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Builders of the Paciic Coast Sneak Previews

Here are some early rough layouts of our forthcoming book. I'll try to post some every week or two. Book should be out by June. For more previews, go to our website.

Tim Biggins' island home

Dean Ellis' steel-framed house overlooking the sea


SunRay Kelley

I love this picture of SunRay, the barefoot builder, shot in 1995. SunRay is one of the three featured builders in our next book, Builders of the Pacific Coast

"The men don't know, but the little girls understand." (The Doors) -Photo by Corwin Fergus

Old Photo of Chinese Junk

"A large Chinese Junk running goosewinged. Note the huge mainsail and the different balance of sails and their design." Old photo from South China Morning Post

Louie's Place, Two Homemade Stoves, Coldwater Surfing

Louie Frazier

I got up at 4 AM yesterday and drove up the coast to stay with my friend Louie for a few days and get some away-from-the-office writing done. Louie lives in a river valley 5 miles back from the ocean and I have this beautiful little room in his shop to sleep and work in.

(Louie is the first builder in the book Home Work.) His house is across the river from his shop and to get there you go in a bosun's chair 500 feet on a cable across the fast-moving river. I worked until the sun went down, then walked down the road to the cable. Every time I do it, I'm astounded at how beautifully it works. And not a little scared.

This pic taken in the near-dark with my little Olympus Stylist 1200 camera, ASA set to 6400

You climb stairs of this 30' high platform, attach a bosun's chair to the cable, check fittings — and zing — hanging from the chair, you roll across the river, apply the wooden brake, and come into a landing platform, powered by gravity. This ain't for the faint-hearted. Louie is 80 years old and still coming across the river like Tarzan. We had wild duck for dinner, with cole slaw. A few shots of tequila with lime before, but no wine during dinner. We've both cut back on the booze. Hung around the fire, it was cold outside.


To get back across the river that night I climbed the steps to the platform on this side, clipped the bosun's chair onto the cable, checked and re-checked fittings, switched on my halogen head flashlight (it was pitch black), and pushed off into the darkness, river rushing below, I can't believe I'm doing this, sailing across, coming into a perfect landing on the other side of the river. Louie's a wizard.

Louie's wood-fired clay oven with fire bricks on oven floor, 8"-inch thick layer of cob around one layer common brick for the dome. Door height 2/3 height of oven ceiling. No chimney. Cold air goes in bottom of door, smoke out top of door. The design called The Crouching Beaver.

On the subject of stoves, Louie asked if I'd heard of the Rocket Stove, so I looked it up and came up with this website on the Winiarski Rocket Stove It's a low-tech, homemade stove designed for efficient wood cooking.

Surfing at Pt. Arena

I love it on the Mendocino coast in the winter. Pt Arena is a hairy surfing spot. Cold water, long paddle-out, a big flat rock in the surf zone, but this day the sun was out and surf coming up. Here's long-time local Jack Williams, who has the place wired:

Michael Kahn, 1936-2007 & Eliphante

My cousin Michael Kahn died on the Winter Solstice, December 21. He was an artist who lived on the banks of a river in Arizona with his wife Leda, and he'd built a village of wild free-form buildings over the years. There were 10 pages on his work in our book Home Work: Handbuilt Shelter, including the pic below:

Mike built this room out of salvaged auto windshields, glued together with silicone caulk and decorated with stained glass. He got the idea for the silicone joinery and the inspiration for free-form building from our 1973 book Shelter.

Mike was one year younger than me and we looked a lot alike — our dads were brothers.

We played together a lot as kids and when I went to Stanford, he went to UC Santa Barbara, where he threw the javelin on the track team. We lived in adjacent cottages in Mill Valley in the '60s, and I went to hang out with him when he moved to Provincetown, Mass., in 1965 — just before I quit my job as an insurance broker to start working as a carpenter.
Mike was a gentle soul. He never did anything but his art, all his life. Painting, sculpting, building. He called his place Eliphante, and in recent years people from all over the world have come to visit, in spite of its hidden location. To get there you have to cross a river in a canoe.
On January 31, the NY Times did a large article on Mike titled: A Handmade Home
If you're interested in Gaudí/Watts Towers-type architecture, see Mike's website at:

Close Encounter With Friendly Bird

I'd noticed this little bird several times before, hopping around in one of my compost bins. This morning (sunny for a change), I took out some crab shells from last night's dinner to bury and there he was again. He let me get within 6 feet, highly unusual. He had this enormous eye. I just stood there and he hopped around, as if he was performing. Perky. Up, around, he fluttered in the air once like a hummingbird, and gradually hopped closer to me. He had poisonality. I just stood there in the sunlight, enjoying the moment. I ran back for my camera and he was still there, so here he is. I thought it was a bushtit, but two people wrote in to say it's a female Ruby-Crowned Kinglet. Once in a while something wonderful happens with a wild animal. Thrilling when it does.

Female Ruby-crowned Kinglet.