Pioneering Spirit

"If we can summon up the spontaneity and creativity of California, we can transform what is a breakdown into a breakthrough.” - JB

Dear Reader,

Fourteen ten years ago I took a road trip up a California coast with a couple old friends. That physical journey mirrored another as I got very curious above a place I call home.

California has a fascinating history that really isn’t told in school beyond the hokey missions kids build in third grade or maybe a field trip to pan for faux gold.

This place is where the future happens first, America’s coming attraction, obsessed with the young, the next big thing on the horizon.

Somewhat paradoxically that fixation on the new seems to increasingly blind us to bonafide frontiers. Instead we seem to spin in circles making the same mistakes. Boom and bust baby!

After my trip ten years ago I wrote an epic (in style) poem. With a few more adventures under my belt, I thought it’d be fun to pen another.

My sincere hope is that it offers some inspiration for another path for addressing the problems we face — or at least shredding all the gnar as you surf the interwebs today.

Cheers!

PA

Sing us the epic of California, Muse,

speak through your hills, your surf, your skies

Guide us as we take our cruise

through the mists of memory and time.

The bold words by the state capitol implore

“Bring me men to match my mountains”

No one can deny that Shasta or the Sierras soar

Challenging the worlds best to meet their might

Like Queen Califia whose amazonian warriors

wore gold while riding griffiths,

living “very near the Terrestrial Paradise”

Californians’ achievements echo into eternity

Or at least ripple across the interwebs these days

where one surfs a superhighway

And pays homage to the high prophet Steve, who gave away Jobs,

etching “designed in California” onto every magical device.

Great artists sign their work

on the boulevard of broken dreams

Sharing stories immortalized into

fifteen minutes of fame

Lured first by tall tales

of gold literally littering the streams

Unbelievable, impossible,

more far fetched than an island of amazons

As the reports kept coming in,

what felt like fiction turned into fact

Hundreds of thousands rushed to stake their claim

from across the globe

Events condensed human history

a city transformed from squalor

San Francisco grew from tents to America’s tenth largest city,

close to where it ranks today

From primitive pans to moving mountains with water machines

the obsession with gold built denim empires and fortunes from pickaxes

An intoxicating Dream

where anyone might make their pile

Boom begot boom

And millions kept coming

To stake their claim, carve a mark,

“undertake the expedition”

As the words once read in the state capitol displaying Columbus

who miscalculated the distance to Asia

and tricked the local tribes with a terrible truth

That he needed gold for his affliction of the heart

Would the First Californians bury

all the gold away

if they only knew what

Ruin that useless metal would bring?

Death, disease, oblivion for an entire way of life

The last whom simply called himself Ishi

The Yahi word for man,

Since no member of his tribe lived to introduce him

Oddly we do not celebrate such an indomitable spirit

like we do the frenzied search for a useless metal,

really rather odd when you reflect

Almost as if Columbus’ affliction was real.

Consider the first humans who actually discovered this land

those persistent pioneers who journeyed vast distances on foot

Imagine trekking across miles and miles of ice

with only a few furs and fat fueled fires to keep you warm

Perhaps as we look to the next frontiers,

not the same ole bits and bytes and devices that delight

(until they distract us into self destruction),

But the wide open whitespace ready to be explored

We might look to that itch to explore new lands

To be the first to look over the next horizon

Guided by nothing more than one’s wits and the stars

And also remember it takes a tribe to get anywhere far

Or if we insist on echoing the gold rush

Why not look to the actual Argonauts

Not those who set sailed in search of gold in 1849

But those who actually build and create and discover

Like the globe trotting heroes from ancient Greece

Todays Argonauts come from distant lands

Bring unmatched skills to bear

And beat tremendous odds to accomplish something never done before

They come from the four corners of the compass

Yet somehow many still call California West of the West

While surfers look to spot waves rippling East from Japan

Waves outrunning words from long forgotten worlds

California’s always been first a fable, a myth, a dream

then found bits and pieces in the hardscrabble soil

Yet the story has gone a bit stale,

a bit too twisted in the same loops

The Gold Rush again and again,

a boom, a bust, a boom,

The Great Exception acting the Great Adolescent,

immature and refusing to own up to its responsibility

Contrast beautiful visions of a new tomorrow: the LA River restored!

pretty pictures sitting on a shelf for decades

while San Antonio and Seoul actually fix their waterway

A sad state for a city made famous by a water engineer

In a state that set the standard for visionary public works

The world’s first tripartite system of higher education!

The State Water Project can be seen from Space!

Monuments to a bygone era of excellence

The obvious truth is, despite our best efforts, we’ve grown flabby and complacent

Our zillions of overlapping governments create impossible complexity

Just try to figure out what the local public health orders actually mean

Let alone how to figure out how to build a new home here

“Blow up the boxes!”

Shouted Schwarzenegger

Before the armies of inertia trapped the Governator like Guilliver

To get a different result, we need to think outside the box

Do we even need a department of horseless carriages

when everyone’s popping into driverless pods

And the real databases that govern our lives

have cute names that rhyme with McDougal

Yes it’s trite to compare Sacramento and Silicon Valley

and sure self driving cars are always just a few years away

yet where is the vision for what comes next

How do we actually achieve all of California’s great goals?

Global climate action now!

Environmental justice and equity for all!

A bastion of progressive values

Yet where is all the progress? When will we actually practice what we preach?

Dreams of home ownership more and more out of reach

poverty on the rise punctuated by rampant homelessness

problems piling on problems

With a new virus creating a long overdue reckoning

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May we use this long pause as an opportunity for a much needed look in the mirror

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Is not now the time for bold action?

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To venture unafraid into the new world transformed by Covid?

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To go forth and boldly build the world we wish to see

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The late, great Jeff Lustig put the matter eloquently when he said:

To take a few stabs at some pragmatic #zanyidea ( by @vr00n )…

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Maybe, just maybe we should stop pretending that in person meetings at obscure times are the best way to engage the public

Maybe, just maybe we should not go back to pretending 30 students sitting quietly in a classroom is the one true formula for their success

This plague year has put such examples front and center

many more abound

Isn’t it time that California the great adolescent

finally grew up?

Maybe, we might remember this time around

the truth that pioneering anything new

generally requires both individual action

And a village to raise the proverbial new child

Maybe we might finally act on all those plans and proposals put forward during California’s last big bust a decade ago, only to be put back on the shelf when the boom returned.

Maybe this time we might fix the root causes of that California government so convoluted, complex and completely incomprehensible and frustrate so many common sense solutions to our problems.

[That quote is from A New California Dream, a curious little book that you should totally check out that just so happens to be by yours truly]

The state of politics today only underscores the urgency of Royce’s invocation

a philosophy Governor Brown invoked in his inaugural address

and which has only become more apropos

As more and more challenges press

Human augmentation

Nuclear winter

Clear eyed about the challenges ahead

remembering where we’ve been

and knowing it takes a tribe

We might summon the courage to burn the proverbial wagons and find another away

Perhaps we might even look beyond

this narrow patch of soil

to go forth and

Pioneer a New California in the open sea or far away amongst the stars

###

(Or maybe Elon already has a different name picked out for the first city Mars)

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