A cyclops is Eye ra the cat. Was he born so? Or when a young rake did he fall in with a bad lot and pay the price, tempted by their kind overtures and promises like poor Polyphemus wined and dined by Odysseus? We never heard Homer’s saga sung from the cyclops view. His impairment troubles Eye ra not, nor does his low-pressure like tabby stripe. No clouds or storms torment him, the sun shines from his soul, but toned with a mischievous humor. Describe Eye ra thus: laidback with a quirky twist of happiness; the epitome of the hipster cat; a born jazz player, always read to riff. Top Cat, the indisputable leader of the band. To a syncopated beat, I chant Eye ra, Eye ra, Eye ra, Eye ra, Eye ra.
Last Wednesday was a beautiful misty morning; perfect weather for a bike ride through the great meadow. Everywhere the fragrance of sweet wet grass, and fog covered my Santa Cruz campus like a blanket. Damp air kissed my face making rivulets of sweat and rain. Up ahead a great black raven perched on a young Douglas Fir calling out percussively toc toc toc; I responded with a smile singing “packed up all my care and woe, here I go singing low, bye, bye, blackbird.” Written in 1926, Bye, Bye Blackbird became a popular standard covered over the decades by jazz singers such as Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen McRae, and Nina Simone. I climb the hill, my crank spinning deliberately, a revolution at a time, while I riff on John Coltrane’s cover of Bye, Bye, Blackbird. The great jazz saxophonist believed deeply in music’s power. In a 1966 interview with Frank Kofsky, published in Black Nationalism and the Revolution in Music, Coltrane said “music is an expression of higher ideals…brotherhood is there; and I believe with brotherhood, there would be no poverty…and there would be no war…I know that there are bad forces, forces put here that bring suffering to others and misery to the world, but I want to be a force which is truly for good.” It gives me great pleasure to write that the UC Santa Cruz Library Special Collections & Archives preserves and makes accessible the Frank Kofsky Audio and Photo Collection of the Jazz and Rock Movement 1966-1968. Selected photographs from the collection are available online including an image of John Coltrane and his wife Alice (on piano) in performance.
It is no small irony that segregationists opposed to the Civil Rights Movement played Bye, Bye Blackbird to taunt the Selma to Montgomery freedom marchers in 1965. In just another few days, 2500 cyclists, including me, will start our own kind of freedom ride, cycling 545 miles in the AIDS Lifecycle from San Francisco to Los Angeles to help make AIDS and HIV a thing of the past. We ride for many reasons: because we’ve lost a loved one or a dear friend to the virus; because we hope to honor persons living with AIDS by meeting the challenge of the ride; and because we just want to try and help people in need. Please support my cause by donating to the AIDS Lifecycle helping me meet my personal fundraising goal of $ 10,000. http://www.tofighthiv.org/goto/robchandlerJune2015 This week I completed my last long-distance training ride for this year’s AIDS Lifecycle, a ninety-five mile round trip distance between Santa Cruz and Monterey. On the training ride, I travelled San Andreas Road, where calla lilies and strawberries planted nearby Monterey Bay created a quilt of rainbow colors. Serendipity. As if to honor we AIDS Lifecycle riders traveling this road next week on the way to King City. I know that there are bad forces, forces that bring suffering to others and misery to the world, but I want to be a force which is truly for good.
“I call it Landscape with Flatiron. I finished it three days ago.
It’s just a picture of an iron in a room.”
“Why is that so tough to explain?”
“Because it’s not really an iron.”
She looked up at him. “The iron is not an iron?”
“Meaning it stands for something else?”
Zen Buddhists believe that Buddha Nature – the true nature of reality and being – is impermanence, becoming, and a vast emptiness. And Satori,the sudden flash, leads to great insight into the vast emptiness. The earthquake provides Murakami’s characters with that sudden jolt providing insight into the emptiness…insight to grasp how an iron is more than an iron.
Last weekend, we visited our friends at Live Power Community Farm in Round Valley, California, where master farmers and apprentices continue in the footsteps of Alan Chadwick to sow and reap a bountiful harvest according to the principles of Biodynamic farming. Words cannot adequately describe the deep connection one forges with the land and the community when working side by side in the fields, making and sharing meals, and sleeping outside in the hay barn near to dozing horses, cows and sheep. It is sublime.
Arriving at the farm, we felt like understudies in a play whose curtain rose hours ago. We found ourselves reading lines in a well-thumbed script; and one of the acts was about this farm besieged for weeks by bobcats. Two weeks ago there were over forty egg laying chickens in the hen house; today there were less than nineteen. Eggs provide needed protein to feed the farmers. Late afternoon, we were hoeing and raking beds for planting, when news reached us that a bobcat had been caught in the trap near the horse pasture. We walked to the trap, fascinated and horrified at what we might find. There in a cage was the proud and beautiful creature, watching our every move, so alive, and so intense. This was the villain of the act in this play, but it was not really a villain, it was something else.
Our proud and beautiful bobcat would not live to see another sunrise, and that reality was like the sudden jolt of an earthquake providing insight into the true nature of reality and being, the impermanence, the becoming, and a vast emptiness. A coincidence, but a 6.0 earthquake occurred in Napa, California the next day; jolting our world with insight. And now a week later, while absent, the bobcat remains with me. And like the negative space in a painting, the absence of the subject, and not the subject itself, has become the most relevant, and the real subject of this story. It is the journey to understand the importance of impermanence, becoming and emptiness.
In just under thirty-three days, the AIDS LifeCycle begins and we ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Cranking up the training, I’ve been riding some classic climbs in the Bay Area: Pinehurst to Skyline, the Three Bears and the Hicks Valley Wilson Hill Road. But recently I took a break to visit Austin, Texas the home of former Governor Ann Richards. Austin hosted the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH) annual meeting. It doesn’t take much arm twisting to visit the queen city of Central Texas. Because in Austin you can easily find great music (we saw Squeeze Box Mania at Threadgills which featured the great conjunto tejano accordianist Joel Guzman and songwriter / vocalist Sarah Fox), local brews (Thirsty Planet’s Yellow Armadillo Wheat) and Southern comfort food (fried pickles)! And April is a beautiful time to visit Texas. Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrush nonchalantly grace street corners and boulevard median strips. And a quick drive outside the city limits brings sights of mother Longhorns doting on their calves frolicking in pastures among the spring wildflowers. A meeting like SAH provides the opportunity to dig deeper into the urban landscape and we participated in the post-conference tour Transition, Gentrification and Hidden History in Austin’s Black Neighborhoods. When the Civil War ended in 1865, many freed slaves migrated to the nearest town where they settled and established neighborhoods such as Austin’s Clarksville and Wheatville. Some freedman like Orange Hancock settled on land formerly
owned by their masters such as the Moore-Hancock Farmstead. Built in 1849, the Moore- Hancock home is the oldest Austin log cabin on it’s original site and a tangible link to 19th century African-American history in north-central Austin. The Freedmen communities thrived until 1928 when the Austin City Master Plan achieved segregation by zoning East Austin as a district where services and amenities such as plumbing and paved roads would be provided to African-Americans. With this zoning plan, Austin sought to draw African-Americans to the East side of town and extinguish black neighborhoods encroaching on expanding white Austin. Some eighty-years later, East Austin is gentrifying as popular food venues such as Franklin Barbecue have opened (just down the street from the historic Chitlin’ Circuit nightclub the Victory Grill where one of my favorite blues players W.C. Clark got his professional start) and the Rosewood Courts Housing Authority seeks a listing on the National Register of Historic Places. To learn more about these neighborhoods, read Michelle Mears book And Grace Will Lead Me Home: African-American Freedman Communities of Austin, Texas 1865-1928.
 HBO documentary films just released the film All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State and it is recommended viewing!
My training for the 2014 AIDS Life Cycle continues! It is the end of March, and just last week I achieved this month’s goal to cycle more than ninety miles in one day. It was an amazing day beginning in heavy fog and ending in bright sunshine and strong winds blowing in from the Pacific; a beautiful ride, the kind of ride that clears your head and helps put everything in perspective, well at least for a few moments! My journey took me from Santa Cruz where I cycled past surfers at Pleasure Point, through redwood trees in Aptos, along the nature reserve at Elkhorn Slough, and through Fort Ord Dunes State Park and on to fisherman’s wharf at Monterey. My good friend Connie joined me for the Castroville to Monterey loop; it was wonderful to have the company and conversation. After lunch, I got back on my bike and rode the fifty miles home to Santa Cruz. It can be done!
Cycling gives you time to think about what you see as you ride. North of the Pajaro River I travelled through strawberry fields; north of the Salinas River through rows of artichokes, all crops being irrigated and tended by hard working Mexican-American farm workers. Every March 31st in California we celebrate the birthday of Cesar Chavez as an official state holiday. It was nearly fifty years ago when Cesar Chavez came to Delano, California to begin the dangerous but desperately important work of organizing farm workers. In 1935 the Wagner Act establishing the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) was passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt. The NLRB ensures that workers can join unions and engage in collective bargaining without management reprisal. But unfortunately, agricultural workers were not included in the Wagner Act legislation, an omission that took another thirty years and Cesar and his wife Helen Chavez and Delores Huerta, labor leader, civil rights activist and co-founder with Chavez of the United Farm Workers (UFW) devoting themselves to the cause of organizing farm workers to rectify. The multi-ethnic movement Si se puede began in 1965. On Friday March 28, 2014, Diego Luna’s motion picture Cesar Chavez was released nationally. With great excitement, Wave and I attend the film; it was wonderful to be in the theater with so many young people clearly moved by their heroic story on screen. The film was inspiring; the hard work of farming becomes a tragedy when workers responsible for putting the food we eat on the table are not given respect, consideration, a reasonable wage, and protection from agricultural pesticides. The film primarily documents the events surrounding the Delano Grape Strike (la huelga) including the three hundred mile pilgrimage from Delano to the state capital in Sacramento and Chavez’s moving hunger strike to end violence against striking workers. The twenty-five day hunger strike ended in March 1968 some forty-six years ago this month. Senator Robert Kennedy brought national prominence to the movement when he joined Cesar Chavez to end his hunger strike with a celebration of the Eucharist. In my mind, Kennedy’s presence was a recognition of Chavez as an American hero. Chavez’s heroic work is detailed in two University of California Press books: Delano – The Story of the California Grape Strike by the journalist John Gregory Dunne and in Peter Mathiessen’s Sal si Puedes: Cesar Chavez and the New American Revolution
UC Santa Cruz is a special place; where else would you find a traffic sign flashing bright orange “be alert…deer crossing the roadway.” Cycling into work, I laughed lovingly acknowledging both the practical advice and the deeper meaning of mindfulness. Situated on a mountain overlooking the Pacific, the campus is replete with rolling meadows and coastal forests of tanoak, bay laurel, Pacific madrone and the regal Redwoods. An ecosystem intimately shared by animals, plants and people. After a quiet summer, September signals major events in certain campus populations: the academic cycle migration of homo sapiens and the advent of the breeding season for California mule deer. The traffic signal brings some needed intervention to manage the humans and deer inhabiting this space. All summer the bucks have roamed the meadows as a herd while their antlers grew big and strong preparing to compete for a mate. Next spring, fawns begin the cycle anew. Riding up the bike path through the thirsty meadow, I wonder from where the mountain lion watches these migrations and lifecycles. Will I ever see one?
Right mindfulness, an element of the Buddhist eight-fold path, teaches adherents to be alert, present, building awareness of the moment…the path to enlightenment. Earlier this year, I received a gift from the wife of a landscape painter whose work I greatly admire; she connected me to the work of Peter Matthiessen, Buddhist and writer of fiction and many well-respected books about the environment including the National Book Award winner The Snow Leopard. Trekking through Nepal with the ancient Buddhist shrine Shey Gompa on Crystal Mountain as their destination, Matthiessen and the field biologist George Schaller were seeking research data on the Blue Sheep and the Snow Leopard. Truly a book about his spiritual journey, Matthiessen finds the revered Lama of Shey who blesses him with a koan “Have you seen the snow leopard? No. Isn’t that wonderful!” Matthiessen writes “I feel great gratitude for being here, for being, rather for there is no need to hike oneself to the snow mountains in order to feel free. I am not here to seek the “crazy wisdom;” if I am, I shall never find it. I am here to be here, like these rocks and sky and snow, like this hail that is falling down out of the sun…the absurdity of a life that may well end before one understands it does not relieve one of the duty (to that self which is inseparable from others) to live it as bravely and generously as possible.”
It is the season when deer are on the minds of many. Last weekend we attended the fundraiser for the journal West Marin Review held by Point Reyes Books. Two great women poets read from their work: Kay Ryan and Jane Hirshfield and ironically among the many poems they read, they both chose to read works about deer. Selecting a poem from her book The Best of It, Ryan read “a buck looks up: the touch of his rack against wet bark whispers a syllable singular to deer; the next one hears and shifts; the next head stops and lifts; deeper and deeper into the park.” Hirschfeld choose a poem from The Lives of the Heart and read “a root seeks water. Tenderness only breaks open the earth. This morning, out the window, the deer stood like a blessing, then vanished.”
In his essay Thinking Like a Mountain, Aldo Leopold recorded the moment his ecological thinking evolved. “We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and I have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes – something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because wolves meant fewer deer, that no wolves would mean hunter’s paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with me.”
Leopold spent a lifetime as a forester, a professor and an environmentalist developing his ideas and perspectives on the ethics of nature and wildlife preservation. Ultimately, his philosophy, evolving over years of observation and contemplation became known as his Land Ethic, which is at the core of his most beloved book A Sand County Almanac. Aldo Leopold joins Henry David Thoreau and John Muir as one of our three great American wilderness visionaries and writers.
This weekend March 15 – 17, 2013, Point Reyes Books (near Tomales Bay) is hosting its 4th Geography of Hope Conference entitled Igniting the Green Fire: Finding the Hope in Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic. Typically held in March, these intellectual and spiritual gatherings are a gift to celebrate the coming of spring and rebirth encouraging us to think deeply about our relationships with the earth and our fellow living beings. At the conference’s center is the film Green Fire: Aldo Leopold and a Land Ethic for Our Time, a wonderful film directed by Steve Dunsky, edited by Ann Dunsky, written by Stephen Most and narrated by Curt Meine. It was announced at the conference that the film would be shown on PBS stations nationwide in April 2013.
Surrounding the film is a series of panel discussions with writers, thinkers and doers engaged the building of communities, the importance of stewardship and discussing our responsibilities to the land and to each other. One of the most compelling conversations has been with Michael Howard, Director of Eden Place Nature Center (part of the Fuller Park Community Development Corporation). Inspired by Leopold’s belief in the importance of community and the land, Michael Howard has built a park and a farm for the African-American community on Chicago’s South Side. “Eden” is in a place that was the former site of meat packing industry slaughterhouses, also polluted with lead poisoning which has impacted the ability of children to learn for generations. Howard deeply moved me with his work to try to persuade a people about the benefit of having a relationship with the land; a people whose daily concerns are about having money to pay bills and feed their children and who have spent years running away from a specter of linking the land to sharecropping and slavery. Michael Howard’s experience evoked for many conferee’s Paul Hawken’s Blessed Unrest about the emergence of non-profit and community organizations engaged in the environmental and social justice movement.
There is so much wisdom flowing from this conference, I will need days, weeks, perhaps a lifetime to really grasp and understand it all, and to see my thinking evolve as Aldo Leopold has demonstrated. But what rings clear and true is this: we need to understand that change is something that happens gradually, and it comes by engaging in deep listening, exchange with and respect for both humans and the land. We must learn to “think like a mountain.”