On a lazy day, with options to venture farther afield limited, you have to relish our nearby city parks! A delightful gem in our midst is John Hinkel Park, gracing a hilly North Berkeley neighborhood a pleasant twenty minute stroll away.
Spread over four acres are park amenities, an amphitheater where the Shotgun Players perform operatic renditions of Shakespeare plays for free, and peaceful paths winding through shady groves of oak, bay and redwood trees.
It doesn't seem like much, this place. But the copses are thick with a healthy understory, and birds love it, finding refuge and roost in an urban setting.
The main woodsy area nurtures a little rivulet cutting a swathe through a small gully enabling the tiniest of oases for our tiniest of friends - dragonflies, damselflies, bees, and birds. They come seeking remnant water flowing and pooling, emerging above ground from on high via one of many hidden springs that nourish Berkeley's hills with perennial water sources, albeit in John Hinkel's case, a mere piddling trickle barely moistening an algae carpeted rocky shelf.
But enough to slake the thirst of our little friends on this dry, hot day. They come to flit and flirt in the quiet sanctuary, dipping in and cooling off in the natural bird bath. Unless you are of the persuasion that small miracles abound in "commonplace" surroundings, you might be tempted to pass this place off as unimpressive or unnoteworthy, and it might very well be that this hardly resplendent scene is not a place to write rhapsodic poetry over, except I will! And except for the fact that it's a life-saver for the birds, animals and insects that call John Hinkel Park their home.
I'm standing quietly, waiting patiently, on a small bridge that divides the cleft in the hills where the little rivulet runs down to the street and disappears into a culvert. Mottled bay tree leaves dance in whirlygigs on gossamer threads; grasses hula in a slight breeze; ears attuned to the songs of nature . . . when suddenly, a burst of unseen, hidden activity comes to life.
A Sikorsky sized dragonfly, in glittering blue green raiment, preens on water's edge beside ferns and cress, hovers up and zips down to patrol the insignificant water course (not from Sik's perspective!). Another rainbow creature, Anna's Hummingbird, arrives out of nowhere, gently alighting for a sip of water with wiry tongue extended, then flits off to suck a bit of nectar from a Monkeyflower.
Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Song Sparrows, and Dark-eyed Juncos crash the scene, playing in trees. I catch one aloft on a branch shaking water off after a refreshing immersion in the teensiest of basins. I espy a tittering Oak Titmouse, feathery wet from a dip. In the plant-choked gully, a Lesser Goldfinch perches on a wee twig, takes a drink, flaps some water on his back, repeats several times . . .a pageantry of nature's creations putting on a show for all the world to see . . . except all the world is not here, only me!
Soon a lone and handsome Wilson's Warbler swoops in at the private spa. This tiny yellow bird, sporting a black cap that looks like a toupee, is a hold-over, I'm guessing, from the spring-summer migratory season when they show up in force in the East Bay's riparian areas. I've spotted them many times - each a singular joy! - but I've never been able to get a decent photo of one. I had thought they were long gone by now. But today, this little fella is drawn like a magnet to the moist area, and his normally frenetic pattern of movement settles down to unprecedented motionlessness, posing for several seconds, so unlike his predictive skittish and secretive behavior. I snap, snap away with half-way decent results before he flies off for good to who knows where, to find his mate, or gear up for a long haul flight to the tropics.
This unheralded little gully, with its barely audible trickle, exerts a calming influence and provides hot, thirsty birds and insects a life-sustaining source of water . . .a manifestation of nature's boundless beauty and preciousness no less miraculous or awesome because it's not a powerful river scene in the John Muir Wilderness. Just to have this living breathing spring of miniature glory, right before me, with the various creatures enjoying it, creates transcendent joy in the heart. Honestly.
For here we have the unnoticed, the under appreciated and overlooked miracle of small things. It cannot, should not, be reduced to "nothing special" by anyone deigning to pass this way who happens to glance at it for a second and see "nothing."
For it is inordinately special. Just stop, look, listen, see, and appreciate the cavalcade of little miracles unfolding on the moist rock lip in the small sylvan acreage.
Next time you can't make it to a place of "grander" scale or more "precious" intimacy, try one of Berkeley's local parks, where perennial water, amazingly, flows down from the hills, even in drought conditions, and where tiny wild creatures are able to thrive on the modest bounty afforded. Then open your eyes and really see. Take a lesson from old-time naturalist John Burroughs' playbook in the "art of seeing" where "things escape us because the actors are small." Long ago in another time, Burroughs also exhorted us "to look closely and steadily at nature" and take pleasure in the "minute things" about you. You just might find the spectrum of smallness to be as soul satisfying and spiritually rewarding as being on the Merced River in mighty Yosemite.