Thursday, June 27, 2013

David, Where are You?

Wooden Ships

The Santa Barbara newspaper has a column each week devoted to sailing and things aquatic which I usually read, especially after soaking up one of local author T.C. Boyle's novels that was set mostly in the S.B. Channel -- he makes the point, graphically, that these palm-fringed waters are more dangerous than they'd appear.  Over the years, many locals have lost their lives, especially those trying to make a living while plying all sorts of craft.

Musician David Crosby learned to sail here at his father's urging in a little 8' rental (I saw what I thought were the same type in use) and fell in love with it.  As his fans know, he purchased a long and beautiful old yacht made of  Honduras mahogany named Mayan, and still has it docked in the S.B. harbor marina.

So, of course, I had to go see it, dragging poor N. along (who cheered up as we passed a rather nice souvenir shop).  The writer of the column where I learned this wasn't too clear on where the ship was exactly, and there are more piers and boats than you can count.  He also didn't mention, probably because the locals know it, that you can't go on those piers and poke around.  If I had a fine boat, I wouldn't want dumb tourists like me there either.  And this being the California coast and "home" to thousands of homeless people, someone would move in within a day if strangers had access.

You can walk down a long commercial pier and out on a curving sand spit, though, which affords a view of everything clearly except for the boats in the center.  Dodging an insistent incoming tide and non-ankle-friendly rocks, we went all the way to the end where the biggest boats were, but, alas, did not spy Mayan.
So, David, I've read your books but I guess you still have a few of your secrets.  Or maybe it's just that I can't tell one long white boat from another.

Ace Ventura, Beach Detective

I guess you could come all the way to the Pacific coast and view it from your bus or car (which, around Big Sur, is still pretty good), but we just have to find out about all the beaches.  Early on, during previous visits, we got suckered into the well-signed and easily found public beaches, but they're really not worth the trip.  And most charge to park in a very hot unshaded lot, for which I at least expect to find a beach trash- and kelp-free without a lot of detailed signs about what you can't do, but that's exactly the way they are.  On the other extreme, there are those the access to which is something of a local secret, and you have to know how to infiltrate yourself without setting off a local millionaire's dogs, alarms, or prediliction to call the local sheriff.  Since everyone tries this in Malibu, where homeowners have set up false signage and even fake garage doors to keep you away from what is technically a public beach, we seek out more anonymous places, like More Mesa beach about a mile from our hosts' home.  Keeping it rather off the radar, the access is a long walk down bridle paths after a hike up a steeply rising paved dead-end street, followed by a long descent down the cliff using what's left of long-ago-built stairs of logs.  Somehow people bring down chairs, tents and dogs (it's rickety enoughthat just getting yourself down is a challenge) and usually stay the whole day.  Yes, there's lots of kelp and those pesky flies that seem to love that stuff in its rotting state, but no lifeguards, signs, parking lot or adult supervision.

Today we found the best of both worlds (yay!).  The little town of Summerland lies between tony Montecito and funky Carpinteria, and has its own special beach park with -- wait for it -- partially shaded free parking, restrooms, a playground and benches to view the ocean.  The path down the cliff face to the sand is paved and gently curving.  We set up our chairs above the high tide line and watched said tide come in on nice long, curling breakers.  Loons swooped by, and little dog wore himself out first chasing, then retreating from, the foamy waves, and children employed their bodyboards.  In wetsuits, of course.  That water is a lot better to look at and listen to than get in, IMHO.

Summerland itself has another flower-filled park, lots of places to buy fine alcohol, a custom bikini shop and about four really nice restaurants; Summerland Beach Cafe ("since 1981") gets our vote.  Lots of outdoor seating with gentle ocean breezes and a breakfast menu that will hold you until evening.  Three words:  apple - smoked - bacon.  A little place down Lillie Avenue called Sacred Spaces has large antique Buddhas, pots, carved Asian gates and doorways, and many other beautiful and probably expensive items.  The landscaping in town, public and private, is imaginative, lush and a little wild.


With all these people, roads, trains, cars and trucks, you would think wildlife would keep its distance around here.  Oh, no; it's like living inside a zoo (and the local one, as I think I mentioned before, is terrific).  Coyotes roam at night (keep those kitties inside), hummingbirds have to be ducked constantly, all sorts of graceful waterbirds abound, and two beautiful skunks just wandered across the patio the other day like they owned the place.  Actually, they and the ubiquitous gophers (ground squirrels) do.  You just pay the taxes.

Returning from our fruitless effort to find Mr. Crosby's yacht, we watched, with several other people, the amusing red-legged crabs swimming around and crawling on the rocks against the commercial pier.  One was cheered on as he approached a dead grunion fish and grasped it in his big claw, and tried to find a nice place to eat it without his cousins getting it away from him.  Two others, pretty big fellows, were engaged in a nicely choreographed fight.  We gave them wrestlers' names and cheered them on.  The seals were all gathered on a platform farther away, which is a good thing, since they look much better than they smell.

Celebrity Watch

As usual, we haven't seen one, despite going to places they've been known to go to.  Although I wouldn't want to be held accountable for anything that happened if N. actually spotted Rob Lowe.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Big Leagues

Passed 10,000 page views here at Just Sayin'

Waiting on a call from Letterman's people.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Standing Down the Bulldozers

"Your conscience tells you what you can do if you feel like paying the price."
                           -- Ken Sleight ("Seldom Seen Smith")

Tim DeChristopher did not know his sympatico prison visitor, fellow Utahan, environmentalist and river runner Ken Sleight, was the model for Seldom Seen Smith in the 1975 book, The Monkey Wrench Gang, for several years after he had read it at age 18.  He did know a few things about monkey wrenching, though, fearlessly following his predecessor in opposing mindless development and wilderness destruction in his home state.

I remember when Dubya Bush predictably opened up hundreds of thousands of Western land to fossil fuels exploration and give-aways to mega ranchers.  His big-biz and investor buddies were incensed that outgoing President Clinton had protected a great deal of mountain, desert and marine territory and it was time to give those good ol' boys what they wanted.  Young student DeChristopher attended one of those oil and gas land auctions and deflated it by offering fake bids, much like Sleight had done in person years before when, astride his horse Knothead, he faced down bulldozers that were poised to take down hundreds of acres of juniper forest at Amasa Back Mesa.  Sleight lost a lot of environmental battles over the years, but he won that one; DeChristopher was successful also when Interior Secretary Salazar invalidated the auction and once again placed 100,000 acres of land under protection.  Well, won and lost:  he still was sent to jail for two years.  He's out as of April 22 of this year -- yes, on Earth Day.

Sleight says he grew up reserved and shy on Idaho farms.  He credits teachers at the University of Utah for helping him find his voice and confidence.  Completing his business degree after a long year firing howitzer shells in Korea, Sleight went to work for Firestone, but the outdoors called him irresistibly.  Remembering when he and two Army colleagues made a raft out of tree trunks and boards to float down the Bukhan River in Korea, he bought surplus rafts to start a business running the rivers that threaded through the southern Utah landscape.  His saw his beloved Glen Canyon doomed in the late 1950s by dams erected to form Lake Powell ("Lake Foul," he called it).  In The Monkey Wrench Gang, disguised as Smith, he is said to have driven a road grader off a cliff into the reservoir and helped dynamite a coal train.  The Glen Canyon Dam was completed, and these days Sleight won't commit to how much of that monkey-wrenching to stop it he actually did.  He did fight against and prevent a highway and bridge across the Escalante River, however, and feels that was his greatest accomplishment.

Newspaper publisher Jim Stiles says of this American Don Quixote, "it's the integrity that you bring to the fight that counts."

(From two articles in the Summer 2013 issue of Continuum, the magazine of the U. of Utah)


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Breakfast in Buellton

Ongoing adventures in California...

We were fortunate, on our quite enjoyable ride on the AirBus from L.A.X. to lovely Goleta (not being snarky; it is funky and crammed with many little businesses and light industrial, but it really does have its own charm and the residents are fond of it too), to chat with the Arlo Guthrie-looking driver, a retiree having a great time taking people out of the insane Route 405 traffic who had tales to tell.  We wouldn't have known, for example, when we were passing the hundreds-of-acres estate of Ty Warner; he described the humongous mansion that sits on it, mostly empty, while its owner is elsewhere.

I'm pretty sure if we had such an estate, we'd be enjoying it along with the numerous on-site staff and not wandering around looking for even more fabulous places.  Come to think of it, being one of the employees might be an even better job than piloting a bus one round-trip a day along the coast, entertaining the rubes from Pennsylvania.  But either one would beat most jobs.

Our driver said he lives in Ventura, and has for decades, due to a good long-term "career job," as he called it.  Good for him.  I continue looking at the real estate pages in the newspaper and the many free publications, and still can't figure out how millions can afford to live here.  But we're going to enjoy it temporarily, as very happy transients.

He gave us one tip we could use:  asked us if we were going upcountry to the Santa Ynez valley wineries, and we assured him we were.  He urged us to stop for breakfast at Mother Hubbard's in Buellton, right where we would turn off U.S. 101 onto California 246.  This morning we did (45 miles to breakfast? we've done goofier things than that), and with its cheeful and quick owners, red cedar interior, and very well-fed customers around us, Mother's was well worth the trip.  We also noted the absence of something along the way there, thanks to a long-deceased lady named Pearl Chase, whom I almost thanked out loud.  No highway billboards, which in our home area are appearing within yards of each other by the thousands.  Only an unobstructed blue sky, brown grass hills, and sturdy rounded Coast Live Oaks studded about like emeralds.  If you have the radio off (like I always do these days), there's no advertising filling you with anxiety.  Like Eddy Arnold's character in "Green Acres," I say give me the cows and the crows.

We visited an old fave, Sunstone vineyard, designed and built like an ancient farmstead in southern France, and left with a bottle of pinot noir they had only made two barrels of.  They have an album of photos of weddings held there -- comic actress Courtney Cox attended one recently.  And compared to the people in those pictures, she would have only been average-looking! 

On the way back we stopped and hiked up to ancient Nojoqui Falls, a pretty wild place where mountain lions roam.  This being a California summer, though, very little water was coming down. Then back home along the coast, spying the empty isolated beaches like El Capitan.  Someday we'll have to figure out how to get there -- there's always a locals' secret about these things that you can dig out.  Six lanes of insanity on the Four-Oh-Five on one hand and the bright joys of the country and shore on the other:  California's a beauty, and a beast.



Saturday, June 15, 2013


(Just found, by accident, that "Just Sayin' " is also the name of a four-member Boston band.  Nothing new under the sun, is there?)

It's been two years, but through the graces of brother Ron and sistah Claire, who have left on an unimaginably long non-stop flight from California's Central Coast to London (yes, in the UK), we're once again caught up in the sensory delights of the rugged but sweet Pacific coast.

We're in charge of their beyond-beautiful hacienda, perched on high land a mile from the beach, for two weeks, looking after the plants interior and exterior and two superior young female cats named Tinker and Belle.  Belle has finally warmed up to us; she normally keeps to hidden places and much prefers being outside pursuing birds up the big squat pine tree out back.  Not to worry, she's kept well amused while no birds are harmed.  Tinker loves attention, petting, being picked up and ranging between the inside and outdoors.  Our main job daily will be to coax Belle back inside for 6 p.m. dinner and close the door firmly.  Despite hundreds of thousands of people and cars, there are coyotes on the prowl at night, and small pet owners in California learn quickly that the night brings serious stranger danger (to little dogs and cats; maybe to people too).  Despite being quick, that little feline is no match for a coyote.

There are places in this country, rural and urban, where good food is scarce; I found that out while traveling for work for many years.  Around here, you can fall off a curb anywhere and find the best of the best.  First thing today, we stopped at Lane Farms/San Marcos Gardens' stand along busy Hollister Avenue, and loaded up on (possibly too many) strawberries and many other goodies grown right on the property.  Even traveling on the interstates like 405 and 101, you can see fields stretching from ocean to mountain producing enough tasty things to, probably, cover the moon.  And you don't even need to get in the car (or the bike, scooter or skateboard, also common means of transport):  there are oranges, grapefruit, apples, tomatoes and hundreds of red plums circling the yard.  The neighbor's lime tree dips across the fence, so they're available too.
No more morning breakfast juice from a store!

A three-mile walk around More (more-ay) Mesa along the horse paths took a little piece of the afternoon.  No horses out today, and no trail bike riders, only a few dog- and children-walkers here and there.  Unusual for a Saturday, there were just about a half-dozen people on the long beach below and no ships far out in the Channel as usual.  Imagine growing up here -- but I think you'd only really appreciate it in retrospect.  We saw a variety of lizards and several ground squirrels (called gophers here), one of whom was too busy with his dust bath to pay us any mind.  A pelican zipped along the top of the sharp cliff edge, and we made a little detour around a California kingsnake, looking pretty in his dark brown and yellow bands.  The tiny wildflowers only came in a limited pallette of blue-violet, yellow and white; bunches of wild fennel grew up past your head and filled the air with the unmistakable scent of licorice.

Back "home," the late afternoon has become completely quiet, so if you listen, the only sounds are the sharp buzz of the hummingbirds and the softer drone of the many bees.  In a few hours, the crows will loudly claim the evening territories.  With the rise of the moon, the coyotes and skunks will wander the ravines and the little cats will curl up, safe inside.

It takes a look at the weekly color real estate magazine in the newspaper to jolt us back to the reality that we'll not ever have a more permanent address here (the only affordable one -- a 1967 mobile home!).  But like a glass of that fine California chardonnay, it's excellent for the moment and pretty good in retrospect, too.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

One Hundred and Five Ingredients

Do you think a Stephen King tale or "Psycho" is horrifying?  They're bedtime stories compared to the nightmare that is industrialized food (from which comes 70% of our calories -- it's not a fringe problem).

Science's advances like pasteurization, germ theory and penicillin have proven very good for very many.  E. coli and campylobacter in your milk was not good; I remember my grandmother would not drink milk because so many of her contemporaries when young died of what she called "milk fever."  Food and water supplies have to be looked after or you too will die young.  Deciding to use accelerating science to expand sales of commodities and invent artificial new ones after World War II, food industries were formed by business people and have grown to be a monster which not only wags the tail of our government (Monsanto, through bought Congresspeople and lobbyists denied us truthful GMO labeling just recently) but determines exactly what is profitable, and thus available, at the daily retail level.  If you have ever been on the road for your job, you quickly find out that what is available everywhere is absolute junk and there's not much else, due to time constraints and  lack of refrigeration.  My compatriots would stop at a convenience store in the morning and afternoon, with a quick trip to the burger joint at noon.  As that movie about living on McDonald's fare for a month showed, that will bloat, sicken, and almost kill you.  Our local McDonald's drive-through window is busy from dusk to midnight.  The farmer's market in town -- completely ignored.

So, armed with some knowledge, you try to do better.  Not that you aren't going to die from something, but you're thinking you have some responsibility to yourself and those close to you to keep from becoming unhealthy and a mess.  Not many alternatives except diners (way too much food and suspiciously starchy, salty and fatty at that) and Subway.  Let's try the tasty-looking Sweet Onion Teriyaki sub:  you don't know it contains 105 ingredients, more than half of which are dry dusty chemicals added to the meat (13), bread (23), glaze (12) and onion sauce (8).  Who doesn't like the Subway bread -- they sort of bake it right there and it looks good.  But 23 ingredients?  We all know what's normally used to make bread, and the list is pretty natural and short.

Industrial processing of "food products" removes vitamins and phytochemicals, which in natural food work together with our bodies.  Adding vitamins to correct this ("enriched," as in cereals and milk and bread) is a good corrective, though, right?  It seems not.  With the phytochemicals still missing, those added synthetic vitamins (which are made in shady factories in China, by the way) are mostly useless in our systems.  It's just an advertising angle.

This started more than a hundred years ago.  Mr. Kellogg milled, squashed, baked, dried and squeezed grains to produce mass-marketed breakfast pseudo-cereals that did not go bad ("shelf life" was the goal).  They also had none of the nutritional value of the original whole grains once the germ and bran were removed, and those were eliminated to prevent spoilage.  Live things decay; dead dried-out things don't.  And everyone starting putting Carnation dry dairy substitute powder in their coffee during that breakfast.  Yum.  I remember when all those sugar substitutes became quickly ubiquitous some years after margarine had replaced butter and Crisco had replaced lard and bacon grease.  So modern, yet even as an ignorant kid, I thought that stuff looked suspicious.  How could industrial chemicals you didn't know anything about be better than what people had used since beyond memory?  I refused to use them all, but quietly, because you'd better choose your battles when it comes to not conforming.

Pellegra, a debilitating progressive disease that looks like leprosy, was first medically described in the 1730s.  In certain areas like northern Italy and American South it was endemic, and in fact became epidemic in the U.S., eventually resulting in 100,000 deaths.  It was noted that it occured in areas of high corn (maize) consumption, and it was thought there was something toxic in that food.  It took over 200 years for an American scientist to discover that the disease was not caused by anything other than the removal of vitamin B3 (niacin) from the corn during processing (there's that word again).  Just like with the breakfast cereals, food businesses in the U.S. began a new milling process in the early twentieth century which removed all those pesky nutrients that had led to long-term storage problems.

As if our home-grown geniuses haven't been dangerous enough, we now have Chinese imports to recoil in horror from:

     A while ago, they manufactured an artificial apple juice from chemicals and sold it to commercial bulk customers worldwide like schools and day care center corporations.  It was cheaper, but loaded with toxins.

     That vitamin D added to your milk:  it's made with industrial chemicals to transform the base ingredient, sheep grease.  It's not liquid sunshine.

     Vitamin B1 comes from coal tar.  Other B vitamins and C are produced through manipulated bacteria and fermented corn derivatives.

It's big business.  Nutrition has nothing to do with it.

(Factoids from the new book, Pandora's Lunchbox.)


Monday, June 3, 2013

Cruel Summer

The weekend of May 25-26 we knew that my mother was in the hospital again and the situation seemed serious.  It was difficult to communicate with her by phone due to the full-face oxygen mask she had to wear, but the nurses were helpful and informative.  On Saturday, they were honest and frank about the prognosis, not pretending everything was going well.

My brothers and I were on the phone making plans to go to Florida not only for her but also to see about Dad, who had meanwhile been taken to the hospital with a fever.  Still at their home, though with care from the visiting Comfort Keeper people, was our elderly aunt Carolyn.  I was to go early Monday morning and would be there by noon.  Sunday night, Nancy, Zach and I were having a dinner together out back, and at the end, Nancy proposed a toast to "Mom and Grandma."  That was at 7:30 p.m.  We did not know it at the time, but that was exactly when she passed away, peacefully in a coma.

The staff had very considerately placed them in the same room and we hope that provided them some comfort.  I went to the hospital directly from the airport, and when I woke Dad found he had been out of it the previous day and it fell to me to tell him what had happened.  He had a hard time speaking, but said, "Well, nothing's going to be the same."  And it was, quickly, the end of the household of three very old people doing their best to stay in their home and out of institutions, but activity mostly revolved around going to doctor appointments; social life with their neighbors and the many Pennsylvania Club members had slowed down to very little.  Cousin Glenn and his wife Lois were already there to take Carolyn back to northeastern Pennsylvania with them and were in the midst of the painful process of packing her life up in boxes.  When they left and we knew none of the three (except for an outside chance for Dad) would be back home, the stillness was chilling in the Florida heat.

While visiting Dad, who had been transferred to the nearby rehab hospital after a surprising improvement, we went about the unfamiliar business of end-of-life arrangements.  A viewing was set up at the local funeral home for Mom and the very nice neighbors and friends came by to say good-bye, as well as nephew Matthew and his new bride Jessica, who live to the north in Tampa.  Nancy and I missed their wedding in February, so it was good to see them, and good to see new lives beginning as old ones departed.

We've gathered a great collection of old photographs to display at the upcoming funeral, to be held in Camp Hill, PA, and expect everyone will enjoy seeing them.  Their wedding photo still looks glamorous, and we have youthful and high school ones.  Instead of the usual generic formalities, we're going to tell stories about when Mom was young and full of life like in those pictures.  Mine is going to about how they met, which is still a great tale after all these years.

They were married 66 years.  We really can't think of them apart.

From Socrates' farewell speech:

The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our ways -- I to die, you to live.

Which is better, God only knows.