Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Harvest Moon

All this talk about squash, pumpkins, apples and fresh garden produce reminded me that tonight is the full moon, and that the Old-Timers would use it to start harvesting the Fields at night.

On the 26th of October there will be a “Harvest Moon”. The old-timers didn’t any electric lights, and in the fall of the year when their crops were as ripe as they were going to get, they brought them in out of the fields. There was always a rush to get the crops in before ‘Old Jack Frost” nipped them. Or, the wind and rains that were starting to happen this time of the year would damage valuable food that they needed to get through the winter. With some folks, getting the fields harvested, and having food for winter was a matter of life and death. They were thankful for the Harvest Moon. Because they could see to work in the fields all night reaping their much deserved bounty. And the October Harvest Moon was the last chance that they had to get their crops in. After the work was all done, they would always have family and friends get together and have a “Havest ball”, and they would drink, party and dance the night away, everyone felt good because the food was in the larder. It was the night that many young maiden lost her heart to a hansome young farm boy.

For those of you who are not out harvesting your fields, turn up your sound and click on the following link and join my small celebration!
Neil Young, Harvest Moon

Monday, September 24, 2007

Gramma Ruby's cider.

Nothing brings memories back for me like the smell of a fresh picked apple. My Gramma Ruby had an orchard in Laytonville. As kids we would have apple fights in the orchard. It would be a free-for-all fight, and anyone caught in the open would get hit with a rotten apple. The hard part was finding an apple without yellow-jacket wasps on it. The wasps in the orchard were kept down with a wasp trap. My grampa Bill made a yellow-jacket trap out of an upside down glass gallon jar with a screen cone in it. The jar was suspended over a piece of chicken liver and a chunk of apple. The wasps have a stage of their life were they eat fruit, and then they have to have meat for breeding. So the wasps that didn't go for the fruit, went for the meat. The jar and the bait was hung over a pan of soapy water. The wasps would get their fill of the bait, and try to fly away. If they hit the screen, they would climb up into the top of the screen funnel and into the jar, where they never came out again. Wasps always climb upward. The Wasps that made little pigggies of themselves, and were too heavy to fly, fell into the soapy water and drowned. Few yellow jackets made it out of grampa's yellow-jacket trap.

My grandmother would catch us fighting with apples and would chew us out for wasting good food, with; “the kids in China are starving while you kids waste apples”. Apparently, China was the place that kids starved to death back then. Our line would be; “but we are only throwing the rotten ones”. Then she would give us all a milk pail, and have us pick up the good apples before they rotted. It seems like no matter what we kids would be doing for fun, the adults would turn it into productive energy. We would have to clean and make the good apples into cider. We would clean them in a wash tub full of water. We would take turns “bobbing for apples” while we cleaned them. It made no difference what we did back then, it always degenerated into some kind of a game or a contest. For you city kids, the trick is to hold your mouth up to the apple and suck in your breath like a vacuum cleaner to hold it to your lips while you remove it from the water. Everyone tries to bite them, but that never works. We “ranch kids” would always win the apple bobbing contest at the PTA fair every year. It’s strange that such a simple concept never occurred to the city kids. Of course, if you didn’t get a good seal on the apple you ran the risk of drowning, but that didn’t often happen. We were well practiced! My grandmother had an apple grinder and cider press, and all the kids had as much cider as we could drink.

We had one tree on the ranch that had particularly sweet apples. I don’t know what they were called, but it was one that Albert Etter from Ettersburg had developed. They were so sweet that when you cooled the cider, it would become thickened before it froze. Not as thick as honey, but as about as thick as pancake syrup. After it started to freeze we would stir it slowly as it set up, to keep the syrup from becoming grainy. Then we would scoop it over grandmas home-churned real vanilla ice cream, made from fresh cows cream, ranch eggs, and sugar. What a treat! Gramma used to take great pride in knowing that she provided all the ingredients for that special treat. Plus it kept a crop of mischievous kids out of trouble while they took turns turning the crank on the cream separator, the apple grinder, the cider press, and the ice-cream freezer.

Now, you can’t even get real cows cream, and most kids will never know how good something that you make yourself can be. Is it just me, or have we lost something? I think I’ll make a trip to The farmers market to buy some good homemade cider, it’s surely the last of a tradition! If you set it in a cool place and wait about a week until it's fizzy, You get the "adults only" version of apple cider, and it's even better.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Uncle Bens hunting story.

Hunting season is on, and all this talk about hunting has been interfering with my sleep. Last night my dog awakened me to tell me about the noises that she heard outside. As I listened, I heard the familiar dry rattling sound of a deer rubbing the velvet off its horns in the brush. She has her own dog door and a chain-link fenced yard. She doesn’t bark at night, because she gets in trouble if she does. But, she made many trips outside to whimper at the deer, then back to nudge me out of bed. I often share in her experiences, whether she is pointing out a coon or a wild turkey, I won’t talk about the night she found the skunk.

She is a McNabb Shepherd / fox terrier mixed dog like my fathers favorite hunting dog. She is what I call a “Kekawaka Creek Pig Hunting Dog”, because I got her from the hunting camp out there. Her full sister is a champion blood-tracking dog that is quite valuable. She is extremely smart, and will go up to the road, get the paper out of the tube and put it in your hand for a cashew nut. Usually she is a lot of fun to be around, but last night she wore my patience a little thin, but it caused me to think about one of my uncle Ben’s favorite hunting stories, but not so, my dad Everett's.

My Uncle Ben used to spend a lot of time hunting with the Indian boys from the Laytonville Indian reservation, and they didn’t hunt with dogs, but spent a great deal of time sneaking up on their prey. One day when my dad and Uncle Ben were kids, Uncle Ben was telling dad that the Indians never hunted up wind of a deer, and that they would gather up dust in their hand and then let it sift down to see which way the dust blew to find the direction of the wind. They hunted in complete silence and they took great care to not step on a twig or so much as rustle a leaf. They would not shoot the deer until they had sneaked as close as they could get, because they never had the dogs to track the deer, they needed to make a clean kill so the deer wouldn’t get away.

My dad was of the opinion that was no big deal, and he could sneak up on a deer and cut its throat before it even knew that he was there. Well, of course, that becomes a bet between brothers. So, dad spent a great deal of time sharpening his pocketknife and testing it by shaving the hair on his arm. They made a lot better knives back then than we have now. When he was completely satisfied that his knife was sharp from one end to the other, he carefully folded it and put it back in his pocket. Early the next morning my dad and uncle got up and went up the hill on the family ranch to find a deer to sneak-up on. Dad carefully chose his victim by location and what he figured would be his best opportunity to approach the deer without being detected. He spent most of the morning sneaking up on the poor deer, while my uncle hid and watched. It was important to my dad that he would have a witness to his great prowess. According to Uncle Ben, dad sneaked up the creek bank behind the edge of the berm, while every now and then carefully parting the grass to peek at the victim to make sure that it was still in position. When dad got up close to the deer that was eating acorns under a rather large oak tree. He carefully sneaked up behind the tree and hid behind it. The deer sensed that there was something amiss, but was not bothered enough to give up those good acorns lying on the ground. Dad spent about five minutes getting his pocketknife out, and opened it while being super quite. He waited until he had his mind all set to what he was going to do. Then like a cat, he sprung from behind the tree and attacked the deer. The deer reared up on his hind legs and slapped the liven’ crap out of him with its front hooves, knocked him down and pounced on him repeatedly. Dad sensed that he still had an opportunity to get the deer; he looked around for his razor sharp pocketknife, and found it closed over his fingers as the deer ran away.

Needless to say, dad was not nearly as glad to have a witness as he thought he was going to be. My uncles story was not doubted in the least, because dad had hoof marks all over him and his fingers were bandaged from the knife cuts. Maybe kids back then would have been better off if they had just had a TV.

Monday, September 17, 2007


With my family, they hunted for food first, and bragging rights later. The extent of my dads hunting equipment was a 250-3000 Savage rifle that he won as a kid in a turkey shoot. A box of bullets and a McNabb Shepherd / Fox terrier mix dog named Speed. The dog was for hunting back then. Now you are only allowed to use a dog for tracking wounded animals.

The dog loved to hunt, his very existence centered on hunting. Dad would take the dog to where he was going to hunt and tell him “Go bring me a buck, Speed”. The dog would take off, and within ten or fifteen minutes every deer in the area would be chased right past him. If my Dad didn’t shoot one, the dog got angry and disappointed, and he would sulk for a few minutes. Then dad would say “Try again” and away he would go again, until dad would shoot one. Dads hunting gun had open sights and I never saw him miss a running deer within eighty feet. He was not a person that you would want shooting at you. Believe me, his aim was much more accurate than you see in the movies. And he had a lot of practice. After he shot one, the dog would stand on the deer and not let dad near it until he approached it very cautiously. If he made any fast moves the dog would growl. After dad would get the gut open he would cut off a piece of the heart and throw for Speed to chase. After he ate the meat he would give the deer to dad to do what ever he wanted with it. Dad swore that the dog knew the difference between a doe and a buck. My uncles would, of course, claim that the dog knew no such thing and their dog was better.

People would always be trying to buy the dog from him, but he wasn’t interested in selling it. It would have been like selling a member of your family. When my dad took the dog and went hunting he always came back with a deer. He did a lot of bragging about the dog and after a few beers he would try to convince people that the dog was so good that he would chase the deer right into the back of the truck and the deer would lay down and die there. But if you ever saw dad shoot a gun you would have known that most of his hunting success was his shooting skill. A deer in his sights was a dead deer. No one has an opportunity to become that skilled today. The only person that I ever knew that was a better shot was my uncle, (Sorry Dad. This will make him roll in his grave) who spent his entire military career in being on the U.S. Army Rifle Exhibition Team.

Deer tags and seasons were for sport, but the freezer stayed full on those two tags that they were allowed back then, and season was always “open” on the family ranch. The old ranchers figured that if the deer ate on the ranch they were part of their herd, and fair game to harvest. That is as long as the game warden was not watching. Game wardens were not very well respected back then. They though of them as more Government interference in their natural way of life. Kinda’ like our modern folks think of “Big Brother”.

I ate a lot of deer meat and speckledy gravy with mash potatoes, or beans back then.

You’re right, I don’t know what the Good Old Boys would have thought of the mighty hunters from the city. Maybe it’s best that they don’t have to know about them.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

No hunting

Hey! I’m back! Been in In Reno. Nice trip, had a lot of fun, but it is good to be home. I always get that happy, giddy feeling that is almost universally described as “coming home” as soon as I get past Willits and the traffic goes away. When the air begins to smell like hot dry grass and fir trees. Where the food is better, and the bed is softer. “Home sweet home”

Back to hunting; I was born and raised killing anything and everything that was fit to eat. My dad always said it wasn't right to kill anything that you didn’t need for food, so that limited my slaughter somewhat. But, I never really liked killing things. It was a way of life for my pioneer based family, and I just fought my sensitivity and assumed that everyone felt that way, and if I wanted to eat, I needed to kill it. Just after I first married my outsider, newcomer, city girl wife, I went out and killed a deer, brought it home and skinned it in the carport. She never really said anything, but I could tell that she was having difficulty accepting what had happened to that cute little deer hanging upside down and having it’s skin ripped off. After turning it into a well pounded steak, dipped in flour and fried in hot grease with salt, pepper, and garlic powder, and the dripping were made into speckledy gravy, served over mashed potatoes, all thoughts of “Bambi’ disappeared.

I’ve always prided my self with being a very “good shot”. (That’s what they called people that knew how to handle a rifle.) One of my first jobs, growing up on a ranch in Laytonville, was to kill ground squirrels. I started hunting them with my uncle at about eight years old, and I was hunting on my own by the time I was ten. I never enjoyed it, but the ranch had to be cleared of squirrels because they would eat the chicken feed, raid the granary, and were just considered to be a general nuisance.

Because I didn’t like killing things, I would always make head shots, for a clean kill. The last deer that I killed, I shot the lower jaw off the deer and had to chase it for about two miles. My dad taught me that you never leave a deer wounded, that you must finish the kill no matter what, or how long it takes. When I caught up to it close enough to see it again, I shot as best I could do to just hit it and slow it down. I hit it in the front leg and was able to catch up to it. As it was laying there with its head up looking at me, I remember that look just like it was yesterday. It said; “what did I ever do to you”. I had to shoot it. I cleaned it and took it home. My wife sensed that I was hiding something, and asked what was wrong. I told her “I don’t like killing things“, and that I didn’t care to talk about it. In her simple wifely logic she said; “Well why don’t you quit?” Damn, it’s that simple, why didn’t I ever think of that. I have to honestly say that I had not thought of that. My whole family still hunts, and I don’t object to it, and I still enjoy a good deer steak as much as I ever did. I’m not moralistic about hunting and I don’t object to other people doing it, it’s just not for me. I have to admit that I’m happy about my decision to stop hunting. That was thirty years ago. The good part is my wife still respects me. These damn outsiders are going to bring civilization to us unless we can stop it.

My dad died before I had a chance to ask him, and he hunted his whole life, but I think I might have got my “sensitivity” from him.