Friday, June 30, 2017

Prana feathers


Last night I dreamt I had down feathers coating my lungs, and awoke to paroxysms of real coughing. What was that all about? Other than the very real coughing, it was a funny, rather mythic dream, perhaps it was in reaction to .45Care.

Well, I did recently make a spate of new down pillows from an old comforter as my old ones were flat as pancakes and leaking. I may need to wash my new pillows,, to settle them in, even though I did wash the comforter a while ago.

It really was a funny dream. I guess I have been a bit down in the mouth, or I have been terribly flighty as of late. Maybe I'm molting. Featherbrained.

Someone suggested that I get rid of my pillows. She said: Maybe you're allergic to down pillows and comforters? Logical conclusion. But I don't have any asthma symptoms. Besides, I can't sleep on anything else. I've tried it. There is no substitute for down. Synthetic pillows make my head hurt, and my scalp sting. I may need to double bag them, though. It could be that they need another washing.

I think I was pondering Icarus and other forms of flight...it was more mythical than that. The creative mind at work vs. a health warning.

Think of it this way, I changed a sleeping pattern, disrupted an old process.... the old pillows, I last gave them new covers in Forestville, ca. 1980, and the feathers I've had since I was young. But the pillows no longer luff. They've lost their loft. A lot of karma in an old pillow. All the misplaced dreams. And the ones replacing them have a history too. A new start from old things.

And I had been playing the what-if game as I made the pillows, so the idea was planted, and I was very careful when I made them. I came up with an ingenious way to make them in situ without opening the quilt, so hardly any feathers escaped. What I really need to do is clean my room!

And I have had some lung congestion from when I tweaked my back and couldn't cough. I could hardly breathe.

I was also rearranging old art supplies yesterday, lamenting how I haven't used my pencils in a long time. I need to draw. Lungs, to breathe, as in inspiration, feathers equal flight. Escaped prana feathers. Inside flight.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Looking for lost artwork of painter-poet, Boschka (Betty) Layton


Montreal/California Canadian painter-poet, Boschka (Betty) Layton, former wife of Canadian poet Irving Layton, friend of Leonard Cohen, sister to Donald Sutherland, was a dear friend of mine in Guereville during the 1980s.

Her son, Max Layton is searching for his mother, (Betty) Layton's lost work: specifically paintings, drawings, literary mags, etc. Max Layton is working on a project to create a collection of her work online. If you, or someone you may know, have any of her artwork, especially her paintings, he'd love to obtain high quality photos of her work. He was also wondering if you had any photos, memorabilia, or memories to share?

There is very little on the internet about Boschka, so any little bit would help. Betty was an art student at St. John Vocational School in Nova Scotia during the 1940s, and moved to Montreal to found Canada's first avant garde modern poetry magazine, First Statement, with her brother John (Jamie) Sutherland.

Boschka Layton lived near the Peewee Golf Course, on the Russian River, in Guerneville, California until 1983, then moved to Goat Rock, near Jenner, and passed away from pancreatic cancer on Valentine's Day in 1984.

 Apparently her daughter, Naomi Layton lives in Santa Rosa. Her friends, Kat & Boz Williams of Sebastopol have one painting.


 If you know of an artist, or an art collector, or poet, who lived on the River from 1970 to 1984, please feel free to tag them too.  Any information you might have would be most appreciated.

You may leave me a message here, or you can post stories on my artist Facebook page. —Thanks, Maureen Hurley


Boschka Layton (Betty Sutherland) 1921 - 1984
Guerneville Poet Boschka Layton to Read at Copperfield's

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

New Singer, Old Singer: Pillowmaking & Sweet Dreams


First day of summer ritual: I hauled out my newfangled Singer sewing machine and set it up on the outside porch. I needed to do a bit of mending, to take in several pairs of jeans that keep falling off my ass, and to make a flotilla of new down pillows from an old down comforter.

My old down pillows are literally falling apart, I can no longer wash them (another summer ritual) as the pillow ticking has rotted on the corners. The innards from one old pillow probably dates back to my childhood. (The replacement ticking is at least 30 years old—a world record). The feathers go flat as a pancake despite a monthly rousing resurrection round in the dryer. TIme to let it go. It's done lost its loft. No more spiff in its spoof.

Last time I made pillows was at least a decade ago. Maybe longer. It's been on my to-do list for many summers. Yeah, I know, most people just go out and buy pillows. But I don't like most commercial pillows. I can't use the polyester ones, an old whiplash precludes that. I wake up with blinding headaches. Nix to feather pillows either. Like sleeping on concrete. More headaches.

And the one down pillow I bought on sale from Ikea isn't satisfactory. It's fat, and poofy as a cloud, but when it comes down to it, it's a pillow of little character or substance. My neck hurts in the morning. My old down pillows were my first line of defense, I could wad them up to cradle my neck, however, the Ikea pillow makes a good base camp. But I needed more. 

I needed several new pillows. And I sure wasn't willing to spend a C-note per pillow. Enter the down quilt, a Freecycle find. Not only did it come with plenty of relatively new fluffy down feathers, it came replete with its own ticking too (not an easy thing to find in fabric stores—I mean who makes their own down pillows these days? You can't use any material, it has to be double-woven pillow ticking, or the feathers will escape.) 

I also needed to replace the small side pillows for my neck (neck fenders), as the commercial baby pillows I was using are way too hard and they give me headaches. One most favored makeshift down side pillow was stuffed with a shredded child's down jacket, but after a few years, it was no longer doing the job. Too many escaped feathers after a round of fluffing, meant it was more jacket lining than down. 

The old small square pillow I nicked from a first class French passenger train in 1972, was equally worn. Sharp pinfeathers were lining up and tunneling through the corner holes quill-end first, like escaping prisoners armed with tiny claws.

If you make a feather pillow, you have to choose a windless day, you can't be indoors, and even if you carefully move, or breathe too fast, feathers will escape, and you, and your yard (or house) will be flocked with what looks like freshly fallen snow. 

I've tried various tricks. I've tried moving dry feathers on a still day in plein air. Doesn't work. Too many escape artists. The slightest breeze, and... Then, there's the very real danger of sneezing... I've tried moving wet feathers in plein air. Doesn't work. They're like superglue. This time I tried spraying feathers with a mister to weight them down with rosewater. Nope. They merely roiled away like a fragrant fogbank on speed.

My favorite restuffing method is to take a huge clear plastic cleaner bag, put the old pillow and the new pillow casing inside, then put an elastic band on both corners of the plastic bag as baffles for my hands, and then transfer the feathers. Minimal feather loss, no down up the nose.

Don't forget to take scissors, needle and thread, a seam ripper. Once your hands are inside the bag, they're covered with down. You don't want to remove them until the end. Sweating won't do. Sewing up the open end of the pillow on the sewing machine is the tricky part. If the pillow burps.... 

In this case, I needed to start from scratch, as the bulky queen-sized down quilt wasn't going to fit into any plastic bag. So that was out. Finding new featherproof ticking at a fabric store (not a hot commodity) was also a challenge. So the idea sat on the back burner, or rather, in the closet for a few years. 

It takes me ages to come up with innovative ways to fix things. I run scenarios through my head until I come up with a viable solution. This particular idea of sewing twin seams directly onto the quilt took me a few years to formulate. In the end, it was so amazingly simple and elegant, I wondered why it took me so long to arrive. 

I directly sewed the pillow shape right onto the quilt, after stuffing lots of feathers into the new pillow rectangle, then I did a double sew job, making a thin corridor where I could cut the pillow away from the quilt, which meant I didn't have to handle the feathers. Wrestling with the yards of quilt in that tiny opening on the neck of the sewing machine was a biggest challenge.

Things went swimmingly, I shook the down feathers to one end of the quilt, and marked it off to sew. That's when things went wrong. The sewing machine decided it was going to be temperamental which drove me mental. The bobbin thread kept breaking every few inches, the tension thread slipping, the amazingly sluggish foot pedal kept stalling, and there's no way to manually force the machine forward over a thick seam, as Singer did away with the pulley wheel.

So far, I have managed to roundly curse the American inventor, Isaac Singer (even though my old friend Pam Singer is related to him), the software engineers who shepherded the Singer to the electronic age, all of Sweden, and the ship it rode in on, and Vikings, and the Volvos for good measure (even though my first car was a Volvo panel truck used for delivering Singers), for designing such a spectacular piece of crap.

Ill-thought out designing abounds, the modern day Singer sewing machine probably holds a world record for the most design flaws in one machine, from the needle threader, a plastic bobbin plate that's next to impossible to remove, and a bobbin design that constantly snaps the lower thread, uneven traction on the feeder dogs, to the sluggish foot pedal. I'm a four-on-the-floor driver, I like speed.

The zig zag feature is nice, when it works, but the other 69 embroidery stitches are mostly useless because the machine pulls unevenly, leaving an amateur mess behind. Forget the attachments. I want a machine that sews a straight stitch where the tension is even, and the bottom thread doesn't pull out. It's not like you have a lot of manual adjustment features on this machine, as it's fail-proof electronic. 

Also forget about the automatic needle threader, another bit of useless hardware that gets in the way of manually threading the machine. And the newly designed eye of the needle is super small. I have to flip the Singer on its side and angle it up toward the sunlight, and then if I manage to poke the thread through the eye, then there's a gauntlet of attachments in the way of the thread.

I haven't used the machine enough for it to need a tuneup, I should've returned it to Costco... it is so spectacularly bad, I sometimes envision dropping it off a freeway overpass, but then some unsuspecting car will clash with it. Give me an old school electric, or even a pre-electric pedal Singer sewing machine any day. I wish I could get a belt for my old cast iron and chrome gilded black enamel 1929 Singer. Now that's one awesome machine. Beautiful to look at too.

Neil caught me mid-swear, and made the mistake of asking me why I bought the sewing machine if it was so bad...as if I did that on purpose. Yeah, I deliberately chose a bad machine. WTF? A spectacularly inane question that garnered some additional misdirected purple prose.

But I persevered, and eventually managed to squeeze out a few fat down pillows, and two side fender pillows. I look like the princess and the pea, with my mountain of pillows. Sweet dreams. My neck is happy at night. No more blinding headaches. Other than from the sewing machine itself.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Birthday Dinner


My beloved's birthday dinner was salmon glazed with honey mustard dill, cheesy Scotch potatoes, bib lettuce salad, and a Meyer lemon curd chiffon meringue pie affair liberally laced with Limoncello, that took six hours to make in this record-breaking heat. It was so hot, the meringue was doing the merengue. Then it wilted. Not a day I would normally fire up the oven three separate times. The sweltering kitchen resembled the seventh ring of Dante's Inferno. I imagined someone yelling Beatriche! or was it Stella! from the back porch of a Streetcar named Desire.

Friday, June 16, 2017

IS IT BLOOMSDAY YET?


Someone asks: Is it Bloomsday already?
I answered: All day, the entire day,
it is Bloomsday, every hour, every minute,
right up to the very last second, 
until it sloughs off its mortal coils 
and declares that the calendar 
indeed has turned over a new leaf. 
Then it will be tomorrow and tomorrow 
and tomorrow, which, we all know,
never really comes, now, does it?

6/16/17

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Hotroddin' my MacBookies


These days I'm using as my main computer, a headless 2011 MacBookPro 8,1 tricked out with 16 GB memory & a Seagate hybrid drive (smokin'!), with an old 23" Apple monitor that has a decidedly lavender cast. (It was free.)


My friend Margretta gave her MacBookPro a little drinky-poo, a very generous glass of chardonnay. But the MacBookPro was far too young to drink. Apple carded it, said it needed a motherboard and possibly a video card as well. Toast points were mentioned.

So I inherited her MacBookPro for parts. It took some doing to get it up and running. Mostly burping and patting, using all manner of mashed keyboard patterns, until it turned on. Surprisingly, the battery took a charge. It needed memory and a hard drive. I don't turn it off very often, for fear it won't restart. The screen really is burnt toast. Or it's still suffering from an alcoholic blackout. Maybe it needs to join AA.

I cleaned what dried chardonnay I could see on the motherboard but was told that it will eventually short out as the acid from the wine will continue to corrode the connections. A good thing it wasn't zinfandel or a good chianti. Sliss. I always meant to give it a water bath, but I was too chickenshit to immerse it. So far, so good. I'll cross that bridge....

What I've learned is that the best way to revamp and breathe new life into elderMacs is with some OWC memory (some models can take twice, or even quadruple the memory than Apple recommends), and OWC's reasonably priced Seagate solid state hybrid drives (SSHD), if you can't afford the real
Solid State Drives.

You can never be too rich, too thin, have enough memory or a fast enough hard drive. Buy the maximum memory your Mac will support, and a solid state drive. You won't regret it. A word of caution: if you plan to go above and beyond those Apple specs, get your memory sticks from Other World Computing (aka macsales.com) as they're guaranteed to work. Other brands don't play well together.

With these two simple upgrades, the MacBookPro, and kin, fairly flies through its paces. Try buying a souped-up 2.3 GHz Intel Core i5 MacBookPro 2011 (8,1) for a couple of C-notes and chump change. Unsouped it goes for $650-800 according to Everymac.com. OK, so, well, maybe not, as it is a headless horseman, ergo, it's permanently tethered to my big LCD screen....

My previous rescue Mac project, and old headless souped up 2007 MacBookPro 3,1 is now the flatscreen TV's very own Mac. The MBP was some skateboarder's thrashed pet MacOllie project, I got it for a C-note off Craigslist. I put another couple of C-notes into it (it needed a battery too), and a $17 BookEndz Docking Station took care of most of the thrashed ports.


It was a real hassle to work around having no screen (bad inverter) when the hard drive went south. I had to reformat it on another Mac. It also had a bad DVD drive, wonky audio ports, no microphone or speakers to speak of. (I bought it for the 64-bit Intel Core 2 Duo processor so I could run TurboTax—probably the only reason why I upgrade my Macs, to pay my taxes, yetch. I need a drink). I persevered with myriad odd workarounds, and got several fabulous years' worth of hotroddy use out of it.

I couldn't turn it off very often either, as the off-on switch is grotty. So, a new battery was a must. I added a Seagate solid state hybrid drive, and doubled the maximum proscribed memory, and the old MBP thought it was a rocket.

My current Mac rescue rebuild project: a 2.26 GHz MacBook Late 2009 Unibody, for Neil, and for me, a 2010 MacBook (swappable polycarbonate case, screen, trackpad, keyboard, memory & batteries). An added bonus—it has a working screen. A real laptop I can take with me when I teach. Or run TurboTax.

I did my homework, it took several months of searching Craigslist to find the MacBook model I wanted (at 2.4GHz, the mid-2010 MacBook shares parts with the late 2009 MacBook, and the 2009-2010 MacBookPro). Processor speed and compatibility are important. They all swap spit, as it were. But even more significant, it would support 16 GB of memory, critical to run the latest Mac OS.

The 2010 MacBook was positively crippled with 4 GB memory, which, according to Apple, was the maximum amount of memory it could support, but I found it was barely functional with double that, at 8 GB of memory. Hard to believe it shipped with only 2 GB of memory. No wonder the woman was selling it. Spinning beachballs drive me mad. What was Apple thinking? But with 16 GBs of OWC memory it's now a blazingly fast machine. It has a new lease on life.

Also, I was told that the MacBook couldn't access the full 16 GB memory under Snow Leopard (I'd only get 8 GB), that the tweaked memory hack only worked under Mountain Lion or later. Not true. I have full 16 GB of memory, so much memory, Snow Leopard hardly knows what to do with itself.

Cost for the 2010 MacBook via Craigslist was a C-note, I already had the SSHD from my 2009 MB, I swapped it. Memory was $130, so a souped up 2010 seldom-used MacBook (almost-Pro) for $230, (or $330, counting the SSHD), isn't bad at all, considering that lesser dysfunctional MacBooks were going for much more on Craigslist.

The 2009 MacBook I got for free (bad trackpad and bulging battery, replete with the slow OEM Apple hard drive, and 2 GBs of basic memory meant it was dysfunctional). A new battery, 8 GB of memory (Apple said that 4 GB was maximum supported memory), and a SSHD drive set me back nearly $300, but I got 3-and-a-half years' worth of trouble-free computing from it. Time to pass it onto Neil who's kvetching up a storm on the limitations of the old Macbook 1,1.

It was a little weird taking the bulging battery out of the unibody case. But OWC provided the odd tri-flange screwdriver and clear instructions with the battery. I had it swapped out in no time. Apple never mean for us lackeys to ever change those batteries. Non-user entropy or something. You can look undah mah hood but no touching!

Alas, I discovered the original OEM Apple 5400 RPM hard drive that came with the 2010 MacBook was painfully SLOW! Reformatting did not help. By contrast, the Seagate hybrid drive is a miracle worker. Having that solid state NAND flash chip for basic repetitive functions really speeds processes up. Never underestimate the speed of a hard drive on basic OS functions.

(A note: the combo of the solid state drive and maxed out memory meant the 2009 MacBook ran hot, and the skidproof silicone backing on its bottom partially peeled off, making it a sticky duct tape debris dream in droopy diapers. Not a pretty sight. A plastic outer case kept its drawers in place. When I switched to the Seagate hybrid drive, the MacBook ran cooler, and I was able to clean it up and massage its bottom back onto the aluminum case.

Actually I was looking for a junked 2009 case so I could fix the bottom on mine, and the trackpad too when I stumbled upon the 2010 MacBook. And one thing led to another.)

Souped up, these two models are basically throttled MacBookPros in white polycarbonate bodies and fewer ports. (Not having the flash memory card port is a minus). The large hybrid drives are replete with multiple OS systems so I can swap systems on the go if I want to. Plus, with all that added memory, the MacBooks can handle High Sierra...

I will probably stick with El Capitan, though. (Bottleneck OS speed is an issue with Sierra). But truth be known, I prefer the surprisingly stable, and might I add, zippy (with maxed out memory and SSHD) Snow Leopard. So, I'm straddling the OS decades and hedging my bets.

It's like pulling teeth, weaning Neil off from my old 2006 warhorse MacBook 1,1 which is alive and well, but Snow Leopard is the end of the OS line for the first 32-bit Intel Core Macs. (I tried running Mountain Lion on it. Mistake. I had to pull the hard drive to get it out of white screen.) The old MacBook 1,1 is a souped up (2GB memory (it came with 512 GB memory), plus a real SSD solid state drive) but the trackpad's clicker broke. Try finding a replacement. Yeah. Too old. Time to retire it.

The MacBook 1,1 was the only Macbook I paid "full used market price" for and that was under $1000 as I got it used from Apple Refurb. It promptly blew its 1.0 build motherboard when we were in Scotland, and was replaced with a better one (1.1) for free, thanks to AppleCare. And eleven years later, it's still kicking. Talk about solidly built.

He's resisting the migration to the newer 2009 MacBook I fixed for him—even with the royal blue cover and keypad skin. So I'm refusing to fix the old one. Time to move up, but I still can't get Neil off Snow Leopard—even though I have Mt. Lion and Mavericks systems on all the newer MacBooks. I can't even get him to use an iPod, or an iPad, let alone, an iPhone, or an Android smartphone.


I haven't the heart to tell him that the newest Macs will be more like the iPhone/iPad  iOS, and that the wave of the future is already here. Beasties of different colors in sleekit iOs coats are milling at the gate.



See also:
Macury Retrograde Or what could go wrong with my flies upgrading to Snow Leopard?
On iClouds & Motherships
Lloyd Reynolds' Calligraphic Legacy

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

BOTTLESHOCK (looon/haiku)


Last night he washed the kitchen floor
with a bottle of two-buck Chuck chardonnay
This morning the floor seems a little hung over.

I prefer wine in a glass, or even a jam jar
but I considered breaking out the straws 
when I thought it was the bottle of Beaulieu.

The floor was clean as a whistle
but the bottleshock proved to be too much.
Our sticky feet whispered guilty accusations.

6/6/17

Looon with 3 ooos (aka lune/American haiku).
Three words,
five words
three words.

Or five words,
seven words,
five words.

(....vs. counting syllables). I can't count, obviously.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Adding old journal entries


I am still working on expanding and filling out my blog, especially the early years, where I previously failed to find relevant work. In addition to mining Facebook's On This Day posts for pithy tidbits from the past (but that only goes back to 2007), I've taken to mining my old journals too.

I think I've nearly come a full year cycle mining Facebook's On This Day posts....there are days and weeks where I missed checking to see if there was anything relevant, but I think I've mined the lionshare of potential material.

You'd think that by now I would've covered all the salvageable, or should I say mineable On This Day posts, but I haven't been diligent about it. I am still surprised by what surfaces. Take my mallard rescue story, also a recent Facebook rescue:

Hypnotizing a Wild Duck
Solstice rant after getting flame mail from a stranger (from flame mail)
Gems in the Basement
Broken Crockery

I am always interesting in salvaging original posts that led to longer stories, or poems. Some are prose poems in their own right. I've been trying to save first drafts, as it were, and then I "marry" them with finished pieces.

Picking Strawberries from the Strawberry Tree
which became
Arbutus, Madroño, or a Strawberry Tree by any other name

I've already gone through all my poetry e-files, and scanned all hard copies, so no hope there. On the years with few entries, I've only made modest gains, a piece or two per year. So, I've gone back yet again to fine-comb my journals looking for lost nuggets. Tedious work. But the end is in sight.

I've been working on 1998, which apparently was a particularly dismal year for writing. I only found 13 entries and one was a repeat poem (2 versions), and 3 were art (only nine bits of writing for an entire year?) I'm now up to 26 entries (but 3 are still fluff), and I don't know if I can squeeze much more out of that year.

But I rescued this: The Higher Functions of Lower Math (Archie Williams). And a few work-related pieces: Catering the US Open Golf Tournament which intersects with Tiger Woods' rise to fame.

The output for 1999 is equally as dismal. My goal is 52 posts per year (poetry, prose, journal, or art). On some of those lean years I'll be lucky to get 25 posts. I'll settle for 40 posts per year. But there are definitely holes.

I've taken to lifting random journal entries, that when separated from my larger tirades, document an interesting space in time. Some of it's exhausting to read, and it's just plain weird to re-enter a timeframe nearly 20 years in the past, and try to pick up where I left off and render it into something readable.

Perhaps the most surprising discoveries were my Pat Wall entries. I didn't even realize I had written them. My friend Micaela's father, Pat Wall opened the first modern art gallery on the west coast in Monterey, which was an artistic and literary intersection that included the likes Edward Weston, Ellwood Graham, Joseph Albers, Jean Varda, Robinson Jeffers, Henry Miller and John Steinbeck. Pat's avant garde gallery changed the face of art on the West Coast.

Of course, there's next to nothing on Pat or the Pat Wall Art Gallery on the internet. Something Micaela and I always meant to do was to formally collect Pat's oral history. I know Micaela did some work, but it's not readily available and I no longer remember the specific details. So it was lovely to rediscover this particular entry.

There's also a large chunk of notes on Miller and Dali that I bogged down on, so I jettisoned it. Maybe I'll get back to it later. I've only just barely scratched the surface with this material so painstakenly collected during the pre-internet days.


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

write a snap judgment poem JUDGEMENT CALL


write a snap judgment poem. Some decisions (many decisions) are made without much thought; these are snap judgments. Sometimes these quick decisions lead to good outcomes; sometimes bad; but we all make them for big reasons and small.

PAD Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 395
By: Robert Lee Brewer | May 31, 2017

Oh, snap! I forgot to write 
a snap judgement poem.

JUDGEMENT CALL

The cat sits squarely
in the middle of the rug
balefully staring at me
with crazed blue eyes
because I won't get down
on hand and knee
to attempt to pet her.
Nothing like a scared bully
seeking obeisance 
from her loyal subjects.
She who sees danger
in every shadow, says
There will be no touching.
Here's my belly to tempt you.
If you touch it, if I don't run away,
I will bite you, and then I will
kick the shit out of you.
So, it's a judgement call
for both of us.

6/3/2017

ON OLD BARN ROAD

Beside the fence an old barn
leans toward the western horizon
anchoring the boundary between earth and sky.
Distant hills resonate with spilled light
while stars sing old songs in the evening breeze.
Lufting leaves rustle like taffeta gowns at the cotillion.

5/31/2017
Cleveland Elementary School
chain poem

AT AUDUBON CANYON RANCH


Soapberry bush branches
laden with berries, like snow
unseasonable spring storm.

Herons drift effortlessly
the sky dreams of clouds
feathers take flight.


The redwoods touch the sky
Birds, small afterthoughs in their laden branches
Deer drift like leaves in fall.

Trees reached for the clouds
where hungry ravens conversed with the wind
whispering secrets of the past.

5/31/2017 
Cleveland Elementary School
(Looons either 3/5/3 or 5/7/5 words)

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Towhee visitor


I've got a young towhee friend who is worse that the outside cat wanting in. She comes in the back door to graze on the kitchen floor, no matter that I sweep out the crumbs daily. Plenty of tasty bits on the stoop but she prefers to take her luck on the kitchen floor. My grandmother had a similar rapport with the towhees who came to visit her for crumbs during morning coffee. I find myself talking to the bird as if she were a cat. Sometimes she ventures down the hall and I have to shoo her out. She's completely unafraid of me, won't even fly off, but hops out like a small drab chicken, muttering her indignation to the world. I think it's the towhee whose baby I rescued last summer... My grandmother said to let birds come into the house was to let death come into the house. But somehow I don't think towhees count. But I tell her anyway, no use looking here. Out! Out! Out you go! You're worse than a cat. She flicks her tail in indignation. Cheeps her one-note song, to return another day.

Towhee in the Kitchen
Rescuing a Towhee Chick
DEATH OF A SONGBIRD, BASTILLE DAY

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Returning my camera, or, losing my eyes


I shot my camera. Or rather, I put it down—like a terminal beast. I finally had it with my 'new" camera lens not focusing on the sides of the image, and I took it back to Costco 22 days after final return date.

At first the manager said no, then said, that can be fixed. I said there was nothing wrong with the camera I was returning, except the lens is utter crap, and showed her my receipt for the other Panasonic Lumix ZS50 lens (same model) was returned for the same reason. I said, you can't fix bad glass. I should've thought to bring in an image.

I said, I buy a lot of cameras from you. I whipped out the previous beloved ZS40 model with its stuck lens from my bag and said, I'd give my eye teeth if you could fix this one, it took fantastic photos. Great glass, larger image processor (18 mp). I buy a camera a year from you. The camera lens is bad, I tell you. I'm not budging.

She hemmed, she hawed, she called yet another higher-up manager, then looked up my electronics purchase file (as per my suggestion) and then her eyes widened as she looked up my purchasing history, and she said, well, you've spent $3500 in electronics in the past six years, and no returns other than the other bad Panasonic. Done!

The next model ZS60 is in (it has the same specs as my beloved dead camera replete with wifi‚ I can view the photos on my iPad!) Apparently the even numbered ZS models are the new releases, and the odd-numbered ones are the 2nd year's cheaper knockoff models (cutting corners). 

I am rarely satisfied with my iPad Air photos, not enough megapixels. I don't like 'noise." I always look at the center of my pix @ 100%, and if the resolution isn't there, or if it's "noisy" I usually toss it. The ZS50 lens rarely passed muster.

One thing that drove me crazy was that in bright sunlight my latest camera would blow all the pixels, no way to save what ain't there. And It completely lost its processor mind when I shot red flowers.

I like having multiples of the same camera family, so I can swap batteries, parts, etc. I did that with my Nikons. Got pretty good at dissecting cameras...except for the time I tried to change my LED screen and touched the thuristor. Sparks came out of the top of my head.


Waiting for a sale, I am. After I get over the sticker shock. $350! (Still it's way cheaper than Amazon). Some places list it as nearly $500, and it's a 17-month-old model. Old by electronic standards. The ZS70's been out a month.

When the Leica lenses work, they're fantastic. Worth the babysit. Was a time when the low end Nikons were great. I jumped ship after a few bad cameras in a row. Loved the Nikon P60, wore three of them out. The image processors are good for about 10K images. I do that in a year, easy. So a camera a year is a good compromise.

If the camera doesn't fit in my jeans pocket, I don't want it. I also want to be able to control shutter, aperture, depth of field in a compact camera. Is that too much to ask?

I have a big honking Nikon. I hate it. It gives me a whiplash just carrying it. And when it tries to be helpful, it's just stupid as a stump. It only likes bright outdoor landscapes. Anything else stresses its little brain.

Yeah, and back in the film days I was the Tri-X queen for pushing film to the limit, then making up for abusing my film in the darkroom. I miss my old Pentax K-1000. I sure don't miss packing that camera bag with 20 pounds of lenses.

I feel a bit naked, cameraless and all. Will have to dust off one of my old cameras to tide me over until the price drops. I feel like I've lost my eyes.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Full Haka Stance


Yiii! I almost doused Oakland poetry slam champ Brennan DeFrisco who was leaning in to knock on the open front door to pick up a poetry contract —just as I was barreling out with a gallon pitcher of water in hand.

I greeted him with a puffed up warrior stance (think scaredycat) replete with a complimentary blood-curdling yowl. Old Maori tradition. Hold that water!

He leaped back (luckily, not off the porch or down the steps backwards).

I said: Erm, This is your CPITS Area Coordinator speaking. The look on his face: priceless. He ohorere nui. Serious adrenaline rush. You can't say I wasn't prepared to launch. And for my next haka trick....

I don't often answer the front door, but when I do, it's in full haka stance. Works wonders on Jehovah's Witnesses too.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Skirmish Style Housecleaning


After two weeks away in the wine country teaching poetry to kids, the house was a mess. Dirty dishes, a septic sink (we don't have a garbage disposal), sticky floors dressed in frilly layers of multiple meals. My first real day back home was dedicated to housecleaning. Ugh.

When I mopped the floors, and vacuumed, my back was well behaved as a kitten. No pain. By the time I got to the stove and the microwave, I was yowling like a banshee, my stupid back spasm was, well, acting spazzy. No rhyme nor reason for it to randomly fire off like that.

So I'm once again lying flat. Waiting for the spasms to stop. Apparently foray and skirmish style housecleaning is the way to go. Ellin Barret said: "The spine specialist and physiatrist said vacuuming, mopping, sweeping, loading & unloading dishwasher or dryer are the worst." No dishwasher here, strictly old school. Rich Arik, who once was an ergonomic consult, said: "Use a board or brick to raise one foot on while cooking, dishes etc. It helps maintain lumbar curvature." The spine is a sadist, I say.

Marsha Calhoun said: "Conducting the forays and skirmishes is one approach, but have you considered going into management rather than being the boots on the ground?" I love Penelope la Montagne's suggestion: "You might want to forego housecleaning altogether."

John Coughlin mentioned petting the cat was as close as he ever got to mopping the floors. Maybe I should get a cat to mop the floors.

Well, I'm certainly not letting my stinkin' back slow me down. The attacks are a bit random. So, if I can manage a repetitive movement or chore and keep moving, then it's less likely to spasm. 

However, when I stop to rest, it's a different story. Comes back with a vengeance. Peristalsis, I can feel it sweep across my lumbar region up to the thoracic. The trigger seems to be when I raise my arms and twist. It's definitely raised arm and sideways motion that triggers it. No rest for the weary, or the wicked. No more doing the Twist either.

One stationary stress trigger is sitting in a hard chair. In other words, the so-called "correct" chair posture that's been drummed into us since kindergarten, can trigger a spasm. In fact, is probably the root cause of this round of spasms. I'm fine if I sit slouched back, with spine curled, legs akimbo and at odd angles. A cranky T8 vertebra doesn't help. One foot slightly raised when standing, brings relief.

It was so bad the other day that whenever my cousin accelerated the car, I'd yowl, then I finally learned to tighten all my muscles whenever we had to stop and start. I had serious washboard abs by the time we got home from all that flexing,

I think this back spasm stems from the same injury that dates back to when I got a spasm from coughing so hard in March... If I had some money, I'd go to a chiaropractor and see if that would help. I'm avoiding taking Flexeril, which makes me googley-eyed, but this has been going on for more than a month. 

The other night, we were outside the Alexander Valley Bar sitting in cold metal tractor seat chairs all evening, which sent me over the edge. I tried standing, but it was too late. That familiar tawny pull in the lower back begins its ascent up my spine. Probably the aggravation point for this round of spasms. Wine didn't help.

Reception is still chilly at home. Neil and I don't speak unless when spoken to. No wonder my back hurts. At least my feet no longer stick to the floor.


Back Spasm 2.0

Deadlines


A Day in the Life of a Teaching Poet: Alexander Valley School Poetry Journal notes.

After two action-packed weeks of teaching at Alexander Valley School, and creating a 72-page 8x10 kid poetry and art book, with a grand finale/ reading (usually it's earlier in the year) for Open House, I'm knackered.

Then I submitted some kid poems for publication, and read 260 kid poems from across the state of CA as a CPITS field editor, I'm reeling and gritty-eyed.

Woke at 4 AM....thinking OMG! I gotta work. Deadlines. Deadlines. Then I realized it was over. Next? So, I edited a backlog of photos from the Las Vegas Games.

Too bad I'm not going to Costa Mesa Games, Neil had a fallout while I was gone. I'm now the enemy. Threats of eviction...again. Happens in the Spring. This time I'll not let it get to me. Nose to the grindstone, begin dismantling the house. Purge. Another deadline.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Sob it Ted


A Day in the Life of a Teaching Poet: Alexander Valley School Poetry Journal notes.

Sob it Ted. LOL. I typed the word 'submitted' on my iPad and got Sob it Ted. It was so funny. I left it. Stet. I forgot what I was going to write. Who is Ted? Maybe I should have said, "Sob it, Ted." Nothing like predictive typing to create surreal posts.
Mark Adler said: William S. Burroughs wrote your software?
I was going to say that I managed to submit 5 kid poems to the CPITS anthology today, and am waiting for a teacher to send me student release forms. 

 Only thing is that I don't have wifi in Nicasio, so we're hanging at Toby's Barn in Pt. Reyes. Wifi be gone very, very soon... they're closing now. Guess I won't be submitting those last three poems. Terrible back spasms have me lying down on a picnic bench trying to catch up with email, Facebook, etc. I am truly fatigued.

Had a bit of a back spasm twinge this AM. Makes it hard to move normally. It sure wants to throw a wrench in things. I just keep moving slowly through the position I was in, try to ignore it (don't overreact or jerk...recoil). Not so bad that I have to take Flexeril. Yeah, my last resort, it makes me stupid as a fish. Even stupider than that...

Today I'm submitting student poems, and student release forms for the California Poets in the Schools statewide anthology. This has been one rollercoaster of a residency. No time for the wicked. Finally got it all in and done. Put it to bed, Ted.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Almost done. Almost.


A Day in the Life of a Teaching Poet: Alexander Valley School Poetry Journal notes.

I managed to print just enough books for each class and the school board before the copy machine gave up the ghost for good. I don't even have a final hard copy.

Here's hoping the copy guy can get the machine fixed before Open House at 6 pm. With or without the extra copies, the show must go on.... Our poetry reading begins at 6 PM. Taking a little downtime while I can. Almost done. Almost.

Well that's done. Successful reading all round. New Superintendent-Principal liked the poetry readings. We all went out to the secret AV bar behind the wine tasting room at the crossroads after Open House. Matt Reno was buying. But I was too tired to drink. Too tired to also drive back to Nicasio or Oakland, my back really hurts now. I needs must sleep.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

All the book bits are done


A Day in the Life of a Teaching Poet: Alexander Valley School Poetry Journal notes.

All the book bits are done. Today we design our final pages for the book! My favorite part.

The drive up to AVS and back to Oakland after teaching all day got the best of me. My back's traumatized from five hours of sitting in the car and five hours of teaching. Tomorrow I will head back up the road to Alexander Valley around 11AM. I should avoid the traffic, which will make a huge difference.

We had to revise tomorrow's schedule as there was no time for me to drive up and back and still have time to do final edit four classes worth of poems by 9 AM.

Some promising book covers (front, back, and intro pages) came in today. To do: covers, my intro, and final paste up, running it off, stapling it. Deadline is 5 PM Thursday. Will I make it?

Not reading any Facebook until my AVS poetry book is put to bed, printed, collated, bound, and we've had our poetry readings on Thursday night at Open House. Nose to the grindstone. Someone please send virtual wine and chocolate. Maybe flowers too. (My Facebook peeps obliged.) A teacher gave me a piece of chocolate and I drooled on a kid's final poetry page.... urg. Glad it wasn't wine. I don't get out much.

I finished the final edits on one class last night, and did part of another, then fell asleep on top of the pile of student journals. Luckily I have a few hours gracetime in the morning before it begins again. Home stretch. Will finish up Julie's 4th Grade class in the AM. I text Shannon, saying I'm ready.

5/17: A last minute text from Shannon, saying that we're swapping classes, this throws a wrench in the schedule. Argh! I'm only half way through Colleen's class, an hour to go before I need to leave. Will I make it? I drive 80 miles up 101 at nearly 80 mph, and slide into the school parking lot with five minutes to spare. Can't believe I made it on time. I look like a startled deer or a cat on LSD.


Two classes have finished designing their poetry pages. They look great. Two more classes to go. Still need to do final edits on one class....I'm balking. It's a big one. Tired. Very tired. Home stretch. 

All the book bits are done, I ran off a dozen prototypes, I will do one last read for typos in the AM, then print it! Kid poetry reading 6 to 7 PM. We're gonna make the deadline.


Monday, May 15, 2017

Roving artist epic fail


A Day in the Life of a Teaching Poet: Alexander Valley School Poetry Journal notes.

Dang, managed to get all my teaching gear, light table and drawing supplies, food, clothing packed in the car and I was on the road to Alexander Valley School by 7 AM, only to find when I arrived in the parking lot, I didn't pack my laptop. So I will need to reverse my steps, that's a whole lotta driving hours for today. Bummed. Last night, I was so tired, I fell asleep by 7 PM, otherwise, I would've had it packed. Grrr.

LIFE OF AN ITINERANT ARTIST

Last night I fell asleep on my student journals,
awoke at midnight, disoriented, where am I?
Who am I? Poetry imprinted on my cheeks.
Discombobulated, I forgot to pack my laptop,
or email those student poetry files to myself.
Could've saved myself some grief.
Clearly I was toast. Make that toasted.
Maybe even burnt toast. Ah, the life of a roving artist
was what I wanted? What was I thinking?
Careful what you wish for, but 9 to 5 doesn't suit.

5/15/17

TWO GREEN TURTLES

Asking a student to use comparisons instead of the word odes (where every idea is fun or awesome), I took some of his images and demonstrated the process. It became a poem on its own merit.

Two green turtles
with orange racing stripes
climb the rocks to bask in the sun
They swim amid wary goldfish
like fall leaves in the wind.


Sunday, May 14, 2017

On Editing Kid Poems

A Day in the Life of a Teaching Poet: Alexander Valley School Poetry Journal notes.
Centa Theresa asks: Do you do the editing? How do they know what to edit? I have a group of women in early recovery...the group changes and I usually have 25-30 women. I guess my aim is simplified; for them to contact their imagination and to feel unimpeded by rules around the writing process, so the emphasis is on expression...I do edit on the copy I type up but I can also maybe explain.
If you're doing minor copy editing (articles and particles, grammar, syntax), you don't need to worry about explaining things. That's what book editors do. Sometimes I might lift out a section, in which case, I'll use elipses to show that it's a fragment. Then there's the cut to the chase edit, where I might delete a floppy redundant fragment. I only do it when necessary.

It's a guided process, I ask them, is that the best verb to use, are you repeating your nouns? Sometimes I'll say, do you need that line? I emphasize that first write is first draft/notes. 

First typed poem is still first draft. It's just easier to see the typos. Sometimes if a poem has great imagery, and comparisons, but is tied up in knots, I have the student explain the line. Then I say: write it like that!

Typing & formatting, correct the misspelled words, (minimal a's and the's); student read their typed poems aloud in class, and students edit them. Adult populations are less touchy about their writing being edited, than kids who will notice if you dropped a word, or put in the wrong word.....

In the teaching and writing process, students definitely say what they want. Warts and all. I say don't worry about spelling, punctuation or grammar. That comes later. Just get it down on paper.

Also, when something goes into print (a book), typos and errors are frowned upon, and can ultimately undermine the credibility of a project.

Editing usually not about fixing grammar, but correcting typos, pointing out wrong words (spelling). Sometimes it's about a flabby verb choice. My pet peeve is go, as in go to the store vs walked, ran, drove. So it's often about increasing vocabulary potential to say what you mean.

Ultimately the kids come to me with their editing choices. I will veto cutting a good line, I'll say, you gotta save this line, or maybe use it in another poem. Otherwise I tend to go along with their choices. We might shave off a word or two.

It's another step in the writing process, but it makes them stronger writers. I also ask classmates to suggest ideas. Peer editing. Kids have the choice to accept or reject suggestions. It's fun.

Claudia Siefer said: There is a scene in the movie , A QUIET PASSION, where Cynthia Nixon / Emily Dickenson chides her publisher about editing her poetry. 

 Yes, Emily was very clear on her punctuation and line breaks. Editor tried to force it into the (male) Victorian model of the day. But she also wavered, many versions of her poems, not all were the result of the editor. Also, she knew what she was doing—a lifetime of poetry, at the very center of her soul, where every word mattered. 

She rewrote and rewrote and rewrote. Not quite the same paradigm as shaping young writers' scrawled first drafts into typed copy for publication.

As a poet, I bring to the table my skills, line breaks, etc. I make suggestions to the kids but they ultimately make all the choices. If I see a flabby line fragment, I might delete it, at the third edit if it still doesn't work. But for the most part, I try and involve the students in every step of the editing process. 

I type up about ten kid poems from each session, then we workshop them. I make the changes on their final copies. They still have both versions: first typed draft, and the in-class edited poem. They'll also have a chance to edit their in-class edited poems one more time on the final copy. Sometimes they revert back to the original first draft, but it's rare.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

A Day in the Life of a Teaching Poet

Alexander Valley School Poetry Journal notes

This past week I've been an artist in residence at Alexander Valley School. Sleeping on former teacher Peggy Maddock's window seat at night. Watching the stars spin their wheel in the sky between me and Mt. St. Helena.

My poetry teaching week in review: I'm up every day at 6:30 AM to read poems, comment, type; then I teach from 9 AM to 3 PM, then I read new kid poems, comment, type up work until midnight. Get up at 6:30 AM....repeat. Sleep deprived I am.

Saturday, ditto, as I'm preparing the student poems for final editing, I need to make individual files of all the typed poems, and comb journals for new work, or poems I've missed.

I was up at 8 AM, and worked on two classes journals to 3 PM; then again, from 5 to 8 PM, to read even more poems and pull them off Google Docs server to reformat on our pages.

I also do a slow, final read as I comb each journal for revised poems, and hidden gems. I make more comments, type more poems; plus I make a final file/page of corrected poems for each student, for laying out final pages for kids to edit on Monday, for book.

Ditto this pattern for the two upper grades on Sunday. It takes me a couple of hours per class to do final edits. I have a bit of a headstart as I have some of the Mother's Day poems they sent me via Google Docs already typed.

AVS set up an account for me yesterday at the end of the day. Suddenly I got something like 35 poems sent to me all at once. LOL, some were in 96 point type, curlicue fonts, other were multi-colored, a dyslexic's nightmare. Of course they're loaded with typos.

Monday will be student in-class final edits, poem title additions, and maybe some new poems for book...Then I'll fix Monday's edits & typos, reprint final layout pages for Tuesday morning and then each student will design their pages with art.

Some students will design front/back cover pages, and other book art. My intro page is always the last, always the hardest...but it always come together at the last minute.

Then I'll run off copies, collate, and staple book. And the copy machine will break down early and often. And everyone will be using it as final projects come together for Open House. It will be a zoo.

Then we will have four poetry readings for Open House on Thursday (every kid reads!!! so cool with parents in attendance— a captive audience).... Augh, will I make it? If I think about it, I'll freeze. One foot in front of the other.

I couldn't have done any of this residency without my gracious host, former AVS teacher Peggy Maddock who first brought me to Alexander Valley School way back in 1992. She feeds me (OK, so sone wine is involved), and I spend the week at her house. And many, many thanks to abfab First Grade teacher Shannon Giusso Hausmann, who spearheads the poetry project each year, of course. She showed me what is possible with first graders. Wow!

Paul Hardstone said: You should give extra credit for typed poems. Believe it or not, I did manage to get 3rd & 4th graders to each send me a Mother's Day poem via Google Docs, it's a whole lotta work to fix them as Google Docs is a bit buggy. AVS set up an account for me yesterday afternoon. I can't imagine the first & 2nd grader managing to do this.

But we did manage to incorporate technology into the project at the very end of the day Friday. Chuffed! It would've been more interesting if I had known that this was possible beforehand.

I found out by accident on Friday morning (at the end of the residency) that the kids could post their typed poems to me. They have cute little Chrome tablets. It took me three hours to access the poems and reformat them as Google Docs is so buggy. It sure works better under Chrome than an old version of Safari. Less spinning beachballs.

Wow, I just realized this is the first moment I've had a minute to reflect on what we've accomplished in a very short time. The kids are so sweet, and because I teach here every year, the momentum builds. Amazing school, amazing kids. Love my work.

Shannon said that we should go out for a glass of wine after Open House. I said I think I need an entire bottle for myself. It's so labor intensive. This is the first moment I've had to catch up on emails, and Facebook. 

There's no cellphone reception at AVS or at Peggy's, or at my cousin's, so that eliminates some distraction. No Facebook access at school. So, I literally haven't had time to go online. Sort of retro. These journal bits have been written on the fly when I have reception, and time to write.

These Alexander Valley School Poetry Journal notes were lifted from Facebook comments, my only link to the outside world, these days.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

NEW LIGHT, MUSIC OF THE SUN (haiku)



NEW LIGHT

The giraffe’s neck stretches
all the way to the lonely sun
a rainbow garden of dreams.




MUSIC OF THE SUN

The sun shines like a guitar
on the delta of dreams and hope
while singing of the past.


Looons of sorts, 5 words, 7 words, 5 words . Kind of like haiku. Written in class at Alexander Valley School. I usually try to write in-class too, but this year, the schedule was so intense, I barely had time to keep ahead of myself, lesson-wise, no time to write. These were whiteboard demos.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Ghost town, Rhyolite, Nevada (photos)




In a once remote sector of southwest Nevada, on the border of California's Death Valley, stands a sentinel, the concrete ruins of a town that was built to outdo Chicago. This Lily of the West, once Nevada's largest city, took the moniker, Rhyolite, after a vein of rare rose-colored granite discovered at the site.

Rhyolite, at the northern end of the Amargosa Desert, was founded in 1904, in the Bullfrog Hills of Nye County, Nevada. Prospectors Eddie Cross and Frank "Shorty" Harris's discovery of gold attracted the attention of eastern industrialists and became a magnet for swindlers and unscrupulous promoters.

Said "Shorty":
The best strike I ever made was in 1904 when I discovered the Rhyolite and Bullfrog district... Ed Cross was there waiting for his partner, Frank Howard, to bring some supplies from the inside. For some reason Howard had been delayed, and Cross was low on grub....
When I reached the burros, they were right on the spot where the Bullfrog mine was afterwards located. Two hundred feet away was a ledge of rock with some copper stains on it. I walked over and broke off a piece with my pick—and gosh, I couldn’t believe my own eyes. The chunks of gold were so big that I could see them at arm’s length—regular jewelry stone! ... Right then, it seemed to me that the whole mountain was gold.
I let out a yell: “...Ed we’ve got the world by the tail, or else we’re coppered!” Half a Century Chasing Rainbows, Frank "Shorty" Harris, as told to Phillip Johnston
It all began as a small camp called Bullfrog. Then another tent camp, Rhyolite, sprung up a mile north. Rhyolite camp hosted saloons, eateries, and boarding houses—all in lean-tos and tents. The first post office (a 10-x-12' tent) opened for business on May 19, 1905. Rhyolite was on the map, so to speak. The first real building constructed in Rhyolite was the two-story Southern Hotel. (Rhyolite-Nevada Ghost Town)

According to "Shorty":
The rock was green, almost like turquoise, spotted with big chunks of yellow metal, and looked a lot like the back of a frog. This gave us an idea for naming our claim, so we called it the Bullfrog. Half a Century Chasing RainbowsFrank "Shorty" Harris, as told to Phillip Johnston
Thousands flooded the Bullfrog Mining District to stake a claim and strike it rich. No less than eighty-five mining companies, with over 2000 claims, were active in the hills within a 30-mile radius of the town. The Montgomery Shoshone Mine hosted a rich strike of ore that promised to make everyone rich as Croesus. Said "Shorty":
It’s a might strange thing how fast the news of a strike travels. You can go into a town after you’ve made one, meet a friend on the street, and take him into your hotel room and lock the door. Then, after he has taken a nip from your bottle, you can whisper the news very softly in his ear. Before you can get out on the street, you’ll see men running around like excited ants that have had a handful of sugar poured on their nest....
I’ve seen some gold rushes in my time that were hummers, but nothing like that stampede....  It looked like the whole population of Goldfield was trying to move at once. Half a Century Chasing RainbowsFrank "Shorty" Harris, as told to Phillip Johnston
In its heyday, Rhyolite, hosted a fluctuating population of 3500+, some say the population swelled to 10,000 during the gold rush. Rhyolite reached its zenith in 1907 and 1908—with a population of squatters and citizens estimated to be between 8,000 and 12,000. Within seven years it was a ghost town.

Frank "Shorty" Harris & Eddie Cross were the first to strike gold in the Bullfrog District and named their mine "Bullfrog" due to the green color of the ore. The town symbol was a penguin. It represented the enigma of gold mining. "As much chance of finding gold in the desert as finding a penguin." Rhyolite Historic Gold Mine Town Site, BLM brochure
Bullfrog Miner, Nevada Historical Society photo

Thanks to investor Charles Schwab, Rhyolite had electric lights, three water companies, three public swimming pools, telephones, cement sidewalks,  three newspapers, a miner's union hospital, a school, an opera house, an ice cream parlour, and a stock exchange.
In 1906 Countess Morajeski opened the Alaska Glacier Ice Cream Parlor to the delight of the local citizenry. Rhyolite Ghost Town - Death Valley National Park
Rhyolite was so wealthy it was served by three stage lines, including the first auto stage, the Tonopah and Goldfield Auto Company; and three railroad lines, the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad, the Bullfrog-Goldfield Railroad, and the Las Vegas & Tonopah Railroad. As many as a hundred train cars waited at the depots with incoming freight, and reloaded with gold-laden ore.

Sweet water was a rare commodity in the Armagosa Desert (the salt-laden Armagosa River was bitter) and fresh water was hauled in and sold at  $2 to $5 a barrel. But by June of 1905, Rhyolite had an efficient water system replete with water mains. It was a build it and they will come mentality (which later worked for Las Vegas).
A network of 400 electric streetlight poles were installed to light Rhyolite twenty-four hours a day. Rhyolite-Nevada Ghost Town
During its heyday, Rhyolite also supported 50 saloons, 35 gambling tables, numerous brothels and cribs, two score boarding houses, 16 restaurants and eateries, 6 barbers, a public bath house, four newspaper plants, and a weekly newspaper, the Rhyolite Herald.
There were hotels, stores, a school for 250 children, an ice plant, two electric plants, foundries and machine shops and even a miner’s union hospital. Rhyolite Ghost Town - Death Valley National Park



HD & LD Porter Brothers' Rhyolite Emporium, built in 1906, sold everything needed in the mining town. The Porter brothers had three stores in California, they hauled goods from Ballarat, across Death Valley. The store slogan was "We handle all things but whiskey." Note that it's the Irish spelling of whiskey. Gives you a demographic hint as to the ethnic background of the clientele.

 Overbury Bank, Nevada Historical Society photo 

Across from the Rhyolite Emporium was the Overbury Bank, erected in 1907, at a cost of $45,000, it had electric lights and indoor plumbing, a luxury at the time.



Rhyolite's two-story, brick eight-room school was the second school built. The first school was erected in 1906 without taking an accurate headcount of how many children actually lived in the town (90). By May of 1907, the kiddie ranks swelled to 250.

So a second school with an auditorium upstairs, was constructed in 1909, on a grand scale to accommodate the children. It was short-lived and never filled to capacity as people fled the town in droves after the 1907 financial panic in the east, following the 1906 quake in San Francisco.

The 1904-1907 Nevada Gold Rush was centered around three short-lived boom-towns: Goldfield, Tonopah, and Rhyolite..Rhyolite's prosperity ended permanently when the mines played out in 1909. By 1910, overnight the population had shrunk to 600 souls. By 1916 the light and power were shut off for good and the town went dark.

Stock exchange, Nevada Historical Society photo
According to "Shorty," 
Stock speculation—that’s what killed Rhyolite! The promoters got impatient. They figured that money could be made faster by getting gold from the pockets of suckers than by digging it out of the hills. And so, when the operators of the Montgomery-Shoshone had a little trouble; when they ran into water and struck a sulphite ore which is refactory, and has to be cut and roasted to be turned into money—the bottom dropped out of the stock market and the town busted wide open, She died quick, too. Half a Century Chasing RainbowsFrank "Shorty" Harris, as told to Phillip Johnston



    John Cook & Co. Bank on Golden St. Nevada Historical Society photo

The John S. Cook & Co. Bank, erected in 1908, on Golden Street was an ostentatious elaborate affair with imported Italian marble stairs, imported stained-glass windows, luxurious amenities including lighting and steam heating, and cost $90,000 to buildThe bank was 3 stories tall, plus a basement for the the post office. The bank housed brokerage offices, a stock exchange, and the Board of Trade.

Ryolite in 1909, Desert Magazine (Feb 1959) 

When the gold mine panned out in 1911, so did the town. The post office closed in 1919. By 1920, Rhyolite was officially a ghost town, with a population of 14. The last resident died in 1924. Most of the buildings and fixtures were hauled off to Beatty four miles down the road, so if you want to see most of the buildings, stop by Beatty first.

The Miners' Union Hall is now the Beatty Old Town Hall, many two-room cabins were moved to Beatty and cobbled together as multi-room homes. Other buildings were used to build the Beatty school.




The California mission-style Las Vegas & Tonopah Depot, erected in June, 1909, was once the most elaborate train station in Nevada (LV & Tonopah, Bullfrog Goldfield, and Tonopah & Tidewater rail lines). The depot was Nevada's most important railroad hub.

The depot was also a roadhouse, a museum, and casino. It still stands, but is fenced off, the victim of repeated vandalism. In 1937, the train depot was converted into the Rhyolite Ghost Casino, which later became a small museum and curio shop that closed in the 1970s.

 Las Vegas & Tonopah Depot. Nevada Historical Society photo

According to Desert Magazine writer Nell Murbarger:
As I came into view of the town, I was pleased to see that the big gray depot still watched over the ruins with the complacency of a Buddha. Farther along Golden Street loomed the shell of the John S. Cooke bank building —a three-story-and-basement structure built at a cost of $90,000. Beyond the bank rose the broken walls of a $50,000 school house and a $100,000 hotel—one of 10 hotels in the city in 1907!... 
[Rhyolite was] no claptrap mining camp, built of castoffs and canvas; but a flourishing city, for a time the largest in southern Nevada.... Mrs. Heisler inherited the depot from her brother, N. C. Westmoreland, who had bought it for a song and then converted it into a roadhouse and casino which he operated for many years.— Desert Magazine (Feb 1959)




The caboose is in sad shape. This caboose is from the LA &SF Union Pacific RR. The caboose (sans undercarriage) was later used as a gas station.





The Bottle House, built by an enterprising miner, and saloonkeeper, Tom T. Kelly, is in much better shape. In February of 1906, Kelly built his abode from 30- to 51,000 empty beer and liquor bottles—the only free building material available in treeless Rhyolite.

By right, the unusual abode should be called the Budweiser Bottle House as most of the bottles were from the Adolphus Busch brewery. Kelly built the Bottle House in order to raffle it off. The winning family lived in it for many years before it became a curio shop.

Was it a case of Build it and they will come? It must've worked as there is a child's bed in one of the rooms. (But that may be a leftover movie prop.) At any rate, the Bottle House is a Southwestern landmark.

Tom Kelly's Bottle House. Nevada Historical Society photo
It took Kelly six months to build in the winter of 1905-06, and was abandoned with the rest of the town when the gold ran out in 1912. It lived on as a desert landmark and was featured on vintage vellum postcards.
Preservationists rebuilt the Bottle House during the summer of 2005. It stands behind a locked fence, along with a miniature bottle village that was also Kelly's work.  Last Supper and Giant Pink Woman —Roadside America



Bessie and Jimmie Moffatt enlarged the adobe Bottle House, improved it with paint, wallpaper and curtains. Jimmie planted cottonwoods, yuccas, and joshua trees, but had to haul water from Beatty to keep them alive.

In 1956, Tommy and Mary Thompson, retired honky-tonk vaudvillians, bought a 20-year lease from the Beatty Improvement Association, moved into the Bottle House and stocked it with curios to sell to Death Valley bound tourists.

The town of Rhyolite was featured in 15 films: several silent Westerns including Wanderer of the Wasteland (1924) based on a novel by Zane Grey, starring Jack Holt (a lost film—by 1971, the 35mm nitrate film decomposed into jelly); and Rough Riders' Round-up (1939) starring Roy Rogers. At the end of the Spanish American War, Roy and his Rough Riders become US Border Patrolmen on the Mexican border.

Wanderer of the Wasteland —Wiki
Rough Riders Round-up —Wiki

During filming, the motion picture company, Famous Players-Lasky (Zukor and Lasky) better known as Paramount Pictures, restored the Tom Kelly Bottle House for the 1925 silent film The Air Mail, featuring Douglas Fairbanks. The Bottle House was later restored again in 2005.

 The Air Mail was filmed in Rhyolite in 1925 —Wiki

One ramshackle structure was scenic enough to be featured in the dystopian sci-fi film, The Island (2005) with Scarlett JohanssonEwan McGregor; other recent films include the drama, Bone Dry (2007); A Line in the Sand (2009); and the forthcoming Cannibal Corpse Killers. (Trailer). Don't hold your breath.

The Island —Wiki
Bone Dry —Wiki

Sadly, the Rhyolite Mercantile burned down in 2014—victim of a lightning strike. You can still see glimpses of it in some of the movies filmed in Rhyolite. If you have the time, there are still a few shacks and relics hidden in the outback, but beware of rattlesnakes.

Rhyolite Mercantile store burned down in 2014.—Wiki

In Feb. 1959, Desert Magazine ran a feature story on Rhyolite. I've pulled some quotes from it. Unfortunately one of the pages is missing in the scanned issue. I had to wing it, but I think the history will hold. You can read most of it online, or download it as a PDF. Desert Magazine Archives

Desert Magazine (Feb 1959)
In Feb. 1959, Desert Magazine ran a feature on Rhyolite.

We didn't get to the brothel or the jail a few streets over in the gully, nor did we get to the cemetery down the road as we were on a tight schedule to get to Bishop and daylight was burning. Perhaps another time.



The Goldwell Open Air Museum is just south of Rhyolite. Quirky plaster and fiberglass ghosts manifest as a tableau from the Last Supper greet unsuspecting tourists. Fodder for another story. (Last Supper and Giant Pink Woman Roadside America).


Perhaps the tableau was inspired by murder and betrayal in Rhyolite. The year 1908 began with the grisly murder of a young woman, Mona Bell, cut down in her prime. She was only 20.
 A lonely grave on the edge of town far from the regular cemetery is said to be that of Mona Bell's. Today the grave is a tourist attraction and there are rumors of visitations by a mysterious group of dancers who annually celebrate Mona's life and death. What happened to Rhyolite? Who was Mona Bell? And why is there a strange grave that attracts an unusual cult performing strange rituals? (Weird Tales 5: The Strange Case of Rhyolite Nevada (2011))

Road to the cemetery