Tag Archive: Humboldt County

by Josephine Johnson

Howdy. Here are two bright bits of news :) Thursday (tomorrow) I’m kicking off  SHINE, an evening of storytelling at the Westside Santa Monica YWCA. Doors open at 7p. $10 suggested donation. The theme is finding bravery, which, if you’ve been following the Josephine saga, is more than apropos. I’ll be sharing my best and most uplifting tunes along with a story or two from 7:30 to 8p.

And then on Friday, November 21, Stormy Phoenix at KCSS 91.9 is featuring my CD Let It All Out from 4 to to 6p. KCSS is the alternative music voice of CSU Stanislaus. You can stream it and listen live here. (Thank you, Stormy, you are kind and rockin’.)

Ok, this is a quickie. Love and good things to you. ~Jos


shine moxie, shine

finding bravery Thursday, November 20, 7:30, pm

Humboldt’s Hidden Treasures

Spreading the love with geocaching


  • Geocacher Jessica Davis’ collection of shiny things.

Over an after-work round of brews, healthcare worker Jessica Davis pipes up, “Well, I’m a treasure hunter,” she says, “I look for GPS locations with hidden treasure caches.” She slips out of the room and proudly returns moments later with two jewelry box-sized treasure chests. One contains a miniature mountain lion, smooth chunks of colored glass, a quartz crystal, a rubber duck keychain, a shark figurine and more tiny, colored trinkets reminiscent of sandbox make-believe. “See,” she says, holding out a bright rainbow heart bracelet, “these are some of the things I’ve found.” She leaves her own little baubles behind, too.

Geocaching is what happens when inquisitive tech geeks hide things and then dare each other to find them. To date, there are more than two million geocache sites all over the world (there’s even one in Antarctica). It started back in 2000, when techie and computer consultant David Ulmer hid a bucket of random objects in the woods near his home in Beaverton, Ore., and challenged his tech buddies to find it in order to test the accuracy of the newly-improved GPS. It’s everywhere in the world, even Old Town, the Arcata Plaza, the community forest and the marsh.

Davis has a second box of trinkets that are “track-ables” with a specific geocaching mission. With their own individual GPS markers, you can trace them as they move from hiding place to hiding place all over the world. She selects a small bunny rabbit and explains, “This one’s mission is to get to San Diego. Next time I head south, I’ll find a cache and leave her there to get her closer to her destination.”

Ready to go hunting? Sign up at geocaching.com to discover this world of secret stashes all around you. Humboldt County is home to hundreds of hidden treasures in town, on the beach, in the forest and even out at sea. Of course, you will need a GPS device or tracking software. If you have a smart phone, you can download the geocaching app directly from the site. The Geocaching app is solid — it also can link you to clues if you’re having a tough time in the field. Go to the maps section on the website and find an area you’d like to scour — again, they’re everywhere! The caches also have difficulty ratings, so on your first few times out, select easy ones. That way you’re less likely to get frustrated and give up.

According to the maps, there’s one at Arcata City Hall, where Heather Leigh Stevens, recreation manager for the city, has watched treasure seekers investigate the ferns, climb the wall and tap on the water fountain just outside her office. “It makes us smile and sometimes laugh,” says Leigh, who has seen her fair share of students, traveling retirees and occasional traveling families trying to find the cache in the past three years. She also notes that the people who do this tend to be focused and tenacious — they keep at it until they find the treasure. “I rarely hear people resort to anger or profanity,” she says. “Most people in this office know where it is, and if someone is having a really hard time, we’ll offer clues. For us in recreation, we like seeing people poking around in the bushes, getting out, getting active.”

If you attempt the Arcata City Hall cache, note that it has an “easy” rating, even though the overhang of the roof skews the satellite signal. It took this reporter 40 minutes. Though said reporter did not swear, she did utter a whole string of “dangs,” “holy cats” and “for goodness sakes” before finally finding it without a clue from the recreation folks. She also crawled around the water fountain numerous times.

Curious? Get out there, Humboldt. And let us know what you find.


by Josephine Johnson

Under Dog Rock Star All-Stars

Under Dog Rock Star All-Stars

Well, for goodness sakes, it’s been almost a month since the last post. I’ve done some stuff…

***New release available at CD Baby***



Since the Has Beans days...

Since the Has Beans days…

First, in a weekend of mad-marathon driving, I went back to Humboldt to release the new CD—January 25th, the Eureka Inn—26-and-a-smidge hours grand total of driving to play a fine show for some of my dearest friends. A release and an opportunity to say goodbye to a whole crew and community that have loved and supported me since the early days.

***New release available at CD Baby***

Way back in the way, way back, when I used to play Thursday lunch at Has Beans in Eureka, folks like Brother James, Pat, Ralph, Ginger and more would show up just to make sure there were folks to listen. The night of the release, they all showed up one last time, and it was genuinely touching.

To be sure by evening’s end (2 am rock star time!), I’d made a few new friends and fans to keep me pointed forward on this journey. It was a really, really kind night. Some quick shout outs to that HumCo crew who helped make it happen:

Jos & Kirsten

Jos & Kirsten

Many thanks to Dale and Lei Winget—they put me up in their ‘rabbit room’ and made sure the next morning’s send off included a Humboldt-proud breakfast from Golden Harvest. Another big thank you to Perry

Lei is also an acupuncturist, she fixed my left arm and hand. It was amazing. go see her if you are in EUREKA :)

Lei is also an acupuncturist, she fixed my left arm and hand. It was amazing. go see her if you are in EUREKA :)

Brubaker who designed the flyer and locked in a date for this performance. Mo Hollis MC’ed and engineered the night—thank you, Mo! Jay Forbes, your drums–a pleasure & honor to get to play with you—thanks for being part of the night. And more, so many more thanks. It was a great celebration marking the end of an era and beginning of a new.

***New release available at CD Baby***

***AND just as I was leaving LA, I managed to get in a phone interview with

meeting friends, signing CDs :)

meeting friends, signing CDs :)

Emma Brecain, the host of KHSU’s Through the Eyes of Women. We talked about music, the new album, what it’s like to be another white-girl-with-a-guitar. You can listen to our conversation here.***

PIg 'n Whistle, Hollywood :)

PIg ‘n Whistle, Hollywood :)

And so then after the grand-Humboldt-rock-star-adventure, I was booked at Pig ‘n Whistle in Hollywood as part of a Friday night indie musician showcase. THAT was a great time, too. Thank you, Sharon Groom, Joey Maramba & more!

***New release available at CD Baby***

Last but not least, in the near-month since I’ve posted, I also got booked on Kato

Julie Brown, Kato Kaelin, Josephine & Princess

Julie Brown, Kato Kaelin, Josephine & Princess

Kaelin’s new British podcast. For reals. Not once. But twice. And oh my goodness, that was a fun time. Maybe because I’m so new to show business, but it all was like a comical, hyper-frenetic, yet well-heeled circus. And Kato’s funny in this goofy, rapid fire way—the guy made me smile. And I enjoyed getting to be part of the show. Am hoping I get to go and visit again.

***New release available at CD Baby***

Julie & Kato

Julie & Kato

The second time, Down Town Julie Brown was the special guest—you know, from MTV when it was about music? Videos? She’s a sweet cat, too.

Well, that’s it for tonight. Enjoy the pics-n-links-n-such. And have fun, have lots & lots of FUN!

***New release available at CD Baby***

Finally, the story about working with the Treehouse Masters November/December 2013, as published January 29th in the North Coast Journal. And Yes, Pete Nelson really is the affable, eccentric, goofy-enthusiastic guy you see on TV. All good folks! ~Josephine

A Home in a Redwood

Treehouse dream to reality (TV)


Maybe you’re feeling low, a little too close to the ground. You want a place of retreat to elevate, inspire and get you floating again.

For Humboldt County resident Crystal Miller, a longtime lover of great trees, that meant a treehouse in a redwood in her backyard. Miller and her fiancé Arif Malik bought their rural property together in late 2009 with the shared dream of building a treehouse in that one big redwood out back, but tragically Malik died in a car accident in December of 2009, just as their place went into escrow. Miller remained determined to make good on their original dream and honor his memory.

A genuine do-it-her-selfer, Miller had been following the work of treehouse builder Pete Nelson through his books and building conferences. She says she knew building one properly would require special know-how and that she couldn’t do it by herself. It would take expertise, hardware, equipment and grit — precisely the moxie and special knowledge of Nelson and crew. So, a couple years ago, Miller reached out to Nelson, who responded eagerly that he’d love to build a treehouse in a California coast redwood way, way up — 60 feet off the ground.

As fate would have it, just as Miller was contacting Nelson, so were Animal Planet and Stiletto TV. They wanted to do a reality TV series with Nelson and his treehouse projects. Miller’s project was waitlisted until network negotiations, production and construction schedules were all settled.

Nelson grew up building treehouses in his father’s trees. As a kid he practiced in his backyard with old storm windows, discarded lumber — whatever was in the garage. But lacking building skills, his structures couldn’t match the grand vision in his head, and he grew frustrated. After working his way through Colorado College doing construction, he had the chops to start building lush, adult retreat spaces in trees. For the first decade, he financed many of his projects himself, including much of what went into his first book, Treehouse: The Art and Craft of Living Out on a Limb. His custom treehouses for private clients can cost up to $300,000, but ones built for theTreehouse Masters show run from $80,000 to $120,000.

After a couple years of waiting, following Nelson’s treehouse building exploits and hoping her project would be next, it was finally Miller’s turn. In November, Nelson and his crew began constructing Crystal’s dream tree retreat.

For nearly three weeks, a TV crew and building crew spent 14 hours a day — and sometimes longer — on Miller’s property building and filming the tallest structure the crew had ever attempted. Miller was not content to merely stand by and watch. As any true tree-loving, hardcore Humboldt woman would, Miller donned a hardhat and safety harness and went to work along side Nelson and his crew. “I needed to help build this,” says Miller. “I wanted to get my hands dirty finishing a dream I fondly shared with someone who’s no longer on this earth. Finishing this feels really good.”

Nelson found Miller’s project a fascinating challenge. “We’d never built a treehouse as high as 60 feet,” says Nelson, “plus we’ve only built a handful where the tree is actually inside the structure.” He pauses, runs his hand through his hair. “This will be fun to monitor!” He explains that the redwood adds a challenge to Miller’s structure. Redwood is a soft wood, and when conditions are right — lots of moisture and moderate temps — they grow rapidly, as much as 3 feet in height per year. Humboldt’s redwoods typically (though not this year) endure tough winter storms, too, with winds sometimes gusting over 50 miles per hour.

Miller’s treehouse would have to be built to accommodate extreme wind and rain, as well as the natural growth factor of the tree. Nelson would need to use at least four 21-inch long treehouse attachment bolts to firmly anchor the structure to the tree. These special bolts reach into the tree’s heartwood and provide solid anchor points. Once in place, the bolts jut out far enough from the bark to allow for the redwood’s growth. For a little while, anyway. Nelson would like to check up on Miller’s treehouse in the next two to three years.

You can check it out on TV when the Treehouse Masters “Sky High Redwood Retreat” episode airs Friday, Jan. 31 on Animal Planet.


I wrote this cover for the North Coast Journal, Eureka, California, in April 2013 and am just now sharing on the blog. I realize it’s out of sequence, but it’s  important that it have a home here. And better late than never, right? Also, I realize the timing is kind of a downer—an assisted suicide story shared  the week before Christmas? Potentially very dark, depressing, and icky. But it’s not. I Promise. This is a tale of a loving son and family who are brave in helping their parents die with dignity. Bravery, compassion, and release. And love.

Click the title to link to original post on the Journal’s website.

click to flip through (10)DAWSON FAMILY PHOTO - Reg and Betty Dawson married in 1946 and celebrated more than 60 wedding anniversaries before they died, side by side, in the fall of 2012.
  • Reg and Betty Dawson married in 1946 and celebrated more than 60 wedding anniversaries before they died, side by side, in the fall of 2012.
In early September 2011, Dominic Dawson, a lean and soft-spoken delivery driver who lives in Manila, received an email from his ailing father in Wales. “I’m ready to go to Switzerland, October 2012,” Reg Dawson wrote his son. “What do you think?” Dominic was sitting at his desk in a second-story cupola peering over Humboldt Bay. From here, he could often see small flocks of dowitchers erupting from the shore, shimmering in the morning haze. He knew that “Switzerland” meant his father hoped to die at a Zurich apartment where an organization called Dignitas helps people commit suicide legally. Diffuse sunlight seeped through the old Victorian’s window. Outside, shore birds pecked in the mud, shifting and turning in unison. Dominic cradled his coffee mug.

He was surprised, but not shocked. His father, in his late 80s and struggling with Parkinson’s disease. was losing the ability to walk unassisted, sit upright and feed himself. About a year before, Reg had begun talking about Dignitas with his wife and his daughter, Teresa Schwanauer. When Teresa filled Dominic in, she’d confided that she didn’t think their father would go through with it. Now Reg was sounding more certain. And Dominic felt oddly comforted that his father had reached out to him, after a long estrangement that had lessened only gradually, as they both grew older.

He read the email again, and before the morning faded, forwarded it to Tina George, his partner of 10 years, who lives in Arcata. That night they talked logistics: Reg wanted the whole family to gather beforehand in England, to celebrate his life — and not to mourn. Dominic had no qualms about the suicide itself. He had long believed people have a right to die when and how they choose. So mostly, he and Tina talked about arranging the trip and whether she should come along.

The next morning, though, Dominic struggled for words to put into his email reply. What do you say to your own father when he announces his plans for passing? How do you sound supportive but not cold, or worse, eager? Dominic wrote, finally, that he didn’t know quite what to say. To which Reg replied, “That is perfectly normal and understandable.”


Dominic Dawson had severed ties with his parents in 1968, moving out of the family home in London when he was 16 years old. He and his parents just didn’t think the same way. He was embracing the freedom-loving ethos of the 1960s — equal rights, anti-war, Eastern mysticism — while his parents remained politically and socially conservative. He moved in with friends and took temporary jobs that were easy to find in London then: a clerk, a messenger, whatever kept him free from his parents’ rules. After a couple of years he craved more adventure and traveled overland to India. He met and stayed with royalty in Bangladesh, and he lived for six months in Calcutta, working for an international relief organization. Then he bounced around some more — traveling in the Middle East, then over to the United States, settling in the early 1970s in Santa Cruz, where he married and had his first daughter. In 1979, he arrived in Humboldt. To make it on the North Coast, he worked odd jobs and did lots of manual labor. He backpacked all over the Trinity Alps. He had a second daughter, in another relationship. Rooted in Humboldt, held by its natural beauty, Dominic has lived in the same Manila neighborhood since 1985.

The family ties with his parents reknit, but slowly. He would see them now and then, when they made trips to America. In 1996, the whole family gathered in England for his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Not long after, he and his father began corresponding again. When the email about Switzerland came, Dominic was 60, with a 2-year-old grandson of his own. Gray-haired, blue-eyed and fit, he was semi-retired, running a delivery service, taking rafting trips with Tina. Now there was this — and before it was over, both his parents would make fateful decisions.


In California, as in many other states and many nations, helping or encouraging someone to commit suicide is a crime. The law stands even as public opinion has been shifting. In a 2006 Pew Research poll, 60 percent of those polled nationwide thought that people in great pain with no hope of improvement had a right to die. And 53 percent said people with an incurable disease had a right to choose death.

The idea appalls some advocates for the elderly and for people with disabilities. They worry about pressure from relatives who are crumbling under the stress of care, or who want to preserve family assets. Some religious groups, including the Roman Catholic Church, orthodox Judaism, and many evangelical Protestant denominations, consider suicide or helping with suicide a sin. Opponents warn that opening the door to legal assisted suicides could eventually lead to encouraging death for people deemed undesirable, people whose lives are looked at as somehow less worthy or less worthwhile than the lives of others. But amid those warnings, many religious, civil rights and patient rights groups champion the idea that people have a right to die, and that helping should be considered a kindness, not a crime. Legally assisted suicide, they say, gives people who have no hope of recovery the option to die before physical pain becomes unbearable or mental abilities are lost.

Worldwide, assisted suicide is legal in only a few places, including the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Oregon and Washington, and the laws vary widely. Oregon and Washington have similar legislation, legalizing suicide under narrow conditions. A patient must be at least 18, a state resident and terminally diagnosed with six months or less to live. The patient must convince a doctor that he or she is of sound mind, making two oral requests and one written statement. Two doctors must sign separate forms verifying the patient’s terminal illness. Then the state must approve the suicide, no sooner than 15 days after the first oral request. After all that, a physician can prescribe — but not administer — a lethal, swallow-able drug. No injections.

On the other end of the spectrum is Switzerland, with the most liberal suicide law in the world. Under article 115 of the Swiss Criminal Code, assisting another’s suicide is criminal only if the motive is for personal gain. This sparse pronouncement was interpreted in the 1980s as a legal green light to create self-assisted suicide organizations. EXIT, founded in 1997, and Dignitas, founded in 1998, are among the best-known. Dignitas, which was featured in a 2012 Frontline documentary, is the only Swiss organization to accept foreigners. In the years since Dignitas’ founding, the Swiss Supreme Court has expanded the law even more, ruling in 2006 that chronically depressed and mentally ill people have a right to assisted suicide. Today, Swiss law allows people with a range of non-terminal and progressive ailments to apply — and if approved — to choose to die.

Not all Swiss are on board with this right-to-die, death-with-dignity mission. In 2011, the Evangelical People’s Party of Switzerland and the Swiss Federal Democratic Union lobbied heavily for a citywide referendum in Zurich over the practice. The May 2011 ballot measure asked residents whether assisted suicide should be banned altogether and whether organizations — Dignitas specifically — should admit foreigners. Despite heavy funding from Switzerland’s conservative and religious right, the proposed ban was rejected by 84 percent of voters. And 78 percent voted to keep assisted suicide services available to overseas users.


Dominic had always thought of his conservative parents as swift-witted and independent. Reg Dawson grew up in London and met his wife, then Betty Johnson, in the first years of World War II when they were both at a community dance. She was 15 and he was 17. Reg was getting ready for a stint in the Royal Air Force doing communications work. Theirs was a long courtship – they didn’t marry until after the war ended, in February of 1946Their wedding picture shows him in uniform, his hair already thinning, one hand clasping Betty’s. She is smiling a little more broadly, a white veil billowing behind her, sprays from a lavish bouquet trailing nearly to her knees. By then, both had converted to Catholicism. Dominic speculates the religion offered them a sense of spiritual security during the frightening years of wartime air raids.

Their oldest child, Teresa, was born in 1947. Soon after came Paul, then Dominic and Christopher. After the military, Reg worked as a negotiator in the British civil service. Once, Dominic recalls, Reg helped keep some commuter rail services alive by leaking information about government plans to stop them. Betty was a homemaker, focused on raising the children. She enjoyed cooking and baking and reading popular novels, her children remember. Once they were grown, she returned to school and became a business skills instructor, teaching typing and dictation. Over the years, both drifted from Catholicism — Reg becoming an atheist and Betty an agnostic. Reg grew skeptical of organized religion and critical of government.

In the late 1980s, when Reg retired after more than 30 years in the civil service, he and his wife were still in good health, and Betty was a regular swimmer. That began to change with the turn of the new century. In 2002, Reg was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, a degenerative disease. Their children noticed Betty’s memory significantly slipping in 2006, although she wasn’t officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s until 2012. Her early memories persisted — childhood, early years of marriage, her children’s youth — but she was losing track of the day-to-day: luncheons, medical appointments. Had she turned off the stove, or was the water running in the bathroom? Reg first broached the subject of suicide with Teresa, a retired computer analyst who lives in Walnut Creek, when she was visiting her parents at her brother Christopher’s house in London in the fall of 2010. “If your mother passes before I do,” he directed in his calm British English, “I want to go to Switzerland and commit suicide.” At the time, Teresa didn’t think that her father would travel all the way to a Swiss clinic to end his life. “I wasn’t worried,” she recalled later. “I Skyped with them every week and was certain that when my father passed, it would be at their retirement community in Wales.” Teresa and her three brothers assumed that Reg would die before their mother.


As Reg’s condition worsened, he became less and less willing to wait for his wife to pass away first. Even in October 2010, when he was 88 and she 86, she could no longer lift and move him. An attendant at their retirement community in Wales had to bathe him. And Betty had left a burner on. Again. Reg began emailing with his oldest son, Paul, about choosing suicide if he was unable to live and move independently. And Parkinson’s disease does that, steals a person’s independence. It’s a nasty degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that begins with slight physical tremors, rigidity and difficulty walking, and then progresses to uncontrollable cognitive and behavioral problems. In late stages, dementia is common. Reg resisted using a wheelchair and insisted on walking as much as possible. By December 2011, though, he was resigned to a wheelchair most of the time, and by then, all four of his children knew he wanted to die. “When he announced his plan, my only surprise was how late he had left it,” Paul remembered. “He was clearly not enjoying life at all.” And Dominic, who at first had thought he would only attend his father’s going away celebration in England, now reassured Teresa that he would go farther. If she wanted his help and support accompanying their father to Switzerland, Dominic would come along for that, tooTogether, then, all four children planned how to best support Reg’s choice, while making sure their mother would have a good quality of life after he was gone.

Betty, though, did not approve. Not for religious or philosophical reasons, but because for more than 60 years of marriage, they’d always been a team. Even as Reg’s body withered, Betty had remained physically strong and able to help him. As she became more forgetful, Reg’s mind remained razor sharp.

“But my mother also knew the reality of Alzheimer’s,” Teresa recalled, “My mother was afraid that if Reg went to Switzerland to die, that she would be alone and eventually die not knowing who her children are. This terrified her.” And at least with Reg by her side, Betty had someone. Without him, she feared dying without memories or knowing who she was.

It wasn’t so much that Betty didn’t want Reg to go to Switzerland but that she didn’t want him to go without her. Even with all four children ready to help, Reg hated the thought of leaving Betty alone. But he hated his continuing decline even more.


In late October 2011, Reg paid $250 and joined the assisted suicide organization Dignitas, intent upon ending his life in Zurich, Switzerland, sometime in late 2012. The application process is not simple. There are thick packets of paperwork, and a Swiss physician must review the applicant’s full medical records. To further complicate matters, assisted suicide is illegal in the United Kingdom, and doctors can lose their medical license and face up to 14 years in prison if caught knowingly releasing records for a suicide that would occur outside the country. But Reg wanted to do the right thing, be above board the whole way through. He was honest. At first. He told his doctors exactly what he was doing.

They curtly denied release of his medical records.

A clever man, Reg changed tactics. A few weeks later, he re-contacted his physicians, this time telling them the records were needed for travel insurance to the United States for his 90th birthday celebration. It worked. He submitted his full application in December 2011. Now he had to wait, for Dignitas and for the approval of the Swiss government.

By then, in mid-December 2011, Reg’s health was in a tailspin. Feeding himself had become prolonged and excruciating — loss of muscle control meant that what food wasn’t lost down his front was often smeared across his face. “My father was an extremely dignified man,” Teresa said. “It was messy, but he preferred to feed himself.” A meal could take an hour or more. And he had become incontinent.

Dominic, keeping in touch from afar, hated to think of his father hunched in a wheelchair, unable to go to the bathroom by himself. Reg’s choice seemed courageous to his second son, and the obstacles he had to overcome were just one more sign of that courage.

As Reg worsened and Betty contemplated his hopes to die, she became uncharacteristically quiet and withdrawn. She cut short Skype sessions with her daughter and grandchildren, or skipped them entirely. This was not the vivacious business instructor and nurturing, reassuring mother Teresa had known. And then came the startling email from Reg. In January 2012, he wrote Teresa that Betty had read the Dignitas literature and wanted to die with him. Life would be intolerable without him, Betty felt, no matter how hard her children would try to help. She, too, would apply to Dignitas.


By the end of January 2012, Reg Dawson received the provisional green light from Dignitas, which meant he had passed the Swiss medical review and could proceed with setting a date for his assisted suicide. The organization carefully advised him not to plan it on or near birthdays or other important family celebrations. At the same time, Betty began her application. They were hoping to die together.

To apply to Dignitas, a patient first must pay and become a member. Then comes the packet of paperwork and the required medical records, which can take up to three months to be evaluated. If the documents are approved, the patient must go to Zurich and meet with a physician, who will assess whether he or she is unpressured and of sound mind. Only then does Dignitas grant a provisional green light for the suicide. The week of the scheduled death, the patient must meet with two separate doctors to be sure this is what he or she wants to do.

Betty’s application would be tricky. To comply with Swiss law, doctors affiliated with Dignitas would have to determine whether she was mentally sound enough to choose death. The question for doctors in such cases, according to a Dignitas pamphlet, is whether the decision is “a wish to die that is an expression of a curable psychic distortion and which calls for treatment” or a “self-determined, carefully considered and lasting decision of a lucid person.” It is a difficult distinction for anyone, and was complicated by the Alzheimer’s, which is considered a mental illness under Swiss law. Betty would have to convince doctors that she was capable of deciding to die.

And then, to make things even more difficult, she and Reg were applying for a double assisted suicide. The family was told that such suicides, with their more complex logistics, are relatively rare in Switzerland.

After three months of emailing between the Dawsons and Dignitas, a rewritten request letter from Betty, and more medical appointments in the United Kingdom and Zurich, Betty got the provisional green light in May of 2012. Now both of Dominic’s parents had been cleared for assisted suicide, and they wanted to do it together. They needed two separate physicians for each of them to prescribe the lethal dosage. In August, Reg got word by email: the doctors had been arranged. After working around a large family’s birthdays and wedding anniversaries, Reg and Betty set Sept. 17 as the day of their passing.


Even the final arrangements would be complicated. Paul, an international finance professor, had professional obligations in Asia and couldn’t be by their side. And the family feared that Christopher, a British citizen, could be detained and possibly arrested for involvement with their suicides once he returned to London. They all decided it was safer for him not to be in Switzerland. Teresa, Dominic and Tina — all U.S. citizens — seemed likely to face less, if any, scrutiny on their return to London from Zurich. It was agreed. The three of them would travel with Reg and Betty that final week.

With the suicide date set, Dominic and Tina flew to London during the first week of September. All of Reg and Betty’s children, their nearest grandchild, and Reg’s brother and wife also arrived. They talked and reflected quietly during the day. In the evenings the family dined together in London restaurants. On Sept. 11, Reg, Betty, Teresa, Dominic and Tina left London for Switzerland. There, they interspersed pre-suicide doctor visits with trips to Lake Thune and a visit to a pumpkin festival.

On Sept. 17, the five of them arrived at a Dignitas apartment in an industrial part of Zurich. The sun was bright and warm. A light breeze stirred the trees. Earlier that week, Reg and Betty had met with the physicians and had gotten their final approvals. Calm and relaxed, the family sat in the apartment, completing the last bits of paperwork. A Dignitas assistant brought Reg and Betty each cups of a liquid antiemetic to coat their stomachs so they wouldn’t vomit on the lethal barbiturate dosage that would come later. Teresa and her mother left the apartment to sit beside a small pond outside and quietly enjoy the splendor of the warm afternoon. Reg, Dominic and Tina chatted for a bit and drank coffee for over an hour, long enough for the stomach coating to be fully effective. When the Betty and her daughter came back indoors, both parents were smiling.

“I think it’s time,” said Reg.

As required by Swiss law, a videotape was running. Reg and Betty Dawson were helped into a twin bed, where they nestled together. They had selected music for their passing. Liszt’s Liebestraum No. 3 played softly, followed by Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice. A dream of love, and then the underworld.

Reg joked about the luggage — there will be more than necessary for the flight home. What will they do with the suitcases? The adult pads? “We won’t need those anymore,” he said. And Betty, smiling, piped up, “Oh, my jewelry.” She slid off her engagement ring and wedding band, and lovingly extended them to Teresa.

The non-physician Dignitas assistant brought them each a cup of sodium pentobarbitol. These Reg and Betty had to drink very quickly, and they had to drink them unassisted. Reg sucked his through a straw. Betty slugged hers back without hesitation. When the cups were empty, the assistant gave them each a piece of Swiss chocolate to banish the bitter taste of the barbiturate cocktail.

The room was still. Betty leaned over and kissed Reg. Dominic held his father’s free hand. Teresa held her mother’s. The music continued softly in the background. Reg and Betty clasped hands and fell asleep slowly, peacefully. Finally.


Dominic Dawson returned to his parents’ home in Wales to put the last of their affairs to rest. Papers, books, family photos, CDs all sorted and organized by his hand. He listed their assisted living unit on the market. On Oct. 1, the family held a memorial service and Reg and Betty’s ashes were scattered in the memorial garden of the British Railway Preservation Society, where they had been lifetime members.

Dominic, back home in Humboldt now, does not sorrow. From his cupola window, he can watch gulls soar. He can see a squadron of pelicans, flying in formation above the bay. “There’s nothing to be sad about” he said. The way he looks at it, both his parents accomplished something worthwhile, and they both kept their dignity. “It was awe-inspiring. There was no fear or regret in those final days. I am thankful I was there.”

On the Ridge

I know. I hinted at the Treehouse Masters for this post. That’s coming. But super quick-like, here’s a link to most recent article for the North Coast Journal. Enjoy!

Sunny Brae residents Natalia Collier and Adam Brown know this trail. Up Buttermilk Lane, past the middle school and left onto Margaret, where a large army-green water tank marks the trailhead and a concrete staircase on the right rises into the Sunny Brae portion of the Arcata Community Forest. Collier, Brown and their dog Casey hike here at least once a week. This new trail is a welcome dose of solitude and near-wilderness in their backyard, but, says Brown, “It’s so new, there aren’t any names or signs up yet, and most people really don’t use this part.” Well, technically, the Sunny Brae section of the Arcata Community Forest isn’t open.

Not just yet.

But it will be, and soon more folks will hike and love it because this trailhead also marks the start of the Arcata Ridge Trail, which is getting closer and closer to completion. That means if you want to hike from Sunny Brae over to West End Road — that spot under the 101 overpass with those concrete curb-like structures will be the other trailhead — you’ll be able to bike, hike or horseback ride the 3.8-mile trek by summer 2014. By spring, the northern portion of the Arcata Ridge Trail, which begins on West End Road, should be ready for exploration, and sometime in February 2014, the south fork of the Janes Creek Loop trail will be open.

The Arcata Ridge Trail started out as an idea about 15 years ago, according to Kirk Cohune, a principal at Greenway Partners and a community trail volunteer. The goal was to connect South Arcata (Sunny Brae) with north Arcata (West End Road) via trails and create a system where responsible timber harvest and volunteer support would sustain the trail’s management. Mark Andre, Arcata’s environmental services director, acquired land and conservation easements throughout these timber lands. In 2000, Sierra Pacific, the company that owned the forest adjacent to Sunny Brae, wanted to log the hillside. Enter Sunny Brae local and now Third District Supervisor Mark Lovelace. He and concerned neighbors formed the Sunny Brae Neighborhood Alliance to stop large-scale logging near their homes. When Sierra Pacific finally offered to sell the land, the Alliance and the community raised $100,000 to help Arcata buy the property and turn it into a community forest. The cash allowed Mark Andre to secure matching grants from the U.S. Forest Service, CALTRANS, the California Department of Forestry and other agencies, and in 2006, Arcata bought most of the Sunny Brae part of the forest.

There’s a nice sign near the trailhead thanking many state and community organizations for the forest’s conservation. Again, not open yet. And just because other folks are hiking doesn’t mean you won’t get a ticket. Of course, hypothetically, if a reporter did accidentally hike its wide paths in all their splendor before she knew it was closed, it might have been magical. Think redwoods, Doug firs, Bigleaf maples. She mighthave seen faded, broad leaves twisting and falling all along the hillside, sunlight dappling them as they dance their way down to the forest floor. Add sunshine, crisp sky and a gentle, late autumn breeze, and it would have hypothetically been the stuff of fairies, wizards, sprites and unicorns. It’s the perfect place for the Arcata Ridge Trail to begin. (Of course, said reporter also might have gotten lost for a couple of hours with no signs to guide her, and she may have been very grateful to have brought a friend, a phone and plenty of water.)

Can’t wait to get in there? Dennis Houghton heads up the trail maintenance crew for the City of Arcata, and he often needs volunteers. Maybe you could help. Craft some sweet signage for these amazing community trails with Houghton, his crew and a legion of community volunteers. Contact Dennis at 707-822-8184.

Happy Thanksgiving and So Much More

On this Thanksgiving morning, thankful for all this and much more.

by Josephine Johnson


Delicious organic produce comes from here.


I should be writing about KickStarter, that I have an active campaign up and running. I do.  A really, really big deal that I’ve not shared or documented here. It’s been more work than I imagined, managing and promoting the ol’ KickStarter. But it’s also been a valuable learning adventure in time management and prioritization. Posting updates, acknowledging supporters, promoting on FB and other internet/print media outlets have filled any free time I may have had these past weeks to post something here. And yes, then, I should be writing about the gratitude I feel that so many friends and fans stepped up so quickly to get behind the new album project. And I am. I am really, genuinely thankful to have generous people in my life, who not only believe in and appreciate my music but who are also willing to help me see this album through to completion. For sure, I am lucky to live in Humboldt County and to be able to perform and share music here. Thank you for all your support. The CD is a reality now because a whole lot of Humboldt folks pitched in to make it happen.

Monica Topping made this. Kikki & I wrangled the agates.

Monica Topping made this. Kikki & I wrangled the agates.

How DID it happen? How’d we do it? How’d this come about, and really, what does it take to be an indie artist and musician in a small, rural community notorious for low wages and less-than-stellar day-job opportunities? I’d like to share my perspective, what’s it’s been like to see this through. What it’s like to be an artist at the edge, near the margin, on the verge. I AM on the verge, I know it, the verge of something grand, a breakthrough. Sharing this part of the story, I think, is the best way for me to show you how thankful I am to be where I am doing what I do. This, an active exercise in gratitude.

If you know me in my day-to-day or Facebook life, then it’s no secret I’ve been Humboldt shuffling’, cobbling things together to keep the bills paid, to keep it all rolling. Working retail, an organic farm, freelance writing, English and ESL tutoring, yard work, odd jobs, housesitting, music gigs. At any given time at least four jobs are spinning in the air around me.

Wait, you’re not teaching this semester? Not at College of the Redwoods?

No. I’m not.


If you could work here, wouldn't you?

If you could work here, wouldn’t you?

In the August burglary at my former Eureka apartment, much of my English teaching resources were either taken or destroyed–computers with lesson plans, thumb drives, syllabi, handouts, ESL resources. Gone. All this a week and a half before school. Re-creating and pulling these materials back together on top of securing new housing—I could not live in that space any longer—was not feasible. Plus, I was not entirely at ease with my course schedule. I was slated to teach 6:30 pm to 7:50pm Monday thru Thursday and Saturday morning 9am to noon. Not absolutely impossible, but certainly less than ideal for a working musician.

That schedule meant I’d likely have to give up the Siren’s Song open-mic that I host and worked so hard to build; certainly no pints for non-profits gigs, or any weeknight slots at Mad River Brewery. It also meant that rehearsing and recording with Piet and the guys would have to go on the back burner. If I taught fall semester, it’d be nearly impossible to finish the CD before Christmas, the key project we’d so diligently focused on all summer. With my world upturned and I in search of a safe place to live, the only thing I felt secure and happy about was my music and finishing the CD with the guys. And so I committed to music. I decided not to teach fall semester fully knowing that I would have to work hard at a multitude of things to make ends meet. I would do it. Humboldt shuffle and juggle it. Again, if you’ve been following my posts on Facebook, then you know the crazy

I & I Farm, organic rainbow chard

I & I Farm, organic rainbow chard

schedules I keep, the jobs I juggle to be able to keep the music happening. And in the end (or beginning?) I think the shuffle has been my best teacher—teaching me grace and how to honor commitments across a broad range of job deadlines and expectations; how to be punctual and complete the things I say I’m going to; how to prioritize and keep organized. I’ve also become pretty snazzy with timely completion of paperwork, which is a darn handy skill to have. I’m a whiz at making phone calls, meeting deadlines, and chasing down details. I’ve got a good attitude, too, mostly positive and upbeat in spite of all the potential time management pitfalls. Ah, time management Tetris!

Yes, in the face of one of the greatest physical losses I’ve ever experienced, I committed to finishing the CD. I had to.  To honor the core part of what makes me, ‘me’. To shift my life to better nurture and love the creative, music,

Steampunk thresher thing...do you know what this is?

Steampunk thresher thing…do you know what this is?

singing, voice inside. And by that, I think, stepping out of the classroom and committing to honoring myself—to making and sharing music and leading a loving and creatively inspired life—I have been the best teacher within my power to be. By example. Humbly, with kindness I strive to continue doing so everyday, being both a creative musician and teacher. When you wake up in the morning and at the end of the day, if you believe in yourself  and know without a shadow of a doubt what you want, make it so. Do it. One of the most effective ways to encourage and inspire, to teach, is by honoring what you know to be true in your life and then living that truth. For me, that’s singing, music, and writing.

I am a sharp lady and talented teacher. I love teaching and know one day I will return to the classroom. But for now, I have more life experiences to gain, a whole lotta music to do, and so much more to learn before I get back there. On my return “I’ll be bringing back the melodies and rhythm that I find”. Thank you, Townes.

That I (we!) have completed a CD in the midst of all this is no small feat.

That I’ve (we’ve!!) launched and landed a successful KickStarter campaign, just shy of a minor miracle.

So thankful that I live where I do and am able to make it. And Imma MAKE IT, now.  Again, thank you Humboldt for helping make this happen. Having jobs to shuffle was key to making it go; having great friends and fans here makes it all worthwhile. We did it. CDs by Christmas. Love. WE DID IT!!!


***Next post: how the Humboldt Shuffle best qualified me to assist with production on Animal Planet’s ‘Treehouse Masters’. For real. There are no coincidences. It’s all connected. For a reason.

Nelson Treehouse Supply

Nelson Treehouse Supply

by Josephine Johnson


Doug Green, Joanne Rand, Darryl Cherney

I didn’t know Doug Green. Never went to an event he emceed or hung out with him after a show

Peter Rowan

Peter Rowan

he produced. That’s right, I’ve never been to Reggae on the River–the Humboldt jewel in the crown music festival for which Doug is most famous as founding member and Master of Ceremonies.  He’s been a fixture on the music and entertainment scene in Humboldt County for more than 30 years, a real mover and shaker and genuine supporter of local SoHum community and talent. But I didn’t know any of that not until I went to the LoveFest in his honor this past Saturday. Doug Green is now very ill and wheelchair-bound. That’s why the whole of southern Hulmboldt, under the direction of Darryl Cherney, came together at the Mateel Community Center in Redway, California, to celebrate Doug’s life and community contributions. Joanne Rand, Alice Dimicele, Peter Rowan, Tina Malia, even Darryl himself all took the stage for him.

One of the most touching moments of the evening was when Tina Malia shared how she came to know Doug. Tina and Sasha Butterfly were fresh

Joanne Rand

Joanne Rand


Alice Dimicele & her band

from a Rainbow gathering where they wooed folks with their enchanting, ephemeral sounds. Both self-described hippie kids impressed Doug with their fledgling songwriting and harmonizing skills. He also appreciated their uplifting message of love and spirituality. Doug became their diligent supporter and helped them connect with folks who could further develop and share their musical gifts. Now, Tina is a recording artist in Los Angeles with three albums under her belt and tours the U.S. and beyond. She spoke with great reverence about Doug and how his belief in her talent helped her realize her dream of being a professional musician.

So many people packed the Mateel that night to support him and listen to the performers whom Doug so loved and worked with.  By night’s end more than 600 people had graced the community center, listening, singing, dancing, even participating in a singing bowl prayer offering. A genuinely heart-felt good time. We were all blessed by spirit that Saturday night.
…After Peter Rowan’s set (Free Mexican Air Force was clear as a bell, by the way), I had a hankering for dessert. Ah, something sweet to keep me moving on the dance floor! But I didn’t have any cash. Jan, with whom I’d ride-shared, had a $20 dollar bill to spot my sugar craving.
Mmmmm, pound cake with raspberries and vanilla ice cream–lactose intolerance be damned! I selected the biggest slice, asked for extra ice cream & deposited the $20 into the donation can. Only enough to make $10 in change, though. Dang. What to do?  Select another slice of cake, of course, which I initially intended to take to Jan, but…
…I made my way to a back corner of the Mateel, placed one slice on an empty table and began devouring the other in myCIMG5717 hand. So good. The melting ice cream seeped and saturated the cake in sweet creamy bliss. The raspberries added the perfect amount of tart. I was within two bites of finishing the big slice and thinking about eating the second when Peter Rowan strode over with a small paper plate of the same cake in hand also within micro bites of finishing.
“Hi, would you like to share a second piece of cake with me? I was either going to take it to my friend or eat it myself, which is why I’m in this corner  contemplating having two pieces of cake. Like maybe hide and eat them both? But actually it’s nicer to share,” I said.
Peter Rowan smiled.
“It is good cake, isn’t it?” He replied.
“Yes, it is,and I am happy to share.”
So there we stood eating cake, me attempting to remain nonchalant, non-goofy.CIMG5722
“Do you live here?” He asked.
“I live in NorHum, in Eureka, no wait, I mean McKinleyville now, but I’ve moved a couple times recently and have had a string of house sitting gigs. I’m not so sure where I live these days.” (Goodness, was I flubbing this?)
But we continued!
Chatting. He asked how I got here, and I told him I came to Humboldt for grad school to pursue something lucrative like a Master’s in English. He laughed. We talked about community and how some folks in these parts may not have a lot of material wealth, but that in Humboldt we all have an abundance of spirit and heart, great relationships to make up for the money we may not have.
“And weed. There’s good weed,” he chuckled, dark eyes twinkling.
“Right? What is that saying?” I mused, trying really, really hard not to trip over my tongue, “in tough times it’s better to have weed and no money than money and no weed,” I quipped.
Another smile. Pause. Me, deep breath.CIMG5723
“I took some photos of you. Can I show you?”
“I saw you out there. Let’s see.”
We crowded around my camera, and he beamed a solid confident smile.
“I don’t know if you can see it in these pics, but you glowed on stage, especially on the high notes. You’re in line with that thing that’s bigger than us,” I said.
No response. Another pause.
“Are you staying down here tonight?” He asked.
“No, I have to leave. I have a gig tomorrow morning and have to be there as close to 9 as possible,” I said.
Another pause. Both of us.
“I’m a musician, too. I get to play music tomorrow. Early.”
Another pause. Standing. looking between me, the cake, my camera.
“Are you getting support up here?” he asked.
And I wasn’t sure what he meant.
“You’re getting some positive support up here for your music, aren’t you?”
“Yes, yes, I am. In so many ways. This community seems to enjoy what I do, very thankful for that.”
He put the last bites of the cake back on the table. Another pause.
“You’re really good. Keep at it, keep doing it,” he said.
He looked me in the eyes, smiled, then gracefully, slowly strode away.
Speechless. No sounds. Words gone. The implications… Did he know before I told him I was a singer-songwriter? Had he seen a tweet, blog post, a video–goodness knows a lot of my stuff’s all over the internet.  (Google Josephine Johnson. It comes up first!)
Or was it something else?
I was glowing that night, too, feeling positively buoyant. Confident. Could he see my connection to that thing so much bigger than myself? The

Peter Rowan

Peter Rowan

golden cord we all have but that resonates and shimmers especially bright when we are comfortable and surrounded by our own? That thing that right now urges me to finish recording my CD (so close to being DONE) then GET my music out to a broader audience.

Could he see I have  BIG thoughts? That Los Angeles, scary as it is, is on my mind?
Or was he just being polite?
Saying what any singer-songwriter would want to hear from a Grammy-winning blue grass legend?
I don’t know.
But I was so happy and goose-bumpy, I went outside to gather my thoughts and watch the rising moon.
Goodness and Doug’s great force of spirit.
With us.
And will be.

Such busy times these! A short shout out to let you all know: 1) I’m back in Humboldt County California (Yay!) 2) I’m teaching English as a second language at College of the Redwoods 3) I’m juggling a CRAZY schedule and performing, recording, and writing as much music as I can. Check this video filmed by the amazing Chuck Johnson,  aka Freak Photo, for his Humboldt Live Sessions project:

I have also donated a track to the Humboldt Music Project Check it out!

Humboldt Music Project

Humboldt Music Project

And this Saturday, December 22nd, I’ll be playing a set at Spirit Vibrations 2nd annual Holiday Party at the Jambalaya in Arcata, California. I go on around 9:25 pm for a quick 25 minute set–gonna be fun! Happy holidays & I’ll see you out there :)

Spirit Vibrations Presents!

Spirit Vibrations Presents!

Come Get Cash!

This, my most recent story for the North Coast Journal


Come Get Cash!

The county’s giving money back again and again … and again

(MARCH 8, 2012)  Ervin McCluskey and Ervin McCluskey Jr. — Humboldt County is looking for you. And it wants to give you $18,837.14.

That’s because your one-time property at 1286 Howard St. near Oceanview Cemetery in Eureka sold at a county tax auction back in October, and that’s how much money was left over after fees and back taxes were paid.

The county’s also looking for 25 other former property owners, hoping to give them excess money from tax sales.

Eventually, usually in less than a year’s time, the county tends to find the people it’s trying to reunite with small to largish chunks of cash, according to John Bartholomew, Humboldt County treasurer and tax collector.

The countyusually startsits search bysending letters of notification to the former owners and other interested parties, such as people who might have placed a lien against the property, Bartholomew said. Then legal notices are published. Most recently those notices showed up in the North Coast Journal for three weeks back in January, there for the perusal of any nerdy-hip, above average vocabulary, slight OCD-tending Journal reader who likes fine print. And the county also lists on its website the parcel numbers and the amounts it wants to hand out, but it doesn’t name names.

Both the letters and the website give instructions on how to file a claim to get your money back.

Likely, if the county owes you some money from a tax auction, things haven’t been going great with you and the taxman for the last few years.

Properties end up at tax auctions after five consecutive years of unpaid property taxes. Humboldt holds those auctions at least once a year, over the Internet, to try to get back some of the money it is owed. Once a property is sold to the highest bidder, the tax man takes his share, and the rest goes back to the former owner, if he or she can be located.

Readers who focused on the fine print in those legal ads probably noticed that along with the McCluskey’s west-side Eureka property, another in Alderpoint sold for $17,958 more than was owed. Most of the properties where owners stopped paying property taxes, though — 18 of the 26 —  were located in Shelter Cove. They sold for only $400 to $2,400 above whatever was owed to Humboldt County.

Ah, Shelter Cove and its decades-old echoes of poorly parceled land. Most likely, these properties were part of its revolving door of property default and tax sales.

Bartholomew acknowledges that some parcels in Shelter Cove should never have been approved. In 1965, developers descended upon Shelter Cove, initially dividing it into 4,189 parcels, but after heavy storms, earthquakes and constant erosion, the number of parcels is now somewhere around 3,400. It’s estimated that as much as 15 percent of those are unbuildable due to steep slope or inability to maintain a septic leech field system. Some are little more than sheer cliff face.

In the past these Shelter Cove parcels have been advertised on the Internet, targeted toward retirement-aged people and young people eager to invest in coastal California property. The land is suspiciously low-priced but enticing enough to attract folks from all over the country. Often, a parcel is purchased site-unseen.  When the new owners discover they’ve been had, some choose to re-sell and perpetuate the land debacle. Others choose to walk away. And that’s how many of the Shelter Cove properties end up at county auction. After five years of property tax non-payment, the county steps in and puts the land up for sale.

For a while, Bartholomew had been active in trying to get these properties off the tax roll in hopes of stopping the Shelter Cover revolving-land-tax-auction cycle. But the trouble is, the parcels still require upkeep like brush removal or other maintenance that state, Humboldt County or Shelter Cove agencies are unwilling to take on. Maintenance costs money, and money is in short supply these days. Says Bartholomew, “We’ve reached a stalemate on this. There’s no good way to get these parcels off the tax rolls for Humboldt County.” And so it goes … again, again and again …


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,130 other followers