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

Friday, September 27, 2019

Walking the San Francisco Bay Trail

Photo by Aleta George

A small and steadfast group of women are walking the entire San Francisco Bay Traila proposed 500-mile trail that when finished will ring the bay. They are tackling one segment at a time, in order, once a month. After two years, they have covered more than half the trail, both the finished, and as best they can, the unfinished portions.

I had the pleasure to walk several segments of the trail with them to cover their journey for Estuary News. You can read my story here.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the year the region launched the Bay Trail. To date, public and private landowners have completed 356 miles of trail. 

Photo by Kathy Briccetti

Friday, May 31, 2019

Ode to San Francisco, a legacy beer, and Ina Coolbrith

Writers have waxed poetical about beer and alcohol for millennia, and I can say from experience that more than a few poems have been recited while drinking; but as far as I know, this is the first time a poem has been featured on a beer can.

After a decades-long hiatus, Lucky Lager is on the shelves again with a new label that features a poem by Ina Coolbrith, the subject of my biography, Ina Coolbrith: The Bittersweet Song of California's First Poet Laureate. San Leandro's 21st Amendment Brewery is brewing the lager.

Hatch advertising in San Francisco, which designed the label, chose a short ode, "To San Francisco," a poem that Ina wrote while she was living in New York from 1919 to 1923.

To San Francisco

Fair on your hills, my City,
Fair as the Queen of old,
Supreme in her seven-hilled splendor — 
You, from your Gate of Gold,
Facing the orient sunburst,
Swathed in the sunset gleams,
Throned in an ultimate glory,
City of mists and dreams.

Ina wrote a sheaf of poems during the four years that she lived in New York starting at the age of 79, many of which described her beloved San Francisco. Nearly all of her "New York poems" were published posthumously in her final poetry collection, Wings of Sunset, including "To San Francisco."

Prohibition began in the first winter that Ina lived in New York, and didn't end until 1933, five years after her death. The General Brewing Corporation began brewing Lucky Lager in San Francisco's Bayview the year after Prohibition ended.

Ina wasn't a fan of the temperance movement, a social and sometimes militant insistence on the abstinence of alcohol. As Oakland's public librarian, she was told by the board of trustees in 1886 to order temperance books. She chose six. The wife of one of the trustees wrote up a list of 22, which Ina pared down to nine. The board insisted she buy all 22 books.

"All right! I did it: but I'm mad," she wrote one of the board members who was also a friend. "If it would do any good... I should say fill all the shelves with these books. But it doesn't. It is such a namby-pamby, boshy, imbecile, Sunday school method of doing nothing."

Although her Mormon relatives wouldn't have approved, Ina liked to imbibe at times. One evening, she apparently had one to many with
Charles Warren Stoddard, who along with Ina and Bret Harte formed the Golden Gate Trinity of writers. The next day she wrote Charlie, "Do you know what it is to feel like a stewed witch? Because I have heard of such a feeling, and I believe I am experiencing it today."

More than a connection to alcohol, the ode chosen for the label of Lucky Lager is a fitting choice to honor San Francisco. It's also a serendipitous choice. The Ina Coolbrith Circle, a poetry and literature group that formed in 1919 when Ina was still alive and still meets today, will hold its 100th banquet to announce the winners of its 100th poetry contest in November 2019 — a good reason to celebrate Ina and California poets with a toast of Lucky Lager!

I've been handing out cans of beer like calling cards. You can find a place to buy the beer here.

Friday, April 19, 2019

New: Online Biographical Dictionary of the Woman Suffrage Movement

Police arresting pickets Edna Dixon and Lavinia Dock in a crowd, August 1917.
Library of Congress.
Next year marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, giving American women the right to vote.

Tens of thousands of women worked to make that happen, and most of their stories have been unknown--until now.

The first installment of the crowd-sourced Online Biographical Dictionary of the Woman Suffrage Movement in the United States is now available. When complete, the online dictionary will include the biographical sketches of at least 3,000 suffrage activists.

I contributed a biographical sketch of Edna Dixon, a Silent Sentinel. Here's my contribution to this fantastic new resource.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Science and delight at Jepson Prairie

Jepson Prairie's unique ecosystem attracts scientists, including four fabulous women
Jaymee Marty at Jepson Prairie (Photo by Ian Shive)
Restoration ecologist Jaymee Marty remembers the day that she saw her first Delta green ground beetle, a rare, quarter-inch-long beetle found only in the Greater Jepson Prairie area.
"The only way to see them is to sit completely still for 20 or 30 minutes. If you move at all, they freeze and blend into the vegetation," she said of the elusive metallic-green beetle she eventually saw on the edge of Olcott Lake at Jepson Prairie.
Read more about four women who have contributed to the understanding and education of the prairie in this article I wrote for Solano Land Trust.