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'Slow is Fast' traces a more elemental California

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In the fall 2012, three friends — Dan Malloy, Kellen Keene and Kanoa Zimmerman — decided to bicycle much of the length of California and, by way of photographs and interviews, share what they encountered in a book. The result is “Slow is Fast” (Patagonia: 112 pp., $30 paper), a kind of scrapbook of the journey, which traces their 58 days on the road.

Beginning 100 miles north of San Francisco and winding their way south through Big Sur, Ojai, the Sierra Madre, “Slow is Fast” offers glimpses of a forgotten (or, at least, hidden) California, one where hippie self-sufficiency blends with experiments in sustainable industry and agriculture and a reverence for place. It is an example of the book as inquiry, open-ended, less about coming to conclusions than raising questions, sharing discovery and celebrating the land.

In part, this has to do with the three co-creators (authors seems too limiting a word). Malloy is a surfer, sponsored by the clothing company Patagonia, which published “Slow is Fast”; Keene is a filmmaker and Zimmerman a still photographer. They traveled with cameras and surfboards, making the book on one level a surfing journal, but that seems somewhat limiting as well.

Rather, “Slow is Fast” is an homage to unplugging: not to dropping out but to engaging with the world on one’s own terms. The intention is encoded into the very idea of taking eight weeks to travel 700 miles, especially at a time when we define productivity and value by the speed with which we respond, react and move on to the next thing — in other words, when slowness has become a pejorative.

“Slow is Fast” insists on the opposite, introducing us to David Zweifel, a Big Sur teacher who throws hatchets as a form of exercise and meditation, or Steve Sprinkel, an Ojai farmer, who also publishes a weekly broadside called Forager, where he riffs on issues such as the Zen of growing watermelons, which is (as it turns out) an elusive and uncertain art.

Indeed, the notion of art comes up repeatedly throughout the book, although what Malloy, Keene and Zimmerman are really after is the art of living, the art of being present, of self-determination in the most fundamental sense.

Mickey Murch, a Bolinas farmer who sees sustainability as essential not just environmentally but also personally, explains it this way: “I became a farmer after realizing that art is much bigger than what you hang on a wall in a gallery. I realized that there was a network — or a whole subset — of art that was outside of the gallery, and that is where I come from.”

What he’s talking about is process, and connection, which ties into what we might think of as a mythic California, the California of Robinson Jeffers, or the Beats.

“Surf travel is by practice nonlinear,” observes Steve Barilotti, a writer who contributes occasional passages to “Slow is Fast.” “To find a good wave, one slowly traces a variegated coastline: meandering, halting, backtracking. Steinbeck called it vacilando — setting out for somewhere but not particularly concerned about getting there.”

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