The News Arrives with a Bang

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We had that rarest of Berkeley weather days yesterday. OK — not as rare as snow. But we did have this:

Early in the afternoon, thunder started to roll as a storm headed our way across San Francisco Bay. We had a series of strikes over about five to 10 minutes, each closer than the last. One was marked by a brilliant flash and maybe a three-second pause before a big, house-shaking peal of thunder. I went to look out one of the front windows — to see if I could see the next bolt. In a couple of minutes, it came: a brilliant streak just to the northwest of the house accompanied by a simultaneous ear-splitting crash. The lights went out for a few seconds, then came right back on. I didn’t see exactly where the bolt hit or if it had hit, and was preoccupied with checking out a circuit-breaker that had tripped when the power failed. I figured the lightning had struck a school building that’s about 200 yards from us. I was expecting to hear sirens.

Maybe five minutes, maybe 10 minutes later, a fire truck rolled slowly up the street in the rain. I went out to take a look, and the first thing I noticed was that a big redwood up at the next corner, a full, beautifully symmetrical tree that was 80 feet or more tall, wasn’t there. My one thought going up the street was a hope that the tree hadn’t come down on the adjacent home and that the guy who lives there was OK. He was, emerging from the front door as I got up there. He said he was supposed to have an arborist come out next week to talk about thinning the tree, which had lost a couple of boughs during big windstorms over the winter. “I guess I don’t have to worry about that now,” he said.

The tree had detonated when the lightning hit it, and shreds and spears and chunks of wood and big sections of the trunk were scattered in the street and throughout nearby yards, It turned out houses a couple blocks away had been struck by debris. About a dozen homes, most in a 50-yard radius, had windows broken or wood come through the roof. Several houses, on the lots immediately north and west of where the tree stood, had more significant damage — one section of the trunk, 20 or 25 feet and weighing hundreds of pounds, had flown through the air, striking the front roof of a two-story house and fallen into the front yard. The house on the corner lot, where the tree’s owner lived, had parts of the roof smashed in and was red-tagged as uninhabitable for the time being.

And the tree itself? All that remains is a 25-foot-high snag that comes to a jagged point reaching up over the adjacent homes and foliage. Neighbors, gawkers and curiosity seekers have all been out picking up bits of the blown-up tree (the smithereens to which the redwood was blown); I saw a woman pull up, tour the site, and walk away with what looked like a 50-pound remnant. The red-tagged home and the remains of the tree have served as a set since for every Bay Area TV news show — until 11 p.m. last night and then again this morning before dawn. In fact, when I went out this morning to check out the scene, the Channel 2 reporter asked me if I’d go on camera. No, I said — I haven’t shaved since last Friday. I was wearing what amounted to pajamas. Et cetera. I’m all for projecting a rugged, laid-back image to my public, but I thought that might be going too far.

Today: The rumor is that a crane is coming to lift a massive piece of the tree off the corner house so that the place can be cleaned up and inspected prior to having the roof rebuilt. (And as you can see from the following slide show, the rumor was true. A crew has been buy all day removing big pieces of the trunk from the house, then taking down the snag. All very impressive to watch and still a big draw for locals who heard something happened here).

Here’s a collection pictures from the street, from yesterday afternoon through this afternoon:

Holiday Light

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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.

The Other Side of Winter

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The Bay Area winter is notable for its lack of snow drifts and subzero (Fahrenheit) temperatures; though, from what I hear, that’s true of virtually the entire country this this winter. But here’s something that doesn’t happen everywhere: in late January and early February, buds begin to flower. I’ve taken a picture of this particular bush before; it’s a flowering quince just up the street from us. Elsewhere in the neighborhood, plums trees are big, showy piles of pink. It’s almost enough to make you forget this year’s non-winter.

Some North Berkeley Flatlands Luminaria History

Berkeley Luminaria 2010

It’s almost that time again: Christmas Eve, the night of nights in our humble 99 percent neighborhood, where we express solidarity with all who celebrate light at this dark end of the year with–what? Paper bags, sand, and candles, also known as luminaria, luminaries, farolitos, and many other names that I am sure exist but have not yet come to my notice. Our one-night fete is the 24th, and this year will be the 20th time the neighbors here have gotten together to do this. Here are some posts from years past:

2010
Berkeley Luminaria: 2010 Edition

2009
‘Always on Christmas Night …’

2008
Luminaria Rainout
Happy Last of the Year

2007
Luminaria 2007

2006
Luminaria Streets
Hot Xmas Eve Bag Action

2005
Luminaria ’05: Pregame Report
Luminaria ’05: First-Half Action
Luminaria ’05: Second Half, Game Summary
Luminaria ’05: Maps

2004
Blogging the Luminaria

Morning-After Disassembly Line

2003
Luminaria

Lights

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The manse on Holly Street, in (nearly) full holiday regalia, with the moon riding shotgun in the clouds.

Berkeley Fourth: The Knuckleheads’ Turn

I confess: I think whoever it is in the neighborhood who’s still setting off firework as we’re moving toward midnight is (are) knucklehead(s). Never mind that even “safe and sane” fireworks are supposedly banned in Berkeley. From the little I saw strolling up around the corner this a little after 10, there was a bad mix of alcohol and clueless adults trying to please their mostly unsupervised kids. At one point, someone through a smoke bomb (apparently accidentally) in front of a cyclist who was riding down the street. Someone else sent up a couple of low-rise skyrockets without any apparent consideration of where the live cinders might come down (a neighbor’s roof and a redwood tree).

Knuckleheads.

In the distance, lots of ordnance going off. And some of it really is ordnance. Amid the loud pyrotechnics and potentially digit-severing small explosives, one hears occasional series of very regular, rapid reports. One presumes those come from fellow citizens celebrating the Second Amendment by firing off surplus 9-millimeter ammo. Distant sirens sound continuously. If John Adams could only see what his great anniversary festival has turned into.

Anyway. Here on our placid street, long before the concussive terrors that descend with the lowering of night, we had our Fourth of July picnic. A staple of this celebration: a watermelon-seed-spitting contest. Various categories of contestants, from young uns to novices to “pros,” try for distance (our neighborhood record: 43 feet and some inches) and accuracy. We also have what started out as a “trick spit” category and has now turned into a sort of improv theater “spit skit” — often referring to politics or sports or popular movies. In the past, we’ve had take-offs on “Star Wars” (“The Phantom Melon”), “Titanic,” and “The Sopranos” (“The Seed-pranos”).

What’s the flavor of the event? Here’s today’s “trick spit,” “The King’s Spit.” And yes, this actually was performed.

In a nation that long ago shed the chains of monarchy … and that has plenty of problems without having to deal with a bunch of hereditary narcissists … who gives a spit anymore about the royals? We do!

And since that’s the case … we want to bring you a very special moment in the history of the House of Windsor … where Prince Bertie is getting ready for his public debut – his very first solo spit … in front of the whole neighborhood.

Bertie

Hello, everyone. I have … a very special slice … of watermelon … from my dad … the king!

Crowd

Oooooohhhhhhh!!!

Bertie

Here … goes!

(Dribbles a seed onto his shirt).


Continue reading “Berkeley Fourth: The Knuckleheads’ Turn”

Berkeley Fourth: The Knuckleheads’ Turn

I confess: I think whoever it is in the neighborhood who’s still setting off firework as we’re moving toward midnight is (are) knucklehead(s). Never mind that even “safe and sane” fireworks are supposedly banned in Berkeley. From the little I saw strolling up around the corner this a little after 10, there was a bad mix of alcohol and clueless adults trying to please their mostly unsupervised kids. At one point, someone through a smoke bomb (apparently accidentally) in front of a cyclist who was riding down the street. Someone else sent up a couple of low-rise skyrockets without any apparent consideration of where the live cinders might come down (a neighbor’s roof and a redwood tree).

Knuckleheads.

In the distance, lots of ordnance going off. And some of it really is ordnance. Amid the loud pyrotechnics and potentially digit-severing small explosives, one hears occasional series of very regular, rapid reports. One presumes those come from fellow citizens celebrating the Second Amendment by firing off surplus 9-millimeter ammo. Distant sirens sound continuously. If John Adams could only see what his great anniversary festival has turned into.

Anyway. Here on our placid street, long before the concussive terrors that descend with the lowering of night, we had our Fourth of July picnic. A staple of this celebration: a watermelon-seed-spitting contest. Various categories of contestants, from young uns to novices to “pros,” try for distance (our neighborhood record: 43 feet and some inches) and accuracy. We also have what started out as a “trick spit” category and has now turned into a sort of improv theater “spit skit” — often referring to politics or sports or popular movies. In the past, we’ve had take-offs on “Star Wars” (“The Phantom Melon”), “Titanic,” and “The Sopranos” (“The Seed-pranos”).

What’s the flavor of the event? Here’s today’s “trick spit,” “The King’s Spit.” And yes, this actually was performed.

In a nation that long ago shed the chains of monarchy … and that has plenty of problems without having to deal with a bunch of hereditary narcissists … who gives a spit anymore about the royals? We do!

And since that’s the case … we want to bring you a very special moment in the history of the House of Windsor … where Prince Bertie is getting ready for his public debut – his very first solo spit … in front of the whole neighborhood.

Bertie

Hello, everyone. I have … a very special slice … of watermelon … from my dad … the king!

Crowd

Oooooohhhhhhh!!!

Bertie

Here … goes!

(Dribbles a seed onto his shirt).


Continue reading “Berkeley Fourth: The Knuckleheads’ Turn”

Berkeley Luminaria: 2010 Edition

Welcome to live coverage of the 19th Annual Holly Street Luminaria and Festival of Wonders.

No, I won’t keep that up for long. But it is the 19th year we’ve done the luminaria here. And unlike that first year (1992, for the historically minded), dozens of blocks surrounding us and many in other neighborhoods are having their own light celebrations tonight.

So, here’s a running account (below the slideshow):

[Christmas night: So much for the live blog. What happened was we set up our table in the driveway, as usual, to serve hot cider (and treats from many neighbors), and that was that. I spent the next three hours or so out there. Dozens of people came by, and we ladled up about three gallons of cider.

After that, I came inside and posted some pictures. And after that, we drove around North Berkeley with the Martinuccis, our long-ago co-conspirators in the luminaria game, to see where we might find them. We saw some as far north as Solano Avenue and Tulare Street, as far south as Ohlone Park at McGee and Grant streets, as far east as Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Vine Street, and as far west as Stannage Street between Hopkins and Page. The extreme northern and western points were not connected to our neighborhood, but someone out there has ideas about this.

When we were finished with the drive, a couple people in the van were nodding out. Kate and I came home, wrapped some presents while a Season Five episode of “Lost” played, then went to bed. This morning, there was nothing to do but pick up bags from the street, then go on with our holiday.]

6: 20 p.m. The first sign of the luminaria was reported this morning by Kate, who saw a block on California Street, around the corner from us, marked at 7 a.m. That was somebody getting a very early start. And tonight, bags are out and lit already on Cedar and California streets. Our street? Well, across the way, the Martinuccis and other neighbors are folding bags. We’re getting our cider ready, and have the table set up in the driveway. The sidewalks are marked.

Longest Nights

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With a dry day and an early shift at work, and inspired by seeing our across-the-street neighbors hanging lights in their big front-yard oak, the pieces fell into place for me to put up our Christmas lights late this afternoon and this evening. Yes, the job was stretched by having to run to the store to replace a couple of strands of dead or mostly dead lights.

After dark, another neighbor was stringing lights along her porch. And some friends across the street had their full holiday show on. And just in time for the first nights of winter and the longest nights of the year.

Luminaria 2007

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It will be hours before the luminaria are out on the street, but for the first time in a long, long time, I don’t think I’ll be around for the set-up; I’m working in the KQED newsroom this afternoon, and working in the newsroom means you get out when you get out (though one hopes it will be earlier than the 9 p.m. formal end of the shift). Here’s a bundle of my luminaria posts from previous years:

2006

Luminaria Streets

Hot Xmas Eve Bag Action

2005

Luminaria ’05: Pregame Report

Luminaria ’05: First-Half Action

Luminaria ’05: Second Half, Game Summary

Luminaria ’05: Maps

2004

Blogging the Luminaria

Morning-After Disassembly Line

2003

Luminaria

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