Perhaps it has been there a while, but I hadn’t noticed before today that someone has put the cornerstone of the Santa Cruz Carnegie Library out in front of the 1968 building that replaced it.
Nice idea but I hope no one steals it.
This aspect of downtown from in front of the library shows very well the post-earthquake Santa Cruz. That’s the Cinema 9 on the left, on the Leask’s lot. The “that which was the Cooper House” building in the middle, and the Rittenhouse building where the… um… Rittenhouse-owned buildings once were. And that one on the right? That’s the empty Santa Cruz Sentinel Building.
I spent Sunday at church. For morning I soaked at Kiva. If you haven’t been for a while, the sauna is fixed and very nicely hot. The redwood tub is restored, not replaced as I had feared. The lawn is beautiful and by 10:30 this time of year, in full sun. There’s a new policy for Friday nights: Men have to be accompanied by a woman. Women’s mornings are still Sundays and Wednesdays.
In the afternoon I meditated and sang with a friend in a room of my house which until recently I rented. I decided to rent the apartment for a little less money, and keep the use of The Garden Room to myself.
In the evening I met a friend for dinner at the Saturn, and then we walked to Kuumbwa for the Ferron concert. I don’t know if it will be the last concert. She wouldn’t say. But she did say that she can’t be doing this forever. She admitted that she promised us she’d be tap dancing to “Ain’t Life a Brook” when she is 80, but now, maybe not. “It’s time for young people to come up and sing my songs.”
Only Ferron would tap dance to Ain’t Life a Brook. It is such a perfect song I had to parody it to get out from under its power.
I don’t know if there is an artist in your life like Ferron is in mine. My first lesbian lover played her music for me. “You haven’t heard of Ferron? You have to listen to this. She’s a lesbian, and sings about her lovers.” It’s hard to imagine now, a world where lesbians could not sing about their lovers in public. I know. Chris Williamson and Holly Near. I know. But I don’t LIKE THEM. They are minor talents at best. Ferron made a record in the early 1980s and even Rolling Stone said she was as good as Dylan. At that time, we only had “Testimony,” on scratchy cassette tapes. It sounded a lot like this:
We didn’t care. I listened to it again and again, as I learned about love and loss. Ferron has written hymns, especially “Testimony” which is how she closes her shows. She wrote that song when she was only twenty years old. There were two Ferron albums in the early 1980s. Her later records are good too, but by that time, we had both grown up, and once she got over the shock of being sober, she recorded songs like “Catus” and “Girl on a Road” that were just as good as the early ones, if not better.
The Santa Cruz favorite:
As I sat for the last time in the Kummbwa singing our hymn with her, surrounded by women of my town, I remembered that her songs formed me, as music does when we were young. Those songs sang me into a woman who wields her strength, a woman who bears pain, and a woman who can depend on her muse to melt them together.
Listen, there are waters
Hidden from us
In the maze we find them still
We’ll take you to them
You take your young ones
May they take their own in turn
But by your lives be you spirit
And by your hearts be you women
And by your eyes be you open
And by your hands be you whole
(“Testimony” by Ferron)
Last Friday, I was able to go down to Big Sur for a slumber party. First I stopped at a little gathering in the Spirit Garden at “Loma.” (Where the gas station is.) From there you can see Mount Manuel, that burned. It’s greening now, and on some hills, even this one, bright splashes of gold. My friend Linda wrote about it already.
Tags: madness, santa cruz
The Saturn Cafe is 30 years old this month. How many local restaurents are that old? Even Tiny’s and Portola House is gone. I still like the Saturn but I get I to a different part of the menu now. More salads. And like riding the Tilt-a-whirl at the Boardwalk, I’ll never experience the Chocolate Madness with chocolate chip cookie dough instead of ice cream ever again.
God, there is so much in the news about financial crises, I wish that Brittany were getting married again. I recently listened to two radio programs, and read one article in Harpers and now I understand everything. The article in Harpers isn’t on-line except to subscribers, but lucky for us, Jay Leno’s producers obviously read the article too. When Obama appeared on The Tonight Show this week, the key points of the Harpers article are the obvious framework for Leno’s comments. That’s Entertainment!
In the April Harpers (on newstands now!), illustrated by very nice collages, you can find, “Infinite Debt: How unlimited interest rates destroyed the economy, by Thomas Geoghegan. Yes, sorry, you have to subscribe to read it. I think it is worth the entire subscription price just for this one article, but about once a year since 1978 I feel that way and that’s why I still pay for it.
They call this extreme sheepherding, but it looks like an example of how groups with competency and vision create beauty that could not be by anyone alone. Good technology is essential too.
Hosting my blog at wordpress gives me the ability to post from my iPhone. If this works, expect more random reports from my observations of life in Santa Cruz.
(Please read the first post, “Ghost Town Chemistry,” about my trip to the Panoche.)
We spent the entire day at New Idria, so that meant we got to spend two nights at Mercey Hot Springs (map).
Mercey Hot Springs was the perfect place for the members of this class to stay, which is great because it is the ONLY public accommodation in the Panoche. Mercey is a remote resort that is both ancient and modern, with nooks and crannies to explore in history, off-the-grid engineering, entrepreneurship, water cures, and abortion secrets of the 1920s.
First, I want to mention coincidentally that the book I brought with me on this trip was Quicksilver, by Neal Stephenson. Over and over again during the trip, “mercury” in its various forms came up in conversations. And every time it did, I remembered a scene from the book, which describes Isaac Newton’s alchemy lab. Newton is a character in the book who is like the eccentric college roommate who does drug and chemistry experiments simultaneously. Here: “Read Inside The Book” and you’ll see what I mean. (Seach for “breathing apparatus”.)
Now, about “Mercey.” There is no argument how to pronounce it, but how do you spell it? According to the owner, “Mercey” was spelled that way so that the name of the spring could be trademarked. CalTrans has promised to change the roadsigns, but I bet they have other things to spend their money on.
The Mercey website links to two good stories about itself. “Off the grid spa” is an accurate review of what to expect there. Yes, bring your own meals, flipflops, flashlight, and fill the tank up before you leave town, because you can’t buy anything in the Panoche but cold beer and a sandwich at the Panoche Inn.
The other story describes the resort pretty much as I experienced it, outlines the history of the springs, and how in this corner of California, there is not only no commerce, there’s no infrastructure at all. So Larry Ronneberg and Grazyna Aust are resurrecting this resort from the past, and bringing it into the twenty-first century with wind, solar, and veggie-oil generators, connected to the rest of the world via satellite internet.
Sometime in the 1950s, people stopped drinking the water at hot springs resorts. But for centuries at hot springs the world over visitors didn’t only soak, they took the waters fresh, and brought it home as medicine. In the 1920s and 30s, Mercey water was bottled and sold by a pharmacy, and Larry told us he had been sent seven bottles like the one in the photo that had been found in Los Angeles. They had been buried in the backyard of a house that had been built in the 1970s. Why had they done that? We’ll never know. I drank some Mercey water, it was a little salty. Felt great afterward.
The spring is named after a French sheep farmer named Merci, and the area has long been grazing land for cattle and sheep. (We saw bison on the way to New Idria.) The shepherds knew that when ewes grazed too near the hot springs, they aborted their lambs, so the area was avoided. It follows then, that perhaps there is truth to the story that during the resort’s heyday in the 1920s and 30s, rich girls from LA were driven to Mercey in limos to take the waters and thereby end their pregnancies. Yet another corner of women’s history that is impossible to document.
The bottling house is now the resort office, and where you register to stay in a cabin, rent an camping space, or pay the $5 day fee for wi-fi or birding. Inside are pretty little painted windows, from the 1940s, they say. In the photo, you can see the flag that Sandy brings on his field trips. It’s the official county flag of Santa Cruz county.
Take a look at the photos on the Mercey website to get a picture of what the resort once looked like, and how it looks now. The best time to visit is in the winter and spring, when the hills are green.
In the last year, I’ve been to both Orr and Wilbur. They are each fine in their individual way. What I like about Mercey is how close it is to Santa Cruz, free wi-fi in my tent, the complete lack of a New Age, and its cheapness. You can make it even more cheap for me by mentioning my name if you stay there. You’ll get a discount, and so will I. Make Mercey Hot Springs your facebook friend, and save even more.
What with the tour of New Idria and all, we didn’t have nearly enough time to loaf around at the spa. But Sunday morning, we got a tour of the water and power system, and a preview of how the resort will evolve, as Larry and Grazyna bring it back to life as a green, well-powered place to spend the weekend doing very little.
Now that I’m home, looking through my photos, I see that they probably aren’t of interest to my hundreds of regular readers: the structures Larry is building for the 10kW solar array; trenches; conduit; and the inside of his cable closet, with the power inverters, the batteries, the satellite uplink, the voice-over-IP gear. Those are just things that you’ll have to see for yourself when you go. By the time you get there, he’ll probably have the yurt village set up. So I’ll just close with one last story.
As you approach Mercey from the road, you’ll notice a white thing made of pipes. It is not a musical instrument. They are stand pipes that contain the Mercey’s water as it emerges from the well.
The natural water pressure from the well fills these pipes, whence the water then flows “uphill” to the pool just beyond those Tamarisk trees. This is a common irrigation technique in farming. What is not common to freshwater wells, however, is that the water that emerges from the Mercey well contains dissolved methane. Oh, we asked so many questions about this!
Larry patiently explained every detail. I’ll try to spare you everything I know: as surface water flows down hundreds of feet through the earth in the geologically unique Panoche, it eventually reaches those areas close to bottom of the fractured crust plates, where material from the mantle heats it, and the hot water is forced upwards again, sometimes passing through layers of organic material from seabeds millions of years old. The ancient organics contain carbon and hydrogen, which become methane gas when the water flows upward through it, putting the methane into solution. When the hot water comes to the surface, the methane floats free, like bubbles in champagne. Except, unlike the carbon-dioxide in Veuve, methane can catch on fire. So Larry has devised a way to pull the methane out of the hot water in his spring before it fills the swimming pool. That’s what these pipes do.
And every so often, that methane can be burned off. Like, when you have a class of curious history geeks visiting.
I volunteered to light the match.
Tags: New Idria, panoche
Southern San Benito county is a lonely place, and you probably haven’t spent much time there. I never had. But long ago when I was learning analytical chemistry, I saw a display in the Applied Science Building explaining the environmental toxicology work that was being done at an old mercury mine called New Idria. The photographs in the display showed, in vivid reds, that the pollution from the mine was so bad it could be seen with the naked eye. That seemed pretty cool to me, and I had always wanted to visit it. Every chemist loves toxic liquids, explosions, and other dangerous things with a well-understood oxidation pathway.
Twenty-five years later, I got my chance in one of Sandy Lydon’s history field trips offered through Cabrillo Extension, “Ghost Towns, Outlaws, and Hot Springs.”
Geologists know the Panoche. Bikers and birders often go there, and amateur astronomers love it for its clear, dark skies. The landscape is dotted with the remains of failed dreams– abandoned mines and farmsteads and roads that go nowhere. Windows without glass, screen doors swinging in the wind, machinery slowly rusting away. The very place names of the country speak of bandits and outlaws—Tiburcio Vasquez and Joaquin Murrieta sought refuge in the Panoche. Basque sheep ranchers found a welcome here.
First, how do you say it? Panoche: when it’s a noun, say it “panoch” and use three syllables when it’s an adjective : “pa-no-che valley.” The Panoche is geological rubble pile of odd minerals scraped off the Pacific Plate as it plunges under the North American plate, where water, heated by the open wound in the mantle under the San Andreas fault, boils up through the ground like percolating coffee. In this rare geology, some people have been able to make money. But not many.
On the surface, the Panoche is an open land of low hills, streams that cut through flat valleys, and the kind of locals who sometimes make you want to check that your car doors are locked. Sandy says it looks like Mongolia, and he would know.
As far as I could tell, in the Panoche, there’s only only one place to eat, and that’s the Panoche Inn. And there is only one place to get a room, and that’s Mercey Hot Springs. There’s only one disturbing abandoned town, and that’s New Idria (a flickr link to some cool nighttime photos).
History, geology, and the politics of why the BLM land around New Idria is closed can be found on the website created by our guide, Ray Iddings, Jr. : 3Rocks.org. (On that site is an amazing story of early California they call The Sanchez File. Murder and robbery, and drownings and tragedy. The usual Californio story. I haven’t had time to read it yet. )
The tour of New Idria took almost all day, which I wouldn’t have thought possible. (I do admit to playing hooky and holding very un-historical conversations with my classmates.) We toured the old head quarter’s building, which, like all buildings in New Idria, is slowly being vandalized. Currently, people are stripping it of its old-growth cedar walls. I saw one plank that must have been 18 inches wide. That size of tree will never be seen again.
You may want to see a photo of the headquarters, but of course I forgot to take one. I took photos of the clothes line in the back, and the wallpaper. Always looking for the women, I am.
Ray told us of the influenza epidemic of 1918. Like everywhere else, eventually flu came to remote New Idria and killed so many people they were buried in a mass grave. The doctor of the town noticed that people who worked in the “Scotch furnace,” never got sick from the flu. The Scotch furnace was notorious for being unhealthy and where overdoses of mercury vapor were common. The doctor rotated people through the scotch furnace to “take the vapors” so-to-speak and those people didn’t get flu.
As you may know, if you ever played with a broken thermostat as a child (and didn’t die), mercury in its elemental form isn’t as dangerous as you might think. Once it is organically bonded to other things, like, say, small molecules like methyl, it’s deadly. But it is a known medicine in Asia, and the old Western remedy “calomel” included mercury in its ingredients. Chemically, mercury and zinc are cousins, and we all know that zinc can cure colds, or at least if you take zinc lozenges it will make you think you’re getting a cold as long as having a cold would take you. Zinc and Mercury are in the same family on the periodic chart. It is unlikely that any pharma today would do research into this relationship. But there is is probably something anti-viral about mercury.
But is New Idria toxic? Not really.The chemists didn’t find the creeks and dirt to be infected with anything worse than iron oxide. The mercury taillings from 19th century mines which extracted the mercury inefficiently were sent through the furnace by the 20th century miners for their residual product. The mercury was too valuable to be left lying around. The dirt around New Idria is completely saturated with “asbestos” but not the kind that causes lung cancer, just the kind that makes you cough, like any dust would.
So, what did I think of New Idria? The chemistry was very cool, as well as seeing a 100-year-old furnace, riveted because welding hadn’t been invented yet. The ghost town may have been picaresque, at one time. But in the last ten years or so every window is shot out, every wall is pulled off, every door is ripped off its hinges. The history and ownership of New Idria after the mines closed is complicated and sad and stupid and I just don’t want to write about it. The story is told elsewhere. From the stories we heard from our guide, Ray, living in New Idria was like living in any mining town in any state in the union: noisy, remote, violent and a place, god willing, a place to leave. New Idria isn’t polluted by chemical waste, as I thought when I was in college; it’s toxic on a whole other level. There are some who love it, but I hope someone will be able to take a bulldozer to it.
Next Post: “Lighting Water on Fire, and More Fun in the Panoche“