Interviewsand Articles

 

Newsletter #43: Callings

by , Oct 19, 2018


 

 

In issue #43 of our newsletter we meet five individuals whose lives have been shaped by deep callings.
     Some years back, greenmuseum.org lost its funding. Founding director Sam Bower and a few friends would get together every few weeks to think about what might be done to keep it going. That’s how I met Zach Pine. Although we never managed to come up with a solution, our meetings were always fun. We’d begin with meditation and move on to brainstorming as Sam manned a whiteboard to keep track of the ideas. Then we’d have lunch and continue pondering. In those days, sometimes I’d also run into Zach at Karma Kitchen in Berkeley. I’d learned he was doing art activities with groups working in nature. One day, he told me he’d just come from doing improvisational dance. What? It took another year before I learned that Zach had been an M.D. before I met him. A doctor?
     I don’t know why I was so completely startled. It was hard for me to imagine that this open, lively, youthful and entirely unpretentious man had already been a medical doctor. It turned my assumptions upside down.
     In our interview, Zach talks about his journey, and about his latest focus—sand globes. As he says, “If sand globes could become a worldwide fad, people would go to the beach more, they’d touch the Earth and they’d work together to make beautiful things. They’d see the value of protecting the coastal areas from global warming impacts and from sand mining and pollution”—a very high aspiration, as he admits, for what he calls “the simple act of basically making a sandcastle in the air.”
     Our next story is among the most improbable I’ve run into. Loren Cole should be widely known, but he worked behind the scenes. “If you don’t need to see your name in print, you can get a lot done,” he told me. And he got a lot done. How much, we will probably never know since he died last year.
     I met him because I’d heard he was a good man to handle tax preparations for the non-profit my wife and I founded when I began publishing works & conversations. I’d made the drive up to Sonoma to meet Cole hoping he’d be all that I’d heard.
     It all started well enough. But then it took a surprising turn. After chatting about how he handled taxes for his clients, I looked around at his home and asked him about a ceiling fan that had caught my attention. Turns out there was a story there—the tip of an iceberg story. The fan had been selected on the basis of environmental considerations, he explained. “I designed and built the house myself,” he said. Every 2x4 and nail, to say nothing of the design, was chosen on the same basis. In fact, he said, “This is the first fully ecosystemological house built in this country.”
     Ecosystemological?
     A little alarm went off. Who is this guy? I wondered. Then I began asking more questions. The tax thing could wait. The more I heard, the more astonished I became. Was he one of the founders of Earth Day? Did he found the College of Natural Resources at UCB?”
     When I left that first meeting, I knew I had to come back and interview Loren. I wanted to dig down and find out what exactly he’d done and how. But the various demands of life intervened, and I kept putting it off. (My tax returns were being handled very well.) Then one day, Loren sent out an email to all of his clients: “I haven’t been feeling so good and I just got back from a medical exam. It turns out I’m the advanced stages of cancer and have just a few months to live. So I’m inviting all my clients to my house for a celebration.”
     A few weeks before his death, our interview finally took place.
     I met Bryant Austin at an opening at Electric Works Gallery in S.F. maybe ten years ago. His (amazing) photos of whales were featured. “Did you really take these yourself?” I asked him. The answer was “yes” of course. But that only scratched the surface. He would swim so close them. “What was it like?” I asked. Well, this was a gallery opening with lots of people—no time to corner the artist for in-depth conversation. That would have to wait for a few years when one day Anne Veh called asking if I’d like to join her in interviewing Bryant at the Museum of Monterey. Let me just add that while the proposition itself, swimming with whales, has some “curb appeal,” Bryant’s story goes beyond the headline. This is a story of something, not only real, but magical.
     Out of over 550 features on our website, Susan Vorbeck’s story, Cotton and Silk has generated by far the highest percentage of response from readers. It’s not the reason I’m including it, however. While one could say there’s an environmental theme connecting our first three pieces, it’s not clear how Susan’s piece would fit. And the same can be said about our interview with David Armstrong who has followed his dream of founding a museum (AMOCA - American Museum of Ceramic Art) to honor a deep love. I’ll just say, for me, they add a harmonious note in some fundamental way. Rather than try to explain it, I’ll just suggest you read the pieces.
     I welcome your thoughts. (email - rwhit@jps.net)       
 

About the Author

R. Whittaker is the founding editor of works & conversations and West Coast editor of Parabola magazine.     

 

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