Sunday, December 31, 2006

Thoughts on a mountain top

A hike to the top of Bald Mountain always produces a flurry of thoughts.

I think today's corporate grail, "the economy of scale" is largely a fallacy. Real economy comes from small scale. Localized, small-scale production, support and services.

Over-concentration of manufacturing, distribution and management leads to a host of social and environmental ills. It has led to a "corporate feudal system", in which workers are dependent upon the benevolence of corporations for food, water, fuel, housing, clothing, etc. Specialization has become the norm, and lost are the direct connections between people and the source of basic life-sustaining necessities. For most of us, the concept of "living off the land" is probably as abstract as living on Mars. (And that state of affairs is just fine in the eyes of the global business community.)

The internet has become one of the more profoundly democratic tools that could serve to educate people how to better provide for their own security. To increase self-sufficiency. To facilitate micro-economies. But for this, net neutrality is essential.

There is a real economy of scale, and this is created through the consolidation of human understanding, compassion and kindness.


Businesses compete by delivering their products at the best price. To survive, corporations must continue to improve their performance through a variety of means. Inevitably, increase of profits, and earnings per share, requires reducing operational costs. (This is where "economy of scale" enters their models.)

An important element of increasing profits is "externalizing costs". The more cost that can be stripped away from the resources a business needs, the higher the profitability (and hopefully, the lower the cost of the product to the consumer.)

But someone pays for costs that are externalized. Usually, it is the society at large. Externalized costs include resource depletion, pollution, waste management and recycling, infrastructure degradation and human health and welfare impacts.

The United States has in fact made considerable progress re-internalizing these costs, forcing manufacturers (and subsequently, consumers) to be responsible for the "total cost" of a product through its entire "life cycle", from resource extraction through reuse, recycling or disposal. This is accomplished through regulation, taxation, community pressure, etc. California has long been a leader in this effort.

Globalization, however, introduces a method for the evasion of such controls. As corporations move the resource extraction and manufacturing operations to countries with weak or non-existent social and environmental controls, they successfully externalize important elements of a product's total cost.

It is for this reason that Americans, despite stricter regulation of industry at home, can continue to enjoy the same low prices for products, even while corporate profits soar.

We have succeeded in transferring once-localized problems to a global scale. And in this way, we each share responsibility for solving these issues wherever they arise.

My travels in Latin America repeatedly allowed me to witness this phenomena in action.


Someday, we will be shocked that we buried anything but organic waste. As resources decline, we will no doubt mine landfills to reclaim valuable materials (just as we mine gold and diamonds now.)

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas at Graeagle


We must be hungry, all hovering at the kitchen

Jackie and "Snue"

Sergio, Jessica and Cathie


Susan ("Snue")

Sergio kicking my butt

Meals on wheels. Cathie arrived with dinner ready to cook, including this wonderful salmon.

Cathie's "Prana" waiting for gifts from above

Sergio breaking


"Prana" walking Ted

Exploring Yonkalla Trail

Jackie and Susan

Jessica and her Grandma

Monday, December 11, 2006

Facing winter

Awoke from a common dream. (Or is it? Did I just dream it was common?)

I have the unique ability, it seems, to fly above the land, suspended from an umbrella grasped in one hand.

Getting airborne requires only putting a little more spring in my step, then pushing off.

Flying is not without insecurities. I’m careful not to let my grip slip, and structurally, the small umbrella is not very sound, the fabric having come loose from some of the ribs.

But for now, I sail unnoticed over Los Angeles enjoying fantastic views (and it’s amazingly clear!)

Slept until 8:00 in my darkened fish bowl. An interesting experiment these past couple years: I’ve basically rested as much as my body desired. I would think my health would benefit from such a routine.


California’s population declined by 29,000 last year, the first decline in 10 years, according to the State. But that’s just a small city.


John Steinbeck describes a familiar feeling, as he crossed the Southwest:

“I was driving myself, pounding out the miles because I was no longer hearing or seeing. I had passed my limit for taking in or, like a man who goes on stuffing in food after he is filled, I felt helpless to assimilate what was fed in through my eyes. Each hill looked like the one just passed.

Why had I thought I could learn anything about this land? For the last hundreds of miles I had avoided people. Even at the necessary stops for gasoline I had answered in monosyllables and retained no picture. My eye and brain had welshed on me. I was fooling myself that this was important or even instructive.”

Finished Travels with Charley before noon, then prepared to go out. I’ve been intending to drop in on friends at "Chateau St. Jean" winery. As I looked out, it was raining. Cold and gray. Enough to make me pause. I have that luxury at the moment.

Wandering around my small apartment, a quiet voice finally said “you’re a coward. Get out there.”

Returned videos, ran out to the Kenwood post office. My mutual fund distribution check was there! Rain increasing, I went up to "Chateau St. Jean". Walked into reception. Dana was at the desk and gave me a warm greeting. Bonnie heard the commotion and came out of the winemaker’s tasting room. They were about to have a company meeting, so I took the cue to make it brief.

Wandered over to the retail room, where I found my friends Sharon, then Philippe and finally Dan.

It’s so difficult to maintain connections.

Visited "Chelino’s" for a burrito. Too much food, but not wishing to deal with a styrofoam take-out container, I finished everything. This left me uncomfortably full. (How often is this scene repeated across our great nation!)

Next stop, "Flying Goat" for a coffee and to do some work on the computer. Only stayed a short while. I was not inspired to work there; it was growing dark, a light rain falling.

Returned home. All the effort to suit up and go out, for what? Not much accomplished.

Rain turning heavy tonight.

Jeff called. He was on the road, just approaching Montreal. I asked about the weather. He said it was “nice”.

“That’s great.”

“No it’s not!”

He said he’s seeing changes in the weather up north. To him, Global Warming is a reality.

At a meeting of the American Geophysical Union today, it was reported that a Canadian-American study has determined summer ice in Arctic may cease by 2040. Governments see potential positives: winter access to Canadian ports that are currently ice-bound in winter, Russia can extend oil drilling further into Arctic waters. (Insanity that would bring further localized air pollution and warming from the drilling operations!)

Working from journals, I posted entries to the blog from January and February 2005. Each entry is painfully slow, typing at my dining table, then taking the computer over to the kitchen to try to raise a wireless connection for the posting process.

Kofi Annan leaves the U.N. after ten years as Secretary General. In a parting speech, the soft-spoken and seemingly ineffective leader had his harshest criticism for the U.S., which he says is losing its moral compass and “has abandoned its principles.”

The day passes, and so little is accomplished. This must change.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Free will

Opened my eyes after 8:00 and quickly knew there would be no magical mandate to drive me forward. I languished in my aimless state.

So, where does this path lead? Nowhere good, that is clear. On the radio, I constantly hear of people pursuing noble goals, which only serves to increase the depression.

After washing some laundry and hanging it outside in the weak midday sun, I left the house and drove over to “Flying Goat”, if only to not be alone. RSSI’s wireless was transmitting, but was clearly not actively hooked to a network, so I couldn’t connect. (The connection at home was too sporadic to work on-line.)

People like Russ, and Robert, and Jeff and Drew ask when I’m going to join society, hook up like normal people. I like being at the fringe, with a sense of independence. I seek to avoid some of the things that submerge people in today’s corporate quagmire. I still am unable to escape contributing to the oil companies. That remains the strongest corporate force in my life. Notice how powerless we feel to control the price of gasoline. In truth, virtually every corporate commodity has become the same. Whether it’s gas, electricity, water, telephones, food, medical and dental care. We have entrusted these necessities to those who have no particular interest in our well-being. The ideal of a “free marketplace” is tenuous at best.

So I exercise my “free will” by trying to minimize the amount I must engage in this marketplace. (A pretty funny concept coming from someone whose life for the past thirty years has been focused on “purchasing”.)

Anxious that the BMW might not turn over in the quickly cooling afternoon, I left my coffee shop office and turned homeward. (This is not going to be acceptable, having to be home before it turns cold and dark.) As soon as I arrived, I hooked the bike up to the trickle-charger.

On the way home, I detoured a bit to buy groceries at “Oliver’s Market”. Though not particularly convenient, there is pleasure in shopping at a locally-owned market. And the quality of products here is generally better than the “Whole Foods”, which is succumbing to the “efficiencies of scale" mentality which often leads to compromises on quality.

Finished reading “Breaking the Limit” tonight. I was surprised how many places my own journey intersected with Karen Larsen’s North American adventure five years earlier, though she was much more diligent in avoiding interstate highways and large cities. And the lessons she describes so well are all familiar.

There’s one thing very apparent from her story, however: a woman traveling alone is subject to very different social phenomena than a man traveling alone.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Life Themes

My back injury was worse than thought. It still bothers me and I must take it easy.

Promised I’d go out and pick up six bottles of wine for Charlene and Henry. At first, Charlene wanted to go with me and learn about wine, then decided she had too much to do preparing for their gathering today.

I headed out to “Bottle Barn” at 10:30, with a 6-bottle shipping box strapped to the back. Down the road, it was flapping a bit, so I pulled over to better secure it. But I couldn’t start the bike again. The battery was drained. I was at Farmer’s Lane and Bennett Valley Road, on a slight hill. Tried roll-starting it. No luck. Rolled off onto a side street, out of traffic.

Walked the bike a block or so, quickly remembering what it’s like to push this thing. Tried roll-starting again, but it wouldn’t kick over. A block up was a "Valero" gas station. The service bays were closed. “It’s Saturday,” the young man in the office announced.

“Do you have any jumper cables and a car that could jump me?” He had cables, but no car. Then a middle-aged woman seated in another room, leaned over into the doorway and said we could use her Mercedes parked outside. She had a “toy dog” in her lap and I assumed she owned the station.

Opened the Mercedes hood and after looking around, noticed the decal “battery is located in trunk”. Recalling warnings in my owner’s manual about jump-starting the bike, I nevertheless followed the same procedure I would use for a car. The bike started right up and I quickly disconnected the cables, somehow thinking any damage the jump might do would not be instantaneous.

Without hesitation, I handed the attendant $10 with my sincere thanks.

Continued on my mission to “Bottle Barn”. This is fun: spending other people’s money on wine! I knew what I was looking for in a German wine and was excited to find “Dr. Loosen” 2005 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett (with screwcap!). It was still in its case, at the bottom of a stack of new arrivals. Surprised at the price of the French Gigondas ($15-20), I then noticed Guigal’s 2003 Crozes-Hermitage at $17.69. A handwritten sign cited Robert Parker’s review, scoring the wine “91-94 points”.

I was $13 over budget, but intended to only charge Charlene and Henry the $100 I had promised to stay within. But Charlene was thrilled and they insisted on paying even more than what it cost. We agreed I’ll take $120 off the next rent check.

Leaving them I remarked that I was simply doing what I enjoy, “spending other people’s money. Now the urge to shop is out of my system!”


Out to Sugarloaf Ridge State Park. Many more non-paying cars (parked jut outside the fee area) than paying cars (parked beyond the toll booth.) “This is nuts. The parks need the money.” But not being a complete idiot, and unemployed, I parked outside and walked in.

It was reassuring to see so many people out enjoying the beautiful weather, especially now, when there’s considerable pressure to be at the mall.

The hike today was considerably more difficult, possibly because I began at an unrealistic pace, trying to pass a couple of young ladies who I did not wish to be “following” on the trail.

A chilly breeze out of the northeast, noticeably drier than recent winds. Relaxed on top of Bald Mountain, as I’m accustomed to do, lying in the grass, my hat shielding my face from the sun. Drowsy, perfect. But I only rested fifteen minutes or so. Future plans were not being elucidated. Nothing was being “accomplished”. This continues to hang over me.

“I have to think constructively. What should I do?” A purchasing consultancy for wineries (a la Tenzing)? Something so remarkable about the film 49 Up was to see the 49-year-old juxtaposed to the 7-year-old; how at 7 they already foresaw their life’s theme!

This causes me to reflect on the themes of my life. Is there a common thread? (No doubt, there is!) What is it? And why not continue it, even embrace it, rather than look beyond it?

It’s not science, music, art (though there's a romantic notion of hidden talents.) It is the world beyond the horizon. At three years old, I recall gazing out at Lake Erie’s distant horizon; at six, wondering what’s beyond the mountains’ sunset silhouette; the fascination with maps, with stamps of the world; at eight years old, the Family cross-country odyssey; high school fascination with the War in the Pacific, with Viet Nam; procurement missions that took me to out-of-the-way places; backpacking across Europe and later doing business in Europe; and, finally traveling the Western Hemisphere. There is a theme. Movement.

Maybe I’m not intended to have a “home”, a fixed address? That something that has gnawed at me, that “thing” that “responsible people my age” are assumed to have.

The predictable stimulation of these walks in the mountains raises the question “why not get this exercise early in the morning, then go through the day with the energy generated?” That would make too much sense.

Pleasantly-fatigued, drove to “Chelino’s” in the fading light, and enjoyed dinner as I read the newspaper.

President Bush’s words betray a trace of erosion in his single-minded stubbornness: “we are going to stay in Iraq as long as the Iraqi government wants us there.” A slight departure from his “until the job is done” claim. We are quietly backing away from the “job” of “bringing democracy to Iraq”. We will now settle for any government that might quell the violence and allow a face-saving withdrawal.

Tonight, I listened to a “Prairie Home Companion” broadcast from my “hometown”, Buffalo, New York. It was better than many of their shows.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Thanksgiving in Glendale - The Aftermath

After a week of hosting family, Robert and Mary are ready for a rest...

Jessica settles into the Southern California lifestyle

With a nod to the Eastern Cousins, Robert and Mary hold up their "BFLO" and Roycroft Inn (East Aurora, New York) mugs. So what's the story about BFLO? Can't they spell back there (or in whatever country the mug was made)?

And I pay tribute to the man we all love to hate, Bill O'Reilly

Friday, November 24, 2006

Thanksgiving in Glendale, CA

Jessica arrives for our drive to Southern California

Nice hat!

One day after Thanksgiving, the "In-N-Out" restaurant in Kettleman City is jammin'

Arriving in Glendale, California, Jessica with her Aunt Mary

Jessica and Aunt Mary, across "the pond"

Jessica's cousin Corey is shy before the camera

Or perhaps she has grown weary of the paparazzi...


Janie, returns from shopping, with five pounds of butter

Jessica, in an "Aunt Jane Death Grip"


Alana, Jess and Janie

Otto with his nephew Paulie

It's BEN!

Krissy assumes a classic Hollywood pose...I think

One of two "Emmy Awards" in the Aguirre household


Janie prepares a feast


Otto and Paulie enjoy the hot tub. In the background, you can clearly see Mary's "light figures" (from left to right) the duck, "Winnie the Pooh", the lamp and genie, Santa Claus and..."The Blob" (I actually forget what she called this one.) She arrayed the lights randomly in the backyard trees, but a Muse must have guided her hand in creating such masterpieces.

Martha, Janie and Jessica out on the patio

Contestants Mary and Krissy listen intently as "D.J. Jeff" broadcasts "Name That Tune" from Waterbury, Vermont (via cell phone). The guy absolutely loves his iPod!

Monday, November 20, 2006

These three seafaring philosophers provided moral support and guidance during my Americas Trip. I just received this photo today from Dicky Neely. Dicky, Bob Beadle and Guy Le Roux got together at North Padre Island, Texas. See Dicky's blog for more of life on the beach (Link).

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Oh, my aching back...

In pain trying to get my clothes on, especially the socks. (That’s always the worst with a back problem.) Howard came out before 7:30 and started shoveling rock that Richard allowed him to take, creating one hell of a racket!

Packed up the tent, soaking wet. Richard made coffee. He asked about my back and I reluctantly said I wouldn’t be able to help today. He was quite understanding and thankful for my help yesterday. He was confident he’d be able to finish early today.

We stood by the radio talking, occasionally listening to the news. President Bush is in Vietnam, a place he did his best to avoid when we were at war.

Chilly, damp. Riding home, took it easy on the curves. The pavement was slippery. And my skill was compromised by the back pain. It would be a disaster to take a spill in this condition.

Along the coast, many divers and surfers were out. Courageous souls who venture into these frigid waters.

Avoided the Russian River route again. Not only is the highway construction irritating, the place is depressing, with all it rotting cottages and homeowners who stubbornly battle the river.

Stopped at “Long’s” for ibuprofen, then “Starbuck’s” for some pastry.

At home, unloaded, took a couple pills and crawled into bed.

Awoke after five hours, feeling somewhat improved.

Went out to “East West Café” at 8:00 p.m. Felt very lonely, isolated from those around me. After I finished, chatted briefly with Jana, one of the servers I know. Her telling others on the staff “this is the traveler” brought a little spark of life to the conversation, but only momentary.

Back at the apartment, crawled into bed again, but couldn’t sleep. Listened to Neko Case's “Fox Confessor” album, then got up and typed some notes.

I often give thanks for having a comfortable place to return to. And for the good fortune of having earned enough money to have lived so comfortably thus far. I’ve been lucky.

At Mondavi, I really feel I was overpaid, (though underpaid when compared to what my predecessor was being paid prior to my assuming the position!)

How many would admit they are overpaid?

Certainly those in the lower ranks of the company were not overpaid. But when it came to management, and especially Senior Management and Board Members, the compensation ranged from excessive to obscene.

If I were to have a company, there would be a strict wage cap: the highest paid executive would not be paid more than “x” times the lowest paid employee. And “x” would be something like “10” or “20”, not hundreds, or thousands.

Part of what drives wages to these extreme levels (besides greed, of course) is insecurity. The more insecure an environment, the higher the compensation required to draw talent into that situation.

I believe a solid company, with a demonstrated allegiance to its employees, and a more positive, nurturing environment, could actually provide more modest and equitable compensation, across the board, and by virtue of this, be much more attractive and successful.

Manual labor

This weekend, I again visited Richard Camera at his Anchor Bay home site. He had several debris burn piles going when I arrived. In the evening, we gathered close by one to chase off the evening chill. Thirty years ago, we had worked on some much larger burn piles in the Sierra Foothills.

Told Richard I’d be up to his Anchor Bay property before noon, so that determined my schedule. But I wasn't real eager. I had slept poorly, fitfully.

Pulled out my camping gear, which has become a routine now, and was on the road about 9:30. The Russian River drive was too annoying last time, so I went out highway 12 to Sebastopol. Foggy across the Santa Rosa Plain. Stopped at Wild Flour Bakery for something to take to Richard’s. Purchased four biscotti. A curious establishment, staffed by very “organic-looking” people. The woman who served me seemed to have a German accent. I wondered if this might be connected to a local commune?

Light traffic. A group of motorcycles came south along Highway 1 from the Russian River area. Effortlessly passed every vehicle I came upon. A glassy ocean, with a notable swell today (unusual lately). Nice waves, and many surfers out. Passing a group of cars north of Jenner, I hit a deep pothole that jolted me hard. Waited for some sign of the front tire losing pressure, but it held.

Reached Richard’s around 11:30. He had torched three or four burn piles.

“How long have you been here?”

"Since yesterday," he said.

I was confused. "When did you send that e-mail saying you were going up 'tomorrow'?”

"Thursday night." (But it was dated Friday morning when I checked later. The vagaries of electronic mail.)

Today, we were moving wet topsoil and spreading it over his leach field. Then he would cover it with seed and straw. I worked tentatively, every now and then getting a painful jab from my back.

Out for lunch. Stopped first to look at a construction site in Gualala where they’re using styrofoam building blocks as the concrete forms. Richard is considering the technology.

Went to Bonez Roadhouse again. This time, I ordered a pulled-pork sandwich. All across the U.S., I saw these offered, but this was my first. It was "okay" (too much barbecue sauce, which I don’t like). Good lemonade though. Stretched the lunch out, relaxing, but the days are short, and it comes at a cost.

Today is Richard's neighbor Howard’s 71st birthday. Richard asked what he’s doing for his birthday. “Getting screwed, I hope.”

My back was getting worse by the hour. I was relieved when Richard said “this is the last load for today.” The sun was fading. I put up the tent, gingerly stooping to assemble it.

No run to the showers, or meal in town. We just had some wine and biscotti. I brought a 375ml bottle of “Now & Zin” wine my compatriots and I had made. Surprised that it seemed more flavorful and aromatic than on previous occasions. The spicy, almost olivey oak is quite apparent now. But the wine was not harsh.

Richard pulled out a pipe and smoked some pot. We talked a bit about pot, mushrooms and such. I never tried any of it, but not for lack of opportunities. I guess I chose wine.

It was growing cold, so we stoked one of the fading burn piles and sat near it.

To bed around 9:00, the sea lions barking in the distance.

My lower back was in an electric knot, seeming to clutch my left kidney, almost making me nauseous. Couldn’t sleep. Moved constantly between three positions: right side, back and left side. Only lying on my left side with my knees tucked upward seemed to alleviate the throbbing. But I couldn’t remain long in this position. So it was a night of constant tossing and pains.

So many live with this and worse. Here I’m getting a small dose. I must appreciate that there will come a time when such pain (or worse) will likely be the norm. How will you cope then? One must accept life, whatever the terms, and appreciate it.

But I was losing the battle. Counting the hours. Dreading any movement, and worse if I had to get up to urinate. And I didn’t look forward to telling Richard in the morning that I would be useless. A long night. The slight glow in the sky brought some relief. I intended to go home early. I must have finally dozed, because I recall a brief dream, and it was suddenly light.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Armchair activist

Slept until 8:30. A feeling of being lost still engulfs me.

A sharp back pain in lower right side.

An e-mail from Richard saying he’s going out to the Anchor Bay property tomorrow and inviting me to join him. The back is a concern, but a voice says “don’t qualify your response, just commit.”

Listened to the radio for a couple hours, while washing laundry. Too cold to hang things out to dry, I took the clothes over to the laundromat to finish the cycle. A large group of disabled people were there, with a lunch spread. An odd scene.

While my laundry was drying, I couldn’t stay still. Hopped on the bike, but “where do I go?” I wandered briefly before returning to the laundromat.

"Chelino’s" for lunch. Sat eavesdropping on the conversation at a neighboring table. Two men talking about Chile and Argentina. Some kind of development, mentioning Salta, Mendoza and Osorno. At first I thought it was vineyard and winery project, but gradually it became clear they were talking about home sites. And one spoke of local opposition, which he derided. One mentioned Christopherson homes, one of California’s largest developers – are they going down there?

For a change of venue, moved over to "Peet’s Coffee" to work on some notes.

Two people meeting at the neighboring table, discussed how to address "Wal-Mart’s" project (apparently proposed for Santa Rosa) with the City Council. Further evidence of Santa Rosa’s economic decline.

I began searching the web for anti-"Wal Mart" campaigns, then spoke up when I found information. They thanked me for my interest, then handed me a flyer and encouraged me to attend the hearing, but the intrusion did not seem welcome.

A drowsy afternoon and evening. Stress causing some chest discomfort, bowels somewhat distressed and a nagging backache. Not a good day.

At home later, browsed through various environmental publications (Earth Island, Nature Conservancy, World Watch), then shifted to real estate, going through the newspapers I picked up in Alturus. $1,000 an acre, or less, not uncommon up there. Then I started looking at Charlie Tripodi’s site for Humboldt properties. Quite shocking – some properties $10,000 or more an acre.

So, perhaps I should just stop dreaming.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Unexpected landscapes

Rather than finding pristine forests and clean air, I was appalled by Northeastern California's polluted skies and patchwork landscape

Awakened at 8:00, a service truck starting up outside my window. Looked out to see a frost-coated motorcycle. "I guess I'm in no rush this morning!" It may have reached about 18 degrees last night. This cold in November? This is indeed a harsh place!

The smoky haze gathering against the Warner Mountains is not a good sign. With the area looking to grow its population, the problem will only increase. I’m drawn to the austerity of this land, but man’s destructive tendencies will bring an aesthetic decline.

Watching the Weather Channel, there are tornado watches across the south. Someone in my Fall travels said I had missed the tornado season in the South – "it’s the Spring," they said. But all the news since tells me it’s a year-round possibility.

I watched a portion of the Senate hearings on Iraq. General Abizaid argues for flexibility, and no time lines for withdrawal. All these gray and white-haired men determining the course of our nation doesn't give me confidence. It is clear that many of these men are beyond the peak of their mental powers. As I listened to Republican Lindsey Graham I actually felt he offers a refreshing contrast to those other sleepy, constipated minds.

Everything Abizaid says, smacks of “stay the course” – unacceptable.

I suspect the typical TV news image, with 5 or 6 simultaneously subject flows only encourages a lack of concentration, superficial cognition. How can you listen to a speaker, when the screen is distracting you with 4 or 5 other images or data streams?

Last night, I was considering a ride over Fandango Pass to Surprise Valley (on the Nevada side of the Warner Mountains) for today, but with the icy conditions this morning, I decided that wouldn't be prudent.

The outskirts of Alturus is a shabby landscape. I started toward the "Cal Pines" development, just to see what's going on up there, then decided "why bother?" Continued west toward Redding.

The mountains west of Alturus are a patchwork of forests. Under Department of Agriculture jurisdiction, we have basically created tree farms. Was this the intent for our National Forests?

This mono-cropping is an example of human ignorance. What’s worse is for those who are educated, to ignore what they know. This type of forestry is unsustainable.

In McArthur, I noted a collection of cars parked out front of Chatty Kathy’s, so I decided to check it out. The cafe was crowded with people, most seniors (and most overweight, especially the women.) Tried a chicken sandwich, some "curly fries" and coffee. Sadly, the food was barely edible. I would have liked it to be more memorable.

Arriving at a Fall River Valley overlook, I received a sickening shock. I don't think I've seen a more depressing sight in this country. Trash-strewn hillsides and a valley blanketed in a thick dirty haze. I expect more stewardship of Californians, not this. Down below, the town of Burney, the smoky irony not lost on me.

Descending from the Modoc Plateau, I arrived at an overlook. Below, the Fall River Valley was blanketed in a smoky haze. Mount Shasta (right center) is barely visible through the muck.

California Highway 299 still life. A region's environmental aesthetic is directly related to its economic condition.

40 miles east of Redding is the site of the enormous 1992 "Fountain Fire". I stopped at an overlook to read about the fire. A kiosk at the Moose Camp Vista Point erected by Roseburg Resources tells the "the story of renewal”. Renewal involved bulldozers clearing the burned-out forest, herbicides widely-applied to eliminate opportunistic species which compete with the Ponderosa Pine seedlings that replaced the native forest. It's now a 64,000-acre Ponderosa Pine plantation (as even Roseburg calls it.)

I enjoy the rolling hill country east of Redding, dotted with stately oaks and peaceful ranches. It's a landscape that rings the Sacramento Valley for hundreds of miles.

Briefly joined the Interstate 5 vortex south of Redding, escaping onto westbound Highway 20 toward Clear Lake. The impatient, negative energy of the freeway followed me into the hills as I challenged cars through Lake County and up over Mount St. Helena. Only as I neared Santa Rosa did I seem to settle down.

Sitting in A’Roma’s later with a free cup of coffee, I looked around at the familiar faces. Uncomfortable. I have aged with some of these characters. Though I look at them and recognize them, we remain anonymous.

Watched a couple of films tonight. Strangers with Candy must be one of the worst movies I’ve seen. I couldn't bear to watch the entire film. Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man features interesting performances by Rufus and Martha Wainwright, among others, but is a poorly-crafted film (a first-time effort) and, inexplicably, barely features Cohen himself.