If you live in California or have ever visited here at the change of seasons, you know how the first heavy rain of the season suddenly makes everyone go completely INSANE. On a dry year, we can have no rain at all from March to late November. And I mean NO RAIN. Not even a sprinkle. Just maybe some foggy moisture in San Francisco. So when the first drencher of the season hits, people go nuts, especially when driving. People suddenly forget what lanes and sidewalks are for and which side of the road we drive on here. Well, apparently it happens to birds, too.
We’ve got dozens, maybe hundreds of little birds that dart in and out among the oak trees near the barn. They perch on the railings, they fly around the barn. But so far, they’ve always managed not to hit it. Which you would expect because, well, fer Pete’s sake, it’s as big as a barn!
However, as soon as the rain started: Thump, Thump, Thump. Three birds in succession smacked into the window. Luckily, each of them was only stunned. But something had to be done while they recovered. My dogs are complete failures at the expected Terrier Core Competencies, but I figured they could probably do damage to a stunned bird lying dazed on the flagstones.
I spent the next half hour, scooping up the first three birds, then the next two and putting them in the fenced-in raised bed where I’d just harvested the last of my corn. I figured that gave them a safe place while they recovered.
That was my good deed for the day, although I won’t say I wasn’t motivated to get a few Bird Brownie Points. I mean, I’ve seen The Birds about a million times and I wanted to make sure that, if this was the start of an attack, I might be bypassed as A Friend to Birds.
Which is a long prelude to get to the fact that I’m going stir crazy again on the tail end of six weeks living alone in a barn and babysitting grapes. (Just read the last few weeks of posts to understand why.) The rain was making it even worse. Now instead of barricading myself in the barn when darkness falls and large animals start prowling, I was barricaded in the barn watching the rain fall.
Luckily, I got a call from Cousin John who said he was in the Sonoma area and could he stop by. Cousin John is not actually MY cousin, but the cousin of my extremely brilliant and eccentric friend Julian. Remember that name. Julian is going to be featured in these posts. And please believe me when I say that in my world eccentrics are not just people with a few quirks. I mean people with generations of behavior that, if it weren’t done so flamboyantly and with such style, would be labeled Bat Shit Crazy (to use the proper medical terminology). Julian’s mother ran AWAY from the circus and took her brother, John’s father, with her. Truly. She was from a very famous European circus family (her grandmother was painted by Toulouse-Lautrec in a tutu standing on horseback.) So that’s why Julian and John aren’t wearing harlequin outfits and juggling flaming torches. But they are no less wildly entertaining.
You’ll meet Julian later. Let’s focus on Cousin John, who is sort of the Indiana Jones of Northern California. He’s one of the guys called in when someone wants to stop developers from putting a shopping mall on top of an Indian burial ground. I get the best Facebook alerts from him: “Found an intact human skull today. Hooray!” and “Great morning’s work. Both recovered femurs show traces of old injuries.” When Cousin John isn’t digging up ancient bones, he also experiments with making some truly terrifying and horrible home-brewed wines. We’ve sampled his strawberry wine and lived to tell the tale, but just barely. His latest project is scavenging feral grapes and fermenting them with whatever yeast falls out of the air. So you can imagine he was interested in seeing how we were progressing with our ER style of winemaking that aims at keeping OUT all yeasts but those we introduce. (If you are unfamiliar with our obsessive cleanroom winemaking technique read this.)
It was great to have company and slowed me from going completely around the bend before lunchtime.
Then Cousin John left and I was plunged into a Cro-Magnon level of hunter-gatherer subsistence. Yes, I’d run out of firewood and since that’s the only source of heat here in the barn, it was a pressing matter. We are not going to mention any names, but someone was up here over the weekend and it was noted to that person that the available supply of logs that actually fit in our tiny woodstove was shockingly low. This person, rather than cutting the logs to size, dismissed me with a cavalier suggestion that I could buy some firewood in the grocery store. Note to that person: yes, you buy boxes of insanely expensive firewood at the grocery store in San Francisco, BUT NOT IN THE COUNTRY. People in the country cut their firewood or buy cords of it from someone who does. People who inquire at grocery stores in the country about where the firewood is are laughed at and given that smirky “City Slicker” look.
So I’ve been wandering around the wilder parts of our 40 acres looking for scraps of firewood and flammable branches. Luckily, the people who were trimming some dying trees cut them into logs and left them for me around the property. Unluckily, they are probably drenched by now. Let me also add that firewood wouldn’t be such a necessity if someone who shall not be named here had bothered to fix the broken hinge on one of the windows in the barn so it wasn’t in a permanently open position. That’s okay, I’ll just huddle by my rapidly diminishing store of pitiful gathered twigs and brush and feel the feeble heat it generates shoot up and out the window. Not a problem. I’ve read Jack London’s short story To Build a Fire. I know if things get desperate, you slit open a dog to warm your hands.
What did I tell you about the first drenching rain making people crazy?
POSTSCRIPT: Some readers have been griping that I seem not to know an election is going on. Hey, even living in a barn without radio, television and spotty cell reception, I do have WiFi. And the terriers and I are doing our best to keep our politics partisan.
And who would think that a mug bought as a gag gift would prove so prophetic?