Givin’ Love

I love me a little Oaktown. Sure, we have our [oft-discussed, hard to hide] troubles. But dang! If you haven’t walked around to see the sights and feel the artistic energy that is pulsing through these streets, you are missing some fun. You are also missing cool architecture, provocative street art, and some plain old satisfying nonsense!

One of my favorite murals (of all time) has been jazzing the Uptown for about a year. I love the crazy perspectives and the way the artists, R.B. Morris III & Munir Munir, held up a funhouse mirror and captured a selection of our wicked loveliness:

While we’re on the subject of Oaksterdam (mural sponsor), it’s a special kind of city that houses a university, a museum, a gift store, in addition to several “dispensaries” and cafes with alternative menus, all in the name of medical marijuana. I find the items in Oaksterdam’s gift store window fairly entertaining:

If you start your day with NPR, you may have heard some stories by young people. They tend to be impressive, thoughtful and well-done. Chances are they were produced by Youth Radio:

I love old classic Oakland businesses like the Hat Library, which features a large selection of original hats for the ladies to wear to church and Rocsil’s Women’s Footwear, which specializes in large sizes. Makes me wish my feet were bigger! Then there’s the other classic Oakland business:

Most of what I dig about Oakland is the random street art. There are some hella creative, humorous, provocative cats doing their thing, leaving their mark in unexpected places here.

It’s hard to escape the presence of Occupy in Oakland. Here’s another voice on the subject, more to make you go, hmmmm:

There’s a lot to love on these dirty o’l streets. Seeings how it’s Friday and all, I think I’ll go out and get a little Oaktown on me. Hope to see you there.

Mardi Gras

It feels like every day is Fat-One-Day-Or-Another around the office lately. First the holidays and then the Valentine’s Day dessert party, and today there are cookies. It’s like we can’t stop ourselves any more.

When the clock strikes 6, it’s time to transition to the evening vices. It’s beer o’clock! It’s the working person’s reward for cubicle cramp, mental malaise, the paltry palate of the live long work day. Beer, it’s not just for breakfast anymore, as the cute little refrigerator magnets say.

So here we are, Mardi Gras. Not being Catholic, not being from nor ever having been to New Orleans, I’ve never wholeheartedly celebrated either Mardi Gras or Lent. But this year, it feels like someone has to put her food down. Foot, I mean put her foot down. On something. Just one thing.

Either the sugar or the beer would hurt at one time of day or the other. Probably beer would hurt more, because it’s also a social activity, a reason to go out, an aid to conversation (up until a certain point, when it isn’t, of course). It provides an excuse to venture off to some new venue or neighborhood–an adventure!

Should “the giving up” be less painful, and therefore more likely to succeed? Or should the deprivation be more painful, making it more significant, and  perhaps more thought-provoking?

If you were me, what would you give up?


A week ago today, I started my day by getting dressed for an afternoon memorial service. The service was for the husband of an acquaintance and, although I have talked with her many times, I had never met her husband. As I  walked to the bus stop, I heard a familiar echo in my head:  “…walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”

It did, indeed, feel like I was walking in that valley. It’s not that I was  emotionally connected to the deceased, but it felt like a solemn, sacred walk. The journey was calm and thoughtful, not driven by lament. And death’s shadow did not cast a pall on the day’s beauty, the way it can.

It was like standing in the shadow of an mighty mountain, awed with respect and reverence, but chilled to the bone by the damp air–not a place where one lingers. I felt a visceral understanding of death and the power of an ancient phrase offering comfort to those experiencing it. It was an oddly, unexpectedly holy moment.

Moments of Wonder

One of the best things about working in Downtown Oakland, in my humble opinion, is being close to Lake Merritt. I was surprised to learn the lake was North America’s first Wildlife Refuge (in 1870). Prior to that, it had been used as a large natural sewer. The horror! Then-mayor, Dr. Samuel Merritt, who happened to own land on the lake’s shore, took a special interest in the lake. Regardless of self-interest, his action has served all of Oakland in the intervening years.

Walking around the lake at noon, one sees an amazing cross section of the Oakland citizenry. These are just a few of the characters I’ve seen: Mayor Quan having her portrait taken; Sr. Rosemary Delaney, Sister of the Holy Names, who is in her 70s and runs around the lake three times for her daily work out; David, a lawyer I recently met at a Marin Crab Boil (!) who works in my building and who circles the lake in suit and athletic shoes. At least once a month I see a movie or a music video being filmed—look for me in the background! It’s also a great way to find out who the lunch partners of your colleagues are. There is no shortage of interesting human behavior to witness.

The Lake is also home or resting place to an amazing variety of wild birds. The picture above features a couple snowy egrets who stole my heart. I love birds. I find them endlessly interesting and entertaining. For example, when ducks dive under the water for lunch & their butts are in the air—they crack me up. Who knows why?

For the longest time, I kept seeing these grayish birds, about 12 to 18” high when perching. Having no idea what kind of bird they were, I called them my “No Neck Friends.” Thanks to fellow bird lover Sue Stephens, I came to understand that the rest of the world knows them as “midnight herons.”

The bird world inspires a sense of wonder in me. They are so different one species from the next and yet live in relative harmony here in the middle of Oakland. Despite my fondness for birds generally, sea gulls have never seemed very interesting. There has never been much mystery with that squawky, bossy, hungry bunch. But just when you think you know a bird…

I recently saw a sea gull dancing a jig. You know those Irish cloggers? The kick-up-your-heels-and-dance people? I saw a seagull who thought he was trying out for River Dance.

The dancing sea gull stopped me in my tracks. Fortunately I had my iPhone with me at the time. If you want to see this dancing marvel, please visit my Facebook page. I can’t add the actual video here. And if you are interested, I’ll even tell you how the jig ends. 😉

Do you know the trees in your neighborhood?

I woke up this morning to the sound of chainsaws and my first thought was, “Oh dear. I hope there’s not going to be an incident.”

I’ve given a lot of thought to Trees. I have a list of Writing Ideas and one topic is “The Trees in my Life.” Apparently, I have had some pretty strong ties to trees through the years.

There was a specific cluster of pine trees where I’d go & hide when I was little. They were so close together that in the center, the ground was bare, save a carpet of pine needles. It was the coziest imaginary home! There was a maple that I loved to climb, and I spent hours pretending that it was my sky rise apartment in some big city where my life was very cool, never mind I’d never been to a city nor in a really tall building!

When, at last, I did live in a real city studio apartment (just one floor up, though), there was a huge redwood tree growing in the tiny backyard. It felt like the solid long-term resident who kept everything cool in the ‘hood. Its hugeness turned down the volume of the honking soundtrack speeding by around us and was a thriving ecosystem to hummingbirds, sparrows, bees and the like. I don’t think I could have lived there, save for that calming presence.

Trees, specifically and generally, are important to me. Their souls speak to my soul, if you will. And while, for example, I presume my tree hugging friend John Dennis might feel the presence of these gentle giants in a personal way, I hadn’t extended that thinking out to the general public. I didn’t really consider that this type of love for trees might be present in the hearts of my neighbors.

Until the chainsaw incident last spring.

I was walking down the driveway, coming home from work, and could hear the busy work of a chainsaw in one of the several backyards adjoining ours. When I stood on our steps to go into the kitchen, I could see across the way a big bare area in the three-story high pine tree. I hadn’t known what the houses over there looked like until this moment. Now that they had a straight view to my kitchen, I presumed they’d be getting to know us pretty well, at least the versions of us in our pajamas with crazy bed head making coffee like zombies. Hope they wouldn’t mind if I didn’t wave to them or anything, I thought with a mental smirk & a sigh. Urban living; we’re all in this together, like it or not.

And then one of my other neighbors got home and began screaming at whoever was holding the chainsaw. Police were called. City government was called. Threats were made. Real tears were shed. I heard all of this from my backyard and I shared the sentiment, not knowing the people or who was lawfully on the right side of the situation.

Then there was the Halloween massacre.

Alameda is an island. It most closely resembles Mayberry RFD. I love this about it, not that it can’t be a little oppressive. It’s quaint. It’s a small community. We have tree-lined streets and small shops & restaurants. You can walk places.

Park Street, business and tree-lined, is where most commerce occurs. In places, the trees were very large and the sidewalks rather small for such a bustling area. The city government had public planning meetings a few years ago (before I lived there) and it was agreed that they would widen the sidewalks and re-plant urban-appropriate trees.

One day in October, without prior communication to the island-dwellers, they cut down every tree in the primary 3-block section of Park.  The island-dwellers cried out in horror. Police were called. City Hall was called. We spoke harshly and with disgust. Memorial candles and handwritten notes were placed on stumps, lamenting the lives that had been lost. On Halloween, ghosts of the trees of Alameda floated up and down the block, rattling their lifeless dried leaves.

I woke up this morning to the sound of chainsaws. It reminded me of how much we share, whether it be environment, quietude, landscape, or cherished friendships in unexpected places. Despite our separate little plots and acres, we really are in this together. And “we” is a lot more inclusive than you might think.