Thursday, February 20, 2014


SuperBall® is another product from Wham-O who brought us Hula Hoops, Frisbees, and the Slip’N Slide. It was rumored that the rubber came from a sacred tree in India known only to yogi adepts, but it was Norman Stingley who combined polybutadiene with other ingredients under high pressure to make the 92% rebound of a true SuperBall®. At the peak of the fad, in the mid-sixties, production stood at 170,000 per day. No wonder we’ve collected bags-full. Soon after they were introduced they were imprinted with the logo of three interlocking ovals, signifying something atomic was going on.

As a promotional stunt, a bowling ball size SuperBall® was made and dropped from a 23rd floor rooftop. On its first rebound it smashed a convertible car to bits. In Orange County, California, thousands escaped from their containers when the factory was torn down, an urban legend that proved true. Load after load went bouncing into an empty lot where kids collected barrels and boxes of them. Edmund Scientific, purveyors of magnets and optics and cool science-y gizmos, sells an anti-super ball that eerily stays put when dropped.

Sunday, February 16, 2014


Due to what Richard has aptly named "a drought related injury" we were unable to go to the beach this weekend. In our sink and shower we have a 5 gallon bucket system to catch the cold water before it goes to warm. The dishes are done in an insert then emptied. The heavy buckets are then hauled out to garden to keep our winter vegetables (tatsoi and kale) going. As Richard was doing the dishes he turned and crashed into the unaccustomed bucket—Who put that there?  

So instead we spent a productive weekend at home. For a follow-up conversation Michael Wing, the science teacher from Drake High, came out to Forest Knolls to interview us for a book he is writing about how to keep the spirit of inquiry alive. His final question what's next?  had us both flummoxed. But as we worked our way through the weekend, announcements for a couple of design competitions came our way so we are off and running with some exciting new ideas about the molecular structure of water. Stay tuned! 

Adam Ratner and his team of volunteers at The Marine Mammal Center has been keeping up with the tying of the promise tags.  Judith prepped the strips with a brush of ocean blue colors. By now over 1,000 pledges have been made on site at TMMC. Promise to do your part for a healthy ocean online HERE!

promise tags at the Marine Mammal Center

There has been lots of good news from the Anchorage Museum about the exhibition Gyre: the plastic ocean.  

To eliminate the carbon footprint of shipping our collection of plastic to Anchorage, we opted to send high-res files of the images. We figured that Alaska already has plenty of plastic. That was evident in four tons collected by the Gyre expedition of artists and scientists from a four-mile stretch of beach at Hallo Bay, AK. Our gratitude to the expert team at the Anchorage Museum who printed and mounted our artwork big on the wall where it is basking in the glow of our colleague Cynthia Minet's "Pack Dogs" in this feature in Wired.

Monday, February 10, 2014

What were we worried about?

What were we worried about? Stuck in a stationary high pressure zone it finally broke and the rain came. Like we said last post, it keeps coming, it keeps coming—weather, babies, anxiety, whoop dee doo, getting & spending. So…at last it's raining—so what do we do? we head for the beach.

First stop Toby's Feed Barn in beautiful Point Reyes Station once the end-of-the-line for the train that shipped milk from the ranches to San Francisco. During our back to the land days, Sim van Der Ryn was our hero champion of energy efficiency, solar panels and rain catchment systems. His Integral Urban House in Berkeley was a model of self reliant homesteading. His groundbreaking work in sustainable design landed him the job as State Architect for Governor Jerry Brown, the First. 

All the while, as meditation, Sim painted watercolors, en plein air. His musing about being in the moment he is now presenting in his first art exhibition and as illustrations for his latest book Design for an Empathic World: Reconnecting People, Nature and Self.

The road out to Kehoe is empty. The rain bucketing down so hard that the windshield wipers can hardly keep up. At the Kehoe turn-out we're greeted by a pile of muddy guys waiting for a lift. They are triathletes in training. "What are you all doing here?" Picking up plastic!" "Really? There is a bag hanging on the bench 1 KM down the trail. It says 'One Beach Plastic.' It's full of plastic. we thought it was probably left there by some artist making a statement" Wow, that's our bag. We must have left it last week when we were putting on shoes. We got distracted by the banter of a conversation with a couple of literary types sitting on the bench. She, a published novelist, he, a comparative lit prof now retired. It was a conversation sparked up by another couple walking by who recognized us. "Hey, you're the guys from that movie." We tell our story to a rapt audience. This is getting to be fun.

The bag was one of our custom-made gathering bags fashioned by the Green Bag Lady Teresa VanHatten-Granath. This is bag # 17869. She and her group of volunteers the Bagettes, have made 10's of thousands of shopping bags from remnant fabrics. This bag she made just for us, a custom job, with a mesh bottom to sift out the sand. 

It's full of plastic. We'll pick it up on our way back. So glad to be reunited.

The beach is empty of people, the steady light rain: an exhalation. So happy, it's like home from the war, happy birthday, a line from Wallace Stevens—the sudden elation when the forest blooms. It's a wonder, in our synthetic world, how much water matters, reminder of what we choose to forget. For weeks we have been collecting our household water, the cold-until-it gets-warm shower water, to pour on our thirsty winter garden. 

The beach is not only empty of people, the plastic has not yet washed down gutters and out to sea. The usual pattern of our monsoon climate, broken this year has left us bereft of plastic. The sand, great clean suede swaths disappearing into the downpour. 

On Friday evening Gyre: the plastic ocean at the Anchorage Museum opened with 24 of our cohorts in the plastic debris business. We were sad not to be there but happy to see our prints so beautifully presented along with the illuminated Pack Dogs by Cynthia Minet from Los Angeles.

Our colleague, in the exhibit, Mandy Barker from England put an all-points bulletin to see if anyone has found footballs — soccer balls she means. In our inventory of three cartons of balls from the beach, nary a soccer ball. We did scrabble up four American footballs and a volley ball, but no soccer balls. We have scads of tennis balls, golf balls, whiffle balls, superballs and on and on, but no soccer balls. 

But lo! here today, buried, just a tell-tale show of black and white octagons peeking out of the sand. Wowwie!! This is the kind of thrill we live for. It's a mini-soccer ball — just what Mandy's been wanting. We've thought a lot about the three princes of Serendip who went out looking for a one-eyed camel and found a lot of the mystery of the world. We seem to be finding the many layers of the world, of Psyche, of the miracle of human spirit on the hunt, and here we make a story of a piece of flotsam that makes the heart race. Isn't this a node on the spiritual quest?

Good friends, old friends Harriet and David and new friends Trudy and Hugh, companions on the quest, meet us in Point Reyes for dinner and a show. Sweethearts of the Radio a benefit for KWMR our local community radio station was an evening of toe tapping, hand clapping music with local and renown talent with the virtuosic violin of Laurie Lewis and the angelic voices of the T Sisters. 

Whew! What day! Full of adventure both on and off the beach. We are tired, ready to tuck it in, so we end this blog with this Lopsided Lullaby by the T Sisters: Erika, Rachel and Chloe Tietjen.

Sunday, February 2, 2014


ROCK = Revolution of Core Knowledge. 

ROCK is a community of four teachers and slightly over 100 students at Drake High*.  Half the students are in the ninth grade and half are tenth graders who work together on interdisciplinary study projects and engage in community service.

ROCK was the Ground Zero for our beach plastic project. Back in 1996 Richard and son Eli were fulfilling a volunteer stint for ROCK, doing habitat restoration at the Point Reyes National Seashore when they took a break from pulling weeds in the Kehoe headlands and went down to the beach. The beach was sadly crapped up with loads of plastic so they came back with garbage bags and the truck, hauling off seven big sacks of plastic. Take it to the dump? It was the first time we asked "AWAY? just where is this AWAY?". Three years later Richard met Judith who for three years had been doing her own plastic pickup project at Blackie's Pasture in Tiburon. We joined forces in 1999 and we were married in 2004. For more about our story 

Richard's kids, Amelia and Eli, had benefited from the innovative ROCK program and the engaged dedication of the teachers—class of 2000 and 2003.  So, we were especially glad to have the opportunity to share with these youngn's the positive powerful influence the ROCK program had had on his kids—perseverance, problem solving—enough time to figure things out.  
A couple of years ago, Amelia and Richard were walking down a trail next to Papermill Creek when they saw a teen-age girl hefting two big buckets half-full of water. Her dad was walking next to her offering no help as she struggled with the burden. She was setting the buckets down, resting about every 20 yards. As Richard and Amelia approached, they asked, "What are you guys doing? Do you need help?" "No thanks," says the girl, "it's for a school project. I have to carry 5 gallons of water a mile. To see what it's like." Richard and Amelia shoot a look at each other, smile simultaneously and give out a shout, "Grifo!!!!!!!" As in Paul Grifo, the social studies teacher. ROCK rules, with it's show, don't tell maxim. The girl manages a haggard smile, "Yep" blows her damp hair out of her eyes and picks up the buckets. Yes, perseverance!
This year with science teacher Michael Wing, students are working on a special beach plastic collecting project, categorizing and counting their finds. Later in the semester with Mary Kitchens and Jasper Thelin they will repurpose found materials in an "Art is Everywhere" project. We were thrilled to be invited to present our project to a ROCK assembly — on stage in front of 100 students. YIKES! Although we have given our power point some 50 times, this time we were especially nervous— teenagers can be a tough audience. Richard described his fret as being like a boxfulla bunnies on a weasel ranch.
Nevertheless, we put on our best Punch and Judy tease-ahge and we will told our story of the plastic that has become our life work. Although the news about plastic pollution is dire, we brought the good humor and excitement of scouting for treasures and the pleasure of the creative life to an otherwise difficult topic.  We wanted to tie our presentation to the thread of ROCK's lesson plans and what they have already accomplished in their plastic gathering efforts.
Going to one place (we estimate over 500 times) has opened us to many fields of study—plastic related and ROCK-tastic—geology, anthropology, chemistry, literature, wildlife biology and of course, art. We've limited our selves to 1000 yards of one beach to make a graspable metric for understanding the world-wide problem of plastic pollution.

We are happy with our moniker the "Plastic People" and are thrilled that we have become spokespersons for the issue of plastic pollution. We find it is happening not only on Kehoe Beach but on beaches and oceans worldwide.  Our exhibit at the Cal Academy last summer expanded our brief to include the issues of unsustainable fisheries and the toxic flow from house-hold waste.  We've taken our show on the road, with exhibits and presentations from NYC to Washington DC, from Hong Kong to Tibilisi. We have a dynamic powerpoint Indra's Net  that refers to The Jeweled Net of Indra from Hindu mythology—"The great god Indra defeated Ravenna, and to celebrate he laid an infinite gossamer net over the universe. At each juncture of the net he hung a glittering jewel. Every facet of every jewel reflected all the other jewels." Kehoe Beach is a jewel in our net, reflecting the the multiverse å la ROCK. 

We use the metaphor of Indra's Net and the idea that everything is connected to everything else to explore geology, biology, history. WHEW!!! Yes, that sounds like a lot to pack into an hour and a half. It was fast paced. We wanted the students to "get" that one place, one tiny dot on the planet can open into multiple interests, can open the world. Here are a few of the topics we touched on:
• History of the environmental movement and its relation to the Point Reyes National Seashore Act
• The Geology of the area: the meeting of two tectonic plates in the rift valley of the San Andreas Fault
• Use of art and creative thinking to build energy for action
• Influences from art history
• Recovery of endangered species on Kehoe Beach—Peregrine Falcon and the Snowy Plover
• The anthropology of plastic objects—research and story telling
• The mythology of progress
• Fisheries
• Household toxic waste

WHEW!!! Yes, that sounds like a lot to pack into an hour and a half. It was fast paced. We wanted the students to "get" that one place, one tiny dot on the planet can open into multiple interests, can open the world.

It was pretty much a snark-free zone in the Little Theatre at Drake and we ended with Green Sangha's "Plastic State of Mind" Check it out. You'll be tapping your toes and shouting hallelujah!!!

*Sir Francis Drake High School in San Anselmo, CA is named after Sir Francis Drake the English privateer and Naval Hero who purportedly landed in the area in 1579. As vice admiral from 1577 to 1580 he carried out the second circumnavigation of the world. In these parts the 16th-century sea captain is the namesake for Drakes Bay, Drakes Estero and Drakes Beach Cafe. Sir Francis Drake High School is on Marin’s most critical east-west thoroughfare, Sir Francis Drake Boulevard that runs the from the west coast of Marin County to the trail head for the Point Reyes Lighthouse at the south end of the Point Reyes Peninsula.