Oh Bay Area, You are Crazy!

1Beaches with tsunami warnings? Check! Building with furniture hanging off  of it? Check and check! Kids texting with post its? Check and double check! Homeless people encamping at City Hall? Check, check and check!

There’s nothing quite like going to the beach and seeing an “in case of tsunami” warning by the steps leading down, down, down! Go to Cowell Ranch Beach (south of Half Moon Bay) and that is what you’ll see. Sure, it’s a beautiful beach with lovely views but why dig steps down a steep cliff to create beach access in what is a potential tsunami zone? Crazy!

Then over in San Francisco, South of Market Street Area (SOMA), there is this, a building fitted out with sculptural installations called “Fenestration.” I love the arm-chair on the roof. My imagination takes me to nightly happenings with ghosts fighting over who gets to take a ride in it and the red chair too. Can’t you picture the famous (infamous?) Bay Area fog rolling in and completing this picture? Wooooooooooooooo.

Photo credit: BalderdashNYC

Recently, there were the kids sending “text messages” across buildings to one another and playing hang-man too, with posts-its. I especially like this post-it building message, “Leland Yee is my uncle.”

View image on Twitter
Photo credit: SFGate, 4/4/2014

The last time I was over by City Hall in San Francisco was when I was waiting with the Quiet Lightning guys for Chicken John’s bus. There we were, congregating on the sidewalk, when a homeless lady came up to us and said, “I’d like to get by but you are blocking the sidewalk. Shame on you!” The homeless in this area are a bit colorful, to say the least.

And finally, here is a draft of my poem about the Fenestration sculpture/building. I wrote it for my Kearny Street Workshop class about the area South of Market Street.


Out the windows

down the walls

atop roof

mid-air, they wait.

Decaying, distorted

levitating above graffiti

by sidewalks busy with

homeless denizens

Together they hang,

numb, waiting.

When darkness comes,

green couches, orange tables and chairs

join with grandfather clocks

and set themselves loose

from windowsills and roof

take flight from walls

into the night.

Along skies they walk

upon foggy air

toward water they fly

on darkened wings

free of Howard and Sixth

and fenestration.

Whispering Wind

Whispering wind tells me to close my ears and listen/

as pintails hover in fields near where kestrels dive into grass accented by Indian paintbrush/

From my perch crowned with birdsfoot lotus I stand silently still, listening.

Purisima Creek Redwoods — All the World’s a Stage!

In the opposite direction from Half Moon Bay, off Highway One, is the Higgins/Purisima Road entrance to the Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve. Hike through this peaceful canyon with its magnificent stands of old redwoods and enjoy an unspoiled Northern California gem. By the bridge to your left, not too far from the entrance, is a stately pair of red alders standing guard by the creek. These wind pollinated beauties have both male and female parts. Red alder trees are usually found at elevations below 2,400 feet and within 125 miles of the ocean. The beautiful silvery-white patches that you see all over the trunks are lichens. The barks of these trees are actually a deep tan color but you wouldn’t know it by looking at their mottled, distinctive silvery-white lichen laced trunks.

Many natural delights reside in this canyon in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The red alders with their attendant lichens are but a few. The redwoods for which the preserve is named are the real stars here but beauty abounds elsewhere, like for example, in the red elderberries (toxic), stinging nettle (with its heart shaped leaves) and the California bee plant (part of the Snapdragon family).

coast pretty face
California Bee Plant (watercolor sketch)

I didn’t come across any bees during my recent hike but l think I recognized the leaves of the bee plant close down to the ground. You should definitely start seeing them a little after New Year’s. For soon, very soon, after the first good rains — and we have already had a few of those — the bee plant will come alive. By March it begins to bloom and will continue doing so way into July. Hummingbirds, bees and deer love this plant with its reddish-brown stems and eye-catching red flowers. Look for it while you hike in Purisima. You can also find many of these plants in Montara Mountain just outside of Half Moon Bay.

Bugs in the Sun and Other Creatures

A little up the trail, along the creek, I encountered a burst of sunlight, a sun hole, that managed to pierce through an opening in the dense redwood canopy. Many flies, all male and of the same specie, danced about in their territory in the air. These were probably dance flies doing a lek/breeding display.Similarly, you can see this lekking behavior in the Monarch Butterfly when it over-winters further down the coast in Pacific Grove and Monterey Bay.

Down on the forest floor were two clown millipedes, easily identified by the yellow markings down each side of their otherwise all- black bodies. Millipedes don’t really have one-thousand legs. The clown millipede, for example, has about twenty body segments with two pairs of legs on each segment. That is far less than a thousand legs. Yellow lines with black is generally a warning in the insect/bug world. Think, for example, of the lines and colors of bees and wasps. Sometimes this pattern is merely a camouflage but in millipedes, it is not. Centipedes are different; they are harmless. But millipedes are poisonous. The clown millipede, for example, produces a cyanide gas when threatened. As always, do not disturb the creatures in any of the preserves. They are protected by law.

The funniest bug I encountered on my walk was a spittle bug, a baby frog hopper. Overall, it is pretty harmless. It drills a hole into the phloem of a plant and sucks out the liquid, bubbles it out of its back part and forms a bubble house around itself to protect it from birds and other bugs.

Ode to a Spittle Bug

You! Frog face spittle bug

Sitting on that sage

What do you think you are doing?

Oh, you think you are so clever

hiding there in plain view

I want you to know spittle bug

I am on to you.

Ye Olde Arab Fling

Crawling out of the same old womb

they headed their separate ways

he, a seeker of fortunes,

she an itinerant with no place of her own

unlikeliest of pairs.

Magpie and dusky footed rolled into one,

he lined his world with trinkets, baubles,

blood red garnets, platinum, aluminum, bauxite,

until several of his houses, filled to the hilt,

exploded into a dizzying array of colors.

Blues of the bluest blues

floated along on the wind

radiating skyward, outwards.

She, his other half,

hungered for some safe place

folding inward

on gossamer wings

shining, iridescent

reminiscent of youthful treasures

like the barrette she’d been given

to contain her hair

on the cusp of dawn.

A slight wisp of a silver clip,

special even after it had lost its luster,

the glistening paper-like synthetic slowly peeling off

to reveal the transience of her gift,

adhesive and plastic,

glued onto a shiny metal base,

the cheapest of alloys,

tin really,

sparkling randomly,

releasing prisms into the air

raining diamonds

alongside shadows

upon the land.

Elusive, no two the same

never again seen

yet continuous in places

long discounted:

South America, the Caribbean,

Asia, Eastern Europe,

and now, today

this Arabic spring.

*****                    *****                    *****

One of the Four Rs & Into Cow Pastures We SailedYesterday I came across the old video in the link below. Although it presents some  of my ideas of what travel and tourism ought to be about – grassroots, local and community-based – it caused me to re-examine the idea, taken so lightly in the video: “Once these wheels were turned by slaves.”

Enjoy the people and the place as you watch the video. Make a toast to great rum everywhere. Most importantly, pay homage to the genesis and evolution of rum in Jamaica and the rest of the “New World.” My doing so resulted in the poem, Ye Olde Arab Fling.



Into Cow Pastures We Sailed (A Jamaican Tale)

2012-12-30 10.05.33
St. Thomas Cow Pasture

Long before the bobsled team ever was

my sister and I

slid down mountain slopes

past yellow beaked sentinels

stalking about

on their spectacularly long legs.

Into cow pastures we sailed

on our flattened cardboard boxes

stopping only when faced

with the asses of cows.

Momentarily happy

we scrambled  to our feet, giggling,

delighted we were wise not to

aim for barbed wire fences

fronting ancestral cemeteries

with their pale Jamaican ghosts

***                ***          ****

Some information about the parish of St. Thomas (Jamaica) where this story takes place can be found here:


Pier 70, San Francisco

Winter at Pier 70

It’s cold out Sunday morning

Spicy bloody Marys are in order

On the waterfront

a two-story space beckons

with its specialties of oysters,

beer, cocktails

and spicy bloody Marys

Urban delights ease in

alongside natural wonders

Rusted cranes and Potrero Hill

cast shadows over Dogpatch

Ghosts of Irish Hill linger

Battered docks open to the elements

sit coolly along the San Francisco Bay

… and a bit about
Irish Hill: A Neighborhood No More

Serpentine Hills

On serpentine rock

stood Irish Hill



dumped into the Bay

Irish Hill, 1890s (Credit: San Francisco Maritime Museum Library)
Aerial map of Pier 70 —approximate original contour of Potrero Point shown in red.
Image: Shawna Richardson

For more on the Irish Hill neighborhood of San Francisco, visit http://pier70sf.org/history/irish_hill/irishHill.html and for more on the geography of Pier 70, visit http://pier70sf.org/geography/PotreroPoint.htm

Ode to the Northern Elephant Seal

Late-November to mid-February, Elephant Seals are ashore, birthing and breeding

Exciting things are happening in the elephant seal world this time of year. They are busy mating and birthing. The older, more mature males are baring their scarred chest shields, battling one another for dominance, for alpha status. A quick nip on the proboscis (if he can get close enough to do it) may be what it takes for one male to back off from a fight.

Establishing alpha status and territorial right in order to mate is what these males are most interested in doing right now. Fighting then, is merely a means to that end. The loser usually acknowledges that he has lost and retreats. Happily, it is the rare fight that ends in death.

We here on the California coast are fortunate to have several northern elephant seal rookeries nearby. Closest to the Bay Area are the Ano Nuevo rookeries. Further afield, out by Big Sur, are the Piedras Blancas rookeries. These are two of the three to four habitats where the public can view these animals along the shore. (Elephant seals spend most of their life foraging, constantly moving and diving, out in the ocean.)

I volunteer as an outdoor docent at the Ano Nuevo State Park and lead hikes to the rookeries there. It is a spectacular place and is prime real estate for the seals. We do our best to accommodate them in their habitat, ever mindful that we are visitors in their homes.

Having traveled some 3,000 to 5,000 miles to breed and birth on these shores, these animals need to conserve their energy. The distance from New York to the Bay Area is about 3,000 miles. That is how far the females of the species travel (from open ocean north and west of California) to get here. The males travel even further, nearly 5,000 miles from around the Aluetians to the Bay Area and its environs. Imagine how tired they must be when they get here! Visitors, therefore, need to take great care not to disturb or harass them for to do so is to force them to waste precious energy.

Some other breeding grounds for the elephant seals are the many islands off Baja, Mexico. These areas are not accessible to the public but if you want to see what crazy beautiful sights and sounds are to be had when visiting an elephant seal habitat, watch the following short video, filmed at Piedras Blancas: http://www.elephantseal.org/Videos/Elephant%20seals%20of%20Piedras%20Blancas.swf

Coming In

He moves faster than the other,

a silvery white juvenile,

who is less than a fourth his size.

They shuffle and rest

each moving to his own rhythm.

Solitarily alone

he makes his way.

Soon to be mothers

have settled in

readying for birth


for him.

You can read more about the northern elephant seal and its “schedule” at the Big Sur tourism Website:


Women and Their Losses

me about to kiss you -3.5.2011

He Has Forgotten

He puts his head to her stomach

her fifty-four year old stomach

and thinks,

“She carried three children here.”

While en route to hospital

she miscarried.

The fourth,

a girl,

he has forgotten.

*****                                               *****                                               *****

For Julie

I look for you

in the forests

the lakes

all along the shore

My spirit aches

for just one glimpse

on my easel now

but you are no longer here

Another Christmas

on walden pond

Two things are certain

You get into the homestretch,

head for Christmas,

and undoubtedly

there will be fighting

in the Middle East

and Apple,

Apple will launch

yet another product.

But I am no longer

keeping track.

Thanksgiving Day

The hibiscus, patterns in the tablecloth, remind me of home. Home. This is home now. But I wonder, do they think of us as they prepare to eat their Thanksgiving meal? Then again, maybe they wonder the same thing about us.

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