What I did with my Saturday

“The punk rock of choral music” — that’s what some people call Sacred Harp singing. It’s loud, highly rhythmic, often with fast tempi. And that’s what I did with my Saturday: I went to an all-day Sacred Harp singing. We sang nearly 90 songs out of a tunebook called The Sacred Harp, including a tune called “Rainbow,” originally composed in 1785 by Timothy Swan:

And this one, called Zion, composed in 1959:

Like punk rock, this is music that can be cathartic, ecstatic, raucous. Or just plain fun.

Places of worship in south Palo Alto

A few days ago, I started at my office in the Unitarian Universalist Church, and took a walk around the neighborhood. In less than an hour, I walked past or near 7 different faith communities.

I walked to the corner of Charleston and Middlefield; down the street and just out of sight on my left was the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints at 3865 Middlefield Rd., which is locally famous for the annual Christmas Creche exhibit that is erected in its front yard in December.

Continuing down Charleston, I crossed Fabian Way; to my left, a few blocks down at 3900 Fabian Way is Kehillah Jewish High School, where the Keddem Congregation, a Reconstructionist Jewish faith community, holds its larger events and services.

At the corner of Charleston and San Antonio Road, I walked next to the Jewish Community Center, where, every Sunday, the C3 Silicon Valley Church rents their auditorium for a worship service. The C3 Church is a worldwide movement based in Pentecostal Christianity.

Turning left on San Antonio, I came to Anjuman-e-Jamali, a new Dahwoodi Bohra mosque, an impressive stone-clad building; the minaret is over 60 feet tall, though supposedly it isn’t functional.


I crossed back over Charleston Rd., and went a block or two into the city of Mountain View, where I saw the Abundant Life Christian Fellowship, in a large building that looks like a corporate headquarters or maybe a big-box store. The Web site lists no denominational connection, but recent pastors have had connections to Pentecostalism.


Back over the city line in Palo Alto, along San Antonio Rd., I walked by the small Central Chinese Christian Church. Unfortunately, the Web site is in Chinese, so I don’t know which branch of Christianity this church comes from.


I walked back down Charleston Rd., and returned to the Unitarian Universalist Church.

The final tally for a one-hour, 2-12 mile walk:
1 Jewish congregation: Reconstructionist Jewish congregation, rented space
1 Muslim congregation: Dahwoodi Bohra (a sect of Shia Islam)
4 Christian congregations:
— Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon), Restorationist Christian
— C3 Church, Pentecostal Christian
— Abundant Life Christian Fellowship, nondenominational Christian
— Central Chinese Christian Church, unknown Christian
1 post-Christian congregation, Unitarian Universalist

Process art: veggie printmaking

For summer Sunday school today, I wanted to do some process art. (In process art, you have fun with the process and don’t worry about the final product.) I decided to do veggie printmaking, using cut vegetables dipped in thick paint to make prints. One of the children today said it’s like stamping, except you use veggies instead of rubber stamps.


In the end, 14 children showed up, ranging in age from 3 to 13. It was a little challenging to keep the three preschoolers supplied with paint and veggies, although ultimately some of them stuck with it longer than the big kids. For paint, I bought a ten-pack of Crayola Washable Kid’s Paint. It’s thick enough to use for this project. The children liked some of the colors better than others. The dark blue and the light blue were especially vivid and fun to print with, and today we used up most of each of those 2 oz. bottles.

For veggies, I had a 5 lb. bag of potatoes, 3 apples, 4 carrots, 2 stalks of celery, and an eggplant. We used almost all the veggies today. I also had blunt-tipped serrated steak knives that the big kids could use to cut designs into the apples and potatoes. Some of the big kids tried elaborate designs like hearts and stars, but a third grader made the design I liked best: simple stripes:


The apples proved to be a lot of fun to print with. They were pretty juicy, so they diluted the paint. Some of the children loaded them up with paint, and then rubbed them around on the paper. Here’s a print where a child did just that:


Another fun thing to do was to use the serrated knife to cut a potato in half. This leaves a textured surface, which makes really interesting images:


Printmaking lasted about thirty minutes, and then we transitioned into a game of tag. Most of the prints were pretty forgettable, and most of the children did not bother to take their prints home. Of course, that was the point: the fun was in the process.

Winnemucca, Nev., to San Mateo, Calif.

On a whim, we decided to stop at the Thunder Mountain Monument near Imlay, Nevada. Frank Van Zant, who determined that he was partly descended from Creek Indians, decided to build a monument to the American Indian. The monument consists of buildings, fences, figures sculpted in concrete, junk sculptures. The monument tells a non-linear story about the destruction of Native American peoples by peoples from Europe. Van Zant changed his name to Chief Rolling Thunder.

But there’s a back story. Before he started work on the monument, Rolling Thunder’s wife died, and one of his children committed suicide, according to a 2010 article on Smithsonian.com; and the first figure that Rolling Thunder made was a sculpture of the son who had died. In this monument, personal grief is mingled with grief arising from genocide and racism.


Rolling Thunder’s grief proved overwhelming, and luck was not with him. His followers began to drift away. An arsonist set a fire that destroyed many of the buildings that were once part of the monument. His new wife left him, taking their children. He committed suicide in 1989.

The monument is slowly decaying: vandals and the weather are both taking their toll. It has been declared a state historical site, and looks like there is now someone living on the site to watch over the monument. It would be possible to descend further into grief, and declare it a tragedy that the masterpiece of an outsider artist is not being maintained. I prefer to view it from another vantage point: this is a work of art that exists in four dimensions, where the fourth dimension is time. Some things are fading away, but some of the sculptures seem to me to be improving with time: they are becoming more pointed in their message, more urgent, more real.


Grief happens over time. If you try to freeze it so that it cannot change and evolve, that can get you into trouble. You need to move forward with it, towards the light.

We stopped at the Donner Pass trailhead for the Pacific Crest Tail, parked the car in some shade, and started out on a hike through the Sierra Nevadas. It was a perfect day for hiking: cool mountain air, a pleasant breeze, a clear blue sky overhead. We hiked for an hour and a half, talking idly about this and that, then turned around and hiked back. I stopped to look at a Williamson’s Sapsucker; Carol stopped to photograph glacial erratics.


After three hours of hiking, we got back to the car refreshed and happy. We sat under the trees at the edge of the parking lot and ate our picnic dinner. And we arrived back at home at about 10:30, tired, content, and different from when we set out.