Last week I got a notification from Kickstarter: the new Farallons album — which I had completely forgotten about backing — will be released soon! The one song they’re letting us listen to now on Bandcamp is just so beautiful, a vibrating, layered forest landscape true to the album’s name, Plant Life:
And I really DO want that haircut reward I chose six years ago on Kickstarter (#lockdownhair), but alas, I’m a bit far away for that now… hoping they’ll save me a record instead, ha! And thanks to Scott for finally agreeing to trim my hair last night 😉
I’ve experienced a particular magic that is very difficult to describe, and it happened to me regularly while surfing this spot at sunset, on days when there was just enough haze in the atmosphere to blend the pastel colors of sea and sky seamlessly into one another to such an extent that distinctions themselves felt meaningless… in fact the difference between me, bobbing gently amongst all that wonder, and the vast expanse itself seemed to disappear entirely.
This song — and even the lyrics, which I finally “got” after playing the song over and over on trips to and from the Buddhist Centre — evokes a similar feeling for me. The internets claim that the artist herself now lives and surfs in this same small town, so I like to imagine it’s her I captured in the photograph above exactly two years ago today.
pacific is bigger / than I ever knew / until I got in her / and the water it moved / yeah it moved me / and if I was frightened / out there on the shore / well I had good reasons / but I don’t anymore / yeah it moved me / there’s nowhere to go where the earth doesn’t quake / it moved me
Spring in West Marin — and the Pacific Northwest in general — always meant the return of Swainson’s Thrush singing their hearts out:
One of the things about moving a significant distance from the plants and animals I’m so familiar with is that I am also a long way from the kind knowing that is only possible when one has lived somewhere for a long time. Like any reunion with rarely-seen old friends, I was both thrilled to hear these boisterous birds in both British Columbia and Washington State during our trip in July, and a bit sad to recognize just how much I miss them.
Given the record number of rain days in Auckland this Spring, I haven’t been outside to get amongst the few seasonal markers I do remember: new lambs at nearby Cornwall Park, the magnolias at the Auckland Botanical Garden. So it’s been a joy to hear one from the relative comfort of our living room! And one that reminds me so much of the Swainson’s Thrush:
We started hearing them a few weeks ago and assumed it was the fantails (pīwakawaka in te reo Māori) we started seeing at the same time, but turns out it’s the grey warbler… which has so many names in te reo I’m not sure which to commit to memory.
Perhaps one day these birds too will be known to me as old friends.
I first learned the word / concept of tūrangawaewae during a lesson in Māori pronunciation at work. The colleague who offered the class described tūrangawaewae as the place where you feel like you belong, or your spiritual home, regardless of where you are actually from.
whakapapa: genealogy, genealogical table, lineage, descent. Reciting whakapapa was, and is, an important skill and reflected the importance of genealogies in Māori society in terms of leadership, land and fishing rights, kinship and status. It is central to all Māori institutions.
My friend Annie recently mentioned a grocery trip during which her daughter insisted upon wearing her American flag dress. “What does the American flag symbol currently represent?” she asked. “In my opinion, it’s ignorance and greed at best. What can we do each day to resurrect the pillars this county stands on? We’re so much better than this.”
Annie: I hear you! I don’t claim to have any answers, but I love this question, particularly as an American abroad at this moment in history. I also love that children, like your daughter, aren’t caught up in the outer OR inner turmoil.
To further the conversation, I’ve just dug up this article I wrote some years ago for the Bolinas Hearsay (then my local newspaper). If you don’t want to read the whole thing, at least scroll down to the Wendell Berry poem at the bottom!
A bit of context for those of you unfamiliar: Bolinas is a town that takes it’s July 4th celebrations Verrrrrrry Seriously. It’s easily the biggest celebration of the year, drawing tourists from far and wide for the parade, a showcase for small-town agrarianism, creative genius, and a heavy dose of progressive politics. The day also features a tug-of-war between Bolinas and Stinson, the small town across the lagoon channel.
I almost used the tug-of-war metaphor to represent the place we find ourselves in today, as citizens of countries and as humans with hearts, but as Annie says, “we’re so much better than this!” What about something along the lines of… let’s forego sides and ALL take up the rope and use it as a tool to achieve some shared goal? I want to stay optimistic, as angry as I am. Tonight I’m joining a class on Buddhism, social change, and non-violent action. I am curious to see what tools present themselves, and hope to report back soon.
Bolinas Hearsay, July 2011
On the afternoon of July 5th 2010, I was wandering up from the beach on Wharf Road. I followed the stars and stripes painted in red, white, and blue along the road, beaming at the memory of watching them magically appear a day earlier behind the tractor during the parade, our latest gift from the always-inspiring, always-surprising Gospel Flat Farmer-artist-provocateurs.
Just then, Mickey and Sam Murch themselves drove up in the farm truck. Still grinning, I told them that they – the farmers and their art – were the highlight of my Fourth of July!
But Sam’s look was somber. “Some people complained to [name omitted]. We’re here to clean up,” he told me, nodding toward the pressure washer and lengths of hose in the back of the truck. “Apparently people aren’t necessarily mad that we painted on the road – it’s that they don’t want to look at American flags.” They didn’t even know who had complained, as the person (persons?) chose not to bring the issue directly to them.
I had been visiting West Marin since before my birth, appreciating its topography and ecology since I’ve been a conscious human, and living there for years when they released Volume 1. And yet the sense of place conveyed within this Almanac opened my eyes to my surroundings in a completely different way. It was as if my powers of observation had been magnified. Everything seemed different, more luminous, containing so much more to discover if I could sit still long enough — or return frequently enough — to receive it.
That first Almanac also shook awake my writer’s muscle. I found myself unable to pass through the landscape without composing works that wanted to find their place among other contributions, and I vowed to submit something to the next Volume. Perhaps the San Andreas fault poem that seemed to be writing itself every time I entered Olema Valley? Or a drivers’ guide to Bolinas Lagoon, sharing my favorite seasonal points of interest?
For most of the decade from 2007-2017, I lived in West Marin. Bolinas was home for most of that time but I also spent a lot of time in Point Reyes Station (where I rented office space for a couple of years). These small towns are nestled amongst some of the most beautiful places I have ever laid eyes upon, much less had the privilege of living in.
West Marin’s relatively small population presented (and still presents, I assume?) some challenges in the realm of intimate relationships. Though serial monogamy seemed to be the norm, it wasn’t the only relationship structure practiced within in this constellation of towns. We dated one or more of our neighbors; we became exclusive and shacked up for a spell; we broke up, moved away, and/or moved on to new partners… and not always in that order.
The web of current and former relationships grew ever-more complicated with the turn of each season. Through it all we still attended all the same social gatherings and were more or less friendly to each other in public, no matter how strong the jealousy, resentment, and anger raged in internal or private conversations.
One of the things I really appreciate about live performances, and especially intimate ones like last night’s, is that we get to experience all the work that we hear the results of but never get to see on the records: the load-in, the sound checks, the broken strings and forgotten lyrics, the moments of accidental ear-piercing feedback, and the communication between the musicians and people like Jeremy Harris behind the soundboard supporting Sandy’s.
They’re blooming like crazy this year and they show up everywhere; not only all over Marin but there’s also one just beyond Mike & Penny’s backyard fence in the Richmond, SF. This is the same group of buckeyes trees whose about-to-bust-out blossoms I noted earlier. I love them.