old adobe

I met Kristine in college twenty years ago in painting class. Of course, after a few years we lost touch. Imagine my surprise when I met her again two years ago and we both had a kid the same age. We started hanging out once in a while and discovered that it is as if no time has past (I love it when that happens!) We also discovered that the best place to meet was the Old Adobe State Park, since it is halfway between our houses. This is an oddly overlooked state park, not just because it is so beautiful but because it is the site of General Vallejo’s adobe home, the first building in the area built by non-Native Americans.  It is also odd because everyone knows about it, yet no one goes there.

This place is quiet. It is eerily authentic with its rustic, spare decor and its cowhides slung across fence rails. You imagine yourself living a really uncomfortable western life there. Adobe Creek, the town’s original water supply, runs innocently past. Maybe it is this overt reminder that life was so hard out here during the adobe’s time that keeps people away. We don’t want to think about life without our comforts and stores, central heat and soft beds. I know I don’t, not really. It wasn’t so long ago out here that life shifted from hunter-gatherer tribes living their own comfortable life off the land to colonization and the strange stoic roots of our modern culture.

And Kristine and I continue to meet here, when we think of it, once in a while. And our kids play in the leaves, and run past the cacti, and on the balconies with ghosts and we talk about our lives, past, present and future, as if we are anywhere.

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secret garden

community garden

kids’ garden at the community garden

entering the garden!

The community garden is one of my favorite places. Three year old Lukas loves to go there too. “Let’s go to the ‘munity garden mama.” he urges throughout the summer, and even in other seasons too. We don’t actually garden there but are still welcome to walk through and enjoy shade and the feeling of abundance. At the urging of one of the gardeners, we have pulled carrots and eaten strawberries out of the kids’ garden (and they were very tasty!) We like to relax a bit there after the chaos of the playground, walking past grand sunflowers, huge explosions of chard, and iridescent blue borage popping up all over the place. Compost piles in various states are up against one wall and sometimes we can hear the splashy sounds of the recreation center poolgoers over the wall as we cuddle on a bench by a mosaic birdbath, smelling tomatoes and fruit in the air and admiring the handiwork of our neighbors. Though quite visible from the park, many people don’t seem to know about this place, making it seem sort-of like a secret garden.

asphalt dreams

Today the baby and I skipped our morning walk to Bus Stop coffee downtown and instead, our whole family attended Jared Huffman’s public forum on the new Dutra Asphalt plant under review for siting at the southern entrance to the City of Petaluma.

This lovely plant would be located alongside native wetland plants, on the Petaluma river, across from Schollenberger Park, the new wetlands park, an Egret rookery, within noise and emissions reach of many schools, and within one of the largest intact marshes in the United States—the largest in the San Francisco estuary system.

If this isn’t reason enough to oppose this plant, then probably nothing will convince you otherwise. The forum, though, is pretty astounding. Huffman had the best intentions, I am sure, when he organized this forum for the people to voice their concerns about the asphalt plant. Could he have forseen that they would actually show up? The room is about three times too small for the actual numbers of people who have arrived. Not to mention the lack of coffee and bagels that I find a little disturbing, considering this is a 9am weekend event, but I digress.


I am not able to enter the actual room that the event is in because it is full. They open up some side doors so the overflow crowd can “hear” the event. I never see Jared Huffman and can’t make out a single word. Since I can’t participate in the forum itself, I make use of the time by chatting with friends and interviewing random people with pro-dutra stickers. The very first woman I ask “why are you for the asphalt plant?”, defensivly looks away and says “it provides jobs.” I say, “There are lots of other jobs, is there anything else?” and she says, “It provides local asphalt, and jobs.” I say “Is that a job you want? Do you have a job there?” and she says “I have members who do.” “Members of what?” I ask “My organization.” she says and doesn’t elaborate on what organization has asked its members (many of whom apparently work for Dutra) to attend this event in favor of Dutra. She doesn’t appear to know much about the actual issue and doesn’t want to talk about it, although if you are wearing a sticker that says Dutra Yes on it, then, well, maybe you should be open to talking about it. 

I see a girl outside with a Dutra Yes sticker on her sweatshirt. “Why are you pro-asphalt plant” I ask. “I don’t know, my mom made me come, she said we needed bodies.” she says, sounding tired. Probably not the way she wanted to spend her Saturday morning. “It’s not good,” I say, “it’s next to Shollenberger Park and will put around 250 big trucks on the road every day going on and off the freeway (actually the number is between 175 and 750, and I think we know what the actual number will end up being if there is no cap on it, which there isn’t!) and will emit fumes and noise.” “Really?” she says, a look of disgust spreads across her face and she slowly peels off the sticker with two deliberate fingers… “I’m all save-the-earth, I didn’t know.” she says. “You can check out the www.saveshollenberger.com website if you want for more info.” I tell her. “I’ll totally check it out.” she says.

Another couple of guys I speak with inside are a contrast. One is argumentative, and doesn’t seem to know much about the issue (A theme, to be expected when a corporation rallies people to represent them). “It’s the same plant as they have now.” he says. I look at him, “It’s a much larger plant that is being proposed, actually,” I say, “No it’s not.” he says. OK. “There could be 250 trucks on the road per day with this plant, or more.” I say. “No there won’t.” he says. I love this guy! “Get your facts straight lady,” (yikes, he called me lady! Indeed, the Sons of Italy are setting up for their 1950 nostalgia dinner right around us so maybe some of the era is seeping in) “You don’t see 250 trucks right now.” he says. “That’s because the plant they are proposing is bigger.” I say. ‘No, it’s not.” he says. And there you have it. We are at an impasse. 

The other guy is much more into the conversation and knows many of the facts, although he doesn’t appear to know about the trucks. He also understands the idea of transitioning out of our current economy into another one, but can’t quite make the leap all the way over since he works in the industry somehow. What I gather is that he is afraid of collapsing the current industry and economy. “We can’t survive without trucks” he says. “We didn’t have trucks 100 years ago” I say. “But our system is set up now to depend on them” he says. “Something new will come up to replace them, like these replaced what was there before.” I say. I really want to continue this conversation, the best so far, but I can hear my toddler calling in the background for his mama and so we leave the event for home and playtime. 

This last conversation, of course, is the much larger issue we are getting into here. It is beyond the fact that I don’t want any of us to breathe asphalt fumes, including my little son, beyond not wanting to live in a town with smokestacks violating stated air and noise standards echoing and emitting across the town and greeting you as you arrive from San Francisco, or where the egrets are in danger of losing their nesting grounds because of fumes and noise right next to them. Not to mention how it would suck going on and off the freeway heading south with all those trucks (one every three minutes!). Yes, beyond all those obvious facts, there is the larger issue of the entire industrial complex that this guy is now alluding to.

I know where he is coming from. I understand that it’s an unknown to leave behind what seems to be working and try something else. But can anyone really deny these days that it actually isn’t working? Maybe the part where the company builds a plant and makes asphalt and money is working, sort-of, at least maybe for a short while longer. But um, what about all that other stuff? Like our air, water and land being polluted and depleted. Etc. More asphalt to build more roads when we can’t fix the ones we already have (which are not going unfixed due to a shortage of asphalt). More trucks trucking things around that we “need” when these “needs” are depleting our land, air and water. But, yes, hard to leave it behind, this old way of doing things. But we have done it before. I am sure the wagon makers and horseshoers were pissed when the car started coming in. And, even more similar to our current situation, the entire south thought their industry would collapse without slavery, but that had to go too.

It takes some serious consciousness to come up with a new plan instead of just letting the old one fall apart first and then try to pick up the pieces. The first part of which is saying that certain things are not acceptable anymore and phasing them out completely and allowing new ways to replace them.
People like to freak out that if we transition to something else it has to be some sort of rustic existence where everything is hard and we have spears, jitneys, wear fur loincloths and have none of the modern day comforts. While this of course, isn’t what people actually mean when they talk about transition to a new sustainable culture, (although jitneys are kindof cool) we might acknowledge that some of these modern day comforts are really not that comfortable anyway. These things have made us heavier, less healthy, more isolated from our communities, among other things. A serious transition addresses many issues. It has already begun in so many ways. (see www.dailyacts.org right here in Petaluma for some local inspiration!)

A new plan includes alternative transportation like rail, buses, bikes, and walking, living within the means of the asphalt plants we already have and then phasing them out completely in favor of new ways. I know I know, “then we wouldn’t have any roads!” I can hear the people bellowing. We might notice that we have way too many roads already and can’t even take care of those (ie, the “pothole problem” in Petaluma). Step one: alternative transportation: focus on creating ways for people to get around without cars, and so those without driver’s licenses, like the elderly and the kids, can get around too. Then the roads won’t be trashed so fast and we won’t need as much asphalt in the beginning. Later we might not need any asphalt. We do not want to head in the wrong direction by approving more asphalt plants, we are wanting to head in the RIGHT direction by decreasing our consumption of detrimental materials. If not now during this key time, before the plant even exists, WHEN?

The truth is, we don’t always know where we will end up and I know people like to be in control. I think this is the real issue. We want to know where we are going, even if it is straight off a cliff. But it doesn’t have to be off a cliff. We can create the reality we want to live in and it is not magical thinking to do so. It takes specific local actions like not approving a new asphalt plant for a start.
If you want to know more about this issue– www.saveshollenberger.com

In the meantime, a few small things about the asphalt plant:
1) the city of Petaluma, the Sierra Club and LOTS of others oppose the plant. Sonoma county is forcing us to have it at this point.
2) It would exceed noise levels allowed by the general plan and just won an amendment to the plan to go ahead.
3) There would be between 175 and 750 trucks per day going in and out and getting on the freeway.
4) The plant could operate 24/7 80% of the time
5) All their figures are spread out over 12 months, when in reality, most of their work is in the drier 8 months—spring, summer fall, during the times when we want to be outside) so all figures can really be seen as a third more when compacted this way.
6) There are so many more startling facts about this project, go have a read at  www.saveshollenberger.com

the mayor’s boat ride


Here in our town, we have a mayor who values carless transportation. Every year, Mayor Pam Torliatt makes sure we enjoy the mayor’s boat ride, the mayor’s bus ride, the mayor’s bike ride and the mayor’s walk. The river is right downtown so boats arriving downtown are very festive, although at this point, I suppose the mayor’s boat ride (small craft only) is more about fun than practicality in everyday life. But the point is made. There were lots of people out in their boats (or borrowed or rented boats) following the lead of the mayor: kayaks, canoes, little wooden boats, bigger wooden boats—all gathered Saturday for the community ride on the river. I talked with one guy who said regretfully that he rarely sends his beautiful handmade wooden boat into the water. Events like these are a great excuse to remember how peaceful, social and even sometimes practical, a boat ride can be.

urban island


The other day I went for a walk in another of our little town’s hidden refuges, mcnear island. It’s actually more of a penninsula, and is the site of a new little park (and a forty foot section of the bay ridge trail) The reason it’s somewhat of a mystery spot is because if you are on the river’s west bank down around h street, and look across, you might assume you are looking at the other side of the river, but actually you are looking at mcnear island. If you are on the east bank of the river, you might look across and think you are looking at the west side and in this case also, you are not. You can find the neck of the penninsula just southeast of the d street drawbridge. The other day, the grasses were vibrantly shining with premature summer sun as I walked into its reverie.

Heading out onto the path, the town recedes behind me and expands out in a far-away circle as a strange quiet, sparkling world opens up. Old damp gray grass bows under new green grass growing through it. Passing the old livery building with its vintage blue ghirardelli chocolate advertisement still vibrant on the side, I remember when the developers moved the old edifice here from its former home on d street in the middle of the night—since they were building a huge new parking garage where the livery had been standing for decades. Eve, Susan and Lisa arrived in white nightgowns and nightcaps for the 3am event. It’s like a building put out to pasture, I think, and pass by its old gray boards to the open rising meadow. Water flows by on both sides.

A wild place downtown, in a sense that you would ever expect. The community heart vibrates when you stand quietly on this piece of land at the top of the rise. Nothing has been “done” with it yet, so it is still beautiful.

I heard it might become an urban farm, created by permaculturists, who understand wildness and landscape. This would expand and transform its magic and give rise to a different kind of interaction: agriculture. But permaculture is not traditional agriculture; it’s more along the path of indigenous people, who managed the forests and formed a partnership with the elements rather than imposing a dominating force. It could be one act of wisdom, acting from a center.

secret art


Graffiti is the secret art of our time. Tucked away on back walls or appearing suddenly in plain sight, it is part of the unexpected. There used to be a huge long graffiti wall in our town next to the train tracks, out of the sight of most citizens unless you happened along that out-of-the-way street off Lakeville, and then, what an amazing surprise. One kid procured permission to paint there and then it became a mecca for artists from all over the Bay Area, who painted hundreds of layers over the years. A few years ago, anti-graffiti people painted over it and created an explosion of tagging throughout the town that hasn’t stopped yet. Here are some photos taken by Scott of what the wall used to look like. wall photos

A subculture taking over public space, the dominant culture reacts. Creativity always prevails. It’s a complex subject, not really as cut-and-dry as it seems. Some of it is obviously art, some seems to be almost art, some is tagging (its own strange art), but it is all linked. Piece by Piece, a doc by filmmaker Nic Hill, explains the history of SF graffiti and some of the underlying motives. We showed the film to a packed house last spring at the local weekly film series. Adults and kids alike were captivated.

I’ve seen two little works in particular around town that I liked, one was a stencil of the Virgin of Guadalupe on the ballet studio door, the other was a tag in pink paint pen on the outdoor phone booth at pinky’s pizza that had a nice swirl at the bottom. It looked like the person had a natural affinity with the pen. I’ve seen that one other places and appreciated it but I really liked that it was at pinky’s in pink.

On the top of the Phoenix Theater is a huge beautiful mural painted by two of the town’s preeminent graffiti artists. It is a sort-of secret because you can’t really see it up there unless you get on top of the hill or climb up to the roof. You can see a corner of it when you walk by if you are looking up at the sky instead of at the ground. If you are driving, (unless you are driving down keller street and look up) you will probably never see it.

rex rising


I live in a place where the local downtown hardware store burns down, and they just go ahead and build it again as if it were the most normal thing in the world, which of course, it really is.

When REX hardware burned, everyone gathered. Teenagers wrote RIP REX on the sidewalk and cried. Signs went up with affectionate words, flowers, notes and artifacts were posted on the fence. The owners told everyone they would rebuild it the way it was and they actually are. “Hurry Jeff I need a new plunger” one person wrote on a piece of paper and posted on the fence. Long Live REX.