September comes and lived among us matching the colors of my dreams. Then she quietly slipped away as October unobtrusively turned the page, and began another phase in the cycle of Nature. All in all, she was a courteous and well-mannered guest. The land had absorbed heat in spots foreign to such heat, and plants withered and died without necessary water. But though a hundred things may be wrong, a thousand things are right, and completely in order.

A skein of ducks or geese, intent on answering their age old call to the south, flew high in the sky the other morning. Winter will come, as it has for millennia, in spite of our expectations as to the weather.

Whether it was ducks or geese on their lofty journey, I cannot say, but the sound of their passing was comforting, knowing it as another sign that all is right with the world.

While ducks are thought of as privileged and charming creatures, geese are much maligned by descriptions such as “silly goose”, etc. I agree that geese can sometimes be loud and annoying, but they are useful as guard dogs in many cases. Because of their profound family sense, Penny. our small dachshund, refused to walk again after being attacked by an angry Father Goose protecting his nesting partner. My mother’s geese in Grants Pass, Oregon, lived lively lives across the ditch, and heralded the approach of anyone brave enough to come across the small bridge. A friend was given a few baby geese who instead of bonding with her as hoped, made it necessary to simply throw food over the fence for them.


In spite of these unpleasant qualities, we must thank the goose for its feathers to fill warm duvets and pillows when winter bares its gnarly teeth. As writers we must thank the goose for the quill, which enabled those who came before us to write down their thoughts so that we may wonder at their brilliance, and gain the knowledge which gives a foothold in teaching those who follow us.

Thinking back to my early Latin study, our word pen comes from penne which meant feather or quill. Just think, the lovely Italian pasta penne, really means feather. I guess that would be food for thought.

Goose plumage feathered the arrows which indirectly won the Battle of Hastings, which was a major turning point in English history. Goose feathers on the longbow was as epochal as the invention of the bomb today.

November is just over the hill to the east and will bring a sweet chill.



You can plan all you like, but you can’t plan on the weather. We had set aside yesterday for a picnic in Alameda with friends. The weather had simmered away in the 80’s and 90’s for a number of weeks, keeping us cooking and cooking our heels at home.

Yesterday the smell of petrichlor filled the air and heralded the imminent arrival of the first raindrops, ready to wash the summer dust off the leaves and give sustenance to a thirsty soil.

Brave souls as we are, we decided to wing it and go on our picnic anyway. Stopping at a favorite place for lattes first, we sat inside watching the rain charging down the estuary on pattering feet. Two gentlemen of a certain age sat nearby wearing short-sleeved summer shirts and shorts, obviously visitors on vacation, while I at least, sensibly dressed in wool turtlenect sweater and raingear. The cold sandwiches waiting in our picnic basket didn’t seem too inviting as opposed to a bowl of hot soup at that point.

The estuary is where so many wonderful crew races have taken place through the years, and the Cal boathouse is just across the channel from where we sit watching and hoping that either Cal or the University of Washington win. It is sometimes troubling to be torn between rooting for one or the other. It was not a day for racing.

Alameda is my hometown and though we fight the traffic now when going there, it is lovely to drive down its peaceful tree lined streets, and revisit familiar and much loved old homes and other spots where my life became interesting. The beaches are deserted in the rain, but with the recent warm weather, they were frequently filled with families enjoying the water to cool off.


The rain let up a little and we arrived at our picnic spot near the Bay with all of San Francisco at our feet. Several juvenile egrets joined us, though they are not hungry beggars like the gulls, who are absent when it rains. They came close, but not too close, and pulled a few worms from the grass for their lunch while we chomped our cold sandwiches quickly before the next rain fell. It was, after all, a satisfying day.



It’s a shame we worry so much about ourselves. I know that men have the same problems, but they don’t seem to agonize over them the way we women do. With so much going on in the world, a few wrinkles on the neck should be riding low on the totem pole.

A little tuck here and there on the face and body gets you back in the race, but there doesn’t seem to be much to be done about the poor neck. Audrey Hepburn simply wore a turtle neck sweater, which worked for me as well for awhile. A nice scarf covers up a multitude of crevasses too.

Men seem to grow nice flabby turkey wattles under the chin, which takes the attention away from all the dips and creases which surely lie underneath. It really isn’t fair either, because while women simply look old, men become more interesting. Just look at Tony Bennett or Cesar Romero. They started out looking like greasy mafiosi and turned out in their senior years to be pretty sexy. It’s quite noticeable now that Tony is singing duets with Lady Gaga.

The mother in law of a friend was a frequent visitor to her plastic surgeon and actually looked quite striking. While sitting at a cocktail party and passing more than the time of day with a decidedly younger man, she stood and walked away. The surprise and disgust on his face was primal. She could do wonders with her body and hair, but nothing could hide the fact that she was no spring chicken.

The thing which really grabs my attention though, are the clothes some women wear trying to recapture a lost youth. The amount of money they spend could be saved if only they had saved their college clothes for 30 or 40 years. The styles keep returning if you are patient. Men don’t have that problem either, because their basic wardrobe never changed.

Women used to watch the skirt length from year to year to see what was in and what was out. I did it religiously each year. If they got shorter, you simply cut off the surplus; if they got longer you were in trouble. I understand they are going longer this year, which is a really good idea. I have worried about all the cute TV personalities with crossed legs in case they went shorter.

Some clever fashion maven some years ago solved the problem of skirt length by advocating pants for women. Some years ago my husband’s boss said to tell one trouser-clad woman to change into a skirt. Dr. A cautioned him to take note that it was then the 1960’s. I was once told that my boss did not approve of jeans. Since my job was teaching a sculpture and pottery class, and since my boss was a good friend, I simply went in and taught my class.

No one seems to have come up with a solution the craggy neck. I’m sure it has puzzled the plastic surgeon business for years. I have begun trying to guess the age of each of the TV women. The hair may be a bright halo on their head, and the makeup has certainly been applied according to the direction which came with it, but you can’t hide the neck.

I roamed through the stores yesterday, looking for the perfect scarf to hide my crags. After an hour or so, I bought two pair of socks and came home.



Her life changed in a terrifying moment of rising water, shouting and the screaming of frightened horses. It had rained for days, and the river had finally taken enough and took the easy path over its banks, through fields and flooding all nearby ranches and homes. The extended flatlands of the Sacramento river were awash in dirty roaring floodwaters.

A few miles south, we had our share of the wet stuff along with winds which rattled the windows and took down a few branches, but nothing we couldn’t live with. Penny, our independent small dachshund who hated wet weather, took the opportunity to snuggle up in front of the warm fire.

The ominous ringing of a phone in the middle of the night seems to signify trouble, and my grandson’s voice was a confirmation. I heard him yell something about a dog, but there was so much background noise I really couldn’t tell much.

We finally determined that a nearby large ranch was afloat and neighbors were coming to rescue a great number of horses. The owner had had a heart attack and had been taken away by paramedics. Two or three dogs had been placed in cages for safety, and we were being asked to take one of the dogs.

I shook my head and said “No way!” and we left it at that for the night.

As our pickup pulled into our grandson’s rented farmyard in Tracy, California, we were greeted by vocal histrionics from his two dogs, and as if by common consent, coming majestically down the back steps, was the “Nana” dog of Peter Pan fame. Without hesitation, neither acknowledging our presence nor the barking dogs, this large fuzzy creature leaped into the open door of the pickup and settled herself in for the duration.

pandaPanda, Old English Sheepdog

Hurt and lost dogs and people turn as if by instinct to a refuge. Do they sense warmth and food and a friendly voice?

Her name was Panda, though she looked like a Nellie, and I wanted to rename her, but being outvoted, Panda it stayed. Dr. A assured me that Grandma Nellie who had not liked dogs, would not enjoy having one using her name. I imagine as a small puppy she resembled a fluffy, soft grey and white panda bear.

She was nervous when she arrived home, and we forgave her bladder’s loss of control when she hung her head and looked sheepishly at us cleaning up the mess. Otherwise from the first she was a courteous and well-mannered guest who obviously sensed that the furniture did not have her name on it. She knew instinctively which rooms were off-limits.

The relationship between dog and household is a subtle thing. Her previous owner had in the meantime passed away, and there was no reason we could not include her in our household. Penny had merely glanced at her and decided she was OK, so with a minimum of fuss she became our second dog. Size-wise they resembled Mutt and Jeff.

After a run-in with an angry goose Penny had long ago determined that going for long walks was not her cup of tea, but Panda welcomed the exercise and Dr. A welcomed the company of this curious friendly companion. Daily they took off down the Alameda Creek Trail while Panda paid no attention to the large number of other romp and runners. When Dr. A stopped to pass the time of day Panda lay down and patiently waited it out, sometimes taking the opportunity to grab a nap.

Sam and Panda2

Alone one morning, I got a phone call from a young boy who said he had found Panda wandering by herself on the Trail, while using it himself on his way to school. Fearful that something untoward had happened, I asked if he could take her to the nearby Niles Cafe coffee shop to wait 15 minutes or so for me. When I arrived at the coffee shop, no dog or husband were there, but several friends jumped up to help me find the missing couple. I appreciated the concern of people like the Corrie’s who owned a local gift shop in town.

As we started down the street, Dr. A passed by in the car with a very happy and smiling Panda in the back seat. As he had started on his way home, he had not gone far when he he realized that he was missing a passenger. Strange to say, he had forgotten her!

During one of his long conversations, he had stopped to help a friend get her Lab out of one of the ponds along the way, and Panda, instead of waiting, had had enough and decided to come home alone.

Just as she had chosen the front seat of the pickup as her right, she chose her place in the house under a table in our family room. Disconcerting to some perhaps, unless they were a dog lover, to find this large furry animal lying so close to their feet under the table. She frequently offered her warm tongue as a friendly welcome. During the long years she graced us with her presence, she rarely barked, and exhibited all the kind attributes of the Peter Pan “Nana”.

We had learned that Panda was a year old when she came to us, and when she was eleven, she began showing signs of slowing down. Larger breed dogs, including Old English Sheepdogs, don’t usually live as long as their smaller cousins. It was apparent that the long walks which frequently ended in joyous rabbit chases down by the Bay had taken their toll. Though her hearing and eyesight were apparently as good as ever, we realized that like so many older humans, her mind was not as quick as it had been.

On her last day. as we slowly walked to the vet, she turned and looking at Dr. A, gave one woof. Was it a goodbye to her friend, or perhaps a thank you for the rescue so long ago, and all the good years since? It had been a good life.


LIGHTS OUT Kate’s Journal

The final goodbye always comes as an unpleasant gut-wrenching surprise no matter how long its approach. I knew that at my father’s passing the mournful sound of “Taps” would echo over the hills of Southern Oregon. What better place to say goodbye to this son of the Rogue River, surrounded by his long-gone family, and sheltered by lichen-covered maple trees with leaves just tinged with the blotchy blood red of imminent goodbye.

Though expected, the intrusion of the bugler and two other Navy personnel, snapped me out of memories of this strong and proud man. He was an Oregon country boy, but he was Navy through and through. Therefore, we were also Navy, moving as we were sent and staying at their pleasure. It was his life, and the love of the sea never left him.

As the bugler raised his instrument to his lips, I wondered where this familiar twenty-four note melody came from. It signals soldiers to prepare for the day’s final roll call. In use since 1835 it was known as “Scott’s Tatoo” and named for army chief Winfield Scott.

The tune was a said to be a revision of a French bugle signal called tatoo, which notified soldiers to cease their evening drinking and return to their barracks. The word was an alteration of “tapto” which was derived from Dutch “tap-toe” or to shut the tap of a keg.

In the Civil War Brigadier General Daniel Butterfield thought the sound of the tatoo was too harsh, so he ordered his 23 year old bugler to polish it up and make it softer and more melodious. It is also known as Butterfield’s Lullaby.

The echo of the last note hung in the air, the sound of a volley of shots rang out over the valley, and roll call was over.

“Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die
And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you grave for me
Here he lies where he longed to be.
Home is the sailor home from the sea
And the hunter home from the hill.”

Requium poem by Robert Louis Stevenson


ROOM TO LET Kate’s Journal

When I was a child living at Grandma’s house, the largest bedroom in the house was often the first to be rented, because it brought in the most money. In Long Beach this room was in the rear, and was off limits to me. Grandma slept in the small room off the living room at the front of the house, where she somehow managed to surround herself with all the belongings of a lifetime.

At one point between renters, my mother and I shared the big bedroom. I must have been quite small, because I remember the furniture as being very large. I was so pleased with the transition that I stood on a chair before the mirror and cut my first bangs. It gives a child a great sense of accomplishment to have control over such an important part of their anatomy.

The change in my appearance, though pleasing to me, distressed the women in my immediate family. Auntie however, common sense Yankee that she was, took the newly shorn culprit to the local barber and ordered a “Dutch cut”, which went well with my ugly Buster Brown high top shoes. Grandma’s image of me with patent leather Mary Jane’s went counter to her sister, Aunt Georgia, who saw me as an ordinary rough and tumble kid. My own self-image landed somewhere in the middle.

I was born with both feet turned the wrong way, and while years of “step-shuffle-step” lessons did not make me a prima ballerina, they did make me a noisy tap dancer practicing on the linoleum kitchen floor.

One thing you learn early on when living in a house with paying guests, is how to be quiet, so for one reason or another, I was often sent to stay at Auntie’s house in the hills near Los Angeles.

In the early spring, those hills were covered with tall grass, which was the perfect conduit for cardboard box sleds. There were few neighbors around the hill, perhaps eight or nine at the most, and fewer children, but those who came to check me out taught me skills I could never have learned while living in the city.

Country kids know what’s going on in the outdoors. They know what bugs to pick up and which to leave alone, as well as which of the snake family is friendly and which should be avoided. We built large cages for the friendly snakes and fed them the bugs we didn’t like.

Days at Auntie’s were kept to a pattern: early to bed, early to rise. Puffed wheat or rice for breakfast, often accompanied by a slice of cake. Since cleanliness is next to Godliness, we cleaned house each morning. I still remember the smell of Old English furniture polish on the dust cloth hung in the cleaning closet.

Auntie had few clothes in her small bedroom closet; a couple of house-dresses and a dress-up one, and maybe two pair of shoes. We cleaned up early and went visiting perhaps once a week, and one or two people occasionally came for lunch. Her food and cooking were as simple as her clothing. Though she and Grandma grew up in the same well-to-do family in New Hampshire, they were quite different in their life approaches.

Each of my long visits with Auntie had to end, and I was returned to Grandmas’s house. I don’t remember that the big bedroom was ever empty again while she lived there, but I’m glad I had the opportunity to sleep there once.



nc-wyeth Cover photo by N.C. Wyeth

“To Billy From Grandma” is written inside the old book. It brings back a memory of a musty old bookshop in San Francisco. I had stepped from the bright sunlight into the dimly lighted confines of what might become a pleasant hour of book-looking pleasure. When I picked up the old copy of Robinson Crusoe” and saw N.C. Wyeth’s illustrations within it, I was sure I had struck gold.

N.C. Wyeth was one of America’s greatest illustrators. His first work on Treasure Island” allowed him to pay for his studio in Chadds Ford, PA. He was a painter as well as an illustrator, and said that the two cannot be mixed. He left a legacy of over 3,000 paintings and 112 book illustrations, but perhaps he is best remembered now as the father of Andrew Wyeth and four other talented children.

The family grew up in Chadds Ford, and all five children were home schooled. As a child, Andrew showed promise as an artist, and his father was his only art teacher. He lived the rest of his life in Chadds Ford, and later remarked that “he painted his life”.

His painting of neighbor Christina Olson, “Christina’s World, is one of the most well known paintings of the 20th century and is part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art New York.


Not as well known are the Helga paintings; 247 paintings in intimate detail of Helga Testorf, a caregiver/nurse for neighbor Karl Kuener, whose farm is seen at the top of the hill in Christina’s World.


The drawings and paintings of Helga Testorf were made over a fifteen year period, and were kept secret from both Andrew’s wife Betsy, and Helga’s husband. They were stored at the home of Andrew’s student Frolic Weymouth. Helga has the distinction of being made famous by a painting, except perhaps the Mona Lisa.


Andrew Wyeth said that he felt he had been kept in a prison by his father; never leaving his home, he painted what he saw around him. To have painted this one subject of Helga without anyone knowing for fifteen years and then suddenly showing them to the world gave him a long imagined sense of independence.

When asked if Helga was going to be present at his 91st birthday, he said “Yeah, certainly, oh absolutely–she’s part of the family now. I know it shocks everyone. That’s what I like about it. It really shocks ’em.

In 1986 the collection went on tour to much criticism, saying it had a voyeuristic aura. After the tour the entire collection was sold to a Japanese buyer.