A Berkeley Fourth

Fireworks from the Berkeley, CA  Marina Park

c.  Arden Kamille Varnel

Around 9 p.m. Thursday, July 4, where University Avenue dead ends at the Bay, on the south side of the split by the stop sign, a woman with four dogs carrying a folding chair, opened it up and sat down. Two of the dogs were beige and tiny, and two were mid-sized and black. All were held on leashes. The two little ones huddled on her lap, the two black ones stood between the back of her chair and my blue bike locked to the stop sign, and me.

I studied this family of pets with interest, watching their behavior, given the flood of people streaming by. They did not bark; they appeared nonplussed by the crowd. I finally gave a pet and pat to the ones near me.

“Good doggies,” I said to the woman in a friendly tone. “You are brave to bring four dogs to such a crowded event. They are so well-behaved!”

“I brought them so they can get used to it in case there’s a time when I can’t be here with them,” she responded without turning her head.

Her remark was curious; why would her pets be at the Marina without her?

After the fireworks, the crowd thinned on the grass to my left, so I mentioned to her that she could bring her chair and her dogs off the street to where there was more room. The exiting throng was thick with numerous baby buggies and parents, and a few long lines of teen-agers holding hands so not to become separated from each other. One passerby – a young lady – screeched with anxiety at the sight of the black dogs.

But the dogs remained steadfastly calm as did their owner.

The woman, again not turning around but continuing to face the bay while holding the two dogs on her lap, quietly stated that she was training her dogs to get used to large crowds in case she would not be there with them sometime. I felt the poignancy of her thoughts, as if she had already said goodbye to them.

Later, after reflecting on these moments, the woman with the four dogs signified something important on this day of liberty. She came to symbolize the Fourth of July: the power to hold her own and occupy her own place in the crowd – all while embodying an essential Berkeley value, the freedom to be yourself.

She and her pets were inspiring neighbors; I’m glad that it was I who shared with her our little street corner beneath the fireworks.

It was a satisfying display to boot, as the winds were relatively tranquil and did not blow the fireworks horizontally as I have seen in the past. Berkeley’s Fourth reminds me of a small town celebration, where everyone knows they have a long walk to the Bay from 6th and University, and then home back over the freeway bridge, and where we move along comfortably together, people of all genders, colors, ages, sizes, clothing, voices and groupings. I felt good to be one of the city folks, part of our town.

The night’s celebration ended when I biked to the Missouri Lounge to hang out with apparently a number of other bicyclists. I had a lengthy and engaging conversation with a man named Desmond Torkoroo about his volunteer work – teaching math to students in detention. I praised his generosity for helping to heal these young men in trouble by not only teaching them math, but also acting as a positive role model. He had a warm, open attitude, and a strong sense of kind intelligence. I believe he said he was originally from Nigeria and lives now in Berkeley. His Nigerian  smile has become a Berkeley smile.

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For me, he drew on a napkin the Golden Principle, which as an artist I had not yet visually understood. In exchange, I shared my latest favorite novel, “Kafka On the Shore” by H. Murakami, which in part weaves a story of synchronicity, how by following one’s intuitive guidance to live out one’s path, one can find it interconnecting with others in unknown patterns of significance.

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It was a very good Fourth.


Column 1 first published in the Berkeley Times on July 25, 2013

c. Arden Kamille Varnel

photo credits of Alejandro and Desmond to Arden K. Varnel

photo credit of fireworks to:





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