Holly Hubbard Preston

Holly Hubbard Preston is a journalist. Increasingly that profession sparks more skepticism than respect, as the distinction between Edward R. Murrow and Gawker is blurred.

I was lunching with relatives when a friend of theirs walked up. As introductions were made and the gentleman learned I was a journalist, his tone changed. Leveling his gaze he said, “So you’re one of them.”

It was the third time in a year I’ve been called out for being a journalist. Each time it happens it leaves me speechless: I expect this when I travel to places where a free press is not valued, but not at home.

I know there are hack journalists out there, but they are the exception. The reporters I know have degrees in journalism. Like me, they took classes in law and ethics as well as news writing and reporting—where the evils of editorial sensationalism and misinformation were hammered home regularly.

The digital age has not been kind to traditional journalism or its legitimacy. Nowadays anyone with a computer can self-identify as a journalist. Meanwhile, online media organizations spring up overnight, making it ever harder to separate legitimate news gatherers from activists and propagandists.

This means we all need to take care. If something appears as “news” then it should be just that. Editorials are for opinions and commentary. Objectivity is not easy to maintain but it is the goal legitimate journalists strive for, and the public should hold us to that.

Media freedom may be a right but it’s not a guarantee. Even in America, journalists struggle to do their jobs. Reporters Without Borders, a non-profit that tracks media freedom worldwide, currently ranks the United States 43rd out of 180 countries.

The next time someone thinks to dismiss my profession, perhaps I’ll summon the Founding Fathers who created the First Amendment for a reason: a free press equals free thought. A democracy cannot exist without either.

With a Perspective, I’m Holly Preston Hubbard.

Holly Hubbard Preston is journalist on sabbatical to write a novel about real and imagined walls in the former East Germany.

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.

When my daughter and a couple of her friends had to be in Berkeley for a three-day volleyball camp, I volunteered to drive. A self-employed writer, my office is portable. I can work anywhere, all the time.

On Day One, I spent the day holed up in the library working.

By Day Two, proximity to the non-routine proved overwhelming. Seizing a wild hair of an idea, I decided to take a field trip to the Lawrence Hall of Science. Rather than drive, I would walk.

For 1.8 mostly vertical miles, I wound my way up Centennial Drive to Grizzly Peak. On the way, I passed Memorial Stadium, which on that clear, summer day, emptied of its patrons, offered a breathtaking study in both classical revival architecture and seismic engineering. The stadium sits directly on the Hayward Fault, some 410 spectacular feet above sea level.

Next stop was the Botanical Gardens for a brief but head-spinning introduction to arguably one of the largest collections of plants anywhere in the world.

The higher I went, the broader my vista. By the time I reached the crest, I had the entire Bay Area spread out before me like a visual picnic lunch.

At the science center, I learned about a praying mantis able to mimic a white orchid and why so may scientists are crazy about cephalopods, a phylum of mollusks considered a model organism for the study of genetics. In a planetarium, I was reminded of the phases of the moon, the bravery of Galileo and the brilliance of a curious child.

Educators speak all the time about the importance of field trips for school-age children, how they enrich as well as refresh a young mind in a way classroom learning cannot. What about an older brain? When I went back to my computer on Day Three, my brain definitely seemed spryer. Okay, maybe not so spry as the seven year-olds who so impressed me in the planetarium.

Then again, they probably go on more field trips than I do.

With a Perspective, Holly Hubbard Preston.

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

I was walking my dog last week past our local cemetery when I saw a block of black granite behind the fence. The City of St. Helena put it there to honor our town’s fallen soldiers. Having never seen it up close, I passed through the cemetery gates for a better look.

On its honed surface, I counted five wars and 28 names belonging to St. Helena men who had died in combat thousands of miles from home. Each war had its own column of names. Afghanistan, a war still in progress, had only one name:

Darrick Benson.

Darrick, a Navy Seal, Petty Officer First Class, died in a helicopter crash in 2011 while helping an Army Ranger squad under attack. He was 28.

While I remembered reading about his death, seeing his name alone on that stone, made me long for knowledge of the person he’d been-not as soldier but in my community. I’ve lived in St. Helena for 15 years. There’s a good chance I crossed paths with Darrick at the grocery store, local cinema or a football game.

I went to my computer and typed his name into my browser. An image of a handsome, young man in a blue v-neck shirt grinned at me. The resemblance to my son was so striking it was hard to continue. From news clips, I learned Darrick hated the water when he was little. That he grew up in nearby Angwin and played football at our local high school. In a class of 140 SEAL trainees, he was one of only 19 to graduate. He died a month before the end of his tour, leaving behind a toddler son and a girlfriend he was to marry. He was going to be a flight instructor when he left the Navy.

The more I read, the better I knew Derrick, which felt good. Now that I know him, there’s no way I will ever forget his name there in the cemetery.

With a Perspective, I’m Holly Hubbard Preston.

Holly Hubbard Preston is a local writer. She lives in St. Helena.

Mortality gets a bad rap. So many people I know fear it, wish it weren’t so. Not me. I see mortality as a thing to be embraced the way one would a child, up close and with tender abandon.

I lost my best friend at age 11 in a plane crash. So for me life has, almost from the beginning, felt not only precious but also fleeting. This doesn’t make me anxious but grateful because this way of thinking puts me in a place to capture precious moments I might otherwise miss.

Like the other day, when my mom and I were discussing a plumbing matter over lunch. The handyman I’d hired to install a shower fixture had forgotten to attach the rough-in for a handle set. By the time we caught the error, the tile had already been set.

My husband and I were debating whether to rip open the wall so the fixture could be placed correctly. “What do you think?” I asked my mom in between bites of a burger. “I don’t need it now but maybe later when I’m older.”

“You might,” Mom said.

A long moment of silence passed between us.

“You won’t be here when I’m old,” I said quietly.

“No,” said Mom breaking into a broad smile. “But the handle set will, and you might want it.”

As my mother cataloged the pros and cons of having a handle set in the shower, I cataloged every detail of how her face she looked then – her white blond hair and the candy pink lipstick and the crooked bottom teeth that looked like mine – fixing the image in my mind for later.

And then, shaking off my melancholy, I refocused my attention on the present and the simple pleasure of sitting with my mom at a red picnic table, the early spring sun warming the crowns of our heads, as we ate burgers and talked plumbing fixtures.

With a Perspective, I’m Holly Hubbard Preston.

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

When my daughter and a couple of her friends had to be in Berkeley for a three-day volleyball camp, I volunteered to drive. A self-employed writer, my office is portable. I can work anywhere, all the time.

On Day One, I spent the day holed up in the library working.

By Day Two, proximity to the non-routine proved overwhelming. Seizing a wild hair of an idea, I decided to take a field trip to the Lawrence Hall of Science. Rather than drive, I would walk.

For 1.8 mostly vertical miles, I wound my way up Centennial Drive to Grizzly Peak. On the way, I passed Memorial Stadium, which on that clear, summer day, emptied of its patrons, offered a breathtaking study in both classical revival architecture and seismic engineering. The stadium sits directly on the Hayward Fault, some 410 spectacular feet above sea level.

Next stop was the Botanical Gardens for a brief but head-spinning introduction to arguably one of the largest collections of plants anywhere in the world.

The higher I went, the broader my vista. By the time I reached the crest, I had the entire Bay Area spread out before me like a visual picnic lunch.

At the science center, I learned about a praying mantis able to mimic a white orchid and why so may scientists are crazy about cephalopods, a phylum of mollusks considered a model organism for the study of genetics. In a planetarium, I was reminded of the phases of the moon, the bravery of Galileo and the brilliance of a curious child.

Educators speak all the time about the importance of field trips for school-age children, how they enrich as well as refresh a young mind in a way classroom learning cannot. What about an older brain? When I went back to my computer on Day Three, my brain definitely seemed spryer. Okay, maybe not so spry as the seven year-olds who so impressed me in the planetarium.

Then again, they probably go on more field trips than I do.

With a Perspective, Holly Hubbard Preston.

Holly Hubbard Preston is an author and freelance journalist. She lives in St. Helena.

When my daughter and a couple of her friends had to be in Berkeley for a three-day volleyball camp, I volunteered to drive. A self-employed writer, my office is portable. I can work anywhere, all the time.

On Day One, I spent the day holed up in the library working.

By Day Two, proximity to the non-routine proved overwhelming. Seizing a wild hair of an idea, I decided to take a field trip to the Lawrence Hall of Science. Rather than drive, I would walk.

For 1.8 mostly vertical miles, I wound my way up Centennial Drive to Grizzly Peak. On the way, I passed Memorial Stadium, which on that clear, summer day, emptied of its patrons, offered a breathtaking study in both classical revival architecture and seismic engineering. The stadium sits directly on the Hayward Fault, some 410 spectacular feet above sea level.

Next stop was the Botanical Gardens for a brief but head-spinning introduction to arguably one of the largest collections of plants anywhere in the world.

The higher I went, the broader my vista. By the time I reached the crest, I had the entire Bay Area spread out before me like a visual picnic lunch.

At the science center, I learned about a praying mantis able to mimic a white orchid and why so may scientists are crazy about cephalopods, a phylum of mollusks considered a model organism for the study of genetics. In a planetarium, I was reminded of the phases of the moon, the bravery of Galileo and the brilliance of a curious child.

Educators speak all the time about the importance of field trips for school-age children, how they enrich as well as refresh a young mind in a way classroom learning cannot. What about an older brain? When I went back to my computer on Day Three, my brain definitely seemed spryer. Okay, maybe not so spry as the seven year-olds who so impressed me in the planetarium.

Then again, they probably go on more field trips than I do.

With a Perspective, Holly Hubbard Preston.

Holly Hubbard Preston is an author and freelance journalist. She lives in St. Helena.

My 12-year-old daughter was on her way to the pantry for an afterschool snack when I called her over to my computer. "There's something I want you to read," I said. Pulled up on the screen was a news article about James Foley, the American journalist executed by Islamic State forces.

A news station from Mr. Foley's hometown of Rochester, New Hampshire posted an article that focused not on his brutal murder, but on Mr. Foley's short but extraordinary career as a journalist. He had given up a job as a teacher to pursue a graduate degree in journalism with a specific focus on conflict coverage. As a freelance correspondent, Mr. Foley filed reports from Afghanistan, Libya and Syria. He wrote reports not only about rebels and rockets but civilians who paid their price, too. His aim, according to family and friends, was selfless. He wanted to tell stories of conflict from the most human level he could.

In the same way James Foley humanized conflict in his work, I hoped his death would humanize news coverage for my daughter. And it did. After reading the article, she said, "It's so easy to look at news pictures and see the words and not think about the person responsible for all that."

My daughter is right. There is a sort of magical, out-of-thin air quality to the way global news is delivered — via radio, computer, smartphone and paper boy. Had I not been a journalist for 25 years I might give myself over to the spell of such easily accessible, all-too- conveniently reported news. But I can't.

In James Foley's death, I see a poignant reminder about how very un-magical the gathering of news can be, particularly in a war zone. I know it's not the San Francisco Chronicle or NPR or BuzzFeed that connects me to the farthest and most heartbreaking parts of the world but living, breathing human beings.

With a Perspective, I'm Holly Hubbard Preston.

Holly Hubbard Preston is an author and freelance journalist. She lives in St. Helena.

 

Late last fall, my family was planning to attend a football game in Berkeley. A friend and fellow fan, hearing of our plans, asked if he might grab a ride with us.

We said, "Sure."
 
It was only later, when my husband and I were alone, that we spoke about the logistical challenges associated with the request.
 
Our friend, who is in his mid-40s, was born with cerebral palsy. He's spent his life in a wheelchair. Neither my husband nor I had any experience caring for a person in a wheelchair, let alone transporting them to a football game.
 
We gave it our best shot, which at times was very off the mark. Our friend could not have been more patient with the awkward car loadings and graceless relocations we put him through as we struggled to find wheelchair friendly restaurants, stadium ramps and bathrooms.
 
Our 12-year-old daughter witnessed the whole thing, helping out where she could. At the end of the day, she told our friend how glad she was that he'd been able to join us. Back at home, my daughter told me how the experience had opened her eyes to the daily challenges people in wheelchairs face. "Nothing comes easy for them," she said.
 
The experience affected me, too.  I've become more mindful of the handicap spaces in my midst; taking note of where they are and their general accessibility. I notice how certain restaurants would be impossible for our friend to visit and how a poorly maintained sidewalk might make his safe passage difficult.
 
Looking back on that day, I see what an act of faith it was for our friend to ask for the ride. He had no idea if and how my family would be able to accommodate his disability. Yet, he took a chance on us – no questions asked, no doubts expressed. With great patience, he let us ride in his shoes and see how life is lived and confined by a wheelchair.
 
With a perspective, this is Holly Hubbard Preston
 
Holly Hubbard Preston is a freelance writer living in St. Helena.

I was in the middle of a swim workout when I saw a honeybee struggling on the water's surface. Barehanded, I lifted it out of the water and carried it to the side of the pool deck.  In my younger years, I would have ignored the bee or even swamped it. Honeybees were so numerous then.

Not anymore. Honeybees are dying across the country in huge numbers. Last winter alone the population reportedly took a 30 percent hit.

I live in the Napa Valley. Colonies are collapsing here for the same reasons they are elsewhere: Pesticides, contaminated water supplies, over crowded apiaries, nutrient deficient or modified crops.

Bees are high production pollinators responsible for some $15 billion of crop output. Every one mouthful in three my family takes is the direct result of a honeybee. So when our local nursery recently sponsored a bee-keeping seminar, I signed up. In one morning, I learned more about the bees than I had known in a lifetime. I found out why bees end up in pools-bees need water for hydration and larval development. Because they can't discern depth, they go for drink and drown. Provide them with an alternative source of shallow water-say a bowl-or place a bee float directly in the pool, and the problem is solved.

Though I don't have a pool, I do have a lot of flowering bushes, some of which I recently ripped out without ready replacements. Big mistake. Bees need a reliable place to forage or they can't make honey, which means they have no insulation for themselves and their offspring come winter. By tearing out those plants, I left my bees out in the cold.

The best part of the class came at the end when we could peer into a hive calmed by smoke. For 10 minutes I stood there, my unprotected face inches above the hive.  The only sting I ever felt was the regret of my ignorance.

With a Perspective, I'm Holly Hubbard Preston.

Holly Hubbard Preston is a local writer and journalist. She lives in St. Helena.

I was walking my dog last week past our local cemetery when I saw a block of black granite behind the fence. The City of St. Helena put it there to honor our town's fallen soldiers. Having never seen it up close, I passed through the cemetery gates for a better look.
 
On its honed surface, I counted five wars and 28 names belonging to St. Helena men who had died in combat thousands of miles from home. Each war had its own column of names. Afghanistan, a war still in progress, had only one name:

Darrick Benson.
 
Darrick, a Navy Seal, Petty Officer First Class, died in a helicopter crash in 2011 while helping an Army Ranger squad under attack. He was 28.
 
While I remembered reading about his death, seeing his name alone on that stone, made me long for knowledge of the person he'd been-not as soldier but in my community. I've lived in St. Helena for 15 years. There's a good chance I crossed paths with Darrick at the grocery store, local cinema or a football game.

I went to my computer and typed his name into my browser. An image of a handsome, young man in a blue v-neck shirt grinned at me. The resemblance to my son was so striking it was hard to continue. From news clips, I learned Darrick hated the water when he was little. That he grew up in nearby Angwin and played football at our local high school. In a class of 140 SEAL trainees, he was one of only 19 to graduate. He died a month before the end of his tour, leaving behind a toddler son and a girlfriend he was to marry. He was going to be a flight instructor when he left the Navy.
 
The more I read, the better I knew Derrick, which felt good. Now that I know him, there's no way I will ever forget his name there in the cemetery.
 
With a Perspective, I'm Holly Hubbard Preston.

Holly Hubbard Preston is a local writer. She lives in St. Helena.