Midwinter Spring


“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…


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…

xmas card final sans names

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:

Solitude of WStevens
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.

Cassidy and Satin IMG_6463

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.

Divot IMG_6466

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.

Digging IMG_6460

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 14, 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.


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.

Barn illumine


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.


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.

Wacking_IMG_0696Wacking IMG_0697







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.”

Paul Klee-232572
from Paul Klee’s Herbarium
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.

Litte Red IMG_6095

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.

Wildfire noticeIMG_6277

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.

Spirits IMG_6299

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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Spirit IMG_5932

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.

Spirit IMG_5918

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.

Pig 6.01.43 AM

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?

Cobb roller



Midas, the Sunflower King

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…


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


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.


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.


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.



 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.


The Rules

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.

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


OK, OK! – let’s dig in.



Rancho D by Clementine D