Election Section

Tea Party Combines Storytelling with Ecology

By SUSAN PARKERSpecial to the Planet
Friday June 25, 2004

A few weeks ago my friend Jernae and I attended a tea party in the middle of Addison Street in downtown Berkeley. This wasn’t just any tea party. This was a tea party with an environmental agenda. Entitled “A Tea Cup Give Away Storytelling Tea Party,” it was sponsored by the Berkeley Art Commission’s Addison Street Windows Gallery. In association with the Urban Creeks Council, local interdisciplinary artist/performer Patricia Bulitt has put together the current window exhibit that includes photo imagery, text, poetic prose, costumes, hats, and recycled kettles. 

The tea party, held on June 6, was a kick-off to the exhibit which celebrates Bulitt’s 13 years of “Creek Dancer” events in Codornices Park, and her accompanying women’s and girls’ tea party and storytelling ceremony, “There’s A Tree Whistling Its Message Through the Kettle.” 

We registered for the event beforehand, and were told to bring a teacup and story to exchange. On the appointed day we dropped by the corner of Milvia and Addison Streets where we were given a glittery tea bag pin and a tea bag for later use. The event began with volunteers holding large, colorful umbrellas, forming an arch, which the participants walked through while listening to the sounds of singer/performer Rhiannon. Then Taiko drummer Janet Koike pounded out some beats and Patricia performed a dance poem about an elderly woman hiking through the woods. This was followed by several youngsters dancing with a variety of old teapots and then a performance by the “Fishhead Dancers,” three young women dressed in black leotards, green pants and large fish masks. When they finished, the Fishhead Dancers served us hot water for our tea, but before indulging, Patricia instructed us to exchange our cups with someone we didn’t know, and during the swap we were encouraged to share a story about a person we admired.  

Jernae and I wandered over to the long tables set up on the sidewalk and helped ourselves to gummy fish and cookies, beautifully presented, in part, by Gianna’s Handmade Baked Goods. While sipping herbal tea and nibbling on delicious pink and green ladybug and frog-shaped shortbread cookies, Jernae and I studied the windows of the Addison Street Gallery which Patricia had filled with sparkly button-studded teapots, shimmering tea bags, lace, dolls, dresses, “floating words,” and photographs of herself dancing in Cordornices Creek.  

Later, Patricia explained that we were standing above Strawberry Creek and that the waters flowed from the Berkeley hills out to the San Francisco Bay and then on through the Golden Gate to the Pacific. In the same way, said Patricia, the stories we had shared would also flow with the water, intermingle out into the universe and then come back to us, like the tides of the ocean. We wer e encouraged to find someone new to share the story we had just learned during our teacup swap. But Jernae had insisted on wearing high heels, and she complained to me “that her dogs were killing her” so before exchanging a second story we decided to he a d home. We returned to North Oakland with a renewed appreciation for the hidden creeks of the East Bay. With my re-found water-as-precious-resource awareness, I tried not to waste a drop as I made dinner and washed clothes. I thought more about Patricia’s exhibit, and wondered how I could supe-up my dull, boring-but-functional teapot. And since I hadn’t exchanged a second story with anyone, I decided to share this anecdote with you.µ