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Canyon Hopping/Rock Balancing

Last week Art Ludwig was in my area doing a talk at a local Permaculture center. Art has written the definitive books on greywater and water storage. He lives in Santa Barbara near a water-filled canyon. He and I share a love of canyons, pools, waterfalls, and the Great Outdoors. We went for a hike down a local canyon to the beach and it was a beautiful day. Art doesn't wear shoes and it made me feel old and stiff to watch him bounding down the canyon, hopping from rock to rock in bare feet. He'd never said anything to me about balancing rocks, but that's just what he did as we descended to the beach. The canyon was full of water, a number of cascading waterfalls:

If you live in the country, I recommend his books: Create An Oasis With Greywater and Water Storage: Tanks, Cisterns, Aquifers, and Ponds
Info at his website here

Suspended Spherical Tree Houses

Latest to go into our forthcoming book Builders of the Pacific Coast. Wood spheres are made of two laminations of wood strips over laminated wood frames. The outside is then finished and covered with clear fiberglass.

The "Spherical Tree House" concept borrows heavily from sailboat construction and rigging practice. It’s a marriage of tree house and sailboat technology. Wooden spheres are built much like a cedar strip canoe or kayak. Suspension points are similar to the chain plate attachments on a sailboat. Stairways hang from a tree much like a sailboats shrouds hang from the mast.

Built by Tom Chudleigh.

Bike Wheel Sculpture in San Rafael, Calif.

Organized Slime: Septic Systems Scams Article in Mother Earth News

I'm blowing the whistle on a huge ripoff of homeowners that is going on across the country: homeowners being forced into very expensive (30-50K) septic systems when in many cases they are not necessary. Read all about it. Get the February issue of Mother Earth News or check it out online at:http://www.motherearthnews.com/Homesteading-and-Self-Reliance/2008-02-01/Truth-About-Septic-Systems.aspx

Dylan in Providence, RI, 1965

In 1965 I took a month-long sabbatical from my job as an insurance broker in San Francisco. The counter-cultural movement of the '60s was in full bloom and I wanted to explore a bit of the world. I took a Greyhound bus to Bakersfield, where I hopped on a freight car. Got off in Barstow and started hitchhiking. My second ride took me all the way to Detroit in a 1950 Ford. From there, bus to New York and after hanging out there for a week I went to see my cousin Mike, a painter living in Provincetown, at the tip of Cape Cod. On the way back from Mike's I got a ride from a bunch of students at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. There was a Bob Dylan concert that night. Did I want to come?
Did I!
I took my Nikon 35 mm camera and rolls of tri-x. Things were so loose in those days — just having the camera meant the cops let me walk right up to the stage. Told them I was a photographer for some newspaper, heh-heh.

The first half of the concert was folk music, not thrilling to moi. After the intermission a bunch of musicians came out and guess what — rock and roll! A number of people got up and left, muttering. Dylan didn't care. The world was opening up for him. A great concert. I shot a bunch of pix and had a front row vantage point. In looking back at these old photos, I realize that the other guy here is Robbie Robertson — history in the making.
I got back to San Francisco eventually in drive-away cars (VW fom NY to Miami, Pontiac from Miami to Phoenix), hitching to SF. The morning after I got back, I got up, heard the faint hum of commute traffic going into SF on the nearby freeway, quit my job, and started to work as a carpenter.

Olympus Stylist 1200 Digital Camera is A Beauty

I recently upgraded from on Olympus Stylist 800 to a 1200. These are small cameras that I keep in my fanny pack so I've got a camera with me at all times. (For serious shooting I use a Canon 20D.). The 800 was great, the 1200 is better. Smaller, slicker, and an ASA setting of 6400, the latter great for me because I shoot in a lot of low-light situations, like music in night clubs and I neve use a flash. The light sensitivity on the 6400 is unbelievable. About $300 from BH Photo.

Olympus Stylist 1200

I shot a very dark corner of a room and it looked like the camera had painted it with light. Here's a shot (panorama of 2 actually) of our kitchen last night:

Musical Coyotes/Landsman/Tending the Wild/Free Lunch

Yesterday I was in the hills heading for my mushroom patch and a very large coyote crossed the fire road about 200 feet from me. He was as big as a wolf, with a bushy tail. He trotted along, glancing back at me every so often. About an hour later, just after the sun had set, I was coming back down the hill and I heard this amazing woo--ooo-ooo. It stopped me in my tracks. I've heard coyotes singing before but never this close. There were two voices, and let me tell you, this was singing. Yip-yip-yip, woo-ooo-ooo, ah-woooo — words can't describe this sound, the musicality of it. It made my hair stand on end. Electrifying. I stood still and listened, thrilled. After a minute, I heard, from maybe a mile across the valley, a faint reply, woo-ah-woo-woo. As I went along, I saw them, two of them, and they were 2-300 yards away. As soon as they saw me they stopped singing.
Three books of note: Landsman, by Peter Charles Mellman, a novel that reminds me of All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy. Powerful writing, a first novel; Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California's Natural Resources, by M. Kat Anderson, a meticulously researched and documented book about mostly unknown land management practices of the California Indians; and Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill) by David Cay Johnston, about which Ralph Nader says: “With clarity, conciseness, and cool, fact-saturated analysis, Mr. Johnston, the premier investigative reporter on how industry and commerce shift risks and costs to taxpayers, sends the ultimate message to all Americans—either we demand to have a say or we will continue to pay, pay, and pay.” Eye-opening is the way Walmart (and Cabela's) get huge subsidies from communities that want their big box stores, even keeping the sales taxes they collect. They're unfairly (and criminally) subsidizing the cutthroat big guys and running the littler guys out of business.
HBO's The Wire, about drug dealers, murders, and cops in Baltimore, is back on and as good as ever. Every actor is strong and believable. Musician Steve Earle sings Tom Waits' song "Down in the Hole" in this season's series and has a role as the leader of a 12-step drug program.
And that's it for this early Monday morning as the Bay Area dries out after a killer storm. We were without power for 6 days, and running a publishing operation without electricity these days is difficult to say the least.

Builders of the Pacific Coast

We've got 110 pages done on our new book. Here's a late article that will go into the book:
"I went through the 4-year carpentry apprenticeship here in Canada (the only female in a class of 80 guys), then worked in the trade for some years but got disgusted with the industry (and clients) and what I was asked to put on the planet so I got out of it. Now the money's tight but my heart's clear…
I know I'll never have the money to buy a piece of land so a friend of mine suggested I build myself a house on wheels, seeing as plenty of folks own large tracts and feel a lot more inclined to share if no foundations get put down. As soon as I started working on the caravan, offers began to come forth for places to park it. I'm glad I did it, it's really a special feeling to have a roof of one's own. I stripped a five-ton truck to the chassis and basically built a small 8'x20' cabin on it. I had a hitch welded on to it at the front. A tractor, pick-up truck or small cat can move it, depending on terrain. We did it twice and none of the windows broke. She's my baby!
Solange Desormeaux, Salt Spring Island B.C., Canada
....and don't worry about me spreading the word: You guys have been my heroes for 20 years, and 'still the same after all these years....'
Thank you for all you do, we need it!!!!"

Storm Damage on Beach/Dusky Footed Woodrat Nests

We're in our 6th day without electricity. We've been running the office on a Honda generator, careful to have only essential appliances running. All 5 of us in the office dress warmly. We run little (860 watts) radiant heaters with ceramic panels once in a while. I've gotten into layers, up to 8 of them now, to keep warm.
There were almost a million people with power knocked out in this storm. We have a propane stove and propane water heater in the house, with wood heat, so it's not too bad. It's really hard on people with electric heat, hot water, and stoves; they're suffering.
I went down to the beach yesterday and the level of sand is about 8' lower than normal.

Local beach. On the right is the "Jefferson Airplane House" (so-called because Grace Slick and Paul Kanter lived there in the early '70s). There's been a huge movement of sand, maybe 6-8' has been washed out. You can see the normal sand line just below the graffiti on the sea wall in front of the house. All those rocks below the ramp down to the beach are usually covered with sand. I've never seen it this low before.

I also went out yesterday to shoot pix of woodrat nests. They are called Dusky Footed Woodrats and they build these twig lodges in inaccessible spots in the woods. Inside the nests are chambers and often frogs or mice may move in to share the shelter. Some of them are very nicely designed and constructed, perfectly symmetrical cones.

They are similar in shape to some of the California Indian structures.

Big Storm Hits Norcal/$1500 10 x 10' Cabin/Solomon Burke & Otis Redding

Pacific Ocean Kicks Ass

We've been without power for over 36 hours now and I'm doing a little bit of office work running a Honda Generator which is pretty quiet, economical on fuel usage — am I sounding guilty here?
We live on a short peninsula, surrounded on 3 sides by water (Pacific Ocean 2 sides and a sea water lagoon)—— kind of like an island. Big storms come in from the south, and this one was a doozy. Maybe every ten years or so we get hit like this. I woke up around 3 AM, worried about roofs, fences, drips, flooding. Yesterday (Fri) I stumbled from one emergency to another. Battening down a flapping tin roof with a drill gun as wind howled and rain pounded. Quick breakfast, then a couple of hours unplugging a drain so water wouldn't back up into our (mail order) book storage room, also digging a narrow drainage trench in the rock-hard gravel road with a pick. Hey aren't I too old for this? Then guess what? A medium sized acacia has fallen across the road, blocking traffic. Local dude Isan cuts it in half, hauls the other half off so road is open. I grab chain saw and got maybe a third of a cord of firewood. Trees down everywhere, waves 30 ft every 14 seconds (surfers will know what this means). Logs washing in. Every once in a while us coastal people get reminded of who's boss. Mother Nature to earthlings: "Let's see what the California lifestyle is like without electricity for a few days, assholes." Cheery last night tho, no power, just candles and wood fire.
Update Monday, Jan 7, '08: It's now been almost 3-1/2 days without power.

Music du jour

First I listened to Solomon Burke singing his song "Down in the Valley," done with tubas and gorgeous vocal scales and trills in 1962. Hearing that I grabbed an Otis CD and put on the same song, done in '65. It just doesn't get any better than these two guys. Throw in Sam Cooke and you have a trio of Angels.

$1500 Cabin

Cheyenne's office. It cost about $1000* in materials in 2001 and was built by Ian Wall. Framed with logs from the woods — free. Sheathed with OSB particle board — quick, strong. Exterior walls "first-cut" cedar from nearby mills — free. Asphalt shingles for roofing. Front deck for sitting in the morning sun. Couldn't be much simpler — or cheaper. In many parts of the country you don't need a permit for a 100 sq. ft. structure. This is a brilliant little building.
*I figure $1500 today.
Cheyenne is one of the owners of Strongwater Camping,(cabins and campsites) in Egmont, British Columbia. She can't believe I'm putting this in the book. I told her, it's perfect, it's a practical, cheap and aesthetic way to get a roof over your head.
When I first got to the campgrounds, this little dude (Cheyenne's) came in and took my measure. Just stood there and looked at me for a long time, stone sober. Talk about presence.


A lot of people stay at Strongwater because it's near Skoo-kumchuck Tidal Wave, a whitewater phenomenon on the "Sunshine Coast" of BC that produces a long wave ridden by kayaks and, as of recently, surfers.

Crabbing On the Deep Blue Sea/Bolinas Fishermen

The last day of 2007 I went out on a crab boat with local fishermen Josh Churchman and Rob Knowles. I'm writing an article for the local paper, The West Marin Citizen, on the state of local fishing and pending regulations that may well put them out of business. I shot photos of them taking in about 750 pounds of crab on this sunny day and am starting to work on the article now. Local fishing is an environmentally sound, sustainable form of food production and bureaucrats and regulators seem to be moving in the opposite direction. I hope this article will show the wisdom and desirability of keeping small-scale local fishermen at work along the California coast. The real problems are with king size boats that drag nets along the bottom or otherwise practice a rape-the-ocean form of fishing. Go after these guys, not the little guys.

Rob works like a dervish, rebaiting each pot and grabbing the crabs and tossing them into boxes while Josh maneuvers the boat to make Rob's job easier.

At the end of the 4-hour day they had about 750 pounds of fresh healthy crab, which they unloaded onto Rob's truck. Crabbing is a wonderful local, sustainable resource

NorCal Battens Down the Hatches/Chantrelles and Blewits

There's a big storm system heading our way, due to hit this afternoon, with 60 mph winds predicted for Friday and Saturday. All the weather people seem agreed on this one. We surely need the rain. Just now I walked out to the cliffs to look out at the ocean (San Francisco is about 15 miles across the water from us), and the first big drops were falling, the high winds and deep rainclouds still out at sea. Exciting!
Two days ago I rode my bike about three miles and hiked two miles searching for mushrooms. I found just a few chantrelles and a nice bunch of young blewits. The ground was pretty dry. Bring on the rain! I love getting out in the woods. It's an antidote to spending so much time at a computer. Reconnecting with the natural world.

chantrelles on left, blewits on right

What Do Alexander Graham Bell, Buckminster Fuller, and Bill Gates have in Common?

They're ripoff artists. They appropriated the works of others without due credit. In a new book, The Telephone Gambit: Chasing Alexander Graham Bell's Secret, author Seth Shulman says that Bell bribed a patent examiner to get a look at the work of rival Elisha Gray and was erroneously credited with filing first. (This from an article in the S.F. Chronicle on Dec. 31. 2007.) Buckminster Fuller, who patented the geodesic dome in 1955, was preceded some 30 years by the world's first geodesic dome in Jena, Germany in 1922. The true inventor was Dr. Walter Bauersfeld. I did some investigative reporting in 1973 and wrote about this in our book Shelter in the same year: http://www.telacommunications.com/geodome.htm and am happy to see (when doing a Google search for "jena/bauersfeld/geodesic," Bauersfled is now credited with his invention.
And of course Bill Gates and Microsoft have repeatedly lifted ideas from the best and brightest, usually without credit or recompense, to patch together the Windows operating system and reap the rewards of other people's work.
A book could be written on the subject, something like "Credit Where Due." An intriguing example of this is the work of Francesco di Giorgio Martini, born 13 years before Leonardo da Vinci. Di Martini was a painter, sculptor, military architect and engineer in Siena who designed an amazing number of gizmos, including weight-moving and -lifting machines; water-raising devices; mills; and carriages with complex transmission systems. The similarity of much of da Vinci's work to that of Francesco is striking. "In 1490, summoned by the Duke of Milan to give an opinion on architectural matters, Francesco met the young Leonardo da Vinci. Leonardo, struck by the competence of his senior colleague, carefully studied Francesco's Treatise on Architecture, in which he made some manuscript annotations." Click here for a ton of drawings and models of Francesco's work at the Institute and Museum of the History of Science in Florence, Italy.

Treadmill-powered grinding mill

Good-tasting Liquid Multi-Vitamins, Liquid Glucoasamine by Mail

I had a problem taking glucosamine in tablet form. I was gagging on the horse-size pills and this seemed to cause an automatic antipathy to swallowing pills of any nature. After some research I discovered Utrition liquid vitamins. Their Liquid Vitamin Plus has an excellent lineup of vitamins A, B, C, D, and E + other ingredients and tastes like frozen orange juice. Their Liquid Joint Repair has 2000 mg glucosamine, 1200 mg chondroitin and is good tasting as well. I keep these in the frig and take a swig each day. Simple.

Liquid vitamins, joint repair

I also discovered a very sharp website: http://www.bodybuilding.com/store/multi.html that is totally on the ball, has quick service, and has thousands of nutritional products.