If you haven’t been to the San Francisco Bay Area yourself, and if you wonder why I’m always so happy to get home to it; or why visitors to SF and the bay area so often rave about it — a good place to start is to take in the photo just above. I’m still working my way through photos I took last year, before I headed over to Bangui, where I’ve been now for more than two months. I shot all of the photos in this post during a take-off from SFO en route to EWR last year, in May — but what I’m posting are just photos from the bay area and up til the time we reached the still snow-covered Sierra Nevadas. Since it was nearly a year ago, and this year hasn’t seen as much snow — just remember: it’s last year! Enjoy!
In November, I had the great pleasure of participating as a tour guide in the Forced From Home exhibit, which in 2017 toured five different cities in the west. This provided me with a chance not only to explore a few corners of Oakland more thoroughly than past visits, but also to meet a bunch of other MSF colleagues whom I’d probably never meet otherwise, unless we happened to be in the same mission at the same time. (Which was not the case for any of the interesting and fun fellow tour-guides I met during this stop on the tour.) The exhibit itself happened just across the street from Lake Merritt, right behind the beautiful Oakland Civic Auditorium aka Henry Kaiser Auditorium. The building itself has been closed for structural reasons for more than a decade – but the outside is still beautiful.
But the most important thing the tour gave me was a chance to share a more realistic taste of what life is like for many of the patients and communities we work with, than I can do just speaking in front of a classroom or to friends when I get home from an assignment. I’m always looking for ways to capture what’s similar and what’s different, between the wealth of most US communities and what’s normal for so many people where I work. People who grew up where and when I grew up take so very much for granted that they often seem to actually believe it’s a hardship to not be able to get the next release of an i-phone the day it comes out. (I know poverty is present in the US – but even the poorest states and towns will still usually have paved roads in the town center, a public electricity grid that’s very stable by global standards, a municipal water supply, local and national governments with sufficient income to maintain a fairly reasonable level of civil order, and so on.) In any case, I spent about 10 days sharing stories and examples of what displaced people all around the world might face – and it was an honor and a pleasure. It’s interesting to sort and look back at these photos and remember the questions my tour visitors asked, now that I’m back at work in a country with something like 25% of its citizens displaced from their homes due to violence.
I’ll let the photos, of the civic center and the tour, of downtown Oakland and Lake Merritt in all their glory, speak for themselves. (Do read the titles on the small photos from the auditorium, above – you’ll find how I titled this post.) And I’ll share three public links, the first about this year’s plans for the Forced From Home tour (it’s well worth a visit if it stops near you), the second an article about the exhibit which quotes me, and the third a recent public statement relating to the work I’m doing at the moment, to keep things in context. As you know I can’t really talk about the current work on this personal blog…but public statements are public statements.
On a warm, bright day last May, I for the very first time took the freeway exit which would lead me, Amy & Nancy to China Camp State Historic Park on the shores of San Pablo Bay in the northern reaches of the greater San Francisco Bay. All along the freeway north of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, one sees signs for state parks, state historic parks, significant historical or architectural landmarks…and too often one simply drives past with the internal monologue that says “I’ll visit next time.” It’s rather like New York City residents who see the Statue of Liberty out their subway window during elevated portions of the ride from Brooklyn into Manhattan but may actually visit the island itself only once a decade when visitors from out of town express an interest. In any case we three did finally visit on that bright morning in May, exploring a few short trails and enjoying the visitor center’s historical displays about the local shellfish harvesting done mostly by Chinese immigrants, and the local community and commercial culture that grew up around these camps. Yet another sad fact in the history of the western US is the sheer historical forgetfulness of too many anglo types around the essential, critical role played by so many non-anglo communities in making these places what they are today. This little park does its bit to remind us all, and I for one found it well worth a visit – try it yourself some time! And for anyone who’s curious: yes, I’m now back in the heart of Africa, writing this fairly close to the shores of the Oubangui river and I’ll just let you guess where that places me, if you don’t already know :-). At some point I might find a few things I can photograph and post from here, but for the time being I am still using my limited personal free time to dig through photos from some of my favorite outings during my extended inter-mission last year…I hope you enjoy them as they pop here every now and then in coming weeks, as the occasional lazy Sunday morning with sufficient internet bandwidth permits. Peace, health, thanks as always for visiting the site and sharing my photos with me … out.
Singing the mountains and valleys, trees and rocks, grass and flowers and even the loud wild turkeys that surround me in my adopted home here in the North Bay. As most readers and friends know, this adopted home town of Santa Rosa, where I’ve hung my hat any available moment between assignments or family-and-work trips elsewhere since 2014, was caught up in a devastating fire which then became a complex of several enormous fires in October of last year. As noted in a few previous posts, I’m trying to watch the process of decay and new growth which nature is pushing forward as the rainy season has rolled from November through now February here. We’re still far too short on rainfall for the rainy season, and must hope for many more inches in coming months if we’re to avoid further devastating fires and water restrictions later on. But for the moment, the grass has greened the hills and gentle steady rains have revived many plants whether burned, dormant, or both. Burned patches scar many of our mountains as seen from a distance, while burned trees and rocks remind us on walks and bike rides that we’re fortunate the fires ended when they did. I’ll soon be off to a new assignment, in a portion of Africa which rarely makes the global headlines, and where the opportunity and luxury of taking photos will rarely apply. So to remind myself of the beauty for which I’m so grateful every time I come home…I’m popping a whole ton of photos (yes, I know, way too many) up on here. Further down you’ll see galleries with tree-and-rock level detail of charred tree trunks still standing and bravely putting out new leaves and shoots; you’ll also see three months’ worth of photos of my fire-scarred rock in its gully and be able to compare the process of regrowth. It’s rather like watching the scar from my own small surgical procedure last December: each month, that scar seems to recede. Mine is only a small scar, unlike many of our mountainsides whose scars still astonish with their size and brownness, even in this relatively green time of the year. Enjoy the photos – click on individual pictures in each gallery and you might see why I included it once it’s a bit larger. (For example, a tree scarred at the bottom but still alive higher up.) Here’s to a year of healing wounds and finding new growth, for me and everyone reading this :-).
Look closely at this post’s first photo, and you will notice drier, browner patches in the mountains on the far side of the valley. Those are from the Tubbs fire, which in early October burned such a path of destruction in and around Santa Rosa. When that fire struck I was on the east coast visiting my mother, who’s had some health issues of her own. In early December, I got out to Anadel again with a good MSF friend & colleague (see photo below). She had recommended that I pick a specific view or area to photograph as I get out and about in Santa Rosa and watch the process of regrowth. (Anadel is the state park affected by the Nunns fire, which was separated at one point from the Tubbs Fire only by the valley you see in that first photo.)
I’ve followed her advice – did so, in fact, the morning we took this photo. Further down you’ll see a gallery of square photos, three in a row. You’ll notice a rock there with a clear burn mark across the moss: I plan to photograph this rock any time I’m up there in the coming year or so. As with these two, I’ll title the photos with dates, so I and any interested readers can watch the process of regrowth. It seems nature is faster at rebuilding — it seems to happen…well, naturally there. The many destroyed homes I bicycle past when going about my appointed rounds seem to still be under review by claims adjusters, and a friend who lost his home tells me there are various safety requirements to be met prior to fully launching a rebuild. (In particular around possible toxics from burnt homes in the soil, I think?) Still, though, I figure we’re likely to see a significant building boom by the middle of the new year.
The BBC tells me that Prince Harry (he of UK fame) recently did a radio show where he spoke with (among others) President Barack Obama, truly a class act whom I and millions of Americans miss greatly. Harry asked about finding hope when times are tough. I’ve found myself talking about the same topic a lot with friends at home — friends whose homes burned, friends who had to evacuate. All of them friends who, like me, find the dishonest bully currently in the white house quite distressing and depressing. I take comfort in signs of growth and connection where I can. I choose to believe that there is at least as much generosity and kindness in this country and this world, as there is sadness and loss. May 2018 prove me right for us all on this blue ball spinning through space :-).
Last Friday I stepped out my door, lurched down the stairs in my building, and went for a walk. Within the first 100 steps, I experienced new and strange emotional reactions to something so terribly simple as going for a walk down my block. I feared I’d fall, I feared a kid on a skateboard would bump into me or someone might beat me up, I feared a bicyclist might hit me or a dog might leap up and put its paws on my stomach. So many fears for one small person taking a simple walk down the block!
As I walked, I grew more familiar with my new limitations, aches and pains. I also slowly felt my envelope of of pain-free and reduced-fear activity expand ever so slightly. In the end, I walked more than a mile into downtown Santa Rosa and bought myself a ticket to the matinee of the new Blade Runner. (It’s very contemplative; so relieved in this ADHD-age someone is still doing slow & contemplative on the big screen.) And I probably grew a bit as a human through this process.
Seven days ago I had hernia-repair surgery. The walk, two days later, was the first time I’d been out and about on my own with my newly-sore, cut-open and compromised abdomen. Every movement I made (or tried to make) reminded me why we call this our ‘core’ – my abdomen came into play when I tried to blow my nose or sneeze; when I tried to walk faster to catch a traffic light so as to cross an intersection; any time I tried to roll over in bed or sit up or go to the toilet. It was a newly-humbling experience, to feel so very vulnerable. I’ve spent something like 1/5 of my life in places with poorer resources and support for the vulnerable and weak than right here, yet it’s here that I experienced one of my most jarring moments of fear and vulnerability.
A good reminder to take nothing for granted. This, for me, calls forth a response of gratitude & appreciation for all that I do have. Especially since I know my friends, colleagues & interlocutors in other settings don’t have many of these blessings and advantages. At the start of November, I spent a week being tour guide with the Forced From Home exhibit, in which I and other staff who’ve worked in field positions with MSF guide small groups around several stations depicting the realities of having to flee one’s home, and what one might encounter along the way. Before we opened, most of us tour guides seemed to agree that what we most hoped our groups would take away from the exhibit was an abiding sense of appreciation of what we do have. (Shout out to all the clinical colleagues who take care of me & keep me safe during my most vulnerable moments in the field, btw…)
(If curious, check out this article with a quote or two from me:
– I’ll have some more photos up from Oakland me doing the tour thing, at some point in coming weeks/months…)
That week guiding tour groups through the exhibit in Oakland was especially poignant for me, because my home city of Santa Rosa is still in the long and painful process of recovery from the wild fires. Like me, several local friends have commented that we are reluctant to drive (in my case, bike) around the most-affected zone – or take photos there. It feels almost voyeuristic, and possibly disrespectful of direct human pain and loss resident in those areas. My surgeon’s office is in one of the large buildings that survived the first, most destructive fires. A week before the operation, I biked the eight miles from home up to his office for my pre-op consultation. This post is mostly full of photos I took that day – along Redwood Highway north of downtown Santa Rosa. The burn-related photos were taken on November 14, five weeks after the first fires struck. At one main intersection (the photo just above), the buildings at three corners were destroyed while a gas station at the northwest corner stood, as did the construction site immediately west of it. This was all visible from the waiting room in my surgeon’s office. And I saw an unusual number of people who, like me, were standing to look out the windows from this higher vantage point, scanning the hills and taking stock.
The fires, like my surgery, remind me of my own vulnerability and human frailty. They also remind me of my many blessings, friends, gifts and joys. One of my best friends dropped me off & picked me up after surgery – he and his extended family also hosted me the following day for Thanksgiving surrounded by three generations of kids, parents & grandparents. (The photo just below is of a woozy-looking me with Howard, at my apartment after he brought me home.) My mother is recovering wonderfully well (knock wood) from her own, far more serious surgery. And I have fundamentally safe streets with sidewalks down which I can stroll, appreciating fall foliage and now all the displays of Christmas decorations going up, as I steadily rebuild my body’s strength and capacity in preparation for what I firmly expect will be an enjoyable end of year holiday season with friends and family. My Unitarian-Universalist congregation has focused on faith, this month: in what do we place our faith. I choose to have faith that the sun will continue to rise, that seeds will continue to sprout, and that it is always good to be kind and generous to those around us. Even if this makes me wildly crazy in the eyes of the pessimists among us, I find it simply so very much more enjoyable to be kind than not. I hope you’ll join me 😊. Peace.
Above, me on that vulnerable first walk after surgery and some of the red fall foliage that I’m so over-the-top in love with; below, Cardinal Newman HS athletic fields with a burned hillside behind. Below that, two photos from the Ft Ross area which I just happened to have on hand from a trip with another visiting friend a week or two earlier. For those who don’t know: Ft Ross is a totally cool state historic park documenting the southernmost imperial Russian presence on the west coast of North America; including this rebuilt Russian Orthodox church. SO cool.
The bay area, which I call home and return to between assignments or even on vacations during an assignment when possible, has its icons. There the golden gate bridge, which I cross every time I go to my own physical home after flying into SFO. There’s the corner of Castro & Market, with its massive rainbow flag as a statement to the world that the city’s LGBTQI (did I forget any of the currently-accepted letters?) population is proud and not about to creep back into some box just because some people don’t much like us. There’s Mt Diablo, forming a triangle across the bay as the highest peak in the immediate bay area — visible behind that rainbow flag, down below. There are vineyards…and this year, there’s rain in the vineyards! And snow in the mountains, though I’ve not yet been to see it myself. Perhaps I’ll make it to the mountains after this assignment, before it all melts. Something to keep in mind.
In any case, I was recently back amongst these icons for a final vacation during the current assignment. When the weather was sufficiently clear, I walked or biked around and appreciated the greenest vistas I’ve seen in years, since California’s been in a drought that’s grown more severe year by year for a decade or so. As it rained on my way back to the airport for the flight back to PaP, I photographed one of Sonoma County’s lovely hillside vineyards through the bus’s rainy window. On the way up, I photographed the GGB through the bus’s reasonably clear window. And I took as many photos of flowers as I could: so much was in bloom! I’ll admit I’ve been overworked at work, depressed in real life at home about what’s become of government and “civil” discourse in my native land, and generally rather tired. So I’ve not taken out my camera much. But I do usually have a phone with me and I’m now on instagram (paulbsrca) so every now and then I remember I can snap something with that, then pop it up on instagram. But I remain more of a long-form guy, so here I’m assembling stuff from both camera & phone, to share some of what I’ve seen and thought lately. It’s always lovely when I know folks read and appreciate what I share. Thanks…and let’s all try to add a wee bit more beauty and pleasure into the days and lives of those around us…if that’s not too bold a suggestion. Peace. 🙂
I was home for a short holiday in November, after a remarkably wet October. Those early generous rains brought stronger autumn color in the trees than I have yet seen in Sonoma County. The rivers were a bit more robust than usual for early November, the hills of my favorite parks a bit greener…and some of the bike paths already muddy. I delighted in the freedom to hop on my bike & find all the red-leaved trees and beautiful views I could find. I also took time to enjoy the contrast of white lichen with brown, fallen leaf. Here are some photos from those outings. I’m taking pleasure in beauty these days- the slant of a ray of light through a window, the curve of a kid’s smile as he bikes through downtown Port au Prince (yes, I saw this the other day!). It seems a good time to remember and appreciate the blessings in my life, which certainly include all my wonderful friends and readers, known and unknown, around the world. Have a lovely end of year holiday season :-).
The previous post showed some of the redwoods from Armstrong Grove, maybe 10 or 15 miles inlands from the Pacific ocean, upstream along the lovely and wine-producing Russian River. In the photo immediately above, you see where the Russian river meets the Pacific – and another shot of more or less the same view after the gallery of photos below. All of these photos were taken on the same day as that redwoods outing, on a lovely coast & redwoods loop trip I took with an old high-school friend of mine who’d come up to check out the place I’ve been calling home for the past few years. Large chunks of the Sonoma County coast line are set aside for the Sonoma Coast State Park, and most of the photos in this entry come from sections of that extensive and lovely park.