Friday, February 27, 2015

Chicadee vs Mirror

This little headbanger exhausted himself attacking his image in the mirror the entire afternoon. Apparently my outside mirrors have captivated the two of them. They were headbanging like rockstars last year. He fell down between the pillows, panting, still he wouldn't give up. The top of his head's even dented.

So I cupped him in the hollow of my hand to give him a "time out" until he calmed down. When I let him go, he went right back attacking his image until dusk drove his demons off. The chestnut-backed chickadee plans to win that battle with his reflection. Meanwhile, I fear for his beak. Surely he must have the headache from hell.

Apparently what I've been calling chicadee, is a mountain variety. I thought chicadees had eyebrows. But only the Mountain chickadee has eyebrows. He's different from the chicadees in West Marin. Could be what we called chickadees in West Marin was another bird. We knew the different types of birds, but not necessarily their names.

He's really tiny, but persistent. My outside mirrors have captivated the two of them. They were headbanging like rockstars last year.  This little beggar was fearless, sat in my hand, caught his breath, and took off for round 972. He plans to win that turf battle with his reflection.

The sign of God, RIP Spock

Stardate: 02272015. This morning, we wrote poems to our hands in a 2nd grade class, and when we were done, we all spontaneously made Spock salutes. Came home to the news to find that while we were saluting Spock, making the sign of shin, the sign for God, was right after he had died. RIP Spock. Dif-tor heh smusma. Live long and prosper, Leonard Nimoy. Return to the stars, old man. I have always been, and shall ever be, your fan. Godspeed, to you, on that final frontier, I'm sure you will find it fascinating. Indeed.

When Leonard told his Ukrainian father, who ran a barber shop in a Boston ghetto, he said, "Learn to play the accordion," he urged. "You can always make a living with an accordion. There will always be bar mitzvahs, weddings." Said Nimoy, “I never learned.” I can well imagine Leonard auditioning out a soulfully dark rendition of Chichornya on the other side.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Aptitude Test

When they gave us aptitude tests in our Junior year at Drake, I tested highest at becoming a nun—just because I knew a bit about religion, then some Spanish, then a smattering of science...a lot of good that did. So, I was supposed to be a Spanish-speaking nun-scientist—a la Sor Juana de la Crúz? Is that why they shoved me into the typing pool to watch me drown?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

TBT Poets with the Write Stuff, Press Democrat, Nov. 19, 1989.

#TBT Poets with the Write Stuff, Press Democrat, by Susan Swartz, Nov. 19, 1989. Besides the featured poets David Bromige, Elizabeth Herron, and myself, Sonoma County poets mentioned: Lynn Watson, Sonoma Mandala editor Doug (DR) Powell (I was an editor in 1980), Green Fuse editor Ralph Smith, Avec editor Cydney Chadwick, Loose Gravel (Steve Tills), Poets of the Vineyard, Russian River Writers' Guild (most of us were organizers), Carolyn Kizer, Bob Kaufman, were all SC poets; Maya Angelou, and Andrei Codrescu had moved on, but were still very much part of the Sonoma County literary psyche. 

David Bromige, Doug Powell, Lynn Watson, Ralph Smith (JoAnn Marler's father-in-law), Cydney Chadwick,

 Susan interviewed me right before the Loma Prieta earthquake struck, and I was so nauseous right before it struck, I cut the interview off short, went to bed, only to have the entire cabin shake like a wet dog. We were upstaged by the quake, the article did eventually appear, but we were so distracted by the aftermath, I don't think anyone actually ever read this article.

Dontcha just love the Mental Health Crisis Hotline number under my photo/poem? Also Pat Nolan's upcoming Black Bart Poetry Society Doggerel Contest at the Blue Heron in Duncan's MIlls (I was a judge for "those fine-haired sonsabitches." ) Gail King Alastair Johnston Steven Lavoie Ah, for a life of crime... (Wish I had the article...) Jim Mccrary said. Loose Gravel was out of SSU. Hank Mancini and Steve Tills edited. Only a few issues.


Teaching a CPITS poetry residency at Analy High School in Sebastopol, 1981. Glenn Ingersoll was my student!

Glenn Ingersoll Yup, I'm the "student [who] came with a folder of ninety poems he had written during the fall." I abnegated my responsibility to choose favorites and turned it all over to you. Thanks!

Wait, there's more. Your mom wrote a letter to the editor. She was so great. Did she ever write? So grateful to have known her. Loved how she got involved with the Russian River Writers' Guild readings. But it must've been odd for you having your mom at all your readings?

from a Facebook post 
added 2/17
I probably should also post these on the original dates too. 

#TBT April 9, 1985. A dog-eared copy of a copy—note how the bottom of the article is missing. My California Arts Council artist-in-schools residencies at Mark West School in Santa Rosa literally changed my life. For that CAC-supported vision, I am grateful. Thank you Philip Horn and Wayne Cook for believing in my project. Because I was mixing my mediums, I almost didn't get funding—until Phil came to do a site visit. He said, Oh, Now, I get what you're doing... Now the CAC hosts mixed-media residencies. But not waaaay back then. During Arts Day lobbying at the State Capitol, I also gave all my congressmen and the Governor copies of our student poetry and art anthology—never expecting a letter back from the Governor. Perhaps my favorite student poem was from a kindergartner who proclaimed: "If I were king of the universe, I'd dance for a living."
In 1989, my CAC project led me to the USSR, and a poetry and art exchange with what later became our sister city in the Ukraine. An article appeared about me (and these photos) in Kostior, and we were deluged with letters from kids all over the entire Soviet Union wanting to be part of the exchange. Letters addressed to Dear Santa Rosa...

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Me & Meltzer

I wrote on David's Facebook wall:
A birthday is a two-way mirror.
The outside looking in and the inside looking out.
You have to be ready to reassemble the years.

David Meltzer: *Thank you, Maureen. Valuable insight!*
and: *Onward!*

I said: I used to read that poem of yours to all they kids when I first started teaching poetry with CPITS in Sonoma County. I still quote bits of it from time to time. It serves. It serves.
Many Happy Returns, David.

David Meltzer *Many thanks! By the way, it was spectacular!*

Mt Barnabe, Castle Rock (photo)

Mt Barnabe, and what I called Castle Rock (my childhood playground). That's Eric Stone's old teepee at the bottom of Portola Road. Wonder where my childhood friend Bucky is now?

Mac Trackpad woes

OK, this is so annoying. My clicker button went out on my trackpad. Just try using your trackpad without a clicker. Dragging windows becomes very zen—like a bad lightbulb joke. So now I'm using inventive hand gestures (in both senses of the word), to compute. Old USB mouse to the partial rescue. But talk about making useless hand jive motions! #idiotsdelight

I don't think it's actually the trackpad, but the battery needs "servicing" but I'm determined to keep it going as long as possible—they sometimes swell as they age, making the trackpad wonky. I wonder what's the longest anyone's ever kept a "Need's service" battery going? I seem to have good luck with MacBook batteries. My old 2006 MacBook battery only just died, luckily I had a spare, so I swapped it out. Nae bad—that battery lasted 8 years! Most average about 3-5 years. I was very good, followed all the battery rules.
But, alas, the newer MacBook batteries are sealed inside. I need a special tri-tip screwdriver (not a roast), for starters. So it's not a simple swap. Guess I need to hunt down a battery. Nae clicker on a trackpad is irritating to say the least. Also, this was a used MacBook, so I don't know how well the battery was maintained previously. And if the trackpad and battery are bad, then its costing what it's worth to fix it. Ugh. You know me and Macs, I keep them alive decades past their expiration date.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Fat Tuesday pancakes

My grandmother always made thin crepe-style pancakes for dinner on Fat Tuesday, or Shrove Tuesday, right before Lent. Sometimes the pancakeswere stuffed with a crumbled cheese mix, usually cottage cheese, then sprinkled with sugar and lemon. Not your usual Sunday morning pancakes. But very tasty. I loved the novelty of having pancakes for dinner.

Every year, without being aware that it's close to Shrove Tuesday, I find myself making pancakes for dinner. Old habits die hard. One year I decided to kick it up a notch and so I used a variety of Wensleydale cheeses, one was flavored with dried apricot filling, and another with lemon rind. Divine, but way too filling. Like lead in the stomach. But we couldn’t let all that real maple syrup go to waste, now could we? More info here.

Not sure why there's vinegar in this Welsh recipe...if the buttermilk's any good, you don't need it. Besides, lemon juice would be more flavorful—unless it's basalmic vinegar. Then, by all means, carry on.

More info on Shrove Tuesday here. And here.

Added 2/20

Monday, February 16, 2015

Tapping Trees: a Sappy Story

Anthropologist and writer, K. Kris Hirst posed a question on the process of tapping maple trees, who invented it first? Northern Europeans or Native Americans? An interesting chicken or egg dilemma.

K. Kris Hirst, who writes for, posted a story on the process of "Maple sugaring—obtaining sugar and syrup from maple trees—primarly a North American phenomenon. Although maple trees (species Acer) are found throughout the world, only North America has sugar-producing species (especially sugar maple Acer saccharum and black maple Acer nigrum), combined with the right mix of cool nights and warm days that generate enough sap to make sugaring worthwhile."

I love Kris's posts, they get me all Wiki-fingered, thinking parallel thoughts. I leave a small comment. Then another, and so on. Soon, I have enough material for a blog. Lovely story. Especially the chicken or egg dilemma part. Who invented tree-tapping first? Europeans or Native Americans? Especially when there's no archaeological evidence to prove or disprove it?

Another reader, Bill W. commented on Kris's Facebook post: "Last year I had an interesting—and surprisingly lively—debate about whether some of the objects labeled "dugout canoes" are actually maple sugaring troughs. There are historical accounts in Iowa of settlers reusing old Indian wooden sugaring troughs as hog troughs."

My mind had already run off with the idea of maple sugar-cured ham and eggs for brekkie. The idea was beginning to tap-dance itself into a bad Abbot and Costello archaeological joke with a sweet punchline. Why did the yellow-bellied sapsucker cross the road? Turns out it may be an even sappier story involving sap-swigging squirrels.
"Legend has it that, during a spring of famine, an Aboriginal was watching a squirrel bursting with energy. After noticing that the squirrel drank water from a maple tree, he realized that this was where the squirrel was getting its energy from. Maple water became a food prized by the people of the First Nations and later of New France.” —
I'll leave you to visit Kris's page and read up on traditional maple sap collecting practices. But come back, OK?

However, squirrels aside, I envisioned another solution. It's possible that Northern Europeans and Native Americans both independently came up with the process of tapping and reducing down tree sap. Convergent evolution, if you will. The Natives may have taught some European settlers how to tap maple trees, but the concept of tapping trees for sap was already a long-standing tradition in Russia and other boreal regions, as well as in Eastern North America.

Indigenous maples do grow throughout the Northern Hemisphere, but the sweetest sugarbush stands grow in North America. Three maple species are tapped: sugar maple (Acer saccharum)black maple (A. nigrum), and the red maple (A. rubrum). You can tap other maple trees, but they're more stingy with their sugar content.

But there other other deciduous trees in the forest you can tap for sweet sap. Not just those three maples. For example, Sycamore (OK so false and true sycamores are related to maples—Acer; somebody was trying to cop a Biblical feel by naming those trees sycamores, but those Biblical plane trees (ficus/mulberry) are not our sycamores). Somebody posted that sycamore syrup tastes vile. They didn't mention if they were swigging Biblical sycamore sap or Acer sap.

And you can tap the equally related box elder (Acer negundo) AKA the ash-leaf maple. But there's also birch, lime/linden (Tilia), walnut, and even beech and oak trees that have been tapped for sap. (Palm trees too may be tapped for sap, they may be Biblical, but they're not exactly a northern tree…)

Now Birch is classified as a Rosid, as are most of our food sources. The birch family, Betulaceae, includes some 130 species of aldershazelshornbeamsbirches, and is closely related to the beech/oak family.

Finnish birch trees
When tracking down sources and ideas, I tend to lean toward folk customs, and oral tradition for clues. Sometimes, if I'm lucky, a particular tradition has survived into the modern era. In the case of Northern European tree-tapping, it seems to be true. Only with birch trees, not maple trees.

There is a related old Russian / Ukrainian folk custom, to tap birch trees at the break of winter to spring, boiling the syrup down to make an alcoholic berezovyi or birch beer (considered to be a spring tonic). 

I can't believe I still remember the word (I always think I don't know any Russian—until the words arise unbidden from memory). I was in the USSR collecting and translating poetry from 1989 to 1991. My Ukrainian translator, Oleg Atbashian was very emphatic explaining that berezovyi was a very special spring beer made from the sweet sap. And that old peasants drank it. (Russian: byeryozovyi).

So I Googled it, I found that birch beer is also made in North America, flavored with sap, or a twig oil distillation, but it's also made with added sugar. Coals to Newcastle. Not exactly authentic. I needed a paleo-source, not these modern shortcuts, using raisins and lemons and sugar to make a carbonated soft drink flavored with bottled birch oil.

Besides, most New Englanders erroneously assume that birch beer was invented in America ca. 1800. Well, that just didn't sit right—especially when I began to uncover posts from homesick ex-pat Russians trying to locate a source of the authentic ancient brew. (Hint: it predates root beer, it's made with sap, not roots, or twigs.)

My understanding of Russian birch beer was that only the natural sugars in the birch sap were used (and fermented). Apparently birch sap runs a month later than maple tree sap, and is more copious (but has less sugar content). The reduced birch sap is dark and molasses-like, sweet, slightly tart, maple flavored with vanillin with wintergreen/piney overtones. But it has a shorter shelf life.

During the regime of the USSR, sugar was not readily available, and it was a hot black market commodity. Probably why Russians have a mad sweet tooth today, they add jam and sugar to their tea, so sweet, that your cavities will positively beg for fillings. Birch trees are ubiquitous in Russia. Gather birch sap at the dacha, equals a free sugar fix.

Googling along, singing a song, I found a British birch beer recipe dating from 1676 that must've found its way to North America. John Worlidge was the go-to man for cider-making and his Vinetum Britannicum was the brewer's Bible, a 17th c. Amazon bestseller for at least a quarter of a century. The colonists had a prodigious thirst, and knew about fermenting the blood of several trees, and birch trees were the best (and the cheapest). Since the Middle Ages, laborers were routinely paid two gallons of cider (or birch beer/wine) a day.

(Note that Worlidge added refined sugar, which would've been a luxury item from the West Indies.)
"To every Gallon whereof, add a pound of refined Sugar, and boyl it about a quarter or half an hour; then set it to cool, and add a very little Yest to it, and it will ferment, and thereby purge itself from that little dross the Liquor and Sugar can yield: then put it in a Barrel, and add thereto a small proportion of Cinnamon and Mace bruised, about half an ounce of both to ten Gallons; then stop it very close, and about a month after bottle it; and in a few days you will have a most delicate brisk Wine of a flavor like unto Rhenish. Its Spirits are so volatile, that they are apt to break the Bottles, unless placed in a Refrigeratory, and when poured out, it gives a white head in the Glass. This Liquor is not of long duration, unless preserved very cool. Ale brewed of this Juice or Sap, is esteem'd very wholesome."  From Vinetum Britannicum, p. 176, London, 1676. (Free Google Book download.)—Wiki
The sugar addition to the recipe bothered me. Why add sugar to a sap already ladened with natural sugar? Sounds like a shortcut to an older tradition. I did look up the book and found that honey was also used. I've included a facsimile of the text as it's tho charming. And after you read it, I'm pretty thure you'll be lithping  ath well. Yeth.

The book provides my terminus anti quem. We do know that forest trees were being tapped for sap by the British as early as 1676, and probably since the Middle Ages. It took Worlidge several years to ready his manuscript for the printer, then it had to be hand-letter-set. Safe bet to say it was written ca. 1670. Jamestown was settled in 1607. Quebec 1608.  There is no mention of tapping North American trees for sap, Asian, African and Northern European trees, yes. From the 1620s on, there were Indian raids and wars, safe to say, there wasn't a lot of sharing. The English civil war from 1640 to 1659 meant England was a bit distracted. The French and the Dutch patrolling, more wars. Not a pretty time.

A fortuitous accident more fruitful (sapful?) was to search the internet for birch sap, or syrup. I found that "Making birch syrup is more difficult than making maple syrup, requiring about 100-150 liters of sap to produce one liter of syrup"    —Wiki
In the Ukraine and parts of Russia the sap is collected and sold as a type of mineral water, so they clearly value it. A fantastic, easy to make and reliable white wine can be made with a very distinct and pleasant taste, as well as beer, vinegar and a rich caramel and molasses-like syrup.... The sap then, which is actually about 95% + water, minerals and a little sugar, can be evapourated off to make a sublimely delicious syrup.—Fergus the Forager
Then searching under "birch sap," I hit paydirt:
"Birch sap is collected only at the break of winter and spring when the sap moves intensively. Birch sap was a traditional beverage in Russia (берёзовый сок / byeryozovyi sok), Latvia (bērzu sula), Estonia (kasemahl), Finland (koivun mahla), Lithuania (Beržų Sula), Belarus (Бярозавы сок / biarozavy sok, Byarozavik), Poland (Sok z Brzozy), Ukraine (Березовий сік / berezovyi sik), France, Scotland and elsewhere in Northern Europe, as well as parts of Northern China. Heterosides present in birch sap release methyl salicylate by enzymatic hydrolysis which is analgesic, anti-inflammatory and diuretic."   —Wiki
Then I Googled "birch juice" and garnered even more payola. For centuries, birch sap has been a staple in Russia, Scandinavia, Northern Europe, and Northern China (must be that Russian influence). Described as divine nectar:
Beryozovy Sok (birch juice) is the sap from a birch tree. It is a water-like sweet liquid. It’s the only kind of juice in Russia that is venerated in songs about the love of the Motherland. The ancient Slavs worshipped various Pagan gods. And birch was one of the most sacred trees. At that time it was forbidden to take the juice out of the tree for regular use – it was to be saved for rituals. But after the introduction of Christianity the ban gradually disappeared. And people started to collect birch nectar for everyday needs.  —Russiapedia
(Apparently Chernobyl led to the downfall of large scale birch sap collecting). But it's making a comeback among bodybuilders and athletes. Besides, most of them are already on steroids, so what's a little radiation, besides the glow-in-the-dark teeth bonus? Forget about hydrating with coconut water. Birch sap and maple sap, or rather, xylitol, is the tastier and new improved Gatorade and mineral-rich detoxicant. 

Sok means juice, or sap in Slavic languages. And dang if birch sap isn't just loaded with an aspirin related derivative, methyl salicylate, AKA wintergreen oil.  And birch sap, a diuretic, is a veritable wunder-drug, reputed to restore virility, cure baldness, rheumatism, prevent scurvy, and get rid of freckles (must be an anti-redhead thing). Health tonic indeed, and since the Russians are mad for fermenting all manner of things, birch beer is a natural. I guess there's no hangover. A nice spring ritual. LOL!

And if that doesn't float your boat, you can always buy hangoverless vodka made from birch tree sap, it’s called ‘brzozowka’ in the Ukraine.

In Old Slavonic, a cultural poem is embedded in the names of months: the Latinate Апрель (April) was called берёзозол, from берёза (birch tree) and зол—the month of greening birches. Any gardner worth their salt knows not to prune trees when the spring sap runs, or a fruit tree can bleed to death. Birch juice, collected during the first thaw, when the sap flows, is called the "crying of a birch."

The other weird Russian custom I encountered while in the Ukraine one winter, is birching. You wet your birch switch, or broom (ве́ник), and then flagellate yourself (or a lover) all over while in the (ба́ня) banya. Never personally witnessed it. A birch broom switch was thought to have magical powers, a sweet love potion. Does that make the banya the equivalent of a sugar shack? But it's an interesting aside. Think of it, a wintergreen-like substance is in the bark. Sort of like tiger balm on a stick, with a laced beer chaser, anyone? Sounds like a good spring tonic plan. Elixir of the gods.

And of course, birch is associated with the goddess Brigid in Ireland, and in Siberia, it's considered to be the world tree. The Latin name, betula is from the Gaulish betua; birchm in Old Irish: bethe, is the second letter in the alphabet of trees. Birch bark, the Northern Hemisphere's first paper, the wood, also used for writing. Famine food, and a hangover-free beer, as well. 

A child's IOU birchbark drawing from Novgorod ca. 1240-60AD:
     надо    митрѣво     зѧти     доложзи       кѣ

Write through the night

Oops. Started writing last night and now it's today.
(Weirdly fitting that on the day that Philip Levine died, I finally got around to compiling a blogpost about the day Seamus Heaney died. I think Sandra Hoben will understand... Still to do: Maya Angelou and Galway Kinnell. It's been a rough couple of years for poets.) Will I ever catch up?

Tapping Trees: a Sappy Story
Remembering Seamus Heaney (begun in 2013, rev in 2015)
The Caged Bird Has Flown

I guess I never did the Galway Kinnell obit.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Choose Three Famous People

Molly Fisk asked on Facebook: Name three famous people you'e known.

Mine would be a litany too long to post. How do I choose just three?

Then there's "what kind of famous?" Do I choose from writers, poets, actors, musicians, public figures, etc.? By how well I knew them—an actual event vs. a one-off? 

Writers: I shared a wee drop of whiskey with Seamus Heaney in an elevator in Rotterdam with the African poets. Rita Dove was my partner in the Breyton Breytenbach translation sessions. We did not drink whiskey.

I went drinking and sang Irish songs with Tess Gallagher and Raymond Carver at the Port Townsend Tavern in Washington. Let's just say alcohol was consumed and I was a lightweight. They weren't.

I hung out with Maya Angelou and her son Guy at National Poetry Week. We sat backstage with Lucille Clifton waiting for Maya to come offstage. They talked about the gravitational speed of their breasts reaching to their waists.

Monday, February 9, 2015


   —for Neil Astley

Counting sheep: 
Insomnia at 3AM, 
I watch all the BBC 
farmer sheep clips 
thrice over.
And still I can't sleep.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Call Me Skinny, But Don't Call Me Late

In the early years, during those golden days that defined some of my earliest memories, the Lagunitas school bus dropped us off at the highway at the bottom of Arroyo Road, and it was over a mile to my house. Pete Sutton's house was about a quarter of a mile up the road from the highway. By then, I was tired of walking, so I'd follow him home.

I was also nearly a year younger than most of my kindergarten classmates, so I was a baby walking that long walk home. My grandmother did not walk down the road to greet me after school, I was on my own. I guess she figured that because we walked to church in Lagunitas every Sunday, I knew the way. True.

I literally dropped out of kindergarten because the walk to the bus stop was just too far for my short four-year-old legs and, wandering attention span. Too many distractions: the creek, the water nymphs, the gopher snake stretched across the road, shooting stars and milkmaids bordering the road just waiting to be picked.

Sometimes Mr. Dingman would wait for me at the bottom of the road, or, if I missed the bus, he'd angrily honk and pick me up me on the reverse run after he'd collected the rest of the kids in Lagunitas, hollering at me all the while. But more often than not, I stood forlornly at the empty crossroads of Arroyo Road and Sir Francis Drake Boulevard waiting for a school bus that would never come.

By the time I got to first grade, I had to catch the bus. I had to go to school, or else I was a truant. It was the law.

By then I had developed some quirky bus neuroses. I'd dream that I finally caught the bus to school on the wrong side of the road (coming back from Lagunitas—which meant I already missed my bus, this was my second chance at hell). The door hissing like a dragon, and Mr. Dingman's wrath, was the first obstacle. Then, facing down a sea of staring kids frightened me so much I nearly peed my pants and swooned with fear. Finding an empty seat or a friendly face was like running the gauntlet. Clearly, this tripartite dream was based on real-life experience.

But there was more: When I took my new red wool coat off, to hang it on the coathook in the back of Mrs. Ramsey's first grade classroom, I discovered, too late, I had forgotten to put my dress on. There I was in my frilly knickers and grubby undershirt for all the world to see. Kids sniggering. I died of embarrassment every time, as it was a vivid reoccurring dream Freud would've loved to sink his eyeteeth into.

Or I'd dream of catching the bus home, but no one else was on the bus, not even the driver, as it barreled and careened through Lagunitas canyon at dusk, like it was possessed. Forget Stephen King's "Christine." Vroom!

Coming home from school was a different matter. I had classmates to walk with. Sort of. But Jeff Sutton, Joan Lindsey, Diane Moyle, and Billy Joe Bianchi would ditch us little kids, or walk too fast for us to catch up. That left me and Pete standing at the crossroads. (Pete's dad, a pianist, had already gone down to the jazz crossroads at midnight, but that's another story). So I took the easiest route, I followed Pete home. Pete's mom, Chuck (Charlene), fed us peanut butter and exotic store-bought grape jelly sandwiches, and sometimes she even gave me a ride home in the green VW bus. 

To his credit, Peter never ditched me, though he could have. I'm sure I was a little pest. I remember playing in the creek, hiking up to Forest Farm Camp, and building Lincoln logs with him in his room. Kid stuff like that. Jeff was far too cool to hang out with us. I wasn't allowed in the army blanket chair fort. And besides, I was, you know, a girl.

(I don't remember when the school bus started coming up to the bend at Barranca Road to turn around where Joan Lindsey's house was, but that was a year or two later, as more families with kids were moving into the Valley. By then there were so many of us, they couldn't NOT pick us up.)

I was devastated when the Suttons moved to Lagunitas. I'd lost a playmate. No more free lunch. No more reason to drop by the Sutton house as he lived way up the hill. Then, as I got older, I was  too shy. Then, we all got way too cool (or too stoned), and we hardly spoke to each other during that long stretch of gravelly road that transported us across the gawky years of high school and hormones. Or even at College of Marin—though we were in the same pottery class for years.

(What's funny about this aside, is that when Ralph Sutton died, Pete said his father was a man of few words: "every couple of years he completes a sentence." That pretty much summed us up too. Until Facebook came along. This bloggy bit was inspired by a running rantlet with Pete. He's paying me back for all the times I ate his peanut butter sandwiches. It really was a long walk home and his house was the closest refuge…)

Nobody ever had any money in those days, and feeding the neighborhood kids was what families did. I remember eating cereal at 5PM (I thought it was scandalous) with the twins, Adrian and Adair (Lara) Daly. Their house was a mob scene and it was a free for all, with Connie and Mickey yelling at the top of their lungs, not to drink up all the milk or eat up all the cereal. Shannon was a kid of few words, he'd merely hitch the bowl up closer to his gaping maw and shovel it all in before the empty cereal box even hit the ground.

There was "poor" and then there was "really poor." The Bagleys, who were newcomers, were in the really poor camp, right out of Grapes of Wrath. After a good game of olly-olly-oxen-free, or kick-the-can, with the Weavers and the Magnussens, we were all skinned knees and grubbier than dirt. No formalities, like washing up before dinner, were enforced.

We gleefully ate the wilted vegetables Mr. Bagley couldn't sell from his vegetable truck. There were so many of us, the Bagleys set up a couple of doors on sawhorses in the bulldozed lot, and we'd have at it. Mountains of white welfare rice with salt and butter, watery zucchini and catsup under an indigo sky and wavering stars never tasted so good.

Seeking nourishment for an inarticulate hunger, I went from house to house, grazing with the other Valley kids. Scott Weaver's mom made the most outrageous raised yeast doughnuts, I'd eat them, still warm, granules of sugar crystals riming my lips. Nothing else even comes close to those airy doughnuts of memory. Forget Dunkin' Doughnuts.

Billy Joe Bianchi's grandmother dragged me into her kitchen and fed me raviolis and spongecake, saying, "Mangia, mangia." "Eat, eat." And so I did. As I tucked in, she grated cheese rinds into a big jar; and when the golden sponge cake hanging upside down in its cake pan, was cool, it'd slough onto the table, whispering unintelligible secrets, and we'd eat divine food of the gods. Billy Joe usually ditched me to do chores, so I was fair game for Mary Bianchi's brand of cheek-pinching ministrations. After all, she'd fed my grandmother's children too.

One of my best friends, Stephanie Stone's newly blended family was so large, they never even noticed another ravening mouth at the table. New step-mom Helen was doing a bang-up job feeding her small army. Shopping was a field expedition. We'd load the shopping carts with gallons of condensed milk and field provisions. Then a dozen of us would stand in the cattle truck all the way home, leaning into the turns over White's Hill.

Micaela Miranda Wall's stepmom Betty Lang, a potter, held an open larder policy too. Dense homemade honey wheat bread and slabs of sharp cheddar, and garlicky salads, so hot it burned your tongue. My job was to rub a clove of garlic into the wooden salad bowl. I practically lived at Micaela's house when we were tweenies. We'd get long skirts from the Goodwill and slit them in two to make twin miniskirts. We were peas in a pod.

I'd also head over to another neighbor's across the way for Second Dinner. They didn't have kids, but they had a TV, which was part of the draw, I'm sure. There was only one or two channels to choose from, and there was also a lot of snow—depending on the vagaries of reception so far from civilization.

During the summer months, I used to peer through a knothole in the fence, watching kids play in the pool until Barbara Scott took pity on me and invited me in for a swim. I learned to swim late in life, I was ten. I was floating on a big sausage balloon and it popped in the deep end. My grannie dragged me down to Barbano's Summer Camp across from Pete's house, for my first swimming lesson. But lessons cost money so, after I mastered the dogpaddle, I finished learning to swim at the Scott's pool. Barbara Scott put me to work, lifeguarding the little kids, babysitting, or making props for a play she was producing.

I was never turned away from anyone's table. It was as if I was trying on different families, to see how they all lived. For the most part, the common denominator was a large family. I had only my baby brother, and my parents had dumped me off at my grandmother's house by the time I was four. So I had issues of abandonment. I was like a stray dog turning up at the dinner table.

You'd think my grandmother wasn't a good cook, but she was. I rarely missed a meal at home either. She'd already raised eight kids, so we were unofficial numbers nine and ten. She was done with parenting. The way I was eating, I should've been the size of a house. But I was a lonesome, skinny little kid, so skinny, that Jimmy Bohman, who was at least a year younger than me, used to sneer, and call me "Flaco" and "Skinny" at school.

I must've had a tapeworm or something, I ate like a horse. And I was horse crazy too. Horses were my saving grace, they offered me a steady circle of friends, they also exponentially expanded my dining horizon, and getting home was a piece of cake. But that's fodder for another tale.

Now I'd give anything to be able to eat like that—and still be called Skinny too. Guess I'll nibble on these words instead.

Jazz Hands and Second Dinners

Me with my faithful pet skunk named Flower,

In the very early days, the school bus dropped us off at the bottom of Arroyo Road, and it was over a mile to my house. Pete's house was about a quarter of a mile up from he highway. I was tired of walking, so I'd follow him home...I was also nearly a year younger than most of my classmates, so I was really a baby walking that long walk home.

Pete's mom, Chuck Sutton would feed us peanut butter sandwiches, and she sometimes gave me a ride home in the green VW bus. Peter never ditched me, though he could've, having two brothers. Even when they made a blanket fort and wouldn't let me in because I was a girl. I'm sure I was a pest. I remember building Lincoln logs with him. I'd never seen Lincoln logs, I was fascinated.

I was devastated when the Suttons moved to Lagunitas. No more free lunch. No more playmates. Nobody ever had any money in those days, and feeding the neighborhood kids was the norm. I remember eating cereal at 5PM with Adair Lara Dalys mob in Lagunitas too. Tony the Tiger. Roarrrrr!

Apparently I had a voracious appetite. I went from house to house grazing with the other kids. Scott Waver's mom made the most outrageous sugar doughnuts. Billy Joe Bianchi's grandmother fed me spongecake and raviolis, saying, "Mangia, mangia." "Eat, eat." And so I did, but I was a skinny kid, so skinny, Jimmy Bohman used to sneer and call me "Skinny" in eighth grade.

Stephanie Stone's blended family was so big, they never even noticed another ravening mouth at the table. Micaela Wall Marsden's stepmom Betty Lang Wall had an open larder policy too. I practically lived hat her house when we were tweenies. Then, I'd go over to another neighbor's house, usually our next-door-neighbor Agnes Vincilione's house for Second Dinner. I must've had a tapeworm or something. Now I'd love to be able to eat like that and still be called Skinny.

Pete Sutton's famous dad once played a concert for us at Lagunitas School. Kevin McConnell reminded me. I thought I'd died and gone to cool. The original Loony Tunes. What were we, 2nd graders? We all danced and made jazz hands, little starfish hands keeping rhythm to the tunes. And Steve Tristano playing his dad's (Lennie) famous boogige-woogie chords on the piano afterwards, I thought Mrs. Burges was going to have a stroke. No wonder we were so delightfully warped.

Pete posted a ditty that spurred this memory:
Over in the meadow where the grass grows so even, 
Lived an old mother frog and her Little froggies seven. 
"Spring," said the mother, "We spring," said the seven, 
and they sprung all day where the grass grows so even.
The silly ditty. Think of the soundtracks of those old cartoons from the 50s, that was Pete's dad at the keyboard playing stride piano. Of course, he played more famous jazz tunes too.So what rainsong would Ralph Sutton play, if he was still with us, this morning? Was a time you couldn't find anything on him on the internet. Didn't realize he lived in Aspen. He's been rediscovered. I found references to Ralph on the internet, but (no mention of "Chuck.")

Katelin asked, Wasn't it Tristani?

Lennie Tristano. Another name out of childhood. When I was a kid, I thought all good piano players had to be blind, like Lennie, and also Kent Weaver (Scott Weaver's bro), so when someone offered us a piano (and lessons), I didn't want it. NO siree! I liked my eyes.

Lennie played cool jazz bebop, using chord progression. The Wiki article says Steve only met him once after 1956, but I remember meeting him walking down the road (SFD Blvd) to the Lagunitas store—two blind piano players and their entourage cut quite a swath in the imagination of childhood.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

LSD graduation, 1966 (photo)

LSD graduation, 1966 (Now that I have your rapt attention, that's Lagunitas School District, in San Geronimo.) You can begin to see the LSD effects, with the ties coming out of our hairdos.

Micaela Marsden Seriously?! Where did you get that photo?? I don't know if you remember, but the day before, we shared a single pair of flip flops walking down Barranca Rd. On a 90+ degree day! I had 3rd degree blisters on my feet, so walking in high heels for the first time was evidently hilarious to look at!

Maureen Hurley OMG! I don't remember that " we shared a single pair of flip flops walking down Barranca Rd. On a 90+ degree day!
I think Micaela actually had her hair professionally done up. How she managed to pull that feat off, is a mystery. Not something her father would approve of, or fund, for that matter. Ratting brushes were involved. My aunt ratted my hair and sprayed it with a half a can of Aquanet. Yesteryear air hair!
Kelly Quinn Cannizzaro What a fabulous do! That is quite an art in my field! ...and by the way, that is not a beehive, Marge Simpson wore one of those. That is a Barrel Roll Updo. 
Micaela Marsden Thank you Kelly, for that clarification! Also, I requested a french roll in the back, which of course you can't see!
Jack Gilder My LSD graduation pictures looked way different.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015


I was a kindergarten dropout.
I followed the other kids home.
I had bus issues and school nightmares.
I was always hungry, and not just for food.
I was painfully shy. Awkward.
I could eat like a horse, and often did.
It was as if I was trying on 

different families for good measure.
Am I excused from the table yet?

added 2017

Donna Champion asked me to reveal seven little-known facts about myself, I wrote a bloggybit based on a (weather) thread below that went south. I'm always surprised to see where a sentence will travel. Or unravel. And am usually the last to know what it means. Meanwhile, did I uncover a week's worth of facts, a prime number's worth. Dunno but here it is, warts and all. There's no rest for the writers...

Shank's Mare and Reaganomics

Ca. 1969-70—The IJ says Mon., Jan 11, but there was no Mon. Jan 11th in 1967, '68, '69, or '70.

During winter break, Sir Francis Drake High School took our Greyhound bus away so we had no way to get to school. We lived in the country, quite a ways from town. There wasn't any public transportation in our neck of the woods—other than the lone Inverness Greyhound commute bus that traversed the San Geronimo Valley around 5 AM and 7 PM. There was a bus route "in town," as we called it, but no Marin Transit, or Golden Gate Transit (until 1972) in West Marin.

In those days, most people living in the San Geronimo Valley were poor and didn't own cars. The Independent Journal article nade it sound like we had an option to ride the bus. But we staged a protest march, refusing to pay the 70-cent fee ($2.50 a week was a lot of money in those days. That's the equivalent of  $17.50 a week, or $630 a year, today's prices. My grandmother certainly didn't have any money to spare.), and so the Tamalpais School District jettisoned the Greyhound bus. Left us all hanging.

What the article failed to mention was that the cutback was due to Reaganomics. And if the San Geronimo, and Nicasio Valley residents were wealthy, abolishing the school bus would not have been on the cutting board.

It was a long eight-plus mile walk to Drake. Then home again up over White's Hill. How I learned to hitchhike. Yep. The stories I could tell. My friend Allison Lehman was holding the sign I'd made—making it look so easy.The Woodacre contingency was fantastic, as I recall. A real morale booster.  Richmond Young was the organizer. They were all fresh as daisies when they met up with us which undermined the dreariness of it all.

Allison and I had walked from Forest Knolls to Woodacre by the time the IJ showed up. So we were already tired. Part of the Woodacre contingency, Peter McConnell (in the plaid shirt) was walking in front of me—I was  dressed in a dark blue London Fog trenchcoat, in the back. Rain was predicted for later that day. Geoff Davis was walking beside me. From him I learned that a good story makes the road shorter. After a few days of walking, we were bone-tired. But I gained a good friend in the process.

And thus began my hitchkhiking phase. Thank Gawd, those who had cars would stop for us when they saw us walking. How I met Carlos Santana hitching to school. All the rock stars had moved out to The San Geronimo Valley, so it was always an interesting ride into town, but coming home was trickier. We met Jesse Colin Young and the Youngbloods, Quicksilver Messenger Service, The Grateful Dead,  Jefferson Starship (Airplane), The Sons of Champlin, Big Brother and the Holding Company, but never Janis. 

Janis Joplin lived on Arroyo Road at the Barbano's Summer Camp dorms. I remember the Larkspur house. But she still stayed in Lagunitas as her bandmates from Big Brother lived in the dorms. She had a hand-painted white Porsche, but she never gave us rides. 
Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz, my friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends...
We weren't complete strangers to hitchhiking. Once, on a lark, Sue Williams, Sue Barry and I hitchhiked to Yosemite to save the $20 Greyhound fee, but got busted in Los Banos. A CHP cop bailed us out. Got us on the right road home. Scared the bejazuz outta us. Thought we'd get busted for sure. 

For me, hoofing it to school was 8.7 miles over White's Hill, one way. That's 17.5 miles a day. Sir Francis Drake Blvd. was not set up for walking. It was quite dangerous going over White's Hill. No bike lanes then.

Walking for pleasure is one thing, forced marching to and from school every day that distance is another thing—especially during storms. Not to mention the time involved—all this because Ronald Reagan cut back back school funding. 

Good old Reaganomics. We were the first to feel the ramifications of it, as few families had cars, the Valley was poor. One time, about ten of us piled into Don Stanley's old white Ford Falcon station wagon (he founded the Pacific Sun). We sat on the tailgate, and rode over White's Hill watching the road whizz beneath our feet. So illegal.

But this was hitchiking in earnest—twice a day, every day, rain or shine. Which meant you never knew when you would arrive at school, or when you'd get home. You never knew where you'd be let off, so no matter what, you were walking a mile or two.

Then there were the weird rides where you didn't know IF you'd ever get home. (Does the Zodiac killer ring a bell?)

No transport also meant that there were also no extra curricular activities after school because the ride pool to West Marin dried up after 6 PM. Too hard to get home via shank's mare. Terrifying aft
er dark. And that inverness commute bus wouldn't always stop for us—even if we did have the spare change. Which we didn't.

This post is restructured from a Facebook thread.

Reaganomics: "Throughout his tenure as governor Mr. Reagan consistently and effectively opposed additional funding for basic education. This led to painful increases in local taxes and the deterioration of California's public schools. Los Angeles voters got so fed up picking up the slack that on five separate occasions they refused to support any further increases in local school taxes. The consequent under-funding resulted in overcrowded classrooms, ancient worn-out textbooks, crumbling buildings and badly demoralized teachers. Ultimately half of the Los Angeles Unified School District's teachers walked off the job to protest conditions in their schools.[5] Mr. Reagan was unmoved.
Ronald Reagan left California public education worse than he found it. A system that had been the envy of the nation when he was elected was in decline when he left. Nevertheless, Mr. Reagan's actions had political appeal, particularly to his core conservative constituency, many of whom had no time for public education.
In campaigning for the Presidency, Mr. Reagan called for the total elimination the US Department of Education, severe curtailment of bilingual education, and massive cutbacks in the Federal role in education. Upon his election he tried to do that and more.
Significantly, President Reagan also took steps to increase state power over education at the expense of local school districts. Federal funds that had flowed directly to local districts were redirected to state government. Moreover, federal monies were provided to beef up education staffing at the state level. The result was to seriously erode the power of local school districts.[6]
As in California, Mr. Reagan also made drastic cuts in the federal education budget. Over his eight years in office he diminished it by half. When he was elected the federal 
share of total education spending was 12%. When he left office it stood at just 6%." —The Educational Legacy of Ronald Reagan 

Monday, February 2, 2015

First Rain

No rain in SF in January for the first time in 165 years. The Sierra snowpack is at 25% of normal, and is rapidly shrinking because it's far too warm for this time of year, The Bay Area coastal hills are turning brown months too soon. And December's deluge destroyed coastal salmon spawning grounds. Washed them out to sea. And now the Sacramento River is too warm for salmon fry to survive in—a 95% mortality rate. Can't win for losing. And still, people are needlessly wasting water.

It's rampant selfishness. Seek dominion over the earth. Everybody wants to get theirs—especially if it's a finite source. When I tell a certain someone, that's all there is of a food or item, or the price has gone up, so I'm not buying more, he AUTOMATICALLY helps himself to more. Ditto with water. Perversity of human nature. 

And yet, people are still watering their sidewalks... WTF?

Bay Area map of where our water comes from: KQED Blog

Do you even know where your water comes from? In the East Bay, it;s the Mokolumne River drainage, Hetch-Hetchy Reservoir, and Sacramento-San Joaquim Delta—including Shasta Reservoir, and  the New Melones Reservoir—one of the driest reservoirs in the state. Check out the dam updates at KQED News.
"January is normally California’s wettest month, though for many cities across the state, this year marked the driest January on record. Snowpack in the Sierra Mountains is also still well below average, an alarming indicator that a fourth year of drought is afoot, too. According to California’s Department of Water Resources, the snowpack just a quarter of the amount that it should be right now, an alarming statistic given that snowpack is responsible for a third of all the state’s water. Warren Cornwall for National Geographic reports:
It’s not just the amount of water in the snowpack that makes it important. It’s the way snow locks water in place during the winter like a giant natural reservoir, then gradually releases it as snowmelt in the spring and summer. That release process helps keep man-made reservoirs filled during the hottest time of the year. Those reservoirs are already running well below their historic levels for this time of year." —
Look at how much greener California is
California may be greener after the December deluge, but read my lips: WE HAVE NO SNOWPACK! That means no summer/ fall water reserves. The real trickle down story that is California's water, is sonowpack. Do do you know a snow dance? That's what we really need right now.

The drought has been catastrophic for California's wild salmon: about 1 percent of the state’s historic population have survived. Last summer, streambed levels were at an all-time low, and the salmon eggs didn't survive in the the hot, shallow remnants of pools. It is estimated that over 95 percent of all fish roe in Northern California streams didn’t survive the season. We need a method to capture what little rain we do receive to recharge the groundwater. Beavers, nearly driven to extinction, were spotted making a comeback in California. Could it be Beavers to the Rescue?

PS: It's no longer January. I think we'll make our entire February rain quota by this afternoon. I guess the clouds don't have a calendar. One thing true about California, is that we do everything big. Forget Texas. When it rains, it pours. Snorkels, anyone?

From a Facebook post:
February 2, 2015 ·

rev. 2017