Welcome Back to the Bay!

5bWe are ten years into a 50-year restoration project along the San Francisco Bay — Salt flats are being returned to their natural state (0r as natural as we can make them). Wetland restoration continues on an area the size of Manhattan island. All of this is in the middle of Silicon Valley. There are three areas, Eden Landing, Ravenswood, and Alviso, on the South Bay, two of which I’ve visited. Here are some photos from yesterday’s visit to Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge (in Alviso) where I saw numerous birds including several phalaropes.


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Follow this link for some really good photographs of Drawbridge.

Wilderness Training, Part II

How We Sleep at Night
How We Sleep at Night (Four to five of us will be sleeping under this tarp, sleeping bag next to sleeping bag.)

Day Two, Henry Coe State Park:

Michael and I are leading today’s hike. Our first stop will be China Hole which is about five miles from our current camp site, Manzanita Point. I’m not liking the title of this stop: It sounds very politically incorrect to me. I wonder what meaning lies behind the name?

Manzanita Point to China Hole will be a strenuous hike with an elevation gain of about 2,000 feet. Michael takes the lead for the first part of the hike; I will lead after the China Hole stop.

Here Michael and I are conferring about the route we will be taking. This is after Michael missed the first turn. Luckily, the sweep (me) was paying attention and so, saved us extra time and miles! Oh Alicia, maybe you oughtn’t to be so glib. Do you trust us to get you to tonight’s camp site after that first wrong turn?

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From left to right: me, Michael and Alicia
China Hole at last! This is a popular swimming spot at the bottom of a large canyon. This means we are going to have to climb out of that canyon and head uphill for a seriously steep climb. Oy vey!

A little out of the canyon, heading up towards Lost Spring, newts and banana slugs crossed our path. This guy was curled up, probably trying to get warm. I wonder what kind of snake it was and was it harmless? Unwilling to test our luck, we gave him/her a wide berth. Ben, our designated photographer, stopped to take a photograph while most of us kept on hiking. The terrain here was rough, rocky and steep.

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***           ***          ***

It is now lunchtime. We have stopped at a junction near Lost Springs, tonight’s camp site. The land has leveled out here. I hope there are no more hills to climb before we get to camp.

8 -2014-02-02 03.39.57About twenty minutes after leaving our lunch spot, we find water in what looks to be a cow trough. We fill our empty bottles, add a few drops of iodine to each, burp all our bottles and pack them away.

Back on the trail we go, water bottles jostling about in our packs. The iodine has begun the process of purifying the water. In about thirty minutes it will be ready for drinking. But this isn’t all the water we carry. We are also carrying three full water “bladders” that hold the water we will use for cooking and for cleaning our hands and pots. No need to purify these as the water, once boiled, will become germ free.

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Ten minutes after filling our water bottles, we realize we are lost. This camp site, Lost Spring, is aptly named: We cannot find it!

Here are Michael and I, checking our map to see if we can find the place, but no, it doesn’t seem to exist. Now we give the orders — We send two people to the left and two to the right, to scout. No sense all of us getting even more lost and tired. Leading is not all it’s cracked up to be. When you are in charge, everyone depends on you to find the wretched camp site that refuses to reveal itself.

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Ben, one of the four scouts, comes back with a photograph of an out of order outhouse. The rest of us joke that maybe we will have to sleep in it tonight.

11 -2014-02-02 06.23.25We eventually find the site which we blithely walked past earlier — It looked nothing like we expected it to. Now it’s time to set up our living areas, kitchen, sleeping, hand washing station, etc. Our regular routine is that two different people cook dinner each night. Tonight we’re having red quinona.

12 -2014-02-02 07.55.33It has gotten very dark. Here is Cordelia cooking by the light of her head lamp:

16 -2014-02-02 52- 07.54.58While the cooks cook, the rest of us pitch the tarps under which we will sleep. Each tarp sleeps four to five people.

13 -2014-02-02 10.08.57Next morning’s lesson, by Jason, is about risk management.

14 -2014-02-02 22.29.14Having cleaned up our camp site, we are ready to begin another day’s hike. Today we’re off to Coit Lake. And if you are wondering, nope, we are not responsible for the remnants of that fire in the photograph. Whoever made that fire is crazy. There has been a “no burn” policy in California for months now, because of the severe drought. We have only used our very controlled, “whisper stoves.”

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Ten of us are in the photo. The eleventh member of our group is taking the photograph. I am third from the right, in a red jacket and navy and red hat.

(You can read “Wilderness Training,” Part One, here.)

Except for the China Hole photograph, all photos, credit of Ben Njau.

To the Wilderness We Go!

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Getting ready for evening circle: We arrived at our campsite around twilight and will sleep in the area behind the trees.

I’ve been away on wilderness training for the past two weeks. It is a necessary step as I move into the field of experiential — and away from classroom — education. Ours was a party of eleven, nine trainees, of which I’m one, and two seasoned Outward Bound outdoor education leaders.

The goal here in the United States as far as wild, open spaces go, is to try to bring these places back to the way they were in the days of the First Peoples. But even the First Peoples practiced land management of some sort. They deliberately set fire to the fields, for example, to regenerate seeds that they later harvested for food. If you want to learn more about their relationship to the land here in the Northern California/Bay Area region, a good book to read is Malcolm Margolin’s, The Ohlone Way. It provides a lens into the untamed wilderness that never really was. The idea of “wilderness” as we understand it today, is purely a concoction of European minds. We are meddlesome creatures. Once we arrive and become involved with the land, the wilderness ceases to exist.

This training allows staff/educators to experience what their students will experience during a backpacking trip. The goal is to better understand and relate to them; most, perhaps all of the students we will be working with have never been camping, backpacking or out enjoying the backwoods, the wilds.

Life at Henry Coe State Park

On the first day of our trip it was nice and sunny. The next day, snow! Then the two days after that, rain, rain and more rain, followed by days of sunshine. Our final day at Henry Coe? Rain and lots of it. But we didn’t complain for it meant the drought was most likely over. We pitched our tarps and slept 4-5 people per tarp, fully dressed in our wet gear and damp sleeping bags, just as our students most likely will in the fall, winter and spring.

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Photo credit: Benson Njau, 2014

Graffiti from Palestine

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“Ramallah,” credit: Tokidoki 2013

Tokidoki took some photographs of the amazing graffiti she encountered during her current trip to Israel. Ah, the power of art. My favorite is of Banksy’s balloon girl with what seems to be a response to her: “Sister you need more?” In the meanwhile, here on the other side of the world, a group of Swarthmore College students learn that they need permission to discuss Israeli policy towards Palestinians and the establishment of a Palestinian state. (Read about it here.) What is the point of a college/university education if you don’t learn to look at and consider all sides of an issue? Hillel and Israel, whereforth art thy madibas? Do you await a Soweto-type uprising by children? Best to call out your Elie Wiesels before it is too late.

Knowing Each Other

1- spectre with lights
Spectre (with lights) — without lights


As we head towards the end of the year, I find myself working more on my art, on learning how to use different materials and mediums and honing my drawing skills. Because of this new focus I have cut back on my nature and art writings. We Were Nothing will become a bi-monthly blog. My focus here has always been on art, nature and culture. That will not change.

Art Blog

Over at Funny Face Studio, the reverse of what is happening here at We Were Nothing is true. When I was focusing solely on painting as an art form I featured one or two works each month. Now that I am sketching and drawing, I have begun making weekly posts at Funny Face Studios. You can see my latest drawings and paintings there.

Knowing Each Other

Recently, I watched the celebrations surrounding the life and death of Nelson Mandela in South Africa. It made me realize how little many of us understand our world and world politics. Consequently, we barely know each other and we don’t know those that sociologists call “the other.” As I contemplate moving back into the education field, I am overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs to be done in our corner of the world. I find myself questioning the role of education and whether it still holds a promise for our under-served populations. As I search for my next place in education, I leave you with another short video. It is not a happy one like the one I presented in Art Spaces and City Places, but it too, holds hope and promise.

Here’s to a more equitable future. Happy Christmas and the best of the season to all. See you in two weeks.

The New Public: http://vimeo.com/13823045

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