Sunday, March 30, 2008

Back from the desert

Last week, we drove a Dodge Avenger through the California outback, with Gram Parsons and Midnight Oil blasting in the CD player. We saw our first condor, black and white, with board-straight wings. He floated above the red steps leading down from the High Peaks Trail through the Pinnacles. Out in the Mojave, I set up a tent near a Joshua tree, stopped a giant raven from tearing up the campsite of three So.Cal. frat boys, (by the time I arrived on the scene, the creature had eaten some of their tortillas) and climbed Ryan Mountain at the hottest time of day. In camp, three teenage partiers climbed a 50-foot boulder. They stood at the edge of the drop, twirling glow sticks, staring at their hands and jabbering until four in the morning. My vacation wasn't exactly perfect. One night in a high country camp, a semi-deranged caretaker stole my utensils, water and sleepwear. Still, it was a good time. I'll be back there soon.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Dates for "Cactus'' readings so far (updated)

Several friends, writing colleagues and family members asked for this, so here it is, and I'll keep adding updates when I get them. If you happen to live in any of these places (or are just passing through when I'm in town), stop by and say hello. As the dates get a little closer, I will fill in the addresses.

June 4, Bellingham, WA., Village Books, Wednesday
7 p.m.

June 5, Seattle, WA at Seattle Public Library (in conjunction with Secret Garden Book Store) 630 p.m.

June 6, Portland, Barnes and Noble, 7 p.m. …

June 19 -- Capitola Book Cafe, Capitola, California, 730 p.m.

June 29, American Library Association conference, Anaheim, 1:30 p.m.-3:30 p.m, location to be announced. I will take part in a panel called "First Author, First Book,'' with Kaya McLaren (Church of the Dog, Penguin), Scott Douglas (Quiet, Please, Perseus Books), Mark Sarvas (Harry, Revised, Bloomsbury USA), and Anya Ulinich (Petropolis, Penguin). Visit for more information.

"No Country'' nightmares

I finally got around to seeing "No Country ...'' at the Red Vic the other day -- and
I must say, I regret it. Now I'm having nightmares that the helmet-headed mumbly guy is out to get me. On the good side, I like the theater. They serve you popcorn in wooden bowls, they have padded benches instead of seats, and before the main attraction, they run a short film showing a rude Red Vic patron kicking over his soft drink and making a mess -- only to be grabbed, and, presumably, eaten alive, by a green-skinned monster that lives beneath the seats of the movie theater.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Book signings/readings in June

I'm scheduled to speak throughout the Pacific Northwest in June, with several appearances in the Bay Area and Central Coast. I'll post the schedule up here when I've firmed everything up. By the way, thanks to everyone who showed up to the Steinbeck Fellows reading the other day. I will post again in a couple of weeks. (I'm in a work-induced blog hibernation, with galleys and student papers...)

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Banana slugs, bongo players, fat-tire unicyclists and sex in the woods

It's hard to believe that the Forest of Nisene Marks was once a sad stumpy wasteland, with loggers doing their darnedest to hack down every redwood they could find. In the turn of the century, this place was a disaster. Now, the forest offers some of the best hiking you can find anywhere on the Central Coast. You can hike all day on the edge of steep ravines, splash through streams and ogle banana slugs, which look like slices of overripe mango. Second-growth redwoods grow so tall, you can barely see the tops without straining your neck and back (like I did.) It's easy to forget the place's unfortunate history until you stumble across a fat stump with ferns and moss growing out of it, the broken-down remains of a cabin, or a set of railroad ties fading into the woods. Sometimes you forget you're near Santa Cruz --- until you see the signs of wacky behavior: fat-tire unicyclists out on an illegal trail ride deep in the park's interior, someone lost in the sounds of his own bongos, a crazy guy blatting out a song on the digeridu while sitting cross-legged on a folding chair, and a couple having loud, exhibitionist sex in a Range Rover with the windows down on the fire road, paying zero attention to the small army of moms pushing babystrollers right past them. There are few people out here, even on a nice day. Get here early in the morning and watch the steam rising off the redwoods.

Gary Gygax, Dungeons & Dragons co-creator, dies at 69

I was sad to hear about this. D and D helped me survive middle school -- even though my brother was much, much better at it than I was, and my hapless, wimpy dwarves and henchmen always ended up broke, defenseless and slaughtered early on in the game. This might sound like a stretch, but I would even argue that there are certain connections between D and D and long-distance backpacking culture. The trail can turn into a role playing game. You can lose your identity and get a 'trail name.'' Sometimes, a backpacker will identify so strongly with his/her trail name that the name becomes a kind of character. Out on the trail, you find yourself in the middle of a quest narrative that goes on for thousands of miles. And, if that's not enough, there is a slightly geeky aspect to certain long-distance walkers--- and I'm not exempting myself from this admittedly broad characterization.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

The opposite of road rage

The other day, I was driving through SF's Inner Sunset neighborhood, in a hurry, on the way to the Yum Yum. A car full of very young people cut me off at that tricky four-way intersection (Irving and 9th.) I honked my horn. Down came their driver's side window. I braced myself for the nasty threats, the fists, the finger. But no. Instead, a bearded, frizzy-haired guy leaned out the window, made a "calm down, take it down a notch'' gesture to me with his right hand, and calmly mouthed out the following words:

"It's ... going .. to ... be .. OK.''

This is the first time that I've ever gotten into a road rage situation with a crisis intervention counselor. Needless to say, the encounter left no negative residue at all. I wish this kind of thing would happen more often. If this were NYC, all my teeth, at this point, would be missing.