I traveled down to Tucson. Stopped in Quartzite slept in the back of the Volvo. Renting a room from midnight to early morning isn’t any fun. Sleeping in the back of a station wagon suits me fine.
As success and money have found their way into my life so has travel by air, hotels and rental cars. Air travel passes over the ordinary people and places I find matter. I don’t want to just come and go on a trip. I want to be with what I find in between.
An isolated high desert town with fifty miles of uninhabited highway between what comes next riles up the pangs unavailable to a citizen living in a megalopolis.
Driving down a main street with every parking place empty is an opportunity. Crawling along heading the other way on this street is an old man and a big dog in a pickup truck.
I get out and walk a few blocks. The pace of life is apparent. Living within a mile of a twelve lane freeway choked all day with traffic wears a nervous system thin.
Setting aside time to feel lonesome will revive the sagging spirits. There is a medicinal quality to an aimless walkabout in the middle of a town that’s been grinding along at a slow crawl. You can hear your own footsteps. A thought in your mind gets the attention it deserves.
By the time you have circled back to where you started you’ve got a fresh list of changes you want to make. There are recipes you’ll want to try, friends you put on your list to call and a promise to take better care of your spouse.
Keeping a ready mind open for an ordinary day is no mean feat. If you can hear the chirp of a sparrow clear as a bell you’re on the path. You might use the position of the sun to locate your own sense of place. Clouds sweeping past above will be noticeable in such circumstances.
A walk through Patagonia won’t be anything fancy. Won’t be any high priced homes, won’t see any new cars, but there will be a chance to hear from a crowded out piece of who you are.
What is not visible to the readers who drift by is that behind the scenes I am wrangling my fourth novel to the finish. I completed the manuscript a few years back and had to set it aside knowing it needed reworking. I didn’t have the stomach for the challenge. There’s a good final draft somewhere to be found in this body of prose and I am doing what I can to complete a splendid fourth novel. Don’t count me out just yet.
My newest work begins in Napa County at the Calistoga Fairgrounds. The fairground was temporarily turned into an evacuation center for the victims of the Lake County Fire. The September 2015 fire was a real event that was folded into a fiction.
Since I began work on this fourth novel there have been a score of monumental fires here and most recent of all in Australia. Here the Lake County Fire burned about 100,000 acres, destroyed about 1800 buildings and killed 4. I have written with all the heart and passion I could muster about this tragedy. Since, another fire and then another fire in the wine country has devastated this part of California.
Fire in this great state is a symptom of an increasingly climate change damaged environment. There are more fires, they are bigger, hotter and more frequent. In some sense they begin to dwarf the plot I had pieced together in 2015 when I had initially set out to do this work.
In Australia the world has witnessed fires that have consumed 15 million acres. You may google the tally if you want more numbers, but they are just numbers and caring survivors attempts to visualize and scale up their imaginations to such monumental size is a difficult task.
I had wanted to write a pleasant pastoral wine country story when I first started plotting my fourth novel. But the climate emergency took over. The urban-wildfire interface was once a rather obscure and irrelevant topic. That was a threat for residents living outside Missoula, Montana.
For years I reserved my environmental concerns to such faraway places as The Great Barrier Reef, Amazon Jungle or the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. As the size of our problems increased I failed to keep up, to scale my imagination and to reconfigure the plots and purposes of my fiction more work was demanded.
Whole revising my fourth novel one takeaway is that I went far too easy on the events that helped shape this story. Planning commissioners, Board of Supervisors, agricultural special interests and the ordinary citizens caught in the midst of all these forces battling for supremacy have behaved ever more horribly than I had fictionally foretold.
Since the story recounts the fight to save a few thousand acres along the eastern ridge of what forms the Napa Valley a wildfire has since done great damage to this land. If developed the new homeowners will undoubtedly insist firemen come risk their lives not if but when the next big wildfire sweeps through. Further development in the surrounding hillsides of Napa County is untenable and should not be permitted.
In Sacramento the insurer’s that sell coverage for homes in California are contemplating a ten-fold increase in the price of a policy for homes situated near an urban-wildfire interface zone. Homes in such diverse locations as Mill Valley, Lake Arrowhead or perhaps even Palo Alto are looking at having to pay $10,000 per year for fire protection.
None of this makes a novel. I mean what does the price of tea in China have to do with the human condition. Perhaps the difference now is that the problems we are facing are of such scale, contain the seeds of existential catastrophe, threatening virtually all life, a growing menace of such magnitude that small bore stories become irrelevant.
I wish my manuscript was in better shape and I could move on with my next. I’m researching a groundwater water grab attempt up in Northern Nevada by the Las Vegas Water District located way to the south. Nevada’s Las Vegas Goliath is roaming the American West in an attempt to quench the desire to sustain the construction boom.
We’ll see where this takes my writing. I think it needs to be funny no matter what else. We’re going to need to laugh while we try to save the world. I know that to be fundamental fact.
Now I prepare to ride by train from San Francisco Bay to Reno, Nevada where I will encamp with busking friend in Silver City to enjoy a view out his window of nearby Mustang and on Sunday momentary diversion of a good playoff game.
Writing can be quite something, beautiful and moving. When writing is redemptive, inspires, calls a soul to take action, and looks without flinching at our circumstances, it is in this direction our hard work is best aimed.
Facts like cholesterol are stubborn things. Eating meals described as whole food plant based at first blush seems simple enough. Try eating oats not oat flour, eat oranges not orange juice, eat dates not sugar processed from sugar beets.
The civilized world doesn’t seem to be able to do anything with Brussels sprouts. Cafés tend to prepare Brussels sprouts by first boiling, then slathering in various oily glazes, smothering in onions, frying and spicing until the little devils submit and surrender.
Snobbery is a fantastic thing and has spread to every corner. Condo owners in downtown San Diego are intolerable and for good reason. Portlanders are unbearably smug and superior coffee drinking people. By the time you whittle the list down to Buddhists and Vegans, well there is no higher ground.
Compared to describing what you eat as “whole food plant-based” and instead using the term “vegan” to explain your dietary lifestyle possesses so much more concision. Describing yourself to being a vegan means you can be superior without being long-winded. With one word you have identified yourself with the non-keto types. You are part of a movement sweeping the globe. Just like that you have set yourself apart. You are a plague upon every happy hour within driving distance of a tennis court.
Wherever you might end up on this crazy ride called life it is reassuring to know that the universal truth that everything tastes better wrapped in bacon transcends gimmicks, fads and hysteria. From the most splendid penthouse in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights to the smallest casitas sited on the lowest point in Death Valley all of minor god’s hungry creatures rejoice in the glory of wrapping this that or another thing in bacon.
Disinvitation like a spike pounded into a naughty vampire’s heart is how to cope with veganism. Give vegans free range. Let these quirks of human evolution go ahead and believe they will live longer even if all the bacon wrapped in everything believers know they will live a far shorter but far happier satiated life.
This is how omnivores will contain this rising dietary superiority craze. Lower blood pressure, declining cholesterol levels and being in the possession of measurably improved triglycerides cannot possibly be the path to the cessation of suffering. In fact, this trifecta of vegan tyranny must only make matters worse.
How many well meaning otherwise normal, wrap bacon in everything hosts, have been stricken with excessive stress while trying to prepare a vegan acceptable deli tray? That their surprise parties have collapsed in upon themselves does no measurable good. Helping vegans is not just a thankless task, it is a bacon wrapped in everything guilt ridden task.
An acquaintance suggests that “we can ill afford to let vegans gain further traction, distracting us as they will provoking us to have even one second thought about how we use or do not use bacon.” Bacon shaming cannot be allowed to become a thing. A bacon-less world is not a world most of us can imagine. Living pig free is an alternate universe. The world famous BLT is the Holy Trinity and Miracle Whip of high sandwich arts.
It is unlikely the people against wrapping things in bacon will ever outnumber people advocating for bacon wrapping.
Bacon wrapping, television and Facebook are those rare but necessary inventions. No matter how much weight we gain, how annoying the commercials or how awkward and antisocial Mark Zuckerberg is there are things we will just have to put up with for the greater bacon wrapped in everything good.
Dividing our world in two, one group wrapping everything in bacon and the other merely existing in some sort of hellish bacon free reality is almost impossible to imagine. As bacon eating collapsed and the ensuing swine extinction event threatening the pig’s barnyard existence how would our world cleave itself into two more easy to understand shame based factions?
Slaughterhouses would become a thing of the past. A sow’s ear would cease to exist? Pork belly futures would be delisted from the Commodity Futures Trading Association. Even the great billionaire Sheldon Adelson understands the basics of successful enterprise. There is no such thing as a bacon free casino. Bacon free and gambling is joined at the hip with whiskey, tobacco and access to reasonably priced hookers.
As all of you know bacon wrapping will end on the same day as the pigs learn to fly. An International Vegan Wing Building Convention is on the schedule for the Sands in Vegas. Toothpick futures are down and the best thing ever to happen to cantaloupe has now been thrown into doubt.
Grizzled whiskey drinking desperados that run their high horse my way can find themselves ambushed when what I carry in my saddlebags comes to light. After a good long run of roast beef, mash potatoes and berry pie alamode change has come to this slicker’s campfire.
You might be a living breathing voting Democrat, or you could be a lowdown useless card-carrying member of the Communist Party but that is of little concern here in the partisan highlands of this blog. If by some odd chance you find yourself an under assault omnivore, perhaps some sort of wishy-washy pescatarian, maybe you are one of those mostly vegetarian types, heaven help you if you are, then I’ve a few choice words to roil the waters at the start of this new decade.
I had a rendezvous with my cholesterol destiny three years back. The expiration date on eating whatever the hell I damn well pleased had been term limited out. Took some digging to separate the dietary facts from the do your thing fiction. Basically, I had a statin prescribed future dead ahead unless I changed what I had been putting on my table.
Behavior is a driver. Job one was getting my head out of the way, so my stomach had a shot at getting in touch with its better digestive juices. You have to take a fearless look around inside the inner cookie jar, see the messy rising sea of desire for what it is then you are able to set off on a journey to a lifetime of whole food plant-based deliciousness. I know that last sentence sounds like an impossibility wrapped in an atheist pretending to be a Catholic but come let’s think together beyond the boundaries of mule-headedness and non-Viagra induced rigidity.
Started out on my journey first thing I went on the wagon. No booze. Clear the sky, see the sober truth, get comfortable in your own bones. The alcohol reset button helped. We’ve since switched this button back to on, but to show mercy to my liver this switch is not been swung wide open. Think of this tactic as involuntary moderation.
Next, kick the meat, fish and poultry out. Three months later dairy is banished. If you do all of this, you have now landed your spaced-ship on the world of whole food plant based egg free eats. But, wait their buckaroo there’s more misery than a rattlesnake bite dead ahead. You dial back the salt and sugar. Cocky about all these fetes of discipline, deluded as ever, thinking you are done, but no, there’s a horse to break and cow to punch. That mirage shatters with a glimpse of your profile in a full-length mirror. That oil free cooking pan, a scan pan, you go out and get one of those pieces of metropolitan high dollar cookware. Nobody said it would be easy or cheap. Getting your weight down is in part a devious means of lightening that load in your wallet.
The good news is that with a little effort, patience and sticking to it you’ll get satiated when eating whole food plant-based grub. After some considerable practice when a meal lands in my stomach I can hear that caloric signal in my head loud and clear. Takes about two months in solitary whole food plant-based confinement to get there. The only other hell on earth near as awful to a man might be his banishment to a sofa in the living room on account of his being insensitive when not listening to every word of guidance coming from his agitated mirror to his soul.
Back to behavioral challenges (this is where the rubber meets the road.) Around other delicate appetite out of control souls I have found a profound sea of gustatory tumult. No Darwinian survival of the fittest creature eats food based upon the science. People eat by stomach driven passions. You get in the way of another man’s inner pork chop and you may find yourself bacon wrapped, deep fried and relegated to the garbage disposal of relationships.
Whole food plant-based eating can be tasty, fun and healthy for you. First things first you will want to know is that there is considerably more chopping and chewing involved. Takes some practice to prepare enough variety of recipes to achieve escape velocity, to travel to the world of variety versus being stuck in the rut of dietary sameness.
Once word spreads you are a whole food plant-based eating broccoli lobbing extremist you’ll have to put knee pads on and beg your way into your friends’ social calendar and all those exclusive dinner parties you once enjoyed. You’ll wake up and come to the heartbreaking realization you are no longer invited on over for weekend barbecues. Waitresses will do what they can, but you would be surprised to learn how few people know in the strictest sense what whole food plant-based eating entails. The cheese and bacon on everything crowd learns real’ quick that preparing meals without these animal-based food groups renders their talent for cooking to the rear of the chow wagon and their hash slinging is essentially unpalatably uninhabitable.
Those old duds in the closet you couldn’t throw away all of sudden fit you again. Life is pretty good even if you are lonely now on account of your no longer believing you have any right to eating all that honey those bees worked so hard to store in their hive. Being kind doesn’t have to be limited to your dog, cat or parakeet. Doesn’t advice like that just get right under your skin? I’m still working up having strong feelings for silkworms. Spiders in my neighborhood I’ll tell you they do breathe easier these days. Mosquitoes still got it pretty tough in these parts, but then I just can’t see my way to giving termites a pass either. Did I tell you about my earthworms and ladybugs? I even like malignant narcissists but the truth is I’ve never been able to finish a whole one.
I get jumpy around tourist traps, get bent out of shape around strip malls, cookie-cutter style homes, or walking through the front gate at Disneyland. An awful gutting cuts right to bone of my inner resources. If one man wants something all shiny and slick, packed to gills with half of Toledo well that’s fine for that kind of person. I prefer my physical surroundings to be a bit more offbeat, I crave variety, want styles mashed together, that’s the proper way of arranging a place, a general sense of unruliness. Berkeley comes to mind, Bisbee or Baker, Nevada.
The fidgetiness all starts out as a dull ache in my head, not enough pain to want to take aspirin but something is not right. In Arizona out near Apache Junction, AJ to those of us who love this last forlorn outpost for desert ratting, first thing to notice is that vehicles are mostly used up, paint is sun faded, tires are larger and rigs are parked off pavement in the dirt. Apache Junction isn’t against asphalt and concrete just hasn’t been able to afford as much as some of their so called competition.
Being averse to a tidy little town sometimes not only causes liquor drinking but even after a good happy hour at the nearest saloon I can still be thrown into a downward spiral. Don’t even ask me what miserable weather can do to the spirits.
There is an awful lot of junk advice offered to otherwise normal contrary type. Have a big family, shop at Costco, take vacations, get your meals at all you can eat buffets. There is no end to the guidance to be received whether you want any or don’t want any. None is useful, less than zero is ever acted on. If you know what you like and what you don’t like I’d say you’re ahead of the pack.
Finding yourself thriving in Apache Junction happens because the rotten no good dusty wayside out on the easternmost frontier in the Valley of the Sun is a place dedicated to being contrary to most all things that might be recognized as generally popular. If all of the known metropolitan population of a place is going one way the citizens of Apache Junction are inclined to want to go ahead and takeoff in the other direction.
Take for example my skipper friend Tom Varley. He has come down with the same perplexing revulsion for those same slick look alike places. Tom prefers the backside of Santa Rosa Island. Being all alone is high on his list of a near ideal way to spend a few days. Squeezed onto a mooring ball in Avalon with a throng would cause him to grind his teeth. My skipper friend is partial to Charleston, Oregon. Located at the entrance to Coos Bay. This coastal hamlet is hard to find on account of the the simple fact it does not occur to a person to go hunting for this fog shrouded damp and dank coastal village. If a soul is stuck on the coast and can’t make it to Apache Junction, Arizona why that loner would do well to breakdown in Charleston, Oregon.
Once you find a spot set out to do most anything to make ends meet, sell groceries, pour coffee, do engine repair, fix flat tires, or sew a button on a shirt. You’ll know you belong because you fight twice as hard to make a life for yourself in these odd places because almost any other conforming type place eats at your guts. People who may not know what it is that is causing so much consternation in their lives end up seeking counseling where it is near impossible to determine what it is that is causing so much personal grief.
Making a life we want, where we want, doing what we can so that we may remain where it is that seems to suit us most can save a soul’s life from wholesome sobriety. There is every probability that by the time the shows just about over you just might have dodged half as many traffic jams as some of those so called get up and get with-it types. Making your life in a town full of likeminded eccentrics can near save a soul from being stuck in a desperate seemingly otherwise successful situation.Where I come from a gated community is just a hoity toity name for one of those fancy places they put folk who might not always conform to social convention enough to cut it out on that other side. If you have already purchased tickets for your vacation I’d urge you to reconsider. Another fancy slick upscale two weeks in some forlorn destination with a tanning salon could pretty much finish you off. Be careful.
From this sketchy brief dockside acquaintance Tom Varley and I cemented the kernel of friendship. A few unanswered text messages, one or two calls that went to voicemail is how keeping in contact looked. Still I would expect nothing less from this surfer-sailor armed with nothing more than a flip phone from the museum of antiquated technology. Email was a dreary chore. You want to get in touch you had best meet face to face.
In September a year after our meeting in Morro Bay I sailed into Channel Island Harbor. I had asked around and got a lead on his boat’s whereabouts. I broke the cardinal rule and tried ringing him up. Breaking with tradition the Dude answered. Agreeing to meet I hiked from where I had docked around the marina from west to east to where his ketch was berthed.
I got lost. Gate to Varley Island transits sacred ground, a boatyard. We fell in where we had left off.
“Happy is aboard waiting…”
“How are things?”
“I’m finishing up a new installation. I’ll show you, man…”
Happy and I had to first have our moment. Tom waited. He had opened the closet door and had slid the freezer out. Gaining access to the top-loader was a snap.
“We’re almost out of here.” Tom said. “Shauna finishes her work. Hurricane season is almost over. We sail for Mexico in November.”
Unrepentant untrainable dreamers discuss little and laughed a lot. Tom Varley and I were well matched in our talent to make fat yarns from slim thread.
Tom had an idea, flowing out of his being like a water from a hose. One future scenario was theoretically proposed. In this possibility there might be some merit to Eileen and I sailing with Tom and his partner Shauna from San Diego down the coast of Baja. A crew of four made for a more gracious passage. The crew might actually get some sleep.
None of this would had been worth a winch handle had things not worked out. Tom and I were on the same page. There was good reason for the affinity. His vessel Spirit had his handiwork in evidence topside and below decks. New davits to hoist his dinghy happened to become the ideal location for his pair of solar panels. Even if he was dead set against having davits there was the simple matter of a woman’s comfort needing to be accommodated. All this bantering back and forth with a wink and nod while navigating the familiar contours of relationship is all part of the natural order of the world. A man knows what a man knows. Insisting upon having it your way puts at risk a partner’s happiness and for the sake of domestic bliss there is every reason to reconsider all options. Some male impulse type things are just not worth the hell that they may well bring upon an otherwise well regulated life.
Any man can brag about how they always prevail, how their way is the one best way. This of course is peacock behavior, a big display of fanciful tailfeathers and barnyard strutting when of course the true texture of love is built of accommodation and sincere warmhearted compromise.
A man enjoys arousing another man’s imagination. Truth is that neither of us ever thought we could compromise about anything and but for the ravages of time and at our partners insistence to our stubborn lives came that long awaited fateful day. Like so many things in nature our willfulness had been loved out of us.
That’s where our conversation landed. From an afternoon aboard a boat named Spirit while petting Happy the Jack Russell terrier with my friend acquaintance Tom Valery plans were put in place and four would in the weeks just ahead agree to sail from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas.
Sailing south along the coast to Morro Bay I came upon a well fit out ketch tied up to a mooring ball. The mariner and his companion were whittling away the summer taking things one sunrise and sunset at a time. There is an abiding peace to be found tucked safe in harbor with a fresh breeze, fog and sun tugging at your day. Aboard lived a sailor and his dog.
By force of will he had found a way to get off the road to fame. This one time troubadour no longer had to load in for another one-night stand, setup and have to play another beer hall, he no longer had to hassle with all those three in the morning load outs. That music hall gigging for a paycheck was all part of some piece of his past, as far as his present, he aimed to partake in the cruising pleasures of an aimless sailing season. Harbor hopping would be an end in itself. Our sailor was one-part boyfriend, another piece faithful son and last the voluntary canine caretaker to the most chew toy sensitive Jack Russell terrier anywhere this side of Hood River.
The Evergreen State College graduate (all you need to know right there) had become a toolkit carrying boat mechanic. Day and night consisted of keeping his Gulfstar 50 in tiptop ready for offshore sailing shape. As for quirks of personality his are no more misguided than any other self styled post revolutionary “Speedy the Geoduck” type. Surfer-sailors punk rock loving recluses can come off to the casual observer as Havana misfit gringo type’s. Our man on the mooring slipped his bare feet into flip flops, flashed a toothy grin, hit you with a blizzard of well worn jokes all the time not once giving off even one whiff of cigar smoke or revolution. His Jack Russell was named Happy, his boat was christened Spirit and his mother and father named their son Tom Varley.
I right away learned my sailing acquaintance focused his diet for the greater good of the earth and health of his soul. Getting down lower on the food chain benefits both blood pressure and girth. This drifter sailor isn’t opposed to drinking now and again so much as inclined to a more purposeful seldom on shore pace and never while at sea rhythm. Exercise should be invisible to the participant and is best done while distracted on a surfboard.
Conversation has a Will Rogers pace. Politics comes up short for this sailor. The struggle for a square and fair deal for the lunch bucket working stiff remain missing beneath the tree of awakening. Instead of solving nothing he preferred to keep his opinion a private matter. Oxygen ought to be used to gather up the strength to bust a stubborn bolt free. To a surfer like Tom Varley there is no upside to chasing your own tail in philosophical circles. Surfing provides a useful purpose where idle Machiavellian speculation serves none. Love everyone up, be curious, ask questions, inquire about another man’s circumstances, buck that gent up, and keep on laughing is our skippers inclination. A generous concern for others comes natural to this shrewd outgoing Samaritan.
Cultivating a keen sense of the muse while keeping his equipment in good repair above and below decks is how the pursuit of a sailing life ought to be lived. Untold hells of every kind may well visit a neglected unserviced vital system aboard a boat. This isn’t just Tom Varley’s opinion this is karmic mechanical law.
Knowing something about how to fix a boat and how to be yourself are two sides of the same coin. If this Tom Varley were a fish you would be right to brag about having made a pretty good catch. Don’t get confused about a good man with a twist of rascal thrown in. He’s got plenty of opinions and can gripe too, but time has sanded off the rough edges.
If you were stuck in a kennel and Tom rescued you from some uncertain canine fate I think it fair to say you couldn’t do much better. Probably feed you dry food for your own good, wouldn’t keep you all pinned up, and when you barked all night at the moon I’m betting he’d smile, pat you on top your head and tell you he understands. Hell I bet you he’d take you for a walk off leash and let you sleep on top the bed. Coming back reincarnated as Tom Varley’s rescue dog could work out to be just the kind of lucky break a soul traveling impounded Jack Russell terrier named Happy could have ever hope for.
I like to believe that this is how the two of them settled things. Happy needed a keeper and Tom needed to be a Jack Russel shaman. I have made up my mind about this pairing. Tom and Happy I’m convinced both understand that it takes one to know one and boy did those two go out and find exactly what they have always been looking for.