Wednesday, March 7, 2018

New Morning

Waning Gibbous Moon

Having backed away from the psycho black hole event horizon, I am feeling chipper and sound, though a little wary. Thank you for the many words of encouragement from family and friends. I guess I am not the only one who pays attention to little voices in my head ha ha.

Looking back over the last forty eight hours, it is clear that I was not behaving like I usually do at the start of a trip. Normally, if I was going to the eastern Sierra, I would be hightailing it to get over the passes asap. This time, I lollygagged, heading north a little bit in the central valley to check out the Merced National Wildlife Refuge. Not that it was a bad decision. It's a cool place that I had never visited before and the waterfowl were amazing. I had never seen or heard so many geese in my life.

They were everywhere, as far as I could see, honking and splashing up a peaceful, relaxed storm of bird refuge music. People? Irrelevant. This place is for the birds!

And the occasional bunny, as well. Don't forget the bunnies.

Arriving about noon, I missed the Lesser Sandhill Crane show which is real reason I came. I wanted to get one of those pictures you see on the internet of hundreds of biggo cranes flying, blotting out the sky. The Park Ranger on duty told me most of them have already moved on this year, but the best time to see them is sunrise and sunset anyway.

When I decided to turn around yesterday, I avoided the highways and took back roads through Firebaugh and Dos Palos. Firebaugh is a small town on the San Joaquin River. It is named after James Firebaugh, one of those early white mover-shaker settlers who helped to transform the region from a swampy outpost to a legendary, world-feeding hub of agri-business. A stage coach came through Firebaugh from St. Louis, crossing over the river on a ferry, replaced later by a then state of the art swing bridge. The town is kind of old-looking and dusty now, but they have paid homage to the old days with a gazebo and some signage along a nice riverside recreation trail.

Before heading home, I stopped at the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge outside of Los Banos. They have a beautiful Visitor Center, an enclosed Tule Elk habitat encircled by a 5-mile auto tour route, a Nature Trail, and a longer Waterfowl Auto Tour Route . Once again, I showed up at a less than optimal time, but I managed to see a coyote, a variety of birds, some far-off elk, and a cute little bunny under a bridge.

Two of these elk (can you see the elk?) put on quite an x-rated show shortly after I took this picture. Shy and bull are two words that do not go together. That was fun, but my favorite place was the tranquil Nature Trail. And I really appreciated the bunny who tried his or her best  to pose for an under-the-bridge silhouette. The coyote, naturally, would not cooperate at all.

I will probably sulk for a little while this morning, then re-group. No time to waste.

Peace, Love, and Wildlife,

P.S. The place to eat in Los Banos is Eddie's Famous Cafe. The waitress is cute as a bug.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Practicality and Stuff

Waning Gibbous Moon

Tule elk statue, San Luis National Wildlife Refuge, Los Banos, CA.

Prepare to be astounded. Especially if you have known me a long time. Maybe you should take a seat.

I, James Raymond Micheal Ostdick, made a practical decision today based primarily on fact and logic. I drove all the way to Madera (82 miles) in Spugly the Spectacularly Ugly Dream Machine Transporter before I turned around, cancelled my bike trip entirely, and came home.

I had already changed my plans three times because of snow and ice and sub-freezing nighttime temperatures. In the last two weeks, I cancelled my train ticket to Oregon, re-designed the ride as a Bishop, CA to Mojave, CA version, then re-re-designed it to a Lone Pine, CA-Route 66-Death Valley-Lone Pine loop. Finally, as I approached the greater Fresno area, I realized that my cranky, noisy, right knee was not up to a 525 mile ride.


  • All I would be able to do is to drive the route and ride a little bit each day out and back to the truck just for fun. 
  • My humble tax return would all but disappear on the gasoline bill alone. 
  • I have seen all these places a dozen times and as cool as they truly are, I don't want to rumble past them in my truck. 
  • I should probably see an orthopedist and find out what kind of awful thing I did to my arthritic joint on my walk across the country two years ago. 
  • I should get it fixed if possible. 
  • I should not punish it any further.

Okay, sports fans, actually, as  you have probably surmised, especially if you are among those sitting down, all the above bullet points are B.S. They are all true, don't get me wrong, but none of that stuff or anything like that has ever stopped me before, right? What made me turn around was something else entirely. What made me turn around was a king-size portion of holy-guacamole, non-practical, illogical, factless, scary-ass, voodoo-chile, gut-wrenching, head-shrinking DREAD of going one more mile forward. Seriously, I got fricken SPOOKED. A little voice inside the inside of my brain told me in no uncertain terms to turn my ass around. And I did. Yessir. Yas'm.

Was it my ancestors? Some would say yes. Will I ever find out for sure why? Who knows.

Peace, Love, and Home for Now,

Friday, March 2, 2018

Bike Trip

Waning Gibbous Moon

On Tuesday, March 6, I hope to embark upon a bicycle tour starting and ending in Lone Pine, CA. This loop will take me along parts of Hwy 395 and Route 66, then through the Mojave National Preserve and Death Valley before looping back to Lone Pine. I intend to piddle along and soak in the sights from some of my old stomping grounds. I would be surprised if I average over 30 miles per day - old man style for sure. That is partly because I am not in shape and it is partly because I just don't care to get in a big doggone hurry. I really have absolutely nothing to prove. Click on the link to see a map of the route.

You are welcome to tag along online to find out what is out there in the big beautiful California desert this time of year. The weather has not been very cooperative in the past couple of weeks, but we shall see. 

Wish me luck!

Peace, Love, and Motorless Motion,

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Zazu Rebellion...or...How I Failed at Cat-sitting

Full Moon

The practice session made it seem so easy. When my friends said they were going for a little getaway and needed someone to stay at their place for a few days to feed the cats, I said sure, I'll do that. It's a really nice house and spending quiet time there would be like a mini vacation for me, too. Besides, these folks are two absolute angels whom I have known for years. They work hard and deserve a little holiday. I was happy to help.

There were expectations, routines, protocols, and procedures which needed to be learned, so I showed up on time for orientation the night before my gig was to start. I like it when things are organized so I was exuding confidence. This would be a snap.

Their house is in the hills above my town, well away from commuter traffic and the associated nervous, hurried consumers, so I figured it would be a chill place to read and exercise and commune with Ma Nature. My "job" would be to keep the place securely locked, provide a live-in presence, feed Zazu and Mittzi twice a day, and herd them into the garage at dusk for safekeeping. Coyotes and other potential nocturnal predators might nab the "teenage" felines if they were allowed to prowl outdoors overnight. Hence the sunset lockdown. I watched  and listened carefully during the practice run, knowing that cats and other pets are accustomed to routine.

The garage is a stand-alone, one-car room that sits on the property about fifty yards from the house at one end of a long driveway. To lure the cats to their yummy dinner, their owners ring a small bell while they carry a tray with food and water, opening a side door to the garage and leading the hungry, adorable furbabies inside. When the cats start to eat, the door gets quietly closed behind them. Then they are safe and secure until morning, when they are let out, free to eat their breakfast on the back porch and goof around outside all the livelong day. Simple, right?

Not! After their loving parents disappeared and this odd-smelling (I can only suppose) newcomer arrived, all bets on routine and normal behaviors were off. The first night they cautiously appeared at the edge of the house and watched while I carried the tray toward the dining hall/garage. They were not buying this charade one bit. Mittzi haltingly started to follow me up the driveway, but Zazu tackled her from behind. They romped a little, like they were arguing, but Zazu prevailed. If you could read his thought bubble, it would say, "Mittzi, can't you SMELL that guy?"

I was standing twenty yards away, holding a tray of stinky-ass cat food, jingling a silly toy cat bell, trying out pathetic falsetto Here-Kitty calls. They were slinking backwards, taking cover underneath the bed of my truck, looking at me with distrust-going-on-hatred.

Then they disappeared.

I tried seven more times that first night, well after darkness set in, every 15 minutes or so, ringing the little tinkle bell, walking to the garage, calling them to dinner and safety. Nothing. Never saw hide nor hair of either one of them. Not that night. Not the next morning. Not the following night. Not the next morning either.

I was not looking forward to copping to my failure as a cat-sitter when my friends returned. My imagination was trying hard to tell me I should walk the perimeter of the property to salvage the remaining bones and fur of poor Zazu and Mittzi left behind by wicked marauding coyotes and raccoons. Should I bury them? Call a priest? Were they even still in California?

On the third day, getting really tired of trying and failing to call the cats to food and shelter (oh yeah, it was butt cold at night that week, too, below freezing), I started to wonder if maybe I was selling the two of them short, especially Zazu, who seemed to be the shot-caller. What if they weren't half-eaten or maimed next to a fence post? What if they didn't run away and join the cat circus? What if they were simply hiding?

On one corner of the house is a drafty wooden tool shed with a happy, friendly, flowery sign on it that reads "Sit a Spell." The shed has a gate with a latch and there is a three or four inch gap at the bottom between the wood and the concrete floor. "Aha," I mumbled. "Hmm."

Very quietly, I slipped open the latch and pulled back the gate. Inside on the left were various gardening tools  and potions for plant growth. On the right side of the shed, I saw three shelves with towels and boxes and an open cat carrier. And two sleeping felines. Zazu woke up and let out a single, rather pointed "Mew." The mew's associated thought bubble said "God, you're slow. Leave the food and scram.Can't you see I am napping."

"Aha," I mumbled. "Hmm."

In this way, on the third day of five, the cats and I reached a Zazulean Compromise. I was not to ring the tinkle bell or embarrass myself further with falsetto sweet nothings. I was to abandon all expectations of cooperation with the protocol taught to me by the folks who did not smell funny. And I was to leave food and water in the shed at dusk and on the porch at sunrise. In exchange, Zazu and his underling Mittzi would a) avoid being snatched by a hawk or eagle by day and b) evade all nocturnal  predators until the proper, non-smelly authorities came home two days hence.

Thus, a semblance of order was returned to the villa in the hills. I was off the worry hook and relieved of gravedigger duty. When I left at about noon on the final day, having tidied up the house and locked the gate behind me, I felt okay about the whole thing, maybe. Their parents would be home soon, but I wondered if the teenagers would keep their end of the bargain. What if they continued to rebel after their time with what could be interpreted as a smelly "fun uncle?"

Later that evening I received a thank you text from their Mom. The cats had responded to the tinkle bell and followed her to the garage in 3.82 seconds. All is well.

Peace, Love, Kibble, and Bits,

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Heinrich Kreiser's Summer Home

Waxing Gibbous Moon

Heinrich Alfred Kreiser is better known in this part of California as Henry Miller the Cattle King. His main stomping grounds were the sprawling acres of his Bloomfield Ranch just south of Gilroy, CA, just up the road from San Juan Bautista. Kreiser assumed the name Henry Miller when he bought a non-transferable train ticket from that gentleman in 1850 and headed west for the California Gold Rush. Later, he legally changed his name to Miller.

An immigrant butcher by trade originally from Wurtemburg, Germany, Miller started a meat shop in San Francisco, purchasing cattle and land with his profits. With his partner Charles Lux, he eventually worked hard enough and smart enough to own more than a million acres and over one million head of cattle. Hence the nickname "Cattle King."

Miller built a summer home up in the redwoods west of Gilroy. After his death in 1916, the estate was abandoned. The remains of that home and the surrounding grounds became part of Mt. Madonna County Park in 1953. Today you can walk through what is left of the site surrounded by a beautiful forest of redwoods, oaks, and madrones. That, among other things, is what I did yesterday.

I love stone work, so I spent about an hour checking out the site.

A short distance from the site is a fenced enclosure that houses a small population of White Fallow Deer. They are simultaneously beautiful and creepy if you ask me, like paranormal deer that regularly see the ghost of Henry Miller maybe. They live in this huge, well-protected pen because of the park's location smack dab in the middle of mountain lion territory. That buck? He lives alone most of the time. Otherwise there would be a lot more of these weird albino ghost-deer critters.

I liked visiting the ruins and the deer, but as usual, what I liked the most was the ever-enchanting woodsy woods woodsy. My guess is that's what Henry liked, too.

Peace, Love, and Redwoods,

Friday, January 26, 2018

Casa de Fruta

Waxing Gibbous Moon

On the way east over the Diablo Range on Pacheco Pass Highway, about fifteen miles from my camp on the edge of San Juan Bautista, is a former fruit and nut orchard that dates back to 1908. Operated by the Zanger family, Italian immigrants with a strong work ethic and boundless imaginations, the orchard grew from a humble cherry stand in the 1940s to a mixture of fruit-candy-nut market, gas station, roadside attraction, amusement center, restaurant, wine tasting venue, and outdoor farm implement museum. Today, it is a must-go fun stop for both travelers and local recreation buffs.

On a January weekday, I found it uncrowded, peaceful, and fascinating to explore on foot. Oh by the way, I highly recommend the cherry pie in the bake shop. Perhaps the most interesting part of my walk was the juxtaposition of the Tesla charging stations with the collection of rusted farm junk vehicles from the early 20th century.

I am always captivated by old trucks, tractors, plows, disks, balers, etc. Here they line the back part of the property in rows. They are all on their way back to the Earth slowly but surely, having toiled and sputtered and been retired. Hmm, who else do I know like that?

There is much to do for kids, including a playground with a duck pond, a narrow gauge railroad, a Gold Rush era cascade sluice, and a handcrafted-in-Italy double-decker Venetian carousel.

About two million tourists visit Casa de Fruta annually, many heading home with a sampler of the fruits and nuts still grown by the Zanger family in the region. Everyone who ventures out on foot sooner or later encounters one or more of the regal peacocks that roam freely around the grounds.

One of my earliest childhood memories is driving to Knott's Berry Farm near our home in Anaheim to ride the ponies and walk among the fruit trees (it was MUCH smaller then!). I actually got to meet Hopalong Cassidy on one visit. He gave me a spent cartridge from his six-gun which I still have to this day. I didn't see anyone as cool as Hoppy on my trip to Casa de Fruta, but it was still memorable, relaxing, and fun. 

Peace, Love, and Peacocks,

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

On the Grounds at St. Francis Retreat

Waning Gibbous Moon

A few miles south from my camp, up in the foothills of the Gabilan Range, is the St. Francis Retreat, a Franciscan Brothers refuge from the nutso world of 21st century America. Located on 73 acres of prime oak and buckeye forest overlooking San Juan Valley, the facility was once part of Rancho San Justo, a Spanish land grant dating back to the old mission days. The Franciscans purchased these acres for $100,000 in 1947 and converted the existing ranch house into a conference center and housing for the bros. The original house burned down in 2006. Three years later, a new facility was built. I have a love/hate relationship with the place, as I do with most things churchy, but I love the grounds.

Interestingly, the St. Francis Retreat web site describes history in the region as beginning in 1795. The Amah Mutsun branch of the Ohlone people, who lived and loved here for thousands of years prior to the friar, are not even worth a brief mention. Insert frowny face here.

Anyway, that atrocity aside, the retreat grounds are open to the public for hiking and contemplation as long as you check in with the nice office folks and state your peaceable intentions in advance. Rain was forecast starting at noon today, so I went up there this a.m. to explore a little bit before the front came in. This is the love part.

I started my walk at the koi pond near the office parking lot and made my way toward Flint Lake, a small but pretty sag pond along the San Andreas Fault. The fish in the pond are colorful and active, protected from marauding birds and raccoons by tough synthetic nets. The lake is bigger than I remembered it plus it features a very cool bridge leading to a little shrine to Our Lady of Fatima - all good stuff.

The netting keeps the birds out.

Time to reflect.

I have seen the bridge.

Our Lady of Fatima and friend.

A short walk from the shrine is a first-rate gazebo overlooking the valley (see, distinguishing this place from all the other run of the mill, gazebo-less Roman Catholic land holdings in California.

For a better view, check out The Gazeebook!

In front of the gazebo is another fine place to take in a long view.

Having bagged yet another gazebo, I continued walking on the Brothers' Trail toward Ofelia Road, where I was treated (and re-treated) with animal sightings: a rafter of wild turkeys and a small herd of whitetail deer. The turkeys were cautious but not skittish. The deer were both skittish and cautious.

As long as I stood still, the turkeys just slowly made their way toward the trees.

These guys bolted in a matter of seconds.

Up on Ofelia Road, I found a cabin named after Leo of Assisi, the "favorite disciple, secretary, and  confessor" of St. Francis. Brother Leo died in Assisi, Italy in 1270 A.D.

Ofelia Road.

Brother Leo's Cabin.

The rest of the hike was on The Loop, winding through the oak and buckeye forest around the edge of the property back to the parking lot. Some nice gentle climbs made my heart beat a little faster and stole my breath away as the rain started to arrive. I made it back to the truck with just the beginnings of a wet jacket. This was an hour and fifteen minutes well spent on the first Wednesday of the year.

The Loop Trail in winter.

Some kind of mushroom.

Nearing the end of The Loop.

Peace, Love, and Well Being,