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Signs Of Life

Columns by Pamela Majteles

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Posted by pam on January 14, 2011 at 10:47 pm

Originally published May 15, 2009

Reprinted with permission from Bay Area News Group – East Bay

It feels like we’re all just spinning our wheels. There seem to be no easy answers to the tough problems facing us in many areas such as the economy, environment and world affairs.

It’s enough to make your head spin. At least that happens to me, and then I’ve really got to unwind. So, I head over to Montclair village to see the collection of pinwheels planted in front of Montclair Estates on Mountain Boulevard.

I can blow off any problems when standing before this quirky garden. In a 3-by-5 foot plot of dirt in the sidewalk, there are approximately 30 pinwheels catching the breeze and the attention of people passing by. Clustered together in this small space, the pinwheels appear to be bursting out of the ground and elbowing for position.

Like contestants in a beauty pageant, they’re competing on looks. Many of the pinwheels are the traditional dime-store variety with shiny blades and plastic stems filled with pea-sized candy. Some are more homespun, such as the pinwheel with a number 2 pencil as its stem and plain white copy paper for blades. Reigning over all of them is a 4-foot tall pinwheel with two old vinyl records spinning around. Who’s the winner? It’s hard to say.

Other questions spin through my mind: Did these pinwheels sprout from the ground? Do they require much watering? Are they there for the picking?

Niels Dahl-Jensen, one of the proprietors of Montclair Estates, has all the answers. The pinwheel garden, as he calls it, came about by accident. Before there was a pinwheel garden, there was a crack in the sidewalk in front of his store that regularly caused people to have accidents when they tripped over it.

While waiting for the city to fix the sidewalk, Dahl-Jensen set out a construction cone with two pinwheels to try and draw people’s attention to the crack, so they could avoid it. After the city repaired it, Dahl-Jensen didn’t know what to do with the pinwheels. “It seemed kind of sad to toss them,” he said.

So, he decided to stick the two pinwheels in the soil in front of the store. Shortly thereafter, someone stole the pinwheels which led Dahl-Jensen to post a photo of the thief in action, caught on the store’s security cameras, in his front window. Motivated by remorse or perhaps red-handed guilt, this same person returned with two other pinwheels to replace the ones he’d taken. Dahl-Jensen responded by putting up a sign that read, “Pinwheel Garden – Please feel free to plant one . . . but please don’t steal one”. Since then, people have followed his instructions to the letter, leaving pinwheels but never taking them.

On a windy day recently, the pinwheels really put on a show. Twirling and whirling, they were like street performers going all out for the audience. The children in the audience couldn’t resist joining in, spinning on their heels with excitement.

As I watched the pinwheels turning around and around, moving to the beat of the wind, it was hard to believe they could ever stop spinning. But, then the wind died down, and everything was calm.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.

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