Solstice mountain

June 21, 2015

Made a trip to the hippie wonderland of Mount Shasta.

I've always wanted to go. This is more than 10 years in the making. I've heard that the number of crystal healers per square mile up there rivals the density anywhere else on earth. I think it might be true.

A few miles before you start to pick up the looming white mass of a mountain on the horizon, the landscape seriously starts to buckle, hills open up and the valley, carved by the blessed Sacramento River -- which Highway 5 so studiously follows -- begins to show its piercing drop-offs.

There's no doubt about the gravity of the mountain, whose mass and height helps water 75 percent of California's needs. Yes, you heard that right.

The Sacramento River begins to appear wild up here, particularly above Mt. Shasta Dam. Shasta Lake is down by what looks to be over 100 feet. The bloated false lake's former height marked by a dense green tree line over bright, dead orange sand. Cars are parked all along exposed rises in the former lake bottom. The bleached-out color draining the soul and eyes. The boats look a little more toy-ish as they skip along the starving lake, near each other -- playthings in a 5-year-old's bath tub.

On Solstice Eve, I arrive in Mt. Shasta City, a little hamlet settled on the long, sloping foot of Mt. Shasta just before it kisses the Sacramento River. The white peak looms close in the distance; you definitely feel part of the mountain here. It's 6 p.m. The crystal shops are closed. A burned-out barefoot hippie kid dances in the health-food store parking lot, singing to one of his nearby friends, "They asked about my shoes and I said 'What kind of store IS this?'" The store sells "prana produce."

As chance would have it, there's a Solstice music festival across the street above the outdoor adventure rental shop. A 4-piece band plays some type of rock. The band -- not too bad -- rocks out to an outdoor crowd of about 25. Some dudes are selling wine in plastic cups. A middle-aged guy sits in lotus jamming to the music, an older white-haired dude with a Native American-style hand circular hand drum and mallet beats along to the tunes.

The center of the universe are two hippie girls, mid-20s with two nondescript fellas. They're both dancing, one wears those Mad Max-style front leather chap-pockets and has dreads that almost hang to her waist. One of their kids runs over to the big boulder that's just sitting in the area and starts climbing it, obviously looking for attention. There's another hippie dad-looking guy behind me with a turquoise silver bracelet on -- but other than that he looks normal. I'm leaning against the 5-foot-tall huge rock sipping a Trilogy Kombucha (another hippie?) and scanning the "Mt. Shasta Sacred Sites Guide Book" I bought at the health food store. Lots of sites have faeries and are good for meditating.

The 4-year-old kid begins slipping off the sheer face of the rock right near me; he's dangling. I ask him if he needs help, he kind of whimpers and I grab him by his ribs and drop him down. The hippie girls smile.

In the next field over from the little concert, there's a craft show winding down in the yard of a healing center. There's some hand-painted baseball caps, a table with cucumber and lime water advertising the healing center's offerings, and a woman wrapping up her tent of bees-based products: deoderant, honeycomb, lip balm, soap.

I go to the healing center table; there's a thin, cute Indian woman about my age (36) at the table with what looks like permanent henna-style tattoo all over. I ask her if the center has a rate sheet, and they do, right in front of me. It's expensive, more expensive than some places in the Bay Area. We start talking. My M.O. to visiting a spot is usually to wait to ask the locals what's cool and then do that. I ask her where I should camp, and she doesn't hesitate: "Panther Meadow," up on the mountain, about a 30-minute winding drive from town.

I start the slow drive up the mountain. The long day slowly, very slowly, exhaling its light. The white mass of the mountain visible and then not through the thick strands of trees the road carves through.

I'm envisioning an open meadow, sparsely populated with some campers.

All of a sudden there's a wide shoulder, some cars parked gazing at the amazing view of the folded mountains and the indigo, baby blue, sky blue, cobalt rippling horizon. One more curve and then bam -- cars everywhere. Shock and a little disappointment. This place is hot. There's a thick metal bar across the road 50 feet farther ahead, announcing that it's closed from there on up.

A group of about 15 tourists are on the path leading up to the mountain being loud and taking selfies.

The peak is close, you can make out the snowed channels and the scree above the treeline. It looks like a short jaunt to the top.

I set up my tent. Several solos nearby, some couples and a few groups.

As I drift off to sleep under the slowly darkening sky, all of a sudden sounds of off-beat drums, chanting and some bells begin drifting from a little ways up the mountain -- the hippies celebrating Solstice night in some form. That lasts until I drift off. When I awake again at around 3 a.m., feeling the lump of the ground, not smoothed all the way by the too-thin foam mat serving as mattress, it's all quiet, the white mountain breathing.

I get up early the next morning, planning to hike as far toward the peak as my legs care to take me. I boil some water as I take down my two-person, one-person REI backpacker's tent, which has a mesh top that lets you stare out at the stars -- and also freeze your bones when the cold early morning swoops in as it does on the mountain. Tent and sleeping bag packed, I prep the rolled outs and hot cocoa and ground coffee. The coffee filter looks like it will work perfectly, nestled just perfectly in the lip of the cup. The water takes forever to boil -- why? When it's boiling, I pour it into the filter, which immediately collapses into the cup. Duh. I end up with a super concentrated hot chocolate-coffee. Not bad actually. The oats with almonds, raisins and shredded coconut on top was aces.

I prepare to head off up. A guy with dreads goes to his car, parked a few spots from mine, and just beats me up the mountain on the trail. He says good morning. And an older couple goes up before me, too.

I hit the trail. Signs immediately give mileage to "Horse Camp," which spurs unanswerable questions.

I pass the middle-aged couple fairly soon. As I pass, the guy mutters "Happy Father's Day" to me, which strikes off a ripple of emotions. I'm 36, should I be a father, walking with my little ones up a mountain? Should I be with my father? What's a father? My dad.

I continue walking, jostled for a 100 yards or so by that moat. Lots of signs show up saying no dogs are allowed past horse camp, a couple miles up.

Every now and then a guy or two passes by, exhausted-looking, with crampons, a helmet and a foam mattress dangling from their packs, gingerly, tiredly stabbing their hiking sticks in time with their steps. They all look exhausted. Maybe the mountain isn't as easy to climb as it looks.

Horse camp arrives -- it's a stone building. One you dream of in those naturalist moments. There's also a spring fed from the mountain peak, now shining clearly above, a white taste waters the mouth at the pulsing proximity. A young family, whose tent is in sight of the cabin, is just waking up, shaking the camping-sleep from their bodies and walking into the sun, which is beginning to bathe the area near the spring. The spring is a set of flagstone rocks stacked up and up and leveraged, balancing their weight. Water drips off the end of one. I drink and drink. It tastes exactly like melted snow. And it's cold. Horse camp's elevation is 8,000 feet.

I sit on the spring rocks. The dreadlocked dude is doing a very slow-motion sun salutation in the dust, boots on, on the backside of the cabin facing the glorious peak.

Inside the cabin, you learn about the different glaciers on the mountain.

Above the cabin the trail asked you to stay on the "causeway," a line of small boulders heading off over the bare ground toward the tumbling scree lines gently sloping above and on all sides.

Parts of the peak are shrouded in fog. The mountain-hugging clouds especially dig into a south-facing valley, promising disorientation. A brief dizzy spell passes over me as I imagine trudging through the ocean of snow up there with no up or down.

Soon the trees disappear. I stop a guy on his way down. I ask if he made it to the top. He says no, just the next camp up, about a mile away. "12,000 feet was enough," he muttered, a little worn.

I keep going, the air's getting thin. There's a mossy area, with water dripping past. A chipmunk takes me in, skittering from rock to rock up, and then ignores me, giving me a tangible wave of loneliness.

And then the view and the cotton-candy clouds and blue drops off away from the mountain as only life above the treeline affords.


Headwaters of the Sacramento pour out of rocks just north of Mt. Shasta City. Dating shows that the water emerging immediately into a tumbling waterfowl and dense green brush was last on the surface 50 years ago.

15,000 people attempt to scale the peak each year; 1 in 8 make it.

John Muir had a hellish night on the mountain, kept himself warm in the white-out blizzard by burying his body in the thin crust above blazing magma just below the surface.

Day crash

May 29, 2015

After work, laying down briefly in the late Friday afternoon relaxed exhaustion, the world exhaling.

The world suddenly crashes, explodes, the air sucked out of my small studio apartment, and shaken like a lover's angry nudge and then replaced, different.

Classy neighbor lady goes running down the street toward the screaming screech.

I follow.

Arrive at the nearest big intersection, a white Chevy pickup truck, no extended cab, on its right side and a handful of hood life clustered around trying to pry open the driver's side door -- can't tell if there's life at this point. The fresh Bay afternoon light pouring down, the Friday pre-evening energy in the air.

Cops arrive, begin blocking off the streets, then fire trucks and their men. They pry open the driver's door. Pull a man, screaming out, an arm toward the passenger's side waves -- no indication what it's connected to, and what that may look like.

A shirtless guy, high on the tragedy, who was in the cluster at the truck, runs over to the far corner where we are. Describes pools of blood and someone's face buried in the asphalt.

I walk back, nauseous, stomach, head swirling, ask my neighbor if he saw. "No, I saw enough death in Vietnam."

The golden hour

May 19, 2015

About a month to the summer solstice and the light gets long.

At the top of the hill hulk a pack of goats, a smell of hay in the long evening and a bit of the crooked-eyed farm feeling. A blackbird with a colorful chest twitters on a bare shrub on the way back to the trail top.

The roar of the freeway hums in the distance. Two uncertain lovers hug and pretend to warm each other up as an excuse to feel the electricity of their bodies close. It’s hot.

The wind blows. A crisp clean nonscent borne from the ocean, maybe just the hint of saltspray, clearing the air with it. The air crisp, a few birds of different species chirping. The light growing longer, filtering that saffron, electric neon light enflaming the grass, flowers, hills, sky, water, mountains,

An LA night

May 17, 2015

An LA night in the Hollywood Hills, mysterious as all of them must be, more mysterious than you would think. At Griffith Observatory peering down on the quiet canyons.

On the curving drive up, a large coyote, more like a wolf, the largest coyote I’ve ever seen, lurked out onto the road and smoothly went uphill.

A gay couple, apparently on a first date, are staring at the shocking dark expanse, too. One is from the area and is tour-guiding his date; you can hike on trails all the way to the Hollywood sign in the distance, he says. There are other hiking trails, too, in the area, including one to a reservoir. No trails are visible in the dark; it just looks like one large plenipotent mystery. The date asks why the sign isn’t lit up at night. No good answer comes, but the knowing guide says the sign used to read “Hollywoodland,” but “land” was lost sometime in the Twenties. Walking toward the observatory, and looking back at the hills and sign, what looks like a small fire blazes an orange quarter in the distance at the foot of the sign. Rich kids at the sign?

The night feels rich, made richer by the feeling of wealthy people all around, especially one cocky young guy and a girl in awesome boots who scoot out at closing and quip right to his Jaguar illegally parked near the entrance for the last-minute visit.

Hollywood sits right at the base of a series of jutting hills, the work place of all those luxurious industry people with magnificent homes perched among their heights. Rich people in the hills in every city. Seclusion, views, reaching toward God-heights.

The dark, grey, black, deep blue, the wilderness a shock from the orange-pink, ads, buildings of the city you carve through to then escape suddenly up the hill to rich wilderness all around you.

Later, driving up Laurel Canyon, made famous in my brain by the movie of the same name, reveals glorious houses everywhere. Are there that many people living that well? How?

Chateau Marmont. “Who are you meeting?” “No one.” “Bar here is by reservation only.” The blond, older, cute-ish gatekeeper is a litttle murky on the details, but points me to the Bar Chateau Marmont down the hill, where the plebes go.

You walk in to loud music, which sounds almost live, but you see pretty soon that it’s guided by a whack DJ in the corner near the low-level bar. The place is lavish, the wall paper ornate, stringy fringe on the high-ceilinged, hanging lamps, and rose-saffron, dimmed lighting. The full scope of a peacock’s 12-foot-long tail feathers hang over one semi-corner table across from the bar where a gaggle of girls (one older is a mom?) perch and all but one flirt their eyes around the room. The remainder drizzles lime over an elegant-looking paella-like dish and starts grubbing somewhat hard with her hands.

Bartender girl in white shirt, low-cut, suspenders framing her inflated breasts.

Two dudes on a business date, look boringly around the room, backs to the kidney-height bar. Three cute girls walk in; the hostess takes them to one of the alcove tables, where table service is de riguer. They look slightly disappointed that they’ll be cordoned off in table-service hell, with no guys in eyeshot to obliquely thrust their bodies at through glances.

A girl with curly hair, an interesting face and thick legs walks by in a low-cut, short dress. Watching her step up the carpeted five stairs that lead to the entrance in high heels, I teeter with her legs. She comes back down to the bar, connects with two friends. I contemplate going up to say Hi. I don’t.

It’s about 11pm on a Thursday night. There is one dude here who could be famous or embedded with the famous. He’s sporting the eff-you-I-made-it outfit of powerhouse producers/directors — baseball cap, T-shirt, relaxed sport coat, a calm grin that conveys, “I’m on the beach at least 60 days a year, doing my dream and making dough. No worries.”

A blond in the corner, bleached, stares alarmingly hard around the room. Over-eye-lined eyes calling out for a dirty quicky in the Marmont alley, or more likely, a moment with a sad Hollywood producer with money, to throw some cash on her naked stomach after offering her soul up to him, and her dreams.

The music is loud.

On the drive home you pass by oil-field hills in the middle of the city, adding doses of mystery and Wild West feelings — what must have been the genesis of “There Will Be Blood.” “I’ll Drink your milkshake.”

Ripping the universe open

May 2, 2015

First Friday in Oakland, May 1, 2015.

It starts with the an evening swim. The East Bay Hills peak at different parts throughout Oakland and Berkeley, adding universe-to-the-sky feel whenever you sneak it.

First Friday in Oakland, the ramshackle, striving Bay Area steaze on full display: galleries open up and down warehouse-laden streets, people dressed up drinking and art everywhere.

This troupe was led by a dude wearing an amp on his back, blasting some type of techno. The dude in the white dinner jacket held a mic connected to the amp; he mumbled things into it every now and then. A bunch of cute girls were with them, too. They all wore digs with “Provibers” on it. Check it!

Hana was typing out poems on the street on small sheets of paper. Give her a subject and off she goes. Mine was “Art.” She stands up and reads it to you.


close your eyes and open

your mind to the ultimate

sublime, the expansive

diving, and when you dive

into the deep waters of truth

the illusion of reality will

guide you to the

source of some time and

place in space that

you always knew existed

for you have felt it before

and been told tall

tales that each

sacred soul on this earth

shall prevail.

-hana lee (signed)


April 30, 2015

The clean, crisp lines and blond wood baked with semi-fake grain contrasts with the loud, clunky music.

A pretty-ish girl at the register has issues, but her breasts suggest otherwise, along with a shy, knowing smile. The green in the backshop, Japenese-style courtyard glows throughout the shotgun space. The crew moves hectic as closing time marches closer. Another barista, cute-ish has a cross tattooed above her left elbow and bangs that hang delicately in her face. The slightest hint of sex in her look, she wears a handwritten paper sign on that gentle part of the chest below the clavicle and above the breast that reads “I have no voice, but I am listening. Have a great day.” Her face and shy smile suggest that the voicelessness is a decision.

There’s a parklet outside designed as a sawed-in-half schooner.

It’s sharp in SF, what sets it apart.