27 February 2010


I did not grow up on a farm. I think if had, my outlook on life might be very different than it is. We lived in Bakersfield, in town, my father an optometrist, until I was 12.

I really do not know why my father bought our farm in Oroville.  I wonder if Peter has any ideas.  As I have said in previous posts, he looked into the possibility of building and running a tourist resort in Canada in 1952, and only in 1954 did we move to the farm in Oroville.  I have always assumed that it was not so much the positive draw of farming that moved him to change, but something negative about ... well, perhaps about living in Bakersfield.  Certainly he made gestures towards optometry both in Oroville and, later, in Hawai'i.

But he bought a farm - orchards, as I have explained - principally olives (something like 30 acres, I think), oranges (10 or 12), almonds (about 3, I believe).

For me, farming life was principally about the fun of living in the country - coupled with a not-very-good attitude towards actually doing much work.

For we - that is to say, my brother, sister, and I - did definitely work.  And despite the fact that I was often quite hard of hearing early in the morning, when my mother would try to wake me up to send me out to change sprinkler pipes, I don't think I ever really resented the work at all.

Changing sprinkler pipes seems to me a kind of icon of farm work, because when it had to be done, during the summer, it was a never-ending task.

Oroville has a fairly hot and dry climate.  This page shows average Fahrenheit temperatures (July peak average about 36C) and annual rainfall (about 730mm).  According to that page, from June through August the average rainfall is about 14mm - that is, practically nothing.

So we irrigated.  Our farm was down a slope, called "Kelly Ridge."  At the top was a ditch carrying irrigation water, and I suppose (I never bothered to understand this when I was a kid) came down in a pipe to our farm.  Across the tops of our orchards were strings of 100mm aluminium pipes, each about 10m long, coupled together - the 'main.'  And from that main, at each junction of two 10m pipes, you could connect a tee that coupled 75mm feeder pipes, each with a sprinkler at its end.

I am explaining this badly, I'm afraid.  What it meant was that during the summer, twice, or sometimes three times, a day we would couple together a string of the smaller pipes to a tee at the top, and let them sprinkle the trees.  But we had only one row's worth of smaller pipes to an orchard.  So at intervals, Peter and I (usually) would go out, turn off the water, move the smaller pipes, one at a time, to the next row, connect them up, and start the water.

And then the next row.  And then the next.  And so forth.  It did get tedious.  The pipes were aluminium, so not heavy - but it was tedious.

One tends, in New Zealand, to think of olives as principally an oil crop.  For us in California, the money was in what are called 'ripe olives,' though I think the way we picked ours was actually as unripe - green - olives.  They can be cured either way.

The harvesting of olives is - or was for us - labour-intensive.  Actually, at the end of the harvest season of ripe olives - around Christmas - we harvested the ripened remainder for oil, and that was straightforward.  The method was very similar to almonds.  Drive up to a tree with the tractor, spread canvas sheets under it, use bamboo poles to shake the branches, or mallets to hit the trunk and large branches.  Down come the rather shrivelled fully ripe olives.  You just tip them into some sort of container - I forget what - and they are taken to the pressing mill.

'Ripe olives' are different.  They have to be of the right size - no one wants to eat tiny little things - so you have to check the size of some of the fruit on a tree to make sure they are big enough, by pushing them through a washer.  You pick them by stripping them by hand.  No shaking them down for these!  They mustn't be bruised.  You have a small flat box that you put them into.  It takes a lot of olives to fill a box!  The labour required for a box of olives is shown by the fact that typically, when we picked oranges, the pickers (and we kids got paid for picking, if we did it) got something like $ .15/box (depended on the conditions each year).  Olives might be anywhere from $ .85 to $1.25.

We hired migrant workers to do the picking.  They lived in really terrible cabins - even as a kid I thought they were horrible - with a long-drop privy, and the only plumbing being a tap outside - during the season (autumn - I don't recall the exact months - October-November, I think).  They had long ladders to use for picking.  I did a bit of picking, for money, but not much.  Too hard work and too boring - also cold, then.

Each evening my father drove the tractor, with a long wagon, through the orchards.  We would pick up the boxes - checking under the top layer of olives, at times, for pickers were not always perfectly honest - a layer of stones or dirt at the bottom was not unheard of - and load them on the wagon.

It's funny what jokes stick with you.  My father always made the same joke at the end of a run of picking up the boxes.  I always laughed.  I think I still laugh at the memory:

"The last box at last!  We should have got that one first; then we'd be done already."

25 February 2010

This is not a post

Ceci n'est pas une pipe

I am just putting this non-post in in order to find out what this supposed auto-mailout to that mail list will do.


16 February 2010

Turned on 'captcha'

For the one or two of you who have commented anonymously, I wanted to let you know I have turned on the Google 'captcha' app.  It's quite simple to use.  Authors don't have to.  I have had a bit of nuisance spamming in the comments and maybe this will take care of them.  I am reluctant to require a login.

In any case, as I said, it only affects a couple of people.  I would love it if it affected more :-)

13 February 2010


Our children played music in one of the 'after-school' music programmes that appear common in New Zealand, although I do not recall hearing of anything similar when I was young in California.  Our four attended the Papakura Saturday Music School regularly from, I suppose, about 1985.  The experience was excellent, in my opinion, although one, at least, of my offspring - who reads this blog - may beg to disagree.  Even that one, in any case, enjoyed, I believe, the involvement with other pupils, and although the instrument has changed as maturity has progressed, the instrument in question is still one with vibrating strings (do not leap to conclusions; pianos have strings as well :-)).

Music lessons are also a possibility - but lessons are boring.  One major reason we decided it would be well for our children to go the music school was that I think kids are more likely to respond to the social environment than to the strict one-on-one lesson context.  There would be - and was - time enough for lessons later.  At the music school, everyone started by learning to play the recorder.  The first year they were in a recorder ensemble.  After that they took up an orchestral instrument.  If they were interested, there was the challenge of music grades, and this is what both Helen and Adele did - with excellent results.

Anyway, the only sorts of music experience I knew as a boy were (1) lessons, and (2) school.  I did do a few lessons (piano and cornet) in Bakersfield - but soon was in some sort of ensemble in primary school, and in intermediate school - Years 7 and 8 - in the band (both in the bandroom and marching).

'Band' - 'Concert Band' as it was called at high school - was a regular enrolled class, and of course I enrolled.  My first encounter, at age 14, with Mr Becker, as I recall, went roughly like this:
"What instrument do you play?"
"Trumpet" (I didn't really know the difference between a trumpet and a cornet - and functionally there isn't much).
"Hmm...  we already have quite a few trumpet players.  How would you like to play the french horn?"
"Oh - OK.  Sounds fine, I guess." (I had no idea really what a 'french horn' was, I think)
"OK - here's a horn.  Take it home and learn to play it."
So I did, more or less.  It would be difficult to exaggerate the part that music played for me in high school.  My closest friends were all musicians.  I think perhaps that defines some of the difference between my friendship with David Bennum and Delmer Horn, on the one hand, and, say, Bob Seward, Lee Gunderson, Brandon Wentworth, and others, on the other.  David and Delmer were both musicians as well as science and maths students; the others were interested in much the same academic subjects as I - but they were not musicians.  Music was sufficiently important to me that, when I entered University, I seriously considered majoring in horn, rather than in astronomy.

So all through high school the rhythm of my life was intimately involved with music.  Things that stand out:
  • Concert band.  'Concert' because we played orchestral music but did not have a string section, so string parts were scored for woodwinds - clarinets, saxophones, for example.
  • Marching band.  We played at football matches, did formation marching on the field at half time, and so forth.  We were 'bussed to the 'away games.'  I played cornet in this, of course.
  • 'Pep band' - small version of the same for indoor sports - mainly basketball.
  • Brass choir.  5 or 6 of us played at a few things like Easter sunrise service (freezing in the graveyard).
  • Feather River Orchestra - yes, it really existed, though it wasn't a great orchestra.  Dr Patrick's wife was the organiser as she had her own harp!
  • And my mother's dance band - her on piano, Peter on clarinet, Robin on saxophone, me on cornet - and occasionally my father on drums.
And what I recall as the most wonderful high point of my high school music life: Chico State College's summer music workshop, or whatever it was called.  You had to audition to get in.  We practised all summer - June-August of eithre 1959 or 1960 - I don't remember which - and then did a final concert in the most beautiful park in the world - Bidwell Park in Chico.

When, in 1962, Edna and I were married, I didn't enrol in the University orchestra and had to return the University horn I used.  I did not play the horn again until 1989 - and that most wonderful event came about through the Papakura Music School.

07 February 2010

Fig trees

I was reading Matthew's Gospel, chapter 21, verses 1-22 this morning. It is the passage where Jesus quite deliberately presents Himself as the Messianic King:
1And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples, 2Saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me. 3And if any man say ought unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them. 4All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, 5Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass. 6And the disciples went, and did as Jesus commanded them, 7And brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set him thereon. 8And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way. 9And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.

He then cleanses the temple, and performs miracles of healing. The Jewish authorities get the message, all right:

15And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the son of David; they were sore displeased, 16And said unto him, Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?

I was deeply struck by the terrible incident of the withering of the fig tree:

18Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he hungered. 19And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away.

The meaning of Jesus's act is, I thought (and still think), abundantly clear. Israel is the fig tree. Israel is viewed, nationally, as rejecting the Messiah; Israel itself is to be rejected. Luke's Gospel does not have this episode, but it has the related one in chapter 13:6-9 about the unfruitful fig tree.

There is, however, something strange about the text at this point. And I don't know what to make of it. I had intended this post to be clear about receiving God's grace immediately and not waiting. A limit may be reached.

Then I read (in both Matthew's and Mark's gospels) Our Lord's commentary (from Mark's gospel, the more striking of the two):

20And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. 21And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away. 22And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. 23For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. 24Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.

This is quite frightening. What can Jesus mean? It sounds as though it's just a matter of screwing up my 'faith' - and I can have that Mercedes-Benz that Janis Joplin asked for.

I do not know where to go with that, but I have a hint - one that, perhaps, I am not very keen to deal with - in what follows in Mark's account:

25And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. 26But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.

I think that all three lessons are contained in this one passage:

  1. Respond with alacrity and docility (teachableness) to God's graces. Although AD 30 (or whenever Jesus was crucified) was not the end for Israel - AD 70 was, at least in the fashion Israel had expected. My past obedience to God does not save up brownie points for the future. It is always now that matters. It is not without reason that we pray, in the "Hail, Mary" - "pray for us now, and at the hour of our death."
  2. Pray believing in God. Pray, indeed, in His will. I may not pray for that Mercedes-Benz (unless, indeed, I am convinced it is what God wants); I must not pray doubting. If I pray, I have no business praying for something that I do not think is His will. And if I think it is - pray believing.
  3. And this 2nd point, if I think about it, is the same as the first. Thy will be done. Thine is the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory.

  4. What hits home to me is this: "if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in Heaven forgive."

So this is not about Israel. This is not about Janis Joplin. This is about me.

All of this is a bit muddled. When I began this post I thought I knew where I was going. I did not know where I would end up. May God give me the grace to forgive - not to forgive, merely, where there are mitigating circumstances; to forgive where guilt is unquestionable; to forgive where hope of justice is not there; to forgive because He offers forgiveness to me for my own - otherwise unforgivable - sins.