“I’d like help the human understand how much less he can use and how much more he can get done. The human is so busy working on the horse, that he doesn’t allow the horse to learn. They need to quit working on the horse and start working on themselves. They might get it done, but they don’t get it done with the horse in the right frame of mind. The horse usually gets the job done in spite of us, not because of us.” –Ray Hunt

To be good at something, and I mean really good at it, requires feel.  There are people with tremendous amounts of talent who lack feel, which has something to do with understanding subtlety, and the power of subtlety, to inform a work.  It’s more than that, of course.  It might even be magic, who can say, but we know it when we see it.  We have a good friend here who builds all of the furniture that we care about.  He has built us tables, chairs, a gun rack, and bookcases.  He uses only barnwood in his work and he is, indisputably, a master craftsman and an artist.  What distinguishes our friend and his work from every other craftsman we’ve seen who makes barnwood furniture?  I’d call it feel.  An appreciation for the character and the history that resides in the wood, for light and shadow, for nuance, for timing.  Sometimes it’s just a dash of old barn paint that he leaves in the finished surface, or old saw marks that graduate up the side of a trim piece and carry the eyes along a line.  Set his work beside any mere craftsman, and the feel that resonates from his work soon makes the other piece disappear.  Care and craftsmanship, I believe, can be taught.  I’m not so sure about feel.  I can point to any number of things that I am reasonably good at in this life, things I have learned to do along the way, but there are very few of them, maybe only one or two–and that I know to an absolute certainty, at a bone-marrow level–for which I have feel.  Of course if this thing is ignored, or left undeveloped, or even misused, feel doesn’t do us any good at all–it may even be harmful.

Work here on the Figure 8 began early this morning, as we are ripping out more trees and prepping the ground for an arena build, and as I was watching our friend Dave push forty foot ponderosas over with his Mustang, and stack them perfectly in a log deck, or rip boulders out of the ground–work that would take me days and no shortage of frustration using the same equipment–I understood that he has feel in the job he does, a true feel for the art and possibilities of his machinery.  He told me a story last night, as he was powering down after a long day, about a time he was using a bobcat on a forty-five degree slope, and began to roll, and how in a moment the world slowed down and he was able to use a log in the grapple like a walking stick to prevent himself and the machine from rolling downhill to what would have been his death.  I think what saved him was more than just experience, or quick thinking.  I think it was also feel.  I also think that it is all around us.  The best horse trainers have it in spades.  The best pilots have it.  Cesar Milan, tv dog guru, has it.  The scraggly young gal who works down at the Pumphouse gas station, where I buy my Copenhagen, has it.  Hers is a feel for customer service, and if I owned a Fortune 500 company I would immediately hire her, have her teeth fixed, and plant her outside my office.  I’ve seen her deluged by waves of arrogant Subaru-and-kayak Portlandia types on a busy weekend, and watched her ride above them and turn them out the door not knowing they had just been artfully bested by a natural.  We’ve all seen it, and we know it when we see it, and on the flip side, we can almost always tell when we are faced with the absence of it, which in most cases is much more obvious.


Rootballs on the Figure 8

Do what you want with that musing.  I do have some actual news to report, and I am also aware that many of you were hoping for some other content in this post–never fear, friends, it is coming–but I would be remiss if I didn’t say a few words for Harry Dean Stanton, ranch cat.  It is with great sadness that I must report HDS missing in action.  We fear the worst.  The coyotes have been very active around here lately, and he has not been home in four days.  It is very likely that HDS has met his end.  This was always a possibility, of course, because he was an adventurous type, some would say a rake, and did most of his work at night.  The risks in our forest are great and many for young cats.  But if the alternative was to lock him up inside, well then, that was no alternative.  He was born to be outside, and that is what we let him do.  He had turned into a promising hunter, and would come home at intervals for rest and recuperation, occasionally showing off a rabbit he had snagged.  He was never the friendliest cat, and he was demanding, but we loved him.


The last known photo of Harry Dean Stanton, torturing a rabbit, June 2015.

Of course, if by some miracle HDS wanders in tonight, tired, beat up, pissed off and hungry, those shouts for joy you hear will be us.  If his ears are ripped off, we will get them fixed.  If he was just out teaching us a lesson, we will do our best to learn it.  We don’t know what has happened to him, and even the dogs show signs of missing him, but come what may, we will leave the light on for him.


No Left Turn


The author on Boomer, Litchfield, California, Memorial Day 2015

You may have noticed, dear readers, that I have been away for a while.  I can explain.  Spring and summer came over the Figure 8 Ranch with an endless list of work to accomplish:  barn building, garden planting, shop-cleaning, mowing, more planting, tree falling, wood splitting, cocktail mixing, raids into northern California, horse buying, and book writing.  It is now July and I can safely say that we are out in front of the work, just in time for an enduring heatwave and spectacular afternoon lightning shows, and so I am back to these pages.

It is Quilt Show time in Sisters, one of the three big events in our little town, after the rodeo and the folk festival, which means that we are suddenly overrun with blue hairs from around the world.  Don’t get me wrong, they make beautiful quilts, but they can’t drive.  Some of them probably should not have licenses.  It is hard enough to make a left turn in Sisters, and this is one of those weeks where a trip into town requires a strategy session.  Better yet, don’t go to town.  If you decide to go into town, be sure to look for that particularly humiliating area known as the “husband babysitting” area.  There are men so sadly reduced in their circumstances that they actually agree to go there, and to be seen there, which probably deserves an entire dissertation on the state of American manhood.  At any rate, I am resolved to staying here and continuing my war against the Golden Mantles.

If you aren’t familiar with Golden Mantles, I’ll give you a short course.  They are the minions of Satan.  And they are everywhere.  They live in old tree stumps, holes in the ground, and woodpiles, and they destroy gardens.  As you may recall, last year our garden was mutilated by an old testament hailstorm in the middle of July.  It never recovered and we lost what was a promising amount of food.  We built improvements to prevent such an occurrence again, but this year we have been attacked by waves of Golden Mantles.  They come in blowing bugles and waving flags and screaming out of the night and they descend on the garden to eat everything in sight.  In the last ten days we have trapped 15 of them.  I don’t use live traps.  I trap to kill.  I enjoy killing them because they are trying to eat our food.  They are not invited to eat our food, which we like to grow because then we know exactly where it came from.  And it tastes better.  And it isn’t sprayed with anything that will cause our organs to swell up and fall out.  The deer can’t get in, but the Golden Mantles do, and so they must die.  If you’ve never seen one, they look like chipmunks, only twice the size.  Apparently they are a type of ground squirrel.  They are the enemy.  Lest you think for some reason that all of this killing is a sad waste, I would like you to know that the buzzards are my new friends.  They love me.  They roost in the trees and await my daily offering.

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The Spawn of Beelzebub

One last thing.  There are a couple of phrases and words I don’t want to hear anymore.  Maybe ever.  I’ll start with a new one that has popped up on university campuses recently:  micro-aggression.  A micro-aggression is anything one might say or do that contains within it the potential to offend the listener.  This includes saying things like:  “America is the land of opportunity.”  Evidently, while we were sleeping, entire communities have been taught that this is an offensive statement.  It’s hard to imagine why that might be, and even harder to imagine what the offendee might suffer when forced to hear it.  Does it cause uncontrollable shaking?  Night sweats?  An irreversible scarring of the psyche?  Hives?  What we can say with some authority is that entire communities in this country have turned so far towards crazy it is difficult to take them seriously.  Another one:  Make no mistake about it.  The next politician who utters this phrase should be smacked in the back of the head with a fungo bat.  Usually this one is preparatory to the utterance of some kind of outrageous lie, which in a perverse twist might be an argument to keep it around, given that we can say with authority that whatever follows will be complete hogwash.  Another:  raising awareness.  This one gets thrown around a lot by people who wear hemp undergarments and smear themselves with patchouli oil–a particularly vile smell that mixes poorly with the body odors of those who wear it.  Sometimes the raising awareness crowd will kayak out and chain themselves to oil tankers, or stand around the entrance to rodeos with signs because they are mad at rodeos.  I feel strongly that I am responsible for raising my own awareness, or choosing not too.  I resist the notion that other people need to decide for me my level of awareness.  In many cases, actually, I would like to reduce my awareness entirely, but I am merely one man against a constant tide of shrill and largely aimless awareness raising.

Okay friends, all for now.  Back soon with further updates on the ranch, and a scathing–but always true, and occasionally funny–treatment of that weird assortment of goons, geeks, philanderers, and nabobs who comprise the administrative staff at a particular police department in southern California.  I promise you will like it.