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A Salty Dog Along the Pacific Coast/Mom Almost 102

On Christmas day I went to see my mom in the retirement home. There are two routes "over the hill" from our coastal town: over the mountain (Mt. Tamalpais), or along the ocean. It was a rainy/cloudy day. so I went along the coast. I played Procul Harum's rock opeera A Salty Dog, pretending I was at sea.

We sailed for parts unknown to man, where ships come home to die,
No lofty peak, nor fortress bold, could match our captain's eye.
Upon the seventh seasick day we made our port of call,
A sand so white, and sea so blue, no mortal place at all

My mom will be 102 in February. She is a Christian Scientist and has never had a doctor. She is the only lady in the home who is not on meds. Her muscles have failed her so she's in a wheelchair, but she's eternally optimistic. I have never heard her complain, or say she's depressed. Sometimes she says to me, "Lloyd, I've never felt better in my life." I was the first born, and the most trouble. From what I hear, she had her hands full. Mischief, and my life-defiance of authority. Now that it's all in the past, we have a wonderful relationship. I tell her all about what I'm doing, and she's amused. She often talks about stunts I pulled. I played the ukulele for her and sang: Over the Rainbow, Ja-da, Five Foot Two, Ain't She Sweet, Darktown Strutters' Ball.

Old Guys Sk8boarding

A few days ago, Lew shot some pix of me skateboarding. It's for a book by Jack Smith called Lives on Board - Memories of Skateboarding's Generations. Jack, among other things, runs the online Skateboarders' Journal. I wrote an article for the book about skating down a road on nearby Mt. Tamalpais at sunrise, and here's a paragraph:
"I think it would be good in your book (and everywhere, for that matter), to encourage old guys to skate, especially if they skated as kids. The new boards, trucks, and wheels are magnitudes ahead of what was available 10, even 5 years ago. I started at age 65. I wish I'd started as a kid, but this was no reason not to start late in life. I think it's good in many ways for an old guy to learn a new physical skill. Good for the brain. I think there's a huge group of guys in 50s-60s with skating skills from younger years who don't know about the new equipment, and could jump right in with a new longboard and start cruisin."

Hank Williams Sings the Blues

I'll go without listening to Hank Williams for a year or more, and then I'll hear a song on the radio and get out the Hank records. Lord I love to hear her when she calls me sweet da-a-a-a-a-dy. What an incredible guy. A great collection, for people who love both the blues and Hank: Hank Wiilliams: Low Down Blues. Some are simple acoustic songs, just Hank and his guitar, pure blues. Others are honky-tonkin blues with his crack band. I listened to this album last night as I drove along the coast to meet my Tuesday night running mates. Listening to his simple yodeling on Long Gone Lonesome Blues (about as perfect as a song can be) suddenly flashed me on a pair of coyotes I heard singing one night. I had sneaked up pretty close to them and they were singing to another coyote who was across the valley. Beautiful.

Photos in Mexico by Bill Steen

Taqueria in Madera, Chihuahua. Note the set-up: hot-dog-cooking trailer at right, donut stand on left, taco stand inside. Everyone sits at tables inside, which is under a simple roof.

Bill Steen is not only the author (along with his wife Athena and David Bainbridge) of the by-now classic The Straw Bale House, but is also an excellent photographer. There was recently an exhibit of his photos from Mexico at the Mexican Heritage Center in San Jose, CA. It was called Borderlands of the Sky Islands, opened during the San Jose Mariachi Festival, and was curated by Linda Ronstadt. Most of the photos are from the Sky Islands region of the border (with Arizona) and also from The Canelo Project, 20 years of construction work the Steens have been doing in Obregon, Sonora, Mexico.

Click here for the gallery of Bill's photos.

Yaqui tire repair shop in Cocorit, Sonora

Building Your Own House in 2009/Here's to Ken Kern

Can you? It's a question I get asked once in a while. In 1960 it was simple,. You could draw up your own plans. You could use recycled wood and single pane windows and french doors. Very few people built with recycled wood, so it was cheap. Building inspectors held you to decent safety and health standards, but were reasonable. You could build a gravity-flow septic system (mine was about $3000 in 1971, and has worked flawlessly for 37 years). Even in 1973, when I built this place:
• The building permit was $200, water meter $250.
• I built as I could afford it, never borrowed from a bank. No interest payments — that saves over 50% of total cost.
• I saved a ton by doing most of the carpentry and wiring, half of the plumbing.
There are drawbacks. Cooking and living in unfinished rooms. Sawdust on the floors each night. Wiring not yet hooked up. Moreover, building a house is a BIG project (I figure it takes an owner-builder a year to do it all). It also isn't like doing a painting or sculpture, where you can toss out an unsatisfactory result.
Could you do it today? Unless you have a chunk of cash, you won't be able to do it within an hour of a cool city. You'll have to be farther out, farther from draconian bureaucracy and overblown regulations. But with the state of the economy now (and in the future), doing it yourself is still a viable option for creating a home. The principles are still the same. You can do it.
A final note: these days, keeping it small makes infinite sense.
Addendum: Here's to the memory of Ken Kern, author of The Owner-Built Home (1961), my bible and inspiration in the mid-60s.

Trip to Sonoma Valley

Yesterday I went to visit my brother at his farm in the Sonoma Valley. Here;s a shot from my little Canon PowerShot G10 camera. (This is a great 15 meg compact camera, I just pointed it at the road. Below are a couple of old buildings in Sonoma's town square:

Shell House in Japanese Woods/by Artechnic

Nice job of sculptural design and construction. Usually flowing shapes don't work out. (I really dislike that little sculptural wooden temple by Sea Ranch; there's just something wrong there, in spite of the craftsmanship.) This is a nice job with concrete and wood and still a bit of Japanese tradition.

Sisiutl — Godfrey Stephens' Sea Serpent Bench

This is such a powerful work of art. I posted a detail of it a few weeks ago, but here is the entire bench. It is presently at the Duck Creek Gallery on Salt Spring Island, BC. The eyebrows, eyes and palms are stippled copper. It just took my breath away. A few nights ago, it kept running through my mind and it was hard to sleep.
Godfrey writes that his long-time friend, Chief Tony Hunt (Kwagiulth, Fort Rupert), who helped Godfrey with some of the design, says that the central face is a "False Face," that is, it "…doesn't exist, and when the double headed serpent, who is 'Fear Itself' comes together like two outstretched arms facing you , it becomes one head and the False Face dissappears ."