Category Archives: Performances

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Heart and Home

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.

Dearly beloved we are gathered here to walk into the mystery

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…………….

Place as Soul, Here is what ache looks like

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.

Love looks something like this, not exactly since love isn’t certain

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.”

Spartan Shave Kit—Suitcase Efficiencies

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.

Nearby Baker, Nevada heals what ails

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.  

Got your fresh water and your gray water tanks- simplicity

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.

Travis T Hip’s old digs Silver City, Nevada

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.

Nothing but salad and a view

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. 

Runs off Deep Cycle Batteries—

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. 

Nothing for as far as an eye can see— also known as everything

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. 

A restless foot shows me the way—

Soul with a Chaser of Wind

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.

Outbound into the Alliance

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. 

Maestro fitted out

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.

Friends have come to play

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. 

Live Aboard 2004-2007 and 2013-2020

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.

Maestro San Rafael Yacht Harbor 2005

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.

Guys and Falls

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─

We Need More Lifeguards

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.

Footsteps into the Side Streets

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.

Bumming Around in Europe

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.

Food for Loving Others

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                          

South Beach Harbor

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.

Any boat will do

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.

Luxury is overrated

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.

View from the new slip, not exactly but close

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.

Here’s the Whole Enchilada

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─

Texas in Monochromatic Glory

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.

Blow out

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.

Empty Valley with a View

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.

1967 500,000 plus… that’s my long gone dog Sunshine

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.

Place for Wind

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.  

Free Little Banned Book Library

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.

Little Bigger Library

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.

Building Bridges not Walls

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.

The Real Dirt

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.

God’s Deli Tray of Delights

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.

Happy aboard Spirit

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!  

Soho with my Jack Lacey

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.

Wanderlust Wisdom

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.

Tom Varley Morro Bay

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.

My Mom liked My Face

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.

Don’t Look Down

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.

High Heat and Low Humidity

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.

Bureau of Reclamation Plumbing

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.

Trail of the Deep Diver

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.

Inane Homily by Libertarian Types

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.

Knocking on the Door of Change

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.

Buckeye Tree

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.

February 3, 2022 Buckeye leafing out

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.

Cattle loving buckeye

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.”

Trail of the obsessed

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.

Tantalizing blooms along the trail

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.