Sunday, September 04, 2011
Sunday Morning on the Dying Greens: "We play until we can't play any longer, then we just have to leave."
Their numbers are dwindling down to a precious few. One hundred members twenty years ago, I'm told. Now, only 25. When I first discovered them forty years ago, I was entranced by the spiritual sheen of the game. By its soft silent music. Sunshine and grass. The graceful roll of large bowling balls aimed at a small white ball on the other side.
And now, the greens are mostly vacant of competing passengers. Some days, only one game consisting of six players. Five years ago, I'd see three games in play, side by side -- maybe four.
We're at the Oakland Lawn Bowling Club. Some seasons back they gave up on trying to recruit me, when I kidded about maybe posting a sign on my lone bench that would read "Do Not Disturb. Spectator Only." Perhaps I had come to treasure the quietude of patiently watching this very low key form of competitive exercise. Perhaps it helped carve out a minimalist corridor in my soul.
When bowlers come from other Bay Area cities to compete, the greens come alive. The game looks healthy. Then, they all have to wear traditional white.
The young bowler in blue, Jonathan, is a rarity. His dad is a zealot at the game, a near crack-up in his addiction to winning. Jonathan's two younger brothers now also play. In the picture below, there he is six or seven years ago. He's been known to trump a whole lineup of seasoned players decades older than he!
A pity they've been unable to interest younger players. Even sadder is their apparent inability to replenish their dying ranks with older age candidates. Time and time again, when somebody walks by expressing curiosity, that person is handed an information sheet and shown a friendly face. Time and time again, I do not see any of those souls again.
Two generations joined in a common passion.
They each have a rhythm. In my private mind, some are my pet players. But any bowler who is having a good day will charm my attention and respect.
The refreshingly offbeat bandanna bowler (the title I gave him, known only to myself) came for a season or two, down from Canada, I heard, where he played the livelier Italian game of boccie ball. Some days, his friend(s), who struck me as disco drag queens, would saunter dizzily onto the scene to watch, and what a bizarre challenge that was to normal lawn bowling decorum. But the Bandanna Bowler was a good sport, though once, after taking a call on the green, he aborted his participation, dashing over the fence and off to the club house to fetch his bike and peddle away to another destination. I should ask somebody sometime whatever happened to him.
When last week I told Georgia, the lady bowling off, above, how sad it was to see only one game in progress, she agreed. Just across the street there is a high rise for senior living of some kind, and she can't understand why none of its residents will take up the game. She watches the ranks gradually shrink away, owing mostly to health and aging problems. Her late husband was an avid lawn bowler. "We play until we can't play anymore, then we just have to leave."