Once upon a time, a volcano tipped onto its side. Millions of years later, quarries were dug within its ancient bowels and pieces of geological history were unearthed. As stone was left to settle, upturned from the depths of the earth, is it possible that an energy was lifted, creating a mystical place that has drawn people to these hills in search of a way to discover their own answers? For some, the twists and turns of the ancient landscape of Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve have created tranquil spots to leave their own mark in the form of concentric curves. The mysterious labyrinths found within the parks borders have become landmarks in their own right. While the history of labyrinths and their symbolism is varied and long, what became curious to me is their invaluable message in modern times. Often described incorrectly as a maze, the labyrinth is the antithesis of its more complicated counterpart. One way in and one way out; a singular course with only one direction. For me, during a time of confusion, change, and decisions, a quiet wander through their soothing turns on a foggy morning was a welcome moment of peace.
Let’s be honest. The days dedicated to the celebration of food have gotten a BIT out of control. From popcorn to pickles, if there is a food you love more than anything else in the world, I’ll bet there’s a day somewhere on the calendar dedicated to its creation and all its iterations. A day to celebrate it…and perhaps eat it without guilt. If there is one sweet treat that deserves its own day, it is ice cream. In fact, it technically has an entire month. The warm summer month of July is known as National Ice Cream Month; its third Sunday is the day to raise your spoons in honor of its deliciousness.
For so many of us, ice cream holds a special place in our memory banks. I remember sitting as a kid in the old Ice House in Montclair with my cone of blue bubble gum…and a styrofoam cup to collect all the colorful balls. Just two weeks ago I watched my daughter sit in the sun at the Alameda County Fair with a huge swirl-filled waffle cone covered in sticky drips; her face covered in an even bigger sticky grin. I smiled and fought the urge to pull out the napkins until she was done. Fentons Creamery in Oakland is a place where many of us have made such memories. It has been in business for almost 123 years…and seems to me to be the perfect place to add one more memory this Sunday.
Do you ever look at someone else’s life with envy? Do you admire someone, driven by passion, who has taken what they love, followed the calling, and turned it into their profession? As someone who has never had a well-defined career, a title to easily slide after my name, I envy those who not only have that title, but wear it as a badge of honor because they are doing what they truly love. If I was ever to put the title “Farmer” after my name, many in my family would die of laughter. I do not have a green thumb; you could call it black. Things don’t stay alive in the dirt when I touch them. Not only that, I don’t like to garden, plant, pull weeds and so on. Yet when I am on a farm, I SO desperately wish I could be one of those people who loves it. To be a farmer would incorporate so many things that I DO love; early mornings, the outdoors, healthy food fresh from the dirt. If I could only get over the “don’t like to dig in the dirt for hours on end” thing I would be all set. I would be sold. To visit a lovely young couple from Oakland that has done it, turned their passion for fresh produce into a way of life that sustains them with their very own Happy Acre Farm, brought my envy bubbling to the surface.
I am lucky to live where I do. Oakland has endless spots where I can simply take a turn and be transported from pavement to dirt. The sound of birds chirping may be accompanied by the drone of a leaf blower but as my feet carry me further into the hills their song becomes a cappella. The namesake giants of Redwood Regional and winding trails of Joaquin Miller are second homes; a curve or bend in a trail is as familiar as a corner of my hallway. The wildland parks and trails of the Oakland Hills are sought after spots for many to escape urban daily life. However, there are times when I feel like my escape does not deliver the solitude I need. Trails such as Stream and Sequoia-Bayview can become nature’s version of a highway. Three weeks ago, in a quest for quiet on a particularly difficult day, I turned to the lesser traveled Leona Canyon Regional Open Space Preserve to be alone with my thoughts.
I have been thinking about my elementary school days lately. In a matter of months my son will cross the threshold into his Kindergarten classroom; I will likely be wiping tears away as I wave goodbye. It’s a big transition time for families; a time of growth, change, and celebration as a new normal settles in. While we still have summertime on the horizon and there is fun to be had, it’s hard not to think about what’s ahead. It makes me think about my own childhood days in the classroom. While time behind a desk was punctured with the fun-filled chaos of recess, it was field trip days that were always a highlight of the school year. During my recent wandering through Oakland’s Chinatown I stood in front of The Fortune Cookie Factory and thought about a field trip of my own a long time ago to watch fortune cookies being made; and of course being sampled by my eager little hands. I figured it would be fun for my equally eager grown-up hands to get inside and relive a childhood memory that was sure to end with the fun crack of a fortune cookie being opened.
If you were to ask me what I miss these days, my answer would be traveling abroad. Tight budgets and two little ones have kept my feet local in recent years; I have mixed feelings about it. While I have re-discovered my own town and all its nooks and crannies, I ache for the adventures of international travel. Discovering the nuances of other cultures by wandering the streets of a foreign city is not only an unforgettable memory, but an invaluable learning experience. Not knowing what to expect, to be pleasantly surprised by stepping a bit outside of your comfort zone is a growing experience. I once had a day like this in the bustling city of Shanghai. Abroad for business, I had one day to myself. I studied my map, stepped outside my hotel feeling a bit nervous and hesitant, and I walked. It became one of those days I have never forgotten. At the end of the day while I had logged miles, viewed temples, drunk tea in a historic tea house, taken in the architecture of the French Concession district, what has stayed at the forefront of my memory is the unexpected. A hapless wander through a city park where I photographed people sitting on the park benches; couples, families, friends in the midday bustle.
I was on a walk in my neighborhood several weeks ago and I came to a stop to stare at an oak tree. I can’t really explain why; maybe it was because it at the top of a hill and I needed to catch my breath. Perhaps it’s because things often catch my eye and I pause to take a closer look. In this case it was the way the huge limbs swept up and over my head; a canopy to filter cloud and fog. I snapped a picture and kept walking. A week later my family enjoyed a Sunday morning at the Oakland Museum of California and I spent some time in front of the exhibit about the oak tree. A blog post was born. I have been asked how I come up with what to write about; well there you go. My busy mind got to work. Why is Oakland named after the oak tree? How did it become the symbol of our city? From our garbage cans to our T-shirts; its roots symbolize our civic pride. What started as a momentary stare at an old giant turned into a quest to learn more about Oakland’s beloved oak.
I have always loved the rain. I love the sound and smell of it; sometimes I even like the feel of it. I watch my kids stand completely unfazed by their drenched clothes and dripping hoods as they stretch their red, cold hands out to feel the droplets hit their palms. The winter season of 2016-2017 has brought endless downpours to Oakland and beyond. To say our ground is saturated is an understatement. Water has been endlessly streaming through our neighborhood days after the skies have cleared. The green blanket of weeds in our yard is nearing knee height; my husband often sighs at the work ahead. While temporary creeks seem to exist along every curb with a downward slope, I started to think about the vast watershed that cuts through our city. I crossed my fingers that a series of dry days might remove the slickness from the mud and I hit the trails of Joaquin Miller Park in search of the sound and smell that I love.