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Creek Running North

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June 01, 2003

Buckeyes

Adobe Road, according to some maps of Pinole, is a through road connecting two points on Pinole Valley Road, about three miles uphill from our house. Those maps lie. Turn onto Adobe, as we did this afternoon on a ride to celebrate our new bicycle helmets, and the road goes uphill and shortly turns into a parking lot, which turns into a paved path, which turns into a dirt path, which turns into a narrow single-track through the tall grass, which then meets up again with Pinole Valley Road at the far end.

There, on a bluff just above the creek, the path is enclosed in a grove of California buckeyes, all of which were blooming today. I stopped, closed my eyes, and inhaled their subtle, sweet perfume.

And then back down the road; past the library, where the Friends of the Pinole Creek Watershed had just put in a few native plants in a patch under a redwood; beneath Interstate 80, where eighteen wheelers and Camaros sped past on their way to such fabled metropoli as Dixon, California and Ogden, Utah; past the Senior Center and the recreational vehicle storage lot and the East Bay Municipal Utility District Pinole Creek Sewage Treatment Plant on the bay shore we rode, to the new housing development across the creek on the former site of the largest dynamite factory on the West Coast.

There, we were rousted from our innocent exploration by an obsequious security guard, who patiently and apologetically explained that the unfinished homes were private property and dangerous besides and we really should not be clambering around in their upper floors.

The new homes aren't particularly obnoxious. It's a human-scaled development, more or less: houses at about 1700 square feet, I'm guessing. Close-packed lots, plans for walkable retail and a commuter train station, actual thought put into the design of houses and neighborhood. You get your pick of three styles: Italianate, Colonial, or Craftsman. It's what you might call an "appropriate" development, nicely complementing the historic company town just down the hill and sensitive to the landscape and yet.

And yet.

There's something there that makes me think of those upscale Arts and Crafts Style Furnishings catalogs, where you can buy a reproduction Roycroft hammered copper ashtray for the equivalent of two weeks' work at minimum wage. The Craftsman houses start in the "low 400,000s." What was once a reaction against ostentation, ornamentation, and conspicuous consumption becomes a lifestyle statement for the affluent. Price a handmade Shaker chair sometime. We're so rich, we can AFFORD to own nothing.

Beneath the houses, Miocene shellfish sleep. If you break open the rocks displaced when the new foundations were poured, you'll find scallops and clams dead thirteen million years. This spring, my brother found half a maple seed, laid down on shallowly submerged mud in some Tertiary ancestor of San Pablo Bay, doomed by fluke of wind to alight where it would never germinate. The mustard seed on the rock.

We head back up the creek. Right downtown an old horse property holds on from its days along US Route 40, the major transcontinental artery now mainly referred to around here as San Pablo Avenue. A carefully-lettered sign graces the gate: "Warning, Privet Property." The horses have donated abundant nitrogen to a creekside buckeye, which holds its leaves much later into the summer than its cousins in the hills. Tonight, I can smell its flowers from across the creek.

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decorative line of bighorn petroglyphs