Cloyne resident hopes to plant seed for new house culture

Pol Rebaque/Staff

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“Cloyne Court — Silence in an insane world,” wrote famous composer Ernest Bloch in Cloyne Court Hotel’s guestbook in 1944.

With 149 UC Berkeley residents during the school year and a reputation for hosting well-attended parties, the student housing cooperative now commonly referred to simply as “Cloyne” is, for many, no longer thought of as the tranquil oasis Bloch described.

Current house garden manager Ariel Cherbowsky has recently set out to restore what Cherbowsky’s manifesto called Cloyne’s “naturalistic charisma” by calling for residents to become involved in its garden. In his recently released 50-page work, titled “A Guide to Growing Cloyne Court Community Garden: A Hopeful Manifesto,” Cherbowsky makes a history-based critique of a current culture that he sees as being harmful to the land it occupies and outlines an idealistic vision for the cooperative’s future.

Cherbowsky’s manifesto begins 300 years ago with the land use of the Huchiun Ohlone tribe of Native Americans, tracing history through Spanish missions and subsequent European land speculating.

“It is actually a pretty solid piece of scholarship,” said Cherbowsky’s friend and current Cloyne resident Jake Rosen.

In the manifesto, Cherbowsky discusses maps and architectural reports, interprets logos and provides psychological diagnoses, developing a narrative that laments the spiritual loss of a land battered by what the manifesto calls the “trash of the intoxicated and the tossed junk of the inconsiderate.”

Cherbowsky, whose mother is a plant ecologist and father is a psychotherapist, has long been interested in how human relationships and ideas affect local ecology.

When Cherbowsky moved into Cloyne, he was inspired by the expansive space of the property but quickly encountered a major obstacle — the garden he saw potential for cultivating was directly adjacent to the paved courtyard, the primary site of Cloyne’s parties and social events.

As Cherbowsky swept up the broken glass and trash from Cloyne’s courtyard for his weekly co-op work shift, he began to think about the state of the house’s relationship to the land it was built on.

When Cherbowsky became co-manager of Cloyne’s garden in spring 2012, he began to investigate the role the garden played historically in the house’s culture and think of how the garden might reshape it in the future.

Ru Apt, a garden manager at Kingman Hall, a neighboring co-op a block away from Cloyne, reflected on the importance of a cooperative housing garden in maintaining larger groups’ values.

“The garden adds to the house’s image as sustainable, connected to the earth and mindful about food production,” Apt said.

Cherbowsky said that he couldn’t properly approach gardening in Cloyne without understanding the history of the way the land had been shaped in the past. He started to research old maps, journals, photographs and history books, in addition to sources as diverse as a student-created video ethnography from the 1990s “cloynarchy” era and a thesis on pre-Spanish Bay Area ecology.

“I want people to have conversations about how the land has changed so that we can transition to talking about how we want to interact with and influence our present-day landscapes,” Cherbowsky said.

Some house members disagree with Cherbowsky’s view that Cloyne’s parties are destructive to the property. Cloyne’s current social manager, Monica Finc, says that what she called Cloyne’s “party culture” is an integral part of the house, fostering a sense of unity that can be difficult to find in a large residence.

While Cherbowsky’s manifesto is filled with pictures of the trash-covered soil in Cloyne’s garden, it also depicts some of the natural beauty of the trees and plants that are thriving there.

In order to encourage positive additions to Cloyne’s natural landscape, Cherbowsky has passed a request through the house’s council to create funding for a system of land grants. Anyone from the house or surrounding community is invited to submit an application requesting funding, materials and land for gardening projects to take place within the property.

“Ari’s manifesto is a great example of the sort of member involvement that the coops thrive on,” wrote Graham Stanley, the live-in facilities manager at Cloyne, in an email.

Cherbowsky says he hopes that through his project, residents of Cloyne and the surrounding community will be encouraged to try to understand the history of the land they live on and feel empowered to shape it.

“It isn’t the only perspective,” Cherbowsky said, “but I have weaved together these stories in a way I thought would move people to become interested in how this land has come to its current form.”

Contact Micah Fry at [email protected]