April 30, 2012

Photo Essay: Rubio Canyon, In the Wild

As much as I enjoy the solitude of the trail...

...more and more lately I've been taking guided hikes or joining MeetUp groups to explore areas that I'm not quite adventurous enough to tackle on my own.

All the hiking guides I'd read had warned me not to attempt Rubio Canyon - the original start of the Mt. Lowe Railway - on my own. I'd already taken one guided hike of the main trail, which didn't seem so bad, but I knew there were lots of other trails that dated back several decades, and other new trails being built.

On our guided hike on Saturday, we were walking in the wild, in parcels of land owned by the Arroyo Foothills Conservancy, in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, just outside the boundary of the Angeles National Forest, with some old barbed wire and fencing indicating property lines.

As we climbed up towards the power lines, I kept thinking, "There's no way I could've done this on my own," even though we weren't going that far or that high.

My ankles and shins are still scratched from tearing through the thickets and brush which, at most times, obscured the trail.

The trail was loosely marked by orange flags, periodically hung to indicate the general direction in which to head...

...but mostly, it was just a mass of green...

...until we started to head back down towards the debris basin and Camp Huntington, along an old dirt road...

...all the way down to the vestiges of the old boy scout camp, including a cabin built entirely out of telephone poles.

The hike was supposed to be an easy one, a mile in and out, but once we got there, our hike leader asked how much time we had and how much we wanted to do. And once you're there, once you've got a couple of hours to spare, it's hard not to just keep walking, and see everything there is to see, up and over the ridge.

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Photo Essay: Tile House, Hollywood Hills (Updated for 2018)

[Last updated 1/22/21 10:37 PM PT—Video embed added at bottom.]

[Updated 11/21/18 5:56 PM PT: Some photos from the same visit added, as well as details reflecting the tile artist's passing.]

In the Hollywood Hills stands a sprawling house built in the 1920s that's spent the last 40 years being covered in tile, inside and out.

Former pro wrestler and expert mosaicist George Ehling lives inside his masterwork with his Brazilian second wife, his musician son, and a couple of tenants.

From the pillars outside the garage doors at street level... the entry stairway...

...the habitat is actually quite lovely.

Unlike a lot of other folk art...

...this hodgepodge aesthetic doesn't outcries from the neighboring community.

Touring the Tile House gives a rare opportunity to actually speak to a folk artist in the domain over which he is master.

Unfortunately, George died in 2016 at the age of 89...

...but he kept working on his masterpiece until the very end.

The outdoor fountain features one of George's first works, a bird...

...and elsewhere, the house features tile drawn from a variety of sources.

Some were purchased from dealers...

...others received as a donation (particularly from his compadres in the movie business)...

...and still others and scavenged from the garbage.

George, a self-proclaimed madman, was still building scaffolding and climbing up the walls at 85 years old when I visited in 2012. I'm sure he didn't stop until he had to.

Not quite his former 10 hours a day, but still diligent (though no longer aided by the carpentry skills of Harrison Ford, who used to live across the street).

Like many other folk artists, George's work is never done.

His masterpiece is unfinished, a perpetual work-in-progress...

...which is probably what I can relate to the most.

George's Tile House is not to be mistaken for a different tile house in Venice...

...or any number of the other mosaic works of art in Southern California... Watts Towers or Bottle Village.

It was and still is a private residence—so, I owe special thanks to deLaB, Atlas Obscura, and Ford+Ching for access.

I'd like to go back and see how much George was able to complete in the four years between my visit and his death.

I'm keeping an eye out for the few and far between tours that are offered there.

Video added 1/22/21 10:37 PM PT:
 The Ehling Mosaic House from The Simon Productions on Vimeo.

Further Reading:
California Home Took 40 Years and a Lot of Patience (CA Home + Design)

April 29, 2012

I Refuse to Worry

A couple weeks ago, I was having a pow-wow with my boss, and I said to her, "Do you realize almost every sentence you've said over the past few days has started with, 'I'm worried that...'?"

"I know..." she admitted. "But I am worried!"

And I said, "I refuse to worry."

At work, you can't worry that someone might make a mistake. They most certainly will.

You can't worry that you might forget something. You always do. Hopefully someone else will remember and remind you.

You can't worry that a product might not sell, a deal might have been negotiated poorly, or that someone won't do what you ask them to. It will or it won't. It wasn't or it wasn't. They will or they won't.

There's only so much you can do about it.

If you do the best job you can, institute a system of checks and balances, take notes and exploit technology to its fullest potential, the only thing left is to give yourself over to the Universe. Sometimes it rains. Your employees fail and lie to you to cover it up. Your vendors misunderstand your instructions. Your clients misconstrue your promises. Your agencies overpromise and underdeliver.

Worrying that they will doesn't soften the blow when they do.

And when they don't, you've worried for nothing.

So in the absence of worry, under the refusal of worry, you have plenty of time to learn, teach, communicate, double-check, appreciate, forgive, and thank those around you for a job well-done, despite a few imperfections along the way.

Related Reading:
Avoiding Worry

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April 27, 2012

Elevation: Sea Level

When I was in therapy in New York, my therapist thought my biggest problem was something she identified as "poisonous thoughts."

This generated out of a conversation in which I stated that the status quo in my life was unhappiness - misery, depression, disappointment - and that anything happy, pleasurable, joyful, satisfying was merely a fleeting experience, an exception to the rule.

In her opinion, my life wasn't bad (though some bad things had happened to me), I wasn't bad, but the way I thought about things was the worst of all.

At the time, I was the polar opposite of my father, who posited that happiness provided the baseline measurement, and that it could be defined by an absence of sadness. For him (a man I never knew to be depressed though I could've never faulted him for it given his job and marriage to my mother), life's slings and arrows were merely aberrations, interruptions in a pleasant, placid existence of same ol' same ol', in which no news is good news.

I never admired my father's complacency with mediocrity. I pitied it. It took a lot more to make me happy, and even then, I could only achieve happiness in the moment - eating, drinking, kissing, sleeping - and never become happy as a person.

Now that I've moved to California, out in the open air, I'm still unhappy - but I'm unhappy about things, I wouldn't say I'm an unhappy person. Don't get me wrong, I'm not perched atop a mountain of happiness, but I'm not deep down in the lowlands of Badwater either.

Instead, I've found some middle ground between the peaks and valleys of life, along an undulating path whose general trend is stable, consistent, persistent, moving forward. I might gain 500 feet in elevation; I might dip down 500 feet.

But overall, somehow, I've managed to attain a sense of - and a comfort with - Sea Level.

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Photo Essay: Fish Canyon & Creek, Limited Access (Updated for 2021)

[Last updated 5/10/21 9:09 PM PT—All access points to the Fish Creek trail are closed indefinitely in the aftermath of the 2016 San Gabriel Complex Fire]

Fish Creek is known as one of the most beautiful trails in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.

Too bad its trailhead is open to the public only eight times a year. [Ed: The trailhead is currently closed indefinitely.]

And the only other way to get to the creek's three-tiered waterfall is a roundabout, grueling climb up and over a ridge.

Why? Because access is through the privately-owned and sinister-sounding Vulcan Materials, a quarry.

But as a public relations measure, the Azusa Rock Project opens its gates and shuttles eager hikers up through its property... witness the splendor of the canyon...

...lush with wildflowers...

...littered with fallen rocks...

...and trampled by the masses.

Though narrow at points...

...the path is mostly clear...

...despite its infrequent use...

...except for some fallen trees...

...which require some creative ducking and crawling.

There is also one brief and relatively easy creek crossing with a rock hop...

...and a boulder scramble...

...that lead you to one of the biggest waterfalls in the area.

The way up to it was crowded, but once hikers get to the waterfall and the cliff diving, they don't want to leave.

And since shuttles stop running early in the day, the way back to the trailhead clears of foot traffic a bit...

...and you can pretend it's just you, the canyon, and the rocks.