Zombie Apocalypse

 Anyone notice that Urban Wildland was on hiatus for a while?...Thought not.

Notwithstanding your lack of attention, I will explain. For the last ten weeks I have been co-teaching an on-line course with my pal Will Reed at the Viridis Graduate Institute – a feisty start-up focused on eco-psychology helmed by Lori Pye, a lecturer in Environmental Studies at UCSB and part of the core faculty at Pacifica Graduate Institute.

As the sun moves ever south and its rays are spread lower and wider we have emerged, here in Upper Ojai, from the thrall of summer, but on this Thanksgiving day it is expected to reach into the high 80’s before we sit down to our mid-afternoon feasts. Someone, no doubt, will mutter something about global warming as we gorge on the seasonal turkey and pie.

Will and I were guilty of a great deal of muttering over the duration of our course, Re-designing Ecosystems: Cities and Communities, and it is conceivable that one or other of us may have mentioned the fact that our climate has warmed about one degree centigrade since 1860 and that this can reasonably be attributed to the 500 billion tons of Co2 Civilization has dumped into the atmosphere since we got serious about burning fossil fuels. Will, or I, may even have noted that this may increase to one trillion tons by mid-century and that by the end of the century the planet will likely have experienced a further average rise in temperature of 2 or 3 degrees centigrade.

Let me tell you, we tried hard to be neither sanctimonious nor alarmist (the one, hand-maiden to the other) – but if you think about the prospects for ‘sustainability’ (which was the un-spoken subtext of our course) with any amount of seriousness for even ten weeks, you will begin to think some very dark thoughts.

In the middle of spinning tales of doom - our Decameron – I flew to San Antonio. From the very back seat of a Bombardier CR1900, flying at an altitude of 30,000 feet, the badlands of West Texas appeared white-threaded with tracks and the sinuous black line of some tributary to the Rio Grande – or perhaps the great border river itself - lay like a loose strand of some mad-woman’s knitting on the land. Parallel tracks of an interstate headed for a group of buildings where deep pools of shade cast by irrigated trees foxed the unrelenting beige of desert. Most striking were the festoon of white lines that laced together rectangular patches of intaglio, white against brown. Branching chaotically, the mess appeared as though snow-white Christmas lights had been strewn across the land, perhaps by that same woman whose single strand of discarded wool it was we had flown over minutes before. Here, I knew, nodding donkeys lapped from deep beneath the desert crust where, in the Permian Basin, stew metamorphosed plants and animals from the Cretaceous – Texas Oil!

I was staying at the Grand Hyatt, eighteen stories of standard convention hotel with glassy condos above, in San Antonio’s down town -right across from a tired urban mall anchored by Macy’s and just a block and a half from the Alamo - on my way far beyond the traditional oil fields of the Permian Basin in West Texas, to the new frontier of the Eagle Ford Shale, deep in the south of the state. Cotulla, the county seat of La Salle County had once, it seemed, been a charming, if faded, Western cattle town. There are the remnants of its old main street with store-fronts right out of The Last Picture Show, but the action is now on Interstate 35, the great NAFTA highway that slices through the heart of the country from Duluth Minnesota to Laredo on the Mexican border. It also serves as the conduit between San Antonio and the oil fields of the Eagle Ford shale. Close to Cotulla, on I-35, are sixteen hotels with another seven under construction. Walmart and H-E-B, the giant Texas supermarket chain, are on their way.

Away from the highway, the mesquite brush that covers the South Texas plains (fire suppression has allowed the thorny trees to predominate the once more open savannah) is widely punctuated with two or three acre plots where hydraulically fractured wells pump oil from the narrow stratum of the Eagle Ford shale formation that lies between 7,000 and 14,000 feet below. Petrohawk Energy developed the first frac’ed well in 2008 and now over two hundred operators are involved in this ‘play’ with 268 drilling rigs active as of the week before Thanksgiving.

We began our on-line course with a recounting of the transition from the Paleolithic mega-fauna hunters of the last ice age to the hunter-gatherers of the Neolithic and onwards to what Jared Diamond calls the worst mistake in human-history – the development of agriculture. He suggests that,

“the adoption of agriculture, supposedly our most decisive step toward a better life, was in many ways a catastrophe from which we have never recovered. With agriculture came the gross social and sexual inequality, the disease and despotism that curse our existence”.

David Korten (The Great Turning, From Empire to Earth Community, 2006) takes up this theme by characterizing the last 6,000 years as a male-dominated, exploitative social pathology he calls Empire - in contrast to early hunting-gatherer settlements that were marked by the worship of female deities, egalitarianism and a profound lack of separation between human consciousness and the universal energies of the natural world, which he calls Earth Communities.

Will and I were both determined that before there was any consideration of “Re-designing….Cities and Communities” our students gain a thorough understanding of the impact of human activities on the world’s eco-systems over the last 10,000 years. Our primary ally in this endeavor was my old stand-by, Clive Ponting’s A New Green History of the World, 2007 (No Soft Landing). Ponting is blunt in his assessment, suggesting that since the end of the last ice age humanity has undertaken “the rape of the world”.

As we were developing the course outline, I read The Derrick Jensen Reader, 2012, and was tempted to make it one of the assigned texts, but ultimately decided against it. Jensen picks up where Edward Abbey (The Monkey Wrench Gang, 1975) left off and promotes active opposition to what he calls the death culture of industrial capitalism whereby the living planet is turned into dead ‘products’. On reflection, it was the right decision, but it now seems to me that a discussion of Jensen’s work, specifically Endgame, volumes I and II, 2006, would make an appropriate coda to our course.

Jensen suggests that Civilization is inherently un-sustainable and it is immoral to stand idly by as the world burns. He suggests that we act as enablers of the serial abuse of the planet unless we actively oppose Civilization, which, in its various iterations for at least six millennia, is founded on that abusive relationship.

The rape of South Texas is being undertaken deep below the earth where nine inch oil casing pipe runs horizontally for up to a mile and a half in each direction from the well head in multiples of six lines, 300 feet apart. Each of these lines has been perforated by frac’ing guns prior to the injection of thousands of gallons of water and sand that simultaneously open up and prop veins in the tightly packed shale which then, for as long as three decades, bleed oil into the pipe. It is an operation of bewildering complexity, technological sophistication and ruthless efficiency. It represents a stellar achievement of a Civilization, that for the last two hundred and fifty years, has been super-charged by the energy extracted from fossil fuels.

Beneath the mesquite brush, where white-tailed deer, javelinas and quail are still hunted (and stray bullets occasionally whine across the oil-well pads) this ‘play’ represents the last throes, perhaps, of a global oil industry in which North America has increased its production in the exact amount of the declines in other oil-producing countries.

Miraculously, this country’s Co2 emissions have been reduced by 4% (back to levels not seen since 1993) due to the rate of new natural gas-fired power plants coming on-line and conversion of old coal burning plants – all due to the downwards pressure on natural gas prices exerted by increased production from fractured wells.

Last time I checked, a gallon of gas was below three bucks – due to Saudi Arabia’s turning up the spigots in an attempt to drive marginal producers out of business. Ain’t working in South Texas, where the shale ‘play’ is viable down to $50 a barrel.

Like Zombies, amidst good news and bad, we continue to lurch towards the Apocalypse.

The Children's Crusade

The planet is in the final stages of a mass migration of humanity that was initiated in the mid-seventeenth century. After eons of civilizations based on highly circumscribed agricultural settlements where, for the most part, generations lived and died in geographical stasis, Europeans discovered the New World and then the Antipodes - lands that could be turned to more intensive farming methods and produce substantial new wealth (at the incidental cost of eradicating their native peoples).

Within a hundred years, however, the industrial revolution began to establish the city, for those without substantial land-holdings, as a more reliable source of income. From that point on, millions of people began to be swept up in a global diaspora where the goal was to exchange rural poverty for urban poverty. Now, in the twenty-first century, we are experiencing the final stages in this almost total urbanization of the Earth. People have been, and continue to be, both pushed out of the countryside by the establishment of large scale mechanized farming - that leaves little room for peasant agriculture - and pulled into the city by the lure of a higher standard of living.

In Arrival City, 2010, Doug Saunders documents the role that favelas (self-built shanty towns), squatter enclaves and urban-slums play in succoring the newly arrived, predominantly peasant, populations. In his historical review, he notes that “between 1800 and the First World War, about 50 million Europeans left the continent permanently for a new home…twenty percent of Europeans moved to the Americas, Australia or South Africa”. Half of these migrants ended up in the United States and settled in major cities like New York, Chicago or Toronto. This country, with the Statue of Liberty as its symbol of welcome became, to millions of Northern, then Southern and Eastern Europeans, Arrival Nation. Here, from often squalid urban beginnings, migrants could begin their transformation into the galley-slaves of consumerism – the Great American Middle Class.

Charles Hirschman argues that as the country became successively less anglo-centric (or WASP), it was the children of Eastern and Southern European immigrants, predominantly Catholic or Jewish, who helped pave the way for the New Deal of the 1930s, the Great Society of the 1960s, and the 1965 Immigration Act – political circumstances that would eventually lead to a wave of immigration from Asia and Latin America. Now, as the country heads toward a non-white majority by 2043, it is these new migrants that are poised to change, again, the domestic political balance.

Meanwhile, increased border security, including the infamous wall (where technologies are shared with Israel) has had the unintended consequence of preventing Mexican and Central Americans from returning to their home countries - and thus encouraging them to become permanent settlers in the U.S. The fence is more effective at keeping ‘illegals’ in the country than keeping them out - by raising the difficulty level of entry and denying migrants the easy opportunity of return. For a country founded on immigration, the United States has signally failed to uphold that tradition of welcome and refuge towards their southern neighbors.

Now, a Children’s Crusade is massing on the border established by the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in 1848. Like its original, eight hundred years ago, this new crusade is founded on a combination of hope, delusion and tragedy.

Early in 1212, a twelve year old French shepherd boy named Stephen, inspired by a heavenly visitation, began a crusade to win back the Holy Land from infidel Muslims. By the end of June, according to contemporary reports, this child-preacher had gathered 30,000 children at Vendôme, in central France, where they all began their march towards the Mediterranean port city of Marseille. Although many died along the way, the crusade eventually arrived and here, Stephen had prophesied, the seas would part and they could continue their journey on foot; but there was to be no divine work of geo-engineering and the children accepted the offer of two merchants, Hugh the Iron and William the Pig, to transport them across the Mediterranean on their fleet of ships.

Nothing more was heard of them until 1230, when a priest returning from the Middle East told their sorry tale of ship-wreck, enslavement, martyrdom for refusing to accept Islam and, for a lucky few, employment with the governor of Alexandria. (A History of the Crusades, Steven Runciman, 1951).

Ian Gordon reports in the July/August edition of Mother Jones, that 70,000 children, many no older than Stephen the boy-preacher, will arrive unaccompanied at the border this year. Prey to drug-traffickers, sexual predation and physical assault, these children are part of a surge in child-migration fostered by tales of sympathetic treatment by immigration officials, burgeoning drug-violence in their home districts, the underlying surge of the rural poor in search of material advancement in first-world cities, and most prosaically, hunger: Gordon notes that “the cost of tortillas has doubled as corn prices have skyrocketed due to increased American ethanol production and the conversion of farmland to sugarcane and oil palm for biofuel”.

They arrive from Mexico and Central America's Northern Triangle—Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, hoping to send remittances back home or join a parent no longer able to visit them. While Mexican nationals, whatever their age are turned back immediately (to try again) children from non-contiguous countries can benefit from long judicial reviews of their status and settlement with a relative or an American family while their case is processed. Many successfully disappear into immigrant communities, or eventually receive legal status, and may achieve a level of education, food security and economic prospects that ultimately validates their long and often dangerous migration.

This, indeed, is in the tradition of our Arrival Nation. Although younger perhaps than most, they share in the struggle of arrival which characterizes the history of migration. Their hardships become a part of their arrival mythologies: their struggles transmuted into a determination that their success, and eventually that of their children, can assuage the trauma of their up-rootedness – their deracination.

As a part of the epic transformation of the planet from a rural to an urban way of life this new children’s crusade is also part of a trend which will see, by 2050, according to United Nations projections, a halt in the world’s population growth. Clive Ponting, in his A New History of the World, 2007, writes that it took two billion years for the world’s human population to reach one billion in about 1825, and is projected to increase to nine billion before the trend’s reversal in another thirty five years. The children massed at the border will be instrumental in effecting this epochal shift - unless they are returned home to poor rural communities where birth-rates remain high.

Stephen, shepherd and boy-preacher, stood ready to take his followers, children all, into the heart of an unfathomably alien culture and there convert the infidel to a Europeanized Christianity and return the Holy Lands to their iconic centrality within the Roman Church. The rag-tag assemblage of children massed at our borders is engaged in a very different crusade. They await not the parting of the waters but the melting of the hearts of this Arrival Nation – an atavistic return to the true spirit of this country, tragically first evinced by its native populations who welcomed the white man.

Each successful child migrant, however they establish their new lives, can thus, perhaps, count as a small part of our repayment of the heavy psychic debt we owe to these lands.

Blood Moon

Is Ojai cool again? It’s been an awfully long time, perhaps not since Beatrice Wood was a girl. The dead hand of the Ojai Valley Inn and the sepulcher that is the arcade have made this town a very dull place indeed.

Alex Proud, writing in the Telegraph notes, “I have seen the future – and the future is Paris and Geneva. The future is a clean, dull city populated by clean, dull rich people and clean, dull old people”.

Make that Paris, Geneva and Ojai. Except that something wonderful is happening in the Valley of the Moon. Hipsters have arrived.

Now some of you may be thinking that this is not an unalloyed beneficence. Many may have experienced being pushed off of the sidewalks of Venice and Silverlake in Los Angeles and herded aside along the streets and avenues of Brooklyn by twenty-something, facially hirsute and tattooed young men and alluring, inked young women lurching from noisy bars to shade-grown organic, cold-press coffee houses to artisanal bakeries and restaurants with market-driven menus. When they take to the road (where their elders may sometimes be randomly strewn, dazed and confused by this generational putsch) they are on fixies, Jack Spade messenger bags flapping in the breeze.

Here in Ojai, lacking the overwhelming numbers they are able to muster in the hipster capitals of the world, they represent a piquant seasoning to the still predominantly old, dull and clean - or at least clean shaven, and sometimes wealthy population. They do not threaten, they enrich. They will forever be exotics not endemics. But their influence is keenly felt………..and it’s a good thing.

Now, fortunately for the future health of the planet, hipsters have little interest in driving cars but they are curiously attracted to the derelict and defunct infrastructure of an erstwhile, car-centric world. Thus Summer Camp, a general goods store specializing in the ephemera of a simpler, pre-digital civilization, sits atop the toxic waste of a long-ago service station. The House of Fixies’ showroom (signage confusingly proclaims it to be The Mob Shop) is in the service bays of a gas-station that used to actually fix cars as well as sell gas (how quaint is that?). The building is thus re-purposed to cater to the urge for self-propulsion for which the aforementioned purveyors of hipster comestibles provide the necessary fuel.

One of the enduring mysteries of the modern world is that the increase in cars has resulted in the radical reduction of the number of gas-stations. Used to be, in the 40’s and 50’s, one could barely drive half a mile through Ojai without being beckoned by a forecourt enlivened by colorful gasoline pumps and their boiler-suited jockeys (or so the number of such abandoned and now re-purposed structures leads me to believe).

Pedaling east and leaving the many chambered, non-hipster, retail crypts of the arcade behind, our exotic, ex-urban twenty-somethings are accosted by the unbearably charming Spanish colonial revival forecourt that serves as an annex to Knead which now sells, in lieu of petroleum, serious hipster fuel – delectable, artisanal baked goods. Next up, our single-speeder finds, on the left, a Pet Spa specializing in the grooming of very small dogs, housed, inevitably, in a very tiny ex-gas station and, across the street, CJ’s repairs the farm-trucks of yesteryear in the service bays of a larger, but long-dry gas station - nostalgic, artisanal kinds of vehicles that still gladden the hipster heart.

Apart from its abandoned gas-stations there are few buildings in Ojai that might stir the hipster-soul. Adam Tolmach’s Ojai Vineyard now occupies one such, the old Fire House on Montgomery, a landmark WPA brick building which served the Ojai Fire Department from 1936 -1979, and it is here that his fine hand-made wines may be tasted. Predictably, the much lambasted (in this blog, at least) arcade, post-office tower and Libbey Park pergola, once the defining architectural icons of Ojai, appeal largely to the old and dull. The Libbey Bowl, set in the park, resounded to the sounds of an echt hipster band, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, for one brief moment -a magical night a couple of years ago - but customarily serves up, outside of its signature New Music festival, superannuated performers from the old and dull’s youth.

In the back of another brick building of only slightly later vintage than the Fire House Ben and Marissa, creators of Hip, a restaurant serving vegan food, have successfully bridged the gap between hippie and hipster and cater to locals as well as the Silverlake diaspora. The main room of this building (where once its owner Mary Goldberg ran her restaurant, Treasure Beach) is occupied by dba, a small design-driven architecture firm and P.Space where P.Lyn Middleton sells her stunning hand-made ceramics.

Now comes Warner Ebbink (owner of the Rocker-Hipster Coffee Shop 101 in L.A.), a serial restaurateur with an eye on the bourgeoning Ojai market, as the new owner of Mary’s building. His precise plans are shrouded in a too tight and too short hipster jacket of secrecy.

Topa Topa Brewery is optimistically proclaiming that its future space, the disheveled, barely roofed old plumbing workshop that has stood forlorn and empty for many a year on the Avenue, just west of Ojai Creates, will be open early in 2015. Some discerning residents consider this to be perhaps the finest of all the mid-century quotidian commercial structures in town but sadly its conversion to a code-compliant building will almost certainly eviscerate its charm. After a few craft beers (the young’s new wine), perhaps no one will care. Inspired to lurch west towards ersatz colonial arches, the buzzed throng might do well to visit The Hub - the single business that escapes the general opprobrium I have conferred on the arcade - a blue-collar bar that is ripe for a retro, PBR (Pabst Blue Ribbon) kind of revival.

Lodging for this youthful diaspora is now thoughtfully provided by The Rancho Inn, a motel from the 50’s recently infused with the early twenty-first century zeitgeist by two young, hip hoteliers. Regrettably, the new owners of The Capri, The Hummingbird Inn and The Deer Lodge have decided that there’s still gold in the old and dull hills. New publishers for Edible Ojai and Ventura have just replaced the perennially hip Jane Handel and they too, based on their first few issues, appear headed for those same hills. The two journals of Ojai real estate boosterism, the Quarterly and the Visitors Guide remain blithely unaware of the new kids in town, and continue to pitch their publications to guests at the Ojai Valley, rather than the Rancho Inn.

When Mike Kelley, the internationally acclaimed Los Angeles artist, visited town none of this mattered. His analysis of the place as evinced in a series of a dozen or more 8 ½ x 11 pencil drawings, currently on display as part of the massive show devoted to his work at L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art’s Geffen Gallery, depict three elements emblematic of this series of valleys - oil, oranges and the geomorphic shape of the enveloping mountains. All of which once seemed like the eternal verities of the area. Now, not so much: the presence of the oil industry in Ojai is an embarrassment to many while citrus is threatened by changing long-term weather patterns and a persistent drought – only the mountains remain un-moved by time, fashion or economic expediency.

The town too, is in flux. Kelley identified an arc that stretches from Thomas Aquinas College to the Libbey arcade at the center of town while citrus groves are shown quartering the East End. Hipsters who land here now favor the wilder reaches of Upper Ojai or the dramatic gorges of Matilija Canyon. The East End is dead to them, perceived as ground zero for the old and dull. For those youngsters with a more urban bent, Motown (Meiner’s Oaks) is an attractive, funky option with a growing array of hipster oriented services such as The Farmer and The Cook (Restaurant and organic produce); Book Ends (housed in a re-purposed Church) and The Coffee Connection.

The 150 artery, as Kelley discerned, is the life blood of Ojai but the arrangement of vital organs along its length is subtly changing: now the young are creating a new corpus corporis channeling energy to their favored haunts while the provinces of the old and dull slowly wither. It’s a brutal process, but one that is necessary for the continued relevance of our Lunar Valleys. This week's blood moon is a sanguinary harbinger.

Another......Beautiful Day

I have found, over the years, that the effort I have exerted in understanding a particular place from an historical, geographical, botanical, biological and meteorological perspective, is richly rewarded in terms of what I am going to call resonance – the feedback loop between a sentient being and its physical setting.

The scope of analysis can differ, but it does seem that the attention we pay to our surroundings enhances the possibility of symbiosis – where what we learn on a theoretical plane is enriched by the actual experience of a place. Perhaps it’s like knowing the plot of a Shakespearean play before attending the performance: an understanding of the narrative structure allows for an openness to the play’s more subtle emanations.

It is the weather, in southern California, that is one of the subtlest aspects of our environment. I often think of a remark attributed to Alice de Janzé in which she had once flung open the shutters of her window in her house in Kenya and declaimed: "Oh, God. Not another fucking beautiful day." De Janzé was a notorious Chicago meat-packing heiress and a key member of ‘The ‘Happy Valley’ set, a community of wealthy expatriates in East Africa in the 1920’s and 30’s, who clearly missed the meteorological vagaries of the Great Lakes region. I still miss the thunderous cycles of sub-tropical weather washing over coastal Sydney, Australia - that great build up of heat and humidity regularly broken by cyclonic storms - which I experienced for a decade before arriving in California.

Once in Los Angeles my regular plaint was, “and when exactly is the rainy season?” Although I arrived at the end of a wet calendar year, 1980, it wasn’t until January 1983 that I had me some serious southern California rain. It started raining late in the season, on my wedding day, the 23rd of the month, and It didn’t let up until late April, for a total of 32”. At that point, my meteorological acculturation was complete - with a visceral understanding of Albert Hammond and Mike Hazelwood's 1972 lyrics,

Seems it never rains in southern California
Seems I've often heard that kind of talk before
It never rains in California
But girl don't they warn ya
It pours, man it pours

Between 1986 and 1991, Southern California experienced a drought (I still remember the moratorium on water served at restaurant meals). Then the El Nino returned in 1991-1992 and began a series of wet winters culminating in the ‘super’ El Nino of 1997 – 1998, during which I was commuting a few times a week from Santa Monica to Ojai. In that memorable season the rains did not let up until the middle of May and totaled 41”. 2005 also brought heavy late winter rains (36”) to Ojai and briefly marooned our newly acquired land: the 150 was closed at the Grade and at Santa Paula canyon where it crosses Sisar  creek. The only reasonably wet year we have experienced since we moved in to the house in May 2009 was that first winter of 2009-10, when rainfall totaled almost 30”.

While it does sometimes seem as though ‘it never rains in southern California’ where one glorious sunny day succeeds the next, we remember the exceptions, the wet years….the dry, not so much. So it is that we find ourselves, in 2014, deep into a drought that has crept up on us like a (water) thief in the night. We have not, collectively, been paying enough attention and by now the emanations are no longer subtle: oaks are dying; year-round creeks are going dry and wells are failing.

Kit Stolz, a local journalist and the curator of a fine blog, A Change in the Wind, recently arranged a symposium, “Facing Drought Together, A Call to Community Response and Action” to focus the attention of Valley residents on the fact that we might just be half way through a 20-30 year drought. William Patzert, Ph.D., of JPL/NASA, introduced the audience to the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) a measure of average ocean temperatures in the Pacific that, historically, switches from a warm-phase PDO (leading to cold and wet weather in the western states) to a cool-phase PDO, which causes warmer, drought conditions, every twenty to thirty years.

Many of Ojai’s residential and agricultural landscapes are predicated on a permanent warm-phase PDO. California’s agriculture was founded on such wet-year optimism: the cattle industry in the mid-nineteenth century was established during a warm-phase PDO and subsequently foundered disastrously when the PDO switched states later in the century - the industry then suffered a terminal decline from drought and drought-induced cattle disease. Ojai’s citrus industry may one day suffer the same fate as the Ranchos.

So, in denial of our own experience of the flood and drought cycles of southern California, it takes a NASA scientist to awaken us to the meteorological realities of our Valleys. A few days later, The Guardian published a synopsis of a new study sponsored by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center that suggests that industrial civilization is likely headed for irreversible collapse…………If it’s not one thing it’s another.

Every age harbors doomsayers, but it is undeniable that every previous civilization of the current post-glacial era, a 10,000 year epoch of civilizational efflorescence (a direct result of a warming climate) has collapsed in circumstances that are now alarmingly familiar. The study highlights the probability that global industrial civilization could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution.

The sophistication of our late-capitalist western culture is no guarantee of its longevity. The study notes,

"The fall of the Roman Empire, and the equally (if not more) advanced Han, Mauryan, and Gupta Empires, as well as so many advanced Mesopotamian Empires, are all testimony to the fact that advanced, sophisticated, complex, and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent."

When I taught World History in High School, I used a college level textbook that, from my perspective, was blessedly free of pictures, bar graphs and side-bars. It demanded of the students a sustained textual engagement of which almost all were developmentally incapable. Oh well. But as we marched through the rise and fall of civilizations in the Middle East, Europe, Africa, Asia, the Americas and the Indian sub-continent, we were alternatively entranced or bored stiff by the repetitive story lines. Population, Climate, Water, Agriculture, and Energy were the recurring characters in these tales of unheeding hubris and mindless careening towards inevitable collapse. This was the mid to late nineties – when the writing on our own civilizational wall was not quite so evident.

It appears now to be all of a piece. Western Civilization is about to be added to the chapters of failed societies where the harvesting of resources outstrips the ecological carrying capacity of the planet and, concurrently, societies are stratified into rich Elites and impoverished Masses. As the lead author of the study, Safa Motesharri  makes clear, our civilization is doomed by either this collapse of the natural world and the resources it provides or a societal collapse engendered by the over-consumption of the Elites and the inequality-induced famine of the Masses or, most likely, a perfect storm of both.

What is striking about the report is that mathematical models suggest collapse is imminent, perhaps within the next fifteen years - which leaves me with the thought: Never mind the drought – Feel the impending civilizational collapse. Pay attention. Time and Place have assumed a profound, dystopian resonance.

Pale Creatures

Sleeping alone on a 90 foot fishing boat, moored just off the Costa Rican Pacific coast, Dr. Lori Pye was woken by a dull thud. Getting out of her bunk to investigate, she stumbled on deck and bashed her head against a davit supporting the little motor boat which kept her connected to the mainland. Knocked unconscious, she lay where she had fallen, quite still, until dawn when she became aware that next to her on the cold steel plate was another pale creature: a dead shark, wantonly fished from the ocean, its fins sawed off, and then dumped on deck.

Lori worked with the environmental-action group, Sea Shepherd, when this Godfather-like threat was delivered, presumably by a local poacher enraged by Lori’s work dedicated to the eradication of shark fishing – an activity pursued solely for the profit in preparing the luxury delicacy of shark-fin soup, largely controlled by the Taiwanese. Sea Shepherd subsequently endured an un-happy relationship with the Costa Rican authorities after their intrepid leader, Paul Watson, prematurely attempted the arrest of a long-line shark fishing vessel, the Vadero I, off of Guatemala before taking up Costa Rica’s invitation to help patrol the waters around the Cocos Islands World Heritage site. Watson was arrested when he docked in Puntarenas and charged with endangering the lives of the Vadero I crew. Watson and crew managed to flee the next morning but he has been under indictment ever since and last year was briefly extradited back to Costa Rica to face these decade-old charges.

Lori’s story unfolded in the Administrative offices of the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy in a Wild about Ojai talk titled, The Human Ecosystem (January 11, 2014).

Twinned, for a few hours, with a mammal whose consciousness had been brutally ended in asphyxiation while hers had been merely suspended, Lori awoke to an epiphany: that we share our home, the earth, with all other living things in a complex ecosystem that relies, because of human kind’s great ability to do damage to that home and the life-forms within it, on ours species’ collective psychological health - on our understanding of the balance, stewardship and comity required to maintain a healthful relationship with our environment. The well-being of the individual’s psyche can thus be the key to ensuring the outer, physical, health of the planet. After briefly becoming Sea Shepherd’s Director of Operations Lori retreated to the calmer waters of academia to pursue her passion for Ecopsychology, the discipline that addresses these concerns.

 Lori challenged her audience to consider how we might create, as she puts it, “a new narrative for the relationships between nature and human nature”. There are serious structural obstacles in the way of developing such a revised narrative. The foremost barrier to lives lived on the planet in a sustainable relationship - and there are many - is a collective psychological pathology, the transcendent ideology of Capitalism.

This system is entirely dependent on turning natural resources into saleable goods and at this point, as Jerry Mander argues in The Capitalism Papers, Counterpoint Press, 2012, we are engaged in a kind of global, system wide Ponzi-scheme. The collapse of our macro-environmental systems such as the oceans, the atmosphere, rivers and the climate, at least as we know them, seems inevitable faced with the resource pillage necessary to feed the beast, for Capitalism demands not a steady resource diet but one that grows with the expansion of goods and services (the measure of GDP) necessary to ensure ‘the health’ of our economy.

As I pointed out in No Soft Landing, the development of Capitalism as a dominant economic force in the West is coincident with the discovery and exploitation of fossil fuels. As such it has thrived over the past three centuries when these resources were plentiful and cheap. Given the finite nature of the world’s mineral resources it is self evident that a system for which growth is imperative will, sooner or later bump up against these limits. Put another way, Capitalism demands the conversion of the living into the dead. Animals, plants, minerals, sunlight and fossilized solar energy are appropriated by the economy at a scale that threatens the very viability of the ecosystem.

The Capitalist bastions are manned by the super-rich. With the possible exception of the Robber Barons of the Gilded Age in late nineteenth century America, we have not seen such concentrations of power and wealth as exist today since the European monarchies of the eighteenth century - the excesses of which unleashed a democracy project that continues to unfold. That project, most notably in the United States, has now been captured by the Capitalist oligarchy, through political contributions and lobbying, and subverted to wealth accumulation and the cooption of the public commons to its own ends. Our government now routinely arranges for Corporations and their leaders to escape taxation, receive Government hand-outs and profit obscenely from health care, defense, communications and public works while belt-tightening in the areas of entitlements, education, social services and basic infrastructure is focused exclusively on the 99%.

We are thus faced with a system that is entrenched both economically and politically and supremely adept at the co-option of potentially threatening ideologies such as living in a sustainable relationship with the Earth. In the West, the development of newspapers in the latter half of the nineteenth century enabled the rich to quickly regain control of the recently enfranchised (male) masses. The ability to shape the debate around issues of war and peace remains with the media - still mostly owned by the oligarchy, and still supported, by and large, by purveyors of consumption, advertisers of goods and services blindly driven to an expansion of their markets - and is key to the demagogic control of the public-mind.

Eco-warriors such as Paul Watson operate entirely at the margins or worse, provide fodder for the media industry that perpetuates heedless consumption. Watson’s Whale Wars is into its sixth season on Animal Planet Cable TV which, as VP of ad sales Sharon O’Sullivan gushes to Adweek, November 18, 2013,

“… had all the pet endemics and all the major female packaged-good companies…now we have a really strong proposition against male categories—alcohol, home improvement and the more male-focused end of the movies category.”

Mander, like Naomi Klein (No Soft Landing), believes in a kind of Eco-socialism where corporations would be reconstituted “to harvest private interests to serve the public interest, rather than seek profit”. Perhaps he should try selling that idea on Animal Planet, right between the ads for Gillette’s Venus Embrace Women's Razor and Bud Light.

The history of systemic and radical societal change over the last few hundred years is not pretty, beginning in the late eighteenth century with the French Revolution and moving to the nineteenth to include that first foray into modern industrial warfare, the American Civil War; the twentieth century then offers up the grisly examples of Stalin, Hitler, Mao and Pol Pot, to name only the most egregious actors in the effort to create new social, economic and political paradigms.

The restructuring necessary to accommodate a fundamentally altered relationship between humanity and nature will dwarf all previous efforts at systemic change. Interior psychological remodeling seems like a very attractive alternative but the ‘new narrative’ must necessarily wait on the unraveling of Capitalism. The resolution, for now, may be to initiate a slow, peaceful, pulling of threads.

Roaming Charges

The landscape in Southern California has not existed independent of human intention for more than 15,000 years. Over the last two and a half centuries, evidence of that intention has increased exponentially as population levels have increased. Residential, commercial, sports, education, entertainment, industrial, military and agricultural development – and the transportation infrastructure that link these elements – now dominate much of the land. Prior to the Spanish, Mexican and Anglo-American colonization, Indians shaped the landscape to their ends primarily through the use of fire – rendering the land more amenable to their hunting practices and seed gathering (Another Day) - but the scale of this impact was limited by their relatively small population and Neolithic technology.

My interest is in the edge between land that has been obviously intentioned, so to speak, and the acreage that is still contested – wildland upon which a variety of interests, oil, logging, recreation, ranching and mining (for instance) have designs and which are variously privileged by its owners - usually the Federal or State Government. There are thus two tiers of intention, one that impacts the institutionally or privately owned environment and the other that impacts government land, or ‘wilderness’.

Here at the interface, there are sometimes strange adjacencies: instances of public and private land conjoined in awkward entanglement. Take Black Mountain, known to the Chumash as Kahus, or Bear Mountain, which presents an iconic cone shape to us here at the east end of the valley and appears to have a definitive summit. Anyone who has paid attention driving east along the 150 past Soule public golf course knows that the mountain is actually a ridge line that runs parallel to the road before terminating at the top of the grade – the switch back that climbs a thousand feet to the Upper Valley.

Access to the mountain is through Dennison Park, a County car park, picnic, barbeque and camping facility. The park backs up to Black Mountain Ranch, a vast property owned by Richard Gilleland who made a fortune with the Health care supply conglomerates Tyco and Amsco. His ranch, part of the original Fernando Tico Mexican land grant of 1837, was formerly owned by the Dennison family. It is now immaculately ranched and fiercely protected. In order to walk along the ridge-top fire road, which cuts through dense chaparral, it is necessary to hop a six foot oil-pipe fence elaborately bound with rusting barbed wire. The ridge offers stunning north views of the lower valley over the golf course, Lake Casitas is to the west, and to the east, distant vistas to Koenigstein Road are visible with the Santa Paula mountains looming beyond; to the south, the view is of the ranch, where oak meadowland is threaded with pastures grazed by occasional groups of lustrous cattle. The diminutive publicly owned park, at just over 39 acres, offers an enticing gateway to the mountain-top wilderness at the edge of the 6,000 acre ranch but this promise, for most fence-abiding citizens, is cut short by the aggressive barriers to its privately held neighbor.

In hopping fences to access ancient pathways (Kahus was a Chumash sacred mountain) I assume my common law Freedom to Roam - rights which, in many European countries have now been formally legislated. In America, less so. As an individual one is restricted to National, State, County and City parks and some Bureau of Land Management (BLM) territory. In this country, rights of property trump the individual’s freedom to roam, but oil companies, loggers and mining operations play by more liberal rules and often claim prescriptive rights over private land. The Mirada oil company, for instance, is currently suing the Rainwaters, owners of the old County Honor Farm at the top of Koenigstein, for an easement across their land to access wells that, in a recent CUP hearing, they claimed they were abandoning (see CFROG).

In the land of the free we have allowed ourselves to be penned in. Because of the vast system of National parks, a concept pioneered by the U.S.A. and initiated by Teddy Roosevelt, few are complaining – but my purview is strictly local; I am not interested in driving to the Sierras to trudge through wilderness when there is so much right on my doorstep. Indeed, the tangle of wilderness, transportation corridors, residential, industrial, and commercial development, agricultural and ranching acreages and everywhere oil drilling, amidst the rivers, valleys, plains, beaches and mountains of Ventura County is of far more appeal to me than pristine landscapes that, until the last century, have rarely known the footsteps of humankind. There is a reason that much of the Sierras, for instance, were spurned by Native Americans – they are lands where it is wiser to let the tree-sprits and glacier lake sprites well alone.

The etheric skein that lays over these parts is harder to comprehend but when spirits are discerned their mood is likely to have been tempered by long association with the human psyche and its intention. More often, earth’s primeval, animating energy has simply been extirpated by a gross trampling of the land. This was certainly my impression when walking along the crumbling asphalt road that snakes along Black Mountain ridge – recent tire tracks suggested frequent passage of heavy trucks - belonging to either the fire department or the Ranch – or both. Any notion of tracing ancient Chumash or Oak Grove horizon inhabitation was quickly dispelled. Nevertheless, were I to regularly tramp this path I imagine some sense of its past might ultimately make itself felt.

Meanwhile, I am poring over the National Geographic map to the Los Padres National Forest East and seeing blocks of land along the Santa Clara River administered by the Nature Conservancy and marked ‘No Public Access’, some of which extend more than two and a half miles along the river. What barriers, I wonder, have they erected to my freedom to roam? We (freedom-loving-roamers) are assailed on two fronts: by perniciously paranoid private interests and well-intentioned conservationists. Both bring their values (or intentions) to the landscape in ways that are exclusionary. Simon Schama in writing of the Charta de Foresta, the Magna Carta of the woods, established in 1217, suggests that “ it was not a simple matter of greenwood liberty defying sylvan despotism, each wanted to exploit the woods in their own way”.

I certainly have an agenda in the wildland: to mine it for its historic, pre-historic and botanic vibrations – for my personal pleasure, enlightenment and psychic titillation. As well, I have a generalized interest in preserving and observing a particular aesthetic gestalt (comprised of elements referred to above) that privileges decay, industrial process, random adjacencies, edge conditions and native flora and fauna and disadvantages the new, suburban lushness, exotic flora and commonplace juxtapositions. These preferences can be easily accommodated if I can roam where I want – but most often I am corralled within the mundane. The pristine wildernesses carefully curated within our National Parks are one such common place and therefore hold little appeal.

We exist in a fast-changing world where the divide between rich and poor is becoming more entrenched. The rich maintain their wealth by the expansion and elaboration of a financial-technology complex that operates almost independently of ecological concerns while the poor resort to extracting food and water from the land in ways that allow for little consideration of its sustainability. In the diminishing space between the two, scientists, academics, conservationists and artists are left to consider their powerlessness in attempts to preserve the planet. I am one of the powerless, my goal is but to observe and sometimes record: while I have the strength to hop fences I am determined to maintain my freedom to roam.


The thing about architecture is that it is mostly immobile. There are a few moving parts (like doors and windows) but buildings are designed to just sit there and their change over time is usually discouraged through a program of maintenance. That’s not to say that when this attempt to halt entropy – the slow collapse of buildings into their constituent parts – fails over time, the results are not charming. But by the time the rain starts to get in and there are structural failures, the building in question is effectively on its way to being subsumed by the surrounding landscape – absorbed by the vegetal world in ways that begin to deny its status as architecture. Ruins, it could be argued, are part of the natural world. Architecture is only architecture when it stands apart from both nature and the natural processes of decay.

Given that they are currently incapable of self-regeneration, buildings are characterized by a finite life span: they are created, maintained and then, if that maintenance is not rigorously upheld, they decay and die. Their death, in urban environments, is effected through a dismembering and recycling or, in rural situations perhaps, through a change of state in which they become a kind of artificial reef upon which all kinds of creatures find a home and in which plants, fungus and mold colonize.

Mostly, these days, we see buildings that a few years ago seemed quite serviceable and well-maintained suddenly (it seems) change in status and become redundant – boarded up, surrounded by chain link fencing and awaiting demolition as soon as the permits come through. Still, in rural situations like Ojai, a building’s redundancy sometime plays out more elegantly - peeling paint and broken windows slowly giving way to signs of structural collapse and ultimately a reabsorption of the building’s organic and inorganic materials into the earth’s mantle. This latter attenuated denouement, given the economics of real estate, is now regrettably rare. Sometimes, just when you think that process is underway, a rescue operation is mounted and the patient is miraculously revived, re-roofed, stabilized and returned to active service. I have been involved in such rescue attempts both for clients and on my own behalf.

There is, of course, no greener building than the one that is already built. Whatever intrinsic inefficiencies may exist within it, the mere fact of extending the period of amortization of the embedded energy in an existing structure guarantees its viridic bona fides. In the last thirty odd years I have had the good fortune to live in two ancient buildings in Los Angeles. Given that city’s short life, ancient can be credibly applied to anything built before, say, 1920. The murdered out mule barn in Echo Park dated back to the first decade of the twentieth century (Black Magic) while, when it came time to decamp to the west-side, the single-wall beach cottage in Santa Monica Canyon, built just before the First World War, served our family for almost two decades.

Professionally, my architectural career has touched on landmark modernist buildings such as the H.H. Harris Birtcher residence in Mount Washington (famously photographed by Man Ray, 1942), as well as several Spanish colonial revival, Greek revival, Craftsman and Italianate buildings from the boom years of the mid-nineteen twenties. In all these cases, the life of the building was extended well into the twentieth-first century with every prospect of the building’s useful life-span stretching to over a hundred years. Now, in a new house in Ojai, we are about to be confronted with our first five-year maintenance cycle.

Given the building’s location in the chaparral its life span is conditional on both such periodic maintenance and its ability to withstand the natural hazards that exist at the wildland urban interface. We have just witnessed 30,000 acres of coastal scrub going up in smoke between the 101 and the PCH south of Point Mugu where, for about eight miles, the land has been blackened clear to the edge of the ocean (The Camarillo Springs Fire, 2013). Our house has been designed to withstand such fast moving moderate intensity fires and we are reassured by our ability to close off all the buildings openings with the wide steel fire-doors which are an integral part of the design.

Situated on a bluff created between a sloped front lawn and a steeply raked bowl at the back, the house exists in a canyon and is vulnerable to the hazards of such landforms which channel fire, water, mud, rain and wind. After the second dry winter in a row, memories of rain and flood have receded – it has been eight years since the vast flooding of the Sisar and Santa Paula creeks on our side of the great divide (aka the Summit) where water sheds to the Santa Clara River and thence, across the Oxnard plain to the ocean (Wild and Free). Local creeks and rivers are now mostly dry and Bear creek, which threads through our property on its western edge, has fallen quiet, although a thin silver thread still winds along under overhanging cottonwoods, sycamores and willows. The seasonal stream to the east of the house, which poses a more adjacent threat, has been bone dry for twenty four months.

The plan for maintaining our sanctuary in the chaparral thus involves surviving natural calamities and preserving the steel and stucco envelope of the wood-free structure against the predations of time, wind, weather and opportunistic plant and animal life.

Strange echoes of this protocol reverberated in my mind as I visited the 13th century Tintern Abbey in south east Wales recently. While the church stood steadfast for about 250 years amidst periodic Welsh uprisings, Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in 1536 began its fairly rapid transition towards celebrity ruin – a style in which it is currently maintained. The processes of decay are now largely halted and the remains preserved for the edification and titillation of tourists. The abbey has been stripped of the clamorous vines which, entwined amidst the sacred lithic pile, so entranced the early Romantics and later Victorian visitors, and it now rises out of a closely mown green sward, its structure left to silhouette nakedly against the dense hard wood forest of the escarpment that rises a little way behind it or, depending on the angle of the viewer’s neck, the sky above.

Tintern Abbey now endures as a petrified relic. Wordsworth celebrated the surrounding landscape in his Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey without actually mentioning the church ruin. Absent too, is any reference of the pall of smoke that habitually hung about the Wye, from about 1700 on, when intense industrialization came to the valley which, in turn, rang with the sounds of foundries and mills drawing power from his ‘sylvan Wye’ and its tributaries. Similarly neglected, in his evocation of the ’ the deep and gloomy wood', was the ring of the woodman’s axe, for the local industries, which were at the very forefront of the Industrial revolution, were massive consumers of timber. Blinded by his romanticism, the poet blundered over the landscape unaware of the terrifying forces of environmental degradation all around him. Ginsberg, in his remembrance Wales Visitation, briefly cuts to the chase (amidst much chemically induced obtuseness) when he takes note of ‘clouds passing through skeleton arches of Tintern Abbey’.

The valley is now quiet, save for the rumble of traffic along its narrow roads, and the occasional jolly whoop from Oxford students down for the day. The broader landscape is largely restored while the ruin itself, the economic locus of the town, is celebrated for its apparently artful deconstruction rendered by ancient politics, and the elements.

There is an example of more recent ruination in central Europe, where the historical and natural forces at work are similarly capable of being, to some extent, untangled. In Vienna, the economic boom fueled by a potent monarchial combination in the nineteenth century is evidenced by endless streets of baroque apartment buildings restored in dazzling, as new, condition. Radiating out in avenues from the center of the city towards the Ringstrasse their construction was originally enabled by the total destruction of the old medieval quarter, save for the great cathedral which still manages to dominate the skyline - despite the best efforts of generations of Hapsburgs who vied with one another in the creation of elaborately confected palaces. The dual monarchy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which existed between 1867 and 1918, established itself as one of the great European powers – behind just Russia in size and second only to the USA, Germany and the U.K in machine-building, industrial might. Its wealth created two great cities: Vienna and Budapest.

In the Hungarian capital, the explosion of speculative four and five story tenements rendered in florid Renaissance styles built during the last quarter of the nineteenth century is still evident on many of the major boulevards in the City center, but their condition varies widely from the recently renovated to those that remain as the crumbling hulks that they became during the forty years of Soviet misrule (1949 – 1989). When the elaborately molded plaster work that originally mimicked the carved stone, cornices, corbels and statuary of their sixteenth and seventeenth century French and Italian models falls away their hasty brick construction is exhibited in lesions across their facades - sores wrought by weather and neglect.

Begrimed in over a century of industrial and domestic coal-fire soot, crumbling at their exaggerated rusticated bases, many with boarded up widows and heavily lichened mansard roofs, these are text-book examples of ruination. As such they have a romantic appeal that suggests a gravitas entirely missing in the restored models which once again reveal their original, fin de siècle, venal, facile, fashion-backward facades.

In Ojai, we stand on-guard against such romantic ruination and are sedulously planning our five year maintenance protocol, naively determined to keep our building forever young……

Night and Day

As the planet turns on its axis and captive humanity experiences a turning towards or away from our distant sun, night engulfs day and day rolls back the night. These diurnal ecotones of dawn and dusk allow for particular moments of reflection uninflected by either the full presence or absence of light - opportunities perhaps, to investigate grey areas of an otherwise manichean life. At other times they simply provide rich aesthetic experiences or space in which to prepare for the flicking of the solar switch. Often, at these moments of luminary flux, great beauty is pierced by pedestrian reality.

In the gloaming, color leaches out of the landscape turning oaks an inky black and shades of grey are all that's left to describe the land. Above, there is a monotone firmament, except to the west where, at the end of an almost infinite layering of dissolving ink washes - sfumato - there are the pinks and apricots of an early evening sky lightly bruised with clouds. Walking down Koenigstein, entranced by this blurred edge between light and dark, two flickering lights semaphored the arrival of the night - natural gas flares in the Arco Oil field half way up the the Sulphur Mountain escarpment across from the Summit.

My mind has been on the development of the local oil-fields recently. First, Marianne Ratcliff alerted her neighbors that Mirada Oil, a small operator with a number of wells between Koenigstein and Thomas Aquinas, has applied to ammend their County Conditional Use Permit. They are requesting that the document be modified to allow a further five wells (from 6 to 11) on their Harth lease which is located in the hills north of Arco's Silver Thread facility above the Painted Pony petting zoo on the 150. Then, Alasdair Coyne, in his invaluable newsletter for the Keep The Sespe Wild and Free Committee (which he co-founded and now spearheads), wrote a piece titled Fracking in The Sespe in the Winter 2012-2013 issue.

Maryanne and I attended the County Hearing on March 21 which focused on the Planning Director's Staff Report which had set Mirada's application on a glide path towards approval by Kim Prillheart, the County's Planning Director. Key to facilitating approval of this expansion of drilling activity was the staff decision not to require either a new Mitigated Negative Declaration or an Environmental Impact Report - a decision predicated on the notion that this was a minor modification to the original CUP granted in 1985, that there will be no significant additional impacts to the environment, and that no new information of substantial importance on the project's environmental effect has been uncovered since 1985.

The gallery of some 15 local residents expressed their disdain for these Pollyanna assumptions. History, is perhaps, on their side. Our immediate neighbor on Koenigstein, John Whitman, successfully challenged the granting of a CUP to Phoenix Corporation who planned to drill a single exploratory well within a quarter mile of his home (the old dude ranch Rancho del Oso) back in 1975. Four years later he won on appeal to Ventura's Supreme Court.

I called John the day before the hearing and offered to drive him to the County offices. He did not return my call but the next day his son Andrew, a lawyer, was there to represent the family's interests. His call to his father had also been unreturned, but he referenced John's erstwhile activism and expressed alarm that the County was again ignoring cumulative environmental impacts - the very issue that prompted the Appeals Court to overturn the C.U.P. granted to Phoenix by Ventura County.

I suspect that nowadays no public hearing which has as its focus the activities of the oil and gas industry avoids the hysteria surrounding the practice of hydraulic fracturing or fracking. Mirada's proposed extraction program does not include fracking, but we nevertheless listened to an Ojai resident who drove twenty miles to the meeting to deliver an emotional tirade based on the film Gasland, an alarmist and largely discredited account of the horrors of fracking documented by Josh Fox. Alasdair, in his analysis of the activity in the Sespe, makes the sensible point that this potentially hazardous technology requires firm State regulation. Several bills are making their way through the California legislature promising just such control.

California's Monterey Shale formation was the elephant in the Hearing Room, but the palavering pachyderm was eventually called out by Marianne. While having nothing to do with the case at hand, this geological formation looms large over the energy future of both California and the United States; it is estimated that it contains some 400 billion barrels of oil - although less than five percent of it is accessible through today's drilling technologies. Even so, this 15 billion bbl. represents ten years of Saudi Arabia's output and could radically impact both our dependence on foreign oil and the local economy.

Because hydraulic fracturing is effective in extracting oil and gas from shale it will be the preferred technology as this resource comes on-line. Marianne expressed a generalized unease that Ventura's part in this bonanza would generate deleterious environmental impacts. Alasdair points out that part of the Monterey shale sits under the Los Padres National Park which will require stringent review by the National Forest Service, but that other areas under private ownership, outside of the park or as in-holdings, will potentially allow for faster development.

These great reservoirs of oil that lie beneath the land represent the solar energy beamed down to the Earth between 300 and  360 million years ago in strict accord with the diurnal patterns that continue to govern the circadian rhythms of all animals, plants, fungi and bacteria. That energy now enables us to turn night into day, traverse great and small distances at extraordinary speeds; heat our built environments independently of the exterior weather, grow vast amounts of food and cook it at will. The word transformational barely begins to cover it. As I point out in Moai, it has enabled the Modern World.

In the Hearing Room, under the faint buzz of fluorescent lights fueled by a long ago sun, we argued about the form and propriety of sucking more oil out of the bowels of the earth. Our mostly pasty faces were by turns amused, annoyed and fiercely attentive to the process of our County administration and the extemporizations of its punctilious representatives and our querulous neighbors.

Perhaps I alone harbored memories of that morning's dawn in the chaparral - somewhere above the Ojai Oil Field, the marine layer still settled densely over Ojai, the sun half an hour away from splashing the dark Nordhoff ridge off in the distance, with thoughts only of choosing my next step over the still, grey land.


Watching lace edged clouds between Sulpher Mountain and the ridge that wraps around the property to the east and south drift slowly over the chaparral - itself dotted now with cloudlets of Ceanothus in heavily perfumed bloom - it is easy to imagine that all's right with the world. Except that apocalyptic millennialism, expressed in terms of environmental destruction, now resides as a permanent back-beat in our collective consciousness and even here, in the relatively pristine urban wildland, I have not quite separated myself from this shared, cerebral mother-ship.

And so it is that I find it entirely plausible that the burning, over the last two centuries or so, of the stored carbon energy laid down between 300 and 360 million years ago, and dating back to well before the age of the dinosaurs, may have some small impact on the Earth's climate. And, that we will shortly learn the precise climatic tolerances within which our industrial and post-industrial societies can survive.

This energy, upon which was laid the foundations of the modern world, has enabled the sheltering of a population density, previously unimaginable, within a sprawling infrastructure of a steel, wood, concrete and glass and its feeding via endless tracts of irrigated industrial agriculture. Thus the cost to our habitat of its extraction and burning extend far beyond the impact on our weather.

Chaparral and coastal sage scrubland cover nearly ten percent of California, deserts another 25% and forests perhaps another third. Much of the biomass that these areas support remains native, while Jared Diamond reports in his recent jeremiad, Collapse, that, for instance, fully 90% of Australia's native vegetation has been cleared - primarily for agriculture. Our state has preserved, for a variety of geo-historical reasons and recently, a comparatively benign state government, much of its natural capital despite devastating losses of wetlands, old growth red-wood forests, fisheries and wild rivers.

In Brazil, by contrast, the blight of habitat destruction is ominously close to metastasizing - where the anticipated 20% destruction of the rain forest in the next two decades, on top of the twenty percent already lost, could cause the entire ecology to unravel in a downward spiral of lowered rainfall (arboreal transpiration of moisture into the atmosphere is reduced in a direct relationship to the number of trees felled) and the desiccation and death of the remaining forest. While no such immediate calamity threatens the chaparral or other signature ecosystem of California, Brazil, where the slash and burn agriculture in its frontier states of Pará, Mato Grosso, Acre, and Rondônia, make it one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases, indirectly threatens our natural systems.

Set against the carbon dioxide production of Brazil and its fellow BRIC nations, Russia, India and China, the mass adoption of the Prius and other hybrid automobiles by the California public, net zero-energy houses such as ours, and the development of vast wind farms (potentially destroying, in the process, the Mojave desert) are all but irrelevant in terms of ameliorating the global climate change. This change in the weather threatens our way of life and the earth's ecologies. It is not a death sentence, however, except for certain species of plants and animals who have highly specialized ecological niches that cannot be replicated say, a few hundred miles to the north, or can conveniently move in concert with an encroaching tide line. The native peoples of California, after all, demonstrated an ability to survive startling changes in climate, flora and fauna over 15,000 years of inhabitation that also saw the ocean rise some two hundred feet or more (Ancient Isle).

The global destruction of habitat for urban, suburban and exurban development and the land-based transportation systems that link them; the poisoning of the land and water through industrial processes, salinization of the soil through over irrigation and the ravages of drought-induced fires over landscapes drastically reduced in species diversity presents a more existential threat to the planet. Amidst such "extraordinary examples of the wanton destruction of immense natural resources by the blind force of unregulated capitalist greed" as Paul Craig Roberts writes in a recent opinion piece (Counterpunch) there have emerged, over the last decade or so, a series of extraordinary architectural monuments to precisely that capitalist ethos.

Until the end of the nineteenth century the tallest buildings in the world were all churches (Ulm Minster in Germany topped out at 530'). It was not until 1909 that a secular pile, Manhattan's Singer Building at 621', exceeded it. A series of commercial towers in New York then held the crown until 1931 when the Empire State (1250') put the record out of reach for over four decades. It was to this beacon of capitalist greed that I inevitably gravitated on first arriving in New York in 1967 (Waterland). The title of 'the world's tallest building' was wrested from it by another American monument to Mammon, Chicago's Sears tower, completed in 1973, that reached 1450'.

The demise of the American century was heralded by the Petronas Towers, in Malaysia, which rose to 1483' above the streets of Kuala Lumpur in 1998. These twin towers were eclipsed, by more than a thousand feet, by the arrival of the Burj Kalifa at 2717' in Dubai in 2010. But within five years it will be China that houses most of the tallest buildings in the world and, by March, it will have the tallest in the vertiginous form of Sky City, besting the Burj by some thirty feet. Several behemoths, cresting 2000', will quickly follow it. The embedded energy in the form of steel, glass and concrete contained in these towers is almost beyond calculation but in any case entirely dwarfs the efforts made in terms of energy efficiency through enhanced insulation, quadruple glazing, day-lighting and solar offsets.

The building of icons of unprecedented scale that memorialize a system while simultaneously helping to destroy it is, of course, eerily reminiscent of the classic case of environmental suicide practiced by the people of Rapanui (Easter Island). Isolated in the Pacific Ocean, Rapanui's environmental meltdown did not impact the overall health of the planet. Today, we all share the same bank account of natural capital: our fates are conjoined. My patch of chaparral, California, and the entire west coast are vulnerable to the ecological depredations across the planet inevitably transmitted through the medium of our shared climate and surrounding oceans. Smoke clouds from the dirty coal that powers China's steel mills are born aloft on the jet stream and the black dust settles in the chaparral (and announces itself on the white porcelain in our bathroom).

The cutting down of the last tree on Easter Island to transport a memorial stone statue (Moai) from the quarry to its resting place sealed the island's fate: there was no competing ideology to question the ruler's hubris. What will now stop the next steel I-beam from being bolted in place high above the swirling inversion layer of Beijing's pea-soup smog?

We Are All Marsh Dwellers Now

We are at the very beginning of the great give-back; the relinquishment of those lands pilfered over the ages from ocean, wetland and river. Viz: New York City, late October, 2012. Without prodigous feats of engineering, great political will and huge amounts of State and Federal treasure, it is now likely that swathes of the poorer boroughs will be given over to the rising waters in the next decades.

Lower Manhattan, it can be presumed, will be preserved for the foreseeable future as a bastion of late capitalism (No Soft Landing). Super Storm Sandy, however, wreaked real and symbolic damage on these drained riverlands.The museum beneath 9/11 Plaza, which houses the most precious relics from the provocative skirmish at the very beginning of this century's great asymmetrical war of North versus South, was disastrously flooded - fully submerging the iconic fire truck used by Engine Company 21 and the truck on which Ladder Company 3 arrived during the aerial attack on the twin towers.

The memorial to the 3,000 victims of 9/11 has become inextricably enmeshed in the unfolding of a potentially far greater human tragedy: anthropogenic global warming. Michael Arad's twin reflecting pools placed in the footprint of the World Trade Center towers are each flanked, on their four sides, by walls of perpetually cascading water neatly symbolizing the inundation precipitated by Sandy's storm surge. This minimalist gesture may now be commandeered by our imaginings of a future water world, where the Financial District is regularly besieged by storm surges, rising sea levels and hurricanes pushed over the area by the meteorological impacts of Greenland's melting ice-cap. It is often the fate of memorials to be 're-interpreted' as events shape our view of the past. Rarely, if ever, has such a dramatic shift in meaning been instantiated prior to a memorial's official opening.

A little over two years ago, MoMA and P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center jointly developed an exhibit, Rising Currents: Projects for New York’s Waterfront. It featured the work of five interdisciplinary teams who were tasked with "re-envisioning the coastlines of New York and New Jersey around New York Harbor and to imagine ways to occupy the harbor itself with adaptive “soft” infrastructures sympathetic to the needs of an ecology that encompassed the sea-level rise resulting from global climate change". At around the same time, Vision 2020, New York's comprehensive plan for its waterfront, was released. Currently, the New York City Economic Development Corporation is seeking proposals for innovative and cost-saving solutions for completing marine construction projects in New York City.

While Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has made the re-imagination and reactivation of New York’s “6th Borough” – the Waterfront – a central economic development priority, Sandy's storm surge has heightened awareness of its fragility. Post-storm it is evident that the city's 565 miles of waterfront is a frontier that must be defended, or strategically ceded, in an increasingly aqueous world. The shoreline can no longer be defined by traditional, fixed locational matrices (such as grounded buildings and transportation infrastructure) but must be conceived of as a buffer zone alternately firm and fluid. One of the Rising Currents submissions presciently showed how farming oysters in New York Harbor could occupy that zone. Mussels, eels, fish, and crabs offer similar opportunities whereby our urban shorelines could revert to their pre-industrial state and support twenty first century, locavore, coastal tideland collectors.

All creatures impact their environment: there is no static, edenic state of grace to which we can revert. We are part of a highly dynamic system. From oak gall, spider-web and gopher hole to megalopolis we are all opportunistic users and abusers, biologically defined by self-interest. Bloomberg imagines (and is currently creating) parks, running paths, recreational boat-slips, riverside dining emporia and retail quays that will bring new economic life to his city's moribund waterfront: but he is projecting this vision within an environment that is in a heightened state of flux and not necessarily supportive of fixed boundaries between land and water.

Similar imaginings, on a smaller scale, are currently fueling the attempts to re-naturalise the Los Angles river. Personally, I have great affection for the megastructure that channelizes L.A.'s terrestrial hydrologic system that in past times varied from a trickle in the desert to waters rampaging over a vast flood-plain and was never anyone's idea of an archetypal river. However, given the City's acknowledged shortage of green spaces, it may make sense to impose an old-world, Europeanized, park-like vision on the 'river': it remains ironic, however, that its location, arbitrarily defined by the heroic efforts of W.P.A. laborers, will now be further immobilized by efforts to make it recreation-user-friendly and even navigable, both intentions that fundamentally misunderstand the mutable, chimeric character of this sometimes water-course.

The creation of a static boundary for an inherently amorphous system is, of course, doomed to fail. Locally, development is sufficiently sparse and agriculturally oriented that our mighty local rivers, the Ventura and the Santa Clara have some room to move. The re-wilding of the Ventura River, remains a plausible project but the Santa Clara's usually sluggish passage across the agri-business plains of Oxnard is likely to continue to be constrained by the concrete embattlements of economic interest. The containment of these rivers will undoubtedly be stressed by the increased volatility of our Pacific weather systems but it is perhaps the rising ocean that is the greater threat to our developmental infrastructure.

It is a characteristic of successful civilizations that they internalize mechanisms to deal with environmental stresses. The decision of the Chumash and their ancestral cultural congeries not to pursue agriculture (although they were undoubtedly aware of its basic precepts) but to rely instead on the nutritional bounty of the indigenous eco-systems may have enabled them to survive for 13,000 years during which sea levels rose a total of over 300 feet (sometimes at the rate of 24" in a century). We, by contrast, are flummoxed by the prospect of a few inches rise in the Pacific and scared witless by the prospect of the geoid effect whereby the gravitational forces at the earth's surface would be radically impacted by the loss of mass at the poles and thus shift the global displacement of water several meters here or there; or a reversal of the prevailing winds over the Pacific that currently push water levels up to two feet higher in Asia that could swiftly inundate the U.S. west coast.

Disaster scenarios abound, but all are predicated on the unknowable instability likely initiated by the planet's ever thickening carbon blanket. We have drained our coastal wetlands and have paved over our dune successions so that the natural absorptive systems at the continent's fluid edge are inoperative - we have caused our soft edges to atrophy. Protection of the commons has been sacrificed on the altar of narrow self-interests: now we begin to pay for our misaligned attention at the crumbling edges of our continent.

One small, but widely reported installment was rendered in New York City by superstorm Sandy. Another less heralded give-back occurred on Long Island's North Fork, where a year ago I attended a wedding at the Galley-Ho!......

".......a hundred year old scallop-packing shed, latterly converted to a restaurant (long-failed) and currently owned by a local non-profit preservation group. Amidst a century's turmoil, its various owners had neglected to provide either heating or insulation but its prime water-front location was sufficient compensation. It was a beautiful ceremony which I watched while keeping a weather eye on the rising ocean which seemingly threatened to engulf the fragile building; and what began as rain lashing the single paned windows that lined the seaward side of the structure changed texture right about the time that vows were exchanged .....and assumed the soft granulations of wet snow. But the seas failed in their efforts, as they have for five score years, to wash away the scallop shed........" (Waterland)

Until, that is, October 29th 2012, when the building was destroyed by the storm surge.

No Soft Landing

As Clive Ponting calmly states in his up-date of my old standby, A Green History of the World, 1991, now published as A New Green History of the World, 2007, "the world is clearly approaching a crossroads". He sees the potential collision between continuing high energy consumption and the realities of declining oil and gas production being headed off, at the last moment, by Global Warming - a rampaging environmental reality over which we have demonstrated a complete absence of control and which threatens to take the planet into uncharted territory. Ponting writes, in his measured tones, "before the world has to cope with a shortage of fossil fuels it is likely to have to face the far more severe environmental problems caused by their consumption over the last two hundred years".

The recent advances in increased energy efficiencies have done nothing to stem the overall pace of consumption: we continue to dump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at ever increasing rates. The first decade of this century has seen the CO2 concentration increase an average of 2 p.p.m. per year as against 1.6 p.p.m. for the last decade of the twentieth century. By 2016 we may well exceed 400 p.p.m., a 55% increase over pre-industrial levels.

Ponting dismisses the possibility of a near-term technological fix for these rising levels and is similarly disdainful of the ability of liberal democratic nations to make major reductions in energy consumption. In any case, it is the developing world that is contributing most to the CO2 build-up; China alone is expected to contribute over 40% of future emissions. He believes the prospects for the world's climate look bleak. Rising average temperatures across the planet continue to exacerbate the inherited environmental problems of deforestation, soil erosion, salinization, drought, loss of wildlife and urbanization while rising sea levels have the potential to destroy coastal infrastructure and thus severely impact world trade, including the shipment of oil.

Into this doomsday scenario now steps Morris Berman (The Waning of the Modern Ages, Counterpunch, September 12, 2012) who reviews the deep historical currents that have swept us into the gyre (to switch metaphors). He references the work of two historians, Immanuel Wallerstein and Christopher Chase-Dunn, who adhere to the World Systems Analysis school (an off-shoot of the Annales school of French Historians led by Fernand Braudel). Their analysis is simple: we are experiencing the end of capitalism, the tail end of an ideological arc that, they suggest, spans from about 1500 to 2100. This arc is characterized by three phases: mercantilism, or commercial capital during the 16th and 17th century, industrial capital in the 18th and 19th., and now the waning days of financial capital where money creates money (e.g. through interest, arbitrage, hedging and derivatives). They point out that the last time the West experienced a change of this magnitude occurred during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, as the medieval world slowly began to give way to the modern era.

The end of feudalism was precipitated by an environmental catastrophe, The Black Death, which destroyed up to a third of Europe's population and thus greatly increased the value of labor. This last fact, together with the growth of trade, the establishment of towns and increasingly centralized Royal governments spelled the end of local, feudal arrangements of land, the military and agricultural labor. Now the Modern Age, underpinned by Capitalism, is threatened by Global Warming - the only viable response to which is a dismantling of the ethos of capitalism, of perpetual growth, of an increasing standard of living - and a return to something equivalent to the energy-use levels of pre-industrial society, via, perhaps, what Naomi Klein calls Eco-Socialism (Capitalism vs. the Climate, The Nation, November, 2011).

Now you know why the Right is so adamant in its denial of climate science: it has connected the dots. As Berman puts it, "the Right is not fooled: it sees Green as a Trojan horse for Red". Ponting, Berman and Klein thus agree: protection of the commons is, in all likelihood, impossible without a thorough re-thinking of western societal values. Klein writes,

"The abundance of scientific research showing we have pushed nature beyond its limits does not just demand green products and market-based solutions; it demands a new civilizational paradigm, one grounded not in dominance over nature but in respect for natural cycles of renewal—and acutely sensitive to natural limits….These are profoundly challenging revelations for all of us raised on Enlightenment ideals of progress.”

Meanwhile, the leading edge of conventional, commentariat thinking on the crisis is occupied by the likes of Al Gore and Thomas Friedman who espouse market-based solutions such as developing alternative energy and buying green products and, most radically, developing a system of carbon trading: a sort of Corporate Green Capitalism. They are, of course, living in denial. Capitalism is part of the problem and can never be a part of the antidote demanded by the existential threat of a devolving environmental system. They can help us drive deeper into the problem, perhaps, by buying us a few years but offer no prescription for avoiding calamity. Their, and other neo-liberal solutions will, at best, merely slow the inevitable on-rush of climate instability and environmental degradation; but, as Ponting points out, a few years here or there is unlikely to see the development of a viable technological fix.

Even Klein has a tendency to adopt platitudinous panaceas when she writes,“The real solutions to the climate crisis, are also our best hope of building a much more enlightened economic system—one that closes deep inequalities, strengthens and transforms the public sphere, generates plentiful, dignified work, and radically reins in corporate power." Our global program of reining in corporate power starts when? As Berman trenchantly observes, there is no diet cheesecake to be had, "To put it bluntly, the scale of change required cannot happen without a massive implosion of the current system. This was true at the end of the Roman Empire, it was true at the end of the Middle Ages, and it is true today". Naomi's unlikely prescriptions for a new civilizational paradigm, listed under such headings as Ending the Cult of Shopping, and Taxing the Rich inadvertently confirm that there will be no soft landing.

Berman quotes Shadia Drury who writes in Alexandre Kojeve: The Roots of Postmodern Politics,

"Modernity’s inception and its decline are like those of any other set of political and cultural ideals. In its early inception, Modernity contained something good and beguiling. It was a revolution against the authority of the Church, its taboos, repressions, inquisitions, and witch burning. It was a new dawn of the human spirit—celebrating life, knowledge, individuality, freedom, and human rights. It bequeathed to man a sunny disposition on the world, and on himself….The new spirit fueled scientific discovery, inventiveness, trade, commerce, and an artistic explosion of great splendor. But as with every new spirit, modernity has gone foul….Modernity lost the freshness and innocence of its early promise because its goals became inflated, impossible, and even pernicious. Instead of being the symbol of freedom, independence, justice, and human rights, it has become the sign of conquest, colonialism, exploitation, and the destruction of the earth.”

Modernity has been subsumed by its underlying ideology of Capitalism, now Global Warming is likely Modernity's Black Death. Bring it on.


Predictably, my characterization of this winter as the Big Dry (Chiquihuite, Rikyu Grey) has taken a hit over the past two weekends. Last Saturday we got a solid three inches while today, as I write this on Sunday morning, a steady rain has produced over half an inch and the storm system bodes to dump another couple of inches.

Last Sunday, after Saturday's storm, Lorrie, neighbor Margot and I drove up through the oak meadow-lands of Sulphur Mountain and were met, at the top of the hill, by valet parkers shuffling cars, guests and shuttle buses to the 'Friends of Steve Bennett' fund raiser. It was at Larry Hagman's place on Sulphur Mountain, just east of the Doppler Radar tower (the 100 foot tall silver ball that sits ominously on the ridge and tracks storm systems for the National Weather Service). For some unaccountable reason, we were ushered past the valet parking lots and self-parked the LR3 just below, and in full sight of, the house.

The Hagman place has lived long in my imagination. The opulence and scale of the house is matched, in local legend, by the prodigious solar arrays that power it, and, if the tales are to be believed, potentially much of Upper Ojai. His annual power bill prior to his first photovoltaic installation was 38,000 dollars - the following year it dropped to less than twenty. He owns the largest residential solar-power system in the United States and now he reaps an income from the clean power he feeds back to Edison. His 100 kW (DC) system generates 150,000 kilowatt-hours per year, 10,000 kWh more than he needs to keep all the lights blazing and the air-conditioning cranked in his mountain top estate. Our thin-film array is rated at 5 kW and generates 10,000 kWh annually. (For those tracking this apparent production discrepancy, perhaps Hagman's site is wreathed more often in cloud than our lower, south facing slope and his DC-AC inversion less efficient).

I know Larry Hagman as the charming Major Anthony Nelson, his character in I Dream of Jeannie (1965-1970) which I watched in re-runs, in black and white, in Australia. By the time he came to play J.R. Ewing on the prime-time soap, Dallas, that ran throughout the eighties, from 1978 -1991, I had pretty much sworn off TV, but for Hagman, this later show provided much of his wealth as an actor. It also gifted him an enduring persona, which he affects to this day, wearing an iconic Resistol Texan cowboy hat at all public appearances.

His house is a Mediterranean style pile, with Tuscan grace notes set on a knoll commanding its 43 acre site with panoramic views of Ventura County and beyond. On much of its west and south sides, the house is edged by a swimming pool and bridges take the visitor over the water as they (OK, we three) search for the entry. We found the split-level Grand Room which faces the southern view, and a guest kindly opened a sliding glass door to let us in. This room accommodates a 40' long lap pool with a retractable roof above, a grotto spa and a lonely mirrored disco ball on the upper level.

In its 18,000 square foot, the house has nine bedrooms and fourteen bathrooms. Larry has hosted many fund-raising events but last weekend's was possibly the last. Long for sale, it is rumored that he may at last have found a buyer.

In Surf and Turf, I fantasized about the space described between my outstretched arms as I stand on our Koenigstein property signalling south-westward over Sulphur Mountain. Those trackless wildlands thus indicated beyond the mountain ridge were just off to the right as I stood in Larry's belvedere where a yellow bed swung from the vaulted ceiling allowing for a view that reached to Santa Rosa and Anacapa Islands, the Oxnard plain and beyond to the Simi Hills and the Santa Monica Mountains. Further to the left was the Santa Clara River and rising above it, the SP sign on South Mountain. All was revealed. For a moment, I was King of the Hill.

It was about as exciting, after that first rush of wonder, as the view through the porthole of an airliner (Red Smudge). There was a disengagement with the landscape, a realization that a vista, from this great vantage point, represents a sort of horizontal picture plane receding in orderly fashion towards the mists of the horizon. Where was the sharawaggi I longed for? The wild engagement with the rugged landscape? (Sharawaggi)

For the last half millenium or more our western aesthetic world has been more or less split into two - the Classical and the Gothic; the Formal and the Picturesque; or, closer to home, the Arcadian and the Savage. The Arcadian world is populated by shepherds and their flocks, and in classical Greece these sheep turned wildlands into pastoral idylls. Something similar happened to the classical landscapes of California, where grazing destroyed the chaparral and now wolf oaks dot the rolling pasturelands and mustard paints the hills (or will in an few weeks) their eponymous gold. I digress; but only slightly. Larry's architects and landscape designers followed the classical approach - where man is comfortably ensconced in a humanized landscape and the sharawaggi is kept at bay.

Urban Wildland is dedicated to the frisson generated by the juxtaposition of the built environment and a savage landscape, where the balance that allows for human habitation may be disturbed; where fire or flood (and perhaps rampaging poison oak) may, at any moment, make the tenuous occupation of the wild edge untennable.

The Hagman estate is dedicated to the civilizing, classical impulse where wild is transmuted into an idealized vision in which the lawns mimic the sheep nibbled plains of Arcady; the exotic landscaping echoes the paradisiacal gardens of the old world; and the chlorinated, serpentine pools that moat the house ape the River Lethe.

The house - sticks and stucco cloaked in Tuscan garb - mindful of the past but disengaged from present danger, mutely awaits the next wild fire to sweep over the ridge.

Warm Breeze

At six o'clock one morning early in the week the waning gibbous moon was bright and still high in the western sky. Venus, like a faithful acolyte, was subtended below. To the east, the sun had yet to climb over the rim of the world but was already brushing the clouds that hung above the silhouetted ridge a deep apricot....

The October full-moon has been an powerful presence. At night, the gravel pool terrace is washed a pale grey and the moon lights the chaparral trails on my morning run. The days have been hot; Tuesday it was 108 degrees farenheit mid-afternoon - the warmest day of the year. Already the sun has made a great deal of progress on its journey south and these autumnal heat-waves make a mockery of the passive solar strategy we incorporated into the house: sun ventures into the southern windows three or four feet by the middle of the day and then streams in obliquely as it moves west later in the afternoon.

If we were in Wyoming, that heat would be welcome, here in Southern California it just adds to the cooling load for our HVAC system which kicks in around 2:30 and stays on until 5. Wyoming? you say. I've just read Annie Proulx's new book, Bird Cloud, about the adventure of building a house at the foot of a 150 foot cliff in the Wyoming rangelands. Based on an early revue, I wrote about it in Pitch Perfect. Over a couple of days this week, I consumed the whole thing.

We have long complained that Ojai has no new book store. Back in the day (the mid nineties) there were two: Elio Zamati's 'Local Hero Bookstore and Cafe' (In Search of a Shaman's Lair) and Mitnee Duque's 'Ojai Table of Contents', from whom I would order books while teaching at Oak Grove High School. To fill the void, Bart's, the well-known, and famously outdoor used book store, has now opened a new book section (in one of the enclosed rooms). It was there Lorrie saw and purchased Proulx's new book.

Proulx's major environmental challenge was the cold. Her architect, Harry Teague, a widely acclaimed and environmentally sensitive Colorado professional working in an up-dated vernacular style is customarily a very 'safe pair of hands'. The house he designed for Ms. Proulx, however, is a leaden lump which looks in my imagination and with some accounting for scale, like a pile of the maimed and crumpled buffalo which were, in centuries gone by, driven over the precipice by the local Ute Indians. Perhaps that was the intention, but the house also suffered from his lack of attention and was cobbled together by a local band of closely related builders and landscapers Proulx dubs the James gang. The interiors can best be described as highly redolent of the 1970's.

Teague does provide the requisite south-facing windows and specified hot water radiant heat in the concrete slab. The client does not complain that the house is cold, although the temperature can drop into the minus thirties in Wyoming, but she does mention it being sometimes uncomfortably warm in the summer. There is no mechanical cooling. In Wyoming all that south facing glass pays dividends from late August on, and the radiant slab seems to do the job. As I have noted (Cool Morning, Full Metal Jacket), the long lag times inherent in radiant heating make it a poor match for Ojai's very changeable winter temperatures.

Her story of the building of the house and its shortcomings take central place in the book but Proulx is, above all else, a writer informed by the rhythms of the natural world and her observations of the bird life on her 637 acre ranch provide a constant coda to the primary narrative. Prairie falcons, bald-headed and golden eagles, ravens, vultures and pelicans are some of the larger birds that she watches wheel and glide in the thermals of the cliff-face. Our lives at Rock Fall are similarly enriched by the cross stitch of birds that weave in and out of the chaparral and the hawks, vultures, crows and ravens that trace looping threads across the sky.

The evening and night skies in Upper Ojai are populated by night raptors, but they are largely hidden from us. Dawn and dusk provide the best opportunities to see them. Earlier in the week, as the light was beginning to fade and the evening had taken on that ashen monochrome that hints at the coming darkness, three owls squabbled in the sky directly above me. Two great horned owls called to each other as they flew in close formation harrassing the third, which I took for a screech owl. The smaller owl tumbled away finally recovering its equilibrium close to the ground where it fluttered off towards tree cover.

The next evening, arriving home in the dark and stopping the car low down on the driveway to close the gate for the night, I heard the whooping of a great horned owl and saw that it was perched atop the last power pole on our property before the supply goes underground. There is no love lost between owl species; perhaps the great horneds are muscling in on their fellow strigiform, the screech owl, to whose nocturnal warbling we have become accustomed.

Proulx sees mountain lions, elk and bear on a regular basis, and has located her house on a site rich in archaeological evidence of Native Americans: the foundation slab excavation uncovered charcoal evidence of an ancient fire-pit and by presumption a pit-house. In my primordial dreams.

There is no indication of ancient settlement on Rock Fall. The closest known Chumash settlements are Sis'a, located along Santa Paula Creek, in the area now occupied by Thomas Aquinas College (Woman of the Apocalypse); ?Awha'y, on the lower north facing slopes of Sulphur Mountain in Upper Ojai (The Land Speaks for Itself) and Sitoptopo (literally, the carrizo (giant rye) patch) - somewhere north east of Ojai, and presumably in the Topatopa foothills. There are no lithic scatters on our chaparral patch, no debitage, and no points, hand-axes, metate or manos.

But this morning I saw a herd of a mule deer, ten or more, take flight over the old honor farm pasture, a noble stag silhouetted against the dawn sky. Yesterday, in downtown Los Angeles, I ate lunch at Mas Malo, a Mexican cantina in a glorious domed space which formerly housed Clifton's Silver Spoon Cafeteria. In the interests of architectural research, I went up to the mezzanine where Seven Grand, a hip whiskey bar, is outfitted in huntsman plaid and features a score of stag's heads on the wall.

They look better on the hoof. At dawn. With a warm breeze blowing across the mesa infiltrating the morning's chill, and a still bright moon high in the sky.

Personal Entombment

"I keep my temperature at 74 when I'm at the crib
And 79 in the winter time, that's just how I live"

Tech N9ne

In winter, the local ectotherms, snakes and lizards, are torpid. Their blood temperature has cooled and they are, quite literally, chilling. Holed up in a burrow, under a rock or rotting tree trunk their metabolisms have slowed to the point where they no longer need to forage for food. I still tread carefully through the chaparral but I haven't seen a snake for months; but today is warm and the lizards have stirred - one is skittering on the terrace as I write. Ectotherms are animals that warm their bodies by absorbing heat from their surroundings. We endotherms work the other way round. We give warmth to our environment - and this winter, at the house, one of our donors is missing. Griffin, our youngest son, left for art college last fall.

Our linear house is binary in respect to southern glazing - repetitive sixteen foot bays are either fully glazed to the south or not. Griffin's room and my office (two bays) are not and have shaded glazing to the west and east respectively and eight foot ceilings beneath an attic space packed with an air handler, ducting, a photo-voltaic inverter and solar panel piping (carrying glycol) to the hot water tank heat exchanger below. While they do not have the advantage of solar gain the rooms also suffer little or no solar loss at night. They represent the warm heart of the house.

Solar gain is convected to these spaces from both ends of the house and there it is trapped under the low ceiling providing a temperature of five or six degrees warmer than the more glassy ends. Griffin and his machines - TV, computer and powered speakers - added to the warmth of his room and he was pretty snug. "79 in the winter time that's just how I live" had some reality in his life.

Michelle Addington, a systems engineer and materials scientist at the Yale School of Architecture, makes the point that the energy consuming devices, primarily lighting, heating and cooling (HVAC) that exist in a building are all intended to serve the comfort of the human body: but conventional systems attempt to do this by servicing the building rather than the body - we heat and cool entire volumes; we provide standard lighting levels throughout a room. Only when we are sleeping do we focus intently on the body rather than the room because the space we occupy is rigidly prescribed - twin, double, Queen or King.

As homes have become larger, smaller and smaller percentages of the systems that treat the entire space actually impinge on the inhabitants. She notes that, "the body’s heat exchanges occur within a zone of a few centimeters around it, and the eye intercepts only a tiny fraction of the light in a room. Our conventional systems provide ambient conditions in a building—a steady seventy-two degrees Fahrenheit or a constant forty foot-candles".

Everything that exists in a building has a thermal boundary layer - a thin, tight sphere of thermal influence that is then transmitted through convection currents. Griffin managed his boundary layer quite efficiently. He stayed in his room (mostly) and was never known to turn off an electronic appliance - their boundary layers convected to his and all was right with his thermal world. I conducted a long and in the end losing battle with him trying to have him not eat in his room - given his druthers he would have had a toaster oven and micro-fridge in his room so that he could simulate the dorm living that he had so enjoyed in his sophomore year at Besant Hill School.

His room has two 50 w MR-16's down-lights on dimmers and he used a single task light with a compact flourescent when drawing. He lived in about 250 square feet (including his bathroom) and it was we who insisted that he share his meals with us in the larger high ceilinged spaces of the house - otherwise he was ready willing and able to conduct all of his life processes in his man-cave.

Sadly Griffin no longer contributes his warmth to the center of the house. I notice when I go into my home-office first thing in the morning, before dawn, that sometimes the ducts are pumping warm air into the spaces making up for his endothermic contribution. (Yes, we do miss him in other ways....)

Our children live in a world explicated both through real-world visual, aural, tactile and kinetic inputs and social interaction and their electronically simulated equivalents. The latter constitute their primary home or crib connections. While there is a clear separation between the real and the imaged (or texted), the electronic stimulus is convincing enough to demand an architectural container which supports the verisimilitude of these connections. Shadowy light levels, tightly contained space that amplifies the resonance of powered speakers and, in winter, the fug of electric resistance in appliances all contribute to a profoundly energy efficient environment where space is personal.

Buildings continue to be treated as autonomous entities that we almost incidentally inhabit. Thus the house is net-zero-energy, or sustainable or green (whatever) on a stand alone basis rather than as an intimate wrapper to our particular activities. Griffin treated his space as a personal enabler of his relationships with his body (primarily its need for rest, thermal comfort, aural and intellectual stimulation and, kinetic stimulation (video-games): localized lighting and an intimate relationship with the thermal boundary layers of small appliances served these personal interactions.

It is his model that represents the future of energy efficient design. The new social and entertainment media have expanded our 'at-home' worlds. Our need for theatrical space where the kinetic experience of volume and visually stimulating effects - like a view - are paramount has been replaced by the 52" HD screen and the i-pad. This virtual experiential expansion can now reasonably be housed (or shrink-wrapped) in a smaller, better fitting architectural expression where energy inputs are carefully calibrated to the convection currents of the persons and appliances that inhabit the spaces.

In short, to be truly energy efficient, we need to act more like teenagers (or ectotherms), absorbing energy from our (electronic) environment and savoring the shadowy spaces of personal entombment.

Oil and Trouble

Double, double toil and trouble
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

Shakespeare: Macbeth Act 4, scene 1, 10-11

We are under siege. The machines of war surround us. Guy wires support the hundred feet high scaffolding necessary to re-drill old wells - their leases expiring in 2018, and primary production a thing of the past, the oil reservoirs have begun to lose pressure and perhaps the injection of water or steam, or a deeper well can revive productivity. These oil derricks have sprung up like mushrooms on both sides of our high valley. Some stay for weeks and run 24-7 (Bad Dreams) others disappear, work complete, after a few days. Some are lit at night, others are stark silhouettes by day and then melt away into the darkness.

There is talk that the oil companies may have found a way to access the vast off-shore reserves from high on Sulphur Mountain where, on a clear day you can see down to the channel between Ventura and Santa Cruz where lie the Santa Clara and Sockeye off-shore oil fields. A decade or so ago slant drilling was a new development in oil well technology, now horizontal drilling is commonplace.

Steam injection is also being used to squeeze ever more oil from the rock in which it resides. According to the Ventura County Star (06-26-2010),

"Bakersfield-based Tri-Valley Corp. has drilled seven horizontal wells in its Oxnard fields to get at the heavy oil there. These wells are drilled down vertically and over horizontally. It then pumps steam into those wells and pumps oil out. The steam reduces the viscosity of the oil so it becomes thinner and moves into the lower well. The heated oil and water is then pumped to the surface and separated, with the water being cleaned and reused for new steam generation. These types of wells can get up to 60 percent of oil from a deposit."

Schwarzenegger's moratorium on further offshore drilling in California, along with the rising price of oil, is putting greater pressure on the oil fields of Ventura County where 63 idle wells were returned to production in 2009.

It's a dirty business but it is also a staple of the County's economy. I am reminded of the old British, north country saying, 'where there's muck there's brass (money)'; but the wells, the pumps, the pipes and now the drill derricks are, in Upper Ojai, affronts to its residents' mostly lyrical sensibility.

They threaten our cocoon of domesticity: we privilege the aesthetic qualities of the land over its worth to farmers and oil companies. This is at the heart of the practice of land-use zoning: different constituents require distinct guarantees of their rights to use the land in different ways. Oil well infrastructure has few aesthetic champions (although I enjoy my runs through the post-apocalyptical landscape of the Silver Thread oil leases that cover the hills to the west of St. Thomas Aquinas and continue to Osborne Road off the 150).

There is a ranch to the east of Koenigstein on the high plain that is mostly used as cattle grazing that has a gas flare pipe at the entry to its driveway that I covet; and in Saturday Night Special I mention the oil well as lawn ornament in front of the old stone house on the bend below the Summit; but no one is seriously suggesting that oil wells can offer amenity to residential development in the way that citrus groves, golf courses, trout streams and of course, chaparral can.

Some kinds of farming have greater aesthetic value than others. Ojai benefits, a couple of times a year, from the great drifts of orange blossom perfume that rise up from the East End's groves (The Citrus Belt). Citrus can be reasonably well integrated into sporadic residential development, and the fields of lavendar, olives and pixie tangerines at the Evendon's Upper Ojai New Oak Ranch are a delightful complement to the rough charm of the chaparral above them and their neighbor's newly planted vines strike deeply mellifluous old-world notes. More generally however, economic imperatives cut across such fairy tale notions of mixed-use.

Words establish seams of meaning that run through time: each generation transects the seam mostly oblivious to the reservoirs of implication that lie deep in the past. The oil derrick was named after a type of gallows used in the 16th century, which were named for an English executioner, Thomas Derrick. (Wikipedia). On a field near Godalming in Surrey, close by where I grew up, winter rains would manifest a circle of perhaps 100 feet at its interior diameter and 40' wide that appeared as a moat. The depression had been caused by centuries of trampling by townspeople gathered to watch unfortunates hanging from the local gibbet. In Upper Ojai, we are the less than willing spectators to the last rites of a dying industry, watching helplessly as it frantically sucks the last barrels of fossil fuel from the land beneath our feet.

Cold Comfort

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.

On the 18th November, I was still swimming in our un-heated pool where the water temperature hovered just below 70 degrees. Tonight, a couple of days after Thanksgiving I read that,

"Accumulating snow of up to 3 to 6 inches will be possible on the North Mountain slopes above 4000 feet from tonight through sun evening. The snow combined with gusty winds up to 60 miles per hour expected over the L.A./Ventura mountains has prompted the issuance of a Winter Storm Warning for the North Mountain slopes including the I-5 corridor above 3500 feet and the Grapevine." (Southwest California area forecast discussion, National Weather Service Los Angeles/Oxnard California 345 PM PST Sat Nov 27 2010)

My point being: I'm regretting the summer palace on the slope. Today was briefly warm - somewhere between this morning's cloud cover that rolled back to reveal blue skies mid-morning, and around two this afternoon when the first clouds marbled the sky ahead of a cold front that now, a little before five, has greyed our valley. Tonight will be cold like last night, and it will be colder still tomorrow and Monday; in the east end they will probably crank-up the smudge pots and wind-machines (The Citrus Belt ).

I know, I know, we are not talking east coast cold or heaven help us, Edmonton (Latitude 53° North), Canada cold (tonight's low, 4 degrees farenheit). Actually, New York is relatively balmy right at the moment, their night's low of 36° warmer than Ojai's 34° (29° tomorrow night); London's low (51° North) is 24°, Tokyo's low (the same latitude as Ojai, at 35° North) is a toasty (the heat island effect?) 44° and Vancouver's (49° North) is 33°. So enough already, it is cold - globally, or at least hemispherically cold (Sydney's low, 34° South, is 64°).

Psychologically, because we live in Southern California, it is very cold - a couple of weeks ago the high was 85° and two weeks before that, at the beginning of November we broke 100° on Koenigstein with the low around 60°. The truth is that that sort of weather could return anytime; 85° days in winter are not unusual. Which is why we are freezing now and not running around on a toasty radiantly heated slab. We made the call, relying on passive solar heating of the slab rather than active water or electrical coil heating and for a few days a year we suffer for it. The alternative is to have a heating system with a notorious lag time potentially overheating the house during the day just because you want a shot of warmth, say, between 7 am and 10 am.

OK, we are not freezing: last night we cranked up the Rais stove for the first time this season with beautifully seasoned oak of which we now have probably a two years supply. The oven temperature (the stove has a pizza oven at the top of the drum shaped fire chamber) reached around 150° Celsius quite quickly but that's a little shy of the 300-400° you need for actually baking a pizza in a traditional wood fired oven. But it warmed the dining room pleasantly enough and we turned the fan to a lazy whirr to bat the warmth down from the vault of the ceiling where it is wont to go.

It is now raining, and perhaps snowing on the Topa Topa peaks, and I am congratulating myself on having brought in enough fire-wood out of the weather to last us through to Christmas. Oh, and our dark secret is that in this all-electric house we use an electric heat pump to take the edge off the morning's chill.

it was my father who would intone the first line of T.S. Eliot's 1927 poem, Journey of the Magi, when we were out walking and there was the slightest nip in the air. He was mostly steeped in the great English poets of the nineteenth century but occasionally read work by writers of his own century. The wonder of it is that he read poetry at all. He rarely attributed his "lines" - they were embedded into his everyday syntax and thus, as a boy I did not recognize that his tastes also ran to at least one modernist; only that a sparkle of frost triggered "A cold coming we had of it".

The coldest night I have spent in California was in the high desert of the Mojave. Edmund C. Jaeger sensibly notes in his The California Deserts, Stanford University Press, 1933, "on the high Mojave Desert one may reasonably expect to experience a light fall of snow after the middle of November and as late as mid April.". Such was the case when my son Will and I camped along the Mojave road at around 5,000 feet in sight of the snow capped peaks of Pinto and Table Top Mountain, both well over six thousand feet. It was very early January and the evening was spent huddling around the camp fire, leaning well into it, ignoring the wood smoke and the smell of burning rubber as my feet got a little too intimate with the flames. We survived the night and the next day when we descended down towards Soda Lake the air warmed, we left the alpine vegetation behind and brilliant sunshine played over the desert vastness, punctuated only by the occasional creosote and burrobush.

In Southern California we are never far from this paradigm of the desert climate - warm days and cold nights. Sure, it is moderated at the beach: less warm days and less cold nights - but here in Ojai, we are firmly in the zone. Temperatures crash at sundown.

We live, as I have mentioned before, in prime passive-solar territory (Are We Green Yet? ). Baruch Givoni, father of modern passive solar design is an Israeli - he grew up in the desert, where the temperature conveniently trips from warm to cold at nightfall. By-pass this diode and you can achieve 365-24-7 thermal comfort: harvest the daytime warmth and dissipate it at night. Unfortunately, this only works well when you live in a place under the thrall of the desert climate paradigm - like So Cal and other desert regions of the south west.

Although in 2003, about 35,000 people died in Europe during a two-week heat wave, W. R. Keatinge, G. C. Donaldson, two British researchers note that,

"Cold-related deaths are far more numerous than heat-related deaths in the United States, Europe, and almost all countries outside the tropics, and almost all of them are due to common illnesses that are increased by cold. Coronary and cerebral thrombosis account for about half of the cold-related deaths and respiratory disease for about half the rest ".

Either way, thermal comfort is essential to good health. Here in Southern California we have the means to assure equitable temperatures year-round with minimal energy inputs: we aim to make of our simple barn in winter a summer palace; but if we occasionally miss the mark we will zip into a Patagonia fleece and think of Jimmy Carter.

Bad Dreams

Something begins to stir along the north coast of California, reaches inward across the west facing Sierras and moves northward to Alaska: it may be the flapping of Raven’s wings, the beating heart of Gaia (Scrim of Mist) or, quite simply, the metastasis of biomass.

Malignant or not, this metastasis results in an explosion of cellulose upon which the Timber Industry feeds. As David Lynch's Radio announcer says at the start of Blue Velvet: "It's a sunny, woodsy day in Lumberton, so get those chainsaws out...."

In the early nineties, we looked to buy, with friends, a few hundred acres of timber-land about ten miles east of Yachats on the Oregon coast. When we were trying to put an offer together I stayed at a motel along the Yachats River estuary and one evening watched an episode of Twin Peaks. David Lynch created that TV series to reflect the same vision of reality that is at the core of all his work: in everyday life there are things happening beneath the surface that swim into your awareness but escape your understanding.

Such was the case with our appreciation of the Timber property. We loved its apparent wildness, its forest. What we did not understand was that the land, although for sale, was firmly in the maw of Timber interests and it would take more than its imminent sale for the industry to disgorge it. Thus it was that when we returned to view the property with another potential partner we found great swathes of hillside had been clearcut. The long cycle of timber contracts held on the land existed on a parallel legal plane to its freehold, and like the mineral rights to our property in Upper Ojai do not change ownership with the sale of the land. Although one of our partners had grown up in Oregon, we were naive: our romantic vision of the land as virgin forest was hopelessly at odds with its commercial reality.

A few years earlier we looked seriously at a property in the Wainiha Valley, on Kauai, HI. It was off of Wainiha Powerhouse Road that winds into the foothills alongside of the Wainiha River which flows down from the Central Highlands. The valley is patchworked with taro fields and streams, and is home to families that have been in the area for hundreds of years. The property we looked at was being subdivided from an estate owned by an American surfer whose tin-roofed home sparked visions of building a pole house that would reverberate with the sound of rain on corrugated steel while the river coursed beneath the open-planked floor - because (of course) the entire property was both in the flood plain and vulnerable to tsunamis.

What were described as Hawaiian walking trail easements ran across the access to the property. This turned out to be local code for the fact that the ancient Hawaiian families in the neighborhood still considered the land to be theirs and probably maintained rights to grow taro up to the haole's front door. Then there was the question of who owned the bridge over the Wainiha River. Here the undercurrents of Hawaiian custom and latent hostility to newcomers quickly submerged our conventional understanding of real-estate and we retreated, chastened by the realization that in the remoter parts of Kauai, at least, Hawaii is a foreign land.

It probably didn't help that our real estate agent was Dick Brewer, the legendary big wave surfer and shaper of a series of revolutionary surfboards in the 1960's that essentially defined the modern sport. While he has maintained his relevance into this century by working with the new generation of tow-in surfers such as Laird Hamilton, he continues to dabble in Real Estate and the property he tried to sell us is, I believe, still available!

When Lorrie and I first drove up Koenigstein Road in the mid 1980's we were very aware of the oil drilling activity in the area and although there was land for sale - perhaps the 160 acres that Jim Exxon ended up purchasing and developing - I recall being spooked by this overlay of mineral extraction on otherwise pristine land. Years later, with the oil industry by now more discreet in its activities, we purchase our property.

Yet there continues to be an undercurrent of oil industry activity that occasionally barges into our consciousness with gas flares (Flare-up) or drilling to freshen existing wells. The commercial calculus of oil drilling is entirely alien to us refugees from the west side of Los Angeles who have found value instead, in the natural beauty of the canyons, hills and streams of the Topa Topa foothills.

On the ridge-line of Sulphur Mountain directly across from us I noticed drill scaffolding a couple of weeks ago. Usually they do their work and are gone in a few days. And such was the case, but Stephen and Clarissa, whose property backs up to the Arco oil lease, have been noticed that they will be back - with scaffolding twice as high and lights to enable drilling 24/7 - right through the holiday season. This threatens to turn our vague awareness of an energy industry undercurrent into an in-your-face affront to our sensibilities, haunting us like a grotesquely phallic Lynchian dream sequence in which our wildland is ravaged by Arco. Merry Christmas.

This is a price we pay for laissez faire County Planning where the rights of corporations and wild-catters transcend those of residential property owners. An alternative is the highly controlled environment maintained by, for instance, The Sea Ranch Corporation. In our quest for a homestead outside of the City we looked long and hard at buying property on this piece of the Sonoma coast.

In 1963 Castle and Cooke, the Hawaiian based developers, purchased Rancho del Mar (the future Sea Ranch) which since the original Mexican Land Grant (one of the last in California) was deeded to Ernesto Rufus in 1846 had been a cattle ranch, a timber property and finally a sheep ranch. The 5200 acres included the coastal meadows and the second growth red woods that forested the west face of the inland ridge.

The Pomo, the indigenous Native American inhabitants of the area, had elected to live behind this ridge where they were protected from the ocean winds; they made seasonal treks to the coast to gather kelp, seaweed, and shell fish. The meadows are an ecological adaptation to the salt winds that lash the gently rising bluffs but grazing has eliminated most of the native grasses. The wind-bent dwarfed trees that almost certainly established themselves have long been cleared away leaving the romantically wind-blown grasses often swathed in fog-drip or drenched in coastal showers that are now, along with the myrtle hedges introduced by Lawrence Halprin the landscape architect, the signature Sea Ranch vegetation.

As noted in Scrim of Mist , the architectural firm MLTW (Charles Moore, Donlyn Lyndon, William Turnbull, and Richard Whitaker) developed the design guidelines for the community of homes. We were entranced. I had been familiar with the project while an architecture student in Sydney and later had an opportunity to study with Charles Moore at UCLA. All that was left was to pick the right lot.

Many a Northern California vacation was devoted to just that until we understood that the undercurrent that flowed through our Sonoma dreams was the nagging concern that while still firmly entrenched in Los Angeles, with children in school and busy professional lives, a second home six and a half hours away made little sense.

The desirability of vacation homes was part of the larger fantasy that was the real estate bubble: a fantasy that we have now seen transmogrified into a nightmare beyond even David Lynch's lurid imagination.


We don’t often get to talk about cold weather in September. Having just posted a piece extolling the Indian Summers of Southern California, I feel somehow responsible (The Citrus Belt).

As the National Weather Service, Scientific Forcaster Discussion puts it for September 8th., “surprisingly strong cold front for this time of year moving through central California today. And highs ... are again shattering low maximum records in the valleys where it's been mainly in the 60s so far...”.  Let me tell you, that front rolled on through Upper Ojai and turned September into March.

It will warm up over the weekend and the summer will resume. It’s not so much that I dislike the cold, it is more that I resent the intrusion of weather into our placid lives: Southern California, as Carey McWilliams pointed out, has Climate not Weather!

In Britain, where Weather triumphs over Climate, the atmosphere oozes moisture. The phrase Scotch mist is perhaps the best, understated, description of the prevailing humidity - and is used to deny the actual phenomenum of rainfall by substituting the more benign notion of swirling vapor. I still use the term to describe any rain falling at a rate less than an inch an hour. In Upper Ojai it is debatable whether the term oil-seep comes from the same Scottish tradition of understatement: but here, it is the ground not the air that customarily oozes.

Interest in these oil seeps began, for European settlers, in 1854 when surface oil from Sulpher Mountain was collected and then refined for oil lamps. By the 1860’s, tunnels were dug into the mountain and became, for that era, highly productive generating up to 20 barrels a day. They continued in production for almost a century and a half. The last Sulphur Mountain oil tunnel was only plugged and abandoned in 1997.

Cabrillo made use of the asphaltum from seeps to caulk his flagship San Miguel on the eponymous Channel Island off Ventura in the 1540’s and it is here that he later died and is puportedly buried - although his grave has not been found. The explorers had seen the Chumash use the sticky oil to caulk their ocean-going Tomols as well as making woven baskets waterproof.

The first commercially productive well in California was in Rancho Ojai just down the Ojai Road as it heads to Santa Paula along side of Sisar creek and just north of the oil-seeping Sulphur Mountain. It was drilled to a depth of 550 feet in 1866 and produced 15-20 barrels a day.

California’s first gusher was located close by in Adam’s Canyon which winds up from the Santa Clara flood plain a little west of the 150 towards the Sulphur Mountain ridge. This blew in 1892 and 40,000 barrels ran down the canyon into the river below and were washed out to sea just south of Ventura harbor before it was capped. There were no video cameras to record the environmental damage and this, the first major oil spill in the United States, has passed quietly into History. In 1910 the greatest gusher of them all was unleashed in the Midway-Sunset field 2 miles north of Maricopa which ran unchecked for eighteen months and spilled over 8 million barrels.

Santa Barbara’s oil fields were discovered towards the end of the nineteenth century and in 1896 the County’s first off-shore well was sunk off of Summerland. The 1969, 100,000 barrel off-shore spill in the County’s Dos Cuadros field focused world-wide attention on the environmental havoc wrought by the pursuit of oil and is the event that spurred the creation of the first Earth Day, and arguably began the modern environmental movement.

This summer’s Gulf spill, at around a total of five million barrels was smaller than the Maricopa leak but occured in a far more environmentally sensitive area. Both wells are estimated to have produced, at their peak, around 100,000 barrels a day. BP’s well was finally capped in July after a three month gush.

Exactly a hundred years separates the Maricopa and the BP Deepwater Horizon spills: both were historic gushers, both, for their time, were deep wells. Maricopa reached 2,225 feet before it became productive. BP drilled over two miles into the earth’s crust to unleash their gusher (after passing through a mile of water). Clearly, the earth’s supply of oil is finite, but our technical ability to access it, by this one very rough measure, has kept pace with its increasing scarcity.

Which brings us, of course, to the Peak Oil hypothesis which is driving at least one global movement to prepare for the apocalypse (Transition). My position is, as Peter Maass suggests in his Crude World - The Violent Twilight of Oil, Knopf, New York, 2009, that we are going to keep on grubbing for fossil fuels for as long as they remain the high density/low cost energy source (Cosmic Futility). Furthermore, I would expect the eventual tapering off in oil production (it is currently increasing at quite a clip) to be exactly equalled by the increase in solar production and reductions in energy use across the transportation, industrial, shelter, appliance and communications spectra. Demand is currently around 85 M barrels a day and is growing, according to the International Energy Agency at one M barrels per day per year so that by 2030 global consumption will reach 105 M barrels per day. Fear that said barrellage will not be forthcoming is driving the Peak Oil hysteria.

Over the years I have looked forward to the impending apocalypse with all the fervid anticipation of someone brought up in a caste system genuinely believing that any revolution would most likely advance their relative position in the world. Having arrived at the realisation that by any measurement I am now in the fortunate half of the world (and fair-dibs, always was) such topsy-turvydom has inevitably less appeal. Age then, has fostered conservatism but also, I hope, an historical clear-sightedness: every century battles impending doom, be it Malthusian hunger, depopulation or the scourge of witchcraft. We have arrived at a time when, in the popular imagination, environmental despoilation, global warming and peak oil have formed the perfect doomsday trifecta.

All three are powerful notions that are shaping our world and making it less likely that we will succumb to their worst impacts. Which is to say that a little honest-to-god terror is a good thing. But if we are not quite at the point espoused by Charles Mackay, in his Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, Richard Bentley, London, 1841, it’s certainly time for a little historical perspective.

As a localore (a local-historian), I am delighted that the above examples were so geographically close at hand; as a chaparralian I am not entirely happy to be living in the oil-lands. Any debate on energy in Ojai must take account of our unique historical role in the development of the industry. It is not an abstract concern that can be dealt with by the application of the appropriate bumper-sticker. Oil is as close to the heart of Ojai as Citrus, and may well outlive it as a source of local wealth.

Three Wheeling

Chugging up the Grade in our 1977 Chevy C-10 short bed with a yard and a half of Ojai Lumber’s finest top-soil in the back, I heard a god-awful grinding and sensed the truck leaning awkwardly towards the center of the road.

I was on one of those Grade curves that turns left but provides a generous turn-out to the right - which is where I headed. I got out of the cab in time to see the back left wheel taking off down the hill. It had sheared off the axle and the truck traveled its last few yards on three wheels and a brake hub. I retrieved the wheel which came to rest against the cliff wall on the inside of the curve and collected the wheel nuts that were scattered across the road.

The potential injurious or deadly scenarios that this mechanical malfunction could have created are too numerous to catalog. Simply put, the accident (and my demise) could by now have been memorialized by a simple white roadside cross rather than my writing about it on this blog.

This is the second time that this truck has shed a wheel. The first being about eighteen months ago while my son Griffin was driving home (when we were living in Ojai) from Happy Valley around nine at night. He had just crossed over Lion Canyon Creek and was headed up towards Dennison Park. He too found a convenient turn-out and retrieved the wheel - and got on the phone. (The white-cross comments above apply equally to this drama). We drove up to the scene, called Triple A and had the vehicle towed to CJ’s automotive on the corner of Bryant and East Ojai Avenue.

Doubly-lucky then, given the strange propensity of the truck’s wide mag wheels to become un-tethered. CJ is perplexed, but blames the cheesy mag wheels that, for my son, were a big attraction when we purchased the truck.

The latest misadventure was concluded when: Abbott’s towing schlepped the truck down to CJ’s; Kim Maxwell happened by just when the truck had been successfully hoisted behind the tow-truck and drove me home; and this morning I picked up the truck with a loaner wheel attached and successfully delivered the soil to our house on Koenigstein. From Ojai Lumber the trip took about 45 hours.

This evening I wheel-barrowed the soil from truck to planter-bed. Eighteen barrow loads. The planter is now full (I had already dumped about 6” of dirt and wood chips in the bottom).

Griffin and I dry-laid concrete block on a gravel bed foundation with gopher wire beneath the bottom block across the width of the planter, it is two blocks high with a 2” cap, we grouted every other cell. We bagged it with a self-colored stucco (an Australian technique whereby a skim coat of stucco is applied with a piece of hessian - hence bagging). Four foot by sixteen. It now awaits seed.

This is a token gesture towards grow-your-own. My version of Back-Yard Romance (2010-05-13). I understand that I’m not saving the world, more like a few bucks every Sunday avoiding the more rapacious sellers at the Ojai Farmer’s Market.

We live in straitened times. A dollar saved is a dollar earned. But first we have to make back the hundred bucks spent on soil, and the two hundred and fify for block, wire and cement. Twenty bucks for seed. Say four hundred with truck repairs, gas etc. Our water costs what we consume in electricity to pump it. In time I hope to set up a 1000 gallon corrugated tank which will be fed from the pool cover pump. But at $1500 plus the cost of installation I do not expect to live long enough to recoup the outlay - but you cannot put a price on the feeling of self-righteous satisfaction that I wil have every time I water the raised bed with harvested rain water.

More immediately, I hope that the garden produces say $25 of vegetables and herbs a week. So we can offset the $400 in 4 months. The tank must be amortised against the cost of pumping water from the well. A few bucks a week, maybe 100 or so a year. I take it back: goddam it, barring white-cross events and mountain lion maulings I will too live to make back the cost of the tank and enjoy it for a further fifteen or twenty years before I or it rusts out. The well pump, by the way, is metered separately from the house and is thus not part of our grid-tied PV system. Ideally, we could make back enough from Edison to pay for that bill too. The pool cover pump runs on our house power so theoretically comes under our net zero-energy equation.

We were about $700 shy of reaching our goal last year but there were extenuating circumstances (Are We Green Yet  08-24-25), Dirty PV’s and insufficiently seasoned fire-wood for the Rais Wood Burning Stove are a part of the explanation. We were also not using the clothes drying hoist for the full year. We installed it sometime towards the end of last summer.

This last energy saver is critical. The original rotary clothes line was developed and marketed by an Australian, Lance Hill in 1945 and finally patented in1956. The Hill’s Hoist is as emblematic of the suburban Australian backyard as the barbie - at least when I was there during the 1970’s. There are now more sophisticated lighter versions than the original steel contraption and we chose to install a Swiss aluminum model manufactured by Stewi. Because the house is all-electric, clothes drying is otherwise an energy expensive proposition using the Whirlpool electric dryer.

Lorrie is now atuned to the advantages of line-drying. I grew up in a culture where the linear clothes line (usually hoisted high with a forked clothes prop), with clothes attached with rustic pegs sold door to door by gypsies, was the norm. In summer, clothes customarily went through an extra rinse cycle on the line courtesy of the endemic English ‘showers’. Timing was everything. In winter, they could go through days of thaw and freeze cycles before the perfect moment arrived for their retrieval - having achieved a state that my mother called ‘rough-dry’. Further days in the ‘airing cabinet’, a cupboard warmed by the chimney, would result in clothes that if not dry, were not actually moist to the touch.

If Tehachapi is the windiest place in the world (Dreaming 2010-09-01) then Upper Ojai in summer must rank as one of the fastest clothes drying venues on the planet. But here too, timing is important. Clothes must be retrieved before the evening chill sets in, otherwise it’s an extra day on the line.

Hot days and chill nights are the perfect prescription for a passive solar strategy with regard to interior thermal comfort. And mostly it works, but our house has too much glass to operate without a little Air Conditioning. AC is inherently inefficient - operating at about 10% of the theoretical optimum energy exchange. The only efficient air conditioner is the one that’s turned off. We try.

There is a profound connection between frugality and sustainability. We are where we are because of excessive personal consumption accross the board: Clothing, Food, Water, Energy, Transportation, Entertainment and Security. As our collective revenue streams diminish the theoretical practice of sustainability becomes financially compelling. Being ‘Green’ is a lot like practising for your retirement - getting by with less.

Our generation has put this delicious spin on genteel poverty - it has made the worn-out, the recycled, the old bicycle, the vegetable patch in the back yard and the AC set at 85 degrees - chic. And the old truck?

The Chevy doesn’t get such great mileage, but it exists in the world and will, perhaps for another twenty years. It’s a work-horse. Like Christine, the psychopathic-killer-car from the mind of Stephen King (Viking, New York, 1983), it’s had a couple of tries at decimating the family. I think it just wants respectable wheels again. CJ is on the look-out for an old set of steel rims.