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.

Orange October

Fall in Westchester County, New York. Copyright 2014 Robin L. Chandler

The Orange of October in Westchester County, New York. Copyright 2014 Robin L. Chandler

Two nights ago the San Francisco Giants won their third World Series in five years. Can you believe it? We had witnessed first-hand the 17-0 drubbing a visiting Los Angeles Dodgers had delivered to our boys in mid-September; and as the season drew to a close, those same Dodgers claimed the Division title, and the wild card berth was the last glimmer of hope for our Giants. Our boys in orange and black were not blessed with the dominating pitching rotation that had secured their crowns in 2010 and 2012, so we silently feared their post season appearance would be brief. We had an ace this year, Madison Bumgarner, but it seemed unlikely a team’s destiny could rest with the arm of one young southpaw. But Madison’s teammates got something started. First came Brandon Crawford’s grand slam in the National League Wild Card elimination game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. And then came the 18-inning game with the Washington Nationals where a fastball crushed in the late night by Brandon Belt became a walk off home run. Of course there was Senor Octobre, aka The Panda, himself. And our spark plug The Preacher, Sasquatch (as I nicknamed Michael Morse) and the rest of the “killer Ps,”  and last but not least, one of the greatest situational managers on record, Bruce Bochy. Steadily, game by game, we began to believe. Maybe there was something to that little voice in my head…”they always win it all in even years.” I started humming Don’t Stop Believin’ and We Are The Champions.

After defeating the “Nats,” the Giants dueled with the St. Louis Cardinals for the National League Pennant. During the Pennant race, we visited New York City once home to Harlem’s Polo Grounds and Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field; these mighty stadiums, the historic homes of the Giants and Dodgers until expansion brought their rivalry to California in 1957. In 2014, Cardinals had won their Pennant race berth by defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers most feared pitcher, Clayton Kershaw. We enjoyed the cultural delights of New York City by day and found neighborhood pubs by night to soak up the play by play of the Giants and Cards matchup. Maybe it was the experience of those previous Series, but the Giants had something extra. Calm and focused, battling against the odds, they came to play every day. Even when the night before was a crushing defeat –  a fabric appearing torn beyond repair, they never gave into despair. And then Travis Ishikawa, who almost hung up his cleats this summer, eclipsed Bobby Thompson‘s 1951 “Shot Heard Round the World” with his pennant winning homer.  The Giants kept working together as a team, and each game was a fresh start, a new dialogue, a renewed bargain.

Tom Stoppard’s play about love and relationships The Real Thing is on Broadway this October. In the play, Charlotte, a divorcee, tells her former husband Henry “there are no commitments, only bargains. And they have to be made again every day. You think making a commitment is it. Finish. You think it set like a concrete platform and it’ll take any strain you want to put on it. You’re committed. You don’t have to prove anything. In fact you can afford a little neglect, indulge in a little bit of sarcasm here and there and isolate yourself when you want to. Underneath it’s concrete for life.” Charlotte implies relationships are not static, they are dynamic; they are a negotiation and you must keep working at them and through the wear and tear of daily life, bringing your “A” game every day.

Relationships are never static. This theme surfaced in an exhibit of Cy Twombly’s work currently on display at the Morgan Library and Museum entitled Treatise on the Veil. The series of paintings and drawings were inspired by French composer Pierre Henry ‘s work The Veil of Orpheus. Working in the style of music known as “music concrete” (music based on collecting random sounds and abstracting their musical values often by manipulating recordings on magnetic tape), Henry evoked the journey of Orpheus to the underworld to rescue his wife, Eurydice as the sound of tearing fabric. The composer references the moment at which Orpheus loses his bride forever by transgressing the gods’ command and gazing upon her before leaving Hades. Twombly visualized “the sound of a relationship ending” as a study of subtle variations of gray – like concrete –  mapped over time on a canvas nearly thirty-three feet long. Sitting before Twombly’s painting, I was struck by three artists grappling with the juxtapositions of concreteness and fragility; static and dynamic; commitments and bargains. And I meditated on relationships, battered by the strains of daily life. We cannot assume relationships are concrete, able to withstand any storm. They are fragile fabrics susceptible to wear and tear, neglect and strain. Relationships, just like baseball teams playing in the World Series, thrive by renewing the daily bargain…by never giving over to defeat and despair. Yes, they suffer frays and tears, but no matter how bad, the negotiation – the bargaining –  begins anew with the windup and delivery at the top of the first.  When asked if the season was over, Yogi Berra replied “it ain’t over ’til it’s over.” And if anybody made us believe that, it’s the 2014 San Francisco Giants!

Remembrance

Sunset on Monterey Bay from the UC Santa Cruz bike path. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2013.

Sunset on Monterey Bay from the UC Santa Cruz bike path. Inspired by the artist Doug Ross. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2013.

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.

puede ir más allá en el año nuevo

May you go Furthur in the New Year. Copyright 2010 Robin L. Chandler

Thirty minutes after the doors opened, I walk off BART and onto the dance floor of the Bill Graham Auditorium, the party in full swing.  Cannabis clouds envelope me, crowds of swirling dervishes surround me, the lights paint me surreally and the band welcomes me, the words of an Estimated Prophet hang in the air “I’m in no hurry, no no no. I know where to go….California, preaching on the burning shore…..California, I’ll be knocking on the golden door…..like an angel, standing in a shaft of light. Rising up to paradise, I know I’m gonna shine.”  Synchronicity.  I am here.

Hours before I’d burned the two thousand miles from Austin to San Francisco; a western pilgrimage branded by rain, snow and wind. Somehow synched, the band breaks into Cold Rain and Snow “run me out in the cold rain and snow….and I’m going where those chilly winds don’t blow.“   Our road home through Abilene, San Angelo, Midlands, Van Horn, El Paso, Lordsburg, Tucson, Blythe and Los Angeles shared most of the 2,765-mile route of the Butterfield Overland Mail Trail.  The stagecoach operated from 1857- 1861 traversing the Great Plains, the Sonoran Desert and the San Joaquin Valley connecting St. Louis to San Francisco.  Evidence of ruts left by Butterfield stagecoach wheels, formed more than one hundred and fifty years ago, remains visible to hikers in the Anza Borrego Desert (East of San Diego).  Sobering is the power of mankind to create lasting change, or in the desert wilderness, permanent damage.  Leave no trace.  Good advice in the wilderness, but judging from the energy around me, the Grateful Dead left an important lasting impression.

The band breaks into Tennessee Jed singing “there ain’t no place I’d rather be, baby won’t you carry me.”  My mind flashes back to John Ford’s masterpiece Stagecoach the first film with a soundtrack scored entirely on American folksongs combining traditional Texas and  ballads, Stephen Foster compositions, hymns, tin-pan alley tunes and minstrel songs. Stagecoach’s theme contain the lyrics “O bury me not on the lone prairie…..
Where coyotes howl and the wind blows free…..By my father’s grave, there let me be….
O bury me not on the lone prairie.”  Roots of the Dead.  Synchronicity yet again.  
As if a messenger sent, my dear friend  emerges from the seven-thousand year-end revelers while the band sings Scarlett Begonias “once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if you look at it right.”  Synched once more.  My friend leans over and whispers “the jam builds with Phil and Bobby at the core, the keyboard and lead guitar forming the outer rings of sound….all echoed in the movements of the dancers.”   May we all be blessed in this New Year with such joyous synchronicity.

floating world: arancia hearts

With the coming of the cross-quarter,  winter begins.  Leaves in artful decay proclaim the changing season.  Gone are summer’s limbs heavy with ripened apricot and plum.   From the corner of my eye, the persimmon, branches nearly bare, adorned with amarillo bangles and arancia hearts. Floating. Breathtaking in the fading light.  I paint; a deep sense of connection between myself and everything. For the moment, I fade away, lost in the act.  Later, steady cold rains: the kind we welcome to keep the drought years at bay.   Mugs of hot matcha take the edge from chilled hands.   In the oven, persimmon cookies bake, the golden taste of connection. (San Francisco) California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.

Persimmon Tree. Copyright 2010 Robin L. Chandler

Legends tell us the heart-shaped Hachiya fondly called kaki was introduced to Japan from China in the 8th century by a wandering Buddhist. The monk traveled Japan subsisting on persimmons spreading seeds “Johnny Appleseed-like” throughout the land.  Masaoka Shiki a 19th century Japanese author helped revive waka and haiku poetry and introduced the concept of nature sketching or shashei honored the fruit’s place in Japanese culture with this poem composed while stopped at Nara on his journey to Tokyo:

I bite a persimmon

the bell tolls

Horyu-ji Temple

In her book Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry, Jane Hirshfield writes that “every good poem begins in language awake to its own connections….it begins…in the body and mind of concentration….true concentration appears paradoxically at the moment willed effort drops away….the self disappears ….we seem to fall utterly into the object of our attention, or else vanish into attentiveness itself.”  Echoing Jane Hirshfield, Phil Lesh lovingly described his life with the Grateful Dead in  Searching for the Sound . “We were in the music and the music was playing us. To loose oneself completely in a spontaneous flow of music is one of the great human joys: one is creating, but being created. In fact, one no longer exists. At the same time, there’s a give-and-take a handing off of ideas that mimics the process of thought itself….Bobby and I left holes for each other’s notes, creating an interlocking constantly changing rhythm.”

landscape of memory

On Sunday April 4, 2010 a 7.2  earthquake rocked Baja California and the desert lands near San Diego, Anza Borego and the Salton Sea.  For nearly a minute tectonic forces were oblivious to international boundaries and struggling peoples trying to make ends meet on either side of the border.

Anza-Borego Desert East of San Diego. Copyright 2009 Robin L. Chandler

Such a jolt shakes personal and collective memories  to the surface…quakes I have known myself such as October 17, 1989 Loma Prieta or quakes I have mythologized such as April 18,  1906  San Francisco.  On October 17, 1989 after leaving the Montgomery Street BART station, I walked the six miles home.  Gone were the thoughts of seeing the opening game of the World Series Giants versus the Athletics  as I hiked past the milling crowds of displaced persons, broken glass, fallen bricks, and scent of natural gas. I heard snatches of news from people sitting on their front porches with battery powered transistor radios reporting fires in the Marina District, the collapsed Cypress Structure in the East Bay, and the severe damage to the Bay Bridge.  I trudged onward uncertain as to what I would find at home in Noe Valley.   Sometime later, I reached the Mission District and walked up the Dolores Street hill where with enough elevation, I was able to get my first view of the city.  I turned slowly, dreading what I might see, but the city was intact — yes there were fires and yes I knew some person’s lives would be changed irrevocably, but at that moment it was not the chaos and extensive devastation I feared.  Suddenly I realized where I was standing  at 20th and Dolores the site of the Golden Hydrant.

Taking a quote from About.com “On the morning of April 18, 1906 on the slopes of Noe Valley overlooking the Mission district, Dolores Park was packed with displaced citizens watching the fire advance from downtown. This hydrant across the intersection of Dolores and 20th streets was found to have water, but the exhausted horses could not pull the fire engines up the hill. The people mobilized to do the job, then spread out under the firefighters’ direction and, with crude tools and hand labor, stopped the flames”  and saved the Mission District  from the advancing fire. This hydrant is painted gold in a special ceremony every April 18th at 5:40AM.

That sense of a shared history and a collective memory with San Franciscan’s past and their strength to rebuild after tragedy gave me courage to keep struggling forward. David Blight in his book Beyond the Battlefield: Race, Memory and the American Civil War describes collective memory as “the ways in which groups, peoples, or nations remember, how they construct a version of the past and employ them for self-understanding and to win power and place in an ever-changing present.”  I think San Franciscan’s proudly tap collectively into the  memories and mythologies of the ’06 earthquake drawing strength to overcome these unstable times.

Aftershocks continue here in San Diego, and daily National Public Radio updates me with news of the 6.9 earthquake in Quinghai, China near Tibet and the eruption of the glacier bounded volcano in Iceland.   Amid these geologic statements that humble humankind reminding us that we cannot and should not expect to control all,  I continue to work on my paper  considering digital libraries and the  “Landscape of Memory” and think about the role of archivists in shaping history and memory as described by Rand Jimerson in Archives Power as generations pass, written records and other forms of documentation must take the place of personal memory….. Historians have also begun to recognize that archives are not simply locations to examine authentic and reliable records of the past, but are also active agents in the shaping of what we know of human history….the role of archivists in this interplay of history, truth, memory and evidence requires examination.  As collectors, guardians, appraisers and interpreters of the archival record, archivists actively shape society’s knowledge of the past. “

I go among trees and sit still

Sunday morning and I wake up hot. Again.  For the last few days,  Southern California has been dominated by a High Pressure system  and we won’t see relief until later this week. After moving part of my life to San Diego last year, I came to understand there are only three seasons  in the southland: rain, hot and fire.  The season of fire has come and several fires are tragically raging now in the Los Angeles Basin.  Still horizontal I begin to dream of shade trees and my mind wonders again to cooler climes of the Spring and my visits to Tomales Bay just north of San Francisco.  On Inverness Ridge, the west side of Tomales Bay and the gateway to Point Reyes National Seashore, there are coast woodlands of  Bishop pine and Douglas Fir. On the eastern side of  Tomales Bay are the open oak woodlands and grasslands with dairy and beef ranches — often visited by families of deer.  Much of this land on the eastern side has thankfully become conservation easements  protected by the Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT).

On this side we  also find the non-native Blue Gum Eucalyptus and the  Monterey Cypress planted by early settlers in this community to provide shelter from the winds.

Monterey Cypress

Monterey Cypress. Copyright 2009 Robin L. Chandler

On my visits to Tomales Bay, I’ve tried to quickly capture the trees and grasslands of the eastern side in watercolor and ink with a bamboo pen.

Blue-Gum Eucalyptus

Blue-Gum Eucalyptus. Copyright 2009 Robin L. Chandler

Daydreaming still, the words come from several Wendall Berry poems I’ve read in his book A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979 – 1997.  “I go among the trees and sit still. All my stirring becomes quiet around me like circles on water. My tasks lie in their places where I left them, asleep like cattle.”   Then as a hot breeze comes through my open window I think “of deep root and wide shadow, of bright, hot August calm, on the small, tree-ringed meadow.”   At the end of a long, hot day last Thursday, I cycled to Leucadia and then returned home.  It was a beautiful evening, and the air was still warm even as the sun set in the West.  As I started up the Torrey Pines hill on the coast highway suddenly the temperature changed drastically.  The pines nestled among the canyons of the park create  a blessed coolness  — the air felt like cool water lapping against my skin as I swam up the hill.  I was thankful for the trees whose kindness helped me ride that hill.  Rooted in the earth but reaching towards the heavens,  trees give us life.