Your leaking thatched hut during the restoration of a pre-Enlightenment state.


Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


decay & ruin
Biosphere II
dead malls
Irving housing

got that wrong

appropriate tech
Arduino μcontrollers
Backwoods Home
Fractal antenna

fun social media stuff

(nobody does!)

Like my brownhouse:
   Nepenthe at sunset
Friday, September 5 2008

setting: Adobe Bed and Breakfast, Santa Cruz, California

This morning Gretchen and I had a simple but lovely buffet breakfast out in the Adobe courtyard. A Coastal Redwood adjacent to the building played host to several squirrels and a Steller Jay.
Later we walked into downtown Santa Cruz, where I bought an SD memory card for my camera (I'd forgotten to bring one). I was able to buy a one gigabyte card at a chain drug store for only $10, a fifty-six-fold increase in memory/dollar since the last time I was forced to buy memory on the road, nearly four years ago [that entry makes no mention of a 128 Megabyte CF card I bought for $70 at a shady computer store in Manhattan].
People on the west coast, particularly north of Los Angeles, are a friendlier bunch than one can expect to encounter back east. In Santa Cruz today, a woman volunteered help when we just looked lost. And some dude joked with us about the risk of a jaywalking arrest as we crossed an intersection in violation of the automated signals.
Our goal today was Big Sur, and to get there we took Route One, the Pacific Coast Highway. The landscape south of Santa Cruz quickly becomes vast agricultural tracts speckled with migrant workers, most of them bent over harvesting strawberries. In this age of widespread automation it was a strangely anachronistic vision. Further south the fields vanished and were replaced by massive sand dunes covered with vegetation that somehow made them look as if they belonged on Planet Mars.
In Monterey we picked up a hitchhiker, a young man named Nathaniel who stank of equal parts marijuana and body odor. It wasn't long into the drive that he asked if we smoked herb. It turned out that this was only one of his two interests. The other was surfing. We dropped him off in front of the Big Sur River Inn and slowly the new car smell returned to our Kia.
Smelly dude had suggested a place called "the Bakery" as a good place to eat, so we continued south to there, but one look at the limited vegan-unfriendly menu and we decided to leave. We headed a little way north again and stopped at a place claiming to be a deli, and I took the opportunity to order my first burrito of this trip. Let me just summarize my experience with that burrito with a generalization: California has great burritos, but they are only available in its cities.
Our first real Big Sur activity was a hike up the Buzzard's Roost trail in the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. The trail is poorly marked at its beginning and the stoner park employee who took our $10 at the gate couldn't articulate how to find it, but somehow we did. The trail took us past magnificent Coastal Redwoods, some over ten feet in diameter. All the large trees had the scars of old forest fires; some were hollow and scorched inside as well.
The trail had numerous switchbacks as it climbed the steep mountain. In addition to the Redwoods (which continued in coves nearly to the ridgeline) were small aromatic oaks and unfamiliar western heaths. There was also much Poison Oak, which I don't think I've ever encountered before. It looked a lot like Poison Ivy, though the leaves were shinier and it often grew as a low shrub.
Near the ridgeline, the trees gave way to shrubby chaparral, and at the top was a small radio installation featuring antennas designed for relatively low-frequency broadcast or reception (200 MHz or less). I know enough about antennas to be able to guess the frequency for which they are designed.
Normally there would be a glorious view of the Pacific from the ridgeline, but today it was shrouded in a "marine layer" of fog.
After a drive further south, we did another short hike in the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, which features a view of an improbable waterfall that falls dozens of feet onto a sandy beach. There's also the foundation of a house on this site, one that was removed in keeping with the terms of the will that gave the property to the State of California. We wondered why anyone would put such a clause in a will and Gretchen came up with the idea that perhaps the former owners had willed that it must be forever whites-only but, should that ever become impossible, it must be destroyed.
On the way back north, we stopped at a fancy gallery type place and had a look around. The gallery's sound system was playing an XM satellite radio station and the song playing was obscure but nevertheless familiar: Midlake's "Young Bride." Gretchen actually found something costing less than $20 that she wanted (a spiral-themed serving tray), and so we made one of our few purchases for this trip.
Further north, we stopped at a restaurant called Nepenthe, which sits in a lovely open building at the top of a steep hill. Around the edge of the restaurant is a bar where you can sit with your drink and stare blankly out at the distant mountains and ocean. The marine layer censored much of this view today, but it was nevertheless spectacular. There were several people on either side of us at this outward-facing bar, and periodically a Steller Jay would fly up from the trees beneath us, grab something off someone's plate, and fly away. These birds were smart; they knew that the element of surprise was maximized if they came up from below, but they launched their attacks from far enough back that they could see where along the bar people were seated. I'd read about Steller Jays when I was a child (perhaps in Ranger Rick?), though today might have been the first time I'd ever actually seen one. Who can guess what memories our brains will decide to keep? For three decades I haven't needed to know what a Steller Jay was, but when I saw one this morning in Santa Cruz I knew immediately what to call it.
Eventually we moved to a booth inside Nepenthe and enjoyed a simple meal of veggie burgers and fries. Nepenthe feels gourmet and high-style, but the fries aren't the pompous overly-fat things with skins that Gretchen and I dislike. No, they're more like fast food fries, and that's a good thing.
We were trying to guess the ethnicity of a nearby table where people were speaking an unfamiliar language. They were swarthy and none were drinking alcohol, so I thought perhaps they were Turkish. Gretchen guessed Albanian. Eventually Gretchen asked one of them as he walked by. It turned out that they were Iranian. The guy actually used the term "Iranian," though usually Iranians in America identify themselves to gringos as the less-suspicious "Persian" ethnicity, capitalizing on the ignorance of those most likely to take offense.
After we were done with our meal, we eventually found our way to a fire pit and Gretchen struck up a conversation with a formerly-German Drum smoker. By sundown, Nepenthe felt like a party with international consequences. If we lived in Big Sur, we'd probably go to Nepenthe every weekend.
At some point we'd checked into the place where we'd be spending the night, the Big Sur Campground. We'd rented a cabin, and it was a perfect mix of wilderness and civilization. At 3am our drunk neighbor banged on our door because he'd gone out for a smoke and gotten lost. A very irritated Gretchen had to shoo him away.

Me and my beard in Santa Cruz this morning.

Gretchen at the Adobe in Santa Cruz.

Somewhere south of Santa Cruz.

A huge dune north of Monterey. I think the writing is in vegetation.

Between Monterey and Big Sur: a bridge.

Between Monterey and Big Sur: Gretchen.

Between Monterey and Big Sur: me.

Nathaniel, our hitchhiker.

Marine layer meets the mountains north of Big Sur.

Nearing Big Sur.

Crazy roadcut north of Big Sur.

On Buzzard's Roost trail in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.

Burned-out hollow Coastal Redwood in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.

Gretchen walks between two Coastal Redwoods.

Looking up at the redwood canopy in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.

View from near the ridgeline of Buzzard's Roost trail.

A lizzard at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.

Tunnel under the Pacific Coast Highway at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.

Pink lilies at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.

Waterfall landing on the beach at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Normally the base of a waterfall would be hollowed out, but the ocean waves ensures that there is always sand to fill any such hollow.

Steller Jay at Nepenthe.

Gretchen and me at Nepenthe.

The waitress on Gretchen's left had a perfect body. Check out those calves!

Inside Nepenthe.

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