Author: Cornish, Rick


Good morning from Whiskey Creek, where it’s a mild seventy degrees, raining like cats and dogs, the actual cats as happy as clams to be inside out of the rain and the actual dogs unable to understand why Lynn is such a downer and won’t let them out, the outside temps being what they are, and of course there’s no reasoning with them, even less so this week since Emily the next door neighbors’ blond lab is staying with us while her people are in Hawaii and getting through to a pack of four blond labs is even more impossible than getting through to a pack of three, so they sit mournfully gazing up at me, believing foolishly the old axiom that there’s strength in numbers, even when it comes to pouting and, even more foolishly, believing I’d override a Lynn dog decision, especially just two weeks after an expensive steam cleaning by the Coit Carpet guy, a man in his mid-fifties who was turned out of his Deputy Sherriff’s job in Riverside due to severe budget cuts and moved up to Modesto to buy a Coit franchise, which his father-in-law, an old coot who retired from the San Bernardino Sherriff’s Department, believes was a huge mistake (nosebleed, he calls it) but who also believes there’s as little chance to get through to the younger generation as there is to get through to a pack of blond labs, or I assume he would make that comparison if he’s ever been around such a pack, defined by me as three or more dogs. But I digress.

I’m miserable this morning. Very, very unhappy. I slept little last night because I’ve got poison oak covering about a quarter of my body and my desire to itch it is just slightly less than my desire for a recovered economy or world peace. Yes, I’m using a topical treatment and, yes, I’m gulping Benadryl, which, according to the bottle’s instructions and my own personal experience, makes one drowsy, but not drowsy enough to fall asleep and escape the everlasting, agonizing, unceasing itching. And if the itching weren’t bad enough, my wife rubs salt into the rash by: 1) telling me every hour or so that poison oak ‘just doesn’t like her’; and 2) worse, reminding me that I brought this all on myself. ‘Like so much of the agony in your life’, she repeats, almost as though she were on a rub-it-in schedule that must be observed, ‘you brought this on yourself’. Here’s what she means…

Our home overlooks a lovely oak forest, dense and very mature, and it is one of the true joys of my life. The property slopes gently down to Whiskey Creek with a sixty foot, thick canopy of California live oaks, then, on the other side of the creek, the grade grows quite sharp and extends up to the ridge line, which is also the property line. The roughly three-acre forest, zoned and protected as watershed, is just breathtakingly beautiful. Since moving here eleven years ago I have prized our forest above all else on our six acres. But there’s one problem. Because it is a quite mature stand of trees pretty much every huge oak in the population has at least some dead branches and limbs…some have more refuse than others, but all could stand a serious haircut.

Lynn isn’t bothered in the least by the dead, brown stuff. She doesn’t really even see it, she claims’, and given her Zen Buddhist sensibilities, I guess I believe her. It’s part of the natural beauty, she says, the way death is part of life. And besides, she’s explained repeatedly and with great patience, there are just so many reasons not to bother with the forest. In fact, I’ve memorized them.

--The forest doesn’t need to be maintained; it’s just a natural forest and should be left alone.

--I don’t know how to prune a forest.

--I could kill myself trying.

--There are a lot more important jobs that need tending to at Whiskey Creek.

--There are great masses of poison oak in the forest and, unlike her, the poison oak seems drawn to me.

But despite all this, every three years or so, the need to trim out the dead wood creeps back into my brain. Yes, our oak forest is naturally beautiful, but it would be more naturally beautiful if the dead wood were cut back. Let me give you an analogy.

For three or four years back in the mid ‘90’s one of our bands favorite gospel tunes was “A Beautiful Life” by Albert E. Brumley. Those familiar with the song know that, performed right, it’s pretty complicated, done with four parts, some call back and, at one point requiring the bass singer to actually sing lead notes.

Each day I'll do (each day I'll do)
A golden deed (a golden deed)
By helping those (by helping those)
Who are in need (who are in need)
My life on earth (my life on earth)
Is but a span (is but a span)
And so I'll do (and so I'll do)
The best I can


Life's evening sun (life's evening sun)
Is sinking low (is sinking low)
A few more days (a few more days)
And I must go (and I must go)
To meet the deed (to meet the deed)
That I have done (that I have done)
Where there will be (where there will be)
No setting sun

It’s just one very, very lovely gospel song. But, like I said, very complicated if done properly. For the three years the band kept “A Beautiful Day” on an active set list we went through it at every rehearsal. The song required that. Now, I’ve also sung Brumley’s song at jams and, with no assigned parts and certainly no practice, at jams it’s beautiful too. Just not AS beautiful. Same with oak forests au natural and trimmed up.

So last Sunday, for the fourth time in eleven years, I awoke with a spirit of absolute, unbending determination—I would cut out the dead limbs and branches, or at least as much as I could reach, from one end to the other. Not the entire forest, of course, just the part the house overlooks…maybe twenty, twenty-five towering threes. How long could that take? What could go wrong?

So, here I sit. The morning’s Benadryl has finally kicked in. The four dogs have thankfully given up their obsessive compulsive fixation on going out in the rain, (wonder where they get that OCD stuff, anyway), and I’m figuring that, God willing and the creek don’t flood, I’ll be back down there with the chain saw, pruning sheers and assorted fifteen-foot pole tools in the Spring of 2015. Who knows, maybe sooner.

Posted:  4/26/2012

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