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Oakland Street Art

God's Gym, Oakland Early Morning Downtown Broadway

Oakland is a great city (in spite of its crime problems). It gets no respect, having as elder sisters the dazzling San Francisco and the v. cool Berkeley. Oakland ain't precious, it's got guts. I came in early this morning to shoot this building, which I've passed and admired several times. Then on my way to my favorite Berkeley latte/internet cafe, I kept stopping the truck to shoot yet another photo. Oakland is graphically rich, a lot of ingenuity and down-to-the-bone design. I'll follow this with more pix when I get time.

Straw Bale Building by Bill and Athena Steen

Straw bale "Mandala Shed," built and plastered at two of the workshops sponsored by Bill and Athena Steen at their headquarters in Canelo, Arizona. They are authors of the by-now-classic The Straw Bale House Book and conduct workshops off and on throughout the year. The mandala on the front was formed by carving out various layers of lime and clay. For information on this building, click here.

Notice of Intent to Get Irresponsible and Go Surfing

Last year I set 2009 as a year to take some time off, and therefore I'm taking off next week on a flight to Costa Rica, where I'll meet my good friend from Mexico Chilón, and we'll journey out the the southern Pacific Coast of CR and stay in a beachside house of friends that is west of Puerto Jimínez and close to the Panamanian border. There is surf right out in front of this house and the nearby tropical jungle has howler monkeys, exotic birds, snakes and crocodiles. Chilón has to go back to Baja in 2 weeks, at which time I plan to head south on a bus to Panama City, and make my way to Peru. I'm lugging along my MacBook laptop plus my new little Canon Powershot G-10 (15 MP!) and will post blogs whenever possible. I'm taking along watercolors and sketchbooks as I've long wanted to take the time to draw and try out watercoloring. It's really easy to keep putting off something like this, with all the complexities of running a business in these very difficult times, so I planned for it and got a ticket. My email will be taken care of by people in the office and I'll try to respond to anything that utterly needs my attention from the road. I'll be gone for 6 weeks. If you check back here by say Feb 12-14th, there ought to be some postings from a gringo in the jungle.

Roof-top Tents for Car Camping

Autohome is a company that sells fold-up tents that mount on the roof of your truck or car. I used one (similar to their cheapest one, the "Overcamp" model) for years in Baja California. I would 4-wheel-drive my 1983 Toyota truck to a remote beach, unfold the tent (facing the ocean) and sleep comfortably, looking out at the moon and the water. They are expensive, but it's a great way to sleep on the road, up off the ground, quick to set up, and eliminates the need to haul out a tent, or clutter up the inside of your vehicle with sleeping gear.

Great Book On Solar Hot Water Heating

Solar Hot Water Systems: Lessons Learned 1977 to Today, by Tom Lane.
210 pp., spiral bound, © 2004. $43 from Energy Conservation Services, Gainesville, Florida

My friend Michael Gaspers turned me on to this book. Michael is a carpenter, contractor, and engineer and has for over 30 years been building energy-efficient structures whenever and wherever possible. He really likes this book. Author Tom Lane is a heavily-experienced solar hot water person and this is a book dense with information about state-of-the-art solar hot water devices for homes and pools. Lane points out that while photovoltaic solar electricity-generating systems have recently caught the public's attention, solar hot water systems save way more kilowatt hours for each dollar invested: "…for every $20-30 spent on a PV system, you can save the same amount (of KW hours) for $1 spent on a solar water system." This is a serious book, ideal for contractors, but also for owner-builders seeking the latest information on the subject.

Making It All Worthwhile Department

I got up at 6 this cold, dark, frosty, sunny morning, checked my email and found this comment on one of my recent blogs (wherein I'd said that what a lot of us did in the '60s didn't catch on with the mainstream until now).
Some background for this comment: In 1967 I was foreman on a job building a big-timber house on a ranch in Big Sur. We were living in a chicken coop on the ranch, and would often pick up hitchhikers on our way back and forth into Monterey for supplies. This guy wrote:

"'But it just didn't make it out to the mainstream...'
"I judge that it made it out into the mainstream more than you think. You picked me up hitchhiking in 1967, let me stay in your renovated chicken coop in Big Sur and sent me off the next day with homemade cookies. I saw what you were doing and listened to what you were saying and never forgot it as I made my way through mainstream society for the next however many years as a newspaper editor, state government official, etc. Your influence and vision was always with me. Thank you!"
I thought of it all morning as I drove through the Olema Valley for a 7:30 yoga class. It made the morning glow.

Mushroom Hunting In a Dry Year

Other than for a 30-second downpour yesterday, this central part of California continues a dry spell that is getting scary. In my main mushroom grove yesterday (Oaks, Bays, Hazelnuts, Redwoods), the leaves were damp. but when you scratched down to the soil, it was dry. Mushrooms are deep down, in hiding. On 2 of my recent forays I was lucky to find one lonely Chantrelle each time. There aren't even the usual amanita phalloides (death caps) sprouting mernacingly in the Oak leaves. But even if there are no mushrooms, I love being in the woods. I've learned to follow faint animal trails. Sometimes when there's no obvious route, I put myself in the mind of a coyote, or deer, and the way appears. I'm becoming a mushroom hunter, and it is sharpening my awareness of rain and wind and moisture content of soil.