Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Day In Texture at the Huntington Library

An quick trip to Los Angeles for welding supplies this week found me with time to kill, so I wandered into the Huntington Library and Museum in San Marino, CA. A person can't actually just "wander" into the Huntington Library. One must be an "approved scholar" and have an appointment. But the museum and grounds were open to the public, so I took advantage of some free time and walked through the botanical gardens. I was struck by the variety of textures to be found on both buildings and plants and how well they were reflected in the variety of people as well.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Death on the Ranch

Early yesterday morning as I drove out the ranch gate onto the highway I say a deer sitting in the culvert along the roadway, oblivious to my presence. I got out to look and could see that she had been hit by a car and was in shock. She wasn't mangled, as deer often are when struck by a vehicle, but she was certainly in a bad way. She looked right through me as if I wasn't even there. My first instinct was to put her out of her misery. But her eyes showed no sense of panic, pain, or sorrow, only a vacant gaze as if her spirit had already left the body. And besides, she was one of two deer born on our ranch last winter. And having fattened herself on hay left over from our own animals I was feeling a measure of paternal instinct that made the act of putting her down that much harder. But after an hour or so her body yielded to it's fate and she passed to whatever lies beyond.

Today, when the rain lets up, I will load the her body onto the tractor, move her to a more secluded and dignified spot on the ranch, and let nature take its course. I'm always wary of attracting predators, but the coyotes have to eat, and they too have a place in the cycle of life around here. So I'll offer a psalm to the deer spirits of Carpenter Canyon, and hope the yearling's twin pays me a visit sometime soon. There's leftover hay on the ground and you're welcome to it.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Rust Never Sleeps

I was walking along the Santa Ynez River and as I passed under a railroad bridge the corrosion and decay caught my attention.  Then the album Rust Never Sleeps by Neil Young and Crazy Horse in 1979 started running through my mind.  Now I can't seem to get the image out of my head and I'm searching for a meaning.  It's probably nothing more than the nagging realization that I'm getting older, or it's the arthritis in my hips sending unwanted messages to my brain.  So there I was, at the confluence of river, ocean, and a passenger train bridge.  A subtle signal from the universe suggesting it's time for me to travel again?

Just a short hike away was the Surf Beach Amtrak Station.  This is a desolate spot if I've ever seen one.  It could easily be a location for Clint Eastwood spaghetti western film.  It's perhaps a 10 mile drive into the town on Lompoc, and sits on a windswept beach right in the heart of the Vandenberg Air Force Base.  The parking lot was deserted, which I suspect it frequently is.  Aside from the various railroad paraphernalia, the only other evidence of humans passing this way was an impromptu memorial to a surfer who had the misfortune of being eaten by a shark the previous year.  That, and a electronic marquee which announced the impending lateness of the next train.  No surprises there.  But, I could almost hear the wind whispering into my ear, "Take a train..."  Perhaps it's time.

Sunday, December 4, 2011


In the past when I've had something to say I would seek out an established public forum. A letter to the editor, a comment on someone's blog, or a Facebook comment. But a place of my own? That seemed too big of a commitment, perhaps too much of a risk.

Well, after much encouragement from friends and family, here I am. A page of my own! I don't have any idea where it will lead, and maybe I don't care. I seem to have reached an age where the opinions of others don't figure too heavily in my decision making process any more. But I'd like this blog to be an honest reflection of my mind at the moment it is written. And I'd like it to be at least somewhat relevant to the moment. Beyond that, I'm not sure where this will lead. Perhaps it will be more interesting that way.

Below is a short piece I wrote in response to a friends blog post and I am reposting it here as a sort of starting point. Feel free to a thought or two of your own, and stay as long as you like.

TRAINS, by David Shearer
Reprinted from "Still Amazed" a blog by Cynthia Carbone Ward at

Years ago while I was a college student at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo I lived alongside the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks. Many nights a northbound freight train would park for awhile across from my bedroom window and lull me to sleep with the thrumming of its diesel locomotives. The sound was calming and was the catalyst for many dreams of “life on the road.” I was seduced by the sound of trains.

The reason for stopping the train in my part of town was to add several “pusher” engines to the middle or rear of the train to help it up the steep and long winding grade over Cuesta Ridge. Once over the top the train would stop in the town of Santa Margarita alongside Highway 101, just a few miles from San Luis Obispo to uncouple the “pushers.” (These are the same trains, incidentally, that find their way south along the Gaviota coast.)

Having been regaled with tales from other college age thrill seekers of riding the northbound freight trains out of town past the prison, through the tunnels, and over the Santa Lucia Mountain range, the thought occurred to me to give it a try. So on a foggy night my daredevil cowgirl friend and I climbed the fence behind my house and hitched a ride over the mountains on a flatbed rail car bound for God knows where. It was to be a thirty minute ride to the top of the mountains where the train would stop and we would get off, meet friends waiting alongside the highway with a car, and ride back down into town. Or so we thought.

It really was a nice ride as the train made its way north out of town. As we passed the state prison we could see down into the recreation yards filled with idle inmates enjoying the remains of the day. We rounded a large horseshoe shaped curve named the Goldtree that allowed us see the entire length of the train turning back on itself as it climbed up the mountain. Intermittently, the lights of San Luis Obispo would spring into view, only to fade again as we rounded the next curve. Halfway up the grade we broke through the fog and could see the lights of Morro Bay ten miles away. We choked on diesel fumes as we passed through several tunnels that cut through the mountains and emerged on the other side of the pass, grateful for the fresh air. The train slowed, but did not stop, as we passed our destination in Santa Margarita. We had failed to take into account that we were riding an empty train that had no need for the pusher engines in the rear, and therefore no need to stop at the top.

Surprised, but no less optimistic than when we set out, we were certain of two things. One was that the train would stop soon, and the other was that our friends with the car would follow us, since the tracks and Highway 101 ran roughly alongside each other. (Remember that cell phones were still the stuff of science fiction in 1978). Well, we rode that train for two hours that night until it stopped in a deserted rail yard in Salinas, a hundred miles away from home. We were promptly accosted by the police and informed repeatedly, and in no uncertain terms, of what fools we were and the myriad ways our adventure could have turned tragic. We were then deposited unceremoniously and without sympathy at the bus station. And we were penniless and without a ride home.

Fortunately my crime partner had been to the rodeo in Salinas the previous year and had in her possession the telephone numbers of a surprising number of local cowboys. Fearlessly, she hit up a local wino for loose change, and started calling every number she had. A short while later we were homeward bound in the cab of a pickup truck, courtesy of the nicest bull rider I’ve ever met, drinking beer and listening to Hank Williams sing about trains.

It is said that God looks after fools and little children. I never did decide which I was that night.