Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Thursday, July 12, 2012
What is to know?
but this very moment in life
like a mere molecule of water
soon joined to the river of time
by surrendering to it
I drown willingly
in undercurrents of mystery
myself abandoned to wonder
through an instant of recognition
from somewhere else
I swirl blindly through the cosmos
with galactic eddys of light
which will forever reflect
upon eternal living water
so I'm brought home,
to that primordial other
of which all...
June 12, 2003
Thursday, July 14, 2011
Big Bear Native Garden Tribute!!!
Monday, January 24, 2011
I am here and I can't get my head around that you are gone from this life. Today we are going to have a memorial service for you and I don't know if I can talk. There is so much in my heart but I have never been good with putting it into words. I didn't get the gift of words that you were blessed with. Family has always been most important to me and I always felt I was trying to hold us all together and not always successfully. I feel with the loss of you I have now lost two impostant siblings. We had some difficult times in our childhood but I have always loved you and respected the person you grew up to be. I admired your tenacity and ability to stand up for all those things that were so important to you. From a distance I saw what a wonderful husband and father you became. From the time I moved out of California (many many years ago) we have only had moments together. I cherish those moments. I feel like so many people know you better than I do because they have had the priviledge of spending time with you. But my heart has a connection to you that only brothers and sisters can share and that is where my heart is breaking right now. I don't want to reflect on missed opportunities because I can't bring time back but I do remember so many good things about you and I love you. It was hard to be together with the miles between us, jobs etc. But thank you for being my big brother, thank you for my sister Peggy who I love with all my heart as if she were always in our family and for my wonderful niece and nephew. Thank you for caring about this world and doing your part to improve it. I admire you and wish I emulated you more. I will miss you more than you know. You will always be in my heart.
Sunday, January 23, 2011
This doesn't feel real. I keep picking up my phone to call you and seak consolation. I can't believe I can never smell your sent. It is like a wonderful mixture of sweat and dirt. I will never get to hear your voice, I almost can't remeber it, I have to reach so far in to extract the warm way you talked. You could say one word and have a lifetime of passion behind it. To touch you again, you were so solid and there. I will miss the tiny chip in your bright smile. When I look in the mirror all I see is you. I hate that the day keeps going on. I don't want to brush my teeth, get dressed, eat..... I just want time to stop cause you were just here. I miss you. I am not ready for life without my daddy. I want you to hug me and tell me to stop worring, that death is a part of life. I cannot accept this yet. I feel like we were supposed to do so much more together. I wanted to hike the PCT with you. We still need to write down all your adventures so I can have them always. I still want to tell you how much you have given me by just being you. I can't imagine who I would be without you. I can't imagine my life without you. The world is lonely without the space you shined in. I know you didn't feel good dad. I am sorry. I wish I could make you feel better. I always thought loved healed everything, but I guess that wasn't enough. You are my magic. You are my imagination. Your are the reason I dream big. I have such intense compassion and emotions that I was given by you. I know that when the world hurt, you hurt. I am the same. It is so hard for me to show that cause it makes my days more difficult, but know that I understand the burden you carried. I share it with you. My heart is broken.... I love you so deeply and intensely. I have called so many people today, they all cried. They know, everyone knows what an extraordinary and unique man you are. I have been sitting with Dallas a lot, I see so much of you in him. We want to spread your ashes in a sacred place that will never be developed. If you have any ideas... I hated going to the mortuary, so removed and impersonal. If we had it our way we would have kept your body and had a sacred burning, deep in the forest to release your spirit among the trees and clear sky. I am so sorry I can't do that for you. Jimmy thinks we should go kidnap you from the place and become outlaws so we can honor you in the desert when you are free from the constraints of this greedy civilization. Just say the word and we will.
Jim Otterstrom November 14th, 1945 - January 22nd, 2011
Sunday, January 09, 2011
For Gabrielle Giffords and all those whose lives were ruined on January 8th, by an act of hatred...
I've been trying to come to terms with the contempt and hatred I feel seething through our society since I was a young boy.
I've also been consistently disappointed in my fellow human beings for as long as I can remember, and in myself for carrying within me seeds of that same toxicity which poisons hearts.
Is it any wonder we have so much insanity in a world where every innocence is promptly contaminated by the appalling gore of our collective misdeeds?
Like the people in this collage, we are all victimized by hatred, fear, and ignorance, including our own.
They made mistakes. After all they were only human, woven from the same imperfect cloth as the rest of us, but their common thread was compassion, and they died because of it.
As long as I live, no matter how ugly the world becomes, I will hold love and compassion in my heart, and do my best to reach beyond the atmosphere of contempt, bitterness, fear, and hatred which permeates our times...
...even if it kills me.
~Peace & Love~
Monday, January 03, 2011
1967 ~ The "Summer of Love"
I was sitting on an old bridge over Topanga Creek playing my guitar one day in 1967 when a pretty young hippie girl came over to listen and hang out with me. A few moments later a car pulled up and some very busy people with cameras and tape recorders rudely interrupted our barely budding relationship. It turns out they were "journalists" for a Mexican magazine, I think it was called, 'Que?'. Anyhow, they were on assignment in California to do an article on the phenomena of the hippie culture. They took pictures of me and my new friend of a few minutes, asked a bunch of stupid questions, then sped off. A few months later, during '67s "Summer of Love", I was living in Haight Ashbury in San Francisco (of course) and while walking down Haight Street, saw my picture on the front of a Spanish language magazine at a newspaper stand. Even though I don't read Spanish I bought several copies (for my mother) and this self portrait is made from one of the pictures in that magazine. I liked the photo because of the nonplussed expression on my face as I scribbled my name and personal info onto a piece of scrap paper for the female reporter who had just interviewed us, using my guitar for a desk. Unfortunately, my lovely new friend seemed quite disillusioned that I would waste our precious time talking to people like that, and left right after they did.
The well aged photo is one of those crappy little halftone things that doesn't render well by scanning so I decided to lend it an authentic '60s feel by jazzing it up in Photoshop with some acidy looking psychedelic effects.
Oh, if you thought it was a photo of me writing songs, poetry, or philosophizing, I'm sorry to disappoint you. I was 21, and into Girls, Love, Nature/ Environmentalism, Peace, and Music, in that approximate order.
I have no regrets over my deliciously squandered youth, life is to be enjoyed, and I had the good fortune of being young in an amazingly uninhibited, free-spirited time & place.
Imagine the odds, out of the entirety of the vast cosmos, that your molecules, your atoms, would be evolutionarily woven into the living fabric of this beautiful planet Earth, of the stunning Milky Way, to eventually become part of a human, born and raised in sunny Southern California, just in time to spend your youth wandering the canyons and beaches of a rapidly fading paradise, amidst the 1960s no less, a time of unprecedented freedom of expression for our species.
In the end, we are but the stuff of stars, and I find peace in knowing the very essence of our being sings within the breath of time, while dancing toward the mystery of tomorrows.
(~; HAPPY NEW YEAR ;~)
Monday, December 27, 2010
"To a Mouse" Robert Burns, November, 1785
O, what a panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty
Wi bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee,
Wi' murdering pattle.
I'm truly sorry man's dominion
Has broken Nature's social union,
An' justifies that ill opinion
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth born companion
An' fellow mortal!
I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen icker in a thrave
'S a sma' request;
I'll get a blessin wi' the lave,
An' never miss't.
Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin!
It's silly wa's the win's are strewin!
An' naething, now, to big a new ane,
O' foggage green!
An' bleak December's win's ensuin,
Baith snell an' keen!
Thou saw the fields laid bare an' waste,
An' weary winter comin fast,
An' cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro' thy cell.
That wee bit heap o' leaves an' stibble,
Has cost thee monie a weary nibble!
Now thou's turned out, for a' thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the winter's sleety dribble,
An' cranreuch cauld.
But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!
Still thou are blest, compared wi' me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But och! I backward cast my e'e,
On prospects drear!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
I guess an' fear!
Small, crafty, cowering, timorous little beast,
O, what a panic is in your little breast!
You need not start away so hasty
With argumentative chatter!
I would be loath to run and chase you,
With murdering plough-staff.
I'm truly sorry man's dominion
Has broken Nature's social union,
And justifies that ill opinion
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth born companion
And fellow mortal!
I doubt not, sometimes, but you may steal;
What then? Poor little beast, you must live!
An odd ear in twenty-four sheaves
Is a small request;
I will get a blessing with what is left,
And never miss it.
Your small house, too, in ruin!
Its feeble walls the winds are scattering!
And nothing now, to build a new one,
Of coarse grass green!
And bleak December's winds coming,
Both bitter and keen!
You saw the fields laid bare and wasted,
And weary winter coming fast,
And cozy here, beneath the blast,
You thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel plough passed
Out through your cell.
That small bit heap of leaves and stubble,
Has cost you many a weary nibble!
Now you are turned out, for all your trouble,
Without house or holding,
To endure the winter's sleety dribble,
And hoar-frost cold.
But little Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often askew,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!
Still you are blest, compared with me!
The present only touches you:
But oh! I backward cast my eye,
On prospects dreary!
And forward, though I cannot see,
"It ever was my opinion that the mistakes and blunders, both in a rational and religious point of view, of which we see thousands daily guilty, are owing to their ignorance of themselves. To know myself had been all along my constant study." Robert Burns, 1785
Apparently, I share some of Burns' heretic arrogance, but I do include myself among "they" and "them" as well.
"They persisted in their foolishness until nothing remained but scorched Earth. In the name of their gods, and their myths, they destroyed each other and the living planet they shared with millions of species. A tendency for narcissistic self deception led them into a civilization diametrically opposed to the laws of Nature." Jim Otterstrom, 2010
I composed the heresy above on December 21st, 2010, Winter Solstice, (see previous post) as a not so hypothetical epitaph for the human species if we continue in our selfishness, and this morning---6 days later---I stumbled across Burns' poem for the first time in decades, feeling a renewed kinship with the man.
"The best laid schemes of mice and men", indeed....
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
A Winter Solstice Epitaph For Humans From The Year 2110?
How many more holiday shopping seasons can the earth endure?
My heart reaches out to the other living species of planet Earth during this orgy of consumerism we call Christmas.
Saturday, December 11, 2010
Sunrise ~ Elwood, Utah ~ December 11, 2010
Clouds pour off the Wasatch Front while the sun peaks over the mountains this morning as Dallas and I took our walk. The view is to the southeast and my mother's house is in the far lower left of the photo, just beneath the sun flare. You can see smoke rising from our neighbor's chimney on the horizon to the right of the sun flare, the temperature was about 32 degrees.
Monday, November 15, 2010
Sixty-Fifth Birthday ~ November 14, 2010
My 65th Birthday gift, a beautiful sturdy pitchfork, inspired this tongue-in-cheek parody of the severe tone of Grant Wood's 1930 painting, 'American Gothic', which depicts a 19th Century farmer with his daughter in front of their farmhouse.
Well, I'm not quite old enough to be Peggy's father, she's only seven years younger than I, but we had fun making this image anyway, and we are portraying a husband and wife team here.
Peggy has an authentic weary expression on her face because she was getting tired of holding up that heavy basket of apples as I experimented with camera settings and tripod adjustments while making several different exposures.
We think her strained expression suggests something of the difficulty in being a hard working farm wife married to the ornery old coot she's standing next to, and Peg says she's also amused by the way her glasses slid down her nose to give it that pinched look.
The apples, from my mother's orchard (directly behind where the camera was located), were later baked into my birthday pie and Peg also made a cheesecake for the occasion.
Our son, Jimmy, who shares the same birthday is here too, so he and I conjured up a bar-b-que under a canopy out of the rain which began falling shortly after the photo was made.
The home-cooked food was delicious; my birthday dinner consisted of a deliberately tiny, lean, and tender steak, asparagus stalks grilled with rosemary, thyme, & pepper (Jimmy's recipe), a small baked potato dressed in olive oil and cracked pepper, a small broccoli salad with red onion, sunflower seeds, dried cranberries, raisins, and other secret ingredients, and, of course, a sliver of Peggy's scrumptious wheat-free, gluten-free, sugar-free, apple pie with allspice, nutmeg, and fresh ginger. Oh, and another little sliver of that irresistable cheesecake with the graham cracker crust.
And, I received gifts too, the pitchfork, a pair of Carhart workpants, thick winter socks, and some extremely warm & soft insulated elk hide gloves.
Jimmy's gifts included a new amp for his electric guitar and he spent much of the day entertaining us while I was also enjoying a couple of glasses of Moab Brewery's tasty Dead Horse Amber Ale (the last of my 'growler'), and later some nice Merlot.
I can assure you, a very enjoyable day was had by all (especially grandma I think), and I appreciate more every day what a rare and priviledged time we live in, very unlike the recent past, and the very near future.
~enjoy each precious moment~
Thursday, October 28, 2010
It was about 31 brisk degrees when I left home on my ride to the Post Office this morning, a nice temperature for bike riding if you're wearing a few layers. It's a 4.4 mile ride into town along roads like this and I stopped for this picture about halfway home. We had a couple of days of good rain here, then some snow showers Tuesday evening, and the Wellsville Mountains are now capped with a dusting of snow.
I've made so many photos I don't know where to start in posting them, so this one will have to do for now.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
The Good, Bad, & The Ugly
Click on photo to enlarge - © 2010 jim otterstrom
This big beautiful girl is one of many Praying Mantids (Mantis religiosa) we've encountered while doing yard clean-up around mom's place during the past 12 days. They are in the process of depositing their foam-like egg cases right now (see photo below) after which they will die. Each egg case or sac can contain up to 300 eggs. Praying Mantids are an insect species beneficial to humans because they are voracious predators of other insects, many of which are damaging to flowers, vegetables, and fruit.
If you're not convinced of the predatory skills of this amazing insect you can see photos of one that actually captured and ate a hummingbird (click here). Yes, she may be a lovely long-legged green-thinking biocentric female but I wouldn't want to get too close to her if we were any where near the same size.
Click on photo to enlarge - © 2010 jim otterstrom
Many people think insects are ugly or scary looking, especially big insects like Praying Mantids, but to me they're elegantly beautiful in design and fascinating to behold. What's creepy looking to me in this picture is my hairy old arm...
Click on photo to enlarge - © 2010 jim otterstrom
Another handsome colorful bug in abundance here is the large Migratory or Spur-throated Grasshopper (Melanoplus sanguinipes), but this insect is a pest to humans, notorious because of it's appetite for agricultural crops, grasses, leafy vegetables, fruits, flowers, buds, and even tree bark. My guess is that these critters are a challenge to control with organic methods when you're surrounded by miles of cornfields, but, not surprisingly, these grasshoppers are a favorite food of the Praying Mantids above, which, I'm sure, is why the mantids are also here in such great numbers.
Monday, October 11, 2010
Before & After - Some Of What We've Accomplished In The Past 9 Days...
Weed Management With Infernal Combustion Machines!
Click on photo to enlarge - © 2010 jim otterstrom
Yes, we accomplished a lot in a very short period of time mainly because my mother has this little John Deere tractor mower that rose way beyond the task it was designed for, which is basically to mow big lawns, which is why mom bought it.
We were in dire straits here with too many chores to do and not nearly enough time to address them all in some sort of sustainable way before winter sets in.
So, I'm certainly not proud of the fact that we converted about 7 more gallons of fossil fuel (on top of what we blew through the U-Haul truck) into the C02 which is every day rendering our planet less habitable for humans.
But we came here to help my mother, and, at this point in time, I have to do that partly within the context which she lives, and, as I said above, if this was our place things would be done in a different way.
Weeds Ready For the Chipper/Shredder
Peggy and I brought our electric chipper/shredder with us because we knew there was going to be a mountain of stuff we could use for mulch and compost and we're just getting started with that.
Click on photo to enlarge - © 2010 jim otterstrom
Sunday, October 10, 2010
The Wild Places Around Us...
This photo was taken from the road my mom lives on, about 100 yards south of her house.
The view is to the east and that's the Wellsville Mountains Wilderness in the background, home to deer, elk, moose, mountain lions, bobcats, and bighorn sheep. The Wellsvilles are also located in a major western flyway for raptors.
Wildlife Refuges and Wilderness Areas Within Bicycling Distance
Saturday, October 09, 2010
The Everyday Beauty Of The Bear River Valley...
Click on photo to enlarge - © 2010 jim otterstrom
Each of our days here is enriched with the overwhelming beauty of the natural world.
Yesterday afternoon found us under the splendid sky pictured above while this morning a family of deer graced the orchard outside mom's dining room windows.
Friday, October 08, 2010
Dragonfly After A Rainstorm...
A showy thunderstorm rolled across the Bear River Valley here in Utah last evening providing us with a magnificent light show out the dining room windows at dinner time. Rain came and went through the night and we awoke to a brief downpour about six this morning. Wandering around the yard just before breakfast I came across this dragonfly lying in the grass. I picked it up and placed it on an old piece of wood for this photo. It was still alive but I'm not sure it will survive its drenching.
Wednesday, October 06, 2010
Our Home Away From Home Here In The Bear River Valley Of Utah
Peg & Dallas on a morning walk along a crossroad near our new digs. We are headed back to the road mom lives on, which runs perpendicular to this one, about 1/4 mile east (the direction Dallas is facing) where we'll turn right for another 1/2 mile to get home.
Another view of mom's big house which she fell in love with about 5 years ago on a trip from California to visit her sister. She put a deposit on it, sold her house in the San Fernando Valley, and moved out here, lock, stock, & barrel, at 80 years of age.
Looking northwest through part of mom's orchard with our chickens still in their traveling cage. They have since been moved into a large makeshift coop.
A horse named Horse, whom belongs to one my mother's friends, resides on a back corner of the property. The view is to the west.
Looking northwest from the middle of the orchard which has varieties of apples, pears, peaches, cherries, and apricots. Below are a few pictures of the fruit we are now harvesting.
This pear tree is just loaded!
This apple didn't bear heavily this year but the fruit is sweet, crisp, and delicious.
This apple tree is heavily laden and we're planning on baking some apple pies here in the next few days.
Horse with our makeshift chicken coop in the background.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Thirty-One Years Ago Today...
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Saturday, September 11, 2010
PG&Es Smoking Gun?
This image from Google Earth shows the intersection of Earl Avenue and Glenview Drive in San Bruno, California sometime before the PG&E gas explosion which occurred here at approximately 6:24 PM on September 9th.
You'll notice what appears to be an asphalt patch running diagonally across the upper part of the intersection, possibly indicating some recent excavation work there, but what is much more interesting is the white painted oval outlining the entire intersection.
That prophetic oval predicts the exact position of the crater which was later created by the blast.
Residents in the area had apparently been reporting the smell of gas for some weeks before the accident and some reported that PG&E employees came out and did a survey of the area.
What did PG&E employees discover? Why is the location of the future crater marked so perfectly? If PG&E did know or suspect there was a leak why didn't they respond more urgently?
Good questions for those who lost loved ones or homes, or who have been injured, burned, or maimed by this tragedy. Was it preventable?'
I discovered this image while trying to find out exactly how close the explosion was to our sons girlfriends mothers house, which, I discovered, is about a block and a half south of the crater.
We thought our son, Jimmy, was staying there and had called the house, coincidently, just moments after the explosion happened, and his girlfriend, Dyanne, answered saying she couldn't talk because there had just been a plane crash or something and they were being evacuated.
We spent the next 18 hours or so believing our son was there too, and couldn't make any contact with them. It turns out that our son had gone to North Carolina a few days earlier and probably wasn't aware of what was going on in San Bruno, because he has no phone right now.
Anyhow it was a very long day for us and we still haven't heard from Dyanne, but I'm assuming she is OK because, from the pictures available now, it looks like her mom's place wasn't affected except by the evacuation order. They probably can't go home until the utilities are restored.
We got a finally got phone call from Dyanne this morning. They are back at her mom's house now but still have no gas service, and no internet. She had to go to the library to send me an e-mail and her phone service just came back up.
She said the whole thing was such a frightening experience that she's still at a loss for words...
Saturday, August 28, 2010
Innocent Dragonfly is Crucified on the Grille of a Jeep Cherokee!
Click on individual photos to enlarge
All photos © 2010 jim otterstrom
Sacrificed to a machine, the haunting corpse of a dragonfly hangs by its wings from the crossbar of a 1995 Jeep Cherokee grille on August 6th, 2010.
I was quite taken aback when I discovered this unfortunate victim of an automobile suspended from a plastic cross---it's fragile body perfectly preserved in graceful form---too reminiscent of familiar images of a more well-known crucifixion.
Most bugs splat unceremoniously into oblivion when they're hit by several thousand pounds of machinery speeding down a highway, leaving us not much to think about except cleaning up the mess, but somehow this magnificent little creature, even after death, has managed to tell us something about the beauty of its existence, and the tragedy of its passing.
Yes, it's just another bug, one of billions lost each day to the unintentional recklessness of human activity.
Yet, perhaps this tiny innocent member of earth's living community has also died for our sins, by our hands, so that we might once again be patiently reminded by Mother Nature of the destructiveness of our way of life.
How many messengers does Nature's Creation need to send us before we finally get the message?
We have already wiped out 98% of our old growth forests, 99% of our native prairies are gone, 80% of the rivers in China no longer support fish life, and 90% of the large fish in the worlds oceans are gone.
Earth is currently losing between 150 & 200 species every single day, and I can only wonder at the bountiful diversity that once graced this planet before our species came stumbling along into fossil fuels, industrialism, and the age of the infernal combustion machine, which may well render the planet uninhabitable for oxygen breathers.
I'm certainly not religious in any traditional sense of the word, but take another close-up look at this dragonfly, it has a message for us, and, it even looks as if it might have been praying when it died...
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Big Brother Raids R-Own-Ranch & Condemns Property!!!
Photo left to right; Thelma Smith, Edgar Smith (gramps), Karen Smith (Miller), Peggy Otterstrom, Jim Otterstrom, Ed Smith, Debra Smith, Clark Smith, with Boots & Chewbacca in front.
Just before Peggy and I moved to Big Bear this is where we lived, in that army surplus quonset hut, on the Smith family's 60 acre 'R-Own-Ranch', a secluded paradise two miles up a dirt road from Mulholland Drive in the Santa Monica Mountains near Malibu Canyon Road.
We moved here shortly after we were married, and the ranch is also where we started our own family, Jimmy came into the world during our time here.
We were quite happy living alongside this down to earth Old Calabasas family who welcomed us into their lives as if we were born & raised right there with them.
Most of us worked for the Post Office, either in Calabasas, or Woodland Hills, which is how we became friends, and we held many unforgettable postal gatherings up at the ranch---far from the rat-race---where people could relax and let their hair down without bothering the neighbors, because there weren't any.
At these large pot-luck get-togethers there was often live music provided by musician friends---from young rockers, to aging big band era players---the majority of whom were working at the Post Office too. The family also---long before my days there---had rigged up a fenced (with chicken wire), night-lighted (with salvaged flourescent fixtures), volleyball court, Ma & Pa Kettle style, where, old & young alike, would often play into the wee hours of the morning.
On more normal quieter nights, the family always gathered in the living room of the original old home-built house where four generations of Smiths would gregariously indulge themselves in hours of playing Scrabble, Monopoly, or any number of board, dice, or card games, until way into the night, and there was also a game room with a pool table off the living room overlooking the vegetable garden.
I loved sitting in on those games and listening to family tales about things like hiking miles to the old Calabasas School on a trail which led from the ranch, over the mountains, and down to the quaint little town of Calabasas. But, I don't believe I ever once beat my ol' buddy, Ed Smith, or his sister, Karen, at a game of Scrabble. Those two were just too damned sharp, but then again, they played the game almost every night for much of their lives.
That's the kind of thing families used to do when they lived in remote rural areas, far from the nearest neighbor, before cable or satellite TV, or computers.
I was absolutely charmed by this unassuming family of self-reliant old-fashioned folks who still lived---even during the 1970s, '80s, & early '90s---much as they had throughout the 1940s & '50s. I felt like I had come home, and I still think of them as family, and their 'R-Own-Ranch' as the country home I always longed for.
During our few years there most of the activity centered around the main house, which apparently came into existence around 1927---long before there were enforced building codes in those unincorporated areas---with several rooms obviously added on, maybe as late as the early 1950s. Also, of course, was the war surplus quonset where Peggy & I lived---which had been erected in 1956---35 years before the city of Calabasas was incorporated. And there were a couple of small trailers there too, available to family members who sometimes came and went depending upon their situations at any given time.
Living at the ranch was always an adventure, and definitely not for the faint of heart. The day we moved in was during the midst of a wet winter, and the private road leading up to the ranch had just washed out about a 1/2 mile down from the house, so Peggy and I had to trudge back & forth up that last muddy 1/2 mile with all of our belongings. That would've been late 1979, the year I bought my first 4-wheel drive Toyota, for obvious reasons.
The Smiths owned a tiny, ancient, rickety Caterpillar bulldozer which could, periodically, be patched into some semblance of working order to assist with road repair during washouts, which came in handy because the 1.2 mile dirt section of the road was almost completely wiped out twice during our 3 year stay at the ranch. Those are rewarding and memorable experiences in my life, working side by side with the Smiths to rebuild their road, and this is also when Peggy learned how to use a chain saw and I got to know her rugged hard-working side.
Then there were the fires. A couple of years before we moved to Big Bear a fire broke out to the north of us in the middle of the night, near highway 101, and we were awakened by a call from the fire department warning us to be prepared because it was moving in our direction.
There was a fire hydrant on the property near the main house---the cost of which was surely added to the R-Own-Ranch tax assessment, but the fire department would no longer allow their equipment up the narrow road to protect just one old house. They did however offer to provide us with some fire hose, a nozzle, and a bit of safety instruction if we wished to defend the place ourselves, an offer we gladly accepted.
Over that tense ensuing day the fire moved slowly toward us and some of the Smiths decided to drive down and talk with the firefighters stationed by the big fancy houses at the lower paved section of the road near Mulholland Drive, to see if they might change their minds about sending a truck up. What happened instead, was that a sheriff wouldn't allow the guys back up the road, which left me and Peggy, along with Thelma Smith, probably in her late 50s then, and her son Clark, in his early to mid teens, to defend the place.
I suggested to Peggy that she should leave and told her I was going to stay and fight the fire. She said, "I'm not going anywhere without you"! So, Peg and I followed the fire department advice, wrapping our heads & faces in wet towels as the fire advanced over the hill and moved in upon us. We kept the house and everything around it soaking wet, and when the smoke got too thick we'd adjust the nozzle to a fine spray over our heads and breathe, through the wet towels, the oxygen that was emanating from the misting spray of water falling around us. A few times I had to leave Peggy in charge of the hefty fire nozzle so I could run back to the quonset and use the garden hose to extinguish small fires that had ignited in knot-holes of the leafless deciduous 'Trees of Heaven' growing along the side of the metal building, which was otherwise rather impervious to fire. That's when I discovered how strong and courageous Peggy is.
The fire burned around us for a couple of hours but eventually moved on and the Smith homestead was spared for the time being. Then, in March of 1983, just a few days before Peggy & I moved away, another fire headed toward the ranch, and we were prepared to man the hoses again, but the previous fire had cleared most of the underbrush so this one just burned on past us.
Sadly, in 1996, a third fire finally burned the original family home to the ground while the Smiths stood by helplessly at the bottom of the road where the police, once again, wouldn't allow them up to defend their uninsurable property.
The quonset hut and trailers survived though, and members of the family, including Thelma's now 70 year-old brother, Lloyd Smith, and his son Gary, continued living on what was left of their scrappy beloved ranch, until, completely unannounced and unexpected, "on July 8th, 2010, the Calabasas Community Development Department, its building officials, code enforcement officers, other employees, personnel and agents, Los Angeles County Animal Control, and armed Sheriff’s deputies — a total of 14 people, eight of whom still remain unidentified despite requests for the City to identify them — descended en masse on one of Cold Creek’s founding families in the heart of undeveloped upper Stokes Canyon, 1.2 miles off the beaten track"*.
*Excerpted from the Las Virgenes Homeowners Federation August, 2010 newsletter. Read the whole creepy story about the raid here.
In more decent times and places, in an America once striving toward democracy, these human beings---long-time historic pioneering residents of their community---would've been treated with a modicum of courtesy and respect, instead of like common criminals. Their old non code-compliant homestead would've been considered grandfathered, and partially exempt from today's strict regulations, and they would've been officially notified as to whatever health & safety issues required immediate attention and given some time to come into compliance.
But no, 11 days after the raid the Smith family's electricity was cut off, and 7 days after that the water too, leaving 70 year-old Lloyd, and his son Gary, homeless. The bastards even came and capped off the fire hydrant!!!
Because, as you can plainly see, the Calabasas of today is a miracle of modern Capitalism, where destructive profiteering defines progress, and appallingly ugly subdivisions of enormous disgusting "mansions" are smeared all over the once lovely hillsides that the Smith kids wandered on their way to school.
There's no room in Calabasas any more for down home folks like the Smith family, or in the rest of the Santa Monica Mountains for that matter, it's all gone to shit now! And the robber barons who run the world these days don't even have the decency to come in and make the family a fair offer for their land. They just send in a bunch of lackey bureaucrats to do a little dirty work, raiding, condemning, and evicting elderly life-long residents, probably figuring they'll be able to get what they want for almost nothing, while these people are suffering under duress. And I sorely suspect they may well succeed, because ordinary folks just don't have the resources it takes to fight powerful monied interests.
Interestingly, this raid was conducted around the same time an out-of-state owner of 300 acres somewhere in the vicinity of the Smith property, was inquiring about having his land incorporated into the city of Calabasas for development purposes, and would it surprise anybody if the Smith acreage just happens to lie between his land and the rest of what is already contiguous to Calabasas?
Whether this turns out to be the case or not, you can bet your ass that somebody's got an eye on making big bucks off the corpse of R-Own-Ranch, where generations of Smiths, through their labors of love, toiled away for 60 some years on their remote little plot of paradise, enlarging their home, one room at a time, planting gardens, building ponds, repairing roads, paying taxes, and raising their kids, all by themselves, without the need for pre-schools, playdates, or ritalin.
As for the people who live in all those sterile new giant Calabastard enclaves---those anti-coyote, anti-clothesline, anti-cesspool civilized newcomers whose filth & excrement flows through a nasty maze of pipes to some oft malfunctioning sewage treatment plant before being dumped into the Santa Monica Bay; whose countless Hummers, Escalades, and Navigators foul the air above the sacred mountains I once called home---I feel sorry for you and can't even imagine living in one of those oversized crapboxes and calling it a home.
In my eyes R-Own-Ranch is a victim of the same corporate driven oppression which has subverted democracy all across America by buying off the government, rewriting the rules to benefit the rich, and redistributing the wealth of a once thriving middle class---who were the backbone of the country---to a small percentage of the population, which is why the gap between the rich & poor is wider today than ever before, and growing by the hour. Pure raw evidence of the class wars the entire world is in the midst of.
And, for the record, these are my own opinions, and neither my thoughts nor my memories were verified, approved, or authorized by any member of the Smith family.
My anger and indignation over human beings subjected to this kind of treatment is my own, and I'll speak my mind about it anytime I damned well please, especially when it hits this close to home.
Finally, to all the members of the Smith family; to Ed & Cindy, Karen & Dan, and all your kids; to Thelma, Lloyd, & Gary, and all the rest of you. Peggy and I hope you will find a way to get 'R-Own-Ranch' untangled from this nightmare. We will always feel like a part of your family and this is very painful for us too.
The, late, 'Smitty', son-in-law of Edgar, husband to Thelma, was the sole rural letter carrier for Calabasas, delivering the mail to every residence for several decades.
Peggy in October of 1981 Click to enlarge - © 1981/2010 jim otterstrom
A very pregnant Peggy, with our goat, in front of the R-Own-Ranch vegetable garden in October of '81.
Peggy on Friday, November 13th, 1981 Click to enlarge - © 1981/2010 jim otterstrom
Peggy, in front of the quonset with Smith family dog, Chewbacca, about 16 hours before our son Jimmy was born, and check out the cat on the tin roof above the door.
Quonset Bathroom - 1981Click to enlarge - © 1981/2010 jim otterstrom
The quonset bathroom during a facelift I was doing on the place while we lived there.
Remodeling Our Bedroom - 1981
Click on photo to enlarge - © 1981/2010 jim otterstrom
Peggy, just days away from motherhood, poses for me in our newly remodeled bedroom in the quonset hut at R-Own-Ranch.
If you think this post simply describes an unfortunate isolated incident please follow this link to see a short audio slideshow about ex-Marine & Viet Nam vet, Joseph Diliberti, a stunningly creative human being who may lose his 4 acre property in San Diego County, as well as his magnificent hand-crafted ceramic home, under somewhat similar circumstances.
This kind of stuff happens every day, to good people all around the world, who are victimized by the thievery of empire builders who are now beginning to run out of resources to steal; and by classism, elitism, racism, and sexism.
If you lived along the Yangtze River in China, they came and took millions of your ancestral homes for a huge dam to power the industrialists factories, an engineering monstrosity which, at best, will silt over in a dozen decades or so. If you live in Tennessee, they may soon come for the coal under your feet---if they haven't already done so---removing the mountian tops around your home, destroying the landscape and displacing the wildlife who live there, while ruining the watershed and poisoning your water and your air. If you live in Sumatra, and survive a tsunami, they will come and confiscate your land, replacing your fishing villages with luxury resorts. If you live in Central America, they will come and confiscate your homeland for banana or coffee plantations and put you to work in sweatshops making designer shoes or T-shirts for a few bucks a week. If you were a Native American, they might have brought you gifts, like blankets intentionally infected with smallpox, to kill off your people and take over your land with much less resistance. If you live in Iraq, they will come and destroy your country to procure the oil you're sitting on.
And the list of victimization goes on forever, from East Timor, to the Tar Sands of Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast of America; from the brutality of the British, Spanish, Japanese, Russian, Chinese, & American empires, to the murderous history of religious fanaticism; from the Crusades, to witch burning in America, and the horrific radical muslim fundamentalism of the Taliban.
I believe, as Dan Quinn wrote in his best-selling novel, Ishmael, that some humans are takers, and some are leavers, and for the past 10,000 years or so, the takers have been winning big, but I think they are running out of time. The planet can't afford them anymore...
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