America is made great by the quality of its people. And from what Marilyn Englander can tell, America has many recent arrivals eager to do their part.

My ESL students arrive promptly. They always bring their textbooks, notebooks, pens. They put their phones away. Class last two hours, but there’s no fidgeting. They are eager, attentive, serious.

I teach English as a Second Language to adult immigrants. Students range from 18 to over 80. Many came here from Guatemala, but some are from Peru, Venezuela, Algeria. A whole group of elderly women are from Russia, Ukraine and Iran. Some have never had any schooling at all. Some speak a dialect as a first language, Spanish as a second, and now are strapping on English. They take nicknames to fit in better: Francie, Cindy, Lucy. They want to make it in America. They inspire me.

Lucy politely shakes my hand before and after class, thanking me. Paul dresses every day in a beautiful starched white shirt. Irma leans over to help Shaylah find her place in the text. Rita repeats questions to Julia who’s hard of hearing. When Patty is stumped and mute, David gently coaches her from the back row.

Slowly my students share their stories. Anna’s husband has been deported — with luck she might see him again in two years. She tries to hide her grief. Rosa arrives one morning with her rambunctious two-year-old. The babysitter didn’t show up — but she was not about to miss class. The baby fusses after a while, but no one scowls at Rosa. They make do. Jean shares no language with anyone; she speaks Creole. Just 22, she fled Haiti. She wants to learn faster so she can study to become a nurse. After class we load a language-learning app on her phone so she can practice English all day long.

These students want to blend in, be all-American, carve a new future. While anxiety and anger about immigration crackle all around them in their new home, they remain undaunted. It’s yet another challenge in already burdened lives, but they push on.

This is the strength of will that could make a country great.

With a Perspective, this is Marilyn Englander.

Marilyn Englander is a North Bay educator.

“It’s like they’re on fire!” exclaimed my eight-year-old son, awestruck.

We were looking at the aspens, the sunlight illuminating their circular leaves, all aglow in seasonal yellows and oranges. Some leaves had begun browning along the edges, and were carried off by gusts of wind that swept them like golden snowflakes over the mountain lake.

We had chosen to vacation here in October for this: to see the Sierra aspens ablaze in color, to walk trails littered with their fallen coins. We looked forward to ice-rimmed creeks, the sweet smell of pine needles, the evening ritual of sitting by the fire playing board games.

This year in the Sierras, I am glued to the cabin’s Wi-Fi, watching with a different kind of awe at a different kind of blaze. Images of my friends’ and colleagues’ neighborhoods in flames, restaurants and hotels I had frequented reduced to ash. The iconic Red Barn in Santa Rosa that I had worked next door to for fifteen years demolished. Horrified, I tried to contact everyone I knew, concerned about their safety.Helpless from so far away, I emailed and texted them, and offered my home well out of the danger zone. Some were at evacuation centers, some in their houses awake all night preparing for evacuation. Some had already lost their homes.

The contrast of settings was shocking. Here we were in the mountains celebrating dying leaves aflame on the trees, mesmerized by a controlled and cozy fire, my son eagerly roasting marshmallows. And there in Sonoma and Napa, an apocalyptic inferno was unfolding …

It was the same element, whether in our fireplace or rampaging through a subdivision. Its only agenda was to burn. As I thought about the unfinished ember that could be so catastrophic, I filled several large containers with water and placed them next to the fireplace, ignoring the baffled expressions of my family. I felt so lucky, so grateful. I wanted to never take anything for granted again, and always to err well on the side of safety.

With a Perspective, I’m Kate Gustin.

Kate Gustin is a Bay Area psychologist and mental health director.

Northern California has been united in tragedy this past week. But it has also been united in something else perhaps bigger than tragedy – acts of grace. Holly Hubbard Preston has this Perspective.

On Monday morning I woke up in our Napa Valley home to an ash-filled sky and sirens ringing out from every direction. The power was out as was our cell service, hot water and cable-based landline.

Tuesday afternoon, the power came back as did most other services. This proved bittersweet. While able to reach worried family members, our renewed connectivity availed us to a steady stream of grim news.

Several friends lost homes and almost their lives. Other lost jobs, businesses and schools. A former teammate of my son’s was missing. A friend of my daughter’s stopped by in tears explaining the winery where both her parents worked had burned to the ground, leaving her prospects for college in question.

While our family home in St. Helena was so far safe, alerts from local authorities warned us to be ready to evacuate on short notice.

As I walked through the house yesterday, packing a suitcase full of keepsakes, the mounting losses of neighbors and friends stuck with me. The more inventory I took of our home, the wider my scope of sympathies stretched. Images of disaster victims flooded my brain-not only in Napa, Sonoma and Solano counties but also Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

Wild fires, like hurricanes and earthquakes, are indiscriminate destroyers. The fires rampaging through our region have burned through mobile parks, homeless camps and million dollars homes alike.

If there’s any good to come out of this devastation, it’s the way everyone is working together without concern for class, status or politics. Neighbors look out for neighbors, yes, but also compete strangers, too. Fire fighters and first responders from everywhere battle selflessly on our front lines. Volunteers at shelters hand out clothing and toiletries while local businesses give away free food, ice, and face masks.

Everywhere I look around our scorched valley, I see acts of grace that give me hope for America, at large. We are better than the rancor and division that has defined us the last many months. This proves it.

With a Perspective, I’m Holly Hubbard Preston.

Holly Hubbard Preston writes essays and fiction from her home in St. Helena.

Pete Gavin is one of thousands of evacuated Sonoma Valley residents waiting to hear the fate of his family house. What he does know, however, is that his home is as strong as ever.

It is 2:30 in the morning, and I am in a hotel room in Sonoma 13.8 miles south of our home in Santa Rosa. I am up because I can’t sleep and because we’ve been evacuated due to encroaching fires from all directions. I do not know if we will ever see our home again.

I just went online to a government satellite map that shows active fires in real time in our area. There is a red square less than a quarter-mile southwest of our home, a square that wasn’t there last night when we went to bed. I look it up on the legend, and it says, “Emerging, 0-12 hours.”

A shiver runs up my spine as I try to contemplate the very real prospect we may lose our home, the home we moved into less than a year ago, the home with our treasures, keepsakes, memories from our life together.

It is a chilling feeling, one I wasn’t even remotely familiar with until only a few days ago when we found ourselves thrust into a burning hell we never could have imagined.

My dog snores on the bed beside me, the bed we borrowed from friends because we left our home in such a hurry. Besides Miles’ bed, we also left food in the fridge, plants unwatered, all our clothes – except a few essentials – some of our meds, our art – everything we own.

It’s devastating to think about what may happen in the next 48 hours. But I know there are many brave and strong and very tired firefighters, police officers, PG & E workers risking their lives trying their very best to save our home. Our home, and those of our neighbors.

I am overcome with gratitude and love for these people I don’t even know. People that make me feel connected to our home and community in a way I have never felt before. And I realize: even though our house may go, our home is solid, more solid in fact than it has ever been.

With a Perspective, I’m Pete Gavin.

Pete Gavin is a retired teacher. As of last night, his house is still standing.

In 2016, the huge Soberanes fire on the Monterey Peninsula became the most expensive wildfire in American history. In this archived Perspective, Stan Goldberg faced the destruction of a family cabin by reflecting on the meaning of memory and loss.

As the Soberanes fire in Carmel threatens the Monterey peninsula, our cabin may become a charred monument to quiet weekends, solitude, and cherished family gatherings.

I’m told it’s roaring through canyons with heat that melts metal. As I prepared to retrieve treasured objects, I learned the road to the cabin is closed and mandatory evacuations are in effect.

For days I watched dramatic pictures of the fire on Facebook, juxtaposed to families celebrating and people describing their breakfast.

In my hospice work, I shared the pain of relatives who couldn’t stop the death of a loved one. They could only witness the event. Their helplessness is what I’m experiencing now. The destruction of the cabin and it’s contents will be inconsequential compared to the loss of a loved one. But how do I deal with losing something so treasured just the words, “our cabin,” causes me to smile? I’ll do it through memories.

For 15 years I counseled caregivers about the importance of letting go. Now it’s my turn. My turn to let go believing a miracle will stop the fire. My turn to let go of the source of much happiness. My turn to let go of the belief my needs can prevent the inevitable.

We often hold on to the past with a grasp so tight it stops us from experiencing the present and moving into the future. Life without my retreat will be difficult, but the memories it created for 30 years will remain. When Ilsa and Rick in the movie, Casablanca, are departing for the last time, he tries to console her by saying, “We’ll always have Paris.” It’s my turn now to say goodbye to my cabin. Your memories, just as Paris did with Rick and Ilsa, will always be with me.

With a Perspective, I’m Stan Goldberg.

Stan Goldberg lives in San Francisco and is the author of several books on loss.

On a well-traveled street in a progressive Peninsula community, Dontae Rayford was exposed to some everyday racial animus from a total stranger intended to remind him he will always be regarded as an outsider.

While aimlessly scrolling on my phone, I suddenly heard someone yell:

“Get out of my neighborhood!”

I looked up and found myself met by an elderly woman making a shooing motion in my direction as she blazed through the intersection.

“Wow,” I thought. “There’s no way that just happened.”

You see, upon accepting a role as head of business development for a Shanghai-based camera company looking to sprout roots in North America, I was excited about returning to my old stomping grounds. I attended Stanford and feel a sense of nostalgia each time I’m there.

Oh, and by the way, I should probably mention that I’m a 32-year old black male. Prior to this incident I’d not given an ounce of thought to how my race might influence my latest experience with Palo Alto. I mean, the Bay Area is a liberal bastion after all. Why would I have any need to worry?

But, as fate would have it, I did need to worry about being perceived as “other” in the city that served as my first home away from home when I enrolled at Stanford a bit over 10 years ago.

This encounter filled me with anger and disappointment. Friends responded with various statements of disbelief. It hurt, but I knew it was an important anecdote to share.

With recent events in Charlottesville, Boston and Berkeley reigniting America’s unresolved discussion on race, my experience served as a reminder of how powerful presence and resistance can be in the face of ignorance. Not just in Palo Alto, but everywhere. In the classroom, at the rallies, in the workplace, at the restaurants and yes, even back on that residential street I travel down at the end of each workday. I’ll be more present than ever to expose, confront and drive out ignorance and intolerance demonstrated by anyone.

And if fate should see fit that I cross paths with this woman again, I’ll be ready to meet her with the biggest, most defiant smile she’ll ever see: A reminder that I am and always have been exactly where I’m meant to be.

With a Perspective, I’m Dontae Rayford.

Dontae Rayford is a business development professional living in Oakland and working in Palo Alto.

The devastating fires in the North Bay have forced thousands to leave their homes and no doubt face the awful dilemma Adam Shaw confronted recently, as told in this Perspective originally aired August 15th.

I love beautiful things, and my house is full of them; paintings, sculpture, musical instruments, and art books to rival a library. I’m a painter and my studio is at my home, so much of the inventory of my life’s work is here.

I live surrounded by vineyards and trees, in a pastoral and soul-satisfying environment. I feel so lucky and hardly a day goes by when I don’t kiss the ground.

Recently, I was driving on a twisty back road when suddenly, fire trucks and emergency vehicles were screeching by. I was 10 minutes from my house and the air was rapidly filling with smoke. I turned around to race home. The fire was on the next ridge, sirens were blaring and Cal Fire planes were crossing the sky. Although the wind was blowing in the other direction, if they changed my house could be gone, just like that.

In that moment, all I cared about was saving my cat, Lila, and my dog, Moe. I knew I couldn’t save my work, so in an instant I let it all go. I thought of those people you see on the news after a devastating fire takes everything they owned. They seem grateful and calm, which always mystified me. But on this day I understood it: Nothing mattered, not even my work, only my animals. Only life mattered. No things mattered. None of the irreplaceable objects I cherished couldn’t be replaced. I just wanted a guitar, so that if I did lose everything at least I could play the Blues. So I threw a guitar in my back seat, and got my animals and was ready to drive off and watch my house burn. I felt so peaceful and focused and free. Although there was time, I didn’t load up suitcases with as much stuff as I could grab.

I just let it all go.

Fortunately, this turned out to be an exercise because thanks to the incredible work of Cal Fire and the local firefighters here in the Valley, the fire was soon completely contained, not even a blip on the radar of all the devastating fires that rage through California and the West.

But for me, this is the day I became a monk. And a Blues man.

With a Perspective, I’m Adam Shaw.

Adam Shaw is an artist living in Sonoma County.

We were walking around the back of the garage, studying the trees to see which limbs needed to be trimmed, when he stopped suddenly, an odd look on his face — half puzzled, half afraid, as if he’d seen the shark from ‘Jaws’, or maybe a White Walker, lurking at the very edge of view, both equally improbable in the Santa Cruz mountains.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. His answer made me stop, and ponder what we’ve come to as a species.

“It’s too quiet. There’s no music, no cars, no sirens or construction noise. It’s kind of creepy.”

Creepy? I recoiled at the affront. My first impulse was to tell him just how wrong he was, how it wasn’t quiet at all if you knew what to listen for. The forest is an orchestra, full of sighing trees, rustling leaves, scolding squirrels, bossy jays, and many more unique and diverse instruments. But before the words formed on my tongue, I realized that wasn’t the real issue, so I swallowed them and we kept walking.

It wasn’t the softness of the forest’s song that had my visitor on edge. Of course he could hear it, and he knew there was sound all around him. What disturbed him wasn’t what was audible, but what wasn’t. There was no sound of us, our clamorous and busy tribe, making its mark on the land wherever, whenever we venture out upon it. There was no reminder of our presence, our ability — some say our duty — to command and remake nature to our will, nothing to indicate that we are powerful, important, or even necessary. There was only the light breeze ruffling the manzanita, a raven winging overhead and calling to its mate, and the soft crack of acorns dropping to the ground.

I felt right at home.

With a Perspective, I’m Peggy Hansen.

Peggy Hansen is an artist, photographer and organic farmer. She lives in Santa Cruz County.

A book is meant to be read, of course, but it’s also a physical object to be touched, experienced, even smelled. Jayita Bhojwani has this Perspective.

I had passed by the used-books store often, always meaning to stop, one day. But each day had been too busy, too rushed. Life didn’t allow time to pause and linger.

Today I felt compelled and stepped into the dark interior. Within minutes, I was lost in the maze of bookshelves, enveloped by nostalgia and the musty smell of history. I sensed a palpability long-forgotten in this era of online shopping.

Here, browsing had a different meaning; I ran my fingers on grainy covers and traced the engraved letters. I picked up a volume and felt its weight in my hands. I gingerly turned over crisp pages, yellow with age and browning at the margins. I inhaled the woody scent of old paper and days gone by. Here, in these unhurried aisles, I chose based on curiosity; because I was enticed by a sentence or a drawing, and not by five yellow stars.

Inside these books I found beautifully hand-illustrated characters in antiquated surroundings. The first page often revealed a loving inscription in faded ink, written back in the day when handwriting was like calligraphy, and emotions were expressed with words, not emoticons. Who were these prior owners? What did they take delight in? Could we piece together their lives from the contents of their books, instead of from social media updates?

I thought back to my own collection at home, hiding treasured memories. Thoughts scribbled in margins, a pressed flower, a bus ticket, receipts that outlived their stores. After I’m gone, I wondered, will intrigued fingers be leafing through my books? Or will these chapters be relegated to the recycling pile, to take on a new life as a cardboard box, shipping the latest digital reading device.

With a Perspective, this is Jayita Bhojwani.

Jayita Bhojwani is a resident of the Peninsula and lover of books.

We’re in an age where if you believe two truths that contradict each other, there’s something wrong with you. But the only thing that’s really wrong, says Les Bloch, is believing that the truth never contradicts itself.

“Gravity,” Dad said, “dictates your path. Skiing straight down this mountain is the most efficient way to get down the hill. You can deviate from the top to the bottom, but you will inevitably cross the fall line until you are falling and standing at the same time. If you haven’t figured it out yet,” he said, his breath steamy against the blue Tahoe sky, “two things can be true at once.”

In this New World, our differences are hyper-magnified, the seeming dichotomy of life never more vivid. A+B equals C. Unless it doesn’t.

“I don’t like shiitake mushrooms,” my vegetarian daughter proclaims at dinner.

“I hate gay pride parades,” my gay cousin admits.

“Still on Obamacare,” my neighbor, a Trump supporter, volunteers at a party.

So Dad was right. Two things can be true at once. Creators of beautiful things may be ugly. A misguided politician may say something that actually makes sense. And a hero can do evil.

You can be a Jew and love the teachings of Jesus, or a Christian who wants to fight. You can be a Muslim and hate terrorism. You can be a Republican and not a racist. You can be liberal and stingy with kindness, or a conservative who does not conserve. You can be a general who doesn’t want war, or a member of the NRA who believes in gun control.

The labels of the past, used out of laziness or as rocket fuel for controversy, are bogus. To assume otherwise is to arrive at the wrong conclusion.

We can fall and stand at the same time. Our existence is confounding. We are in the messy tribe known as humans. We are open to choices not offered if we only seek them. Two things can be true at once. Our inventions threaten our very existence. We are the most intelligent beings on earth.

With a Perspective, I’m Les Bloch.

Les Bloch is a construction project manager.

It’s Fleet Week around San Francisco Bay and soon the aerial acrobatics of the Blue Angels will be thrilling some and infuriating others, or maybe both. Linda Gebroe has this Perspective.

I am one person with two opinions on one topic.

I can’t stand the Blue Angels. They are ear-splittingly loud. They pollute the skies in ways I can only imagine. With huge crowds pouring into San Francisco to see their so-called sky-jinx, the Blue Angels cause traffic jams of epic proportion here on the ground. They’re military and militaristic, hawks in crisp uniforms here to sell us a bill of patriotic goods. Meanwhile, we the taxpayers are footing the actual bill. Each of those jets is priced at well over $20 million. That’s $300 million dollars that could be sheltering, feeding and educating a lot of people.

Yet — and I really hate to admit this — there’s a part of me that kind of loves the Blue Angels. Those planes fly within 18 inches of each other. 18 inches! Like the very best ballet dancers, their elegant maneuvers become brilliant art. Unlike the dancers, the pilots’ lives can be lost with a single misstep, and that notion thrills the audience even more.

What I like best is how the Blue Angels bring the community together. From a San Francisco hilltop, you can see sailboats clustered on the Bay, throngs of fans gathered on the waterfront and neighbors congregating on the city’s street corners, hoping to get a good look at the airborne troubadours. The collective anticipation is palpable, and the cheers that follow can be deafening. Like the Blue Angels themselves, dammit.

So I hate the Blue Angels and I love them, too. How can that be?

How can it not be? Loving and hating the same thing happens a lot, if you think about it. The things in life that stir our passion are often multi-dimensional. Some parts we love, others we hate. Every year, the Blue Angels remind me of the risks we take when we love. We get close to each other. We make ourselves vulnerable and our hearts get all tangled up. Sometimes we get hurt real bad. And sometimes we are thrilled.

This weekend I will batten down the hatches and curse the Blue Angels as they roar over my house. And then I will look to the skies, hoping to get a glimpse.

With a Perspective, I’m Linda Gebroe.

Linda Gebroe stays firmly and securely attached to the ground in San Francisco.

Pamela Kan heads a local manufacturing firm and she’s on a mission to dispel what she considers to be common myths about careers in California manufacturing.

Remember the MythBusters TV show that tried crazy experiments to determine if something was fact or fiction? I wish we could do something like that focused on busting the myths around manufacturing. And for each myth that was proven false, we would flash that huge “busted” sign on screen.

But busting the myths surrounding manufacturing isn’t just for entertainment – its real life and the consequences are long term. I run a local manufacturing company and we need skilled workers. And so do the roughly 36,000 other manufacturing firms in California. Why don’t we have them? The myths have become legendary and quality workers aren’t even considering this industry as a career option.

I can wrap several of the myths into one sentence: Manufacturing is a dying industry for uneducated men that doesn’t pay well and you have to work in dark, dirty warehouses with outdated machinery. That does sound awful. Thankfully, the reality is the complete opposite.

When I speak with students, parents and potential employees, Here are the top 5 truths I share:
* Manufacturing jobs pay well and average $90,000 per year in California.
* Manufacturing sites are well lit, modern buildings that house complex, advanced technology. Events like the national Manufacturing Day let you tour sites and see this first hand.
* Manufacturing is a thriving industry in California providing more than $278 Billion and nearly 11% of total economic output in the state.
* Manufacturing will have more than 2 million job openings in the next 10 years for people with specialized technical skills and advanced education where they can lead, develop, design and invent.
* And while women are still the minority in manufacturing, the industry culture is inviting and accessible for anyone’s success. I am proof of that.

I will keep speaking these truths and holding up my “busted” sign because California manufacturers need skilled workers and you may be the answer. That’s no myth.

With a Perspective, I’m Pamela Kan.

Pamela Kan is president of an East Bay manufacturing company who promotes STEM education and high tech careers in manufacturing.

Doctors do their best to cure what ails you, and to engage in preventive medicine, too. But Dr. Baldeep Singh says the truth is that the biggest obstacles between you and good health may be largely beyond his control.

Recently I saw a patient in my clinic with multiple medical problems – diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. As we were finishing up, she commented on how important our visits were to her overall health. I smiled and thanked her for her thoughtful remarks. One of the joys of primary care is helping patients manage their health over years, often through many challenging medical moments.

But we doctors have a little secret. When it comes to overall outcomes, the actual medical health care a patient receives only accounts for 10 to 20% of health outcomes. That is not to say that medical care is not important; it is. But when we look at data on the health outcomes of Americans, genetic and social determinants of health are even more important. These include personal behaviors, like smoking, genetic factors like a family history of early heart disease, and the social and physical factors, like pollution and crime. Smoking, obesity and exercise may be key behavioral predictors, but surprisingly so is income. In a recent article in a major medical journal, the difference in life expectancy between men in the top 1% of income earners and the bottom was an astonishing 14 years. The overall contribution of medical care to health outcomes in this study was modest.

As a physician, data like these are very humbling. When we take a history in the office, we don’t often ask about social determinants like income. We cannot write prescriptions for affordable housing, a safer environment, or a living wage. But while many health care professionals are involved in activism to improve social determinants and tax policy, many of us, myself included, should be doing more.

Advocacy for a better and healthier standard of living is not only about what happens between doctor and patient, it’s also about improving the overall health of our nation.

With a Perspective, I’m Dr. Baldeep Singh.

Dr. Baldeep Singh is an internist at Stanford Hospital.

They look almost noble, those feathery palm trees taking the worst winds a hurricane can deliver. How do they do it? Naturalist Michael Ellis has the answer.

As we have been viewing videos of the several hurricanes pounding the Caribbean, I suspect you too have been mesmerized by the palm trees standing up to the extreme winds.

Palms are amazing. There are about 2,600 species, most of them in tropical or subtropical regions. Palms have several biological claims to fame. The talipot palm from Sri Lanka has the largest inflorescence that is collection of flowers, of any plant in the world; the stalk can be 33 feet long. The double coconut is the largest and heaviest seed on the planet weighing over 40 pounds. And the African raffia palm has by far the lengthiest leaves, up to 80 feet long.

Here in our state, and the entire Western U.S. for that matter, there is only one native palm. Taxonomists honored our first president by naming it Washingtonia. Palm Springs, 29 Palms and Palm Desert are all named for this California fan palm. They are only found in 158 scattered oases, most of them in California’s low Colorado Desert.

So what about those palms in the hurricanes? Well, there are three adaptations that help withstand that fury. They have very extensive roots just on the surface that hold a huge quantity of dirt in the root ball. This acts as a bottom-heavy anchor for the tree. They also have relatively thin trunks with no heavy branches hanging off. So there’s not a lot of weight carried in the tree to be blown over. The trunk is extremely flexible and can bend 45 degrees without snapping. Finally, the leaves are concentrated at the top and fold up in heavy winds and act like feathers. They may be blown off but leaves are relatively easy to replace.

Our native palm does not have to cope with hurricane winds and for the most part they are thriving. And in fact may even be expanding their range due to favorable climate change. But one major concern is the red palm weevil, native to South America, which is now killing Canary Island palms in Los Angeles and ours on the Embarcadero in San Francisco. But so far our Washingtonia palms are resistant to this insect.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

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

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