Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The NatureBridge Gala was Ga-lorious! ... .

It was held in San Francisco at the Bently Reserve, the beautiful historic building on Battery Street in the Financial District.  I gave the keynote address, followed by a speech by Dylan Lew, a handsome young high school student being honored as this year's  most outstanding participant in the environmental program for youth.  We made a great team, and I plan to be watching his rise in the Movement as he spreads his wings over the years to come.

Despite the headlines, hope springs eternal each time I find myself before audiences of such idealistic and energetic people of all ages, genders, races, ethnicities; those drawn to the environmental movement.

Last summer I was invited as a panelist to the Telluride Mountain Film Festival where I found myself both surprised and delighted with that crowd of the fit and tanned young men and women who people that world -- when they're not climbing mountains, filming great white sharks,  skiing down impossible slopes, probing the bottom of the sea, and saving endangered species while filming it all for the rest of us.  They seem to be doing all that good stuff that we ordinary folks don't have either the time or the financial resources to take on.  Came home thankful for the One Percenters, and vowed to silently support their efforts whenever and wherever possible.
I'm not sure that I can justify this attitude among my peers, but it made sense at 9,000 feet!

I felt somewhat the same way at the NatureBridge Gala.  That evening they raised $750,000 at their annual auction.  I tried to keep my eyebrows from rising to my hairline when a man at our table bid $50,000 on an item!

I know of the incredibly valuable work this organization provides -- an environmental education for thousands of school children every year; children from K through 12.  It is an amazing program that perfectly meshes with that of our National Park Service.

Our Rosie's Girls -- a summer program sponsored by our park that introduces middle school girls to non-traditional roles in the work place -- and that features two 3-week sessions that ends with a weekend trip to Yosemite --  which is fully funded by NatureBridge.  There is no cost to students which allows many to experience the wilderness for the very first time.  Some of our inner-city participants who have lived in the coastal Bay Area for their entire young lives, have never seen the Pacific Ocean.

It is impossible to be depressed despite current headlines when moving around in circles of great minds doing great things with the zest of a people who share an uncompromising expectation of a world that fully intends to meet its challenges and prevail.

I do believe ... .

Catching up in my journal ... this one slid by but needs documenting ... .

Author/historian Daniel Howe and photographer Simon Griffiths visited our park a few weeks ago to conduct an interview to be included in a book featuring profiles of National Park rangers across the country.  To be included in such a work is a great tribute when you consider that my history with the parks is relatively short compared to others.

I learned that they'd flown out from their homes in the Carolinas to spend a day each with Ranger Shelton Johnson of Yosemite National Park and me.  Of course, Shelton is the iconic park ranger who was featured in the Ken Burns huge PBS special on our national parks.  To be considered in the same league -- much less the same book -- as Shelton is beyond my wildest fantasies.

Filmmaker Carl Bidleman and his photographer, Stefan, were also on hand to cover that interview for inclusion in their 30-minute film in production for other purposes.  That film will feature my recent life as a park ranger and should be released in late fall.

Makes one wonder, doesn't it?

Monday, May 15, 2017

One lifetime in which any one of the great adventures of these past few years should occur, is unimaginable, yet ... .

Saturday, May 13,  2017, will go down in my personal narrative as comparable to the Landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock, or, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln's signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, or the sharing of the tree lighting ceremony with the First Family -- with that frayed-around-the-edges little picture of my great grandmother, Leontine Breaux Allen, clutched in that little maroon velvet pouch in my left hand as I introduced the president to the nation; the memory of the warmth of the hand of President Barack Obama as he slipped that coin engraved with the presidential seal into my palm ... all of it was embodied in that moment when the beautiful cowl was draped over my graying head and slipped into place by the gentle hands of President Elizabeth Hillman.

There were two teams of filmmakers somewhere out there in the audience of 4000, filmmakers who by now have become indistinguishable from my friends and were no longer to be feared or even noticed as they go about their work of documenting this extraordinary ordinary life of Betty Reid Soskin.  They've now been with me in the shadows for over a year, and by Saturday had become almost invisible despite the paraphernalia necessary to their mission, simply because there was so much in the way; family and friends scattered throughout the VIP section, over 200 graduates capped and gowned eagerly and daringly standing on the threshold of "Life". I'd caught a glimpse of my two sons and granddaughter, nieces, cousins, friends from my Unitarian world who are no longer a part of my daily life, but who helped to get me over many of the rough patches to today.  Friend and mentor Farai Chideya who had flown out from New York a few hours ago just for this ceremony, and would be back on the afternoon flight for her return trip!  My National Park Service family was well represented.

The young Muslim woman who gave the opening address, and who was wearing the traditional scarf covering her head but with 3 inch strapped heels, and California denim Levis peeking out from under her somber black robe!  Fiery political activist Lateefah Simon who gave the commencement address to an adoring audience -- and you knew somehow that -- given just a few more years on the earth, that I was watching the next rising star in the State legislature.

From the moment of arrival, I'd been shepherded from place to place by gracious Mills faculty, board members, all manner of hosts and hostesses, so that there was never a moment in which to connect with friends and family, which was one of the unexpected disadvantages.  I'm now receiving loving messages from many who were witnesses to my great moment, but were unable to ever connect during the event.

Also unanticipated was the strength and power of the "virtual" community that has now become the source of energy and courage that I'm consciously drawing from each time life hands me one of these larger than life experiences.  Some in that "family" have been with me for the past 25 years, from the world we created on Seniornet, an online community emanating from San Francisco many years ago.  Quill, Janina, Jayne, oh so many, whom I've never laid eyes on, but who have been the  wind beneath my wings for a very long time.

So much is owed to so many ... .

In those rare moments between thrills sitting on the platform as the graduates paraded past receiving  their diplomas, I was so aware that -- rather than "We shall overcome" playing in the back of my mind in the rich contralto of Mahalia Jackson, it was something quite unexpected.  This was my Brigadoon moment, and my black metaphors were hopelessly overwhelmed by a long life in the rich diversity of the greater Bay Area.  It wasn't the voice of the noble Dr. Martin Luther King whispering in my ear, but a tiny brown leprechaun resplendent in green garb sitting on my left shoulder channeling Al Jarreau riffin' on Look to the Rainbow!  

Oh, and this song, "Look at me", was written over 40 years ago.  Only the last line was changed to fit the occasion.  My music, including  Look at me, is becoming the sound track to one of the documentaries now being filmed.  There is talk of an album to be released along with the films.

Which  brings us to yesterday, the day after this memorable celebratory ceremony, but while I'm still in my paper hat ...

Photo by Mike Pompa
Look at me!

Look at me and you'll see how I'm flyin'!
Can't you see this is me, no more cryin'
Feel like I'm Series time and this is my inning
Maybe this is a game
but this time I'm winning!
People say she's like a girl from the moon
she's a dead one
Now I'm like a balloon
and a red one!
Twelve feel high still growin'
and all my dreams aglowin'
Look at me, look at me, look at me
Look at me, Look at me and you'll see

I'm finally a Mills woman!