A Second Video on Foundational Principles of Rolfing

Dear friends,

A number of people found the last video helpful but many people also found themselves with further question. Some even found themselves in a state of downright confusion. I have no illusion that I will be able to resolve all of these things with a second video for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that I am still exploring them myself. Also, if the first video inspired people to wonder about question that had seemed settled, how could a second one be expected to have the opposite effect? So I hope that the thoughts in these videos can serve as an invitation to explore together. Then, if they provoke more questions than they answer, we can rejoice in the prospects of discovery, and this can unite us in spirit even as the Corona pandemic seems everywhere to force us apart.

In solidarity and sincerity,



A Short Video on Three Principles of Rolfing at The Way of the Elbow

Dear friends,

I don’t imagine there is someone who can say that the Corona-pandemic has not substantially affected her life. One thing this has meant for me is finding ways to communicate with patients and clients whom I cannot see face-to-face during these strange times. I hope some of you can find this short video helpful.


Sincerely and with heartfelt wishes through the Internet until we meet again,

P.S. I have composed a few reflections on the Corona crisis into a short essay here at Theoria-press, for anyone who may be interested.

Pro Levitatem: An Appeal to Rolfers to Re-introduce the Concept of Levity to our Paradigm

Below is a short article written for a readership of Rolfers but which members of the general public may also find of interest.


Practitioners of Structural Integration do not feel ourselves to be therapists.  The gravitational field is the therapist.

—Ida Rolf

Take the very top and centre of scientific interpretation by the greatest of its masters: Newton explained to you—or at least was once supposed to explain, why an apple fell; but he never thought of explaining the exact correlative but infinitely more difficult question, how the apple got up there.

John Ruskin, The Storm-Cloud of the Ninteenth Century


In the mid-seventeenth century, a group of natural philosophers from the Florentine Accademia del Cimento published a treatise called “Contra Levitatem.” In this short work, they argued that there was no reason to appeal to any force other than Gravity to explain the motion of physical objects. Dante had affirmed in the Divine Comedy some four odd centuries prior that the Earth and all the nested planetary spheres are turned in perfect harmony by  “the Love that moves the sun and the other stars” (l’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle). In a similar manner, the Florentine thinkers set forth Gravity in contrast to Love as the real primum mobile. Newton’s publication of Principia Mathematica near the end of the century appeared to ratify the Florentines and serve to establish the contra levitatem doctrine as incontrovertible fact. As a result, it became the tacit paradigm to explain celestial and terrestrial motion and, for just that reason, it has hardly been noted since. Indeed, the notion of “Levity” as a quality of buoyancy polar to the centripetal pull of Gravity, if it is mentioned at all, is usually being employed as an analogy to describe a psychological disposition and never uttered in a univocal scientific sense. 

If science were the same thing as truth, then the rejection of Levity by the Florentine academicians would be grounds for the dismissal by everyone to follow. But, obviously, the relationship between science and truth is more complicated than simple identity. In fact, dialectical refutation of erstwhile theories is the engine as scientific progress as such. For this reason, the affirmation that science is the same thing as truth would be tantamount to the simultaneous rejection of science as we know it. All of this by way of preface to justify the proposition that Levity be reintegrated into our paradigm of physics. 

Many objections may immediately be raised to this prospect. I will address a few of them and I hope this will be sufficient to show that Levity deserves real consideration in our community. Among the first objection that is likely to occur to Rolfers is that Dr. Rolf never mentioned “Levity.” To my knowledge, this is true as far as it goes. Nevertheless, Dr. Rolf betrayed an intuition of this quality on many occasions without invoking it by this name. Most commonly, the unspoken notion of Levity appears when she attempted to articulate the fundamental manner in which structure and anatomy is to be conceived. The view of anatomy that affirms the primacy of fascia and that interprets the function of the bones not as support structures, but as spanners for the fascia is a quintessential description of Levity on terms other than its own. More specifically, it is an example of how the conditions of Levity may be described in the language of Gravity. 

Why do we need the notion of Levity, then, if whatever it is can be described just fine with familiar engineering terms? In answer, consider the analogy of warmth. It is not assumed that because temperature can be reduced to energy or motion that the concept of heat can be done away with. Quite on the contrary, it is only the immediate perception of heat as a macroscopic qualitative reality that its microscopic underpinnings can be coherently understood and conceptualized as such. In a similar manner, I believe that Dr. Rolf could never have articulated her theory of tensegrity in terms of Gravity [1] were it not for an immediate perception of the body’s lift, which can only be perceived in the mode of Levity. Moreover, to grant such primordial recognition to the force of Gravity without simultaneously recognizing a force that is polar to it both flouts the principle of Polarity [2] and remains conceptually incomplete because it fails to account for phenomena that do not uniformly follow the gravitational gradient. 

I hope this brief discussion and treatment of objections has served to establish a legitimate foundation for the contra levitatem maxim to be reappraised and perhaps rejected. Before I conclude this article, I wish to offer a brief characterisation of Levity from a philosophical standpoint. I hope this will also suggest why its acceptance may benefit the Rolfing community. 


In principle, whereas Gravity is understood to be the force that accounts for the weight of object, Levity can be conceived as the inverse of this. Levity, therefore, is the principle of lift in spite of the tendency of matter to follow the gravitational gradient. Observation of nature will reveal that these counter-gravitational influences bear a relation to warmth and light. The fact that the sunlight draws a crocus from the dark earth in spring is a quintessential expression of Levity in action. If we do not perceive it as such, I believe it is because we have no suitable concept at hand that can disclose it in this way. Newton’s apple, to which Ruskin alluded in the epigraph to this article, is another example: that it could fall in the first place implies that it had risen and this is a fact that gravitational physics may offer at most an oblique and circuitous description, as by appeal to osmotic pressure. In a general sense, life itself bears an essential relation to the Levity. At the same time, inert matter is bound to the influence of Gravity. Gravity relates to inertia and Levity to “alertia,” to coin a term off the cuff. 

That living sap rises against the gradient of Gravity in the spring is a very expressive demonstration of Levity in action. Inversely, in autumn, the erstwhile living sap falls in the form of withered leaves. This is the consequence of the leavening, counter-gravitational principle of life having withdrawn and relinquished the leaf Gravity and its hunger for what lies below. When it is said that “only dead fish go with the flow,” the same relations are being indicated. In essence, therefore, Gravitation is a contractile and centripetal force while Levity is the inverse. This is to say, Levity is buoyant, suctional, and expansive. It may even be affirmed that Levity is the principle that accounts for that the cosmos does not collapse on itself. Readers are encouraged neither to accept nor reject these propositions, but rather to try them out for size, as it were, to discover if they fit the keyhole of experience and unlock new dimensions of vision.  Naturally, I believe that experience will ratify them else I would not have written this piece.

More than anything, however, I have written this apologia of Levity because of my excitement at what it may offer to our work. Specifically, the notion of Levity can assist the conceptual coherence of Rolfing. Some may cast aspersions on the importance of such coherence and affirm instead that it is preferable to go by feel. [4] But I believe this is akin to attempting to circumnavigate the globe but at the same time refusing to consult a map. Granted that the map cannot substitute for the territory. And yet, neither can the territory be a map of itself. [5] If it could, no map need ever have been drawn in the first place. If we affirm the utility of a map, then we must at the same time affirm the benefit of improving it. For instance, we have all been educated to consider the various taxonomies by which our work may be evaluated that Jeff Maitland developed. Obviously all of the taxonomies concern the same object (i.e. the human subject) and are motivated by the same concern (i.e. regard for the principle of Holism). And yet the actual relation amongst them is not always clear. How does the structural taxonomy relate to the sociobiological one, for instance? The question is isomorphic with the perennial question of philosophy: how does the body relate to the soul? The ordinary conceptions of physics have little to offer by way of a satisfying response and must merely content themselves with identifying correspondences between measurable phenomena and reported internal experiences.

But the notion of Levity serves to bridge the apparent cleft between the outer and the inner. Note that both warmth and light, besides being physical phenomena, are also immediately available to perception in a way that earth, water, and air are not. Our perception of these phenomenological elements is mediated through touch and sight and, to a lesser degree, other senses. Touch, however, is actually the experience of repulsion between two solid bodies, which cannot occupy the same space according to the definition of the term “solid body.” And sight is an inwardisation of light and not of the objects that reflect that light. In contrast to earth, water, and wind, however, warmth is immediately present to experience and so is light. The fact that our dreams are not dark like the space in which our sleeping bodies lie is a testament to the interiority of light. I believe that the notion of Levity can shed new light on this question and establish a coherence that may otherwise be only intimated. This article is not the place to present an in depth study of any of these particular questions, much less to dispute any point of view about an answer to them. I hope only to have succeeded in presenting the notion of Levity and suggesting several ways in which it may benefit our work. 
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[1] Gravity itself has, since Newton’s first mathematical formulations of its effects some three hundred years ago, now been reinterpreted as an emergent phenomenon that is the result of warped spacetime in the vicinity of massive bodies following Einstein’s theories. 

[2] As articulated by Jeff Maitland, Jan Sultan, and Michael Salveson.

[3] I hesitate to describe it as a force because this seems already to begin a conceptualization of Levity in terms of gravitational physics that are, in some manner, contrary to it.

[4] Of course, they are correct insofar as feeling is a sine qua non for effective work. But if they mean to discount the significance of achieving conceptual clarity as to the principles and aims of our work, then they cannot really assert this position without affirming in practice what they are ostensibly denying. In other words, the position that conceptual clarity over the nature of our work is unnecessary is a position that must be articulated conceptually or not at all.

[5] Cf. “On Exactitude in Science” by Jorge Luis Borges (from Collected Fictions) for a philosophical exploration of this relation in the form of a short story.

“Gravity is the therapist”: A Contemplation on Adversity and Actualization

“Practitioners of Structural Integration do not feel themselves to be therapists. The gravitational field is the therapist. What we do is prepare the body to receive the support from the gravitational field which gives a greater sense of well-being.”

—Ida Rolf

Gravity seems antithetical to life: dry leaves fall and only dead fish go with the flow. How can gravity be the therapist at the same time? “Sweet are the uses of adversity,” as Shakespeare observed (As You Like It). Perhaps the dichotomy is not an opposition but a polarity. Without gravitational resistance to organize its structure against, the tree could not have grown in the first place. Similarly, there could be no current to speak of except for the pull of gravity so no manner to differentiate dead fishes from living ones. Stagnation rather than gravity, therefore, is the last enemy.

How can gravity be a therapist? Gravity is a fact; an element of macrocosmic reality. And in the final measure, all healing is the process of attuning our inner music to the Music of the Spheres (musica universalis). Gravity pulls our structure into alignment with physics just like it takes hold of the seed and nestles it to the earth while it establishes its foundations. The shoot emerges from the soil, the flower from the shoot. Physiology grows in the medium of physics. Psyche blooms from the soil of physiology. The self is the bee that alights on the blossom as its splendor and its crown.



The Way of the Elbow

The Way of the Elbow, in its seventh year of business. With gratefulness to all of my clients in the Anchorage community and happily anticipating seven years to come.

A brief philosophical note about Rolfing® Structural and Movement Integration: we are seeking to establish a more harmonious relationship to everything we ordinarily think is “not us,” but which in a larger sense, constitutes the more comprehensive whole in which we eternally take part. This includes things like gravity and physics, expression, communication, and actualisation of human potential.

Adaptability: “The Word Becomes Flesh”

“Rolfing…what’s that?”

To find oneself at the gunpoint of such a question is no unfamiliar experience. As tempting as it would be to have a pat answer that I could whip out of my back pocket like a bullet-proof cue-card, a response of this sort would fail to embody at least one of the five pillars of Rolfing® Structural Integration (i.e. the “Five Principles of Rolfing® SI are: Adaptability, Holism, Palintonicity, Support, & Closure). Indeed, in this case, as in so many others, the how of the answer is no less-crucial than the what. For this reason, in an attempt to embody the principle of Adaptability and not merely to talk about it, I have challenged myself to resist the temptation to respond with a ready-made formulation. I flatter myself that what I forfeit in convenience, I compensate with connection. Without a prefabricated answer to a question like “What is Rolfing,” I encourage myself to discover the interests and background of my inquisitor. Then together we can rëapproach the question on his or her own familiar terms. On a good day, an answer therefore really belongs to both of us, and Adaptability has emerged as a living experience even before any work on the table.

“What is Rolfing?” Without a ready-made response, this question is a pluripotent prompt. Like a living being, such a question bears infinite possibilities and could unfold in innumerable directions. Indeed, in the most fundamental analogy, a human being represents just such an open question. Every human being is a walking incarnation of the beloved Principle of Adaptability. In Rolfing work, one recognises in the most striking terms that the Rolfer’s highest responsibility is not to fix patients. Neither is his office to impart knowledge to, nor impose beliefs upon, them. Instead it is the Rolfer’s sacramental task to learn from his patients; to sit at the feet of masters and allow their bodies to convey the ambition of their souls. Then one may offer oneself in service, and become a disciple of life.

There is but one temple in the Universe, and that is the body of man.


Novum Organum Medicum: Towards a More Perfect Model of Medicine

Despite its incontrovertible refutation by new discoveries over the last century, Scientific Materialism* maintains a general hegemony over our modern thinking as it has for centuries. The cultural inertia of this paradigm echoes that of other great institutions: the United States Government expressly resisted the practical conclusions of the very Enlightenment philosophy that Thomas Jefferson so eloquently espoused in its founding documents for the better part of an hundred years—until 1863 when President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation ostensibly freed all former slaves. Nevertheless, more than a century later still, Martin Luther King Jr. lived & died in a righteous battle against the persistent vices of racism & inequality. King’s titanic struggle is a testament to his own greatness as well as to the might of the institutionalised beliefs that he opposed. Even today, insidious currents of racist thought still course through the inner narratives that some individuals tacitly entertain. The insurance of equal rights for homosexuals is perhaps an analogous struggle only an odd century belated: only recently have local governments among the several states begun to mobilise to counter this oppression from the Federal Government. Another great institution, the Roman Catholic Church, also remains obstinate in its opposition to gay rights today, further demonstrating the propensity of institutions to resist the progress of human evolution.

There is nothing mystical in that such resistance should be so common. Returning to the subject of our inquiry, we may discover that one of the greatest proponents of materialistic science to have walked the earth, hailed as “the father of the scientific method,” Sir Francis Bacon himself observes, in the selfsame treatise that he presented his method withal that:

The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion…draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects and despises, or else by some distinction sets aside and rejects, in order that by this great and pernicious predetermination the authority of its former conclusions may remain inviolate.

Writing in 1620, one can hardly ascribe the petrified character of institutionalised science today to Bacon. Indeed in the same work, Novum Organum Scientiarum, he even warns against such obstinate dogmatism in aphorism 70:

Demonstratio longe optima est experientia.
But the best demonstration by far is experience.

One suspects that Bacon himself, if he were alive today, would be the first to decry the materialistic mechanisation of our worldview that so often prevails. Perhaps nowhere is this projected mechanisation so eminently evident as in the field of medicine. In my work as a Rolfer®, it has been my continual challenge to recognise & vanquish this insidious sentiment, which expresses itself in an individual’s belief that her body is a mere assemblage of parts. John Donne famously declared that “no man is an island;” neither is a scapula, a liver, or a neurotransmitter. Nevertheless, The Way of the Elbow finds itself in a perennial crusade to counter this subconscious philosophical enemy; a surreptitious reductionism that manifests in our own self-deprecating materialistical proclivity to diminish ourselves in to discrete mechanical constituents. This analytic tendency is perhaps appropriate for a mineral, or a Soviet tractor, but not a human being. Surgery & a reliance on pharmaceuticals are two instances of this general tendency. One misunderstands the argument of this piece if one supposes it rejects the utility of conventional western medicine; we are supremely grateful for the latter in any cases of acute or traumatic injury because it’s not helpful if your aura is pretty if you just had your arm chopped off. Instead, I mean to suggest that such treatment addresses only one aspect of the human being and, as Walt Whitman famously declared:

I am large; I contain multitudes.

Any individual who visits a physician with the hope that the latter will “fix” him is committing a subtle oppression against his own person by treating himself like dirt, though even this is not accurate since we know that a single ounce of real soil contains whole intertwining galaxies of mycorrhizal fungi & micro-organisms. My aspiration as a Rolfer has always been, therefore, to empower my clients in body, soul, & spirit so that they may discover within themselves the life to overcome their challenges. This is to patch the gaping hole in the Virginia Queen instead of merely bailing it out with a cutting-edge titanium & carbon-fibre bucket, or rushing ashore & burying one’s head in the sand like an ostrich.

What does it mean, therefore, to broaden our conception of the human being so that our perception recognises the causal processes behind their multitudinous effects? The great Prussian polymath Wolfgang von Goethe suggests the essence of our project when he writes:

If we want to behold nature in a living way, we must follow her example and become [in our thinking] as mobile and malleable as nature herself.

Goethe’s “delicate empiricism” reveals subtler dimensions to the human being that escape coarser sensibility. Our refined perception apprehends not merely mechanism, but also organism; not only mineral, but vital as well. Aristotle called this aspect the “vegetal soul” & ascribed to it the power of nutrition while Western alchemical tradition has called this aspect the “etheric body” & identified a correspondence to the esoteric element of Water. This presents a contrast to the “physical body” which partakes of the nature of Earth & which Aristotle took to be totally devoid of an animating principle. Conventional medicine recognises only the “Earth body” because it knows only Earth consciousness, which represents discrete facts without relationship, like scree or gravel-pellets. For this reason, we could say that typical Western medicine is soulless; that it cannot treat the soul because it assumes as its departure point that we do not have one. Rather, the former can only treat a patient mechanistically, identifying broken components & replacing them with synthetic ones, as one might replace worn-out brake-pads in a Volkswagen, for example. Medicine in Earth-consciousness gathers facts such as vital statistics & orthopaedic diagnostics and then proceeds with an intervention to rectify any anomalous values. Naturally, such a model is useful, but incomplete. Only Water-consciousness provides context for these data because it perceives process & relationship. Earth is rigid, Water labile: this is the reason for Goethe’s admonishment. To evaluate the human being in the Goethean method is to appreciate the emergent synergic dynamism of life that is more that the sum of its mineral parts.

Nevertheless, even a fluid & living observation fails to capture the whole human being; otherwise the latter would be categorically no different than a vegetable. Earth-consciousness can apprehend the mineral, Water the plant, but the life of the animal consists in more than mere vegetative proliferation: the experience of animals includes an affective aspect—emotions that compel them to activity. Aristotle identified this as the “animal soul” & linked it to the activity of sensation. Western esoteric tradition has called this dimension the “astral body” & associated it with the element of Air. In general terms, we might say that conventional Western medicine treats ailments in physical body, while conventional Eastern medicine addresses imbalances in the etheric body. Acupuncture provides a prime example of this approach, as well as most modalities of energy medicine. Prana, chi, elan vital, & animal magnetism are some traditional terms for the substance of the etheric body. This energy is indomitable: consider that if you starve a stone, it won’t notice; a rubber-plant, however, will start to wilt after seven days without sunbeams & water. But a cocker-spaniel needs something further still than physical nourishment; some sort of emotional sustenance if it is to achieve its potential. It is inhumane to keep a creature in solitary confinement; for the animal the question is moral while for the plant it is ecological. The physical body being literally the most tangible, it is easiest to conceive of a medical model to care for it. Fortunately, tradition, especially in the East, bestows upon us a wealth of insight into therapy for the etheric body. The astral body is fickle & nebulous and therefore more difficult to apprehend for therapeutic purposes. How might one support health in the astral body? Ultimately any intervention that promotes affective & emotional balance directly addresses the astral body, though treatment of the etheric body will invariably demonstrate a positive effect on the astral body as well. Likewise physical health will generally promote both physical & emotional well-being—we have all felt this: when you feel good, you feel good.

For medicine to treat the whole human being, therefore it must progress from conceiving of the human being as mechanism to organism, and further still to the human animal. Even this, however, is not ultimately sufficient if our aspiration is to promote true flourishing, what Aristotle called “eudaemonia” & ascribed to an actualisation of the “rational soul,” whose activity is the intellect. What does this mean? That one can ask this question is not insignificant. Unlike all other creatures that we know of on the Earth, true health in the human being does not emerge of necessity with the fulfilment of her physical, vital, & emotional needs. This hints at the fourth member to the human constitution beyond what we called the physical, etheric, & astral bodies. A great twentieth century thinker, Rudolf Steiner, called this aspect the “I.” Mineral substance composes the physical body, fluid process constitute the etheric, drafts of passion & aversion produce the astral body—represented by the elements of Earth, Water, & Wind, respectively. What then is the nature of this final aspect of the human being, that differentiates her from all other animals, vegetables, & minerals? The notorious Friedrich Nietzsche gives us the answer to this, and so many other questions when he writes in Thus Spake Zarathustra:

It was man who put value upon things…he was the first to create the meaning of things, a human meaning. That is why he calls himself “man,” that is, the Evaluator.
As plants need sunbeams & koala-bears Eucalyptus leaves, the human being needs meaning to realise her full potential…

Who has a why can bear almost any how

Nietzsche also observes. What Steiner calls the “I” is of the nature of Fire and consists in pure spirit & self-consciousness. Karma & spiritual biography suddenly unfold their splendor and significance when we achieve this perspective.

Having finally identified a fourfold nature of the human being, we are now in an advantaged position to reconsider the impact of scientific materialism on human health. The former can only comprehend the physical aspect of the human being. For this reason, all therapy that drives from this conception will fall short in the final measure. Only consider that conventional medicine treats depression with pharmaceuticals. In fact a study from the Center for Disease Control revealed that 1 in 9 Americans is currently taking antidepressants and that this number had increased over 400% in only twenty years. The mechanism of efficacy for such drugs is often to temporarily affect levels of key neurotransmitters, particularly by inhibiting the metabolism of serotonin so that it lingers in the bloodstream. This approach, however, is only palliative & not curative because it fails to address the problem; neurotransmitters are only the physical correlates of subjective conditions. Just as we do not claim that the hands of a clock dictate the time of day but rather reflect it, serotonin, dopamine, & oxytocin are indicators of internal states. Only a raving bedlamite would fix a “check engine” light on his dashboard by covering it up with duct tape. If this approach is inadequate for a Toyota, how utterly futile a response it is for a human being! No feasible amount of materialistic medicine will cure an ailment that is existential; the best it can do is temporarily suppress the symptoms while their spiritual cause lies festering like carbuncles in the soul. To forcibly retain this suffering only generates an inner pressure, which pain we then discharge as violence onto others & the Earth herself. Perhaps never in history has the Delphic injunction resounded with such urgency; “Man, know thyself” is the mandate of our time. Only when our self-apprehension evolves from mechanism to organism to sentient being to Self can we claim to have a model of medicine for the true human being.

*Scientific Materialism, or materialistic Scientism as we might also call it, is the belief that matter is ontologically fundamental & that everything can ultimately be reduced to its material components in the final analysis. No one has successfully proved that this is true. Nevertheless, mainstream scientific inquiry adopts a materialist paradigm as a presupposition; a sort of dreamt-up Archimedean fulcrum as a departure point to master the cosmos. For this reason, Scientific Materialism is at most an hypothesis & belongs in discussions of metaphysics rather than physics. Please see such pieces as The Deification of Abstractions & Its Discontents, Beyond Baconianism, & the Beyond Cartesianism series at The Lizard-press for further examination of this question. This post was originally published at The Lizard-press on January 2016.


Brief Tidings from The Way of the Elbow

Hello! I am a certified Rolfer® who has recently recently moved to the Bay Area to begin a master’s program in Philosophy, Cosmology, & Consciousness at The California Institute of Integral Studies. For my readers,unfamiliar with Rolfing® Structural Integration, it is a hands-on therapy designed to help clients overcome long-term chronic tension, strains, & injuries, to achieve optimal balance in the body.
I grew up in Anchorage, Alaska as a competitive cross-country ski racer. After finishing my career & graduating from university, I studied at the Rolf Institutes in Boulder, CO & São Paulo, Brazil to earn my Rolfing certification. Since 2013 I have been working in my private practice in downtown Anchorage. I am supremely grateful for the opportunity as a Rolfer to help my clients resolve long-standing stress to discover the natural ease & joyful experience that is the core of embodied living. I am continually seeking to deepen my understanding of the human being in body, soul, & spirit so that I can serve people more effectively. This investigation into the microcosm that is the human being has naturally awakened a deep curiosity about the macrocosm of which we are all expressions. In this way I believe that my masters’ studies & my Rolfing practice will mutually enrich one another and allow me to serve my clients with better skill. I hope to meet more great folks in beautiful Marin County or wherever our paths should lead us!

All the best,