Defensible Space

“Defensible Space” is on our minds these days. The deadline for clearing the brush and whacking the weeds was July 1 or the Marin County Fire Department will do it and attach an invoice to your property tax bill.

Richard’s son Eli who used to help with the whacking says, “Why don’t you just call Task Rabbit?”

FYI – Task Rabbit is an online service designed for millennial’s who have more money than time to take care of household fix-its and like to have helpers on-demand. And who doesn’t dream of having a personal assistant? We did have someone to help, but when he fell out we considered the TR, even looked at their website, but decided, hey, we can do this ourselves!!!

The thing is, we really like the feeling of doing a physical task. This was one of defining tenets of the do-it-yourself part of the 60’s. Seeing the start-to-finish of projects. When doing anything repetitively, especially things that get you out of breath, there is an existential thereness. Is there “thereness” sitting motionless looking into the garden. C’mon. And that’s the very thing about gardening, “yard work.” It’s a place and a state of mind where you can truly “BE THERE” right in your own back yard as it were. It’s enlightening, I tell ya. Working up a sweat or basking in the visual fruit of your labors…

Trying to get a handle on the 60’s beyond the Clichébeyond the flash and dazzle of drug-fueled music and sex as a social commodity, you fall into the do-it-yourself movement. DIY was the 60’s. Authenticity was the litmus paper testing any assumption, as all assumptions were tested in the 60’s. Along came Marxist Herbert Marcuse’s One Dimensional Man (1964), on every college course syllabus from psychology to sociology to history, setting the philosophical ground-rules suggesting that a totalitarian state may be achieved without violence through the commodification of everything, especially experience itself. The news these days is not current events it’s infotainment and sold by advertising mostly for pharmaceuticals to treat societal imbalances—anxiety, depression and irritable bowel syndrome. Consumerism swaggered in so fully it has now become the very air we breathe, the water we swim in.

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So in the spirit of DIY we have been on the case every morning doing our diligence. Not only have we found that the physical activity makes us tired, real tired, it is a great cure for the societal ails of anxiety and depression. Plus we have the real ails of sore muscles, bug bites and blisters.

Although it is a grueling task, it has given us the opportunity to become familiar with the acre and a half of our septic leach field. From a distance it appears to be just the golden brown of California summer but upon closer inspection we have discovered 15 varieties of grasses.

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Artist Paul Klee was an avid observer of plants. He pressed plants and preserved specimens in his herbarium books and drew upon the natural world to explore ideas of growth and fluctuation, often comparing the growth of plants and natural phenomena with the genesis of an artwork.

In 1923 Klee published his formative article Wege des Naturstudiums or Paths to Studying Nature, where he said “For the artist, dialogue with nature remains a conditio sine qua non. The artist is a man, himself nature and a part of nature in natural space.”

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from Paul Klee’s Herbarium
Grasses
From the Rancho D Herbarium

Fire is our primary concern but there are so many other ways we are defending our space — from the mighty buck who sashayed through and our latest resident Task Rabbit, the jack-rabbit. And did we say GOPHERS. From above and below our garden is always under siege.

 

We appreciate the stalwart folks who volunteer for the fire department and give a big round of applause when their vintage fire truck rolls at the 4th of July parade in Woodacre. Woodacre_IMG_6039And we are grateful for the free yard waste disposal day sponsored by the Marin County Fire Department and West Marin Compost. We always take full advantage.

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Go Little Red!!!!

 

 

Spirit Works

Spirit Works is the perfect descriptor for the glorious afternoon we experienced in Sebastopol on Sunday. From the tour and tasting at the Spirit Works Distillery to feeding the pigs and goats at Hilary and Jack’s farm. Both are works of transformation and exemplary of the art and craft of DIY.

At the San Francisco Center for the Book fundraising auction Judith was the bidder on a tour and tasting at Spirit Works. As long time fans and supporters of the Center we were happy to help support their cause and be in receipt in what we thought would be an interesting educational excursion into the realm of distilling grain into spirits.

With Richard’s son Eli we have jerry-rigged a pressure cooker and copper tubing and distilled some 140 proof Rye. We even grew our own rye. For oakiness, Eli charred some twigs on the BBQ and put them in the bottles. The jury is still out and will be for some time. A bottle has been put away for Grandson Jude’s 21st. Although we may not be around for that momentous tasting it will be infused with our DIY love of trying to transform rye into spirits and we should by then be spirits ourselves. Our “whiskey” is a little harsh right now, but we did ferment our apples and distilled the result. Deee-liscoius right now! 110 proof Calvados.

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The centerpiece of the operation at Spirit Works is the eye-dazzling still, a maze of tubes and nozzles of copper made by CARL a world renown fabricator from Germany.

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From “grain to glass” is the byline as they source the raw grain from organic farmers, grind the grain, ferment the mash, distill, then age vodka or add the botanicals then distill again to make the gin.

The four categories of flavor necessary to make a balanced gin are spice, grass/earthy, floral and citrus. To this end, in addition to juniper, they use coriander, cardamom, orris root, angelica and hibiscus, as well as lemon and orange rind.

Using music to keep the fermentors happy and to determine if different beats effect the flavor they have iPods attached to the barrels with earphone speakers. Imagine the flavor of the rhythm of Meghan Trainor All About That Bass 

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After the tour we sidled up to the bar, but this was no sluggingshotscowboy style. Our guide carefully poured tasters and we were feted with a sampling of each of their fine spirits: Vodka, Gin, Barrel Gin, Sloe Gin, Straight Rye Whiskey, Straight Wheat Whiskey.

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In the western hills of Sebastopol Jack and Hilary are crafting a farm as an example of sustainable agriculture, land stewardship and humane animal husbandry. They are proponents of “from farm to table.” We are signing up for their CSA cheese program to own a fraction of a goat and a cow who will be providing the milk to make the cheese.

We want pigs!! As we’ve often said referring to anything out of our ken, “We don’t want a swimming pool, just a good friend with a swimming pool.” What we really want is for Aunt Hilary to have pigs we can come visit, feed, scratch, generally adore their mirthful oinky-ness and then devour!

The spa-like atmosphere — the fields of fresh grass and tubs of water makes everyone laid back.

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Can we have one? One that remains under her magnificent ministration? Some kind of co-parenting arrangement. CSA-ish? Loved seeing how she husbands the critters. She is a model, the poster child for the de-sentimentalized PETA.

In looking for synonyms for pig, Richard came across “cob roller”…??? Who knew?

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Midas, the Sunflower King

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Grandson Jude and King Midas

It started growing all on its own in the garden path, kind of in the way, right? Judith, the angel of kindness in the garden put some bamboo stakes around it. “Let’s see what the little sprout wants to do…” she said. So we tilled around it—didn’t really water it or fertilize it. When it was knee-high it was clear it was a sunflower.The other sunflowers growing up one terrace were doing OK, but this one started shooting up and developing a hefty ankle-thick stalk. It seemed like it was something special, maybe an alien invader like in the Sci-fi story THE DAY of the TRIFFIDS, ready to take over the planet. Then thinking in a practical way we freaked, “Oh, NO! maybe we have a leaking water main. AGAIN!” We’d had one of those expen$ive leaks a couple of years before. Our water main is 200 feet long from the road. The way the leak sleuths found it last time they drained the pipe and filled it with pressurized helium. Then, they put the electric bloodhound to work able to sniff the rising helium and found the leak lickety-split, Oh, jeeze, not again. Some heavy lifting was required in the cash department.

This sunflower seemed like it was from the Cretaceous, and with so little tending! Land of the Lost. I mean we weren’t really watering it much—the drought and all…So we called MMWD (our local water utility) to come and check our meter. We are super careful with our water use—low flow toilets—save a lot of grey water in pickle barrels for summer watering, etc. So they came out to our place and it turned out there was no leak, but the thing was standing at 9 feet. By the time this photo was taken it had topped out at 11′ 2″ and the head, sans petals was over 2 feet across. The head began to droop loaded with giant seeds. Oh boy, we can corner the market for SGV (San Geronimo Valley) Brand® giant sunflowers. The guys from MMWD said we should charge a fee just to gawk at the thing. A roadside attraction.

We’ve all read The Old Man and the Sea. The heart break of the poor fisherman, finally, after days of nary a nibble, 84 days—no fish—finally catching a gigantic Marlin. So big it couldn’t be hauled in but tied to his boat. You know the rest…sharks devour his prize. Well, like Santiago’s great fish, the Blue Jays and the Crows started circling. We covered it with paper bags—no good—pecked apart. Now there was blood in the water so to speak, burlap no good, ripstop nylon no good. By the end of September it was a bony, seedless carcass, seed husks piled all around. All we could do is tell the tale and maybe gold-leaf the best thing from the garden last year.

We did manage to save a scant few seeds—Spring planting is just around the corner…

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On display at the San Geronimo Valley Community Center, March 1-28.

We hope you can join us for the reception:

Working from Home

Richard Lang and Judith Selby Lang

Sunday, March 12, 2017       4-7 PM

San Geronimo Community Center

6350 Sir Francis Drake Blvd.

San Geronimo, CA

Winter Turn

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Although winter may be described as the time to die, our “winter fallow” garden is still very much in action. Deep in the soil our Fava bean cover crop is working its nitrogen magic. And our cold-hearty vegetables (Kale, Bok Choi, Spinach, Turnips, Califlower) are up and at ’em providing us with an almost daily source of fresh vegetables that we serve up stir-fried with a touch of garlic — so delicious.

We’ve tucked the asparagus bed in for winter- the frilly ferns have been cut to the quick and a top dressing of composted manure has been applied. Underground the roots are resting and we are impatiently waiting for first tender sprouts of spring.

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The Cape Gooseberry can tolerate a mild frost, sadly ours looks like it took a hit. We are pruning it back, hoping this Brazilian native that was naturalized in the highlands of Peru will remember its perennial roots.

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We are reaping the rewards of our gift certificate seeds from the Seed Bank in Petaluma (Thank you Janis and Paul!) that is housed in the old Sonoma County National Bank building circa 1926. The formidable edifice is a reminder of the importance of  saving — saving money and saving seeds as security against the vagaries of the weather and unpredictable economic forces. Propagating these heirloom varieties connects us with farmers, gardeners, and seed enthusiasts who, generation after generation (all the way back to the Stone Age), have saved and passed along the hardiest (and tastiest) varieties.

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 As evidence of the largess of our garden, when asked to bring the vegetable side-dish for Christmas dinner, we presented a bountiful basket of cabbage, broccoli, summer squash, turnips, bell peppers, leeks and red chard that Richard blanched then sauteed moments before they were served. Our side-dish was not an aside – it was the star of the holiday table.

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The Rules

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Tennis balls retrieved from Kehoe Beach

Richard writes:

Many years ago (in the Guru encumbered 70’s) I went to a Halloween party dressed as a Guru. Affecting my best Maharishi accent—turban, dohti, blue face paint, forehead streak, beads…I looked right-on but, man, did I have a lousy time! I learned my lesson. Gurus don’t have any fun unless they are in control and control is heavy burden especially, when you want to have fun. Ah! the boundless inequities of the self-righteous. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been a meditator for all this time and have nothing but respect for a honed spiritual practice, but brother, please leave me out of the guru biz.

That said,  “We all want to change the world…” Lennon/McCartney-Revolution #9). We’ve found that the simplest rules of studio life, the struggle to make art, came into our lives in business, child rearing, environmental projects and on into our general mental health, etc, etc. We call our place Rancho Deluxe  (after the eponymous movie by that title and our granddaughter’s middle name is Deluxe). We developed five rules for life here on the Rancho. They are:

1. The ball is always in your court.

2. All situations are neutral.

3. Just do it.

4. Listen to the small voices.

5. Ask.

1. The ball is always in your court. It’s your world and even your smallest actions can alter events. You can’t complain about the world, it is what it is until you act and even then the results will be something you may not recognize. Start right where you are and you will be amazed at how effective you can be. Game on!

2. All situations are neutral. You assign meaning. How you handle pain, joy, grief, exhaltation is up to you. Skillful means are required to give meaning. Don’t let your reactive mind shape the dialogue between meaning and results.

3. Just do it.  Every day. Do some little thing you love to do. Five minutes is all the Universe asks. Tiny bits add up and definitely amount to more than no bits. There are always “chores” to do, nevertheless make your art, make up your mind, then make your bed.

4. Listen to the small voices. Trust the whispers. Pay attention to what you glimpse out of the corner of your eye. It’s how you know what to do. Your furtive mind will offer many ideas that may become discounted because they are not practical, or remunerative, or, foolish in the eyes of others. Try some ideas out, they may become a signpost or a dead end but you won’t know until you act.

5. Ask. When you need help, comradeship, advice, or just something to eat, there is no shame in asking and you might learn something that you didn’t know.

Thanksgiving 2016

Yes, we had hectic and boisterous and joyous Thanksgiving at Rancho D. Every year Richard writes and recites a poem for the toast of gratitude before we dive into the mashed potatoes and gravy. This year there were so many kids he decided it was time to forgo his solipsism and give a moral reminder and a not-so-subtle reference to the president-elect by telling the story of King Midas followed by a recitation of WS Merwin’s High Water.

We were unable find the poem on line, but here’re a couple of lines:

The river is rising
and with the breathless sound of a fever
the bank along each shore
trembles and is torn away.
A few steps up in the rain
the rows of faces watch
under the dripping hats
saying what should be moved if they
have to move it and what the spring
means to summer…

…and they speak even of the lake in the mountains
which they own together
and agree once again
never to sell.

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Illustration by Walter Crane for Nathaniel Hawthorn’s version of the Midas myth, 1893

 

OK, OK! – let’s dig in.

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Rancho D by Clementine D

GRASS

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Since the election GRASS is pretty much on everyones mind. In California Prop 64, under state law, legalized recreational marijuana for persons aged 21 years or older and established certain sales and cultivation taxes. We are happy with the outcome and hope that this will help to decrease drug-trafficking and mitigate the decades long drug wars and incarceration of people whose only offense is possession.

We are really high on GRASS.

Native grass, that is.

This week we attended Carbon Capture a presentation at the San Geronimo Valley Planning Group with John Wick of the Marin Carbon Project and Dr. Eric Dubinsky, Microbial Ecologist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. It has now been proven that the addition of compost to a typical oat grass-coyote brush system with light and limited once a year grazing, re-kindles a robust growth of native grasses. This has the effect of sequestering a massive amount of carbon, more carbon than an old growth forest, we were told.

For years we have had a great appreciation for John Wick and his wife Peggy Rathmann as Nicasio neighbors. When they bought the 600 acre ranch in 1998, they had big plans to take the grazing land back to “wild.” With the removal of the cow herds, what came back was a ruin. Hardly wild. What they discovered along the way has big implications for climate change. They found that a single application of compost can help sequester carbon in the roots of now flourishing native grasses. They have segued their vision of “wild” into a movement of agricultural environmentalism. They worked hard to understand the mysteries of the soil and have discovered that compost along with native grasses has great potential to save us from the effects of global warming. Plants eat carbon-dioxide and put it back into the soil. Compost is key to this vision. http://www.marincarbonproject.org/about

John suggests we read Carbon is not the enemy  online in Nature, November 14, 2016.

After their great success with animal manure,they are turning their attention to a different animal. They believe composting human waste could drastically reduce the use of water in transporting human sewage and help improve environmental health all over the world. Humanure may be the key to our very survival. Dr. Dubinsky has developed a device to identify dangerous microbes. Have a look at the http://www.thermopileproject.org/

In 1997 when Richard suffered a major house fire he wanted to re-build quickly. The insurance folks anted-up eight months of housing allotment. With two teenagers, he needed to get back in, and quickly. To get the building permit the septic system had to be rebuilt. Along with a new tank the county required an enormous leach field, with a pressure distribution system. As a result much of the insurance money for re-building wound up in the ground to deal with sewage—waste that could be used to fertilize our land.

Inspired by the Nicasio Native Grass Ranch we are re-doubling our efforts to take on the incumbency of our own lives, taking charge of what we can touch, what we can personally effect. First, we are educating ourselves and then we intend to start growing our own GRASS, planting natives on our one-acre septic field.

And finally, the last line from Mary Oliver’s luscious poem: Some Questions You May Ask: 

WHAT ABOUT THE GRASS?

Not Easy

As farmers (we are still parsing the farmer/gardener divide*) and as artists (we are still hard at work parsing the conceptual/retinal divide) we wanted to see Walter De Maria’s The New York Earth Room. Meandering the streets of SoHo, this October, reminiscing about “back-in-the day” when this part of town was the epicenter of beat-down and affordable artist lofts and adventurous galleries, bemoaning the sad state of the neighborhood today — now gentrified with boutiques and up-scale wanna-be bridge and tunnel shoppers. In this prime real-estate area with sky-rocketing rents one would not imagine that an entire floor of a loft is covered in dirt. Thanks to the Dia Foundation it is and has been since 1977.

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The stats:

An interior earth sculpture.
250 cubic yards of earth (197 cubic meters)
3,600 square feet of floor space (335 square meters)
22 inch depth of material (56 centimeters)
Total weight of sculpture: 280,000 lbs. (127,300 kilos)

Richard remembers his feeling of amazement when he saw photographs in Art Forum December 1969 of the first iteration of The Earth Room created for the Galerie Heiner Friedrich Munich in 1968. 

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And speaking of reminiscing…

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On a tear in NYC with Marshall Crossman in December 1987.

After a day of going the rounds to the galleries with slide packets in hand, on a mission to find representation for our work, trying to make it as artists in the Big Apple we finally understand the poster on the door of our apartment:

Art is not easy.

It wasn’t then and it still isn’t. The reaction to the commercialization of the art world gave rise to conceptualism. Fluxus in Germany in the 1960’s was strong medicine for a young artist. The NYC and LA art scenes with cheap space and empty warehouses gave rise to American Conceptualism. In 1970 Richard’s senior seminar at the Corcoran was called “New Media.” You were not required to make anything, only write up a proposal that would define the nature of art making. One of Marcel Duchamp’s subtitles for his seminal work The Large Glass was “an agricultural machine.” Every student was crazy for Duchamp in those days. One of Richard’s proposals was “I will grow my own food.”

These days over 2/3 of what we eat comes from our own hands. Farm or Garden? Who cares. What we do love is dirt, and seeing The Earth Room was like being in a time machine flying us back to 1968.

Open Carry

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Our grandson, not quite 4, has amassed the definitive collection of “stick guns.” He is the guardian of the corn patch writhing with monsters. These guns can shoot blue electric rays, red lava fire, yellow light beams to shoot off the necks, arms and feet of invading hoards of Japanese style movie creatures, always at the ready to cause harm and conquer the world. He seems to prefer sticks to the plastic injection-molded replicas. Perhaps his preference comes from his father who (child of 60’s-vintage peacenik parents allowing no guns as playthings) would nibble his graham-crackers into “guns” and fire away at will, exercising his 2nd amendment right to represent his well-ordered militia of the imagination.

In a pickle

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Nuff said, they are crunchy delicious.

Our recipe comes from Rodale Organics, a online resource for gardening advice and recipes, who’s Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening has been a guiding light since the 60’s.

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Dill Refrigerator Pickles

Yield: 1 quart

5 medium cucumbers
1 tablespoon pickling salt, sea salt, or kosher salt (but not iodized table salt)
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup water 1 head dill or small bunch dill leaves
1 clove garlic (optional)
3 black peppercorns (optional)

1. For the crunchiest pickles, select firm, dark-green pickling cucumbers that have not started to ripen to white or yellow. Cut them into spears or slices, as desired. To increase the crunchiness, you can sprinkle the cut cucumbers with a couple of tablespoons of salt, let them sit for 2 hours, and then rinse and drain before proceeding, but this step isn’t absolutely necessary.

2. Place the dill in the bottom of a clean quart jar, peel and crush the garlic clove (if using), and drop that in along with the peppercorns (if using), then put in the cut cucumber. Mix the salt, vinegar, and water in a separate container, stirring until the salt is dissolved, then pour it over the cucumbers, filling the jar right to the top. Pop on the lid and put the jar in the fridge.