Tools, Friends & A Cougar:

It was nice to be back after such a long absence. UPS had already left a few packages on the deck and more would follow almost daily for weeks to come. Unfortunately, water had penetrated a large new crack in the side roof during a horrendous storm that I had heard about a few months ago. I fiberglassed and primed the large crack as soon as I was able to do so and then the remaining but less harmful splits later on. It was good to see that all prior repairs were still intact. A dry stain had soaked through the bedding to the foam mat but not the mattress. We found a nice set of soft linen sheets, a colorful and thick comforter like bedspread, new pillows and foam pad at Walmart.

The roof of the box trailer had also leaked quite a bit so I fiberglassed its seams as well. Later on I had an oil based paint mixed to match at The Joshua Tree Hardware & Paint, across the street from The Crossroads Cafe and painted the top.

It was New Years eve day. Ron & Lauren hosted a party that night. The mood was somewhat somber because Lauren's mother Elaine, who had always been a fun part of these gatherings, had passed away in November. She was sadly missed. However, it was real nice to see them and Bill again, their son Eric, and Dan an old friend of theirs from the city of Ontario whom we had met at previous gatherings. Their younger son, Scott, was not around but we met up with him a few days later.

As I went to work on unpacking boxes and playing with my new tools, Eileen got back into her routine of taking long walks through the countryside visiting friends and horses along the way. She also had no problem turning the van into her private bedroom. The back of the rear bench seat drops down electrically to become a comfortable bed. Of course, such a luxury van would include blinds - very nice.

Shortly after our arrival, our new neighbors began to move into Tom's main house, first Christopher Cambridge, then their furniture, then his wife Jeph. They were moving from Hawaii. We got to know Chris right away, but never really got to meet Jeph. As Eileen, they liked to go for walks. His would be long and fast, hers slow and casual. We would wave to her from time to time and she had a nice smile, but I got into some good conversations with Chris. I enjoyed his swinging by on his walks as I worked on my projects. He works at home, recruiting students by phone for the Brooks Institute of Photography. He recently left a message on my cell saying that he was working for another school now but I do not recall which one. The reason he had called was to tell me that our flag pole had toppled and that the van's hood had dropped. I left the hood open to discourage packrats, though I've seen no sign of their actually having been in there. I then left a message on his phone saying thank you very much but not to worry about it. However, the keys are on a hook in his garage if he wants to correct these matters.

We also met Sue Cram who had moved into Tom's apartment when Sarah Munro moved out. Sue, constantly on the move, owns her own business as a rock climbing tour guide. However, she moved out after a couple months into a place she had purchased closer to town but up in the opposite hill. Tom did not rent it out again, at least not while I was there. More on that later.

This is when we began to hear about the cougar. Sue had been doing a fast walk along the road that leads around our hill to the north when she met up with a cougar. She stood her ground, stoned and yelled at it to go away. She says that it just gave her a bored look of disdain and wandered away. Around the same time, Rick had heard a thump on the roof over his horse barn/workshop. Later we found some deep paw prints in the soil, much deeper then those of their dogs. Then Bill heard a thump on his roof and watched his dogs freeze into silence, not their normal response a strange noise. (I think that's how it all went.) Jeff Greene who has a house overlooking the aforementioned road said, "Oh yes. I see her all the time. There is nothing to fear as long as you are not a small animal or a woman menstruating". That is when Eileen's penchant for long walks suddenly reduced in frequency and distance.

About a week after our arrival, Dave Fallaf of Pioneertown brought us a fresh supply of water. Pioneertown had been established by Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and a few other successful actors to depict a real life old west town. It had been used in a number of westerns. You may have heard of it more recently as having been devastated by a violent firestorm in July that raged between Yucca Valley and Pioneertown, destroying much of the latter. You may recall my journals of Ron Hopkins delivering water in January of 2002 and February of 2003, quite a western event, but he passed away in 2004. After a busy phone search in the area that led to a lot of dead ends, we were very fortunate to find Dave willing to deliver from so far away.

A few days before this, I had bought the most powerful battery that the Autozone in Yucca had to offer and a good fast charger. After the water delivery, I installed the new battery. The old one was old and it worked, but my quest was to set up a fail safe system that would basically provide us with a source of power that we could tap into from the trailer, if just to charge the large supply of AA, AAA, C & D batteries that we used to power everything, plus charge the built-in computer, cell phone and shaver batteries. As it turned out, it was a good thing that we also bought the charger that could be plugged into the 5000 watt generator - once I got it working again.

My ultimate dream is to install a series of solar panels to charge a half dozen deep cycle batteries that through a DC to AC inverter can provide real honest-to-god electricity in the trailer. However, the tin roof of the trailer is probably too flimsy to hold that weight and I would be concerned about the panels and or the trailer blowing over in a high wind. Hence, I would need a high solid surface on which to mount the panels. As you will discover later in this journal, that surface shall soon come into being.

Also on the power front, we make heavy use of propane for cooking and heat. At the same time that I was buying all those tools online, I had also purchased a small Atwood Everest Star-16,000 BTU furnace designed for trailers to replace the portable heaters that we are currently using. Every so often, I have to refill those small portable tanks from a 20 pound tank that we fill weekly or so in Yucca. Not only is that a nuisance, but refilling those small bottles is illegal and risky. A burst of propane onto your skin, eyes or whatever could quickly turn them to ice. We also have an apartment sized propane stove with 4 burners and an oven waiting to be hooked up. Eileen frequently harasses me about getting that job done.

We have spent some time researching the addition of a large AmeriGas propane tank to be added to our landscape. It could be set in the wash near the front end of the trailer, somewhat camouflaged by bushes because I really don't want to see the thing. And no, the occasional flood of rain water through the wash is not powerful enough to knock over the 4 legged stand under a heavy propane tank. Anyhow, I first have to dig a trench 18" deep from the center of where the tank would be, under the rocks that border the wash and under the trailer to the axle. Then I would need to install a copper gas line that would run through the trench and up beside the axle so that adjusting the height of the tongue won't break, lift or squash the line. It would then run back under the floor to the front and up behind where the stove is waiting, also with another connection coming up through the floor near the axle to where the furnace will project from the wall so that it can vent outdoors.

On the 21st of January we drove to Tempe, AZ to see Jody Kerr, Eileen's son. We also hoped to visit with her daughter, Sarah, but could not locate her before it was time to leave. It is always good to see Jody. He is a brilliant man with a love of computers equal to my own, but considerably more versed in the current technology and programming languages. He has also co-authored a few books. Currently, he is a lead consultant to the Wells Fargo Bank and travels internationally with his strike team resolving technical problems. In his spare time he renovates his home and rejuvenates an old Studebaker, a Porche and another cool car that I can't remember. An MG perhaps - the blue convertable in the picture to the right.

It was during this visit that I finally concluded that the problems with my computer were not going to be resolved, especially after Jody fooled with it and ended up as perplexed and frustrated as I. I referred to these inexplicable behaviors in a story I wrote in December 2005 about trying to view my driveway via webcam through my notebook from different wi-fi locations. At the time, there were too many unknowns, including my inexperience with wi-fi, webcam and router, but I was beginning to suspect the computer. Now it was getting worse; I needed to go online and I could not do so. Not only for myself, but also to process orders from the Grafstick web site and Amazon setup, and forward them on to Grafstick's shop. In Joshua Tree, I had to use a library computer to do this. Also, as mentioned above, excess shots from my driveway webcam were filling up the storage space on my web site and I needed to weed them out.

While Eileen visited with Jody (she cleansed his house), I went shopping. Eventually I settled on a notebook at Best Buy with a wireless connection built in, a wide screen and many Gigabytes of capacity. I was then able to park outside the Holiday Inn in Tempe and process orders, just as I am able to do so outside a wireless cafe in Yucca, or at my home in MA. Likewise, somebody else could park outside my home in Massachusetts and go online, but that is okay; we need to share what we have when we can with each other - as long as we have good firewall's installed. Our budget motel also offered a wireless connection but it was unreliable.

Moving Rock:
February 10: I have moved a few more boulders. I need to do that now and then, just to know that I can. If you have been to the 2004 web site then you may have seen the photo essay and perhaps read the journal entry describing the construction of two 65' retaining walls designed to provide a gradual ascent up into the hill. The next step would then be to dump some fill in between those walls. That began when the above mentioned load of fill was delivered on February 7.
However, I noticed that the truck's tires had rubbed against two corner rocks, meaning that the corner is too sharp; the passage from the entryway of the lot to the entrance of the drive up into the hill should be a smooth transition. You shouldn't have to stick your head out the window to avoid hitting something. As it is, the guy made a point of swinging around the Joshua tree that leans out over the road, which I appreciated even if it is Tom's tree.
[2007 Correction: having since found our true property line, it turns out that half the tree is in fact ours.]
I would need to round that corner off and widen the opening; make it more inviting. These pictures show how that was done. I have some fine tuning to do on the smaller rock because it is still a little out of alignment. But the main job is done; that sharp corner has become a gentle curve.

February 14: I am amazed to realize that it has been 4 years since our last visit to Laguna Beach. We love the place. If we had the money, we would own a home here. On this trip, we dropped in on a few open houses as we drove the streets fascinated by the vast array of architecture; it had been an artists town from inception as a tent city, though by now I think most of them had been bought out and moved on. The cheapest place for sale in Laguna at this time was a 2 bedroom fixer-upper asking $850,000. In 1976, my ex and I had sold our place in South Laguna for $75,000, nearly double what we had paid a year and a half prior.

We came across this fixer-upper while we were on our way to see a place up the street that I had rented in 1965 while still in the Marines. It was quietly heart-breaking to see that it had burned down. More of my past up in smoke.

On previous trips, we had stayed at the Laguna Riviera, a hilly mile or so south of town center. It had exhausted us every time because it involved so much walking. Healthy, but wearing. We stayed there because we assumed that anything closer to town would be way out of reach financially. This time I checked. The Hotel Laguna, the original, right at the center of town and on the beach, was the same price! Plus $10 for parking. It would have also been plus something more except that Molly barred her fangs at the Mexican valets, so they waved us through. We owned the far corner of the lot during our stay.

Molly lived in her cage in the van. (Don't make the mistake I made when I first discovered a respected friend caging his dog; the dog loves it; it is her home; her den; the only place where she can truly relax her guard and be at peace.) We took Molly for many walks on the beach, though the valets would close the door to their cage anytime we walked by - and we had her on a leash. Molly does have this way with strangers approaching our space. Laguna is a dog town. A smoker on the sidewalk can legally be locked up, but dogs essentially get free rein to do as they please, though I have not yet seen any smoking. They are welcome inside many shops. Some have a bowl of water set out and a jar of biscuits at the ready. On the beach, they provide free bag dispensers.

The Hotel Laguna is so old that it cannot provide all of the perks that the newer places up the street do, but it has class and it has history, ceramic fixtures and old polished wood, a Spanish facade with a bell tower, a magnificent view and the music of breaking waves. It is a casual walk to anywhere in town and if we choose to we can hop the shuttle to just about anywhere else. It is a short walk along the beach and across the street to our favorite breakfast place, The Cottage (which has since sold).

I will let these pictures tell the rest of the story. Just click on any to get a full screen. As to the sculptures, the leaping dolphins just south of The Hotel Laguna is by Wyland who also lays claim to having created the largest marine mural in the world. As to the strangely grotesque but intriguing bronze table and chairs, I have searched intensively online and can find no reference, so the artist will have to remain anonymous until our next visit where I will hopefully find a signature or such. [12/2007: His name is Jason Kopydlowski of Dana Point, formerly a University of Arizona linebacker (6'4", 250 lbs)].

Aliso Park is traditionally known as the Top Of The World. It became a park after the Irvine Company sold it to Orange County in the 1960s to become part of a newly designated greenbelt that surrounds Laguna. That was done in response to a 7000 man march to stop the Irvine's development plans. Most of Orange County was originally a part of the Irvine Cattle Ranch. They also owned a large citrus enterprise and I believe they would be among the citrus growers portrayed in John Steinbeck's 1939 epic, The Grapes Of Wrath.

Copyright © 2006, Van Blakeman