Sunday, May 31, 2009


If you met primitive tribesmen whose religion taught that the world was flat, would you tell them that it was round? That is approximately the issue I faced when I met these innocents on a redwood forest trail. Of course I engaged them---that's what I do--thinking they were Amish.
Turns out they are from a very minor sect numbering 6000 called the Brethren and they traveled here from Pennsylvania and Ohio to attend an annual conference where the group will decide such issues as whether to ban internet use (as corrupting), whether it's ok to make movies about themselves. what is proper, modest dress and 17 similar issues all relating to their primary concern to "separate themselves from the world."

Among their "flat earth equivalent" beliefs is that the world and all that's in it was created in 6 days about 6000 years ago, that the Bible is literally the inerrant word of God, detailing how we should live our lives etc. That evolution is a huge lie.
After I got their story, I faced a sizable moral dilemma: DO I TAMPER WITH THEIR FAITH OR LET THEM GO THEIR WAY UNSCATHED? Do tell them that their "certainty" is a destructive illusion? That they have been conned? (indoctrinated) That life is infinitely richer
when uncertainty is embraced.
I predict that most of my readers would say: LEAVE THEM ALONE! THEY HAVE A LIFE AND A CULTURE---AND IF YOU INDUCE THEM TO DOUBT THEIR DOCTRINES, CONSIDER THE UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES: Dreadful anxiety of losing their social comfort--friends, identity etc. These are simple, clean living, hard working folks--LEAVE EM ALONE!
Turns out, they took the decision away from me. They were feistier than I supposed and began to question me. We talked an hour or more as they gathered around my trailer. I read them two of my poems, "The Religion Warehouse" and "Hinduism" to give them an alternative perspective. They were transfixed. Perhaps I'm the only informed skeptic they will ever meet, their only opportunity to escape a cult-like existence. But they are very nice boys, ages 17. 18, 19 and 20--incredibly gentle and courteous in the give and take. They asked all the right questions and were astounded that an unbeliever knew the Bible as well as they. I did not press too hard.
We walked a long way together and I noticed their seeming inability to make decisions: when to turn back, when it was time to leave, etc. I could see that they were OBEDIENCE ORIENTED--believing that what life is about is obeying the rules. The alternative of CREATIVE RESPONSIVENESS seemed alien to them. I ached to give them a copy of Emerson's essay On Self Reliance. We ended up exchanging books: They gave me "Moving Toward the Mainstream" and I gave them Sam Harris' Letter To A Christian Nation. (a brief masterpiece of skepticism) All four were anxious to read it. I feel satisfied and enriched by the encounter.

Friday, May 29, 2009


This is Ed Hirsch, the hubcap king of Arcata, Ca. (phone 707-822-9244---He ships) When our business was over, the back and forth of random comments spiraled us down to bedrock principles and it became clear that hubcaps are an avocation for Ed. His vocaton is social philosophy.----BINGO, My kind of guy----he has answers---I have questions. So I asked an obvious one: Where have all the sawmills gone? The answer was unexpected---dramatic---and moved me to poetry:

There were jobs galore and mills by the score
buzzing happily
when logs came down to the lovely town
of Arcata by the sea.

Then POOF!, they were gone like yesterday's song
and the really good jobs went with'em.
What turned things down for Arcata town
was not some economic rhythm.

It was Japanese; slick as you please
they bought up the good timber trees;
and the logs were shipped past the ocean's lip
to lumber mills out in the seas.

In gigantic boats, sawmills afloat
sliced up our redwood gold;
woodwork extensive, polished and expensive
back to us was sold.

The lesson is clear to everyone here:
resist the quick-buck mobs;
dont sell raw material to powers imperial;
it robs our people of jobs;

No thought for the future makes wounds without suture!
Treat nature with civility;
shout this word to the reckless herd:

Ed with a small fraction of his inventory. I think of him as hip deep in hubcaps and history. He told me more--all about the Emerald triangle and the potent petulia oil--so pungent a "perfume" that it is banned from red neck bars. But that's another blog.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009



Forty years ago, Hobart Brown of Arcadia, Ca, just for fun, modified a trycycle in a quaint and artistic way, inspiring a few friends to create similar mobile works of art---and of course they raced them. Thus began four decades of evolving creativity with the rules and the art becoming ever more elaborate. Here are the current rules:--the awesome challenge:

1. Build a human powered vehicle that can race 41 miles.

2. Contestants and machines must travel 3 days cross crountry from Arcada to Ferndale on pavement, sand and through mud.

3. Must be able to climb steep hills and brake safely when coasting down.

4. Vehicle must float and be capable of powering itself through the water, across a bay and a river.

5. Vehicle must have artistic merit.

6. Contestants must create some pagentry associated with the vehicle. (song, poem, skit etc to amuse the crowd. )

7. Contestants must provide the judges with an appropriate bribe. (food, drink, etc. One team offered wenches to the judges)


Most striking of the entries---a highly mobile dragon. Note the rolled-up pontoons beneath and the pilot flame in its mouth-----
Which ignights a powerful flaming roar when it rears its head. A real crowd pleaser
This is Twinkle, all set for land or water--came in second or third as I recall. Here it is racing for the finish line in Ferndale.
Recognize this face? You should---It's been all over the news----It is an accurate sculpture of Nadya Suleman---THE OCTOMOM! ---Pictured here as an octopus with eight arms--each holding a baby. Is this creativity---or what?
Hippo with movable jaw----several people inside pedaling.
Monster fish--a kid favorite
This one required no pontoons---it floated as is. Note the petals, chains and gears. He was light and fast. Some of the larger entries had incredibly complicated drive techniques with as many as 60 forward gears. Sometimes in the mud or climbing hills the people are pumping like madmen (and women) to make the vehicle creep slowly but powerfully onward.
It's a dung heap with a host of flies swarming about it. They really entertained the crowd buzzing about and for pagentry singing a lengthy song about the wonders of manure.
This one had to be seen in action to be appreciated. The rear wheel rotates on an off-center axel connected to the platform the rider stands on---and BOUNCES---thrusting the whole thing forward. He bounced his way the entire 41 miles and finished among the winners. The fat tires and stabilizing pontoons let him bounce across the bay.
And HEEEEERRRR'S the WINNER! A simple, elegant, lightweight, highschool-kids-constructed--contraption that finished faaaarr ahead of the competition.
Ferndale is a dairy town--old and ornate. Victorian houses as gingerbready as this storefront are everywhere---and churches---and a cemetery more beautiful than Arlington.
And this fairy tale house in Eureka deserves showing before I leave the area.
I go away from this race and place feeling astounded and inspired---proud to belong to such a clever species as humanity. Shakespeare's words jump to mind:
"What a piece of work is man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, IN FORM AND MOVING HOW EXPRESS AND ADMIRABLE, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals."

Sunday, May 24, 2009


For years I've had a friendly quarrel with Al Vargas and Jim Jaillet about this question. Both these easy going friends live by and support the first and I the second. Many's the time, however, when I've doubted my choice and envied theirs. Other times I scoff at their indolence and preach a GO-GET-IT sermon

Reasonable people have differed for centries: This is Taoism vs Existentialism------Fate vs Freedom----Blend gently with the flow of life around you.(Lao Tsu) or "Act, Act in the living present........We can make our lives sublime....and departing, leave behind us footprints in the sands of time." (Longfellow)

I mention this tedious philosophy because I had occasion to test both approaches when I spent a day and a night in Ft Bragg, Ca., a coastal tourist town (with no fort that I saw).
Arriving about 3 pm, I let myself drift around town, trusting fate to show me a camping spot for the night. BINGO! this nice one with an ocean view appears---Jim and Al would not be surprised. AAHH but there's a catch! This is a private parking lot for Georgia Pacific but I DECIDE TO PARK THERE ANYWAY And risk whatever consequences. ( Act, Act) In truth, not much courage required because as you can see I'm practically invisible. If I thought my satellite dish would give me away, I would cover it with a black garbage bag. TV still works.
Then fate sends Joe to me. He told me that the cops have an unspoken deal, not to trouble boondockers who park in the block surrounding Safeway. I stayed put anyway, feeling as secure as a Klingon with his cloaking device.

I include this photo of the adjacent trailer to mine to show how well I blended in.
Joe told me his story and let me photograph his van. He was sorely in need of some comfort engineering. I showed him my trailer and he was thrilled at his possibilities.
He gave me all the local scoop, including info on this place I CHOSE to experience, Twice a week a nice group of volunteers feed the street people. Turns out these folks are hypersensitive about being photographed--for good cause as I will explain in a later blog. So I took some surreptitious shots.
The serving line. What surprised me was that no one seemed ashamed and were treated with utmost respect. Even I felt comfortable. It was an all you care to eat situation.
A stealthy shot. I estimated we were 50 with 20 being women.
My meal---delicious.
My dinner companion scurried to escape this picture. (too late) Joe sat across from me. Tiny guy but he refilled twice.
And then I stopped drifting and engaged the cooks and servers. They were remarkably open. This is Carol, Kathy and Doris. Their male server is Glen. For 24 years this program has run
An average meal cost about a dollar per person--the food bank assists with supplies. They , of course, are unpaid.
I saw two movies (Planet Earth and Star Trek) and left town. But WHOA! what's this.
Turns out, it's a viaduct for bicycles; part of a six mile long path. So I parked, rode across it and investigated the headlands by the ocean.
Not shown is the nice lady who took this shot and filled me in on the EMERALD TRIANGLE, which I will explain later. (No wonder the people herebouts are so camera shy) One tough street person told me earlier that my shirt pocket was the right place for my camera. I thanked him and put it (temporarily) there--I try to judiciously pick my battles.
I asked myself in leaving If I had let things happen or made them happen. Couldn't decide. I did reflect how full of adventure my days are. Oh I love this lifestyle.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


FOUR HAPPY THINGS YOU MAY NOT KNOW ABOUT MOUNTAIN PASSES I needed a cool Shangrila because Colusa, Ca suddenly got hot. The West is blessed with hundreds of them. AND I KNOW WHERE THEY ARE!

Consulting the road map, I spotted the nearest one 45 miles away on hwy 20. Though I've never been there, I know approximately what is there:

I know there is a mountain pass (the high point where a highway crosses a mountain) because the map shows wiggly lines through a mountainous area. So I crank up and go .--what splendid freedom, and when I arrive: BINGO! There's my pass. And AAAAAAHHHHH it IS cool (in both senses of the word) as I knew it would be, because as one gains altitude, the temperature drops by about 4 degrees per thousand feet. I estimated it would be about 15 degrees cooler here.

And I knew there would be a side road at the pass leading into the mountains. BINGO again! There it was. (It is the logical starting point for mountain access.) I have camped a hundred nights or more at mountain passes. Never have I seen one where you could not camp.

AND I knew that out that road from the pass, within a mile (usually) WOULD BE A WIDE FLAT PLACE--------WITH A NICE VIEW-----WHERE ONE CAN CAMP-----FOR FREE.

(I've learned that road builders need these as staging areas for their equipment)

But this day I traveled on, Up and into the mountains, hoping for an 8 star campsite: (flat, free, cool, beautiful, quiet, with TV, phone and internet access) I settled for 6 out of eight---still qualifies as Shangrila in my mind.

After I'm settled and tuned in, I walk my domain letting it tell me its tales. The story here jumps out at me: At this very spot a raging wildfire was halted by a bulldozer's fire break.
Note my trailer in the distance. A long and dramatic battle line. Sometimes it held, sometimes not.

I walked among the casulties noting this sizable tree extinguished in bare seconds. Joan of Arc would have wished to go so quickly. The vegetation that escaped the fire is incredibly dense. when dry and stoked by Santa Ana winds I can now envision a 40 mph fire.
Here's a horror story I walked up on and one you'll have to google to appreciate. This orange stuff is a spindly vine parasite called dodder: the only known plant that finds its victim by smell. What's it doing in Shangrila? It's killing things, like the fire killed things---being a part of the cosmic drama. I remind myself not to judge it. Do I want a world without killing? No, I think I want a world that wakes up my senses.
And then I did something I've never done before: I cut my own hair and photographed the results for you. Nothing to do with Shangrila--just had a weird moment.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Only stories are interesting---but everything and everybody is a story---a drama if you will. Bored people are simply story-blind. Awaken to the stories that crowd round us and voila! no longer bored. All day long and into the night I notice stories---far more than I can share. But here's a few: Pauls' and my rig hunkered hard against the tamerisk trees to shield ourselves from a fierce wind raging across the desert at Kelso,Ca. Two rows of trees, miles long, were planted a hundred years ago flanking the railroad tracks, and still watered and tended. Why?
As protection from this monster---that's why! The mighty and mysterious Kelso dunes, 600 feet high, fully capable of stopping the most powerful locomotive dead in its tracks--- happened so often the trees were planted as defense--- worked beautifully.
The mystery of these dunes is how they manage to "talk". Yes, they do--in a loud "voice" a roar when conditions are right. I've heard their sound. Scientist studying the phenomenon revealed a complicated answer: something about the unique way these grains are shaped causes them to vibrate as they move, magnifying to an eerie thunder. Go hear it speak!

Here is a story of practicality and political correctness--took some doing to get to the bottom of it. An old family graveyard very close to the proposed rail route---what to do---getting permission from all relevant parties--very difficult---moving bodies---creating a new cemetery--very expensive. Solution: fence it in and piously post crosses. (its what I would have done; dealing with sappy sentimentalist is one of the "crosses" sensible people have to bear.)
Kelso station, Ca. There's two good stories here: Why such elegance in the deep desert.(look and see where it is--smack dab in the middle of the Mojave desert--25 miles from anywhere)
Google it to get that story---too long to tell. The drama for me was how preservationist got the government to spend millions for restoration. It is a beautifully finished, well staffed, instructive museum.
The solution was simple for the railroad: They announced that it would be destroyed. Whoa! Preservationist rushed to the rescue, stimulating a bit of "pork" added to a congressional appropriation bill and bingo---station preserved. I must say----this is quality pork.
Largest thermometer in the world--I presume! Baker, Ca. The story I see here is that anyplace can distinguish itself if it half tries. Think deeply and creatively enough and your town can host a festival celebrating something. People beat a path to Sisters, Or for the quilt festival and Britt, Ia, a nothing of a town, makes itself memorable for the National Hobo festival. Fame is mostly self-declared and that's ok with me. Cajones and baloney will get you well known--e! (like getting yourself elected KING OF KODGERS!)
Who would not want to see where this road leads? Does it not beckon to you? Across that dry valley and through that mountain pass, a green and a blue surprise awaited me.
Here's the blue one--pristine--pleasantly hot, Tecopa Springs. photos are forbidden--for good cause--all the bathers are nude--men only on this side. I sneaked this shot. Actually I knew it was here. The surprise was that it's no longer free---and there's the story: County workers just let it sink into ruin---not motivated. So they leased it to a can-do guy who charges $7 and does a beautiful job. Old timers raised holy hell but could not reverse the decision. Paul and I grudgingly paid the fee and stayed till we got our money's worth. Without thinking, I asked one fellow: What's the wierdest thing you've seen happen here? The entire company fell to hilarious laughter. (never got an answer--didn't need one)
Here's the green surprise: the interior of America's most unique bus--THE GREEN TORTOISE
Actually there are many of them all configured about like this. The rear portion is all bed. Tired passengers just lay in a friendly heap like sleeping puppies. Hungry ones dine at the center table and I presume the front benches are for chatting and viewing.
Here, parked outside Tecopa Springs bath house; This quirky bus line, based (where else) in San Francisco sells adventurous tours to the bold and sociable. A group, mostly women, were returning from a 5 day Death Valley jaunt. Cost: food included: $250.
Imagine you're a miner in the sweltering hot town of Shoshone, Ca at the turn of the century,very near Death Valley and you need a cool place to live. You might do as these did--dig yourself a den in the (relatively) soft limestone. Add a door and life is dramatically sweeter. About 10 of these remain and are now protected.
This fellow even carved a home for his car.
Like most miners of the day, they ate canned food and ---------
This is the best story: In the 60's a moderately successful broadway ballerina on vacation, traveling through a ghost town, breaks down, sees an abandoned theatre, gets a vision of owning it, settling here and performing to whomever will come. AND THEN MAKES THE VISION REAL! She's still here! Aged but still performing---almost always to a full house. (they drive in from Death Valley 20 miles away) Now for the REST OF THE STORY: Her husband got bored and went away. She "connected" with her handyman and continued her lifestyle. Google Amargosa Opera house for an interior view of the theater.
Interior of her hotel/villa--30 or so rooms for rent---saw no takers.
Paul and I moved on to Death Valley, Where on a moonless night we danced with this lovely lady in the campground.
Writer/Adventurer Daniel Arnold (author of "Early Days in the Range of Light")who we met at Stovepipe Wells in Death Valley just before he set out ON FOOT to walk across the Cottonwood mountains directly to Lone Pine Ca. He had already walked the length of Death Valley where there are no roads--carrying 5 gallons of water.
He let me heft his pack---Wow! 60 pounds or more. He gave us a postcard to mail to his wife.