Are Things Going To Pot? Maybe Not...

My original plan for the next couple of weeks was to do a bunch of photo essays on my trip through southern Oregon and Humboldt County. Now that I’m home, though, something has come up that has me kind of bothered, so I decided instead to break up the travel posts with a bit of a rant. Oh, and some pretty pictures of a local cannabis garden. Yes, for reals.

This week, a federal judge struck down sections of the new immigration law passed by the state of Arizona (SB 1070). Almost immediately, people began expressing outrage over the federal government infringing upon states' rights. In border states like California, these voices have been particularly loud. In the Central Valley where I grew up, they have been deafening.

Here’s the thing. Since citizens of the State of California passed Proposition 215 - the law that allows for the medicinal use of cannabis - the federal government has been infringing on the rights of Californians pretty much every day. In this state. Right here. All the time. Sick citizens, too. People with AIDS, or cancer, or MS are going to prison over using cannabis to treat their illnesses. Oh, and let’s not forget the war veterans who treat their post-traumatic stress disorder with cannabis. Lots of those guys get tackled by the feds, too.

Yet the level of citizen outrage over the injustices that the feds perpetuate right in our own backyard pales in comparison to the outrage Californians are currently expressing over the fed’s “interference” into the business of the State of Arizona. For those who would label Arizona’s immigration issue as one concerning states' rights, logic dictates that these same individuals should advocate for states' rights consistently across the board - especially, I would think, when it comes to one’s home state.

In other words, it seems to me that if you’re the type of person to scream “foul” when the feds say that Arizona law enforcement can’t go around asking people for proof of their immigration status, it stands to reason that you should scream “foul” twice as loudly when the feds throw a fellow Californian in prison for treating his glaucoma with cannabis.

But the same Californians who speak out most aggressively concerning the injustices heaped upon Arizona are largely silent when it comes to defending their home state against federal disregard for our cannabis laws. What I find disturbing is that hollering loudly over the one thing but remaining silent over the other reveals multitudes about those doing the hollering. Because then all the hollering isn’t about a fervent belief in states' rights - it’s about something else. Something a lot more troubling.

I took these shots at a local cannabis garden, thanks to some pretty nice (and brave) local gardeners. Thanks, local gardeners! I like these photos because they show cannabis grown in a kitchen-style garden like the herb it is. Most of us have seen the dramatized documentaries about cannabis grown in spiffy space-aged rooms or in houses blown out with mylar and lights and tubes. Lots of people don’t realize, though, that plenty of cannabis is grown in intercropped patches like this - outside in the sunshine alongside flowers and butterflies and squash and cucumbers and bees and tomatoes and hummingbirds. You know, like real plants. Nothing troubling about that. Nor is there anything troubling about sick people who need this plant to help them treat their illness. It is troubling when their fellow citizens stand by silently as the feds prosecute them for it, though. Just sayin.


Cave Junction - What's Your Function?

The Chateau at the Oregon Caves may not be as sleazy as the Ocean Grove Lodge, but I can’t hold that against it. After all, while The Chateau may not provide a sanctuary for serial killers and heroin-addicted prostitutes, it does have caves. And a ghost.

A twenty mile drive uphill through hairpin turns, switchbacks, and terrifying drops takes you out to The Chateau, which was built and opened around 1934 as a job-creating endeavor for the local community of Cave Junction. Many of the employees have worked for The Chateau or The Oregon Caves for generations, and these establishments provide much-needed income for not only those in the service industry, but also for the local merchants, farmers, and winemakers who supply the cafe and shops on the site.

The fact that this place is so far off the beaten track means that it is in almost pristine original condition. It is a great example of the rustic style that was really big in the 20’s and 30’s, and all local materials were used in its construction. The gigantic beam and stair supports all came from the same tree, and everything from top to bottom is finished out in original local stone and wood - right down to the bark shingles outside.

The Chateau is constructed over the top of the stream that formed the adjacent caves. The creek bed now runs right through the dining room of the hotel and also supplies this pond right outside the cafe. Back in the day, they stocked the pond with trout and let guests fish out of it. Now, not so much. Still, pretty cool.

In fact, the place has character to spare.

You feel frozen in time when you’re here because everything has been left completely alone. Old phones and maid-service machines are still on the lobby counter and attached to the walls.

Pipes for water and fire safety are exposed because the solid wood beam and rock construction doesn’t allow for them to be concealed. Upstairs, the combination of exposed pipes and the extensive use of beaverboard molded to look like stones (all still original) gives the place a bizzaro-Disney vibe on the upper floors. This double-sided rock fireplace in the lobby was constructed from local stone excavated on the site during the building process.

The furnishings are incredible - original Mason Furniture Company furniture was used pretty much exclusively, and almost all of the original Monterey-style furniture - including room furnishings - has remained untouched and is in pristine original condition.

And did I mention the ghost? Ah, Elizabeth. I miss you already. This is a photo of a photo, so apologies for the quality. The original shot was taken downstairs in the basement, in one of the kitchen pantries. In this photo you see a storage rack with stainless steel sides, and there, in the lower left, you see the ghost of sweet Elizabeth staring back at you, reflected in the side of the storage rack. Hello, dear. Supposedly, this photo was taken as part of some scientific survey and Elizabeth’s image appeared randomly and was discovered accidentally long after the photos were developed. Supposedly.

As the story goes, Elizabeth was at The Chateau for her honeymoon in 1934, and came back to her room to find her new husband boinking one of the chambermaids. Distraught, she hurled herself out of the window and onto the rocks below. This happened in room 309. Ever since then, Elizabeth has haunted the hotel, and has shown a preference for rattling around in the closets on the third floor, scaring the bejeesus out of guests.

As luck would have it, I was in room 301, directly across the hall from Elizabeth’s room. The night I stayed, I’d had the better part of a bottle of wine with dinner, so naturally it seemed like a good idea to be proactive concerning the ghost situation. Right before I went to bed, I opened the door into the hall and told Elizabeth that I had heard her dramatic tale from the kitchen staff, and that I was very sorry for the sad way in which she had ended her existence in this realm. I reassured her that I was NOT a chambermaid, and I told her that I hoped she had a peaceful night. Then, giggling, I moved to close the door. As I turned to go back inside, the mirror in my room rattled hard against the wall. Then it stopped. Then it shook again. Then it stopped. Then a third time. A long time this time. And hard. Then silence.

Talk about sobering up in an instant. Man. I love a good ghost story as much as the next girl, but this was a little much. I tried to be logical about it. I did, really. My first thought was that there must be pipes in the wall, or perhaps the wall was next to the stairs and someone was rumbling up and down in a hurry and shaking things up on my side. But no. There were no pipes in the wall. The pipes are all exposed due to the construction style, remember? Nor were there stairs on the other side, either. Or lovers having a swing at romance. Or three swings, as the case may be. I’ll tell you what WAS on the other side of that wall, though. A closet. A third-floor closet. Elizabeth’s favorite hangout. So good night to you, too, you sad, sad ghost.

One of the great things about The Chateau is that the entrance to the Oregon Caves National Monument is right next door.

This is the cave entrance. The sign reads, “Enter at your own risk. Death and dismemberment due to C.H.U.D. encounters is not the responsibility of The Chateau or the Oregon Caves. Enjoy your visit.”

After such a surreal night, I was ready for some surreal caving, and I wasn’t disappointed.

“Otherworldly.” Yep. That about covers it.

“Otherworldly” about covers the whole experience at The Chateau at the Oregon Caves, in fact. Which is fine with me.

Escaping into other worlds is what I’m all about. The guy who discovered this cave went in to explore it with five matches in his pocket. The idea of that might freak some people out, but I get it.

I’m glad this cave was in a Morlock-free zone, though. Not like those caves in Calaveras County, which as we all know are crawling with Morlocks. They really should do something about that over there. Maybe some community outreach...

Touring this cave was like walking through a giant geode. And you know how I feel about geodes...

Photography in the cave was challenging. It was very dark, and I couldn’t see the LED screen on the camera, so it was pretty much point and hope for the best. Still, some of these shots came out pretty good.

And did I mention the dripping? The caves are formed by millions of years of the constant drip, drip, drip of water. Good for the caves. Bad for my camera.

Low ceilings, too. I still have a knot on my head from whacking it against a stalactite. Or is it stalagmite? Either way it hurt, and I got scolded by the tweenage docent because the contact of my skull against the precious formations of the cave could hinder their growth and development for centuries to come. As far as I’m concerned, that’s what the cave gets for knocking me in the head. Stupid cave.

Look at him. Thinks he’s so cool with his cool hat. Well, you’re not cool, Matt. You’re just a guy with a cool hat. And a cool sweater. With cool patches. Otherwise, you’re not cool. At all.

Matt rocks it more. I tip my far-inferior hat to the champion.


I Survived The Ocean Grove Lodge.

Welcome to the Ocean Grove Lodge! Ask about our serial killer discount!

The Ocean Grove Lodge! SEE!!! The .22 shell casings littering the stoop of your cabin! HEAR!!! The heartbreaking sobs of the runaway next door! SMELL!!! The lingering residue of the Raid bug bomb!

Tour the Mystery Pub at the Ocean Grove Lodge! Be amazed as your notions of logic and reason are confounded by the presence of free WiFi in a bar with no beer on tap. NO BEER ON TAP!!

The moral? Sometimes the definition of "rustic accommodations" can vary wildly depending on the individual. To be fair, the fact that this place is owned and operated by a guy who calls himself "Cap'n Bob" should have been a dead giveaway.

It's very, very good to be home!


Found It.

To find something you've lost, you should always start by going back to the place where you last saw it.

Although this doesn't look lost to me - this looks like it's exactly where it should be.


Why I Don't Have Pets.

I hope the neighbors remember to feed my dog while I'm gone...

Who's made of welded rebar? Is it you? I think it is!


There's No Place Like Home...

In Oregon. Miss Cali. Nuff said.

I once had someone tell me that he knew me before he met me because of this song. I always thought that was a wonderful thing to say.


Mushrooms I Will Not Be Eating.

Sometimes nature is easy to figure out. Take these mushrooms, for example. Red means run, son.

Ever wonder how early humans determined which foods were poisonous and which ones were edible? I have. I was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Amazon basin, and the tribe I worked with there ate a very particular kind of cassava root. I mean, they ate some form of this root with everything. They ate cassava bread spread with cassava poi, they ate fried cassava bits with salt like popcorn, they processed cassava into a kind of granola to have with fruit for breakfast... They even had a pretty appalling method by which they fermented the stuff to make an alcoholic beverage which, while foul-tasting and disgusting, will send you for quite a loop, I have to admit.

My point is this: While there are lots of varieties of "sweet" cassava that are non-toxic, this particular sort of cassava that I'm talking about is what's called a "bitter" cassava - which means that it's highly poisonous in its raw state. Like, touch-the-raw-root-lick-your-fingers-and-die poisonous. However, there is a very long and complicated process by which the root can be cured that renders it edible. This process involves submerging the root under water for a few weeks, boiling it over a fire for a certain amount of time, drying it out for several days, mashing it up with a mortar and pestle, etc. etc. The method is exacting and specific, and if at any time in the process someone decides to cut a corner or two, the consequences could be deadly.

So what I’m wondering is, how did these tribesmen ever figure out how to process this root to begin with? I mean, how did that go, exactly?

Tribesman #1: Joe ate some of that root over there last month. Killed him pretty dead.

Tribesman #2: Really? Dead, huh? Well, maybe he should have tried to soak it in the river for a week before he ate it. I doubt it would have killed him if he’d have done that.

T1: No, Tim tried that a couple of weeks ago. He wound up just as dead as Joe.

T2: Really? Huh. That is so hard to believe... Oh, you know what? He should have soaked it for a week, then boiled it for sixteen hours. That’s where he went wrong.

T1: No, no... Remember Alan? He tried soaking first, then boiling. I thought it was a sure thing, too, but...

T2: Alan tried soaking then boiling, and he still croaked? Wow. That’s a head-scratcher... I mean, what comes after soaking then boiling? I don’t know... Maybe... maybe...

T1: I’ve got it!

T2: What?

T1: We’ll mash it.

T2: We’ll mash it! Yes! Of course! Genius! Soak, boil, then mash! That’s bound to work, don’t you think?

T1: I don’t know, but it’s worth a try.


The Power Of Flowers.

You have to be careful hiking in these parts because you never know when you might stumble across someone’s pot garden.

I've seen some pot gardens in my time, but there is something especially nice about these pots in this garden.

Mendocino village is brimming with beautiful landscaping, but this might be the best.

For me, it's all about the totem poles and antlers. Antlers are to a garden what a cowbell is to a song. More cowbell? More antlers!

The flowers aren’t half-bad, either. And the bubbles only add to the magic.

Alan bought this property in 1979. Upon the lot sat a shed with a dirt floor and a dilapidated chicken coop. Oh, and a giant blackberry thicket over eight feet high.

Fast forward thirty years. According to Alan, he and Roxy can’t leave a nursery empty handed. That’s three decades worth of plants. The first step is admitting you have a problem, folks. Although I’d hardly call this a problem.

This garden contains over fifty different kinds of plants and flowers. And one cat named Scooter, not pictured. According to Alan, Scooter is a snob around strangers.

Alan also says that, “Flowers fill a part of heart and soul like nothing else.”

He’s got that right.



This is a somewhat macabre post. I know, I know. Hard to believe that Emo McGothy over here has a dark side. My point is, if you’re sensitive to things like animal predatory behavior, then maybe you should skip this one. Me? I guess that sometimes I like to start my week on the sick side. There are some nice photos of birds, though, so if you think you can stomach it, it might be worth your while. Still, consider yourself warned.

These are the culprits. Before I get to the ghoulish bit, let me say that I have a profound fondness for ravens. They’re clever and beautiful, and if you’ve ever interacted with ravens, you know that they have a strong sense of self and are quite funny. For instance, these two ravens have trust issues with peanuts. There’s a stump out by my barn, and I regularly leave peanuts out for the forest critters. This worries these two ravens to no end. From their perch in the tree, they have a long talk as they look down at the peanuts on the stump. After a while, one of them swoops down to scout things out while the other keeps watch. As the lookout shouts encouragement from the tree, the scout walks around and around the stump. I counted seventeen laps once. Seriously. Finally, the scout, mustering all of his courage, jumps up and strikes the top of the stump with his talons. He doesn’t take a peanut - rather, he repeatedly jumps up from different angles and knocks at the stump with his feet before taking cover and observing from a few feet away. If he determines it’s safe, he’ll call the lookout down so both can feast on the peanuts. Often, however, he’s so nervous about the whole thing that he and his partner will fly off without taking any peanuts at all.

Of course, I thought this behavior was hilarious, but it also made me really curious as to what had these ravens so uptight about my peanut offerings. One day, I mentioned the odd peanut dance to one of my neighbors and she started laughing. She told me that outdoor cannabis growers set rat traps around their weed patches and bait them with peanuts. Ravens have learned to strike at the traps in order to spring them and steal the peanuts.

See? Smart birds, right? And charming. Yeah, well, stick with me...

I’m not sure who the victims were in this tragedy. It could have been any of the forest sparrows or robins or finches who nest in the redwoods around my house. All I know is, this morning when I woke up, it sounded like Bird Armageddon out there. I walked outside just in time to see one of the ravens swoop right over my head with a baby chick in its beak - legs kicking, desperately cheeping away the last moments of its life. The other raven was still raiding the nest and cawing out in delight. Meanwhile, all of the other species of birds within a quarter-mile of my place were having a collective bird meltdown. Very grim. Especially considering that there’s some perfectly good peanuts on that stump over there.

I’ve been reading a lot lately about how birds and dinosaurs are related, which puts their grisly behavior in perspective. I mean, the similarities are striking - especially so now that scientists have concluded that some dinosaurs had feathers.

Birds are kind of like velociraptors in miniature. You can really see it in the claws. And in the eyes.

There they sit, on a bench, the portrait of innocence...

Or nonchalantly sipping nectar from your feeder...

When all the while they’re plotting against you with that T-Rex brain of theirs. It makes me wonder what it would have been like when gigantic, winged creatures dominated the skies, flying from tree to tree raiding the nests of other prehistoric creatures. Maybe even prehistoric monkey creatures.

Because let me tell you, after watching those ravens raid that nest, I honestly believe that this mallard would eat you if he could. Which will doubtlessly be my nightmare for tonight - sitting helplessly in a nest awaiting my fate at the beak of a giant mallard who has already gulped down half of my siblings.

Yet I don’t think nature is cruel. Rather, I think nature is indifferent. For example, most of the time I wander through life completely unaware of the havoc and destruction I visit upon the heads of not only smaller creatures, but perhaps even upon the heads of entire universes to which I am the greater (and completely oblivious) host. Is this havoc intentional? Malicious? No. How can it be malicious if I’m destroying existences I cannot possibly be conscious of? Yet there it is, happening every second of every day. And if I proceed through my days completely indifferent to the tragedies I cause, it’s not that hard for me to imagine that whosoever serves as a host to my own itty, bitty universe proceeds through his or her life completely indifferent to me and my tragedies.

I pondered a little over what it means to react to something as if it’s a trap, even when it’s not. Maybe the lesson is that it’s a good idea to be suspicious of good fortune, especially when such good fortune is offered without any apparent catch. To the ravens, I guess that the sparrow babies are simply a safer meal than those suspicious-looking peanuts on the stump. After all, those things are really freaky.