What is connection? What does it mean to connect?

I was taking a break at Sam’s Fountain, a drinking fountain on top of Cardiac Hill at Mt. Tamalpais. It’s dedicated to local runner Sam Hirabayashi. To me it was the magical fountain since it seemed to just appear one day.

An older gentleman crested the hill. I noticed his Dipsea race shirt. We politely acknowledged each other, taking turns at the fountain. He was interesting. We talked about the Dipsea and the quirky ways to get in. He knew Sam. He’d done 30 races. His son had run it with him. He seemed to embody the unique character of the race.

In all those years he’d only missed it once. I listened as he struggled with the memory of a friend who showed him that it wasn’t merely a foot race. How it was now an important part of his life. His shoulders began to shake and tears fell down his face.

“He died of cancer. Just like Sam,” he said.

He seemed as caught off-guard by his reaction as I was to witness it. I was once told that when pain brings us to our knees, sometimes all we need is someone to kneel next us. I stood on the lower step of the fountain so I could be closer to his height and hugged him. Solace offered and accepted.

A couple arrived at the hill and the moment was gone. We exchanged names as we returned to the polite conversation between strangers.

He continued on. I waited until he was out of sight. He seemed to need to gather himself and I wanted to give him space to do so. When I arrived at Stinson Beach, I saw him again looking to hitch a ride. A moment later a car stopped in front of him. We exchanged pleasantries as he got in. May you run many more Dipseas, Bill.

I think about him as I find myself in my own unusual circumstance. Connection can be magic. It can be found in the glow of green and white text or during a quiet moment on a hill.

We don’t search for it. It finds us.

With a Perspective, I’m Laura Bello.

Laura Bello is an ultra runner and works in Facilities Management at UC San Francisco.

In this grim political season, I heard a story from my friend Susan Sekaquaptewa who’s Hopi. Her home in northern Arizona belongs more to the 16th century than the 21st. There you drive two hours over open desert to get basic groceries. Ancient dwellings made of stone and mud sit perched on far flung mesas.

And things are old. Hopi society had been thriving for 800 years before the Puritans set foot in Plymouth. They don’t need to be told who qualifies to be an American.

One recent morning Susan was driving her boy Atokhoya to school. Six years old, he wanted to know where he would go after elementary school and Susan explained that next was junior high, then high school.

“Then I go to college?” Atokhoya asked.

“Yup,” his mom answered. She and her husband had been speaking to their son for years about college. But in their world few people go on to higher education. In that forgotten corner of America the outside world and fancy careers feel as remote as the moon.

“What happens after you finish college?” Atokhoya asked.

Susan explained that we all go to work, but we get to decide whatever we want to do for work. And we should choose something that we like to do and enjoy. We can choose to be anything we want.

“I want to work in swimming pools,” he said.

Susan reminded him that once had wanted to be a teacher.

Atokhoya shook his head no. Not anymore. Instead he wanted to fly planes.

“You want to be a pilot?” Susan asked.

“Yeah!” he said.

Atokhoya thought for a moment. Then he said, “Or, I could be the President of the United States.”

Susan looked at him and smiled.
He said, “You didn’t think of that, huh, mom?”

“No,” Susan said, “I didn’t. But I’m glad you did.”

With a Perspective, this is Andrew Lewis.

Andrew Lewis works with at-risk youth. He lives in Sebastopol.

Future President Atokhoya
Potential Future U.S. President Atokhoya, Age 6                                                

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 recent government study found that the probability of a major earthquake in the Bay Area is 70% within the next three decades. What would happen to our power system if an earthquake the same magnitude as the infamous 1906 quake occurred again?

The City and County of San Francisco looked into that question. While 96% of the city’s consumers could expect their electricity to be back on-line within one week, full restoration of power could take a full month, with natural gas taking six months.

What can we do? A prudent move would be to create microgrids – little islands of power that can keep power flowing when the larger PG&E systems go down.

In response to extreme weather, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and other states are all investing in microgrids. East Coast storms such as Sandy are actually less threatening than an earthquake. Why? The science of forecasting hurricanes has made great strides, so communities can at least prepare for the oncoming storm. You never know when an actual earthquake will hit.

California has more frequent power outages since 2008 than any other state: over 500 at last count. Along with the inconvenience of losing electricity — and the tragedy of lost lives — power outages impose a major hit on the economy, almost $200 billion annually.

What is San Francisco doing about this looming threat? It is moving forward with its own quiet microgrid plan. Emergency shelters, hospitals and schools have been analyzed for available rooftop space for solar panels and the logistics of installing batteries. A dozen microgrid projects scattered throughout the city that are now inching forward.

San Francisco’s microgrid program is a small step in the right direction. It’s time to speed up the process and have other Bay Area communities follow suit.

With a Perspective, I’m Peter Asmus.

Peter Asmus works has been researching and analyzing energy issues for more than 25 years.

I saw something hopeful the other day. While walking his dog, a man was picking up trash. He used one of those long pincer-like devices and a large plastic bag. The dog did not seem to mind.

This was not an organized event: The man was alone. It was not a block cleanup: There were no homes nearby. The man was doing something the city ought to have done and might have gotten around to doing. He was being unnecessarily, independently helpful.

His act of seemingly selfless generosity did not fit the spirit of the times. It is election time, the season of grievance. Ever mindful of what we want to hear, politicians pander to our discontent. They tell us we have a right to feel angry, abused, disrespected. Maybe we do. But discontent has its limits. Venting usually does more to increase anger than to dissipate it.

I have a solution or at least a suggestion: respectful, engaged listening. Make someone feel heard.

“No one cares what I think,” we frequently say and more frequently feel. But if I can counter that feeling in another person, I’ve helped not just him but me. When I listen very well, I can learn through the other person what I myself believe and perhaps even why.

It’s real work. When I’m not feeling listened to, which is most of the time, it’s hard to focus on the thoughts of another person. But the reward awaits. It’s a little like picking up garbage that is someone else’s job to collect — unnecessarily helpful. Good listening makes the world a little better and me a little less angry. As with most good deeds, it’s largely self-help. In the garbage-fest of an election season, I can use all the self-help I can give.

With a Perspective, I’m Jeremy Friedlander.

Jeremy Friedlander lives in San Francisco. 

Watching the Paralympic Games in Rio, I’ve been so inspired by the abilities of those 4,342 athletes from 159 countries. But, of all their incredible accomplishments, I was most impressed by one thing these athletes could do: They could use the metric system.

As commentators described 100-meter freestyle, one- kilometer time trial, 40-kilogram power lifting, they might as well have been speaking the original language of the Olympics – Greek. In metric units, I was clueless about distances, depths or weights. And when it came to Rio weather, I couldn’t figure out if 20 degrees meant freezing or sweltering. I’m not the only one. One study concluded only about two in 10 Americans understand the metric system.

The United States, along with Liberia and Myanmar, are the only three remaining nations in the world that have not converted to metric measurement. We’ve been thinking about going metric: In 1968, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced moving to metric was in our best foreign trade interests, and the 1975 National Metric Conversion Act designated metric measurement the “preferred” system of weights and measures. But in 2016, the metric experience of most Americans is pretty much limited to buying a 2-liter bottle of soda. Distance is still measured based on the length of an English king’s feet and weight is calculated with pounds – a standard based on a Roman rock.

My own metric misunderstanding has me thinking our country needs to go for the mathematical gold and switch to the metric system, once and for all. Metric measures – based on units of ten – are much more simple, as well as more practical and precise. And as more metrically-minded nations begin to challenge our championship status in the race to be the leader in science, technology and engineering, we need to conform to the measurement standards used by the rest of the world.

Like the Paralympics themselves, the metric system is an inspiring example of peaceful global cooperation. And with those amazing Paralympic athletes as real proof almost any goal can be achieved with enough determination, the time has come for the United States to cross the finish line to the metric system.

With a Perspective, I’m Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow teaches in the San Francisco Unified School District.

I love nearly all the creatures that inhabit our planet. For me a banana slug is the epitome of grace and form. The naked head of a turkey vulture excites me like that of no other bird. And even the lowly opossum has a kind of inner beauty that I find touching.

But as a card-carrying naturalist I must reluctantly confess a deep-seated dislike for yellow jackets.

I assume this antagonism dates from my early childhood. As a wee lad of five, I ventured too close to a hive and was promptly attacked and repeatedly stung in the ear and head. As a teenager, I would often push the lawn mower over yellow jacket nests and get stung. And once while I was riding my motorcycle a yellow jacket flew into my mouth and stung my tongue. I grew to hate them.

This late summer there have been a lot of yellow jackets, and it is not your imagination. This is one of the worst years ever. In the Sierra Nevada the density is one yellow jacket per square meter and people have been driven out of campgrounds by these ferocious insects. No one is quite certain why there are so many yellow jackets this year. Is it just some periodic natural cycle? Or maybe climate change?

Unlike honey bees, yellow jackets sometimes sting without provocation. I’ve seen them just land on a hand and zap the person. As if this weren’t bad enough they then release a chemical that attracts all of the other yellow jackets in the neighborhood.

So what good are these little beasts? What role do they play in the natural scheme of things? Well, they eat nearly everything including rotten meat and Coca-Colas. So I guess they act as scavengers keeping the world a bit tidier and reminding us to pick up after ourselves.

Fortunately there are a few natural predators that help limit the population. Some birds will eat a few and western toads will sit outside the nest and snag them as they fly out. But the most effective control are the striped skunks. These nocturnal predators dig out entire nests and consume the larvae, eggs and even the adults. How they tolerate the stings is a mystery to me, but I am sure glad they do.

This is Michael Ellis, with a Perspective.

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

As a brown-skinned girl, my summers were once filled with self-deprivation. I avoided going swimming or out to an amusement park because of worry I would get darker.

Growing up, kids would tell me my skin color resembled dirt, or poop, or burnt toast. I used to come home from school crying and run straight to the bathroom to try and scrub the brown off.

But, it wasn’t just kids that made me feel this way. TV and magazines reinforced that beautiful was never brown. And, my family – many brown women who had also been conditioned to be ashamed of their skin color- constantly nagged me to bathe in 110 SPF sunscreen or better yet stay indoors.

You can imagine, for me, this accumulated into toxically low self-image.

Then my world was flipped upside down when I learned about colorism — the discrimination against people with dark skin that often even comes from those of the same ethnic group.

I immediately took all this new knowledge to my best friend; my mom. We sat in our PJ’s on her bed and I searched “Dark Girls,” a documentary on Netflix. We watched as sociologists explained how the very statements my mom would tell me like, “Stay out of the sun” seriously impact young girls’ self-esteem.

Finally, the movie ended, and I studied my mom’s face. For what felt like forever, she didn’t say a word. I couldn’t tell what she was thinking. Then, one of us — it might have been me or her, I can’t remember — started crying. She told me she was sorry.

Looking back on it, summers have totally changed for me. All my closest friends know that I’ll jump at the chance to go to the beach, that I feel most at home dancing in the waves with the sun baking on my skin. Free to actually enjoy being outside without the pestering fear, “Am I getting darker?”

With a Perspective, I’m Amanda Agustin.

Amanda Agustin is 17-years-old and a college freshmen in San Francisco. Her commentary was produced by Youth Radio.

Offer chimps two pieces of food, one big and one small, and they invariably pick the bigger piece. Change the rules so that to get the bigger piece they have to choose the smaller one and chimps simply can’t do it. They lack the impulse control to compromise. They can’t take disadvantage in order to gain advantage. They can’t take the harder path to bigger prizes.

We humans are trailblazers of the harder path. We’re good at climbing through valleys to get to higher peaks. Our capacity for impulse control opens bright new vistas for us collectively and individually. Think of how much innovation is borne of our ability to do the harder thing to get to the better thing.

Not that it’s easy for any of us. It’s hard to reign in our impulse to just lurch straight at our desires. It’s also iffy since compromise doesn’t always pay. “No pain, no gain” doesn’t mean all pain yields gain. Delayed gratification is really delayed uncertain gratification.

When our impulse control fails us, we become uncompromising. But unlike chimps we can rationalize it as something more dignified than poor impulse control. We can call it steadfastness, and resoluteness, we can dress it up as an urgently unwavering principled response to some exulted imperative.

We have had a lot of that this election season, people so fed up with meanderingly compromised democracy, that they say, “Enough! From now on we’re taking my route, the straight shot to my definition of success. No more compromise.”

I hear it from my far left friends who join forces with Trump against ‘Crooked Hillary’. And I hear it loud in the Trump camp’s impatient clamoring lurch toward immediate gratification, trampling all over America’s hallowed standards of decency, even those that Republicans once defended most vocally -respect for the presidential office, small government, consistency, family values, tradition itself.

They call it steadfast commitment to principle. To me it looks like poor impulse control.

With a Perspective, I’m Jeremy Sherman.

Jeremy Sherman is a teacher, writer and blogger.

My parents don’t have any mementos from their childhood. No toys. No yearbooks. Born in China, they grew up during the war against Japan and later on, the Communists. Their families fled to Taiwan and in the early 1960s, my parents came to America. They brought a few clothes, but no keepsakes, nothing that offered clues to their past.

I knew that, and yet I still believed the copy of ‘Little Women’ I found on our bookshelf -with its yellowing pages, tattered green cover, and musty smell-had been my mother’s. I told myself that she’d read the classic novel by Louisa May Alcott-even though she was a scientist, and not an English major, even though I’d never once seen her read a work of fiction.

Somehow, the book showed up in our house, and I invented its history. As the daughter of immigrants, I often pieced together explanations my parents couldn’t provide. From childhood through high-school, I read ‘Little Women’ at least twice a year, inspired by Jo March, the whistling tomboy. We were both strivers: mine that of an immigrant family’s, and Jo’s born out of fallen fortunes. We were both aspiring writers and outsiders, too.

Recently, I started re-reading ‘Little Women’ and found it more old-fashioned than I remembered. At times, the tone was sanctimonious. That doesn’t change the impact the book had upon my development, how it made me feel more at home because I recognized someone who shared my dreams and my fears. Back then, it was I needed to make my way in the world.

The cover has fallen off, and the pages are even more yellow, the color of an ancient treasure map. With each generation, my family’s roots deepen in this country. Like me, my twins love books. Someday, they’ll discover ‘Little Women’ – and the book will become an heirloom at last.

With a Perspective, I’m Vanessa Hua.

Vanessa Hua is a novelist living in the East Bay.

The signs of success are widespread across California. Not only does the high-tech, wealth-producing engine in the Bay Area continue to purr, but even where I live in Sacramento we’re seeing an awful lot of new investment.

But with prosperity comes threats. One of many relates to the lack of trust that pervades our national political system. Another relates to global climate change.

On a summer trip to Yosemite, I saw both threats converge. The lush Sierra Nevada forests I remember from a short span of years past are under assault from too-massive fires, too much heat, and too many bark beetles. It’s heartbreaking to see the southernmost end of the West’s enormous conifer belt under such profound stress. But in a way it makes sense that the hottest, driest part of that forest ecosystem, with its unique sugar pines, red firs, and giant sequoias, might be the first to fall.

Compounding the stress from climate change is a crisis at the US Forest Service. Staffing levels at the agency for non-fire related functions have dropped 40% since the late 90’s. The Forest Service is a victim of increased wildfire costs associated with hotter weather, but also of a political system unwilling to de-link its operating budget from fire disasters, and allow the agency to do its job.

One expert I spoke with about the mess I saw on my Yosemite trip said that while the “bioclimatic envelope” may be closing on some species in the southern Sierra, it is still possible to build more resilient forests. Standing in the way of this is what another scientist I spoke with described as a lack of common vision, and a lack of trust in the ability of government to implement reasonable solutions.

The Sierra Nevada can feel a long way away. But can our wealthy region continue to prosper while a national trust deficit blocks us not just from protecting our forest hinterlands, but from fixing everything from a broken corporate tax structure, to fast-breaking transportation and water systems, to openly ruptured relationships between police and community? In the short-term, the answer is clearly ‘yes’. In the long-term it’s hard to say.

With a Perspective, this is Matt Mitchell.

Matt Mitchell teaches middle school math. He lives in Sacramento.

There’s a wonderful piece of history in the Bay Area that’s just about a secret. Up in Marin County, within the Point Reyes National Seashore, along Drakes Bay is Drake’s Cove. It is here, in 1579, that Francis Drake landed, met with the Coast Miwok, repaired his ship, resupplied and then completed the first successful trip around the world.

This was before Roanoke, before Plymouth, before Jamestown.

It happened here.

As part of a “cold war” with Spain, Drake had entered the Pacific Ocean, raided Spanish towns and ships and acquired 26 tons of silver and other treasure.

Seeking a way home, he headed north looking for the Strait of Anian – the expected water passage across the top of North America. Failing that, he turned south from Oregon seeking a harbor to repair his ship. He found the Oregon and Northern California coasts treacherous to a small wooden ship. The first decent harbor he found was at Drakes Bay.

Drake and his men didn’t understand the Coast Miwok culture and the Coast Miwok didn’t understand the English. But, peaceful, friendly relationships formed. Processions and long ceremonies were held. Goods traded hands. Porcelains were left with the Coast Miwok. Drake left with presents including feathered baskets and a crown of feathers.

The first service of the Church of England was held here. The first English claim on what would become the United States was posted here. The first meetings of Native Americans and the English happened here. The term “Nova Albion” – New England — was first applied here.

Since this was an area unknown to Europeans, the written narrative of the whole voyage has a focus on what was found in Marin County. After stopping at the Farallon Islands for eggs and seal meat, Drake headed across the Pacific and back to Plymouth, England.

The National Park Service and the Secretary of the Interior have declared the Drakes Bay location a National Historic Landmark, a high-level honor given relatively few historic sites.

The hike to the landing site takes an hour each way. It’s best done at low tide and only in the late spring, the summer and the early fall.

Come learn about our hidden history. It’s right in our own backyard.

With a Perspective, I’m Mike Von der Porten.

Mike Von der Porten teaches tourism at Santa Rosa Junior College, and lives with his wife in Santa Rosa.

Early morning weekday mass is a quiet scene. About two dozen folks show up for some meditative time and scripture, prayers of intentions and gratitude, Communion, some socializing.

On any given morning there is an eclectic mix of attendees; a young Hispanic mom with two kids, older couples, a nun in a windbreaker and khaki pants, a young person or two on their way to school or work, a shy homeless gent by the door with his gigantic backpack, elderly ladies quietly telling their rosary beads.

One of the regulars is a cheerful, diminutive Hispanic woman, well into her 70’s who, despite the predictable eighth-decade health issues, shows up rain or shine, and often does the scripture readings. Over the years I’ve known her, I’ve seen her at peace demonstrations or politically related events; cooking enchiladas at fundraisers or feeding the hungry in our community. This, of course, when I was usually busy with much more “important things” to do.

On a recent morning I was looking for her after mass to share some news. I found her in a small alcove of the church standing before an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, head bowed, the bright morning sun streaming through the stained glass, illuminating her head of cropped, white hair. I stood at a distance until she turned and recognized me with her familiar smile. We spoke briefly, and I helped her push open the heavy church door, as she ambled out into the morning on her new knee, and the door thudded closed behind her.

For a minute I thought about what little I really knew about her life’s journey and the principled spirit that I see quietly burning in her. I’d like to think, I have to think, that the world is full of people like her – non-celebrities who don’t take themselves too seriously but who take on what they do with purpose and humor.

Incidentally, her first name is “Esperanza”, Spanish for “Hope.”



A good idea, that.

With a Perspective, I’m Joe Pramuk.

Joe Pramuk is a retired physician. He lives in Napa.

My husband and I used to share the dream of having a little land to farm someday. We imagined a simpler life devoid of treacherous commutes and long hours at the office or lab. Instead, we dreamed of long days spent outside tenderly nurturing our crops as they grew into a bountiful harvest. Many of our peers held the same dream of a creating a commune where all would work together to nurture our farm and as the farm nurtured us.

We were excited when two friends bought significant acreage in the Capay Valley to start their own organic farm. We quickly volunteered to visit the farm and help out, excited to get a glimpse of what farming actually entails.

On our first Saturday morning on the farm this March, my husband and I woke up at 6:30 am and looked at each other, bleary eyed. We weren’t springing out of bed with glee to go feel the earth between our fingers. But still, we got up, and our hosts, glancing at the clock, mentioned how nice it had felt to sleep in that morning.

The task that weekend was building a fence, without which anything they planted would be eaten overnight. As we pounded fence posts into the ground for hours, our ears ringing, we started to contemplate all the work that went into a farm besides planting and harvesting, such as weeding, the building of infrastructure, and so many unknowns. By lunch, we decided that our dream wasn’t necessarily to have a full farm. Maybe a large garden or small urban homestead would do.

Last month, after a day following a tractor around to harvest 1,700 pounds of potatoes, I vowed to never waste a potato as long as I live. We’ve learned to appreciate the value of our food and consider the vast amount of labor that takes it from seed to table.

Now when anyone mentions a farm commune, we bring up the back-breaking labor and long hot hours in the sun. While many of our generation, like our friends, go into farming with their eyes open, others romanticize the idea. As for my husband and I, we’ll be sleeping in this weekend before wandering out to our backyard garden.

With a Perspective, I’m Becky Mackelprang.

Becky Mackelprang is a PhD candidate inn plant biology at UC Berkeley.

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