Carla Jean Johnson Presente

PreScript: The New York Times published my tribute to Carla in its year-end “The Lives They Loved” section:

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/storywall/the-lives-they-loved-2016/stories/carla-jean-johnson?smid=fb-share

I was delighted to be asked to eulogize Carla at a memorial for her at the Bayview Opera House on July 23, which would have been her 57th birthday. The Opera House is just now reopening after a restoration which Carla, as head of the Mayor’s Office on Disability, had a big part in. Her office provided vital funding for disability access, and now wheelchair users can enter through the front door. Here’s what I said about Carla.

Photo of Carla by Anna Kuperberg
Photo of Carla by Anna Kuperberg

Carla Johnson was my bestie. I loved her. I introduced her to her wife Anna. Carla and I worked together as building inspectors through the 90s; we worked on each other’s old houses for decades (of course we had permits for everything). Together we negotiated the prejudices we faced as women in the building trades. There were many. Still are.

From the time she made her first cutting board in high school shop class, Carla Johnson wanted to be a carpenter. She quit school at Cal to follow her dream and didn’t finish college till years later. She became a builder, working for small contractors and for a women’s carpentry collective called Seven Sisters Construction.

Carla's CCC card
Carla’s CCC card

In those days, it wasn’t easy for women to get training (still isn’t). Carla learned the carpentry trade by reading. She told me she would just ask at the end of every day, “What are we doing tomorrow?” Then she would go home and open her carpentry books and the first thing the next morning she’d start throwing the terminology around. “So, we’re going to put the joists 16 inches on center, right. We’re going to start with the header joist.” She was assigned to be crew boss because she was the one who consistently showed up on time.

Later, she did maintenance on Victorian buildings for a property management company. She got a lot of love from tenants for keeping the systems going. She was a skilled locksmith. She could rehang a door that had been kicked in before the tenants got home from work. She could jerry rig the boiler so tenants would have hot water till the boiler repairperson could get there. Carla loved old buildings. She loved old houses, old trucks, old things. Things with some history in them.

With my friend Huli at the restored Bayview Opera House
With my friend Huli at the restored Bayview Opera House

For a time she had her own business, Carla’s Custom Care Construction. No doubt she worked on the homes of some of you in this room. Then she got a civil service job working as a carpenter at the Department of Public Works where she felt privileged to work on City Hall and other historic public buildings.

I didn’t meet Carla till after the saw accident that mangled her left hand and changed her life. It was shocking that such an accident could happen to her. She was the most risk-adverse safety-conscious person I ever met (a trait that sometimes drove her friends crazy).

She told me she couldn’t even remember the date it happened in 1992, which she said is a good thing for people with PTSD. She lost her little finger and she suffered through many long surgeries to repair her ring finger, and a year of rehab. She was disabled. She couldn’t earn a living as a carpenter anymore.

She told me the first thing that her workers comp attorney said to her when she got out of the hospital was, “I want to tell you about this new law that just went into effect.” Her employer had an obligation under Title 1 of the Americans with Disabilities Act to provide her with a reasonable accommodation–to place her in a job where she could still use the skills without the tools. That’s how she came to work at the Department of Building Inspection. Carla was happy when she was assigned to the Castro as a district inspector. She always loved working with “my people.”

One job of a building inspector is to perfect the art of saying no, not always an easy thing to do, especially if you’ve been on the receiving end as a contractor who has to do the job over after you fail inspection. Carla, with her quiet thoughtful demeanor, could say no and make you feel grateful for her advice.

She developed a reputation as a stickler for the building code’s technical details. Competent contractors who played by the rules liked her. Sloppy mechanics with poor workmanship hated her. Stairs are required by code to be the exact same height for a reason. Varying stair heights can cause falls. Carla carried a measuring tape and she used it. Our friend Nina Saltman just now told me about a job she ran that failed Carla’s inspection because it was a quarter inch off. She is not the only one who tells that story.

Carla became an expert on disability access. And she became a skillful advocate for the rights of people with disabilities. At DBI she saved us taxpayers money by resolving disability issues out of court. Then she moved over to the Mayor’s Office on Disability and she eventually was promoted to head that department.

When Carla called me to tell me she had just been diagnosed with stage IV metastasized breast cancer, I said, “I’m coming over now.” I ran the five blocks to find Carla and Anna standing in front of their house conferring.

“I need help,” Carla said when I got there.

“Anything,” I said, grateful there was something I could do to help my sick friend.

“I need you to get up on the roof.” She wanted me to accompany her to check whether the roofers who worked on the house next door damaged her roof. This was so very Carla. She wouldn’t be able to rest until she made sure her roof was sound.

Carla was fascinated by the details of city government. She would entertain herself during nights of insomnia by watching commission meetings on the public TV channel. I will especially miss talking about city government and politics with Carla over a beer at the Wildside or the Lucky Horseshoe. It was a topic that bored our wives and most friends.

Carla was the kind of civil servant all citizens want working for us, who understands she is there to make our lives better. But at heart she was a carpenter, a builder. She built a life that impacted so many of us, she built institutions, she built buildings, she built a marriage, a home, a neighborhood, lasting relationships.

We marvel at her legacy. And now those of us who are left must do the maintenance.

A 1930s Poetry Scrapbook

Fishing was a favorite pastime in the 1930s
Fishing was a favorite pastime in the 1930s

In my quest to archive the papers stored in my mold-infested storage room, I this week photographed two albums made by my mother in the 1930s. My mother, Florence Wick, graduated from Yakima (WA) High School in 1929 ½ (no explanation as to why there were half-year graduations) at age 16. She had skipped ahead a year. From the dates I found in these albums, it seems she assembled them after graduation. The first date is 1929. The last dates I found are in 1941.PoemPage

One album is a scrapbook, mostly a collection of poems cut out of magazines and pasted onto the pages. There’s a typed list titled Keep Your Friends Friendly with penciled annotations. A handwritten poem titled Friends is also pasted in. It could be Flo’s writing, but I don’t think it is. There’s a typed “poem” titled I Like, which starts, “I like polka dots. And molasses. And Spanish antiques.” That piece also is annotated with question marks and underlining. It’s followed by a long list of likes that Flo has apparently added in uncharacteristic rather messy writing. It starts: “red ties, Dresden china, first editions,” and ends, “farms, horses and hay.”I Like

My mother was an avid reader throughout her life. Flo told us about sneaking books into bed and reading through the night with a flashlight under the covers when she was a kid. As a young person, she also wrote poetry and won at least one poetry contest, although none of her own poetry appears in this scrapbook. As an adult she collected volumes of poems that lived on a bookcase in our family’s living room. She must have schooled me in poetry because I remember arguing with a teacher in grade school about how a poem should be read (I knew the poem; the teacher didn’t). But I never appreciated poetry as my mother did.

KeepFriendsTucked into the inside cover of this scrapbook is a photo of a young man dressed in knickers smoking a pipe and holding what appears to be a fox kit in what looks like a rather cold, stark place with some houses in the background (I think this is her boyfriend who spent time in the Pribilof Islands, and I remember other pictures of him, but not what he was doing there). The one other picture is cut out from a magazine—a young woman trying to bait a fishing hook.FoxKit

One newspaper clipping tells of her father’s death of a heart attack at the age of 59 in 1938. Other pages cut from magazines contain instructive stories (“If you must run after a man…the really smart girl is the girl who, while joining in the chase, makes it appear as if she weren’t”). I think Flo cut these out not for the stories, but for the poems on the reverse side. If I were a dedicated researcher I’d read and analyze all the poems, but perhaps I’ll save that task for another day.

Writing to Mom about Sex Etc.

10-67Over the years a horrible sickening black mold has infected the room next to the garage where I’ve stored boxes of my old stuff. In order to access anything from that dark cavernous space I must wear a respirator and gloves. Now that I can use my iPhone to photograph papers and store them in my computer, I’m slowly archiving them. Chucking the mold-infected sheaves into the recycling gives me great pleasure.

1-17-69
January 17, 1969

I’ve imagined that the mold was introduced from items that had previously been stored in my grandmother’s root cellar/basement in my hometown of Yakima, I guess because the smell is similar. That’s silly, but it started me wondering about molds and how they travel. It might be stachybotrys atra (also known as black mold). Whatever type of mold it is, and there are more than 100,000 kinds, it is nasty and takes little time to activate my asthma if breathed in. Molds require moisture to grow. When we were remodeling this building in the early 21st century I discovered a crack in the foundation that allowed moisture

May 20, 1974
May 20, 1974

into the storage room. I patched it, but of course that did not rid the room of mold, and perhaps there is no way to get rid of it. Removing the contents might help.

This week I’ve been pulling out my mother’s papers to aid in reconstructing her life in Yakima and her work as a Red Cross Donut Girl in Europe during WWII. I still have Flo’s cardboard American Red Cross suitcase issued to her in Washington DC and then carried from Italy through France and into Germany during 1944-46. She saw the liberation of Dachau, so I suppose the evil mold could have traveled in the suitcase from Nazi concentration camps. It’s a theory.

74?
A Thursday in 1974
74
A Sunday in 1974, Seattle

When I opened the suitcase I found two scrapbooks that my mother had assembled in the 20s and the 30s, a sheaf of her letters, and a bundle of letters written by me to her in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. These I perused immediately. What a gift, that my mother had saved these letters! In the days when people wrote letters as a primary way of communicating, I wrote my mother often just to tell her what was going on in my life (long distance phone calls were expensive).

The letters span a period from the fall of 1967 when I first left home in Yakima to start college at WSU in Pullman (a 190-mile three-and-a half-hour drive away), up to the summer of 1981 after I’d moved into the house where I’ve lived ever since here in San Francisco. I haven’t yet counted the number of different addresses where I lived in Pullman, Seattle and San Francisco during this time, but it is certainly in the double digits.

10-23-76
October 23, 1976, San Francisco

The most frequent subjects of the letters were money—borrowing and paying back, the cost of things, not having enough—and job hunting. I’m glad for the mundane everyday minutia, what things cost in 1970,

“The prescription for progesterone that cost $1 to fill in Yakima cost $13 in Seattle. I should have sprung for the $6 bus ticket and bought it there.”

the many jobs I applied for and was rejected from (newspaper reporter, telemarketer, printer’s apprentice, waitress, library clerk, federal civil service, county extension agent, phone operator, bus driver).9-4-77

“Thanks for your help. Didn’t include you as a reference. It’s never a good bet to use a relative, especially your mother, no matter who she knows and how well respected.”

11-28-78I was struck by the close relationship between my mother and her daughter, the “never trust anyone over thirty” feminist revolutionary. No doubt this was the work of my mother’s efforts to maintain a bond, more than mine, but the letters make it clear that I depended on her for a great many things besides loans—support in whatever endeavors I worked at, help with writing, bouncing off opinions about politics and life in general. She was truly my rock and I hope I was hers.

7-19-77
July 19, 1977, San Francisco

Letters from 1967 through the spring of 1969 when I lived in dormitories (the only option for female undergraduates then) are filled with reports of studying, dating boys, finding rides home, gossip about people from Yakima and complaints about the cost of books and clothes. I’m surprised at how conventional I seemed, but I don’t think this was just a put-on for the benefit of my mother.

After I moved off campus in the fall of 1969, my letters expressed interest in “alternative lifestyles” and “building viable counterculture community institutions.”

I wrote about founding the League for the Promotion of Militant Atheism:

“College campuses need more militant anti-Jesus freaks.”

I wrote about politics and social change, racism, feminism, sex and gay liberation. I had embraced the unconventional.

So very many things changed during those explosive years, but some things never did. The last of these letters, dated 8/18/81, starts:

“Here’s some money I promised. Still looking for work.”5-5-77

A Delightful Lesbian Cabal

Mary Jo Estep was the last surviving Indian of the last Indian massacre in 1911. She was one of four children who survived the massacre. The other three died the following year of tuberculosis. Mary was about 18 months old when a posse in the Nevada hinterlands ambushed her mother and the remnants of her tribe and shot them while they were asleep. Her grandfather, Shoshone Mike (he was actually Bannock and his wife Jennie was Ute), had led the band across 300 miles of western desert after refusing to go to the reservation.

sheriffchasferrel-w-survivors-battlek-creek-rg-j200pc
The four children were put in jail after capture. Mary Jo is a baby held by her aunt here.

Raised by the family of the white superintendent of the Fort Hall Indian Reservation, Mary knew little of this and did not remember it. When, in the 1970s, the Oregon writer Dayton O. Hyde wrote a book about her grandfather and the massacre, he found her and told her the story. Her reaction to the attention this brought was to discount it. “Most of my friends are non-Indians. I was raised in the white world.” “They know my mother was one of Shoshone Mike’s daughters. Her name was Snake and one thing I can’t stand is snakes,” she joked. About her grandfather she said: “I knew he had something to do with stealing things, but I never asked. I’m just not a curious person, I guess.” About the massacre she said: “I never think about it. I’ve got too many other things to think about.”

Mary Jo Estep graduated from Central Washington College with a degree in music and spent 40 years teaching school before retiring in 1974. At the age of 82 in 1992, Mary died in a nursing home because a nurse had given her the wrong medication and hospital staff determined that her non-resuscitate directive meant that they could not help her. The effects of the overdose could have been easily reversed. She took several hours to die and in that time her friends, who had come to pick her up for a party, surrounded her, but could not move the doctors to save her life.Office Lens 20160625-143648

“You look at what happened to her, and you could say that she died at the hands of the white man too,” said Louis Jarnecke, one of her friends.

I still have the newspaper article telling of her death, and the book written about her grandfather, The Last Free Man. What they don’t say is that Mary Jo Estep was a lesbian. She lived with her “long-time companion” Ruth Sweany for more than 50 years on Summitview Avenue in my hometown, Yakima, Washington.Office Lens 20160625-143905

I met Mary Jo and Ruth through my mother who had organized a seniors writing group in Yakima. My mom was interested in the history of our part of the world and she encouraged old people to tell and write their stories. She worked for the senior center there and for a time she produced a local TV program in which she interviewed old-timers and taped their histories. The women told me they were part of a group called “Living Historians,” and laughed saying, “At least we’re still living!”

I have a chapbook that includes the writing of all three: Mary Jo, Ruth and my mother Florence Martin. My brother Don and his press, Hard Rain Printing Collective, printed it in 1980. Mary’s only piece in the chapbook, The Man With the Hoe, chronicles an incident from her childhood of an old man who is lost and then found the next day by neighbors. Two of the published entries are by my mother. Ruth Sweany has four; three are poems, but the fourth is a prose piece that describes her life with Mary, particularly when their friend Mabel comes to visit on Fridays. I think the friend must be Mabel George, another writer published in the chapbook.Office Lens 20160625-152832

A photo in the archive Yakima Memory from the Yakima Herald-Republic newspaper shows Mabel George (born January 8, 1899) at the piano, and another entry is titled Mabel George Children’s Songs from 78 records, 1947. So Mabel was a musician and songwriter.

Ruth’s story never mentions Mary, but clearly the “we” in the piece refers to Ruth and Mary as a couple. It’s about the fun they have when their friend Mable visits. They listen to music (a critique of modern loud disco music follows), they read poetry and plays to each other. They also write and produce plays, calling themselves “The Carload Players.” Ruth writes that they even produced a couple of plays before an audience. This makes me wonder if their papers were archived and whether I might find the scripts, but I’m not hopeful.

These women rejoiced in each other’s company. Ruth writes: “So our Fridays are always cheerful. Why not? We are doing things we enjoy, in a congenial group. After one of Mabel’s visits the world stops going to the dogs and the sunshine comes out a little brighter.”

My mother, Florence Martin, with the chapbook
My mother, Florence Martin, with the chapbook

Ruth and Mary carved out their own woman-centered culture in the hostile environment of Eastern Washington before the advent of the modern women’s movement and lesbian pride. Living lightly on the cultural landscape served them well.

http://www.reviewjournal.com/news/shoshone-mike-s-story-endures-after-century

Losing Carla Jean

In the middle of the day on a Thursday, my bestie’s name showed up on my iPhone. I was so delighted to hear her voice, I didn’t get some clues. Carla didn’t usually call me on the phone—that’s so last decade. Texting was more typical. Also it was a time when she is usually working. I rarely tried to contact her at work, which is one reason we hadn’t talked or texted much. It seemed like she was always working. I didn’t stop to ask why she was calling me at such an unlikely time, or even how she was.

Me and my bestie
Me and my bestie

Her news chilled me; she had just been diagnosed with stage IV metastasized breast cancer.

My reaction, then and for the next weeks, was “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!”

“I’m coming over now,” I said. Carla lived a few blocks away.

“I need help,” Carla said when I got there.

“Anything,” I said, grateful there was something I could do to help my sick friend.

“I need you to get up on the roof with me to check whether the roofers who worked on the house next door damaged my roof.” This was so very Carla. She wouldn’t be able to rest until she made sure her roof was sound.

CJhouse
She was a cowgirl at heart. In front of her 1860s house she was always working on.

I was once a construction worker, and spent years remodeling my own home (with Carla’s frequent help), and I’ve no aversion to climbing up on roofs. But at age 66, it’s not something I do often anymore. Carla was ten years my junior. We held the ladder for each other, inspected the roof. No damage had been done. Then Carla needed to rest. I think we both knew that that was the last time she would climb onto her roof. It would be the last time for a lot of things. We had met for a beer at the Wild Side West just a week earlier. That would be our last beer at the Wild Side. She had helped me solve a plumbing problem the month before. There would be no more plumbing in Carla’s future.

Now, just over two months later, I’ve changed the tense to past. My bestie Carla died this morning.

Carla was a fabulous finish carpenter, a stickler of a building inspector, a fierce disability rights activist and a super competent department head. She was at the top of her game as the director of the San Francisco Mayor’s Office on Disability. I do intend to eulogize Carla Johnson at length, but for now I’m just grieving the loss of my dear friend. Rest in Power Carla Jean.

Women Build Nations Sensational, Huge

Reporting on the Women Build Nations Conference in Chicago on May Day weekend: Two words: sensational and huge!

Mural at CWIT headquarters in Chicago
Mural at CWIT headquarters in Chicago

My old friend electrician Cynthia Long (IBEW Local 3 NYC) just texted me asking for news about the conference. Although it wasn’t her intention to guilt trip me, I felt bad for not having reported back to tradeswomen friends who couldn’t attend. Here are some highlights:

The climax for me was performing on stage for this gigantic audience of tradeswomen. My wife Holly and I wrote a song called Sister in the Brotherhood, and she accompanied me on the guitar. I was terribly page 4nervous, but we didn’t blow it and that audience of rowdy construction workers liked us! Friends were kind enough to video our performance, and I will eventually figure out how to post the video on this site. (I’m old and tech challenged. It will happen). This week Donna Levitt brought me a copy of Organized Labor, the San Francisco Building and Construction Trades Council’s newspaper. There was our picture on page 4! We feel like rock stars and the glow hasn’t yet worn off.

The conference was hosted by Chicago Women in Trades (CWIT) and North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU). A high point before the conference even began: CWIT’s fabu party at their headquarters and training center. I was delighted to connect up with old activists from way back and also meet young tradeswomen and CWIT trainees, many acting as greeters and volunteers.

Along with historian Brigid O’Farrell and sprinkler fitter Ella Jones, I gave a workshop called “Tradeswomen History: Learning From the Past to Change the Future.” We were able to include testimony from several “tradeswomen matriarchs” who are helping us learn from the past.

Old timers Ronnie Sandler, Paula Smith, Lisa Diehl, Lauren Sugerman, Molly Martin, Dale McCormick
Old timers Ronnie Sandler, Paula Smith, Lisa Diehl, Lauren Sugerman, Molly Martin, Dale McCormick
Some organizers of the 1989 second national conference, Chicago
Some organizers of the 1989 second national conference, Chicago. I’m still looking over Lauren’s shoulder.

As it turned out we had a mini-reunion of some of us old tradeswomen activists from the 1970s and 80s. Carpenter Lisa Diehl, who’d been an organizer of Kansas City Tradeswomen, traveled from her home in West Virginia. She entertained us with stories of feminist actions from the radical 1970s. Ronnie Sandler, carpenter and job training wiz, came from New Hampshire. Dale McCormick, the first female in the country to turn out as a carpenter who went on to win a place in the Maine state legislature and become state treasurer, represented Maine. We reunited with Paula Smith and Lauren Sugerman, two organizers from Chicago we’d worked with to put on the 1989 second national tradeswomen conference there. And some of the early tradeswomen organizers from Chicago were in attendance too, sporting t-shirts and sweatshirts from the 1970s.

This was the 15th Women Build conference and the 6th we have renamed Women Build Nations, including women from all over North America and other countries. It was the first in this series of conferences to take place outside of California and it brought in hundreds of women from the Midwest and other parts of the U.S. who’d never participated in the past conferences. Fifteen hundred tradeswomen of all crafts, allies and union brothers attended—the biggest tradeswomen conference ever!

Remembering Bob Jolly

dadPicMy good friend Bob Jolly died March 20, 2016, just short of his 90th birthday.

Bob was interested in everything, which is the reason we first met, sometime in the late 1980s. Bob introduced himself at a reading by tradeswomen authors at Modern Times Bookstore in San Francisco. Bob’s daughter had chosen to go into the printing trade and, along with just trying to be a supportive dad, he was interested in the lives and writings of women in nontraditional jobs.

And so began Bob’s long association with Tradeswomen Inc. Bob volunteered to help us with Tradeswomen Magazine, and as a former English teacher he was a skilled editor and proofreader. Now, when I look at the old issues of the magazine, I cringe at all the uncorrected typos before Bob entered our world. Bob was also a fine writer and often contributed pieces for the magazine, from stories about his daughter to a book review about women lighthouse keepers to the history of women in engineering.

When I took Bob to dinner to recruit him for the Tradeswomen Inc. board of directors, the young waiter asked with a condescending smile, “Is this your father?” “No,” said Bob, “we are just friends.” Clearly the waiter didn’t think friendship was one of the categories a man and a woman two decades younger could fit into. But Bob and I really were great friends. Besides collaborating on publishing projects, we hiked and biked together all over the East Bay Regional Park lands where he volunteered as a ranger.

Bob served on the Tradeswomen Inc. board for many years, the only man on the board at that time. He maintained a quiet presence in the midst of energetic and outspoken women and we all loved that the one man on the board took on the traditional female role of secretary. Bob took great notes.

Bob and his wife, Connie, were members of the Berkeley Friends Meeting, the Quakers. A committed pacifist, he had spent time in jail for protesting the Vietnam War. He told me jail wasn’t bad at all and he met interesting people there, but he hadn’t counted on how traumatic it would be for his kids, who were quite young, to have their father in jail. He also worked with the American Friends Service Committee’s GI rights project advising men and women serving in the military about their rights. He and Connie were among the founding members of the East Bay Chapter of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

We will miss Bob’s dry humor and clever puns. I was glad to see him the week before he died. We talked and laughed remembering old times. Connie testified that he was in no pain and was making jokes and telling stories right till the end. He died smiling.

Memorial services will be held on April 22 at 1:30 PM at Grand Lake Gardens, 401 Santa Clara Ave. in Oakland, and at 2:00 PM on April 23 at the Berkeley Friends Meeting, 2151 Vine St. Berkeley.

Contributions in Bob Jolly’s name may be sent to the following organizations:

AFSC “Peace Building/GI Rights”, 65 9th St. San Francisco CA 94103

The Wilderness Society, 1615 M St., Washington, D.C. 20036

American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, 39 Drumm St., San Francisco CA, 94111

Berkeley Society of Friends, 2151 Vine St., Berkeley CA 94709

 

 

 

Hiking the EBMUD Watershed

My hiking buddy Marg suffers from Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) and so she tries to find places to hike where chemical herbicides and pesticides are not used. This is not as easy as one might imagine. Land managers spray tons of herbicides in our public parks and don’t always alert the public.

Marg is actively involved in community groups fighting the cutting of trees in the East Bay hills, financed by FEMA, but even with much vocal opposition from the community the project continues. Contractors are now in the process of cutting hundreds of trees and then treating the stumps with herbicides to keep them from sprouting. The herbicides will be applied multiple times and the project will go on for years, but the public continues to protest. http://milliontrees.me/2015/11/27/public-opposition-to-pesticide-use-in-our-public-parks/. Marg was threatened with arrest recently when, on a walk, she came upon a tree-cutting crew and, um, got in their way.

On our hikes I’m always stopping to identify birds and native plants and flowers. It seems like on every hike, Marg and I revert to the same argument: what is native? Does native mean before humans lived here, like 10,000 years ago? Or does it mean before whites settled here? Or does it include plants that have adapted to this environment and thrive here? And why do I care? My answer is that I just appreciate plants that have adapted to this place over centuries, like the California Buckeye, Aesculus californica, endemic to our coastal hills and foothills. The buckeye blooms spectacularly in spring, loses its leaves in the dry summer and looks dead with only its fruit hanging on bare branches by fall. Or the perennial wild cucumber, Marah macrocarpa, which dies back during the dry season and stores water in a huge tuberous root (it’s also called man root). Of course eucalyptus is one of the “invasives” that have adapted well and are now being felled. This argument can go on forever and I won’t repeat it here. Suffice to say that Marg has convinced me that the eucs should not be cut down. I did not need to be convinced that spraying toxic chemicals is bad policy.

In her search for toxic-free places to hike, Marg was assured by a higher up at the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) that no chemicals are applied to the watershed lands in their purview. So last week we chose to hike on EBMUD land. For most trails, hikers are required to buy a permit and it’s easy to do on the EBMUD website: https://www.ebmud.com/recreation/buy-trail-permit/#. This watershed has miles and miles of developed, well-maintained trails and we will be sampling more in the future.

Yetta & the Fantastic Mom Suits

My friend Jano just published a beautiful children’s book that she wrote and illustrated. Yetta & the Fantastic Mom Suits, a picture book, is a modern version of a Jewish folktale featuring a mischievous spirit, a Dybbuk.

yetta
At her Mama Susan’s job, the carpenters were adding a new room onto a house.

Here’s the story: Yetta is tired of her Moms telling her what to do. She wants to be the boss! She runs to the back yard on her stilts and spies a Dybbuk sitting high in the tall pine tree. The Dybbuk, hearing Yetta’s complaints, concocts a way for her to become her Moms: she sews costumes that look exactly like Yetta’s two Moms. Yetta hops onto her stilts, slips inside a Mom suit and takes off for her Moms’ jobs. Trouble follows.

Here’s the tradeswoman angle: one of the moms is a carpenter. When daughter Yetta trades places with her moms, she has to cover for them at work wearing a mom suit and on stilts! She manages to fool, if not to please, the bosses. Looks like Yetta will make a great career in the trades.

Take a look at the colorful pictures on her website where you can order it: http://www.yettaandthefantasticmomsuits.com/

 

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