Land Ho, part 1


This is all Google maps tells us about our land.

This is all Google maps tells us about our land.

It started when Brian’s dad, after years of owning 1.5 acres of land in Alturas, decided to give it to us. We think he may have bought the land after seeing an ad on TV and, having only visited once, didn’t have much to say about it. Except that it was now ours. So for a couple years, we just paid the property taxes and occasionally looked up Alturas online, finding, every time, no matter how we reconfigured the route, it was still as remote and mysterious as ever.

And even in this age of Google maps, we still had a hard time getting a visual. When we looked up the address, all we could see were the tops of trees, which only made me more obsessed. Did we have neighbors? Was there water somewhere? Or an abandoned cabin?

Site of former California Cedar Products mill, McCloud

Site of former California Cedar Products mill, McCloud

So with the 3-day weekend coming up, we decided to finally go see our land.  Since there is no direct way to get to Alturas, we split up the trip by spending a night at the Mercantile Inn in McCloud, a charming former mill town at the base of Mount Shasta.

The thing about McCloud, which I almost hesitate to mention because so few people seem to know about it, is that it is full of relics of a once-booming timber industry: huge, empty warehouses; near-buried train tracks; leaning wooden shacks everywhere; piles of scrap metal pulled from the plant.

I am a jumble of emotions about this: I am glad that they’re not chopping down forests; I am sad that McCloud’s economy currently relies on the whims of tourism and the weather (so this year’s lack of snow and last summer’s fires were devastating); but I am in heaven tromping around old buildings and documenting a place that once had a heyday. What I find truly amazing is that except for a few beer cans and graffiti tags here and there, the ruins are relatively untouched.

Stop by for office passFor now. A little research tells me that the site of the California Cedar Products operation is pretty hot real estate and the focus of lots of potential development ideas: Nestle had planned to open a bottling plant, residents and environmentalists discouraged it, and now it’s up for sale again. I have a feeling McCloud won’t stay sleepy forever.

That morning we took full advantage of the abandoned property, snapping furiously and waiting for a local resident or security guard to shoo us away. None arrived.

This way for shavings

This way for shavings

No Tres

No Tres


I Love You, California

Prism BearI have this cool print by 3 Fish Studios, titled Prism Bear. I’ve always loved the original artwork from 1913, which was used as illustration for the “I Love You, California” sheet music.

As I watch California fall into decline, I laugh a little when I see the image: it reminds me of a Lennie Small-type hug, affectionate but deadly. We are loving California to death.

Still, after 2 days of driving county roads throughout Northern California—recently hydrated from last week’s rain and snow—I am reminded of why I still love this state, and incredulous at all remote, lonely places we find. This happy, mildly psychedelic print lifts my spirit in the same way.

the white noise of visitors

As of this writing, the end of the shutdown is imminent, with an increase to the debt ceiling and no major changes to the Affordable Health Care Act.

I’m relieved, mainly because the real victims of the pointless show-down—Americans who rely on the government for employment or support—can finally get their reprieve, although not without some long-term damage.

I came across film by park rangers recounting their experience of the shutdown. One line in particular struck me, “Wildlife is the ruling life form here for the first time in ages,” which to me seemed like the one silver lining in all of this: humans are hard on nature, so maybe a two-week hiatus isn’t so harmful in this case. Except that while the gates may be locked, visitors keep coming and this time there are no rangers to protect the fragile environment.

Fair-weather cycling in SF

Now that I don’t have a choice (I changed jobs and now work in SoMa), I love riding my bike to work. I may feel crappy that morning—allergies, insomnia, general malaise—but by the end of the 13-minute-ride, am full of energy and optimism. Whatever else I accomplish that day, I’ve ridden 5 miles round trip, which while hardly endurance training, is 26 minutes of cardio and fresh air I wasn’t getting before.

I just watched this video about a Dutch guy’s observations about U.S. cycling—a much more survivalist, competitive activity than in the Netherlands—and I started to imagine how our perception of cycling, and cyclists themselves, would change if cycling weren’t so dangerous. If more people are biking than driving, are you no different than a bus or ferry commuter? Can you call cycling a hobby or a lifestyle if it’s just traveling from point A to point B? What becomes of the heated no-helmet vs. helmet debate? Does Critical Mass become obsolete? A quick search reveals that the U.S. has way more monthly rides than the Netherlands or Denmark, which has none, so yeah, probably.
13 minutes

between two moments, bliss is ripe – William Blake

I have always loved Friday night the best. On the verge of two free days, I’ve whittled down my to-do list, no errands can happen for at least 16 hours, and the whole City is in high spirits. This particular evening as I looked down from the Terroir balcony, a reunion of sorts was taking place: a group of old friends embracing each other and easing into the familiarity of old friendship while catching each other up on years of news. Their mood matched mine so I took this photo to capture the moment.

It's Friday night, and all is well.

It’s Friday night, and all is well.

sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world…

I’ve been listening to Boards of Canada’s long-awaited new album, Tomorrow’s Harvest, on repeat since it came out on June 11. I’ve always found BOC’s sound cinematic, and this new album paints a stark but beautiful landscape. It reminds me a lot of my summers in Southern Nevada as a kid, when an expanse of days rolled out ahead with not quite enough activity to fill it.

As I was driving back from Napa today, past oil silos in Rodeo and through punishing rush-hour traffic, BOC’s apocalyptic soundtrack was perfect. Stopped at the toll plaza, I happened to look down at my phone and noticed that the album cover was almost identical to my view as I looked up across the Bay to the City.

View from Alameda

Tomorrow’s Harvest cover and the view from Alameda

And because I can’t help but share this with everyone I encounter, I’ll leave with one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.

power in disconnection

Often when I’m in an elevator or in line at the store, eyes fixed on my phone, I think of an essay written by a young San Francisco transplant. After moving here, she noticed how hard it was for her to make friends, despite her likability and extensive online network. She and the readers who commented on her piece all seemed to agree that it was especially bad in the Bay Area, where everyone’s in tech, and keeping up one’s online profile is paramount. So you have this city of bright, sociable people who are missing each other because they’re not looking up from their phones.

No matter where or to which devices we’re hooked, we have become accustomed to instant and continual access to content. As for me, my time and interactions are very different now that I have a smart phone. I’ve become addicted to constant updates and news but find them less satisfying the more I check, like junk food.

I recently finished Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit, which describes the powerful and cascading effect of changing one small habit, and how it can effect the rechanneling of neural pathways. The key is to stop resisting a bad habit and instead find a replacement, e.g., switching from coffee to tea. I decided that the one thing I would start with was my compulsive social-media checking, so I removed the Facebook app from my phone. It’s not as though I don’t check FB anymore, but now that it’s more difficult, I do a lot less checking and instead of trying to fill every spare minute with passive consumption, I daydream.

I don’t know if this means I’ll have a more active social life, but I do feel lighter. And I sure haven’t missed out on anything earth shattering.

Poets are always taking the weather so personally. They’re always sticking their emotions in things that have no emotions. – J.D. Salinger

I was poised to write yet another entry about a bike ride across town amid yesterday’s incredible weather, the transition from winter to spring, blah, blah, blah, then I came across this gem by Salinger that made me change my mind.

Fair enough. Poets do have a reputation of taking themselves too seriously, taking minute and mundane details and extrapolating—or projecting—meaning beyond the thing itself. The recipient of an in MFA in poetry, I can concede that while Salinger’s sentiment may not apply to every poet, it certainly applies to me.

But Salinger was only partly right. Poets do anthropomorphize to put the human experience—emotions and all—into concrete terms, but isn’t that precisely what art is meant to do? When we write about the weather, we are describing our inner life. And the alternative is certainly worse: if we’re just revealing our raw emotions to the world, unfiltered and without abstraction, that’s just a glorified diary entry. It’s the abstraction, the talking about emotions as something else, that makes it universal and useful to others.

And sometimes a journey across town on a bike on a sunny Saturday is just that. Witness Brian’s documentation of yesterday’s ride and enjoy it, free of any poetic interpretation.

art everywhere I look