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California Dreamin’

by Deborah Streeter

 

 

Wednesday
Mar132019

Wet California

Hate California, It’s Cold and It’s Damp.   I’m Singing in the Rain……

Sunny California is so wet this winter…..

Sunny California – it’s cold and damp?  So says the great Rogers and Hart song, “The Lady is a Tramp.”

She likes the free, fresh wind in her hair
Life without care
She's broke, and it's oke
She hates California, it's cold and it's damp
That's why the lady is a tramp

But no, California is all about sun.  We never think about weather when we plan an event.   I could never get my kids to wear raincoats or boots.  The weather is always fine. 

When I first moved to California, 50 years ago, I noticed that the sun shone consistently every day, until November, when it started to rain.  Not every day, but off and on until March, just 5 wet months.  All summer long and into the early fall it was totally dry, not a drop.  Having grown up in the New York area, when there were fantastic summer thunderstorms, and where we always said, when planning an event, “What is our plan if it rains?” I realized we never asked that question in California. 

But we do always worry about getting enough rain in the winter to provide water through the summer.  For a state that seems to promise there’s enough of everything for everyone, we are pathetically reliant on water, and helpless if it doesn’t show up.

It’s a very dry state, and access to water is everything.  Communities realize there is only so much water, and they use “water credits” to restrict new developments.  You can’t add a new bathroom because you don’t have more water credits.  That’s the only thing that has kept the Monterey Bay area from becoming LA, not enough water.  Our only source is the cute little 30 mile long Carmel River, dries up every summer.

For the last few years the various reservoirs all over the state have been low to empty.  And the drought has starved trees, creating the wildfire disasters.  Always, too dry.

But this year – wet, wet, wet.  We have a rain gauge on our deck and we are already at 50 inches, more than NYC gets in a year, and we have at least another month of rain.  Comparing stats with neighbors, some are at 60 (microclimates) and others remind us of 1983 when the total was over 100 inches.

IE, we no longer talk of “climate change,” or even the old term “global warming.”  The scientists at the Monterey Bay Aquarium teach us to use the phrase “climate chaos.”  Very hard to predict or plan.  Feast or famine, wet or dry.

OK, not complaining.  I love living in California, and if it’s wet, at least it’s not below zero wet.  Don’t let my friends in Minnesota hear me complaining….

But my point is that we think of California as always sunny, surf’s up, get out your sunglasses.

No, it rains here a lot.  Remember Gene Kelly singing in the rain?  That was one wet LA night.  And it created one of the greatest songs of all time – what a glorious feeling, I’m happy again. 

Come on with the rain!

I'm singin' in the rain
Just singin' in the rain
What a glorious feeling
I'm happy again
I'm laughin' at clouds
So dark up above
The sun's in my heart
And I'm ready for love
Let the stormy clouds chase
Everyone from the place
Come on with the rain
I've a smile on my face
I'll walk down the lane
With a happy refrain
Just singin'…

 Copyright © 2019 Deborah Streeter

Wednesday
Mar062019

Pastor to Astronaut – Who is the Best Californian?

In college I lived one year in a dorm named Serra, named for Junipero Serra, the Franciscan friar who brought Christianity to the then territory of Alta California in the 1760s-80s.  This year my old dorm was renamed the Sally Ride Dorm, in honor of the Stanford grad astronaut (in my 1973 graduating class, but I never knew her) who was the first American woman in space.  Another great California story in my series about my home state….

Fr. Junipero SerraWhy do I have mixed feelings about the dorm name change from Serra to Sally Ride?  Let me count the ways….

  • When Fr. Junipero Serra was recently canonized, there were many public protests because of his documented history of abusing Native Americans, forcing them like slaves to live in his new mission compounds, work to feed the missionary fathers, leave behind their native culture and religion.
  • Schools named for Serra, even towns with Serra streets, considered removing this shameful brand and renaming them.  Shades of tearing down Confederate statues.  But the schools or streets were still there – what would be the new name?
  • My school, Stanford, appointed a committee, naturally, and announced this week that Serra dorm would become Sally Ride dorm.  The committee had been instructed to select an “individual directly tied to California who reflects diversity, is deceased and has been previously overlooked.”  (Maya Angelou and Pat Parker were losing nominees for the dorm.)  The university president praised the choice.  “Sally Ride took her talents and commitments far beyond Stanford, literally around and beyond the globe, and explored new ways of learning about our society and making it better.  She serves as a powerful example for all of us at Stanford today.”
  • Sally RideA current Serra/Sally Ride dorm resident praised the name change; “Sally Ride is an extremely incredible role model for so many different types of students on this campus,” said Serra resident Ria Calcagno ’22, following the announcement. “From women to LGBTQ students, to STEM students, to really anyone who wants to trailblaze in whatever they’re interested in. I’m so grateful this name change will inspire students to follow in her footsteps.”
  • I’m not sure in 1970 that I even noticed the dorm was named Serra or wondered who he was.  But if the dorm had been named for a woman astronaut, I bet, like Ria Calagno, I would have been thrilled to announce that I lived there.
  • So few public statues are women and so few institutions are named for women.  Even the NY Times is writing obituaries for notable women who died years ago but never had their accomplishments remembered.  For our daughters and granddaughters (and sons etc) it is important to name and claim these “her-stories.”
  • But…….my doubts about this whole process….
  • Too trendy, find a groovy current celebrity to replace the old white guy.  Actually, not really.  Trendy means too quick with the recent fad and too superficial.   But Sally Ride died 15 years ago.  She was a Ph.D. physicist, activist supporter of science education, bold critic of the space program after the Challenger disaster.  
  • Just call it the Ride dorm.  Why do honored women, but not men, always have their first name included?  “Great impressionist painters Monet, Renoir and Mary Cassatt….”  Just call it Ride dorm.  OK, getting a little picky here.
  • I agree somewhat with the argument about the confederate statues, that they can still teach, put them all in a park and use them to teach about how our ancestors loved making statues of these macho men, what does that say about us, these were the traitors and losers whom we are honoring?  Could we teach about Serra and his many issues by somehow keeping his name in the conversation rather than erasing it?
  • At Stanford I made up my own major (you could do that then) in Women’s Studies and Religious Studies.  I was the first Women’s Studies major (they now have a whole department of Gender Studies.)  There was not a Religious Studies major at the time (now there is.)  So am I wanting at least one religious type to have his or her name on a building?  Or am I sad and frustrated that this public discussion about names is about yet one more shamed and criminal priest, just as today our only public discussion about religion are about shamed and criminal priests?
  • OK, Stanford is also renaming a main campus street, Serra Way, for Jane Stanford, co-founder of the university and active Christian, so it’s not just the bad priest, here is the good laywoman. 
  • Am I just sad that the days of are over of California having a religious nature and heritage?  (I wrote a column in this series a month ago about three religious pioneers in our state, Junipero Serra, Thomas Starr King, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi.) These days we honor science more than religion, astronauts, not priests.
  • I like to think of Sally Ride and Junipero Serra in heaven discussing exploration (both went to new unexplored lands,) pushing yourself beyond your limits, living a life of service.  (I don’t really believe in such a scenario, but it’s a fun exercise.)  They are both California pioneers.
  • Of course it is a fantastic thing to have a Sally Ride dorm.  Name it, claim it.  Ride, Sally, Ride………

Copyright © 2019 Deborah Streeter

Thursday
Feb282019

Standing Proud in a Place of Beauty and Challenge

“They (cypress trees) stand proud in a place of beauty and challenge, like those who call California home."

When we first read this sentence, part of a description of the fabulous Point Lobos Natural State Reserve, in the pages of Via, the magazine of the American Automobile Association, my husband and I laughed.  I thought, “Ha!  This can be my column about California this week, making fun of the Via magazine, a not too difficult task.” 

But I happened to visit Point Lobos this week.  I had with me a friend from the east, so I saw it through her eyes as well, and when I sat down to read the Via description again, the words didn’t seem so silly.  Especially about the cypresses and how they symbolize California. 

Here’s the whole passage:

"Best State Park in California: Point Lobos!

“You could spend a lifetime studying California's natural beauty and human history.  Or you could visit Point Lobos State Reserve.  Just south of Carmel-by-the-Sea, this promontory of rocky fingers, hidden coves and coastal woods alongside the powerful Pacific distills the state's essence.....(info on the reserve's trails, flowers, animals, history....)

“The park's soul is its stand of Monterey cypress trees, easily accessed by the one-mile Cypress Grove Trail.  The trees have been torqued into spectral shapes by the wind and salt spray, their roots clinging to rocks. 

“They stand proud in a place of beauty and challenge, like those who call California home."

“Californians stand proud?” my husband asked. “We just live here and do the best we can.”  He is a humble man, and I think "pride" feels too self-centered to him.  Look at me, I'm a wonderful Californian.  I, on the other hand, some years younger than him, while all too aware how pride can be arrogance, also experience pride as affirmation – I’m proud to be…..a Streeter, for example, I’m proud of my family.  (Can’t quite say, I’m proud to be an American, especially these days….)

In fact, both meanings of “pride” describe well our state's character – we are a bit arrogant about how great we are, so far superior to the rest of the country.  But we also practically invented self-affirmation and self-actualization, so we take genuine pride in who we are.  So for good or ill, we do “stand proud.”

And ours is certainly a place of both “beauty and challenge.”  We do brag, both correctly and obnoxiously, about our beautiful weather, ocean, Sierras and beautiful communities like San Francisco and the Napa Valley and Malibu.  And challenges - we've got a few.  Earthquake, fire, drought, climate change.  Income disparity, racial tension, paved paradise. 

But for today, let’s just consider the cypress tree. Is it a good symbol for California, and if so, how?

I was a volunteer docent at Point Lobos for many years and as part of my service there I edited a collection of poems inspired by Point Lobos by many different poets.  Several were about the cypress trees, and my favorite was by Carmel poet Dora Hagemeyer, written in 1940.

Cypress Trees at Point Lobos

Food from the granite
Stone for the hungry root-
Storm for the rugged shoot.

What slow flame
Struggles to triumph here
Year upon difficult year?

What desperate faith
Writhes in these twisted limbs,
Sings in the wordless hymns?

When the rock splits
They wrestle with each other,
Brother contrives with brother

For writhing’s sake.
No peace can smooth or define
A curve, a delicate line.

Summers burn blue –
Yet the torture wrought in the seed
In anguished form is freed

Torture and triumph!
These for whom pain is duty
Stand in their desperate beauty.

Sounds like beauty and challenge to me, the torture wrought in the seed, anguished form, wrestling brothers, desperate faith writhing in twisted limbs.

Or as the Via author wrote, “torqued into spectral shapes.”  Torqued sounds to me like a techy word, something done by a tool, not wind and wave.  I looked it up: 1. Torque is the measure of a force’s tendency to produce torsion or rotation about an axis, equal to the product of the force vector and the radius vector from the axis of rotation to the point of application of the force; the moment of a force.  2. A turning or twisting force.

Was it intentional that the author chose a techy word to describe these 300-year-old trees?  Tech is surely part of the California story also.  But these old yogis of the forest are decidedly un-techy.  That’s part of their beauty.  And challenge. 

Some people comment that cypresses remind them of gnarled trees in Japanese and Chinese prints.  There is a sweet but unlikely legend that the first cypresses were brought to Central California and Point Lobos by the Chinese fisherman who actually did sail here in the 1840’s on their junks, maybe bringing seedlings all the way across the Pacific?  There is a distinctly Asian influence and vibe in California, and we do tend to look west to Asia for values and art and culture as much as we do east, so I like the pseudo Asian feel of the cypresses, themselves looking west.

Perhaps the cypress, with its sturdy strength and resilience symbolizes not so much today’s Anglo Californians, but its immigrants, from the 1600’s to today.  They came and they come not just from the east, but also from the west and south.  Their journeys were and are hard, their lives here a daily struggle for survival.  But they persist, they root, as the cypress are deeply rooted.  Their descendants, more like my husband than me, are sturdy and strong, but more humble than brash.  Yet proud, very proud.

Like the cypress. 

Copyright © 2019 Deborah Streeter

Wednesday
Feb202019

1969

I moved to California 50 years ago, in the fabled watershed year of 1969.  As I continue reflecting on this my adopted state, here are some thoughts on that year in California.

We could probably look back on any year and highlight dramatic and culture-changing events, but 1969 certainly stands out as a year to remember.  If you’re old enough, you might remember exactly when or where you first heard about the Moon landing, Woodstock, Chappaquiddick, Stonewall, John and Yoko’s Bed-in for Peace, the first Sesame Street.

For this girl newly arrived from NY to California, as a freshman at Stanford, I expected 1969 to be about freedom (from parents), love (student health service provided birth control!), drugs (yes, marijuana) and rock and roll (Grateful Dead concerts.)   But consider these California 1969 events: 

  • Richard Nixon (from California) inaugurated to first term with VP Spiro Agnew.
  • Santa Barbara oil spill – largest ever, 100,000 million gallons, inspires environmental movement and new laws, the CA Coastal Commission.
  • 6 month Student Strike at SF State results in establishment of Ethnic Studies Dept.
  • UC Berkeley students claim abandoned lot as People’s Park.  Calif. Governor Ronald Reagan sends in troops, violence and death.
  • Charles Manson orders/completes grizzly murders with his “Family.”
  • The First Gap store opens on Union Square in SF.
  • Anti Vietnam War protests (I was at the one in SF, half a million people in DC.) First draft lottery.
  • Self named “Zodiak Killer” threatens and terrifies SF for months, claims 37 murders, never caught.
  • Altamont Rolling Stones concert, Hell’s Angels, violence and death.

Notice how many of those are about violence, protest, destruction?  What happened to peace, love and happiness in the groovy Golden State?

  • The two California leaders who took the national stage (Nixon and Reagan) were about repression and fear mongering.
  • So much death – Vietnam (beloved cozy Life magazine first printed in 1969 pics of all 241 US soldiers killed in one week), protests, deadly rock concerts, Charles Manson, Zodiak killer.
  • Protests – SF State, People’s Park, anti war.

Maybe my list is skewed because that’s what gets in the news – protest, violence, death.  Surely there was a lot of peace, love and happiness, maybe just not on the nightly news.  Many of us were liberated that year from all kinds of expectations and assumptions.

But there is a dark side to this sunny state, from celebrity murders (Manson was not the first nor last cult leader who was adulated before turning deadly – remember Jim Jones?) to income inequality (homeless folks living outside the Gap store, then and now) to environmental destruction in the midst of beauty (many more oil spills, plus fracking, fires etc.)

Maybe it’s just because we are such a big state, so many of us, there will always be strains and stresses.  But I think our position on the edge of the continent pushes us to higher highs and lower lows, “quakes” us into possibility and problems.  That’s a topic for another column – is geography destiny?

I do still proudly call myself an aging hippie, which I doubt I would have become in NY, and I am grateful that I spent those formative student and young adult years in a culture that actually did promote peace, love and happiness.  It’s just a little harder to find these days.

Copyright © 2019 Deborah Streeter

Thursday
Jan242019

California Self Centered Softies

Are Californians really different from other Americans?  Did the five million people who moved to California in the last ten years develop different personalities from living here?  Here’s another in my reflections on the Golden State, where I moved 50 years ago this summer.  (Oh yeah, in that same decade six million people left California– why?)

“Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.”  Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich included this advice in a 1997 essay parodying commencement speeches and later published in her popular book Wear Sunscreen: A Primer for Real Life.

My Wall Street exec father lived and worked in New York City most of his life and then retired to California at age 75.  He traded the IRT to Wall St to drives down Highway One to Big Sur.  His version of the Schmich quote is “My New York friends say I have mellowed since I moved to California.”

And he has.  The somewhat intense man who wore a coat and tie to Saturday afternoon pool parties gave all his ties away and asked new friends to take him to Salinas to buy a bolo tie.  He had some sadness about leaving his front row subscription seat at the Metropolitan Opera, but within a year he was going to our local cineplex in his khakis to watch the Saturday Met in HD and eating a hotdog at intermission.

But has he gone soft, or even mellow?  I think that quip says more about his New York friends that it does about him.  The joke is of course that my father is anything but mellow, or if that’s mellow, his friends haven’t met Surfer Dude or Valley Girl.

What about Californians like Maxine Waters or Steve Jobs or Caesar Chavez -  they are anything but mellow or soft.  It could be just simple envy that makes folks call Californians soft – I am reminded of the disapproval Barack Obama always got when he went home to Hawaii and swam in the ocean – he shouldn’t be allowed to do that, he doesn’t deserve to do that.  I wouldn’t call that soft, I’d call it smart.

I have to admit that when I go back to New York I do get a little harder, a more aggressive pedestrian and driver, a more opinionated debater, harder.  It’s fun, for a while, yelling at cars that cut you off, pushing your way into buildings or conversations, You gotta problem with that?  But it’s exhausting, and I appreciate coming home to mellow land. 

I noticed a version of this distinction in a recent feature in the London Financial Times, whose Weekend edition always includes a description of a lunch with a famous or interesting person.  Last week it was Matthew Walker, a British expert on sleep, and professor at UC Berkeley.  The otherwise sensible Janan Ganesh, a Brit whom the FT recently assigned to cover America, meets Walker at a deli in Berkeley. “Walker’s sweep of blond hair suggests retired surfer or head stylist at a price gouging salon.  His actual job, professor of neuroscience and psychology at Berkeley could be a heartland demagogues’ cliché of West Coast employment.”  (Neuroscience is soft or self-centered Californian?  I’d say it’s one of the harder sciences.) 

Even while citing all of Walker’s research Ganesh can’t quite accept that sleep is an appropriate field of science or that Walker’s book’s Why We Sleep really deserves to be so popular.  “Popular intellectuals of this generation often converge on the operations of the brain.  Generations ago, the public boned up on history or art.  Today it is scientific knowledge of the self that is the admission to polite company.  We are all Californians now.”

So not just on the eastern seaboard, but in the UK, Californians are soft, self centered, appeal a wee bit too much to public taste and are all blond.  Try it for a while, but come back home to be hard headed and more sensible.

Maybe Schmich’s advice is good, live east and west, see the extremes, but don’t get stuck in either.  What kind of emotional being is better, a hard ass or a softie?  Neither is really a good choice.  Be hard AND soft, they are not mutually exclusive.

But I can’t leave it at that.   In the long run, if I had to choose, I’d chose soft over hard.   All the projecting and mocking of Californians as soft, touchy feely, self centered and indulgent, just seems to me to prove the insecurity of those hard folks in Eastern cities.

What’s the problem with being mellow, caring, sensitive?  If anything, I think it’s healthier.  Hawaiians lead the nation in life expectancy, California is 4th.  My argument breaks down, however, with NY in 5th place.  Probably has more to do with income and health care than climate or emotional IQ.  Not surprisingly the lowest ten states in life expectancy are all the southern states, where people die almost ten years younger.

Our New York President has a lot to say about Speaker Pelosi and her San Francisco values.  Nancy Pelosi - now there’s a hard Californian if I ever met one, although she studied at the knee of her hard ass Baltimore mayor father.  I miss the days when our president was from mellow Hawaii, studied and smoked dope at Southern California Occidental.  Even our other California presidents Nixon and Reagan seem mellow compared to our New York hard baller.

Probably the best path is somewhere in the middle.  But please don’t make me live somewhere in the middle of our nation.  It’s either hard or soft coasts for me.

Copyright © 2019 Deborah Streeter