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Dude gave me his name, but I didn’t ask his permission to share, so I’ll tell you that dude’s name is “Noah.”  Noah’s hitched rides from Shasta County to the San Mateo County coast.  He has no specific destination.  New Mexico, ultimately, then back home.

“Lightning Fields, New Mexico,” I suggested.  Noah hadn’t heard about Lightning Fields.  I told him about Just John, riding a tricycle, heading south a couple of years ago, and that his plan was to reach the southern end of the Coast Road, then turn east to New Mexico, bound for the Lightning Fields.

“An electrical dude,” observed Noah.  “I’ve been reading about Tesla and his inventions.”

Noah’s traveling south, dependent on hitchhiking to reach the next destination.  “Riding a bike would be better,” says Noah after I tell him about Just John riding his tricycle.  “More independence, travel at one’s own pace, stop wherever and whenever, and, more room to pack more supplies.”

Noah’s belongings fit within a modest-sized backpack, larger than what we slung across our backs when in school, but smaller than an expedition backpack, which may be more suitable for Noah’s coastal trek.  A black canvas shoulder bag holds items requiring frequent use, such as Noah’s bullet-shaped, stainless steel thermos.

Noah’s tanned skin from the past couple weeks of unseasonably warm temperatures contrast to this week’s winter weather of snow at 1,000 foot elevations and hail storms at sea level.  After a long rainy hitch that brought him through Marin County and across the Golden Gate, and a complicated navigation through the drizzly city, Noah got a ride from San Francisco, through Pacifica, around Devil’s Slide, then down the coast and up to Apple Jacks in La Honda.  “I’ve enjoyed two good woodstove fires and really good music in the past 24 hours.”

Atop Noah’s long, brown, sun-kissed curls, sits a green felt hat, with a stubby brim, adequate-enough to provide sun and rain protection.  Noah’s summer-weight, black pin-striped suit is layered underneath by a red tee, and a green wool v-neck sweater, topped by two thick scarves.  Birkenstocks on Noah’s sockless feet display signs of wear at the heels.

Next stop Santa Cruz, then maybe Monterey, unless Noah hitches straight into the Sur.

Keep an eye to the Coast Road for “Noah,” and, if you’re headed to the next town south, maybe offer him a lift.

A book read from cover to cover is a rare read.  Front cover text, Publisher, Glorious Cover Image, Inside Flaps (About the Book and About the Author), the Copyright page, and the Acknowledgments.  Included in this pleasure, an enjoyable Introduction, before, finally, settling upon the text.

The Place That Inhabits Us is that kind of rare read.  The Place That Inhabits Us is a book of Poems of the San Francisco Watershed. “From the granite slopes of the Sierra to the Delta, through the Coastal Range to the bay and shores of the Pacific, one hundred poems map this improbable region, a cultural crossroads where East meets West.”  The Place That Inhabits Us is a Sixteen Rivers Press book.  Sixteen Rivers Press lists 24 other books of poetry published in the past 12 years of the publishing house’s existence.

The cover is a woodcut image, “Golden Gate (& Mt. Tamalpais) from Grizzly Peak” by Tom Killion.  Regard that beautiful cover.  Fine detail and a presence of fading daylight.  The perennial fogbank waits patient at the Gate.

The Forward to The Place That Inhabits Us, written by Robert Hass, the United States’ Poet Laureate from 1995 to 1997, introduces the reader to this fine anthology with a plausible glimpse into California’s prehistory.  “The first thing they (California’s earliest citizens) seem to have done is hunt to extinction the megafauna that brought them here, as they tracked herds across the Aleutian land bridge.”  The second thing these ancestors did, according to Hass, “is make trails.  Probably they followed along rivers and streams as they drained into lakes and wetlands and coastal beaches.”

Along the edges of water sources were paths.  Water creates gullies, breaches in the sediment, yet, along the shoreline, within the mean tide line, is the space in which people traveled.

“These humans had already had speech for at least ten millennia.  They arrived here just about the time when written languages were beginning to appear in Sumner and Egypt.  And they came – in what must have been the successive waves of immigrants who peopled the Americas – speaking many languages, languages as distinct from one another as Hungarian and Chinese.  For reasons that are still unclear, more different peoples speaking distinctly different languages settled in California than in all the rest of continental North America combined.  Of the nearly 300 languages described by Europeans as they advanced across the continent, nearly eighty were spoken in the watersheds of Northern California.”

We do not know the names of our earliest authors who told the story of Coyote, Turtle, and Rattlesnake.  We do know the names of those Calibornia boys who chorused, “I wish they all could be California girls.”  After Robert Hass’ Introduction to The Place That Inhabits Us, we meet the 100 authors of the poems of the San Francisco Bay Watershed.  I will share one here, I would like to share at least a dozen.  Buy the book to enjoy the other fine poems published in this wonderful watershed anthology.

from An Atlas of the Difficult World
Adrienne Rich

Within two miles of the Pacific rounding
this long bay, sheening the light for miles
inland, floating its fog through redwood rifts and over
strawberry and artichoke fields, its bottomless mind
returning always to the same rocks, the same cliffs, with
ever-changing words, always the same language
-there is where I live now. If you had known me
once, you’d still know me now though in a different
light and life. There is no place you ever knew me.

But it would not surprise you
to find me here, walking in the fog, the sweep of the great ocean
eluding me, even the curve of the bay, because as always
I fix on the land. I am stuck to earth. What I love here
is old ranches, leaning seaward, lowroofed spreads between rocks
small canyons running through pitched hillsides
liveoaks twisted on steepness, the eucalyptus avenue leading
to the wrecked homestead, the fogwreathed heavy-chested cattle
on their blond hills. I drive inland over roads
closed in wet weather, past shacks hunched in the canyons
roads that crawl down into darkness and wind into light
where trucks have crashed and riders of horses tangled
to death with lowstruck boughs. These are not roads
you knew me by. But the woman driving, walking, watching
for life and death, is the same.

I am not without hope of delighting to find the essential Coast Road novel.  Expectations defined in a previous post on two Coast Road-titled books ended with a request that, at the very least, when a book is titled, “The Coast Road,” then the reader better find plenty of setting along the Coast Road.

Elizabeth C. Ward’s 1983, Coast Highway 1, has it all:  A pissy, Stanford alum, University of Irvine comparative literature professor who translates nineteenth-century Spanish novelists, and intentionally grades his best student’s extraordinary paper a B+.  Jake Martin finds the extraordinary student lying dead one foggy morning, under the bougainvillea of his Spanish stucco courtyard.

“It was too late to go home, even for a change of clothes.  I bought a map of the coast highway and headed south.”   Jake Martin exits his next locations (Balboa Bay Club, San Juan Capistrano, Encinitas, even Ensenada), always in the nick-of-time.  Bullets prod his every departure.

A twist in the plot turns Jake northward, and soon he is north of Santa Monica, above Malibu, “Point Magu [sic].  One last strange rock, alone and seaward, like some forgotten giant or a period at the end of a sentence.  Beyond that are the flats of the Ventura Valley, the firing range, the naval base, the Pacific missile range, pale fields with only the tips of the summer crop greening the land.  Highway 1 hurries across it as though to get to the other side quickly, before the sea sweeps in again and wipes it clean.”

The reader finds plenty of setting along the Coast Road.  In Pismo Beach, Jake races through Oceano Dunes to evade a dune-buggying pursuer.  To reach some inland locales, such as Jake’s side-trip to Stanford campus, Elizabeth Ward writes, “I left the sea at Pescadero and turned inland through the artichokes and up into the redwood canyons that wind up to Skyline Drive.”  At Fort Point, Jake exchanges words under the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge with the sergeant assigned to the case.

Penciled edits in the copy that I read, made me laugh out loud.  The first edit is found when Jake Martin carries his investigation to Pacific Heights in San Francisco.  Elizabeth C. Ward describes the streets of his location as, “…on California, between Jackson and Clay.”  A savvy reader before me penciled in three parallel lines next to this paragraph, and named each: California, Clay, Jackson.  To the right of the paragraph, this editor/reader wrote, “BETWEEN?” and then, for good measure on the page, a deeply-leaded “!”

Later, the same scribe slashed an “r” in “Monterrey,” with an admonishment, “One “ARE” in our Monterey!”

Elizabeth C. Ward includes the environmental movement and Robinson Jeffers in her Coast Highway 1.  In the victim’s photography book on estuaries of the California coast, “Jennifer had used Jeffer’s words as the only text in her book and the photographs were worthy of a poet.  The eye that had looked through the lens had lingered on the detail of wing and seed and ripple of water.  Had recorded the reflection of insect and reed and marsh grass.  It had gloried in the sweep of sky and the boundless still-spaces of the estuary.”

The gnarliest chase scene occurs, briefly, as a coast road run through the Big Sur coastscape.  “No backwoods roads lead to the safety of highway arteries further inland.  There is no escape except by foot into terrain where only the wildcat and the red-tailed hawk survive.  Once committed, there is no way out.  Set a roadblock, one at each end, and a man is trapped here forever.  Fugitive, he is defeated, finally, not by the men at either end, but by the mountains themselves and the sea swirling below.”

Elizabeth C. Ward’s Coast Highway 1, is fairly essential as a Coast Road Read.  It is certainly a bunch of fun to vicariously romp along its settings up and down the California coast.  Elizabeth wrote two other books, both published in the 1980s, A Nice Little Beach Town and The Lost Day.  Ms. Ward has lived in Newport Beach for most of her life.

Available Used.

A little article on Ms. Ward.


Laughter in a eucalyptus forest
in a smiling summer dream
and fool’s gold gleaming
in a California stream.

What: Ocean Revolution Benefit
Where: Gray Area Foundation for the Arts
55 Taylor St. San Francisco, CA 94102
When: Thursday, July 29th, 6:30-9:30PM
How: Tax Deductible Donations are requested $20-$10,000 http://bit.ly/TORF2010

6:30 – Drinks, Registration
7:00 – Presentations begin with never-before seen footage taken by J (and team) from The Gulf
7:15 – J presents on his travels & new programs created by Ocean Revolution

Atop a table within the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur I found Cosmic Coastal Chronicles written by M.L. Fischer.  A man standing nearby, stepped closer to me, winked, and whispered, “I hear that if you buy one of this author’s books, he will sign it for you.”

I flipped open to page 1 and read, “My old Toyota pick-up droned steadily over undulating hills, past green waves of artichokes, toward Moss Landing and on to Santa Cruz with the promise of surf at Pleasure Point.  A kayak was strapped to the top, mountain bike hung on the back, and surf gear stashed under the camper shell.”

Two sentences that were convincing enough for me to buy this book.  At the register, the Library’s executive director, Magnus Torén, rang up my purchases and then I stepped outside to find that man, as I knew he was the M.L. Fischer who would sign his book for me.

The Library was celebrating the first issue of its literary journal, Ping•Pong, with a release party.  People circulated the Library’s bookstore selecting new reads, like I did, or sat chatting on the sunny deck of the Library, surrounded by a redwood grove.

I found the man reclined in a resin chair on the deck, enjoying redwood-dappled sunshine.  “Will the author sign his work?” I asked, handing over Cosmic Coastal Chronicles.  We introduced ourselves.  On the title page, across from the book flap stamped with Henry Miller Library’s “Libris Pistorum,” Meade wrote in black ball point ink, “Anneliese, Hope you enjoy.  M.L. Fischer.”

I thanked Meade.  We shared stories of our beloved California coast and then Magnus asked everyone who had been standing around drinking wine and conversing about books, art, music and the beautiful warm sunny afternoon in Big Sur, to take seats and enjoy readings by all the talented authors published in Ping•Pong.

Having returned to my Big Sur campsite, reclined in a beach chair with my newly-acquired pug-beagle puppy snuggled atop my lap, I read Meade’s chronicles of his adventures along the west coast.

Meade has lived in many California coast towns and has driven the coast from southern California to Vancouver, B.C.  Meade’s “ride” to roam the Coast Road is either an “old Toyota pick-up” or a Kawasaki 1100cc.

“Many times, during summers and weekends, this sturdy little truck, faded and rusty, has been my home.  The long bed accommodates my long frame.  A mat from a patio lounge fits between the wheel wells.  The built-in carpeted compartments give me storage and shelf space.  My pillow is stuffed against the back of the cab, and a long, thick sleeping bag is rolled and ready.  A battery powered lantern is stowed in a compartment along with a pup tent, mask and snorkel and assorted gear I’ve been too lazy to unload.  A good book is always stuffed under the sleeping bag in case I spend the night in some scenic turn-out along the road.  Naturally, a bottle opener and a cork screw are in the glove box at all times.”

“A road that may take many lifetimes to travel,” writes Meade.  “Sunset found me on the San Luis Obispo coast.  I think of this as the gentle coast, with its wide turn-outs beside rocky little beaches, slapped by perfectly starched little waves.”  (Question to Meade:  What’s a “starched” wave?)

Meade continues, “The view inland is of Hearst Castle and smooth rolling hills, like mounds of melting coffee ice cream.  There are big RVs with smiling retirees for neighbors.  Further north, past Ragged Point at Big Sur, the landscape erupts skyward.”  (Absolutely true!)

“This is a coast of narrow turn-outs, perched on cloud-high cliffs, with people stranger than myself parked in odd busses under the shadow of trees, plotting bizarre cures for mankind’s ills while chanting mantras and smoking copious amounts of pot.”

Meade meets some of these “strange” people at pull-outs when he parks to check out the surf conditions.  Ewing “lived up the road at a scenic turn-out in an old van.”  For income, Ewing “carved pot pipes for the surfers and hippie types.  He made enough from this to buy food and gas and that was pretty much all he wanted beyond just being able to live at Big Sur.”

A friend of Ewing’s who lived a bit further north, Robot, “lived in an old tent in a secret spot right off the highway.”  Robot also made money from carving little stone pipes and “watching cars” (like a parking lot security guard) parked alongside the road at surf spots.  Meade and Robot enjoyed “a friendship that lasted a couple of years, until he (Robot) moved down the beach to a place I’ve yet to locate.  He shared secrets of Big Sur and the delightful stories of his life and adventures, and I, more often than not, provided the beer, some epoxy from town and sometimes a “loan” of five or ten bucks.”

Meade’s coastal adventures include colorful characters, such as Ewing and Robot, and scenic descriptions of the coastscape, “A flock of birds argued enthusiastically in the tree above me, while the world of man was reduced to a thin line of cars passing far below.”  One of my favorite lines, “The comfortable patch of tall grass under the sprawling Live Oak, upon the ridge, above the rugged, always dynamic coast of Big Sur provides more nature than a hundred nature shows, with their carefully selected images.”

When not riding in his old Toyota or atop his Kawasaki, Meade takes to the water in a kayak at Elkhorn Slough, “A sudden darkness under the bridge of Highway One and I was officially out of the harbor and in the slough.”  Here Meade enjoys a brief respite from light pollution, “Then the magic began.  Suddenly there was almost no artificial light, only the distant house lights of rural south Monterey County.  The moon, low in the east, cast a broad avenue of ghostly white that led me ever onward.”

Or Meade’s ride becomes a surfboard, “My favorite surfing spot in Pacifica, in fact, my favorite in the Bay Area, was Rockaway Beach.  The beach is less than a half-mile wide, between two rocky points.  A channel through the reef at the south end leads to a line-up that you can paddle around.  You can slip into position without getting in the way of someone taking off on a wave.  The place breaks from two to three foot waves, until it closes out, which can be double overhead at times.”

Meade contributes his philosophic insights, such as, “As humans, we seem to need to find a reason, a greater purpose for everything, a natural law that causes it all to make sense to us.  I’m beginning to suspect that there really isn’t anything like that out there, that the order we discover is a product of our own minds.  Even the wonderful concept of ecology may be rooted in our persistent need for order and reason.”

In one night at my Big Sur campsite, I read through Meade’s Cosmic Coastal Chronicles.  Foxes visited, sniffing outside my tent, scaring the puppy to settle within my sleeping bag.  Absolutely original as a local’s guide book to travel on Highways 1 and 101, M.L. Fischer’s Cosmic Coastal Chronicles may also be compared to Jack Kerouac’s On The Road and John Steinbeck’s, Travels with Charley.  The next morning I hit the Coast Road south for a trot down to Nacimiento-Fergusson Road.

Now, as a re-read, Meade’s chronicles snapped me out of my winter hibernation (a doldrums as it were), and I’m re-inspired to hit the Coast Road in search of my own cosmic coastal adventures.  As Meade describes, “Each of these trips adds to the growing collage, the ongoing coastal trip.”

May the road rise to meet you too.

Paying The Toll by Louise Nelson Dyble

Louise Nelson Dyble‘s recently published Paying The Toll – Local Power, Regional Politics, and the Golden Gate Bridge is a rich compendium of Golden Gate Bridge history.

So rich in the amount of information, that I’ve held off mentioning this book as a blog post because I figured all of you have been on summer vacation and are too busy reading your sci-fi and romance novels. Now that it’s Back-to-School time of year, it’s time to return to serious reading. Make room for this one in your book queue.

Published by the University of Pennsylvania press, “…this is the story of the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District, the government agency that grew into an empire in the shadow of the bridge.”

Louise writes in her introduction, “Agency Run Amok,” “Many San Francisco Bay Area residents expected that bridge tolls would finally be eliminated and the bridge incorporated into the state highway system, as campaign publicity promoting the bonds suggested in 1930.”

Today’s toll to cross southbound on the Golden Gate Bridge is $6 cash and $5 FasTrak.  For comparison, the Bay Bridge toll is currently $4, whether that be cash or FasTrak.  (The Bay Bridge carries 270,000 vehicles a day, on average, while the Golden Gate Bridge reports 110,000.)

Read the rest of this entry »

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Pescadero Marsh

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Days until manuscript completion

Final DraftNovember 30th, 2013
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