Tuesday, May 31, 2011

New Grass, the 2010 CPITS anthology

The 2010 California Poets in the Schools anthology, New Grass, from the Science & Spirit Symposium at the Institute of Noetic Science has arrived! Thank you Arthur Dawson and Phyllis Meshelaum for editing this anthology.
(Photos by yours truly). 
A link to my poem, Mommae.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Grapevine, near Gorman (photo)

The Grapevine, near Gorman, on Memorial Day, 2011. The hills were still green when we crossed Tejon Pass the week before. Summer heat settled in with a vengeance and on the return trip, the hills were like tawny beasts. Too soon. This also marks the beginning of a drought cycle. We went to Antelope Valley, and all the poppies were on strike.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Drive by Shooting

Highway 128 © Maureen Hurley photo
When I travel to Bay Area schools to teach art & poetry, I spend a lot of time on the road, so I started a US Highway 101 drive-by photo shoot collection, but I also took pix on the backroads. This is on Highway 128 in Alexander Valley, by Jimtown Store, near the school.

Over the years, I've created my own digital virtual auto F-stop club. :-) My only rule: the car has to be moving. No pulling over to frame the shot. There's at least a 3-second lag between what I see as the photo, and when the camera records—because we're moving about a mile a minute. So I have to pre-guess as to when the best shot is—or, rather—will be. Knowing the road, and anticipating where the best shots will be, helps. Clean windows also helps. It keeps my mind well-honed and in racer shape—no soduku for me!

I am interested in the accidental distortions, blurring, color breaks, etc. I particularly like the painterly aspect of these digital shots. Shots into the light. Into shadow. Notice how the foreground is blurred and the sign has nearly disappeared because of the low shutter speed, yet the barn and vineyard are still in focus because I've used the landscape setting to increase a sharp long depth of field.

Highway 128 © Maureen Hurley photo
These photos are unretouched, other than cropping them. I shoot large and crop all my photos—if only to reduce the file size. I'm far too impatient to wait and frame photos with the zoom, it takes far too long, and you lose the picture. I'm interested in zooming in on that fleeting split-second when the eye sees something as art.

In fact, the digital camera is a poor substitute for what my eye really sees. It's always taking pictures. I'm definitely left-eyed when it comes to composition. Besides, I've not the luxury of time to zoom in on something.

A trick I learned while in Lima, Peru in the early 1980s, was to take photos without looking through my camera lens. When the army invaded the capital, with tanks and guns, I wanted to document what was happening, but I didn't want to be "disappeared" so I learned to shoot blind—sans viewfinder.

This was during the pre autofocus cameradays—so I had to guess F stop, depth of field and focus without raising the Pentax K-1000 to my face. My arm became an extension of my eye. I don't need to use the viewfinder.

Highway 128 © Maureen Hurley photo
My camera is an extension of myself. Another eye to render the world into form and light. One time I didn't have a camera on me, so I used my MacBook to capture a rainbow over Santa Rosa. There was a huge time lag between finger and shutter. Very accidental as to when and where the photo was taken. And very low resolution. So they are more like iPhone shots than anything else.

Highway 128 © Maureen Hurley I like the way this leans left.
I now use Nikon P-60s. I have two of them. Er, make that "I had…" At the end of one residency in April, a kindergartner gave me a great thigh hug for teaching her to make art—just as I was documenting their final art project—self portraits. And the LED cracked on the 2nd camera as I was carting toys in a drawing class at Alexander Valley school. Two dead cameras in two months. Ouch! The photo above was with my cheap nameless brand camera from China. It took amazing, if noisy, photos.

I can still use the Plan B Nikon via the viewfinder. But the other one has trouble focusing as the lens took a good hit on a cement floor. I am SO completely underwhelmed by the replacement Nikon L110. My first Coolpix L14 (7.1 MP) camera was far superior to this overinflated ego of a camera. Lack of saturation and inability to focus, for starters. But it was cheap. I mourn the loss of my cameras. Like missing a part of my eye.

Highway 128 © Maureen Hurley Despite the lack of light, it's in focus!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Marin's Pastures of Plenty

Heifers resting by the creek, George Lucas' Big Rock Ranch, Marin County, northern California. All these photos are © 2010 by Maureen Hurley and may not be used without express written permission from her. Please respect copyright.

There's a great SF Gate Inside Scoop blog by celebrated executive chef/restauranteur Hoss Zaré at Flytrap, who interviewed Straus Family Creamery owner, Albert Straus. Albert who once told me that majored in ice cream at Cal-Poly, has revolutionized the organic dairy industry. I remember Albert's mother, tiny Ellen Straus, made the best strawberry shortcake in the world. Ellen was also co-founder of the first agricultural land trust in the nation, the Marin Agricultural Land Trust.

(See the history of MALT at YouTube.)

During the late 1970s to the early 1990s, we made an annual party trek to the Straus farm, Blake's Landing Farm on Tomales Bay, to bring on the Autumn Equinox. My cousin and I made wild huckleberry ice cream with Albert's fresh cream in an old wooden ice cream paddle churn—with all the kids madly cranking away.

We shucked oysters and barbecued salmon, bratwurst, corn and tofu on the metal water trough-cum-grill. We visited the creamery, we petted the cows and fed the calves. We danced in the barn and raised the rafters. But the piece de resistance was always Ellen's strawberry shortcake piled high as the Matterhorn with fresh whipped cream.

So it was with delight that I read Hoss's fine interview with Albert. But it also got me thinking on how much has changed in Marin since I was a child—once dairying was an important part of Marin's culture and identity. Where did it all go? Suburbs, parking lots and malls. Like how it goes in the Janice Ian song: pave paradise, put up a parking lot. If not for Ellen Straus.

Cows headed toward the milking barn, Nicasio, Marin County, northern California. © 2010 by Maureen Hurley

Few people know that Marin was the cradle and epicenter of California's milk industry. During the early 1860s and 1900s, Irish (including my family), Italian-Swiss and Azorean-Portuguese immigrants realized Marin's bucolic climate, lush pastures and verdant rolling hills, were perfect for dairying. And they were right: Marin cattle produced exceptional milk. 

By the 1900s, Marin supported more than a thousand dairy farms. Once Marin led the entire state of California in the production of highest quality milk, cream and cheese. Imagine a tiny county producing 1.5 million pounds of butter annually. There were myriad creameries and cooperatives that helped to shape the milk industry into what it is today.
In 1862 Marin provided a quarter of California's butter…. Since the 1800s, when dairying developed in Marin, the dairy industry has been known for its high-quality delicious milk. The invention of the milk bottle in 1884 made handling and distribution of milk much easier. The California Cooperative Creamery was established in 1913 by local milk producers to process and distribute the milk products (milk, butter, cheese). —From University of California's Agriculture and Natural Resources webpage, Historical Roots of Marin Agriculture.

Holstein heifers admiring their reflection—who's the fairest in all the land? Point Reyes, Marin County, northern California. Double-click to enlarge. © 2011 by Maureen Hurley

In a 1984 oral interview, Nicasio rancher, Earl Dolcini, said that "Marin County provides about twenty-five percent of the milk supply for the Bay Area." During the 1960s, there were 150 working dairy farms (so many local dairy farms were lost when the Point Reyes National Seashore was established). But the alternative, vast planned suburbs in Terra Linda and Corte Madera, was a far worse proposition. But the upshot was, by 2006, there were less than 30 working dairies left in Marin.

Some surviving Marin dairies managed to go organic like Albert Straus who founded the first kosher and organic creamery west of the Mississippi in 1993, or they were able to branch out and find a boutique niche and develop specialty cheeses—like the LaFranchi's Nicasio Valley Cheese Company. Albert's organic milk products were good enough for Prince Charles at a royal foodie gala in Inverness. (But I'm getting waaay off track here.) 
Since 1959 Marin has lost 32,000 acres of agricultural lands. (1944 census figures show 1,800 ranches, as compared to 276 today.) In the early 1970s, Marin's agriculture was threatened when plans for major highway extensions to the coast were developed. The county was rezoned to include three major planning corridors, of which two - the coastal recreation and inland rural corridors - contain most of the agriculture in Marin today. They are protected by A-60 zoning, which allows no more that one house per 60 acres. —From University of California's Agriculture and Natural Resources webpage, Historical Roots of Marin Agriculture.
Point Reyes, Marin County, northern California. Double-click to enlarge. © 2011 by Maureen Hurley

I have mixed feeling about the outcome of the A-60 zoning despite Marin Agricultural Land Trust's important successes preserving the farmlands along Tomales Bay. Farther inland, in the San Geronimo Valley, it had a different butterfly effect. As a teenager, I too worked on that A-60 zoning initiative—it was one of my first real political awakenings. Encouraged by Ellen Staus' success, we campaigned, we held town hall meetings, we testified at the planning commission, and felt an overwhelming sense of victory when we won. 

But there was a lot of resistance to the aggie preserve movement. Many people —from developer to ranchers—didn't want land use regulated for several reasons. But we didn't listen. Then the reality of it settled in. While the A-60 zoning ruling benefitted and helped to preserve many of the threatened ranches along Tomales Bay, including the Straus Ranch, the zoning had a very different effect farther inland.

Alas, the A-60 zoning ruling backfired in the rural communities of Forest Knolls, and Nicasio, where the agricultural initiative was gutted and whittled back to A-40, A-20, and A-10; it made available large lots for the rich. Another kind of suburb plan replaced the working ranches. The dairy cattle nearly all disappeared, or were replaced by horses.

The newcomers to Marin built lavish gated communities and huge compounds, with ecologically wasteful homes that squandered more square footage than a shopping mall, instead of adhering to the traditional Marin farm houses. (The new development also raised our property taxes through the roof).

The agricultural initiative did not successfully preserve most of Marin's agricultural lands. It created estates. Like the Native Miwoks our ancestors displaced, we were being displaced by foreigners. We felt betrayed by the very cause we all believed that would preserve our way of life. The native Marinites began fleeing Marin for Sonoma County and points north because they could no longer afford to live in Marin.

A side effect, or a fallout from the A-60 zoning, the newcomers came in droves and they brought with them, their new, ugly ways. Our new landlords, having founded independent fifedoms, also barred us from the very land that we had traditional access to for decades when the ranchers still owned it. The precursor movement that led to the Marin Agricultural Land Trust inadvertently helped make Marin an exclusive playground for the rich.

(This all gets quite complicated and convoluted: during the 1960s and 70s, the Marin property tax base had skyrocketed, partially because many ranches had been turned into a vast 70,000 acre playground by the Point Reyes National Seashore (1962-64), thus placing a higher tax burden on the rest of Marin.

Then, the national seashore attracted more than 2.5 million extra visitors a year—many who wanted to move to Marin. Circa 1970, Marin real estate was suddenly booming. Every time a house sold, our property taxes went up. This was the tumultuous era that led up to the passing of Prop 13, the 1978 Jarvis-Gann Initiative to Limit Property Taxation—its passing lowered property taxes, but it also inadvertently also gutted the newly impoverished CA educational system.)

Newcomer Robert Orr bought a chunk of Mt. Barnabe, and built a castle fortress below the fire lookout tower. Twice I was shot at as I rode the fire roads I'd ridden on all my life—as did my grandparents. Sim Van der Ryn bought another A-40 chunk on the ridge above our house and developed his theories of sustainable living and housing there. 

At least Sim Van der Ryn recognized us locals as neighbors and that we had a Spanish custom of prior access to the fire roads and so he let the horsemen pass by instead of trying to shoot us. But soon he moved north to Occidental, sold his place to someone who sold it to that real life maniac, Klaus Kinski—who was an irate bag of pustulence and rage on a good day.

Kinski threatened to shoot me and my aunt's lame old dog for trespassing. When a rifle is aimed at you like that, forget about eating Warner Herzog's other shoe. It was more like eat shit and die. The blood turns curiously cold, you break out into a clammy, cold sweat, you're enveloped in a suspended animation of cold fear before the adrenalin kicks in.

A childhood boyfriend, rancher, Allan McIsaac once said to me, "When a rancher switches from milk cattle, to beef, it's the beginning of the end of ranch lands." Allan was right. When the Holstein and Jersey dairy cattle were sold off, they were replaced by Herefords—beef cattle that quickly led to horses, horses and paddocks led to suburbs and suburbs led to SUVs.

Cow takes in camera. Point Reyes, Marin County, northern California. © 2011 by Maureen Hurley

The suburbs of Strawberry, Mill Valley, Greenbrae, Bon Air, Marinwood, Montecito, Lucas Valley and Novato all were once rich dairy farms. When the McIsaacs went to beef cattle, I worried that Tocaloma would become yet another suburban casualty. But they managed to hold onto the land, thanks to Ellen Straus's lasting legacy, the Marin Agricultural Land Trust.

Point Reyes, Marin County, northern California. © 2011 by Maureen Hurley

Who even remembers Roberts DairyGreenbrae Dairy, Miller Dairy, Butterfield's Sleepy Hollow Dairy, San Geronimo (Dollar) Creamery, Nicasio Creamery or Lucas Valley Dairy?

Roberts Dairy, San Rafael founded with two Jersey cows in 1898, by 1945 owned six ranches, including four West Marin ranches: the Tocaloma Ranch, Glenbrook Ranch, on Limantour Bay, the “K” Ranch on Pierce Point, New Albion Ranch on Drakes Bay, the Stetson Ranch in Santa Venetia, Roberts Dairy in Happy Valley (Montecito), and in San Rafael, the 4th & Mary Street Creamery. The dairy closed in 1958 (image from Facebook).

This is a eulogy for what was lost. Once upon a time there was a verdant Marin where grazing cattle on the hillsides were enough to feed the eye. If not for Ellen Straus's vision and determination, the bucolic pastures of plenty would disappeared and West Marin would've become one vast paved parking lot.

Beef cattle, Petaluma, Sonoma-Marin County border, northern California. © 2010 by Maureen Hurley

(Thanks, Hoss, for spurring me on!) Hoss Zaré's culinary talents brought acclaim to San Francisco's Ristorante Ecco, and Aromi, (later Bistro Zaré); a pioneer in the Sow Food movement, Zaré opened Zaré Napa in 2005, but missed the City, and returned to open Zaré at Flytrap in 2008—specializing in Persian and Mediterranean cuisine. Do vist Hoss, and tell him I sentcha.

For further reading on the dairy farmers of Marin, check out the Marin County Free Library Carla Ehat oral history project.

Summer Camp

As a kid growing up in West Marin in the 1950s & 60s, I lived in a place where we never went to camp but kids from all over the US came to camp where we lived.

It was an uneasy mix as the Forest Farm summer campers were from the land of faraway (mostly the eastern seaboard—NY) and they had no notion they were guests in our land—they weren't nice to the natives. Nor was Old Man Gregg.

Camp counselors and campers hailed from the far reaches of the known world and descended upon Forest Farm Summer Camp each June, founded in 1944 by the Greggs. They may as well have been Martians.

The official story goes that the Greggs welcomed everyone—they built their own pool when a Chinese counselor was told she couldn't swim at the Woodacre Improvement Club. But we local kids were never invited to swim at the Woodacre Improvement Club or in the Gregg pool. Ever. No matter how much we drooled. Funny how that goes.
Somebody At Forest Farm Summer Camp must've had a sense of humor: SAN RAFAEL. Calif. (AP) —A sign posted recently on the office door at the Forest Farms Camp by owner Harold Gregg reads, please keep door closed so bird won't eat our cat." The bird is a turkey vulture. (Miami Herald/Lewiston Evening Journal/The Evening Independent, etc., July 26, 27, 1965). 
 I actually do vaguely remember the sign. Only I didn't get the joke at the time.

The FBI was interested in the Greggs for suspicious activities, but then anyone who moved to Marin and Sonoma from Hollywood or New York was under investigation during the paranoid era of McCarthyism—including my best friend Stephanie's mother, Johanna Stone, a former Russian translator for the UN.

Mrs. Gregg was OK—she was a former teacher who was originally from Petaluma, so she was nicer to the local kids than her husband, Harold.

Harold Gregg, a New Englander, dressed in plaid shirts, thin and dour as they come, taunted Jack Gilbert when his daughter Linda brought him home. The story goes: Old Man Gregg said Jack wasn't a real man, but a sissy poet.

Jack got his macho out and shimmied up a Doug fir to fell it with a chainsaw. Something went horribly wrong—the tree split in the middle and Jack came plunging to earth like a sad soft Icarus.

Linda Gregg ran off to Greece to care for Jack Gilbert whose wings were forever clipped. He was sentenced to the wheelchair—and she became a famous poet. Most people know Forest Farm Camp as Serenity Acres—the rehab place where Jerry Garcia died.

Forest Farm Camp was a commune before that. One of my high school classmate ran away from home and lived there in the 1970s when Claire and Jim Felson owned it from 1966 to 1976. She later told us wild stories of musicians who lived there and even wilder parties. Chalk it up to the times we lived in.

Mrs. Barbano—who also ran Barbano's summer camp on Arroyo Road, just down the hill from the Greggs, opened up her pool for swimming lessons—that's where I learned to swim at the ripe old age of ten. Old Man Barbano's daughter was killed in a car accident (or was she murdered?) in Mexico. He wasn't right in the head after that.

Old Man Barbano gave up the summer camp business and rented the dorms out to Big Brother and the Holding Company. Yes, Janis Joplin. When the grief got to be too much for him, he shot himself in the head. We were walking home from high school when they brought the gurney out. It was the first time I saw a dead man. But not the last.

There were other camps in the San Geronimo Valley but I don't know their names. Perhaps someone else will remember the stories of the summer camps. The transient folk. Certainly people came in droves from the Bay Area to Camp Taylor ever since the turn of the 19th century. Some families camped out all summer long along the banks of Papermill Creek and Devil's Gulch. Research fodder for another blogeen.

How this fragment came to be: We were sitting around a table at a Young Audiences think tank the other night, and everyone said how they loved summer camp—especially the arts. I felt vaguely left out. It seems a huge swath of the population (at least in America) have all got some form of summer camp on their kid resume. Me, nada.

Of course, one could also look at it that we lived in a year-round summer camp. And art was all around us. But I felt a little left out that I never had that experience. Our world was much more gritty and visceral.

There's surprisingly little information on the internet about Forest Farm Camp or Barbano's Summer Camp. So this is a placeholder—a piece I'll return to as I uncover more information. Meanwhile...

Some of my posts that mention Forest Farm Camp. Note that we called it Forest Farm Camp. It was also called Forest Farms Camp and Forest Farm Summer Camp.

Too Bright to See 

Helgar the Horrible 

RIP Jack Gilbert

Frances Gregg Marin Independent Journal obit 1999 Gregg spent 23 years operating the camp, which ran under the philosophy that "through exposure and understanding of different cultures, you become less likely to hate," said Gregg's granddaughter, Chloe Cook. The camp had international counselors as well as campers at a time when there was a strong anti-foreigner sentiment. The Greggs welcomed everyone - even building their own pool when a Chinese counselor was told she couldn't swim at the Woodacre Improvement Club, remembers Gregg's daughter, Susan Conard.

Jack Felson Marin Independent Journal obit 2009  During the summers throughout college and grad school, Jack and Claire directed summer camps. In 1966, they bought Forest Farm Camps in Marin County where their three children spent their formative years. Their father was a magical force, not only for them, but for a generation of children and counselors that attended for ten years.

YMCA SF Marin - History Mentions Harold Gregg as a board member in Sixty Years of Leadership: 1950 Brad Bayliss – Executive Secretary of the Marin YMCA. Louis Albrecht – program secretary; Jewell Pearson, Claire Bailey, Grace Alinor Baird, “Auntie” Iva Weitzman, and Mrs. L.W. Twist, assisting secretaries. First Board of Managers: Ward Austin, Caroline Livermore, John MacPhail, Walter E. Zurcher, Dr. John Siemens, Harold Gregg, Millie Dunshee, and Rex Silvernale. 

Some San Mateo Times ran some adverts March-April 1962 but I can't access them right now—will work on it. Here's the Google teaser: SUMMER CAMPS These camps subscribe to the best in camping with high Si ... yr olds REDWOOD yr For Harold Frances Gregg Forest Farm Forest Knoll Marin County ... express the idealism of his ...ular camp

Some backwards sleuthing: here's a page from one of the Forest Farm campers in 1973 (So we know that Forest Farm Camp was still operational in 1973.) "The picture of him on the left was taken at Forest Farms Summer Camp when Jake Ehrlich III was 7 in 1973. (Notice his dark blue jeans!) Jake's family owned a cutting edge photography gallery located in San Francisco named the Whiteside Gallery." (I wonder if it was then owned by Claire and Jack Felson. Read below.

Stone Soup Fall 2009 (dead link) Donna Snow [formerly Sloan]: (I used to babysit for Donna and Richard Sloan—MH) In 1969 [when the Center was formed], I was rearing a two-year old Bryn Sloan, still married to Richard [Sloan], doing free lance commercial art work and painting “on the side.” Being involved with community activities, including politics (sometimes sticky), and generally loving living in the Valley. We had some crazy parties and life was never boring.

Our family had moved to the Valley around 1966 and first rented a house on Barranca Road (they were my near neighbors MH) and then bought a home a few blocks nearby on Arroyo Road. (Bud and Marty Meade still own it, having bought it from me in the early 70’s.)

There were a number of us — all politically “liberal,” interested in education, many of us art- ists and teachers, young parents, connected one way or another through those activities. We had gatherings at Forest Farm Camp. Claire and Jack Felson owned the camp and we often met in their home to discuss whatever issues we thought pertinent at the time.

Judy Voets We moved to the Valley in 1963. I knew about the Valley because I had gone to Forest Farm summer camp from the time I was 6 until I was 18 when I was a counselor. Jean and Lee [Berensmeier] were also at the camp. We moved here because we could afford to buy a house in Woodacre.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Chevron-Texaco is our BP

It seems that post -Rapture hangover has politicized me today. Most of these recent posts are Facebook inspired ramblings, I decided not to let them sink back into the void and see if there was enough material to suffice a blog post. Andrew Sullivan had an interesting blog on post-internet writing. It seems I too am caught up in the midst of that revolution. Maybe I will expand this memory into a full-blown blog. So this is a placeholder with an action item. Please do sign the petition.

In the early 1980s, in a Quito restaurant, I overheard Texaco American oilmen casually discussing the refineries and pipelines—and devastation to the Amazon rain forest as mere collateral damage—and thinking nothing of it. The image haunted me...

I am glad the scandal is finally out in the open, the devastation Chevron-Texaco has deliberately done to Ecuador is horrific.

Chevron-Texaco is our BP. On the quasi-anniversary of the BP Gulf spill, as marine life is washing up dead all over the Caribbean, know that Texaco and other oil companies have been destroying large swaths of the Amazon Basin for 30 years. Please visit the link below and then sign the petition.

Tell Chevron to Clean Up Ecuador Now!  

See this open letter to the United States from the communities in Ecuador devastated by oil giant Chevron's contamination. Then, sign the petition.

HR Bill 1891 to cut Arts Education

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) is calling for the termination of 43 education programs at the U.S. Department of Education, including arts education.  (H.R. 1891)  This bill is more serious than the annual funding measures that threaten to de-fund arts education, as HR 1891 would permanently strip policy language out of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that allows the Arts in Education program to be funded each year.  Contact your Member of Congress to register your opposition to this legislation and let them know the importance of arts education to students and the critical role this program has had in supporting arts education throughout the country. 


Due to so many drastic cutbacks and a misguided move towards teaching students to pass standardized testing, rather than educating them—our schools are failing miserably to educate our youth and oftentimes art is the only resource that keeps students engaged and learning.

The arts open doors of learning and are crucial in the development of critical thinking skills. Art is a bridge, a crossover tool—especially for the sciences. Cripple the arts, and cripple all forms of learning. Art is integral to all learning styles and multiple intelligences.

The Arts in Education program is the ONLY source of dedicated federal education funding to support arts education, a core academic subject of learning proven to improve schools, teaching, and student success in school, work, and life.

The arts have too often been shoved to the margins when our schools need them most. Don't let HR 1891 further narrow the educational opportunities of our nation's students. Protect the Arts in Education program.

Maureen Hurley

Cab Calloway

Cab Calloway was one cool hep cat! I remember watching the old black and white movies when I was a kid, and when Cab Calloway did his heidi heidi hei/heidi ho thing—I was positively mesmerized. Calloway was truly the king of scat singing.

Cab Calloway was also way ahead of his time. He produced the first music videos decades before MTV. I always associated ‎Cab with Betty Boop. I loved how the old black and white cartoons had real music scores: jazz, stride piano—you name it. We got a music education without knowing it.

Yep, Cab was one cool hep s-cat cat. Check out  We The Cats Will Hep Ya - Cab Calloway Band from Sensations Of 1945. I wonder what ever happened to the groovin' kid? Elucidate. Elucidate. I love the long coattails.

Amazingly, Cab Calloway, who was born on Christmas Day, in 1907, didn't let old age get in the way. He continued to perform the nightclub circuit until his death in November of 1994 at the age of 86. He was one hep cat alright.

Speaking of scat singing, when I was working for the West Sonoma County Paper, I spent a memorable evening in the 1980s or early 1990s with the incomparable Scatman Crothers at the Guerneville Diner next to the Rio Theater.

I don't remember why he was in town. Before that night I had never heard of him. Man, the stories he told—we were riveted to the booth until way past closing—3 AM. The waitress closed up around us, but the Scatman was on a roll. And she had the good sense not to mess with that.

My friend and neighbor, Jonathan London had a groovy poem, Hep Cat, he was working on. (Was he with us that night in Guerneville?) Around the time Scatman blew outa town, Jonathan got a nibble from the big publishers who liked Hep Cat, and could he turn it into a children's book? Suddenly hep was in. And so was Jonathan riding high on a long coattail wind. Elucidate. Elucidate, indeed. hep-hep-hurray. He gave me signed copies. I wonder where those books are now?

Gonna have to dig up that old story and post it. Yepppety beebop, ba beebop yeah.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Post Rapture Hotline

Thank you for calling Family Radio's Post Rapture Hotline: If you would like to report a Rapture, please press 1. If you would like to report an earthquake, please press 2. If you would like to report zombie sightings, please press 3. If you are calling to ask Harold Camping for an apology and a refund of any donations you made for post Rapture bliss, please stay on the line and someone will assist you as soon as hell freezes over...

Well, there weren't any earthquakes, but there was a volcanic eruption!

Maureen Carden wrote: The Rapture happened; we just misunderstood. I can't find my sunglasses or my camera or several other objects that I know were right here in this house. Obviously they were raptured.

It's a wrap.

WCW poem Knockoffs


so much depends

a cat litter

filled with pine

beside the white








the back doors
of the

old stable where
nothing else

will grow blooms
a dungheap

where steam
rises in full

dressage of white
tule fog

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sutton & Tristano

I stumbled upon a Facebook thread by a Lagunitas School classmate, Kevin McConnell, who posted a link to Pete Sutton's dad, Ralph Sutton. I'd totally forgotten that Ralph, who tickled a mean Maple Leaf Rag in his time, played some of his famous stride piano compositions at a school assembly concert when we were all very young. But after Kevin posted it, minute fragments drifted back from the imperfectly shelved memories of childhood.

What I did remember, was, being surprised to hear such a complex arrangement of chords and cartoon music churning out of the cranky old school piano. Magic music from a strange man dressed in a gray suit who looked more like a school principal (or maybe Willy Loman from Death of a Salesman) than a famous jazz musician. Kevin said that the jazz concert inspired him to become a musician. Me, not so much.

And the vague memory fragment of that concert goes a long way in explaining why my classmate Pete Sutton's best friend, Steve Tristano, was standing on the piano bench banging out a rollicking Boogie-Woogie on the piano at recess. We were all rockin' out. That music was so radically different than the somber proscribed chords of the  America, the Beautiful. The teacher, hearing the infernal ruckus, came bursting into the classroom, apoplectic. We were all so busted.

From this incident, I learned that certain types of music was forbidden, therefore delicious. I also feared our 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. Burge, was going to have heart failure right in front of us. I'd never seen such a show of emotion from our right-proper 50s school-marm teacher.

There was always a lot of counterculture going on in the San Geronimo Valley in the late 1950s, and early 60s. But we were so young and we knew no other life—living out so far from the towns and the growing suburbs. Many famous musicians and artists and writers took refuge in The Valley as the Marin Beat scene havens, including Mill Valley and the former fishing village of Sausalito, were beginning to erode into the effluent of mainstream acceptability.

Steve was born with his musical talent. Our 2nd grade Boogie-Woogie champ was the son of another famous jazz musician, Lennie Tristano. But great jazz musicians were also absenteé fathers—always on the road—or more notably playing the clubs in New York, where the real action was.

So to see Ralph Sutton was unusual as it was to see the blind piano player, Lennie Tristano. People often lumped Sutton & Tristano's names together, and said that they were famous jazz musicians in New York. But in retrospect, I can't imagine such a synthesis as they were both such very different musicians.

A bit of San Geronimo Valley apocrypha: Scott Joplin (with whom I share a birthdate) was said to have visited the Valley in the 1890s, and allegedly wrote Maple Leaf Rag at Frank "Speck" McAuliffe's bar in Lagunitas.

Don't know if there's any truth to the story—other than countless would-be ragtime piano players have banged out that archetypal ragtime hottie on every available piano in the Valley. But chances are pretty good Scott Joplin hammered out a rendition of it at Speck's. What was the bar called before Speck McAuliffe bought the place since this was before his time—Lagunitas Tavern & Livery?

Before you go, Whoa there, Nellie! Teddy Roosevelt had a cabin in Lagunitas—Argentina House—and used to water at the Lagunitas trough when he got all hot and bothered. And Joplin was no stranger to The Valley. (Nor were José Revere (Paul's kin), or Alexander Graham Bell—who set up the first telephone in the Dollar barn on Dickson Ranch.)

Teddy Roosevelt liked The Valley for its wildness and isolation. He famously exclaimed, "When I am in California, I am not in the West, I am west of the West."

Another Boogie-Woogied classmate, Adair (Lara) Daley once dubbed The Valley in her SF Chronicle column as The Valley that Time ForgotGrowing up in West Marin, we were all so far west of the west, we met ourselves coming and going. Often shunned by the townies, we were our own universe.

Then in the late 1960s and early 70s, it became cool when the rock musicians began moving out to the Valley. The Other Joplin, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, you name it. But that's another story.

Because of meeting Lennie Tristano and another local piano player, Kent Weaver, at a tender age, I had this odd notion that all good piano players had to be blind. So when a kind intending neighbor offered me a piano and piano lessons, I yelled NO! I took up the guitar and played it rather badly. I regret passing up that rare opportunity to have real music lessons—for we were far too poor to afford them.

Lennie Tristano invented free jazz or free improvisation and a chord progression style of playing. Like Sutton, he played and recorded with the jazz greats: Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, and was a pallbearer at Parker's funeral.

There's a growing list of Lennie's recordings on YouTube. Back in 2007, when I wrote a review for AmieStreet, there was almost nothing available on the internet on Lennie Tristano. Certainly nothing on YouTube. I had to do some serious dust jacket sleuthing to find much by way of pertinent bio. Lordy, how times have changed.

For more info on Lennie Tristano, you also might want to check out my AmieStreet News review, Cool Jazz Rooms. Sadly AmieStreet was bought out by Amazon in 2010 and the AmieStreet News site was deconstructed. I've included a link to an earlier reminiscence of the jazz men, also from 2007, here: "Tristano & Son." 

Pete's dad, Ralph Sutton was known as the best stride pianist to come out of WW II. Alone in his generation, he played in the tradition of Fats Waller. He played in Jack Teagarden's band, and in many Dixieland bands; he moved to San Francisco for a brief time (that would be an oblique mention of us in that minor historical footnote). He died in 2001 and was posthumously inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 2002.

Ralph Sutton's YouTube search list is becoming quite extensive, thanks to avid fans. I find I like listening to the old video clips. I must've been bored at the live concert when I was young. And alas, no, I never heard Lennie Tristano play live. But I probably wouldn't have appreciated it then either. I had to grow towards jazz as an adult. But I did see him being led to the Lagunitas Store, a blind man led by a gaggle of blind men.

I guess their jazz greatness trickled down and affected us all like a good spring soak. Weedlings sprouted in all directions from this wild, unintended garden of childhood. Pete's brothers, Jeff and Nicky Sutton, and Steve Tristano all became fine musicians. 

I used to catch Nick Sutton and Kevin McConnell in San Geronimo Valley's own resident hard rock & roll band, Walt Dickson's homegrown Sky Blue Band at the Forest Knolls Lodge (aka The Papermill Creek Saloon).

The Sky Blue Band is a good drop-in band that rarely feels a need to go "over the hill" into town to be heard. Musicians from all walks of life tend to find our homegrown band. Tony Bennett's drummer Harold Jones, saxman Phil Woods (who studied with Lennie Tristano) & and other musicians have sat in with the band—sometimes even Elvin Bishop (Butterfield Blues Band) would drop in on a set.

At times like this, I am grateful for the internet and YouTube for restoring lost bits of information. An offhand fragment posted by a friend uncovered a long-lost memory of childhood. As Adair Lara once wrote: the shortest distance between two points may be a detour. When I begin to write these memoirs, I've no idea where the story will go. Nor do I have much by way control over the order of flotsam and jetsam as it arrives unbidden. I weave and write. Weave and pull on Ariadne's skein of thread a bit. And hope I don't get too tangled up in the process. What a long and strange detour it's been. 

Thanks to Kevin, cow jazz guitarist with the Lonestar Retrobates. And a special thanks to Pete Sutton who posted a YouTube video of his dad playing a joyous 8-handed Maple Leaf Rag with Dick Wellstood, Eubie Blake, and Hoagy Carmichael. And to Dennis DeLa Montanya for the Ralph Sutton clippings. No, my imagination wasn’t playing tricks on me. Ralph Sutton really did play in the San Geronimo Valley, at De La Montanya’s restaurant at the Old Oak Tree (formerly Villa Lucchesi, and before that it was a whorehouse).

Saturday, May 14, 2011

RIP Harry Roche

RIP Lagunitas Elementary School teacher and principal, Harry Roche, born January 28, 1923 in San Francisco; died Jan 4 2011 in Roseville, CA. He is survived by wife Lorraine, son Steve, daughter Laura. He was 88. 

Read more here:

Harry Roche, the Coach, who threw chalk and erasers at us when we didn't get the right answer in math or English. I was terrified of him. I didn't dare open my mouth even when I knew the answer—which wasn't very often. Somehow I survived eighth grade and graduated.

Prince Hal was a dark avenging angel. The tennis pro with a wicked eraser throw.  Tall, tan and blond with white eyelashes—Harry was always disappointed in us. My next math teacher was also an athlete but he was benevolence and light. Poor Archie Williams inherited me, a frazzled, dyslexic under-achieving student, in his Foundations of Algebra class at Sir Francis Drake High School in San Anselmo, CA.

After Harry Roche, the Coach, I was a bundle of raw nerves. I was a young horse afraid of the shadow of the wind. Archie may have been an Olympic Gold medalist, but there was no victory gold in it for me. No math ever took root.

But Archie's stories were a lasting legacy. The way he ran the 440 in the Olympics—inspired us. His running mate was Jesse Owens. How they were the first Black men to receive Olympic medals—from Hitler!

I ran headlong from math. I hardly knew who Hitler was, but I knew the cool weight of the gold medal. Kathy Briones and I broke the school girl's track record running the 660 in under 2 minutes. But it was unofficial and so it didn't count, said Miss Scott. She thought we cheated. But we didn't. I couldn't walk for a week afterwards, I was so hamstrung.

Once we were helping Archie clean the chalkboard, we took the big chalk erasers and "wrote" obscenities on the side of the school wall. Archie was cool, he was all for free speech. But he said we needed to remove it because the principal didn't understand such things. 

Friday, May 13, 2011

Class of 1970

NOTE BENE: I don't think I'm quite ready to take on this post yet. Still gathering info. If you want to follow some of the threads on Facebook, go to Sir Francis Drake High School Alumni page. It stared as an innocuous question on my part and has been gathering momentum as people add their memories. By right it should be handled as an oral history project.

Apparently we were the most politically motivated class (of 1970) at Sir Francis Drake High School. We were the first high school in the nation to shut down a draft board. Apparently we also made the 6 O'Clock news and a mention in Time Magazine too—but I never saw it. None of the other high schools were marching or staging sit-ins at their local draft boards. We were DEFINITELY the odd ones.

The Free Speech Movement (FSM) was in 1965—we knew who Mario Savio was. The political activism wasn't just to get out of class. We began protest marching in earnest in 1968-9. In retrospect, classmates must've had older siblings at Berkeley. Ken Bullock reminded me that Jared Rossman was our class president in 67, his older brother, Michael Rossman was one of the FSM organizers w/ Savio. No wonder we were such gung-ho activists. I do remember a Jared giving an incendiary class speech.

When I asked why we were such firebrands, Ken Bullock said: There were constant discussions in the classroom—Duane Miller's, in particular, but not the only one. And in off-campus groups like Vietnam Summer ... But a couple years before, the biggest single contingent to join the Selma March came from the Seminary in San Anselmo. I remember the day their bus left, with news, I think, of the Viola Liuzzo murder near Selma.

Holy shit!

Linda Brown commented: I went with Jared, Michael, Lisa, Mrs. Houck to one of the first anti-war marches at Berkeley. I think that Michael actually was arrested. Mario went on to be a professor (math) at Sonoma State. Mrs. Houck (than Ms. Bagley) was one of the original writers for the Berkeley Barb when it was still an underground paper. My brother John was also active in the moment later in the late sixties, early 70's. A lot of Drake students were involved in those later years!

I do remember going to UC Berkeley during high school—there was some big event. We all piled into Sue Barry's VW Bug and hung out in Sproul Plaza. Lots of people milling around. My first time on campus. I remember people standing on parked cars and police. I don't know what the event was. Maybe it was the one Linda mentioned.

Many of our high school teachers were wonderful "odd birds" thank gawd. Not just Olympic champ, Archie Williams. Warren Fairbanks (who was a classmate of my mother's at Polytechnic in SF), Mr. Lucy, Mr James, Mrs Makay (sp)—my Freshman English teacher (1966) who wore rose-colored glasses (and lived in the Haight).

Down on 4th corridor by the creek, we listened to Beatles lyrics—Eleanor Rigby comes to mind. I remember Simon & Garfunkel's Dangling Conversation. She wasn't the Mary Mackey, was she? These were the roots of my poetic life.

I remember my history & social studies teacher was awful—it took me years to realize I LIKED history! We had no idea that we were also right in the middle of making history too.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Silly bumblebee
jhodpurs laden with pollen
couldn't resist sweet tea

and he drowned in it
a silly sweet bumble bee
couldn't resist sweet tea.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Osama Killed

As the buzz went up & down the grocery checkout line like a weird game of telephone—punctuated by real cellphone calls, I overheard the news from a customer that Obama had been killed. I was stunned by everyone's relative calmness and I thought OMG—it was yet another tragic moment for this century: "Where were you when JFK was killed." I wondered why there wasn't more of an outcry. I then realized that I misheard the news. It was Osama—not Obama who was killed. I did not feel elated when I heard the news—nor did anybody else in line. It was a macabre moment in time. An anti-climax, nearly ten years after 9/11. My next thought was: what's next? I thought the more enduring question for this century might be: "Where were you when the Twin Towers fell?" and "Where were you when they announced Osama bin Laden was dead?" And where will this all end Nothing like martyrdom to fan the flames of vigilantes on both sides of the equation.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


The May Day hills were burning, far and near. —Seamus Heaney

Beltaine: My great-grandfather in Bantry used to drive his cattle between two fires to purify them & bring luck. The God Bel, or Belenos' fires. Eadar dà theine Bhealltainn