Category: ESSAYS

The rest of my career will be about drawing connections. Analysis, the process of dissection, is only of limited value to my mission. Synthesis is my vocation. More than any other kind of thinking, systems strategy, specifically of course in reference to California ecology, is where I find the answers to the questions I am asking. How do the orienting, elemental forces of the natural world inform the shape and function of my local and global realities? They come by considering the wider implications of externalities and how the sum effect of its fitness outweighs the aggregated product of the constituent properties. The study of ecology is the study of economics. The only difference between the two is the object of currency and the subject of society. (obi)

The Aesthetics of the Phenotype

The Aesthetics of the Phenotype
An evolutionary psychology of architecture
Part 1: the identity of a skyscraper
by Obi Kaufmann

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In many colonial insects, there is interface between individual and superorganism. There is sublimation and there is transcendence that certainly occurs to a similar end in the city-structures of humans. What would a map of this system, this social-mechanism, look like as aesthetic information? I see a telescoping effect of micro/macrocosmic projection, ramping up from cell-structure through to human-scale, to building/city-scale, out to planetary/cosmic visualization. How does the Geometric blueprint of urban consciousness inform and deconstruct our identity as specific beings or groups, or groupings of organelles? Are we ourselves collectives a mitochondrial quasi-beings? Are our own bodies merely strata for others that have acquiesced their sovereignty as entities to the greater good of us?  What is the visual language of “me inside of me” as it manifests and projects outward in the organization of my corporate community?

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What if we were to take one, large building and visually-analyze its potential to be an archetype of this bridge between the one and the many, the circle of interaction? What inspiration can be found in infrastructure? What truths can be revealed be presenting this building-system as a phenotype of the superorganism of humanity, or at least one, twenty first century human community. The Hive and the Bee represent a closed loop where material, that is form, manifests out of evolution, a living architecture, a personality of organization.

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To begin the investigation of aesthetics, we need to agree on a philosophy of aesthetics. James Joyce put forth the best, modern, working-model of aesthetic theory when he described the process of aesthetic arrest as spurred by proper and improper dynamics in art. Through this process, the act of perceiving beauty outside the field of time, the eye-of-the-universe perceives the thing-of-the-universe and a uniquely human (or as far as we yet know, uniquely human) apprehension occurs. It is my contention that by this modality, this leap in consciousness, the cognitive revolution happened nearly seventy thousand years ago, shaping the structure of the human mind up to the present day and thereby making possible, what are certainly the phenotypes of our daily experience: skyscrapers, air conditioners, the internet, et al.

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To what degree were we influenced by forms in our natural community to invent and then to reflect those forms in the nature of modern design?  By modern I mean to say any artificial structure produced in the last seventy thousand years, and by design I mean phenotype, being the product of behavior as an expression of a genetic imperative. In my work with the California Field Atlas, I do the inverse of what I am proposing here with the single-building model/proposal. In that project, I examine spatial-reality on an ecological scale as it relates to identified system called California, and presenting it as a single narrative. Mapping California has become for me, a laboratory of aesthetic synthesis. The Field Atlas offers a deep-time perspective of how wilderness and culture have influenced an endemic identity across whole spectrums of biodiversity. I wonder how modern design was influenced by phenotypes we found in nature, for both their utility and their beauty, and what is the chicken/egg dynamic between what it useful and what is beautiful.

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Now at the dawn of the Anthropocene, an age of the earth that is defined by humanity’s impact on it, and as we witness exponential population growth within our own species across the biosphere, the manifestation of natural systems into the fabric of our daily society and its structures may be a saving grace. By examining aesthetic inspiration, the history of how our environment influenced what I call modern design, and then by examining the outward creation of utilized expression by the nature of some deeper sense of self, we can begin to build an efficient vocabulary of how the two meet and from that balance, conceive what comes next. This model represents a progressive vision for Anthropocene urbanity. By using appropriated concepts in biology, specifically in evolutionary and genetic theory, and by exploring their aesthetic implications for both modern design and the aesthetic experience, we are near the core of human experience. The human experience forms human identity, both collective and individual and if we’ve got that, we may have a key to sustainability.

The unearthing of Chochenyo Ohlone ancestors in Berkeley

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Ohlone Dancer by Obi Kaufmann

They are unearthing Chochenyo Ohlone ancestors under that new retail monstrosity they are throwing up over on 4th Street in Berkeley. We have an opportunity here to exhibit respect and do some rethinking about our ceaseless bullshit.

From Lindsie Bear of Hey Day Books: Bay area friends, Ohlone folks’ ancestors are being dug up at a construction site on 4th Street. If you’d like to support your Ohlone neighbors who oppose this, the contact info for the Berkeley city offices involved are below. Berkeley did adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Right of Indigenous People, which gives clear instructions about situations like this, so they have a good map to navigate these waters, if they choose to use it. If you need more info, here are some recent news links:

  1. KQED “Native American Remains Found at Berkeley Construction Site.
  2. BERKELEY SIDE “Ohlone Human Remains Found in Trench in West Berkeley.
  3. SANTA CRUZ SENTINEL “Berkeley: Second Set of Human Remains Found Near Spenger’s Fish Grotto.

Call out To protect Ohlone Sacred Sites!

One of the oldest Ohlone Sacred Sites at 4th and Hearst is being desecrated. As a person of faith and a person who loves the earth, I can’t stand idly by and let this happen. Please, join me in calling the city of Berkeley and asking them to work with the Chochenyo Ohlone people before any development or alteration of this sacred site. See contact info below. You can send a quick group email and the calls don’t take that long.

From Corrina Gould:
“Please call and email the representatives of the City of Berkeley and demand that they work with all the Chochenyo Ohlone people. We demand that the City of Berkeley work with multiple and diverse Chochenyo Ohlone voices to create a transparent process of UNDRIP with free and prior consent on all zoning and future development projects.”

Please Call and Email:

Mayor Tom Bates mayor@cityofberkeley.info
TEL: (510) 981-7100

Linda Maio lmaio@cityofberkeley.info
TEL: (510) 981-7110

Darryl Moore dmoore@cityofberkeley.info
TEL: (510) 981-7120

Maxwell Anderson manderson@cityofberkeley.info
Phone: (510) 981-7130

Jessie Arreguin jarreguin@cityofberkeley.info
Phone: 510-981-7140

Laurie Capitelli lcapitelli@cityofberkeley.info
Phone: (510) 981-7150

Susan Wengraf swengraf@cityofberkeley.info
Phone: (510) 981-7160

Kriss Worthington kworthington@cityofberkeley.info
(510) 9817170

Lori Droste ldroste@cityofberkeley.info
Phone: 510-981-7180

*Please share with your listserves or on social media*

Corrina Gould, Chochenyo Ohlone,
Co-Founder Indian People Organizing for Change, <shellmoundwalk@yahoo.com>

the bay

Chaw’se of the Miwok

Up at Chaw’se, dusk on the first day of April. The mother lode quartz of the Sierra foothills, pulsing underfoot. The turkeys flock, dance and court. The deer parade, stroll and linger. The puffed robin families happily flit under the Valley Oak groves, here having attained their majestic, ancient potential. The Miwok men have gathered tonight to sing and to drum and further down the trail, I find myself a honking goose and a lurking coyote.

A new vision of Storytelling

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What is Storytelling? The working definition I’ve written is “…the demonstration of struggle, creative or otherwise, before a community, with the intention of imparting and sharing both information and wisdom.” Storytelling is a tool. As a artist, an activist, and wilderness-guy, I am preoccupied with what a tool is?  Definition 1 in any dictionary is something you make utility with. A tool is something full of potential. I’ve recently drafted a long list (see it at in the sidebar of this website), or more to the point: I’ve drawn a big-circle… Progressive types. Friends. Family. All of whom have been bitten by this tiny, passionate contagion that compels them forward, keeps pushing the envelope. Maniacs all; full of hope in the morning that what they are doing is good, although completely outside the box. Independents. Freedom-seekers. Wanderers. Storytellers. All heroes of mine. Creatives who have influenced me deeply, all of whom I have worked with on some, beautiful thing, and very much looking forward to working with again soon.

The Sustainability of the Juniper Ridge White Sage Harvest

The Sustainability of the Juniper Ridge White Sage Harvest

by Hall Newbegin, edit by Obi Kaufmann

Sustainable is a flabby word and is over-used these days. That being said, I would like explain how Juniper Ridge, the company I (Hall Newbegin) started nearly 20 years ago, harvests white sage and how this is a 100% sustainable product. We’ve been going back to the exact same wild gardens, all on private land and with permission, every year since the start of the company. For the first ten years, I did this kind of work all by myself. We’re talking about wildharvesting this maybe 200 acres or land. The reason we’re able to go back to the same place every year is that white sage (Salvia apiana) can be harvested sustainably indefinitely.

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All mint family (laminaceae) plants are adapted to grazing by animals because they’re usually pretty tasty, and so they generally respond to pruning with vigorous new growth. If you clip a white sage cluster in the fuzzy, apical meristem tip of the clusters, two or three new clusters will be there the following spring. There are some unethical crews out there who harvest by chopping the plant off at the base of the plant. This is certainly a more efficient method of harvesting this plant, probably on the order of 5x to 10x cheaper than doing it by our method, but has also resulted in clear-cutting of entire fields of white sage.

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This method of harvesting the tips of the stems in the living apical meristem area not only doesn’t kill the plant, but also encourages vigorous growth and generally plants that have been harvested end up being much larger and more vigorous looking than ones that weren’t. This isn’t surprising when you consider its strategy against grazers: for most of its evolutionary history, these soft tips were munched by the ungulates of prehistoric California for millions of years.

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The main harvesting fields aren’t on public land. Salvia apiana grows in a narrow range from the southern Santa Lucia Mountains of the central coast of california through Northern Baja mexico. The fields where most of the wild white sage in the world comes from is in no man’s land: the inland empire in the Los Angeles Basin from San Jacinto to the San Bernadino range. When I say “no man’s land”, I mean behind suburbs and Wal-Marts .. we have access to pristine, private land that nobody else even goes to, so we can control the harvest, and monitor how our activities are affecting the plants and the habitat.

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You should always be skeptical of us business types. I am always deeply suspicious when biz types say “oh yeah, of course we have your best interests at heart and we’re taking care of …” plug in whatever-cause here… I’m in business to make money – ha! I’d be a liar if i didn’t own up to this, the most obvious of facts for anyone who runs a business. But I also do what i do because i’m a wilderness freak and I love making things that connect people to places and to deep, quiet experience of being out on the trail – it’s like a religion to me. I often take the Juniper Ridge crew out to do trail work in the numerous places, I have way more habitat-restoration/weeding-projects going on Mt. Tamalpais, where I live, than I can do. Furthermore, through Juniper RIdge, I wrote checks for $22,000 to wilderness defense groups last year; we received the 2015 The Conservation Alliance award for Outsanding Wilderness Protection Partner for our work on preserving 330,000 acres of coastal wilderness in California (the Snow Mountain Berryessa National Monument that the Obama administration designated as such two months ago). One of the primary goals of this business is to take the money we make and put it back to work, protecting the wildlands that have given me so much.

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Skepticism is important, and I wouldn’t blame you one bit for thinking i’m full of shit: I would be happy to take any of you both to our harvesting spots where we get permission to harvest and take care of those places like gardens, and the free-for-all that’s happening in the big sage fields in the Los Angeles basin. I’ve been harvesting white sage for almost 20 years now, I’m probably one of a dozen people in the world who knows all the harvesting crews, harvesting spots, who the good players are and who are the bad ones … I know this stuff backwards and forwards, I love love love native plants and I want you to see for yourselves – email me (hall@juniperridge.com) and we’ll set up a tour next spring when the harvest starts up again!

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This is an important conversation; the crews that clearcut the white sage fields needs to be stopped – I know their bosses are driving them to do it because they want cheap sage; I know both their bosses and the crews; I’ve brought it up with them in the fields. It’s grody, and it needs to stop and it is clear that more monitoring of the open-land fields is necessary, as they are just getting totally hammered, all for a marketplace that’s hungry for $7 smudge sticks.

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