In need of an adventure, we went to find the pianos that had been left on the beaches of Hwy 1. The pianos were left as an act of peaceful artistic rebellion, connected to Oakland by the pianos, but disconnected from the violence of recent days. You can listen to the story here: http://blogs.kqed.org/newsfix/2013/07/19/104136/-pianos-beach

Hwy 1 is  close to where we live, but we never go. It’s been so long since I was there that I forgot how it’s always winter. San Francisco fog is a toothless sissy relative to the Hwy 1 & Pacifica fog, laughable in comparison.

We left our sunny, warm little island home, descended into fog to find carload after carload of families shopping in the little towns, eating the local, organically-grown salad greens and artichokes, admiring Californians’ knack for arranging terrariums with air plants sticking out of them and our creative use of succulents .

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Although the radio story made it sound like people were driving along the coast and were like, “hey! Was that a piano on the beach? We better go back and check that out,” we didn’t see any pianos. Heck, one of the beaches mentioned in the story didn’t even have an obvious road near it. Maybe the GPS and the damn Apple maps were to blame. Nonetheless despite the damp cold and gray, the parking lots were full of cars, so we figured we’d just follow a line of traffic. What would sane people be doing on the beach in this weather if not gathering around a piano?

We pulled into a parking lot and found ourselves in the middle of caravan of Indian families. The children were running between the women, who had returned to the cars and were trying to get the sand off themselves and the children, and the men. The men were in a group by the bathrooms, their large bellies pushing open the unbuttoned shirts, their laughter echoing off the concrete building.

We walked to a path in the plant-covered dunes, waiting for an elderly woman with sore feet to be assisted, almost pulled from the path back toward the cars. We walked to the edge of the cliff to look out over the beach, unmarred by pianos. There were several groups of people lining the edge of the water staring out at the ocean.

There was a dead sea lion at the edge of the water, being pushed onto the beach by the tide. A group stood, their backs to us, directly in front of the mass, watching the waves push it to shore and pull it back to the ocean.

 “You know one of my skulls at home is a sea lion skull that came from this shore.”


“Yeah, back when Scott and I were first friends, we were walking on this beach and found the body way up past the water line. About 50 feet later we found the head all picked clean.”

Coincidentally we had mentioned Scott on our drive up to the beach, with Michael wondering if I ever heard from him. A sudden marriage, followed by a house purchase and a baby, and Scott’s life has been transformed. I presume Scott is either immersed in or subsumed by family life; so goes the march of time. I trust all is well, the old ways replaced by the richness of new life. Like a sea lion without its head: there are larger concerns at some point.

From the edge of the cliff, we backtracked to the parking lot and went down the stairs to the beach. At the base of the cliff there were several tents full of families. A tent full of young people swayed and bucked in the intense wind. They huddled inside wrapped in blankets, shrieking with laughter. A couple of little kids scampered around the outside, running back toward the tent’s opening at the sound of merriment.

The group of sea lion watchers had moved down the beach and we took their place, watching the massive tube-shaped creature roll in and roll out. Its skin was blotchy, perhaps covered in barnacles, naturally mottled, or discolored by death.

Slightly south of the rolling body, a bunch of kids ran shrieking into the waves after a soccer ball one of the fathers threw in. It disappeared under the breaking waves, springing to the surface as the wave withdrew, with screaming children in splashing pursuit. In and out the waves crashed, pushing the sea lion ever closer to the children who maintained their position in front of their family, oblivious to the sea lion’s approach.

We were hypnotized for a while by the ocean. What an amazing ecosystem. It is full of sea lion blood and skin and bones and the place where we dive face first into the waves looking for shells and chasing soccer balls. We swim amid the remnants of lives that used to be, in the medium of lives becoming, all co-mingling with every wave.

A Moment at the Beach

Year of the Snake and the Rejuvenation of the Blog

How does one dust off a blog site and fire it up again? Inspired by the Chinese Year of the Snake, I suppose one could wriggle out of the old skin with the new epidermal layer ready for business: a radical yet commonplace act of rejuvenation.

In the months since the last blog, I’ve asked myself, “What is the point of writing?”

The answer that seems most true is that writing is a way to think aloud about an image or idea. I have found that when I don’t sit down to explore and write about a character, image, or phrase, they start to gather and linger outside my door, demanding my attention when I try to go about my business. “Hey lady, can I talk to you for a minute?” The crow that perches itself on the garage roof cawing at my window for days. The image of a young girl delivering newspapers in the almost-dawn hours, her breath and her vulnerable self hovering just before her as she walks down the road. They wait like ghosts and I can’t get past them.

These images become a worry stone in my pocket that I fuss over. I don’t get very far, because my mind fusses over what it knows, again and again. When I sit to write it out, I find the nuance, the “catch” at the heart of the thing. The writing gives me space to approach, examine, and pause.

This blog was the brain child of my friend Donna. She, Michael and I were having dinner (a horrible dinner) on New Years Eve 2012, when we all agreed to start blogging. One blog emerged from the agreement, this one. Since then Donna has cajoled, encouraged, pushed and prodded me on, not even content when I was writing semi regularly. “More,” she said. “Write more.”


As Ann Lamott said about writing in a recent-ish article in salon.com, “…just do it. No one cares if you write or not, so you have to.”

There is a Jim-sized Hole in the Heart of Things

Where does one start when writing about a friend who has died? It’s hard to know. So I’m starting with his death, hardly the beginning nor the end.

I met Jim Julin through my friend Sue, or at least I think that’s how it went. I met several people who I thought had Friend Potential when I moved to Rockford, Illinois. Turned out they were all friends with each other and called themselves the Foster Family. It’s a tight, but open group bonded together by love & respect, unhampered by bullshit so far as I can tell, blessed with a love of food, art, bonfires & revelry. Jim was at the center of this group in many ways.

Jim seemed to be at the center of many circles, which may have had something to do with mass. Jim was a big man, so it seemed energetically appropriate that he would be the denser star at the center of our various solar systems, with all the people who loved him orbiting in some established proximity to his radiance.

I feel fortunate that I visited Rockford recently. Before going, I sent an email out to a few of “the group” hoping they’d gather at Octane, a favorite downtown spot where one could often find Jim in the evening. He had a seat at the bar, close to the door, so he was the first person you’d see if he was there—a welcoming presence.  I followed up with Jim individually, because I hadn’t heard from him. Here’s the way that went:

 “Hey Jim! Will I see you on Friday?


It turns out that will be the last email exchange I’ll ever have with Jim. While on the one hand it feels inadequate in its brevity, given its posthumous importance. On the other hand, it is absolutely perfect. It’s Jim in a nutshell.

Within ten days of that email exchange, we learned that Jim had gone into the hospital for one thing, but after surgery the doctors determined he was full of cancer and had days, if lucky, to live. He was in such bad shape that the doctors put him into a medical coma and, according to my sources, did not know if he would ever wake.

Jim did wake and was surrounded by a crowd of family and chosen family, his community of friends. His friends brought wine, Fosters, stories, music and love. They filled his room and his final days. They helped his beloved sister Chris deal with the unthinkable. If nothing else, Jim Julin knew to the very bottom of his soul that he was loved, celebrated, and honored.

One of the things that I come back to is that I wish I had savored more conversation with Jim the last time I saw him. I have not yet outgrown the naïve, or maybe optimistic, belief that there will always be a next time, that our paths will cross again, that life is long. I need to do better in savoring the moments, even as I scramble to “get it all done.” What is most important to the heart and soul must be prioritized, as much as possible.

Life may not have gone exactly the way Jim would have wanted. There was a time I know that he longed for female companionship and regretted the lack of it in his life. But he also loved life more than almost anyone I know. He seemed amused and pleased by all of it and all of us on some level. What a great operating philosophy or way of life.

Jim marked a place in the community and it had the feeling of Home. It’s hard to imagine the sudden loss of that, but here we are.

See you on the other side, Jim. It will be one hell of a party when we all catch up with you.

Photo credit: Nels Akerlund Photography