Hearts at Stanford

The sandstone buildings of the Quad are noted for their graceful arcades and deep carved reliefs.

These arcades were badly damaged in the 1906 and the 1989 earthquakes, but have now been retrofitted and restored.

Sandstone Columns at Stanford Quad

Bay to Breakers May 18, 2014

Last month I signed up for the 103rd Bay to Breakers, and yesterday I walked it. It was my first time entering this historic San Francisco event, and it didn’t disappoint. The “Bay to Breakers” is a 7.46 mile (12K) course from the Embarcadero (the Bay) to the Great Highway (the Breakers) and is known for its costumed and uncostumed participants. Yes, some of the entrants believe that clothing is optional.

This year an estimated 35,000 paid a $59 entrance fee and received a T-shirt, a bib with an electronic tracking device, and a medal at the finish line. Thousands of others joined in as gawkers on the sidelines or party crashers on the course. Later estimates ran as high as 150,000 running, walking, and watching.

My team played it conservatively, with matching orange T-shirts and a collective decision to stay together. Other teams competed for attention with flamboyant costumes, raunchy costumes or lack of costumes. I was impressed with the centipedes running tethered together, forcing each participant to keep up an ambitious pace. The starters, serious runners, distanced themselves from the crowds as they led the race at 8:24am.

The weather cooperated, and the morning fog burned off early, leaving a sunny if breezy day. With so many participants, it’s not a time for setting records. My own goal was to finish before noon. I sent pictures of my progress to my family along the route. Later, I found that none of the pictures arrived until later in the day, perhaps due to the sheer volume of Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Vine, Foursquare, and Facebook “sends”.

The winner of the race, a Kenyan, reached the finish line in 35 minutes, before we even started.

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Sweeney Ridge. Following the footsteps of Portola.

San Francisco Airport sits on the western shore of the south bay, south of San Francisco, and east of the Coastal Mountains

From the airport, a traveler can just make out the shape of a solid structure on the crest of the mountains, part of a Nike Missile site erected during the cold war.

That site sits on Sweeney Ridge, near a historical plaque commemorating the November, 1769 “discovery” of San Francisco Bay by a group of Spanish explorers who were looking for Monterey Bay.

A few weeks ago I walked up the trail from Shelldance Nursery in Pacifica to Sweeney Ridge, looking for the monument to Gaspar de Portola and his expedition. Wildflowers abounded in the scrub landscape, and I stopped often to take pictures of California poppies, irises, monkeyflower, lupine, primrose, California blackberry and others. The trail to the top is steep at times, but well-traveled. I met many hikers on their way down the path as I hiked the 2 miles to the top.

The Nike site is now a ruin, vandalized and covered with graffiti. But, on a clear day the view, from 1200 feet, is spectacular. I could see Mount Diablo in the East, Mt Tamalpais to the North, and, of course, the large expanse of the San Francisco Bay. This is the view, minus development, that the Spanish soldiers enjoyed. However, these soldiers were also disappointed that this was not Monterey Bay, the objective of their mission.

It may seem strange to us that the Spanish had never sighted San Francisco Bay in over 200 years of sailing along the coast, actively trading with the Philippines. We can only surmise that the rocky coastline, the persistent fog, and the narrow mouth of the Bay contributed to their ignorance.

Portola chose to turn back from Sweeney Ridge, and return to San Diego, his mission unfulfilled.



Native Craft in Yosemite Valley


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Last month I visited Yosemite again. Spring is a wonderful time of year …early for tourists but not for wildflowers, blooming dogwood, or cascading waterfalls. This time I visited the Yosemite Indian Museum and walked through the replica village located behind the museum. The displays and interpretive boards tell of various native customs and crafts, but also announce the decline and disappearance of many of the customs and their practitioners.

Fortunately, inside the museum, Julia Parker is quietly preserving the basket making craft for all visitors. At age 85 she is the longest serving employee in Yosemite. As a Native American (Kashaya Pomo and Coast Miwok who married a Mono Lake Paiute) she learned her skills from the best basket makers of the past. Today she is the best: an artist, a teacher, and a preservationist.

Baskets were always important to the natives in California and came in all shapes and sizes depending on their use. We know that the indigenous peoples tended their land carefully to produce the sedge and deer grasses they needed to create fibers of the right shapes and lengths. They used fire as a catalyst for plant growth and to remove pests and debris.

The women in the tribes wove conical “burden baskets” for gathering and storage. They created flat-bottomed “cooking baskets” for preparing food. They wove flat “seed beater” and “winnowing baskets” and small gift baskets…all served a purpose in their society.

Native women became so skilled at making baskets that even at advanced ages, eyesight failing, they could create useful works of art.

Julia gives credit for the beauty and utility of her baskets to her plants and fibers. She gathers her raw materials in winter from local streambeds. Some favorites are willow and red bud. When she harvests, she takes care to say a prayer, ask “please” and say “thank you” to the earth. She takes only what she needs. Each fiber is stripped, dried and bundled in preparation for the work. The willow creates a light yellow background while red bud creates red-colored designs. If bracken fern is used, it creates black highlights. Designs are not pre-drawn, but are conceived in the artist’s head and materialize. Julia prefers designs with triangles and zigzags and she may add some sparkle on occasion.

Julia’s work can be viewed in Yosemite, in the Smithsonian, and in other museums around the world She is proud to have been selected to create a basket for Queen Elizabeth on her visit to Yosemite in 1983.

If you visit Yosemite in late September 2014, Julia will be giving a basket weaving class with her daughter and granddaughter. She will help you make your first basket and then, as Native American tradition dictates, she will instruct you to give your first basket away.