I am a teacher and aspiring writer, and keep a blog to keep up with writing and document the daily moments that make up my life. Working with my students & travel writing are my biggest passions. People, art, food, wine/spirits, and culture are other writing interests. Thanks for coming by!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Archived Article - Miracles....at the beach

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Miracles....at the beach

I had the most miraculous beach walk ever the other day. My cousin and I had just arrived at the Oregon Coast the night before, and on this morning we woke up and walked across the street to the beach, where we discovered hundreds of starfish clinging to the rocks, they were everywhere! It was a low tide, and so the big rocks which are typically underwater were exposed, so we were really lucky to see this. The starfish were orange and all shades of purple, every cluster was unique since they would form together so differently every time. Next we saw the surfers, I guess it's not too cold to surf up here as long as you have a wetsuit. Walking back we discovered that the rock artist had been here, stacking rocks and making rock art. As it turned out, he'd left a message on a rock, and we were the ones who found it! I don't have it with me but will write more when I have it with me. Anyway, the beach is full of miracles, every single time, every single place, it never ceases to amaze me what magic the ocean holds. I am definitely moving back to the beach as soon as possible. I feel that this is the place that I belong.

Archived Articles - The Sea is so Mysterious

Saturday, July 01, 2006

The sea is so mysterious....
Category: Travel and Places

I was walking on the beach the other day and noticing the..ephemera the waves brought in; a green bottlecap oxidized by saltwater and time, an old quarter, beach glass of all colors, and bits and pieces of sand dollars, which arrive in such profusion along this particular stretch of beach. I was wondering, what distant shores did these things come from, and what kind of journey have they made?

The seashells also..confound..me. Each beach has it's own trademark shell it seems, how fascinating. On Ocean Beach in SF, it is sand dollars. In Mendocino, it is abalone shells. In Cardiff-by-the-sea, it is those quintessential seashells, (I don't know the name but it is seems like this is the one seashells were named after.) On the North Shore of Oahu, it is cowry shells, and.. in Kauai, especially near Hanalei, it is the exquisitely beautiful sunrise shells. I'm sure that a marine biologist would have a perfectly scientific explanation as to why this is, having to do with certain marine life off these shores, but I like to just let it stay magical.

Another thought on all of this; it's so fleeting. What the waves wash up one moment may be washed away the next, and this to me is a perfect reminder of how fleeting our time here is, and how constantly changing.

But there is more. The salty air provides negative ions that actually elevates our moods. Everything looks and feels a little better when we are at the beach. It's one of the few places that adults can play or frolic and actually get away with it. In my.. opinion, that's reason enough to go to the beach.

Archived Articles - Take us to the River (Originally published in Sac News and Review 2/14/01.)

Book Reviews

Take us to the river

Reviewed by Jeneka Sanford
More stories by this author...

This article was published on 02.14.02.

Sacramento is not what many people would call a beautiful city. But there are plenty of magnificent places here if one only knows where to look. An American River Almanac, written by local author Peter Hayes, provides a glimpse into the little-known world of scenic river lands all around us.

Hayes, former editor of the Sacramento Union, describes himself as a “late bloomer” who first realized his love of nature in 1960 when a neighbor at the time invited him to go fishing. He didn’t have much of a knack for casting hook and line, but soon realized that he enjoyed the expeditions to the river anyway. That’s because he started noticing the stunning birds and wildflowers that could be found there. In 1975, Hayes began writing nature columns in the Sunday editorials for the Union. Excerpts from the 300 columns he wrote over the next eight years were used in this book.

An American River Almanac begins, appropriately enough, in winter and proceeds to travel through each season along the river. Broken down into weekly entries, just as Hayes’ columns were, the text explores the natural life surrounding the American River as much as the actual river itself. In particular, the birds are a personal passion for Hayes.

Hayes’ writing lingers on the qualities of ladybugs, the evolution of tadpoles, the metamorphosis of butterflies, and the eating habits of baby birds. He marvels at the intricacies of a dragonfly’s gauze-like wings, the mysterious flight patterns of birds, and the vast array of local wildflowers. “Wildflowers light up the landscape,” Hayes writes. Vernal pools in spring offer a glimpse of poppies, lupines and buttercups, to name a few, something Hayes refers to as “an ever-changing oasis of color.”

Thanks to two local shooters extraordinaire—Tom Myers and George Turner—the book’s photography is splendid, capturing fleeting moments in nature; cloud formations, a hummingbird in mid-flight, flowers that appear to bloom moments before the shutter snaps.

An American River Almanac also provides new insight for birdwatchers. In addition to the common everyday birds, Hayes notes juncos, grebes, red-tailed hawks, great-horned owls, yellow-rumped warblers, green herons, killdeer, northern flickers, mockingbirds and white-tailed kites in his observations.

Hayes also recounts a bit of the river’s history. For example: The Southern Maidu or Nisenan were the first known people to inhabit the American River region. But it wasn’t until 1808 that Lieutenant Gabriel Moraga (apparently the first white man to see the river) named it “Las Llagas,” or “the wounds,” because watching the waters churn through the rocky gorge reminded him of the sufferings of Jesus during the crucifixion.

Forty years later, gold was discovered on the shores of the American. Today that gold is mostly gone, writes Hayes, “but the snow-fed waters of the river continue to bestow riches on Californians. There is water to nourish the fields, electricity to light the homes, and brawling rapids, placid sweeps and fishing holes to refresh minds and bodies. Always there is its song: Keep it clear, keep it clean, keep it flowing.”

Hayes reminds us that the river is many things to many people and his An American River Almanac is true testament to the fact that dazzling beauty in nature still exists in our own backyard.

Archived Articles - Beyond Power, originally published in Sac News and Review - 10/18/01

Environment Feature
Beyond power

By Jeneka Sanford
More stories by this author...

This article was published on 10.18.01.

Malcolm Margolin discussed power in its many forms during the 13th Annual Energy Conference, held last week in Sacramento.


With his long white beard and circular wire-rimmed glasses, Malcolm Margolin looked like a wizard, full of magic and of some otherworldly realm. This man with the laughing eyes and the lively face gave the impression that he reveled in being alive. Maybe that was his power.

“In many of the Native American folk tales, there was a sense of a world where power was in the things around you,” he said. “But there was also a sense that the power was diminishing.”

Margolin, founder and publisher of Heyday Books in Berkeley, wrote a book called The Ohlone Way: Indian Life in the San Francisco-Monterey Bay Area. He said the loss of power is central to most Native American tales and metaphorically symbolic to their plight. Yet there is the ever-present quest to somehow rediscover it, to harness it, to use it for their benefit.

But it wasn’t just spiritual or metaphorical power that Margolin spoke of this past week in Sacramento’s Sheraton Grand Hotel. He was there to talk about power—in terms of kilowatts and not just symbolism—during the 13th Annual Energy Conference. Margolin was one of five presenters on a panel titled, “The Octopus Revisited: Themes of Power in Art and Literature.”

Whether it refers to the energy crisis with which California has wrestled all year, or the literature reflecting other forms of power, the issue of power and powerlessness is a theme that is thousands of years old. The world has always been divided between the powerful and powerless, and the gap between them remains a great abyss.

In theory, the media should help at bridging that gap. Being the go-between for the power people and the general public, the media are the middlemen that decide what gets reported and what does not. They shape public opinions and perceptions of power.

In such a pivotal role, the media must walk a fine line between cultivating awareness on issues yet not over-hyping them. What is broadcast and what is not becomes an issue of credibility, and whether we are to believe what the powerful tell us about power.

Such issues were the main focus of a panel called “A Roundtable of the Media’s Role in the Energy Crisis.” Audience members were curious why they had heard not just a few forecasts of the supposed coming summer of blackouts, but dozens accounts from every possible angle, raising alarmist fears that never materialized. Despite predictions of two dozens blackouts during the summer, there wasn’t even one.

“All I can say is that we’re like the weathermen,” said Paul Hosley of KCBS radio in San Francisco. “We tell you what might happen, because if we didn’t tell you and it did happen, you’d wonder why you weren’t warned. But this time it happened the other way around.”

The history of energy in California is a highly complex story to tell, he said. He admitted that he was no expert on the energy crisis, something which left him vulnerable to being only as good as his sources.

“This power crisis was clearly not driven by the media,” said Ed Mendel, a political writer for the San Diego Union Tribune. “A potential electricity blackout is a very serious thing, one that could mean the loss of lives. So we had to report it,” he said, citing an incident in San Diego where a blackout caused a traffic light to go out which caused a series of fatal accidents.

Yet after dominating the news during the first half of 2001, there seemed to be little vigor at the conference to rehash the energy issue. So it was that in the next panel, Margolin transcended the literal concept of power with metaphor and storytelling.

One of the stories that he told was about a medicine man. It was a story of a young man named John who loved to get drunk and ride his horse until he was tired. All he ever did was ride and drink and yell and ride and drink and yell some more until one day, while he was resting under a shade tree, he had a vision. In the vision, the man who came to him told him that he had amazing powers within him to heal, that he had the power to become a medicine man if only he could recognize that power.

The man said to him, “You have the power to see things that are not meant for everybody to see, and can talk with spirits from another world. All this time you have been wasting yourself on drink and bad habits. Get up and come with me. I have something to show you.”

The man led him to a place and told him to face east. He began to see all of his people who had passed on: his mother, his father and his grandmother, cousins and even some old friends. They were all glad to see him. Then, just as suddenly as they came, they disappeared.

Another man approached and told him to face west. He saw a wonderful city of gold. The man said, “Now John, I want you to go back to your people and do the good that you are on earth for. You have the power and must use it to help your people.”

Ever since the day beneath the shade tree, the medicine man has been discovering the good he is capable of and the power within him. Margolin’s stories were simple and allegorical, drawing subtle connections to the energy issue. Does California have the power to do good for its people? Are there lessons to be learned in its handling of the energy crisis? At the conference, such questions just hung in the air as points to ponder, like an abstract painting with many possible meanings.

Lillian Vallee, a professor at Modesto Junior College, was another panelist on themes of power in art and literature. Vallee’s primary focus was on themes of power and powerlessness, especially among women writers. Although women’s writing often focuses on themes of powerlessness, she said that these groups should not be reduced to their victimhood and marginalization.

“How do we teach people to respond to powerlessness?” she asked.

As if in response, she read a poem by Jean Janzen from a book called The Snake in the Parsonage, titled “Among Orange Trees”:

“Today in the orange grove across the street,
a man parked his car and pounded his fists
into a woman. She sat swollen with her unborn,
guarding her face and belly in a jerking dance.
The March grass stood green around them
and the sun was high. What had he lost
in this fertile season falling and rotten in the furroughs?

All afternoon the trees glowed boldly in their satin leaves,
and I wondered how tenderness is born and kept.
I remembered my father caressing my mother,
his calm responses to trouble. How once
someone paid his way to California, and when we met him
at the train depot, he reached into his satchel
for a small bottle of cologne which I have kept
unopened to this day.
From the crushed orange blossoms
he said, as he opened my hand and put it there.”

Monday, January 19, 2009

Archived Articles - Gandhi Urges Nonviolence (Originally published in Sac News & Review - 11/22/01)

Gandhi urges nonviolence

By Jeneka Sanford
More stories by this author...

This article was published on 11.22.01.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to hear what Mahatma Gandhi—the 20th century’s most revered advocate of nonviolence—would have said about the “first war of the 21st century,” as declared by President George Bush?

Well, that’s obviously not possible, seeing as how the liberator of India was killed by a religious fundamentalist not far from where the current war is being waged. But Sacramentans last week were treated to the views of his grandson, Arun Gandhi, who brought his grandfather’s message of nonviolence to California State University at Sacramento.

“Nonviolence requires a lot of courage,” he said. “But we must have that courage if we wish to make a change for a better world.”

September 11 was the culmination of many generations of wrongdoing, which created a hostility so intense that people were willing to die to prove their point, Gandhi said. And before we can rid the world of this evil, we have to come to terms with the role we played in creating it.

We created the Taliban and Osama bin Laden, he said, in order to defeat the Soviets. But we are realizing, maybe too late, that we created a Frankenstein monster, a monster that has a far reach. He urged the audience to see the events of September 11 as a wake-up call.

“We need to look at the weaknesses and imperfections of our country,” he said. “If we ignore them, they will only grow and begin to create more havoc.”

Poverty in the world is directly tied to our wealth as a nation. It is the result of rampant exploitation of the poor, which allows Americans to consume 45 percent of the world’s resources although we’re just 10 percent of the world’s population.

“What about the other 90 percent?” he asked. “Can we continue to live in the style that we have chosen and let the rest of the world fend for themselves? No, we cannot.”

To illustrate this, he explained that for a loaf of bread, an American must work for six minutes. A person from a third world country must work for 20 hours.

“Something which we all need to realize is that nobody is independent,” he said. “What happens to one of us happens to all of us, eventually.”

Gandhi can’t understand the American attack on Afghanistan, especially because there were no Afghani terrorists on any of the September 11 flights. Most of the terrorists were believed to be from Saudi Arabia.

“So why aren’t we doing something about Saudi Arabia?” he asked. “ It is because we want their oil.”

He said destruction of the Taliban regime, or even the killing or capture of bin Laden, will only create more enemies bent on attacking the United States.

“If we kill bin Laden, will we see the end of terrorism?” he asked. “Probably not. We are not looking at the deeper problem.”

Archived Articles - Seahorses and Other Ephemeral Creatures of the Sea

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Seahorses and Other Ephemeral Creatures of the Sea

Since I can remember I've loved seahorses, starfish, coral and anything living under the sea. The first thing I ever wanted to be was a marine biologist, and I imagined seafaring expeditions to the great underwater wonderlands of the world.

It wasn't until I realized how bad I was at math and science that it started looking a little unlikely, so I got a degree in journalism, since writing was my other love.

I used to go to the fish aquarium at least once a week to look at the seahorses, coral and other tropical fish, I could not believe their beauty and grace. Seahorses are such magical creatures.

Since my fascination with these creatures is still there and just as strong as ever, and since I am not a marine biologist or a journalist but a t-shirt designer, I asked my friend Joel to draw me a seahorse to use for my shirts. He drew the most exquisite seahorse I have ever seen, and since the shirts were made I have met other equally enchanted seahorse lovers.

Over the weekend I was in San Francisco selling shirts and met an artist who makes seahorse necklaces that are incredibly beautiful. I had no idea how I might afford one but wanted one really bad. So my friend Joel said to offer a trade so I did, I paid half for the necklace and traded the other half in seahorse shirts. I guess I'm rambling but I loved the concept: a seahorse for a seahorse. Or something like that.

I found out that there are seahorse farms now, one is on the Big Island of Hawaii. These farms exist so that less seahorses will be harvested from the open sea. I want to go there and see them. The Hawaiian name for seahorse is ka' mo' olio. I want to learn the word for seahorse in every language.

How lucky we are to live in a world that seahorses live in too. Bless them and all of the other wonderful creatures of the earth and sea. Life is so full of wonder.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Cuban Chimeras

We thought we might be dreaming. It was our first day waking up on the Caribbean in Cuba, and the combination of the sweet balmy air, coconut palms and brightly lit houses we passed on our way to the beach all conspired to create a true sense of bliss.
The beach was so beautiful with turquoise water and sparkling white sand. My best friend and I spent our entire day there swimming, lying in the sun, talking, laughing, and drinking rum and pineapple drinks. The water was salty and warm, and hibiscus of every color bloomed profusely along the shore. Best of all, the beach was practically ours alone. We were in heaven.
For dinner we found two older local women who liked cooking for travelers in their home. Carmen and Maria were sisters in their seventies who had so many great stories to tell. They told us stories of living in the Canary Islands years ago, and about the old days in Cuba. By the time we left we’d felt we’d known them forever, but we’d just arrived. Maybe we were dreaming.