Saturday, February 28, 2009

Life Itself

On Friday, California Governor Schwarzenegger declared a water emergency for the state, and warned that we can't count on upcoming years to be any better. Leaking toilets, cracked underground pipes, leaving the water running while brushing teeth - all add up to wasted gallons of this necessity of life. Some people can't stand to drink plain, pure water. I savor it, like this glass at Ardella's Diner.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Mortuary

There's one mortuary in town, Anker-Lucier, located on the corner of Commercial and School Streets. The red tile roof with white stucco is rare in this county, and reminds me of the Spanish Colonial Revival style found in more southerly parts of the state. There were a couple of Mexican land grants in Mendocino, but the Spanish era missions came no further north than Sonoma county.

I did not personally know Dave Tiller, but earlier this week he lost his long battle with pancreatic cancer. I do know that he was a police officer who touched many lives here in Willits, and his memorial will be this Saturday. Photos of a barbecue to raise funds for his treatment trips to San Francisco were posted here last June.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Corraled Black Cattle

Little Lake Valley offers wide swathes of pastureland, but I read recently that the dry winter we've been having has slowed the natural growth of grass on the fields and hillsides. What currently look like putting greens ideally should be full of lush grazing by now. At a season not normally requiring it, ranchers have had to purchase supplemental feed for their herds. It's a clear indication of the fragile balance of nature with local economics. The Willits Action Group is exploring what it would take to revive local grain and legume farming, and have started by investing in small scale storage facilities, and offering shares in the commodities to the local population. If the capacity and demand can be put in place, the our area's own farmers might be willing to fill the void.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Bunny Dumpster

I'm not entirely clear on what all the spray-paint tagging on the one dumpster means, but at least I can read the word "bunny" on the right. Can anyone tell me what it says on the left?

These were just the outer edge of a large collection of commercial sized dumpsters, apparently being stored on the big lot next to the Solid Wastes of Willits transfer station. They turned out to be fun photo subjects, so I may have to post some more from that excursion. The large structures in the background are part of the Willits Redwood Company mill, across Blosser Lane.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Water Feature

This big vacant lot is smack-dab in the middle of "old" Willits, and is right next to the Deco house on the Hiram Willits property seen yesterday. To the south is the Van Hotel. To the west is St Francis in the Redwoods church, at the intersection of Main and Commercial Streets. I've been in Willits since 2001, and this is how it has always looked - puddles in the winter, dry potholes in the summer. It would be great to keep it open with a vast food and medicine producing garden, with all the Highway 101 traffic lumbering by, but maybe the owner has other plans. Right now, it serves as a sort of downtown art installation, with random amoeba shapes dispersed all across it. A sea of holes.

The deeper history is that the Willits Hotel used to stand here. It had over a hundred rooms, and included all sorts of traveler's amenities, but was torn down more than fifty years ago. I would have thought anything else built here since then would still be standing, but I don't have more information about it. It catches rain. Hurray for rain!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Deco in Blue

Moving away from the Craftsman Challenge set forth by Laurie in South Pasadena, this house is a rarity in Willits. Although it's without much of the embellishment associated with Art Deco, this building includes many of the elements that followed on from the post-Craftsman era. Extremely simple and lean in comparison to the woody struts and and natural materials of Craftsman design, and even further removed from the lacy Victorians, the glass brick flanking the front door was a huge leap in visual ideas. Also note the oval curve of the front step overhang. This is located across the street from the Van Hotel, under several big redwood trees. The booklet that told me about Churchill staying at the Van tells me this was constructed on the site of the old Hiram Willits farmstead in 1936. That must have been a shock. The former Willits house was a two-story Victorian dating back to the pioneer's settlement of 1857. Now, in its turn, this house is historic as well.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Shuster's Truck Lot

The "domino" effect of the shrinking economy will likely put the squeeze on any number of local businesses. The Shuster family has been around here for generations, and their fleet of white trucks are commonly seen on the roads of the region. Let's hope they "keep on truckin'" for a long time to come.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Winter Bee

Willow catkins are opening up these days, offering plenty of pollen for bees to gather in their leg pouches.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Loose Caboose

The Loose Caboose is a popular sandwich eatery tucked away on Wood Street behind the Book Juggler, with their dining patio leading to the restaurant. As you step through the gate, this fantasy painting greets you with childlike conceptions of castle and rainbow and fairy, along with a "loose" caboose, unaided by a locomotive. The railroad theme is appropriate for a town with so many rail connections, and so many fantasies of seeing them all operate again.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Dog Laws

This sign was posted all around the periphery of the cemetery. I suppose the neighboring properties have livestock, and when mourners bring their pets some conflicts ensue. Tucked away on this edge of the lot, the grave of an infant lies, long gone in 1910.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Mariposa Metamorphosis

I wasn't around Willits for the beginnings of Mariposa Market, but I'm told they once were located in the shop spaces behind a wall I posted on this blog last spring. For the past decade, they have done business behind this iconic mural. Now, once again, they have metamorphosed into a new and larger space, right next door to the last one, on the site of the old Skunk Motel. They dedicated themselves to natural and organic foods, health products and clothing way back when only "hippies" were interested in such things. Today, they have more mainstream competition, but seem to be going strong on greater mainstream interest.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

METALfx Employee Patio

The outdoor break area is too damp for comfort these days for employees of METALfx. A recent story in the local paper indicates far greater discomfort is looming for them if this manufacturing company decides to leave town. The hope is that they will sufficiently retrench by simply consolidating their two Willits plants into one. If that doesn't pencil out, 150 jobs will go somewhere else.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Lichen With Rust

A collection of valves and other parts rest on a yet-to-be restored open rail car in the work yard of Roots of Motive Power, punctuated by a spontaneous primitive garden. I kept this in my secret stash for a few months, so the dry sunshine is misleading. The blessed rain still falls these days.

Happy belated 200th birthday to President Abraham Lincoln, celebrated along with the birthday of President George Washington, together designated a holiday today in the US.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Meat Marketing

The John Ford Ranch is right here in Little Lake Valley, and makes the beef they raise available locally, with their name right on it (the package on the right). Willits is a good place to be if you value knowing exactly where your food is coming from. The cattle take a detour to Eureka up in Humboldt county, where the nearest licensed slaughterhouse is located. But the food comes back here, and I am reassured that I can talk to the Fords, see the cattle in the pastures, and trust the environment they have been in.

We can also get American Bison meat, raised near the Ukiah Valley just 25 miles south of us, from the J Bar S Ranch (the packages on the left). Nearly driven to extinction in the 19th century, they've made a comeback as a marketable food source. I've never tried the meat, but it is said to be low in fat, so appeals to calorie-conscious diners.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


Up at Howard State Forest, about as far south as I can go while remaining within the watershed of this blog, a young tanoak tree was recently cut up and stacked. We have a cold storm pelting us with hail, accumulating nicely at this higher elevation, and snow is building up on the ridgetops. Many households in the area, especially those outside the city infrastructure, still use wood-burning stoves to heat their homes, and tanoak properly cured packs a good amount of heat. The dark center of the wood is called heartwood, appropriately for Valentine's Day. Sort of. Even better, I love the lush growth of lichens on these logs, even as my heart breaks for their possible destiny in a fireplace.

Bonus Valentine trivia: The movie Heartwood was filmed in and around Willits and these mountains, with many locals involved in its production.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Flower of February

With our daffodils running strangely late, it's nice to see the violets are right on schedule. I caught this one several days ago, before the blessing of rain now falling. Happy Friday the Thirteenth!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Memorial

After the procession and flag raising and the multitude of preparations, came the actual memorial for Jeff Smith inside the vast warehouses of the former Little Lake Industries. The announcement in the paper simply invited "family and friends" to come here at 3 PM on Sunday. The city limits of Willits contains about 5000 people. The planners of the event were wise to anticipate about two thousand guests. For more images of the memorial setting, click here for my Overflow blog.

Half a dozen speakers told their stories, and eulogized the man. His professional gifts were widely known. He had been awarded an unprecedented two Medals of Valor from the California State Firefighters Association; once for retrieving a man from a "fully engaged" burning fuel truck wreck, and most recently for intervening as a gunman shot two women and then himself. Jeff saved the life of one of those women, but he was the sort who never felt he deserved the medals. As one speaker said, he was a low visibility guy in a high visibility job. A similar spirit has recently been demonstrated by Captain Sullenburger, who safely landed his passenger plane in the Hudson River, when he said he was just doing his job, and even though the event went as well as possible, he continued to imagine how he might have done better. Such humility combined with such competence inspires everyone graced to witness it, and Jeff Smith was all of that.

He was also a man of tremendous good humor and good will. Those of us who glimpsed it through his professional role and composure, and those endowed with his high-spirited friendship at play, will be forever grateful.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Preparations

A former industrial site, developed by Little Lake Industries once upon a time, now leased for storage by a horticultural/agricultural supply retailer called Sparetime, was the location for the memorial ceremony. Jeff Smith had died Monday afternoon, and by Tuesday his fire department colleagues launched forward with one of their many professional skills: logistics. Calfire work camp inmates came to move out tons of sacks of fertilizer, etc., along with department and community volunteers, who then cleaned and arranged warehouse spaces, installed temporary toilets, etc. Word went out to schools and churches for tables and chairs, as well as other community networks for staging equipment, food, beverages, waste management, etc. Decisions had to be made quickly about what would happen, who would do what, and where, and when.

With the ready stand-in assistance of other regional fire departments, the Little Lake/Willits crew were all able to participate in the event. None of them wanted to miss honoring their former Chief. A matching ladder truck was brought up from Ukiah to hoist and bear the huge flag, along with the Willits ladder, which was suspended over the entrance to the industrial grounds. Brooktrails fire trucks were positioned at the Main station in case of any alarms.

By the end of the procession from the south end fire station, winding up Highway 101 (Main Street) to the headquarters station, then west to the Little Lake Industries site on Commercial Street, the Percherons had pulled the heavy steamer pump for about a mile, with a couple of inclines, and were dripping with sweat even on this very cool day. Click here to see more photos of these events on my Overflow blog.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Procession

The memorial for Jeff Smith was Sunday, and began with a procession through the length of town. As I noted earlier on this blog, he was a member of the Willits/Little Lake Fire Department for 31 years, and was Chief for 22 of those years. An antique "steamer" pump wagon, provided by the California State Firefighters Association, led the way, followed by a stream of the department's trucks and personnel. Bringing up the rear was a pack of Smith's Harley-Davidson riding buddies. For more photos of the procession, click through here to my Overflow blog.

I like the quote in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat obituary, where a long-time colleague pointed out that Smith was "the closest thing to a celebrity we had in Willits." When I positioned myself to catch the action near the Willits Arch, I had no idea how moved I would be by the sight of the black cross, pulled by three draft horses. Then, even more, by the long line of silent, flashing fire trucks, knowing how respected he was by so many who knew him so long.

There were no California Highway Patrol officers anywhere to be seen. I believe they were busy looking the other way during this unconventional use of Highway 101. City police officers handled traffic control.

This will be a short series. More tomorrow.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Antique Wheel

It was a gray day Sunday, but this brightly and minutely decorated wheel cheered up all who saw it. It was a 200+ photo day, an emotional day, and I'm beat, so more tomorrow.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

For Tomorrow's Archeologists

Remnants of technology gone by, these glass telephone line insulators lie near the abandoned railroad tracks crossing Walker Road, itself a remnant of old Highway 101. Chipped and broken, I suspect these are not collectible like the ones recycled by crafters for last year's Christmas fairs. I appreciate finding such treasures of the past, but would be glad to see all the overhead wires and cables go underground. Perhaps any kind of land-line will soon be obsolete.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Dog Walk

Finally a little rain broke the dry spell on Friday, and while it wasn't enough to contribute to the municipal reserves (less than an inch predicted), at least we are somewhat damp again. But while the sun still shined, people could walk their dogs without much suffering. My camera couldn't resist this recumbent tricycle rider with his gorgeous husky strutting by Recreation Grove.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Birdwatching Horse Watching Bird

Or is it a horsewatching bird watching horse? In either case there's a bird on the fence seen through the barn, and the two could be having a stare-down. (Even if you enlarge the photo, it's hard to see.)

It's easy to imagine that only humans take any pleasure in observing the fauna around us, but I suspect more than a few creatures size each other up, determine the level of threat, watch for patterns of behavior, and might even become amused. Certainly we must be the prime objects of such sport, with the One Who Brings Food garnering a very different reaction than the One Who Walks By or the One Who Shouts. But there's a time for observing, and a time for munching hay.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Handicap Parking

With the redevelopment of a central city parking lot, regulations to supply handicap access took effect. It really is the right thing to do, jokes about "political correctness" and "too many rules" aside. Here, two parking spaces are specifically designated for specially equipped vans, with side lifts, for wheelchair using people to have room to get in and out of their vehicles. The curb of the sidewalk slopes down to accommodate them as well. I hope if I'm ever disabled, this kind of infrastructure will be in place, to allow me to interact with my community with a minimum dependence on others, with the self-determination that able-bodied people take for granted. I explain all this because readers from some other countries don't yet build this way.

This is another wall of the building you saw here and here.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Fire Training Tower

Here we are in February, and already we're thinking about, talking about, and preparing for extreme water limitations. And where there's drought, there's fire. Last summer's Lightning Complex fires showed how fragile the system is, and as big as those fires were, there's still plenty more to burn out there. With government budgets crashing from top to bottom, and water reserves practically nonexistent, I can't help but wonder where the resources will come from to protect us this year.

Meanwhile, anyone know what those 6000 pound blocks are for?

Sad news to report. Retired Little Lake Fire Chief Jeff Smith died Monday night. I hope he knew how much our community loved and admired him. He had been retired less than a year. Late edit: Jeff Smith's obituary in the paper.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

CWR Switch Signal

Along the still active Skunk line track, it speaks for itself.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Such A Name

Seeking new vistas on my territory, I went to Willits Cemetery, on acreage rising from Highway 20 just west of town. My first time here, I wandered a bit to see the names and artful monuments. There were a couple of areas with these standard military veteran's grave markers, with surviving vets and casualties of the 20th century wars indicated on the inscriptions. This one stopped me short.

George J DeBourbon-Habsburg, California, PVT [Private], Army Air Forces, World War II

Notice that he was born in 1901 and died in 1973. That's pretty old to be a lowly soldier in that war. How did someone with such a bombastically historic name from two royal houses of Europe end up in Willits?

I could have held this one back until I could do some more research, but the mystery itself appeals to my inner novelist/screenwriter, and there may be no information to be found. I did check the county phone book, and the names don't appear to continue here. Do any local readers know his real story? Or should I continue to imagine one of my own?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

February Theme Day: Paths and Passages

In yesterday's post, I mentioned three paths, and these are the other two. Here at the northernmost point in Little Lake Valley, the Northwestern Pacific Railroad crosses Outlet Creek through the gap in the hills. Alongside runs Highway 101, also crossing the creek via a bridge, and upon which I ventured on foot to risk getting yesterday's shot. Writing this, I realize I haven't made the passage out of the valley, in this direction, in probably two years. The trains no longer pass here, and it won't be long before the water below dries up too.

The first day of each month is always Theme Day among the hundreds of City Daily Photo Bloggers worldwide. Click here to view thumbnails and links for all those participants, and enjoy their interpretations of the theme.