a trip to the coast

sky and water cooper

I’m home in Tucson, back from a working vacation. I took a day in San Diego with Doriot, two days at CalTech with Andy Ingersoll and others, and two days in LA with Bill and our friends Steve and Bette.

Before I left, I caught up with my friend Susan at the little Poca Cosa. The morning light was as good as the mole; I love this place and don’t go downtown often enough.

little poca cosa with susan, photo by Kate McKinnon

Staying at Doriot’s is a vibrant experience.

Doriot may 2015

Doriot pastel May 2015 web

I did not see and have never seen this building when I was in San Diego, but only because I didn’t know until today that it existed. I’m surprised I didn’t smell it, or spot it from the air. It was done by William Pereira. I feel like it could fold up, sink down into the earth, or take off, like a spacecraft.

Maybe I saw it in a book and it was too magnificent, I had to forget it. I read that the original design was for steel framing, and they decided to go with concrete instead to save money. I’m glad that they did. This provided the architect with more sculptural options, and me with more thrills.

Geisel Library at UC San Diego, designed by William Pereira photo Darren Bradley

Happily I did find the Pacific Coast Surfliner, the excellent train that runs right up the coast, and I mean right up the freaking beach; I went from San Diego to LA in record time, and close enough to see the surf. The most expensive ticket on the train was $59; it was an excellent experience and I can’t wait to do it again. Had I known how fabulous it was I would have been using it as my personal coast ferry for years. It stops everywhere, but also not too many places, if you know what I mean. Just the essentials.

I alternated between views of the shore, and views of my books.

Surfliner to LA, it goes right along the beach

sagdeev on the train

I loved the train to Pasadena as well; it was an easy change at the LA Union Station. Too easy, in fact – stupidly  I never saw the station. It was the same on the way back in; it was too easy to pick up the Red Line to Hollywood; I will have to do more exploring next time. I know it’s spectacular.

Pasadena Train, photo Kate Mckinnon

I love the CalTech campus. I’ve never felt more comfortable anywhere, even at MIT. I look forward to spending more time there. Bill is saying yes to some future stints at JPL; I know where I will lurk.

cal tech campus cal tech 2

It was just my good luck that Hal Levison was there for a meeting, and he and I enjoyed a two hour lunch fit for royalty, guests of Andy, at the Athenaeum. Amusingly, while we were doing this, Andy was eating a sandwich and an apple at his desk. He didn’t mind. In fact, he was proud to be associated with us, uh-oh.

Hal Levison at CalTech, explaining why someone's graphic is completely sideways.

I got a photo of Andy dressed as the King Of Prussia (as inspired, humorously, by the costume of Prince Philip). He had a small role in a bawdy farce with the CalTech Playreaders, and had made up his own costume. The crown was a gold cowboy hat with the brim cut off, the bit of gold braid and sash from the fabric store. The medals were a colored strip of paper; a meticulous recreation of Philip’s array.

Andy Ingersoll as the King Of Prussia

Because they were the CalTech playreaders, and therefore hopeless nerds, I had to explain to them what might be likely to be found in the cartload of rubber goods the King ordered delivered to a comely young village housewife. All they could come up with was condoms, but a cartload seemed like an awful lot, even for a very energetic king.  I couldn’t believe that they couldn’t come up with anything else.

Me: “Andy, it’s a cartload. You are most likely having things like rubber sheets and outfits delivered. You’re freaky!”

Andy: “I’m freaky? All right then!”

After CalTech, I met up with Bill and our friends Steve and Bette, who live in the Hollywood Hills. They have a mirror in their garden that Bill and I try to get a photo in each time we are there.

Bill and Kate in the mirror at Steve and Bettes

We spent a day at the Getty, and saw the Turner exhibit on loan from the Tate, a photography exhibit, the gardens, and hundreds of astonishing pieces from their permanent collection.

Bill McKinnon at the Getty, photo Kate McKinnon

Bougainvillea towers at the Getty, photo Kate McKinnon 2015

Getty garden, photo by Kate McKinnon 2015

Kate McKinnon at the Getty, photo by Bill McKinnon May 201

A Pissaro at the Getty, LA, photo Kate McKinnon

 above, Pissarro, below, Canaletto

Canaletto, Grand Canal, Venice at the Getty, photo Kate McKinnon 2015

below, Turner, before I realized there were no photos

Turner at the Getty, photo by Kate McKinnon

And now for me, it’s time to turn my attention to the Seed Bead Summit, and the third book in the Contemporary Geometric Beadwork series; it’s a summer project and fast-approaching.

rocket to russia

The past two weeks have been exciting, with lots of information in. I’ve learned so many new things I’ve gone into a cataloguing mode, rearranging everything I know.

Time moves like a river.

AGU Leader

I stumbled into this data-heavy phase innocently enough, or so it seemed; I became engaged by a story that Andy Ingersoll told last year about the Pioneer 11 encounter with Saturn.

It went like this. Back in 1979, in the height of the Cold War, NASA turned out to need unexpected assistance from the Soviets – we had to ask them to turn off an array of Earth-orbiting satellites for four days, so we could get our data down from the Pioneer craft, reporting in from Saturn. The request had to go to the very top in the USSR, but they did it, and it was all very Top Secret; even the scientists didn’t know.

As each of our countries at that time was bristling with missiles, warheads, spies, and Evil Empire propaganda (in the 1970s, as a kid, I lived only one mile from a Titan missile pointed at Moscow) I thought the story was ripe with metaphor; good people were working together to do good work, in spite of the absurdity, the extremity of the conflict. So I started asking questions, looking for markers.

Imagine my surprise to find that hidden inside the wrapper of the overstory was a quantum drone full of puzzle pieces from my own life. The minute I opened Andy’s story, the packet of facts cruised out like a virus, set up a dot matrix printer on the dining room table of my soul, and started printing (loudly, and on greenbar paper of course) fascinating bits of backstory, some of it intensely personal.

This exploration feels like interactive theater; behind each door, under each ashtray, and written inside certain matchbook covers (which I have to find) are clues, and the clues change with each intermission.

I spent about four hours last week talking to my friend Don Davis (the planetary scientist, not the space painter) and he said something near the end of our conversation that floored me.

He said, “I wish I could live long enough to find out if we evolve to be God, or gods.” I said, “What do you mean?” and he said, “Well, what if we evolve our understanding of creation to be able to create universes?” I said, “Or life.” And he said, “Life, pffft, that’s just chemistry. Universes, that’s something.”

He thought for a moment, and said, “Imagine if we finally got a visit from a spacecraft, or met our Creator, and it was us. As you say, time is not a string.”

 Pioneer 11 by Don Davis for NASA
Pioneer 10/11, illustration by the other Don Davis / NASA

The flashy new movie theater of my own memory has celebrated the visit of my own personal spacecraft by putting on a retrospective; I watch, entranced, as film rolls from every quadrant. I’ve been asking questions all of my life, and if I’ve not exactly remembered all of the answers, I’ve filed them somewhere. I’ve always felt that anything that goes in will absorb; I try to be careful; I have a very “you are what you eat” sense about data in.

These new pieces, some small, some huge, reveal the system of my own life as much as it does the moment in time. So much was happening in 1979; I was 16 and I had just found my freedom as a freshman at the University of Arizona.

The arms race was insane (and of course it still is, just differently so), space missions were thick in the air, and debate about nuclear weaponry and technology was raging. In the month of September alone (the month that Pioneer 11 needed Soviet help) there were nine nuclear tests and two huge anti-nuclear protests (the MUSE concerts at Madison Square Garden and the rally in Brooklyn fronted by Jane Fonda, each of which drew several hundred thousand people).

Earlier that summer, Edward Teller, already upset about the movie The China Syndrome (which was about a nuclear accident and starred Fonda) took out a two-page ad in the Wall Street Journal, claiming that he was the only casualty of the March accident at Three Mile Island. To quote, “…I suffered a heart attack. You might say that I was the only one whose health was affected by that reactor near Harrisburg. No, that would be wrong. It was not the reactor. It was Jane Fonda. Reactors are not dangerous.” 

Jane Fonda has had to put up with a lot from boorish men; I didn’t realize that she’d had to bear Edward Teller as well as Ted Turner.

Roald Sagdeev, a remarkable Russian scientist now living in the US, and someone who was pointed out to me by Andy as a person who might help understand how the Soviet satellite shutdown worked from their side, turned out to be a soulmate. He spent years of his life trying to bring sense to the SDI/Star Wars madness that had overtaken the American administrations of both Reagan and Bush. He told me about one of the times he provided a counterpoint to Teller’s Strangelovian views:

“Once, around 1989, I flew to Amsterdam to speak on one of Dutch TV channels. That followed an interview they took of Edward Teller. Before giving me a chance to speak, the Dutch started with video of Teller at his house. And he was playing Mozart on the piano. Then my spontaneous reaction at the beginning of interview was genuine astonishment: why Mozart? It had to be Salieri.”

Anyway, I’m here at CalTech for a few days catching up with Andy, updating him on what I’ve learned, and I’ll have more to tell soon enough. I’ve loved the time spent with him, puzzling over human nature.

We’ve been running around in our present state, hoping help would come from above,
but even angels make the same mistakes…

experimental surrender

Happy birthday, John Muir. My favorite Muir quote:
“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”

I’ve had an interesting week, full of what felt like thundering horses through my mind. I love my horoscopes from Rob Brezsny. I woke up to this one, after dreaming of a consuming fire.

GEMINI (May 21-June 20): There may be a flood-like event that will wash away worn-out stuff you don’t need any more. There might be an earthquake-type phenomenon that only you can feel, and it might demolish one of your rotten obstacles. There could be a lucky accident that will knock you off the wrong course (which you might have thought was the right course). All in all, I suspect it will be a very successful week for benevolent forces beyond your control. How much skill do you have in the holy art of surrender?

Bill, who is a careful and classical scientist (and therefore has an infinite supply of cold water available to trickle or dump on whatever your sparkling ideas might be) says that non-specific personality analyses (like Internet tests or horoscopes) are rot, and may as well be written by bots. True, not true, but why am I such a Gemini, I wonder? It’s absurd, but it’s not like I try to fit the profile.

Patrick Michaud Pop Tart Blowtorch

photos Patrick Michaud 

Early this morning, I dreamed that the house was on fire. Except it wasn’t this house, or that house, or any house I’d ever lived in. It was a Victorian on a wide and busy street. And it wasn’t very seriously on fire when my dream started, just a few little flames here and there. They were in so many different places, though, that I understood it was not a recoverable situation.

For whatever reason, it didn’t occur to me to call the fire department. It was like I had been expecting it eventually, and I was calm, oddly willing to stand back and watch it burn my house down. It didn’t seem to be a genuine problem in the full picture of reality; I felt that I could watch, and learn.

I found the cats, put them safely in their cat carriers, and took them outside of the house, I got my MacBook, and my backup drives, and I was looking around to see if there might be anything else that  I needed to take with me. I picked up a photo of Bri; today is her 28th birthday and even metaphor should take care with things like a child’s birthday.

I looked at everything; the paintings, the photographs, the books, the treasures. I felt a wave of love for it all. At the last minute, I picked up my handwritten notes on Roald Sagdeev and Andy Ingersoll, because that story is what I’m working on today. I didn’t know if it was a dream, or if it was a kind of reality, but in either case, I didn’t want to lose my rhythm. This is my Hartmannian training kicking in.

I went outside with my few things in my Astro Boy bag, and saw that tiny flames were licking around the wooden window frames at the front of the house. People were freaking out, pointing, holding their phones, but oddly no one (including me) had called for help. I wondered what city we were in. I went back inside, got my IPhone, and called the fire truck. I was disappointed that I’d forgotten to consider (or know) that the house was on a full street; it is rude let one’s house burn down when it is next to other things, other people.

That last bit was, apparently, the only thought I was trying to get to with all of that, and I said, “hmmm“, and woke up.

Larry Lebofsky and I are (also in defiance of Bill’s ice water on the topic, and however dolorous one of us might seem from his Asteroid Lunch mailings) waiting excitedly for our Ceres ice geysers, whether Dawn sees any this week with its jank little instruments or not.

We don’t mind it if we turn out to be wrong. We just feel like we are right, which means to us that even if we are not right, there is something in the idea for us that can become a seed.

Personally, I like to get my Ceres news from the Guardian. They’ve done a bangup job with the Dawn mission.


This is set to be an exciting week.

I think of the kind of seatbelts that vintage racecars used to have, the harness, over the head. I close my eyes, and I can turn and smile at my beloved, evaporated uncle (a nuclear physicist, so pertinent to my week) and I let him reach over and check the buckles for me.

He raises an eyebrow, smiles, and lets out the clutch; we are off like a rocket, shooting straight at the future, which is now, and then, and before then.

This morning, I heard back from Roald Sagdeev, and he blew my mind with what he told me. I watched a movie on human ovulation, I lived and died a thousand times, I took a shower outside, naked with the birds.

I have in fact had, in the past 36 hours, a series of personal earthquakes, and also a personal flood, and a very personal fire.

I have also heard the ideas expressed (by that same careful scientist) that the huge numbers of fracking-related earthquakes in Oklahoma are mostly an inconvenience (only a geologist could say that) and that the real issue is the purity of their water. Nuclear meltdowns? Also in his mind mostly local inconveniences; the real issue is the purity of the atmosphere – nuclear power is cleaner in that regard than fossil fuel power. These points of view are correct from one distance, but in my mind myopic, or abstract; they do not consider a more elegant near-term solution that pollutes nothing. Why not? Pessimism about what is possible.

This is bad for us all, this diminishment through pessimism (individual or collective; what is the true difference?) of the window of human possibility. I can no longer sit quietly (if I ever could) when I hear it. Almost anything is possible if we have the will to do it. Conversely, if we think we cannot do a thing, our probability of success goes down, and the difficulty level goes up.

Abstract views of ground-level pollution and disruption must also be seen as metaphor; he is correct in that all disruptions are essentially local. We can use this (like we can any other law of the universe) to make positive, game theory sorts of adjustments to our complex systems.

Jon Lomberg, cartoon,

Jon Lomberg, “Intelligent Life in the Universe”

I worry that if most of us decide that fixing things is someone else’s problem, or think that a few heroes are going to solve our suite of imbalances, or if we think we have time to make gradual changes in our behavior, we just aren’t going to make it.

and just like that

And just like that, everything is different.

built in fascinator

Sleeping outside is suddenly full of more risk, more animate consciousnesses; flying things like lumbering beetles and sometimes mosquitoes, and lots of baby bunnies and mousies and the cats on the prowl and the helicopter, searching for miscreants every night now.

Is there more crime in summer than winter, even in a temperate zone?

I moved inside three nights ago, but find that in the heat of the mid-afternoon, I once again have the yard to myself and I can siesta in the garden bed. There is a red mosquito net, if I want. But the nights, they might be finished for now. Too many creatures.

Last night, due entirely to a wave of stupid that either now lives at or hit Rincon Market like a virus (they simply cannot survive if this is all that they have to work with now, but looking at their online menu and seeing terrible grammatical errors I fear that they are lost) I ended up at Brooklyn Pizza, in the market for a slice with basil.

There was all manner of excitement in the street, the doorway, the air, as a robbery and an apprehension had occurred, and en scene was the Perfect Detective in a lavender shirt. I was mesmerized.

Perfect Detective 1

A photograph could never capture him; no picture could, because he has stillness. He was almost completely still until he moved, and when he moved, he moved without waste, and when I was watching him, he knew it, even when I was inside a building. I could watch him forever and my eyes would never go hungry, trying to absorb the secret.

I will do all of us (but especially him) the favor of forgetting him immediately. If he is lucky he will never see me again.

Perfect Detective 2

Bill and the boys were in Chicago this past weekend, visiting the Art Institute of Chicago, where Liam plans to go. It’s so exciting, and Liam is quite taken with the Loop and the feel of the city. I’ve always loved it there, of course. Chicago was my favorite American city until I met Boston.

Evan and Bill went out on the glass Skydeck at the Willis Tower, 103 floors up.

Evan up high Chicago

If your nerve deny you
go above your nerve
he can lean against the grave
if he fear to swerve

Emily Dickinson

we saw the swallows and the martins… the horse, prancing in the fields

cooper cactus fest

also, it’s cactus time.

Cactus Moment

I could listen to Nick Cave tell me stories all night, or forever, or until the world ended.

What an odd day here at the Ranch, here inside me. Even Orangelina is behaving strangely, suddenly bonding with the western-facing gryphon.

She is getting ever so orange; her eyes and lips are spectacular. Soon she will be pregnant enough, and it will be hot enough, that she will be flat out on the wall, napping under the honeysuckle blossoms.

A strange day at the Ranch

I’ll have to make something for Nick Cave, perhaps I could start here.

Ferry Window


It’s a grey, cool day again, soft and slow.

carlisles roses

This month has been all about patience. I’ve been waiting for my left hand to start working again (almost, I am so grateful) and I’ve run out of the ocean of extra energy I almost always have.

This happens from time to time and almost always through carelessness on my part; I get carried away with the work and fail to save enough life force to start again from nothing, or I stay in one place for too long, or my focus narrows, or I am set aside, either by circumstance or a failure of love or behavior.

As my life has no structure, if I accidentally stop moving, everything stops around me except the machines of life. The plants grow, the cats prowl, the lizards bask, the bills come on time, but the living world of my deeper mind comes to a halt like a carousel without electricity; a layer of cosmic dust forms.

Applying what I know about being me/human, I am heading straight for Bill and the boys. It’s spring in the Midwest now, and we can all tunnel into it together, and Bill can love me until I’m all powered up again, and ready to lock again into a bigger bandwidth.  Patience.

clear spaces

This morning broke cool and overcast. My magic is out of me and flying in pieces like birds on the wings of my little ideas or on improbable reaches across the space that divides us as human beings.

That space flexes; it is sometimes nothing and sometimes impossibly vast, like the distance between an atom’s nucleus and one of its electrons. Who knows how close or how far apart they will be? You can’t tell from the candy shell, just like with people.

We each move within a range, a field, maybe. I try to extend my own by finding the edges and staying near them, watching for shimmering spots. I work at being a better attractant for events; I can apply what I know to the systems that surround me, also the ones that might define me.

I learned from watching Jack that if I see a clear space, I might look nearby for the disturbance that created or maintains it.  And if I see a tanglement of activity, I know that surrounding it there are probably clear spaces with different rules.

Jack and Bill by Kate

Bill says it’s why I like to stir up trouble, so that I can watch what happens all around it.