Featured Landscape Coin Drops for 2002

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December, 2002

Scharffen Berger chocolate factory, Berkeley, California.

Willy Wonka unlocks the creaky gates and unrolls an endless velvet carpet. He tucks into a tumbler's roll and children everywhere hold their breath. As he unfurls from his somersault, his magical whimsy explodes and carries us deep into the ultimate candyland fantasy.

What else can one think while blinking in the steely bright cement-clad morning light, waiting for a chocolate factory tour in Berkeley, California? Yet at the same time we were deeply curious about what a chocolate factory would look like as a modern-day and very grown-up project.

Luckily the Scharffen Berger developers set up their factory in an historic brick building and equipped it with romantic art deco-era machinery. Perched in a clean light industrial neighborhood of Berkeley, the factory answers both the call for childhood wish-fulfillment and the curiosity of the adult. Within the space of a small factory has been configured a complex intersection between geography, cuisine, architecture and design. The warehouse was built in 1906; the cacao beans are imported from all over the world: Venezuela, Ghana, Madagascar, the Caribbean, Indonesia, and many more places. The beans are brought whole to Berkeley, and all the bean processing happens right within the walls of the factory. Cocoa butter, nibs, powders, and a creamy rainbow array of chocolate flavors and intensities are all produced on gorgeous vintage machinery.

The day we were there the equipment was silent. The classic desgins were so striking that the glamour of the machinery overtook the sense of chocolate that pervaded frome very brick. They could have been blueprint machines, or sonar machines from inside a Korean war submarine. Deorienting further from the ambience of high class chocolatier was the kewpie doll affixed to the top of the bean crusher.

The landscape coin was slipped down a small crack between the wall and the floor in the central bean sorting room. --MSP Back to the main page of the Landscape Coin project.

September, 2002

Plaque marking burial of Juana Maria, the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island. Mission Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, California.

From 1835 to 1853 a woman lived alone on San Nicolas, a small island off the coast of Southern California. The island had long been inhabited by native Americans local to Southern California when, in 1811, the Boston merchant company Pope and Boardman forcibly resettled Kodiaks from Russian Alaska there to hunt seal and otter. Conflicts between the Kodiaks and the native islanders resulted in many deaths and by 1835, only twenty individuals remained alive on the island. That year a sailing ship came to remove that small population and integrate them with mainland populations. As legend has it, one young woman jumped from the ship as it was sailing away and returned to the island when she came to believe that her baby was not on board the vessel. The ship, under strong wind, was unable to wait for her and pledged to return for her. However, it was committed to another voyage upon its return to San Pedro and it sank on that subsequent voyage. Between a lack of organized resources, and doubts that the woman could have survived long on her own, she was not retrieved until 1853. "Rescued" to Mission Santa Barbara, she was facing a bright new sociable and land-locked future but tragically she died after just five weeks ashore. It may have been the food or the bacterial or viral loads of her new surroundings that disagreed with her. The cause of her death is not known. And as no one on the mainland could understand her language, only a little was ever learned about her years on the island. She did make clear that she never found her baby.

If this story sounds familiar, it may be that you are only acquainted with it through the dramatic novelization of Juana Maria's years alone on the island written by Scott O'Dell, Island of the Blue Dolphins (Houghton Mifflin, 1961). In the novel, the heroine is named Karana and it is a younger brother for whom she returns to the island. The character's brother is shortly killed by wild dogs, leaving Karana alone on the island to a life portrayed as grueling but also ennobling and inspiring.

The exact burial site of the historical Juana Maria within the cemetery is unknown for many reasons. The once widespread grounds of the Old Mission are now circumscribed by suburban boulevards. The walled cemetery only covers about a half-acre, though it is easy to imagine it could once have been larger. The mission's grounds were once home to thousands of Chumash Indians, of a total population of about 10,000 who lived in the Santa Barbara area prior to European colonization. Over 4,000 Chumash are buried right in the cemetery, presumably underneath (!) the few dozen individuals whose names and burial sites are known and marked with traditional headstones. In leaving the coin at the plaque for Juana Maria, I considered the thousands of people buried beneath my feet whose lives happened not to inspire recorded legends, studies, and novels. Because unusual as the specifics of her life story may be, Juana Maria's general circumstances were not much removed from those of many nineteenth century native Americans. Their environments were invaded, their languages were lost, and many of them were quietly murdered by new diseases and other introduced environmental disruptions.

The text of the plaque reads: "Juana Maria/Indian woman abandoned on San Nicolas Island eighteen years/found and brought to Santa Barbara by Capt. George Nidever in 1853/Santa Barbara Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution/1928" Most of the factual information presented in the first paragraph is taken from the pamphlet "Juana Maria, The Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island" by Maynard Geiger, O.F.M., Ph.D. for sale in the Mission gift shop. The coin was tucked firmly between the plaque and the wall on which it is mounted. --MSP Back to the main page of the Landscape Coin project.

July, 2002

The Ark a vacation cabin in Inverness, California.

The premiere issue of Outlaw Building News (Spring, 1972) is preserved in the desk of this vacation cabin to explain to guests the vision and the design that created the cabin itself. This vaulted structure and the explanatory texts that enrich it are all imbued with a deep early-seventies utopian groove. In the fall of 1971, architect Sim Van der Ryn taught a class at UC Berkeley called "Making a Place in the Country" in which, as he describes it, "15 students had a hands-on experience in getting to know the land, building, and the basics of group living in a wilderness setting." The result is this quirky wooden cottage with skylights, a sleeping loft, and a small pot-bellied wood stove.

Today the accompanying out-buildings and out-structures are vanished or crumbling or have been repurposed for laundry and emergency supply storage. But as vividly depicted in Outlaw Building News, they originally included an outhouse, a kitchen house, a brick oven, and a shower building. The cabin now performs the bathroom and kitchen functions internally, but the vividness of the guiding hippie-utopian vision is still brightly alive in the text of Outlaw Building News: "plumbing too is an art, a sculpture, a wisdom -- but only because two days work with metal pipe, exerting sweat and strength to pry loose aged rusted pipe joints, measuring, cutting, threading new pips, turning them into place finally produces a gentle luxurious stream of water."

Amazingly, the site in the cabin's vicinity with the most densely compressed historical ideology is the chicken coop. The (patented) Compost Box/Chicken Coop/Orgone Generator was a "symbiotic multi-function environment" with "spatially stacked components; functional orientation in which the orgone generator has easy access to the vegetal orgone components in the composting material; the chicken coop is above the compost to recieve the heat rising from the compost and to introduce manure to the compost"...plus..."an Orgone generator that uses inorganic plates between which are introduced vegetal orgones which are collected and accelerated." This coop seems to be still in operation, though it is now attached to a different house that has been built nearby.

The site was occupied by guiding architect and owner Van der Ryn and his wife up until 1986, when it became a guest cottage that is now operated by the kind people at Rosemary Bed and Breakfast, who run other properties in the area. We left one coin on the windowsill above the desk for the contemplation of other guests, and hid another coin deeply for a later generation to find. --MSP Back to the main page of the Landscape Coin project.

June, 2002

Exit 677, Interstate 5, Redding, California.

This coin was dropped in celebration of the new Caltrans program to number the exits on 92 highway routes in California. Starting in January of 2002, Caltrans will add signs to every exit along 92 chosen routes indicating the number of miles either north of the Mexican border (for north/south highways) or east of the Pacific Ocean (for east/west highways). It has long been a source of amazement to many people that California could lag so far behind other states in this elementary building block of civilization. Growing up in Oregon I took for granted that I could while away the time on my journeys by counting down the miles to my destination as I rode along. And Oregon doesn't just number its exits, it numbers *every mile* of the north/south interstate highway. So even if you're not near an exit you know exactly how many miles you are from your destination. California's new system doesn't approach that level of sophistication, but it's a step in the right direction. It's all the more amazing that California's new system doesn't approach the completeness of Oregon's system given that Caltrans has a $10 billion budget compared to Oregon's transportation budget of $2.8 billion for half as many miles of roads.

As I tossed the coin out the car window onto the grassy strip of interstitial space where the sign was planted, I reflected on the novelty of the south-to-north and west-to-east directional layout of the numbering system. Oregon did it first, so it's not really new. But California's physical position as the southwesternmost state brings new meaning to this reversal of traditional directionality. In every directional system there is an implied point of view, and the pervasive North American gaze that looks north-to-south and east-to-west stands aligned with historic directions of conquest and manifest destiny. Following this traditional directional logic, the Pacific states are more deeply characterized as destinations than as starting points. But in California's new highway measurement system, the three-way intersection of the Pacific Ocean, Mexico, and California is established as the new zero point of measurement. From the perspective of this new zero point, the march of empire has turned on its heel and now faces back east. This eastward gaze from the Pacific beaches of Baja implies a different kind of look at our continent. And with California's new roadside direction-finding assistance, the upside of being surrounded by 1.3 million square miles of state-sponsored pavement is that we will be better able to find our way around it. --MSPBack to the main page of the Landscape Coin project.

May, 2002

Moby Bar-B-Q, East Ellijay, Georgia.

"Colonel Poole's Bar-B-Q Hill of Fame" proclaimed the sign. We were driving by on Route 515, near the intersection with route 52, heading north into Georgia's mountain country when this hillside caused us to do a double-take and turn around to look at it. Just off the main road a small, bright yellow Bar-B-Q joint sat at the bottom of a swath of hillside that had been denuded of trees and reforested with hundreds of uniform plywood signs in the shape of a pig painted bright colors and mounted on two foot stakes. Some stakes were set in the ground, others were just leaning against the hillside. Each pig was painted either yellow, white, or blue and featured the name of a patron emblazoned in red paint. Some patrons were media organizations and oddball celebrities, such as CBC Canada and Pat Buchanan. But most of the sign legends were the ordinary "Killroy was here" type signatures of ordinary people. Sample southern-flavored pig signs we recorded from the hillside include: "Opalene Forrest," "Jukie," "Huck," "T + BoBo 1-25-96," "This, That + The Other," etc.

The "Pig Hill of Fame" was constructed by Oscar Poole ("the Colonel") to landmark his restaurant. Colonel Poole's is as much a landscape installation as a restaurant, and in more ways than one! With nationwide delivery of bar-b-q meats and sauces, and international t-shirt sales, it's no surprise that their newsletter is called "National Geohographic." Nor that their main vehicle is an art car, a modified 1976 Plymouth Volare called the "Pig Moby-il," a car that oinks and snorts as it plies the paved ribbons between Georgia and the nation's capital, where the Colonel claims he has been asked by members of Congress to feed "the masses" in Washington.

I'd be curious to know how the Colonel reconciles his far right major-party politics with the isolated nature of his little densely local patch of culture. All the north Georgia mountains we drove through on that trip had been flattened, widened, paved, and shouldered to make lots of room for bright new American monoculture. Colonel Poole's might not have stood out so starkly in a place where local culture had been commonly been allowed to remain. On this secondary road that winds through Appalachia 75 miles from the nearest big city, a road that was marked on the map as "scenic," we expected something other than a suburban-type view. But where has the landscape of "Deliverance" gone? The road north from Colonel Poole's is chock-a-block all the way to the Carolinas with overlit quarter-acre service stations and fast food by the mile. I wonder if Colonel Poole holds his dear party politics somehow exempt from the soul-carving McDonaldsing of his region. We left a coin at the base of the "Hill of Fame." Colonel Poole's is online at poolesbarbq.com. --MSPBack to the main page of the Landscape Coin project.

February, 2002

Usal River, Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, California.
The Usal River meets the Pacific Ocean six miles from the southernmost border of the Lost Coast of California. This "Lost" Coast is famous for being the only stretch of the Pacific Rim within the United States where no paved roads hug the scenic coastline. Nominally roadless, this staggeringly grand stretch of over 75 miles of coastline is not quite that. The main dirt road that cuts through it is accessible in good weather even to a 2-wheel drive sedan. And looking at topological maps of the area, a latticework of logging roads is plain to see. The purported inaccessibility of this place is an exercise in false consciousness, especially given Americans' national obsession with oversized vehicles characterized by excess "off-road" functionality. Even on a weekday in winter, we saw at least eight other people on our trip.

The Lost Coast contains two large state parks (the one we visited, plus Humboldt Redwoods S.P.), but it is mostly privately held timber land. The Mattole old-growth stand is here, home to some of the oldest and most embattled trees in North America. Under intensive assault from timber interests, the Mattole forest is being defended by Mattole Forest Defenders. The sweeping prevalence of second-growth trees and logging roads in the Lost Coast reminded us at every turn of the battles to save the last remaining fragments of old-growth trees.

The coin was placed inside the plexiglass front of the California State Parks informational sign at Usal Beach. --MSPBack to the main page of the Landscape Coin project.

January, 2002

Locke Grocery, Locke, California.

On January 27 we visited the town of Locke in the Sacramento River delta region of California. Built in 1914, it is the oldest continuosly settled rural Chinese community in North America. The town was built by Chinese merchants and served the Chinese labor community that was working in in the delta region's railroad and agriculture industries. It is notable as the only Chinese community built not just by Chinese labor, but by Chinese capital. As a result of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, combined with the 1913 Alien Act, Chinese-Americans were neither eligible for citizenship nor permitted to own property in California between 1882 and 1943. In the early part of the 20th century, a number of Chinese settlements existed in rural California, but they disappeared in response to anti-Chinese violence and the rural Chinese populations gradually constricted to Locke and nearby Walnut Grove.

Today Locke is a tiny town of about ten blocks, half way to being a ghost town. But most residents are still Chinese; many of them are second and third generation residents. What strikes me on visiting Locke is how it resembles the China I visited in the 1980s far more closely than it resembles any urban American Chinatown. The buildings are wood-frame and leaning; they are two storied with front-facing porches on the second floor that overhang the sidewalk below. The town presents a complex set of offerings to the visitor. Its dusty quietness and population of empty structures conjures nostalgia for the old west, yet the narrowness of the streets contradicts the association with a classic western American town. At first glance, the streets seem almost deserted. But some of the shops are open and operating for tourists. Various former mercantile and grocery stores offer standard selections of imported clothes and furnishings from Hong Kong. A walk through the town presents a juxtaposition of past and future. This town that seems to have jumped out of a hundred years in the past is palpably slipping toward a quiet hereafter.

The coin was placed atop the doorjamb of the Locke Grocery on Main Street. This "grocery" is now really a knick-knack shop. It was closed when we visited, but the handwritten note on its door presented an exemplary specimen of an under-appreciated literary genre, the disingenuine flexible hours announcement. The note read: "Open some days about 10 or 11. Occasionally as early as 9 but some days as late as 12 or 1. We close about 3 or 4, occasionally about 4 or 5 but sometimes we never close. Some days or afternoons we are not here at all, and lately we have been here all the time, except when we are somewhere else, but we should have been here then, too. If you see something you would like to buy, and we are not here, perhaps we are somewhere else. Call 776-1406." The town of Locke is on line at www.locketown.com. --MSPBack to the main page of the Landscape Coin project.

Thank You for Visiting!