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Men and Women Builders

Bettina Snyder sent us this email yesterday from India:
I have 2 grown sons, both sort of computer nerds and more artsy fellows; after reading your HOME WORK I will give them both your book as soon as I can afford it, and tell them to start learning a USEFUL craft with their hands! I can see clearly that an independent and more satisfying life style is only possible when you can create something of your own. All those handsome and bearded men in your book are hands-on, hardworking type people and they are the ones who mostly make it happen. Needless to say I have great respect for the few women in your book and one of them who said "…if I can sew, I must be able to build a house too!" CLASSIC!

Well, Lloyd, you must be used to so much praise from your first book, but even AFTER-the-70's, your vision still inspires, and I badly want to become a contributor for your next book by at least finding and sending photos of some home-made shelters in India. Unfortunately in this Moloch of a city, Delhi, I only come across slum dwellings by the poor who simply steal bricks and and put one stone on top of another without any mortar and for a roof use a thick plastic cover. Hardly qualifies for aesthetics and natural materials...but I hope to find something beautiful soon....

NeemraNa Fort. Palace Hotel

Bettina Snyder, now living in Delhi, sent us this picture of the Neemrama Fort, now converted to a hotel. It is 120 km from New Delhi on top of a plateau and was rebuilt in the 1990s. It covers 3 acres and has 10 stories. Beautiful stone work.

Steady Decline of Reading in America

In a report released in December, 2007, by the National Endowment For the Arts, here is the average number of minutes different age groups spent reading each weekday in 2006:
15-24 years: 07 minutes
25-34 years: 09 "
35-44 years: 12 "
45-54 years: 17 "
55-64 years: 30 "
65-on: 50 minutes
As reported in the November 19, 2007 issue of Publishers Weekly

Stone Castle Fixer-Upper in Bronx

From a story in this mornings NY Times by Joyce Cohen: This stone mansion in the Bronx, dating back to the late 1800s, was built of granite shipped from Europe and carried from the Manhattan docks by horse and buggy. (The workers and their families were said to have pitched tents in the yard for a year as they worked.) It was recently bought by a couple from its 91-year old owner for $675,000. It needs a lot of work, but for the price of a sterile condo, this family will have a unique home.


(c) 2007 Christian Hansen for The New York Times
Full story in the NY Times

Chinese Proverb/Winston Churchill

People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.
-Chinese Proverb

Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.
-Sir Winston Churchill

Count Rumford Fireplace in Action

Fireplace at home of Greg and Margie Smith in Northern California. Greg is one of the builders I'm covering in my next book, BUILDERS OF THE PACIFIC COAST. This uniquely shaped fireplace is based on the designs of Count Rumford from the late 1700s, and features a tall, shallow opening and angled sides to radiate heat. It also has a streamlined flue for better draft. Construction details are in Vrest Orton's The Forgotten Art of Building a Good Fireplace.

I was there on a cold December night and four of us sat around the fireplace enjoying the radiating heat.


Click here for a critique of Vrest Orton's book.

Northern California Barn

I've decided to try to make shorter blog postings — more frequently. Here's a barn on river-bottom land near Honeydew, Calif.

The Holkham Bible: Irreverent 14th Century Cockney Version/Jesus Surfing on Sunbeams

I discovered this last night on BoingBoing: A cockney version of the bible from the days of Chaucer. In November, the British Library published a facsimile version (about $100). It includes a translation (the original is in Anglo-Norman French).

Noah and his ark


Here is a video from the British Library showing many of the pages:
9-minute video of the bible from the British Library
Following is a review of the bible from Amazon UK:
"This celebrated medieval picture-book tells the Biblical story, focusing upon the Creation to the Flood, the Life of Christ, and the Apocalypse, with the help of illustrations of everyday 14th-century England. It is based on the biblical narrative but also includes plenty of apocryphal episodes, for example Christ surfing on sunbeams as a child, and God telling Noah to hurry up with the Ark so that he is forced to finish the top section in wicker rather than wood. The costumes, tools, weapons and buildings in the pictures give a near documentary-style representation of many occupations in the age of Chaucer, such as dyer, smith, carpenter and midwife. This distinctive manuscript has now been carefully photographed and reproduced on special paper designed to replicate the look and feel of the original vellum. The facsimile includes Michelle P. Brown's full transcript and translation of the text, and a commentary based on her unrivaled knowledge of the period."

Photo Trip to The Lost Coast: Muscle Bus/Highway Art/Seaside Hawk/Red Red Apples/Barn

I took off early last Thursday morning for points northwest. After a latte and donut in Petaluma, I decided to veer off Hwy 101 and hit Harbin Hot Springs. The hot pool there is 110-115°. Hot! Then under water in the cold pool, and mojo is workin. I love driving through uncharted territory with my camera, searching for photographable objects. It's like hunting. Here are a few shots:

On Hwy 101, south of Garberville


Cut-out art on side of road just north of Ferndale; flock of birds in background


Hawk near beach south of Ferndale


Lovely red colored apples in old orchard near Honeydew


Barn in a deep valley on road between Ferndale and Petrolia (shot with telephoto)

Builders of the Pacific Coast: Alastair Heseltine's Woodpile

I'm working full blast on my next major book on builders, Builders of the Pacific Coast. Alastair Heseltine is a sculptor living on an island in British Columbia who does exquisite weavings with willows and other plants. Some of his creations are with living plants. We are doing two pages on his work. Here is his witty woodpile for 2007 (being reduced in size as we speak for winter heating):

Seasonal sculpture: 50 ft. x 12 ft. split firewood. "This big pile was completed in September and started going into the stove piece by piece in October." ©2007 Alastair Heseltine


Alastair's website showcases the variety of his unique creations:http://www.alastairheseltine.com/

Subterranean Homesick Blues Revisited

I read an article in Ode Magazine* recently titled "Fire Your Gurus," about dumping coaches, therapists, priests, and other masters who promise enlightenment or a better life, or a million bucks in the real estate market. It rang a bell. I thought of Dylan's "Don't follow leaders, watch the parking meters," and decided to look up the lyrics. Wow! Reading this as poetry for the first time, all these years later, it stands the test of time. Here are the first two of four stanzas:
Johnny's in the basement
Mixing up the medicine
I'm on the pavement
Thinking about the government
The man in the trench coat
Badge out, laid off
Says he's got a bad cough
Wants to get it paid off
Look out kid
It's somethin' you did
God knows when
But you're doin' it again
You better duck down the alley way
Lookin' for a new friend
The man in the coon-skin cap
In the big pen
Wants eleven dollar bills
You only got ten

Maggie comes fleet foot
Face full of black soot
Talkin' that the heat put
Plants in the bed but
The phone's tapped anyway
Maggie says that many say
They must bust in early May
Orders from the D. A.
Look out kid
Don't matter what you did
Walk on your tip toes
Don't try "No Doz"
Better stay away from those
That carry around a fire hose
Keep a clean nose
Watch the plain clothes
You don't need a weather man
To know which way the wind blows...

Full lyrics at: http://bobdylan.com/moderntimes/songs/subterranean.html
Copyright © 1965; renewed 1993 Special Rider Music
Ode is a great new magazine, I believe originally from Holland. It's "green," but not preachy, with insightful, relevant articles.

Mark Morford on "Shrill Bible Thumpers"

Mark Morford wrote another great column in the San Francisco Chronicle about boycotts of books and movies by the "…ultraconservative sects of Christian-blasted America…" Specifically, their "pale, dour representatives" are hysterically upset about the books and a movie (The Golden Compass) based upon Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy.
"Phillips luminous novels have nothing to do with rejecting faith or destroying the spirit or inhibiting the exploration of what it means to be divine. They relish spirit and the magic of belief and love, are soaked through with divine inspiration of a kind any intelligent Christian (or honest spiritual seeker of any type, for that matter), should crave.…The nefarious thing the books aim to kill is religious authority. It's about the destruction of dogma…"

Title of the column:
Jesus loves 'His Dark Materials'
Shrill Bible-thumpers boycott 'The Golden Compass'; world's children grin devilishly

Click here for full article

Reflections on Green Festival, Harrier at Mono Lake

Green Festival


Lew and I are getting pretty good at setting up our booth. We dodge union help and do it ourselves. We clip three pieces of lath to booth poles with plastic ties and mount our photo blowups (this year from our next book, BUILDERS OF THE PACIFIC COAST). We have a spiffy new 10-foot canvas banner, and the booth looks colorful and inviting.
We hit the ground running with our new book, THE BAREFOOT ARCHITECT: A MANUAL ON GREEN BUILDING. It was a mild sensation (this was obviously the right venue for it), and we sold over 100 copies. I haven't seen a reaction to a book like this in many years. People seem to love it. It's a wonderful book by a wonderful author, and the timing is right. Details at: http://shelterpub.com/_barefoot/BA-book.html

It's great to get discovered by the 20-year olds.


Electric car


Cover of Plenty Magazine


Gimme Feedback


Response at our stand was just phenomenal. We were jammed up with people both days. People came up to thank me for our building books, especially SHELTER. It was an outpouring of — for lack of a better word — love. Maybe 10 different people said, "Thank you for your work over the years," or, "I just want to shake your hand." Overwhelming. I feel like I'm walking the line of self-aggrandizement here, but dammit, the feedback over the past few years has just been extraordinary. One guy picked up SHELTER and said "I learned to read with this book." He said at the age of 5 he fell in love with the book and taught himself to read with it. I've written about this before, but it keeps happening, at an increasing rate.
What a LOT of people are now becoming aware of was part and parcel of the subculture of the '60s-'70s. The hippies were right! Organic farming. Treating the earth with respect. Alternative energy. And on and on. Have I said all this before as well? Well, it's heartening to see it catch on, even if 4 decades later.

Raptor in Flight


My friend Michael Jeneid just stopped by to show me these photos of a Northern Harrier he recently took from a kayak at Mono Lake, California:


Sam Wo — 50 Years of Surly Service

It's a Chinese noodle restaurant on Washington Street in San Francisco. You walk in through the kitchen and go up the stairs to sit in a poorly-lit room that hasn't changed a bit since the '60s. The place is about 10 feet wide and has 3 floors above with tables. Food comes up on a dumbwaiter hand-pulled with a rope. Back then the waiter was Edsel and he was famously rude. When someone new would come in, he'd shout, "No egg foo yung, no sweet and sour..." I just looked it up on the web (http://www.fudcourt.com/samwo.html, and here's an excerpt from a fat guy who went there for the first time: "I had the bad idea of asking for sweet and sour pork and a coke. "You Retarded? No coke!! Tea Only!! No sweet and sour!! You see on menu?!! You get house special chow fun...No fork, chopstick only...What you want, fat man?" answered Edsel..."
Well Edsel died, I heard, and I hadn't been there in decades, but I started going again when I wanted to eat late at night. They stay open until 3:30 AM. Edsel isn't there, but his spirit still is. The waitress doesn't yell at you, but she mutters and manages to impart the feeling you're doing something wrong. Don't ask her any stinking questions. Europeans have found out about the place and I've heard French and other languages being spoken late at night. I wouldn't order any of the typical Chinese food (greasy), but the combination won-ton soup, for five bucks, is superb, delicately flavored, meaty, a meal in itself. I just love the city.

You Can Take the Boy Out of the City . . .

I haven't lived in the (a) city since I was 17. But I guess the roots are still there, as my pulse quickens and brain revs up when I'm out and around in San Francisco (or Manhattan, or Rome, for that matter). I've been in SF for 4 days now, and loving the variety of things to do, places to eat, intensity of contacts. We had a fantastic day yesterday at The Green Festival. Our brand-new book, The Barefoot Architect, is a huge hit. We sold over 50 copies yesterday. People love it. It's got the good vibes of its author, Dutch architect Johan van Lengen, who runs the TIBA school of building in the Brazilian jungle. It sold 200,000 copies in Spanish, is also in Portuguese, and this is the first English edition. It's now a sunny Sunday morning and I've ridden my Micro-Tek 3-wheeled push-scooter about 2 miles over to Ritual Roasters, my utter favorite coffee shop in SF with skillful baristas, great lattes, and fast wi-fi connection, getting my caffeine fix, an almond croissant, and checking the news.
I grew up here and thought the whole world was like San Francisco. Little did I know. There were 26 kids on my block, and we owned the city, traversing it on bikes, rollers skates (with metal wheels), and electric streetcars. In the '40s, the streetcars had cow catchers front and rear. The cow catchers were hinged and let down on the front end of the streetcar, and strapped up on the rear end. Our technique was to crouch down so the conducter wouldn't see us, run up and hop on the rear cowcatcher. We rode all over the city, including through the 2-mile tunnel from West Portal to Castro Street, sparks flying from the rollers on the electric wires overhead. A thrill! I still love San Francisco. No, it ain't what it used to be, but what is? It's no longer a working port (of any significance), it's expensive, the skyline is marred by the jerk-off ugly Transamerica Pyramid building, etc. But it's still got soul, and culture up the kazoo, and retains its spirit of freedom and tolerance.

Live From San Francisco Green Festival

It's a rainy Saturday night, 6:30 PM, and the festival hall is still packed. People started pouring in at 10 this morning. There are times when you can't get through the aisles. It is just amazing, this (relatively) sudden awareness of treating the earth and its atmosphere with respect and intelligence. Our stand has been packed all day. Our brand new book, The Barefoot Architect — A Handbook of Green Building, is a hit. We have sold over 50 copies today. People pick it up and instantly love it. It's got those vibes. We've also sold 30 copies of Home Work today. It's so encouraging to connect like this.

Check out our new canvas banner



Lloyd and Lew from SF. (With able assistance at our booth from Becky Kemery, author of Yurts — Living in the Round)

Breathtaking Virtual Full Screen Shots of Sainte Chapelle de Paris

Trust me. Check this out (Lew just sent it to me):
http://fromparis.com/modules/quicktime_fullscreen_display.php?style=qtfullscreen&pano=000091_02
This is an awesome tour of this light-filled chapel built by Louis IX, king of France, in the 13th century. This page takes a minute to load, but then hold down your mouse on the screen and you can check it out in 360 degrees, left & right, up & down.

Details on the chapel are at http://www.discoverfrance.net/France/Cathedrals/Paris/Sainte-Chapelle.shtml at:

Green Festival This Weekend in San Francisco

Here's what I wrote just after last year's San Francisco Green Festival: ". . .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. The quality of the goods and services on exhibit was striking. All these green concepts that've been floating around for the last 30 years have jelled. Stuff is working. There was hardly any crap, in contrast to typical events. 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!"
I was thrilled last year. Our booth was mobbed. We got discovered by this new and vibrant group. I guess we've been "green" for 30 years: our 1973 book Shelter was in large part about building with natural materials. (It turns out that the 20-30-year-olds of this new green movement have picked up on the concepts of the hippies (for lack of a better word) of the 60s-70s. In retrospect it had a bit of the feeling of the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, where 200,000 people showed up out of the blue and discovered they were on the same track.
We'll have a booth again this year and sell our books. It takes place Friday, Saturday and Sunday, November 9-11. and is at the Concourse Exhibition Center, 620 7th Street in San Francisco (a great building with a sliding-open skylight). The promo material says: ". . . 150 visionary speakers, 400 green businesses (start your holiday shopping now!), great how-to workshops, organic beer and wine, delicious organic cuisine and diverse live music." Speakers include Deepak Chopra, Paul Hawken, and Amy Goodman.
For ticket info, click here. If you come, stop by our booth, #459, and check out our brand new book, The Barefoot Architect: A Handbook on Green Building.

Green Home Building and Sustainable Architecture

For those interested in these subjects, see Kelly Hart's excellent website and blog:
http://www.greenhomebuilding.com/
http://www.greenhomebuilding.com/weblog/

A Paucity of Porcinis, A Dappled Sunlit Pool in The Woods, and The Bushwhacking Techniques of Run-N Ron

These days I'm thriving when I get out in the woods or on the beaches or cliffs or mountain (Mt. Tamalpais). Hunting mushrooms has taken me into areas I'd never have gotten to otherwise, and taught me to look. Running has given me the ability to cover a lot of ground. Last Friday I took off in the late afternoon, headed on a 2-mile run uphill to a mushroom spot of which I am acquainted. After a quarter mile I realized the ground was parched, even after some early rain. It had been a hot October, and there weren't gonna to be any stinkin mushrooms in the dry woods. Water. That's what I wanted. Moisture. So I veered off and headed cross-country toward the biggest canyon in sight. I got to it and as I started up the creek bed, there was more and more water. The sunlight had that deep autumn orange late-afternoon clarity mingled with black shadows. I eventually came to a perfect little pool, with dappled sunlight, that is, shadows made by moving tree leaves on the bank. A small holy place. Whereupon I immersed in the cold water, head under. Try it some time. Get your entire body under cold water, if only for an instant. No, it's not pleasant to contemplate, or even do, but the after-effect is a spectacular surge of circulation and revving up of chi. Trust me. I digress.
I notched up my cross-country running abilities some years ago by hanging out with a runner named Ron Rahmer. Ron's license plate said Run-N Ron. Ron was always looking for obscure trails, breaking new ground, going where few had gone before. He was a mischievous guy. I ran with him a lot for maybe two years, since we were the oldest in our Tuesday night trail running group. A totally different trail every week, never doubling back, always circumnambulating. I learned how to spot sparsely-traveled trails, like maybe a few deer went this way per week. This opened up all kinds of alternative routes in the woods, and I got into the habit of getting off main trails. Ron died at age 67 in 2004. I still think of him every time I get lost in the woods or stuck in the brush, or for that matter, find a subtle trail. Still Run-N with Ron.

The Barefoot Architect: A Handbook on Greeen Building

We have produced less than 30 books in 37 years of publishing. It was never intended to be this way. It just turned out that it took (takes) forever for us to get a book ready for press. Unlike grown-up publishers, who turn over an edited and completed manuscript to a designer, who then designs the pages and prepares the files, we always end up composing, editing, designing, writing, and gathering new graphics while we're in production. The point of this all being that each book takes us a year or two, from start to off-the-press copy. During this time, the book will evolve. The book changes during this process, hopefully evolving for the better.
Well! The Barefoot Architect, in its evolution, came out a stunner.

Hot off the press


Not only in looks, but also in both usefulness and practicality in today's world. We didn't anticipate the timing, but the green movement matured as this book was being produced and it's a perfect intersection. At a glance, the book may appear to be about building a house out of adobe and bamboo or other natural materials. Which it is. But it's also about design, planning, integration with the natural environment, using the wind, sun, and water to ventilate and produce energy, and a host of other subjects for people interested in providing their own shelter, or setting up a small community.
In the '60s, I started remodeling my house, and then adding on to it (with some ambitious first-time architect plans), so I had to learn to build as I went along. In those days I had a bunch of books on carpentry and building, but my favorite was Ken Kern's The Owner-Built Home, which became the underground building bible. Not "architecture," but building, and doing it yourself. Simple pen and ink drawings, easy to follow.
Johan van Lengen's book is for builders today what The Owner-Built Home was for builders of the '60s. 1000 wonderful simple drawings, easy to follow. A different way of looking at shelter. Earth conscious. Local climate. Local materials. Bio-architecture. (And using intuition and the right brain.)
Interestingly, Johan has found a keen interest in his methods recently by people who are bailing out of high-stress jobs and seeking simpler lives, creating "eco-villages."

For a Free Copy of This Book


If you want a review copy of this book (sent to you or someone else), contact Lew at lew@shelterpub.com. Word-of-mouth works on books like this, so we are willing to send review copies to anyone in a position to tell others about it. If you like the book, help us get the word out

Restaurant Kartoffel-Küch: The Potato Palace

In Bad Homburg (about 10 miles northewst of Frankfurt), there's a unique eatery called Restaurant Kartoffel-Küch. It's one large, warmly-lit room, with long tables, candles glowing, walls decorated with old metal food signs, and antique kitchen implements everywhere. A couple of beautiful old tiled wood cookstoves. The room just has it, gemutlicheit up the gesundheit.


It's also a pub, with beer on tap. The menu is diverse, but featured are potato dishes, some of which are listed below:
Hiimel & Erde (Heaven on Earth)
A casserole of mashed potatoes, apple sauce, liver, blood sausage, bacon, and onions
Hoppel Popple
Potatoes, onions, parsley, beef, eggs
A wonderful dish of ingredients we always have readily available. As far as I could figure, here would be the recipe:
-Steam some sliced potatoes lightly, then fry to brown.
-Saute onions, parsley, spice (oregano?) in olive oil.
-Saute sliced pieces beef (or lamb, chicken, pork), add water to get juice.
-saute above together and pour into casserole dish.
-Pour in beaten eggs.
-bake in oven.
Schupfnudels: Fried potato dumpling dough, saerkraut, bacon, cream sauce
Dessert:
-potato/egg pancake filled with warm blueberries, topped with a dab of whipped cream. Talk about heaven on earth!

Kartoffelpuffer mit apfelmus
(does that not have a ring to it?): potato pancakes with apple sauce. These were cooked crispy brown.

In this restaurant the waitresses worked at high speed, pony tails flying. Zipping to the tables, pouring draft beer, bussing dishes with plates piled on one arm, vigilant as to customers' needs. The art of waitressing…

Frankfurt Book Fair, Timber Frame Buildings, The Gutenberg Press, and Kartoffelkuche

Note, these blog postings show what happens when I'm floating around out on the road. Time on my hands. I'm in Frankfurt at the International Book Fair.

The Sad State of United Airlines


United is a fossil of a company, still operating on an old tired model. The way JetBlue operates show how out of it United is. The United employees have to grapple with a dumb and inefficient setup. The 747's are old. The leg room is criminal. I'm short and when the lady in front of me leaned her chair back, it hit my knees. (For $119 I could have bought 5" more leg room, thanks a lot!) Food is atrocious. Beef stroganoff or chicken a la king, brown glop and yellow glop, take your pick. I was feeling pretty smug with my food from home: chicken breast sandwich on roll with mustard and garden tomatoes, cottage cheese and pineapple, and homemade cookies. Airlines should quit serving food, like JetBlue. It would save a ton of money.

The International Terminal at SFO is great. Good food, shops, and always a great art exhibit. Today it was on Warner Brothers cartoons and there were sketches and little figurines of Bugs Bonny, Wily E. Coyote, the Roadrunner, and Daffy Duck. Eh, what's up, doc? Beep-beep. Th-th-that's all folks. The conceptual drawings of these caracters, especially by Chuck Jones, are a treat to see. On the plane I watched Surf's Up, a Pixar-type computerized cartoon feature and, charming as it was, it didn't have the pizzazz or wit or life of these hand-drawn critters from the '40s.

The Frankfurt Book Fair


I've been going to this for about 15 years. It's the super bowl of book fairs. I meet with agents and publishers from other countries; foreign translations of our books have grown over the years. Stretching is in 23 languages. Homework, already in Japanese and French, is now being translated into Korean (as is Shelter). I stay in a small hotel in the elegant spa town Bad Homburg, about 20 miles north of Frankfurt, and take a train straight to the fair grounds.

Semi-sabbatical 2009


I'm going to take some time off in 2009, something I've never really done. 3-4 months to travel, not deal with the daily business grind, do some fishing, coastal exploring, surfing, get refreshed in order to come back to work with new zeal. My wife Lesley is English and we'll go to England and Ireland. It may mean winding down our business somewhat that year. Right now I don't know how the details will work out but I'm committing to this now since it's all too easy to put it off forever. Giving voice to it makes it more of a reality. PLUS and I know this sounds radical, but I've decided to quit checking and sending email, for maybe a month at a time spaced over that year. I mean I'm a fucking captive to email. My generation never figured on this. We thought we'd go the rest of our lives with letters and phone calls — surprise! And of course I jumped into it, especially with some 400 people on my monthly or so GIMME SHELTER email newsletter list. I'll see if I can pull this off.

Sleepless in Bad Homburg


I got into Bad Homburg around noon on Sunday wasted as usual from the 10 hour flight. I have never been able to sleep for 5 minutes on any airplane.

It's the being there that's great.
It's the getting there that sucks.


Survival on flights


I wear a "chi ionizer" around my neck, running for the entire flight. Supposed to create negative ions and, true believer that I am, I think it helps. I also always carry a little bottle of tea tree oil, a natural disinfectant that I rub in my nostrils occasionally to discourage entry of viruses from the shared air of airplane cabins. I bring my own food, get up and down at least 10 times, stretch often. It all helps, but the inhumanity and indignity of United's cattle car 747 setup takes its toll.

I went out for a run as soon as I checked in. Running for an hour or so and staying awake until night time at the destination gets me into local time. No jet lag. Bad Homburg has a magnificent centuries-old park and it was gorgeous in the sharp autumn light. Pretty soon I was feeling human again.

Jaywalkers nicht in Deutschland


German pedestrians don't jaywalk, cross against red lights, or walk off paths in parks. Being a barbarian from the west, I routinely accomplish all these transgressions. Running through the grassy meadows in the park is like being in the country. I'm staying at a small hotel and my landlady, Frau Birkendorf, is a jolly sort who's amused by me and worries that I'm not eating enough.

Brothers on Wheels


Yesterday a 6-year-old came whipping down the sidewalk on a skateboard. Yeah man!

Hessenpark Museum of Half-Timber Buildings


Took the (electric) train through the farm fields yesterday to this wonderful collection of ancient half-timbered buildings, lovingly reconstructed. It's a timber framer's dream. The art of diagonal bracing. Shot 200 photos, some of which are, ahem, stunning. I got better shots of half-timber framing than are in either SHELTER or HOME WORK. What am I gonna do with all this material? Or should I say content…



Field of Dreams


From the window of the train yesterday around sunset, suddenly there was a field of maybe 30 ponies, all different colors, all healthy, with shiny coats. It was like a dream, these beautiful little horses in a verdant green pasture backlit by the setting sun.

Trains, the Civilized Way to Travel (And this does not include high-speed trains)



The Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof is superb, as are train stations in general in the great cities of the civilized world (this does not include the U.S. of A). Train stations got soul, unlike airports, with the bustle, the food, shops, excitement of coming and going, the multi-nationalities and languages and the high arching ceilings and fresh air. It's the right technology for much of travel. Amtrak ought to be subsidized for chrissake!

Speed bumps on a street in Bad Homburg at night


Mass Murderers at Stanford


Worthy of note: The Hoover Institute at Stanford, replete in its right-wing cluelessness, is hosting war criminal Donald Rumsfeld as a visiting lecturer. Maybe Rummy will explain to students how he led this country into the disaster in Iraq. Then when the Bush administration completes its chilling years of usurped power, Stanford will see the return of the forked-tongue Condy Rice. Gurus for the training of Captains of Industry.

The Gutenberg Press


My friend Bill Newlin, also here for the Fair, and I went to see the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz today. The invention of movable type in the 1400s. Previous to this, books were produced one at a time, lettered by hand. Gutenberg adapted the wine press and olive press to printing, since pressure had to be applied to have the type make a clean impression on the paper. A printing press — I never got the meaning of the word before.

Cafe Da Pino


I found a microcosm of Italy, a cafe here in Bad Homburg, that makes real espresso drinks. No women. Bunch of older guys playing cards and yelling and emoting and waving hands in the air, hey, it's a romance language, che bella! Contrast to the hard-edged sounds of German.

If You Say So Dude…


Young tough looking guy, arms covered with tattoos, on the street yesterday with a T-shirt saying "100% Asshole."

Running, Paddling

On the Road Again
I've been taking short runs from home, out to a pond on - er - private land, and swimming. The pond is fed by a year-round creek, lined with cattails, and at its warmest this time of year. There is usually a flock of elegant little birds floating around and if I approach them doing breaststroke, they let me get close. Last week about 15 of them started flying circles around me. I rotated in the water, following them as they turned, until they settled down. They're called red phalaropes:

Red phalarope



On the Sea Again
After work yesterday I took my paddleboard out in the lagoon. It was the night before the autumn equinox, and a weak storm was hovering out at sea. Absolutely no wind, the lagoon like glass, air fresher than it's been all summer. I paddled hard and the board seemed to fly across the water. Seagulls were coming in from the ocean as is their wont before storms, circling around several times in flashes of winged-whiteness, before settling on the mud flats. A sense of stillness, the in-between-ness of the seasons, a peacefulness in this small part of the world.

"...the ancient precept, know thyself,
and the modern precept, study nature,
become at last one maxim."
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Off to Germany
I'm taking off for the Frankfurt International Book Fair tomorrow and will get off some blogs from the road next week. I'm taking a side trip to the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz to see the original Gutenberg Press and a copy of the Gutenberg Bible. Gutenberg invented movable type. Before that, books were printed individually, by hand. On another side trip I'm going to shoot photos at Der Hessenpark, a building museum with over 100 rebuilt old buildings in Neu Anspach.

Brazilian Soccer Star Marta

I was looking at YouTube last week and clicked on one of the most-viewed film clips. It showed Marta Vieira Da Siolva, Brazil's sensational soccer star in action against the American team. Unbelievable moves. Sport as art.

Marta in action

Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, and Fats Domino

Time Travel to the 50s
I graduated from Lowell High School in San Francisco in 1952, which was in those years, in the Haight Ashbury district. We're having our 55th - ulp! - reunion this year and I'm somehow on the reunion committee. I'm the only person in a class of maybe 300 who dropped out in the '60s. Smoked pot, rock and roll, homesteading in Big Sur - changing course on the high seas of life at age 28, giving up a well-paying job as insurance broker, oh yes! All my friends from high school and college, with the exception of maybe two I can think of, became extremely wealthy. I'm the only guy with long hair and an earring, etc., but what's cool is we all still have those 4 years in common, we're all San Francisco kids, and I enjoy their company. This year I'm in charge of music so I've been going back to the '50s. Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Sinatra. In retrospect it's great music. Opus One & Once in a While, by Tommy Dorsey. Moonlight Seranade by Glenn Miller brings tears almost to my eyes. Romance was a strong emotion in those days, Saturday night outdoor dances at the Fairfax Town & Country Club, with music like this playing. I'm also going to throw in some Ray Charles, Fats Domino, Aretha, Otis, Al Green, rhythm and blues…I've hired Zorro, a young reggae DJ from my town, to control the music and I'm giving him lists.

Speaking of Lowell: Jack Patterson was the journalism teacher then, and I realized years later how he influenced my life. I learned the who-what-when-where-how-why of the opening paragraph (then it was supposed to be in the first sentence), and that a reporter's job was to report it as it is and save opinions for the editorial page. Patterson was a decorated ex-Marine captain and we called him Captain Jack. He had a mischievous twinkle in his eye. He was gay, but made no moves on us.

One day a few years back, three of us on the reunion committee (Lord, have I written this up before? - my memory is shot…) discovered that each of us were in in our present jobs because of Capt. Jack: English teacher, advertising, publisher. Well, Jack eventually got fired, and ended up robbing a bank, going to jail, and ended up his life doing gardening work at Stanford. Dude! Is this not the wild west? I wish I'd sought him out to thank him.

And yes, I realize I'm prone to repeating myself, not only in conversation, but in print. I think I've written about this before. C'est la vie…

Go to the post page…

Tornado Potatoes -- new street-food from South Korea. It's a spiral-cut potato, deep fried and dusted with tangy cheezy powder.



http://www.neatorama.com

(From Ritual Roasters super coffee/internet hookup cafe in San Francisco on a foggy after-a-heat-wave morning.)

Choking on Growth — China's Water Crisis

NY Times article on groundwater crisis in China, by Jake Hooker and Huang Yuanxi, 9/28/07:

"We have a water shortage, but we have to develop,” said Wang Yongli, a senior engineer with the city’s water conservation bureau. “And development is going to be put first.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/28/world/asia/28water.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1

The Barefoot Architect/Septic System Scams/Fishing for Halibut

Right now we are putting the finishing touches on The Barefoot Architect: A Handbook on Green Building. Author Johan van Lengen, born in the Netherlands, gave up a successful career as an architect in California in the 70s, largely due to the influence of The Whole Earth Catalog. He decided to dedicate himself to providing better housing for the disadvantaged; he and his wife Rose founded TIBA (Bio-Architecture and Intuitive Tecnology), a school for building located in the Mata Atlantica (coastal jungle) of Brazil. There he conducts workshops in design, building, housing, sanitation, communication, and education. The Spanish version of his book, The Barefoot Architect has sold 200,000 copies and is in every library in Mexico. It was next published in Portuguese in Brazil. We are just finishing up the the first English translation. This book is for the 21st century what Ken Kern's The Owner Built Home was in the '60s. How to build simple structures using ingenuity and natural materials.

Although TIBA was originally founded to help people in "third world" countries build with natural materials, Johan has found a lot of interest in his methods recently by people who are leaving their high-stress jobs in cities in search of simpler lives.

I'm also trying to finish my article for The Mother Earth News on septic systems scams that are now proliferating in America. People are being forced, often unecessarily into $30-50,000 septic systems. It's a complex issdue and I've been trying to write about it for years and it seems to finally be coming together, I've interviwed 8-9 of the best wastewater engineers and officials I know. Title of the article: Organized Slime.

Finally, fishing I decided this summer to cut back on the running and get my fishing act together. I would love to be able to report success, that I've caught (and smoked) salmon, got the occasional halibut, and been able to catch rock fish at will. Well, such ain't the case. I've got repeatedly skunked, as they say. Plus launching my little boat off the beach and getting through the waves, and then somehow getting it back on my trailer without backing my truck up until the exhaust pipe is under water — has been a tiny bit stressful. One of the local fishermen said to me the other afternoon: "There's skill involved." Yesterday I decided to do more running and less fishing. It's true that the salmon never showed up this far south this year. (Eureka has had its best salmon run in 25 years.) But I masy not have the patience for fishing, it's my Attention Deficity Syndrome again (I wonder how mmany kids are classified thusly due to teachers too boring to pay attention to).

By the way, about 3 times when I've come in and been struggling to get my boat on the trailer, women have come out and helped me. Once, 3 ladies who I'd say were in their late '50s, helped me lift the boat onto the trailer. Day before yesterday a woman was very concerend and waded out to help. Bless her. She also noticed (which I hadn't) that a lens in my sunglasses had dropped onto the sand and handed it to me. The Kindness of Strangers.

Bumper sticker: "God please save me from your followers."

Live From SolFest '07

Lew and I have been here at the big Northern California solar energy festival for two days now. We get wonderful feedback. Yesterday, Gary Kleimia, owner of the Bookbeat bookstore in Fairfax, picked up a copy of Home Work and said, "This book changed my life." After reading it, he bought a piece of land near Mt. Shasta and is building a tree house. Today a young California girl picked up the same book and said, "This is the best book ever." Just an hour ago, Sasha Rabin, a practitioner and teacher of cob and natural building methods stopped in to tell us she had been at one of the Natural Building 3-week courses at Yestermorrow, the school of building in Vermont, and one of the students was a 30-something-year old guy who had dropped out of a high-paying job in the business world. He said he had seen a copy of Home Work and it had inspired him to quit his job and change his life. It's great to connect. People get ideas by seeing what builders are doing in various parts of the world. It's a network of inspiration.

Yesterday I took my bike, hot afternoon, and went a few miles in the countryside through, ahem, private property — vineyards and pear orchards, and made my way down to a sandbar on the Russian River. Swam in the cool water, a refreshing interlude. No one in sight. These days (especially hot summer days) I jump in just about every body of water I come across. — instant way to tune in to the local environment.

SolFest continues to be a great event. Good spirit. Each year the alternative energy field has new improvements. A lot of things are working now that weren't 10 years ago. Real Goods, the hosts, have got it together. There's a guy here with a diesel truck that is rigged up so he drives up to a KFC or MacDonalds, puts a suction hose into their discarded french fry oil. His truck converts it to fuel on the road. My friend Paul Wingate said yesterday with a big grin, "He pays zero for fuel, and he drives 50,000 miles a year. It's free!"

Today a builder stopped by. He said he's now building houses for millionaires and he hates it. "I used to build maximum 1200 sq. ft. houses. Now the mud rooms are that size." It's true, just about all the builders I've known, if they've wanted to stay in the trade, have had to work for big-bucks clients. A lot of people stop in our booth to talk about their houses, or their dreams.



Last night Lew and I went to the Ukiah Brewing Company in, yes, Ukiah, and heard a great band from Oakland, The Delta Wires. There were less than 30 people there, and these guys were blowing out the rafters. They're like a blues quartet, but augmented by a horn section playing tightly-orchestrated back-up. I was ready to head for bed after we had dinner, but they woke me right up. The Ukiah Brewery, by the way, makes organic beer that is not only organic, but great. All their food is organic as well, it's the only 100% organic restaurant I've seen.

The music at Sol Fest is always good. Yesterday, a bluegrass band from Colorado. Today Buce Cockburn, who I'd never heard of, a wonderful Canadian musician AND the last act — Sambadá, the Brazilian dance band from Santa Cruz, of which my son Will is both drummer and booking agent. The band seems to be on a roll. They just got back from performing at ESPN's party for personnel in Connecticut and they were picked by the Santa Cruz Metro newspaper as Santa Cruz's favorite band.

Last in the music dept.: Stones fans, Love You Live is an album I just got, recorded in '77 and it's a killer. The band at full power. Mick's kickin' ass. He does a great version of Mannish Boy, copying Muddy Waters' phrasing and orchestration just about note-by-note, not something for the faint of heart, and he brings it off totally. The band is crude and funky and perfect. The song Cracking Up is a rocker, never heard it before.

On the Road in Mendocino County

I haven't done much blogging in a while. Too busy. To tell the truth I love reporting on what I see in my life, so here I am on the road, and you can ride shotgun for a bit of the trip, thanks to digital photography.

I took off from Bolinas 2 days ago, my truck loaded with books and a booth that Lew and I will set up at this weekend's SolFest, the annual solar energy celebration and fair at Real Goods headquarters in northern California. I dropped my son Evan off in Ukiah; he was picking up his 2000 VW Golf bio-diesel sedan. It was good to get out into the real heat. It's been a cold windy summer at the beach.

I've shot this little farm building on several occasions.


I jumped in the Russian River under a bridge near Ukiah (cold!), then headed out to Boonville and through the giant redwoods to the Navarro River on the coast, heading for my friend Louie's place. I went out to the beach where the Navarro hits the coast, where there's a lot of driftwood.

Navarro river in background


This is a Ford diesel van converted to 4 wheel drive by a company called Sportsmobile. The owner loved it. it's got bed, table, stove, frig, the whole enchilada. These rigs start at 60K.


On to Louie's where I stay in this beautiful room. I do some writing and computer work looking out at the grape vines and sun on the redwoods and occasional deer.

Central ring is truck wheel.


The river running by Louie's is great for swimming this time of year, with the occasional deep green pool. I went a ways upriver yesterday, took off all my clothes and lay on the warm sand. I'd forgotten how great it is to get naked. No one around. Just the sun and the water and the trees. In Baja I'd spend days on remote beaches sans clothes. A simple and wonderful type of physical freedom, getting warm in the sun and then slipping into the water. A few hours ago I went swimming in a big pool and swam back and forth for 10 minutes in the clear green water.

David Bailey's "007" salmon boat


Dude!

Getting Handled by the Pacific Ocean

I got my ass kicked by the Pacific ocean a few days ago. This summer I'm trying to get my fishing act together, sort of substituting the time I'd usually spend running in the hills by getting out in the water. We live on the coast north of San Francisco and there's a salt water lagoon with a channel leading out into the ocean. I've got a 12' aluminum boat with a 15 hp Evinrude outboard; it's as small a boat as you can use to get out through the waves. In fact a lot of days I can't get out when larger boats can. The tricky part (other than getting through the waves) is launching the boat off the beach, which is done by backing the boat trailer into the water with a 4-wheel drive truck. Luckily a neighbor was down there and helped me launch and I made it out the channel and started fishing for halibut. The wind was blowing pretty strongly and I immediately got soaked to the skin from spray. Yeah, no foul weather gear — dumbkopf! I won't bore you with details, but I got knocked around pretty good for a couple of hours, was wet, cold, and uncomfortable, and watched three other (bigger) local boats doing a lot better. I didn't get a bite, the wind was blowing the boat too fast to jig properly. I headed back into the beach and had the hair stand up on the back of my head (where I still have hair) when I made a misjudgement and almost got dumped by an incoming wave. The tide was coming in real fast and when I got to the beach and backed the trailer into the water I was only able to load it due to a guy walking on the beach seeing my plight and wading out to help me get the boat on to the trailer. I can't count the times in my life when someone has come along to rescue me from my own ineptitude. Here's to the Kindness of Strangers.
Well, I'm not givin up. I keep talking to the local fishermen, learning from them at the same time as admiring their skill. I'm going out again late this afternoon.
It struck me that learning to handle a boat in the ocean is akin to my taking up skateboarding at a late age. Something that's really difficult, that has its dangers along with its rewards. I thought of Baryshnikov calling the exploring of the untried and difficult as "divine insecurity" (see last posting). It's when you commit. Getting into the realm of the unknown and unfamiliar, and it's scary (also exciting) because you haven't been there before and don't know what's going to happen. I love learning new things at this late age.

Once upon a time you dressed so fine…

Last night I was driving home along the coast after running with the boys (a Tuesday night ritual, followed by bonhomie on tap in the pub). Foggy night, good sea smell, the double row of yellow road buttons reflecting off head lights, turned on radio and what's this, "Like a Rolling Stone," sung by — who's this? — the Stones. Out of the blue, or out of the fog, a great version, live. One of those truck drivin moments with music, oh yes. This morning I ordered a used copy of Stripped, live cuts by the Stones that includes this one, $4.00, gotta love the immediacy of the internet…
Earlier that night I'd gone off by myself to pick cat tail pollen. I can't keep up with the boys these days. You've got to be in shape to run with this group and right now I ain't, so I dawdle and explore on my own. Got a lot of pollen, by shaking the pollinating ears into a paper bag.* Next I headed down to the beach and went swimming in the fresh water lagoon formed by the creek this time of year, then ran back and forth barefoot, dodging waves.
It's taking me longer than expected to get this book on builders together. I got to a point where I realized there was no point in trying to meet an earlier deadline, that it was better to take the time to get it right. I've been working on it on Sundays, a day that's quiet, no phones and I can focus purely on it. So far I've done rough layouts of about 190 pages and finding that if I go back and make another pass, things get way improved. I'm now taking a pass through all my photos from the year of travel up the coast to see what I missed.

Beach on an island in the Straits of Georgia (the waters east of Vancouver Island) where I camped a few nights a year or so ago. Picked oysters up off the reef and barbecued them on the beach that night, followed by dessert of wild blackberries with brown sugar and cream. My memory's pretty good when it comes to food…


Heard Baryshnikov on the radio yesterday, talking about doing a performance in front of a screen showing him dancing when in his 20s, dancing with an image of himself when 40 years younger. The interviewer asked him about dancing these days, was he worried about performing? He said he liked the pressure, the challenge, and the "divine insecurity" of trying something difficult…
HBO has done it again, they are just phenomenal. After Deadwood, The Wire (and of course The Sopranos), now there's The Flight of the Conchords. It takes a few viewings to get it. It's unlike anything I've ever seen. It's really funny. The music is great, just out of nowhere. The band's one groupie has me rolling on the floor.
* I worked out a new pancake recipe, fresh-ground millet (a Corona hand grinder), fresh ground wheat (our electric stone grinder), and the golden cattail pollen, buttermilk, eggs, baking soda and powder, let it sit til next morning, the pancakes are golden and light and sweet tasting with wild flavor. There is a ton of blackberries this year and I get a bowl of them, mash them up, add maple syrup and pour over pancakes.

Backing Off on Blogging

Although I started out (about a year ago) blogging half-heartedly, I ended up enjoying it. I like telling people what I see going on in the world. It gives more meaning to my travels, and observations. I try to write things so that you'll be riding shotgun with me. Plus I love putting up occasional photos. What's the point of shooting photos if you never show them to anyone?
The problem is, it's taking too much time to blog weekly or more. I need to focus on my book on builders and on an article on septic system scams for The Mother Earth News. So I'm cutting back on the frequency of blogging for a while. If you're interested in this stuff, maybe check monthly.
However, while I'm at it (here I go again!) here's some of the latest:
This morning I got up at 4 AM and went to a hot springs on a beach which shall remain unnamed. There's a trail down a steep cliff not for the faint hearted on a dark night. It was a small crowd, being this early and about 6 of us soaked in the hot suffur waters which are in a grotto, looking out to the beach and up at the stars. One guy showed up with 3 large sweet-scented geraniums which he floated in the pool. Two days before this I gathered a bunch of cattail pollen (done by shaking the pollinating heads into a paper bag) and made pancakes with the pollen and fresh-ground millet and wheat flour. They were golden yellow and had a delicious nut-like flavor. I've got my 12' aluminum boat with 15 hp Evinrude ready for fishing and my goal this summer is to get proficient at launching it off the beach so I can start getting salmon, halibut and rock fish. Plus I've got two small crab pots, so I'll go after crabs next year. Hell, I live on the ocean and ought to be getting my own fish. I come from a family of fishermen. My grandfather had a bait and tackle store in San Francisco in the 1920s and he made beautiful bamboo fishing rods. I'm the lamest fishemrman in the family, so decided to get my act together.

Saw this license plate in Larkspur a few days ago

Septic System Scams Impose High Fees for Homeowners

I am about 2/3 of the way through the design of what will be my first major book in 3 years (since Home Work). It's called Builders of the Pacific Coast — Creative Carpentry, and it's in an exciting stage for me, putting together photos and interviews generated over the course of a year.
Much as I'm tempted to keep working on it, I'm taking time out to write an article for The Mother Earth News on a rapidly-growing phenomenon in America: engineers and health officials conspiring to force homeowners into high-tech, expensive ($20,000-50,000) septic systems. It's something I see going on and I feel qualified to comment on it because I've written a book on septic systems and in the course of so doing, have interviewed a dozen engineers and studied everything I could find on the subject.
There certainly are septic systems in America that are not working and need repair or replacement. But what's happening right now is pretty much a wholesale rejection of gravity-fed septic systems. Self-serving engineers have written county or state codes that declare that your septic system is — guess what? — failing. Bureaucrats either believe the engineers and/or want the higher fees from costly systems, and force homeowners into the high costs of a new system. Let's consider the two groups, engineers and bureaucrats. In Marin County, where I live, the code for "alternative septic systems" was written by the same local engineers who are hired to design systems. Tighter requirements = bigger fees. Duh! Higher costs for the homeowner mean a concurrent hike in permits and health fees. Health departments are often financed by fees taken in, so the higher costs provide health departments with bigger budgets.
A few years ago, my neighbor, with the same soil profile, had to install a $45,000 mound system when his system failed (in an old house, it had worked for 40 years). My system, just down the road, was a typical gravity-fed tank-and-leachfield setup, and has worked flawlessly (with inspections and periodic pumping) for 36 years. It cost less than $3000. This is going on all over the country and when I ran a letter to the editor of The Mother Earth News, asking for similar situations, I got a flood of input from homeowners all over the country.
It's a hard story to write, maybe partly because people just don't understand how septic systems work. They're underground, invisible, and they generally work so well that people are unaware of their continuing functionality. I think I can explain the modus operandi that is now going on. so in the near future I'm going to force myself to sit down and write the sad story of this multi-billion dollar homeowners' ripoff. Be aware: if you own a home, the septic bandidos are coming, and I hope to help you get prepared. Knowledge is (at least a measure of) power.

Latte, WiFi, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Paddleboarding, Mud Baths Au Naturel

The art of the barista.


I've found two super espresso/wi-fi cafes (and I mean free, fast wi-fi) in the last month. One on McDougallStreet near Washington Square in NYC, the other in the Mission district of my hometown San Francisco. I'm sitting here in a window in the morning sun with a great sticky bun and a powerful latte. It's the day after the solstice, maximum daylight, I left home about 5:30, drove along the coast as the sun came up, then across the always-stunning Golden Gate Bridge into the city, listening to a CD my son Evan gave me last week, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Stadium Arcadian, an elegant album. These guys can sing!
Going back to Big Sur last week, getting another look at a place where I lived while in my '30s and now looking through my 72-year-old eyes, I was struck by how much richer everything looks now. I saw all kinds of things I'd missed in past years. My perceptions are a lot more honed in search of adventure these days. Speaking of which, practically every week I'm finding Delights in Nature, things that have always been out there, waiting to be discovered. Last night I took my paddleboard down to the nearby (salt water) lagoon. At high tide there are a series of navigable channels that I can glide through like a water skeeter. There's never a soul in sight, just me and the birds. Last night was one of those magic nights, with the 6 PM orange setting-sun light, the water glassy. I decided to get off the board and walk around on the pickleweed-covered mudflats. I saw a muddy pond, maybe 12 feet in diameter and stepped into it and sunk up to my knees in — black mud. Like black shoe polish, the texture of sticky butter. Nature's spa. Well, it was obvious what to do. Stripped down and coated myself head to toe with this amazing (sulfur-smelling) black black mud. On my head, face, neck, my back as far as I could reach. I walked around a while as the sun dried the mud, the abominable mud man. Where's a camera when I need one? Then got in the water and spent about 5 minutes getting it off. I have an outdoor solar-heated shower in the garden and I scrubbed off the residue, my skin feeling alive. Then some of Louie's home-made Zinfandel with fish and fresh corn from the farmer's market. Um-hmm.

Big Sur Homestead Revisited

In 1967 I built a house in Big Sur. It was a rudimentary homestead. I tapped into a spring 600 feet up the mountain for water and cleared and terraced an acre or so of the hillside for farming. The house was built out of large (double-track) railroad ties for posts and recycled 30' long fir 2 x 14's (from Cleveland Wreckers)for beams and floor girders. The roof deck and the floor were 2x8" local tongue-and-groove Monterey Pine; the wall sheathing was lumber from a farm labor camp I tore down in Salinas. I made the wall shakes from a deadfall redwood I found in a nearby canyon. Used windows from chicken coops. It was what would now be called "green building." It took me about a year to build the house. Within 2 years, I left Big Sur for a variety of reasons, and had only been back down there a few times in the ensuing 40 years.
The Big Sur Historical Society invited me down to do a talk on building the house and so last week I went found myself in the deja vu zone. The weather was great and as I rounded a bend just south of Carmel and saw the first massive hills of Big Sur I got a jolt in the solar plexus: I fall in love with places and Big Sur was one of my great loves.

The beautiful Bixby bridge, built in 1931


Japanese girls at the bridge


I first went to Big Sur to build a large house on a ranch in 1966 (before building my own place), and I went back to look at this place:

The house was built from redwood bridge timbers and pretty complex in the foundation and framing work. It took 3 of us almost a year to get it framed.


This wonderful pool has been in the canyon below my house for some 50 years. There's no chlorine, it's kept fresh by constantly-flowing creek water. Each night after I'd finish working on my house I'd go down there, bow to the redwoods and then the 4 corners, and dive in. On this trip I went swimming in it 4 times. Wonderful with no chlorine.


My house is now owned by Barbara Spring, a well-known sculptor. Barbara, 90 years old and still sculpting her figures (with an electric chain saw), loves the house. Click here to see some of Barbara's sculptures
Her caretaker, Ehren Woyt, keeps the pool and grounds in beautiful condition.

In the 40 years since building the house, I've photographed countless skilled carpenters and builders, making me realize how crude was my workmanship here. But what took me by surprise was the soulfullness of the place, still intact, kept alive by Barbara and her family.


Table I built out of horse stable girders with two chunks of a bridge timber for legs, still in use.


Weathered railroad ties for framing


After going swimming and then dinner on Monday night, I sneaked into nearby Esalen Hot Springs to soak in the baths. It was pitch black and after getting into the grounds I had to rely on memory to make my way to the baths, going down dark paths and crossing creeks. avoiding Esalen officials. I made it and soaked in the magic waters, looking out at Scorpius rising, its long curved tail extending down to the horizon. Oh yeah!
The next day about 40 people showed up at the house and I told them about building it, and what was going on in the counterculture in those days. The next day I headed home, stopping to jump in the ocean in Carmel, then the 17th Avenue cove in Santa Cruz, then finally ducked under "my" waterfall on Mt. Tamalpais on the way over the mountain to home.

Paul Hawken's New Book, Blessed Unrest

Last month Paul Hawken published a stunning book, Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming. In one of Stewart Brand's SALT Seminars, Hawken gave a talk last Friday to a packed house in San Francisco. Hawken started Erewhon Trading Company in the '60s, supplying organic products from sustainable farming (boy, how long did it take for that principle to sink in?), and in the late '70s, Smith and Hawken, purveyors of high-quality English gardening tools. He's written a number of books, been consultant to numerous companies and groups, and been on a lecture circuit non-stop. Wikepedia on Hawken
He says people from environmental and "green" groups started coming up to him after lectures and giving him cards, and after 1000 lectures he had so many cards (7000) he started assembling a data base. What struck him, and what will strike you, was the sheer number of organizations around the world now dedicated to healing and restoring the earth.

"I have come to these conclusions: this is the largest social movement in all of human history. No one knows its scope, and how it functions is more mysterious than what meets the eye."

It is under the collective radar, he says, because although it's a movement, there is no leader. And it's not so much a movement gaining power as it is a movement permeating society — from the ground up. He has 105,000 organizations listed and estimates there are over a million such organizations worldwide.
What hit me so strongly about this is how many of the principles that were espoused and embraced in the cultural revolution 40 years ago are now manifesting in these organizations that are springing up organically in response to the current threats to life as we know it on this planet.

In a poetic touch, Hawken likens the proliferation of these groups in response to today's earth-threatening realities to the body's immune system when it mobilizes to fight off life-threatening disease. Wow!

Casa Dulce Casa/More Pix New York City/Caffeine, Wi-Fi/Rapper/Jewish Wedding/Urban Basketball/Otis Redding/Patti Smith/Paris Hilton (not really)

As good as trips are, and this was a good one, I love getting home. The first hit of San Francisco air. The temperature, the humidity, the smell of my part of the world (universe). I went running with the boys last night, all of whom are obsessing with the annual Dipsea race, which happens to be this Sunday. The oldest cross-country race in America, right in our backyard, 7.2 miles from Mill Valley up over a flank of Mt. Tamalpais, down into Muir Woods and up and down to Stinson Beach. It's tough and romantic and joyous and heartbreaking. I'm not in contender shape this year, but it's still a big deal in my life. I got up twice in NYC last week at 6 AM to run in Central Park to avoid getting too far out of shape. (In the park I run on the grass and in fields, never on pavement or paths, it's amazing no one does this, you can criss-cross thru fields, windy paths and up and over granite outcroppings. Central park is actually magnificent.)
Last night I jumped in the creek after running (submerging in California water to tune back into this part of the planet). Picked a bunch of little sweet wild lingonberries on the trail and had them with millet-oat pancakes this morning.
I am so excited to be back. I walked into the office and saw the photos and layouts for my book Builders of the Pacific Coast strewn around on layout tables, and got excited all over again by this unique body of work by coastal builders.
My big problem these days is content — too much of it! I came home with 300 photos, first from the woods in Alleghany county, the work of master builder/woodmeister Bill Castle (and his Amish friends); then dazzling sights + adventures on the streets of Manhattan. What am I gonna do with all this stuff? (Actually after another 3-4 trips to NYC I'll have a book, kind of a west-coast boy's view of the Capital of the Universe.)
On Sunday, after the book expo ended, the clouds came in, the air got refreshingly fresh, and the rain started, light at first and then gust-blowing heavy. I had a great few hours with caffeine (+ killer piece of carrot cake, heh-heh), good music, a great view of the street, rain pouring down, cozy inside, a good wi-fi connection at what has just become my favorite cafe in the world:

The Esperanto Cafe, 114 McDougal St, a few blocks south of Washington Square, Wi-Fi + open 24 hrs.


I almost filled a steno notebook on this trip. Tons of things to do when I get home:

I take one of these on each trip. I keep a small role of Scotch Tape in my backpack and paste in cards that people give me, with notes on what to send, or do. Plus I fill it with ideas, writing, notes, thoughts.


A few photos from Saturday night (warm, sticky temp):


Rap group in Washington Square with a couple of lead rappers surrounded by 15 or so compatriots rocking and gesticulating to the music. It was being filmed. I later saw what I think is a photo of this guy and he's well known, something like Big Boy or Big Joe. This is a fascinating art form to an old guy like me, these guys are lightning fast with extemporaneous lyrics. Amazing.


Jewish wedding party in Washington Square. I mean, I assume this is her Dad.


Hey dude, keep your eye on the ball! — High-quality tough basketball, probably a city league. There was a ref, maybe 100 spectators. These guys were good! In a way, this is the real thing, because you don't have to put up with the TV commercials or dumb personal segments of the NBA. Organic basketball. There were some great handball games going on next door. Once again I'm stunned by the richness of Manhattan.


Music du jour
As I post this am listening to Patti Smith's Trampin'. Earlier today I listened to King and Queen, Otis Redding and Carla Thomas, with their classic "Tramp"
You know what Otis, you are country, you straight from the Georgia woods…
and a beautiful version of "Are You Lonely For me Baby," these are duets made in heaven.
All these pix were shot with an Olympus Stylus 800 which I carry in my fanny pack along with wallet, Swiss Army Knife, little notebook, flashlight, pen, glasses, magnifying glass, lighter. Hey, ready for anything!