Today I realized it had been a while since I’d taken one of the Berkeley paths, and if I wanted to traverse them all, I’d better get busy. But I also had a limited amount of time. So of course the perfect one to take today was called The Short Cut.
On my way to the top of the path, I encountered a little library on Oxford. Although it was not an official Little Free Library, it was the same idea. I wonder if Berkeley has more of these little libraries than anywhere else on Earth…
The path’s upper end is on Oxford Street, and it runs along the side of Oxford Elementary School, where a few children were enjoying the sunny day in the yard and on the play structure after school hours. The playful squeals and laughter were sounds I know well from my teaching days. It was a refreshing change from the usual quiet walks where I rarely see anyone else.
The Short Cut is a paved gentle downhill slope with only a few steep stairs at the bottom where it ends on Walnut Street. Along the way was a small garden with a skeleton of a tent around it for some minimal protection from deer, I suppose. I couldn’t see what was planted there, so I may have to go back and check during another season to see if there’s been growth.
On Walnut Street, I saw another little library that was not one of those official Little Free Libraries, but it worked much the same way. Except it is also a living garden, which was a nice surprise.
The general theme of the couple of blocks around the Short Cut seemed to be kids because right on Walnut is a parent co-op that I’d never heard of before behind a lovely mosaic plaque that read:
Children’s Community Center f. 1928
We are the oldest parent childcare cooperative west of the Mississippi. This plaque was made on our 75th anniversary. Thanks to all who helped and thank you to all who make CCC CCC! 2003
Nice, huh? I don’t know how they figured out that they were the first, but kudos to them for their staying power! (I understand the last sentence, but it looks funny, doesn’t it?)
As I turned the corner back onto Oxford, I caught a glimpse of some ornaments hanging from a tree. When I stopped to investigate further, I noticed a hammock hanging from the trees between the sidewalk and the house. It was just waiting there for someone to jump in and enjoy the gorgeous afternoon. I loved that it was in what was essentially the side yard rather than in an enclosed back area. It seemed to be saying that one could relax and still be open to the outside world. Comfy but sociable. I hope it gets frequent use because I enjoy imagining someone in it, smiling at passersby who might be walking the paths of Berkeley.
We have season tickets for the Wednesday preview night at S.F. Playhouse. Although we’ve taken BART, it usually take longer, and it’s more expensive than weeknight parking at the Sutter Stockton Garage. So last week we drove. Wednesday nights usually have less traffic than weekend nights.
But not when there’s an accident on the Bay Bridge.
It took us an hour and 15 minutes to get to S.F. Playhouse–a trip that usually takes 45 minutes. So we arrived ten minutes after the show started. Luckily for us, the house wasn’t full, so the usher kindly seated us on the side, where we wouldn’t step over other audience members.
But all the running and anxiety getting to the theater was worth it.
Red Velvet is a wonderful play by a playwright I’d never heard of, Lolita Chakrabarti, set in an era in Europe I knew little about. Nineteenth-century England was having its own racial unrest when Ira Aldridge was the first black man ever to play Othello at London’s Covent Garden. Although now it would be hard to imagine the Moor being played by a white actor, it was standard practice in 1833, when “teapot” acting was the convention. As explained in the program, “Actors would place one hand on their hip (the handle) while the other arm was presented outward to convey passion and emotion (the spout).” It was also common for the theater manager to take the leading role and stay center stage for the duration of the play. One of the many restrictions at the time was that only two theaters in all of London were permitted to put on full-length plays. But revolution was in the air, and Aldridge was at the cutting edge.
Directed by Margo Hall, Red Velvet features a stellar cast and a lovely set. Elena Wright beautifully manages three separate accents to establish the three characters she plays. Richard Louis James is delightfully believable as an old actor stuck in his very British rut, and Susie Damilano proved herself once again to be a versatile actress, as well as the company’s co-founder and producing director. It was fun watching Britney Frazier’s facial expressions as the nearly silent character of Connie, a black servant, as she listened to the arguments between the French director (played by the always-charming Patrick Russell) who brought Aldridge on board and the white British actors who had their own feelings about such casting.
But the highlight of the evening was watching Carl Lumbly play Othello in the play within the play. His stage presence alone is worth the ticket. This production deserves to be seen. And there’s still plenty of time for you to get tickets because it’s playing through the end of June.
Lesson #2 of the course “A Year to Clear” instructed me to look down the list of lessons and note any titles that resonated with me. It’s also suggested that I keep a journal to document this year. I figure I’ll just blog about it occasionally. That counts, doesn’t it?
So scanning the long list of titles mostly impressed upon me how many 365 is. That’s a lot of lessons. The titles that leaped out at me were “Getting Rid of Is Not the Same as Clearing” and “Cultivating a Should-free Life.” There was also an intriguing reference to Monkey Mind, which piqued my curiosity.
What I noticed after copying the image of the book cover is that the person who wrote the lessons (Stephanie Bennett Vogt) is not the same person who wrote the book (Madisyn Taylor). So maybe the course and the book are just related but not the same? (And this is the first time I’ve ever come across the name Madisyn.)
Anyway, I’m back on track to “clear my year.” At least for now…
This year, rather than making new year’s resolutions, I decided I’d have a theme and a motto instead. My theme is Letting Go. My motto is Less Is More.
Along these lines, on January 1st, I signed up for an online course, “A Year to Clear,” from an organization called Daily OM. (I haven’t figured out if OM is an acronym or if it’s supposed to be a mantra. I hope I find out in one of the lessons. There’s a book about it as well, but it looked too new age-y.) Every day since then, I’ve received in my inbox a lesson that is intended to help me in this endeavor. There are a total of 365 lessons, so my intention was to begin on January 1 and end on December 31.
But today is May 1, and I haven’t read any of them.
Now the whole idea of getting just one lesson a day is part of the creator’s slow-drip method based on a Japanese principle called Kaizen. She doesn’t want people to rush ahead and read several at once because it’s a process that’s supposed to be ongoing.
But I currently have 128 lessons awaiting me.
I’m trying not to feel pressure from this because I think that would be counter-productive. So, I’m just going to take a deep breath and read lesson 1 today. And I’m letting go of any guilt for starting four months later than I planned to.
Usually I am writing about walking on one of Berkeley’s many paths, the quirky pieces of artwork I see along the way, and how lucky I am to live in the Bay Area.
This is not one of those posts.
Right now I’m in charge of walking our two dogs, Rufus and Ruby, and our foster dog from Paw Fund, Blanco. My husband, Dave, is their everyday walker, and I usually just join them on Sundays. But Dave is glamping (oh, it’s a thing alright), which means that I’m on sole doggy duty for five days.
I managed to get all three in the car and even remembered the puppy pouch that holds the poop collection bags, tennis ball, and treats. We arrived at P.I. (Point Isabel) and saw several dog-park friends. It was a beautiful morning, and all the canines were happy.
I even found an old but intact tennis ball for Ruby to fetch as a back-up to the one I’d brought with us. Which was lucky because I threw one ball ahead of Ruby, and another dog got to it before she did. I figured, okay, this is why I found that extra ball: it allowed me to be generous and not worry about one stolen tennis ball. I couldn’t ascertain which human was with the ball-stealing dog, so I let it go.
Then he did it again.
One time is not a big deal. Twice requires action. I followed the dog until he plopped down to chew the ball into mush. I tried to get him to trade me the ball for a treat. He was not interested, but all three of my dogs saw me open the treat pocket and were very interested. During the feeding fracas, the dog took off with the ball again.
But I was not going to give up so easily, so I kept following him, all the while scanning the area to see if I could figure out who his people were. It was almost 9:00, which is past the heavy dog traffic time, so there weren’t that many possibilities. Finally, I caught up to him after traveling nearly the length of the park, from the bridge to the curve where the picnic table looks out over the bay.
This time I grabbed his collar, and a few seconds later I heard a voice call out, “Is that your dog?” I thought maybe he’d taken someone else’s ball too, so I answered, “No, he’s not mine.”
The woman who’d called approached me and said gruffly, “No, it’s not your dog. It’s my dog.” I explained that he’d taken my dog’s ball, and I was just trying to get it back. She said firmly that she’d take care of it, so I let him go. She called “Hudson!” a few times without result. Then she barked at her human walking companion, who had stayed away from the scene, to bring the leash. He quietly obeyed.
Eventually she got back what was left of the ball and deposited the slobbery mess in my hand. No apology.
But she did say this: “I’ll shoot him tonight.”
I asked if she was kidding, thinking perhaps she had a macabre sense of humor, but her answer was in a no-nonsense voice: “He stole a ball. I’ll shoot him.”
I told her that if she was just taking a tough stance in a show of appeasing me that there was no need–it was over, but she just kept walking.
I tried to appeal to the man who now had Hudson on leash and asked him if she was really going to kill her dog. Keeping his eyes on the ground in front of him, he answered in a low voice that did not inspire confidence: “I’ll try to talk to her.”
She strode ahead of us, so I took the opportunity to sidle up to the man to inquire about her mental condition. He didn’t respond, but she yelled back to me, “I’m not crazy!”
I pleaded with the man to surrender the dog to me right there and then so I could protect it. I explained that I fostered dogs and that I could find a home for him. He never looked at me. He just kept walking.
I couldn’t help it–I started to cry. Hudson was not a dangerous dog. He hadn’t tried to bite me when I attempted to retrieve the ball. He didn’t have good recall, but whose fault was that? How could this woman reduce his entire life into this tiny meaningless infraction ?
She heard my tears and turned around, chiding me: “Don’t cry! This dog has lived a good life. If you want to cry, cry for my son who was killed by a police officer!”
So she has reason to be bitter–I won’t deny that. But killing a perfectly healthy dog is no way to deal with the loss of her son.
I grabbed a Paw Fund business card out of the puppy pouch and begged the man to contact the rescue organization rather than let this woman end her dog’s life. Hudson could have a loving home in his future if this man could just make a phone call. He took the card and pocketed it, but I didn’t have much hope that he had any intention of crossing his companion.
I was still shaking when I saw my friend Lise on the path above me. I spilled out the account, and the act of sharing it made me feel a tad stronger. I continued our walk, halfheartedly tossing the remains of the ball for Ruby, who didn’t seem to mind that it no longer bounced.
When we crossed back over the bridge, I spied the bitter woman, her complacent companion, and poor doomed Hudson heading west. This was the moment Ruby decided to take a dip in the estuary. By the time I’d lured her out, they were far ahead of me. Our car was parked in the eastern lot nearby, so I loaded everyone into Dave’s Rav 4 and started to head home.
But I couldn’t help but feel that I hadn’t done enough to prevent something heinous from happening.
So instead of getting on the freeway, I turned west to the other parking lots, where I figured Hudson’s people were heading. I circled both lots a few times, peering into windows of vehicles as they left, hoping to. . . I don’t know what, but I couldn’t just leave.
As I watched many cars drive away, I realized that I had no plan. Even if I saw them again, what would I do–distract them and then grab Hudson’s leash? Plead some more? Give her the opportunity to yell at me again for crying?
It was a moot point because I never did see them. And the dogs were wondering why we were hanging out in the car instead of going home and having breakfast.
So I drove home.
I may never know what happened to Hudson. I hope his owner changed her mind, or that her gun jammed, or that her male companion made that phone call and sneaked Hudson out the back door to freedom when she was otherwise occupied.
But I have a feeling that none of those things happened, and it haunts me.
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.
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?
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.
So why 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.
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.
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.
On 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.
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.
Undoubtedly 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 and 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.)
As 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.
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.
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.
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.
A 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…
Something 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.