Equinox With a Beat
The first Equinox celebration at the Chavez/Huerta Solar Calendar in several years came together Monday evening 3/20 under clear skies. It featured Lori Lambertson, a teacher at the Exploratorium, engaging the group of about 30 in conversation about the Spring season. Lambertson also demonstrated the motion of shadows on the ground as the sunset progressed, showed the angle that the sun makes at our latitude at different seasons, and described the dramatic events at the Temple of Kukulcan in Chichen Itza, Mexico, where thousands gather at the Spring Equinox. Also present and contributing were David Cooper, famous for blowing the shofar at Solstice, Alan Gould of the Lawrence Laboratory, who led past Solstice gatherings, and Santiago Casal, the founder, creator, and curator of the Chavez/Huerta Solar Calendar. Lambertson expressed regrets that scheduled presenter Jason Del Aguila was unable to attend due to illness. The event gained a musical and spiritual lift from an impromptu group of drummers, activists and singers mobilized by Susanne Sterling who have come to this spot in the past, and happened to be present as the Equinox gathering came together. A short video of excerpts is on YouTube here. The Spring Equinox is a major holiday in the Persian culture, where some 300 million people in dozens of countries celebrate Nowruz, the Persian New Year. Rooted in Zoroastrianism, an ancient religion that predates the Christian era, the celebration lasts for 13 days. Details.
Major Native Tree Down
The rainstorm of Tuesday March 21 blew down the tallest tree in the Native Plant Area in the park, an 80-foot Guadalupe Cypress planted by the founders of the Native Plant Area in the early 1980s. The magnificent tree, possibly the tallest in the park anywhere, survived decades of western winds, being sheltered about halfway up by neighboring Myoporum trees. But Tuesday’s wind blasts apparently came from the southwest, where the giant had little shielding. It might well have survived this also had the ground been firm. But the soil was waterlogged and soft, and the force of the wind on the foliage created an overpowering leverage that ripped the roots out of the ground. The proud and beautiful tree fell to the north across the path that borders the Native Plant Area on its northern edge. The City’s Forestry unit has been notified, but given the great number of trees down all over Berkeley, it may be some time before any action can be taken to clean up this great calamity. Chavez Park Conservancy members and Parks staff will put heads together to consider what, if anything, can be done to replace this fallen giant. The row of Monterey Cypress trees along Spinnaker Way also suffered additional damage in the form of a major branch torn off the trunk of a previously undamaged tree. This would be a good year to plant other trees there, and space them more densely to provide support for one another. Trees standing alone are more vulnerable; aren’t we all?
City Council Proclamation to Honor Park Saving Work
Tuesday evening March 21, the Berkeley City Council passed a ceremonial proclamation “In Honor of Martin Nicolaus” (this writer) for work that the Conservancy has done in the park, notably the petition campaign last summer to save the park from commercial development. Signed by Jesse Arreguin, the mayor, the document thanks me for “decades of service to the Berkeley community and the natural world.” Councilmember Kate Harrison, who initiated the move, presented me with the certificate; a copy is at this link. I was allowed to say a few words. I thanked the people who helped with the petition campaign, starting with our Board members: Carl Anthony, Jutta Burger, Santiago Casal, Carol Denney, Mark Friedman, Bob Huttar, Sheila Jordan, Emilie Keas, Norman La Force, and Richard Walker. Then volunteers Susan Black, Daniel Borgstrom, Virginia Browning, Helen Canin, Brian Gregson, Mary Law, Jeff Malmuth, Lee Tempkin, and Sylvie Woog. I thanked John Nordstrom Roberts, Shirley Dean, and Robert Cheasty for influential letters. I gave special thanks to Kate Harrison, who was the first to stand up publicly in defense of the park, followed by Mayor Arreguin, with support also from Ben Bartlett and Sophie Hahn. Above all I gave thanks to my wife, Sheila Jordan, who has been my steadfast companion, inspiration, and lover for 19 years. There were quite a few others who also deserved thanks for their contributions to the park, but my time was limited. Earlier in the Council session I had the quiet tickle of hearing the Mayor mention in passing that he had read my book, Love Letters to the Park.
Birds of the Week
The big storm that blew down trees also blew a Common Murre into the North Basin. They’re rarely seen here, but about a quarter million of these sea birds are roosting on one of the Farallon Islands currently. They’re highly social, rarely alone. This one was resting in the low tide in the Schoolhouse Creek delta on Friday morning, all by itself. What it will do to rejoin its flock I could not stay around long enough to find out. Also nearby I saw about a flock of maybe 200 sandpipers, mostly Western but with a good portion of Dunlin. About a dozen American Wigeon were dabbling. A lone Long-billed Curlew probed the mud. I have not seen a Curlew here since last fall. These birds, along with a familiar Snowy Egret, make up the cast of characters in the little video here:
Enticed by the puddles along the Virginia Street Extension, I tramped into the Berkeley Meadow (Sylvia McLaughlin Eastshore State Park). The rain ponds there were larger than I ever saw. You could call the central one a lake. On it I saw maybe two dozen Northern Shovelers, both male and female, along with a pair of Mallards and a handful of Bufflehead of both sexes. A female Scaup joined the company, and a big Great Egret flew in to check things out; maybe he also heard a frog croaking, as I did. To the array of my favorite birds of the week, I add a beautiful male House Finch in breeding plumage, and an uncommon Fox Sparrow scratching energetically just inches away from the fallen Guadalupe Cypress.
Summer Jobs Outdoors
The City of Berkeley is again recruiting teens over 16 for summer jobs working outdoors with the City’s summer recreation programs. Here’s a sign posted in the park, along with the QR code. You know what to do.