Sunday, June 24, 2007

Tea Leaf Green at 19 Broadway, Fairfax, California

Trevor Garrod, keyboard player for Tea Leaf Green
Sat., June 22, 2007

I had never heard of this band before, but was invited to this concert. Apparently, the band has quite the following and this show is considered a real treat because the venue is so small. Well, they were great all right. They're considered a "jam band" whatever that means. Their music is mostly rock-ish with elements of country, jazz and blues. The overall sound reminds of what I think of as train music, that is the rhythm and "movement" of the music reminds of songs like "Mystery Train."

I took this picture with my camera phone and I'm surprised it came out so clearly. Usually my concert pictures come out as nothing but bunch of smeary neon lights.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Water District Land

7th Avenue. The Water District's land is on the right.

I take a two minute bus ride to Forest Hills station to get onto the MUNI Metro K, L or M most mornings. As the bus growls down 7th Avenue, I watch the dappled green of the Water District's land. No condos, no apartments, no houses. Just a hill of trees and, a little ways down, a small reservoir. A friend of mine told me the reservoir had been there since the Civil War. The Water District's land starts at the end of the block near my apartment. Signs abound about how no one should trespass and yet intriguing trails wind around the small hill. There's a community garden with signs about not picking the flowers and the large lot/dog park/pumpkin patch/Christmas tree lot.

Here's the little reservoir. If it weren't so late, I'd check to see if it has a name

People are always surprised when I tell them I see skunks, huge raccoons and possums, but then I remind them my apartment building literally rests it's back against a hill. The animals are always coming down for a meal from the dumpsters.

I wonder if this sign is a good deterrent.

I've wanted to explore beyond the no trespassing signs with my dog, but I'm always worried about being yelled at by somebody, encountering a large dangerous animal, finding a homeless city, being stalked, finding Big Foot and otherwise putting myself in danger so I refrain from checking it out. I might go with a friend. I might even bring my deluxe picnic basket with us.

Dappled green leaves, bright shafts of sunlight, cool green shade, flowers and pretty paths. I see all this wonder as I ride by on my bus in the morning down 7th Avenue. It's amazing that I'm in the City and so lucky to be near so much little used greenery.

Monday, June 11, 2007

MUNI MetroLand

"That gentleman won't stop muttering."

I look up from the book I'm reading "Out" by Natsuo Kirino about a Japanese housewife who murders her abusive husband and then has to figure out how to dispose the body. I'm on the crowded L Taraval train (two cars). Mr. Gryphon, my imaginary friend, is looking at a large man wearing white star shaped sunglasses with rhinestones. His cowboy boots match the sunglasses. He appears to be speaking softly, incoherently, and I have not noticed at all because this type of thing happens all the time on San Francisco Public Transportation.

"He's probably got some super tiny headphones on and is listening to Donna Summer," I say.

"He is not, Miss Turtle. He's speaking in tongues." There is a loud screech, a jerk and then a flock of small grey owls fly by. We all duck to avoid them. Well, all of us except the class of fifth graders who jump and grab at them. I wonder what the owls are doing up at this hour of the morning.

"Great, I can't stand when people have religious experiences in the tunnel. Makes the lights all strange and twinkly," I say as I watch the last of the owls flutter away. I can hear the odd babbling the man is doing now that I'm paying attention. It's a low persistent sound underneath the babble of the school kids. I sigh and hold the bar a little tighter after putting my book away.

At the next stop, the fifth graders get off clearly on their way to City Hall for a government field trip. There is a visible sigh of relief among the remaining people on the train as more room is made available. Mr. Gryphon opens his wings a little and stretches his long legs. Then we see/hear running for the closing doors, a herd of buffalo. Damn! That means we'll have to stop in the tunnel now. They elbow their way onto the car, smashing me up against the bar. Everyone else on the train gets out of their ways since the bulls have horns. They have that buffalo-y, manure-y smell that is somewhat pleasant. When all of them are on the train, we pull away from the station, albeit slower than usual. Mr. Gryphon strikes up a conversation with one of them. I half listen. At least if we stop suddenly, I'll have something furry to land on.

"Where're you all off to," asks Mr. Gryphon easily. He enjoys being around other beings that aren't supposed to be there.

"Ah, well, ah we're off to the unused parts of the tunnel for a good long run, then we're off to the Wharf, the little one here wants some chocolate, then we'll take the scenic route home via the Marina," he says.

"Sounds like a pleasant outing," says Mr. Gryphon.

"Ah, well, ah you can't beat the weather today. Gotta take advantage while you can," he says. Two of the calves are giggling uncontrollably while they poke at each other with their hooves.

"I heard wandering through the Presidio is a nice thing to do," I say. The buffalo turns and looks me, his ears twitching, his huge black eyes glossy and wet. He behaves like I've just butted in on their conversation which I have, I suppose.

"Ah well ah, yes, it is. I recommend it," he says politely. The train screeches to a stop in the middle of the tunnel sending me face first into his fur. He barely notices because he is shouting at the others, "We're getting off here! Everyone crowd round. Yes! Ah, well, this is our stop now!" The doors open quickly and the herd goes out in single file. I can see them moving easily into a dark tunnel. There are feeble lights and I can see the old rail tracks glinting in the distance. When the entire herd has exited, the train moves on, slowly.

"This explains why there are so many delays in the tunnel, "observes Mr. Gryphon. He moves closer to me. "By the way, Miss Turtle, they are Bison, not buffalo."

"Well, I like the sound of the word buffalo better, Mr. Gryphon, although I like how Bison looks with a capital B."

"And what is the point of this post, Miss Turtle?" People have been claiming the open seats as the train has moved along. We have remained standing.

"I guess I'm feeling a little lonely. I have a crush on someone I shouldn't have a crush on so I wrote a Missed Connection for him on just now."

"Why are you saying this here on your blog?"

"Hell if I know." At the next stop the train really empties out. We sit down on the red seats. I always check to make sure it's safe to sit down first. Sometimes scorpions and venomous snakes are on the seats. "I got an email from some guy right after I posted it. He told me I sounded defeated/lost and that I should stay away from the Golden Gate Bridge. I don't feel suicidal. Not even close."

"I'm glad you're not feeling suicidal. What if the person sees the post, the person it was written for."

"He'll just think I'm a nut job. I better go back and delete it now while I have a chance," I get up from my seat, climb over Mr. Gryphon and open one of the Metro train windows as we are zooming down the tunnel. I pause, getting the timing right, then leap into the darkened concrete wall....

(Miss Turtle is now sitting in front of her 32" widescreen TV that doubles as her computer screen. She has looked at, edited and thought about that Missed Connection post, but can't bring herself to delete it)

...then there is a woosh and I'm climbing back through the train window. Mr. Gryphon helps me through. Absolutely none of the other passengers notice except the man speaking in tongues.

He approaches me. "Thought you could get away with it, eh?"

"No," I say looking directly at him. It bugs me that I can't see his eyes, but his big star shaped sunglasses are interesting.

"You should just delete that post and march into that guy's office," he says, his curly dark hair has been streaked with royal blue.

"I'd rather launch a paper airplane at him, aiming for his desk," I say, drawing back a little. I feel Mr. Gryphon's hand on my arm.

"Who do you think you are? Amelie?" He puts his hands on his hips.

"And who do you think YOU are? Aren't you supposed to be speaking in tongues in this scenario?" He shrugs and marches back to his seat. After settling in, the odd mutterings resume.

"I suppose I better delete that post, Mr. Gryphon, but perhaps I'll leave it up tonight and get rid of it in the morning," I say sitting down on the too warm red seat again.

"Do what you will, Miss Turtle, but haven't you been dating around lately?"

"Yes, but it's a discouraging business, Mr. Gryphon. Far easier to fantasize about someone you can't have because you like his glasses."

"At least you're not suicidal."

"Far from it, Mr. Gryphon. Far from it," I say as he puts his arm around me. The lights have taken on a dreamy twinkle as the speaking in tongues man has finally gotten his way. Thank goodness we're almost at our stop.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

A Record of a Dry Year, Part 1

View of Grant Ranch, A County Park in San Jose, looking West

Back in April of this year, my brother and I went on one of our drivearounds where we drive from San Jose over Mt. Hamilton into Livermore in search of wildflowers. We picked a beautiful day as you can see. Although most everything was green, all the plants were curiously stunted in growth. A dry year. There hasn't been much rain this year.

Grant Ranch is the first major landmark on the way up to Mt. Hamilton. We usually stop for a looksee, but decided to press on since we got started late. It's a good place to watch birds.

My brother says this is Purple Chaia, as in the tea, but he doesn't think it should be drunk.

Our practice is to drive around and then pull over on the side of the road when we see something interesting. That being said, we've done this enough times to have our favorite spots where we know we're likely to see some good plant growth.

Try as I might, I can't figure out what this one is called. I'll have to ask my brother again.

As we drove up the Mountain, pulling over the side of the road, avoiding bicyclists and SUVs alike, we were struck by how small everything was. All the plants were either smaller than usual and/or very late in their development for that time of year.

Even the Poison Oak was having a bad time of it. Without a doubt, that's the smallest Poison Oak plant I've ever seen.

Unlike me, my brother actually has a college education. While his degree turned out to be in biology, he started out as a botany major with a special fascination for our wildflowers. I think next time we do this he's going to bring a GPS so we can make keep of record of where we found the flowers via coordinates.

Douglas Wallflower. During some years there are whole carpets on the hillsides.

We're always on the lookout for animals, but we didn't see very many at all this year. We always see something big like a deer or a skunk family, but we had no luck this time.

This little valley is enchanting, as you can see.

An older guy on a bike wearing a bright yellow jacket (going downhill) stopped us on this ridge overlooking the little valley above and asked us what we were looking for since we were moving slowly along the side of the road and looking at the ground. When we told him we were looking at the flowers, he seemed mystified. As we moved away from him, he took out his cell phone, turned on his phone camcorder and recorded a little blurb about the valley. I wondered who he was going to send it to.

The sky was such a perfect color. I couldn't resist leaning against side of the mountain to take this shot.

When you're walking on the side of the road, the shoulder disappears so you have to lean against the side of the mountain when the cars go by. The rocks are plentiful, sharp, and in loose piles (easy to slip on). I spend too much time worrying about my brother when the cars go by because some of them are barreling down the mountain at high speeds, especially people who are driving SUVs and trucks. I used to try to hide that I was looking out for him, but then I realized he was doing the same thing for me.

Next up: even more wildflowers.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

City Life: Heron

I was walking my dog in Golden Gate Park this past Sunday evening when I noticed a small family staring at something. As I got closer I saw just a few feet away, a Great Blue Heron. Great Blue Herons are impressive birds. Large and leggy, they stand up to four feet tall.

Oddly enough the heron was standing in part of a field, a part of the baseball field to be exact. Most of the time it seems that herons stick close to the water.

I shorted my dog's leash so we could walk past the bird without scaring it. As I moved past with my dog, the mother turned and looked at me.

"He just ate a gopher."


"He just ate a gopher. We saw him do it. He's still trying to swallow it down. You can see the lump in his throat." She was blonde and grinning broadly with lovely crinkles around her eyes, obviously amazed. The entire family was transfixed. They were a friendly family, all wearing blue high-end fleece jackets.

I stopped and stared at the big bird, "Was it a big gopher?" She nodded.

Gophers in Golden Gate Park tend to be huge and fat. I wondered how the heron was able to get a hold of it. I know their beaks are formidable. A few years ago, there was a news report that a heron had stabbed a man in the heart with his beak, killing him, when the man got too close trying while trying to take a close up picture of the bird.

"Why don't I have my camera with me?" I wondered aloud in frustration. I would have liked to share that picture with all of you. A Great Blue Heron standing on the grass with a baseball game going on in the background. I watched him for a little while longer, but my dog was pulling me along so we moved on.

When I looked back the family was still standing there.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

To the Border, Part 2 of 2

My adventure to the border I mentioned in Part 1, I had a serious problem to deal with because I had no idea how to get into Vancouver or the layout of the city or a map or guidebook or anything. While wondering what I was going to do, I took a turnoff and found myself at the airport. It was easy enough to find my way out again and it bought me some time to think about it.

As I got back on the road I saw a very small blue sign that proved to be my salvation:


It was such a small sign, very easy to disregard. There was a simple line drawing of a ship with some waves underneath in that road-signy style. Since I knew Vancouver was a waterfront city, I figured following the sign would at least get me to the water so I took the exit.

I found myself on a big wide street about six lanes wide. It was like a big expressway with traffic lights. No matter how much I looked around, I couldn't figure out the name of the street. I kept looking around at everything, then I noticed that at some intersections the stoplights were flashing yellow all the time. I had no idea what that means and I still don't. I know what the red flashing stoplights mean (treat this intersection like a four way stop sign - some of the lights here in SF flash that way late at night). Not knowing what else to do, I just kept barreling right through the lights along with everyone else. As I drove, I wondered if I would get stopped by the police. I wondered if I would get a ticket. I wondered if the officer would tell me where the city was. I wondered how I was going to attend traffic court in Canada.

I was on this wide expressway-type street for a long time. The little blue cruise ship terminal sign never failed me. Just when I would start looking around and wondering where I was I would see the sign again. I drove through a pretty part of the city. The trees were lit up with white holiday lights, there appeared to be many restaurants, and many people wandered to and fro. I thought about stopping, but pressed on.

Then at some point, there was a curve in the road and a slight rise...

and there it was, Vancouver! I was on a big bridge going straight into the city! It was lit up like grand magic. I could see the water and the huge buildings. It was so beautiful that I started screaming inside my car. I was so excited that I missed the turnoff to the Cruise Ship Terminal. No matter. I had made it to my destination! It was around 8:15 p.m. or so.

The bridge was quite long, so long that I was a little calmer when I got onto the island. At first I thought about trying to find my way to the Cruise Ship Terminal, but decided to make a right turn as soon as possible. I didn't know where I was going to end up, but somehow it didn't matter. I drove along the road, the buildings tall and twinkling around me. There was some major construction going on and I had to make several turns onto smaller streets. Since I had to use the loo, I resolved to find a place to park. This proved difficult as there seemed to be cars everywhere. Finally, I found a small parking lot that had a space and got out the the car. It was a fairly warm night and the cars were parked at an odd angle on the narrow street. Then I looked around and I was in the middle of a huge area full of restaurants, bars, sushi bars, Starbucks and pool halls. People were out walking their dogs. I found a bar and used the loo, and although I wanted to try one of the restaurants, I was too full still from eating that the Twin Peaks diner earlier that day.

Jeez. Seeing the waterfalls and that diner seemed like half a world away, but it was only a few hours earlier!

I wandered around some more and found the waterfront. It was dark, but I could see I was in a nice park. I kept to the streets in case it was a little unsafe there. The streets were very wide. I took a couple of pictures to prove I was there:

Okay, so it doesn't show the location, but I couldn't help but snap this sign that shows kilometers. We don't have signs like that here.

Yes, the proof that I was there. It was so dark that I couldn't see the park at all, but I have a feeling it's a pretty place.

Believe it or not, I was only in Vancouver for a couple of hours wandering around before I decided to get back into my car and make my way back to Seattle. I was worried I would have trouble crossing the border. As I drove back over the bridge towards the freeway (if that's what you want to call it), I resolved to visit this beautiful city for a long weekend.

The 30 or so miles back seemed to go very quickly. I was getting really worried as I got closer to the border. I kept wondering what would happen if they wouldn't let me back across. I took several deep breaths as I waited in the long line of cars. I thought about what I'd say to the border guard.

When it was my turn, the guard expressed dismay that I only had a driver's license. I kept apologizing. He was a middle aged Asian man with a slightly thick accent.

"How am I supposed to know this is really you?" he asked me, holding up my driver's license. "People make fake ones all the time and the fake ones are good."

"I'm sorry, I really am. I didn't plan to make this trip. I don't even have a map," I said.

"You know," he said leaning a little closer, "People complain to us that our borders are porous, that we could have prevented the 9/11 attacks if we had been tougher on everyone who crosses into our country. Do you have any idea how that makes us feel? And then nice people like you show up with just your driver's license."

I looked at him without saying anything. I got tears in my eyes. I felt his frustration. Then I apologized again in a soft voice. We looked at each other without speaking and then he waved me on.

"Have a nice evening and don't forget to bring your passport next time," he said.

"I won't. I won't."

"And don't forget to tell everyone you know how important it is to have proper identification so we can protect our borders," he said.

"I will. I promise." I waved at him and drove on into the black night.

The drive back to Seattle and the hotel didn't seem to take that long. All along with way, the road was dark with some street lights there and there. I stopped for gas. Everything seemed friendly. The road and I had gotten to know each other well.

I got to the hotel after midnight. I had an early morning flight later that morning and I was going from SFO straight to work. As I lay in my hotel bed nodding off to sleep, I wondered if I'd really gone to Pike's Place Market in the morning to buy my Dad some smoked salmon, seen the Twin Peaks waterfalls and diner and then drove to Vancouver and back. It was all vivid and real, but seemed so unlikely.


Soon after my trip, the laws were changed. A passport or birth certificate is now required to cross the border from Canada to here. At least I'm keeping my promise to that border guard now.

When I got to work the first thing I did was Google "Vancouver." It was there that I saw my first pictures of the city in the daylight. I had no idea Vancouver was an island. I couldn't really tell in the dark.