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Creek Running North

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November 17, 2003


There’s a bit of good news on the home front: the good people at the Methodist Church have agreed to ask the city to hold off on the development adjacent to our back yard until we neighbors have a chance to shape the eventual project. It looks as though the city will be receptive to the idea. Win win on the horizon.

[Added after original posting: my Op-Ed on the project in the Contra Costa Times can be found here.]

And yet the whole process leaves me dispirited. Not over the people involved, or the potential for a sane use for the land, but the encroaching feeling that our future consists of increasingly desperate fights over increasingly small crumbs of what the world once was. The notion of losing "my" oak threw this into sharp relief for me, though spending the last decade compiling the worst news of the day for a living has certainly primed the pump.

Item: Twenty-odd years ago, hiking on a friend’s land in western New York with Katie – of whom I was more than a little enamored – I decided she needed to see a stretch of very old forest just over the ridge and across the property line. This was a glade of immensely old red oaks, sugar maples, hemlocks and understory shrubs, with a floor of foot-deep leaf mold and salamanders. I had in mind sitting with her on a rock in mid-grove, taking in the deep quiet, perhaps kissing if the mood struck us. But the forest was gone when we got there. Piles of logging slash covered the rock: where there were salamanders were now mud skids and tree shards.

Item: Cima Dome, my campsite in the Mojave where I sat and listened to the thundering silence last month, would be directly under the flight path of an airport the City of Las Vegas wants to build in the Ivanpah Valley, less than ten miles away.

Item: In the Sierra Nevada, above 9,000 feet or so, I love sitting and watching the pikas – small alpine rodents who subsist through the long winters on grasses they gather during the short growing season. They make their homes in scree piles and rocky outcrops: tread too close to a pika sitting outside her home, and she zips for the shadows with a sharp alarm whistle. They are charming and wild animals, the emblem of the environment in which they live. They are also likely to be the first North American mammal to go extinct due to climate change. As the climate has warmed, pikas have been retreating upslope to cooler territory. There’s only so far you can go before you run out of upslope.

Yesterday, Becky and I ventured out into the all-day fog and walked the creek. The tide was up, and rain had freshened the flow from up the watershed. A patch of manzanitas at the bay shore stood mute and black, ground zero for some vandal’s fire. We walked through the new development on the Hercules side of the creek mouth, dismayed at the increasing decrepitude of the historic buildings on the site, falling apart further, more windows broken each time we visit. When the development started, proud banners announced the older buildings would be renovated: those banners now lie folded over themselves and spattered with mud. We stood in the old brick foundation of a house now wrenched from the site, teetering on temporary piers near the roadside. The house once had one hell of a bay view from its porch.

Up the creek, we inadvertently spooked the local kingfisher by admiring it. Rousted from its power line aerie, it flew upstream in a cloud of kingfisher invective, soon winking out of sight in the fog.

Posted by Chris Clarke at November 17, 2003 12:00 PM TrackBack URL for this entry:

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decorative line of bighorn petroglyphs


Beautiful -- and sad, like these places and what's happening to them. I wish sometimes that we were not such a selfish species, or such a short-sighted one, but then I recall that not all people fail to see and appreciate the small things. There is a world in a mud puddle (or vernal pool) that a concrete mall will never offer, even to the most enlightened observer.

I don't know how we get most people to see that, though pieces like yours surely help.

Posted by: Rana at November 19, 2003 08:34 AM
decorative line of bighorn petroglyphs

Sigh. Sometimes I find what I'm grateful for is that I, at least, know to look for the kingfisher and actually get to see him. Pretty sad, this diminishment, and sense of oneself (observer, lover, protector) as a holdover, also threatened with extinction.

Posted by: beth at November 19, 2003 10:54 AM
decorative line of bighorn petroglyphs