The quintessential summer day


“IT’S THE QUINTESSENTIAL summer day,” I think, as I balance myself on a low-hanging tree above Alameda Creek. The shade is delicious and the butterflies are doing cartwheels in the breeze. Just yards away is the reason I’ve come to this spot — to ride horseback in the sun-baked hills of Sunol Regional Wilderness.

Few people know about these nature rides, offered by the East Bay Regional Park District. Fiona Bogie, a Scottish woman, runs the Sunset Riding Academy, and for $17 she’ll match you with the perfect horse and send you off to ride with a ranger and learn the history of the land.

You may see hawks gliding on air currents and deer feeding quietly in the meadow. You may even get the sense that you’ve been here before, as you ride to a rocky grove called Little Yosemite. (The next nature rides take place Aug. 10 and Aug. 24.)

When I think of all the ways my tax dollars are spent, the park district ranks high on my list of worthwhile causes. I’ve taken llama treks through Redwood Regional Park, kayak trips on Lake Chabot and the Bay, and sushi-making classes at Tilden Regional Park.

Yes, for $35 dollars you can take a class that rivals those of any gourmet cooking school. It’s taught by my neighbor, Linda Yemoto, in a room in Tilden’s Nature Center with beautiful views of the trees outside.

Ranger Linda has everything set up for making seven types of sushi. We work in pairs — one partner stirring the sugared vinegar into the rice, and the other fanning it to give it a shine. Japanese music sets the mood as we hand-shape our sticky rice into balls and slip the balls into tofu pockets (my favorite). We make ebi (shrimp) and unagi (eel) and the ever-popular California rolls. Did you know that these rolls were invented by an El Cerrito sushi chef and are popular in Japan?

Half the fun of this class is what you learn from Linda. The other half is what you eat — and what you get to bring home. I made enough sushi for a party of 10 that evening.

There are two more sushi classes this fall, on Saturday, Aug. 2 and 9. For information on any of the park district’s upcoming activities, check or call 510-562-PARK.

Montclair mailbag

The dialogue continues in the wake of a new survey by Friends of Montclair Village. This grassroots group is gathering information on what residents like and don’t like about our little shopping mecca.

Like most people, respondent Arla Bonnett likes the variety of shops in Montclair. But she doesn’t like the way dogs seem to take over the sidewalk. “Montclair is becoming a destination for dog-socializing, as if it were a dog park.”

Vincent Jurgens says nothing is open late for teenagers. He’d like to see something like an ice cream parlor that stays open after 10 p.m.

For reader Fisita Rivera, the Village could be improved with something as simple as a public restroom on the southern end.

Then there’s Peter Grame’s idea for landscaping and irrigating the median strips at Thornhill and Moraga, which he calls “the gateway to Montclair.” Grame says he also would like to see open space in the Village and supports the idea of a courtyard at Antioch Court. He also wants to see more trees and benches and something many mentioned — clean sidewalks.

Rounding out the debate are these thoughts from Joy Bebitch: “Who says it needs improvement? If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”

She says she’s been shopping in the village for 45 years, and “(N)o amount of paraphernalia, i.e., decorative pots, trees, new trash cans, clean sidewalks (or) clocks, is going to increase the number of weekly trips we make to the supermarket or bank. Montclair is not Walnut Creek Plaza, Emeryville, nor a mini mall. If anything, I vote to minimize the amount of people coming in,” Bebitch says.

To take the survey, e-mail robbieneely@sbcglobal.net.

Stale air

If there ever was any doubt about global warming, this summer proves it. When I moved to Montclair in 1988, I could count on one hand the number of brutally hot days. Now I’m poised to pay outrageously high prices to cool my home — and don’t get me started on air quality.

Our auto exhaust is going right to our lungs, which is why reader Terry Lee with the Bay Area Air District wants your e-mail address. If you go online to http://www.sparetheair.org and click “sign up for e-mail notification now,” you’ll get an e-mail the day before each “Spare the Air” day, when air quality is expected to be unusually poor. That way, you can plan to car pool or take mass transit to work. You can get the same updates by calling 1-800 Help-Air.

And finally

Thanks to reader Marlynn Dykstra for bringing Craig’s San Francisco Moving Movie Tours to my attention.

After writing a few weeks ago about the Monterey Movie Tours, I got an e-mail from Marlynn saying she took one of Craig Smith’s tours in San Francisco.

“It was excellent,” she says, “showing customers many of the city’s famous movie locations.” The outing ends with a real San Francisco treat — not Rice a Roni, but ice cream at Mel’s.

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