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Inspiration from Shelter

A few weeks ago we got a spiral bound little book showing construction of a cabin in the woods. Maximillian Godino dedicated the book to Shelter Publications, saying he was influenced to build his cabin by our books Shelter and Home Work. He milled all the wood on the land and used old windows and ship's portholes for light, and built it on weekends with hand tools and a chainsaw. I wrote today thanking him for the book, and he sent me a return email, which included the below:

Since I was a little kid growing up in a house made of railroad ties on Tennessee Valley Road in Mill Valley I have thumbed the pages of Shelter. Before my dad died he presented me with the well worn copy you see here and it has given me tremendous satisfaction to be able to construct something inspired to a great extent by your research and photos.

Shelter, circa 1973

Rainy Day, Chess Explained on The Wire, New Septic Info, My Rowdy Friends, Leonard Cohen

Builders Book Taking Shape

It's raining in sunny California. I've started doing layouts of our next major book, Builders of the Pacific Coast. I'm a little stunned by all the info I've gathered in the last year (four photo-shooting trips from San Francisco north as far as Vancouver Island and its outlying daughter islands). Godfrey Stephens was just here with his daughter Tillikum. (See blog below of Tuesday, November 28, 2006.) Godfrey bestowed his usual measure of inspiration, excitement and disorganization upon my life for a day and a night while we visited, roamed the beach, and tried to make something out of the mountain of material I have on his life and his art. Godfrey has been my foremost contact in tracking down unique master builders in the maritime northwest.

Sculptor John McAbery's seaside cabin, made completely from used materials. Photo © 2006 by Stephen D. Walker

TIVO, HBO, Deadwood, The Wire, Chess As Described by Young Drug Dealer

For about a year, we have had HBO, Sun Dance, the full monte of Direct TV (minus the sports channels). Plus TIVO, which is brilliant. Pre-record and watch when you want to. Set it to record every episode of a series, etc. It was The Sopranos that first got my attention. Then Deadwood; it took me a while to realize what was going on in Deadwood. It's the dialog, stupid! The language is Elizabethan. It's witty, pungent, poetic, and tough. A local critic calls it "Shakespeare in the Mud." The Calamity Jane character alone is worth the price of admission.

HBO is in a golden age, witness for example The Wire, the current series about drug dealers, cops, and kids in Baltimore. Tim Goodman, the S.F Chronicle critic calls it the best TV series ever, and I won't argue. Watch 3 or 4 episodes and you'll be hooked. The acting, the story, the dialogue. It's just a different level of writing and acting and relevance from anything else on TV. Mos' def.

This week we borrowed a DVD set of the first 13 episodes of The Wire and in the 3rd one, there was this dialog among a young bunch of drug dealers, urban poetry: D'Angelo comes up to a table on a lot in the projects where his two friends are sitting in the morning sun, playing checkers with a chess set. "You can't be playing no checkers on no chess board, man," says D'Angelo. He explains chess to his friends:

"See this?" he picks up and kisses the king. "This the king pin. He da man. You get the other dude's king, you got the game. But he tries to get your king too because that's the game. Now the king he move any direction he damn choose, because he the king. But he got no hustle. The rest of the other motherfuckers, they got his back and they run so deep, he ain't got to do shit.

"Now you see this?" He picks up the queen. "This the queen. She smart, she fierce. She move any way she want, as far as she want. And she is the go-get-shit-done piece.
"And this over here is the castle, it's like the stash, it move like this and like this."

One of the kids points to the pawns and says, "What about these little bald-headed bitches here?"

"These the pawns. They the soldiers. One space forward only. Except when they fight, they go sideways. They like the front lines. They be in the field."

"How they get to be the king?"

"It ain't like that. See, the king stay the king. Everything stay who he is, except for the pawns. Now if a pawn make it to the other dude's side, he get to be queen. Like I said, the queen ain't no bitch. She got all the moves."

All My Rowdy Friends Have Settled Down

I graduated from Lowell High School in San Francisco in 1952. We had what was in retrospect a great bunch of people. About 14 of us showed up for one of our semi-annual lunches in San Francisco last week. I looked at all these guys and realized we were all San Francisco natives, and we'd known each other for over 55 years. By now they all seem to have gotten over my long hair, my counter-cultural lifestyle (and earring), and it's back to square one. Maybe it's a relaxing of roles as you get older, and you can get back to the basics. We talked about the city in the '40s and the '50s, they were the good old days, and it was one of those reunions that just worked.

Leonard Cohen, Ten New Songs

An amazing record. A friend loaned it to me. I'd never heard Leonard Cohen, and I've never heard a record remotely like this one.

Music I Hate

•Christmas carols. I mean, I've heard them for 60+ years, and they gag me. Jingle Bells, god!
•Happy Birthday. I will not sing this at parties. If I have to, I mouth the words.
•Jingles on National Public Radio. How can they play the same intro bits for 20 years? I can't stand them. and turn off the sound for a minute. All Things Considered, Morning Editiion, Fresh Air. Ugh!

New Info On Septic Systems

Here is a sneak preview of updates to our Septic Systems Owner's Manual, including a chapter titled "Excessive Engineering and Overzealous Regulation," which blows the whistle on corruption in the field and ripoff of homeowners throughout North America. Homewoners read it and weep!

Green (Ivy-covered) City Building on Flickr

I'm trying to post new blog stuff every two weeks or so. Just can't manage it more often, with all else that's going on in my life.
My friend Eszter Hargittai just turned me on to Flickr. I guess most everyone knows about it except me. Just one of its features is being able to search for photos posted by its members. I looked up "natural building materials," and got 200 photos. Click here to check it out.
Here's a pic from Flickr:

Photo by heatherriese

Weeping Cedar Woman

Today I got an email from my long-time friend, artist, magical carver, Northwest Coast spirit Godfrey Stephens (http://www.godfreystephens.com/). There'd been a snowstorm and it had cast a mantle of snow on Godfrey's giant carving "Weeping Cedar Woman," which now sits in the back yard of his home in Victoria, B.C. It was carved in 1984 out of a 300-year old wind-fallen red cedar, its symbolism being a protest against logging the ancient rain forests of Clayoquot Sound (on the west coast of Vancouver Island).:

Looks like a goddess warrior moving through the woods on a snowy night. "Save these trees!"

Godfrey has played a huge role in helping me find people for my next book, Builders of the Pacific Coast and his life and art will be a part of this book (which I've just started laying out).

The Occasional Incredible Deliriousness of Being

It started to rain last night and I stepped outside and tilted my head back so the raindrops were hitting my face. It made me almost joyously happy. The soft rain, the smell of fresh earth, the negative ions. Last week I'd read an interview with author Jim Harrison in Publishers Weekly, which referred to his "…passionate, continuous obsession with the natural world…" That hit home, since in recent years I've got more and more involved with the natural world. The woods, ocean, beaches, creeks, rivers, waterfalls, the animals and birds and fish and insects of the planet. I found some incredibly beautiful owl feathers (looked like he'd been a meal for a coyote) recently. The time I came across o bobcat pretty close up and he looked at me for a few seconds before he bounced off on his big wide feet with feline grace. Pelicans flying single file just a few inches above swells in the ocean, not flapping their wings, coasting on low ocean updrafts. Dragonflies flitting with blue flashing shiny wings. You get the idea.

I've been watching BBC news lately, and the world is so messed up and violent and painful right now, I almost feel guilty to be so (occasionally) happy.

I had arthroscopic surgery on my knee 2 weeks ago and lord, is it hard to hold still all day long. It's getting better daily and I'm getting intimations of how wonderful it'll be to start running in the woods again.

We just finished a revised version of our Septic Systems Owner's Manual, and in it we have
finally blown the whistle on the self-serving engineers and overzealous regulators that are ripping off homeowners on septic systems all over the country. We're talking billions of dollars here. In a week or so we'll have The Septic System Bulletin Board up with a lot of new info, plus the many emails we're getting from all over the country on draconian septic system requirements.

Green Festival in San Francisco

My cohort Lew and I set up a booth to sell our books at this year's San Francisco Green Festival. It was the first "green" festival we'd been to (other than the SolFest solar energy festival), and it was an amazing event. Huge! The hall was packed. This has become a powerful movement. You could hardly walk through the aisles.

The vibes were fabulous. What struck me most was the quality of the goods and services on exhibit. It looks like all these green concepts that've been floating around for the last 30 years, have jelled. A lot of the green stuff is working. There was hardly any crap, in contrast to any other event I've been to. The natural fabrics and clothing were beautiful. Hemp clothing has come a long way from the early crude products. Elegant hemp shirts, all natural fibers, organic everything from coffee to cotton. Solar power, green building materials, socially conscious investing, tons of great food, 100s of exhibitors, the unifying theme being treating the earth with respect and living in harmony with the living planet. Amen!

Organic cotton clothing

Booth of A Hard Day's Knight, a group of volunteers who conduct summer camps for teenagers, teaching them about life in medieval times, recreating different eras, wearing authentic clothes of the times, etc.

Beautiful healthy family stopping at our booth. A lot of people like this stopped by to say hello and thank us for inspiration from our building books.

Homemade bamboo baby stroller by Hunter Wallof of Pt. Reyes Station

It's now a few days later and in retrospect what happened was that the green-conscious people have discovered our building books. We were mobbed. We sold almost 150 copies of Home Work. It was great to watch all these young people pouring over our books. A new audience.

Moonlight over Stinson Beach

The view as I came home last night. The lights at right are Stinson beach. Beyond it is Bolinas bay, and the tip of land is my town of Bolinas.

Japanese Hand Saw: The Ryoba

I've been hanging out with serious craftsmen/carpenters and virtuoso builders in Canada over the last year and seen that many of them use Japanese saws. Bruno Atkey, who builds split-cedar cabins in the remote woods, told me he uses the Ryoba exclusively; he's abandoned his American push-saws. I bought a Ryoba and was amazed at how much better it is than my big ccollection of American handsaws. It does everything better. It has two different types of teeth.

Traditional Japanese Ryoba Handsaw with two types of teeth

$42.50 from Lee Valley Tools

Septic Systems: Excessive Engineering and Overzealous Regulations

I've been working on a revision of our book Septic Systems Owner's Manual for about 2 months, and just finished today. The book ended up being a lot more revised than I had anticipated. Almost a quarter of all North Americans are on septic systems, so it's a major subject. In following the onsite wastewater field for several years I've seen an incredible amount of corruption in the name of "clean water." Following are a few paragraphs from one of the new chapters in the book. We're blowing the whistle. The new edition should be out by the end of the year:

"You might say it all started with the Clean Water Act of 1972, when billions of dollars were allocated to clean up America's water. With all that money floating around, it didn't take long for some engineers and some regulators to devise a methodology for extracting the maximum amount of grant money available. It was all so easy. First, septic systems are underground and out of sight; low visibility. Second, who could argue with the idea of "clean water?"
So 15-20 years ago, engineers and regulators (some of them) decreed that simple gravity-fed septic systems were inadequate. They tightened up requirements, instituted new regulations, and thus began the new world of overblown, over-expensive septic systems. I got personally involved in a typical such scam in my hometown in 1989, and it was actually out of this experience (fighting against an albatross of plan) that led to this book.

"I considered writing about this situation when this book was first published in 2000. But the amounts of money were so huge, and the schemes so well orchestrated, I didn't think anyone would believe it. This was corruption completely missed by the media. The sums were huge. No one had an inkling. Well now, almost seven years later, the same things are going on, and more so. In this chapter, we'll give you the background, the history, and then case studies of small towns caught up in distorted engineering and excessive onsite wastewater disposal costs. In Chapter 10, “The Tale of Two Sewers,” John Hulls describes how two California towns took two very different approaches in dealing with over-inflated wastewater projects. This leads into Chapter 11, “Small Town System Upgrades,” where we describe how a community can take control of its own wastewater destiny and utilize local power in dealing with engineers and regulators."
-from the revised edition of Septic Systems Owner's Manual

Late October Trip Up The Coast/Old Growth Sitka Spruce Photo/Son House/Dr. John

I feel like the Volvo that goes 350,000 miles with no major breakdowns, and then kapow! Everything goes at once. I've had a bad shoulder I've been trying to heal with exercises, therapy, and supplements for a month now. I started running again recently, after an 8 month layoff and my knee was OK until I jumped on my skateboard yesterday and my knee pretty much collapsed. Couldn't run with the boys, couldn't even walk yesterday.
This morning I got up at 4 and drove up the coast to hang out with my pal Louie for a few days, using my left foot on the brake. Each time I'd get out of the truck it felt like I had bone-on-bone grinding in my knee. Am I whining?
There was a dense fog in the inland areas. When I got to the ocean at Jenner it cleared. I stopped in to see Pete and Bonnie at Sea Ranch at 8 this morning. The sparseness of Sea Ranch struck me. On this 1000+ acres of coastal development, landscape Laurence Halprin decreed that they leave the fields and trees exactly as is. Minimalist landscaping. It's such a contrast to the way we live, with our half acre burgeoning with plant life of infinite variety, needing constant attention and unending labor. Pete had this photo on his wall:

Virgin growth Sitka spruce trees in Oregon, early 1900s

Music du Jour: When I left home at 4:30 I put on a Columbia CD by Son House, called Mojo Workin'. It's strange, getting deeper and deeper into the blues at this late stage of my life. Son House was mentor to Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, AND Robert Johnson. Sheesh! Just a guy and his guitar. This recording was made in the ‘60s, when he’d been rediscovered. Next CD, Mercernary, by Dr. John who is in fine and unique voice, singing his own interpretation of Johnny Mercer songs. Come Rain or Come Shine, That Old Black Magic, it's great to hear these old pop-ish songs come out in Professor Longhair/New Orleans Funk. If you like Dr. J., you'll like this. And last, George Thorogood has a solid new R&R album, The Hard Stuff.
I met Louie at 10 for breakfast at Carlini's in Pt. Arena, which ties in my mind for the best breakfast anywhere, along with Bette's Diner in Berkeley. Home cooking. After breakfast when we got outside and I was limping heavily, Louie was amused. "Look at you! Ha ha!" My friend Louie. Later he was talking to his ex-wife Donna on the phone and said, "Hey, I'm moving around more than Lloyd." Ho-ho.
We went down to the harbor and walked out to the end of the pier. Surf was pretty big, 3 guys were out, but seldom getting on a wave. Surfers in Pt. Arena are a tough breed. This is no stinkin' Southern California. It's cold, the beach is rock, there are steep cliffs, and there's a big flat rock out in the surf zone. The ocean was alive, the air was fresh and super-charged.
We came out to Louie's and played some songs on ukulele and guitar together.

Louie's house across the river

That night we cooked a wild duck and had it with a bottle of Louie's Cabernet. A few other pix:

Back of a chair in progress in Louie's shop

My neighbor Clu and his friend milling 1x6" boards from a big cypress tree that had just been cut down

Foot-Generated Electricity

I just ran across this on boing-boing, my favorite blog:

Commuter Generated Electricity

It was sent in by Lisa Katayama, a writer from San Francisco, California, whose TokyoMango Blog is here.
JR East's new experiment consists of energy-generators under ticket wickets, a milliwatt-tracking counter, and 700,000 daily commuters. For the next two months, the railway company will be using using the vibrations of human foosteps at Tokyo Station to generate up to 100 milliwatts per second per person that walks through. The idea is to be able to generate enough electricity to power the wickets themselves and their display panels regularly.
Don't even think about going there and stomping your feet like a maniac to fuck up their results. That wouldn't be nice.
-Lisa Katayama

Photoshop Wizardry On Worth1000 Website

Worth1000.com had a contest for creatively manipulating a photograph of an ordinary bathroom. Here is the "falling man" entry, which has been forwarded around the Internet recently, but with wrong information.

You open the door to the bathroom and fall into space.

To get the straight scoop, along with some 20 versions of wonderful Photoshop ingenuity, check out Worth1000.com.

Let It Bleed: Mick and Keith Ripped Off Robert Johnson

Let It Bleed is one of my favorite rock and roll records. Of course it would be: the first track is "Gimme Shelter." The second track, "Love in Vain," is a beautiful song. "Well I followed her to the station, with a suit case in my haind…" The other day I was listening to Robert Johnson — The Complete Recordings, Columbia/Legacy C2K64916 — and heard the original (done in two versions) by RJ in the 1930s. Wow! I always thought the Stones wrote it. So I looked at Let It Bleed: "All selections written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards." Hmmm. I wonder what other Stones songs may have been appropriated without credit to the original artist.
The Robert Johnson twin-CD set is stunning. I've had it around for a while, but really only HEARD it for the first time the other day as I was driving along the coast. His songs are each perfect, elegant, just the guy and his guitar, Delta blues. His influence is enormous. Eric Clapton called him "the most important blues musician who ever lived." See the writeup on RJ in Wikipedia, Robert Johnson in Wikipedia

And hey Mick and Keith, how about giving credit where due in reprints of the Let It Bleed. Also back royalties to family or relatives (if they exist) of Robert Johnson.

Wind-Generated Electricity in India and China

Photos from an article in yesterday's New York Times by Keith Bradsher

Wind-powered turbines set up by Suzlon Energy near Dhule, India, are part of the technology increasingly reaching the country’s rural regions. Photo: Scott Eells for The New York Times

The Patils, father and son, plow a field below Indian wind towers. Photo: Scott Eells for The New York Times

Excerpt: "The demand for wind turbines has particularly accelerated in India, where installations rose nearly 48 percent last year, and in China, where they rose 65 percent, although from a lower base. Wind farms are starting to dot the coastline of east-central China and the southern tip of India, as well as scattered mesas and hills across central India and even Inner Mongolia.

Coal is the main alternative in the two countries, and is causing acid rain and respiratory ailments while contributing to global warming. China accounted for 79 percent of the world’s growth in coal consumption last year and India used 7 percent more, according to statistics from BP.

Worried by its reliance on coal, China has imposed a requirement that power companies generate a fifth of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. This target calls for expanding wind power almost as much as nuclear energy over the next 15 years. India already leads China in wind power and is quickly building more wind turbines…"

Stewart Brand On Orville Schell On China Today

Stewart Brand used to write highly-distilled gem-like reviews for his Whole Earth Catalog. Below is his concise summary of a talk given by China scholar Orville Schell last week in San Francisco, regarding what's going on in China right now. It was one of Stewart's monthly Seminars of Long Term Thinking (SALT) series (see below).

"China Thinks Long-term, But Can It Relearn to Act Long-term?"
"China is the most unresolved nation of consequence in the world," Orville Schell began. It is defined by its massive contradictions. And by its massiveness--- China's population is estimated to be 1.25 to 1.3 billion; the margin of error in the estimate is greater than the population of France. It has 160 cities with a population over one million (the US has 49). It has the world's largest standing army.

No society in the world has more millennia in its history, and for most of that history China looked back. Then in the 20th century the old dynastic cycles were replaced by one social cancellation after another until 1949, when Mao set the country toward the vast futuristic vision of Communism. That "mad experiment" ended with Deng Xiaoping's effective counter-revolution in the 1980s, which unleashed a new totalistic belief, this time in the market.

So what you have now is a society sick of grand visions, in search of another way to be, focussed on the very near term.

These days you cannot think usefully about China and its potential futures without holding in your mind two utterly contradictory views of what is happening there. On the one hand, a robust and awesomely growing China; on the other hand a brittle China, parts of it truly hellish.

- Peaceful borders in all directions
- Economic, non-threatening engagement with the entire world, including with societies the US refuses to deal with
- 200 million Chinese raised out of poverty
- Private savings rate of 40 percent (it's 1 percent in the US)
- 300 million people with cell phones, and the best cell phone service in the world
- A superb freeway system built almost overnight
- New building construction everywhere, and some of it is brilliant
- 150 million people online
- 350,000 engineering graduates a year
- One-third of the world's direct investment
- Huge trade surplus
- And an economic growth rate of 9 to 12 percent a year! For decades.

but also...

- Not much arable land, so a growing dependence on imported food
- Two-thirds of energy production is from dirty coal, by dirty methods, growing at the rate of 1-2 new coal-fired plants per week
- 30 percent of China has acid rain; 75 percent of lakes are polluted and rivers are polluted or pumped dry
- Of the 20 most polluted cities in the world, 16 are in China; you don't see the sun any more
- Some industrial parts of China are barren, hellish wastes
- Driven by environmental horrors and by widespread corruption, there were 87,000 instances of social unrest last year, going up every year
- The population is aging rapidly, with no pension or welfare, and a broken healthcare system
- The stock markets are grossly manipulated
- Public and official amnesia about historical legacies such as Tiananmen Square in 1989

How can such contradictions be reconciled? The best everyone can hope for is steady piecemeal change. For the Chinese the contradictions don't really bite so long as they have continued economic growth to focus on and to absorb some of the problems. But what happens when there's a break in that growth? It could come from inside China or from outside (such as a disruption in the US economy).

It's hard to look at the China boom now without thinking about the Japan boom in the 1970s and '80s, remembering how everyone knew the Japanese were going to dominate the US and world economy, and we all had to study Japanese methods to learn how to compete. Then that went away, and it hasn't come back.

The leadership of China is highly aware of the environmental problems and is enlightened and ambitious about green solutions, but that attitude does not yet extend beyond the leadership, and until it does, not much can happen.

That's China: huge, consequential for everybody, and profoundly unresolved.

--Stewart Brand
Before the lecture, Stewart wrote:
China is the hinge of history these decades. It is huge, and old, now globally engaged, and it moves fast when it wants to.

Lifelong China scholar Orville Schell routinely travels there. His wife Baifang is deeply involved in contemporary Beijing. Schell's role as dean of the School of Journalism at Cal gives him exceptional insight on what the media and Washington policy-makers have missed in thinking about what China may do in the coming years and decades, and how, and why...

For future seminar announcements and Stewart's summaries by email go to http://list.longnow.org/mailman/listinfo/SALT

2006 S.F. Blues Festival: Dee Rochon/Phil Guy/Hollywood Blue Flames/Mitch Kashmar/Ruth Brown/Little Richard

We rented a booth and sold our book Home Work, and I went on Sunday (yesterday). The festival has been going on for 30+ years, hosted by Tom Mazzolini and it's in a wonderful grassy park looking down on the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. The day started foggy and then cleared, and the music was fabulous. Other than Ruth Brown and Little Richard, I'd never heard of any of these musicians before. Conclusion: there is a lot of good blues out there! I got a press pass so I got to shoot from "the pit." Here are some pictures hot off the Canon:

Dee Rochon, a powerful singer, backed by a great lady sax player

Chicago blues supreme by Phil Guy, Buddy Guy's brother. Elegant music.

Chicago Harmonica Project

This couple brought along their own dance floor. It was oak flooring that bolted together in 4 sections

Ruth Brown, at 80+, was fabulous. She's royalty. Her voice is vibrant and alive, and she's still kicking. "Just cause I'm old, don't mean I'm cold." At one point I was right in front of her with my camera and she winked at me just before going into "Mama, he treats your daughter mean." It was a thrill.

For her (2nd) encore she did "If I can't sell it, I gonna sit back down on it…"

And of course, The MAN himself, Little Richard. A 20-foot long limo, an elegant and superb bunch of backup musicians, but I'm sorry to say, it was the least good of all the day's music. An act for Vegas. The voice ain't there. (Come to think of it, how could it be?) He came in pretty unsteadily with crutches and said he'd hurt his back. He's still great looking, with those high cheekbones and exotic eyes.

He did his great songs, but they sounded like "golden oldies." He repeatedly said "shut up" to the audience; people told me it's part of his regular schtick, but it grated. It was a staged act, but hey, people liked it, the music is still great, it's dance music. People sang along. Womp-bomp-a-loom-op-a-womp-bam-boom! I mean, we owe the guy so much from 40 years ago: that energy and joy, that '50s boogie-woogie rhythm and blues, and that amazing voice. Right now I'm listening to the old Bama Lama, Bama Loo, it's not well known like Tutti Frutti*, but it's a killer.
I asked my baby for a kiss she shook her head like this whooooo!
A great Little Richard CD is Little Richard — 18 Greatest Hits/Rhino Records.
The S.F. Blues Festival is a wonderful event. Relaxed. Great music. Great food. http://www.sfblues.com/
*I just read on Wikipedia that the original title was Tutti frutti/Good booty and was changed to Tutti frutti/All rooty AND that tutti frutti is slang for a gay male.

Burning Man/San Pedro Cactus in Bloom/Restored Railway Caboose/Tough Ford Van

I came into San Francisco early this morning. At Caffe Roma (in North Beach), my friend Rod Freebairn-Smith brought his Mac laptop to where I was sitting and turned on a 240-photo slide show for me, of this year's Burning Man. It was spectacular. It captured the event, the people, and the constructions way better than anything I've seen.

I just downloaded some photos from my pocket (Olympus Stylus 800) camera here in the cafe. Here are a few random shots:

San Pedro cactus blooming this week in our garden. A heavenly scent fills the air as night approaches. Bees are all over the blossoms during the day.

Restored caboose I shot last night in Duncan Mills along the Russian River

Caboose interior

Tough road warrior van photographed early this morning on a steep street in North Beach. It was a Ford Triton V-8, looked like 4-wheel drive, a serious vehicle

Fresh Eggs/Huckleberries/Running Solo/Clover Milk Ads/Gorecki Meets Tchaikovsky/William Morris/Jug Band/1950 Ford

I've been working on the revised edition of our Septic Systems Owner's Manual recently. Worthwhile work, but not too exciting. I can't wait to start doing layout for my next book, Builders of the Pacific Coast, but must get the septic revisions done first. It's a sunny late fall afternoon right now, so I'm having fun doing a bit of blogging. Our garden is pumping out food now. We eat mostly our own vegetables. Our own eggs from bantam Auracanas. Local fish and meat from the old-fashioned butcher shop downtown. Last week we picked wild huckleberries and Lesley made some incredible-tasting jam/I only run once a week now, and slowly. It's a huge change after 25 years. I still meet the boys on Tuesday night, but I run alone, these days up the coast to a lookout point that sits on a ridge jutting out into the ocean, about 700 feet high, then back to the beach and jump in the freshwater lagoon that forms in the summer, then into the pub for Guinness on tap/The Clover Milk signs on Highway 101 have been witty and funny for decades now. The latest: "Head and Tails Above the Udders," and it shows Clover cows floating above other cows. Years ago there was one that read: "Tip Clo Through The Two Lips." Give those guys an award!/I was having breakfast in Berkeley with Kevin Votel, my contact at Publishers Group West, a few weeks ago. Kevin had two CDs on the table by classical composers I'd never heard of. One was Henryk Gorecki. The waiter was standing there and Kevin asked if he'd heard the Gorecki CD. Yes, he said, and they discussed it knowledgeably. I said to Kevin, "How did you know he would know this composer?" (who to me was pretty obscure) and the waiter said, "Well my name is Tchaikovsky…"/A few months ago I saw an exhibit (in San Francisco) of the 19th century Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain. One of the placards in the exhibit, in discussing William Morris, the artist/poet/designer/writer/architect/eco-socialist superstar of the Movement, said: "At the very moment when Britain was celebrating its industrial might, Morris objected to the production of 'souless goods' by the machine…(whereas Arts and Crafts) designs were freshly derived from vernacular folk crafts and botany."/I continue to be amazed at the feedback I'm getting lately on my books Shelter and Home Work: Handbuilt Shelter. Suddenly everywhere I go people are telling me how these books have influenced their lives. It just now occurs to me that it's probably due to us getting back into the shelter (as opposed to fitness) category with our books these days, and I'm hanging out once again with builders, homesteaders, people into gardening and farming and doing things for themselves./Music stuff: I've been listening to The Best of the Memphis Jug Band (Yazoo CD #2050) a lot lately. It's basic rock-bottom foot-stompin blues. I mean jug bands are great in themselves, but this is a jug band that played pure blues with the simplest of instruments (in the 20s). What they do is so effortless and elegant. Other music news: I've been trying to learn how to "bend" notes on a blues harp lately, without much success. I knew my next-door neighbor Chick played the blues harp, so I went over this morning and asked him about it. He got his harp and played a little. He sounded good. "Hey play something Chick," I asked, and he proceeded to play some beautiful blues riffs. Wow!/Lastly here's a photo I took of a spruced-up 1950 Ford sedan in Mill Vally last week. This, along with the VW bug, the Ford Cortina, and the BMW 2002, is one of my favorite cars. In 1960 my brother and I bought a rather doudy looking 1950 ballpoint-pen-blue stick shift 2-door Ford Sedan for $200, and drove it across country to attend a 6-week insurance broker's course in Hartford, Connecticut. It was a 3000-mile trip and we took turns driving, about 2 hours at a time, and had a mattress in the back (took out back seat) where one guy could sleep comfortably, and we rolled across the USA. We stayed in a boarding house in Hartford, went 5 days a week to the school, and on weekends drove all over the east coast, which was in full-color October glory. We went to the Adirondacks (Racquet Lake), to Cape Cod, New York City, to see Yale. On the trip home we made it from Connecticut to San Francisco in 69 hours, got 20 mpg. We had put 10,000 miles on the car. We sold it for $200.

1950 Ford In Mill Valley, Calif, September 2006

New Age Kayaks/Hobie Does It Again

I went up to a place called Wind Toys in Santa Rosa recently to pick up a boat trailer. I was surprised to see not only the huge inventory of kayaks in the store, but the variety of kayaks available nowadays. I used to fish out of a kayak 20 years ago, but I haven't looked in on the kayak scene recently. Hobie Alter, designer of the Hobie Cat and other tuned-in watercraft, has a whole new line of kayaks. A bunch of them are propelled by foot pedals that power two underwater flippers, much like a penguin's flippers. There are foot-propelled kayaks made for fishing, high-speed lightweight kayaks, tandems, racing kayaks, kayaks with sails. There's one with a great sun parasol on an aluminum mast. If you live in the San Francisco area and are into kayaks, I'd check these guys out. They're on Santa Rosa Ave (the same street as Friedman's). You can also check out Hobie Kayaks at:

Some of the kayaks at Wind Toys in Santa Rosa, Calif.

Kayak with sail

Old Family Photos

My mom is 99 and living in a retirement home. When she moved there I ended up with boxes of family photos. Here are a couple:

My mother, Virginia Essie Jones when she was about 20 in Salt Lake City

My dad, Lloyd Kahn Sr., in his 20s in San Francisco. He lived until he was 92.

My mother's cousins, twins Beverly and Betty, were dancers.

While digging around in the old photos I came up with this one of our singing quartet, The Uncalled Four, at Lowell High School, San Francisco, class of 1952. I played a ukulele and a gut bucket, and we did 20s songs and some barbershop harmony. Left to right, me, Bill Bixby (later of Incredible Hulk and My Favorite Martian fame, John Lodmell, and Don "Whitey" Schaller. We did an appearance on Channel 5 in San Francisco, and it was Bixby's first TV appearance.

ORGANIZED SLIME: The Great Septic Rip-off of the 21st Century

I'm putting on a slightly different hat here. Six years ago I wrote a book on septic systems (Septic Systems Owners' Manual). Since then, major developments have been going on with septic systems and, as a result, we are now revising the book. I'm also writing a magazine article for Mother Earth News on the corruption and scams that characterize the current design and implementation of septic systems in North America. I'm still working on the article, but I'm publishing this in advance to get the word out on this rip-off of homeowners (and taxpayers). Following is part of an early draft of the magazine article:

A hoax of tremendous proportions, and consequent rip-off of homeowners with septic systems is now under way in America. It has been perpetrated by:
-Health regulators
-Land development interests
-No-growth advocates
-Misled Environmentalists

The crowning glory of this planning (at least in California) is Assembly Bill 885, now (as I write this) bouncing around in the California legislature like a loaded cannonball. If enacted, it would apply onsite wastewater standards state-wide. The trouble is, it's a bloated plan, crafted by engineers who stand to make millions, if not billions - I kid you not! - of dollars from forcing home owners to install what are in most cases unnecessary high-tech systems, costing $30-50,000.

I'm addressing this disturbing tale to homeowners with septic tanks (septic systems). If you haven't yet been told by regulators you need to upgrade your septic system, you will. It's just around the corner. It's a movement that generates cash for engineers, regulators, and special interests, and it's accelerating.

Who am I to be telling this tale? I am NOT an engineer. In fact, after 15 years studying septic systems, I do not trust engineers (of the wastewater variety) one whit. I have seen scam after scam being perpetrated on towns, as well as individuals by self-serving engineers and their accomplices. We'll get back to this in more detail.

I am a layman and I believe in the value of common sense. I have built three houses, built one septic system by hand (in Big Sur, Calif.), and I spent about 8 years studying septic systems and interviewing about a dozen of what I considered the most intelligent wastewater experts in the country. I then edited and published the Septic Systems Owners Manual in 2000. In addition I served for 2 years as the homeowners' representative on the Marin County (Calif.) Septic System Technical Advisory Committee.

Homeowners With Septic Tanks Be Forewarned

There are two ways that you, the homeowner, will run across this scam:

As An Individual
Either your system fails, or you build an addition, or some bureaucratic requirement of some sort means you have to hire an engineer who will design an expensive (where I live now $30,000+) system requiring a huge mound, pumps, and electricity in lieu of a simple gravity-powered septic system which, in many, if not most of these cases, would work fine.
First and foremost, brother and sister homeowners, stay out of the hands of county health inspectors. Get a permit to fix a failed leachfield? No way José. You're just asking for trouble. Find out how to fix it right* and do it yourself. (You did not hear this from me.)

As a Small Town
It's exactly the same in one small town after another (nationwide):
-Engineers announce that septic systems in your town are polluting groundwater (or a lake, river, the ocean, etc.). Typically there is no verification that the pathogens are human , rather than animal.
-By the time you find out about it, a plan is under way. The engineers have coordinated this with health officials and often local politicians and selected townspeople.
-You will be threatened with various measures if you oppose the plan (no future building, no remodels, or worse, condemnation).
-Grant money is available.
-The old tried-and-true gravity septic systems will seldom be used.
-It will somehow end up costing $20-50,000 per house.
-There will big fees to engineers and the local health regulating agency.


Sol Fest Solar Energy Festival Has Become An EVENT/Skateboard Crash/David Grisman/Godfrey Stephens Carving/The Old and New Mini

This takes place every August on the Real Goods store/homestead/school/solar center in Hopland, California (about 2 hours north of San Francisco). The main theme is "alternative energy," i.e. using the sun, wind, water and other natural forces to produce heat and energy. The other major subject is "green building," i.e. straw-bale, cob, adobe, bamboo, and the like for construction. We set up a Shelter booth and sold books. The event has really jelled in the past few years; last year it was great; this year it was super. There were over a hundred booths, and good will and a healthy spirit in the air. Word has got out about this event. All manner of solar brilliance. Cooking with hydrogen, windmills of old and new design. Water generating wheels. Natural clothing,beautiful European grain grinders, solar-roasted coffee, builders' books, all kinds of food, organic beer on tap, wine tasting, people were having fun! Plus, good music. David Grisman and friends played a great set onSaturday, the crowd kept them there an hour and a half, boogie-city. On Sunday the young bluegrass band Hot Buttered Rum had the big tent rockin and rollin. A lot of people were dressed to the T; all kinds of costumes, from practical to outrageous. Good vibes, mon. Real Goods staff and volunteers had the thing organized tightly, a difficult job with this level of activity.

Solar-roasted coffee beans by brothers David and Mike Hartkop. The power of the sun. People just loved this, it was witty, and it worked! A film crew from Bulgaria filmed it. As I write this I'm having a cup of latte I just made with their beans and for once I got the foam frothy enough. www.solarroast.com

James Brown watches over the Thanksgiving Coffee Company booth

David Grisman and his blue grass buddies connected strongly with the crowd.

We sold a ton of Home Work books. Something seems to have happened, at least in these circles, and we were swamped. In the two days about 100 people (no kidding!) told us how they've been inspired by Shelter, and now Home Work. A 4-year old said, "Mom, I want this book." A 30s-year-old pointed to Shelter and said, "That book's been around all my life." Maya Jamal picked up Home Work and said, "Of all the books in the world, this is my favorite book." I was stunned by all this. It's a wonderful feeling, to connect.

Maya and her favorite book

Skateboard Crash of the Week, Deer Liver and Red Wine With Lou

I took off for points north on Friday. Lew was going to set up the booth, so I went up to see my friend Louie Frazier on Friday, and would then drive to Hopland Saturday morning. I took off about 4AM and headed up north on the coast, with a double shot of homemade espresso. I love this 3-hour drive. Beaches, cliffs, farmland, sheep.

I always start out early on this trip so I can get to Sea Ranch just after dawn. Sea Ranch is an exclusive and extensive community on the coast north of Ft. Ross. It has miles and miles of well-paved downhill pavement. It also has security guards who don't take kindly to trespassing skateboarders cruising the private roads, so my m.o.is to get there early, park my truck near a house that isn't occupied, and skate. I found a hill that was steep in the middle; on my first run I started halfway down it, it went well, so I came back and went to the top, and took off. I got to the steep part, started accelerating fast and — there comes that moment where you have to make a decision: jump off while you still can, or go for it. I went for it. At the bottom I had to make a 90 degree left turn, came into it too fast, and crashed into the bank shoulder first, reinjuring a shoulder that had just about healed. I know, I know…
Got back on the road and lo and behold just south of Gulala was a freshly-killed faun on the highway. The very best of road kill. I picked it up, went on to Pt. Arena. Louie and I hung the deer up in a tree by the river and I skinned and cleaned it, washed it in the river, and packed it in ice for me to take home. For lunch Louie fried the liver, heart, and kidneys with onions, which we had with Louie's homemade Zinfandel and slices of bread. Deer liver is an amazing food, way different from beef liver. This is real meat, not feedlot grain-fed anti-biotic'd beef. It connects you with wildness, opens a window back into our hunting/gathering past.

Deer liver, onions, herbs, sauteed in olive oil

After lunch both of us old guys took a nap. Then I took a swim in the river. Is this living or what?

The hometown bakery in Pt. Arena, Calif. has unique baked goods.

In Search Of Adventure 2006 and Richard Halliburton

When I was about 12, my favorite book was Richard Halliburton's Complete Book of Marvels. Halliburton was a young explorer who criss-crossed the world in search of adventure. He swam through the Panama Canal, visited Petra, the city carved out of solid rock in The Dead Sea; he climbed Mt. Fuji in Japan and Popocatapetl in Mexico; got into forbidden Tibet and wrote about it all as if he was taking you, the reader along. My favorite: in India on a warm full moon night, he snuck past the sentry at the Taj Mahal, lowered himself into the reflecting pool and "…swam among the lotus blooms."
Seeking adventure doesn't have to be of the monumental variety. I thought of Halliburton yesterday: it was hot, and I walked down a local canyon to a creek. I found a pool, stripped, and got underwater. Simple. Immersed in the forces of the mountain. I look for adventure every day. Collecting mushrooms. Running on the beach. Skateboarding. Surfing. Paddling. A short bike ride. Going down a road not travelled before. Getting off the trails. You can do it anywhere; for example when you run in Central Park in NYC, you don't have to stay on the paths or roads, but can cut through meadows and fields and climb rocks. Wherever you are, you can look for something that's out of the daily-grind loop, that's different and fun and exciting.

A Couple of Random Photos

The old Mini and the new Mini

Mask carved by Godfrey Stephens