Sunday, April 3, 2011
A spate of rather hot days occurred this week--temperatures only in the high seventies but it felt every degree of that with brilliant sunshine. By All Fool's day friday the Flaneur saw fit for a little lacuna in an impacted week. The prospect of an escape out to north Berkeley to scale the mineralogical heights of Indian Rock seemed agreeable.
Perhaps I'd ramble round town a bit before going northward. I hop a bus in the opposite direction --the 49 counter-clockwise down Dwight way that boomerangs back up Ashby all the way to College Avenue where I'm initially bound. The familiar driver looks like Andy Kaufman's alter ego and appears nearly as dissipated--we're cordial. It's an oven but I risk my neck opening windows while in motion and things are then fine. Everywhere I look outside along the way are sativa-colored flowers burgeoning in the copious sunshine.
Pretty ladies in brief sunny outfits abound on College. I'm into the post office to check my box. There's both a letter from an British poet I admire and a welcoming check. Next it's off to the paranoid precincts of a large Wells Fargo bank. Apparently this one gets robbed a lot so I must negotiate hearing a teller through the air-holes in a thick plexiglass structure of bullet exclusion.
They hand you a slip with the amount you're depositing but no balance printed on it. To get around this annoyance, I stop at the ATM for some cash on the way out only to discover the balance line on the receipt is inexplicably blank. I remark on this novelty to a lady and learn that she was perplexed about it too. Another girl comes over to us who is also non-plussed. They even tell you there's a charge to print your balance at the ATM--it's as if they don't want you to keep track of your balance. Is it so we'll spend more recklessly and stimulate the economy that the banks and their fellow-traveling brokers looted? And of course stumble in writing overdrafts that earn them lucre.
Next it's down to the Claremont library on it's next to last day before a long closure for renovations. It's a great funky place that like most branches has had quite a few pungent eccentrics shelter there for long hours. It does so with Berkeley's stiff tolerance for down and out people. There was one memorable lady who used to sit and space over a magazine dressed in a fur coat and a broad hat with silk scarf over it. She also wore shades and a palpable cloud of rose perfume. Patchouli is another air one often encounters among the reading room's denizens some clearly confirmed soap-dodgers.
This is not to imply that the indigenous indigents don't leave the staff a little edgy. I chat with one librarian. I'm certain he dislikes me but is constrained by the presence nearby of his supervisor, a sweet lady who directs the children's wing. I predict the place will be better with new carpet and paint and ignore the social-engineering that will no doubt accompany them. He grimly concurs.
This fellow is not the only irrationally hostile library worker I have observed in fair Berkeley. It has caused me to list "to go librarian" next to "to go postal" in my lexicon.
A brief wait back at the post office bus stop is followed by a pleasant ride downtown. The bus follows budding College avenue through the hive-like precincts by campus. Before I deboard downtown in front of Peets, I'm met by another sight on my tour of the grand malaise, the dysphoric morass into which society has slid. An empty bus lies across Shattuck diagonally as if entering the bus stop lane. My bus must inch past around it to discharge us and then the view for the on-coming buses is nil. Ah but this too passes as the #18 rolls up and I move on.
After a glide through north Berkeley with the gourmet ghetto. It had been my neighborhood for two months last Summer. I would stand on my hotel balcony after midnight and drink in that native quality the town can exude when the rat race subsides for a moment. How I would have thrilled to have seen the mountain lion that prowled around there a few weeks after I had vacated. Of course, the tale ended very badly when a Berkeley cop responding to a sighting ran for his rifle and shot the noble native animal that had menaced no one. This is a place that makes a remarkable mosaic mural of a mountain lion on Addison--but if one shows up in the flesh...
I hop off just before the traffic tunnel to Solano Avenue. I am bound for the elevations it tunnels through. Walking backwards up the pedestrian ramp offers me good exercise and an impressive view along the way. Cresting I bisect the roundabout up top. I cut across the roadway for a moment's refreshing pause at a fountain adorned with effigies of the bear, our beloved totemic animal--but if one shows up in the flesh...
Traffic is fairly incessant up there and it takes my extensive skills as a pedestrian matador to be able to walk across and not have to outrun the unrelenting. One more vigorous hill to climb via Indian Rock avenue and I am at the foot of fabled bolite.
Stairs have been carved into the rock by the WPA during the depression. As I go up them I realize I shall be alone on the massive boulder. The day has heated-up considerably and the sun can be rather merciless up there so it's not for the faint of heart. I soldier on.
Indian Rock Park in fact occupies both sides of the street. There is a complex of smaller rock outcrops and patches of grass on one side and the massive bifurcated Indian Rock on the other. They are all rhyolite rock formations, volcanic in origin and further examples exist all along this ridge including those in Mortar Rock Park. Mortar Rock is so-named because of the surviving basins carved into the rock used originally by the Huichin branch of the Ohlone people. Mortars can be found at Indian Rock as well.
The formation has long been a practice spot for rock-climbers as it was for the late Galen Rowell a celebrated photographer of mountain wilderness. I once worked with him on a book event for down at the long gone Whole Earth Access store on seventh street. Handsome and intense he spent no time on small talk. An Oakland native he and his wife were killed in a plane crash-- an ill-considered flight back from Alaska with an inexperienced pilot.
There is also a right-angled bench carved near the top of the rock. Unless it is already occupied this is my traditional perch on the vertiginous rock face. The vista is quite clear despite the heat today. It extends from way north on the Bay across the verdant sweep of Marin the apron for Mount Tamalpais, then across the gossamer Golden Gate bridge to the alabaster city of San Francisco, and onto the silicon South. Before this skyline stretched the glorious fastness of the Bay, the Berkeley/El Cerrito flatlands with Oakland looming way off to the left. Behind rise the Berkeley hills moist and undulating in the breeze.
After ten minutes of uninterrupted solitude during which my black t-shirt and dark green trousers absorb all those incessant sun assassins from Pomo Indian myth. And before I overheat after me hike, I go native and doff my clothes. This is not to say I sat there ball-a-dangling naked-- I kept my boxer shorts on. They are somewhat notable in their own right with the four suits of playing card as a motif. The label which sits fetchingly below one's navel reads Lucky and when you part open the fly there is another label sewn on reading "Lucky You!" to someone presumably at eye-level. This last detail I failed to notice until I got them home. I realized that I had my first article of "gag" clothing since seventh grade when I bought a straw Bob Hope hat with golf tees and little beer cans on the brim. The only drawback at the moment is that they are basically white underwear and pretty easily identified as such.
There I sat hoping to stay lucky I suppose. I could hear kids climbing the other rock mass across the small ravine. I figured kids don't look twice at oldsters. In fact an older kid did slightly notice me without any reaction. Luckily I have started to lose some of burdensome so I didn't feel too self-conscious should anyone arrive suddenly. And naturally they did--two young men and a girl. They may have seen me as they climbed up but they had foot-holds on their minds. I unhurriedly put the pants back on. They were students at UC from Iran I deduced. They were soon joined by more friends who fit the same description. They formed a circle down the rock from me snacking and talking. Soon one little kid after another appeared and climbed past. It's quite a bracing elevation with many precipitous drops yet these kids were unfazed as they covered the surface like exploring ants. One little girl seems to have re-traced the ascent from primate ancestors walking on all fours. She just leans over and scoots up the rock face on all fours. An adorable little hippie, she has a tie-dyed t-shirt and the lovely shiny brown hair of early childhood..
There is no adult on the scene to oversee these kids. At one point I stand up and notice an older boy of maybe nine together with a few of these four or five year-olds at the highest point on the other half of the rock. "Please be careful," I plead. Between us is a sheer forty-foot drop.
It's a climb I never even endeavored to make myself & a precarious perch once attained. But I relax and continue to mind my own business, which is the scrutiny of being itself. This begins in an unfocused gaze at the vast bay and the land around it, and out beyond the gate at the pacific ocean.
There is other foot-traffic mostly just passing through. I have a delicious banana and some water to refresh in this lizard-like sun-bask. Then I decide a puff off my shorty would be fun, only to discover I have neglected ignition. So follows a slow bare-foot climb to the Persian encampment. They anticipate my intrusion but I wait until I'm close-up to ask a young man for a light. Another provides a butane lighter and I ask him if I may keep it a moment. The early-arriving girl who may have observed me in my boxers, says keep it, keep it to get rid of me. I say that I just need one light and insist I return it. This is less awkward for me than lighting the herb while hovering near them.
Back at my stone seat the little kids, are around where I sat. I step off a little to smoke while they don't even look at what I'm doing. In the meantime a lady has climbed-up who is thankfully in charge of the kids. She has an even younger one with her and a tiny dog. I wonder if she'll show any sign of annoyance at me smoking with the kids around. But after I return the lighter and come sit by her, we're quickly in a friendly conversation. Half of the brood are hers half are her sister's. She agrees it is a bit disconcerting to see how intrepid they are on these steep inclines but says that they love it and haven't been hurt yet.
I reply that at least they'll never grow up to be adults who can't climb a rock. The kids urge each other on especially the boys and they somehow find the pluck. They've taken the dog up to a the highest point on this half of the rock and he's nervous. A shelter-rescue he's as adorable as a little dog can be. I help untangle him as they pass him down. The kids talk to the woman seated above me and the older boy stands with his crotch pressing into my thigh. I move a bit and the woman apologizes as if I wouldn't be perfectly happy to hug all this kids.
However they do need guidance as when they attempt to take the poor ton ton (Parisian for "little dog") back down. The boy leader wants to carry him down the steepest descent disagreeing with the Mom's better idea. I have to step in and say "yeah, you can do it but the dog would be too scared." Solved by the kind older cat with the buzz on.
The lady goes with them but says she will come back in a minute. The path below leads down and around the rock ending in a pedestrian pathway that leads eventually to the Solano avenue high street. I see the lady and kids walking down there maybe seeking a place for them to pee. She doesn't arrive back on top before I split but the kids do. They appear in small rock-climbing bands, yes, like big-headed kids in a newspaper comic strip.
I summon my courage and steady myself to climb to that high spot and to stand shirtlessly aloft in the stunning panorama. I notice the Iranian student girl looking at me with some slight curiosity, wondering just how nutty I was perhaps. I'm just trying in my humble way to set my spirit free. A world of struggle lies below but for the moment you project yourself over the trees and later it seems less formidable as a result.
Yet escapism is not the motive and we are called to remain in the world and to help each other as we may. My example follows.
As I prepare for my descent and savor my last moments there, I become aware that the kids are behind me again at that frightening highest spot. A younger quite boyish boy, second in kid command, has ascended the other rock and is urging two little girls to traverse the last precarious rock edge to the tippity-top. One of the girls is the hippie child who just strolls up on all fours. The other little girl hangs back terrified and who could blame her? It's a very serious risk that very few parents would even think of allowing her to take. But the lassez-faire lady is not even around. The boy is unwavering, and proposes that they help her up. The little blonde girl is verging on tears of fear. So old white man has to intervene once again. "Don't make her do it. She's scared." Even then he doesn't concede audibly but I broke the stalemate nevertheless.
Then four o'clock rolls up and the students are splitting too as I get a move on. When I pass by the kids are having a confab in which the little girl's reluctance to risk death is on trial. It's as if it was a matter of crucial importance that she conquer the rock. But the tree at which she firmly stood was far from the edgy rock formation in the middle of the air where she last had been.