Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Bishop Cattle Company Runs Cattle and Memories at Rockville Trails Preserve

Cattleman Bill Bishop Jr. knows cows, horses, and working dogs. He and his father, Bill Bishop Sr., have been grazing cattle at the newly-protected Rockville Trails Preserve for 42 years. The elder Bishop is now 93 and retired, but he is far from retiring. He still calls himself a "suntanned, swivel-hipped cowboy."

Father and son are both cowboys—the real thing—holding onto their livelihood in the middle of swank wineries and five-star restaurants in the Napa Valley. Read about Bishop Cattle Company in "Meet the Farmer," a series of profiles I write about farmers and ranchers for Solano Land Trust.

Go to "The Bishop Cattle Company Runs Cattle and Memories at Rockville Trails Preserve"

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Event: Ina Coolbrith and Friends in the Berkeley Hills

I'm the guest speaker for the Berkeley Path Wanderers at the Albany YMCA/Albany Library Brown Bay Lunch Speaker's Forum.

Monday, December 16, 2013
12:30 to 1:30 p.m.
Albany Branch
1247 Marin Ave.
Albany, CA 94706

Location: Edith Stone Room
Contact: Vivian Jaquette (510) 526-3720, vjaquette@aclibrary.org

I first discovered the Berkeley paths while working on a biography of California's first poet laureate, Ina Coolbrith. During a meandering walk in the hills while staying at a friend's house, I discovered paths named after Coolbrith's friends and colleagues. Read more about that discovery here. When I led a walk for the Berkeley Path Wanderers in October, I learned that Ina once had a road named after her too. At this event I will share stories about Coolbrith and other Bay Area literary pioneers such as Bret Harte, Joaquin Miller, Charles Keeler, and John Muir. The forum is co-sponsored by the Albany YMCA and the Albany Library.

The Berkeley Path Wanderers Association was founded in 1998 to restore and improve Berkeley's pedestrian paths, an extensive trail system that was created as part of the original town plan in the first part of the 20th century. Keith Skinner, BPWA President, will provide a brief overview of the organization's goals and activities.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

"Okeanos: A Performance Where Dancers Move Like Octopuses and Seahorses," a blog post on Smithsonian.com

Photo by Joseph Seif
I loved working on this story because it brought together my love of dance and the ocean. While I wrote it I watched the video, "Naomi Underwater," by Joseph Seif over and over again. It is mesmerizing. Jodi Lomask, the artistic director of Capacitor, discovered a new technique she calls "sink and fall" to choreograph the video.

Go to "Okeanos: A Performance Where Dancers Move Like Octopuses and Seahorses" at Smithsonian.com

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Scientists Set Seashells by the Seashore

Scientists have built a biological reef made of oyster shells and eelgrass in a one-acre plot in the San Francisco Bay and are testing its ability to protect the shoreline during future sea level rise.

Read more about it in the October 2013 issue of Bay Area Monitor.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Walk with Ina Coolbrith & Friends in the Berkeley Hills

The Berkeley Pathwanderers Association asked me to lead a walk in the Berkeley Hills.
While in Berkeley on a mini writing retreat to work on my biography about Ina Coolbrith, I took a noontime walk in the hills. That morning I had been working on a chapter that features Bret Harte, Charles Warren Stoddard, and Mark Twain. Their stories still buzzed in my head when I set out without map or route.

I was looking for an opportunity to head higher into the hills when I came around a bed and saw a sign for what looked like stairs (there are lots of stairways between street levels in the Berkeley Hills). I couldn’t it. The stairs were called Bret Harte Way! Harte was Ina's editor at the Overland Monthly magazine, and he called her the "pearl of our tribe." It was as if I had conjured him.

At the top of the stairs I came to Keith Avenue. Artist William Keith illustrated Ina's second poetry collection. Then I came to Sterling Path, named after George Sterling, the poet who Ina felt should inherit her laurel crown (though he committed suicide before he could). I also found Keeler Path, a lovely wooded trail that poet and self-taught ornithologist Charles Keeler would have loved.

That day I discovered paths, ways, and lanes named after Joaquin Miller, Charles Warren Stoddard, John Muir, and Mark Twain, all Ina's friends. When I reached Parnassus Road, I thought, how perfect. In Greek mythology, Parnassus was home to the gods and muses.

Since then I have taken many walks with Ina's friends in the Berkeley Hills. But since she doesn't have a path, way, or lane named after her (I subsequently learned she once did), I bring her along by reciting her poems as I walk. I haven't memorized the entire poem called "California" that she wrote for the first graduating class of the University of California, though the last stanza could easily have been inspired by the view seen from these hills:
                                    … [I] saw the Gate
Burn in the sunset; the thin thread of mist
Creep white across the Sausalito hills;
Till the day darkened down the ocean rim,
The sunset purple slipped from Tamalpais,
And bay and sky were bright with sudden stars.

Date: Sunday, October 20, 2013
10:00 a.m.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

"A Butterfly Species Settles in San Francisco," blog post on Smithsonian.com

Mural by Amber Hasselbring
I have seen butterflies in San Francisco before, but it took an outing with lepidopterists Liam O'Brien and Amber Hasselbring to fully appreciate them.

Read about O'Brien and Hasselbring's efforts to protect the health and habitat for the Western tiger swallowtails in downtown San Francisco by using art and science.

"A Butterfly Species Settles in San Francisco," Smithsonian.com

Friday, June 14, 2013

The House is Yours: Sarah Ruhl's Water

In Sarah Ruhl's script for Dear Elizabeth, she gives this stage direction for when Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell meet in Maine:

Suddenly the stage is full of water and a rock.
They stand waist high in cold water, holding hands, looking out.
A silence.
She turns to him.

Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com
I love the simplicity of that direction, and that Ruhl didn't back away from her vision even though the actualization of it sounds untenable. She believed that the director, Les Waters, the scenic designer, Annie Smart, and the stage crew could bring her imagination to fruition.

The resulting water scene in Dear Elizabeth, now playing at Berkeley Rep, doesn't match her directions exactly, but it does interpret it.

I can't say more or I'll spoil the surprise. What I can tell you is that underneath the stage there are two 500-gallon water tanks and a sump pump to get the water up to the stage. It takes two people on headsets to run the tank. When stage manager Cynthia Cahill gives the cue, "Go water," one of the the crew flips the open switch on the first tank. When that primary tank gets low, the second crew member opens the valve of the "slave" tank. "The set-up is very Rube Goldberg," says stage supervisor Julie Englehorn.

At intermission, the crew pushes the water off the stage to a downstage drain with long-handled squeegees. They follow up with towels. After each performance, Englehorn washes four loads of laundry.

And what does the water mean? Literal-minded patrons want to know.

In one poem, Bishop wrote, "There are too many waterfalls here; the crowded streams / hurry too rapidly down to the sea." So there's that. I asked a poet what she thought the water meant, and she said, "emotional possibilities." Another poet looked at me quizzically, "Does it have to mean something?"

Come see the water, and this beautiful and tender play that Ruhl elegantly describes as, "a play in letters from Elizabeth Bishop to Robert Lowell and back again."

Learn more here.

The "House is Yours" is a specific term used by a front-of-house manager in handing over the audience to the stage manager. I'm a house manager at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, but please don't hold them responsible for anything in this post other than the fact that they employ me in their house built on words.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

"An Artist Creates Fog in San Francisco," Smithsonian.com

Fujiko Nakaya is soft spoken. I could barely hear her during our interview outside of San Francisco's Exploratorium at Pier 15, especially with a fork lift beeping behind us nine days before the opening of the science museum and the debut of her latest fog sculpture, Fog Bridge.

I leaned in to what she had to say: "Observation is imagination."

Read more in "An Artist Creates Artificial Fog in San Francisco," at Smithsonian.com.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Join the International Day of Action for Rivers on March 14

March 14, 2013, marks the 16th Annual International Day of Action for Rivers. International Rivers recently won the 2013 MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions I worked for this organization a decade ago, and I'm proud of them.

Read my essay, "Poetry and Activism Undammed," featuring poets Gary Snyder and Robert Hass, and published alongside other rivers stories from around the world.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

California’s Newest Star is Otterly Adorable -- and a Biter | OnEarth Magazine

Photo by Jouko van der Kruijssen
Otters are making a comeback north and east of San Francisco, but there is only one who is stealing the show. They call him Sutro Sam because he is squatting at the Sutro Bath ruins at the bottom of the Cliff House. He has become the media's darling, and I'm just one of his many fans.

Read my story about the otter in OnEarth.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Song of the Meadowlark: The Sweet Soundtrack of the King-Swett Ranches

Photo by Sally Rae Kimmel
It's hard to believe you're sandwiched between the three largest cities in Solano County when you're on  a hike at the King-Swett Ranches.

Read about the King-Swett Ranches in the January 2013 issue of Bay Nature.

Learn why volunteer docent Jim Walsh has been leading these hikes for eight years.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Ina's Secrets

Ina D. Coolbrith was crowned California's first poet laureate in 1915. She referred to San Francisco as her "city of mists and of dreams," and shrouded her own life story with a fog as thick as that which covered the city's seven hills.

Coolbrith contributed hundreds of poems to the leading journals of her time and published several poetry collections. She counted Bret Harte, Mark Twain, and John Muir as friends, and mentored Jack London and Isadora Duncan when she worked as Oakland's first public librarian. Magazines and journals profiled her, reporters adulated her, and fans adored her—but few knew the secrets she kept. I'm writing a biography about Coolbrith and will share some of her secrets with you.

What: Ina's Secrets
When: Friday, January 11, 2 to 4 p.m.
Where:  San Francisco Browning Society

Penthouse Meeting Room
1400 Geary Boulevard
San Francisco, CA 94164
(Neighborhood: Lower Pacific Heights)

Ina Coolbrith and Joaquin Miller gathered laurel leaves in Sausalito to defend Lord Byron's name. Read about their journey here.