Monday, November 2, 2009

Tomales-November 1938

Excerpt from Flight to Point Reyes


Pasquale Pannini was looking for dogs not airplanes. He stood at the southwest corner of his two hundred acre farm peering into the starless night. For a few seconds, he thought he heard an airplane, but the drone seemed to be fading.


Earlier that evening a pack of dogs tore into the field and killed nine sheep. He counted the ewes, lying dead in the dark, the red B brand almost invisible with winter wool, blood splattered at the throats in the senseless slaying fashion of mad dogs and human beings.


Never mind that he had lain two miles of new fence with three runs of barb. In hindsight, he thought he should had have added a fourth run along the ground.


Pannini was furious. If he saw one dog, any dog, he’d kill it. The dogs had to have come from town, but how and why? Everyone knew better than to leave their dogs out untied. They’d pack up and the next thing you know, they’d start killing sheep. He’d kill any dog that ventured within a mile of his sheep.


He wasn’t the one staying up nights. Farmers from Tomales to Salinas searched for ways to stay put, stay solvent, and maybe as Old Man Lawson at Dillon Beach said, “Stay sane”. Even the McClures and the Pierce brothers at Point Reyes, who had a big stake in butter, were staring down the rooster’s throat.


Northern Marin County was changing. Watch your back. That was the word. The speculators would slip in and before he could say, have two shakes of a lamb’s tail; they’d take the open range and he wasn’t sure what they’d do with it, but it wouldn’t be fallow for anything except coastal deer and jack rabbits. He cocked an ear to see if the dogs were back. Just the thought of their barking echo tore a pit in his stomach.


Now a plane approached. Looking through a cluster of Eucalyptus to the corner of the field, he followed the drone up the slope towards the curve in the road a half a mile west where the town of Tomales slept. He thought about his wife, Angela and the light in the window on the other side of the knoll. She had patience when other folks seemed to be moving somewhere, anywhere.


The drone grew louder, rolling like far off thunder and continuing out to his right. Pannini still couldn’t see anything.


Good not to think about sheep for a second, nor dwell on the fate of his three girls, one after another, two, four and five and a half. He had no illusions about their being interested in sheep when they got older. His grip on the shotgun stock lightened, the smell of oil and sweat wafted on the slight breeze slipping down along the grass towards the house. He felt a chill enter his clothes. He did see something.


It flew towards the Bay at almost tree level. A red light blinked on the left wing. The drone rose in pitch and he heard two drones, one somewhat more distant, but very close together. Far behind him, a small dog began yipping and he recognized it as his own tied by the little shingled doghouse next to the kitchen window. The dog, Lulu Bird, named by the three girls, stopped abruptly. The plane was almost out of earshot and he thought it must be headed towards Tomales Point some three miles away. Why would an airplane head out this way?


It brought back memories of Chet McKenna drowned five years ago trying to bring his sixteen footer through the sneaker waves on a stormy afternoon. Nobody but a damn fool would take a chance run out of Tomales Bay on a day like that. But Chet had to have his halibut and Pannini guessed the sharks had to have Chet. He sighed and the pit returned to his stomach.


Again, the sound of snarling dogs ran through his imagination. The dumb sheep stood waiting to die in the moonless night. Angela was pregnant again. They’d name this one Surprise. During the evening, Angela sat at the kitchen table sewing and waiting. His brother Jake out at the Coast Guard Station would tell him about the airplane.


Pannini stood by the fence for another twenty minutes. The dampness had set in and he began walking. No dogs. He knew he’d never find them unless he stood watch. They could be, and probably were local dogs that packed up at night. He’d pull the dead sheep out at dawn.


The weather in Northern California had turned cold and damp. Pannini shivered. These dogs were not sheep dogs. He wished it was spring. His wife, Angela loved the Spring in Tomales and she was right.


The protein in the grass fattened the livestock. She’d stand on the porch by the pine tree and talk about the broccoli she’d grow. She had a little New Zeland wild spinach growing by the porch. Greens did well and with the a long damp spring maybe cabbage. With the help of compost from the mushroom farm in Petaluma, perhaps broccoli and cauliflower.


She pointed out the birds. House finches, Brewers blackbirds, yellow crested and white crested sparrows, red winged blackbirds flitted off by the tool shed. Just last March the two of them stood on the porch and watched a male house finch picking out nesting spots for his mate. The two finches flitted around the yard for twenty minutes or so. The male hovered over a crotch in the pine tree by the corner of the house. The female chirped, ‘No soap’. He ran the female out to a line of pine by the front gate. They were in and out. The house finch, cap up, redder than Christmas flew off to the left and she followed. They flew back and off behind the house to the right.


A little more sun on the back field and they’d grow tomatoes. A few more months of cold and rain. The Coastal deer would chew up everything in sight if you didn’t fence the garden. He built an eight foot driftwood fence around the house that summer. He hoped he enough money for another fence beyond that. The house finches didn’t nest close by, but Pannini saw them perched on the driftwood fence on and off for the rest of the summer.


Fishing. He’d go tomorrow. Pelicans. Brown pelicans. He’d climb down the banks where the poppies grew in May and the ice plant and the wild Iris, or maybe he’d walk out to the point at Dillon or back to the estuary where the sea lions sunned in semi-circles. They’d eat the fish. Pests. He could watch them for hours if he had time, but he had so little time and if he fished and a sea lion swam past, the fishing was over at the spot.


He brought home some nice two pound ocean perch. Beautiful fish. Turquoise and red with a small rainbow along the sides. Fresh fish. Everything a family needed. Feed all five of them. His oldest, Marcia, liked the baked perch. Esther and Bernice not so much. Horse mussels bigger than your fist.


Angela boiled them. She chopped garlic. She heated butter from the Creamery in Point Reyes Station. She placed an enormous bowl of mussels in the middle of the table and she poured the butter and garlic over them. They ate mussels with both hands. They used one half of the shell to scoop the entire mussels from the other. They left the shells on the table. Everyone picked up afterward.


You took mussels at low tide. The last time out he had just shingled the back shed and he was whipped. He shouldn’t have gone out. The tide was changing. The tide rose to his chest while he was slicing mussels off the rock. He remembered the sheer power of the sea sucking him out and the realization that he had no control. His legs slipped beneath him. The bucket half bucket of mussels filled with water. In a brief catch of luck, he yanked himself off the current and pulled himself ashore with the bucket of mussels. He didn't tell his wife how he got soaked. Tomales meant work. Hard work.


He heard the airplane in the distance. It sounded like it was turning back, then it sounded close. It dipped to silence.


Yes, spring and salmon fishing with herring runs up the Bay. The kids would get sick of crab. He never got sick of crab. He could eat two crabs without butter. There would be hummingbirds on the porch in late spring. His wife, Angela would see to it. He didn’t hear Flight 6 again.

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