Dark Side of Haleakala Reveals Quirky Maui (discovery)


panorama of the dark side of Haleakala near Kaupo

With the sounds of Pink Floyd’s Dark side of the Moon pulsing in my head, I woke up in my tourist condo in Kihei, Maui and shouted out ‘Enough of canned activities from the vendor on the beach. Today is adventure day and I’m going to find it.’  After two relaxing and beatific weeks of hot tubs, drinks with mini-umbrellas, and surfing with the ho-dad (beginner surfer) hordes.  I had to bust out.  I filled up the tank of my rental car at Costco and headed up-country.

Forty-five years of travel vacations gives me some perspective on what I like or not.  I’ve dabbled in various forms in my terminally peripatetic life.  Mostly I prefer new locations that offer some special passion such as last year’s trip to southern Africa where I tapped into my passion for deserts (red dunes of the Namibian desert) and waterfalls (Victoria Falls).  At times I just want to go to tropical islands and relax, ride the waves, drink Mai Tais and chill.  But even a chill out in a very ordinary and predictable place like Maui offers up some edgy adventures in between the surfing, scuba diving, and the, yep, Mai Tais.

Curt is a thinker

C-Dog pondering  Kula’s plants

That day I stretched out of the Maui beach routine.  Getting an early start with my old college buddy, C-Dog, we decided to explore the dark side of Haleakala volcano (dark in the sense that it is much less trampled by the tourist hordes, or so I thought).  We headed up-country (meaning higher elevation on Maui) initially checking out the privately owned Kula Botanical Gardens.  Botanical gardens rank right up there with my passions for hot springs, waterfalls, caves, and deserts.  Kula didn’t disappoint.  Family developed in the seventies, the gardens offer a wide range of plants from all over the world that are commonly grown in Hawaii.  I was surprised that the country of origin is most often South Africa.  When I reported this to a South African friend, he confirmed that most people think plumeria and others are Hawaiian native plants.  Now I understood the acclaimed of the Kirstenbosch National Gardens in Cape Town which I visited in 2014.  Although, a small, 8 acre, property , with a wide mix of plants and the 180 degree view of the island, Kula Gardens qualified this side stop as an adventure.



Old-style sanatorium,  Kula

Prompted by my buddy’s desire to revisit where he had done some medical training back in the 80s, we found another of Maui’s rare gems:  Kula Hospital.  Originally, built in the 1920s as TB sanatorium, it is now a general hospital for the island.  Classic art-deco architecture and original landscaping and old houses gave the impression of old Hawaii.  Except for the modern cars in the parking lot, it could have been 1945.


guy with studio

art gallery cum studio, Kula


While getting gas, next to one of Maui’s original coffee houses (Grandma’s) I peeped into an art gallery located in an ancient 1920s building.  But not a typical dolphins on a wave type pervades tourist strips in Kihei or Lahaina, it houses the artist’s studio, his gallery, and his stream of consciousness self-promotion.

Finally, we rolled to Ulupalakua Ranch where a seniors’ motorcycle club had gathered for lunch, next door to MauiWines’ tasting room.  After a couple sips of expensive and too sweet pineapple wine, we headed into the reportedly treacherous road on the leeward side of the mountain.  For the daring (according to the hyper-cautious car rental maps) motorist, it is an alternative route to the famous rain forest haven of Hana.


bought a shirt

Kaupo General Store, Maui

Although I’ve been to Maui at least 8 times over the decades, I’d never been to the backside of Haleakala.  Tourist maps make it sound problematic with a long stretch of unpaved, one-lane road.  But instead of drama we were rewarded with big vistas of undeveloped grasslands and lava rocks.  Like a prairie on the moon.  Every so often a ramshackle, half-built house with a satellite antenna popped out of the brush.  I later found out that a lot of the area is Hawaiian Homestead land, where native Hawaiians can live for free.  Out there it felt as distant from civilization as the Navajo Reservation is from Flagstaff, AZ.

Arriving at the end of the paved road at Kaupo, we found the coolest general store on the island.  More than a store with cold beer and drinks, it offers home-made jewelry, and a museum of old stuff like cameras and hair dryers.  Weird but real, and definitely not Lahaina.

While sipping a cold brew on the lanai of the Kaupo store I felt adventurous and satisfied, until van after van of Friendly Isle tour buses rolled by in their packaged tours.  Oh well, I had enjoyed my fantasy escape to the edge of Maui.  Meanwhile, I had to negotiate the one-lane road back to tourist central in Kihei.  Just  another day in tourist paradise, adventure style.  As always, the living the dream means seeking and SEEING the adventures right in front of you.

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You Can’t Keep a Good Dream Down (Boomer Ideals/ Exemplars)


News flash:  Jerry Brown attended Paris conference on global climate change December 2015.  Still here and still advocating for the environment and his principles.  

peoples park may '71

I’m in this crowd somewhere, Peoples’ Park ’71

I usually keep my back story on the down low with acquaintances.  Most people make up enough stories just by appearances, so I don’t like to give them more fuel with biographical details that can be used to pigeon-hole me.  But one  afternoon this fall, I happened to make a comment about the presidential debates to an associate gymmer getting dressed next to me.  A fit guy in his early sixties, he works in community housing. I’ve known Loren for a dozen years in that passing small talk way. He responded with an informed opinion.  Sensing a deeper connection I asked, “What was your major in college?”  He said, “Political Science at Stanford.  I smiled knowing I’d met one of my own kind and replied, “That was my major at Berkeley, with a focus on Marxist ideology and its application.”

jerry brown early with Linda R

Jerry Brown and assorted LA musicians in the 70s



A intense twenty minute discussion ensued in the men’s locker room of 24 Hour Fitness—Santa Monica comparing notes and opinions about the current political scene and its players from President Obama to Hillary Clinton to Jerry Brown to Donald Trump. A range of provocative topics elicited smiles and comments from other guys with gray flecked hair in the room.  All of this exposed my long standing political interests, sparked by growing up during the Vietnam War and eventually graduating from UC Berkeley in the seventies.  Submerging my radicalism into a pragmatic career in public education, I’ve never relinquished my vision of fairness, justice, and peace.  But now I wonder how I can apply my years of experience to promoting a better society.  Jerry Brown has.

111011_jerry_brown older

Brown second time around

The locker room discussion centered on current California governor Jerry Brown and his previous administration in the seventies.  We agreed he has done an excellent job governing, even better this time around at the age of 77.  In his first terms as governor Brown was ridiculed with the label, Governor Moonbeam for his radical out of the box ideas such as renewable energy, a state space academy satellite, and declaring a era of limits.  Jerry Brown in the seventies expressed the idealism of the time.  Ahead the mainstream, Brown attracted derision from the older established politician/ reporter class.  His lifestyle invited ‘eyebrow raised’ commentary, from his sleeping on a mattress on the floor to globe-trotting with Linda Ronstadt to his rejection of the new governor’s mansion.

Brown’s ‘out there’ thinking proved to be too much for the conservative backlash led by his predecessor as governor of California, Ronald Reagan who had catapulted his police-state treatment of the student radicals of my school, Berkeley, into the presidency.  Reagan stood for the old school Hollywood values of looking good, constant smiling, and hypocrisy.  He promoted traditional values, even though he had divorced his first wife, his daughter basically disowned him and changed her last name, he denied his second son was gay, and his wife retained a staff astrologer.   Among Reagan’s most egregious crimes against the white working class that idolized him, was union busting, which directly contributed to lower wages for the Nixon labeled ‘silent majority.’

With his campaign’s populist We the People slogan, Brown polled well but fell just short in his three presidential campaigns.  Again ahead of the times as seen in the current presidential election with Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump both tapping into grass roots, anti-establishment sentiment.   But Jerry didn’t quit.  He went back to the basics, something I’m often encouraging for later in life re-inventors/ Boomers.  Instead of president, Brown served two terms as mayor of Oakland, CA, a medium-sized city across the bay from San Francisco.  While mayor he lived in a converted factory and loft, igniting a revival in the down-in-the-mouth city whose police brutality against its majority black population in the sixties had birthed the Black Panther Party.  Oakland has become a jewel of urban renewal with the bucolic buzz of Lake Merritt and the tony Jack London Square on the previously abandoned Embarcadero.

Jerry Brown practiced the adage ‘all politics is local’ and honed his skills as a politician.  Not resting on his laurels and famous name to lay back and give expensive speeches, he went to work.  Contributing to the greater good AND practicing his craft, Brown practiced and lived his ideals—government can be a tool for social justice and life enhancement.  Re-energized after Oakland, he ran for and served as Attorney General and then governor.

Now in his fourth term, Jerry Brown will be termed out when he is 80.  Old age doesn’t limit him.  Although in recent years he’s battled cancer,  his vigor and mental clarity exceed the great majority of politicians half his age.  He has every reason to kick back, retire, and cash in on his name.  Many of us do too.  We’ve had a career, maybe raised kids, and / or written a book—achieved and served.  But why quit when you have something to give, something to learn, and unfulfilled ideals?  I ask myself that question regularly—why should I?  I don’t need to prove myself, and neither does Brown.

peoples park founding day celebratio

Peoples’ Park these days

But then my Berkeley Boomer core wakes up and yells, ‘You’re not done yet.’   At the locker room discussion, I mentioned that I still stand by youthful ideals of community, free expression, individual rights and justice, adventures, and personal growth.  Boomers were not all hippie radicals or counter-culturalists, but many were and have influenced our society from new age religions, to yoga, health foods, and alternative health systems mass acceptance.  In fact, the notion of the personal computer came out of the edgy, psychedelic consciousness of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak back in the seventies.  Our youthful ideals, tempered with realistic appraisal of the slow pace of change in the world have changed the world.

Perhaps President Obama has not delivered on all of his goals as president, but any president can only move the country forward (or backward depending on your point of view) a few steps.  Big change takes time, even when a system is rotting from the core like what happened in the former Soviet Union.  But he has moved the pieces forward a bit on key Boomer concerns of the seventies; environment, civil rights, war, and soul.

The political life of Jerry Brown demonstrates the successful marriage of ideals and experience. He went back to the basics (mayor of Oakland), polished his craft and worked his way back up the ladder of California government. Still an idealist, but heavily tempered with realism and compromise.  He now knows how and when to mollify central valley farmers with a big government project (the bullet train) and to take an independent stand as he recently vetoed several bills passed by his own Democratic Party legislature.  He applies his decades of experience to real problems and gets results.  His approval ratings dwell in the high seventies, virtually unheard with high level office holders.  Recently, the LA Times gave him a B+ rating with the potential of achieving greatness in this term.

At the same time, he still works from his early, progressive principles.  For example, he pushed for recent legislation to end global warming that promises to be a model for the rest of the country and the world.  And he has never changed his opposition to capital punishment, even in the hard on crime 90s.

Experience counts for Jerry Brown and can count for all of us in the fall of life.  Youthful optimism for quick transformation may be gone, but I attempt (as Jerry does), to take my experience and skills and marry them to ideals perhaps half-forgotten in the mists of time.  One of the greatest gifts of aging is the dignity of surviving (sometimes prevailing over) the travails of life.  Age and experience qualify idealistic Boomers to contribute to our world aligned with the Sixties/ hippie ideals of expression, justice, community, and love.  I do my best to live up to the vision and work for incremental progress.  And as a non-Boomer friend says, “You got nothing to lose.”

On  a personal note:  I just returned from a ceremony in Berkeley where I established a perpetual scholarship for needy and  deserving  students at Berkeley Student Cooperative.  The gift of  community I learned in  the coops has fueled and sustained me throughout life so far, and especially now that I’m in the ‘golden’ years.  I know where I came from and support that  mission.  Again, the work of Jerry Brown and many others  of our generation that enhances the  common good are markers of a  meaningful life.  More on  that & the coops in the seventies in a future blog.

Categories: Boomer Ideals/ Remembrance, Exemplars | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Uncovering Maui’s Historic Roots & Hipsters (discovery)

On my recent trip to Maui, driven by curiosity and desire for the authentic,  I explored many nooks and crannies on Maui from Makawao to Paia to Lahaina.  Nowhere could I get a hit of the real and soulful with local vibe and original spirit.  Until I spent a day in Wailuku.  Wailuku is the original town and administrative headquarters on that side of the island and has minimal visitors.  The first time I really visited Wailuku was in 2008, when a friend from college relocated here from Pismo Beach.  I had been coming to Maui for decades, but my previous experiences on Maui, mostly at the nature sites (Haleakala, Hana, Kihei, Little Beach, and Lahaina) had nothing to do with Wailuku.  I stayed at his apartment overlooking the town and discovered it was a normal town with neighborhoods and kids and like my hometown Santa Monica used to be back in the seventies.—an ignored and decrepit historic core (modern euphemism for old part of town).  But now gentrification has hit old Wailuku.

new  arch no bldg in Wailuku

New arch, no building historic Wailuku


Gentrification often saves the downtown core of old cities from demolition, including in paradise.  After a four year absence from Maui, I spent a few weeks on island and to my chagrin the beach tourist towns have blown up, just like my home beach town.  As in too much traffic, jaded merchants, and ersatz culture.  But in Wailuku redemption has come.  In 2011 I noticed the seeds had been planted, but now they have sprouted.  The coffee place, the restored movie theatre, the record store, and other shops bustle on Market.  The next street over Central Ave is primping for redevelopment, with  signs announcing restoration of old buildings from the forties.

wailuku bustles at Wailuku coffee

From street people  to stockbrokers, everybody stops at Wailuku Coffee

After several days watching the long lines of rental cars cruising through the tourist strips of Paia, Kihei, and Lahaina, I craved a hit of  the down home and local.  Wailuku called. On my last trip, I spent a whole days at Wailuku Coffee Company and few people would come in.  This year, I sat there for a couple hours and observed a constant stream of customers.  In just two visits, I was able to identify regulars.  I observed several business meetings, mothers with  their kids, and even the local eccentrics.



chic restaurant next to hostel

chic restaurant next door to hostel in the core

Inspired, I took a walking tour of downtown Wailuku, and discovered a wide-range of new shops catering to various hip or up-scale clientele.  A converted gas station now operates as a metaphysical gem store, whose ethnically mixed, young clerk wore a huge mumu, assisted a young Hawaiian guy buying crystals, while a 80-something white woman in an aloha dress waited.  Across the street an art deco style building housed an attorney, a yoga studio, and a holistic healer.  Rounding the corner, next to a huge parking lot for the municipal bldg. the hostel had a few youthful travelers lounging around. On one side of the hostel a totally vegan store celebrated its health orientation and on the other an upscale, table-cloth restaurant served lunch.  At the prime intersection, Market & Vinyard, a vacant store announced the pending opening of Pono with no clue on its mission.  Across from that corner the venerable Kokopele grill stand with its big yard used for weekly outdoor reggae movies.  In typical island style the stand occupied only one tenth of the lot.

A variety of other health-oriented shops have popped up next to the mysterious Pono.  They boasted a sign indicating no smoking of either kind—tobacco or e-cig.   Walking a couple more blocks down Market, I saw a man about 40 sitting on the sidewalk surrounded by debris of old pineapples.  Wary of being accosted for funds from my years of travel I braced myself, but he simply smiled and said “Hi.”  Even an empty lot had the makings of a re-do with a brand new concrete archway in the Japanese style opening to a barren lot except for a few cement pilings and trash.

Iao Theatre

Built 1933 and posters from  this year, Iao Theatre

As in many historic cores with classic theaters, the Iao Theater from the thirties (official historic landmark) had flyers of past and upcoming concerts from Margaret Cho to the Maui Chamber Orchestra.  Like the enigmatic Bowling Center which is only open for two mornings per week, nothing surprised me in reviving Wailuku.  Across from the heartbeat of Wailuku Coffee Company is Maui Shoe Academy, which deals in shoe repair and specialty footwear.

Further down Market I noted two more hostels, old and basic,  that could’ve been here since 1976, my first visit, but weren’t.  These days globe-trekking young people have a place to land and forage around the magical isle of Maui.  One, The Banana Hostel had a sign that announced that smokers had to stand away from the entrance.  It must be for foreigners, I can’t imagine Americans needing that instruction.

The Wailuku merchants seem to be serious about their revival with a guy sweeping in front of shops on Saturday with a broom and bucket.  Along with the industrious street sweeper, a wacky ‘hapa’ (ethnically mixed) guy lingered around the café for the couple hours I was there.  He flitted from store to café to another store and somehow finally got a couple dollars and waved them around and bought a coffee and salad and asked to sit at my table.  I said, “Sure.”  He then said, “Do you mind if I talk to myself?”  I responded, “No problem.”  He apparently didn’t like that response and promptly left. So, check-check for Wailuku’s harmless, aloha-spirited street guys.

Discovering the ‘new’ Wailuku, confirmed for me the value of keeping an open and curious mind-set while traveling as a counter-balance against the ‘been there, done that’ attitude that can surface later in life.  Even going to super touristy Maui for the umteenth time gave me some  discovery time.   Coming up on LDD:   Adventures in wild cowboy country on  the backside of the volcano.


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Getting Called Out at Little Beach, Maui (creative expression/ community)


Descent to Little Beach

“Hey man, why you reading the paper?  It’ll bring you down,” said a young man at the weekly celebration at Little Makena Beach on the Hawaiian Island of Maui. Awoken from miasma, his words blasted me back to the present.  I came all the way here from LA, to change my routines and attitude and after only two days, I fell into my pattern from home:  Distracting my ‘here and now’ with reading.  In front of me a crowd of 20 free-spirits danced, drummed, twirled batons and hula hoops and surrounding them a 100+ multi-generational crowd mostly indulged in the clothing optional-custom of this hidden beach.


Wild ones on the Beach & a stray old hippie


My accuser was a skinny guy, about 23, with long, blondish hair wearing a headband and glistening smile.  He moved easily and quickly from one group or individual to another like he was the host of the event.  Of course no one leads this neo-hippie scene, the whole event emerges ad-hoc.  But this man, Joshua, played the maitre de of Little Beach, first drumming, then pulling a six-pack of beer out of a cooler and passing one to whoever he meets, myself included, then stopping for a hit off a joint and talking with a group of three young women, and then prancing down to the beach for a chat with an older guy with a long,  gray beard.  No generation-gap here.

The tropical sun blazed down on the revelers and I desperately sought some shade.  Back home I enjoy hot, sunny days, but this was too much and I hid in the shade of trees on the periphery of the beach.  That’s when the young host zapped me with the lightning bolt—‘Be here now.’

After miles and miles of jumble of big condo developments and tourist shopping centers in Kihei, the road goes through the antiseptic, planned community of Wailea with  its luxury hotel resorts and golf courses and the speed limit ratchets down inexplicably to 20 mph.  Not surprisingly hiding around corners and in  the bushes police wait for the celebrating Little Beachers.  I’ve been coming to Little Beach for decades on my many trips to Maui.  As in most cool places I’ve visited all over the world, the original tip came by word of mouth.  Someone in the tourist center said, “You might like Little Makena Beach.  You get there by driving past the luxury Makena Resort to Makena Beach State Park south of Kihei and park at Makena Beach State Park.”  Makena Beach offers a wide comfortable beach and some basic facilities, but  you have to know that somewhere over a lava outcropping lies a hippie haven.


Carefully edited view of the Beach


Back in the day the original hippies crawled over the rocks and in the secluded cove let go of clothes and inhibitions and ‘cleverly’ named it Little Beach. The word spread and the Sunday afternoon bacchanal grew into a tradition and legend in the hippie world.  Nowadays one sees mostly younger folks like the young man who woke me up that day, but mixed in the crowd are many gray-haired celebrants.

Maui is like that now.  My first visit in 1976 etched the placed in my soul as a tropical idyll.  Beautiful scenery ranges from volcanoes to deserts to rain forest to tourist beaches , while at  the same time it is a typical American small city with all of the conveniences from Home Depot to Costco. But in those days for us Maui was a nature adventure.  A company called Beach Boy Camper Holidays rented converted pick-up trucks that we parked at any beach park and camped for free.  It was the anti-tourist tour of Hawaii.  That freedom of movement combined my priorities, freedom of movement and comfort.  Stop where and when you feel it and relax.  Maybe that underlies the appeal of the RV culture of today, freedom and comfort.


Firesticks and dancers at sunset


Of course, the whole world is a lot more packaged these days.  Finding and participating in the free expression of Little Beach revived the part of me that is still 25. But it is difficult to find, since I just don’t travel in those globe-trotting young peoples’ circles these days.  No hitch-hiking, not much hanging out in bars, and needing a bit more comfort (bed and warm shower).  Stoked I stayed til almost sunset, and as I left groups of people were just arriving with their drums and batons and ice chests.  The night  brings on a wild fire dance I’m told.

On this trip to Maui I had the good fortune to drop into a group of free-spirited young people.  I rented a room via AirBnB, because I wanted to stay in a locals’ neighborhood.  The room and the house provided what I needed, plus the unexpected benefit of hanging with free-spirited youth.  As it happened, the owner was out of town and he had a friend stay to supervise the rooms.

About 24, she quickly invited her new boyfriend to stay.  About 22 with long hair with an occasional penchant for wearing long dresses, he had recently left a work/ stay arrangement at an organic farm and now was looking for work as a waiter.  Another day, a friend of his from home (Grand Rapids, MI) arrived who worked as a tree-cutter.  Finally a third guy who is a medical marijuana care-giver came from Michigan for a short visit.  So, we had an instant communal crash pad, just like I experienced in the seventies.  Someone scored a place to stay in a cool place, and the crew showed up.


Pondering the ephemeral aspect at Buddhist cemetery


Like me, they had come to Maui searching for something different from home and its routines.  My Venice home serves me well, but it gets old after awhile, more so since I jumped out of the rat race.   Some older, retired people share this with young people:  We’re both free of most responsibilities and the adventurous ones break out:  The world calls, wanderlust hits and at the slightest hint or suggestion, it’s off to on a new adventure.  Even in touristy Maui.

Maui hit the spot for an easy break from the mainland routine.  The weather is almost always perfect, spectacular natural sights await, and has all the comforts of home.  For me as an adventure traveler it takes some adjusting, because the edginess that appeals to me is hard to find. But the revelry, expression,  and connection of Little Beach made it for me.  Don’t miss it, even if you weren’t a hippie.  Fun can be infectious.

Categories: Community, Creative Expression | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Reading the Signs with York Blvd Hipsters (synchronicity)


Odd anti-gentrification graffitti

Walking down a narrow, graffiti decorated passage way between two buildings to the metered parking lot that serves the newly named York Park district in East Los (the east side of Los Angeles), I had one of those—‘I know you’ encounters.   A man wearing a pork-pie hat with a young child poised on his shoulders approached.  Simultaneously we both acknowledged each other (that is a rarity itself in 21st LA) with a smile of recognition even though we had never formally met.  Synapses working like a twenty year, I said, “Hey Noah.  We haven’t met.  My name is RW.”  He said, “Yes, I’ve seen you many times at Santa Monica.”  We continued with friendly banter about Buddhist practice for a few minutes and went on our respective ways.  Noah Levine is the founding teacher of Against the Stream, a meditation center with locations in Hollywood, Santa Monica, and Oakland.  Mind you, this was doubly mind-blowing since I rarely venture this far east in the traffic jam called LA.


A close friend from San Diego County was visiting for a couple days and wanted to see the hippest neighborhood now in the megalopolis of LA.  The obvious choice is York Blvd.  For decades working-class Mexican-Americans dominated the Highland Park neighborhood.  Close to DTLA (downtown Los Angeles), with relatively low real estate prices, recently it was discovered by a hipster cohort priced out of Silverlake, Echo Park, and Eagle Rock.  Venice and Santa Monica?  Forget it!  Flooded with high-tech Silicon Beach money, mostly only decades long residents like me can afford it.


Jeff Bughouse prepares for machine noise performance


York now offers several art and design galleries, interspersed with the old-school salon de bellezza (beauty parlor) and the party goods/ pinata store, and a funky pool hall.  A super-hip micro-brewery just opened next door the very avant-garde gallery—Bughouse, whose proprietor (full disclosure my brother) also plays machine noise music during the monthly York Blvd Art Walk.  A green cross cannabis dispensary recently opened on the five block strip, while an indie coffee shop/ hang space (Café de Leche) pioneered the street years ago. Some observers have sounded alarms about the clash-of-cultures and gentrification, but it seems like the opposition consists of the dispossessed artist/ crafts  element and entrenched generations-old street gangs such as Avenues and Hombres Guapos 65.  These days walking down the street one encounters a tasty and friendly mix of the long-time resident Mexican-Americans and the newly arrived 20s-40s hipsters like Noah Levine, the meditation teacher at Against the Stream.  Although, retro-grade elements flash their odd cry (see above photo).

Forty-something with tats covering his hands, arms and up his neck like a multi-colored serpent, even with a three-year riding on his shoulders on York Blvd, Noah was more inconspicuous than me (being sixty-something with a long pony tail).  He fits right in and said he had lived the area for several years, way before the recent gentrification that has exchanged taco counters for beer gardens and cafes with white table cloths for auto mechanics.  A half-hour later he visited my brother’s new art gallery, Bughouse (they’re in the vanguard of this cultural shift in my unbiased opinion). I introduced Levine to everyone making a mental note to go to Against the Stream, soon.  Being the reflective sort, I thought ‘What did that encounter mean?’.


noah levine


A long time student of synchronicity, the next morning after the ‘coincidental’ encounter with Noah Levine on York Blvd, while soaking in my hot tub I pondered the Sunday ahead.  ‘Go to Agape?’ ‘Visit  Lakeshrine Self-Realization Fellowship?’ ‘Check the Unitarians?’ ‘Try InsightLA?’ ‘Kick back at Venice Beach?’ The previous day’s sidewalk meeting came to mind.  I took it as a ‘sign’ to go to InsightLA, since they practice the same form of Buddhism as Against the Stream.  InsightLA was founded by Trudy Goodman about fifteen years ago in Santa Monica and offers a full program of classes and meetings in the tradition of  American Buddhism initiated by Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein.  Afterward Goodman and I chatted for a bit—glad I went.

I have pursued a wide-range of spiritual paths for many years and eventually settled on a few practices that really worked for me.  I mix and match; I Ching, Tarot, Buddhism, Jung, Advaita, among others. At this point spiritual for me has no labels or need of an edifice, although I do appreciate and miss the fellowship of a formal venue.  But ‘church’ moments hit me in the most unexpected moments.  Like this summer in Topanga Canyon at the annual Reggae on the Mountain festival.  Walking up the hill to the concert being held on Topanga’s Little League field, the ‘maybes’ that often swirl in my head took a break, and feeling energetic after a nap and a speedy ride up the canyon in my Porsche, I was savoring the moment.  A guy scurried up to the road from the scrub brush with a couple balls in his hands.  I smiled at him and said, “Good catch.”  He responded with a joke of his own.  Then he offered to get me into the concert for free.  Sure.  Why not?  And just like that I saved $50.  That unexpected gift felt like a thumbs up from the universe.  Life may be filled with ‘suffering’ as the Buddhists say,but sometimes it can flow with connectivity.

Call it what you will, ‘coincidence’ or synchronicity, breaks from the analytic mind opens me to go with the flow until a sign or an eddy hits like it did on York Blvd.

Categories: Synchronicity/ Intution | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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.

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