Sunday, February 26, 2012


There are good folks in the Washoe County area of Northern Nevada (for the uninformed this is the county where the cities of Reno and Sparks are conjoined) who annually enter into a ritual of self-induced frustration, which in polite societies is referred to as gardening. To the insiders across back fences and in private exchanges the foiled toilers of the soil use many other adjectives to describe their defeatist inspired hobby.

These back yard gardeners of the Truckee Meadows engage in some very interesting annual cult practices.

They passionately disagree as they watch the snow and frost recede on a local mountain called Peavine on whose meteorological magic they all have differing opinions, arguing as to how to interpret the faithful gauge of snow blanketed sage covered landscape which supposedly dictates when they should once again begin their rites of self-defeating behavior. This gauge is a Sword of Demosthenes which dangles over both the daring and the patient as they watch the last remnants of winter disappear from Peavine’s peak.

Some of the foolhardy will go forth with a flare of bravado and plant while patches of graying slush still adorn some of the shady areas of the mountain. These foolhardy souls will invariably have to, after the first killer frost, re-turn the soil of their gardens and replant with eternal hope driving them forward with every shovel full of earth freshly prepared. With appropriate expletives these impatient planters will soon compare frost blackened leaves of tomato and squash plants whose bright buds will never mature into edible delights.

The less daring and obviously more patient planters wait and wait until the last vestiges of winter’s whiteness have evaporated or melted into the soil of the trusty gauge. Ere long they find that their patience brings them no reward since the staying of their hand has shortened the growing season to such a narrow window that the yield of their efforts is a another bumper crop of unripened tomatoes which are either left on the vines as a sacrifice to King Jack Frost or picked and bottle and added to the ever increasing supply of green tomato relish.

I have to admit that one year on the 24th of July as we were freezing at San Rafael Park while celebrating the Mormon Pioneers entering the Great Salt Lake Basin that I was duly tempted to refrain from ever again entering into that futile backyard planting ritual. While we celebrants shivered and crowded under the minimal sheltered areas, watching the snowflakes fall, my thoughts turned to the bounteous harvest I had bragged about to my neighbor on the 23rd of July and my perfect Peavine Mountain timing,. With frozen thoughts, I knew the morning of July 25th would once again bear testimony of the futility of farming in that fertile soil.

However, the true horticulturist never becomes discouraged to the point of quitting and can always, in spite of the frustration involved, rationalize that gardening is relaxing and does avail one of a pleasant way to get in some much needed summer exercise.

From the unpublished book on ‘Gardening for Fun, and Only for Fun in the Truckee Meadows’ we find creed-worthy words which are meant to encourage and animate frustrated farmers in times of nearly annual failure induced discouragement.

Never analyze your gardening successes based on labor and production costs versus returns.

The frequently repeated practice of balancing nutrients in the soil in order to control weeds while not causing the ground to be barren, in another pursuit would time-wise add up to the equivalency of a Doctorate Degree.

The truly gifted (Master Timers of late springs and early winters) who year after year plow ahead, may (that would be a huge may) someday in the far away future receive a blue ribbon as recognition for their untiring efforts.

After the digging, planting and harvesting of green tomatoes are done the trip to Fallon (a nearby fruitful farming community east of the conjoining cities of Sparks and Reno) to buy some fresh produce isn’t that big of a drive anyway.

As I diligently added my name to the list of devotees who sacrificed greatly to become one with Mother Earth, I have found that all was not in vain and there was more to be gained from the frustrating gardening ritual than a bit of relaxing summer exercise. In spite of the failures, I learned many lessons which would be useful in more farming friendly areas and also have given meaningful understandings to other parts of my life.

In a very practical way I came to understand some gardening practices and their benefits and dangers. For example, corn should be planted in shorter multiple rows rather than one single long row if one expects to have a successful pollination take place; Also, root crops should be planted adjacent to plants which discourage grub worms and other creatures which crawl in the ground. And it takes many seasons for asparagus to yield enough sprigs to make a meal.

I came to understand that if a gardener were to concentrate on the sod alone, season after season tilling greater amounts of fertilizers, compost and chemicals into the ground, he may exhaust his energies and the labors of a life time before the perfect soil is achieved and ready for planting.

If the back yard row cropper decides that weeds are the real enemy of crop development, he possibly could attack them with such vigor and resources that he kills the soil and then many seasons will be needed to restore the barren ground.

On the other hand, if our amateur farmer believes that gardening is nothing more than planting and watering, his garden may soon be overrun with weeds, the nutrients in his soil will be depleted and he will be rewarded with an ever diminishing return for his efforts.


Sunday, February 12, 2012


Many years ago in the spirit of ‘I can do something crazier than you can’ a group of young men combined their efforts into pulling off the ultimate Halloween prank.

Late on the final day of October they broke into the local furniture store and with muffled snickers of joy and jubilant merriment they spent the bewitching hours switching all the price tags in the store.

The next morning the owners were greeted with price tags selling radios for ninety-nine cents and wastebaskets for five hundred dollars. Early shoppers gleefully picked out their longed for sofa which that morning was priced at three dollars and seventy nine cents. One elderly lady screamed she would never pay three hundred and twenty nine dollars for a plain old picture frame.

Although the young men gleefully watched through the big front windows of the store from across the street, the owners were left to bustle through the problems and toils created by what the young men thought was an evening of fun.
Those of us whose lives span multiple decades may be excused if oft times we become confused and frustrated by the value switching of our ‘up to date progressive modern day world.’

We are constantly observing standards being lowered in order to conform to performances.

We see actions which traditionally were considered to be evil now being identified as acceptable activities, illnesses or excusable character flaws.

We hear long held values being shouted down into the abyss of old fashioned silliness.

We stand in awe as all that was good in former generations is replaced by that which is currently deemed as pleasurable.

As we are inundated with changes which seem to increase in rapidity with each turning of the hour glass, we witness a generation involved in frequent judgments which become clouded by strange conflicts as old values collide with new concepts.

Although these introductory paragraphs could be a springboard into an endless array of subjects, today I want to use them to talk about what has happened to our holidays of commemoration. For many of the multiple generational group, value switching philosophies over the years have created curious moments of mixed wonderings, emotions, values and ideals.

How does a generation who grew up on war heroes learn to hate war?

How does a generation who has learned to enjoy and love peace learn to pay proper respect to those who have paid such high prices for that peace?

How does a nation properly honor the men and their life threatening deeds without glorifying the events of destruction and desolation?

If the day arrives when our fervent prayers for perpetual peace are answered and brothers and sisters throughout the lands live in love and unity and we war no more against the universal human family, I suspect in that day and in that way we will give the ultimate tribute to those millions who have laid down their lives in the quest for peace.

Sunday, February 5, 2012


As far as memory serves me, my vicarious experiences with animals, started when my sister Geraldine and I regularly attended the KEIO (local radio station in Pocatello Idaho in 1940’s) KIDS KLUB at the Chief Theater. Besides the weekly ‘adventure cereals’ and that week’s movie there was a talent show and since the KEIO KIDS KLUB was sponsored by the local potato bread company they always threw out loaves of bread liberally to the audience. I still remember eating that potato bread during the movie as being more enjoyable than buttered popcorn, and I really like buttered popcorn when watching a movie.

Besides the movies of my heroes, Hoot Gibson, Gene Autry, Red Rider and Roy Rodgers there are four movies which really seem to be locked in my mind from those delightful Saturdays spent with my sister and friends. One of them was a terrible film which should never have been shown to an audience of kids. This film in black and white (as were most of the movies of my younger days) portrayed the deteriorating life of a carnival worker who, through the misuse of alcohol, destroyed his life and that of his loved ones. I have often wished there was some way to relegate the ugliness and trauma of that movie to the un-recallable foggy cells of my memory. Maybe the intent of the theater owners was to discourage the youth of Pocatello from partaking of the demon rum.

The other three movies were about animals, ‘Bambi,’ ‘The Yearling,’ and the last which I think was called ‘The Egg Eater.’

Sometime during the process of coming into mortality I seemed to have been given an abundance of sensitivity and emotionalism which not only surfaced when our Irish setter met his demise, but also pours forth in what I call happy-sadness in movies. I cry happy! No matter how I might have tried to stem the tide, it was always a vain attempt when I tried keeping my companions from noticing my tearful reaction during happy-sadness movies.

I was recently thrilled to see the re-release of the birth, the life and struggles of Bambi, which in my mind will forever be one of those films which will perpetuate the name of Disney.

The Yearling was about a young boy and the growth he experiences as he finds and cares for an abandoned fawn. Eventually, he must choose the greater good by allowing his beloved friend the opportunity to find happiness in its natural habitat.

The least known of these movies which I think was called The Egg Eater was about a dog which was mistreated and maligned unjustly because he was thought to have been raiding the family’s chicken coop and eating the eggs. The sad picture ends happy when the dog is vindicated when he saves the henhouse from the invading fox who had been the guilty raider all along.

As one generation rolled into another, in my early days of fatherhood, I watched my children as they were moved and enraptured watching Lassie, Black Beauty, Benji, Old Yeller and even Mister Ed. Their attention wouldn’t even waver as they listen to the droning of unexcited voices narrating the first of what would become a multitude of nature and wildlife shows. No wonder I am not astounded when my grandchildren tell me that their favorite channel is Planet Earth or any show that shows the wonders of the animal kingdom. The upcoming generations who tire easily while shopping seem to have boundless energy when wandering through zoos, animal parks and sea worlds.

I know my personal joys and weaknesses concerning animals, but I have pondered about the almost universal magnetism which seems to draw children into a mesmerized semi-fascination state as they interact with the animal kingdom in real life or vicariously. The medium doesn’t seem to matter, be it live interaction, television, movies, comic books or adventure novels; children find lovability and believability as writers attempt to humanize dogs, cats, pigs, horses and all their cousins.

Another interesting phenomenon which I have observed is that children who mock and treat with ridicule their friends and family, often treat animals with great patience and lovingness. Also, care givers of the elderly are now finding that troubled minds can be soothed with the companionship of a lap dog.

The whys may not be totally known and may not be important but there seems to be a universal value of having children of all ages interact with the animal kingdom through touching and caring and even through the semi-reality of the media.

Children who have meaningful experiences with a pet seem to grow into adults who have gained a meaningful reverence for life. The attributes which accompany the nurturing and caring for an animal are most often carried over into families yet to come, bringing responsibility and a sense of sacrifice for meaningful others.

Parents may be wise to weigh the eventual results of their actions the next time they are tempted to get rid of the cat because of the inconvenience, or turn off Animal Kingdom in favor of the latest half hour sit-com.

I believe parents have a stewardship to make sure they provide opportunities for their children which will help them become responsive, caring adults. A quick stop at the pet store in the mall or watching the most current Rin Tin Tin might just provide one of those valuable teaching moments.

As a personal note, I believe that even the negative events which might accompany the companionship of a loving buddy, serve as catalyst for the softening and rounding of our rougher edges. I am also just as sure that Heaven cannot be heavenly if the whole of the animal kingdom is not there.

I apologies to all of you who are much younger than my generation and who have no idea concerning many of the referenced shows or animals. I hope you will in some way be able to transfer the thought into your own personal set of references.