Happy Birthday to You

Woman with a hawk standing in front of YSI  with a sign that says Happy Birthday EastMIKE LOVES BRENDA was emblazoned in bright pink and purple letters across a board that dangled from a power pole as I drove to work in the morning. Then on the stop sign another: HAPPY BIRTHDAY BRENDA. Another mile down the road and Mike once again declared his love, and yet one more time on the freeway on-ramp where she would be sure to see it.

The annual outpouring of sentiment that falls on the date of one’s birth attracts attention to the all too short span of human life. We have ticked off another percentage point in our allotted years. Even when there are only cards or good wishes to mark our milestones, we often protest any attention we receive while secretly loving it, or we may be genuinely dismayed to, once again, have it brought to our attention that our time is limited. Our reaction to the passing of the year may depend on what we have accomplished, or failed to, in the intervening time.

In youth, a year is a long time. Years are almost always filled with growth and change. Lessons are learned; new doors are opened. We rejoice that the young have lived through another year with all its perils and hazards. Life, we know, is precarious. Birthdays are a chance to celebrate endurance.

As with individuals, the first year of a business is a precarious one too. Many do not survive, even those with the most promise. But when they do, it is, indeed, cause for celebration.

One such business has not only survived its first year, it has emerged alive and well, vigorous and growing. East, The Neighborhood Voice, put out its first issue on June 3, 1999. How exciting it has been to watch it grow. And what fun it has been to be part of it.

Jason Rodriguez, the publisher, and Jeff Butler, the editor, embarked on a great adventure just a year ago with the first edition of the East. Neither had undertaken such a project before. What a bold move to venture forth into territory that is open to so much public scrutiny.

But they have captured the spirit of the Eastside. They, and those of you who read and contribute to the East, have created a weekly chronicle of what it’s like to be part of a fully alive, rollicking, frolicking, neighborhood where diversity and discussion is not just tolerated, but encouraged. This anniversary is a time to consider all that has been accomplished.

Whether you celebrate birthdays with ice cream and cake or kung pao chicken and Diet Coke, have some, and raise a glass in tribute to the East this week. Salute those who have taken the risk to bring you the good news from the neighborhood; those who have celebrated the businesses, the students, the land, the issues, and the people that surround you.

And, if you seem so inclined, hang up a card for them in front of your house, on the nearest telephone pole, on your car, or in your window.

From all of us at YSI

HAPPY BIRTHDAY. YSI LOVES the EAST!

Seeing Green

Image of mountain trail

Soon to be on the beaten path?

The Irish know a thing or two about marketing. First there is green. It appears even in food–like cabbage and beer. There are evocative logos–leprechauns, shamrocks, harps. At this time of the year wearin’ o’ the green becomes obligatory even for those whose roots are far removed from the “old sod”.

All of this ballyhoo comes at an appropriate time of the year. Our very own hills wear Irish green for a few brief months. Since many of us have willfully chosen to join our Irish friends in their celebration of all things green, why not extend this clever marketing to a celebration our own “new sod”?

Wherever you are in the South Bay, if you raise your eyes slightly, you will see voluptuous green hills–hills that, for the most part, remain unaltered by human hands. This is partly because it is more difficult to build on a slope than flat land. But it is largely due to the vision of many who have sought for years to preserve this lovely sight for anyone who wishes to gaze on it.

The recent acquisition of the Kirk Ranch, adjacent to Alum Rock Park, by the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority and the Trust for Public Lands adds another piece to the jigsaw puzzle of hillside properties, in hands both public and private, that ring the Bay.

A Bay Area Ridge Trail encompassing four hundred miles, nine counties, seventy-five parks, that completely circles San Francisco Bay has been in the works for many years. In earlier years the Department of the Interior provided startup money for this ambitious dream. More recently many local groups have collaborated in continuing the project. Two hundred twenty miles of trails have been completed so far.

What a gigantic endeavor this is! Some of the land has been purchased at fair market value by private donation. Some is public land, parks and open space. Some of the trail is on right-of-way agreed to by private owners. And the trail itself, sometimes wrested from seemingly impassable terrain, has been built or maintained by a cross-section of humanity that defies demographic definition.

Clark Smith, a former YSI Board member, currently serves on the Ridge Trail Council. As one of those committed to preserving the green for all to enjoy, he serves as vice-chair of the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority.  He is but one of hundreds who have spent years bringing the hills to the people and this Saturday he will take the people to the hills. At noon on Saturday, March 18th, anyone who wishes can take a hike with him along Penitencia Creek on a part of the Trail that will eventually link Alum Rock Park to Coyote Hellyer Park along Coyote Creek.

Even if you aren’t a Bailey or a Walsh, even if you never have and never will quaff a green brew or wear a shamrock, consider the green, green hills of home. They are yours. Wearin’ o’ the green never looked as good as it does on our very own Bay Area hills.

To hike the hills this Saturday, meet at the Visitors’ Center in Alum Rock Park at noon for a moderate hike. Bring lunch, water, and comfortable walking shoes. Rain cancels. For more information call Clark Smith (408) 294-6008.

Getting in touch with nature in Alum Rock Park

I first learned about the Youth Science Institute (YSI) in 1990 when I became its Director of Operations. As I drove into Alum Rock Park for the first time (I had never been there even though I had lived in Santa Clara County since 1964) I realized it was a place of unique beauty. The seven hundred acres nestled in the foothills on the western slope of the Mount Hamilton Range was home to the small stone building that housed YSI. As its founders said, it was a small building for a large dream.

In the fast-paced world we live in, there’s a certain comfort knowing that some things never change. We share with all who have gone before us a concern for our children and the opportunities we long for them to have. Back in 1953 our parents and grandparents and others with great vision gave substance to this yearning. They looked at the abundant richness of the landscape around them. They noted the increasing insulation their children had from this wealth as the city grew up around them. And they determined to find a way to bring their children back to the land to learn the lessons it had to teach.

Thus YSI was founded using Alum Rock Park with its perennial stream, varied wildlife, diverse vegetation and unique geological formations as the setting for a project that has now stood the test of almost five decades.

I’ve come to know that small stone building in Alum Rock Park very well and to marvel at the wonderful people who make it come alive each day. That small building continues to attract hordes of school children and families who visit YSI each year. The tile and concrete floor of what was once a concession stand in the more than century-old park remains. The building, once used to dispense popcorn and cotton candy, is now home to hawks, owls, toads, and newts, animals found in the Mount Hamilton range. The animals, many non-releasable because of injuries, give young people a close-up look at creatures from the natural world. It is also home to teachers young and old who share their knowledge of and enthusiasm for the world with all who wish to learn.

We live in a charmed world with access to things only once imagined. But we have lost a little in the process. There is little chance to feel a feather, watch an anthill, count a tree’s rings, or skip a rock across a pond these days. But YSI provides these experiences. Its exhibit space includes the whole outdoors.  Its rhythms follow the seasons; its lessons are as varied as the wind. It is the antidote to the stresses of  life we all experience. YSI belongs to everyone.

Until last year’s storm damage is fixed the Park is open to walk-in traffic only, but it is well worth the walk. Like fifty years ago, there are many lessons for all of us to learn. And there is a nice silence and solitude without traffic that allows room for gratitude to those who earlier provided a way for us to learn those lessons.

The Youth Science Institute at Alum Rock Park is open daily throughout the summer from Noon to 4:30 p.m.