Monday, December 29, 2014


    A long lens from Gail and David's captures the panorama of Cayucos and Morro Bay framed by the iconic Morro Rock, Hollister Peak and some of the other "Seven Sisters" peaks that spine the Central Coast toward San Luis Obispo.
      It was one of those spectacular days for a walk along the coast. 
     Hidden away on a quiet cove is a "Chinaman's house," a remnant of local history.
     There was a time when Chinese settlers lived in homes on the shore, often hanging over bluffs.  They harvested and dried kelp for export to China. Historical accounts say George Hearst, father of William Randolph Hearst, forced many of the Chinese to leave by pushing their homes into the sea after he purchased property where they had resided. 
      The current owner has improved the historical building as an isolated get away cabin.
       This stretch of coast offers pristine nature.

  There is a simple joy in an invigorating and mind clearing walk.
     Selfie ops for our eldest Kristin and her fiancĂ© Richard.
  Or a quiet meditation and breather as evidenced by "Ducky," Gail's trusty companion.

Ours that is.
     It was our first Christmas season after being married in April. It was also my first trip to California. We arrived on the 29th or 30th, enough time to get in the swing of the "pickin" New Year's eve party. 
Photo Courtesy of Jim Cahill
On the Strand in Manhattan Beach California

      Setting the Scene:  We were lodged at the above house in Manhattan Beach, occupied by our friend Jim, who shared it with a few other guys. We got a room made empty by the travel of one of the musicians who lived there.

     It was directly on the beach and the sidewalk strand. This Indiana boy had never seen anything like it.  Bicyclists, skateboarders, runners, walkers, roller skaters, people on stilts, hand walkers and more and all in a continual parade.  The beach was a show unto itself.  Volleyball players, Frisbee fliers, boogie boarders, picnickers, and all of this in the glory and full tilt life you'd expect of 1969 California beach life. I was indeed a long way from home Toto!
     Some how we had survived the first day and were in the mode of setting up the house for a party. Jim had given Lana and I an assignment to walk to the grocery and liquor store to pick up a few supplies. We were heading up the hill away from the beach when we were stopped in our tracks by blood curdling screams and then a series of what can best be described as whoops and growls. In a flash, from an alley way came two figures running down the street. Both were nude males, that was obvious. Their identities were not.
     One of the lads was wearing a kind of Tasmanian devil mask and he was the creator of the screams. Behind him and in apparent pursuit was a fellow in a Richard Nixon mask, carrying a kind of spear and offering the war whoops. 
     "New Year's eve in California" I said to Lana who looked entirely confused.      

       It was an era when Jim, and our artist friend C.W. spent hours a day playing. Musicians drifted in and out of the house on the strand, and some of the folks in the neighborhood have gone on to stellar careers and fame. The party was to be a gathering of many of the players from the beach community. The music was indeed wonderful, the crowd was mind boggling and the best I could manage was to sit back, lean against a wall, be amazed and enjoy the whole scene.  
       During the course of the evening we met an older fellow who had done a "little singing and little acting" and said he had been "trying to leave LA" for more than ten years.  He said "it's impossible. You just can't get away." He told us he had "left 25 times" and was "always drawn back."
       Lana and I thought a lot over the years of how we might get to LA, particularly to the beach communities where friends lived.  We visited a couple of times a year for many years, but life's flow did not include a Southern California address. Of course we've all added a few orbits around the sun and many of the crowd have dispersed. Those funky beach communities have gentrified.
     Jim is still a SOCAL resident. He's the guy who opened the door on the Central Coast to us, all of those years ago when we made the first of many trips with him to Big Sur. We stopped for coffee and a snack in a little coastal village named Cambria. The seed was planted, the bait was set, the die was cast. 
     We are closing in on 8 years as Cambria residents. I think I'm like others who sometimes take offense at how quickly it is all passing. There are times when I wish my time machine was in working order, just to go back for a visit. 
Thank God the memory file still works and there are photos that now accuse us of youth but also remind us of how rich  life has been. 
      A variation of the California dream, inspired by that first trip, has come to fruition. We come to the end of the year in a place we consider beautiful, laid back, peaceful, full of creativity, wonderful people, eclecticism and eccentricity. Who knows, those Manhattan Beach revelers in masks could be fellow retirees up here. Another escapade like that might get the locals talking, but then again….

    See you down the trail.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Best of the Season and The Best Turkey Sandwich

Sunrise on Pineridge-Cambria Ca.
    The light has broken into our dark world and for a few hours at least there is a greater sense of peace, joy and hope.
    Tiny Tim, of the Dickens Christmas Carol is my most enduringly favorite character of this season. Of all the secular players, it is the innocence, hope and purity of the little lad that best aggregates this season of Advent.
    The season is full of touchstones that connect with memories. These old village houses were already well used when Lana was born in 1946. There are newer village scenes, but few with this much soul. Krisin, our eldest and spending her first Christmas with us in almost a decade, requested that her mom "set up the village."
    Christmas 1967 is a particularly nice memory.  I drove home to Indianapolis from my college job in a snow storm on Christmas eve. I needed to make the 60 mile return trip before sunrise so I could be back at work to sign on a radio station. Before I ventured out into the pitch black of 4AM Christmas morning, Mom gave me a sack and told me to have it for my Christmas dinner.  It was a turkey sandwich with a side of her unique potato dressing and a piece of pecan pie.  
    The snow of the night before continued in the pre-dawn and by the time I arrived those 60 miles away, the roads were deep and so were driveways.  I was supposed to work from 7am to noon. However as the morning continued other staff members called to say they were "snowed in" and I'd need to cover for them.  Being the junior member of the staff, a college kid who needed the hours and work I restrained myself from reminding them I had just driven an uncleared state highway and then county roads to get to the rural radio studio. We were a daylight only station, meaning at sunset, I signed it off and headed home.
    Home was a pretty typical college apartment. A bedroom, small living room and tiny kitchen over a garage. A television was not in my budget. Entertainment, other than studying, was a hi fi turntable with those detachable speakers and a nice table top radio.
     It took a while to get into town, across the campus and to my apartment, dark and cold.  I called my parents and spoke with them and family members who were getting ready for a second round of Christmas dinner. I wished them all the best and they all wished that I could be there.  I turned on the radio and found a Christmas special being aired on WCFL out of Chicago.  It was a creative blend of music, and hijinks of a very talented air staff, lead by Ron Britain, a master of voices and put ons. It was essentially the sort of thing that would air only on a holiday when it was assumed the only people listening to the radio where those who were shut in or who were without family or friends around. I was the perfect audience and the program was the perfect Christmas night gift.  As I listened, I opened a beer, put a paper towel on the table as my table cloth, arrayed the dressing on a paper plate, added the sandwich and pie. The wind whipped around the drafty windows, but I was warmed from the heart out.  Mom's care package was all I needed and that Turkey Sandwich may have been the best ever!
     1956, Muncie Indiana and my dad's three sons show off our favorite gifts.  Little Jim liked that Drum. John is showing a view master and I couldn't wait to give that new basketball a go. This was a time when the hand me down jeans, from older cousins, had plenty of "growth room."  
Sweet memories.


  See you down the trail.

Monday, December 22, 2014


   This is an abandoned stretch of the famous Pacific Coast Highway-California Highway 1. It is an appropriate icon for this holiday season post. From the archive we remember the fascinating story of THE California gold mine. This was first posted in 2011.

      The Empire Mine, outside Grass Valley, is the oldest, richest, hardrock gold mine in California.  This is where the miners started to work, the main shaft that led to more than 367 miles of underground passages.
      Today it is a state historic site and permits everyone
behind a gate, that separated world of the miner and the mine owners.
      The hard work of the mining was done primarily by Cornish miners.  Over the years 5,800,000 ounces of gold was extracted from the Empire.
       When the mine closed in 1956, the incline depth was more than 11,000 feet.  The hundreds of miles of underground shafts and caverns were fully electrified and pumps ran continuously to empty the water.  It was a massive operation and much of the equipment used in the extraordinary undertaking now basks in the California sun retired to the mine yard. It is a kind of "mechanical art."

Today, most of the mine is full of water.
There is a blacksmith shop, still in partial operation

What is also extraordinary is what sits away from the work of the mine
Down the path is the "cottage" and "club house" of William Bourn Jr. who inherited the Empire from his father in 1877.
He had schooled in England so his "cottage and club house" reflect English style.

There is a reflecting pool

A clubhouse was built for the pleasure of the Bourns and their guests, one of whom was Herbert Hoover.
The wing to the right is an indoor squash court.
There is also a bowling alley, guest rooms and a ballroom.
The walls and floor are California redwood. 
The billiard table remains, but has been covered.
each of the light fixtures is a hand crafted design of what is apparently squirrels.
The grounds also included a tennis court and a badminton and croquet green.
Apparently the miners were allowed beyond the gate and onto the green, once a year for a Miner's Picnic.
The state of California purchased the Empire surface property in 1975 for $1,250,000.  The park covers 800 acres including 750 acres of forest.
The mineral rights remain with the Newmont Mining Corporation who bought the mine from Bourn in 1929.
Some estimates claim that 80% of the gold from the Empire remain in the ground.
If you get to Grass Valley or environs, the Empire is a great visit.

    If you read Cheryl Strayed's book, WILD, you know the emotional ride you are in for when seeing the film. People are suggesting Oscar nomination for Reese Witherspoon in her portrayal of Ms. Strayed who seeks to put her troubled life back in order by undertaking the enormous challenge of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. She is marvelous. So too is Laura Dern, as her beloved but all too soon late Mother.
   If you are inclined to weep, as several folks sitting by were, this is a film that may turn on the tears, but it also a journey, both in beautiful scenery and inwardly. It is quite a trip and quite an understanding.  People are right when they say this is an important film.

See you down the trail.

Thursday, December 18, 2014


      We look forward to the chosen December night when fortunate Cambrians walk the hill out of east village up to the historic Santa Rosa Chapel for an evening of strings, music, Christmas reflection and magic.
      Frequent readers may recall previous posts, this time of year when it as though we step into a slip stream of timelessness. 

2011 Post

2012 Post
2013 Post

      Cheer and anticipation fill the 140 plus year old Chapel bathed in candle light and greens. This evening has become our single favorite of the Advent season on the Central California Coast. 
       The acoustics, artistry of the musicians and the lighting create a dreamy mood. Ra Duncan's soulful a cappella Ava Maria set the mood and another memorable evening flowed into Cambria history.
       Judith Larmore's meditation on the love in nostalgic moments were heart warming. Recalling her father's devotion to providing hand made Christmas toys invoked a kind of universal remembrance and in that she reminded us was a connection. In Christmas memory, loved ones are with us still. As Lana said as we departed, Judith should collect and publish her reflections.
      Jude Johnstone put together the music program. She asked her daughter Emma, an accomplished actor/director and home from New York to write a poem. Her reading was yet another and unexpected gift of this wonderful annual event. Jude and daughter Ra performed and then lead the audience in a uniquely cheerful and entertaining round of carols.
     Santa has already delivered our favorite gift. 

      My family occupied an old farm house during one of Indiana's coldest winters and I slept upstairs in an unheated room. We had just moved to the state capitol of Indianapolis and rented a large, drafty house while our new home was being built in one of the new suburban divisions.
      The place was massive. Two bedrooms, dining room, living room, parlor, long kitchen, sun porch and bath down stairs. Upstairs had only recently been "finished," meaning there were floors and walls. Heat "entered" the frigid domain by virtue of a hole that had been cut in the floor of the bedroom and the ceiling in the largely unused "parlor." In fact we kept the sliding door to the parlor closed as it was so difficult to heat and made the living room too drafty.
      Since I worked and had late hours and was the eldest of three boys, I got the private room, while my brothers shared a downstairs bed room. When I took a glass of water upstairs, it froze or if temperatures were more moderate it created an icy crust. I didn't mind.  As a high school sophomore I enjoyed the privacy. I'd wear a stocking cap, socks and pile under the blankets and slept very soundly.  Any nightly trip to the bathroom was a bear-icy cold floor and stairs, and then leaving the warmth of downstairs to climb back into ice land made those rare ventures, teen bladders being good equipment and all.
      Years later I told our daughters I slept in a room so cold the candle froze.  A stretch, but the water did.
      Our eldest is visiting from Naples Florida.  The central California coast winter can sometimes chill into over night 40's and warm "only" into the 60's.  As she is digging out the wool socks, sweaters, gloves, caps and all, I'll probably remind her of what real cold is. If that doesn't work I'll drag her along to a tennis match where one of my foursome, Jim, hails from War Road Minnesota, where to hear him tell it, you risked freezing to death all but 7 days a year!
      I still like to sleep in a cool room with fresh air, but for the next couple of weeks we may well heat the overnight.

    Lana's centerpiece for an Instigators Art Salon luncheon 
    Cambria Historical Society 
   Victorian ranch house at Halter Ranch winery 

   West Village, Cambria 

  As a tribute to improved relations with Cuba, a couple of On Assignment Cuba photos from the file.
     I'm excited about easier travel. Cuba is a marvelous island. The above scene is from Matanzas.
 Pictured here with Jon Christopher Hughes, photographer and journalism professor at the front door of Ernest Hemingway's Finca Vigia east of Havana. Jon is an old hand on Cuba. This was taken while at work on a documentary in 1996.

a "selfie" in the mirror of Hemingway's

     Cubans are warm and wonderful people with an extraordinary culture and charm. Despite the decades long blockade and official sanctions, the people tend to understand Washington policy is one thing and the American
public is something else.

Previous Cuban Posts:

     See you down the trail.