Wednesday, July 29, 2015




I learned a new word this week. Anthropophagy: n., the eating of human flesh; cannibalism. Eww.

A most interesting read is The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride
by Daniel James Brown. Really, he treats the whole hunger/desperation thing very respectfully. The topic is not sensationalized and it doesn't come close to being the centerpiece of the book. Which is a good thing.

My San Juan Bautista Book Club chose this book for our July group discussion mostly for its local historical significance. Several of the survivors of the Donner Party (an unfortunate name - it sounds too much like the Dinner Party, you know? - I prefer the Donner Group) came to settle in the surrounding area, including Sarah Graves, whom the author used as the main character of the story. I was greatly impressed by the amount of scholarly research involved in this work and like I said, he worked around the grisly details with dignity and aplomb.

Sarah Graves was one of several women to make it out alive. The men folk did not fare as well in general. Do mothers have more to live for? Are women physiologically more adaptable to cold and physical/mental hardship than men? Brown talks about survival issues and the biology of hunger in a very studious way. I found all of that pretty fascinating.

Basically, the deal is that a group of people from Illinois set out to the west coast on an 1,800 mile journey in the time when Missouri's western border was the edge of the newish United States. They got hoodwinked into taking a supposed shortcut to California called the Hastings Cutoff and found themselves stuck in the vicinity of present day Truckee CA in the Sierra Nevada precisely when a ton of snow arrived. Merry freaking Christmas.

A lot of them died. A few struggled through Donner Pass to get help. A small number was subsequently rescued by three relief groups of brave souls from Fort Sutter. Mistakes were made during the journey from Donner Pass to safety, mistakes which nearly killed the emaciated, crazed refugees. Using handmade snowshoes which soon were thrashed by the elements, one group plunged down into the steep canyons of the North Fork of the American River, adding miles of difficulty to their trip to Johnson's Ranch. Indigenous Miwok and Maidu people were instrumental to their eventual success.

The strongest group, the devoutly Catholic and tightknit Breen family, miraculously survived the whole ordeal intact. The Breens eventually recovered and settled here in San Juan Bautista, and their descendants are still thriving today. Nice folks. Smart as the dickens. Hardy stock.

Some members of our book club simply couldn't finish reading this book. The struggle and the violence (and the anthropophagy) were just too much to imagine. Too squirmy. Too squeamy. I didn't feel that way. I liked the psychological tension, although I didn't share with the survivors the desperate need to stay alive. I came away with a definite feeling that no matter what the circumstances, eating human flesh would not be an option for me. Death? I'm okay with that, if need be.

Most likely, I think I would have either died going over the pass with the first bunch or made it out to get help. Or, and I still think this would have been the smartest thing to do, I would have plunged back through the snow east to Truckee Meadow or Reno and waited out the winter down there.  Hunkering down for weeks on end with little or no food and getting buried by tens of feet of snow? I don't think so. Easy for me to say, but still...

I was glad to get all the way through the messy parts to the epilogue, which is where Daniel James Brown really earns his stripes. The wrapup of the story is excellent as he smooths out the uncomfortable psycho-wrinkles and explains his fascination for the character of Sarah Graves. If you decide to read this book, please don't quit it without reading the epilogue. It will make you feel human. The stars may be indifferent, but you don't need to be.

Peace, Love, and Vegetables,

For further reading:

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Journey to Beachland

Journey to Beachland


We need some rain, folks. The Golden State is fast losing its shine. Even too-cute-to-sweat Santa Barbie Land is starting to fade around the edges - the nicely landscaped shoulders of Hwy 101 look like they are gasping for breath. Big signs say "Using Reclaimed Water" every quarter mile from Goleta to downtown, but I don't think they are using enough. Everything looks thirsty. The dolphin fountain by Stearns Wharf has been disconnected, decommissioned, droughtified - no water, the dolphins are newly polished, ringed by plants. In a bizarre twist, I saw two fat girls jogging on the bike path near East Beach. What the hell is going on? Fat girls in SB????

You don't even want to know what the rest of So Cal looks like. Not quite Texas, but getting there. From the rolled down windows of the non-airconditioned and spectacularly ugly Spugly the Gas-Efficient Sweatbox Transporter, vast portions of the interior of the state could pass for a crumpled version of Oklahoma. And I don't mean that in a good way, in case you think dirty, dusty, and hot are cool. Dirty, dusty, and hot are not words that the founding fatherdudes included in the Last Whole California Hippie Constitution.

The new wave of resident hipsters in SB seem oblivious to their plight for the most part. They walk boldly into busy crosswalks tapping merrily away on their phones as though their 4G microwave signals could and should repel GPS-guided motor cars. Wouldn't it be deliciously morbidly funny if a texting Kia driver mowed down a jocular texting pedestrian and it turned out they had been texting each other? It will happen somewhere if it has not happened already.

I visited the Mission Santa Barbara for the first time since about 1988. It now costs $8 for a tour of the church and $4.32 to light a candle in the crowded lobby. The moneychangers are in charge of the temple, Jesus. It's time to come back and kick some tourism tail.

For free you can walk around the grounds and check out some beautiful vegetation and colorfully tiled Stations of the Cross. Here's a cool looking passion flower.

The Stations of the Cross, for those of you not in the know, are a devotional aid depicting scenes from Jesus's agonizing walk to his dying ground carrying a wooden cross upon which he was summarily crucified. If I remember correctly, there are fourteen stations in total. Station number four shows Jesus and his mother Mary. She kinda looks like she might be imploring him to drop that crossbeam and run away to California. "Come on, Jesus, forget this stuff, I got a VAN!"

A week or so ago, the Mission sponsored the annual chalk on the sidewalk art show. Several drawings were still in pretty good shape. The drought is good for something anyway.

I had great visits with my friends in town before heading home via San Luis Obispo and the Pacific Coast Highway. Eddie All State reminded me to remember that old saying: "Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional." Don't cling. Let it go. Makes such good sense, no?

The traffic on the  Big Sur Coast was intermittently crazy, but as usual, the scenery was just the right medicine to make me forget all about everything else. Works every time. My vacation  from being on vacation is temporarily over. Now it's back to being on vacation again. Ahhhh, life is good.

Peace, Love, and the Mighty Spacific,

Monday, July 13, 2015

All Along Her Watchtower

All Along Her Watchtower


Harper Lee's first book comes out tomorrow. First book. As in before TKAM. She wrote it. Not you. Harper. Lee. Remember that.

I keep reading all these pathetic sniveling comments on the internet by otherwise seemingly intelligent adults. Things like they are afraid to read this book. They don't want to know how Scout turned out or who Atticus became or what happened to Jem. They don't want to know. Isn't that amazing?

To Kill a Mockingbird was such a powerful story with such deeply developed characters and such a holy moral code. It etched into people's minds the ideals of justice and innocence and loyalty and parenthood and righteousness. And reflection. That narrative. That language. Boo.

I was one of those people. If I am to be honest with myself, I have to admit that I spent half my life looking for a woman who could measure up to Scout. Or the Scout who was etched in my mind anyway. Pathos!

That was not very fair to the women I actually met, loved, married, and left. Downright delusional, really. I was well into my fifties before I cut out that nonsense. That borrowed righteousness. That pretend ownership of a character I did not could not create and could not should not control.

Scout, alas, belongs to Harper Lee, not me. Not you either, dummy. A tremendous sense of liberation awaits you if you have yet to realize it.

I can't wait to read Go Set a Watchman. I am going to feast on every word. Rejoice in every conversation. Soak up in wide-eyed fascination who became what and how. In the future that came before. Time. Is. Not. Linear. People and places and stories...not yours. Hers. From her watchtower. She's the watchwoman.

Harper. Lee. Set my mind ablaze again. I promise not to cling to anything as my childhood turns to ashes and my future takes its place. The future that always was. The past that will never be. Right here. Right now. There. And then. It's your world, Ms. Lee. I'm just passing through.

Peace, Love, and Fiction,

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Upright, Unscathed, and Home

Upright, Unscathed, and Home


What a nice feeling to ride all morning and not fall over once.

I can't describe the elation I felt when I got back to San Juan Bautista today. I mean I was ABNORMALLY happy. Whatever vortex of gloom awaited me on the Big Sur coast did not try to follow me inland, thank goodness, and I rolled up and over the Aromas highlands without incident. Some very nicely tended fields along San Juan Road between Tarpey and Hwy 101 relaxed my somewhat guarded psyche. This scene made me feel like order had been restored to the Universe. Maybe I don't need to install a handlebar airbag after all.

Once I topped out past all the horse farms and Eucalyptus groves on the long haul up Cole Road, it was a simple downhill run down bumpy old Anzar back to the City of History. I felt like a few hundred years worth of ghosts were giving me a standing O as I wheeled into town. Congratulations, man, you tumped over a couple of times, but you didn't kick the bucket yet.

Kick the bucket, bucket list...what's the deal with the bucket anyway? What does that even mean?

I missed out on two cool events this morning in town. One was a gathering of indigenous people at the Mission San Juan Bautista  protesting the nearly certain upcoming canonization of Padre Junipero Serra. Old Junipero was pretty much a masochistic fiend in the eyes of the local originals. Torture and death squads and all that. The decision by Pope Francis to make Serra a saint is a real puzzler. It does not appear to fit in with any of the rest of Frank's overwhelmingly progressive agenda. A political bone thrown to gain support on other issues? What about the unmarked graves full of real bones from real ancestors of real Americans? So disrespectful. Cruel, actually.

The other spectacle in town was much less serious - a carnival - as in a kiddie carnival with rides and junk food and stuff. I rode by all the hullabaloo on the way back to the Mission Farm Campground. It looked fun, but I was hot and hungry and too goldang old for that scene anyway. I'm glad they came, though. I don't know for sure, but I think it was the first time the carnival has ever been here. Good for the kids. Good for the parents.

So tomorrow is a day of rest. Then Monday I will somehow move myself to Santa Barbara for long overdue visits with Eddie All State and the Earl of Montecito. I need to ask Dr. Googlie about telekinesis. So far, Morgan Freeman and Kurt Vonnegut have been no help whatsover.

Peace, Love, and Wormholes?

Friday, July 10, 2015

Poultry Noise

Poultry Noise


That giant clucking sound you thought you heard this afternoon was me. After another fishtailing, dirt-eating encounter with a patch of dune sand and a close shave with the rear end of a Waste Management truck, I stopped on the outskirts of Carmel-By-the-Sea to reconsider my vacation plans. What the bleep is going on here?

Shortly after my little talk with myself, I officially chickened out. Bck-bck- buck-CAW!

I have ridden the magnificent, narrow, winding stretch of Highway 1 from Carmel to Ragged Point three times as part of other, longer rides. The risk of getting crumpled by a rented RV or a speeding convertible was, each time, more than balanced by the reward of witnessing one of the world's greatest coastlines up close and personal. Riding a bicycle south on that road is literally and figuratively a breath-taking experience.

This trip, though, I haven't been able to shake the nagging feeling that something is not quite right. For the first time, I am fearful of barrelling around those switchbacks. It might simply be that I am getting too old for these hi-jinx. I mean, that's going to happen sooner or later, right? I've put a lot of miles on these bones.

Physically, I feel okay - not in great condition, certainly - but strong enough. The bigger concern is mental. I'm just not feeling the lure of that road this time. In fact, quite to the contrary, I am being repelled by it. Weird.

So I'm just going to trust my gut, turn around, and ride back home. I'll put some gas in Spugly the Spectacularly Ugly Transporter and buzz down 101 to Santa Barbie Land in a more conventional manner. Not very green, I know. But I'm tired of falling off the Dream Machine. That gets old fast. Plus if I keep it up, I'm surely going to break something.

I stopped for lunch today at the Giant Artichoke Restaurant in Castroville...try The New Vegetarian sandwich sometime...artichoke hearts and avocado and Monterey jack...mighty good.

Lastly, for all of you facebook meme addicts, this one's for you.

Peace, Love, and Intuition,

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Why Go Anywhere Else?

Why Go Anywhere Else?


Some days Monterey Bay is just so ridiculously beautiful you wonder why would you ever want to leave. Today was one of those days.

I woke up sore and stiff from yesterday's nosedive into the dunes so I didn't make much progress toward SoCal. The Monterey Bay Recreation Trail is about as good as it gets for cruisin' in the sunshine. So I didn't mind the lack of "progress" at all.

I lolligagged. I piddled. I basked. I stared and I hummed. I barely turned my pedals, in coast the coast mode. I people watched at the pullouts. I people watched at the Wharf. I ran into Valerie and her grandson from San Juan. I ate my fill of Vietnamese food at Chopstix.

Why go anywhere else when right here is perfect?

What a lazy day!

Peace, Love, and Sea Otters,

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Artichokes and Road Rash

Artichokes and Road Rash


Day One of this hastily conceived ride from San Juan Bautista to Santa Barbara began with a 4-mile climb to the top of the Salinas-San Juan Grade. That was the only challenging part, bicyclically speaking. (I think I just made up a word.)

The rest of the morning was either downhill or flat, cruising through the Salad Bowl of America under a grey marine layer. Nice and cool. I saw lots of folks toiling in the fields. Many of them waved at me. Seemed pretty cool  overall. Donald Trump needs to get his fat rump on a bike.

I got to Castroville about 11:30. For those of you unfortunate enough not to be in California, I should say that Castroville is the Artichoke Center of the World. They grow strawberries and cauliflower and all kinds of other stuff, but chokes are the drawing card.

In town, you can see this place:

As well as this thing:

On the way out of town you might want to avoid this thing (too Trumpy, don't you think?):

I ate lunch at Pezzini's Farm Stand. It's right on the bike route and besides tons of fresh produce, it has a mobile food truck imaginatively named "The Choke Coach." I know what you're thinking. Who would want to eat at a place called "The Choke Coach?"

Why, bicycle tourists, of course! I had a yummy tri-tip sandwich and a Mango Madness Snapple. When I am riding, just the thought of a Mango Madness Snapple makes me drool.
There was also a sort of 4-H style random agri-educational factoid board outside Pezzini's which kept me occupied for a minute or three.

After lunch I crashed. I don't mean that I took a nap or rested on the beach. I mean I fell off the Dream Machine into a heap of sand and gravel. I hate it when that happens. Fortunately, I have crashed enough times to have become pretty good at the landing part. The key is to remain calm and try to experience fully each second of the fall. You don't want to all of a sudden go splat. That really hurts. What you're looking for in a crash experience is a slow motion sequence. You want to fall frame by frame, like one of those movies where two young lovers are running toward each other through a field of flowers, to meet in a warm embrace. You want to fall gently into the loving arms of the Earth Mother. THEN you want to scream son of a b@$!# because road rash stings to high heaven.

Nothing broke...A-okay.

Peace, Love, and Triple Antibiotic Ointment,