April 28, 2008

I sat next to an elderly lady on BART. I was on my way to the Airport, and she was on her way to visit her cousin in Pacifica. We both had suitcases and she was concerned that she might not be on the right train.

I don’t normally talk to people on public transportation. It’s not because I am unfriendly, perhaps because I am shy, but probably it’s because I just don’t happen to be a very good conversationalist. However, I talked with this woman, and didn’t ask her name. She looked like a Marilyn, though, so I will just call her that.

Marilyn lives in Sacramento and took Amtrak down. I commented on my train ride last labor day up to Davis and bike ride from there to the Capay Valley. I asked, “Do you know the Capay Valley? Guinda?” Her eyes brightened with happiness and a shot of pride, “Oh yes, I used to live there!” Why does a world so large for a short moment get small enough so as to actually feel like home? We spent some time talking about the almond (a-mond) trees in bloom, the politics of and problems with new housing butting against old farms, farm land preservation, the traffic on 80 in Farfield… She then mentioned growing up in a small town outside of Vermont and helping her Vermont-based uncle and Aunt (around Bennington) with their maple syrup harvest in the winter. When I mentioned that my sister lived in Vermont, she was so pleased. As she talked her hands motioned this way and that, describing the flow of the sap as it went through the sugar shack to be reduced to syrup. Her nails, long and pink with flowers painted on the middle finger of each hand, did not belie the work of her youth. When I asked about whether she climbed through the mountains around her home when she was young (she is from North Adams), she said, “Well! I had hiking plenty just getting to school… I had a good childhood.” We connected in so many ways, across the years, across geography. Yet, I had to meet her on BART, the flat line to interesting places.

In early September I took three days of work to go backpacking in Yosemite with my friend Diane and partner, Tracy. One of those days, a Friday, I did all the food shopping and equipment gathering/packing. The next day we picked Diane up at 5 am and headed for Yosemite. By 10:30 am we had permit in hand and were at the trailhead. Four days, three nights, several mountain passes, and many switchbacks later (OK, for some of us a few blisters also!) I felt like I had been gone for ages. With our cell phones tucked neatly in our spare tire compartment, the high mountain air, marmots, waterfalls, gorgeous views, and hard work (~8-9 miles a day average) I experienced a renewal no Hawaiian beach vacation could ever serve up. Check out the pictures on my Flickr site:

After being in Amsterdam for several days, it dawned on me that I had not seen any Starbucks stores. None. What a great feeling, to not feel inundated, stalked, smothered by the brands from my own culture. I can actually experience the essence of Dutchness without having to filter out the dominating American value as embedded in a cup of coffee.

So, as I was running through Amsterdam’s Vondel park this morning I passed a Blue Heron. A beautiful, statuesque, heron that was not at all afraid of the slapping sound of my feet or the arrhythmic, somewhat wild, gesticulations of my arms and legs. My first thought, “Cool, a blue heron…” My next thought, “We have blue heron’s at home.” Ahhhh. The globalization effect of migrating birds. Nature’s brand effect. But where did the heron originate? Am I experiencing Dutchness at home in California, or am I now experiencing US domination in Vondel park? Of course, the heron isn’t trying to get my money. Thank god.