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A ride to the old adobe

It was cold last night, up here at the Alisal ranch. I woke up around 4 and just lay in bed listening to the wind rustle through the old oaks and what sounded like rain but was really just the sprinklers going off. Never did go back to sleep. The ride to the old adobe was scheduled for 7 so it was one of those deals where you just lie there and wonder how much more time you’ve got before you have to get up and you never really do go back to sleep and then it 5 and then 6 and then you might just as well get up. Which is what I did.

I was the first one to arrive at the barn. Excepting the wranglers who were all standing around a camp fire drinking coffee and stomping their feet to keep warm. Soon enough a small group of women showed up and they were assigned to their horses, saddled up and headed out.

Haddie, the head wrangler, who is cuter than a bug, came over and chatted with me for awhile. She said I’d be riding Wyatt. At first I thought she said I’d be riding White and I told her I thought that was a strange name for a horse. She said, “Not Whi-te…Wy-itt.” Course, with her little Western twang it sounded like the same thing. We walked into the corral together and she went and found Wyatt, who was a good size horse (and also white), and I climbed aboard, and with the sun just peaking over the dry hills, we headed off down the trail, neither Wyatt or I quite sure about the whole thing but trying to be good sports about it anyway.

“Listen,” I said to Wyatt as he did a little sideways dance, “I’m no happier about this than you are, but let’s just try and get along for an hour or so and then we can both be on our way.”

I guess that was good enough for him because he didn’t give me any trouble the rest of the way, though he had reason to.

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Driving Sideways

This afternoon I was driving through Buelton on my way to Alisal and passed the Hitching Post. Remember the Hitching Post…from the movie Sideways? Just had to stop. It’s where Miles Paul Giamatti) gets blattoed while pining for Maya (Virginia Madsen). Truth be known, I would have pined after her too. Where has she been in the ensuing 8 years (was it that long ago?)…I miss her.


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Just before the storm; alone in the middle of the dunes at White Sands. Photo by David Lansing.

If I were a raven, I could have flown due east about 30 miles to White Sands National Monument and been there in no time. But I’m not a raven. So instead, I have to drive south to Las Cruces and then take Highway 70 northeast until just before the Holloman Air Force Base which is home to the world’s longest and fastest test track and where they keep all the UFOs the government collects.

I’m just kidding about the UFOs.They do test a lot of bad-ass bombs and missiles and such out here, as well as train the pilots for the drones they use in Pakistan and Afghanistan and elsewhere. In short, it’s a little spooky out here.

An hour ago, when I parked next to the only other car in the lot for the Alkali Flat Trail, the sky was the color of bleached denim, the dunes so glaringly white in the staggering heat that even with a baseball cap and sunglasses, I found myself squinting hard as I trudged over powdery gypsum sand that, I supposed, was the trail.

Don’t get lost, I kept telling myself, pausing frequently to make sure Gardner Peak was still due west of me in the distant San Andreas Mountains.

Perhaps it was the softening of the early September light or maybe the almost indiscernible metallic smell in the faint breeze, but I could feel a dramatic change in the weather. The winds began to pick up, blowing stinging grains of sand against my ankles and legs. Wispy clouds of mare’s tail darkened in the southwest.

A desert thunderstorm was approaching. Time to turn around and follow my solitary tracks back through the barren interdunes that twist and turn through a maze of 50-feet-high sand dunes. The hair on the back of my neck rising, I hustled as fast as I could, hoping to get back to where I’d parked my car before the rain washed away any trace of my passing.

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My lunch with Julia Child

A couple of years before Julia Childs passed away, I was invited to join her at a luncheon hosted by my friend Zov Karamardian, who is the chef/owner of Zov’s in Southern California, to celebrate her 90th birthday. It was a relatively small event–maybe 20 of us–and for some reason, I was seated next to Julia, though there were many more illustrious guests at the table. Here’s what I remember: Dean Koontz, the celebrated author, stood up just as the first course was served and began to make a very sincere if rather long-winded speech in tribute to Julia. We all sat patiently at the table with our hands folded in our laps. Except for Julia. Who, five or six minutes into the tribute, leaned her large beefy head towards me and whispered, “This could go on forever…I’m going to eat!” And while Mr. Koontz continued to walk us through Julia’s illustrious history, the object of his adulation ignored him completely and dug into her grilled shrimp with mint and cilantro pesto. Mr. Koontz was still droning on when Julia pushed her empty starter plate to the side and looked around the room trying to get the attention of the waiter to pour her a second glass of wine.

Ah, Julia.

According to a lovely story in the Los Angeles Times, Julia Child, who would have been 100 years old today, was the single most searched for term on Google this morning. I love that. I’m not sure she would have. It’s not that she would have disliked it; I just don’t think she would have cared one way or another. It would have been like having to go to a luncheon in your honor and then sit there while your food got cold while people talked about you. For Julia, it was always about the food. “Cooking, cooking, keep on cooking. This is the way to live.” Bon appetit, Julia.




An Irish wedding

Katie Botkin is, simply put, one of my favorite writers. And favorite people. Maybe you remember her from the adventures we shared at Davui in Fiji. (If not, you can freshen your memories by checking out those stories here or even here.)

Back in the Victorian age when a young man or woman reached a certain age, they often embarked on a Grand Tour of Europe to both complete their education and to round out their social life. Well, Katie has set off on her on Grand Tour and has been sending me short missives about her adventures which she has graciously allowed me to publish here. If you find them as charming as I do, you might want to read more by checking out Katie’s blog site here.

Dinner at the Emma and Thomas' reception. Photo by Katie Botkin.

Letter from Ireland

“I am in Barnabrow, a little resort in the Irish countryside, half an hour from Cork, to see my friends Emma and Thomas get married. Emma is from Idaho, and Thomas is Irish. They met on a Catholic dating site and she moved to Ireland soon afterwards. From almost the moment I arrive the evening before the wedding, people are eating and toasting the couple. The morning of his wedding, I ask Thomas, who is calmly partaking of his full Irish breakfast in the center of a small crowd of guests, whether it is normal for an Irish wedding celebration to extend to either side of the wedding. He says sort of.

“The wedding itself, which involves a complex mass conducted in Latin, is hard for me to follow at times, but then it’s back to the Irish countryside for the reception. There’s some champagne, and then we settle in for a four-course meal. There are at least nine bottles of wine at our table. The place is lit almost entirely by candles, which is beautiful but apparently not altogether safe. The table behind us almost sets the place on fire twice, once when someone tries to lean a camera bag against a flame, and another time when a napkin goes alight. Both times, the offending objects are drowned in someone’s water glass.

“After dinner, we dance to traditional Irish music. It all makes me so tired that shortly after midnight I am forced to retire to my room to take a nap. But the evening is not over. Having set my alarm for 2am, I groggily arise and head to the after-party, two doors down from my room, where Thomas and Emma are singing and drinking Irish whiskey with a small group that has not gone to bed yet. They leave around 3, and we, my newfound friends and I, keep singing, our arms around each other, swaying back and forth in time with the acoustic guitar.”

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