Tag Archives: Palo Alto


Fifteen minutes ago, Amy, the lead minister here, walked into my office. “Do you know anything about birds?” she said to me.

Without really looking up, I pointed to the pair of binoculars and the two field guides on my desk. “Yeah, I’m into birds,” I said.

She held out her hand, on which was perched a small songbird. “I found this little guy outside my office,” she said, “and wondered if he’s all right.”

“Black Phoebe,” I said, still not quite registering that the bird was quite calmly perching on her hand. “He looks OK. Maybe he needs water?” The phoebe continued to perch on Amy’s hand while I went off and got a tray. The bird moved its head and looked around. I said to Amy, “You’re like St. Francis or something.” I put some water in the tray. When Amy bent down to put the phoebe next to the tray of water, the phoebe suddenly flew away and perched inside Amy’s office.

After we got over being startled, we both laughed. “Well,” I said, “looks like there’s nothing wrong with that bird.”

“But why was it sitting there on the sidewalk?” said Amy.

“Maybe a hawk went by,” I said, spinning out a plausible hypothesis; I had seen an immature Cooper’s Hawk just outside my office a couple of weeks ago. “The phoebe was sitting there avoiding the hawk. In fact, now that I think of it, all the birds stopped singing a few minutes ago, which is what they do when a hawk goes by. Then this big mammal came along and picks up the phoebe.”

The phoebe stayed inside Amy’s office for about five minutes, watching her eat her lunch. She didn’t see it go. When I poked my head in her office to see if the phoebe had gone, it flew back in and immediately back out again.

“Jeez,” I said, “you really are like St. Francis.”

“One of my favorite saints,” said Amy.

Autumn watch

A gentle rain is falling outside the door.

This is September, when you expect the Bay Area to be sunny and hot; but sometimes a little bit of fall rain arrives early. But yesterday we had thunder storms move through, big dark clouds moving across the bay, and just enough rain to disturb the summer’s accumulation of dust on my car. When I got up this morning, the sky was still cloudy — not just low stratus clouds, some fog bank that had been pushed up a few hundred feet above the ground, but real clouds. The sun tried to peek through the clouds in the middle of the day, but towards sunset the clouds had grown thicker.

And now it’s raining — not much, not enough to need a rain coat or even an umbrella, but just enough slow gentle rain to settle the dust and stir up smells from the earth and the plants. The air feels damp and warm. Surely it will get hot and dry again before the winter rains come in earnest, but in the meantime I’m enjoying the gentle rain.

One faith perspective on teen suicide

In the past five months, three teenagers have committed suicide in Palo Alto (more on this from the San Francisco Chronicle). On Monday evening, six people from different faith traditions were on a panel to talk about how persons of faith might respond to this community tragedy.

I attended the panel on Monday night, and listening to what people said raised an interesting question for me: What might we as Unitarian Universalists say about teen suicide? Here are some of the things I thought about:

— As Unitarian Universalists, we do not see suicide as sinful or evil; that is, if a teen commits suicide, we would consider it to be a tragedy, but we would not say that that teenager (or parents/guardians and extended family) was committing a sin.

— As Unitarian Universalists, we would be unlikely to blame God or any deity for teen suicide (assuming we believe in God or a deity of some kind). We would understand suicide to be a human problem which has its source in what we as humans do.

— As Unitarian Universalists, we support gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning persons fully; we do not think there is something wrong or sinful about GLBTQ persons. We are also aware that some research indicates a much higher suicide rate among GLBTQ teens, and therefore we would want to be extra supportive of GLBTQ teens.

— Coming from our Universalist heritage, we know that all persons are worthy of love, and have inherent worth and dignity. If someone wants to commit suicide because of terminal illness, that’s one thing — but when a healthy teenaged person commits suicide, we are struck by the tragedy of losing a unique person who is worthy of love and who has inherent worth and dignity.

I know some of you will have additional thoughts and meditations teen suicide, and please feel free to add them in the comments below.


I’ve been reading Weather of the San Francisco Bay Region by Harold Gilliam, who says that in this area, if you don’t like the weather, you can walk or drive a short distance to find weather more to your liking. “Fishermen along the fog-shrouded coast of Marin County on a summer day may be shivering in the low fifties while people in San Rafael, ten miles east, bask in comfortable 70-degree weather,” writes Gilliam, “and residents of ranches at the edge of the Sacramento Valley, another 40 miles east, mop their brows as the thermometer hits 100 — a temperature difference of 50 degrees in 50 miles.”

I have noticed that it is generally cooler at home in San Mateo than it is at church in Palo Alto. At our apartment in San Mateo this morning, it was perhaps 60 degrees, with low stratus clouds overhead, and a chilly breeze blowing. I put on my fuzzy fleece jacket and walked over to the train station. After a 30-minute ride, I got off the train at the San Antonio station in Palo Alto, 17 miles to the southeast, and it was sunny and in the 70s.