Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Jack London and his wife Charmian roam the San Francisco Bay circa 1910

Jack London aboard the Roamer. Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.
Jack London was known for his world adventures, but his training ground — and lifelong love — was the San Francisco Bay. As a boy he learned to sail a skiff in the Oakland Estuary, and at sixteen he ran with the oyster pirates before jumping ship to crew for the California Fish Patrol. London wrote The Sea Wolf aboard a sailboat purchased from the sale of Call of the Wild, and in his final years he and his wife, Charmian, spent a month a year exploring and feasting on the bay and in the Delta

"Always I come back to the sea,” wrote London. “In my case it is usually [the] San Francisco Bay, than which no lustier, tougher sheet of water can be found for small-boat sailing.”*

One of the primary sources for my book in progress about Jack London and the San Francisco Bay is Charmian Kittridge London's diaries. To coincide with the publication of the first full-length biography of Charmian London (written by friend and colleague Iris Jamahl Dunkle), I wrote an article for Estuary News about Jack and Charmian's explorations of the bay from 1910-1914.

Read my article in Estuary News here.

* London, Jack, "The Joy of Small-boat Sailing," Country Life in America, August 1, 1912.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Waves of grain

During the COVID-19 pandemic, baking has become a popular and passionate pastime for countless people sheltering in place. They might not be aware, however, that every time they measure out another cup of flour, they have a chance to support California agriculture.

Hourani wheat grown by Honoré Farm and Mill at HomeFarm in Healdsburg.
(Photo courtesy of 
Honoré Farm and Mill)

For this article in the Bay Area Monitor I interviewed three California farmers who grow wheat for bread making:

  • Fritz Durst of Tule Farms is a fifth-generation farmer with a large grain-growing operation about 90 miles northeast of San Francisco.
  • Frog Hollow Farm in Brentwood planted white Sonora wheat flour on land slated for a new nectarine orchard this year. Sonora wheat is a heritage grain with a two-hundred-year history in the Americas.
  • Honoré Farm & Mill also grows organic wheat, but they have a higher calling: to re-connect people to land and community.
I had fun writing this piece and learned a ton. As Elizabeth DeRuff, president and agricultural chaplain of Honoré Farm and Mill told me, "Wheat is an unbelievable topic!"

Right she is!


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Carbon goes deep in Yolo County

Photo courtesy of River Garden Farm
A special issue of Estuary News explores climate adaptation activities in 12 counties around the Bay and Delta.

I wrote about three operations in Yolo County -- Full Belly Farm, Yolo Land & Cattle, and River Garden Farm -- that are actively involved in greenhouse gas reduction strategies.

There are many Yolo County farmers doing innovative things on their land.The challenge was in choosing which landowners to highlight!

Read my article "Carbon Goes Deep" here.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Happy 50th Earth Day!

“There is a new level of emotional intensity now that climate change has gone from a distant threat to a clear and present danger,” said Sierra magazine editor Jason Mark of the young people who took to the streets last year for the climate strike. “They’re pissed off — there’s no other way to characterize it. Young people feel like their very future, if not their current present, is on the line.”


Mark was one of my interviewees for "Earth Day at 50: Mulling the Blue Marble's Next Half Century," a piece I wrote for the Bay Area Monitor to mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.

I asked several noted environmentalists working in different fields — U.S. Forest Service filmmaker Steve Dunsky, author Mary Ellen Hannibal, editor and urban farmer Mark, and Ph.D. candidate C.N.E. Corbin — about the history and importance of Earth Day, and the role it might play in the next 50 years.

“Earth Day is a timeout to consider our fundamental reliance on earth and its natural systems, and then to consider what we can do individually, or ideally collectively, to safeguard those systems,” said Mark.

Happy Earth Day, a day to appreciate our Blue Marble and what we can do to protect it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Time Travel on the San Francisco Bay


Few boats on the San Francisco Bay can claim to be time machines, but that’s just how East Bay Yesterday podcaster Liam O’Donoghue, tour guide of the Oakland and Richmond historical waterfronts, views the Pacific Pearl.

Dave and Aleta George on Fish Emeryville's Pacific Pearl in the
Oakland Estuary.
“In day-to-day life we look at the world in a three-dimensional view,” he says, “but when you know history, you can look at it through four dimensions because you can see into the past using your imagination.”

O'Donoghue has been leading historical tours of the East Bay waterfronts with Fish Emeryville. Although the tours have been cancelled for now due to the coronavirus, you can engage in some arm-chair travel on the bay by reading my article in Estuary News--and stick a pin in it for when the tours start up again!



Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Whose space? Our space! Voicing democracy on the public commons

“Public space, by its very nature and construct, is the neutral common ground that we the people own and fund collectively,” said Nidhi Gulati at Project for Public Spaces, a nonprofit that creates community-based public places. “It’s the most rightful place for us to occupy as members of a civil society to express our opinions.”

Read my latest for the Bay Area Monitor in which I interview Bay Area Women's March organizers and discuss civic open spaces as places for the citizenry to exercise their First Amendment Rights.

Photo by Aleta George taken at Women's March Contra Costa

This article appears in the  League Centennial Special Edition of the Bay Area Monitor, a publication of the League of Women Voters of the Bay Area.


Wednesday, December 18, 2019

I 💗 trains & trails

I love trains and trails, and enjoy both as often as possible.

My grandfather, Luther E. Brown, Sr., was an engineer for the Southern Railway 1401, a steam locomotive now on permanent display in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. It's the largest train in the National Museum of American History.


I visited the train for the first time when I was twenty-six years old while on a cross-country trip with my oldest bestie, Dana. I had known my grandfather as a kid because he visited us in California every few years. He died when I was a freshman in high school. My grandmother didn't like to travel; therefore, on my trip around America in our Volkswagon Westfalia camper named Blue, I met my grandmother for the first time while in Virginia.


It's an understatement to say how excited I was to see the train in the museum. "I'm going to see my granddaddy's train," I told the first staff member I came across. We made our way through the museum and found the glorious 1401 in front of a long bank of windows. The train is painted dark green with gold trim, and the staff keeps her polished and clean. The wheels are almost as tall as me.

At that time, there wasn't a fence around the train or the cab, and when I saw a young man go behind the train and enter the cab, I thought, if he can do it I can too. "I'm going in," I told Dana, as I slipped behind the train and climbed the steep steps. As I grabbed the bars and pulled myself into the cab, the young man turned around, and for the first time I saw he was wearing a Smithsonian name tag. Whoops!

I spurted out my story. "This is my granddaddy's train and I am seeing it for the first time. I live in California and I'm travelling around the country and I met my grandmother, etc. etc..." I was nervous and thought I was in trouble.

The tall, young black man listened patiently. Then he said, "Do you want to blow the whistle?"

Did I?! Yes, I did! I pulled the lever that made her "Choo choo!" I wish I could tell you that I remember what the whistle sounds like, but I can't. I do remember that I looked out the cab window and waved to Dana, just as my grandfather likely waved at kids as he ran the 1401 fast through the Blue Ridge mountains.

I love trains and trails, and whether I'm taking the California Zephyr to Chicago or the Empire Builder to Glacier National Park, I'm never late. As the granddaughter of an engineer, I know that people wait for trains, and trains don't wait for people.

I wrote an article recently for the Bay Area Monitor about rails-to-trails in the San Francisco Bay Area. I learned why it sometimes makes sense to convert a railroad right-of-way to a regional trail. I also learned that there is sometimes room for both.

Me in the Grand Tetons on our trip around America