Building a bridge

Natural Bridges. Robin L. Chandler 2015.

Natural Bridges. Robin L. Chandler 2015.

“In poetry’s words, life calls to life with the same inevitability and gladness that bird calls to bird, whale to whale, frog to frog. Listening across the night or ocean or pond, they recognize one another and are warmed by that knowledge” writes Jane Hirshfield in her book Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World. Waking in the night, each breath calls to yours, building a bridge between us, and I am warmed by that knowledge.

Our share

Live Power Community Farm weekly share. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Live Power Community Farm weekly share. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Alan Chadwick was a master gardener and major influence on the birth of organic gardening in California. A teacher at UC Santa Cruz in 1967, he started the Chadwick Garden, where he cultivated the minds of many students minds and the seeds of the organic movement in California began to blossom.  UC Santa Cruz Professor Paul Lee wrote about Chadwick’s legacy in his book There Is A Garden in the Mind: A Memoir of Alan Chadwick and the Organic Movement in California. Stephen and Gloria Decater were students of Alan Chadwick; Stephen studied with Chadwick at UC Santa Cruz and followed him to learn and teach in Covelo, California where the master gardener briefly tended another Chadwick Garden reaching more students including Gloria. A living legacy was nurtured and blossomed in Covelo as Live Power Community Farm (LPCF), tended over the years by Stephen and Gloria, their sons and apprentices.  For almost three decades, we have been weekly share holders in LPCF, benefiting from the teachings Alan Chadwick gave his students. Every Saturday morning, the week’s harvest was delivered by the Covelo farmers to San Francisco where our community members sorted vegetables and fruit, flowers and eggs, grains and meat, delivering the weekly basket bounty – a cornucopia – to eager share holders like us. It has been a blessing: shared by Stephen, Gloria and the land. And for this we give our deep thanks for the love you, Stephen and Gloria, have given the land, and the sustenance of “bread” and teachings you have shared with us over the years. With your patient love and guidance we have become better stewards of both the land and the creatures, great and small, graced with walking her gardens. Amen.

Shall we gather at the river?

Santa Cruz lagoon. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Santa Cruz lagoon. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

The sun was high in the sky: the light blinding and the air hot; no breeze. The egrets gathered as a rookery on the fallen trees by the lagoon in the Santa Cruz watershed, collecting themselves in the cool of the Eucalyptus trees, like sinners awaiting their baptism to wash away their sins. For a moment I lost myself in the other, the landscape. Quietly, I started to sing “yes, we’ll gather at the river, the beautiful, the beautiful river, gather with the saints at the river, that flows by the throne of God.” Shall We Gather at the River was a signature song for John Ford the filmmaker famous for his westerns shot in Monument Valley; the song became soundtrack in some of his most famous movies including My Darling Clementine, The Searchers, and Stagecoach. Ford often used the song as a means to define the boundary between the anglo-churchgoing community “civilizing” the frontier, and the “other ” community defined by their racial and ethnic differences; the “other’s” music emanated from saloons and was typically defined by Ford as minstrel songs and Spanish California folksongs.

Art and poetry are means to give voice to the other, be it individuals, communities, or the landscape. In his book, The Other Voice: Essays on Modern Poetry, the poet Octavio Paz wrote “all poets….if they are really poets, hear the other voice. It is their own, someone else’s, no one and everyone. Nothing distinguishes a poet from other men and women but these moments – rare yet frequent – in which being themselves they are other.”

 

Fire next time

Beach fire Santa Cruz. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Beach fire Santa Cruz. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Darkness appeared in the corner of my eye. The sun dawdled splashing yellow and orange in her wake. Stars like motion detectors tracked the sun’s journey. And then suddenly, almost without warning, it was night. In the beauty of the evening it was easy to neglect the rotation and forward motion of time. Ebb tide, the waves teased the shoreline, waiting, where families danced the crescendo. On the beach friends gathered sharing stories and laughter. Beach fires, first flickering, grew stronger against the night sky, a shield against the darkness, a memory of color and warmth. In this context, fire is friend, a restorative. Staring into the magical flames, I reflect and imagine, a ritual connecting humankind across the millennia. But miles from here, on this summer night of the fourth year of our drought, fire crews are on the line, feverishly working to contain an inferno, capable of erasing entire communities. Difficult to believe on this calm, still night, but scientists say this pacific ocean nurtures El Nino; the infant, powerful, bringing rain and flood to wash away our sins. We live in a fundamental time; a time of powerful extremes. It is feast or famine, flood or fire; forces are in motion changing lives forever in a matter of seconds. A minor traffic violation, becomes a struggle for power; a match is lit resulting in a conflagration of unimagined consequences. Lives are ended, families devastated, and communities entrenched. And for what? How do we heal the rift and bridge the chasm?

The renowned African American writer James Baldwin published two essays as a book The Fire Next Time, taking it’s title from a line in a Negro Spiritual, “God gave Noah the rainbow sign, no more water but fire next time.” In the first essay titled The Fire Next Time:  My Dungeon Shook: Letter to My Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation, Baldwin discusses the history of race in the United States. Baldwin argues that Americans, black and white, must step outside themselves and re-examine what they believe, understand and fear.  Counseling his young nephew, Baldwin writes know whence you came. If you know whence you came, there is really no limit to where you can go…please try to remember that what they believe, as well as what they do and cause you to endure, does not testify to your inferiority but to their inhumanity and fear…and if the word integration means anything, this is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it…you came from sturdy, peasant stock, men who picked cotton and dammed rivers and built railroads, and, in the teeth of the most terrifying odds, achieved an unassailable and monumental dignity.

Blackbird, bye, bye

Raven on a misty morning. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Raven on a misty morning. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Last Wednesday was a beautiful misty morning; perfect weather for a bike ride through the great meadow. Everywhere the fragrance of sweet wet grass, and fog covered my Santa Cruz campus like a blanket. Damp air kissed my face making rivulets of sweat and rain. Up ahead a great black raven perched on a young Douglas Fir calling out percussively toc toc toc; I responded with a smile singing “packed up all my care and woe, here I go singing low, bye, bye, blackbird.” Written in 1926, Bye, Bye Blackbird became a popular standard covered over the decades by jazz singers such as Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen McRae, and Nina Simone. I climb the hill, my crank spinning deliberately, a revolution at a time, while I riff on John Coltrane’s cover of Bye, Bye, Blackbird. The great jazz saxophonist believed deeply in music’s power. In a 1966 interview with Frank Kofsky, published in Black Nationalism and the Revolution in Music, Coltrane said “music is an expression of higher ideals…brotherhood is there; and I believe with brotherhood, there would be no poverty…and there would be no war…I know that there are bad forces, forces put here that bring suffering to others and misery to the world, but I want to be a force which is truly for good.” It gives me great pleasure to write that the UC Santa Cruz Library Special Collections & Archives preserves and makes accessible the Frank Kofsky Audio and Photo Collection of the Jazz and Rock Movement 1966-1968. Selected photographs from the collection are available online including an image of John Coltrane and his wife Alice (on piano) in performance.

Field of Rainbows. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Field of Rainbows. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

It is no small irony that segregationists opposed to the Civil Rights Movement played Bye, Bye Blackbird to taunt the Selma to Montgomery freedom marchers in 1965. In just another few days, 2500 cyclists, including me, will start our own kind of freedom ride, cycling 545 miles in the AIDS Lifecycle from San Francisco to Los Angeles to help make AIDS and HIV a thing of the past. We ride for many reasons: because we’ve lost a loved one or a dear friend to the virus; because we hope to honor persons living with AIDS by meeting the challenge of the ride; and because we just want to try and help people in need. Please support my cause by donating to the AIDS Lifecycle helping me meet my personal fundraising goal of $ 10,000. http://www.tofighthiv.org/goto/robchandlerJune2015 This week I completed my last long-distance training ride for this year’s AIDS Lifecycle, a ninety-five mile round trip distance between Santa Cruz and Monterey. On the training ride, I travelled San Andreas Road, where calla lilies and strawberries planted nearby Monterey Bay created a quilt of rainbow colors. Serendipity. As if to honor we AIDS Lifecycle riders traveling this road next week on the way to King City. I know that there are bad forces, forces that bring suffering to others and misery to the world, but I want to be a force which is truly for good.

Beauty appears when one feels deeply

Sketch of a Coastal Live Oak in the UC Santa Cruz meadow. Robin L. Chandler, Copyright 2015.

Sketch of a Coastal Live Oak in the UC Santa Cruz meadow. Robin L. Chandler, Copyright 2015.

Who could imagine a university nestled amongst stands of redwood trees and situated upon a hilltop meadow on the edge of the Monterey Bay. In this aspect, and in many other ways, UC Santa Cruz is extraordinary. Every morning I bike up the hill through the meadow to campus, a worthy challenge, and every evening, work complete for this day, I descend the pasturage, enjoying the emerging stars cast against a Technicolor ocean sunset. When I can take a midday break, I walk to the meadow and sketch. There, amazing Coastal Live Oaks, joined by their companion Bay Laurels and Buckeyes, bridge the forest and the meadow. A particularly compelling Quercus Agrifolia has caught my attention; a massive tree that must be at least sixty feet high, and could be over 250 years old. The change it has witnessed. It’s trunk is massive, contorted and gnarled, its branches an intricate web, and its crown rounded and dense. It sits majestically at the crest of the hill, the redwoods, the meadow and the bay as it’s theatrical backdrop. Beauty was the subject of my last blog and my search, blessedly continues.

It is difficult to take a break from the demands of a busy work schedule, but sketching the tree offers food for my imagination, an opportunity to refresh my soul, and ground myself before returning to my responsibilities. Henry David Thoreau danced on the edge of a Buddhist koan, with this 1859 journal entry “I have many affairs to attend to, and feel hurried these days. Great works of art have endless leisure for a background, as the universe has space. Time stands still while they are created. The artist cannot be in a hurry. The earth moves round the sun with inconceivable rapidity, and yet the surface of the lake is not ruffled.” My friend Chip Sullivan, artist and author, states in Drawing the Landscape that we “draw because it is the act of seeing and thinking clearly…it allows a concept to evolve…it resides between freedom and structure…drawing can also be a meditation…Zen art is the expression of the artist’s own inner state of going nowhere to a timeless dimension.

A few months ago, a very dear friend was reading a book about the National Archives historic photograph collection. The page was open to an iconic photograph taken by Dorothea Lange of hungry people in breadlines in San Francisco during the Great Depression. That single moment, set me on a journey of discovery, a road I still travel – reading about Dorothea and her first husband Maynard Dixon and viewing reproductions of their work in books, films and in museums. In the Fall 2014, PBS American Masters series broadcast the film Grab a Hunk of Lightning portraying the life and work of the masterful artist Dorothea Lange. A section of the film included Lange speaking about the meditative experience of making art:

“When you are working well, it is first of all, a process of getting lost, so that you live for maybe 2 – 3 hours as completely as possible the visual experience…you feel you have lost yourself, your identity, you are only an observer…all your instinctive powers are in operation and you don’t know why you are doing things really. Sometimes you annihilate yourself; that is something one needs to be able to do. There are moments when time stands still. You hope it will wait for you that fraction of a second…beauty appears when one feels deeply. Art is an act of total attention.”

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.”

wind and wave

Wind and Wave. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2014

Wind and Wave. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2014

Wind and wave carved the barrel vault through which the tides pass. Frieze-like, cormorants and pelicans adorn the rock’s surface. Just offshore Santa Cruz, this nature-made arch stands proudly like a monument to stewardship of the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary. A bridge for centuries, the 1989 earthquake took only seconds to sculpt the arch from a span called Natural Bridges. Out in the bay waters, humpback whales feast on schools of anchovies. Early evening, living on the edge of the Pacific plate, my friend and I paint quickly attempting to capture this fleeting perfection with our brush marks. Thousands of miles away, seismic politics bring violence and death to innocents in Gaza and Ukraine airspace. All is suffering. A few lines from Robert Hass’ poem Bush’s War published in his book Time and Materials capture my sadness at this suffering:

“Someone will always want to mobilize

Death on a massive scale for economic

Domination or revenge…

Why do we do it? Certainly there’s a rage

To injure what’s injured us. Wars

Are always pitched to us that way…

The violence, it’s a taste for power

That amounts to contempt for the body…”

The history of all conflagrations ultimately includes the tallying of the dead, the wounded and the maimed. But they never tally the loss for the living. The black fonts on the white page cleanly mask the suffering. Colm Toibin’s closes The Testament of Mary with a conversation between Mary, the mother of Jesus, and a disciple, unidentified but likely John, one of the four evangelists. Mary spoke, her words brimming with her son’s suffering on the cross “I was there, I said. I fled before it was all over, but if you want witnesses then I am one and I can tell you now, when you say that he redeemed the world, I will say that it was not worth it. It was not worth it.”

Sometimes we paint to stave off despair. Chiura Obata the great Japanese American painter of Yosemite and the Sierras was interned at the Topaz War Relocation Center in Utah during WWII. Obata painted and wrote about the power of nature to absorb the scars of war. Writing about his series of Hiroshima inspired watercolors, Obata said “there is always harmony in nature, a balance between the dead and the living, between destruction and resurgence.” And so I rechristen Natural Bridges as Natural Arch, a monument to the cycle of life and to harmony, seeking balance between conquest and stewardship.

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.

 

 

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.