The Kingdom of Bolinas

In Ernest Callenbach’s 1975 novel Ecotopia, Northern California, Oregon and Washington break away from the union to form their own highly groovy utopia. What Callenbach predicted may never have happened on such a big scale, but the small town of Bolinas, CA sure feels like it broke off from the rest of the country. Callenbach, in fact, featured Bolinas in the prequel to Ecotopia, Ecotopia Emerging.

Bolinas residents, famously, remove the turnoff signs on the highway on a regular basis, giving the town an independent vibe. One of the first things you see on approaching Bolinas is a series of picturesque organic farms, including Gospel Flat Farm which runs an honor stand along the road. When we visited they had some nice looking beets:

And a quirky mobile facility:

Bolinas also has a free store:

With its own unique signage:

And a multi-denominational alter thingy on the main drag:

With yet more creative signage:

The list of former residents reads like a who’s who of American art and poetry. It’s easy to see why. Bolinas has natural beauty, a good set of small businesses and all that fresh produce. It’s also the home of my favorite bloggers, publisher and author Lloyd Kahn

Kind of hard to find myself back in Los Angeles, the most un-Bolinas of cities!

Garden Bench Ideas

I’ve been contemplating building a garden bench for our backyard so whenever I see a nice one I take a picture. The first example (above) resides in a nursery in Bolinas, California. Looks like one end is the ubiquitous cinder block and the other a pre-cast concrete pier. Add some driftwood (there’s a lot of it in Bolinas) and you’ve got a bench.

This arts n’ craftsy bench is in the San Francisco Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park. If I want to recreate this I’d have to pull out the router to do the fancy lettering. Would be kind of funny to offer naming rights to objects in our backyard, though.

Also in the Arboretum, this massive stone bench. Kinda hard to get those heavy stones up the steps to our house. It’s beautiful, but if I recreated it poorly I’d have an object that recalls the tiny Stonehenge gag in This is Spinal Tap. The amusing back story to many of the stones in the San Francisco Arboretum is that they came from a Medieval Spanish monastery that William Randolph Hearst bought and had disassembled, crated and shipped to California at great expense. A couple of fires destroyed the crates and markings and years of acrimonious debate on where to put Hearst’s monastery ended with many of the stones getting distributed around the park as benches and walls. Most went to the construction of a new abbey near Sacramento.

Really nice stonework here–a bench midway up a staircase on the Lands End trail overlooking the entrance to the bay. It’s the most beautiful place on the planet with a nice bench to enjoy the view. 

A bench at the Preston Winery, home of that olive oil I blogged about yesterday.

I don’t ‘think a short bench like any of these would work in our backyard. At home I’m either running around or completely horizontal. Perhaps some kind of lounge chair might work better or a really long bench with some cushions.Will have to consult with the boss . . .

DIY Wall Mounted Wine Bottle Vases

These wine bottle wall vases (via Dude Craft) are proof that the interwebs occasionally echo with good ideas. A variation on the wine bottle tiki torches I linked to earlier, you can make the hangers with parts from the plumbing isle. See Design Sponge for instructions on the torch version. Having seen two houses catch on fire in our neighborhood this year, I’d recommend the flower vase.

Volvo Camper by John Ross

Volvo Camper (in front of a vintage Spartan trailer)

Spotted in the Museum of Jurassic Technology’s parking lot–a Volvo-based camper created by über tinkerer/genius John Ross. Ross started with a 1,200 gallon underground water cistern like the ones below:

He insulated the tank with polyisocyanurate foam-board and covered the whole thing with a $70 tent to block out light. You access the tank through a hole in the roof of the Volvo. A vented heater doubles as a stove. Ross told me how easily it went together–just two hours to secure the tank to the car–much faster than building something from scratch.And no mortgage!

You can watch the Volvo camper in action here.

Lloyd Kahn on Shelter


SHELTER from jason sussberg on Vimeo.

Jason Sussberg has made a nice film about author and publisher Lloyd Kahn. In this short film, Kahn sums up exactly what our dwelling places need, “Shelter is more than a roof overhead–it’s a feeling of warmth and security.”

And, incidentally, how many people do you know who can skateboard that gracefully at the age of 75?

For more inspiration head over to Lloyd’s Blog.

Solar Light Hack

We wanted a solar powered light over our new entrance arbor. The problem is that most of the lights available are just plain ugly. And the solar panels on the cheaper models are usually mounted on the light itself making it impossible to place them in a shady spot.

I came up with a simple solution. First, I bought an inexpensive solar light intended to be mounted on a fence. I took it apart and desoldered the LEDs off the circuit board. Next, I soldered four wires to the former connections to the two LEDs. Basically, I created a extension cord to the LEDs. I mounted the LEDs on a small scrap circuit board and soldered the ends of the wires to them.

What I ended up with is a battery and solar power unit connected by wire to two LEDs that I could place in a more attractive enclosure. We had a candle lamp that Mrs. Homegrown found on the street that worked perfectly, but we could have used just about any fixture. We could now place the solar panel in a sunny location on top of the entrance arbor and then hang the light underneath.

Next on my agenda is to create lights from scratch that flicker like candles.

Here’s a primer on working with LEDs. Note that LEDs have positive and negative legs, so if you hack a solar light, remember to connect up the LEDs respecting the polarity.