Friday, August 29, 2008

Reading date change at Steinbeck Center ...

I just wanted to point out that my reading at the Steinbeck Center at San Jose State has been changed to Tuesday, September 30, 730 p.m. (see list of events below.) It will be on the fifth floor of the Martin Luther King Jr. Library. Snacks and wine will be served.

Walking with mountain lions: four backcountry survival tips

The other day, I went on a twilight run through mountain lion territory. It was scary! Every time I heard something stalking around in the bushes, I thought a puma was going to leap out and bite me in half. It always turned out to be a quail, a woodrat or a sparrow, but still. From now on, I will remember these words of wisdom every time I'm walking through cougar territory:

1. Always hike in a group. The mountain lion will only eat your slow-moving, chubby friends and leave you alone.
2. If you see a mountain lion, stand on your tip-toes and stretch your arms high in the air to make yourself look larger. That way, the mountain lion will think there’s more to eat.
3. If you see a mountain lion, make as much noise as possible! That way, every cougar in the forest will know where you are.
5. And last, but not least: If a mountain lion attacks you, fight back! It will look funny on YouTube.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


I just had a great conversation on KFOG about The Cactus Eaters and living in the backcountry. Many thanks to the listeners who called in or emailed questions during the broadcast.

Friday, August 22, 2008

French cactus eaters

Thanks to Mr. Victor White for contributing this theme-appropriate photo, taken during a recent visit to Paris.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Upcoming Cactus readings (with one date change...)

I will be reading -- and going on the radio -- very soon in San Francisco, the East Bay, in San Jose and other locations. Here is what I have lined up so far for the near future. Please note the changed date (same time) for the San Jose State reading below.

Saint Mary's College of California, Creative Writing Reading SeriesMoraga, CA
Soda Activity Center
7:30 p.m., September 24 (Wednesday)

San Jose State University
San Jose, CA
new date:
7:30 p.m., September 30, Tuesday
Reading at the Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies
Fifth floor, Martin Luther King Jr. Library
Reception to follow.

Books Inc In The Castro
San Francisco, CA
(2275 Market Street)
7:30 pm, October 2 (Thursday)
Books Inc. in the Castro
Reading and signing

Livermore Public Library
Livermore, Ca
2 p.m., October 5 (Sunday.)
Reading and signing

Monday, August 18, 2008

The day I climbed Mount Whatever

More advice for travel writers ...

Summer is coming to a close, which means one thing: you are probably contemplating one last serious backpacking or day hiking trip before the cold weather and September obligations come slamming down. You will probably bring a digital camera out into the woods with you and take thousands of pictures of mountains, lakes, streams, people and woodland creatures.
But if you decide to take pictures, do me one favor. Label your photos!
I am speaking from sad personal experience. During my wilderness sojourns, I took approximately 3,000 pictures -- and I did not label a single one of them!! Now, I am at a total loss about the pictures. I have forgotten the identities of almost all the people in the photos. I cannot tell any of the crags, lakelets, streams and sylvan landscapes apart. Now, when people look through my photos and slides, I am not very helpful at all. "Oh, that was the day I climbed Mount Whatever with What's-his-Face, in Whatever-the-hell state it was.''
By the way, if you can help identify the mountains and waterway in this picture, shoot me a message. It would be a big help.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Smut give-away in Noe Valley (updated.)

Run, don't walk, to the corner of Castro and Clipper today. There (unless some mean person has removed it) you will notice a large box of free books that someone has left on the sidewalk right next to the bus stop near the coin-op laundromat. The box is filled to the brim with such books as "The Ninety Days of Genevieve,'' "The Romance of Lust,'' and "My Darling Dominatrix.'' I even overheard someone with a very dramatic voice, loudly reading such passages as "whimpering in tight-lipped grunts,'' "straining sinews,'' and "both girls awaited tensely, knowing that a spanking was imminent.''

Whoever left this box removed all of the covers, which was a very cruel thing to do. However, the person left a helpful sign on the top of the box, lest there be any confusion. "SMUT!'' it says.

(Addendum: I drove past the intersection yesterday, and noticed that someone has taken the entire box. The opportunity has passed.)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A bear in Silicon Valley?

This is old news for many of you at this point, but I was surprised to read, in Tom Stienstra's column, that two Bay Area hikers saw a black bear this week at Rancho San Antonio near Cupertino. It's a beautiful open space area where you always see vitamin-D deprived programmers going on long runs with "Got Code?'' T-shirts.
By the way, there is a slight connection between my book and Rancho San Antonio, once the home of the unfortunate Elisha Stephens, a pioneer and homesteader who appears in The Cactus Eaters(Stephens helped open up what became known as "Donner Pass,'' got zero credit, and died a bee-keeping, bitter grump in Kern County. Apparently he's in an unmarked grave.) Rancho San Antonio is my big escape every time I feel like going to points south and warming up but don't have the time to get to my beloved Santa Cruz. I've seen rattlesnakes, deer, hundreds of quail and a limping bobcat --- but alas, never a bear. Is Ursus Americanus taking over Silicon Valley? Stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Brave New Traveler Interview: "Dan White Eats Cactus And Loses His Mind.''

This just in, an interview with the writer Alexis Wolff, in Brave New Traveler magazine. And yes, the bearded scarecrow holding the knife in front of Mount Shasta is me. (That photo is living proof that you need to eat quite a lot of calories on the trail or you will look like a walking skeleton after a while. You can burn 6,000 calories a day out there. When I started out on the trail, I weighed around 200 pounds. When it was all over, I weighed about 160!!)

P.S. --- see entry below for reading/signing appearance list, updated today with a new SF appearance.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Outstanding in my field of dirt

I used to be known as the "Pigpen of the Trail'' or "Dirty Dan.'' This nickname came from the simple fact that dirt, dust, gnats and trail grime clung to me, my gear and my clothes. In many photos from that period of my life, it looked as if someone used my T-shirts to scrub the dirt off a bison or a water buffalo. However, I am not taking my title, or my trail name, for granted. If you can provide visual evidence (i.e. an emailed jpeg photo) that you or any of your hiking friends are bigger dirt magnets than I was, feel free to send them here --- but let me know if I have your permission to put them on the blog. (If this happens, I will also have to change my trail name into something else.)Meanwhile, here is some visual evidence:

Monday, August 04, 2008

The Crawlspace Letters: the mystery continues

A while back, I wrote about a cache of very old and mysterious letters and photographs that I found in a crawlspace in my apartment (I live in the Haight, in a house that pre-dates and somehow survived the San Francisco earthquake.) I took another look in the crawlspace this weekend, and found dozens of items that are even older and stranger than the first batch. I found a 70-year-old letter from Camp Curry, Yosemite, begging the recipient for cash and urging a response about an undescribed "serious matter.'' I also found a vaguely menacing letter, urging the recipient to march in a parade scheduled for Labor Day, 1926. "Remember,'' the letter reads. "You will be conspicuous by your absence!'' I also found a King of Hearts playing card from the turn of the century, an identification card dated Dec. 31, 1937, an advance advertisement for Steinbeck's Cannery Row, and a catalog filled with photos of old corsets, yokes and other kinky-looking things from the early 1920s. Obviously, this apartment has had quite a life before I moved in last year!

I'm hoping to find an SF cultural historian who can help me make sense of all these artifacts. When that happens, I'll file an update right here.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Freeze-dried matzo ball soup --- yum!

As of Aug. 2 (Saturday) you will be able to download a podcast of my talk with Evan Kleiman about trail food on KCRW. This week's program also talks about cupcake fetishes, food allergies, natural wines, chicken curry and more.