Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Poetry and Buried Treasure

Today, after teaching poetry to kids at Alexander Valley School, I trolled the Lytton Station Salvation Army refuse bins, I uncovering odd bits of treasure, I found an old 1985 audio tape, The Scotsman, signed by Alex Beaton. Not that I needed the tape. Who plays audio tapes anymore? I have the digital downloads of the album, but still I bought it for the music jacket.

It must date back to the days when the Caledonian Club Highland Games were held in in Santa Rosa, I said to no one in particular, feeling nostalgic for the past. Before his career took off, Alex hand-made those audio tapes, and slept in the back of his truck during the games to save money. A thrifty one, our Alex.

We saw Alex perform at the Las Vegas Games in 2011 before the freak accident that left him all but paralyzed. We didn't realize that would be the last time we'd see him sing. First the cancer, then this. Rotten luck. After 22 years, the SFCC Games left Santa Rosa for Pleasanton in 1994. I saw Alex perform many of the songs on that tape during the early 1980s. So I was holding a bit of the past in my hands.

The Lytton Station Salvation Army is the motherlode of all thrift stores. Those bins under the awnings really are the last call bins before the junk heads out to the dumps. One man's junk os another man's treasure. It's not for the faint of heart. We were a determined bunch, intent on a thorough search and rescue in the wake of other people's detritus. Trinkets of the dead. You never know what you'll find. The past, certainly.

As I rummaged, I realized I was being stalked by a bright, mousy-eyed lassie of about seven years of age. We talked over melted records (it was a hot day), old paintings, and broken toys. Then we discovered I had taught her poetry in a Kindergarten class at Alexander Valley School last year! Which for her, was the distant past. Clearly I was her prize find of the day. She was so excited to find her old poetry teacher scrounging with the best of them.

I didn't play the audio tape as I knew it would be a rough rendition of what it once was. But I hummed Skye Boat Song to Alex, as I drove down the road home to the Bay Area, thinking of the day's treasures—both old and new.

added and revised 7/24/2016

First draft (two fragments)

So chuffed, found an old audio tape, The Scotsman, signed by Alex Beaton at the Healdsburg Salvation Army. Must date back to when the Caledonian Club games were in Santa Rosa.

Today as I trolled the Salvation Army refuse (last call bins) uncovering odd treasure, I realized I was being stalked by a bright, mousy-eyed girl of about 6 or 7. We talked over melted records, and we discovered I taught her poetry in Kindergarten at Alexander Valley School!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Annular Eclipse, May 20, 2012

When I was young, I remember watching an eclipse in the schoolyard at Lagunitas School with the naked eye. But then, we also watched the skyline when they set off an atomic bomb at Jackass Flats, NV.

I can still see fine (maybe little auras here and there) but I've no idea what damage it caused. But then, I'm also long past the crossroads of denial that I need reading glasses.

During the 1990s, I got more sophistocated and used stacks of UV sunglasses for filters and even a stint with mylar anti-static hard drive bags (see my 2009 post).

Someone took a photo of me wearing funny mylar eclipse glasses for the total Hawaiian eclipse in 1991. I actually bought a square of mylar for my camera too—for $20. Number 14 welding glasses were not a practical option.

But simple pinhole cameras are the safest and easiest way to view an eclipse. A cylindrical Quaker cardboard oatmeal mush box is the easiest to make. Punch a hole at the bottom end with a pencil at one end, and use the lid to project the light.

Your lens aperture—the width of a pencil seems to work fine—but you can use other objects to create lens size. The smoother the hole, like with a knitting needle, the crisper the edge. But you don't need a perfect lens to view the eclipse.

No oatmeal box? A paperback book cover will work. Punch a hole in the middle, use other cover underneath to focus it. Pulp fiction never looked so good.

Your crossed fingers will make eclipses. A colander works fine too. The holes are just the right size. Even those reading glasses will project an image onto paper—and quite possibly start a fire.

I'm sure the ancients discovered that trees also make great spontaneous pinhole cameras—especially long-needled eucaluptus. Oak trees too. The dappled light between the leaves will make images of myriad eclipses on the ground. You just have to know what you're looking at. And how to bring it into focus.

You can use cardboard or paper to "focus" the parallax position of the image. Move it up and down between ground and tree leaves to focus it until you find the sweet spot.

How I know this: In 1979, I was in my kitchen in Cotati, and I noticed strange crescents crawling on the wall in the shadow of my hanging plant—a succulent.

At first I thought they were ants or an outburst of spiders and tried to swat them away and then I thought I was having a really weird flashback or completely losing my mind as I had no idea there was an eclipse happening.

I put two and two (or sun and moon) together and ran outside, camera in hand—but the wall was more interesting. I scurried all over the yard tracking little myriad eclipse shadows. The photos weren't all that interesting but I was thrilled beyond belief by my "new" discovery.

Enjoy today's eclipse but safeguard your eyes. They're the only ones you got. And check the local time. Not Mountain Time like I did in 2009 when I was madly staring into the midday sun an hour after the eclipse had come and gone.

Further reading: I delved indepth on the process of chasing eclipses in another post: Partial Eclipse, 7/21/2009. I even invoked Sir Isaac Newton's "Opticks."

ScienceCasts: Solar Eclipse in the USA 

How to make a pinhole camera from the Exploratorium.

Timeline via The Daily Mail. It'll pass over Reno & Redding at 5:12 to 5:15 PM. The full annular eclipse will last about 5 minutes. The rest of us will see a partial eclipse. I've never seen an annular eclipse and unfortunately I'll be at work today...so I don't hold much hope of glimpsing it on paper, or otherwise.

NB: as it turned out, my "lunch" break was during the height of the eclipse and many of my coworkers abandoned ship for the parking lot. So I was able to get many photos of shadows. 

Interesting, the shadows were all blurry as the light was coming from two different sources/directions—the moon split the light. Also, as the sun went into the eclipse, the wind picked up, like during the total eclipse in Hawaii. Then it died completely during totality. The birds definitely went to sleep early, so it was eerily quiet, and our skin was cold to the touch as there was very little heat coming from the sun. 

I had several blurred people photos, not realizing that though there was plenty of light for the eye to see, the camera was not fooled. I didn't realize this until I uploaded the jpgs and then noticed in the images that all the parking light and the security night lights were on—at 6 PM!


Ken Kesey

Ken Kesey once sent me rather unusually inscribed checks to purchase some new age tarot cards I was selling. My job at Western Star Press, located in the basement of Alice Kent's big Victorian house in Kentfield, was sorting old tarot decks. 


My best friend's mother, artist, Rosalind Sharpe Wall and Alice Kent's brother, Bohemian, John Starr Cooke made a New Age Tarot deck, The New Tarot: a deck for the Aquarian Age (1969).

(See poet-librarian Jim Carmin's Facebook post and photo, about unpacking a VCR tape from Ken Kesey for the Multnomah Library Special Collections. Shall we say, it was, um, an acid-colored and tie-dyed VCR tape? Jim's post was the source of inspiration for this blog post. Once again, thanks Jim!)

There's not much on the internet about Alice Kent's brother, John, or the The New Tarot for the Aquarian Age, for that matter, which is odd, as John, friend of Timothy Leary, William S. Burroughs, and Paul Bowles, a disciple of Aleister Crowley, was revered as a sufi, he had the shakti. But I found this second-hand description of interest:
The New Tarot aka The Tarot for the Aquarian Age 
This deck is very different from most Tarot decks. The Majors have all been renamed and the suits are Blades, Serpents, Pears and Stones, which represent air, fire, water and earth respectively. The Majors are radically different; The Fool is called Nameless One, The High Priestess becomes The Mother, The Lovers becomes Unity and The World becomes The Virgin. All of the trumps are like this with the exception of The Hanged Man. The court cards have the normal names (Page, Knight, Queen and King), but the pictures do not show people. The Minors do not show scenes, rather they show the number and the requisite number of pears, serpents etc. The deck comes with 3 books, a 150-page guide which explains the reasoning and symbolism on each card followed by a short question and answer section for each card. The symbols were supposedly given to the designer during Ouija board readings in 1962 and 1963 and the deck was purportedly predicted by Madame Blavatsky in her magazine Lucifer. The second book describes a spread called The Game of Destiny, and the third book is a small booklet, similar in size to most deck booklets which describes a game to be played with the deck called The Royal Maze. The deck has its own box and the boxed deck and the books come in a larger box. © 1997 by Michele Jackson (the link is dead).
During the early 60s, John was living in Carmel. The Ouija board medium who/that channeled the deck to John, was called the One. So they called the deck The word of One. In 1964, a posse of psychedelic rangers traipsed down to John's place in Cuernavaca, at the foot of Popocatapetl, in Mexico, to work out the details. 

The New Age brujos delved into the occult with a little help from LSD, datura and magic mushrooms, to shepherd in the New Age. And then they brought it back to the Haight Ashbury. Which, in turn, led to the Human Be-In...that's where I come into this story, as I was there with my mother, who knew Timothy Leary....

And Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters were fed LSD treats courtesy of the US Army. Which led to electric kool-aid acid tests where other pranksters could “turn on, tune in, and drop out.” And the incarnation of Further in her day-glo splendor (and, yes, I boarded the bus when Ken stopped).

John and Rosalind designed the Tarot deck, Roz did the artwork. She wasn't very good at drawing or painting people as I recall... But she persisted with her painting throughout her life. I inherited a big box of her brushes, paints and tools when she died. The odor of rancid linseed reminds me of her.

My job was sorting and making up the decks to make them whole. And I do mean sorting—the printer had a serious mishap or played 52-card pick up with hundreds of decks during the final print run. Wheee! Talk about not having a full deck....

Though the cards were officially out of print, orders were still coming in. After all, this was THE tarot deck for the Aquarian Age. My tedious job was to send people missing cards, and  make up new complete decks—which required finding all the cards, and sorting them into major arcanas. Those images inhabited my waking and sleeping moments. Especially the burning ouroboros. Ad infinitum.

I didn't dare tell my mom about this rather particular job as my mom and Rosalind were arch-enemies on the highest wiccan order—they had a falling out over this deck. My mom had designed her own deck. They traded notes, then realized that they didn't see eye-to-eye on intellectual matters of the occult.

Ken and I struck up a correspondence of sorts. I told Ken that my mom, whom he likely knew, made me read his books. (She got around—and perhaps unofficially qualified as a Merry Prankster, as she probably dropped acid with Timothy Leary whom Nixon dubbed "the most dangerous man in America").

When the Beatnik scene died out, my mom embraced the next wave. She became a well-tuned psycho-delic card-carrying member of the "turn on, tune in and drop out" crowd. She made me read One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest when I was young, in order to better understand what her manic-depressive illness was like. 

Ken must've been impressed with that story, as a consolation prize, he sent me a signed complete set of a poetry & prose journal he was editor of, called "Spit in the Ocean." Much of it was beyond my comprehension. But I was a late bloomer. I do remember pausing over a grainy photo of the original Further, the magic bus I had once hitched a ride on coming home from high school—driven by Ken Kesey himself. What a strange trip that was.

Ken wrote me that the bus broke down and was rotting in the lower south forty pasture on his farm in Pleasant Hill, Oregon. It was the original Further. Maybe even during the Summer of Love. Who remembers, who cares? It was then. And this is now. It's always now but memory has a way of sneaking in and curling up on a sunspot when you're not thinking about it.

Further, the 2nd (painted in the late 1980s), proof that you can go back home again.
I was also distracted by Ebbe Boregaard outside my window, who was stripped down, a bronzed Viking god, rebuilding the front steps of the old house, telling me stories of restoring his Egyptian scow and poetry. Little did I know that the gods of poetry were beginning to develop the plot on my becoming a writer. I was 17. What did I know?

I didn't save Ken Kesey's letters or the books. Or rather, my first boyfriend Sweet old Bob Hamilton, ran off with a redhead named Dulcie, and all my books—he was the "literate" one who got me into this mess to begin with. Someone out there has them and is probably wondering who this "Maureen" was and why Ken Kesey sent them to her. 

Perhaps they'll turn up in a special collection somewhere. Perhaps it's just a spit in the ocean after all.

See my post: Hitching in Marin during late 60s, early 70s

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Falling off the wagon

What I learned yesterday during a meeting: at TJs when sitting on 2 milk crates in lieu of a tall stool, make sure they're properly stacked and snapped together. When the milk crate slid off its mate, I rolled off the back as if I was on horseback—old skills may have saved me from a bad fall onto unforgiving cement but it was still a long way down to the ground—in slow-mo. My workmates surprised faces in silent frozen Os mimicking mine. Not one made an attempt to help in either direction. My ass hurts. It hurts. My wounded pride will survive.

May 19, 2012

riding a packhorse in the Andes fragment

Addendum to falling off the wagon post...

Once I was riding a packhorse up Dead Woman Pass in the Andes, and she swung around on the incredibly steep hill into a massive madrone limb, so I did the leg flip to dismount uphill. Now I was used to riding up steep hill as our hill in Forest Knolls nearly defies the angle of declination—but I forgot about the weight of my camera bag/backpack, so I rolled off the OTHER side, ass over teakettle as he swung back around. I was admiring his legs from his belly. Same instinct saved me then.

I might add that the pack horse had NEVER been ridden before in his life—he really was a pack horse with a wooden frame and blanket. But he was the only horse in "town" (wide spot in the Inca Trail) as we got off the train late—so I fashioned a crude hacamore out of stiff leather that was next to useless—He ran away with me earlier—into the wall of a chicha bar—the Andean men scattering like flies. I merely lifted my leg over his withers as he slammed sideways into the adobe wall at 30MPH. The hut shook, sounded like s drum! So he was more inclined to pay me very careful regard—though I didn't speak Quechua, I did speak horse well enough.

From a Facebook post

Saturday, May 12, 2012

RIP Canice Reilly 3/30/1937 - 5/12/2012 (photo)

M y aunt Canice Reilly holding me on the back steps, 3rd Avenue, San  Francisco, 1953. Lori, the boxer, coming in for a snuggle. Look at how light my hair is—the same color as the dog. A redhead too. Then my hair turned dark. Woof. Look at the cuffed jeans. So very 1950s! She was a teenager here. Clearly, my main babysitter. Yeah, she babysat me when I was young. and I, in turn, took care of her kids when I was young—Full circle. So, her daugher is one of my best friends too. But Canice also drove me crazy too. RIP Canice Reilly (Dinsmore/Santos) 3/30/1937 - 5/12/2012.

I was changing my Facebook cover photo to the  Funeral Mountains, Death Valley—when my cousin Dave posted the link. You couldn’t get more literal than that. I was up all night. Couldn't sleep. That dream of the bowl of scorpions haunted me. Portent of things to come. Now I understand all the disturbing dreams. But we do have this weird death ESP in our family. Her death sentence was not commuted. She measured her demise in days, not months. she gave up the ghost. (Alas, she got only two weeks notice. She died on a Saturday. It was mercifully quick.) My aunt is gone. Blessed be.

Added 5/20

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Alexander Valley from Lytton Station Road, looking north toward Geyserville, photo

Alexander Valley from Lytton Station Road, looking north toward Geyserville I had forgotten my cameras but I had my MacBook! Yep this is a MacBook facecam photo. The camera you have on you is the one you’ve got.© Maureen Hurley

Sunday, May 6, 2012


                         —Tá an ghealach lán anocht.
               To Canice Reilly-Santos 1937-5.12.2012

I dreamed someone handed me a bowl of scorpions.
Then the news came, the report wasn't good.
They said my aunt lit up like myriad moons
in the MRI chamber, her body riddled with light.
Super moon of the year, Scorpio moon.
Beltaine's bone fire announcing the birth of summer.
Someone says it's also the Buddha moon.
They say he was born, achieved enlightenment,
and died all during the full May moon.
My aunt's days are numbered in weeks, maybe months.
She is watching the approach of her own death.
For some reason I am remembering
the names of the moon in Irish.
An ghealach, the bright shining one.


(Alas, she got only two weeks notice. She died on Saturday. It was mercifully quick.)

Cinco de Mayo supermoon

Cinco de Mayo supermoon over Oakland ©Maureen Hurley 2012 

The Cinco de Mayo supermoon rose in the sky like a vast blind eye and seemed to dance and bobble in an indigo velvet sky as I drove down Highway 24 to the curve of 580. I didn't have my big Nikon camera, and the new point and shoot Canon only took blurred white dots. 

Between three point and shoot cameras I was only able to get four shots that show the face of the moon—all with my otherwise useless big camera pretending to be a DSLR camera, using night shot and 15X zoom—I took it all the way out and used the interpolated magnification too. A truck side mirror was m tripod.

The other cameras—even the Nikon P60—were a wash. I'd previously taken great eclipse shots with it. Most digital cameras don't handle low light well, extreme pixellation, or rather, artifacts, is the main problem. They overcompensate for the darkness of the night sky and overexpose the image so you get a pixellated halo. You'd be better off setting the camera on a night shot and covering the flash with your hand.

This is full frame, unretouched. It's soft, but the moon kept moving! The hard part is gauging (or tricking) the pseudo-ASA and shutter speed on cameras that have almost no manual aperature functions.

I should have shot it at moonrise, on the horizon, when it was at its biggest magnification, but I was stuck inside at work. I also should've taken a photo against a backdrop, a tree, or cityscape, but my lower back hurt so much I could barely stand. So a few quick shots was all I could withstand. That, or nothing.

Besides, we get a supermoon once a year. But it was noticeably brighter. Maybe I'll attempt a shot tonight as it wanes. But I still don't get off work 'til 9 PM. Argh. Sucks.

The digital age has left most of us in the tyranny of autofocus camera programming. They have their place, don't get me wrong. But we've forgotten photography basics—how to bracket our photos. Forget about the holy trinity of photography: the F-stop, shutter speed and film speed. 

Then there's the other tyranny of digital cameras that do have manual overide capacity—the hefty price tag. I expected the price to come down ages ago. Yet the good DSLR cameras are still prohibitively expensive—a decade later. Will I ever be able to afford a DSLR?

What would Ansel Adams do?

Shoot the moon with what ya got.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Lagunitas Vernal Pools

What I miss this morning: tri-colored blackbirds trilling in the sedges that once grew near vernal pools strung along Sir Francis Drake Blvd. from White's Hill at the Woodacre turn-off to Forest Knolls at Lagunitas School.

The name Lagunitas means "little lagoons." My grandmother said that in the 1920s-40s, the San Geronimo Valley was strewn with myriad pools all the way to the hamlet of Lagunitas. The fog always remembers where the pools once were, and lankers down for a visit.

The few surviving pools were lost in my lifetime, destroyed by well-meaning folks turning those fragile, ephemeral marsh wetlands into drained pasturage for horses and cattle. The County of Marin had grandiose plans to develop the San Geronimo Valley with 5000 more houses, a shopping mall, and in anticipation, they built a ziggurat embankment for a high school at the base of White's Hill at the Flanders ranch, and bulldozed all the marshes on the east side of the road.

All that's left of this pool is the teasel.
The Dixons, converted their ranch over to horse boarding stables, built a jumping course, and wiped out another pool. Someone ran cattle in the vee at the first Woodacre turnoff (the old road), where it joins the straight, new roadbed of Sir Francis Drake. Under their hooves, the last and most pristine vernal pool in the San Geronimo Valley disappeared forever.

In Forest Knolls, the Frenches bought the old Borillo ranch and boarded fancy horses, they drained the marsh below the pool at Lagunitas School for more pasturage. The blackbirds gathered and reeled in clouds as the school bus lumbered by each day. It was the peregrine falcon's favorite dining spot. We'd watch him dive down from the sky and smack! Lunch was served.

We knew the names of many birds because each spring, Mrs. Terwilliger in her big floppy hat and long, baggy clothes, came to visit our school with her white van full of real and stuffed birds. I too have kept dead birds in my freezer.

The San Geronimo Valley Golf Course (developed in anticipation of that new subdivision) destroyed several pools behind the Frenches-toward Roys' Woods, and more wetlands at the old Dollar ranch in San Geronimo near the fish ladder by Creamery Road.

The Marin Municipal Water District scraped off a few more pools at what became our San Geronimo Valley Horsemens' Association arena. (I was junior president, Stephanie Stone was vice president.) The rent was a dollar a year.

The arena was placed on top of marshland, and stayed damp under the tanbark. One time as we were cantering in tight figure-eights, my horse hit a wet patch beneath, slipped and fell, we went down in slo-mo, tanbark banking our fall. The ghost ancestors of flowers.

The demise of the ephemeral vernal pools. All gone now. Never to return. Not in our lifetime or even in our great-grandchildren's lifetime. The pools took thousands, if not millions of years, to form. A slow garden.

I remember the descending bathtub rings of flowers—each species, a different color, each taking their turn to bloom. This is where I learned the names of flowers: butter & eggs, meadowfoam (linanthus), baby blue eyes, popcorn flower, fiddlenecks, meadowgold, what we called snapdragons (downingia?), tidytips, and last to arrive, the tangy-scented tarweed, all out of breath.

I mourn the destruction of those fragile pools, like ancient vernal timepieces of the past, some, millions of years old, each with their own special sub-species of rare plants, salamanders and fairy brine shrimp—species that grew nowhere else in the world, in some cases, in no other vernal pool in the world—destroyed in the name of animal husbandry.We baptized it and blessed it and called it progress before we knew what it was we had lost.

The tri-colored redwing blackbird no longer sings in the sedges across most of California. Endemic only to California, their census numbers are now countable. Not a good sign. Once they blackened the sky with their countless multitudes. Their days are numbered like all the rest.

Read my post about the loss of vernal pools at the Petaluma-Novato Dump in 2009.

Some links and information on California vernal pools.

California Native Plant Society has some great photos of pools in bloom by John Game. The last remaining pristine swaths of vernal pool systems in the Sacramento Valley (Mather) and Merced (slated for a new university campus) are under threat.

A link to San Diego's ephemeral pools and the preservation process. Another link to the vernal pools of Santa Rosa Plateau (San Diego).

California wetlands information system map of vernal pools. Novato and Lagunitas are not on the wetlands map. But Chileno Valley pools are listed.

Audubon launches effort to partner with farmers to safeguard vulnerable Tricolored Blackbirds

There is an artificial vernal pool on Lucas Valley Road at Las Gallinas, created by the dyking off of water by the roadbed. Each year my cousin Sinead and I marvel that a mallard family shows up each year to raise a family in that tiny aquatic pool. Perhaps I'll post some pix later.

I'm not sure if this is a tricolor blackbird, at the Marin County Civiv Center lagoon. 

Note bene: these land photos are from 2008, not 2012—a MoHead initiated Picasa blooper. Too much trouble to fix. The previous bird photos are from 2012. Photo below is from 2019. I'm not sure any of them are the rare tricolor blackbirds. The problem is that I haven't even seen one in at least three decades!

Kathrin Swoboda took an extraordinary photo of a redwing blackbird where you can see the epaulets and she graciously said that I could use it. She thinks it's not a tricolor. Visit her on Facebook, https://kathrinswobodaphotography.comor on Instagram at novanature.

Kathrin SwobodaPhotography.com/ Instagram: novanature