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One morning, we hiked along the bluffs above the ocean at Spring Ranch.

Spring Ranch is a Coastal Reserve on the coastal bluffs just south of Big River created by California State Parks and the California State Coastal Conservancy. Visiting it should be on your list of things to do whenever you travel along the Mendocino County coast.
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It is an excellent example of the type of project I had in mind when I wrote the Conservancy Concept into California’s Coastal Plan, shepherded the legislation through the legislature and administered the agency during its formative years. It not only removes the land from the vagaries of regulatory conflicts but also begins to push back the impacts of prior land uses, ranching and the like, through restoration. At the time the Conservancy was proposed, restoration of environmental resources was not a high priority of the State and in the case of wetlands opposed by many in the environmental community as well.
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The Reserve is long and relatively narrow, stretching from PCH to the ocean for several miles. This type of public acquisition, small narrow units, as well as the purchase  of undeveloped subdivisions along the coast was frowned upon by the State because of management and cost issues. Yet, we believed they were necessary if critical coastal resources were to be preserved and the goals of the Coastal Plan achieved. I am pleased to see that, in part through the efforts of the Conservancy, up and down the coast these objectives are now fully accepted by most governmental agencies and local land trusts as they go about the unending process of protecting and restoring California’s precious Coastal Resources.
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The several entrances into the Reserve are a little difficult to see from Highway 1. Once you find them you are in for a treat. Strolling down the path across the coastal terrace you reach the bluffs where the path follows the cliffs rising above the ocean and continuing through a magnificently restored cypress grove. There are a few benches along the way where you can sit and watch the tumultuous surf crash on the rocks and, if the season is right, see whales migrating and seal pods roaming the waters and hauling themselves onto the rocks to sunbathe.
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The Reserve is an excellent counterpoint to the more urban Noyo Headlands Park a few miles north. You should visit both if you are in the area, and don’t forget to stop also at Point Cabrillo Lighthouse and park and the Mendocino Botanical Gardens two Conservancy projects in the area I am quite proud of. And, of course, end your trip sipping the wines at Pacific Star Winery while sitting on Dad’s Bench watching the sun dip into the ocean.
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When we drafted the Coastal Plan over 40 years ago, we saw it not as a final product but as an ongoing process to preserve and restore the irreplaceable resources of California’s Coast. I am delighted to see The State Coastal Conservancy, an entity dear to my heart, and those that labored working for and with it, continuing to take a significant role in that endeavor.

Noyo Headlands Park

One day, I drove into Fort Bragg in Mendocino County to have my tire repaired. Waiting for the repairs allowed me to do what I love doing best, wandering aimlessly. Among my wanderings, I visited the wonderful Noyo Headlands Park.  Located on the bluffs rising above the waves breaking on the rocks below, the Park runs along the shoreline for several miles.  The California Coastal Conservancy, the Agency I created and headed, helped to bring the Park into existence. The Park represents to me an ideal use of an urban waterfront — an environmentally sensitive public park along the city’s shorefront. I believe it will soon be considered one of the nation’s premier oceanfront park and environmental restoration areas. Now if we can only get the City of Fort Bragg to post proper signage along PCH so that people can find it, it will be a boon to the City’s economic health and to the environment.
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I urge you to visit it and see if you agree with me.

A Day at the DMV

On Wednesday, I went to the DMV office to register my new automobile. About an hour and a half into my wait, sitting there on the hard plastic chair staring at the drop ceiling and listening to the seductive automated voice calling out the numbers like she was lying there next to me whispering into my ear, “B, zero, two seven go to window number nine,” I realized that I was as content as I could be anywhere. I guess I was experiencing satori — a spiritual awakening. I imagined that many of the great religions were created in DMV offices. The Bible tells us that Jesus disappeared from public view until he began his ministry when he was 30. I suspect, he spent that time quietly sitting in a DMC office believing that the “meek shall inherit the earth.” Buddha while waiting five hours to renew his driver’s license persuaded himself that it was only tolerable if, in fact, it was not real. While Mohammed, on leaving the DMZ office, decided to conquer all the worlds DMV offices by promising his followers that if they died in the effort they would find themselves alone in a DMV office with 72 virgins behind the counter.

Did you know that the biblical heaven and Hell are, in fact, DMV offices? In Heaven, you sit on hard plastic seats staring at the golden ones behind the counter, the saints and the angels, waiting for your number to be called and when it is called you get to approach the counter and get your license renewed by one of the golden ones after which you get to go back to your seat and wait for your number to be called again. Hell is just another DMV office except there are no seats, the heat is turned up to the highest level and your number is never called.

 

Although I am traveling, I still manage to put in time reading novels. Recently I read Arturo Perez-Reverte’s latest. Perez-Reverte whose taut but lush adventure and mystery novels generally take place in Spain during its long sad decline from world empire until the old order was finally snuffed out by the armies of Napoleon. His series of books, featuring the melancholy but indomitable soldier and peerless swordsman Captain Alatriste, are classics.

The Siege, as its name implies, takes place during the interminable multi-year siege of Cadiz where the armies of Napoleon and his brother Joseph, the imposed King of Spain, had chased the government of the tattered empire and its inconsistent allies, the English. Cadiz, however still had access to the sea and many of its merchants, smugglers and privateers flourished even while the bombs daily rained down on parts of the city. The plot revolves around the attempts by the brutal and corrupt Chief of Police to solve a series of exceedingly vicious murders.

Unfortunately, Perez-Reverte introduces a sub-plot, a bodice ripper straight out of Danielle Steele — A romance between the dashing but crude and dangerous, curly-haired, handsome and muscular captain of a privateer, Pepe Lupo (Joe Wolf) and his employer, the refined, learned, capable, aristocratic, accomplished and almost beautiful owner of one of the city’s premier shipping companies, Lolita Palma. Lolita, virginal from to tip of her leather boots to the top of her lace mantilla, unfortunately is 32 years old and unmarried. In the Cadiz of that time, at 32, she hovered between the twilight of fuckable and the onset spinsterhood. Perez-Reverte, damn him, shamelessly introduces a scene where Joe confronts Lolita at an elegant ball, causing her to snap open her fan and rapidly cool down the rising warmth of a blush.

“At least,” I thought, “he does not have the poor woman wet her drawers.” Alas, not more than a couple of dozen pages later, as Joe Wolf’s cutter heads off on another venture in legalized piracy, the still virginal Lolita, standing behind the crenellations of the tower above her Palacio and staring at the corsair’s ship as it disappears over the horizon, does just that. Arturo Perez-Reverte, you should be ashamed of yourself

Nevertheless,
Pookie says “check it out.”

“…all things have their allotted time in the suicidal order of things— in life, and in its inexorable outcome, death.”
Perez-Reverte, Arturo. The Siege: A Novel (p. 358). Random House Publishing Group.

Note: Reading this book makes me wonder if getting involved in the shithole that was Spain at that time was not as great a mistake for Napoleon as his march into Russia. It is usually the inability of empires to know their bounds that brings them to ruin. I wonder if that was the genius of Augustus Caesar; to recognize there were limits to the expansion of empire beyond the need to establish secure boundaries. It probably enabled the Roman Empire to survive for another 1000 years until the thugs of the Fourth Crusade finally put it out of its misery.

A BRIEF SOJOURN IN SAN FRANCISCO:

After tearing through the Sunday NY Times in the morning and downing some strong black coffee, we left Mendocino for The Cool Grey City of Love to visit my mom for Mother’s Day.

The 98-year old’s short term memory may be in decline and her heart weakening but she gave as good as she got in the exchange of good-natured intra-family insults that characterize our family get-togethers.
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The matriarch and family.

After leaving the nursing home, I visited with Peter Grenell at Bernie’s Coffee Shop in Noe Valley. Peter just had part of his shoulder replaced and was still feeling a bit of pain. We sat on a bench outside, drank our coffee and, in the increasingly halting style of the aging, swapped tales. Given that anyone over 70 has passed his dispose-by date, I lamented that our age we have become little more than cartons of curdled milk. Peter responded by advising, “when all you have is curdled milk, you might as well make cheese.”

On the way back to Peter’s house where I was to have dinner and spend the night, Peter pointed out the incredible prices commanded in the Techie Paradise that Noe Valley has become. The following photograph shows a house about three doors down from Peter’s that is on the market for four million dollars.
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A Four Million Dollar House

At dinner that night, I played with their granddaughter a one-year-old two-fisted eater whose Hawaiian name I do not recall but it sounds like Aurora. I also learned that Barrie, Peter’s wife, swims an hour every morning in frigid San Francisco Bay. I was shamed. I refuse to swim anywhere the water temperature is below 80 degrees.

In the morning, riding on the J Church on the way to the Amtrak office downtown, a large androgynous African-American female and a small, skinny equally androgynous white male began a loud altercation right above where I was sitting trying to avoid eye contact. They were shouting at each other about something; or rather the larger of the two was shouting and the other cringing while pleading with the driver to call the police. I pictured myself appearing on the local television news as the unwitting and unwilling victim of an only in San Francisco perplexing racial and gender contretemps. Luckily for me, at the next stop, the larger combatant ran off while the smaller continued trying to explain to the driver what happened.

POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN EL DORADO HILLS:

I am back in El Dorado Hills. Alas, adventure does not seem descriptive of anything one does here. I get the impression that even a change of seasons can cause anxiety among some of the denizens of these golden hills.

It has been four days since I have returned and I can happily report the rose bushes in the back yard are in bloom — now the weekend cometh. I leave for NY next Wednesday.

On Thursday evening, the rains came. I was eating pepperoni pizza at Mama Ann’s in Town Center when the storm hit full of lightning and thunder. Like in the tropics, the deluge flooded the streets but lasted only about two hours. It departed as suddenly as it arrived leaving the air clear of pollen and dust. I slept well that night.

I read somewhere a doctor observed that patients as they aged experienced an ever increasing series of maladies most of which were curable but eventually they begin to occur so rapidly that the body simply gives up the fight. Today while eating breakfast at Bella Bru Cafe a piece of a tooth fell out and embedded itself in my bagel. Since I leave in a couple of days, I will be forced to travel with a dark black empty space in my smile until I find a reasonably priced dentist to insert a bridge.

The weekend flew by like an osprey falling on its prey. The weather was cold and overcast so no swimming for me. Instead, I went to see Mad Max: Fury Road to get my blood pumping.

HRM’s flag football team lost the championship game to the hated Seahawks 34 to 6. The coach was devastated. The kids were happy with their ice-cream after the game.

Since I seem focused on aging this week, I thought I should mention the three phases of aging among old men: First you forget to zip it up; then you forget to zip it down; then you die. I am at phase-one. I’ve taken to wearing long shirts outside my pants because, no matter how much I try to remember, at least once a day I forget.

Monday came in cold and cloudy. I leave on Wednesday, so I set about on last minute things, the bank, the pharmacy and tackling the conundrum of how to pack a single carry-on for a two-month trip.

The last day before I bolt town. What have I forgotten?

Another weekend crept in. For the retired, it promised little different from any other day of the week. On Sunday, however, as I was swimming laps, a beautiful iridescent dragonfly flew by. During its beguilingly aerobatic performance, it dipped too low and splashed into the pool. After making my turn, I swam by again and spotted it entrapped in its aqueous meniscus struggling to rise from the water and failing. I took a few more strokes before I suddenly stopped like I had been netted. A feeling of need to save the dragonfly engulfed me.

“Why?” I thought. “If it were just a fly, I would let it die and a mosquito I would try to kill even before it hit the water.” I felt caught as Tuesday Next would say, “within a dense cloud of moral relativism (Fforde).” Nonetheless, a belief that I had to do something for this particular creature overwhelmed any internal debate on the nature of ethics I may have contemplated. So I cupped it in my hands and brought it to the edge of the pool and placed it where I hoped it could recover.

As I watched it struggle to dry its wings and rise, other thoughts struck me. “It would probably die here too weakened by its dunking; a death perhaps worse than if had it had died in the water. So, what had I accomplished except to prolong its agony?” “What about the possibility one of the many birds in the area would swoop down on it in its weakened state and devour it?” “So,” I inquired of myself and generations of existential and moral philosophers, “why did I do what I did in the first place?” Suddenly everything began to go dim as I found myself standing on the edge of the abyss staring into a solipsistic nightmare.

I jumped out of the pool and rushed home where I buried myself under the covers in the hope they would muffle the screams of dying dragonflies, long dead metaphysicians and legions of moral philosophers.

 

A few years ago, I lived in a Bangkok apartment infested by rats (the non-edible kind). At night, after the lights were out, they gaily scampered about the rooms. At one point, the maid put out an anti-rodent device consisting basically of a plastic sheet covered with glue that traps any rat unlucky enough to step on it and produces, I am sure, a cruel and painful death for the creature.

My feelings about the Rodentia situation in my apartment were somewhat ambiguous. I felt neither fear, sympathy nor disgust for either the infestation or the rodenticide. It was more like the feeling I have when I try to avoid meeting someone I prefer not to meet. On the one hand, I always feel a bit cowardly skulking away while on the other, I generally am aware that forcing a meeting through some misplaced moral sense is probably as stupid a thing to do as can be imagined.

This ambivalence about rats I find strange given my history with the species. Growing up in New York, I generally fell asleep with the sound of rats scurrying through the walls. As a child, I was never able to settle on whether these sounds in the walls by my bed frightened me or comforted me.

When I was about six-years-old my family was homeless for a while. Ultimately, we found an abandoned store that we moved into and soaped up the glass front for privacy. There was neither heat nor hot water in the place and at night, the large Norwegian roof rats would slink into the room through the spaces between walls and the various pipes and plumbing servicing the residential apartments above us.

Every night, while my brother and I slept, my mother armed with a bread knife would remain awake to chase away the rats. One evening while so armed and on guard she fell asleep sitting beside the kitchen table. Suddenly she was jolted awake by the sound of rats scrabbling to get into a cake box on the table. The rats startled by her movement leaped on to her face and head as it was the highest point in the room between the floor and the exposed pipes available to them to make their escape. She fell to the floor and had an epileptic seizure, beginning a multi-year period of seizures and hospitalizations.

After my mother was taken away in an ambulance that night, I spent the next four years living with various relatives and strangers who took me in, but mostly with my grandparents. I never knew where my brother lived during this time.

After a few years and many hospitalizations of my mom, we began living together again but her periodic fits continued until I was about 17 years old when, in a surprise to everyone, mom became pregnant with my sister and the seizures suddenly stopped. She considered both the pregnancy and the curing of the epilepsy a miracle. I was not so sure.

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