omne trium perfectum

You could get smug with the happy pleasure that fills you watching the hummingbirds dart around in their spangled Lucha Libre helmets—the idea is, that of course, the Hummingbird is the god of war revered by the Aztecs. The unconquerable, everywhere-at-once Huitzilopachtli.

 

And the happy pleasure that the fly catcher has built her nest (again…third year in a row) on top of the porch light and has laid three eggs.

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The cactus blossoms are blooming for the third year in a row in pink starlight bursts of floral fireworks. Such happy pleasure.

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Not only that, but the Kiwi vine we planted 3 years ago is blossoming for the first time. I wonder if this rule of three kind of happiness was born, like everything human, on the savannas of Africa.

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And then there it is again, Robin and Eli’s trifecta of boys we call The Wolf Pack.

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And then Noah and Kris’ life of three with Clementine, Aloysius and (who’s a good girl?!!) Ellie, the wonder dog.

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This morning in our usual Saturday morning long-form phone chat, child #3, Amelia reported that she’d seen the documentary of Mr. Rogers and had to go to work the next day all puffy eyed because she blubbered her way through the film (along with everyone else in the theatre). This clip has all you need: in the first 30 seconds Fred parsing information and wonder.

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Amelia on an art tour of Mexico City. Loving B&W polka dots since before she could speak.

It all gets fairly sappy when you start in on the magical thinking of threes, as if the world was made for your very own precious self-centered imagination—but, after all, we’re talking about the mind taking a relaxing a snooze in a deck chair on this cruise-boat of a day, like today, say, a few days before summer.

That in turn, reminds me of a joke, told using the standard tripodal structure of threes  the punch line of which is: “Then he took out his lunch and I took out mine.” You haven’t heard it? Just ask…

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Bees

When Bonnie Bee and her husband Gary arrived, after the greetings and introductions,  Judith started in with the old adage, “you don’t need a boat (swimming pool, bee hives) you need a good friend with a boat…(swimming pool, bee hives)”

With beekeeper neighbors like Taylor and Daniel we have good friends with bees. Their bees fuel up at our humming bird feeders in return they give us jars of honey.

We had called Bonnie Bee Company because we had been visited by a swarm that we feared was settling in to the wall in our house. For several days we had seen bees going in and out but by the time Bonnie and Gary arrived the bees had moved on.

Bonnie and Gary have made bees their life work. They offer classes and consulting  and are enthusiastic educators about the value of bees. They dazzle with amazing facts about bees: Although around here we know the honey and the bumble—there are 20,000 known species on the planet and some 1600 native to California.

Since we are abundant in Borage and California Poppies our garden is abuzz with activity. Bonnie explains that they may be Taylor and Daniel’s bees but they may have come from more than two miles way. We have so much bee business going on in our garden, it might be possible to establish a hive. Bonnie and Gary set up bait hive box. We are hoping some bees move in.

Hey, wait a minute. What was that about having a friend with bee hives???

Look what we now have in our yard!!!

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The Keeping of Bees is like the Directing of Sunshine

In 1988  beekeeper/artist Mark Thompson with dancer Joanna Haigood, performed a ritual dance with bees at the Headlands Center for the Arts.

Richard offered these poems by Antonio Machado and Mary Oliver:

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Dirt Day 2018

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Instead of Earth Day, today we are celebrating dirt day. We will be digging deep into our compost singing the praises of our worms — dancing a jig and shouting “we are rich, we are rich” as we turn over our shovel, revealing the ground teaming with life. Into that humus-rich soil we are planting tomatoes, bell peppers, squash and corn. Plus, a first for us, soybeans for Edamame.

Neighbors Taylor and Daniel gave us a cob of bright red New Mexico grain corn for making polenta and tortillas. They recommend before planting to put the corn kernels in our mouths – the saliva enhances the germination. Granddaughter Clementine phoned with an insistent message about corn growing better with rock and roll music— she warned that corn does not care for classical. We will be revving up our boom box. Roll Over Beethoven:

This afternoon in Sebastopol we will be celebrating Suzanne Maxson’s 70th birthday. She requested that there be “no presents” but we were asked to bring instead a reading for the open mic. The Poetry Jukebox will rev up: probably with selections from Shakespeare, Tony Hoagland, and of course, Merwin.

We have been enjoying the PBS program To Plant A Tree about W.S. Merwin and his extraordinary accomplishments as a writer and a conservationist. He and his wife have nurtured a tract of land on Maui where they have created a kind of Noah’s Ark for palm trees and established a conservancy for its preservation.

Judith selected this poem to read from his latest Garden Time:

The Present

As they were leaving the garden
one of the angels bent down to them and whispered

I am to give you this
as you are leaving the garden

I do not know what it is
or what it is for
what you will do with it

you will not be able to keep it
but you will not be able

to keep anything
yet they both reached at once

for the present
and when their hands met

they laughed

We do not know if Merwin meant The Present as “gift” or as the eternal “now.” Either way it is perfect for a “no presents” party. And a great reminder to crack open Lewis Hyde’s marvel The Gift This is a re-issue with the sub-title Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World~~we like the original 1982 subtitle: The Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property.

And speaking of the “Garden” we are reading Steven Greenblatt’s new The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve. So comforting to be in the warm arms of Greenblatt’s thinking. He did however, leave out what we think of as the real and actual Original Sin: Ownership. As in, that tree is mine, that goat is mine. Which in turn brings to mind Lizzie Maggie and the Georgists:

Georgism, also called geoism and single tax, is an economic philosophy holding that, while people should own the value they produce themselves, economic value derived from land (including natural resources and natural opportunities) should belong equally to all members of society.

In case you’ve forgotten, Lizzie Maggie was the inventor of the game: Monopoly in 1902. the case for ownership of the patent was not settled against Parker Bros. until 1972. And the most important message on this Earth Day—We do not own the Earth, the Earth owns us.

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Lose some, winsome

We pride ourselves on our experimental farming and take chances, daring the rain, daring the frost to extend our growing season. We knew if might be fool-hardy (it’s from the old French folhardi—the strong heeded foolish action preceding disaster) hoist up our potato bins in late fall- a deep frost could snap the early growth. But what the hectic – why not give it a try and if we win some it will mean early, early potatoes.

In a combination of art and applied biology we created the layered towers—start with a foot of Oak leaves (acidic—taters like acid, as in the peaty soil of Ireland) next a foot of rotted manure, next a foot of garden compost—put the seed potatoes on top and cover with straw. The tower done this way is very satisfying thing to LOOK at. Wait for rain…which it did. Then just as the green was lifting to the sun

hard hard frost—we mulched with straw which did a little good but then it looked like our towers were withered up and barren. Ole Uncle Wallace Stevens has a line about that from Planet on the Table:

 Other makings of the sun                                                                           Were waste and welter                                                                                      And the ripe shrub writhed.

Days are now warming and we have spring rain on the way, and on the way again. The abundance of late rain is a luxury so we are feeling fine about this years planting and the water supply in the MMWD reservoir.

Time to tumble over the ruined bins and move them out to prep the beds for tomatoes. We were delighted to uncover a grand bushel of potatoes. They made it!! – on the smallish side (we call ’em pea potatoes) but enough for several meals.

And talk about winsome here is Richard’s text and pic to the Selby-Lang gang: “Professor Selbini winsome lass and lecturer at the London School of Economics presents her paper on winter potatoes.”

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And then a thread of texts ensued:

>>Noah: Looking good, JSL! I’m thinking fries! 🍟

>>Richard: You know it!  but…cooked til almost done then slightly smashed and pan fried with garlic and oodles of vitamin B(utter garlic chives sprinkles)

>>Noah: My thing is leave them whole w skins on.   Steam them until super done.  Put them on a baking sheet.   Smash each one with a small plate, broil super quick with a nickel-size kin pat of butter for about 5-7 mins (or longer if needed—you want them a little bien cui —and then salt them right before they hit the table.   Use a spatula to remove and Bob’s your uncle.  

>>Judith: The saying goes “the apple does not fall ….” but in this case… here is my Montana grandpa with his spuds.

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>>Amelia: (chiming in from NYC) P.S. It’s Mueller time.

>>Janis: I remember digging potatoes with grandpa! So much fun and so delicious!!

>>Judith: Especially delicious the new potatoes boiled up then slathered in butter.

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The Plating with lamb shanks, turnips and carrots…nice end of the day…Lamb and potatoes IMG_2315

Midwinter Spring

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“Midwinter spring is its own season
Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown,
Suspended in time, between pole and tropic.
When the short day is brightest, with frost and fire….”  TS Eliot

Good ol’ Eliot…Always trying his very best to situate the universe between this ‘n that…

And for us, now, right here at home, we are “Where wildlife adventure begins.” As the tag-line from Marlin Perkins’ Wild Kingdom told us every Sunday Evening, brought to you by Mutual of Omaha®…”Just as the Giant Anteater protects her kits, so Mutual of Omaha provides your family’s safe harbor…etc.”

Who needs to go to the ends of the earth?? Marlin Perkins eat your heart out…

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But we did!!! In 2009 we did go to Africa where we snapped this pic of a giraffe party at Lake Manyara National Park in Tanzania.

Ends of the earth? No, this is probably more like the beginning of the earth…

Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree

Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always–
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

And even though the scant rains are worrisome this year, we will bask in the sights and smells of this “false spring” being grateful for every speck of it.

We wish you…

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This scythe, a gift from artist William T. Wiley  hung in his studio for years as a friendly reminder about the harvest dance of death. When it arrived, grandson Aloysius (@4 years old) said, “You know, that thing belongs to God.” Along with a lesson about the passage of time, it serves as a helpful tool to reap our grain — that we commit to planting more of in 2018.

We intend to take the “blah-blah-blah” we have been doing about “living off the land” subsistence farming and try our hand at the growing and baking of the basics for matzos and bread. So far, our rye has been fermented into whiskey. We have served up refreshing beverages with our straw straws. Our ground corn as polenta has become a staple.

This wreath, a gift from artist Judy North, symbolizes the unending circle of life — what goes round comes round. In a gesture of solidarity and continuity, Richard’s grandpa, the one who escaped the mayhem of The Russian Pograms, greeted his grandchildren with interlocked pinkie fingers whispering “endless chain.”

Wiley and Judy, as neighbors and friends, have long been in our circle of love and attached to the endless chain of Homo Sapiens making art.

The combine of the scythe and the wreath came in a flash in what we might describe as a “divine inspiration.” We were decorating for the holidays. The placement of the wreath on the glass door of the studio seemed right, but a move two feet over, hanging it on the porch light made for a profound visual ideogram, an aesthetic rupture for our thoughts about the season, the solstice and the return of the light.

This time of year more than any other we think about time and its passage, so quotes about time abound—”Time present and time past are both perhaps present in time future…”, (say future the way TS Eliot says it…fyuchahh, listen here), but our all-time fav is Wallace Stevens’ This Solitude of Cataracts.

We’ve selected a few lines from it:

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So let’s get on with it. Time is ticking. Or, as Cormac McCarthy remarked, “The one thing good about old age—it don’t last long.”

We are ready for another lesson, another go-round. These days when we are troubled by the onslaught of “alternative truth.” We are keen to bring back Diogenes and his search for truth.

Bring on 2018…

Sinop on the Black Sea Coast of Turkey
© Ferrell Jenkins 2012

Critter Report

Summer is the time to see large and small critters on the move at dawn or dusk and they can mean trouble for our garden. When we think about the 10 Plagues of Egypt: frogs, locusts, hail fire, our problems seem minor. Although we are on the look out for those who would do harm, ravaging our garden, we are fond of the individuals we have come to recognize and even name.

“Notchie” we have known now for 5 years.  Every year she births her two in our driveway and then teaches her fawn crew to hang out under the apple tree and wait for the ripe apples to fall.

With another pair of fawns there was a mishap at birth so we have “Cassidy” who “hops-along” on three legs accompanied by her sibling “Satin” who is just fine. When their mother died, from some mysterious trauma, (not a mark on her) we buried her next to the massive pine stump. We’ll dig up the skull come winter. Those two were adopted by another doe. We worry about little Cassidy when we hear the coyote chorus at 4 AM but we are amazed at how she seems to have adapted to this infirmity, heartbreaking as it is to watch her. A neighbor called wildlife protection services but they told her, just as we thought: Darwin did have a point after all.

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A “party” of Blue Jays is hard at work harvesting the heads of our towering sunflowers. These bandits don’t leave much for us but they are probably the culprits who have stashed the seed that will become the next years volunteers.

At dusk we spotted a skunk passing by. The neighbor said she saw 7 kits, count ’em 7- that’s definitely a Surfeit. In the morning there were divots in the strawberry patch, evidence that they had been rooting out worms and grubs.

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We have a thoroughfare of trouble with gopher tunnels that are undercutting root systems and cause the water to drain away from the garden. To prevent total destruction everything is planted in hardware cloth wire baskets.

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We are making a list of bugs: cutworms that severed the stem of our soybeans, aphids that have infected our Brussels Sprouts and flies that burrow into the olives making them unfit for pressing. But we are on the case with a dusting of diatomaceous earth, stinky fly-catching devices and a sudsy spritz, a concoction of dishwashing soap to defeat the aphids.

Most marvelous and most mysterious is the clever creature who every night has been arranging and rearranging the tub of plastic rebar caps in our garden shed. We wonder who this might be??? It might be the rats (rats are never singular, not for long anyway, quickly becoming a “mischief” as a bunch of rats is called). We’ve resorted to the rat snappers since our cat Kibibi seems to have hung up her cleats, as it were. She was the bane of our rodent friends, but K’bib, in her retirement no longer presents us with a gnawed-on mouse or rat or gopher. These days, most often, we see her up on the porch gazing into some feline reverie of her glory days. Thankfully, she was never much of a birder.

Speaking of birds, in the gloaming and on into the black night, we’ve heard Screech Owl’s ghostly voice—listen here: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Western_Screech-Owl/id

As well as the spotted, great horned, Saw-whet. Good ole’ Cornell Lab of Ornithology where you can browse many bird sounds. We often hear the acorn woodpeckers tapping in vain on the stucco. Neighbors with wood siding regularly have to empty out bushels of acorns stashed behind the clapboards. Every once in a while we get a glimpse of the giant Pileated Wood Pecker doing his best to ravage our phone pole. You can see him working away, great chips flying. In a spectacular swooping stoop last week we saw our resident Red Shouldered Hawk grab up a snake twinned into its talons looking like the heraldry on the Mexican flag. You can see that story here Tenochtitlan.

Here’re pics of the rebar caps on three successive mornings. Rat trap unsprung. Rule #3 of Rancho D’s list of rules: Do something every day. Even if it is only one.

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August 13, 2017
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August 15, 2017

 

The Barn

We could not have done it without it — the barn that is.

Built in 1919, our barn is one of the first structures raised in the San Geronimo Valley. It’s storied history includes a stint as an auto repair garage and through the years it has been corral and stall to many fine steeds. During prohibition it was even home to a bootleg “liturgical wine” operation.

When, during a vicious wind storm, the metal sheeting of the roof peeled off like a tuna fish can lid, we realized it was time to give it a new do. And when the entire structure was heading south, sinking on the street side, we realized it was time to shore it up to save it from complete collapse. To cap it off, this week, the vintage knob and tube system was replaced with an up-to-date electrical system: wires, stitches, plugs and eco-LED lights.

We have taken it from a disreputable mess, transforming it into a showplace of historical import of which we are darn proud.

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It’s not just having the building of the barn, but having a home for horses who produce much precious manure that has made our garden possible. And as warehouse and workshop, the barn serves as the repository for our beach plastic collection where we sort and stack the plastic according to color and kind.

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When the new lights went on at dusk, Judith was especially proud having served as the sous chef assistant to our electrician Mike Killeen.

Cooper, the white horse, was so excited to see the light. He could not believe his eyes that the electrical is completed. But, he knows what that really means, it’s time to move into the stall then, it’s time to get to work.

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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
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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!!!!

 

ADDENDUM    July 25, 2017

We did it!!! Success!!!

                    Instead of a tag with a bill from the Marin County Fire Department                          we were thrilled when we found this notice on our front door.

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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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