Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Walk with Ina Coolbrith & Friends in the Berkeley Hills

The Berkeley Pathwanderers Association asked me to lead a walk in the Berkeley Hills.
While in Berkeley on a mini writing retreat to work on my biography about Ina Coolbrith, I took a noontime walk in the hills. That morning I had been working on a chapter that features Bret Harte, Charles Warren Stoddard, and Mark Twain. Their stories still buzzed in my head when I set out without map or route.

I was looking for an opportunity to head higher into the hills when I came around a bed and saw a sign for what looked like stairs (there are lots of stairways between street levels in the Berkeley Hills). I couldn’t it. The stairs were called Bret Harte Way! Harte was Ina's editor at the Overland Monthly magazine, and he called her the "pearl of our tribe." It was as if I had conjured him.

At the top of the stairs I came to Keith Avenue. Artist William Keith illustrated Ina's second poetry collection. Then I came to Sterling Path, named after George Sterling, the poet who Ina felt should inherit her laurel crown (though he committed suicide before he could). I also found Keeler Path, a lovely wooded trail that poet and self-taught ornithologist Charles Keeler would have loved.

That day I discovered paths, ways, and lanes named after Joaquin Miller, Charles Warren Stoddard, John Muir, and Mark Twain, all Ina's friends. When I reached Parnassus Road, I thought, how perfect. In Greek mythology, Parnassus was home to the gods and muses.

Since then I have taken many walks with Ina's friends in the Berkeley Hills. But since she doesn't have a path, way, or lane named after her (I subsequently learned she once did), I bring her along by reciting her poems as I walk. I haven't memorized the entire poem called "California" that she wrote for the first graduating class of the University of California, though the last stanza could easily have been inspired by the view seen from these hills:
                                    … [I] saw the Gate
Burn in the sunset; the thin thread of mist
Creep white across the Sausalito hills;
Till the day darkened down the ocean rim,
The sunset purple slipped from Tamalpais,
And bay and sky were bright with sudden stars.

Date: Sunday, October 20, 2013
10:00 a.m.