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A Picnic Adventure

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We launched our boats in a lingering morning fog.

Some days just call for a picnic, and some picnics call for adventure. So went my thinking when I invited my friend Cal to join me on my favorite six mile paddle down Estero Americano to a remote beach on an unseasonably warm day in late February. Like so many intrepid leaps into what lies beyond, ours began at the end of a dirt road, where we launched our boats in a lingering morning fog.

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The rugged shore at the mouth of the Estero, looking towards Bodega Head.

The day warmed as the fog lifted and the slough opened up. We bucked a strong headwind on the last leg and beached our boats to find the waterway’s mouth closed to the Pacific despite the high tide. Finding shelter from the wind in the dunes, we spread our picnic on scraps of driftwood and enjoyed a delicious repast of boiled duck eggs, salami with cheese, olives and walnut bread, finished off with apples and strong tea with honey. Weary from the long paddle, we laid on our backs in the sand and watched the gulls drift by in the wind and a solo hawk hover uncannily still.

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We used our paddles as sails on the journey home.

With a strong wind at our backs on the voyage home, we were able to use our paddles as sails for long stretches. Our plan was to find a protected cove on the way to stop to try a little drawing and painting, but the wind was too persistent so we opted for an early return.  I look forward to breaking out the art supplies next time, but was happy enough to have the company of an old friend on real picnic adventure.

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Destination: Boredom

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Sure enough, I saw a few egret and chased a flock of bufflehead six miles to the coast when I paddled the navigable length of Estero Americano the other day, but saw no sign of coot, loon, mergenser, pelican, scaup, hawk, heron or grebe. The fact is mid-February is a relatively dormant time along the Sonoma Coast despite the recent fair weather and early arrival of spring, and most migrations have been made.

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With a light wind at my back on the outbound journey, I tested my paddling skills for a while by trying to sneak up on a floating flock of bufflehead a few hundred yards off my bow. They’d inevitably start, take off to windward and fly overhead before circling around for a water landing about a quarter mile further down the slough. With no other diversions I teased the birds for a few miles until the Estero opened up and I took a break from paddling to just drift on the current I felt tugging the boat as I neared the shore on the outgoing tide. I was sailing now, and shifted my gaze to the water itself, which seemed motionless, my boat in sync with wind and tide.

Knowing I’d have a tough return paddle, I spent the remaining outbound leg drifting, thoughtlessly steering the boat and staring at the water, lost in a reverie of pure boredom. I let myself be hypnotized by the stillness of the water, the boat’s gentle bobbing and the slowly amplifying fade of pounding surf as I neared the beach.

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It’s a rare delight to find oneself in a state of genuine boredom these days, and I had forgotten how it frees the mind. After drifting for about an hour, I found I could generate mild hallucinations by staring out at the water with unfocused eyes. The constant motion of glassy waves reflecting the surrounding land and sky animated my daydreaming, like falling asleep but remaining awake. It’s kind of funny to rediscover boredom while seeking stimulation, but refreshing to know it’s still possible; Destination: Boredom, an apt motto for exciting times.

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I was greeted by some curious cattle upon my return to the flats where I launched.


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The Scale of Now

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Stereo view of the sun by NASA, showing magnetic fields

As I develop a new body of work in wood, I find myself seeking the simple pleasure of being present in the moment with my material and tools. It’s the ultimate luxury for any artisan to act as one’s own client, which is where I began over twenty years ago. I’ve since internalized the rigors associated with producing ‘work for hire’, however free I’ve been in generating ideas along the way. Like all of my projects with wowhaus, my new body of work begins with a research phase, where I attempt to tap a set of commonly shared goals and parameters that ultimately shape a thing, place or situation, most often under strict constraints of budget, functionality and time.

Though I now have only occasional windows to indulge in exploring new ideas, I’ve earned the luxury of beginning at the beginning, which for me has to do with trying to understand what it means to ‘be present’; what exactly does ‘now’* mean when the usual constraints are removed almost entirely?

(*‘Now’ requires scale to convey meaning. Viewed as a conceptual sample-and-hold of everything happening simultaneously in the universe, the idea of ‘now’ at this scale would be meaningless, ironically resembling something more like eternity. The idea of ‘now’ needs to be understood at a human scale, in some ways as an attempt to frame or reset said scale in temporal terms. ‘Now’ does not and cannot actually exist, the flow of time and energy being in constant motion. Perhaps ‘now’ is more like an expanding membrane that defines what is perceived as ‘the present’, an edge, the shape of everything in flux at any given time. Regardless, ‘now’ can only ever be understood as a singular perspective, a consciously framed viewpoint of consciously moving in simultaneity with the rest of known reality. The perspective of ‘now’ carries most meaning when it is a consciously shared state with others, hence the value of memories and their proxy as photographs, music, or any experience of art.)


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Now Day

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We met a kid drumming to the setting sun over Portuguese Beach

Craving some time out of time to relax and refresh, we traipsed up the coast, rambled along riparian paths of redwood and red alder to remote gulches and beaches, snoozing, snacking and staring into the waves. We had a Now Day, checked our concerns at the door and followed our noses into the open air of a perfect October day. I had forgotten how when you drop into the zone of a heightened Now, you tend to find simpatico souls. Living in West Africa, we would find entire villages whose primary occupation was to trouvez la joie; “On doit partager la joie!”. While this may not be the best strategy for productivity, it sure makes for happy times, and the days invariably transition into night with everyone gathered around open fires, drumming and dancing. No amount of wealth can replicate such shared contentment in the moment. Sure enough, we found some kindred spirits on our journey into the day, most notably a kid who set up his sparkly red trap kit on a bluff overlooking Portuguese Beach, offering up a bop-brushy soundtrack to the setting sun.



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Kathy’s Table

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Coffee Table in Paradox Walnut, 7’L x 30″W x 20″H

My brother in law recently commissioned a coffee table for my sister’s 50th birthday. The table was to be the centerpiece of the ample living room of a large house they recently moved to outside of Philadelphia, to be situated in front of a nine foot sofa opposite a grand, stone fireplace.

The challenge for me has been to design and make a table that compliments both the open, contemporary plan of their new home, a converted carriage house with large interior volumes, and the more traditional profile of their existing furnishings. They wanted the table to have a certain formality for entertaining, while being relaxed enough to accommodate and encourage daily lounging- the table needed to double as an ottoman and auxiliary dining table, without too much worry about supporting the inevitable feet up, dishes and glasses, reading materials and such. I also embraced the challenge of making a piece of furniture with a distinctly Californian provenance that worked in the fairly traditional interior of a home in my native Philadelphia. Most important, I relished the opportunity of making a beloved family heirloom for my older sister that will feature so prominently in the daily life of her family.

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I styled the top to suggest a vintage, ‘egg’ surfboard

To support a conversational ring of seating surrounding the table, I opted for an oblong oval, and based the shape of the top on vintage surfboards known as ‘eggs’, knowing the reference would not go unnoticed by my brother in law and two nieces, all avid surfers. I made the entire table of wood milled locally from the same tree, a Paradox Walnut I had been saving for just the right thing for over a decade. The top is laminated from two solid, book-matched slabs, measuring about 7’ x 30” by 1.75” thick. Further obviating the surfboard theme, the top has a gentle figure, reminiscent of lapping waves. I referenced traditional Chinese furniture in the proportions and unadorned styling of the base, giving a nod to the influence of Asian art in both contemporary ‘studio furniture’ and late colonial furniture design. The base gains structure and functionality with the addition of a slatted shelf beneath the tabletop, a place to stow books and magazines, keeping the top clear and strikingly visible.

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The rack beneath adds both structure and functionality

This is the second coffee table off the bench, and I thank my brother in law for prompting my thinking about this form of furniture. Coffee tables have such a rich history, and feature so prominently in American homes, I’ve become somewhat obsessed, and plan to make a series exploring possibilities for innovation within the form. My research has taught me that ‘coffee tables’ first appeared in public life in England in the 16th century, along with coffee, in coffee houses inspired by exchange with the Ottoman Empire.

Known as ‘one-penny-universities’, English coffee houses of the 16th century were popular public meeting places where ideas were exchanged around low tables recalling those used by bedouin traders. A century later, the form morphed into portable ‘tea tables’ in aristocratic circles, reflecting the new-found popularity of tea, following colonization of India. Beginning in the Victorian era, low tables came into vogue in domestic interiors throughout Europe and America, heralding the emergence of a sophisticated, middle class with the leisure, dedicated space and time to host public gatherings at home.

The form has remained a ubiquitous staple of family life ever since, with subtle variations in styling to adapt to new materials, technologies and patterns of use along the way- radio, TV, laptops, etc, but the primary function of providing a place for convivial gathering has remained constant. I’ve become an enthusiastic advocate for encouraging the role of coffee tables in domestic life, and am very grateful that my brother in law had the insight and trust to commission my first. Thanks, Jeff!


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Five Levels

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I’ve tried to map the five levels of consciousness detected during lucid dreams

I don’t normally lend much weight to dreams, but for the past couple of years I’ve been having a randomly recurring type of dream, where whatever the action, I suddenly become aware of myself dreaming, and can make things happen, like flying. On occasion, just before I wake up I have the presence of mind within the dream to be a passive observer, and pay attention to the actors and the narrative. The little glimpses I’ve had of this dream state have enabled me to count five levels of consciousness happening simultaneously within and outside of the dream:

  1. The sleeping dreamer
  2. The character(s) in the dream
  3. The director of the action
  4. The objective observer
  5. The primordial life force

Upon waking, the five separate levels merge back together into one seamless state. It has me thinking that maybe one of the functions of sleep, or of dreaming, is to spread out and tinker with the multiple layers of consciousness so they work more harmoniously in the course of day to day life.


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Dory Revival

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The mouth of Tomales Bay

As a lifelong student and enthusiast of small boat design, my tastes lean towards working craft, which I define as any boat whose primary goal is to reach a destination, either as transportation or in the seasonal pursuit of a fishery. Working craft adapt and evolve over generations of trial and error, in direct response to changes in the marine ecology, material flow and related market conditions that sustain their relevance.

I’ve always been particularly drawn to tidal estuaries and the associated types of boats- shallow draft, narrow beam, easy to beach and responsive to power by oar or sail, able to carry a load. Flat bottomed sharpies still catch my eye, especially double-enders, but dories are in a class by themselves. What they lack in speed and simplicity of construction compared to the sharpie, they make up for in sea-worthiness.

I like to associate a certain type of hull with a particular waterway, and find myself conjuring a hull type when I encounter an unfamiliar waterway, as a means to better understand it. I live near the mouth of Tomales Bay, where it opens out to the Pacific through a shallow channel characterized by shifting sands and breaking waves. It’s a popular destination for surfing, sea kayaking and sport fishing, but I have yet to see any contemporary craft that truly suits its character, able to negotiate the passage. When the Bay supported a herring fishery, the preferred boats were a type of dory, but the hull shape vanished along with the fishery over a generation ago.

I was delighted recently to stumble upon a first edition copy of John Gardner’s scholarly classic, “The Dory Book”, and have been studying its many lines drawings and construction plans. My goal is to design a hull that hybridizes the best characteristics of various types of dory, in response to the exigencies of Tomales Bay. I’d love to build a small boat for fishing, camp cruising on beaches, and making an occasional, fair weather excursion off-shore when the conditions are just right.

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Original cover of ‘The Dory Book’ by John Gardner


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