Wednesday, October 30, 2013

How long will the rocks of Berkeley last?

Berkeley Camellia in October
My sisters came to visit, and for the first time in about 50 years we returned together to places in Berkeley where we used to play. None of us has ever lived there, but as children we visited our maternal grandparents every summer.

Both of our parents had grown up in Berkeley, and last week we walked and drove the mostly hilly streets to find several of the houses in which our grandparents and our father and his sisters had lived. Of course we also stopped and stared at our other grandma's house, savoring the memories that had been born in us there.

Not far away is Indian Rock Park, of which you can see pictures in my post about the neighborhood where Grandma and Grandpa lived for half a century. Indian Rock is huge -- but not as big as we remembered it. And the park includes massive slabs and lava stones directly across the street, which I don't know if I've ever played on. We didn't go there this time, either, but climbed to the top of Indian Rock itself and sat a while, looking out over the tops of a thousand houses to San Francisco Bay.

Down Indian Rock Path

Not for very long, though, because we wanted to skip on down the steps of Indian Rock Path to Solano Avenue shops. Well, maybe not skip. But skipping is probably what we used to do!

Jade plant in bloom on the path

In our memories the excursion to the ice cream parlor took much longer than what we found this time, even though we have passed the age when one can be unconscious of one's legs and feet whether walking uphill or down. That shop has a new name, but the wares are similar, and you can look at old scoops while you wait.

After lunch, because we wanted to return to the higher neighborhood, it was necessary to hike up, and this time we took the steep route of Marin Avenue. Again my experience seemed altogether different from that of years ago, when most evenings after dinner Grandma, at an age greater than any of us have reached yet, would lead us on brisk neighborhood walks. It was slower than then. And the crucial person was missing.
Marin Avenue is a hike.

Mortar Rock steps
We circled back to Mortar Rock, just around the corner from Indian Rock, and wandered there longer, just as we used to play there longer in our childhoods. More of those stone surfaces are easily climbable, and Grandma always felt better about us going by ourselves, because we didn't have to cross a busy street to get there.

The houses next to these parks and paths don't have much privacy. In this picture you can see how close they are, and how there are not fences blocking them from park goers and their glances.

When I first put my feet on the dry paths of Mortar Rock Park, suddenly a familar herby smell registered in my senses, making me look down to see long pointy dead leaves underfoot, just as my mind was linking to "bay tree." I lifted my head and saw that the dappled shade was cast by at least two tall old California Bay Laurels (along with oaks and buckeye) whose several large trunks were curving high over the rocks.

And yes, there were the grinding mortars in the rock, empty of anything but leaves at this time of year. Do children still pretend to be Indians grinding acorns in them?

One of the houses we were searching for was only a few blocks from here, so we walked up the street, admiring the many flowers still in bloom in this mild climate. Banks of fuchsias always remind us of the long row of them that grew along the brick path in Grandma and Grandpa's back yard.
More rocks! This house, though modern in design, has a very traditional and unchanging boulder to distinguish its front yard.

This one's even more of a monolith. Having such a thing in your front yard would certainly lend drama to the landscaping. I wonder if the owners of the house are helped to keep a humble perspective on their lives, with the antiquity of their mineral friend constantly looming. So solid, and not going anywhere. 

Lots of giant volcanic rocks dot the neighborhood. I saw these I didn't remember on Santa Barbara Avenue, taking up a lot or two.
Rocks on Santa Barbara Ave., Berkeley CA
The weather was summery, and we seemed to walk always up, and up. It felt good to stop frequently to snap pictures of fall color or late summer flowers. Eventually we arrived at the first house of our father's on our list, on Santa Barbara Avenue.

Another childhood home of my father, on Euclid, has had a facelift recently -- we compared it with photos from 15 years ago when a patriarchal tree must have blocked the view and the warming sunlight, and the color was white. Paint and trees and even whole houses are easier to change or remove than those giant rocks.
Euclid house
And though it seems ages ago that we walked these streets together, and slept in the Berkeley bedroom wondering at the city lights spread out before us, most of these houses are not more than a hundred years old. Young things, really.

We went back to our car and drove to a few more houses, none so photogenic now. We bought gas at the station where our grandma used to buy hers, and we shopped at the market where she used to shop. We ate dinner at Spenger's Fish Grotto where we'd eaten many times with our grandparents. And then my dear sisters and I finished our day with shopping at our grandma's favorite Park & Shop market, now Andronico's.

But a little earlier in the evening we'd added to our tour a visit to the cemetery where both Grandma and Grandpa are buried. None of us had visited since the last graveside service almost 20 years ago, and it took some exploring to find the marker. I felt closer to Grandma and Grandpa there at their grave than I had on the street in front of their house.

Cemeteries are where one finds another sort of stone, markers of lives that grew up like grass, and withered and died, most with life spans briefer even than flimsy wooden houses and certainly shorter than those huge stones people built neighborhoods around fairly recently. At the end of time, we read in 2 Peter, "... the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up."

Indian Rock and all the granite in the Sierras, though it's been around longer than we can imagine, will be gone, along with houses and gravestones. Then what is most enduring, the souls into whom God breathed life, will be raised. We are what on this earth is eternal.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

I praise Modoc, and question Jefferson.

Surprise Valley, California
It looks to me like some cowboy lost a piece of his shirt on this barbed wire. I took the picture when we were poking around in Modoc County, "where the West still lives."

Ten years ago our family met a cowboy who looked like The Marlboro Man himself, as we stood on a hillside watching him lead a string of horses through the sagebrush and across a creek, with pastel layers of aspens and mountains behind him.

This remote and rugged land is one of the areas that has perpetually been found within the proposed boundaries of The State of Jefferson, a longed-for 51st state that would include several counties in northern California and southern Oregon.
The modern Jefferson includes more counties.

Just last month the supervisors of Modoc and also those of its neighboring Siskiyou County voted to secede from the State of California, as the historic movement revs up again.

The Sacramento Bee reported:
[Mark Baird, one of the prominent activists] insists the State of Jefferson is the answer to revive logging, protect ranching and lure new businesses. He bristles at suggestions that these counties need to subsist on social services.
“It’s absolutely infuriating to people up here, this idea that we’re little children and we must have our hands held out,” Baird said. “Well, we would make our own way. We are intelligent, creative, hardworking people, and without the morass of failed social engineering experiments here, we would do fine.”
Barn in Yreka, in Siskiyou County, California
The Modoc county seat is Alturas, a word that means "valley on top of a mountain." Much of this country is considered High Sage Plateau, with evidently enough water for many cattle ranches and hay fields.

If I hadn't had a traveling companion to restrict my stoppings, I'd never have made it home for trying and trying again to get the perfect picture of black steers grazing on varying shades of green and yellow-green, with dark mountains behind them.

Nothing close to the perfect shot was to be mine. Either I was not high enough above the grassland to get the sweeping view, or the steers clumped up close to see if I were bringing their dinner, or, in the case of those next to our our motel in Alturas, they ran away when I was still 50 yards from the fence.
Many of these fine scenes were in Surprise Valley, which is even farther east than Alturas, east of Hwy 395, on the other side of the Warner Mountains. This valley's elevation, if you drive up and down Surprise Valley Road as we did, is above 4,000 feet.

The photo below looks still farther east, toward a band of tan that might be an alkali lake, and up into the Hays Canyon range of mountains that lie mostly in Nevada.

Looking east from Surprise Valley to the Hays Range in Nevada      

Besides your typical mountains, you can find the Glass Mountain Lava Flow on the western edge of Modoc County, though it lies mostly in Siskiyou County. On our previous visit we climbed on parts of that "mountain" and brought home huge pieces of obsidian and pumice. Everyone's shoes no doubt suffered a month's worth of wear on that terrain.

Glad kids scramble on Glass Mountain.

Murals on several buildings in downtown Alturas express aspects of the region that the residents appreciate. Modoc County has mule deer, herds of wild horses, Rocky Mountain elk, pronghorn, and birds galore. We didn't make it up to Goose Lake, but the bird mural makes me think of Goose Lake Valley, rich in all kinds of bird life. The painted fowl look as though they could fly right off into the real sky.

At the bottom of the mural you can see landscape such as we also noticed on our way up to Alturas, when the rich farmland gives way in places to slopes on which the soil is evidently too rocky and poor to support anything more than the occasional juniper tree. But the existence of fencing makes me think that in the springtime they might run livestock on the greened-up grass.

juniper trees


    more murals

We ate breakfast at the Hotel Niles in Alturas.

I don't know about the Jefferson thing. It's a nice idea....can you believe we have a lot of family who reside in Jefferson counties both in Oregon and California? Probably none of our kin would be found at either of the cultural extremes within the succession movement, but at least one sports a license plate frame on her car declaring "State of Jefferson."
Nowadays there is a public radio station that claims the name, and people can attend the Jefferson State Hemp Expo, "...founded on the belief that through awareness, education, and the cooperation and coordination of citizens and public officials, many complex social issues can be solved." Note the emphasis on cooperation, not separation. Separation was formerly the goal of all Jefferson adherents, and a big part of the content of Jefferson as in its nickname "State of Mind." Currently it does seem that many of the people who use the name don't really expect anything to come of it. To at least a few it is probably just a brand they use to sell something.

another Surprise Valley view
At the other end of the spectrum, perhaps, are the hunters and most of the ranchers, and the politically conservative. This segment of the populace might include the woman who was noted in the police report column in the Alturas newspaper, which I perused while sitting on the bed in our motel room. She called the sheriff and said that if someone didn't speedily do something about the dog that was threatening her alpacas, she herself would "dispatch" the dog. I doubt that was the word she used.

Maybe the serious secessionists would include the people who shoot at Belding Squirrels during the Annual Squirrel Roundup. These are a type of ground squirrel that looks like a prairie dog, and their large populations damage the cultivated fields (I'm guessing it's by their holes and tunnels?), so once a year the residents hold a big fundraiser/pest-control event.

The giggling squirrel-shooter in this video I ran across is embarrassing, but you could turn off the sound, try to ignore the squirrels flying into the air, and see some nice footage of Surprise Valley in the background. The Roundup is held in March, so you will see less yellow and brown than in my pictures. If you make it to the very end you'll be rewarded with a view of Mount Shasta, something that would not be possible from down in Surprise Valley. The moviemaker must have driven back over the pass to the west at the close of day.

The likelihood of all these diverse Jefferson people agreeing to secede seems slight to begin with, and that's not the only challenging aspect of the project. Perhaps the nickname The Mythical State of Jefferson is the most appropriate. Whatever you call it, I do love this country.

On Cedar Pass, between Alturas and Surprise Valley

Monday, October 21, 2013

October is falling away.

Pumpkin this, pumpkin that, my head has been full of ideas for cooking and eating pumpkin. So I went to an upscale market where I could find a Sugar Pie Pumpkin. Now it's sitting here waiting for me to commit to one use or another.

Mr. Glad and I have been walking a lot. And I've been cooking up a storm, things other than pumpkin, for the many guests we've been lucky to have passing through. I made 10 quarts of minestrone last week, and that barely got me started on the theme of soups and stews to keep us warm this winter. So all the housework and gardening is piling up, and I am only stopping by here to show you my pumpkin, and the leaves I picked up in the neighborhood.

Last year about this time I spent hours looking for good autumn poems, and found them all incapable of expressing what I was feeling. I don't think I'll even try this year -- I'll just go out and dig in the dirt, sweep the leaves, sniff the air. I'll be my own poem.

Still, if any of you have favorite verses for the season, send me the titles. And catch all you can of the season however it falls to you.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

We return to the secret Warners.

Jess Valley in the Fall
I was sitting on a log with my husband, in the middle of a tall forest. We were on our way back to the trailhead and not in a hurry to leave. "It's so quiet," I said. "You can't hear a clock ticking, or a car on a road..."

"But you can hear pine needles falling on the ground," said my companion.

That deep quiet is one of the things we love about the Warner Mountains and this whole corner of the state, Modoc County and much of Siskiyou County. You might go for several hours, as we did, and not see another soul.

"The Warner Range is not part of the Sierra Nevada range or the Cascade Range, but part of the Great Basin Ranges," you will learn if you read the very short Wikipedia article on them. The Warners extend into Oregon, as you can see from the map at right.

This area is like a secret treasure. The forest and blue sky (we were hiking at over 6,000 feet elevation) seemed to belong to us alone. And it is true that few Californians have been here or even know anything about this hinterland.

Warner view 2003

Ten years ago we came here for the first time, with some of our children, and camped in the summertime. We hiked on the same Slide Creek Trail, out of Soup Springs Campground. I'm posting some pictures of that visit, when the main difference in the scenery was the source of yellow highlights in the views. Earlier in the year it was fields of mule's ears (Wyethia) that made the bright splashes, but now it is aspen trees turning color.

Mule's Ears Summer 2003

The mule's ears have thick leaves when they are green, and after they are dried up, before they lie down on the ground, they clatter sharply in the wind. The aspens make a more whispery noise.
Jess Valley 2003

In 2003 we had stopped in Jess Valley at the corner of Road 64, because the setting of the farms between mountain ranges was perfect for taking pictures. I recognized the spot when we went by and we stopped again for more.

The air is so clean up there, it makes you want to breathe deeply and refresh every cell in your body before you have to go down to the valley again.

by Mill Creek

What the mule's ears look like now
Our hike wasn't the only thing worth remembering of last week's trip, so I will try to write again soon on the culture and events of this out-of-the-way part of our fair state.

Two Glad girls by Mill Creek - 2003

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

They are playing all around.

Happily, there is more talk about playing, and how children's play fits in with the lives of adults -- and that doesn't mean driving them to nursery school or to the soccer field. We are referring to normal play that is not structured or organized or planned by adults.

Jody at Gumbo Lily wrote a wonderfully descriptive post about how her own grandchildren play near her while she works. Of course it makes most of us remember our own childhoods and the kind of fun we had all by ourselves. If you haven't already, I hope you will comment on her post or here with some of your memories along that line.

Of outdoor play, I remember in my own early years making dolls' houses in the dirt under orange trees, and the classic mud pies. If the children are "entertaining themselves," and the adults are taking the opportunity to get some work done, the vast majority of what children do with their time is undocumented, and likely unremembered also. Two more ways we don't control it.

snail toys
And lest someone think that a big ranch is necessary for the kind of play we're talking about, I'm posting the only picture I can find, other than what I put up on my last post, of me or my children playing alone. If they are occupied, and the adult is occupied, why, there is no one to hover with a camera.

This picture was taken just after we moved from the country to the city. When we had a huge garden next to a cow pasture and a blackberry bog, across the road from an abandoned orchard, we had no snails. So when we moved here where we now live, they were a new and fascinating object of play, which I definitely did not introduce as a science topic. I don't know what all went on with those snails, but I had to laugh at the way every little thing can be a toy on what Jody call's God's playground.

Now read her blog, because her examples are nicer. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

What you put in the dough you'll find in the cake.

So much talk about education...It's a theme of many Internet articles that have come my way in the last couple of weeks, and I'm trying to pull them together here. If education is about the forming of a person, about what children learn and about how they are prepared for whatever we consider to be a successful life, then it's not surprising that I see nearly every little thing in the world as related.

"What you put in the dough you'll find in the cake," is a proverb that speaks to me metaphorically of the growth of a person. A real cake is also affected by things you don't consciously add to the mix, such as the temperature at which it's baked, and the moisture of the air, and whether you can prevent someone from opening the oven door at the wrong moment. Human beings are much more complicated than cakes, and only God knows everything about us and what influences and ingredients through the years are making us who we are. Even so, He has given us a lot of wisdom and common sense about how to nurture our young and facilitate healthy growth.

One part of our education is what we learn in school. Though only a smaller fraction of that part is formed by the curriculum and the teachers' efforts, it's usually what people mean when they talk about the subject. Lately it's the Common Core goals of our nation's Department of Education that are in the news. Janet wrote on the subject and how the goals might be contrasted with some words from Wendell Berry on what education is.

One of her concerns stems from the fact that private businessmen are supplying a lot of funding and ideas to the program. She writes, "The fact that millionaires, rather than respected educators, are developing the educational plan for the next generation feeds my cynical belief that it’s all about creating good consumers, dependent on a host of intermediaries between themselves and everything they want."

(That cake-baking metaphor could apply to a blog post, and in case you haven't noticed, this one is turning into a sort of lumpy Dump Cake, and you're not halfway through. If you've already had enough of my unique concoction, I invite you to eat the rest later, or skip it entirely. I don't want you to get sick.)

Another article I ran across treats the Orwellian tendencies of the Dept. of Education, which wants to create a huge database using statistics about our children and their test scores and jobs from birth on into the future. This discussion may seem tangential -- but don't you think that children learn something a bit skewed about what it means to be a person, when their privacy is diminished and their labors and accomplishments are reduced to measurable facts that will fit on charts and graphs in the service of The State?

And that's just one questionable ingredient in the cake I am envisioning. So many things our children learn may as well be molecules in the air they breathe, they are so unconsciously incorporated into their philosophical selves. Since most children spend much of their time at school, many of these unhealthy ingredients first enter the dough during those hours, as ideas, assumptions, or practices. Everything that goes in contributes to what they come to think of -- or to live -- as normal.

The perspective of this man (who has very good sense considering his youth) on relationships, specifically how "the fullness of another person’s identity is a secret between them and God," fits in here. That's a truth that The State does not take into consideration or encourage anyone to explore personally. But what sort of education would leave out God? It's from Him we get wisdom and understanding.

If your children must go to a public school, and you believe that God is real, then you better explain to them that every school day they are going into enemy territory; isn't it the work of our enemy the devil to make us think that we can leave God out of everything for several hours of the day and call it "neutral"? Warn them that much of the "food" that will be offered them during the school day is poison. Or if at all possible, follow the example of the writer of my next linked article.

Amanda writes at A Chime of Hearts about education, but she doesn't use the word much. In this particular post she tells about the learning she and her brother did in their loving home, learning which to some people might sound a bit haphazard or incomplete, but which consisted of a spiritually and academically rich lifestyle. This education formed an understanding of the world that Amanda now passes on to her own family and even to the blogging world. She has a wisdom beyond her years and I'm personally thankful to her parents for providing the atmosphere and nurturing that contributed to it.

What got me started on this whole topic was Anna (also a former homeschooler and an excellent example of what can happen when God gives a child to a pair of loving and thinking parents), who recommended this article by Meghan Cox Gurdon in Hillsdale College's Imprimus. It is a revisiting of the topic over which Gurdon drew sharp criticism and Twitter-flooding in 2011, with her article "Darkness Too Visible."

Gurdon introduces this recent piece: " article discussed the increasingly dark current that runs through books classified as YA, for Young Adult -- books aimed at readers between 12 and 18 years of age -- a subset that has, in the four decades since Young Adult became a distinct category in fiction, become increasingly lurid, grotesque, profane, sexual, and ugly."

For specifics, and for the many specific reasons this kind of reading material is hurting our children, please read the article. The sort of books she writes about I'd like to gather by the dozens off the library shelves and throw into a big bonfire! They seem always to be paperbacks, and would make a good hot blaze.

May the Lord have mercy on our young people -- they are under attack by forces that would like to cripple their souls, turning what might be sweet cakes into bitter. I have to keep reminding myself (mixing metaphors) that God can restore what locusts eat (Joel Ch. 2), but it's painful to watch the destruction.

Children learn other untruths about the world in many of the movies made just for them, as another of Anna's links points out, this one to an article in The Atlantic. Such as: 1) Just believe in yourself and you can accomplish anything -- no limits.  2) Your parents are too old and dull to realize this so it's o.k. to defy their authority, and 3) You have a right to skip over the lower rungs of the ladder of success (and the people who are toiling there) and go quickly to the top, because you were made for greatness.

I'm not disappointed that I've missed all of the film examples of what is called the "magic-feather" syndrome: "Examples from the past decade abound: a fat panda hopes to become a Kung Fu master (Kung Fu Panda); a sewer-dwelling rat dreams of becoming a French chef (Ratatouille); an 8-bit villain yearns to be a video-game hero (Wreck-It Ralph); an unscary monster pursues a career as a top-notch scarer (Monsters University). In the past month alone, two films with identical, paint-by-numbers plots--Turbo and Planes--have been released by separate studios, underlining the extent to which the magic-feather syndrome has infiltrated children's entertainment."

I'm more familiar with Charlie Brown, whom the same Atlantic writer Luke Epplin points out is a fictional character more likely to keep us in touch with the real world. I've so often heard, "It's only a story!" or "It's just a movie, for heaven's sake." Yes, for Heaven's sake, realize that the vicarious experience we get from books and movies is a very potent type of experience.

In just the last month I've heard many stories from teachers and administrators around the nation, of the mixed-up lessons being taught to students by the school policies that stem from something other than a good educational philosophy. I'm not smart enough to articulate all the lessons that I intuit are being learned. They are not always acknowledged as part of the curriculum to be taught, and sometimes the "lesson plans" can only be extrapolated from a kind of Doublespeak. Certain behaviors and attitudes may be subtly or clearly encouraged or discouraged, and too often the treatment of the student is insulting or disrespectful of him as a person made in the image of God.

For example, today I heard from the administrator of a nearby high school that the school is legally responsible for any criminal behavior of the student not only while the student is on campus, but also after school until he arrives home. Theoretically, because "it's all about liability," if at a non-school dance on Saturday night a student gets in a fight, and the altercation can be construed to have begun at school the day before, the school can be held responsible for any damages. A truth that is fundamental to any education, that each person is responsible for his own behavior, is being turned on its head.

I have more than one blogger to thank for a link to this article pointing out that in schools even reading is actually discouraged, no matter what the posters and slogans might lead you to believe. Why should that surprise me? Reading is a wonderfully private encounter with whole worlds that you can explore -- and yes, where you can have life-changing experiences.

The word privacy comes up as part of the debate about what our children experience in the restrooms at school, and we have a new law in California about that. The bigger question I ask is, what are they learning about life and God in this strange world where it is widely believed that your sex is only a matter of your feelings about yourself at a given moment in time, a kind of consumer's choice that each of us autonomously determines? In the past everyone knew who was a boy and who was a girl, and that there was a restroom designated for each group. If you asked a child of my era, "Why are you a girl?" (or "Are you a girl?") she would find it nonsensical, but she might say, "I just am!" or if pressed, perhaps, "God made me a girl."

Now, in California, a boy student need only say that he feels rather more like a girl, or a girl might express that she really, deep down, is a boy, and he/she can use whichever restroom she/he wants. That's what they are teaching them here. (Many people don't like it and are working on a fix.)

My last link should not be heavy or discouraging, because it's about play. Unfortunately it's about the deficit of play in the lives of many 21st-century children. Their hours and days are overly managed to the point where even activities that used to be play have become work. When some of us were discussing this problem I found out that at the school that one of my grandsons attends, there is a rule against running on the playground. Every day at recess the children are lined up so that this rule can be explained to them once more.

Having raised a couple of boys myself, and having eight grandsons -- and being married to a boy! -- I didn't know whether to laugh or cry at this idiocy. It's insane, and yet, it's an inhumanity of sorts that these children have had to receive in a daily lecture and get used to, to learn and accept as normal.

Again, it must be all about liability. And they may run on the soccer field, so perhaps it isn't as bad as it sounds? Except that it is! It's hard enough that little boys should have to sit at desks for an hour or two at a time, but then, when they go out for recess, what do they get? It sounds like the prison yard. I'm sorry, but this last story has put me over the edge and is the cause of my cake (blog) also overrunning the pan very messily.

At least I do know that all my grandchildren have excellent parents who have always provided for plenty of play time, so in their case I don't worry. I just fume, and grieve for the children of our society who have so much to put up with. I pasted in pictures of my children and grandchildren playing, to cheer us all up.