Burning of the Age of Aquarius (boomer remembrance/ ideals)

Hair2009When I went to the revival of the first rock opera, Hair, a few years ago, out of nowhere tears flowed down my face during the rendition of Let the Sunshine in/ Aquarius.  I looked over at my girlfriend and she asked “What’s wrong.  It is a joyful song, it is a hopeful message.”  I responded, “You had to be there.”  And she was from a different country and generation, and the Age of Aquarius was just a song.  For me and many of our generation Hair codified our culture’s ideals and vision.  In September 2015 a real world expression of that vision incinerated.  It may be rebuilt, but it won’t be the same.  Harbin Hot Springs’ latest incarnation was a direct descendant of flower power in the best sense of that term. The recent conflagration elicited a similar reaction in me of a long ago vision finally, inexorably GONE.


Before the Valley Fire photo Ed Gold

When the Valley Fire in September, 2015 descended on an ancient hot springs resort, buildings over a hundred years old turned to ash.   All that remains is the twisted dragon shaped iron works and the pools.  Originally a haven of the local indigenous people, nineteenth century entrepreneurs capitalized on the then massive demand for the ‘cure’ and built a succession of resorts in this spot  in northern California.  Located in an out of the way canyon near Middletown, CA (named for its location as a stage stop middle way between Calistoga and Clear Lake).


A lifelong counter-culturalist (even in my disguise as a inner city high school principal), I discovered Harbin Hot Springs in the mid-90s.  A quirky, enigmatic, poet friend  peeped to me almost on the down low about this edgy place two hours north of San Francisco. One weekend we rolled up from LA.  That first day felt like a homecoming for me.  Disregarding the signs that prohibiting alcohol and drugs, we fired up before entering and sat in a perch in the oaks overlooking a motley crowd of hippies of all generations, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and styles.  After the first few minutes, the titillation of dozens of naked bodies strolling around wore off and a kind of reverie settled in.  Peace, love, and happiness prevailed.  The natural hot springs pool accommodated about a dozen people—all in meditative silence.  Around the regular pool and the heart-shaped pool people carried on soft conversations, but mostly sat and read or napped.


1-2Slowly Harbin developed into my own Shangri-la, where I regularly sought respite from the pressures of the career, modern life, and my everyday self.  At Harbin, I could count on meeting new friends, whether alone or with a friend.  Odd encounters frequently happened, like the time I ‘accidentally’ ran into an acquaintance from home two years running.  Or a couple years ago when I wanted to watch the NBA finals and went to the local brewery and met someone I had just spoken with in the pools.   Sometimes I had romantic encounters, but mostly it was community.    By showing up there, we self-selected into this tribe from the Age of Aquarius.

369That same vibe happened back in the sixties/ seventies, when every kid in the concert or the demonstration was a friend simply because we were there.  We shared values.  Everyone was pre-qualified as a fellow traveler of the Sixties counter-culture.  Harbin felt the same.  It attracted like-minded souls from around the world.  I once had a didjeridoo healing from a young woman from Israel and after that kept running  into her.  Then there was the German woman who lived in Santa Fe, NM I encountered two years in  a  row.

tumblr_m2sr743gXD1r3fhtgo1_1280Harbin was resurrected from ruins of a failed commune by Ishvara (originally Robert Hart) in 1972, who then sold the property to a religious corporation, Heart Consciousness Church in 1975.   For the past fifteen years on my annual trip I marveled at the on-going, quirky enhancements to the magical vibe.  One year they added a winding path decorated with dragons and hobbit-like railings from the store front to the market.  Several years ago a major improvement arose in the form of the Temple which looked like an old time big top circus with perfect acoustics.  The pools stayed largely the same except for the addition of sauna and steam bath rooms.  Lately, as a sign of our increasingly digital age, electronic devices were banned from the deck area due to privacy concerns.

Harbin wasn’t all quiet and peace.  They could party with either unconditional dance or live concerts providing entertainment along with the free, couch-filled movie theater.  At the dances, free flowing half naked guests and residents gyrated to the dj music—No partners (just like at psychedelic concerts at the Fillmore in San Francisco).

Community vibes could happen anywhere at Harbin.  The communal kitchen operated as the center for visitors.  You could leave excess food in the community box.  Help yourself.  That applied during meals as well.  Many times I’ve shared my food with strangers.  Of course, no meat was allowed in the kitchen.

The heart of Harbin was the staff:  Over the years I had many engaging conversations with the staff and they all had a story.  Not drop-outs, but drop-ins to a calmer and freer lifestyle.  I’ve met engineers, clowns, and teachers who now played the roles of housekeeping or cook or security.  For some, Harbin was a temporary refuge from the struggles of the world, and for others it became home.  As the community aged the quarterly newsletter reported the passing of longtime residents.

344Hippie ideals of peace, love, and community rooted and prospered at Harbin largely due to the vision and commitment of Ishvara.  Ishvara is not a man who seeks notoriety, but at the same time has always harbored big dreams for Harbin.  As true hippies they honored they appreciated the history of the place and the character of the 100 year old buildings.  Our parents’ generation had celebrated the modern in all things; new tract homes were preferred to older areas like Ocean Park and Venice.  But when hippie evolved out of beatnik, the upbeat, positive hippie converts gravitated to older neighborhoods which had great appeal.  Old stuff had character and soul and that is what we craved—authenticity.  In those days the approbation slung at someone or something hopelessly square was—Plastic.  Plastic, the phoniness of it epitomized our ethos.

The old buildings were rehabbed and restored standing as links to earlier times.  Nothing at Harbin was plastic, fake, bogus.  The old buildings that had survived numerous fires before this time succumbed to the ravages of nature and are now gone.  Now only ruins of the concrete foundations and the stone fireplace chimney and the pools remain.

The Age of Aquarius prospered and flourished at Harbin Hot Springs from 1978-2015, forty years.  And now it is gone.  Yes, it can and will be rebuilt, but the vision expressed in its last incarnation is over.   Hippie dreams have completed their cycle. We had a 130 acres of our vision and now it’s gone. Whatever rises in its place won’t be the same.  It won’t have the same weight of history, of connection to the lineage of the 1960s, and heritage of the original settlers.  The bromide ‘change is constant’ doesn’t say much until we face major transitions which compel reinvention.

I have an old friend from the original hippie days who made a fortune in the fast changing garment industry.  And when I told him about Harbin’s destruction, he reported a ceremony a recent temple dedication in downtown Los Angeles.  A crew of Tibetan monks made a sand mandala and according to their custom blew it away—Impermanence.

Harbin’s oasis of the Age of Aquarius has now returned to dust and whatever shall rise up will be 21st century.  This old hippie hopes they keep a foot or a toe in the 20th Century and remember the tradition of a glorious place where hippies of all ages, ethnicities, and classes lived in harmony with each other and nature.  Nature has its due, and we are part of nature.  But time is real and there is no rewind.


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Is This All There Is? Nope! Courage, Creativity, & Commitment (reinvention)

Most people have hidden in their souls—“I always wanted to…”


Formula One race at Spa in  the  Sixties

When I was fourteen, while living in France with my parents, we attended a Formula One championship automobile race at Spa, Belgium.  The roar of the cars, the beautiful girls, and the international jet set congealed into a full-fledged teenage fantasy for me.  I wanted to grow up to be a race car driver.  I eventually outgrew that dream and many others along the way to adulthood, career, and now ‘retirement.’  Most, if not all of my childhood dreams turned out to be fantasies, not grounded in the real world. How many people can actually be an NBA star or have a hit record?  Like it or not optimism and hope can only take you so far, after all the hard work and discipline as noted entrepreneurial expert, Joe Robinson says, “Luck always factors in.”

Most people give up those fanciful dreams and accept the received values, tastes, and activities of society to define their life.  They find a tribe or group to identify with (often sold by the media) and then emulate those opinions, tastes, and values.   But they don’t renew or inspire, because they can’t.  They came from someone else.  Renewal later in life compels shifting goals from the extrinsic (money, status) to the intrinsic.  Unless some kind of lightning bolt from the Pollyanna’s Secret hits me, I probably won’t write a number 1 best seller, so it behooves me to focus on inner goals for satisfaction and achievement.  But inner goals are inherently squishy, so I look for metrics to confirm I’m succeeding, but not for fame or money, but to confirm I reach people.  I still want achievement, just like back in the career days, but of a different kind.

Occasionally, a certain mood descends on me.  Recently, I woke up at 3 am and stared at the ceiling.  Thoughts bombarding the stillness:  What is the point in writing and publishing?  Who really cares?  Later that day, I went to my local non-chain coffee house and looked out the big picture window and watched people in business attire scurrying around.  I once played that role and quit when the suit became too small for my soul.  I don’t want to go back, but keeping on the path of renewal and reinvention isn’t easy either.

I’ve achieved a lot of my inner and outer goals since retiring (art exhibition, publishing three books, Victoria Falls, getting up late every day, and more), but not all.  Some goals elude me. I either don’t have the perseverance (learning guitar) or the courage to start over (move to the tropics).  I still have a bucket list, but at times the will to pursue disappears.  Then it is time to renew and like this season, autumn, let the dead bury the dead.  As this season demonstrates, leaves fall and a new cycle begins.

Reinventing takes work and like a job requires time, effort, and maintenance to sustain it.  I chronicled my initial reinvention journey in Living the Dream Deferred and at times it was tough, at least as tough as advancement in my original career in education.  Now that I’ve been into it for a few years, I can report that real re-inventors are few. Most retirees settle into some long time leisure interest and occasional volunteer work, traveling, or continue their original career.  For brave or crazy few that strike out into the brave, new world, it is an on-going process.

Real reinvention demands courage, creativity, and commitment–courage to take risks, creativity to find your own path, and commitment to mission.  But different from the first half of life, my goals have become more intrinsic, less extrinsic.  The extrinsic markers, (in my case; sell a few books, get some hits on the website) don’t sustain without an underlying purpose or mission.

Courage is not about being fearless or getting rid of fear.   It takes heart to pursue a dream and look silly, stupid, bad and then get up and do it again.  As the renowned teacher Osho says, “Courage does not guarantee you get what you want, but you WILL grow.” In my life, I’ve always welcomed the excitement of the unknown whether traveling to foreign countries or transferring to a new job—the novelty effect.  Courage opens the door to learn new stuff, meet new friends.   In other words—grow.


A crowd

Expression Is Liberation Reception 2009

Creativity works symbiotically with courage.   We’re all creative all the time, albeit usually unconsciously.  But a consciously creative life fulfills a deep longing.  I never knew how much I wanted to express myself creatively, until on a whim I took a painting class and experienced the joy of thought-free expression.  After a few years of painting abstracts, I was invited to have a show of my work.  (Don’t get too impressed, the venue was a hair salon).  Rummaging for a title to the show it hit me, what does painting do for me?  Liberation.  When painting I break out of my constant stream of thoughts, and give form to feelings without words.  I called the exhibit Expression As Liberation.  If I can do it anyone can.  I have zero natural talent in painting.


Creativity provides an intrinsic reward.  When I focus on writing or painting, time flies.  Neurotic fears and anxieties fade and the muse/ creative flows.  And once awakened, the muse doesn’t like to go back in the bottle.  The muse can be a jealous lover.  At times inner resistance arises and I miss several days writing and my mood goes south.  On the other hand, when the muse has had her due; the traffic doesn’t bother me so much, the cloudy day doesn’t seem so dreary, and I expect good news from those I encounter.

Sustaining creative endeavors at any time takes commitment, but even more for older individuals who learn slower.   After the thrill of ‘beginner mind’ expression wears off, even minor intrinsic goals of progress often elude the older learner. How does one persevere through the inevitable doubt and failure?  I found it helps, when the form of expression lies embedded in my early years.


Former high school principal seeking  freedom


In my twenties, I wanted to change the world through writing investigative exposes like Woodward and Bernstein, but quit writing (except for the occasional barroom poem) due to the profession’s inherent instability.  Five years ago I picked up my poetry again, did some open-mikes and eventually published.  The creative wheels greased, I then pontificated on local politics from my blog SM Babylon.  My blog exploring reinvention, Living the Dream Deferred, followed.  Now, when my commitment fades, I remember my young and idealistic self who wanted to change the world through writing, and then put hands to keyboard.

As a youth I imagined freedom would be behind the wheel of a Formula One car.  The road course of life has taken me through many detours, dark tunnels, and box canyons, even now in post-career life.  Dead-ends may slow me down, but I don’t stop.   Freedom is an inside job with outside activities.  If a roadblock appears then I make a pit stop for support and recovery, then get back in the race.  The power to persist comes from deep seated, sometimes unconscious passions, desires, and talents.  I regularly ask myself:  Can I self-validate?  What are my intrinsic goals and values?  How do I detach from external pressures?

Retirement from the career world is a chance to reinvent, maybe take on a new identity, and rekindle the flame of life.   Dig down and release your creativity, find the courage to experiment, and make the commitment to cross the river to renewal.

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The Big Ditch and the Big Mash-up: Silver City, NM (adventure)

at his coffee  house Dale

Dale Rucklos, reinventor in Silver City, NM


“Hey, how are you today?” asked a tall, bald on top, long and curly on the sides guy perched outside one of the seven coffee houses in town as I approached.  Looking for a place to relax after touring around the town, I was looking for a coffee house and write.  Dale Ruchlos and Teresa were on duty at Yankie Creek Cafe and happy to talk about Silver City, how they got there, and their winding road, inner and outer.  Like I’d stepped into their living room, we talked for hours about the artistic and musical character of the town, the mix of transplants and college kids, and the mysterious road of life that led them there.  Very homey vibe in the place enticed me with announcements of  upcoming concerts, a weekly pinochle game, and original art on the walls.

replica of Billy the Kids house which was here

replica home of  Billy the Kid

When I drove into the historic center of Silver City,  I first noticed the Army Surplus store followed by a thrift shop and next to that a food co-op and then a micro-brewery and an art gallery.  A real hodgepodge of authentic, early 21sth Century Americana hip mixed with an old mining town whose original main street had turned into a ditch.


I rolled down the current main street, Bullard, and surveyed the scene.  Putting slowly like a typical tourist, I gazed all around for parking signs like back in Santa Monica.  You know the kind; street cleaning day, preferred parking permits, no high and long vehicles, and so on.  Seeing nothing of the kind, I slipped into a free spot next to a yoga studio.  Then a yahoo in a jumbo pick-up raced by and greeted me with a ‘Fuck you, asshole.’  Wow, not auspicious welcome, but it didn’t dampen my anticipation of discovering such a real place.  Turned out, that the rest of the afternoon proceeded with friendliness and warmth.  What else?  It was pushing 100 degrees that day.

civic preservation

saga of the Ditch


Trusting the word I’d gotten several years before, with no research, I left I-10 at Deming, NM crossed the freeway and faced the long, straight line of NM Hwy 180 to Silver City, NM.  Planning to get to Tucson and its cheap motels and uber-hip 4th ave, I had a lot of ground to cover.  Arrow straight mile after mile passed by the high desert scrub brush and saw only an occasional semi-truck and no other passenger vehicles.  I wondered, “What could be out here?  Hours from any real city?”  Turned out a lot.  After an hour on the road, shopping malls with the corporate chain stores interspersed with chain motels appeared on both sides of the four-lane highway, and I worried that I may find another Prescott, AZ.  Then the tell-tale brown and beige historic markers began to appear.  They pointed to the nineteenth century Palace Hotel which is located in the historic center across the street from a yoga studio.

Taking a self-guided walking tour, I stumbled upon the Ditch.  It looked like an old creek cutting through a forest of overgrown trees.   Something like an unholy union of the San Luis Creek in San Luis Obispo, CA and Temescal Canyon in Pacific Palisades.  Along the sides about 12′ above the creek, a neglected concrete walk-way offered benches and access into the ditch.  I put aside my desire for a steaming espresso and crossed the creek on the old steel suspension bridge, the kind you can look through to the water and rocks below.  On the other side, next to the replica house of Billy the Kid was the museum and tourist office.

get your dog's astrology

dogs & metaphysics

They call it the Ditch, because back in the early twentieth century regular floods (due to overgrazing the hills around the town) made a canyon of Main St eventually requiring bridges to get to the shops on the other side of the street.  Giving up on that futile effort, the commercial street was relocated to Bullard and Main Street was given over to the ditch.  But Bullard still maintains the old-time three foot high sidewalks from the old days before sewers.


Being the curious type, I investigated the ersatz log cabin poised next to the car bridge.  Like many historic structures in the old West, it is a replica of what once was there.  I’m glad to say, the rest of the town isn’t a replica.  As I later discovered in my wanderings.  But back to the historic park, in a fervor of civic pride or tourist aspiration, the cabin was built in the 1980s on the original spot of the home of Billy the Kid before he went on the rampage for a couple years in southern New Mexico.  Funny, how a good story and PR man can turn an outlaw and criminal into a cash cow tourist attraction.  I saw several monuments in the area dedicated to the weird, short career of William Bonney and wondered, “Is that the best you can do for heroes?”

almost destroyed for a parking lot

almost a parking lot

Silver city exudes an eclectic mix of Western New Mexico University students, bohemian city refugees, and old time ranchers.   Every street in the historic core offered surprises in architecture with totally restored art deco for the daily newspaper, an art museum gallery in the old armory, an eighty year old frame house turned into a cafe, all mixed in with hold-overs from over a hundred years.  You can find a boarded up old movie theatre, a thrift store, and an in process soda fountain conversion to micro-brewery all on the same block.

I had a funny encounter in the Army Surplus store:  A lot of original old army stuff filled the walls and I wanted to rummage around.  The proprietor asked me what I wanted and I responded, “I don’t know. I’m looking for it.”  Then I attempted to go in the stacks and he barked, “That’s not allowed.”  Well, I walked out to find more friendly attractions.

art stuff outside armory

Former armory, now art gallery


Back at Yankie Creek Cafe, Dale, the proprietor broke it down about the six other coffee houses each of which has its own loyal clientele and specialty.  He suggested I check out a place called the Lazy Cactus for its real espresso.  We parted company with an exchange suitable for old hippies of a creative bent, I gave him a copy of my book, Living the Dream Deferred and he gave me his new cd The Journey.  The cover art has a photo of him as a young man looking at mirror of him now.  I continued my perambulations  and went to the real espresso coffee house and enjoyed the groove with a patio facing the street, Tibetan tapestries on the walls, and Bob Marley on the sound system.
As groovy as it was, it was time to leave but not before one other anomaly.  Outside of the historic area, turning left to head out of town, with only infrequent traffic, I waited almost ten minutes for it to turn green.  Silver City proved to be quirkier than I imagined.  Again, proving my rules of travel adventures; plan lightly, don’t research too much, and walk around and be surprised.

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Afraid of Nothing on Victoria Falls’ Gorge ( adventure)


Flying Swing at the Gorge at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe


Looking over the 300 yard chasm in front of me, I sweated bullets. I was about scratch another one off my Bucket list, but  first I had to jump into the void at Victoria Falls.

After visiting Iguassu Falls in Brazil/ Argentina, in 1996, I committed myself to going to Victoria Falls. The power of the water called me, but this leap into nothingness was an add-on. I didn’t have to do it, but my basic operating principle is to walk my talk and take leaps into the abyss.

Vic Falls’ gorge qualified for a test. The Falls had been on my top five Bucket List for years, but I didn’t know that included the gorge. A courageous young man had awakened in my sixty-something soul, and now I had to jump or scurry away like a cowardly rat away from the light waiting at the bottom of the abyss.


Most people don’t have a Bucket List. For decades I didn’t. I was one of those people afraid to dream and commit for fear of failing and the likely follow-up—self-abnegation. Mostly my list was a Someday List, if everything is aligned then maybe I’ll do it. But someday never comes.

A Bucket List is something to accomplish, a goal, and takes action. I’ve pondered what is going on with me when I don’t act on goals—procrastinating like we all do? It’s a whole field in clinical psychology. Prominent researcher in the field Tim Pychl’s summation on how to overcome it is simple—Just get started—NOW. Not someday.

But then many people never commit to or get started on their Someday /Bucket List? I think it often boils down to the “C” word—courage. Procrastination comes from failing to do the aversive tasks it takes to achieve goals. What is an aversive task? Something perceived as difficult, boring, risky, and / or expensive. And is it possible to adjust our attitude to be more open to new experiences and the attendant risks they bring? Can one override the reptilian brain that seeks to protect us from danger?


Our Guides, Swiss & South African


I pondered that at the edge of the gorge.  I had made it, I saw Vic Falls, I heard the roar, I felt the ‘smoke that thunders’, but then there was an add-on. Egged on by my 25 year old guide from Switzerland, who said she would jump the gorge if she were allowed by the employer. After a couple drinks I one-upped my traveling companions who had chosen to take a riverboat ride, instead, I declared, “I dive into the abyss tomorrow”

The next day sparkled with mist rising from the falls and several rainbows. Arriving at the jumping spot, I handed over my camera to my guide and calmly waited my turn in the three part experience. First ride was a zip line across a narrow part of the 400 foot chasm. Easy and fun. Next, another zip line but this time with a fast drop of 80 mph. The coup de grace was the Flying Swing—A free-fall leap of four seconds followed by swinging back and forth across the chasm.


After four seconds of free-fall


A group of  South Africans, burly men and sturdy women, all in their thirties, waited in front of me, giving me 20 minutes to rethink this—the Leap. I watched the line shrink as they one by one disappeared into the void.  Some hesitated, some dived in head first.  All cried out.

The mild weather suddenly turned warm and humid. Sweat dropped from my eyes, my hands got clammy. Before any thoughts of fear my body expressed it. I spent the next 18 minutes reminding myself that the jump was safe and secure. I vowed to ‘just do it’ when I got to the platform.

When the last one fell from sight, I knew my time had come. I walked to the edge and promptly stepped into the void. Instant bliss washed over me and a grin spread across my face. Big fun! Fear vanished. Adventure prevailed.

But courage is like the proverbial bath—once is not enough. It’s a practice. That leap led to reflection on how often lack of courage holds me back from adventures and fun:

  • Flirt with a potential date and promise to call and don’t?
  • Promise to go to a group or party and then flake?
  • Fudge on my true feelings with someone just to maintain their friendship?
  • Allow self-absorbed narcissists to dominate a conversation because I don’t want to upset them?
  • Ignore issues In a friendship because I don’t want to upset her?
  • Complain about some social ill and never do anything about it?
  • Dream and talk about moving to a tropical island and do nothing.

Sometimes there may be valid reasons to hold back. But what about principles? Do I stand for something or not? It is a line in the sand that moves constantly, depending on my mood and the circumstances? Sometimes discernment may mean not acting, but it could also be— Laziness? Cowardice? Lack of information?

On my Someday, now Bucket list are many places to see and experience. For many years I traveled solo and loved it. I also have taken tours and enjoyed that. But lately my taste for solo travel has waned and at the same time, I want the excitement of discovery that regimented and organized tours don’t offer. I have contemplated the options. What would be courageous, the tour or the solo trip? The Tarot offered me a clue on this: Do nothing and the answer shall arise— patience and trust. Not liking this answer, I then threw the I Ching and it said, ‘furtherance of the small’ or watchful waiting.  Not a time for rash action.

Psychologists have discovered that forced decisions are not the best. When I feel a compulsion to make something happen, I explore my creative self. Artists know it as the Muse, others call it god. Regardless, it is that aspect that can’t be seen or touched.


bridge to Zambia

One form it takes is in the ‘ah ha’ moments in life. Coaxing it out of the unseen and unknown takes determination and patience for me. A coach, therapist, or minister may stimulate those moments, but it comes in its own time. Calm, discipline, and faith set the stage, but it still takes courage to say YES to the unknown—-that mysterious call to do something just because. Regardless of the results, when I do it feels good.

Sitting at the 18th St coffee house in Santa Monica, CA, surrounded by other ‘laptop’ workers, I reflected on the above adventure and looked at the excuses I tell myself to avoid taking action and risk failing. What’s at stake? A totally illusory sense of safety that my comfort zone will protect me from negative emotions? Bogus! My moods swing like The Flying Swing, up and down and sideways. The best I can do is to be real and face the fear, anxiety, and impatience and step into the unknown. As one teacher says, the result is not guaranteed, but you will grow. And for me, that is living my dream.

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Finding the White House in Canyon de Chelly (discovery)


de Chelly 4

Canyon de Chelly

Coming out of the shade in Canyon de Chelly, NM, a Navajo woman surveyed her table of beaded jewelry and dream catchers. A sweet smile on a weather-beaten face lent veracity to her story of hiking down 600 feet into the canyon every day to sell her self-made curios. My usual practice is to avoid tourist site vendors, but the people at this park sell with such calm and reserve I didn’t restrain myself. Or was it simply the smoothing of my hard edges like the surrounding red rock canyon from years of traveling and encountering such sellers all over the world. Or maybe because it was 90 degrees and I am alone and lonely. So, I engaged the woman and bought a pair of dangling beaded earrings. Just because.

jeweler hikes down every day

Jeweler hikes up and down canyon daily

She reported that the earrings are made by her 9 year old daughter, (always an enticement), while she hand-painted the kokopellis on sandstone and weaved the dream catchers. I used to think my job as a classroom teacher in the inner city of Los Angeles with its 80% poverty and 50% non-graduating of the students was a tough job. But traveling around I get a much wider perspective on the challenge of making a living. Right here in the USA. This woman carried the sweet and soft demeanor, while working and living in challenging conditions. 

Canyon de Chelly lies off the main summer tourist route in the Southwest. Located about one hour from Interstate 40, the road meanders through the Navajo Reservation in northern Arizona and New Mexico. I broke my schedule to get to Santa Fe to take the long detour.  For miles around all the eye can see are scrub grazing land and distant mountains. It is so remote that in six hours on the rez, I saw several people with their thumbs out. No public transportation?  A sight never seen in California, even at the national parks. First I saw a couple of teen age girls walking resolutely toward the town of Ganados with pink hair and gothic black shirts and their thumbs out. I had driven a few miles before it registered that it would have been normal to pick them up out here. Not where I live.

de Chelly 3The canyon itself stuns the eye with burnt brick red rock out-cropping and farm homesteads dotting the canyon floor. Being a desert rock and canyon lover, I stood on the edge in awe for an hour. Car loads of tourists came and went, from the young couple in a rental RV to a group of Japanese tourists each wearing a different hat and a sewed on black neck guard to protect from the sun. Then there were the native summer species of the national parks—over-weight, American families who stop for a few minutes, gaze at the scene, and then pile back into the air conditioned car til the next stop.

Munching on my healthy salad from Trader Joe’s and imbibing a shorty can of gin and tonic, the minor buzz inspired me to hike down the trail for a few minutes. Well, the few minutes turned into a 2.5 hour hike with 1200 vertical feet climb. Spectacular views of undulating rock formations, and dark rusty layers of sediment eroded into eerie shapes that could have come from a avant garde ceramicist’s wheel greeted me on the 1.5 mile each way walk. About a half hour down, I engaged a couple of park-uniformed young people on a look-and-see inspection of the trail. The young man exuded optimism and reported that he was a volunteer and had just been hired full time next month. He lived in the town next door to the park, Chinle, and didn’t want to leave home and so was happy to get the job. The teenage girl sported pink-dyed hair and had just graduated high school. She also offered a similar full-face smile that reminded me these weren’t the tough inner-city kids I used to deal with back in LA. We proceeded to share notes about the relative merits of different smart phones.

Before I knew it, I could see the famous White House ruins off in the distance and just had to continue to the end. Picking up the pace I got there just after the Japanese tourists, took a selfie and turned around to buy my official de Chelly earrings.

man with vision

A man in front of the  white house

Huffing and puffing and almost running, I raced up the mountain, legs and back aching. I stopped only when two women hikers asked me if I was local. Smiling to myself and them (I figured it was my long, dark pony-tail disguise), I said no. I asked what they needed? One responded, “ Will it rain?”. I looked up at the gathering clouds and from somewhere inside summoned the confidence to say, “No, and even if it does it, it’s only a little.” Turns out I was right. Then I asked where they were from? The tall, skinny one with disjointed features and spiky dyed black hair said, “France.” The other of short stature and hair, looked surprised with my response. I said, “Look, I am from California and I know you French are tough.  You can do it.” Then I pointed to the ruins and said, “Go do it. You must.” And returned to my brisk pace up the mountain confident that I contributed to amiable French/ American relations.

It stretched my physical capabilities and my schedule, but I pushed on and made the top and crashed through my aging back issue to my car. I made it. Real travel means keep pushing on, keep going til you see what you didn’t expect to see. I’ve had that experience for forty years, and I wasn’t going to let my age stop me—yet. Yes, adjustments but not babying.

Canyon de Chelly offers a distinct view of how modern American indigenous people live around and in their ancestral setting. Driving along the rim of the canyon, every few miles is an compelling outlook to stop and take snaps. And at every stop are an Indian or two with a tarp and their array of sandstone paintings, earrings, and necklaces. Between each outlook one passes the homesteads with satellite antennas and a collection of old cars and pick ups. Strange mix of nature, tradition lifestyles, and 21st Century USA.

On the way to the next outlook, a fiftyish guy had his thumb out. Tall with missing teeth, jet black hair, and a scruffy beard and cowboy shirt, I decided to break my ennui and isolation and let him ride. In accord with one of the sadly too often true to stereotypes of Indians, he smelled of alcohol and spoke with a pronounced slur. Amiable but confused in his conversation he lived near the main road, but had to hitch because he had no gas for his pick-up truck. We bumped fists and he loped off into the scrub brush and I continued.

Slipped House outlook offered a gaggle of four locals sitting under the shade of a short tree and one of their number hanging at the stretched tarp with the usual paintings and beads. Walking by, she went into a long spiel at a very slow and low pitch. I wondered if it was my aged hearing or her. I nodded, she smiled and continued with her explanation of the esoteric meanings of her sandstone painting. I understood the words red, blue, and green but nothing else. Entranced by her sweet, low-key style, I had to buy. She asked 10, I said 7. Tapping into my decades of haggling with vendors from Zimbabwe to Austria, I expected her to come back with 8, which she did. Just for the fun of it, I said no, but she surprised me with yes and a smile.


hanging with the teens at the  canyon

I’ve traveled the southwest almost yearly for decades and I had never made to the famous site of Canyon de Chelly. But what pushed me to get off the Interstate, and delay my arrival at my close friends in Santa Fe was a sign, an omen that started at home. I chanced upon my brother-in-law outside the gym at home, and he had just made a trip to the same area and the ONLY place he mentioned was Canyon de Chelly. So, the night before at a motel in Flagstaff, I looked at a map, yes a real paper map, and de Chelly on the map and decided it was time. I called my friends in Santa Fe and said I’d be a couple hours late and took the 1.5 hour detour to Navajo nation and the canyon.

That side trip felt like what I was, a visit to another nation. The Navajo live in a unique amalgam of modern America and their traditional farming and grazing culture. I encountered a special flavor of America; indigenous people living on their ancestral lands who totally integrated with the modern world. This is always my quest when I travel. Uncover the unexpected and encounter the local people. Meeting Navajos on this trip showed me how it is possible to balance one’s history and traditions and still be fully invested in modern culture.

I never know what may happen while living the dream deferred, the free life, the expressive life, the life of adventure, so I make my plans in pencil and invite surprises, Canyon de Chelly was a sweet, physical, and memorable one.

Categories: Discover / Adventure | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trading Missile Silos for Thatched Roofs: Gary Miller of Placencia, Belize (Reinvention)

Barefoot Bar Placencia

Barefoot  Bar, Plascencia, Beliz

Scratch, scratch and then silence. Mysterious sounds on the aluminum roofing punctuated our first night in Belize. No more white noise of car traffic and ear-drum blasting by over head private jets, we had arrived. Picked up at the airstrip by the proprietor of Miller’s Landing Eco-Resort in his old, gray, no a/c pick up, we shared the place with a German couple, a big dog, and the owner/ builder/ operators— the Millers.

Raised in the shadow of Vandenberg AFB, Gary Miller has engineering in his DNA. Growing up in Santa Maria, California, the protests that roiled the college campuses in the mid Sixties didn’t penetrate this town about three hours north of Los Angeles. Even these days in Santa Maria, pick-up trucks far out-number the BMWs, Audis, Mercedes, and Porsches typically seen in West LA. Down home conservative, my country right-or-wrong values in these parts.

Drafted into military service in Vietnam, Gary returned to the war-weary, fast-life 70s America that has frequently been documented in films and stories. But eschewing the anti-Establishment attitude of the day, Gary Miller attended UC Santa Barbara and received a degree in engineering, a rarity in the70’s. The counter-culture of rock and roll eventually got under his skin and he found himself  living in the fast lane in LA. He found work as a recording engineer for performers like Ike and Tina Turner and Chicago and soon was burning the proverbial candle at both ends. Fueled by the ever present drugs and big money he frequently worked 24 hours in a stretch. He eventually hit the wall after he almost got killed through-no-fault of his own in a moment of road rage on the San Diego Fwy. Heeding that clear warning that his life was out of control, he returned to aerospace with Rocket-Dyne. From then on his engineering career took off with positions of increasing importance posting at a variety of military sites around the country.

But as is common in aerospace, he endured periodic lay-offs between contracts. One of those lay-offs changed his life’s course. Taking a promotion with a firm working on missiles on Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands, something shifted. Gary found the peace of tropical islands. All went well for several years, until a dispute with a superior and a dream began to take form.

Feeling fed up with the usual constraints of institutional jobs like military contractors, he decided to quit and take his retirement savings and build and run a resort on a tropical island. First he planned to stay in the Marshall Islands, but nixed that when he learned that foreigners may not buy land. He and his wife (who was a sea captain in the Marshalls) took a tour of the Caribbean and tried out several islands, but nothing fit until he got to Placencia.

Placencia is a small, but growing village in the south of the Central American country of Belize. Belize’s biggest resort areas are Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, which specialize in the pseudo-idyllic island vibe common to destination tourist resorts. Placencia doesn’t have any of that comfort seeking ersatz paradise vibe.  Yet!

Needless to say  I went in the back door

I used the back  door, Plascencia, Belize

But like many tropical places I’ve visited, it is poised for a big blow out with stone-still boat marinas and super modern, luxury villas and moored yachts, but very few patrons. A kind of ghost town in reverse, not old and empty, it is new and empty. The village itself houses several souvenir shops specializing in over-priced Mayan textiles and conch shell jewelry. Progress has made an appearance with a juice bar on the waterfront and one coffee bar with a sardonic sign that says, ‘Hippies go around the back.’ A few restaurants, guest houses, car / golf kart rental, and banks mark Placencia’s status as an up and coming tourist town. Serving traveler’s needs, but not in excess, it reminds me of quaint places I visited thirty years ago (Caye Caulker among them); casual and comfortable but ruined when the cruise ships arrive. Let’s hope that sordid fate never falls on Placencia.

But Gary Miller is ready, if it does. He and his wife bought prime-ocean fronting acreage and built their resort, long before the coffee lounge with the vituperative sign and the yoga massage offered in Francis Ford Coppola’s chic, low-rise hotel. Being an engineer, Gary designed all of the buildings and the pool and did much of the hammer swinging. Simple, yet comfortable with the necessities, Miller’s Landing, stands out as an old school tropical resort—family run and owned, small, friendly, and quiet. The loudest sound is the leaves scrapping on the aluminum roofing at night.

Rhino on the spot

The Millers & the author

Over twenty years ago Gary reinvented: Freed from the pressure of supervisors and bureaucrats, he spends a lot of time pondering how to improve his kingdom. Challenges abound other than the obvious, attracting customers and fulfilling their petty needs. While we were there a new visitor came into the restaurant with an insect in a paper cup and asked Gary, “I found this thing running around the room. What is it? I’ve never seen anything like it.” Miller gazed at the creature in the cup, about one inch in length, and said, “That is a cockroach. It won’t hurt you. They are common in the tropics.” Being from Silicon Valley in California, the young man had never seen a cockroach. I guess they hide out from the techies.

Trials and tribulations are inevitable with such a radical reinvention: About ten years ago, the whole resort was submerged in a hurricane. Fortunately, it did not blow down but everything was under water and required replacing or major cleaning. A Mennonite friend of Gary’s rebuilt the place—for free. And before the next high season they were up and running.  The power of community.

With major problems like the hurricane and minor problems like keeping the sewage working, quitting and going back the ‘civilization’ can be tempting. About five years after leaving aerospace, his old employer called and offered him a job with a promotion at double his old salary. What to do? Quit the dream and go back to the pressurized life of an aerospace engineer and make big money, or keep stepping forward living his dream?

Demonstrating commitment to his reinvention, Gary Miller said to the military contractor—No thanks. These days he spends a lot of time reflecting on improvements to his resort, fixing rum punches for pseudo-adventurous tourists, and playing guitar at the weekly open-mike bar called ‘Pigs in the Wind.’  I asked Gary if he plans to return to California: He declared, “I only go there when I have to, like my mother’s funeral about five years ago.”

Our era offers almost unlimited of options of how and where to live, but moves like Gary’s require awareness, courage, and perseverance. And for Gary Miller it includes dealing with naïve tourist encounters with wild animals and apolcalyptic hurricanes. Getting out of LA and checking places like Placencia reminded me that reinvention wears many costumes.

Categories: Reinvention | Tags: , , ,

Not Taking Angel’s Flight, 2015 (Remembrance)



Angel’s  Flight  when I met  it in the  Fifties

One of the good things about being a Boomer is the memories. Ever have the feeling that you know the place you’re visiting, but it isn’t quite right? I’m not talking about déjà vu. I mean the experience of going to an old, familiar place same name and location, recognizable but totally different function and character. Recently I visited an old haunt, Grand Central Market at DTLA (new acronym for the resurging downtown LA) and Angel’s Flight. Ghosts of the old days linger, but it was spooky.


An LA icon shut-down

My experiences in DTLA go back to my childhood growing up in LA in the Fifties. As a toddler, I would visit my grandparents, who owned an apartment building on Third St, just west of the then newly completed Harbor Freeway. My grandmother and I would walk through the cavernous (1500 feet long) and much filmed Third St tunnel. Car horns and dim light made for great adventure. Eventually, we would break through into the bustle of downtown and visit my grandfather, who was a butcher at Grand Central. In those days it housed a labyrinth of stalls and shops on two floors where shoppers would go for fresh produce, meat, and spices. Supermarkets were rare in those days and usually located in the suburbs like the new subdivision in the San Fernando Valley where I lived with my parents. To a three year old kid walking the aisles of Grand Central was as exotic as the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul. The cacophony of languages belted out by competing merchants ranked up there with Clifton’s Cafeteria as fun for me.



Inspecting the  broken icon with Jeff Bughouse

Across the street on Bunker Hill decaying rows of Victorian houses stood watch over the booming metropolis. Originally mansions for the elite of Los Angeles, by this time they had been subdivided into rooming houses, soon to be demolished to make way for redevelopment. Access to the towering homes was via Angel’s Flight, dubbed the world’s shortest railway. After visiting grandpa, who cut an imposing figure with a white smock splattered with blood and hat and tie, we would take the 5 cent ride to the top of the hill.
Recently, my brother suggested meeting at Grand Central for lunch with our 22 year niece. Recovering well from tough times serving the burgeoning immigrant population, now Grand Central Market houses a couple dozen boutique cafes, one produce stand, one meat market, and a few holdovers from the ethnic days of the 80s—Chinese herbs and Central American veggies. And a gourmet coffee place, where a cup of Joe costs minimum $4.

But more bizarre than the former bazaar is Angel’s Flight, a funicular that climbs 300’ at 33 degrees. Dissembled and stored 1969, while Bunker Hill was flattened and then developed with high rise office buildings and condos. Moved south 200 feet, Angel’s Flight reopened in 1996. Accidents and repairs forced closure again in 2001, 2011, and 2013. Currently, the two funicular cars sit mid hill as if in suspended animation waiting for the conductor to flip the switch, while tourists stare in wonderment and peer down memory lane. Along with the railway, the adjacent park with its information plaques and benches is fenced off from the public pending its next redevelopment.

Bittersweet, this journey to landmarks of my childhood reminded me that everything is impermanent, except our memories. Visiting Grand Central and Angel’s Flight felt like going to a high school reunion and not recognizing your old friends. The old friend doesn’t look the same, but you have a connection. This spirit of remembrance infused the day, not with nostalgia but fondness for my childhood, my grandparents, and my city.

Categories: Boomer Ideals/ Remembrance, Exemplars, Funk/ Issues/ Roadblocks, Planning/ Structure | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Red, Gold, and Green Comes Together in DTLA (community)

Bob Marley is the King

At the  prophet—Bob Marley’s yard  in Kingston

“How many saw Marley perform live?” inquired a seventy something man with dulcet vocal tones, a shock of wild hair, a purple lined sports jacket, and a tie with images of Bob Marley. A couple dozen hands went up, mine included.

A mission on par with my 22 hour flight time to South Africa, but beyond the Bucket List nature of visiting Cape Town, Okavango Delta, and Victoria Falls, had called me to reconnect with a far flung tribe and spirit. Part pilgrimage, part passion, and part community, I heeded the call of Bob Marley.

Looking around the crowd of mostly strangers, I relaxed after my stressful; Waze guided drive to DTLA (downtown LA) during rush hour traffic. More than the new versions of old songs, witty anecdotes by Roger Steffens, I came to connect with of my tribe of fellow Marleyites—Lovers of the music, but in addition adherents of a vision of community beyond the isms and schisms that often separate us.

reggae archives

In Roger Steffen’s Reggae Archives

Roger greeted me and many others with powerful hugs and the personal attention rarely seen outside of family. Pacing in front of the stage without a microphone, he held the crowd of 100 in the auditorium at USC spellbound for over two hours with stories and unreleased videos of Bob Marley. After the presentation each question prompted a quick, relevant and amusing reflection about the reggae icon. Several times during the evening, this audience of diverse ethnicities, ages, and social status, gave Roger Steffens and by extension Marley several standing ovations. As one man in the q & a session proclaimed, “In a hundred years, when Bob Marley achieves Jesus-like veneration, then Steffens will be considered his St Peter.”

Roger Steffens discovered Bob Marley in June 1973 while living in Berkeley, CA and has built a life and career around, as he says, being ‘just a fan.’ He has traveled the world giving talks on the life and music of Bob, written six books on Marley, and building the world’s largest reggae/ Bob Marley archives in the world. And now almost 35 years after the passing of the king of reggae, Steffens epitomizes and crystallizes Marley’s mission of one love—community.

One of my early blogs on Living the Dream Deferred drew a snarky comment from a lifelong friend that community can’t be instant like the reggae gathering at USC. I propose that community is where we find it. It can happen whenever people walk the same path and share a vision and values. Seeing and building these connections helps me to keep stepping when I hit a rough patch or massive traffic. Or as fifteen year old Marley said in his first recorded song, Judge Not—“The road of life is rocky. And you may stumble too.”

Tonight I head out on another mission through the jungle of LA’s freeways to the Grammy Museum. I hope to meet the tribe again and get the word and spirit of One love.

Categories: Community | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Creative Expression Pops Up in Retired Teacher (creative expression)

LivingtheDream-p175“I wanted to be a rock drummer before I finally settled into teaching for a career. And when I retired I realized that dream was no longer feasible.” An old friend on the path of personal/ spiritual growth recently shared this insight from his home outside of Portland, OR. I met this guy back in the 80s at a zen sesshin at Mt Baldy, CA. We instantly recognized in each other kindred souls on the path and over the years frequently shared, argued, and discussed our youthful ideals and how to apply them in our thirties and beyond. A peripatetic sort, he was raised in the East Bay of San Francisco, attended college in San Diego, completed an MFA in Boulder, and ultimately settled down to a high school teaching career in Oregon and stopped writing.

Our tumultuous friendship has always offered the quality I need in close friendships—inquiry and truth telling. Not an easy skanking connection, but the kind that pushes me to think deeply and honestly about work, relationships, and life. Zenman (not his real name) doesn’t have time for superficial small talk. He digs for the deeper story, meaning, and feeling. A facile, but sometimes cranky, practitioner of what Daniel Goleman calls narrow and big focus, he has little patience for lazy thinking and societal shibboleths. He gets down, present, and authentic in every conversation and yet concurrently maintains awareness of how it all fits into a systemic big picture.

In a recent typically wide ranging and rambling conversation, he mentioned that he had picked up writing again because he couldn’t go back to that youthful dream of rock drumming. After retiring with the psychic and time demands of work gone, something called him to create again. These days he is writing and sharing new and old pieces. I said, “Right on! That is it!” The urge to express was always there and now he has the time to do it. Updating the dream (dropping the rock drummer fantasy) opened the space for living a new/ old dream. Now, Zenman writes regularly and soulfully.

What is this urge to create? I experience it as the impulse to drop my awareness from my head to my heart, in other words dropping analysis. Once I get going, it resembles a dam that is filled with water that must be drained. A little stream of water relieves the pressure, but draining the reservoir of water reveals a lot of detritus that has clogged the system. When I practice my creative arts, a flood of unexpected feelings, memories, and ideas are revealed. Letting the water out by writing a poem or making a painting satisfies me in a way that reading another book or going to a music concert or playing tennis can’t. It happens differently in painting from writing poetry. Regardless the creative flow and energy satisfies my soul. At times procrastination prevails with the Resistance that Steven Pressfield describes in The War of Art and blocks expression til I take that first step and start. Then the old maxim —The hotter the battle, the sweeter the victory—spurs me on. Today I won the battle with my old friend procrastination, but tomorrow is another day.

Categories: Creative Expression | Tags: , , , ,

Palm Springs, Tahquitz Canyon, & Fun! (community)

Recently, rapping (in the sense we used back in the day) with a close friend,  my call to revive our generation’s youthful ideals and dreams came up. She posited that perhaps Boomers are not that way now. We kicked it back and forth for a while discussing the natural tendency of people to become more conservative as they age and the evidence that most people live in Santa Claritaesque settings (check Santa Clarita, CA to get my point).

“No question few Boomers live in the bohemian/ communitarian way these days, if ever,”, I responded “but I believe that a spark of youth still resides in that older body and that youthful spirit wants expression.”  So much is learned and deep brain grooves are laid down in our twenties, which explains why as we get older the songs of our youth evoke memories.  They are familiar and deeply embedded in our sense of identity.  Spirit in the Sky is still one of my all time favorites.

I continued, “Perhaps when individuals are released from the inhibiting structures of a job and career, that new freedom opens up space for the old feelings, memories, and values to emerge.  Just maybe, some of the new seniors will want to revive their love of music, or community, or social justice, or ?”

A quickie research on Wikipedia revealed that among the antecedents of the hippie movement of the Sixties and Seventies were a similar counter-cultural trend in Germany in 1896-1908—Der Wandervogel (or wandering people).  They also sought a simpler life style in reaction to the rapid industrialization of that time.  Eventually, some of that group moved to southern California and a local group developed called Nature BoysAt one time they lived off the land in Tahquitz Canyon, Palm Springs, CA.

When I read that, a personal full circle was drawn linking my experience of a hippie bacchanal in Tahquitz Canyon in 1968 while I was in high school.  That wild Easter break week, included the first Palm Springs Pop Music Festival, starring Eric Burden and the Animals, Blue Cheer and other rock luminaries. After the next festival in ’69, the local authorities freaked out, evacuated the canyon, and shut it down to all visitors for decades.  I took a guided tour of the canyon a couple years ago and the Indian tribe who ‘owns’ that land states it had to spend a pile of money and many years to clean up the crap.  Yes, there is a shadow to all that youthful rebellion. But law and order returned to Tahquitz Canyon and Palm Springs and most of us kids settled down to LIFE— eventually.

I don’t do that stuff anymore, but I DO remember the joy, fun, excitement, and camaraderie of those times. And I seek it out regularly (last weekend I drove a Ferrari on a simulated race course) I believe it is possible to revive that youthful spirit (with modifications) and couple it with our wisdom (hopefully earned in life) and make the last third the best yet.

Categories: Boomer Ideals/ Remembrance

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