Lessons from a Pine Cone

You see this here pine cone on my desk?  You can compare its size to the college history textbook that is behind it. It is green and heavy with pitch. It weighs more than an IPhone 8 Plus, not sure how much though. If you picked it up, you’d be surprised how heavy it actually is.  Why is it on my desk? Well, because it serves as a reminder to me about how fragile, random, chaotic life can be.


I was walking through our campus this frosty morning with a friend. We were in conversation and in the midst of college students scurry, shuffling, wandering between their classes, when this thorny bastard came down, at the speed of gravity, from the top of a 50 foot tree…and about 5 steps directly in front of me. Close call. There was a closer call though. It fell directly behind a young man, which my friend and I estimated came within an inch of the back of his head… and he never flinched, looked back, or anything. Yes, he had headphones on and was undoubtedly listening to some music I would personally dislike.

He just kept on walking his way while everyone around him had that “holy shit” look on their faces. I told my friend, if it had hit me, it might have killed me on the spot, or maybe I would have gotten to my feet only to start bleeding internally later on, like a guy I heard about who got hit in the head with a golf ball.

How random was that we asked as we kept walking on. I then said, “You know, I bet the Grim Reaper had that kid all picked out and scoped perfectly, did the math and all, and just as he was going to make the pine cone break lose, his cell phone rang and distracted him.”

Funny, but not very. A lot of people die so randomly from tree branches, and weird events, yet we just kind of shake our heads at it all – like we can’t really take much time to think about it because it would disrupt our current theory of cause and effect and personal responsibility for one’s life and fortunes… and misfortunes. There ain’t no room for random pine cone shit in our lives, but they do exist. I have one on my desk now to remind me how fragile, random, chaotic life can be and yet, still miraculous, loving and wonderful.


My Goodness

Yesterday I walked out of Costco, a warehouse of consumerism and often frenzied people pushing their grocery carts into each other, and suddenly came awake to the incredible beauty of a late winter/early spring sky.

Clouds…are there any better teachers of what is important in our lives? I just stopped at the exit door and said to the lady who checks the receipts, “Oh my goodness, look at those clouds.” For the moment she stopped being a security check point. She looked at them, instinctively touched my shoulder and said, “So beautiful.”

Yes, so beautiful.

Atmospheric River (In the old days we just called it the Pineapple Express)



Wrote a song once about this…

Today is Valentine’s Day. In the center where I work, the students decided to decorate in the theme of Loving and Caring for Yourself. Great idea, I think.

They did try to sneaky-like produce a little pubic hair replica between the legs of one of the Cupid cutouts on the wall, but one of our eagle eye staff members caught it.

Happy Valentine’s Day.  Take care of yourself!

Loving Kindness

My father told me once, when I was about 13 or 14 years old, that people will misinterpret one’s politeness with being weak. He didn’t tell me not to be polite, but it was just one of those statements he would occasionally make that seemed to have come out of nowhere and had no particular destination – its purpose shrouded in mystery.  It must have had a powerful effect on me because over 50 years later I still clearly remember his mini-lesson and think about it.

Through the years I have often thought about what he said that day. Yes, on many occasions I have found his statement to be quite true. In my own life, I ended up introducing a kind of bi-polar form of humanity. The result is that people end up saying things like, “He’s a very complicated man.” Indeed, most people would say that about my own father and in my case, they would say “the apple did not fall far from the tree.”

You can take it a step further with the idea of loving kindness. What does one do with this combination of words? There is a tendency, at least here in the USA, to view loving kindness as something to be avoided, kind of like wearing your pajamas to work. They might be comfortable, but it just isn’t acceptable adult behavior. Plus, loving kindness is seen as a fool’s errand. It is naivete.

But what does one do who suddenly has been on the receiving end of acts of loving kindness? Since the fire destroyed our town, home, our routines, including portions of our incomes, I have experienced many unsolicited acts of loving kindness, from friends, from friends and family I have not heard from in years, decades, and from complete strangers. I told a friend that I had become very cynical over the years and I had built a philosophy about life that was similar to a very sophisticated sandcastle on an empty ocean beach. Then suddenly, the waves of loving kindness started washing over my house of sand and eventually took it out to sea leaving behind a glistening beach with no footprints and no sandcastles of cynicism.

Naturally life goes on. We get back into our routines and our conversations and we sometimes begin rebuilding those sandcastles. It is easy to do. However, you realize you can’t do so and still honor the loving kindness you have experienced. Loving kindness is transformational. My dad was right. Some people, perhaps many people will consider it a sign of weakness, an opportunity to exploit. He made an If, Then statement but he left it up to me to determine if this was just some form of artificial intelligence. Was there deeper knowledge, spiritual knowledge available in this vulnerablity – similar to the lessons of the Sermon on the Mount?  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  I think so.  I know I ‘feel’ so.




Looking For Jesus (Chapter 1 and 2)

Just playing around with the imagination. Posting Chapters 1 and 2 of a story with no idea of where it will land…

Looking for Jesus

“Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.” Picasso


 “No, you’re not.”

I stood my ground, “Yes, I am.”

Retirement was a real, first class, bitch. I knew it was coming. I had tried to get prepared for it. I bought and diligently worked through books on designing the next stage of my life. I colored mandalas. I tried making a leather belt in hopes that it would lead to a wallet and perhaps, one day, to a pair of sandals. I took a painting class. I even tried reading the bible all the way through. I got as far as where God created the world…the first version.  I stunk at golf and I thought fishing stunk. I created a Facebook page, but had nothing to post. I created a blog site, but I had nothing to blog. I tried to learn how to play the guitar, but I couldn’t play an F chord so I said, “F it.”

I was lost and I was bored and I was anxious and I was getting depressed. After years of fighting that condition, I did not want to find myself back with a therapist who makes you talk for fifty minutes and then charges you for sixty minutes of listening. Who in the hell said that was o.k.?   My life seemed to be centered upon visits to the doctor’s, the dentist’s, and attending somebody’s ‘celebration of life’ service.  The last time I went to the doctor he said that I wasn’t going to win the swimsuit contest. It is not a good thing when your primary care physician starts making fun of you.

So there we were. When I told my wife I was thinking about getting a private investigator’s license, she, at first, just stared at me. I had seen that look many times before. I saw it when I told her I was going to start a worm farm. I saw it when I told her I was going to start a tree farm. I saw it when I told her I wanted a farm farm.

“You’re fuckin’ me.”

Unfortunately the combination of blood pressure pills, pills for high cholesterol, and blood sugar controlling pills had made her statement a near physical impossibility. I was too cheap, or too embarrassed, to pay for the boner pills.

“No, I am not,” I said. “I completed all the paperwork and Randy said I could set up an office at his place.”

“Randy, the massage therapist, spiritual healer, and psychic? He is going to expand into private investigations too? Perfect. Are you out of your mind? You’re kidding right? You didn’t even talk to me about this? Randy,… your cousin,… is an … idiot.”

I had expected that the conversation would go this way which is one reason why I had kept my plans to myself.

“Ok, first of all Randy is culturally engaged and … granted he does have an entrepreneurial spirit.” I said looking directly into her angry eyes. To break eye contact would mean she had won this contest of wills.

“I get it. You’re bored. Why don’t you write a book? Go volunteer at the homeless shelter. Start playing the guitar again. Go get a goddamn girlfriend. What do you know about investigations? You need a hip replacement. We gotta a dog to take care of. And, shit, you might get yourself killed.”  She was about as angry as I thought she would be. I would say on a ten point scale, hmm, maybe 8.5 or so. I’ve seen 10 maybe about 3 times  during our holy union. This was close but nothing I couldn’t handle.

“Look, I’ve told you. I don’t want to just live my life out like that dumbass we talked to in the parking lot with his customized van telling us that it cost a lot of money, but this was his last go around. I want to live, get up excited in the morning. Homeless people smell bad. I am a gagger, you know I can’t handle odors, like puke and piss and shit.  We got enough retirement income. I don’t have to take on anything dangerous. Just a little whom is fuckin’ whom and maybe some workmen’s compensation fraud stuff. I’ll be taking a lot pictures, might get some titty shots. It could spice up our love life.” It is better than being an Uber driver.”

“It could use it and who said anything about being an Uber driver?”

“I’ll even start working out.”

She got quiet. I knew she was worried. She has always been worried about me which is why our marriage had lasted so long.

“Ok, so tell me just one thing. How does being a retired religious studies professor make you qualified to be a private investigator?”

“I’m smart? I don’t know…but here is the state license to proof it.”

She took the papers from my hand and just stared at them. She was pissed off, but also slightly impressed. It took the two of us to create one interesting life. When she did her crazy things, I performed the role of the grown up. When I went crazy, she was the momma. It created some epic disagreements through the years, but it worked for us.

‘Mark Chambers, licensed private investigator, State of California’

“So, you say you’re thinking about it and then you pull out the fucking papers to show me you already did it?”

“You know, you curse a lot for a grandmother.”

“And, you’re the fuckin’ reason why,” she said with equal emphasis on each word.

There was a sudden lull in the storm. She shook her head and then said, “You sure you don’t want to give that worm farm another try? Maybe you were ahead of your time.”

“I usually am baby. I love you.”

“No guns. No weapons. You promise me?”

“No guns, baby. Just a really cool Nikon camera.”


“What is your name?” she asked.

“Rooster,” he replied

“You have a girlfriend?”


“Ok, I’ll be your girlfriend.”

“No, You’re too old.” Rooster said.

“I look older than I am, but I am a good lover… if you’re a good boy. I haven’t seen you before. Where you …”

“No, No…You put that back you fucking sonuvabitch, you asshole!” the young man suddenly hollered to nobody while swinging his arms.

The woman paused, tilted her head a bit to her right, and ran her left hand through her stringy, dirty, blond hair. Although she had not met this particular one before, she knew him. She got off her bicycle, which was hooked up to a small cart full of aluminum cans, and she slapped him with her right hand across the left side of his face. Rooster just stared at her.

“You got your meds?” she asked.

“Uh, uh.”

“Ok, you stay with me now. We’ll get ‘em. My name’s Fat Shirley,” she said as she took Rooster’s hand and led him along the sidewalk.  “We need to get your meds.”

Rooster obeyed. The sun obeyed too as it rose in the distance horizon, just beyond the slope of the eastern foothills.  Fat Shirley yawned and then farted. It stunk.




I met Randy at the gun range.

One of the things my dear spouse did not know about Randy was that he had maintained his own private investigator license for many years. It wasn’t expensive to do. He said he liked to keep his options open and he had created a lot of options in his life.  Yes, we are cousins, or better said, our mothers are first cousins.

Randy and I had been close for a lifetime.  I was just two months older than him. I had spent my first two years of life living with him, our mothers, and Avo, our great-grandmother, in a Rancheria just outside of Yosemite National Park.  Our white fathers did not marry our Indian mothers.  With Avo’s deteriorating health and my eighteen year old mother’s long hours at piss poor jobs, I ended growing up with my father and his new family.  Still, Randy and I stayed emotionally close through the years. My young mother? She got older and lived her life with new family. Our relationship had very few touch points.

Randy does have the ability to predict the future.  I know this sounds weird, but I think he inherited this from Avo.  And, just like Avo, he never told the future of our relatives.

I asked Avo once what her name meant. “It means the oldest and wisest of the tribe,” she solemnly told me.  I believed her until one day, about thirty years later, Randy said Avo was full of shit and that it was just Portuguese for grandmother.

Although Randy and I went off to live quite different lives – me the life of the WASPs and Randy the life of a Miwok that included  poverty, addiction, sisters marrying their sisters’ ex-husbands, and a longing for keeping the ancestors’ ways alive – I could not let go of that relationship with Randy. It was all that I had left of that part of my life. Randy with his long, slightly greying hair tied in a ponytail was the mirror I used to contemplate what my life might have been.  I had chosen the life of the steady, stable, respectable college professor… with a state pension benefit adding up for each year I didn’t rock the boat.

Randy had a revenue stream from three sources of income. He was a licensed massage therapist, who had created a niche market for young women with firm breasts and slightly jiggly asses. He was very choosy about his clientele because often he would end up in an intimate relationship with them.

“I don’t rub men. I don’t rub old ladies. I don’t rub fat people.” he once told me.

His next income stream came from his fortune telling abilities. He concentrated on old, rich women as clients. They loved him and they were very generous with their tips. He told them just enough to leave them wanting more… an old show business trick.

His third source of income was as a spiritual…kind of guy. He would teach shamanism, charge for healings, and conduct workshops on medicinal uses of local plants. He occasionally would lead people out into the wilderness in search of their own visions. He did most of this work in the Silicon Valley, where the digital people, with an abundance of discretionary income, had created a yearning for something more mysterious, more analogous, something more infinite than just buying the next gadget or the next 900 square foot, 2 bedroom, 1 bath house for 1.2 million dollars.

Randy did have his rules. Alcohol had killed, in many different ways, the lives and spirits of his friends and our family members. Mushrooms and Peyote were a different story.  He said they gave him a better erection. An odd thing about Randy, although usually his motives were not pure, mostly self-serving in fact, often he improved the life experiences of his clients. They loved him. It also kept him young looking. He was sixty years old, he looked forty. His massage clients were often in their mid-twenties. We, indeed, lived different lives, but I loved him.

With Randy’s lack of commitment to the white man’s version of truth, and with my above average IQ, it wasn’t hard proving to the state of California that I had enough “paid experience’ to sit for the two hour exam to be a licensed private investigator. The exam was like repeating the alphabet.

Randy insisted that I carry a weapon, a concealed one – for which he didn’t see any reason to get a concealed weapon permit for. But, I didn’t have one to conceal anyway, which is why were at the ‘Down Range’ gun range.

“What can I do for ya?” asked the man behind the counter. His hair was in an old-style crew cut.  He looked about fifty, fifty five, a little paunchy and was probably a retired cop or an active one milking the disability pension fund.

“My cousin needs shooting lessons,” answered Randy.

The clerk looked me up and down, tightened his lips, nodded his head and said, “OK,” as if I was going to be a major project.

“What do you want to shoot cousin?” asked the clerk.

“Well, uh,” I started to answer until Randy jumped in.

“Just self-defense kind of shooting. You know, home invasion kind of protection.”

“Alright, we get a lot that kind of concerns around here, especially with the slime balls in this town” he said looking me over gain and then followed with, “You ever shoot a gun before?”

“Well, …kind of,” I answered.

“Oh he’s shot a gun before.  one time, a .44 magnum,” Randy offered.

“A .44 magnum? The first time he shot a gun was a .44 magnum?” the clerk asked.

Randy was more than happy to tell the story.

“Yeah, we were kids, into Clint Eastwood movies, and I thought it would be cool to shoot one. So I got into my mother’s boyfriend’s drawer and gave it to Mark to shoot.”

“How old were you guys?”

Randy looked at me, wrinkled his nose, cocked his head sideways a bit and said, “Ah, I don’t know. Maybe we about eleven or so.”

“So you say he fired it?”

“You betcha he did.” Randy said with a slight chuckle.

“And what happened?” asked the clerk who seemed to have suddenly found us interesting, if not intelligent.

“What do you think happened?” Randy countered.

“You killed someone?”

“No, not that time. The recoil hit Mark right in his chin and knocked him out… cold.  Avo was one pissed off Indian when she came running out of her cabin, after the gunshot and found her little white Indian boy laid out next to the pile of acorn with a gun next to his hand. She hit her dark Indian boy hard across the side of my head. So I pretended that she knocked me out too. Now, she had two kids laying on the ground with their eyes shut. Oh man did she lose it, huh Mark?”

“To be honest with you, I don’t remember much of that moment,” I said.

The clerk kept looking back at the two of us and finally said, “I don’t even want to ask who Avo was. Let’s pick out a training weapon for you. We’ll stay away from Dirty Harry’s gun.”

“I appreciate that,” I said.

The gun Randy selected for me was a Ruger LCR. It had a concealed trigger which Randy said would help in not getting it caught on my belt and then shooting a .357 load into my ass. I am going to come clean now; I was scared shitless when I fired it the first time in the range. They said it had a “manageable” recoil. I didn’t know exactly what that meant. I soon found that weighing two hundred pounds more than I did the last time I shot a gun was a big help.

Knowing I couldn’t bring the gun home, Randy decided we’d just keep it secured in the unlocked top drawer of his office desk. As far as my wife goes, well this would not be the first lie I had told her.

“You sit right here. Don’t move and I’ll get you some more blankets from my friend. It’s going to be cold today. He’s down over by the creek, on the other side of the freeway,” Fat Shirley said to Rooster as he leaned up against the slope of the concrete that supported the freeway overpass.

Rooster did as he was told, but kept his eyes on the three men staring at him as they sat against the opposite side of the matching sloping, concrete recliner.

The man in the middle, kept looking at Rooster, sizing him up, and then said, “Hey Shirl, is this your new boy?”

“No, I am not,” Rooster blurted out.

“Yes, he is,” said Fat Shirley, “Or he will be after tonight.”

The man on the left elbowed the inquisitor while the man on the right snorted with snot flying out of his nose, wiping it on his sleeve. Rooster noticed that the snot thrower had recently wet his pants.


When Fat Shirley returned, after her thirty minute journey, with three raggedy blankets, Rooster was gone and so was the man in the middle.

“Where the fuck is my boyfriend?” she asked the one on the left and the one on the right.

The one on the right shrugged his shoulders and answered, “Beats me. He and Tommy just got up and walked away together.”

“Well fuck me,” said Fat Shirley. This goddamn world is full of nuthin but unthankful mentally sick, lack of gratitootin, pieces of shit.”

The man on the left and the man on the right both nodded… more out of fear of Fat Shirley than in agreement.




“Sequoya, this is a friend of mine. Mark, Sequoya is a client of mine. I think you two need to talk. She knows about your occupation.”

I rose from my seat while quickly checking out Sequoya. She looked about thirty, a very young thirty. She had a hard body and a rather hard look about her. I understood immediately why she was a massage client of Randy’s…..


I continue to try to meditate. The app I use just had a 21 day meditation “challenge.” Something seemed really wrong  in referring to it as a challenge. Isn’t that what I am trying to get away from, all the made up challenges? I am constantly challenging myself – read a book a week, do Spanish lessons everyday, floss my teeth twice a day, do this, do that.

Yes, I successfully meditated 21 days in row. Don’t challenge me, my ego can’t take it.

Now how did the meditation sessions go? Not so good. It is like my mind is a child being restricted to a room with a thousand open windows and doors and the kid is always trying to escape. I am amazed how quickly he escapes and how long he can stay in some fantasy conversation, or scenario, or planning session. I think my personal record of mindfulness is about three breaths. It usually goes something like this….

Breathe in, feel the air in my nostrils, feel my shoulders and chest move. exhale and feel my stomach push out and Breathe in Hey I am doing pretty good, STOP, breathe! Ok, breathe in, air in my nostrilsDo I have enough money to afford this new place? What should I do about the property in Paradise? When will I start writing music again? I am no good, who cares anyway, NOW STOP that self criticism, be kind and gentle with yourself, Oh shit, I am suppossed to be meditating Breathe in, feel the air in my nostrils Did the cable tv guy say Friday 1 – 3??? or Friday 9 to 11??? I wonder if my internet connection is fast enough….

This meditation stuff is not as easy as it sounds. I truly wonder how much of my life is spent in fantasy, worry, planning, and whatever else?  I read a book that said “trying” is the problem. Ok, I won’t try…..oh, I don’t have a clue what that means? Did I close the garage door when I left this morning? 

All About The Love

I could buy a brand new car

And before I drove it very far

It would be a used machine

Without the glitter and the sheen

Money comes and money goes

So the story seems to flow

You know, Yes you know…it’s all about the love


Working hard all day and night

Trying to live a life that’s right

What is milk and what is cream?

Not everything is what it seems

Hope when all is said and done

My sunset is your rising sun

You know, Yes you know…it’s all about the love


It’s all about the love and the courage that it takes to really put yourself out on the line

It’s all about the folks and the lives that you touched

You know you’re never really in your prime

You know, Yes you know…it’s all about the love


If I lived a thousand lives

Hey, maybe it would be alright

To concentrate on only me

I guess we’d have to wait and see

But if one life is all we got

You know I think I better not

You know, Yes you know, it’s all about the love


It’s all about the love and the courage that it takes to really put yourself out on the line

It’s all about the folks and the lives that you touched

You know you’re never really in your prime

You know, Yes you know…it’s all about the love

About Time

According to the monitor on my new All In One computer it is 11:35 pm on 2/2/19. Is it really? Seems like I was just a child. If there is no mirror around, sometimes I still think I am a child…unless I sit in one place too long and then I feel like it is really 11:35 pm on 2/2/19.

Went to see a new doctor on 2/1/19 at 3:00 pm. My old doctor, well, he isn’t really old, I should say, my former doctor, he lost everything on 11/8/18 when the fire went through our town. He closed up his practice. I liked him. He liked me too. Sometimes he would spend 45 minutes with me, just talking about how fat I was, how Jesus was the answer, how the government was all screwed up, how I should retire for my health’s sake. He cared about me. After the fire, I went to his temporary office and told him thank you and that he was the best doctor ever. It stopped him from talking so much…and he said, “Thank you.”

The new doctor seemed like a cool guy. He likes to shoot guns at the local gun range. He said, “Except for your blood sugar levels, you’re doing pretty good.” I said, “Hmm.” I didn’t tell him how hard it has been making so many adjustments and how I try real hard to stay in control – and usually do – but then something little sets me off. Little stuff makes me crazy. I didn’t tell him how sick I am of people who just refuse to do their jobs competently and it fucks up my day – like the people who connect your phone, internet, and cable television – supposedly on 2/1/19 between 9 am and 11 am, but it takes up 6 hours and still it is not complete. Instead of getting pissed off, I made the technician some toasted bread with jam on it because he was hungry. The new doctor probably didn’t want to know that on 2/8/19 between 1 pm and 3 pm, the technician will return to finish the “simple” task that some computer somewhere screwed up. Computers don’t screw up, people using them do- but the computer gets blamed a lot. The new doctor’s nurse gave me a shot to protect me from pneumonia (holy shit I spelled it correctly the first time!) and she told me she lost her house in the Paradise fire too and that she meditates. I suddenly felt like crying. It was either because of the fire or the 6 hours spent with a hungry technician and yet no television, just a television bill… or maybe I was just missing God.

Well, it is now 12:01 am on 2/3/19. It is a new day, perhaps new ways are here. That shot I got on 2/1/19 at 3:35 pm in my right arm sure hurts now. Did you know that between 2/1/19 and 2/4/19 some places in the Sierra Nevada mountains might get up to 10 feet of snow?


My mind is mush from all that is going on in my life. So let me just share a few photos and thoughts.

We spent the first night in our new house. It felt strange and I missed the echoes of our lives that filled our home in Paradise. I always will, and I suppose that is a good thing because it is a testament to all the messy, wonderful love in our lives.

Still, we don’t stay still for very long. Here are some before and after photos of what we are doing in our new place.

Looking from the new dining room table, through the kitchen.

And now with kitchenette set up…

The living room after painting but before new floor.

New floors…

Living room with furniture and television set up and exhausted doggy.

New carpet is in the bedrooms too, but no pic yet. Also got a hot tub for my tired old bones, just outside bedroom door. I need it just to keep moving. I am SO sore!!!

Leaving for work this morning, a mystical dance of the moon and planets. (Must buy a real camera to capture these moments!)

And, here is a photo of one of my granddaughters and her daddy while being hosted by the incredibly kind and talented Kelly Clarkson at her concert in the Bay Area last week. She honored Allyn’s actions during the fire as he served others while being in extreme peril. They had their own dressing room and all!

The Grateful Dead were correct…What a long strange trip it’s been.