The Neighborhood Dog

I walk along Court, the main street a block from home. A storefront up, a bulldog, in an old, tattered green sweater, lumbers along the sidewalk alone. 

She sniffs the blue mailbox. She turns, slowly, in a circle. Sniffs the mailbox again. 

Is she lost? 

Down the block, an older woman, stands at the corner store with a bag. 

“Zelda!” she yells down, toward me.

I smile – the dog has a friend – and head home.

A week later, while returning from a quick run to get a bottle of wine from Charlie at the corner store, I see the old dog meandering down my street, in a larger brown sweater this time. A few brownstones down, the same woman is patiently waiting by a gate. 

“Is that Zelda?” I shout up to her. 

“Yeah, she’s always doing this to me!” she says. 

Published in the New York Times on April 27, 2017

Stuff my dad posts: 3.24.16

Feeling like a prince : 
My friend Filipinos are very courteous to me when I visited.
They all bowed their head whenever they came across me.
Then I noticed they got their heads bowed because they are texting.


August: So many oysters in San Francisco; a surprise luau for the second time; suffering in the sun, despite free wine and food and vineyards at the Sonoma Wine Festival; floating down the Russian River

September: Next: Trio and the best meal in Mark's life

October: Vampire bunny on Halloween

November: Vultures for the first time in North Carolina

December: Scuba diving the great barrier reef with two sharks and loads of fish; the vivid green, blue, and purple coral; holding a sea cucumber

January: Climbing the Sydney Harbor Bridge; driving through the Southern Alps of New Zealand; on a helicopter and landing on the Fox Glacier (really just felt like a mountain covered in snow); quiet around Lake Matheson; drinking water straight from a river from a glacier’s run off; jumping into icy cold water from a chasm’s cliff; sailing in Milford Sound

February: An explosion — an erupting volcano not a motorcycle; leaving the hotel at Lake Atitlan by water taxi; ziplining over canyons covered in shrub and trees

March: The Eurostar from Paris to Britain; Grimm’s Tales live and the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime; Nopi; hello to Berkeley and its flowers; Rombauer chardonnay once again

April: The Barbary Coast at the Soiled Dove; learning to meditate

May: Big Sur’s drama; Esalen’s sulfur baths; the salon; Kabuki Springs; Miami humidity

June: Machupicchu - four days, three nights, Quechuan culture and people, the raw beauty of the land; working for/toward good reignited

July: North Carolina and the dead groundhog; hiking the Smokies in a downpour

August: Next: Tapas

Grandfather Redwood

Hello friends. I am the redwood grandfather of the trees here in Muir woods, in the valley a few miles away from the shore. Where I live now is called California, but it wasn’t always California. When I was born, it was just land. Land near the ocean. I have been here for more than a millennia. 

You can call us the dinosaurs of trees; the ents of the real world; the biggest, baddest trees around. Our bark is all kinds of red, our branches grow mostly straight, and we can stand more than 300 feet tall. We grow so big that the plants and ferns and grasses that below rarely get sunlight. If a human were to yell at the top of their lungs — as loud as they can — i wouldn’t be able to hear the scream because it would be so far below me. It’s hard to believe that I grow from a seed as small as a tomato. 

We are a family here. Sometimes, my children are clumped together in a big group, and their children grow up next to them. Sometimes, my brothers and sisters look like they’re fighting, smashed into each other. Sometimes, my grandchildren look like they’re holding hands, so close together with their branches reaching out to one another.

There are other redwood clans in the world, one a few hundred miles north and another an ocean away. Those trees — those over the water are smaller than we are here on this land. Still, the biggest human on this entire earth wouldn’t be able to hug our trunks.

Before humans began living near here, there were many of us on millions of acres around me. Hundred of miles south, there were so many of us that humans cut us down to build human things, like bridges over canyons. Humans liked our lumber so much, built so many things out of us, that entire families — so many of us — were cut down 200 years ago. 

Then, in 1908, humans realized how amazing we were, how unusual we are, towering over everything around us. They created Muir woods so that other people could learn learn about us, see how grand our families can be. Here, not only do we reach up to the sky, but our roots slide down hills and onto trails, stomp on foot paths a little higher up the mountain, creep under the ground below. 

Come visit us some time to see! 


sometimes my competence feels like a paper house — a house that, from the outside, looks livable. I can get by with it, take shelter in it, fool people into thinking it’s a house. i can even lean on the walls a bit, lean on what i know, lean on what i’ve learned.

then there are times when an unusual look, the way a remark was made, or something said that i regret can tear the house down, send the roof and the walls fluttering into the wind, leaving me feeling exposed, revealed as a fraud.  

a great gift

the cliffs at big sur drop straight into the ocean, whose waves build strength and come crashing against the rock; the rock is black and creates a bluff, and looking toward it from the house — past the flowers that look like purple corn stalks, but softer and muted in color like a polaroid — it’s just sky, and water, and a glowing horizon.

and there are mountains too, that shoot straight up toward the clouds. they are steep — i should know since we hiked one for five hours. these mountains are covered with the greens of redwoods, of pines, and of wild grass. there are waterfalls and creeks among them, with small sturdy wooden bridges that help you cross. 

at night, the fog can cocoon the area, and you feel isolated, cut off. at the restaurant, which teetered at the edge of a cliff, it was a wall of mist outside the window, preventing us from seeing out to the moon or the ocean. another evening was spent in hot springs, this time it was clear, and the moonlight shimmered on the water, and everything looked a very dark blue-gray. from these same hot tubs, during the day, we saw a lone sea otter, a whale coming up for air, and birds gliding over the water. 

it’s beautiful here.  

Berkeley smells like flowers and the crosswalks flash at night.

Mark first told me that Berkeley smelled like flowers on the phone, when I was still in Chicago, a few weeks before I left its frozen hellscape for sunny California. 

And it’s true. Even in this drought, flowers are blooming. Bright, deep, vivid. Blues, reds, whites. It’s verdant here, with shades of green. There’s a part of my walk back from the BART station in North Berkeley where the leaves of bushes encroach on the sidewalk, forcing me to sidestep around them. It seems odd, to have this cornucopia of flora when there hasn’t been rain. I suppose a lack of water can’t strip Berkeley of its flowers.

The sun shines nearly every day here and, when it’s light out, you rarely need a coat. Though the temperature drops once the sun goes down, the air feels cool against my skin. It’s wonderful, like my skin can breathe, not cocooned and suffocating in a heavy Patagonia jacket and under a thin layer of sweat. 

I left Hawaii nearly half my life ago, and I’d forgotten what it was like to live with natural beauty around me: mountains, flowering yards, the sun setting over a bay. I’ve only been here for six weeks.

And six weeks in, there are still novelties I encounter nearly every day. Cars stop at crosswalks for waiting pedestrians. These same crosswalks flash at night when someone crosses the street. Abandoned electronics litter the sidewalk since Berkeley has no alleys, and there are compost bins everywhere — we even have a tiny one in our kitchen. On my way to work, from East Bay to SF, I hear fellow bus riders behind me say 'good morning' to the stranger who plops down beside them. Mark and I have bought baked beet chips from our local grocery store — twice.

I passed by a two-chair barbershop in Inner Sunset with a real-live piano player playing a song, entertaining people during haircuts and beard trims. The Muni busses — with their steel antenna sprouting from their roofs, connecting to wires above the street and keeping them leashed to certain paths — don't seem to clog traffic. The Muni is on the honor system — someone could hop on without paying their fare. 

After 15 years of living in Chicago (with a few months spent in free-spirited Barcelona and pastry-filled Paris), I’m getting to know the character of a new city, one I feel I belong in. Chicago is the city of my formative years, the first place I lived away from home, where I first appreciated the leaves changing from green to orange to brown and where I first fell in love with the silence after a snowfall. But I’ve become habituated to the murders in the news, to the dog shit on the ground, and to the plastic bags hanging on apartment fences as makeshift trash bins for the neighborhood.

Here in Berkeley, there’s a bag full of plastic bags tied to a sign outside our place — I think it’s there for people who forgot their doggie bags when taking their pups on walks.