Fire Circle: Foxtails, Food Fun and Feedback

Today I'm writing from the Fire Circle. It's time for a makeover...because danger!

This sometimes sunny meadow was a soft green in the spring, but now it's full of dry, flammable foxtails, surrounded by trees full of tinder.

Fun fact: The Golden Gate is not the bridge, but the hills the bridge connects. Before The Spanish arrived with their cows, those hills were green all summer, like this meadow would be if the native grasses weren't choked out by foxtails. The cows pooped out the Spanish hay, full of foxtail seeds, which are persistent hitchhikers with an incredible life force. Soon those hills were browning off in the summer. Or I should say blonding off. Turning that sort of soft gold that is not to be confused with the brilliance of California poppies. (Which really did used to crowd these here hills.)

The picnic tables and concrete barbecue/stage were built, I learned recently, by none other than the devoted Juanita Miller, Joaquin's youngest daughter, a.k.a. "Juanita of the Woods." After he died in 1913 she continued to perform his plays and poetry every night, right here, for decades, and left twelve feet of writings to the Oakland Public Library! Come to think of it, she probably lived here longer than he did, carrying on her strange imaginative rituals that, like her father's ideas, were ahead of their time...too bad she never got to go to Burning Man!

I've hosted many readings from this concrete slab, many themed around fire. For Jack London's centennial year, the California Writers Club joined with Heart of the Muse for a layered reading called, "To Build a Fire." Inflamed with passion, we barbecued. The central board of the CWC gathered here for years in conjunction with their annual meeting, with representatives from many branches reading and eating.  "LitCake," our literary baking contest—an echo of San Francisco's LitQuake—was a hilarious and delicious annual event featuring amusingly decorated cakes. You never know who would go home with the coveted Golden Fork award, but we always had a great time.

At last month's Earth Day write-in, Friends of Joaquin Miller president Dale Risden unveiled preliminary drawings for a new podium/platform/rostrum that could someday replace the barbecue. It will take some time and effort to get approval and funding for the "California Writers Circle," but this idea will solidify the park as a legacy space for creative contemplation and expression. I know this idea this will disappoint all the families who love to come up here and barbecue, perhaps new innovation will arise soon. (Solar bbq anyone?)

View the drawing and make comments here:

California Writers Circle Proposal/Feedback

Did you miss the Earth Day Event? Please take a few minutes to take the City Tree Survey, and watch my 30 minute talk from Craib Meadow on Sustainable Storytelling! And if you have three more minutes to help the park, please take the Joaquin Miller Park survey too!

"and the native grasses waving in the wind..." —Joaquin Miller Went Walkin'


  1. All that golden grass, where could they possibly find room for concrete?

  2. Those damned foxtails go everywhere.are goats the answer? What eats those things. I am plagued by those things too, all around my mulberry bushy tree. The only thing to do is dig up and discard the dirt they are in...and sweep with a giant shop n'vac. Goats, rototiller, suck 'um up. Sow new grass seeds, write new songs like Lady Juanita.

    1. Funny story. My mom literally vacuumed the back yard once!

  3. FOXTAILS ARE MY NEW OBSESSION. Seriously, multiple times I have been confused for a crazy person because I have started pulling them from empty lots and neighboring houses. It started with my own backyard, where (thanks to a tall fence) I've managed to eradicate them completely. So I set my sites higher, on removing them from the block. Even clearing this one block feels like an impossible task, especially with two empty lots full of them!

    Now when I walk my dog I take an empty sack and fill it with foxtails as I go. I usually dump the sack in neighbors' compost bin and fill it two or three more times. Or I will fill the trash bin by the BART station until it is full.

    People think it's some good deed, but I find it really satisfying to get out there and (as the kids these days say) "touch grass." I think of it like a video game that is impossible to beat (like Tetris, with infinite levels), but I can still see my progress.

    A neighbor saw my weeding the lot by his house and after I explained what I was doing, about a week later I saw he had come out and covered the area with black plastic and mulch! It really made my day. I felt like the little girl throwing starfish back into the sea!

    1. Please come to my house asap! There are prizes for digging out foxtails!


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