Wednesday, November 1, 2017

What are the chances?

Judith files this report:

These days drapes are passe — people want wide open views and especially when they include massive trunks of heritage California Oaks punctuated with squirrels leaping limb to limb in a scurry to gather acorns. So when the realtors of my dad's condo in Rossmoor said the drapes had to go, down they went but it seemed a shame to toss out the yards of fabric.

When I heard that Toni Littlejohn was hosting a workshop where artist ocean lovers can create prayer flag offerings for Michael Stocker's Ocean Conservation Research benefit art sale, I thought the expanse of white cotton drapery lining would be a perfect material for the flags.

Toni agreed and in appreciation served up a delicious lunch accompanied by a free ranging conversation. She regaled me with stories about visiting with the friendly whales in San Ignacio Lagoon in Baja and about swimming literarily and figuratively in the pre-dawn light in Tomales Bay. She had wise words about what it means to be feeling and getting older and the benefits of ping-pong's lively back-and-forth.

As an abstract painter Toni enacts, through her work, the vitality of gesture. So when I mentioned Varnedoe's "Pictures of Nothing" a transcription of his A.W. Mellon lectures we spun into an appreciation of Pollock. "Pollocks work allowed for the forceful expression of chance in the way the paint fell uncontrollably in spatters and rips across the canvas, dissolving traditional distinctions between figure and ground."  

Hmmmm...expression of chance...

Toni's was thrilled to show me  Mars: The Pristine Beauty of the Red Planet.  Page after page of close-up photographs of Mars taken by the most powerful camera ever sent to another planet. The astonishing detail reveals surface patterns that have an uncanny similarity to Toni's large scale paintings and to wave patterns of sand on the beach.

Surface of Mars

Lightbulb on Kehoe Beach
Chance are...on Kehoe Beach

After a relaxing visit with Toni, I headed for the beach. It had been awhile so I was surprised to hike the high and dry new trail that parallels above the old trail that slogged through the marsh. You take the high road...

On the beach there was plenty of the regular littoral litter: water bottles and bottle caps, tipparillo tips, shotgun wads, balloons. In a shock of color, against the fog and muted gray of the sand, a rare find — a fuschia elephant. 

As I packed it into my collecting bag, I felt triumphant and could have headed for home. But I was intrigued by the sight of an new sweep of sand at the cliff end of the beach. The usual rubble of rocks was gone. A great mystery— were they were washed away? or they were covered by sand that had made its way to the beach? Went I bent closer to inspect, I discovered a snarl of string and fabric. As I unfurled the mess, I shuddered at the miracle. Never in almost 20 years of collecting plastic from the beach have we ever found even one flag but there they were twisted and turned, a long string of tattered flags that had been buffeted by the wind and the waves. What a strange and glorious serendipity.

Call it portend or premonition,
 an omen, a blessing, a great prayer.


When presenting our artwork, we are often asked if we have done something to the color. Never!!! From the brilliant hue of that fuschia elephant to the bright red of bottle caps we are always amazed at the vibrancy of what catches our eye and how the color and texture of plastic stands out from the sand. For our Kehoe Beach Prayer Flags we were inspired by the vivid colors of Tibetan Prayer flags and their meaning. Blue symbolizes the sky and space, white symbolizes the air and wind, red symbolizes fire, green symbolizes water, and yellow symbolizes earth. 

During our 20 year-long project, collecting plastic from Kehoe Beach, we've been on an ongoing quest to find out how an aesthetic mind transforms plastic pollution into something meaningful, something beautiful to see. Along the way we've met the texts of powerful thinkers like Mary Douglas, Emile Durkheim, Mircea Eliade who all probe the question, what is allowed inside the Temple, the sacred space, and what must remain outside as the profane, as the "dirt?" We wonder if there is there an alchemy in the creative process linked to transformative action? 

After collecting over three tons of plastic from one beach we have tuned the simplest action of picking up trash to the highest value of re-enchantment. After all, we call our practice "Stoop Yoga" having bent over and picked every piece of plastic, one piece at a time, depicted in the pictures on these flags.

The flags will fly at Toby's Feed Barn in Point Reyes, November 11-18 and will be sold at a special event on Nov 18 at 2 PM.

Michael Stocker, founder of OCR, is a renown expert on sounds in the ocean:
"Ever-increasing ocean noise pollution is affecting all life in the ocean. Loud noise from expanding military, industrial, fossil fuel and off-shore energy activities in the sea is creating an "acoustic smog" that is increasingly deafening all marine animal. OCR is seeking policy and practice solutions to this growing dilemma"

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Head and Shoulders

Back in April we were contacted by TerraCycle about a special project to collect beach plastic that would be used in the making of limited edition bottles for the worlds  #1 shampoo brand Head & Shoulders. Proctor and Gamble is championing this experimental use of beach plastic in an effort to find a way to use some of the estimated 5.25 tons (and counting) pieces of plastic cycling around the gyres and winding up on beaches. 

With a swirl of family obligations and an eclipse trip to Oregon, this summer we have been on the go and slow to fill the super-sack shipping bags TerraCycle provided. Almost full, we hoped to top them off on Coastal Clean Up Day. Marilyn Englander who has been the beach captain supervising the Coastal Commission's cleanup day at Kehoe for eleven years offered to separate the plastics from the trash so that we could finally get our bags on their way TerraCycle. 

Typically this late-summer time of year plastic can be scarce, plus on Coastal Clean Up Day the competition can be fierce. Not only is there the vying for who can get the most there is always the quest for the most unusual. Along with the typical finds, every year there is always something strange and something outrageous.

Among the people who come out for Coastal Clean Up Day there is heartfelt camaraderie. To be with kindred spirits gathered together in devotion to cleaning up the planet is an uncanny pleasure and especially when enjoying a beautiful day with old and news friends. This premier volunteer event is a time to step away from our screens and the multiple distractions of our daily lives and into the restorative beauty of the nature.

Barbara Bonander, Kay Ryan                                                      Marilyn Englander

Some two and a half millennia ago The Buddha coined the term "monkey mind" to describe the capricious, easily distracted mental state of “Kapicitta.” He defined it best when he said; "Just as a monkey swinging through the trees grabs one branch and lets it go only to seize another, so too, that which is called thought, mind or consciousness arises and disappears continually both day and night."  Accompanied by the chattering monkey of our internal monologue, with all of that noise, it is almost impossible to be present and focused on the moment. Instead we are carried away. We give our attention to too many things at once. We rush from one thing to another, focusing on what we are yet to do instead of what we are currently doing. There are dozens of trees with enticing fruit for our monkey to chase. 

For a calming look at dispelling the monkey, watch this Danish woodworker actually make a toy monkey. 

This is the exact opposite of "monkey mind" in case you were wondering.

On Coastal Clean Up Day there is only one thing in mind — picking up trash. To pick out (and up) the tinniest flecks that look like food to birds and the heavy snarls of entangled rope that trap marine mammals, collecting trash requires a particular kind of selective attention. Being on the case, eyes scanning out to the horizon and beyond.

The Mercury News reported:
"With about 80 percent of the nearly 1,000 cleanup sites reporting data by 5 p.m. Saturday, Eben Schwartz, marine debris program manager at the Coastal Commission, said 54,101 volunteers had collected 533,671 pounds of trash, including more than 23,000 pounds of recyclables. Typically, about 75 percent of the take is plastic, Schwartz said, and pulling it out before it has a chance to degrade prevents it from adding to the 51 trillion plastic bits the United Nations says are filling the oceans and being eaten by marine life."

Although our stalwart team of eleven at Kehoe Beach might be by comparison a small group, we were mighty and dare we say, head and shoulders above the rest. We brought in 90 pounds off the beach: 28 pounds of trash and 62 pounds of recyclables that included 7 Handi-snack cheese spreaders, 2 Starbuck's coffee cup plugs, 1 Superball, 1 tiny toy horse, 41 shotgun wads, 5 shotgun caps, 2 shotgun shells that filled our Terracycle super-sack to the top. 

Speaking of rare finds:  Kay and Barbara gave Judith this marvelous monkey.
Disclaimer: it was found on the beach, just not this year.

The mediation of picking up trash has its corollary in actual meditation, of which we are big fans (is being a fan of something very Buddhist? Probably not.) Actual meditation is more like don't just do something, sit there. The previous sentence is a good QED of monkey mind in action.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Around this time...

Every year around this time, with Coastal Cleanup Day (September 16) on the horizon, many opportunities to show and share our work wash in. 

We are forever grateful to Doug Woodring from Ocean Recovery Alliance for his efforts to promote our beach plastic project. These pics just in from his  Big Why Talk at UBS Hong Kong about his Zero Waste Initiative .

In conjunction with our exhibit at the Fairfax Library, we are presenting an evening discussion with colleague and friend Michael Stocker from Ocean Conservation Research.

To enrich the Tidal Response exhibition, the Petaluma Art Center is presenting a variety of related programs and activities, including a panel discussion on the relationship between art, science and the environment; a book signing of the newly published A Life Among Fishes; and demonstrations of both Gyotaku (Japanese fish printing) and 3D modeling of undersea coral samples. 

Bay Day, October 7 is the official day for residents, businesses and community organizations to celebrate the beauty and diversity of all San Francisco Bay life. We are working with Save the Bay to provide beach plastic supplies for art activity tables that will be set up at Jack London Square and The Yard SF. 

On Coastal Clean Up Day, September 16, there is someplace for everyone — be it a watershed, creek, bay or beach. Check the map and find a nearby location. For more about how to participate:

Sunday, September 3, 2017


The byline for the Marin County Free Library is My choice for leisure, learning and living. On Saturday when the thermometer in the car topped out at 111° cooling should be added to that line up.

Just to be sure that you know that you are welcome, the library has posted this sign on the front door.

We say that when we go to the library that we are shopping for free books, magazines, videos, even a seed exchange — the range of free resources is vast. Especially now that we are clued in to the Link+  service that extends our reach throughout California and Nevada, it seems like almost any book on the planet can be borrowed. Need a special book? Wait a day or two and it will be delivered to the library and available for use  — free.

When the grands come for a visit, tops on their things-to-do list is a stop at the library where they can load up on picture books and youth-friendly videos. Hey, kids fill your bag we are shopping for free!

We are thrilled to present re:Purpose Bricolage in a such a cool and welcoming place. Big thanks to Marcia Steiger, exhibits coordinator, for the opportunity to show our work September 5-30. 

On Tuesday, September 19 at 7 PM we will talk about our devotion to Bricolage. The term comes from the French, Bricoleur that refers to a jack-of-all-trades, a handyman who is able to "fix it" or "make do" with what is at hand. We will join forces with Michael Stocker from Ocean Conservation Research who will talk about sound, ecology, sense of place and his recent book Here Where We Are. 

Unaccountable Proclivities, a series of photographs of beach plastic arranged on Fiestaware plates, are on display in the meeting room.

On the wall behind the librarians desk Richard presents 20 bricolage repurposed pieces of "junk" dug up in the garden or found on the grounds of Rancho D.

On the back wall behind the bank of computers Judith displays After Cy an homage to the humble library pencil and to the obsessions of artist Cy Twombly.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Which story?

Tending the grandkids on a 104° scorcher of a day means it's time for a dip in the pool. 
We discovered the prefect alternative to plastic beach toys — ZUCCHINI.

Who knew that zucchini float???
And could be so much fun???

As avid bloggers about our garden at Rancho D and our beach plastic adventures at Kehoe Beach we sometimes find that there is a crossover so we are unsure about where to post — is it a plastic story? or a vegetable story? Either way we are filing for a patent on this squash — when we think about the boxes of plastic beach toys we have collected — imagine if those had all been vegetables washed ashore!!!

We are just back from a stunning trip to Oregon to view the total eclipse. Our blog post about that adventure touches on many of the themes we frequent - the play of serendipity, the importance of daily practice. 

We began our journey with a stop at the reception for Tidal Response: Coastal Marine Environments from Above and Below at the Petaluma Art Center. Thanks to curator Carin Jacobs we were pleased to be in the company of the fine group of artists who use a variety of media (3-D modeling, printmaking, ceramics) to respond to the complex ecosystem of the ocean.

We were amazed by the crowd of art enthusiasts and the vitality of the community support for the center. If you missed the opening there is still time to see the show, until October 21 with upcoming events.

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Logan Visionary Conference

Our presentation, our song and dance, our Punch and Judy show, (guess who is Punch?) at 2017 The Logan Visionary Conference: FOOD, From Crisis to Innovative Delight at the American Visionary Art Museum  is now available for your viewing pleasure. We are happy with the expert editing of our slide show and are grateful for the opportunity to spread the word to the AVAM community and beyond. Please take a look:

Saturday, June 3, 2017

World Environment Day

World Environment Day, June 5 is a day to reconnect with nature and celebrate the places that matter most to you. This year the theme is #WithNature so everyone, everywhere will be sharing pictures of how they are connecting with #WithNature. In that spirit we are pleased to offer our love of nature at Kehoe Beach with this video produced by ARTE TV a French/German network with US crew Virginie Goubier, producer and Alexis Orand, camera. We are grateful for the stunning footage that captures the breathtaking sweep of the beach and grandeur of this place where we are #WithNature. You can watch it here:

We have been reminiscing about 2005 when San Francisco was host to the United Nations World Environment Day. The city stepped it up for five days, June 1-5. Some 50 mayors from around the world pledged to act on energy, waste reduction, urban design, urban nature, transpiration, environmental health, and water. We were pleased that San Francisco was taking the lead and we were especially proud to be included in the Environmental Art Expo at Fort Mason.

We were totally star-struck when Daryl Hannah and Julia Butterfly Hill heaped praise on our beach plastic display.

On June 1 President Trump decided to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord. Hundreds of nations have expressed their dismay and across the US there has been a rallying cry. California's Governor Jerry Brown, acting as a defacto climate ambassador is on his way to China to invite dialogue and promote green growth. Mayors and cities across the US have committed to following the Accord guidelines. Top CEO's are proclaiming, He's wrong. Although we may be devastated by Trump's decision there is a ray of hope in all of this: 

If President Trump won't lead, the American people will.