Living in the East Bay, our gaze draws westward, and this is not hard to understand. In the west looms San Francisco, our imperial city; our iconic bridges, the Golden Gate and the Bay Bridge; winter rainstorms are born there; and the sun, traversing the north-south longitude, sets in the west. And quietly, holding up the sky, Mount Tamalpais anchors my western horizon. Tamalpais is always there, grounding me; at times just in the corner of my eye, and other times commanding my full attention, whether near or far. My love for Mount Tamalpais has grown deep over the years – many chapters of my story feature this mountain. In the 19th century, the ukiyo-e artist Hokusai captured his love for a revered Japanese mountain with his famous series of woodblock prints Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji.
Inspired by two books, Opening the Mountain: Circumambulating Mount Tamalpais A Ritual Walkby Mathew Davis & Michael Farrell Scott and Tamalpais Walking: Poetry, History and Prints by Tom Killion and Gary Snyder, I persuaded my dear friends, to walk from Muir Woods to East Peak, the top of Mount Tamalpais. At the end of March, we covered a distance of approximately twelve miles, spanning a range of plant communities, including redwoods, mixed evergreen forests, grasslands and chaparral, as well as plants, such as ceanothus, endemic to the mountain adapted to the Serpentine soils. Our journey gave amazing views of the greater Bay Area and we saw Mount Tam’s sister mountains: Black Mountain (west), Mount St. Helena (north), Mount Diablo (east) and Mount Hamilton (south). The artist Tom Killion began his love affair with Tamalpais as a young man, and inspired by Hokusai, he created beautiful prints of the mountain from multiple viewpoints, many of them featured in Tamalpais Walking.
Last week, cycling from Oakland to Richmond on the Bay Trail, I travelled a diverse landscape featuring mudflats so alive with plants and animals coexisting with trucks and cars speeding by on asphalt and cement highways. This is nature – mankind a dominating part of a community of flora and fauna; this is not wilderness. Throughout the journey, there was my friend Mount Tamalpais, on the horizon, a guidepost measuring my progress, a signpost holding close my memories.
Cycling in the rain, while a bit hairy has great rewards. Riding the bike path on the Bay Bridge approach from Oakland to Yerba Buena Island suspends one in time and space. Rushing past, the wind filling my ears, I swear that was a glimpse of the great void in the corner of my eye. Perhaps, because of the recent deaths of cherished artists Alan Rickman and David Bowie, and the impending departure of a loved one, time and the measurement of our impact here on earth has been much on my mind. Western Civilization has bequeathed paradoxes to ponder and motivate us: reverence for eternity and a fascination with yesterday and yonder. Measuring, measuring, measuring, always measuring; how will we be judged by our peers or by heaven? Ungrounded measuring can mean endless suffering.
Lewis Mumford compared these paradoxes in The Golden Day. Describing the Middle Ages, Mumford wrote “medieval culture lived in the dreams of eternity: within that dream the visible world of cities and castles and caravans was little more than a forestage on which the prologue was spoken.” Characterizing the Renaissance, Mumford wrote “the first hint of change came in the Thirteenth Century, with the ringing of the bells…..as soon as the mariner could calculate his position in time and space, the whole ocean was open to him…..time and space took possession of the European’s mind. Why dream of heaven or eternity?…..outside the tight little world of Here and Eternity, they were interested in Yonder and Yesterday…..”
Reaching the end of the bike path, I dismounted and looked at the southwest vista. Thanks to Descartes‘ Cartesian coordinates, my position in time and space could be plotted, but where was I? Late afternoon, hundreds of cars rushed by, racing time, creating a thunderous enveloping sound. The grey twilight descended. Mortality, ageing and death are inescapable. All is impermanence, but acknowledgement is the first step on the Middle Way.
Reached from our hilltop campus by a swift bike descent, UCSC’s Long Marine Laboratory rests on the cliffs overlooking the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Today I cycled part of the Empire Grade and then spun quickly back down to the sea to visit the lab’s Seymour Marine Discovery Center. A research and teaching center, “Long “is renowned for innovative marine mammal research. Walking along the cliffs searching for a spot to paint, I was greeted by the sounds of the ebbing tide and the snowy plovers dancing along the water’s edge. Hard at work in search of nourishment, sea otters and bottlenose dolphins swim in the silver-white waves below me and pelicans glide searching for fish just above the whitecaps. It was late in the afternoon and mostly overcast but from time-to-time the clouds broke and the cerulean blue sky peaked through allowing sunlight to stream from above infusing distant cliff sides with a glow seemingly from within.
My visual experience is beautifully expressed by Santa Cruz resident, writer James D. Houston, who wrote Where Light Takes Its Color From the Sea, a series of essays about place inspired by the California landscape. In an essay titled “The View from Santa Cruz” Houston wrote “in later afternoon the light turns the bay white…the sea, as much as the light, gives this curve of coast its flavor. The light takes its color from the sea, sometimes seems to be emerging from it. And the sea here is ever-present. On clear days it coats the air with a transparent tinge of palest blue that salts and sharpens every detail…the slow process of erosion has left many colored cliffs – yellow, buff, brown and ochre. Each striated layer reveals the pressed sand of beaches eons old. Sometimes in the low sun of an autumn afternoon they turn orange and glow like the horizon itself.” With his wife Jeanne Wakatsuki, Houston co-authored the memoir Farewell to Manzanar. The Japanese Internment Camp Manzanar, located in the Eastern Sierras, resides in the shadow of my majestic friend Mt. Whitney.
The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is so precious; we must ensure its continued existence through direct stewardship and consciousness raising actions. On Sunday September 21, 2014 citizens from over 150 countries took part in a consciousness raising action for the environment and social justice, participating in a global People’s Climate March. Largely ignored by the mainstream press, Ben Wikler host of MoveOn.org ‘s “The Good Fight” has chronicled the march in his podcast which can be listened to in iTunes or through the web at “inside the ginormous, huge-tastic climate march.”
In Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior Chogyam Trungpa wrote “the essence of human bravery, is refusing to give up on anyone or anything….and the master warrior is extremely humble….humbleness comes from working with others…to give space and time to others to develop their own understanding of goodness and of warriorship…patience is extending gentleness and faith to others all the time.” The warrior possesses faith in the basic goodness of others, a fearless expression of gentleness and genuineness on behalf of all sentient beings, and understands that tenderness comes from strength…stable, solid and true. Yesterday, I reconnected with friends and fellow travelers riding in the AIDS LifeCycle 2014 contingent of the San Francisco Pride parade. The Ferry Building behind us, we cyclists, some two hundred strong, rolled out on to Market Street just behind the roaring engines of our beloved Dykes on Bikes. Peddling through the cheering crowd lining the route, my tears and laughter surfaced. On our helmets and bikes we all wore the number 1371 for Edna Flores-Lagunte, ALC rider, fundraiser, training ride leader and roadie, who sadly passed away this year on this her 13th LifeCycle. Edna was a warrior on the sacred path; she was loving, generous, joyous and so committed to helping others. Edna changed lives making them better. During the seven days riding from San Francisco to LA, I kept hearing the mantra “this ride will change your life.” By the time we left San Francisco on June 1, it already had. Physically stronger and mentally more disciplined than a year earlier, I had also deepened friendships through honest conversations that happen during a long-distance training ride. But my most important life insight was yet to be revealed. Cycling 545 miles opens your eyes and your heart to yourself and to others. During the ride, I learned that tenderness grows from strength. With strength, I changed a rider’s flat tire when I worried I’d be sagged. With strength, I helped a tired rider set-up their tent when I was hungry. With strength, I let a weary rider take a hot shower before me when I was cold. And perhaps most importantly, with strength, I aspire to be as loving, generous, joyous and committed a person as Edna.
Tomorrow morning at 6:30AM Day One of our seven day 545 mile journey begins. We cycle from San Francisco to Los Angeles and our first stop is Santa Cruz, my special home. Tonight my bags are packed and I am ready. Riding alongside many good friends, I’ve been training very hard this year with many miles in the saddle. It all started for me exactly one year ago when I watched two friends start the ride of their life on the AIDS Life Cycle. I was inspired to go the distance An adventure and a challenge, but it is a real means to help others and be the difference. I will ride tomorrow knowing that my riding supports the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center. These organizations confront HIV and AIDS through education, advocacy and free services for prevention and care by helping people locally and giving a voice to all people living with the disease nationwide. But I would not be riding without the generosity and support of my friends and family who have dug into their hearts and opened their wallets to give so kindly, enabling me to ride and for we together to help other people suffering with HIV and AIDS. On Sunday night my bike and I will rest by the waters of Monterey Bay in the knowledge that we’ve started something special.
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!
Santa Cruz ahead and Monterey behind, we cycled through coastal farmland on yet another rainless winter day a couple of weekends ago. Here in drought stricken California, the Monterey Bay shimmers beside us and the air is sweet, replenishing my body with every breath. It is nearing the end of a sunny day, high clouds above us, but distant hills are taking on a hazy quality and we are glad it’s only a few more miles to retrieve our cars. I feel a strange guilt and paradox. It is beautiful, but it should be raining. We are training for the Strawberry Fields Forever ride, a fundraising event sponsored by Cyclists for Cultural Exchange dedicated to the “express purpose of furthering peace and international understanding through exchanges between people with a common interest in cycling.” An unusual and wonderful goal! As happy as riding makes me, I am nagged by the lack of rain. We need a strong steady downpour to quench this parched land. My mind jumps months on the calendar knowing I’ll be cycling some of these same roads in June when more than two thousand of us ride in the AIDS/Lifecycle from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Excited about the long journey in June and that my fundraising is helping people with HIV/AIDS, I know the route to Los Angeles will take me through my beloved golden brown California landscape. Oh, but how I hope we get more rain and soon.
Putting those thoughts aside, I reach the crest of a small hill. About a mile ahead, a man, dressed in black, is pulling a shopping cart; a mystery considering there is no grocery store in sight for miles…no strip malls, box stores, houses or anything of the kind remotely close. The rich farming fields of Monterey County envelope us, a land where artichokes, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, and strawberries grow readily. Reaching his side, I note his tiredness and resignation, but I grasp this young man in his dirty Superman t-shirt is on an epic journey. He is not homeless, he is without home. Hoping my last Clif Bar will ease some of his sadness, he tells me his name is Lawrence. He describes leaving San Diego some weeks ago, “Life got messed up. It was time to walk…walk a long time…leave it all behind me…I’m going to Washington State. The walk will make it better. But Big Sur was rough. I barely survived.” Reaching into my pocket, I pull out a twenty, giving it to him as I shake his hand hoping the gesture will get him a little farther down the road and a few steps closer to finding home. I wish you well Lawrence wherever the road takes you.
It was time to return to my own odyssey. As my bike put space between us, I began to sing Bob Dylan’s Farewell, a tune lingering with me since seeing the Coen brother’s Inside Llewelyn Davis.I hope Lawrence strikes it lucky on the highway goin’ west.
“Oh it’s fare thee well my darlin’ true,
I’m leavin’ in the first hour of the morn.
I’m bound off for the bay of Mexico
Or maybe the coast of Californ.
So it’s fare thee well my own true love,
We’ll meet another day, another time.
It ain’t the leavin’
That’s a-grievin’ me
But my darlin’ who’s bound to stay behind.
Oh the weather is against me and the wind blows hard
And the rain she’s a-turnin’ into hail.
I still might strike it lucky on a highway goin’ west,
Though I’m travelin’ on a path beaten trail.
So it’s fare thee well my own true love,
We’ll meet another day, another time.
It ain’t the leavin’
That’s a-grievin’ me
But my darlin’ who’s bound to stay behind.
Maybe it’s gravity, centrifugal force, or just the force of my own nature, but I always find a comfortable place to anchor, while traveling amongst the new. No surprise confession here, but I love comfortable places where friends talk over wine and beer, and in Barcelona, I will add Els Quatre Gats to my list. Of course given my current obsessions with cycling, it helps a lot that the café features a mural size art nouveau style painting of two cyclists on a tandem by Ramon Casas. Opened in 1897, Els Quatre Gats was a home to the artists and intellectuals participating in Barcelona’s Modernisme movement. It was a favorite place of Picasso, who came to Barcelona to study painting, laying the foundation for his Blue Period. Picasso had strong connections to this region, personally requesting that the Museo Picasso be built in Barcelona. Over glasses of cava and grilled calamari, we talked about our day visiting the northern Catalonia towns of Figures, Cadaques and Port Lligat on the “Salvadore Dali Trail,” and mused about the two artists and their context within the Spanish Civil War.
Painted in 1937, Picasso created Guernica in response to the then recent bombing and destruction of the Basque village by German and Italian warplanes allied with Franco’s forces fighting the Spanish Republic’s Popular Front. Guernica was first exhibited in June 1937 at the Paris International Exposition by the Spanish Republican Government and then travelled to England and the United States with the hope of raising awareness and sympathy for the elected government of the Spanish people. Picasso, who died in 1973, never returned to Spain while Franco was dictator.
In 1936, Salvador Dali painted Soft Construction with Boiled Beans(Premonition of Civil War). Known as a Surrealist, Dali worked in what he described as the paranoiac critical method to access the subconscious for greater artistic creativity. While sketches for the painting are dated to 1934, Dali felt the painting described the many hardships endured by Spaniards during the Spanish Civil War. In 1934, Dali was expelled from Surrealism by Andre Breton and the other Surrealists allegedly because of his ambiguous position on the relationship between politics and art. Dali returned to Spain in 1949, living in Port Lligat until his death in 1989 fully embracing Franco’s dictatorship.
Lately, cycling has taken a prominent place in my life; it obsesses my thoughts and it floats through my dreams. I continually cruise peoples’ bikes comparing brands and components; I obsessively monitor my tire pressure; free moments catch me surfing the internet planning road rides; and sometimes in sleep I am climbing the Col du Tourmalet in the Pyrenees and see myself flying downhill, joyously singing, alive, transcendent. Cycling is my primary transportation to work in Santa Cruz and I love everything about it: my breath hanging in the cold morning air; the golden sunrise dancing on the waves; the smell of sardines in the harbor; the cormorants drying their wings at the mouth of the San Lorenzo; the sight of the Big Dipper at the Boardwalk; the red-shouldered hawk’s cry piercing the still meadow; and the steady rhythm of my heart. I’ve even come to humor the stiffness in my cranky knees. But lately, cycling has also become poignant. Riding has become a ritual of honor, an epic poem of remembrance, my song of mourning.
Every year the AIDS Lifecycle, the 545-mile weeklong bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles begins with a ceremony featuring the poignant entry of the riderless bike. The entourage escorting the bike includes self-identified HIV positive cyclists calling themselves the Positive Peddlers; the ritual honors those who have passed and those who are so ill they cannot ride. In the 1990s, I worked with a wonderful man and archivist named Willie Walker. A nurse on the SF General Hospital AIDS Ward, Walker, when he realized gay history was becoming a victim of the AIDS epidemic, founded the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) Historical Society of San Francisco, along with Alan Berube, Estelle Freedman, and several others. Walker was also the project archivist for the UC San Francisco (UCSF) Library AIDS History Project. During the 1990s, Walker was my colleague and friend when we collaborated at GLBT and UCSF. In June 2002, I did my first AIDS cycling event, the European AIDS Vaccine ride. This month, I registered to make this epic journey again. In June 2014, I will ride in the AIDS Lifecycle to raise money to help persons living with AIDS and HIV and to honor friends I have lost. We lost the generous, loving, and dedicated Walker several years ago, not to AIDS, but to other natural causes. But on the road to Los Angeles, I will honor and remember Walker and how he fought AIDS by keeping history alive.
A ghost bike is a bicycle painted white, serving as a roadside memorial when a cyclist has been injured or killed by a motorist. It is hoped that the memorial will remind drivers to slow down, share the road, and fully grasp the potential destructive capacity of the vehicles they drive. In early November, we lost Josh Alper while he was cycling north of Santa Cruz on Highway One. Josh was beloved by so many; he brought us music, humor and such sweetness. He was also so earnest about helping students and faculty at the UCSC Library. When shopping for a new bike, I purchased my new wheels at Santa Cruz’s Spokesman on Josh’s recommendation. Josh was a gearhead about bikes and Spokesman is a bike shop with a tip-top crew of gearheads; they, like Josh, know their stuff. From talking to Josh, it was clear he loved riding, building and maintaining his bike. He was also devoted to the history of the sport. Waiting in line for coffee, he often spoke to me about his deep respect for Greg LeMond, three-time winner of the Tour de France and the only American to win this epic contest. He urged me to read Slaying the Badger: Greg LeMond, Bernard Hinault, and the Greatest Tour de France; he loaned me his copy so I could understand the now mythologized rivalry between teammates LeMond and Hinault. In honor of Josh, the Spokesman bike crew assembled the ghost bike, one of many memorials to this young man. You are greatly missed Josh, and always will be. In early 2014, I will ride with other cyclists to honor, remember and mourn Josh as we escort his ghost bike to its final resting place.
Homer’s poetic narrative of the Trojan War, The Iliad ensures immortality for Achilles and his fellow warriors. Inscribing their glory in battle, their deeds live on, honored in perpetuity. In Ancient Greece, the recitation of the epic poem was an act of remembrance, honoring the glory of warriors. In 21st century California, with the act of cycling, I will honor, remember, and mourn the glory of lost comrades.
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.”