** NB: This will be my final entry on THE STREET. Tomorrow, on the first day of 2013, I intend to make my first entry on a new blog IN BEAUTY. I need a new beginning. We all do. '
Nothing to see but streets, streets, streets. Nothing to breathe but streets, streets, streets.' -So said Dickens long long ago, really not so long ago . . . ***
I live in a curious (and beautiful) region where the signs of change are continuous and variable, as I suppose change must be, but still it is sometimes confusing when signs of winter's onset appear simultaneously with signs of birthing spring and the demise of summer.The last leaves are dropping from the Ginko trees and at the same time, the tree branches are prickling with buds. For these trees, winter is a silly inessential comma shoved between summer and spring. Beneath their temporarily barren branches, green green grass is frosty white in early morning hours, but spring bulbs ignore the cues of winter's entry and take
advantage of increased sunlight to proclaim the arrival of spring. The first hyacinth is in full bloom, and its sweet perfume tangles with that of dozens narcissus flowers opening; indeed, some of the earliest spring flowers are already nodding, their bloom finished.What to make of this signatory confusion?
That the signs we read, those we recognize as measures of certain 'truths,' i.e. the reality of seasons, are not concrete markers but flickering shades, anchored not to any concrete reality but tied loosely to shifting context?I dunno.
'Thinking' may help me reorganize this confusion of seasons into a new sort of normalcy, but who knows. There is an argument to be made for recognizing and reading signs, but what happens when the inherent meaning of the signs changes? There are times when signs advertise a spent reality or are written in an archaic language. What then?
I tend to think that we might try abandoning our notions of knowing and instead dive into what surrounds us, swim in it, feel it, breathe it, swallow it, live it. Of course, there are things we need to know, we need to consider, to manage, if we are going to create useful joyful communities focused on the future, but we also need to dive into dream, even if the sign reads STEEP DROP. In this past year, we have all come to the edge of one cliff after another, fiscal or otherwise, and, at times, ignoring the warning signs, stepped over the edge. We haven't crashed yet.
As I write this, I hear my neighbor's wire-wheeled high-polished purple hot-rod fly by at super-speed. I look from my window and see him flash by and note that he ignores the red light on the corner and the one by the school and the one beneath the BART tracks. No one follows. This is not a good 'sign,' I think; it does not suggest peacein the New Year . . .
But is it a sign and if this is a sign, what kind of sign is it? One easily ignored or one arriving with as much vigor and determination as the fragile pink of the hyacinth beneath the leafless still-blooming rose? Is it sign of continued decay, rising anger? A sign of dismay or simple youthful recklessness? Or one of bizarre hope, the extreme hope to get from here to there at speed without crashing?
I suppose it's all in how we read it.
The pink heart above covers a hastily spray-painted swastika, a sign emblazoned on two phone poles at the opposite ends of one block by some misdirected (or angry) individual. Some days later, another more concerned and thoughtful resident (or passer by), stenciled pink hearts over the swastikas, imposing a beauty and grace over disorder and suggested mayhem. The signs shifted and the social environment of the block shifted. Anger was translated into peace.
How do we discover harmonious solutions to complicated life puzzles? By ignoring signs, or by recognizing signs and then re-imagining them, re-purposing them? By translating the negative to the positive? By learning a new language, unearthing a vocabulary of justice, discovering the grammar of love?
Maybe the only solution is to open our arms to life, to wake, to rise, to sleep, to be.
I suppose it's all in how we sing it.
And dance it.
These last few days, as I walked about the Street, watching my feet, avoiding the bits of trash, squashed cigarette cartons, empty juice boxes, discarded one-shot liquor bottles, I found myself amazed at a delicate beauty newly arrived. As I stepped past the decaying disposable diaper box that has been three days now in front of the corner house, caught a blowing newspaper with my free hand, I looked down and thought -- perhaps incongruously, perhaps miraculously -- of winter gardens.
After these weeks and weeks of rain, drab sidewalks are now sparkling emerald green. Every gutter glows mossy green. Every hole next to every drain is suddenly cloaked forest green, and previously dull and dusty brick pathways now blush pink and lavender, happily nestled inside this sudden green.
I know it won't last, but I'm enjoying it for now.
As every crack has filled with velvet moss, broken sidewalks transform to road maps of imagined realms, vibrant exuberant magical places. Wild rivers are marked out in green, some with islands and some with spreading deltas caving into invisible seas.
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Sober crossroads are chopped and channeled,
marking close distances that are still too far to see, jungles crashed to deserts, mountains reaching past a flattened grey-smoke into mica-star skies.
Who wouldn't want to pause momentarily, decide which path to take, maybe climb those mountains?
I stop, one foot on the crossroads, and watch my neighbor lift a cut tree from the top of his car, its limbs bond tight against its trunk. Another drapes ropes of entwined pine over and through his chain-link fence. Someone else has nailed a wreath of rosemary on their entry door. They are all following the tradition of bringing green when all outside fades to gray, but I wonder if they take the time to look down and discover this 'other' green -- this brighter, fresher, sudden green -- in gutters, on sidewalks, against fences, beneath their feet.
I love winter wreaths alive with holly berries, but I want to dive into those mossy rivers of green.
Last week in the falling rain, I was driving to work and flashed on a jewel-like neighborhood park building, glistening and sparkling, just about as colorful and as playful as I had ever seen. I immediately slowed, pulled over to the curb, and walked under the dripping canopy of trees so that I might see this magical building close-up and personal.
The exterior walls of the entire building (housing bathrooms) from ground to roof-top had been covered with colorful mosaics. Birds and butterflies in a blue blue sky, sun and moon on high, and a waterfall, rain like rivers coursing down. Flowers blooming, children leaping, tiny dogs with tails (I swear) wagging so hard raindrops escaped the wall in widening circles.
Small cats with big whiskers and leopard spots. Rainbows arcing, hibiscus detached from trees. Hummingbirds as iridescent on the wall as they are in air, and fish swimming in the oddest places. What would ordinarily be a drab utilitarian building had been transformed to a magical mystery tour of sunshine searing shade.
The mosaics reclaimed Maxwell Park
as a place for play and happiness, banishing the darker days of dissipated decay. Apparently, as I learned, this project, four years in the making, is not over yet. Neighborhood residents promise the walls inside the bathrooms will soon be covered with equally cheerful mosaics. Like the contagious joy of the Peralta Junction Creative Commons, this neighborhood art project brought positive energy, expansive hope, and joy
to a struggling community.
Art is magic; it has the power to transform the dingiest landscape, the most mundane yet necessary objects of everyday life, like the trash cans pictured below -- also covered with lively mosaics -- located some miles away from Maxwell Parl along Grand Ave near Lake Merritt, standing like sober sentinels, motionless but still breathing happiness onto city streets.
Transforming trash, and using trash to transform.
Recycle, reuse and be reborn.
Karen Cusolito sculpture, outside the American Steel Building
is now officially open for business.
Today's grand opening was joyous and peaceful, alive with music and smiles.
Pumpkins were carved. Faces were painted, and visitors danced while music played, and I came away with some moderately priced and unique gifts for future occasions neatly tucked in a paper bag.
Last night the fog horns were moaning dolefully out on the Bay, but the early morning fog burned quickly away, leaving stunning blue skies and warm -- almost too warm -- sun. I walked up to the Junction late morning with my little Earnest trotting beside, discovered the magic of this brand-new creative commons , and then returned mid-afternoon alone so I might explore the booths and speak with the artists. The morning crowd was small, but by mid-afternoon, the parking lot was filling fast . . . (yes, there is a parking lot -- and a parking lot attendant!)
I can't say I was able to speak with all (I'm too shy) or that I saw all that there was to see (so much!), but what I did see and what I did hear, I thoroughly enjoyed. The Midway was open with its delightful games carefully (and playfully!) crafted from found materials. I think my favorite game is the one that has participants shooting streams of water into suspended oil cans. Fill the cans and a truly magical balloon ship careens into an imagined sky. Cooperation encouraged. :-)
Bucksome (sic) Bedy's booth features winsome painted ladies, scantily dressed, who willingly further disrobe if a player's beanbag hits the painted panel just right.
Parental approval required ;-)
The tilting board of 'Bar to Home' asks a player to gently coax a largish ball to wend its way home through a maze on trails drilled with strategically placed holes. Not easy. Necessary moves are subtle but the controls large, requiring full-body involvement.
By the way, as a woman, I have mixed feelings about the painted women standing targets, patiently waiting for beanbags to hit their clad bottoms and tops, revealing what hides below. I don't want to throw any kind of object at man or woman, even in play. I understand, of course, that as Baktin suggested, that 'to degrade is to bury, to sow, and to kill simultaneously, in order to bring forth something more and better,' to ask us to confront our habits -- as uncomfortable as that might be. I just wonder if a similar and equally happy game might be made with a magically painted landscape, clouds hovering above. Hit the clouds and flowers sprout below. Hit the sun and fruit sprouts on the tree. I do, however, appreciate the cheerful carnevalesque painting of the Bucksome Bedy booth. This is carnival, farcical fun. Farceurs have long considered it their responsibility to breathe a little oxygen into the smoldering fires of society’s discontent . . . and do so while inhaling lyric beauty.
The surrounding shoppes offer hand-made foods -- organic doughnuts, delicious Oaxacan tamales (meat, chicken, or vegetarian; I once enjoyed one of their breakfast pineapple tamales -- exquisite), popcorn, and gorgeous little cupcakes plus all kinds of hand-made goods and crafts, including organic body lotions, distinctive hats, wild vests, metal work, hand crocheted baby shoes, jewelry (no bling, just hand-made wondrous stuff), and the unique silk-screened ties, cheerful dresses and skirts of Trinity Cross' inspired Field Day.
Have fun browsing and rummaging. You're sure to find something you like.
And for those who want an unusual souvenir of their day at the Junction, there's even a photo booth where families can have their picture taken against a cheerful red and white background . . .
I don't think it's possible to come to Peralta Junction and leave grumpy. There's just too much to make you smile, too many other people smiling and and laughing, too many horses and monkeys and elephants and strange birds -- and pumpkins -- all grinning madly.
Shawn Feeney's portrait pumpkins smiling under Bunnie Reiss' Diamond Horseshoe stage
Don't wait until November to come to visit the Peralta Junction Midway and its shoppes. Most vendors now on site will be gone by November. There will be new folk, new wonders, in November, but certainly, you don't want to miss these folk!
See it all!
Come on down and dance a little, smile a little, remind your bones what it is to have fun.
Your heart will thank you.
Playful pixies have been skipping about town, scooping up armloads of fairy dust, sparkle, and bits of glittery sunshine, and now they're getting ready to open their arms and throw all that light into the air, let it drift down over West Oakland, settling a smile on every face.
Plans are underway to transform a dusty lot in West Oakland to a lively pop-up creative commons, featuring art, performances, and interactive activities. Peralta Junction
, located in pie-shaped lot at West Grand and Peralta St, is scheduled to open October 4 and the organizers hope it will bring joy and wonder to Oakland Residents throughout the fall season. Activities have been scheduled for weekends throughout October, November and early December.
This arts-based gathering space will soon come alive with carnival barkers, sweet talkers, artist harkers, and maybe even a dog or two. Jugglers? Maybe. Clowns? Wait and see.
Come one, come all! Come have fun at Peralta Junction! Experience the magic, the wonder, the dream!
After all, tis the season for magic and witchery, spells and dreamery. There will be Halloweenery! Pumpkins! Gardens! Music!
And laughter , especially laughter.
Take a deep breath and discover how art can create community by creating happiness.
Already this empty lot is being transformed. A steel dandelion gone to seed has sprouted in one corner, towering over pop-up garden beds alive with thriving squash plants and pumpkin vines.
A stage is being built and the existing storage containers are being painted with vibrant murals while the fence ringing the yard has been hung with burlap brightly painted with light-hearted images: playful elephants, singing birds, and wizards winking magic into the air.
Change is happening, and that change is for the good.
May there be more color, more song, more laughter, and acres and acres of joy.
Metamorphosis through art
We can fly!
Below are a few photos snapped today of some of the already completed paintings and the artists who have so kindly and generously offered their creations to the folks of West Oakland. Thank you all!
Sage and her painting of a wise sorcerous. Keepin' the energies alive
Danny and the face of Culture Shock. Keepin' it Real.
Terms and the Wizard.
Ancient Hapu Fern tangled with an Ancient Red-red Rose
Last night, I lay quietly listening to the earth exhaling -- slowly with a long blue hiss that slid easily over BART trains quarreling with highway traffic and settled pink on the hollow fog horns. I liked that even with all the noise -- sirens, drunk halloos out on the street, dogs yapping, horns honking -- I could hear the earth whistle like lace.
That now in these drab grey desperate times at the edge of this lumbering city the earth could sing such a sweet lullaby may seem smiraculous but I know it's really quite ordinary. Blessedly ordinary. I thought of the red-red roses I had seen earlier in the day attached quite firmly, almost intentionally, to the underside of the giant frond of hapu fern our front. The fern frond had been drooping towards the earth, the rose reaching for the sky, and when they touched, they attached. Of course, no one -- except perhaps the wind -- had pinned the rose to the fern, but there they were, joined at the lip. They had been both busy dying -- the rose petals curled and dropping, fern fronds turned and drying -- but then quite unexpectedly t here they were united in a sudden celebration of life.
Thorn to frond, corsage to lapel.
I sighed to see those two ancient plants leaning into one another . . . Nature the artist creating an unexpected tableau, reminding me to keep breathing, keep dancing, watching the brushstrokes of light and color, listening for sky songs and answering sea echo. I don't care how corny it may seem . . . I love such small moments of gasping love that the earth provides.
If such beauty daily remin us of just how precious -- and miraculous -- life is, why do we humans continue to pollute the planet, endangering and perhaps eliminating the future? Are we so foolish to think life eternal, beauty everlasting? Why can't we change our habits of consumption, learn to live more simply, find happiness in small moments? Why do we need to have and have some more? Why are we so convinced that the only way to cure our economic woes is to buy and buy and buy?
MELTDOWN. Acrylic and watercolor on paper 12"x12" Tia Ballantine, Aug 2012
The arctic ice is melting at an unexpected speed; the Greenland ice-sheet went into full meltdown this summer
, and still too many believe that this desperate problem we have created will somehow right itself. It won't. We have to change. Abandon war. Grow gardens. Love one another. Make art. Sounds so simple as to seem rather desperate, I guess. What do I know? Who am I to say? I'm just a breathing being living close to death, loving life and waiting for the wind to pin a rose on me.
This afternoon, I fixed myself a cup of tea and sat at my drawing table in front of the open window, listening to the street and to my heart. I waited until I could feel color dance my bones, and then I opened my sketchbook and painted the small painting above. Meltdown.
For Monet, sunflowers symbolized summer with all its wonder and all its glory. Unfortunately, my back garden is a bit too shaded for sunflowers and my tiny front garden is filled with my olive tree, but no matter. Early this spring, young woman living down the street laid claim to a narrow strip of drying grass between the sidewalk and the street, constructed several planter boxes, and then planted dozens and dozens of sunflower seeds around the perimeter of the boxes. When the sunflowers sprouted, she didn't bother to thin them. Now, months later, they are ablaze with bloom -- and because she didn't thin them, they appear as they might in the wild. Some flowers large, others smaller and perhaps more determined, but all are happy -- as are all who pass and see those bright faces lift to the sun.
The wilds of West Oakland
4th of July Fireworks
There are two types of hangovers associated with holidays. The first, of course, is the typical hangover resulting from personal over-indulgence -- too much alcohol, too much sugar, too much food -- but there is a second hangover that lasts longer and, at times, causes perhaps greater damage. The cultural hangover, caused by a wider 'community-oriented' over-indulgence.
Some cultural hangovers are relatively benign, easily managed. Halloween is followed by days of perhaps too many stumbling through the daze of a sugared haze, some of whom only unwillingly abandon their costumes and pranks. November 3 and the crossing guard who sported a bright red nose and a painted smile on Halloween is today a ballerina. Christmas, that great consumerist holiday, is followed by department store sales crowded with anxious shoppers, ready and willing to continue their shopping spree begun when Thanksgiving announced opening of the season of buy-buy-buy. Valentine's day produces a glut of chocolate hearts that clog store shelves for weeks. Easter comes and goes, and the ASPCA sees a influx of fluffy peeping chicks or flop-eared bunnies who had spent a day hopping around backyards eating only jelly beans. We can handle all that . . . Americans are a nostalgic over-indulgent bunch -- we just can't give up our holidays. We keep 'em hanging around.
But what of those holidays that have an uncomfortable but perhaps rarely recognized core of violence, like Independence Day, the Fourth of July, celebrated with explosives -- firecrackers, rockets red glare, bombs bursting in air? What hangs out after that day of blowing off steam by blowing it all up?
Yesterday, July 6th, Oakland felt the pain of a July 4th hangover. Three shootings in one hour. One in East Oakland, one downtown, and one on 11th St, several short blocks from my house. Two men dead -- the man shot in East Oakland died shortly after being transported to the hospital, and the 18-year-old Richmond resident shot on 11th St died as he fell to the street.
This morning, I woke early and took my dog for a walk as I usually do. I did not walk by the site of the shooting. I walked instead to the corner house where grape vines fall over the fence, already heavy with great clusters of unripe fruit. I walked under the over-arching fig tree branches also laden with soon-ripe fruits. I walked past the small yard where the tiny octogenarian tends her glorious roses next door to the hand-made fence alive with jasmine and then wandered past the huge yard where the big old dog lies quietly in the yard, one eye open, keeping track of the rusty red chickens who wander about pecking at bugs.
I passed by the blooming schoolyard fence, let the pink flowers brush my sleeve. while the rich scent of sage filled my lungs, and waved to the Scotsman who always greets my little dog with an "ah, wee laddie, my countryman" as he speeds by on his bike, a huge grin on his black African face. I turned, let the low-hanging evergreen branches caress my scalp, and walked past the one plum tree showering miniature plums to the sidewalk below. I picked up several that had not smashed when plummeting to the ground and placed them gently in my pocket.
Then, I walked home, past the sidewalk garden with its towering sunflowers and struggling yet hopeful eggplants, still blooming in the cool foggy air. A grey cat slipped under the fence just as a small flock of sparrows settled down on the just-pruned oleander, and as I opened my gate, my extravagant lily greeted me -- my own Fourth of July hangover, still blooming. Above it, the olive tree, flush with slowly ripening fruit.
My 4th of July hangover: the lily on the left bloomed, then; the one on the right, today
Daily, I walk on this strip of sidewalk, passing by St Patrick's Church, and daily I think this is the most beautiful sidewalk in the world and then I check myself -- okay, maybe the most beautiful in Oakland. Okay, maybe West Oakland. Okay, maybe it doesn't need to be the 'most.' Maybe it is enough to feel beauty brush by as I walk, to inhale loveliness, to feel flowers like sunlight on my skin -- an indelicate confusion, an intimate prayer. . . not the sort of prayer desperate people send up to heaven (God help me with this, God save me from that) but quietness exhaled, a breathing for the grace of continuance.
Let the sun rise.
Let flowers drink the wind.
Let sky settle slowly and quietly on the day.
Let night come in waves.
Let me walk in beauty.
All around me there are fire crackers, rockets, and explosions load enough, large enough, to be small bombs. It is almost July 4, the day Americans celebrate their freedom by blowing things up -- a phenomenon I have never understood. Freedom is translucent, shimmering, and fragile. Bombs dense, dark, and sharp. How does the latter represent the former?
Why don't we celebrate our freedoms with flowers, with fragrance, with song?
my vegetable-herb-fruit garen
My job is ending. In one week I will once again be unemployed. Knowing that work paying a living wage is hard to find, I have been using my down time during these long months of work to think about re-figuring my living space into a healthful and comfortable hermitage that will nurture my return to the life of a hermit artist and poet, living simply, creating daily.
I have planted vegetables in my backyard -- squash, broccoli, lettuce, two tomatoes (Roma and Early Girl) -- in beds that already house mature rhubarb and strawberry plants, fruiting blueberries, a sweet pepper plant (two years old already), cilantro grown tall and setting seed (I love coriander), and various culinary herbs -- oregano, thyme, tarragon, savory, various basils (including Holy Basil), chives, parsley and more.
Plus flowers . . .
I cannot live without flowers. . .
nasturtiums with fuschia behind
. . . and everywhere there are flowers.
Roses bloom on fences in the front yard; pansies peek from below the skirts of poppies, sprouting in the most unexpected places -- between bricks and under the canopy of squash leaves. The Foxgloves, always amazing with their spires of pink, much beloved by bees, are finishing, but Fuschia against the fence are just beginning. Magic Rue is slowly unfolding its starry yellow blooms, and nasturtiums cascade from planters and creep up trellises, confounding the eye and heart with their intense color. In the late afternoon, I sit in my yard and just breathe, watch the hummingbirds and the butterflies, imagine what this yard will look like long after I am gone when the lemon trees have grown heavy with fruit, the tiny plum tree puffed tall and wide.
I know it won't be the same, but some green will remain. Maybe the nasturtiums or the lavender will still bloom, shading the drying earth. Gardens thrive when tended, shrink back when that attention disappears, but always something survives, some happy plant that grows merrily with no more attention than the casual brushing by of rain and sun. Everywhere across the continent, hills and fields are filled with garden 'escapes.'
I recall the 'wild' asparagus at the edge of fields in Colorado, marking the boundary of a long-ago homesteader's garden, and a field of 'wild' thyme blooming purple beneath the Tappan Zee bridge in NY State. Neither were really wild -- wild in the sense of happy-go-lucky maybe but not indigenous and certainly not endemic. They were the remains of gardens, stretched wide.
lavender, Martha Washington pelargonium, and olive tree above
Maybe it will be the fruit trees that survive, or the Western Dogwood. Perhaps the olive tree will continue thriving in its small plot near the street. Olive trees need little water and live for decades. Take the people away, remove the racket of the city, shut down the lights, and I can imagine it still fruiting, long after more delicate cultivars have succumbed to the blistering sun
in a world of melting ice and rising seas.Our climate is changing. The world is warming. We really can no longer deny that. Carbon dioxide levels world-wide are now higher than at any time in recorded history.
If you don't believe me, see what NASA
has to say. If we don't change our ways, conserve our resources, stop madly consuming, we will soon be rushing like overwrought lemmings to the edge of the last cliff we'
ll ever see. It's up to us to save our world.
Each of us. Drive less. Turnoff the lights. Live without air-conditioning. Open the windows. Work when it's cool. Sleep when it's hot. Plant vegetables, eat what you grow.
Collect and save rainwater, use it to water your garden. I have four rain barrels strategically positioned around my little house. My plants love that soft silky sky water, and I love the being able to live with green growing plants, my little carbon dioxide eaters and oxygen producers.
Hooray for gardens. Hooray for life.
rain barrel, provided by the City of Oakland