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The Rowan Brothers — Exquisite Harmony

I dropped into Sweetwater, the Mill Valley nightclub that I love madly, tonight on the way home from a day in the city. I didn't know who the Rowan Brothers were. Oh Jeez were they good! Brothers Chris and Lorin head the band these days*, singing beautiful harmonies on each song. They work together seamlessly, whether it's a Bob Marley song, or Sam-and-Dave type harmonies on a Sam Cooke song, or blue grass. They're musical chameleons. Lovely love songs. Nothing trite. Everything high quality.

The brothers play great guitars. The bass player was perfect, great drummer, elegant organ player. What a band! I bought their 2-CD set, Now and Then and have been listening to it as I write this (it's now 4 AM). It is so good! How did I miss these guys for so long? I'm gonna go see them if I hear of them playing anywhere around here. The only date on their website (http://www.rowanbrothers.com/2is July 20-23, 2006 at the Falcon Ridge Folk Fest, Hillsdale NY

*More famous bro Peter Rowan isn't part of today's band.

Varmints En Mi Vida + other Stuff From 5/25/06

I'm pretty much a country person. Not like on a 40-acre homestead down a dirt road 10 miles from town, but on a half-acre homestead in a community of a few thousand people, on the edge of a national park. Our town and its environs are an interface between paved civilization and countryside.
I've been reflecting lately on all the critters we deal with in our daily lives:
-Aphids, earwigs, sow bugs, and the gamut of creeping/crawling/sliming garden pests
-Birds that eat our strawberries
-Gophers and moles
-Red-Tail Hawks (after our chickens)
-Blue herons nab fish in our pond
-Weasels (rarely)
-Deer with big appetites

What else? I'm mentally walking around our place, thinking of all the fencing, netting, chicken wire, traps that are part and parcel of living on a piece of land, however small (half an acre is about 100 x 200') on the edge of wilderness. These are just the critters we have to deal with because they want to eat our garden, kill our chickens, establish a food line to the sugar bowl, nest in the woodpile, eat the roses, burrow into our rafters, nest in the attic of the tower, shit all over my woodpile, eat our wheat berries. You get the idea.

We've been here over 30 years, and a host of animals and insects are continually trying to move in with us. Skunks spray some nights under the bedroom window, I once trapped 13 possums over a 2-week period (Have-a-heart trap & released 3 miles away, they're too dumb to make it back here); bats getting inside the tower (took months to block them); raccoon getting into chicken yard; rats/rats/rats (maybe 30 trapped per year - I'm the only rat trapper in the neighborhood; termites in rafters persistently, and since I won't tarp the place and use poison, it requires constant "Electro-gun" zappings. It goes on.

Those are the varmints. There are also the good guys. Canadian geese that have multiplied here lately, in fact birds/birds/birds. I take my paddleboard down to the narrow channels in the lagoon, paddle along, and get to look closely at egrets, herons (very wary), ducks, seals, the occasional osprey swooping down to snatch a fish. We put out seeds for doves, quail, and finches. Lately a very spooky flock of maybe 20 pigeons has been eating seeds out the window from our breakfast nook. Hummingbirds, smart-ass blue jays. Crows that I try to imitate (they think I'm an idiot!)
Running out in the hills I've seen bobcats, deer floating over fences, coyotes slinking around, and on two occasions mountain lions — formidable!

Ten or so years ago there used to be a lot of red foxes here. One started coming around when we'd barbecue and we'd give him scraps of meat. He didn't lose any of his wildness; he'd keep his eyes on us humans intensively and was always ready to bolt. I loved seeing him, he was beautiful and sensitive, it was rare to get close to such an elegant creature.

I was thinking of animals this morning as I drove into San Francisco along the coast. I wrote most of this at Cafe Roma in North Beach. Couple of other notes from today:

On The Importance of Havin' That Swing

Recently I said to a friend, "It don't mean a thing if you ain't got that swing." I had just heard the Mills Brothers versiopn of the song in the '30s.
"You know what Sharon Stone said about liking men better than women?" she said to me.
"It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that schwing…"

Words Of The Day

Succés d'éstime, told me by Bill Newlin. In my line of work, it can be applied to a wonderful book we did on symmetry that sold poorly. An artistic but not commercial success.

The German word lebenskunstler, meaning "Someone for whom life is an art form." What a wonderful word! Told me by Hans Frey.

Bumf, meaning promotional crap in the pub business. Also told me by Bill Newlin, who also said, in explaining it to me, "It's a print version of tchotchkes." From the American Heritage Dictionary: Chiefly British Slang 1. Printed matter, such as pamphlets, forms, or memorandums, especially of an official nature and deemed of little interest or importance. 2. Toilet paper. ETYMOLOGY: Short for bum fodder : bum + fodder.

New Info On Septic Systems

The above reminds me to announce that we're doing a revised version of our book on septic systems, The Septic Systems Owners Manual showing people how to avoid unnecessarily high-tech, high-cost systems, new state-of-the-art hardware for failed systems, and how towns can cope with corrupt engineers.

Full Moon at the Hot Springs, a Taurus Party, Great Burger in Hopland, Skateboarding at Dawn, Hangin' Out With Louie

The Best Things in Life Are Free, It's So True…

Being a 4-day trip in northern California in my Toyota truck.
I got off to a late start Thursday, hung around in San Francisco, ended up getting won ton soup at Sam Wo's on Washington, 1:30 AM, the place is exactly as it was 40 years ago, go in through the kitchen, up narrow stairs, food pulled up on rope. Same surly service. They're open 'til 3:30 AM. Character up the kazoo.

Late night city image

Then off into the night and a two-hour drive north, get to the hot springs at 4:30 AM, walk through the full-moon-dappled woods, oaks and madrones, along a rushing creek, ease into the hot pool (and I mean 115-degrees) and get infused with the power of the earth. In a while the sky started to lighten, and birds were singing their hearts out. Joy at the end of the rains.
Then as dawn dawned, I took my long (44") skateboard and skated down about 1-1/2 miles of winding downhill smooth pavement. It was a glorious spring day. I'm getting incrementally better at skating, I still jump off if I start getting to too high a speed, but I love it. It is so FUN! Once in a while I get into that "sweet spot in time" when it all works, and I'm cruisin'
Later that day I lay sans clothes in the 10 AM (warm but not burning) sun for about 10 minutes. I thought of Viva (star of Andy Warhol films) saying the sun was her lover. The hot springs, followed by cold spring water, and then the sun, the birds, spring breaking out, creeks full and rushing. I find I can't really plan for a sequence of events like this, they just happen. Thank you, Mother Earth, for the infusion, for the chi, for the creative energy.

In Praise of the Great American Hamburger

The next day I took off for the coast and, going through Hopland (small town on Hwy 101 that is home to Real Goods), stopped at a small "Burgers My Way" stand on the south side of town. Perfect burger, 10-on-the-scale fries, huge chocolate malt. I've said it before but I marvel anew at the excellence of good burgers. My reference is the Colusa Drive-in in the early '50s: burger, fries, and - root beer shakes. So when on the road I look for quirky signs, something indicating human beings are running a place, and - voilá - a perfect and inexpensive meal. If you go to Real Goods' Solar Energy Festival (recommended) in August, you can check it out.

I sort of went on the trip because I was invited to a Taurus birthday party by Mark, AKA the Bubblemeister, an amazing artist working with metal (you'll see his work in my next book on builders), and the party turned out to be kick-ass, Friday night with at least 100 people inside and outside Mark's shop, with a great blues band and tons of food and beer. I have a soft spot in my heart for all us Taureans, we charge, a lot of times without scoping things out first. This morning I was looking at a little book called Your Word Is Your Wand by Florence Scovel Shin, and ran across this: "Never look or you'd never leap."

Blues at The Roadhouse

I got over to the coast last night and went to the little Harley-Davidson-inspired Bones Roadhouse (Brews and Blues) club in the coastal town of Gualala and heard a gun-slinging blues and rock guitar player, then this morning went across the river to Louie's house on the cable. (You get to his house across the river on a bosun's chair that travels 500' on a cable.) Here are a few pictures from this morning at Louie's:

Stairway to cable ride across the river. This is the only way to get to Louie's. Not for the faint hearted.

Louie coming 500 feet across the river this morning on his bosun's chair. He's showing off by leaning back. I tell you, every time I go on this thing, I marvel at it. I also have my heart in my mouth a bit when I let go and roll out into space, and say to myself, OK, I'm in your hands Louie. Sure enough, once en route, I love skimming 30 feet above the river and coming into a perfect landing on the other side.

The peak of the round room on Louie's shop. At top is a crystal, which reflects spectral light in different directions. As we were looking at it, I told Louie about the copper cupola on Sun Ray Kelly's temple, also a perfect peak for a (much larger) circular building, and he said, "You have to put the nipples on or they look weird."

Louie's home-made garden cart

Non-Respect for Authority

Yeah, I know I'm a bad person, but I just don't like all the people around these days telling me what I can and cannot do. Moreover, and I'm sure you will be shocked, but I don't trust people with initials behind their names. It's a good starting point. The American college PHD manufacturing cartel has everyone snowed. Dissertations on obscure theses, the "Never-use-a-monosyllable-when-a-polysyllable-will-do" style of writing. Don't get me started!

Turkey Buzzards

They are so graceful in flight. Yesterday I drove down a dirt road into a narrow valley, and two of them rode the air currents back and forth, never as much as flapping a wing, I watched in envy. There was a time I dreamed of flying, for a few weeks. It was so real I almost think I did it. When I'd take off, I'd have to work my arms to get airborne.

Gas Will Be Going to $10 a Gallon

Mark Morford is a brilliant columnist appearing in the SF Chronicle Wednesdays and Fridays. This column grabbed me. He's saying, "Americans, you've got to shape up, quit the profligate waste of resources, and here's how to do it…"

Carpenters of the Pacific Coast, Dumb Kayaking Adventure, Close Encounters With Raptors

Book Hoves Into View
I've been working on a book on carpenters of the Pacific coast for the better part of a year now, but puzzling over what the book will look like (in spite of a mass of material). Last week it, the form that is, materialized in my mind. Whammo! I could (can) see the pages. Lew has been telling me to go big with the graphics and I've started doing some preliminary layouts and do they look great! (The material is a graphic designer's dream to work with.)

Builder Sun Ray Kelley's temple, still under construction in the California hills, is 50' by 80', with yurt construction: inner steel compression ring, outer steel tension ring

The world has not seen these builders (to any extent), and their buildings are unique. One thing all these buildings have in common is the rare coordination of design, materials, construction (craftsmanship), and harmony with site.
The focus of the book will be the builders, but it will also be the story of my road trips shooting the photos. I'll bring the reader along with me, riding shotgun. Conversational. Other stuff I saw on my photo-shooting trips up north. A caboose turned into a cappuccino stand in Washington, a downhill skateboarder in Portland, a good-vibes back-to-the-50s breakfast place in Medford, an old blues nightclub in Vancouver, orcas seen from a ferry crossing the Georgia Straits, boats of all sizes and shapes and uses, etc. — these things will be threaded in with photos and interviews of the builders.

Kayakers Get Handled by Mother Nature

I took a kayak trip down a local creek with a friend last Sunday — not a smart thing to do, it turns out. For Marin County locals, it's Paper Mill Creek on the road between Fairfax and Olema, and we put in by the bridge where Kent Lake creek crosses the road. We left my truck about 5 miles downstream, just past the bridge west of Tocoloma. I'd run the creek by myself about 10 years ago, but the flow was a lot less than this Sunday. My friend Clark and I both have 12' Scrambler sit-on-top kayaks, so it's fairly easy to get off the kayak when necessary, and they don't fill up with water like regular kayaks).
Maybe I shouldn't have been such a smart-ass and said "Rock & roll!" when I pushed off into the current, because within 30 seconds I was upside down. There were some pretty rapid rapids to contend with, and we started getting dumped, moi quite a bit more often than Clark. I noted this ruefully because I've been in the water - canoes, kayaks, surfboards — all my life, and here I was losing it. Typically the rapids would spin the boat around sideways and the current would turn it upside down. That wasn't too bad, but the real danger, we soon learned, was a bunch of fallen trees completely across the creek in more than half a dozen places. A couple of times we didn't make the right decisions and ended up with the kayaks pressed sideways against trees. One time I got trapped behind the kayak and tree, and the power of the water wouldn't let me move. The only solution was to dive under the log and hope there were no snags to stop me from getting through to the other side. Not good.
We both ended up straddled across one big tree and had to work to get extricated. Clark was into enjoying the calm stretches, so we floated and watched dappled sunlight and birds high in the redwoods when we got into deeper, slower water. I kept watching Clark deftly glide around obstacles, guiding his boat gracefully, and I'd be climbing out of the water once more. A few miles into the trip I looked downstream to see him get dumped, and I hate to admit this, it just shows what a rotten person I am, but it raised my spirits a bit, misery loves ... etc.
The danger in all this, and the reason it was dumb, is that we underestimated the power of moving water. The creek didn't look that gnarly. We didn't realize what we were into until we pushed off. It's a powerful force and the danger is in getting pinned and trapped under water.
We were starting to get tired. I was ahead and came to the day's hairiest rapids. By then I'd started attacking the rapids, trying to set a course so the current wouldn't slam me into a snag or branch. I was surprised and exhilarated to get through. I decided I better watch for Clark and pulled into some still water and waited. And waited. I started to worry, realizing there was no way I could get back upstream to help him if he was in trouble. Pretty soon he came along and he'd broken one of the blades on his paddle. He'd also had a ranger (on the banks) tell him he was going to arrest us when he caught up with us at our takeout place. Jeez, there are so many people around these days telling you what you can't do. Well, Clark couldn't go on with half a paddle and, ahem — we might just be able to dodge the ranger if we bagged the rest of the trip then (we'd made about 2-1/2 miles), so we pulled the kayaks and hid them on the bank I hitchhiked (in wetsuit) to my truck, came back, we threw the kayaks on the roof and took off in the opposite direction, thereby avoiding getting tickets. Ain't it always fun to run away from cops? We had Bloody Marys at Peri's (old-time local) bar in Fairfax. In all. a good day.
Disclaimer: the above names, including mine, are fictitious. I would not break the law. Neither would Clark.
Attention kayakers & river runners: A couple of great publications:
1. Wave Length, from Gabriola Island, BC. Great magazine from people who love the water, and more kayaks (ads) than you ever imagined existed. Editor Alan Wilson says, about stroking out into the water: "No longer do the terrestrial rules apply…http://www.wavelengthmagazine.com/
2. NRS catalog: an awesome amount of equipment for kayakers and rafters, including inflatable whitewater catamarans and kayaks. http://www.nrsweb.com

Dipsea Race: Dumb & Dumber
I was training for the local annual Dipsea Race, 7 miles of uphill and downhill madness that takes place each June. I ran in a race on Super Bowl day and of course had to race another runner down a long hill, thereby screwing up my knee. and it is now, some 3 months later, too sore to run seriously. (Sad to say, but a fact of life that it takes a lot longer to get over injuries when you're 70.) So I'm getting back into the water, paddling and surfing. Maybe train for the Dipsea next year, but you know, in reality, I may quit the pedal-to-the-medal competitive running scene, and just enjoy running for the scenery and good feeling. Doesn't that sound sensible? Some inner voice has been telling me to do something sensible in the athletic realm, for a change.

Close Encounters With Raptors
In the course of a week, I had a bunch of encounters with hawks. First, I saw for the first time a pair of kites (white hawks) that have recently come to our neighborhood to make their hunting rounds. Then, a red-winged hawk snatched one of our chickens. A few days later I was staying in my friend Louie's cabin in the woods, walked in, and something shot by me and there was a clunk. It was a small peregrine falcon, somehow had got into the room, and it was stunned from hitting the window. I picked it up carefully, took it outside, admired its beauty and let it go. It was thrilling to see such perfection up close. Then a day or so later I was driving at dusk and there was a blur of wings and a hawk barely missed my truck windshield. Bird spirits were with me that week. I guess if I fasted in the desert for 3 days I could figure out what it all meant.

End of the Rains
California has been hammered with rain this winter. Creeks and waterfalls are pounding, lakes and reservoirs full to the brim. The ground is still sodden and when th sun comes out, there's an almost tropical humidity. Spring is starting to explode.