Last year about this time I began preparing for a visit by a fellow I had roomed with while attending music school as the 1970s were coming to a wild, screeching end. Carl was an art student then and I had eventually gotten around to visiting him twenty years later at his beautiful, vintage bungalow in the San Francisco Bay area in 1998 after a long road trip vacation across the west and up and down the northwest coast. Calling him from a payphone at a drive-in eatery somewhere beachside in northern California to ask if it was okay to swing by for a visit, he had happily invited me to come on down.
I hadn't been back to California since the summer of 1972 and thoroughly enjoyed seeing the west coast again as I drove down Highway 1 toward Campbell at a leisurely pace, soaking in sights, sounds and smells of the west coast. Carl had been the perfect host when I arrived, treating me with lots of great stories of life since we had last seen each other, opportunity to pluck around on his father's vintage Martin guitar, and a damn good sushi lunch before sending me off with a small larder of fresh grapefruit plucked from a tree in his backyard, a nice bottle of wine, some bread and cheese and a couple more delightful treats to enjoy on the long trip back east. He couldn't have been more gracious and accommodating. So last year I was growing a little frantic about his visit because this place isn't exactly the most lavish, visitor-friendly home it could be (and will hopefully someday be). Being deeply embedded in wilderness has its downsides–which are upsides for me–like a horrible last mile of approach up to the property that is more jeep trail than roadway (gratefully minimizing traffic); and local wildlife frequenting areas around the property which everyone must be alert for when the animals come close to the house (but have graciously grown very accustomed to my presence). I fretted about every detail of what could and might go wrong during his visit, growing especially anxious about the local bear when I found fresh sign of its presence a couple of days before Carl was due to arrive. Chock full of chokecherry seeds, it told me the bear was spending time chowing down on a bumper crop now hanging heavy and fully ripe on hundreds of bushes surrounding the house.
And this bear was an especially large one compared to many others that had come in close before it. So far, my relationship with local bears has been good, requiring only a calmly spoken word or two to keep them aware of my presence and desire for a little personal space. This bear was a little more bold, though, and had been expressing an interest in the aromas wafting from my kitchen windows when I cooked.
As Carl's arrival date approached, I was finding more and more fresh sign all around here and could just imagine the thing coming up on Carl, deciding he was a likely, tasty-looking food source and chowing down on him before I could get to a gun or pepper spray in time to prevent an encounter. News of Carl's demise I definitely did not want to have to report to his sister living just a little ways north of here. And to compound that worry, bull elk were in full rut. I could hear their antlers clattering in battle all around the property, as I do every year about this time. Having been chased up a canyon wall by one when I first moved out here, I knew that when they're in rut, they are dangerous to be near.
Finally prepared as I ever would be, Carl arrived in the dark of night as I was running the generator to pump the well for topping off the cistern. He called, having driven past the gate which is a little bit hard to spot, and asked if I was running a generator. Letting him know he was in the right place, he backed up and eased down the rough driveway to the house. Our visit was a busy one, as he had brought over a hundred pounds of fresh Hatch chilis to process, which we did between short road trips here and there to shop for supplies and see some sights. On the first road trip to Española and Santa Fe, I mentioned to Carl as we rolled out onto the highway that it had been decades since anyone had done the driving while I just oogled the sights. What I didn't tell him was that I as I child I would always get carsick riding as a passenger on long drives, a fact I was not eager to share.
I should have mentioned it, though, because on the last leg of the road trip from Santa Fe back out here, I suddenly grew car sick and Carl had to pull over to let me hurl the to-go dinner we had just purchased at Jambo's and wolfed down in his truck. My embarrassment is too replete to describe in detail, but I managed to unload supper without splattering it all over the inside of this truck, and we eased on back to the house without further incident. And thankfully, there were no incidents involving local wildlife while he was here either except for a pesky rodent that got into the house (also embarrassing). We finished up processing the chilis, efficiently dividing the work with me roasting the chilis and Carl vacuum packaging them at breakneck pace before they could spoil and we took one last road trip to see the Pecos National Historical Park just south and west of here.
After that little trip, we figured out a way for Carl to get his 80+ lbs of chilis back to California without spoiling in the summer heat he would be traveling through and, as gracious as ever, he left a gift of 20lbs of chilis and a few more nice presents, one of which I just put to use for the first time since he was visiting here today. A sweet little vacuum packaging appliance.
While Carl was here last year, I had yet to expand my little solar power system and had to be careful about not letting the vacuum packager's heating element draw down the system's battery bank which was on its final year of service life. The batteries had been showing clear signs of their age but I didn't have enough money saved to replace them before Carl arrived. I dreaded the battery bank would fail before we could finish our chili processing (which would have been even more embarrassing than getting carsick), but it held up and lasted a couple more months after that too, leaving time to replace them and have cataract surgery on my right eye as well without any problems before first heavy snows closed the road for winter.
It was a fairly mild winter, spiced up considerably with several meals including those delicious Big Jims pulled from the freezer, thawed and prepared in queso, chicken quesadillas, enchiladas and just baked under a piping hot blanket of monterey jack–occasionally washed down with a nice stiff G&T and followed by a favorite, rough-hewn hermit's desert.
Now I can recall Carl's visit and laugh about my carsickness and being such a worrywart about our power consumption and all else that could have gone wrong while he was here. He is as gracious and generous a guest as he was a host when I called on such short notice to visit at his home twenty years earlier.