Saturday, December 28, 2013


    It is a bitter sweet time of year isn't it, this emotional roller coaster of late December?  The end of the year comes as a definitive statement of either gains or losses, joys or regrets, but it runs directly into that grand and waiting portal of hope, the new year, where and when all things are again possible. Dreams and aspirations are birthed when we arbitrarily mark the turn of the calendar. Happy beginning indeed.
      Noted below in a powerful video is the chronicle of California people just an hour north of us in Big Sur. They enter this new year with an urgent need.
   Stolo Winery-Cambria
   Mission Plaza-San Luis Obispo
                      Fiscalini Ranch-Cambria
    Such things are unofficial of course, but these may be the first of the California poppies of the season, and it is not yet spring.  Nor has it been wet, but here they are, on the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve in Cambria.
    Katherine and Lana-Bluff Trail-Cambria

Heart felt video of Pfeiffer Big Sur fire
See you down the trail.

Monday, December 23, 2013


     Pay attention to the women in your life. Treat them with kindness, tenderness and affection. That in essence was an early lesson from my father.  He is the man who always made a point of kissing my mom when he returned home from a day at work, and always before leaving.  Not just a peck, a real kiss. There were times in my life when I was embarrassed by it.  I grew out of that.
     He was always quick to compliment my mother on her appearance, the meal she had prepared or something she may have said or done in a group or professional setting. He always had a good word for his mother or her sisters, all of whom were English, properly presented and sticklers on good manners.
     So now I brag for a moment about Lana, who's art and gardening have been the subject of previous posts.  This is a more seasonal praise.  She has been baking bread for some 40 years and in that time has become a true master.  But this holiday time of the year, she hears an even different call.
     Here is a representative sample of her efforts a couple of days ago.  There was more of everything, but these were captured before they too were boxed or gift wrapped. Biscotti, cranberry bread and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. Nice to look at, but even better to taste. An incredible output you may think?  Well, on this day she also baked her regular bread and made pasta! 
     There are also chocolate covered orange peels, spicy almonds and sugared pecans, come to life on a different day.
     It is amazing that in all the effort, and there is a lot involved, she is humming or singing and operates with the efficiency a finely tuned factory. I get tired simply watching her, but she moves like an athlete.  I do my part my sampling.  And there is a later shoulder massage, well earned.
     American Hustle is a brilliant film adventure and it is no wonder it's gotten a lot of buzz.  The acting is the brilliance! 
     It is a "somewhat truthful" retelling of an odd moment in American history, ABSCAM, thus a good story. It is well directed by David Russell and made entertaining by its capture of time by wardrobe and bad haircuts and amusing. But the acting sells the deal.
      Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner are all-have I used the word-BRILLIANT. Louis CK is perfect in his supporting role and Robert DeNiro turns in a short but stunningly haunting role.
      This is a fun and captivating entertainment and I suspect you'll leave the theater talking about how good the cast was. 
       If you are interested in such facts, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence are dazzling beauties. I notice these things. Again it goes back to my dad, who while always an English gentleman-he was raised that way-truly enjoyed the company of women and they were comfortable with him.
      He was chivalrous and sensitive. My memory is somewhat hazy, but it was fortified by mom's recounting. When I was a wee one, dad taught me how to wink, using the women of his office as my training partners.  Never a full wink, like a blink.  No, as he was in teaching me basketball skills, he was specific.  A real wink needs to be subtle, a gentle motion to be seen only by the recipient. 
       As I recall a wink toward a blond coed led to something that more than 40 years later leaves me with a partner I gladly kiss on arriving and departing. And who does things in the kitchen for which there are not enough compliments.
      Maybe you are shopping for a new year's resolution-pay attention-work on your wink and as Otis Redding sang "Try a little tenderness...."
      See you down the trail 

Thursday, December 19, 2013


   Remember the old Coke commercial, "I'd like to teach the world to sing...?" Well, I'd like to invite the world to see what we have come to know as an extraordinarily wonderful evening, the Strings in the Chapel concert on the hill over looking Cambria's east village.
   I've posted here the last two years: Local Magic, 2011
and As Good As It Gets, 2012.  This year it was even more so.   

    There is a special joy to climbing the steep hill to the 140 year old Santa Rosa Chapel, festooned in lights and candles. In a sense it is as though moving from modernity to a wrinkle in the cosmic continuum where all Christmas moments meld.
    Jude Johnstone gathers extraordinary string players who weave a garland of sound and sentiment that fills the little wooden chapel with the exquisite richness of the season. Augmented by the vocals of Jude and daughter Ra Duncan hearts are lifted and spirits are thrilled. In the glow of the candles it is easy to forget whether it is the 19th, 20th or 21st Century.  
     Bruce Black's stories of his Grandmother and his emotional telling of the 'Twas The Night Before Christmas evoke memories that trigger time machines in the listener's hearts.
     The highlight for Lana and me is the beautiful poignancy of Judith Larmore's meditation decorated with her vivid remembrance of moments from Christmas season's past. Her words are emotional poetry as she transported us to snowy Indiana winters and drew from those days a story about kindness. Her Indiana roots, the fact her small town was my Mother's home and her lovely way of painting word pictures again found the way to moisten my eyes and lift my heart with a true Advent moment.
     Jude prepared a medley of Sting arrangements and tunes interpreted by the master string players, harpist and vocals of mom and daughter. A muted trumpet played on this set and I wish I could hear it all again!
     I'd like the world to hear, and see and feel this Christmas magic that happens beneath Pines, tucked between the Santa Lucia Mountains and the Pacific.  Our Christmas gift has come early, again.
     I read Leanne Italie's Associated Press report with a chuckle.  She recounts how some young parents wrestle with keeping the Elf on the Shelf phenomenon working in their homes.  A few years ago an enterprising woman self published the Elf on the Shelf guide complete with an elf that "moves around the house" keeping an eye on little junior or sissy, helping them to be good little boys and girls. It seems remembering the elf on the shelf practices can add stress to the season.  Well,...
     Way back now.  Long before this product came on the market, our daughters Kristin and Katherine had their own elf experience.  It seems that each Christmas season a new  Santa figure would mysteriously show up, some place near their rooms.  Furthermore, a little closer to Christmas Eve they would find elfin tinsel or an elf figure in their respective rooms.  And then on Christmas morning they would discover that the "right jolly old elf" himself had somehow lost a piece of his fur trimming someplace around the tree or fireplace. There was a year as well, when old Santa left a jingle bell for each of them.  As there is an 11 year different between them, this ritual played for good number of years.  Never any stress though.  But you know, since the girls have grown, the elves have not been around with a new Santa, nor has he lost any fur.  I guess, given the number of Santas we collected, that is just fine.  Storage space issues in a retired boomers home you know! 

    See you down the trail.  

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


and ghosts-see below

     Snow had turned to freezing rain and the old wiper blades spread a smear of icy trails across the windshield. It was dark but the snow covered road shone in the headlights courtesy of the glaze of ice. It was late Christmas Eve and I seemed to be the only car on the highway and now on this county road.
      I saw the old beater off the road to the right with the hood up when a dark figure stepped around from the front of the car and stood there. It did not beckon or wave but  simply watched me approach as though resigned to see me drive by. The headlights caught the visage of an older black man in a threadbare overcoat. Ice crystals matted into his hair. He appeared surprised I was pulling the old Studebaker over to park behind his even older car, I think it was an Oldsmobile.  As I started to alight he walked toward me wearing a smile that shone.
     I had worked late at the commercial radio station in a city some 60 miles away. While my college was on holiday recess, I needed to be back at the station the next morning to sign it on at 6:00 AM. The winter storm had slowed my progress to get home to my parents house to spend a bit of Christmas. I knew my parents and brothers were probably concerned about my travel in the snow and ice. This was long before cell phones or adequate snow clearing equipment on county roads or state highways.
     Something "froze up" he said.  He was on his way to his daughter's house with part of their Christmas Eve meal.  He'd been there "a while" he said and the few cars that had passed slowed down, but sped by "when they got a look at me."  A black man on a county road.  
     He was headed for a neighborhood near the downtown of Indianapolis, a neighborhood I would not normally frequent nor drive through.  We chatted about how our Christmas fates had put us together as we navigated the ice covered road that led to suburban streets which in turn fed us into the car lined streets of old houses, commercial buildings and vacant lots.  Lights gleamed from windows, rimmed with Christmas decorations.  We chuckled at how a few of the homes had painted snow scenes on windows or doors.  No need for that now as the ice had turned back to snow and the drive crunched on.
     His daughter and son in law looked curiously out the door and then came down the steps when they saw the old man get out of the car. They were visibly surprised to see a young white man get out of the other door.  
     Two or three little faces peered out of the large window on the porch, their eyes were wide.  "Those little angels are my grand children," the man said, his smile even wider now.
     Both the old man and his son in law went to their billfolds as though to offer me money.  No way I said. It's Christmas Eve.  I'm just being a Santa's helper I added, looking at how other doors were opening and seeing people appear in windows.  The daughter wanted me to come in and warm up, have something to eat. I explained my family was waiting and I needed to get on.  We shook hands and his big grin had a special quality of that caused a tingle in my chest.
       As I picked my way back to the suburbs the aroma of the dish that had rested on the back seat continued to fill the car. It had a sweet scent that activated my hunger sensors and I began to think about my parents and brothers and how I hoped they had dined.
      When I made it to the driveway Dad was first out of the door, as Mom stood behind him, in her apron.
       "We were very worried about you," Dad opened the Christmas Eve conversations.
       Later when I had relayed the story and we had begun to eat the feast Mom prepared, I noticed she was sitting there, looking a bit distant, but smiling.
       "You did the right thing," Dad said, "but you took a chance in doing it."
        I never confessed my nervousness, in making the stop or driving into that neighborhood. It was the mid '60s and times were different.
        A ghost that visits me this time of year is that picture of Mom, sitting there and smiling. Later, and she would often remind me of the story, "you were a Christmas angel for that man."
        At least I was a young white lad who saw another traveler and realized color makes no difference. 
       The other ghost I recall is that heart warming smile. It spoke more than words.

        See you down the trail. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013


   Two films to move you during this season and to give you reasons to celebrate, in a real way.
    THE BOOK THIEF, directed by Brian Percival with great acting from Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson and a stunning child, Sophie Nelisse as Liesel Meminger, gives you sensitivity and love with force and power. 
    Set against the holocaust and the terror of Nazi Germany the clarity of human decency shines brightly. This film also goes a long way in answering a question that has long haunted, how and why did the German people tolerate or coexist with what we know was a great evil? This is a masterful attempt an understanding, plus so much more that will move you. 
     Author Markus Zusak does an extraordinary job of plumbing the human soul in this brilliant work.
    PHILOMENA is highly recommended if only to see the work of Judi Dench as Philomena, an Irish woman who after 50 years seeks the son that a convent forced her to give away. Dench is worthy of an Oscar nomination. Her counter part in the adventure is superbly played by Steve Coogan, who wrote the screen play. Coogan as a cynical former journalist teams with the devout, tough but troubled Dench to learn the fate of her son, in essence stolen from her by a maniacal head Nun, Sister Hildegarde played brilliantly by Barbara Jefford.  
     Director Stephen Frears delivers a few curves and does an insightful job of pricking at American culture, phony Reagan administration matters and evil Catholic practices. And, this is as they say, inspired by true events.  The credits match the real characters to the film events.
     This is a great film.

remembering there are many who struggle


    See you down the trail.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


Mandela as an example
    The world's knowledge of Nelson Mandela has grown exponentially thanks to media saturation this last week.
    The comparison to George Washington as father of his nation is apt. Both men were requisite for their moment in history and by all accounts both rose above their own pain, suffering and challenge to evince a defining national character.  
    Churchill's legacy, rallying a battle scarred Britain to stand in the breach of WWII is another contemporary example-the correct person at a pivotal moment. Copernicus, Einstein, Newton and Da Vinci are among others who perceived and thought reality and boundary busting norms and who pushed history.
     Is there something behind such motions of time and history?  Fate? Serendipity? Providence? What do you think?
     What makes some people so very special?
and art as an example
a meditation on
what was or what might be?
as an example
    Though my skill is sub zero on any scale, I've always been fascinated with artist studios. And I've been lucky to live with an extraordinarily talented woman who has created fascinating spaces from which to create.
   I've noted too, that artists generally stimulate greater output when they are in each other's company.  Here's a snap shot of such.  Karen from Marin County, Jane from North Carolina and Lana from Cambria in a moment that could best be described as an engine running flat out.
People and moments
historic passages
creative endeavours
break throughs in knowledge
like the advent of light in darkness.
Nothing is as it was before 
that moment or that person.

And we have the good fortune to live with the difference.

See you down the trail.

Monday, December 9, 2013


     "Please, just a couple of reverse angle shots Mr. President," the Russian State Television photographer said quietly as he moved his camera to stand behind Vladimir Putin, seated in the ornate chair in an elegant Kremlin grand room.
     "Make it fast!" Putin snarls.
     "Yes, This will do it," Serge grins behind the President, lowering the camera with his left hand as his right had snaps from his behind back and in an instant discharges a bullet into the back of Putin's skull."

      A bit melodramatic, but this snippet is a poetic sense of what the former KGB bad boy has done to another piece of freedom in Russia, at least faux freedom. In a single action, Putin has killed RIA Novosti a state news service and replaced it with Russia Today, a propaganda mill.  
      True it is that RIA was a state controlled service, but it had evinced a nod toward real journalism and even criticism of the Kremlin. Vlad the powerful has ended that, like a bullet to the head.
                            THE POPE IS A RADICAL
     We've watched self proclaimed Christians and a whole boatload of wing nuts get heart burn over the pronouncements and actions of Pope Francis. 
       That fat blowhard on the radio called him a Marxist, which underscores the big mouth indeed has a little brain.  Marx was a political theorist.  Pope Francis is a spiritual leader, espousing the teaching of a radical Rabbi who's plan for humankind was a tad bit more profound, and originated more personally. The Pope decried the worship or idolizing of money and materialism and he's said a few other things that make the comfortable and smug uncomfortable and mugged. His talk about sexuality has some putting on their best Salem Mass. attitude and logic.
      As we head through this (your choice) Advent, Christmas, Holiday, Kwanza-Season, could we have two better leading men that Vladimir and Francis?
      As a dedicated idealist I offer that Vlad is very much one of the best players in the power games of this planet. But Pope Francis is operating from higher ground. Service, sacrifice and love require giving. The Putins of the world are about taking. Mr Putin may continue to take, but this Pope continues to offer.  
      Putin, the blowhards and apoplectic narrow minded belong to the past. Not so this Pope, and I'm not even a Catholic. 
      A final deliberation -Could we have a better guardian angel of this year's season than Nelson Mandela, giver and forgiver?

    See you down the trail.

Thursday, December 5, 2013


     It's late, your mate has gone to bed and you are getting to delayed emails. You're sleepy, your patience is waning and something a friend has written prompts you to burn a politician or in a moment of anger-driven overstatement you threaten an act you would never do.  You know you would never seriously even entertain such an idea and your correspondent knows that, but what about the algorithmic watcher?
     There's no way you'd ever cheat on your husband but a foreign account executive with whom you do business regularly loves to flirt, and you flirt back, all in fun and in the sake of business relationships. Nothing serious to it, even when there is an occasional passing comment that might sound akin to Fifty Shades of Gray. It's just play, but does a government cell call listener know that?
     Or maybe you and your lover, frustrated by a long distance and a separation crank up your endorphins with some intimate conversation.  Is that anyone's business?
     Perhaps you and like minded folks find the only way to get some political action is to plan a protest or demonstration and you discuss civil disobedience. You are only talking and the most dangerous outcome of your pipe dreaming would be maybe a sit in. Should big brother be snooping into your conversations?
     These scenarios are modern dilemmas and they are getting no simpler. Exercise your thoughts for a moment by considering what these folks have to say.

    Here's some wisdom for you, direct from the recently poured cement at my daughter's cooperative apartment.

    And some of us may remember getting into trouble for 
leaving initials in new sidewalks or driveways.
    The drive south on the Pacific Coast Highway had an extra bit of color in the sky today.  Cal Fire was conducting a "controlled burn" on about 195 acres near the Harmony Headlands State Park.  

See you down the trail.