March 2017

Renko Festival

I read Polar Star in 1992 on Jon Carroll’s recommendation and was just blown away by the combination of thrilling plot and fine writing.  No spoiler here, but when i read the last six words, i sat there marveling, feeling that the purpose of the whole damn book was to set up those six words.

So of course i immediately read Gorky Park with great enjoyment, fell in love with the Russian investigator Arkady Renko and then impatiently waited for the sequels, gobbling them up as soon as they were published.  All were entertaining thrillers tracking Arkady’s career and life, and all were studded with lines so fine that even now in my senility some of them pop to mind.  Like in Wolves Eat Dogs when Arkady has questioned the cook and housekeeper of a man who’d been fatally poisoned with radioactive cesium and determined that they knew nothing of the plot, “and besides, their hair loss seemed sincere.”

My goodness, i loved these novels.  But then, Something Happened, and i stopped checking for new ones after i read Wolves Eat Dogs.

Well, a few days ago i thought of Arkady again, did a search, and discovered that Smith has been at it to the tune of three more sequels.

God bless the Sonoma County Library system, most particularly the Petaluma branch, for having all three of them.  They’re stacked up now on my table, and i’ve just finished them.  Stalin’s Ghost, Three Stations, and Tatiana.   All were enjoyable, the but main pleasure i got from them was in the development of Zhenya, the orphan boy Arkady took in at the end of Wolves Eat Dogs.  The standard has slipped, but they’re still good enough to be read with enjoyment by Arkady fans.  The real falling off doesn’t start until after Stalin’s Ghost.

My favorite is Polar Star, but i recommend starting at the beginning with Gorky Park because part of the joy of reading these novels is in Smith’s development of Arkady’s life and in his tracing the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the rise of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.

Here they are:

  1. Gorky Park (1981)
  2. Polar Star (1989)
  3. Red Square (1992)
  4. Havana Bay (1999)
  5. Wolves Eat Dogs (2004)
  6. Stalin’s Ghost (2007)
  7. Three Stations (2010)
  8. Tatiana (2013)

Meanwhile, a sturdy bench in a shopping center on North McDowell.

North McDowell bench


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Another NASA Outrage

While practicing my quick draw, i shot this website in the foot, and it was down for several days. Won’t do that again, at least until it heals.


Yeah, yeah, they put a man on the moon, but that was decades ago, and since then it’s been one outrage after another from NASA, most egregiously their mendacious campaign in recent years to get Americans to buy in to the global warming hoax with their faux news about melting glaciers, their photoshopped pictures of a supposed crack in the Larsen-C ice shelf, and their faked videos of cruise ships supposedly plowing at full speed through an ice-free Northwest Passage.

But now they’ve outdone themselves, sunk to a new low. At enormous taxpayer expense they’ve arranged for a total solar eclipse to sweep the nation from coast to coast this coming August 21, sowing chaos in a broad swath through our White Christian heartland from Oregon to South Carolina while studiously avoiding any harm to our immigrant-filled liberal cities.

The damage will be incalculable. Who knows how many of our precious dollars they will waste keeping the moon in the right position for the duration of the eclipse, but that’s only the beginning. American free enterprise will be completely disrupted all across the nation during the eclipse as workers down tools and gawk while customers stay outdoors not making a single purchase. The social fabric will be rent as little children open their eyes to take a peek during prayers in their private schools, wholesome religious couples abstain from procreative intercourse to watch the Satanic display, and liberals abandon their godless cities and swarm the countryside spewing atheistic astronomy.

I call on President Trump to issue an executive order pulling all funding from NASA and pronounce a fatwa to stop this outrage before it’s too late. I call on Betsy DeVos to provide emergency corrective curricula for our schools to teach our children the right truth, that only Joshua can get God to mess around with the progress of the sun and moon as they circle the earth.

And as a final measure in case we can’t stop the eclipse, I call on godfearing Americans on August 21st to ride their coalrollers on our highways and byways while burning piles of old tires in their yards, together creating such a pall of smoke that nobody will be able to see the eclipse and we can deny that it happened.  Those who are outside the smoke-covered areas should just stay in their homes with their eyes closed in prayer during the eclipse so they can declare in Fox News interviews, “I was home all day and ain’t seen no exclipse.”

One caution:  Pat Buchanan and our other fine religious leaders will need to alert their congregations that this is NOT the Rapture, so they should avoid stripping off all their clothes and running into the streets.

Meanwhile, a morning shot of the Petaluma River.

Petaluma River


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How Green It Is

DeVos would replace our public schools with Christian madrasas.


Our wonderful winter rains sure have greened up the state, so to check it out i jumped in the Prius and drove in a loop through the country east of town.  Beautiful scenery, but what i hadn’t considered is that there’s no shoulder at all for long stretches on the little country roads, and when there is a shoulder, it’s really a grassy verge that’s, after all the rain, just a mud pit veneered with grass.  Thankfully, i saw the deep ruts just before i was about to pull over onto it.

So even though i saw much beauty, there was no place to stop to photograph most of it.  My friend David has been taking just astonishing photos of the Mt. Diablo area, where he often goes slogging out in early morning forays.  Well, even though in my youth i was an avid hiker in the Davis Mountains in Texas and even got to go to Philmont for two weeks when i was fourteen, i’m no longer a slogger.  Hell, i’m barely a walker now and thus limited to shots i can get from parking places. Still, i got a few.

west of Petaluma



west of Petaluma


And a handful of fence shots, my latest fetish.

west of Petaluma



west of Petaluma


So much for the Prius, i next Segwayed up Sonoma Mountain to check out the east side of town.  Lovely up here, too.  Here’s Lynch Creek just east of Adobe Road.

Lynch Creek east of Petaluma


And Sonoma Mountain Road leading up the mountain.

Sonoma Mountain Road


I knew that city folks dyed silly little dogs pink, but i never seen evidence of country folk dying their animals, and i’d never dreamed anyone would dye a horse, much less go to all the trouble to do a multicolor job in an elaborate pattern of irregular stripes.  So you can imagine my surprise when i spotted this.  They must have drugged the poor horse to get it to hold still long enough for all this work.

dyed and painted horse on Sonoma Mountain

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It’s a Boy!

Muttered at the TV on the locker room wall: “What we saw is what we got.”


I’ve rediscovered Lone Pine Gardens in Sebastopol.

Found it in the nineties and made a number of trips up to it from San Francisco over the years and bagged quite a few great specimens there, most spectacularly a magnificent Agave Leopoldii about which i was briefly confused when i misread its little stake as Leopold II rather than leopoldii.  Yes, doubtless a different Leopold.

A month ago it struck me that i was sitting here in Petaluma fourteen miles due southeast of this excellent nursery and could take JoAnn to Sebastopol and introduce her to both the nursery on Lone Pine Road and Retrograde Coffee Roasters’ newly opened cafe on Main Street.

Casey and Danielle are a delightful young couple i discovered peddling their small batch roasted coffee beans and delicious coffees at Petaluma farmers’ markets, and now they’ve moved up to a brick and mortar location in downtown Sebastopol, an airy and welcoming place where you can buy their beans, drink their coffee, eat their pastries, and even use their Wi-Fi.

Retrograde Coffee Roasters

That’s Casey with the grin.


We skipped the Wi-Fi and then went on to the gardens.  Toured the greenhouse.

Lone Pine Gardens


And the outdoor offerings.

Lone Pine Gardens


They also have gorgeous bonsai in another greenhouse, but i passed on them because i knew they’d just curl up and die as soon as i got ’em home.

Lone Pine Gardens


Here’s why i included the bonsoi shot:

Lone Pine Gardens


JoAnn went into a feeding frenzy and ended up with a hundred bucks worth, not that many plants since one of ’em was a specimen, but i limited myself to a two-centimeter Pachypodium namaquanum even though i won’t have the proper environment for it when i move back to the city and will have to give it to my friend Bob so he can spend the rest of his life growing it to its full four meters on his patio.


Pachypodium namaquanum


OK, since i was in there, i also picked up a Euphorbia obesa.  I’d had a couple of these years ago but had managed to kill them and thought i’d give this species another try.  This one was flowering, but i couldn’t remember the difference between the flower on the male and that of the female, so i asked the nice guy.  He couldn’t remember either, so we asked his partner, who said she thought it was a female.  She also dug around and produced another specimen with buds just beginning to open that she thought was maybe a male.  So i snapped it up, too.

The tall, three-pronged stamens on the female make it easier to identify, well, if you have a bryologist’s loupe.

Euphorbia obesa, female


I waited around impatiently for a couple of weeks until the buds opened on the second, and with my loupe i could see that she was right.

Euphorbia obesa, male


It’s a boy.






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