The 10 Remarkable Redwoods of the Great State of California are now on permanent display at Buck’s. You will find them near the back of the restaurant in their terrestrial aquarium. This is in the space that was once the home of the submarine from the movie Das Boot which sailed away a few years ago. Since then I have been pondering what would fit and a grove of redwoods seemed the ideal candidate.

Of course the tree models didn’t exist so I went to Craig’s List and typed in “redwood tree sculptor sought.” Whenever I’ve advertised for artists I get as many as dozen portfolios in a few hours and am often sent sketches around my notions as well. I have personally built many of the installations at Buck’s but several are collaborations such as the alligator carpet design, airplane-hammerhead shark and the flying nuns. There simply aren’t stores that sell this stuff.

I narrowed down the artist candidates to just a couple and when I met Aaron Haldiman I knew I had the right fit. Aaron has an amazing background and is an all round technical wizard. Whereas most of us have to make do with off the shelf components Aaron sees the world of things as being much broader.

And so as we developed the 10 Trees he was game to not just make the trees but also came up with the layout, installed the lighting, designed and machined the case, sign, and mounting hardware.

Arron finishing the Ten Trees

Arron finishing the Ten Trees

Before we got started Aaron had to clear his calendar which included a stint in Algeria and Istanbul where he was involved in putting together DIY maker spaces for General Electric.

Aaron has long been associated with The TechShop, an international membership-based maker space operation. He has been involved from the beginning to help shape the vision of democratizing access to design and fabrication tools. He has worn a variety of hats throughout his tenure at TechShop from Dream Coaching (yes, this is an actual job title) and curriculum development to employee training and shop build-out with a bit of everything in between.

Julia at the top of Luna

Julia at the top of Luna

Before he started in on the sculptures themselves Aaron made himself an expert on the shape, size and character of the trees he would be creating. I researched the history of the timber industry. One we included is named El Palo Alto, the symbol of the town. Some folks think of it as a tall tree but when set next to the very tallest ones it looks like a modest shrub.

In our research we were dismayed to learn that 95% of the world’s old growth redwoods were cut down in the most egregious manner. The logging interests felt that since the trees were privately owned they, the loggers, should be able to cut them all down and in the end they managed to take nearly all of them including clear cutting some areas round the clock in a effort to get them all before the laws changed.

Contemporary accounts describe the felling of the biggest specimens in the 19th century as requiring the felling of a good many surrounding trees to be used for cushioning. When the giants fell as much as 50% of the tree would pulverize from the impact into splinters unsuitable even for firewood.

Another hard to believe stunt was the practice of cutting holes in the biggest of the trees to drive first wagons and then cars through. The most famous of these was the Wawona Tree in Yosemite. It was a big favorite with the tourists until the weakened tree fell over in a snow storm in 1969. It was 26 feet in diameter and was 2,300 years old when it bit the dust.

The Chandelier Tree is in N. California and you still drive through that one but in high season it will take about an hour’s wait in line. I went through it as a kid so I’ve checked that off the list.

Other trees in our collection include the General Sherman and the General Grant. We also included Hyperion, the tallest tree known. It is 379 feet tall and its exact location is not well known as there are people who like to vandalize the tall trees. This stems from a desire to stick it to tree huggers. I’m not kidding.

This happened to Luna the tree in which Julia Butteryfly Hill spent 738 days in the canopy to save it from being cut down. If you look closely at the top of the model of that tree you can see her standing there with her tree house in the branches below. Julia was a big inspiration to Aaron and me to complete this project.

The project took 3 months of planning and 6 months of intense execution. The detail and scope are truly magnificent. If you look closely you will see deer in the forest, graffiti under the bridge in Palo Alto and tiny people posing for pictures. There are countless diminutive touches such as laser cut ferns almost too small to see and microscopic signs in front of some of the national park trees. The scale is 165 to 1.

In Aaron one finds a consummate technician. He can machine, weld, sculpt and create with a broad array of materials and techniques. Add ‘brilliant artist’ and you have someone well worth collaborating with on complicated projects. Aaron tells me his schedule is filling up but if you have something you have been looking to do with an artist-engineer you can do no better.

You can reach Aaron at info@aaronhaldiman.



a story of the coastline

By Jamis H. MacNiven

Finally you can stop holding your breath. The long wait for my next book is over. This book was conceived of 15 years ago and I’ve spent no little time over the last 5 years putting this together.

CALIFORNIA FROM 500 FEET is a memoir and a serious (well, semi serious I’m told it’s funny) history book about the California coastline documenting my time flying up and down the coast harassing groundlings from my friend’s 246’-3/4” Zeppelin airship and reflecting on colorful characters I’ve disinterred and unlikely events I’ve discovered.

The adventure starts at the Mexican border between the sleepy town of Chula Vista and the substantial city of Tijuana. There we see from the air the stark contrast between the green pastures in the USA and the dusty privation just over the line illustrating that politics really do matter.

Turning the giant ship north we then proceeded over San Die500 Feet Cover New Frame proofgo and I report on the astoundingly corrupt city government where they had to stop using their motto: “America’s finest city” when so many of its officials headed off to do time in the graybar hotel. One who was left behind was Mayor Grabby McGrab-grab who groped his way through his female staff like a lost kid in a carnival funhouse.

Larry and Dylan

Larry and Dylan

Along the coast we meet historical figures like the badly misguided Father Serra (who recently got his wings). The padre never met an Indian he couldn’t ‘reeducate’ and it was he who kicked off the decimation of the locals. We also encounter more contemporary scoundrels like Richard Milhous Nixon who held court at the fabled ‘Western White House’ at the beach in San Clemente. I once named a cat Millhous but he spelled his name with two ‘ls.’

Of course there are heroes too like Larry Walters, a fellow lighter-than-air enthusiast who one day decided he would drift in a lawn chair from his backyard in Long Beach to the Sierras and drift gently down into a field of buckwheat and bunny rabbits. What actually happened was he shot skyward at 1,000 feet a minute and topped out in the air traffic lane at 17,500’. From there things took an interesting turn. Larry’s balloons started to explode sending him into a 16’ deep Larry shaped hole—but no, he actually descended rather slowly. But then He then drifted into a 120,000 volt power line and shorted out half the City of Long Beach. He was of course immediately incinerated into a blackened Larry shaped crisp—but once again his luck held though he was 60 feet from the ground withlos angeles battle of la burning balloons falling around him. Somehow he managed to shimmy down the shrouds into the arms of his cheering friends and less enthusiastic cops.

Larry provided solid research for our invention of Paralooning. 31 years ago we mounted an expedition to Death Valley and flew my son Dylan, then 6, in a parachute filled with balloons much to the consternation of his mother (we considered using 4 year old Tyler but felt he was to unreliable as a pilot even if we would have had better lift). Hey, it’s this or video games.

Los Angeles and the coastal communities yield so much rich lore including the Battle of Los Angeles, an event which involved a Japanese bomber squadron raiding and bombing LA. Never hear of it? Well it’s in the book.

Jake in his chicken suit

Jake in his chicken suit

In the book you’ll meet some pretty terrific characters like Jake Cox who wowed the crowd at the Venice Boardwalk in the 19teens with his daredevil stunts. One act involved his putting on what he called his ‘chicken suit’ and then flying in a small plane over the ocean near the shore. He would then soak his suit in kerosene and using a starter pistol light himself on fire and plunge in flames into the ocean. Jake was long on enthusiasm but short on common sense. Of course the pilot wasn’t going to join Mensa any time either.

By the 1930’s right out in front of Venice emerged one of the world’s gambling Meccas. That’s right. Several gambling ships were anchored in international waters beyond the 3 mile limit and it was 24 hour games, dames and cocktails. The constabulary finally chased them all the way to Las Vegas.

San Simion house

San Simeon

We flew over the one time location of Randy Hearst’s girlfriend, Marion Davies, house on the beach at Santa Monica. It cost 7 million in 1920 and another 7 million to furnish. That was double what the iconic 454’ LA City Hall cost at the same time. Her house was only there 20 years.

Flying over Malibu changed my life. The houses are insanely opulent and include an Iron Man like fortress, a $20m circle of Indian mud huts and one house built out of a 747.

Further north we dropped our giant shadow, like an unscheduled eclipse, over Hearst’s house—San Simeon. From our open windows we could practically hear the tourists squealing with delight.

Along the way in the book I discuss early California and especially the Mexican American War. Although little of it took place in California it is a remarkable tale of tears but riddled with politics so bizarre as to stretch credulity to its thinnest.

Traveling by Zeppelin is crazily fun. The ship can do over 60mph and it’s outfitted like a private jet but with better headroom and immense windows. Even though you need a helium truck, a portable mast truck and a 20plus person crew (and a crew bus) it is a very genteel way to travel. On only one occasion did we imagine ourselves being pitched screaming in the roiling sea. (Oh, so thaaat’s what wind sheer is.)

Back in the 1920s the only way to fly over the oceans was in a Zeppelin and indeed the Graf Zeppelin flew all the way around the world in 1929 and this with a piano bar and private staterooms.

airship Graf Zepp

The glorious Graf Zeppelin

airship Hindenburg dining room

The Hindenburg dining room

Flying over the Golden Gate Bridge at low altitude gives one a great vantage to imagine back to the Gold Rush of 1849— and visualize the over 1,000 ships sinking in the bay with no crews to sail them away.

It would have been easier for a gold hunter to have flown in Rufus Porter’s Aerial Locomotive conceived to fly prospectors in airships in a week and for just $200. His ship looked much like ours but couldn’t be built with materials of the day. In 500 Feet I document this singular inventor and lest you think him just another crackpot (not that that would preclude from being in my book) he also invented the rotary firearm (he sold it to Colt for $100) and founded the Scientific American Magazine.

San Francisco is the ultimate California Coastal City. In the beginning it was a military city with its guns pointed valiantly at the entrance to the bay through which no enemy ever sailed. Starting with the entirely ineffective early Spanish fort at the foot of the GG Bridge and later Fort Point at the same location to the Civil War fort covering Alcatraz, planned to repel the Confederates San Francisco eventually became the most heavily defended port in the world in WW2. All this and not one shot was ever fired at an enemy from these battlements. We really know how to wage war in California!

Sailing out the Gate and up the coast we see trees-beach-trees-beach accented by the tallest redwoods in the world and some of the most beautifully sited trailer parks. Northern California was once much more prosperous in relative terms but with the decline in fishing, lumbering and farming it seems that some areas survive on little more than Indian Casinos, marijuana cultivation and tattoo parlors.

Eventually we touched down at the mouth of the Smith River, the border between California and Oregon. The contrast between the fierce divide 840 miles to the south and the placid stretch of sand marking the end of the state provided a dramatic contrast.

smith river

Saying goodbye at the Smith River

California From 500 Feet is crammed with 312 photos and is an irreverent romp along the shores of our great state and at the same time a memoir and a serious history book. It is available at the front counter at Buck’s where we run “The smallest bookstore in the world.” We generally carry just one book written either by me (or by a friend with at least 3 flattering pages about me). You can try to get it from the world’s largest bookstore but you will be unable to, as it isn’t carried at Amazon

If you pull on my arm I’ll send you a book. $40 including postage and tax. Or just come to Buck’s!

Drop me a line jamis.macniven@gmail.com