Nature church is better at the beach part ∞

by Steve, August 11th, 2014

I love mountains and forests and alpine meadows and lakes and streams and wilderness backpacking and backcountry skiing. But this inland-bred landlubber is pretty high on maritimas vitae right now. This past weekend stands out as one of my favorites at the coast so far.

Saturday we saw a bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) flying over Highway 101 with breakfast in its talons (species unknown), closely chased by a western gull (Larus occidentalis) looking for table scraps.

Then we took a walk on Taft beach and had a gander at the local harbor seal (Phoca vitulina) colony across the mouth of Siletz Bay at the end of Salishan Spit.
The neighborhood harbor seal colony

Later Saturday, at low tide, I rode my bike north up Salishan spit to the end of the road. Great blue herons (Ardea herodias) are in abundance around Siletz Bay; I saw three on wing and one fishing in a lagoon.
Blue Heron

I had planned to ride to the end of the spit on the beach, but there was a stiff north wind blowing. Since I’d already said hello to the seals from across the bay, I decided to just head back south on the sand. The north end of the spit is in its natural state, with dunes, beachgrass, no riprap and only limited human presence. Even the southern, built-up end of the spit is quiet, since it is a gated community with no public access except by foot (or bike).

All the way down the beach on Salishan Spit I saw just one other house ape (Homo sapiens sapiens). This common invasive species was in much greater abundance once I got to Gleneden, but not enough to harsh my nature church mellow.

The tailwind made the four mile beach ride home a giddy pleasure. My face started to hurt from so much grinning. I made the four mile sand ride in 22 minutes, including a stop to pick up a nice chunk of amber agate. At the end of my ride I picked up a pocketful of smaller agates.

Sunday we got up early to watch the full moon set into the sea, but were fogged in and instead treated to a minus-tide walk on the sea bed and a sunrise from behind the shore pines (Pinus contorta contorta).
sunrise

Later in the day, we saw a number of California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) heading north out beyond the breakers. (Apparently they’re back from their annual spring/summer mating party trip to California. What a life.) Then we saw a couple of our resident gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) lazily swimming south a little further out, spouting as they went. They were too far out to get a picture of, but here’s a little video from last spring of what I now believe to be two mothers and two calves feeding and frolicking in the shallows.

Summer Project

by Steve, August 4th, 2014

The Land Shark
I got a “fat bike” this summer, and I’ve been making some mods. I plan to do a post about everything (where I got it, how cheap it was, mods, etc.), but for now let me just say that fat bikes are fu-u-un. Biking on the beach at sunset is sublime. And covering 2 miles of sand in 15 minutes (vs. an hour by foot) is awesome.
Fishing Rock
Fishing rock is just under two miles from our front door. It takes about an hour to walk there, which you have to plan in advance if you want to hit low tide.

At a normal low tide, there are some nice tide pools. At minus tides, the whole wall is exposed, with layers of barnacles, anemones and sea stars.
Fishing Rock tide pool

Heading north instead of south, it’s about five miles to the end of Salishan Spit, where a pod of harbor seals is known to hang out. For that kind of distance, I’ll probably ride surface streets home. This bike is quite heavy, and even with the 26×4.0 tires floating on the sand and a reduced gearing, it’s a lot of work to pedal.

Layered Cake

by Steve, July 11th, 2014

layered cake

Somehow I missed it, but my last post was the 700th post on this blog in 8 years. I don’t do much public writing these days (I’m mainly retired from local politics), but I hope somebody appreciates the pictures.

Salty life

by Steve, May 19th, 2014

We saw a bunch of whales — the big kind, gray whales, not the transient pod of orcas also sighted nearby recently — a block or two from our house on Saturday. There were probably 4 or 5 in the pod, feeding just off shore. I got some stills and video (stay tuned), neither of which capture the feeling you get being so close to such huge mammals. I told Zeke, “I feel like I can feel their consciousness.”

“You can,” he said, “and it’s probably the biggest consciousness you’ll ever feel.”
California grey whales

They fed for a while in front of the Cavalier condos, then we followed them as they swam north toward Schoolhouse Creek. They stopped just before the creek, and fed some more. They were around all afternoon, and we saw them again that evening, further south toward Boiler Bay. There was at least one calf among them, which means they’re probably migratory, on their way up to Alaska for summer feeding, and just stopping for an opportunistic snack in our plankton-rich waters.

You can see the whole set on flickr.

We also saw several harbor seals popping up in the surf.
Harbor seal

And we found our first fishing float on the beach, and came to the realization that to take them home to decorate your yarrrd you have to murder a lot of barnacles. Gooseneck barnacles in this case. We left it where we found it.
Gooseneck barnacles

Speaking of barnacles, I took a walk down to Fishing Rock at low tide Sunday morning and said hello to some of our invertebrate neighbors: anemones, sea stars, sea snails and several kinds of barnacles. I don’t get that whole “massive consciousness” drift from these guys, but they’ve got their own trip going on and it’s pretty damned cool.
anenomes
low tide
sea stars and anenomes
Barnacles, sea stars and anenomes

Fletcher Henderson “Sonny” Lott, October 17, 1941 – December 12, 2013

by Steve, May 12th, 2014

SonnySonny Lott (I never knew till today that he was named for Fletcher Henderson; he was always just “Sonny Lott” to everybody I knew) died late last year. Much like Dennis Jones, who died this year, every musician in Iowa City knew Sonny.

I first met him when I was playing bass with a rag-tag group known at the time as “Sky Truthhawk and the I-ones” (Scotty “Sky” Hayward on kalimba, Terry “Truthhawk” Hale on keys and vocals, and anybody else who showed up). Sonny, an ace drummer, played miscellaneous percussion because Terry had a one-man-band set up, playing kick drum and snare with his feet. Sonny didn’t care. He always had a great time, and his attitude was contagious.

We were playing a campaign benefit concert for Karen Kubby, who was probably running for city council for the first time (this was probably 1988, I’m thinking). I don’t think Sonny liked the name of the band. He said to me, “I told Terry we should all wear afro wigs on our butts and rename the band ‘Terry Hale and the Hairy Tails.’”

Yeah, you probably had to be there, and know something about the situation to appreciate how hilarious that was.

I didn’t know Sonny’s history at the time, just that he was always around, always making music. (He played with Patrick Hazel’s legendary Mother Blues back in the mid 70s, where Bo Ramsey also got a start.)

He was also night janitor for a time at the co-op where I was working produce. We’d hang out after work sometimes, just relaxing and bullshitting. Tony D. probably has some stories from those times. Seems like we ended up at Tony’s place more than a few times.

When Totem Soul was active in the late 80s, Sonny played drums with our friendly rivals on the scene, Divin’ Duck. When Nigel fell gravely ill on the afternoon of a gig at Gabe’s, we briefly considered going drumerless but instead called on Sonny. He showed up, played his ass off, and never missed a beat.

It was always about the music for Sonny. In a room full of egos, Sonny would be the one cracking wise, keeping it real, and laying down the groove.

I’m not going to write a song about Sonny, because Greg Brown beat me to it. Here’s Greg and Joe Price (another Mother Blues alum) singing about Sonny at the Mill back in 2010:

Sincere condolences to Sonny’s extended family.

Mothers’ Day Fritatta

by Steve, May 11th, 2014

frittata

Ingredients:

    1 package frozen hashbrowns
    6 eggs
    1 6 oz. tub pesto
    1 bunch asparagus
    olive oil
    balsamic vinegar
    salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 400F.

Preheat a large cast iron skillet* with oil over medium-high heat. Put hashbrowns in preheated pan and cover.

Roast asparagus in olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar.

Beat eggs, and add tub of pesto. Chop up roasted asparagus, let cool a bit, then add to egg mixture.

Preheat broiler.

When hashbrowns have browned on the bottom, remove from heat and pour egg mixture over the top. Put under the broiler until firm and browned on top.

*If you don’t have a cast iron skillet, you can improvise with a non-stick skillet and a roasting pan. That’s what I did today. I browned the hashbrowns in two batches in a non-stick skillet, then transferred them to the roasting pan for the final broiling.

Blondie brownies

by Steve, May 10th, 2014

 
Brown on blonde

Zeke and I mixed these up and baked them today. They are too good. Don’t say we didn’t warn you. The idea is a layered bar, bottom a blondie, the top a brownie. Start with the blondie layer.

Blondie ingredients

    1 cup flour
    1/2 teaspoon baking powder
    1/8 teaspoon baking soda
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/3 cup butter, melted
    1 cup brown sugar, packed
    1 egg, beaten
    1 tablespoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 325F.

Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium mixing bowl and set aside.

Mix melted butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl, then add egg and vanilla.

Gradually stir in dry ingredients to the sugar and butter mix. Spread mix evenly in a greased 9×13 baking pan. Set aside.

Brownie ingredients

    2 sticks butter
    2 cups sugar
    4 eggs, beaten
    1 cup flour
    1/2 cup cocoa
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    2 teaspoons vanilla

Cream butter and sugar; add eggs. Mix dry ingredients together and add to butter-sugar mixture. Add Vanilla.

Spread evenly on top of the blondie dough.

Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

You may recognize the brownie recipe from Grandma Margie’s cookbook, which you should go buy if you haven’t already!

Dennis Jones: a musical tribute

by Steve, March 20th, 2014

Here’s a song I wrote in tribute to Dennis Jones, who died last month.

Dennis Jones

by Steve, February 20th, 2014

musicThe last time I saw Dennis Jones was probably some time in the early 2000s. I was in Iowa City to see family with my wife and baby. We were at The Mill to see Dave Moore (whom Dennis had introduced me to in 1984), and Dennis was in his natural habitat behind the sound board, cigarette in hand. We only talked briefly; he was surprised and happy to see me and meet my wife.

Now I wish I’d chatted him up longer, or arranged to meet another day for a drink.

Dennis died February 9, on his 68th birthday.

I first met Dennis when I was in high school and the band I played in, the Sloppy Drunk Blues Band, was making arrangements to play a show at Regina High School circa 1983 or 84. Our drummer’s mom said she knew a guy who did sound and maybe he could help us with some gear. Now, Jhon and I were pretty sure we were pros at sound, having DJed dances since junior high. We even had our own “sound company” (RG Sound) and had t-shirts printed up at the mall t-shirt shop. We rented gear from Brad at Advanced Audio Engineering (later bought out by West Music) and thought our knowledge of PA gear was pretty tight.

But Dennis took us to the next level. Not just mains, but monitors (two monitor mixes!). Mics on everything, not just vocals! A snake so the FOH mixer was actually in the front of house! And he worked cheap, too. He showed up in a loaded step van with his helper Tim and set us up on the cafetorium stage. (Somebody help me with Tim’s last name and current status? He was with Bo Ramsey and the Sliders when they first hit the road in the late 70s, earned the nickname “Dirthead” and never lived down forgetting the mixer on that first tour.) Dennis showed me how to run the board and left.

Pretty soon we found out that Dennis was the sound guy in Iowa City. When we played the Crow’s Nest, a huge old barn, Dennis was there with an even bigger version of the PA we played with that first night, as well as a rag-tag collection of PAR cans and a light board. After high school, I ended up working with Dennis while studying theatre at the University of Iowa 1984-85. After moving out from my freshman dorm, I moved in with Dennis and continued working with him.

I worked all kinds of shows with Dennis (and Tim, and Kurt, who I met at the theatre department and introduced to Dennis), from local acts to Chicago blues acts, to (sometimes dickish) national college rock acts at local clubs and regional festivals. Acts like Taj Mahal, Koko Taylor, John Lee Hooker, Albert Collins, Willie Dixon, Asleep at the Wheel, the Replacements, the Del Fuegos, Billy Bragg, Ronnie Gilbert and Holly Near, countless other folk acts I can’t remember, Clarence Gatemouth Brown, etc. I missed Los Lobos, but will never forget Dennis raving (in a good way) about that show at Gabe’s Oasis, right before they hit it big.

I left town in late 85 and returned in 86, and eventually formed Totem Soul with Jhon and Jay and Nigel in 87-88ish. Of course Dennis was around, and helped when we needed. I still did some shows with him through those years; I don’t really recall the specifics. We bought our own PA for Totem Soul, but ended up using his truck for moving gear from time to time.

Dennis was a character in many ways, and was on the Iowa music scene for decades, starting with Greg Brown in the late 70s (he had a producer credit on the original 1980 release of 44 & 66). When I heard he died, I told Jhon, “I’ve probably go a million stories about Dennis.” And I only knew him for a few of those many years. Here are some of mine, just to get things started. I’d love to collect more here, if anybody wants to contribute.

  • Dennis taught me the trick of putting your coffee cup under the drip instead of waiting for the whole pot to be done. Best life hack ever. Stronger coffee faster. Crucial for the morning after in the fast-paced, late-night world of rock and roll. Sure, it seems obvious in retrospect, but I was just a dumb-ass kid at the time.
  • We were setting up for a show at the Crow’s Nest, and I asked if he had a hammer. “No,” he said, “I can’t keep a hammer in my tool box.” Why not? “Because I might use it.”
  • Jhon recalls that he and I were driving Dennis’s step van back from Parnell (what the hell were we doing in Parnell?), and every time we went over a bump the headlights would go out. Jhon recalls having to reach down by the dimmer switch to jiggle wires to get them back. Dennis: “Oh yeah, I noticed that….” I seem to recall this happening with Dennis driving, and he’d smack the headboard and they’d come back. (Hmm, maybe if he’d had a hammer….)
  • Doing a show at the Stone City Inn, which had the biggest selection of imported beers I had ever seen. The owner told us to just help ourselves to whatever we wanted. I tried some really great stuff. Dennis stuck with domestic, explaining that he had personally introduced import beers to the state of Iowa when he was running the Sanctuary, and was sick and tired of them.
  • Dennis used to complain about Koko Taylor. I don’t remember his specific beef with her, but I think he was just tired of her schtick. We were doing sound for some crappy local band, and he never had much in the way of decent intermission music, so I put on some Koko Taylor instead of something somebody else had put on. “Oh thank god,” said Dennis. “But I thought you hated Koko Taylor?” “No, she’s great!” It’s all relative, eh?
  • Working a folk festival in Stone City (where I met Washboard Chaz), one of the headliners was a European new age guitarist (name withheld to protect the guilty). This guy was a prima donna prick from start to finish. His road manager/hatchet man asked Dennis to borrow his roll of duct tape. Dennis, always accommodating, obliged. The sumbitch apparently used the whole roll to repair his boss’s guitar case and returned the cardboard core to Dennis, who was flummoxed but did not complain (at least not at the time). When I reached out to Chaz a few years back, he actually remembered what pricks these guys were. Dennis, as was his practice, suffered this kind of abuse with great humility, and emerged with his dignity unscathed.

Dennis had his demons to be sure (who doesn’t?), but I don’t know if I’ve ever met a guy with a bigger heart. I’m picturing him driving a step van down an Iowa highway into a golden sunset. Farewell to Dennis: friend, mentor, employer/coworker, landlord/roommate.

London Diaries

by Steve, September 26th, 2013
Palace of Westminster
Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament) from the London Eye

Emmy and I first started planing a London trip almost two years ago. We can thank Harry Styles, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne and the rest of One Direction for the inspiration of the destination. They were a gateway for Emmy getting into other British acts and British fashion. Emmy says, “I was thinking of London as this perfect place. And it was.”

Other than Canada, I hadn’t traveled internationally since 1997, when Nancy and I got engaged in Lisbon and Wesley and I traveled to Prague.

To be honest, the UK was not the top of my travel bucket list for travel. But it should have been. We had an all around great trip. I was very pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to travel in London, and how much I enjoyed the green spaces alongside the cosmopolitan urban culture and amenities. Public transit is extremely convenient; we took the tube everywhere except a cab to our flat on arrival and when we took the train to Windsor and to the Harry Potter studio tour.

Untitled
Greek lunch in Windsor

We were both especially pleased at the ease (and quality) of vegetarian dining in London, something that is always stressful while traveling, particularly in continental Europe (maybe it’s better there now) and Latin America. It seems like almost every restaurant in London has a selection vegetarian items, all nicely marked with a “V” or in their own category on menu. (Even in supposedly prog Portland, we often don’t get this courtesy.) I assumed we’d be eating a lot of Indian food (no complaints there, mate!), but we never did, and we didn’t find the need to look for vegetarian restaurants, either (of which there are plenty). Somebody even rated London the number one vegan city in the world. I would have scoffed at that notion prior to this trip.

For a while we considered splitting the trip between London and Paris, even entertaining the crazy notion of a day or overnight trip to Paris. We decided this would be too much hassle and not enough time in either city, and decided to focus a full 10 days on London. We rented a flat instead of a hotel so we could just unpack and move in and have a full home base. This turned out to be a really good decision. It was less expensive than a hotel, still very conveniently located, and extremely comfortable and convenient (separate bedrooms, kitchen, laundry, and a huge terrace overlooking the neighborhood).

If you’re not me or Emmy or directly related to us, the rest of this may be boring. I’m just recording it from my hand-written journal for posterity. If you just want to see photos, you can see them all on Flickr (pictures of me and Emmy are protected; if you’re family drop me a line and I’ll send you a special link so you can see us).

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