Friday, December 31, 2010

Oregon = Peace Corps Love

In a recent Willamette Week article it was mentioned that Oregon ranks 4th, per capita, in Peace Corps volunteers with the Portland metro area alone supplying 151 volunteers. I wonder how many are out there right now waiting, like me for their service to begin...

In 2009, Corvallis, home of my alma mater, was also home to the second-greatest number, per capita, of volunteers.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


It's hard to believe that less than two weeks' time has gone by since I slogged out of my trailer through a foot of water with fifty pounds of luggage in tow, bound for home and family and holidays. In the time since then, I seem to have retained my will to remain in the moment and to take things as they come.

In an interesting turn of events, some windfall income during my WWOOF tour allowed me to offset most of the cost of the adventure, bringing the total of my net expenditures during the two months to $262.12.

Lately, I've devoted a lot of focus to my ASUS Eee PC 901. Basically, I'm transitioning from a computer that cost $1,000+ in 2007 to a computer on which I spent $168 last August on eBay. The purpose of this exercise is to prepare me for the coming time when this is all I have to rely on.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Homecoming: Part 4

All the way to LAX, traffic on the freeway fairly crept. At check-in it was 6:45, almost an hour and a half after my planned departure. When Southwest was able to give me a ticket for a flight that was delayed, I was inspired to reflect on an event happening in the sky that night which was unprecedented in the last 372 years. I scrambled to the gate only to learn that the flight had been delayed again and wouldn't depart for another hour or so. Finally around 9:00 we boarded and departed shortly thereafter.

Though we arrived in rainy Las Vegas well after the scheduled departure of my connecting flight, I was relieved to find that it was also mired in long delays. During my layover, on the video poker machines I managed to turn 50 cents into 5 dollars, but there was unfortunately no place still open where I could spend it. By the time I stepped into Mom and Rich's car at PDX, it was after 2:00 the next day, but I couldn't complain. I was home.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Homecoming: Part 3

Having determined that I was on the wrong road, heading in the wrong direction, I decided to ask around about the bus that I was on. Other passengers assured me that it was indeed going to Los Angeles and although it would use up all the slack I had accounted for, I guessed that could expect to arrive with enough time to make my flight. So, warily, I settled in and endeavored to read my book in spite of the din coming from a neighbor's earbuds.

Before long it became clear that it was going to be an even closer call than I had thought; in order to make my 5:20 flight, I was going to have to catch the four o'clock Flyaway bus at Union Station and three o'clock hour had rolled past while we idled in Palmdale. My hopes were finally dashed when, winding through the San Gabriel mountains, the Antelope Valley Freeway became a parking lot. A call to Southwest Airlines revealed that I would have two hours after my scheduled departure to show up at the airport and make alternate arrangements.

As if that wasn't enough, I discovered next that the bus I had boarded wasn't even going to Union Station as my itinerary stated. It's last stop would be 7 miles away in Hollywood. Not knowing what to do, I put in a call to Max who advised me to take the Metro. Luckily, there was a Metro stop three blocks from where the bus stopped in North Hollywood, so I got off and rode the entire length of the Red Line to Union station where I boarded the 5:30 Flyaway bus.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Homecoming: Part 2

I arrived at the Greyhound station with plenty of time and, after presenting my itinerary and receiving my ticket, I settled in for the customary hour-long wait. I was a little antsy about the limited buffer of time I have given myself to make my transfer at Union Station in LA and to take my mind off it, I made conversation with a nice lady from Oklahoma over hot cocoa as I hovered in the meager shelter of the Barstow Station roof edge and eyed the curtain of heavy drops rolling off it.

By my calculations I was only going to have between half an hour and 45 minutes to check my bags and make it through security at the airport and that was if I allowed for 30 minutes of slack during either of my bus rides. Under normal circumstances I would have just camped out in Max's living room the night before, but I figured he was probably already in Portland for the holidays.

I watched and waited while my driver took a 45-minute lunch break (the same driver who gave me a hard time when I had to run in to LA to get my Peace Corps papers). 15 minutes after my scheduled departure we rolled out of Barstow onto the wet desert freeway and moments later were on some secondary road heading northwest. This was a troubling development when you consider that my itinerary had me going through Victorville which is half an hour southwest of Barstow on I-15.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Homecoming: Part 1

It rained for much of my last two days at Aquarius Ranch. The washes filled with water that flowed to low points like the one in front of my trailer where it was deep enough to cover my mid-shin. A small mote formed around the Avatar dome (the dome that was finished when I arrived). Nearly every trailer had at least one leak, and we spent an afternoon fastening tarps to the roof of Tonya’s trailer, fighting gusts of wind of up to 40 mph. It would have been easy to throw in the towel like some had done, and leave early, but I was determined to make good on my promise to stay for 12 days.

By the time Monday arrived, we were working indoors most of the day and what work was done outside focused on mitigating the ill-effects of water. We shoveled berms to divert its flow and piled mulch in walkways to avoid walking in it. It’s remarkable how quickly the stuff went from coveted resource to nuisance. When the hour arrived for my departure, Penny was vacuuming water from the basement.

The food was still excellent!

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Desert Drizzle

Tonya and Ceci take a break from gardening to drink some barley grass juice. Jugs of water have been placed in the rows to protect plants and regulate temperature.

I awoke this morning to the pitter patter of rain on the roof of my trailer. It was nothing much by Oregon’s standards but enough to give my freshly-washed clothing a light spattering on the clothesline. It’s Friday, only two full days before my December 20 departure, but in the Aquarius Ranch work week it’s a Saturday. Much has transpired since my last dispatch.

Tomas and Derrick help Tonya transfer the wood-burning stove from the house to her trailer

A couple of days ago Ceci left and yesterday Steven took off so there are now officially no WWOOFers here that were here when I arrived. Two more girls are here now one from the Bay Area and one from Sweden. They met in Colorado where they heard from someone else about the ranch here. Also, a guy from France arrived yesterday. So now the role call is Ohio, Ohio, Ohio, California, Oregon, France, Switzerland, and Sweden.

Keeping the house clean is a constant battle in the desert when you have so many cats and humans tracking dirt inside.

Yesterday we cleared land for an orchard and dug a trench for an irrigation pipe. I wax sentimental, savoring the smells of burning salt bush and chicken manure while I still can. I think about the Peace Corps every day and wonder what I’m going to do for two months while I wait for my departure.

The dome is coming along.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Catch-Up in Hinkley

I've returned to Hinkley and I work to exhaustion every day which is why the posts have become less frequent. Here is the cliff-notes version of the last few days. I walked several blocks with all my gear to the train platform in Ventura and helped others around me figure out the ticket-printing kiosk while they waited for the train. On the train I met a man who works for a company that provides data management for the BP spill clean-up. He was an interest fellow. Among other things he told about year he and his wife spent in an Alaskan Eskimo village 70 miles from Russia.

I rode the train all the way to Barstow where James, Ceci, and Steven greeted me at the platform with their new friend Kika (an English girl whose real name is Henrietta). Back at the ranch I met Dennis and Marije from the Holland. The next day we spread out some mulch in the driveway and went for a hike up a nearby peak. It was very windy at the top and we found a survey marker.

Yesterday, Kika, James, and the Dutch departed and we got a new guy from Switzerland. His name is Tomas and he is part of a team that designed and constructed a puppet that writes poetry. Today two girls arrived from Ohio and we're getting another guy tomorrow. Soon I'll be the only link to the last 7 or so people to have come through. Oh, and one more thing; I fixed my camera! It doesn't zoom anymore but it takes pictures. Maybe one of these days before I leave I'll work up the muster to start uploading pictures again. I'm so out of it. Life on the road.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Ventura: The Lost Archive

My time in Ventura was a whirlwind. I didn’t have as much opportunity to write updates because the bulk of my time was devoted to developing a website to showcase a few of the many sides of Lynne. The site is a simple gallery, but my design is such that changes can be made without ever typing the tiniest bit of code. It remains to be seen whether she will or not, but I know I have potential clients who are up to the challenge.

Since I didn’t stay current during the last week or so, I’m just going to list the highlights of my time to bring up up to the present, beginning with a night on the town with Roberto when I did some pub trivia (my impromptu team finished in second place) and then saw a band at a trendy bar where I met Sienna, the proprietor of nearby Wine Lovers. When I mentioned my upcoming Peace Corps services she told me about the year she spent living in Puerto Rico with family and in particular pointed out the scarcity of water.

The following evening Lynne had an art show opening in a little clothing boutique that was part of a trendy shopping alcove downtown. Afterwards, we caught the proprietor of nearby Kama Sutra Closet as she was leaving her appointment-only shop, and managed to get our own private, unscheduled visit.

Other things that happened included more yoga lessons, ecstatic dance, visits to Art City and The WAV, a rave-like dance party, complete with LED glove light show, and a sitar performance followed by a raucous Indian dance party. Never a dull moment.

Friday, December 10, 2010

My Third Day in Ventura: Part 3

Into the rabbit hole

Freshly departed from Currie and JJ’s with Angie now in tow, Lynne and I went to her house where we pooled cars and headed for the so-called “86 House”, stopping to get Carrie along the way.
The 86 House defies description. In the time I was there I saw many of the more than 90 pieces of underground art (mostly paintings) that were on display in nearly ever square inch of available wall space in the portions of the wall space that are shared by all the tenants. What unifies the pieces and gives the 86 House its name is the presence of 86 in some way, shape, or form (the actual digits “8” and “6” written or represented, 86 of something featured in the piece, etc.) in each and every one.

Lynne examines her prototype

Lynne had gathered us there that night in order to capture the bedroom of one of the 86 House’s residents for a creative project. Being an avid burner, she is working on an idea for a conceptual space to be constructed at the festival next year that involves wood paneling and 3D, wall-hanging beer adds. We came offering lasagna as a thank-you, and left after we had perhaps overstayed out welcome.

Our last stop for the evening was karaoke at Golden China. For a Monday night it was hoppin’, but I still got in a couple of songs. Both times, however, I picked the wrong song and had to improvise (then again, it’s kind of hard to screw up when you know the song and you’ve got the lyrics right in front of you).

Ten point to the first commenter who can name the song I'm singing in this picture.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

My Third Day in Ventura: Part 2

Lynne had to make a work-related house-call on the way to the GSA dinner party at Currie and JJ’s and had also planned a photo-shoot after it with Angie and Carrie, so we set out early with raw Lasagna in hand. After our first stop, we managed to way overshoot the beginning of the dinner, arriving far before the hosts were even ready, so we found ourselves with about an hour to kill. We spent it shopping for household items in a 97¢ store (99¢ stores everywhere, hold on to your seats!), and dropping in on the comely folk at La Ancla to chat.

GSA Dinner Party. I'm in there somewhere.

The dinner party went splendidly. I felt a genuine affinity for the everyone I met there and everyone I remembered from the work party the day before. The theme of the dinner was comfort food, so my lasagna fit right in. I would even go so far as to say it was a hit. I made it with Roberto’s expert help in the kitchen (he’s a professional cook) and we substituted steamed kale from Roberto and Lynne’s CSA box for the spinach.

After a little while, Angie arrived and after a bit more hanging out, she, Lynne and I excused ourselves from the party after a fond farewell.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

My Third Day in Ventura: Part 1

Having enjoyed Lynne’s hospitality for two whole days and only supplied rudimentary work, I decided it to was time to get down to brass tacks and really start coding. But first, as usual, there were dishes to be done. Once seated at the computer I was relatively productive in the milieu of Lynne’s and Roberto’s comings and goings, but really gained traction after Lynne broke away to the barn to work on some of the partner yoga ideas she had developed the night before. Her partner, it turned out, was a winsome chap by the name of Andrew who surfs and has flowing, brown hair.

Noble companion: Spookums

Having consulted with Lynne on several occasions and identified a plan of attack for helping her begin to realize her still-forming and ambitious vision, I proceeded to put in a few hours cleaning up a project I did a while back for Ryan Smythe. It involved a mashup of jCarousel Lite and lightBox for jQuery. Meanwhile Lynne finished and came inside, so I set her to task doing some parallel work. Somehow, I managed to reach a stopping point about halfway through the task at hand and find time to make a lasagna, ready to put in the oven at a moment’s notice.

Monday, December 6, 2010


The crystals hanging in the window over the sink cast rainbows in the warm, late-morning sunlight. It is a welcome repose from the gloom, yet somehow no less comforting. The sounds of Espers and Avey Tare & Kría Brekkan drift drowsily into my living room office, accompanied by the sounds of starlings bickering as they muscle for territory on the fig tree in the garden.

My heart grows weary at the thought that my tour is more than halfway through. My December 20 return looms a mere 17 days away. It’s hard to believe six whole weeks have passed since my trip to Tillamook with the OMEN VISTAs. As I near the point of one week at the Artbarn, I feel great satisfaction in my progress, working decent hours from about day two onward at developing Lynne a tiny web application that will allow her to develop her web presence and continue to change an update it after I am gone.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Garden Interlude

The day began with a visit to Lynne’s friend, Trinity for a crash course in newsletter layout with Constant Contact. After that, it was time to get my hand’s dirty again at Lynne’s lot in a nearby community garden known as C.O.L.O.R. Gardens, where I helped her transplant some chard. The local GSA was having a work party that day, so we helped them clear weeds and turn the ground, much to everyone’s delight. I was very warmly received by everyone and was even invited to join them for an informal weekly get-together which, it just so happened, would be the following day.

C.O.L.O.R. Gardens

After some time spent shopping for groceries and doing laundry at the local Laundromat among other things, I had an opportunity to meet Matt, a long-time friend of Lynne’s with whom she was planning a partner yoga routine. I sat and worked on my computer while they studied a yoga book until Lynne’s housemate, Roberto returned home.

More C.O.L.O.R. goodness.

I had heard a lot about Roberto, and I was excited to finally meet him. Roberto has worked in the high-tech sector, particularly doing something that involves auto-cad. Being a dedicated foodie, however, he recently left behind his old career to pursue his love of cooking, becoming a cook at a local organic market and restaurant. Early in life, Roberto alternated between living in the United States and living in Mexico which, it seems, has endowed him with unusual character and insight. In the time since I met him, it seems we’ve often found ourselves deep in conversation about careers, cultures, or even life in general.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Day 1: Artbarn

Inside the Artbarn

I awoke early the next morning to find the resident foot-warmer, Spooky, hard at work atop my sleeping bag. Stumbling out of the barn and into a shower and breakfast, I was greeted by an intrepid Lynne. Given that it was a holiday weekend, she hadn’t planned on hosting a “program” for local foster kids, but she anticipated that families would be showing up on account of her Saturday morning routine as part of Kids and Families Together.

I soon found myself entangled in string, pinecones, and peanut butter as I helped her little kids make natural bird feeders and seed balls (little balls of soil and seeds for the purpose of chucking into empty lots and unused civic space as a vehicle of guerilla native gardening.

Once we had satisfied our kid visitors and their parents, it was off for a bike ride up “The Ave” to a residential neighborhood where a bunch of Lynne’s young photographer and musician friends were having a garage sale. As we talked an hung out, a cold breeze began to blow and the sky threatened to bring rain so Lynne and I excused ourselves. On the way back, she took me for a tour of Ventura’s “little Mexico” at which I was duly impressed. Also featured was the downtown strip where Black Saturday was in full effect.

Back home, I busied myself with trying to repair my camera while Lynne worked on a series of paintings and I provided conversation and feedback. We tried to manifest a spontaneous dance party but only Angie turned up, so we went for a walk and found a patio with a fireplace. Upon returning home, Lynne’s friends Dain and Andy were there and I the four of us hung out until late.

Spooky left us this present at the front door.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Northward Bound

Back at Leo’s, with a lazy morning on my hands, I took the opportunity to get organized, do some blogging, and groom my unruly beard to the sound of more choice selections from his record collection while he cleaned his room and went to meet up with family for lunch. After talking to my next host, Lynne, on the phone we agreed that, since she was in Los Angeles for the day, I would make my way to Union Station and we would take it from there. Leo gave me a lift back to Irvine, but not before loading up the bed of the pickup with vegetable starts for sale at the farmers’ market, from an enthusiastic collaborator with whom he shares in a local gardening club.

A work party at Leo's old Sonoma County farm (you'll have to get Leo to give you a slide show if you want a better pic).

On the train, I received word that Lynne would meet me at the station in Montalvo so I would transfer trains in LA. This meant I would be four hours in transit, a fact I relished for the sake of having a chance to read a Cormac McCarthy novel Max had loaned to me a few days prior and which I had been chomping at the bit to begin. I got about a third of the way through it!

Is THAT a compost pile or WHAT?

Once in Ventura, Lynn took me to a bar to see Seth Pettersen, a long-time local favorite of hers and then to a very crowded bar closer to the town center where we saw a band called Crippled Puppy and ran into a couple of her friends, Carrie and Angie. After that it was back to the home where she showed me into the back yard and I saw the famous Artbarn, which would be my home for the coming week.

Leo cooked these enormous beans that he bought at the farmers' market.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Orange County: Part 3 (Thanksgiving)

Fresh produce from Leo's garden ready for the thanksgiving kitchen

Around 8:00 in the morning, Leo and I rose and headed to his mom and dad’s elegant seaside home in Dana Point to help with preparations for Thanksgiving dinner. I was excited to learn that there would be no fewer than fourteen people present that day for Thanksgiving. As I chatted with Leo’s sister, Kira and brother-in-law, Mike, who had arrived before us from New York, along came his other sister, Meredith with her girlfriend, Hayley and Hayley’s mom, dad, and brother.

From left to right: Kira, Mike, Seth's mom, Seth

The more people arrived, the more people arrived, the more I felt positively charmed. There was Teresa, a long-time family friend from Argentina, Seth, a long-time friend of Mike and Seth’s mom who was here from Maryland via Colorado where she had recently visited her daughter. Together, everyone passed the afternoon, alternately lounging on the patio or in living room, or busied themselves in the kitchen, preparing vegetables and readying things for the oven.

Marilyn (Hayley's mom), Leo, Maureen

At least the time arrived for the feast. It was a meal fit for a king. Turkey, sweet potatoes, fresh beats and greens from Leo’s garden, green beans, stuffing, potatoes and gravy; everything was there. As we dined, everyone shared a single word that described what he or she was thankful for. When my turn arrived there was no hesitation; my word was “hospitality”. A highlight of the evening came when Hayley’s brother, Ross was given a blind taste-test of the various cranberry sauces prepared for the occasion. Ross was an interesting guy. Having been working for a gang unit with the LAPD, he had some rather alarming footage and photographs which he shared on his phone.

Thanksgiving dinner

After dinner we retired to the living room to observe that other most sacred of Thanksgiving traditions; vegetating in front of the TV and casually milling about, grazing on the ample leftovers while our numbers slowly dwindled. As we took in the various Thanksgiving programs on TV, I was amused by Teresa’s compunction to remark that one person or another was a “son of a gun”. When the time for me and Leo to go home, I was sincerely sad that it was over. Definitely a Thanksgiving to remember.

Meredith and Teresa

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Orange County: Part 2

After a brief time at Leo’s cottage, exploring his eclectic record collection and preparing my foldaway bed, it was off to Newport to WWOOF treasurer Sherin’s apartment for an evening spent enjoying delicious food and looking at slides of Leo’s old farm in Sonoma County. Despite no longer being able to use her token disclaimer of being “almost a lawyer, Sherin was in a celebratory mood. He had learned just the previous Friday that she had passed the bar exam. The two of them whipped together a vegetable medley with tahini and mustard along with a fresh salad and some fancy cheese.

Seedlings from Leo's slideshow

After taking in Leo’s slides, Sherin requested the aid of our the blue pickup in transporting a quantity so large as to fill the entire truck bed on young succulents ready to sell off to new homes and be transplanted. It was an awkward affair that involved driving around her apartment to the fire lane behind it and forming a fire-bucket-style chain from the pickup, up a little ivy embankment, and over a high fence enclosing her downstairs patio. I couldn’t help but muse at how, even during a casual social get-together with WWOOF board members, I was being put to work as a WWOOFer! :-)

As we finished our chore, another Ryan, friend of Leo and Sherin, arrived and the four of us hung out and looked at slides awhile longer before it was time to return to Laguna Beach for some well-deserved rest.

Another of Leo's photos, a Laguna Beach seaside scene

Monday, November 29, 2010

Orange County: Part 1

I rose at 6:30 and Max’s apartment having prepared my belongings and the rest of the lasagna the night before. Next I shuffled four blocks to the Metro (subway) station four blocks away carrying backpacks at front and back and with both hands heavily loaded. I estimate that my total load was in excess of 70 pounds. On the Metro I struggled to keep from bumping the people who stood nearby, peppering me with dirty looks. At the end of the line, I hustled into Union Station and up to the Metrolink (inter-city commuter rail) ticket booth. I turned out my train to Irvine was already waiting at the platform and would leave in a mere seven minutes!

Leo's big blue pickup

Once in Irvine, I missed my connection with the local bus system, but managed to reach WWOOF program manager, Ryan “Leo” Goldsmith, who graciously proffered a ride to Laguna Beach in his Blue biodiesel pickup. I accepted, and soon found myself in WWOOF’s cozy downtown office, drafting grant application language and casually observing as Leo responded to the needs of members and volunteers and feilded (sometimes over-eager) requests from would-be collaborators. After a bit of back and forth, we two produced a complete grant application and submitted it to the approval of WWOOF board president Sarah Potenza.

Leo's cottage from the back yard

After that it was back to Leo’s tastefully decorated cottage, walking distance from the office, where I was greeted by the aroma of fresh-cut flowers and the comfort of his well-appointed living room and quaint yard, shared with two other friendly neighbors and an adorable dog, Cinder, on the same lot.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Heinemacher Herr

Waking up for day two in LA, I found I had an itch to clean which would not be ignored. After a quick trip to the 99-cent store for supplies (upon which I’m pretty sure I walked by a hirsute Joseph Gordon-Levitt, I sunk my hands into Max’s living room, spending the better part of a day moving furniture, stacking up laundry, garbage, and disorganized possessions in piles, vacuuming, rolling up rugs, sweeping, wiping surfaces with a pine sol, and putting all the furniture back where I found it. In the end I found I was able to place his guest mattress out of the way of foot traffic, which before had been impossible.

After being duly impressed by my handiwork and having another lasagna dinner, Max took me to see a movie premier which we missed, and to a big Mexican bar downtown. After a couple drinks, we headed home and chanced to stop by an open mic mere blocks from Max’s apartment on the way, which culminated in a very lively hip-hop show which I found highly amusing.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Sweet home, Los Angeles

The Indio Greyhound station is a weird scene. Between the homeless man yelling semi-intelligible profanities at the girl behind the ticket counter and the gangsters with face tattoos eyeing you apprehensively, it makes for a rather unnerving place to wait nearly three hours for a bus. Add to that the San Bernardino rush hour traffic and wait for my ride from the abominable Los Angeles Greyhound station and you can perhaps understand my feeling a relief at finally drifting off to sleep at Max’s apartment.

The next day, between naps, I found the time to buy groceries and prepare a twelve servings’ worth of lasagna noodles and filling. When Max came home from work, we cooked up a batch for dinner and then walked to get gelato at a place on nearby Sunset Boulevard where I’m certain I spotted Jena Malone!

Monday, November 22, 2010


Another aspect of my current lifestyle for which I wasn’t prepared is the amount of spare time it affords me. Of all things, I have managed to invest an inordinate amount of this surplus of time in sleep. I think there’s something about getting more sleep that tends to enliven the world of your dreams.

To wit, I have a number of odd and vivid dreams and even nightmares. In particular, I one dream stands out which included seeing behind me in a mirror's reflection, the macabre and ghostly image of woman who wasn’t there. Also, in my dreams I have seen a cat raise a bird as if it was its own, only to see it eat the bird as soon as it came of age. And most recently, there was the alarming affair of diving into a pool of abrasive chemicals in order to survive an explosion, to be left grossly deformed and scarred.

How odd.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Farmer and Cave Dweller

One of the unexpected pleasures of my stay at Chocolate mountain has been to hear the occasional anecdotes that make up glimpses of the life and times of my host, Gordon. A native of southern California, Gordon came of age in the 70’s and adhered to Timothy Leary’s famous formula; “Tune in, turn on, drop out”. To Gordon, this could have taken one of several forms. For instances he recalls a back-to-nature community that would have taken him as well as Norman Paulsen’s famous Sunburst community.

In the end, Gordon chose a route that he likens to that of Eden Ahbez, the famous naturist and songwriter who lived for a time in the hills behind the Hollywood sign. Gordon made his home in a cave in the mountains near Palm Springs where he lived for an entire year subsisting on food he gathered from the wilderness and gleaned on trips into town. Notably, during his time in the mountains, he had contact with Douglas Bachelor, another cave dweller who would go on to become a renowned televangelist.

Somewhere in-between then and the present day, Gordon came to own a lot in Ojai where managed to support himself by growing mulberries and carob. During his time there, the value of his land appreciated to such a degree that he was able to buy his current homestead overlooking the Salton Sea as well as a few parcels of land in the mountains above Palm Springs. Here is some video he had another WWOOFer shoot of his mountains paradise:

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Salvation Mountain and Slab City

With the winds still whipping and errands to run, we decided to make a run down Route 111 past the Wister Waterfowl Management area to Calipatria, a mere 34 miles from the Mexican border. There I read some of the literature the Peace Corps had sent me with my invitation packet and Gordon did some shopping while our respective loads of laundry ran.

I stand on Salvation Mountain (Gordon brought his camera)

On our way back we hung a right at Niland and drove another couple of miles to arrive at Salvation Mountain. As took in the “mountain”, its famous creator, Leonard, arrived to the delight of a Christian youth group that had come to host a free barbeque at nearby Slab City. He gave us a tour and I would have stayed for the free chicken but something told me it wasn’t Gordon’s scene, so I graciously took my leave.

After an interesting conversation with one of Leonard’s self-appointed assistants, a social worker from New York who had come to the Southeast six years ago to work with native groups, Gordon gave me a cursory tour of he The Slabs, an informal constellation of squatters which together America’s longest-standing undisputed homeless camp. It was decidedly less glamorous and campy than its depiction in Into The Wild.

Inside Salvation Mountain

Friday, November 19, 2010

Viewing Material

One of the highlights of my stay at Chocolate Mountain Hot Springs has been the unusual and eclectic selection of viewing material available. After our requisite three hours of daily labor Gordon and I are left with the rest of the day to philosophize, tell stories, and share observations about pop culture. In the process of expounding on some obscure vein of half-wit and wisdom on my second or third day, I chanced to mention my fascination with the Heaven’s Gate incident which took place in Rancho Santa Fe, a rich suburb of nearby San Diego. This proved to be my entrée into to unique media library available to me here at the Hot Springs.

A distinctive collection

As it turns out, Gordon recorded more than two hours of news footage, documenting the media response in the hours and days following the discovery of the suicides, including no fewer than two prime time specials. Since then, to the delight of my inner trainspotter, I’ve been treated to the likes of such gems as
  • A retrospective on life and times Margaret Mead produced by California’s public television affiliate
  • A documentary telling the story of a family that settled the nearby Anza-Borrego desert following the Great Depression
  • An episode of Star Trek that features an example of the curious phenomenon known as “space hippies," which exist within the greater genre of science fiction
  • A collection of news coverage shown at the time of the WTO protests in Seattle
  • A film from the 1950’s depicting Thor Heyerdahl’s trans-Atlantic voyage with an international crew of researchers in a reed boat.
  • A documentary on the 1972 advent of a hippy/egalitarian/spiritual phenomenon called the Rainbow Gathering which is now an annual event attracting anarchists and counter-culture people of every stripe.
  • A 1970's cult classic film featuring Jimi Hendrix, called Rainbow Bridge

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, and San Jacinto

With the Santa Ana winds gusting at upwards of 30 miles per hour and a week’s worth of provisions exhausted, Gordon decided it was time to make a run of I-10 to civilization. The timing couldn’t have been better, too, with my finally having corrected all errors on my passport and visa forms and consulted the nearest UPS licensee regarding hours and services. Gordon and I hopped into his Corolla and made the hour-long trek to the posh desert shopping oasis of Rancho Mirage/Palm Desert.

With the day’s heat not having fully arrived, Gordon elected to show me a hike at the nearby San Jacinto National Monument. Together we climbed through a canyon and up a dry ravine to a wild grove of palms that grew so close together that the dead branches that hung from their trunks appeared to form an almost impenetrable wall. For a while we basked in the shade of nearby rocks while Gordon regaled me with descriptions of something called the Rainbow Gathering.

Back in town we navigated the circuitous thicket of retail the posh twin desert communities had to offer, passing by golf courses and stopping at an old experimental carob grove which had once been written up in the LA Times. At last it was off to Clark’s Nutrition and PostNet (think Postal Annex, or Mailboxes, Etc.) to get passport photos taken and go over the instructions for the eleventy-billionth time lest commit an error that would lead to the delay of my passport and visa processing and thus not get in to the Peace Corps.

Having meticulously followed every instruction to the letter and turned in my UPS package for delivery, I breathed a sigh of relief, satisfied that I had taken care of the last order of business required to see to it that I wouldn’t miss my opportunity to serve.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Visit from Steven and Emily

The other day, Gordon announced to me that his long-time friend from Ojai, Steven, had called and was coming by, quite on the spur of the moment, bringing with him his partner, Emily. After some confusion over a missed phone connection, they arrived at Chocolate Mountain for their first time ever.

Before (in front of Gordon's tool shed, facing southeast)

Steven, it turns out, is a masseur and reflexologist who used to run a spa in his back yard in Ojai that at one time rivaled the region’s nearby number-two spa, serving the likes of celebrities like Tim Burton. Steven told me he used to keep it booked solid and the competition referred to him as the “pirate spa” due to his being unlisted and operating in an under-the-radar kind of way.

He was duly impressed with the life Gordon had made for himself and prompted him to get out an enormous map of California’s geothermal water resources, the result of a government study in the 90’s. Gordon explained with enthusiasm the process by which he has staked his little claim amongst the hot springs of the region.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Gear: Part 2

An aspect of this WWOOF trip involves test-running some things in preparation for Peace Corps. For example. I have my computer set up so I can cache of blog post which I create online and which I upload to the server in batches during the relatively brief times when I have internet access. Part of this process was supposed to be a test from the refurbished Asus Eee 901 netbook that I bought in September using funds I saved during my AmeriCorps year. However, it turned out the netbook needed warranty service and has only just been returned to my mom’s house in Portland.

I am, however, prepared for diverse audio situations. In addition to a cassette adapter, I brought down with me a little radio transmitter. It has an adapter for car cigarette lighters and at Aquarius Ranch it just so happened that I had a port in my trailer just above my head for one of these. I simply plug it into this and my iPod and tune the trailer’s little clock radio to it an I have tunes while I work on blog posts in the trailer.

Trailer-ready audio

Monday, November 15, 2010

Dump Day

I’ve stumbled into an odd little piece of Americana, Glamis North KOA, which is less than a mile’s walk from Chocolate Mountain Hot Springs and which, thankfully, has free wifi. Here I sit amidst ads and merchandise targeted at the motorhome camping and off-roading set, in a chair made in that whole-branch log-cabin style.
Today, as per his weekly ritual, Gordon and I hauled a load of trash from his place and the vacant place next door (which he also owns) in his 1950's GMC pickup to the dump less than four miles away. Gordon explained to me that he bought the place years ago from a compulsive hoarder who proceeded to spy from nearby to see what Gordon did with all the junk that was left behind on the property.

The place used to be a tilapia farm where geothermal spring water was gathered in man-made pools that now sit in front of Gordon’s ranch-style house and serve as a nice place to soak and let water cool before it is used on his date palms. The water comes out too hot for use, and must be allowed to cool also before it can be run from the taps in the house, so all the water we use on a daily basis is cold, including water I use to show each day. This is no real hardship for me since I had to do it for six months while I lived as a volunteer in Guatemala.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Bombay Beach

The Salton Sea has a strange and storied past, the details of which are expressed in a documentary in far more and better detail than I'll try to represent here. The documentary is called Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea and came highly recommended from Gordon prior to going down to Bombay Beach. In an amusing aside, the girl featured in the Bombay Beach segment who is very enthusiastic about sports and staying off drugs is now a volunteer at the North Shore Yacht Club which serves as a sort of museum and visitor center for the sea.

Bombay Beach, it turns out, is a very unique sight to see. Laid out on a grid of 8 blocks by 4 blocks, its actual connection to the sea itself has been severed by a levee perhaps 20 feet high of piled earth. While I was told that there’s a bar there, I was unable to find it. All a saw was motorhomes and double-wide manufactured homes, the nicest of which being situated furthest from the sea. Some lots contained abandoned or burned-out structures, decaying in the salty air. Here and there someone carted along in a golf cart. The only nonresidential dwellings I could find were the Seaside Baptist Church, a defunct grocery store, a convenient store, and a small hotel. I’ll be sure to stay there at least one night should I ever return.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Chocolate Mountain Hot Springs

Well, my camera has chosen an inopportune time to stop working. The views of the valley from here in the foothills of the Chocolate Mountains are simply breathtaking. My host, Gordon, was farming for years and even ran a hostel for a time before he carved out a little homestead overlooking Bombay Beach, the northern part of the Salton Sea, and the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto mountains to the west.

My time here so far has been somewhat more reposeful than in Hinkley. Each morning, I widen the basin around one of his smaller trees, an olive or persimmon, while he trims the leaf nodes from one of his several date palms down to the trunk in preparation to fit it with a metal apparatus for deterring the kangaroo rats which breed here in great abundance and which can greatly reduce his yield. Another way he combats the rats is with traps he sets for them, to release them a couple of miles down the road.

The situation here is somewhat more austere. Because the amount of work Gordon has for me is so limited (harvest is over and there are no new plants going in), it isn’t really worth it to him to provide food. While he doesn’t impose restrictions on my diet, I am not allowed to fry food in a skillet or bake things because his guests in the past have made messes doing these things. This leaves me to boil or steam my food or else eat it raw.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Mapping My Travels

Now that I have a place I can go for broadband, I’ve taken to marking on a public Google Map the places I mention on this travelogue, just for fun. You can check out my handiwork here:

On an unrelated note, I jumped on a promotional deal Southwest Airlines was advertising for cheap airfare to Portland. I works out to about the same price as it would be to take the train and takes only 4 hours instead of 30. So, my return date is set for December 20.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Joshua Tree: Part 4

After breaking camp and bidding Tim a fond farewell, Michael, Corey, and I neatly packed ourselves and all our things into Michael’s two-door Honda and made for the highway, checking out a breathtaking “key view” from which I could actually see the Salton Sea. After a brief interlude in 29 Palms to retrieve my next host’s number from my battery-dead phone, we continued south and west around the Little San Bernardino Mountains and east toward Indio and the Salton Sea.

End of the line for me was Clark's health food store in Rancho Mirage where Gordon, my next host, had arranged to meet with me. There I bid adeu to Michael and Corey and after a breif food shopping interlude rode with Gordon for about an hour to his small lot on a hillside overlooking the Salton Sea.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Joshua Tree: Part 3

I awoke early the next morning with an abiding urge to split wood. The neighbors who had taken our extra spot the night before were able to provide a hatchet, much to my sleeping companions’ chagrin. As we soon learned, we had fallen victim to a common camper conundrum known as “too much meat”. The only solution to was to spend the day filling our bellies with hamburgers, hamburger helper, bacon, and a delicious delicacy known as bacon-grease toast.

From left to right: Tim, Michael, Corey

Between bouts of culinary indulgence (which also included raw vegetables and rice loaf), we mounted little expeditions into the deliciously climbable rock masses that give Jumbo Rocks its name. It’s hard to describe the giddy feeling I got from enjoying the natural beauty of the views at every turn on the unusually accessible nooks and crannies of rock that seemed to dare us to climb them. Tim in particular was transformed into an agile negotiator of rock surfaces and divides, crawling into and around crevices.

Michael and Tim are kings of all they survey

We enjoyed the sunset from the hill next to our campsite and after dark we made a tour of a loop within the Jumbo Rocks campground taking in the campy atmosphere. In the time since I had arrived, it was full to capacity and very much alive with the sights and sounds of jovial southern Californians. Exhausted and bemused, I was first to go to bed.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Joshua Tree: Part 2

The next morning, Lev and I had the unique experience of waking up in surroundings we had only seen the night before by moonlight. Despite the allure of the dramatic and remarkably verdant landscape we now saw, Lev saw fit to take his leave of me and head north to check out Cal Earth and return to Aquarius Ranch. I fear I may have proven a less-than-worthy travel companion the night before.

After a short hike down an interpretive trail to take in some of the park and register our site and the one next to it, I came back and buckled down. What remained was an austere day of waiting for my companions, and trying to avoid getting two much sun—I couldn’t find my sunscreen—while somehow maintaining a presence in both spots as a single person without a car.

After turning several parties away from the spot next to the one with my tent, I finally took pity on a couple of kindly climbers one of whom, it turns out out, has a son who works at the Ugly Mug in Sellwood with my friend, Brie. Tim arrived before dark having begun the five-hour drive from Phoenix quite early when he learned I had been left in the park with no means of transport and limited supplies. After a nice visit with Tim, we were joined at 11:00 pm by Michael and Corey. Revelry ensued until late in the night.

I resorted to covering my tent in safety blankets for added insulation

Monday, November 8, 2010

Joshua Tree: Part 1

A snug fit

As much as I was enjoying myself at Aquarius Ranch, the time had come for me to make my way to Joshua Tree National Park for a trip I had planned with my friends Michael and Tim. The only obstacle to my arriving was the drive from the nearest Greyhound station, so I was delighted when Lev volunteered to take me for the three-hour drive.

After a quick stop at an event to mark the beginning of renovations at the Desert Discovery Center in Barstow, Lev and I hit the road. While we careened through the desert afternoon, indulging in phone calls to girls and freestyle rapping, a breathtaking panorama unfolded before us; the lights of Yucca Valley punctuating our way with pin pricks of light like little Mexican villas on the purple and blue mountainsides as the setting sun carved them ever more distinctly against the yellow of the desert’s stone scrabble and arid soil.

Once within the Jumbo Rocks camping location at the park, we perused the campsites, selected one that looked promising in the dark, and made camp.

Bryan watches from atop the dome as Bodhi mugs for the camera

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Into LA for my Peace Corps papers: Part 4

With Peace Corps invitation packet freshly in hand, I carefully negotiated the Los Angeles subway and bus system (and, unfortunately, a rather indiscriminate McDonalds breakfast) to arrive at the Greyhound station with a wayfaring and comely Spanish graphic designer in tow.

As we passed the time in the Greyhound station, waiting for our respective buses to Vegas; we regaled one-another in Spanglish with nuggets from our lives, I letting slip that I would be serving for 27 months on the Island of Hispaniola as a ICT (Information and Communication Technology) Specialist or ICT Educator in the Dominican Republic and describing the informal research in ecotourism that I’m doing in the time leading up to my departure.

Obligatory invitation packet pic

We said our farewells, with promises to continue contact (in particular with sharing of my WWOOF map in mind) and it was off to Barstow on a three-quarters-empty bus which gradually filled until brimming in San Bernardino and depositing me at Barstow station with another friend, sweet and worrisome, with whom I had exchanged food, kindnesses, and phone privileges for the sake of aiding her return home to Montana from what sounded like a difficult living situation in San Diego.

Back at the ranch, things were winding down for the day and I scavenged some food and joined the others for a bonfire of brush pulled from the land that will be Penny’s new pasture (more on that to come).

Spot, one of Penny’s eight dogs

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Into LA for my Peace Corps papers: Part 3

After perhaps a couple hours of listening to Orson Scott Card on the bus and some in-between time connecting up with Max via phone, I arrived in Los Angeles on November 1, the eve of Todos Santos and thus a time for the city’s celebration of Día de los Muertos with very vivid face painting and elaborate altars at the heart of old Los Angeles. I was lucky to have Max for a guide.

After taking in the altars for a few minutes; we watched the last couple of innings of the world series at a bar, and then had sushi at a very authentic-feeling Japanese restaurant (menus in hand-written kanji and English). Next it was off to pick up Jana at the airport. On the way we caught a minute of some dancing in traditional Aztec dress and I took a call from Mom.

En route to Max’s we drummed up some interest in a bar visit with a couple of friends of Max and Jana. Being in a celebration mood as I was, I did a Bandera with the bartender while everyone placed their orders and got their drinks. In a magnanimous gesture she reduced the price to happy our price and even threw in a beer :-)

The evening’s stimulating conversation gave way to a satisfying sleep on the floor of Max’s apartment.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Into LA for my Peace Corps papers: Part 2

As I waited for my bus to have its half-hour break in Barstow on the way to Los Angeles, I watched as the sob story of the man next to me slowly unfolded. He barely spoke a word of English and more or less refused to communicate in Spanish, but he told me he was from Mexico and I was able to learn that he was promised a seat on the incoming bus without buying a ticket only to have me come and buy up his seat.

While I puzzled the ethical dilemma in which Greyhound had just placed me, I learned further that the man had left his luggage on the previous bus from Vegas when he overstayed the driver’s lunch break in Barstow and it was now sitting someplace at the LA Greyhound station awaiting his arrival.

As fate would have it, he was inside the Greyhound office at the moment the bus was ready to depart, so I abruptly severed the conversation I was having with a down-and-out drifter—another remarkable story for another time—and made my way onto my bus (despite the p*** and vinegar I received from the driver).

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Into LA for my Peace Corps papers: Part 1

The day’s work officially ends at 1:30, but I worked until perhaps 2:00 prepping food with Penny as she schooled me in the preparation of Jerusalem Artichokes. I ate heartily and quickly dashed to Barstow as per an arrangement with Stephen, made the night before.


I rolled up to the Greyhound station in such a hurry that I scarcely noticed my rush until I had crushed my own thumb in a car door. What a mess. With finger bloodied, I made my way to the ticket office and bought the last remaining ticket and THEN staggered to the nearest food vendor in Barstow Station (a local tourism phenomenon) for ice.

On break that day with (left to right) Lev, Stephen, and Bryan

Nursing my wound, I watched idly as the bus rolled up a mere ten to fifteen minutes later only to have the indignant driver address me in a confrontational manner with mock certainty of things I would soon discover to be untrue.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Chickens and Gardens

Today I pulled garden duty and since we now had Lev as well as Derrick (a neighbor guy that Penny hopes to employ part time), Tonya got to pick one person to help her in the Garden while the rest worked on the dome house. She picked me. My morning chore for the day was chickens which Steve showed me.

Fine feathered friends

There are three pens with about ten chickens in each. Each pen gets a scattering of mash and scratch. Since Tonya and Penny are both vegan, they leave all the eggs to the non-vegan WWOOFers.

Aquarius Ranch has two gardens, a garden for produce to take to the market and a garden for the people who live and work here. Today, Tonya and I worked in the latter. First there were a couple of beds that needed weeding. Next, we transplanted some chard that has self-sewn from last season and thinned out some arugula. Needless to say, Pumpkin was all up in our business at the most inconvenient of times.

Among other things, there are starts of lettuce, tomato, spinach and cucumber. I also saw asparagus, carrots, and shallots. I’m told we also grow several varieties of garlic from which Tonya makes syrup. Yum.

View of the non-market garden from atop the dome house. The beds I worked in are on the right behind the bamboo. They are covered with protective material.

Sunday, October 31, 2010


Okay, it wouldn’t be a Charlie blog if I didn’t take a minute to nerd out. First I’m going to whine and complain that my headphone set went the way of all headphones before it’s time had come. It broke, however, in such a way that all the electronics are intact and if I jury rig it onto my head it can still be used. It actually kind of works out this way, cause I can lay on my side with just one earphone on the upward-facing ear. This is nice for listening to audio books.

USB AC Adaptor

My other indispensible toy is this USB wall wart that came with my phone. Because USB has a standard voltage, you can plug many different devices into this that get power from USB. So far I’ve only used to for my phone and my ipod, but I’m sure it will have more uses.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Tar and a Newcomer

Part of the dome construction process involves applying tar to the surface of the super adobe bag for waterproofing. Tar is nasty stuff. If it gets in your clothes it’s pretty much there to stay. It can even stick to your skin through several showers. We had a hard to explaining this to Pumpkin, who has an uncanny skill for inserting himself into whatever chore you happen to be doing at any given time and sitting or standing right where our hands need to be. It’s not hard to guess, then, why Pumpkin’s new nickname is Tar Tail. What a silly cat.

An image of the construction site, as requested

We have received a new recruit out here in the desert. His name is Lev and he is the coolest. A young man of Russian decent, he has lived in New York City, Chicago, and the Midwest (Milwaukee it think). He comes to us fresh from as visit to India where he spent to exploring yoga and meditation. He has an impressive intellect and a disarming wit.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Visiting Harvey

Today we made a trip about 10 minutes away to visit Harvey. Harvey is the quintessential tinkerer. He spent 23 years in the Marine Corps and has perfected the art of taking old machinery and fixing it up to suit his fancy. Among the many projects he showed us, were a hand-made ditch witch, a small system of homemade equipment for distilling “straight vegetable oil” (SVO) from discarded fryer grease that he collects from a  restaurant chain, and a device for straining dirt into different particle sizes (the finest of which being material for his garden).

I am confident that it is people like Harvey who will rebuild society after the next major world conflict. Using worms, compost, and manure he has developed his little lot of desert into a rich loam that grows great mounds of tomatoes, eggplant, pomegranate, prickly pear, and at least a dozen other crops that feed him and provide slop for his four pigs. When we arrived he was working on combining parts of four broken diesel engines into a single engine that he would mount on a boat he had bought for a couple thousand dollars and which he estimated he would turn around and sell for ten times as much.

While we were at Harvey’s, I had cell reception, so I took the opportunity to raise Max on the phone. He informed me that my invitation packet had arrived at his place in Los Angeles. I’m going to have to head over their to pick it up. The timing would be great since the next day is an off day here on the ranch, except Max will be in San Francisco at a conference all weekend.

Unfortunately, my camera was out of batteries during the visit to Harvey’s. He’s going to be making adobe bricks with his friend, Jose next week, and I’m hoping I can make it to that, preferably with my camera. At one point he asked where everyone visiting was from. The roll call went as follows: Oregon, Arizona, Texas, Wisconsin, Ohio, Minnesota, New Jersey.

This is Alfred. He's top cat. He pretty much just sits on a couch pad by the door all day.