That bark! (more on eucalyptus)


Manna gum in Panhandle (sketch by Heath Massey)

These giants in the panhandle must be over a hundred years old.  According to Elizabeth McIntock’s pamphlet, Trees of the Panhandle, published in 1973, they are Manna gum (Eucalyptus viminalis) and, in Australia, the favorite food of Koala bears.  Sometimes also called Ribbon gum because of the way the multi-colored bark peels off in long ribbons, these trees twist from sturdy, thick trunks to a crown of gracefully contorted branches that brush the sky with light feathery foliage.

Now abundant throughout California as well as Chile and South Africa, they are widely appreciated for their beauty.  According to native plant authorities in Australia, this is a promiscuous species (botanically speaking) that readily hybridizes with many other eucalyptus species.  Which makes me wonder if we might now have some California eucalyptus hybrids that could rightly be considered native, or at least have earned full citizenship.



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another take on eucalyptus


I made this quick water color sketch of a very old eucalyptus in the panhandle of Golden Gate Park a couple of years ago.  The bark is amazing;  so hard to capture all the nuances of color and pattern.  And those twisting branches.  I’ll keep trying.

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I Heart Eucalpytus


I feel compelled to reblog this post and share these magnificent photographs of eucalyptus trees by Stephen Kane, frequent photographer of Golden Gate Park. Isn’t it strange that admitting the beauty of eucalyptus has become an act of courage (or defiance)? These gorgeous trees not only inspire artists like Stephen Kane, but they are an essential element of the magnificent urban forest in Golden Gate Park.

Originally posted on Seen:

There, I’ve said it.

Perhaps, indeed, they do not belong in this part of the world. Perhaps, indeed, they will be tinder one day in some terrible conflagration. But I love the eucalyptus trees, their white stripping bark and their dancing grace and their fragrant leaves.  I show one here in color, in Golden Gate Park; and in black-and-white, in the southern California community of Seal Beach.



View original

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Painter tells stories behind Golden Gate Park statues – SFGate


Artist Robert Minervini at a bus stop displaying his artwork “La Poeme de la Vigne (with wine grapes)” on Market Street.

The artist has done six posters about six different monuments in Golden Gate Park, as part of the Art on Market Street series sponsored by the San Francisco Arts Commission.  The posters will be on display through May.

920x920   920x920-1  920x920

via Painter tells stories behind Golden Gate Park statues – SFGate.

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take a walk in the park to ease brain fatigue

An every-day parade in Golden Gate Park.  (sketch by Heath Massey)

Typical Sunday traffic on JFK Drive. (sketch by Heath Massey)

It always amazes me how reliably a walk or a bicycle ride through Golden Gate Park can improve my mood, clear my mind, banish fatigue and increase my sense of well-being.  I don’t think I’m the only one who experiences these effects.   On a beautiful Sunday like today, when cars are barred from JFK Drive, it is thronged with bicyclists, joggers and walkers (with and without dogs) and most everybody seems to be in such good spirits.  But why?  Here’s a report on a study published last year that attempted to answer this question:

‘Scientists have known for some time that the human brain’s ability to stay calm and focused is limited and can be overwhelmed by the constant noise and hectic, jangling demands of city living, sometimes resulting in a condition informally known as brain fatigue. With brain fatigue, you are easily distracted, forgetful and mentally flighty — or, in other words, me. But an innovative new study from Scotland suggests that you can ease brain fatigue simply by strolling through a leafy park.

The idea that visiting green spaces like parks or tree-filled plazas lessens stress and improves concentration is not new. Researchers have long theorized that green spaces are calming, requiring less of our so-called directed mental attention than busy, urban streets do. Instead, natural settings invoke “soft fascination,” a beguiling term for quiet contemplation, during which directed attention is barely called upon and the brain can reset those overstretched resources and reduce mental fatigue.

But this theory, while agreeable, has been difficult to put to the test. Previous studies have found that people who live near trees and parks have lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, in their saliva than those who live primarily amid concrete, and that children with attention deficits tend to concentrate and perform better on cognitive tests after walking through parks or arboretums. More directly, scientists have brought volunteers into a lab, attached electrodes to their heads and shown them photographs of natural or urban scenes, and found that the brain wave readouts show that the volunteers are more calm and meditative when they view the natural scenes.

But it had not been possible to study the brains of people while they were actually outside, moving through the city and the parks. Or it wasn’t, until the recent development of a lightweight, portable version of the electroencephalogram, a technology that studies brain wave patterns.

For the new study, published this month in The British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh and the University of Edinburgh attached these new, portable EEGs to the scalps of 12 healthy young adults. The electrodes, hidden unobtrusively beneath an ordinary looking fabric cap, sent brain wave readings wirelessly to a laptop carried in a backpack by each volunteer.

The researchers, who had been studying the cognitive impacts of green spaces for some time, then sent each volunteer out on a short walk of about a mile and half that wound through three different sections of Edinburgh.

The first half mile or so took walkers through an older, historic shopping district, with fine, old buildings and plenty of pedestrians on the sidewalk, but only light vehicle traffic. The walkers then moved onto a path that led through a park-like setting for another half mile. Finally, they ended their walk strolling through a busy, commercial district, with heavy automobile traffic and concrete buildings.

The walkers had been told to move at their own speed, not to rush or dawdle. Most finished the walk in about 25 minutes. Throughout that time, the portable EEGs on their heads continued to feed information about brain wave patterns to the laptops they carried. Afterward, the researchers compared the read-outs, looking for wave patterns that they felt were related to measures of frustration, directed attention (which they called “engagement”), mental arousal and meditativeness or calm.

What they found confirmed the idea that green spaces lessen brain fatigue.

When the volunteers made their way through the urbanized, busy areas, particularly the heavily trafficked commercial district at the end of their walk, their brain wave patterns consistently showed that they were more aroused and frustrated than when they walked through the parkland, where brain-wave readings became more meditative. While traveling through the park, the walkers were mentally quieter.

Which is not to say that they weren’t paying attention, said Jenny Roe, a lecturer at Heriot-Watt’s School of the Built Environment, who oversaw the study. “Natural environments still engage” the brain, she said, but the attention demanded “is effortless. It’s called involuntary attention in psychology. It holds our attention while at the same time allowing scope for reflection,” and providing a palliative to the nonstop attentional demands of typical, city streets.

Of course, her study was small, more of a pilot study of the nifty new, portable EEG technology than a definitive examination of the cognitive effects of seeing green.

But even so, she said, the findings were consistent and strong and, from the viewpoint of those of us over-engaged in attention-hogging urban lives, valuable. The study suggests that, right about now, you should consider “taking a break from work,” Dr. Roe said, and “going for a walk in a green space or just sitting, or even viewing green spaces from your office window.” This is not unproductive lollygagging, Dr. Roe helpfully assured us. “It is likely to have a restorative effect and help with attention fatigue and stress recovery.”

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Tai Chi at Spreckels Lake in Golden Gate Park

Tai Chi @ Spreckels Lk

Tai Chi at Spreckels Lake, Golden Gate Park, Oct. 11, 2014 (sketches by Heath Massey)

Last Saturday morning at Spreckels Lake in Golden Gate Park I was mesmerized watching a Tai Chi class performing a graceful series of moves on a sandy peninsula that juts into the water.  The synchronized movements, reflected in the slightly wind-rufflled water, seemed to flow in widening ripples into the surrounding morning, radiating calm.  This class, led by Master Bill Chin and other experienced practitioners, is offered free of charge every Saturday and Sunday from 8:30 to 10:00 a.m. in this idyllic setting.  Anyone can join;  beginners are encouraged to participate and learn by following along.  Advanced participants wearing red wristbands are interspersed among those less practiced.  The class ended while I was still sketching, but I’m planning to get there in time to join in next weekend.

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Artists in Golden Gate Park (talk)

" Landscaping Golden Gate Park," 1933, watercolor, David Park (FAMSF, Auchenbach Foundation)

” Landscaping Golden Gate Park,” 1933, watercolor, David Park (FAMSF, Auchenbach Foundation)

On Wednesday night (Sept. 24), I will be talking about “Artists in Golden Gate Park” at the Canessa Gallery (708 Montgomery St., San Francisco).  The talk begins at 7 pm and the gallery will be open before and after to view the wonderful exhibit of photographs by Stephen Kane:  Welcome to Fogland.  Hope to see you there.

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