02 June 2014

East Bay Urban Farm Tours Saturday, June 7

Urban Farm Tours in Berkeley and Oakland
Saturday, June 7th from 10am to 4pm

See what established home-scale urban farmers are up to and what is possible on a small. medium, large, or extra large urban lot.

You will see fruit & vegetable gardens, composting systems, rabbits, goats, bees, greywater and more, plus you will get to sample some of what these urban farmers are producing. Each homestead is unique in its interpretation and use of space. This will be a chance to ask questions about animals, gardening, techniques, greywater systems, rainwater harvesting, food forests, permaculture and more.

Click this link to see the tour sites.

07 April 2014

Two funny birds

Frequently when I park my car in the back of St. Annes, as soon as I put the parking break on two small birds land on my side view mirror. I think they are male dark eyed juncos. I have no idea what they like about my car, but they spend time frolicking in the wind shield wiper well and flying from the door into the side view mirror on the passenger side. They fly so many times into the mirror that they actually soil my mirror with their saliva or feather oil.

Any ideas on what they are doing? I've seen this three times now.

06 March 2014

Ray Bradbury's A Sound of Thunder

If you've never read Ray Bradbury's short story, A Sound of Thunder, you definitely should. It tells a haunting story about how past acts effect the future. A butterfly plays a key role.

I was reminded of this story when I was walking to my car in the Trader Joe's parking lot and came across two butterflies resting in the middle of the asphalt. It's a miracle they weren't run over by all the parking cars. I picked each one up and brought it to the wood chips along the building. I hope I did my part for the future.

03 March 2014

Sprucing up the patio

I'm sure you'll recall that we take special care of the patio at St. Anne's. We do this for the residents who cannot travel far beyond the building. Many of them come in their wheelchairs or walkers to sit on the patio and enjoy the view of the expansive yard. Around the patio we've planted edibles and flowers for them to enjoy.

Right now it's tulip season!

Lettuce for picking.

We planted two new planting boxes full of flowers: two poppies and one called Solar Fire. 

28 February 2014

Wheat dew drops

I have often arrived at the garden beds to find the wheat starts each glistening with a drop of dew on the tip of their young green leaves. I chalked it up to the same dew phenomenon one finds on grass in the early morning.

However, today I entered the green house to find the same shiny drops of water on top of the wheat seedlings. The door had been shut, it was a comfortable temperature inside, nothing else was wet with dew. So what is really going on with the grass dew drops? Where do they come from? The atmosphere? The grass itself?

Does anyone know?

14 February 2014

The Snircus

Years ago I visited a preschool called Kids Club in San Francisco that had two memorable things: a room completely full of mattresses and squishy pads for jumping and wrestling, and, an active Snircus. I had never seen a snircus before. It was a wooden container with several sticks standing up with twine strung between them. There was lettuce placed strategically along the twine, and snails were crawling up the twigs and across the twine to get the lettuce. It did in fact look like circus high wire acts.

I mentioned this a while back to Nashi (you'll remember him from an earlier post), and this fall he surprised me with a Snircus he and his dad built. We got the Snircus out today and filled it with snails and greens. The second grade Coyotes watched as the snails enjoyed their fun.

11 February 2014

The Birdbaths

I've written in the past about our care for the two birdbaths at St. Anne's. Two years ago cleaning the birdbaths became the weekly job of the first grade. The children rotate through emptying the water, scrubbing the sides, and refilling them. This week the large bath looked especially nice.

Today the patio bath was the subject of our story from Adventure. I'll include it here. Adventure explained to us the significance of the duck, the rock, and the shell. 

Since the beginning of our year the birdbath group has had the job of cleaning out our second birdbath here on the patio. Last week Hannah and Anais did a very thorough and loving job. 
It turns out that Adventure heard another story that made all the difference this past week. The Black Phoebe had told her over dinner how the large concrete birdbath came to live at St. Anne’s thanks to the myserious and strong stranger who came to spend the night. This week, over dinner of squash soup and grilled cheese sandwiches at Ms. Beetle’s home, a robin told Adventure the story about this patio bath right behind you.
You see, the patio bird bath is not so much a birdbath as it is a museum. The robin told Adventure that the basin has been visited regularly by mysterious visitors who leave treasures behind in its water. The Robin and the other birds don’t always witness who comes, or understand why they leave the items they do. All the birds know is that the basin is a treasure trove of important mementos our residents, or others, have left over the years.
The robin shared stories about three of the items she does know with Adventure:
1) The shell. When this shell arrived in the basin it was the year 2007. I do believe some of you were born that very year. Well, the robin told adventure that when her great uncle first noticed the shell, it was resting on the side of the basin, just with one half of it beneath the water. There was a note attached that has long since disintegrated from the rain and sun. However, the  contents had been passed down in the Robin’s family for generations. The note read: “I found this shell on my 7th birthday on the golden sand of Ocean Beach. As a girl it sat on my desk and smelled of the sea. When I was lonely I picked it up and listened to the waves. When I went to college, the shell came with me and served as a book end on my shelf. When I got a job as a baker, it came to work with me and I used it as a scooping spoon for flour. When I got married I placed it on our dining room table to hold our napkins. When my children were young, they used it to shovel sand in our sand box. Now I am old and ready to leave my shell behind for others to enjoy. May it bring them as much use and happiness as it did me.”

2) The duck. The robin told Adventure that the duck was the first object placed in the basin back when her great great great grandmother was alive, nearly 8 years ago. The duck didn’t come with a note, but we know its story nonetheless. You see, the day the duck appeared was the day the robin’s relative flew to the patio to look for ants, and low and behold a mother duck and her babies were in the basin, swimming around. The water was clear, and the duck family was frolicking. My mother had no idea how the mother had gotten her babies up to the basin, perhaps they could already fly, but my grandmother said the babies were no bigger than a human’s fist. 

The robin spent much time that afternoon watching the mother duck and her family. The mother duck was teaching the babies to swim, to preen themselves, to watch out for predators. My grandmother noticed that whenever a hawk or crow would fly overhead, the mother would show her babies how to freeze, not move a muscle, so the bird would pass overhead and not be tempted to eat the tender ducklings. This went on for hours, the baby ducks swimming, cleaning their feathers, and then stopping cold when a predator flew above them. Finally, as the day turned toward evening, the great great great grandmother robin was called to her home for dinner. She left the basin sadly, waving goodbye with her wing to her duck family friends. 

When the robin’s great great great grandmother returned the next morning, she was startled to find a frozen duck there in the water. She flew to the basin, looking into the sky to search for predators. There were none, and when she reached the water she realized that the baby duck was stone, not a real duck at all. Puzzled she nudged the stone duck with her beak and looked at every detail. It was a perfect copy of the babies she’d admired, just not yellow as they were. There was no note, nothing to explain the stone duck’s presence in the water. The stone duck has lived in the basin since then and has continued to feel like a friend to us robins.

3) The rock: This rock looks like one of the stones along the patio by the roses, or a larger relative of the gravel that lines our pathways. However, this stone came five years ago to the bird bath, and it came from far away indeed. When you were little your parents might have heard the story of the French woman who wished to sail around the earth in her hot air balloon. This lady was brave indeed, and had set off from her home in France when she was 22. She rode alone in her hot air balloon, and did all the navigating herself. Hot air balloons are a funny thing. The hot air makes them rise of course, but one must have heavy weights in the basket as well in order to keep the balloon on the ground when preparing to set sail. Without these weights the hot air balloon would lift immediately and rapidly into the sky. The weights prevent, or slow, this process down. 
Adventure asked the robin, but what does this have to do with the rock? Well, the robin replied, four years ago this very brave adventurer crossed the Pacific Ocean from Japan and flew right over our heads here in the garden. When she was leaving Japan, she collected rocks to serve as the weights in her basket. As she lifted off Japanese shores she began to throw her rocks out of her basket to control the rise of her balloon. The more weight she threw away, the faster the balloon rose. Well, she got rid of every rock except one to make the trip across the Pacific. This was her lucky Japanese stone. She held it all the way across the ocean, fingering it whenever she got worried about her chances. When she finally saw land after 26 days above the ocean, she took her stone and threw it out of the basket to mark the good luck that got her to America safely. This is the stone she threw, and it landed with a plop in our bird bath. 
The robin told Adventure that the critters here at St. Anne’s come and hold and rub this stone when they need some luck. They think of the lady (who by the way did manage to float all the way across America and then over the Atlantic back to France) who turned her dream into a real adventure and took to the skies in her balloon.
So you see, First Grade, this bird bath is in fact a museum. Adventure  has been appreciating the objects and shares this story with you now, so you can keenly appreciate why it’s so important you do the good job you do. So, continue each week washing the patio treasure trove to keep our treasures lovely and their memories alive. You’ll see yet again how these stories do make all the difference.