Keeping cosy

The four days I spent at Steep Ravine were, of course, right in the middle of our first big El Nino storm event of the year. Wave after wave of torrential downpour would head towards the coast and dump its load – sometimes with hail, sometimes with lightning, often with sunny interludes. The cabins gave a great view of the drama and allowed me to keep warm, nosh on chili and read while enjoying the ever changing spectacle. Here, some of the images I took of the horizon over one day give you an idea of the constantly changing chiaroscuro.


Steep Ravine

‘Oh, to make art as powerful as a single storm-fed wave building, cresting, breaking.’

I’ve spent the last four days at one of my favourite places in Bayarea. The cabins at Steep Ravine just south of Stinson Beach (an hour’s drive along the windey coastal road north of San Francisco). Mount Tamalpais State Parks maintains 10 rustic cabins right on the ocean’s edge facing north towards Bolinas and Point Reyes.

The cabins perched between cliffs and sea

Cabin 7 - Hot Springs - named after the 'crypto' hot springs at the foot of the cliff

The cabins were built at the base of Steep Ravine Canyon in the 1940s by a Marin landowner, William Kent, Jr., who leased them to Bay Area families. In 1960, the state acquired the land and they became the focal point of controversy between leaseholders and the state. Their future unresolved, the structures fell into a sorry state and were threatened with destruction until the park restored them in 1980. Each building received a new roof and interior; woodstoves, tables, and sleeping platforms were installed, and steps and paths built. On April 1, 1984, 10 of the 14 original cabins (some were beyond repair) were included in the state environmental campground system. They were made available for $12/night!! Its now $100/night but still worth every penny in my opinion.

Inside Cabin 7

Window view

Some of you may have been lucky enough to see the exhibition  “Life Surrounding a Cabin: Dorothea Lange at Steep Ravine” which was shown at the Marin History Museum in late 2006 and then subsequently at the SF Public Library in early 2008 and at the Bolinas Museum and Stinson Library in mid 2008. The images they used are from the rich archive of the Oakland Museum of California.

Dorothea and her family rented a cabin at Steep Ravine in the late 50’s and early 60’s. Her images look like they were taken in the same cabins yesterday.

“I began to wonder what it was that made us all feel, the minute we went over the brow of that hill, a certain sense of – not peace, particularly, or enjoyment – freedom. Then, I thought, I could do a real sequence, a series of photographs on the subject of freedom, of which the cabin would be the device.”
– Dorothea Lange

You can book the cabins online if you’re lucky – they seem perpetually booked out. But mid-winter, or even better mid-winter storm, there are often last minute cancellations to be nabbed. Cancellations more than 48 hours in advance can be booked online. Otherwise you have to head to the Pan Toll Ranger’s Station near Mt. Tamalpais to get in the 2pm daily lottery for available cabins.

Stormy sunset

Lhasa de Sela

I just heard that Lhasa de Sela who was one of my favorite singers, and someone whose music I had only been recently introduced to (thanks Isabella), died on New Years Day.

If you haven’t discovered her music already then pay tribute to the passing of a great talent by getting your hands on one of her 3 outstanding albums.

From Nova Scotia’s Amherst News –

Acclaimed singer-songwriter Lhasa de Sela dies in Montreal at 37
The Canadian Press

Globally acclaimed singer-songwriter Lhasa de Sela, who grew up as a semi-nomad in a travelling school bus and ultimately made Montreal her home, has died after a battle with breast cancer at age 37. The Mexican-American musician was known for her trilingual lyrics and folk songs infused with fantasy, magic and fairy tales. She died in Montreal on New Year’s Day.

“Old stories, adventure tales — although they can be very violent and scary — they don’t traumatize me the way modern stories do,” de Sela told American National Public Radio in 2005, explaining how she grew up with fairy tales, and developed a lifelong love affair with their styles and imagery.

De Sela was born in 1972 in Big Indian, a small town in the Catskill mountains in New York State, to an American mother and a Mexican father. Her early life was spent criss-crossing the U.S. and Mexico in a converted school bus. The experience instilled in the singer a wanderlust that led her around the globe.
At 13, she began singing Billie Holiday classics and Mexican tunes a cappella in San Francisco cafes, where she developed her voice and singing style. She moved to Montreal in the early 1990s, playing in bars for about five years and developing songs for her debut album, the Spanish-language ’La Llorona’.

In a 2004 magazine interview, she recalled her early years in Montreal’s watering holes. “I had to work hard to be heard,” she said. “I learned in those years how to reach people, even people who were there for beer and conversation.” Those lessons ended up garnering de Sela critical acclaim in 1998 for her debut album, which won a Juno for best global album that year. But burned out from two years of touring — including time with the Lilith Fair festival — she fled to France where she joined her sisters’ travelling circus, performing as a musician and helping assemble and dismantle the big top.

It was in Marseilles, where she later settled for a period, that the groundwork was set for her second album, ’The Living Road,’ recently named by the Times of London as one of the 10 best world albums of the decade.
In her brief career, the singer was named best artist of the Americas by the BBC’s World Music Awards in 2005, and she received a slew of Quebec and Canadian awards.

A multilingual artist who sang in English, French and Spanish, she collaborated with Montreal musician Patrick Watson, U.K. indie band the Tindersticks, and French performer Arthur H. Her final album — simply titled ’Lhasa’ — was released last year. De Sela postponed her European tour and a string of concerts this past summer as she battled breast cancer.

It has snowed more than 40 hours in Montreal since Lhasa’s departure.