The Spore Recovery Of New Orleans

The fernhangers are returning, spore-sourcing the green recovery. The ferns of Nola have been sporely missed indeed.                                                                                                                     Photo by Heather Granahan

Once upon a time there was a city steeped in tropical decadence and modern strife of life, a city wreathed in ferns that literally stitched each old building to the next. The green curls graced all corners of New Orleans alike; the corners where inebriated tourists donated their Sex On The Beach drinks back to the sidewalk, where locals bought their groceries and ones where little kids stayed up too late dancing with taps screwed into their basketball shoes to earn a few bucks. Ferns hung in drooping enormous baskets from the multilayer porches of the weathered old hotels and apartments.

Gettin in the fern spirit…more sources of all things good and ferny.  Photo by Heather Granahan

As many of us quirks who frequent New Orleans regularly have noticed, the city was scoured of its fantastic green fern garnish during Katrina, and as the renewal of the city involves a lot of new paint downtown, the place has looked pretty unusually shiny in parts.

Shiny new paint isn’t stopping these brave fluffy fronds          Photo by Heather Granahan

We are here to report after a visit a couple weeks ago that along with the recovery of the heartbeat of the city, the ferns are slowly but surely finding their way back. More and more folks are hanging back up the huge fern baskets and the re-sporing of Nola has commenced. Witness these determined Nephrolepis exaltata  spotted this trip and smile with us over another tiny recovery step.

Right amongst the relentless street life of New Orleans, the spores march on looking for likely crevices.  Photo by Heather Granahan

The old and the new meet eternally in this truly quirky city. Photo by Heather Granahan

Gracing a doorway as no intended decor could.             Photo by Heather Granahan

Purty in pink. Welcome back, girls.  Photo by Heather Granahan

Pretty as a mess of fried catfish, I say.   Photo by Heather Granahan


Tour de Cluck

Tour de California – or France, you are being outdone by just about the quirkiest bicycle event in the world.

No, not this. Though around here, who knows what’s next. Photo of a  miniature we are bidding for on on ebay

It happens in Quirkutopia’s territory of Northern California in the laid-back town of Davis, home of University Of California Davis. Many know Davis as the bicycle capitol of the US, with something like 22% of the residents regular riders. (Boulder claims a higher per capita ownership, but fewer riders). Davis likes bikes.

Bikes and agriculture meet in Davis, CA. Photo sent by a remains-anonymous contributor, from, we think

Perhaps influenced by the agricultural focus of the original college core, the folks in Davis also like chickens. They like them so much many of them build chicken mansions to house them. Once a year in May they open them to the public for a bicycle coop crawl.

A mansion for Her CluckinessesPhoto courtesy of

On the Tour de Cluck everything gets fowl – even some of the riders who dress as chickens. All sorts of bikes show up – unicycles to six seater tandems. The bikes get decorated, the coops get decorated, the chickens dress up. We think. The humans definitely do.

In full regalia for the Tour de Cluck. Photo courtesy of

There’s entertainment, food – with an emphasis on eggs. We are particularly curious about  the combination of eggs and entertainment. And there are chickens everywhere. They literally rule the roost.

A wee treehouse for a couple hens. Damn, my own house doesn’t even have that much trim. Photo courtesy of

Tickets for the event are reasonable, just $15 this year for the day long event, but don’t try to get tickets this year. They are sold out! Maybe make like a ChickenHead and hang around the starting point point in tie-die chicken outfits, pouting with “hoping for a miracle” signs..?

Bamboo bus coop! No, not on the Davis crawl; somewhere in Oregon, from Craigslist but way too cool not to show you !

Another of the bus coop. One of the coolest things ever. Thank you,Oregon for keepin it quirky in Cluckutopia!

Captain Mom

Aye Aye, Ma’am! Captain Maggie and her crew received the 2012 American Red Cross Life Saving Organization Award for successfully saving lives on two different occasions on San Francisco Bay.

Some people think of Maggie McDonogh as a quirk in a male-dominated job. Some of us just plain admire her. Her nickname is Captain Mom because she is the fourth generation in her family to earn a living on the waters of San Francisco Bay. Captain Mom owns and runs a fleet of ferries out of Tiburon. She does the scheduled runs to Angel Island, and offers an evening picnic sail around the bay. She also runs a moonlight champagne cruise on the three full moons of summer. She offers whale watching trips and great white shark adventures with cages off the Farallone Islands. “Sharks don’t have can openers,” the strawberry blonde, divorced mother of two quips.

Life too ho-hum? Do what some quirks do and be the creature in a cage for a change. Captain Mom can take you to the Farallone Islands to try (to not lose your) hand at this

Great Grandpa left railroading to haul water freight and run a chowder house. Grandpa Sam rented out his fishing skiff for 25 cents a day back in the days when Tiburon was on the wrong side of the tracks. “He didn’t know how to swim and he once fell in with his pockets full of quarters. No way was he going to let that cash go, it was the Depression. Lucky for him, someone hauled him back in,” Maggie laughs.

Maggie’s Dad Milton hauled munitions at night in blackout conditions through World War II and he started the ferry business.

Mom at work.Tough but tender-hearted, she also provides a home for many unwanted roosters. She wakes up early enough the crowing doesn’t bother her.

Maggie now runs three boats: the Angel Island, the Tamalpais and the Bonita. She has been greening the business, systematically replacing the engines with low emission ones. It’s a costly process, but she is dedicated.

Capt. Mom can haul you and yours for some unspoiled camping smack in the middle of the SF Bay at Angel Island, with views of the city and Marin County

She manages her 10 employees while also caring for her kids, Becky and Sam, and her aging father. She feels her crew is her extended family. She also provides a home for many unwanted roosters.

She was raised on boats, and she is raising her children the same way. “Becky is natural mermaid, sings and dances. Sam is more analytical and he’s a dedicated fisherman,” she explained.

Her job is not always a picnic on the bay. In 1995 she had just had a C-section and the coast was slammed by a hurricane strength storm. “That storm was chewing up the dock and my boat would be smashed on the rocks if I didn’t do something. The Coast Guard didn’t have anything big enough to help us. We were on our own I shoved the baby into my neighbor’s arms. Me and Dad, and some deckhands launched a skiff.”

She boarded the vessel and eventually brought it into the protected harbor on Angel Island despite her stiches tearing. The storm left every boat in Tiburon damaged, but she managed to save their biggest boat and the business continued.

May 27th 2012: Celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge with Captain Mom’s Fireworks Cruise Cruise on the Angel Island Tiburon Ferry. for more info.

You have to take life as it comes,” she said. “My Dad taught me to know what I could fix and not worry about what I can’t. You have to accept you can’t win everything. But hey look,” she gestured at the view from the bridge of the Tamalpais. “I’ve got no complaints. The good Lord changes the art work in this office every day. How good can life get?”

Steamy Tech

Huge blades, hissing steam, rusty iron giants at work –
What’s not to love?

Photo by Andrea Granahan

Down a dirt lane deep in Quirkutopia there is a hot, clanking round-up of loud, living history. The Sturgeon Mill Restoration Project is considered “one of the last great mills of its time”, and we believe it.  It is gorgeously run on steam power by huge old machines that still produce some circle-sawn wood that is as high-character as the area residents. 

Some reclaimed old circle-sawn redwood,
much in demand by folks with character.

Fallen giant: one of the many old growth redwoods that were transformed into houses and barns from San Fransisco to points north. You can still spy a few of these stoic living giants surviving north of the SF Bay. Watch the treelines for oldies towering over the rest.
Photo courtesy of Sturgeon Mill Restoration Project

Originally built in the 1880, the mill came into the Sturgeon family’s hands in 1913, and was moved by them 2 times to new locations. It sawed a lot of the wood that went into rebuilding San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake and fire. Lumber from the mill helped build a lot of Quirkutopia’s homes and  hundreds of its chicken farms according to Bob Sturgeon, who is carrying on the family sawmill tradition.

Sharp like a classic car…only literally. Truly a quirky family tradition, luckily for us admirers of living history, especially when it’s loud and steamy and a bit dangerous.
Photo by Andrea Granahan

The mill shut down in 1964 when his dad Ralph retired. Ralph kept oiling and running the old machinery like a pet old classic car.  When the younger generation decided to restore it in 1999 with the help of many volunteers, it was in working order. For the first time in decades, the steam whistle that summoned workers again blew.

Blowin off some steam, back in 1939.
Photo courtesy of Sturgeon Mill Restoration Project

There are 44 volunteers that come once a month to work on the mill, and to restore the gardens that became so famous each year about 4000 people came out to see them. The gardens, once overgrown with blackberries and poison oak, are now cleared and the exotic and native old plantings, hidden mossy benches, some odd old statues and lily ponds are once more revealed.

Meet some new friends in the Sturgeon Mill gardens, like this Pacific Dogwood, and maybe us as well.

Old offices are being restored by volunteers.                                                     You can join them if you like.
Photo by Andrea Granahan

     Each year the mill volunteers holds just a few visitor days when anyone can stop by to see the industrial age machinery do its heavy work, the giant blades whirr their way through the big redwood logs, and hear that magic stream whistle. There’s a barbecue, music, and old vehicles hauling the lumber and giving rides. We are so there. The dates this year are May 19/20 (10 days from now!), June 16/17, August 18/19 and September 15/16. It’s free; donations are welcome. Check it all out at .

Trained for Poshness

Enjoy the riveting perspective a good old train can give you.
Photo by Andrea Granahan

There are various ways to tour wine country ­that will not have frustrated locals piled up behind your weaving rental, each personally transforming the place into Whine Country. You can bring along a DD (designated driver) and drive it safely, you can hire a limo, ride in a tour bus (please no), you can ride a bike if you really space out your tastings. One of us has even tasted on horseback, until the horse decided it was closing time and lit out for home through the vineyards. But the quirkiest way is to take a train.

Yes, you can do that in Quirkutopia, just not to commute anywhere – just to drink wine. In 1984 the railroads was ready to abandon the only rail line in Napa County, one that dated to 1865. The valley organized and went searching for wealthy investors, not in shortage in that inland valley. The result was the Napa Wine Train.

Park your dogs on this pretty puppy for a spell. The Napa Wine Train in mid-switch.
Photo by Andrea Granahan

The train was lovingly restored using historical cars from 1915 to 1917. Honduran mahogany, polished brass, velvet and etched glass make you think you are on the Orient Express.

Hoo, baby – you had us at velvet. And check out that ceiling!
Photo by Andrea Granahan

Most rides are three hours long, starting in the city of Napa, switching back at St. Helena. You move at a leisurely 12 miles per hour, so photography is easy. Dessert is served in the comfortable lounge cars where every swiveled chair has a window. 

Before you leave the station you will be taught the art of wine tasting; sip-gurgle-spit or swallow. Then as you board you can profess your love on the Love Lock Bridge. You bring your own lock or buy one there, write your and your love’s names on it or have them engraved at the station, then fasten it to the bridge.  There are love locks appearing on famous bridges throughout Europe and more recently in Asia. Ones near trains are supposed to magnetically interact with the fields generated by the trains passing. If you feel a certain magnetic frisson as you seal your lock, attribute it to your love or the lock.

Lock your love on, then allaboard. Photo by Andrea Granahan

You can get really quirky, and forego the gourmet, multi-course meals made from local organic goodies and ride with the engineer in the locomotive and have a brown bag lunch instead.

Get on up there with the engineer and chow some sandwiches (it’ll cost ya, but hey: wind in the teeth – priceless).
Photo by Andrea Granahan

The Napa Wine Train offers a variety of excursions through the vineyards. You can enjoy a meal, then sip wine as the train reveals the beautiful valley, and then be dropped off at a vineyard for a tour and tasting ­ a motor coach returns you to the station. On one special journey, you can solve a murder mystery that takes place as you dine on a gourmet meal in the elegant Pullman cars (think Orient Express and Agatha Christi). You can do it sipping champagne by moonlight from one of the first glass-domed observation cars ever made.

Dome car? Did you say dome car? We’re there.

Whoa, Nellie – oh. It’s the push-me-pull-you engine switch, not a head-on.
Startled photo by Andrea Granahan

At the switchback stop, the locomotive is moved from one end of the train to the other for the return trip. The viewing platforms at the ends of the trains may lure you into making an election speech ­ and creating your own whistle stop. Or at least a wet-your-whistle stop.

No-whine zone – enjoy the moment. It ain’t world peace and/or freedom, ok, but it’s gotta help…right??
Photo by Andrea Granahan

It’s not a cheap ride, but the $129 on up includes the posh lunch and for a sentimental, romantic outing starting with a love lock, its reasonable in an unreasonable way.

Art That Just Gets Butter and Butter

Self portrait of the artist. Photo Courtesy Fred Stasek

What happens when you combine a fine artist with a fine woodworker and steep him in locations like Hawaii, Italy, Fiji, Vermont, Tallahassee and Fanning Island during his formative years? If you are very fortunate, you get Berkeley-born Fred Stasek, who works in an old converted creamery in the rolling ranch-studded hills of Western Quirkutopia.

Fred is a painter, woodworker, writer and musician who works in and on many mediums, including luminously painted heavy silk which he fashions into multi-paneled Room Screens that glow when back-lit. Inspired by years of fine custom woodwork, Fred crafts elegant frames of red oak, maple and polar for these screens that stand alone as works of art themselves. Check out his gallery at – there may even be one available. The Screens are some real play for the eyes, even on your computer screen.

One of Fred Stasek’s glowing silk Room Screen paintings. You know you want one. We know we do! Photo courtesy Fred Stasek

Like many true Quirks, Fred Stasek fosters several creative interests. His pursuits in the musical realm have loaned his work a rhythm and play of composition and color.

Mr. Stasek has long had a way with watercolor. An early small work by Fred Stasek, personalized birthday card, 5”x7”, mid 90’s. Photo by Heather Granahan

Early F. Stasek watercolor, 1987
Courtesy Heather Granahan

For a Dancer, 5”x7” small work by Fred Stasek, mid 90’s. Photo by Heather Granahan

 The Bodega artist enclave was founded decades ago as The Old Creamery decades ago by several well-known artists and print-makers.

The Old Creamery in its early life; 1969, Bodega, California.

Years ago, many small towns sported their own creameries – this one was a co-operative that made butter and cream with the surrounding ranchs’ milk. Current Old Bodega Creamery output is nourishing and vital art.

Butter yet: a very old butter wrapper from the original co-operative creamery in Bodega, CA. Label courtesy Heather Granahan

Thirst Parlor #1The Old Western Saloon

The Old Western Saloon in Point Reyes Station, CA

            We love to get our quirk on in the local cowboy saloons – “thirst parlors” as they were known in their heyday. We have some great ones that have successfully repelled gentrification, yuppification, county regulations and other attacks. One is the Western Saloon in the town of Point Reyes Station which dates back to 1860.

Patrons have been known to ride their horses right into the saloon to get them a drink. The saloon uses a cash register from a remodel done in 1906. It’s got a couple paintings of nudes hanging up, one called Trashy and one called Trixie by locals.

A horse leaves the thirst parlor. Photo from old Western Saloon blog

             It has a colorful history. It once served as a brothel and when the current owner Judith Borello took over 39 years ago she found old transom widows from the rooms labeled with the girls’ nicknames – they all took floral names like Daisy, Rose, Lily. Judith is retired from active management now but she rides in to check on things in her golf cart with a Rolls Royce grill.

            There was a room used by bootleggers during the Prohibition years. Booze was smuggled in at the nearby coast and stored in the windowless lockable place. The Liquor Room also served as a temporary jail for the local sheriff’s deputy in later years since there’s no real jail in town.

            There’s wood stove with some comfy chairs, and a dance floor which patrons attempt to wear out when live music is brought in, like The Lost River Cavemen, who are allegedly a mix resembling Gogol Bordello, Tom Waits, Johnny Cash and the Old Crow Medicine Show. Sounds good to us!

Prince Charles, the Lady Camilla and Fred the (girl) dog at the Old Western Saloon

            Not only horses but notables have stepped into the Western Saloon to slake their thirst. Among them are Prince Charles and the lovely Camilla. The Prince even shared a single mug of beer with owner Judy and gave ol’ Fred the dog a pat on the head. What a sport. Bit of a twist from the parlors back home, eh, your majesty?