Sunday, June 26, 2011

Nitt Witt Ridge

One of the highlights of our trip to Cambria was a tour of Nitt Witt Ridge. We'd heard about this place for years. It's a California Historic Landmark, right in town, just up a few side streets on the side of a hill. The tour is well worth it--Mike, the property's current owner, tells a good tale.

The story is this: Arthur Harold Beal came to Cambria ca. 1928 with the love of his life, Gloria, who left him. He stayed on and for years served as the town's garbage collector, often dumping the trash at his property. He built his house entirely from found materials. A local eccentric, he was known as "Der Tinkerpaw" and "Captain Nitt Witt." That's him on the TV screen--part of the tour is a short video clip of an appearance he made on the TV show "Real People" in the 1970s.

Some of the unique features of the property: the house is held up by columns made of tire rims filled with concrete. Beal ran the house's water pipes above ground and used them for handrails. He also loved toilets, using them for planters and picture frames--you lift up the seat to see the picture.

Other stories about Beal: he never knew his father, and his mother was a Klamath Indian who died in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake; he was a long-distance swimmer in his youth; he was a good cook who worked at various restaurants in town; and he wrote love poetry all his life--supposedly the local library has his book.

In its heyday, the house was almost beautiful. Even now, in a state of ruin, it remains "one of California's remarkable 20th century folk art environments."

Friday, June 17, 2011

Cambria, San Simeon, Ragged Point

We ended our trip up north with two nights in Cambria at our favorite place on Moonstone Beach Drive, San Simeon Pines. From there it's just a hop, skip, and a jump to visit the elephant seals at San Simeon. This time of year, the beaches are filled with teenage males practicing their fighting skills, plus "weaners," the babies who are living off their own body fat and teaching themselves to swim.

The coastline was bursting with flowers this year. I have never seen it so colorful and abundant. These whitish blooms to the right had an incredible perfume that filled the air. If anyone knows what they are, please let me know!

From San Simeon we headed up Highway 1 to Ragged Point, at which point the road is currently closed. More flowers, great views of the rugged coastline, and great lunches too--our fish tacos disappeared before we could get a picture of them.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


Our recent trip up north included a visit with family in Los Altos. Many thanks to Bob and Judy Dahl for taking us to Filoli, a 654-acre country estate built in the early 1900s. It's located in Woodside, 30 miles south of San Francisco, and is considered an American castle. The original owner was William Bourn, whose wealth came primarily from the Empire gold mine in Grass Valley.

While the house is impressive, the English-style gardens are even more so. There are extensive terraces, a sunken garden, a rose garden, herb garden, and much more--even a bonsai collection and very sculptural English plane trees.

The sheer volume of blooming plants is almost beyond belief. I saw more pansies, one of my favorite flowers, than I have ever seen planted in one place. (All those purple flowers in the background above are pansies, and they were everywhere!) We went for an extensive walk around the grounds, then had lunch at the on-site cafe.

BTW: Bourn invented the name "Filoli" by taking the letters Fi, Lo, and Li from his personal credo: “Fight for a just cause; Love your fellow man; Live a good life.” Personally, I was hoping the Fi stood for something like Fidelity, but there you have it!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Gardens and Eatin': Sycamore Mineral Springs

The first trip Bill and I ever took was to Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort in Avila Beach. Last week, since we were headed up north to visit family, we decided to make it a trip down Memory Lane. Like before, we stayed in one of the Mythical Suites, up all those stairs, with a private hot tub on a patio out back. We love the sulfur mineral water--it's hot, hot, hot!

The grounds are as lush as ever, bordered by immense sycamore trees. This bridge leads across the road to a meditation garden and labyrinth.

We had incredible food here for both dinner and breakfast. In fact it was at breakfast the next morning when we decided to extend our trip. Though we couldn't get reservations here for Memorial Day weekend, we did find a room at our favorite place in Cambria. So for the next few blog posts, the journey down Memory Lane will continue!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Poetry Update

Good news on the poetry front--a poem of mine, "Songlines," has won second place in a competition with the theme of "Trees" sponsored by the Wildling Art Museum in Los Olivos. An exhibit of poems and photographs on the theme will open on June 4. For more information click here

Here is the poem, inspired by two desert trees: the juniper and Joshua tree. I've noticed that junipers seem to grow in patterns, or lines--the photo above was taken in our backyard where six trees are growing more or less in a line, and more or less evenly spaced--you can see three of them in the photo. As for the Joshua trees, the sound the wind makes passing through them really does sound like the sea.


I follow the junipers’ hum
across the wash and up the rise.

They are jade beads
in a necklace, strung
with blackbush and pencil cholla.

In these tan, eroded hills,
widening circles of creosote
chant to sky and granite.

Dead weeds shake
their tasseled heads,
dissonance underfoot.

Waves of air break
at a Joshua tree
and roar like a distant sea.

I also have two more desert poems, "Blackbush" and "Shadow of a Hawk," in the online journal, Inlandia: A Literary Journey. This publication specializes in writers from the Inland Empire, i.e. San Bernardino and Riverside counties. To read these poems and the rest of the current issue, click here

And to learn more about the Inlandia Institute, a nonprofit literary center that supports regional writers with a wealth of resources and events, click here