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Posts Tagged ‘Environment’

 

POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN MENDOCINO:

Feeling a mix of anger and fear caused by the doctor’s report, I set off to Mendocino and my sister’s house for the weekend and hopefully some solace. Not too much of the drive penetrated my fog of worry, but I remember passing through the lovely Anderson Valley in what was a relatively fast trip. My sister and George were entertaining some friends staying in the Tower House. The woman was a professor of psychology, I think, and her husband a fireman somewhere in the East Bay. They had two delightful little girls that insisted on demonstrating how well they could do splits. I learned that they had once lived in EDH just a few blocks from where I live now.

I did not do much while I was there except walk around the town and eat the great food my sister and George prepared. One afternoon the sunlight was so clear, I walked about the town taking photographs of the houses.
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Angela Lansbury’s house in “Murder She Wrote.”

Regrettably, I had to return to the golden hills on Monday because I had scheduled an emergency appointment with the supervising oncologist. The drive back was as uneventful as the drive up.

BACK IN THE GOLDEN HILLS:

I had two doctors appointments scheduled for the week. One on Tuesday and another on Friday after which I had planned to return to Mendocino until Christmas. Unfortunately, SWAC had arrived for the holidays and had invited some guests to stay at the house during the holidays. Her strenuous complaints to Dick prompted me to make alternative accommodations to save him from ceaseless tsuris. Although it really does not bother me too much since I have made my life such that I can just float above such discomforts but, I cannot help but wonder what sort of person would want to force someone who may be dying of cancer out of his home in order entertain some guests.

During the two days there, I continued my daily walks but did not swim or exercise at the health club.

On Tuesday, I saw my supervising oncologist for a second opinion. He said that there was only a slight swelling of the lymph nodes and that there was at best a small chance of a reoccurrence of cancer. Nevertheless, he thought I should have a biopsy just to be safe. I agreed.

On another point related to the foregoing paragraph, I was pleased and humbled by the number of people who had read through the last issue of T&T, expressed their concern and offered me their support and good wishes as I dealt with my health problems. Thank you all.

A BRIEF SOJOURN IN SACRAMENTO:

So, on Tuesday, I left for Sacramento to hole up with Norbert and Stevie until my Friday doctor’s appointment. My first stop was at Sacramento Campus Commons where Naida and Bill Geyer live. Campus Commons is a marvelously well-done subdivision on the banks of the American River built in the 1960s before developers learned that they could eliminate all amenities and open space in their products and people would still buy into it in their panicked rush to escape the growing presence of minorities in the cities. Bill and Naida moved there to avoid the burden of managing their ranch nestled along the banks of the Cosumnes River in Rancho Murieta.

Naida was recuperating from recent heart surgery but was in good spirits. Bill’s doctors told him there was little more they could do for his spreading gangrene that would prolong his life. Nevertheless, he seemed quite cheerful and accepting of the diagnosis. We talked about old times and joked about our fears for the future. Then we took a walk (Bill in his motorized chair) through the grounds.
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Bill Prepares to Set Off on His Motorized Scooter.

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Campus Commons.

Then I drove to Stevie and Norbert’s home to spend a few days before my next medical appointment. The first evening we had a delightful meal at a restaurant in Freeport. There are people one meets in life whose kindness to you goes beyond understanding and whom you could never repay. Stevie and Norbert have been that to me over the years.

The next day, I spent the afternoon strolling around Capitol Park a place I have grown to love.

Then came my Dr.’s appointment. He indicated that although he did not believe there should be a problem, he did feel swelling in one of my lymph nodes and confirmed the prior doctor’s recommendation that a biopsy be performed. Directly after the appointment, I set off to my sister’s home in Mendocino.

MORE MENDOCINO DREAMING:

I do not remember much of the drive occupied as I was with a mix of anger and depression that only dissipated when darkness fell as I drove through the redwoods and my malaise was replaced with a fear that I would surely drive off the road in the gloom.

After a not very restful sleep at my sister’s house, I walked through the town of Mendocino and that evening accompanied Maryann and George to the Mendocino Volunteer Fire Department’s Annual Christmas Dinner. It was pleasant and enjoyable.

During the pre-dinner drink fest, a woman came up to me and said, “Hi, my name is MaryJane and I married a clown.” I eventually learned that she grew up in Queens NY in a very large and loud Italian family and when she arrived in her mid-teens promptly ran away — she did not run away to the circus, but she did get a job as a ticket taker at Madison Square Garden where, when the Ringling Bros. Circus came to town, she met her clown and after a brief but I am sure fun filled courtship married him. Alas, “He was a good clown but, a bad husband,” she told me and so they soon divorced. She traveled about the country married and divorced a second time and eventually found herself in Mendocino. “With a name like MaryJane where else would I end up other than where the best marijuana is grown.” Here she married a carpenter who also doubled as a volunteer fireman and who was retiring that evening. “I finally got the turnout outfit I wanted and now I am retiring,” he complained to me. (A turnout outfit is the gear provided by the department that a fireman jumps into when he goes off to fight a fire.)

There were many other stories from that evening I could relate but I think that one is enough.

The next day I walked through the town taking photographs and trolling the shops for Christmas presents. I was told, later, that Christmas sales are down because most of the shops depended upon the expenditures of the dope growers spending their gains from the harvest but now with legalization, they are wisely hoarding their profits.
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Mendocino in the Morning

That evening Mary and George had their Christmas Open House. Peter and Barrie and Norbert and Stevie drove up from San Francisco and Sacramento respectively. There was plenty to nibble on including something delicious called a taco-ring and plenty to drink including Champagne and Prosecco. At one point I was talking to a local artist who was aware of my health problems. She told me here previous husband, a well-known sculptor, had the same cancer I have and described in detail the horrible three years of intensive suffering he went through before he died. He had been someone who had always exercised and was a bit of a healthy life fanatic and could not understand why he became so sick. During the period of this turmoil, their 17-year-old son was discovered to have an abnormal heart and had to endure a series of heart surgeries. After her husband died and the son finally had recovered, she began to suffer from PTSD and after two years was hospitalized in an effort to cure it. After she was discharged, she married a local fireman and woodcutter and now lives happily in a large house in the forest with a 10,000-foot studio where she makes large elegantly dressed dolls that are sold at Neiman Marcus for $5000 each.

The next day, Peter, Barrie, and I toured the firehouse while George explained how the various pieces of equipment were used and told us stories about brilliant rescues of people who had fallen off the cliffs and into the ocean and about fighting fires and paramedic techniques.
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Peter, Barrie, and George at the Firehouse

Then, we visited with MaryAnn at the West Company economic development center in Fort Bragg. After that, we walked along the magnificent Ft. Bragg shoreline park that extends about 10 along the coast. Later, we had lunch outdoors in a restaurant at Noyo Harbor where a young man was cooking freshly boiled crab that he shared with us.
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Barrie and George Enjoying a Crab Lunch

That night, Peter and Barrie, and George and MaryAnn each described and argued over the specifics of their long and amusing courtship. I had little to say since most of my marriages were spur of the moment affairs.

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.POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN EL DORADO HILLS:

 

The skies over the golden hills have been a clear brilliant blue for the past few days. The temperature has gotten a bit chilly recently. Fall colors have been out for a week or so but they seem less vibrant than usual. I guess that muting is caused by the dry weather these last few months.

The slight chill in the air combined with the warmth of the water in the pool make swimming delightful. This afternoon while swimming, I noticed a snake, large centipede, and a spider in the water with me. I was startled. Then, I realized today was Halloween and someone was just messing with me. I, nevertheless, still moved to another lane. When it comes to creepy crawlers, I am a wuss.

On Halloween night, HRM took an autistic boy from the special needs class at his school trick or treating. It seems H has been especially kind to the boy in school and the boy was able to express his wish for H to take him out on Halloween.

Adrian left for the week. He went back to Sunnyvale to resume work on the tech start-up he is associated with. Dick returned from Thailand that evening. I sat by the door with a bowl of candy waiting for some kids to ring the doorbell. Only about three groups showed up all evening, so I sat there and ate most of the candy myself.

Shortly after Halloween, the weather turned cold in the golden hills — not winter cold, but chilly and overcast enough for sweaters and jackets.

Recently at the Health Club, I observed an exercise on one of the exercise machines I had never seen before — the exercise of pelvic thrusting muscles. I never knew there was a need to exercise those particular muscles. But, I guess if you think about it, it might come in handy someday. Anyway, a young woman approached the hamstring strengthening machine, the one where you lie prone on your stomach and lift a roller with the backs of your ankles. She squeezed her body between the bench and the roller, placing the roller across her pelvis and her hands behind on the bench and commenced to vigorously and salaciously trust her pelvis forward and up. Silence descended on the club as everyone, male and female alike, stopped what they were doing and, not wanting to be accused of voyeurism, watched the performance out of the corner of their eyes. Old guys like me have no shame anymore so we just gaped. The exerciser, a trainer at the club, was retained by a young man Immediately after she completed her workout.

It is too cold to swim alas, so I work the treadmill and the weights at the health club and watch the thrusting expert whenever she chooses to perform. I read a lot now that even going for a walk is unpleasant. A few days ago, I read a novel by Terry Pratchett that I do not recall reading before. It is called “The Thief of Time”. I thought I had read all of his “Discworld” novels, but I do not remember this one. Reading it confirmed my belief that Pratchett, like Vonnegut and Pynchon, is one of the great novelists in modern English literature. In the age of quantum physics and the fall of the American empire, only fantasy and humor can capture the sly absurdities of our times.

Time goes on. I do the same things day after day. Ennui sets in so I decided to spend the weekend with my sister and George in Mendocino.

 

B. MENDOCINO DREAMING:

The drive to Mendocino was uneventful. Little traffic, mostly sunny. I stopped for my usual ice cream sundae in Lucern on the shores of Clear Lake, passed some of the burned over the terrain of the recent fires and arrived in Mendocino about four and a half hours after I left the golden hills.

Some walks through the town and along the bluffs and on Friday night we had dined at the next door neighbors house and discussed the fence erected by another neighbor that has everyone upset. The neighbors, who are also committed travelers, told stories about their recent boat trip along the Arctic Circle and their planned trip to Asia in March.

The next night we traveled to Elk, about twenty miles down highway 1 from Mendocino to visit Bobby Beacon’s bar. Bobby resembles a rustic Sidney Greenstreet only taller. His wealthy parents left him a piece of property in Mendocino about 10 miles on each side. There on a hill from which one can see far up and down the coast (all which we were informed was Bobby’s) sits his bar in which Bobby lives in a few rooms off the barroom. In one those rooms, open and accessible from the bar sits a grand piano on which, now and then, Bobby plays for his guests. In another room, there is a large ergonomic chair surrounded by the latest computer equipment and a 78-inch screen. The bar is not open at regular times like an ordinary gin mill. When Bobby feels in the mood to converse with friends, he turns on a bright light on a long pole sticking above the roof or the bar.It can be seen far up and down the coast. It informs those who are interested that Bobby is in a mood to talk with his friends old and new. In effect, Bobby makes his friends pay for the pleasure of his company. Bobby is very conscious of the value of money. When he tells his stories and he tells and they are interesting, they tend to be about money or outsmarting the government. He also tells stories about animals that wander around his property or that he sees in the ocean from his bar.

Bobby collects fire engines — real fire engines not toys. They sit on his property and rust. It seems that many years ago when the local fire department presented Bobby with the estimated cost for them to his property in their district, he decided it would be much less expensive to form his own fire department for his property alone. Then a piece of legislation was passed that required Fire districts funded with public money to offer at a discount any equipment they consider obsolete to a fire district not funded by public money.

Anyway, we had a good time.
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The next day, it rained. I sat by the window and watched the slate grey ocean fling it’s white spume upon the black rocks. When I tired of that I read. The day after, still raining, I left to return to the golden hills.

 

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The skies over the Golden Hills have turned blue again. Alas, as good as it is for us who live here, for those living on the other side of the Great Valley suffering from the still blazing conflagration, it only means their lives have probably gotten even worse. A week after the fires began, they still rage on, thousands remain homeless and many unaccounted for.

On Sunday, HRM baked a birthday cake for me. He, Dick, and Sharkie the Goldfish gave me a nice warm jacket as a present accompanied by a birthday card signed by each.
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The weather has gotten warmer in the golden hills. A new species of geese recently has taken up residence in the lake by our house. These geese, unlike the Canadian variety that are common at the lake this time of year, have white necks and a bump on the top of their beak. I have never seen them around here before.
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The new geese on the lake being led around by the local white duck. Perhaps the duck is the lake’s resident real estate agent.

Dick left for a week in Thailand. Nikki arrived a day or two after Dick departed. HRM and Nikki attended a big concert at Discovery Park in Sacramento. Dick came down with food poisoning in Bangkok. I swam in the pool a lot and seem to be gaining weight again — about four pounds in the past week.

After Nikki left, Adrian arrived for the weekend. Since he will be available to care for HRM, I decided to spend the weekend in SF with Peter and Barrie. So, on Saturday, after downing a bowl of Raisin Bran and watering the plants, I left for the city by the bay.

That evening, I accompanied Peter to the El Cerrito Free Folk Festival where Peter was to perform with his Blues band, Blind Lemon Pledge, and where I played temporary roadie.
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Blind Lemon Pledge with Peter on Bass.

I also enjoyed the music of an engaging trio harmonizing folk songs. It was the group’s final appearance together as one of them was to depart to the East Coast within the next few days to commence a solo recording career.

Then we returned to Peter’s house where we talked mostly about getting old. The next morning, after Barrie returned from her morning swim in SF Bay, we ate a breakfast of locks, bagels, and cream cheese. I then returned home —No Bernie’s and coffee while sitting on the Old Man’s Bench talking with Don on this trip —a pity that.

 

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A. POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN TRANSIT:

The last few days before leaving on a trip are usually part of the voyage itself, even if, like me, you just fuss and fume about not doing anything to prepare. A few days before departure, I did manage to throw some clothes and medicines into a suitcase.

Usually, I have no anxiety about going on a trip — no matter how long and arduous it may be. This time, however, I was apprehensive. Perhaps, it is because of the state of my health or maybe it is my age. In any event, whenever I think about my travels this summer an indefinite shadow of concern rattles around the back of my mind.

On Wednesday evening, Dick drove me to Sacramento Airport for my overnight flight to New York. After saying goodbye to him and to HRM, I walked into the airport. I decided to act the part of a bent and befuddled and creepy old man. An easy task since I am, in fact, a bent and befuddled and creepy old man. So, leaning heavily on my imitation black thorn shillelagh cane, I stumbled around and forced everyone to repeat whatever they tell me twice. I did this because I thought it would help me get assigned better seating and boarding preference (it did), and also because many, many years ago when introduced to “method” acting one of the exercises was to stumble around like an old man. Now that I am an old man, I thought it would be interesting to see how accurate we had been. It was great fun.

In New York, I managed to spend a bleary-eyed day at Kennedy Airport waiting for my flight to Milan. It doesn’t matter how old, bent and befuddled you may be, in New York they will still tell you to “go fuck yourself” or the like if your responses are too slow.

No matter how tiring and uncomfortable traveling may be, especially by airplane, there is usually something interesting to watch. That is probably because unlike passing strangers on a street or in a restaurant, on a plane or waiting around an airport boarding area you are involved in a short term community and with people with similar goals— to survive the trip.

While waiting in New York’s Kennedy Airport at what I thought was the correct gate, I noticed that the boarding area across from me was fitted out with tables and chairs decorated as though a party was going to be held soon. Waiters spread out among the other gates in the area offering everyone free fruit juice. Soon strangely dressed people began to drift in outfitted in various odd costumes usually including a strong dose of sequins. It all began to resemble a Fellini film. Then the star of the show arrived. At least I think it was the star since almost everyone in sequins and some without would come over to her, smile and then kiss and hug her. She was about six feet two inches tall with one of those tight skinned expressionless faces like Trump’s wife’s that are the frightening wonders of modern cosmetic surgery (you wonder how and why). Her breasts were out of a porno comic, her butt something that would make JayLo’s appear malnourished and her dress easier described by what it did not cover than what it did.

Anyway, eventually they all gathered at the tables and after about 20 minutes or so of partying and picture taking, they all got up, including the super-star, and marched through the gate marked “Vienna.” So, if you read or hear about anything unusual happening in Austria during the second week in June, I’d love to hear about it

Shortly after the carnival departed, I learned I that I had been waiting at the wrong gate. So, I rushed across the airport to the correct one where I was met by Frank Cozza, an Alitalia employee, who Nikki arranged to take me through security and generally ease my transit. He told me that he had paged me for an hour or more. But, I guess, with my diminished hearing and all the partying, I did not hear it. Frank arranged for me to decompress for a half hour in the first class lounge.

The most interesting thing about the flight was that sitting a few rows from me was about five deaf Italian women who had been visiting the US and were now returning to Italy. Although I cannot read sign, I could understand them easily since I am proficient in Italian facial expressions and hand gestures. In the US and most other places, I guess, signing carries the message with facial and hand gestures used for emphasis. In Italy, or at least among these women, facial expressions and hand gestures carried the message while the signs seemed to be used only for emphasis.

They were loud also. At the luggage carousel, everyone’s eyes were drawn to them as they talked or argued in sign over the various pieces of luggage that trundled by.

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B. TAMIL AND SACILE:

 

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Pookie a Child of the Corn. 

 

The following day, I arrived in Italy, the land of expressive hands and dramatic noses. Nikki met me as I exited the plane at Malpensa near Milan. He was scheduled to fly a plane to Tokyo in a few hours. We had lunch. I ate spaghetti and lobster. I actually could taste the lobster. Perhaps my taste is returning. Or, perhaps I can only taste things that come packed in their own slime.

Then it was off to northern Italy by train to Sacile where I was met by Vittorio who promptly drove me to a cafe where the two women owners implored me to assist them with drafting their proposal for developing a techie way of assuring artist profits in the face of discount sales. I agreed. At a little after one AM, I finally got to bed following well over two days of traveling with little sleep.
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Sacile

At 8 AM the next morning, Vittorio and I drove across the Veneto farmlands toward another town where he was to play in a marching band during a commemoration ceremony for the town’s Alpine troops who died in the two world wars. As we drove, on our right the pre-alps rose above the fertile plain like a Roman shield wall before an assault by the Gauls. It was a lovely day.

Vittorio plays tuba in a number of bands and orchestras in the area. Like with Peter Grenell, who I often follow along to his various gigs, I happily follow Vittorio along to his whenever I am here. I guess I can be viewed as a “geriatric groupie.”
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Vittorio and His Tuba

Vittorio’s band mates and the Alpini veterans all wore their distinctive hats with one stiff erect eagle feather jutting above each. I learned that the dark feathers ment the person had been an enlisted man and the lighter stiff erect eagle feather signified an officer. I could not help noticing that the stiff erect feather of the officers was, on the whole, distinctly smaller than those of the enlisted men’s except for one or two of the officers whose stiff erect feathers were larger than everyone else’s. You may make whatever sociological conclusions from that you want.

Upon our return, we stopped in Sacile for Prosecco at Lucia’s “Le Petite Cafe.” Disney-world is not the happiest place on earth, Lucia’s “Le Petite Cafe” is.
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Lucia and Vittorio at “Le Petite Cafe” in Sacile.

Following an afternoon nap, we set off for a bon voyage dinner in honor of Vittorio and Teacher Brian’s impending 30-day walking pilgrimage to Compostela in Spain. But, that is for my next post.

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Why are these people smiling?

 

So, I spent the Memorial Day weekend at my sister’s house in Mendocino. The sky was overcast and the ocean calm and gray. It was abalone hunting season. Parked cars filled the side of the road along the bluff disgorging their black-rubber suited occupants and their tire irons. The divers lined up and marched down the sinuous steep paths that snaked along the bluff face to the water below. From the top of the bluff, they looked like a dark ant army covering the rocks and invading the kelp beds. A lot of them were Asian, Japanese and Chinese tourists. I guess they were flown over here for the abalone hunting season. I suspect, if they were Muslim the current administration in Washington would suddenly become abalone conservationists.

Most of the time, Mary, George and I sat in the house talking and laughing among ourselves by the large windows overlooking the ocean or buried in some book or reading the NY Times.

On Sunday, we went to the Casper Community Breakfast and Flea Market. Mary and George set up a few tables in the grassy area at the side of the Casper Community Center. On the tables, we placed a few things they had lying around their garage to be sold at the market.
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I headed off for the community breakfast leaving them to their commercial endeavors. The community volunteer waitpersons sat me in a middle seat at a rectangular table seating six. I did not know anyone else at the table. Having as a result of my cancer therapy an upset stomach, lost most of my hearing and taste, and blurry eyesight, I had little expectation of enjoying either the food or the company. Suddenly across the room, I saw a nose — Not just any nose but a magnificent nose. The nose was appended to the face of one of the women volunteers waiting on the tables. As noses go, it was extremely well shaped. It was also huge as though insisting we all acknowledge its magnificence. It moved through the dining room like an icebreaker through the Arctic. I was enthralled.

As many of you know, I abhor the cult of small noses and people who have them. It is insulting to those individuals proud of their prominent noses to know that others are encouraged to cut theirs off so they may become fashionable. Why are tiny-tot noses so fashionable anyway? What are they hiding behind those tiny nostrils? How do they enjoy the full aromas of life around them? Where is the facial drama — the character — the pride?

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Now that is a Nose to Remember.

 

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English: Transamerica building, downtown San F...

English: Transamerica building, downtown San Francisco, CA, USA. Photo taken from Coit tower. Français : La Transamerica Pyramid, dans le centre de San Francisco, en Californie (États-Unis), photographiée depuis la Coit Tower. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the Edge: Stories about the Creation and Early Years of California’s Monumental Coastal Protection Program.

In the Beginning: an oft-told story.

In the autumn of 1972, I was a card-carrying, pot smoking, alternative lifestyle living, unemployed, hirsute Hippy San Franciscanus. It was about noon on a glorious fall day. I was wandering about in downtown San Francisco wondering what I was going to do about lunch. I was just passing the newly built Transamerica Building on my way to North Beach, hippy central during those times. Out of the corner of my eye, I catch sight of a very tall, very skinny, bearded man emerging from the forest of columns supporting the somewhat pyramid-shaped building. He was rapidly approaching me.

He dressed more or less in the style of my cultural sub-group. That is, he was not wearing a business suit or clothing purchased from any retail store not dealing in second-hand garments. His outfit was accessorized with a red bandanna around his neck and an aluminum Sierra Club drinking cup dangling from a rope belt tied around his waist. He grabbed my arm with his long skinny fingers and Moses-like, but in a surprisingly squeaky voice, said:

“You must help save the Pygmy Forest.”

Now, the societal fringe movement to which I belonged at that time was very sensitive to anything that could be considered a portent of an emerging transcendental experience. Here, the sun was at its zenith and I was standing at the base of an almost pyramid and detained like the wedding guest by the ancient mariner. Clearly, a portent portended. So in the polite idiom of the denizens of New York where I was born, raised and had so recently left, I answered:

“What the fuck is a Pygmy Forest?”

“Come with me,” he beckoned with a long bony finger.

The tall skinny apparition led me through the columns that made up the base of the pyramid and into the sparsely furnished lobby of the newly completed building where several large easels were set up in some sort of ad hoc exhibition. My guide introduced himself as John Olmsted. I was later to learn that he  descended from “The” Olmsted, the high school dropout from Connecticut who became a journalist and in the latter stages of the Nineteenth Century parlayed his journalistic abilities and his political connections to win the competition to design NY’s Central Park becoming thereby one of the most successful landscape designers of his generation.

John stood me before the easels and proceeded to explain all about something he called an “Ecological Staircase,” and about the “Pygmy Forest.” Now, at that time, I was vaguely familiar with the word “Ecological,” at least enough to know it had something to do with nature, but what it had to do with staircases had me mystified and curious. To explain it, he had a large chart set up on one of the easels. The best I could make out was that logically it had something to do with “The Pygmy Forest,” and that John was going to connect it all up for me.

John then pointed to a photograph of what appeared to be one of the ugliest plants I had ever seen. Had it grown in my garden, I would have pulled it out by its roots hoping I acted quickly enough to prevent it from infecting the rest of the place. To John, however, the sight of it seemed to have instilled in him an almost religious ecstasy.

He enthusiastically explained that the stunted monstrosity was a full-grown tree. My excitement at that revelation was muted.

Unperturbed by my lack of response, John continued with his presentation.

According to John, it seems the ground around a place called “Jughandle Creek,” located somewhere along the coast in Mendocino, a county lying about 100 miles north of San Francisco,  had, over the eons, risen and fallen beneath the ocean. Each time it rose the incessant waves carved out a ledge. About five or so times this happened sculpting the land to appear to the imaginative obsessive as a giant staircase — hence the Staircase to which Ecological was appended. It was all beginning to make sense.

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John explained that the ground on the top of each step (for some reason that I have forgotten), became packed as hard as cement. Over the years, the soil settling on top of that cement became more and more hostile to just about any living thing except for flesh-eating plants, these benighted trees, and illegal marijuana farms.

Apparently, the roots of the trees could not push through the cement-like hard-pan causing the stunted growth of these three-foot high monstrosities. “Natural Bonsai,” John crooned. They did not look like any bonsai I ever saw, but hell, who was I to argue with the crazed hippie descendant of “The” Olmsted.

The looming tragedy that prompted John’s hysteria that resulted in the exhibit and my selection as a potential acolyte, was a developer’s plans to build a motel right in the center of the first step of John’s beloved Ecological Staircase, thereby ruining it for future generations of, I assumed, people like John, as well putting  the nearby forest of stunted trees at risk.

Although I suspected that any tree that could thrive in that soil was a match for any developer, I nevertheless heard myself say those eternally fateful (and often regretted) words, “That’s awful, I used to be a practicing attorney, what can I do to help.”

About two weeks after my almost mystical encounter with John Olmsted in the shadow of the TransAmerica pyramid, I found myself traveling to Mendocino and Jughandle Creek with my friend Jeanne McMahon. I  smelled the beginnings of an adventure and it intrigued me — if strolling among flesh-eating plants and stunted trees with a tall, skinny, obsessed hippy could be considered as having the makings of an adventure.

I do not remember how we got there. I did not have a car at that time and neither did Jeanne. I guess we hitch-hiked which was the preferred mode of travel for those of us eager to join the counter-culture (you know “On the Road” and all that).

Jeanne was a freckled-faced, relentlessly positive young woman from Dubuque Iowa who, in the late sixties, like many others had left the mid-West farm belt to join the nationwide migration of those eager to experience “what’s happening” in California. She walked with a spring in her step, her face resolutely pressed forward toward whatever new experiences life she was sure would lay at her feet.

A few years later, she decided to go to medical school to become a doctor. She went back to school to acquire the proper science credits. She was successful and was admitted to medical school. To celebrate, she and a companion decided to go camping and hiking for a few days in the Trinity Alps a few miles north of Mendocino, an activity she loved.

While hiking, she slipped and fell off a cliff, her friend ran to find help but was not able to bring it back in time. Jeanne died alone and in pain as most of us ultimately must. Her friend and I accompanied her body back to Dubuque for burial. Two weeks later he drowned while swimming.

But that was then in the future and as now it is in the past. That day we were off on our adventure blissfully and thankfully ignorant of our futures (John himself died a few years ago after a long illness).

John lived in a little cabin (Actually a two story Victorian type of thing, but I always thought of it as the cabin) in the redwoods along Jughandle Creek. A sign affixed to the cabin announced “The Jughandle Creek Conservancy.” Inside, John and a friend had just returned from mushroom hunting and had laid on the table before them an incredible collection of dirt encrusted bizarrely shaped fungi that they both were obviously enthralled with. They invited Jeanne and me to join them in sampling their earthy delights. We declined.

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After a while, we unrolled our sleeping bags on the porch outside and slept soundly lulled to sleep by the rustle of the wind through the redwoods and the periodic hoot of an owl on the hunt nearby.

The next morning, John took us on a tour of the “Ecological Staircase.” In some ways, that hike changed my life as much as anything ever has. Never before had I experienced anyone that seemed to have such a passionate love of nature, or of anything really; musicians or those sexually bewitched maybe excepted. Perhaps those who met John Muir or explored the marshes with Mrs. Terwilliger (“Spend the day at home and you’ll never remember it. Spend the day outdoors with me, and you’ll never forget it.”) may have been equally affected as I was during this walk. For me, it seemed both revealing and somewhat disquieting.

I grew up on the East Coast in and around New York City. I could be included among those who that passionate cynic Don Neuwirth said get nose bleeds when the soles of their feet are not in contact with cement. To us the “Woods,” as we called it, was somewhat forbidding and dangerous, a place approached with care and where possible avoided (I to this day believe all “woods” to be inhabited by ravenous bears and rogue biker gang members).

As we walked along, John pointed things out like a tour guide in the Sistine Chapel. He would stop, dip his hands into the mulch of the forest floor breathing in its earthy smell then urging us to do so also. At times, he tenderly touched this or that shy plant explaining its particular remarkable attributes. I soon realized I was experiencing someone who appeared to be speaking about his beloved.

To John nature was nothing less that a symphony of renewal. I, on the other hand, could not go quite that far, the smell of the earth although pleasant still possessed the faint odor of decay. Where he saw in a green shoot pushing up through the browned fallen leaves the miracle of regeneration, I saw only the catabolism of the dead.

And yet, and yet, I could not resist his infective enthusiasm and hoped, no wanted it all to be true.

Or, I suddenly thought, was this in fact just another example of something I once read, of, “…our peculiar American phenomenon of seeking guidance or redemption within nature.” From what could John be seeking redemption? Not being “The Olmsted?” Something that happened during recess in grammar school? A secret life perhaps?

Among the stunted trees, John explained how the nitrogen-depleted soil encouraged the plants in the area to evolve to trap insects from which to obtain that chemical so necessary for life.

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As we trudged along we passed through the towering redwood forests that grew where the hard-pan had been broken at what could be called the staircase’s risers, crushed by the incessant geological forces as they thrust one step above the other.

As we walked in the silent spaces between the giant trees, John referred to it, as many do, as nature’s cathedral. Like a cathedral’s columns, the massive trunks climbed up to where, far above, sunlight filtered through the branches as it does through a cathedral’s stained glass clerestory windows. Far below, in shadow, the ground revels in silence.

But, in reality, even I knew the trees grew that high in order to expropriate the sun’s energy at the expense of everything below.  Just like, I assume, the builders of the great cathedrals sought to expropriate the grace of God, leaving the few worshippers scurrying about in the gloom and quiet below. Whenever I visited one of those grand churches, although I enjoyed the brief respite from the vicissitudes of existence offered by the silence, I, nevertheless, soon found myself longing for the excitement and distraction of life’s bazaar outside.

As we turned to go back to the cabin for lunch, I was a bit relieved, fatigued from scrambling across the wild terrain and somewhat overwhelmed by my sudden immersion into the intricate mysteries of nature. I guess, we usually simply absorb our momentary experiences with Mother Nature in unthinking contemplation but, wandering about with John, however, was more like a post-graduate course in ecological transcendentalism. It was made even more exhausting by exposure to a lovers passion that you, the observer, could not really share.

Still, unless one is simply hateful or irredeemably cynical one usually hopes the lover succeeds and perhaps thereby you gain some vicarious empathic connection to what you could never experience directly.

Watching them plod on ahead of me, Jeanne determined to wring all that could be wrung from her experience and John, in the lead, shining like Gandalf the White, I felt a chill and I thought about redemption.

We all seek redemption for something. For me, perhaps, it was absolution for that morning long ago, hearing my wife screaming over and over, “My baby, my baby is dead,” while I tried to breathe life back into that tiny purple and red-splotched body and failed. Or later, feeling nothing but anger at the stares of the mourners and the somber burial on some forgotten hilltop?

Could an innocent excitement about the future and a lovers enchantment redeem anything?

I followed them back to the cabin.

Back at the cabin, we ate a lunch of elaborate home-made trail mix and some locally grown fruit while John explained how to, “use the techniques of the private real the estate market to protect resources.” It seems he had managed to cajole many of his neighbors into selling him relatively low-cost options to buy their land. He raised the money for the purchase of the options from various endeavors including peddling “Jughandle Creek” Christmas cards. His goal was eventually to sell the options to the California Department of Parks and Recreation. Unfortunately, the Department did not see Jughandle Creek with the same urgency and significance as John.

Nevertheless, John’s approach of using the private market to preserve nature impressed me a lot since, among other things, it indicated some creative thought regarding getting something done beyond simply pressuring government to figure it out and do it. This approach affected some of the implementation policies that several years later I wrote into California’s Coastal Plan.

Since I had already been hooked, I spent the remainder of the afternoon discussing, planning, and plotting our strategy for preserving and protecting John’s beloved Staircase.

It was clear to me that John was a lover and while he, like any lover, believed he would fight to preserve from harm every strand of his beloved’s hair, he was not, a defender. The difference to me was that the defender operates more or less by the following rules:

1. If the conflict is severe, damage is inevitable. (The lover often can neither conceive nor tolerate of the slightest harm to his beloved.)
2. You cannot protect anything if you are dead. (The lover, on the other hand, swears he would give his life for his beloved, but in fact rarely does, and because of that is prone to rash and foolish decisions.)
3. The opponent has to know right down to his shorts that he is in the battle of his life.
4. The defender will be disposed of the moment those defended believe the threat is past. Any songs that will be sung will be sung only about the lovers or those who merely survived the enemy’s rout.

(If this all sounds a little Seven Samurai and the Magnificent Seven, it is.)

Anyway, eventually, over the following month or so, we began the defense using all the traditional methods; protests, demonstrations and the like (John had many allies and supporters he could call on) and I joined in. Then came the litigation.

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John Olmstead years later but still partial to funny hats.

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