There are three things found only in the Americas that I really enjoy – cactuses, monkeys with prehensile tails and hummingbirds. In the Old World, that is, Africa, Europe and Asia, there are ecological equivalents of hummingbirds called sunbirds. They, too, are small with iridescent colors and are flower pollinators. But they can’t hold a biological candle to our hummers.

The Cuban hummingbird is the world’s smallest bird, the size of a bumblebee. Hummers are the only birds that can fly backwards and even upside down. They beat their wings at an astonishing 150 times per second. Some in temperate climes hibernate nightly in a state of torpor to save energy. They have the fastest heartbeat of any animal, 1,000 per minute. You get the idea. Amazing birds.

Two species of hummingbirds are easily seen in the Bay Area. Anna’s hummingbird is now a year-long resident, perhaps due to planted ornamental flowers. They weigh no more than a nickel and appear mostly green. The males display for the females by ascending to 130 feet and then plummeting to the ground with a burst of noise produced through their tail feathers. They orient this dive so that their iridescent throat feathers flash in the sun, hopefully impressing that female.

Allen’s hummingbirds migrate here from southern Mexico where they have wintered. They arrive early in January and males perform a pendulum breeding display, cruising back and forth in a wide arc in front of the female. They are slightly smaller than the Anna’s and are coppery orange with a little green on the back.

Less common is the Rufous Hummingbird. These smaller hummers migrate from Central America all the way up into Alaska and, boy, are they feisty. Often fighting off birds twice their size for access to nectar. We only see these brilliant birds in the springtime. As their name indicates they are coppery brown.

Whatever their species, hummingbirds are special birds that grace our gardens, perform astonishing feats and make us stop whatever we’re doing just to marvel at their beauty and their ability.

I’m Michael Ellis, with a Perspective.

Michael Ellis is a naturalist who leads trips throughout the world. He lives in Santa Rosa.

Last summer, my family spent practically all of our time together. This summer, we had a lot of fun too, but something was missing — my brother Cole.

He was busy taking summer college courses–though that’s not the only thing that kept him from us. He also has what he calls a second family.

When my brother returned home from his first weeks at college last September, I was excited to hear all about how it was going. Dorm life, cafeteria food, and frat parties. Instead, when my family sat down at the table to eat, Cole closed his eyes, clasped his hands, and silently mouthed grace.

My jaw dropped in shock.

Atheism is all we’d ever known. But the first friends Cole made on campus belonged to a Southern Baptist church group. Not long after, he converted.

My parents are trying to understand. They read those books about spirituality and even went to Easter church services. It’s been harder for me to accept.

Early on, I asked Cole, “Do you think that when I die, I’ll go to Hell?” I expected him to say, “Of course not! You’re a good person.” But without pausing, he told me that if I didn’t repent for my sins, then yeah, I would. I wanted to scream that I’m his sister. Regardless of the Bible’s rules, he knows I’m a good person. I guess he has more faith in God than he has in me.

I also have to own that I’ve made some very mortal mistakes on the road to acceptance. I fought with my brother a lot about his beliefs. I even laughed at him when he tried to explain them. Would a good person laugh at their own brother for something he cares about?

I want to hold onto the Cole of my childhood, the one who climbed trees and loved making stupid puns with me. In some ways, we’re not those people anymore. We’re both changing so much.

The thing I’ve learned through this, is that I can’t choose to focus on our differences.

He’s not Cole the Southern Baptist, he’s just Cole — my funny, smart best friend.

With a Perspective, I’m Sierra Fang-Horvath.

Sierra Fang-Horvath is 17 and lives in Oakland. Her commentary was produced by Youth Radio.

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My friend Zoe and I are sitting on the steps on a sunny afternoon, crying. We both lost our parents 10 years ago. Actually, I lost my grandfather, but he acted as a parent to me.

We’re crying partly in relief. We’ve just admitted to each other that we’re not sure we’ll ever stop mourning. Our memories of watching the people we love disappear slowly have irrevocably changed us, and we’re not sure how to be like everyone else.

Zoe says, “You can talk about how someone didn’t call you back all you want. The minute you say ‘I miss my dead Dad,’ you’re being self-indulgent.”

I smile. Then I say, “I miss my dead Grampa,” and the waterworks start again.

Grampa had a stroke three weeks after my high school graduation: four and a half years later he died.

The stroke was the end of my innocence. Before I’d had sex or fallen in love or travelled on my own, I learned pill schedules and bathing and how to most effectively empty a commode and break a fall. Instead of packing for college, I helped move a hospital bed, the kind with the guards on the sides, into his room.

Almost immediately, I learned that both adults and peers wanted to hear the lessons I was learning from the experience, rather than the things that were truly hard, or boring, or frustrating. People engage with the side of death that feels meaningful.

But disease isn’t particularly meaningful. The love you have for the person is, but caretaking is dirty, smelly work. It’s emotionally draining. Watching someone leave this earth, watching his memory fade and distress increase, these aren’t easy things to do.

Courageous. Worthy. But not easy.

I don’t regret it, but neither would I do it again. It just exists. I looked after my grandfather when I was 17. It marked me.

I wonder what would happen if those of us with an intimate knowledge of death could express our loss, the feelings of raw hopelessness disease and death can inspire, without being asked to make it a celebration of life.

I think it might make it a little easier.

With a Perspective, I’m Amaya Alonso-Hallifax.

Amaya Alonso-Hallifax is an arts administrator. She lives in Oakland.

I was awakened by the sound of my name, whispered twice. “Suzie.” I lifted my head from the pillow and opened my eyes to see a man framed by the doorway, thin white hair, slightly bent forward in pajamas. The morning light streamed in from behind him.

“Dad?” I whispered back. “I brought you some coffee,” he said. He set down a mug on the bedside table in the summer cottage, and left without another word.

I am the daughter of a good man. Not a master of the universe, a baron or a statesman. A man who worked hard and seemed to hold only the most ordinary of ambitions: the happiness of his family. He is not celebrated by the masses. History books won’t remember him. Pundits don’t seek his opinion. But he is my Dad, and he’s a good man.

In the past months there’s been a lot of attention given to the failings of men, the reckless collisions with their desires and compulsions. Those we consider “great men” often seem to believe too much in their claim to that glory, risking what is precious for the spike of a thrill. These “great” men can appear like meteors, flaming bright and crashing hard.

But it’s the good men who hold us all together.

My dad never demanded recognition. He went to work, walked the dog, coached my soccer team, and beamed at my graduation. He talked about “doing the right thing” in a way that implied “the right thing” was always obvious. He raised his voice so rarely that we giggled when he did, and he regarded my mistakes with little more than a sigh of patience as he waited for me to course-correct. He was — and is — so good.

And good men are heroic. Noble and true. Good men may not command the spotlight, but they harbor our hearts and give us strength. Good men deserve the throne they will never seek.

After my Dad placed the mug of coffee beside my bed, I laid there a long time considering him, gray and receding, his sweetness toned with the years. I clung to my sense of privilege in the morning quiet. I am the daughter of a good man.

With a Perspective, I’m Susan Dix Lyons.

Susan Dix Lyons is Co-Founder and Design Director of a health design organization in San Francisco.

It was a beautiful Spring day and I was standing atop Hoover Dam, looking down at the Colorado River and reflecting on the amazing, even magical nine days I had just spent rafting the Colorado through the Grand Canyon. While thinking about my recent great adventure, I noticed a tiny ant, no more than 1/4 inch long, at most, making its way along the concrete rim. The contrast in size between this tiny ant and the massive bulk of the dam struck me and seemed to emphasize the ant’s insignificance.

Earlier that morning, however, I had been listening to a news report of the Mars rover and its role in the search for life on our nearest planetary neighbor. And suddenly, from out of the blue I became aware that this tiny, tiny creature was more unique and advanced than anything NASA, with all its extraordinary scientific and technological sophistication, has been able to discover in its search for evidence of life in the universe. Though dwarfed by the awesome edifice on which it was crawling, the ant represented a biological entity that was more advanced than anything our best thinkers, scientists and engineers have been able to find. And while our greatest efforts have been directed at our nearest planetary neighbor, nothing in the vast entirety of the universe has ever been detected that even comes close to the sophistication of that ant.

And with this realization I suddenly became much more involved in learning all I could about ants, which, I’m discovering, have a much more interesting lifestyle than I ever would have imagined.

With a Perspective, I’m Ray Pestrong.

Ray Pestrong is a professor emeritus of geology at San Francisco State University.

At 56, most of my friends are parents – a few, grandparents. For me, it wasn’t in the cards. In my 20s, I had testicular cancer – so, to insure the family line, I made a deposit, then married a few years later. But my wife was never keen on kids, and in truth, neither was I. Too selfish, perhaps? I had a classroom of kids every day and liked the quiet and calm at home.

In my late 30s, in a new and happier marriage, we were having the time of our lives, exploring the city – kidless. For a while, we flirted with the idea of fostering or adopting someone in need, but ultimately decided against it.

Now, recently retired, for the first time in over 32 years I won’t be surrounded by young people every day. Don’t get me wrong; I am thrilled about this new chapter, but I also wonder: will the decision not to have kids stir me more now? We will have no legacy, no grandkids to babysit, nobody to care for us when we’re old.

Unlike many of my friends, I don’t know what it’s like to raise a little person, to put my own wants and needs behind someone utterly dependent on me. I understand that selfless kind of love, but don’t know how it feels. It’s a big void in my life; I am missing out on something fundamental and basic, and as a result, I am less evolved and not as worldly as I could have been.

But, I accept this without regret.

The bond my wife and I share: it’s the most important thing in our lives. Our pets, they are our kids. I can’t say we love them any more than pet owners with human children, but for us, they’re everything.

And our friends, they too are our family, our legacy, the objects of our affection.

Our family, well, it’s just a different kind of family.

With a Perspective, I’m Pete Gavin.

Pete Gavin is a retired English teacher living in Sonoma County.

Someone’s trying to break in.

As I stand inside the apartment door, I hear somebody outside, fiddling with the lock. And I know – as they soon will – I’ve left the door unlocked.

Whoever’s out there, the only thing between us – an unlocked door.

As the scraping noises on the lock intensify, so does the thump thump thump of my beating heart. Slowly, the door cracks open. I stand there – clueless, weaponless and terrified.

The door opens wider. And wider. A stranger – a tall young woman – stares at me. I stare back, my hands shaking.

She speaks first: “Who are you?”

“I live here. Who are you?”

She glares at me, then slowly turns toward the door. “Oh my god. This is 202. I live in 302. I am so, so sorry.”

I exhale; hear her do the same.

Once we both calm down, she heads upstairs, leaving me to ponder what just happened. And what didn’t happen.

Here’s what didn’t happen. If I’d had a gun, my neighbor would be dead. If she’d had a gun, I’d be dead.

In an age when more Americans are buying more guns than ever, that reality keeps coming back: If we’d had guns, at least one of us would be dead.

Instead, we’re both alive. Shaken, not interred.

Those who argue for armed America always say, “Good guys with guns stop bad guys with guns.”

Maybe. But on this day in America, two San Franciscans spared each other’s lives … by not having guns.

With a Perspective, I’m Jules Older.

Jules Older is a writer living in San Francisco.

Dear Billy Rollins,

I am sorry we did not understand you in the fifth grade. You were so different, but none of us knew why. I will never forget the day our teacher taught us the word ‘hypocrite’ to describe the behavior of some of our classmates towards you.

I truly hope you found friends who understand you.

Sincerely,
Ten year-old Kristin

Dear Steve Knight,
It was hard for us military kids, moving so often, being ‘new kids’ all the time. I assumed your loneliness was like mine, weary of trying to find friends in every new place. I wish I could have been a better friend and neighbor to you but I know you grew into a strong, inspiring activist.

Sincerely,
Sixteen year-old Kristin

To all the Women on the Field Hockey Team,

Thanks for welcoming me to the team. We didn’t ask, we didn’t tell.
I know you have friends who offer love and acceptance.

Sincerely,
Twenty year-old Kristin

Dear Don and Greg,

You are truly heroes for adopting babies in the nineties. It was a terrifying time. So many of your friends were ill with AIDS yet you welcomed the tiniest of victims into your home with love.

Bless you.

Sincerely,
30 year old Kristin

Dear Aunt Hannah,

You were upset when Prop 8 passed in California. I said, “I swear by all the teenagers I know who are totally comfortable with their gay peers, change is coming soon.”

Sincerely,
40 year-old Kristin

Dear Billy and Gabe,

It was an honor to be part of your wedding: a golden sunshine evening filled with love and great dancing! See you at the ice rink soon.

Sincerely,
45 year-old Kristin

Dear Kendall,

We love you. We love Katie too. I want the world to be the best it can be so that you will be  not only safe, but welcomed everywhere just as you are.

With much love,
Your 50-year old Aunt Kristin

With a Perspective, I’m Kristin Abbott.

Kristin Abbott is an artist who designs amusement parks. She lives in Palo Alto.

It was 4 in the morning, the spring of 1982, quiet on 4th Street in Berkeley. The marble factory and Fourth Street Grill were closed.  I entered the back door of Bette’s Diner for my shift, got cleaned up, and started prepping. Carrot soup, raisin scones. Pancake mix. Chopped veggies.

I had just finished up the Hotel and Restaurant program at San Francisco City College with Sue, who then opened Bette’s Oceanview Diner with Bette and her husband Manfred. Bette’s photo – bouffant from the 60’s – hung in a place of honor behind the counter.

Things went well from the start because it was indeed ‘good food and friendly service’ as the menu promised. Creative, smart, good cooks and entrepreneurs – Bette, Manfred and Sue were a great team, and Bette’s thrived.

I was thinking about the old days recently at Bette’s memorial. She left us way too young – still fully in this life. Manfred and their beloved daughter adored her, as did the rest of us.

What really struck me as hundreds of people piled into the Hillside Club in Berkeley was how Bette created community. How much richer our lives are because of her.
Bette cared about people — her family, friends, and a much wider circle. Bette’s offered customers quality food, made sure the employees had decent pay and benefits, and treated everyone with respect.

The last time I saw her, hand on hip at the diner, we discussed some burning political question. When Berkeley raised the minimum wage, she was a big supporter. No hesitation.

Alongside her dear friends, dozens of people who had worked at Bette’s showed up to honor her – the dishwashers, cleaners, cooks, servers. A multi-racial, multi-cultural, cross-section of our town.

What ails us is lack of community. If we don’t get to know each other, it’s hard to care. We are sadder, lonelier, more addicted, less healthy. When we get to know each other, we understand that our lives are intimately connected. If you thrive, I thrive. We all do. Simple. It’s a place to start.

So here’s to Bette. The more we contribute to an empathetic, all for one, one for all community, the more we celebrate the values shot through the remarkable life of someone who represented the best of the Bay.

With a Perspective, I’m Carla Javits.

Carla Javits is president and CEO of an organization that supports and promotes mission-driven businesses known as social enterprises.

I will have reached a pivotal moment in my life by August this year: I will have spent exactly half my life in this, my fine adopted country. This was home; then the ground started to shift from the harsh political rhetoric and the poisonous animosity it created. It made me think about where our differences might lie, and if there was a bridge to be found somewhere in our cultures.

Then the children’s story of Rikki Tikki Tavi came to mind. It’s the lovely tale of a mongoose, which fights a deadly Cobra to save a child. Anyone in the Western world would know that the mongoose lives a happy life thereafter, growing old alongside his human masters. But in the Indian version, the mongoose does not fare so well. There, the humans suspect that the mongoose, a wild animal that it is, would some day harm their child. So they watch him closely. When the mongoose kills the snake that fateful evening, the child wakes up and screams for his mother. The mother rushes in, sees her child crying, sees the bloody mongoose and assumes that her suspicions had come true. She kills the mongoose in anger. By the time she realizes her mistake it’s too late. It’s an ominous tale to illustrate that haste makes waste.

The two dramatically different fates of the little animal could explain the differences in our cultures. The Western version is designed to guide that young child who is bubbling with exciting ideas; do good and the world will be a happy place. The Eastern version is like something that a grandmother might narrate- full of advice on the imperfection of humans. Both have good intentions. While one could prepare you for disappointment if things turn out bad, the other gives you a reason. But, when I combine both, the narrative becomes more complete: We all want a better place. Let’s do good things along the way and let’s deliberate as we get there. I think that’s where the bridge lies.

With a Perspective, this is Bhaskar Sompalli.

Bhaskar Sompalli is a scientist-turned-flash-fiction podcaster. He lives in the East Bay.

Have you seen that show everyone’s talking about, the one that takes place in Colonial America with a rapping hip-hop Founding Father, the guy on the $10 bill? Word is it’s fantastic – and it better be since you’ll need about 70 of those bills to see it. Some tickets for the San Francisco production are going for more than $700 dollars.

Broadway shows have never been cheap. But with New York “Hamilton” tickets selling for up to $1,000, musical theatre has become the entertainment of the one percent.

I was a theatre nerd kid. My family went to most Broadway shows that toured San Francisco. I remember cringing at Nazis in “Sound of Music,” singing along to “Pippin” and snapping my fingers like those Jets in “West Side Story.” When you’re a jet, you’re a jet all the way, and I relished every musical I saw, from the homespun hokieness of “Oklahoma” to the morbid murderers of “Sweeney Todd.” I practically danced down Geary Street after catching “A Chorus Line.”

In an era of endless entertainment options, live theatre remains breathtaking, different from movies and video. I learned a lot from those musicals – lessons that still resonate. “Sound of Music”s war refugees are as current today as 1963, “Hair”‘s political fury seems right from the headlines, and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” is as relevant for an internet start-up as it was in 1961.

As a kid, musical theatre first introduced me to the power of the arts to move and inspire. How ironic expensive “Hamilton,” a multi-racial message of American opportunity, is playing to a mostly white and wealthy grown-up crowd.

But like Unsinkable Molly Brown, I ain’t down yet. Productions like “Hamilton” deserve a standing ovation for their $10 ticket lottery and free programs for school kids to attend. So, as Nellie sang in “South Pacific”, I’m stuck like a dope with a thing called hope. Despite everything, I hope these unaffordable ticket prices won’t bring the curtain down for kids and the magic of live theater.

With a Perspective, I’m Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow works for the San Francisco Unified School District.

In the early 1970s, the Academy-award winning costume designer Edith Head toured the country giving talks on her career and the nature of fashion. One cold winter evening in Marion Ohio, she gave a lecture to a women’s group. Looking around the room, she commented that, even though it was winter, there was no reason to dress in winter colors. She asked the audience to see what everyone was wearing, pointing out all of the dark blues, blacks and grays. Then she stopped at one young woman. She said “Except you” and asked her to stand up. The woman was gorgeous, she had waist-length auburn red hair, sky-blue eyes, alabaster skin, and a bright, colorful outfit that she had designed and sewn herself. Ms. Head nodded approvingly. “You. You look great.”

The young woman’s name was Carol Newland. An artist by education, she expanded her craft into the weaving arts, spinning and dying her own wool and showing her work around the country. The pinnacle of this era of her career was a hooded coat sewn of hand-dyed and spun emerald and blue wool, into which she wove the entirety of a peacock’s plumage. She opened her own successful French reweaving business and for decades she repaired many historic costumes and uniforms, sometimes dying and spinning wool to match fabrics no longer available.

When arthritis made this work difficult, she retired, and gave herself over to pastel painting, as the pastel crayons could fit comfortably in her hands. These years were prolific, her work showed around northern California, winning several awards. When pulmonary fibrosis took away her ability to draw, she read. When she was too tired to read, she held her granddaughters in her arms. When she became too tired for that, she held their hands. When, finally, even that was too much, she slipped away, with her family around her. She was my mother, and she was 73 when she passed in May. She leaves a family grieving her loss but always marveling at her life, a wondrous, ferociously creative work of art.

With a Perspective, this is Mike Newland.

Mike Newland is director of cultural resources for an environmental science and planning firm in Petaluma.

For the summer hike along the Trail of Ten Falls the boy wore flip flops and he carried his own pack. This was a good thing. He is nine-years-old, and we must all learn to carry our own burdens. His pack was orange and in it were a water bottle, matches, a blue bandana and a plastic Pokémon figure that resembled a rough-shelled tortoise, red-eyed and sharp-toothed and fierce. The boy posed him for a photograph beside a forest of swordferns.

I carried food and warm clothes, sunscreen and insect repellent, first aid kit and knife, more water. We stopped on the creek bank and I made lunch. Upstream two women sat in another idyllic nook and I recalled the tale of two Buddhist monks who come across a young woman by a river. At her request, one carries her across and, later, the other scolds him for it. “I set her down at the riverbank,” the first monk says. “You are still carrying her.”

It’s a lesson about carrying resentment.

From his pack the boy withdrew a book on how to make paper airplanes, paper for folding, two decks of Pokémon cards, a photo album.

“You’re kidding,” I said.

He grinned.

What else? A plastic grapnel with a length of black line. Markers and a sketchbook, with drawings of monsters and superheroes. A metal vase, black with a gold band at the top and diamond patterns of blue, purple and green.

To draw, the boy said.

While the boy did not complain about the weight – yet – he did not want to walk a dead-end trail to 178-foot Double Falls. But I insisted.

A lacy curtain of water fell over the rock face and scattered to rivulets across the crags and into the pool below. Blue and yellow and purple wildflowers grew alongside and brilliant afternoon sunshine formed a rainbow at the base. We clambered across boulders until the boy was close enough to touch the end of the rainbow. He stood long, ecstatic and charmed — no pot of gold but so what? There were mossy green rocks and sparkling water and that luminous refracted arc of ROYGBIV.

It’s a lesson about light.

You can’t put that in your pack, but what you carry of it will ease the other burdens for days and years to come. Or so a father hopes.

With a Perspective, I’m Steven Saum.

I recently walked in on one of my co-workers crying in the bathroom.

At first, I didn’t realize she was crying. She was leaning into the mirror in a posture I usually associate with the removal of a stray eyelash or the application of lipstick. I was already past her by the time I registered her red eyes, her puffy face.

I’ve had only a handful of exchanges with this woman. She is young and soft-spoken, a relatively new hire to my company. We work on opposites sides of the office and in separate functions. We are practically strangers.

She was still leaning into the mirror as I washed my hands. That’s when I saw a tear slide down her cheeks.

I looked away.

Every day, we witness public displays of emotion. We see people argue on street corners, laugh over lunch, kiss on the train. But there’s something about sadness that feels private. Crying into your pillow is one thing, but crying in public can feel downright shameful.

I’ve had a few of my own public crying sessions over the years, with one particularly cringe-worthy incident not long ago. A misunderstanding with my boyfriend resulted in me sobbing in the Montgomery Street BART station on a bustling Thursday night. It was mortifying. “What must they think of me?” I agonized, as clusters of my fellow passengers waited nearby for their trains.  At that moment, I wanted nothing more than to disappear.

Back in the bathroom at work, I was torn between sympathy and embarrassment for my co-worker. I couldn’t imagine what could have driven her to tears by 10 a.m. on a Monday morning. I wondered if I should try to comfort her. But then I thought back to that night in the BART station and I was pretty sure that if anyone had attempted to console me it would have only added to my already considerable humiliation.

Looking back, I’d like to say that I consoled my co-worker, that after a good chat, we parted ways with raised spirits. Instead, I dried my hands and left the bathroom. At the time, it seemed the kindest thing, to leave her alone with her grief.

But what if I was wrong?

With a Perspective, I’m Lisa Thomson.

Lisa Thomson is a marketer and writer. She lives in Oakland.

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