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.
Some things never change─ whole swaths of our life are on a fated trajectory, there is an inevitability to our story, like juvenile delinquency, or what I refer to as the undiagnosed artist portion of this kids adolescence.
I’d become accustomed to favorite freeway onramps being there for me just like they’ve always been. You know the drill, hit the peddle swoop into the righthander and straighten out and shazam, you’re up and running with the big dogs just like that.
The Tesla Model 3 comes with the least sized battery pack, good enough for trips here in the Bay Area. I’ve finally engaged the autopilot; it works as advertised─ think of it as the tempting fate accessory. We use the electric car for short trips and the internal combustion engine powered Volvo─ Sweden’s gift to safety and society─ for longer jaunts up and down the coast─ this is what the modern nomadic life is all about─ being safe and warm is overrated where wet and miserable allows for self-admonishment─ what were you thinking!
There are people that have a talent for remaining where they are trapped, I’ve got a serious wandering muscle, I’m incurable─ what’s called a case of being hardheaded, there are some afflictions you really don’t want cured, this particular disease is not fatal, the aches and pains of a knockabout make the heart pump with more zeal, curiosities are quenched, and there are worst things than getting a speeding ticket.
Lot of my kind, show people─ you know who you are─ prefer an itinerate life, it feels like we are making progress, not missing out on the big show, probably a fool’s errand but that’s fine, better to dance with the devil you are than the angel you’ll never be.
An irrigation timer I find calms my landlocked jitters. Being stuck with chores, having to remain behind to take care of the plants, to feed the goldfish─ automatic feeders, when all you have to do is flip a switch, and everything is taken care of─ see you when we get back─ for this jackal there is a perfect sense of prey and predator, stalking want is seed, spore, and royal sport─ long live the long drives to places you’ve never been.
Going somewhere isn’t the same as it once was, folk are worried whatever normal life was might well never be what life in the future is going to be. I don’t spend a lot of my time thinking about communicable diseases, but there was a time not too long ago when there was no such thing as birth control. It’s not quite the same as a pandemic, but prevention is similar, you can wear a mask or put on a condom, this is all part of some odd grand prophylactic design.
Like for example using marijuana, taking mushrooms, having a martini─ these are common sacraments─ each blesses or curses the user as the gods, fates and winds may choose to blow. Mushrooms you may giggle, really, eating magic mushrooms─ but for many the psychoactive ingredient psilocybin can open a depressed mind and cure a soul from many common ethereal tormentations.
What else is there to do─ where else is there to go─ these are the imponderables, here is where the rubber meets the one-way highway, the road with no way back. The irreversible mistakes have left their scars. Life in this moment is filled to the brim with contradiction, but it is more of a weak-willed form, where once great quarterbacks admit to having become taken in by snake oil and quackery. If ever there was a moment in history when those advocating for the wrong industry, the worst products, the most misguided policies would just let it go, set it down, walk off the playing field, let human ingenuity and progress take center stage.
The best mousetraps I have found come baited with the best cheese. Kissing strange girls, drinking too much whiskey, or breaking your vow never to climb on the back of that affectionate Arabian in the pasture, these temptations will put you in a corner of your own weak will.
I’m due to travel to Ventura. Singer and songwriter Tom Varley and his Jack Russell terrier Happy are at the end of that ride. Tom and his backup band the Sundogs have hung up the spurs and put away touring. Tom had written about living free and doing nothing. The act itself was an accident he never planned to have a band and fame seemed useless. I sailed to Mexico with Tom. A sailboat has been a part of his life for near half his life. Now he’s got too much boat. Taking care of an 18 ton sailboat or a Jack Russell terrier isn’t for the weak of will.
Tom is some alternate version of who I am. It’s not like we are a spitting imagine of one another, but there are odd synchronous commonalities. If you have ever heard cosmologists discuss multiverses, and that if there were an infinite number of other universes, that mathematically the odds are good that somewhere out there is another planet with someone that looks exactly like me doing the same exact thing with the same kind of dog, the odds-theory tells us are better than good that the same thing is happening there as is happening here.
Maintaining your sense of humor is going to come in handy. You’ll want to laugh as often as you can. Take everything with a grain of salt, don’t forget the lemons, and be good to the beneficial insects and give the mosquitos a little more hell. Spring is just around the corner in this pickle of a fix we are living through here in drought plagued California. I’ve got some wood cutting chores out in the backyard. I’ll wear my hat as I always do, all those bright sunshiny days have added up and taken a toll. Don’t worry too much, finish your vegetables, and get out and take a good long walk.
Pack your bags, bring your toothbrush, let’s get away from it all, if only we could. First order of business was to get the epoxy coating for the carport drop shipped from the East Coast via Michigan, don’t ask it’s a complicated supply chain thing.
Reviewing local weather forecasts and they tell of a high-pressure system off the California coast that is shunting storms north, that we are going to remain dry at least until the middle of the month, that it will hit 80 degrees later this week, and that there is concern about potential for wildfire.
A friend living in the Gold Country east of Sacramento in Amador City, the smallest incorporated town in California has been hit with homeowner insurance sticker shock. The policy jumped from $2800 per year to $6000. After some changes to his deductibles, he was able to get the premium reduced to $4800 and he feels lucky. This is playing out all across California’s urban wildland interface, and it is the runaway costs of the climate emergency socking citizens right where it counts─ in the wallet.
Too young to be a player in the Summer of Love, 1967’s perfect year for hippies, Haight-Ashbury’s gathering of the tribe, the counter culture that was going to change things traded all of those drug induced happenings for all these frightful challenges barreling down on us like an overfilled clown car. You know the bit where the tiny car parks center ring and out come this impossible to imagine number of clowns one after the other, clowns like drought, wildfire, earthquake, tsunami, hurricane, tornado, and heatwave. We are fending off sea level rise, wildfire smoke, volcanic eruptions and empty water reservoirs. Someone somewhere is keeping an eye out for undiscovered asteroids or comets potentially on a collision course, this is the human condition, modern life isn’t for the weak or the easily worried.
All the false prophets (profits) of yesteryear had assured us to follow along while we engaged in rampant outsourcing (offshoring─ a much less offensive term), financialization, monopolization, deregulation, and just-in-time logistics. Turns out our competitors took out a can of whoop-ass over there so that they could make us miserable over here. I smelled a rat as soon as the fat cats unbolted the Schwinn Bicycle Factory and sent it lock, stock and barrel to China. Our leaders have been too sheepish, stupid and stubborn. That famous sucking sound turns out to be us, we didn’t need anyone else providing us with sound effects, this was an unforced error.
I did a deep dive into a story about the foreign ownership of America’s farmland. What could go wrong? Water for agriculture is a big deal in a decades long drought, and you can’t really get to the core dysfunctionality of how we squander our water without giving your brain over to the geostrategic blunder being made by policymakers that have surrendered control of our food production system. When the Can-Tan-Con-Man slapped tariffs on China, and in retaliation they responded by canceling purchase of soybeans, and then Washington replaced the lost revenue by providing subsidies to the farmers, and that it turns out many billions of those dollars ended up going to multinationals located in other countries to compensate for the losses they took on farms they owned in America. Hard to flowchart all that losing, screwing and double dealing but friends there you have it, we are up to our elbows in one gargantuan mobbed up racket.
Our current members of the Supreme Court are not oriented by way of ideological fanaticism to care one whit about any of the many ways we are self-destructing. Let’s just say for the fucking fun of it that almost anyone can buy American farmland, biggest foreign owners are Canada, China and even Saudi Arabia’s got their hands in America’s dirt. It’s plain as lavender mascara that we’ve been sucked into a sinkhole of stupid. All this nonsense about the invisible hand of the free market is a bunch of neoliberal doublespeak. We already pay farmers to grow or not grow specific crops, there are subsidies for dairy, corn, soy, and cotton. The market is anything but free.
Goobering up our food system took a disastrous turn in the late 50’s when it was determined what we wanted to do was maximize the number of calories we cultivated. Farms and ranches were incentivized to grow commodity crops, the crops then blighted our population with heart disease and diabetes, and as these commodity producers have been in control for decades, they have no intention of surrendering their control over our food chain or their gravy train and there will be hell to pay if anyone dare try.
Iowa is the poster child for what is widely understood to be the ethanoyl disaster. Decades ago, we decided to make fuel from corn. Never mind that it takes more energy to make ethanoyl than the energy you can get out of this biofuel, but subsidized corn growing was good for Iowa farmers and that was good enough, pretty much an open and shut case of shut your mouth. But you be right to wonder if we’ve been getting our money’s worth for helping Iowa, appears we’re not even close to a fair exchange. Iowans are in the grip of an ultra-sharp swerve to the right of the political spectrum, Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst voted for Biden the day the vote was certified but not before making the most tepid remarks over the fiasco we know as the January 6th insurrection. Nobody is for defunding the police, but I am tempted to want to defund ethanoyl price supports that go to Iowa because patriotism ain’t getting its money’s worth. Trust me Iowa gets more back from Washington than it sends, and then it bites the hand that feeds it, that my friends makes it right to reconsider the fact we aren’t getting much back for all we give. I’m not into retribution but I’m also not into stupid. Time has come to get all those cotton-picking complainers to fulsomely embrace the right side of history, patriotism and democracy or suffer the loss of all this largess we’ve been squandering upon the ingrates.
There is clarity, spiritual liberation, and soul healing in understanding how perplexing the conundrum that is the interplay between crop and water subsidies. Top four subsidized commodity crops that the Department of Agriculture supports are corn, soy, wheat and rice. There are more but these are the four biggest crops. Then, over at the Department of the Interior, this is where the Bureau of Reclamation is located, and it is here that a good many water subsidies are handed out in one of the most irrational welfare programs and this quasi-legal water grabbing goes on right under the taxpayers’ noses. This isn’t water for the poor or the weak, these are for the powerful and connected. Given the ongoing megadrought in the American West there is every reason to evaluate and reimagine what crops we ought to grow where and if and how much water we are going to use.
You can pound the table, scream as loud as Pavarotti, stink and skunk it up, but you and nobody are going to bring this scrambled pile of misbegotten policy to heel. Like a thousand and one other things under the sun and on this continent, we have a lost our legislative spine to react to current realities and then make new policy.
It’s going to require a massive, colossal unimaginably enormous climatic convulsion before anything is going to shake up this over-intitled elite. And don’t you know that’s where we are and what the forces of nature are doing to the entrenched members of what we call the water nobility. Every politician knows to duck and cover when the topic of what to do about the water shortages out here in the American West come up. The powers that be clam up, get tight lipped and literally lose the power to speak when questioned about this century old fiasco. The plain and simple of the thing is that change is coming, and it arrived about two decades ago disguised as the mother of all droughts and until about now there was still time to do something about the thing. Time’s up and the bill has come due.
Don’t Look Down could be 2022’s next hit film. And this time it isn’t some celestial object colliding with the world it is the stubborn entrenched special interests threatening the collapse of almost half our nations farmland. How this movie ends is the comedy I’m trying to write.
Harbingers of spring, the California buckeyes are budding now. I expect most will flower by April and by June they’ll be one of the first plants in the landscape to lose their leaves. Closer to the coast if the fog is thick and persistent, the buckeyes will hold onto their leaves and linger into the season.
Much of the trails I explore are at the base of Mt Diablo. Where there are creases and intermittent streams, you’ll find buckeye dominating this terrain. Scattered among the buckeyes are valley oak, California live oak, willow and Pacific madrone. On the eastern slope of nearby Las Trampas Peak you will find big leaf maple, box elder, and canyon live oak. Up higher you’ll spot coulter pine, grey pine, and knobcone pine. Manzanita is found up here, I find it higher up the slopes.
Much of this habitat is dominated by chaparral or oak savannah. The recent rains on the bone dry hillsides has sparked new growth. The terrain is green, creeks are running for now, we need more rain, and soon.
Here a snippet from my most recent novel, it is the central character, Joann Triche out for jog near her home in Yountville, California. Habitat is much the same as here.
“Right here was squeezed so tight until all there was room for was road, riverbank and hillside. Jo wasn’t always so generous, she didn’t always take the time, but here along this stretch was her favorite part of what she imagined herself to be. This was who she was. The forest canopy was the sanctuary that had held her here. Her work would take her away, out of town, on the road. She’d miss seeing her oak woodlands shrouded in dank fog. She’d miss gazing at the starlings synchronized flocking maneuvers, the murmurations against days growing shorter, nights that would by then be cooler.”
Spring doesn’t much arrive here in these climate shifting times, the bright warm days feels as if spring is a constant, trees are beginning to bud, others already have, many of those are ornamentals purchased at nearby nurseries, they are non-native and reacting to signals from previous generations, back from where they first came up.
Still there are as ever cold nights ahead and plants that can be hurt by a late frost. Even with that this is California and there is no snow in the forecast, not here in the Bay Area or even further east in the Sierra Nevada where snow was once more reliable and frequent.
The dead of winter characterizes Northern California’s weather pattern. By spring westerly breezes will pipe up and begin blowing off the Pacific Ocean. Sailors have to readjust to the stout winds. Unless there is a low-pressure system moving through the air is stagnant and becomes hazy from pollution. In some instances, the air becomes trapped, and the air quality alarms are sounded. This is becoming more and more apparent as the state continues to grow, all of this growth brings traffic and with all of this comes dirtier air.
Another paragraph from Women of the Oak Savannahs.
“Venus thistle standing high as the human eye gathered at the dried edges. The loading chute and spring fed water trough was surrounded by damp muck. Raccoon tracks set memorialized where they had come to drink from mud puddles left by downpours. Anna hummingbirds hovered over thistle blossoms plunging their beaks into the nectarous red prickles. Jo walked with a pregnant mother’s rocking motion, Buzz hobbled to keep up. They went over the locked gate giving no mind to the trespassers will be prosecuted signs. The shade-soaked trail was marked with fresh coyote scat. The fire road had been cut between two precipitous hillsides, squeezing until the two-track path just fit. Poison oak and blackberry vine beneath the oaks were tangled into impenetrable knots. Ahead where the land opened was blue sky filled with a procession of billowing white clouds.”
Aesculus californica─ the California buckeye is stirring even in these first days of February. I only began giving the tree attention in the last 15 years, I was too busy, too on the run, too young and too self-obsessed to give them my attention. Chastened by foolish youth I give them my time now, finally, at last─ not because I’ve wised up, it occurred that it appreciating the buckeye tree is good for my soul, like you know eating all your vegetables. The trees have made their presence known, they’ve never disappointed, theirs is a great show, a magnificent early call to joy of renewal, of another chance to witness the grand design of nature. Buckeye blossoms are a proxy for arboreal bombast, for making something big and giving it class. The seeds are the size of baseballs, they are toxic, some of our first people figured out how to leech the seeds then grind them into powder. Nobody eats buckeye seeds today, there are easier, less dangerous more tasty food sources to choose from.
Anna’s hummingbirds thrive on the buckeye blossoms nectar. The closest trail from my front door there are many hundreds of buckeye trees to be found, there must be many tens of thousands of blooms within just a few miles. Anna’s find them a reliable food source, and their early blooming must be a boon while waiting for the Venus thistles to flower.
Finishing a conversation with a friend in route to help his father, the old man has been stricken with Covid-19 and while recovering is suffering from brain fog. The father has a son that loves him, and is willing to help nurse him back to health. Standing along the footpath putting my phone in my pocket, I was taking in the green shoots, the first signs of leaves, appreciating this delicate dance we all do with our lives, these fragile and uncertain forces we are surrounded by. Standing amidst a favorite tree along a trail within a cluster of more trees and counting my luck that I have my health and I can still enjoy the buckeye trees.
Start with at least 35 cloves of garlic. That will get you into the club, at least through the front door. For the longest time because for so many decades I’ve been on the road touring, there was not enough space or kitchen equipment to scratch make my own tomato sauce.
It isn’t complicated, but you do want to work with a time tested recipe and you do want to follow the expert guidance to the letter. In this instance I’m following the much admired Missy Robbins recipe. In 2018 Robbins was recognized as Best Chef New York City by the James Beard Foundation, and was also awarded Esquire Chef of the Year.
To solve my unattainable ingredients problem, I landed at the Berkeley Bowl where whatever had been missing is at this location found. To make the Diavola sauce you’ll need olive oil, garlic, double concentrate tomato paste, crushed Calabrian chiles, chili flakes, fennel seeds, and two big cans of whole San Marzano tomatoes.
We begin by simmering a colossal quantity of garlic in the olive oil. Once soft and slightly browned we’ll mash the 30-50 cloves with a fork, add the crushed Calabrian chiles, heaping tablespoons of chili flakes, fennel seeds and then blend all of the ingredients with the double concentrated tomato paste. You’ll take a few minutes until everything turns dark and is combined into a luscious batter like consistency that is then drown in the San Marzano tomatoes. You mash the tomatoes until broken apart while mixing all and then simmer on stovetop for something less than an hour. Robbins directs the budding cooks following her recipes to add just enough salt, in the recipe it is denoted as QB, quanto basta (just enough).
This is a punchy red sauce and of the three in Pasta, it is the beginning without end to making scratch made tomato sauce. I use Ms. Robbins recipe on my cornmeal pizza dough and have also used it on my fettucine scratch made with semolina dough.
Best not to dilute or distract from the purity of this dish, best to not add a single thing more. Missy Robbins and her tomato sauce recipes are the result of what she describes as simplifying, we are instructed to trust the austerity of her ingredients and for this we will be rewarded with a more tantalizing tomato sauce. Someone give this girl an award.
The semolina dough is the only in her book that doesn’t use egg. That is fine, it is unbound and there are no limits to how it may be used. Pasta is worth every penny just for the tomato sauce recipes.
I’ve got my eye on one dish, chickpea pappardelle with chickpeas, rosemary and garlic. Chickpea pasta is made with Tipo 00 flour, a scant amount of chickpea flour and─ get this─ two dozen egg yolks. Al I can hear is the Sondheim line, “Isn’t it rich, aren’t we a pair, me here at last, you in mid-air─”.
My life on the road in part ran through the county fair circuit where chow wagons were referred to in the trade as either a salt or sugar wagon, that was it, you had two choices. Making scratch made pasta is a world I’ve only recently encountered and would fit squarely into the salt wagon carnival food concession business. After a few tries my third effort at making fettucine was a success. This was the eggless semolina dough, a guiltless, egg-less pleasure, and once properly prepared made the perfect elemental companion with the Diavola sauce.
The recipe calls for parmigiana to finish before serving. Next time I’ll get some vegan parmigiana, if you are curious, it comes close, certainly not what is specified but you get the idea, paying homage to our arteries lands square upon the tempting fats used in Italian dishes.
Imagine living in a city of 9 million souls and that of all that are there it is your recipes, restaurants and dishes that are recognized as the best of the best.
I’ve made these grand red sauces a number of times now. I’ve almost got them memorized. Best of all you get the knack for how each step follows the next step and where you are trying to land the dish on the plate, the final destination by this cookbook is home cooked sublime.
I’ll do the Diavola sauce recipe, make scratch made semolina dough pasta and serve with a simple side salad, perhaps no more than lettuce, red onions and tomatoes with olive oil and vinegar dressing.
Missy Robbins dishes feature discipline, attention to detail and precision. You’ll want a scale and measure each ingredient exactly as the recipe instructs. You want to improvise, and you’ll be making one of a thousand previous errors that this book has by time and testing eliminated.
Because of the pandemic we’ve been cooking here at home where we feel safest. We have loved our time out on the town dining here and there, making the scene where we can see and be seen. To placate our enjoying getting out and about working through Pasta has provided us a mortal alternative and a safe one too.
To put the finishing touches on the endeavor I stopped in at Kermit Lynch’s Berkeley wine shop. Kermit has been importing wines from Europe for decades, most of his inventory is out of my price range but we’ve a good supply of his affordable Italian reds on our wine rack now, and even at the lower end the wines will not disappoint. Next door I’ll dip into the Acme Bread Company’s bakery and we’re all but ready.
There will be a next time, we will go to New York City, we will go to Williamsburg, and with some persistence we will feast upon the clever delights of Missy Robbins dishes.
That would be a fitting celebration to the end of this pandemic.
Word on the street is that it was good, my buddy Joey said it was very good, in fact he tells me that it was the greatest, the best of the best, the big fat perfect game of all time. The lay-abouts, you know them, they recite stats, dates, records, teams, talk about this quarter of that game, these are informed fans in possession of seismic sporting events and God only knows how but they can recall the whole mountain that is the Everest of sporting achievements, and it is this cohort of collective wisdom that claims yesterdays Bills-Chiefs playoff game was the Big Kahuna of sport thrills. Cecil B DeMille if he were still alive would order his studio to make the movie and release it as a spinetingling surprise ending epic faceoff between two quarterback titans of the sport.
Someone put a pin in a calendar, it was 1892 when the first professional football game was played in the United States. One hundred and thirty years later all we are talking about down at the corner of the bar where the well-oiled fans loiter is that there has never been a game like the one played late Sunday afternoon. “Not in my lifetime, yours or your mother’s, there ain’t ever been anything better.” Says this wise Joey, “Not ever. No way.” This was the one, the one and only.
Two preternaturally gifted quarterbacks played the greatest playoff game in the history of the sport, perhaps in the history of all sport. This was Frazier-Ali, this was Tiger Woods, Babe Ruth or Jack Johnson. Nobody is sure what the hell just happened, but whatever that was had to be as close to the best thrill in sport anyone has ever seen.
So, this is what we are talking about. In the last two minutes of the game between the Buffalo Bill’s and the Kansas City Chiefs with 1:54 on the clock the Bills take the lead 29-26. It takes 52 seconds for the Chiefs to answer with a touchdown. There is 1:02 left in the game and Chiefs go ahead 33-29. Forty-five seconds later the Bills roar back hitting Gabriel Davis for 19 yards in the end zone reclaiming the lead, it is now 36-33. There are 13 seconds on the clock, that is all the time the Chiefs would have to receive the kickoff then bring their offense back onto the field to try and score. That’s not nothing, but 13 seconds doesn’t leave much, in fact most figured there was no way any quarterback was going to pull this one off, it’s a damn pity someone has to lose after playing such a good game. With his lucky 13 seconds Mahomes passes left to Hill for 19 yards. The ball is placed on their 44-yard line. Each side uses a timeout. There are 8 seconds left on the clock. Mahomes takes the snap and throws to the middle of the field hitting his tight end Kelce for 31 yards. The ball is now on the 31-yard line within field goal range with 3 seconds on the clock. Kansas City Chief’s Harrison Butker kicks to tie the game 36-36 and sends the game into overtime.
Because of various rules to how the playing clock is started and stopped it took a little more than 6 minutes and 30 seconds to play the last 2 minutes. Buffalo’s quarterback Josh Allen tosses two touchdowns completing 5 of 7 while Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes also tosses two touchdowns hitting 8 passes out of 11. Together they combine for 246 yards and four touchdowns as time runs out and the game is tied.
Buffalo’s Josh Allen stands 6’5” and weighs 237 lbs., where Patrick Mahomes is 6’3” and weighs 230 lbs. Mahomes runs a 4.8 second 40-yard dash to Allen’s 4.6. On the ground in Sunday’s game Allen gained 68 yards in 11 attempts, Mahomes gained 69 yards in 7 runs. It’s one thing to be fast, but to be this big and this fast is rare, bigger men are usually a step slower, that much less agile, not this pair, these two are top notch. Both quarterbacks are big quick allusive players that are hard to tackle and will punish an opponent for trying.
One team had to win and as it turns out the winner in overtime was picked by a coin. Nobody can prove the first team to get the ball would score but that’s what happened, and I don’t think a soul in that stadium had a second of doubt. Josh Allen had called tails and the coin came up heads. Kansas City would receive the ball first. The rest is history, there were two short runs and six passes, the last to Kelce who catches a pass in the endzone and scores the game winning touchdown. This was a game between two of the best that have ever played the game and Sunday afternoon two teams gave football fans perhaps the biggest thrill the sport has ever known.
Sipping wine on the foredeck as an afternoon sun settles into the mists of the San Francisco skyline. Commuters bound home from work to scatter about in the East Bay and further. Bill Evans playing with his trio, recording from 1959 connects long ago to a less frantic present day.
List of chores is short. I’d had to do some cleaning of my battery terminals; electrics aboard keep a sailor busy. Then a walk along the shoreline. The walk is for our health, the shoreline views for a place to cast our imagination. I’ve been upping my game trying to walk 5 miles a day. Breaking it into two helpings.
Some days I’m gassed, other days there is not enough time. Then there are those other days where not a lick of ambition can be summonsed. Fixing the little things today, nothing too challenging please. Deck and topsides are ready to be washed. Next sunny day a coat of varnish over my teak rails, there is not much brightwork and with a few new coats next week I’ll be good until late summer.
I’m crewing south aboard a friend’s sailboat— it is a Hylas 46’ we depart as weather allows at the end of March. We’ll run off the coast from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The only must stop while sailing south is Santa Barbara. Not stopping would be an injustice to self-indulgence. True we remain stuck in the tricky terrain that the pandemic has wrought. That bit of misfortune may well be in a lull by then, perhaps all of us might be able to venture out, maybe the worst will be behind us. It’s not just harbor hopping but then there is the lost art of the pub crawl, a slice of pizza and liar’s dice.
We received much needed rain and snow last month. A few inconsequential days of drizzle since. Water managers can only hope it keeps raining. So far since, that has been all hope. Sailing in winter is spotty. San Francisco can be clear and calm, the dead of winter, not a breath, not even a wisp, sailing is futile. We’ll motor over to Clipper Cove to anchor out overnight. On anchor is where we do our best sleeping. A sailboat rocking with its hook set sure will induce the deepest sleep. Other times it can be a burden, the wind kicks up and you’ve got to get out of your bunk to be sure the anchor is holding. San Francisco Bay is mostly mud and anchors dig in easily, but there is eel grass in some spots and cutting through and getting the anchor to bite then hold can take more than a few tries.
Once untied from the dock the boat is your responsibility to sail, anchor, to get from one harbor to another, one island to the next, up the coast to the next port, down the coast where you might drop the hook in a shallow protected anchorage. The reason sailors keep such a close eye on the weather is to avoid being punished by cold rain or gale force winds. The rain is just miserable a full gale can become existential. Dodging squalls and other nautical hazards requires less due-diligence in this the modern era of satellite weather imagery. Then, up and down the coast the telemetry comes in from the US Coast Guards weather buoys strategically placed off the coast. Forecasting is something apart from current conditions, but there are plenty of marine weather forecasters to choose from, and as ever be careful, choose wisely.
The sail south in the Hylas I expect will go off without a hitch. I know the boat, know what maintenance the boat has been given, what parts replaced, what safety equipment she comes fit out with. I know the skipper, he’s an experienced ocean sailor, by training an engineer, his passion for sailing means that he gives a lot of time to the sport. His navigational skills are first rate, his understanding of his own sailboat is comprehensive, and the skipper needs to be on top of his boats many systems, a Hylas 46’ is a much more complicated machine than my 36’ Jeanneau sloop. Gratitude is a cruising sailboat, she’s outfitted with a big headsail, then a staysail and a roller furling main. If it gets nasty nobody need risk working up forward on the deck. With little effort sails can be furled from the safety of the cockpit.
Off the coast we’ll steer a course south that keeps us well off the shoreline by 10 miles or more. In reduced visibility of night or fog we’ll run radar and the Automatic Identification System (AIS). Both show up on the chartplotter display. If we feel it prudent the AIS gives us the name of the vessel we are approaching and if need be we can hail them on the marine band radio to confirm our course and that they can see us too.
If you get too far off the coast, you’ll end up in the shipping lanes where the big craft are transiting north and south along the coast. Best to steer clear of the commercial traffic as the craft move much faster and there is risk of collision. Having a 500-ton container ship closing on you and not knowing if they see you or not is one of sailings least pleasant vulnerabilities.
All four crew will be responsible for standing watch. The boat will steer itself with the autopilot, but then there is confirming the boat is remaining on course and that there are no vessels nearby. Sometimes the wind kicks up and a sail change is necessary. That usually involves getting the skipper on deck as it is his decision how the boat’s sails are set.
Once off watch there is food to make, reading to be done, and sleep to be had. The sound of water parting at the bow and then the wake rolling off through the swells. I like the sense of harmony that is provoked, how the boat works and strains against the swell and wind, how the simple task of moving a boat from one harbor to the next satisfies some kind of sailor hunger for netting breeze into a sail, departures can be mundane where almost always the arrival portends some measure of contentment.
Anchoring alone off the Channel Islands is always evocative of arriving at some place time has been kind to, something far from ordinary, something simple yet rare, so distant from the mainland it has been left unmolested, it is raw and less altered, this wildness is a distinct pleasure of a kind.
Planning is underway to bring a sailboat from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to San Francisco, California. I have been following along as the sail plans are drawn up. There is some piracy off Vietnam, that’s one hazard. Typhoon season isn’t a concern. Still, to cross the Pacific a sailboat would sail north 3000 miles to Japan and then go further north and west nearer to Alaska than Hawaii for another 5100 ocean miles to San Francisco.
A Seawind 1260 is a 41’ performance catamaran, the speed is calculated to average about 8 knots. Portion of this sail are upwind; this is harder adding time and distance to the passage. Crunching the numbers, it looks to be at minimum 40 plus days and more likely at least 50. I’m enjoying viewing the planning of this trip while far more likely to be tied to a mooring ball in Avalon off Santa Catalina Island waiting for the catamaran’s arrival in San Francisco.
Sailing the North Pacific Ocean in summer is the right time, but low pressure systems are common up at these higher latitudes, then there are gale winds and tall seas that make for an arduous time at sea. Usually, smaller craft either deploy sea anchors, a device something like a horizontal parachute, or a device called a drogue that is dragged from the stern to slow a speeding boat being pushed too fast by a strong blow. All of this is ordinary blue water sailing. A skilled crew would have its work cut out, at sea for 50 days plus your odds are good that you will be overtaken by squalls and gales, seas in the North Pacific would be mountainous at times, you would definitely know you had been to sea and lucky to have made it through.
Sailing off the coast of California means you might be underway for 2 to 4 days, sailing closer to shore if weather deteriorates you can run for shelter at the nearest harbor where you can wait out the heavy weather. Full on ocean passages are another level higher in difficulty. Then there is the reality of being out to sea for nearly two months and that is for most sailors of small craft a very lengthy period of time. I know I’m more than qualified to sail to Avalon, and I do make a pretty good martini, shaken not stirred, prefer it up not over, use more vermouth than the average slinger. I could go, but it might be the wiser thing to let the wilder younger rascals have at this. I’ll make a martini now and give this halfway around the world passage further consideration. I’m not unaccustomed to dropping everything, packing my suitcase, grabbing my sleeping bag and signing up for a year on the road with a circus, and that was a whole year, this would be done start to finish within two months, give or take a brush with death or in fact actually being killed by unforeseen circumstances─ now, where did I put that jar of olives─
We live in interesting times─ lucky you and lucky me─ whoopie. I keep scratching my head and am left wondering how gripping a less action-packed present might be. In the next few days data will get crunched and we’ll know if December 2021 was or was not the hottest of all Decembers on record. That should generate a collective disengaged yawn from the overworked and underpaid. Thwaites’s glacier is the cheery doomsday topic in a recent Rolling Stone article, and this Antarctic calamity is preternaturally destined to be a conversational gamechanger in the months ahead.
Forecasters told us that Bidens victory would lead to a collapse in viewership on cable news outlets. To the surprise of exactly zero still clean and sober people, it turns out that casting out a mendacious psychotic con man from the Oval Office would be followed with a fall off in viewers exhausted from worrying about the immediate collapse of civilization. Viewership decline seems almost humane, the circumstances the nation is confronting happens to be a nasty bit of duplicitous populism. I decorate my language with terms like treason, tyrant and Nazi─ I salt and pepper my speech like I was working at a mistletoe testing facility inside a wax lips factory. When you get to live in interesting times you will find as I have that they come with sloppy wet kisses.
Journalism and capitalism make for an unhealthy pairing of mistaken bedfellows. There was a time where a contented citizen meandered the pages of a local newspaper perusing the want-ads trying to find a steal on a used car with a radio that still works─ those were the days─ In this era we click on items on our computer screen and read from the Guardian, Atlantic Monthly, or Buzzfeed. Far off scribes treat us to a veritable tsunami of seditious Republican sycophants all gushing with envy over Viktor Orbán’s iron fist rule of Hungary.
Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, I hike each day trying to release as many endorphins as my body can produce to quell my anxious mind. All that up energy is used to fend off all this Debbie-downer news we are surrounded by. Recent survey has found that 4 in 10 Americans live in a county that has been hit by some kind of extreme climate event. I don’t know what those other 6 Americans are doing but it appears near as sure a bet as a sure bet can be that their long put off extreme weather event experience is just ahead. Life is nothing but tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and wildfire While we’re here be sure you refresh those batteries in your portable radio.
No wonder everyone has tuned out the news and instead has gone hog wild for water skiing and topless dance watching. If you look around, you’ll find this concept that’s been tattooed into our citizens consciousness, it is the concept of American Exceptionalism. It was the year 1963 when western state water managers feeling so exceptional that they began filling Lake Powell─ at the time they were warned it would be one of the most environmentally destructive events ever to befall the American West─ those sounding the alarm have turned out to be more than just a little lucky in their prediction, they are absolutely right. As horrific an act as building this dam was, literally drowning the wilderness from the Colorado River, the very next year in 1964 by some form of legislative miracle the Civil Rights Act was passed, then one year later in 1965 Congress dragged kicking and screaming passed legislation guaranteeing all citizens the right to vote. Furthermore, Congress agreed that the citizens votes would count, and that─ we the people─ would conduct free and fair elections. I promise you the spirit of Jefferson Davis would take great exception to America’s exceptionalism. America isn’t even half century out from having passed the Voting Rights Act. It was only two years later that Democrats would lose the southern vote for generations. Can you imagine─ a whole House and Senate, a fungible majority of vote coddlers that back in the 1960’s had the unmitigated gall to fortify self-governance laws. They must have been high on something.
No sooner had Lake Powell been filled than this gargantuan mistake began going dry, today it is barely one-quarter full, it’s been drying up over the last 22 years─ tragic doesn’t begin to capture the destruction this dam has caused.
This whopper of a reservoir was never a good idea, this boondoggle was just the next western water mirage to seize the minds of the dam building obsessed engineers working for the Bureau of Reclamation. Talk about the dunderheaded faux pas─ what I call the decision of no return.
Because it is slightly hotter and slightly drier─ climate change effects─ there is less water coming down the Colorado River to fill Lake Powell and what water does arrive, well too much ends up being evaporated off the lake’s surface before the water can be used for its intended purpose. We lose 386,000-acre feet of water per year off Lake Powell, Lake Mead is estimated to give back 600,000. Turns out the two reservoirs are a water resource managers worse nightmare.
Arizona’s Water Bank Authority─ nothing but the nicest people have been assigned this grim duty─ knowing all there is to know about evapotranspiration─ because that’s what our states water boards are trained by banishment to do─ this elite brigade of experts, this gang of water tortured souls are trying their damnedest to pump as much water into underground aquifers as water allocators will allow. If you can get water stored underground, it will eliminate losses from evaporation. This of course runs smack into the face of farmers and ranchers pumping every drop of water out of the ground as quick as their unmetered pumps will allow. If you want to point to a teachable moment this is where paradox and absurdity meet at the gates to what is left to the Garden of Eden.
There are plenty of good ideas, and every reason to have hope, but we’ve also got one of the most convoluted water rights systems in the world. Byzantine doesn’t do this tangled mess justice. What appears to be afoot is that everyone and everything is going back to court. You have never seen a worried look like those on the faces of the water managers from our seven western states. The Colorado River Compact of 1922 – The bedrock of the “Law of the River”, this disputatious Compact was negotiated a century ago by the seven Colorado River Basin states─ by 2025 so will begin the Great Disentanglement. You do not need to guess what will happen, we can know the scale of the situation by looking at snow and rainfall totals.
Water rights will have to be reassigned, those losing access to water will sue, those gaining access to water will complain, stakeholders in the water grabbing racket seldom to never get enough to make enough to feel like they’ve got enough. This will be one of the most litigious events of this new century, and as new century’s go a good many have strong feelings about this newfangled mark on time. A lot of folk’ want a do-over, but you know as time goes, all those ticking seconds flow in one direction─ present moment to uncertain next fateful moment. A great unraveling of agricultural interests will be delayed as long as is judicially feasible, residential water users will stave off the worst of the cuts, lawyers will get wealthy, and many expert state water resource managers will likely suffer from heart problems and seek the sanctuary of early retirement so they might spend more time with their families─ this is perhaps the last handful of people they still know that does not hate their water reneging guts.
Reallocating water from the Colorado River has to happen, picking new winners and losers is unavoidable, I’d recommend we laser paint the intake tubes that power the electric turbines on Glen Canyon Dam send a couple of guided missiles into these choke points and put this mother of all water blunders out of its misery. (Plot point to story/screenplay I’m writing) Turns out when you run the numbers the dam isn’t doing a damn thing.
The FBI back in 2002 said environmental activists represented “the most dangerous domestic terrorist threat to the country.” Eco-activism in the best sense describes a cohort of likeminded souls trying to come up with fixes to the problems mankind is having with the natural world. Some folk’ trying to defend their turf even if they are guilty of squandering our natural resources like to paint eco-activists as hairbrained and a danger, they’ll call them radical environmental activists, and if and when they get out of line these do-gooder’s will become destructive. These imagined maniacs earned top billing on the FBI’s wanted posters, by the time the Glen Canyon dam at Lake Powell had been filled water resource managers had successfully painted opponents to the dam as radical environmental terrorists.
What we can know now that we pretended not to know then was that the dam at Lake Powell is a mistake, that there is every reason to believe this dam needs to be removed, that it should never have been built and taking it down will not be anything but the right thing to do. Look people we tried it and it didn’t work. Let’s put things back the way they were before we got here and started messing with this primordial forces of nature. We’re going to have to learn how to get along with this world or this hotter and drier world is going to get along without us.
I’m walking more than ever. Like millions of others, I’ve been avoiding my health club. My neighborhood runs up along a hillside. Street’s twist and turn and there are footpaths and while there are dead ends here and there, I’ve walked enough to have discovered many of the secret passageways.
I walk as rain, sun and whim allow. The enlightened walker skips days when I have labored in the yard and the walk only adds unnecessary virtue to the balance of day that is best devoted to vice. Taking self-improvement to heart is one thing, transforming my inner conscience into the barking ravings of some phantom Vince Lombardi is another.
Walking for just over one hour I can accomplish so much. The famous 10,000 steps I can hit within 65-70 minutes. I could improve on that time, but that’s taking the poetry out of the enterprise and replacing it with the instruction manual to a more strident life. Pace, do not get me wrong, is vital and does have a place somewhere in the furthest reaches of my lower stem brain.
Vertical I arrange so I do as much and as steep as I can the earliest in the walk so I might get to that halfway point enjoying the conceit that it’s all downhill from here-on-out, that I’m home-free, that there are mermaids, cocktails and piles of fan mail waiting for me upon my return─ one out of three ain’t too bad.
I prefer a hiking stick. I use a foldable model, carbon fiber, with titanium tips for the street and rubberized tips for times I am scrambling over slickrock. The hiking stick has been useful to fend off dogs too. Twice in the last few months I’ve had dogs bolt from the front door of a home I am walking by to come test my mettle. The first beast was a basset hound mixed with beagle and suffering from dog territoriality syndrome. His efforts to penetrate my defense were for naught, the dog owner assuring me that her dog would never bite anyone─ obvious to me is the dog and owner had not gotten the memo that I wasn’t just anyone! The second was a rottweiler and the same hollow assurances were expressed while I was fending off her agitated living room escape artist. If you misunderstand any of this, take heed and know I adore dogs and until I changed to eating vegan had their pooch like respect. My odor no longer convinces them that I remain a carnivorous like-minded soul, that my possible treats would lack the real thing and that I am an imposter that must be sent fleeing their territory. This is all a pack of wolf nonsense, but the cunning canines and the non-meat eating homo-hikers are in the midst of a climate changing dietary reconfiguration.
Best walks are hard to explain because it might sound odd and have a peculiar ring to the ear. I prefer not dodging speeding cars. I tolerate the other walkers, they have as much right to walk as anyone, this is still a free country, even if that is now time-stamped and in play. Bird encounters from Disney’s special effects department are thrilling. I spend countless walks judging my neighbor’s choice of trees, brush, bush and bloom. Fence geometry is a profound spiritual experience. Gates are by my reckoning a lost opportunity. Door knockers, address lettering, mailboxes all indications of our civilizations decline.
Together we’ve all been thrust upon a new year setting out at the trailhead marked by the past to walk as best we might into this fraught future. Walking without earbuds helps. I’m not sure Neanderthals would believe in earbuds, knowing my Portuguese grandfather would have been utterly appalled, earbuds cannot improve a healing long walk, in fact they may well diminish what gain in self orientation a vivacious walker might enjoy.
You won’t help my cause if you clutter my street. Walking must come from your own inner compass. Willing walkers ready to dance with coyote cries and bobcat scat relish the taste of wild upon their lips. Cougar, bear and rattlesnake are here. I can find tick, black widow, and tarantula here. My favorite misery─ poison oak─ is rampant.
Let’s walk together this year, this new uncertain and fragile moment we all face, let’s walk together, let’s take a walk on the wild side…
Time for end of the year predictions. I’d like to jump around and cover as much terrain as I can. Let’s go─
Starting first with microgrids. “A microgrid is a local grid with an independent source of energy capable of disconnecting or “islanding” from the utility grid.” The Department of Energy identifies about 500 microgrids in the United States, there are certainly going to be many more.
One example is Redwood Coast Airport in Humboldt County. Power is generated by solar panels, energy is distributed to the municipal airport just north of Eureka, California. The microgrid uses Tesla batteries for storage. The airport and its assorted buildings and hangars can connect to the grid or disconnect from the grid, and it is this feature, that distinguishes a microgrid. Some renewable powered sites do not connect to the grid and operate as independent standalone systems.
Microgrids─ especially where there are fleets of commercial vehicles parked off hours offer enormous battery storage capacity for state or regional grid operators to utilize by borrowing then returning power back to the fleet before the vehicles return to service the next morning. Expect microgrids to be common across the country by end of this decade. Think about electrified school buses, United States Post Office vehicles, Amazon, FedEx, UPS… all these vehicles networked by computers will give solar and wind energy a place to be stored until power is needed. I’m predicting that by the end of this decade the electric vehicles in your neighborhood will be used as a microgrid.
Ford Motor Company will begin to deliver their first electric pickup trucks early next year. Entry level models will be priced at $40,000. If a customer qualifies there will be up to $12,500 in rebates and credits, that’s a full-size pickup truck for under $30K. My prediction is this truck, based off of the Ford F-150 which has been the most popular pickup truck in America for the past 40 years, and it is this vehicle that is going to shatter sales records, by 2024 expect it to be the America’s top selling electric vehicle. Self-employed business owners that use trucks to haul tools and supplies to job sites will transition to these vehicles writing down their cost as a business expense and instead of purchasing gasoline will recharge at night off a many times less expensive electric grid. Commercial EV’s are going to revolutionize vehicle-based businesses.
More to consider as we forecast events ahead with the potential to disrupt our world. Antarctica’s Thwaites Glacier is threatening collapse and scientists are forecasting sea level rise of between 2 to 10 feet, but the new news is that timeline for this sea level rise has been pushed forward. Recent forecasts have sea level rise happening in the next 60 months, and likely even sooner. Of the 7.9 billion people on the planet 680 million of us live on land threatened to be inundated by rising seas. In the national elections of 2024 sea level rise is going to be the mother of all campaign issues. If you don’t have a plan, and basically there is no plan, your candidacy will be rendered irrelevant. If the plan is retreat, that isn’t a plan, and you are going to lose. San Francisco, New York City and Miami are going to attempt building multi-billion-dollar sea walls, less developed communities with smaller populations and less money will have to retreat to higher ground. The Army Corp of Engineers has mapped low lying shoreline that is going to be lost to rising seas.
The drought gripping the American West is a more complicated prediction. Thousands of farms and ranches are vying for the same water as their states metropolitan areas where many millions live and when push comes to shove it’s the people that will end up getting the water. There is San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Las Vegas, Reno, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Tucson, Albuquerque, Denver and Boise. With swelling populations across the west and in midst of a changing climate, a place than on average is slightly warmer, slightly drier and because of the shortage of water millions of acres will need to be taken out of production. The structural drought (too much water promised but not enough to go around) is going to pit the western states against one another, it is going to be litigious, and rattle the politics of the American West for most of this century.
Bill Gates has been investing in mini-nuclear reactor technology. A demonstration project is going up in Wyoming. There are claims that this technology is cost competitive, but these claims have not been proven and many believe them not to be true. Decommissioning costs are high and the engineering and efficacy of storing spent fuel safely for the next 250,000 years is unsettled science. If this reactor does get built it will fail to prove to be safe, reliable or competitive with other forms of power generation.
The great issues of the day are no longer something happening out there to those people in that country over there faraway from where citizens in the United States, Canada or Europe live. We are all suffering from the effects of climate change. We have all had to cope with a deadly pathogen. We have all had to cope with the digital revolution and the chaos and disinformation social media platforms are infected with. Then there is the crisis in our government, it is no longer a secret, it is a well understood that the Republican Party has broken faith with democracy and is seeking to regain power, form an autocratic government and then never relinquish power to any other party again. The coalition consists of evangelical Christians, nativists, White Nationalists and low tax and less regulation capitalists. It is a painful to witness. Corporations headquartered here in this country have remained on the sidelines and with our democracy at risk with far too many stakeholders fearful of alienating their customers many of our business leaders are opting to remain silent in the hope that the unsettled political crisis will come to some kind of peaceful end.
The whole world wants the pandemic to be over. We all want the drought to end. Pick any poll anywhere in the world and the people want the climate fixed, nobody wants to see more super storms, tornadoes or out of control wildfires. It turns out it is easier to tell you what is under the hood of an electric car than what is lurking in the hearts and minds of the voters. I’d prefer we fix our problems not make the error of tossing away our freedom. That’s what we’re working on from this remote outpost here on the edge of Pacific Ocean in a place called California. We are working on making a better world for our children and our future. All of us, together, we’re working on making this a better world─ that’s not a prediction, that’s the truth
The speed of life appears to accelerate as our short teeth grow long. Digital social media surfing tends to be a frothy mix of astounding crimes against humanity supplanted by the banal failings of a professional dog walker caught skipping out on the excrement pickup duties that come with this vocation.
Climate related catastrophes are grabbing the headlines with an ever-increasing frequency.
I mention wildfire and most people I know will launch into how they’ve installed air filters, purchased emergency generators, cut back their trees and brush or have had either their homeowner’s insurance premiums increased or canceled altogether.
Drought awareness is spotty. If you’ve had your irrigation allocations cut, you are all to painfully aware of the consequences of the persistent drought patterns that shadow your best laid plans.
Just a few weeks ago Abbotsford, British Columbia was hit with flooding, all hell broke out and they received a month’s worth of torrential rains over two days that wiped away five bridges and twenty sections of roadway vital to getting supplies from the coast to the interior of this rugged diamond of a province in Canada.
This last June the entire town of Lytton, British Columbia in the grip of a record-breaking heatwave caught fire and burned most of the town to the ground.
Hurricane Ida a Category-4 storm first lashed Louisiana with wind and rain then spun north and east wreaking havoc upon New Jersey inundating Newark with over 8 inches of record-breaking rainfall. When something has never happened before perhaps it is time to give these events a second look, ask a few questions, make some assessments, consider your options. You know wake up and get about the business of fixing things before things fix you.
The colossal rare for December 200-hundred-mile-long tornado that cut a path across Kentucky this past weekend has the telltale signs of a climate change induced event. It’s become imprecise to describe such catastrophic events as a natural disaster given the scientifically proven effects our releasing gigatons of carbon dioxide is having on our planet. Appears our fingerprints are all over these weather events.
Allstate changing advertising agencies in 2020 seems to have retired the character playing Mayhem from their ad campaigns. In midst of a global pandemic and under lockdown, washing hands, wearing masks while 100’s of thousands are killed by a virulent pathogen might make this change in campaigns an appropriate inflection point to regroup, rebrand and reconsider what hazard coverage you might wish or not wish to cover. Seems obvious in light of events.
If you read my postings, you’ll see I keep picking at my concerns about whether we can continue to govern and keep the wheels on our civilization rolling in the face of such daunting problems.
In California’s San Joaquin Valley just west of Fresno lies the Westlands Water District. If you are a politician, you cross the drought intolerant Westland mega millionaire farmers at your own peril. Enter stage right the California State Water Board announcing on December 1, 2021, that it is “Zero Day” for much of California’s agricultural industry. All the dam building, aqueduct constructing, ditch digging, well drilling and cloud seeding isn’t going to get the Westlands Water District one more drop of water.
If you are heading up Interstate 5 from LA, the Westlands Water District of Fresno and Kings County runs parallel with the highway from Kettleman City north 90 miles to Mercy Hot Springs Road. This farmland is made possible entirely by irrigation and without it the land would be all tumbleweed, dry wash, and dust devils. This is 600,000 acres─ the largest irrigation district in the United States, land that is worked by 600 subsidized farms that could not exist had the Federal government followed their own science and surveys and declined to put into production this portion of the San Joaquin Valley.
In 1992 the Central Valley Project Improvement Act was passed. “This comprehensive legislation initiated water contract reforms, raised prices for water, established a fund financed by farmers to correct past environmental damage, promoted fish and wildlife restoration, and mandated a wide range of other reforms.” The Westlands Water District has fought this legislation at every turn, tooth and nail, tong and hammer.
What we’ve got here is our own version of Vietnam or Afghanistan, a water war with no end. Every time we say the jig is up the Westland Water District returns with another proposal to prop up their district by pumping yet more state and federal government funded water into their district. Time has run out and enough is enough. Whatever is in store for the Westlands Water District’s ought to be on their dime. Let them build the facilities to store the water, deliver it to their lands and drain it off of their fields, mitigate the pollution and remedy the salt and toxins that are wreaking devastation on the region’s wildlife.
Out here in the American West the megadrought continues to tighten its grip. A century ago, in our historically anomalous cooler and wetter era it appeared we might engineer our water resources into an unending bounty of agricultural abundance. Instead, we lavished water we no longer have on a group of too rich for their own britches farmers who have not a lick of tolerance for the drought that’s got the region by the throat.
Devin Nunes represents portions of both Fresno and King County. Defending the Westland Water District has been a favorite hyperbolic sport of this ill-suited hack politician now turning to become a social media CEO. His term of art for citizens in California trying to hold over-entitled subsidized millionaire farmers to account is to label them as “radical environmental activists.” This is what I call kick-down and kiss-up rhetoric. Like Kevin McCarthy, the Minority Leader in the House of Representatives you owe your political career to the government subsidized constituents that can make or break you should you forget who you are working for and cross them by even one precious drop of water.
I’ve never been inclined to building a life based on my receiving near free water so that I could grow Department of Agriculture crop subsidized commodities that fully guarantee whatever may come that I’ll be living higher than the other 99% of the nearby county citizens. That’s not a square deal, feels more like wheeling and dealing terms. Then, when it comes time to pay your fair share, to give some portion of your taxpayer paid largess back to help with all this nation is responsible for doing, that instead you fund political campaigns dedicated to lowering your taxes, reducing regulations, and worse still things have now spiraled so far out of control that a good many on your side of the isle have shown up in Washington on January 6th to commit sedition and topple democracy. It is a sad state of affairs when our tax dollars have been sent to such a place and instead of gratitude, instead of appreciation, these investments have bred only contempt for our government and cultivated a fool’s alliance with the growing threat to our nation’s stability.
Anyone and everyone knows Republicans have not one care for a smaller government, they want a more focused and constituency targeted government, one that serves the people that put them in office, and if that means reducing services and cutting programs for those citizens that don’t live in the Westlands Water District then that’s just fine and dandy, they’ll never vote for their party anyway.
Part of what is dangerous in this moment is that a whole lot of overcompensated agricultural interests no matter how much lobbying they might do can’t come up with the water that’s gone missing in this climate emergency and being rock-ribbed-science-denying partisans that they are they haven’t the least bit of interest in doing their part to live within their water budget means. That’s not their problem, they are water nobility, they think they are the creators of the abundance the nation enjoys.
It’s time we walk these subsidies back, send in teachers to the region, provide government sponsored civics lessons on how it is we’ve come to the point where you can no longer promise to be part of the solution to our problems the nation confronts, but instead are ready to make the climate emergency we face that much more dangerous and the government we all depend upon that much more unstable. That’s what we have here friends, “what we have here, is a failure to communicate.” Saddle up, we’ve work to do and a nation to build.
If you haven’t driven an electric car, you are missing out on civilizations latest pony ride. The end of the internal combustion engine is near at hand, the greasy mess is headed into the history books before it triggers the mother of all mass extinction events─ you know like wiping all of life from the face of the earth. Sorry to be so cheery.
Freight trains are pulled with diesel powered engines that spin huge alternators that power electric turbine motors, it is how these beasts put the power down on the rails to move the cargo. Bean counters, scientists and engineers from Lawrence Livermore Labs have penciled out spinning the locomotives turbine motors by replacing the alternators power and instead using lithium batteries. The retrofit doesn’t require the diesel motors or alternators to be removed, then one way or another the locomotives can move the freight regardless of whether the sun shines or the wind blows.
The Port of Long Beach and Los Angeles ship over 12,000 cargo containers to downtown LA every day. The dedicated railway is known as the Alameda Corridor. Running non-diesel trains is going to be a huge win for the LA air basin. When the entire fleet of locomotives is retrofitted with lithium batteries and recharged off-peak hours the savings enjoyed by not having to purchase diesel comes close to offsetting the entire price of the retrofit. This is huge!
Leave it to the Livermore Lab bean counters they calculate there is even more they can do with battery powered locomotives. Let’s say there is an earthquake or wildfire, and power is knocked out, Santa Barbara has gone dark, long distance power lines have failed, there is an emergency, and as we have all been realizing we live in the era of emergencies. Battery powered locomotives could be deployed to the region hook into the nearby switching yard and instead of using the charging station to add more electricity to their batteries they could discharge their stored energy and supply electricity to the stricken community. Locomotives are no longer one trick pony’s, instead they are strategic assets, cleaning the air, their mobility in an emergency, their enormous storage capacity able to back up the grid, distribution of assets such as this are the stuff of dreams.
What I’m talking about here isn’t pie in the sky or an imitation alligator wallet sold on the boulevards by some sidewalk showman with a fake Rolex you just have to see to believe. This is the real deal, and you know how I like the Isley Brothers.
Just over the horizon, just beyond what you can see from where you sit right now are a host of energy opportunities that are going to revolutionize how we distribute electricity. On my block I count maybe 50 vehicles, four are Tesla’s. My charger isn’t a dumb lump of coal, it is a communication hub, the charger mediates between the grid and the car. Setting the time, I charge my batteries for off-peak hours charging saves money, in the near future we’ll be able to opt in and allow the power company to discharge the car’s batteries (for a fee or credit) with the promise to fill them back up in time for the vehicles next scheduled trip. That feature is near at hand. A fleet of electric vehicles is a fully distributed storage system that is spread across our residential neighborhoods. Every 60-kWh battery pack is an opportunity, this will revolutionize the design and functionality of our energy system.
Thirty-six months from now this one street will see 10-15 electric cars parked on this block, that would be a whopping 750-1000 kWh (kilowatt hours) available for the grid operator to deploy as is needed. You add another 100 to 1000 blocks with similar potential power and you are talking about some serious stored energy reserves.
I drove into San Francisco yesterday. Dave, my lifelong wild and wonderful man of a thousand clowns and one drop dead serious sailboat racer friend had a few parts to give me and a Ducati to show. Roundtrip there and back I did 60 miles. The 2003 Volvo burning regular unleaded fuel used about 3 gallons plus. Rounding up the trip it cost about $20.00. Same trip in the electric vehicle works out like this…
We average about $52 per month for electricity for both our home and car here in Northern California. Charging the electric vehicle at night has been averaging not even $1.00, more like .83 cents per day, or about half our monthly electricity bill… figure $25.
Locomotives are a different kind of beast but figure the same trip to the City would have cost $350 using diesel, but if the train had made the run on its batteries that same distance would have cost $20-$30. That kind of savings is impossible to ignore.
All the smart meters on the sides of our home are also two-way communication devices, grid operators can identify an electric car and the state of charge of its batteries once it is plugged in. Using software grid operators can borrow or store energy from the batteries, flow is everything, they might use the power to run another home, then return the borrowed power back to the EV in time for the owner’s next scheduled trip. This will add resiliency to our energy system and lower costs.
Gas powered vehicles are a pay as you go operation. I’ve been running about 18,000 miles per year. The Volvo takes about $3000-$4000 in gas to go that far. The electric vehicle if plugged in from home will run somewhere between $300-$400 per…
Do your homework. In 2022 there is going to be more money available from the government to subsidize electric vehicle purchases. A $12,500 subsidy will make a great many models affordable, figure you could pick one up for less than $30,000. Without a fat gas bill on your credit card, it might just pencil out, and like that you’ve liberated yourself from the tyranny of fluctuating gas prices.
If you are a carpenter, plumber or electrician and drive a truck the new electric Ford pickup truck could be a gamechanger. Plus, besides the subsidy you might also write off your business expenses, besides getting rid of high fuel bills, and plus if you get to a job site and there hasn’t been power lines hooked up, you’ve got a ready to use source of electricity in your truck that you can use for your power tools.
If we can get a few million work trucks on the road, electrify locomotives, school buses, United States Postal Service delivery vehicles, everything UPS, FedEx and Amazon use we will be able to turn our attention to pieces of our energy system that are going to be more difficult to resolve as we fight to hold down the rising temperatures. OPEC knows this all too well, this tipping point is just ahead, it’s here now.
This is the fight we are in, some of it is hard, operating an electric vehicle, it isn’t hard, it is easy, its fun, and as they say the biggest no-brainer in the history of mankind. Let’s go