostly, being so little.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

La Cucaracha

La Cucaracha

Living in the Deep South was like living in a terrarium. Everything seemed oversized, from  the six-inch long grasshoppers to the bullfrogs the size of my hand.

Unless you cut down the trees, bushes and vines, then paved over your land with concrete, you were on a first-name basis with nature.

Even the bugs were huge. The cockroach refused to be shown up by the famous   mosquitoes "the size of Volkswagens."

Not only were the cockroaches big, they could fly. American cockroach is the common name, although they have another, friendlier name spoken by those who can't bring themselves to say the word "roach."   Palmetto bugs. Brings a picture of beach, sun and palm trees to your mind.

The bug man never worried about unemployment , every house needed him on a monthly basis. Diana's  mom Bertha had the bug man spray their kitchen. For two days, you could not even sit at the table, the acrid, chemical smell was so strong.

 Neither could the cockroaches, they just moved to other parts of the old house. Diana and  I would play throw the shoe ... the winner was whoever's shoe came the closest to knocking the big, brown guy off the wall.

I hated that smell and tried to leave our house while the bug man sprayed each room's baseboards. Thinking back now, I always seemed to be sick when Dad made his monthly phone call to Biloxi.

Having them dead was almost worse then having them alive, for they chose the most inconvenient places to croak.  I'd pull out a frying pan to cook a nice Southern breakfast of eggs, bacon and grits, and there he was, belly up and definitely dead.

 The chemical companies have had to change their formulas, the insects adapted to the poisons.  It's a waste of money, especially in the south, where everything grows regardless of what Man does in his fight again nature.

La Cucaracha is winning.