Friday, September 28, 2007

Men in Hats

For the time being, I shall stick this post at the top of my blog, not only because I like it, but also because new photos will be added to the slideshow ongoing. So take a peek every couple of weeks or so to see new faces. Maybe you will have been added to my (charming) Rogues' Gallery. Check for new posts behind this one too - I actually do write new stuff from time to time. Thanks for reading!

Most of my friends are used to me obnoxiously poking a camera in their faces when they least expect it. And many of my friends are performers who are quite willing to perform for my lens. So, one day, I was sitting in a chair outside my favourite coffee shop when it struck me that the men sitting in a row on the brick planter opposite me were each wearing some form of unique headgear. Inspiration! Thus was born "Men in Hats".

What began as an interesting thought has progressed to obsession. I am now accosting complete strangers in the street and asking if I may take their pictures. So far, only one man has refused me, and he is someone that I do know. The rest ask me where they should stand and how they should pose, and beam away like Cheshire cats.

Don't know quite what to do with these, but I love them. Hope that you do too. Men in Hats:

If you would like a closer look at all these lovely men, go to

Wall by Wall

Almost Done
Just as nature tries to fill a vacuum, local graphic artists have looked at the blank walls in town and work at filling them all. Flatmo, Spicer, the Rural Burl Mural Bureau, graffiti artists, and all of the anonymous, unknown, or unnamed, have dotted the town with colourful larger-than-life realistic and comic invention. In obvious view on busy streets, hidden in the backways, byways and alleys, bordering parking lots, they are painting the town - one wall at a time.

To view the slideshow in larger size format, go to

Saturday, September 22, 2007

War, Bloody War

Like the wars themselves, everyone who looks at this picture will have a different response, and a different opinion of what they see. Two American soldiers who probably never in their young lives thought that they would one day shake the hand of the President of the United States! Two strapping young men - the parts that aren't missing look strong and healthy. They were probably proud of their country and ready to sacrifice for it, and I'm sure that George is congratulating them for their valour, expressing regret for their losses, and telling them how grateful we all are. We are twice as grateful to you on the left. (That's your right, George, in case you're trying to figure it out. You know - the one who appears to be leaning rather heavily on your shoulder as if he's not quite steady on those new pins yet.)

George certainly looks fit, possibly going for a run (solo, I assume) as soon as he's done here. Actually, his trademark smirk looks a little sheepish, like maybe this isn't the best photo-op in the world, like he's anxious to be on his way. Maybe we could publish it alongside a shot of Bin Laden spattered by the human shrapnel of one of his suicide bombers. Would that make you look better, George?

I remember your stirring pronouncement, George - "Mission accomplished!" Well, Amen! to that. But refresh my memory, if you will. What was our mission there? Seems like it kept changing, and I lost track somewhere along the way. Oh yes, we were going to bring peace to the Middle East, and thus to the world. I'm sure that was it.

Of course, in retrospect, my favourite from you is "Bring it on!" Boy, you sure told them. And they took you at your word. Proof positive right there at your hand. I must say though, that you stood up to it all without a scratch. One tough hombre you are, George.


They made promises to me –
“Be all that you can be!”
they said.
I didn’t know that all I could be was dead.

They trained me well –
I learned to kill;
to fight
to protect my country - for God and Right.

I was sent off to war
on a foreign shore
far away.
They said we were buying freedom, and I was to go and pay.

So, valiantly, righteously,
for God and glory,
I fought.
Against the wrong enemy, but it was what I had been taught.

I died a hero’s death;
and with my final breath,
I cried,
“When will this end?” “For you it’s now,” the blood-red sand replied.

Now my Mom and my Dad weep aloud,
even though they’re still proud
of me
and the medals I won – posthumously.

But I have to say
it’s better this way –
I just died.
Others must live on with their bodies in pieces and pain inside.

These young fathers, mothers, children, husbands, wives,
with broken minds and broken bodies to broken lives
they come,
walking, wheeled, carried, sealed in hidden coffins and shipped home.

"Did we win?" we ask.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Ma, He's Painting on the Walls Again!

The artist at work

Our most prolific outdoor muralist is at it again. On the backside of the Arkley Centre for the Performing Arts, artist Duane Flatmo is crafting an heroic, old-world, trompe-l’oeil painted monument to the arts. The arch was inspired and designed from architectural photos he took on a trip to Paris (France). When the building’s backdrop of sky is the right shade of blue, it adds even more to the illusion that you are seeing through it.

The dancer and musical figures reflect the performance aspect of the building, with musicians’ faces pulled from the pages of a jazz magazine.

When I first moved to town, the building was home to the State movie theatre – a grand old girl in the grand old style – soaring spaces with upstairs and downstairs seating, one screen, one movie at a time. With the advent of modern multiplex theatres, the old theatres wasted away. This one became part of Daly’s Department Store, a busy retail store in the heyday of downtown merchants – when they dominated city business, politics and society. Along came the mall and downtown changed again.

Vacant and in disrepair, the building was finally rescued, rehabbed, restored, and refurbished by our local billionaire benefactor, and reincarnated as an elegant performance theatre. The other remaining portion of the Daly’s store had already been redone and was operating as a new local bank.

Downtown is gradually coming back. Businesses still come and go, but there is slow, steady improvement. Old Town facades are Victorian jewels, housing a variety of shops, galleries, offices, restaurants – some thriving, some hanging on. The waterfront is our sometime vision of loveliness, and visionaries have big plans. Oh, they do have plans.

Old building in downtown

New artsy-tecture building in downtown

We are, of course, courted regularly by the Big Boxes who hope that we will fall for their lines and be seduced into letting them in. We try to hold them off, fearing date rape.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Bars and Brothels and Ghosts, Oh My

The second ghostly experience I’ll relate was in a brothel - a used-to-be brothel in Eureka’s “Old Town” area. This part of downtown, especially Two Street, used to be a hive of bars and brothels, and the prime destination for loggers coming in out of the woods. It was rough and ready and alcoholic, with brawls and stabbings a common occurrence, and characters like Muzzie, playing piano and singing in her own very popular bar.

The heyday of these bars was finally winding down in the 1970s and 80s, and now there are only a few of the old ones left – much tamer now, and on the fringes of a slightly more civilized area.

They've been around for a while

A friend of mine talks of delivering newspapers to Old Town brothels in the early 1950s, but they’re gone now too. Now there are apartments over top of the neighbourhood businesses, and today, the “girls” loiter on street corners, and in doorways, or stake out their bit of turf over by the library.

I walked through an empty brothel-that-was, before it was converted. There was a small, square foyer and a long, broad, wooden staircase leading up into a dimly lit hallway. Our footsteps were loud and hollow-sounding as we climbed the stairs, and our voices bounced off the walls and echoed, even when we whispered.

At the top of the stairs, we turned to face down the hall of many doorways. The doors were all either open or missing - don’t remember which, but we could see into all of the rooms with their bits and pieces of debris. The dust smelled like old alcohol and sweat, and it seemed as if we could hear faint sounds from the far end of the hall – murmurs, moans, soft laughter, the clinking of glasses and rustle of fabric. There was, of course, no one in the rooms – not when we looked straight in. It was only out of the corners of our eyes that we could catch soft, furtive, shadowy movements.

I don’t remember too much of what it actually looked like, other than dark, musty, dilapidated, because the back of my mind was too busy picturing reds and purples, velvet draperies, flocked wallpaper, plush carpets, mahogany furniture. It may never have been that elegant. Reality was probably booze, vomit, and pee-stained, with torn curtains.

Leaving, we hurried along the hall and almost ran back down the stairs, sure that we were being watched by ghostly eyes from behind and above. When we were out on the sidewalk again, we took a deep breath as we locked the door securely behind us.

That was then, this is now

Bad juju

The abandoned building site reminded me of a couple of experiences I’ve had here in town. One was in a restaurant/nightclub that had been financed by the bank where I worked. The business had gone belly up and was now ours to dispose of. We went to inspect our new property.

We let ourselves in the back alley door, stumbled through a dark entryway and found a light switch. The scene in front of us was total carnage – the wreckage of a food and drink orgy. Every table was still set with the remains of a meal – plates dotted with mouldering bits of food, utensils at all angles, water glasses half-full, liquor glasses empty, napkins crumpled and smeared. There were empty bottles everywhere – standing on the tables, lying on the floor. It was as if the party had been going at full steam and in an instant had just stopped. As if the last person had taken a last bite and tossed off a last drink and that was the signal for everyone to immediately stand and walk out. Or as if they had suddenly been zapped and turned to instant dust and they were all now lying on the floor under their chairs next to the bottles. If we sprinkled them with liquor, would they reconstitute themselves to carry on where they left off?

In the kitchen area all the pots and pans, cooking and serving utensils, were still sitting where they had been used. Spills congealed on the stove and countertops. There was a large dead black bird – a crow or raven – lying on the counter next to an even larger butcher’s knife.

It was like a scene from the movie “The Shining” - walking down a deserted hallway, and peering into an empty room that I expected to see suddenly fill with strange, frenzied life.

The building's next incarnation included Chippendale dancers.


Old ruins are redolent of their long history. Stonehenge, Macchu Picchu, Mesa Verde, crumbling old castles and churches, are filled with the ghosts of all of the people that have passed through them throughout all of the centuries that have passed by. Broken walls radiate inward all of the pain and sorrow and laughter they have held; they are impregnated with all of the human fluids that have stained them. Stand in the center of any of these places and close your eyes. You will hear whispers, sighs, screams and laughter in the breeze, and feel the brush of thousands of ghostly bodies moving around you as they go about their old business. What we think of as deserted and empty is filled to the brim.

Newer abandoned structures are the same, except that the ghosts’ clothing would be more modern. There is still that sense of unseen occupancy, as if those still in residence are engaging you in an eerie game of hide-and-seek. A friend found this site of photos of abandoned buildings – homes, businesses, even whole towns – most in the United States, but some around the world. Some you can understand, some you wonder what on earth could have happened to them – like the village in northern Italy.

Take a peek; see if you can catch someone watching you from around a corner.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Beauty and The Beast

Reclaiming our Crowning Glory

The Eureka Inn is the crown jewel of our little semi-Victorian bayside burg. It was built in 1922 - a half-timbered Tudor edifice, occupying an entire elevated city block near the centre of town – and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Owned by the Barnum family until the death of the family matriarch, it was sold, only to suffer management problems under the new owners which led to its closing in 2003.

While it was open and thriving, it was a mecca for tourists, and a centre for community activities. There were 104 guest rooms, a swimming pool area (closed over), 8000 square feet of meeting space, a café, a fine dining restaurant, two bars – one with a fireplace and conversation circles of comfortably upholstered high-backed chairs.

The lobby is spacious in area and height, and was elegantly carpeted and furnished around a large fireplace. At Christmas time, the place was always decorated to the nines, with a giant revolving tree overlooking a month-long parade of musical performances. Now under new ownership once again, the exterior has been repainted and interior construction, refurbishing and maintenance are ongoing. It was to be reopened for business last year…this year…maybe next year.

The Seat of the County

If the Inn is the bling of this old dame city, the courthouse is the boil on her butt (or County seat, if you will). The two original adjoining gray institutional boxes housed county offices, courtrooms and two floors of County jail. Overflowing and bursting at its concrete seams, the building was scheduled for a mandated earthquake retrofit, and a new jail addition was planned for the same time.

When construction was completed, the newly vacant top floors of the old structure were remodeled into deluxe new offices with spectacular views of the Bay and the city. The windows of our ground-floor office were boarded over on the outside with dirty scratched green board, hiding the new wall half a foot away, and effectively jailing us from 8 to 5 every day. What is the difference between work and prison? About 6 inches, I would guess. At least we did partially solve our window problem by creating a mural on the inside glass.

The front façade of two tall tower areas in the new jail were striped with rows of brick – very cheery, like square barber poles. The entire front half of the addition was finished off in baby poop yellow, the back half in the rosy blush of a salmon in heat.

To complement the new addition, the original boxes were repainted in the ever tasteful, blend-into-the-fog decorator tones of beige, greige, and bluege. The whole of this cobbled-together building range is a monument to design by dueling committees, and is a viable contender for ugliest building on the continent. There was a second addition planned for the other side of the jail that was meant to house all of the courtrooms and court offices, but we ran out of money, and it is now a much-needed parking lot. The court attachment would have been a lovely turreted Victorian, blending in nicely with the over-all structure.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A Magnificent Folly

After posting this entry, I learned that women now have more access to the place than they had before, although they must still be accompanied by male members (with all other parts attached, I assume). I don't know how they feel about loose women, but there shall be no women on the loose running amok in the halls.

The Ingomar Club, nee the Carson Mansion, may be the most photographed building in the U.S. It was built in 1885 by lumber and railroad magnate William Carson from the eclectic and absurdly controversial design of a pair of San Francisco architects. Originally from the province of New Brunswick, Canada, Carson came to California to look for gold, and found redwood instead.

The last of his descendants to live in the Mansion moved out in 1940, leaving it vacant for 10 years. It was in danger of being demolished so that the property could be developed, but a group of local businessmen purchased the building for use as a private men’s club. They decided to call it The Ingomar Club after the theatre which Carson had constructed and named after his favourite play, “Ingomar the Barbarian”. Club members pay for maintenance and improvement of the building and its grounds. Fine dining can be had in the new boxy restaurant addition overlooking the Bay.

The purpose of the club is for the socializing and enjoyment of its male-only members. Initiation fees and dues are steep, entrance is allowed only to members and their guests, except on rare occasions women are forbidden, dress code is absolute. Within its walls, business fellows are hailed and well-met, wheels are dealed and deals wheeled, power is broked, movers and shakers of the community discuss their next move and how it will shake out.

The Penile Cupola

Periodically through the years women have tried to gain entrance…local businesswomen wanting membership and access to the inner circle…visiting notables wanting a tour of the building or a meal on the wrong day…Verboten! Not one angry, frustrated, little toe through the doorway.

We make up stories about the building and imaginary occupants. Its crazy, crenellated, Goth, bats-in-the-belfry exterior lends itself to tales of debauchery, bestiality, slavery and abuse, bondage and discipline days. The political secrecy of a Bohemian Club or Skull & Bones, the fantastic excess of a Disney castle, accessible as the Pope’s bedchamber, with overtones of Abu Ghraib. Reality, I am sure, is probably dry as toast, but what we’re not allowed to see, we can imagine any way we want. Although, actually, I have been inside – one Christmas party, one bank business reception, one luncheon. It’s very beautiful – full of wonderful wood – a magnificent playhouse.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Geezer Jihad

Low income seniors are growing in numbers even as their cost of living – the cost of existing, of affording a minimum of those things absolutely necessary for life – is overtaking their meager incomes.
The homeless elderly will be an increasingly important group as America ages in the next decade.


The Geezer Jihad is on the move to Washington, D.C.,
Marching onward, senior soldiers, in rows of two and three.
With their walkers and their wheelchairs, they should arrive at dawn,
Down Pennsylvania Avenue, and on to the White House lawn.

With their oxygen tanks and IV drips and orthopedic shoes,
They’re ready to wage a dirty war and they don’t intend to lose.
Their lap robes hide their arsenals of weapons of mass destruction -
A deadly store of missiles of their own design and construction.

No guns, no bombs, no tanks, no planes, no loss of life or limbs –
They’re armed with slings and ready to fling a barrage of used Depends.
Resistance will be useless. They’re prepared to stand their ground.
And if their demands will not be met…they’ll turn the White House brown.

As more and more of the old and poor are forced out onto the street,
Or share their cat’s food because it’s cheap and they’ve bills that they can’t meet,
Or do without meds that they need to live, but can’t afford to buy,
The powers that be pretend not to see, or ask, “Why don’t they just die?”

“Why should we have to pay for them? They’re not our responsibility.
They think because they’re old they’re entitled to financial priority!
It’s their own fault they’re in trouble – they didn’t make a plan.
Now their income doesn’t stretch, and they expect a helping hand!”

“Besides, it’s money we don’t have. It’s all going to Iraq.
Just what do they expect us to do? Bring the soldiers back?
They need to face the facts, tighten their belts, and live within their means.
It’s not like they need to go anywhere, and there’s a lot of protein in beans.”

“Goodwill clothes are good enough for bodies ugly and old;
If they layer on enough of them, they’ll hardly notice the cold.
And so what if their medications are more than they can afford?
Why should the rest of us pay for them? It’s time we cut the cord!”

So they’re out in force – a million man march of the old and the infirm,
They’re on parade, they’ll be seen and heard, and make the politicos squirm.
They’re limbering up their pitching arms, they’re not going to back off and quit.
They’re not going to take it any more; they’re throwing back the shit.

They’ve been living at the bottom end of a great national disparity,
But all that they ask is freedom from pain, a little comfort, and dignity.
And if you ask them how long it will take before they achieve their ends:
“It depends on whether they listen to us. If not, ……it just ……Depends.”

Monday, July 23, 2007

A Cautionary Tale

A man I know conducts a one-hour religious service at each of two local care homes, one of them on Saturday afternoon, one on Sunday. He is a good man with no illusions about himself and what he’s done in his life, very devout but with no religious arrogance. He is in his late 70s and still rides a motorcycle and pilots an ultra-light plane. His services are non-denominational, and include a couple of short readings, a brief talk, and lots and lots of music - simple well-known hymns, usually with repetitious words that can be followed easily by the residents who are able to or who try to sing along. Soothing to those who can’t.

He plays guitar or keyboard and sings lustily, assisted by 3, 4, 5 or so other volunteers playing musical instruments, or reading, or just singing along. A few of the residents come into the room on foot, maybe with walkers; most are in chairs – moveable beds – and are pushed in by staff. They are young and old, and of varying degrees of mental and physical incapacity. Disastrous births, illnesses, accidents, and infirmities of age have brought them here. They are waiting – for the next mealtime, for a diaper change or a bath, for the temporary diversion of new faces in the house, for the time when they can leave and go to someplace better.
I wrote a song for them – about "going home" some day. (Those who know me will recognize the incongruity of that.) When I sang it in my on key but cracked voice, most of the people seemed to enjoy it, and some even applauded. One woman wheeled her chair out of the room until I was finished. She’s a sharp, critical woman with angry eyes who always takes people to task for any misbehavior in the room. She usually likes me, and loves my hair. This day, she asks me who I am, and what I’m doing there. “You don’t impress me a bit!” she says.
I’m sitting alone on the piano bench when suddenly a little man on the other side of the room marches over and sits next to me. He wears his T-shirt tucked into his pants in that way that makes little old men look as if their waistband is up under their armpits. He sits up very straight with his hands folded in his lap. He announces, “I usually try to be normal, and fit in, but sometimes the Devil gets the best of me.” I tell him that he needs to send the Devil on his way, and he agrees. But I could be wrong - maybe this is the bit of a devil that makes life here bearable.
A younger man rolls his chair up next to the bench and the little man gets up and walks off. I don’t think it’s that he dislikes the other man – I sense a shift of power. The man in the chair tells me that he is 38, that he was beaten as a child, and that he went to a military school until he was 10 where they fed him so well that he grew to be over 7 feet tall and more than 300 pounds. When he left there, he grew small again. He smiles, happy to have an audience, and pleased to be able to repeat his story several times.
A frail, elderly woman asks me to tell her what the man just read, and what it means. I tell her that he said God loves her, which is basically what he did say, just longer. She wants me to hold her hand, which I do very carefully. Her hand is stiff, not pliable, her fingers and knuckles knotted and gnarled, her skin papery and thin and dry.
There is a young woman, severely damaged in mind and body, who has been in care all of her life. She makes loud noises, hits her head with her hand, and tries to overcome the brakes on her chair and inch her way up to the front to touch the man speaking. Another woman cries out, “Help me. Help me.” Is she in pain? Or is it an automatic and constant plea? There is a man in the corner who looks like Stephen Hawking – his features are the same, his body as bent. Periodically, he needs to be adjusted and boosted up again in his chair.
I recognize a man that I know. He does not recognize me. He sits erect, does not seem to be in pain, and smiles and nods pleasantly, but he is more disturbing than the rest of them. The others are as I have always known them. They were born in my consciousness fully-bloomed as they are now, as if they have always been this way. I remember this man when he walked and talked and worked and played and laughed and danced and loved. When he rode his motorcycle all across the country. He was different, and now he is not. This thing happened to him. It could happen to me. It could happen to all of us.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

A Stroll on the Beach

"Sea Horse"

About 15 miles north of town is Clam Beach. I’ve never gone clamming there, but I’ve walked it for miles, and we did it again.

Standing on the beach and looking east, you see a backdrop of thickly shrubbed and treed bluffs rising up on the other side of the highway. The thick vegetation helps to stabilize these bluffs, and protect them from the rain and ocean winds – a boon to houses sitting on top, on the edge, and just barely visible through the trees. The highway was cut through the dunes that sit as foothills to the bluffs, and it can’t be seen from here through the grassy sand hummocks on the beach side of the road. Little River flows alongside the dunes on its way to its mouth on down the beach a ways. A very little river, more like a creek.

Little River, the Dunes and the Bluffs

The beach itself is broad and sandy. We’re here at low tide, and follow along Little River, crossing the beach to the ocean at the river mouth to avoid the hot, hot sand on our bare feet. Even after numbing them in the cold ocean water, when we’re on our way back to the parking lot, it’s only enough to take us half way, and we run back to the water and walk all the way around again.

Across the Burning Sands

The Mouth of Little River

Many years ago, a friend and I watched a huge flock of small shore birds swooping and diving, zigging and zagging in 45 degree angled turns, dancing up and down the beach as these birds do – the entire flock moving as if thinking with a single brain. They raced away down the beach and then started back straight toward us, and just as we were ready to tuck and duck, they all flipped up and back so that the sun caught their white bellies with a thousand points of light. One of those small breathtaking moments that imprints forever on the back of your mind.

Today there are the usual seagulls and a couple of raptors up cruising the thermals. Two people on horseback are just starting out from the parking lot, and pass by the sheriff’s beach patrol vehicle coming back in. There are two large rutted circles cut into the wet sand by someone’s 4-wheel drive vehicle, but there is usually very, very little vehicle traffic on the beaches. Occasionally someone stupid will get stuck out here. Dune buggies are limited to their own small section of beach elsewhere.

Beach Traffic

Sand Circles

Lots of good ions in the ocean air. Breathe deep, let the wind blow your hair, curl your toes around the sand. Life is good. You can almost imagine there is nothing wrong with the world.

Where the Water Meets the Sky

Friday, July 6, 2007

In the Beginning - A Bedtime Story

Scientists have discovered water on Mars, and there is some speculation that at one time it might have been very similar to the Earth, its blue-green twin, full of life.

After centuries of pollution, deforestation, environmental neglect and destruction, the planet Mars had become more and more inhospitable to life. The Martian people were forced to crowd closer and closer together in shrinking pockets of habitable land, and the competition for control of the dwindling resources was fierce and violent. The creation and use of increasingly more deadly weapons not only decimated the population, but also further devastated the environment. Martian scientists turned their eyes to their sister blue-green planet - a twin pendant in the universe to their own former gemlike orb - in the hopes that it might prove livable.

Alas, as they dreamed of a plan for a mass migration of the Martian peoples to a new Utopia, another group of scientists was working on, and finally succeeded in building the ultimate weapon of destruction – the biggest bang ever.

Late one night, two objects launched simultaneously from two different areas of the planet’s surface and arced up into the atmosphere. One was a space ship manned by two intrepid volunteers - a test probe on a one-way trip toward that hopeful hunk of rock that was now orbiting as close to Mars as it would ever get.

As the ship broke free of the planet’s atmosphere, and headed out into the vastness of space, the second launched object turned back toward Mars and landed with an explosion and fallout that finally and totally obliterated every trace of life remaining on the planet. People, animals, plants, buildings, all turned instantly to fine powder – dust devils swirling about in the shock waves from the blast before settling down as part of the now bleak, completely empty landscape.

The two astronauts had some concern over the sudden loss of communication with their base, but had no choice but to carry on with their assigned duties and ensure their own safe journey to what would be their new home.

Three months later, the ship reached its destination and settled gently to Earth. The door opened, a ladder dropped, and astronauts Adam Goldberg and Eve Bernstein stepped out and climbed down to the ground. They tested the air and declared it good. With helmets off, they looked around, marveling at the lushness of the plant life with all manner of grasses, and herbs, and flowers, and shrubs, and trees.

Eve looked at the trees laden with fruit – fresh fruit! – and her mouth began to water. “Oy, Adam,” she said, “If you pick me some of those apples, I’ll make some blintzes. But be careful and don’t fall out of the tree and break a rib or nothin’. Oh, and first you better kill that snake over there. You can skin him and tan him later – he’ll make a nice belt for my green jumpsuit. And while I’m cooking, I’m gonna need you to.…………..”

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A View of the Bay

The Sam J. Sacco Sr. Memorial Amphitheatre

The heavy metal trusses of the pleated roof of the amphitheatre used to be filled with large panes of glass, but they were removed when they started breaking in the weather and through vandalism. The structure was built in 1989 as part of bayside beautification, named to honour an ex-mayor, and then it was forgotten, although the dedication plaque ensures that the name of Sam J. Sacco will live on.

It has NEVER been used for an event of any kind, and is now a gathering place for the homeless. At full capacity, its tiered seating could probably sleep 50 to 100 people end-to-end, but even the occasional napper may be rousted out of there. Without a roof, it’s useless for any purpose in the rain, and it was built facing the bay with nothing to break the wind. Often, during the day, street wanderers with guitars on their backs will meet there and sit around, playing and smoking weed. Everybody’s gotta be someplace.

Shrubs and underbrush all around the bay show evidence of habitation – cardboard flooring, discarded clothing, bits of trash – performance art. There are snug nests under the community center deck. Once upon a time, a man who used to live there had given us a tour of his digs, saying that he felt cozy and protected except for the occasional exceptionally high tide. And until someone found his place and stole his stuff.

Along the bay around the center of town is a fancy boardwalk funded by our local billionaire - plants in huge planters, lots of benches, a railing along the water, lighting, banners. There are elaborate plans for development all along the town side of the boardwalk, but so far, only one building has been completed – or even started. Next to the main entrance to the boardwalk is a building complex with a saltwater taffy and souvenir shop, and a proposed restaurant on the ground floor, and deluxe condo apartments on top – with a deluxe view of the bay.

Home Sweet Homes - With a View of the Bay

A Concert by the Bay

A beautiful sunny day turned into a cool, still, clear evening by the bay. From the grassy area between the community centre parking lot, the fishing dock, and the wasteful and wasted amphitheatre, the happy music of guitar, mandolin and washtub bass made strolling passersby smile, and drew one family to sit on the grass and enjoy their own private concert.

Two of my friends - long time local musicians - were joined by a young man passing through the area who had decided to stay around and join the music scene and enjoy our company for a while. A very talented young man whose guitar playing and singing blended in well. "Two Dollar Bill", "Amelia Earhart", a jazzy version of "Just a Closer Walk With Thee" - they play mostly old time music, gospel music, and a smattering of the blues, but they have huge repertoires and great skill. They played until it was too cold to just sit, and their fingers were getting too stiff to pluck the strings.

There are hit and miss paths along this side of the bay, although they are working toward joining them all together into one continuous walkway. From here on past the bridge a sidewalk winds along close to the edge of the water, separated from it by shrubs here and there and by large rocks that tumble down the sides of the bank. As I walked the path, behind me to the west I could see the long plumes of the mill; directly across the water was the island marina with the sun setting behind the fishing boats. Further along my walk there was a night heron sitting on top of a piling, and in the water a white egret.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Land of the Giants

Yes, I am a Tree Hugger

They grow them BIG here…Redwood trees…Sequoia sempervirens…the tallest trees in the world. The new record holder is almost 380 feet in height. Because they are disease, insect and fire resistant, they can live more than 2000 years, but are not the oldest trees in the world. That would be bristlecone pines, the oldest of which, in the White Mts. of California, is 4600 +. The oldest pine used to be 4900, but it was cut down in 1964 so that its rings could be checked to find out how old it was.

Redwoods have very shallow roots, intertwined with, and supporting the roots from adjacent trees. When one falls, many fall. We had a major winter windstorm last year that took big chunks out of some of the parks where stands of trees fell like dominos. A big swath of nature's clear-cutting.

A redwood grove is like a magnificent cathedral, cool and still and holy, with a carpet of ferns, moss, trilliums, salal, sorrel, and a soaring canopy streamed with light. Walk through the dappled light for healing.
Tourists really do lie on their backs to take pictures of the canopy, although I’ve never seen anyone doing it in the middle of the road:
“Just look at the picture of the big trees that Henry took, Lucille.”
“Now, that’s real nice, Martha. Too bad that logging truck had to come along.”
“Yeah, it pretty much made a mess of Henry, but at least we saved the camera.”

Individual groves of redwoods often have small signs posted in the ground near them to identify a sponsoring individual or organization. The area of many, many trees around the place at the river where we go swimming is designated “The California Federation of Women’s Clubs Grove”. Many years ago, Ronald Reagan made a statement that “If you’ve seen one redwood, you’ve seen them all”, in reference to a campaign to save the giant old-growth redwoods from being logged out. Shortly after, a sign appeared on a tree standing all by itself next to the highway in the town of Arcata naming it “The Ronald Reagan Memorial Grove”.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Water, Water Everywhere

There are three lagoons not too far north of here. The largest one - Big Lagoon - has a wonderful sand spit about 2-3 miles long separating it from the ocean. About once a year, the ocean breaks through the north end of the spit, but the rest of the time you can walk all the way along its spine in between the calm waters of the lagoon on one side, and the crashing waves of the ocean on the other.
The road alongside Freshwater Lagoon – between it and a wide ocean beach – used to be lined cheek by jowl with RVs and campers every summer - regulars who came back every year to stay a month or more. Can’t do that any more, it’s day use only now. A giant park service building was constructed in the tacky little town near the lagoons. I think they promised wonderful things for the town that haven’t materialized. The campers that used to shop at the grocery store, eat at the cafes, and buy gas are gone and their numbers have not been replaced. The main industry of the town is chainsaw sculpture. Carved wooden redwood trees, Indians, smiling bears, windmills, and totems, are displayed on both sides of the highway all the way through town.
There are several tacky little towns around here that are nestled into incredibly beautiful settings – like faceted plastic diamonds in gold and platinum bezels. Some are working at improving – upgraded to cut glass. One of them is the last burg on the coast this side of the Oregon border. It’s a flat town, fronting on amazing ocean beaches. It bills itself as a comeback city, coming back from massive destruction when it was hit by tsunamis in 1960 and 1964, and damage to the harbour when it was hit again in 2006.
Pelican Beach, Crescent City, CA

It still has a fishing fleet, although now many of the big boats have been mothballed, and some have been converted to harbour residences. The major attractions of town are the spectacular beaches, WalMart, an Indian casino, and a maximum security prison. Yin and yang. It also has a great beachfront park, and a restaurant that serves clam chowder that is worth the hour and a half drive up there. After eating, if you want, you can make a pilgrimage to the great Wally. Attractive as it is, you wouldn't want to face it on an empty stomach.

Lots and Lots of Water

Northern California coastline

The Pacific Ocean pounds and shapes our coastline, threatening, and sometimes taking away, houses perched on the edge of receding and crumbling bluffs. It also laps at or crashes on beautiful broad sandy beaches in and around stands of rocks and dunes, abounding with driftwood and shorebirds.They are all lovely to walk on. You can wade in the shallows even though the water is very cold - bracing and invigorating, we say. (It’s hard to believe that this is the same body of water that washes against Hawaii.) People are scarce on most beaches, although their detritus can be found here and there – mostly in and around the remnants of campfires. I’ve heard of crowded beaches in other places where bulldozers make a nightly run scooping up or burying the daily accumulation of trash. Here there is a massive annual volunteer clean-up day.

When there are people on the beach, there are always dogs. So far, dogs have mostly unregulated access. There’s naked sunbathing and yoga, but nudists have limited access. There are some surfing beaches, where you will see long boards, boogie boards, Yakboards, kite surfing, lots of people and lots of dogs, the surfers all in wet suits to protect against the ass-freezing water.

Sunset on Samoa Beach

A friend and I drove across the bridge last night to the peninsula on the other side of the bay and stopped about halfway along on the ocean side to watch the sun set. A beautiful night, cool and still, the ocean rippling, not crashing. There was a post-graduation campfire near us – so far, just kids having fun. We sat on rocks next to the parking area, silently meditating until the last sliver of sun sank into the water at exactly 9:00. Across the road on the bay side of the peninsula, the mill chugged away, rosy and glowing, with its cloud looking like pink cotton candy. The official company line is that the cloud is steam. Water vapour. Almost all steam. Environmentalists have a long laundry list of nasties that they say the mill is puking out. Government departments have found violations, but have granted the company a variance and extended operating time before having to put things right – for economic reasons. (It’s the Economy, Stupid! That's money you're a-smellin'.)

This is the Land of Water and Trees

This is Six Rivers’ country, crisscrossed by wild and scenic rivers that sometimes flood and fill in huge valleys. There are signs next to the highway going south marking the height of the water in the ’64 flood. If you stand with your back to the sign looking straight out across to the other side far, far away, it is unimaginable that the tidy little river below could have ever spilled over with that much water, that its banks could have extended that far and that high..

That’s the river where we went again to swim. Hot enough there to sunburn if you’re not careful. After a childhood and adolescence spent exposing my redhead skin to way too much blistering sun – and being forever blistered and peeling – I throw my towel down in the shade, and baste myself at regular intervals with industrial strength sunscreen. Again we make our way gingerly along the rocky beach to the water. It’s warmer than it was on our first visit, the river is lower and already has some bits of algae floating around on top of the water. But it is still like a wonderful baptism – the holiest water I know, surrounded by the cathedral of trees.

“They” keep trying to buy up our water and ship it away – to central California – or on down to Los Angeles. The last attempt was by a company that proposed to fill up huge plastic containers that would be towed down south behind some sort of big barge – like pulling giant water balloons. They were blown out of the water by a storm of protest and opposition. That was followed by the usual cries of “you stupid, reactionary, anti-progressive, backwater imbeciles!” from our local business visionaries. The same thing happened when WalMart proposed to build here. Even the mighty Wally decided it had run up against an immovable objection, or at least too problematic for the time being. We like our backwater too.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The River

The grove at Women's Grove swimming hole

Today was the first day of the season at the river. The day was warm - high 70s; the water was right chilly going in, but once under, it was lovely and you didn't want to come out. There was a big family gathering next to us, with lots of kids. While we were tenderfooting our way along the gravel and river rock, and easing our way into the water, the kids were racing barefoot along the rocky beach and plunging into the river at full speed. My god, when did we get so old and thin-skinned?

There are huge trees all around. Walking through and under them is like visiting the most beautiful cathedral in the world. Just watch for poison oak.

I remembered a river visit last Fourth of July. The marine layer (blanket of doom, someone called it) had settled in and it was butt-freezing cold in town. Fortunately, when it's like this here, it means that about an hour or so north, west, or south it will be good and hot. South it was, to the river for a swim. We found a nice, broad, mostly sandy beach, lots of trees, no poison oak on the path down. It was beautiful - sun was warm, breeze was cool, water was very warm close to shore, albeit still chilly midstream.

There were only four small groups of people there, counting us. One group consisted of 3 girls and 4 boys, probably around 17-18 years old, who were having a great time. All tanned, slender, healthy, nubile - the girls decided to go topless. So they all swam over to a big rocky outcropping on the other side of the river, climbed up and jumped off again and again and swam around until a woman in one of the other groups stood up and hollered at them, "Will you put your FUCKIN' tops back on? I have a FUCKIN' five year-old and a seven year-old over here, and I'm gonna call the FUCKIN' cops if you don't put your FUCKIN' tops back on!"

Parenting at its finest.

Anyway the discussion continued back and forth in this manner for a minute or two, then all the kids swam back to their end of the beach and tops were reinstalled. I just lay there remembering how lovely it was to be that young and carefree, and that alive.

Monday, June 11, 2007

And just WHY did I want to do this?

The view from my kitchen sink

Well, this is the pits. I finally open one of these things and all I can do is sit and stare at the blank screen - actually it's a taupe screen with all kinds of options for posting, publishing, fonting, aligning. It's my brain that is blank and won't produce anything postable, publishable, fontable, alignable. This thing will save my drafts automatically. Save my drafty old brain - okay?
Actually this is a test - to see if I'm here and what it looks like.
Hot rodders do it in drag. That's absurd enough.

Who am I? A Canadian living in the U.S. - from British Columbia to northern California by way of a brief detour through Arizona. A displaced person - a DP. When I was a kid, people referred routinely to new immigrants to the country as DPs. It was a derogatory term, said with much superiority and condescension, even as we patted ourselves on the back for being so good as to take "them" (whoever the current wave of "them" was) in. I really am glad that y'all were good enough to take me in, even though I've never completely assimilated.

That's enough for Day 1