On the Run

runners along a trailFourteen thousand people lined up at the wharf in Santa Cruz Sunday before last at 8:30 a.m. Within an hour, give or take a little, they would all be in Capitola jamming the streets, crowding the once empty beach, laughing, sweating, jostling for water, listening to the band as they queued up to board buses back to Santa Cruz. What form of midsummer madness was this? This was the Wharf to Wharf, a run billed as “The best little road race in California”. The first fourteen thousand to sign up got a chance to run along the edge of the mighty Pacific from Santa Cruz to Capitola on a gorgeous Sunday in summer. The event had been sold out for more than a month.

Almost every Sunday, and sometimes Saturday, no matter where you are in the country, you will find similar goings on, although usually on a smaller scale. Runners, legs twitching, rise early and hit the road. They run in the sun and in the rain, in the cold and in the heat. They run on beaches, in mountains, and on streets. They run alone or together. Some run for health, or for personal challenge, or for charity, or for pure joy.

I was in Capitola, but not as a runner. I was there to pass out flyers for Ron’s Wildlife Run that takes place at YSI’s Vasona site in September. Talk about targeting your market! There is no better way to find people willing to run than in a crowd of thousands who have just crossed a finish line. Once they cross that line, they know they can and will do it again.

A dozen, or more, boats bobbed off shore. The fog flirted with the sun as the front-runners came through. These elite fleet-of-foot athletes were followed by groups of pursuers and then wave upon wave of ordinary mortals out celebrating the day. Soon my companions and I were passing out flyers as fast as we could to outstretched hands of triumphant runners who were already dreaming of future mornings running, carefree as children, under sunny blue skies.

Putting on a run is not a simple matter, as I have come to find out. YSI has been doing its run in the fall as a fund-raiser for seventeen years, seven of those years before I came to YSI. The success of a run lies largely with the Race Director, and YSI has had some champions at this. Ron Becker, a runner and YSI board member, started the Run in 1984. When he died at far-too-young an age, his friend and fellow runner, Jack Hubby, joined the board and took over as race director.

What is involved in putting on event that attracts eight hundred runners? Well, there are permits and sponsors, publicity and porta-potties, shuttle buses and volunteers, food and drink, emergency services and public address systems, traffic cones and police, registration forms and timers, course measurements and banners, just to name a few things. And every year in the weeks before the run, Jack, who coordinates all this as a volunteer, threatens never to do it again.

But like the runners in Capitola on Sunday, when he reaches the finish line, Jack always knows he can and will do it again.

Ron’s Wildlife Run, a timed 10K run, 5K run/walk, and 2K for kids will be Sunday, September 17, at Vasona Park in Los Gatos. For registration forms or information: (408) 356-4945 or www.ysi-ca.org

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


What’s Bugging You?

Young girl with tarantula crawling over hand while other children look onMany people feel the only good bug is a dead bug. My mother is one of those. She will shriek if she spots a cricket. And indeed, it is difficult to find much good press for some bugs. Take mosquitoes, for example. Even the scientific literature can find only secondary value for these pests. (They are at least food for other species.)

But life in the insect world, as everywhere, is not that simple. Bugs–scientifically known as arthropods–have roles that, while not conspicuous, are vital. Consider the vast number of plants and animals that have lived and died before we got here. Where are they now? What if their bones, carcasses, and substance were still lying around? Where has all this gone? Decomposers are an important group of the animal kingdom. Insects can achieve overwhelming feats that would be difficult for any of us to tackle. They move silently and unnoticed much of the time undertaking the job of cleaning up the dead plants and animals that litter the planet, often consuming the parts left behind by larger animals.

I witnessed the amazing job some tiny dermestid beetles were doing on the skeleton of a fox at the Youth Science Institute (YSI). The role of these beetles is to clean up old bones. Eggs laid on the skeleton had hatched into larvae that were feeding on the seemingly inert and unyielding bones. Right before my eyes a specimen that seemed to be impervious to the ravages of time was being consumed mouthful by tiny mouthful. Moth holes in favorite sweaters and termite weakened houses give ample testimony to the diversity of dietary needs among the more that 700,000 kinds of insects in world.

The role of insects as pollinators is widely known. Probably not a day goes by that you don’t eat something that has required the services of an industrious bee or other insect. And, of course, there are the silk blouses and ties that come to you compliments of the world of arthropods.

But not all bugs are good bugs either. And this good-bug, bad-bug business is, after all, just a human notion. Plagues of locusts and medflys, mosquitoes carrying malaria and ticks spreading Lyme disease, tomato horn worms and cabbage beetles all set about their business, and at times their business interferes with people’s lives.

So what should you do about the bug dilemma? There are poisons that can kill the “bad” bugs. Sometimes they work, at least temporarily. Often they backfire and kill or poison more than the “bad” bugs. Sometimes the “bad” bugs resist and become stronger bugs. And, very occasionally, the “bad” bugs can kill you. Who told you the world has easy answers?

The Youth Science Institute’s annual Insect Fair will be held at Sanborn Park, May 20, 10-4. Admission free to YSI members; non-members, adults $3, children $1; county parking fee $4/vehicle. Sanborn Park is located on Sanborn Road off Highway 9, just 3 miles from downtown Saratoga. For more information call (408) 867-6940 or (408) 356-4945.

Nature’s Other Green

Two children at Alum Rock summer campMoney, and where to find it, may occupy the human mind more than any other topic. Although everyone realizes that it is the means to an end, not an end in itself, it has become the first argument in many of life’s equations. These days money buys goods; it buys power; it buys time–and it buys summer camps for kids.

This year YSI has sought and received grant money from the Sierra Club for summer camps for children who normally would not be able to attend them. The Sierra Club is often in the forefront of controversial issues concerning the earth and its uses. But it has a softer side. One of its primary missions is to help connect people with the earth so that they will want to care for it wisely. They reason that people need to know the earth in order to want to care for it.

In the for-profit world money creates a bottom line that drives decisions. It is the force that creates or destroys jobs, that causes a business to prosper or to fail, that attracts or denies investment dollars.

In the non-profit world money plays a similar role. The major difference is that the bottom line is not measured in dollars returned to the individual investor, but in services, like summer camps and school programs, returned to the community as a whole.

Even though YSI–like many non-profits–charges a fee for its services, that fee does not come close to covering the costs of the service. So YSI, like most non-profits, must seek financial “investments” from other sources. Grant money is one of these sources.

The Sierra Club has made grant money available to organizations such as YSI that help young people connect with the world. YSI has received a $28,000 grant to give 120 children who could not otherwise afford it a chance to have a week outdoors in a summer science camp.

YSI summer camps are available for a $5 administrative fee at Alum Rock Park’s Youth Science Institute for children ages 3 through 6th grade who are from families that qualify for the school lunch program. The camps, which run throughout the summer, are for one week starting at 9:00 a.m. and lasting two and a half to four hours, depending on the age of the child. Transportation to and from Alum Rock Park must be provided. If you are aware of children who would qualify for this summer opportunity, please call YSI at (408) 258-4322.

Every year James Lick High School provides a Death Valley trip for its students. They spend a week learning the ways of the earth. One of the participants one year said that the thing she liked most about that trip was that when she was close to the earth, it was the first time she had ever felt safe. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could return the favor? What a great thing for money to buy!

View camp information at http://www.ysi-ca.org or call for a brochure (408) 356-4945.

Something In The Air

I know—or thought I knew—what wind, big wind, is like. Living in the mountains, I have
experienced the full force of a winter storm sweeping in across a broad ocean, no obstacle impairing its progress until it slams into a mountain. The winds, driven upward, gain in momentum wringing the rain from the clouds. It “falls” horizontally. Birds trying to fly in the face of the storm hang momentarily suspended in air, until the effort of trying to
simply hold steady becomes too great and they take shelter to ride out the storm. The wind obliterates all, driving rain and fog across the sky, reducing visibility to inches.

There was some wind, but not big wind, as I headed south, bound for L.A. Trees along the
road tossed about in the breeze. The sky and the air were transparent and bright. No hint
of a storm or even a cloud could be seen in any direction. I took 101, the road less traveled, rather than I-5 so I could stop and visit a friend

As I broke through to the coast at San Luis the ocean sparkled. At Santa Barbara the
islands in the channel loomed out of the sea, distant and hazy but clearly visible in the
noonday sun.

Beyond Ventura I headed southeast, straight for the heart of the city. The palm trees, now
in abundance, tossed and swayed. Occasional palm fronds dropped and sailed through the air. Debris began to litter the sides of the freeway.

In the bright alleys downtown created by buildings that tower like palms in an orange
grove, life continued as usual. Men in suits, even ties, hurried along. Women of fashion
emerged from cars that had never been driven in mud or had crackers ground into their
carpets. Wind was not part of their lives.

But leaving these canyons of shadow, I turned down a street crowded with vendors and
commerce. And there at the end of the block where wares and humanity jostled each other for attention I could see them—mountains, gorgeous mountains. Snow covered, the ones in the backdrop–as bright and white as a mountain could be. So this was the work of the wind! It made mountains while no one was looking.

I left and headed straight for them. By now evening was falling. Always at home with
mountains, I grabbed a quick supper near their base. The restaurant had been thirty years
in the area and had tales of the town and its mountain. But all the while I was eating, the
wind carried on. It created below me a city with lights sparkling brightly as far as the
eye could see. To the west a blackness of ocean, to the east a silver moon, the full moon
of the equinox rising over the shape of the mountains, playing black palms on a navy sky.

And then I heard. These were the Santa Anas, the great winds of legend. And they were not done with me yet. At three in the morning I woke. A roar filled the night. I opened the
curtain. Trees twisted and writhed, branches flew through the air, something on the roof
broke lose, bounced across the surface and fell to the pavement below. The Santa Anas were signing their work, and I looked forward to reading their script in the morning.

Birds of A Feather

Cormorant with outspread wings on a rock in the lake

All nature takes the plunge into Spring

I felt like a cat stretching out in the sunlight as I walked along the creek on a brilliant March day. When fall turns to winter my whole being curls inward for warmth. Both mind and body contract, protecting the soft inner core of my being against an increasingly alien environment. I am content to stay with the cat not far from the fire. The months of cool–sometimes cold–damp days had narrowed my vision. But this first burst of spring erupting from the cold pool of days made me unfold more rapidly than a snowflake melts in a sunbeam.

I was not the only one on this balmy Sunday to come alive, throw open the doors and the windows, head for the sunlight. There were hikers, bikers, roller-bladers, shoppers, gardeners, runners, and lovers everywhere. Nine and ten-year olds played softball in the park. Volleyball nets were raised. Smoke from a few backyard barbecues curled skyward.

These early days of first spring distill the sometimes subtle, but delicious, flavors the season offers. Spring is a time to relax the body and unfurl the spirit. As daylight and warmth beckons, anything seems possible. I can believe I will have time to plant the garden, paint the house, take weekend trips to the city and the country, wash the car, go to the park, visit oft-neglected friends, hang up the hammock, nap in the sun. The list is endless.

Everywhere the impossible seemed possible. A poppy had taken root in a crack in the concrete of the bridge spanning the creek. It grew more vigorously than it might in a well-tended garden. The creek, funneling the most recent rains along its rocky bed, was alive with aerial displays of birds and insects intoxicated by the sunlight. On a large rock a cormorant perched putting on a show that clearly mirrored my feeling.

The bird, obviously a regular (I could tell by the wash of white on the large boulder it claimed) dove into the torrent, popped up a few yards downstream and flew back to the sunny rock. A shimmy traveled down its body from head to tail sending droplets of water flying in all directions. Two or three more shakes and a waggle loosened its feathers. As it stood soaking up sun, it slowly turned from sleek to plump, gradually settling on the rock until it stood without twitching a feather. After several minutes this reverie ended. With a shift in position it turned toward the sun and lifted its wings. And there it stood, fully outstretched, motionless, sharing a day we all understood.

Spring may be my favorite season. But I know I am fickle. Give me some months and I’ll trade it for summer. And maybe, in time, I’ll yet long for winter. But cats, cormorants, poppies, lovers, children and I know when days grow long and sun shines bright, the time has come to stretch out for the light.