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Eye of the Storm

Tuesday night at 6 I met my running friends at Muir Beach. It was pitch black, windy, spiting bits of rain. I knew where I wanted to go, so slipped away from the boyz and headed out to the beach. I ran down the creekside road and it was totally flooded in spots. I jumped right in. (Once you get your feet and legs wet, you're relaxed and not struggling to keep dry.) I splashed through the puddles with a kind of glee — away from the grown-ups. I ran to the beach/pounding waves/not a soul/then up along cliffs on trails and road to my destination, a finger of land 2 miles down the coast that juts out into the ocean, maybe 500' above the water. I walked down the narrow trail to the farthest-out point, turned my light off and faced the ocean. El Pacífico!
Wind howling
breathing deeply
pumping chi.
It must have been 50-60 mph. When there was a gust I'd lean into it and it would hold me up for a minute. It would have ripped an umbrella out of yr. hands. We're talkin power! Every cell in my body felt alive.
On the way back to the pub I jumped in the creek, tights, shoes and all, with my headlight hanging from a bush, illuminating the water. O what a night! Charged up for days…

Cameras, Cannabis, TiVo, Glucosamine, Music, Surfboards, Skateboards

This is a motley collection of stuff, a bunch of things I've run across, inspired by Kevin Kelly's CoolTools (http://www.kk.org/cooltools)

Olympus Stylus 800

My pocket camera, the alternative to my heavy artillery Canon 20-D, is a little gem. 8 megapixels, huge screen, shoots extremely well in poor light. It's more laid back, so small that people are at their ease around it.

Canon 20D

This is my heavy and serious camera and it's awesome. I have three lenses, from wide angle to (motion stabilized) telephoto. It takes my not-always-gentle handling — dust, salt air, bumping it around, continually changing lenses. It's a dream of a camera. I now delete as I shoot. Shoot one, look at it, then go back and alter exposure or cropping until I get it right. Intelligently designed and the settings are pretty intuitive.

Marijuana Vaporizers

You volatize the cannabinoids, and don't smoke all the leaf, so it's way better for your lungs. The taste is of sweet flowers, not smoke. The high end is a beautifully designed and produced unit from Germany called the Volcano. And yes, it's $500, but how much are your lungs worth? (http://www.vaporwarehouse.com). On the other hand, there is a $55 unit called the Vapor Genie (http://www.vaporgenie.com) that is good for travel (the Volcano is not). It's an ingenious little wooden pipe with a ceramic filter that reduces the heat of a lighter flame.

Canadian Weed

These strong sweet-smelling buds have probably been grown hydroponically (like feeding humans intravenously, no soil, no natural sunshine, just lonely weird plants being fed chemicals), and in many cases sprayed with insecticides. Organic growers ought to use labels. Grown in soil and sunshine outdoors, creek water, organically fed, never sprayed, no fossil fuels burned to generate electricity for artificial lights. Buyer beware, know your source. I confirmed the spraying bit with a couple of knowledgeable people in British Columbia. If a grower has a large hydroponic crop in all its monoculture glory, and a couple of bugs (say spider mites) get in there and reproduce, is he going to risk losing his entire crop or is he going to spray? If what he sprays kills bugs, what does it do to your lungs?

iPod vs. Walkman

I got an iPod. I loaded a bunch of my CDs on it and by gosh, I could play Al Green or Patti Smith or The White Stripes anywhere at any time. Tres cool, right? Well, know what? I don't use it. I've found a Walkman works a lot better for me. I like to listen to albums as I get them and I don't want to have to load it into the Ipod via my computer. So simple to stick a CD in the Walkman, a good little player is the SonyPsyc Atrac 3 Plus with MP3.

Magical Musical Night — Stephen Bruton

Friday I was heading home from a day of running around in SF and the East Bay and stopped by my favorite nightclub, the Sweetwater in Mill Valley. Two bands from Austin were playing. I went in and man, was it an excellent evening of music. Opening act, Danny Click, was fabulous. Then out came Stephen Bruton. I can't figure out why he isn't famous. A gunslinger guitar player, great voice, writes beautiful songs. Just 3 guys, sounded like a much bigger band. In his 50s, been around a while, it's blues-based rock and roll, just an elegant musician. I totally recommend the album I'm listening to now: From the Five, Stephen Bruton. (http://www.stephernbruton.com)


I've seen the light! I guess everyone knew this but me, but when we finally sprung for the full satellite package, including HBO, Sundance, Showtime, etc. it was a whole different world. There's actually good stuff on TV. Plus the TiVo recorder is brilliant. I stretch and do various exercises while watching.

Glucosamine Powder

A friend of mine uses glucosamine hydrochloride powder, taking it twice daily, says in a few months it completely cleared up his arthritis. He buys it in a pet store, says it's the same stuff. I got mine online, human variety, $13 for 6 ounces from http://www.iherb.com/health.html. I take half a tsp twice daily in fruit juice, it's a lot better than those horse pills.

Baking Soda In the Kitchen

We buy it in ten pound boxes and put it in sprinkler. We use it on glasses (makes them glisten), washing out sink, cleaning anything. It cuts grease.

Surftek Surfboards

These are a real departure from the standard fiberglassed polyurethane foam boards. At the core is very lightweight styrofoam, glassed with resin, then a thin layer of hi-density styrofoam again covered with resin. Then the board is vacuum formed with epoxy, making it light and strong. I have a 10 footer, it paddles like a dream, and has me making more waves than I ever did before. They're expensive, maybe $800. If you're in Northern California, Doug Haut of Santa Cruz is a legendary shaper and master craftsman and has a shop on Swift Street in SC.

The Purple Skunk Skateboard Shop in SF

This place is unique. They have all the standard boards for ramps and street skating, but they also have maybe the biggest collection of longboards anywhere AND you can take any of them out for a spin around the block. The guys who work there are always innovating, with boards, trucks, and wheels. If you skated once and gave it up, please know that there are new materials and designs now, especially for downhillers (as opposed to street skaters and the airborne), where you want to cruise, carve, ride as long a distance as possible downhill.

Office Workout Equipment

Here's what I have in the office: chin-up bars to hang from or do chin-ups; bungie-cord-type straps for arm exercises; set of 20 lb dumbells, weird spring-loaded exercise tool I got for $5 in a Mexican flea market; and a Back Revolution, wonderful inversion device for one's spine and lower back. It's ingeniously-designed so you hang from your hips and it stretches out your spine gently. AND just 1-1/2 minutes is all that's necessary at a time. I've got two of them, I try to remember to hang before going to bed at night, and in the office once in a while. I found out about them from fitness guru, Bob Anderson

Bodylastics Workout Bands, 1 Kit, $40.00

Back Revolution, $400,

Layering with 100% Wool/Grind Your Own Oats/Roast Your Own Coffee

Natural Fibers

I used to wear mostly natural fibers. Then along came Patagonia and other outdoor outfitters with some great artificial (usually polyester) products: fleece, Synchilla, Capilene, warm lightweight coats, polyester shirts for travel that could be rolled up in a backpack, and look wrinkle-free when worn. I've been running in cold months wearing Maxit tights and long-sleeved top, a type of polypropelene, keeps you amazingly warm - just one layer.

Last month I went into a natural fiber store in Victoria, the sparkling capitol of Vancouver Island. I'd just bought a great Patagonia jacket. Started talking to the guy running the store, he said it really feels different to wear cotton and wool (and silk and hemp) and no clothing made from oil. He looked at my new coat and said, "Yeah, that's made out of recycled bottles." When he said it I thought, cool, it's great to make spiffy stuff out of trash. Of course a little later I thought, maybe I don't want to be wearing a coat made from plastic, no matter how elegantly tailored. He got me thinking about going back to natural fibers.

The thing that clinched it was discovering clothing made of Merino wool. I started with running socks. I'd tried for years to have cotton running socks, but almost everything was Coolmax or other oil-derived fabric. These Merino socks felt good. Noticeable difference from Coolmax. Two companies have wonderful selections of Merino wool apparel:
I got Smartwool socks (they're actually 70/30 wool/nylon). I got the Smartwool Microweight 100% wool bottom tights and a long-sleeved Microweight crew for running and let me tell you, does it feel better. My body breathes, I'm more in tune with the surroundings. Wool doesn't smell bad like artificial fabrics.
Tights, $64.95
Crew shirt, $79.95
Crew shirt
Icebreaker has an elegant line of products (in spite of the very weird cover photo on their home page). They have testimonials from athletes who wear Merino wool clothing in various combos (there are 3 weights) climbing Everest, on kayak trips, wet or dry, hot or cold; 100% wool in various combos works wonders. How great, natural fibers out-performing artificial. I got one lightweight long-sleeved shirt for next-to-skin, the Skin 200 long-sleeve crew, $69.95
and as well what is the best single piece of clothing I've run across in years, the Sport 320 Wing Zip, $118.95 http://www.icebreaker.com/our-clothing/DisplayProduct.aspx?p=156

I've been wearing this whenever it's cold, over a cotton or silk t-shirt, or if colder, over the lightweight merino wool shirt. It's light, it keeps you warm, it breathes, feels good, looks great.

Grind Your Own Oats

This elegant little Italian grain grinder has three hardened steel rollers that flatten grain for making flakes or crack it for making hot cereal or granola. I'd never had fresh oats before, that is, you're taking the whole oat grain (groat), and crushing and flaking it just before cooking. Nutty, delicious oatmeal, the flavor of the whole grain just released. Bruce Atkey showed me this, just after he gave me a breakfast bowl of fresh oatmeal along with flax seeds, shredded coconut, a little hemp oil for flavor, and brown sugar. Chrome plated steel, 9"H. Clamps to any surface up to 2" thick. $79.95.


Roast Your Own Coffee

I read an article on roasting your own coffee in an old popcorn popper, one of which we had lying around ready to go to the goodwill. Bought some green coffee beans from Capulin Coffee ("Natural Hand Crafted Shade Grown Traditionally Dried Jungle Coffee"):
http://www.capulincoffee.com, roasted them and voilá, discovered the secret to good coffee: freshly roasted. If you use a popcorn popper it should be the type that has air blowing in around the bottom so the beans circulate. For instructions see: http://coffeetea.about.com/library/weekly/aa031903popcorn.htm.
Fiddle with it to get the roast you want. Like the article said, once you roast your own, you'll never buy roasted coffee beans again.

First Mushrooms This Year — Porcinis, Chantrelles

I usually wait until there's been a lot of rain before looking for mushrooms, but this year I went out early and bingo! I got both porcinis (king boletus) and chantrelles. It was a rainy afternoon, getting dark in the woods. The chantrelles were beautiful golden/orange, just pushing up through the oak leaves. When I find them I usually get on my knees and do a Buddhist-type bow to the mushrooms and the earth that produced them. Yeah, I know — flaky — but it feels right. Was soaking wet and exhilarated when I got home, been having mushroom omelettes and the other night chantrelle linguini, tonight I'm going to try a new chantrelle soup recipe. I love the fact that they're wild and free.

GIMME SHELTER — Pics from Vancouver Island, Latest Music, Blogging

I just don't seem to have time to do a third of the stuff I want to do. Especially when I'm on, as I thankfully am now after 3 weeks of the doldrums. I wish I could be more stable, but stability cards I was not dealt with. I have these wonderful high periods when the energy seems to flow and I do the creative stuff, but — ugh! — the lows.

Blog vs. Newsletter

Communicating via my blog has kind of turned things around in my communications-obsessed mind. I used to get the word out to people via the physically printed word — books mainly, but also flyers, newsletters, pamphlets, booklets. I was just getting the whole production + printing press = something-you-hold-in-hand-and-read process down, when along came computers. And then the web. Yeow! Whole new world.

Most of my contemporaries (high school class of 1952) never breached the gap. Too daunting to learn alone, too difficult to get the right teachers. They've just given up (and seem to get along fine in the non-computer world). I was (I guess) lucky. Books used to be put together in physical "flats" with strips of type pasted down with wax, then shipped off to the printers. When that entire formidable industry shifted to computer-generated electronic files, I had to start over, and hired Rick Gordon, an experienced MacIntosh wizard of book production. As the years have gone by I've watched and learned from Rick. He helps me out every day with my digital struggles, putting me way ahead of where I'd be on my own. Digital communication has become an important part of my life and thoughts. So I'm struggling these days as to how much time to spend working on my blog and on my GIMME SHELTER newsletters.

Ulp! Have I said this before? Hey, it's not that your memory turns to mush as you get older, it's that there's only so much storage room in your brain and when you get to be about 60, the filing cabinet is full. Stuff gets jettisoned. (I know there are some of you who will feel better knowing this.)

It's a beautiful day with blue skies and cotton-ey clouds after a bunch of grey wet days and I'm going to spend an hour or so getting this out.


When I was 19, I lived half the time in Santa Cruz. We were surfers before rubber suits. One of my surfer friends, Rod Lundquist, rented a shack for $10 a month and had it fitted out with a record player and big speakers. He favored Beethoven, Wagner, Schubert, and at high volume. Here was this 20-year-old surfer's shack, 10-foot (balsa) surfboards all over the yard, and — bum-bum-ba-bum, Beethoven's Fifth, would rock the neighborhood. I started listening to Beethoven symphonies, and I'd forgotten about his music until I recently got the soundtrack to Immortal Beloved. I'm not big on "excerpts," but this is wonderful. I played it in my truck driving over the mountain and cranked the volume up to max. Whew! The landscape came alive as the music filled my veins. It was like rediscovering an old guru. The Allegretto from the 7th Symphony gave me chills, I remember — 50 years ago (ulp!) — listening to it on a grey day in Santa Cruz, watching a group of nuns walk down the beach from our beachside apartment window.

Rod Lundquist at his surfer's shack

Recent CD's: Unclassified, by Robert Randolph and the Family Band; A Bothered Mind by R. L. Burnside. Also: Five Guys Walk Into a Bar, a 4-CD set of Rod Stewart and the Faces, early rough and raw rock and roll, a lot of it live.

Random Pics From My Sept-Oct Trip to
Vancouver Island and Vicinity

In the interest of speed, I'm not naming all the builders or locations here.

The Wreckage, antique and what-have-you store run by Norma Baillie, built of driftwood and beach stuff in Ucluelet, west side of Vancouver island, by Bruce Atkey in the '70s

Woodshed by Peter Buckland

Left: Black bear on beach (eyeing me); Right: Does a bear shit in the woods? Yes, especially during berry season. Larger pile about 10-11" across.

Stairway in woods by Lloyd House. Triangular (in cross-section) steps split from cedar, so that the risers are at at the right angle when they're nailed to the steep rails.

Lloyd House's dog, Choo, followed me out into the woods on this split-cedar walkway. I heard this chattering noise — a squirrel up in the tree. As Choo approached he ran down the tree, tantalizingly almost within Choo's reach and tormented him. I'm sure he was saying, in squirrel-eze, you dumb mutt, give it your best shot, blah-blah. I mean it was a lot of noise. Then he jumped on the walkway right in front of Choo, who bounded off after him through the trees — unsuccessfully.

Staying In Shape, Paddleboards, E-Mail problems, The Blues

Staying In Shape

About six months ago I joined a gym. Running was fine for cardiovascular training and lower body strength, but I was surfing less and had lost upper body muscle. The gym was great. In 3 weeks I was putting on muscle. As Bill Pearl says, people are thrilled when they start weight training because results come quickly. Then I took a month-long trip and wasn't able to lift weights. I came back to the gym and went right back into my routine, and injured my shoulder doing bench presses. It was terrible. I've never had a debilitating upper body injury (although plenty of lower body running ones). My brother and a bunch of my friends have had rotator cuff surgery, and I really didn't want that. Went to a good doc, had MRI's; after several discussions I decided to treat it myself. Short happy ending: applications of arnica oil, vitamin supplements, a handheld accupressure vibrator, mild exercises, and finally paddling a surfboard in Canada, and after 4 months the shoulder is regaining strength. I decided to give up on the gym, because it takes me an hour to get there, so a 2-3 hour round trip doesn't make sense. I decided to work out at home. I have a multi-purpose weight machine, a Vasa trainer (elegant machine for swimmers and surfers), dumbbells, chin-up bars and elastic straps in the office.

Paddling at Sunset

You never miss the water 'til the shoulder gives out: last night I went for a paddle and was it fun! I have a racing paddle board (it's a big sport in Southern California). It's sleek in design, and a bit funky in finish — painted grey with dilute Bondo; it looks like a shark. I'd forgotten what a pleasure it is to paddle — totally different from a surfboard. As i headed out to sea it skimmed across the water with each double stroke. (I paddle butterfly-like, not crawl style.) It was grey and cloudy and starting to get dark and the water was glassy. Rain started to fall. I was in heaven, gliding like a water skeeter. I headed out to the reef, about a mile and by the time I turned around and came back it was dark. Good smells, upper body pumping. Great things can be so simple. Came home and had a healthy slug of brandy and hot shower. Oh yes.

Never Check Email In The Morning

(Above is title of new book by Julia Morgenstern.) An article in the NY Times yesterday


was titled Got Two Extra Hours For Your E-mail? Boy, did it "resonate." as they say. In spite of swearing off the practice, I keep getting sucked back into checking e-mail the first thing every morning. It really fucks up my day. or more precisely, it shoves a whole bunch of stuff in my face that I have to deal with then and there. Might as well dump the junk while I'm at it. Might as well answer the various inquiries and miscellany while they're open. And it's true, there goes 2 hours. This morning, I wanted to do some writing and some layout, so I'm letting my e-mail in-box sit there, simmering with messages whose perpetrators expect replies. My latest thinking is to try to back away from such frequent checking, and to start out the day working on stuff I'm generating. And you know, maybe I don't have to answer every e-mail. Shocking concept, eh? I mean, just who's in control here anyway? Check out that article, it's really good.

Music of the last 24 Hours

Buddy Guy: Buddy's Blues — The Best of the JSP Sessions 1979-82. Extraordinary live blues album. Amazing that such a master gunslinger guitar player can sing so beautifully. Then this morning I heard Howlin' Wolf doing the song 300 Pounds of Joy. "Hoy! Hoy! ah'm de boy, 300 pounds of muscle and joy…" What a powerhouse! On the strength of that I just ordered The Chess Box Set of Howlin' Wolf, a 3-disc collection.

The Autumn of Love: Chet Helms Tribal Stomp 10/31/05

It was a day-long (free) musical tribute to the guy who ran the Family Dog concerts in San Francisco in the '60s. Bill Graham was a businessman, but Chet Helms was a believer, and his concerts at the Avalon Ballroom were the best. I got into the city late, no way I could handle 8 hours of spectating, parked my truck a mile away from the park and rode my bike to Speedway Meadows, You could hear the music from blocks away. As I got closer I recognized Summertime Blues, being played by Blue Cheer, probably the first heavy metal group (1966), so named, fueled, and inspired by Augustus Stanley Owsley's LSD-of-the-year of the same name. Sounded pretty much the same.

It was a pretty big crowd, although I doubt it was the 20,000 the SF Chronicle said this morning. A bright beautiful day, I was ready for a knockout event, like the two '67 classics, the Monterey Pop Fesitival, and The Human Be-in. Well, not exactly. First impression: it was a party, and a lot of these people had been here 40 years before. There's something touching about the 60-year-olds who are still shakin' it, even if no longer with the fluidity and grace of youth. The next band up was Paul Kantner and the Jefferson Starship, with two female singers doing the Grace Slick bits. Pretty bad, I'm afraid, and while I'm at it, here are examples of what I thought was sub-standard '60s music — even though I usually feel like a '60s cheerleader.

I never really liked the Jefferson Airplane. I didn't care for — forgive me, folks — the Greatful Dead. B-o-r-i-n-g, for the most part. And this will get me in even more trouble, I never thought much of Janis Joplin as a singer. In fact I liked Big Brother and The Holding Company better before she came along. As the music went on, and people danced, I was a little bummed by the realization that there's an audience for mediocrity. Wavy Gravy started emceeing, and again pardon the observation, I know his heart's in the right place, but his shtick is stale and annoying. Is there anyone I haven't antagonized by now?

So I started shooting pictures. There were great costumes, lots of happy mellow people just glad to be in the park on a beautiful day, surrounded by like-minded. The music went on, a different group every 20 minutes. Then fiddler David LaFlamme and his wife Lynda and their group It's A Beautiful Day came on and things notched up to a whole different level. A tight great band. Whooo-wee! Maybe this was going to be OK.

Then 90-year-old (!) folksinger Faith Petric with her acoustic guitar charmed everyone. Talk about good vibes. People stopped boogieing, and swayed back and forth, smiling. The remnants of Quicksilver Messenger Service were OK, fronted by Dino Valente's son, in white suit no less. Canned Heat did a rockin' version of Amphetamine Annie ("…amphetamine kills…") Nick Gravenites has still got it, doing Goodnight Irene, very fine. Blues singer Annie Sampson, with a powerhouse voice, did It's All Over Baby Blue. Oh yes. Good music was making the day. Squid B. Viscous, a bunch of guys from the old Steve Miller Band, were great. The tight band Zero played as the sun went down. When asked how many people were native San Franciscans, half the audience raised their hands. When I left, the grass was just about spotless; people had gone around picking up cigarette butts and trash. Money was collected in white 5-gallon plastic buckets. Rock and roll.

Mom is 98, Mt Shasta, Frank Sinatra, The Great Outdoors, Learning to Smile

Mom is Almost 98

Virginia Kahn

First stop as I left on my trip in September was to visit my mother, who will be 98 this February. She lives in an apartment and two women help her out during the day, but she still gets herself into bed at night and up in the morning. It's getting increasingly harder for her to move around but she's fiercely determined. If my brother or I try to help her get out of a chair she'll threaten us with her cane. "Leave me alone!" She knows she's got to keep doing it herself. That afternoon I watched her slowly pull herself to her feet, and she said, "Look, I'm getting stronger." Born Virginia Essie Jones in Salt Lake City in 1908, she's a Christian Scientist and has never been to a doctor. She believes health is all mental and by gosh, who can argue? I was the oldest of 6 kids, had a lot of energy, and got in a lot of trouble. Now she looks back on my pranks and scrapes with amusement.

Close Encounters on Mt. Shasta

I headed north up Hwy 101 and got as far as Mt. Shasta around midnight, found what looked like an empty lot on the outskirts of town, pulled in and slept in the truck. Around 6 AM someone knocked loudly on the window. It was a middle-aged silver-haired man walking his dog and I was on his property and he wasn't pleased. I apologized and said I'd get going right away. OK he said and walked away. I scrambled into my clothes and was about to pull out when he came back. "Would you like a cup of coffee?" he said. Sure, and I followed him to his house and spent half an hour with him, got a house tour, gave him a signed copy of HOME WORK, and was on my way. Nice. I wanted to take a run, so drove part way up the mountain (a magic one, as you know if you've been to Mt. Shasta.) I went down a dirt road to a pretty remote place, parked and ran across country. In the woods I came across a guy camping and we chatted. Turned out he'd built his own house and our book SHELTER had been one of his influences; when I left he said "Thanks for the inspiration." Trip off to good start.

Working With What You've Got

For weeks I hung out with a bunch of self-reliant builders. These guys designed, invented, and constructed a huge amount of stuff out of what was lying around. For example, Lloyd House wanted me to view his slides but had no slide projector. So he hung a blanket from the ceiling so it formed like a voting booth (to block the sunlight). He put a stool and table inside it, with a cardboard box on the table with a light inside it. He cut a slide-sized square in the box, taped a piece of wood at its base, and had me rest each slide on the wood to view through the hole, illuminated by the light. Since I've been back, I've been looking around at what needs doing at my home and in my life, and what there is to do it with. I went running on the beach last night and lugged home an l-shaped weathered piece of driftwood I'm gonna use as a shelf bracket. It's catching.

Music of the Week

Old Blue Eyes: My friend Sherman Welpton turned me on to Fats Domino when I was 19 and it changed my life. (It had been the Mills Brothers up until then.) In the last few years Sherm and I've been swapping CDs and he's turned me on to lots of musicians and records I didn't know of. Today at his house we watched a tape of a Frank Sinatra recording session he's wanted me to see for some time. Frank was in his later years and the big band consisted of Quincy Jones, Lionel Hampton, George Benson, Ray Brown, and others - wow! Instead of laying down the drums and then the horns etc. and later combining them, this was live, one take, and it was classic. Frank was perfect; the band awesome. A commentator pointed out that as with all singers, you lose some of the higher notes as you age, but Frank had gained some lower notes and he knew how to use whatever he had.(Kinda like the carpenters mentioned above building with what's lying around.)
The White Stripes: Brother and sister from Detroit, great music, hard to believe it's only two people. 21st century rock & roll.

The Great Outdoors

It's just starting to rain and I love it. In recent years I've reveled in being outdoors, on the magic mother mountain of my area, Mt. Tamalpais, and on the beaches. Maybe it's got something to do with all the time I have to spend messing around with a computer. Moving around in the woods and beaches is the antidote. Physical activity keeps the body alive in these sedentary times. The hills and ocean refresh the digitally-bombarded brain. More important than ever. Every time I push myself out the door I end up exhilarated and feeling more alive.

Learning to Smile

Maybe 10 years ago, I learned about smiling from a Chi Gung teacher. He taught us how to relax facial muscles - good for the organs, promotes harmonious relations with others. I started noticing how natural smiling is with most women, but it's pretty much never a cultivated item with guys. (When you walk down the street, notice how many women smile at you, and how few men do.) I practiced in front of the mirror, and then on the streets, and it was like a magic key. It's become a more and more powerful tool, especially when I'm on the road. I'm having wonderful relations with people and it's so simple to start a conversation with a smile. (Duh!)

Blog Parameters

I post stuff whenever I can, but not as often as most bloggers. I try to get stuff posted at least twice monthly.

The Autumn of Love

It's now a sunny Sunday morning and I'm about to head into San Francisco with my camera to check out a big celebration in Golden Gate Park, celebrating the life or recently-deceased Chet Helms, head of The Family Dog, which promoted rock & roll concerts in the '60s. I have a feeling this might just be good, and I'll report on it later.

Builders of the Pacific Northwest

I got back a week ago from a 4 week trip to Vancouver Island, British Columbia, shooting photos for a new book on builders. I was originally working on a book on North American builders in general, but when I saw the quality and uniqueness of a bunch of Canadian (and ex-patriate American) builders in and around Vancouver Island, it was obvious there was a book in this relatively small geographical area. I covered 2700 miles in my camper-rigged Toyota Tacoma 4x4 truck (a fabulous vehicle in all ways!)

I went 40 miles in an open boat up the coast from Tofino with Bruce (aka Bruno) Atkey, legendary coastal builder (and surfer). We went in Bruce’s 17’ open aluminum boat with 65hp Johnson 3-cylinder, 2-stroke, manual start outboard along with Bruce’s long-time buddy Wayne Vliet, also a builder and surfer (and musician).

We photographed cabins in the woods, a surfers’ beach shack,

Rancho Bueno

and a post and beam Indian-style long house, all made entirely of local cedar from the woods or beaches. A couple of the buildings were built entirely of split cedar, including 8’ long boards, split studs, rafters, and roof shakes. We saw bears, killer whales, and bald-headed eagles; we went surfing 3 days (hit it at 6-8’ one day!); we took a hot sauna, then jumped in the cold ocean water.

Driftwood chair by Bruce

And that was just the start.

After a week on the west coast, with its dynamic energy (the tourist hordes are less in other-than-summer months), I headed over the mountainous middle of Vancouver Island to its east side and to three islands in the Straits of Georgia, the island-filled waterway between Vancouver Island and the west coast of B. C. (more mellow territory), and had a great few weeks there.

Gate of the crow, Hornby Island, B.C.

I came home with about 1700 photos and a mountain of interviews and addresses and things to do and it’s taking me a week to just unravel it all, download and print thumbnail photos, send promised books off, order various stuff I learned about in my travels, and deal with a considerable backlog of publishing business details. Man, if I could just get through the biz stuff faster and have more time for working on books, which is why I got into publishing in the first place. Ooops, am I whining again? I have to admit to myself on occasion that maybe handling all the business crap is why I get to be an independent publisher in this increasingly run-by-committee, conglomeratized, corporate world. (I know a LOT of creative people who’d love nothing better than to create their creations and have them sell like crazy, but it just don’t work that way any more. Marketing, baby!) Onward.

Statement of Blog

I’ll post fragments and photos from the trip over the next few weeks. There are big intervals between my blogging -- up to 3 weeks, so if you’re interested in what I run across in the world, check in every month or so. I really don’t know how people find the time to do daily blogs. I ain’t giving up running or surfing to blog! But at the same time I like the immediacy and world-wide-ness and non-cost-ness of it. So I’ll keep at it on this kind of schedule. I’ll keep putting up photos during the rest of October. (The photos in this posting are all from my (Olympus Stylus 800) pocket camera, and before I got into shooting the houses.) Right now I’m overwhelmed with all the material I’ve gathered, graphic and otherwise. (If anyone figures out how to painlessly clone human beings, let me know, because I could use two more of me to get stuff done and keep on exploring the world.)

Oysters on the Beach

For two nights I camped on the beach on a need-not-be-named island. In the morning I went for a run at low tide and there were oysters all over the place on the sandstone reef! (This was outside the commercial beds.) I cracked some open with rocks and had sea-infused breakfast, a la sea otter. That night I barbecued oysters over a wood fire, had potatoes and onions baked in foil, fresh-picked blackberries with cream and brown sugar for desert, and slept under a canopy looking out at the water and stars. I love this part of the world. If I’d come up here in the 70s I’d likely have stayed. People up here are a lot closer to the values of 60s-70s homesteading than are folks in Marin county, Calif., which I dearly love, but is increasingly outrageously expensive, over-regulated, and impossible for people wanting the build their own house and grow some of their own food — simple goals lots of us had in the ‘60s-’70s.

Water and Wood

In July when I got into Port Townsend (WA) on an early rainy morning and looked at the variety and number and quality of the boats in the numerous harbors, I realized this was heavy duty maritime territory. The sea is big in people’s lives here and northward. Many many people get to their homes only via boat or ferry. Boat people and sailing people have their shit together in ways not necessary for landlubbers. Carelessness can have serious repurcussions once you’re afloat. Krappy craftsmanship can mean sinking. You have to deal with real life: winds, tides, swells, currents, cold, seaworthiness, landing, fishing, sailing, and you need the concomitant skills. The people I ran into were a lot tougher than Bay Area folks. The farther north you go, the more difficult life is; winters longer and wetter; landscape more rugged; physical involvement with the forces of nature more necessary.

In addition to water being all around, and boats being so prominent in everyday life, the big thing up there is W-O-O-D. There’s wood everywhere. Trees in the forests grow like crazy. Not to minimize destructive logging practices, but there are still a fuck of a lot of trees growing in the Pacific Northwest. It’s a woodworker’s dream. There are a LOT of homes built of site-cut and milled wood; this isn’t a novelty as it is elsewhere. The beaches are lined with countless logs. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, a lot of high-quality cedar driftwood got made into homes and boats. I saw 12” wide boards 10 feet long split from cedar. Many of the homes I’m covering were built in those years, which were so vastly different from current times. Lots of builders roamed beaches, using what they found as inspiration and structure for homes and cabins. As I walked along beaches I found myself eyeballing rafter-like poles, ones I could move myself.

Lloyd House

Well, my name is Lloyd and I’ve spent 40 years shooting pictures of buildings and hanging out with builders, and my company is called Shelter, and when I meet the builder of all builders, his name is — what else — Lloyd House. Cosmic, huh?

I was introduced to his work by architect/builder Michael McNamara, who gave me a lot of guidance to builders and buildings. I've photographed 6 or so buildings designed and built by Lloyd, and each time it’s like coming around a corner and finding treasure. When I saw his sauna, I just let out my breath, it was so beautiful, so finely crafted, so witty. The farther I looked (and shot pix), the more I found. There were delights everywhere. A little house he built in a meadow is stunning, I’ve never seen anything like it. The owner said to me on the phone just today: “I am delighted every day of my life to be in this place.” Lloyd is the main inspiration for this book — his work, the influence he’s had on other builders, his ongoing inventiveness.

Bruce Atkey

My friend Godfrey Stephens (see below) told me I had to meet Bruce, that he was the “ultimate guy.” So he was. Boat builder, house builder, carpenter, welder, mechanic, surfer, fisherman, explorer, Bruce has built cabins, houses, lodges, and surfers’ shacks along the west coast of Vancouver Island for the last 30 years. He and his buddy Wayne have also surfed what was until recently little-known surf spots all along the island’s west coast. I shot pictures of Bruce’s creations in the woods and on the beaches, and learned a bunch of things from him about daily life in general. He was born on April 26, me on April 28 (about 15 years apart), so we have a lot in common in our Taurus tendencies, like charging headlong into life.

Godfrey Stephens

Godfrey is a third important person in the unfolding plot of this book-in-progress. I met Godfrey on a beach in Yelapa, south of Puerto Vallarta (reachable only by boat), in 1964 (see page 232 in Home Work). He was a wild young artist from Vancouver Island, painting a huge mural on the wall of the village restaurant and carving driftwood on the beach. Our paths crossed again in 1971, we weren’t in touch for 30 years, and around 3-4 years ago we started emailing each other and catching up on lives lived. It seems that everywhere I went on Vancouver Island, everyone knew him. He’d lived on beaches, built several sailboats completely of driftwood, sailed on the high seas (shipwrecked once in Mexico), once circumnavigated Vancouver Island in a 16’ catamaran, travelled to India and other exotic corners of the earth, all the time painting and drawing and carving. Check his website at http://godfreysart.com

Godfrey kept emailing me that I had to see the builders of his area and he was right. Many of the builders I photographed came directly or indirectly via him. He’s sort of my touchstone on the island. He has a wonderful bunch of friends: builders, boatbuilders, explorers, artists, craftsmen, people full of life and adventure.

“Back To The Land”

Meeting all these people in the Northwest takes me back 30 years (actually 45 years, since I started building for myself in the early ‘60s). For me it was instinctive, and necessary. The only way I was going to get a home I liked was to build it. I started working nights and weekends. And no bank mortgage — what could be better? This led me to gardening (I still have a dog-eared, mud-stained copy of Rodale’s Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening), making things for myself with my own hands. In 1965 I quit my job as an insurance broker in San Francisco, started working as a carpenter, and was thrilled. No more neckties or business lunches to endure or endless paper shuffling. I loved the smell of wood, stepping onto a floor I’d put there myself, hanging out with builders. (Same with farmers and sailors— they have to deal with real things.) Pretty soon there was what was loosely called the “back to the land movement.” It sounds a bit lame now, I guess because the media never believed it was real. But in traveling up north, I’m meeting long-lost brothers and sisters who’ve kept the faith, and the spirit. The idea in the ‘60s was the more you could do for yourself, with your own hands, the better off you’d be — aesthetically, financially, independently. Not having a mortgage (or rent) was a life-liberating experience; early on I calculated how much I was saving in not having to pay interest on a mortgage — a staggering amount. No monthly nut. Up north the onslaught of high real estate prices and attendant over-regulation haven’t dampened that enthusiasm as it has in the Bay Area. It’s wonderful to be around people that are still operating in that realm. And just about everyone I run into in my builder-oriented travels knew and loved our book Shelter (1973). Amazing to get this feedback now. It seems everyone who worked with their hands was inspired by Shelter. I love it!

It’s also caused me to reflect on just what we (builders, gardeners, crafts people) were all doing back then. We never thought we’d be “self-sufficient.” Just try growing (and processing) your own wheat to disabuse yourself of the notion of being self-sufficient. No, the idea was to do as much for yourself as possible — within limitations of having to earn a living, raise a family, etc. Building my own house saved me so much money I had the freedom to figure out what I wanted to be as I grew up. And know what? I think those principles still apply. Can you work with your hands? Then build your own house! It can still be done, the payoff (and difficulties) are more or less the same. You just can’t do it as close to urban areas as before. Or — you can do your own remodeling wherever you live. Whoops, am I preaching here?

No Direction Home

Wasn’t that show great? Bless Martin Scorsese. Who also produced my favorite rock ‘n roll film, The Last Waltz. Jon Carroll wrote a great column in the S.F. Chronicle on Sept. 30 about Dylan and Scorsese, about continuing to work and change and evolve. I went to a Dylan concert in Providence, R.I., on a hitchhiking, soul-searching trip across the US in 1965. I had my camera and the cops let me get right next to the stage. The first half was folk music. After intermission out came Robbie Robertson and Dylan rock-n-rollified. Oh yes! His bedroom window it is made out of bricks. (I came back from the trip and quit my insurance broker job.)

Bob Dylan, Robbie Robertson, Providence, RI, October, 1965

Two Great Gospel Records

When Gospel Was Gospel, by various artists, Shanachie. A great collection, including Sister Rosetta Sharp, The Soul Stirrers, and the Davis Sisters.
Remember Me, by Marion Williams, Shanachie. What a voice! Hey, isn’t black gospel music the best thing to ever come out of Christianity?

Diner for Sale in Northern Washington

I stopped for a latte at this great little diner in Cedro Woolley, Washington. It's a caboose meticulously fitted out with a stainless steel kitchen, hardwood floors, wired and plumbed; it's a charmer. And it's for sale — $49,000. The owner has health problems and needs to sell it. She says it can even be moved, she thinks for about $6-7000 by truck to other parts. Want a ready-made diner? Want to start a new life? Call Jamie Sanchez, 360-854-9179.

The Coffee Caboose, for sale in northern Washington. L-r, customer, Melonie, Jamie

Inside the caboose I was talking to Jamie and her helper Melonie Lanning about the greatness of Italian cooking and they said, "Oh we love Italy, want to see our favorite apron?"

Melonie and her favorite apron

Stay Tuned — More to Come

In the next two weeks I'll post photos of some of the buildings I photographed, and a bunch of other builders. I got really excited today looking through the thumbnails. These guys are unique!

First Blog After 3 Weeks on Road

Moi on split cedar and cable walkway built by Lloyd House on a vertical seaside cliff face, leading to his house from his boat dock

The Ultimate Trip

I've been on the road for 3 weeks now. I've photographed buildings the like of which I've never seen (1500 photos and counting). I've met builders whose work is absolutely unique. I hit great surf. I've seen bears, killer whales, and a bald-headed eagle. (Yesterday a small sea otter jumped up on the pier I was walking across, 10 feet away, glanced at the human, and jumped back into the water.) It's been an odyssey, the most vital and interesting (+ hopefully productive) trip I've ever taken. I've camped on beaches and had barbecued wild oysters. One stormy night I rented a room overlooking the sea, with fireplace and kitchen, and made a great dinner while the storm rolled in from the west. Another stormy night 3 of us slept in a surfers' waterfront shack after a hot sauna, then swim in cold ocean, and the rain pounded on the roof. Plus I've gathered wonderful material for the book (see below).


For some reason I've run into a steady stream of people who are somehow exactly
the right people
at the right place
at the right time.
It's been happening lately. I arrived on a small island by passenger (no autos) ferry 2 days ago, with backpack and tent in case I couldn't find a place to stay. It was raining lightly. I ended up staying in a soulful rambling handbuilt house with great people and a great dinner, sleep, and breakfast and then on my way the next day. It also helps that every single builder I run into up here knows our book Shelter. Everyone was influenced by it. Driving into Victoria the next afternoon I called my friend Godfrey, he said come over right now we're having dinner for friends, so I lucked into a great dinner and spent the night there. I've made a bunch of new friends, great to do this late in life.

The New Book

Working title: Builders of the Pacific Northwest. The book won't get specific about exactly where all these places are; no place needs more tourists. I'll be coming back to Canada in February and then May to finish gathering material for the book. I'm overwhelmed by the material I've gathered in the past 3 weeks. I can't wait to get home and look at all these photos. I'll try posting pics of these builders on the blog when I get the chance.

Skateboarding at Midnight

Victoria has broad streets and there's little traffic at night, even downtown. I went out skating tonight, helmet, safety gear and all, and got in some good rides. I'm working on my turns, trying to get more stable and graceful in the movements. Right turn, weight on right foot; lead turn with left arm, etc. The kids don't even think about it, they just DO it. At my age I have to think it through, get my body to make necessary moves — good for the brain I think. Well anyway, I came down a nice run into Douglas, the main drag, and the light was with me, so made the turn and started skating down Douglas and here's a cop car across the road, and me with no lights etc. and of course he turns on flashing lights, does a U-turn in my direction and — goes speeding off after a car. Whew!

Sunday Sunday Sept 11 2005

Wow! I didn't even realize what day it was until just now, after spending a couple of hours getting this blog together, and I looked at the calendar.

Confessions of a Lame Blogger

Blogging is a great concept, but I can't seem to do it often. My life is so full I don't want to get tied down to even more computer time. To post stuff daily would mean I'd be devoting more of my thoughts and energy into blogging. But it works for me because I love to tell people what I run across in life, and pulling some of it together in blog-form makes me focus.

Possum In The Chicken Yard

The other night Lesley told me to come out and look in the chicken yard. There was a baby possum, scampering around. Now, full grown possums are hardly cute. But this guy was, he was about 1/3 adult size. I took my long-handled catch-chicken net and tried t snare him, but only banged him with the rim. I lifted the net and he lay there on his side, motionless, like he was dead. Lesley was watching all this. After about a minute we saw his eye pop open and we both broke out laughing. “Playing possum” is rooted in fact. We finally chased him out of the yard.

Hate Radio

I’ve been tuning into some of the local right-wing talk shows. Sheeesh! Are these guys disgusting! Michael Savage is a mean, ugly, twisted creep. Yesterday someone was saying Scalia and Rehnquist were too liberal. Cindy Sheehan has kicked up a shit-storm and right-wingers are trotting out moms proud to have their kids in Iraq. Cindy’s question “What did my son die for?” has electrified Americans. Talk about a sound bite!

Great TV

We finally gave in and got the full (except for sports) Direct TV package. The programs, especially Sundance, but also HBO and the others, are a whole other level of quality. Plus I installed a TiVo receiver, can record up to 80 hours on hard drive, replay programs and zap commercials, etc. TiVo is brilliantly set up, what could be complicated and difficult has been simplified, and has clear instructions. Hell, I’m still amazed by fax machines.

Back in Running Shape

For the last 2-3 years I slacked off on running and just wasn't running that well. Or that is, running at a level where I could keep up with my trail warrior friends. On the Tuesday night runs I lagged behind everyone. A revoltin’ development! I had a couple of not so great performances in the annual Dipsea Race. So I’m back to running 3 times a week and Tuesday night had one of those “sweet spots in time” runs, a 2-mile downhill trail where I felt like I was floating. The sun was setting over the ocean. We got to our secret swimming hole and 4 of us went swimming in the cool clean cattail-lined pond, swallows dipping to skim the surface.

It’s really shitty to get out of shape. Right now I’m nursing a shoulder injury, trying to get it healed so I can surf in British Columbia. I can see how easy it is for 60+ year-olds to give up. You get out of shape (or injured) and it’s so much work to get back in shape. Both being a lame runner for a while and being injured have galvanized me. I’m back to taking the time to work out. Bob Anderson said to me once, “You never hear anyone say, ‘I’m sorry I worked out.’” You always feel great. Gddammit, I don’t want to lose my mobility or strength. I feel better every minute of the day when I keep my body functioning.

The Dipsea Race is the big one around here. It was 100 years old this year, and is some 7 miles up and down cross-country from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach. We all obsess about it, it's an annual goal. 1500 people run it and it's very big time local-wise. However the race I like best is called the Mt. Tam Hill Climb. Starts at 8AM on each Labor Day, and runners go from downtown Mill Valley up 2-1/2 miles and some 2000' of elevation to the top of the mountain. Any way you can get to the top - shortcuts through steep rocky arroyos, obscure trails off the main trails, etc. There were about 100 runners this year, all running aficionados, people who love the mountain.

I did a practice run the Sunday before and the mountain just kicked my ass. It took me an hour and ten minutes to get to the top, and I got sort of lost coming back down — ended up getting off on a pretty well-worn animal trail when I got back to civilization, but the trail ended abruptly at a fence around a very big house. Emerald green lawn. Swimming pool. Tasteful. Now I could go back up the trail and backtrack, or do a little, um, trespassing. I hopped the fence, went across the lawn, looking for the driveway I knew had to lead to a road. Doors of the house were open but I didn't see anyone. Feeling furtive. Past the pool. Whew, here's the driveway, which turns out to be long and winding buff-colored concrete, must have cost $300K in itself. Big electric wrought-iron gate, over which I climbed and started down into town. After about 3 blocks along comes a cop car. Went right past me. I figured people in the house reported a trespasser but didn't give a description (guy w. long white hair, red shirt) so I prepared to slip down into the woods should the cop come back, but he didn't. My friend Roger later told me this was Martin Cruz Smith's house.


As I continue to skate, I marvel at the grace of real skateboarders. These kids have developed a very high level of athletic skill. They are focussed. On their own, no Little League-type adult organization, encouragement, or $$. They practice and practice, with constant peer evaluation. They watch each other trying new moves. They strive for excellence, they push the limits. Sometimes I’ll see a skater in the city, in and out of traffic, sliding sideways if necessary, 21st-century street ballet. A skateboard has to be the smallest wheeled vehicle in the world. And there are no brakes!

‘60s Coming In For A Landing

The media has always got the ‘60s wrong. If you weren’t there before “The Summer of Love” you really don’t know what happened in San Francisco. It was a fucking wonderful 3-4 years and lately those times have been getting new respect. What The Dormouse Said, a new book by John Markoff, talks about the role of Stewart Brand and The Whole Earth Catalog in development of the personal computer. Steve Jobs recently said he was inspired by reading the WEC as a teenager. Hey, that is quite a fucking influence! I want to see the 60s get more respect. And not just in science and technology, but in all the myriad activities, skills, arts, and music that coalesced at the same brief period. Just about everything I’ve read about those times seems to miss the mark widely, but I’ve never been able to write about it. One of these days…

Rock and Roll!

I don’t hear that much new kick-ass rock and roll these days. I know it goes on, I just don’t know what bands to see. Once in a while I luck out. Much as I love the blues, and much as I’m sometimes moved to tears by Sam Cooke or Al Green, or Otis, there is just something special about great rock and roll. The Fabulous Thunderbirds have just put out a great album: Painted On. It starts out with driving R&R, then a bunch of pure blues songs. A good band that has got better in recent years.

Last Monday (Labor Day) I went to a barbecue at a local roadhouse to see Billy Joe Shaver, master country song writer and soulful singer. Billy was good (“God loves ya if ya dance.”) but the next guy, Paul Thorn, was amazing. I love music, it’s a big part of my enjoyment of life, and finding a musician like this by accident is bliss. He’s a poet, wonderful, meaningful words. The music is strong. He rocks, even alone on acoustic guitar. Then after a few solo numbers his band materializes and they are — how else to say it? — exquisite. What a band! This guy is tough; he’s an ex pro boxer who went 6 rounds with Roberto Duran in 1988 (the fight was stopped because of cuts on Paul’s forehead), he’s from Tupelo, Mississippi (so was Elvis), his father was a preacher, he worked for 12 years in a chair factory, he’s REAL. Hardly like anyone from Marin County, I thought as I watched him..

He writes beautiful, romantic love songs. He’s also great looking…the little girls, they understand. Try to catch him performing if you can, he’s hot right now.


Off For Points North

I got my truck fixed (I really didn’t like the bashed-in side), and had to move all my hundred+ items of junk out and so reorganized everything, built a sliding drawer that comes out on the tailgate, got sheets made for when I sleep inside the camper shell, built a new shelf behind the seat, and am taking off in a few days to meet builder/surfer Bruce Atkey in Tofino for a trip up the west coast of Vancouver Island to photograph buildings, interview northwest coast builders, jump in some hot springs, and maybe find some waves. Gonna stop off and have wild duck dinner with homemade red wine with my friend Louie on the way. Read all about it here (eventually)…

From Sun To Sean

A Trip To SolFest — Solar Energy Festival in Hopland

I take off Friday morning for points north. As soon as I get into the countryside my spirits rise. Hills California golden brown, Nicasio lake full. It’s foggy even inland and I stop in Petaluma for a latte and read the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

A Few Random Clippings

“Israel should announce that, henceforth, any rocket launched from Palestinian territory will immediately trigger a mechanically automatic response in which five Israeli rockets will be fired back. There will be no human intervention in the loop…This new policy would echo…America’s Cold War policy of “massive retaliation.”
-Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post

(Regarding the Gaza occupation): “It was an overzealous dream, a dream so single-minded and devoid of empathy — this land is ours, although we have just arrived; you are the usurpers, although your great-grandfathers turned this soil — that it was always precarious, a castle made of Gaza sand.”
-Eugene Robinson, Washington Post

“Randy Moss, a model for his first five months with the Oakland Raiders, has caused a firestorm for the team by admitting he has smoked marijuana since he enrolled in the NFL in 1998.”
-Phil Barber, The Press Democrat

“F. Scott Fitzgerald is said to have told Thomas Wolfe that there are two kinds of writers: taker-outers and putter-inners.”
Rick Marin, New York Times

Roll Around Heaven All Day

It’s a good day. The fog clears around Cloverdale. KPIG, AM 1510 in the SF bay Area, playing a great mix of blues, rock, Cajun, country. When I get out of range I put on a CD from my new Ray Charles collection, Genius and Soul, the 50th Anniversary Collection. Oh, is it good! If you're a Ray Charles fan, you’ll be thrilled with this. Trust me. Then to Ruth MacGowan’s pub in Cloverdale for a fresh and tasty crab salad and a pint of their home-brewed Monster Brown Ale. Oh yeah! Things are going good. I get to SolFest, at the Real Goods headquarters in Hopland and set up our booth to sell our building books. It’s hot and on the way back to my motel in Cloverdale I stop and jump in the Russian River, which is green and clean this far north. Check into room and head up into the hills above Cloverdale for a run and on my way back I hear music and it turns out that Tom Rigney and Flambeau, a great band, are playing a free concert in the town plaza. It’s one of those concerts where the musicians and audience connect. 150 people, everyone up dancing, Rigney is energized and fiddling madly. Everyone happy.

SolFest Itself

This is a great event. It’s well-organized, thousands of people attend, there are seminars, workshops, music, food, and solar, wind, and water-generating devices. There are a bunch of very together “alternative energy” people with their systems on display. There are yuppies, hippies, homesteaders, builders, eco-folk, Deadheads, farmers, gardeners. David Lindley, a marvelous musician, did an afternoon session. He was preceded by a good local blues band. We sold over 100 copies of Home Work, plus other books, and gave away 200 Home Work posters. People kept stopping in and telling us how much our book Shelter had influenced them, and how they loved Home Work. One couple bought 10 copies to give away as gifts. Gratifying.

Civet Incivility

It’s now 9:30 PM and I’m in the office writing this. A few minutes ago I heard what sounded like a cat fight, but shriller and more volume. Turned out to be a skunk battle royal. I had left my shop door open last night and one had got in and devoured about 4 energy bars, and a bunch of “Gu” energy gel, and they were back to fight over it tonight. It’s more country than city here, and with a big garden and chickens (a bantam flock), there’s a constant battle with critters of all sizes. Ants, termites (very big deal here), bats (huge problem once), mice, rats, possums (once trapped 13 in a month in Have-a-heart trap, released way out in country, they're too stupid to find their way back), raccoons, skunks, foxes (not lately), deer.

Foggy August

The heading of our local newspaper yesterday was “Fogust.” We’ve been socked in for a month. I’ve always thought of myself as a fog-lover, growing up in San Francisco and all. But it was getting to me. On my Sunday runs I’ve been going over to Mt. Tamalpais to run in the warm sun. Today the sun broke through out here today and everyone’s spirits rose. Plus Rick just finished Photoshopping my pics from British Columbia and I started printing them out and Jesus, they’re better than I imagined. I ran across the most wonderful bunch of builders and am heading back up in three weeks to go 40 miles up the west coast of Vancouver Island with builder/surfer kindred spirit Bruce Atkey, to shoot more pics for the following book:

Builders of the Northwest Coast

Since I finished Home Work, I’ve been searching for the next major book. These kind of books have to be created from scratch. I constantly gather material and then try to figure out how to make it into a book. Today I went on a binge of printing photos out on glossy paper and it was like cream rising to the top. This is such wonderful stuff. Many of the guys in BC are ex-Americans who refused to go to Viet Nam, and became Canadian citizens in the 60s and ‘70s. They built their own houses on the islands and the coast. It’s a wood world. Trees grow everywhere and beaches are lined with cedar logs. With no building codes and a spirit of craftsmanship, the homes are extraordinary.

Sauna by Lloyd House

Pride Goeth After the Fall

I don’t fall often skateboarding, but the occasional fall is inevitable. Know the first thing I do when I fall? I look around to see if anyone saw me. Then I start taking stock of body damage. I’ve got a hot new skateboard that turns on a dime. It’s pretty squirrelly, but I can thread my way around on city sidewalks a lot better. A few weeks ago I was able to (for the first time) make all the turns in a slalom course that rollerbladers set up in Golden Gate Park each Sunday.


How about riding a bike on abandoned railroad tracks? My friend Louie and I sat around in the pub Saturday night designing a bike with outrigger for balance and little solid rubber wheels running along the sides of tracks to keep the bike tires on the track. I came back and with Lew’s help found a ton of info on the web. I sent away for plans for building one. Woo-woo!

Sean Penn in Iran

It’s not enough that he’s a brilliant actor and a cool guy, but he’s just written some dynamite accounts of his trip to Iran. He makes you feel like you’re there. He’s not afraid, and his take is fresh and insightful. He does a better job than most reporters.

Day By the Bay

This posting is SF Bay Area local stuff:

The Magnificent Human Body

“The Universe Within — The Human Body Revealed” is an amazing exhibit of just that. The Chinese have figured out how to “plastinate” actual human bodies, and the exhibit is stunning. Just about all aspects of the body are on display. The musculoskeletal system demonstrated by real bodies frozen in action, cross sections of real skulls, and — what just stopped me in my tracks — it looked like a lacy see-through Spiderman suit, all bright red, the cardiovascular system, hanging in a glass box. The body’s intricate blood transport system, all the veins shown without the bones or muscles or organs, just this body-shaped network. Not just spectacular, but a revelation, magnificent!

It’s just what’s there. What we’ve been given to work with, and I came away after an hour or so there marvelling anew at the beauty of the human body. Picture taking was forbidden so of course I took pictures, hiding behind columns so the guard couldn’t see me. At the Nob Hill Masonic Center. www.theuniversewithin.org

Muscle function

Doorway on California street as I walked back to my truck from the body exhibit

Great Travel Gear

Royal Robbins has got, for my needs and aims, the best travel clothing and accessories of anyone, including Patagonia and REI. Pants, shorts, shirts, travel towels, passport holders. Their stuff is in numerous stores, but best is to go to headquarters, at 841 Gilman in Berkeley. http://www.royalrobbins.com/

8 Megapixel Mini Camera

I went into the photo shop* Saturday to decide between two Canon mini cameras I’d been studying, the 7 megapixel Powershot S70 (which shoots RAW files, and a lens that opens up to 28 mm) and the 7 megapixel PowerShot SD500 Digital Elph. After much deliberation and consultation I got an 8 megapixel Olympus Stylus 800, which does not shoot RAW nor have a 28 mm lens, but has a huge bright screen, seems to have made a breakthrough in shooting in dim light, has a bunch of other great features. I haven’t started to use it and it’s too new to have been reviewed by DCRP.com. I mention this because there seems to be a new generation of small digital cameras and the three cameras above are worth checking out.
*Keeble and Shuchat on California Avenue in Palo Alto, a fabulous huge all-digital camera store

The Had-to-throw-this-in Dept.

(off the web)

Return of the Swine

Surfers alert: I may have been one of the last people to find out that KPIG and its irreverent DJs are back, with their non-top-40 lineup of rock and roll, blues, country, Hawaiian, blue grass, good-feelin' California music. It reminds me of the non-commercial, play-it-from-the-heart feeling you used to get from KSAN in the '60s. On AM no less. 1510 AM, from Santa Cruz County. (It seems to be off the air after 8 PM.)

Passion in the Court Room: The Sentencing of Tony Serra

Last week I got a one-page flyer from the staff in lawyer Tony Serra's office. Tony was due to be sentenced for "misdemeanor willful failure to pay income tax," and his staff was asking people to attend the sentencing. "Stand Up for Him As He Has Stood Up For Us," it said, and listed the date, time, judge (Joseph C. Spero), and courtroom in San Francisco. Tony is a legendary defense lawyer, defender of civil rights, who often takes on impossible cases, often pro bono, and has had an extraordinary career in the San Francisco area and the rest of the nation. He lives a spartan life, drives junker cars. He is colorful, with a long grey pony tail, and wears suits he gets at the Salvation Army. About 10 years ago, 60 Minutes did a piece on him. The movie True Believer was about one of his cases, with James Wood playing Tony. A Google search turns up about 7000 references to him, and he's described as "radical," "flamboyant," and "renowned."

I've known Tony for over 50 years. We both grew up in San Francisco and then lived in the same fraternity house at Stanford. He graduated 6 months before I did and took off for a tour of Europe on a motorscooter with his first wife Judy. He wrote me letters from the trip, one of which I remember vividly, about staying up all night on a boat from Barcelona to Palma de Mallorca, and dolphins criss-crossing in front of the boat making phosphorescent patterns in the sea, with stars shining overhead. As soon as I graduated, my wife and I did the same thing, caught a ship from NY to France, hitchhiked to Milan, bought a new Lambretta scooter, and spent 3 months touring all of Europe, two California kids away from home for the first time — all because of Tony.

In the early '60s he went to work for the public defender's office in Oakland and I was working as an insurance broker in SF. In about 1963 we both smoked pot together for the first time, and by 1965 he had switched to private criminal defense practice and I had quit my job to work as a carpenter. We both were profoundly influenced by the cultural revolution of the times. In the early '70s he and his girlfriend Mary Edna rented a house from me in Bolinas and their first two (twins) of 5 children — Shelter and Ivory — were born there.

I got to the courtroom about 10 minutes late yesterday. It was packed — about 100 people — with about 30 people milling around outside. I decided to try my Shelter Publications press pass and darned if it didn't work: they let me in, the last seat. Tony's attorney, Randy Darr, was in the midst of an impassioned plea to the judge. This guy had a silver tongue and he went on at length. Tony admits his guilt, Tony has a "dysfunctional" relationship with money (true), there'd be no purpose in sending him to jail, Tony would pay $1500 a month to the IRS. Blah blah.

The IRS claimed Tony owed over $500,000 in taxes and had only paid $60,000, and wanted a one-year sentence. A probation officer was recommending a 5-month sentence.

Then about a dozen lawyers, mostly of the criminal defense variety, spoke to the judge. Tony had been a great influence in their lives and careers. He was their hero, he had defended the poor and downtrodden, he belonged in the courtroom and not in a jail cell. Blah blah, and I do mean blah blah. I haven't spent a lot of time in courtrooms, but I'm of the editorial persuasion and found these speeches long and tedious. You could have cut about 2/3 out of what each person said in the interest of clarity and succinctness, but I guess these guys are used to addressing juries and hammering home their points. Throw bombast at the wall and see what sticks. Plus they didn't really have a leg to stand on. Tony admitted his guilt. In retrospect this wasn't a display of reason, but rather of passion, of emotion, hallmarks of Tony's dramatic courtroom appearances. This was theater. At one point one of the lawyers asked Tony's five kids to stand up, which they did; they'd flown in from New York and LA to back their dad, and they looked wonderful.

Everyone gave it their all. It was a court appearance, but it was also a celebration of Tony's dedication to justice, and of how much he means to so many people.

It went on for about 3 hours and then Judge Spero said to take a 10 minute break and he'd impose the sentence. People chatted, Tony went around hugging his friends, until the judge returned. The judge acknowledged the good work Tony had done, representing the poor, influencing other lawyers, but said Tony wasn't above the law and sentenced him to 10 months (in Lompoc federal prison camp) and to paying the feds 100K at $1500 a month once he's out of prison.

Tony will do OK in prison. The other inmates will love him. He's a philosopher, a voracious reader. Once at Stanford he locked himself in a closet for 3 days with just bread and water so he could experience isolation. Maybe he'll take the time to write a book. He has to report to Lompoc in January 2006.

Northwest Coast Trip Epilog

It's a sunny summer morning here in Louie's shop, and I'm looking through my notebooks from the trip for a few out-of-sequence trip notes and thoughts, before heading south for home. I'm homesick! (However I plan a brief stop-off to skateboard at Sea Ranch, where thanks to a sympatico friend who lives there, I now have a pass to be on the grounds.)

Three Quotes (I ran across while on this trip)

"Creativity is the ability to go from failure to failure with undiminished enthusiasm."
-Winston Churchill
(This resonates with me!)

"Genius is the ability to observe something until it reveals its nature." - Sir Isaac Newton
(When I read Lloyd House the Churchill quote, he snorted and muttered something not complimentary about Churchill and recited the above Newton quote, and it's a perfect guideline for his work, where he has found say a piece of unique wood on the beach and has studied it until it reveals to him how to use it in a building.

"Well building hath three conditions:
• Commodity
• Firmness
• Delight"

-Sir Henry Wooten
(This from John Raabe. "Commodity" in the sense of "commodious," "firmness" meaning well-built, and — delight, yes!

Migration South to North

People can sell their home in say Santa Barbara or the Bay Area for big bucks and move north and buy a nice house and have a lot of $$ left over. It's happening in all the great little towns up the coast. Home prices are rising. Ferndale is a pretty little town just south of Eureka, most of the buildings Victorian, set in a dairy farming valley. I like Ft. Bragg, it's still a working town, unlike Mendocino, which I think is disgusting in its precocious sell-out to tourism. There are special towns all over the country (also islands) that are typically first found by artists, then discovered by the gen'l public and prices escalate. There were a lot of places discovered by hippies in the '70s that were cheap back then and spiralling out of sight now.

This is Not the Bay Area

Had a beer in a The Ice Bar, a biker bar in Vancouver, WA. A huge Harley-man sitting at the stool next to me had the scarf-on-head and a biker coat that had decals on the back, one of which was a confederate flag, with the message: "Try burning this flag, asshole."

Three-dot Journalism

I got to Pt. Townsend, Oregon on a rainy morning. Had been there before, but hadn't looked around. It's been getting the typical tourist treatment and influx of out-of-staters for some time now, but it's a big place and a thriving seaport and there are still lots of workers and true sea people there…In his last email before I left on this trip, Godfrey said he hoped my trip north would be "fraught with adventure."…On this trip I slept in my truck or at friends' houses 8 nights, otherwise I stayed in motels. I've sort of had it with B&B's; I don't really want a room filled with antiques. I prefer a characterless clean motel room (with wi-fi preferably)…There's nothing like going down a road you've never been on before. I'm hunting, scanning the landscape for barns, houses, anything of graphic interest. In shooting buildings I try to show them at their best, from the most complimentary angle. It takes a lot of stalking…Builder Tom Larsen wonders why no one has built a house with baled newspapers, like straw bales. He says they won't burn.Hmmmm…

Sweet Home

I love the places I visited on this trip. Victoria is a spectacular, clean, uncrowded, mellow city, the Gulf Islands are beautiful and peaceful and fertile, the people in B.C. are wonderful, and yes I do like the excitement of travel and seeing new places and meeting new people BUT on the way home when I headed out of the hot Sacramento Valley to Boonville and started the climb over the mountains to Pt. Arena and the ocean, something kicked in: home turf. Boy, I'm excited to be back.

End of 3-week Northwest Coast Trip

On Saturday (this is Tuesday), I spent the night at architect John Raabe's house on Whidbey Island, Washington. John runs a unique website offering home building plans inexpensively, and has a great builders' forum:


The next morning I caught a ferry to the mainland. They had a cop with dog sniffing under all the cars waiting to get on the ferry, looking for explosives. Ah me! I drove through to Seattle (Mt. Rainier is magnificent, it dominates the landscape in that part of the world) and then down to Medford Oregon, slept a few hours in the truck and then dropped in on my friends Bill and Judy Pearl at 5:30 AM in their gym, where I knew they'd be. We had breakfast and then yesterday I headed south. It was HOT. I stopped in Redding, and trespassed on an upscale trailer park land to get access to the swiftly-flowing Sacramento river, jumped in, and it was ice water! Talk about refreshing. Then about two hours later, I detoured off Hwy 5 to the town of Colusa, where I'd lived off and on as a teenager, found the old swimming beach and swam in water that was about 20 degrees warmer. Then decided to come back to Louie's place on the way home, finish off this blogging from the trip, show Louie some of the pix, and start trying to figure out to do with this ton of wonderful material I've amassed. For one thing, there is a whole new level up building in the northwest. It was like stepping on another planet.

Did I mention the last builder I met, Bruce Atkey? Bruce is a big strong surfer dude/builder who lives in a little cabin overlooking one of the northwest coasts lesser-known surf breaks and has built cabins and houses on remote sites along the west coast of Vancouver Island (north of Tofino), felling and splitting all the wood on-site. 40 miles by boat to get there.) He's also building a steel sailboat from scratch, almost finished (maybe 35' or so). To see and photograph Bruce's work and Lloyd House's place (also reachable only by boat), Bruce offered to take me in his speedboat out of Tofino if I would pay for gas. Would I! We'll either do it this fall or next spring. There could be a book on just these northwest coast builders.Hmmmmm....

Then there is the art work of Chief Tony Hunt. What a book this would make. I'm going to visit Tony on my next trip to Vancouver and talk about the reality of such a book. His art still has the awesome power of the coast's native people. And how about this: Tony recently built a "long house" for the Salish and Ontario people in Ft. Rupert, Vancouver Island with carved corner posts of logs 4-1/2 feet wide, 22 feet high. The building is 80' by 120' and seats 1300 people.

Well, that's it f-f-f-f-folks. Over and out from Louie's this sunny afternoon. I'm gonna go jump in the local river.

Sculpture in Homebuilding

This is a stunning house built by Dean Ellis on a beautiful site looking down grassy meadows to the blue water. I missed Dean, but he told me to go in and shoot photos. Not only is it unique in design, materials and construction (it's framed with steel tubing), but it feels incredibly good inside.

Sod roof helps it blend into site.

Kitchen counters (as at left surrounding stove) are welded, polished steel.

On the Island, Off the Road, In A Ditch

Oh yeah…

I mean I've been stuck before — in the mud, snow, sand, and even in ditches — but never like this. Backing down a narrow country road on Hornby Island one evening, my left rear tire went into a 3' deep ditch, the truck went wham! There was broken glass, I couldn't believe it, I was watching it happen in slow motion, saying this can't be happening. I pulled myself up out of the upper door and walked to the closest house. This happened to be Wayne Ngan, a gentle soul and, it turns out, an internationally known potter. Wayne called a guy who might be able to get me out and about an hour later Tim Biggins arrives in a big flatbed truck. Within 5 minutes we had established that he knew my book SHELTER well and further, that his own house on the island had been in the book HANDMADE HOUSES, THE WOODBUTCHER'S ART. Tim studied the situation a long time and concluded we should come back in the morning, so I went home with him and slept in the loft shown below. Tim is a story himself, a cowboy of the northwest, builder, welder, trucker; he reminded me of Neal Cassady.

Pole rafters are radial, all at a differnt level, and bolted to a central log.

Exterior of Tim's house

We got up at 6, had oatmeal and good coffee, loaded his truck and set off. In about 2 hours, with a combination of come-alongs, cable around 2 trees, various jacks and luckily a neighbors tractor, the gringo's truck was gently lifted back on the road. Whew, broke one window, some denting, but nothing that can't be fixed. Sometimes I think the Lords of Karma watch over me and send along the right people to get me out my dumb predicaments.

Builders of the Gulf Islands

Here are pix of homes on two of the Gulf Islands, off the east coast of Vancouver Island. I don't need to name the islands here, they already get plenty of publicity. There's been a high level of design, ingenuity, and craftsmanship in this part of the world. For me it was photographer's wonderland.

Michael Dennis left his job as a professor at UC Medical School in 1980 and moved to B.C. He milled his own posts and beams from timber on his land and built a large and elegant house. It feels a bit like a wooden medeival hall, with light shining on broad-width polished flooringn.

Robbie, who's retired, lives a very simple life in moss-roofed "Mossy Hollow," built on a forested hillside and reachable only by trail.

Swann moved to the islands in 1968. He built a house in the '70s that burned down in 1985, so rebuilt it on the same spot. He and his wife, (prolific) artist Sudasi Gardner live and work in this light-filled colorful home.

Bedroom. Quilts, pillows, art on walls all by Sudasi.

Bathroom infused with light

Driftwood house built on a remote beach on Denman Island by John Moreland in the '70s.

Architect Michael McNamara built his own house in 1971. It has good vibes and a good fung-shui feel and is sited in a grassy meadow and surrounded by gardens.