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The Real Universe Yesterday

October 6, 2013

“Bringing people into the here-and-now.  The real universe.  That’s the present moment.  The past is no good to us.  The future is full of anxiety.  Only the present is real – the here-and-now.  Seize the day.”
– Saul Bellow
from Seize the Day

book pile

It’s hard to get rid of books. The secondary market is gone. I took two big boxes of books to the used book store and received $14 in cash. Hundreds of dollars reduced to $14.

I am marching (slowly) towards a comprehensive rationalization of the stuff in boxes.  Some of the easy cuts have been made, but it’s getting harder.  Books are difficult for me.  I like books.  I usually have a bookmark in and am reading a few of them; there’s one for morning coffee, a couple at the desk and another for bedtime.  Getting rid of books has never been easy for me.  I still have a few from my childhood and many others picked up through the years.

In my library, bookmarks are time markers.  I am often pleasantly surprised when I open a book for the first time in a while.  Yesterday, I was telling a friend who has been witnessing my venture about a recent discovery.


Warren Hellman called the festival a “selfish gift,” one that he, the musicians and the community could all enjoy. “How could you have more fun than that? What the hell is money for if it isn’t for something like that?”

We had just had an absolute lovely day at Golden Gate Park, enjoying each other’s company and the endless good music coming from the stages of the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival.  So many wonderful things have been said about this annual event, but mostly, the words are directed towards the sponsor, Warren Hellman.  (People generally refer to him as Warren, so I will too.)   Warren was a very wealthy man who enjoyed good music and playing the banjo.  In 2001, Warren fully paid for a three-day music festival at the park.  He liked it so much, he made it an annual event.  While bluegrass was his favorite type of music, the lineups soon included other genres as well.  There are absolutely no corporate sponsors allowed and admission is free for everyone.  Warren bankrolls the entire weekend.  I think it’s safe to say, that there is nothing else like it these days.  His generosity carries on – when Warren passed away in 2011, he set aside a trust to pay for the event for another fifteen years.


Where else are you going to hear Emmylou Harris, Dave Alvin, Nick Lowe and others. All for the price of walking in the park? Here is Boz Scaggs. He sounded terrific. I particularly liked his cover of Bob Dylan’s “Corrina, Corrina.”

After we left the park, we sat outside on a glorious and warm evening at a restaurant in the Fillmore District.  Looking at the menu, my friend was wondering if there were new findings about intake of mercury from eating fish.  Relaxed and a little worn out from the day, I couldn’t really offer a very good response.  Plus, I don’t think about it all that much anymore.  I stopped eating seafood some years ago, when I decided that I had eaten plenty by then.  I had consumed more than my share of our sadly depleted fisheries and ravaged oceans.

After she concluded that she would take a look at the recent guidance, I told her about my recent discovery from my fish-eating days.  I found a gift certificate from a Japanese sushi and sashimi restaurant I frequented years ago placed at page forty-three of Saul Bellow’s Seize the Day.  There it was, addressed to me from my son, with $1.10 remaining on the balance.  How fun to find it.  We used to have some delicious seafood at that itty bitty place.  As a bonus, I even met Mickey Hart, drummer from the Grateful Dead, out there on a quiet weekday afternoon, when he too was posted up at the sushi bar.  He was more than happy to talk with me for a few minutes about his upcoming tour with Phil Lesh and Bob Weir and he couldn’t have had a more willing listener.  Now that I am three big counties away from that North Bay treasure,seize I’d spend a large multiple of the leftover $1.10 in gas and tolls to redeem it.  So it will stay here with Tommy Wilhelm.

We’ve known about the risks of mercury poisoning from eating fish for a long time.  The EPA, the medical profession and the media have issued warnings about reducing consumption for decades.  Women at child-bearing age and children are at particular risk of this toxic metal, which can cause extreme damage to brains and kidneys.  Low doses can result in a range of developmental disabilities for children.  High exposure by children and fetuses will lead to extreme physical and mental impairments.

Coal and other fossil fuel power plants generate almost half of the mercury emissions worldwide.  The mercury finds its way to the oceans, lakes and other waterways, where it accumulates in the fatty tissues of fish.  Some fish are more toxic than others.  Generally, the large species that live the longest build up more mercury than others.  Another factor is the level of water pollution itself, of course.  The proximity of the power plants, the wind paths and water currents all have an impact on mercury concentrations.

Scientists at Dartmouth are now telling us that the warming oceans may also be an influence on the mercury levels found in the fish.  (The oceans and lakes are now warmer because they absorb the increase in global air temperatures.)  In a recently published study, the researchers tell how fish in their labs and in marsh pools off the Gulf of Maine that were in warmer water had higher levels of methylmercury in their tissues than the fish in cooler water.  The study used killifish, which is a small species at the early stages of the food chain and is prey for larger fish that we consume.  This is the first controlled study of the effect of global warming on mercury poisoning of fish.  Given the findings, we can expect further examination from the scientific community.  It sounds like another reason we should be cautious about eating too much fish.

These things can all make it seem pretty dismal at times.  But I set aside all of this yesterday.  For me, it was all about the real universe.  The here-and-now.  Just sharing with a friend the moments of a lovely day in San Francisco.

  1. Your comment on books, Bruce, led me to glance up at one of our bookcases. I am sitting in our library where I do most of my writing. The books took me from my early days of being fascinated with Carlos Castaneda down to my recent trip up the Alaskan Highway and ever so much more. Each book has a story to tell. I would bet that some of them even have bookmarks buried inside. –Curt


    • Yes, small treasures from the past – some mundane, such as a airplane ticket, book store receipt or other scrap of paper. Others are more fun – such as homemade book marks or kids’ drawings or notes. Take a look, Curt. You may find some smiles buried in those pages.


  2. Hey, did you see my daughter at the Fest!?


  3. I am stopping by from Susie’s party. I have to say that your article made me miss San Francisco. 🙂 I am originally from Santa Rosa, and SF was always my go to day away place.


  4. I love Saul Bellow. Loved hearing about how Warren Hellman “seized the day!”
    Got me thinking about how our “concerns,” like fears about Mercury poisoning, can actually prevent us from seizing the day, or the moment, or whatever. And, what the past reminds us about…. Nice post. OH, BTW, Susie sent me.


  5. I’ve been to Golden Gate Park! That same trip, we visited an aquarium where they handed out small cards with a list of fish with high mercury levels. It is hard to stay present centered when there’s so much to worry about in our future.
    Thanks for bringing this to the party! Have fun clicking on links and meeting my friends!


  6. Hi! Susie sent me – and I’m glad she did! A free music festival sounds fabulous indeed 🙂 I try to live in the moment too, good advice to seize the day.


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