Thursday, December 24, 2009

My doppelganger prepares to conquer the John Muir Trail

Believe it or not, but another Dan White is about to hike the mighty trail.

Stay tuned. I'll tell you all about this striking coincidence after the holidays.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Scary morning: Smoke and Fire in the Haight

To evacuate or not to evacuate? That's what I wondered at 445 a.m. as the smell of smoke wafted through my living room. I opened up the blinds and saw fire and smoke, and it looked awfully close to my apartment. Then I heard the choppers, crowd noise and fire engines honking. A big black cloud rose over the Upper Haight. The fire burned Tikka Masala and scorched part of Villains, which is part of my weekly neighborhood stroll. Fortunately, no one was injured but seven people were displaced.
A scary situation -- and it could have been a lot worse.

Bookshop Santa Cruz gives away free nuts with Sarah Palin's memoir. (read all about it right here.)

Here is some breaking bookshop news.

Bookshop Santa Cruz -- the same bookshop that sold Rush Limbaugh's See I Told You So for the price of baloney (per pound) in 1993, is now offering a "free bag of nutz'' with each copy it sells of Sarah Palin's book Going Rogue. Bookshop staff say a bag of Sarah Palin's Just Plain Nutz is also available for $3.98 to those who have the munchies but don't necessarily want the memoir.

Read all about it right here.

You might remember that this bookstore also handed out commemorative air sickness bags for each copy of a Newt Gingrich book.

If you look carefully at the bag of nuts on the web site, you will see that each plastic bag has Sarah Palin's face on it.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Embittered store manager seeks cashier

My neighborhood has a fashion boutique that is often empty. I avoid going in there because they sell punk rock lace-up boots that would look very silly on me if I ever put them on. But the other day I noticed a bitter, profanity-laced (and unintentionally hilarious!) help wanted sign in the window.

By the time I showed up with my pen and my blogging notebook, someone had taken the sign down. This is my best effort at a 'total recall' version.

"The store is looking for a cashier. If you apply, be professional about it. Don't just take a crumpled-up wad of paper out of your pocket and hand it to me! That kind of thing will get you nowhere in life. And no, we do NOT have application forms. Also, be aware of the fact that we deal with a lot of freaks, losers, druggies, weirdoes who smell like (EXPLETIVE) and (EXPLETIVES) who we are always asking to move along. Also, the days can be quite long, and, sometimes, very boring.

Think you can handle it??''

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Cactus Eaters: now available in paperback and on Kindle

The book is also available in liquid form.

Action figures, coloring book, cookbook and cactus-flavored breakfast cereals are still in development.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Yelling at books

One of you emailed me a funny story about seeing someone reading my book in public and, every so often, turning the book around and shouting questions and comments at my author's photo. I found this story inspiring because it suggests that physical copies of books might have a future. With digital book readers, you can't scream at the author's photo or throw the book against the wall.

And thank you to each and every one of you who has interacted in my book in a deeply physical way, even if you wound up flinging it out of a window, pelting people with advanced-review copies, using it for kindling, etc. Long live books unplugged!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Barbershop series returns with authors, endless cupcakes and beer

For five dollars, you get brews, authors, and enough sweets to choke a donkey.

I would get there early if I were you.

The fun begins this Saturday at 8.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

How to write a great novel

I found this thoroughly enjoyable WSJ article on the Koreanish blog.

I got a big kick out of this, considering that a small portion of the first draft of my first book consisted of emails that I sent to myself over and over again while writing at a workstation that forced me to stand up.

For some reason, there were no chairs in the workstation; I think someone stole them.

Fighting back against vandals who can't spell

Some dummy put an ugly tag on one of my favorite local murals last night.

Under cloak of darkness, the person wrote "Kil All Human'' on the corner of the mural. This surprised me. Since our local murals are beautiful examples of 'street art,' why would anyone want to wreck that?

Anyhow, when I saw this, I borrowed a cloth from a passerby and removed the ugly tag, which (thank goodness) was written in chalk, not paint.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Free pile of junky, waterlogged books

My free book luck has run out.

Near my apartment, someone left a disgusting pile of waterlogged books with suspicious stains all over them.

I was afraid to throw them in the trash (that's bad karma) so I put them in front of someone else's apartment instead. I think one of the books was Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

Cheap thrills for book lovers, part XXXV: Helene Wecker, Holly Payne, Megan Kelly and Jim Provenzano

Get there early on December 5 if you want to kick back in one of the comfy barber chairs. (Yes, this reading series takes place in an actual barbershop. Not kidding.)

Thanks for the free books!

Someone left a free stash of really good, mint-condition books right outside my apartment, and the strange thing is, they were books I was planning to read anyhow: Haruki Murakami, After The Quake, James Baldwin, Another Country, Brett Easton Ellis, American Psycho. Aside from this, they left me a really nice journal and a couple of promising DVD's. I guess they fled town in a hurry.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Staunchly refusing to sell dumb products on my blog

The following people or companies have approached me, asking me to advertise their silly and/or reprehensible products on my blog:

1. A company that sells smelly foot ointment (a lotion for people with very smelly feet)
2. A company that sells inserts for footwear
3. A major car company
4. Someone claiming to represent tobacco interests
5. A company that sells lotions for people with cracking and smelly feet.
6. A company that wants to pay me an honorarium to give positive reviews for their silly, disreputable-sounding products.

My answer to all of these companies is a loud and resounding "NO!'' And please, no more queries from people selling foot-related products of any kind.

Winners of the National Book Award

Congratulations to SF's own TJ Stiles for winning the nonfiction prize.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Photo of Bigfoot art project

Thank you, J., for sending me this photo of this very crudely constructed Bigfoot sculpture, featured close to the end of The Cactus Eaters. (This is an alternative version of the sculpture.)

I know that this sculpture doesn't look very much like Bigfoot. It's hard to go for realism when you're making a sculpture out of binder clips, fake fur, metal wire, Sharpie markings, Scotch Tape, Post-It reminder stickers, cotton swabs and pieces from an electrical circuit board.

How to tip your waiter in Haight-Ashbury

Gratuitous information:

The following is an actual (handwritten) sign that hangs on the wall of All You Knead, a Haight-Ashbury restaurant.

"Attention, Foreign Travelers:
A quick guide to the wacky American custom of TIPPING.
20 percent -- great tip, great service
17 percent, good tip, good service
15 percent, fair tip, fair service
10 percent: another way of saying to your server, 'you suck and I hate you.''

Monday, November 16, 2009

Funny you shoud ask that question

The other day, I went out and saw a scary movie, and when I emerged from the theater, someone emerged from the darkness and started shouting at me (and the crowd of people walking with me.) One of the things he said was, "Has any of you ever eaten a cactus??? Don't try it!! Don't try it!!''

At first this really freaked me out, for obvious reasons.

But it turned out he was only talking about peyote.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Tim Cahill: "A Travel Writer Comes Home.''

Tim Cahill, this year's Lurie Distinguished Visiting Writer at SJSU, is the subject of an intriguing profile in the Wall Street Journal. The story shows how Cahill writes about his world travels while holed away in a cabin in the woods.

The scariest burger I've ever seen

If you've done a significant amount of backpacking, you know what it's like when you hit a supply town. You will eat anything. Globs of peanut butter. A gallon of ice cream or a 17.6 ounce Trader Joes Pound Plus Chocolate Bar in one sitting. One time, after hiking in the backwoods of eastern Kentucky, I was so hungry that I ate a double patty special from Wendy's -- and when I was done, I realized, with disgust, that I had eaten the paper and foil wrappers along with the hamburger!! But someone recently sent me a link to a burger that I could never eat, even after a long slog through the wilderness. Available only in Japan, the McDonald's "Mega Tomago'' has three sweaty beef patties, two big hunks of bacon, three buns, large gobs of cheese, and, to top it off, a big, wiggly, hockey-puck shaped egg. So my two questions are: "Who would eat this?'' and "How would you eat this?'' How would you even stretch your mouth high enough to take a bite out of this? Wouldn't it dislocate your jaw?

Anyhow, don't forget that you saw it here first.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Lots of Books

I'm very busy lately, but I'm making time for books. Don't miss these recent (or fairly recent) titles. Lorrie Moore, A Gate At the Stairs. Tragic, surprising and strange. The slow-food-restaurant-from-hell scene was an added bonus. Rick Wartzman: Obscene in the Extreme. Thought-provoking book about the banning and burning of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, which turns 70 this year. I reread Grapes this month to mark the anniversary. Philip Roth. The Humbling and Indignation. I admire Roth's epics, such as American Pastoral, but lately he's been writing these pitiless little books that hit very hard. The Humbling is about a once-great actor on the skids, and the unexpected romance which might put him back in business or put him out of commission for good. I won't spoil the ending but if you've read Roth, you know he can be merciless with his main characters. Also by Roth: Indignation is about the price some people pay for flouting conventions. And it has the scariest panty-raid scene ever written. Speaking of Roth, Bob Morris's new memoir, Assisted Loving, reads like a light-hearted comedic twist on Patrimony. Tracy Kidder, Strength In What Remains is his best yet. This goes beyond "immersive'' creative nonfiction and (to steal a phrase from the William Finnegan blurb, right on the back of the book) turns into a work of "sympathetic imagination.'' Zeitoun. Dave Eggers. A fast-moving tale about a man who resists fleeing New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina movies in. The fate of this would-be Good Samaritan will set your teeth on edge. (The author's POV and outrage are very strong in this book, even though he avoids the "I'' and rarely announces his opinion.)

The Bigfoot pictures are here

An East Coast reader has taken several candid shots of the Bigfoot doll that appears in the book (sorry, I can't remember the page.) Now I just need to figure out how to post them. It's only a matter of time.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

They Might Be Giants free concert in the Haight

If you're on a budget and have a kid and want to see an interesting free show, make sure to go to the They Might Be Giants kid-friendly concert at the Booksmith on Thursday at 4 p.m
I know they have quite a cult following. I must admit that I don't know much about this band, except for the ABC educational song "King Weed'' and of course the one about the birdhouse. Also, I look like them. This concert is just one of a whole slew of free concerts in my historic neighborhood. In the past few months, everyone from Elvis Costello to Ghostface Killah has made appearances out here.

Monday, November 09, 2009

The world's least ambitious juggler

I just saw the world's least ambitious juggler. She was standing near the Haight/Ashbury intersection, juggling a single ball! (If you can even call that juggling. Really, she was just throwing one ball in the air and catching it repeatedly.) Pretty bad. On the plus side, she was balancing a pumpkin on her head, which takes a certain amount of skill, especially when you are tossing a ball up and down and catching it in your hand.

Reader finds collectible "Cactus Eaters'' Bigfoot paraphernalia

A close reader of the book has found one of the homemade Bigfoot dolls mentioned briefly in the latter portion of the book.

This particular Bigfoot is made out of glue, fake fur and binder clips borrowed from a high-tech corporation where I used to be a temp. I worked on this art project 13 years ago while I was doing legal research for the company. (priorities, priorities.)

If I can get this person to send in a photo, I'll blog it right here.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Your adventurous suggestions

Since my GAP story was published, I've been getting a lot of emails with recommendations for places to hike, bike and write about in the coming year. Thanks -- and keep the recommendations rolling in. (please: no biting flies, deserts, succulents, crocodiles, vampire bats, etc.)

Indie Bookstores Unite in NYC

This looks like a great event; wish I could be there in person.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Slide show: Great Allegheny Passage, plus Maynard Sembower

Here are some beautiful photos that give you a good sense of the GAP. This ran with the Times piece on Friday. Also, I was saddened to hear about the recent passing of Mr. Maynard Sembower, the Mayor of the GAP. I feel very lucky to have met him and conversed with him (all too briefly)in Rockwood, PA., about the trail during my recent trek. He was 100 years old.

Hiking with umbrellas? Bleccch!

I have just returned from a practice hike in which I tried to avoid sunscreen and protect myself from the heat by hiking with a large umbrella (or parasol.) I've read so much hype about this that I wanted to give it a try myself. Alas, the umbrella strategy was problematic. Perhaps I was hemmed in by my desire to see where I was going. Often, the umbrella blocked my view. Because of this, I was hiking blind most of the time, crashing into many foreign objects( bushes, rocks, trees, bees and so forth). For another, I could never figure out how to keep all of myself out of the sun's searing rays; at any give time, my ankle, neck or calves were getting barbecued from above. And finally, hiking with an umbrella looks silly, especially if your parasol is huge and pink with ugly racing stripes.

More later, but for now I would have to say "thumbs down on umbrella-hiking excursions.''

Thursday, October 22, 2009

New York Times Escapes: My journey on the Great Allegheny Passage

Here is my latest adventure, this one on two wheels. My travels took me through a beautiful section of Maryland and Pennsylvania. By the way, this was a sort of homecoming for me; I used to live in Glen Echo, MD., close to the towpath.
Right now (Friday morning) this is the fifth most emailed story on the NYT site.

(The passage's many bridges took us over countless river and creek crossings such as the one shown in the watercolor painting above.)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Travels in Pennsylvania and Maryland

My story about my East Coast adventure (using a mode of transportation that I don't use very often) will be published this week.

Strangely enough, this particular trip required a lot of physical exertion but absolutely no hiking at all!

Saturday, October 10, 2009


Lorrie Moore, A Gate At the Stairs. Tragic, surprising and strange. The slow-food-restaurant-from-hell scene was an added bonus. Rick Wartzman: Obscene in the Extreme. Thought-provoking book about the banning and burning of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, which turns 70 this year. I reread Grapes this month to mark the anniversary. Philip Roth. The Humbling and Indignation. I admire Roth's epics, such as American Pastoral, but lately he's been writing these pitiless little books that hit very hard. The Humbling is about a once-great actor on the skids, and the unexpected romance which might put him back in business or put him out of commission for good. I won't spoil the ending but if you've read Roth, you know he can be merciless with his main characters. Also by Roth: Indignation is about the price some people pay for flouting conventions. And it has the scariest panty-raid scene ever written. Speaking of Roth, Bob Morris's new memoir, Assisted Loving, reads like a light-hearted comedic twist on Patrimony. Tracy Kidder, Strength In What Remains is his best yet. This goes beyond "immersive'' creative nonfiction and (to steal a phrase from the William Finnegan blurb, right on the back of the book) turns into a work of "sympathetic imagination.'' Zeitoun. Dave Eggers. A fast-moving tale about a man who resists fleeing New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina movies in. The fate of this would-be Good Samaritan will set your teeth on edge. (The author's POV and outrage are very strong in this book, even though he avoids the "I'' and rarely announces his opinion.)

Monday, October 05, 2009

Wish list for next year's HSBG fest...

Another great festival has come and gone, but it's never too early to start planning for the next one.

Here is my wish list for HSBG 2010.

Little Village reunion (with John Hiatt, Nick Lowe, Ry Cooder and Jim Keltner)

John Fogerty, solo acoustic.

Lucinda Williams with her band.

Wild card singer-songwriter choice: Paul Weller.

Iris Dement.

Greg Brown.

This is just a starting point. Feel free to send in if you have suggestions.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Cactuseaters RSS feeder

Apparently it's been up and running for a while.
Here it is:

Hardly Strictly day two: strong winds, high spirits

Strong winds knocked off Steve Martin's hat and toppled an upright bass belonging to one of Steve Earle's Bluegrass Dukes. "Snuggle up!'' Earle commanded as he took to the stage, sporting his new Hagrid look. The show was dramatic, owing in part to the lightning-fast bluegrass music, and in part to the scary heritage tree (a Monterey cypress) directly behind the stage, thrashing its branches and threatening to fall on the performers.

The wind did all it could to blow the performers off the stage, but their fingers flew and they would not be distracted. Earle peppered the show with provocative comments. After criticizing Obama for making a reference to clean coal -- "coal has blood on its hands,'' Earle said -- he launched into two coal-related Earle classics : Harlan Man and The Mountain. Before launching into "My Uncle,'' an up-tempo draft-dodging anthem, he said, "This is written by Gram Parsons before he died and Chris Hillman before he became a Republican."

At one point, he apparently lost sensation in his fingers.

"That's OK,'' he shouted. "I don't need no stinkin' fingers.''

I shuttled back and forth from Earle's show to Robert Earl Keen's raucous concert nearby, which included some great rave-ups of "I'm Coming Home'' and "White Room'' by Cream. The crowd included some seriously rowdy folks, along with a guy dressed in a robot suit with a sign saying "POWERED BY HUGS." The robot couldn't get anyone to hug him as far as I could see; I hope he had some kind of auxiliary power source.

By the way, I hear (from a family representative) that Nick Lowe was in great form, and that Dar Williams more than held her own at a songwriter's hootenanny featuring Earle, Allison Moorer and Tom Morello.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Dancing the chicken dance to John Prine: first day of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass

You should have seen it: a crowd of people two football fields long, swilling Heineken Light, Dos Equis, Liberty Ale and Ravenswood Lodi Zinfandel, throwing beach balls around, clogging and contra-dancing to John Prine. I could have sworn this was Santa Cruz when I saw an irrepressible guy in his 50s near the front, leaping up, shaking his shirtsleeves, waving his elbows and doing the chicken dance to "Grandpa Was a Carpenter.'' Dude looked just like Edward Abbey. There was some weird stuff too, of course; some guy about 100 feet from the stage took out a violin and started sawing away on it right in the middle of "Angel from Montgomery.'' Prine, as usual, put on a perfect performance; he pulled out "Crooked Piece of Time,'' which I'd never heard live before, and he was positively glowing when Lyle Lovett -- next in line on the Banjo Stage -- invited him up there so they could perform a cover of "Loretta,'' a Townes Van Zandt song. Between sets, there was a funny moment up front when some angry soul passed around a sign reading WHEN YOU STAND CLOSE TO THE FRONT, YOU BLOCK THE VIEW FOR A LOT OF PEOPLE. PLEASE!! SIT DOWN.'' A group of revellers, close to the stage, added their own message to the sign: "WE LOVE YOU. IT's GOING TO BE OK. BREATHE!!!! -- and passed it back.

It goes without saying that Lyle Lovett killed. His show was jazzy and funny, with furious pacing. Picture thousands of people singing "To the Lord let the praises be; time for dinner so let's go eat.''
And so we did.

Today: Dar Williams, Robert Earl Keen, Steve Earle and more.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

the "Hardly Strictly" Dilemma: Planning your weekend at the ultimate free festival

You are faced with some hard choices this weekend if you're coming to San Francisco for Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, probably the greatest free music festival in the nation, especially if you like that KPIG-style Americana as much as I do. It's kind of like the legendary Fat Fry, but bigger and with no admission charge.

Friday is easy. The great John Prine will be playing at 415 p.m. that day on the Banjo Stage, and if you've never seen him in concert (I've seen him eight times) then you would be crazy to miss this. (who knows how many times he'll be back on the festival circuit...) And you don't have to budge from your spot when the concert is over; Lyle Lovett -- complete with his "Large Band'' -- will be playing the same stage at 545 p.m.

Saturday will test your loyalties and force you to make painful choices. For one thing, Robert Earl Keen is playing the Rooster Stage and Steve Earle is playing the Banjo Stage -- at the same freaking time. Earle and Keen will both play, respectively, at 6:45 p.m. This is a tough one for me. I guess I'll have to flip a coin. Fortunately, if you are a Robert Earl Keen fan, you can still catch a glimpse of Steve Earle on the Rooster Stage at 345 p.m., when he will be part of an amazing-sounding Songwriter's Circle featuring Tom Morello, Dar Williams & Allison Moorer.

See you out there in Golden Gate Park. And please don't talk during the performance. (That kind of thing drives me crazy.)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


During my first reporting job, I interviewed a horse in Connecticut.

It went about as well as you would expect.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Question for next week: "Do I have to be rich to hike the Pacific Crest Trail? (or the CDT or the AT)

A reader from the Eastern Seaboard emailed me this question a month ago. I'll have a much more detailed answer next week, but my initial response is "Absolutely not.'' I realize that I'm only going on my own very limited experience, which took place quite a while ago, but just about everyone I met out on the trail was not well-off at all (and some were strictly subsistence.) As for me, I left a very low-paying job to do the trek.

Also -- there are opportunities to save money by preparing your own foods and making at least some of your own gear. More on this later.

(by the way, thanks for sending in all these questions over the past few weeks. While I am probably the last person on earth that you should ask for backpacking or survival advice, I can at least refer you to folks who know the answers.)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Best American Travel Writing 2009

The best place stories are also human stories. If there are no people in them, no real-life characters, place stories will feel free-floating and listless. That's why you've got to read Best American Travel Writing 2009 with selections by Simon Winchester. There are lots of great stories in there -- in particular an essay by Bronwen Dickey about the mighty, 57-mile-long Chattooga, "The Last Wild River.'' The essay, which originally appeared in the Oxford American's Best of the South issue, combines gorgeous landscape description, great characters, humor and ecology, along with reflections about wilderness and wildness.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Cheap (and free) thrills for book lovers, part III -- Denis Johnson, Mary Roach, Tim Cahill and more

Check out the line-up for the Center for Literary Arts in San Jose, including Denis Johnson, who will deliver the Martha Heasley Cox Lecture in November. Fans of outdoor writing won't want to miss the great Tim Cahill, this year's Lurie Distinguished Visiting Writer.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Question of the week: Backpacking with umbrellas (to keep out the sun)

What a weird coincidence. Today, in my Cactuseaters inbox, I saw a message from someone out in Pennsylvania, asking about the wisdom of hiking with an umbrella to block out the sun and avoid "sliming excessive sunscreen all over the body." The person was especially interested in the idea of taking an umbrella on long hikes through hot and arid places.

How strange; I was just thinking about this very issue. Give me a couple of weeks and I'll post some thoughts when I return.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Your adventurous lives (formerly known as "Cactuseaters readers in the news'')

Here is a compendium of recent Cactuseaters reader adventures, outside and indoors. Keep in mind that this is only the partial version; I will add to this again when I have more time. Send in if you have an interesting story in the coming weeks, (but keep in mind that this isn't an advertising site: no used Passats, junky furniture, etc.)

Imagine taking a year off and traveling around the world. That is what Asa is doing.

This just in from Jorma in Bellingham: Chris Beamish is off sailing around Vancouver Island (BC) right now in his 18' homemade wooden boat. Beamish, formerly an editor at the Surfer's Journal, is off on a sailing odyssey. He sailed halfway down Baja and has done a number of other great trips. Stay tuned.

Edie, a real-life 'character' in the Cactus Eaters, (and my big sister) is having fantastic success with a private-nonprofit that works to provide comfort and support for stray animals. It's called Annie's Blankets; she started it up from nothing, and she (and her faithful crew of supporters) are going strong.

52 Hikes is undertaking 52 challenging hikes in one calendar year; wish him well on this endeavor. 52 Hikes notes that he lives "in the Bay Area with an old cat from Canada who prefers Neil Young's music and Canadian hockey teams."

A few months back, I heard from Bill, whose girlfriend, Novella Carpenter, has been getting many great reviews for her book Farm City. It was great to see Novella read from the hilarious book during her recent book tour. Bill figures prominently as a "character'' in Farm City.

Michael McAllister's successful Barbershop reading series is going to be a venue for LitQuake next month. Congratulations; I'm looking forward to attending this one.

As for me, it looks like I'm going to read locally as well as in the northern Sierra Nevada region pretty soon; I'll post an update when I found out more (I just received the invitations over the past week.)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Hiking poles: yes or no

I am stumped.

I just received an emailed question about trekking poles and whether or not hikers should invest in them and take them on long-distance or day hikes. The questioner told me that she has some old crappy ones and never got the utility out of them.

I will ask around about this, but meanwhile, if you have any experiences you wish to report about hiking poles -- or a particular kind that you like or don't like -- let me know, and I will incorporate your ideas into my answer, which I will post right here on

Personally, I've never used the retractable, shock-proof, store-bought hiking poles, although I've always been curious about them; I usually improvise with ski poles or twigs or something like that. Also -- I often hike in forbidding terrain that requires two free hands for scrambling up and down slopes (making it impossible for me to hold poles in my hand.)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Triumph and agony on the JMT

In case you missed this, the Chronicle ran an interesting story (reprinted in the Seattle PI) about the quest for speed on the mighty John Muir Trail. The author of the article is the Chronicle's Tom Stienstra, who has also written many good trail guides and walking books.

Bear in mind

This strange photo is 60 years old. I found it at a vintage paper fair up in San Francisco. Apparently the person who took the photo tried (unsuccessfully) to kill this bear up near Mount Shasta, and then took a potshot at a deer, which he also missed. I find this photo vaguely sinister, though I'm not sure why this is so.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Big hairy bat

This is one of my first wilderness scribbles, dating back more than 10 years ago. I've always admired the bats that swept through my campsites at dusk on the PCT. Their quick, jerky movements and darting shadows provided a bit of entertainment while I was setting up the tent.

I made this picture in a summer-session wildlife illustration class at UCSC. I thought I'd lost it, but I found it by accident the other day. Now I'm blogging it, mostly to preserve it in case I misplace it again.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Coffee to the People is my office

Coffee to the People is where I get most of my writing done, and grade most of my papers, and send most of my emails these days. For me, this place captures the best of the Haight -- and I think it has the best people-watching of any cafe in the city. I can usually be found at the Black Panthers-themed table. In other news, it looks like the used bookstore, very close to the coffee shop, shut down, even though it was called Forever After. I wonder what will take its place. Not another crepe restaurant, I hope.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Speeding along the JMT, part two

The broken JMT speed record is a remarkable achievement. Here is an interesting story by someone who made a valiant attempt to do the same thing a while back. It will give you a pretty good sense of what lies in store for you if you attempt to break the existing record.

Incidentally, when I hiked the JMT, I had to dig very deep just to throw down nine miles a day!! It's incredibly beautiful but quite rugged, snowbound and sometimes icy -- and as you well know, resupplying is rather challenging too.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

John Muir Trail record smashed!!!

This just in. Apparently, Brett Maune has smashed the speed record on the John Muir Trail.

According to the forwarded message I received this morning, "He ran UNSUPPORTED from Whitney Portal to Yosemite in 3 days 14 hours and 13 minutes, taking 5:47 off the old *supported* record and over 19 hours off the unsupported record!!! Wow."

Click here for details, and thanks again to Mike for keeping us all posted.

Stay tuned for even more details when I can get them.
(Rest assured that I am not a speedy backpacker but I'm impressed by people who can pull this off.)

Father lets toddler cavort in filthy birdbath

You're not going to believe this. Today I was hanging out around Golden Gate Park when I saw a dad let his son splash and play in the unspeakably filthy pond close to the tunnel near the main eastern entrance.

I'm talking about that reflecting pond near the Roach Motel, the tunnel with the faux-stalagmites leading toward Hippie Hill. Anyhow, the kid was up to his belly in the slick green water, a special favorite of local waterfowl.

A man rode past on the bike and tried to get the dad to remove the kid from the water. In the father's defense, the bike rider's approach left something to be desired. He wasn't exactly diplomatic. In fact, he kept pedaling away from the father and son while yelling, "HEY YOU!!! YOU SHOULDN'T LET THAT KID NEAR THAT DIRTY WATER YA BOZO!"

Not surprisingly, the dad didn't do anything in response.

I was going to intervene but the dad finally lifted the tot out of the water and placed him back on dry land. Sheesh! Some people.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Spike Jonze profile by Saki Knafo

Congratulations to Saki Knafo for his fascinating portrait of Mr. Spike Jonze. In case you missed it, it was on the cover of yesterday's New York Times Magazine.

In other news, the fiend who stole the Ashbury sign is still at large. Now, the famous intersection just says Haight and nothing. I will do my best to apprehend the thief single-handedly and bring him to justice. I'm presuming it's a him.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Cactus Eaters makes top 10 bestseller list, outsells Obama (details below)

Finally. At long last, the Cactus Eaters cracked the top 10 bestseller list.

Yes, it's true. More than a year after the tome was released to bookstores, it has reached the top of the heap.

For the past 13 months, it has outsold a popular book by Barack Obama and has even overtaken Olive Kitteridge.

At some point in this blog entry, I should probably point out that this bestseller list applies to one book store, called Cover to Cover, in Noe Valley, San Francisco.

But still, it's pretty cool. On a serious note -- if you're a first time author, it's always interesting to see the way books perform in various stores -- even within the same city. A lot of it depends on the bookseller's attitude toward the book and the way it's displayed (or whether there is a shelf talker.) In the case of Cover to Cover, the book store has been extremely supportive.

Fiends! ! Haightful vandal steals Ashbury sign

Someone apparently shimmied up the famous Haight-Ashbury marker (where a single signpost holds the Haight and Ashbury street signs) and stole the Ashbury sign. Maybe this was a gesture to drive off tourists -- but an exceptionally large gaggle of tourists gathered around the intersection today because the stolen sign made it an even bigger novelty. Anyhow, I hope you will all keep a look-out for that wayward Ashbury sign, which is probably being nailed to the ceiling of the bathroom of a smoke-filled biker bar even as I type this.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Massive free concert in the park: start camping out now. (Neko Case, Lyle Lovett, Doc Watson, Robert Earl Keen, John Prine, Nick Lowe and more.)

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass -- which takes place in Golden Gate Park this year on October 2, 3, and 4 -- is like some strange vision of the afterlife. It's heavenly in the sense that the music is always fantastic, the crowd is mostly very spirited, and it's absolutely free. And it's slightly hellacious because so many of those bands end up playing at the same time so you have to make some hard decisions. Also, because it's free, some people in the audience don't feel quite as invested in the music, and so they end up yapping into their cellphones or talking throughout the entire thing. This can be annoying. Last year I couldn't pay attention during the Gillian Welch set because these drunken dudes in front of me spent the entire time talking loudly about how hard it was to find each other in the crowd. Like, who cares?

Anyhow, this year's lineup is pretty amazing: among many others, there will be Tom Morello, Lyle Lovett & His Large Band, Galactic, John Prine, World Party, Jorma Kaukonen, Buddy Miller, Robert Earl Keen, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Boz Scaggs, Nick Lowe, Steve Earle & the Bluegrass Dukes, The Flatlanders featuring: Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore & Butch Hancock, Dave Alvin & the Guilty Women, Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives, Richie Havens, The Tim O'Brien Band, Steve Martin with the Steep Canyon Rangers, Guy Clark & Verlon Thompson, Reckless Kelly, Old 97's, Austin Lounge Lizards, Billy Joe Shaver, Gillian Welch, Booker T. & the Drive-By Truckers, The Del McCoury Band, Earl Scruggs, Aimee Mann, Emmylou Harris, Elvis Perkins in Dearland, Mike Farris & the Roseland Rhythm Revue, Amadou & Mariam, Allison Moorer, Doc Watson & David Holt, Ralph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys, Allen Toussaint, Elizabeth Cook, Neko Case, Rodney Crowell, Billy Bragg, The Knitters, Robyn Hitchcock & the Venus 3. See you there-- and please don't yap during the performance or talk loudly or spill any warm beer on me. That would be hugely appreciated.

One more thing: if you haven't booked a hotel room, you'd better do that soon. (sorry, but you can't stay with me. I barely have enough room as it is.)

Thursday, September 03, 2009

"Girls in Trucks,'' Wolf Larsen and much, much more: The Barbershop reading series marches on

Congratulations to Michael McAllister for the continuing success of his "Barbershop Reading Series'' -- button-pushing literary events held right in the middle of an actual barbershop.
This Saturday at 8 p.m
A literary "barbershop quartet'' will kick things off this Saturday at 8 p.m. at Joe's Barbershop on 2150 Market Street (between Church and Sanchez) out here in San Francisco.

This month's barbershop quartet includes:

KATIE CROUCH, whose debut novel, GIRLS IN TRUCKS, about Southern debs gone bad, was a New York Times Bestseller.

KEMBLE SCOTT, author of the bestselling novel SOMA, whose new novel, THE SOWER is a twisted thriller about a San Francisco bad boy who becomes the sole carrier of a manmade virus that appears to be the cure for all diseases.

WOLF LARSEN, singer-songwriter, wowed everyone at our opening event this past June with her beautiful voice.


The organizers suggest arriving a little early, especially if you want to kick back in one of the barber chairs.Suggested donation: $5. That donation helps to cover expenses and buys you Kettle Salt and Pepper potato chips, baked goods, cold beer, and a Diet Coke or two.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Yoko and more

Drat! -- I accidentally erased this. Anyhow, I am trying to set up an online clip file of old stories, essays, etc. For starters, here is a Sentinel story revolving around an interview with Yoko Ono. As I mentioned before, the person who set up the interview warned me not to ask her if she broke up the Beatles (the truth is more complicated, actually; see this month's Rolling Stone cover story.)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Last call

I'm almost done with my second Cactuseaters Readers column; there is still room for one more bio. Send it in right now -- and I will post next week (or the next.)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Calexico rocks

It was very cool to see a mention of The Cactus Eaters on Calexico's Twitter feed recently. Calexico is one of my favorite bands; I first became aware of them in 2001 when I heard them at -- of all places -- a pre-San Francisco Marathon spaghetti feast. Their richly textured music evokes a genuine sense of place -- especially the wide open spaces and desert landscapes of the Southwest. Don't miss their appearances on Saturday at the Independent and on Sunday at Outside Lands right here in SF.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Poisoning pigeons in the park

From time to time, I like to post interviews with various folks that I admire. Here is an oldie but a goodie -- my discussion with the legendary musical satirist Tom Lehrer. This will (eventually) be part of an online clip file that I am compiling for Cactuseaters, mostly for my own organizational purposes. If you aren't familiar with the work of Tom Lehrer, go out and buy one of his live ones, "An Evening Wasted With Tom Lehrer.'' It is still incredibly funny, roughly a half-century after he recorded it.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Mysterious unbearable odor wafts through San Francisco

If you live out here, you may have smelt something awful last night and this morning. Don't blame it on your poodle or your gym clothes; it was something in the air. According to the latest news reports, "the stench could be smelled for a time in the Financial District'' (and they're not being metaphorical.)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Zooming across the Pacific Crest Trail: Scott Williamson and Adam Bradley

Thank you, Mike Palmer, for sending me news that superhikers Scott Williamson and Adam Bradley have apparently shattered a PCT speed hiking record set by David Horton. Scott, if you're reading this, send me the details. According to a forwarded message I received a few minutes ago, "they hiked the trail in typical thru/hiker style in an incredible 65d9h58m. This incudes dealing with all their own resupply, etc. Mind boggling."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Heartbreak in the liquor aisle: hook-up attempts thwarted at Trader Joe's

Yesterday, I witnessed two hook-up attempts at a local Trader Joe's.

Both of them were shot down in flames.

It happened while I was hanging out near the legendary liquor aisle, trying to choose between Full Sail Ale or the horrible-tasting, recession-priced Simpler Times. I saw a nice woman -- maybe 50 -- flirting with a good-natured, portly guy, a bit younger than her. They got into a conversation about beer options: Red Oval Classic versus Simpler Times. Then the woman asked if she could take him home with her, and that way they could taste-test the beers together and have some dinner, too. Instead of taking her up on this friendly offer, he rebuffed her: "Get in line, baby!'' he said with a smile.

So the woman backed off, and the guy walked over to that place in the back where they serve you free samples. There, he started flirting with a woman -- at least 20 years his junior -- who was handing out bits of salad in paper containers.

"You do your job very well,'' he said to the young woman. "Man, do I love this place! It's got everything I want. Just a minute ago, this lady tried to pick me up in the liquor aisle. I told her, 'You'd better get in line, baby!''

The young woman gave him a wan smile, turned the other way, and went on to doling out salad.

I saw the man a few moments later in the back of the store, emptying several free containers of spicy peanut slaw into his mouth at the same time.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Can you boycott a store if you've never shopped there in the first place?

I am extremely annoyed with a Haight-Ashbury boutique that (apparently) bans babies and children from entering the premises. The boutique has a note near the door that says NO BRATS with a picture of a weeping child. (huh? weren't the store's owners and employees children at some point in their lives? and did they never cry?) The problem is this; the store sells ugly knicknacks and clothes, and so I've never shopped there in the first place. Is it possible to boycott a store when you don't shop there anyhow?

I'm thinking of going in there, buying a couple of items and never shopping there again. That'll show them!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Aerosmith drummer cancels Haight Ashbury visit.

This just in from Booksmith

"Unfortunately, Joey Kramer of Aerosmith has had to cancel his visit to The Booksmith, following Steven Tyler's fall last week. We wish the best to the band and will still be stocking Joey's memoir, Hit Hard, for those who are curious about life on the road as a rock 'n roll drummer.''

Still to come this month, Peter Coyote will read from his memoir and we'll host a community forum on homelessness in the Haight with guests authors Violet Blue and Mark Bittner. Also, the Found in Translation reading group meets, Sean Chiki displays his art and comics, and Kemble Scott reads from his new novel, The Sower.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The street poet of Haight/Ashbury (he gets paid in cash!!)

I have an inspiring story for all you writers dealing with the recession.

The other day, I met a young poet named Lynn Gentry, who types out instant poems at the famous corner of Haight and Ashbury. He composes his poems behind a hand-lettered sign that reads: PICK A SUBJECT AND PRICE, THEN A POEM.''

Follow the instructions: set your price, pick a subject and talk it over with the poet. Then he types it out, taking between three to 10 minutes on his Smith-Corona typewriter, propped on a table near Ben & Jerry's. He's so popular, with such a long line in front of him, that it was hard to extract much biographical info from him; he's too busy to talk much. People come from all around to watch him type. In this age of Twitter and (ahem), blogging, Lynn creates work for individual customers and makes no copies for himself; he never sees his words again. "It doesn't bother me,'' he says. "I forget most of my lyrics anyhow.''

Best of all, he's a poet who is turning a profit -- and he gets paid in cash.

A man in front of me ordered up a poem about baseball and marijuana -- two subjects in one for the price of a dollar. Gentry's poem included a line that alluded to both subjects:

"...smell the grass after a good cut...''

I waited in a very long line to talk with him. The crowd was fixated on him, and they wouldn't stop staring at him, even when a freak showed up and started belching out a horrible rendition of "Billie Jean'' by Michael Jackson. A burly man brushed past him and shouted out, "What you are doing is so C-O-O-L.'' When it was my turn, I ordered up a poem about "being a writer during a recession.'' My price was two bucks.

Immediately he got to work. He pecked away at the typewriter, cleared his throat, leaned into the paper and blacked out a couple of vowels with a ballpoint pen. At the end of the poem, he affixed his myspace address. A few minutes later, he handed me the poem, and I'll quote from part of it here:

...when you write in recession
You can write the best book you have ever written
then you have to wait for the economy to change
so that people don't have to choose between
Feeding their kids
and reading a book about the struggle of life after a death
in the family of a low middle class family who lost the father
They want to hear it, they just don't want to have to pay for it.

I thanked him and gave him his two dollars, plus a tip of 150 percent. After all, the economy is in a slump, and writers must help each other out or else. (the total bill worked out to be five bucks.)

Best of luck, Mr. Gentry, and I'll see you out in the street.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Happy birthday to Obese Cat

Today is the birthday of Robert Earl, my hugely overweight, semi-sentient tabby cat, who weighs 18 pounds, eats like a pig-animal and wakes me up every night with his ceaseless whining and yowling. (demanding yet another lump of food.) My pet doctor sent along this personalized birthday e-card, showing a bunch of kitties cavorting and playing and celebrating the birthday of my utterly shiftless feline, who has been attacking me and biting my face and trying to asphyxiate me ever since I rescued him off the streets of Santa Cruz. I am thinking of writing a book about him called The Fatness Eaters: How I Lost my mind – and Never Found Myself – While trying to Look after my Lazy, Snorting, Morbidly Obese “companion animal.” Anyhow, I hope you will send along your birthday greetings to him, or, even better, a sack full of cat chow. He’d appreciate that. By the way, I would post a picture of him here, but he’s so fat, I can’t fit him into the viewfinder.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Hello to my blog readers in Korea, Bahrain, Australia, Nigeria, India and Iran

I want to hear from you -- send those bios in!!
Don't be shy.
(I haven't heard from my reader from Iran for a while - If you're out there, I hope you're doing OK)
I think I've got this whole RSS thing sorted out - almost. One of my readers sent me a how-to video showing me how to set it up. I'll do my best.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Wild nights at the Booksmith: William Vollmann, Peter Coyote, the drummer from Aerosmith (and more)

Check out the wild assortment of events at the Booksmith this month at the Haight.

In other news, you might have seen the "poet for hire'' at the corner of Haight and Ashbury. He's got a typewriter, and if you set a price and determine a subject, he will write a poem for you on the spot. I am going to take him up on this and blog his poem next month.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Advice for today: ramp up your confidence with a fake "power salute"

Sometimes - especially during a long recession -- you need to "fake it 'til you make it.'' Here is a heavily pixilated photo of me doing just that: making a fake power salute and victory gesture at the end of last week's marathon. At the moment this picture was taken, I did not feel victorious; in truth, I was exhausted and wanted to fall to my knees and possibly vomit. In spite of this, I used my last little bit of energy to pump my fist at a camera man perched over the finish line.

This strategy worked; it took the edge off my exhaustion, and helped me pick up my speed at the end.

The woman in front of me looks very bummed out.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Keep 'em rolling in (plus, RSS aggravator.)

Thanks for all the great bios and info so far for Cactuseaters Readers in the News round two. At this rate, it's going to fill up pretty fast so keep sending those in as quickly as you can.

In other news, I'm aggravated (slightly) about the fact that my RSS feed is still not working. I'll keep fiddling with it.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Little People in the City

I've become quite a fan of Slinkachu's miniature street art. You've got to pick up the book, Little People in the City -- photos of homunculi in compromising positions.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Cactuseaters readers in the news, episode II

It's time for installment two of "Cactuseaters Readers in the News,'' in which you, the readers, step out of the shadows and talk about yourselves. Send in a brief bio of what you are up to, and what you are working on and I will try to cram it into a "digest'' column that will appear anytime between two weeks and a month, depending on whether you are forthcoming and bold (or shy and reticent.) Feel free to send in whatever you like -- just keep in mind that this isn't an advertising site, so I won't let you hawk bamboo steamers, cleaning solvents, etc, through Cactuseaters. Keep them rolling in!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

What is "Cactuseaters"?

To those of you who are new to this blog, Cactuseaters is primarily a way for me to amuse my Mother-in-Law.

Marathon aftermath (I can't stand up)

My legs feel like they are made of warm gelatin. I can barely move. Part of the problem is the run itself. Part of the problem is what I consumed on Sunday while running up and down through the entire city: about 10 tablespoons worth of sugar, one Starbucks coffee in a can (with artificial sweeteners), four bananas, 10 gloopy carbohydrate blocks and two packets of coffee-bean-shaped instant energy boosters. I feel like Keith Richards in 1973.

Nevertheless, I have zero regrets. I'm planning to run at least one more before the year is out. (marathons are addictive; once you start, you really can't stop)

Monday, July 27, 2009

A runner's lament: "Man, I wish I was stoned.''

Well, I managed to finished the SF Marathon. I had a nice time, although I practically crawled the thing. I could tell, from the first mile, that it just wasn't happening for me this time. My legs felt heavy even in that first stretch along the Embarcardero. The Golden Gate Bridge was spooky and fogged in, but it slowed me down even more -- it was a real traffic jam in there. Although I went quite slowly and hit The Wall the entire time, there were many highlights:

1. The man trying to hand out free Bloody Marys and beers to runners at the race. I saw no one partake.

2. A strange man clapping for us and wishing us well on the sidelines. The strange thing was -- he was facing away from us, not toward us, while cheering us on. Really odd. It was almost as if he were trying to wish us good luck in reverse.

3. A man running the race while dressed up as a Roman centurion with spear, shield, helmet and everything.

4. A runner, at the halfway point, loudly announcing, "Man, I wish I was stoned.'' He soon got his wish, in the form of noxious second-hand ganja smoke wafting down Haight Street.

5. A runner holding a very heavy looking MIA/POW flag, while charging across the bridge in military garb.

As for me, I am going to scale back my ambitions and stick to much smaller races, until I figure out why I "bonked'' so hard on this particular race. Since my times keep getting slower and slower, I might switch to a less strenuous sport. At this point, bocce is looking good.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Run along with me (virtually) this Sunday in SF

Now here's an expiriment, and I'd like to know if this works. I've posted a link here that lets you plug in my name and see how I'm doing in the SF marathon, which begins for me on Sunday at 630 a.m. -- I'm in one of the 'slow waves.' I will have a GPS sticker thing on one of my shoes. Two of my friends will be meeting me with water, etc, at Golden Gate Park; this should give them a pretty good sense of when I'll be running through the GGP. Here, by the way, is the map of this crazy course. I'm a little edgy about that rather daunting-looking hill after we complete the Golden Gate Bridge.

Controversial/polarizing choices for your book groups

Here are some books that will do more than just bring spirited discussion and debate to your groups. These books will cause actual feuds. Your book group will then split up and you'll get a break from it all, and then you can reconvene with all new members (except for you, of course; at that point, you will be the only original member.)

Here are the choices:

Nicholson Baker -- The Fermata. My prediction: If you have seven people in your group, six will hate it and one will like it.

Christopher Hitchens -- God Is Not Great. Slightly different split: I predict five against two. Or maybe four against three.

Sarah Waters-- Tipping the Velvet. This book is a beautifully written, ribald period romp, but it's bound to rub some people the wrong way. The leather object scene will easily take up 98 percent of the discussion.) Predicted split: Five to two.

Stanley Elkin -- The Magic Kingdom. This book is a classic, but it's bound to antagonize most of the people in your group. That's because The Magic Kingdom is a comedy about a bunch of kids with disgusting, terminal diseases running amok at Disneyworld with a group of oversexed chaperones. Contains one of the most un-erotic love scenes in literary history. Predicted split: six against one. Or maybe seven against zero.

Let me know if these do the trick for you; if not, I'll put up a few more six months from now.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Summer reading (in six words or less)

White Heat by Brenda Wineapple. Will Thomas and Emily hook up? The Forever War by Dexter Filkins. He almost died for this book. Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen. Ignore the noise; read for yourself. Farm City by Novella Carpenter. Up with the pigs!The Lost City of Z by David Grann. Better him than you. The Selected Letters of Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder. Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder. Notes on a complicated friendship. Wicked Plants by Amy Stewart. Stay out of your garden. All Over Coffee, Paul Madonna. A cartoonist/walker in the city. The Indifferent Stars Above, Daniel James Brown. Donner Party = not funny! The Selected Works of TS Spivet. Reif Larsen. Tween cartographer rides rails, maps all. Also: Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Good reading group selection;super-short. Autiobiography of Red, Anne Carson: Try this dragon memoir in verse. Nickeled and Dimed. Barbara Ehrenreich. More relevant now than ever.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Marathon course: they're closing down (part of) Golden Gate Bridge!

Look out. From 6 am to 9 am, about 20,000 people will storm across the two northbound lanes of the Golden Gate Bridge (there will be a third “buffer” lane between the runners and traffic.) In other news, there is an outside chance that i will post a special link that lets you follow my progress -- or lack of progress -- in running the marathon. More on that front later on.

Friday, July 17, 2009

It's on!

I've just registered for the SF Marathon. This means that I will be among the thundering herd that starts out at the Embarcardero, crosses (and re-crosses) the Golden Gate Bridge and makes a long, slow parallelogram through the city. A couple of my readers were slightly worried about my doing this, but I've trained well (with incremental distance runs and raw-chicken resistance weights.) I don't expect to have a great time but I'll do my best (and try not to walk.) This will be my fourth marathon, and my last one for at least the next four months or so. I'm hoping to do two marathons a year from now on if I can.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Cactus improving, in good health

A few months ago, I issued a stern warning through this blog to the anonymous creepy soul who was devouring my neighbor's cactus, piece by piece, lobe by lobe. I worried that it might have been a 'copycat' cactus-eating situation; perhaps this weirdo read my book and decided to go out and try it himself. Well, I am happy to announce that the cactus is thriving again and in good health. Here's an updated photo.

However, it must be said that the rest of the neighborhood is going to hell in a handbasket. Today some guy spray-painted the same wall that I was leaning against -- right in front of me! (for the record, he sprayed the words "CPA'' on the wall, so maybe he's a certified public accountant/vandal.)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Running with (raw) chickens

Yes, that was me, running up and down the street the other day with two huge plastic Andronico's bags full of raw chicken.

Sounds crazy, I suppose, but the chickens are my recession-minded answer to expensive hand weights for marathon training.

The only drawback is that I can't run for long or the chickens will go bad.

Paw Prints

My brother, Phil, has officially launched (and is regularly updating) his excellent new blog.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

It's live -- the Sierra Club hiking wiki is here ...

Here it is.

Find a trail, add a trail.

"There is no green!" -- capturing nature with Mary Harden

Well, the secret is out. The brilliant Mary Harden -- whose art classes could change your life -- is featured in this SF Chronicle story by Steve Rubinstein.

The trail awaits you

I'm getting lots of messages lately from people who are wondering if they could manage hiking the PCT (or other major trails.)

My answer is: yes, you can, and if you can't do it this year, or next year, it will be waiting for you some other year.

I'm not a good person for trail advice or logistical help, (as you know from reading the book) but I can hook you up via email with people who know what they're talking about!

That's my thought for the day.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Sierra Club launches hiking Wiki! (for up-to-the-moment user updated hiking information)

Hikers and backpackers, take notice. The Sierra Club is about to launch a new website called Sierra Club Trails. It's (as far as I know) the first-ever comprehensive hiking wiki, "a website where anyone can post their favorite hikes and anyone else can edit the descriptions so that the trails are constantly up-to-date.''

The planned launch is imminent so stay tuned; I'll link to it here, of course.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Five years of All Over Coffee at SFPL

After starting intensive art classes in the GGP, I've become quite a fan of Paul Madonna and his wonderful, off-kilter pen and ink drawings of the city. His artwork makes me feel like I'm (willfully) lost in the city, stumbling upon its creaky old Victorians, bridgework and windswept parks for the first time. And the total absence of people -- in these pictures, and the slightly discordant '"what the heck are they talking about" snippets of overheard conversation only add to the effect. Don't miss the Paul Madonna exhibit (free) at the SF Public Library main branch, and make sure to pick up the All Over Coffee Book. Click here for an interesting video snippet.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Long run: hairy bison, Golden Gate Bridge, and disgusting electrolyte drinks

Well, I finished that darned Monster Run. Started out in Haight-Ashbury, under the oversized pair of fishnet-stockinged mannequin legs above the Piedmont Boutique. I paid my respects to the bored-looking, placid bison in Golden Gate Park, ran around the entire park, fought my way up into the Richmond, crossed through the Presidio, got lost in the Presidio, tagged the Golden Gate Bridge (with my hand, not spray paint) and crossed through Fisherman's Wharf, than Embarcardero, the Tenderloin and Hayes Valley.

Now I can't move.

It was a pretty good run, although I overdid it, and I almost gagged on the salty apple electrolyte beverage that I stole from my friend David when I visited him in Pennsylvania three weeks back. Too crowded in Fisherman's Wharf -- I could barely punch through. On the plus side, the Shrub Man wasn't there. (he's that guy who hides behind a fake shrub, jumps out and frightens tourists and runners. He's shocked me more than a few times. One day I'm going to sneak up on him and pour a Big Gulp on his head. Extra ice. Revenge is a dish best served cold.)

By the way, the Golden Gate bison are reviewed on Yelp!! Isn't that strange?

Friday, July 03, 2009

July 4th Monster Run

Honk if you see me. Tomorrow, early in the morning, I'll start the day off by eating a couple of tablespoons of barley malt syrup and then I will drink a disgusting 16-ounce apple-flavored caffeine/electrolyte drink. Then I will try to throw down 20 miles -- Upper Haight through the GGP, than crossing over Arguello through the Presidio to Golden Gate Bridge, than around the Embarcardero and back again. If this goes well, I'll sign up for that marathon. If not, I'll sit this one out.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

"Mark the Postman'' from The Cactus Eaters -- in the news!

Mark, one of the heroes of The Cactus Eaters (and, of course, a real person) is the subject of this inspiring update in the Star Courier. In case you forgot, he's the guy who prevented us from doom and disaster by forcing us to abandon most of our worthless backpacking junk, including a kite, in Agua Dulce, CA.

Also, stay tuned for more author podcasts (in blog entry below.) I'll keep adding to the "Writer's Block'' list in the next few days,

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Operation Water Dump (and a library of literary podcasts---updated!)

I don't read this chapter of the Cactus Eaters live any more because it makes me so darned thirsty that I get dry spots in my throat. No kidding. The very last time I read it, I was at the Rotary Club in Sebastopol (excellent group) and I drank an unbelievable amount of water.

Anyhow, this broadcast is part of the sound library at the Writer's Block on KQED, here in SF. This program is great because it gives you a chance to hear selections from books in the authors' voices. I want you to take this evening and listen to some of my recommendations:

Junot Diaz

Zoe Ferraris.

Sigrid Nunez.

Sloane Crosley.

Kate Atkinson.

Daniel Handler.

Rodes Fishburne.

Lysley Tenorio.

Mary Roach.

Amy Tan.

John Wray.

David Sedaris.

Peter Malae.

Andrew Sean Greer.

Kim Addonizio.

I have to run now (literally) but I'll post more soon.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The most interesting bookstores in the world(?)

Thank you, Anonymous, for sending me this intriguing link.
These are some very lavish bookstores -- and I like the ugly, hairless cat too.

Friday, June 26, 2009

My lap top exploded

This explains why I've been mostly AWOL from your messages for the past week or so; it flashed the infamous "blue screen of death,'' and became completely non-functional while I was in the middle of an intense writing session over at Coffee to the People, which is my de facto office these days. The issue has been resolved, at last, so I'll get back to you soon, about my SF writing class and other things.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Nature writing and hiking -- in San Francisco!

Following the success of my nature writing/hiking class down in the Pogonip Meadow, in Santa Cruz, I'm setting up a hiking/nature writing seminar up here in San Francisco. Contact me directly through this blog if you're interested, ( and we'll be in contact soon. Looking forward to reading and sharing your writing this summer.

A great conversation

Thanks to the large, attentive crowd that showed up yesterday to the Andrew Sean Greer conversation. I hope to moderate another event soon. See you then. No one recorded the interview (as far as I know) so you just had to be there, but he talked a lot about the origins of his latest two books, his connection to old San Francisco, and his feelings about the "Benjamin Button'' brouhaha. Good times.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

We're not the same person

Tomorrow's Booksmith event should also clear up a bit of confusion. I have a (very vague) physical resemblance to Andrew Greer. In fact, I once went to a book store in the Marina --and the book store staff gave me a stack of his books to sign!! It happened again in another bookstore (in another city. Alos, just a couple of days ago, a friend saw Greer's photo at the Booksmith and thought I was doing an author's appearance there. And the weird thing is, we really don't look that much alike.

By the way, I somehow got into the Elvis Costello concert. It was great! He was in excellent voice, and did a bunch of numbers from his new, "old-time'' bluesgrassy album. He also pulled out an oldie from "My Aim Is True.'' It was pretty cool to see him put on a performance in, of all places, my local record store. The place was absolutely mobbed, and it was very hard to move.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A conversation with Andrew Sean Greer at the Booksmith

This coming week, I will be leading a conversation with Andrew Sean Greer, author of The Confessions of Max Tivoli and The Story of a Marriage. The event is free and takes place at the Booksmith, here in SF, at 7:30 p.m. this Wednesday. He is appearing at the Booksmith to mark the recent release of The Story of a Marriage in paperback. He is a haunting, lyrical writer who delves deeply into the strange, unsettling history of this city.

P.S. -- in other news, Elvis Costello is going to play the Amoeba here in the Haight tomorrow!!! Camp out early.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

It's not too late to talk me out of it ...

Still planning to run the hill-acious San Francisco Marathon in a little over a month. I'm behind on my training on this one. If I pull it off, it will be my fourth marathon.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Farm City

Novella Carpenter read from her hilarious and informative urban farming memoir, Farm City, in the Haight last night. I've only just started to read this book, but it's a hoot so far. Carpenter has a working farm that squats on a piece of land in a rough part of Oakland. In spite of the loud traffic noise, she's created a thriving environment for vegetables, goats and pigs; in fact, her book has a terrific scene that involves Carpenter dumpster-diving, in a tony part of Oakland, in search of victuals for her discerning, fussy porklings. That scene alone is worth the price of admission. It is clear, from reading the book, that Carpenter is no dilettante; the book is very funny, but she is dead serious about farming, food, and waging war on chicken-killing possums.

Innovative neighborhood book stores: reader swaps and book deliveries

Every once in a while, I blog about various neighborhood bookstores doing interesting/weird/crazy stuff that runs against the grain of traditional bookstore practices. One of my favorite little shops, Cover to Cover Booksellers in Noe Valley, (on 1307 Castro Street, here in SF) now offers free delivery directly to your house (as long as your house isn't very far from Noe Valley.) Even if you order a big fat book that is many hundreds of pages and weighs many, many pounds, such as the new one by Peter Matthiesen, which weighs 170 kilos (I've bench-pressed this book), they will still deliver it for free, as if your book were a pizza.

Here in the Haight, another neighborhood store, The Booksmith, is having a "lit minded mixture'' on the evening of Friday, June 19th. They will close the store early, dim the lights, supply the food and drinks -- and if you go, you can exchange books with the people you meet at the mixer. That's a pretty wild idea -- trading books in the middle of a place where the books are for sale. To get in, you need to buy a ticket -- there is more information online at

PS -- just kidding about Matthiesen, one of my favorite authors of all time. Read Far Tortuga and Killing Mister Watson.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Three more fascinating facts about Canada

1. The United States attempted to invade Canada on two separate occasions -- but screwed it up both times.
2. All members of The Band, in its original line-up, are from Canada, with the exception of Levon Helm, who is an American.
3. Jolly Rancher Original Flavor hard candies (and delicious choking hazard) are manufactured within Canada (although they are manufactured under the auspices of the Hershey corporation, which is in Pennsylvania, USA.

That's all for now.

Disintegrating Cactuseaters prize fiasco is finally over

If you check in with my blog from time to time, you know I had egg on my face a few weeks back when a loyal reader won a special prize through this blog, and then I sent her the prize and it started disintegrating before her very eyes. Well, I'm glad to report that the disintegration is now in remission, and she's figured out how to frame the thing and put it on the wall. Thanks for the update, Anonymous. Eventually I'll have more contests through this blog, as soon as I can get my prize quality control up and running again.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Farming in Oakland???!

Don't miss Novella Carpenter when she talks about the joys and travails of urban farming at the Booksmith this Monday (at 730 in the Haight.)I've never met Novella Carpenter but I recently read the rave review of her book in the New York Times Sunday Book Review. Also, I mentioned her in my recent "Cactuseaters readers in the news'' column. I have no idea if she reads this blog, but she is friends with someone who does, which makes her a Cactuseaters reader once-removed.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A wrinkled old tree in Golden Gate Park

Here is a sketch I made of a very wrinkled tree in Golden Gate Park, near the eastern entrance. As a matter of fact, a hapless dealer once tried to sell me "sticky green bud'' while he was still sitting near the top of this very tree. I don't know why I added those upside-down dangling gnomes at the last minute. I think the sketch was doing just fine without them. I tried to erase them but it caused an ugly blur on the sketch, like a creeping fungus, so I decided to draw them back again. (In other words, the gnomes seemed like a lesser evil when compared to the creeping fungus.)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Resting up at home after my latest wild adventure

I've just returned home after my latest wild adventure, which included traveling alongside (and at one point inside) a frothing river, exploring farmland and forests and passing through one extremely long tunnel. I almost collided with a huge snake and a small yappy dog at one point. I'm glad I had back-up support on this one! Aside from a couple of very small nicks and bruises, I'm perfectly fine, although I'm pretty sleepy at the moment. I'll have a detailed story about this experience in the very near future, and will link it to this blog. Meanwhile, my obese 20-pound cat is furious about my absence and keeps trying to sit on my trachea while I'm sleeping. Revenge is the motivation. (This is a difficult situation because I can't breathe without the use of my trachea.)

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Parks in peril

In case you haven't seen this already, here is a disturbing article by Paul Rogers about the potential closing of many state parks (including my beloved Nisene Marks.)

Lighting out

Perhaps I'll see you out on the Eastern Seaboard. I'll be out there soon on business for a brief spell. This will be a good chance for me to have some exciting new adventures and let my tennis elbow heal before my obese cat sits on my arm again.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Time for a free upgrade

I think my cellphone has burned a hole through my cornea. I'm having retinal flashes. Maybe it's part of the new "instant blindness'' app.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

I am not ignoring you

Seriously. I know that I have about a dozen Cactuseates blog emails that I need to answer. It's just that I have limited communications capability at the moment. For context, see previous entries about 1. obese cat, 2. tennis elbow caused by obese cat sitting on my arm after almost choking me, 3. WiFi reception complications and, finally, 4: cell phone that has been rendered almost un-usable because of horrendous light shooting out of it. Will be back in touch as soon as these issues are resolved.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Obese cat: challenges continue

I know this has nothing to do with hiking or my book (or anything that relates to your life in any way) but I'm growing frustrated with my enormously obese cat. For one thing, he is becoming disoriented and gets lost in my apartment -- and it only has three rooms. For another, he only eats certain kinds of cat food that disagree with him -- violently. And finally, he needs to be reminded to drink water because he forgets that he's thirsty. Time to try a new diet. And get a cat-training manual. (In the original version of this post, I said, "Time to get a dog,'' but I was only joking.)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Blinding light persists, cell phone on the blink

I brought my cellphone to Verizon Wireless but they couldn't figure out how to turn off the horrible blinding white light.

I am going to hit it with a hammer and see if that helps.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

My latest mystery: Why is there a horrible white light shooting out of my cell phone???

As you all know, I'm having problems with my WiFi, but now I have no means of communicating with the outside world at all. The problem is my cell phone. Yesterday I went to Miranda Weiss's great reaading in the Marina. I was having a great time, but when I glanced at my cell phone, I noticed a blinding, obnoxious white light shooting out of the top of the phone!! It is (literally) blinding, and it runs down the battery so quickly that I can't possibly juice it up. I can't figure out how to fix the problem. On the good side, some of my friends think the blinding light looks "very cool,'' and now they want blinding lights on their cell phone too. Also, my cell phone makes a pretty good flashlight. The question is, how is anyone going to contact me now? (You might try sending me a smoke signal, or throwing some pebbles at my window.)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Second mystery solved ("Why don't woodpeckers give themselves serious concussions?")

Last week, I posed the question:

Why don't woodpeckers get concussions, or, at the very least, terrible headaches from bashing their faces against trees all day?I did a little research, and I found the answer:

For one thing, they tend to choose sponge-y, soft wood for drilling purposes.

For another, they slam straight into a tree in a way that maximizes impact to the wood while protecting them against head trauma (much the same way that a hammer slams a nail.)

And, finally, they have unusually strong neck muscles, which absorb most of the shock.

I'm glad no one answered this question because I ran out of prizes two weeks ago (and, as you know, the prize that I sent out has fallen apart.)

My magical mystery tour...

I will soon head off on my latest adventure into the great outdoors. Since I got lost and turned around last time, I've decided to bring one (and possibly two!) people to assist me in my latest quest. I don't want to reveal too many details because I'm writing a travel article about this and don't want to get scooped -- but my journey will involve a lot of American history, one long and dark tunnel, a crashing waterfall, and at least 100 miles (!!!) of traveling. I'll reveal more details later on.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Cat-induced blog hiatus

Sorry for my infrequent postings as of late. I have had some difficulty with WiFi access. Also, my humongous cat sat on my arm a while back, giving me tennis elbow, and making it somewhat difficult to type.

Miranda Weiss in Portland and SF

Don't miss nature writer Miranda Weiss as she swings into your town for some upcoming readings and author events. She is touring to promote her brand new book, Tide Feather Snow.

Reading, Q&A, Signing | Portland, OR
• Thursday, May 21 7:30 PM,
Powell’s Bookstore, 3723 SE Hawthorne Boulevard, Portland, OR

Signing | San Francisco, CA
• Tuesday, May 26 12:00 noon
Book Passage, 1 Ferry Building, #42, San Francisco, CA
— Book Passage

Reading, Q&A, Signing | San Francisco, CA
• Tuesday, May 26 7:30 PM
Books, Inc. in the Marina, 2251 Chestnut Street, San Francisco, CA | Google Map–

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Woodpeckers, and the wilds of Silicon Valley

here is my latest nature scribble:

Rancho San Antonio (near Cupertino, CA) is filled with coyotes, deer and (pictured above) woodpecker. Aside from the shmancy cars in the parking lot, you would have no way of knowing this was Silicon Valley. I go on long marathon-training trail runs out here, and I often hear the hollow sound of woodpeckers knocking themselves against trees. And it makes me wonder: how come woodpeckers don't give themselves concussions? There is a scientific explanation for this. Stay tuned to this blog and find out.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Problem with disintegrating Cactuseaters contest prize

Anonymous, who won the 'identify the mystery creature' contest last week, is running into a few problems with the artwork prize that I sent her. For one thing, she can't find a frame that fits it because the dimensions are so peculiar. For another, it is, apparently, starting to disintegrate. Sorry about that, Anonymous. I'll think of a solution soon. (to be more specific, I sent her a small picture of an animal -- and it seems that the creature's tail has fallen off.)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Radio broadcast: Good (and disgusting) foods for the great outdoors

Here is some "good food'' advice that just might help you if you are planning to walk an epic trail but don't want to eat gross, undigestible food every night. Believe me, it's important to plan ahead when it comes to survival food. Otherwise you'll end up choking on non-summer sausage and freeze-dried "astronaut ice cream." (bleccch!!)

Meanwhile, I am happy to report that the anonymous Silicon Valley resident who identified the "hairy mystery creature'' (a fox) has already received a wilderness-related collectible artifact (sent special delivery) directly from Cactuseaters.

Anonymous wins big; Silicon Valley resident identifies hairy mystery creature of the Pacific Northwest

No, it isn't Bigfoot, it is not a wolverine, a rabbit or even a cat (although these were all good guesses.) It is in fact a fox that was introduced to San Juan Island.
The person who solved the puzzle is "Anonymous,'' who, as it turns out, lives in the heart of the Silicon Valley, but was somehow able to solve the mystery (how on earth did you figure it out??) Anyhow, Anonymous has contacted me and will get a Cactus Eaters-related one-of-a-kind handmade prize (providing that she agrees not to sell the prize on eBay later on.) Above are two full pictures of the spooky, and now fully identified, critter (one is the actual photograph, and the other is an artistic recreation.)

The Cactus Eaters -- one year anniversary

I just wanted to say thank you to everyone in the Cactus community for making the book a success. I also appreciate the fact that people are engaging with the book so passionately. Appropriately enough, I was out in the Kentucky backwoods -- running out of water, walking around in circles, avoiding bears, eating cold pumpkin curry MREs right out of the packet, and far out of range from cell phones and other bleeping electronic devices -- when the book first hit stores. Twelve months later, it's still going strong. Stay tuned for more adventures.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Mystery animal identified!

Thank you, anonymous, for figuring it out. I will run the picture (and a full explanation) tomorrow at some point ...

Monday, May 11, 2009

A literary happening in a San Francisco barbershop...

Don't miss this literary gathering/reading at Joe’s Barbershop
2150 Market St (between Church and Sanchez)on Saturday, June 6th, at 8 pm. The writer Michael McAllister is putting together this one-of-a-kind series.

Get all the details right here.

Furry mysterious creature: a couple of big clues (updated, with alternate photo)

OK -- here are a few big clues to the identity of my Mystery Creature (pictured below in a previous entry.)

* I encountered this creature on an island in the Pacific Northwest
* It is a predator
* The creature is not native to the island; in other words, it is an "exotic" invasive species.

By the way, I got into a staring contest with this creature -- and won.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Mysterious hairy creature

While hiking in a forest in the Pacific Northwest, I stumbled upon this hairy creature with weird glowing eyes. I was able to snap a quick photo before it vanished into the backwoods. See if you can identify it based on this blurry, heavily cropped photograph. (I will supply the answer at some point within the next couple of weeks, along with a larger, but equally blurry, photograph.)

Friday, May 08, 2009

Eastern Sierra at dusk (rough draft.)

This is my latest. It's a sunset in the Eastern Sierra. Right now it looks a bit like Mordor from Lord of the Rings, but hey, it's only a rough draft.

Friday, May 01, 2009

"Lowboy'' reading in Haight Ashbury bookstore (and long-overdue neighborhood clean-up news.)

If you happen to be in the neighborhood, John Wray will be reading from his acclaimed new book, Lowboy, at 7:30 p.m. at the Booksmith on 1664 Haight Street, San Francisco, this evening. (Friday, May 1.)

In other news, I hear that there is going to be a community cleanup and picnic on Saturday, May 9,from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Meet at the northeast corner of Haight and Cole streets at 10. Residents, merchants, homeless youth organizations and their clients will band together to clean up the smelly litter and make the neighborhood sparkling clean, at least for a while. I am not involved with this event (and, unfortunately, won't be able to attend because I'll be down in San Jose) but if you are interested, the RSVP email is They will supply the gloves, supplies, etc.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Miranda Weiss (read her book, watch her video)

Speaking of nature writing, my friend and former UWP colleague Miranda Weiss's book, Tide Feather Snow has just been published (and is making its way to bookstores as we speak). I've been reading her vivid and powerful nature writings for years. Check out her her idiosyncratic and darkly lit book promo video. This makes me wish I had filmed a YouTube spot for The Cactus Eaters, perhaps showing some dumb guy eating a cactus (although someone has already beaten me to it. As you probably know, there is a widely circulated video of a weirdo -- no relation to me -- eating a cactus after putting some kind of sauce all over it.)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Author's website coming soon ...

I'm finally getting around to it. Will post that link when I'm finished.

Through-hike the PMT

Considering that hiking season is just beginning, I just wanted to put in another plug for the PMT -- the Pine Mountain Trail, which took me through the wilds of Eastern Kentucky a few months back. Here's my story about my experience on the trail. This trail is magnificent (and, apparently, it is better marked these days.) If you have a chance to hike this thing, you should -- and afterwards, you should definitely stop over at Whitesburg, Kentucky. The people are very friendly out there (although I can't recommend the bourbon-flavored beer.)

Kara Levy in Narrative Magazine

Congratulations, Kara
(and here is her story.)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Zoe Ferraris/First Fiction book prize

Zoe just won the First Fiction Award from the LA Times for her excellent new book, "Finding Nouf.''

More writing and hiking in Santa Cruz

I thoroughly enjoyed the writing/hiking Pogonip exploration last week -- and, if you're interested, you have two more chances to write and hike in the woods. The writer Patricia Vecchione and the artist Tom Killion will soon lead hikes of their own into the forest. Check out Bookshop Santa Cruz's website for more details. Also, stay tuned to this blog for a few other observations and reading recommendations related to the Pogonip walk.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Cactuseaters readers in the news! (updated)

Here at long last is that digest I was talking about, highlighting you, the readers, your recent projects and your interests. I will continue to update this.-
Cactuseaters readers in the news, volume one:

One of our readers, William Jacobs, was just voted one of the "least powerful people in Seattle.''

Bill Jacobs also alerted me to the journalism, blogs and and recent books by Novella Carpenter, who runs an urban farm that I would like to visit someday. Carpenter is the author of Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer, which will be published by Penguin this June.

And this just in from reader Mike Orlando:, who is feeling the pull of altruism and reaching out to help others.

"How many lawyers get to spend their afternoons helping a 13 year old and his family raise money to build schools for Kenyan orphans? This is precisely the question I asked myself when Denise Lyon called me up last year and asked me to come to work for them in their Grove St. living room.

After law school, I had no desire to practice in the mindless world of Corporate Biglaw. Instead, after a somewhat transformative experience working at a summer camp in Santa Cruz, I started teaching sixth grade at a little progressive school. Flash forward seven years and many adventures later, an opportunity landed in my lap to combine both those skills, plus (as I've discovered) learn many more. Event planning, grantwriting, website design, contending with the media, as well as coaching a nervous kid in speaking before an audience of hundreds. It is certainly not easy, but I don't think I've had this much fun in quite a while.

We're working as hard as we can to raise enough money, even in this economy when nonprofits have it awfully hard, but good things seem to be landing our lap: we just got our official 501(c)(3) certification last week, and the donations continue to show up in fits and starts. We're planning on taking Stefan to Kenya this summer to see the concrete results of the work he's been doing.

My pearl of wisdom from this? Cool opportunites and even cooler people, ones you (or at least I) couldn't even make up in the wildest of fantasies, can just show up on your doorstep.

I am also passing on your book to a few other friends of mine. Thanks for telling this great story.

Be well,
Mike Orlando

If you have an interesting bio or project that you are working on, shoot me an email here at and I will try to get you into a future edition of this news digest.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Wheezing my way across the Golden Gate Bridge ...

Don't be alarmed if you see a guy in a black Nike hat wheezing his way across the Golden Gate Bridge and up into the Marin Headlands tomorrow (unless I pass out along the way.) Every year I do some sort of outlandish and very long birthday trail run or hike, and this year will be no exception. This will also be my first significant training run before the San Francisco Marathon, which I am planning on running a second time. (By the way, please don't honk if you see me. I startle very easily.)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Extra certificates for hike survivors

Also --- one or two of you vanished out of the Pogonip before I could get you your "hike survivor'' certificates. (pictured above.) If so, shoot me an email and I will get you a hard copy one way or the other. I might send a small pile of them over to Bookshop Santa Cruz so you can just pick them up.

The Green Loop! (map coming soon.)

Also in honor of Earth Day, I wanted to talk about a great all-day hike that begins and ends in downtown Santa Cruz (or at the Harvey West industrial area) and will leave your calves sore for about a week. I guarantee that you will see redtail hawks, you will probably see bobcats and you might even catch a glimpse of a mountain lion. Various folks at our recent Pogonip "Write and Hike'' extravaganza asked about this so I will try to throw together a very rough map as soon as I can and put it up on the blog. Essentially it starts at the Pogonip, includes the open space area over UC Santa Cruz, crosses Highway 9, goes straight into the Gray Whale Ranch area, traverses through Wilder Ranch and finally winds up in downtown Santa Cruz. This is almost all woodlands and rolling hills, with only a few miles of urban hiking. I highly recommend it for marathon trainers as well as daytrippers. The one bummer is water. The hike is extremely dry so you might want someone to cache water for you or perhaps meet you with refreshments at the Highway 9 pull-off near Gray Whale.

Since today is Earth Day, I should also mention that sustainability and the environment were big concerns of my big brother, David, aka "Zooknoone.'' He always called me on Earth Day, which falls awfully close to my birthday, and he often took part in Earth Day-related activities. To honor his memory, this is a great year to make some Earth Day resolutions (driving and flying less, dragging out that fat-tire bike, etc.)