“Did you know, Dad, that if you write the word ‘red’ in green and ask a small child to tell you the color, the answer will be ‘green?’ But if you show the same word to an adult, the answer will be red. Children see the color, not the word. Adults see the word, and not the color.”
I am an advocate for wild creatures, rare plants, arrays of native vegetation, clean water, fish, stewardship of natural resources, and learning. I believe these things are compatible with ranching, sometimes lost without ranching. Some people call me a cowboy. A lot of good cowboys call me an environmentalist. I suppose there are lots of labels you can attach to me. There was a time when doing so was hurtful, so I threw back labels of my own. We throw a lot of anger at each other with words. It doesn’t do much for the land, really.
The time has come to see colors, not words.
Excerpt from the essay Colors and Words by Bob Budd in Ranching West of the 100th Meridian: Culture, Ecology, and Economics
From Limantour Beach at Point Reyes you can see the edge of San Francisco and all the sea between. Some hundred years ago steam schooners, barkentines, and four- masted ships would have plied the waters beyond the Golden Gate. I think of Ishmael leaving Nantucket in search of the great white whale….
“At last the anchor was up, the sails were set, and off we glided. It was a sharp, cold Christmas; and as the short northern day merged into night, we found ourselves almost broad upon the wintry ocean, whose freezing spray cased us in ice, as in polished armor. The long rows of teeth on the bulwarks glistened in the moonlight; and like the white ivory tusks of some huge elephant, vast curving icicles depended from the bows….as the old craft deep dived into the green seas and sent the shivering frost all over her, and the winds howled and the cordage rang, [Lank Bildad, as pilot] his steady notes were heard
“Sweet fields beyond the swelling flood,
Stand dressed in living green.
So to the Jews old Canaan stood,
While Jordon rolled between.”
Some thirty-five years ago, while I worked as a Photo Archivist at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, I solo bicycled part of the Pacific Coast. On that ride, I made a point of visiting the legendary Captain Frederick Klebingat (see his fine biography on the Online Archive of California finding aid for his photography collection). It was a great honor to meet the ninety-five year-young gentleman, who voiced great concern for my safety cycling the Pacific Coast. Expressing my deep admiration for the man who at sixteen (in 1905) rounded Cape Horn as a deckhand on a full-rigged ship, I reassured him that his risks had been much greater than mine. Imagine the strength, skill and courage it would take to furl the sails a’top the masts in the wind and rain ‘round the Horn all the while diving deeply into Ishmael’s great green seas! Talk about taking risks! Captain Klebingat was a person forged by nature’s forces; a rarity in a time when now most are shaped by a reality more virtual. During his lifetime, Captain Klebingat sailed barks, schooners, Liberty Ships and tankers, and served as a key figure in the restoration and preservation of historic sailing ships, particularly Honolulu’s Falls of Clyde. Captain Klebingat’s research papers about restoring the Falls of Clyde can be found at the University of Glasgow (the vessel was built in Glasgow’s shipyards). During our visit, Captain Klebingat autographed and gifted me his book Christmas at Seainscribing To Robin, May All Your Christmases be Merry. Frederick Klebingat. I keep the book remembering my visit with the great sailor. About six months later in March 1985, Captain Klebingat passed away; but our visit that fall day in 1984, remains a treasured memory. In fond remembrance, for Captain Klebingat at Christmas, I share an excerpt from his book.
On a Christmas Eve a few years after the 1906 Earthquake, young deckhand Fred Klebingat, his friend Tommy, and first mate Hagen are on watch aboard the barkentine the S.N. Castle, anchored in San Francisco Bay. The sailors are grateful to have a job and thankful for the turkey roasting in the ship’s galley for their Christmas dinner. On deck they watched as
“the great beam [of lighthouse on Alcatraz Island]…searched out the hills of Richmond as it turned; momentarily it glanced by the brightly lighted windows of the houses in Berkeley…and blinked at the ferry boats…the searchlight also winked at those Bohemians who lived on Telegraph Hill, and for a second it peered into the windows of Nob Hill. It flashed by and lit up the spars of the ships anchored off Meiggs Wharf. On it turned, to beacon those mariners bound through the Golden Gate…[and Hagen said] “to me that light seems to be a beacon of liberty, to guide you to freedom – to all of us who first came here through the Golden Gate…there may not be all the freedom we may want, but it is much more than what we left behind.”
Melville, Herman. Moby Dick. New York, New York: The New American Library, 1961. p.113
Winter is my favorite time of year; I love the journey to the year’s shortest day and the new pilgrimage for the year’s longest day. Precious the light of day and the warmth of the sun; most welcome is the night when blessed with a good book by the fire and my cat curled sleeping in my lap.
On Christmas Eve, I walked the landscape of Drakes Estero and Limantour Beach with my beloved wife and dear friend. Just a few days past the solstice the day remained short, and to commemorate the day, I made a watercolor sketch and reflected on darkness and light asking myself what can well-meaning souls do to make the world a better place?
And by a better place I mean: end the rapacious exploitation of the earth’s flora and fauna; take measures to resolve the increasing disparity between rich and poor; respect the diversity of global cultures; and stop the egregious use of violence. No small challenge. No simple answer. In fact, it sounds so impossible to resolve, I might as well give up and run away. Run as far away as possible from the suffering and the death, building tall strong walls to protect me from the pain.
It takes great courage to sit and listen to the suffering, the death, and the pain: within yourself and in others. Many of us feel compelled to fix the problems, and when we can’t we give up and salve our pain with whatever money can buy. Not knowing what to do or how to fix a problem is impossibly hard. But through my Buddhist studies, I have learned that there is a place to begin: listen, stay open minded and be generous. This is how the suffering ends and the healing starts. We are not born knowing all things, and will never learn all there is to know. Mitchell Thomashow writes in his essay Nature. Love. Medicine. Reciprocity. Generosity.“…we can cultivate generosity, open-mindedness, graciousness, and humility in the space of that glorious unknowing. I don’t have the capacity to love every species and every person, but I can develop the capacity to be more generous with those people and species that I do encounter.” Blessings on us all for this New Year!
To my way of thinking, beauty and art are synonymous. Art, the creative act and our engagement with that act, stimulates thoughts, emotions, beliefs or ideas. When painting, I am participating in the creation of beauty. When I engage – my five senses – with any work of art, that is beauty too.
Last Saturday, driving home from a Point Reyes Books event through the cold December night, we talked about important work before us in the New Year, and fundraising was front and center. We had just attended a successful fundraiser for KWMR, West Marin’s Community Radio Station. Our donation allowed us to share the evening with Frances McDormand, actress and producer, in conversation with screenwriter Jane Anderson about their collaboration televising Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize winning book Olive Kitteridge. It was a generous act for two artists to contribute their time, hearts and minds to encourage donors to help sustain a community treasure.
The evening was inspiring and priceless; stimulating thoughts, emotions, beliefs and ideas. We laughed and cried, recalling McDormand speak about “poor” Olive suffering her husband Henry’s tyrannical happiness. McDormand’s art, gave us a chance to step off the dance floor and see life from the balcony, gaining insight into our lives, from that act of beauty.
But I make a case for beauty, passionately arguing that art directly impacts life. By stimulating our thoughts, emotions, beliefs and ideas, art encourages contemplation and reflection about the precious and fleeting beautiful moments and places. Without art and beauty, what life is there to save? Beautifully rendered in prose and theatrically, Olive Kitteridge reveals “what young people didn’t know…that love was not to be tossed away carelessly, as if it were a tart on a platter with others that got passed around again…[if] she had found it burdensome, had flicked it off crumbs at a time, it was because she had not known what one should know: that day after day was unconsciously squandered.”
In his essay Thinking Like a Mountain, Aldo Leopold recorded the moment his ecological thinking evolved. “We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and I have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes – something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because wolves meant fewer deer, that no wolves would mean hunter’s paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with me.”
Leopold spent a lifetime as a forester, a professor and an environmentalist developing his ideas and perspectives on the ethics of nature and wildlife preservation. Ultimately, his philosophy, evolving over years of observation and contemplation became known as his Land Ethic, which is at the core of his most beloved book A Sand County Almanac. Aldo Leopold joins Henry David Thoreau and John Muir as one of our three great American wilderness visionaries and writers.
This weekend March 15 – 17, 2013, Point Reyes Books (near Tomales Bay) is hosting its 4th Geography of Hope Conference entitled Igniting the Green Fire: Finding the Hope in Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic. Typically held in March, these intellectual and spiritual gatherings are a gift to celebrate the coming of spring and rebirth encouraging us to think deeply about our relationships with the earth and our fellow living beings. At the conference’s center is the film Green Fire: Aldo Leopold and a Land Ethic for Our Time, a wonderful film directed by Steve Dunsky, edited by Ann Dunsky, written by Stephen Most and narrated by Curt Meine. It was announced at the conference that the film would be shown on PBS stations nationwide in April 2013.
Surrounding the film is a series of panel discussions with writers, thinkers and doers engaged the building of communities, the importance of stewardship and discussing our responsibilities to the land and to each other. One of the most compelling conversations has been with Michael Howard, Director of Eden Place Nature Center (part of the Fuller Park Community Development Corporation). Inspired by Leopold’s belief in the importance of community and the land, Michael Howard has built a park and a farm for the African-American community on Chicago’s South Side. “Eden” is in a place that was the former site of meat packing industry slaughterhouses, also polluted with lead poisoning which has impacted the ability of children to learn for generations. Howard deeply moved me with his work to try to persuade a people about the benefit of having a relationship with the land; a people whose daily concerns are about having money to pay bills and feed their children and who have spent years running away from a specter of linking the land to sharecropping and slavery. Michael Howard’s experience evoked for many conferee’s Paul Hawken’s Blessed Unrest about the emergence of non-profit and community organizations engaged in the environmental and social justice movement.
There is so much wisdom flowing from this conference, I will need days, weeks, perhaps a lifetime to really grasp and understand it all, and to see my thinking evolve as Aldo Leopold has demonstrated. But what rings clear and true is this: we need to understand that change is something that happens gradually, and it comes by engaging in deep listening, exchange with and respect for both humans and the land. We must learn to “think like a mountain.”
It’s late afternoon on the last day of December 2012 and the annual Pacific migration of the gray whales from the Arctic to Baja is underway. On a spectacular day the air is clear and crisp, the sea is still – little movement on the waves, a cold rainy front moves south towards Southern California just skirting the Bay Area. Miles-at-sea, there is a flash of lightening. From the cliffs at Point Reyes National Seashore we look south towards the Farallon Islands. Wave gazes out at the infinite horizon and happily finds a small pod of whales. One fluke breaks the plane, and a bushy kind of heart shaped blow emerges nearby. “A whale spout is like catching a glimpse of a shooting star,” she says.
“All men have the stars,” he answered, “but they are not the same things for different people. For some, who are travellers, the stars are guides. For others they are no more than little lights in the sky. For others, who are scholars, they are problems. For my businessman they were wealth. But all the stars are silent. You–you alone–will have the stars as no one else has them–”
Early morning and first day of the New Year, dinner was already in the bag. The black-eyed peas were cooked and we still had a little smoked turkey from “Tejas” – my Dad’s annual holiday gift. We were ready for our traditional new years pilgrimage to the ocean. The truck easily covered the fifty-mile distance seamlessly crossing the once Spanish and Mexican ranchos — remembered now mostly as streets, colleges, landmarks or towns named for land grants – Peralta, San Pedro, Nicasio, Tomales and de Los Reyes. Sir Francis Drake Boulevard holds some thirty years of memories: the old white horse in the corral just west of Lagunitas (a toy horse perched on the fence has sadly replaced the original); seeing my first Steelhead with Jane in Lagunitas Creek on our bike-camping trip from Santa Rosa to San Francisco; watching the Salmon with Wave as they lay their eggs in redds just below Kent Lake; and the journey to Bolinas in the old VW bug for my first kayaking adventure with Glo, John and Carol.
Before reaching the beach, two mandatory stops are necessary. Ginger & Chocolate-Chocolate-Cherry cookies from the Bovine Bakery are a must: necessary fuel for the hike ahead. Stocking up on our reading materials was another must at the Point Reyes Books. We are members of their Community Supported Bookstore Program a cool new idea inspired by community supported agriculture to help sustain independent book sellers. Supporters make a deposit with the bookstore and draw upon that amount for future purchases. Brilliant! I hope other bookstores start this program! A lover of browsing, I bought my first book of 2012, a volume by the roots music guitarist Ry Cooder: Los Angeles Stories. Looks like my kind of book. Fiction, but the kind of stories you might gather by sitting down with the everyday folks in your community over a cup of coffee and listening to their life; learning about their part in our shared history. Revived both gastronomically and intellectually, we headed on down the road to Limantour Beach to let the ocean ions do their purifying thang. We walked the beach length in the bright sunshine, the waves gently lapping at our feet and the sweet ocean air wafting through us. Later, alone in the truck for a few minutes while Wave lingered to capture a last image of a beautiful day, I queued Mary Gautier’s Mercy Now. As I look to the year ahead may everyone have “ a little mercy now.”
Sunday morning and I wake up hot. Again. For the last few days, Southern California has been dominated by a High Pressure system and we won’t see relief until later this week. After moving part of my life to San Diego last year, I came to understand there are only three seasons in the southland: rain, hot and fire. The season of fire has come and several fires are tragically raging now in the Los Angeles Basin. Still horizontal I begin to dream of shade trees and my mind wonders again to cooler climes of the Spring and my visits to Tomales Bay just north of San Francisco. On Inverness Ridge, the west side of Tomales Bay and the gateway to Point Reyes National Seashore, there are coast woodlands of Bishop pine and Douglas Fir. On the eastern side of Tomales Bay are the open oak woodlands and grasslands with dairy and beef ranches — often visited by families of deer. Much of this land on the eastern side has thankfully become conservation easements protected by the Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT).
On this side we also find the non-native Blue Gum Eucalyptus and the Monterey Cypress planted by early settlers in this community to provide shelter from the winds.
On my visits to Tomales Bay, I’ve tried to quickly capture the trees and grasslands of the eastern side in watercolor and ink with a bamboo pen.
Daydreaming still, the words come from several Wendell Berry poems I’ve read in his book A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979 – 1997. “I go among the trees and sit still. All my stirring becomes quiet around me like circles on water. My tasks lie in their places where I left them, asleep like cattle.” Then as a hot breeze comes through my open window I think “of deep root and wide shadow, of bright, hot August calm, on the small, tree-ringed meadow.” At the end of a long, hot day last Thursday, I cycled to Leucadia and then returned home. It was a beautiful evening, and the air was still warm even as the sun set in the West. As I started up the Torrey Pines hill on the coast highway suddenly the temperature changed drastically. The pines nestled among the canyons of the park create a blessed coolness — the air felt like cool water lapping against my skin as I swam up the hill. I was thankful for the trees whose kindness helped me ride that hill. Rooted in the earth but reaching towards the heavens, trees give us life.
In the Spring of 2009, we returned to Marin County just north of San Francisco to visit what I consider to be one of the most heavenly places on earth — the region near and around Tomales Bay — a land preserved by a mixture of sustainable agriculture and state and national parks. A place of peace where thoughtfulness comes as easily as breathing. It is always a homecoming of sorts for me. It has been the site of many adventures over the years: the kayak trips to Hog Island, the hikes through Bear Valley to Mt. Wittenberg, the cycling past Nicasio and hours spent painting and sketching the area from many vantage points. The watercolors posted here are two of my attempts to capture the beauty of the place. It also brings to mind for me Wallace Stegner, a writer who always opens my mind to the landscape through which I travel. In 2008 the Point Reyes Books sponsored the “Geography of Hope” conference focusing on the environmental writings of Stegner.
In his “Wilderness Letter” dated December 3, 1960, Stegner wrote “we simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in. For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.”