Monday, September 22, 2008

Berkeley how I love thee...

so I have no officially been here for a month. I think it's time for some quality adventure stories from the past four weeks here in Berkeley.

Adventure Story 1, The Tree Sitters:

I don't know how many of you follow the news in Berkeley but things have been crazy around here the past couple of weeks and this is primarily due to some tree huggin locals who just won't quit. About 21 months ago some folks in the area got wind of a plan to cut down an oak and redwood grove on the Berkeley campus. So what did they do? You guessed it...they climbed into the trees, planted their roots and stayed awhile. Now when I say a while I am referring to a little less than 2 years of hanging around. These folks built epic tree houses, created supply lines and spent their days playing the guitar while perched in the highest branches of some beautiful leafy giants. When mom and I got here the grove was still intact and the sitters would wave and pose for pictures. But, by this point a fence and wall of police officers had been posted to prevent the sitters from coming down and to keep supplies from going up. Over the next few weeks the situation intensified until the final showdown a week and a half ago. My roommate and I walked down to tree sitter central on a chilly Tuesday night and were privy to a mild-mannered display of local support for the 4 remaining sitters. Folks gathered in the streets and spoke words of encouragement and hope about the sitters and the cause. As we stood listening, I couldn't help but get caught up in the nature of the gathering. I mean what is Buddhism about if not caring for and sharing this planet with our fellow beings. Anyway, I gathered up a "save the oaks" sign and stood amongst the surprisingly articulate and only slightly musky bunch of supporters sending their love up into the boughs.

The next morning, my roommate Meagan and I headed out early to stand in support of the four remaining tree sitters as an epic confrontation of Berkeley proportions unfolded. Hippies chanted, Native Americans danced, rednecks heckled, cops sweated, the media descended and tree sitters sat. I saw police wrestle with and arrest peaceful protesters, I saw tie-dye wearing supporters smoke joints and bang drums, I saw arbolists build 15 stories of scaffolding in order to surround and remove the tree sitters. I drank coffee and watched. I chatted with reporters and watched. I listened to interviews over walkee talkies with the men in trees and watched. I watched for 5 hours as the police chief and her crew rode up in a basket dangling from a crane and attempted to bargain with the sitters while, from below, construction workers steadily climbed towards the sitters. Finally, after several arrests, lots of tension and a growing crowd (now up to 500), the police chief and her nemesis reached an agreement and the tree sitters came down, guitars and all. I was standing next to a reporter when the call came in via walkee talkee from the tree sitters. I got to listen in and get the exclusive scoop on the tree sitters' motives for coming down. In their understanding, the university agreed to create a land use committee that would consist of community members and environmentalists as well as students, faculty and staff so that all future decisions could be made mindfully and with the general support of the community. A solid agreement but one that was denied immediately upon the descent of the four sitters. Heartbreaking but not surprising. They changed my relationship to trees with their display and they made headline news for over a year and a half. They raised awareness and they touched lives. Way to go tree sitters!

Adventure Story 2: Rockclimbing with TAP Donors

Few non-profits have the kind of eclectic supporters and donors that the Tibetan Aid Project is honored to have. I met several of our core supporters last weekend on a TAP retreat in Sonoma County. Our retreat center, located in Cazadero, deep in wine country and surrounded by redwoods, is the most breathtaking place I can imagine. We drove up highway 1 along the coast and winded our way through Bodega Bay (where Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" was filmed) before veering east into this fairy tale land filled with mist and ferns, redwoods and four-leafed clovers. I felt like I was in Jurassic Park. Anyway, I spent the weekend schmoozing the donors and served as acting wine expert because, surprising as it may be, I was the most knowledgeable wine drinker on staff. We had meetings, went on mist-filled excursions, rode around in LED-sporting golf carts, slept in cottages with hardwood floors and jacuzzi bathtubs, drank delicious wines, prepared culinary masterpieces, and generally had a whale of a time with a side of Tibetan yoga and meditation. I love my job!

While on retreat, I met two donors in particular who proved to be an adventure in themselves. The Christiani's have been to the Himalaya's 4 times and this past time they climbed to advanced base camp on Mt. Everest (21,000 of Everest's monstrous 29,000 feet). Rick is an architect who designed the coolest rock climbing gym in San Francisco and on the day that I met him he proceeded to climb the retreat center's fireplace because "it was begging to be climbed." So after a weekend of bonding, Rick and his wife Linnea invited a few of us along for a climbing adventure last Friday. By then, Grace was in town and got to go along for the climb. We climbed and we climbed and we climbed. I have never climbed so much or so well in my life. All that yoga and meditation on transforming fear has really paid off. I'm no longer terrified to scale a 3 story wall and I can focus and breathe like no body's business. During previous climbing experiences I find myself half-way up the wall shaking and praying for my life. Not this time! I climbed a 5.10 (on a scale of 5.0-5.15) and gained a new nickname from Mr. Rick Christiani. You can all now call me Liz the Lizard, no 'buts' about it! Grace kicked butt and scaled some serious walls and as a group we are officially hooked. I've made great new friends and great new contacts in the Christiani's and I can't wait to get back on the wall. Come visit and you can play too!

I hope everyone is well. I miss having my friends and family close by to share these adventures.
Amy, you'd love the lazy days filled with tea and old book stores
Cait, you'd love it all, this is your kinda place
Grace, you know what you love here
Mary, you love everything but I have some office cats you'd be particularly fond of :)
Christine, you'd love the quirky people and the outdoor lifestyle, lots of frisbee-ers etc.
Forrest, you'd love the motorcycles and local breweries
Mom, you'd love the changing weather, the chill in the Berkeley air and the clear view of the bridges that still takes my breath away
Dad, you'd love the amazing tennis courts and bicycle culture now that I've got you riding again

Berkeley's got a piece for each of you and everyone else that's reading along. I'm definitely sold on the place but if you don't believe me take your own jaunt out this way. See you soon!


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