Like on Saturdays when you’re sad and the sun is nowhere to be found,
So you ride your bike down to the shoreline where – growing from the sand – are signs that say, “Jazz Quartet; Follow the signs or sounds.”
So you follow the sign along the trails through the waterfront park that juts out into the bay and you stumble upon a makeshift amphitheater where four men dressed in suits and shiny shoes have set up a little stage by the sea
And they’re playing their drums and trumpet and cello and trombone as the audience sits scattered on seats of rock And the sounds of jazz drift out over the water In this little corner of the world.
Does it sound dark to say that I was glad to have stayed alive for this moment?
I. blooming flowers and a friend, reminding me: you have to start somewhere. not all things are beautiful when they first begin.
II. a morning walk on a summer day in northern california which means I am wearing two jackets and a hat but you can hear the rising sun saying to the world “watch out for me today.”
III. collage (n): an assemblage of different forms…thus creating a whole. when I pick up these camellias (that have fallen onto the sidewalk – once beautiful on their bushes, now browning and alone) and press them underneath a heavy book, I like the idea that I am giving them a second life.
IV. I look at the clock and see an hour has passed since I sat down on the couch to read my book. I am thankful for artists who conjure up these other worlds that can so readily relieve me from my own.
V. I see a whale! – no, it’s a wave and then – a spout! I am sitting near the edge of the cliff and my sister is on the phone and I start crying.
Each year I celebrate Earth Day by going on a plog. For those unfamiliar with the term, know that Thomas was as well until his edification three years ago:
In previous years I visited some combination of my favorite parks nearby our house in San Francisco: Buena Vista, Twin Peaks, Mount Davidson, Sutro, Glen Canyon, Billy Goat Hill, Kite Hill, Corona Heights, and/or Bernal Heights (there were so many amazing parks in walking distance! I love you, San Francisco!). Today, on my first Berkeley/East Bay plog, I jogged with my bag of accumulating trash through Strawberry Canyon and Claremont Canyon. It’s a common theme in the Bay Area that if you want to explore the local parks you have to be willing to climb a lot of hills, but luckily I’ve lived here long enough that the thought of a flat jog is intimidating.
By the end of my jog I’d filled and emptied four bags of trash, not to mention stopped for a few selfies and tree appreciation moments. (Imagine living in the beautiful, magical land that is Northern California and not wanting to save our planet!)
Here is a list of the most common trash items I found:
Masks. This one sucks so much. Not only do we have a pandemic on our hands, but masks are creating additional litter! Wear your mask…but dispose of it properly, please!
Bags of dog poop. As the sign (pictured above) courtesy of Untrash.it says: “This is trash too! Please pack out your dog waste.”
Napkins. In particular: those rough, brown napkins they keep in large dispensers on tables at fast casual restaurants and college cafeterias. Either people are using them as toilet paper on the trails (use a leaf! or air dry!) or they’re eating a lot of trail snacks that require napkins, but either way it was sad how many of them were crumpled up on the side of the trails.
A half-eaten burrito. Ok, fine – this was not a common item of trash. But the fact that I found a half-eaten, foiled-wrapped burrito in the middle of some wood chips in the park was mind-blowing! Not only did this person litter, they also wasted most of a perfectly good burrito! Food waste + litter = double whammy.
More importantly: thank you to organizations like Untrash East Bay who are working to keep our beautiful parks and earth clean. When group activities are back up and running I plan to join them on their weekly group trash pick-ups. I was also thinking that for my next birthday I should invite friends to one of my favorite parks for a trash cleanup partt…prizes for the person who picks up the most trash!
As for other personal Earth-related initiatives, I found this tweet I posted on Earth Day two years ago (from a pre-pandemic world in which and we still commuted to an office for work):
I am sharing this because I have always been passionate about improving access to bikes, buses, and trains as means of both work and personal transport. If you live in San Francisco, I suggest joining and/or supporting the San Francisco Bike Coalition who works to improve bike accessibility and safety in the city. Even more importantly, I recently readthis incredible article written about the lack of representation low-income riders have when it comes to safe cycling and transportation planning. While I have become a more avid cyclist over the past few years, I am continually frustrated by perceptions of the cycling community, and the inclusivity of the community itself. The lower-income folks who rely on bikes as their primary mode of transportation are overlooked when planning and accessibility decisions are made, and the cycling community doesn’t always do the best job of advocating for them. The article provides a great overview of why it’s important to support lower-income cyclists and I am thinking of ways to be a better advocate in my own community.
I’ll end with a post from one of my favorite Instagram accounts @intersectionalenvironmentalist:
In a brief moment of culinary inspiration last weekend I decided I wanted to bake some scones. I’d just had my morning coffee – so the possibilities for my day were seemingly endless and I dreamt my biggest, most wild dreams – and seen an inspiring photo of local produce from Berkeley Bowl.
“What flavor scones should I make?” I asked myself as I sat on the couch, already envisioning the Samin Nosrat I was about to become. I had the essential ingredients in my pantry – flour, butter, heavy cream, sugar – and decided on lemon poppyseed: a classic, hard-to-mess-up flavor that would only require buying a lemon or two from the grocery store. And then – of course, as usual – the moment of inspiration passed before I even made it to the store.
I went for a walk through the neighborhood later that afternoon. I had spent most of the day attempting to read, but mostly ruminating, and sought fresh air to clear my mind. A few blocks from my house I came across a plastic dog bowl placed on the sidewalk with a paper sign taped to the rim that read “FREE” in black Sharpie. Inside the bowl were three large, bright yellow lemons that a neighbor had picked from the ripening tree in their yard. I smiled, picked one up, and put it in my fanny pack (yes, I was wearing a fanny pack).
As I walked home with the lemon displayed proudly in the pocket of my fanny pack I felt so blessed. A lemon in a bowl on the sidewalk. It was such a small thing and yet it felt like a huge gift, to have this thing that I’d been “needing,” but hadn’t been able to give myself, brought to me with no strings attached. It was as if someone, somewhere had known that if I were presented with a lemon it might have the capacity to turn my day around.
At home that evening I stood at the counter zesting the lemon over a glass bowl. I grated the frozen butter, mixed in heavy cream and flour, and added just the right amount of poppy seeds. I’m not much of a baker but every time I bake or cook I notice how wonderful it feels to make something from scratch, to shape and create it with my own hands. When the scones came out of the oven looking and smelling just as I’d hoped, I thanked the world for the gift of a lemon that reminded and inspired me to create.
The wildflowers are in bloom!
On Sunday afternoon I sat on a bench by a field of poppies and reread one of my favorite poems by Wendell Berry:
I dream of a quiet man who explains nothing and defends nothing, but only knows where the rarest wildflowers are blooming, and goes, and finds that he is smiling not by his own will.
I read an interview he gave with Flood Magazine after the album release and one particular quote resonated with me:
“I think I’m always just looking for a little flash of inspiration rather than working on some great orchestral piece, and that kind of became what the record was—it was little fragments. I hate to use the word “vignette,” but these songs are little glimpses of life and of musical ideas. They didn’t even need to be completely finished—as long as the essence is there, it counts.”
Sometimes that’s how I feel about this blog (I am not, by the way, attempting to compare myself to a musical genius!): it’s a place where I can capture my flashes of inspiration – a poem, a wildflower, a lemon on the sidewalk – rather than trying to produce something cohesive or complete.
I’ll leave you with something else he said in the interview that I thought he articulated beautifully:
“I think that’s why I’m always reluctant to spell out every single element of a song, because feelings are supposed to change. It’s supposed to change with interpretation, and that’s one of the most interesting aspects of it all. Meaning can be quite an elusive thing. And actually, the most incredible moment is when you get presented with an image that you can’t get out of your brain, but you don’t know why.”
Happy spring, everyone! May it bring lots of wildflowers and hope.
I first read Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s poetry in AP Literature my senior year of high school. I can’t remember which of his poems we read (was it “Sometime During Eternity“? “Constantly Risking Absurdity“?); since then I’ve read his poems so many times that most of the words seem familiar.
When I moved to San Francisco I started seeing a therapist whose office was in North Beach. Every week after our session I would walk from her office to City Lights Bookstore and spend as long as I could among its shelves before walking the next few blocks to my office downtown. That was always a jarring transition: from the quiet of therapy and a bookstore to the noisy, crowded office.
For Christmas two years ago my mom got me a copy of Ferlinghetti’s Greatest Poems. I didn’t remember telling her about any of his poems that I loved, or all the hours I’d spent kneeling by the shelves in the cramped basement of City Lights.
I took the book with me down to Ocean Beach one day and read my favorite of his poems, “The world is a beautiful place,” by the water. It begins:
And then, later:
I read of Ferlinghetti’s death in between meetings yesterday afternoon, during a five minute break in which I was scrolling through Twitter.
In the evening, after work, I took the book of his poems and went out for a walk. I looked at everything and smelled the flowers.
I love California. So much. I’ve lived here seven years now and still have that thought almost once a day. The only problem with California is that my twin sister and best friend lives 5,351 miles and an eight hour time difference away. This is a real bummer, especially when at 5pm Pacific Time I discover a hilarious TikTok that I have to share with Leslie and she won’t be awake for another few hours. I cannot stop laughing at this one in particular.
My obsessive-organizing method of coping (with the pandemic? with general anxiety? who knows at this point) translated today into sorting through our kitchen cabinets and re-shelving everything. The big win was moving our spices from a cluttered mess in a bottom cabinet to this beautiful display in a drawer:
The spice reorganization initiative ended up being a double win in that it inspired me to cook a curry for dinner. It came out pretty well, if I do say so myself:
I also, while making the curry, came to the realization that peeling potatoes is extremely meditative. Because I am awful at sitting still, most of my “meditation” – or, more accurately, mindfulness practice – happens when I’m doing something else: cleaning, walking, biking, peeling potatoes. (That being said: I don’t want to give anyone the impression that I peel potatoes often; I’m generally extremely lazy and buy frozen, pre-chopped vegetables.)
I finished reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which I absolutely loved. It wasn’t so much an “I-couldn’t-put-it-down” type of book as it was a book that made me feel better about life. I – which should come as no surprise to anyone reading this blog – have always been plagued by questions about “the meaning of life,” “what the point is of it all,” etc. The book simultaneously explores these questions and recognizes them as absurd; it validates my tendency to ask them while at the same time reassuring me they don’t need to be answered in order to live a full life. A few of my favorite quotes:
“When tea becomes ritual, it takes its place at the heart of our ability to see greatness in small things. Where is beauty to be found? In great things that, like everything else, are doomed to die, or in small things that aspire to nothing, yet know how to set a jewel of infinity in a single moment?”
“I have finally concluded, maybe that’s what life is about: there’s a lot of despair, but also the odd moment of beauty, where time is no longer the same. It’s as if those strains of music created a sort of interlude in time, something suspended, an elsewhere that had come to us, an always within never. Yes, that’s it, an always within never.”
“There’s so much humanity in a love of trees, so much nostalgia for our first sense of wonder, so much power in just feeling our own insignificance when we are surrounded by nature…yes, that’s it: just thinking about trees and their indifferent majesty and our love for them teaches us how ridiculous we are – vile parasites squirming on the surface of the earth – and at the same time how deserving of life we can be, when we can honor this beauty that owes us nothing.”
“I have read so many books. And yet, like most Autodidacts, I am never quite sure of what I have gained from them. There are days when I feel I have been able to grasp all there is to know in one single gaze, as if invisible branches suddenly spring out of no where, weaving together all the disparate strands of my reading. And then suddenly the meaning escapes, the essence evaporates and no matter how often I reread the same lines they seem to flee ever further with each subsequent reading and I see myself as some mad old fool who thinks her stomach is full because she’s been reading the menu.”
One of my favorite things in the whole, whole world is when I am listening to a live performance of a song and the artist forgets his own lyrics or starts singing the wrong verse, and the audience helps them out. Earlier today I was listening to a live version of Bruce’s “Spirit in the Night” in which he forgets the lyrics to a verse (~3:45). It’s something about the way he laughs at himself and keeps going, the whole crowd cheering him on, that makes me break out into a huge grin every time. I guess it’s a reminder that even Bruce is human.
I am now retroactively titling this blog post “An Odd Moment of Beauty” in homage to the excerpt from The Elegance of the Hedgehog and its manifestation in the simple experience of listening to a Springsteen song.
Nowhere to Be (a “poem” I wrote typed on my phone while on a walk)
What a privilege it is to have nowhere to be this morning, outdoors, with the cold wind on my face. I pass the construction workers on the main street nearby as the sun rises and I yell “good morning” and they yell “good morning” back “Have a wonderful day!” we say. They are working and soon I will be, too, but for now I have nowhere to be but here, outdoors, with the sun shining on my face.
I love walks. I’m thinking of all the wonderful walks I’ve been on over the past few months. Coronavirus sucks a lot a lot a lot but I am thankful for the time it has given me to walk. Yesterday I watched a Sierra Club livestream about post-election work for environmental justice and Leslie Fields (fucking badass, by the way) said it beautifully: “One of the few silver linings about this syndemic…is that people have really gotten outdoors. People have really explored their local parks, they’ve explored their national parks, they’ve just explored their neighborhood better and gotten to know their neighborhoods. How do we bottle these feelings of connectivity and make sure it lasts when we get through this terrible time?”
Actually, the parenthetical appreciation for Leslie is not enough: WHAT A F*CKIN BADASS!!!!!! If you’re interested in the wisdom she has to share about environmental justice and the work we can do together, you can watch the recording here (22:15 onward is where she makes some of my favorite comments).
And as usual, a blog post that started about something (walking) ended up with me ranting about something else (badass women doing incredible work for environmental justice). That’s the point of writing – or any kind of critical thinking, really – though, right? To make connections between things? To find relations and intersections between everything we read and experience and consume?
Some of my favorite walking memories & photos from the past month:
With Dana along the coast in Half Moon Bay as the sun set. Golden hour with a golden gal, if you will:
With Thomas along the Tuolumne River on my birthday weekend. We sat along the edge of the river on the most wonderful, peaceful morning:
By myself through our new neighborhood. Moving from San Francisco to Berkeley has given me an entirely new 5-block radius to explore:
I brought home one of the pineapple guavas pictured above because I hadn’t seen any since Thomas and I did a hike along the Nā Pali Coast on our honeymoon. We hiked the full Kalalau Trail and had enough food for the round trip journey, but we (naïvely) underestimated the Hawaiian summer heat and humidity and ran out of water halfway through. On the trail home we picked pineapple guavas from surrounding trees and sucked their juices for hydration. I guess it worked, considering we made it back alive. And here’s a fun fact: the pineapple guavas are actually an invasive species and pose an ecological threat to the endemic flora and fauna in Hawaii.
A little thank you, then, to the random house in Berkeley who reminded me of our honeymoon adventure. (Thomas wouldn’t eat the guava, though, which was disappointing.)