Outer and Inner Journeys for Change

gg-bridge-wristband-smallAs an activist, there were many options for events in my community that responded to the installation of the president, coinciding with others across the planet where people were standing up for a kind and just world. I planned my day to begin with public action and to close with private reflection.

My friend Neal and I capitalized on the publicity that comes from being atop a global icon—the Golden Gate Bridge. A group called Bridge Together Golden Gate organized a human chain emphasizing love and compassion over hate and fear. With a permit for a peaceful demonstration, thousands of us came to join hands along the walkway. We draped ourselves in purple, a color symbolizing opposition to bullying.

peaceful-patriot-on-gg-bridge-1-20-17-smallA peaceful patriot

As evidenced by the many tourists who flock to the bridge with their daydreams of warm, sunny California and end up shivering even on sunny days, the Golden Gate Bridge is rarely a place for a balmy stroll. It’s the edge of the continent. You have to be committed to head out on the span and stand around for a couple hours when it’s 50 degrees during one of the rainiest Januarys on record. So it was impressive that 3,500 people showed up.

I bundled up in longjohns, a fleece jacket, two hats, and raingear. Over all that I draped my purple thrift store finds, a couple of scarves and an oversized sports jersey that would fit over everything.

With my friend Neal—no, I didn’t gain weight, just covered in many layers

It was inspiring to be around so many positive-minded people standing together in a message of unity, an energizing way to begin the first day of being part of the resistance.

gg-bridge-purple-brigade-1-20-17-smallReadying to join hands during a welcome break in the rain

Afterwards, recognizing the importance of building my inner strength for the long haul of the next few years, I attended Spirit Rock Meditation Center’s Inauguration Day Community Gathering in the evening. Making the transition from activity to contemplation, I got there early to savor the quiet before others arrived.

spirit-rock-community-hall-1-20-17-smallspirit-rock-buddha-statue-1-20-17-smallMore than 300 of us came together at Spirit Rock. Listening to several Buddhist teachers and singing together helped me ground in the dharma. Early in the evening, we were asked if anyone wanted to share why they came. I shocked myself as I discovered I felt none of my usual discomfort with public speaking before strangers, raised my hand, and took the microphone.

I said something along the lines of: “I am here because to be an effective activist, I need to take care of my inner life as well as my outer one. I know how important it is to keep my heart open, and I want to make sure I remember that there is no us vs. them—there is only us.” From the murmurs in response, I apparently touched a chord for others.

The teachers emphasized drawing from mindfulness and compassion while embracing being outraged or heartbroken, resolving to act in the face of injustice and environmental threats while continuing to embrace joy and beauty in the world. During our periods of meditation, I closed my eyes and settled into the silence.

The essential elements for moving forward are clear. Combining mindful action with the space for reflection. Being part of a movement, and rooting in the earth alone on a trail. Drawing on the energy and power from working with others across the spectrum of diverse humanity, and finding a quiet time to retreat and restore. Remembering, again and again, that there is no us vs. them—there is only us.

I’ve taken my first steps, and I’m committing to the unfolding journey.


Hawks, Cranes, and Pintails

Here are more photos from my recent travels ooo-ing and ahh-ing at wintering birds in California’s Central Valley. On two occasions, I was lucky to get close to red-tailed hawks.

Red-tailed hawk at Merced National Wildlife Refuge

red-tailed-hawk-sac-nwr-11-2016-smallRed-tailed hawk at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

For many years, I’ve traveled to the Llano Seco Unit of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s North Central Valley Wildlife Area. It’s a reliable place to find graceful sandhill cranes. In the past, I’ve visited in the afternoons and have spotted a few cranes in the distance or flying overhead. This time on my solo overnight trip, I decided to bundle up in my warm layers and go early in the morning instead. What a difference that made.

With no people around to spook them, there were more than 100 greater sandhill cranes cooing to each other, and they didn’t seem to mind my presence as long as I was quiet and moved slowly. Visiting Llano Seco is usually a relatively short visit, spotting a few cranes and enjoying the usual crowd of colorful ducks. But this time, the company of so many cranes was mesmerizing as I enjoyed the place without other people there. It wasn’t until I got in my car to leave that I realized I’d been staring in awe for two hours.

For those of you who geek out on species identification, I have to say I’m not good at telling the difference between greater and lesser sandhill cranes. Llano Seco’s website says the place is home to the greater variety, so that’s how I know.

sandhill-crane-portrait-llano-seco-11-2016-smallGreater sandhill crane with ducks and geese at Llano Seco

Finally, here is a series of images of northern pintails taken on various trips this winter. I find these ducks incredibly beautiful, so I kept snapping away. With their blue and black striped bills, brown heads with a white flourish stretching upward from their chests, extended tail feathers, and streaked profile, they look like artwork that someone sculpted.

Pintail pair at Llano Seco

pintail-pair-on-shore-12-2016-smallResting on the bank

Cruising along in the sunshine

pintail-group-at-llano-seco-11-2016-smallThese two seemed to be having a dispute

pintail-dabbling-12-2016-smallA common position—butt up while feeding

I stumbled upon this homemade sign on a dirt road through the agricultural fields. Clearly one of the locals appreciates the pintails, too.


Wintering Waterfowl and Wading Birds in the Central Valley

rosss-geese-and-pintails-12-2016-smallRoss’s geese and northern pintails

As I’ve shared here before, I follow the migratory waterfowl and other birds—my own personal migration on winter weekends. Here are some portraits from recent trips to California’s Central Valley. These are highlights from this season’s trips to several national wildlife refuges—Colusa, Merced, Sacramento, San Luis—as well as the as well as the Llano Seco Unit of the North Central Valley Wildlife Management Area and various agricultural fields.

I feel such joy being around these birds, who bring so much life during the cold, dark months of the year. More photos to come.

geese-flying-above-sutter-buttes-12-2016-smallGeese silhouetted against the Sutter Buttes

white-faced-ibis-merced-nwr-12-2016-smallWhite-faced ibis


northern-shoveler-12-2016-smallNorthern shoveler

Black-necked stilt

black-necked-stilt-san-luis-nwr-2-12-2016-smallAnother view of the black-necked stilt

snow-and-white-fronted-geese-12-2016-smallGreater white-fronted geese (foreground) and snow geese

snow-geese-at-sunset-sac-nwr-11-2016-smallSnow geese

white-fronted-geese-11-2016-smallGreater white-fronted geese

turtle-and-cinnamon-teal-11-2016-smallThe odd couple – western pond turtle and cinnamon teal

pintail-swimming-1-12-2016-smallNorthern pintail

wigeon-pair-11-2016-smallAmerican wigeons

tundra-swans-11-2016-smallTundra swans

egret-and-mallards-12-2016-smallGreat egret and mallards

Great blue heron

Why I’m Going to Arizona for the Election

flag-lapel-in-hand-10-2016-cropped-smallIt was in July that I made my decision about what I needed to do.

I had already watched the Supreme Court decimate the Voting Rights Act. I’d been appalled at how state after state subsequently passed laws to restrict which Americans could vote. And when the Republican Party named their candidate for president with his hateful rhetoric, I resolved to act.

With no issues in my home state, I’m volunteering for the presidential election in Arizona. I’ll be joining the efforts of the Arizona Advocacy Network’s Election Protection team in the Phoenix area, where the Maricopa County sheriff is nationally infamous for violating civil rights.

I’m going because I’m patriotic.

With so much at stake, I am compelled to counter those who reference American values in the most perverse language possible—citing freedom as a basis for hate and promoting violence against those who don’t meet their standards of whom their fellow Americans should be. I’m reclaiming their adjectives and slogans to promote the best of American values. Liberty for all. Regardless of what we look like, what language we speak, what country we were born in, what religion we believe in or not. And so many other freedoms.

I cannot let the fear-mongering go unchallenged. The America I believe in doesn’t discriminate. My America opens the door for every voter.

On election day, I will be there with my flag lapel on. For liberty and justice for all.

Seabirds and 100 Years of National Parks

100 years ago today, the Organic Act became law: 

“Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that there is hereby created … the National Park Service… to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

I’ve written on this blog about many of my adventures in national parks, the well-known iconic wilderness areas and historic sites. Recently, I’ve been appreciating the national recreation areas created to provide access to nature and history in urban areas, specifically my local Golden Gate National Recreation Area established in 1972.

In the middle of San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz Island in Golden Gate National Recreation Area hosts more than a million visitors a year who come to tour its infamous old prison. What is less known is that Alcatraz is an important sanctuary for nesting seabirds, egrets and herons. I find it unappealing to tour a prison that’s much like the inhumane places we still have, but it’s a treat to visit the island and find nature thriving in a place filled with broken structures and mobs of people.

Snowy egret adult and chick Alcatraz 6-2016 smallerSnowy egret chick and parent

Nesting bird count sign Alcatraz 6-2016 smaller
The census of nesting residents

Pigeon guillemot Alcatraz 6-2016 smaller
Pigeon guillemot, with just a tiny bit of her bright orange legs showing

Western gull with chicks Alcatraz 6-2016 smaller
Attentive western gull parent with chicks

Brandts cormorants Alcatraz 6-2016 smaller
Brandt’s cormorants

Egret feather in concrete crack Alcatraz 6-2016 smaller

Western gull and SF skyline 6-2016 smaller

On this 100th anniversary of the national parks, my wish for everyone is to have an experience in a park or historic site that is the heritage of all of us. Find your local treasures here.


Speaking Up as an Ally for My Fellow Humans

“As a white person, I realized I had been taught about racism as something that puts others at a disadvantage, but had been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects, white privilege, which puts me at an advantage.” – Peggy McIntosh

Some years ago, I was waiting in line for the bathroom at the grocery store when someone mentioned it needed attention and she was going to find an employee to take care of it. The man waiting behind me, white as I am, commented to me that the bathroom wasn’t appropriately clean because employers hire Mexicans and they don’t do a good job.

I wanted him to stop saying such horrible things, so initially I wasn’t responsive. The door to the other bathroom opened and I went in, giving me just enough time to prepare for the rest of the conversation I knew I needed to have when I came out.

The man was still there. I politely said something like this: “I need to let you know that just because I am also white, it doesn’t mean that it’s okay with me to categorize an entire group of people based on their ethnicity, and I found what you said offensive.” At first he was stunned, and then he grew angry. I responded: “I realize you are describing your experience. That is not my experience, and however you intended it, what you said landed as offensive for me.” I ended the conversation and left.

Beneath my external calm, I was shaking. But I had taken the critical step across our societal line of complicity. I landed on the side of using my privilege to make a difference instead of taking advantage of it in silence as I had for many years before that. I doubt that I changed that guy’s mind. But there’s a good chance he would hesitate before saying such poison words to someone else.

I cannot return to a place of silence. The nonviolence trainings I participated in decades ago when I was attending protests against nuclear power and logging of ancient redwoods seem even more relevant in these times of increasing hate and violence. I stand upon my Buddhist practice as another layer of the foundation. With so much at stake, I must keep reaching out to make that human connection for a better world.

How do I look bigotry in the face and see the humanity of the person on the other side, to change our society in my daily interactions without falling into a hateful place myself? This is my ongoing practice.

With that in mind this Independence Day weekend, I took myself to the county fair where volunteers had set up booths for this year’s presidential candidates. I have never met anyone who supports the Republican Party’s scary nominee—I can’t bring myself to type his name on this blog—and I wanted to look in their faces, have a conversation with them, try to understand.

I spent the first part of the day soaking up the upbeat energy of the fair—the determination of the kids in 4-H showing off their dogs’ agility training, the jugglers and music, the artwork and photographs in the galleries, the taste of roasted corn on the cob. Then I made my way to the red, white and blue booth.

So much of understanding is just about listening, so I started there. I listened to the man beside me explain to the volunteers that he believes in the Constitution, and that’s why he is going to vote for the nominee. I believe in the Constitution, too, I thought, which is why I came to the exact opposite conclusion. Someone came by and bought a bumper sticker. And then it was just me and the three women, facing me across their table piled with books, stickers, a clipboard to sign up to help the campaign. They appeared to be about my age or a little older. One of them greeted me.

“I’m here because I’d like to find out why you support the nominee,” I began, as politely as I could. Two of them took turns responding with the catch phrases I’ve been reading for months. “A strong military.” “Securing our borders.” “Keeping us safe.” They then asked me about my opinion.

I started with explaining that when the nominee was asked a question by a reporter with a disability at a press conference, he made fun of the reporter’s disability. All three of them nodded and one softly said, “Yes, that was unfortunate.” Another said, “Well, he doesn’t practice, he just says what he thinks.” Indeed, I thought.

“I’m Jewish,” I said. “And a lot of what he says about Muslims and immigration reminds me of what so many people said about Jews during World War II when they refused to let them into their countries when they were targeted by the Nazis. You could swap the word Jews for Muslims and that’s how it seems today. I think that’s racist.” The reply: “Oh no, it’s not the same. Jews weren’t terrorists.”

And so the conversation went, as they ticked off familiar buzzwords about the Koran and allowing Muslims into the U.S. To keep my center, I visualized the darker-skinned faces of Americans I care about who were born in other countries. That helped me stay calm. I said that the Bible promotes some pretty awful things but that doesn’t mean Christians act on them all, and asked if they’d personally met anyone who is Muslim. They stammered.

One woman asked me who I liked in the election. “I don’t like either of them, actually,” I said, “but I am voting for the other candidate because I find the nominee so frightening.”

We talked a little more. Our conversation was uncomfortable. They drew closer together and I think they might have been a little afraid of what I might say or do. It was time to wrap up. “Well, I see we disagree. Thank you for talking with me.”

I walked away, breathed deeply and set out to locate something uplifting. As a counterpoint, I happened upon the booth for the firefighters, people who risk their lives responding to anyone who needs help without discrimination. I smiled watching them help little kids climb into the fire truck and listened to the children laughing as they placed their tiny hands on the steering wheel.

I came away with a few things from the county fair. A book on local trails, information about where to recycle some old electronics, a framed photograph of a beach that I’m attached to. And a reminder that there is no us vs. them—there is only us. To create an equitable world requires dialogue even with those whose world view I find harmful. Staying silent is staying complicit. On this Independence Day, I recommit myself to freedom for all, being an ally and continuing to speak up.

Portraits of Spring Neighbors

Common merganser female right at Las Gallinas smaller
Common merganser at dusk

There’s a period early in the year in the Bay Area when the wintering birds overlap with the spring wildflower season, and I can hardly contain myself. Here are a few images from a couple months ago.

One of the best birdwatching sites nearby is the unglamorous Las Gallinas Valley Sanitary District sewage treatment facility. Multiple ponds not only allow natural processes to break down waste, but provide habitat for waterfowl, songbirds and raptors. While some are residents year-round, the place really comes to life with the migrants present throughout the winter and spring.

Common merganser female left at Las Gallinas
A different view of the same common merganser

Canvasback at Las Gallinas smaller

On a different day, I headed to see forest-dwelling flowers at the Martin Griffin Preserve of Audubon Canyon Ranch. Posting these a couple months after the fact feels like waving goodbye to familiar friends that I’ll see again next spring.

Douglas iris ACR 4-2016 smaller
Douglas iris

Western columbine ACR 4-2016 smallerWestern columbine

Coral root ACR 4-2016 smallerSpotted coralroot

Miners lettuce ACR 4-2016 smallerMiner’s lettuce