Monday, June 11, 2018

Transporting kids to nature


Kids like to be outside and it's good for them.

Trouble is, it's hard for teachers and schools to get them there.

Read my latest in the Bay Area Monitor about the challenges and solutions to getting kids outside.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Empowered by Constituents: A Closer Look at Prop 68

Proposition 68 is a $4.1 billion bond measure that will be on California’s June 5 ballot. It is the largest park bond in state history, and the widest in scope.
Take a closer look at the bill and its investment in water, natural resources, and park-poor communities--and how it was championed by the Latino Legislative Caucus.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Sailing for Sport or Life Skills?

Photo courtesy of Treasure Island Sailing Center
Around the bay, people who love to sail are sharing the sport with young people. Tucked into marinas and coves, and working out of portable classrooms and small offices, yacht club volunteers and nonprofit staff are working hard to get youth out on the bay in sailboats.

They don’t volunteer their time or work long hours because they want to make sailors out of the kids. They believe that getting a kid on the water, even for a few hours, has value...
Photo courtesy of  Mary Rutz, Call of the Sea

Read my latest for Estuary News about getting young people out on the bay in sailboats. The article is presented in a slideshow with pictures from sailing schools for Bay Area youth.

As a geographer, I can't help but love this photo of young people working with a map. 

Monday, December 18, 2017

Ina's Spark

Ina Coolbrith believed in poetry, in California, and in you.

Poetry was seared into Ina's soul when at age eleven she read Lord Byron and Shakespeare under open skies on her way to California by prairie schooner. She began to publish her own poems by the age of fifteen, and within a few decades had become a respected contributor to the Overland Monthly and other literary magazines. Even though she worked full-time as a librarian (which meant 70-hour workweeks), she managed to publish two collections of poetry and to command a dominant poetic presence in the West.

When California crowned Ina its first poet laureate during the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, the gesture made her America's first state laureate. In her acceptance speech Ina told the standing-room crowd that for her poetry was "the supremest of the arts," a "divine gift," and a "labor of love."

"Poems are children," she later said. "They are things. There is something supernatural about poetry. You cannot define it any more than you can define love."

While many poets turn to love for their muse, Ina turned to California. She explained why in an introduction she wrote for a special folio printing of  "California," a commencement ode that she had written for the University of California graduating class of 1871. The 1918 folio printing was the seventh book printed by The Book Club of California. In it she wrote:

"For California is a poem! The land of romance, of mystery, of worship, of beauty and of song. It chants from her snow-crested, cloud-bannered mountain ranges; it hymns thro' her forests of sky-reaching pine and sequoia; it ripples in her flowered and fruited valleys; it thunders from her fountains pouring, as it were, from the very waters above the firmament; it anthems from the deeps of the mightiest ocean of the world; and echoes ever in the syllables of her own strangely beautiful name—California."

She believed in California, and foresaw it would produce exceptional writers. A California-born writer had yet to achieve greatness, she said at end of the 19th century, noting that writers known for their California writing, including herself, had been born elsewhere.

“What would I not give to cast a look hitherward a century, nay, half a century hence and read the record of accomplishment along the lines of art, music, drama and letters,” she said.

Ina would have been pleased to know that Dana Gioia, California’s current poet laureate, was born here, and has visited and read poetry in every county of California during his term.

Ina encouraged many writers including Jack London, Isadora Duncan, Mary Austin, and George Sterling. I believe she would have encouraged you, too. She had a premonition that you would arrive—by birth or by car—and write about California.

Ina honored the past, lived in the present, and gathered sparks from the future, dogmas that are still held today by the Ina Coolbrith Circle, founded by their namesake in 1919.

She was proud to be one of the West's pioneer writers, and benefited by the inspiration that comes from living on the edge of a frontier. "A new country is virile, and like youth, is adventurous and unafraid. It makes for originality. It is radical… Always there is a golden fleece to be found in a new land."

A landscape and a place can also be made new by cultural shifts. Today, California is new again. We don't live in Ina's California, and we don't live in the same California we were born in. The world is changing—ever changing—and in each metamorphic state it is virile again.

Be adventurous, unafraid, and radical. Ina would have loved that.

This essay originally appeared in The Gathering 13, the Ina Coolbrith Circle 2015-16 poetry anthology.

I will be speaking about Ina Coolbrith and San Francisco, her city of love and desire, at The Book Club of California on Monday, January 22, 2018.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

I won an Alan Jutzi Fellowship from The Huntington--Who is Alan Jutzi anyway?

I knew nothing about the man last year when I applied for a Huntington fellowship named in his honor. I still knew nothing about him when I won The Alan Jutzi Residential Fellowship for Non-Traditional Scholars in its inaugural year.

My first reaction was "Yahoo!" a month of supported research at the beautiful Huntington Library in San Marino, where researchers have the privilege of walking the world-class gardens at lunchtime.

I've been to The Huntington on my own dime twice before, and on these visits I crammed a month worth of work into a week. This time I will spend an entire month at the Munger Research Center to work with the Jack London Papers. (It still won't be enough time!)


The Huntington awards 200 fellowships a year, but until this one came along, they were all reserved for faculty or doctoral candidates associated with an educational institution. I received one of two Alan Jutzi fellowships given this year. The other fellow is Lynell George. (The two Georges were a coincidence!)

Given the unprecedented nature of this fellowship, I wanted to know more about Alan Jutzi. So I called Jennifer A. Watts, curator of photography at The Huntington. Jutzi hired Watts 25 years ago, and she wrote a blog about him upon his retirement. 

I learned from Watts that Jutzi, the former chief curator of rare books, is beloved by colleagues and researchers. When he announced his retirement, the idea for a non-traditional fellowship was floated and he loved the idea.
1973 photo by Gusmano Cesaretti

"He has a free, open, and generous spirit. He is a lifelong learner and is not restricted by disciplinary boundaries," said Watts. In other words, his interests are not limited by his title, and his desire to help people pursue ideas is not restricted by academic pedigrees.

To raise money for the fellowship, his colleagues circulated manila envelopes to staff and sent letters to readers and affiliate organizations. "The fundraising was like stealing money from a baby. Everyone loves Alan and people want to honor him," said Watts.

The Huntington announced the fellowship in 2016. The annual fellowship offers up to two months of research support to an independent scholar that isn't tied to a university. It is open to writers, journalists, planners, architects, collectors, independent scholars, librarians, and others.

Watts said that the proposals from the first round of applicants were strong, thoughtful, and fit well with the collections at the Huntington. Here is the opening of mine:



Jack London was famous for writing about distant seas and exotic places. He sailed the world as a deckhand, a journalist, a celebrated author, and a captain. He learned about sailing and adventuring as a teenager, and his training ground was the San Francisco Bay. 
The San Francisco Bay is the largest Pacific estuary in the Americas and it offers an advanced degree for sailors. Fed by five rivers, its mountain-born currents swirl around islands and inlets, and its tides flush in and out of the Pacific Ocean at the Golden Gate. 
In London's time, a teenage boy could turn to the estuary for a taste of the same rough weather and rough men that he would meet on the open sea and at distant ports. London said that as a young man he was drawn to this "free floating life of the bay, the domain of moving adventure, and the companionship of real men."
London leaned into that life like a mainsail meets the wind, and the experience helped him to become one of the most popular writers in the world. Though he traveled the globe, London said that he had found himself on the bay as a youth, and as a man was "wedded to 'Frisco Bay.
As I dive into a sea of materials at The Huntington to explore London's relationship to 'Frisco Bay, I am certain that Jutzi's generosity of spirit and dedication to new ideas will help me to keep the creativity vessels wide open.






Friday, July 21, 2017

"Caspian Push and Pull" in Estuary News

Can you spot the decoy? Photo courtesy of Crystal Shore, USGS
It’s never easy (or cheap) to protect one species by manipulating the patterns of another. Nor is it always advisable. 

But there are times when it’s worth a shot, especially when multiple agencies and states are willing to get involved. To jump into this bird story that turns out to be a fish tale, we’ll start in the middle...

Read my latest article for Estuary News here.