Billie Jean Walk–but which one?

 

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The whole time I was trudging up the thigh-buster known as Marin Avenue, I was singing the Michael Jackson song “Billie Jean” in my head. It’s quite catchy. I dare you to start humming it right now and see if it doesn’t become an ear worm.

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Twas a sunny April afternoon, and even though Dave had a cold, he joined me on this strenuous trek. He asked how long I thought it would take, and I answered maybe an hour. But I forgot to calculate what was sure to be a slow ascent. Plus we took many brief side trips, such as wandering over to this little miracle of nature. Why is it that I can plant something in perfect soil, water it, and give it plant food, and it dies, but this tree found its way through solid rock?

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I liked the  grapevine cut-outs on a gate.
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On the north side of Marin was a skeleton wearing a flak helmet waving a U.S. flag.

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Once we turned right on Euclid, the bottom entrance to Billie Jean Walk was easy to find. It had railings on the first part of the walk, which disappeared once the trail narrowed. A tall wall bordered one side, and overhanging trees provided a thick canopy of shade. Before we got to the top, the railings reappeared. The end of the path was punctuated by a house painted in the most brilliant shade of blue and a bed of cheerful yellow daisy-like blooms.

2016-04-23 16.01.56So 2016-04-23 16.04.56why is the path called Billie Jean Walk? Most of the paths are named for one of the streets on either end, but Billie Jean Walk leads from Euclid Avenue up to Hilldale. Clearly someone thinks there is a connection to the tennis legend, Billie Jean King, because we found her photo attached to a house on Hilldale, inexplicably next to one of (I think) Olivia Newton John.

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This mailbox is so deeply embedded that I’m surprised that USPS can find it.

But the path was built long before Billie Jean King picked up a tennis racquet. Joe and Pearl Harris, who once lived in one of the houses that abuts the path, adopted baby Billie Jean in 1931. The reason the path was named for her is less clear. One source declared that Joe was so happy to be a parent that he lobbied for the path to be named for his daughter. Another source credits the San Francisco Examiner, who dedicated the walk to her. I don’t know why a newspaper in another city would do that though.

 

Incidentally, Billie Jean Harris went to Berkeley High with one of the founders of the Path Wanderers, Jacques Ensign. So it all connects in the end.

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Dave was drawn to this happy little piglet rolling in a patch of dirt next to the sidewalk.
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I generally don’t take photographs of anything in people’s back yards, but Dave saw this from along Easter Way and couldn’t resist.

 

On the way home, we lollygagged for a bit in Cragmont Rock Park where some rock climbers had set up for a picnic and we got to romp with two different dogs. From there we took Easter Way down to Spruce rather than subjecting our old knees to the precipitous descent of Marin.

20160423_165416On our walk, we saw one official Little Free Library and one unaffiliated little free library. I apologize in advance to the person who reads my blog and is trying to find all the LFLs in the hood because I do not recall where either one is.20160423_165140

I loved the fence that had dozens of little animal figures glued to the top. It created a magical land where penguins are as big as dinosaurs, and elephants cavort with insects.

20160423_165953Undoubtedly the strangest sight was some newly bought baby items resting on the edge of the sidewalk. You’ll have to create your own story to explain that. I couldn’t come up with one.

 

The hour-long walk turned out to be two an20160423_164643d a half hours, and we were both quite tired. But it was worth it because we got lots of fun photos and made three animal friends. (But the cat was the only one willing to pose for a picture.)

Mosaic is highlight of Pinnacle Path

 

 

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IMG_1505As I walked along Cragmont Avenue on my way to Pinnacle Path (#37), I saw a painted garage door next to a small area brimming with wildflowers. Protruding from the ground was a post labeled “octopus garden.” I think the metal sculpture is supposed to represent the octopus, but I’m not sure. I liked the blue tree.

The bottom of Pinnacle Path (#37) is on Cragmont Avenue and is bordered by a wall with a mosaic. As I was admiring it, one of the house’s residents was coming home. I complimented the artwork, and he responded by telling me a bit about it, as I’d hoped he would.

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A woman named Irene used to live in the house that abuts the path’s entrance. The mosaic apparently began for her 60th birthday, as the close-up shot indicates. When she died, friends and neighbors came together to create a memorial for her by adding to the mosaic on the wall. IMG_1508

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It’s a lovely tribute to a beloved member of the community that gives an otherwise boring wall some color. And it’s fun to look at.IMG_1513

 

Pinnacle Path itself is fairly flat with a few steps and is bordered on one side by a floppy chain-link fence that could fall over at any moment and on the other side by lots of ivy and shady trees. At the top of the path, which is on Poppy Lane, there sits a cairn that mixes a few bricks in with the rocks. And a little oxalis (?) adds some color.

 

IMG_1515A house on Poppy Lane very near the top of Pinnacle Path has a beautiful trellis, dripping with wisteria, which always reminds me of that mournful song by Dan Fogelberg that I listened to so often in high school. You don’t know it? Give it a listen: Wisteria But be forewarned–it’s got a ridiculously dramatic, highly orchestral ending. On the same album and even better is To the Morning. But that’s just my opinion…

IMG_1517Something I noticed in the area where I was walking is that occasionally there’s a tall stone sign post that lets you know you’re in North Cragmont. I didn’t even know there was a neighborhood called North Cragmont until I saw these posts, so I guess they’re doing their job.

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There are several of these in a wall on Keeler Avenue. It looks like it has the capacity to light up, but there’s no bulb in it now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poppy, Keeler, and Sterling Paths provide lots of photos

IMG_1446It was a gorgeous, sunny afternoon following a day of rain, so everything looked especially green up in the Berkeley Hills. My loop was fairly leisurely today. I parked on Miller Avenue, which I don’t think I’ve ever been on before. And I went completely out of order because the paths were right there for the taking. I apologize.

IMG_1449There to greet me almost as soon as I stepped onto the sidewalk was this carpet of flower petals. But I couldn’t stay on the sidewalk for long because of a particularly creative parking job. (Maybe the driver was in a hurry?)

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Poppy Path

 

I found the top of Poppy Path (#38) pretty easily and headed down the IMG_1454winding, uneven steps. Just to the left as I began my descent was a very long iron chain that was attached to a pole of some kind at the top and dropped all the way to the ground with a few inches to spare. I could not tell you what its purpose was. To the right I could hear a muffled drumming.

I forged ahead.

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along Poppy Path

At times the path almost disappeared under the encroaching greenery, but it was a gentle descent, so I wasn’t worried too much about my footing. To the right I spied a sight that could have been in an Irish countryside calendar, so rustic, unassuming, and natural it was. On one side of Poppy Path was an undeveloped (but fenced) lot with trees and wild grass that provided the illusion of open space. On the other side was aIMG_1459 house painted in bold, bright colors, and I just had the feeling that the people who lived inside it were fun, creative types.

Poppy Path dropped me at the end of Keeler Avenue, where I could go right onto a paved street or left onto Keeler Path (#41). I chose left.

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You may ask, what happened to #39 and #40? Well, #40 was a bit out of the way, so I’m saving it for another day. And #39? There is no path numbered 39. Just like there was no path numbered 34. So here I will take a narrative detour.

 

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Keeler Path

A few weekends ago I happened to meet an active member of the Berkeley Path Wanderers, so I asked her what the story was behind the missing path #34. It was such a mystery to me, so I was glad to have the opportunity to find out. I was sure she’d pipe right up with something like, “Oh, well, you know, there was this eccentric professor who accidentally set fire to his tie, which led to…” I was disappointed. Not only did she not have a colorful tale as an explanation, she hadn’t even realized there was no path numbered 34. She did offer possibility that I found rather unsatisfying–someone at the City of Berkeley must have made a mistake back when the paths were being numbered. Really? Or, she conjectured, there may have been a path #34 at some point, but for whatever reason, it wasn’t there any more. Maybe I should make up my own reason for the missing paths…

Keeler Path was a lovely stroll quite unlike any other paths I’ve taken so far. It IMG_1485began where Keeler Avenue ended, just a meandering dirt path that skirted Remillard Park before becoming a lush, narrow hiking trail. On one side was an uprooted tree, and shortly after that, a few low-hanging branches practically blocked my passage. In the middle of the trail, you’d think you were on an honest-to-goodness hike in a national park. Near the end, when the path was once again between two houses, there was a stunning maple with leaves the brightest shade of red I’d ever seen in nature.

Keeler PIMG_1495ath ends at Sterling Avenue, where I walked past only a few houses before finding the top of Sterling Path (#56), which I realize is a full 15 paths early but which was, after all, right there. The path itself had sturdy aluminum rails and was adorned with cheerful greenery courtesy of the bordering yards. Among the fragrant jasmine was IMG_1497a lone rose.

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Sterling Path

The rails ended partway down as the neighboring grasses crowded between the steps. And I crossed paths with another walker, which is notable only because it has been rare on these forays.

 

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Once I reached the end of Sterling Path, I walked along Cragmont Avenue, where I saw some beautiful houses nestled in redwoods that made me feel as if I were up in Tahoe at a ski lodge. The only thing missing was the snow. Which is okay by me. My favorite part of skiing–back when I did such things–was taking off my ski boots at the end of the day, sitting by the roaring fire, and drinking hot chocolate, possibly with a hint of Peppermint Schnapps in it. I finally figured out that I could save a lot of money and sore ankles by forgetting the whole skiing part and skipping right to the cocoa.

 

 

Quirky Berkeley walk, Part III

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Even if you don’t have any interest in starting a succulent garden yourself, you should visit Dry Garden Nursery at 6556 Shattuck to look at the amazing plants and the fun artwork that’s all around. Besides selling every kind of drought-tolerant plant around, they also have a huge selection of cool tiles that you could put in your garden or in your house. And if you’re not looking up, you might miss the huge metal sun that watches over the garden.

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I have no idea what this flower is, but I was mesmerized by its complicated bloom.
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Marcia in front of her house where she’s adorned trees with huge ceramic beads.
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From the ground of Marcia’s garden these mosaic eyes look up at passersby.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It would take several leisurely hours to see everything in Marcia Donahue’s garden behind her house at 3017 Wheeler.  Luckily, if you live in Berkeley, you can visit her garden on Sunday afternoons, when she opens it to the public. Marcia is a prolific ceramicist, and you can see some of her creations in front of her house too. She was there to greet us and answer our questions, which is how I was able to find out that the gorgeous white tree in her front yard is called a snow manzanita.

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Cathaus, an anarchist collective on Ashby that has a gate covered in dead cell phones.

When we were walking along Ashby toward College Avenue, a woman with a toddler and a bullhorn called to us from across the street. A dozen or so made the dangerous dash across Ashby–without bothering to backtrack to a crosswalk–to get a better view of a fence that looks like a cat. (A car was parked in front of it, so those of us on the south side of the street only saw the ear tips peek out.) A member of the anarchist collective that resides at Cathaus, she had heard we were coming and was bearing gifts in the form of limes from their tree, packets of lettuce seeds, copies of the newspaper they produce called the Slingshot, and envelopes stuffed with lovely little examples of letter-press. Even though our group had dwindled somewhat, there were still too many of us to cross Ashby, so she came to us. I want to go back some time to see the cat-shaped fence up close. I hadn’t brought a bag with me, so I resisted her offer of limes, but I got a copy of the Slingshot to send to my daughter.

At 2526 Webster, we found a yard full of ceramic critters. Tom is not acquainted with the occupants there, so he didn’t know any stories connected to them. Unfortunately, it is around this time that my phone died, which means I was no longer able to take pictures. It was a bad technology day for me for sure.

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huge feet in Marcia’s garden

The highlight of the day was Julie Partos’s house, where she’s set up a little outdoor art display that she changes periodically. Her son and granddaughter were there playing the parts of the Mad Hatter and Alice, having tea as part of the Wonderland themed-display. Julie is an artist who works in many media–a collagist who makes gorgeous hats and bags too. She’s also created the most spectacularly bejeweled fly-swatters. I’m so sorry I don’t have pictures of them!

You really should check out the Quirky Berkeley website (which I’ve now subscribed to) so you can see some great photos from that day.

By the time we reached our final stop to see a giant aqua poodle in the window of McGuire Real Estate on College Avenue, there were only about twenty of us. From there we all found our own way back to our starting point 1.3 miles west. We had wandered for almost three hours, but it only took me a half hour to get back to my car back by Flaco’s parking lot. Of course if I’d still had my Jawbone fitness tracker, I’d know exactly how many miles I’d walked. But I’m going to guess it was between 2.5 and 3 miles.

I’m already planning a return trip with my husband so he can see Marcia’s garden and Julie’s pop-up art tent. I’m so grateful to Tom Dalzell for sharing all his quirky finds. God, I love Berkeley!

Quirky Berkeley, Part II

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This was not part of the tour, but I saw this across the street and all I could think was, I wouldn’t want to be standing by this window when the next earthquake hits.

Okay, this is embarrassing…I could have sworn our guide said his name was John, but when I went to the Quirky Berkeley website, I saw that his name is Tom Dalzell. I apologize for calling you by the wrong name, Tom.

 

 

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Tom’s helper holds up a tiny speaker to help Tom broadcast to the 100 people in our group.

 

 

 

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When Doggie Diner was still in business

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anyway, after we left Malcolm X Elementary, we arrived at Eni Green’s house at 3026 Harper Street. Her front yard is decorated with all kinds of dachshunds, including another Mark Bulwinkle sculpture and some Doggie Diner art. (Doggie Diner was a hot dog/burger joint in Oakland that is no longer around, but in this Berkeley yard, it will be remembered forever.) I got lots of pics, but the ones on the Quirky Berkeley website are better. However, I got a photo of Tom pointing out the one non-dachshund piece of artwork–a muffler sculpture. (The website has a whole post on muffler art!)

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I had to make it a panorama shot to fit it all in. I wish the pickup wasn’t there, though.

One of our stops was a building that used to be a pet shop and aquarium, hence the sea motif. But now it’s a pot dispensary.

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a detail of Starry Plough’s mural
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a detail of the La Pena mural

Heading south on Shattuck Avenue, we stopped to appreciate the murals at both the Starry Plough and La Pena, which are both pretty amazing.

 

 

 

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Then I walked ahead of the group, knowing that we were coming up on Jumpin’ Java (6606 Shattuck), a small cafe, where we’d have to go in a few at a time. I got to see the place almost empty and get some photos before the hoards arrived. Mark Bulwinkle has several pieces there because he’s friends with the owner. It is such a fun place to hang out! And the lemonade is fresh squeezed and delicious.

Still ahead in Part III: Dry Garden Nursery, where I could hang out all day just looking at the plants and the art!

Is one ever too old to be sending fan mail?

Photo courtesy of Lauren Gunderson’s website.

Playscripts is this awesome publisher that puts a different play online each week to allow people the opportunity to read plays that they might not otherwise have access to. I’ve rarely taken advantage of this generous offer, but I found myself clicking on the link during a spare moment and saw that Lauren Gunderson’s I and You was the play of the week.

I’ve been lucky enough to see several of Gunderson’s plays–Ada and the Engine, Bauer, By and By, and a staged reading of The Revolutionists–and I believe she is a great talent. She also happens to live nearby and taught a play-writing class that I attended a few years ago at the Playwright Foundation.

So I dove into the play, knowing nothing about it. And I am so glad I did because it touched me like no play has in a long time. (And I go to the theater a lot.) I laughed and cried and laughed and cried some more. By the end, I was sobbing, but in a good way.

Staged in one room with only two characters, it first appears to be a simple story of two teens working on a class project together. Caroline has become a shut-in due to a medical condition, and Anthony must convince her that Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass is worthy of her attention so that she will help him get a good grade on this multi-media assignment.

But there are so many layers, authentic emotions and reactions, humor, and such heart that I fell in love with these characters and truly cared what happened to them. After I finished reading it, I was so overcome by emotion that I just had to let Lauren know how it affected me. So I sent her a rather gushing e-mail to thank her for her beautiful play.  I hope she doesn’t think I’m a stalker or anything, but I figured when a work of art grabs your heart that way–and you happen to have the artist’s e-mail address from having taken a class from her–then you should let said artist know. Right? It’s not like I’m following her home and trying to peek in her windows.

So, at 53, I think I just sent my first piece of fan mail…

Quirky Berkeley walk well worth it

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In front of the house where Mike Couzens and Adi Givens live, there’s a colorful Mark Bulwinkle sculpture.

Berkeley is known for its quirkiness. And Tom Dalzell is a guy who knows the quirkiest parts of Berkeley and writes a blog about it (called Quirky Berkeley). He also led about a hundred of us on a walk last Sunday along Ashby in south Berkeley. His photos are better and he has all the stories behind them, so you should definitely check out his site by clicking on the link above.

But I took some pics that he doesn’t have, and I even have thoughts to share that are specifically mine, so I’m still writing a post about my amazing experience.

It was perfect weather for a three-mile walk, and unlike my path-trekking of Berkeley, it was flat.

First off, please compare my photo of this memorial taken last Sunday (April 3, 2016) and John’s photo of it on his blog. (Maybe he took the photo right after the installation was painted six years ago?)

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John’s photo
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my photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was impressed by how much he knew about the artwork at each stop we made. I began to realize early in our walk that once you’re looking for it, quirky is everywhere. It’s no wonder that he can write a regular blog on the subject.

The one bummer of my adventure that day is that my Jawbone fell off before we even reached the second spot. (Jawbone is, or was, my fitness tracker. I had thoroughly researched several such devices before selecting the one I thought was most likely to remain on my arm. Click on the link and take a gander. Does it not look like it should stay on your arm?!) So not only did I lose my tracker, I didn’t get credit for the three miles I walked! Grrr…

IMG_1361Even though they were not officially part of the tour, I snapped a photo of one of those colorful utility boxes. I don’t even know what’s in there, but it’s pretty.

It took a few lights for our huge sprawling mass to cross Shattuck, and many casual flea market visitors and BART riders walking back to their cars watched us as we tried to gather into some semblance of an audience on the sidewalk across from the mural on the side of Ashby Super Market.

That particular establishment used to be called the Grove Market, which I know because I moved to the area in 1984. At that time the major thoroughfare had just changed from Grove Street to Martin Luther King Jr. Way, hence the market’s name. For a few years, signs remained along MLK that proclaimed it as “Old Grove Street,” I guess so that people didn’t get lost or weren’t confused. When my dad visited me from Oklahoma, I remember pointing the sign out to him and saying it must be for him because he was an old Grove.

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Look closely at the “I” in the middle and you can see Mr. Charles waving.

I remember Mr. Charles, the greeter who waved at morning commuters every day. He wore gloves and shouted, “Have a good day!” at all who drove past him. It always made me smile.

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The school’s sign wasn’t part of the tour, but I love it.

IMG_1369Our next major stop was Malcolm X Elementary, which had a big garden decorated with artwork created by Mark Bulwinkle in conjunction with students at the school, who drew designs on metal, which he cut and turned into beautiful sculptures. I have to say, it made the school look like a fun, warm, welcoming place.

Stay tuned for Part II of my Quirky Berkeley walk!