Thursday, December 31, 2020

2020 Year in Recap

2020 Recap. Hindsight is a funny thing. Here I am, in lockdown (it’s April), we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and I’m looking back into the window of the past to see what I can salvage or glean from my old work. Having nothing better to do than to visit old journals during this downtime in order to see if I could flesh out some of the lean years of poetry, I hit some rich pockets. (See below for recap details)

Dec. update. That said, I easily met my 52 poem quota for the year, and then some. I didn’t even have to resort to splitting linked haiku, or counting prose poems. My end-of-year total is a whopping 196 posts. My personal best, ever. Upping my game. Of course, the fire journals bulked it up. I also added another potential quota to my list—I will strive for 52 pieces of art a year. Don’t think I’ll make that quota this year, as I only thought of doing it in mid-December. Still, there’s hope. I’m at 28 pieces of art but there are only two days left in the year.

Publishing news: A poem I began in 2015, from a scrawny Facebook post, revised in 2019, was published in Spectrum 24, KILLING THE CAT, Don Kingfisher Campbell also published an aquarelle drawing of Arequipa, Peru, in B&W with less than stellar results. Finally my poem, True Chanterelles was finally published in Fungi magazine. TRUE CHANTERELLES originally written in 2013, was revised in 2018. A long publishing birth. But Art Goodtimes put a bid on it when it was barely a day old. It needed to ripen. Then he said load it up with Latinate names. And so I did. Three of my Solstice poems, one written for the occasion, THE APPROACH OF THE OLD YEAR, WRONG ROADS, and PERHAPS A GARDEN (Dec. 2019), were published and set to music by Kirk Whipple for a holiday Cranberry Covid Coast YouTube extravaganza, to be broadcast at a later date. Part Deux, two poems. Part Tres coming up.

Thanks to old Facebook entries, my 2019 posts which were an anemic 80 posts, have bulked up to 132 posts—I was not expecting that. My iPad was stolen in April 2019, and I lost some writing, but one poem came back home to me by way of Facebook memories. I was quite thrilled to find it. Not quite 52 poem posts total, but, close—as there are many prose poems—so I can put that task to bed. Finally. Small grace. I am pushing up on 4000 total posts since I began this blog process. OK, so it’s 3895. Hard to comprehend that much work, in a little over a half a lifetime.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

How to move a piano

It’s not about the piano. B, who is decommissioning her life, is getting ready to transition, she is giving away everything. She goes through closets to get rid of old towels. She tells me stories of the blankets. The one her mother slept under for decades, cream white in the sun. It will go to one of her daughters along with the Seminole spread and ruana. She airs them out in the weak winter sun. She is making things ready for the next incarnation. She says don’t use the word death. Use use the word reincarnated. I am going to be reincarnated soon. B is 85. She is telling me where to put things, what to move, what goes to hospice. I am bearing witness. She tells me the grand piano needs to be moved to the San Geronimo Valley Golf Course. No matter that it is closed for good. She tells me this several times. So this is important. She is concerned about re-homing her things. She organizes her art pieces, broadsides in the vein of Kenneth Patchen, into threes, she wants her art to be collated and put up on the internet for others to see. She is also making up art packets as gifts for people—copies of her work. But she has written things down in an obscure language. She says her job on this earth was to translate this global language. Perhaps it’s phonetic, perhaps she has forgotten how to spell. Her mind wanders. I ask her to leave us a cypher, or a key so that we can translate her poems. It’s all about taking care of the reader, I tell her. She resists, but in the resisting, the penny drops. As she deciphers her secret language, she laughs, oh ho! and relives the delight of creating those riddles. She understands what I am asking her to do, in that her work will survive her. She calls it the galactic language. She tells me again and again that they are coming soon. That we don’t have to worry about anything. But I am ever the doubting Thomas, the meat and potato thinker, not the mercurial one. This woman I have known since I was ten is always listening to that silent inner music. Because my mother was also mercurial, I learned to be stubbornly stoic. What B is doing is writing things phonetically, it’s fascinating in that she has to read them aloud in order to learn what she has written. Last night she told me she was taking dictation from Jesus. But it is a lovely poem. I don’t have the heart to tell her that all if it is coming from her. As she reads, her hand plays an imaginary melody only she can hear. She thinks she is channeling things. I understand that. As a writer I am always channeling information. My mother was always channeling things too. But it got the best of her. And she let go of the thin grasp of the here and now. It’s a fine line we all straddle. I wrote hear and now. I realize that slip of the tongue is correct. It is what we hear and it is always now. Things that make up our lives, are trivial, after all. It’s what we do with the garden of our minds that’s important. We have made an unwritten pact. She tells me more stories, she is grateful that I am not freaking out. No one wants to face death alone but inevitably we are always alone. She wants me to use the word reincarnation, she tells me that she will be back. She tells me this again and again. Her attention span is shrinking. She tells me her job here is to translate the galactic language. When she talks of that realm that she goes to a place that I cannot follow. Nor do I want to. For me, this is not a place I want to visit, for there is no return. She banishes the word death from the conversation. Begone! This is the year of the myriad untold deaths. We have lost count. But we both know what its name is. I tell her there is a Swedish word for death cleaning—döstädning (“dö” which means death, and “standing,” which means cleaning). But I have to transliterate it for her, I have to use her language. We call it reincarnation cleansing. I mop the floors. She laughs, loves the concept, and says yes! Yes! I tell her I love her. She laughs, says, we are like family, and tells me again about the grand piano, and I ask how will they move the piano? And she tells me, No no. You don’t need to know. But I’ve already worked it out in my head, how the piano will be moved. All I wanted to know was how it got into her small trailer home via a narrow sliding glass door, and how it will get out again. It occupies centerstage of her abode. A massive gleaming beast filled with family photos. She asks me what will I do with the family photos, and I tell her that the children will want them. She sits down and plays a classical riff. I don’t know if it’s from memory or if it’s something new. She lives between complex worlds of music and air. She tells me her children will know what to do. And I explain, that it’s not about who is going to do it, it’s my need to know how things are done. I have a mind like that. I explain how dyslexia works like a puzzle. When I learned to read, late on the childhood horizon, but I had the inability to understand the questions being asked of me, haunted me and that all writing is a process of discovery. How to move the piano is how I navigate life, I need to know the story behind the story, call it the nuts and bolts. I say metaphor. She laughs, points to the bolts that hold the legs on. Smacks them like a horse. She says that the piano movers will know what to do. She gets it, that is how I process. The how, not just the why—the story behind the story is as important as the doing. The nuts and bolts. It’s all in the language we speak.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Mercurial minds

When I was a child I loved to play with mercury, there was nothing more exciting than when a thermometer dropped and broke, scattering the small silver orbs across the floor My grandmother showed me how to roll the scattered quicksilver back together again into a large ball.

I was mesmerized by how it was attracted to itself. Both a liquid a solid at the same time. I loved playing with the mercury, smashing it, making it scatter to the four directions, then bring it home again. I was master of a small universe. I had no idea that it was lethal, or that it was absorbed through the skin, I had no idea that I was inviting myself to a future mad hatter’s tea party. Alice be damned. It was all about the mercury.

The place where I grew up was mercurial. West Marin was a place of serpentine and iron—and mercury. I had no idea that the quicksilver that we played with as children was also a part of a larger landscape. Years later, after the Nicasio reservoir had settled in for a long nap, punctuated by drought and deluge, and people flocked to it shores to fish, I barely noticed the mercury signs posted on the shore. Dire warnings not to eat the fish.

But when I went to looking for the information online, it was obfuscated. Yes, there were mercury mines in West Marin and West Sonoma County, yes, there was a superfund to clean up the Gambonini mine, but there was no overview of the role that mercury played in the North Bay. Certainly in the state of California, mercury was tantamount to gold, for without it, the rocks wouldn’t yield their precious cargo of silver and gold.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Three views of Elephant Mountain

Cranberry Coast Covid Special (with Moi reading three poems set to music)

First musical interlude installment is due tonight, Dec 24, at 12AM, Miami time, Dec. 23, 10 PM CA time. Stay Tuned. I have poems set to music in later broadcasts. My poems were prerecorded, looking forward to seeing the collage. Ok, so it went up on YouTube on Dec. 26. Erm, 27th. There was a traffic jam, a technical delay. Installment no. 1, is 22 minutes long (it goes by fast). Take Five is lively.

Part two. Originally it was supposed to be one one-hour broadcast, but it proved to be an unwieldy octopus, that wouldn’t upload. Besides, everyone and their uncle was on the internet doing the virtual Christmas-sing thing. Get in line! There’s photo of me performing for the Cranberry Coast Concert series in Wareham, MA, in 2014, my reading begins at 3:20 minutes in, Betrayals of the Mind, followed by Wrong Roads, at 4:50 minutes in. Most of those photos in the photo montage are mine.

Part three debutted heads with time on Little Christmas, thus ending the holiday season with cymbals galore. Well, maybe a kettledrum, or three. No flatulent partridges in pear trees. My poem on Vincent van Gogh, Perhaps a Garden, begins 7:30 minutes in if you want to rush right in.

Or, if you prefer to avoid Facebook completely, you can go direct to the source and watch all three videos on Kirk & Mari’s YouTube channel.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Covid count, the year of the great plague

Someone, frustrated by all the people blatantly ignoring the travel restrictions, wondered if people were that dumb. Panicky, dangerous animals. I answered, Not so much dumb but certainly willful, delusional gamblers and risk takers. Oh, and incredibly selfish.

MS Annals of the Four Masters? on Black plague. Trinity College, 1316/2, p. 36. 1350


Every time I searched the skies
there was always cloud cover, 
night after night, then I finally saw it, 
a brilliant blazing double star shining in the heavens.
Then I realized it had red running lights.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Personal space outer limits

Jaysus, I’m astounded by humanity, when walking on a public trail, how people, so deeply engrossed in conversation, don’t have the basic courtesy to move over to their side of the path, they walk two abreast, or, worse, in a gaggle, but the path itself is not even 6 feet wide. It’s basic math. I lead by example, so I wind up spending half my walkies time tromping in the shrubbery. FFS, people, move over to the shoulder, or step off the path when passing others while walking or riding a bike. Don’t hog the space. Wearing a flimsy mask or pulling up a bandana at the last minute is only a small part of the equation. This stuff makes me hostile to say the least. I’m thinking of designing a hat with 6 foot extensions. How about a hoolahoop pool noodle hat?

I’m really trying to walk more as I’m desperate for the exercise, but people are such personal space jerks. And they’re completely unaware. I miss the days of riding horseback, a blessed distance from humanity. I’m afraid I’ll get arrested for bopping people with pool noodles. And they’re only five feet long. I have a mean left hook, but that would mean violating my own overdeveloped personal treaty space. Does anyone have a great soundbyte that they use to get people to move over? Cattle prods mounted on selfie sticks are generally frowned upon.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Mercury Mines

A Facebook comment is jonseying to become a blogpost. These are raw notes, no intro, or any of that take care of the reader stuff. Nothing verified. Someone posted there was cyanide in Halleck Creek, under my lost Nicasio dairies comment on Lost Marin, and I was off and running right off the proverbial cliff. Was there any truth to that rumor. Or did he mean mercury vs cyanide? Any photos or tidbits would be most appreciated. Or a mining map. My uncle had some, long ago. What  I have, so far

“Nicasio Reservoir mud has methylmercury in it, as does Bon Tempe Reservoir. I don’t know if Halleck Creek, a tributary of Nicasio Creek that feeds the reservoir also has mercury in it. If so, then there’s probably a mine somewhere. There is a rock quarry across the way, but I don’t think they use cyanide for blasting!

The fish sign warnings along the Nicasio Reservoir are a reminder that the mercury is cumulative. Mercury oxide is a naturally occurring mineral in the soil, but there are numerous cinnabar mines throughout Marin and Sonoma County that have added to the mercury levels of our reservoirs.

Red, red earth is often a sign of cinnabar, and if there were heat-processed tailings, the leftover mercury leaches out when it rains.  But some of those old mine sites were hematite, a type of iron, not cinnabar—like the prehistoric site on Mt. Burdell. Inert red dirt. Sometimes a rock quarry is just a rock quarry. 

That said, there are several historic cinnabar mines in Novato (Mazda Prospect, and Gaul mines), and West Marin. I remember seeing an old mining map of Bolinas Ridge with several old cinnabar mines. And another cinnabar site on Elephant Mountain. 

Mercury ore mined in California, used for gold extraction, was processed in high-temperature ovens. Those tailings are what has caused the mercury runoffs in our watersheds, including in the San Francisco Bay. Not from naturally occurring cinnabar deposits, the mineral mercury is inert unless its been extracted.

But the methylmercury is coming from somewhere. Question is, where?

On lost diatribes

See, this is how my diatribes get started. It begins innocently enough, I make a small comment on Facebook, and then it won’t let me alone, it keeps pestering me, breeding in my mind, and I keep trying to clarify and organize, my muddled sentences, raging dyslexic that I am, and soon there are hundreds of phrases slugging each other, out of context, wanting some semblance of order, jockeying for a position in line. Next thing I know, 3.75 hours have passed. My eyes are bloodshot. My head hurts. I look like Lurch. Don’t encourage me. You know I can’t stop. It’s like an addiction, this revisioning process. Call it a written from of logorrhea. How did Charles Dickens do it month after month, year after year, serially writing novels without editing? Did you know revision means to see again? I can’t stop seeing the connections between things—that’s the problem. Even when they’re not there. They insist. Like the difference between caribou and reindeer, mercury levels in fish, tilting planets.Then Facebook usually decides that my constant revisioning process somehow violates community standards, and slaps me in the honor farm jail, like that one in Santa Venecia. So, locked out of my own post, I usually move it over to my blog, work on it some more. But it’s still not done with me. And on it goes. There’s something tribal about it. Polishing the words until they shine like moonstone and jasper trade beads. The thing is, I shouldn’t even be a writer fergawdsakes, I mean, I have freakin’ dyslexia, I have to work harder than the average bear just to make sense out of sense.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Solstice natterings

Today the sun lit the chamber at Newgrange, Brú na Boinne. Newgrange is sinking, the sun’s axis is shifting. Nothing remains the same. Tilting planets.Why is it Bru, and no longer brug, is it related to Iron Bru? Did the g get lost somewhere along the way when it grew up? All those silent, lost gs, where did they go? Was the bridge moved? Was there never a bridge? A bridge too far? Was the washer at the ford? Was the ford too liminal? Did it get a makeover? Where is the word “palace” embedded? Is there even a word for palace in Irish? Does the fada make a changeling of the word? Google Translate thinks brú means pressure. I’m not trying to put the pressure on, but inquiring minds want to know.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Lagunitas Lake vs Lagunitas town

With an alarming disregard for geography, Facebook folks keep misidentifying old photos of Lake Lagunitas above Ross on Mt. Tam as the unrelated town of Lagunitas, in the San Geronimo Valley, which was part of the 1906 Lagunitas Land Development Company tract. They are not one and the same place. One did not spawn the other. But the dual toponym keeps on confusing people—especially since Lagunitas Brewery moved to Petaluma! No wonder I need a drink!

Lake Lagunitas was part of the San Rafael Township, Ross Landing School District, the old Tomales Baulinas Rancho lands. It was listed as a laguna on the diseño of Cañada de Herrera map of 1839. A very small body of water, not a town.

The current town of Lagunitas, ok, so it’s not a town but a hamlet—also referred to as Lagunitas Station, was so small it didn’t even have a post office until 1906, (can someone verify the PO story please?) It is on the San Geronimo rancho lands and school district. I need maps. Please send maps.

From my understanding, the current town of Lagunitas didn’t even come into existence until 1906. My grandfather bought three lots, so this date jives with family stories. And you certainly couldn’t go boating on the creek that runs through it—not even when Shafter’s was dammed. Unless it was a toy boat. Say toy boat five times real fast after you’ve had a beer. I double dare ya.

“Adolph Mailliard bought the San Geronimo Valley in 1867 for $50,000. The Mailliard children started to partition the property in 1906 by filing the first Lagunitas tract map. The Lagunitas Development Company bought the Mailliard holdings in 1912 and created the Woodacre and San Geronimo tracts in 1913. —Caption provided by Jim Staley” Plausable, and verifiable.

Seems to me that the omlet, I mean hamlet of Lagunitas took its name from the Mailliard land division, as there was no other wide spot in the road called Lagunitas. No lakes or large puddles involved.

Note there are only four buildings noted on the Van Dorn map, 1860?  

Someone said that when the dam was put in at the laguna that is now known as Lake Lagunitas, a small village at the lake was moved to its present site. Huh? The Van Dorn map, 1860, only shows four buildings. The problem with that story is that there always was a laguna there, and to move a village all the way from the Ross area over an impenetrable wilderness sometimes referred to as Lagunitas Canyon, to San Geronimo is cumbersome. Not to mention downright implausible. Besides, it was the township of San Rafael’s water supply. Why would there be a village in the water supply?

The idea of calling that lengthy canyon, and creek Lagunitas all the way to Tomales Bay is a modern watershed convention. Hold my beer, er, um, thought. Not to mention the fact that what became the townlet of Lagunitas predated the Lagunitas dam if we are to believe the IJ account. Has anyone ever bothered to verify that claim? 

Another train of thought is that a hamlet called Lagunitas once existed in the canyon where Kent Lake is now. That entire canyon (below Alpine Dam) was nearly impenetrable, not a likely site for a village. Let alone, a dairy. There was a lumber camp, and a train spur—(rail roadies, we could use your expertise here). But the problem with that moving village story to outrun the dam is that the Kent Lake dam didn’t even go in until 1957. So why did the hamlet up and move? When did the Shafter’s spur get decommissioned?

Unless they meant Alpine Dam, there were submerged dairy ranch lands, but that event is also late on the timeline as the dam dates to 1917. So threatening doom of dams and swamped villages on the move doesn’t float my beer, I mean, boat. I’m going with HL Mencken here, logical, plausable, wrong.

I found this: “The unincorporated town of Lagunitas (“little lakes”) began appearing on maps in the early 1860s when it was first mentioned as a voting district in the 1862 election cycle with 28 voters.... Lagunitas was selected to be one of many station stops along the route of the North Pacific Coast Railroad (NPC) line built in the mid-1870s.” Yes, but where? Does anyone actually have a map showing where the original Lagunitas town was? Has anyone ever verified this story? I’m big on veritas. 

Also, Lagunitas Creek, which has three forks that begin high in the slopes of Mt. Tam before forming the laguna later named Lagunita, sheds its name, becomes Little /Big Carson Creek, etc., depending upon who held the pen to the map and who was buying the next round.

Lots of fodder for arguments there, because by the time that particular waterway joined the San Geronimo Creek. As kids we called the creek San Geronimo, Creamery, Forest Knolls, Lagunitas, even Papermill Creek, depending upon where we were located....same creek, different names. For the record, that San Geronimo name for the waterway managed to make it all the way to Tomales Bay at one point. Point Reyes Station was situated on a bend of the San Geronimo creek. Yep. I found it on an old Rancho map. Van Dorn’s 1860 map of Marin labels the stretch of creek that goes from Woodacre to Pt. Reyes Sta. in its entire length, as Arroyo de San Geronimo. 

The paper mill is marked on the map but the creek wasn't called Papermill Creek. Probably Arroyo de San Geronimo, but Lagunitas Creek was one ridge to the west, not in the San Geronimo Valley. The 1860 map predates the construction of the reservoirs, and you can see that the long north-south creek following the San Andreas faultline, where Kent, Alpine, Bon Tempe, Phoenix, and Lagunitas are all located, is clearly marked as Lagunitas Creek.

And also for the record, what we now call Lagunitas Creek joins San Geronimo Creek BELOW Shafter’s Dam and the Inkwell (singular.) It is not even in the town of Lagunitas. I won’t mention that watering hole, formerly known as Forest Knolls Lodge, Papermill Creek Saloon, is actually on San Geronimo Creek, not Lagunitas, or Papermill Creek. 

Then Lagunitas Creek became called something else —Daniels, or Stevens?—Creek, some white dude, forget the native name, Tokeleluma. Then when Taylor set up shop, it morphed into Papermill Creek. So much depends upon the origin and definition of headwaters, and who was telling the story. And how colloquial we want to get. Right now, the entire waterway from Lagunitas Lake to Tomales Bay is called Lagunitas Creek. But like I said, it’s a modern USGS sanctioned convention.

Today's town of Lagunitas didn't yet exist, it was a 1906 subdivision. The real hamlet of Lagunitas was where Shafter's RR spur and water tank, along with the Log Cabin were located, at the sharp bend where Arroyo de San Geronimo joins Lagunitas Creek. Lagunitas Canyon had several logging camps, hence the name, Lagunitas, for the creek in the canyon, not the lake.

Lagunitas means little lakes, and even before there was a dam, there was water there. Hence the name. Technically it is a reservoir. Calling it Lake Lagunitas is the department of redundancy department, sort of like the double whammy Spanglish names: Labrea Tarpits, and Laguna Lake. But that’s a lost argument. Who’s buying the next round?

USGS Variant Names
Lagunitas Lake

It’s listed as a laguna on the Spanish maps, meaning lake, or lagunita, small lake, no s, not plural. The added s may be a Yankee accretion. 

“Lagunitas is the oldest and smallest lake in the Mount Tamalpais watershed, with surface area of 22 acres. The dam was completed in 1872.” —Wiki

Check out the maps. The earliest map I found was 1860, and it’s not very clear. The dam was added in 1872. There’s an 1873 map, also clear as mud. I know there’s an 1856 map, a clear image of it would be appreciated. If anyone can find a better copy of that map, or any early Marin maps it would be awesome. Where is Dewey Livingston when we need him? I’m thinking of the Anne T. Kent Library annex with those massive maps. The Marin Co Library should have high res maps of Marin readily available for those of us inexplicably up before the roosters. Thanks for listening to my 4AM ramblings. As I uncover more info, I’ll add it, so check back early and often. Cheers!

Lagunitas Brewery posters are now collectibles.

FYI, Lagunitas Brewery began over a beer, whether said beer was located in Forest Knolls or Lagunitas, is moot, as they didn’t get the septic tank permit to built it in Lagunitas. Geoff Davis says, For those in the know, House of Richards, 1st keg.” Makes sense, he had the space for it. I never knew where they thought they were going to put the brewery in Lagunitas. I don’t know how, or why, but my aunt Jane, who was working at Valley Travel, knew the skinny as to why they moved to Petaluma. But she’s no longer with us.

From a Facebook post

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Maurice Del Mue’s painting of our hill, Forest Knolls, 1939

Maurice Del Mué, Forest Knolls, Marin County, 1939.

Paris-born Marin County artist Maurice August Del Mué (1875-1955) emigrated to San Francisco when he was seven, and died in at Ross Hospital in Marin County, January, 24, 1955 after a long illness. He was 79. I was barely three. 

Besides sharing a birthday, November 24, and a town in common, Forest Knolls, I have a deep connection with Del Mué as he painted the central WPA mural at our Lagunitas school, it graces the hall of the old school office and was fully restored. When we had Picture Day at school, we’d line up along the mural waiting our turn. I was always fascinated by it. It was a fixture of my childhood.

Del Mué painted other murals at College of Marin Student Union, in Kentfield, at Tamalpais High School, in Mill Valley, and at the Officer’s Club at Hamilton Airfield in Novato. Painter Tom Wood says the The 38 x 8 foot mural “The Golden Hills of Marin” at Tamalpais High School, was restored. The College of Marin mural was saved; not restored, but in good shape; it hangs informally in one of the science rooms at COM. The Hamilton mural has never been found.

Maurice lived in a small cabin on Resaca Ave., I think near Ron Thelin’s shack above the Nielsen’s old place. So it’s quite probable my family knew him. Tom Wood said he lived in that house for seven years, and another friend, Claudia Ward said she grew up in that house. The Wards incorporated the art studio when they remodeled their house. On Facebook, Everett Basset posted, “I have del Mue’s property now with a nice view of the falls in the other direction. I found some of his sketches and paintings rolled up in the walls.” Imagine! 

Photo by Everett Bassett used with permission, 2020

Michael Toivonen, who posted the Del Mué painting of Forest Knolls on Facebook, and got me into this mess, salvaged a small pantry door from Del Mué’s house, he plans to mount the giclée print on it. Michael was friends with the former owner, and spent quite a bit of time working on the cabin. He said his friend found old paint tubes scattered on the hillside, Del Mué’s castoffs.

Del Mué was a poster artist and illustrator who worked for the San Francisco News Call Bulletin, and during the Roaring 20s, he was an illustrator for the Chronicle. During the early 1890s, Del Mue studied at the École des Beaux-Arts, and at the San Francisco Art Association, which morphed into the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. He attended the California School of Design, leveled during the 1906 earthquake, which became the San Francisco Art Institute

In 1902, he, and fellow artists, including Gottardo Piazzoni, following in the Impressionists’ footsteps, formed the renegade California Society of Artists as a rebuttal to the staid, conservative San Francisco Art Association. Though not associated with the later Society of Six, I suspect Del Mué was well-acquainted with those artists, Certainly Louis Siegriest. Though they painted in a more avant-garde style, they were all considered California Impressionists. My friend Micaela’s father, Pat Wall, opened the first modern art gallery on the west coast in Carmel, so I got to see the work of those edgy California artists.

When I was a child, I used to spend time pestering the art students painting in the courtyard of the SF Art Institute when my mom lived on Chestnut with Dobie Gray. She was very much part of the "The 'In' Crowd" and Dobie gave me a signed .45 of his hit record. Wish I still had that record.

I wonder if that courtyard mural was Maurice’s. I remember circling ravens. In 1930, Diego Rivera was hired to paint The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City, in the art gallery. Other Art Institute  luminaries included Maynard Dixon, painter of San Francisco's labor movement. Imagine the Art Institute, circa 1946, with Ansel AdamsMinor WhiteEdward Weston, and Dorothea Lange developing prints in the basement. It boggles the mind that I once played in the shadowed halls of all that greatness.

Maurice’s palette and style resembles Maynard Dixon’s work. No small wonder, as both Del Mué and Dixon worked for a major iconic outdoor advertising billboard company, Foster & Kleiser. If you’ve seen the logos for Hills Brothers Coffee, Schillings Coffee, Southern Pacific Railroad, then you know his work.

Del Mué is mentioned in Nancy Boas’ book,The Society of Six: California Colorists. Otherwise there is scant information on him. Somewhere I have a brochure on the restoration of our school mural. When I find it, I’ll post it along with a photo of the mural. Del Mué’s Spring Fog near Pt. Reyes-Marin County at Invaluable Auction House looks suspiciously like it was a study for our school mural. Scroll down to Lot 17 on their auction page to see another facsimile of the above painting of our hill, Forest Knolls, Marin County, 1939. But there’s a better reproduction at Bonham’s auction house.

Maurice Del Mué Spring Fog near Pt. Reyes-Marin County, 1935

There are four more Del Mué paintings at Christopher Queen Gallery including one of Mt. Tam that look like earlier work. More work at AskArt auction. And his bold Marin hills with barn at TrotterGalleries is more in the avant-garde camp.

Around 1933 Del Mué built an art studio in Forest Knolls, he also lived in Kentfield. At one point, he became a member of the Society of Marin Artists. Since he was a member of the Bohemian Club, he probably was familiar with the area on campouts to Taylorville, Camp Taylor. Del Mué’s California Impressionist style emulated the Post-Impressionists, “Del Mue was motivated by color and often boasted that he had his own blue that he humorously referred to as "Del Mue blue." —TrotterGalleries I’ve seen his subtle landscape paintings at the De Young, and the Oakland Museum.

A 20 x16” giclée reprint of one of Maurice’s works on canvas, Forest Knolls, is available on Ebay. That’s our hill depicted in the upper right corner. You can still see the faint line of the old barbed wire fence line, I knew every metal fence post as my job was to repair the fence to keep the horses in. A continuum of landscape and history and and time. My grandfather strung that fence. My grandmother was raising her brood, including my mother, in the valley below. I am so tempted to buy the reprint but, the thought of a canvas print leaves me cold. Maybe this fragment will have to suffice.  

ILLUSION, a somewhat found poem

A broken connection, 
loosened a litany 
of breakthrough curses
but that wasn’t the lesson.
So much for the creation 
of self care.


2020, the year of the pajama

It seems that 2020 is going down as the year I gave up all pretense of getting out of bed in a timely manner, or for that matter getting dressed unless I absolutely had to—& you? What’s your ensemble?

If I must get out of bed, I sometimes slip a rather fetching pair of 32° black knit pants under my flannel nightgown, topped with a furry black hooded parka over the ensemble. It’s like being hugged inside a stuffed plush toy. Lord knows hugging isn’t an option these days. The long shirttails of my flannel nightie keep the ensemble casual without being slovenly. Sportbra optional, underwire bra. Nope.

Formal inside dress is the same get up, sans nightgown. But not always. I often swap my nightie for an old cashmere sweater to mix it up. Good for casual Zoom meetings. Choice of either UGG boots or plush grey kitty slippers.

Outside formal dress is similar to formal inside dress except I wear UGG boots, and corduroy pants in lieu of the yoga pants. Because, pockets. I give the hoodie a rest so I have something to look forward to later in the evening.

Dressing for cocktails and dinner al fresco is a snap, I shed just enough clothing to reinsert my flannel nightie, the furry black hoodie becomes a stunning bed jacket, or a bib. Great on cold nights. Or for late night snacks. I’m thinking of adding ears to my hoodie. To kick it up a notch, I might rotate out my plaid nighties—just for a change of scenery. Ditto that with my flannel sheets.

Like Donna Hilbert, I now try to wear zip-up pants twice a week. After not wearing them for weeks was a sobering moment. A wake-up call.


Traffic was backed up near my old high school, 
we pulled over to let a fire truck squeeze by,
with an entourage of police cars, 
in a mad whirl of blue lights and sirens
but suddenly the air was filled with bubbles,
bubbles everywhere, and behind that fire truck 
was a red wagon, with Santa in the back, 
he was waving to everyone. We all waved back.
Rainbow bubbles everywhere. Pure magic.
For a moment I forgot about the plague.


Friday, December 11, 2020

Practicing the lucid art of Covid dreaming

Last night I dreamed I was in a darkened hall filled with far too many people that  I cared about, who crowded too close to me, some wanting to hug me, or to converse with me—or perhaps even to say goodbye. They were all there, the old boyfriends, ex lovers, even my former partner. My long-dead grandmother, where was my mother? MIA most of my life. Some thing never change. I’m having personal space boundary issues. No one was keeping social distance, no one was masked. Maybe it no longer mattered. Maybe this was it. The last hurrah, the long goodbye. The hubbub and roar of things left too long unsaid was palpable. No more pretense. To mask, or not to mask, that is no longer the question. We are all unmasked by this disease, and have entered into the third realm. I found myself freaking out, thinking, We’re all going to die. Shouting at my friends, and relatives—Keep your distance. Quarantine, thy name is.... Hold on. Thinking, it’s hopeless. Trying not to breathe. The very thing we need to do right now, is remember to breathe. To focus. How do we circumvent the futility of our dreams? We have entered a new realm—the lucid art of Covid dreaming. Meanwhile, the earth abides. When’s the last time you were hugged? This is a question for those of us who are alone in this madness. The other week, an old friend hugged me. I had all kinds of reactions, it dawned on me that I hadn’t been hugged in nearly a year. I burst into tears. I find myself making drawings of places I’ve never been, a landscape of hope on my bucket list, God willing. We will abide, our hearts will lead us, show us the way home. This what love is.

—for Laura Austin Wiley, who dreams she is being served cake, the final dessert, the endgame. But there’s always a cheese plate. —with love.

Bucket list. Fjaðrárgljúfur Gorge, SE Iceland. Rebecca Schultz went to Iceland and did these fantastic canvases of rock formations, which inspired me, then, and when I saw photos of this gorge with the unpronounceable name, I had to draw it.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Per aspera ad astra

Per aspera ad astra (or ad astra per aspera) is a Latin phrase meaning "through hardships to the stars". I prefer to translate it as:  through aspiration—to the stars. A gold pin we found in the back of a lovely old bureau abandoned by the roadside. Or rather, a hidden dime-sized enamel pin that stuck me and drew blood...I guess it wanted my attention. I have no idea what the rest of the pin means. A red star, a beehive on a piece of wood? Busy bees? Work? A mercator sky to map the stars? A red star, a Communist symbol, if ever there was one, a reference to socialism? Or what LOTM means. At first I thought it was LOTR! Hobbitses! One ring to rule them all. And we do have that double planet conjunction coming up on the 21st. 

Katherine Hastings suggested, Ladies of the Maccabees is a possibility. Which proved to be harder to trace, than not. References were clear as mud. Something to do with a rebellion. But I got a lead, some Knights, and a whiff of masonry. A secret society. Are handshakes or fez hats involved? Oddfellows? Let’s try the Knights. See where that leads. KOTM doesn’t have that same ring to it. Oh great, a graveyard reference, but their motto is catchy: Astra Castra Numen Lumen. Any low-flying vultures involved? Do I need to duck? Kyle Alden Thayer says Life of the mind. I can work with that.

Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.
Victor Hugo, Les Miserables (1862)

Note bene: stuffing that little bureau into the back of my car was almost a comedy of errors, an engineering feat requiring precision to clear the wheel well, but we did it. My cousin, who fancied it, said it couldn’t be done. Passers-by shook their heads in disbelief. But I am allergic to the concept of No, I prefer to work with Yes! And so, we managed to wedge it into the back of the hatchback, and bring it home like lions triumphantly dragging home their prey. Getting it back out of the car again required another round of finesse. Lift and twist. The little pin was easier to carry, despite its stellar weight. Maybe someday its cryptic message will be revealed.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Vultures falling from the sky

Rich wanted to know, Is that a poem or a true story? Was I clobbered, or rather was my car clobbered by a vulture, yes. The poor thing got a shock, I think and he was careening around and I had to pull off the road because his wings covered my entire windscreen. And I couldn’t see a thing. Luckily I was already slow down for roadwork. PG&E guys fixing the powerlines, and electrocuting vultures, apparently.

Judith said, you lead a very interesting life. I don't think I know anyone else who has been hit by a falling vulture. True, that. It’s not every day you get clobbered by a vulture falling from the sky. His wings completely covered the windshield, I could not see where I was going, I had to pull over. Luckily I was on Pepper Road slowly going around a road crew, so it was no big deal. I think a power line was down, and he got electrocuted. Maybe he is the reason why the lines were down. There were tree and power line trucks all over, we're having a red flag fire warning, no rain in December. Drought weather. It all could go up in smoke again.

I got out of the car to make sure he was OK but I didn’t want to stress him out any more than he already was. And I was wondering how the hell I was going to try and rescue a vulture, they’re enormous animals. 
Katherine said, Gee, you could at LEAST have given him mouth-to-mouth! “2020 is for the birds” too. Well, considering that their nostrils go through to the other side like a hollow cave, it would be really a challenge to give mouth-to-beak to a vulture. For a moment there I thought I was going to have to add vulture wrestling to my resume. Opossum nanny was bad enough.

He sat in the front yard of the farm house for a while, stunned, with his wings outspread, and then he was able to lift off the ground, but his navigation was for shit, and so he crashed into the side of the house. We watched him flounder around. I suspect he will be fine, other than crashing into random things. I’m sure he is muttering under his breath right about now about lost dignity and whatnot. Apparently 2020 sucks. Even for vultures. 


Because I wasn’t ready, I missed the photo 
of a bobcat hunting in a field.
Because I was not ready, I missed the coyote 
who crossed my path and stopped in the middle of the road 
to stare at me with such contempt, I missed that photo too.
Because I wasn’t ready I missed the photo of a vulture,
harbinger of death, who hit my car, 
perhaps a shock from a PG&E line that went south. 
One is never ready for a vulture to fall from the sky 
like a piece of the night, his outstretched wings 
covering my windshield like a cloak 
as he plummeted to earth, a fallen Icarus. 
I stopped to watch him on the ground, such enormous beauty. 
His red head was glistening like a ruby or a flower, perhaps a rose. 
He sat for a moment, stunned in the grass, then lifted his wings to fly,
but he was still so stoned, he hit the side of the house with such force 
I was concerned for his safety. But I figured whatever happened, 
whether he was struck by a car, lightning or electricity, 
he was well on his way,mand would probably survive the blow. 
I was also trying to figure out how I was going to wrestle 
a vulture into the car in order to save him.
I wasn’t ready for a herd of randy young bucks who jumped in front of me 
chasing a young doe, but I managed to not hit them thanking God 
that I was driving slow, for a change. 
Then, as I was driving the final stretch of back road, 
a hawk landed right in front of me as if to taunt me.
This time I was ready. I got my camera out 
and took photos of him standing on the powerline. 
But I had to leave, driving down the road,
slowly wondering, marveling at its beauty. 
I wasn’t ready when the second hawk landed right in front of me, 
that swoop of red and brown and gray as she ruffled her feathers. 
I wasn’t ready but all of those photos all of those images in my mind.
For that I was ready.mBluebirds crossed my path 
and I think of a piece of the sky let loose fluttering in the breeze. 
During these Covid times, these portents of death, of things to come.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

I created a photo blog, test drive

 I created a photo blog but am rethinking what I need, want. this is close, but I can’t make a collection or stack. all photos take up space. So I can’t post by year, or person, etc. Suggestions?

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Coyote crossing

The coyote slowly crossed the road, stopped at the mailbox, took a sniff, so domestic, for a moment I thought he was a dog. But there was something so scruffy about him, his fur unkempt. He looked like he was sleeping rough. I stop the car to take a photo, but my camera battery was dead. The coyote stopped to eye me warily, and we stood there for the longest time, eye to eye, each measuring the cut of the other. And then he slipped off between the vineyards ghostlike, searching for breakfast among the rows of grapes dried on the vine.


Saturday, December 5, 2020

Notes on paywalls and fair use, Ok, so it’s a rant

—for Garry Hayes 

A friend of mine wanted to read an article in the WSJ, but was blocked by paywalls. I know his frustration. He also doesn’t want to support that particular newspaper by getting a subscription. It is a bit too red as in conservative. And the opinion pieces are downright yellow. Yeah, about those paywalls, I find them maddening. I try and copy a salient paragraph if I have access to an article I’m posting. Otherwise I just pass by those headline only posts.

Another friend often posts paywall articles on Facebook which drives me crazy, talk about the big tease. No preamble, no synopsis—and you know how misleading those headlines are. And, lo, there was the WSJ article in question.  So, I asked if someone could please post a salient paragraph or two for those of us left in the dark, outside the paywall. 

All sorts of fresh hell broke loose. I was not prepared for the sanctimonious BS I got from my writer friend’s constituents—which was off the chart. They went for blood, they raged and railed, saying that what I was suggesting was theft, that we were ripping the paper off, ripping the writers off, that’s how the writers got paid, we were voiding copyright, etc.

It was like being stuck in one of the Hieronymus Bosch hell painting from The Garden of Earthly Delights. But this wasn’t Venice, no canals to drain the carnage and bloodshed. It was like an omen, an online version of The Lottery. I literally wanted to fold my poker hand four ways and put it where the moon don’t shine. At least hide the chips.

But the thread was growing exponentially by the minute, she has 4001+ friends. The end wasn’t in sight—other than my own rather exposed behind. So I did the next best thing, I deleted the thread. Poof! they were gone like a puzzled cloud of mosquitoes, left to satiate their bloodlust elsewhere. I blame the current gloves-off political milieu for all manner of bad manners.

Whatever happened to the lost art of writing a synopsis of an article, or using a salient paragraph—which is all that I originally asked for—not to repost the entire article. My motto: always take care of the reader. Posting a sentence or a paragraph with a news link is allowed, btw, no copyright laws are infringed, or being broken. It’s called fair use, or for educational purposes. 

We’re not talking sacred text here. I wasn’t St. Columba attempting to bust copyright laws, thus starting a war over a psalter. To every cow its calf, and all that. And you know what that led to—banishment. I’ve been to Iona, it’s a lovely place. But not in winter.

Needless to say, I did not even bother to point out to the mosquito mob that I merely wanted a synopsis, or a salient paragraph. Not the entire bloody article. But the posters were well beyond the age of reason. I retreated, not wanting to pitch a forked battle on my friend’s wall, so I deleted all my comments from my friend’s post. Licked my word wounds in private. But the wound festered only to erupt here.

Never mind that the news journals are riddled with so many aggressive ads that it is impossible to see the article for the trees. SF Gate is impossible to actually read. Their ads often move or cover the text of the article, that it’s like playing hopscotch with words.

Was a time, not too long ago, when we were able to access WSJ, Wa Post, NY Times, etc., for free. Those news journals are getting plenty of ad revenue. And because of that, I am against paywalls in general.

Because I have dyslexia and cannot read articles surrounded by large blocks of red and yellow, or moving text/images/videos, let alone Google blanket banner ads draped atop text so you have to play dodgeball in order to finish a sentence, I also use AdBlocker, which also triggers a paywall response from most free journals as well, so I can’t win for losing.

There is a workaround, if you can’t access a cached article in Google, you can usually access articles using Reader View in Safari. Blessed soot of plain text on a field of silent snow. Until the website uses a lipsum fake text shield written in gibberish that either resembles Finnish, or Klingon to obscure their articles. 

Personally, I do better with the Latin gibberish. And by then it’s Game on, as I try and outfox the dummy text walls. And when I do breach the webwalls, the article is usually a profound disappointment. Why did I even bother? 

You’re probably wondering what lipsum is. And well you should. It’s a nickname, a made up word for a made up text “Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.” A 15th century gonzo typesetter took Cicero's De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum and turned it into gibberish to use as fake text.

Or, another more stately paywall workaround, if you go to your local library webpage, they often have journal subscriptions and you can access articles that way. So genteel, I know.

But I’ve discovered that the newspapers behind those paywalls still want us to pony up to read their articles, and do nothing to tame those obnoxious ads flashing and screaming and yowling. How is this aggravated assault on the senses even remotely fair? I give up.

Sometimes it is too difficult getting the news when it’s a matter of yellow journalism masquerading behind a paywall.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

In defense of California Bay Laurel

Today’s rant is brought to you in defense of bay trees. On a friend’s page, someone was trash-talking California bay laurel trees, saying, among other things, they were an invasive species and should be completely eradicated. Well, to say I lost my mind, was an understatement—more like ballistic. He was confusing our native bay tree with the Mediterranean species, in the same family, with the same common name. So was everyone else on the thread. This is why we have Latinate names, folks—family, genus, species.

I wrote: Well, I see it’s time to pull out the big guns and invoke the Latin names here. Most Californians have always called Umbellularia californica a bay tree, the Mediterranean cousin was called bay laurel. Then someone a little too wordy for his own good, decided to call it a longish mouthful—California Bay Laurel—to clarify the name and distinguish it from the Mediterranean Laurus nobilis, aka sweet bay laurel, noble laurel, true laurel, Greek laurel—thus confusing most of the people most of the time.

I was on a roll. During the Miocene era, the entire Mediterranean basin was covered with lush bay laurel. Even the Sahara. In ancient Greece, the plant was called Daphne, after a river nymph Apollo had the hots for, who was turned into a bay laurel tree by her father. Misdirected love is why the bay is an evergreen. Now sweetbay, or bay laurel only survives in small pockets at high altitudes in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, so it’s considered rare as love.

Back to our bay tree. There is only one sole species of Umbellularia. During the Cenozoic era, aka the age of mammals, there were three other Lauraceae relatives in California, Nectandra, Ocotea, aka sweetwood, and Persea—ancient avocados. Bay nut pulp, if eaten young, taste a lot like its avocado cousin. The persea, with its giant seed, had a unique seed distribution system, giant sloths. 

The giant sloths, aka the Lestodon, were the only mammals who had intestines big enough to pass the giant avocado pits. Lesser mammals croaked from terminal constipation. So when the giant sloths, who slowly ate ancient avocados went exstinky, the ancestral avocados’ shinola propagation game plan was up to your neck in schitt creek without a sphincter of hope. See, the only way the Persea coalingensis could propagate from seed was when the giant sloths took a giant dump. Geologist Garry Hayes said joshua trees were also a favored snack.

“The original avocado found in the area now designated California can be related to prehistoric times, namely the middle Eocene and Pliocene epochs which have been determined by geologists to be approximately 10 to 60 million years ago. The history of these progenitors of the modern avocado and close botanical relatives in our current Persea species is recorded in fossil remains embedded in rocky outcroppings and in formations exposed comparatively recently by the work of man as he sought gold in California. ...Persea praelinque, P. pseudo-carolinensis, P. coalingensis were scattered throughout California in prehistoric times and are represented today only by botanical relatives found in Sonoran Mexico. —from Prehistoric Avocados in California
Adds a whole new level of meaning to gold digger. The persea pit could only sprout after a dark, wild journey through the giant sloth’s intestine—a weird, ill-fated symbiosis. Needless to say both tree and sloth went by the wayside. Civit coffee move over. I, for one, could’ve survived life without knowing the circumference of a giant sloth’s asshole. No shit, Sherlock. I guess I should say, Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Let’s talk about overpriced avocado toast, pass the guacamole, please. You do know that avocado means testicle in Náhuatl, right? I’ll let you guess what guacamole means.

Settlers used our native bay leaves for seasoning—they’re much spicier and pungent than their sweetbay relatives in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. I used the last of Nevada County poet laureate, Molly Fisk’s piquant bay laurel leave wreath in the turkey soup. It was resting on its laurels in the back seat of her car.... It’s a long story. Chris Olander is the current Nevada County poet laureate, in case you’re wondering. Just don’t confuse wordsmith Olander with oleander sometimes used as a bay leaf laurel crown, though they do look alike, as oleander is very toxic, but Chris is a long, cool drink of water.

California bay was an important food source for Native peoples who ate the pulp of young bay nuts, roasted and powdered the mature nut, used the young leaves as a green, as a tea. Deer adore young bay shoots—high in protein. Mature leaves were used as a seasoning, a medicine, and an insecticide to get rid of lice, and to keep grubs from their acorn granaries. Squirrels, jays, and rodents like the nuts, and woodrats also use bay leaves to keep their dens pest free. No more fleas.

But I digress, the noble laurel, from whence we get the word and the shrubbery to crown for our poets Laureate. Joy Harjo is our current/third term US Poet Laureate), and the Nobel prize, not to mention those laurels for ancient Greeks to rest upon, is a shrub, a small tree—not the big monster tree that our native bays can become. Swedish chemist who invented TNT, Alfred Nobel, cleverly coined the Nobel Prize, which was also a pun on his name. Dynamite! 

The  largest bay tree in the world is in Mendocino, an official Big Tree. The Big Tree on Graton Road in Sonoma County is at least 600 years old. Sonoma County has the highest concentration of CA bays in the world. There’s a monster tree in Santa Clara, but it split in two. I know of another monster in Las Gallinas/Lucas Valley (photo—can you find West Marin poet Brian Kirven in the tree? He’s six feet tall, and he should be a poet laureate).

I said to the FB poster, Please don’t call our native bay tree a generic laurel tree, that’s another series of shrubbery altogether. All those other laurels by any other name, other than the noble laurel, are loaded with cyanide. Especially the English laurel. The California bay is endemic to California, meaning it grows nowhere else in the world except here, in riparian zones wherever both types of sequoias were found—the coasts and the Sierra foothills to 5000 feet. And it likes to grow with oak trees.

There are a few bay groves in southwestern Oregon too, where they inexplicably call it Oregon myrtle. Another non-California common name is headache tree. Early pioneer settlers called it pepperwood because of the odor. Most of the Native names are lost; in Yuki, it is called pōl’-cum ōl. In Humboldt County, near Weott, Avenue of the Giants, there’s a wide spot in the road, a hamlet that changed its name to Pepperwood from Barkdull. A town swept away in the 1955 flood, and finished off in 1964. But the name persists. All that’s left today is a giant corn cob monument commemorating the spot where the village of Pepperwood once stood on the Eel River floodplain.

Who remembers the Pepperwood Restaurant on Mark West Creek in Santa Rosa? Sort of a bland Zim’s joint. The nearby Pepperwood Preserve was donated to the Academy of Sciences in 1979, and turned into a preserve in 2005.The old Knight’s Valley cattle ranches, last owned by the Bechtels, were once part of the 1843 Rancho Mallacomes land grant. Before that it was Wappo country, but it curiously doesn’t have massive bay tree stands—mostly oak woodlands burned by myriad wildfires. There are two small isolated pockets of bays in Tacoma and BC, so California bay laurel may have been once more widespread. Or someone planted them.

Though baywood is terrible to use as a main source of firewood as it’s too wet, it hisses like a snake, and makes a huge sooty mess in the stovepipe, it’s an excellent source of wood for fine carving, and it’s also a superb tonewood, sought out by luthiers. Great guitar backs. During the 1970s, I was in a southwestern Oregon art gallery admiring a lovely hand-carved wooden salad bowl, and the propieter made a big fuss about how rare myrtlewood burl was. I was quite miffed when I realized he was talking about baywood. Oh, for fucksakes, California bays are common as weeds. 

The unnamed FB poster further maligned bay trees saying they were forest thugs choking and strangling other trees. He said it would better to eradicate them all. By that point, my ears were steaming. I must’ve been channeling Edward Abbey who said, "It is no longer sufficient to describe the world of nature. The point is to defend it." 

I said, Bays don’t have an invasive root system that kills other trees. But they do grow big and create a huge root crown, or lignotuber base—a kind of tree larder—so they can regenerate after a fire. Their dead leaves release termines, like oak leaves release tannin, which does discourage undergrowth—but they are not the bullies. Once again, here we are, with our myopic three-second soundbyte masquerading as critical thinking skills.

Yes, bay and tanoak are host to Sudden Oak Death, the bay is wounded, but doesn’t die from it, however to the tanoak, it is nearly always lethal. SOD is a waterborn pathogen introduced from China via imported rhododendrons, the bay did not introduce it to oaks, the rhododendrons did. Blame that Marin nursery that imported diseased rhodies.

The fungus, Phytophthora ramorum, similar to the potato blight, is transmitted by water, and well, bays like water, and to make things more complicated, bays and oaks often prefer to grow with each other. It’s a symbiotic thing. People maligning and madly killing bay trees in order to to save the oaks, are sadly misinformed. SOD harms bay trees too, leaving spots on bay leaves. The pathogen is waterborn. Might as well try and stop the rain.

I prefer to call it a bay tree than by any other name. I’ll put my laurels down now. Step away slowly from the keyboard. Now.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

UNCHARTED JOURNEY, 8 freewrites to music by Kirk Whipple and Marilyn Morales

1. Light

Perhaps the idea of light began with Morse code. 
An SOS from deep space. My mind wanders 
to the opening bars of Chief Inspector Morse. 
Who doesn’t love puzzling out a good mystery?
Yet the truth of the flute 
had other destinations in mind.
I am reminded that I am not in charge. 
The mind maps of music, 
each is unique. A signature.
A frenzied rhythm, the hummingbird of war.
The coda is another message, a cypher
and then the piano brings it all home with an arpeggio. 
A cascade of music ends with the one-note song 
of a car horn on distant streets, 
reminding me of old Havana, 
a place where I’ve never been, 
a place where I can never return to.
And I mourn for what was lost.
And for that was coming.

2. Morning Zephyr

The sea breeze is a sister to the wind chimes. 
Someone once told me the wind was sighing, 
or perhaps there were angels hidden in the eaves.
A sophisticated melody reminds me 
that the piano is a harp on its side 
and I think of the ancient Greeks 
leaving Aeolian harps on stone walls for the gods
so that the wind would have an accompanist,
so that it was not alone. Yet the music of the wind 
in the pines is as a primal roar akin to fire, 
and we combust as we listen to the wind 
playing the old notes that resonate deep within the psyche. 
And that flute. I envision a girl in an alpine meadow 
keeping company with the wind. There is no other lover 
other than time. An old woman sits 
beneath the casuarina trees 
dreaming of distant shores,
and other beachheads.

3. Quiet Thoughts

Starlit music, wavering lights from distant galaxies 
lifts us to the sky glittering with arpeggios of hope. 
It is as if the moon were slipping 
off her beaded flapper dress 
onto the silk cloak of the sea 
and look how she lies back, 
odalisque moon low on the horizon. 
She is the same moon reflecting 
in the mirrors of barway doors and brothel halls.
When we look up, for a moment we might forget 
the ordinary and the mundane, but her journey 
is effortless across the distant seas. 
The moon, a siren dancing in her own wake.

But fairytales always have a twist. 
No, not Disney versions all sanitized 
with the scary bits expunged. Real fairy tales
where fear is palpable, and devours us.
Water can’t find its way back to the sea 
on a level playing field. We can’t find our way.
We need the elevation to bring us down 
to the shore from such lofty heights 
to the sea, the sea, the shining sea 
fanning its lace fan on the shore 
waiting for the last dance.

4. Our Dance

The rhumba of morning flashes onto the sea, 
so still, after the eclipse. Your eyes take in 
the opalescent thunderclouds. Storm out to sea,
and yellow morning light bathes the city. 
A pulsing glow verging on tangerine 
fades into pale gracenotes. Coral atolls, 
the sophisticated dreams of tropical fish 
painting the water with their bodies. 
Small dancers of kinetic art. 
I am most at home when I am in the sea.
The clouds come down to drink from the horizon 
gathering up all that light. 
The distance of time, the tango, 
and the ticking of an old clock in another room, 
a relentless metronome. We are every age all at once,
we are both young and infirm. Art saves us.
The soft rain on the sea, the sweet tears of joy 
falling from nascent clouds.

5. The Blue Path

Snazzy snap and step of the dancer, 
the jazzy path and tickle of piano. 
Blue notes, late nightclubs of the soul 
loitering after hours, the sleaze of cigarette smoke,
a chorus of martini glasses, or is it mojitos at dawn? 
Breakfast of champions. Well, for Hemingway 
it was, of course. Poor man offed himself for no real reason. 
It was either writer’s block, or he was too drunk 
to stand at the typewriter. The sun also rises, 
the sun is a rose, old man, and the sea is opalescent, 
the meniscus beckons, old man. The sea. A boat.
The staccato of a drum solo, surely Africa is invoked.
I want to tell Ernest to wait it out, the best is yet to come. 
That sullen, relentless art. We’ve all been there. 
We dance across the darkness of the dance floor 
snapping our fingers, we are dancing 
like moths towards that burning light.

6. Little Glass Houses

Small birds in the eaves take flight 
and weave the air into a gossamer gown 
made of webs. Transparent thought. 
A hungry sun begins its journey 
and the birds sing a crescendo. 
They are at the center of it all. 
The windows of the soul and all that. 
I think of Cadiz, a place I’ve never been. 
Wind chimes dream another melody into being.
The birds dip and weave, collecting the last notes 
and feeding them to their young.
Their pinfeathers are almost all in. 
Soon they will be ready to fledge, 
taking strands of the melody with them 
wherever they go. They will pollinate the air 
with their relentless songs.

7. Joy

He is running through the forest on a dirt track, 
he knows the rhythm of the heart, 
the pounding of his feet on the pine loam, 
the vague order of vanilla underfoot. 
A place of solace, a retreat, annealed by fire. 
He is taking down to the bass notes, 
that of rock and loam and sky. 
The dreams of trees released in smoke 
with only the sky to witness their last will and testament. 
The uncharted journey of burned needles 
settling back down to earth, miles from home 
in the form of emberfire, 
a combustion of the soul, annealed by flame, 
and the final song of trees.

8. Tributaries

Water over stones, the song of boulders.
The journey to the sea begins in the mountains 
as snow and rain. Thunder, hail, 
and then the melody begins to emerge 
from the crevices of rocks, 
at first, so small, like the twinned breath of birds and wings. 
Then it deepens, it grows in timbre, circling 
each waterworn course with the finesse of a dancer, 
gaining momentum with each passing. 
The river is a gateway to the sea, and a chorus awaits, 
it seeks an audience with the wind 
and then the rocks are ground into pebbles, becoming sand 
while the waves play them against the shore.

Freewrites from Uncharted Journey, 1986
You can listen to Joy here.