The tropics. White sand meets picturesque blue water. Palm trees heavy with coconuts, fields of sugar cane, sweet tropical fruit. A lack of seasons means flip-flops year round; a golden tan that never truly fades. So many of us daydream of a tropical island as our permanent home. There was a time in my life when I thought I was meant to be an islander; I was twenty. A year spent abroad on the shores of Australia had me convinced it was the way I was meant to live. Twenty years later as I approach forty, with two kids and a mortgage, it’s a daydream I sometimes still revisit; a “what if” that creeps in when days are long. As the depth of summer sends images of tropical locations across my social media feeds, I have been thinking about ways to bring its allure into my own life. What happened is I discovered the ways a couple of iconic Oakland names went after their own tropical dreams; the first of which was a man with a wooden leg who turned his Oakland watering hole into a Polynesian-themed empire.
“High on the summit of Oakland’s eastern skyline a Woodland Open-Air Theater and Temple of Honor, reached by a gigantic stairway and surrounded by a grove of huge Sequoia trees, are being constructed to commemorate great California authors of the past and of the future, who among their writings heralded to the world the scenic beauties and the historic life of our superb State.”
Gertrude Mott, 1936
I have become sentimental about Woodminster. Odd, given that until five days ago I had never set foot inside its gates. Something about how this place came to be, and how it has become a second home to a family that has been producing musicals inside its open-air bowl for fifty years, has captivated me. It’s a place that was built amidst depression; a “cathedral in the woods” to honor California writers. Its early advocates had high hopes for its use; festivals in honor of California literature, educational programs for East Bay schools and civic organizations, and of course large theatrical and musical performances. World War II caused the lights to be turned off for the first few years of its existence and the rise of the television caused interest to wane in the middle of the century. However, for the past fifty years the summer musical program has endured thanks to a husband and wife team that brought innovation, passion, and family-filled exuberance to this special spot in Oakland’s woods.
It’s National Pollinator Week and I just read an amazing fact; one third of all agricultural output in the United States relies on pollinators. Isn’t that unbelievable? Without the help of pollinators worldwide, such as bees, butterflies, and birds, we wouldn’t have coffee. Or chocolate. Or tequila! It’s funny, my husband’s favorite beer is Pliny the Elder, an IPA named after the famous Roman naturalist and produced by Russian River Brewing Company. I therefore find it ironic that as I read about pollination today I came across a quote by Pliny the Elder, “Nature is to be found in her entirety nowhere more than in her smallest creatures.” Its profound and true. Seventy-five percent of all of the plants on Earth rely on pollinators. Yet as industry, population, and pollution increase, their colonies are being threatened and destroyed at a disturbing rate. Its something to think about as you watch a bee buzz from flower to flower. I chose to honor pollinators this week in my own way; a trip to our local urban farming store for a jar of their honey, produced by their own honey bees. A day later I have a pitcher of honey lemonade to enjoy on this perfect summer weekend.
Hello Summer! Warm Days. Long Nights. The smell of the BBQ. Eating outside. Fingers sticky with watermelon; or an ice cream cone. There are so many things about the hottest of seasons that make memories so fond. Just last night my daughter and I enjoyed the longest day of the year taking a walk in flip-flops, picking blackberries, returning home to enjoy ice cream and slices of stone fruit pie on the back porch. As you look forward to these next couple of months, before Labor Day unofficially draws this time of year to a close, consider any one of the below as a great way to enjoy summertime right here in The Town. I know I will be crossing many of them off my own list, and hope to create lots more memories for the bank.
I often forget how close Oakland is to the coast. Not just to any coast, to the amazing Northern California coast; to Highway One, teal colored water, rugged cliffs, and quaint coastal towns. I was determined to partake in berry picking season this year. I lived in Portland, Oregon for several years and used to always head to the farms just outside the city limits to pick red, purple and blue colored berries when the season hit. When I reviewed lists of recommended spots to pick berries in the Greater Bay Area, I knew the coast was going to be preferred over inland spots. What resulted was a family day trip to Pescadero last Saturday. An early departure meant no traffic. Blue skies equaled that teal-colored water. A list of recommended stops yielded delicious indulgence. Eighteen pounds of bright red organic strawberries meant I had work to do when we got home.
Who was Howard Gilkey? He was a little boy from Iowa who loved to collect seeds and bulbs. He was a California teenager who worked for a famous botanist, cross pollinating plants as a “bumble bee”. He was a U.C. Berkeley student who sold gladiolus bulbs to pay his tuition. He was a City of Oakland payroll clerk who designed Lakeside Drive in his spare time. He was a landscape architect who designed the Cleveland Cascade in 1923. He conceptualized the grounds of Highland Hospital. He consulted on the landscape and gardens of Mills College. He designed projects such as the Woodminster Cascade and Amphitheater, the original Lake Merritt Wild Duck Refuge, and the Arboretum at Knowland Park. He produced the annual themed California Spring Garden Show for 23 years. Are you surprised you haven’t heard of him? I know I was.
I consider myself a creative person; yet I can’t draw, paint, or sculpt. My children will ask me to draw a lion or a firetruck, and I actually feel embarrassed as their wide eyes watch my poor attempt in action. On the other hand, my husband can sketch any number of things in a matter of minutes and their eyes light up. I suppose I will stick to reading books and the occasional Lego build. I think my creative side is a bit more subtle. I’ve been told I have a decent eye with a camera. I can come up with clever ideas for a party; invitation, decoration, theme and the like. I think my brain tracks somewhere in the zone between left and right; at least an online quiz told me that once. Places like Flax Art & Design inspire the right side. I know better than to load my basket with brushes and paints, but I can still enjoy what I might be able to DIY out of a beautiful paper or ribbon.
The donut. Or is it doughnut? Don’t fret, you can use either. If you want to be proper about it, doughnut was the word first used to describe these delectable fried dough creations. However, since its American variation “donut” has become mainstream since the mid-20th Century, this alternate spelling has made its way into the pages of Merriam-Webster. However you want to spell it, there is no denying its appeal. Most of us have childhood memories of the classics; lined up in a pink box, glazed and sprinkled to perfection. While nationwide chains have garnered the spotlight in years past, my vote will always be for the local shops that turn out small batches, crowded on trays behind glass for me to choose from. The question really becomes, do I chose an old-school classic in all its cake or raised glory or a new-school version in Cron’t or Naughty Cream-Filled form? You can’t really go wrong either way. The only thing that’s wrong is to let guilt get in your way. It has no place here.