Needing a dose of the kid I hopped a flight on Southwest from Oakland to Seattle for the weekend. Here’s her new condo on Capitol Hill. Never done but always organized. This is not something she got from her dad.
Last night we ate at Blotto. Lucky for me they had vegan pizza. Joint was the inspiration of Cal and Jordan sour dough obsessed pie makers. Ate outside, crowd was mostly masked. This is a to die for hole in the wall on Capitol Hill. They launched during the pandemic to rave reviews. Life is still possible and pizza you will not soon forget too.
Last weeks return from the Southwest ruins tour hasn’t prepared this dad for the coldest May on record in Seattle. Oh, well, I got a warmhearted kid.
Nomads will be pleased to view this beauty. A rare petite Avion ready for duty. I want one.
And finally this is a cat Lee Ross has been taking care of. This is Sally’s cat but there’ve been some logistical moves and to cool the cat down she’s hanging out at Lee’s place. Lovely little feline.
Sylvia, a Navajo would take us into the canyon. Visitors to Canyon de Chelly (pronounced as canyon dee shay) are required to be escorted by a member of the tribe. The Diné (the people) occupy a vast expanse of land that includes parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado— it is the Navajo Nation.
Travel into the canyon because of deep sand and creek crossings requires all wheel drive. Decades ago, when Sylvia was a child, her family traveled by horse drawn wagon from their home in the canyon to Chinle for supplies. Today she lives on a nearby plateau overlooking Cottonwood Campground. A neighbor warned me to not go near, that there was a pack of mean dogs up there. This gentleman had a silly smirk on his face, the Diné prefer their privacy and are inclined to be mistrustful of strangers. Let’s just call it for what it was, a harmless fib.
Over the decades since the 1970’s I have traveled and performed across the Navajo Nation working at their schools and libraries. I had not had time being so busy with shows to enter the canyon, to see the cliff dwellings, rock art and petroglyphs.
Sylvia would pull back the curtain, the elder woman wanted to tell the story of the Diné, how in 1864 the United States Calvary had hunted her people, killing members of her tribe, removing them from their land, imprisoning them to make way for the immigrants coming to steal their land and settle here.
Sylvia telling us of this suffering is based upon the stories she was told as child by her great grandmother who had survived the long walk from the canyon to where her people were interned and imprisoned in Bosque Redondo, New Mexico.
Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine came up in our conversation, for the Diné this current madness is all too familiar with the invasion they endured 154 years ago. Humans are dangerous, unpredictable and capable of unimaginable cruelty. This is one of humanity’s sad truth’s, forged by historic fact. Canyon de Chelly would be taken from the Navajo, livestock seized, farmland destroyed, their hogans set fire to— the United States Army was under orders from Washington to destroy everything.
There is every reason to believe that today, that a runaway and lawless United States government could attack again, that there still is a mania running rampant among the minds of too many men.
Sylvia erased any distance I had conceived between the past and the present. Abandoned cliff dwellings set perched upon ledges in the canyon, the occupants who had made this place home had gone missing. Three thousand years before present— Homer was alive and writing in Greece, here in this unknown world one theory estimates that as many as 100 million people lived in prehistoric America unaware there were such powerful civilizations expanding halfway around the world, even the notion of thinking our world to be spherical was yet to be understood.
European settlers needed to tell another story, theirs was a narrative of savages and ignorance, of superstition, the first people according to this wave of European immigrants were unfit to be part of this new country.
In 1864 Kit Carson marched 8000 Diné from Northern Arizona to internment camps in Eastern New Mexico. Two thousand Diné were killed while in the custody of the United States Army. This is the history of Sylvia’s people, stories told by her elders, eyewitnesses, those who had endured the long walk, the internment camps and by 1868 were freed after the signing of the Navajo Peace Treaty.
Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine in 2022 is a haunting echo of a history any right minded person believes should remain in the past, not forgotten but never repeated. The Russian dictator instead has rekindled the brutish conduct of Stalin complete with Ukrainian prisoners being sent to internment camps in Siberia where they will face torture, hard labor, little food and in all too many instances underserved death. Sylvia knows of such evil, her people have felt the sharp sting of such madness.
The ruins of Chaco Canyon tell a different story— here are located the remains of an advanced civilization. Here you can find evidence of a vibrant people who had developed a distinct new way of living. Charting time, speed and distance the ruins of Chaco Canyon suggest this was a place inhabited by many thousands and thousands of people— many thousands and it seems a home to many different tribes.
The oldest existing buildings were first constructed about 1200 years before present, but many thousands of years earlier, long before the first people built these great homes our earliest ancestors lived here in the canyon too. It is likely that earlier attempts to construct rock walls have vanished with time. Artifacts are fragile, time is unkind to what evidence we might find. Wind, rain and ice have destroyed much of what science would expect to find here. The best we can do is guess, posit theories, try to fit what few facts we do know into a plausible explanation of when was Chaco Canyon first occupied, who were these first people, where did they come from, where did they go, why would they leave—
Above the canyon on the plateau vast herds of bison, elk and antelope thrived. Here it is hard to imagine now but the native grasses and bushes were adapted to this climate and soil. Invasive species brought over from the Old World would choke out the native plants, not adapted to the dry climate the new plants starved the native plants of moisture forever altering this habitat. Twelve centuries ago, this region of New Mexico was a more verdant and greener landscape.
Corn, beans and squash were cultivated in Chaco Canyon. Irrigation was by now common to the first people. Farming added resilience to the Chacoan people’s lives. Further east of Chaco Canyon there is evidence of the first people entering this region 23,000 years before present. North in Nevada rock art near Pyramid Lake is dated back to 14,700 years before present. What route the first people traveled to settle this region is unknown. Did they travel down the coast on rafts— perhaps they’d come up the Sea of Cortez and entered the Southwest by working their way north and east hunting and gathering as they opened up new territory.
The first people’s architecture, pictographs and petroglyphs give us a glimpse into their hearts and minds. The kivas tell us of their spirituality, that the Chaco people aligned their structures using the stars, and that they understood the complexity of the Metonic cycle, this is a 19-year chronology in which there are 235 lunations after which the Moon’s phases recur on the same days of the solar year.
The Supernova of 1054 is memorialized on the canyon’s walls of Chaco. Navajo are a matrilineal people, children are born into their mother’s family, whatever is inherited comes from her side. Sylvia has land in Canyon de Chelly that will be passed to her daughters when she dies. In Chaco Canyon were discovered fourteen women buried. Jewelry, pottery and clothing were found with the remains. Likely these were important Chacoan leaders, the members of the tribe with the highest status. Remember hunting bison, mastodon or wild cats was a hazardous endeavor and likely many brave hunters were lost trying to help feed members of this vast complex multi-tribal community.
In World War II members of the Navajo worked with the allies as code talkers, the Nazi’s never were able to crack the Diné’s language— it was the skilled language of the great first people of the America’s that helped to defeat the madness of Germany, Italy and Japan. Anthropologists theorize that it is the advances in language that allow people to organize in larger and larger groups. Smaller groups of hunters and gatherers cannot verbally organize as efficiently, there are no words sufficient for communicating more and more complex tasks. The Chacoan people spoke many different languages, no two alike but all by now were evolved and capable of supporting a larger more complex community.
There was no elder like Sylvia to walk us through Chaco Canyon. Because the 20-mile-long dirt road into the park is so rough many visitors forgo the effort to come see this place. We would not be discouraged— a rough road becomes a smooth road if you are willing to go slow enough. We toured the largest ruins first. After a few hours at Pueblo Bonito, we returned to camp for food and rest. That same late afternoon we struck out on foot and went east along Chaco Wash on Wijiji Trail. We hiked out two miles to see the ruins, they are only centuries old, the Navajo built them, there are no kiva’s, the walls are thinner, other details are also distinct to these ruins. Most of all we walked alone on the trail. The late afternoon was clear and warm, the wind had stopped, there was a welcomed stillness. Our encounter was direct, there were no other people to distract our being with these structures, we had them to ourselves, this is not common in our ever more crowded world.
I could conjure up voices of people from the past. With nothing to interfere with my imagination, no distractions the voice of the ruins was more direct, there was a sense of intimacy, I could sense the ghost like spirit of the Chaco Canyon people.
It is perplexing why this site was abandoned. Scientists theorize that after three centuries of continuous building the Chaco people had exhausted the nearby tree’s they used to build the roofs for their rock walled buildings.
Hauling big logs in from afar may have not been possible. The plateau above the canyon may have had large herds of bison, water may have been scarce, without wheels dragging logs may have not been practical. Perhaps other people from other tribes might have posed a threat, the trees may have belonged to another tribe. Maybe none of this is true, perhaps all of it is fact, there remain questions with no sure answers.
Looking at the world we are born into now with the courage to not look away— this is the world with nuclear weapons, we are a people that have altered our climate by burning fossil fuels. Among our various systems of organization there are miscreants running amok that would prefer to rule by dictate, that believe an authoritarian form of governance would serve their social, political and economic interests best. Our potential for barbarism is no less as potent as a vengeful Genghis Khan.
Our weakness is built in, altering our behavior is far from hopeless but neither is it so far proven to be such an easy task to master. It is in some portion of our nature to behave with aggression— another nation’s sovereignty and their people’s freedom can be viewed as unnecessary and expendable— a desperate rapacious invader can rationalize away their reason for plundering. The Buddhist’s of Tibet errored in trusting that Mao Zedung would not take advantage, the spiritually advanced Buddhist Tibet had no means of defending its own borders— their pacifism betrayed their people and its future. The world is complicated and our evolving circumstances challenge.
Into this moment with Putin invading Ukraine, Republicans actively plotting to topple America’s democracy, an apprehensive citizen dares to go politically naked into the ruins of America’s first people— we bow and welcome the Diné to warn us of a very uncertain tomorrow. Go soon and decide for yourself— there is a story to tell, we are the world’s elders now. We’ve crossed over beyond what we might do to help a fragile world along— we are beyond recycling, saving water, tutoring a grammar school student in learning how to read and write. There is this profound sense of our fragile government coming apart, that a dangerous authoritarian faction is ready to pounce. Humankind needs all of us to resist this well-organized ruthless minority, we are the authors of our own better path, the solutions to our problems will come by our willingness to do the work, get out the vote, bring new solutions to some of our most nettlesome problems. Most of all we must resist the temptation to deny this might well devolve into a fight.
The Diné know all of this and more, they know of the long walk, they tell unvarnished stories to their offspring, they speak of matters all too brutal, all too recent, all too painful. We owe a debt to these great people who have forgiven us even if they remain wary and forewarned. We should listen if our world is to survive the scars of their truth, these stubborn immutable traits of human behavior are set down on rock in an abandoned desert canyon.
This is the story of the extended dialogue. It begins in Echo Park at a poker game in 2002. Robert Nelson drove me over from Venice in his passion red Morris Minor— passion in any color was Robert through and through. Playing that night were a handful of street performers. Sean Laughlin and Lee Ross were at the table. Sean, I knew from working sidewalk shows in Fisherman’s Wharf, Lee from festivals we played in Halifax and Edmonton.
Traveling through Nevada in 2016 I reached out to Sean and stopped over at his century old digs in Silver City. In 2019 on the road for performances in Canada I’d stopped in Ft Collins, Colorado for shows at the street pitch in Old Town. Lee was south near Boulder and came north for a meet up.
I had forgotten about the three of us playing poker in LA, sometimes there just isn’t enough bandwidth to keep all these accidental interactions sorted out in your head.
Each of us have met with much success in show business. Sean had been working cruise ships out of Australia, he’d come up with a double act, the other half of the act was a woman, they were business partners on stage and romantic partners off.
Lee had worked New York City, Paris and other corners of the world. Cirque de Soleil had cast him to play the part of ringmaster in their Australian unit. Lee was tapped for the part based off his improvisational skills and comic madness— Lee goes over the falls, jumps from the highest building and socks you with his humor in the belly. Lee is one funny fucker— if he was one of our nation’s founding documents he’d be categorized as an original.
All three of us have honed improvisational comic skills. All three of us have set routines. We’ve got bits, gags, and time-tested one-liners. We’ve performed our shows 1000’s of times. We have worked all over the world. On any given night any of the three of us could have been the best act on the bill— yes, the three of us can knock a building down with laughter.
After decades in the business, after signing one contract after another, stopping over to play some street pitches for fun, to meetup with our peers, after decades of this work along came the pathogenic crisis and our access to work came to a grinding halt.
Last week traveling east from my place in San Francisco up to Silver City, Nevada and then further east to Salida, Colorado it was on this 1200-mile drive that my memory jelled, and I connected the dots.
In the last years I’ve been writing novels, there are four obscure seldom read but superb works of fiction, none have been acquired by a major publishing house, but that is a marketing challenge and not a creative failure. Locking up and having our output sputter to a halt is another malady altogether.
Lee about the same decade plus was working in Hollywood— he sold a few scripts, produced a few shows, and is in the hunt to do more.
Sean’s father passed (Travis T Hip) and his Berkeley born son inherited the property in Silver City. These are complicated bones some refurbished to perfection while other parts remain unfinished, much still to do, there is a legacy and fortune to honor here.
Where to live is a question— the three of us have no sure answers. How best to use our heart’s is another— passionate physical comedians talking heart power is a rant inside a poem peppered with false hopes, dead ends and Eureka moments a mother would die knowing about.
The question of our going into rehearsals and preparing to go back onstage is part of our conversation. We’re all Broadway Baby’s, the whole lot of us born in a packing trunk— our parents worked at the 5 and 10, just so someday we could be in a great big Broadway show— oh…………….
Down the list of what is next— what to do about scratching up money, how to get more fat hat’s, and where we might get all this spare laughter— what we would do with the involuntary guffaw treasure— yeah we kick the past, present and how we’ll deal with our monthly nut— making the nut is part of the grind— we run our tread thin— to the bone— once you’ve scraped up a living from what you can find on a sidewalk— once you’ve tasted cheap paved thrills there is a confidence that drowns the second guessing and promises you’ve made to your landlord that you of all people to doubt are better than good for the rent.
Sean was none too keen about signing up for another run on a cruise ship. Terms included being under contract for almost four months, and during the run to remain safe from Covid the artist would not be allowed to go ashore. If you worked the gig you remained aboard the entire time— that’s not necessarily music to the ears of a world class performer who is otherwise accustomed to having prior to this moment all manner of adventure, leisure and self discovery. Clipping our wings isn’t something we’d sign up for.
Lee has been ensconced in an entirely different puzzle to sort through. Done with Boulder, no longer able to see any sense in simply holding onto doing more shows on the pitch on the mall he moved up to the mountain town of Salida, Colorado. Where the two of us intersect in the present is our work as writers. Lee has been producing scripts, some written with a partner, then trying to get the projects into the hands of producers who might acquire the rights.
The market for new fiction and screenplays has been undergoing change, turmoil isn’t even the beginning of how to describe what is underway, it is seismic, tidal— today’s marketplace resembles nothing like what a novelist or screenwriter confronted two decades earlier.
Three of us have long been buskers. All of us have told ourselves time and again if we ever got down on our luck, we could pitch the act back up on a sidewalk and scuff up a few bucks. It is a common conceit among sidewalk show-makers. The question is how hard we’d have to hit bottom before we’d return to pound out shows on the pavement— at some point in a life there is located a point of no return, that for many practical reasons remounting the act to work on a sidewalk will meet neither the moment nor the requirements of an evolving showman. Still, it’s this letting go thing that’s hardest of all.
Considering how we’ve all ridden the rough and tumble, up and downs of show business, just when you figure this is it, that’s all she’s wrote, you get a call, you toss your hat into the ring, and once more you yoke your show to a contract and a year later look back at another good run.
Whatever comes next— what we build from scratch— no more hanging on to yesterday— this is the present moment point of departure for this group of three men plotting next chapters. What binds us to this conversation is we know we’ve two other’s who can appreciate the fix we’re all in.
So maybe we do a show maybe we don’t, maybe we stay right where we are maybe we go somewhere else, most of what looks fixed and bolted down turns out to be fungible, going off on a lark is part of what sidewalk showmen do with the rest of their lives.
Like back in the poker playing party days, I forged ahead with love— met my wife— had the sense to marry the woman— I put one piece of my life into order. I’m the older guy here among the poker players and they’ve been lucky at cards and somewhat less lucky at love, not that there has been any shortage of opportunities, but getting in and staying in is something else, something you got to work at, and the work of intimacy— ain’t for sissies— it takes guts kid.
What the three of us do know is that we hold a pretty good set of cards. We’d all like to make good and all three are willing to bet their life on it. Two of the three are considering potentials to form partnerships, it is in their nature to love and be loved— good thing if you can find it, form it and keep it on track.
Two of us have traded in our suitcase and have a steady place to live, not that this has been easy or that we have any knack for being in the same place, but damn it we are giving it a go, we pretend we’re just like everyone else even if we’ve never lived anywhere for long since decades ago when we were still just a couple of wise cracking talk backing boys.
Of the one of us that hasn’t gone all in on a spot— and I’m privy to no inside information here— what I know is my gut tells me there is a move to be made and this last busker is ready to trade in his suitcase for a place he can call his own— these things happen even when you believe that they never will or that you are the one drifter that will just have to keep roaming the wide world until the end of your days.
That’s us in a nutshell, or maybe just the nut with no shell. We do a show or not, we love as we can and finally talk ourselves into sticking around. End times for vagabonds— this is the look and how it is done. I’d bet two weeks from now all of this could change— they both raise me and call— they want to see the cards I’m holding in my hand— sure thing Poncho
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Silver City, Nevada is home to 200 citizens maybe a few more, depends on the day. You’ll find her about four miles off Highway 50 while you’re heading east out of Carson City. A friend hangs his hat here, calls it home, for the moment, for the last two decades. Whether he stays or not depends on what America chooses to do, he’s not the time or temperament to suffer through a takeover by enemies of democracy.
His has been a privileged life. Street performer, renaissance fair entertainer, standup comedy showman, cruise ship juggling act and even contract work as a bit part actor in Hollywood. Having seen so much of the world the implications of leaving for some more peaceful corner of creation does not stir up fear.
If you like dogs you’ll love Pino. Rescue dogs usually come from the pound with something wrong, some bad habit nobody can break. Pino might too, but Silver City is so agreeable to this dog’s disposition it is hard to know what quirk lurks beneath his fur. Might be a miracle canine healing power of the place has occurred.
Water for Silver City comes off an alpine lake west in the Sierra Nevada. Kind of hard to explain the intricacies of all of this Silver City water. Long gone mine owner secured the rights by putting down a pile of silver and the rights to this water are ironclad, they’ve the best high mountain fresh water of any community near or far. Tourist trap Virginia City should be so lucky to have such fine water.
Mustang range through town. Up by the community hall the park grass is fenced off to discourage equine grazers. Homes are painted, doors and windows work as they should, a proper roof is always a must. Once you adjust your eyesight to small town Nevada everything comes into focus, the good citizens here are taking care of their property. By my eye many look fully improved turn key operations.
Yes, you can find a snowmobile that has been dissolving into a rusting heap alongside the salvaged metal remains of most of one century then all another hundred years and toss these last two can we have a do-over decades plus in for good measure. There is some pavement. The one highway through town is paved. There are no traffic signals.
Looking south you’ll see sky, clouds kick up, hell of a place for happy hour. Every kind of enterprise, industry and labor is performed in Silver City. Nevada’s state capitol Carson City is not far, Tesla’s Gigafactory is not close but if that’s where you find a a job and a living wage— it can be one of life’s cruel possibility’s. The best life is reserved for repairmen, that’s the ticket here. Fix an RV toilet, install a water heater, bannister refurbishing is popular and needed.
Baker, Nevada is 8 hours and 370 miles east of Silver City. Baker is also a town of near 200 Great Basin souls. Silver City is the minor league’s when you think about emptiness and isolation, Baker plays in the to hell and gone league. You got so much nowhere out here that by the time you drive to somewhere you end up barely having gotten anywhere. Ely’s the next nearest somewhere— she too is a fine place and there’s plenty of it, they’ve got grocery stores, gas stations and saloons.
Whispering Elm’s Campground is where I stopped in Baker. A no-nonsense hard boiled egg of a woman checked me in. Took my money, smoked her cigarette, answered the phone and grouched back at whoever and whatever was on the other line. Her ride was an overridden Ford Explorer. No dents, started when you turned the key and the original paint was protected by a thick coat of Great Basin dust. I made small annoying chit-chat. I was here in March 2020 when the pandemic was breaking out— She had nothing to say— I carried on— he persists— pretty much talking to myself, she’d of preferred to hear from anything other than a two-bit likely two-timing no good for nothing nature loving Californian.
This is what passes for true affection in the remote eastern outpost of Baker, Nevada. I needed more seasoning is what a local likely thinks— a few weeks of wearing down would help before conversation with this invasive species would offer any potential benefit. You want to talk to someone that might listen you head right over across the street to the national park headquarters where they’ve got people that are paid to put up with a just arriving Great Basin hack explorer.
I’ve cracked more than a few hard nuts out here in Baker. They’ll come around eventually or by happy hour. There are hard lessons out here to learn. First is how to put two coins together. Younger more ambitious types with some spunk left get on at one of the ranches, work on road repair crews, maybe you’re cooking for a restaurant before it goes belly up then get hired on to cook for the next proprietor that gives hospitality services a try prior to the next collapse. Ghost town status is preternatural.
I’ve met a few lifer’s along the way, but most are here because they can’t take anywhere out there anymore. Rush hour, gridlock and stinking air pollution has converted more than a few to the virtues of a place like Baker. Most of these kindred spirits have a deep detestation for civilization, all of it, the whole kit and bumper to bumper caboodle. Only exception they are willing to make is for the ornery son of a bitches that they share this corner of the world with. Fair enough, everything has its price, I’m good with Baker folk sticking together and leaving me out.
If you were blindfolded and set down in Baker or Silver City and asked to identify where you are the tone of voice and the quality of joy in the voice of the citizen would give the whole guessing game away. Baker occupies a wee little corner of the Snake Valley. If you go half cocked off in any direction you will find yourself in a place that can kill, maim or make misery on your foolishness in a heartbeat. A breakdown out a dirt road could be your last lousy mistake. The paved roads are safest. Some graded dirt roads aren’t too risky, but then there are these other less seldom used two track trails to nowhere you’ve got to think twice about.
Baker now has a reliable cellphone signal. A few years back all you could do is dial to a number and use your voice to talk to someone, since those days they’ve added data so now you can look at your mail or if you’ve got the stomach for it read the news. This may or may not be progress, jury is out on whether the Pony Express might have been a more reliable service. If you do or don’t come here that’s your choice, you are only missing Great Basin beauty and the ugly truth.
A Nevada art’s organization offers a winter long residency here. If you are a writer they’ll set you up in a shack give you enough money for food and let your stew on whatever it is you have swelling up inside that needs expression. Once full-on winter sets in things go from soft core to hardcore. Instead of maybe a dozen or two dozen vehicles arriving by the day you can expect maybe one or two every couple of days. You build fires in the wood stove, watch the weather reports for snow and ice, and hitch a ride to Ely to resupply when its safe to go.
Last few miles before making it to Baker I surprised a coyote crossing the highway. This animal scattered like buckshot into the sagebrush glancing back once just in case I was going to give chase then the critter kept running for its life trying to reclaim its stealth like presence. I slowed then stopped and studied the animals efforts to get away, there was an economy of effort, fast enough to do the work of fleeing but not so much as to risk running the tank of coyote gas empty before the job was done. Since I’m not often running for my life I mean who am I to judge one coyote or another— fast or slow running for your life is running for your life. Hell we’re all running, out here in the high desert that running is just less complicated or disguised. You either make it or you don’t, no hurry, take your time, once you’ve found cover, taken a sip at the watering hole, had a chance to catch your breath, it’s all good, you’ve made it, you are safe, for the moment, eternity can wait—
Rolling east next week— it’s the road and it’s out there waiting mile after mile to be devoured. Over the years I’ve kept in touch with people, some are friend’s others are business contacts. If I had not been so frequently back to one place or another it might have not been practical to cast my relationship’s net so far.
Out of sight and out of mind, many don’t put in the time to keep in touch. Back before the digital revolution I’d call or send a letter. I traveled with a Smith-Corona manual typewriter, good supply of envelopes, typing paper and stamps. As I mapped out the year, I’d send notes ahead of my traveling through for shows to my support network.
Anticipating a return to a favorite venue, an enticing town, a backwater along a river— there are mental images that wet the appetite.
I get how when we are one place, we might not have the space in our head to remember all the details of the second place. If you tour the list crowding the imagination is long. In Winnipeg there was this after-hour’s joint, the sofa outback under the building’s porch roof, this was where the cast drank beer disguised in paper sacks, fooling nothing and nobody, this was a modern day speakeasy, the cops could be kicking the doors down at any moment, the performers swept up and taken away in paddy wagons.
Comfort zones come from sleeping in the same bed. You want to force yourself to get out, stay with friends, pitch a tent, get a room, stay at a musty hotel. You can become too attached to your dog— our gardens can entrap us— staying home becomes a debilitating habit— it’s a form of adventure surrender. Everything is in play when you unexpectedly drop on by, disrupting comfortable stuck friends is a form of liberation— they should be thankful— a few are, some never will be.
The touring act dropping in for a day or two provides a degree of discomfort, this is healthy, the host will survive and only after you leave will appreciate how fortunate their lives are for having you stop by and scramble their calendar. How long are you going to stay? That is the key question. Two day’s is a brilliant conceit, just long enough.
Knocking about town to town is a skill set of its own kind. Getting comfortable in faraway places, not feeling out of sorts, once your wandering mode is as natural a state of being as your being in one place mode you’ve really made your mark— you’re a wanderer in a kingdom that is all your’s.
The vagabond, gypsy and busker have suitcase efficiencies and spartan shave kits that will spark envy of sedentary types, the itinerate artists are perfecting the high art of traveling with only what is necessary, anything that is not needed gets or donated— travel light move quick.
Then comes the turn, that could be the date on your schedule, sometimes it is measured by the furthest distance from where you are from the place you call home, this is when in your mind’s eye the thought of getting back begins to take hold. If you are in a hurry to get back, this is not the interior state I’m marking. If you are returning with the same sense of ease and expectation as you were when you were leaving, that’s what I’m talking about.
Cooking for yourself is easier in your own kitchen, many meals cooked off a tailgate have little to recommend them other than the terrific view you might enjoy. Doing dishes hunched over a bucket on the ground, little discomforts will keep many harnessed to where they claim to belong.
One such helper is a woman named Becky. Growing up in Nashville she’d become friends with a juggler, he stood out, but he was young and employed as a chemist. Decades later while I was working at 5th and Mill in Tempe, Arizona we met, conversations ensued and an invitation to stay in a room above the garage was offered, “anytime you’re in town, please come on by…” And so, I have. It was only years later I realized this young juggler she met in Tennessee was my colleague— Robert Nelson.
Crawford Bay, British Columbia there is a fine friend I see that lives here when he’s not living in Banderas Bay, Mexico. Another lifelong friend an hour further west in the Slocan is there too. This is a region of the interior known as the Kootenay’s. These are deeper more complex relationships, one extends back to my teens, met Virginia in 1967. The other Angus I worked in Vancouver BC with doing shows in English Bay. Conversations are thick with history.
Returning the favor, a magician friend out of Phoenix in May will be my guest, rarest of all events is catching a gypsy in domestic relapse. I’ll show him the oddest of sedentary proof— he’ll get the chance to sleep in a guest bed and eat vegetables from our garden.
Sunday I’ll be in Silver City, Nevada hosted by a showman. Wednesday arrive in Salida, Colorado again hosted by a showman. World renowned, both in the grip of learning to belong somewhere.
Friday night I’ll pick up my wife at the airport in Albuquerque. Then, Saturday we’ll spend the day in Santa Fe with one of my favorites, she’s an abstract painter and has been for most of half a century. Abstract painters are hilarious, fun loving, like to laugh and live sun up to sundown with a passion all of their own.
What is on my mind are the Pueblo People of the Southwest. We will go to Chaco Canyon, then further west to Canyon de Chelly. This is the Navajo Nation, where the Dine’ people live.
Maybe a hot spring dip here and there, some long hikes and stargazing for sure. Will be home in time to harvest the cabbage and green beans. There is a doctor’s appointment, teeth cleaning and soon after a trip up to Seattle to see the kid, as if turning 30 isn’t insult enough, the kid is a fully realized woman I have thought of as my child. It’s all catch and release, every bit of everything we do, from shows to sleepovers, to growing vegetables or visits with good souls. We come and we go, some of us will never come back while other’s return time and again.
Installation of the heat pump in our backyard studio has been completed, signed off on by the inspector from city hall, all there is left to do is put the flooring in, sheetrock, tape, texture and paint. I did the heat pump install, hired craftsmen will do this other work.
There are heat pumps and then there are heat pumps, the last ten years much research and development has gone into improving this technology. Our Pioneer mini-split performs many functions. It can work as a fan, dehumidifier, heater or air conditioner.
I had some concerns about how much noise the outside fan and compressor would make. Turns out it is whisper quiet. To celebrate we opened the umbrella, the wife sipped from the Rhône a glass of Tavel while I took a nip of the Irish from the whiskey.
While the law of thermodynamics hasn’t changed it is the microchip, software and circuitry that have. More complicated than conventional natural gas fueled heaters and thus more expensive the payback comes over time and turns out to be one of the most effective tools we have for fighting global warming.
Big shout out to the Says Phoebe that landed on my hat while I was distracted with the installation work. The bird playing around with me was a good sign.
In March 2021 I removed the plastic that covered most of the backyard. I’d used the covering to suppress the weeds that were trying to take over. Two years ago, when I first covered this chunk of dirt there was still much on our plate, we were busy with the installation of our front yard. I needed time more time. Out back could wait.
On our list of plants for this section of our garden included grapevines, blueberry bushes, raspberries, strawberries, fig, and pomegranate trees. The brilliant Maurizio plumbed in the drip irrigation, then I installed the weed suppression fabric, then turned to planting. Our squirrel problem was solved when we started mixing coffee grounds into and around the soil of the plants we wanted them to leave alone. Turns out a California tree squirrel doesn’t like coffee. To discourage gophers we use Caster oil mixed with soap and dispense with a garden sprayer. So far all our remedies keep the pests away without adding anything toxic to the yard.
Pair of house finches went house hunting and like the looks of a beam on our front porch. I had fun spying on the two as one or the other hopped about then flitted to another unoccupied section until they’d seen enough and began work on their nest. It’s a little close to our coming and going out the front door, but we want them there and even if a cat tried it is unlikely that they could get at this mated pair.
Last year a crow tried to come eat the young baby finches. I was in time and warned the predatory bird away from the house finch’s nest. Even in this neck of the civilized woods the law of the jungle still prevails.
I’ve a pair of fine lizards in the backyard. The two can seek refuge beneath a wine barrel we use to grow tomatoes. There is also a slab of cement that provides excellent protection from predators. Our neighbors’ cats stalk and hunt anything that moves, the squirrels they can’t catch but lizards have no such evasive skills and are easy prey. In an effort rebalance the lizards’ odds I’m preparing a slingshot, justice will be felt as a stinging blow on their butt. No animal has done more to harm our songbird populations here in North America. I’m diehard Audubon member, cats should be kept inside, if the animals must be let out responsible owners should have a bell put on their collar. If matters spiral out of control, I’ll begin trapping and returning the offenders to the owners front door. That should make for some fun neighbor conversation.
Our backyard studio will have shelves dedicated for our books and record albums. When we moved into the small house, we put our books wherever we could find space, some here and some there, it was never thought through, the books are scattered all over taking up space, collecting dust, and the book I may be trying to find can be in any one of five or six different locations.
There is a futon sofa bed where we like to get horizontal. We’re going to put this piece of furniture into the tiny studio where you may sit, lie down or sleep depending upon the circumstances. We’re adding a window covering and a magnetic screen.
Once upon a time I imagined that I held dominion over various physical pieces of my life, that I had some claim to empire, it was a small place that I ruled. Like many a stubborn man I resisted the true natural order of relationship and have recognized that this dominion guise is not a practical point of view. I maybe control the top of my desk, maybe a drawer, otherwise the space is ours to share, it is within the bounds of these commons that my wife and I live together.
No tradeoffs would have been possible as a younger man— none. Had I bent to my other’s will, I would have been laughed out of the pool hall where I played for sport and small change. It is only in the latter half of a man’s life that he come to terms with not having to win every argument, not having to have it and everything his way. The tyranny of testosterone is loosening its blithering grip, like the sky the mind of a man of a certain age does clear. Some days I miss the conflict, not so much the brawling, more of the cooling off and making up after, those hugs and kisses and thinly disguised promises that you won’t do it again are so much a part of a man’s right of passage from eternal adolescence and marks the first steps on the long march to maturity.
A best friend appraising the odds believes there is barely a chance of my every making it, but then he adds it’s not the destination it’s the journey that makes all the difference. Mentioning this to my wife only produces a blank stare. Thank the gods that the eternal game is never-ending—
Montara manzanita is a native plant that lives along the coastal range mountains south of San Francisco. I took a chance on one and brought it home. My one-year-old relationship with my manzanita is going better than I could have ever imagined it would— first and foremost I know next to nothing about gardening and that plants a gardener grows— I’m not just a novice I am ignorance of all things to do with what we sometimes refer to as yard work. The Montara manzanita is adapted to our climate it thrives on little water and sunlight. The megadrought we are suffering turns out to be the perfect civilization threatening weather for my new companion.
When inventorying my plans for the day, schedule for the week, what I’m going to do next month, next year, there are even plans for the next decade that I have included on an ambitious list I’ve set to complete before I travel on from this planetary outpost. Autopiloting a Tesla wasn’t a must-have experience, but here I am and now I’ve had it. My favorite time to use this function is in bumper to bumper traffic, especially when the going gets tough. This technology works better than I do because it is paying attention and that is a problem because that is not what I am always doing when cornered by gridlock.
Returning from LA Sunday I played with the autopilot function while blasting north on Interstate 5. One of its safety features is that you must tug on the wheel every minute or so to indicate you are still there and not somewhere else. Interrupting my daydreaming makes the function somewhat less than fully automated.
Our Tesla is a standard range plus, this is the smallest battery pack version you can buy, and that’s fine, 90% of the time the vehicle is used to buzz about for local errands or the short hop over to San Francisco and back. The longer road trip meant more stops but that’s fine there were plenty of charging stations and we’d plug in and take a walk, by the time we got home we’d gotten in our 10,000 steps.
For those keeping score at home had I driven the Volvo it would have cost $240 to go round trip to LA and back, the Tesla was like $60. There was an excellent autopilot on the boat I helped deliver to Southern California last week. This is a hydraulic ram style affair that attaches to the steering quadrant below decks to keep the boat on course. The technology is connected to both the wind speed and direction instrument, speedometer and chartplotter (you’ll need a rudder angle sensor to complete this trick of steering the autopilot by wind angle). You can select a point on a map and tell the autopilot to steer to this specific spot. You can go by compass course, or you can press a few buttons and direct the autopilot to steer by wind angle (in this case you’ll need to course correct while underway to your waypoint). Best of all the technology works better than a human being, especially at night when it is harder on a pitch black sea for a sailor to keep a boat on course.
I’m finishing up the installation of our heater/air conditioner unit we’re installing in the small writing space we’ve built in our backyard. I’ve a few wires to connect, then I’ll vacuum pump the 15’ circuit before releasing the refrigerant into the system. I didn’t want to do this job, but I got a $3000 quote from an installer and that settled the matter. I’ve had to buy a pressure gauge, crowfoot wrench set, those two items set me back about $200 but it was still cheaper than the alternatives. Once this whole system goes up, I’ve got a company that will certify my installation for $275. I turn the documentation into the city’s building permit department and I’m done.
The Thompson seedless grapevines I’ve planted need attention. Planted last year the vines require some guidance. This is all new terrain for me. I spent a few hours reading through a PDF file put out by the agriculture department from University of California-Davis. Not sure how any of us did any of this in the days before the internet.
Maurizio is a sage irrigation specialist. He’s helped rebuild our drip system and taught me how to add a circuit as the garden expands. He’s close to retiring and dreams of returning to Mexico to live out his last years in the village where he was born. My work is plodding, slow and my inexperience shows through, I am a rank amateur compared to Maurizio. His English is good, his accent is thick, we spend a lot of time completely in the dark, he doesn’t understand me and I am absolutely convinced I would never understand him even if I was fluent in Spanish. This is a trivial matter since we seem to somehow figure out what each other wants, in this respect our relationship remains on the best of best foundations. Maurizio knows how much I respect him. The old man works in gardens because it is his calling, it is his passion, helping others in their gardens is a matter of great consequence. Gardens help people on their path, gardening among other things brings us closer to the mystery of sunlight, seed, soil and water.
I’ve ordered double braided polyester dock line from Fisheries Supply. I’ll put eye splices on the end of 6 different lengths of line I’ll use to secure our boat to her new berth in San Francisco’s South Beach Harbor. If you haven’t seen how an eye splice is made surf over to YouTube and have a look-see for yourself. I’ve spliced before, but I’m a rank beginner, each splice takes everything I’ve got, most sailors parcel this work out to a rigging shop. Last week I spotted a boat berthed in Marina del Rey, the boat was a beauty, and not one piece of her was slipshod, there was a consciousness to each detail, a lot of effort was put into her dock lines. I’d had something similar in mind and now I no longer have to imagine I took pictures and will copy these boats mooring line system.
I’m juggling in the backyard. I had been away from my juggling equipment during the pandemic. After juggling nonstop since 1973 a sabbatical was in order. I was burnt out, juggling had become a chore, and that is the saddest thing to make what you once loved into a grim dutyBest of all my time off has allowed my appetite to return. I’m feeling voracious again, especially good news for a juggler of a certain vintage, my arms and shoulders appreciate the workout. For those unfamiliar with juggling, it is also a mental workout, the right side of our brain controls the left side of our body and vice versa, in other words juggling also scratches at parts of our intellect that can be difficult to reach without juggling.
As guru’s go there is none better than Tom Varley. First off his guidance pertains to all things to do with sailing, Volvo’s or Jack Russell terriers. One look at the engine room aboard his sailboat Spirit helps the uninitiated to understand why I’ve made this man my go-to advisor. In vain I tried to revive my 23 year old wind speed indicator, I did as told down to each and every detail, but the wind meter has evaded my every effort of allowing me the satisfaction of bringing the old piece of gear back to life. The hours invested, the money spent on parts, none of this matters, it is the fixing that is most important, because you fix something for reasons that transcend the thing being fixed. This is the fix we are all in, fixing is the opportunity to get out of bed and falling flat on your face before you’ve even had time to make your coffee. It is in this corner with the greatest of trepidation that I’ve inched closer to buying a brand spanking new wind speed instrument knowing that there is every chance that if something could go wrong something will go wrong during the installation and that it cannot possibly be as simple, easy or as inexpensive as it appears to be.
I am sure you’ve a garbage disposal on the fritz, a button to mend and a spouse to amuse— there is not a moment to waste unless you want to contemplate how it is some guy with the last name of Shakespeare did what he did like none before or any these many centuries after. You have to wonder if by some quirk of fate Shakespeare showed up in this century and gifted the world with new fresh piercing plotting and dialogue if anyone would even take notice. It must be asked if this great writer would find his writing clicked on, forwarded, or if it would like so much of this digitized era go lost among the riot of information rushing toward us all.
I really don’t have time for this. I’ve discovered the olive tree has leaned away from a towering Italian pine and has pushed up against our mailbox and broken through one corner rendering our mail wet when it rains. I’m going to affix a post to the existing post and move the mailbox over about one foot. Then I’ll restrain all the wood making the project look properly finished and of course we can then enjoy our life knowing the olive tree may now harmlessly continue growing as trees are wont to do.
This is how it is how has always been and will always be. I thought when Sears folded so would much of the rest of all this nonsense, but no that isn’t true at all, nature abhors a vacuum and all the tools required to keep all that open and free time on your calendar fully crammed with otherwise thankless tasks and idiotic fixes to things you would not miss for one single second. If you can prove me wrong you’ve much too much time on your hands and need to get an untrained puppy and begin at the beginning.
Casting my fate to the wind I confronted the last most credible year of my life— I had turned out to be a 29-year-old cornered by a demanding profession, the quest to find success in show business had left all matters large and small, both onstage and off devoured by the rapacious appetite of my most insecure self. Drowning in my own shallowness turned into trying to repurpose my time— I tossed a life preserver to my foundering soul and signed up for sailing lessons. I had no clue if this was even something I would like.
Lessons were taught in a classroom and on an 18’ sloop rigged keelboat. After passing all the tests both on the water and off, I was qualified to charter a boat— I could go sailing on my own. Sailing solo seemed to matter— listening to the wind, feeling the direction of the breeze on my ears, making visceral contact, relearning how to be present without suffocating my feelings with words— to see and sail by my wits with the wind.
Sailing on the Oakland Estuary, this was where the new sailor practiced. There was no plan to do anything more. There was no motor, no running lights, no electronics, no accommodations for eating or sleeping— there was just a boat and water, wind and sail, and this fragile younger newly minted beginner trying to reintroduce himself to the missing person I had become.
Until I’d taken lessons skilled sailors aboard larger sailboats had not attracted my attention— I’d hardly taken notice, my curiosity had gone missing.
In 1980 the Nordic Folkboat was a common sight on the San Francisco Bay. Fashioned of wood, 24 feet in length, the hull was constructed by lapstrake planking, the cockpit was an open design and the sailor sat low to the water— it was an advantaged position from where the helmsman could read firsthand how the boat was working with the wind and water.
Racing had no appeal, what I liked most was knocking about on my own terms without a care, playing with whatever wind and sea state I might encounter. The sage Folkboat helmsmen wore khaki— pants, shirt, and cap— khaki was the rule. In 1980 aviator style sunglasses were fashionable among this group. If a jacket was needed men would wear barn coats fashioned of waxed canvas with chocolate corduroy collars.
Not ready to toss my youth away I resisted the khaki sheik raging fashion of the time. Polyester was only in its infancy, but brighter colors and tighter stretchier fabric was easier to move around on while sailing in a cramped cockpit. All these choices— what to wear, what sunglasses to sport, all was subliminal— I wasn’t going GQ so much as unwilling to toss my youth away and join the khaki craze— it would have been a uniform indicating I’d become a member of the Sears & Roebuck house of worship, — cementing my sobriety and celibacy to a fateful unquenched misery.
The socially in the know sailor is by nature smitten with the fine figured opposites found sipping white wine along the waterfront cafés. Among the vital maneuvers even a beginner sailor can refine is the nonchalant docking of a boat near such a drinking establishment so that you might pause to go fishing for the love and affection that incessantly goes missing in a boatman’s life. There is no such thing as luring a sullen moody above the fray catch while clad in khaki— this is as true now as it was then, it is this invincible khaki clad cotton constructed barrier to a more amorous life that must be avoided lest you toss away all hope of finding what instinct insists you must have in abundance.
Beer drinking on hot days— when one arrives after sailing the helmsman and crew will regal the day’s romp on the water. A thirty-something anoints the end of a sail with beer brewed bravado— these are peak experiences— no other cohort of desperate lads can mount a more well played winding down of the day. Distracted, suffering from a lack of affection and then once sated the landlocked misunderstood mariner returns first to the sea and then the saloon. Heartbreak runs rampant among this kind.
By 2001 my footing straddled both sides of my aging self. I could still finish off the day buying a round in a pub, but the lines controlling both a boat’s sails and a man’s interior tethers were afoot. My sailing skills had advanced— the newcomer to the sport was no more.
Not appreciating the magnitude of the task, with a kind of blithering innocence I undertook the task of fully restoring a derelict wooden sloop. Between 2001-2007 I made seaworthy a 25’ sailboat— the class of boat was named the Golden Gate. Not only had I the pleasure of knowing every fastener, every board, every piece of bronze I had also sparked the unanticipated deeper cultivation of pieces of my most difficult to repair character. From the boatyard where I would labor, I developed my focusing skills, breaking tasks into incremental pieces— fix one thing then the next— doing whatever is required for as long as it takes— getting it right was more of the point than the time it excised from my charade filled exploits as a land-loving sunburnt Romeo of a kind. Fixing a wood boat with tools and by hand had moved both man and his future forward— fixing the boat had indeed also help fix this sailor.
My wooden sloop had been owned by the bass player for Huey Lewis and the News. Even prior to this glancing blow with rock and roll fame several other owners had sailed this boat to best boat of the year and season’s championships. Built in Sausalito in 1959 Maestro had earned much notoriety as one of the swiftest of all the 17 Golden Gate’s ever to sail on the bay. Flush decked this is a sailor’s sailboat— her personality on the water and in the wind marked her as one of sailings most capable craft. With the wind in her sails Maestro again and again said to her helmsman that something was right with the world and this right feeling you knew to your core, this boat spoke to you through the varnished tiller in your hands.
I bought her, fixed her, lived on her, sailed her and sold her. Maestro was shipped off to Moss Landing, her new owner would sail from this fishing harbor in Monterey Bay.
I thought I would hear from Maestro, she was too palpable, so capable, so tangible, my hands were stained with her varnish and paint, blisters on my palms were still healing from the hours of swinging a caulking hammer. After I had dedicated to Maestro my best— just like that she was gone and in her place was fit a new boat— a fresh brand-new uncharted course. This four-decade long boat alliance was far from over, there were still too many lessons to be learned, too many ways I could go lost or be found— a sailboat enables the sailor to remain closer to the interior pieces of his soul, the right boat will share their spirit, you will know your boat and your boat I am convinced will come to know you.
Sailing vessel Gratitude was underway with three crew by fifteen hundred hours on March 25th. In the first hours the Hylas 46 motored westbound with the ebbing tide toward the Golden Gate Bridge. An overcast sky began to open up and beyond on the Pacific Ocean there appeared the telling detail of a faint blue clearing dusk sky.
An hour beyond the Golden Gate the flood tide met and forced the ebb into turbulent surrender. Sailors mark the moment their boat breaks free of the San Francisco Bay’s tidal influence, now 12 miles west of Emeryville we make the turn, now the sailing vessel Gratitude is southbound.
By sunset we were 24 miles from home port off Half Moon Bay. My first watch would begin during the early hours of tomorrow, I was to report by zero-three-hundred, this sailor was off to his bunk.
Each of us would stand our watch alone in the darkness of night on a pitch black ocean to spend these hours keeping our other crew safe from mishap or surprise.
Coffee was waiting, I checked the chartplotter to fix the vessels position, heading and speed. On deck secure in the center cockpit I began my watch in water between 3500 to 6500 feet in depth.
On the Monterey Peninsula Point Pinos Light was visible— every 4 four seconds the oldest continuously operated lighthouse on the west coast flashed through its original Fresnel lens— this crucial mariner’s guide was first placed into operation in 1855— Steinbeck would be proud.
Above were the stars and planets, on the shore Point Lobos was veiled in darkness, a fog bank hung above on the Carmel Highlands and then between was rising a crescent moon that soon vanished into fog.
Our seas mood shifted with the arrival of fog, into this our vessel plunged into an ever colder darkness, the stars vanished, dew dripped from the rigging and canvas, two distinct ocean swells followed us, one from a western edge the other from the shore, together the stern of our boat would swing side to side, then up and down, a kind of corkscrewing without a full turn.
By zero-six-hundred-hours dawn was grudging in its muted arrival, the chill of morning was the worst damp kind of cold, this the kind that cuts through shoes and gloves, nothing could keep out the bite of the ocean air.
The skipper stirred and checked the chartplotter, course is important to confirm, position and speed confirmed Gratitude remained on schedule— speed and distance told us this coastal passage would take 46 hours.
A safe passage for the sailing vessel Gratitude meant our being off the water and in port before a western Pacific cold front whipped its tail and churned up seas and wind into small craft warning chaos.
Our course kept us 20 miles from shore. The continent hidden by fog was more theory than fact, we knew land was there, but the clouds had veiled the steep Santa Lucia Mountains of the Big Sur Coast.
Radar set to 25 miles indicated we were alone on a raucous building sea. A boisterous Point Sur would have its say, it is quite the talker this one— Gratitude and crew followed the rules of self preservation and listened to her every word. Crew do not leave the safety of the cockpit for any reason other than to trim sails, and then we clip on with a tether, every duty attended to was concentrated on keeping the boat speeding south— the self steering system, the sails, no detail went overlooked, first among first’s keep the boat moving at speed, do not tempt the mighty Sur, not here, do not linger for muse, be respectful, bend to this coastal contour and give this untamable lion of the west coast room to roar, we pass southbound through her domain, eternity has left its signpost here, there are no do-overs, you get to be with her then go north or south with eyes wide open.
Best of all the wind was off our stern, blowing us southbound, the worst of it was the sea state was disorganized and unruly, moving about on board took care, there would be no quick recovery, here was this exquisite place to do what you must without error or misjudgment. Motorcyclists know what I mean. These are moments when self-preservation is in play, and that is a good thing for those who can observe fates unbending rules.
Our daylight hours ended as we passed well offshore of Morro Bay. From here the coast veers eastward, the course south was our plot and sailboat’s storyline. Night gripped us again. Winds had subsided, seas began to grow less turbulent, again into the night the vessel Gratitude’s bow cut its way south sending its wake into as inconsequential a wake as a butterfly’s wings upon a garden’s pollen saturated air.
Crew ate supper. Each member took his turn at watch, when off you curled up in your sleeping bag to get warm.
I woke in time to see our vessel approach Pt Arguello. Seas were near flat but a southerly breeze swept up along this piece of coastline from Point Conception. My skipper remained on watch to steady his second mate’s nerves. To our west the oil platforms stood lighted in a dark night. Vessel traffic targets appeared on radar. Gratitude would make quick work here of transiting between these two infamous coastal landmarks.
We made our turn west for Santa Barbara. The gods would not be done with Gratitude quite yet, there was still meddle of nerve and nautical judgment to test. Seas were not sizable but they were to our disadvantage, and in the sailor’s vernacular described as square. Square waves two feet in height and two seconds apart hit us right on the nose, in this instance we would tussle with waves growing to 4 feet, short steep surface chop, the short intervals gave the waves a great advantage over our ability to make our way.
Wind was expected to pickup after sunrise but remained in the high teens with gusts to 26 knots, the gusts were seldom, we placed the fate of our plan in the wind remaining somewhere around 18 knots. Setting our sails on either port or starboard made little difference, on one tack or the other the square waves slowed the boat just when all due speed was hoped for.
Crew and skipper tinkered with various pointing strategies, the boat pounded against the waves, progress was hard to make, crew was uncomfortable and Gratitude was struggling to move with efficiency. Outbound 40 hours now we were not more than six hours to our destination if we could solve this puzzle of sea state and wind.
Decisively we pointed west toward the Channel Islands and for more than an hour tried to make our way west doing our best to not to let the hull pound against the rising sea. We tacked back over to starboard, this time pointing south and west trying by steering to not let the waves beat on the hull, here is where a good helmsman earns his bowl of soup and chest sized tattoos.
By noon of Sunday we were one hour from the 46 hours we would need to complete our 300 miles south to Santa Barbara. Calls were sent to the Santa Barbara Yacht Club. A guest dock was secured, by zero-thirteen-hundred-hours the vessel Gratitude’s crew tied her lines to the dock.
Safe and in port tucked behind the breakwater we took showers then to nearby restaurants where we could eat warm food, taking a nip now and again, awaiting the arrival of Monday’s storm.
Wednesday we sail bringing Gratitude home to the California Yacht Club, this will be her new berth in Marina del Rey. From this harbor Gratitude will be set to sail to Santa Catalina Island, a whole season of warm weather sailing round trip, first to the island then back to the mainland, most sails will be on winds that allow the boat to reach at speed more often than not upon tranquil seas.
Summer nights out on Catalina Island aboard Gratitude, they come earned by passage— then that moment arrives and warm soft island air lights upon your skin— you are the one place you never had counted on missing, like lost love, like the end of your childhood, like the first time you rode your bike with just two wheels, like swallows, by instinct there is this winged return, and return again, it is in this cove on this island where you can’t miss and most want to belong.
Madness has been such the rage of late. In the human species political insanity seems endemic. Homo sapiens are just flat out nutball’s. I’ve traveled to far off lands, even while it hasn’t occurred to me to send my army to take one over, not yet but I’m starting to wonder if I’ve maybe overlooked my tyranny options.
I’d long thought if I was really going to go off the deep end, I’d get a Harley and join the Hell’s Angels. Once while in Dubai a Saudi Arabian motorcycle gang rumbled up to the hotel entrance where I was staying. There were twenty riders on bikes costumed in black leather, a sense of menace graced their presence. Safe from within the lobby of a 5-star hotel thought I’d go on outside and introduce myself to the Saudi Sunni bad boys of the Middle East. I explained I was from Oakland— that I’d had a bike — that I rode hard and knew more than few tough hombres—
Stoic, piercing deadpan stare, the Saudi outlaw rider if I interpreted the moment correctly wanted to gut and fillet me there and then. But you know we’re in front of a class hotel and cleaning a fish can make such a mess.
I continued — So you rode all the way from Riyadh for wild times here in Dubai— there was more silence— more incredulous stares— I liked it— if he had taken me out the Emirati would have had to take him out— one less stinking American wasn’t going to change anything— the gang member was weighing his options.
Used to see a Hell’s Angel at the corner gas station back in my Oakland days. To his neck a biker I saw often wore a leather dog collar with a 2 foot chrome chain that was attached to a raccoon perched on his shoulder— the raccoon rode on his leather clad shoulder right down the highway— this was some kind of post-apocalyptic Mad Max like honed biker persona— I’ll get back to you on the affinity the two animals had for one another— nobody knows for sure why one or the other had not fallen into a foul mood and bitten the others face. The Angel’s clubhouse was further down MacArthur Blvd where the gang would drink and on nights when things got out of hand there would be shootouts on the boulevard in front of the club. If you lived in the neighborhood as I did you steered clear— at all times.
Sizing up the Saudi Arabian Harley rider, there were more of his kind, but I focused on the one that seemed to have the most feelings, he seemed no gruffer than any Angel I had encountered. Gothic motorcycle outlaw vibe continues to be a simple enough human condition replicated across a vast sea of the world’s cultures. First to know should you want to form your own gang is you’ll want a good Harley Davidson— modified— tricked out— should be wicked quick. I like chrome, custom paint graphics and mild chopped front forks. Rider should be properly attired with a blend of leather and denim; I like identifiers so a good graphic on the back of a vest is ideal— Hell’s Angels, Gypsy Jokers, The Pagans, The Sons of Silence—
Proper outlaw attire, you’ll want to have black leather gloves, wrap-around sunglasses, a razor-sharp buck knife, zippo lighter and a petite caliber Barretta tucked into an ankle holster—these accessories should suffice as you and your gang fulfill you biker plundering and illicit drug manufacturing enterprises.
Here in these days of global chaos, where some runt punk tyrant has taken to threatening nuclear conflagration, it seems important to review all our mob, gang and militia options.
Super smart former Defense Secretary Robert Perry has been spitting out most of one lung and part of what is left of his other over the risks nuclear weapons present to a world that cannot afford to launch even as much as one. Perry has studied the problem created by Russia and the United States each pointing some 12000 nuclear weapons at each other. Thinking about violence prone outlaw motorcycle riders is miserable enough, imagine that just one nuclear warhead, meaning your side still have 5999 more to use, just one is powerful enough to end the entire San Francisco Bay Area’s rush hour, high cost of housing and future shootouts in front of the Hell’s Angels clubhouse. In other words, one intercontinental ballistic missile would take most of California off the playing field, reduce Apple, Google and Facebook to rubble and make for a hell of a long line as we all try squeezing through the pearly gates on the same day and hour.
Like a lot of things, the uncontemplated seems to have had a good run but its time is up— the best and most frightened of us are thinking now. There’s a new nuclear sheriff in town and he’s playing the game with a whole new deck of stone cold sober humanity at risk Tarot cards. We really don’t need to look up mankind has it well within their power to obliterate the globe in one hot second.
Some thought it would be our surging population. Forget the Population Bomb that explosion has already gone off— if you hadn’t noticed there are bodies everywhere. For coastal dwellers what that looks like is the parking lot at your favorite beach, the shorelines packed, parking lots full, and you’ll just have to go bumper to bumper at a slow crawl back from where you came.
For those wired up to empty spaces try Burns, Oregon but just know you’ll have Ammon Bundy supporters whining about the cost of ammunition down at the corner sporting goods outlet. Lot of Eastern Oregon’s least informed and most alienated citizens here in these here United States of America have had it with the stinking liberals in Portland and would like nothing better than to throw their lot in with Idaho. Secession is all the rage in these climate changing times. A loose collection of rural types both here in the emptiest parts of Oregon and a slice of Northern California refer to their discontent by describing their region as the State of Jefferson— meaning that they’re secessionists in the Jefferson Davis model of revolt— some prefer Tommy Jefferson but methinks they protest to insincerely— these folk are not entirely for slavery being reinstated but I’m convinced some good old fashion Putin inspired subjugation they’re not against.
Being born in Oakland I take as my birthright and advantage. Appears a fair chunk of the people opposed to what Oakland is and what Oakland will always be— this merry mob of Jefferson’s are not entirely sure how to wrap their minds around what this great American city might promise and mean.
Of all the grifters, all the offended by the diversity you can find hailing a Lyft or riding by horseback, to all Americans feeling in a rotten mood we’ll all want to consider whether we’re going to throw in with the brutish dictator Vladimir Putin or whether we are to wrap our hearts and minds around the thriving freedom loving democracies we are in alliance with. Our moment in history has arrived. If Putin wins in Ukraine, Trump seizing the Oval Office in 2024, if that happens, we’ll leave NATO, and the New American Autocratic Party will align with Russia, North Korea, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and China.
That’s the game right there. Might as well pack your bags, most of us in California will be headed to a Gulag in the Mojave Desert, prison guards will be handpicked by the Hell’s Angels, late night television will be all Alex Jones, Steve Bannon and a breathless Putin loving Tucker Carlson doing high dungeon anti-comedy schtick. Really, folks those of us who still enjoy a good laugh will need to unite. The end of clowning, slapstick and satire must be halted before this cohort of madness overruns the sane among us—
The likelihood of our correcting the current trajectory the human species is on appears to be no sure thing. As Benny explains in Guys and Dolls─ Nathan, I cannot believe that a number one businessman like you has fallen in love with his own fiancé─
One of the hallmarks of this social media instant communications era is avoiding sounding like an alarmist, don’t punch the panic buttons, handle the hot potatoes the way you would your IKEA furniture assembly instructions, there’s no reason to become upset. If you work in journalism, you’ll want to deadpan the delivery, just give your readers the facts.
As threats to humanity go, I thought the crisis at Fukushima’s tsunami destroyed nuclear power station to be a pretty good wakeup call— right— hello anyone else— oh I see it looks like it’s just me. Meltdowns before taking your wedding vows or at a nuclear reactor tend to concentrate the mind. Instead in Japan what followed were the laconic desultory vocal stylings of nuclear engineers all proffering lozenges of atomic energy pablum, that there was little reason to be alarmed, there was nothing to see here, that we should all just get back to what we were doing, the world moved on even if Fukushima remains a colossal environmental life on earth threatening unfixable disaster, this is the poster child for never-ending catastrophe’s.
A few more years and a few more problems appear to need addressing. Apparently the modern way to handle something is to ignore it for as long as you can, then promise to look into it, then do some good looking, and then drop the whole thing until you are reminded you were supposed to be looking into the thing, by then its almost acceptable to just say there’s nothing anyone can do about it now.
By now we’ve all become familiar with the phrase─ wet market─ you buy a live animal that is slaughtered then and there and is prepared for you to take home. Covid-19 can be traced back to Wuhan’s now shuttered wet market— they know precisely which booth— between 2017-2019 some 48,000 wild animals were purchased— customers were sold raccoon dog, hog badger or red fox— a fearless shopper lugged one nasty looking creature known as this beast known as a hog badger home and made a meal of the virus infected meat. These are termed zoonotic diseases. In my personal operating manual, the one installed by God, it is otherwise known as common sense, the things I ought not to do includes eating wild raccoon dog or hog badgers for supper. This isn’t even a close call. You don’t want to eat monkey brains or day old road killed squirrel stew. Just don’t do these things.
Next week we will celebrate the pandemic’s second anniversary. Every time I drive past the feedlot halfway between San Francisco and LA I’m reminded of how this has to be a potential pathway for a high speed zoonotic outbreak. Factory farmed meat can’t be anything other than a potential zoonotic threat. People that like a good steak don’t want to face this potential threat. Selling a well cooked pork chop is profitable and there’s the rub right there. Another decade on we will have laboratory meat grown in stainless steel vats, the food will be safer, there won’t be a need to use antibiotics, there will be no effluent to worry about, lab meat used as directed can still cause coronary artery disease, but what the hell that’s way down the list of things to be worried about.
What is ahead in the lab meat business is likely to be a more hygienic meat production system. Pigs won’t grow up in confined in impossible to turn around in cages. Instead pig cells will be grafted and then using 90% less land and water will be cultivated into the best bacon you’ve ever tasted.
In our current predicament we’ve several genocidal maniacs tyrannizing the world. I guess I got used to ignoring these miserable curses on humankind. Since 2016 I’ve had to get up in the morning to check on what that guy had done while I had been sleeping. I’d become sick of the whole chaos operation, it was transparent, decidedly authoritarian and lacking in any kind of coherence.
In Ukraine this week we’ve seen the Russian military attack two nuclear power stations. Russian dictator Putin has been fingering his stockpile of thermonuclear weapons, Syrian soldiers have arrived to fight for Vlad and there’s reason to be concerned about chemical weapons being deployed— nothing but the very best people.
Here we are waiting, we know another is coming, another variant is going to make its next move. We are hopeful creatures, we are eager for the next good chapter and ready to forget this lousy last one. We have no choice in this moment, might be we have a chance to catch our breath, if we can get things to smooth out, maybe we can drill on down into our humanity and give voice to our better angels. The battle has been joined, the fight is on, I’ve put my bet on our winning, we prevail ultimately while all kinds of not winning happens until then.
Need to feel better about the world, go to the World Central Kitchen— https://wck.org throw a few bucks their way. We’re going to get through this, and feeding Ukraine’s refugees is where we start, from there we build out a better world than the one we’ve got. Here we go
The list was long, the time horizon a decade plus but at long last our number was called. If you have patience, if you can stick to it, hang in there, wait, pay your yearly waiting list fee, then keep waiting you have to believe eventually you’ll get in.
South Beach Harbor is adjacent to major league baseball’s San Francisco Giants stadium─ current name on stadium is Oracle Stadium. Depending upon your personal preferences this could be either your heaven or your personal berthing hell.
Berthing our sailboat serves many masters. Most of all it gives us a place to stay when we come to the City. South Beach is now after a 14 year wait our very own San Francisco pied-à-terre. This mad about sailing family originally signed up during Barack Obama’s first year in office. Obviously, it must be counterintuitive to even think of owning a boat in the midst of a global financial crisis but that’s who we are, the well positioned survivors of Wall Street’s version of an economic Armageddon.
My dog Lacey was still alive when we signed up for the long wait, God bless that little dog’s tail, if the Vatican would consent, I’d sanctify her little canine soul─ so what the, the little dog’s loving soul was boundless, a kinder animal would be hard to come by. The two of us were still banging out 500 shows per year, a slip in South Beach would be rarely seen, perhaps photographs would have to suffice while I was on the road.
Sweet Seas arrived from Alameda into our possession in 2008, the single most expensive toy purchase of our lives. First, we berthed her at Pier 39 in San Francisco, this was always going to be temporary, soon after we moved her to Sausalito, better and enchanting but also inconvenient and sociologically offkey to the tune we hummed─ of course we loved Sausalito, but it’s also a tourist trap─ affluent plus-plus-plus only types are the only kind that can afford this exclusive town’s real estate, and sure we may be card carrying credit worthy’s but we’ve found the unstratified East Bay milieu more soothing to our world view.
I am East Bay to the bone, born in Oakland, more about that, just saying our Vice President was born among the glory that is the Left Coast’s version of Brooklyn. Berthing our boat in Emeryville was a deft stroke of insight, practicality, and deli-sandwich luck. I can spot a native East Bay born and raised male by haircut, slang and the beer they drink.
Life threw us a few screwballs. The wife was off to Australia for work, I was soon contracted for shows in Mexico. What caused us problems was we had purchased a home, it was too big, wasn’t long before the custom Joseph Esherick digs began to overtake our lives and demand too much of our tool time. Being tied to the home and chores wasn’t a good fit, saw the chance, sold the place, plan was to temporarily liveaboard in Emeryville─ one year turned into nine of the best years of our lives. This was my second stint living aboard, my wife’s first go at such a spartan life─ she loved everything about marina life─ birds and manta rays, sunrise and sunsets, the play of tides, possibilities tantalized, but for a few challenges whatever inconveniences we suffered were accepted as a worthy price to be tied so close to nature.
I was doing three months on and three months off in the Riviera Maya, Eileen was working remotely and joined me, then she took a gig in LA, that ended her being with me in Mexico, and it made my being away for 12 weeks too high a cost to pay to keep our marriage on track.
Somewhere in all this was the planning to sail to Avalon, to spend the summer bumming around harbor to harbor up and down the California coast. Our sailboat needed upgrading, that busied the days. Everything from the new and classier toilet to purchasing new sails, and not just new ordinary sails but high-tech space-age technology sails demanded my every attention.
By the summer of 2019 I was off for shows in Canada, then a romp down the coast to Los Angeles, this time not as skipper but as crew two-handed in September, then a four-handed romp to Cabo San Lucas with another couple in December. New Year’s Eve little did we appreciate that our celebration in Avalon would be our last taste of the before time’s.
Upgrading dock lines is a first chore. Brightwork needs attention, sanded yesterday, and put first new coat on today. I’ll put another nine coats on, of course sanding between each coat, gives me an excuse to keep an eye on the dock lines, inspecting the lines for chafe, for those that don’t know much about boating is preventing your boat from sinking or breaking loose and going on an unintended adventure, these are two of the more basic watches that a good mariner must stand and guard against.
Then there is the dance of meeting new sailors. They come in all shapes and sizes, all ranges of experience, each with their own possibilities and foibles, each with the infinitesimal chance that they may become new friends. Because South Beach Harbor in San Francisco is such a particular place, with such a specific zip code, there are fewer sailboats here preparing for extended cruising. Fishing, sailing, motor yachting, all for the day, sometimes overnight, this is what my eye tells me is here. Of course the intoxicated dreamer’s haunt this harbor, this is as nature and sailing intended seeing into what you can do with all those tomorrow’s to be. What can we do with the wind and a dream, when can we go, what will we see, how can this change us─
As decades go this one has come out of the blocks hobbling. The world keeps throwing curves when we’re desperate for a fastball. It was with some measure of reassurance that I read that a CBS poll had found 80% of folk asked were against banning books from schools and libraries. You’ll take your good news where you find it.
All of 11 years old I’d fallen for iambic pentameter, and poems were produced as I tapped out the ten syllables to each line. I liked rhyming patterns, I experimented. A Roget’s Thesaurus fell into my possession, I used new found words to punch up my poems. My boredom with school had to do with impatience, to do with daydreaming. School work was sloppy, my poems were precocious for a preteen truant. Teachers tried but I was hard to get through to, my middle school English teacher thought I’d plagiarized my work, maybe my sister was ghost writing for me, the teacher and I had nothing for each other, well there was the mistrust.
Four years later my feisty Jesuit English teacher was fascinated with narrative and treasured how story in novels and feature length films stirred imagination. Hud the film starring Paul Newman, Melvyn Douglas and Patricia Neal was a coming-of-age event in my life. Womanizing, whiskey drinking, and foot and mouth disease drove the film’s fateful plot. I had never been exposed to a story with an anti-hero as the protagonist. The way Patricia Neal’s character could see right through Newman’s character─ how she had half a mind to have an affair with Hud, but she chose not to, encountering Hud’s dark character in adolescence affirmed the terms of engagement that were underway within my secreted self.
The Last Picture Show released in 1966 cemented Larry McMurtry’s impact, my imagination has never abandoned his influence. I gave the director Peter Bogdanovich too much credit, it was later I had realized that the power of a McMurtry scripted film is to do with the talent of the writer.
For some years I banged around small time West Texas doing juggling shows at schools, fairs and festivals. If a place was drying up, a building’s paint was blistering off from a scorching sun, this is where I preferred to incubate, progress in self-understanding was possible here.
Fort Stockton, Texas, a wiser up and comer walked it end to end. Filmmakers don’t have to shoot West Texas with black and white film, the region is monochromatic as is, it’s all dust and dirt, the brush is subsistent, water ain’t, you would be hard pressed to find a better edge of civilization to view the abyss from.
Fort Stockton makes no apologies for what it is and what it isn’t, it can’t be improved and if you stay, you’ll have to quell your lust and cravings for this stagecoach stopover. I feel Larry McMurtry’s melancholy in this town’s bones, the agency of his prose echo off the slow rolling big rigs heading east and west on state Highway 285. McMurtry elevated desolation against gleaming beauty, the adolescently cruel and curvaceous Cybil Shepherd’s character Lacy Farrow was a revelation, Jeff Bridges Cybil Shepherd obsessed Duane Jackson was my stand in stunt double.
The long drive and weary Fort Stockton arrival is purifying, what aches here is time forgotten human habitat, a place to pass through on your way, this isn’t a place to come stay, this is a corner of Texas you’ll want to be sure you bring your escape plan.
Fortunes are found in West Texas. Wind turbines send power to markets in Houston, Dallas, and Austin. The Permian Basin is nearby. Many a fortune has been won and lost here. If you like rattlesnakes, there are plenty, wind you’ll find even more.
I’ve played University of Texas, El Paso, hustling my supper by juggling, this I’ve done across the decades. El Paso’s signature consists of a diverse and multicultural hearty stock of citizens true to the cause. This is Beto’s turf. There is a sizable majority here, diverse from all corners of want and wander, a people ready to turn the page on the hard right, a border town knows the score, immigration is fact based, New York Post headlines are insult and unfounded.
My mother-in-law believed in her daughter’s pick of the pack from all the hounds pursuing her. If there is any benefit to being born an artist, it is witnessing the mother-in-law’s that come to the tight and penniless corner you are impaled upon. If art is gender sensitive, it is also open range, something feral, an intuitive animal. My mother-in-law wanted a heart driven man to love her daughter, she knew there was hell to pay, might as well stand up for passion, a more pragmatic path would devolve to an unhappy marriage. That first marriage ended on the rocks, even art can’t save something that’s gone wrong.
Truck break downs are no fun, but an unscheduled Texas stayover has always cut my way. Rear bearing on an axle on my ’67 Ford pickup went lost in a rainstorm at the Louisiana border. Spent time in Anahuac getting to know four walls. Found a shop that could cut the bearing off the axle where it had seized on, and a machinist who could press the new bearing onto the half shaft. Five-hundred and forty-four miles later I was down and out on my luck in Fort Stockton. This time it was an ignition problem, everything was right, did the work as it should be, but some demon was set loose outside San Antonio and mechanical misery ensued.
Parts of my yearning soul ached to be home, another part was in no hurry, motor didn’t leak oil, getting the engine back in tune was within reach, had the right tools, took my time. Once I had made the necessary repairs, I rolled further west pretending I was going to catch the sun. The mountains of West Texas cast a shadowy grey-bluish silhouettes upon the horizon, there are more than forty mountain ranges all on this western side, they got emptiness on loan out here, all for a handful of people scattered across the landscape, loneliness is affirmed here, it is a pristine view, near the famous portal to oblivion.
There is a sense of entering and exiting such terrain. This is the endmost edge of the Western High Plains, to the north is the legendary Llano Estacado, a place described as 85% sky and the rest grassland. West and south by highway I place the demarcation of this lost world at the entrance to the Barilla and Davis Mountains. Once here you’ll have a hard time imagining such a place as Fort Stockton back there, must be all made up, can’t be real, must be something so actual as to make a good day go bad, and a bad day the closest shave with the end of time as you’ll ever have to face. It’s worth a look, sometime if you’ve got any to spare, and it will be just as good when you put this encounter behind you. I wish I could promise you more, but I have learned the world as we find it will have to be utilized to move souls by poets, storytellers and the now and again just passing through these parts homeward bound itinerate showman.
The new desk will help. The file cabinet too. Writing long fiction doesn’t get finished if you are drowning in a sea of clutter. Norman Mailer used yellow legal pads and pencil. Once he’d exhausted three pencils his day’s writing would go to his transcriber and return printed out double spaced the next morning and from this, he would edit then return to his transcriber who would retype and return to the writer. This back and forth lasted until the author felt the work complete.
Mailer’s first novel, The Naked and the Dead, gave the author a horrific look at a territorially ambitious nation of Japan trying to quench its desire for empire. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine would have Mailer sounding the alarm. It is unseemly to snatch sovereignty from a nation. Living under the petulant thumb of a madman is not the future of the world. Republicans sympathetic to Putin will rue the day they sided with this brute.
The invasion following the Winter Olympics, courtesy extended to China Putin waited until 2/22/2022 to begin. The two great nuclear powers have to be very careful as they circle each other probing for weakness and resolve. Ian Bremmer a foreign policy expert described yesterday’s speech by Putin as the most terrifying of the new century. It is not no accident he took Crimea in 2014 under Obama’s watch and moves now on the rest of the nation while Biden is President.
Cyber warfare will play a big part and likely we’ll feel pieces of this strategy over here. We know the price of a gallon of gasoline is going up, that’s intentional, Putin knows how high gas prices harm an American President’s approval ratings. Vast troll farms will be carpet bombing the social media platforms. You would be wise to verify sources before assuming what you are reading is true. Reuters it should be noted described the Russian military’s invasion yesterday as playing the role of peacekeepers. That is a Kremlin propaganda favorite and I’ve been suspect of Reuters editors. I did some digging and couldn’t get my hands on the facts, but had heard this news outlet is possibly compromised. Maybe not, but be careful Russian soldiers are not peacekeepers.
Last night we got the first measurable precipitation, and it was little but something. After a promising start to January the storm window shut. The drought continues to wreak havoc across the American West. War in Ukraine could unleash as many as 5 million refugees fleeing to safety. Putin would like nothing better than to destabilize the surrounding countries with hungry, wounded desperate Ukrainians. Immigration is causing chaos wherever it spins out of control.
The pandemic is winding down but the virus isn’t done with us yet. Many will have lasting heart damage done by this disease. David Kotok investment expert estimates several million workers will not make it back into the workforce because of lingering health concerns.
The Federal Reserve is wrapping up its quantitative easing program and set to raise interest rates sometime in the middle of March. The invasion of Ukraine has made the effort to control inflation even more complicated. If the invasion was part of their calculations, I’m not sure, but Fed’s must account for this turbulence.
I noticed a spring fling in Paris staying at the Ritz Carleton will set you back $1700 per day for one of the average rooms. I’m going to stay in my van, cook meals on the galley. You can’t suffer sticker shock if you won’t play buyer. Most of my career was on the receiving end of the globalized tourism trade playing to tourists. I’m kind of over this whole going everywhere only to find out that over there is hocking the same schlock as our tourist traps over here.
A funny woman I performed with in 2019 in Edmonton, literally a sketch comedy type, clown, improviser, she has been living the last years in Ukraine. The countryside and rural life please her, the land is beautiful and the people generous. I know businessman that employed Ukrainians in his engineering services back here in the states. I’m imagining that’s got to change.
Then there is the matter of the thickness of the sea ice in Antarctica and that it was reported today in the Guardian to be at the lowest level since they began measuring in 1979. That according to experts is today’s most important climate emergency news. I see polls that tell of more and more measurable majorities are alarmed by the fix we are in but for many reasons we struggle to mount the all-out effort needed to forestall further troubles.
All of us have discovered Little Free Library’s. We have plenty in my quaint leafy hamlet. The counterinsurgency is preparing to launch our dialed in for the revolution version. We mean no harm and sensationalism isn’t our goal. Still, we want the great literature to be available; To Kill a Mockingbird, The Merchant of Venice, and Executioners Song all need to remain in circulation and read by all. We are calling our Little Free Library the Free Little Banned Book Library. Our books will be curated. Trashy stuff won’t make it, controversial edgy stuff will. I’d like to think that you could find Eldridge Cleaver, Eric Hoffer or Martin Buber here.
Here’s hoping for a quick end to Putin’s war on Ukraine. The internet and social media platforms will broadcast this crime across the world. This will not end well for Putin. This is the intoxicated bear’s biggest error. He is bound to fail, history is not on his side.
Some things never change─ whole swaths of our life are on a fated trajectory, there is an inevitability to our story, like juvenile delinquency, or what I refer to as the undiagnosed artist portion of this kids adolescence.
I’d become accustomed to favorite freeway onramps being there for me just like they’ve always been. You know the drill, hit the peddle swoop into the righthander and straighten out and shazam, you’re up and running with the big dogs just like that.
The Tesla Model 3 comes with the least sized battery pack, good enough for trips here in the Bay Area. I’ve finally engaged the autopilot; it works as advertised─ think of it as the tempting fate accessory. We use the electric car for short trips and the internal combustion engine powered Volvo─ Sweden’s gift to safety and society─ for longer jaunts up and down the coast─ this is what the modern nomadic life is all about─ being safe and warm is overrated where wet and miserable allows for self-admonishment─ what were you thinking!
There are people that have a talent for remaining where they are trapped, I’ve got a serious wandering muscle, I’m incurable─ what’s called a case of being hardheaded, there are some afflictions you really don’t want cured, this particular disease is not fatal, the aches and pains of a knockabout make the heart pump with more zeal, curiosities are quenched, and there are worst things than getting a speeding ticket.
Lot of my kind, show people─ you know who you are─ prefer an itinerate life, it feels like we are making progress, not missing out on the big show, probably a fool’s errand but that’s fine, better to dance with the devil you are than the angel you’ll never be.
An irrigation timer I find calms my landlocked jitters. Being stuck with chores, having to remain behind to take care of the plants, to feed the goldfish─ automatic feeders, when all you have to do is flip a switch, and everything is taken care of─ see you when we get back─ for this jackal there is a perfect sense of prey and predator, stalking want is seed, spore, and royal sport─ long live the long drives to places you’ve never been.
Going somewhere isn’t the same as it once was, folk are worried whatever normal life was might well never be what life in the future is going to be. I don’t spend a lot of my time thinking about communicable diseases, but there was a time not too long ago when there was no such thing as birth control. It’s not quite the same as a pandemic, but prevention is similar, you can wear a mask or put on a condom, this is all part of some odd grand prophylactic design.
Like for example using marijuana, taking mushrooms, having a martini─ these are common sacraments─ each blesses or curses the user as the gods, fates and winds may choose to blow. Mushrooms you may giggle, really, eating magic mushrooms─ but for many the psychoactive ingredient psilocybin can open a depressed mind and cure a soul from many common ethereal tormentations.
What else is there to do─ where else is there to go─ these are the imponderables, here is where the rubber meets the one-way highway, the road with no way back. The irreversible mistakes have left their scars. Life in this moment is filled to the brim with contradiction, but it is more of a weak-willed form, where once great quarterbacks admit to having become taken in by snake oil and quackery. If ever there was a moment in history when those advocating for the wrong industry, the worst products, the most misguided policies would just let it go, set it down, walk off the playing field, let human ingenuity and progress take center stage.
The best mousetraps I have found come baited with the best cheese. Kissing strange girls, drinking too much whiskey, or breaking your vow never to climb on the back of that affectionate Arabian in the pasture, these temptations will put you in a corner of your own weak will.
I’m due to travel to Ventura. Singer and songwriter Tom Varley and his Jack Russell terrier Happy are at the end of that ride. Tom and his backup band the Sundogs have hung up the spurs and put away touring. Tom had written about living free and doing nothing. The act itself was an accident he never planned to have a band and fame seemed useless. I sailed to Mexico with Tom. A sailboat has been a part of his life for near half his life. Now he’s got too much boat. Taking care of an 18 ton sailboat or a Jack Russell terrier isn’t for the weak of will.
Tom is some alternate version of who I am. It’s not like we are a spitting imagine of one another, but there are odd synchronous commonalities. If you have ever heard cosmologists discuss multiverses, and that if there were an infinite number of other universes, that mathematically the odds are good that somewhere out there is another planet with someone that looks exactly like me doing the same exact thing with the same kind of dog, the odds-theory tells us are better than good that the same thing is happening there as is happening here.
Maintaining your sense of humor is going to come in handy. You’ll want to laugh as often as you can. Take everything with a grain of salt, don’t forget the lemons, and be good to the beneficial insects and give the mosquitos a little more hell. Spring is just around the corner in this pickle of a fix we are living through here in drought plagued California. I’ve got some wood cutting chores out in the backyard. I’ll wear my hat as I always do, all those bright sunshiny days have added up and taken a toll. Don’t worry too much, finish your vegetables, and get out and take a good long walk.
Pack your bags, bring your toothbrush, let’s get away from it all, if only we could. First order of business was to get the epoxy coating for the carport drop shipped from the East Coast via Michigan, don’t ask it’s a complicated supply chain thing.
Reviewing local weather forecasts and they tell of a high-pressure system off the California coast that is shunting storms north, that we are going to remain dry at least until the middle of the month, that it will hit 80 degrees later this week, and that there is concern about potential for wildfire.
A friend living in the Gold Country east of Sacramento in Amador City, the smallest incorporated town in California has been hit with homeowner insurance sticker shock. The policy jumped from $2800 per year to $6000. After some changes to his deductibles, he was able to get the premium reduced to $4800 and he feels lucky. This is playing out all across California’s urban wildland interface, and it is the runaway costs of the climate emergency socking citizens right where it counts─ in the wallet.
Too young to be a player in the Summer of Love, 1967’s perfect year for hippies, Haight-Ashbury’s gathering of the tribe, the counter culture that was going to change things traded all of those drug induced happenings for all these frightful challenges barreling down on us like an overfilled clown car. You know the bit where the tiny car parks center ring and out come this impossible to imagine number of clowns one after the other, clowns like drought, wildfire, earthquake, tsunami, hurricane, tornado, and heatwave. We are fending off sea level rise, wildfire smoke, volcanic eruptions and empty water reservoirs. Someone somewhere is keeping an eye out for undiscovered asteroids or comets potentially on a collision course, this is the human condition, modern life isn’t for the weak or the easily worried.
All the false prophets (profits) of yesteryear had assured us to follow along while we engaged in rampant outsourcing (offshoring─ a much less offensive term), financialization, monopolization, deregulation, and just-in-time logistics. Turns out our competitors took out a can of whoop-ass over there so that they could make us miserable over here. I smelled a rat as soon as the fat cats unbolted the Schwinn Bicycle Factory and sent it lock, stock and barrel to China. Our leaders have been too sheepish, stupid and stubborn. That famous sucking sound turns out to be us, we didn’t need anyone else providing us with sound effects, this was an unforced error.
I did a deep dive into a story about the foreign ownership of America’s farmland. What could go wrong? Water for agriculture is a big deal in a decades long drought, and you can’t really get to the core dysfunctionality of how we squander our water without giving your brain over to the geostrategic blunder being made by policymakers that have surrendered control of our food production system. When the Can-Tan-Con-Man slapped tariffs on China, and in retaliation they responded by canceling purchase of soybeans, and then Washington replaced the lost revenue by providing subsidies to the farmers, and that it turns out many billions of those dollars ended up going to multinationals located in other countries to compensate for the losses they took on farms they owned in America. Hard to flowchart all that losing, screwing and double dealing but friends there you have it, we are up to our elbows in one gargantuan mobbed up racket.
Our current members of the Supreme Court are not oriented by way of ideological fanaticism to care one whit about any of the many ways we are self-destructing. Let’s just say for the fucking fun of it that almost anyone can buy American farmland, biggest foreign owners are Canada, China and even Saudi Arabia’s got their hands in America’s dirt. It’s plain as lavender mascara that we’ve been sucked into a sinkhole of stupid. All this nonsense about the invisible hand of the free market is a bunch of neoliberal doublespeak. We already pay farmers to grow or not grow specific crops, there are subsidies for dairy, corn, soy, and cotton. The market is anything but free.
Goobering up our food system took a disastrous turn in the late 50’s when it was determined what we wanted to do was maximize the number of calories we cultivated. Farms and ranches were incentivized to grow commodity crops, the crops then blighted our population with heart disease and diabetes, and as these commodity producers have been in control for decades, they have no intention of surrendering their control over our food chain or their gravy train and there will be hell to pay if anyone dare try.
Iowa is the poster child for what is widely understood to be the ethanoyl disaster. Decades ago, we decided to make fuel from corn. Never mind that it takes more energy to make ethanoyl than the energy you can get out of this biofuel, but subsidized corn growing was good for Iowa farmers and that was good enough, pretty much an open and shut case of shut your mouth. But you be right to wonder if we’ve been getting our money’s worth for helping Iowa, appears we’re not even close to a fair exchange. Iowans are in the grip of an ultra-sharp swerve to the right of the political spectrum, Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst voted for Biden the day the vote was certified but not before making the most tepid remarks over the fiasco we know as the January 6th insurrection. Nobody is for defunding the police, but I am tempted to want to defund ethanoyl price supports that go to Iowa because patriotism ain’t getting its money’s worth. Trust me Iowa gets more back from Washington than it sends, and then it bites the hand that feeds it, that my friends makes it right to reconsider the fact we aren’t getting much back for all we give. I’m not into retribution but I’m also not into stupid. Time has come to get all those cotton-picking complainers to fulsomely embrace the right side of history, patriotism and democracy or suffer the loss of all this largess we’ve been squandering upon the ingrates.
There is clarity, spiritual liberation, and soul healing in understanding how perplexing the conundrum that is the interplay between crop and water subsidies. Top four subsidized commodity crops that the Department of Agriculture supports are corn, soy, wheat and rice. There are more but these are the four biggest crops. Then, over at the Department of the Interior, this is where the Bureau of Reclamation is located, and it is here that a good many water subsidies are handed out in one of the most irrational welfare programs and this quasi-legal water grabbing goes on right under the taxpayers’ noses. This isn’t water for the poor or the weak, these are for the powerful and connected. Given the ongoing megadrought in the American West there is every reason to evaluate and reimagine what crops we ought to grow where and if and how much water we are going to use.
You can pound the table, scream as loud as Pavarotti, stink and skunk it up, but you and nobody are going to bring this scrambled pile of misbegotten policy to heel. Like a thousand and one other things under the sun and on this continent, we have a lost our legislative spine to react to current realities and then make new policy.
It’s going to require a massive, colossal unimaginably enormous climatic convulsion before anything is going to shake up this over-intitled elite. And don’t you know that’s where we are and what the forces of nature are doing to the entrenched members of what we call the water nobility. Every politician knows to duck and cover when the topic of what to do about the water shortages out here in the American West come up. The powers that be clam up, get tight lipped and literally lose the power to speak when questioned about this century old fiasco. The plain and simple of the thing is that change is coming, and it arrived about two decades ago disguised as the mother of all droughts and until about now there was still time to do something about the thing. Time’s up and the bill has come due.
Don’t Look Down could be 2022’s next hit film. And this time it isn’t some celestial object colliding with the world it is the stubborn entrenched special interests threatening the collapse of almost half our nations farmland. How this movie ends is the comedy I’m trying to write.
Harbingers of spring, the California buckeyes are budding now. I expect most will flower by April and by June they’ll be one of the first plants in the landscape to lose their leaves. Closer to the coast if the fog is thick and persistent, the buckeyes will hold onto their leaves and linger into the season.
Much of the trails I explore are at the base of Mt Diablo. Where there are creases and intermittent streams, you’ll find buckeye dominating this terrain. Scattered among the buckeyes are valley oak, California live oak, willow and Pacific madrone. On the eastern slope of nearby Las Trampas Peak you will find big leaf maple, box elder, and canyon live oak. Up higher you’ll spot coulter pine, grey pine, and knobcone pine. Manzanita is found up here, I find it higher up the slopes.
Much of this habitat is dominated by chaparral or oak savannah. The recent rains on the bone dry hillsides has sparked new growth. The terrain is green, creeks are running for now, we need more rain, and soon.
Here a snippet from my most recent novel, it is the central character, Joann Triche out for jog near her home in Yountville, California. Habitat is much the same as here.
“Right here was squeezed so tight until all there was room for was road, riverbank and hillside. Jo wasn’t always so generous, she didn’t always take the time, but here along this stretch was her favorite part of what she imagined herself to be. This was who she was. The forest canopy was the sanctuary that had held her here. Her work would take her away, out of town, on the road. She’d miss seeing her oak woodlands shrouded in dank fog. She’d miss gazing at the starlings synchronized flocking maneuvers, the murmurations against days growing shorter, nights that would by then be cooler.”
Spring doesn’t much arrive here in these climate shifting times, the bright warm days feels as if spring is a constant, trees are beginning to bud, others already have, many of those are ornamentals purchased at nearby nurseries, they are non-native and reacting to signals from previous generations, back from where they first came up.
Still there are as ever cold nights ahead and plants that can be hurt by a late frost. Even with that this is California and there is no snow in the forecast, not here in the Bay Area or even further east in the Sierra Nevada where snow was once more reliable and frequent.
The dead of winter characterizes Northern California’s weather pattern. By spring westerly breezes will pipe up and begin blowing off the Pacific Ocean. Sailors have to readjust to the stout winds. Unless there is a low-pressure system moving through the air is stagnant and becomes hazy from pollution. In some instances, the air becomes trapped, and the air quality alarms are sounded. This is becoming more and more apparent as the state continues to grow, all of this growth brings traffic and with all of this comes dirtier air.
Another paragraph from Women of the Oak Savannahs.
“Venus thistle standing high as the human eye gathered at the dried edges. The loading chute and spring fed water trough was surrounded by damp muck. Raccoon tracks set memorialized where they had come to drink from mud puddles left by downpours. Anna hummingbirds hovered over thistle blossoms plunging their beaks into the nectarous red prickles. Jo walked with a pregnant mother’s rocking motion, Buzz hobbled to keep up. They went over the locked gate giving no mind to the trespassers will be prosecuted signs. The shade-soaked trail was marked with fresh coyote scat. The fire road had been cut between two precipitous hillsides, squeezing until the two-track path just fit. Poison oak and blackberry vine beneath the oaks were tangled into impenetrable knots. Ahead where the land opened was blue sky filled with a procession of billowing white clouds.”
Aesculus californica─ the California buckeye is stirring even in these first days of February. I only began giving the tree attention in the last 15 years, I was too busy, too on the run, too young and too self-obsessed to give them my attention. Chastened by foolish youth I give them my time now, finally, at last─ not because I’ve wised up, it occurred that it appreciating the buckeye tree is good for my soul, like you know eating all your vegetables. The trees have made their presence known, they’ve never disappointed, theirs is a great show, a magnificent early call to joy of renewal, of another chance to witness the grand design of nature. Buckeye blossoms are a proxy for arboreal bombast, for making something big and giving it class. The seeds are the size of baseballs, they are toxic, some of our first people figured out how to leech the seeds then grind them into powder. Nobody eats buckeye seeds today, there are easier, less dangerous more tasty food sources to choose from.
Anna’s hummingbirds thrive on the buckeye blossoms nectar. The closest trail from my front door there are many hundreds of buckeye trees to be found, there must be many tens of thousands of blooms within just a few miles. Anna’s find them a reliable food source, and their early blooming must be a boon while waiting for the Venus thistles to flower.
Finishing a conversation with a friend in route to help his father, the old man has been stricken with Covid-19 and while recovering is suffering from brain fog. The father has a son that loves him, and is willing to help nurse him back to health. Standing along the footpath putting my phone in my pocket, I was taking in the green shoots, the first signs of leaves, appreciating this delicate dance we all do with our lives, these fragile and uncertain forces we are surrounded by. Standing amidst a favorite tree along a trail within a cluster of more trees and counting my luck that I have my health and I can still enjoy the buckeye trees.
Start with at least 35 cloves of garlic. That will get you into the club, at least through the front door. For the longest time because for so many decades I’ve been on the road touring, there was not enough space or kitchen equipment to scratch make my own tomato sauce.
It isn’t complicated, but you do want to work with a time tested recipe and you do want to follow the expert guidance to the letter. In this instance I’m following the much admired Missy Robbins recipe. In 2018 Robbins was recognized as Best Chef New York City by the James Beard Foundation, and was also awarded Esquire Chef of the Year.
To solve my unattainable ingredients problem, I landed at the Berkeley Bowl where whatever had been missing is at this location found. To make the Diavola sauce you’ll need olive oil, garlic, double concentrate tomato paste, crushed Calabrian chiles, chili flakes, fennel seeds, and two big cans of whole San Marzano tomatoes.
We begin by simmering a colossal quantity of garlic in the olive oil. Once soft and slightly browned we’ll mash the 30-50 cloves with a fork, add the crushed Calabrian chiles, heaping tablespoons of chili flakes, fennel seeds and then blend all of the ingredients with the double concentrated tomato paste. You’ll take a few minutes until everything turns dark and is combined into a luscious batter like consistency that is then drown in the San Marzano tomatoes. You mash the tomatoes until broken apart while mixing all and then simmer on stovetop for something less than an hour. Robbins directs the budding cooks following her recipes to add just enough salt, in the recipe it is denoted as QB, quanto basta (just enough).
This is a punchy red sauce and of the three in Pasta, it is the beginning without end to making scratch made tomato sauce. I use Ms. Robbins recipe on my cornmeal pizza dough and have also used it on my fettucine scratch made with semolina dough.
Best not to dilute or distract from the purity of this dish, best to not add a single thing more. Missy Robbins and her tomato sauce recipes are the result of what she describes as simplifying, we are instructed to trust the austerity of her ingredients and for this we will be rewarded with a more tantalizing tomato sauce. Someone give this girl an award.
The semolina dough is the only in her book that doesn’t use egg. That is fine, it is unbound and there are no limits to how it may be used. Pasta is worth every penny just for the tomato sauce recipes.
I’ve got my eye on one dish, chickpea pappardelle with chickpeas, rosemary and garlic. Chickpea pasta is made with Tipo 00 flour, a scant amount of chickpea flour and─ get this─ two dozen egg yolks. Al I can hear is the Sondheim line, “Isn’t it rich, aren’t we a pair, me here at last, you in mid-air─”.
My life on the road in part ran through the county fair circuit where chow wagons were referred to in the trade as either a salt or sugar wagon, that was it, you had two choices. Making scratch made pasta is a world I’ve only recently encountered and would fit squarely into the salt wagon carnival food concession business. After a few tries my third effort at making fettucine was a success. This was the eggless semolina dough, a guiltless, egg-less pleasure, and once properly prepared made the perfect elemental companion with the Diavola sauce.
The recipe calls for parmigiana to finish before serving. Next time I’ll get some vegan parmigiana, if you are curious, it comes close, certainly not what is specified but you get the idea, paying homage to our arteries lands square upon the tempting fats used in Italian dishes.
Imagine living in a city of 9 million souls and that of all that are there it is your recipes, restaurants and dishes that are recognized as the best of the best.
I’ve made these grand red sauces a number of times now. I’ve almost got them memorized. Best of all you get the knack for how each step follows the next step and where you are trying to land the dish on the plate, the final destination by this cookbook is home cooked sublime.
I’ll do the Diavola sauce recipe, make scratch made semolina dough pasta and serve with a simple side salad, perhaps no more than lettuce, red onions and tomatoes with olive oil and vinegar dressing.
Missy Robbins dishes feature discipline, attention to detail and precision. You’ll want a scale and measure each ingredient exactly as the recipe instructs. You want to improvise, and you’ll be making one of a thousand previous errors that this book has by time and testing eliminated.
Because of the pandemic we’ve been cooking here at home where we feel safest. We have loved our time out on the town dining here and there, making the scene where we can see and be seen. To placate our enjoying getting out and about working through Pasta has provided us a mortal alternative and a safe one too.
To put the finishing touches on the endeavor I stopped in at Kermit Lynch’s Berkeley wine shop. Kermit has been importing wines from Europe for decades, most of his inventory is out of my price range but we’ve a good supply of his affordable Italian reds on our wine rack now, and even at the lower end the wines will not disappoint. Next door I’ll dip into the Acme Bread Company’s bakery and we’re all but ready.
There will be a next time, we will go to New York City, we will go to Williamsburg, and with some persistence we will feast upon the clever delights of Missy Robbins dishes.
That would be a fitting celebration to the end of this pandemic.
Word on the street is that it was good, my buddy Joey said it was very good, in fact he tells me that it was the greatest, the best of the best, the big fat perfect game of all time. The lay-abouts, you know them, they recite stats, dates, records, teams, talk about this quarter of that game, these are informed fans in possession of seismic sporting events and God only knows how but they can recall the whole mountain that is the Everest of sporting achievements, and it is this cohort of collective wisdom that claims yesterdays Bills-Chiefs playoff game was the Big Kahuna of sport thrills. Cecil B DeMille if he were still alive would order his studio to make the movie and release it as a spinetingling surprise ending epic faceoff between two quarterback titans of the sport.
Someone put a pin in a calendar, it was 1892 when the first professional football game was played in the United States. One hundred and thirty years later all we are talking about down at the corner of the bar where the well-oiled fans loiter is that there has never been a game like the one played late Sunday afternoon. “Not in my lifetime, yours or your mother’s, there ain’t ever been anything better.” Says this wise Joey, “Not ever. No way.” This was the one, the one and only.
Two preternaturally gifted quarterbacks played the greatest playoff game in the history of the sport, perhaps in the history of all sport. This was Frazier-Ali, this was Tiger Woods, Babe Ruth or Jack Johnson. Nobody is sure what the hell just happened, but whatever that was had to be as close to the best thrill in sport anyone has ever seen.
So, this is what we are talking about. In the last two minutes of the game between the Buffalo Bill’s and the Kansas City Chiefs with 1:54 on the clock the Bills take the lead 29-26. It takes 52 seconds for the Chiefs to answer with a touchdown. There is 1:02 left in the game and Chiefs go ahead 33-29. Forty-five seconds later the Bills roar back hitting Gabriel Davis for 19 yards in the end zone reclaiming the lead, it is now 36-33. There are 13 seconds on the clock, that is all the time the Chiefs would have to receive the kickoff then bring their offense back onto the field to try and score. That’s not nothing, but 13 seconds doesn’t leave much, in fact most figured there was no way any quarterback was going to pull this one off, it’s a damn pity someone has to lose after playing such a good game. With his lucky 13 seconds Mahomes passes left to Hill for 19 yards. The ball is placed on their 44-yard line. Each side uses a timeout. There are 8 seconds left on the clock. Mahomes takes the snap and throws to the middle of the field hitting his tight end Kelce for 31 yards. The ball is now on the 31-yard line within field goal range with 3 seconds on the clock. Kansas City Chief’s Harrison Butker kicks to tie the game 36-36 and sends the game into overtime.
Because of various rules to how the playing clock is started and stopped it took a little more than 6 minutes and 30 seconds to play the last 2 minutes. Buffalo’s quarterback Josh Allen tosses two touchdowns completing 5 of 7 while Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes also tosses two touchdowns hitting 8 passes out of 11. Together they combine for 246 yards and four touchdowns as time runs out and the game is tied.
Buffalo’s Josh Allen stands 6’5” and weighs 237 lbs., where Patrick Mahomes is 6’3” and weighs 230 lbs. Mahomes runs a 4.8 second 40-yard dash to Allen’s 4.6. On the ground in Sunday’s game Allen gained 68 yards in 11 attempts, Mahomes gained 69 yards in 7 runs. It’s one thing to be fast, but to be this big and this fast is rare, bigger men are usually a step slower, that much less agile, not this pair, these two are top notch. Both quarterbacks are big quick allusive players that are hard to tackle and will punish an opponent for trying.
One team had to win and as it turns out the winner in overtime was picked by a coin. Nobody can prove the first team to get the ball would score but that’s what happened, and I don’t think a soul in that stadium had a second of doubt. Josh Allen had called tails and the coin came up heads. Kansas City would receive the ball first. The rest is history, there were two short runs and six passes, the last to Kelce who catches a pass in the endzone and scores the game winning touchdown. This was a game between two of the best that have ever played the game and Sunday afternoon two teams gave football fans perhaps the biggest thrill the sport has ever known.
Sipping wine on the foredeck as an afternoon sun settles into the mists of the San Francisco skyline. Commuters bound home from work to scatter about in the East Bay and further. Bill Evans playing with his trio, recording from 1959 connects long ago to a less frantic present day.
List of chores is short. I’d had to do some cleaning of my battery terminals; electrics aboard keep a sailor busy. Then a walk along the shoreline. The walk is for our health, the shoreline views for a place to cast our imagination. I’ve been upping my game trying to walk 5 miles a day. Breaking it into two helpings.
Some days I’m gassed, other days there is not enough time. Then there are those other days where not a lick of ambition can be summonsed. Fixing the little things today, nothing too challenging please. Deck and topsides are ready to be washed. Next sunny day a coat of varnish over my teak rails, there is not much brightwork and with a few new coats next week I’ll be good until late summer.
I’m crewing south aboard a friend’s sailboat— it is a Hylas 46’ we depart as weather allows at the end of March. We’ll run off the coast from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The only must stop while sailing south is Santa Barbara. Not stopping would be an injustice to self-indulgence. True we remain stuck in the tricky terrain that the pandemic has wrought. That bit of misfortune may well be in a lull by then, perhaps all of us might be able to venture out, maybe the worst will be behind us. It’s not just harbor hopping but then there is the lost art of the pub crawl, a slice of pizza and liar’s dice.
We received much needed rain and snow last month. A few inconsequential days of drizzle since. Water managers can only hope it keeps raining. So far since, that has been all hope. Sailing in winter is spotty. San Francisco can be clear and calm, the dead of winter, not a breath, not even a wisp, sailing is futile. We’ll motor over to Clipper Cove to anchor out overnight. On anchor is where we do our best sleeping. A sailboat rocking with its hook set sure will induce the deepest sleep. Other times it can be a burden, the wind kicks up and you’ve got to get out of your bunk to be sure the anchor is holding. San Francisco Bay is mostly mud and anchors dig in easily, but there is eel grass in some spots and cutting through and getting the anchor to bite then hold can take more than a few tries.
Once untied from the dock the boat is your responsibility to sail, anchor, to get from one harbor to another, one island to the next, up the coast to the next port, down the coast where you might drop the hook in a shallow protected anchorage. The reason sailors keep such a close eye on the weather is to avoid being punished by cold rain or gale force winds. The rain is just miserable a full gale can become existential. Dodging squalls and other nautical hazards requires less due-diligence in this the modern era of satellite weather imagery. Then, up and down the coast the telemetry comes in from the US Coast Guards weather buoys strategically placed off the coast. Forecasting is something apart from current conditions, but there are plenty of marine weather forecasters to choose from, and as ever be careful, choose wisely.
The sail south in the Hylas I expect will go off without a hitch. I know the boat, know what maintenance the boat has been given, what parts replaced, what safety equipment she comes fit out with. I know the skipper, he’s an experienced ocean sailor, by training an engineer, his passion for sailing means that he gives a lot of time to the sport. His navigational skills are first rate, his understanding of his own sailboat is comprehensive, and the skipper needs to be on top of his boats many systems, a Hylas 46’ is a much more complicated machine than my 36’ Jeanneau sloop. Gratitude is a cruising sailboat, she’s outfitted with a big headsail, then a staysail and a roller furling main. If it gets nasty nobody need risk working up forward on the deck. With little effort sails can be furled from the safety of the cockpit.
Off the coast we’ll steer a course south that keeps us well off the shoreline by 10 miles or more. In reduced visibility of night or fog we’ll run radar and the Automatic Identification System (AIS). Both show up on the chartplotter display. If we feel it prudent the AIS gives us the name of the vessel we are approaching and if need be we can hail them on the marine band radio to confirm our course and that they can see us too.
If you get too far off the coast, you’ll end up in the shipping lanes where the big craft are transiting north and south along the coast. Best to steer clear of the commercial traffic as the craft move much faster and there is risk of collision. Having a 500-ton container ship closing on you and not knowing if they see you or not is one of sailings least pleasant vulnerabilities.
All four crew will be responsible for standing watch. The boat will steer itself with the autopilot, but then there is confirming the boat is remaining on course and that there are no vessels nearby. Sometimes the wind kicks up and a sail change is necessary. That usually involves getting the skipper on deck as it is his decision how the boat’s sails are set.
Once off watch there is food to make, reading to be done, and sleep to be had. The sound of water parting at the bow and then the wake rolling off through the swells. I like the sense of harmony that is provoked, how the boat works and strains against the swell and wind, how the simple task of moving a boat from one harbor to the next satisfies some kind of sailor hunger for netting breeze into a sail, departures can be mundane where almost always the arrival portends some measure of contentment.
Anchoring alone off the Channel Islands is always evocative of arriving at some place time has been kind to, something far from ordinary, something simple yet rare, so distant from the mainland it has been left unmolested, it is raw and less altered, this wildness is a distinct pleasure of a kind.
Planning is underway to bring a sailboat from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to San Francisco, California. I have been following along as the sail plans are drawn up. There is some piracy off Vietnam, that’s one hazard. Typhoon season isn’t a concern. Still, to cross the Pacific a sailboat would sail north 3000 miles to Japan and then go further north and west nearer to Alaska than Hawaii for another 5100 ocean miles to San Francisco.
A Seawind 1260 is a 41’ performance catamaran, the speed is calculated to average about 8 knots. Portion of this sail are upwind; this is harder adding time and distance to the passage. Crunching the numbers, it looks to be at minimum 40 plus days and more likely at least 50. I’m enjoying viewing the planning of this trip while far more likely to be tied to a mooring ball in Avalon off Santa Catalina Island waiting for the catamaran’s arrival in San Francisco.
Sailing the North Pacific Ocean in summer is the right time, but low pressure systems are common up at these higher latitudes, then there are gale winds and tall seas that make for an arduous time at sea. Usually, smaller craft either deploy sea anchors, a device something like a horizontal parachute, or a device called a drogue that is dragged from the stern to slow a speeding boat being pushed too fast by a strong blow. All of this is ordinary blue water sailing. A skilled crew would have its work cut out, at sea for 50 days plus your odds are good that you will be overtaken by squalls and gales, seas in the North Pacific would be mountainous at times, you would definitely know you had been to sea and lucky to have made it through.
Sailing off the coast of California means you might be underway for 2 to 4 days, sailing closer to shore if weather deteriorates you can run for shelter at the nearest harbor where you can wait out the heavy weather. Full on ocean passages are another level higher in difficulty. Then there is the reality of being out to sea for nearly two months and that is for most sailors of small craft a very lengthy period of time. I know I’m more than qualified to sail to Avalon, and I do make a pretty good martini, shaken not stirred, prefer it up not over, use more vermouth than the average slinger. I could go, but it might be the wiser thing to let the wilder younger rascals have at this. I’ll make a martini now and give this halfway around the world passage further consideration. I’m not unaccustomed to dropping everything, packing my suitcase, grabbing my sleeping bag and signing up for a year on the road with a circus, and that was a whole year, this would be done start to finish within two months, give or take a brush with death or in fact actually being killed by unforeseen circumstances─ now, where did I put that jar of olives─
We live in interesting times─ lucky you and lucky me─ whoopie. I keep scratching my head and am left wondering how gripping a less action-packed present might be. In the next few days data will get crunched and we’ll know if December 2021 was or was not the hottest of all Decembers on record. That should generate a collective disengaged yawn from the overworked and underpaid. Thwaites’s glacier is the cheery doomsday topic in a recent Rolling Stone article, and this Antarctic calamity is preternaturally destined to be a conversational gamechanger in the months ahead.
Forecasters told us that Bidens victory would lead to a collapse in viewership on cable news outlets. To the surprise of exactly zero still clean and sober people, it turns out that casting out a mendacious psychotic con man from the Oval Office would be followed with a fall off in viewers exhausted from worrying about the immediate collapse of civilization. Viewership decline seems almost humane, the circumstances the nation is confronting happens to be a nasty bit of duplicitous populism. I decorate my language with terms like treason, tyrant and Nazi─ I salt and pepper my speech like I was working at a mistletoe testing facility inside a wax lips factory. When you get to live in interesting times you will find as I have that they come with sloppy wet kisses.
Journalism and capitalism make for an unhealthy pairing of mistaken bedfellows. There was a time where a contented citizen meandered the pages of a local newspaper perusing the want-ads trying to find a steal on a used car with a radio that still works─ those were the days─ In this era we click on items on our computer screen and read from the Guardian, Atlantic Monthly, or Buzzfeed. Far off scribes treat us to a veritable tsunami of seditious Republican sycophants all gushing with envy over Viktor Orbán’s iron fist rule of Hungary.
Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, I hike each day trying to release as many endorphins as my body can produce to quell my anxious mind. All that up energy is used to fend off all this Debbie-downer news we are surrounded by. Recent survey has found that 4 in 10 Americans live in a county that has been hit by some kind of extreme climate event. I don’t know what those other 6 Americans are doing but it appears near as sure a bet as a sure bet can be that their long put off extreme weather event experience is just ahead. Life is nothing but tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and wildfire While we’re here be sure you refresh those batteries in your portable radio.
No wonder everyone has tuned out the news and instead has gone hog wild for water skiing and topless dance watching. If you look around, you’ll find this concept that’s been tattooed into our citizens consciousness, it is the concept of American Exceptionalism. It was the year 1963 when western state water managers feeling so exceptional that they began filling Lake Powell─ at the time they were warned it would be one of the most environmentally destructive events ever to befall the American West─ those sounding the alarm have turned out to be more than just a little lucky in their prediction, they are absolutely right. As horrific an act as building this dam was, literally drowning the wilderness from the Colorado River, the very next year in 1964 by some form of legislative miracle the Civil Rights Act was passed, then one year later in 1965 Congress dragged kicking and screaming passed legislation guaranteeing all citizens the right to vote. Furthermore, Congress agreed that the citizens votes would count, and that─ we the people─ would conduct free and fair elections. I promise you the spirit of Jefferson Davis would take great exception to America’s exceptionalism. America isn’t even half century out from having passed the Voting Rights Act. It was only two years later that Democrats would lose the southern vote for generations. Can you imagine─ a whole House and Senate, a fungible majority of vote coddlers that back in the 1960’s had the unmitigated gall to fortify self-governance laws. They must have been high on something.
No sooner had Lake Powell been filled than this gargantuan mistake began going dry, today it is barely one-quarter full, it’s been drying up over the last 22 years─ tragic doesn’t begin to capture the destruction this dam has caused.
This whopper of a reservoir was never a good idea, this boondoggle was just the next western water mirage to seize the minds of the dam building obsessed engineers working for the Bureau of Reclamation. Talk about the dunderheaded faux pas─ what I call the decision of no return.
Because it is slightly hotter and slightly drier─ climate change effects─ there is less water coming down the Colorado River to fill Lake Powell and what water does arrive, well too much ends up being evaporated off the lake’s surface before the water can be used for its intended purpose. We lose 386,000-acre feet of water per year off Lake Powell, Lake Mead is estimated to give back 600,000. Turns out the two reservoirs are a water resource managers worse nightmare.
Arizona’s Water Bank Authority─ nothing but the nicest people have been assigned this grim duty─ knowing all there is to know about evapotranspiration─ because that’s what our states water boards are trained by banishment to do─ this elite brigade of experts, this gang of water tortured souls are trying their damnedest to pump as much water into underground aquifers as water allocators will allow. If you can get water stored underground, it will eliminate losses from evaporation. This of course runs smack into the face of farmers and ranchers pumping every drop of water out of the ground as quick as their unmetered pumps will allow. If you want to point to a teachable moment this is where paradox and absurdity meet at the gates to what is left to the Garden of Eden.
There are plenty of good ideas, and every reason to have hope, but we’ve also got one of the most convoluted water rights systems in the world. Byzantine doesn’t do this tangled mess justice. What appears to be afoot is that everyone and everything is going back to court. You have never seen a worried look like those on the faces of the water managers from our seven western states. The Colorado River Compact of 1922 – The bedrock of the “Law of the River”, this disputatious Compact was negotiated a century ago by the seven Colorado River Basin states─ by 2025 so will begin the Great Disentanglement. You do not need to guess what will happen, we can know the scale of the situation by looking at snow and rainfall totals.
Water rights will have to be reassigned, those losing access to water will sue, those gaining access to water will complain, stakeholders in the water grabbing racket seldom to never get enough to make enough to feel like they’ve got enough. This will be one of the most litigious events of this new century, and as new century’s go a good many have strong feelings about this newfangled mark on time. A lot of folk’ want a do-over, but you know as time goes, all those ticking seconds flow in one direction─ present moment to uncertain next fateful moment. A great unraveling of agricultural interests will be delayed as long as is judicially feasible, residential water users will stave off the worst of the cuts, lawyers will get wealthy, and many expert state water resource managers will likely suffer from heart problems and seek the sanctuary of early retirement so they might spend more time with their families─ this is perhaps the last handful of people they still know that does not hate their water reneging guts.
Reallocating water from the Colorado River has to happen, picking new winners and losers is unavoidable, I’d recommend we laser paint the intake tubes that power the electric turbines on Glen Canyon Dam send a couple of guided missiles into these choke points and put this mother of all water blunders out of its misery. (Plot point to story/screenplay I’m writing) Turns out when you run the numbers the dam isn’t doing a damn thing.
The FBI back in 2002 said environmental activists represented “the most dangerous domestic terrorist threat to the country.” Eco-activism in the best sense describes a cohort of likeminded souls trying to come up with fixes to the problems mankind is having with the natural world. Some folk’ trying to defend their turf even if they are guilty of squandering our natural resources like to paint eco-activists as hairbrained and a danger, they’ll call them radical environmental activists, and if and when they get out of line these do-gooder’s will become destructive. These imagined maniacs earned top billing on the FBI’s wanted posters, by the time the Glen Canyon dam at Lake Powell had been filled water resource managers had successfully painted opponents to the dam as radical environmental terrorists.
What we can know now that we pretended not to know then was that the dam at Lake Powell is a mistake, that there is every reason to believe this dam needs to be removed, that it should never have been built and taking it down will not be anything but the right thing to do. Look people we tried it and it didn’t work. Let’s put things back the way they were before we got here and started messing with this primordial forces of nature. We’re going to have to learn how to get along with this world or this hotter and drier world is going to get along without us.
I’m walking more than ever. Like millions of others, I’ve been avoiding my health club. My neighborhood runs up along a hillside. Street’s twist and turn and there are footpaths and while there are dead ends here and there, I’ve walked enough to have discovered many of the secret passageways.
I walk as rain, sun and whim allow. The enlightened walker skips days when I have labored in the yard and the walk only adds unnecessary virtue to the balance of day that is best devoted to vice. Taking self-improvement to heart is one thing, transforming my inner conscience into the barking ravings of some phantom Vince Lombardi is another.
Walking for just over one hour I can accomplish so much. The famous 10,000 steps I can hit within 65-70 minutes. I could improve on that time, but that’s taking the poetry out of the enterprise and replacing it with the instruction manual to a more strident life. Pace, do not get me wrong, is vital and does have a place somewhere in the furthest reaches of my lower stem brain.
Vertical I arrange so I do as much and as steep as I can the earliest in the walk so I might get to that halfway point enjoying the conceit that it’s all downhill from here-on-out, that I’m home-free, that there are mermaids, cocktails and piles of fan mail waiting for me upon my return─ one out of three ain’t too bad.
I prefer a hiking stick. I use a foldable model, carbon fiber, with titanium tips for the street and rubberized tips for times I am scrambling over slickrock. The hiking stick has been useful to fend off dogs too. Twice in the last few months I’ve had dogs bolt from the front door of a home I am walking by to come test my mettle. The first beast was a basset hound mixed with beagle and suffering from dog territoriality syndrome. His efforts to penetrate my defense were for naught, the dog owner assuring me that her dog would never bite anyone─ obvious to me is the dog and owner had not gotten the memo that I wasn’t just anyone! The second was a rottweiler and the same hollow assurances were expressed while I was fending off her agitated living room escape artist. If you misunderstand any of this, take heed and know I adore dogs and until I changed to eating vegan had their pooch like respect. My odor no longer convinces them that I remain a carnivorous like-minded soul, that my possible treats would lack the real thing and that I am an imposter that must be sent fleeing their territory. This is all a pack of wolf nonsense, but the cunning canines and the non-meat eating homo-hikers are in the midst of a climate changing dietary reconfiguration.
Best walks are hard to explain because it might sound odd and have a peculiar ring to the ear. I prefer not dodging speeding cars. I tolerate the other walkers, they have as much right to walk as anyone, this is still a free country, even if that is now time-stamped and in play. Bird encounters from Disney’s special effects department are thrilling. I spend countless walks judging my neighbor’s choice of trees, brush, bush and bloom. Fence geometry is a profound spiritual experience. Gates are by my reckoning a lost opportunity. Door knockers, address lettering, mailboxes all indications of our civilizations decline.
Together we’ve all been thrust upon a new year setting out at the trailhead marked by the past to walk as best we might into this fraught future. Walking without earbuds helps. I’m not sure Neanderthals would believe in earbuds, knowing my Portuguese grandfather would have been utterly appalled, earbuds cannot improve a healing long walk, in fact they may well diminish what gain in self orientation a vivacious walker might enjoy.
You won’t help my cause if you clutter my street. Walking must come from your own inner compass. Willing walkers ready to dance with coyote cries and bobcat scat relish the taste of wild upon their lips. Cougar, bear and rattlesnake are here. I can find tick, black widow, and tarantula here. My favorite misery─ poison oak─ is rampant.
Let’s walk together this year, this new uncertain and fragile moment we all face, let’s walk together, let’s take a walk on the wild side…
Time for end of the year predictions. I’d like to jump around and cover as much terrain as I can. Let’s go─
Starting first with microgrids. “A microgrid is a local grid with an independent source of energy capable of disconnecting or “islanding” from the utility grid.” The Department of Energy identifies about 500 microgrids in the United States, there are certainly going to be many more.
One example is Redwood Coast Airport in Humboldt County. Power is generated by solar panels, energy is distributed to the municipal airport just north of Eureka, California. The microgrid uses Tesla batteries for storage. The airport and its assorted buildings and hangars can connect to the grid or disconnect from the grid, and it is this feature, that distinguishes a microgrid. Some renewable powered sites do not connect to the grid and operate as independent standalone systems.
Microgrids─ especially where there are fleets of commercial vehicles parked off hours offer enormous battery storage capacity for state or regional grid operators to utilize by borrowing then returning power back to the fleet before the vehicles return to service the next morning. Expect microgrids to be common across the country by end of this decade. Think about electrified school buses, United States Post Office vehicles, Amazon, FedEx, UPS… all these vehicles networked by computers will give solar and wind energy a place to be stored until power is needed. I’m predicting that by the end of this decade the electric vehicles in your neighborhood will be used as a microgrid.
Ford Motor Company will begin to deliver their first electric pickup trucks early next year. Entry level models will be priced at $40,000. If a customer qualifies there will be up to $12,500 in rebates and credits, that’s a full-size pickup truck for under $30K. My prediction is this truck, based off of the Ford F-150 which has been the most popular pickup truck in America for the past 40 years, and it is this vehicle that is going to shatter sales records, by 2024 expect it to be the America’s top selling electric vehicle. Self-employed business owners that use trucks to haul tools and supplies to job sites will transition to these vehicles writing down their cost as a business expense and instead of purchasing gasoline will recharge at night off a many times less expensive electric grid. Commercial EV’s are going to revolutionize vehicle-based businesses.
More to consider as we forecast events ahead with the potential to disrupt our world. Antarctica’s Thwaites Glacier is threatening collapse and scientists are forecasting sea level rise of between 2 to 10 feet, but the new news is that timeline for this sea level rise has been pushed forward. Recent forecasts have sea level rise happening in the next 60 months, and likely even sooner. Of the 7.9 billion people on the planet 680 million of us live on land threatened to be inundated by rising seas. In the national elections of 2024 sea level rise is going to be the mother of all campaign issues. If you don’t have a plan, and basically there is no plan, your candidacy will be rendered irrelevant. If the plan is retreat, that isn’t a plan, and you are going to lose. San Francisco, New York City and Miami are going to attempt building multi-billion-dollar sea walls, less developed communities with smaller populations and less money will have to retreat to higher ground. The Army Corp of Engineers has mapped low lying shoreline that is going to be lost to rising seas.
The drought gripping the American West is a more complicated prediction. Thousands of farms and ranches are vying for the same water as their states metropolitan areas where many millions live and when push comes to shove it’s the people that will end up getting the water. There is San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Las Vegas, Reno, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Tucson, Albuquerque, Denver and Boise. With swelling populations across the west and in midst of a changing climate, a place than on average is slightly warmer, slightly drier and because of the shortage of water millions of acres will need to be taken out of production. The structural drought (too much water promised but not enough to go around) is going to pit the western states against one another, it is going to be litigious, and rattle the politics of the American West for most of this century.
Bill Gates has been investing in mini-nuclear reactor technology. A demonstration project is going up in Wyoming. There are claims that this technology is cost competitive, but these claims have not been proven and many believe them not to be true. Decommissioning costs are high and the engineering and efficacy of storing spent fuel safely for the next 250,000 years is unsettled science. If this reactor does get built it will fail to prove to be safe, reliable or competitive with other forms of power generation.
The great issues of the day are no longer something happening out there to those people in that country over there faraway from where citizens in the United States, Canada or Europe live. We are all suffering from the effects of climate change. We have all had to cope with a deadly pathogen. We have all had to cope with the digital revolution and the chaos and disinformation social media platforms are infected with. Then there is the crisis in our government, it is no longer a secret, it is a well understood that the Republican Party has broken faith with democracy and is seeking to regain power, form an autocratic government and then never relinquish power to any other party again. The coalition consists of evangelical Christians, nativists, White Nationalists and low tax and less regulation capitalists. It is a painful to witness. Corporations headquartered here in this country have remained on the sidelines and with our democracy at risk with far too many stakeholders fearful of alienating their customers many of our business leaders are opting to remain silent in the hope that the unsettled political crisis will come to some kind of peaceful end.
The whole world wants the pandemic to be over. We all want the drought to end. Pick any poll anywhere in the world and the people want the climate fixed, nobody wants to see more super storms, tornadoes or out of control wildfires. It turns out it is easier to tell you what is under the hood of an electric car than what is lurking in the hearts and minds of the voters. I’d prefer we fix our problems not make the error of tossing away our freedom. That’s what we’re working on from this remote outpost here on the edge of Pacific Ocean in a place called California. We are working on making a better world for our children and our future. All of us, together, we’re working on making this a better world─ that’s not a prediction, that’s the truth
The speed of life appears to accelerate as our short teeth grow long. Digital social media surfing tends to be a frothy mix of astounding crimes against humanity supplanted by the banal failings of a professional dog walker caught skipping out on the excrement pickup duties that come with this vocation.
Climate related catastrophes are grabbing the headlines with an ever-increasing frequency.
I mention wildfire and most people I know will launch into how they’ve installed air filters, purchased emergency generators, cut back their trees and brush or have had either their homeowner’s insurance premiums increased or canceled altogether.
Drought awareness is spotty. If you’ve had your irrigation allocations cut, you are all to painfully aware of the consequences of the persistent drought patterns that shadow your best laid plans.
Just a few weeks ago Abbotsford, British Columbia was hit with flooding, all hell broke out and they received a month’s worth of torrential rains over two days that wiped away five bridges and twenty sections of roadway vital to getting supplies from the coast to the interior of this rugged diamond of a province in Canada.
This last June the entire town of Lytton, British Columbia in the grip of a record-breaking heatwave caught fire and burned most of the town to the ground.
Hurricane Ida a Category-4 storm first lashed Louisiana with wind and rain then spun north and east wreaking havoc upon New Jersey inundating Newark with over 8 inches of record-breaking rainfall. When something has never happened before perhaps it is time to give these events a second look, ask a few questions, make some assessments, consider your options. You know wake up and get about the business of fixing things before things fix you.
The colossal rare for December 200-hundred-mile-long tornado that cut a path across Kentucky this past weekend has the telltale signs of a climate change induced event. It’s become imprecise to describe such catastrophic events as a natural disaster given the scientifically proven effects our releasing gigatons of carbon dioxide is having on our planet. Appears our fingerprints are all over these weather events.
Allstate changing advertising agencies in 2020 seems to have retired the character playing Mayhem from their ad campaigns. In midst of a global pandemic and under lockdown, washing hands, wearing masks while 100’s of thousands are killed by a virulent pathogen might make this change in campaigns an appropriate inflection point to regroup, rebrand and reconsider what hazard coverage you might wish or not wish to cover. Seems obvious in light of events.
If you read my postings, you’ll see I keep picking at my concerns about whether we can continue to govern and keep the wheels on our civilization rolling in the face of such daunting problems.
In California’s San Joaquin Valley just west of Fresno lies the Westlands Water District. If you are a politician, you cross the drought intolerant Westland mega millionaire farmers at your own peril. Enter stage right the California State Water Board announcing on December 1, 2021, that it is “Zero Day” for much of California’s agricultural industry. All the dam building, aqueduct constructing, ditch digging, well drilling and cloud seeding isn’t going to get the Westlands Water District one more drop of water.
If you are heading up Interstate 5 from LA, the Westlands Water District of Fresno and Kings County runs parallel with the highway from Kettleman City north 90 miles to Mercy Hot Springs Road. This farmland is made possible entirely by irrigation and without it the land would be all tumbleweed, dry wash, and dust devils. This is 600,000 acres─ the largest irrigation district in the United States, land that is worked by 600 subsidized farms that could not exist had the Federal government followed their own science and surveys and declined to put into production this portion of the San Joaquin Valley.
In 1992 the Central Valley Project Improvement Act was passed. “This comprehensive legislation initiated water contract reforms, raised prices for water, established a fund financed by farmers to correct past environmental damage, promoted fish and wildlife restoration, and mandated a wide range of other reforms.” The Westlands Water District has fought this legislation at every turn, tooth and nail, tong and hammer.
What we’ve got here is our own version of Vietnam or Afghanistan, a water war with no end. Every time we say the jig is up the Westland Water District returns with another proposal to prop up their district by pumping yet more state and federal government funded water into their district. Time has run out and enough is enough. Whatever is in store for the Westlands Water District’s ought to be on their dime. Let them build the facilities to store the water, deliver it to their lands and drain it off of their fields, mitigate the pollution and remedy the salt and toxins that are wreaking devastation on the region’s wildlife.
Out here in the American West the megadrought continues to tighten its grip. A century ago, in our historically anomalous cooler and wetter era it appeared we might engineer our water resources into an unending bounty of agricultural abundance. Instead, we lavished water we no longer have on a group of too rich for their own britches farmers who have not a lick of tolerance for the drought that’s got the region by the throat.
Devin Nunes represents portions of both Fresno and King County. Defending the Westland Water District has been a favorite hyperbolic sport of this ill-suited hack politician now turning to become a social media CEO. His term of art for citizens in California trying to hold over-entitled subsidized millionaire farmers to account is to label them as “radical environmental activists.” This is what I call kick-down and kiss-up rhetoric. Like Kevin McCarthy, the Minority Leader in the House of Representatives you owe your political career to the government subsidized constituents that can make or break you should you forget who you are working for and cross them by even one precious drop of water.
I’ve never been inclined to building a life based on my receiving near free water so that I could grow Department of Agriculture crop subsidized commodities that fully guarantee whatever may come that I’ll be living higher than the other 99% of the nearby county citizens. That’s not a square deal, feels more like wheeling and dealing terms. Then, when it comes time to pay your fair share, to give some portion of your taxpayer paid largess back to help with all this nation is responsible for doing, that instead you fund political campaigns dedicated to lowering your taxes, reducing regulations, and worse still things have now spiraled so far out of control that a good many on your side of the isle have shown up in Washington on January 6th to commit sedition and topple democracy. It is a sad state of affairs when our tax dollars have been sent to such a place and instead of gratitude, instead of appreciation, these investments have bred only contempt for our government and cultivated a fool’s alliance with the growing threat to our nation’s stability.
Anyone and everyone knows Republicans have not one care for a smaller government, they want a more focused and constituency targeted government, one that serves the people that put them in office, and if that means reducing services and cutting programs for those citizens that don’t live in the Westlands Water District then that’s just fine and dandy, they’ll never vote for their party anyway.
Part of what is dangerous in this moment is that a whole lot of overcompensated agricultural interests no matter how much lobbying they might do can’t come up with the water that’s gone missing in this climate emergency and being rock-ribbed-science-denying partisans that they are they haven’t the least bit of interest in doing their part to live within their water budget means. That’s not their problem, they are water nobility, they think they are the creators of the abundance the nation enjoys.
It’s time we walk these subsidies back, send in teachers to the region, provide government sponsored civics lessons on how it is we’ve come to the point where you can no longer promise to be part of the solution to our problems the nation confronts, but instead are ready to make the climate emergency we face that much more dangerous and the government we all depend upon that much more unstable. That’s what we have here friends, “what we have here, is a failure to communicate.” Saddle up, we’ve work to do and a nation to build.
If you haven’t driven an electric car, you are missing out on civilizations latest pony ride. The end of the internal combustion engine is near at hand, the greasy mess is headed into the history books before it triggers the mother of all mass extinction events─ you know like wiping all of life from the face of the earth. Sorry to be so cheery.
Freight trains are pulled with diesel powered engines that spin huge alternators that power electric turbine motors, it is how these beasts put the power down on the rails to move the cargo. Bean counters, scientists and engineers from Lawrence Livermore Labs have penciled out spinning the locomotives turbine motors by replacing the alternators power and instead using lithium batteries. The retrofit doesn’t require the diesel motors or alternators to be removed, then one way or another the locomotives can move the freight regardless of whether the sun shines or the wind blows.
The Port of Long Beach and Los Angeles ship over 12,000 cargo containers to downtown LA every day. The dedicated railway is known as the Alameda Corridor. Running non-diesel trains is going to be a huge win for the LA air basin. When the entire fleet of locomotives is retrofitted with lithium batteries and recharged off-peak hours the savings enjoyed by not having to purchase diesel comes close to offsetting the entire price of the retrofit. This is huge!
Leave it to the Livermore Lab bean counters they calculate there is even more they can do with battery powered locomotives. Let’s say there is an earthquake or wildfire, and power is knocked out, Santa Barbara has gone dark, long distance power lines have failed, there is an emergency, and as we have all been realizing we live in the era of emergencies. Battery powered locomotives could be deployed to the region hook into the nearby switching yard and instead of using the charging station to add more electricity to their batteries they could discharge their stored energy and supply electricity to the stricken community. Locomotives are no longer one trick pony’s, instead they are strategic assets, cleaning the air, their mobility in an emergency, their enormous storage capacity able to back up the grid, distribution of assets such as this are the stuff of dreams.
What I’m talking about here isn’t pie in the sky or an imitation alligator wallet sold on the boulevards by some sidewalk showman with a fake Rolex you just have to see to believe. This is the real deal, and you know how I like the Isley Brothers.
Just over the horizon, just beyond what you can see from where you sit right now are a host of energy opportunities that are going to revolutionize how we distribute electricity. On my block I count maybe 50 vehicles, four are Tesla’s. My charger isn’t a dumb lump of coal, it is a communication hub, the charger mediates between the grid and the car. Setting the time, I charge my batteries for off-peak hours charging saves money, in the near future we’ll be able to opt in and allow the power company to discharge the car’s batteries (for a fee or credit) with the promise to fill them back up in time for the vehicles next scheduled trip. That feature is near at hand. A fleet of electric vehicles is a fully distributed storage system that is spread across our residential neighborhoods. Every 60-kWh battery pack is an opportunity, this will revolutionize the design and functionality of our energy system.
Thirty-six months from now this one street will see 10-15 electric cars parked on this block, that would be a whopping 750-1000 kWh (kilowatt hours) available for the grid operator to deploy as is needed. You add another 100 to 1000 blocks with similar potential power and you are talking about some serious stored energy reserves.
I drove into San Francisco yesterday. Dave, my lifelong wild and wonderful man of a thousand clowns and one drop dead serious sailboat racer friend had a few parts to give me and a Ducati to show. Roundtrip there and back I did 60 miles. The 2003 Volvo burning regular unleaded fuel used about 3 gallons plus. Rounding up the trip it cost about $20.00. Same trip in the electric vehicle works out like this…
We average about $52 per month for electricity for both our home and car here in Northern California. Charging the electric vehicle at night has been averaging not even $1.00, more like .83 cents per day, or about half our monthly electricity bill… figure $25.
Locomotives are a different kind of beast but figure the same trip to the City would have cost $350 using diesel, but if the train had made the run on its batteries that same distance would have cost $20-$30. That kind of savings is impossible to ignore.
All the smart meters on the sides of our home are also two-way communication devices, grid operators can identify an electric car and the state of charge of its batteries once it is plugged in. Using software grid operators can borrow or store energy from the batteries, flow is everything, they might use the power to run another home, then return the borrowed power back to the EV in time for the owner’s next scheduled trip. This will add resiliency to our energy system and lower costs.
Gas powered vehicles are a pay as you go operation. I’ve been running about 18,000 miles per year. The Volvo takes about $3000-$4000 in gas to go that far. The electric vehicle if plugged in from home will run somewhere between $300-$400 per…
Do your homework. In 2022 there is going to be more money available from the government to subsidize electric vehicle purchases. A $12,500 subsidy will make a great many models affordable, figure you could pick one up for less than $30,000. Without a fat gas bill on your credit card, it might just pencil out, and like that you’ve liberated yourself from the tyranny of fluctuating gas prices.
If you are a carpenter, plumber or electrician and drive a truck the new electric Ford pickup truck could be a gamechanger. Plus, besides the subsidy you might also write off your business expenses, besides getting rid of high fuel bills, and plus if you get to a job site and there hasn’t been power lines hooked up, you’ve got a ready to use source of electricity in your truck that you can use for your power tools.
If we can get a few million work trucks on the road, electrify locomotives, school buses, United States Postal Service delivery vehicles, everything UPS, FedEx and Amazon use we will be able to turn our attention to pieces of our energy system that are going to be more difficult to resolve as we fight to hold down the rising temperatures. OPEC knows this all too well, this tipping point is just ahead, it’s here now.
This is the fight we are in, some of it is hard, operating an electric vehicle, it isn’t hard, it is easy, its fun, and as they say the biggest no-brainer in the history of mankind. Let’s go
Over the last twenty thousand years ancient man─ North America’s first people─ established settlements across the desert Southwest. They were the Yuma, Pima, Papago, Zuni, the Pueblo, the Navajo, and Apache. There are over 570 distinct tribes across the United States. More recently in the last 2000 years one such group, the Hohokam farmed the Gila River Valley. Marcos de Niza, an ambitious Franciscan friar in 1529 boldly claimed these territories for Spain. Arizona was a remote and difficult terrain to travel through. Before 1850 few pioneers had attempted to settle this region, by 1912 Arizona was granted statehood, there were 217,000 hot and thirsty new US citizens.
Water rights were grandfathered in, stakeholders divvied up the resources, in the earliest years water rights were granted in an odd first right of use method, even if the use made no sense. In 1902 at John Wesley Powell’s urging the Bureau of Reclamation was formed in Washington and to be followed in 1980 by the Arizona Department of Water Resources. At present the agencies are struggling to keep up with the fast-moving global atmospheric changes. Even today given how hot tempers can run, to book a face-to-face appointment with an official from the Department of Water Resources you’ll need to state your business and identify who you are before being let into the building.
Then came this new century and with it this relentless twenty-year drought, drought, and more drought. Here we are in the midst of a climate emergency, with it come significant changes in precipitation patterns, hotter and dryer weather, add to all of that a swelling population, and the prospect of untangling this steaming hot mess of water shortages in court, this collision between the water have’s and the have-nots has brought us to the mother of all showdowns.
When you are in climate chaos, where water cutbacks are ordered, and you can’t─ you won’t comply, you’ve got seeds in the ground and your last dollar is at risk, your last shred of hope is hanging by a sunbeam, even with all that, sorry to say trouble is going to come find you.
Until now it has seemed reasonable here in the Gila River Valley to punch an extra well or two, maybe divert some water running in a channel, nobody is going to notice a little runoff, even if it is common knowledge an unauthorized diversion is straight up considered thieving and stealing. Some handful have a legal right to draw a certain amount of water, hardly anyone has an unrestricted right.
Farms and ranches are in a corner. Trouble will soon find the water grabbers, the trouble makers will find they’ve attracted a sheriff and the officer will come and padlock the gates to the irrigation canals shut, power company will cut electricity to the offending well pumps, one way or another if you cannot prove a right to the water you are going to be shutdown. You cut the lock, you hook a generator up to a well pump and a judge will be hold you in contempt, throw you in jail, and send your youngest born off to be educated at a local liberal university.
The Gila turns to the north and continues west where it enters the San Carlos Apache Reservation. The sovereign territory measures 1.8 million acres. It encompasses parts of three different Arizona counties and these sovereign lands as all other tribal lands were established by congressionally ratified treaties and at the time of their signing in 1868, were deemed irrevocable, and eternal. The Supreme Court has found that neither a President nor Congress can terminate these treaties. What comes to mind is the internment of the Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims by the Chinese. Whatever other awful conduct we might witness here in the United States abrogating a treaty with our sovereign tribes would be viewed by the world as a crime against humanity.
By 1935 the San Carlos Apache had to go to court over a dispute with the Gila River Irrigation District. “Despite the construction of Coolidge Dam and the attempt to use the storage capability of San Carlos Reservoir to satisfy all parties, the flow of the Gila River is nowhere near sufficient to fulfill all the rights adjudicated in the Globe Equity Decree. The Federal Court found that the Apache have the senior most rights that extend from Coolidge Reservoir and then east 140 miles to the headwaters of the Gila River in New Mexico. Farmers and ranchers’ members of the Gila River Irrigation District were overusing their water allotments leaving the Apache insufficient resources for their homeland. And there’s the rub, this isn’t just codified in law, it is as Al Gore might say, “this is the inconvenient truth.”
Recent action, in 2019, the tribe has been back in Federal Court fighting against with the excessive upriver water users. Water rights are nothing if not enforced.
To understand the problem let’s link the Department of Agriculture’s cotton subsidies to the water shortage. The Federal farm cotton subsidies line the pockets of a select lucky few farmers, the surplus cotton then brings all kinds of dislocation to foreign markets, fuel trade conflicts and cause every kind of economic, environmental and political problems. There are about 8100 cotton farmers in the United States, Arizona accounts for about 1000 producers. The only reason they are growing cotton is because it is subsidized, without this incentive the producers would immediately shutdown, USA grown cotton is not competitive on the global market.
Between 1995 and 2020 the Department of Agriculture disbursed $40 billion to US cotton growers with a significant share of those funds ending up in the pockets of Gila River Valley producers in and around Safford, Arizona. The subsidy among other things incentivizes producers to plant on marginal land, and then grow the subsidized cotton with subsidized water, even in the midst of a megadrought, even though everyone knows that the crop isn’t even destined for domestic markets but instead will be sold to foreign markets. In other words, seven million Arizona citizens are involuntarily having their states water, water that belongs to all the citizens, that piece of the commons is being sucked out from under them by about 1000 producers that grow an unprofitable crop that the producers ship overseas knowing full well there is not a sufficient demand for cotton on the world market, or enough water to meet the needs of a growing state population.
In Arizona the water scarcity problem is severe, it is an emergency, it is threatening the collapse of key sectors of the economy. But agriculture isn’t just powerful, it is invincible, tends to vote to the right of the political spectrum but will vaporize any politician no matter the stripes that dares to untangle this out-of-control program. One point of view has it that to keep a lid on the peace it is better to go along than get in the way of this irrational farm program. Another point of view worries about the chaos mismanaging the water resources could have on the entire project called civilization. Everyone knows this is an incendiary issue, that the rural communities could not just lose their economic base, but they could become so radicalized that the agricultural regions of the state could be virtually ungovernable, that the circumstances could foment a collapse of what we know as regular order, that both the state and nation could be threatened. It really is that dire.
There are no profiles in courage in Arizona. Governor Doug Ducey has nothing to say, all the office holders know better and stay the hell back and let the courts take the heat.
Hay, alfalfa and cotton growers need a good dose of water scarcity regulation. None of the farms would make any kind of sense without the Bureau of Reclamations surrendering cheap to almost free water to the growers. The near free irrevocable access to water has only made matters worse, and not the least of it because the water is revocable, and a day of reckoning is near.
Department of Agriculture could facilitate selling and shipping out cotton farm equipment to more water abundant regions like east to Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi for starters. Immigration reform would include increasing the number of farmworkers allowed into the country to handle the new food production.
Plant based meatless meat products like Impossible Burgers and Beyond Meat are scaling up to meet demand and depend on soy, corn and other crops to manufacture their products. Emerging from research and development is another new industry that is producing real meat in the laboratory─ it’s called lab meat. Competitive production costs are approaching par with conventional meat and within a few years you’ll begin to see beef, pork and salmon products in our grocery stores and restaurants synthesized by this remarkable advanced technology. Salmon and chicken grown in the lab will begin distribution in Northern California in early 2022.
The future is now, and it is arriving just as this megadrought is about to force its reckoning upon the stubborn lucky few water users. Scaling lab meat up in Arizona to meet consumer demand would be the smartest thing a community like Safford, Arizona could do. Add to this the benefit that this type of meat uses 90% less water and 90% less land and you’ve got opportunity running smack dab into feasibility. Remember factory farming livestock risks triggering the release of dangerous pathogens some that can become a threat to all of humanity such as has happened with Swine flu and Covid-19. Lab meat will require no antibiotics and so far, is proving to be one of the safest most efficient methods of production. I know, I know─ but does it taste good? Will consumers eat laboratory meat? So far so good. Most who have sampled Upside Foods based in Emeryville, California describe the product as delicious and indistinguishable from any conventional chicken they’ve tasted. There is no time or water to waste.
In the months ahead, they will scale their production facilities and go from 50,000 lbs. to 500,000 lbs. Fortunately laboratory meat eliminates the need to slaughter animals. Arizona’s cotton addicted farmers could convert fields to grains that laboratory meat uses and then set up Gila River Valley laboratory meat growing facilities to create jobs and opportunities for the state’s citizens. That’s how you respond to a global climate emergency, that’s how we introduce new products, safer, cleaner, more efficient products to a thriving nation of consumers.
There is every sign that we have the technology and know how to fix a broken climate system. Like it or not our coal fired power plants will be shuttered. The day of the internal combustion engine is ending. Natural gas furnaces are going to be replaced with electric powered heat pumps. If you’ve been on the free lunch, subsidy and price support bandwagon it isn’t like we are going to ditch you, we need you, and we can build a better new food production, transportation, and electric power system to meet the challenges we face in this exciting new century with the farmers and ranchers cooperation.
Sanford, Arizona citizens need our help, change is never easy, even when it is necessary. Witness the revolution taking place in transportation sector. Just three new automobile companies—Tesla, Rivian and Lucid are worth more than all the other auto manufacturers in the world combined. We’re at a critical tipping point, revamping our food system, reallocating water resources, all of these changes are part of our efforts to transition away from fossil fuels and to build a more resilient energy and food system. Time to stop building walls and it is time to start building a technological bridge to this new century.
East of Tucson in high desert 175 miles by road is the copper mine in Morenci, Arizona. This fifty-thousand-acre beast is North America’s largest. Water from Gila River passes through here, then there is the San Francisco River, and Eagle Creek too. The copper mine is by tonnage the world’s third largest. The electrification of our transportation system is going to lean hard on this source of copper.
Clifton is near the Morenci mine, then there is Three Way and Rattlesnake Canyon too. Between Willow Creek and Cold Creek, you’ll find some folks growing hay, not much, but there’s some. The pair of creeks are tributaries to the San Francisco River, the two are intermittent streams and they flow near and next to never. Pioneers gave them names all in the good hope of praying for rain.
Work at the mine pays $25.00 an hour, maybe up to $31.00. That’s a good wage for rural Arizona. If you are an outdoorsman there is plenty to do here. Drive out to Gila Box Canyon for fishing, hunting and whiskey drinking. If you are inclined to continue east to the New Mexico border, you’ll have to drive 93 miles on mountain road until you find Silver City where something like 9000 citizens celebrate an off the beaten path life.
If you go west of Clifton instead of east, you’ll find Safford, Arizona, a town of about the same size as Silver City. The agricultural community is as frisky as a cowboys’ fingers tugging on the latches of a bustle fit snug on a girl that this rodeo roping expert just has to have. There is free love, there is paid love, and then there is love you cannot have at any price. Any unrequited lover knows that hard truth and heartbreak.
Now the mine in Morenci is properly named Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold. Nearby Clifton claims 3900 people have come here to live out their hopes and dreams. Like most lunch bucket towns, where men and women work more by physical labor than by toiling at a desk there is a problem with controlled substances. We know booze is popular, opioids come next then methamphetamines.
Trying to make a good life in Clifton is not impossible, but an unmarried buck working at the mine will tend to run their four-wheel drive hard and do as he damn well please. Smuggled drugs cross the Mexican border are disbursed by gangs working in collusion with the Sinaloa crime syndicate─ this is a brutal and murderous gang. So called drug mules cross on foot in the dark of night with pieces of carpet tied to their feet so that their tracks can’t be traced back to their shoes. Most are captured but not before their contraband has been dumped for pickup by couriers working on the American side.
Churches are plentiful and if a man can find a wife and then start a family, he’s on the road to a better fate. Men that keep to themselves are more at risk. Without the salutary influence of a woman in their lives a feral male tends to go find mischief and temptation at the local taverns.
There is a Dollar Store, Clifton Bakery and the Lone Eagle Gun Works in town. In the case of guns, here their purpose is for hunting, sometimes shooting, but this ain’t Tombstone and Wyatt is dead and gone but the deer and elk remain. Filling out your meat locker is found at the end of a barrel. What I mean to say is that Greenlee County is purpose built for sportsmen and long guns.
County courthouse is here along with the city library. Then there is the Hard Hat Bar and Grill, The Miner’s Diner and Bar, and Clifton Hotel and Bar. As best I can tell you cannot find saloons or brew pubs anywhere nearby. Clifton is not putting on no fancy airs, you come here you’ll know you’ve hit plain and simple with no excuses.
What is here in my view is a vital piece of the whole project we refer to as Arizona. The Gila River and her tributaries converge then continue clear across the state until the river meets up with the Colorado River in Yuma. The Morenci Mine has a 50-year lease agreement with the San Carlos Apache Tribe pursuant to the San Carlos Apache Tribe Water Rights Settlement Act of 1992, as amended in 1997, “to lease up to 14,000 acre-feet per annum of its allocation of Central Arizona Project water by means of an exchange at the Black River.” In addition to the surface water, they pump Gila River basin groundwater too. Come January 2022 the Colorado River water allocations are going to be cut due to the ongoing drought. Bureau of Reclamation officials will have to cut water off to a variety of farms and ranches across the entire state, but the strategic importance of keeping Morenci Mine operating is on a list of highest priority water users.
Life for citizens in Clifton could not be more different than the lives people shape for themselves in Scottsdale. Both Arizonan’s dodge the occasional rattlesnake, both know it gets hot and water is scarce, but from there not much is the same. Total population of Greenlee County isn’t even 10,000 where if you live in Scottdale you share this one town with a quarter of a million people. But you just hold your horses because Greenlee County’s mean income is $63,497 compared to Scottsdale’s $47,290. Copper mining has been good to folk making their lives here.
Geronimo was born in Clifton. I’d bet he wasn’t pulling down some great big fat salary back in his day and age. Best as I can tell unless you are working at the Morenci mine you are likely to be living hand to mouth, life is likely touch and go, you might wish to reconsider and put an application in at the mine for steady wages and half a chance.
Heading north from Clifton out Highway 191 is devil of a twister with two lanes and a blacktop. You’ll go a good long slog north toward Apache County while gaining elevation until the high desert gives way to forest and woodland. Ponderosa pine dominates, next most is Douglas fir, then alligator juniper and then best of all the delectable two-needle pinion pine. I’d reckon Clifton isn’t a cup of tea in paradise for everyone, where the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest is a sight that steals the heart of near every last dang one of us. This is a mashup of ecosystems, partly desert partly forest, then it’s all thick with the plausible—- if you can’t imagine wanting to live here, you can’t imagine wanting to be alive anywhere. Coyotes could care less where I’d reckon the non-coyote eye of the beholder would see into the glory that I am trying to tell you to drive out to see for yourself.
Returning to the banks of the Gila River there is something vital to explain, a piece of what Arizona claims to be is all tangled up in this fated first place where the river enters the state. One colossal fact is I lived on the Verde River, ultimately a tributary that feeds the Gila. Next most important is that the Gila River defines Arizona’s watersheds, this is her bank account, this is without any fancy engineering a primary source of the state’s water inventory.
Clifton is nearest to where this waterway begins its journey. The river cuts like a jagged lightning bolt east to west, from New Mexico to California, where all along the river has grown up a thousand and another thousand more interests that use what allotment they have been able to secure.
Lucid Motors the new electric car company manufactures near Casa Grande, then there is the Morenci copper mine, both fundamental building blocks to our world’s future energy system.
I would add one more advanced technology, a disruptive technology, and that would be the development of laboratory meat. What we know so far is that it is real, that researchers are racing full steam ahead, in fact a San Francisco startup has won approval to sell sushi grade laboratory grown salmon beginning early next year. There are many intricacies involved in the development of lab meat but there is every reason to believe it can be scaled and provide a commercially viable product to consumers.
All along the Gila River farms and ranches are going to be forced out of business, water allotments and groundwater will dry up. Where there is opportunity, this is in my mind a near perfect idea, is to build out facilities that will produce laboratory meat. It uses 95% less water than conventional meat producers use. Laboratory meat uses a fraction of the land too. There are no pesticides, no antibiotics, and no animals to face slaughter. Laboratory grown meat does use electricity and with plenty of sunshine solar would pencil out as competitors worked to bring down costs. Like anything that is living lab meat uses grains grown on farms and happens to convert the grain to meat at a much higher efficiency than cattle, pigs or chickens. Researchers are still working to artificially synthesize various pieces of the process, that’s a longer conversation, and they are not tampering with the genetics of the various meats they are growing. What this emerging industry is trying to do is grow the same tissue cells all of us have been eating at the dinner table since the beginning of time. In 2010 the electric car was regarded as a long shot, that it had limited appeal, and in 2021 it is all the rage. Laboratory meat is in the same spot, but I’m betting it can scale and play a role in our world’s race to fix the climate emergency we find ourselves being overwhelmed by.
Our climate emergency continues to worsen. This week British Columbia was hit with record floods. Climate events touch us all. Millions of us on the west coast have lived for months in smoke choked air. Heatwaves have been relentless. Still, we can see the outline of the new technologies that the world is going to use to fight back. Renewable energy, battery storage, non-carbon-based aviation fuel, residential heat pumps, non-carbon-based manufacturing of concrete and steel, regenerative farming, laser leveled row crops and digitized drip irrigation. The list is long, and hope is too. Doom, doom, and more doom won’t get the job done, and proponents of using more coal, natural gas, oil and nuclear power count on people being discouraged, people just throwing in the towel, people giving up.
My advice to you─ support the change you can believe in, face each obstacle with good cheer, buy an electric car, trick out your outdoor lighting with LED’s, vote for leadership that supports the deployment of a new energy system for a new century. We can do this
The era of blasting billionaires by rocket ship into orbit is only the latest wrinkle in our jam-packed events calendar. This summer’s Southwestern monsoons were much less stingy than the previous below average years, but even still it wasn’t enough. Billionaires I wouldn’t describe so much as tightwads as finicky and prone to developing an aversion to taxes. The billionaire’s suffer mood swings, too much attention from honey-pots and an overinflated sense of entitlement. Maybe that’s just me, or have I missed those duty to country jumbo tax payments? I don’t think so.
If you didn’t know that China burns half of all the coal in the world well now you do. Getting our Asian economic powerhouse to stop releasing these heat trapping greenhouse gases isn’t going to be a walk in the park or a night on the town. I mention this for a reason I will come back to. Before heading off might as well mention Fukushima and the stinking pile of rubble that mess continues to threaten all of humanity with and how just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. This is a no brainer. Put the stinking Genii back in the bottle.
I hiked along the San Francisco River in New Mexico. Outside Glenwood after a mile and a half on a dusty trail you’ll discover the San Francisco Hot Spring beckoning you to remove you clothes and hop on in for a good long soak. The 157-mile river is the largest tributary to the Gila River. You wanted to know this right?
The mighty 648-mile Gila River cuts a path right through the heart of Arizona ending west in Yuma. Wait, you mean Arizona has a heart? Plenty and a big one too. What water remains at its confluence with the Colorado River, this gets a little complicated due to salting from irrigation, but what is left flows into the Colorado then meanders south into Mexico before emptying into the Sea of Cortez.
North of Silver City, in this other newfangled New Mexico the headwaters are fed from runoff from the Pinos Altos Range. We are talking Continental Divide alpine peak stuff here people; some water is destined for the Pacific, some travels east joins up with the Rio Grande emptying into the Gulf of Mexico on the Atlantic Ocean.
Let’s do some mansplaining about this river. On the brighter side of life is the glory of civilization that has grown up along the river’s banks. There are cowboys and cowboy hats, there are barrel racers and barrel racing loving cowboy hatted skirt chasers. All along the Gila River, up and down her banks there is a thriving farm and ranch culture. If you didn’t know and why should you, this important riparian habitat is in stress brought on by drought and under threat by changing times.
Our climate emergency has put most all of this ecosystem into hardship, and like I said or didn’t say, and I am saying now the revolution will not be televised because who in the hell is going to drive all the way out to this dusty corner of nowhere and report on a few thousand disaffected souls finding out that there is not a drop of water remaining to farm by. By the way─ that is one hell of a long sentence.
What I know about Arizona’s waterways comes from my living two years on the banks of the Verde River. In 1993-1994 with my wife and then 2-year-old daughter we moved from San Francisco to live along this watercourse. Our property was covered in mesquite, cottonwood and sycamore trees. Coyote, bobcat and javelina were common sights. Bald eagles, great horned owls and scarlet tanagers were regular visitors. Wolf spiders the size of raven’s hunt for supper here. You’ll discover you are sharing a very sentient world with the black shiny Arizona carpenter bees. At dusk you’ll see wood duck chicks follow mom up to nest safe from predators in the hollow of the tree trunk. You can pretty much get stung, stuck or made miserable by every form of thorn and sticker known to creation. Wild pig can be trouble and mountain lion once the first shot of a rifle goes off will be long gone soon thereafter.
Verde Valley in Yavapai County cultivates hay and alfalfa. The Sinagua─ ancient’s first people, having lived here for thousands of years have been switching to growing Malt barley for beer brewers. Local corn is cultivated here. You’ll find some pecan orchards too. Over near Cornville there are enterprising winemakers making rustic Italian reds from grapes grown out of rock.
The river can go up and down, more down than up, and still the river does persist. I was living there when a 500-year flood came within an inch of our front door sill. We’d been warned to move our cars to high ground. We lollygagged imagining we’d have time, then all hell broke loose and after moving our cars we ran door to door to help neighbors who same as everyone was caught asleep at the switch. Not a soul alive could ever remember the river ever getting so high. On average the river flows at fifty feet wide maybe at best measures 600 cubic feet per second, what we saw was the granddaddy of gully washers, a river nearly one quarter mile wide river flow measured at 100,000 cubic feet per second, and well to a soul everyone felt that they were lucky just to be alive to tell what there is to tell about such an impactful flash flood. Unless you are a good audience these stories and photographs mostly illicit a shrug. Fine.
My wife’s family has lived in the Verde Valley since 1969 when they pulled up stakes in Fairfax, California and struck out for a new rural high desert life. Hard to explain what kind of economy you’d find here. My brother-in-law made his living as a land surveyor. I worked events in Phoenix, got hired on at the Arizona Renaissance Festival, and traveled to Laughlin to work at the Flamingo as an opening act.
Being so close to the river our water well was not drilled deep. To avoid kidney stones, it was advisable to filter your water to remove the dissolved limestone. Casey my mother-in-law thought that was nonsense and took her chances. I was instructed in how to build a proper mesquite coal fire to use for barbecuing. In 1993 AT&T still had consumers by the throat and a call routed just 15 miles away cost $1.75 for a mere 3 minutes. Walmart had come to Cottonwood and most ordinary native citizens point to that event as the beginning of the end of a small business owner having even half a chance at scraping up a living.
The wife bought a thoroughbred named Maggie. I liked Maggie just fine, but this was not any ordinary kind of horse. Maggie knocked down fences as a regular reaction to her jumpy moods she’d fall into. Made the mistake of tying her up to a fence rail while saddling her up. Jerked the rail right off the posts and fell over backwards and made a mess of the saddle that had just been synched tight.
Sunday’s my mother-in-law and I would watch football from the colossal satellite dish array that had been setup between the mesquites. We both liked Joe Montana and football was fun in this era with all the winning all the time. Casey complained about cooking but most of all she believed it important to keep the men in her life fed. She had two sons, two sons-in-law, and one ex-husband who lived one block away, and they were maybe some kinds of best friends by now, hard to know what to call them, there existed a fondness for sure, but it was not any kind of endearment most people would understand.
By my reckoning the same quirky fated culture along the Verde River is much the same for the Arizonan’s living along the Gila River. There are more curmudgeons than most other places. Every kind of pickup truck known to mankind has come here. Paint fades, upholstery rots from the beating given by the sun, but trucks here live-in suspended animation and hardly any rust out, there isn’t enough humidity, hardly any water at all. Turns out an arid climate is rust’s mortal enemy.
People build Earthships here. You’ll find adobe and strawbale construction. There are a lot of off grid types here. With this crowd you’ll find solar and wind turbines with battery storage. Slow pumps are used with solar panels to pump well water up for residential purposes. Satellite television remains common out here, but jumbo dishes are now gone and in their place, there are these demure setups. Four-wheel-driving is practically the only real fun you’ll find to do out here. Half the nutjobs arrive as birders the other half as militia members of one kind of fraternal order or another. Arizona’s rural farms and ranches are in for one hell of a drought beating. Just as everything else has changed, if you haven’t noticed things are changing plenty fast now, and a lot of the people living out in the furthest reaches of the Arizona desert are struggling to keep up with all that’s getting thrown at them. Electronic-computer controlled internal combustion engine powered pickup trucks are one thing but a fully electric powered work truck is almost unbearably odd. Chewing tobacco is still popular and now everyone is pumping on these personal computing devices they got stuffed in their shirt pocket. Pornography and titty bars are mortal sin and the high desert house of worship.
I’m plenty worried about these fragile riparian ecosystems. Worried what fate awaits this drought ravaged region. When it gets much hotter out here you won’t have to worry about growing crops, because crops won’t grow in such high heat. Maybe Miami, Florida will be overrun by the rising waters of the Atlantic Ocean, maybe some of us will see that day come, but by my mind and best estimate the climate emergency has already arrived full steam ahead in Arizona. Wildfires, drought and heatwaves have already provided all the evidence anyone needs to know that a very difficult set of decisions are ahead, unavoidable hard choices will need to be made, and how it was when your grandmother or grandfather first arrived here in the Southwest is nothing at all like is now. We just have to start reacting, put two and two together and come up with a plan. So far nobody has been thinking there was much to do.
Come January 2022 Arizona’s relationship with water is going to change. Water from the Colorado River will be shut down. That’s going to be the shock of this new century. I’m worried for folk down here, worried by a lot. I care about these parts. I do not wish to see the hard-working stiffs going bankrupt. The end of the line isn’t where the passengers get off, not in a pandemic, not in a mega-drought, not in the last chapter of a family’s hold on land they’ve worked for near a century or more. This is what a climate emergency means. It means you can’t keep doing what you’ve been doing, you have to come up with a plan that no longer includes using all this water that no longer exists.
Boosted with Moderna Monday. I spent Tuesday in bed. I dragged myself out to pay my respects to Dusty Baker who now manages the Astros. Once upon a time he was the skipper for the San Francisco Giants, he had played for the Dodgers, I like him because he’s so old. I know him most by what I’ve read in the Sporting Green of the San Francisco Chronicle and then when I’d go out to Candlestick Park to watch a baseball game.
Our 2003 BMW isn’t particularly old unless you try to keep one alive. Paying the repair bills is very old, and German part prices are eyewatering high. I could fix my Chevy’s water pump for less than $50, the same repair on the BMW feels like it is at least $1500, and when you don’t have that kind of money laying around it feels like the world is trying to tell you something. The advice is priceless.
We’ve pushed the German sedan along until we can’t. Today a delivery company because of the pandemic delivered a Tesla to our door at a price and in a color, we thought we could live with. A test drive later the Model 3 was purchased, paperwork was finished in the driveway.
Sunday’s atmospheric river that hit here in Northern California was a force of nature. It rained hard, it was windy, the streets flooded. Once upon a time a Californian could figure on receiving rain in dribs and drabs, not too little and not too much. In this new razzle dazzle century, everything has become an event, what we got was a sharp slap in the kisser. Most of us don’t like how things are turning out between wildfires and atmospheric rivers whatever you used to be able to count on no longer adds up.
This past spring we’d had a crew install a french drain along our property line. Worked as advertised. Instead of being soggy and flooded water drained off and sank into gravel where perforated pipe sent it off away from our building. Recent rain chain installation worked too. I have a few tweaks to do to the gutters, but who knows when I’ll get around to fixing things like gutters, rain has been so rare here and motivation has been at an ebb to near vanished altogether.
In our backyard we’ve been fashioning a place where one or the other of us might retreat to work. Writers are drawn to working in solitary confinement. Notifications will break the stream of consciousness. Ideas go lost in distraction. There are more things I imagined I would never forget that have been forgotten than I could have ever believed possible. More than once, perhaps a few tens of thousands of times I’ve improvised a funny line I’ve never been able to say a second time for a laugh.
A small wooden desk will go into the writing studio. A wall will be dedicated to our books. We will build shelves for each size. To be useful books must be at your fingertips, you must be able to refer to what you can’t remember, time is of the essence, any friction will only spoil the moment. I’ve known a few minds that recall every single word they’ve ever read and can recite chapter and verse every single sentence. I can’t even remember where I put my car keys.
The grace of a good yard is here to help. Grapevines, oak trees and blueberry bushes are planted here. Quarried stones have been set by talented workers. I’m charged to build gates and arbors, these come natural to me, and I may take extra effort to craft each to our preference.
Somewhere in the last two decades I’ve come to see little difference between words and wood. Each can be hewn by hand and mind closer to what is intended by what sight the imagination has cast in the mind.
The devil is in the details, the angels hover near the generalities. This is how most of us trip up and get all twisted about in a binary world, even though everyone knows we live here in the infinite.
I miss improvising in front of an audience. While popping off in an extemporaneous manner, as the mood or lack of impulse control strikes, I find these blurting outs can be less comical and more triggering. I know my peers in show business understand. Show people know an audience, we are less familiar with the sole point of view of the singular, we can roam at large and bound across the landscape, where often the precious few want to call into question each and every detail of the comic lark we have taken off on.
Everything and everyone is suffering from the incurable condition of being misinformed and prone to making regrettable comments. Just about the time I’d finally got the knack for speaking without taint of judgement about my homosexual friends I’ve now got a whole new challenge of figuring how to speak about my transexual grand kid. More than a few circuit breakers have popped in the thoughts and words of the family, not due to any judgements, we just are having a bit of difficulty performing the gender jujitsu of the thing. Give it a little more time I figure we’ll all be error free experts.
Hypersonic rockets are all the latest fashion. Russia and China have them and according to what someone from Raytheon has to say on the subject the United States is lagging in the race to build one of these Mach 5 flying machines. Then if you switch it around there are pieces of our world that appear to not move at all. Take our legal system for example. You can get sued, you can be deposed, there might or might not be a conviction, maybe an appeal, if that doesn’t work you might try taking your problem to another court, all this can go on and on for years and years.
In this newfangled digital age sordid unproven facts might whistle on by at near lightspeed velocities with regard to all manner of conduct. Before the FBI can investigate, before an indictment can be handed down, there are another whole boatload of violations, by the end of the week a good soul is hard pressed to know if anything can be done to bring one iota of justice to the gallery of rogues grifting across the headlines.
Liz Taylor hopping into the sack with Richard Burton seems as I recall having been a topic of watercooler gossip for most of a whole decade. There are simply no comparable celebrity tryst grabbing headlines in this post Guys and Dolls age of everyone knows everything about everyone.
I have some recollection in the fog of memory that certain legislatures in particular states had made even consensual sodomy illegal. As a practical matter I was always a little confused about how that law could ever be enforced. Most of these kinds of behaviors are happening behind closed doors with the lights turned off. Must have had private detectives mount infrared cameras or sound recording equipment that when played back experts in such matters could discern a guilty kind of cry of ecstasy from an altogether more innocent kind of crying.
Between fighting off the demon Covid-19 virus with a booster shot, drying out after the lashing we took from this last storm, and now as usual improvising right up to the edge of catastrophe I’m going to land this posting wishing you all inexpensive water pumps and quiet contemplative moments spent in silence listening to your as ever chatty mind—
We say good morning from Sonoita, Arizona. I was overnight 15 miles west in Patagonia. Dinner hour was shared with an 88 year old poet, a modern day vaudevillian, the showman’s stalwart wife and pair of Golden retrievers.
Creative personalities are not rare. I’ve a broader definition now, the club isn’t so exclusive, a great many belong, many unaware how and where their special talent fits in.
I know painters, potters, jugglers and writers all producing good work and a living wage. They are explicit and their role has been perfected.
Picasso’s work is singular, there is not a second painter of his kind. Martha Graham is a one-off without any other choreographers influencing the world of dance with the same force. Frank Lloyd Wright set down a remarkable body of work through the buildings he imagined then had built.
Martha Graham lived to 97. Picasso and Wright died at 95. I would argue Wright’s work remained vital and only got better. Picasso did not shatter convention in the latter part of his career. Graham too possessed an intensity but had choreographed her most important work in the first half of her life.
The young and untested Burt Bacharach caught his first break playing piano, scoring arrangements for Marlene Dietrich. Then after he began writing music for Hal David’s lyrics. Then, they found Dionne Warwick in 1961. The talented trio produced some of the best popular music of the last century.
Elvis Costello teamed up with Bacharach and released Painted from Memory in 1998. The landmark album advanced Costello’s songwriting craft. What is worth noting is both Costello’s songs and lyrics benefited from Bacharach’s editing and revising. The collaboration passed the test, each made the other better, together the work verges on the best either has ever done.
Creative people are not rare, a great many fit the description. Fred Astaire, Charlie Chaplin, and Frank Sinatra were forceful performing artists of their generation. Sinatra, once he began recording in high fidelity seems to have left the world with the more durable body of work. Chaplin’s films are brilliant but unlike a Sinatra’s music the cinematic style of Chaplin is from another time. The best of Astaire’s work is there to see, but again you have to take the time.
Some of William Shakespeare’s work requires no special training to enjoy. Romeo and Juliet, Midsummer Nights Dream and Othello are quite accessible. The breadth and depth of the plotting, characters and dialogue of all 36 of his plays is the best writing ever composed for theater. The productions Shakespeare mounted at the Globe Theatre on the Thames in London for the Royal Court is an intoxicating display of creative genius.
Creativity happens in the foreground, the present moment, and the creative types that are self aware know that in the background there is the body of work left for posterity by this pantheon of brilliant artists. Sondheim, Steinbeck and Coltrane all scaled the heights leaving the world singularly brilliant work.
In 2000 I embarked upon a decade of shows, each October I would play the month at Schnepf Farms. Five days a week, five shows a day, performances ran 30-40 minutes. I worked for Carrie Schnepf. Carrie had a background in music and theater, she knew she wanted to produce something like what I had come up with, and together we took much time and effort figuring out how to make what I was doing work for her audiences at her farm.
Carrie’s husband Mark possessed less show business skills, he was after all a farmer, but Mark was supportive of our introducing the particular experience my show provided.
Much of my background was pure street theater. I’d come off a 20 year run in San Francisco. I was rebuilding the act. My target audience remained the same as ever, anyone of any age should be able to watch my show and enjoy. But, to fit into the family festival market in Arizona I needed to dial down the urban edge, bring a more open heart to the work, allow for the audiences to have a less bang-bang inner city show.
By now I had become a father, my daughter was 7 years old. She had retaught me how to see the world through a child’s eyes, something I’d promised myself I would never forget but by dent of time had slipped from my grasp.
Most of my work on the streets was aimed at the adults, not that children didn’t enjoy the show, but they were not my focus until now. Understanding the children and making more of an effort to be attuned to this faction in my audience changed everything. The changes I made were met with fresh bookings, new clients, a great many venues were suddenly eager for what I was doing.
From the start I had the pleasure of becoming a favorite with the Schnepf’s youngest son. Between shows I let the 6 year old play with my juggling equipment. The kid gravitated toward playing with the Chinese yo-yo. He picked up a few moves by accident as he interacted with the juggling equipment less as a student and more as if he was a mere child lost in a flight of fancy, he had no goals or plans, he just wanted to play.
All these years later I know Grayson as a grown man. He remembers the Chinese yo-yo, can still do a few moves, and has watched enough shows to have enough savvy to be sure to sell his moves with clever patter when he fools around with the juggling equipment.
I’m still swinging for the fences, trying to knock the ball out of the park. Whether it is writing a new show or finishing the next novel I remain in the hunt of expressing myself hoping that what I’ve come up with will resonate with my audiences.
Then, I saw a 27 year old Grayson Schnepf last weekend. It was a fine reunion. I had come out to the farm to walk around there in my old digs. In 2000 when I had come out to Queen Creek to perform on the farm it hadn’t been in my mind that I would have the opportunity to influence a young budding child’s imagination. That my creative process, also in some sense a spiritual process, an interpersonal process of call and response, where if I was to succeed I would need to connect to everyone and every opportunity.
What the young Grayson imagined was that my itinerate life of traveling town to town working with people, spreading laughter and intrigue, sharing my particular knack for pulling people in and how this happiness was authentic, infused my life through and through, that the young son to a farmer recognized close up how even a less celebrated, less famous, less acclaimed performer could forge a viable creative life.
I’d imagined I’d created memories for a thousand audiences, that essentially what we call a show was an experience that can be many things, good or bad, easily dismissed, forgotten or remembered, or perhaps even something singularly formative, something that may change the course of another person’s life.
I’ve spent the week thinking about Grayson, how my being simple, uncomplicated and open to the young man while he was still in his earliest chapters of his childhood I had provided an unguarded glimpse into the creative process, that I was content, that my work had made for a fulfilling life, that not anything else on the farm, not the petting zoo, the carousel ride or the fire roasted corn could duplicate the experience I was providing for the farm’s audiences.
Grayson I know as an extraordinary talent. Whatever he does with his life a good portion of his success will come from his creativity, his imagination, his playfulness and in part because I had by accident given him a firsthand glimpse of a performer in pursuit of a life of authentic self expression. Last weekend I struck creative pay dirt, I got to see how I nudged one young man a little further down the road to living his best (creative) life.
In New Mexico ancient human footprints have been discovered at White Sands National Park. Scientists have identified adolescent sized prints to 23,000 years before present. Our first people moved along the coastline netting fish for food while drifting south by sea craft. Insight into this migration is likely rendered impenetrable by the expanding ice sheet of 26,000 years ago that scrubbed away evidence of our first ancestors’ migration patterns.
Second route of the ancients was taken by traveling inland. Prior to the last glacial maximum, I’m speculating here, was likely about 30,000 years before present. This was a warmer and wetter American West. Massive lakes some hundreds of miles in length in Nevada, Utah and New Mexico created habitat for safe travel along the shore in floating vessels while hunting and gathering.
The Winnemucca Rock Art near Nevada’s Pyramid Lake dates back to 14,800 years before present. This is the earliest example of human created artistic behavior in North America. Much further north and dating back 23,000 years before present in the Yukon’s Bluefish Caves there is evidence of the first people having settled in this region of North America.
Mexico’s Chiquihuite Cave hints at human activity dating back 30,000 years before present.
Sixty miles southeast of Albuquerque there is dry lake bed and then further south is White Sands National Park. We haven’t any evidence of whether these first people arrived from the north or the south. What we do know is that it was warmer and wetter that the lakes were a source of fresh water and food. The Pueblo People are the descendants of these first immigrants.
Most intriguing is that these first people may have arrived, but it would be tens of thousands of years before they transitioned from hunter-gatherer’s and built permanent settlements.
Early man began to experiment with cultivating plants, corn or maize is the most well-known crop, but there was also potato, squash, beans, and sunflower.
The people named the Anasazi suddenly vanished from this region about 800 years before present. These first people had developed the pueblo and their abandoning the dwellings was thought to be the result of climate change and drought. New theories speculate that there is evidence of tension between tribes and potential of mass killings, enslavement, and cannibalism. The lack of water may have set in motion a more predatory behavior between the various groups settled in this region.
Perching as they did on the cliffs appears to be designed as a fortress structure. The cliff dwellings were not built to withstand water scarcity. After the end of the last ice age, while the climate shifted from wetter to drier conditions no longer favored a people living in this region. The vast system of freshwater lakes begin evaporating and are gone in just a few thousand years.
A wave of immigrants then swept across the continent introducing Old World technology to a New World. Coal was burned to power the steam engine, then oil was refined to power the piston engine. There were sewers and water wells. By 1895 hydroelectric power stations began making electricity available to the masses.
A straight line connects the carbon based energy system of the Industrial Revolution to the climate emergency.
Traveling across the Navajo Nation in Northern Arizona and New Mexico the evidence of our first people is scattered across a vast landscape. Genetic markers identify the Korean peninsula as the origin of these people. Navajo prefer the name Diné to identify the people of their nation.
The ancestors of the Diné have been in North America for tens of thousands of years. The new human inhabitants evolved with a climate that grew warmer and drier, at this same time period animals such as camel and mastodon vanished into extinction.
These first people began to fabricate cliff dwellings and whole villages, fields were cultivated and farmed diverting water from the adjacent rivers. The Diné describe water as a living spirit, that the rivers, lakes, sun and earth are key to unlocking the miracle of life.
As the Department of the Interior rolls out the non-carbon based renewable energy system for this new century Biden’s Build Back Better plans is to enlist the wisdom of our indigenous people in our effort to reimagine our economy.
The Industrial Revolution was powered by and is still dominated by use of fossil fuels. We’ve altered our climate and it is now clear that mankind has unleashed all manner of trouble upon itself. It is the culture of our first people who have lived here longer than any other people, that it is the Diné who have sought out a means of being here in harmony with the earth. For our world to survive we would be wise to enlist the talents of all our tribes, each part of our many people can contribute to this transformational journey.
Embracing a multicultural path to fixing our energy system is only one of many existential challenges confronting the American West. Wildfire, heatwaves, and drought are the tip of the spear to the changes bearing down upon this region.
Most urgent is the persistent loss of water flowing into the Colorado River. Constructing both the Glen Canyon and Hoover Dam’s occurred during an era that was unusually wetter than at present.
Appointed by Bill Clinton former Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation Daniel P Beard in 2015 concluded that the time had come to remove the Glen Canyon Dam. What prevents this right decision from being taken? A set of interlocking stakeholders that receive subsidized water. The unfettered flow of the Colorado River water to western landholders is about to be shattered.
Beard dubbed this group of lucky water rights holders the water nobility. The senior most water rights holders have been allotted subsidized water worth thousands and thousands of dollars that they would then use to grow hay crops worth hundreds and hundreds of dollars.
Water law is complicated but the problem it has created is not. Too much water is being wasted growing too many crops unsuited to this region’s climate. Members of the Water Nobility have outsized wealth created by receiving an irrationally bestowed entitlement. This is the people’s water, it is for all of us, not just the lucky few. But the current stakeholders will fight to keep what they’ve mistakenly come to believe is their water.
What we’ll see play out over the next years are negotiations between Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, and our international neighbor to the south Mexico. Every stakeholder is going to demand more, and all will come away with less, some will lose access altogether.
The Bureau of Reclamation and Department of Agriculture will attempt to bring an end to subsidizing crops grown with subsidized water. The firestorm these changes setoff are going to be monumental. But the climate emergency is now upon us and with its arrival the American West finds itself struggling to divide up less and less to the point where there is no more water to divide up.
Knowing full well that they will fight to the last drop, surrendering nothing, arguing over everything, never agreeing to anything, holding out as the American West is brought to the brink. This is the tragedy of the commons playing out before our very eyes. The pending negotiations over how to share what water remains in the Colorado River does not yet dominate the headlines, but this crisis even if it rains this next season is going to pit state against state all too soon.
Postscript… I’m preparing a new plot to a comedy. Some pieces of the water crisis will be folded into this struggle. I see this as Little Big Man and Dr. Strangelove doing battle with the Monkey Wrench Gang. I remind myself while trying to plot this story that Hayduke and Mandrake are both still very much alive!
The burn rate was high, and the hits were few. Most of the routines washout even before tested in front of an audience. Still the new material offers clues. You’ll take this add that and try it out.
My two dogs always are at the top of the mind of people who have seen my act. Because so much of the material was an odd mashup of various elements it was often difficult to explain what might have caught the attention of someone.
For some years I opened with ball spinning and fire juggling and then finished with the dog. Unpacking the details isn’t often much help when prodding the memories of audience members.
Someone would offer— He did something with the dog— Fair enough. So, there was a dog in the act? Yeah, the dog was good—
I’ve written lyrics and music for ukulele throughout my years drifting town to town doing shows. The ukulele was quite the constant companion. Sometimes I admired a particular piece of music and would put my own farcical lyrics to the tune. My originals where I did both song and lyrics are hardly jewels, but a few turned out, they’re not too bad.
I was influenced by Tin Pan Alley, Cole Porter, Sammy Cahn, Rodgers and Hart, Ira Gershwin, Frank Loesser and so many others. Chord changes to a tune like My Funny Valentine twist and turn at a quicker pace. When you only have four strings the chord change tempo helps.
Both dogs provided the on-cue barks to How Much is that Doggie in the Window. The tune provided a sentimental touch to my act, softening my personality, helping to add another dimension. I’ve played this tune in performance well over 10,000 times. You can see one version with Sunshine on my posted videos at this site.
The Golden Gate Garbage Company never got much attention. Both Mike Stroud and I had more polished solo shows, but we banged out more than a few sets in front of audiences. While working dates in Montana in 1988-1989 we got a chance to play this material atop a flatbed truck trailer to an enthusiastic remote and isolated wheat growing community along the border of Canada and North Dakota.
That was then and this is now. Here for your pleasure the shows signature tune…
To enter a boatyard is to step into a world dominated by men. There are reasons for this, none that will get to the truth of how this has happened, but it is here a workplace where men are packed cheek to jowl. The men come as fathers, bachelors, husbands, brothers, and braggards. Religious beliefs vary, most no longer drink, all have lived hard lives, none raise as much hell as the hell that landed them here. Lessons have been learned, that’s why they’ve been hired on, fool youth has been completed and their most productive years are before them.
Boats are stood on the hard and secured with boat stands. This first step is done by skilled veterans. Hauling a boat out of the water requires precision, there is no room for error. One team haul the boats out of the water, power washes the bottom and then sets the vessel on the hard where the work will be done.
If you need rigging fixed, carpentry repaired, or electronics debugged there is a specific skilled man that will do the job. Boats from all corners of the globe arrive for services provided here at KKMI in Richmond.
Bob Hennessy will oversee the work done on my boat. I’d come in distraught about the shaft seal failure and it was Bob coming down below seeing for himself the failing prop shaft seal and then intoning in a soothing mellifluous steady voice how to best fix this rascal. I had about 10 ideas how I might do the repair and Bob swatted all those away but one, the surest one, the one his yard recommended, and the one I would use. This is why they pay Bob the big bucks.
The man coordinating the services to a boat is something like the conversation you might have with your doctor, or if it is serious, you know if it is life or death, these are the kind of conversations you might have with your surgeon. Bob will explain how they’re going to cut the thing out, in this instance the propeller shaft seal, so I may regain my sanity and boats seaworthiness. I am fond of the part where I get to go sailing off over the horizon to live and love another day. There is no hand holding, there’s no show boating, no taunting or teasing. There are no crybabies. My job is to shut up and follow along learn as much as I can so I might know more about how my brain and my boat are put together. I appreciate Bob’s skillful means. The reason I don’t have to have all the answers is because of men like Bob who do.
The boatyard was crowded. Two boats down from mine was perched on the hard a 35’ Camper and Nicholson sailboat. The sloop rigged boat is a Lloyd’s Register of Shipping certified vessel built to the highest standards. The boat is one tough go anywhere take on anything Swiss Army knife of a tool that gives a mariner a snowballs chance of making it through the eye of a tropical depression then not sinking so the skipper and crew may then live long enough to tell. I don’t understand how they’ve figured out how to ensure such feats of daring (reasonable minds may disagree but this could also be considered an act of sheer stupidity) but someone located along the River Thames has quantified the loads on hull and masts and forces of nature and put the name Lloyd’s on the odds of someone making it through with this particular vessel under what can only be considered as a storm-tossed nightmare at sea.
Sailboats of this kind are here being prepared for long ocean passages. One of the yards senior most experienced technicians was working at the stern installing a Hydrovane, or a wind powered self-steering device. Aligning the wind vane is precision work, the technician fashioned several mounting blocks from a special high strength epoxy resin laminate material. The nuts and bolts must seat perpendicular to the laminate blocks both on the inside and outside of the hull. Close isn’t good enough, right is right, literally each bolt and nut seats flush. The installation requires both patience and a fat purse as these hours add up and the expense is considerable. I watched the technician work two full days and there was still more to do. Fending off disaster at sea doesn’t come on the cheap.
The technician figured that I was trying to take care of my own boat and had bestowed his attention upon me as if by secret handshake, he made eye contact signaling I had permission to speak. Because boats are complicated, much as most marriages, therefore most owners have little time to give to their own boat or the sincere effort needed in keeping their marriage in top condition. I am one of the holdouts attempting to come out a champion of both.
This is the way it was, the way it is and the way it always will be. My working on my own boat meant I was likely an odd and quirky man, that I knew little but tried my best. It doesn’t take a technician long to figure out I’m the rare bird trying to do as much of the work that needing doing and that can-do spirit had earned me a pass and pity depending upon the hour of the day and quality of the whiskey involved.
Think of a boatyard as mansplaining paradise. Here is located a sanctuary where being told how to do a thing right the first time is near divine guidance. A dedicated owner once identified as marginally capable and not some knotted up halfwit going off about a mechanical conundrum, he knows nothing about is for sport and conversational pleasure elevated to be a target of idle chatter. Do I have the will to persevere or will the task at hand bring me to my knees until I am defeated? In the world of advice, the most stubborn of us cannot ask and therefore will not receive.
Upstairs in the chandlery is a vast floor of engine parts. An irritable bloke because of how Yanmar sells parts had to look over a schematic online and find part numbers for each individual item I will need to remove and replace the heat exchanger. There isn’t much cleaning a heat exchanger, but there are several steps to the task. This isn’t my first visit to this rodeo. By the last day in the yard the irritable gent upstairs opened the gate for me, he even smiled. I had passed muster as I whiled away day upon day undertaking all manner of tasks that I had showed some ability to complete.
A buzzer sounds over a public address system signaling that it is time for one of the two 15-minute breaks or the 30-minute lunch. Two men bring their dogs to work. Some of the most talented technicians tend to congregate with other most talented workers. The up and comers are men nearing 30. They’ve got plans to prepare their own boat for a future circumnavigation.
My sloop was put back in the water. Because I had opened the cooling system, I had to be careful on start up to be sure the coolant level was kept topped off. The propeller shaft seal technician hustled aboard to check the shaft seal was working as it should. Rather than takeoff immediately I remained at the docks overnight while checking and rechecking everything was as it should be, and my boat was seaworthy.
At daybreak I prepared the boat for sailing. Prior to my departure to bookend my experience Bob rumbled again in soothing tones about how pleased he was to see my sailboat made whole and that I had come through the experience without earning the outright derision of his workers.
Slipping the lines, I motored south out of the channel to Potrero Reach then with fair winds on my beam I hoisted my sails shaping a course west out into the bay.
In the deal I’ve come to see fixing a boat as proxy for fixing some broken piece of our soul and out of the repairs, time and trouble invested there sails a spirit open to the wonder and the glory and how we’re all folded into the mystery.
Moitessier imagined his boats to be an alliance, each making the other all the better. That fits what I have come to know. I am back from the yard, I am shipshape, and ready to go with all my heart giving it everything I have. To all of us I wish for “fair winds and following seas.”
Turns out Seldom Seen Smith is still with us. Hard to find but those that know claim Moab is an approximate location of this character. Hayduke hasn’t been heard from. His liver had to have given out by now. Doc Sarvis must be dead and gone, Bonnie Abbzug should still be here, he was old she was too young when the Monkey Wrench Gang was setting up shop with plans to destroy the dam at Lake Powell.
On December 18, 2020, there must have been a celebration when the smokestacks were felled at the Navajo Generating Station. The coal stacks demolition was in the before-times, before the virus hit. The two-decade long record-breaking mega-drought has state and federal water management agencies bracing for trouble of a size and kind the modern world has not witnessed before.
For the longest time we’ve been expecting that an exchange of nuclear weapons between the former Soviet Union and the United States would bring this experiment in civilization to an end. Nuclear arsenals are only as safe as the men and women who oversee these weapons. Dr. Strangelove’s Jack Ripper the military officer in charge of Alaska’s Strategic Air Command loses his mind and well you know the story of how Slim Pickens slaps the butt end of an atomic weapon as he rides off into oblivion.
This next existential fix we find ourselves in is different. Like tobacco we’ve developed a nasty habit, corporations benefiting from keeping us addicted to their dangerous products are behaving exactly as the tobacco company’s did two decades ago and have once again been slow walking efforts to shut their industry down. This time it isn’t tobacco the attorneys are working for, in this case our talented legal guns are working for the fossil fuel industry. Side note is I was staying at the historic 5-star St. Paul, Hotel in Minnesota when there were gathered the states attorney generals in meetings with tobacco industry lawyers who were putting the final touches on a class action settlement that finally brought this cancer causing industry to heel. The bar reeked of no goods and double dealing.
The Soviet Union was long gone by then and in its place has been stood up a mobbed-up fossil fuel dependent economy run by a former KGB secret agent named Vladimir Putin and he has no intention of halting the business his country is in. Russia can be described as a gas station pretending to be a nation with an organized crime problem.
I went to bed with the Calder Fire threatening South Lake Tahoe. I woke up instead to a Supreme Court burning down a woman’s right to reproductive health care. Louisiana took a category four hurricane hit with electrical lines down and power not expected to return for a month. Then, the tri-state region on the East Coast gets hit with tornadoes and a once in every 500-year flood event, the second 500-year event in just the last couple of weeks. Five hundred years isn’t what it once was it seems.
Polls report Governor Gavin Newsom will not lose the recall. Still I’m kicking in a $100 to help. Peasants in Florida are awakening to the tyrant they sent to Tallahassee. His polls have been stinking and sinking. Not ready to declare the fever haven been broken, too much of the Southeast has been cult captured by the authoritarian end-times sect. It would be funny if I was making this up but sadly I am not.
Our waiting for the climate emergency to commence is officially over. Airnow.gov provides information on air quality. September 2-3 are forecast to be moderately unhealthful. Summers are like that in California. Air quality in the San Francisco Bay Area has been measured to have some of the world’s worst air to breathe. Denver beat out Mumbai for the world’s most polluted air basin last month. Fox Television has been declared a Murdochian cesspool in need of pumping and cleaning.
We installed a monster HEPA filter in our home. It is a beast of a filter. We keep our windows closed and run the filter all day every day. Long term exposure to wildfire smoke is a respiratory illness inducer. If I have any compassion, it is for asthma and emphysema patients flooding emergency rooms unable to function in such a polluted atmosphere.
There was a time when your local weather forecaster on your favorite local television station didn’t include air quality predictions. Sports reporters now tell us how good or bad the air will be on game day. Anyone bellyaching about wearing a N-95 to slow the spread of the virus is now wearing their mask to fend off the harm caused by inhaling wildfire choked air.
Small time entertainer friend works a lot of events in private homes now carries a cancellation clause in the event of smoke from wildfire. While I am at it those cabin filters in your car should you get caught in a lot of smoke should be swapped out ASAP.
Surfing over to the Navajo Times you can find out a lot about one of our great indigenous people that live among us. I follow Arlyssa Becenti (@ABecenti) on twitter. Diné journalist (this is the preferred name for the Pueblo people or Navajo). Ms. Becenti worked formerly at the Navajo Times and Gallup Independent, she’s back at Arizona State University studying investigative journalism. I’d say with her joining the fray to save America and I was a betting man I’d go all in on the moxie of this world class woman.
The Navajo Nation spans parts of Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. The virus has not been kind to a people that tend to live in large family groups in small homes. The Diné have a total population of 380,000 with 32,650 having become infected with COVID-19 and of those 1,404 have been killed by this deceitful often asymptomatic contagious virus.
Teachings from the elders happens at home. Song, cooking, language and religion depend upon the elders living long enough. Each premature ending of an elder’s life means that their ancient wisdom is not transmitted to the next generation. The ancestral Diné first arrived in North America 20,000 years ago. Current occupants of this continent would be wise to take a lesson on how these first of first nation immigrants have survived here these many thousands of years.
It is not just the Diné, but it is most of the indigenous people across the Americas that teach living in harmony with the earth. A practical pathway of working with the problems we face because of the climate emergency are found in the Diné culture. Water is a living spirit. I’m smoking a big one tonight and rewatching Little Big Man.
A year ago, a young Diné political activist organized a get out the vote on the Navajo Nation. This is a vast geographical area with many of the Diné living in remote rural homes. For many their homes, sometimes a round building called a Hogan have no electricity or refrigeration. Water is hauled in by truck and trailer. To get out the vote the activist organized riders to go by horseback and bring voters to the closest polling places. Political analysts believe the Diné vote tipped the Arizona election to the Democrats.
If there is good news much of the best headlines can be found in one of our nation’s most important indigenous people. It is our good fortune to have Deb Haaland a member of the Laguna Pueblo people to be appointed the United States Secretary of the Interior. The former House of Representative member is the first Native American to ever be appointed to lead a cabinet level agency. All I can say is we need more Native American women running this show and a hell of a lot less Chuck Grassley’s. Iowa needs to do better.
There is no magical way to put a cork in the bottle of trouble the world has unleashed. We’re burning too much fossil fuel and releasing too much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The good news is we don’t have to invent any new technologies. We will continue to deploy more renewable energy systems across the globe. These are the cheapest carbon free technologies in the world. In Cornwall (try to keep up) a team of expert geothermal engineers are scaling up to filter lithium out of hot water used for two reasons, one to spin turbines to make electricity and the other for making batteries for cars.
To do our part we must continue to support and help elect politicians that will pass meaningful climate emergency legislation. The biggest piece of our problem is all goobered up by just a handful of transnational corporations. We break their hold on our energy system and we are well on our way to fixing the existential crisis our civilization faces. This is good work.
Meaningful legislation is making its way through the House of Representatives today. There are many critical new initiatives that if passed will help us walk civilization back from the brink. Grid redesigns, battery storage, charging stations, basic research, methane gas mitigation, renewable energy subsidies, high speed trains… this list is long, and the circumstances could not be more urgent.
There is a rogues gallery of multinational corporations working to block this legislation, for many selfish reasons, they have oil they want to sell, tax breaks they wish to keep, environmental restrictions they don’t want passed. But here’s the rub the corporate interests are not in the people’s interest.
It all seems too bizarre, unimaginable, none of this can be true, how did we get here? We face our own odd Dr. Strangelove moment, where our world teetering on the brink, where our civilization having flirted with annihilation steps back from the brink and instead of walking past the graveyard seizes the moment and does the right thing for all of life.
Alarming as our climate and political crisis has proven to be this week, we still have time. Demand the politicians we elect act on our behalf for the sake of humanity. Time is of the essence. Enjoy your Labor Day Weekend.
Coming now to the nickels, dimes, and the last dog days of what remains of this 69th August I’ve come to know— I leap like a gazelle, eat like a voracious crocodile as what to make of this corner of creation we find the capitalist system to have worked itself into.
Threading the needle of my adulthood through the eye of my extended youth has been a work in progress. I delude myself imagining the unrequited love I’d found cavorting along the surfs edge with the throng of nubile bikini clad wanton darlings of times gone by. I the gallant gentleman volunteering to swab sunscreen onto their shoulders and backs. Trustable, useful and mesmerized. Infatuation needs to come with a better operator’s manual for the next visit should this reincarnation thing in fact be true.
The rules are the rules. Ignoring the rules will place at risk the chances of losing the whole game. Instead of that romp in the midnight sun along the shores edge you are left to eat alone at an open all-night Denny’s. Here is located the starting line in the race to win the purest love, a love like no other, the one that changes the solitude that has been eating away inside since being separated from my mom the first day of kindergarten .
Landing decks have been fashioned. Ends of fresh cut lumber have been sanded, the planks screwed to the frames, rough edges sanded until they were as smooth as the shoulders in need of sunscreen, then coming back to the task at hand I stood the platform on end to stain the new exterior landing’s then let them dry while I drip with sweat in the late summer sun.
How I had steered the ship of my life into a boatyard to restore a wooden sailboat had to do with the hubris, this was the blunder I allowed to tyrannize any chance of my ever being less ambitious. I entertained a doozy, the one I nailed my future to, brash and confident that the restoration would take maybe 3 months tops when in fact it would turn into a 7-year task.
Right off the bat you need to know the odds of making it to the end was near zero. The project’s sole volunteer hadn’t much woodworking experience. The hull required 2500 screws to be fastened to fresh oak ribs that had been sistered into place alongside the existing worn ribs. Those laminated oak frames were steamed until bendable then buttered up with epoxy and slid quick into place before they stiffened. I’m exhausted just remembering how the project had trapped me, how there was no way out, that giving up when you are so close would be something I could not bare to carry in my heart, this the scar I knew would be a fatal wounding ending my best shot at living my best life. Quitting the project was not an option. It would be like giving up on everything I stood for, every ounce of character I’d earned, every bit of progress I had made, my phantom General’s had got me into a quagmire, and I would have to fight my way out against having underestimated the scale and scope entailed in the restoration of a wooden boat.
There were terrifying nights during the years while I was working on the sloop’s restoration. Tormented by my folly I’d awaken in a flop sweat. An all but impossible to remove rotted fastener on more than one occasion required the entire day to extract. The journeymen boatwrights in the yard knowing that they may not interfere, that if they did intercede and extract the screw that it would ruin any chance of my growing into a self-sufficient craftsman. The only way to learn how to stand on my own two feet would by being brought to my knees fighting tooth and nail against a screw. I prevailed only after failing in every other way I could devise. The shamanic confidence of the most able craftsmen in a boatyard is always the same, it is hard won, the success arrives only after all the failures have had their turn. A capable boatwright’s skills once earned are never lost.
I am still refining my talents. Being a husband welded by vowing then practiced each day not just by use of your best pieces but also by revision of your least workable parts is at least as stubborn a task as extracting a screw from the plank of a wooden boat.
And then there is the ongoing pleasure of loving my daughter-now an adult-but always in my mind the kid. The unconditional nature of childrearing fuels the will to the lifelong task. Doing my best to improve the kid, the wife doing what she can to improve her husband, the journeymen boatwrights not interfering letting the wooden sloop work its will upon the novice craftsman… these are eternal frictions of nature at work. Endeavoring to unlock the mystery of how fixing a thing has the potential to make a well-lived life possible may not be so easy to explain, but it is true. The trial of restoring a wooden boat will render its verdict by etching to memory how you cannot quit a thing until it is complete, and finally when you arrive both boat and man have been forged by the challenge for the better.
August is aching over autumn’s scent. The vegetable patch has gone over to the other side. Sunflowers are on the edge of the dance floor. Romeo’s have all been thunderstruck, the only true optimists, the flitting lizards race from rock to rock. The squirrels only know love by lust of the feline skirt chasers. The neighborhood is haunted by brittle dry Monterey pines.
The Chinese mail carrier knows this misfit resident by first name. The Japanese maple in the front yard thinks me to be stingy, whereas in the backyard this red bark maple imagines I am a saint. Crows have been absent leaving me to wonder where they’ve taken off to. Acorn woodpeckers are beside themselves chattering away in the live oaks they are so fond of making home.
My neighbor no longer speaks to us without great discomfort, we planted photinia to remedy the view of his deferred maintenance. One day the photinia willing we will not peer into the disorganized cerebral cortex of our neighbor’s procrastinations. Nothing about his untidiness will change.
Voles are rampaging. Attempts to repel by castor oil have met with better than good results- but still they plunder the landscape like Robinhood’s, the rath of the king is soon. They have fallen all the corn stalks.
Heavy artillery is being brought in. Vegan paradox and Buddhist inspired directive to first do no harm, that it would be best if you do not execute the voles has by unanimous consent been voted down. We march on the voles at daylight.
Then there is the solitary beauty of the one fig on the new tree. There are the hibiscus flower buds multiplying by the day. There is so much promise and such a paucity of tangible results. Gardens in my delusional blind date with fertilizer stir both feast and famine.
Chickens next door, in the back, the fence is wire, we can see each other, agreeing by eyesight there is much to recommend, we have a thing for one another, according to my gypsy king philosopher predictions the roost and will of the flock is on my side. There are lifecycles I hold in awe, this tormenting by egg laying is not on my list of things I would wish to try should I return reincarnated as a hen. Wish me luck. Karma because I’ve worked with chickens suggests my fate might well have already been sealed.
Ants made a dash for water at the kitchen sink. They have been removed. I sent a letter to their agent asking they not return we’re in the middle of a different scene from a different movie and it doesn’t include these rogue invaders.
Pole beans are coming up, the kale is not, the spinach hesitates. I’ve a whole furrow prepared for collard greens.
I’ve a pile of rocks I’ve promised to move on last time, after having moved them the last time on three previous occasions. Seems as if things change and the rocks mark the exact location of where the next changes are located. I’m trying to imagine changing without having to move a pile of rocks. This appears to be harder to do than simply busting my butt moving a pile of rocks one more time. The house wren in my yard sees the futility in my actions and flitters about experiencing a deep knowing that this rock piler can’t possibly be a more intelligent species.
Our red Mandeville we hope will climb the new lattice work I’ve built. The ferns have been moved and are happy in their new neighborhood beneath the oaks. None of these preferences were known by this novice gardener. I’m getting the hang of understanding that under certain conditions each plant will thrive should their needs be met. Like the pile of rocks, I seem to have a knack for picking the perfect place for many of my plants to struggle.
I have potted a manzanita that I will Banzai. Shears are sterilized. I’m waiting for this native bush to reveal itself further. This manzanita hales from the coastal hills of San Mateo County near Montara. I have taken a stinging bit of criticism for bringing this specimen 20 miles further inland than is native to this plant, but so far the glorious Montara manzanita likes what it sees.
On my short list of indigenous trees to plant are madrone and buckeye. Madrones are notorious for being difficult and this is believed to be a perfect fit since I am so difficult myself. Buckeye grow wild in the neighborhood, but I’ve had no luck sprouting one. This tree blossoms in early spring and loses its leaves by early July. I’ll put it near the Meyer lemon tree that tends to ripen its fruit in the last days of autumn. I think the two trees might appreciate one another for their being so out of sink with most all the other plants in the yard. This is the plant world theory of opposites attract.
I’ve revived much neglected roses that are now scaling new heights on posts and wires I’ve constructed. Raspberries are gaining height and putting on good size. I’ve a thornless marionberry I’m especially pleased with.
Grapevines require proper pruning. I’ve ordered more wire and stakes for the vines to use. Netting will likely be necessary to protect next years fruit.
Density seems to be something I have no knack for. I’d been warned to give my blueberry bushes plenty of space, so they don’t stress each other by being planted too close. The cantaloupe has wanted to do more. The yellow squash has overtaken one of the raised beds and will not concede an inch to its neighboring plants.
By late afternoon the patio umbrella is opened. I sit out of the sun where I’ll read. We’ve had lots of tomatoes, sunburst squash and basil to add to the pasta. I’d prefer whole wheat pasta but use chickpea pasta reasoning there is benefit in it providing my body with a good source of protein. I have no strength of character around whole wheat pasta and will finish off any amount I’ve cooked. I see this as a proxy battle where in my youth I would indulge in all manner of enticements, dancing until sunrise, sleeping until afternoon, kissing my loves until they were convinced, I’d imagined it was my kisses that had provoked their surrender.
Hard won wisdom like my pile of rocks I’m fated to move to make way for change is not all that it’s cracked up to be. Knowing better is not to be confused with authentic goodness. I take the chickpea pasta to be the proxy for knowing better and the authentic goodness to be the whole wheat pasta.
I mean to do good work in my garden but my strawberries know I am weak.
Air quality at my Google disclosed location in the San Francisco Bay Area is safe today. That’s one of the new not normal modes of the climate emergency. We had braced ourselves for our trip north knowing we’d be driving into bad air.
Near Red Bluff we entered wildfire smoke and traveled another 275 miles north beyond Roseburg in the thick of it. After just an hour into the experience smoke grew thicker, the veil of smoke impenetrable. The sky never was clear enough to see Mt. Shasta. Below the highway bridge we could just make out a drought ravaged Lake Shasta. If we’d not traveled the unsettling sights could have been kept out of mind. That’s the illusion of modern plumbing, we are detached from what makes our faucets flow. Who has time to think about reservoir levels?
This summer’s triple digit temperatures have been too frequent. Unwelcomed blazing days and nights hit while traveling in Colorado, Utah, Nevada and California. Adjusting to heatwaves, coming to regard wildfires as commonplace, clinging to the hope the drought will break come early autumn, none of this is usual, none of this is how any of us grew up, nobody expected climate change to get this bad this soon. Too many tipping points have been breeched.
Smoke was so intense this last week, the further north our eyes began to burn, and our throats became scratchy. Windows were kept rolled up, we turned on the recirculating air function in our van.
Actors working in Ashland were scheduled to resume performing on July 31st. Forced to close because of the pandemic and now reopening in midst of such intense smoke must be one more unwelcome obstacle on a global scaled worrying mother of all obstacle courses. Actors trying to breathe the polluted air and speak for two hours on stage is futility fueled by air pollution. The circumstances are anything but business as usual.
Medford, Rogue River, Grants Pass were all covered in thick smoke. There was this bizarre-Apocalypse Now- sense of going upriver hunting for a Brando gone wildfire mad.
We pumped fuel just north of Roseburg. Gas station attendant said the smoke was even worse last summer— that floored us— here was awful, last year was even worse. Checking the temperature, it was 107˚F late in the day. Our trip would take us west to the coast where it was forecast to be in the high 60’s. Air quality was good because there was a breeze pushing the smoke back from the ocean.
Our stay at Winchester Bay overnight was a relief. The following day we stayed in Newport, Oregon. Conditions were much the same.
We arrived in Seattle to more smoke and hotter near triple digit weather. Where we were staying, because until now hot weather is so infrequent, there has never been need for air conditioning. We tried but couldn’t sleep with the windows closed. Lucky for us air quality improved through the night so that when we woke in the morning monitoring stations indicated we had been breathing only moderately unhealthful air.
Saturday’s weather was improved from the day before. Smoke was present but in relative terms was tolerable for most of us. At risk populations with respiratory health issues were advised to remain indoors.
Every kind of emergency has been whipped together this summer. News broke arsonists appear to have had a hand in setting off the fires in Northern California. The Dixie Fire is now the largest wildfire ever in California state history.
We are still living behind the mask, racing to get more people vaccinated, trying to keep the economy open while setting up protocols so that customers may have the means of reliably proving they are vaccinated.
I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, but I might be telling you something you don’t want to think about. Our democracy is under assault from within our own borders by a political party that has lost faith in our government and is now obsessed with an autocratic fetish.
The Afghanistan withdrawal has revealed that our attempt to standup a military force in another country much as we tried in Iraq and Vietnam isn’t working and has never worked. This isn’t a rant about the Pentagon this is to point out that there are problems in the world that are unfixable.
Nothing is simple. Urging the hesitant to get vaccinated will help. Following strict guidelines to get our schools open is our best chance but remains risky. Large businesses demanding mandatory vaccinations for workers is a step in the right direction, but there are still too many millions that will remain unprotected.
Last week’s most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was unequivocal about the cause of the problem and what actions need to be taken to solve this crisis. All the world can see with their own eyes how conflicted and uncooperative various factions and interests can be. Action plans to solve the climate emergency requires consensus, this is the kind of international cooperation that has historically eluded humankind.
Returning south yesterday the smoke was gone in Roseburg but still set on Redding. Air quality has been hazardous in this region of Northern California since the still burning Dixie Fire started on July 14th.
It has come as no surprise on August 16th the Bureau of Reclamation has rung the alarm bell over the emergency drought conditions on the Colorado River. Tier 1 rationing will go into effect on January 1, 2022, and if it still hasn’t rained by next spring they expect Tier 2 rationing to go into effect soon after.
Central Arizona’s farmers will take the hardest hit first. Politicians on both sides of the aisle are desperate to help their rural constituents. But, rushing into the crisis trying to protect electoral prospects and not addressing the structural problems is no longer viable, the water shortages in the American West are here to stay.
Instead of thinking of this moment as a crisis we need to think of this as an opportunity to restructure our water system and that is a job that powerful special interests have had little reason to wish solved. Until now we have engineered our way around scarcity, moving water with pumps and aqueducts, building new reservoirs, diverting water from region to another, until there is no more water to use to put off the inevitability of the reality nature demands.
There is no more putting things off, crunch time is here, arriving with the pandemic, wildfires, biblically scaled downpours, melting polar caps and rising sea levels. The good news is that the warning lights on the dashboard have turned red and it is time to roll up our sleeves open that hood and get to work repairing the one world we’ve got to use for going on a civilization sized joy ride across a cosmos scaled by the eons.
You make the popcorn; I’ll bring the beer. Can’t wait to see how this thrill ride ends.
For more than a decade every October I was the rarest of birds and traveled to Queen Creek, Arizona for work. Touring by truck and trailer I parked my rig in the field northeast of Rittenhouse and Cloud Road. Most years sheep were grazed adjacent to where I camped under the constant attention of a coyote hating sheepdog.
Mark and Carrie Schnepf run an entertainment farm in the easternmost corner of the Valley of the Sun. I would play my act on a lawn in the shade to family audiences seated on haybales presenting my juggling act and performing dog.
Back in 2000 Queen Creek was the end of the line, you couldn’t go further, Rittenhouse terminated here and all you could do was make a left and head toward the Arizona State Prison in Florence.
Audiences drove in from nearby Mesa, Gilbert, Chandler, Tempe, Phoenix, Scottsdale and even sometimes from Apache Junction. Locals referred to Apache Junction by its initials, and you want to elongate them, stretch them out— real’ good, you say, “A… J…”
Mark Schnepf’s father settled this corner of the valley growing potatoes with groundwater. Other crops were grown too, but potato farming was the key commodity.
The water table began to sink lower, and the cost of electricity made it expensive to pump. Early settlers to this region could punch a well and hit water at 300 feet. By the 1950’s well drillers were having trouble finding water at a thousand feet.
It was 1993 when Queen Creek started getting some limited access to water from the just completed Arizona Central Canal Project.
In 1990 the population of Queen Creek was 2500, in 2000 the town was twice that, and is now home to over 51,000.
The explosive growth in this corner of Arizona has transformed a rural village into a traffic clogged suburb. At one point they were throwing up houses on this side of the valley at a clip of 10,000 per month. Then there are all the cars, schools, churches, and shopping centers. Occupants to the new homes arrived with children, if they happened to be members of the Church of Latter-Day Saints they arrived here with lots of children.
By 2010 morning commutes were bumper to bumper, traffic signals were in such short supply they trailered in portable units to help unsnarl the busiest intersections.
Mark Schnepf and his family treated me as one of their very own. I had the run of the place. I could use the machine bays, fix my brakes, change sparkplugs, move around on the property as I needed. His most skilled farmworkers were housed on the land too and worked all year long, many have been with Mark since his childhood. The nanny that had raised Mark was the same nanny that helped raise Mark and Carrie’s children.
Big cotton growers were active just south of the farm. Acreage measured in the thousands. If you drove the area you’d see alfalfa fields, corn and citrus.
Schnepf Farms was a way to add value to what you could grow, and the entertainment programming was an enterprising device to drum up some buyers for what you had to offer that way you could sell for retail and cut that wholesaler out of the process altogether.
Most of what Mark Schnepf grows is in support of the entertainment programming. He planted pumpkins for Halloween, peaches for the spring festival, corn for a maze to walk around in, vegetable crops to serve at the farm café and bakery.
Schnepf Farm grows a lot of pumpkins for the October event. Pumpkins became so in demand he’d have extra shipped in from more water abundant farming districts.
Friday nights I’d drive north into Apache Junction to go two-stepping at the local country and western saloon. Dancing was fun, beer was cold, and conversation was colorful.
Monsoons arrived this summer, but the drought is still on. Unless you ranch, farm, or run a water dependent business the water shortage doesn’t occupy the front of your mind.
Just south of Queen Creek the San Tan Valley exploded onto the map going from a population of near zero to 96,000 in just 20 years. Two thirds are white, much of the rest are hispanic. New homebuyers moved here from other parts of the valley to get a newer bigger home for lower prices than are available as you get closer into the valley’s center.
San Tan Valley is inhabited by a people with no living memory of a place that until the new century was essentially an empty and desolate desert. San Tan Valley’s culture is in process, it is undergoing development, shaped by the new social media driven world. Your children may have gone to school here, but you didn’t, your parents didn’t, there was no here to grow up in.
Friction is building between the farms and the residents, the reasons are always the same, it’s because of the water. Some farmers saw the writing on the wall and sold their land off to developers. Get out while the getting was good.
The biggest impact of the climate shifting to being slightly dryer and hotter is that there is less water. Adapting to the shortage is uneven, some are hit harder than others. One farm because of their proximity to the Gila River continues to get their full allotment while another newer farm with subordinated water rights in a dry year is entitled to none.
Plenty of ink has been spilled on the unthinkable immediate impact of wildfire and drought. Much less attention has been given to what will come of the people here in the San Tan Valley should this drought persist. Is such a place able to survive such a crisis? Can the government function? If the drought grinds on access to residential water will become more expensive. If that doesn’t do the trick rationing will be mandated, if you use more than allowed, you’ll be fined, if you still flout the rules your water will be cut off.
If the drought persists water will be cut completely to agriculture. Herds will be auctioned off, farm equipment sold, farms and ranches foreclosed on with banks left to dispose of property certain to be worth much less, solvency issues would sure to take a bite out of the banks equity.
Paramount to all of this is to do with the climate emergency and whether it could trigger the collapse of civilization. What keeps planners at the Pentagon awake nights has to do with cataclysmic events that trigger mass migrations, trigger skirmishes between factions in a community, the kinds of events not witnessed in North America ever before. Can our social and economic order be sustained by communities struggling through a water crisis? You start off with the given that Arizona’s politics runs hot as molten steel. I don’t know that we can know for sure if Arizona’s politics is configured to withstand such a jolt. Predictions are many, answers are few, your guess is as good as mine.
On the other side of the coin is that I know who these people are, I don’t know them by their political point of view. I know them as an audience, I have entertained these families not once or twice but for a decade. I know their hearts and minds. I know parents that love their children with everything they have. Still, for a place touched by such a crisis it will require truthful leaders, there won’t be any room for scapegoating, no finger pointing will get anyone one more drop of water, no blaming and complaining will fill a reservoir.
Scientists haven’t taken any pleasure in forecasting the impact climate change could make on civilization. Over the past half decade in California drought induced wildfires have erupted and the entire state has suffocated for days under a thick smokey haze. Firefighters struggle for months against these massive wildfires. Citizens have had to flee their homes. Whole towns have been lost. Greenville in the Dixie Fire is just yesterday. If the drought continues crunch time will arrive here in the San Tan Valley. Next year could give Arizona its first glimpse of the consequences of a changing climate. What will we do then?
What can we do now? Support climate mitigation efforts. Support expanding renewable energy technologies. Sell your gas-powered vehicle and buy an electric automobile or truck. Fly less. You don’t have to give up meat and dairy but use it wisely, be frugal, remember factory farmed animals are a gateway for zoonotic diseases that can cross over to humans and trigger worldwide pandemics. Urge your representatives to update water laws and land use policy. Perhaps the biggest problem is finding a way to keep the gas, oil and coal in the ground. Deploying regenerative farming practices, making steel with hydrogen powered furnaces, concrete too. The technology already exists, what is lacking is the sheer force of our political will to get the job done like right now, with no turning back. We can do this. The time has come.
“My people will be in touch with your people.” I got my ear down to the ground, listening for footsteps.
Reporting from Ft. Collins, Colorado my source informs me that going outside sucks, that air quality from the western wildfire season has been unnerving, “apocalyptic is not too strong a word.” They are all but ready to begin taking antidepressants.
Covid-19 infections have gone back up on the Navajo Nation. My sources tell me they relaxed and let their guard down too soon. Our people of the first nation have been hit hard and too many have died.
Further south in Patagonia my sources report the monsoons have turned the high desert of Santa Cruz County a verdant green, that there is an upswing in hope, but this hamlet of a few thousand people feel that they are getting a little out over their rural anti-venom and ration of whiskey for such hope to be harvested, canned and setup in the pantry for future difficulties.
I note last weekend the annual Buena Vista, Colorado burro race was held. Happy burros trotting along a fourteen-mile course with their ever-faithful partners galloping alongside. Running a half marathon from 7800’ to 11,000’ is what fun looks like up here.
My sources from Amador City (smallest town in California by size-198 acres) reports the turtles down in the creek are getting along, the bocce ball court has been groomed and ready for a tournament to breakout at any moment. It has been hot, dry and that the wasps have been aggressive this summer.
Report from Napa came in triggered by a grassfire that had set off more post traumatic stress disorders in survivors of the numerous larger regional wine country wildfires of the last 5 years.
Hiking out of Afton, Wyoming has been a near religious experience. Recent monsoonal events have turned the Vista Prater Trail muddy but passable with rewarding views not a mile up into the watershed.
An Oregon horse breeder moving a stud on Interstate 5 had a tire on their trailer blow and reported cigarette butts, aluminum cans and improperly disposed facemasks littering the side of the highway where repairs were made. Especially the risk of fire induced by careless cigarette tossed from vehicles provoked breeder to wonder, “What are people thinking?”
Particularly curvaceous Edmonton, Alberta friend has set down into words what concerns her this summer. “You don’t know fear until you tried on a dress too small and thought you were stuck in it forever.”
Harstine Island in the Puget Sound suffered from the heatwave until they didn’t. Brave souls are raising a second schipperke and reporting the dog is as disobedient as their former untrainable schipperke and that the cooler weather has been good for the blooming ranunculus. Wildfire smoke has not been too bad… yet.
Pot farming in British Columbia continues. From an undisclosed location somewhere in the interior my source reports a good crop will be ready for harvest by the end of August. No word yet on how morel hunting has gone or if chanterelles are ready just yet. Border between USA and Canada is due to open soon, or was, that may be put off due to the virus.
While in British Columbia reported all time high temperature of 92.7 degrees Fahrenheit was set on Saltspring Island in July. I am to understand that online poker games were played as scheduled and that the Saltspringers complained but that the grousing changed nothing.
Laurel Canyon, California contacts have moved back aboard their ketch rigged sailboat at Channel Island Harbor. Escaping San Fernando Valley summer heat to idle away the balmy August days along the coast has hopes on high.
Still, it is wildfire season, the summer has been hotter than average, and it appears the delta-variant has muted the luster of better days, that we’d turned the corner on the pandemic and a more normal life was soon in reach is now beyond our fingertips.
A piece of what we are living through has to do with resilience, to do with endurance, and piece to do with our vaccinated population coaxing our unvaccinated resistors to come to their senses and do the right thing and help us bring this pathogenic trail of sickness, hospitalization, and death to an end.
A low-pressure disturbance off the Cape Verde Islands in the Atlantic is being watched carefully as this potential hurricane begins tracking west across the Atlantic toward the Gulf of Mexico.
Monsoonal weather swept up from the south passing over the San Francisco Bay Tuesday. Warnings of the potential for lightening storms had been downgraded as the center of the weather system passed further offshore than had been forecast.
Just west of Benicia’s harbor we sailed off our anchorage at Dillion Point. No two days are the same on the water, expectations are traps, best to keep an open mind and ready for anything attitude.
Still after Monday’s return from the delta and then our rites of passage through the Suisun Bay we didn’t have the stomach for another dog’s life sail.
Callouses on our hands were raw from pulling the lines the day before. Our overnight had been a boisterous feast whipped up by the sailboat’s chef. We drank good wine. A quick anchor check to be sure we were holding. Bedtime came early, the anchoring light was switched on, the rest of the lights were turned off.
After coffee and mush we hoisted sails and tacked out of the channel beyond C&H Sugar on the Crocket side of the Carquinez Strait. For a spell we had enough breeze to keep the boat moving. By 10:00 AM the wind dropped then vanished altogether only the ebbing tide kept us headed to home port.
By 1:00 PM we beat bow to wind toward the San Rafael Bridge, the ebb was at its end and the flooding incoming tide began to push against us. We might have used the motor but since Monday we’d been cursed with an odd rattle, thinking it might be the vessel zincs on the propeller shaft, whatever the problem, it had been making an awful racket. The skipper and his crew discussed our options, deciding together that it safer to sail. Even if we would only get what the light winds and strong counter currents would give us, we calculated the snails pace a better bet than becoming impatient.
When we first hoisted sails, we’d thought if we could find the prevailing winds that we would be arriving at home port by now, but the westerly’s never filled in and the mysterious rattle kept us on edge. We continued sailing in mere whisps of breeze. Light air sailing is a much finer circumstance. Over the course of an hour zigzagging southward, the boat clawed its way through the water taking every extra effort and attention to make our way past the bridge, Red Rock and to the approach of the channel into Richmond’s harbor.
Setting up a mark on the global positioning system (GPS) I’d entered the final waypoint, the mark that would take us to our destination, the last leg of our trip. We needed to make good on 8-9 more miles. In a full breeze the last piece of our journey might take a bit more than an hour. Sailing at 2-3 knots these last miles according to the GPS were predicted to take at our current course and speed to require another 4 hours.
I told my first mate that we were due home by the end of this century—that there was plenty of food and water—that for reasons difficult to know these two days have worked according to powers higher than our own—that we were fated to return from the delta to Emeryville by some other set of schedules and expectations—that our well laid plans were not what Neptune had wanted for us—that if there was even one more adverse force unleashed upon our sorry souls—that together we would need to seek the help of a shaman—to cast off the curse that seems to have devoured our luck—our good fortunes had run plum out.
Sailors look for any ripple of wind on the surface of a still body of water. You steer away from the mirror like surface toward these ruffling patterns. We got hold of a better wisp of wind, then set a favorable angle and shaped our course for the end of the Berkeley Pier.
We had no reason to get cocky, the winds had come and gone all day, teasing us for a few minutes then vanishing, that’s how it had been. Another hour had crept by, we were still making some progress, perhaps one mile further by zigzagging two miles back and forth against the current.
By 3:00 PM changes were afoot. Ahead it was sure there was plenty of wind, more than enough, we could see the winds, there were whitecaps, if we could get there before this hope for a shot at getting off the water was gone, if we could get out of this hole, these doldrums, this rare monsoonal depression that had toyed with us for the last two days.
Then, as if by practical joke we found plenty of wind and more and went tearing south screaming along as fast as the boat will sail. I was on the low side steering, Richard my crewman on the high side grabbing hold to the boat while we rocketed toward the Bay Bridge on the east side of Yerba Buena Island. Winds were blowing from the west at 30 knots.
Laughing we hid in the lee of the island and lowered the main and would finish in this teasing maelstrom on headsail alone. Once at the dock we made quick work of putting the boat away. Down below we shared a bit of whiskey and split one can of beer. We laughed about our two days out on the water, the weather fit no pattern, being surprised had cost us, we might have gone about all of this another way, for one thing we might have waited in Owl Harbor, that might be the first thing to have tried before we opened the door to tempt all these flying monkeys to come into our lives.
Postscript… The following day the diver that cleans the boats bottom went over the side and reported he had to use his knife to remove seaweed, netting and fishing line that had gotten tangled around the propeller—there was a stinking mess below we had sailed with for two days—hard to know how we’d even made it back—prevailing as we did against all the stubbornness and expectations.
Owl Harbor curves like a crescent moon in the delta off of the San Joaquin River. The entrance to the slough is landmarked by the scuttled remains of a tug and dredging crane abandoned decades ago.
Boats vary in size and type. There are old motorboats, a newer 45’ ocean going catamaran. It wouldn’t be the delta if there were not variously configured houseboats, the most common are constructed with aluminum siding. One in particular featured four potted pomegranate trees, not large but well fruited.
All kinds of boats for all kinds of people. This is the time of year when the playful are jumping off watercraft into the water. Whole swarms of enthusiasts congregate in the water with a favorite floating device and beverage and for hours to idle away the afternoon together with their barking dogs.
Deverey is the harbor master. This is a skilled position. You’ll need to be able to spot a roustabout at first glance, former outlaws and a weak willed man that may soon become a lawbreaker. Since women can go bad too it takes some sixth sense to flush out the soul that may be in a corner of their own making and all too ready to entangle Owl Harbor in their drama.
This is just plain old everyday run of the mill way that the human condition and a boat harbor interact with one another.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Barry aboard a rather out of its place sports fisher, something you might see of Cabo San Lucas, in the Carolinas, maybe Key West. This is a the curviest vessel visiting Owl Harbor, the light green hull has been buffed out, two voracious CAT C18 diesels are resting below in the engine bays. Long of tooth, rascal and renegade, Barry appears to have wrapped his fate around his dreamboat, living the 60 gallons an hour at 20 knots all head full speed dream.
This is how it is here at Owl Harbor. Barry will move to Half Moon Bay in September then cruise south to Catalina Island by the middle of October. No right thinking mariner will linger this far north once the summers over and the first edge of autumn has been spent.
Up with first light and into a monster ebbing tide against a wee bit stronger blow than had been accounted on. This return to San Francisco Bay was harsh pounding against steep chop and a moody gray frothy and foaming sea. We feared the flying monkeys would soon attack, then a bolt of lightening, a refinery explosion could end our journey. We pounded against the Suisun Bay’s unkindness.
My second on this passage has sailed south to ports of call south of San Francisco. We have visited Monterey, Morro Bay and Ventura. Nothing was as belligerent and unwelcoming as yesterdays bashing into what Suisun Bay had on offer.
We redoubled our efforts. Every move, every effort was made to get the boat through and keep crew safe. A few days before sailing into Owl Harbor took all of 4.5 hours time. This return to Benicia extracted 10 hours.
We were concerned about being struck by asteroids, a train derailment and catastrophic crash off a trestle that might sink our boat and end our one chance at this thing called life. What other unanticipated horror might befall the fate of two chastened mariners?
We could be run down by a cargo ship, boarded by pirates, eaten by sharks, drenched head to toe by such a procession of waves as to leave us shivering our timber’s, and indeed the Suisun provided an infinite dousing of our desire for something slightly more gentle than what we were to receive.
With grit and grim dark humor we sailed on into the teeth of this beast of a mere ordinary Monday in late July. It was not hot as was the day before, it was overcast and the sky murky, gloom was hung into the heavens and there to see. Late afternoon we set our anchor in Dillion’s Point. Safe and sheltered now, thirsty and hungry, just another day of playing with boats.
We both spoke of flying monkeys because our trip out of the delta back to the San Francisco Bay could not have been more frightful. We took a good one yesterday and gave it all we had. You are sure you didn’t want to be there. I promise you the Suisun will give you all the hell you will ever care to take..
Enter reality on the boil as the consequences of hotter days become an irrefutable fact of a world facing peril. Distant and vague no longer hipsters on Capitol Hill in Seattle are having their own personal polar bear moment.
Canada’s Prime Minister Justine Trudeau facing a ticklish problem continues to voice his support of Alberta’s tar sands extraction. For now, puckish political raconteur can offer support for these life threatening fossil fuels, but there is a global campaign underway to make mass environmental destruction, known as ecocide an international crime similar to genocide and war crimes. The new law would in part make it illegal to commit a crime against nature, not just a crime against people.
The proposal states, “For the purpose of the Statute, “ecocide” means unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of sever and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts.”
Rude awakenings have been the hallmark of the Anthropocene epoch. Crafty political operatives give and receive orders verbally one on one, nothing on paper, no witnesses, leaving no legal trail, no fingerprints, no self-incriminating evidence. Incitement to riot can’t be charged without ironclad evidence of the speaker’s state of mind. Wink-wink-nod-nod…so it goes.
Three weeks ago, I was caught in a heatwave on Interstate 70 in Utah where it was 107˚F. Too exhausted to continue driving but still only 3:00 PM I parked beneath cottonwood trees at the Green River State Park waiting for sunset. It was near the same temperature at 8:00 PM. I’d used damp rags and a spray bottle to relieve myself of the heat. By 10:00 PM I could sleep. Hotels in town had all jacked their rates up above $200. Price gouging in a heatwave isn’t a good look for the national hotel chains.
When setting up our van we’d declined installing a rooftop air conditioner. Until this heatwave hit, we had been a bit high handed and dismissive of the potential for extended days of hot weather.
Then, a week later the heatwave hit the Pacific Northwest. On June 30th Lytton, British Columbia hit an all-time high temperature record of 49.6 °C (121.3 °F). On July 1st this little village north of Vancouver was destroyed by wildfire.
Oregon reported 116 people died from the heatwave, Washington reported 78. In British Columbia officials there estimated as many as 500 died. My liquid dance with a damp cloth and spray bottle in Green River served as a warning.
Then yesterday tropical storm Elsa dumped over New York City flooding portions of Manhattan’s subway system.
More deer in headlights and polar bears swimming in a sea searching for the missing ice their lives depend upon.
Lobbyists for Exxon were caught out boasting about their efforts to block climate change legislation. Keith McCoy, the oil giant’s senior director for federal relations described Senator Joe Manchin was their “kingmaker.” Apparently, the ecocide legislation can’t be put into effect quick enough.
In this digitized go-go ever hotter world, there is this sickening feeling that we simply do not have enough time or enough people willing to step up to the fight to save civilizations incessant march toward self-immolation.
Much of what appears to be the disintegration of the Republican Party is perhaps simply a tantrum thrown by the fossil fuel lobby. This is my theory. It makes some sense. Tax break fanatics and deregulatory addicts realize that the jig is up. Cornered, desperate, masks off and in fully revealed white nationalist mode it may just be that most of the Republican Party’s disenchantment with the two-party system has more to do with Caucasian constituents that would prefer to continue burning natural gas, oil, and coal. Civilization’s self-induced existential threat is a wee bit too thick a plot to interrupt the titans of big business and their marionette controlled double dealing politicians.
Hurricane season portends all manner of chaos, the Left Coast heatwaves have everyone on wildfire watch, the drought that effected half of the American West last year has now got a grip on 98% of this vital agricultural region.
Even Florida’s Surfside condo collapse appears rooted in the twin issues of deregulatory fervor and climate change induced high tides that may have helped undermine the buildings foundation.
I meet more and more millennials born between 1981-1996 forgoing having children. If like my daughter you grew up with a dot-com crash, non-existent weapons of mass destruction Iraq War, global financial crisis and finally a full-on as of now 4 million people killed global pandemic you can sort of see how things don’t seem to be working out quite like the millennials had been promised.
Reality keeps punching the earth in the nose. A pair of jacked-up billionaires are racing each other into suborbital space. More and more of us are learning to grow our own vegetables, we’re busy trying to master the art of permaculture and perfect regenerative farming methods.
Time does not appear to be our friend. The clocks nearly run out on our planet. We’re cutting this chance to do something to save the planet razor thin. Bringing my own grocery bags is quaint, recycling virtuous, while the 10 most carbon polluting multinationals remain defiant.
Everyone has basically run off in every direction seeking a piece of the action on the one hand or trying hard as all hell to put that hot sweet genie back in the bottle.
I’d been warned by my doctor that if I didn’t straighten out, he’d order me put on statins and if I disobeyed his orders he’d quit me as a patient and go find a more cooperative clientele. I didn’t want to eat whole food plant-based diet but congestive heart failure, stroke and god knows what else might happen persuaded stubborn SOB to change. The first year was difficult learning to cook and prepare food I’d never prepared before. By the end of the second year, I was actually able to feel satiated after supper. Now at the end of 6 years I’m delighted to have escaped from eating factory farmed animals. That includes fish, dairy, and bee’s honey.
Eating lower down on the food chain spares the world so many stresses. Plant based diets use less water and land. By now science has warned that crowding animals into feedlots is a recipe for breeding pathogens that could cross over and trigger another pandemic.
I know, I know, so many of you are not ready, the idea of upending your eating habits is not welcomed.
Most of my career I’ve worked outdoors in the sun for audiences gathering in the fairer seasons of the year. In August of 2009 I worked at the Kentucky State Fair where it became so hot that animal control authorities suspended the exhibition of all performing animals. Humans could continue to perform but they described the hazards faced by performing animals to be so great as to be life risking.
If I were starting out again, I’m not sure a career as an outdoor entertainer would be the best choice. On average we had enough good days to make living with the hottest days a reasonable bet, you could probably get by and likely the weather wouldn’t be too hot, things were still workable.
Then Seattle on June 26-27-28 posts three days of triple digit record breaking high temperatures. The usually benign city along the Puget Sound hit 102°F on June 26th, 104°F on the 27th and a record setting 108°F on the 28th. This high temperature record is hotter than records for New York City, Washington DC, or Atlanta.
This whole doing thing has a nice ring to my ears. We’ll need to sweat the big stuff, saddle up a capable posse and corral some of the miserly miscreants in our midst. Then, all of us pipsqueaks we can do better too, but these Goliaths need a good punch in the kisser. You know everyone acts like they’re going to win a fight until they get socked in the face with a hard right hand.
You’re not alone, this sense of the world going off the rails isn’t your imagination, we’ve got us a pretty good pickle of a problem and we’re all about to find out if mankind can step up and meet the moment. Are you ready, or do you just want to play more pretend, like nothing bad happens here? What will it be?