Places of passion

In the East Bay on a weekend, brewing beer in a backyard, the sky is blue. Next door the man keeps bees, and has a huge grill for turkey roasting.

We’ll miss this yard, when we move,” the brewer tells me, checking the mash’s temperature. We’ll have something, but nothing like this.”

The grass is a little downtrodden, but the space, filled by tables and chairs, dirt, a small tree, and the abandoned brickwork of a previous tenant’s patio improvement project, is a luxury. The constant cycle of movement, children to city, families to suburbs, is born of afternoons like this, sitting around in a yard with friends, brewing beer. In earlier stages of this churn we would examine each other’s TVs, computers, liquor cabinets, bookshelves. We still do, for those items remain the touchstones of an apartment, easy ways to understand whose house we are in, what kind of person resides where we now stand.

The back yard survey though is new. Our initial duck indoors for introductions is perfunctory, and after a moment of silence is followed by our real purpose.

So, do you want to see what I’ve been working on?”

Of course we do, and are soon standing in the sun discussing barley mills and temperatures, worts and the value of an art wholly encompassed by single syllable words. Brewing’s language is proof of its early invention, we surmise, back when simpler terms were still available for claiming, before our language had become stratified and new tasks had to be called time-sharing and bookkeeping. In the backyard we see his private passion flare, that same widening of eyes and pride in discovery we have found before with friends in places like Level 4 and a club called Yellow.

The shift in focus from late nights clubs and basements to back yards and sunny afternoons isn’t new, nor as sudden as it seems in Berkeley. For as long as I can remember my uncle has spent most of his free hours in the garage, in his shop, making one thing after another, sometimes for his own house and sometimes for others. Phone calls holidays and visitors pull him out, into the living room or yard, but his passion, the place where he teaches himself things, sits well known behind the parked cars.

This habit then, of self-education, has not changed, but our targets have, from virtual bosses conquered with friends and dance moves learned beneath strobe lights to things made with tools of our own, in spaces of our own. There is no better, or worse, in these shifts, merely the variance of age, and opportunity. The peak, in all cases, is getting to demonstrate what we have learned to our friends.

If that can be done in a sunny back yard, so much the better.