Being Big

“Every man has the right to be as big as he feels it in him to be” 
― Ken Kesey, Sometimes a Great Notion


We moved here because there was too expensive, too crowded, too mean. It was time to get out. Here there was a job befitting of my certain set of very specific skills that was probably maybe going to open up – which made for an adventure and potentially an absolute personal economic disaster when we made the decision to move up here without jobs. So we didn’t come up here to become one with nature and seek enlightenment. This is a place for outdoorsman and snowsport enthusiasts they come here in the summer this town of 20,000 becomes a town of 50,000. For me outside is where the car is. I love that the forest is such an overwhelmingly beautiful place and I feel very lucky to live here but I also want to be able to drive to Safeway when the coffee creamer gets low.

Back there life was about the basic grind: get up go to work. Come home to the comfort of the two bedroom box, its cement backyard and the oddly entertaining couple next door. She, pregnant, smoked weed and argued with her alcoholic boyfriend (not sure which necessarily predicated the other). The crackhead mom of the kid across the street who we guessed lived with grandma, would arrive occasionally in a rumbling, creaking, duct tape stitched Winnebago. The 5 AM arguments were always fun. Where we lived there weren’t always white trash crackheads.

Between 1965 and 2017 I watched a downhill slide from a proud America riding the wave of post WW2 pride to an unbridled unchecked rampant capitalist orgy of the rich getting richer. I watched the Military Industrial complex spawn and change the name of the Santa Clara Valley from The Valley of Heart’s Delight to Silicon Valley. Paving over 6 feet of rich topsoil to produce the computer you’re reading this from.

When the east side serenos or nortes or whatever the Mexican or Philipino or Vietnamese gangs called themselves started moving west across the valley bringing crime, crack and shootings, life in the Valley of Heart’s delight became kinda dark. The weather changed during that time period too. We used to have winter. Now it gets sort of cold between late October to maybe the middle of February. Spring lasts a couple of weeks then summer burns through October. Traffic became a calculation of what time you had to be where plus how far it was minus which direction the heavy traffic was generally going divided by how much do you really need to go there subtracted by “Are they open on the weekends?”

Thanks to traffic apps escaping this wasteland of American capitalism over the hill to Santa Cruz meant for many weaving through the town of Los Gatos. The town of Los Gatos responded by closing certain streets and highway offramps. All of this added to the sadness getting over to Los Gatos to see Dad as he was aging rapidly the last few years. Despite the weather it’s a pretty cold place where you’re pretty small. After Dad died we headed for the mountains.

.Here there’s stuff you’ve got to do. Create a defenseable space around your home by clearing pine needles. Be on the lookout in spring for the queen of the wasps – don’t want them creating a nest near your house; that makes for a bitch of a time with the barbecue. Back there had no “getting ready for winter” here there’s making sure you have a full tank of gas, a snow shovel and blankets in case you get stuck in the snow. Buying wood, new wiper blades and maybe new thermals . Getting the snowblower ready has an anticipatory buzz.. New Thing in my life as an educator: There are snow days! Now this sounds really cool until you realize that if you want to go anywhere tomorrow you have to clear the snow today. Snow days mean a later end to the school year as well. You have to get out into the cold and run the snowblower instead of having fun. There is a certain zen to carving a parking lot out of the snow and Irish Whiskey is a fun thing to look forward to as snow grows on your beard.

In the beginning there was a time of figuring out stuff you need to know to avoid death or injury. There’s an internet meme / t shirt: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger – except bears. Bears will kill you. It turns out however that the bears here won’t necessarily kill you – if you yell at them they’ll most likely leave. My miniature dachsund scares them away. In her mind she and her barks are big enough to take on a bear. In actuality the bear would rather go find some food than expend the energy to silence her. So in the end while Penny’s bigness is validated by the big bears, there are coyotes and hawks that would eat her given the chance. But…she’s still big.

I was told recently that you need three things to make it here: A four wheel drive vehicle, a snow blower and a huge set of balls. Nice to know I was smart enough to take care of the first two. I assumed I’d need a Subaru so that was first. Next, I decided at my age I’d earned the right to say: “Pffft I’m not going out and shoveling snow I’m spending $800 for a snow blower.” So kinda by default I’d had the balls thing covered though I’d never considered myself as a super ballsy dude. After the Februburied snow event of winter 2019 I felt like I’d arrived as a local. People were saying how bad it was that we got so much snow so fast. I had fun! Carving the snow to fit 4 cars was fun – AND a real calorie burner. As I explained to my brother that I’d spent two hours snowblowing he said he could never do that; to me it sure beats hanging out in the cement world. Stevie the dog – she loves the snow, trudging through the fluffy white cold enveloped in the overwhelming quiet it brings. She has never been so happy as she is during our walkies in blizzard and its aftermath. Good times. Big time.

cold white

It hits your face on either side of your nose; then the inside of your nose and later you’ll really notice the cold on the tip of your nose. The few times it got to zero it was like your lungs were opening up to welcome oxygen as if you’d been trying not to smell during a diaper change. When it’s that cold it’s not that you can’t go outside without gloves but that if you do your hands will start to hurt. The kind of hurt that tells you that this is a dangerous place.