Archive for October 2011

Wright’s Beach, Sonoma Coast   2 comments

This past weekend, Justin and I visited one of our favorite beaches: Wright’s Beach.  For those not totally familiar with the Sonoma Coast, this beach (which in many map searches only comes up as part of the Sonoma Coast SP), is located about midway between Bodega Bay and Jenner.  It is just slightly north of the tiny town of Carmet.

It is, in many ways, a jewel.  That’s saying a bit, given the beauty of the Sonoma Coast, in general.  it has a few things in its favor: camping, rock-hounding, and it is dog-friendly.  A few years ago (2008, when California was on fire), my vacation plans to visit Big Sur went… well, up in smoke.  As I searched for new places, which, time after time, also caught fire, I was left with the Sonoma Coast being one of the few places that were still accessible.   I inquired at several Yahoo! Groups what the rock-hounding possibilities, I was guided toward Wright’s Beach.  Back then, we did not camp there, as there were no sites available, but we did do a couple of day-trips and fell in love with the jewel sands, the lack of crowds, and the aforementioned dog-friendliness.

Three years later, my son and I finally managed a weekend trip.  As I said, it’s not easy to get a place there, as it seems to have a cult following.  I was lucky enough to get in, but we had two different sites for two nights.  Yes, it is that popular, especially among those in the know that October is the “real summer” on the California Coast — much better chances of avoiding wind-and-fog chill.

The split reservation gave me a chance to evaluate the two loops.  Tthere are only 25 campsites.  Numbers 1-18 are the lower loop, the rest on the upper.   All the sites are most suited for RVers (most have paved pads), but tents work as well (Justin and I are tent-campers).  The bathrooms are clean, the hosts are friendly enough, but warning: there are no showers (though you can use the showers at the Bodega Dunes campground, 4.5 miles south).  This was okay for Justin and me for a weekend, but my ex-wife would not have enjoyed this.

Both loops are close enough to the ocean to hear booming surf, and remote enough to see wildlife (we saw a raccoon, a deer and a variety of birds; we heard a barn owl circling and screeching both nights).  The upper loop seems somewhat quiter, where the lower loop is the “party loop.”  That said, the partiers were pretty respectful, and wound things down by about 10:30 Saturday night.

Now for the beach…

The sand varies from coarse sand to small gravel, and is composed mainly of polished pebbles of jasper and chert.  Agates and jade can also be found.  It is a rock-hound’s and a psammophile’s dream.  We saw both hobbyists.  When you see an adult on his or her belly in a gravel bar, face pressed close, and gently moving individual pebbles about with a finger, you know what you’ve found (in most cases, anyway).  We ran into one nice lady from near our neck of the woods who is a member of the Roseville Rock Rollers and we sat and had a wonderful rock conversation.

For ourselves, we found several fine examples of colorful jasper and a few agates.  This time I did not find any jade.  That is okay.  I have learned that rock-hounding is not the same as rock-finding, and a bad day of rock-finding can be a fine day of rock-hounding (especially when it is done at the beach).  I also found a nice assortment of crab carapaces.  Evidently the little critters are molting, which means the gulls are enjoying soft-shell crab.

Dogs are very welcome here, and we saw plenty, mostly friendly.  If your pooch loves to dig or run, (s)he will love it.

Of course, this being a State Beach, the scenery is also an attraction.  Like most of the NorCal coastline, it is rugged and rough (more on that later).  Sea-stacks stud the water offshore, here and also at several adjacent beaches.  In the event that it is clear, like it was for us, they can provide a stunning back-drop for beautiful sunsets.  They also provide roosts for an assortment of gull, cormorants, pelicans and other sea-birds.

Some of the nearer sea-stacks sport an interesting and relatively rare for of kelp: the sea-palm Sea palms (Postelsia palmaeformis). This kelp actually spends most of its life above the surf-line, and takes a serious beating from the surf, and yet manages to stay upright.  That is a testament to the toughness of agar.  They are edible, but are protected completely in BC, Washington and Oregon.  In California only commercial harvesting is allowed — recreational harvesting is prohibited (who says we are business unfriendly?).  Native Americans are allowed to take them now, I believe, but it was a ridiculous legal battle for that to become a reality.

Now, as you can plainly see, the waves here are a bit rough.  An acquaintance calls this beach “Death Beach.”  I don’t know if this is because the cliff at the southern end is called Death Rock, or because of the drownings.  Or perhaps, the two are related.  In any case, a tremendous number of people have drowned here.  I’ve heard anything from 57 to 126.  I haven’t been able to substantiate the number (due to State Budget cutbacks, this beach shares rangers with the larger Bodega Dunes, and I saw one on one occasion, and did not think to ask).  One camper mentioned that 6 people drowned last year.  Again, this is unconfirmed, but the beach is clearly dangerous if not treated with respect and caution.  The beach face is steep, the undertow is vicious and the waves have a short, hard break.  Many are sneaker waves.  Assuming that the high number is the correct one, Justin and I very nearly saw victims 127-129.  Several out-of-shape teenage girls were body surfing and two were suddenly pulled back and tumbled.  Even had they been strong swimmers, they would not have been fight it, but at least they would not have panicked.  The third one to nearly die was the one who went after them.  They were all supremely lucky that they were tumbled back onto the beach.

This provided me two teachable moments for Justin.  First, the “No Swimming…” signs are there for a reason.  Second, don’t become a dead hero.  Lifesaving is treacherous business in calm water, even if you are trained (people panic and pull you under).  With currents you can’t fight, you sometimes (unfortunately) need to let people suffer the consequences of their actions.  I sincerely hope I am never put into that position when the outcome is fatal, particularly with someone I care about, but I have learned the hard way that some people cannot be saved from their own stupidity.

So…, if you are prepared to respect and appreciate the higher power of nature, this is a wonderful beach, and has lots to offer the outdoor enthusiast, the beach aficionado, the rock-hound, the hound-dog.  If your aim is to swim, body surf or play wave-tag, there are better beaches, but to me this is a quintessential NorCal beach. And it is not on the list of State Parks to be closed (which I shan’t rant about today).

For a complete picture set, see:

 A sampling of jasper and agate



(Portuguese Beach, just a mile or so to the south)


Owl Faces in Picture Jasper   Leave a comment

Previously I discussed my budding love affair with working on jade.  Another favorite stone “family” is jasper.  Jasper, like agate,  is characterized as a “microcrystalline (or crytocrystalline) quartz.”  This just means that chemically it is mainly quartz — silicon dioxide — but does not form scepter crystals like “normal” quartz

Jasper can have a variety of of origins — sea-floor mud, volcanic ash, a mixture of both…. that has been cemented by the intrusion of silica-rich water, which left tiny quartz crystals as a sort of glue.  In geology-speak this is called silicified mud.  The minerals in the mud impart the colors; the silicon dioxide the hardness (and jasper is often very hard).  The process can be more complex, but that is the basic idea.

Many of my favorite jasper-types come from Oregon, where conditions historically were such that much of the jasper formed patterns that resemble pictures  or landscapes.  For this reason, they are called landscape, picture or scenic jaspers.  Many of the scenes resemble mountain ranges with blue skies and other, sometimes fairly wild, landscapes.

Often what is seen varies from person to person.  It can be kind of like cloud-watching.  One of the most valued varieties is Biggs jasper from Biggs Junction in Northern Oregon, just across the Columbia River from Washington.

A while ago I bought a box of slabs from a rock-hound friend/dealer in Oregon (Jason Hinkle of  I had asked him to put together a box of “Oregon lapidary rock,” and he kindly included a few small pieces of Biggs jasper.  I’ve had some ever-changing ideas about one piece in particular.  It was a high-quality piece.  Quite literally harder than nails, it gave a satisfying porcelain-like “ting” sound when struck.  It’s only flaw was that it contained a small, circular druzy depression that was located where removing it would have meant removing some of the nicest features.  Often druzes can enhance a stone, but this one looked distracting.

The other day I decided to finally just work on it (I can be a bit indecisive, sometimes, and just have to force myself to actually act).  I decided on an oval, which isn’t usually my favorite shape, but it seemed right for this one.  As I ground, another druzy hole appeared, but I kept slowly grinding them down until they were smooth, but visible.  As I mentioned this stone is hard, so it took a bit of time, but gradually yielded a satisfying mirror polish.  As I worked, the patterns of the stone gradually changed, morphing until the section around the two “holes” took on the appearance of an owl’s facial disk, with the two “holes” as the eyes.  The surrounding patterns resolved into a hole in an ancient tree, from which the owl’s eyes peer.

Barn owl-face jasper

While I see a barn owl (unfortunately it looks de-beaked), I showed the cabochon to a friend who immediately turned it over, and showed me that it is also a burrowing owl.  In this orientation, the critter retains its beak.

Burrowing owl-face jasper

To me, this is the fun of working with picture jasper — letting the imagination run, which is something I can often forget to do.  Too many responsibilities and “adult” things (wait, maybe grown-up; “adult” often has an entirely different connotation) to do.

Since I dearly love owls, this cab will never be sold.  It can be my totem.  Not just an animal with which I feel a deep connection, but also a reminder not to lose the connection with my kid-self.



Posted October 20, 2011 by dragonbreathpress in Jasper, Lapidary

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Overheard today   Leave a comment

Today I was biking home, going past an apartment complex, when I overheard one of our resident homeless folks composing a rap apparently titled “I can prove you don’t exist.”

That got me thinking (which is usually when the trouble starts, but I still persist in doing it)….

Following this thought through to its “logical” conclusion could cause a headache.  Or it could be a Zen koan.  If the speaker proves I do not exist, does she also cease to exist?  But then, no one is reading this, because none of you exist either.

It reminds me of the old joke from and introductory Philosophy class:

The professor assigns a paper in which the students must prove that “that chair” exists.

The only student that gets an A is the one that turns a paper reading “what chair?’

Ah!  Well now.  That’s better.  Sometimes the only way I can purge these things from my brain is to infect someone else.

Have a pleasant evening, all.




Posted October 19, 2011 by dragonbreathpress in Davis, Musings, Philosophy

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Another World-View   Leave a comment

Last night I apparently did something that pissed off my right ilio-psoas. If you ever want to find out just how big and important that damn muscle is, try pulling it. Doing just about anything except biking hurt like a mother – sitting, standing, going from either position to the other all pretty much sent shooting pains along my lower back and right ass-cheek.

Luckily I had scheduled an appointment with my acupuncturist, who comes to see her old patients in Davis one week out of every month (she now practices primarily in Bend, OR).

After a short examination, I was informed that my pelvis is tilted too far forward (true: I have a major sway-back) and is spilling my life-force from the pelvic bowl. This probably isn’t good. Now, I had a pretty good energy level. I regularly wear out an eleven year-old boy, I stay busy until at least midnight and get up at 5:30. All this makes me wonder what I could be accomplishing if I wasn’t spilling my life-force. I might actually get to do all the things I want to: devoting more attention to my Etsy lapidary shop and getting my photos and cookbook marketed. Hm.

Now this life-force stuff might sound absurd to some Western minds. I know 10 months ago, when I started seeing Alzada, I was a bit skeptical when I was informed that my viciously throbbing heel was due to an imbalance in my kidneys. Then I thought about my dad’s susceptibility to gout, and it seemed possible. More to the point, the treatment worked.

Beyond the physical ailments, she has also been able to tell me a lot about myself and interactions with others, based on my body type and posture. For example, people with lots of lean muscle of my type have little natural buffer against taking on other people’s emotions. This certainly seems to be true for me. I have to be on guard that other people’s emotions do not infect mine. I am often too empathetic. My perfectly good days can easily go astray because of another’s experiences. Conscious detachment is my friend.

It’s a little eerie, sometimes, getting these diagnoses that do not correspond to the body in the way that I understand it. Especially when it’s correct. I see it as just another reminder that there is so much out there that each of us do not know but that others do. And then there is the stuff that none of us can yet grasp. It makes me wonder what we could accomplish if we ever integrated all of our very different “sciences,” physical, mystical, meta-physical. Of course, we’d have to be willing to really open our minds and accept some things that do not fit into our world-views, and be willing to throw out the rubbish. The latter is always tough, whether that rubbish is physical “stuff” or ideology. If we ever do manage that as a collective species, rather than as isolated individuals, the knowledge out there could be astounding. Hopefully with the clarity of open minds, we would use that knowledge to better ends than our current track record suggests we would.

It will be a long road from here to there, but if we don’t blow ourselves up first, maybe one day we’ll make it….

Posted October 18, 2011 by dragonbreathpress in Musings, Philosophy

Cake: Sarcasm, heart-break, a trumpet & a fruit tree   3 comments

Tonight I saw Cake play live at Freeborn Hall on the U.C. Davis campus.   I haven’t seen any acts there in quite some time, but used to do so regularly.  The fact that I saw both the Dead Kennedys and Andreas Vollenweider there my freshman year (on very separate occasions) should give you some idea of my eclectic music tastes, which is a good thing with Cake, as they certainly explore a wide musical landscape.

I’ve liked Cake for years, reveling in lyrics that run the gamut of goofy, iconoclastic, deeply bitter and sometimes tender.  The fact that they are from this area (Sacramento) is also a plus.  Not too many bands from the Sac-town greater metropolitan area make it.  Jackie Green is another notable exception.  I also like Cake’s stance on many issues, such as recently aligning themselves with a grassroots movement to restore the Delta (this is not just about fish vs. farmers, but also local family farmers vs. mega-agribusiness farms, but I digress).

Now first, a confession.  I have not yet bought Cake’s most recent CD, the self-released Showroom of Compassion.  As such, I must surrender my card to IUSLG (the International Union of Set List Geeks), and present a review that is not a play-by-play.  Did I just hear sighs of relief?

Tonight’s show showcased the band’s sense of humor (which is probably not a news-flash to anyone who has seen them live) even before they hit the stage.  Five minutes of canned music teased us with crescendos and regal-sounding bugles before the band finally ambled onto stage.  The music throughout was a mix of influences including rock-n-roll, country, hip-hop, funk and others.  John McCrea’s patented deadpan wittiness,  sarcasm and stingingly bitter heartbreak lyrics all sung to difficult rhythms make him a most unusual frontman.  He seems to dearly love his vibraslap.  Guitarist Xan McCurdy looks too young to have been with the band for nearly 13 years, but definite shows his chops as one of the more underrated guitarists in rock-n-roll.  Trumpeter/keyboardist Vince DiFiore is also largely responsible for Cake’s unique sound.  Elements as disparate as these, and the difficult, oddly syncopated, sometimes halting, song structures that the band loves to play require a strong rhythm section, and the have it in Paulo Baldi (drums) and Gabe Nelson (bass).

Now, while Cake is tight, they are not a slick, ultra-polished band, which is precisely why I like them live.  They are not afraid to make a mistake; McCrea’s voice is not perfect, and they have fun with it.  He cracked that he was embracing his fear by taking five minutes to tune his guitar.  Responding easily to a heckler, he refused to embrace that person’s fears.  A good lesson.

The music tonight covered new (songs like “Mustache Man,” and  “Long Time”) and classics (such as “Opera Singer,” “Wheels” and “”Rock-n-Roll Lifestyle”, and all the themes.  Goofiness, laced with love-angst abounds in songs such “Love You Madly” (“I don’t want to sit across the table from you, wishing I could run” — been there), juxtaposed immediately with the bitter heartbreak of “Sick Of You,” which morphed again into silliness with a sing-along that divided the room into the escapist side (“those who, when things get tough, turn to things like vampires, marijuana or video games…”) and the angry side.  Politics, of course, got their due with “Federal Funding.”  I suppose they were feeling nice, though, since “Nugget” was not played.

One highlight of the show is the classic moment in a Cake show — the fruit tree give-away.  In a school-like moment, people were asked to politely raise their hands to guess what kind of tree it might be.  Given McCrea’s sense humor, my instinct would have served me well, had I been called on. Yup, a blood orange tree.  It turned out to be a tie between two bearded men, to be settled by arm-wrestling, no… wait… a dance-off.  Does he plan these things, or do they come off the top of his head?  Actually winning the tree turned out to be a bit of an obligation, as the lucky individual is now required to post annual pictures of himself with the tree to prove he hasn’t killed it.

After the tree, a few more songs closed out the second set.

The encores treated us to a blistering cover of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” — a better version than Sabbath’s, IMO (but then Ozzy was never backed by a trumpet and a vibraslap). The night finished with the also high-energy “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” to satisfy the craving for more of the classics, and a great way to end a night of fresh, real music.

The appreciative crowd did not let them go easily, and Cake seemed genuinely glad that we came, unlike the impersonal feeling one gets at hyped, glitzy arena shows.

Thanks for a wonderful night of music, a ten-minute bike-ride from home.  The fact that the venue was smoke- and alcohol-free made the show even more enjoyable.



Posted October 6, 2011 by dragonbreathpress in Davis, Live Music, Review

My other bike is a car   2 comments

So who remembers the “my other car is a ___” bumper stickers?  There was one one that read “my other car is a bike.”  While part of me liked it, another part of me thought “why does the bike have to be ‘alternative’ instead of the car?”  I guess I live in the perfect town.  After growing up in the Bay Area and hating the traffic (even in the 80s), I moved to Davis for school, and stayed.  I’ve been here 26 years now.  In large part that is because of the bike-friendly culture.  I don’t particularly enjoy driving on a regular basis (trips for pleasure are another matter, unless there is traffic), and am inclined to be environmentally minded (okay, that is an understatement), so I bike in town, almost regardless of the weather.  It makes me realize what weather weenies we’ve become.  Biking in the rain, wind and heat are all possible, and with the right mind-set, even enjoyable.

A few years ago, I had two  back-to-back jobs that required commuting.  One was in Napa, and I took the scenic route, so that was okay in some respects, though with the hours and a bad situation at home, I didn’t really take the time to enjoy the beauty of the job.  The next one was from Davis to El Dorado Hills — a horrid commute in stop-and-go traffic, to a weird little white-flight community and a dysfunctional company, with a bad situation at home.  It felt like I was living in my car.  When that job ended and I procured one in Davis, I took to biking full-time.  Getting back into exercising, breathing real air and saving a fortune in gas have been a joy.

With full-time biking, I started overloading my bike, and eventually cracked the frame of my 20 year-old Trek hybrid.  A sad day.  On the other had, it was an opportunity to modernize my wheels.  This presented me with a bit of a dilemma. New bikes are pricey.  I had once sworn that I would never spend $1000 on a bike.  For starters, I figured that meant that I would have to start wearing Spandex.  Secondly, I have issues buying things for myself.  On the other hand, I really wanted the cargo bike that my friend, Aaron, who owns Apex Cycles & Service, in town was telling me about.  Now this was the real deal, not the conversion kit.  He offered me an excellent price, I did the math and it looked good, so I took the plunge.

About a month and a half later (the company that manufactures these is a bit slow), I was the proud own of a new Kona Ute: a forty-pound, that looks like it has a skate-board strapped to the cargo rack and some bright-orange panniers.  It is certainly an attention getter, and people are never shy offering their opinions about it (most are positive, and the others I ignore or laugh at).  It handles surprisingly like a “regular” bike, in spite of the fact that it is at least two feet longer and has a double-length chain.

I love this thing!  I ride it everywhere in town, and even take an occasional trip to Winters (about 30 miles, round-trip).  I have managed to put somewhere in the neighborhood of 6000 -7000 miles on it.  My actual car ( a VW Jetta wagon, which is a nice car) does okay on the freeway, but in town, I get less than 20mpg, and it takes premium gas (damn Kraut cars [I’m German, so I can say that]), so with some conservative math: 6000 miles means 300 gallons of gas, which at the average price of around $4 per gallon over the last year, means that there are  $1200 or so I haven’t spent on gas. Looks like I broke even in about a year.  Okay, maybe not quite.  I think I’m eating more with all the extra exercise.  Still.  Not bad at all.


The above shows the bike after a trip to the Davis Farmers Market and Target, yesterday.  You can see the 37lb bucket of kitty litter, but the panniers are full as well — with groceries and birthday gifts for my son.  On another trip yesterday, I was easily able to carry a tile saw that I borrowed from a friend, so you can easily see the utility of this beast which can carry 250lb.  on the rack.  It can also carry my son and his friend.

Indeed.  My other bike is a car.




Posted October 2, 2011 by dragonbreathpress in Biking, Davis, Musings

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