Earth Day, from The Writer’s Almanac

Today is Earth Day. And it’s also the 40th anniversary of the  first Earth Day — held on this day in 1970 and widely considered to the birth  of the modern environmental movement.
  Earth Day’s founder was a senator  from Wisconsin,  Gaylord Nelson.  His goal was to force environmental issues  onto the national agenda. Before 1970, stories about the  environment were almost never reported. One Earth Day organizer  said that back then, ‘Environment was a word that appeared more often in spelling bees  than on the evening news.’
  In  1969, an oil pipe ruptured just off the coast of Santa  Barbara, California,  causing 200,000 gallons of crude oil to burst forth and then slowly leak out  and spread over an 800-square-mile slick. It took 11 days to plug the hole. The oil poisoned seals and dolphins, whose corpses washed up  onto California  beaches, and it killed thousands of seabirds as well. Senator Nelson visited the site of  the enormous ecological disaster and was outraged that nobody in Washington seemed to be concerned about the  great devastation to the natural environment. And then he realized that many  people simply didn’t really know.
  So  he proposed a national ‘teach-in,’ an event to take place on  universities campuses around the nation, one that would educate the public,  raise awareness on environmental issues, and make politicians pay attention to  these things, so that they would make laws to protect the environment in order  to, as he said, ‘stem the tide of environmental disaster.’
  He  saw how successful the anti-war protestors were at getting media coverage — and therefore, making politicians take notice — and he decided to base his campaign for environmental awareness on  their model. He also hoped to infuse the same student anti-war energy into the  environmental cause. He proposed setting aside one day a year as a national day  of observance about environmental problems. The  New York Times picked up the story in late September 1969, a great boon to  the grassroots organizers of the campaign, who had no Internet to spread the  word.
  At first, Senator Nelson called it  National Environment Teach-In Day, but his friend, a New York advertising executive suggested  ‘Earth Day,’ especially catchy since it rhymes with  ‘birthday,’ and that’s what the press began to call it. Historian Adam Rome has called Earth  Day the ‘most famous unknown event in modern American history.’
    About 20 million Americans  participated in the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970. They gathered at assemblies  in high school gyms, at university plazas, in suburban city parks. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where Gaylord Nelson had  graduated from law school, people met up at 4:45 a.m. for an ‘Earth  Service,’ where, according to one report, they ‘greeted the sunrise  with a Sanskrit invocation and read together from Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson,  Thoreau, and the Bible.’ Girl Scouts distributed pamphlets that Wisconsin grad students had written, which gave household  tips for helping to preserve the environment. Tens of thousands met up in Philadelphia’s Fairmont  Park — and stayed there for days — and 100,000 streamed into Fifth Avenue in New York City. People celebrated spring  weather and gave impassioned political speeches about environmental issues.
  Though unstructured and somewhat incohesive, Earth Day  was hugely successful. Environmental issues found a prominent place on the  political agenda. Earth Day in April 1970 helped lead to the creation of the  Environmental Protection Agency by the end of that year (the EPA was created  December 2, 1970), as well as to the passage of legislation like the Clean Air,  Clean Water, and Endangered Species acts.


Precious Bodily Fluids in the Ferragosto Pictures

Cy Twombly , Ferragosto V, 1961

OK, so maybe it’s not worth a whole blog entry, and it’s too long for Twitter, but I’m very proud of a title for a grad school paper I wrote on the painter Cy Twombly. My prof made me shorten the paper: too broad. So the title had to go.

Twombly is one of the great painters of the 20th Century; expressive, evocative, painterly. While his friend Robert Rauschenberg was doing huge collages and “Combines,” Twombly was creating large canvases with various types of scrawlings, markings and mysterious geometric forms and numbers. These canvases are remarkable for their seeming spontaneity and order.

In 1961, Twombly was living in Italy, “while holed up in Rome during August, when the town was nigh abandoned and the heat was stifling” (according to a “lot note” on, and the brilliant paintings that he produced were stratling and unfettered. The so-called “Ferragosto” pictures were eruptions of (metaphorical) blood, feces and – how to put it delicately….

Child-like scratchings of gushing pink penises, blood-red breasts, and messy smears of brown paint (scatology) cover the huge canvases, and are testament to a painter who was not bound by the niceties of Abstract Expressionism, and certainly not the stoic rigors of Minimalism. They are viscerally, powerfully erotic, in the sense that they evoke a child-like shock at the primal power of the erotic impulse.

The paintings have a jazz-like power and inventiveness, and dance like the best improvisation (as in, for example, scat singing).  There are no bourgeois conventions separating us from the primacy of the aesthetic experience.

At the same time, one could argue, like all great art, Twombly’s Ferragosto pictures evoke the Sublime, and, therefore issues of life and death. They are agitated, quivering, questioning. In that sense, they deal with the soul, and even, one could argue, Death.

So, here’s the punch line: The title of my paper was to be, “Scat, Scatology & Eschatology in the Work  of Cy Twombly.”

Image: Ferragosto V, 1961.

Petite Flowers Growing Out of a Crack

I was walking up the stairs at the Monterey Plaza Hotel on Cannery Row, back to my “office” (Cafe La Strada), when I noticed some flowers on the steps. Upon closer inspection I noticed that they were growing out of a small crack in the concrete steps. As I was stooping to photograph them, a woman walked by and marveled at the little white flowers. “We’re all striving to come into the world through obstacles.”

Trip to Pfeiffer Beach

Holes in the Offshore Rock

Once in a while I remember why I moved to CA: The Beach. I am fortunate to live a 10-minute walk to a sublimely rocky coast, and I visit regularly. But when I want to go “Archetypal California,” I head for Big Sur. Since I don’t have a car, I’m a bit geographically challenged, but fortunately, the #22 goes to Big Sur and back. It only makes two trips, and this time of year only deigns to travel on weekends. But it gets me there.

This morning, I took the 1X into Monterey, which arrives at the top of the hour. The only 22 leaves at 10:45, so I have 45 minutes to kill, and I was killing it Twittering on my iPhone. I looked at the clock, which said 10:44, so I raced over the bus plaza, and, long story short, missed the bus. I was feeling downhearted, and a guy on the #2, who grew up in Big Sur, encouraged me to take the 24 to Carmel, and, “Maybe a [Big Sur] local will show you some love.”

I got to Rio Road, walked over the turnout on Route 1, and stuck out my thumb. Now, I’m 56, and haven’t done much hitchhiking since my hippy days, and it felt a bit weird, but I was determined to get to Pfeiffer Beach. About 15 minutes later, a black Mercedes SUV pulled over, and I got in. The driver was a jazz pianist from New Orleans, heading for a Joseph Campbell conference at Esalen. So, we had a great time talking about jazz, his trauma around Katrina, and New Orleans lore. He handed me his card as I slid out the door.

The walk to the beach is a beautiful winding two-mile road, but I stuck out my thumb again so I would have a bit more time at the beach. A nice older couple picked me up in a moss-colored Prius; they were working on the Census, trying to track people down in the Big Sur wilderness.

I had to remove my shoes to ford the small stream passing over the road, and wandered down the path through the woods to the beach. The only thing keeping it from being perfection was a headache. It was a bit overcast but sunny and warm, and as I lay on the beach, it got to be hot. I wandered up the beach, taking photographs of the rocky shore, the rocky beach. A hawk drifted overhead. I took off my pants so I could wade out to a little rock outcropping, and found a smorgasboard of black turban snails, anemone and mussels. The sun beat down, and the salt spray tinted my glasses.

I was tempted to go in; a couple of people were in the water. The guy attempting to surf wore a wetsuit. I felt a little strange wandering along the beach in my underwear, but, hey, it’s California.

I left myself plenty of time, in case I had to walk all the way back uphill to Route 1. I forded the stream again, and stuck out my thumb. Shortly, a new black Altima pulled over, and I squeezed in behind the couple. They were both art teachers, escaping the overheated Inland Empire. Before we reached the main road, the guy driving said they were going north, and could take me into Monterey. Great! We had a wonderful time, talking about art, teaching, the Rez (he teaches on a reservation), and I have them some incredibly helpful hints as to where to go in the Monterey area. We had a great time.

Last time I was down that way, I got a travel tip from a seasoned hitcher, a tall young man with long reddish hair, long beard and a huge dirty pack. “The cops don’t bother you on Route 1 between Carmel and San Luis Obispo.” I told him about my run-in with the authorities on a recent hitchhiking debacle.

I got into town earlier than if I would have if I had taken the bus, so I meandered along the bike path to Café La Strada, got an iced tea, and sat outside in the sun and looked at my photos.  My goal is to get to Big Sur, or at least Point Lobos, every weekend, and, after today, I’m thinking I will skip the bus altogether.

Is Your Lettuce Trying to Kill You?

Dr. Jeff Langholz, a professor at MIIS (Monterey Institute of International Studies) revealed some of the horrors of large-scale farming at the most recent Center for Ocean Solutions (Twitter @oceansolutions) policy meeting. 

Did you know that huge corporations like McDonalds, Wal•Mart, Wendy’s, Costco and many others, demand, in what Langholz calls a “food safety arms race,” that farmers, including small organic farmers, destroy wildlife? These gargantuan purveyors of lettuce (and other crops) have demanded – against environmental law, as a matter of fact – that, for the sake of “food health,” farmers must comply with certain horrific practices like wiping out all the wildlife on and around their farms? They also must provide “buffer zones” – once natural areas, that have been reduced to raw dirt – to make killing the animals easier. The dead zones make it easier for E. coli to wash in from farms where cattle are raised. Farmers are often required by these corporations – not the government – to fill in adjacent wetlands, and even poison the water. 

Also, PVC pipes filled with “rodenticides,” are required by some buyers like Wal•Mart to be placed every 50 to 100 feet around the perimeter of the farm. In other words, there is a “scorched earth policy” in place to ensure “food safety.”

So, next time you eat a double cheeseburger with (Salinas) lettuce from McDonalds (a polymorphously unhealthy act), or buy lettuce at Costco or Wal•Mart, you are supporting a tragically unhealthy farming system, which perversely decimates Nature and poisons the soil in the name of ensuring our health. 

The moral? Buy locally grown, organic produce. “How can you be sure your farmers market produce is free of chemicals?” I asked Dr. Langholz at dinner. “You can’t.” But, you know what? I’ll take my chances. Oh, and lettuce in bags is a great way to grow E. coli bacteria.

By the way, the dinner after the talk was a wonderful, catered melange of (I hope free-range) chicken, rice, veggie stir-fry, Chinese dumplings, beer and wine. The place-settings for the dinners, held once a month in the Heritage Harbor complex, are a “mess kit” of reusable cup, plate, stainless flatware – even a serrated Ikea knife with a woven cover! 

Dr. Langholz’s research focuses on biodiversity conservation and sustainable development.” (from MIIS site) Dr. Langholz’ talk – and study – are titled, “Safe & Sustainable.” You can download his thorough report at