our pear tree slumbers

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Winter orchard. Robin L. Chandler, 2020.

January nights remain long and chilly, but the sun grows warmer with each day. Some months from now, our tiny Oakland orchard of apricot, fig, plum and pear will provide a wonderful harvest. With luck, we will have a bountiful year blessed with cakes and pies and many jars of jam and preserved fruit. But should we have a premature spring, early blossoms may be lost to windy Pacific storms, severely limiting our harvest. Never one to give up hope, I gaze at the trees and pray they adapt to humankind’s “gift”: climate change. Sitting in their presence, I am reading, captivated by Richard Powers‘ novel The Overstory. In the book, one of the characters, Forestry scientist Patricia Westerford, writes about and speaks of the Giving Trees:

“…she remembers the Buddha’s words: A tree is a wondrous thing that shelters, feeds, and protects all living things. It even offers shade to the axmen who destroy it…love for trees pours out of her – the grace of them, their supple experimentation, the constant variety and surprise. These slow, deliberate creatures with their elaborate vocabularies, each distinctive, shaping each other, breeding birds, sinking carbon, purifying water, filtering poisons from the ground, stabilizing the micro climate. Join enough living things together, through the air and underground, and you wind up with something that has intention. Forest. A threatened creature…People aren’t the apex species they think they are. Other creatures – bigger, smaller, slower, faster, older, younger, more powerful – call the shots, make the air, and eat the sunlight. Without them, nothing.“

solstice at sea

The view from Limantour

The view from Limantour Beach, Point Reyes. Robin L. Chandler, 2019.

From Limantour Beach at Point Reyes you can see the edge of San Francisco and all the sea between. Some hundred years ago steam schooners, barkentines, and four- masted ships would have plied the waters beyond the Golden Gate.  I think of Ishmael leaving Nantucket in search of the great white whale….

“At last the anchor was up, the sails were set, and off we glided. It was a sharp, cold Christmas; and as the short northern day merged into night, we found ourselves almost broad upon the wintry ocean, whose freezing spray cased us in ice, as in polished armor. The long rows of teeth on the bulwarks glistened in the moonlight; and like the white ivory tusks of some huge elephant, vast curving icicles depended from the bows….as the old craft deep dived into the green seas and sent the shivering frost all over her, and the winds howled and the cordage rang, [Lank Bildad, as pilot] his steady notes were heard

 “Sweet fields beyond the swelling flood,

Stand dressed in living green.

So to the Jews old Canaan stood,

While Jordon rolled between.”[1]

Some thirty-five years ago, while I worked as a Photo Archivist at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, I solo bicycled part of the Pacific Coast. On that ride, I made a point of visiting the legendary Captain Frederick Klebingat (see his fine biography on the Online Archive of California finding aid for his photography collection[2]). It was a great honor to meet the ninety-five year-young gentleman, who voiced great concern for my safety cycling the Pacific Coast. Expressing my deep admiration for the man who at sixteen (in 1905) rounded Cape Horn as a deckhand on a full-rigged ship, I reassured him that his risks had been much greater than mine. Imagine the strength, skill and courage it would take to furl the sails a’top the masts in the wind and rain ‘round the Horn all the while diving deeply into Ishmael’s great green seas! Talk about taking risks! Captain Klebingat was a person forged by nature’s forces; a rarity in a time when now most are shaped by a reality more virtual. During his lifetime, Captain Klebingat sailed barks, schooners, Liberty Ships and tankers, and served as a key figure in the restoration and preservation of historic sailing ships, particularly Honolulu’s Falls of Clyde. Captain Klebingat’s research papers about restoring the Falls of Clyde can be found at the University of Glasgow[3] (the vessel was built in Glasgow’s shipyards). During our visit, Captain Klebingat autographed and gifted me his book Christmas at Sea[4]inscribing To Robin, May All Your Christmases be Merry. Frederick Klebingat. I keep the book remembering my visit with the great sailor. About six months later in March 1985, Captain Klebingat passed away; but our visit that fall day in 1984, remains a treasured memory. In fond remembrance, for Captain Klebingat at Christmas, I share an excerpt from his book.

On a Christmas Eve a few years after the 1906 Earthquake, young deckhand Fred Klebingat, his friend Tommy, and first mate Hagen are on watch aboard the barkentine the S.N. Castle, anchored in San Francisco Bay. The sailors are grateful to have a job and thankful for the turkey roasting in the ship’s galley for their Christmas dinner.  On deck they watched as

“the great beam [of lighthouse on Alcatraz Island]…searched out the hills of Richmond as it turned; momentarily it glanced by the brightly lighted windows of the houses in Berkeley…and blinked at the ferry boats…the searchlight also winked at those Bohemians who lived on Telegraph Hill, and for a second it peered into the windows of Nob Hill. It flashed by and lit up the spars of the ships anchored off Meiggs Wharf. On it turned, to beacon those mariners bound through the Golden Gate…[and Hagen said] “to me that light seems to be a beacon of liberty, to guide you to freedom – to all of us who first came here through the Golden Gate…there may not be all the freedom we may want, but it is much more than what we left behind.”

[1]Melville, Herman. Moby Dick. New York, New York: The New American Library, 1961. p.113

[2]https://oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/c8dv1mcm/admin/#bioghist-1.3.7

[3]https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/search/archives/a8574677-b733-39a7-a018-c41c656aca62

[4]https://trove.nla.gov.au/work/18890471?q&versionId=22175323

snow in the san gabriels

 

SanGabriels

Snow in the San Gabriel Mountains. Robin L. Chandler, 2019. Pastel sketch.

A week ago the dangers of fire season loomed in California; but this week an atmospheric river flows across the Pacific bringing rain and snow across the land from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The change has been radical and sudden, and we are grateful for the rainy weather. During the Thanksgiving weekend, snow blanketed the San Gabriel Mountains. At sunset, we walked in the Huntington Library Gardens and gazed at the twilight storm clouds glowing orange with purple shadows, seeming to feast upon the mountains. Gorgeous. Sublime. We gave thanks for this moment of beauty.

Moments before in the gallery, our eyes had feasted upon the exhibit John Ruskin and His “Frenemies:” Prints and Drawings from the Huntington’s Collection,” featuring works on paper by John Ruskin and his friends and colleagues including J.M.W. Turner and the Pre-Raphaelites and his enemies such as John Constable and James McNeil Whistler. “As much as he praised artists whose style, technique, or subject matter aligned with his own approach, he could be strongly critical of others.” Inspired by these works, I began sketching in an attempt to capture the evolving sublime scene of the mountains and sky above me. Ruskin believed that the principal role of the artist is “truth to nature” and he wrote about the challenges of working plein air:

“The clouds will not wait while we copy their heaps or clefts; the shadows will escape us as we try to shape them…in all that we do now, therefore, direct imitation becomes more or less impossible…whatever skill you may reach, there will always be need of judgment to choose, and of speed to seize certain things that are principal…”[1]

In this time of climate change we find graceful transitions vanish and blunt onsets prevail. Last week it was dry, and the threat of fire loomed. This week it is wet, and we are battered by wind, flood, ice, and snow. Our civilization believes it can conquer and control nature and in our acts of hubris, we have pushed nature to extremes. Writing about two great painters, Giorgione and J.M.W. Turner, Ruskin compared the civilizations in which they lived. The architecture of the Venetian Republic impacted Giorgione greatly; he “saw only strength and immortality, could not but paint both; conceived the form of man as deathless, calm with power, and fiery with life.”[2] And Turner, living in Victorian England saw the exact reverse of this “in the present work of men, meanness, aimlessess, unsightliness: thin-walled, lath-divided, narrow-garreted houses of clay; booths of a darksome Vanity Fair, busily base…as to the strength of men to Giorgione, to Turner their weakness and vileness were alone visible…[Turner] must be a painter of the strength of nature; there was no beauty elsewhere…he must also paint the labour and sorrow and passing away of men; this was the great human truth visible to him.”[3]

[1] Ruskin, John. The Elements of Drawing. Aquitaine Media, 2010. p.92

[2] Ruskin, John. Unto This Last and Other Writings. London: Penguin, 1997. p.151

[3] Ruskin, John. Unto This Last and Other Writings. London: Penguin, 1997. p.151

waiting for a train

waiting4atrain

Watercolor sketch from memory. Robin L. Chander, 2019.

My uptown train pulled into the 77th Street Station oh so briefly. This speeding apparatus is hurtling me towards an exhibit by the Expressionist painter Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, a member of Die Brucke, known for paintings of city streets in high-key colors and rough exaggerated lines. So my mind’s eye is primed for heightened awareness. I glance up from my book as the light changes from dark tunnel to bright station and see a Tex-Mex band across the tracks. A human jukebox of sorts, I recall an old Jimmie Rodgers’ tune and start to sing quietly “though my pocketbook is empty and my heart is full of pain. I’m a thousand miles away from home, just waiting for a train.” Fragments overlaying fragments of sound and light and color and text, making new connections and associations, looking, listening and learning; a collage of the mind.

New York City, The City That Never Sleeps, always delights and surprises. Around every corner waits a story to be told which is why I love it. Who are those musicians…a professional band? Where will the green-line train take them? Flatbush? Why this day and why mid-morning…a job…a festival? Are they playing for a gig celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month? I have a million questions to ask these troubadours to learn from their life experience. They bring me a story, a story I want to get off the subway and ask them about, hear their words and hear their song, but the train hurtling through space, travels onward. Content must I be with another special glimpse of New York on a subway platform. In his essay The Storyteller Walter Benjamin wrote “…experience has fallen in value…when someone goes on a trip, he has something to tell …every morning brings us the news of the globe, and yet we are poor in noteworthy stories…the value of information does not survive the moment in which it was new. It lives only at that moment; it has to surrender to it completely and explain itself to it without losing any time. A story is different. It does not expend itself. It preserves and concentrates its strength and is capable of releasing it even after a long time…it resembles the seeds of grain which have lain for centuries in the chambers of the pyramids shut up air-tight and have retained their germinative power to this day.”

let’s go back to the drawing board…and save the future

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Back to the Drawing Board. Robin L. Chandler, 2019.

Last Friday September 18, 2019, young people on every continent took to the streets, a student global strike protesting climate change, marching with signs reading “Save Nature, Save Earth, Save Future” and “Plastic Waste is an Economic Flaw” and chanting “You had a future and so should we…[and] we vote next.”[1]

Only the day before Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg addressed the House of Representatives Joint Committee to submit the landmark IPCC report[2] (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). “I don’t want you to listen to me, I want you to listen to the scientists,” Thunberg told the US lawmakers. “I want you to unite behind the science and I want you to take real action.” [3]

Afterwards, Thunberg addressed supporters in the grand committee room stating

“the USA is the biggest carbon polluter in history,” she told the audience. “It is also the world’s number one producer of oil. It is also the only nation to signal its intention to leave the Paris climate agreement because it was ‘a bad deal’.”

Speaking softly, she modulated her voice slightly to make clear she was quoting, disapprovingly, [President]Trump with the words “a bad deal”.

Thunberg invoked Martin Luther King’s struggle for civil rights and John F Kennedy’s goals that included landing a man on the moon – “not because they are easy, but because they are hard”, – to plead with Washington to lead in the fight, even if it seems impossible. “Giving up can never be an option,” she said.

Talking about her new book On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal [4] Naomi Klein quoted Greta Thunberg “We cannot solve an emergency without treating it like an emergency.” We have to “act as if the house is on fire, because it is.” “That does not mean we simply need a New Deal painted green, or a Marshall Plan with solar panels. We need changes of a different quality and character. A new vision of what humanity can be is emerging. It is coming from the streets, from the schools, from workplaces, and even from inside houses of government. When the future of life is at stake, there is nothing we cannot achieve.”[5]

If the sound of a Shofar can be heard during WWII at Auschwitz, then surely each of us can act to preserve our world and what we cherish, and become a mensch…worthy of the humanity in the phrase ‘human being”.[6]

Update: On Monday 9/23/19, Greta Thunberg addressed the delegates at the United Nations “you have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words…the eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us I say we will never forgive you. We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line.”

Afterwards Greta Thunberg stared down President Trump as he entered the United Nations (UN) building to attend a meeting on religious freedom after he had boycotted the UN climate summit.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/20/climate/global-climate-strike.html

[2] https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/sep/18/greta-thunberg-testimony-congress-climate-change-action

[4] https://www.thenation.com/article/naomi-klein-green-new-deal-book-interview/

[5] https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2019/09/17/the-green-new-deal-a-fight-for-our-lives/

[6] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/21/arts/auschwitz-shofar.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share

 

Ruach

Mt. Olson (sketch & photograph). Robin L. Chandler, 2019.

We backpacked into Lundy Canyon through the Hoover Wilderness making our way ‘cross a beautiful land whose natural history emerged with every step: granite uplifted and scoured by glaciers leaving tarns and lakes; sleeping cinder cones, and magma flows now still. Bald eagles soar, coyotes howl, and trout leap high all searching for nourishment. Seeking only what they need to live; nothing more, and nothing less. Carrying this heavy pack, on a pilgrimage of sorts, I seek that which will nourish me too. Ruach: Breath. Omoiyari: Compassion. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit.” [1]

Mt. Connesa (sketch and photograph). Robin L. Chandler, 2019.

Along with my tent, sleeping bag, stove, water filter, and food (all to nourish my body), I’ve also packed the book by Yuri Herrera Signs Preceding the End of the World. Soon we will stop for lunch and rest and we will take turns reading this important book beside a lake in this beautiful place at the end of the world we know and the powerful words will resonate and humble us – we, those privileged (and blessed) to have what we need to live:

“first there was nothing…nothing but a frayed strip of cement over the white earth. Then she made out two mountains colliding in the back of beyond: like they’d come from who knows where and were headed to anyone’s guess but had come together at that intense point in the nothingness and insisted on crashing noisily against each other, though the oblivious might think they simply stood there in silence…then off in the distance she glimpsed a tree and beneath the tree a pregnant woman. She saw her belly before her legs or her face or her hair and saw she was resting there in the shade of the tree. And she thought, if that was any sort of omen it was a good tone: a country where a woman with child walking through the desert just lies right down to let her baby grow, unconcerned about anything else. But as they approached she discerned the features of this person who was no woman, nor was that belly full with child: it was some poor wretch swollen with putrefaction.”

Omoiyari.[2]

Footnotes:

[1] Zechariah 4:6

[2] Kishi Bashi

Of Towers and Silos

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Tour Barberousse. Robin L. Chandler, 2019

After the Flood, all of Noah’s descendants spoke the same language. And since it was easy for everyone to share their thoughts and ideas because they used the same words, they decided to build a city with a tower that reached to the heavens so they could make a name for themselves and not be scattered throughout the earth. And the Lord came from heaven and inspected the city and the tower and found humans overreaching and thinking far too much of themselves and too little of God. So the Lord acted, confusing human speech so they could no longer understand one another and scattered them all over the earth, leaving behind the Tower of Babel half-built.

While there are great lessons to take from this story about guarding against hubris and arrogance in our individual actions, ironically, it serves as an origin story for the silos in which we now live. Increasingly isolated, we seem unable to communicate with each other; we are fearful, on the defensive, not seeing a human, only seeing the other. And when we do communicate, it is often blunt, harsh, angry and sometimes anonymous protected by walls of technology. Communication has become “H” speech. Rabbi Jeffrey Myers insists that love is stronger than the “H” word even after the October 2018 tragedy at the Tree of Life Synagogue. In the Southern Poverty Law Center Summer 2019 magazine article Stop ‘H’ Speech, and Let Goodness Prevail, Rabbi Myers writes “we all want the same things for ourselves and our families…upon closer examination, we are far more alike than different…when we work together, we demonstrate capacity for greatness that would make any generation immensely proud…we need to find ways to continue to focus on the flowers – the good people – and the wondrous, selfless acts that they perform routinely and automatically to improve our society…it must start by choosing our words carefully…I choose to eliminate the “H” word. What do you choose to do?”