Archive for October, 2007

Odds & Ends

Lots of interesting news and correspondence related to past posts and walking in general:

  • After a few days of rain, the Saturday of the Path Wanderers’ fall harvest walk that I led turned out to be a beautiful day for walking and exploring gardens. Georgia of Local Ecologist went on the walk and did a very nice write-up with photos. If you didn’t attend but are interested in doing the walk, I’ll be getting the walk to the Path Wanderers webmaster this week, so look for it here, along with other self-guided walks in Berkeley and the East Bay.
  • And speaking of the ever-popular topic of fruit trees, I was alerted via a blog comment to harvestr dot org, a Google Maps mashup showing public fruit trees and berries, farmer’s markets, and other free or low-cost food. They’ve got a Bay Area map that is under development, where you can easily map the roadside blackberry bushes you spotted out on a walk.
  • A couple of weeks ago the Chron had an article about the woman behind the art-SITES series of guidebooks, which feature walking tours of all sorts of art — galleries, contemporary architecture, film centers, sculpture, etc. — in locations such as San Francisco, Paris, and London. The article notes that when researching the books, she walks all day and after dark, often seven days a week. Of course there is the other nine months spent in front of the computer, but the walking part of it sounds amazing. Definitely an inspiring story to see someone pursuing a dream like this.
  • I have art-SITES San Francisco on reserve at the library, and am hoping the library will soon be ordering Will Self’s Psychogeography, which Eric Fischer mentions on his blog. I had read the New York Times article about Self’s 20 mile walk from JFK Airport to Manhattan back in December, so I will be interested in checking out the book. If you’re new to reading this blog and/or psychogeography, here’s my post about psychogeography from earlier this year.
  • If you are interested in learning more about Claremont and Elmwood, you’ll enjoy reading Northwest Ladybug’s memories of growing up in the area during the 1960s. She has shared all sorts of interesting tidbits about the Claremont Hotel, John Muir School, Elmwood and Claremont shops, the move in 1968 to integrate schools in Berkeley, the People’s Park riots, interesting neighbors. A great read!

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The Public Library

Growing up in the suburban Bay Area, I spent a fair amount of time traveling around in cars when I was young. I suppose it was a sign of things to come that I didn’t really enjoy being in the car even back then, and instead have fond memories of the walking and biking. From an early age, we walked to the public library, which was about 15 minutes away. Not only did it establish a pattern of walking for me, but naturally also a love of books and reading. Because of that experience, I always think of the library as a good possible walk destination.

Here in Berkeley, I am just a 5 minute walk from one of the branches. Like many public libraries, Berkeley’s system is set up so that you can reserve books and other items from your home computer and have them sent to the branch of your choice. This is pretty convenient for someone like me, who checks out lots of books — I walk over to the library once or twice a week to pick up and drop off books. A couple of months ago, when I was picking up books, I noticed a sign posted on the door that the library would be closed for several weeks for renovations. I realized how much of a routine I had gotten into by my initial reaction of being upset at the closure. But then I decided that this was a great opportunity to experience the other library branches, which I have walked past on many of my walks.

The Berkeley Public Library is composed of a main downtown branch and four neighborhood branches: South, North, West, and Claremont. They are pretty well spread out around town, so that many people are near one of the branches. Some households in the southwest corner of Berkeley are a bit of a walk from either the South or West branches, and the nearest branch for Berkeley hills residents is the North branch down the hill. Having a library within close walking distance seems pretty important to me, especially if you need to carry a large stack of books home, or if you check out large or heavy books. It’s also nice if you tend to check out movies on a regular basis, which need to be returned in a week.

The libraries are all a bit different architecture-wise. The main branch is an Art Moderne building designed by Berkeley architect James Placheck. Also of interest architecturally are the North branch, a California Spanish style building (also by Placheck), and the Claremont branch, which is a Tudor style building. Each of the branch’s collections varies a bit, with the central library, of course, having the most materials and services. Of particular interest at the central library is the Berkeley History Room, which has all sorts of documents and materials for researching the history of the city. The West and South branches have collections of language (Spanish, Chinese, Japanese) materials, and the West also is the site of the library’s literacy program. The main library has a small Friends of the Library bookstore, and the branch libraries have small shelves of books for sale. But there is also a larger Friends bookstore hidden away near Telegraph Avenue in the Sather Gate center — definitely a place you would miss unless you were on foot or knew about it already.

Next door to the South Branch is the very cool Tool Lending Library, which has free tools for check-out by Berkeley residents and property owners. This is an excellent resource for projects where you will need a tool that you would probably never use again in the future. Tools cost a fair amount of money, and take up space, so this is very handy for many residents. I am not sure if the concept of the tool lending library originated in Berkeley, but it looks like it may have been one of the first if not the original (started in 1979). Other Bay Area tool lending libraries are offered by the Oakland Public Library (Temescal) and in San Francisco.

Many of my walks for this project have been at times when the libraries aren’t open, so I haven’t always had the opportunity to stop in and browse the books for awhile. However, I plan to make a point of taking more walks in the future that include stops at the library when it is open. This week, I stopped into the North branch in the evening, which was a very pleasant experience. This branch is small but cozy, and it has a very community-oriented feel to it. Especially nice was a magazine exchange, where residents can drop off unwanted magazines from the past year; I picked up some copies of magazines that I like to read once in awhile.

Stay tuned for another post about the other libraries in Berkeley beyond the public library!

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Ideas for Rainy Day Walks

Earlier this year I had a few things to say about wet weather, but now that it rained last week and it is raining again on and off this week, I thought I’d share a few more thoughts. First of all, I had to laugh reading my statement “I enjoy walking in a mist or light rain, but I do try to plan walks so that I do not get caught in a downpour” because Friday afternoon found me walking for 45 minutes in the heaviest period of rain of the day. My shoes were full of water by the end, and the rest of my clothing was pretty soaked as well. It had such a long time since it had rained that I forgot that that shoes I was wearing and the tiny umbrella I was carrying were inappropriate for the weather.

Despite getting drenched, I was thinking about how walking in wet weather opens up the opportunity for some unique observations. In terms of looking at architecture, this is when I spend a great deal of time looking at roofs, gutters, awnings, and how houses are protected from the elements. I’ve been particularly surprised by the number of architecturally interesting downspouts, many of which are designed from copper. Local Ecologist talked about rain barrels in a post awhile ago, which are used to collect roof water runoff for watering and other uses. So far, I have not spotted any rain barrels in my walks, but I imagine that this is because most are located at the back of residences. I have spotted several nice-looking rain chains, which are chains attached to a roof to collect water in a pot, basin, or drainage system. An interesting exercise, especially in the hills, is to look for drains that travel under the sidewalk and to the storm drains and then follow the path the water takes from the house to the street.

Observing what happens to water on the street is easy as a walker because (unless you are wearing galoshes) you are probably watching for the places where the water floods at curbs and street crossings! Puddles, potholes, sand bags and other flooding prevention, are all things to look out for during or after a rain. An interesting bit of environmental history that I learned from Richard Walker’s The Country in the City (history of the conversation of the Bay Area’s greenbelt) is that the idea of storm drain stencils originated in Berkeley. If you look down at the drains in Berkeley, you’ve probably notice the bright “No Dumping, Drains to Bay” stencils; this stenciling idea has been adopted by many cities to help remind people not to dump toxic materials into the drainage system that may connect to a bay, river, or ocean depending on where you live.

If you enjoy people-watching, a rainy day is a good opportunity for this activity — rain-gear, umbrellas, reactions to rain, etc. Berkeley and the Bay Area can get a fair amount of rain or not much at all, depending on the year. I don’t see nearly as many people unfazed by the rain as I have on visits to rainy cities such as Portland (Oregon) and Seattle, nor as many people who venture out in the wet weather without an umbrella. And, although I have seen plenty of people braving the rain on bicycles with fenders, I often see the bikes locked up without plastic bags or covers over the seats. I am always on the lookout for other people who seem to be enjoying the rain. Getting a little wet seems way more appealing to me than be in a car in rainy weather or being stuck inside all day, and a warm beverage afterwards (or carried along in a thermos) makes the experience even more satisfying. I am hopeful that more people will get out for walks when it is raining; that is why I made sure to smile and indicate that to others that I was having a good time even as I sloshed along the pavement on Friday.

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Banana Trees and Guerrilla Sunflowers

One of my most popular posts has been one from last year about banana trees, and searches related to bananas, fruit trees, and the like are regularly at the top of the search terms used to find this blog. Regular readers and Berkeley gardeners may remember, however, the past winter’s rare cold spell and its damage to plants. As a result, I was not expecting to satisfy eager banana Googlers with more photos of local bananas. Imagine my surprise yesterday when I was walking in South Berkeley near Alta Bates Hospital and spotted a bunch of bananas growing on a tree in front of a house on Dana street! As you can see from the photo, the bananas are quite green and probably don’t stand much of a chance of ripening completely now that we are into October. Nonetheless, it was fun to see the bananas and thing about the cycle of plant life.

And speaking of plants, I have spotted a few instances of guerrilla gardening while out walking during the summer and fall. “Guerrilla gardening” involves acts of planting seeds and plants secretly or without asking for permission. This might be in the form of throwing wildflower seed balls (seeds mixed with compost and clay) in to a vacant lot or sneaking some vegetables into a landscaped bed of annual flowers. Near the Here/There art that I wrote about a few weeks ago, was a huge sunflower in an otherwise unplanted area near the intersection. The photo above was taken at the building site for the David Brower Building/Oxford Plaza in downtown Berkeley. The development, which is under construction now after several years of negotiations, is expected to open in 2009. I have also seen little gardens planted in various abandoned spaces in other parts of town, but I’ll leave those unnamed. If you are interested in reading more about guerrilla gardening, a book was published on the subject earlier this year, Guerrilla Gardening: A Manualfesto. I haven’t read that one yet, but I can recommend two other books with information on the subject: Avant Gardening (published by Autonomedia) and Urban Wilds, edited by local author Cleo Woelfe-Erskine. 

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