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The Bell

Saturday, July 14th, 2012: Places.

First of a series about places that have become special to my friends and me, as we’ve ventured there together year after year to share good fellowship, and sometimes to witness the mysteries of creation.

The Bell was first discovered by James and me on an exploratory outing with a bottle of cheap wine, long ago in the mists of memory before my adult circle of friends had begun to crystallize. The ferry plowed the rough swells of the bay, carrying us out to the tall, green island, past rugged headlands and lush valleys in which stately antique buildings stood vacant but well-tended among groves of palm trees. We stood on the open upper deck, where a salt wind tugged at our hair and gulls swooped hungrily at the rails.

We made our way on the ring road around the darkly forested island to a point high above the water where we could see the great bridge opening westward on the ocean, and from there we scrambled precariously down a faint, crumbling game trail to a small beach of dark pebbles, where we drank our wine, talked, and occasionally waded a short ways into the cold, churning surf. The Bell stood above us, long abandoned and windswept, on its rock that jutted into the bay toward the distant bridge.

Hours later we realized it was high time we headed back to catch the last ferry, but the wine had sorely diminished us. We couldn’t retrace our steps up the precipitous slope, and ventured around The Bell to a long sandy beach with more high crumbling slopes. The tide stopped us at the end of this, and desperate, we began to claw our way up the trackless slope, grasping roots and branches and treetrunks, finally stumbling gratefully out onto the ring road and the way back.

Years later, after my bohemian inner-city loft had evolved from its early turbulence and drama into a hard-working, hard-partying, cohesive community of ambitious young artists, actors and musicians, I led the whole extended family back to the island with a full supply of wine, baguettes, cheese and fruit, in search of the looming Bell. It couldn’t be seen from the ring road above, but again I found an obscure game trail which halfway down the steep slope brought our destination in view, still far below. From there, the narrow dirt track fell off steeper and steeper until it became a landslide. The more confident among us started onto the slide, digging our shoes in for traction, but when we coaxed one of the girls into following, she froze in place, staring at the sharp rocks on the beach below, veering into full panic. None of us had solid footing, but after a tense debate we tottered, slid, and formed a human chain to lower her down. The subsequent debauch found us all laboring successfully to put the incident behind us, as we lay like kings and queens surrounded by our brilliant domain: the sparkling bay, its windblown yachts, its distant bridge and city arrayed for our pleasure as we lounged and played on a broad pedestal of weedy cement, both stage and balcony, high above waves flashing like broken glass in the sun.

Behind us in a small grassy lawn loomed the Bell suspended from its wooden frame, taller than any of us, a stupendous weight of bronze turned grey-green by a century of salt spray, waiting for our primitive driftwood drumsticks to ring it into complex resounding polyrhythms. And below and around our platform, the sheer, black rock hosting a feral garden of agave, yucca and flowering shrubs, anemones crowding in the tide zone, and a fringe of crashing waves out of which the occasional seal hauled itself up to bask.

The pattern was set, and henceforth for more than two decades, through thick and through thin, my friends and I made bohemian expeditions across the bay and carefully down that hidden landslide path to the Bell to celebrate nature near the city but seemingly a world away, to refresh our perspectives, expanding horizons that had been shrinking and confining us in the repetitive toil of our days. Despite millions of people living around the bay, never did we find evidence of other visitors; the slippery slope that was part of our adventure helped keep our secret. On each arrival, time itself seemed to expand as all our senses came alive. Once, we were surprised by historic square-rigged ships emerging from the mist and firing cannons at each other in deafening blasts of black powder. Another time, we saw a horde of giant jellyfish advancing suicidally across the waves, from all directions as far as the eye could see, to be tossed limply on the rocky beach where their soft iridescent bodies flowed over the dark stones like molten glass. And another time, John frightened and amazed us by swimming out into the powerful breakers where none of us had ever dared to go.

We who discovered this place were experimental musicians and performers, and we saw the rock and the Bell from the beginning as both stage and living instrument, seemingly timeless, primitive, and rooted in the wild elements like the temples of the ancient Greeks. There, drumming on the Bell itself was always the central experience, and the holy of holies was to stand inside while your friends kept it ringing around you, and you felt cradled by a great humming, keening, rumbling womb. And always, we hesitated as long as we believed possible before leaving to catch the last ferry back to the city, our bodies exhausted and our spirits restored, wondering when we’d see our Bell again.

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The Lake

Saturday, August 18th, 2012: Places.

(photo gallery at bottom)

Second in a series about places that have become special to my friends and me, as we’ve ventured there together year after year to share good fellowship, and sometimes to witness the mysteries of creation.

Good fellowship, delicious grilled food, a keg of our favorite local ale, music improvised among the trees, diving from rocks and swimming in clear water – plus the occasional romance – how could you go wrong?

To get there, you drive through a maze of winding streets and roads up the steep, forested hills above the city, over a sharp ridge then down to where the Lake lies hidden in dense eucalyptus forest filling a long, narrow valley. Fed by creek water from the surrounding slopes, it’s popular for picnicking and swimming. The western shore is a broad meadow with sandy beach and parking lot; above the lake on the eastern side, a small picnic ground lies hidden among the eucalyptus.

My first visit was 30 years ago on a company picnic with a small engineering firm that did earthquake safety studies for nuclear power plants. Our eccentric, domineering boss treated us all like his somewhat wayward children, but he was the real loose cannon. You never knew what off-color insult he was going to sling at you in mixed company. My younger brother was visiting and I invited him to the picnic.

I had a huge enamel stockpot that I used for the group meals we often shared in our loft, and I made chili, with lots of jalapenos – the boss was from Texas. But, distracted with preparations, I allowed the thin metal to overheat, so there was a solid crust of charred chili lining the pot and it ended up tasting scorched. But as I recall, we all had a great time, my young co-workers and their families and dogs playing frisbee on green grass in the summer sun with light glinting off the Lake in the background.

Years passed, the company prospered and declined with the doomed industry, and my life continued to unfold as a never-ending drama of wild romance and ambitious projects in music and art, until at the end of the decade, the loft was destroyed in a massive earthquake. In the aftermath, we survivors were drawn to the hidden picnic ground above the Lake, where we barbecued in the dappled afternoon sunlight and improvised a long, wistful dirge on African percussion and clarinet, returning often to a quarter keg of our favorite local ale sitting in a barrel of ice under a tree.

In the following year I gradually got back on my feet, conceiving a big new project, and a new beauty appeared in my life. Luckily for me, our first date was on her birthday; we shared an intimate dinner then drove to the Lake in the dark and parked near the picnic area at the head of a trail. At the bottom of the trail we crossed the creek on a wooden bridge under a low canopy of boughs.

We left the trail and found a smooth bank where we could sit under a tree and watch starlight reflecting on the still surface of the Lake. I pulled her close, smelling her clean hair, and we began to kiss. It felt like a dream, like the renewal of my world. Later we found an expensive parking ticket on the car – the Lake had a curfew – but it was a small price to pay for a new life.

We returned in a year or so, after the dream had faded and my life was again losing all its moorings, to join her large contingent of urban-hippie friends in a sloppy gathering in a larger, hotter clearing higher up the slope. Scattered tents emitted clouds of pot smoke and boom boxes pumped out a mix of the Beastie Boys and Bob Marley. There I was singled out by a swarm of mutant mosquitos, the biggest I’d ever seen, but no one else seemed to be bothered by them. More and more often I found myself the outsider at gatherings of her friends, begging to leave early.

Ultimately she dumped me, unsurprisingly when I was at my lowest ebb of self-doubt and insecurity. My friends tried to console me with another Lake picnic, this time in the cool of autumn. One friend carried a new baby, and there was even a cute single girl, a stranger who turned out on further research not to be a prospect.

The next summer saw the beginning of an epic new romantic saga, but my life was still no more stable or grounded – I was unemployed and in debt and I had broken up my last band. Within months I sabotaged the new romance by moving away to another city where I hoped to find work. Trying to sustain the relationship somehow, I returned sporadically, and we held an even bigger picnic in our favorite Lakeside grove, pulling together old roommates from the loft, co-workers from several old jobs, and the usual crew of jamming musicians. There was a group of children for the first time, and I remember one friend carried a little battery-powered fan to keep her cool – it was the envy of all of us!

From the picnic ground you could take a narrow, winding trail down to the Lake, where a rock twice as tall as any of us stood out from the shore. Swimming on this side of the Lake was not permitted, so we would wait until late in the afternoon when the opposite beach emptied and the lifeguards retired from their towers. We could dive off the rock into deep, cool and clear creek water – but sometimes we were spotted anyway and chastised by distant bullhorns. And returning, we could pick and eat wild oats among the tall trailside grasses.

After a couple of years I moved back to the area, but settled far from my old friends in a village by the sea. Meanwhile, the drummer from my old band and his neighbors had formed a mini-community around “The Grotto” in their inland backyard. We learned that the last of my former loftmates was moving to Ireland with his family, so we organized another picnic at the Lake, based largely on the Grotto crowd. The drummer had become obsessed with golf and tried unsuccessfully to interest us in drunken lessons. Saying goodbye to old friends made it a melancholy gathering, especially since they left the picnic before the rest of us and we felt abandoned.

In the summer of the last year before I moved away to my current home, a local bandleader organized a big picnic and jam session on the main meadow across the Lake. The organizer and I had never been close – I had “borrowed” a guitar player and a singer from his band so were competing bandleaders in a sense – but late in the day I was walking on a trail far from the picnic with my guitar, starting to play “Rivers of Babylon,” and he appeared out of nowhere to join me, and it turned out to be one of the sweetest sessions I’ve ever had, there by the Lake that had seen so many unforgettable moments of our lives in the city.


The Cave

Sunday, July 14th, 2013: Places.

Max & Katie keeping warm in their cave, December 1985

Third in a series about places that have become special to my friends and me, as we’ve ventured there together year after year to share good fellowship, and sometimes to witness the mysteries of creation.

Arrows in the Fog

It all began in the fall of 1981, on a drive back to CalArts from a weekend of cheap gambling and debauchery in Las Vegas. We were taking the scenic back roads, so that Mark could show me his new favorite camping spot in the desert. I had driven across the Mojave several times on the interstate, but my Midwestern eyes hadn’t really seen it – it looked empty to me, a big nothing of flat basins and distant mountains that just chewed up a few hours of a road trip.

We drove up a long, straight road toward an indistinct horizon between low hills, flanked by rugged mountains of bare rock, and at the top we entered a dense fog and the road turned to dirt and gravel under our tires. Both of us were surprised and puzzled to find fog in the desert. We couldn’t see off the road, and a short way down the other side of the pass Mark pulled off onto the shoulder.

Mark said that somewhere out there in the fog was his cave, but how could we find it and not get lost? We settled on arrows in the ground – we would set off with Mark in the lead, using a stick to scratch arrows in the hard-packed dirt, sand and gravel along our way. He led me on a winding course down gullies and up over low ridges and around the looming, ghostly edges of pale granite boulders and rounded, dark-green juniper trees, carefully avoiding grasping thorn bushes and branching cacti and their fallen stubby joints lying in wait like land mines waiting to pierce our shoes, and we could never see more than a few yards ahead of us through the fog. It was eerily silent until we came upon rivulets of clear water trickling down tiny gullies. We breathed tangy herbal fog. It was the most magical environment I’d ever entered. We found his cave – a low, deep cavity under a boulder. We followed our arrows back to the car. For weeks, I couldn’t get those images out of my mind, but I had no idea that this short walk in the fog would become the most important thing that ever happened to me.

Bohemians in Nature

Mark was finishing school at CalArts outside Los Angeles, and I was making art and music in a loft in San Francisco. The two of us became the nexus of a gradually expanding group of artist-campers, urban bohemians who escaped into nature. Mark and I worked sporadically as an art duo called the Didactyl Brothers, producing rude, irreverent music and installations. His desert cave was part of a rolling plateau of house-sized boulder piles at the foot of white granite cliffs, and on our cave camping trips, we started experimenting with large-scale tempera paintings on rock faces. We discovered that the water-based paint on exposed surfaces would completely weather away within a few months, leaving another blank canvas.

We’d park beside the dirt road and make two or three hikes to the cave with a cooler full of beer and ice, water jugs and food, camp stove and utensils, sleeping bags, guitars and folding chairs. His cave was small and low-ceilinged, only big enough for two people to sleep in. We’d wake up in the morning, make coffee on a propane stove outside the cave, carry our paints, water and beer to the rock face, mix the powdered tempera with water, and go crazy. At night, we’d grill steaks over a crackling fire of pungent juniper wood and warm up beans on the stove. The coyotes would start their eerie calls along the horizon, and we’d get wild and crazy and make up satirical songs and comic rants feeding off each other to higher and higher heights of crude genius, until we were literally rolling on the ground, laughing uncontrollably.

Wild Domestic

One of those early trips, in the spring of 1984, happened right after I’d broken up with a previous girlfriend and met a new one. Katie, a popular figure in the Los Angeles art scene, played bass in Mark’s band, and she’d heard about his cave and was curious. Soon she and I were out there scouting for our own cave. She was an experienced outdoorswoman and we were thorough. We found a larger, better rock shelter and started working to improve it. We drove the 90 miles to Twentynine Palms for thrift-shop tools and furnishings and occasional free showers in the town park. Shopping for our cave was fun, like being kids again, playing house!

There was a nasty pile of cholla cactus joints in one corner of the cave that we failed to recognize as a pack rat nest. We got the bright idea of burning it out. Pack rats create layers of compacted, urine-soaked, slow-burning waste, similar to a seam of coal. We ended up with a smoky, hard-to-get-at fire that burned for five days while we tried many ways of putting it out with increasing desperation. Early on, we drove the 90 miles to Twentynine Palms to buy a fire extinguisher, drove it back and used it all up in less than two minutes without any noticeable effect on the fire. In the end we laboriously dug out the fire and smothered it bit by bit with dirt. And turned our cave into a luxurious desert home with vaulted ceiling, sleeping alcove, living room/kitchen with indoor fireplace, storage closet, outdoor shower, and an elevated porch facing west to watch the sunset.

Katie showed me creative ways to camp in comfort. Permanent furnishings, which were stored in the “closet” when we departed, included straw mats for the floor, foam pads and a roll of carpet for our bed, tools, folding chairs, propane camp stove, and insulated ice chests full of cooking utensils, dinnerware and paper goods, matches, cooking oil, seasonings and candle lanterns for ambiance – the round, knobby, tinted glass ones used in older restaurants. In a desert thrift shop we found a beautiful vintage chrome breadbox to protect our bread, chips and crackers from the rats. On our arrival from the city, we hiked from the car to the cave carrying perishables and stuff that was too valuable to leave out there: water, ice, food, drinks, sleeping bags and musical instruments.

Then we settled in for an idyllic interlude of hiking and exploring, improvising and recording music, writing songs and poetry, drawing and painting – all by ourselves in a vast, ancient, and timeless landscape that felt welcoming and embracing, with its mild weather and its rounded, organic architecture of granite boulders and domelike junipers. A symphony of birds and insects surrounded us on hot summer days. I began to notice subtle ways in which the desert was making me healthier. My eyes, trained to focus at short range in the city, were learning to pick out details of mountains ten miles away. In the city, our lives were hectic and our minds were always racing; here, we learned to slow down and relax. One evening as I sat on the porch, a glass of whisky in my hand, watching the light fade above the jagged cliffs in the west, a great horned owl flew over my head from behind and landed on an opposite boulder to watch me in silence until darkness fell.

(Improvised by Max & Katie in their cave, 1985, and recorded by Max in 2010)

Katie shared my passion for the desert and together we pursued it farther. We wanted to know about the plants and animals, we wanted to know if Indians had lived out here and how? Putting down roots in this exotic piece of raw wilderness, actually becoming at home here, freed us to get to know it on levels inaccessible to ordinary campers and backpackers, who were always on a journey to somewhere else.

Shrooms and Science

By December 1985, Katie had moved into my San Francisco loft, and we planned a trip to the cave with our roommate Laurie, another artist. It was a ten-hour drive, and we arrived late to find the high desert, and the cave, blanketed with six inches of snow. But inside it was dry, and Laurie and I quickly warmed it up with a roaring fire as Katie ran around outside ripping dead branches off junipers and tossing them to us.

The next day we dosed on shrooms and hiked west through the snow out of our boulder garden toward a vacant cabin I’d discovered on an earlier trip. Approaching the cabin just as the shrooms were coming on, we suddenly realized there was a person sitting in front of it, watching us. Chris turned out to be a friendly biology student from the University of California; when he heard we were shrooming he wanted some.

That night he showed up unannounced at our cave – the first spontaneous visitor we’d ever had, making us feel like we were part of some sort of latter-day Flintstones neighborhood. Fortuitously, he was interested in Laurie, and became part of our group for the rest of our visit, informing us that the University had obtained land surrounding our area and was planning to establish an ecological preserve.

Back home, I contacted the University and learned they had just hired a director for the preserve, so on our next trip, Katie and I went over and introduced ourselves to Philippe and Cindy, who became two of my closest friends. Over the years, we would house-sit for them and I would work for Philippe here and on the Bay Area preserve he later managed, and get to know their son Ben from birth.

Images from the desert were beginning to dominate my art and music, and Katie and I began studying prehistoric native rock art throughout the Southwest deserts. Mark met a new girlfriend, Maureen, who later became his wife, and they moved from his old cave to a new, more ambitious rock shelter that had an elevated porch like ours. Another artist couple from Los Angeles developed their own cave a short distance away, so now we had three desert households and could visit each other back and forth.

We discovered a large, partly open rockshelter with a high vaulted ceiling that we dubbed the Party Cave, where we hung out on hot afternoons, creating an evolving gallery of paintings. With the advent of the preserve, our plateau had occasional visitors, including classes on field trips, but they almost always walked right past our caves, unaware, since we used a rake to erase our footprints when we left. Once, Mark and Maureen sat on their porch while an entire class filed past below them without looking up. Another time, Katie and I arrived from the city to find a paper plate inscribed “Nice place, have fun!” propped against our fireplace. Never did we find anything damaged or missing, despite the fact that we were only a half mile away from a road that was seeing more and more traffic, and was eventually paved.

Echoes of the Past

On one visit after particularly heavy rains, Katie and I discovered that deposits of pottery shards had been uncovered all over our area. We realized for the first time that we were part of a long tradition – Indians had camped here before us! Looking closer, we also found beautiful flakes of multi-colored agate from stone toolmaking, and Katie hit the jackpot: a perfect miniature “bird point” finely chipped from delicately mottled pink agate. But my favorite find on that trip was Snarling Head, the skull of a coyote with the desiccated nose and whiskers still attached, which was displayed in a place of honor back home, as Katie unleashed a new body of art work consisting of found objects from the desert – from bones to bushes to rusty cans – combined in ingenious, enigmatic formations and mounted on black foam core or rusty sheet metal.

For my part, I longed to engage more fully with this part of the desert, and with Philippe and Cindy’s new enterprise. Since childhood, I’d been a compulsive organizer, recruiting co-conspirators for secret clubs and events. My network of friends in Los Angeles and San Francisco had grown into an inspiring mix of artists and scientists, and we began collaborating on ambitious, intense weekend gatherings called Pow-Wows, in which we shared ideas, experiences and stories. The second and third Pow-Wows, in 1987 and 1991, were held at the cabin where we’d met Chris in December 1985, now part of the ecological preserve. These gatherings, which people called “life-changing,” enlightened us about everything from habitat restoration to aboriginal survival skills.

In the meantime, I had learned much more about the Chemehuevis, the nomadic Indians who had lived here, sometimes in semi-permanent villages. I had struck up a friendship with the only archaeologist currently working in the Mojave, and Katie and I had met the last living Chemehuevi basket-weaver, Mary Lou Brown. From the work of the legendary linguist and ethnographer Carobeth Laird, I learned that the last Chemehuevi shaman, known to whites as “Dusty,” had lived and died near our cave.

Beyond the Cave

Katie and I broke up in 1988, but I became even more obsessed with the desert and began looking for wilderness property, advised by Cindy and Philippe. Katie and her new boyfriend Gary continued to use, and improve, the cave that had been ours, while I explored the wider desert and eventually bought a big tract of mountain wilderness with the help of another desert-loving artist friend. Then, on the advice of my old mentor, my art teacher back in Indiana, I attended the “toughest survival school in the world” to learn the skills of the desert Indians.

In May 1992, chasing my dream, I moved to the desert for a year, living outdoors on my land and then on the ecological preserve not far from our old cave. By this time, the Mojave was truly the world to me! I was befriending and helping the scientists who were doing the cutting-edge research in wildlife biology, botany, geology, and archaeology. I was working with government agencies on habitat restoration and land use issues. I was absorbing the colorful histories of ghost towns, springs, canyons, mines and mountain ranges from crusty old desert rats. I’d experienced powerful visions and performed private rituals in my desert, and considered it my spiritual home, a sacred landscape. Once, while living on my land, I drove over to the caves to camp with Mark and Maureen. Maureen asked if I’d seen myself in a mirror lately and remarked that I looked dangerous and should probably get a haircut.

That year in the wilderness cost me the woman I loved, and I ended up back in the city, broke and homeless, with no viable livelihood. The desert had become a place of bittersweet memories, as I struggled to survive in the city. But I continued to venture out to my land once or twice a year, sleeping on the ground, watching the stars turn slowly overhead, wondering what my future would bring.

In June 1995, my friend Leslie, another artist, visited from Chicago, and we drove out and camped at the cave, which was still intact and comfortable after seven years. She had a vision while we were hiking in the nearby dunes; the desert affected her profoundly and she returned the following year for another dose.

In the late summer of 2001, unemployed after the dotcom crash, I joined Mark and Maureen and her brother Kevin at their cave, and Kevin made a miraculous, almost unbelievable discovery – a well-hidden shrine to Dusty, the last shaman. At that point our group had been using the caves continuously for 20 years.

In summer 2002 I lived in the cabin on the preserve as artist-in-residence, meeting more cool scientists. Returning a year later to house-sit for them, I hiked over to the caves and the shrine, and on my return watched an evolving sunset so beautiful it brought me to my knees, weeping.

In December 2005, twenty years after our snow & shrooms adventure, I visited the caves with Philippe and his son Ben and shared with them the mystery of Dusty’s shrine.

And finally, in April of this year, on my way to the Bay Area for work, I stopped and spent a relaxing afternoon at our old cave. Everything was there, but rats had gnawed through plastic storage bins and damaged some paper goods. Mark and Maureen likewise hadn’t been to their cave in years, but their stuff seemed to be in even better shape than ours.

Beginning with those arrows in the fog, the Mojave Desert seduced and captivated me, transforming every facet of my being, to the point where my life itself became a quest for a way to sustain myself in this ancient, mysterious and powerful land. I couldn’t find the right combination in the California desert; ultimately those arrows led me across the arid Southwest to my current home in New Mexico.

But the caves are waiting – for the next generation, or for future archaeologists. Years ago, Cindy recommended a book, Colin Fletcher’s The Man from the Cave, which poignantly describes his discovery of a furnished cave in another part of the Mojave, and his years-long search for its occupant. I may be able to save the next investigator some trouble…



Friday, August 2nd, 2013: Places.



In early childhood, I was one of those kids who rocked himself to sleep at night, sitting up in bed, staring at the window in the opposite wall. That was my first window. It was high above the earth, looking out across an overgrown field called the Vacant Lot that sloped down to the creek. At night, when the moon was bright outside, the top of my curtains formed a black shadow in the shape of a bat. I felt it was alive, a silent, motionless presence.

I had a small child’s desk below the window. One bright summer night, a pale winged creature like a tiny angel soared through my open window and landed on the desktop. Green, with a delicate forked tail, it rested there with its wings spread in the moonlight. In the morning, the luna moth was gone.

Time and Space

What is the history of windows? Many indigenous dwellings – the tipi, the wickiup, the African hut – lack them entirely. When they appear in cliff dwellings and pueblo apartments they’re small, set high in the walls, used primarily for light. Life was mostly lived outdoors; windows wasted precious heat in winter.

What about the relationship between windows and art? In Europe, early framed pictures were icons rather than scenes. When medieval illustrations first began to show landscapes, they were tightly framed like the small windows of the time. Windows in castles and forts were primarily small defensive openings, for scouting and firing on approaching raiders, although the fairy tale has Rapunzel using a tower window to beckon and admit her lover. But in the Romantic period, landscape paintings expanded to a grand scale which could never be encompassed by the view from a window.

The “picture window” and “view house” seem to be recent inventions associated with midcentury or “modern” architecture. Did those grand landscape paintings influence architecture, encouraging the American dream of becoming “lord of all I survey?”

Windows in urban tenements can be a primary social interface, opening onto bustling streets and steel fire escapes draped with laundry, or a symbol of frustration when they face a filthy, confining air shaft. The high, small, barred window of the prison cell has become a vivid image of European and American culture. A symbol of loss, isolation and helplessness, often too high to see out of, offering nothing but a tantalizing patch of sky and snatches of noise from the unreachable outside world, or worse, the terrifying approach of the lynch mob.

During my first year in San Francisco, a despondent office worker downtown famously jumped to his death from a high window in one of those monolithic glass skyscrapers, and he was quoted as shouting “We’re all just hostages from hell!” A friend borrowed that as a band name. But window suicide has a long history, acquiring legendary status during the stock market crash of 1929.


Window on Fire

When I was eight, we moved to a small town where my second-story room had two very different windows. One looked south across the alley over the neighbor’s big side yard where we kids played football. The other was a double window over my bed looking west out onto the shallow slope of our porch roof and the Pennsylvania Railroad track that sliced through our front yard.

In warm weather, I woke to sunlight pouring through the south window, birdsong from near and far, and the cooing of a mourning dove on the telephone wire just outside, and I’ve always associated that window with the innocence and optimism of childhood, the joy of waking to a new day full of promise.

My room was larger and cooler than my younger brother’s, and I had a double bed, so on hot nights he would join me, and on the hottest nights, unable to sleep, we crawled out of the north window to sit on the porch roof in the dark, waiting for the night train to rumble slowly past on its way to the furniture factory a few blocks north.

A square fan had been placed in the open south window, and on those hot nights we kept it running. One night I woke up, coughing, to face a rectangle of flame and the room filling with black smoke. The south window had turned into a picture of hell. I ran to the head of the stairs and yelled down to my mom, then got my brother out of bed and headed down to safety. While my mom called the fire department, I pulled pots and pans out of the kitchen, filled them with water, and ran up to douse the flames, but the burning curtains had caught the wall on fire, the smoke was so thick I could hardly even see the fire, and I quickly gave up.

We were standing in the yard when the fire truck arrived; they raised a ladder to the window and put the fire out with a single powerful blast from their hose. They concluded that the fire was caused by a short in the fan’s electrical circuit. Most of the smoke had consisted of charred and vaporized plastic from the flammable fan housing; the resulting soot stuck to the surface of everything in the house, so everything had to be laboriously cleaned or discarded, and the walls repainted, and in the meantime we lived with our grandparents a block away. That night, we each took showers in their cement basement. I was blowing black soot out of my nose for days afterward.

My last memory of the windows of youth is from after my first year of college, when I was home for the summer. It’s afternoon and the backlit leaves of the big maple tree fill the view out the west windows just above my bed. My mom and brother are away and my girlfriend, still in high school, has lied to her father again and joined me for our first and only secret tumble in my childhood bed. She’s a freckled redhead and her skin is almost as pale as the white sheets. She rises and I can see her silhouette framed by those tree-filled windows.

Wizard of Lights

My dorm at the University of Chicago was a large old five-story, U-shaped brick building surrounding an unused tree-filled interior courtyard which was like a sanctuary. The building had previously housed an entire small academy, and more than half the building was vacant. I talked the janitor into letting me use an empty second-floor classroom overlooking the trees of the courtyard as a private art studio. One wall consisted of steel casement windows that opened outward; this may be where I fell in love with that style. I loved the ambience of working in the treetops.

Raging hormones and the continuing distance between my girlfriend and me left me helpless with desire much of the time. When frustration peaked late at night, I took buses and trains far uptown, past the Loop to the hundred-story John Hancock building, which was then the tallest building in the world outside New York City. Now, the 94th-floor observatory is a highly developed Vegas-style attraction, but then you just paid to ride the elevator and stepped out into a quiet, elegant, dimly lit space like an exclusive private club, in which the only attraction was the flickering nighttime city spread out below like a controlled burn.

The lake, to the east, was a void, but I spent most of my time sitting on the floor gazing west through the floor-to-ceiling plate glass at the dense converging grid of street lamps, immersed in my private fantasy of playing the city’s lights like an organ. My girlfriend had roped me into her Ayn Rand obsession and we were both at the height of our naive fascination with cities, architecture and engineering. I still felt like a helpless child, but being up there in the sky suggested that anything was possible.

Parakeets in Chicago

Finally my girlfriend graduated and joined me, again in secret violation of parental decree, and we shared a small, second-story apartment in an old brick building in downtown Hyde Park. Our kitchen window faced a window of an Italian restaurant called La Russo. It was only separated from us by a narrow alley, and we soon grew tired of watching and being watched by other diners, so we covered the window with tinfoil. We shared the one-bedroom apartment with another student, and we occupied the living room, which had a big sash window facing the busy downtown street and the larger high-rise apartment building opposite us – the only real “picture” window I’ve ever had.

At night we kept our lights off and watched the world outside. One upper window of the big apartment building across the street was always occupied by an old man writing at a desk, with a cat on his windowsill. We fantasized about this nighttime writer and made up stories about him.

The following year, we both transferred north to other schools, and found an apartment in a newer, mid-century high-rise near the lake, with steel casement windows. Our apartment was at the back, on the fourth floor, overlooking treetops with branches right outside our windows. During our first summer, we discovered a couple of parakeets living in an uneasy alliance with the flocks of English sparrows, following them around in their search for food. Somehow, learning from the sparrows, at least one of the parakeets was able to survive the brutal lakeside winters, and feral parakeets outside the window became one of the main attractions during our three years in that location.

We moved to California so I could go to graduate school, and the girlfriend dumped me for an older guy, a right-wing economist who supported her Ayn Rand fantasies. In the mild climate and lower-density suburban environment, I lived more of my life outdoors, and windows became much less important. My upper-story grad-school apartment had a sizable balcony with sliding glass doors, and for a year I actually slept outside on a folding cot – I was becoming more my dad’s son, fulfilling his dream of getting closer to nature.


Objects of Admiration

After grad school there were a few short but intense and formative years – I was finally coming of age, and my post-ivory tower lifestyle was splitting into its two distinctive tracks: bohemian vs. nature boy. And I both found and created my dream home, the Terra Incognita loft in San Francisco, with its large, iconic windows facing different aspects of the filthy, dysfunctional, but vibrant South of Market ghetto.

Our front windows became the symbol of the loft. High above Fifth Street, a major artery by which commuters, shoppers and suppliers flowed off the Bay Bridge into the heart of downtown, our row of five tall arched casement windows, their wood frames painted blue against the white of the facade, were the old industrial building’s main decorative feature. The view was unimportant – the windows themselves were an object of admiration for the whole neighborhood – and they were our main social interface with the street below.

My young female artist roommates perched on the windowsill and smoked, gazing pensively off into the urban distance. When we were home, each of us came forward at odd intervals to catch revealing glimpses of our colorful neighbors in action. Olen, the gentle, friendly old owner of the dark, mysterious record store on the corner, with his bloodshot yellow eyeballs, offered to “take care of” parking tickets for us. We peered quizzically down from above as he was periodically visited by men in pale suits who removed small ice chests from the trunks of their Mercedes sedans and carried them into the store. Popeye, who lived in the large flophouse around the corner when he wasn’t MIA somewhere getting shock treatment, was a tall, trim and handsome man of indeterminate age with salt and pepper hair in a crew cut. He had a long, theatrical stride and occasionally crossed the street, stopping traffic, in flamboyant drag: now a general of the Confederacy, now a sailor in jaunty white cap and striped jersey. The small tenement next door housed an evolving population of more troubled souls. I happened to be at the window one morning when a psychotic young woman raced out the door into the busy street, stark naked and shrieking, pursued by her rescuer, a gentle man who clearly had his hands full.

The windows got me in trouble when I went over one night to check on a roommate who had run out into the winter rain. I saw him pacing and called to him, and when he didn’t respond I went down to retrieve him and ended up spending the night in jail.

It was also like the defensive windows of a castle; there were people we didn’t want, and we could check them out, negotiate or turn them away from our high vantage. Like the ex-cons from San Quentin staying at the halfway house in back, who showed up dazed and bloody with dubious stories, or the attractive female friend my suspicious new girlfriend drove away with shouted threats. I never saw her again.

But the windows were still our asset: in demand among fashion photographers as a backdrop, they were also a dramatic setting for our public music shows. And the ambient street noise they admitted was captured on my band’s recordings and became an integral part of some of our compositions.

State of Decay

My large, high-ceilinged room at the back of the loft had, in addition to an old-style pyramid skylight, a crumbling wall of rusting steel casement windows which I loved. They evoked the windows of my old college art studio, but in an advanced state of decay. Made of fogged, chicken-wire-reinforced glass, they faced south toward the elevated freeway which was only a block away. With gaps around the frames, they let in the freeway rumble at all hours, and the cold, wet air of winter. I replaced a broken pane with clear glass, and later I found five unglazed ceramic masks in the street that I glued to a row of windowpanes.

Out that window, I watched Dancy and his ex-cons sorting through his yard of trash down below. He operated a decrepit, nightmarish halfway house and salvage business behind our loft, and much of his jumbled industrial detritus was hard even to identify. One afternoon I was fortunate to be at home when I overheard the little Vietnamese boys who lived next door, and looked out to catch them setting fire to a mattress on the tar roof just below my window.


Outside Looking In

I’ve never lived in a glass house or had a true picture window, but in the mid-80s, on leave from my San Francisco loft, my girlfriend and I spent a languorous, heavenly afternoon smoking good weed and listening to the sultry new Anglo-African star, Sade, while gazing out over the Los Angeles landscape from the glass wall of an architectural showpiece house on a hill in Silver Lake. So I know what it can be like.

The American modernist dream of the glass house paradoxically led to the “fishbowl” experience typified by the famous house at the end of Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. Designed to give the occupants endless views and the illusion of living in nature, the glass box sometimes resulted in a total loss of privacy and the reversal of the view from inside-out to outside-in. Indoor life became a diorama or shadow play, with the occupants on display for all the world to see. In the high-rise city, this is multiplied exponentially so the voyeur, like Jimmie Stewart in Rear Window, has a choice of domestic scenes to spy on, like a bank of televisions set to different channels.

Changing Views

Years of residential stability in the loft were ended by the Loma Prieta earthquake. I was briefly homeless, I briefly shared houses and apartments with friends and girlfriends, and I lived outdoors in the wilderness for a year. Sharing a friend’s decrepit Victorian in an Oakland crack-house neighborhood, I discovered that women enjoy being made love to while looking out a window, even if there’s no view. Years later, I was told something about the risk of exposure from a safe vantage point adds to the thrill.

From winter through spring I rented a garden cottage which was secluded behind a large house in Oakland. It was U-shaped, with windows facing a central courtyard like my college dorm, so that you could look from one wing of the house across into the other. One night in springtime when the orange trees were blooming, my girlfriend and I faced each other in opposite windows and theatrically stripped naked, then stalked each other through the house like hungry hunters, to clash in the central kitchen.

Later, I briefly shared a tiny studio apartment near Oakland’s Lake Merritt with the same girl. It was a rear unit and one of her windows looked out over the small parking lots of various buildings. One night in bed, we heard a female voice shouting. My girlfriend was closest to the window and jumped up to look out. As our eyes adjusted to the dark, we could see a girl backing away from a carport, where a tall guy advanced on her from the shadows. The girl was still yelling and now my girlfriend leaned out the window and yelled at the guy as well. She told me to call 911 and I started dialing. By that time there were more open windows and more people yelling, and the guy was backing off. My girlfriend had been the first to respond and I was both impressed and proud of her, and it taught me the importance of quick action. Don’t stop to think!

Within a year, I was back in the crack house neighborhood. The windows in my room faced a large house which had been vacant for a while. One morning I was awakened by the sound of boots on wooden steps, and peeked out my bedside window to see a full-on SWAT team with dogs, converging from all directions. My roommate was illegally growing pot in the basement, but he had slept elsewhere that night. I totally freaked out, running to the kitchen to call his girlfriend’s number. I heard more noises outside, but nothing seemed connected to our house, so I returned to the window, to see the cops breaking into the house next door. Apparently they didn’t find anything!

Living in Los Angeles with another friend, I occupied his upstairs “tower” room, with wood casement windows on three sides. To the east, they overlooked the front roof and the street. I was working in my room one day when I heard rustling outside the window. I looked out to see two raccoons scuttling across the roof. When I shouted at them, one came over to the window and stood up to his full height, threatening me with claws and bared teeth. The roofline he was standing on was just below the windowsill, so he appeared taller than me and was taking full advantage of it!

The dotcom boom of the late 90s brought me back to the Bay Area, where I continued to suffer from dysfunctional neighbors, from drunks to pyromaniacs, but never again found a vibrant neighborhood or good window views. After the dotcom crash I spent a few months as artist in residence in a cabin in the Mojave desert, where my studio had a bank of wood-framed casement windows with the best view imaginable across a spectacular landscape. They opened upward and had to be left open in the heat of summer, but a strong gust of wind could be expected at any time, so I acquired the habit of always anchoring everything in the room with a heavy weight, as if I were onboard a ship.


My current home is as different as night and day from most of my urban lodgings. I socialize with my neighbors, they’re well-behaved, and we have big yards or gardens and plenty of privacy. My windows are steel casement – my favorite kind, with all the attendant problems of rust, poor seals, energy inefficiency, difficult cranks and hinges – but they all look out on nature: the lush vegetation in my yard. It’s not a “view house” – my downtown neighborhood lies at the bottom of a basin surrounded by hills, with all the houses nestling among tall trees – but the dense vegetation outside my windows transforms with the changing weather and seasons, and what I hear typically ranges from silence to the songs of birds and insects rather than traffic or screwed up people.

Watching my loved ones age, I’ve become aware of how one’s world often shrinks to a view from a window. My grandma died looking out a hospital window at the peaceful homes of a small-town residential neighborhood. My old art teacher recently moved from a cabin in the woods to a nursing home where his only experience of nature is the bird feeder outside his window, and even that is out of his reach. For almost twenty years at the end of his life, my nature-loving dad, crippled and unable to drive, shut himself in a house with all the blinds and curtains drawn, claiming that the sunlight hurt his eyes. But on a deeper level, he had fallen victim to paranoia, fearing everything from his neighbors to names and faces he only knew from TV: politicians, immigrants, ethnic minorities, foreigners. TV news was his only window on the world, and it continually reinforced his fears.

So much of our lives is now spent in transit, watching – or mostly ignoring – the world passing outside the windows of our cars, buses, trains, and planes. I always take window seats in airplanes, since I view air travel as a rare and unsustainable opportunity to see the earth from above, and it continues to amaze me that most others prefer the aisle and ignore the view. But even those people are focused on the windowlike frames of their laptops and tablets. The screens of our electronic devices are now our main windows on the world, and they’re shrinking – they’re even smaller than the defensive arrow slits of those old castles and forts.

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Insects of the Southwest

Sunday, August 18th, 2013: Places.

Mantis on bear poop, Eighty Mountain, October 2011

When I was a little kid, I used to lie on the ground behind our house, watching ants and trying to figure out their business. I captured other insects and fed them to the black-and-yellow garden spider who had strung her huge web along the side of our house. The neighbor kid got an extravagant model rocket for his birthday, and we caught crickets for astronauts, launching them into the sky over the creek. And one night after I went to bed, a big, beautiful luna moth flew in my window on a moonbeam (see Windows).

I was intimate with insects throughout childhood. Lightning bugs added magic to summer evenings; woolly worms were plush and comical. Under every rock were sinuous centipedes and pillbugs that curled up into tiny balls when disturbed. Fat bumblebees sailed drunkenly through flower gardens. I was stung by wasps and bees, but I still found them captivating, and it bothers me that, considering all the pollinator photos I’ve included below, not a single one shows a bee.

We used crickets and grasshoppers as fishing bait, and in summer the neighborhood boys all had their prize fighting pinching bugs. My pets included tropical fish, frogs and salamanders, snapping turtles, lizards and snakes, and birds and bats with broken wings, and they all enjoyed various kinds of insect food. A man in the neighborhood raised bait in his oversize garage, under grow lights. I bought mealworms (beetle larvae) from him in wire-handled takeout boxes and stored them in the fridge at home.

My home in New Mexico is an insect crossroads. I run across lots of magical creatures on my hikes in the surrounding mountains, but some of the most astounding have shown up right in my yard – like the fantastic Automeris cecrops caterpillar shown below, which became the talk of my neighborhood as it spent several weeks browsing my front hedge.

Growing up in the rural midwest, I took lacewings for granted – they were among the bugs that gathered around lamps in the evening. A couple days ago, I glanced out a window and saw some tiny things hanging from a leaf and wondered what they were. Later, putting together this gallery, I found my photo of a lacewing and googled it. Lo and behold, those things I had seen hanging from the leaf were lacewing eggs!

In the gallery, you’ll find several pictures of my long-time favorite moth, the sphinx moth. I fell in love with them on my land in the Mojave desert, where they sometimes swarm in the desert willow trees in May, so much like hummingbirds, gorging on nectar.

Don’t be misled by my title; centipedes and tarantulas are not insects. And I haven’t tried to identify everything; please let me know if you recognize any of these or notice any errors!




























Mystery Insects







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Mel’s Farm

Thursday, October 10th, 2013: Places.

Cabin and studio, winter 2002

Fourth in a series about places that have become special to my friends and me, as we’ve ventured there together year after year to share good fellowship, and sometimes to witness the mysteries of creation.

Close friends have heard me talk about Mel Gray, my art teacher from the seventh to the twelfth grades, who became a mentor for much of my life, the first among a small group of elders I’ve cultivated, people who’ve accumulated priceless knowledge and wisdom and who teach by example. In our rural farming community, school functioned as a repressive form of social control, bullying us into narrow conformity; some of our teachers rebelled against that system, befriending me and my fellow struggling outsiders and welcoming us into their homes and lives, but among them, Mel was special. He lived and breathed art, but in addition, he shared the love of nature, the love of crafting and building and self-reliance, that I had inherited from my father and grandfather. His curiosity was limitless, and he was that rarest of persons in our narcissistic times, a good listener. He took us, his proteges, seriously, cared about our lives and became a true friend as we grew up and went out into the world. In school, after class, and at home with his large, friendly and talented family, he challenged us and expanded our horizons. Forever after, throughout our far-flung lives, we would return on pilgrimages to honor that.

Mel had a large property with a stone cabin in virgin hardwood forest in the hills south of our county, where hillside springs feed creeks that drain into small rivers that in turn become tributaries to the big Ohio. During and after my senior year of high school, I met and fell in love with Mel’s niece, and as I recall, it was she who first took me to what we all came to call “Mel’s Farm,” although Mel himself called it “Gray’s Wilderness.”

We were both in college in Chicago and had been secretly living together in violation of her father’s decree. Her father, Mel’s cousin, despised me, and our relationship was always tinged with danger and rebellion as we conspired to avoid his wrath. Back in the countryside for summer vacation, we arranged to borrow a car and head south into the woods.

It really was just about the closest to wilderness you could find in the Midwest. Heading south from the glacially leveled fields of our county, the two-lane blacktop begins winding along forested ridges and dipping into hollows where sycamores line the courses of the little rivers. An even smaller and more tortuous country road takes you farther back to a tiny crossroads settlement, from which you head south into the deep forest. Eventually the pavement ends and you’re faced with a rough dirt track up a long hill, impassable during and after storms.

At the top of the hill there’s a deeply rutted trail through a small farm, past a decrepit tobacco barn, through a small ridgetop cornfield, and into a dark wood. A few more gentle turns along the ridgetop, then you reach the cabin in its clearing.

At that time, the two-foot-thick stone walls enclosed one big room. With small windows, it was dark and musty inside, and sparsely furnished, not much used by the family. The only piece of furniture I really remember was an old church pew. Outside the forest pressed in from all sides and the small clearing was drenched with sun and the singing of birds and insects. We were far from people and towns, living a magical dream of young romance, and it was the first time I’d ever made love outdoors.

Another summer, we returned with Mark and John, my best high school friends, to spend a night. The friends camped outside in the clearing while Kathryn and I slept in the cabin. In high school, we had formed a band which was really a precocious performance art ensemble, bursting with creativity, inventing new art forms. Now, we mostly jammed on traditional tunes that my friends picked up from retro recording artists like Ry Cooder and Leon Redbone. Being able to share that wilderness was priceless for us: a timeless space where we were freed from the painful emotional baggage of growing up as outsiders in a traditional rural community, and insulated by the dense forest from the prying, judgmental eyes of families and authorities.

When we got ready to leave, Kathryn marshaled us into a whirlwind of activity to sweep out the cabin. I remember young bodies swinging through a cloud of dust, all sparkling in sunbeams from the windows and doors.

A year later, Kathryn had left me, and I returned during the winter holidays with Mark and his girlfriend, Linda, and my grad school friend, Tom. I rode in Tom’s sports car; the dirt road was frozen hard, and the high ruts dislodged his exhaust pipe on the way in. The air was crisp and silent, the hardwood forest was bare, and the first thing we did was hike down through the bare woods to the creek on the north side. These small creeks flowed over shelves of limestone that were full of fossils; now they were mostly frozen over.

Other local friends joined us. At night we got a fire going in the cabin and started jamming.

Eventually, Mel retired from teaching and moved the family to a little rustic “art colony” a few miles downstream from the farm. That’s where I made my pilgrimages during my years as a bohemian in San Francisco. Then, after all the kids had moved out on their own, he and wife Pinkie, a prodigious and beloved painter and mistress of traditional crafts, moved out to the wilderness. They turned the cabin’s attic into a spacious loft with rollaway beds and a wall of windows facing south over the forest, and they added a big kitchen and bath. Mel had been collecting architectural salvage at farm sales all over the area and storing it in sheds on the farm; the rebuilt cabin had bits and pieces of this, including a stairway bannister made of wooden forms for the giant gears of historic grist mills, and they built a beautiful detached studio incorporating more of their architectural treasure trove. The farm had become a family work of art, with numerous outbuildings sprawled along the ridge: a trove of craft materials, books, records and memorabilia, the museum of their lifetime, so that visits became revelatory as Mel and Pinkie took us on tours and showed off their endless curiosities, including occasionally ambitious gardens and orchards and projects in alternative, self-sufficient technology.

At the same time, I was falling in love with the desert mountains and canyons of the West, growing more and more uncomfortable in the city, and fantasizing about living off the land in the ways of the desert Indians. During one winter visit, Mel unearthed a recent magazine article about a primitive survival school in Utah that claimed to teach those ancient ways, and the following summer I headed off for a field course at Boulder Outdoor Survival School that changed my life and showed me how people really lived in the lands that I loved. Mel was still showing me the way, and his place in the wilderness was still the source.

But knowing what I wanted didn’t make it happen. I was alone in my dream. I moved to my own wilderness for a year, leaving a girlfriend back in the city. Friends sympathized but none could join me. Hard years followed, more years in the city and the urban economy that took me farther from my dreams. Mel’s health was deteriorating, and visits often consisted of watching cable TV with him in the cabin. Aging changed his world and his focus and made him into a different person, less the mentor, less the role model. But occasionally we connected just as strongly as ever. I was able to show him my latest artwork on a laptop screen, and his home in the forest retained its magic and mystery.

One winter, I walked alone through the bare trees down the south slope to the creek on that side, and followed it toward the river. Nearing the river valley where a floodplain opened out, I was surprised by a shout from above. A young deer hunter had been hiding in brush up the slope from me. I told him I was a friend of the family, and he said Mel had given him permission to hunt in return for a share of the kill.

Another time, when Mel was in his mid-80s, he needed to grade the ridgetop trail, and he let me drive his ancient John Deere tractor while he rode on the side.

Sometimes I spent the night with Mel and Pinkie in the cabin, and other times I left late, driving those back roads alone, awash with precious memories and the chill of mortality. Once I had to pee and pulled off beside the river on a dirt trail through the trees. Standing in the darkness I noticed a small green light moving slowly through the grass, some unknown luminous being. Ah, the mysteries still hidden in that tired land of childhood.

As I write this, Mel is in a nursing home and his family is struggling to dispose of the place in the woods, the family work of art, the “museum of a lifetime” and the place that stood for me and my friends as an example of freedom and hope, of a more creative way of life in the midst of the society that seemed to trap us as adolescents.

As I re-evaluated my life experience, I came to see that isolation was not the answer, that even a big family was not enough; you needed an entire, robust community. It was not for me to retreat to a cabin in the woods. But Mel had never been truly isolated; the lesson I needed to emulate was his lifelong example of listening, caring, and encouraging young people to expand their curiosity, liberate their creativity, and pursue their dreams.


Desert Cams

Thursday, December 5th, 2013: Places.

Bighorn ewe at dawn, July 2014

I have to preface these galleries with my own ambivalence. I’m not crazy about adding technology to this wild place; I’m not crazy about remote sensing in general. I think the photos are cool, and I respect my biologist friends who maintain the cameras, but I treasure my own direct observations and the stories of friends who’ve seen these animals personally, far more than these robotic photos. Increasingly, science is technology-happy, prizing instrumental data over personal observation. Gone are the days of natural history, when people who loved nature patiently immersed themselves in habitats long enough to observe the life cycles of animals and plants, recording their observations with universal, primitive, and sustainable technologies: drawing and writing.

These galleries represent my own selection of “greatest hits” from each cam, and I expect to update them. The complete chronological sets of cam photos contain a lot of useful data and will presumably be available to legitimate researchers upon request.

The Seep







Ringtail Cat


The Spring



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Cloud Forest of the Southwest

Monday, August 3rd, 2015: Places.

Mount Baldy summit in the far distance

Coming from the Pacific Coast, with decades of experience in the Cascades, the Sierra Nevada, the Mojave and Great Basin deserts, and the mountains and canyons of the Colorado Plateau, when I moved to southwest New Mexico, I was moving a long way to the southeast. To get back to those lands I still loved, I had to travel in a northwesterly direction. There’s only one highway that does that, and it passes through the White Mountains of Arizona.

I loved the drive from the very beginning: over high desert plateaus, down into deep river canyons and up over high mountain passes, up and down, up and down, until you reach the White Mountains and begin following vast, lush alpine meadows, often with herds of grazing elk, between a maze of steep, dark forested ridges, finally emerging onto the endless open plateau of north-central Arizona.

One winter night, flying from Albuquerque to San Diego under a full moon, I looked out the window to my left and saw what appeared to be volcanic cones floating like islands in a sea of white – huge, perfectly flat expanses of white, like photographs of the moon’s surface, but this had to be snow. I knew we were over eastern Arizona – where could there be this much snow?

The following winter, I decided to try the Apache-owned ski area in the White Mountains, and discovered that these mountains are simply a maze of volcanic ridges and cones sitting on a huge alpine plateau, with big alpine meadows in between. The plateau and the meadows average 8,500′ elevation, and there are no prominent peaks or deep canyons, so from the northern plateau, the entire range just looks like a slightly raised area of rolling forested uplands.

But I had never seen such huge alpine meadows, going on for miles, and there was a lot of exposed rock: pinnacles and rimrock on the steep slopes of the forested ridges, black volcanic cliffs forming the shallow canyons of streams. And along the northern edge of the mountains, those iconic cinder cones. All of it covered with a blanket of snow through the winter, like a massive cake.

I returned for skiing a couple more times, and then, in the summer of 2011, the White Mountains were set on fire by careless campers. Much of the time, I was downwind and breathed the smoke of those millions of dying Ponderosa pines. In the end, more than half of the forest burned. I was reluctant to make that drive again, but eventually I did, and began to pay attention, year by year, the impacts and adaptations of people, plants, animals, and landscape. It’s a story that will unfold for generations.

As July came to an end this year, I submitted my new album of music, a year and a half in the making, to the popular digital venues, and was forced to wait for another week while the album made its way through their systems. I’d been housebound too long and needed a getaway. On impulse, I booked a cheap motel room in the White Mountains, thinking I might do a hike. And on Sunday morning, I left the trailhead for the summit of the range, Mount Baldy.

It was one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve ever done.

It begins beside, and rises above, the east fork of the Little Colorado River, and climbs across a high ridge to the head of the west fork near the summit of Mount Baldy, the source of this storied river that flows 340 miles across the rugged volcanic and sculpted sandstone plateau of northern Arizona into one of the deepest arms of the Grand Canyon.

Two things made this hike special for me. One was the unique high-canopied alpine spruce-fir-aspen forest, lush at the height of the monsoon season with ferns and fungus and moss. And the other was the rocks: moss- and lichen-covered boulders, pinnacles and cliffs in a seemingly infinite variety of fantastic shapes, striped with light and shadow beneath the high forest canopy, and sometimes cropping out at ridge top to provide breath-taking views across the entire range, with its serpentine ridges, brilliant green meadows and blue lakes, all the way to the horizon and the curvature of the planet. And of course, the monsoon sky with its ranks of blossoming cumulous clouds.

On my way up, crossing one of these ridge top outcrops, I met an athletic young Apache man who had hiked up the west fork and was returning down this way to complete a 17-mile loop. It was his first time, and he was stoked like me. All we could talk about was the beauty of the mountain and sky.

I had hoped for rain even before starting this hike; I’d packed my rain shell and a plastic tarp to cover my pack or hunker down under in a downpour. I fantasized about lightning dancing on the ridges and thunder pounding the forest and torrents leaping off the rocks, all around me. Rain was forecast; clouds massed and darkened, then broke up.

I saw many woodpeckers, but the biggest wildlife I encountered was a pair of blue grouse, near the top of the trail. It wasn’t until the next day, turning onto the main highway out of the mountains, that I had to slow behind a truck because a large herd of bighorn sheep had started to cross the road. I could see them bouncing around on the pavement up ahead, reluctant to leave the road. Finally they all poured across and leapt, one by one, over a 5-foot wire fence into the big meadow to the north. An hour later, driving across another huge meadow, I spotted dozens of elk grazing at the foot of the opposite slope.

Thanks to Jim Andre and Katy Belt for plant identifications.

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The Terra Incognita Loft: Part 1 1981-1982

Monday, December 12th, 2016: Places, The Terra Incognita Loft.

A Place, a Family, and a Community

A phantasmagorical building in a netherworld neighborhood built on the shifting sands of a kaleidoscopic city…A decade-long parade of ambitious young artists converging from around the world in a golden age of creativity and an epic of melodrama…Finally brought to the ground by a massive earthquake.

The cast of characters: Max, Gary, James, Chuck, Ann D, Francesca, Lurch, Mark, Mary, Scott, George, “Punk Monster” Erin, Olen, Dancy, Moses, Popeye, Pigeon Man, Harvey and his bike messengers, Jon, Betsy, Kathy, Tiare, Ed, Mark N, Jim L, Joan, Annette, Yasir, OJ, Malonga, Joni, Babatunde, Reggie, Laurie, John, Penny, George Gershwin and his wife, Kim, Clara, Patricia B, Victoria, Craig B, Pake, Ann, Tia, Jack B, Larry H, Brothers towing, Frank Z, Christy C, Katie, Madeline, Andrew, Troy, Carson, Kay, Paul and Denise, Ellen, Terri, Blue Movie, Chris M, Scott R and the White Fronts, Norman S, Benjamin B, Stuart, Colossal Pictures, Patti S, Mark F, Mark P, Cary, Jack A, Guy, Michael C, Kele, Mike E, Wendell, Quinn, Leslie, and many, many others.

Prologue: The Fall of Western Civilization

The Girl squinted through smoke at the lurid porno centerfolds papering the walls, her ears ringing and her body twitching nervously under an onslaught of conflicting drumbeats. She looked down at her bare feet in the dim light of the desk lamps surrounding the stage…Over to one side the shadowy figure of her friend huddled, shivering miserably, three days off a dope binge. The sound of running water from a tape loop spread deliriously across the room, a wavering, translucent curtain of background noise. Two guitars traded funk chops. A manic drummer held to a stiff tribal roll, interrupted at random by cheesy wood block sounds from a primitive drum sequencer…She scanned the smiling, mesmerized crowd, a motley assemblage of punks, hippies, yuppies, urban commandos in camo fatigues, boys in thriftshop jackets and girls in plastic miniskirts. From all over the city they had converged and now they wouldn’t leave, they wouldn’t let the band step down, even after three sets and five hours in this musty, smoky old room with nothing but Budweiser to drink. (from Loft of Dreams)

In 1980, young people all across Western Civilization were fed up, and we artists and musicians in San Francisco were no exception. We were the beneficiaries of the 1978 assassination of our liberal mayor and a leader of the gay community and the grisly mass suicide of the San Francisco-based People’s Temple, followed in 1979 by the fundamentalist Iranian Revolution and the Three Mile Island nuclear plant meltdown. Our president Jimmy Carter wasn’t a beloved humanitarian, he was a criminal accomplice in the Three Mile Island coverup, and the bumbling figurehead of a morally bankrupt consumer society that was rotten to the core and tottering in denial, a society that offered us NO FUTURE.

Our growing anger made 1980 the peak year of the punk music-inspired multi-media art scene in San Francisco, a flowering of underground culture that’s never since been matched in the U.S., and would take years to fade away.

I’d been down south at California Institute of the Arts with my Midwestern high school friend Mark N, making rebellious music and art in response to the unfolding societal collapse, and barely scraping by on welfare and food stamps. But in April I got an engineering job in the Bay Area, and moved north to San Francisco, where I rented a one-bedroom bungalow in the multi-ethnic Mission District. My day job was boring and undemanding, leaving me plenty of energy to write poetry, make music and visual art, and join thousands of peers at underground art events and punk and post-punk shows up to five nights a week, at venues all over the city like Mabuhay Gardens, the Savoy Tivoli, JetWave, Target Video, and Valencia Tool and Die.

My little house stood on a hill, and had a full basement where I built a cheap, primitive music studio. Mark moved up from Los Angeles for the summer, and we spent a couple months unsuccessfully trying to recruit musicians for an angry, ironic new wave pop band. After he left in the fall to resume studies at CalArts, I began recruiting a series of short-term artist roommates.

The peak event of that peak year was the Western Front festival, a citywide extravaganza of international music, multimedia and performance art, in October. There, I discovered electronic music pioneers Cabaret Voltaire and Rhythm & Noise, and minimalists Young Marble Giants from Wales and SF’s own Minimal Man. CalArts had been part of the high art establishment; this was a much more exciting DIY alternative. My mind was blown and my horizons exploded by radical work that could be created in the cultural underground by unattached people like me, outside the consumer marketplace and without the support of the big institutions of society, in complete freedom.

Immediately afterward, Ronald Reagan, an arch-conservative flagrantly unqualified to lead the country, and an actor trained to lie, was elected president, and started assembling a cabinet of criminals to rape and pillage the world. The month after that, John Lennon was assassinated. Personal trauma added to the political: I fell in love with one of my brief roommates, a young painter from New England, who ended up using me to make her boyfriend jealous, by sleeping with me the night before he visited from back east.

I reacted to all this with a burst of creativity, writing angry poems and songs, drawing and painting violent, distorted figurative compositions, and working solo in my recording studio to develop an idiosyncratic new series of dark, experimental compositions, using unconventional noisemakers, sampled recordings of ambient sound, and primitive overdubbing between two cassette decks, music that fell somewhere in the broad, poorly-defined vein of post-punk.

My latest roommate was Gary, a modest and soft-spoken but deeply insightful young artist from Southern California who was equally inspired by the new music and art scene. At the beginning of 1981, I met Jon, an Iowa-born writer, critic, and dropout from a prestigious Stanford doctoral program who was outspoken, culturally voracious, and eager for an outlet for his musical and theatrical passions. And I started sleeping with Francesca, a much younger, street-smart art student from New York by way of CalArts with a caustic wit and a skeptical bent. My work in the studio had reached critical mass, and I invited musician friends from CalArts to come up and join Jon, Gary, Cesca and me in an impromptu show at Club Foot, a legendary punk club in the derelict shipyard district south of downtown. I called this one-off collaboration “Terra Incognita” – the Latin term for unknown land which had appeared on the frontier of ancient maps of the world.

I booked the space, this group of strangers and near-strangers that had never played together spent only a day rehearsing compositions I had just written, and we played the show, to a packed, mesmerized house, for hours. Very rough, but very impassioned, and none of us had ever imagined trying anything this crazy before.

Immediately after the show, I received an eviction notice. It turned out to be an illegal attempt by my corrupt landlord to get around rent control, and months later, partly due to my complaints, he was convicted and fined by the city. But in the meantime, he succeeded in kicking me out.

Framing a Dream

My stuff went into storage, and Cesca and I drifted from floor to sofa at friends’ houses and apartments all over the Bay Area, but the memory of the Club Foot show, my new friends, and the musical experimentation I’d already started, kept me energized. And I was inspired by the months I’d spent exploring the underground art scene in San Francisco and Oakland, with its storefronts, lofts, and warehouses converted by artists into communal live-work-exhibition spaces. I wasn’t just searching for a new home, I was looking to establish Terra Incognita as a community arts center. And in April, Gary told me about a loft he’d looked at with a friend, on Fifth Street in the South of Market warehouse district, just a few blocks from the center of downtown.

At that time, South of Market was one of the poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods of San Francisco. It was the heart of the gay leather scene, with a number of underground sex clubs, but it also had public housing projects and block after block of filthy, decrepit tenements and flophouses full of junkies, convicts, the mentally ill, and poor immigrant families packed together like sardines.

The loft Gary showed me was part of a half-block tract including several industrial, retail, and tenement buildings owned by a forty-something industrialist and real estate speculator named Chuck and managed by his mistress, Ann. Chuck was doing local artists a favor by giving them low rent and unregulated space. He was only planning to hold onto this property until the new Moscone Center development, which was just beginning construction a couple of blocks away, gradually pushed up land values in the neighborhood, turning his tract into a gold mine. In the meantime, he didn’t care what we did with the dilapidated old buildings. If a fire inspector came around, Ann would temporarily switch street numbers between different doors; our building was never inspected the whole time we lived there.

Located on a busy four-lane street that channeled commuter traffic between downtown and the nearby freeway, it was a 2-1/2 story crumbling concrete shell sandwiched between wood-frame tenements, divided into upper and lower rental units, with an ornate faux-Italianate front that hadn’t been painted in decades. The cast-concrete ground floor of the lower unit was several feet below grade, and a rough wooden mezzanine had been built above it, divided into windowless warrens occupied by anarchist musicians who were refusing to pay rent.

The upper unit, reached by a long windowless staircase, was gloriously open and bright, twenty-five feet wide by a hundred feet long, with a twelve-foot open-beam ceiling, white walls, generous windows front and back, and big old-fashioned pyramid-shaped skylights. The only dividing walls were a cross-wall a third of the way back, and a partial wall around the large bathroom. Previous tenants had installed a water heater and bathtub, and in the open kitchen, an enamel sink, Wedgewood range, and fridge.

Besides the sketchy, unpredictable downstairs neighbors, separated only by an uninsulated tongue-and-groove wooden deck that had been painted battleship gray, the only negative was the tilt. The entire building leaned like the Tower of Pisa, because one side of its foundation had been undermined by an underground stream. This whole neighborhood had been built on waterfront marshland after the 1906 earthquake. The top floor was inclined about six inches across its twenty-five-foot width.

But the front of the space, dominated by five tall, arched casement windows, was clearly the perfect rehearsal hall and showplace for parties and public events. And the rent was right – $600 a month at the beginning, for 2,500 square feet – especially considering that I planned to share it with several roommates. It was all so spectacular that I hoped we’d get used to the tilt and stop noticing it after a while.

Cesca and I moved in and I started employing the building skills and tools I’d inherited from my grandpa to frame, drywall and route electricity for five private rooms at the back of the space. Before framing, I painted the wood floor a pale sky blue. I’d just started a new day job across the bridge in Berkeley, so I had to hammer and saw at night, driving the downstairs people crazy until I moved my lumber pile and grandpa’s Skilsaw up to the roof, which was accessed by a trapdoor. Up there, I had a panoramic view of downtown and the busy freeway a block away.

All the framing lumber was salvaged from industrial construction and demolition sites – a habit I’d picked up while living in a DIY group house a couple years earlier, with enterprising older friends James and Mark. Mark was an eccentric fiddle player, mechanic, and all-around handyman who had recently returned from Vietnam-era draft-evasion exile in Canada, only to suffer major injuries in a freak highway accident. Recovered in body if not in mind, he was also interested in experimental music, and I enlisted him now as a co-conspirator and third roommate. Late at night, Mark and I would drive my VW Beetle through the darkened industrial area south of us, harvesting timbers to haul back home on the roof rack. Used doors and other fixtures came from the vast Caldwell Wrecking Yard farther to the south. A contractor I met in our neighborhood taught me how to hang drywall and run wiring, and I ordered a literal ton of half-inch thick sheetrock which was unloaded one morning on the sidewalk outside. I carried it all up the three flights myself, panel by 52-pound four-by-eight panel.

Cesca’s original boyfriend, another CalArts student nicknamed “Lurch”, had been recovering from multiple knife wounds in a Central Valley hometown altercation with a Latino gang, but now he joined us, and together he and Cesca starting hanging out with punks from one of the Sixth Street flophouses a couple blocks away. She returned one evening with Scott, a smart young bike messenger and aspiring drummer with movie star looks, who became our fourth roommate and started helping with construction. Soon after that, we were joined by an older painter, slender, reserved, prematurely gray-haired Mary, who took the room with the most light, in the far southwest corner.

The room nearest the big kitchen was also the smallest and the only one with no window or skylight. Wanting to make my roommates feel more welcome, I reserved that “cavelike” chamber for myself. The floor plan had been inspired by Lurch, who pointed out that the building itself, like the South of Market street grid, was oriented diagonally, so to maximize natural light, the interior walls should also be designed on the diagonal.

At some point in my exploration of the underground art scene, I’d developed a vision of a high-ceilinged artist loft with individual bedrooms hanging like cliff dwellings above a vast, open studio space. This ceiling wasn’t really high enough to achieve that, but we could still build sleeping lofts that would just hold a bed, and would be high enough to walk under, freeing up even more studio space. So I laid out a meandering hallway to access the rooms in the back, and three of the rooms, including mine, were built with sleeping lofts that extended over the hallway, making it into a tunnel. I even built homemade ladders out of two-by-fours with 1-1/2 inch hardwood dowels as rungs.

I left the bathroom as it came: surrounded by an eight-foot-tall partial wall that didn’t reach the ceiling, and with a doorway but no door. I remember us talking about it at the beginning, and agreeing it would be in keeping with our experimental lifestyle. We did hang a sheet across the doorway for visual privacy. And later there would be a partial door. But the “open” bathroom would challenge our visitors’ sense of privacy for the rest of the decade.

Community of Misfits

During the first few weeks, Cesca and I camped at the very front below the big windows, on a mattress walled off by broken pieces of drywall. But as construction was quickly completed and we moved into our individual rooms, those of us who were anxious to start playing music set up a schedule of rehearsals. On my drive home from work, I’d stop at the liquor store next to the Roxie Theater, on 16th Street in the Mission, to pick up a couple six packs of exotic imported beer for the Terra Incognita band, which now consisted of me, Cesca, Gary, Jon, Mark, Scott, and Scott’s bike messenger pal, Betsy, a very young, classically-trained singer from Berkeley who, as it turned out, had a crush on Scott.

We were all awkward but ambitious amateurs, feeling our way, deliberately exploring music beyond genres and boundaries, without a goal or direction. I, personally, wanted to draw something new and unpredictable out of our collective unconscious minds and bodies. We had a big room full of secondhand instruments and noisemakers – including our voices – and a reel-to-reel deck that recorded at slow speed so I could just leave it turning while we lost ourselves in the music. Some of what emerged was just noise, but you could also identify echoes of ambient and industrial rhythms and harmonics, and the occasional suggestion of a TV or movie theme one of us had absorbed in childhood. The energy was high, and furniture was occasionally broken.

The turbulent story of that group is told elsewhere. But between my hammering and sawing, our late-night music sessions, and Cesca’s increasingly rebellious circle of junkies, an angry rift developed between us and our downstairs neighbors. They were also musicians, and practiced at odd hours. George, the oldest, had a concert piano on the ground floor, at which he noodled pleasantly from time to time, unfolding endless new age melodies. Erin, known to us as Punk Monster, was a blonde who dressed in black leather and chains, and had just acquired a saxophone. Her room was just below Scott’s, and when she began whaling on that sax, it was just like a primal scream.

One night during the first week of construction, the minute I fired up the Skilsaw, our downstairs neighbors ran up our staircase and started attacking our inside door with an axe. That’s when I got the message and moved the saw to the roof. But a couple months later, perhaps inspired by TI’s evening music sessions, they organized their own band and began rehearsing at midnight, to which we reciprocated with our own intervention. That story, and others from that first summer, is told in Loft of Dreams.

Our first year in the loft was also the first year of the Reagan presidency, and we found ourselves on the front lines of Reagan’s mental health disaster. When I first moved into the loft, the sidewalks were full of burly guys wearing black leather chaps and jackets, lurching shoulder to shoulder, hungover, dissipated from long nights out. But they were soon displaced by people like “Moses,” the tall, bearded longhair of indeterminate age who endlessly circled our block, dressed in rags, feeling his way along by trailing his outstretched fingers across the facades of buildings, while his eyes stared off into the distance, unseeing. And “Popeye,” the handsome, athletic-looking older man who dressed up in antique costumes – including his sailor suit – and loped dramatically out into the street, stopping rush hour traffic wearing a broad grin. Popeye lived in the large halfway house around the corner on Folsom, visible from the back of our building. He would disappear for months at a time, then show up again, looking ten years older. The South of Market crazies just got scarier as the years went by and mental health services collapsed nationwide.

The tenement on our north side housed Olen’s record shop at ground level, and above that, the flat where rock band Journey got its start. Tall, slender, seemingly ageless Olen was our protector – he said he could “take care” of parking tickets for us, and fix any other little problems with the law. His eyeballs were a vivid yellow, and he spent most of his days standing outside his door, smoking and impassively watching the world roll by. He never seemed to sell any records, but every so often, a Mercedes would pull up to his shop, guys wearing suits would get out, and business was transacted around the open trunk of the car, sometimes after transporting an ice chest inside the shop. When I asked him about it, he said he had made connections overseas while in the service, and made a little money importing foreign cars through military channels.

Shipley Street, the narrow alley at Olen’s corner, was a narrow, dark canyon of tall wood-frame tenements. The rickety building behind our loft was a halfway house for violent felons who’d just been released from prison. Its yard, behind our back wall, was a junkyard run by Dancy, a big old guy who employed the ex-cons in his salvage operations. And farther down Shipley lived Pigeon Man, who brought his shotgun out at night to shoot pigeons off powerlines and the eaves of buildings.

Brothers Towing had the ground floor of the building on our south. They were good guys trying to make it with a marginal business, and eventually the cost of competition drove them out, but they were always really nice to us. Upstairs from them was a tenement apartment hosting a series of dangerously messed up people.

Past Brothers was another artist warehouse, at the corner of Clara Street, a narrow alley like Shipley, with more artist buildings, tenements, and marginal businesses. Across Clara was Harvey’s corner store. Harvey was the Chinese-American guy who cashed paychecks for bike messengers. In the late 80s, he would move to a larger space on the corner across from Olen, with a back lot facing our loft where messengers could reinact scenes from The Road Warrior.

At a TI party organized by Mary, the painter, I met her friend Kathy, a young student at the San Francisco Art Institute. We hit it off immediately and made plans to go backpacking at Point Reyes the following weekend. It was the start of a blissful bohemian romance. She lived in the Mission on Albion Street, just around the corner from the Roxie Theater, with another female art student, and I started spending a lot of nights there.

For the July 4th holiday, I made a big pot of chili, and the band piled into my old VW Beetle and rode over the Golden Gate Bridge to the Marin Headlands, where we clambered down into one of the ancient defensive bunkers overlooking the Bay and waited for the fireworks to start, listening to cassettes of our music sessions on a boom box. The music was going really well, and we were stoked.

Scott worked at the old Strand Theater on Market Street, a faded palace that offered cheap second-run movies, and one night after the program, he invited us in, to listen to our tapes on the house system. I’ll never forget sitting up in the balcony with my bandmates, looking out into the shadows of the darkened theater and listening to music we’d all created, booming on the biggest sound system we’d ever hear.

We didn’t have laundry facilities in the loft yet, there was no laundry in our neighborhood, and I was driving all the way out Mission to a laundromat I’d used in my previous location. There, one Sunday afternoon, I met George Gershwin, a sixty-something pianist who claimed to be the reincarnation of the famous composer – and a former CIA agent. George was such a thrilling storyteller that we had him and his much younger wife over for dinner, and attended a concert they gave downtown.

While I was dallying with Kathy in the Mission, the situation back at the loft with Cesca and her punk friends came to a head. Mary was sick of their late-night drunken parties, so she moved out, I moved to her room, and finally decided that Cesca had to go. She did not leave quietly.

Long Winter Nights

My new room at the back, with a wall of steel casement windows and a huge skylight overhead, brought my visual art back from several months of dormancy. I hung floodlights from the ceiling so I could work at night, and started using raw, unstretched canvas, tacking it to the wall and attacking it with charcoal and oil pastels, evoking distorted figurative compositions inspired by the drama and pathos of our little loft community. There were only three of us now, so one evening Scott showed up with Tiare, another SFAI student, who had grown up in Hawaii. She’d grown up in a creative, cosmopolitan milieu, had done some world traveling, and was steeping herself in the radical oeuvre of the Situationists at school. We all hit it off, Scott moved into Cesca’s old room, and Tiare took over Scott’s room.

As the most ambitious members of the Terra Incognita band, Jon and I were anxious to extend it beyond music into the realm of performance art. In the best tradition of political art, we began to envision a lunch-hour intervention a few blocks away, in the Financial District, that would force office workers to think twice about where they were and what they were doing. The rest of the group caught our enthusiasm in varying degrees.

It was fall, and Kathy was back in school. The pressure of her art projects was freaking her out, so that our time together was reduced to furtive nights and short weekend getaways. Scott brought home the latest single by New Order, Ceremony. My CalArts friends and I had danced to the nihilism of predecessor Joy Division before Ian Curtis’s suicide; I carried this new classic up to the turntable on the disco deck above the loft stairway, and its autumnal dirge became our new anthem. And when New Order came to the cavernous I-Beam nightclub in early November, I forced my way through the most packed house I’ve ever seen, just to get a glimpse of the dim figures onstage.

Tiare and I gravitated into a brother-and-sister relationship, and started making art together. She helped kick off the first Thanksgiving in the TI loft, a delirious party which ended in jail for Scott and me, as told in As If Apes Would Hurl. The following week, adding insult to injury, Kathy decided she couldn’t sustain a relationship alongside school any longer, and I was single again.

Loft life just got more and more intense as San Francisco fell under a record cold wave that holiday season. We had no source of heat, and the crumbling walls and rusted, warped window frames let in a constant draft, so as the temperature outside dropped toward freezing, we began sleeping together in a blanket pile in the front room, to share our body heat.

Drugs and booze also helped keep us warm. From early December on, we maintained a marathon of nightly creative sessions that lasted more than a month, with friends and colleagues streaming into the loft to pick up on our energy. Despite working full-time during the day and staying up most of the night, I somehow found time to shop for special Christmas gifts for everyone: a deluxe shaving brush, mug and soap for Mark, a cymbal for Scott, silk stockings for Tiare.

My friend Mark came up from CalArts just before Christmas, and my mother flew out from Indiana to stay in a downtown hotel. Tiare’s friend Kim, a painter and student of art star David Salle at the Art Institute, joined us for late-night drawing sessions, and Clara, a manic local drummer who reminded me of New Order’s Stephen Morris, joined Mark and I and other TI members in late-night opium jams.

Africa Invades Terra Incognita

Jon, the writer and original TI conga player, had met a professional percussionist named Annette, telling her about our loft, and immediately after New Year’s she asked if she could have her birthday party there. What made it extra appealing to me was that she knew all the local stars of African music, and the party was likely to turn into an African music jam.

When I first met him in January 1981, Jon had given me cassettes of African music. This was long before David Byrne, the Talking Heads, and Brian Eno brought out their African-inspired recordings, and many years before Paul Simon got on the bandwagon with his Graceland album. I had a natural attraction to African music – my dad had played albums by Miriam Makeba and others at home when I was a little kid.

That party, sampled in the video below, was a watershed moment for Jon and me, and a unique moment in the musical history of the world, featuring collaborations between Moroccan master Yasir Chadly, Nigerian Afrobeat founder OJ Ekemode (the mentor of Fela Kuti), Prince Joni Haastrup (another Afrobeat founder), and Malonga Casquelourd, legendary Congolese drummer, dancer, and choreographer and founder of the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts in Oakland. The jamming lasted till dawn, it set the course of my music for the next fifteen years, and it inspired us to produce a series of ambitious public multi-media events, called Music & Prophecy, at the TI loft.

Walls Come Crashing Down

Traumatized by winter in the unheated loft, I bought a cheap off-brand wood stove, and Mark and I installed it, cutting a flue hole through the asphalt-and-gravel roof with great difficulty. To save money, I resumed scrounging the industrial zone south of us for scrap firewood, but pine lumber burns much too quickly to be practical in an open space with high ceilings, so we ended up huddling around the stove as if it were an outdoor campfire. Desperately poor and without a vehicle to haul wood, Mark even rolled up and burned newspaper “logs.” I got a kerosene heater for my room, but it was still cold enough back there that I could keep my beer chilled by setting it on the windowsill.

A young aspiring drummer had moved to the mezzanine level of the downstairs anarchist squat, right underneath our bedrooms, and he started driving us nuts by practicing rolls on the floor with his drumsticks, sometimes for hours. There could’ve been drugs involved – or maybe he was just trying to keep warm.

As a follow-up to Annette’s party at the beginning of January, Jon and I launched our multi-media cabaret series a month later. In addition to Yasir and his Moroccan group, OJ showed up again, and there was a new guy, another Moroccan friend of Yasir’s, who played soprano sax and soared into a spine-tingling duet with OJ’s tenor.

Now that I was single, Tiare and I were spending more and more time together. She had a habit of walking through the loft naked, and I could tell it was getting on Scott’s and Mark’s nerves. Both of them were living from hand to mouth and hadn’t been able to pay rent for the past couple of months. We’d stopped playing music together and were becoming strangers in our own home.

In March, I summoned the two of them around the kitchen table and said they would have to move out. I’ve felt bad about it ever since. I went to bed early the night they left. Tiare was out. Just as I was falling asleep, I was shocked awake by a pounding, crashing, and shattering outside my room – it sounded like someone was trying to tear the building down – followed by the thunder of somebody big running down the hall and out the door. I was terrified, and just lay there for a while in the dark taking deep, silent breaths.

Mark, who tends to keep his frustrations bottled up inside, had reached the breaking point, but it wasn’t me he was mad at, it was Tiare. He seemed to blame her for my decision. He’d taken a hammer to the window in his room, to the wall between him and Tiare, and the glass panes of her door. As it turned out, I would end up demolishing that wall anyway. It was the end of the first phase of Terra Incognita, and the beginning of the next one.

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The Terra Incognita Loft: Part 2 1982-1984

Sunday, December 25th, 2016: Places, The Terra Incognita Loft.

Rising From the Rubble

The city was going through major changes. While Jon and I were struggling to build community at Terra Incognita, all the other underground art spaces in San Francisco were closing, and the vibrant art scene that had thrived in the wake of punk music was collapsing as everyone faced the harsh realities of the Reagan years.

Five people sharing the loft had been an experiment. After Mark and Scott’s exit, and Mark’s late-night hammer attack, I decided that three was a more reasonable number. Although we stayed best friends, Tiare was spooked by Mark’s attack, and she moved out soon after. Then I tore down the two walls between Scott’s, Mark’s, and Tiare’s old rooms, and built a new wall dividing the remaining space into two larger, more usable private rooms.

I also wanted more stable, reliable roommates, and in one of the miracles of my life, I found them almost immediately in Laurie and John, the best roommates I’ve ever had. Laurie was a postmodern artist who worked full-time as a graphic designer, and John was a polymath and theatrical artist-of-all-trades who worked full-time as a computer programmer. He built a sleeping loft in his room to match Laurie’s and mine, Laurie installed some of her art work, and together, we gradually transformed the loft into a world-class home, studio, and venue.

Music, Prophecy, and Lust

With the band dissolved, Jon and I threw more energy into planning our multi-media events, and I devoted more private time to visual art. At a party in April, I met Victoria, a vivacious Italian-American woman a few years younger than me, with a heavy, glossy mane of jet-black hair. She introduced herself as an aspiring writer, photographer, and actress who also happened to be a vice president at one of California’s largest banks. We hit it off and exchanged phone numbers, and when Jon and I scheduled the first event of our new Music & Prophecy series for May 1, I invited Victoria.

Despite the chemistry, and her attraction to the novelty of my bohemian lifestyle, there was a deep cultural gap between us. I’ll never forget my chagrin at first visiting her apartment on Union Street, ground zero for yuppies. Her furniture and decor were totally bourgeois, heavy on floral prints, throw pillows and lace. But that all blurred into the background as she started tearing off my clothes, and we ended up in a two-year relationship.

Another big change in my life had to do with the desert. Immediately after my first date with Victoria, my CalArts friend Mark had invited me on a camping trip in a remote, exotically beautiful corner of the Mojave, where we slept in a cave under a granite boulder. That clinched my obsession with the desert that would spread to affect everyone else in the loft community and continue to grow for decades.

Inspired by our Music & Prophecy kickoff, which had included rare industrial films by Craig Baldwin, the city’s dean of experimental film, I temporarily quit my day job, and Jon and I spent the month of June planning two ambitious events for July. I built a two-piece modular stage that could be assembled in different shapes, and projection screens that could be hung at angles from the ceiling. We met with Yasir and his group to review samples of Arabic calligraphy that could be used for our posters and projections, and to plan a menu of Moroccan food.

Earlier in the year, I’d been approached at my favorite coffee house by an imperious, strikingly beautiful local actress, Patricia Butler, who had recruited me to play the lovers of Edith Piaf in a two-person performance piece she’d written. There would only be one staging, to be filmed for her acting portfolio, and my part would be silent, with the role changes signified only by changes of costume. It was quite an experience for me to represent Marcel Cerdan, a famous French boxer, not to mention the four other guys!

In return, we asked Patricia to do a dramatic reading at Music & Prophecy of a story of her choice by Isabelle Eberhardt, the tragic genius and desert lover who posed as a man in North Africa and drowned in a flash flood at the age of 27 with her Arab husband, deep in the Sahara. Patricia picked the most melodramatic story, of a young woman’s suicide, and after the final crushing line, I struck the lights and she made the perfect stage exit, down the stairs and out our lives forever.

Reflections on Black Plastic

I was still driving my old 1965 VW Beetle, which I had been doing all the maintenance and repairs on since moving to California in 1976. Now, the front end needed rebuilding, and in the midst of everything else that was going on, I started working on that, in the dirt lot across the street where I kept it parked. One day while I was sprawled underneath with the front end up on blocks, two guys hailed me as they crossed Fifth from the corner at Shipley. I was a captive audience, and they were offering to help, so there wasn’t much I could do. It was clear that they were ex-cons from Dancey’s crew in the tenement behind our loft, and as I got to know them over the next few weeks, I discovered they’d both been released from San Quentin after doing time on felony charges. One was tall and massive, built like a linebacker, while the other looked more like a basketball player.

They started out on their best behavior, treating me with respect and restraint, but as soon as they found out we were hosting public events, they made themselves at home and began hitting on the girls at Terra Incognita. At one Music & Prophecy night, I was trying to be everywhere at once and solve everyone’s problems, when Laurie pulled me aside and said I would have to get rid of the ex-cons. So somehow, without even thinking of the danger, I corralled those two drunken giants and shepherded them down the stairs and out the door, marshaling deep reserves of tact I never knew I had. Jon was watching and came over to give me a supportive hug when I returned to the top of the stairs.

The next, and as it turned out, the final, Music & Prophecy featured my CalArts friend Larry, a wry, jaded photo artist who had a little of the old Clark Gable vibe. Larry had started experimenting with black and white portraits taken with flash against a background of black plastic, falling somewhere in the Sally Mann – Helmut Newton spectrum. Collaborating with Larry at a distance, Jon and I put together a program in which the front room would be completely lined with black plastic, Larry would set up a portrait station at one end, jugglers would entertain and titillate by passing flaming firebrands the length of the plastic-lined room, and Scott’s new rock band would finish off the night.

Celebrity Photo Nite was a huge success until the band started playing at midnight. One of our neighbors immediately called the cops and we were shut down after the second song, for disturbing the peace. And then at 1am, long after the band had loaded out and we’d started to clean up, a big crowd of the band’s fans showed up at the front door, demanding a show. So much for Music & Prophecy.

Embracing Decadence

Downstairs from us, after a year with no rent payments, landlord Chuck finally closed a deal with the anarchists: since eviction had become virtually impossible in San Francisco, he simply paid them thousands of dollars to move out. Next, a couple with a young child moved in and spent weeks rebuilding, turning the mezzanine level, immediately below us, into a more upscale open-plan space like ours. But then the husband began beating on the wife, and the kid started screaming….

Another young couple moved into the tenement apartment on our south side. He was friendly and had a steady job, but she turned out to be dangerously psychotic, so that he had to keep her confined indoors. I’ll never forget the afternoon when she escaped, and ran naked into the middle of Fifth Street, where she collapsed, thrashing and howling plaintively, in the midst of heavy traffic.

My new roommates, Laurie and John, were both into the minimal look. John dressed all in black and had laboriously lined the floor of his room with hundreds of black plastic rectangles he’d found abandoned somewhere in the neighborhood. The two of them prevailed upon me to repaint the blue floor, and we settled on the radical solution of a glossy white floor. This implied high maintenance, leading us to buy a vacuum cleaner and hire a housekeeper, a friend of Laurie’s who came in one day a week. Her partner, Ellen, followed, becoming another new member of our loft family, which from now on would include John and Laurie’s partners as well as friends and relatives, both local and visiting from out of town.

We also pooled our funds for a washer and dryer that I installed in the bathroom, ending the long trips to laundromats. I also picked up a huge door at Cleveland Wrecking that I turned into a kitchen table big enough to seat a dozen people. It was such a relief to finally have roommates that could contribute, instead of just taking advantage of my steady job and reliable income!

With his long theater background, including guerilla performances across Europe, John became an integral part of a local group called On/Ramp. Laurie, whose previous installation work had been text-based and cerebral, started experimenting with more ambitious and evocative “light boxes,” shallow wooden chambers with an interior photo backdrop and a hinged front cover framing a sheet of acetate printed with a foreground photo which was backlit by a lamp hidden inside the box.

Tiare and I were still best buds – Victoria was generously accepting of our close friendship – but she had a new boyfriend – a stylish, reserved professional trumpet player who was transitioning from Art Lande’s jazz group to Van Morrison’s touring band. She’d invite me over to his elegant bungalow on Bernal Hill while he was touring, and I’d noodle dreamily on his Steinway piano, an instrument I can only play while buzzed and stoned.

Alongside all of this social and creative activity in the San Francisco loft, I was living a parallel life in Southern California, driving down to CalArts every few months to play in Mark N’s new group, the tribal/electronic Our Camp, along with a new CalArts friend, Claire. My SoCal connection made me unique in San Francisco, a sort of cultural ambassador between cities that had always been antagonistic.

Partly because my work with Jon in San Francisco was becoming more and more structured and organized, I gravitated toward free improvisation with Mark at CalArts, and we started recording drunken jams and raps under the name of Didactyl Brothers, Daryl (Mark) and Dartaigne (Max), a multi-media art duo riffing on the didacticism of conceptual art, the CalArts-based movement which was then struggling against the rise of Neo-Expressionism. The Didactyl Brothers were irreverent, confrontational, and infantile – a total contrast to the serious, reserved image I presented elsewhere. During my trips, we created and exhibited notorious, disruptive guerilla art shows in the CalArts Main Gallery.

In the fall of 1982, Jon and Tiare joined me on a trip to CalArts, where Jon and I jammed and recorded as Terra Incognita with Mark and his CalArts buddies, and Tiare and Claire became friends and “Didactyl Sisters.” And later that year, Tiare and I participated at the San Francisco Art Institute in a groundbreaking live video linkup with Claire and others at CalArts, and produced a Didactyl Brother and Sister guerilla art intervention at the Art Institute’s main gallery.

Another major CalArts-based trend in my life revolved around Las Vegas and gambling. This was probably an ironic reaction to the conservative Reagan years, as well as an extension of bohemian, low-rent desert gambling trips that Mark and I had started taking in the late 1970s. Now, we teamed up with Larry the photographer, who nudged us in a faux-rat-pack direction, and our Las Vegas trips took on a dimension of epic decadence, with all-night binges at the craps table, followed by hungover tennis matches in the unforgiving desert sun. We’d also started seeking bliss in pharmaceuticals, and I exported as much of this new culture as I could back to San Francisco.

Victoria was less than impressed when I dosed and nodded out in the middle of her yuppie dinner parties, but on the plus side, we took up tennis together, and I even showed up, scandalously, at one of roommate Laurie’s art shows, wearing my tennis outfit.

As I embraced this temporary camouflage, my relationship with bourgeois Victoria began to look like a sort of ironic lark, a self-conscious flirtation with squareness. I truly loved her, but this could hardly be sustainable.

With all the underground art spaces shut down, young people in the cities gravitated toward a new form of nightlife. Punk and post-punk had evolved into new wave dance music, the urban dance scene was blossoming all over the world, and our neighborhood, South of Market, was its center in San Francisco. We all became regulars at DNA, a cavernous corner club with a central bar, a few blocks southwest of us. This was the time of Michael Jackson’s Thriller and the Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams. Victoria and I made great dance partners, and my wardrobe graduated from the Salvation Army to the retro boutiques.

But this second year of the Reagan ordeal was also the dawn of AIDs. We started hearing of it, but had no idea what it meant or how bad it would get.

Dance, Drama, and Irony

I moved into the new year of 1983 without the structure of Music & Prophecy or the Terra Incognita band to anchor me and deploy my creative energies. Laurie and John were comfortably settled in the loft, their jobs and relationships, and John was moonlighting as both actor and director in the On/Ramp group. I continued to move my visual art forward, but Victoria was making it clear that she was on a relentless track toward marriage and children, and it took more and more of my energy to maintain a relationship with someone whose goals were completely different from mine.

This came to a head one day in early summer, when she invited me to lunch at The Ramp, a bohemian burger and beer garden on the waterfront in the shipyard district south of downtown. Her plan was to give me the marriage ultimatum, but I decided to treat it ironically, suggesting that we have a Vegas wedding and enjoy it while it lasted, without any expectations for the future.

To her credit, she took this preposterous suggestion gracefully, merely shaking her head in resignation. That night, we drove to a trash-lined alley between abandoned railroad tracks and an abandoned factory, smoked a joint, and had a wild bohemian fling in the back of her station wagon. The artist had won, for the time being.

Meanwhile, as AIDs was wreaking havoc in the gay community, the media reported that heterosexuals were also at risk through unsafe sex. Fear spread through the cities, where partnerships were more fluid, accelerating the trend toward conservatism in culture and society. The sexual freedom of the 1970s was over, and monogamy became the choice of the prudent.

So, postponing a decision about our relationship, Victoria sublimated her dream of marriage in creative work, joining John’s On/Ramp group as an actress. I should’ve welcomed this, but since I now lacked a creative collaboration of my own, I was childishly jealous of her and the theater. I even resented On/Ramp’s rehearsals in the front room of the loft, which I’d used dozens of times for my own band.

Downstairs, the abusive family moved out, and an upscale construction company, Ludington Construction, moved in, redecorating yet again. This worked out well for us, because they worked regular daytime hours, and we finally had the building to ourselves at night.

Outside the loft, the neighborhood remained sketchy. A Vietnamese family moved into the eastside tenement, and one afternoon I happened to be in my room when I noticed the neighbor kids setting fire to a mattress on the roof outside my window.

Over the previous winter, a new French-produced album had come out featuring Nigerian pop star King Sunny Ade, and Victoria and I had fallen in love with juju dance music, dragging Jon to King Sunny’s first Bay Area show, in Berkeley. I became obsessed with juju, adapting my old bluegrass flatpicking guitar style to juju-inspired polyrhythms, and dreaming of a new African-inspired style of original music.

Some Nigerian dancers at King Sunny’s shows were wearing robes patterned with the Mercedes-Benz logo, a symbol of prosperity. I was tired of perpetually working on my old Beetle and decided to look for a used Mercedes, hoping it would win me points with the African expatriates in the Bay Area. And after I found one, a 1962 diesel sedan with white tuck-and-roll seats, Victoria and I decided to revitalize our relationship with a road trip to the East Coast, stopping off to see Jon, who had moved back home to Iowa, and my family, in Indiana.

In New York City, we were treated to a night in the spectacular metallic-gold-painted Little Italy flat of art star Sherrie Levine, a friend from CalArts. And, dance-crazy as we were, we spent an entire night dancing our way across New York’s most famous nightclubs, finally lurching blissfully into a Manhattan dawn.

Although he’d moved away, Jon and I were still close, holding long phone sessions late at night, collaborating on ideas for music, art, and events. I was excited about the direction my visual art was taking, and he badgered me to give up music completely and focus on art, where he thought my talent was stronger.

Go South, Young Artist

Victoria’s older sister Patti was an art director in the movie industry, the girlfriend of a famous video artist, and a fixture in the Los Angeles art scene. We’d visited her Hollywood apartment for an art party the previous winter, dropping our new King Sunny album on her stereo and dancing while conceptual art star Stephen Prina led the rest of the group to the bedroom to snort lines of coke. Patti introduced us to rising gallerist Richard Kuhlenschmidt, who was helping to put the LA scene on the international art map. The four of us hung out, and he took an interest in my work.

At the same time, Mark and Larry were getting involved with another ambitious gallerist, James Turcotte, who had recently scored a beautiful space just off a gentrifying section of inner Wilshire Boulevard. He currently hosted a group show including an elegantly eerie plaster image of a tornado by sculptor Dana Duff; I showed him slides of my work in progress and he scheduled me for a two-person show with Dana in summer 1984. It was my first real opportunity in any of the arts, and intense preparations took over my life back home.

Meanwhile, my day job flew me to New England for a few days, and on the way back, I stopped in New York to spend a couple of nights at the Manhattan loft of Andy Moses, son of Los Angeles art star Ed Moses. Andy took me to a series of loft parties, including one at Robert Rauschenberg’s East Coast studio, and another on a rooftop where experimental films were projected on the opposite building. My head was in the clouds; I was finally getting somewhere.

The work I planned to show with Turcotte was based on the mixed-media drawings on raw canvas that I’d been creating for the past couple of years, enriched by my recent research into Native American rock art and prehistoric culture. A friend had given me an inspirational book on the radical Swedish artist Oyvind Fahlstrom, who assembled wall-hanging installations from miscellaneous collections of graphical elements, and in conversations with Turcotte, I began to envision a layered, conceptually sophisticated presentation in which my canvas drawings would be displayed along with other suggestive items that I would create or collect, the whole assemblage would be photographed and printed in large format, and prints would be available for purchase at a reasonable price, in addition to the original assemblage – a two-tiered marketing strategy.

In the early months of 1984, I was working hard and sinking lots of money into large-format photography, printing, and framing, and Turcotte assured me that we were on track. Everything was copacetic in the loft, and my relationship with Victoria seemed to be on autopilot. Then, at the end of April, with the show only two months away, I was starting to get anxious about finishing on time, and uncertain about the quality of the product, when I suddenly received a short letter from Turcotte saying he’d had to cancel the show due to overbooking.

Stunned, I immediately called the gallerist. He said that in addition to booking problems, he didn’t think my work was really ready to show, and, humiliated, I threw a tantrum, telling him none of my friends would ever set foot in his gallery again. I also talked to Dana; she was shocked and disappointed, but there was nothing either of us could do.

Victoria was with me as I read the letter; she comforted me, but she also announced – with all the compassion she could muster – that our relationship had to end, so she could be free to pursue her dream of marriage and family. She’d met a corporate lawyer who wanted to go out with her – clearly a better match – and he claimed to share her goals.

Turcotte’s cancellation aborted my gallery career in the visual arts. Whereas with most people it would be only a temporary setback, I realized I just wasn’t committed to the commercial gallery scene. I had an easy day job, and I was much more interested in experimenting and growing my art work organically, not in grooming it for a fiercely competitive market. I eventually came to agree that the planned assemblage and photo presentation were weak; my drawings were as strong as anything out there, but you can’t build a career on drawings – they’re considered secondary work, only marketable if you’re already established with “major” work like paintings.

Cowgirl in the Band

Things happened fast in those days. When I told Mark about the breakup with Victoria, he invited me to Los Angeles to play a gig with his new country band, Days of Glory, so I grabbed my banjo and jumped on Amtrak. I met them at the Frolic II, a new art scene bar in Hollywood. Katie, the standup-bass player, was there with her current boyfriend, a successful Neo-Expressionist painter, and John Baldessari, the international art star and CalArts teacher that she was escorting around town. Five inches taller than me, she was a party girl with a Mona Lisa smile and a svelte body, and later in the evening, when we found ourselves alone together out on the grubby Hollywood sidewalk, she literally swept me off my feet.

Mark and I left on a desert camping trip the day after the gig. It was the year of Halley’s Comet, and to celebrate, we made giant symbolic tempera paintings on the side of a house-sized boulder near our cave. But on my return to the city, Katie and I immediately became an item. She seemed to be exactly what I needed – a fearless tomboy from North Dakota, at home in the wilderness, but also an ambitious and well-connected artist, musician, and urban bohemian with an impeccable fashion sense. The only problem was that she lived in Los Angeles, but I was already used to commuting between SF and LA several times a year.

A couple weeks later she flew up to visit me, and I introduced her to the loft family, where she fit right in. She scrutinized my art, and contradicted Jon by insisting that I give up art for music, since, in her opinion, I had more talent for the latter.

But I wasn’t ready to give up on art completely – shortly after abandoning painting for drawing, I had started experimenting with pastels. I loved rubbing and blending colors with my fingers and hands, and the desert was inspiring me with new forms both natural and surrealistic.

Laurie’s friend Madeline, also an artist and fashion model, had moved into a warehouse space a few steps away, across Fifth on Clara Street, with her boyfriend Andrew, bass player for the notorious local post-punk act, Minimal Man. And I reconnected with Mark, the Terra Incognita fiddler who’d attacked Tiare’s room two years ago. Together, often playing and recording outdoors on the loft roof high above the city, we began developing a new electric string band sound, blending King Sunny’s Nigerian juju rhythms with the bluegrass styles both of us had learned in the 1970s.

Tiare’s boyfriend was still touring with Van Morrison, and Van had recruited them all, including Tiare, into Scientology, which drove a wedge between us. We were still in touch, but I was keeping my distance.

My old Volkswagen was on its last legs. Our musician neighbor, Andrew, recommended the Honda Civic Wagon, a quirky car design that had just come out, looked like a toaster, and would be perfect for hauling both musical instruments and camping gear. It was the first new car I’d ever bought on my own, and I special-ordered it in a desert tan color that perfectly matched our Mojave landscape.

On my trips to LA to see Katie, I jammed with Days of Glory, working out some of the tunes I would later use with the new Terra Incognita, and she and I got comfortable playing together. I also took her out to the Mojave, where we found a cave of our own, larger and nicer than Mark’s, and spent a week improving and furnishing it as a home away from home.

Meanwhile, Jon from TI had landed a writing gig in New York, and I made a special trip out to visit him. One afternoon as we walked up a street of sidewalk cafes in the East Village, I spotted my ex-girlfriend Kathy from San Francisco. That first year in the loft already felt like ancient history, and I had nothing left to say to her.

Katie and I were anxious to start writing and recording music together. She had a quiet, shady bungalow in desirable Los Feliz and high-paying hourly work doing special effects in the movie industry, so moving to SF wasn’t a great option for her. But I’d saved up a little nest egg, so at the end of 1984, I quit my day job again and packed up, leaving everything at the loft as it was, hoping to return and rejoin Laurie and John sometime soon. Reagan had been re-elected in a landslide, and it had recently been announced that AIDs was spreading through IV drug use in both the gay and straight communities. A full-blown epidemic loomed on the horizon, and many in our arts community were at risk. My move wasn’t exactly a leap into the unknown, but it was definitely the beginning of a new story.

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