Heaven always bears some proportion to earth: Ralph Waldo Emerson

Eternity glimpsed from the Bay Bridge. Robin L. Chandler, Copyright 2016.

Eternity glimpsed from the Bay Bridge. Robin L. Chandler, Copyright 2016.

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 wrotemedieval 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 DescartesCartesian 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.

Color from the sea

View of Santa Cruz coastline and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2014

View of Santa Cruz coastline and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2014

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.”

Sacred Path of the Warrior

Day 3: King City to Paso Robles; starting up Quadbuster. Robin L. Chandler 2014

Day 3: King City to Paso Robles; starting up Quadbuster. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2014

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.

Day Zero: AIDS Lifecycle

Bike at sunset onMonterey Bay seen from the Capitola Wharf. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2014.

Bike at sunset on Monterey Bay seen from the Capitola Wharf. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2014.

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.

 

 

si se puede: it can be done

 

Strawberry fields along San Andreas Road. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2014

Strawberry fields along San Andreas Road. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2014

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Egret on Elkhorn Slough. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2014

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Crossing the Pajaro River. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2014

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Monterey Bay from Fort Ord State Park. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2014

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

Or maybe the coast of Cal-i-forn

Monterey coastline. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2014.

A traveller walking the Monterey coastline. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2014.

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.

Els Segadors

Sketch of Salvadore Dali statue in surreal Cadaques, Catalonia. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2013.

Sketch of Salvadore Dali statue in surreal Cadaques, Catalonia. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2013.

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.

Sketch of harbor near Dali's home in Port Lligat, Catalonia. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2013.

Sketch of harbor near Dali’s home in Port Lligat, Catalonia. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2013.

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.