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12 Days of Christmas Walk

This past Wednesday was the first day this year that the Piedmont Recreation Department’s Walking on Wednesdays group’s commitment to “walk, rain or shine” was seriously tested. It had rained heavily during the night, but the forecast was for only a cloudy, drizzly morning with no significant rain until later in the day. It seemed that the weather gods were still smiling, or at least chuckling, at the Wednesday walkers.

However, when Dick Carter arrived at the Exedra shortly before the group’s standard 10:30 start time there was no one else there. He was concerned that he might have to take a selfie for the walkers’ customary group photo. But Mike Henn soon appeared, and other members of the group started to literally and figuratively trickle in; which seemed appropriate on this wet morning. The group was progressively the “fab five,” the “perfect ten,” “ocean’s eleven,” the “dirty dozen,” and the “baker’s dozen.” When the group’s size stopped at fourteen there was no obvious nickname. They only hoped they would not be the “Wet Walkers.” It was a solid turnout for a rainy, holiday week Wednesday.

Claudia Lopez had been talking with Priscilla Wanerus the day before and saw an interesting article in the Piedmont Post. It was about a 12 Days of Christmas neighborhood walk that the Highland, Caperton and Sheridan block neighbors had created as a gift to the Piedmont community. Twelve homeowners had each created a lighted window or entryway depicting one of the gifts in the classic 12 Days of Christmas carol. Claudia thought it would be fun to walk the streets and see them, and it dawned on Priscilla that this could be the basis for the next day’s Wednesday walk. She texted Dick Carter and he agreed it would be fun, and asked Priscilla to lead the tour. He also emailed the group about what they could see the next day.

When they assembled, the group was ready to go down Highland Avenue to the first house, which was just past Guilford Avenue; but it was suggested that on the way they walk through the top of Piedmont Park and see Bushy Dell Creek’s flowing waters. So, the creek with one of its rushing waterfalls was the first fun sight of the walk.

As the group left the area behind the Community Hall, Alicia Rivera pointed out a nature demonstration garden of native plants that the Piedmont Beautification Foundation created in 1991. Dick Carter also noted an area next to the tennis courts that the Piedmont City Council recently approved for a future outdoor classroom. It’s a project that Piedmont Parks & Project Manager Nancy Kent championed. The funds will come primarily from a State grant with the City providing a smaller amount.

The walkers came out of the park at Guilford looking for the first 12 Days of Christmas decorated house. They soon found a beautiful partridge in a sparkling pear tree near the front door of a Highland Avenue home. Swee Ling Chen had called the owner, Marion Schmidt, and alerted her that the group would be coming by to see her lovely creation. When the walkers arrived, Marion was about to run an errand, but she stopped and joined the walkers for the attached group photo.

The group continued on, finding two turtle doves, three French hens (reportedly drawn by the three children of the house), four calling birds, and five golden Mason jar rings. The walkers turned up Caperton Avenue looking for, and finding, six geese a-laying. After finding them the group noted a strikingly beautiful Japanese maple tree with brilliant orange-red leaves, and then a set of vintage Fiat cars in front of a home with a front garden full of natural, native plants. As luck would have it, the friendly homeowner, Jaan Hjorth, was coming out of his house. He told the group how he had assembled his collection of antique cars, and also how he transformed his front yard lawn into a unique, energy efficient, natural garden.

As the walkers continued their scavenger hunt-like search, now for seven swans a-swimming and eight maids a-milking, Claudia Lopez told the group that the 12 Days of Christmas song is an English Christmas carol, but it is suggested that it was also a catechism song for young Catholics during the 16th through early 19th Centuries. During this period Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly. The story is that someone during that period wrote this carol with two levels of meaning. One is the surface meaning, but the other was a hidden meaning that was known only to members of the Church. Each gift in the carol supposedly was a code for a Catholic religious concept which the children could remember. Not for sure, but fun and interesting.

Rob Smith also noted that there is an annual inflation measurement of the total cost of all twelve of the gifts. It had a significant increase this year, in part because of pandemic labor cost increases for personal services, like those from lords, pipers and drummers. The group soon found the ten lords a-leaping, and arrived at Sheridan Avenue looking for the eleven pipers piping and twelve drummers drumming. Doubling back towards Highland, they found them waiting for us in more home windows.

Their search was complete, but the morning was still young, and there was still no rain; so the walkers decided to continue their fun, holiday exploration of Piedmont homes and front yards. They hiked up the steep Lakeview Avenue with its tall redwood trees, reportedly planted long ago by a lumber baron who lived on Sea View Avenue. The group took a right at Sea View and in the next block found Santa with his slay being pulled by his Rudolph-lead reindeer, and then across the street a Christmas-thieving Grinch with his accomplices.

At the corner of Hampton Avenue it was time for the walkers to head back to the Exedra, go home, and finish preparations for the holidays. The group appreciated the gifts from the Highland, Caperton and Sheridan homeowners, as well as those on Sea View. The fun house decorations had made this still dry Wednesday a lot brighter for all of them.


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