With a whimsical, free form, spirit of celebration, several dozen partiers took to the streets and parks of Berkeley Tuesday, March 8, 2011. Loosely organized around “The Church of the Great Green Frog”, the annual event coincides with Mardi Gras “Fat Tuesday”.
Participants took a leisurely wander through the streets of south and southeast Berkeley handing out Mardi Gras beads, and inviting friends and strangers to share food and fun.
This year it included visits to several schools, outdoor breakfast at Willard Park, and a stop in People’s Park, before a final procession down to the vicinity of the Ashby BART Station.
“Has anyone seen a Jesus around here?” asked one reveler as the crowd paused in People’s Park for additional food and camaraderie.
No obvious conventional saviors were in evidence but there was a medieval lady in diaphanous green, a piper in gold tights, a man in vivid yellow cape and red (really red) hair, another in a top hat and tiger striped jumpsuit, and a wide variety of other costumed revelers, all circulating under the benevolent gaze of “Reverend Jim”, himself in a vivid, sequined, coat that proclaimed “Amphibian Suffrage” on the back, above an inverted purple heart.
I asked him about the event. His answers were both stately and oracular. How long has this event been going on? “Since this morning”, he answered after a considered pause.
“The celebration has been going on in one form or another way before civilization” he amended.
Daniel Miller, local community garden organizer and another regular participant, provided a little more conventional context. The event is a couple of decades old. The focus on the frog relates, in part, to the fact that amphibians are often the first creatures to show signs of stress when environments are altered.
Miller said the parade doesn’t have a formal route, but generally tries to stay within the watershed of Derby Creek. A branch of the creek flows under People’s Park.
The Reverend Jim said that when he came to Berkeley from New Orleans he saw stencils of frogs along the curbs, part of an effort by Urban Ecology to mark the underground route of Berkeley’s original creeks. Each creek had its own iconic animal figure; Derby Creek got the frog.
Miller believes the frog sculpture itself is about 17 years old, refurbished every few years by participants. This year it sported a new, astroturfed, rolling pedestal.
“The frogs were around when the dinosaurs were”, said Reverend Jim. “The dinosaurs didn’t worship the frogs, and they died out. We want to stave off extinction through worshiping the frog.”
It’s our “High Hoppy Holy Holiday” he added. A banner proclaiming “The One True Church of the Giant Green Frog” preceded the small procession as it glided along the street, fringed with musicians and bicyclists.
In addition to the frog, revelers, festooned with Mardi Gras beads, pushed along another rolling structure that looked like a cross between an outhouse and a giant banana.
“It’s a frogtilla instead of a flotilla” Miller said. “We do it in solidarity with New Orleans and the World”, added another participant.