The next morning, the smoke lingers on. We head to Philip’s house, nestled up in the Berkeley Hills. Winding the contours of the hills up and up we arrive at his home of several decades, an unassuming blue timber clad home, with juniper plants lining the steps. Almost as soon as we are in the door Philip is into the cupboard under his bookshelf pulling out jar after jar after bottle after jar of his home concocted tinctures. From pine and purple sage, Californian poppy, juniper and lemon to mustard flower. All gleaned and preserved in his preferred locally distilled high proof, un-aged brandy. It’s a colourful sight. Big flavour and experimentation are high on this man’s list. Attracted to big bold flavours, textures but more than that tailors them to his specifications. “I like to swim upstream in the consumer chain” – repeatedly evident in a constant desire to seek out the most hands-on and direct route to creating what he needs. Be it running sandals he makes himself, roasting his own coffee beans, making his own soda water with an aquired CO2 extinguisher and a keg tap, cycling everywhere and not being dependent on a fossil fuel consuming vehicle to foraging for suplementary foods – Philip has formed an intimate knowledge of every part of his life needs and studied it to make it the most efficient and least impactful methods available to him. He is a statistician by a ‘day job’ – working on the intricacies of the working all manner of statistical workings – he jokes that he and collaborator Tom call what they do ‘computational epistemology’ “it’s fun to get to know how the world works – what can you learn about the world from numbers.”. His scientific observations make us realise how he has analysed and improved the efficiency of so many parts of his life.
One evening Philip invites us for dinner at his house. We are welcomed in for a roast chicken dinner. His daughter Naomi is home from New York for Thanksgiving and there is a paternal warmth from Philip welcoming us all into his house, the banter between the family dynamic is very amusing. We observe the instances of ‘Dad jokes’ increase and the tone of humour, frivolity and getting to know one other is set for the night. Daphne comes round with her aging dog Pepper (fur laden with goosegrass and twigs from the walk up the hill) and round the table we feast on a delicious meal peppered with three-corned leeks and mugwort from the patio.
Philip is intensely interested in so many topics – in both his working and personal life – though they all seem to intertwine. To say he is a polymath is an obvious observation – but it is the intensity and relish he exudes with it with that is infectious. Like all the people we have met on this wild journey, there is an infectious desire to join the rage against the machine.
On our last evening, we went to Tilden Park with Philip. When time allows Philip will run up to the park from his house, taking a run for 2+ hours. But on the way, he fills his pockets with ‘weeds’. Running short pockets bulging with various brassica mustard leaves and flowers, chickweed, bay nuts…whatever is on the trail at the time – a foraging superhighway.
“Sometimes I take my shorts off and shake out the pockets but I won’t do that for you today.” Brassica negra leaves and flowers and couple of bay nuts in hand, he places them in a sieve, rinses them and revives them in a salad spinner. It’s a well–rehearsed sequence. And it’s for dinner later. Philip tries to tell us he isn’t a forager. That his knowledge limited. It’s far from that. As latin names roll off his tongue and he puts another handful of leaves in his pocket, he’s a modern-day forager.
We leave California with the feeling of having met someone who is true. To themselves, to their ideals and who is trying to educate us all. Philip has re-tuned his life to follow nature’s flux and for that we applaud and admire him.