Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Let the Sun Shine

As much as we needed the long, steady rain of the past week or more, it was great to see the sun break through the gray blanket of fog and rain on Tuesday. Some people even wore t-shirts, but it was still far too cold for that. Instead, I celebrated by capturing the sunlit moss on the trunk of a tall, tall oak tree. I love moss almost as much as lichen!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Latte No Foam

After the photo safari to the valley brought very few photos to bank in my computer the other day, I went for warm refuge in Mendonesia, housed in the former Bank of Willits building. With compassion and efficiency, the kindly crew simultaneously whipped up a latte and a Pine Mountain sandwich for my tired soul.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Public History Mural: The Persico Boys

Dated 1994, a series of "snapshot" images mimic a large photo album mounted on some walls downtown, probably organized by the county museum staff of that time. Various local painters were given photographs of local personalities of note to create these large boards for display. This one shows two of the Persico men in their childhood on trick ponies they rode in parades and at rodeos. The Persico family has been in Little Lake Valley for many generations.

The spirit of this public art project exemplifies the movement to "public history" that arose around the 1970s and 80s. By engaging local artists, expressing the life of local individuals, and placing the results in high foot traffic locations out in the community, it is definitive of people presenting their own history stories to tell one another, and is strongly influenced by Studs Terkel and his interest in the lives of everyday people rather than just the generals and senators and captains of industry.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Bright Brambles

With so many indoor and in-town pictures this week, I decided to try for something different in the gray, foggy, drizzly valley. My reward was a hedge of colorful berry vine leaves beneath a lichen bedecked young oak.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Chad's Obsession

A British visitor once declared that Chad's Fish and Chips were the most authentic he had tasted anywhere in the US. What is not British is the singular enthusiasm Chad has for the Oakland Raiders, an American football team. The photo of the back wall, above, shows only a fraction of the team paraphernalia on display at Chad's. A former Raider has even stopped in a few times. As you can see, if they are playing in a game, you can be sure it will be on the widescreen TV for the dining area, as well as on another in the kitchen. His devotion spans decades, to a time when they were one of the leading teams in the nation, and when their on and off-field reputation was notoriously wild. I'm not a follower of the sport, but even I can figure out they weren't doing too well against New England the day I snapped this. Times have changed, but loyal Chad has not.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Noyo Neon Detail

Thanksgiving and Christmas are big business at movie houses. With households full of gathered relatives, the food gets eaten, the games get played, then somebody gets designated to drive the younger ones to see a show. Film distributors schedule openings of selected films just for this occasion, to take advantage of ready-made packed houses. Three screens accommodate varied tastes at the Noyo cinema right here in Willits.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

May today be one of comfort and joy to you all. I'm away from my computer, with my Mom (she's in the little black dress).

This just happens to mark my 300th post to this blog!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


I was surprised to see all these crocheted doilies at one of the recent Christmas crafts fairs. I didn't think anyone did this kind of handwork anymore, and they were very reasonably priced. Did I buy any? Well, no. I happen to have more of these (in these same patterns) than I will ever have any use for.

I remember some of them draped on the tops of the easy chairs at my grandparents' house. And under vases on the mantle. I rarely use them myself, but they remind me of my mother's stories of going to San Francisco every Christmas, where her Danish grandparents lived and my grandmother grew up. Christmas Eve was the time for the main festivities, and smatterings of the old language were sprinkled in the conversations of the elders, surrounded by dark wood floors and oriental carpets and pipesmoke. Souvenirs of the sea captain's travels to every continent were displayed here and there. Woven paper hearts and real candles were on the tree. Is it possible to inherit memories?

I'll be away from my computer soon, making more memories with Mom.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Free Stuff

This past weekend, the papered-over windows of the old Sears franchise store glowed onto this little collection of boxes, bearing the sign "FREE STUFF". It's not so unusual to see larger items out on a home's sidewalk being offered to whoever will take it away - things that really aren't in any condition for a charity shop to try to sell. But lately, I've seen several of these displays of clothing and books and shoes and toys, left out where no one will monitor anyone's rummaging through (allowing for some dignity?), but away from commercial complaints as well. Perhaps it's an effort to get such items right into the hands of someone in real need, so they don't even have to pay pennies to a benevolent fundraiser, because resources are so slim.

I didn't get to catch up with last week's newspaper until today. It turns out that the light glowing inside was because the space is being used to sort and wrap donated new gifts for needy children in the area. As the article says:
The children have been confidentially referred to the program by teachers, service agencies and other agencies. The children fill out red gift tags that include their first name, age, needed clothing, and their big wish from Santa.

Tags are hung on Christmas trees located in businesses around town. Community members are encouraged to pick tags off the trees, purchase the items listed and bring the unwrapped gifts to the old Sears building for wrapping and distribution.

The question of why there are homeless and needy people in America has come up in another blog recently, and the problem is certainly complex. But on a local level, people try to do what they can, with what they have, where they are. We have always been a nation rich with volunteers. We are free to assemble, free to give, free stuff.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Parking Spot

The snow level has lifted to the mountain elevations, but here in the valley it falls as a cold, light, but steady rain. In weather like this, it's not unusual to hear the sirens of emergency response vehicles wailing up Highway 101/Main Street. As dry as our year has been, it seems drivers haven't adjusted their speeds for the slick conditions.

My wish to all holiday travelers is to stay safe, so that time can take care of itself.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Night Train

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the Skunk train has been running twice daily specials lately, with elves and music and enchantment, even in these dark evenings and cold temperatures. It's good to hear the not-too-distant horn of the engine as it rumbles through town, snaking off to the fields and forests to the west, and making life-long memories for the children aboard. Happy Solstice, everyone! From here until late June, the days grow longer.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas Shopping

This will be the weekend I try to get it all done. It really is nice to have a truly "general" store in town like J.D. Redhouse, that's locally owned (not a "chain", yet), and stocked with good quality inventory. You can drive away from here with everything from a bale of hay, a pony bridle, and birdseed, to a bath mat, boots, and a bra (or berry smoothie). But what to get Mom?

Friday, December 19, 2008

A Light In The Darkness

The Willits Charter School recently made news for being awarded a bronze rating among schools across the nation by USNews and World Report. This lovely mosaic bench sits just outside the school entrance. I'm glad to have something bright to post on a very rainy day.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

An Open Face

With all this arctic air numbing our toes and crusting our windshields, it's high time we found refuge indoors. A warm, comforting meatloaf on a gravy-smothered, open-faced sandwich (with side salad) at Ardella's is just the thing in this weather. Good news for the owners and staff: they will be taking their winter break from December 21 to January 7. For the rest of us: bad news. But they have earned it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Frosted Rail

I amazed myself yesterday morning by actually leaving the house with time enough to stop for pictures on my way to work. This plant, snuggled up next to an NWP rail, clasped an autumn leaf through the night, and together they awoke covered in a mighty frost. If this is what autumn looks like, I wonder how our winter will be. Just four days until winter solstice.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Snow-dusted Buckeye Tree

Well, there it is. It snowed Monday morning and I have the photo to prove it. This is a Buckeye, with all its leaves and nuts fallen for the season, bearing a light load of snow on all its branches and twigs in equal measure. In dormancy, the lovely, evenly spaced and curved network of branches is best displayed, showing the unmistakable form of this species.

The snow came off and on Monday, but did not accumulate much and melted away by afternoon. At one point, a particularly dark sky unleashed a downpour of small-grained hail. But tonight, the prediction is for very cold temperatures (22F) and possibly two inches of the white stuff. The morning will tell.

Monday, December 15, 2008

A View More True

The forecasters promised us snow on Sunday, but down in Little Lake Valley we only got drizzles of rain and plenty of gloom. This squirrel perched on the stub of a redwood branch, making chung-chung noises while sheltered by the evergreen canopy high overhead. The flock of birds beyond just waited and endured.

Scroll down here for the Willits forecast from NOAA.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Give Me Bus Shelter

A cold mass of air swept down on Willits yesterday from Canada and Alaska, bringing a short flurry of snow, so there will be no sitting in the park enjoying warm sunshine for a while. Fortunately for folks waiting for the MTA bus, this shelter at City Park offers some comfort in rain, hail, snow.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Holiday Crafts Fairs

Last Saturday, the local paper listed at least three Crafts Fairs running simultaneously in Willits, and there will be another one at the Community Center today. The offerings are all home-made gifts and decorations, and often baked goods as well. Some of the more unusual items I saw were these antique glass insulators converted into electric lamps. The insulators were used on telephone poles to separate the wires from the wood brackets with non-conducting glass. With these, the screw-on opening at the bottom holds the light element, strung through the turned wood base the crafters made for each.

I also encountered a competing photographer on the job!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Tippy Toes

I've featured quite a few dogs among the animals on this blog, but I find and photograph more of them than I can reasonably accommodate here, given the scope of what I want to do with Willits Daily Photo. This gal patiently waited outside a downtown shop, without even being tied up. I envy her long, shapely legs, but it wasn't in my genes. I've posted some more canines that I've collected over the past many months, on my Overflow blog.

Today is an indulgence, and I recommend that dog lovers seek out Jilly's Riviera Dogs blog for a wonderful gallery of pooches she finds in her fabulous corner of the world. Jilly, it should be noted, is a world-class judge at the most prestigious dog shows, and conveys her love and respect for them beautifully. While you're in the area, take a look at her spectacular Daily Photos of Monte Carlo, Monaco and Menton, France.

Another dog-lover who often features her beloved Boz, Petrea of Pasadena gave tribute yesterday to the parallel universe they seem to inhabit, gently beside us.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Local Drugs

I finally realized why the local Rexall affiliated pharmacy doesn't light this neon sign, even in the early hour of darkness of winter: much of the tubing is missing!

Other local drugs, of the outdoor sort, have been harvested for the season. Thanks to my favorite Humboldt county blogsister, Redheaded Blackbelt, I'm now aware that there was something of a regional harvest festival, with awards for the best produce, right here in Mendocino county very recently. Click here to learn about "sun bud" and related trends in green thinking.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Human Rights Day

I wish I had remembered that the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was coming up today. I might have planned a better photograph, etc. The 1948 declaration by the United Nations covers a wide scope of basic, inherent rights that anyone, anywhere should be able to expect under the authority of any state.

Probably the biggest current issue around such rights, here in Willits, has to do with claiming equal marriage entitlements for homosexuals. Following the elation of electing Obama for president, most of us were heartbroken for friends and family who faced passage of a California referendum against gays and lesbians having state recognition of their partnerships. The photo above is the only one I could find in my archives that tied in to such human rights, a wonderful musician from San Francisco performing show tunes at Shanachie Pub in Willits not long after voting day. It was a mix of gays and straights that night, combining Obama-joy with Proposition 8-grief. Also present was one of the foremost activists for gay civil rights, from the days when known homosexuals were not even allowed to teach at universities. We need to crack down on war criminals, not people who love.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


I've mentioned the group Roots of Motive Power before, and how they were steampunks long before today's young steampunks named themselves steampunks. I clearly love the word "steampunk". These guys here in Willits love to make big rail engines work, usually involving steam, and all the rail cars that go with them. They had their Christmas season steam-up on Sunday, featuring free rides around the loop track in a caboose or on a speeder (I did both!). I got so many photos, I couldn't make up my mind which one to lead with today, so I'll put a few more on my Overflow blog.

BaldwinEmblemSteam Jigsaw PuzzleBaldwinEmblemSteam Jigsaw Puzzle

Monday, December 8, 2008

Redbud Leaves in Autumn

Redbud is another plant native to our area, especially in the drier hills to the east. Their floral display is spectacular in the spring, and a related species populates the Mediterranean countries. I never really noticed any of them turning colors at this time of year, until I spotted this one in front of the county museum. The coral-pink/chartreuse colors are just as my camera captured them, without any applied contrast or saturation. Around the corner, another redbud was dropping its leaves while they were still the ordinary green of summer. I have no explanation.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Running Skunk?

After a long season of feeling neglected by the company that runs the Skunk Train, several Christmas trips were planned this weekend from the Willits Depot, and next weekend, and the week leading up to Christmas. The refurbished, but scantily used depot, now houses the offices of the local Chamber of Commerce.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

St Nicholas Day

As far as I can tell, St Nicholas Day is practically unknown in the US, but considering how early the decorations go up, including stockings for bearing little treats, we might as well let his story out. I spent a couple of Decembers in Hungary in the 90s, where children clean and shine their winter boots or shoes on the night of December 5th, and set them out. The next day, St Nicholas Day, they wake to find them filled with goodies. I also witnessed St Nick visiting a classroom full of kindergarten kids on his saint's day, enraptured to see him and receive his gifts.

I know, this is just weird (of me to post). They may not have Princess Parking anymore, but City Hall has a great, big Christmas stocking hung on a pair of doors to the Council Chambers.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Aging Gracefully

This fine old Victorian home sits prominently near City Hall and the old Carnegie building. While the bark of this tree looks similar to redwood trees, the foliage gives it away as a cedar. Someone has beautifully planned the garden for year-round beauty, and it was here that I photographed some spuria irises in June. In this view, you can just make out the green curtain of wisteria on the wrap-around front porch.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Red Hot Pokers

These showy flowers, Kniphofia, defy the seasons and brighten up the darkening days of December. They are native to Africa, but have been growing in Mendocino county for at least a century. Like the spuria irises I mentioned before, they were planted around some of the hotels and farmsteads. I remember when my grandfather had wrought iron fireplace tools, and if you left the "poker" stuck in the fire and coals, it would turn this orange-red color. His house was on the site of an old stagecoach hotel, and one of these grew below a nearby redwood.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The One that Got Away...

Comfortably past the Thanksgiving holiday, and the nationwide hunger for turkey meat, this wild bird happily scans the ground for its own feast. Turkeys are native to the United States, but I have only spotted them on the local scene in the last decade or so. John James Audubon wrote about his observations back East, in the early 1800s. Apparently, the tasty bird was so successfully introduced to the Old World around the 16th century, that confusion arose over its origins. Europeans gave it the name of the Turks, and the Turks gave it a name meaning "of India" (hindi)!

Okay, it wasn't just one on the hillside along Highway 20. They look a bit like something from Jurassic Park:

All right, so maybe it was more like twenty that got away. This appears to be a flock of gobblers (males), all done with breeding for the year (I read that in the Audubon link):

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Forest of the Already Cut

These Christmas trees were cut and available for sale since before Thanksgiving. Cool weather and pots of water must be enough to keep them fresh. By contrast, the Danish tradition is to put up and decorate the tree on Christmas Eve, then leave it up for the ensuing twelve days of Christmas. Then, after the Epiphany (commemorating the visit of the Three Wise Men) on January 6th, it is removed.

My Danish ancestry influenced our celebrations growing up, and we always opened our presents on Christmas Eve, as they do (or did). But our tree always went up ahead of time.

Monday, December 1, 2008

December Theme Day: Circles/Spheres

The oak tree next to my house regularly produces oak galls like this one, which eventually fall to the ground. Nicknamed "oak apples", they are formed by the tree in response to irritation under their bark by tiny insects called gall wasps. The wasp larvae mature in the spongy interior of the gall until it is time to burrow out and fly away. You may be able to spot several circular exit holes on this nearly spherical, tennis ball sized gall.

One of the foremost scholarly biologists of gall wasp populations was Dr. Alfred Kinsey, who later applied his training and insights in biological data collection and analysis to creating the then-new scientific field of human sexuality, and ultimately The Kinsey Institute. Apparently the wide variety of gall wasp sexual behaviors caused him to speculate about possible variations in humans.

On the first day of each month, many City Daily Photo Bloggers around the world post a photo tied to an agreed upon theme. To see all the beautiful, creative, and surprising responses to the theme of "Circles/Spheres," click here to view thumbnails and links for all the participants.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

More Comfort Food

After all the running around of Thanksgiving week, I needed to get some laundry done. Which put me in Evergreen Shopping Center, which put me just a wander away from the Super Taco restaurant while my clothes dried. After so much turkey and potatoes and gravy, it was nice to sit down to a pretty dish of another kind of comfort food: tamales.

There are lots of circles in this picture, but it is not yet theme day... just a hint to absent-minded City Daily Photo Bloggers to be ready to go tomorrow!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Night Sky in Blue

This home on wheels parked next to the County Library, possibly to pick up the WiFi signal, or the go inside to enjoy the printed treasures found there. Whoever owns this appreciates the power of words, some of which you can see by clicking on this image to its full size.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Blue Sky at Night

Mendocino county is rich with artists, and the Willits area is no exception. We have musicians, painters, sculptors, writers, actors, poets, and artisanal craftworkers of every sort, and often widely known. Blue Sky Gallery provides a retail outlet for a select few of them, with art glass, jewelery, paintings and ceramics regularly on offer. You probably don't remember that I posted their front step many months ago. That koi pond is still one of my favorite art finds.

With daylight in short supply, it turns out some of our shops are easier to photograph at night! Okay, Willits may not be Yellowknife, but still it's dark before I leave work. Today, many of these uptown Main Street businesses organized early shopping hours, because for some mysterious reason, people seem to love to shop for Christmas gifts the day after our Thanksgiving holiday. Personally, I can't imagine getting up in the dark, early hours of the morning to shop, but if you want to dive in starting at 6:00 AM this morning, these merchants will be ready to help you.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Food Bank

I'm thankful I still have enough to be able to give, and to be graced by those who will receive it.

I'm so thankful that my mother is vibrant and thriving in her own home over closer to the ocean, happy to be self-sufficient and able to meet her daily needs among the splendors of nature, near the village of her upbringing. That's where I'll be visiting for the next couple of days, so I'll be out of reach of any computers. I wish health and contentment to all my blog visitors around the world. I'm thankful for you as well.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Also Fresh and Clean

I spotted this gleaming white house just down a side street from the post office and had to get a picture. Every bit of shrub and grass was pristinely manicured as well. My impulse would be to plant a riotously excessive flower garden against this vast blank canvas. The violet and lavender paint trim is a good start.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Fresh and Clean

In contrast to yesterday's crumbled wall, this freshly molded walkway was installed between the Willits Center for the Arts and the Carnegie building, to allow cleaner access to the back door of the WCA. Such cultural organizations are already operating on a shoestring budget (very little money), and are wise to complete whatever repair and maintenance they can before funds get even tighter. I would have liked to see some autumn leaf imprints on this cement, but these guys seemed intent on cleaning all that away.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Parking Lot Re-Think

The Willits Post Office parking lot is notoriously difficult to navigate, consisting of four spaces facing east, and four facing west. Years ago, somebody decided to build this cinder block wall right up to the point of entrance, not imagining how soon cars need to swing around to miss hitting the vehicles parked behind them. Either all at once, or gradually, vehicles have helped to solve part of the constraint by knocking the corner of the fence down. This barrier now slopes back about three or four feet before resuming its original form. During weekdays at peak hours, you would be amazed at the dynamic maneuvering of cars and pedestrians that goes on here, in a community with a very high demand for post office boxes (thousands), in addition to the special transactions at the front counter. I'm glad I got a bike.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Only a Memory

A run-down Skunk Motel (it was named for the well known excursion train operating here, not the animal) was finally demolished several years ago, and the empty lot served as some overflow parking for the Mariposa Market. Then temporary fences went up and the heavy equipment moved in, pushing, digging, grading. Soon, construction will be complete on a new building for the market.

There are a few other things that have been pictured on Willits Daily Photo that are no longer to be seen in the real world of today:

1. The Lion of Judah shop has been clearing out of its space. I don't know if it's going somewhere else.

2. The abandoned service station office is now not only vacant, but torn down.

3. Three miniature mares were torn apart and killed by two wandering pitbull dogs last week. The paper says a fourth was maimed, but may recover.

4. The Princess Parking Only sign at the Community Center/City Hall has been removed, following a letter of snarky complaint by someone to the local newspaper. The killjoy claimed such nonsense that it must have cost her tax dollars or similar. She made it clear that some issue had not gone well for her at the city offices, so denying the humanity of public employees was her revenge. One less reason to move to Willits after all.

5. Many abandoned railcars (including the manzanita bush) on the unused NCRA railroad sidings have been scrapped and removed. The few that remain are consolidated behind a fence, apparently waiting for transport elsewhere by their owners.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Hillside Hives

Not long ago, I took a Sunday drive to see what Little Lake Valley had to offer in the autumn sunshine. Out on the Reynolds Highway, on the northeast circuit of the valley, these gleaming white beehive frames caught my eye with their brilliant contrast to the oaks and rocks and bay tree. They make another component of the local food web.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

The "wheelie-bins" used for household solid waste disposal are gray with black hinged lids, and the curbside bins for mixed recycling (yes, we don't separate materials at home) are blue. Garden clippings and leaves go into a muted green bin. But if you want the exciting colors, take your excess cardboard, mixed paper, and glass right over to the solid waste transfer station. Convenient ramps lead right up to the tops of the truck-sized collection containers, neatly labeled for their proper contents.

It's true. Americans have a remarkably different idea of the fit of their clothes than Europeans do. We don't like anything too binding or snug. We like the blood to circulate easily to all the important places, with room to breathe.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Deliveries Come to an End

Our deliveries from Live Power Farm CSA are due to end next week, for this season. Subscriptions for the next season begin in May. In the interim, the farmer's market will continue indoors, and I expect some cold-weather produce will be available there.

I know I've mentioned the efforts in Willits to develop a more localized economy, not only to keep money circulating among local businesses, but also to build our own food production base in the face of threats to our food security. Willits was featured in a documentary called "Escape from Suburbia" (and may have been in the precursor, "End of Suburbia", but I'm not sure), and I found a promo/excerpt on You Tube called Escape from Suburbia returns to Willits, CA. I know almost all of the speakers, and some even know me. No, I'm not in it, but I hope you'll enjoy seeing this six minute clip anyway. 8^)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Ivy on Utility Meters

With apologies, I'm feeling pressed for words, time, and pictures just now, so I dug this one out of my archives. It makes me think of Picasso's cubist faces.