Our Origin Story and Present Mission: A Post-Pandemic Outlook for the Future

The trail to Franklin Point on the scenic San Mateo coast.

We recently made some important updates to the sempervirens117 home page that we’re really excited to share:

“Semper virens,” in Latin, means “always green.” The scientific name of California’s majestic coastal redwoods is Sequoia sempervirens.

Our company got its start in a rustic, redwood-shingled cottage in the Santa Cruz Mountains outside of Woodside, California, at the green edge of Silicon Valley. The cottage’s street address is 117. On long walks into the surrounding forest, the inspiration for our company was born.

If Steve Jobs were still alive, we’d like to think that he would have approved.

At sempervirens117, we are recreating the open space learning centers of classical Athens but updating them for the global concerns of the twenty-first century.

Our team training sessions are geared for Bay Area tech professionals and beyond interested in developing sustainable solutions for their companies that benefit the planet Earth by reducing carbon emissions, saving energy, and optimizing patterns of consumption and natural resource use in order to combat climate change in our lifetimes.

Navarro Point Preserve and Nature Trail, near Anderson Valley, where out four-day “Augmented Sustainability” workshop is held.

Our sessions include weekend retreats and 4-day workshops situated in some of the most beautiful and pristine parts of Northern California within a few hours’ drive from San Jose or San Francisco.

Our innovative training modules are led by our company founder, a global studies scholar and university history professor educated at Stanford, Johns Hopkins, Williams College, and Germany.

Each module pairs outdoor learning exercises with seminar discussions accompanied by organic, locally-sourced meals and includes online feedback assessments with participants after.

The training sessions focus on developing cross-functional skill sets such as first principles thinking; group-based decision making; and communication strategies designed to connect with multiple demographics.

Our objective is to unlock the hidden creative superpowers of our talented and motivated clients, so that they will create the solutions humanity needs to survive this century’s climate challenges and enable future generations to thrive in the next.

Our “Powering the Green Economy” long weekend retreat explores remote coastlines, beaches, and redwood forests in and around Santa Cruz less than an hour away from SFO airport.

From there, we access sites of interest using public trails and nature preserves at times of the day like sunrise or sunset, when fewer distractions are present.

The sunrise trail to Cascade Creek Beach, San Mateo County, California.

When the work of formal team building is over, we depart for farm-to-table restaurants, tasting rooms, coffee roasters, and beer gardens for informal discussions and brainstorming.

Please contact us if you’d like to find out how your company can sign up for a one-day session, retreat, or workshop, or if you would like to learn more about our “Profiles in Green Power” company and personal history opportunities.

“Simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains” – Steve Jobs

Fern Canyon trail in Van Damme State Park, Mendocino County, California.

Why You Should Listen to Mark Knopfler’s Privateering This Weekend.

Leave it to musician and songwriter Mark Knopfler to prove that bigger sometimes IS better.

Mark Knopfler’s Privateering is available as a 2-disc CD collection on Amazon.

There is a lot of music on this album: 20 tracks spread out over 2 CDs. And not just quantity, but quality matters here, as Mark outdoes himself by exploring multiple musical genres and thematics, proving himself not only a master guitar player, but also a masterful, if somewhat enigmatic, storyteller. “Redbud Tree” opens things off marvelously, but things only get better and more immersive from there. You can press play and settle back into your chair for the next hour or more; Mark and his talented team of fellow musicians will not let you down.

Even if you are already a committed fan of Mark’s music, particularly his solo efforts since the disbanding of Dire Straits in the 1990s, my advice is that you play all 20 tracks multiple times before forming an opinion. Listen to the music, then focus on the words, and then try to meld the melodies to the mood of the lyrics. It’s like mixing oil and vinegar to make the perfect salad dressing. Each is potent on its own, but together they create new textures, tastes, and tempting possibilities.

The profound influence of traditional Delta Blues is evident all over the album, but especially in the songs on Disc 2. There is also a lot of humor hidden beneath patches of darkness and light. Many of the songs on the album have a vivacity that lends them an up-tempo sensibility. Disc 1 has more meditative topics and a beautiful, unlikely love song about the rainy romantic possibilities of living in Seattle. Even in the Age of Amazon.

Several songs are reflections on lost lives – drowned, shipwrecked, or sunk in battle. “Haul Away” and “Dream of the Drowned Submariner” are among the best. These tracks practically demand a glass of rum or single malt in your glass as you listen to them, so plan accordingly. Please don’t play this album during your daily commute! Save something this fine for the weekend instead. You will thank me later.

Sustainable Earth Solutions #1: SIGG Swiss-Made Reusable Metal H2O Bottles

I have been using SIGG Swiss-made metal reusable water bottles for years. I started when I moved to Northern California in 2008 and added several more in various sizes when I relocated to Western Montana in 2011 for a four-year teaching position in Missoula. I have lost a few over the years and dented others while hiking, mountaineering, or cross-country skiing. Through it all, I have always been so grateful not to have to store my drinking water in plastic, which is of course derived from fossil fuels and cannot easily be recycled. All those Nalgene and other plastic water bottles I see other hikers using on the trails made me shake my head in disbelief. There is a better and easier way!

SIGG metal bottles cost less than $30 on Amazon. There is a beautiful copper model that I will be adding to my collection soon. Well, I requested it ads a gift. And it is definitely the sort of gift that keeps on giving – for years.

The 1.0L size I find too large for simple day hikes. I much prefer to use two or three 0.6L sized ones in my backpack, which allow me to stay hydrated throughout my journey.

Metal is one of the most recyclable materials on the planet, especially the high quality aluminum used by SIGG, which has its headquarters in Switzerland and still makes its products there. That matters to me, as well, since I know that the employees who manufacture the bottles receive top quality social welfare benefits and fair wages. Unlike other parts of the world and product chains where these things definitely cannot be assumed.

There is a lot of stuff out there to buy that makes the planet a dirtier, less pristine place. Reusable metal water bottles that stand the test of time do not. They help encourage us to get out and explore of natural settings, to stay hydrated when we do, and to do our part to keep plastic waste to a minimum. You could do worse than giving a SIGG metal bottle as a gift the next time you’re looking to something nice for a friend, family member, or acquaintance.

Franklin Point Overlook, one of my favorite places to visit on the San Mateo coast, California.

Vince Guaraldi – A Bay Area Jazz Master

The Definitive Vince Guaraldi 2-disc compact disc collection is available on Amazon.

Jazz music from a Bay Area master that is suitable for all ages and times of the day.

If there is a more iconic album cover in all of American West Coast jazz history, I have yet to come across it. A nattily dressed man in dark suit, thick rimmed eyeglasses, and an enormous handlebar mustache casually rests one foot on a children’s piano while a beautifully coiffed blond boy in a black and red striped tee shirt, shorts, and potato shaped brown leather shoes looks curiously at the white keys from a short distance away. The boy, of course, is Schroeder from Charles Schulz’s beloved “Peanuts” comics, and the mustachioed man in the dark glasses and suit is – who else? – San Francisco’s own jazz piano master, Mr. Vince Guaraldi. 

Inside, there are not one but two wonderful long playing CDs filled with Vince’s classic compositions and jazz interpretations recorded between 1955 and 1966, all beautifully mastered by Joe Tarantino in Berkeley and released in 2009 by Fantasy Records as a “definitive” anthology. A revealing, well written essay on Vince’s life and musical legacy is provided by jazz journalist, Doug Ramsey, and the liner notes include essential details on the original recordings and the many talented musicians who accompanied Vince over the years, like guitarists Eddie Duran and Bola Sete, bass players Dean O’Reilly and Fred Marshall, and drummers Colin Bailey, John Markham, and Jerry Granelli.

The Definitive Vince Guaraldi gets played more often, all year long, on my home stereo than any album in my jazz, rock, folk, or classical music collections. Maybe it’s because I acquired most of Vince’s music shortly after moving to the Bay Area, or because I feel a special connection to his familiar haunts in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco and in Menlo Park, where he passed away following a heart attack in 1976, while taking a breather between gigs at a local club – a music man to the very end. Maybe because the 2-disc collection works so perfectly well with mealtimes in the afternoon and evening, with California cuisine and local wines. Disc 1 contains some of Vince’s best original works, like “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” and “A Star Song.” Disc 2 has all the Peanuts classics, plus great Latin and Brazilian inspired tunes, and several previously unreleased recordings, such as “Blues for Peanuts” and superb version of “Autumn Leaves.” You cannot go wrong with any of the tracks on either CD. Press play, pour some wine, light a few candles, clink glasses, and prepare to enjoy one of American music’s greatest gifts to humanity.

If you are a true fan of what you hear on this anthology, I highly recommend adding additional albums to your collection, including A Charlie Brown Christmas, A Flower is a Lonesome Thing, The Latin Side of Vince Guaraldi, Vince Guaraldi with the San Francisco Boys Chorus (which has very cool versions of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind’ and the Beatles’ “Elanor Rigby”), Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus, and North Beach (my favorite of his individual albums). 

If you love jazz – even if you are just a casual listener – The Definitive Vince Guaraldi will make you a believer in the power of music to heal, to make happy, and to help dull the pain of daily life. Peanuts songs may be the gateway drug to Vince’s musical treasures for younger listeners, but beyond those wonderful, well-loved tunes, there lies a veritable ocean of possibilities to explore, one poignant song and near-to-perfect piano performance at a time.

All the Roadrunning, by Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris

To call this immortal album a series of duets would be like calling the Bible just another book.

All the Roadrunning, by Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris, is available in multiple formats on Amazon.

There are duets. Famous ones, even. And then there is All the Roadrunning. It’s immortality on a shiny compact disc, showcasing two of the best singers, guitar players, and performers in the past 50 years. Together. Playing and singing and swinging in time to songs that defy easy categorization. To call these songs duets would be like calling the Bible just another book. Maybe a good book. But not THE Good Book.

That’s what All the Roadrunning is: THE Good Book for lovers of true blue, honest-to-goodness music. You know! M-U-S-I-C. The kind you knew as a child watching Sesame Street. Or the Muppet Show. Or Laurence Welk, for all I care. Grand Ole Opry. The actual opera houses of Florence, Paris, or Vienna. Music. The kind that resounds in memory, that makes you tap your toes, and the kind that fills your hearts and makes you dream at night of a better, kinder, gentler world.

Will this album get played at weddings? “This is Us” certainly deserves it. Will it make anyone’s top 100 list of the best albums of the 21st century? Who the heck cares! I don’t. Mark doesn’t. And as for Emmylou – that woman is ALL woman, and she bleeds music, and she won’t stand for any amazon.com reviewer nonsense. She’s been there. Done that. 

Mark and Emmylou: you are welcome at our Santa Cruz Mountains cottage anytime. Maybe you’re on tour in the Bay Area. We’ll treat you to a hazy IPA at the Fieldwork biergarten in San Mateo’s Bay Meadow. Or gin and tonic and whiskey cocktails at Venus Spirits Distillery in Santa Cruz. We’ll sip local wine at Ridge Monte Bello while looking out over Facebook, Google, and Apple headquarters and dig into homemade rye bread and smoked salmon and cured ham and sausages and goodness knows what else. Because when you make music this good, you deserve credit where credit is due. 5 stars does not do this music justice. Wine, food, and Pacific sunsets do. Mark and Emmylou, you must trust that what I am telling you is true! 

Being Green Transcript: Introduction to the Podcast

Approaching the Franklin Point overlook along the San Mateo Coast, California.

Introduction to the Being Green podcast

Hello. Welcome to the Being Green podcast. I’m Brett Winters, the host. I am a former academic history professor turned writer and eco-entrepreneur living and working in the Santa Cruz Mountains, just outside of Silicon Valley.

In 2020, I founded a small consultancy, sempervirens117.com, whose mission is to assist Silicon Valley companies in designing greener products and promoting sustainable Earth agendas on their online platforms.

As part of my work, I lead team training sessions into natural open spaces in the mountains and along the Pacific coast, which are followed by group discussions at local restaurants or wineries as well as subsequent online feedback.

The goals of each training session are threefold. 

The first goal is to strengthen divergent thinking skills – the type used to brainstorm new ideas effectively and come up with creative solutions to intractable problems.

The second goal is to expose participants to alternative forms of collective, group-based leadership where there is no fixed hierarchy but instead a common sense of mission to which all members of the group contribute their own unique abilities and insights.

The third goal is to encourage participants to experiment with their own styles of work-life harmony that include additional quality time spent in nature. Improved health and fitness are only the start of what can become a lifelong passion for nature to share with friends and family – or to rekindle a lost connection due to the challenges of education, relocation, and work. 

While my training sessions are limited for the time being to the San Francisco Bay Area, my podcast is not. And the ideas that inspire me to think creatively about solutions to our current climate crisis and other environmental problems are all on display in these episodes. 

The first episode, An Appeal to Silicon Valley, is written as a polemic of sorts and differs in content and tone from the episodes to come. I composed it at an earlier stage in the process, and rather than modify it by softening some of the rough edges, I decided to present it in as raw a form as possible. 

I am not a professional podcaster by any means, nor do I have a natural radio voice or the sort of YouTube onscreen charisma that wins thousands upon thousands of followers. I am one human being on a mission to make this planet a better place and to do my part to extend its warranty so that future generations can experience the same joys in exploring this world as we did. 

If you enjoy listening and share my sentiments, please subscribe and share this podcast with others.

Thank you for your time.



Tracy Chapman’s Let it Rain – 20 Years (and Many Tears) Later

A hard album to love; an impossible album to forget.

Originally published as a review on Amazon. This album is available for purchase on Amazon as well in multiple formats.

This is indeed a hard album to love. It took me a full 10 listenings before I was able to embrace it with unabashed affection. At first, it seemed too slow, too sad, too unbearable. Why, Tracy? Why? Why is it so hard for you to fall – and stay – in love? Many of us have been in love for years, if not decades. Why not someone as special as you? 

It was while driving alongside the Crystal Springs Reservoir in northern California, on cruise control at 50mph, that these songs hit me. They are not sad. They shine. They resound into heaven. They make me smile. They make me weep. I wish I could comfort you, Tracy, but these songs, they are almost two decades old. Can you possibly still be hurting from then now, in 2019? 

Why get this album? Because we are all one. Because Tracy is a Son of God, just as we are all. Because forgiveness is our function in this world of illusions. Because only love is real, because only love is true. Ambition? Not real. Envy? A fantasy. Vengeance? A fool’s errand. Tracy, she suffers. But in truth, she does not. She is perfect as God created her. When I listen to this album, with my ears tuned to the song of the Holy Spirit, and not NPR or Donald Trump, all I hear is beauty. Profound beauty. Enduring peace. Endless joy. 

Tracy, my friend, I love you and all you do. Sing for us as long as you wish, and we will listen to your words. God bless us, each and every one. Is there any way to rate such a thing on Amazon? Does Jeff Bezos even care? I have literally no idea. But in my heart of hearts, I have to hope that Jeff “gets it.” That Jeff, too, loves to listen to Tracy Chapman albums as much as I do. That Jeff, for all his billions of dollars in wealth, also has loved and lost and hurt, and that Tracy speaks to him. Of loss. Of lust. Of the need to be loved. Of the way we all hurt and harm and heal and hope for a better life in heaven. Jeff: listen to this album! It will make you a better man, and better husband, a better father. I have no doubts whatsoever that these words are true. 

Mark Knopfler’s Sailing to Philadelphia Two Decades Later.

Rediscover the “lost art” of making an album by revisiting this Mark Knopfler classic from 2000.

Sailing to Philadelphia by Mark Knopfler is available on Amazon.

One of things that live streaming and downloadable songs by demand has tended to obscure is just how beautiful a well crafted album of original music once could be. It’s not just the cover art, the vinyl records, the shiny, rainbow-hued CDs, the liner notes, the acknowledgements, or the properly credited names of the guest vocalists and backup musicians – although it is also all those things. It’s how all the pieces precisely fit, how one song follows another; how the pace, tone, and rhythms ebb and flow and rise and fall and crescendo into showers of sparks, only to fade away back to deafening darkness. It is very much like a sonic-and-lights fireworks display, as you experienced such spectacles as a child, not a jaded adult fading into old age and decaying memory.

And that’s just when the album is released, at the time. What’s equally amazing is how you can take the album off the shelf – years if not decades later – to replay the songs to discover how much your listening world and sensibilities have changed. 

Sailing to Philadelphia was released in 2000, when Mark Knopfler was approaching the age of 51 (he was born in August 1949, a Leo). Now, he’s almost 70 and has several additional albums out there, including Down the Road Wherever (2018). At times like this, I enjoy replaying older albums to see how much has changed. Who changed more, I wonder: Mark or me?

The songwriting talents of Mark are as strong as ever, but what makes Sailing to Philadelphia so memorable, in retrospect, is the array of guest vocalists who joined him on the album, and in the way that the songs capture something about the year 2000 – the start of a new millennium, after all – that makes all of his songs historical, and not just the ones he intended. 

The most famous duet here is arguable with James Taylor on “Sailing to Philadelphia,” a creative imagining of the story of Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, British surveyors who mapped the southern border of Pennsylvania that became in time a diving line between free and slave states. While this is a great song, when I first listened to this album it was “The Last Laugh,” which featured Van Morrison as guest vocalist, that caught my attention.

Now, in 2021, I have come to love “Silvertown Blues,” and the vocals of Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford, in a song about a gentrifying docklands district of London that has by now been completely transformed by 20 years of urban redevelopment. So, the song is a time capsule, and it sounds like a Western country song, but set in a frontier-like section of London. How quintessential Knopfler is that!

The other thing I really appreciate now, that I probably missed in 2000, is the pedal and lap steel playing of Paul Franklin on multiple tracks, including “Wanderlust” and “The Sands of Nevada,” both of which I appreciate more now than I did earlier. 

All the songs here are historic, now. In 2000, some were explicitly set in the past, but others were meant to be contemporary. Listen now to “Do America,” “Speedway at Nazareth,” and “Junkie Doll,” and you are hearing ghosts of the past. Nazareth Speedway, in Pennsylvania, has now closed, its race track shuttered and empty. And who takes a “777” to L.A. anymore? And the drugs taken by mark’s “junkie doll” are probably hard to find anymore, what with all the prescription opiates and Chinese-made fentanyl available for purchase on the Internet. 

I loved most of these songs when I first listened, but now my ears have changed. They ring a bit more now at night when they did back then, but the quality of my listening has changed as I approach my own experience with middle age. Mark’s songs on Sailing to Philadelphia aren’t necessarily about getting older, or wiser, or more skeptical of the world’s glittering array of pleasures, but they do reveal a shifting mental landscape of a male musician who had seen decades of life already, with decades more to go. Hard to rate that on Amazon, so this WordPress review will have to suffice.

Mark Knopfler, Down the Road Wherever – an Appreciation.

Mark Knopfler, Down the Road Wherever is available on Amazon.

Moody melodies, quirky turns of phrase, superb supporting cast, & virtuoso guitar tones aplenty.

Over the course of a musical career spanning more than five full decades, Mark Knopfler has learned to do three things extremely well. He has become a master storyteller, due in no small part to his early years as a newspaper reporter, English major, and lifelong lover of history. He became a virtuoso guitar player by mixing and matching a dizzying array of musical styles and techniques until his own distinctive and utterly unique sound emerged – explosively at first and then, gradually, in a process of sonic evolution that lasted through middle age and beyond. And third, he found ways to work with some of the world’s best musical talents on tour and in studio to craft soulful, bluesy, toe-tapping, and emotionally moving melodies that at their best become almost incantatory, trancelike, and quietly hypnotic. Some of his most popular songs strike quick and fast like lighting, but the majority of the hundreds in his voluminous songbook seep into your skin more slowly, after multiple listenings, in front of open fires, while driving lonely 2-lane highways in Nevada, or while sipping a glass of whiskey with a passel of really fine mates. If you put it all together, you have the makings of a musical legend who lives on through his music, even as he prepares to turn 70 later this year.

Down the Road Wherever may well be Mark’s last solo album, and likely his final world concert tour. The songs have a syncretic cadence to them, with bursts and fits of frenzy but mainly a long, slow, and satisfying burn. He doesn’t need to revisit the guitar heights of Brothers in Arms or the story-telling genius of Sailing to Philadelphia anymore. Been there, done that. What stands out in this unassumingly awesome album is the “Mark & Friends” melodic majesty, fitting for a man who has been inducted into the Order of the British Empire and granted membership in the elite London’s gentlemen’s organization, the Garrick Club. It sounds so amazingly good, you will want to pop open a bottle of Santa Rita Hills Pinot and offer a toast to the musical talents who put it all together with what seems virtually no effort at all. It is smooth, lingering, and meditative. “Tunnel of Love” or “Roller Girl” these songs most definitely are not. No harm meant to those phenomenal songs, but the ones here are deeper, denser, and ultimately even better. Play them a few times, and you may just agree.

If you enjoyed songs like “Basil,” Beryl,” “Mighty Man,” and “Lights of Taormina” from Mark’s earlier album, Tracker, or loved the slightly mysterious lyrics to “5:15am,” “Back to Tupelo,” or “Don’t Crash the Ambulance,” from the immensely entertaining album, Shangri-La, or if songs like “Seattle,” “Haul Away,” “Kingdom of Gold,” or “Redbud Tree” from the 2-disc compilation, Privateering, get stuck in your head, you should find the Gesamtkunstwerk of Down the Road Wherever to your liking. There isn’t a single smash song here, just a slow build up of audio accomplishment. If there is a showpiece track, it probably is #9 (“One Song at a Time”), which has the sort of autobiographical coloration, critical sense of history (references to the English slave trade and public hangings), and musical flashes of brilliance (guitar, fiddle, low whistle and wooden flute) that are Knopfler’s current trademarks

“Slow Learner” is the sneakily great song on the album, if you give its understated vocals and haunting instrumentals time to sink in  – especially the trumpet bit, which for some reason is uncredited on the liner notes – could it a guest appearance by Chris Botti, I wonder? Likely not, as it sounds like the same musician who ends track#5 (“When You Leave”) with another pitch-perfect trumpet bit, but there isn’t credit given for this in the liner notes, either. Tom Walsh, who plays trumpet on several other tracks, isn’t listed on track #11, but this could be a typo where the track numbers are mixed up. Track #12 clearly has back up vocals and a trombone part, not track #13, as indicated. Track #13 (“Matchstick Man”), with its spare acoustic guitar and wavering male vocal solo that raises unanswered questions about hitchhiker’s place in the universe amidst the dawn of a cold, snow-covered Christmas morning, is the perfect ending track, closing one chapter yet somehow leaving space for another to begin. 

In between all these tremendous signature tracks, there are lots of catchy guitar riffs and some flashes of humor, loads of introspection, top-notch backup vocals, excellent keyboards, percussion, woodwinds, and brass, and Mark’s trademark deftness of touch with both words and notes. Turning 70 doesn’t mean you check your childhood or early adulthood at the door. OBEs can still reminisce about being down on their luck drifters, and making lots of money doing something you love isn’t anything to fret about, either.

Just ask Bruce Springsteen, whose own newest album, “Western Stars,” would make a nice companion piece to “Down the Road Wherever.” Bruce, by the way, was also born in 1949, like Mark, about 6 weeks later. Mark is a Leo, while Bruce is a Libra. Leos are strong forces to be reckoned with, emotional people who seem to capture the attention of others. Libras, for all of their many gifts, have a hard time remaining humble and uncomplaining and tend to be overly concerned with appearances and image. Trust me, I am no astrologist, but in the case of these two magnificent male musicians and icons of late twentieth century rock, these descriptions do somehow kind of fit, don’t they?