Sunday, November 9, 2008

Canyon: Redwoods, School, Community

The other day, I remembered hearing about the community of Canyon, California, east of the Berkeley hills, and close, and part of the San Leandro Reservoir, which provides water for Oakland. I went there, and was amazed to find a little, alternative community, in a redwood forest, so close to the metropolitan area of the San Francisco Bay Area. The school there dates from 1918, and is for kindergarten through 8th grades. There's also a post office. You drive through about 2 1/2 miles of open land to get to this community.

I went up to the ridge above the town, past the community garden near the post office that marks its beginning, past houses nestled in the hillside, and found a beautiful place, where in one direction you see open, California hill, scrub, and grassland, without anything growing on it, and, in the other, a redwood forest. {Anand!}. I was astounded that such a place exists, so close to the Bay Area, and so beautiful.

So yesterday I attended a memorial service for a 7 year old girl I had never met, in the Redwood Grove at the Canyon School. Between 100 and 200 people came together there in the dark, cool forest, after sunset, just as the temperate California winter is coming on.

We first signed a guest book in candlelight at a table with some photos of Beama, flowers, and her stuffed animal, then walked 30 meters to the Redwood Grove itself. People held candles in remembrance, as family members spoke of 7 year old Beama, who had died suddenly, tragically and unexpectedly, of a brain aneurysm. The Canyon School kids, friends of Beama, were there, and sang a few songs. There was very little 'religion' in this remembrance. Many of the people in the dark seemed to be couples in their 40s, 50s and 60s, as well as a lot of kids. Beama's aunt read poetry by Rumi. Another woman, a Quaker, spoke about her Quaker-ness and nature in relation to Beama. An uncle recalled some touching and amusing stories about his niece, Beama. The uncle praised so many people for coming, suggesting that such an outpouring of support was unusual for Canyon community.

This gathering, in the form of a memorial, seemed to me to emerge also out of the 1960s, 1970s, West Coast 'culture' and counterculture. In this redwood grove, outside, the memorial service was nature oriented. People coming together among the trees in remembrance of a little girl's passing, and to support her family, was the significant thing. Although next to a big urban area, I was struck by how these folks were almost forest people.

I'm also curious about how 'off-the-radar' Canyon is; a friend who has grown up in the Bay Area and could well have known about it, didn't. Is this due to its alternativeness, the people it attracts {culture}, location or smallness?


I attended a memorial service on Saturday for musician Jeff at Harbin, too. This remembrance, while centered around Kirtan chanting, was similar in many ways. People shared their remembrances, like in Canyon, and Harbin's hippie-informed community shaped it.

In both places, people gathered in a large, loose circle, out of a sense of caring for their friend who had died.

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