“Free To All”… Robber Baron Charity


This slogan appears as a mosaic in the entrance to the beautiful old library building here in Petaluma. While the building now serves as a historical museum for the city, the slogan of this Carnegie endowed library still remains.

Andrew Carnegie’s personal fortune funded some 2700 libraries like these mostly in the west and midwest. Mr. Carnegie was a ruthless steel tycoon who amassed his money in America’s “robber baron” era. His mill in Homestead, Pennsylvania was the site of one of the bloodiest labor strikes in American history.

Carnegie as a young man loved to read. He was lucky having a rich neighbor who let him use his private library to pursue his passion and when Mr. Carnegie retired from business at age 66 in 1901 he was the richest man in the world, thanks in no small part to what he had learned from those books. By the time Carnegie died in 1919 he had given away 90 percent of his immense fortune mostly for educational endeavors and the pursuit of world peace.

He passionately wanted a world free from war where learning could be “Free To All”.

What a wonderful legacy.


A Very Smart Small Farm



Here in California, land of mega-scale corporate farming, there are still wonderful examples of small farming enterprises that practice agriculture very differently and survive very well. One of these is Green String Farm right down the road from us here in Petaluma.

If you do nothing else today go to their website right now and check them out. I can wait.


At Green String they farm in a way that initially looks odd to the first time visitor. Their crop rows don’t look clean and tidy like most farms. In fact one would be hard pressed to even see some of their vegetables because often they are covered with weeds. For instance here is some lettuce. If it wasn’t a red leaf variety it would almost entirely disappear in the grass.


The theory behind this messy looking farming is really quite simple. All plants, whether weed or vegetable, compete with all other plants for survival. This competition is a battle of the fittest. A vegetable that is able to overcome the hostile treatment by its weed neighbors is an all-round better vegetable for having to compete this way. All Green String does is to stack the deck a little to insure the veggies triumph in the end. So if it appears the weeds are winning too much they will get lopped down just enough to make sure the vegetable ultimately wins. Below you can see a worker weed whacking a plot to insure this outcome.


There’s more. Sheep graze in their vineyard to keep weeds down in the early spring and chicken pens are moved around the farm from place to place to do the same thing. They fertilize with manure “tea” and oyster shells and above all they pay attention to the health of the soil for, as they stress over and over again, without that they couldn’t produce these glorious vegetables.




One more thing. These folks have an internship program where they teach their methods to young people in the hopes of spreading the skill of small scale farming/gardening to as wide an audience as possible. One Sunday we were privileged to go on a tour of the farm conducted by two very bright young ladies who intended to, once they left Green String, go back home and start pilot programs in their neighborhoods.


One lives in New York and one in Chicago.

How cool is that!

Pre-digital Inboxes


Poverty, and Roses by The River



Petaluma, California was once a very active commercial river town. In fact at one time in this city’s history there was more money in the banks here than anywhere else in the state. Nowadays things have changed and this little city’s waterfront is no longer the center of its economic activity. The river is badly in need of dredging and poverty is settling in along some of its edges.




Yet even here among the hardscrabble homes, where free roaming chickens peck at overgrown front yards, the roses bloom and their sweet smell heralds better times.

That’s my hope anyway.


The incinerated dream of Jack London.



I would rather be ashes than dust.  I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.  I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.  The proper function of man is to live, not to exist.  I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them.  I shall use my time.  ~Jack London, 1916

Jack London was a hard charging, immensely popular author of 40-plus books when he bought a number of adjacent parcels of land in Glen Ellen, California between 1908 and 1913. He had studied the farming practices of Asia while working as a war correspondent and felt that Americans were ruining the soil with their methods and thought he could do better. With his usual immense energy, bravado and having  plenty of money at his disposal he set about building “Beauty Ranch”.

In addition to getting the farm started, Jack also hired an architect to draw up plans for an immense 26 room stone mansion for himself and his wife Charmian. He named it “Wolf House” after the animals he loved and had written so much about.  Just days before the couple was to move in, the house caught fire and burned to the ground leaving only its’ huge stone skeleton as a sad reminder of Jack’s dream home.






“Wolf House” was never rebuilt and Jack London died in 1916. He and Charmian are buried together on a hill behind it under a big stone taken from the ruins of “Wolf House”.

Everything Is Interconnected


Sylvan Mortality…Dust To Dust…That Includes Us



The Dancing Super Sonic Smog Man


Here in Petaluma there is a cheerful dude who is somewhat of a local institution. He quite regularly comes to the corner of D and Lakeville Streets wielding a large, banged-up plywood sign advertising a local smog testing outfit. If he only stood around and held up that sign he wouldn’t be worth much notice but he DANCES with the thing. I mean he really makes some fine happy moves! I don’t know what he’s listening to on those big earphones but it sure must be some tuneful rocking stuff.

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