Eagle, Hummingbird and Coyote: An Ohlone Creation Myth


My husband and I have been a bit obsessed with hummingbirds the past couple of years; we’re up to three feeders in the backyard, and we can sit in the afternoon and watch hummingbird skirmishes (Anna’s hummingbirds are notoriously territorial) with as much enthusiasm as other people bring to sports championships. What better then, than a series on hummingbird folklore?

Hummingbirds exist only in the Americas; a uniquely American bird, and so their folklore is also uniquely American. Hummingbird stories exist among many peoples of North, Central, and South America, and so it gives me a change to learn a little something about groups whose legends I know nothing about.

I’ll start this series with a couple of legends from the Ohlone people of the California Coast. The Ohlone lived in the regions around the San Francisco and Monterey bays, down to the Salinas Valley: regions where my husband and I, and my husband’s family grew up. I can’t claim to know a lot about the Ohlone, but the knowledge of their existence has been somewhere in my consciousness since childhood. So even though these first stories are really more Coyote stories than they are Hummingbird stories, they’ve given me a chance to delve a bit into the stories of the people who once lived where I live and where I grew up.

Let’s start with a creation myth, from the Rumsen Ohlone. Rumsen speakers lived in the area of Monterey and Carmel, into the Carmel Valley. Rumsen was the principle indigenous language spoken at Mission Carmel. Continue reading

Friday Video: Dream-laden Double Feature!

A couple of strange, dream-like videos today. Don’t try to make too much sense of them, just sit back and let the strangeness float over you….

First up: The Dream of Mrs. L.L. Nicholson from Oakland, California. Mrs. Nicholson was the winner of a 1924 contest run by the Oakland Tribune, asking its readers to write in with their most unusual dream. The winning entry was made into a short film, starring the dreamer (and family, in this case). It appears to have been shot on location at their home and other sites in Oakland, as well as near the Ferry Building in San Francisco. On her way to Marin, Mrs. Nicholson loses her baby, and adventure ensues! A delightful piece.

Length: 7 minutes, 24 seconds.

The version I’ve posted here has a soundtrack, added by Internet Archive user “kingwaylon”. Unfortunately, the soundtrack is uncredited.

The second video is what might have happened if Alejandro Jodorowsky had won the Oakland Trib’s contest, and Luis Buñuel had directed the resulting film. Or maybe vice-versa. Sombra Dolorosa (Sorrowful Shadow) was directed by Canadian writer, director, cinematographer and installation artist Guy Maddin. The piece features a widow who must wrestle El Muerto (Death), incarnated as a luchador (Mexican wrestler), to save the life of her daughter. An eclipse, papa’s ghost, a donkey and a mysterious rescuer are also involved. It’s a very odd piece, yet somehow I can’t stop watching it….

Length: 4 minutes, 3 seconds

Sombra Dolorosa was screened at the 2004 Toronto International Film Festival. Thanks to my tweet-peep @jeepers34 for sharing this one with me.


Jack London’s Apocalypse: The Scarlet Plague


Civilization ended this past summer.

The old man manifested an accustomed chagrin as he brought the coin back again close to his own eyes.

“2012,” he shrilled, and then fell to cackling grotesquely. “That was the year Morgan the Fifth was appointed President of the United States by the Board of Magnates. It must have been one of the last coins minted, for the Scarlet Death came in 2013. Lord! Lord!—think of it! Sixty years ago, and I am the only person alive to-day that lived in those times….”

In Jack London’s post-apocalyptic novella, The Scarlet Plague (1912), humankind is almost completely wiped out by a virulent, ebola-like disease in the summer of 2013. James Howard Smith, an English literature professor at the University of California, Berkeley, is the last man alive who still remembers that summer. The story is told in flashback, to Smith’s grandsons.

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Kickstarter Campaign: The Non Stop Bhangra Story

For the last 2 and a half years, photographer and videographer Odell Hussey has been documenting the monthly San Francisco event called Non Stop Bhangra, and the people involved with it: Dholrhythms Dance Company (the group that I dance with), DJ Jimmy Love, and a host of other musicians, MCs and singers who have performed with us.

Bhangra (and the related dance form, Giddha) are traditional folk dance forms from the Punjab region of India and Pakistan. While Bhangra music has been fused with Western popular forms since at least the 1980s, especially in the UK, Bhangra dance was relatively little known outside of South Asian communities. In the last several years, it’s become more widely recognized, especially as a competition dance form at colleges and universities.

NewImagePhoto: Odell Hussey

The Non Stop Bhangra Story is the story of how Vicki Virk and Suman Raj assembled a multicultural group of women to dance a traditionally male dance form, and how, together with Jimmy Love, they’ve created one of the most popular and diverse — both culturally and age-wise — dance events in San Francisco. If you are ever in San Francisco on the second Saturday of the month, you owe it to yourself to experience it.

The Kickstarter campaign is raising funds for post-production and marketing of the documentary. We want to raise $10,000 by April 26. Everyone who supports the campaign over the $5 level will get a download link to the completed documentary.

Much like the love and energy amongst the Non Stop Bhangra collective, the goal has always been to turn more people onto this beautiful music and culture and continue to grow out the Non Stop Bhangra community. The world needs positive people bringing others together, and a massive need for us as cultures to realize how similar we are. Music has always been a vehicle for this, and video has always been a major way in spreading the message even further. Our goal is to share the love for this sound and energy, inspiring people around the world around what can be accomplished when people from all walks of life come together with a shared passion and heart.

Help us spread the love!

I can’t embed the Kickstarter pitch video (oh, WordPress…), but here’s an older video about who we are:

An Afternoon at Sutro Baths (Photo Gallery)

I took these photos on a drizzly day about a month and a half ago. They were intended to punctuate a post I’d planned about Glen Hirshberg’s short story “The Two Sams,” which is set in San Francisco. The story features the ruins of the Sutro Baths, and mentions various landmarks of the area: The Great Highway, Cliff House, the Camera Obscura. Hirshberg’s narrative makes a lot of use of  the fog and the mists, so common in that part of town;  so the weather on the day I went shooting was apropos. Then I decided not to write the post, and suddenly the photos seemed less perfect…

When I had my old Pentax, I liked to shoot slide film. I love the vibrant saturated hues of color slides, and the velvety high contrast of black-and-white slides. I don’t really miss color slides — nowadays, when it’s bright and sunny, I take my photos and load them into Photoshop, then push the Saturation slider as far to the right as I feel like. It’s not the most subtle effect in the world, but frankly, I’m not a strong enough photographer to always enjoy the luxury of being subtle.

But I do miss black-and-white slides. I’ve never been able to come close to replicating the range of deep blacks and creamy shades of gray of 50 or 100 ISO black-and-white slide film with a digital camera. I tend not to go black-and-white anymore. But if I’d had my old Pentax, that afternoon at Ocean Beach and the Sutro Baths would definitely have been a black-and-white day: a day of shadow and light, shape and texture.

The Pentax is long gone now, so I’ve had to find other ways to conjure from my photos what I see in my mind’s eye. Hope you enjoy them.

Phantoms of Asia at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco

I saw Phantoms of Asia announced last May just before it opened, and though I put it on my mental calendar, I still almost missed it: it closes September 2nd. On the primary level, the exhibition explores how art from Asian cultures tackles the big mythological themes: life, death, spirits and spirituality, the universe and our place in it. On another level, it explores how contemporary Asian artists engage with — or react against — the “phantoms” of traditional aspects of their own cultures: traditional mores, traditional art forms, traditional folklore.

I thought it would be the first level that would interest me the most; instead, it was the second level that engaged me. In retrospect, maybe that’s not surprising, since I’m a first generation Filipina-American living in San Francisco. There are a lot of first-generation-and-beyond Asian-Americans here, and many of us ponder our participation (or lack of it) in our family’s culture.

There’s too much here to cover it all. My friend Michelle Baird, who is a docent at the Asian Art Museum, also wrote a post about this exhibition, on the use of moon symbology, over at her blog White Desi/Gori Desi. I’m going to stick to a few of the artists who struck me the most.

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Choi Jeoung Hwa’s Breathing Flower, with San Francisco City Hall in the background
Photo: Nina Zumel

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On Bookmarks, and Memories


Bookmarks. What do you use for bookmarks? I’m not one of those people who is appalled at the idea of dog-earing a page, but if I have the choice, I try to use a bookmark. Reshelving all our books this past week, I’ve noticed all the ragged little bits of stuff peeking out of this volume and that one. Bits of envelope, pieces of napkin, lots and lots of Post-Its, the receipt for the book itself, often with the date — it’s sobering to see how long ago I bought some of my books, especially the ones I haven’t finished yet. I’ve found old shopping lists, those annoying coupons that are always stuck in the middle of magazines (and when’s the last time I subscribed to a magazine?), and more than a few ghosts of bookstores past. I posted one of these ghosts a few days ago; since then I’ve found many more.

These are mostly my bookmarks (or my husband’s), and therefore my memories. Some of them are stowaways from used bookstore purchases. I used to save the things I found in used books, but I’ve lost them all now. It’s too bad; imagining the story behind these found objects is part of the fun of a used book.

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Of Eggs, and Hummingbirds

I went to Catholic school from 6th grade until the end of high school. Sister Stephanie Ann was my 6th grade teacher. She was an old school nun: black wimple, blue knee length skirt with matching cardigan sweater, sensible rubber-soled shoes, Polish accent. To my sixth grade self, she seemed a million years old, though I suppose she was only in her early fifties or so.

There was nothing gentle or maternal about Sr. Stephanie Ann (I’ve never met a nun who embodied either of those qualities). She was sarcastic, she was cranky, and she was the master of the bon mot. My personal favorite: “Jesus commanded me to love you; he didn’t say anything about me having to like you.” I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but in retrospect, I like her a lot.

Soft boiled egg with black lava salt from hawaii
Soft boiled egg with black lava salt from hawaii (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I thought of her today — of one specific moment of my time in her class. It was lunchtime, and it was raining. Sister happened to sit down at a table near my desk, with her lunch: an apple, and a boiled egg. She unwrapped her egg and took a bite, eyes closed. Upon finishing the bite, she opened her eyes. She looked at the egg, and then she looked at me, and said:

You can’t eat an egg and not believe in God.

Well, of course, you can. But I think even a non-believer can appreciate the beauty of that statement. The egg, that perfect little packet of protein, that chicken in the bubble of the subjunctive, that gold and white ellipsoid, the ordinary, everyday miracle that waits for us each time we walk into the supermarket, a dozen to the carton in the refrigerated section.

Hummingbird in Golden Gate Park
Photo: Shayne Kaye, Flickr/Creative Commons

I remembered that incident as I ate lunch today, sitting out on the patio of my apartment on this beautiful San Francisco spring day. A hummingbird zipped into the yard, and hovered in the air above my husband and me, just staring. It must have decided we were no threat; it zipped away to the other corner of the yard, where the lemon tree blooms. It flitted from blossom to blossom to feed, never landing. It was no bigger than the young fruit already on the branches. Its blue-green wings made a buzzy-hummy sound as it flew; I could hear it faintly from where I sat. It sounded like bees. Blue-green, iridescent bees.

“They’re like feathered insects,” my husband said. It’s true.

You can’t watch a hummingbird and not believe in natural selection.

That really doesn’t have the same ring to it as Sr. Stephanie Ann’s words. But I think it’s just as beautiful.

17 Countries in 5 Minutes

A friend of mine just posted this beautiful time-lapse documentary of Kien Lam’s year-long journey around the world. The music was composed by Kien’s brother, specifically for the video.

It’s just plain gorgeous photography. What struck me while watching it was how the city I live in, and other places that I’ve visited (many of which I would consider “mundane”) seemed new and unfamiliar from his eyes. And other places that I’ve never been to seemed somehow familiar and everyday.

We are one world.

Kien posted the story of his journey here. Enjoy