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Molokaʻi from the charter plane. Photo courtesy of Dave Benet

Molokaʻi from the charter plane. Photo courtesy of Dave Benet

The ocean water is the scariest part, a frigid ink that consumes all light. The sun is penetrating, the salt corrosive, the wind unremitting. All the elements are demoralizing. Nicholas is paddling in a 32-mile race between the two Hawaiian islands of Molokaʻi and Oʻahu. He is in the Ka’iwi Channel, which means “Channel of Bones” and is 2,300 feet deep. Those who love him are thrilled and more than a little apprehensive.

This is Nicholas’ fourth year competing in the Molokai 2 Oahu Paddleboard World Championships. The previous years were laden with troubles. Three years ago, Nicholas’ escort boat blew an engine on the way to Molokaʻi, and the team stayed up all night attempting to fix it. The results were mixed. The crew still used the double-hull cat, but it was sinking right at the start, and required constant hand-pumping of the bilgewater. Nicholas says “Getting to the starting line is half the race.”

Last year was the worst yet: the ocean was just against everyone, Nicholas included. No wind and swell, a lot of strenuous paddling, a lot of chunder, and a lot of going nowhere. Hours were added to race times, making it a frustrating, hopeless, dark experience for just about everyone involved.

The week before this race, Nicholas’ mother went into surgery for aggressive breast cancer, soon to be followed by vicious chemotherapy. I am afraid to ask him about this, concerned that it will add to the challenges of the race, possibly even be a costly distraction. I am afraid my voice might break. I don’t ask.

The ocean is favorable this year. Nicholas is toward the front of the pack for the whole race, and rounds the China Wall into the final stretch. He really digs in, and passes three other competitors. The entire crew of the chase boat is astounded by his surge of energy after almost six hours of non-stop paddling. Nicholas crosses the finish line and places third in his class. Amazing.

The escort boat captain drops off the team and everyone convenes on the grass. The team is elated. All the preparation and experience really paid off this time. As everyone is recapping the long day, I look down at Nicholas’ paddleboard at our feet and notice something written in pink duct tape: “MAMA.”

I feel fortunate and hug everyone. One deadly race down. One more to go.

 

360 degrees of Oʻahu

360 degrees of Oʻahu

Oʻahu

Oʻahu

7:30am start after Pule’ (Hawaiian prayer). Photo courtesy of Jake Franco

7:30am start after Pule’ (Hawaiian prayer). Photo courtesy of Jake Franco

Nicholas: center left. Photo courtesy of Jake Franco

Nicholas: center left, look close. Photo courtesy of Jake Franco

Photo courtesy of Dave Benet

Photo courtesy of Dave Benet

China Wall. Photo courtesy of Dave Benet

China Wall. Photo courtesy of Dave Benet

China Wall. Photo courtesy of Dave Benet

China Wall. Photo courtesy of Dave Benet

Nicholas and his wife, Sara, on the finish line.

Nicholas and his wife, Sara, on the finish line.

Dave with three Francos: Jake, Nicholas, and Steve

Dave with three Francos: Jake, Nicholas, and Steve

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Molokai 2 Oahu Paddleboard World Championships Award Ceremony

Molokai 2 Oahu Paddleboard World Championships Award Ceremony

Sudden Quieting

Tintype courtesy of Carmen Benavides

Tintype courtesy of Carmen Benavides

I was preparing dinner. I felt and looked weighed down, and I wouldn’t have looked more so if I’d been wearing a lead jacket. I had a life-changing decision to make. A third-world problem. My sinuses and temples hurt. The air was fragrant but also thick and greasy.

Just then something changed, like the sudden quieting of a previously rustling forest. The main room of engine house where I live was dim and silent, and I took note of new, crisp, fresh air. I came out of the kitchen and saw Alexandra, who was reading. There are three swings suspended from the living-room ceiling — it’s a long story — and her eyes were fixed on the right swing. It was moving, while the other two were not.

The dogs were asleep. The room steady, all sounds dulled, aside from the creak of this one moving swing. Alexandra said, “A man just walked through the front door, walked over to the swing, and sat down.” The swing was still moving, but I saw nothing, no one.

I have grown up with ghosts. I have lived in a church, a creamery, a general store, a post office, a train station, and now a firehouse — all these buildings, with all those people, all latent with memories. I admit that when I was a child, my flight-or-fight response was triggered when I experienced spirits, but now I find the presence of ghosts comforting. I feel watched, guarded. And when I’m in a building without spirits, the absence is noticeable to me.

Recently, the fire alarms in the engine house were switched out with ones that combined smoke and carbon-monoxide detection. The new alarms went off irregularly at night, often at three in the morning. I have heard stories of the broken doorbell downstairs ringing in the middle of the night–was this a new ghost prank?

Carbon-monoxide poisoning with symptoms such as delirium and hallucinations has been implicated as the cause of apparent haunted houses, especially those with gas lighting. After a PG&E inspection, we discovered the heater was spilling out massive amounts of carbon monoxide.

That night, after returning to the kitchen, I held the counter, looking down. I imagined a hand on the back of my neck, and the weight on my face and shoulders slowly lifted as the lead jacket was removed, my postured was corrected, shoulders were pulled back. I knew what I had to do. I felt lightened, fortified, and I made a decision.

Thunder, Then Smoke — Javalina Hunt 2014

​Julio and I were honored to be invited by Albert and Dan McCabe to their annual javelina hunt. The huntsmen have known each other for many years, Dan and Sergio the longest at over a quarter century. Read about our first and second year.

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Dominique points his toes as he slowly steps forward into tall grass. His bow is at the ready. We crest the ridge and drop on top a sounder of javalina. They don’t yet know we are here. Dominique spots the wild pigs. Bows go first anyway, so he is moving in, peeling off his hat and equipment in slow motion as he advances. Hands shaking from adrenaline, he pulls back his bow.

I am not completely settled with hunting. On the outside, hunting appears to be a strange clash: reverence for beautiful wildlife that, in turn, results in “taking” it from nature. On the other side, a chance encounter with a half-ton majestic being in the form of an elk or a buck is a personal and life-changing moment. In a world absent of Whole Foods, it may be a life-saving moment. Just you and a demigod.

I don’t feel this way about javalina. They are just really angry, disgusting pigs that will charge you and open up your leg. Two javalina within 75 yards in front of Dominique are quarreling over something at the base of a large, round cactus. Their snorts and snarls cover his advancement. We are glassing above him, watching, while tracking another below. Dominique shoots silently. Once, twice, and a third time.

It all happens so fast. Thunder, then smoke. Pulse pumping, dilated pupils. Screeching, dry mouth. Blood gushing, testosterone. Labored breathing. Stillness. Sweat.

Unlike in the movies, running while shooting a weapon at fast-moving targets is very difficult. Chasing, as a team, really strikes a chord with me. I appreciate the unspoken strategizing, as well as the booming chaos. I like seeing a huntsman act as a spotter and steer his fellow shooter’s shoulders onto targets. It’s thrilling when everyone is running uphill in pursuit, calling out to each other. In the end, panting and laughing, it’s pretty damn fun.

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Photo courtesy of Julio César Morales

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Photo courtesy of Julio César Morales

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A Boy Wanders into the Redwoods

Photo courtesy of Gillian Bostock

Photo courtesy of Gillian Bostock

In Pinecrest, there is the legend of the boy who wandered into the redwoods and was never seen again. For many generations and still today, children have called the boy’s name into the dark woods and across the cold lake: “Elmer!”

We are Cameron's guests in Pinecrest, staying at his family's cabin. The air is warm and fragrant, layered with dust, hazy from campfire smoke. There is a summer camp nearby. The sounds of children are constant, the day punctuated with mealtime gongs. These kids seem to be awake all the time, cheering and shouting early in the morning and late at night.

The dogs are possessed. When we arrive, I let them out of the back of the truck and they unexpectedly take off into the trees. Gone. I call to them. No response. I pretend to myself everything is fine, but still no response. My heart starts to get wobbly.

Looking back on that moment, it makes a little more sense. The flood of colors, of smells. The all-you-can-eat Disney-movie buffet of birds, squirrels, chipmunks. The pending intersection of the supermoon and summer solstice.

Soon enough they reappear, Zoé with the same look she had after having tried raw lamb bone for the first time: Why have we not done this before? And why are you hugging me like a weirdo? Niko soon follows.

The night of the supermoon, the dogs are filthy. Their faces look foreign to me, their bodies more muscular. The huge golden circle ascends slowly, as if it is going to touch the planet. The children campers are far in the woods with flashlights flickering between the pure black tree trunks. They resemble a search party. It is past 10pm. The saying here is: "Elmer's dead. Go to bed."

Everyone is turning in and I decide to sleep by the fire. I awake at 3am, freezing and blinded by the moon. The supermoon has made it directly above me, where the trees part. Niko has dug to the bottom of the sleeping bag, leaving Zoé up top. It is so bright I cannot sleep.

The final evening, following an after-dark lake dip, messy s'mores, and some bourbon, we sit by the fire. This place feels safe. My mobile phone doesn't work here, we need no more protection than a screen door can provide. I think about the family names on the cabins, the generations of traditions. I think about the cooperation, the civility of everyone: Cameron, his guests, the neighbors, all those campers. Strangers greet each other, whether on the trail or in the water. The forest is maintained, the litter collected, yards swept.

And I think about Elmer. There is another version of that campfire lore. It starts the same: a boy wanders into the redwoods. When his mother discovers him missing around dinnertime, she calls for him. The nearby children join in, calling out his name. The calling travels from campsite to campsite and all around the lake: "Elmer!"

I believe this legend echoes the cooperation, the civility, the community, the spirit of this place called Pinecrest. I believe that Elmer was found.

Pinecrest is in the Stanislaus National Forest, California. The local bar is called Steam Donkey, after the logging and mining machine that replaced the donkeys. Thank you Cameron and Gillian.

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Photo courtesy of Gillian Bostock

Photo courtesy of Gillian Bostock

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Photo courtesy of Brian Scott

Photo courtesy of Brian Scott

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Photo courtesy of Brian Scott

Photo courtesy of Brian Scott

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Cycles of the Mind

Photo courtesy of Heimo

The morning feels like yesterday, like last year, like next year. Together, facing a real-time screen, a screen full of bright minds, declarative sentences, short talks, long dreams, wide thinking. The mind is cycling, just saturated with ideas. The eyes see in different light, like some new color has brought the edges into focus. Swallowing reveals it’s been a roller coaster of emotions.

Participating in the TED Conference is intense, moving, invigorating. The four days provide a quick reminder of what a regular person you are, and how much you have not accomplished. But you are not alone, and you are not empty. You have been entrusted.

Charged with ideas, there is an urge, a responsibility to do something with them — that with each hand you can grab the nodes of a circuit, and with your heart and mind you can energize new change.

Photographs by Heimo Schmidt captured on TED2013 day one using a custom hybrid 8X10 field camera (metal front, standard wooden rear). Lens: Nikkor 240mm/f5.6. Exposure: f8 at 1/4 second. Polaroid cross-processing, with film that expired in 2003 and was improperly stored in hot places, such as Heimo’s van and garage. Heimo said of the film, “It seems to still work quite well. The results are the same as when I bought it.” Upon seeing the images, I began to believe in the concept of film stealing a subject’s soul. Asked about this, Heimo said, “In most cases yes, but for a small fee we can arrange for it to be sold back to you.”

This event was generously sponsored by David Albertson, Emily McManus, and the TED Editorial Team. Thanks to all twelve 2013 participants for your time and participation.

Photo courtesy of Heimo Photo courtesy of Heimo Photo courtesy of Heimo Photo courtesy of Heimo

A Little Blood — Javalina Hunt 2013

​Julio and I were invited by Albert and Dan McCabe to their annual javelina hunt. The huntsmen have known each other for many years, Dan and Sergio the longest at over a quarter century. Read about last year.

Photo courtesy of Julio César Morales

Photo courtesy of Julio César Morales

Andreas is fifteen years old and wears his grandfather's dog tags around his neck. The sky is ink black with thousands of pinhole stars, and after a long first day in the high desert, the huntsmen are circled around the campfire. They are saturated in bourbon. Smoke abounds, both wood and cigar. Andreas declares that when he turns eighteen, when he is legally able to make such choices for himself, he will have those dog tags tattooed around his neck. His father, Claudio, and uncle, Eddie, do not approve.

That morning — maybe 6am — during coffee, I had found fresh purple blood on my palms and sleeves. I’ve learned that when an elder lends you a knife to use, expect it to be so scalpel sharp that you will cut yourself without knowing it. I keep learning this lesson. I discreetly located the blood source and applied pressure, slowly wiping my hands with a towel, as if nothing of note had transpired.

This year, the javalina hunt of 2013, there is more shooting of cameras than of weapons. Julio and I are traversing the high desert with a Yashica medium format camera shooting Ektachrome transparency and black and white film, with negatives measuring two and a quarter inches. In the past year a massive fire consumed the landscape, transforming desert brush into shiny charcoal statues that grab your jacket, shattering and exploding as you pass. The air is fresh, but the light feels spooky, metallic, amber, and unearthly, like the light from a solar eclipse or an alien planet.

The culture of these huntsmen is a balance of provocation and encouragement. Discussions are animated and respectful. Treks are punishing and fun. Experts are challenging and inclusive. I ask myself, How did this balance come about?

There are three generations on this trip. They are from varying life experiences and beliefs. This is important. Hunting with others of the same age group creates fraternity. A multi-generational hunt is also fraternal, but much more valuably it is in equal turns avuncular and paternal. This current, multi-generational environment results in a rich sense of caring, teaching, and learning. Youth learn from elders, but it also works the other way around.

A group of men of the same age can be considered a pack, or a gang. I believe a group of men of differing age naturally form a tribe. These huntsmen — the youth, the elders, and the in-between — we are a tribe. I feel lucky to be part of this. There are endless lessons to learn. Today’s lesson: elders see everything. As Andreas describes his intended tattoo plans, I glance at the spot on my hand where the blood had flowed that morning. I rub it and look up at the fire. Across the embers, the knife-loaning elder looks at me. He smiles and winks.

Photo courtesy of Julio César Morales

Photo courtesy of Julio César Morales

Photo courtesy of Julio César Morales

Photo courtesy of Julio César Morales

Photo courtesy of Julio César Morales

Photo courtesy of Julio César Morales

Photo courtesy of Julio César Morales

Photo courtesy of Julio César Morales

Photo courtesy of Julio César Morales

Photo courtesy of Julio César Morales

The Scene of the Hunt

Photo courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Photo courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Richard piled up the bird carcasses on his plate. James filled his with crunchy severed wings. This Thanksgiving we roasted an abundance of birds: turkey, goose, pheasant, partridge, cornish hen, squab, quail. These two men helped roast and carve. They chose flesh from close to the bone. Margaret Visser describes the roast as “an echo of the ancient ritual of the impromptu meal at the scene of the hunt.” A modern-day roast begins with “firemaking outside the house — though not necessarily very far from it.” For many centuries, fish, birds, and especially whole beasts were roasted and “placed before the family as a result of male enterprise and triumph; and men, with their knives, have insisted on carving it up, and even cooking it before the expectant and admiring crowd.” Visser argues that the ritual of the roast expresses “the unity of the group that consumes it” — and that the dining table “represents, as no other piece of furniture can, the family as a whole. If any member of the family should be absent, the empty place at the table is a mute reminder of the missing person.”

Wait, what was that? This year, the reminders weren’t mute at all. They were loud, heartbreakingly so, and for a while there, I didn’t know what to do about it. And then, after a little time, after a little conversation, food, and wine, the reminders transformed themselves into something providential. They brought more meaning to my memories — and, for that matter, to the present moment. The engine house is saturated with over a hundred years of ghosts and memories. This Thanksgiving, new memories have been added: of James’ expert firewood-stacking strategy, of Richard’s carving-tool set and deft cuts, of his boys and James interacting by the hearth, roasting chestnuts, grapes, and sausages. These and many others join the memories of the people whom I miss.

Thank you, especially: Alexandra Rose, Anja, Brian, David, James, Janet, Lans, Lindsay, Stacy, Steve, Richard, and Rosalind. And to Margaret Visser, whose book The Rituals of Dinner: The Origins, Evolution, Eccentricities, and Meaning provided the above citations.

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Photo courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Photo courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Photo courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Photo courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Photo courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Photo courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Photo courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Photo courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Photo courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Photo courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Photo courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Photo courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Photo courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Photo courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Photo courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Photo courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Photo courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Photo courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Photo courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Photo courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Photo courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Photo courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Photo courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Photo courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Photo courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Photo courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Photo courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Photo courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Photo courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Photo courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Photo courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Photo courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Photo courtesy of Claude Zellweger

Photo courtesy of Claude Zellweger

Photo courtesy of Claude Zellweger

Photo courtesy of Claude Zellweger

Photo courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Photo courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Photo courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Photo courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Photo courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Photo courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Photo courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

Photo courtesy of Stephen Bronstein

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The Three-Dimensional Cocktail

Photo courtesy of Paolo Salvagione

With the scrape of a chair on the wood floor, the man rose — chest out, head slightly down, arms by his side. And then he began to sing. Conversation in the restaurant soon quieted. From the kitchen we squinted into the dining room.

I spent time cooking in an Italian restaurant in San Francisco that hosted many from the local Italian-American community. Service was in rapid-fire Italian, so I had no idea what was said, but learned to deduce. That night, I truly didn’t know what was happening.

Another man stood up and joined the song. Conversation had now fully ceased, revealing only the chimes of wine glasses and silverware — and, of course, the singing. Now a third, and then fourth man. I looked at Tony next to me and then back to the dining room. A fifth and sixth man joined as the dining room was silent save for the pure song. The service staff was frozen in place. The song grew until all the guests were singing.

After the song ended with cheers, I looked at Tony again. He looked at me with tears and said, “That was beautiful.” I went to respond — tasted salt and choked. I, too, had teared up.

This experience had highlighted a belief I had about a disconnect in our junior American culture — we have nothing like this. It’s true, singing “Happy Birthday” is close, but its often half-hearted execution lacks the depth of history and culture in comparison.

Recently, things changed for me. Artist and friend Paolo Salvagione recently released One for Each, his limited edition artists’ book. It’s the result of his being the 2012 Imprint Artist in Residence at the San Francisco Center for the Book. The edition was large in scope and execution. From the start, from the sidelines, I watched Paolo’s effort in the development of his edition. I watched the Center’s Mike Bartalos, Rhiannon Alpers, and staff join him in full support. And then soon after, writer Marc Weidenbaum added in a series of essays. Designer Brian Scott responded with type, and Heimo Schmidt with photos. An idea, a movement was put forth, and many united, creating something better than an individual alone could make.

This time I knew what was happening, and it was my chance to stand up, chest out, look into everyone’s eyes, and sing with them.

My contribution was to build — for the exhibit’s opening event — food and drink that directly related to the edition: five gifts for five layers of five senses. Inspiration from inspiration.

Gift one was based on layer one of the edition, Sight, which involved the use of 3D glasses to view images printed in red and cyan. We concocted a cocktail to represent this: a red negroni with ice as the cyan. Here is the recipe:

Three-Dimensional Cocktail

Ingredients:

  • 1 oz. gin
  • 1 oz. Campari
  • 1 oz. vermouth rosso (red or sweet)
  • 1 dash Regan’s Orange Bitters No. 6
  • 3 oz. water
  • blue food coloring

To prepare the glass:

  1. Color the 3 oz. water with the blue food coloring.
  2. Pour into glass and freeze until solid.

To prepare the cocktail:

  1. Combine all the other ingredients in a mixer with ice cubes and stir for 30 seconds.
  2. Remove prepared glass from freezer and strain mixture into the glass.
  3. Serve immediately.

Photo courtesy of Heimo

Photo courtesy of Heimo

Photo courtesy of Heimo

Photo courtesy of Heimo

Photo courtesy of Heimo

Photo courtesy of Heimo

Photo courtesy of Heimo

Photo courtesy of Heimo

Photo courtesy of Heimo

Photo courtesy of Heimo

Thank you Alexandra Rose Franco, Jennifer Robin Berry, Paul Donald, and James Tucker. Kaku plates by WASARA compliments of Branch.