NOVEMBER 2018

- V O T E -
* * * *
I have one thing to say about our political elections. Vote. I don’t care if you are an Independent, a Democrat, a Republican, or, like my cat, Cleo, something else and who doesn’t belong to any party. As far as Cleo and I are concerned, we are all responsible for one thing only… and it’s not just to support our candidate because he, or she, belongs to the same party we cheer for. Far better, we should vote for the man or woman that will help make the lives of all Americans better.
Naturally, some candidates, who wear the colors of their party, if elected, may have the added clout of that Party, to reach our noble objectives quicker.
Cleo was sitting right next to me on my desk when I perused my Official General Election Voter’s Guide. That desk is where my computer sits and where Cleo and I do all my writing. When I opened the pages of the voting pamphlet, which gives the pros and cons on the bills and the bios of the candidates up for my vote, Cleo turned the pages with her paws to fast before I had a chance to read all of the valuable fine print and the stuff printed there. I guessed Cleo reads faster than I do. She was impatient to read what the next page said.
Cleo is a cat who thinks her own thoughts. Not easily swayed by clever conjecture and slippery fast-shooters that tell us they are the best thing since sliced bread was invented. The usual arguments do not move her.
That may be a sign of what’s sick in our democracy. Hardly nobody’s left, who isn’t more concerned with who gets the money from the busy lobbyists for a yes vote than what is good for Americans. Everything has become more confused than it should be for a great democracy. Whether red, blue, or other, our voice is often lost in the confusion of prejudice and slanted reports from high places. The last time a Democrat and a Republican spoke to one another, much less try to understand each other’s point of view, was sometime during the last Ice Age.
What with two billion galaxies in the universe, and with each galaxy having 200 billion suns, and most of those suns with planets like ours, the likelihood is that there are several quadrillion intelligent beings living on worlds like ours. It seems logical that our Creator, whatever she, he, or it may be, has more fish to fry than be concerned with what proposition passes and what candidate gets the nod. I believe the Creator has left those problems for you and I to decide. I’m sure Cleo agrees.
I would ask Cleo’s advice but I don’t. Unfortunately, since Cleo and can only communicate by telepathy, I’m stuck with having to decide for myself for what proposition, and for whom I should vote.
I shall do my best and wait until next time. Maybe by then Cleo and I may be able to communicate better. Better still, our democracy, like people and candidates, given time may evolve to be all that a good government can be in America. I hope so.

INVITE GENE
TO SPEAK
TO YOUR GROUP

OCTOBER 2018

BAD PROBLEM, SIMPLE SOLUTION
* * * *
When the unexpected slap on the side of your head, or a catastrophe that happens when you least expect, it is important to your survival to keep going no matter what. When it happened to me I decided to do the best I could and practice what I preach… or shut up. My computer stopped working. That may sound like a peanut of a problem, and certainly hardly anything to be upset about.
For me, it’s a little different. I write. That is about all I know how to do. When my computer stops working it is a number one, big time calamity. That’s because a good part of my life is writing. My several newspaper and magazine columns and my books take up most of my days, and once in a while a good part of a night.
When something happens where I can’t write, I become useless. I must write. If I try to write by hand, my handwriting is so bad I can’t even read what I’ve written. So, you see why having my computer go on the blink is a major disaster.
Now for most folks a computer that gives up the ghost is not any great shakes or a problem. Get it fixed or buy a newer computer. if it isn’t possible to get a new computer, you take it to get fixed.
That’s what I did. I called the one person I always call to find out why my computer stopped talking to me. Claudia, a lady most of my friends know, is the owner of Konocti Computers. She cares about Lake County and she is a good listener.
Claudia was out doing a good deed so I drove to Lakeport, broken computer in hand, and turned my sick computer over to Tim. Tim is one of her army of efficient and highly intelligent Worker Elves. He took my sick computer promising to run his miracle diagnostic machine over my computer and make it well.
Tim said he’d call when it was fixed. I drove home to wait for the good news. What would I do with my time now that I could not write for 24 hours? I felt lost. I tried the TV but every channel had something that only brought me deeper into my gloom as I learned Soap Operas were the same as they were fifty years ago. The actors were young again but the problems of love and deception were not.
I tried to solve a Sudoku puzzle. One of the Four-Star super hard Sudoku puzzles took me an hour just to fill in the squares. Unless every step of the process for solving a Sudoku puzzle is not followed to perfection it will come out wrong. I did it wrong. Talking to myself to calm down, I gritted my teeth and attempted to solve a second Sudoku puzzle. This one I manage to solve but it left me limp as a dishrag from effort.
Next, I tried reading. It was a book I borrowed from my daughter, Dolly, on the subject of Logic. A cartoon to demonstrate critical thinking made me smile. It was a reprint of a Fusco Brothers cartoon by J.C. Duffy, the cartoonist. The two cartoon panels showed a male and a female. In panel one the male wants to date the lady and she wants to make sure he knows she is available and not married.
He says, “So, are you single or what?” She replies, “Actually, I just divorced my husband of 14 years.” The discouraged male, looking glum, says, “You’re probably lucky you did. I think they have pretty strict laws against having, a 14-year-old husband in this state.” See what happens when one does not use critical thinking or speak carefully? Both characters lost out.
I ran out of puzzles, books to read, movies to watch and people to call. The next day, Tim called me with the Good News; my Computer had a miraculous recovery and all was well. I got there in 30 minutes.
The problem that knocked out my computer and disrupted my life was simply, a faulty old power cord. Tim fixed me up and I was back in action. I brought my computer home and set myself up for work. I plugged in the new cord, turned on my computer, turned off the TV, put the books away, and went back to my writing— satisfied that I managed to recover from my latest unexpected slap on the side of my head.

SEPTEMBER 2018

THE GREAT MENDOCINO COMPLEX FIRE
* * * *
You’ve heard of the Great Chicago Fire that burned down half Chicago in 1871. Well now, we folks in Lake County, California, have our own Great fire to brag about. It looks like we will be having more fires every year. The new standard, because of Global Warming and according to our Governor, is drought, dry summers and more disasters from the flames.
The Great Chicago fire was bad enough, but ours was no peanut fire. Chicago’s conflagration lasted two days; ours isn’t over yet. Chicago lost more people in that city and burned 3.3 square miles. To our good fortune, we had plenty of good neighbors who put us up and lots of open places where we could escape. Still, our fires burned plenty of homes and barns, singed cows and it’s already burned more than four times the area. 
Our fire was personal. It burned my neighbor’s home across my road and crept close enough to melt the asphalt edge of the road in front of my farm. As bad as it was, nobody’s leaving. We country folks love our homes and no piddling fire is going to drive us out of one of the best places on earth. Our County brags on a half-dozen dormant volcanoes, one of the world’s most beautiful lakes and the freshest air anywhere, except after a fire and until the winds carries the smoke to other parts. 
Just so I don’t leave anyone feeling frustrated or gloomy, I add this piece of good news that came out of the disaster; a Community Watch Program. The folks in my part of the County, and probably, by the time of his writing, other towns in the County, are hard at work on plans, which will, along with our excellent County Fire Fighters, help us fight future fires.
What triggered the Watch Plan Idea was the fire that sent Cleo, my cat, and me, packing to escape the flames. The day began in a pretty ordinary way. I went to the front porch to sit and watch the sky from one of the two new deck chairs my kids bought me for Father’s Day, while Cleo claimed the other. We enjoyed the cool morning breeze and the summer sun without a word between us. 
I smelled smoke. 
My nose has learned to smell smoke pretty well. I can smell smoke a hundred miles away. That’s because of all the fires in Lake County last year have trained my nose to be a good smoke smeller.
When I looked at the sky above the hills across the road, there was a smoky haze on the hills, not a lot, but enough to notice. Knowing the folks in Redding, north of us, had a big fire, I thought a South Wind might have brought some of the smoke to us. 
I heard my phone ring. When I went in to answer, our Sherriff was on the line. “Prepare to evacuate Witter Springs and Bachelor Valley,” he said.
‘What was he talking about?’ I said to myself. ‘Bachelor Valley never has a fire.’ No sooner did I hang up the phone when it rang off the wall a second time.
‘What now?’ I wondered. 
It was my good neighbor, Linda, who lives in the farm next door and brings me her good apple pies. 
“Get ready to evacuate,” she said. “The fire is coming closer.”
I figured Linda knew what’s what. She worked with the Fire Department and the Police Department once and knew what was going on in Lake County. I could see, both, Linda and the Sherriff, were dead serious so I filled my pillow case with CD’s of the stories I had written, packed my shaving razor, folders of my usual monthly bills.…just in case…and went back to my writing.
I had not been working for five minutes when the Sherriff paid me a second call. 
“Residents of Witter Springs and Bachelor Valley must evacuate immediately,” he said. 
That’s all she wrote. Into my Kia went the pillow case, my bills, my shaving razor, and my Laptop Computer. I was ready to go. 
It was then I noticed something was missing. I looked at my list again and discovered Cleo, my cat, was missing. Outside I went to call Cleo. I called her until the neighbors must have thought I was out of my mind. But no Cleo appeared. 
Around the house I walked calling. “Cleo? Cleo?” 
Still no Cleo. With Cleo’s Cat Carrier box ready and waiting I had to stay until I found my cat. After all, where would my career be without Cleo? Nowhere, that’s where. Her famousness helps pay the bills. When people stop me on the street they never ask me how I am. They always say, ‘How’s Cleo?’ I know on which side my bread was buttered. 
I thought of my outdoor cat, Calico, but Calico was nowhere to be seen. Besides she is semi-wild and I knew she would never allow me to put her in a box. My pond has water and she is wild enough to live off the land for a few days. Just to make sure she was all right I called the Animal Shelter and asked to send someone over if the evacuation order lasted too long. Christine, one of the helpers, promised they would.
Just when the sky turned black as blood and I saw flames, Cleo came sauntering in from the front room. You would have thought, by the devil-may-care look on her round furry face, she hadn’t a worry in the world. 
“Where did you come from?” I asked.
She did not reply. Being the crafty creature that Cleo is, able to pass through solid walls, she had come indoors when I wasn’t looking. 
“In you go to the Cat Carrier, Cleo,” I said.
She was not ready and I could not persuade her, so I tried stuffing her in head first. That didn’t work. She spread out like a circus tent and hung on to the Cat box opening for dear life. She hates the Cat box. As a last resort I turned her upside down and stuffed her in like sausage in a skin, butt first, and we were ready to go.
Even as the engine caught fire, the flames licked at my heels. Off we flew down Bachelor Valley Road to Highway 20 on my way to my daughter Dolly’s house in Redwood Valley, twenty miles down the road toward Ukiah. My daughter was forced to evacuate Redwood Valley last year but this year her home was the safest bet. That’s where Cleo and I headed.
I’m glad we did. Five of my friends, who invited me to stay at their house until the excitement was over, lived in places on Highway 20 along the North Shore of the Lake, small towns like Lakeport, Kelseyville, Upper Lake, Nice, and Glenhaven.
I was grateful but it was lucky Cleo and I didn’t accept. Highway 20 closed later and was overrun by the fire. We would have been stuck in Lake County not able to leave. All the places, where I was invited, had to evacuate like I did. If I had gone to any of those towns to stay until the fires were out, where could Cleo and I go next? Chico? Eureka, the Moon? 
On my way, a mile from Bachelor Valley Road, I stopped at a clear spot at the side of the highway to look at the Armageddon from which we were fleeing. The sky was piled high with black smoke. The whole country was burning. The fires of Hell could not look any worse.
 When at last we pulled into Dolly’s house, the gate was open and she was waiting with a smile on her face. We were here. I took what few things I brought and Cleo in her Carrier and went into our new home. 
Out came Cleo to inspect her new diggings. While I was putting my things away, Cleo disappeared. 
“Where did Cleo go?” I asked Dolly. After searching under beds and sofas, in closets and corners, we found her. Cleo had made herself at home on Dolly’s bed.
Dolly wanted Cleo meet her new friends; Pixie, Dolly’s white cat, and Angel, Dolly’s 93-pound Great Pyrenees doggie. I thought Angel might eat Cleo. Angel was big enough to swallow my cat in one bite. Instead, Angel wanted to play with Cleo but Cleo wasn’t in the mood right then. The long and the short of the meeting was that each of the three creatures decided to mind their own business and Cleo went to sleep under my bed. 
I watched the news reports and wondered, with a hollow feeling in my stomach, what I might find when I got home. Would I find, like happened for many of my friends, nothing left? Would my mementos and pictures of fifty years be dust in the wind? Would Jeannette’s favorite Rocking Chair, my books, my paintings, my collection of hand-made antique automobiles, my music, my photographs, all my reminders of Jeannette and the house we built fifty years ago, be only stone and ashes?
I put those thoughts aside. I don’t think that way most of the time. I believe this day is the first day of the rest of my life. How I spend that day, and the rest of my days from today, is more important. I have an obligation to live life to the fullest no matter our tragedies. The only things that matter are the people; not the things we collect over the years. Life is, and will always continue to be, a wonderful mystery waiting to be discovered.
 
 I counted my blessings. I had my writing and my work. I had a place to stay until the storm receded. I have my children and my friends. Cleo was with me and my semi-feral outdoor cat, Calico, who chose to stay behind, had food and water. Besides, the food was great. 
My sweet daughter, Dolly, is a wonderful cook. Almost everything comes from her amazing garden and her dinners beat the finest cuisine I have tasted on the Rue de La Paix or at the George V Hotel Restaurant in Paris, France, where once I was a visitor. 
Cleo was happy. She found a million hiding places and windows out of which she could see the world. I watched no doors were open that might allow her to go wandering. Cleo might decide to leave and not come back. I would lose a friend and she would no longer be around to give me stories to write about. 
I kept busy and watched the spread of the fire on the Internet. I watched the fire creep around my small valley, ringed by mountains, in a giant burning horseshoe with my home in the center. I read my e-mails, answered some, and wrote my stories. There were columns to send to magazines and newspapers in Kansas, Indiana, Illinois, Colorado, and California. 
 
On the fourth day I decided to find out, first-hand, whether Highway 20 would be open soon. My friends know me; I must know for myself if something is true or not. Voices of Authority often make mistakes and, since I am responsible for my life, it was up to me to find out what was going on. 
At the Potter Valley turn-off, where I’d heard Highway 20 to Witter Springs was closed, people were going to their homes in Potter Valley from Ukiah and passing through that junction. Loaded with police cars, everyone was checked to make sure they lived in Potter Valley. 
When my turn came I asked, ”How soon will Highway 20 be open?” 
“It may be open soon but not yet.” I was told. “Fire is burning on both sides of Highway 20 for eighteen miles all the way to Bachelor Valley.”  Dolly and I drove to the Local Help Center in Redwood Valley. Daniella, the young woman in charge, helped fire victims. I needed a change of clothing to wear while Dolly washed my old clothes. Having only the clothes on my back, I took pants, shorts, shirt, socks and some things to take home for dinner. If that wasn’t enough, Daniella slipped Dolly a forty-dollar gift certificate. She said it was for me and was good at any Walmart Store.
Daniella was a good helper and a wonderful lady. Daniella is one of those folks, as young as she is, who have learned how important it is to help others. Thank you, Daniella, and thank all the good folks that contribute to help the fire victims. I often speak and write of people’s innate kindness and willingness to offer a helping hand to others less fortunate. It came home to me in spades that day. 
I waited…and waited some more. Several times each day I called Cal Fire and searched the Internet for news. Cleo always sat upon a table looking out the front window and hoping to go outside and play. She looked so longingly outside she brought tears to my eyes. I thought of Oscar Wilde’s poem, ‘Ballad of Reading Gaol’; 

‘I never saw a cat who looked
 With such a wistful eye
 Upon that little tent of blue
 Which prisoners call the sky.’
 
Morning of the Eighth Day, Linda, my neighbor, who had taken her dogs and gone to Chico during the fire, called me on my cell phone.
“I just got word that Witter Springs people can go home,” she said.
I was loaded in ten minutes. I stuffed Cleo into her Cat Carrier. After a hug and a big thank you to my dear daughter, Cleo and I drove past twenty miles of black, burned-out hills that might have been the half-way house to Hell. No matter. The hills would soon be green again and we were going home.
Wheeling up my drive, I saw that Calico had been fed and watered. I unloaded and put everything back in its place ready to go to work. My first order of business was the talk I promised to give to the Lower Lake Democratic club next day. My second obligation was my monthly Town Hall Meeting two days away.
I kept my talking appointment. I told about Lake County’s four hard-fought elections for the County Seat in 1861 to 1867. Except for the hired votes from out of the County and keeping Lower Lake citizens from voting at the point of a gun, it was like most elections. Lower Lake lost the vote. That’s politics, I suppose.  
 
I thought nobody would come to a Town Hall meeting until the fires were over and the smoke had cleared. Claudine, a Board member, changed my mind. ‘Let’s have the meeting,’ she E-mailed. ‘People need to talk about the fire.’ She was right and we had the meeting.
I was surprised. The Upper Lake Senior Center was filled to the rafters. What’s more, we discussed a Community Watch Program to help fight the next disaster to come. Another fire will come as surely as day follows night. When it does, Cleo and I will be even better prepared.

SEPTEMBER 2018

THE GREAT MENDOCINO COMPLEX FIRE
* * * *
You’ve heard of the Great Chicago Fire that burned down half Chicago in 1871. Well now, we folks in Lake County, California, have our own Great fire to brag about. It looks like we will be having more fires every year. The new standard, because of Global Warming and according to our Governor, is drought, dry summers and more disasters from the flames.
The Great Chicago fire was bad enough, but ours was no peanut fire. Chicago’s conflagration lasted two days; ours isn’t over yet. Chicago lost more people in that city and burned 3.3 square miles. To our good fortune, we had plenty of good neighbors who put us up and lots of open places where we could escape. Still, our fires burned plenty of homes and barns, singed cows and it’s already burned more than four times the area. 
Our fire was personal. It burned my neighbor’s home across my road and crept close enough to melt the asphalt edge of the road in front of my farm. As bad as it was, nobody’s leaving. We country folks love our homes and no piddling fire is going to drive us out of one of the best places on earth. Our County brags on a half-dozen dormant volcanoes, one of the world’s most beautiful lakes and the freshest air anywhere, except after a fire and until the winds carries the smoke to other parts. 
Just so I don’t leave anyone feeling frustrated or gloomy, I add this piece of good news that came out of the disaster; a Community Watch Program. The folks in my part of the County, and probably, by the time of his writing, other towns in the County, are hard at work on plans, which will, along with our excellent County Fire Fighters, help us fight future fires.
What triggered the Watch Plan Idea was the fire that sent Cleo, my cat, and me, packing to escape the flames. The day began in a pretty ordinary way. I went to the front porch to sit and watch the sky from one of the two new deck chairs my kids bought me for Father’s Day, while Cleo claimed the other. We enjoyed the cool morning breeze and the summer sun without a word between us. 
I smelled smoke. 
My nose has learned to smell smoke pretty well. I can smell smoke a hundred miles away. That’s because of all the fires in Lake County last year have trained my nose to be a good smoke smeller.
When I looked at the sky above the hills across the road, there was a smoky haze on the hills, not a lot, but enough to notice. Knowing the folks in Redding, north of us, had a big fire, I thought a South Wind might have brought some of the smoke to us. 
I heard my phone ring. When I went in to answer, our Sherriff was on the line. “Prepare to evacuate Witter Springs and Bachelor Valley,” he said.
‘What was he talking about?’ I said to myself. ‘Bachelor Valley never has a fire.’ No sooner did I hang up the phone when it rang off the wall a second time.
‘What now?’ I wondered. 
It was my good neighbor, Linda, who lives in the farm next door and brings me her good apple pies. 
“Get ready to evacuate,” she said. “The fire is coming closer.”
I figured Linda knew what’s what. She worked with the Fire Department and the Police Department once and knew what was going on in Lake County. I could see, both, Linda and the Sherriff, were dead serious so I filled my pillow case with CD’s of the stories I had written, packed my shaving razor, folders of my usual monthly bills.…just in case…and went back to my writing.
I had not been working for five minutes when the Sherriff paid me a second call. 
“Residents of Witter Springs and Bachelor Valley must evacuate immediately,” he said. 
That’s all she wrote. Into my Kia went the pillow case, my bills, my shaving razor, and my Laptop Computer. I was ready to go. 
It was then I noticed something was missing. I looked at my list again and discovered Cleo, my cat, was missing. Outside I went to call Cleo. I called her until the neighbors must have thought I was out of my mind. But no Cleo appeared. 
Around the house I walked calling. “Cleo? Cleo?” 
Still no Cleo. With Cleo’s Cat Carrier box ready and waiting I had to stay until I found my cat. After all, where would my career be without Cleo? Nowhere, that’s where. Her famousness helps pay the bills. When people stop me on the street they never ask me how I am. They always say, ‘How’s Cleo?’ I know on which side my bread was buttered. 
I thought of my outdoor cat, Calico, but Calico was nowhere to be seen. Besides she is semi-wild and I knew she would never allow me to put her in a box. My pond has water and she is wild enough to live off the land for a few days. Just to make sure she was all right I called the Animal Shelter and asked to send someone over if the evacuation order lasted too long. Christine, one of the helpers, promised they would.
Just when the sky turned black as blood and I saw flames, Cleo came sauntering in from the front room. You would have thought, by the devil-may-care look on her round furry face, she hadn’t a worry in the world. 
“Where did you come from?” I asked.
She did not reply. Being the crafty creature that Cleo is, able to pass through solid walls, she had come indoors when I wasn’t looking. 
“In you go to the Cat Carrier, Cleo,” I said.
She was not ready and I could not persuade her, so I tried stuffing her in head first. That didn’t work. She spread out like a circus tent and hung on to the Cat box opening for dear life. She hates the Cat box. As a last resort I turned her upside down and stuffed her in like sausage in a skin, butt first, and we were ready to go.
Even as the engine caught fire, the flames licked at my heels. Off we flew down Bachelor Valley Road to Highway 20 on my way to my daughter Dolly’s house in Redwood Valley, twenty miles down the road toward Ukiah. My daughter was forced to evacuate Redwood Valley last year but this year her home was the safest bet. That’s where Cleo and I headed.
I’m glad we did. Five of my friends, who invited me to stay at their house until the excitement was over, lived in places on Highway 20 along the North Shore of the Lake, small towns like Lakeport, Kelseyville, Upper Lake, Nice, and Glenhaven.
I was grateful but it was lucky Cleo and I didn’t accept. Highway 20 closed later and was overrun by the fire. We would have been stuck in Lake County not able to leave. All the places, where I was invited, had to evacuate like I did. If I had gone to any of those towns to stay until the fires were out, where could Cleo and I go next? Chico? Eureka, the Moon? 
On my way, a mile from Bachelor Valley Road, I stopped at a clear spot at the side of the highway to look at the Armageddon from which we were fleeing. The sky was piled high with black smoke. The whole country was burning. The fires of Hell could not look any worse.
 When at last we pulled into Dolly’s house, the gate was open and she was waiting with a smile on her face. We were here. I took what few things I brought and Cleo in her Carrier and went into our new home. 
Out came Cleo to inspect her new diggings. While I was putting my things away, Cleo disappeared. 
“Where did Cleo go?” I asked Dolly. After searching under beds and sofas, in closets and corners, we found her. Cleo had made herself at home on Dolly’s bed.
Dolly wanted Cleo meet her new friends; Pixie, Dolly’s white cat, and Angel, Dolly’s 93-pound Great Pyrenees doggie. I thought Angel might eat Cleo. Angel was big enough to swallow my cat in one bite. Instead, Angel wanted to play with Cleo but Cleo wasn’t in the mood right then. The long and the short of the meeting was that each of the three creatures decided to mind their own business and Cleo went to sleep under my bed. 
I watched the news reports and wondered, with a hollow feeling in my stomach, what I might find when I got home. Would I find, like happened for many of my friends, nothing left? Would my mementos and pictures of fifty years be dust in the wind? Would Jeannette’s favorite Rocking Chair, my books, my paintings, my collection of hand-made antique automobiles, my music, my photographs, all my reminders of Jeannette and the house we built fifty years ago, be only stone and ashes?
I put those thoughts aside. I don’t think that way most of the time. I believe this day is the first day of the rest of my life. How I spend that day, and the rest of my days from today, is more important. I have an obligation to live life to the fullest no matter our tragedies. The only things that matter are the people; not the things we collect over the years. Life is, and will always continue to be, a wonderful mystery waiting to be discovered.
 
 I counted my blessings. I had my writing and my work. I had a place to stay until the storm receded. I have my children and my friends. Cleo was with me and my semi-feral outdoor cat, Calico, who chose to stay behind, had food and water. Besides, the food was great. 
My sweet daughter, Dolly, is a wonderful cook. Almost everything comes from her amazing garden and her dinners beat the finest cuisine I have tasted on the Rue de La Paix or at the George V Hotel Restaurant in Paris, France, where once I was a visitor. 
Cleo was happy. She found a million hiding places and windows out of which she could see the world. I watched no doors were open that might allow her to go wandering. Cleo might decide to leave and not come back. I would lose a friend and she would no longer be around to give me stories to write about. 
I kept busy and watched the spread of the fire on the Internet. I watched the fire creep around my small valley, ringed by mountains, in a giant burning horseshoe with my home in the center. I read my e-mails, answered some, and wrote my stories. There were columns to send to magazines and newspapers in Kansas, Indiana, Illinois, Colorado, and California. 
 
On the fourth day I decided to find out, first-hand, whether Highway 20 would be open soon. My friends know me; I must know for myself if something is true or not. Voices of Authority often make mistakes and, since I am responsible for my life, it was up to me to find out what was going on. 
At the Potter Valley turn-off, where I’d heard Highway 20 to Witter Springs was closed, people were going to their homes in Potter Valley from Ukiah and passing through that junction. Loaded with police cars, everyone was checked to make sure they lived in Potter Valley. 
When my turn came I asked, ”How soon will Highway 20 be open?” 
“It may be open soon but not yet.” I was told. “Fire is burning on both sides of Highway 20 for eighteen miles all the way to Bachelor Valley.”  Dolly and I drove to the Local Help Center in Redwood Valley. Daniella, the young woman in charge, helped fire victims. I needed a change of clothing to wear while Dolly washed my old clothes. Having only the clothes on my back, I took pants, shorts, shirt, socks and some things to take home for dinner. If that wasn’t enough, Daniella slipped Dolly a forty-dollar gift certificate. She said it was for me and was good at any Walmart Store.
Daniella was a good helper and a wonderful lady. Daniella is one of those folks, as young as she is, who have learned how important it is to help others. Thank you, Daniella, and thank all the good folks that contribute to help the fire victims. I often speak and write of people’s innate kindness and willingness to offer a helping hand to others less fortunate. It came home to me in spades that day. 
I waited…and waited some more. Several times each day I called Cal Fire and searched the Internet for news. Cleo always sat upon a table looking out the front window and hoping to go outside and play. She looked so longingly outside she brought tears to my eyes. I thought of Oscar Wilde’s poem, ‘Ballad of Reading Gaol’; 

‘I never saw a cat who looked
 With such a wistful eye
 Upon that little tent of blue
 Which prisoners call the sky.’
 
Morning of the Eighth Day, Linda, my neighbor, who had taken her dogs and gone to Chico during the fire, called me on my cell phone.
“I just got word that Witter Springs people can go home,” she said.
I was loaded in ten minutes. I stuffed Cleo into her Cat Carrier. After a hug and a big thank you to my dear daughter, Cleo and I drove past twenty miles of black, burned-out hills that might have been the half-way house to Hell. No matter. The hills would soon be green again and we were going home.
Wheeling up my drive, I saw that Calico had been fed and watered. I unloaded and put everything back in its place ready to go to work. My first order of business was the talk I promised to give to the Lower Lake Democratic club next day. My second obligation was my monthly Town Hall Meeting two days away.
I kept my talking appointment. I told about Lake County’s four hard-fought elections for the County Seat in 1861 to 1867. Except for the hired votes from out of the County and keeping Lower Lake citizens from voting at the point of a gun, it was like most elections. Lower Lake lost the vote. That’s politics, I suppose.  
 
I thought nobody would come to a Town Hall meeting until the fires were over and the smoke had cleared. Claudine, a Board member, changed my mind. ‘Let’s have the meeting,’ she E-mailed. ‘People need to talk about the fire.’ She was right and we had the meeting.
I was surprised. The Upper Lake Senior Center was filled to the rafters. What’s more, we discussed a Community Watch Program to help fight the next disaster to come. Another fire will come as surely as day follows night. When it does, Cleo and I will be even better prepared.

AUGUST 2018

THE GREAT KITTY KIBBLE ROBBERIES
 – PART ONE –
I can’t help it. Critters, who live on my farm, sneak up on me when I least expect them. When they do, what they do is so unusual that I have to tell somebody and hope they believe me.

No, it’s not flying saucers, or ghosts, although I have seen a ghost or two. It’s Rocky. That’s what my daughter named him when I told her my story. Rocky is a young raccoon. By his bold-as-brass attitude, and small size, Rocky’s probably not more than a teen-age Raccoon. He’s not yet learned to be careful or fearful of humans or other animals.

Here’s how I discovered Rocky. Early yesterday morning, Cleo, my indoor cat, waked me by walking on my head. She came from her sleeping spot on the far side to let me know it was time to be up and useful. It is her never-fail way to tell me she’s ready to go outside and play.

It was getting light so up I got. When I was dressed I opened the sliding glass door and Cleo and I went out to the porch. I watered my three potted plants; my fig tree, my Kale bush, and my tomatoes. I filled the water bowl and Outdoor-cat, Calico’s, metal Kitty bit dish. Ready to go back in and start writing, that’s when, in the grey darkness of early dawn, at the far end of the porch, I saw Rocky.

The small gray and white, pointy-nosed critter waltzed up to Calico’s kitty bowl and began to have breakfast like he was a boarder and paid rent. His manners were neat. Rocky used his fingers to pick each Kitty bit and he studied it before eating. But he was hungry. Giving way to appetite, he changed to both paws and still using his fingers, he emptied the metal dish as I watched.

The missing Ceramic Cat Bowl, which I was forced to replace with a metal dish, is important to my story. Last week the original ceramic Kitty Bowl disappeared. The mystery of its vanishing haunted me. I looked all over the front yard and the driveway. I even searched the ground beneath the row of shrubs that line the porch thinking some animal, in its eagerness to eat, pushed the Ceramic bowl over the edge of the porch. I found nothing.

I recalled, before the Ceramic Bowl turned up missing, someone, other than Calico, had been busy gobbling up all the kitty bits I put on the porch. Now that heavy Ceramic Bowl, which weighed half a pound, was gone. Putting two and two together, I thought, ‘Some large animal carried it off thinking it was a magic bowl that, magically, was always full of kitty bits.’

This morning, fixing the water hose at the back of the house I discovered the answer to the mystery. As I rested from my labors, I happened to glance at the sidewalk at the corner of the house. Ten feet away on the sidewalk lay the missing Bowl. Some animal had carried the Bowl a hundred feet from the porch all the way around the house. Seeing the magic was gone, the thief dropped the bowl in disgust and left it laying there. I picked it up knowing the thief. It was Rocky. That smart baby Raccoon believed the Bowl would always be full and he would no longer having to forage for food.

I have enough problems with my indoor Cat, Cleo, and my outdoor cat, Calico. As if I didn’t have enough to handle, now I had a third smart apple that’s joined my crew. Who else would be next, I wondered, a skunk, or a possum?
 
 – PART TWO –
Monday morning, when I got up I couldn’t believe my eyes. The new 16-pound bag of Kitty bits, that I bought the day before at Bruno’s, instead of being in the kitchen against the wall next to the half-full bag from where I was feeding Cleo and Calico, was gone. When I looked in the hallway and then, in the front room, there it was laying beside my gravity machine and next to the coffee table. It was on the carpet as if someone, or something had dropped it there and left.
I thought, ‘Perhaps senility is creeping up on you, Gene. You brought it in from the car and dropped there because you were to tired after all the other groceries you had to put away. You just forgot it.’ I didn’t think that was possible. My mind still works on all seven cylinders just fine.
I put it back in its place against the wall, still in a quandary and trying to remember if I had put it there and forgotten that I did.
Tuesday morning; same thing. Except, this time, it was laying in the hallway halfway between the kitchen and the front door. I thought, ‘Maybe Cleo was playing tricks and wanted all the Kitty kibbles for herself.’
 A 16-pound bag? It couldn’t be Cleo. That bag is as heavy as three Cleo’s. She gets all the kibbles she wants and no other animal could have gotten into the house. Not even from the roof through the chimney. The fireplace has a stopper inside to let out the smoke. Besides, the opening is not large enough for a bear or a large animal to get through. I looked the Kitty bag over carefully for claw marks or scratches. There were none. The bag was just as new and shiny as the day I brought it from Bruno’s.

Wracking my brain for an explanation, I could not believe any strange animal could have possibly come into the house and tried to carry the bag away. I always kept the doors closed…except on warm nights when I wanted to cool off the house for next day. That’s when I, sometimes, opened the front door for an hour before going to bed. In addition to having it open for such a short time, I installed a screen that was made in two parts and stayed closed because of the row of magnets along the center seam. That kept the screen in place all summer so I could go in and out easily. I never left it open all night. Otherwise, some curious critter might take that as an invitation.
Perhaps it was Jeannette’s ghost. She died three years ago and my dear wife and I were together for fifty years of our marriage. I miss her. If it was her ghost maybe she was sending me a message. What could her message be? Did she want me to keep the bags of Kitty bits in the front room or the hall way? I always wanted to please her but the Kitty bit bags were perfectly okay in the kitchen next to the refrigerator.

I puzzled over the mystery for three days. Finally, with so many other matters to think of, and since I couldn’t find an answer, I got busy with other things.
 
Tonight, the mystery was solved.At eight o’clock I went to the front door, which I had left open for an hour before my bedtime. I was going to close the door for the night and open the front room windows to cool off the house. The front door, screen in place, had been left open for an hour, or so, to catch the cool evening air from after sundown at 7 PM, to my bedtime at 8:30 PM.

At 8:30 PM all hell broke loose. A large Raccoon had slipped through the front door and the screen when I wasn’t looking. He had come for the third time to visit my Kitty kibble bag again. Twice he failed to carry that bag home to his nest so he came to try one more time. It happened, like cops coming on a robbery to surprise the thief, I discovered his plan and caught him in the act.

When Mr. Raccoon saw me all his dream to abscond with sixteen pounds of Kitty bits and a month-long feast of Kitty bit dinners, went up in smoke. I had closed the front door so the Kitty bit thief streaked for the front room window to escape. The window was open to the night air but the screens were in place. The screens stopped him. He went crazy. When he saw me, he did his best to break through the window screen to escape. When that didn’t work he climbed the screen, tearing apart the window drapes and the curtains.

Seeing that was no way out, he flew through the air toward the front door…which I had closed. I followed him as he climbed to the ceiling above the door, working hard to keep distance between us, still trying to escape, I managed to open the door. He was gone in a flash.

Breathing a sigh of relief, I assessed the damage. The curtain, drapes wall fastenings had been torn from the wall. The curtain and drapes were a jumbled ruined heap of cloth and drape material.

I learned Raccoons are smart. I should have known, a week ago when the ceramic bowl I left outside was carried forty feet around the house before the thief had tossed it away. He took it because thought it was a magic bowl always filled with kitty bits. He thought he would always have kitty bits to eat. When it did not refill by magic he was disgusted and threw it away. That same enterprising and intelligent creature had decide to go to the mother lode and steal an entire bag of Kitty bits.

Not only do they have fingers, they are strong. For that Raccoon to haul a sixteen-pound bag for twenty feet, twice, and try a third time, speaks to his persistence, planning, and power. In the future I shall give all Raccoons the respect they deserve. 
 

JULY 2018

CLEO IS SOMETHING ELSE
As a long-time writer of science-fiction, I accept the possibility extra sensory ability exists in some humans. How about animals? Same thing. Especially those whose mental attributes are close to ours. I think chimps, whales, porpoises, dogs, cats, and maybe some pigs, may fall into that bag. Whether that’s true or not, I have a HUGE problem. 

My cat, Cleo, is the reason. I think it’s entirely possible that Cleo is not of this world. She is not really a cat. Cleo is something else. Perhaps she is extra-terrestrial. Maybe she was planted in the SPCA Shelter where I conveniently ‘found’ her and she planned the whole thing to ingratiate herself into our human society.
The alternative possibility is one I don’t wish to think about or examine too closely… that I have become non compos mentis. Or my brain has grown addled from all the sci-fi books I write. 

Here’s what happened, and you be the judge. I sent her out to play yesterday morning. At evening after I finished writing and it was bedtime, I called Cleo to come in for the night. 
Let me be clear on this point. When I let her out that morning, she stayed out, sniffing flowers, chasing bees, and playing for the rest of the day. I watched her do it. 

When I called Cleo that night at 8 PM, I was tired after a full day. I had a work-out at Larry’s Iron Worker Gym, then grocery shopping for pie crust and some Granny Smith Apples. I was going to make an apple pie or two, then more writing. I believed Cleo was tired as well.
No Cleo appeared. I forced myself awake for another hour or so to watch for her. By 9:30 I had fallen asleep twice in my chair in front of the TV. The porch light was on and I expected that bad cat would show up sooner or later. At last I got up and called her again, but Cleo did not show. ‘That’s it’, I told myself. ‘If Cleo likes to stay out all night, so be it.’ I went to bed. 

I suppose my conscience bothered me because at 2 AM I woke and went to the sliding glass door to call Cleo in for what remained of the night. She didn’t come so back to bed I went.
At 5 am I was, abruptly, brought to full wakefulness by the certain conviction ‘something’ had walked across my pillow. Cleo does that to wake me up in the morning, but I knew it couldn’t be her. Cleo was still outside. She had never come in that night. Of that fact I was certain. 

I rose and dressed, and in the dim light of early morning, I looked across the bed for Cleo. No Cleo was there. I didn’t expect she would be. My senses were playing me tricks. By the time I dressed I expected Cleo would be at the sliding glass door of my bedroom-office crying to come in. She wasn’t. Surely, I thought, before it gets light Cleo will come home. I went out and fed Calico, my outdoor cat. Then I went in to listen to the early TV news.
As I sat and listened to the news, suddenly, like a ghostly apparition, Cleo appeared out of nowhere sitting on my bed saying not a word. Let me tell you, I thought hard. Here was a mystery.

“Cleo, is that you,” I cried. “Where have you been? I know you never came in last night.” I didn’t have an answer then and I don’t have one now. Only two possibilities remain. One, my cat has the ability to pass through walls and she is a creature not of this world. Or two, I have grown senile and I didn’t remember she came in.

Whatever happened, I can still write my stories, I can still make my oatmeal for breakfast, I can still weed-whack my grass, and I can still shower and dress myself and make apple pies. Maybe, as I pass to my ninety-third year on this planet, the answer is that Cleo is an alien visitor and has come for a while to measure my hold on reality. Whatever the mystery, I’m faced with one cold truth; Cleo is more than just a cat.