|This is an email newsletter I send out whenever I get the chance, maybe once every 2 months. There are about 250 people on the list and I add names haphazardly. I started doing it inspired by Carl Lennertz and his newsletter from Random House in the old days, and George Young's Verbal Abuse newsletter to 10 Speed Press reps in the '90s. The idea was to keep sales reps who sell our books abreast of what we're doing. As I went along I started throwing in stories and photos from my trips and observations in general, and the result is what you have here.
Communication is a bit of a problem for me right now. I run across tons of stuff stuff I think is interesting, inspiring, or sensational, and it's taking too much time to get it into print. Books take years. So Gimme Shelter is an interim solution, and a blog is next.
I'm a "compulsive communicator." I want to tell people about what I find out in the world wherever I go, I keep a reporter's eye open and shoot photos and make notes. I'm gathering interesting and often useful info almost daily. Problem is in getting it together for a book I lose the immediacy. I'm continually excited by what I run across, so I've decided to try bogging stuff for a few months, both to get photos and interviews out, but also to generate interest in what we're doing. We're going into a new publishing phase of books on shelter, building, and homesteading and we'll see if blogging or other web communication can get the word out about HOME WORK and most recently, Yoshio Komatsu's beautiful children's book, WONDERFUL HOUSES AROUND THE WORLD. It will be graphics-heavy, since that's our strong suit. We'll let you know when it's up and running.
ATTENTION, WHOLE EARTH FOLKS...
One goal of this blog is to try to reactivate the network of Whole Earth Catalog (and subsequent WE magazines) readers from the 70s-'80s. If you had a new book reviewed in the WEC in those days, millions of people knew about it instantly. Those people are still around, they're just not all connected any more. We want to reconnect with them, they're our kind of people and they're going to dig Home Work. We're proud of that book and want to sell enough copies to keep our publishing vessel afloat. Please spread the word about HOME WORK if you like it.
I'M OFF FOR BANGKOK & VIET NAM
These places are pretty far from the disaster area, although I know I'll see some of the impact. Leaving mid-January. I'm going to try to scope out Bangok for future trips, since it seems to be station central for S/E Asia travel. I'm loaded for bear camera-wise this time, having decided to do a book on what I see going on in Southeast Asia in the 21st century. I'm also going to bring back a batch of silk weavings from the area. There's an explosion of silk weaving going on, beautiful things by beautiful people. It gives me a reason to explore different areas, a purpose for the trip in addition to photography. If I could clone myself I'd have the other guy set up a business importing silks.
SPRINGTIME FITNESS BOOKS SALE.
Watch for a special offer on Shelter's fitness books. We want to push them out there. Rate of returns for our top three fitness books, 2004:
Getting Stronger: 9%
WHAT'S IT ALL MEAN?
Since the NY Times article on moi, I've been asked a lot about my opinion on architecture. With respect to home design, I think architects have their heads up their asses. In Marin county, where I live, you just wouldn't believe the awfulness of 95% of new houses being built. It's a scene were a good architect is a rarity. I'm not a qualified critic, but I have my opinions, formed from decades of looking at every building I pass. HOME WORK is filled with good architecture, and some of it is even by architects.
Here's an example of of what I consider heads-up architecture, an office building in Truckee, Calif.:
A good architect at work
I seem to find myself working on a book to be titled BUILDERS. I got the idea in covering two extraordinary builders, Chuck Kroeger in Telluride, Colorado, and Alan Beckwith, a homesteader in the Northern California hills. Both of these guys do interesting things besides building. Chuck is a legendary high-mountain endurance runner, and Alan is a goldsmith as well as farmer. I'll be travelling around in the next year, shooting pix and interviewing builders. Let me know of any competent and interesting builders you know of. I have trips planned up the West Coast to British Columbia, and to Colorado.
ALAN'S BACK 40
Alan Beckwith bought 40 acres of mostly steep California hillside land in 1980 and has built a house and outbuilding in a valley on the edge of a creek. It's off the grid. He and his wife Marcie raise a great variety of food crops and have a contingent of animals, all nestled in a little creekside valley.
He started by dragging redwood stumps out of the creek with a VW bus. Then he built a shed and planted a garden. For the house's foundation, he dug a footing, then using a slip form, poured the footing; there are concrete piers and steel straps, to which he bolted the main posts of the house. First he built the upstairs, leaving the bottom open (dirt and gravel). He got the idea from buildings constructed at The Farm, the Tennessee commune. "I didn't know what I was doin,' Alan says. "Well, I did and I didn't."
He bought a big load of cedar lumber, got windows for $10 each at the San Quentin dump, got tempered glass (as used in sliding doors) practically free, and set them in redwood frames. The bottom floor, long finished, is the kitchen/dining room/living room. It's sunny and cheerful in the morning sun and cozy on cold nights. The floor is covered with high-fired Italian floor tiles.
Alan's a good craftsman. Things fit well. He says if he had it to do over again, he'd probably cover the exterior with plaster -- the sun has eaten the wood siding up. He's also starting to use Hardy Planks, a shiplap siding made of paper and concrete. You leave your shoes in the pantry, which is cool and filled with baskets of apples and pears. There's solar and hydro-powered electricity (propane backup) and a composting toilet.
Alan and Marcie have a big vegetable garden, some beautiful black/green ducks, a 35 year old Shetland pony (with personality!), and two pigs (wild boars they're raising). They have some 20 fruit trees: apples, pears, plums, peach, nectarine; two walnuts, two types of grapes; raspberries and olallieberries. Alan just planted 100 olive trees high on a sunny ridge. He makes his own beer, wine, and apple cider and usually has wild boar in the freezer. Not very many guys can do all the stuff he does -- it's unusual -- including driving tractor, dump truck, road maintenance, carpentry, plumbing, wiring, food preservation, volunteer firefighter AND goldsmithing...
About a month ago I went up to see Alan and shoot photos. It was a sunny morning. We had some good coffee, sat around and talked. I took some photos of the house, Alan's tractor, dumptruck, shop, beer-brewing setup, JP, the little wild boar playful character. In the afternoon we went boar hunting. It took me about an hour to realize to keep my big mouth shut (blah-blah-blah) and walk more softly. We never did see any boars, just evidence of them having been around the previous night. We DID find chanterelles, in a redwood grove (of all places!) and took pounds of them home for dinner. Alan cooked a leg of wild boar, and we had mushrooms, potatoes, beets, some of Alan's beer, then his wine. It was a cold night, a fire going, fantastic meal -- real food!
Here are a few pictures of the homestead. It'll be covered more extensively in BUILDERS.
Alan and Marcie's homestead
IT IS WONDERFUL
WONDERFUL HOUSES AROUND THE WORLD, our children's book, is finally shipping. The photos of these ten houses by Yoshio Komatsu -- in Mongolia, Togo, India, Bolivia and other parts of the world -- are stunning. Yoshio is a rare photographer, and the watercolor drawings of the interiors, and the children are beautiful. It's a great way for American kids to see how children in other parts of the world have such different lives.
We have mailed copies to all reps. If you guys want any more copies, email us. We can get them to you fast. For any teachers, people with kids who would spread the word. We LIKE giving out free copies. Patricia Kelly thinks you should hand-carry this book around to sell it. I tell you everyone I have shown this book to loves it.
ELLE MAGAZINE, ROMA
In mid-December I got a call on a Friday from Venice, California. It was Roberto Croci, commissioned to write an article on me for the Italian edition of Elle magazine. Hey, this was cool, I already love Italians and things Italian. We got to talking and it turned out we had a LOT in common. We went on about all sorts of things: doing stuff for yourself, skateboarding & surfing, the horribleness of the elections, the '60s revolution, good and accurate journalism, the excitement of having the technology to communicate, home-cooked food (slow food), and on and on. It was a ripping half-hour conversation. We hit it off. When we hung up, Roberto said, "I keese you, and I say hi!"
I picked Roberto up at the SFO airport the next Monday morning and he hit the ground running. I took him to Farley's cafe on Portrero Hill and he was immediately filming with his digi-cam, shooting stills with a digital camera, interviewing me and anyone who came along. I showed him around San Francisco. He was full of energy and love of life. My kinda guy! We went down under the Golden Gate Bridge, out to Ocean Beach, through the Mission and eventually home, where Roberto spent the night. He was fun! He manages an Italian restaurant in Venice as a night job, and a lot of our talk was about preparing Italian dishes.The next day, on the way to the airport, I got him on a skateboard in one of the Presidio's large parking lots. He got it, and was soon skating a pretty long way down the gentle slope.
The end result was an article in Elle, which I haven't had translated yet, called, ahem...l' ultimo samurai. Hey, I didn't pick that title...but it is sorta cool, heh heh heh...
Good Poems, edited by Garrison Keillor is a stunning collection of Good Poetry. I spied it in a small town bookstore one day and knew in an instant I'd buy it. It's dedicated 'To all the English teachers, especially the great ones," and Keillor bypasses T.S. Elliot "...the great stuffed owl ...," and Ginsberg, "...a good man, admirable in so many ways... but something of a gasbag." He's chosen poems that tell stories, or "...some cadence or shadow of story." It's a stylishly-designed little Penguin book, blue cover with elegant gold and white typeface. I loved reading through this book, leafing through the 1000 poems. I understand them all. Here's a poem by Sharon Bryan that seems so beautifully crafted and funny:
A Love Song To Language
Never better, mad as a hatter
Right as rain, might and main
Hanky panky, hot toddy,
Hoity-toity, cold shoulder
Bowled over, rolling in clover,
Low blow, no soap, hope
against hope, pay the piper
liar liar pants on fire,
high and dry, shoo-fly pie,
fiddle-faddle, fit as a fiddle,
sultan of swat, muskrat
ramble, fat and sassy,
flimflam, happy as a clam,
cat's pajamas, bee's knees,
peas in a pod, pleased as punch,
pretty as a picture, nothing much,
lift the latch, double Dutch,
early bird, feathered friend,
dumb cluck, buck up,
roly-poly, holy moly,
loose lips sink ships,
spitting image, nip in the air,
hale and hearty, part and parcel,
upsy-daisy, lazy days,
maybe baby, up to snuff,
spic and span, handyman,
cool as a cucumber, blue moon,
high as a kite, night and noon,
love me or leave me, seventh heaven,
up and about, over and out.
GARY SNYDER IS ALIVE AND VERY WELL
If you've ever enjoyed ANY of Gary Snyder's poetry, then get Danger on Peaks. His first collection of new poems in 20 years, it's elegant and beautiful and meaningful and musical. I read a favorable review of this book in the NY Times, but wasn't prepared for how good it really was. I've been reading it in bed at night, just opening it here and there, and it's a delight. Language has been honed down to essentials -- the poet's craft has been mastered here. The poems are tight and taut and finely-crafted -- distilled to their essence. What really resonates with me are his experiences in the outdoors, many of the same things I run across outdoors, things I feel but never articulate: about trees, mountains, creeks, bobcats, sunsets -- awe at the wonders of our planet. But that's just one level of the things going on. It's also a summing-up of 60 years of Gary's life so far, so it's written in variety of styles. This is a wonderful little book. Published by Shoemaker Hoard.
Huge news for me was getting a Cannon 20D digital camera several weeks ago. I've been lens-poor, and shutter-lag-exasperated for years now with my digital cameras. My Nikon 5700 was a fine little camera, but very confusing to operate (menus in different places, etc.), slow to shoot.
I was ready for the change. The 20D is big and heavy, but I'll live with that. It's heaven to shoot. I can change the ISO for each shot. I'm shooting manual again (when necessary). I've got three lenses, all with motion stabilization: 17-35 mm/28-135 mm/75-300 mm, so I can shoot wide-angle inclusive indoor shots, as well as telephoto close-ups of people (as in Southeast Asian markets or crowd scenes) without being intrusive.
Last week when I shot two builders and their off-the-grid homesteads in Mendocino county, the camera made possible a wider range of angles and better shots than I've been getting in years. With this camera I feel like a hunter, stalking my subject, and with the lenses I have a much freer hand in composing.
A REAL GOOD BOOK ON PHOTOSHOP AND DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY.
Digital Photography: Expert Techniques, by Ken Milburn. First, what I like about this book is it's not huge, with dense 10 point type. It's got a lot of white space and nice graphics that invite you to flip through the pages. To tell you the truth, I never read instructional books straight through. Never. I flip around, use the index or table of contents to go to what I want to learn. I don't have extensive Photoshop skills, just the basics, and this book extends my knowledge comfortably. It gives tips for shooting in the best possible manner, and then for enhancing in Photoshop. For example, shoot RAW images, and underexpose (I'd amend this to "underexposing is better than over-exposing); then using Levels and then Curves to enhance exposure; the unsharp mask; layers; proper use of brushes, etc. I'm not as interested in the special effects stuff, but if you are, much of it is simply explained here.
Man I have been in a FUNK! Lower back pain and not even as bad as many people. I just don't do well with losing physical mobility. I fell skateboarding several months ago, just a dumb fall at 3 miles per hour, but landed on my left butt and wrenched something. Also I'd been running for a year without stretching enough, got tight hamstrings, had a kind of consent ache and worse,. felt like one of the old guys you see hobbling down the street. Fuck!
I just worked my way out of it a few weeks ago, and I want to pass this along because I think it applies to many many people with the most common type of lower back pain. When it became apparent it wasn't going to go away with rest, I started yoga classes. An excellent teacher, not only were the poses (stretches) great, but she made me aware of my body in different ways. I went once a week and did it at home sporadically. Things started loosening up.
The breakthrough came when I pulled a book out of our vast fitness library called TREAT YOUR OWN BACK PAIN. Had it for years, never looked at it seriously before. The author, Robin McKenzie, from New Zealand, tells you to do the exact opposite of what I was doing. That is, do back extensions. He has you lie on the floor on your belly and then raise the front of your body, first to your elbows and then straighten the arms so there is a curve in your lower back. I had been avoiding this position in yoga. When the class did back extensions, I'd skip them, just lie there. I followed the book's advice. Sure enough, as he said, at first there was an increase in the pain, but after a few days, I felt a healing process beginning. I'd brought circulation into the area by the extensions. I should have realized this from all my running injuries, that after a period of rest and not aggravating it further, you're still not healing, so you have to work the injured area and it may hurt at first. The trick of course is to know what level of pain is OK.I like being able to fix problems myself (as, say, opposed to chiropractic adjustments,).
It was a revelation. I walk better and feel a lot more energetic.This is a wonderful book. You have to determine if it will help your own lower back condition. The publisher, Orthopedic Physical Therapy Products, also sells bolsters you put in your car or chair to keep the curve of your lumbar spine, (the spine connecting your upper and lower body). I use the Superroll in my truck and it helps.
I recently found some beautiful yellow feathers in the hills and took them to our local bird expert (and artist) Keith Hansen to identify, He said they were from a western meadowlark that had probably been killed by a merlin. I asked him about the best book on identifying birds, since there are so many around these hills and beaches (and lagoon) where we live and he said The Sibley Guide to Birds, was "the only book you'll need on birds." I ordered it sight unseen, and is it spectacular! 6600 drawings, all impeccable.David Allen Sibley has been drawing birds for 35 years and this is the result. Moreover, he doesn't look all that old, maybe 40s; how anyone could do this many drawings (of this quality) in a life time is beyond me. Published by Audubon.
(The other morning I was having breakfast with two friends and suddenly a bunch of feathers drifted down past the window. A red-shouldered hawk had snatched a dove off the telephone wire.)
Mushroom Book FOR CALIFORNIOS
All that the Rain Promises, and More: A Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms, by David Arora
Pretty much every mushroom hunter I know has this book, It's a west coast mushroom hunters essential, a little book that fits in your pocket. It's full of good quality color mushroom pix, has clear descriptions of key features, as well as edibility,* and is witty in ways you wouldn't think a mushroom book could be. Recipes, stories, fun.. Another outstanding reference book by a youngish guy, who's obviously been in The Zone for some time.
*I love the phrase "may cause severe gastro-intestinal distress."
When I was growing up, I thought the whole world was like this. Beaches, mountains, forests, clean water, rich soil. Surfing, hiking, volleyball, beach-bumming...We're physical, more so than people who come from cooler climates. We can be outside every day, all year long. I feel a kinship with other native Californians, especially ones that have hung out at the beach, like aside from anything else, there's a connection...we're encoded with Pacific Ocean.
Best of Fats Domino Live. A must for any Fats fan. You can't tell when or where they were recorded, but Fat's voice is the best it's been, rich and strong. The audiences are loving it, I'll bet these were recorded in the 60s. Great band, lots of sax. Pure New Orleans joy! "I wants to take you home..."
(Every once in a while I call up my friend Sherm and when he picks up the phone I put on some song full-blast and hold my phone to the speakers. No words are spoken. Today I did it with Fats on this album doing Hello Josephine. He loved it.)
CHASING THE DEVIL AT SWEETWATER
What's great about this nightclub is that you can look in through the window and watch and hear the band. About half the time I go on in. Small clubs like this are so great for bands -- if the music is good, it knits everyone in the room together, SO, one Thursday night a month or so ago, I took one listen outside and rushed in. Tom Rigney and his band Flambeau. Man! A fluid and nimble fiddler, soaring through a variety of musical styles. Kick-ass zydeco, cajun (which you cannot hear and possibly hold still), low-down blues, and Irish jigs and other celtic stuff that reached right down into my mother's Welsh past. I knew these tunes! It was one of those great musical events that have happened to me over the years. I can never tell when it's going to happen. The band, the place, the audience, the position of the moon and planets...*
This was such a hot band. I'd seen Rigney a few times in the '90s as part of the Sundogs, and they were pretty good. But this was a whole other level. The band Flambeau is so solid. Reminds of Merle Haggard's band. Every song was tight and made you want to dance. Rigney's a virtuoso fiddler and can play the fast stuff and double notes, but he also plays simple soulful waltzes that break your heart, they're so sweet. 1-2-3...1-2-3...
I bought 4 Cds that night, came home and stayed up all night (writing, doing photo stuff) listening to the music. Zo Gut! If you like zydeco, cajun, celtic, blues (yes!), and romantic waltzes, get Chasing The Devil by Tom Rigney. These guys are a national treasure as yet undiscovered by a sizeable (enough) audience. The latest, A Blue Thing, includes a bunch of songs written by Rigney, as well as a wicked versions of House of the Rising Sun and Baby Please Don't Go, and other blues.