After the Fall

The crew came back early this morning to finish the job of removing our Douglas-fir. I got a nice sequence of the topping:


Just about to holler “timber!”


And there she goes! I love that these saw-meisters can fall a tree in a tight spot and land it where they want.


So that’s it. The tree was nearly forty years of age and was just too big for the site, not to mention the damage from the twig borers or whatever pest was attacking it. Here’s a shot of the growth rings on the stump:


I really hated to take out the big fella but it had to go and I’m happy it is done. The guys from Elite Rigging did a great job—neat and efficient. Check out the lovely pile of firewood they left:


I suppose it is more accurate to say “potential” firewood as it will have to season for a while and then I’ll have to split it up. I actually enjoy the splitting part. Chainsaws are scary. I’ve bucked up a few logs in my time and even felled a few small trees and those two-cycle beasts can do some serious work seriously fast. I’d just as soon leave them to the professionals and not slice through one of my body parts (I wear kevlar chaps when I use my saw!) or drop a tree on someone or something important. I’ve always loved trees and forests and I have a real appreciation for the folks who work in the woods or are part of that industry. So, hat’s off to foresters and timber fallers and log truck drivers and cat skinners and millwrights and all the rest who keep us supplied with timber products. Wood is the ultimate renewable resource and the vast coniferous forests of the West are not only our playgrounds but the guardians of our air, water, and soil. I don’t mean to sound like a Forest Service brochure, but in this age of fossil fuel frenzy and climate change it is good to remember the importance of our trees! And I also appreciate the efforts of those who work to protect those trees and conserve our resources for the future. Environmentalism and extraction ought not to be antagonistic notions but partners in an on-going effort to husband our earthly bounty. Now I really am sounding like a damn brochure!

Today is the Winter Solstice (3:03 p.m. PST) so say goodbye to Fall.

Before the Fall

We are having Wes the tree guy (Elite Rigging) take out the big Douglas-fir in our backyard this weekend. Today he and his assistant Casey are limbing:

tree limbing

Tomorrow they will bring the bucket truck and finish the job. I hate to take down a tree but sometimes it has to be done. This one has dead branches near the crown, we figure it is tree borers. And the limbs touch the roof of the cottage and have to be cut back every year. The spot between the fence and the cottage is really too small for the tree and it is crowding the pear tree next to it. The shade it provides is not very useful in the hot summer due to its location—the box elder to the right is much better for that. The debris (cones and needles and small branches) clogs up the rain gutters and litters the yard. And Pseudotsuga menziesii is not exactly native to our location. It’s hot and dry and the hardpan soil makes it tough for anything but juniper. We’ve two ponderosa pines and an incense-cedar and even those guys need help in the summer. We planted a deodar cedar, Italian cypress, and a blue spruce over the years and they seem better adapted to the local climate. We’ve had to remove two black walnuts and two honey locust trees from the property as well. Just the usual on-going yard maintenance.

I’ll post an “After the Fall” tomorrow!

The Things You Learn in Bars

I’ve been looking for a standing desk. There are a lot of benefits to working while standing, mostly due to the fact that you are not sitting. I’m a pacer anyway and I have to get up and move around when writing or typing or net-surfing so a stand-up desk seemed like the thing for me. Unfortunately they can be expensive. I thought about taking an existing table and mounting it on some crates or cinder blocks, the classic college kid furniture solution, but couldn’t work up any enthusiasm for the idea. About a week ago I had a flash of insight, one of those moments when the problem is instantly clarified in your mind, and the answer becomes obvious. It’s funny how sometimes you just need to ask a better question to get the right result. Instead of “where can I get a reasonably priced standing desk?” I asked “where do people do a lot of standing around by high tables?”. In bars, of course. Lots of pubs, bars, and lounges have tall tables that you stand at or sit on stools or long-legged chairs next to while sipping drinks and quaffing pints. It’s standard fare for those places. I’m not sure why, maybe bar patrons get drunker and stupider if they sit restaurant-style at conventional dining tables. Maybe the weird geometry makes customers thirstier. I don’t know. I do know that I spend enough time at my local pub that the high table is part of my social DNA. Soon after my burst of brilliance I got on Amazon, that mega-corp shopping site with tentacles everywhere, and searched for bar tables. I found a 42-inch high wooden table with a 36-inch square top for $125 bucks. Here it is:

table 4

Those are my brewing supplies underneath and to the right. Storage space is always at a premium. I don’t think this is the final configuration but it’s good enough to get started. I can put my laptop on there as well when I need to process words. When I stand with my elbows bent at ninety degrees (forearms parallel to the floor) they are about 44 inches high. I can lean comfortably forward and put my weight on the table top, or better yet, relax in a tai chi horse stance in front of either open side and my arms are at the right height for writing or typing. The top being a full yard square gives me lots of room:

table 3

This is in the small back room in my cottage which I have converted into my writing den. It doubles as my brewery, of course, that’s not going to change. My library in the main house with my desktop computer and wireless router and everything is too close to the kitchen and too distracting of an environment for me to focus and get my projects finished. Plus my lovely bride is used to me being out of her hair during the work week and now that I’m retired and home all the time I need to give her back the space she is used to. The cottage, which I’ve dubbed The House of Mark (or sometimes La Casita), will be my getaway. I’ve got a large room in there where I can do my workouts and I also have a conventional office chair and and standard size table when I need to sit and work. It was funny—I assembled the table in the big room and Sue came in to look at it and said “you sure it will fit through the hallway into the back?” Sure enough, she nailed it. There was no way to get the thing through the narrow doorways and past the refrigerator in the tiny connecting room. So, I took the legs off and re-assembled it in the back! The legs and top shipped in separate boxes and they gave you eight bolts with washers and nuts to secure them together. The bolts needed a 4 mm Allen wrench, which was in the kit, but the cheap brass heads wore down quickly and I thought I’d never get the the damn thing back together. Fortunately I had two stout wrenches in my bicycle gear that gave me more leverage and I found that a T25 torx head on my electric screwdriver could do much of the work as well.

Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, will soon be upon us. I hope all of you enjoy safe travels and good times!


SOHO Crime

We got a pile of freebies when we attended NoirCon and we have SOHO Crime to thank for most of them. If you’re like me, you have an endlessly growing “to read” pile and I thought I’d let you know about a few of the new arrivals. One of the books in our bag was Henry Chang’s Chinatown Beat. Looks like this is the first in his Detective Yu series. Gary Disher’s Hell to Pay is next on the list, he’s an Australian crime writer. Next in alphabetical order is Leighton Gage’s The Ways of Evil Men, part of his Mario Silva series. The late Mr. Gage lived much of his life in Brazil where the stories are set. Timothy Hallinan checks in next with Crashed, the first of the Junior Bender series. The Danish duo of Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis close out the set with The Boy in the Suit Case, the first of the Nina Borg series. Like I said these were all freebies and that was very generous of the SOHO folks.

One of the other things we were treated to was a presentation by Bronwen Hruska, SOHO’s Publisher. She talked about the challenges of being an independent in a world dominated by the big corporations. She was quite interesting, intelligent, and charming, as was her Associate Publisher Juliet Grames. I got to meet them both, just enough to say hello, and was impressed by how much they loved their work and how passionate they were about promoting their stable of writers. (One of them was Irishman Stuart Neville who was kind enough to pose for a photo and autograph his debut novel The Ghosts of Belfast for me—that one I bought!). They focus on international mysteries and have authors from all over the globe. They publish up to ninety titles a year under the SOHO Crime imprint. Ms. Hruska was presented with the Jay and Deen Kogen Award for publishing excellence at Saturday’s banquet. Seems well-deserved!

I found a bunch of other write-ups about the events in Philadelphia. K.A. Laity did a four-part series on her blog and Carole Mallory contributed a story to Huffington Post. Pulp Curry’s Andrew Nette added his thoughts to his blog and Marshall Stein chipped in on the NoirCon site. Finally T. Fox Dunham shared his thoughts about his participation in the Existential Noir panel (he also linked to my post for OOTG). I certainly had a stimulating experience and its nice to know so did some of the other attendees. 2015 will be my Year of Noir as I intend to write my own rather than just read other people’s stuff and blog about it. I’ll be happy to loan out any of the books I mentioned above so drop me a line if you are interested. In fact, I’ve got heaps of noir books that deserve a wider audience. Expand your horizons and start reading more degenerate fiction!

Post-trip post

It feels good to be back home in humble Yreka. The house is still standing and all the stuff still works (thank you, Otto, for tending things!). The leaves on the Japanese maple and the Liquidambar have turned to their autumnal hues of magenta and scarlet. The pointer on the thermometer outside dipped below freezing last night. It really is November. It was over 80ºF when we were in LA mere days ago! It’s pretty clear we’ve had some rain up here since we were gone, we sure needed it and we’ll need a lot more before the year ends. Living in what is close to a desert makes me appreciate rain even more than ever. Rain isn’t always a blessing, though. My friend Betty Rosen Ziff lives in Lomita, part of what Angelenos call the South Bay. We stayed with her and her husband Stuart on both sides of our journey and they have the misfortune of sitting on a parcel that floods when the rains come. A few years ago they were nearly wiped out—emotionally as well as financially—by the storms that hit SoCal. Some crappy engineering of the city’s storm drains, not to mention indifference by the powers-that-be, set them up for a huge, watery mess. And how about some proper disclosure from the previous owners, the real estate agents, the finance people, the title company, and the government inspectors who’ve got their paws all over the purchase of the home? Yeah, we all know about “caveat emptor” but our capitalist economy works better when ethics and honesty are part of transactions. So I’ll be tempering my prayers to the rain gods with “soft and gentle and a little at a time for my friends down south, please.” I’ve added the link to the Lomita Flood Relief Facebook page to my blogroll. They’ve got a lot of work ahead of them to convince the City and County that they have a responsibility to residents to properly channel the floodwaters. Seems obvious, I know, but unresponsive elected officials are the latest fashion. They’ve also got lots of work to do on their place to prepare for future storms, and are always on the lookout for smart, creative types who can imagine potential solutions that won’t require a small fortune to implement.

We were only gone for three weeks on this trip, which is about average for us. Seems longer, though, as we were quite road-weary yesterday and still recovering today. In 2001 we went overseas and were gone for eight weeks, and we did a ten-week trip in 2005 which was my entire summer vacation. So this one ought to have been easy. I think the uniqueness of the train experience (which was mostly great) and the unusual event we attended (NoirCon) made this trip more challenging. The Giants being in the World Series certainly added a level of anxiety—only fans as emotionally attached as we are can appreciate that. I refuse to say it was harder because we are both older, I prefer Bob Dylan’s “Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now” refrain from “My Back Pages” when thinking about aging. Travel, for me, has never been about just getting somewhere. I’ve always appreciated the transformative nature of journeying and seek to learn more about myself and grow in new and unexpected ways. These things don’t show up immediately as they need time to percolate and I’ll be musing on them over the next few months. Speaking of musing, here’s me in an apparently contemplative mood: Mark on the train I notice when I don’t smile I look grim. I was far from grim—I was relaxed, happy, and eager, in fact. We were just about to de-train in Chicago when Sue snapped this. I smile a lot actually so it’s odd to see myself with a neutral look. One of the things I came home with was twenty pounds of books. You can’t go to a literary event without accumulating more books! I’ve too many books as it is, integrating the new ones into the collection will take some time. Here’s a picture of my new acquisitions: BOOKS That’s a signed hardcover first edition Walter Mosley on the upper left! “Easy” Rawlins is back at it in the mean streets of Los Angeles. Mosley is a remarkably versatile and accomplished author—crime fiction is only one of his specialties. The other hardcovers and the rest of the top row were all freebies. The bottom row were all purchases. I’m especially excited by the new Hard Case Crime (Samuel Fuller’s lost novel “Brainquake”) and the two in the middle from Jonathan Woods (“Bad Juju” and “A Death in Mexico”). Gutter Books, naturally, is also represented with the “Noir Riot” and “Trouble in the Heartland” collections. A surfeit of literary goodness!

Off ‘trak

I’m still moving. Being on Amtrak for nearly four days has set up a current in my cerebrospinal fluid that has me lurching westward even when I’m sitting still. I suppose I’ll get over it eventually. Meanwhile I’m dosing myself with simple molecules like CH3(CH2)OH. There are some perks to train rides: Moonrise in NM That’s a moonrise over the New Mexico badlands from the window in our compartment. Not bad for a quickie snap, eh? And we got a look at the Southern Rockies a little earlier: Southern Rockies Yeah, I know, it’s far away. Hey, we were on a train. Did I explain that already? Most of the goddamn country is flatlands. Seriously. Iowa? Kansas? Illinois? Fucking flat. We Californians have no idea how flat the rest of the nation is. The train to LA was late so we got to go through the southern desert in the morning twilight instead of at night. Cajon Pass from the Victor Valley to San Bernandino was goddamn amazing! I was too excited to take pictures. Get your own lazy asses down there and check it out. I can’t do everything for you, fer chrissakes. Anyway, it was awesome. The Joshua Trees and yuccas to the east, the fault scarps and exposed cliff faces near the summit, the broad vistas of the San Gabriels as we descended west, it was just beautiful in that sparse, haunting way that only a brutally arid landscape can be. Speaking of brutal, the train tracks don’t discriminate. They take you alongside both the hardscrabble hillbilly shanties and the gleaming boulevards of manicured lawns in front of multi-million dollar developments. The trash strewn barrios and the neat suburban cul-de-sacs. The strip malls and the freight yards. The shiny, freshly-minted school sports complexes and the battered, abandoned warehouses of once-thriving commercial centers. If you want to see the great bifurcation of American society between those that have and are getting more versus those that don’t and are watching it slip away, get out of your cars and off your airplanes and ride the ‘trak. p.s. If anyone can tell me how to do subscripts in WordPress I’d love ya forever.

Southwestward Ho!

We endured. That’s all I can say.The “C” in “Mark C. O’Connor” stands for “Christopher” and not “contortionist.” Because you’d have to be a circus freak to get a decent night’s sleep on a coach class train. We left PGH at midnight EST and got to CHI a little before ten in the morning CST. While the seats are reasonably comfortable and there’s far more leg room than an airplane it was really hard to block out the noise, especially as we were seated right next to the staircase which remained lit throughout the night and was filled with noisy passengers coming and going at each stop. Alas, it was a bit of bad luck, but I have to say that walking the cars it was pretty clear that even in the darker, quieter spots it was hard to grab some z’s. I got a little sadistic pleasure out of seeing the variety of goofy positions people were trying out! The comatose ones were either under the age of 25 or addled with drugs. I think we managed a couple of hours total between the two of us. Next time we go overnight anywhere we’ll get a sleeper. But that’s all in the past. Part of the adventure of travelling is enduring the tough parts and learning something for next time. You can’t anticipate everything.

Chicago was cool and blustery but it felt great to get out and walk around. We had several hours to kill so we went back to the South Loop where we stayed previously and enjoyed Grant Park and the Lakefront. And we had to hit Kitty O’Shea’s again as it was the setting for one of our favorite evenings when we watched the Giants crush the Royals in Game Four. I had a pint of Smithwick’s with my Cobb salad. We are now back at the station in the Metro Lounge which is Amtrak’s hangout for first class (i.e., sleeper car) passengers. Got some wifi going on so I can type this for you!

The Southwest Chief which will take us back to LA is due to depart at 3:00 p.m. local time which is in about an hour. Both of us are sleep-deprived and a little out of whack after all this time on the road. We had a lot of fun on the northwestward leg of the trip and I’m looking forward to the return portion. There was no internet connection on the 49-hour run and a few stretches were I couldn’t even get cell coverage. So I’ll say “sayonara” for now and post an update when we are back in California.