Category Archive for: ‘Woody Weingarten’

Fairfax protester-artist playfully jabs at society’s toxins

Sierra Salin blows bubbles at Fairfax Festival parade. Behind him is his “plastic drag,” a “visual and visceral” political statement about toxic waste and environmental destruction.

Sierra Salin, in one of his artistic boxes at a Fairfax town picnic, wears tinfoil to poke fun at those who refer to some homeless as “tinfoil loonies.”

 

To say Sierra Salin is unconventional is to state the obvious.

According to a character-reference by former Fairfax Mayor Pam Hartwell-Herrero, it “might be easy to look at him as some sort of wacky, offbeat, troublemaker.”

But that, she said, is because “he challenges the status quo, makes us think about our role in community, and always brings a smile and fresh insight to the dialogue.”

He tells me he’s primarily a carpenter and artist.

But he’s also a photographer, jewelry-maker, environmentalist, documentary filmmaker and playful inventor of words.

Sierra, added Hartwell-Herrero, “is a wonderful family man…ever present at town gatherings and important meetings. He is a…good person who cares deeply for the planet and all the creatures living on it. He volunteers his time on campaigns that benefit the town.”

I find it tough to encapsulate him.

The physical part is easy: He sports shoulder-length, curly dark hair and a bushy gray beard. A gold tooth shines from the rear of his mouth when he smiles.

But when he declares, “I never grew up,” he’s not referring to his six-foot stature.

It’s his man-child passions I can’t boil down.

He usually writes on medical forms, “I am allergic to bureaucracy.”

He frequently scratches that itch.

A recent protest by the midlifer targeted a tower that would facilitate more cell phones. “Why are we filling the air with electrosmog?” he asked.

His street theater in Fairfax Festival parades have included a Styrofoam drone augmented by 20-foot high “homeland insecurity” surveillance cameras; a mock nuclear reactor spewing dry-ice radiation fumes; and a “plastic drag,” a “visual and visceral” statement about waste and environmental destruction.

When I asked about his first protest, he friskily replied, “When somebody didn’t give me milk.”

As we sit now on a log in Bolinas Park, conversationally flitting like fireflies escaping a real blaze, he tells me he recently moved, a stone’s throw from his old place (if you have a strong arm).

But when I first chatted with him, in his old Fairfax backyard a year ago, I ascertained he superimposes original thinking on familiar subjects. He’d created, for instance, a “peace is patriotic” pinball machine for the 2011 Marin County Fair.

His environmental focus seems ingrained, I decided — then and now.

He drives his car “as little as possible,” for example, opting to ride his bicycle.

And he fulminates: “We’ve got fracking here, Fukushima there, we’ve got Gulf Oil spills, we’ve got genetically modified organisms everywhere. I’m really, really distressed about the future.”

When he needs to escape, he puts on headphones and stares at stars. “I like solitude and my own space,” he tells me.

Outside his former home, he cherished his gardens and beehives. Inside, he surrounded himself with what others might call clutter.

I was particularly taken with his wife’s weaving-looms and their huge Buddha (“just your basic garage-sale find”). But Sierra is nothing if not eclectic, unattached to a single dogma. Miniature kitchen flags represented major religions plus Sufi, Gaia, Om, Native Americans.

Fascinating, too, were frames filled with photos of his mother and her shadow.

His art, forever scattered, falls into a pigeonhole of “whatever strikes me in the moment.”

While comforting, neither artwork nor protests are relaxing. So he unwinds by singing tenor in a barbershop quartet, and by playing dulcimer and guitar.

He’s a Drake High grad who attended two colleges and earned certification as an EMT, which he practiced for years. He’s proud he’s “been physically and vocally involved in the schools — Manor and White Hill — and my community for years.”

Sierra was born Lothar Norber George Salin in Marin General but toyed with his moniker ever since. He switched to Sierra, although he sometimes sports Shinybright now, because he adores the land “between Truckee and Whitney.”

Occasionally he uses Tunafish as a middle name. “People remember it,” he says.

His name-switches occasionally bring trouble — and First Amendment tilting at judicial windmills. Such as a skirmish with El Dorado County traffic officials who cited him for using a pseudonym, “Love Heals.”

Ultimately, he was sentenced to 32 hours of community service.

He once signed checks “Bush Sucks!” — “out of frustration with the state of America and the world.” He acknowledges that was “a little confrontational.”

He once stood in front of Good Earth with a dried-out Christmas tree and sixty $2 bills he distributed while suggesting passersby “do something for someone else.”  Many folks, suspicious, ignored him.

He once walked into a police station and said he wanted “to turn myself in because society is a menace to me.” “Scram,” they said.

When I asked, “How do we change the world?” he responded: “Love each other.”

It’s still obvious that the more he talks, the more I agree. Maybe I’m just a bit wacky, eclectic and playful, too.

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