Friday, March 29, 2019

Our Universe Is Expanding

Wifey and I are a formidable team. We’ve tangled with malefactors more than a few times, and with very few exceptions we’ve always come out on top.

So it was with the two skirmishes with the City that occurred in rapid succession in 2017. Nevertheless, we were left quite angry by the experience. We were fed up with our being repeatedly put on the defensive by an overweening bureaucracy, and by the prospect of its possibly happening again.

And so, as much as we love the Farm House, we began to feel the need to establish a foothold somewhere else, in case the City really began to put on the heat.

We had in mind a place far enough away to provide a significantly different environment, but close enough to be suitable for day trips. We wanted a place large enough for us all to be able to stretch our legs, but modest enough to be affordable.

Early in June 2017, we began to look for such a place. Miraculously, by the ides of June we had found it, and by the end of September it was ours.

You’ll be hearing all about the place in due course, so I’ll just provide a sketch of the place here. It’s on one and five-sixteenths of an acre 5500 feet up, on the slopes of Mt. Piños in the San Emigidio Mountains. It is within the boundaries of the Los Padres National Forest, just inside Kern County, 82 miles from the Farm House.

The house is a fairly large, rambling affair, built by the original owner (from whom we purchased it). He started with an A-frame kit cabin, and over the course of the next forty years kept adding rooms periodically. It is solidly, if quirkily, built.

The camera is at eye level here.

The place is indelibly imprinted with the lively personality of the man who built it, about whom you will hear much more in the coming months. He is a remarkable man, energetic and full of whimsy, evidence of which one is liable to find in unexpected places.

He has his own unique way of doing things.

My favorite aspect of the construction is a 1000-square-foot second garage, known as “the Barn,” although it doesn’t look anything like a barn. It is in fact just a very long garage. But what a garage! Its possibilities as a work space, and as a play space, are virtually unlimited. I mean, we could hold a barn dance in there!

The house is bordered on the north and west by a vast meadow that requires a small tractor to mow. Happily, the house came with one, and a nice snowblower as well. Beyond the north meadow is a forested area that slopes down to a creek on the northern border of the property.

The back yard overlooks the Cuddy Valley, which for a long time was cattle country. Even now, cattle graze there during the temperate months of the year.

And speaking of climate, the summers there are much like those in Pasadena, although it is generally somewhat cooler up there. The winters, on the other hand, are much colder. It is liable to snow there at any time from early November to early May.

We christened the place El Rancho Grande, after the song of the same name. For reference, here’s Bing’s hit version of the song:

The name occurred to both Wifey and me simultaneously. It just seems to fit.

[April 2, 2020: I have updated the above link, the first of which had succumbed to a DMCA takedown order. Interestingly, the Foursome, the vocal group assisting Bing here, got its start with Smith Ballew's excellent touring band in the early Thirties, although they never recorded with him. Ballew is my main collecting interest, but I hadn't previously noted the connection.

And since I'm here revising and extending my remarks, let me add that the words of this song reflect exactly how we feel about the place.]

For Wifey, El Rancho Grande was just what the doctor ordered. From the first, she positively thrived up there. She would always leave the place feeling renewed in body and spirit.

My reaction to the place was quite the opposite. Although I fell in love with the place at first sight, once the place was ours the name we had given it began to take on for me an ironic and sinister meaning.

As it happened, the acronym of the name, ERG, is also the name of a unit of work or energy. I soon discovered that the place was so large and complex that it required a considerable amount of work to maintain. The scope of the work grew exponentially in my mind once I realized that I knew virtually nothing about the particular maintenance needs of a place situated in a snowy winter environment.

I would thus get to work the second we arrived at the place, but ten minutes later I found myself completely drained of energy and gasping for breath, done for the day. After a few weeks of this, I figured out that I was experiencing altitude sickness up there. I had never gotten it before unless I was up above 10,000 feet, and even then the symptoms were mild and of brief duration.

I began resting for a half-hour after arrival at El Rancho Grande before I did anything else, and that worked for a time. But it caused me some concern nonetheless, and when in time the altitude sickness worsened, both Wifey and I knew something was wrong with me.

This led us to seek out a new doctor, the one who quickly and accurately diagnosed my heart condition.

Thus, while El Rancho Grande was for Wifey just what the doctor ordered, for me it was just what ordered the doctor.

As 2018 wore on, I eventually had to give up the idea of doing any work up at ERG for the time being, and after mid-July I had to stay away completely for a time. We tried again in mid-November, but it was too soon.

After my encouraging physical in early February, we felt that it was safe to try again.  And so, the next Saturday, we went up there. It was a nice sunny day, but there was a blanket of snow on the ground.

That, however, diminished no one’s spirits.

Everything was beautiful,

and a grand time was had by all.

Oh, and the altitude sickness was completely absent. At last, El Rancho Grande is just what the doctor ordered for me as well, because she has ordered me to get plenty of exercise.

* * *

You all are now brought more or less up to date regarding Otis, Wifey & Co. There are still a few blank spaces to fill regarding past events, which I will do as soon as I fill them in for myself, but for the most part I will now be returning to current business.

"Uh. . . hello?"

Oh, wait. I just remembered one small event I failed to mention. On February 4, 2018, Wifey let the dogs out in the morning, as usual, and instead of their going about their business, they made a beeline to the north side of the house and set up an enormous din.

Wifey ran out, and saw the dogs gathered around the base of the big Eastern oak alongside the driveway. She followed their gaze upward and saw a raccoon in the tree.

There is nothing very odd about raccoons in our trees at night, but we haven’t had one there in the daytime since we moved in. Apparently, the raccoon had fallen asleep up there, and failed to wake up in time to get to a dog-free zone.

Although we brought the dogs right back in, and kept them in all day, that poor raccoon stayed there until it was good and dark, although after a while he relaxed and made himself comfortable.

Okay, now it’s back to current business.

* * *

"Thank you."

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