Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Time We Share

     This year we found that our family’s strong instinct for hanging out together was tested by the fact that we just don’t get to do that as much as we would like, but few get to have all their druthers. 
         Lizzy was not able to join us on our fabulous family road trip to Montana this summer, but we did manage some overlap where we could all be together before grown up things pulled us in separate directions all too soon. 

     The opportunities we have to all join in family adventure are more fleeting than they once were.  There is a certain melancholia, at least to your narrator, about the ticking brevity that seems to hover over our reunions, or cause us to notice the absence of those who are not with us, even as we celebrate the chance to be with those who are.

Before and during Thanksgiving the girls got to go to Ecuador with their mom 

while Isaac headed off with his girl Haley, leaving Tommy and David to help me host Thanksgiving 

with four generations of extended family members at our house.

     Once again, we will be able to intersect over the Holidays, but will not all be together for Christmas.  Sometimes, even though it seems important to have special plans, it is also critical to remember the value of just being together in ordinary circumstances to remind us of who we are and what we mean to each other.  

     One should never underestimate the value of simply farting around with the people you love.  That is a currency that one is unlikely to have deathbed regrets about spending.
     In the coming year, we hope to see as much of each other as we can stand and to greet as many of our friends as night and day will allow.

     The Earth has spun again as we approach the darkest day of the year in the form of the Winter Solstice.  We will plan to emerge in the expanding light of a New Year and listen to Optimistic Voices singing:
You’re out of the Woods, You’re out of the Dark, You’re out of the Night.
Step into the Sun, Step into the Light.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to ALL OF YOU.

We join with everyone in casting our lines into the stream of time that provides us all with occasions for hope, happiness and reflection on the absolute certainty that

These Are the Days.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018


            I have managed to get behind on my reporting, but these hunting reports are often offensive to some people, so get out your forks, or your pitchforks.

This year, after doing essentially no hunting or fishing, I was shamed into going boar hunting by my longtime hunting/fishing companion and Navy Seal Veteran Mark, who set the whole thing up a week prior to the planned trip over the Memorial Day Holiday weekend.  He then owned me by telling me that I did not have to go if I had a good excuse.  We would be leaving on Sunday morning to sight in our rifles on the way to a hunt in Monterey County on Memorial Day Monday.

I had eye surgery scheduled the day after Memorial Day and also offered up that WendyJo and I were seeing the final performance of Hamilton on Sunday, so I would have to decline, as my thirst for high culture had occupied that date.  “No problem, we will wait for you and go up whenever you want.  I promise I will get you back in time for your eye surgery” -was the gentle reply, delivered with Putin-like calculation.

I changed my mind.

I decided to try out my really nifty old fast firing Browning automatic .270, instead of my tried and trusted Winchester model 70 bolt gun.  The Browning has an old scope that is fixed at 4X.  It lacks the variation or range of the Nikon I have on the bolt gun, but there are advantages to simplicity and the 270 just doesn’t kick nearly as hard as it hits.  Although I had dialed in the .270 fairly recently, we took it to the range with my boys on Saturday and it produced a sub one inch three shot group at 100 yards right on the nickel. That is better than I generally shoot. Despite the fact that I was using lead bullets at the range, I superstitiously just put it away and did not even try it out with the actual copper hunting ammunition I would be using, as copper is now universally required in California.  This assumption that the copper would be consistent was a fundamental mistake that I ended up getting away with, even though I know better.

We were joined by Mark’s old USC water polo buddy Mike, who is an experienced hunter and fly-fisherman whose humorous companionship was perfect for this kind wise-cracking drive up 101.  Mike was shooting a 7mm magnum bolt gun, which is almost as mighty as the 300 Winchester magnum Mark packed, along with his more manageable .308 as back up.

Hamilton was fantastic – the best thing I have ever seen on stage. I was thoroughly prepped by reading the book, listening to the sound track and then watching a documentary on the making of the production on the morning of the performance – all of this under the supervision of WendyJo, who managed to see this production 3 times prior to our big date. I am pretty sure that I was the only one who left the show in a car full of hunting gear to chase boar while my wife went home with her girlfriend, who also attended this most fantastic and patriotic final production.

I met up with Mike and Mark in Palos Verdes and we all piled into Mike’s SUV to head up to King City in Monterey County, with plans to meet our long trusted guide, Tom Willoughby, at 4:30 am at a dirt lot near the 198 close to San Lucas. The ride up was really fun Dudes-on-a-road-trip conversation with bad jokes, recurring themes and non-stop Grateful Dead tunes. We crashed in an economy motel in King City and woke up at 3 am to coffee up and head off to our rendezvous with Tom and his son at this obscure country road intersection. We were wearing our headlamps, hunting pajamas and were giddy with anticipation. Getting on these pigs at first light is one of the imperatives of making your own luck, so we were on time.

Mark and Mike teamed up to ride in the all terrain machine captained by Tom’s son, who is a fantastic guide in his own right.  I rode with Tom in his pickup, which my many excursions with him have revealed can often turn into a ride straight out of “Rat Patrol.”

Tom is the most efficient guide I have ever hunted with and is a man of relatively few words.  As we were headed onto a cattle ranch in the darkness, he asked me what I was using.  I advised I was using my .270 instead of my trusty 30/06.  He clearly was not a disciple of that round.  He asked if I had it sighted in and I responded affirmatively.  He then asked me if I had used copper ammunition to make sure my aim would be true.  I was going to lie and say I did, but I was sufficiently intimidated to honestly offer up that I had used 130 grain lead hunting ammo instead of the 130 grain copper I would be using for the hunt.  He let me know right away that he was disappointed in this obvious party foul by suggesting that I could be as much as 4 inches off in any direction due to the ballistic variance sometimes produced by copper.  He told me that I would be allowed one shot.  If I missed, he would hand me his rifle and I was to use it without question as punishment for my negligence in preparation.  I was kind of bummed out to already assume the role of weak sister as we bumped along in the darkness, saying nothing more to embarrass myself further.

As gray light emerged, we started glassing an area across a small canyon.  Pretty soon it was light enough to see color.  Tom spotted movement on the other side of the canyon.  It was two boars running from our right to left on a trail at the base of a rise about 300 yards out.  We moved parallel to their course to achieve a point of interception where the canyon narrowed a bit.  We set up as I chambered a round.  I had lost some of the confidence I had previously built up with my zeroing of the scope on that Browning the day before, but felt pretty good about the situation.

When they were about 160 yards away, the pigs slowed down to a walk and Tom gave me the green light to fire.  I placed the fore-end of the BAR on the shooting sticks, put the cross-hairs just behind the left shoulder of the lead animal, took a breath and pulled the trigger without hesitation.  The shot took that pig right off his feet.  His companion checked him out and then hauled ass.

Tom turned to me and said “That is a big pig and you hit him real hard.”  That was as supreme a compliment as I am likely to ever get from this man, so I was stoked.  Tom told me to keep the scope on him and hit him again if he got up while he sped off in his truck to track the other animal.  I kept the scope on the proned-out form for a bit, but it was clear that he was not getting up.  I stood in that spot and waited for the sun to crest the horizon behind me as I became aware of cows in the distance and listened to the birds waking up.  While I was waiting there, I heard multiple rifle shots in the distance.  I was hoping my buddies were engaging targets.  A few minutes later, I heard another flurry of rifle fire.

After a while, Tom’s truck reappeared and he picked me up to go across the canyon at a favorable location to recover our quarry.  Upon inspection of the deceased, my shot was right where I aimed and the pig was a real good specimen – very Eurasian in its bristles and long head, with a nice set of teeth. It was prime.

We loaded it into the truck bed.  Tom advised that the others had contacted him with their walkie-talkie and had pigs up another canyon on a different part of the ranch.

When we got to the spot, we met up with the other three.  Mike  explained that they had been pursuing hogs they had sighted when the machine hit a bump, causing the top of his head to impact the roof rather severely and driving the headlamp he was wearing into his scalp.  Mark had opened fire on a couple of pigs that evaded his warning shots while Mike was busy being dizzy in their vehicle.  Both Mark and Mike are medically trained (Mike was a 25 year lifeguard and Mark has all of that military training).  They decided that he would live and resumed their pursuit.  They found another set of pigs coming down the side of a canyon.  They stopped their vehicle and Mark climbed out to start shooting again.  Mike did not want to be left out, so he cleared the cobwebs and staggered out of the machine to provide supporting fire.  They hit two boar several times.  The boar went up a canyon into some steep brush.  We all went up the canyon to locate the pigs, which we were not sure were dead.  In fact they were and we dragged them back down to where the vehicles were parked.  It was then that I noticed that Mike’s hair was matted with blood and it was trickling down his face.  I initially thought it was from the pig, but then I got the full story I have reiterated above.

After a brief photo op,  we rode to a large oak tree, where our guides threw a rope over a limb and used the truck to hoist the pigs, in succession, up to where Tom and his son could skin-out and field dress them. 

They performed this task with such efficiency that the pigs were dressed out in the amount of time it would take us to make a bed, though I am confident that most of my readers make their beds or field dress pigs with roughly the same frequency.

By 8 am we were back at the hotel, where Mike could shower up and become more presentable.  Tom gave us the phone number of a wild game butcher he knew in Creston, which was a slight detour on our general path toward San Luis Obispo. He said it was close enough that we would not even have to ice down our victims, which would make the meat that much better, as they would hang it up in a refrigerated environment before processing. It seemed from Tom's description to be a rather obscure place, but he assured us that they would let us in and be ready to process our animals based on his relationship with them.

We arrived at Creston meats after taking a series of diminishing roads and ending up on a mysterious dirt path which miraculously took us to our destination.  

We made contact with the proprietors and brought our pigs into their remarkable agrarian facility. Inside the large building, which smelled like concentrated meat, was a fabulously industrial stainless steel interior with all kinds of overhead tracking, dangling meat hooks and high powered hoses.

 We were assisted by butchers in lab coats and rubber gloves. They told us they would bring the processed meat to a convenient location off the freeway in Los Angeles, which was a weekly part of their meat delivery route, you know, just like the Meat Man used to do when we were little kids.  We chose a variety of sausage mixes and left them with our haul at about 10 am.

We rode along a very picturesque 229 highway west toward San Luis Obispo, with the intention of having a late breakfast at the Custom House restaurant in Avila Beach (one of my favorite places), which I discovered was a spot neither of them had ever experienced.  We continued our road trip conversation, full of hysterical stories, accompanied by the Dead and now buoyed by the success of our hunt.

 All of us had been to Avila Beach in the old days, which for me was little earlier than for Mark or Mike. I started giving them the history of how the entire town of Avila was completely excavated and rebuilt to look like it had always been there after an historic petroleum cleanup project many years ago.  It was then that Mike revealed that he was one of the project managers for this incredible clean-up site, but had left before they were done and had never been back.  This made our destination all the more important.  I learned a great deal more from Mike about the details of that project, how this beautiful place was rescued from toxicity and was recreated as a vibrant destination.

When we got to the beach, it was brisk and very crowded with Memorial Day tourists.  We had a great meal.

 View from our table on the patio.

We took in the seaside scenery and continued on our way back south.  Once we got to Santa Barbara the weekend traffic really set in.  We crawled along the coast all the way to Palos Verdes, since every freeway was clogged and the slow ride on PCH rekindled memories and stories of Mike’s days as a Baywatch lifeguard.

I got home in time to watch the NBA playoffs with my family and headed off to the eye surgeon the next day, just like Mark promised.  The carving was successful and my vision for distance is remarkably good, especially for someone who has had six eye surgeries and could never see all that well to begin with.

The sausage was delivered later in the week.  It was an expensive process, but it was beautifully packed and prepared.  There was plenty to give away and we are still consuming it, as sausage is a favored entrĂ©e for breakfast, lunch or dinner- at least for those in my family and among our friends who are willing to be accessories to the murder of God's creatures to achieve the peculiar celebration of flavor that wild boar can bring to the table.  It was Ham at both ends of my journey.

The wild boar hunting experience is one of the best deals there is in the world of high powered rifle hunting.  Hanging out with these guys for little more than 24 hours while having this kind of fellowship and hunting success in such a small span of time is something that is a truly remarkable adventure that we can still enjoy in California after attending a first rate theatrical production.  I am grateful that I was goaded into it. 

These events are a fierce reminder that Time and Fellowship are our most precious forms of currency,..... and of course, that

These are the Days.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Turret Honey

      This fall, we noticed a significant uptick in indoor bee activity at our residence.  Our children complained frequently about the fact that dead bees seemed be accumulating in cereal bowl sized servings in light fixtures and crawling about on our floors, sometimes stinging the bottoms of our feet.
       After the problems seemed to be getting worse, rather than going away, we decided to investigate during the winter.  It was determined by the professionals we hired that bees had decided to make a home in the framing of the turret feature on the front of our house.  I had always wondered what it was for.

      We were advised that it would probably be necessary to remove a portion of  our roof assembly, especially if they had expanded their hive beyond the immediate confines of the turret and into the general attic area.  It was explained that it would be necessary to wait until after the rainy season was over, so that we could utilize a "bee friendly" method of extraction and allow for the roof assembly to be opened up for an extended period of days or weeks.  We had decided that we wanted to pursue this more humane method of relating to our friends in the insect kingdom, as we are  untimately dependent on them for our human agricultural needs and survival.
      We encouraged our children to share their space with these humming guests until the weather improved. Morning bee sweeps became part of indoor living. Lizzy, who is fatally allergic to bee stings and carries an Epi-pen, moved to northern California.  Sarah stayed in her position to hold until relieved, just like Private Ryan.
        By April, the torrential rains that characterize typical Orange county wet seasons had abated sufficiently to allow us to proceed.

     We decided to hire Dan the BeeMan, who seemed quite confident and knowledgeable.  When the day arrived, I decided to go up into the attic and scout out the situation.  I had been up there a few months earlier and there was no evidence of any visible hive.  I climbed up the ladder and flipped on the switch.  Instantly, the humming started and I noticed a slow swarm start to mingle from a set of honeycombs that was now quite visible coming down from the framing below the turrent.  There were hundred of dead bees on the attic flooring.  I cut the lights and scuttled down the ladder as if it was a crash-diving sub before closing the hatch like I was escaping from a childhood monster.

     We began the investigation at the top of the turret, where there was a lot of bee action commuting back and forth from the small gaps in the exterior building envelope where the turret assembly met the main roof.

The shingling and felt was removed to expose the sheathing.

     The sheathing was removed to reveal a massive infestation that swarmed our team of extractors, protected by their bee apparel (known as Bee-wear in the industry).  They pumped soothing smoke into the void.

Once the roof was opened up, everybody got pretty mad and the extent of these five-foot long honeycombs was revealed.  The smoke was increased.  It seemed important to bake these critters into a more mellow state during this critical invasion of their inner kingdom.

One of the key combs was removed in a frame to draw out the guards. 

 It was placed into a box immediately outside the turret.  

Our attendant scooped them up in huge wads and gently escorted them into the box. 

       Other bees then began voluntarily streaming into the box by the tens of thousands, occasionally stinging one of our bee techs in the tiny gaps in his Bee-wear.

      The roof had to be left open for most of the week as the bees began furiously cleaning the framing of honey.  They do a far better job of this than humans.  The port of entry was a series of gaps left in the blocking at the end of the turret rafters.  

      It was sealed up once the bees had cleaned up their former domain.  Our bee harvesters returned in a week to extract the remaining thousands of bees that continued to swarm around the exterior of our home, like Ronin.  They estimated that our hive had maxed out at about 60,000 bees, so our pad is no longer the high-density housing it used to be.

     In the interim we were presented with four huge bags filled with honeycomb, nectar and honey.  We learned that the nectar honeycombs, which Dan helpfully sorted for us, lasted about a month before it would begin to ferment and therefore needed to be extracted and consumed first. 

I went online to research extracting honey from honeycombs and learned a great deal. One of the things I discovered is that I did not own any honeycomb tools, nor did I have the enormous stainless steel honeycomb centifuge that spins the carousels of  framed honeycombs to force the honey out of each individual chamber, as demonstrated in every you-tube video I saw.  

     I had none of what I needed and so proceeded with a more primitive approach. I probably got about  3 or 4 pints of this fabulous liquid in a painstaking process that included tweezering  out hundred of individual bees and bee parts and mashing the wax to force out the nectar.  It only took about 2 hours per pint and I had three bags of the more immortal honey-not-nectar to go.  We could theoretically take our time with the honey, but there was still the issue of hundreds of dead bees that had to be addressed.
     Wendy had decided to go with the "set it and forget it" method recommended by Dan.  This involved simply cutting a hole in the bag, supending it over a collendar and cheescloth strainer and leaving it alone for half a day for each bag.  She obtained a couple of gallons with about ten percent of the time and effort I put in.  I might have obtained a couple of pints more, but she completely skipped the whole bee carcass extraction portion of the process.  Hers was the completely superior method in terms of efficiency.

   In the end, we had many jars of nectar and honey that was fabulous, clear and delicious.  I ate more honey that week than in any other year of my life.  We decided to call it "Turret Honey" in honor of its truly homemade origin.

     We took a pint of the rare nectar to my partner Ryan, who makes great craft beer with his co-conspirator Steve.  They told me that they figured they could whip up a batch of honey blonde with the fruits of our lumber and teach us a few things about how to brew up some memorable beverage.

David and I went over to Steves house in Long Beach, where we hung out with Steve, Steve's dad, Ryan.....

 ......and Steve's chickens 

     while we got a lesson on how to make beer.

     I designed a label from a great old photo of the deck of my dad's cruiser, the Manchester.  This picture was taken during a sublime moment at the end of a day of shelling the mountains above Wonsan Harbor in North Korea.  Dad's cruiser had turret-mounted fast firing naval rifles that had huge shell casings, like bullets, instead of powder bags, which allowed it pour fire precisely and rapidly.  
The lone observer appears to be cooling the end of the day and the mood of the moment seems to beg for "Miller time."

     Ryan and Steve worked hard to get this one-of-a-kind brew bottled, charged and labled by Father's Day.  We went up to Long Beach the night before and picked up a bunch.  Our whole family celebrated Father's Day at my Dad's assisted living facility (Aegis) in Laguna Niguel today with a big brunch that featured our family brew and a tip of the hat to the days and nights my Dad spent bringing carnage and preserving democracy on this ragged peninsula.  He did more than Donald to move the needle of hope in the Forgotten War. We are lucky enough to still get to spend time with him on this day and burp to the illustration of high seas action and it's epilogue.

I hope that everyone is having a wonderful Father's Day and remembering that....

These are the Days.