City of light

San Francisco seen from the Port of Oakland. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.
San Francisco seen from the Port of Oakland. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Saturday morning we woke to rain. It was a happy shock, given California’s drought. Dropping off the car for an oil change, I asked the mechanics to install new wiper blades. Overreaction? Overly optimistic? Only time will tell. Regardless, the skies put on a tremendous show as the front pushed across the region. It was an opportunity to paint a special place where sky, sea and scape meet with spectacular results. Shoreline Park operated by the Port of Oakland offered a grand stand to capture the atmospheric show: cumulous clouds towering over the San Francisco skyline situated on a bay reflecting the sun’s blinding light. It is a rare gift to live near a city blessed with the drama of sea and sky providing artists an opportunity to capture light reflective and translucent.

J. M. W. Turner lived along the London’s river Thames and visited Venice with its Grand Canal. This summer the De Young Museum hosted an exhibit “Painting Set Free” sharing Turner’s landscapes drawn from the last fifteen years of his career. It is a show not to be missed. Peter Ackroyd’s biography of Turner explains the artist’s first encounter with Venice in 1819: “his first thoughts on seeing the floating city are not recorded but we may imagine the response of one who was so deeply attuned to the movement of water, to the passage of light, and the intermingling of the sun among the waves…..he stayed for only five days on this occasion but the city seized his imagination; he filled some 160 pages of his sketchbooks with drawings and groups of drawings. He also executed some wonderful watercolors of the Venetian morning, where the translucent and ethereal light of the city is evoked in washes of yellow and blue. That sense of light never left him. It irradiates much of the rest of his work.

Pictures at an exhibition

 

Mt. Whitney at sunrise. Robin L. Chandler copyright 2014
Mt. Whitney at sunrise. Robin L. Chandler copyright 2014.

In Bernard Berenson: A Life in the Picture Trade, Rachel Cohen describes how Berenson, revolutionized art history by his beliefs that  “one did not need to be steeped in history or iconography in order to respond to paintings…one could  be in an active relationship with paintings…one’s own private and profound experiences of them was not just for the rich or gifted but a natural capacity of the human mind and therefore available to everybody.”  Paintings, wrote Berenson, “hate people that come to them with anything but perfect abandon.” This month an exhibit of my watercolors hangs at the Sweet Adeline Bakeshop in Berkeley. Watercolors lend themselves well to my life in transit: they are light to carry, rapidly used, and quick to dry. As I walk and bike near home and work, or travel, I discover stories in the landscape. Watercolors and brushes at the ready, I stop to capture the moment with quick sketches. Some of these sketches mature into more detailed works created back in the studio.

While I firmly believe historical context is not required to enjoy art, it does, without a doubt, add to the experience. Depicting wild or urban settings, my paintings draw inspiration from the Hudson River School and Tonalism, groups of artists who expressed their experience of nature in very different terms. Hudson River School painters – including Frederic Church and Albert Bierstadt –  wrought panoramic vistas celebrating the magnificence of the land in sharply defining light. Emphasizing mood and shadow, the breaking dawn, gray or misty days, or light bleaching out sharp contrasts, Tonalist painters – such as George Inness and James McNeill Whistler –  softly rendered landscape forms in their paintings. Published in A Life in Photography, the painter and photographer Edward Steichen wrote “by taking a streetcar out to the end of the line and walking a short distance, I find a few wood lots. These became my stomping grounds, especially during autumn, winter and early spring. They were particularly appealing on gray or misty days, or very late in the afternoon or twilight. Under those conditions the woods had moods and the moods aroused emotional reactions that I tried to render…”For those of you unable to see the exhibit in person, I share the paintings with you now. Bring your perfect abandon and choose your perfect soundtrack to view the pictures at the exhibition.  Some may choose Mussorgsky, but for today’s viewing I choose Rufus Wainright‘s Release the Stars.

 

Torrey Pines early morning. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.
Torrey Pines early morning. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.
Swami's Beach at sunset looking south. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2014.
Swami’s Beach at sunset looking south. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2014.
Swami's Beach at sunset looking north. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.
Swami’s Beach at sunset looking north. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.
Swami's Beach at sunset on a rainy day. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2014.
Swami’s Beach at sunset on a rainy day looking south. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2014.
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
Wind and Wave. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2014
Natural Bridges late afternoon. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2014
Elkhorn Slough wetlands. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2014.
Elkhorn Slough wetlands mid-morning. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2014.
Moss Landing at sunrise. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015
Moss Landing at sunrise. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015
Pt. Lobos near Carmel mid-afternoon. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.
Pt. Lobos near Carmel mid-afternoon. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.
Sailboats on Alameda Estuary mid-day. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.
Sailboats on Alameda Estuary mid-day. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.
Oakland Skyline mid-day. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.
Oakland Skyline mid-day. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.
Oakland Terminal on Alameda Estuary mid-day. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.
Oakland Terminal on Alameda Estuary mid-day. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.
Storm over San Francisco view from Richmond wetlands. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.
Storm over San Francisco view from Richmond wetlands. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.
Grazing Sheep north of Point Reyes Station high-noon. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.
Grazing Sheep north of Point Reyes Station high-noon. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.
Black Mountain. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.
Black Mountain late afternoon. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.
Nicasio Reservoir at sunset.
Nicasio Reservoir at sunset.
Tomales Bay from Point Reyes Station storm moving in. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.
Tomales Bay from Point Reyes Station storm moving in. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.
Mt. Whitney at sunrise. Robin L. Chandler copyright 2014
Mt. Whitney at sunrise. Robin L. Chandler copyright 2014
View of Half Dome in Yosemite Valley. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2014.
View of Half Dome in Yosemite Valley. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2014.

Freedom, justice, and rights: blockbusters and sequels

Freedom, justice and rights.  Copyright 2013 Robin L. Chandler
Freedom, justice and rights. Copyright 2013 Robin L. Chandler

Summer is typically the time for blockbuster movies and their sequels: Iron Man, Star Trek, X-Men; the list goes on.  But this summer, you don’t need to go to the movies to participate in blockbusters and their sequels. History it seems is a series of blockbuster events with sequels, taking the form of declarations, laws, court-decisions, executive-orders, opinion-pages, blogs, marches, rallies, and the unfortunate loss of dialogue manifesting itself as gridlock, filibuster or most regretfully as violence and battlegrounds on the streets where we work and live.

Several anniversaries of blockbuster events concerning freedom, justice, and rights in our nation’s history occur this summer; some are annual rituals, others are commemorations of significant anniversaries.  Juneteenth celebrated annually on June 19 commemorates the day slavery was abolished in Texas in 1865 as a result of Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation.  The Stonewall Riots in New York’s Greenwich Village on June 28, 1969 were a series of spontaneous and sometimes violent demonstrations by members of the gay community (many of whom were angry and fed-up drag queens) protesting a police raid on gay bars. As a result gay rights organizations and newspapers were formed in New York and nationwide seeking civil rights for gay Americans. As a result, the first gay pride march was established in 1970, an event celebrated annually in cities throughout the United States and the world.  July 1 – July 3, 2013 was the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg considered by many historians to be the turning point in the Civil War, whose origins lay in contentions over the abolition or extension of slavery in the United States. July 4th is of course our annual commemoration of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence proclaiming all men are created equal, a statement universally adopted as human rights. On August 28th, our country will commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom where in 1963 more than 300,000 Americans rallied at the Lincoln Memorial calling for civil and economic rights for African Americans; this march is credited for the passage of the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965).

This summer has brought several poignant sequels to these litany of History blockbusters.  On June 25, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, originally passed by Congress and signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson aimed at eliminating various legal strategies to prevent African Americans and other minorities from voting by preventing racial gerrymandering among other actions. The Court’s decision freed nine states mostly in the South, to change their election laws without federal approval. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissenting from the bench declared “the nation’s commitment to justice had been dis-served” Shortly after the decision, the State of Texas announced the voter identification law would be in effect immediately and that redistricting maps would no longer need approval.

On June 26, 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court supported gay rights with two decisions favoring same-sex marriage ruling the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional and the permitting a lower court ruling to stand that struck down the state of California’s Proposition 8 ballot initiative defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Practically, the decisions mean that married same-sex couples are entitled to federal benefits and by declining to decide a California case, effectively permitted same-sex marriages to occur there, increasing to thirteen the number of states permitting same-sex marriage. The Court did not say there is a constitutional right to these unions, and the ruling left in place laws banning same-sex marriage around the country. In expressing the majority opinion on DOMA, Justice Anthony Kennedy declared the law’s basic flaw was the “deprivation of liberty of the person protected by the Fifth Amendment.”

Although unrelated to the dilution of the Voting Rights Act, additional sequel events happened this summer raising concerns about the erosion of freedom, justice, and rights for individuals in the African American community. On July 12, 2013 the movie Fruitvale Station, opened in Oakland, CA at the Grand Lake Theater. Not a blockbuster by Hollywood’s box office standards, the movie is a passionate, powerful, and important film for the local community and the world. The film tells the story of Oscar Grant, a young black man tragically killed by a BART police officer at the Fruitvale Station in the early morning hours of New Year’s day 2009.  Ironically, the next day, July 13, 2013, a Florida jury acquitted George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Travyon Martin, another young black man. Like the Grant experience, reaction to the Martin verdict included marches and demonstrations (some sadly degenerating to unnecessary violence and destruction) and sit-ins such as the Dream Defenders occupying the area outside Florida Governor Rick Scott’s office demanding the repeal of the Stand Your Ground law and the end of racial profiling. On July 16, 2013 Attorney General Eric Holder gave a speech at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) that criticized “stand your ground laws” in the wake of the Florida jury’s verdict  acquiting George Zimmerman ; in the speech Holder stated stand your ground laws “senselessly expand the concept of self-defense and sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods.” [1] Accepting the jury verdict, President Obama on July 19, addressed the frustration of the African American community saying “it’s young men are too often painted with a broad brush as potential criminals….black men in the United States, himself included, commonly suffer racial profiling.” He also said that “thirty-five years ago Trayvon Martin could have been me”

The blockbuster historical events and their sequels continue. Will we take part?  To be measured, History must be made, and each of us has a role in History making.  History can be made by forming our opinions through reading, thinking, and by voicing our opinions through word and deed. August 28th, 2013, Washington, D.C. will host the the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  Conferences and a rally will be held and a grassroots civil rights movement will be launched at 3PM that day called “63 Minutes of Peace.” 3PM was chosen, because that was the time Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his famous speech “I Have a Dream.”  The idea is to take 63 minutes of your day to volunteer to help change someone’s world, be it mentoring a young person, aiding a homeless person, or participating in voter registration.” So, in some cases we have made progress, and in others, there is much work remaining to be done. In the end, we must progress forward; we must voice our opinions and take action to achieve freedom, justice, and rights for all persons.

Big Pink

House. Copyright 2012 Robin L. Chandler

My neighbor’s house was an Oakland community landmark on Google Earth with its magenta walls and chartreuse trim.  It was so pink I always hummed something by The Band, which makes me think about the passing of the great Levon Helm, but that’s another story.  All colors fade in the sunshine, even the bright ones, and so the day came when a new coat of paint was required.   While most mortals choose the security of pale pastels for their homes, my wonderful neighbors boldly embrace intense, vibrant, juicy color.  The two-story domicile now dresses in an azure gown with lime accessories.   The transition was a delight.  For several days the house was a canvas where a team of painters painted layer upon layer diligently bringing blue to the forefront and quietly pushing the reddish-pink to the background. Daily life was being re-framed through the window. Within borderlines created by ledges and transoms, the colors and shapes were pushing and pulling within a geometric grid recalling one of my favorite painters Richard Diebenkorn.  Just a few weeks ago, we saw the Diebenkorn Ocean Park Series exhibit at the Orange County Museum of Art.  Initially inspired by the “view” from his studio window, Diebenkorn captured the geography, topography and hazy light inspired by the marine/desert environment of Los Angeles.  My love affair with Diebenkorn began over thirty years ago in a course taught by the painter Cornelia Schulz.  Captivated and spiritually centered by Diebenkorn’s strong horizontal and vertical bands of color I was inspired to see the world through his framework. Diebenkorn’s painting made me feel it was possible to realize something as close to oneness as can be known.  Critiquing my work, Schulz noted my clear interest in the Ocean Park Series and suggested that I seek out Diebenkorn’s inspiration: the abstractions created by Matisse of the “view” from his window during his stay in Morocco and Tangiers.  And I did.  Last summer San Francisco MOMA hosted the exhibit The Steins Collect which delved deeply into the art collections formed by  Gertrude, Michael, Sarah and Leo Stein.  Michael and Sarah Stein became great friends with Henri Matisse purchasing many of his paintings.    Leaving Paris before the Nazi invasion of Europe, Michael and Sarah Stein settled in Palo Alto, California.  After World War II, Richard Diebenkorn, an Art Student at Stanford University, regularly attended the salon’s held by Sarah Stein, where he was first exposed to Matisse’s paintings.  In 1964 and 1966 Diebenkorn had the opportunity to see many of the paintings Matisse created in Morocco and Tangiers at the Hermitage in Leningrad and the UCLA Art Gallery Matisse retrospective. In 1967, Diebenkorn moved to Los Angeles and the Ocean Park Series was born.

Burning Bright

The Tiger Copyright 2012 Robin L. Chandler

Durga, all fearlessness, patience, full of humor and creative feminine force, rides her tiger onto the field of battle, her eighteen arms holding weapons, the gifts of Hindu gods.  Fiercely compassionate, astride her tiger, the warrior goddess engages in epic spiritual battles to protect virtue and subdue the evil chaos unleashed upon the world by demons.  Durga rides a tiger because it is a symbol of unlimited power; the tiger is the king of the forest, a power on earth beyond the reach of any mortal.  An important figure in Hindu mythology, today the tiger is the national animal of India.

Inspired by Tea Obreht’s talk at Bookshop Santa Cruz about her magical story The Tiger’s Wife, I went to the Oakland Zoo to paint the tiger.  Obreht’s book examines how myths and stories can be a force for good or fuel for fear running “like secret rivers through all the other stories of a life.”  Obreht engages animal symbols to examine our fears about people – their race, culture and religion.   For Obreht animals in our myths and stories are symbolic catalysts for choice as we navigate life.  Is that animal an “it” or a “thou”?  The answer will determine how you act. You have a choice.  And by extension is the stranger an “it,” or perhaps someone with relationships, hopes and dreams just like you?  Pondering human nature in terms of communication taking the form of a monologue or a dialogue, the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber described human existence in categories of consciousness, interaction and being in his book I and Thou.

Myths and stories can be a force for good. Durga and her tiger subdueing evil chaos on a daily basis is a story that strengthens me while navigating a chaotic and unjust world.   But Obreht weaves a different story.  In her tale, the outsider – a person from a different culture and religion  – through circumstance, becomes the Tiger’s wife, a person, perceived by villagers afraid of “the other,” as a powerful mythical devil hell bent on bringing destruction.  Obreht’s grandather tells Natalia “there are some stories you keep to yourself – it belongs only to you.”   But Obreht’s tale is not a story you keep to yourself, it is one share.

After reading The Tiger’s Wife, I found myself acting out the pilgrimage of Natalia and her grandfather seeking Shere Kahn, immortal tiger of The Jungle Book. Last Fall, the Oakland Zoo rescued four young tigers, sisters all: Ginger, Grace, Milou, and Molly. Privately owned, a divorce suddenly rendered the young tigers homeless. The Oakland Zoo gave these magnificent and powerful animals a home, respecting the need to keep them as a family.  While there are only 3,500 wild tigers worldwide, it’s estimated there are more than 8,000 tigers privately owned in the U.S. and only a few of those are found in zoos. Tigers once ranged across Asia from Turkey to the eastern coast of Russia, as well as Java and Bali. Today they are an endangered species having lost 93% of their historic range and their dwindling numbers in the wild are now found only in India, Nepal, Russia, China and Southern Asia.  If tigers are to survive in the wild and in captivity, we must see them as beings worthy of our respect; they must be “thou” and not “it.”   As Obreht writes “he was only half wild and in his partial tameness…..he missed…..the companionship and predictability of life at the <zoo>…..however expertly he learned to fend for himself, his life as a tiger had been tainted since birth – maybe that great Shere Kahn light my grandfather believed in had already been extinguished….. but that is not the tiger on whose account my grandfather carried The Jungle Book in his pocket every day for the rest of his life….. it was <the Tiger’s Wife’s> great fortune…..to encounter a tiger that was not all tiger…..maybe it’s enough to say he enjoyed the sensation of her hand between his eyes…..she liked the way his flank smelled when she curled up against him to sleep.” Animals in our myths and stories are symbolic catalysts for choice as we navigate life.  And in reality, how we choose to honor the lives of animals, reveals much about how we choose to honor life itself.

Auld Lang Syne

Farmer’s Market, Splashpad Park, Oakland. Copyright 2011 Robin L. Chandler

“How do you do that?” said Terrell.  About six years old, my admirer sat beside me on the concrete wall.  “I like to paint too…Santa brought me some paints, brushes and paper.”  While his grandmother watched, I loaned my new friend some paper and a brush and, we painted together in the brilliant sunshine of this last day of 2011.  The Saturday Farmer’s Market is a worthy subject: a unique cityscape with the mixing and mingling of so many kinds of people engaged in reaping the fruits of farmer’s labor.  As I walk through the market and see the bounty of the harvest, I recall the stories from a wonderful book  Cultivating a Movement. Edited by Irene Reti and Sarah Rabkin, the book draws from oral histories documenting the lives of individuals engaged in organic farming and sustainable agriculture on California’s Central Coast. The interviews dig deep into the social, cultural and environmental history of California on a range of topics concerning organic / sustainable agriculture including the influence of the hippie movement of the 1960s and 1970s; the influence of Alan Chadwick on farming; the organizing of Mexican-American farm workers resulting in the formation of the United Farm Workers (UFW) union; the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring; the creation of the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF); and the influence of the UC Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. Recommended reading!

Our urban life blossoms in this space called Splashpad Park; an island of trees, shrub and grass floating between a major freeway and busy city streets.  Cars rush by; children and their parents line-up to see movies at the Grand Lake Theater; activists pass-out buttons and leaflets for Occupy Oakland while others gather signatures for a referendum against the death penalty; musicians play folk songs and Grateful Dead tunes; and shoppers visit the bakery, dry cleaners and other specialty shops as well as the Farmer’s Market.   Oakland’s community awakens on Saturday mornings, re-energized after the busy workweek, engaging in the timeless ritual of gathering those items necessary for sustenance.    Not sure if his little self will grasp all I wish him to know, but I pass on to Terrell the wise words of my drawing teacher Rob Anderson “draw what you know, what you see, what you feel, continue on until it is what you are.”  Grandmother gently urges Terrell that its time to leave; she rattles off the items they still need to buy: navel oranges, beets, radichio and arugula.

Turning back to my painting, I modestly attempt to capture on paper something reminiscent of the grand American Experiment performed by the Ashcan Painters – including Robert Henri, John Sloan, George Luks, William Glackens and Everett Shinn – a vivid description of America’s bustling cities and her people. My favorite painter of this Group – George Bellows – created some of the most moving depictions of the urban landscape: “The Lone Tenement”  and “Blue Morning.”  So, on this December 31, 2011 I raise my brush in celebration of painters old long ago, always brought to mind.

The Jewel of Turtle Island – Part Two

Another winter day at Lake Merritt. Copyright 2011 Robin L. Chandler

Last week we began the new chapter in our community history, Jean Quan was inaugurated as the first Asian and first woman Mayor of Oakland!  Quan brings over twenty years of experience on Oakland’s School Boards and City Council as well as the strong belief that communities and neighborhoods can work together to face the city’s challenges.  We find ourselves in challenging economic times: a deep gap exists between our expectations of government and society and the funding resources to realize these expectations.   We face tough choices in the years ahead, but we must trust and work together as a community to find the right balance. With the shooting of U.S. Congressman Gabrielle Giffords yesterday in Arizona, our society has received a startling wake-up call, and the dawn appears bleak, fueling trepidation about our abilities to discuss painful choices and work together to bring about non-violent change.  We must continue to engage each other in civil discourse to resolve our societal challenges. Our rallying cry will be a recommitment to our community, to our Turtle Island, because the alternative would be a geography of no-hope, and that simply is not an option.

Gary Snyder wrote in his book A Place in Space: Ethics, Aesthetics and Watersheds “Bioregionalism calls for commitment to this continent place by place in terms of biographical regions and watersheds.  It calls us to see our country in terms of its landforms, plant life, weather patterns, and seasonal changes….before the net of political jurisdictions was cast over it….it doesn’t mean some return to a primitive lifestyle or utopian provincialism; it simply implies an engagement with community…..some of the best bioregional work is being done in cities as people try to restore both human and ecological neighborhoods……such people are becoming natives of Turtle Island.”

The Jewel of Turtle Island – Part One

Winter day at Lake Merritt. Copyright 2011 Robin L. Chandler

Glen Echo Creek flows through Oakland’s Rockridge and Piedmont neighborhoods meandering from the East Bay Hills into Lake Merritt.  We first discovered this creek on a December Sunday afternoon after an IPA and a good game of scrabble at Catos our local pub. Glen Echo Creek daylights briefly paralleling Broadway and Piedmont for a mile before being channeled through underground culverts resurfacing to flow into Lake Merritt near the Veterans Memorial Building on Grand Avenue.   Walking home we traced the creek’s path and final destination, enjoying the reflection of Oakland’s twilight skyline and the “necklace of lights” in the water.   It was beautiful.

Walking on this cold January morning, the fresh water creeks and salty tidal flow create a flux where brown pelicans, snowy egrets, herons and cormorants seek fish and seagulls dive for mussels amongst the creek and sewer runoff, and stream of trash – a beer can, a plastic water bottle, a tennis shoe, a Christmas wreath, oil residue and the carcass of a possum – deposited after the heavy rains of December. Passing a homeless gentleman just beginning his day’s journey, I imagine this space two centuries ago when coho salmon and steelhead trout entered the estuary on their journey to spawn in one of the watershed’s four creeks** then sheltered among the redwood trees but now largely hidden, paved over with asphalt.

Ishmael Reed in his book Blues City: A Walk in Oakland describes Lake Merritt as the “largest saltwater lake in the United States….and before it was dammed it was part of the larger San Francisco Bay.”  In his discussions with Malcolm Margolin author of The  Ohlone Way and with naturalist and historian Stephanie Benevides, Reed learned the lake was originally an estuary and part of one of the largest marshlands on the Pacific Coast, a major stop of the Pacific Flyway for migrating birds coming south from Canada and Alaska for the winter. The marshlands were part of the larger ecosystem of grasslands and oak trees rising to hillsides with crevices cradling creeks and redwood trees.  Wildlife included grizzly bears, mountain lions, condors, bald eagles, deer and wolves.  In 1869, Dr. Samuel Merritt worked with the California State Legislature to make Lake Merritt the first wildlife refuge in North America.

Many an early morning, I have circumnavigated this body of water andcontemplated what an amalgam the estuary is and how this mixture serves as a metaphor for the City of Oakland.   Literally the lake is a mixture of fresh and salt water, their balances dictated by tidal influx and watershed creek runoff; and it is an urban park which merges the sublime natural beauty of  migrating winter birds, such as canvasbacks, goldeneyes and scaups, with the urban discharge of trash and waste.   Figuratively, Oakland’s jewel is a dynamic public space – a cultural estuary – where mingle peoples of many cultures, races, creeds, gender identity and sexual preference: rich and poor, young and old, the fortunate and desperate, those with homes and those heartbreakingly homeless.  They come seeking a safe harbor in which to play, exercise, rest, and draw inspiration from the tranquil beauty of the lake and its surroundings.   As Wallace Stegner wrote in his Wilderness Letter “we simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in.  For it can be a means of measuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope. “  Lake Merritt is Oakland’s geography of hope.

In November 2002, more than  80 % of Oakland voters passed measure DD, a $ 198.25 million bond measure to improve and restore Lake Merritt including reducing traffic, improving pedestrian and bicycle access to the park, renovating historic buildings such as the Boat House, landscaping and improving water quality through the upgrading of creek culverts and opening of the channel to the Oakland estuary.  Work has been proceeding the last several years, and we are benefitting from the fruits of these labors. New life is breathing into the lake and it’s surroundings.    But the story doesn’t end with the completion of the project — it is just the beginning of a new chapter of our community responsibility for this jewel of Turtle Island.

*for many months this homeless gentleman employed a car battery to power his television and a hotplate, setting-up camp near the Alameda County Courthouse

**the four creeks are Glen Echo, Pleasant Valley, Trestle Glen and Park Boulevard