Yesterday’s front-page headlines reported that six of seven states have agreed to a new framework to cut back on the amount of water they use from the Colorado River. Six is pretty good—
There’s this Kighlinger negotiator, he is a former Los Angeles Metropolitan Water District manager, he knows the score, he sees the writing on the wall, and is trying with all his might to get the Imperial Valley Irrigation District to face reality. That is no small feat when trying to negotiate with the grand pooh-bah of water rights holders.
Kighlinger is among the many that believe the priority system foisted upon the region more than a century ago can no longer be used as a model for how water is allocated. The heart of the matter— if you use 80% of the water, then you should be contributing close to the same 80% back in economic benefits, not at best a measly 5% return on the people’s water.
Alex Cardenas, the president of the board of directors of the Imperial Irrigation District, what he wants you to know is that he represents a group of farmers that hold water rights that go back so far in history that they predate the formation of the universe, they existed before the Big Bang, this isn’t just the before times, this is before the before times, this is all eternity— and they are not going to be pushed around by some uppity federal agency. Farmers in the Imperial Valley are hot under the collar, ready to brawl, won’t be surrendering their senior most status to some junior subordinated water rights holders that they believe are out to do the same thing they have been doing for the last 100 plus years. Water grabbers of the world unite!
Here, let’s listen to Mr. Cardenas explain, “We’re not going to wreck our local economy so that they can continue to grow their urban economy.”
This is how senior water rights holders speak, this is our nation’s Water Nobility, another way of saying this is that some farmers have come to believe that the water they use comes with zero strings attached, and not you and not nobody may ever question how they use the nation’s resources.
From my fictional perspective I feel my script towing reality’s line. I have been drawing up a screenplay and Mr. Cardenas not only plays the part I’ve imagined but he makes my work easy, I don’t even have to write the dialogue, his quotes write the script for me.
I’m still predicting the Bureau of Reclamation will keep its head low until after the President gives the State of the Union speech. In the next few weeks, I forecast the conflict to escalate, and by grow more tense I mean the stuff is going to hit the fan.
I’ll leave you with the wit and wisdom of this water professional and come on now let’s hear it for this brave soul who has had the brass to tell the truth and call out the madness about how they want to use all the water and return almost nothing to the economy in return. As this cool cat Kighlinger said— that’s a fucking disaster— that just can’t be our reality—
Water like whiskey even after a century is still worth fighting over—
In 1922 expert hydrologists estimated the Colorado River to produce 16.5 million acre feet of water per year, and it was then that when the Compact of the River was created it assigned half of the water to the upper basin and the other half to the lower basin.
In 2022 hydrologists armed with real world data peg the river’s output to be half that much. The upper and lower basins are now trying to figure out how in the hell they’re going to manage with so little water and so much demand.
To give you some idea of how colossal this task is there are a small number of farms in the very southeastern tip of California. Together these few farms by law have legal access to 4 million of the total 8 million acre acre feet of the Colorado’s water. That legally binding allotment is pretty much a great big fat emergency right there.
The agricultural water grabbing has meant Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Tucson have been left to hold the short end of the water scarcity stick— subordinated water rights is the term of art.
What negotiators have been unable to do is convince any stakeholder with these oldest senior most water rights to voluntarily give their allocations back. The legal framework, the so called Law of the River required decades to sort out and it appears this hot mess is headed back into an legal quagmire that remains anyone’s guess how things might be sorted out.
What makes this such a disaster is that there is not enough time to go to court and then plod clumsily over years to decades of time to come to new potentially irrelevant terms. One tipping point should the water flow continue to decline is a river that never makes it beyond Hoover Dam.
A century ago Hoover Dam engineers never contemplated needing to build tunnels beneath the dam. Water in both Lake Powell and Lake Mead suffer from the same design flaw, without sufficient supply there is no feasible way to move water further down river. Engineers never planned for too little or too much, the dams were scaled to account for what was then estimated as modest variations.
Climate change has all to do with the reduction in the Colorado River’s output, and there is no choice, we have to live with the finite precipitation we get. Experts think the Federal government must declare a state of emergency and mandate steep reductions up and down the river basin. That is a theory of course, stakeholders don’t know if the courts would go along and if they don’t there’s going to be a horrible collision of law, water and special interests. Then there still is the problem that the water could end up stuck behind Hoover Dam where it would be impossible to release regardless of what the court’s decide.
That’s why they always talk about nature having the last word, or that Mother Nature bats last, it simply doesn’t matter what some water rights holder wants or by what authority a court has to enforce their decisions.
If and when the Colorado River does end up stuck behind Lake Mead, if litigation spirals out of control, the whole hot stinking mess turns the Southwest into an environmental crisis of a kind never seen by a modern advanced world’s largest economy.
Some predict engineers should immediately start digging tunnels that send water around Hoover and Glen Canyon to forestall such a disaster. Do that starting now. Emergency pipelines would be constructed at the same time. Water would be sent on an emergency basis to quench the thirst of urban population centers while leaving rural agricultural water users high and dry. The first people to inhabit this region faced a similar fate 1000 years ago. Our first people simply had to pickup and leave, the omnipotent modern capitalists suffer from a misguided hubris, they have suspended disbelief, it simply defies imagination, our titans of commerce believe we cannot and will not run out of water.
The opposite scenario is equally as terrifying, equally as dangerous— the potential irony of the thing would simply go lost in the tragic consequences of such an event. Here we go— Alarmed researchers have found that in 1884 the Colorado River Basin received 2 years of rainfall in just 4 months. Instead of an average of 16.5 million acre feet of water measured on a per year basis, in 1884 it is estimated that a total of 32 million acre feet of water swept down the river in a period of just four months. This is decades before the dams were constructed.
Drenching rainfall totals of this magnitude could bring such monumental amounts of runoff that water could overtop and then completely demolish the dams at Glen Canyon and Hoover Dams.
This kind of epic precipitation is calculated to be a one in every 500 year event, with the last super soaker occurring about 140 years ago.
The potential destruction of the two big dams has spurred scientists to propose removing Glen Canyon Dam now and then enlarging the spillways at Hoover Dam, and many experts believe we must do this now before it is too late.
As of the end of January California has been drying after a month of pummeling by powerful atmospheric river fed storms. If by the once in five-hundred year odds California were hit with four months of atmospheric river fed storms the calamity would clobber the American West— this is the epic atmospheric knock-out blow of all natural disasters.
In the 1800’s a storm fed Los Angeles River swollen by relentless rains jumped its banks and sent its water south on a path 20 miles off its normal course— the devastation was immeasurable. North of LA so much rain and snow fell that the Central Valley from Bakersfield north to Redding inundated the region making this whole region one big temporary lake that was for some months navigated by large paddle boats.
Were the Los Angeles River to jump its banks and once again head 20 miles off course it would wipe out the the most productive economic zone in the United States, instantly zeroing out at least $3 trillion in economic activity. That’s an enormous loss, nearly one fifth of the nations entire economic output. Lives and livelihoods would be lost, homes would be destroyed, commercial enterprise zones would be devastated and Southern California’s ports in Long Beach and Los Angeles would require decades to repair and reopen.
That is what worries California’s Department of Water Resources, not just the drier and then wetter storms that are hitting our state but the all too real risk that we could be pummeled by equally powerful droughts and floods of a magnitude that makes the region unmanageable. A natural disaster of either kind could itself be the natural disaster’s knockout blow to maintaining our grip on being a civilized country.
The Bureau of Reclamation in Washington is about to mandate new cuts in water up and down the entire length of the Colorado River. Legal scholars are unsure if these cuts would hold up if challenged in court. The Bureau’s decision could drop at any moment now.
Either way, engineers are urgently advocating for reinforcing spillways on the dams and that this work needs to get underway immediately. An uncontrolled topping of the dams by flood risks everything.
If the drought persists they are also urging that new underground tunnels be built. Deep underground tunnels like this have never been attempted.
This is the pickle we find ourselves in. It is a damned if we do, damned if we don’t corner we find ourselves backed into. If you have ever stood at the rim of the Grand Canyon then you have experienced the aching beauty and the unfathomable immensity, you have stood there in awe feeling the sweep of time, you can see a river that has carved a 50 million year deep canyon one mile deep into the rock of a continent.
The Colorado River and her water is as big a problem as problems get. The scale of our troubles dwarfs our imagination, we are not designed to comprehend such stupendous events, the common man is not built to react to catastrophic occurrences of such size, scale that may or by chance may not occur over such a lengthy event horizon. So far we’ve stalled, we’ve waited, we’ve hoped and we’ve delayed. That is a fool’s game, a gamblers losing bet, the smart money urges us to face up to the facts.
Masking up and flying to Seattle to see the kid this weekend. Friday night is slated for small plates, natural wine and swift flowing conversation. The usual suspects in my daughter’s circle will drop by to offer their condolences as her odometer trips over to the 31 mark.
My odometer, that would be the father of the daughter’s odometer is in the nosebleed section of the center for the tragically hip and terminally cool. Aside from having pulled a muscle in my lower leg and having to hobble around like some errant penguin looking for a good piece of ice I’m reasonably useful. Capitol Hill in Seattle is peopled by our society’s up and comer’s, don’t ask if I suffer envy with any sort of grace.
What is most important is that you can get good produce at the local Co-op, if you need the odd cheaper specialty item there is a Trader Joe’s, and to purchase adult beverages you’ve got options, lots and lots of alternative outlets. There is a butcher shop where you can purchase grass fed organic meat. There is a nearby dispensary where every kind of smokable, edible and drinkable is on offer.
Maybe I Do is in the theaters. The kid and I enjoy getting out to the cinema together. A comedy is right up there with what the doctor has ordered. Diane Keaton, Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, and William H Macy play the parents to a young couple. When the parents meet it turns out that the four have all cheated and that their partners are this other couple. I’m a sucker for funny sex, a friend tells me that there is no other kind of sex, she urged me to think about it, I want to believe she’s right, of course she’s right as she laughed—
Flying up to Seattle tends to mean it will be colder and likely wetter than here in Northern California. Fortunately, perhaps that’s exaggerating, we have just come out of a lengthy period of rain, snow and very chilly air. My years spent playing dates in Arizona has left me with little appreciation for what we call winter. It is one of my many emotional disabilities.
Sunday the Eagles play the 49ers for the National Football Conference Championship. I’ll need to be excused so I can watch the game. My kid knows about the dad’s football habit. Because of the pandemic we’ve tended to choose our visiting with larger gatherings to near zero. We see our very closest friends, best method is just one other couple, we think this reduces the chances of catching the bug of all bugs.
Unfortunately, this cautiousness has gutted from our life the people we might recognize by face, bump into at the marina, see them at one of our favorite saloons, at the health club, now most of those second and third tier acquaintances have been melted away by the pandemic.
As much as I like my best friends, they’ve all heard my stories before, it’s all the newer faces in the crowd that might like to hear about my life on stage, the books I’ve written, the sailing I’ve done, and the birds I’ve identified.
In the before times to live a really well rounded life you’d mix and match your activities to blend your time visiting the time tested relationships with the newer people you are just getting to know.
In June of last summer, I dropped a propane tank on my big toe. That wiped out most of the summertime. Walking was difficult. I’ve been shooting baskets down at the club since September. It’s a terrific workout, you can kick up the pace and you’ll know you’ve been exercising once you are finished. I shoot for 45 minutes most days. Then, last week I picked up a ball dribbled and took a few steps and my lower leg on the same side as the damaged toe decided to pop. I’ll be back in another week. At first, I thought I’d be down for months.
Most years when I’ve been onstage I would do about five-hundred shows. These have been physically challenging, besides juggling you’ve got to chat up your crowd. In the early years you had no sense of pace, didn’t even consider you could get injured, you just let it rip. Once you’ve got a long string of contracts to honor you start streamlining your time on stage and the training you do to maintain the act. You don’t want any stubbed toes, no twisted ankles, no pulled muscles in your back, no damage to your voice, not too much direct sun on your face, you end up smoothing out your daily routine.
A well trained showman will walk at a good pace but not sprint from place to place. Moderation is key. For decades I performed a few handstand stunts in the act. All in all it worked out, a few unplanned tumbles got me banged up, but I was able to work around the injuries.
A colleague in the biz has a big show in May and has asked if I would do something. It some ways doing 5 minutes is harder than doing 500 shows. You have to prepare just about as thoroughly. If you count the number of lines, calculate which stunts you are going to include, it will eat up more than a few day’s to be sure you are well prepared for the appearance.
As life would have it my daughter and I get along swell. Her dog Mezzo seems to think the world of me, at least I pretend the little guy does. Most amazing about time shared with my kid is being in the midst of her great talents. Besides being a damn good cook, she has this other talent for being organized. You really can’t appreciate this talent until you look in her dresser drawers, go through her clothes in the closet, or admire her tree of earrings.
Five days in Seattle in late January is the first installment. We are due back up for a trip out to Orcas Island late this summer. Sometime between now and then the kid will make it down to the Bay Area. It isn’t as much as we’d like, but we see one another and we find it better than not getting together.
I was ambivalent over becoming a father, my mother passing away at 56 changed my mind. A daughter changes how a father feels about the project of being alive. To the extent unconditional love can be found anywhere in this world it must be located somewhere between a parent and their child. The emotions come with a gravitational force all their own. The rising tides of closeness, belonging, and understanding fill the famous void.
Whatever it is a site of the kind I run here is about, one thing it could be about is self-care, perhaps a flow chart showing how to stay out of harm’s way and where to find the good stuff that makes our short time here worth the effort.
Our return from Palm Springs took us through Bakersfield. This is Kern County’s biggest city. It is Kevin McCarthy’s district; he is the temporary Speaker of the House. How temporary remains up in the air, his tenure is uncertain, the mood of his caucus is rather gladiatorial.
While in Bakersfield I was taken to wonder what to make of the people who voted for the Republican leader. I’m presuming that they liked the insurrection, were cheered on by his backhanded comment that he suspected that Putin was paying Trump to run for President. That was back in the good old days of 2016 when he was discussing the odd affinity then House member Dana Rohrabacher had for Russia’s dictator. This other Dana, not this one, was also being paid by Russia according to McCarthy.
I continue wondering about how eager Bakersfield voters are to forfeit our nations status as the issuer of the world’s reserve currency. It is our reserve currency status that earns us the so-called exorbitant privilege that goes along with this status. Since we now control how many dollars are in circulation should we default on the holders of our Treasury Bonds we would instantly surrender our exorbitant privilege and instantly enter insolvency. Social security would end, mortgages interest rates would rocket into the stratosphere then beyond the solar system, that is if there were any functional banks left standing after our defaulting on the nation’s debt.
If you like living in Bakersfield that’s maybe fine, but if you wanted to move, if you had to move, the odds of finding a buyer for your home would be virtually zero. Maybe you could find a cash buyer, but then you’d have to figure out which currency you would risk being paid in, as once the peg on the dollar has been vaporized it is going to be all but impossible to know how much anything is worth.
I’m not an economist. I’m just an ordinary citizen living in the United States. There is this quirk in our system that is called the debt ceiling, and as our debts rise the government must change the amount of debt we might hold— this is called raising the debt ceiling. If you are a member of the House, you have either voted for or against legislation that directs the agencies of our government to spend money. We spend money on farmers, teachers, secret agents, judges, soldiers, air traffic controllers, livestock brand inspectors, nuclear weapons designers, librarians, prison guards, border guards, crosswalk guards and so on and so forth. One out of five of us works directly for some piece of our government, and another chunk of the four out of the other five makes their living providing services to the people employed by the government.
Bakersfield’s people like people across the nation do have jobs both in the public and private sector. Figure once we default every teacher would be put out of work instantly, the means of paying teachers would be ended in the default, the government would be broke. Add the local police, sheriff deputies and Highway Patrol. Weather satellites would continue to orbit the earth, but the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration offices would be shuttered. Forget about controlling immigration on our southern border, northern border, or shorelines the Coast Guard would be disbanded.
Like it or not we no longer live as nomads. We no longer emerge from our fortified caves to scurry about to forage for chubby rabbits, tubers, and yummy little acorns. Instead, we go to supermarkets where we exchange dollars for the food we need. That’s definitely going to be a problem once Republicans destroy our reserve currency status. I think citizens in Bakersfield will have to learn to get by on citrus, almonds, pistachios and milk. Potatoes are fairly decent crop here too. Lots of potatoes will need to be eaten in Bakersfield, this is the town you can’t leave because nobody has any way of selling their house to anyone else because— you know the rest.
I know a lot of you parents out there have been griping about being stuck at home with your kids because of the pandemic. Well, get used to being stuck big time. And you know when that teenager goes off on you, do remember that there will be no juvenile hall, no parole officers, no drug addiction counselors, no nothing to help you with the problemed child living down the hallway in the house you can’t sell.
If you are living in another country, you’ll soon discover all that money you saved up over your lifetime isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. You’ll have to break out your gold coins, that’ll work until someone finds out you have gold and those famous bad guys come to take it from you. You could keep it in a bank, but banks will be out of business, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation will be tits up and zeroed out.
Even on a good day I can barely take being in Bakersfield for more than a few hours. Call me an effete snob, call me geographically small-minded, tell me I’m a civic wimp but for whatever reason Bakersfield reminds me of a Greyhound Bus terminal suffering from the world’s most grievous janitorial strike. Candy wrappers are strewn everywhere. Piles of oil exploration drilling gear is scattered halfway to hell and back across the city limits. Even the trees appear to be stunted, arborists have spited the cities flora and fauna, birds flying over but are seldom tempted to stop. I know friends that worked in Bakersfield at the Kern County Fair. As soon as the fair ends they returned to the place they are from and had to spend whatever they had earned on a psychiatrist to overcome the depression living in Bakersfield for two weeks had brought on.
So, you see there are a good many reasons to suspect that defaulting on our nation’s debt might just turn out to be not such a good idea. In a very real sense, our whole nation could turn out to look like Bakersfield.
What I’m describing is but the tip of the iceberg. All those unanticipated knock-on effects would have to be included in anyone’s portfolio of misery that is the result of what would certainly the history of the world’s all-time-titanic-never-ever-seen-before-now-or-ever global financial crisis.
To be sure we place the blame for all this mayhem on the right persons you will need to look at the elected Republican members of the House of Representatives, all the voters who helped to elect these particular house members, all the variety of constituencies that donated money to their campaigns, such wonderful organizations as private equity scoundrels, fossil fuel lobbyists, Chamber of Commerce operatives, and Wall Street types obsessed with having their taxes (not your taxes) cut. Honorable mention must go to book burning advocates, abortion foes, White Supremacists, evangelicals, breast implant enthusiasts and that select group of men now suffering from or soon to be suffering from E.D..
If you read this blog now and then you’ll know I’m more than concerned about the possibility that the regions megadrought could render this region ungovernable, that the water that has held this region together could be the cause of it coming unglued. Collapse of civilization can never be ruled out— as hard as Putin tries even he knows there is a risk to the whole thing coming unraveled— trust me all those rooftop swan diving Russian oligarchs are well aware of how tough things can go when where you are from is in the midst of a self-inflicted collapse.
That’s really what a debt default is in the end. It is a self-inflicted act of destruction. Your homes, bank accounts, 401k’s, pensions, medical services, and the chump change you have folded up in your wallet will be totally worthless. All you people bitching about the cost of a gallon of gasoline will finally have something to really be pissed off about. This will be the Republicans sloppy wet kiss to all those deplorables that voted them into office.
So, to be clear I have to believe that we will not default on our nation’s debt. Kern County will soon count among its population one ex-speaker of the house, and by 2024 a nation of low-information voters will because of watching Fox News be mesmerized into forgetting about the whole stinking mess. Pond scum it is believed will see a meteoric rise in its popularity. Dollar Stores will sell for discount all those many speeches given by politicians that soon after have left America to seek happiness abroad living in Russia, China, Iran or North Korea.
A global outbreak of popcorn orgies will race across the world. Bakersfield will become a footnote in history, Kevin McCarthy will take up standup comedy, gallows humor will be his closing joke— Kevin wanted power, and finally when he got it, the first thing he did with it was to try to completely destroy the very government he was elected to preserve and protect. You just can’t make this shit up. Welcome to life’s mad carnival, the United States has gone all in for a bumpy ride. Put on that seatbelt and lookout below.
Drought, wildfire, heatwaves and now nine in a row atmospheric rivers represents California’s new normal weather pattern. Five years ago to the day Montecito and Santa Barbara were hit with a deluge of water and then mudslides after weeks and weeks of wildfire ravaging the hills above their communities. Mudslides, chaos and emergency rescue teams soon followed.
Oprah, Ellen and now Harry have been swept up into the climate crisis gripping the globe. Among the nutty delusional qualities of the mind is wealthier citizens hoping the fossil fuel induced climate changes would somehow bypass their swank digs. Sorry money can’t buy you everything.
Last Friday events pulled us from our place in San Francisco Bay Area to visit friends in Los Angeles. We were planning to make it a fun weekend then get back home on Monday. Instead we turned east to Palm Springs seeking sanctuary from the demon we named— Reality.
Sunday was pretty good here in the desert, Monday not bad, yesterday the remnant’s of an atmospheric river brought rain. We hunkered down here at the hot spring. Fortunate our van was pointed nose first into the 55 mph winds that hit last night. Seatbelts— I don’t got to wear no stinking seatbelts— were considered given the unexpected turbulence.
Behind us is a concrete culvert. Bone dry doesn’t describe it, perhaps the last time water ran down this waterway Truman was still President. Because of the nearby mountains I monitored the potential for uncontrollable runoff. Not much happened, less than a trickle, but in climate change times you can not afford to turn your back where water may come to rage. Evacuation routes are now something to know.
I’d mark my coming of age in the era of climate change to be somewhere around the year 2016. California was ablaze with wildfires, our air was unbreathable. Reckoning the wildfire’s were a once in a century event, not the new business as usual turned out to be poor mental jujitsu. Wildfire’s are as predictable now as atmospheric river’s and who ever heard of those atmospheric demons until now—
All of us have been making little accommodations, adjusting in increments to the heatwaves, downpours and sunburn. You say to yourself— hey, kid, stay ahead of things, its going to be alright, look around, you’re the only one that’s worried about anything, it’s all ok, have another martini, wash your car, pull some weeds, call a friend, make some pasta, drink some wine, get down to the dispensary, buy a hat, see your skin doctor, wear your sunscreen, keep your head low, don’t talk too much about how you feel as your world literally is falling apart, people will shun you, nobody likes a Dana-Downer.
Until about 2016 all of us could take some pleasure in our denial, that it really couldn’t be as awful as the climate scientists have warned. By 2019 traveling across British Columbia the sight of millions of beetle ravaged trees took a toll on my denial. Then, sucking in heaps of wildfire smoke gave me my first climate cough. Viewing reservoirs without an antidepressant is ill-advised.
We still have to live and die, raise our kids, get our groceries, keep a roof over our heads, food on the table, and find some semblance of fun and games whether the lights remain on or off.
Here at the Palm Springs Film Festival we got out to see I Like it Here. The documentary chronicles the phenomena surrounding our aging out until we’re gone. Liking it here is about not being ready to go there, not yet, not while the pleasing alternative of being here holds our attention.
Encoded into our DNA is an ego determined to maintain its grip on staying alive. Ego is a damn efficient quality of mind— it’ll keep you alive when the rest of you can get the rest of you killed. It is the do this not that device on loan from God— we give our ego and the rest of our gifts back at the end. This comes free, there is no extra charge.
Our changing climate adds concern, it only slightly penetrates our ego’s main vigilant keep it real inner monologue and cheery patter. Our inability to grasp the magnitude of what our species has done to our odds of long term survival is to do with the capacity of our mind to stitch together the weather events of the times we live in. Ego sucks figuring the odds— and not to trigger your ego, but folks the odds are not close to even according to what I see out the window dare I have the courage to look.
It isn’t fair, but it is true, that as we’ve evolved the ego proved useful and was improved by evolution and of course glorified by Hollywood. I’d say ego has had a good run— only Frankenstein seems to have had a better box office.
What we don’t have is the capacity to help plan for two centuries from now. You can love your grand children all you want but that’s probably an ego induced sideshow. The reality is the human mind lacks this forward compassion projecting capacity, live now pay later, don’t worry be happy— be happy right now, we’ll try a little harder next week, I promise I won’t fly off so often to Puerto Vallarta to feed my muse and drink tequila.
Today is a walk across historic Palm Springs. We are now lounging about in our mid century modern hotel just off the strip next to the world famous Palm Springs Tennis Club. I married Vince Lombardi’s reincarnated feminine aspect and she’s walked her other half right to the edge.
Wondering about the number of galaxies in our Universe, I’m betting a trillion isn’t close to the total, and boy that has got to be a bitch of a task to be in charge of tallying up the actual number. Like the climate crisis it boggles our comprehension, almost breaks the imagination muscle trying to wrap our heads around the colossal climate crisis of it all. But as the assignment editor cruelly warns— that’s why we pay you the big bucks— I can get you to take a look, it’s your ego that urges you to look away—
The climate crisis is definitely messing with the speech you are planning to give at the lifetime achievement award ceremony, but you look in the mirror while you check the lapels, tug at the cuffs, you keep going over and over how grateful you are, how the world is at an inflection point, that collectively the time has come, that together we must act, and the truth of the matter is our ego’s are bristling at this, try as we might, when the gods unlocked the code to give us the smarts to do certain things like all wishes fulfilled they overlooked mankind’s ability to think long term, over the horizon, to see into our earth’s future and have the capacity to act to avert a crisis, and not just any old ordinary crisis but perhaps the mother of all of them, the biggest crisis we have ever had to face, the crisis where if we don’t act now it will be too late for those who will soon follow us here. Our ability to act or not to act is front and center. So what is it there pilgrim, you want to ride over that mountain pretending like there’s nothing you can do, that there’s nothing all that wrong, or are you ready to lend a hand to a soul yet born who—
Sorry, these atmospheric rivers can really monkey with my inner confidence—
Cochise County is a chunk of Arizona where I have whiled away time. Hot springs, winemakers and bohemian high desert dwellers are all here. Then, there are the predators— every kind in every guise— coyote, puma and red tail hawks are here. Then there are the corporate dairy operators, they arrive with well drillers, these are the money is no object drill deeper well drilling dairy interests that have with heavy hands invaded this delicate region of Southern Arizona.
Certain water user types like to pretend that the regions high desert vineyards require the same volume of water a dairy operator needs. Growing grapes in Arizona’s high desert is in fact not water intensive, it is an ideal crop to water by the method of a miserly drip irrigation system. By contrast dairy operators require boundless amounts of water for their operations.
A region of Cochise County that is known as the Kentucky Settlements has been overrun by an out of state dairy conglomerate that landed here and began punching wells like there is no tomorrow— we’re talking over 600 wells. Nearby county small farmers act as a smokescreen, the idea is to throw the misinformed citizens off the scent, conflate an operator that uses almost no water to an operator that uses almost all the water.
Big dairy operations will run multiple wells day in and day out at 35 gallons per minute all day long, twenty-four hours a day, all year long. You turn on 600 irrigation well pumps and run them all day every day year in and year out and we are talking about the collapse of the regions underground water resources.
Cochise County seat is in Bisbee, Arizona. The town is located furtherest to the south along the Mexican frontier. Nearby Douglas is situated to the east in a valley below right on the border. If you are sick to death of sweltering in Tucson you come up into the mountains and visit Bisbee, some rent a place others buy a second home here.
While Douglas is predominately Mexican American it is Bisbee’s population that attracts misfits. Art and craft types that follow the festival circuit call Bisbee home. Talented baristas, bartenders, waitresses and tourist shop clerks scratch out their livelihoods here. Airbnb helps give folk here an extra way to make a buck. The types that come to Bisbee as a rule can’t cut it in Wilcox, it’s an emotional thing, and social, Wilcox is too straight, Bisbee is still running wild. The two types found most common here are the young and the offbeat older spirits still clinging to their youthful wild spirited ways.
The United States Army’s Intelligence school is west in nearby Sierra Vista and Huachuca City. The wild west’s Tombstone is here. Once you find Sunizona you are getting mighty close to where much of the misguided water grabbing is taking place. Further to the east are the Chiricahua’s, much is wilderness, most of the rest consists of small villages and settlements. Bird hunting in the Dragoons is popular. The region is a magnet for winter visitors coming here to explore during the cooler months of the year.
Cochise County’s population sits at about 125,000. That’s not much. Their brand of politics tends to run hot, plenty here fashion themselves independents, tend to be in sympathy with libertarians, and want to be left alone. That doesn’t describe citizens in Bisbee, they’re all those other kinds and flavors of people. It’s down here where citizens gathered signatures and qualified an initiative to regulate groundwater in the county. The active water management area was passed fair and square down along the border and didn’t pass north in nearby Wilcox.
There are at least two underground aquifers in this region. The aquifer to the south is now a protected active managed water area and is going to be regulate, groundwater and the citizens to the north voted down the initiative and there is every reason to worry about the aquifers complete collapse. Money poured in opposition to the initiative from across the United States and likely foreign interests illegally meddled in the election as well.
Cochise County was the sole holdout in Arizona’s November’s gubinatorial election and refused to certify the results until by court order they buckled under. Kari Lake sympathizers are cheek to jowl down here and probably not more than a few thousand tried stirring up trouble. Once threatened with jail election officials sobered up and performed their duties.
Let’s say you move down to Cochise County and purchase some acreage. You’ll put in a water well, build out a septic system, put up a place to call home and you are set to live a life rife with rattlesnakes, scorpions and disaffected Kari Lake sympathizers. Residential water well users tend to use smaller sized well pipes and less powerful pumps. Commercial operations punch deeper wells, they punch more wells and use most of the water. Citizens on fixed incomes find they have to have their wells punched deeper to keep up with the draw down, where a commercial operator sees a deeper well as a line item on an operating statement, the residential user sees having to spend $10 to $30 thousand dollars as a deal breaker. Once you lose your access to water on your 5 acres of desert paradise your land is now worthless, you’ll have to haul water in while you figure out where in the hell you can go next.
Across the American West all the state water resource agencies are only now beginning to put into law regulations that control the use of groundwater. Five areas in Arizona have any groundwater restrictions at all, most of the rest remains unregulated. Any hope of getting the groundwater protected fall to the county initiative process, chances are zero that the state legislature could pass regulations, special interests whip the vote to see that won’t happen.
California’s solution has a certain political elegance to its method. Pass the legislation necessary to get a grip on the overuse of groundwater but then set a multiple decade’s timetable to the rollout of the new rules. By 2040 every commercial well in California will have a meter, the amount of water that can be pumped will be set based upon how much water there is in the aquifer. If regulators find a given aquifer is being drawn down the regions pumps will be forced to use less or none at all. Best of all the politicians that passed the legislation a decade ago will be out of office and escape the wrath of big agriculture. Word has it if you pump long and hard enough chances are you’ll pump up the remains of one of those no good water regulating politicians that ended your free lunch decades back.
The seven western states that use Colorado River water are trying to voluntarily find four-million-acre feet of water that instead of being used will be voluntarily given back to the river. No state has been able to find more than a few hundred-thousand-acre feet of water that they can afford to give back. Regulators trying to compel a voluntary solution trying to avoid having to issue mandatory cutbacks.
The American West is short of the water needed to maintain business as usual. On one level there is the threat of having your allotment of river water cut. If you are a farm that means the jig is up, fold your tent and hand the keys to your farmhouse back to the bank. That’s what taking acreage out of production looks like, certainly not a happy ending. The more catastrophic scenarios hit home when an entire aquifer collapses and many thousands of farms and rural residential operations simply have no more water left in the ground to bring up and use to support their lives and livelihoods. When the northernmost section of Cochise County’s aquifer is pumped dry, some speculate it could happen anytime between now and 2070 the region will be rendered uninhabitable, and that’s not a problem politics can do anything about. Once we hit that marker, we’ve entered the lifeboat moment in the climate crisis.
Where I sit in Northern California today there is a major Pacific storm about to clobber us with drenching rain and heavy snow. Water resource managers have already said that while we need this rain, and it will be a lot of rain, it will not in and of itself be enough to end the 23 year long drought this region has suffered. More rain helps but water resources remain tight and that’s now the permanent circumstance we face as our world’s climate shifts.
Posting here at my website I comment about life in as large a sense as I can muster. I use WordPress and can change my website with little effort. What is harder to accomplish is writing high quality prose, polished paragraphs, well thought through, structured, and as ever in long fiction prose that is patient, is tied to the observational details of setting and character—
The two paragraphs are of a fictional New Years Day at the beach at Pt Reyes National Seashore. I try to get over this time of year, if I can on the new day of the new year’s morning. I was a few days early in 2022. The setting was where I imagined it best to get a couple to talk. This is how the chapter opened and at the very very end the last bit as the characters depart a fragment of conversation—
Happy New Year
Dawn was pristine. The air crisp, clean, the sky empty, the sea was true, chasmal…blue. No chop on the water; no cloud in the sky. LimantourBeach was alone, still, breathless. Not another soul had set foot here this morning, but for Ry and Finn. It was the first day, the New Year. They walked barefoot in the sand at the surf’s edge, acquainting their thoughts to the booze-soaked resolutions they’d taken the night before. The least waves arrived. The Pacific was in repose between storms. The surf’s soundtrack was a languid slow curling muffled splashing that reverberated up and down the beach.
A flock of sanderlings scampered along the edge of the water, plunging their beaks into opportunities, then dashing away from the onrush of the ocean’s stunted spume. One gull laughed, another cried, a young one begged. It was not a special day for them. The coastline curved northward and west, scribing a five mile long crescent, forming a protected anchorage once used by Sir Francis Drake. Beyond a ship’s reach estuaries penetrated the plateaus, lagoons and bays cut into the lands. Beyond beach were pickleweed, meadow, chaparral, dunegrass, and the incidental gnarled wind-sculpted tree. Here was a blend of earthen tones, tans, tawny, chalk-white, this green and that green, every mood of blue, yellow mooned… the whole of what the eye could find had been drizzled upon, ceaseless mists of water, gnawed by wind. Here the world flowed and answered to scouring of eons by leaving its evidence to boggle even a scavenging raven’s curiosity. In sight of man was geologic, newborn continent pressed against the pelagic, a place of grinding forces, quaking, its shifting iterations restated in the wink of one century’s eye.
Jackie put her arm around Sophia and turned to walk toward the parking lot.
Ry hollered, “Hey Finny, come on, were leaving,”
Finn turned. Ry put his arm around Kristine. “There’s a good man inside that friend of mine.”
“Might be good. I want to believe you, but he’s just about the most impossible man I’ve ever tried to hook up with.”
Jackie, walking with Sophia, said. “Men can be like the back seat of a car— might not be perfect, but sometimes the back seat will just have to do.”
Masking continues to be all the rage in my neighborhood. Head on over to Whole Foods in Lafayette you can see for yourself. Gray haired Volvo drivers (I confess to nothing) are likeliest to be hand sanitizing maskers.
Younger clerks at cash registers prefer to go a la natural. It’s a mixed bag in the grocery game, down at the local health care providers scene you don’t get into a waiting room without a mask.
Keep it small, go it alone, electing to take some care in these triple respiratory threat times seems prudent even if it is emotionally debilitating. My wife and I generally have found taking some risks to see friends and family are worthy meetups, pub crawling in congregate settings with a sneezy wheezy mob of strangers isn’t worth the trouble.
Testing, testing and more testing continues unabated. Travel plans have us both boarding planes in late January. One of us goes to Key West for holiday with her girls the other to Seattle to pleasure in winter wonderland with the other girl. Guess who travels north.
March 20, 2023 we will mark the 3rd year of this ongoing worldwide pandemic. Tell me you are the same as I am— my larger circle of friends has been hard to keep in touch with. The inner circle, those closest intimates we’ve stumbled through the last 900 days together, sometimes visiting and at other times isolating.
Little concessions litter my social meetup choices. Is it indoors or outdoors, is the weather going to cooperate, do they work in large congregate settings, do they have a lot of exposure to children, have they given up their masks, decided against getting the booster shots, do they still think Elon Musk is a genius— once you have the answer you will know whether you are going to risk being infected.
Arizona and Alberta are overheated frozen opposites. Calls to souls I know in Arizona uncover masking burnout, handwashing boredom, and a general sense of my Arizona people are just completely done with it. Neighbors to the north in Alberta are having a harder time, as much as they may be fed up with the pandemic the pace of transmission disallows they’re moving on.
Life in Canada is an indoor affair during this time of year. Outside is refreshingly temporary where indoor life harbors stagnant unfiltered overheated air. You want to breathe go to Puerto Vallarta, you want to feel confined try life in a midrise condominium along the banks of the North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton.
I can’t help but wonder about the current tensions playing out across the globe. Bolsonaro’s defeat in Brazil, the attempted coup in Peru, the ongoing tragic war of choice by Putin in Ukraine, the heroic women in Iran seeking their human rights, I would have imagined such turmoil could have waited while we stood the world’s economy back up on its feet.
Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft are all going through a few things. Tesla has blown through the lower bound and is about to plumb the horrific depths of the brokerages up and down the line making margin calls on clients. Elon Musk rather than channel his inner Zelenski has revealed himself to be a Putin sympathizer. Admiration for war criminals by the formerly richest man in the world wasn’t on my list of predictions for 2022. Billionaires with thinning hair anxieties turns out to be predictive.
Shooting baskets at the gym off hours alone is one place I go to get my heartrate up to some degree of healthful benefit. Walks in the neighborhood another. My wife and I get out together, she’d death march me if allowed, instead I throttle back, something like an hour is about right with a hill or two to climb, that’s proven to be good for my moods.
There is a lot of texting, fewer voice calls, emailing is over. My sister is a terrific foil for my texts. My kid plays along as she can, when she can, she does have a job, thumbing her keyboard on her iPhone isn’t a priority.
There is the shortlist of calls made on a routine basis to select friends. There is Waldo over on the Big Island. He’s good for laughs, lava flow updates and the gossip he hears while out at his favorite sunset oceanside overlook.
Martin reaches out too, both of us are sailors, husbands and always plotting a quick out for the afternoon reach in fair winds off the beam. Dan a show business buddy, has taken up pickle ball coaching, and we meet for short walks and compare our offstage life to the onstage life we both until the pandemic hit had spent decades living in. Dave has decided to take a seat at a Ducati repair shop, speed and G-forces created by carved turns at the apex in a corner seems to be my friend’s current deep dive. We talk a lot about anything that is a machine, just so long as it has some pedigree, some claim to being a legitimate thrill-maker. We’ve both lost more championships than would be imagined based upon our unrivaled skills.
I’ve a brother-in-law in Kona that I talk to as often as he has the patience for. His life requires privacy so he might heal the scar of losing my sister almost two years ago. Mike down in Santa Clara updates but he’s swamped and demands on his time is large, running a full-time magic show enterprise as a solo requires your best effort, sometimes as a duo, and then often as an ensemble cast for theaters does not leave much time to eat mushrooms and then room to gush metaphysically about the state of show business down here in the small time.
Another of my friend’s is a regular. Finally, his childhood is over, he’s now a full-blown adult and life’s urgency is an emergency, my favorite man-boy has turned 60. A terrific housekeeper, devoted hiker, incurable but too sincere to make even a dent in the high art of womanizing, more of a one man-one woman type, his inner constitution resembles a department store with a very well-staffed complaint department. Monogamy is fine, it isn’t commitment that he finds so uncomfortable as it is that other opposite thing— the bedrock sense of self-possession, his freedom to be safely separate, his mastering living alone is more than a controlling solitude, it has proven to be the most durable alliance, in his experience his solo arrangements have proven to be the key ingredient to the experience of being in a fully awakened soul. Quarreling and enlightenment never do well together.
I experience this urge to be alone as the problem that comes from living in one place. I’m not suited to living somewhere. That is more the rub against the nervous system I was born with. Fortune has found the woman right for me love. My wife has as much wanderlust as mine, her ability to shape her travels into gainful enterprise differs from her poet laureate in his own imagination husband. I’m chasing sunsets, river valleys and campsite fires for the pure pleasure of being out there away from it all. The wife has made her itinerary a more practical affair, stuffing her purse with gold coins while out making the international rounds is her style, that is until her spirits are aroused, then it is her higher chakras, her soul’s appetite, it is her being asked to witness intangible human spirited wilderness that surpasses all her other many goals and responsibilities. Getting good at being present isn’t part of our current modern life. That’s why I believe dogs are so popular in this era, at least an uncomplicated devoted best friend that can’t talk back does provide some emotional support. An over wordy too chatty friend you can’t trust with your deepest darkest secrets resembles a roadside warning sign you would rather live without.
This was the year of living with less physical contact, connecting with the few while wondering how to reach out to the many. I’ll surf the infectious wave of winter into a less virulent spring, by then I’m thinking we could be a fair piece further out of the pandemics grip, we can all plant our gardens, walk our dogs, call our friends and catch up with those good next outer circle of fabulous souls that make life all that much richer and more rewarding.
I haven’t got over to the Prizefighter, a favorite Emeryville saloon, to inventory what remains of the staff I counted on to make my Manhattans and small talk. Some I counted as confidants, others to tell a tale and share a laugh. Best friend continuity matters but so do all those incidental unnamed acquaintances that pass through our lives. I’ve a long roster of lost now nameless friends that for the life of me I cannot remember.
The pandemic I hope will spiral downward into irrelevance this next year. Friendships will regather momentum and the emotional damage of three years of isolation will be healed one week after another as we get on with the extended conversation that is sharing our lives. We are by the code of our genetics social animals and our running with the herd is our nature.
There are the before-times, there is this present-time, and there will come a less infectious after-times. I’ll meet you there, we can enjoy until one or the other of us become dull and rather a burden to be with. All this solitude does no favors to those of us that prefer to be alone. All of this will have to be sorted out and will be, things will turn out just as we’d hoped.
As centuries go the start of this one has been nothing to sneeze at. With a little luck, vaccinations, treatments, masks and hand hygiene because there’s really no ceiling to how far hope may climb.
I’ve got a script on my desk, is a comedy, taking on the challenges of the day, in this case an ever-drier American Southwest.
Betty a water regulator trying to encourage— Papermaster, eating your girlfriend’s fresh baked bread is going to shorten your life—
I’m on life support— Papermaster explains— my life’s already over.
If we don’t get this right Papermaster, there won’t be anything out here on the shores of Lake Powell but lounge chairs and tobacco spitting cowboy’s looking for a god damn stray bull named— Titanic
Western state water negotiators met in Las Vegas at Caesars Palace. Everyone was there and nothing got agreed to, slow motion natural disasters allow participants time to stall.
As far as stalling goes sending everyone to the Vegas Strip where the deadlocked, stalemated and going nowhere negotiations could play out was at least good for the gaming industry. You want to play games with the future of the American West why not come here—
Many of the most capable spokespersons all set down the same talking points. There was talk of the threat to dead pools, surface evaporation rates, lawn removal, and the demise of the Salton Sea.
I like that the Metropolitan Water District in Southern California said that until they knew how much water they could get from the Sacramento River Delta they couldn’t predict how much water they could live without from the Colorado River.
Honorable mention has to go to lettuce growers down in Yuma for being the poster child for all the water that agriculture needs and wants. In point of fact it is and always was and always will be the alfalfa growers that remain the most protected group of water users that are about to be removed from the endangered species list.
The most talented orators in the ongoing century long fiasco known as the Law of the River understand there ain’t no use talking about taking alfalfa growers water away. Alfalfa has become the most invisible and most invincible crop to ever curse the veins of our riparian habitat. They got most of the water, they definitely got the most fearsome lobby, you want your career to grind to sudden end try crossing this grass growing group.
Here’s my best guess as to what’s going on right now. First, calls have been made to survey teams in the Sierras, Wasatch and Rocky Mountains. Right now we are above normal in snowfall totals, but Debbie Downer from the Geologic Survey continues to warn of the new normal, drier and slightly warmer climate continues to reduce total runoff once the spring melt gets underway. Debbie is such the bummer.
I’m going to take a swing at what I think happens next. The Department of Interior and the Bureau of Reclamation will call for draconian cuts by February, you’ll want to wait to announce those cuts until after the President’s State of the Union but before Valentines Day.
They keep talking about cutting between 2- and 4-million-acre feet of water— let’s say they decide on 3-million-acre feet, and most of those foot-acres of water will come out of the water allocated to alfalfa growers in California. Smaller cuts will fall on the bit players in Nevada, Arizona and Utah.
Again, friends, climate skeptics and Luddites let me stress that there is enough water for residential use but there is not enough water for what agriculture special interests want to do and that is to grow more alfalfa.
Good decent hard working urban Americans are going voluntarily send help to these hard hit rural regions. What we have to do is help the rural alfalfa producers of the American West through what will be a wrenching economic transition to a new rural way of life.
Or— we can just extend and pretend and hope against hope that it will finally rain enough to bail us all out of the fix this 23 year long drought has put us in.
I’ve crunched the numbers, counted bodies, estimated river flow percentages and had a fair number of Prickly pear cactus margaritas preparing highly accurate projections of the fix we are in and the way to climb out of the dang dusty waterless mess we find the Southwest American desert stuck in.
What makes this hard isn’t the science, it’s not coming up with the answers, it’s the politics. Water is something you either have or you don’t have, there isn’t more water that we can have Congress vote on and pass then deliver to customers out here, there isn’t any water, and that is different than other kinds of things we are short of.
Decent God fearing folk get their knickers in a knot when you start talking about how the world’s population is playing a role in the resource constraints we are experiencing. People do not want to talk about Debbie Downer taking birth control pills or making her own plans to have or not have a family.
Alfalfa growers are akin to the same thing. Taking alfalfa out of production represents a kind of extinction event to this industry and they are not ready to have their crop sacrificed on the altar of this climate emergency, hell this thing isn’t even real, it’s all some horrible mistake, let someone else take the cuts, I want my water and I want to do whatever it is I’ve been doing.
Once you get the space in your head to start thinking like the space inside the head of a farmer that’s been growing alfalfa for the last three decades you can see they just don’t think it’s fair. Again, figure farmers use most of the water out here and then most of the water farmers use goes to growing alfalfa. It turns out that if you start looking for sacrifice you need to go to the users that have been using most of the water.
Try this piece of reality on for size. All the farm products in Arizona, Nevada, Utah and California combined are almost a rounding error to the region’s total gross domestic product. Farms use most of the water and return the smallest of all economic benefits to the region. That worked so long as we weren’t in the midst of global climate emergency and no longer works because we have got our civilization backed up against the wall of reality.
Figure to that bellyaching you hear coming sometime after Valentine’s Day will make Kari Lakes moaning about election fraud sound like a whimper.
Hope you find yourself meeting your better half under the mistletoe this week. Happy— happy peeps—
The global proletariat thrill meter is pegged at infinite— I told you so. Tesla’s stock has fallen from $384 a share to a close of $156 per today. It turns out the richest man in the world is no longer the richest man in the world. Trolling is misunderstood. Behaving like a privileged, adolescent, juvenile, white supremacist isn’t exactly going to endear you to mainstream audiences.
If you want to be a dick best to have come from the trashy dumpster fueled fires out there on the margins of society. Wealthy trolls are mispositioned. Kicking down is so unseemly.
My trolling based on my social status is 100% kicking the ball up through the goalposts. There is just so much more of an advantage to not having my own private jet waiting on the tarmac to whisk me away to my own private island.
Machiavelli was a skilled observer of Italian political power. Bombastic digital libertarians’ deceitful masking’s are hardly the glorious mischief made during the last renaissance. Centuries has not improved the grift or flim-flam.
I fathom little but I do dig down until I hit what I’m looking for. I’m a big fan of Slim Pickins, the great Hollywood western character actor. Slim happened to like Kingman, Arizona and hung his spurs up there after his long-heralded career. Sad, Slim didn’t hang long gone at 64.
In Dr. Strangelove its Pickins who rides the nuclear weapon out of the bomb bay down to its destination— that’s what I’m talking about.
Tossing your future into the meatgrinder that is running a social media platform if you do the due diligence would certainly have come with some red flags. Don’t you just hate it when people tell you that you can’t do something.
William Randolph Hearst could have done a lot of things, he chose to buy newspapers. Hearst was a wealthy man, but all his newspapers didn’t make him a popular one.
Musk has blundered into a boxed canyon and now surrounded by hostiles occupying the high ground. The transponder on his private jet gives away his location. Tweets giving away his location are targeted for takedown. Freedom is relative, a billionaire’s insecurity is absolute.
One of my favorite Sinatra moments is ole’ Blue Eyes onstage call-out to Orson Welles seated in the audience at one of his Flamingo shows in Las Vegas. Sinatra understood you don’t do gossip column behavior when you’re the greatest saloon singer in the world, you stick to the entertainment sections of the newspapers. Welles and Sinatra were gracious to each other not combatants.
I caught Bette Midler spinning Sinatra discs on his Sirius XM channel. Bette had not given much attention to Sinatra, then listening carefully one day bought some of his albums and concluded that his work as a musician stood on its own, that his work was all high class even if his offstage hijinks was in another category. Fair enough— we can’t all blow every category in life away—
Somehow, perhaps these past few years of unbridled civic awful behavior, the churlish nature how we go about gaining visibility, the way people who might be showing some compassion for Jews, Blacks, lesbians, transsexuals, or drag queen performers is criticized as evidence of these sympathizers being overly compassionate, too empathetic, too bleeding-heart liberal— that this form of understanding of other’s plight is evidences of being woke.
Man, the trick is to turn compassion into a pejorative. Take a strength, swift boat the living snot out of the thing and turn it into a weakness.
That gambit hasn’t played out completely just yet, but this jig is up, the bait and switch ain’t got no appeal, the mouse ain’t going for this stinking cheese on the trap no more.
Jane Goodall evaluating the physical and facial characteristics of one private citizen in Florida remarked that the visual cues observed by this scientist were remarkably chimpanzee like. To keep at bay challengers the chimpanzee swells their chest. That it is all bluff obscuring the fact that there is no beef.
Surveying the list of attention seekers, I’m reminded of such stalwart journalists as James Fallows, EJ Dionne and Margaret Sullivan. While the chaos clickbait circus parades down the avenues of Twitter, Facebook and TikTok a cohort of cooler heads continue to behave much as they always have. Sometimes a particular topic isn’t quite as sexy as another, but it is still important to get the word out, for readers to read and know, and for all of us to increase our understanding.
Our world’s climate crisis is a difficult issue to report. How a hurricane in Florida, wildfire in Washington or the lack of water on the Colorado River are all intertwined, all pieces of the same problem, and that these natural disasters when modeled to help convey the seriousness of the moment challenge a reader to stay with the problem, not look away, not be drawn off the scent on the trail of fact, to not just know but be moved to help act.
Launching rockets into space, inventing a mass market electric automobile are examples of actions that help the world take a constructive path in the right direction. Purchasing a social media company and elevating yourself to the role of world’s once richest man troll is perhaps the biggest most expensive blunder of 2022. By comparison GameStop is a mere rounding error, FTX is a little bump in the crypto road. Incinerating $44 billion dollars on a vanity project, now that takes some major league miscalculating.
I made a lot of predictions last year, some were real dull doozies, but I didn’t predict the world’s richest man who now is no longer the world’s richest man having the bimbo eruption of all bimbo eruptions to close out 2022. Sometimes you just can’t make this level of hubris up— this is the rocket man coming back down to earth— parachutes— I don’t need no stinking parachutes—
The Salt Lake City Tribune posted a water story (see it here) that straightened my back and got my attention. The story is well researched, we learn there are 10,000 family hay-growing operations in Utah, that the crop market value is $500 million, and one-third of the crop is sent overseas.
Profits in Utah’s alfalfa production are on par with revenues generated by the state’s amusement parks. Water slides, aquariums, and entertainment farms bring in just as much.
Alfalfa is grown across Utah. (Full alfalfa story here) To the south Cedar City and Delta have sizable acreage planted. North of Salt Lake City and east of the Great Salt Lake it is Cache and Weber County where hay cultivation is the most intense, it is the crown jewel of alfalfa growing regions in the state. Even with that Utah supplies just 1% of all the alfalfa grown in the USA.
The Bear, Jordan and Weber Rivers is the source of the water farmers have needed to grow alfalfa. Until the 1980’s irrigating fields of alfalfa was regarded as sustainable. Annual rain and snow patterns began shifting while population continued to expand, and the cultivation of alfalfa continued to increase. With domestic markets tight Utah’s agricultural interests searched abroad and developed foreign markets for their product.
Logan, Utah is Cache County’s biggest city. There are about 50,000 in town, in a county of 156,000. Median income is set at about $30k, most of the population in this region are young, under 30-year old’s, most Mormon’s, many already started having children. Home prices here have not exploded like the southern region of Utah.
To the east is the northernmost section of the Wasatch Mountains, it’s a sportsmen’s paradise— fishing, hunting and off-road vehicles are the preferred recreational activities of the region. Most of the population here was born after 1990, many were just grammar school students when the World Trade Center came down, the Global Financial Crisis hit while they were graduating from high school, and the scorched earth politics that went from slow burn to high heat triggered by the election of the first Black-American president is likely their coming-of-age memory. Bill Clinton was before their time, they have no memory of what life was like before the free trade agreement era, it was in their youth when most of the factories in America were disassembled and sold off to bidders in China.
You travel further south to Weber County, it is smaller in size but larger in population, they earn a little more, the population is a bit older, but for the most part the voting block of these two county’s has only a scant memory of a world that existed before 1990. Ogden landmarks the northernmost portion of the greater Salt Lake City metropolitan corridor— a region known as the Wasatch Front.
The Great Salt Lake, this ancient body of water west of the Wasatch Front is undergoing a climate induced transformation, the lake has been shrinking since the 1980’s, as of now the lake has lost two-thirds its size. This hotter drier climate and diversion of river water for alfalfa cultivation has proven a dire threat to the lake’s survival. The shorelines soils are thick with minerals that once dry go airborne fowling the air up and down the Wasatch Front. The unwanted contamination reads like a rogue’s gallery of the most awful heavy metals and toxic chemicals a human would never want to breathe. More than a million of Utah’s citizens face significant increases in cancer and respiratory diseases because of these pollutants.
In 2022 it is estimated that Utah’s gross domestic product is $183 billion. Of that statewide about $500 million (that’s right not even a billion) are the profits from alfalfa. Still if you live north in a rural agricultural district like Cache County these are make or break profits. Then, there is the cultural impact as most for Mormon’s in this region rural farming and ranching is the foundation of their religious heritage. Add a dollop of cowboy culture and you’ve a significant chunk of the state that wants to protect its past way of life from this more complicated multicultural present.
Last Sunday on the editorial pages of the Salt Lake City Tribune, the state’s leading newspaper has called for the state of Utah to buyout the alfalfa growers and to put the water back into the tributaries that fill the Great Salt Lake.
The transition away from grass crop agriculture will require careful planning. It has been an unfortunate feature of our zeal for free market capitalism to let the market figure things out on its own. With the energy transition in full swing now, and the real-world impact of the climate emergency effecting every region of the American West it is going to be necessary for government agencies to partner with the private sector to create a new and more environmentally balanced economy. We simply do not have time to let one industry wither and die while another tries to rise from the ashes of yesteryear.
One approach to fixing the crisis on the Great Salt Lake would be to put a small excise tax on Utah’s $183 billion gross domestic product, and keep that tax on for some years, paying the farmers to keep their fields free of alfalfa. Some will transition to crops that use less water, some will get out of farming, others might remain on their land and find work nearby. Private enterprise will find many opportunities as much of our manufacturing capacity returns from locations overseas. Utah already plays host to several major data server farms, the need for more in a world continuing to go online is a demand this region could meet.
The key to success is striking the right balance, this is going to require a private-public partnership in innovation. Opportunity is key and can help offset culture shock— and it is this modern climate changing way of life encroaching on this world of yesterday that is going to take some real finessing if this transition is to succeed.
One of the features lacking in our present is the existence of a reliable narrator. If we can make sense of what’s happening, if the alfalfa growers can help keep the citizens of their state safe, if their sacrifice can benefit the many, then that story may be worth telling. Given the sacrifice necessary, the people may find their sacrifice uplifting, dare I say Christian. Opening this new frontier in a non-carbon fueled economy could be as vivid a modern-day tale as the explorers who entered this region by wagon train to settle nearly two centuries ago. If ever there were reasons for the public schools to restore funding for music, arts, drama and literature this may be that moment in our history.
We’ll watch with interest to see if there are any takers to the proposal put forward by the Tribune’s editorial board. So far pulling acreage out of production has been forced by drought and bankruptcy. It needn’t be like that, rather than wait for the economy to tank, wait for the inevitable ill citizens to start filling up Salt Lake City’s hospitals, this time getting out ahead of the forces that have us in a bind, doing the right thing is a way for the state of Utah to build a bridge to a better future.
I know these people, I have traveled through this region, having presented my show to audiences up and down the small towns of this region. There’s a path forward, leaders need to show courage and light the way.
The sideshow that sometimes appears in the form of a losing political campaign contesting the results of an election is pulling its stakes up and heading back to the clown car warehouse. If you haven’t got on the sore-loser express you are missing little to nothing.
If you appeal the results of an election in a courtroom you had best come with proof. Just so you know a valid reason for a recount is because the margins are so slim that a more accurate tally could alter the result. Losing an election by 24,000 votes isn’t that.
This week’s rogue’s gallery of hack-doodles includes Edward Snowden, Matt Taibbi, Tulsi Gabbard, Kari Lake with a dash of Elmo sprinkled over the top. Lake’s claims of election fraud were tossed out of court, then to add insult to false claims the judge ordered her to pay for the courts time.
Special mention goes to Southern Arizona’s Cochise County (Wilcox, Tombstone, Douglas, Sierra Vista) for foot dragging, belly aching and eventually being threatened by Arizona judge that demanded they certify their county’s results or expect to have to go through a few things.
The crowd that showed up in support of Lake’s broadside in Phoenix looked akin to a small handful waiting at a bus stop (that’s generous just about 10 total showed) with too much polyester and the worst taste in contrast color matched clothing.
Apparently, the scrimmaging has to do with page turning more than fact finding. If we can please stop talking about all those Hitler loving diners down in Mar-a-lago and start talking about Chinese special effects photography. I mean what I really want to know is where someone stuck their Johnson. If you are still unclear on the concept the famous Johnson I’m referring to is an opportunity for all kinds of new adventures. It will take you places; a Johnson will be the cause of many funny postures, different people enjoy putting Johnson’s Johnson into different places, and if are really lucky you are one of the few that gets featured on the pages of a Johnson exploitation tabloid.
There are no serious people thinking about issues of the day. While all these bitty tempests are raging across the airwaves there is the very real problem of the drought that is still causing like existential civilization threatening trouble. The chances of hitting minimum power pool within the next two years is part of Reclamation’s minimum probable forecast, current height is 3528 feet above sea level, from this present starting point 40 million citizens will go into full climate emergency mode when the lake hits 3490 feet above sea level. That is just 138 feet separating those that are worried right now from all those other folks busy reading about Johnsons.
In terms of how many Johnsons away from tragedy, and let’s be generous now, on average say there are two Johnson’s for every foot of water, we are just 276 Johnson’s away from a climate catastrophe of a kind the modern world has never experienced.
Maybe as Lake Powell continues dropping, we could get the tabloids to feature a really nice Johnson on its pages, and then sort of a montage of Johnsons as the lake falls. One benefit is that all these fool sized Johnsons would certainly begin to numb the publishers’ subscribers. Maybe we could hold a contest to see who gets to be the last Johnson, maybe it could be an exceptionally long Johnson, nothing world record breaking, something akin to Prairie Home Companion, something slightly above average I think would suffice.
The current state of affairs comes down to where this Johnson or that Johnson has been. We especially enjoy irresponsible Johnson stories, the famous cheating Johnson’s, the involuntarily sent by social media Johnson’s that end up uninvited into a complete strangers feed. Those Johnson’s, the most unwelcomed, the most ridiculed, the Johnson that can blow back on the Johnson owner are the Johnson’s that have in hell a special place reserved for the idiot Johnson’s sending such pictures out online.
That’s really all this weekend is about. Johnson is the subject changer.
I posted my first blog here in 2011. I joined Twitter about the same time. I cross post whenever I put a new piece up, some I’ll put on the Face. The difference is that I view Twitter as a public/political forum whereas I view Facebook as a private/apolitical venue. Friends already know what I think, the public at large may find what I’m writing worth a look, it’s a choice.
Early on I was careful about what content I covered, I was still doing a lot of summer library programs and sexual innuendo and white-hot political spear throwing could blow back on the librarians that supported my act, so I held my fire.
I remember workshopping at a writer’s conference, there was a social media breakout session, the presenter was sure the best path forward was to build your platform. Building a platform had to do with gaining followers, you would find followers on Facebook, Twitter and so on and so forth.
Nonfiction writers’ currency of value is stored in their subject matter, fiction’s value is stored in the emotional power of the story told. Search Engine Optimization’s (SEO’s) are made for facts, they do much less well conveying emotions.
Back in the early days of social media readers observational skills were in transition, having a cup of coffee while pouring over the pages of the New York Times produced a style of reader that took their time, those old school types would read from start to finish, then choose another item and then another.
The blizzard of stories a reader encounters online overwhelms; fewer and fewer readers can aim and sustain their attention on this whirligig digital publishing platform.
This has happened over time, not for all of us, but many if not most hardly have the same reading habits. If you were born at the turn of the new millennium, you are a person born into this current mashup of digitized platforms. In some sense you are trained from the beginning in modern day digital literacy, you are fluent in this system, know how to work with it, many times it isn’t the written word you use, instead it is a picture, audio or short video.
While I may remember the fads and fashions of the decades of yesteryear, born in the 50’s, coming of age in the 60’s, owned the post adolescent world in the ‘70’s, then dove headlong into the ‘80’s as I misappropriated my adulthood by clinging to the hope of being forever young.
Our daughter was born in the early ‘90’s, that put an end to my completely dodging my adulthood. I fumbled through the go-go-90’s as the prime street show years in San Francisco closed out and what might come next was still far from visible.
Once I’d moved to Oregon and struggled through the offseason, then figured out how to work festivals with the help of a local event producer— one of my life’s great alliances. In short order I created a circuit that was loosely based on my being in Arizona in winter and the Northwest in summer. I took that plan across half of the 90’s and most of the next two decades until the pandemic hit.
My father was a computer buff, in 1995 he taught me how to use a dial up modem and link to a server at Oregon State University. It was awkward, there was no browser, we figured out how to write down various addresses, one was to a portal supported by NASA. Netscape just weeks later was released and was soon loaded onto my personal computer.
I had written a first novel in 1980 on a manual typewriter. By the turn of the new century, I was soon to be afforded the opportunity to revise and finish the book. There would be another three more produced, all told these four novels were completed between the years 2007 and 2020, this timeline tracks the release of the iPhone and then the development of all the myriad social media platforms that soon followed. Mobility was the key.
Bookstores were closing right and left, Amazon shouldered most of the blame, but in fact it was more than just Amazon, reading habits were changing.
Once upon a time an author, and his publisher would work to get their book onto the shelves at a bookstore. In the before times, you would go into the biggest bookstore in the world and maybe you could choose between a thousand, perhaps as many as five thousand novels. Today you surf over to Amazon where you will find millions of titles to choose from.
All of this has happened in less than two decades, the previous system has been supplanted by this new one, what is sometimes obliquely referred to as the attention economy.
I’m making my way through a terrific novel by Susan Gee Rumsey, Why You Must that will eventually be seen by a few hundred, no more than a few thousand I would guess, and that has nothing to do with the novel’s quality. Gorilla marketing will only take a book so far, ultimately this inanimate object loses its momentum lands on a shelf and that is where it will ride out its days, years and decades.
Blogging I use for research, it is my public facing sketchpad, where I’m sharing the underlying facts that I will use to build my fiction. On my desk now is a screenplay, a comedy about climate change set in the American Southwest and loosely to do with the scarcity of water coming out of the Colorado River.
In the months ahead I’ll complete a full-length screenplay. What I can make happen after I finish with all the probabilities that entails are a very steep climb.
Into this cauldron of change is the bizarre turn that our digital landscape is undergoing. I’m especially grateful that I have maintained my own website, that I can post what I want as I want. If your business model depends on Elon Musk’s mood, Facebook’s tweaking their algorithms, or whether Google will continue supporting Google Plus well you have been taken on a ride you were never going to be in control of.
Keeping a public facing blog alive, pulling some readers along, bouncing about riding from topic to topic, doing work that won’t get you dragged into court, producing material that gives some pleasure to your readers, that’s something like what I’ve been doing over here.
Much of the very best sentences, paragraphs, pages and chapters of my writing have been captured in my long fiction. A short piece here on my blog is cranked out with a sensibility of being breezy, offhanded, of the moment, not too much care, kind of let it go and move on, life is short, and anything can be improved upon, but to what end and to what difference—
The madness of the new Twitter owner, Google’s downturn, Facebook’s fated decline is proving to be game changing, we’re on our way from one place to another and none of us are sure what that next digitized realm will be. What is certain is it won’t be this, the world is moving on, there is a better next set of platforms and formulas to experiment with.
I’ve tried to drive my engagement by earnest qualities, as best I can, as honest as I can, giving some of you a chance to see other more bohemian perspectives, sharing what I find and giving voice to all those likeminded misfits I’ve come to meet along the way over the course of time. You all do know I’m onto you right— and you have found me out too. Thanks for hanging around now and again—
Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Station has been given a new lease on its half-life. Biden and Newsom likely looked at the 2024 election and said they wanted nothing to do with higher energy prices, keep Diablo Canyon open, kick the can down the road, we’ll shut the hazardous site after the next election, even if each and every electron out of this facility will be the high-cost leader in the diverse energy market.
Renewable energy is the low-cost leader, end of story, stop pretending. Decommissioning Diablo Canyon will require decades of time and a tsunami of funding— $10’s of billions. We don’t need to worry about mad Russian’s invading from our southern border, our domestic saboteurs have proven plenty willing to exploit our vulnerabilities, blowing up the filibuster is known as the nuclear option, it gets its name from a facility like Diablo Canyon.
Things I wish we could control are the amount of energy crypto currencies have been using in their coin minting process. I’d have shut them down forced them back to the drawing boards and demanded they come up with a less energy intensive method creating coins. Color me skeptical, but the digitally minted out of thin air coins don’t impress. A properly trained fiduciary would never sign off on such a reckless investment.
California’s Central Coast is one of our state’s most livable. Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo and Pismo Beach have no real corollary, not Los Angeles or San Francisco have on offer such ideal weather. Nothing is perfection, but traffic here is tempered by its distance from both the major metropolitan regions.
What’s on the drawing boards along this stretch of coast is the deployment of offshore wind turbines. Turbines will be over the horizon; the whole idea is that you won’t see anything. Wind turbine service technicians will live here, they will by boat be sent out off the coast to regularly service the turbines. Other workers on shore will provide continual maintenance to the batteries that will store the energy. You want really good news, we don’t have to invent anything to secure this renewable future.
Controllers will manage power distribution from computers, a lot of time and research has been spent developing the necessary storage capacity so that our energy system will operate across a wide range of circumstances. CalPoly San Luis Obispo’s graduating engineers will find an abundance of work here.
In Delta, Utah excess renewable energy will be used to produce carbon free hydrogen. Below ground here are some of the world’s largest salt caverns where the hydrogen fuel will be stored. The hydrogen powered electric power station will spool up and send electricity across the west to help the grid meet the demand. Think of the hydrogen in Delta, Utah as the result of the stored energy produced by wind offshore near Morro Bay.
If you are wondering about how reliable offshore wind is here on this section of coast, you can stop wondering, the resource is off the charts. If you took all of the sailors in California, you will find only a small fraction of these sailors willing to risk messing with this section of coast. Why might you wonder? Because the wind blows hard.
Lawrence Livermore Radiation Laboratories is here in California. Nuclear weapon design happens here. You can go to UC Berkeley and become a nuclear scientist. What I’m saying is there is a powerful constituency still convinced in the efficacy of nuclear power. My argument isn’t technological, their engineering prowess isn’t my objection. The problem I have is with the variability of human beings. Most of the time most people remain dedicated to doing their best, but too frequently a more feral political animal arises and some of humankinds most irresponsible may find a path to seizing political power. Nuclear technology demands a constancy of good conduct, and this behavioral consistency is beyond the reach of our species.
Renewables are the future. Scientists at MIT have developed a drill bit that punches through materials using a technology that harnesses energy from microwaves. Shallow wells into the ground are well suited to be punched using conventional drilling technology. Once down where things start getting hotter and harder, that’s when this new technology does its best work. An experimental well is being punched right now. Steam will be brought to the surface to spin turbines. Geothermal power is common in Nevada where geothermal sources come closer to the earths surface. If we can reliably punch wells anywhere the world we will have found an off ramp to the dependency on fossil and nuclear fuels. A decentralized energy system will put an end to the economic problems created by spikes in the cost of fossil fuels.
One of the factors that raise the costs of producing laboratory grown meat is electricity. It may seem quixotic, but it is just over the horizon. In 2023 you will be able to go to restaurants in San Francisco Bay Area where chefs will treat you to chicken grown in the lab. This may not seem central to our survival, but my prediction is that it will be a key technology.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast for the 2022-2023 rainy season promise much more of the same. In other words, our drought here in the American West continues. Water scarcity is stressing communities that are agriculture dependent. Over the last century California has developed the most expansive water distribution system in the world. There is no other place in the world with as many reservoirs, aqueducts, and irrigation canals. The key to our future is using less water to make more food. Like everything economic these changes will produce a new set of winners and losers.
I like democracy and I like leadership to face the citizens in free and fair elections. Our transition to a renewable energy economy, to an modernized more water efficient food production system, rolling out these new systems, reinventing how our economy is powered, how we distribute our water, these are fundamental building blocks. We do this right and we’re going to walk back the world from the edge, and if we don’t get this right, we’ll suffer the consequences. Time is of the essence, there is not a second to lose.
It’s just a guess on my part but keeping Diablo Canyon open a little longer looks like a bet to buy more time, to keep things going in the right direction, to not sending the economy into a self-inflicted energy price spike. All of the technologies I’ve written about will prevail in time, as they are deployed over time, and it is this timeline, this managing the energy transition that is civilizations great challenge.
With the election now in the rearview mirror look for the fight over a more equitable distribution of water coming down the Colorado River to enter its nightmare phase.
All those good intentions, all the dedicated water saving devices, all the promises from agriculture that they finally do get it, that the jig is up and the time for change has come, well none of that has proven remotely actionable.
Taking shorter showers is a good idea. Getting rid of your lawn is long overdue. When you brush your teeth fill a glass with water, that’s it, a glass of water is good for rinsing both your brush and mouth after you’ve finished. Toilet etiquette water saving guidance in a drought— “if its yellow let it mellow, if its brown flush it down.” OK— been there done that.
We need to pause a moment as this is the week according to the “being” counters out there that our world has crossed the 8 billion mark, that is people all alive on a little marble sized planet in one little teeny-tiny spiral arm of one rather average sized galaxy in a universe populated with trillions and trillions of galaxies. You like me and most innumerate types need to be reminded of how many zeros there are behind the factor 1 when trying to write out a trillion, that is the numeral one followed by twelve zero’s— that’s the answer to the trillion-universe question.
Figures jump around regarding how much water by water flow gage actually comes down the Colorado River over the course of one year. Since we’re here in the United States trying to form a more perfect union it turns out the Colorado River is slightly down there, and over to the left and doing something quite predictable, in fact it is astounding we would have forecast anything else, but of course we came up with the wrong estimates and that is where our grief begins and ends.
In this climate changing world what we can measure in the system of rivers and reservoirs that we refer to as the Colorado River Basin is a world that is increasingly warmer and drier. It is not significantly warmer, it is not profoundly more arid, but that isn’t how this game is played.
In 1922, exactly one century ago there were about 12 million people living in the Colorado River Basin— now there 40 million. A century ago, they estimated that 16,400,000-acre feet of water flowed through the basin in one year. A century later we know that is wrong that if you take water measurement records and divide each water year up by this factor of 100 the more accurate amount is 13,200,000-acre feet of water per year. However, the last quarter of a century, the last 25 years have been much less productive than the previous 75. In 2003 for example just 3,800,000-acre feet of water was measured. Then there were many years where barely 9,000,000-acre feet of water was measured. Some scientists now believe that in the years ahead the Colorado River Basin will on average produce just 7,500,000-acre feet of water per year— less than half of what was codified into law when the Law of the River was first drafted in 1922. By the way, that was Herbert Hoover’s work.
Take a deep breath people— touch your toes, breathe— everything is not going to be just fine, but we can survive in this water basin when we stop spending our water like drunken’ sailors. Why is that? How can that be? Whose been building model airplanes in poorly ventilated bedrooms again?
Look figure 80% of all the water that comes out of the Colorado River Basin is used by agriculture. That includes ranches, farms and dairy operators. The percentage of water used to grow crops destined for our kitchen tables, especially the crops that are not intermediated by feeding a barnyard animal, those crops use the smallest fraction of that 80%. The thirsty users are growing forage crops for livestock, that’s where most of the water is going. Hay crops are on the endangered-cowboy’s-list and are a congressionally protected species that turns out to be important because it isn’t the cowboys that die from lack of water it is politician’s careers that meet their end.
Other terms and phrases that come to mind are untouchable, perhaps stalemate, gordian knot, intractable, impossible to undo, lifestyle ending, suicide mission, water torture test, misery, and my favorite— decade upon decade of fruitless litigiousness…
Fruitlessness only begins to even get at the stinking mess we the good people of this current century must deal with because of the errors made by our ancestors from the last century. But isn’t that the story of the climate emergency— doing something now that will help the people who will inherit the world from us later. Of course it is!
Did I mention instant gratification seems to be almost as popular as smartphones—? We are plumb out of patience, that virtue is near extinct and instead we live in the go-go world of hairless swimmers in speedos doing laps on bright days and then some years later having to see their dermatologists for terrifying little spots that need to be surgically removed.
Making one thing better which pretty much sums up the rationalizations for building the dams at Lake Mead and Lake Powell has proven shortsighted. Instead of making one thing better we’ve walked into a corner and made a million things worse.
Anyway, to end on a hopeful note it is good to know that the election is over and negotiations can now resume at a quickened pace so that decisions might be far removed as possible from the election cycle. That’s probably the most important point of this little pitter pat of prose I’m offering to my fearless social gladiators. After fending off the fascists, after rejecting the Nazi sympathizing monster Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidacy of Kari Lake we can actually get down to less psychologically twisted matters like how to keep the toilet flushed, the toothbrush cleaned, and the swimming pools filled.
A tremendous crescendo of gratitude will wash over our continent as we roll out the new renewable energy system for this new century. Next, and almost at the same time we will review and reallocate what water we have. There will be pain, and suffering will be Ingmar Bergman-esque, but a new and better Law of the River will provide fun legal work for Gen Z’ers, and darn it we really do count on those young rascals bailing a lot of us barrel-aged nitwits out from the fallacies we have foisted on a world that is now filled to the limit with 8 billion people— if you happen to be a jigalow odds have just tipped in your favor, someone is bound to be waiting for you to work your love em and leave em magic after getting what you want then like that the jigalow goes and performs the world famous disappearing act— “God— if that man hasn’t just made me cry a river—”
Dashing south in our Tesla we were off to Los Angeles for a weekend sail to Catalina. The better half and her witty wonder had to stop in Highland Park— this was all due to the fierce urgency of vegan chow— we wanted to visit Maciel’s— this is a specialty foods delicatessen; the owners describe their almost one-of-a-kind store as a plant-based butcher shop. Whatever that deli thing is, those row upon row of meats and cheeses, all the variety of salads, all these new-fangled dishes— we were all about it, this is what we wanted, a heaping grocery bag full of new food items that we’ve never tried before.
There were no excuses for our arriving after closing time, to that end we had to plead our case through locked doors while pantomiming through the glass windows our passion for first ever food experiences— like knee pads, parakeets and natural wine who knew that would be a thing— then we tried making our most pitiful dejected faces— the proprietors relented and reopened.
Maciel’s opens another chapter in the quest to replace conventional factory farmed meats, this is what it means to be a vegan butcher shop, they offer alternatives to beef, pork and chicken— vegan meats have a role to play if we’re to work our way out of the corner we’ve walked the world into. These new self-created gourmet products open an entire new front in the uncharted realm of plant-based meals.
Further north in Berkeley I’ve been sampling the offerings from another vegan joint, The Butcher’s Son. The concept is the same. To my taste Maciel recipes are ahead of the game, Maciel’s products appear to be more evolved, their ingredients are dialed in, there is nothing casual or random happening. Competition is a good thing, both vegan joints are on the playing field, the games just gotten underway, there’s much to learn and more to explore.
While moored as guests aboard our friend’s sailboat out on Catalina we tried their plant-based turkey, pastrami and salami. The pastrami was the favorite, turkey next and then the salami. Next visit I’m trying the chorizo and adobo ribs. We used multigrain bread, vegan mayo, mustard, pickles, red onions and lettuce. We sampled their jalapeno cheddar spreading some over a slice of bread as we each built our own sandwiches.
At a gathering prior to sailing our friends barbecued salmon for dinner, their southbound Highway 101 faux leather clad pair swapped out the salmon for Maciel’s near note perfect crab cakes. If you hadn’t been told you likely would have never known you were sampling vegan crab cakes. There was nothing lacking, the flavor was fetching, they sated our hunger, after we were full and content, that’s not always true, Maciel has quite the wizards touch, the items in the store are creations from her recipes, her research, her years of chasing down the right blend of ingredients, then betting she could stir her customers palette’s and win them over.
The ingredients in their salami include wheat protein, red beets, caraway seeds, mustard seeds, spices, tomato paste, garlic, olive oil, soy sauce, red wine, liquid smoke, rice flower, white pepper, black pepper and salt.
Maciel Bañales Luna has gone all in on the project. Once you venture off into the arena of plant-based foods it is a one-way street, few go back, no longer always stuck planning meat-centric meals, the alternative plant-based dishes you prepare take over, it becomes a way of life, a lighter on the earth and compassionate form of eating.
Tag team partner in this one-two punch new food adventure is husband Joe Egender, the more talkative of the two rang us up at the cash register. Joe’s swift of wit, art brained and droll, bantering back and forth with his plant-based enthusiast, the lanky one-time San Franciscan was quick to get my nut ball style and interest in their new store. I’m all about fixing the-fix the world finds itself in, climate change is no longer some abstraction, it’s not some far off emergency happening to us out there in the faraway future, it is happening to us right now and what we eat impacts the world we live in, these plant-based products use less water and produce a much smaller carbon footprint, and that lesser pressure on our natural resources is part of the climate crisis— we are in a race against time to break the habit of eating the food our good and loving mothers introduced us to.
We tried their Mama’s potato salad and for dessert her Mexican Chocolate Mousse. The dessert is made from silken tofu, bittersweet chocolate, brown sugar, vanilla extract, ground cinnamon and chili powder. Maciel’s mousse was every bit as delicious as any conventional mousse and best of all it is better a better product, better for you, better for earth.
Eating a whole food plant-based diet has opened doors to unexplored corners of a world I had no contact with until I embarked on a journey to take better care of myself. I had no clue what was waiting. The trick to the fun is to get out and try new things. Life is many things including packing a basket and heading out for a picnic, eating deli style foods while sprawled out atop a piece of grass on your favorite blanket, and now with Maciel’s good work, because of the innovative products we can stay on track, remain within bounds of what we want and don’t want to end up on our plate. If meat is a gas-powered car, then the modern vegan deli is an electric automobile.
Maciel’s New out of this World butcher shop is a three-alarm fire wrapped in mustard— the pickle is free— the fascination is grand slam. Like solar panels we not only can make electricity in a whole new way we can make plant-based delicatessen sandwiches that are great tasting and all that much easier on our planet to produce.
There are behind closed-door discussions underway within the government about creating a new executive level department to take on the issue of climate change. Among the many things to do this climate change secretary would be charged with tackling water scarcity, one such fix is replacing hydroelectric power stations with renewable energy systems. Another piece of this puzzle is introducing new food production systems, and one spoke on the hub of that wheel is delicatessen style vegan cheeses and meats. Our food production system will be moved incrementally, it will be unexpected, surprising and these new products will make all the difference.
Circumstances in the American West are growing more difficult by the year. Even if our politics are deadlocked the same is not true of the researchers trying to bring to market food products that use less water and produce less carbon emissions.
Incumbents will try to hold onto their market share, that’s to be expected, they won’t be any happier than any other legacy enterprise that’s finding itself disrupted by the emergence of new technologies. Like solar or wind renewable energy systems they are gaining market share because they make sense, they’re the low coast leaders in the energy sector.
The lack of water in the American West has got a choke hold on the region’s economy. Analysts have long fingered the spike in oil prices for derailing the global economy, the higher the price the slower the economy moves. If I told you, we could produce the same amount of food using 90% less water and 90% less land wouldn’t you think it a good idea to give that new technology a try?
Maciel’s Plant-based Butcher Shop is a key marker— an inflection point— this is part of the answer to eating in a style that is in harmony with this climate stressed world. The good news from Highland Park is that a gifted food creator husband and wife team has set roots down right here in the dynamic food movement culture of Southern California. The vegan butcher shop is an ingenious answer to our future, and it is more than just about food, it is a response to this precarious moment— with new delicious solutions, especially those never-before-seen new foods that bring to the world a flavor all their own.
There are 30 miles of ocean between Marina del Rey to Catalina Island’s mooring field at Two Harbors. Further east if you were to launch a boat at Glen Canyon Dam on a once and now no more full Lake Powell you would travel 186 miles end to end. At 7.5 knots you will make the trip out to Catalina Island in four hours. The trip from one end of Lake Powell at this same speed would take 25 hours.
Last Friday’s hazy air shrouded our view of Catalina. We couldn’t see the island until halfway out on our trip across. Coastal ocean sailing differs from boating on a lake, sea state plays a bigger role, faraway low-pressure systems can send steep swells, crew can be wearied by rough water, and if another swell is coming from another direction the passage may become difficult to the extreme.
Gales can sweep across the desert and make navigation on Lake Powell all but impossible. Messing about on water with a boat is never risk free. Imagining taking a round trip from one end of Lake Powell to the other would take two days of nonstop sailing and motoring. The same roundtrip to Catalina would require 8 hours, one-sixth the amount of time. Big water can swamp the imagination, it is just too big to grasp.
The ocean between Los Angeles and Catalina can reach depths of 3000 feet. Lake Powell at its deepest measures 404 feet, but on average is just over 130 feet. For air breathing terrestrial types both body’s of water are experienced at their surface. Imagining that I am sailing in deep water concentrates the mind, this is when a sailor spitball’s their vessel is taking on water and since death is so permanent and life so sweet perhaps you might want to come up with a to-do list of ways of staying in the game. Prior to sailing to Catalina, the skipper and his second in command made sure the bilge pumps worked and that the through hull fittings weren’t leaking. There’s a longer list and more thorough inspections are part of responsible boat preparation.
Life aboard a saltwater sailing craft equipped with a functioning watermaker is mind altering. The vessel Spirit when making water can produce 150 gallons in a few hours’ time. Besides making water for drinking and cooking there is water for showering, and for spraying off the topsides and deck. Making water doesn’t cost much once you’ve decided to install a watermaker, this initial acquisition cost is the biggest expense of all, it makes no sense not to put the watermaker into service once installed.
Desalinating water takes a lot of energy. Aboard Spirit there is an electric generator that is switched on to provide power to the watermaker. Every other day the generator is started to top off the batteries and to fill the water holding tanks. The diesel generator burns about ½ gallon of fuel per hour.
Rural desert dwellers sometimes need to clean up their residential water supply. If the water is really contaminated distilling is necessary, most of the time reverse osmosis systems will do the trick. In Arizona their water board survey teams have studied bringing desalinated water up from the Sea of Cortez by pipeline. This would be useful for residents and useless for agriculture because of how expensive the water would be to desalinate.
In Dubai the United Arab Emirates operate large desalination plants, but then they also are sitting atop some of the largest oil reserves in the world.
As conundrums go, and the drought in the American West is one hell of a nettlesome problem there are simply too few skilled multidimensional scholars capable of grasping both the magnitude and complexity of the challenge.
Crossing by sailboat from Los Angeles to Santa Catalina Island only hints at the enormity of what civilization is grappling with. Setting aside the technical challenges and finding the courage to face the economic and political compromises has so far proven utterly impossible.
Long ago John Wesley Powell surveyed the Colorado River and concluded that there was not now nor would there ever be enough water for large scale farming. His advice was ignored, our state and national leaders buckled under pressure and have for a century bumbled and stumbled along until now. Both Lake Mead and Lake Powell are 25% full and expert water surveyors working with climatologists put the odds of these two reservoirs ever being topped to full again at a probability of zero chances. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton coming back from the dead and happily remarrying is as likely.
Spurring the states to act the Bureau of Reclamation had urged negotiators to come up with a new voluntary plan. The Bureau set a deadline that has come and gone, and negotiators were unable to agree on anything. Instead, this slow-motion climate related dire circumstance that is already altering the fated promising lives of 40 million citizens rests like a gigantic bowie knife on the neck of the American West’s future.
I keep reassuring readers that the residential water supply isn’t the main source of the problem, it is what is going to happen to the farmers and ranchers, and the tumult that will result. Political leaders’ careers will hang in balance, lawyers will haggle in court for decades fighting over water that no longer exists. Nobody wants to settle, everyone wants to fight, and the real nightmare scenario are the senior water rights holders in rural farming communities going to court to cut off access to water for the millions of residents in Tucson, Phoenix, San Diego, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. This is how water law is settled. The courts have no choice but to follow the law as written, likely it is a lifetime appointed judge that will incur the wrath of any water user that comes out on the short end of the stick. The losers will not just lose access to water, but they will lose their livelihoods too.
“Nobody can tell anybody nothing.” The miserable rotten truth of the matter is agriculture has been hell bent on using water, and they’ll irrigate old school style, like same as 10,000 years ago, gripe bitterly about being asked to change crops or try using drip irrigation technology.
Because of the size of this problem, if you’ve ever gone from Los Angeles out to Catalina that doesn’t begin to scratch the surface to how big this mess is. It’s so big most of us have not the scale of imagination to visualize the colossal pickle we are all in.
Pretty near as best anyone can tell what is happening is that the whole stinking pile of stakeholders are holding onto hope. If we could just wait it out, hope it will rain, that the reservoirs will fill and that the region can just continue on business as usual.
What comes next is unthinkable, but that is what is on offer, a crisis of such magnitude it blows our minds. Policymakers at the Pentagon are one agency that understands. If millions of acres are pulled from production, then add the continued chaos at the border, the weather continues to get hotter and dryer— that’s a combustible confluence of trouble that could trigger what is described as a region of a country that descends into chaos and becomes ungovernable. A long slow utterly ungovernable storm tossed ride on a boat is an unpleasant bit of passage making. Navigating through this peril with blinders having kicked the can down the road until the bitter end has trapped the stakeholders across the American West into a boxed canyon— the game is up, and the time of reckoning has arrived. We can do this, we just can’t keep doing this the way we have— while we can we might choose to take the path of good governance— that’s what we pin our future on— the hope we can make some sense of all this water that’s gone missing and still manage our affairs peacefully.
California by treaty receives the largest allocation of water from the Colorado River. These are “senior” rights. A stakeholder with subordinated rights is out of luck, in the sun, and destined for hell. The megadrought has let the cat out of the bag and now across the American West our water distribution system is unable to respond— this is water’s version of the deer in headlights moment.
Litigation is slow. The “Millennium Drought”— this dryer and hotter pattern has persisted for 22 years— stakeholders have been dragged to the negotiating table kicking and screaming— the clock is ticking, the water levels on Lake Powell continue falling— the jig is up, the moment of reckoning is here.
What is terrifying is a desperate subordinated water rights claim held by a water agency in a major metropolitan area could find its supply completely cutoff. The court’s hands would be tied, the law as written could trigger a catastrophic climate induced humanitarian disaster. Pitting a handful of farms in California against a bone-dry Arizona city is something everyone agrees needs to be avoided. Forty million people in the American West depend on the water from the Colorado River. Unknotting this tangled web is a task that will require ungodly quantities of water and time. This relentless drought is dragging the region into the mother of all water wars.
Go down to any neighborhood saloon. Select a handful of average citizens. Put the facts down on the table. Here’s the water, this is how much we’ve got, this is where it goes, these are the various stakeholders, here’s how much each has been promised, here’s how much there actually is, and what dear neighbor should the nation do?
Holding your breath won’t work, hoping it will rain isn’t a plan, depending on the summer monsoons is delusional, even if there was an above average year, the immutable fact is the Colorado River is a finite resource, and with each passing year the river yields less water to an ever-thirstier American Southwest.
Every single precious drop that falls from the sky that is used in Colorado is another drop of water that will never make its way downriver to Arizona, Nevada, Utah and California. Have you seen Colorado in the last few years— how many more people live there— how much more water is diverted near the river’s headwaters, that never makes its way downriver to the states of Nevada, Utah, Arizona and California.
Lake Powell was never a good idea, from its inception there were political forces afoot at the Bureau of Reclamation fueling the drive to construct the dam that should have never been built. Now whether the dam should have been built is a pointless waste of time, the science is in, the situation isn’t going to change, the lake is doomed.
Eight out of every ten gallons of Colorado River water is used by agriculture, and eight out of ten of all those gallons are destined for forage crops, the most valuable of those is alfalfa. Producing meat and dairy takes a lot of water. Only two of every ten gallons is used to grow all the other food that ends up on our kitchen tables.
The great Southwest expedition leader John Wesley Powell had told leaders long ago, like in 1880’s that this region would not support large scale ranch and farm operations. His advice was ignored. The Law of the River dates to 1922— when there were all of 6.4 million people living in the seven western states. Today forty-million people are dependent on this vital watershed.
Democracy is on the ballot this November. Anti-democracy forces within the Republican Party are ascendent. A lot of ink is spilled over the situation on our southern border with Mexico and the efforts to stim the tide of immigrants seeking to enter this country. Whipping up Republican voters on this issue is misplaced, it’s the shortage of water, that’s our emergency, reallocating the water from the Colorado River is going be the political hot potato of this new century.
Expect the Bureau of Reclamation to keep its head low until after the November election, that’s my prediction, then after they’ll announce cutbacks— they will be historic. The Supreme Court will end up having to weigh in. Bankruptcies will ripple up and down along the Colorado River basin as operators are disrupted by the lack of water. Negotiations between the seven states, 30 tribes and Mexico will prove to be intractable. The current regulatory apparatus is broken, archaic, ill-suited to the task. Not the Federal Government. or the State Water Resource Agencies can deliver water to customers that no longer exists. Negotiations will prove futile, litigation will grind on for much of the decade, even still after all the pain and tumult caused by the drought in the end there will be much less water coming down the Colorado River. Pretending there is some sort of work-around isn’t policy, it is denial.
The best way forward is to release the remaining water from Lake Powell (currently it is 25% full) and store it in Lake Mead. Then, repurpose Lake Powell, there is a proposal to make this area a national park, it would be called Glen Canyon National Park. Pipelines would need to be reconfigured to supply water to city of Page and the Navajo Nation. The upheaval in the farm and ranch industry will be ongoing. Rural citizens will be hard hit. Like Nevada’s boom and bust mining industry we should expect there to be more ghost towns.
Farms that grow vegetables will replace the alfalfa producers. Water efficient laboratory meat production will replace conventional ranching. As we build out our new energy system, we’ll build in good paying jobs to replace those that will have been lost from a lack of water. This reckoning has been a long time coming, it is here, it is time, and it is happening. Our climate emergency is complex, multifaceted, and leaving no corner of our world untouched. Time to put our most talented to work on adapting to the change. That deer in the headlights moment— that’s all of us staring down the threat to civilization’s survival. Lake Powell is telling us we haven’t a choice, our time is up, that we must roll up our sleeves and get to work. There’s not a second to lose.
If you want to work in the news business, you’ll be aiming for a gig on the East Coast. You’ll want to work in New York City or Washington DC. That’s primetime baby cakes, where the biggest and bad-est fish swim. The writers that crack this nut and land a gig just got to feel a sense of having made it to the fattest pay checks. The East Coast hot shots are an elite horde of writers covering a geographic area of a mere few thousand square miles. Still this nation-centric view from our major media outlets provides a much less engaged regional population with those pieces of information they’ll need to know if we have any hope of keeping the wheels on this democracy from falling off this bus of self-governance.
Trying to cover the important events out here on this other coast, and this nearby interior region, that’s a John Ford— Darling Clementine— of a job— literally we’re talking about covering the happenings on millions upon millions of acres, more than a handful of important cities, and a whole host of vital political, social and economic forces that shape our nation’s narrative. We’re not all out here drinking whiskey, riding bareback and dipping our toes into the local hot spring. Instead of the news we make digital devices, search engines and social media platforms that have turned our access to information into an out-of-control firehose of partly truth and partly fiction.
To keep in touch with our rural communities I surf the web, when driving across Nevada I’ll pull off the highway, get out of my van, sit down and chit chat with the local hard nuts. Sometimes a tobacco chewing hay farmer might dismiss my questions, rate me as an urban interloper, but more often I find that even that jacked up rural wise guy is concerned about the new nickel mine going in on the same watershed he’s getting his water from.
Fossil fuel news is odd out here, it takes some realigning your point of view to swallow these gushers. Forget about the environment, that’s not news a front-page editor in Casper, Wyoming can use. More likely it is this moratorium on new leases that will make the cut. Rural communities across Wyoming, Montana, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado want to know what’s going to come of their lives out here and if there’s still any money left to be made drilling, digging or refining fossil fuels. This constituency is all too well represented back in the beltway of broken dreams.
These are the blips on the radar, the scattered rising and falling indicators of a rural community’s potential economic viability. Water plays the same role. Wildfire, floods, droughts, insect invasions, and fatal traffic accidents don’t rate even a second look, it’s the community billboards that is regarded as Bible here. For sale: mini-Nubian goats— good girls, floppy eared, buttery milkers, disobedient, devoted all heartbreaking barnyard hellraisers, but “neighbor they’re a good business bet.”
Senior editor desk types in Los Angeles at the Times, that’s another level. Getting water to the cities in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego County that’s the other side of the scarce resources story that pervades the American West. It’s news when the batting order for the San Francisco Giants tanks, and its news when reading about the latest failed salmon run that’s trying to be restored along the ever over tapped Sacramento River.
Chris Mathews of Hardball fame once worked for the San Francisco Examiner. His opinion pieces were published in the City’s afternoon paper. Still, Mathew’s column was a backwater, on the margins, once in a while his latest posting might blow up, go national but those were rare, Chris was just biding his time. When was the last time a printed newspaper headline held in your two hands changed the arc of your morning coffee— as I said, you can’t remember.
The intermountain town of Pagosa Springs in Southern Colorado is trying hard to save itself, the beauty that attracts so many new citizens is smothering what is so charming here. Outside of town you’ve got rural farm operations, most is hay crop, and is now common due to the drought, the sourcing of water is hard to come by, Pagosa Springs is hard pressed to find more, new homeowners setting up lives here are a mixed blessing or curse. Harder than finding water here is affording to fully fund the water treatment facilities. There are a lot of testy city business meetings here.
Pagosa Springs, Durango, Gunnison, Crested Butte, Glenwood Springs, Steamboat Springs, Salida, Breckenridge, Leadville— Colorado mountain towns, and not even the most famous, they’re not Aspen, Vail or Telluride, but they’ve been changing, growing, in the last twenty years they’ve been exploding in size, the changes have been exponential.
One thing is for certain, even if you don’t care not one fig about the environment most sentient beings do understand that once a rural community exceeds a certain density and population, the disposing of human waste by septic system invites all manner of calamity.
California senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein secured protection for vast tracts of the Mojave Desert. That’s 30 million acres of misunderstood and much beloved desertscape. I could explain the Mojave Desert in detail, but you don’t have the spare time, band width or bug repellent— the East Coast scribes what they want to know is how does this far off desolate, waterless, wasteland play into their New York-DC narrative— and for that there are two magic words— Harry Reid. The Majority Leader from Searchlight, Nevada, the pugnacious one-time boxer turned Nevada’s most powerful politician put the American West front and center and onto the pages of our leading newspapers. You almost felt like you could understand Nevada by reading what Harry Reid had to say about his opponents, but I promise you there is no understanding Nevada, not now and not ever. That requires coming to Nevada, sleeping in her forlorn motels, not in Las Vegas but in Beatty, Tonopah or Ely.
Running the show, my juggling show past these locals, now that’s a story, it is also a way of knowing, not just an audience, knowing a place, a community, how they do their doing and why what they’re doing isn’t necessarily conforming to your line of thinking. Rounding up mustang is like that.
Joking with an audience in Sydney, Montana is as fine an entry point into American West understanding as any you might find gleaming on the asphalt like a lost dime. Most of this land is used to grow wheat, by rain not by irrigation. Farmers stand up their fate to what the chances of rainfall can bring. Sydney citizens know farming luck better than a pesky fly’s survival on the windowsill of a tanning salon.
And that my friends, that’s why covering this beat will take your breath, spare ink and reams of paper away. This story is that big! Big as Hoover Dam, big as the Grand Canyon, big as Pilot Peak, as old as the ancient Bristlecone pines.
The biggest story out here is the climate emergency. We know this story, it is told through wildfires, empty reservoirs, heatwaves and the brewing trouble between the seven states that share the waters of the Colorado River. In 1922 after some very difficult legal wrangling there were put in place a series of decisions that are referred to as the Law of the River. For the next 100 years this landmark decision has been upheld by the courts and the states. As is always the case politicians over the course of the last 100 years have overpromised while the rain and snowfall under delivered.
There is one more piece to this puzzle worth weighing. We’ve got enough water for people that live out here, but we’re fast approaching the moment when we no longer have enough water for the farmers out here. Victims of wildfire in Santa Rosa, California have moved away to less fire prone regions where they will attempt rebuild their lives. These are some of America’s first climate emergency refugees. Next up are the farms and farmers that can no longer find enough water to stay in business. This isn’t just one town, one valley, off one river. The scale of this pullback will impact the entire American West, it will be historic, it will be epic and it will be a sprawling story that will sweep up almost half of the nation into unforeseeable change, not that we can’t see the change that is coming, but we can’t grasp the implications of these changes to the life and story of our nation.
That’s what’s rumbling out here. Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are small potatoes, this megadrought is about to deliver a severe blow, who it hurts and where it lands, that’s the question of this water scarce century.
If we pull back and fly at 30,000 feet then look down at our landscape, there are many changes barreling toward us. Our electrical grid is antiquated and needs upgrading. Our electrification of our transportation sector requires bringing large scale power charging facilities all along our highways. This buildout is going to be revolutionary and change the way our economy works.
In Central California the shutting down of Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Station in San Luis Obispo has stuttered along, for all intents and purposes this is a failed technology sited atop an active earthquake fault. Retrofitting the facility is beyond expensive. Governor Gavin Newsom has been in negotiations with various interests to put off the power stations closure. Doing so will be costly, risky and with a bit of backbone won’t happen. The facility needs to be shuttered.
Instead of nuclear power it is offshore renewable energy systems installed over the horizon in nearby Morro Bay where planning is underway to deploy a network of “floating” wind turbines. Another location north in Humboldt County has also been selected for deployment. These are massive electricity generating systems and this week the California Energy Commission set a goal of building out enough offshore wind power to keep the lights on for 25 million homes. This is where to put our money, time and energy.
Whole fleets of ships will be built to service the offshore wind turbines. There will be sited along the shore enormous battery storage facilities that are tied into the grid. Many thousands of people will work in this emerging renewable energy sector. The fossil fuel economy will shrink while the renewable sector expands. Our power producing systems will be widely distributed and will be tied together by our upgraded more resilient grid.
Highspeed rail is coming to California. Pieces of the system are already built. In the years ahead you will hop on a train in San Francisco and get off in downtown Los Angeles more or less arriving in the same length of time it would require you to fly. Non-visionary types love to gripe about highspeed rail, that’s their right, but they will be proven wrong. The issue has to do with how many gates are available at our airports. The answer is we’re almost at capacity, there is no land to expand upon, and nowhere to load and unload the extra passengers forecast to be traveling between this key California corridor.
Smaller electric powered passenger planes are coming in the next few years. For now, they’ll be the aircraft we’ll use to move passengers on shorter regional flights. Non-carbon jet fuels are in development, they don’t come cheap, we’re not quite there yet, but stay tuned airline passenger technology is ready for change. Eventually whether by safe non carbon fuels or by battery electric propulsion our entire airline industry will be moving passengers safely without harming our atmosphere. Hope and our future both catch a break.
Even with all our many major technological advances in agriculture there remain many reforms that this sector will need to undertake. Our oceans have been overfished, suitable land for livestock is becoming harder to find, and researchers are making progress on many fronts to help feed our growing world with latest greatest low carbon and less water intense technologies.
Try not to sneer, gripe, grumble or close your mind to the new world you are about to go shopping in. You’ll soon be purchasing real chicken, beef, pork and lamb. If you prefer fish your favorites will be readily available. These products will taste the same as ever, they will not be genetically modified, but they will be grown in manufacturing facilities. And yes, it’s all very real food, the same food you’ve been eating all your life. It’s just going to be grown in a new way.
Once again, these new products will be decentralized, you can set up production facilities nearer to your markets. Like the renewable energy employee these will be skilled jobs and workers will be paid a good wage.
The American West has become smaller and smaller as our population has expanded out into this region. More of our land will be devoted to recreation. Manufacturing meat, fish and poultry facilities only grow meat, we no longer will require slaughterhouses, there won’t be huge feedlots, cesspools will vanish, and best of all pathogens will have a much less target rich environment to launch their misery upon the world.
Consumption of water is radically reduced when compared to raising that same whole animal on a pasture. Same goes for how the land use, figure that would be shrunken down by 90%. What is unknown at this juncture is what specific plants will be needed to create the familiar flavors we are all accustomed to. Researchers in Berkeley, California have been working with different foods, there is also the puzzle of creating a matrix for the cells to grow on, and the synthesizing the enzymes that spark the cells to grow.
Oats, rye, wheat, soybeans, and corn all work, it is the mixture of these foods that produces a palate pleasing flavor. Better still the process converts these food stocks into a final product more efficiently, way more, like instead of 25 pounds of grain to make one pound of meat it is more like 3-4 pounds to make that same one pound.
Estimates vary but you should expect to be buying manufactured meat products at the grocery store in the United States by 2025. If you can’t wait you can fly to Singapore today and enjoy laboratory chicken manufactured by Just Eat.
On the shores of the Salton Sea in California’s Imperial Valley several geothermal power stations are experimenting with removing the naturally occurring lithium from the superheated water used to spin the turbines that make the electricity. Several teams from several different companies plan to begin producing battery grade lithium within the next two years. California is looking for automobile manufacturers that want to come here setup shop. Again, these will be good paying jobs to help propel the local economy because of the water that no longer goes to the Imperial Valley for agriculture, the shortfall in water from the ever less abundant Colorado River will be offset by this new burgeoning electric automobile industry.
This is what the energy transition looks like. We’ve got a fossil fuel system that because of the instability of the price of a barrel of oil keeps sparking wars, recessions and out of control inflation. In this new energy system, the price of wind and sunlight remain the same— economists forecast access to clean affordable energy will help reduce the uncertainty and price spikes that have been all too common in the carbon energy sector.
Our neighborhoods are about to go through a revolutionary transition. Smart meters with two-way communications capabilities will be able to talk to all our battery electric automobiles. In this networked battery storage system, we can move electricity into your connected car or send it off to power some other need on this networked grid. While you are home, and your car is parked its batteries can help keep the grid stabilized.
Heat pumps have been around a long time, they run on electricity, but the appliances of today are many times more efficient than the heat pumps of yesteryear. Whole teams of installers will be busy retrofitting the 100 million homes across the nation to take advantage of this electricity powered appliance. These will be good paying jobs, the work is challenging but socially important and rewarding, getting paid to save our planet will put a smile on a technicians face.
Moore’s Law is our friend. Researchers are developing more efficient electric motors, smaller more powerful and quick to charge batteries, and as we scale this industry up the costs will continue to go down. The price of a lithium battery has decreased by 90% in just this last decade.
Our energy revolution has arrived. I drove our electric car to San Francisco last week, listening to a podcast, engaged the car’s autopilot (it works well enough, not entirely as fully autonomous as imagined), whisked right through toll booths as my transponder tallied my toll up. On the way home prior to arriving I checked my Nest app on my smartphone and engaged the air conditioner to cool the house. Once home I plugged the electric in and the vehicles software will take care of the rest recharging the batteries late at night when load demands are low and rates are cheapest. I don’t suffer range anxiety, make the most of recharging on long trips, and take advantage of stops to take a short walk— about 30 minutes— while the batteries refill before continuing along to my destination. We are already deep into the energy transition, we proven that our renewable energy economy doesn’t have to self-destruct, if we can quicken the pace of change, and the odds are with us, humankind stands a good chance of landing this out of control world on its feet.
Enjoy the ride and relish the hope, we will go further, be happier, and do what we do best, make this a better world.
Federal officials from the Bureau of Reclamation gave Colorado River basin stakeholders until noon hour on August 16th to hash out a new water allocation deal. For the last 62 days water resource managers haggled, horse traded and gridlocked one another into sharing the pain losing access to water can bring.
John Entsminger, general manager of the water authority and Nevada’s top Colorado River negotiator, tried cutting a deal but was unable to get anyone to negotiate. I think his way of explaining the mess was that none of the various stakeholders were making a good faith effort to negotiate, nobody was taking the crisis for what it is, a natural disaster of the first order— I think you’d describe the megadrought as historic.
California’s Imperial Valley and Palo Verde Valley are the systems championship water grabbers in this tragedy of the commons. Nearby Yuma on the Arizona side of the river has got its share of woes too. Parkers and Bullhead City are about to go through a few things and that’s the way it will just have to be.
Back in June Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton told the seven western states to either come up with their own voluntary plan or otherwise Washington would go full draconian on their sorry little stubborn water using souls. That day arrived today.
Commissioner Touton keeps her head down and mouth closed, her job has been to set the terms of the negotiations and then let the states, tribes, and Mexico figure things out. These are the best of the best water management professionals all squeezed cheek to jowl into a Denver hotel meeting room with orders from high on up back in the states to do something, do anything, but for God’s sake the one thing not to do surrender even one drop of their current allocation, get some other stakeholder to take one for their team.
Most of the problem is caused by the deal the seven states cut back in 1922. One hundred years ago during a wetter and cooler weather cycle they divided up the river water like there was and always would be plenty to go around. There have been a few rough patches in the last ten decades but the last two and a half decades, as we’ve entered into the teeth of the climate crisis, nearly one quarter of this past century has seen an ever decreasing less abundant river.
I wouldn’t venture to even begin to explain how complicated the 1922 compact turned out to be, but most experts I follow can barely make even the slightest explanation of the tangled mess without speaking uninterrupted for at the least one hour’s time. With today’s announcement there will be immediate reductions in water deliveries with warnings that in the next 24 months further deeper cuts will need to be taken on top of the current cutbacks.
What we are all about to go through will be different and dependent on whether you live in a city or outside of town in the countryside. Urban and suburban water users use only fraction of all the water that comes down the Colorado River. It is the rural farm and ranch operators that are going to have to change how they do things, in some cases farms and ranches be shutting down altogether selling off their equipment, liquidating livestock and fallowing the land.
Recreation along the river will be impacted and so too will wildlife habitat. Everyone will be paying higher prices for food and water bill’s will be going up. Cheery news indeed. Everyone knows about the hydroelectric power station at Hoover Dam, it is famous and produces a lot of electricity. Most expert forecasts see the power station becoming much less productive as the reduction in water will reduce the power the station can produce.
Fortunate for us the renewable energy systems will be deployed to make up for whatever the 300 hydroelectric stations all up and down the Colorado River basin can no longer reliably produce. What we can’t do is make up for the missing water.
Sure, why not, you’ll read about plans to make desalination plants along the coast of California, maybe pipe water up from the Sea of Cortez, build a desalination plant on the Salton Sea, the processed water would be expensive, too expensive to make sense to use for agriculture. High rollers in Las Vegas might enjoy buying access to this kind of fancy water but the ordinary working stiff is going to use less to keep their water bill down.
Lawyers from the region are preparing to draw up a new compact to replace the framework agreed to in 1922. There is no time and agreements as complex as this will require years, decades— if the basin stakeholders can ever come to terms is uncertain. Nobody wants this to be litigated, but there’s really no way around it, this is an intractable stalemate that will vaporize political careers and trigger untold emotional frustration. If water remains as tight as it is now the negotiations will likely be absurd, incredibly consequential, and result in some of the hardest choices any negotiator has ever attempted to settle. It remains a zero-sum game, if the Imperial Valley gets water some other valley doesn’t get water. The severity of this crisis is of such scale and scope to be unimaginable.
I’ll leave you to chew on this. Alfalfa is grown across the Colorado River basin. Alfalfa is the third largest crop across the United States with corn and soybeans holding the first and second positions. Alfalfa grows best in a hot climate and thrives when you can pour water on a alfalfa field like there is no tomorrow. By comparison corn and soybeans are insignificant in size in the Southwest. Wintertime in Yuma there is a sizable salad growing industry, it is important and where most all of the leafy greens we find in stores is sourced from.
Alfalfa is used by the dairy industry. A milk cow thrives on alfalfa. Then there are foreign markets that buy our alfalfa and growers in the Imperial Valley have discovered they can haul alfalfa out of Long Beach on the cheap by shipping containers back to China and Vietnam. Let’s just not go down the rabbit hole of whether drinking cow’s milk is good for you or not, let’s leave that out of this tangled web for a moment.
An ordinary household with a relatively normal American family, maybe they have a dog, cat even might have a swimming pool will use about 1 acre foot of water to run their house for a year. Now how much water does that farmer need to produce one acre of alfalfa? One acre of alfalfa requires about seven-acre feet of water. You with me still, come on don’t give up so easily. There are millions of acres of alfalfa grown in the Colorado River basin, from the Front Range to the Western Slope, from near Many Farms where the Navajo grow plenty, farms have been growing alfalfa in Central Arizona, it is an important crop, each cut on each acre, on average weights about 6 tons is worth $1500 and in the desert Southwest you can cut that acre up to 10 times per year so long as between each cut you can pour another seven-acre feet of water on that crop while it grows and gets ready to be harvested.
Some alfalfa is grown off underground aquifer water, most of that water is ancient and has accumulated over millions of years, hydrologists are sure this water is going to give out soon enough, can’t pump water out of the ground faster than it accumulates, eventually you are going to be pumping sand, and sooner than an alfalfa grower is willing to believe.
Even if you can imagine growing alfalfa for the local dairymen in the region, and some of our milk does end up being exported too, but even if you can wrap your head around growing alfalfa to make food that ends up on our kitchen table it is hard to imagine that so much of this crop ends up being exported overseas. Estimates are all over the place but right now we appear to be selling about one fifth of all the alfalfa we produce in the Southwest to foreign buyers. And that’s why I want you to forget about alfalfa and start to imagine swimming pools. Imagine millions of swimming pools full of water, I’m talking about a lot of water, enough to fill a reservoir the size of say maybe Lake Powell, you know something like the second largest water reservoir in the United States, one of the largest in the world, imagine all that water being used for swimming pools that end up over in some faraway place. In exchange for all that water a handful of growers are paid somewhere in the vicinity of a grand total of $3 billion dollars. Got that picture in your head now. That’s one hell of a lot of all our water that goes to the benefit of a mere handful of self-appointed over-entitled people.
We’ve got well over 40 million water users in the Colorado River basin that have agreed to let a few thousand alfalfa farmers siphon off most of Colorado River basin water, the water all of us depend on, this is water rightfully belong to all the citizens in these states, this is the people’s water that they are using to make a buck while assuming that this is somehow even remotely some kind of sensible deal.
And now you know what kind of mess all those fancy stakeholders have on their hands back in that hotel in Denver where for the last 62 days not one or another of them could figure out how in the world to untangle this tragedy that has fallen upon our region. Water grabbers are a painful lot, willing to inflict all manner of hell and cruel capitalism upon our natural resources. You can hardly believe our shipping all this water overseas at the expense of the many and to the benefit of a few is a fact, you have to take a moment, you have to stop what you are doing and think this madness through, see the fool crisis plain and naked as the day you were born. Time for change has arrived. We keep going the way we are we won’t call it the Mojave or the Sonoran— we’ll name it in honor of TS Elliott, it’ll be known as the Wasteland.
Half-truth tellers, braggarts, and exaggerators are stealing water from Americans. Take the executive director of this outfit called the Agribusiness and Water Council of Arizona. With millions of acres farmed in Arizona less than half is dedicated to the food that ends up directly on our dinner plate while a whole lot more of the crops that are grown ends up getting stuck inside the mouth of various grass burning barnyard animals that then end up on our kitchen tables. Figure meat and dairy production is worth over $2 billion where lettuce out of Yuma adds up to about $700 million. Add up the market value lemons, cantaloupes and pecans and you are hovering right around $1 billion all in.
This gentleman Chris Udall who runs this water council lobby shop wants everyone to know all about how his organization is just worried to tears about the water used to grow lettuce in Yuma (half the truth) while never once mentioning anything about the hay, dairy and cattle operators (the whole truth). You want to get serious about life you’ll want to get a cowpuncher all worked up over the cost and quality of his romaine lettuce in his Caesar salad. Those boys get off work and they like settling in for whiskey drinking, dingo dog storytelling and when they can some good old-fashioned water thieving and hoodwinking reminiscing of which the 1950’s is best remembered for.
Water resource managers across the Colorado River basin can’t tell nobody nothing, not like they don’t know what the problem is, where the water is going, and what to do about it. You can know it from the top of your head to the tips of your toes, but it is an unspeakable crime to say it out loud. If you are an employed official and say alfalfa into a microphone during a regional water crisis meeting, you are soon to be an unemployed water resources official just as sure as night follows day. Dedicated southwest alfalfa growers will take you and your smart aleck unwelcomed comments out into a field build you a memorial, buy you a gold watch and send you off into early retirement.
We are less than one week away from all hell breaking loose out West where things are not just going to get wild, things are already plenty wild enough, things are about to get full on crazy as a cowpie. Folks in the upper basin states of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico are about to square off against the lower basin states of California, Nevada and you guessed it Arizona.
The head in sand approach to fixing the West’s water shortage problems is about to have a head on collision with this nasty creature known as the megadrought. Anyone and everyone except for perhaps this lobby shop outfit knows there is all kinds of hell and misery heading right toward the good members that they are in the business of representing. There is a lot that needs to get done if we stand any kind of chance of surviving this climate change catastrophe. Let me just give you a little itty-bitty list of possible fixes. Wireless soil moisture meter switches could be one place to begin. Try what is called micro drip irrigation systems is another ready for primetime technology just sitting there asking to be strung on out across the fruited plains of our parched landscape. And damn it there are some souls giving these emerging technologies an honest go gosh try but there’s just too dang many footdraggers and naysayers gumming up the transition to a more enlightened use of our water resources.
I just like the sound of a farmer who has taken the time to laser level his field of melons. Laser leveling should be written into the law same as on—the—level—politicians. If everything was on the level most of our problems would be solved and we could get onto fixing bigger problems until there ain’t nothing left to fix but a cocktail.
Water managers have the most miserable jobs known to civilization. Work in the mortuary business is more fun, at least it is more honest. Every stinking time you think you’ve left some boneheaded water use policy for dead the thing scrambles back to life and goes on the attack again. Advocating for new dams, reservoirs and water pipelines falls from the lips of every trick roper just this side north of the border. Of course, this avoids any discussion of exactly where in the hell any of this non-existent water is going to come from.
What we have is not a water storage problem, what we have is a water use problem. And not to put too fine a point on this water use problem but what we really and truly have is an industry that uses most of all the water that falls from the sky and is threatening to go Medieval on our water resource managers if they don’t get every last single drop to grow whatever the hell they want, and don’t you dare tell them what they can and cannot grow.
Temporary fixes are headed to the Colorado River basin. Senator Krysten Sinema snuck climate emergency drought relief funding into the legislation passed this last weekend. All in there will be $4 billion for the water managers to work with. They’ll be paying out money to have operators fallow their fields. This will forestall the worst of the worst of the damage done by the drought, but it doesn’t do it for long and we’ll be right back in the same corner next summer. If you can’t grab water, might as well grab a few billion that you can use to keep your water grabbing constituents afloat, at least until you can come up with something better.
Water politics is one nasty bit of business. Remember it was a thousand years ago that the Anasazi vanished without a trace. The idea of our modern-day civilization being forced to abandon the Southwestern United States seems inconceivable. What is beginning to shape up is that our drier and hotter climate is making a mess of our economic system, the whole enchilada is breaking down. You can retire to a region in drought, you can go there to be there, but you won’t have enough water resources to do much of anything else. A steady diet of Jack Rabbit isn’t the stuff from which dreams are made of.
All of us detest all the traffic we’re always going nowhere bumper to bumper in. Take half of a small town’s reason for existing away (rural agriculture) and you haven’t got enough left over to even run a drive-thru java joint. So yeah, I’m very worried about the lives of the people that live anywhere near where all this water is no longer going to be available. Whole communities are going to just dry up and blow away, same as a thousand years ago people will have to pick up and move.
The population of Page, Arizona sits right at 7,487. The citizen in faraway Phoenix might depend on the same water but they can’t walk out their back door and look off into the distance and actually see the megadrought and the water missing from the nations second largest reservoir. Some vendors have provided houseboats for tourists coming for holiday. That’s not looking like an industry with a lot of upside, in fact I’d say that many of the larger houseboats will be too big to move and will end up being cut up for scrap. Liquidation takes a toll on hope. Imagine getting out of the alfalfa growing business altogether and sending all that water down the Colorado River. Sometimes we pretend like we’re not picking winners and losers, but that’s really what is on view here. That’s the plain truth. Everything and everybody depends on water for one thing or another to do with their ability to exist and thrive. It isn’t like we won’t inhabit such places like Page, there will be people, but the next generation will be here living and working in ways our modern day water managers dare not even speak of. This new century could use a reboot and a do-over, failing that we are likely to see wholesale changes in what we do for work and how we grow the food that makes its way to our kitchen tables. Next week change takes a first tentative step in that direction.
A down on his luck husband from Winnemucca, Nevada had been drinking hard, there were words, he got into a quarrel with his wife took her outside and shot her and his son dead. An all-points bulletin went out for a man by the name of Ty Victor Albisu, the Highway Patrol believed the murderer to be armed and dangerous, the suspect was seen headed north on Highway 95 toward the border, the Paiute Shoshone town of McDermitt is there. A day later, it was on the Solstice this past June, longest day of the year, when the suspect was found ten miles off the main highway out a dirt two track road, the Winnemucca husband and father was dead in his car of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
There was nothing suspicious. Appears a defective propane heater caused the fire. Two Winnemucca men were pronounced dead at the scene. This was March of this year.
Last year Winnemucca City Council denied a license to a vendor that wanted to open both a dispensary and cannabis consumption lounge. Dispensary was approved the lounge part of the permit was turned down. No problem, this is Nevada there are work arounds.
In 2017 Nevada’s Tribal Marijuana Compact was passed by legislature in Carson City. There were some questions about what Nevada’s tribes could or could not do and this new law settled those concerned with keeping Nevada in the business of catering to whatever a human being might want, need or desire. Just so happens that right there in the heart of Winnemucca is located Indian land, the term of art is colony. With the expert guidance of Tribal Cannabis Consulting the tribe opened a drive-thru dispensary, cannabis café and consumption lounge. Quinn River Farms out of McDermitt was licensed and provides product for this Winnemucca dispensary. That’s how things get done in Nevada. You really do need to reconsider moving here.
The Winner’s Inn Casino and Hotel is a 2-minute walk from Winnemucca Convention Center, 7-minute walk to the Amtrak station and about a one-minute ride in a getaway car to the interstate. One time while passing through on the interstate I’d gone in for a late afternoon dinner, the Winner’s Inn was known for serving the best prime rib in Humboldt County, by coincidence we were treated to an official weigh-in for a prize fight scheduled to take place that evening at the convention center. The two game faced boxers removed their robes and stepped on the scales. The weight of each fighter was officially announced then recorded by prize fighting officials, these were a gallery of men all had the look of citizens with priors, they had the suspicious demeanor of a perpetrator that knew too much and were under the bosses orders to keep their mouths shut. One fighter seemed to have struggled to make the official weight, the boxer was whisked away, the trainer knew his kid needed a meal and fast before his legs went out from under him.
Life is writ large in the 7th largest state in the Union. To get some idea of its size if you were to take off by car from a casino south in Laughlin and go north to a gas station in McDermitt that drive would be the equivalent of traveling from Atlanta to Washington DC.
Civilization is tenuous in Nevada, the potential for weakness of appetite haunts Nevadans, it is too common to find yourself overcome by the solitude and Great Basin abyss, you’ll end up going feral, you’ll end up running with coyotes, roaming with mustang, bagging a bull elk out of season, it’s all too sure the tempting pull into lawlessness is endemic.
Detective Matthew Morgan working with the Winnemucca Sheriff’s Department died on June 25, 2020— the cause of death— an overdose of fentanyl and methamphetamine. Everything is in play here in the Great Basin— the brothels, the crap tables, the mob bribes, booze and tobacco, these are self-indulgent Nevadan behaviors, a native son can’t see vice as a human flaw.
There are 17,000 living in Humboldt County, Nevada. Most live in Winnemucca. Up in McDermitt there are 400 Paiute Shoshone living on 19,000 acres. The tribal members live along the Quinn River.
South of McDermitt is located the Quinn River Valley farmlands. Hay and alfalfa are irrigated. Paradise Valley to the east also is hay farming land. Then, over to the west is Kings River Valley where there is also hay farming. Humboldt County exports most of the hay to California and Idaho, tallied up all this hay is worth about $135 million.
Paiute Shoshone tribal members find some work on the farms, most don’t find any work at all. You are an eighty-mile drive back to Winnemucca if you live in McDermitt. Gasoline for a roundtrip in a pickup truck, that’s got to take 10 gallons of fuel, figure $40 just to go to town for groceries.
The Montana Mountains separate Quinn River Valley and the Kings River Valley. The road running east to west between the two valleys runs through Thacker Pass. Lithium has been discovered up on this mountain, science identifies the geology of this spot a caldera. To halt its development the Paiute Shoshone in McDermitt have claimed that in 1865 members of their tribe were massacred there by soldiers from the United States Army and that the mine would desecrate the land their ancestors died on.
There is no evidence the massacre was fought on this ground. There is just too little information. It is just as probable that the massacre took place on nearby hayfields, fields that have been plowed and harvested for most of a century. If you dig a little further into the issue what comes to light is that not all 400 tribal citizens in McDermitt are of the same opinion about the development of the lithium mine. Some portion of the tribe see the opportunity of finding a good paying job in a place where few if any have been available. To that end courses at the community college in Winnemucca that prepare a student for work in the mining industry are available and the new mining company has already promised to make a priority of employing the Paiute Shoshone.
Hay farm operations will need to reckon with the changes the mine will bring to Northern Humboldt County. Maybe a century ago it made sense to allocate 90% of all the water up here to hay growers, but it is time to recalibrate, we don’t travel by horseback, more and more people don’t drink milk, and exporting the hay to markets in other states is essentially exporting all the available public water for the benefit of a handful of private growers. Anytime one industry is found to be using most of the water from one watershed it is going to turn out that one day that deal is going to need changing. The world’s climate emergency has arrived, and that time for a new bargain has come.
Environmental organizations have been opposed to the Thacker Pass lithium mine. They can’t be faulted entirely, the history of mining companies operating responsibly is not promising. The mining company out of Vancouver, British Columbia has submitted plans and its permit has been issued. Lithium America’s offices are in Reno. Trucks will take the lithium to Winnemucca where Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway will then ship the metal to nearby manufacturing facilities. Tesla, Ford and General Motors all have built or are building enormous battery manufacturing facilities, some are here in Nevada others as far away as Michigan and Tennessee.
The fight between forces for climate action and environmental justice will continue. Hay growers in Northern Humboldt County, Nevada will have to surrender some of the water they’ve been using. In a resource constrained world some compromise to what we grow and how we eat are going to be necessary if we are going to avoid incinerating humanity into extinction, we need to try something.
The Paiute Shoshone people have proven to be responsible stewards of the land they first settle on 15,000 years ago. Lithium America would do well and be wise to seek the tribes help. Our first people lived here and in balance with the natural world for all these many thousands of years, it is not by accident, it happened by a people that had the wisdom to listen to the earth, to understand her limits. In this crazy world you would be hard pressed to imagine that in this most remote unpopulated northernmost corner of Nevada that our first people would be called upon once again, after the Indian Wars of the 1860’s, after signing the peace treaty, after agreeing to surrender vast swaths of their land, that having done all of that, that now the climate emergency would come near two centuries later to ask for further sacrifice, and that it is the Paiute Shoshone, the hay growers, environmental organizations and the mining company that through cooperation, mutual assistance, that all of these various stakeholders are going to make this all work.
Now this Bobby Garza character, back south down in Winnemucca last month ran into trouble when he was caught trying to use a stolen credit card, sheriff while attempting to arrest the 37-year-old suspect got into quite a scrap. Like so many Nevada men he has got some history with the courts and is likely to be put back into the gray rock hotel for a spell. By the time he gets out the lithium mine should be up and operating and with luck and sincere rehabilitation it is one of those 600 good paying jobs this ex-con might hope to land.
Nothing about rural Nevada changes, it remains remote and empty, most what you’ll find is the truth of what you truly are, friend or foe, good or bad, often you’ll live by the pursuit of vice, a few odd characters take the riskier path and try their luck with virtue. That’s just less common out here, no man of appetite and excess is wired up to behave problem free, that is just not in the nature of the animal, and once you’re out in Nevada you need to understand yourself, look into that image in the mirror and see that you have limits and boundaries to all that goodness locked up inside that human heart you have been given. Plenty come here to whet their appetite and uncage their spirit, but most are satisfied after a lost weekend to return to where they make their home and fend off such feverish temptations. Most of us are wiser for this, Nevada can be tough as a stubborn burro, even the good souls have to fend off the demon temptation to go bad.
If you are living in San Francisco, don’t have a car, rent an apartment, don’t have a garden, haven’t got out on a road trip, then it is likely the 20-year drought gripping the American West may well have gone unnoticed. If on the other hand you are Max Gomberg the Director over at the California States Water Resources Control Board your time has run out. Gomberg just quit.
Lake Shasta was completed in 1945 and filled for the first time in 1948. As of July, this year Lake Shasta is filled to 38% of capacity. The two other lowest measurements occurred in 1992 and 1977. The landmark Northern California reservoir isn’t a stranger to the problem of inadequate rain and snowfall, it is the problem that keeps on keeping on.
Lake Shasta feeds the Sacramento River, the water appears to the unaided eye to be flowing, but the water is hotter and threatening the salmon runs and by threatening I mean extinction, like you know it’s over. Scientists have responded and have diverted water that would have been used for irrigation to reduce water temperatures in the river so that the salmon may survive. The Federal Bureau of Reclamation because of the drought has had to zero out water deliveries to the agricultural operators all up and down the Central Valley, from Redding to Bakersfield.
Governor Gavin Newsom’s administration has just released a scaled back version of a new piece of Sacramento Delta plumbing that is going to go exactly nowhere, I think of this proposal as a way of placating agricultural interests struggling to find water south of the Delta, as the saying goes this tunnel has as much a chance of passing as a snowballs chance in hell.
Much of what happens to the political careers in Sacramento are the result of keeping key constituencies flush with water. Talk of saving salmon isn’t even half the problem, saltwater intruding up into the Delta risks contaminating the drinking water of millions of Northern Californians. The scale of such a catastrophic drinking water crisis is the King Kong of water disasters, the only special interests pretending that cutting off the drinking water to 4 to 8 million people are a few hundred farmers that stand to profit from such a calamity. The Army Corp of Engineers rates this potential disaster as potentially the worst infrastructure crisis facing the nation.
Here’s the thing Gomberg wants us all to know and no politician dares to say out loud. The days of growing whatever the hell you want are about to come to an end. Millions of acres are going to be fallowed, water thirsty crops are going to go the way of the dodo bird, and if you don’t like it well that’s just too damn bad buckaroo—
I traveled through New Mexico during April. Historic wildfires intentionally started by the United States Forest Service have burned hundreds of thousands of acres near Santa Fe and Las Vegas. For the first time in decades the Rio Grande is set to completely dry up as it passes through Albuquerque. Further downriver at New Mexico’s Elephant Butte Reservoir this key piece water storage infrastructure is at just 10% of capacity. Veteran high-country hikers are reporting conditions so severe that this spring aspen trees have not leafed out and appear to be dead or dying as the alpine ecosystem is nearing irreversible collapse.
What individual published pictures do is give us just one piece of a global climate crisis that is overtaking life on earth. From the snow on top of the Rocky Mountains, the runoff we see in the Colorado River, to the missing water that no longer fills Lake Powell— all are part of a complex plumbing system that have run out of time and are about to cause the mother of all water manager problems.
Utah’s Great Salt Lake has shrunk by 2/3rds exposing its salty sandy lake bottom to winds that threaten to scatter heavy-metal laden dust storms east where local Utah citizens will be at risk of illness and death if exposed to such air pollution. The circumstances are so serious the state legislature has funded a feasibility study to pump Pacific Ocean water from California 600 miles overland where the salt water will be used to restore the Great Salt Lake to its original level.
The same multi-billion-dollar emergency efforts are underway in Southern California’s Salton Sea where both the United States and Mexico are studying whether a pipeline from the Sea of Cortez can be built to save Imperial County residents from the same kind of dangerous toxic airborne dust.
The climate crisis is getting hard to ignore, most now say it is impossible. The wildfire in Yosemite, the Oak Fire has already consumed 19,000 acres, forced 3000 to evacuate and destroyed 41 structures. Smoke is moving both north and to the west, the California Air Resources Board has issued warnings to reduce outdoor activities in the San Francisco Bay Area. Pets, children and adults are advised to remain inside. This is now a regular feature of our summers here.
Making matters ever more complicated is the Army Corp of Engineers rushing plans to fortify coastline, skilled scientists at the agency are now recommending regions to prepare to strategically retreat from rising sea levels or in select regions of our coast where urban population is high, they are initiating plans to build multi-billion-dollar sea walls. The costs are staggering.
About 30 million people are living in Albuquerque, Tucson, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco. This group of urban and suburban citizens are our residential water users. For the moment the concerns of this group include having access to water for swimming pools, watering lawns and washing dishes, laundry and flushing toilets.
The same is not true of Rio Verde Foothill residents living near Scottsdale, Arizona. Having opted out of incorporating into the city limits of Scottsdale in the shortsighted effort of keeping their taxes lower the residents have been cut out of access to Scottsdale’s municipal water system. Instead, citizens in Rio Verde have resorted to punching wells nearly 1000 feet deep, at that depth a water well can cost a minimum of $40,000. Now those efforts have turned into a giant crap shoot. It is more common than not to punch a dry hole than to find water, and punching wells isn’t contingent on finding water, you pay to play whether the driller finds water or not. With hat in hand the 2000 plus homeowners have found water 110 miles east in the Harquahala Valley purchasing groundwater that is then hauled at great expense by truck to fill the cisterns in their Rio Verde Foothills homes. As you might imagine this has not done a thing for their property values or politics. Some of Arizona’s most conservative libertarians are mad as Wyatt Earp losing a poker hand to Doc Holiday.
If you start sticking your nose around the rural American West, you’ll find some communities that still have access to drinking water. Ajo, Arizona south of Gila Bend and adjacent to the Barry Goldwater Air Force Test Range is one such community. If you live in town on 5 acres or less the local Ajo Water District will hook you up, but there are rules and water is carefully regulated for residential use only. Local farms and ranches enjoy no such access. Some have drilled wells, but water is found deep if found at all and pumping it to the surface can be prohibitively expensive, it’s the equivalent of spending $10 to grow a $1.00 carrot. You get the idea.
Urban and suburban citizens are unaware of the mounting crisis rural farm and ranch operators are facing. Millions of acres that have depended on subsidized Bureau of Reclamation water are being cutoff, there is no water to allocate. Some farmers are trying their best to adapt, other farmers are confronting the reality that the only crop they’ve ever grown is the only crop they know how to grow and at this stage in their lives it is too late to start all over again. The cost of feed has spiked, and livestock operators are hauling their herds to auction zeroing out their operations.
Was once a time when a farm or ranch operator awarded hard work with a living wage. A farmer could afford a new pickup truck, pay his debts down and put a little something away for the future. Businesses on Main Street in such rural communities could sell seed and feed, tractors and other farm implements and the whole virtuous economic cycle could keep our rural communities afloat.
Because of the megadrought many rural communities are being tipped into recession or worse. In this urban/suburban versus rural drought emergency climate change has brought our farms and ranches to the brink. “There ain’t nothing but no good lousy stinking big rocks and hard times for as far as an eye can see—”
Olive orchard growers in Northern California once flooded their fields, but scientists cracked the olive tree code and state of the art is now to use drip irrigate, and the olive trees are only watered when a specific moisture content measurement triggers a radio signal to the switching equipment that turns the drip irrigation system on and off. Drought tolerant the olive trees thrive when the miserly drip irrigation technique is utilized. As is true of every kind of enterprise there are winners and losers, good moves and not so good adaptations. We’ve only scratched the surface of agriculture’s reconfiguring production in a water scarce world
Pecans in New Mexico are a more complicated story. So are the almond, pistachio and walnut crops of California.
It isn’t just this year’s wildfire, drought or loss of water for agriculture that we fear, it is the possible permanent climate emergency that has our water managers terrified. So far, we’ve set policy by extending and pretending, our stakeholders continue to hope forests will become more resilient and less fire prone, the term of art is thinning and culling. Meteorologists keep hope alive and are desperate to report that the rain will return, that the drought will break, that our farms and ranches will return to business as usual.
Decommissioning coal, natural gas and nuclear power stations turns out to be harder to do than we might have imagined, many of these legacy industries have organized and are fighting back. Our changing world is colliding with our unchanging minds. We have turned not giving up on its head, and instead of making the necessary changes there are fossil fuel interests that insist there is nothing that any of us can do, that we can’t change, and the world would be foolish to even try. This Gomberg guy from California’s State Water Board has had it with this conspiracy of naysayer’s intransience.
What is so absurd is that scientists have already invented all the necessary technology to get the world off its carbon addiction. It isn’t like we don’t have the tools so much as we haven’t yet summoned the will to do the hard work.
Looking for a hopeful sign it might well have happened this week. Democratic Party Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced that he has secured the vote of Joe Manchin and apparently the United States is on the brink of passing the most ambitious climate emergency bill to ever make its way to this or any President’s desk for his signature. Now that is some serious never give up and not taking no for an answer. When it comes to a brawl this Biden guy can take one hell of a punch, answer the bell and still win the fight. Now come November all we have to do is vote like our lives depend upon it because in fact the whole ball of wax is going to be on that ballot. Friends, this is what flirting with end times looks like. One hell of fix we’re all in. When it’s all said and done, just me I suppose, but I say we’ll make it, just barely, but as the big boss Warren Buffet has said, “It’s never paid to bet against America.”
Summertime has always had a soundtrack. The really best summer’s you’ll see by sunrise when coming back from an all-nighter. Slightly buzzed the lack of sleep aches in your body, eyes hurt, you’ll collapse but sleep fitfully, you haven’t stayed in bed until 2 in the afternoon since forever— and now you’re all out of sync, tomorrow is already ruined, but not that all-nighter, that one will live forever, you bet the house on that one, you bet the best on that howler of a time.
Image a teen club. The club from my town during summers operated out of the cafeteria hall at the high school. My pack of jackknifes, looters and thieves would bike over after stopping to play in the ditch with pollywogs. This all brewed until ready mob, we’d meet up and rot in one of our bedrooms until we couldn’t stand the smell of our adolescence any longer— we gotta get out of this place if it’s the last thing we ever do— that was gospel, our blues, a pack of troublemakers anthem.
Peak summer experiences have no roadmap, there is a sense of arrival, there’s no telling for sure how to find your way— in some instances it is place— the harbor at Avalon aboard our sloop, midnight dancing cheek to cheek with a bikini clad heartthrob in a scorching Scottsdale, with the old man at dusk trout fishing on the banks of the Trinity River, Boston’s Beacon Hill on the Fourth of July listening to Fiedler and the Boston Pops with real canon fire synced to the Overture of 1812. The glory of season is a cherry tree in a yard along the Puget Sound, a lost weekend on Shelter Island in San Diego, ballroom dancing on Nob Hill at La Colonial until closing time, then after hours at Baker Beach, then sleeping all day until dinner hour and audaciously getting a shower putting on your best threads, raring to go and to do it all over and over again. A proper summer rave requires you have a touch of madness in your blood, you are out of control, nothing can stop you, you will taste the sweet scent of summer, savor this delight, store it up in your heart, let the light give you peace and hope for more, then more still, there can never be enough deli trays, summer is too rare and too much the showstopper in your life. This is the standing ovation as season.
One long lost summer ago there was a trip in my ’39 Chevy to Tahoe, Yosemite and Big Sur. The great grand circle, my partner in crime Ralph Rose, long since passed from bone cancer, when we were still not yet out of our teens. Every day of that grand expedition was based upon a pair of aces standing at the end of their adolescence knocking on the door of the opening chapter to their adult life. What a send off that summer was. We returned changed by that summer.
Sprawled out on our backs with a stoned throng in British Columbia lost deep in the Kootenay’s along the banks of the Slocan mesmerized by the Northern Lights, then moon ring, then lightning, then satellite track, then full moon, then fog bank, then we decided, all of us committed to the one and the same eye-witnessed proposition, that by all in attendance none had seen a more phenomenal sky— ever— that night sky was a glory.
There was dinner for two at Jack’s— this a classic fine dining joint on Sacramento in San Francisco. First opened in 1863 frequented by Mark Twain, Clark Gable and Cary Grant— all and many more famous and celebrated enjoyed dinner for two at this fabled white linen establishment. The summer of 1980 I would have dinner for two at Jack’s, and since I was a street performer I paid my bill with a stack of one dollar bills— the staff all promised to come down to the wharf to see my show— they meant it at the time even if they never showed for my act. That evening a woman from London accompanied me to dinner, her name was Marigo, she was privileged and pampered and she was fond of this street performer. Together we went out on the town— it was a near miss that summer night, we came close to never being seen again, lost in the after hours, somewhere out there on the sidewalks, gallivanting by whim and wonder. It was a rare and spellbound summer night. Whatever magic means there was some of its mystery in the night air.
The best of my life has been found working during the hot days of summer. The street act was designed to take advantage of this season. Warm weather in the shade if there was sun, if it was too hot we do shows at night, always in shirts, shorts, skirts and sandals. Summertime was for fat hats and squirreling away a nut to make it through next winter. By spring you could see you might make it, that the season you love most is near at hand, that soon you’ll be dancing with her, stealing her charm, touched by her heartwarming light touching the skin on your face.
Like you I can remember the songs, the parties, the people. I remember sleeping under trees. I can remember wishing for more days like these. There’s still more, still more summer to spend and no time to lose. Be quick my friends these chances are short and misjudgment the thief can steal your chance in a flash. Today I’m planting my parasol in the sand. I’ve a book to read and a swim to take, and forgive the harmless glance at the bikini clad women and all the pleasures that come in the simplicity of enjoying such natural beauty— and appreciate that there are those who are so willing to share a simple pleasing passing feminine line and curve, a bit of the sublime, rumor has it that the bikini and martini are equally intoxicating— beauty on a beach is peak summertime fun.
North of Yreka the Klamath River passes beneath Interstate 5 while flowing west through the Siskiyou’s to the Pacific Ocean. Over the last two decades the megadrought has pummeled the region. For 13 of the last 20 years the governors of Oregon have declared a drought emergency east of where I am standing in the Klamath Basin. Fish runs are going extinct, farm fields are left fallow, and ranchers livestock have been sold off. Last years fire season was record setting, the Bootleg Fire one of Southern Oregons all time biggest, resulted in the nearby Klamath Basin forests being severely damaged, the intensity of the regional 1 million acres burned leaves one to see the region in an almost Biblical end times sense. Nothing about this new century resembles the serenity, peace and productivity of the last century. The global climate emergency has battered this region with a procession of no rain, low humidity and ever higher temperatures.
This morning I’m looking out upon the Klamath and I see a benign and otherwise unremarkable river— nothing appears amiss. To my eye the water appears neither too high or too low. But, this visual observation does not account for the fallibility of the mind’s inability to size what we see to the scale necessary to arrive at a workable fact. If you’ve ever driven across California’s Mojave Desert while cresting one mountain you’ll see a valley before you then another mountain range in the distance. Guessing how far it is in miles to the crest of the other an observer tends to find their best guess can be off by miles— you’ll guess 20 then discover that next mountain range is 50 miles off in the distance. Scale, time and distance can play tricks on us.
Up and down the Klamath River fishermen, farmers and ranchers attempt to read the river, estimate its resource, try to predict by Farmer’s Almanac the appearance of La Niña, and way too many of the stakeholders misjudge the bounty of the river. That is the nature of a hope and dream, giving up on a life you’ve made, handed down to you by a self sufficient mother and father goes against our own inner nature. People do not give up so easily.
The hard times have come to the Klamath, one piece of the challenge has to do with 200,000 irrigated acres up on the Klamath Basin. These are hard facts to swallow, folk in Southern Oregon have held out hope, if it would only just start to rain again.
Circumstances on the much larger Colorado River touch the lives of 40 million people and as many as 50 million acres of farmland. You’d still need another 800,000 acres to get to your first million acres in the Klamath Basin and you’d still be shy of the unfolding crisis further south on the Colorado River. If you read about the drought that has gripped the American West it is on these smaller watersheds where journalists focus, where the size, scale and scope of the tragedy remains imaginable. The unfolding disaster on the Colorado River, the crisis taking hold on Lake Powell and Lake Mead overwhelm, the immensity of the problem is astronomical. The Klamath River is the same drought driven tragedy scaled to be approached by the concerned mind of a citizen giving the regional crisis thoughtful time and consideration.
A man or woman that works land for hay or row crop will be hard pressed to accept their land being removed from production. Putting aside all the variety of options, to grow a less water thirsty crop, to only grow food destined for the kitchen table, rolling back and then eliminating livestock— these possible solutions are so far inconceivable compromises to the changes this region faces. What the Department of Agriculture and Bureau of Reclamation have been doing is waiting, hoping against hope that it will rain again. Stopgap measures like paying farmers a stipend for a crop they don’t grow, then compensating them for water that is no longer available only kicks the can down the road, puts off for another year the hard decisions, allowing time for reality to sink into the minds of those still desperate to hold on. We’ve done pretty near darn everything but what needs to be done— this first kind of suffering is about trying to survive the next kind is the pain of letting go.
Eats a man or woman’s heart out to near dust in the Klamath Basin remembering the old days, back when irrigation ditches ran full and crops yielded commodities for market measured to the hilt. Some folk drive north to see family or farming friends. They’ll get out of the drought and circumstances faced up there are different, there’s water still, not near enough, but that’s in the educated eye of a scientist, to the Klamath Basin farmer it appears the region north is drowning in water abundance.
Just prior to my arriving at the Klamath River we’d driven past Lake Shasta, the reservoir is 1/3 full, you can see the situation with your own eyes, it’s right there, and hard to take. Most of what is happening in the Klamath Basin happens by no-see-um water, this is groundwater, sometimes they’ll describe the aquifer as a water bank, but that only makes the challenge that much harder— the basin’s water is getting drawn down, the underground water is running out, there is no bank where things are being saved, things are getting close to empty. Sometimes the big operators drill deeper and pump more water with larger pumps, but that only forces the water level lower and smaller operators wells go dry and the misery and bankruptcies only make matters more heartbreaking.
There is no changing minds when a well runs dry. Telling your neighbor there has got to be water same as there ever was, same as there always will be won’t get you one more drop when a drought turns a working farm into a dustbowl. Foreclosures return the waterless land to banks. When money is available the government buys the depleted land back. If you are out hunting for prosperous future for you and yours you’ll want to reconsider if your plan is farming and ranching along the Klamath. Odds have run out up here.
The United States has signed and senate ratified treaty obligations with the tribes that live along the Klamath. The tribal narrative is complex, no two tribes fate is the same. America’s first people live on land that has been reserved for their people for all time. When we entered into these agreements the United States by law transferred water rights to the tribes so that they would have enough water to guarantee their land would be workable. Ninety percent of the tribal lands were surrendered with the promise by the United States that the 10% the Native Americans would be confined to would be by deed and force of law receive enough water to make their ancestral homelands viable. Imagine life 150 years ago and being forced to give up 9 out of every 10 acres of your own land and now all these decades later having some agent from the government deciding that circumstances have changed you can keep the land but they want the water they promised back.
The Klamath Basin and Klamath Falls are distinct tales of two fated pieces of the same place. Oregon Institute of Technology is an important player in this economy. Still, the surrounding agricultural activities have been the most important part of what happens here. Sailing friend has retired here with his wife and family. There is a good hospital here. The drought crisis reverberates up and down Main Street. Retail businesses are all impacted. Klamath Falls won’t collapse but opportunity is hollowed out, there are easier places to build a life, here is going to be defined by hardship until the transition to new economy is complete.
Here is a glimmer of hope and a likely path out of the crisis here in the Klamath Basin. The economy will need to be reimagined and account for every last drop of water allocated to each and every stakeholder. Farmers and ranchers will be fewer, where land can be removed from production agencies will expedite such acquisitions, where crops are grown they’ll need to pass a test to be sure they do not use too much water and that what water is used is delivered with the latest high technology irrigation equipment. Such industries as deep well geothermal power plants need to be considered. More citizens that can work remotely need to be recruited to the region. We’ll want to get the community involved with the development of laboratory meat industry and see if local agencies can attract new industries to the region. What logging that is done should be scaled to pay a living wage and the cutting of logs should be done selectively not by clear cut. I’m especially partial to horse-logging and a team of horses and a skilled woodsman can do wonders for a community both economically and emotionally. Horse-loggers are some of the happiest of all the variety of woodmen I know. Logs shouldn’t be shipped out without milling. Better still would be to have local labor use the lumber to build prefabricated trusses and walls for modular homes. It’s estimated California needs to build between 3 to 5 million new homes to meet the demand of a growing population and it is up here in the Klamath that imagineers, investors and entrepreneurs need to focus their talents. Our climate emergency is moving faster than forecast. Time is of the essence and the scale of these changes touch the lives of all of us.
The fate of every outpost in the American West is bound by water. The Klamath has been a dream killer— an out late with the boys and never came home— a hope for something more than what one river can provide. Here is the searing edge of the limits to what is possible. Mother Nature and human nature have squared off— the limits to what is possible have landed square in the heart of the climate emergency— this painful fate is local the cure for its problems global. Easy answers are none, the hard work to a better world is everything—
Add bears that can open car doors to the good reasons you may have for being sure you keep your car locked. Consider yourself warned. Hardboiled type outdoorsman I am only casually acquainted with is prepping his Sprinter van for expeditionary holiday north to Alaska. Bears up near Lake Tahoe have been testing his preparations.
Too many expeditionary types pack rifles or large caliber handguns. My experience suggests its bug spray you’ll need. Mosquitos in Alaska, Yukon and Northwest Territories make for a memorable misadventure. Expert Arctic Circle types I know swear the best way to beat the bugs is get there before they hatch and leave before they are organized into a posse and come looking for your sorry carcass. Basically, by Memorial Day think of getting south— summers are overrated.
Late in the day atop Rogers Pass in British Columbia I took a space in a provincial park campground. All in all, I had a terrific false sense of security. I was between dates for shows traveling from Edmonton to Whistler. Dinner was prepared and plates were cleaned and put away. There was a horrendous commotion in the hours before dawn. I heard horns honking, people yelling, I didn’t know what to do I was asleep on my bunk beneath my camper shell in the back of my pickup truck. At dawn I walked the campground and found the side of a huge self-contained camper had been attacked by a bear. It must have been corn fed, it was a whopping big animal. The bear clawed off the side of the camper like a sardine can. In its voracious search of food, the contents of the camper were strewn across most of British Columbia. The campers had fled, and it would be a few hours before they arrived with a ranger to assess the natural disaster.
I have since heard it advised if you are traveling in bear country to mount a powerful air powered horn in your vehicle and to arm it with a motion detector that will trigger its blast should the vehicle begin to be broken into. Isn’t that a great idea— you want to play around grizzly bears you had best come prepared to play to win.
The world’s largest particle collider, the Hadron Collider, the very same device that had a decade ago discovered the famous— so called God Particle— is in France and is at it again— looking for things no particle research scientist has ever seen, only this time the beam they’re using is many times more powerful than the beam used in their last experiment. Which begs the question if indeed it was a God Particle that was discovered back then perhaps this next discovery would be the particle that created the God Particle’s Super-Duper Particle of All Particles right? The first most obvious question we’ll want an answer to the question nobody has yet thought to ask— is it theoretically possible that science will ever get to the bottom of this mystery— what if there is no master particle. What if it was a one off, you know entirely spontaneous, that somehow the Universe simply stumbled upon the singularity and for at least the next 30 billion years the cosmos will continue to expand until it reverses direction and the entire thing collapses back into and upon itself where it will wait in dormancy for another spontaneous spark that triggers the whole dance again and again— think an infinite number of universes that all happen one at a time— we are talking the largest feedback loop in the history of everything under this and all suns. Insurance coverage by State Farm is available— I’m sure.
For sure conspiratorial excess we need to shift our attention and quantum physical theory of dark matter to the East Coast of the United States. Something or someone blew up the Georgia Guidestones this week— I’m betting it was someone, others suspect it may have been spontaneous much like the creation of the universe— come on man, work with me. This theory goes it was spontaneous and the result of the tiny particles unleashed by the Hadron Collider that did it. Maybe the particles zipped through and around the globe entered the delicate tissue of an unsuspecting victim that then directed the suspect to go to the monument and detonate an improvised explosive device. I think I know a sports bar where such victims are currently well-oiled and long past the point of no return.
I’m just a plain talking ordinary California native really. I do not tend to allow my feet to leave the ground, flights of fancy are taken in rare instances but usually I remain tethered to something solid, something reliable, that I can count on, that will be there for me, and then I can show up and I can be there too. I like to agree with other people. If I see a car, and then say it’s a car and someone agrees with me I take that as a place to start from, we can agree on that much, from there we can proceed.
I’m chasing down a thermal gremlin aboard the boat. Turns out that my engine compartment came installed with ducting plumbed to both bring in and take out fresh air and that without this flow the engine compartment heats up and the engine then runs too hot setting off the alarm and then I must shut off the engine. None of this is visible, I like to see it so I may say I can believe it. In this case my weapon of choice is a thermal heat gun that I can use to take the engines temperature.
If for example you have ever been in love, really fallen head over heels for someone, then you know as we all know that there is no surefire method of knowing if it is the real thing, will it last or will it go away, is it the real McCoy or some kind of mirage, an illusion, a little trick your heart is playing on you, and someone please tell me exactly how in the hell it is the heart and not the head or some other extraneous body part leading us around by love’s nose—
One more example. What goes on behind closed doors stays behind those doors. I’m good with that, but I’m wondering how it is we all seem to know so little or way too much about such human behavior. I guess we all must be doing it much the same as others are doing it. What if you are an outlier, what if your way of doing isn’t remotely like the way you imagine the vast overwhelming others are doing it. I’d like to think we’re all doing basically the same thing within the margins of error. I’m not sure we can be sure.
Still, I wonder if we can know. What if you are a true inventor, an originalist, a creator, a titan of imagination, a veritable carnal astronaut, the kind that is willing to journey to furthest reaches of the known explored physical boundaries of humankind.
It is not knowable, you know that right— we think we might know but we don’t, do we— what we can pin down and know for certain is written down on a short list. Entering a darkened room with a heart filled with phantoms you can only see ghosts and shadows of, that cannot be proven to be true, or even know if they are mere mental fictions you’ve manufactured and then you go into this odd chamber one on one, and what can any of us truly know, when we unlock the fun lover and love seeker in our heart that has suddenly to be found not located in our instincts, I’d like to believe they are coded instructions from genes, and everything you need to know is quite suddenly located— and we know we’re where we are supposed to be because it feels right, consensual and fulfilling.
Never mind that most of us don’t tape these affairs, there are no still photographs, no vocal recordings to consider erasing. We’ve spent our lives left to wonder. I suppose if you have a kid or two, you’ll take some satisfaction knowing some part of the project worked out. I’m happy most of what I’ve done for fun was in a dark room with my eyes closed. Imagine you were always on a movie set, there was always a crew there, your co-star is ready to shoot the scene, and you’ve got all this pressure on you, this new movie has got to be the best. If I’m thankful for anything this would be as a good a place to start as any. I’m thankful I don’t have to shoot a love scene, all these rehearsals have been hard enough.
Forces in the Universe seem to have come untethered. Every nook and cranny packed with fascists and their misguided sympathizers, our scrimmaging is misbegotten, discourse is unbearable, burdened with a despairing lack of civic imagination.
California isn’t the same place The Mamas and the Papas sang about at the Monterey Pops Festival— 1967 is long gone— that loving feeling has been lost, civility has vanished into rear view mirror. Whatever phase our imperfect world was in then is not the world we face now.
There is no consensus, there’s no mainstream, there is no functionally productive counterculture, there are various factions, these different groups dismiss the legitimacy of all the other groups. Hell, Nancy Pelosi had to go to all the way to prove her point— she had to go to the Vatican to receive the sacrament from the Pope himself because all his disobedient bishops in America wouldn’t allow Madam Speaker to set foot in their churches because of her position on abortion. Disobedience by Bishops in the Catholic Church takes hypocrisy to everlasting heights of pure contradiction.
My contacts in the Navajo Nation all point at the outrage-du-jour and remind non-indigenous citizens that stripping away rights, resources and property that Americans may be suffering now is nothing compared to what the government has done to the Navajo since the founding of the United States.
I’m in the narrative business, storytellers are always on the lookout for a crackin’ good yarn to spin. Journalists go to the assignment desk and are sent out to cover breaking news. Let’s keep it simple, you know they cover a plane crash, car wreck or a fire. A nice easy to understand honest to God tale of loss and tragedy. Guy smoking in bed falls asleep and is killed when he accidentally starts a fire. The LA Times reporter writes that item up then by 4 that same afternoon is across the street from the LA Times Building knocking the first one back at the legendary Redwood Bar and Grill. Journalists are nothing if not well-oiled dispassionate observers.
Maybe that’s the best work for another writer, but that’s not my scene, that’s not the pig I want to roast. Take the lobbyists working for the fossil fuel industry, they went out found a bunch of unemployed lawyers that could no longer find work that can still pay the bills representing tobacco companies. These amoral disinformation operators go ahead and pick up this pack of hounds to run a climate change is in doubt operation on low information Americans. Fossil fuel companies run things not just here in America, Big Oil runs the world. You get in the carbon extraction industry’s way, and they’ll be happy to chop you into little pieces and dispose of your remains in a pizza oven.
But even that very well understood fossil fuel disinformation operation doesn’t quite get at the unfathomable fucking story of story’s the world finds itself waiting for. The biggest story of them all is hard to put your finger on. You want to be invited to the rubber room, you want to get fit for a straitjacket, go ahead and start explaining how you think there’s something rotten in Denmark and that you have a big idea, that you alone know who is responsible, where they are located, and how it is that nobody goes and gets those bastards and brings them in for all that is good and right and staving off the world from cataclysmic chaos and death. Where’s Batman when you need him?
Putin is a miserable dictator, his act is wearing thin, his insights and instincts have gone haywire, he’s still doing the same world domination crap he’s always done its just more tone deaf— he no longer has the touch, and the one time KGB spy now has another 800 miles of border to defend having driven Finland into the outstretched arms of NATO. The pariah that is Putin will live out his days trapped in a monochromatic banal kingdom that tried to reclaim its lost glory by reviving a century old narrative that is gone— the Soviet Union’s time is over.
That Vladimir helped get Donny Two-Thumbs elected President over here has more to do with dumb luck than any master force he may or may not have unleashed in the run up to the 2016 election.
An unrepentant Zuckerberg can place no claim to being the big boss of bosses. Elon’s act is thin gruel, I’m losing patience with his juvenile tweets, takeovers and unending holes he is always digging. This guy Peter Thiel seems to come up on everyone’s list of potential mischief makers— his pungent flavor of gay does such dishonor to my favorite Edith Piaf fans.
Go figure it’s Jerry Hall dumping Rupert Murdoch that has finally kicked this miserable news baron of a man to the curb. Vicariously all of us have wanted to divorce this democracy menacing media mogul. As Mick bellowed between pouting lips decades now long gone— what a drag it is getting old— Murdoch’s old is the most wretched of all I’ve witnessed. King Lear’s doom was more cheerful.
Maybe the Federalist Society gets close to holding the key to unlocking the door to domination and unleashing the monster of all monster’s, their pursuit of being masters of the universe isn’t a done deal— but you know as nominees for the most powerful awful in the universe— Leo Leonard and his ilk are playing one hell of a game. Toxic evangelicalism does not look pretty in a gown worn by a justice on the court.
The year was 1939, it was a Broadway musical, Very Warm for May, Jerome Kern composed the music, Oscar Hammerstein’s wrote lyrics— the intro to All in Fun— (you can look them up on line… or better yet stream Tony Bennett’s version.(
Since the center doesn’t seem to be holding, perhaps it is time to remind friend and not friend alike that it is a livable world, peace, clean air and pure water that is in play and at risk. It is All in Fun that is hanging in the balance, those of us with a few miles on our odometers have a responsibility to pass along to our children and their children a better world. It’s all on the line now, come November vote for the truth, vote for democracy. I’m going all in with fun— I tell you it beats the rest—
The ruins of Chaco Canyon give us a glimpse into the life of one of America’s earliest civilizations. There is evidence the first people prevailed as a culture and economy for 1000 years, the tribes of the desert southwest of Arizona and New Mexico thrived here. After years of abundant rain our first people were unprepared for drought and the food insecurity that resulted. Corn, squash and beans depleted the already marginal soils. By 1230 Chacoans, the people that lived in the canyon had built the tallest buildings in North America, a feat that would not be eclipsed until 1830 in New York City—
Our current circumstances, our present civilization, feels fragile, supply chains are strained, water in the American West is scarce and millions of acres are under threat of collapse. Our inability to organize in the face of these environmental threats is cause for concern. Let the record show that the first people, those who came before us, discovered that out here the rural west can become inhospitable, unpredictable and spark conflict among the stakeholders.
The Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine has shattered a tenuous peace in Europe. A Stalin like leader Putin without warning or reason invades a sovereign neighboring nation. Trump likely advised by the transnational organized crime syndicate was urged to abandon democracy and remain in power. To pull the insurrection off he would need knowledgeable insiders, enemies of democracy that understood how our interlocking institutions worked. If it feels as if our nation has been taken over by a out of this world Manchurian candidate you would not be wrong.
This weeks rulings by the Supreme Court feel anti-majoritarian, the decisions feel Medieval, subjugating women and terrorizing citizens by allowing weapons to be legally concealed and carried.
California where I live is home to 40 million people. This is a complex, economically productive state. To make the Golden State work the citizens have had to organize. The world’s largest system of aqueducts have been constructed. California produces more food than any other state in the nation. Yes, it is a jumble of water districts, billions of dollars were spent building dams for reservoirs, farmers have squabbled over who would get to use this water and who wouldn’t. The fighting continues to this day even if the writing is on the wall and the resources we fight over are clearly diminishing just as our population is growing.
Air Flight Controllers, certified aviation mechanics, and a host of federal safety inspectors work to keep us safe should we need to travel by air. We use supervision and regulatory agencies to manage our private sectors airline companies. When we talk about collapse we need to think about the very serious responsibilities our government is charged with carrying out. Drinking water, sewage treatment, food inspections, communicable disease control and our well regulated stock markets— all of these different areas of national importance remain bound to the rule of law. The collapse of democracy would threaten all of this.
Our climate is getting hotter. Science has found the causes of our problems as we continue to quarrel about the solutions. The wealthiest fossil fuel enterprises in the world are not going to be shutdown without a fight. Likely much of their money is going into the pockets of an unhinged Republican Party that has been all too eager to pander to these oil barons. The energy transition needs move with speed and instead an obstacle course is thrown in its way. If you want a piece of good news last week California for a brief time, a few minutes to an hour actually produced 100% of its power from renewable sources. Just as a civilization can be brought to an end, it can respond to its challenges, make changes and fend off a collapse and continue to prosper.
Hearings underway by the January 6th Committee have revealed there was a criminal conspiracy to overthrow the results of our last election. A few weeks ago 19 children in Uvalde, Texas were massacred, shot to death with an assault rifle, some of the bullets hit with such force as to decapitate these innocent victims. Friday the Supreme Court stripped constitutionally guaranteed rights from women. Many current members of Congress, Republicans all were actively participating in the attempted coup and the evidence of their seeking Presidential pardons for their crimes has come to light.
So, here we find ourselves and what to do— I’d like to see the nations women call for a general strike, I’d bet a majority of the men in this nation would back this call to resist. We need to inflict economic pain, the business leaders have to understand that there are two parties in our nation but only one that is bound by the truth while the other has devolved into a mad pack of petty liars. The liars have sown chaos, their allies in the media have aided and abetted their misconduct, and now the very fabric of our governance is threatened.
Stripping women of their right to an abortion, to have access to family planning services, to be treated as a second class person that the state holds dominion over is beyond outrageous. What is before us is a choice to either abandon this experiment in self governance and descend into the hell that the Republican authoritarians seek— or we recommit to the work of building a more perfect union— there is not a second to waste.
Trip to Kona has been a bit of a tale. A carrying cart failed just before coming over to the islands resulting in a propane tank landing square on my big toe. That kind of changed the last two weeks. An urgent care doctor glued the gash back together slapped me on the butt and told me to get back in the game.
Then my buddy Waldo hobbled by a motorcycle accident comes to the Kona side of the island to visit. Hobbling together we got out and about the two showmen not accustomed to being on injured reserve. Gallows humor ensued well into the wee hours of the early morning.
Street show veteran get togethers are like comfort food for the soul. I can still do this but I can’t do that. There are the favorite shows to review, some performed together some solo. It goes on and on like this. There is the part where we brag about how few props we needed to do a show. Waldo made his living as a suave, dashing and lightening quick juggler that never dropped. I was every bit of Waldo’s equal (allow me to amuse myself) but for the drops— I am perhaps best known for my trouble with this minor detail— Try not to applaud when I make a mistake, you’re only reinforcing my bad habits—
Our careers were long. I like Wally to tell me his Perth, Australia stories. He likes our time together in Arizona and gets a kick talking about those adventures. Street performers are not sentimental, but we have lived privileged lives traveling both here and abroad and earning a pretty penny along the way. The present and future we imagine is framed as a life beyond our work as showmen.
Two months ago I visited with Sean Laughlin and Lee Ross. Conversations between all of us track by topic to do with shows, love and a bite at life lived with no regrets. A performance happens in a particular time and place and after— like that— vanishes into the slipstream of time. We might improve the show, we might do better shows, there may be advances in our skills, better costumes, bigger paychecks and fancier stages. Of the many tens of thousands of shows all of us have under our belts most are now in the rear view mirror. Any of us might still do a show, but none of us are likely to do anywhere near as many as we have left behind to the sands of time.
One benefit of not having a demanding show schedule is that it gives your head the space to consider the less examined parts of your life. This is to the good. A bad show is like a losing game and after back in the locker room a showman can suffer pangs of regret. Climbing that hill day in and day out is in one sense about being ready to defend your emotional life. A good show pumps you up and lousy show lets you down. Without having to deal with that rollercoaster our offstage time isn’t ordinary time, it is human time, we are allowed the chance to be back in touch with our most ordinary day to day self. The more selfless we can live, the less stuck in our heads the better. This is our occupational hazard.
Where we live and who we love is always a topic that hovers near our meetups. Some of us are in, some out, some up, some down. The funniest are on the ropes getting a pretty good pummeling by the object of their desire. Most interesting to my way of seeing things is my showmen friends have had a life full of love and it shows they have skills they know how to be in a relationship. Some of what causes so much trouble is our time away from our partners while we are on tour. Our finances are what they are, like any self-employed sole proprietor there’s a lot of ups and downs in a business famous for uncertainty. This isn’t a common circumstance and while the romance of loving a showman is second to none the practicality of such relationships requires a dash of courage with a twist of letting go—
Sore toe and all being here on Kona turns out to be a good thing. Waldo and I will see each other over on the mainland later this summer. We can continue to build on our extended conversation. There will by then be new information. Waldo is slated to speak with many of our peers in the weeks ahead. By the time I see him again he’ll have ten new next things to do. Sean’s still got his place in Silver City, Nevada to wrangle into shape, most of that work is done but not all of it, and then there’s the matter of what’s next to do that isn’t about a show or a house— I think he’s interested in finding a path for his heart. Lee has slated a shoot of a short feature he hopes to complete before September. Editing will consume his autumn. I know his family is coming out to Colorado for his birthday. He’s got a lot up in the air right now and how any of it sorts itself out remains wrapped up in the creative mystery.I’ve been stuck restructuring my office where I write and have had to clear my desk of the chaos I’ve allowed to place a gauzy haze on the clarity good writing demands.
Right now as of this moment the project is to do with a pesto made with pistachios— highly recommended. Then, when I get back to California I’ve got raspberries, figs and a melon patch to work into our meals. That’s likely where my focus will be tied up. Eating good food, cooking interesting dishes, having fun playing in the kitchen with food grown from our garden is its own simple pleasure. Yesterday was the solstice and the long days are all to the good. Life isn’t that complicated if you don’t let this one visit to earth run you off into the intractable pieces beyond a showman’s ability to fix.
Watched the Giants play the Dodgers Saturday. Hospitals are filling up— the virus is on the rise again. There was life before Covid-19, there was the life we lived waiting for a vaccine, and now we live some version of a safer yet not entirely safe inoculated life in the aftermath of this pathogenic crisis.
What is clear is that whatever we had in the before times, before this fiasco is never going to return, there is no getting back to that way of life. I know people in show business that are trying their best to resume a full schedule. Some have been infected even though vaccinated. There haven’t been any fatalities I know of, but the work is not hazard free, there is no going back to the before times. I worry about my friends still in the business, like being a school teacher the work shouldn’t be this dangerous.
Best thing to happen here is watching the NBA playoffs. Scattered here and there among the players and fans are the few that mask up. I know of two that said they came down with Covid after going to the game at Chase in San Francisco last week. Watching the playoffs at home is on my list of safe activities. I’m still trying to pick a matinee to sneak in to see Maverick’s Top Gun on the big screen. Hopefully few will be there. And while we’re here, Steph Curry’s performance in Game 4 has been written up as this great player’s greatest performance in a playoff game ever. San Francisco is host to one of basketball’s best to ever play the game. That’s antidote to some inner malady we are all trying to get well from.
The Proud Boys showing up early on January 6th to scout potential entry points for that afternoon’s insurrection was something, full on seditious conspiracies are like that. Not that I’m into paramilitary maneuvers, but the Proud Boys forming stacks that would probe for weak points around the Capitol seems like there was some preplanning going on. Can’t we agree on that much—
Giants play the Dodgers this afternoon. This morning I’ll do some maintenance on the drip irrigation system. Water here is tight— this little thing called a megadrought has been on a rampage. Manzanita is the answer to this problem. We’ve got a variety of different types, they are native plants that requires little to any water, deer pass them by, the manzanita are a perfect one-two punch to go along with the cork oak trees.
Since their extinction event we don’t have dinosaurs, that Yucatan asteroid took care of all those pesky critters, but the world seems to miss its monsters and has gone ahead and invented its own. Putin is the new most awful person in the world, and that’s saying something because he does have some stiff competition. I can’t help read the sick with cancer stories
Listening to the dry economic analysis of why inflation has taken off is a bit too perfect and flawless hindsight. Locking an entire world down and then trying to reopen has never been attempted before. This was all new and as it happens things have gone a bit haywire. Invading Ukraine has been no help, and you think gas is expensive try buying a bushel of wheat.
Locking down Shanghai for a month hasn’t helped. Turns out creating global supply chains that depend upon the policy swings of a totalitarian nation does have its drawbacks. Trading oil with the Russian dictator Putin has proven to be as stupid a thing to do as paying Stormy Daniels off after giving her a poke at a party and wanting to keep the random entry hush-hush.
Elon Musk has lost his patience with wealth and fame has traded in his burnished reputation for a more tarnished look. And no President Biden should not be arranging to go to Saudi Arabia, using a bone saw to dismember a journalist from the Washington Post has cemented MBS’s reputation as a royal punk and tyrant.
Getting off fossil fuels has the potential of decentralizing our energy market. Instead of trading with tyrants each region of the world can deploy renewable energy systems. This is the old think global act local strategy.
The wheels feel like they are falling off this empire we’ve built. Favorite seditionist in the category of supporting nitwit wife goes to Ginni Thomas. Our Supreme Court’s Clarence Thomas’s main squeeze turns out to be a foe of democracy. If we had a calvary I’d order the soldiers to ride on her whereabouts and bring her in, but bring her in alive, we do want to have a few choice words with this deranged woman.
March for our Lives was out in force on our streets this weekend. Turns out spreading 20 million military style assault weapons on our fruited plain has turned our nation into the world’s laughingstock. Death by gun shot is the number one cause of death for American children. That’s one hell of a way to welcome a new citizen into the new world.
Weird times indeed. Watching the Giants-Dodgers this afternoon I’ll put all my troubles out of mind and enjoy a good long slow game that no longer really meets the moment. Like a long coastal sail the world is no longer set up for us to waste so much of our precious time.
I’m hoping the day the Supreme Court announces they are overturning our abortion laws that at least the Department of Justice can get into the swing of things and indict the former President for his leading role in the attempted coup. I mean if we are all going to be upset why not get the whole nation pissed off all at once, get it over with, we can get on with trying to preserve democracy or buying those one-way tickets to paradise.
At an art gallery in a courtyard entryway in Santa Fe we spotted a rustic garden bench. My other half, some say the best of the two halves, we were inspired, the bench a Southwest relic, was still providing useful service, the durable wooden bench was simplicity itself.
Brainstorming. I volunteered to build a bench something like this piece, once finished we could place next to our front door where we could take off or put on our shoes.
We went to a salvage lumber distributor in Richmond. There we searched through stacks of planking and came upon two thick short redwood slabs we thought would be right for the project, they were the right size and for sale at a fair price. We struck a bargain.
Peroba is the name of the company, I’ve shopped here before. Two years back, I’d bought bay-laurel planks to rebuild a planter box around an abandoned California live oak. When we bought the property back in 2009 it was a small tree that had been temporarily set in the front yard by the previous owner, they’d been running a nursery operation out of the place, and this was one of their unsold trees we’d inherited by default. The immature live oak did what trees so often do it became a bigger tree. This evergreen live oak had by now outgrown the wooden and steel strap container it had been planted in. Building a larger planter box would solve an eyesore in the front yard and it would also help to maintain the proper soil height at the tree’s trunk.
When I’d last visited Peroba they’d just received a huge trove of wood planking and beams from a two-hundred-year-old Brazilian barn. The barnwood had been weathered by time, it was hard and heavy, easily the heaviest boards in the store. Brazilian barnwood is expensive, I was out of my league, forget the cost, it would have been a waste to have such an inexperienced woodworker trying to build with such rare Amazonian treasure. I was at a museum, that the boards were fine works of art, and me I’m like a janitor, the guy who turns the lights off at closing time. The clerk at the store wasn’t sure what species of wood this barn was made of. It could literally have been any one of many thousands of different kinds of rainforest hardwood, the material had an otherworld quality— foreign, an object that spoke in its own tongue, it was mesmerizing, entrancing— all these many hundreds and hundreds of boards stacked into perfect rectangular piles, floor to ceiling 20 feet in height.
Peroba is a dynamic marketplace, the South American barnwood now long gone. The shop also market salvaged logs. The warehouse is full of long and thick planks with live edges— there is walnut, mahogany, cherry, ash, oak, madrone— there is a vast trove of different species here. Much of the fresh sawn wood comes by way of woodsmen that bring trees purchased from private landowners. These are old trees that have fallen or are about to fall. Then, there are the grifters, the poachers— a mature western red cedar is so valuable many are cut down in the dead of night and by morning have been cut into sections and carried off. The fight to end illegal logging especially western red cedar has become impossible to stop.
It turns out both my wife and I share a common element. At least based on work provided to us by our Feng Shui guide, our consultant listed the five elements— wood, fire, metal, water and earth. Both of us have an affinity for wood, and as it so happens of the five elements, we are both wood. Somehow, in some very tangible way my sawing, drilling, and sanding produces harmony and peace. We halfway believe our relationship is improved by our being around wood— maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, we seem to both want to believe there’s maybe something to all of this, something that exists on these other levels. Isn’t that human in some sense— there are so many ways our physical world influences our inner world.
Cork oak trees come from the Iberian Peninsula (so does the loyal but obstinate donkey); it is estimated that there are perhaps as many as 5000 cork oaks in California. I’d never spent much time around cork oaks, once you know what they are they’ll get your attention, they’re quite stunning, the bark is unusual, it is the bark of the cork oak tree that is used to seal a bottle of wine. There are six cork oak in our yard. The three in the front have foot wide trunks, stand 20-30 feet tall, by my reckoning they’re 50 years old— that’s a fair guess, the trees have a lifespan of 250 years. In our backyard we lost one in a windstorm but there are two younger trees that are doing fine— they’re not more than teenagers now. They’ve a lot of growing up to do.
There are more cork oak trees in this neighborhood than I’ve found anywhere else here in the valley. I’ve printed a map out of the nearby streets and have been marking anywhere I find a cork oak growing. By my count I’d estimate there about 100 cork oak right around here where I live. This is an ongoing investigation and once I’ve a good tally I’ll post that number.
The largest cork oak trees in this neighborhood is one I look forward to seeing on my daily walk. Like the California live oak the cork are evergreens, come spring not all but some leaves turn yellow and fall.
Why I don’t find cork oaks in the adjacent towns is odd. I keep thinking there must be more around. We hire a company to trim our trees, the foreman is a cork oak tree fan, considers them to be a prized tree. The foreman said there are plenty out there.
I’m hoping to talk to the local municipal gardeners. Often, they’ll know the backstory. About a century ago this area was part of a ranch, the land was sold and subdivided. I’m guessing the original settlers may have introduced cork oak trees right here around this block. If so, it is likely squirrels would have spread the acorns. That’s one possible theory.
I pet the friendly dogs in the neighborhood, try to entice the cats to say hello. If I’m in the garden and around the trees I try to pat them too, I speak to the trees, keep on an eye on them. I like to be encouraging— you look great today, your shade that you cast is just glorious, hope your enjoying yourself, this is a fine garden you’ve found to live in. I’m happy for you, plan on keeping you happy and healthy—
Consciousness isn’t just about what passes through a mind. I like to believe a tree knows something about how to set down roots in soil, how to transport water up through its trunk to give its branches a drink to go with the sunlight it is catching. Just because the tree isn’t talking out loud doesn’t mean it doesn’t speak. As far as I can tell my job is to put myself in a tree’s shoes and do my best to consider what kind of life they are having. They’re like offspring, I’m always hoping they’ll get a little bigger, hope their life turns out good, that they’re happy.
I find I’ve family and friends that are doing much the same. This is good work and fun. It sure as heck beats having to trap out the gophers. Sometimes a man has got to do what a man has got to do— keeping the trees happy and giving hell to those pesky varmints.
Building a bench, appreciating a tree and trapping a gopher. I’m two for three right now, that gopher is smarter than you, me, and that cork oak tree all put together—
Last week I hit rock bottom. Slaughtering children by assault rifle in Uvalde tipped me over. The last two decades prior to the pandemic I’ve been teaching circus arts. I’ve also been performing for young audiences in support of summer reading programs.
My kid is no kid anymore, but because of her, because she reminded me back while she was still a child that dad could still see the world through a child’s eyes if only I would play pretend with her, all I had to do was try. A little girl saved her father’s life.
A juggling show is many things and often it is a comedy show appropriate for young and old alike, in the vernacular of the festival business it is a multigenerational attraction, entertaining for the grandchild and grandmother alike.
To qualify for work at the Los Gatos Jewish Community Center in the summer circus arts program I’d be fingerprinted, and a background check would be run out of Sacramento. This is important work, I’d be an instructor to children ages 6 through 12, and you need to be sure you’ve got the right person for the job. The same background check was performed in Arizona.
My whole life I’ve been involved in the performing arts. Show business is my turf, my habitat, where I do my work, and has been the central organizing activity of my professional life. When there is frustration, heartbreak or tears because one of my students has hit a wall, feels like they are failure, that they’ll never amount to anything those are the moments when I can see myself through their struggles. It is also when I know to step up, because I can lend a trusted hand and help a young person anxious with self-doubt, frustrated, feeling inadequate, somehow thinking that they are not enough, that’s a teachable moment, helping a student to not judge their progress, to let go— to have the courage to just try.
Circus arts instruction is the continuous process of helping children see who they are and to be willing to just try without any expectations, trying is everything and success is not the only part, that learning a new skill isn’t about one minute, one hour, one day or one month— learning is a constant doing— we never stop pressing ahead into the unknown of our practicing and what ten thousand joys and sorrows our efforts may reveal to us. Practicing without expectation, without greed, if you keep looking for evidence of progress you often end up fueling doubt and discouragement, if you let go and leap into the mystery, you’ll be shocked by what you will find waiting.
Treating young readers to a juggling show at the local library is one way to motivate the new citizens. These humble institutions are the backbone to our country. The first humans because language was as so basic were forced to organize in small tribes, no more than seventy people, and it was only when their language skills increased were they able to build a more complex interdependent social order.
Library summer reading shows are presented free. Most of our audience consists of the little new citizens investing part of each day in learning how to read. But there are parents, grandparents, and neighbors in the audience too. The programs are free, borrowing books from the library is free, most of the libraries know it is best not to sell soda, ice cream or popcorn.
I worked in the Berkeley grammar schools too. I taught physical comedy and circus arts in after school programs. From 3-5 PM I tried to engage students that had been in classes all day long. Many children with both parents working had nowhere to go. Compared to summer camp where my students arrived rested after a night at home with their parents this was an entirely different level of challenge. You can’t help but feel for these kids, I mean come on put your feet in their shoes— managing yourself, keeping your hands to yourself, paying attention, not chattering and distracting your classmates, after being in class all day isn’t easy— it’s impossible. I loved all those kids and all those children just wanted to go home and be with their mom and dad.
When a child at a summer reading program is having trouble managing themselves, I will interrupt and ask the audience, especially the father’s in the crowd— how many of you dad’s how many of you are still having trouble managing yourself— I raise my hand and most of the men raise their hand in response— see that, it’s not so easy to sit still, watch the show, pay attention— learning to manage yourself helps us all then we can gather in these larger groups and have fun together— but it means paying attention and being a well behaved member of our audience— all you have to do is just try as hard as you can—
In Glendale, Arizona I performed in the amphitheater adjacent to city hall. Some years back the mayor seeing my sidewalk show at the Glitter and Glow Festival suggested to her event coordinator that my variety show might be perfect for this large venue. The following year I brought in two sensational performers and we filled the seats for three back-to-back shows. Liabilities for shows with fire and performing dogs means having the right insurance. That’s just standard operating procedure. Lengthy discussions are undertaken every year over how many police officers will be needed. Different kinds of programs attract different audiences, but there is always risk, and remember this event was ungated, there were no fences, anyone can come to this free civic event.
In Washington DC and in legislatures across the United States gun laws going against popular opinion were being relaxed. One result is metal detectors are common now. Bags are searched, many are required to be patted down.
Special event producers have always had to come up with a security plan, when the planning is inadequate, and trouble breaks out the violence can be devastating. The Alameda County Fair, Gilroy Garlic Festival and Southplains Fair in Lubbock, Texas all suffered the nightmare scenario when a gun carrying attendee opened fire at their events.
A rural branch library has no money to spend on security. The funds are just not there. An institution open to the public depends on the fabric of our society remaining stable. Our civic life requires that citizens behave responsibly. But we are not that country anymore— our civic life has taken a dark turn and all of us can feel it— anyone, anywhere at any moment may stop talking and start firing bullets from military assault weapons, and hoping you’re not in the wrong place at the wrong time is not a strategy for building a more perfect union.
It is reported that there are now 20 million military style assault weapons in the hands of American gun owners. I know of one or two, and one individual has been having a hard time of life of late. Do I know if or when he might snap— of course not, I’m not a mental health professional, but there it is, and here we all find ourselves.
Decades ago, the National Rifle Association took a turn and used their funds to influence elections in the United States. Only a few million members belong, but it is this group that the Republican Party added to their coalition, a group that vows no compromise, ever, that gun ownership is absolute. Like the Club for Growth, they grade each politician on their vote, and whip members to support their cause— if you don’t give them your vote your career will soon be over.
Republicans have added voting rights, women’s health care, immigration and gun safety to a list of issues that are off-limits. All legislative action is blocked. All of us can feel it now. Everyone in the majority, all these issues have their constituencies and all show that there are large majorities favoring Congress respond. Doing nothing and generating frustration is even part of the strategy, doing nothing is seen as a win, and compromising is a loss.
It is painful to arrive for summer circus camp with the world in this state of tension. One facility where I teach has a skilled and talented staff that each morning monitors the incoming teachers and students coming to class. These are dedicated professionals, good souls to a one, all working for the common good, none out to make a fast buck, trying to strike it rich, they are there because they believe in what they are doing.
Our nation has turned into an intractable combative nation none of us recognize, a nation held hostage by a gun lobby that has fomented political stalemate. Russia and China are delighted, if they could just break our country apart, if they could discredit liberal democracy, prove the rule of law can’t work, then they can come for us, take our freedom, oppress us, autocrats want to subjugate its citizens.
Our children deserve better. We have no choice, we must change course, and if you won’t or can’t, perhaps it is time to reconsider what has happened, where did our best-self vanish to— I’m just a simple ordinary person— California born and raised— the arc of justice is slow— we’ve gone offtrack— taken those two steps backward— it’s time we step up— for the love of our children and for the sake of the world it is time
Our nation is in shambles. When we have no laws to prevent nineteen elementary school students from being riddled with bullets from a military assault weapon that renders the bodies unidentifiable, when a nation gets to this point in its history we are in a state of emergency. DNA samples of the mutilated bullet riddled bodies of the children were needed to identify which tissue belong to which mother and father. That is beyond mass murder, call it what it is— genocide.
Citizenship in the United States is infected with toxic individualism. We can see the infection— the illness has become institutionalized in our collective character. Bullying at school, isolated and online, lack of parental supervision, a complex stew of unfiltered content a lonely and confused young person struggles to sort through without context.
Signs of the malignancy— democracy’s fragility has been laid bare. Financial system regulators looking the other way while reckless bankers collapsed the financial system, murderous cops, sexual assault of children, Boy Scout leaders’ misconduct— the list is long the, the predators prowl upon the innocent.
Toxic individualism begins by disengaging— psychological self-isolation is the first step. The endemic pathology requires alienation. You feel like you don’t belong, and these other’s, the upstarts are taking away what is rightfully yours. The anger toward the other is the gateway, permission to do what is necessary to take back your self-esteem and your freedom. The toxicity isn’t absolute, the behavior in many forms is mild, the conduct steals the fabric of nation’s peace, its racialized complicity empowers, there are more extreme versions of this emptiness and illness.
Trolls on social media sites have been platformed where once they were marginalized. The American Nazi Party’s marching through Chicago was inconsequential, their message incoherent, their ability to recruit new members, to argue, to persuade, manipulating the mainstream media was ineffective. Decades ago, there was a consensus that our institutions would guard against such hate groups being amplified.
Whole ideologically driven disinformation portals riddle the internet. There are radical rightwing conservative broadcast networks that run full-time disinformation operations (Fox and Sinclair). After Putin invaded Ukraine the FCC was barely able to bring itself to shutdown Russian Television— a Russian propaganda outlet should never had been granted a license in the first place. What passes for mainstream broadcasting are executive producers under pressure from their corporate owners to backoff overt criticism of its wealthy advertisers. Generous funding by military industrial corporations on Sunday morning political talk shows guarantees a roster of sympathizers will be booked to discuss the issues of the day while avoiding overt criticism of either their enterprises or special interests. To be accurate proving such pressure exists remains circumstantial, the C-suite executives like organized crime boss operations remain all wink-wink, nudge-nudge, preserving plausible deniability. Again, our nation’s executives in many instances have shut off their moral compass.
In and of itself perhaps picking partisan supporters as guests by way of threatening to fire your executive producers isn’t illegal, perhaps it isn’t even immoral, perhaps it is more accurately described as a desecration of our civic soul. Free and fair elections are for suckers. Equal protection under the law is for billionaires. The death penalty is for those people, not your people.
Toxic individualism is rooted in doing your own thing. You do your thing, and you don’t permit others to do theirs. Christian prayer is fine, worship at the synagogue is not. White nationalists don’t send synagogues prayers the most toxic of this kind send pipe bombs.
It is Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel and Steven Kerr that have stepped up to the podium. The lack of leadership by elected leaders intimidated by their constituents has stood politics on its head, we are trapped in a tyranny manifest by a flaw in the mechanics of our representative democracy. There are two senators representing Wyoming’s population of 580,384 citizens, California’s 40 million citizens get two. The two conservatives from Wyoming are part of the voting block from the red states and it is this coalition that has brought the nation to a gut wrenching halt.
The Republican minority use of the filibuster halts any legislation. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas answers to nobody, there is no ethics panel to review anything a justice may or may not do short of impeachment, and there is no chance a red state supported justice is going to be held accountable and impeached. Ginni Thomas should be hauled before a Grand Jury immediately to account her seditious conduct.
Republicans bound by party over country, they twice refused to convict the leader of their own party for crimes he was proven guilty of. They failed to do their duty, they abdicated, their oath of office was ignored, unable to explain themselves they change the subject, their best propagandists respond with disinformation.
Billy Graham Junior cheers Russia’s strength while putting down our President as weak. Fake evangelist Jerry Falwell Junior goes to Florida to spend lost weekends in Miami Beach watching while his wife has intercourse with their cabana boy.
The leading cause of death among American schoolchildren is by bullets from guns. Children are terrified. This last year dedicated to running a fair and open school board angry constituents were tolerated while they yelled at their local school boards about vaccinations, masks and course curriculum concerns. Beto O’Rourke dares to confront his own Texas governor over his permissive gun culture legislation and he’s immediately shutdown by the mayor of Uvalde telling the candidate— “You are out of line…” The overweight mayor is fiercely anti-immigrant and a build the wall advocate. He is also a white mayor with a Hispanic population that outnumbers whites by 80%. Why would that be?
Toxic individualism in a world this complicated, this populated when what is needed is healthy cooperation, a sense of duty to country, willingness to sacrifice for the common good, these are the qualities of character needed now.
The Republican Party is done with democracy, they are hell bent on seizing and holding onto power. Seventy percent of the country remains stunned and in denial, we are sleepwalking into a rude awakening. The World War II Japanese internment camps are likely to be revisited. Journalists, political activists, and environmentalists are all likely to be attacked, jailed and persecuted. If you go along to get along, you’ll do alright, until you are not doing alright, until they come for your business, your daughter, your vote. Autocrats always behave the same way and while they are seizing power they try to convince their supporters that it is only the other that they will target.
Recognized by the United Nations as a World Heritage Site for the extraordinary ruins left there by our first people of North America some 1200 years ago Chaco Canyon is a true treasure to all of humanity. Toxic individualism drove some morally deficient visitor to blast holes with a gun into ancient rock art that dates to 8000 years before present. Desecrating the rock art of our first people, denying future generations the opportunity to see these artifacts as they are and have been for the last many thousands of years brings into focus how broken so many of our citizens are, how terribly deluded, destructive and dangerous they are to the human project. Democracy is at risk, civilization is threatened, and likely it is a minority of detached males in our world that have literally put an assault weapon to the world’s head.
The children of Uvalde deserve to be remembered for being the slaughtered innocence that has finally forced America to come to its senses and put a halt to such madness. It is time for the killing of our children to stop. America’s soul is shattered, it is up all of us that still know right from wrong to step up and put our nation back on the civilized path.
As dinner party’s go this one turned out to be out of this world. The mix of characters worked swell, the invited included both curveballs and straight shooters— this the odd woven with the even. There was even an expectational tardy arrival of our party’s Hickey Boggs from The Iceman Cometh along with his second player— Larry Slade the syndicalist anarchist.
By paternal drive I was sent at subsonic speed into Seattle’s undercover natural wine scene. Sure, there is biodynamic wine, there is organic wine and then there is this all but impossible category to pin down that enthusiast’s refer to as “natural wine.” This is the best of the best or depending on your taste the mother of all disasters. Robert’s Rules of Reality (just back off buster I’m allowed to create my own reality) clearly state there can exist no such mapped location— fads, sensations current trends are all mere phantoms— natural wine like our favorite gods come scattered across the firmament, they are unbound and hidden everywhere.
Non-interventionist winemaking will never scale, the wild eyed ‘vineyardistas’ are in pursuit of an experience that the mainstream wine industry has all but relegated to the past. Too many pragmatic winemakers have lost the capitalistic chutzpa to bring this quixotic narrative back to life. Natural wine is the small is beautiful-keep it simple stupid answer to mind numbing sameness. Mistake number one is the conventional wine industry overuses the yeast strain— saccharomyces cerevisiae— favored by winemakers for its predictability— this mindset has ensnared the industry into producing wines that are too often too similar.
Let the nation of Georgia be an example. Long before they’d become trapped in the Soviet Union’s nation building racket, before Rome had tried to subjugate them, before all that grasping at empire some very enterprising non-aligned apolitical Georgian’s gave winemaking a try. Like you know 8000 years before present. That’s not just trying that’s inventing—
Aged in clay vats, the rot from the grapes, the feral yeasts from the fields where the fruit was grown by the magic of fermentation transformed the Georgian grape juice into world class wine. Figuring out how to do this trick reliably was man’s first trick. Second, was getting the next batch to taste as good. Third, was improving the taste because by now you’ve made some good and bad wine and if you’re going to make wine at all you might as well try and make the good stuff.
That returns us to this moment in oenological evolution, what my spirit guide tells me is located at the tip of the nose, our meditation teacher calls it the present moment, to be precise it’s just under that too prominent pug sniffer and if you can breathe in and breathe out without labeling just experiencing the air moving through your nostrils without adding anything else, you’ve pretty much now know where I found myself fixated Saturday night and this without me having to screw the whole thing up by adding anything extra. For fun the debate of whether the corkscrew represented the whip used to make the cart or the horse go was eagerly bantered back and forth.
We’ve got this problem as advances in technology trample age tested tradition. All this extra stuff we’ve acquired in the last eight-thousand years— turns out most of these improvements are superfluous— don’t need them, don’t want them— and if you dig being true to the method of making natural wine— you wouldn’t use these newfangled interventions— to the natural wine apostle’s you’ve broken faith and turned your back on what the ancients of Georgia have passed down to mankind.
Participant’s imagining there is money in the natural winemaking racket need to hang up their cleats and take a seat on the bench. Thinking you can bottle natural wine as if you were running a printing press— business planning that imagines getting more from a winemaking style that is so capable of producing spectacular failure— the natural winemaker is always rolling the dice, coaxing a grape into a reliable bottle of wine is no sure thing. The standout feature of natural wine is that any batch or bottle can turn out flawed. Each case, every bottle is on its own journey, enough makes it through, some never will. Trying to engineer the problems out of the inherently volatile ingredients only makes matters worse— all these modern-day interdictions if that’s the road you walk will render the final product something other than natural. Imagining you can do better than just taking what Mother Nature has handed you only seals your fate on this conventional road toward the modern globalized wine industry— this is mission creep— tannic deep dark red wine to bright yellow buttery oaked chardonnay will be the hill you plant your broken winemaking dreams on.
Here’s the thing to know if you lose your way and end up a landowner. You want to get a plot of dirt— better still forget the soil— make it slate, limestone or volcanic ash. Plant your best vines, don’t do anything to help the little devils, and when they’ve ripened, you’ll pick, crush and then wait while the grapes become wine. Sure, there are issues of the peel of grape skin coming in contact with the juice, yes, and sometimes not always the minimal use of sulfites, they’re added to prevent premature oxidation— Conventional winemakers in comparison will add up to 10 times the amount of sulfites, and forward leaning sulfites in wine are a tell— sulfites steal what is right and true. The natural winemaker makes every effort to not add or take away anything, there are virtually no interventions, the wine stands on its own, right or wrong, good, bad or until bankruptcy papers are filed.
Out in the vineyard you’ll want sunlight to do its thing, hope to hell it rains now and again, pull a few weeds, pray the pests stay the hell away and that at the end of the year hope to find other growers like yourself agreeing that this new vintage coming up in the clay vats has turned out to be a pretty good year.
With the right weather and a good grape struggling to mature in miserly soil you’ve got a decent chance of making something authentic, something with its own voice, something that stands on two grape stained feet and speaks for not just for itself but for Zarathustra and his crowd. What is being attempted here is to make something that is honest and expressive of the place and time it is from. Rather than doll the wine up the natural winemaker wants to pour you a fated faithful glass filled to the rim with a field of truth.
I’ve learned grapes enjoy struggling— Freud would call these obstacles to happiness neurosis— that these obstacles add up to a quirk— a specific quality of nature you’ll be able to taste, this is the unfiltered and unfettered nature of this endeavor.
And now knowing all of this you have some perspective of the six obsessed members of a Seattle sited dinner party as this half-dozen plunge into the dapple lighted natural wine abyss.
Our Capitol Hill host, Alana Smith had set the table, prepared dinner— if the meal were munitions, we’d say the food was on target and laser guided— including down to the fresh cut flowers and white and blue printed linen napkins.
Four of us enjoyed tongue loosening cocktails, Ian mixed Negroni’s, of course they were crafted with Millennial preferred mescal— gin drinking is and always will be a Boomer choice— even good gin is booze to distance oneself from like running boards, buggy whips or Studebakers.
Matt a local on Capitol Hill now, once a Boise kid and Nick from Eagle Rock in LA, the last two for supper—the pair from the play by O’Neil were dug in a few blocks away imbibing, comparing tasting notes, squeezed into a corner booth at this local pizza joint— Blotto’s on Capitol Hill is by the way true, fresh and fun— go now— hope you can get in.
The pair from Iceman were picking the mind of the other, Nick was serving Matt the hot scuttle on the happenings in the wine scene in LA— it’s sick, it’s fucking slaps. Matt was hipping Nick to the Northwest natural wine distributors and how his preferred wines are hard to find, when he can find what he is looking for they are flying off the shelves in the local shops, and people do notice, his distributor thinks natural wine scene is— totally lit.
Hickey and Larry arrived well oiled, mildly repentant, unless you know Matt running behind isn’t meant to offend, his zeal for all things human burns time off the clock, that’s just how enthusiasm works. Nick pulled three bottles from his backpack— Matt presented one he’d had ringed with his hand about the bottle’s neck, our host had plenty more, the catalyst for this evening’s conversation were within arm’s reach, anything on this Saturday night was possible, our natural wine séance would commence departing outbound on a mission to make contact the other world.
Uncorking a prized bottle is akin to spelunking an unmapped cave, you plunge into the thing without helmet or headlamp, a true risktaker comes to pour wines they’ve never tasted before, until now, and at this moment among friends. It is a small but significant experience— one of the better ways to live a best life.
As accidents go this grouping of souls was not a mistake— not a drop of wine tasted by any of us was thought to be off base. There was no funk, mouse, skunk or stink. There was more than luck involved. At least three had encyclopedic knowledge of the wine’s we were opening. Most cast their fate and wallet to the whim of trial and error— unless you are a pro, unless you are tasting regularly, taking notes, have a good nose and near photographic memory. Lucky for the six we had three that have gone near broke on the journey to possess such talents.
La R’Vole was the first bottle to be uncorked, from Beaujolais by Michel Guignier, this a simple (the conceit is that nothing is so simple) drinkable Gamay. You begin here and embark toward something more, something better, that’s the idea, you don’t want to peak too soon.
The dining table was set, there were roasted trumpet mushrooms, steamed artichokes, Yukon golden potatoes smothered in roasted garlic and tomatoes, fennel and carrot salad, asparagus with goat cheese, thick hand cut sourdough toast and olives and radishes.
Nick Delozier (Larry Slate) born in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee, started out a pipefitter, the younger Nick didn’t reckon he wanted to end up doing his whole life punching a clock, there was the pull of other worlds to explore. Like anyone stuck where he’d come up as a kid, he figured there had to be more to life, took a shot on LA, second time was a charm, found a job that paid and then some, the natural wine enthusiast stages real estate when he isn’t laying the groundwork planning to go full time marketing what he loves most— natural wine. That is no sure thing. Bearded, stocky, red headed, a man that is kind of spirit, Appalachian lilt to his voice, Southern mannered, tattooed, and tattooed by a lot, I’m talking he didn’t go light on the ink, but that’s how passion works, spins people off on their path, sometimes it ends up looking like a Tennessee raised tattooed wine lover— there are worse turns of fate. Copeland’sFanfare for the Common Man may well have had a man of Nick’s character in mind when composing this masterpiece.
Matt’s partner Liannabelle, this the Peruvian born muse a Tinkerbell sized laugh riot. Nicknamed El-Bell, the fiery loving petite one that always plays bigger than she appears had survived a week in Tracy, California. The monotony of tract home hell had brought on fitful pangs and homesick blues, grateful to be back in the mashup of Seattle’s architectural eclectic, funky and trendy scene that is Capitol Hill. El’s a city girl now, there are no same-same suburbs in her future, only plans to dodge being stuck in them.
Matt and Nick poured— La Tour Sarazine, the winemaker is referred to by his initials JYP. This is a white wine— Muscat Blanc and Jacquère grapes grown in the French Alps by Jean Yves Peron (JYP). Again, this second glass held its own and then some. JYP’s are hard to come by in Seattle and trickier still in San Francisco or Oakland. It’s all about your local importer, what they know and what they can get their hands on, natural wine doesn’t grow on trees and doesn’t arrive on container ship.
I’m like Ian who had joined the table to eat, drink and be part of this thrall— both of us know a mere fraction of what Matt, Nick and Alana have stashed away inside their heads. Amari’s are an Ian favorite, often described as intentionally bitter tasting, this is a much in demand classic Italian aperitif, bitter is not at all an accurate characterization for those that have acquired the taste— a well-balanced Amari will provoke and persuade. Like a Ferrari, divorce or caviar they don’t come cheap, they do come rare, hard to find, a second bottle is often impossible to put your hands on— but all of this is redeemable, the Italian aperitif is a simpler, smaller, easier class of beverage to become fluent in.
Other Worlds— a natural wine shop will open one day once city hall, building inspectors, liquor license authorities sign off. Atop the bustle that is Seattle’s Capitol Hill soon local natural wine enthusiasts will be able to go to the shop at Pike and Madison. The spry entrepreneur Matt Lucas suffers no illusions, he full well knows this effort will require every known sacrifice, getting the Other Worlds open is one thing, making his passion for natural wine work as a durable business, keeping the shop out of the red and into the black, and forget all those get rich quick schemes, Matt is hoping for something more modest, something tangible, something that he can be proud of, he seeks to build integrity into this wine shop, something that remains true to the product— the wine and its merchants work best as a matched pair.
To finish off the evening our host Alana had saved a favorite bottle to share. It was a Sylvain Pataille, his Fleur de Pinot, this is his Marsannay Rosé. Mr. Pataille has been making a spare no expense Burgundian, this a dry version since 2002— two decades of trial by error. For our last tasting we would enjoy the winemaker’s sage like 2018 vintage.
Our waiting concentrated minds. Uncomplicated— no, it was anything but, this one goes on and on, it is why you chase such an expressive wine. It is remarkable in its directness— it is easy to understand— it must be difficult to make and expensive too. Like an epic hike it is in the doing, the telling part misses the mark, still if the bottle was a girl that you were sweet on, she’d be the best love you’ve ever chased, the best you will ever hold in your arms— when you are not sure what to do, vow to never let go— squeeze hold like your whole life depends upon it— wine and love, bitter or sweet, until death do we part— wine can be like that— life! Beyond the wine’s length on the tongue there are the changes it will put you through, until you must admit this one— this bottle, has more and more to say—
The dinner party had nowhere to go, further would have clouded the mind, Mr. Paitille had somehow found a way to bottle the last word.
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
“But for the environmental impacts of cultivated meat, according to an independent study from the University of Oxford, cultured meat could be produced with up to 96 percent lower greenhouse gas emissions, 45 percent less energy, 99 percent lower land use, and 96 percent lower water use than conventional meat. Many more independent studies show that cultured meat can help fight the climate crisis. So it’s not a question of if; it’s a question of when.”
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.