Warm and clear. Our most fog-free month. Our warmest month. Nothing in the yards and gardens wants to quit. The fauna, the flora, they just keep going as the light gets shorter, the dark gets longer, the world cools toward what even here we call winter.
A ubiquitous feature of pedestrian life here: contractor stamps in the local sidewalks, saying who built the walk and, sometimes, when they did it. I assume the practice is much wider-spread than here in the Bay Area. When we were in Portland the week before last, I noticed a stamp on SE Ankeny Street, at SE 27th Avenue, that recorded a contractor’s name (Ryan) and year (1915).
What I like about the stamps: They give some sense of the history of the place. Walking around my neighborhood, you get a real sense of how development proceeded block by block. two blocks south and three blocks east, there are sidewalks dated 1910 or a little earlier. On the blocks immediately surrounding, the walks didn’t go in until the late 1910s or early ’20s.
I’m also impressed by some of the work I see. There’s a patchwork of replaced sidewalk here in Berkeley to replace walks damaged by tree roots or age. But a lot of the vintage walks have last nearly a century or more and look like they’re good for another 100 years. (I’m guessing that the climate here helps: There’s no hard freeze in the winter.)
Anyway, here’s a slideshow–a small collection of local sidewalk stamps and a handful of other notable sidewalk finds:
I think I know every way that blue jays are objectionable birds. They’re raucous. They’re aggressive. They prey on those weaker than themselves, and the young of those weaker than themselves. We had a towhee nest in a trellis on our back porch, and the towhees went about their business and laid their eggs, and in no time a scrub jay, maybe a couple of them, found about about it, and before we could stop nature from happening, the jays were having a scrambled towhee egg brunch.
Still. In the eye of this beholder they are beautiful. The blue plumage, for one thing. And their apparent intelligence. They just look like they’re sizing things up when you watch them. They give the impression that they’re watching you, too. Some California researchers believe our western scrub jays hold a form of funeral (more like a group alarm) when one of their jay buddies flies on to the next life (here’s a BBC story: Birds hold ‘funerals’ for dead; and a video of one of these gatherings).
The last couple of days, I’ve been trying to reclaim the North Forty (a.k.a., the backyard). A scrub jay showed up yesterday as I cleared weeds, and followed along behind me to pick over whatever I uncovered. This afternoon, same routine. This bird appeared entirely unafraid; I can’t decide if it’s a young one who hasn’t learned how untrustworthy the Wingless Two-Leggers are, or an older bird that has figured out that Berkeley is full of Bird Huggers.
Anyway. The bird hung around as long as I was clearing the ground. As soon as I stopped, it moved on, probably to the next easy meal.
The way things shook out last night, we would have had to rush to the Oakland ferry slip for our usual Friday night round-trip. So we decided to take it easy and do something else. “Something else” turned out to be going down to Cesar Chavez Park, the former Berkeley garbage dump, down on the bay. The Dog was so excited when he realized where we were going that he climbed into Kate’s lap in the front seat of the car when we got close to our destination. We parked right before the sun set, and took a long walk that looped down to the edge of the park, where the landfill ends and the bay sweeps out toward the Golden Gate, Angel Island and Marin County. A single sailboat was tacking along the waterfront, zigzagging its way back toward a berth in the Berkeley Marina.
A few years ago, my sister Ann came out from Chicago about this time of year with Dan, my bro-in-law, and her kids, Soren and Ingrid. I don’t think it was a particularly storm winter for them, but there’s no mistaking the “spring” equinox in Chicago for actual spring. You may have a few balmy days under your belt by now, but you also know that winter can come back and dump on you any time (as it is right now well downstate from Chicago).
Anyway, when brother-in-law Dan is a gardener, and I remember how amazed he was to come out from the Midwest, where green stuff is still mostly cowering under cover, waiting for some signal that it’s safe to come out, and see everything that was in bloom at the same time here in our Mediterranean climate. It’s way too easy to get used to: we have a profusion of blossoms, fruit trees galore, odd and exotic species of many sorts, and most of the time I see all that only on the edge of what I’m really looking at–whether there’s a car bearing down on me as I cross the street or where the dog is headed next.
I think I’ve mentioned sometime since Christmas that my kids gave me a macro lens for Christmas. Its fine points are still a mystery to me, but it is a way of looking closer at a lot of the stuff (and flowers and foliage) I stroll past every day.
A couple summers ago, when our minivan was still part of the family, we spent a few days on a car camping trip up in the Sierra. The experience was pleasing enough that we resolved that eventually we’d replace our trusty but musty little four-person tent with something grander. Last year, feeling flush with a big tax refund in hand, we bought a really big car-camping tent from L.L. Bean (I think you’d characterize it as a car-camping tent; if you were going to backpack with it, you’d probably want a Sherpa just to lug the tent).
The tent came in a big box. It sat and sat and sat in that box, all the way through last summer and the car-camping season. Eventually, I opened the box, removed the contents, which were packed up in a nice nylon duffel bag, and stowed them in a closet. And there they sat through the fall and winter.
Now, Kate and I are off for the next week–I schedule my vacations according to the Oakland school district calendar. And we’re thinking we’ll drive up to the northern Sierra foothills, where it’s still pretty cold at night, to hike out to a waterfall we read about recently. But first, we had to break out the tent and pitch it so we know what the heck we’re doing when we reach our campground. So, in our Berkeley flatlands backyard today, we put it up.
Wow–it really is big. I think we’re going to camp out tonight.
Our yard in Berkeley–it’s a work in its twenty-fifth year of progress. Or at least it’s been 25 years since we moved in here and the yard became our charge and responsibility. It has changed dramatically. The giant old Monterey pine that dominated the space (and often stirred anxiety during windy winter storms) is gone. The old clapboarded garage that the tree’s root was slowly lifting up and displacing: gone. In their place: a small addition, a patio, a small shed, a lawn that we put in several years ago. Plus an apple tree, a few bushes, several Norfolk pines in pots, and a lush expanse of oxalis that during the last couple of months of wet weather have taken over every last unclaimed square inch of ground (“unclaimed” meaning the large areas given over to a variety of dry-season grasses and weeds the rest of the year).
The apple tree back there is largely untended. The fruit seems to get shot through with worms before it’s ready for us to eat (or maybe I’m too picky about eating apples with a little wildlife in them). Looking this morning, when I went out in the back yard to experiment with a new macro lens (a Christmas present from the boys), I noticed there are still a couple of apples in a picturesque state of decay still hanging on the branches. Nearby, more picturesque decay: thriving in the rain and cold, mold and moss and lichen spread along the redwood fence between us and the neighbors to the south. Some years from now–maybe 25 years from now or maybe a little sooner or later–that fence will go back to earth, with the old apples and the piles of weeds and oxalis that get taken away for compost. Today, though, I can’t help but notice the buds getting ready to burst forth on the apple branches.
This holiday that’s coming? It’s been sneaking up on us. The main event in our lives day to day–work, and it seems to start before dawn and continue until bedtime. Even then, it’s not finished, but just suspended until the bell rings at the other end of a short sleep.
So today, I pulled out Christmas lights to start hanging them. I have been partial to those strings that have the strands that hang down from the gutters–icicle lights, I guess they’re called. Putting them up requires a trip up to the roof, after I untangle everything I thought I put away so carefully last year. Then I have to scoot and crawl along the edge of the eaves, hooking plastic clips onto the gutters and flashing and stringing the lights through clips.
Today’s light-hanging extravaganza took place a little while after a heavy but brief rain shower. Looking east after I climbed onto the roof, the sunlight was refracted in a curtain of rain blowing up into the hills. We didn’t get a rainbow, exactly–just the righthand leg of one bending up into the clouds, with a faint double. I grabbed my camera, snapped a few frames, and the lightshow faded in just a few minutes. Then I went back and hung the lights. They were on tonight when the next heavy burst of rain moved in.