Archive for April, 2012

Last night amid roaring street and freeway traffic, I tried to pry open my truck doors while stuck underneath an off-ramp. I had the key, but I couldn’t get in. Why? Because one door was broken into in Berkeley, and the thief pushed the lock in and then took my used climbing gear. The other door simply couldn’t take the repeated freeze-slush-sun cycle of three Colorado ski seasons. It’s rusted and won’t budge. I don’t lock my doors, so I can get in and out of my truck. But while I was off meeting reps from Orion Magazine in downtown San Francisco, a parking attendant helpfully opened my vehicle, locked it and left, accidentally sealing me out in the cold underneath a freeway.

What to do? Think, but not well. Amid the lights, the cars, the continuous blast to the senses,  there was no spot to rest my eyes or mind. So I called my sister.

A growing body of studies suggests that if you want to problem solve, just take a walk. But the type of environment that you walk in counts. Before certain cognitive tests, they asked participants to solve problems after either walking on a city street or walking in a natural setting, and the nature walkers performed better. Not only that, but walking in nature helps you solve emotional troubles, too. If you’re considering therapy, you might keep your cash and head for the hills. This falls under the category of obvious news. Thoreau, Emerson, St. Francis of Assisi and Tolstoy have long advocated the power of nature to heal humans both mentally and physically. But now, scientists have gotten into the game and documented the results. People think better, feel better and perform better after they’ve spent time in a natural place.

Under the overpass, I wondered how people make it in San Francisco. I even asked a couple of local writers that night, “How do you manage to get into nature here?” They said, “Oh, there is Golden Gate Park, and there is the ocean.”  I shrugged my shoulders, thinking, it really doesn’t seem very natural.

California Oaks in Spring

And I can appreciate the city life; I lived in Buenos Aires for two months, the third loudest city in the world, because I love Tango, the burgeoning streets and the lively vibe. Still, after three weeks, I found the continual chaos overwhelming. I hopped on a plane for Bariloche, went backpacking in the Patagonian Andes and instantly felt better. Even though spray-painted rocks, plastic bags and coke bottles are the Argentine version of trail markers, I was happy to sleep on the ground and rise with the sun.

I managed to get out of SF last night, but only by mangling my key. Good thing the tow truck arrived late, when I was long gone. According to my hip urbanite friends, I live in the sticks, more appropriately, among the sticks. Maybe so, but I’ll take the distant call of a hawk and the smell of oaks and damp grass, as my daily greeting, in exchange for lack of culture. When I got home, I took the dog out among the crickets and sighing night breeze, and it was a sweet relief.

A special thanks to Dr. Sally Augustin for the references in this post.


Read Full Post »

Mike Wallace represents a glamorous era when investigative news was a primary bread-winner for television media and not some reality show featuring nearly worthless wanna-be starlets in high heels, and it’s always sad to see something valuable go.

But when I read the New York Times in-depth obituary, I was disturbed by Wallace’s version of journalism. He was known for stealing stories, using hidden cameras, doing ambush interviews, asking questions only to create drama and cornering guests following his trademark, “Forgive me.”

His comments about getting the story first, as integral to good news, is outdated. Any blogger or person with a Twitter account can get there first, and they regularly do. Many newspapers with an online presence will snip and cut facts in order to appear in the lead. I’ve seen this happen, and it isn’t impressive. There are just a few of us, and there seems to be no limit on corruption, so why compete over the same story and try to take credit, when another story is waiting to be told. Perhaps, it’s pressure. I don’t work under a daily deadline, and my stories usually take 4 to 8 weeks to complete.

And I never try to surprise the people I interview, in fact, I go in the other direction. They know what I’m going to say about them, because I tell them, and I give them an opportunity to express themselves. I try to be fair. Why? It doesn’t make sense to trap a person, when we share complex problems that will require us to work together, if we’re going to solve them. Yes, certain people aren’t doing their jobs, they’re not being straight, and they’re playing games with data and language to avoid a hard truth. It’s my job to unwind that. But I let them know what I learn. From there, we can look at solutions. My killer-question is simply, “If not this, then what?” You’d be surprised at how powerful that is.

That’s where new journalism might find its place. It’s not about being first, it’s about providing a public service to increase understanding. People might read the news not just to be informed, but to be elevated. That’s why I read.

In the NY Times article, it mentions the anti-depressants that Wallace was on and his suicide attempt. He and his friends spent their afternoons walking glumly around Martha’s Vineyard as “The Blue Brothers.” I can’t get inside his head to ask why he felt down, but I can guess. If ego, money-making and getting there first came at the expense of his relationships with the public, his four wives and other journalists, he might have ended his days feeling badly, wondering where he went wrong.

New journalism and digital media has the potential to bring us to a more sophisticated place, especially if the dwindling supply of good journalists learn to work together. There is an infinite supply of untold stories out there, which we might more successfully divide and conquer as a team.

Read Full Post »

She is also sewn into the uniforms of California’s highway patrolmen. She is present at Caltrans, the Department of Natural Resources, the San Francisco Ferry Building and Civic Center, and the office of the State Controller.

Who is she?

Carved California Seal in Gold

California Seal carved in Gold

She is the Roman goddess of wisdom, worshipped prominently as a goddess of all activities involving mental adeptness, such as writing, music, medicine and art. Today, she is the center feature in California’s state seal. At her feet, she has a grizzly bear, the Sacramento River flowing out from the Sierra Nevada and clusters of grapes and wheat, representing California’s abundant wildlife and agriculture. Above her head is the word Eureka, meaning “I have found it.” According to myth,  Minerva sprung full-grown from the head of Jupiter, and many suggest California was born the same way, because it became a state without having to go through a territorial stage. Adopting the seal with Minerva’s image came with much conflict. According to the Capitol museum, Senator Mariano Vallejo believed the bear should appear only if being captured and lassoed by a cowboy. In the end, the delegates overcame their differences and established her presence on the seal on October 2, 1849. And now Minerva is the symbol of California.

Minerva's Moxie Pose

Why moxie?

If you don’t know what moxie is, you’ll soon find out.  Moxie is force of character, determination, skill and courage.  It is an essential quality required for outdoor exploring, reporting and detailed investigating.

Life on the trail can be challenging. It can rain or snow when you don’t expect it, and you can get blisters and sore muscles after a long day. But if you soldier on, you grow stronger, more savvy. In journalism, it’s the same. It can take an entire month of chasing down experts to verify a single fact, but those hard-won facts have power. It took me almost two months to clearly articulate the public trust recommendations for the rivers flowing into the California’s Bay-Delta, and I was close to tears more than a few times. Trying to find clarity in law, politics and poorly-worded statistics is difficult. It’s moxie that kept me going. And it’s moxie that led me to take a closer look at the costs associated with the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan’s Tunnel Conveyance Project.

An update to these stories will soon follow.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: