West Oakland signage

December 29, 2011

Stuff you see in West Oakland.

Beginners is a beautiful movie:

Sex, Life, Healing, Sunlight, Nature, Magic, Serenity, Spirit

"Simple ... Happy." This is what I meant to give you.

Misty Mountains

December 27, 2011

Misty Mountains

These are the East Bay Hills

Midnight Mass

December 25, 2011

Read from notes. Totally inane.

Winter Solstice, quiet, dark

December 22, 2011

This year's shortest day of the year was quiet, still and dark. The sky was a bruised, fading purple-pink. The ocean, seen through the Golden Gate, reflected the short indigo-ing sun's light, as the sun fell off the end of the globe.

Into the Mountains: Puma Robles

December 19, 2011

Head off into the mountains

Went to visit a friend who's caretaking a 6,000-acre ranch on the east side of the Sierras about an hour north of Lake Tahoe near the Nevada border.

In Long Valley, the depression point between the eastern Sierras and the inner Cascades just north of Reno, meadows pour off the mountains in gullies, their golden color showing a frozen stream of rich soil and water. The ones on this ranch have never been ploughed, though have been grazed since this area is sheep-rich American Basque country. Some Basque-style artisan sausages for breakfast bring that point home pretty well. Walking over the meadow, it's easy to feel a swimming sensation; the bent-over, dry, winter-dormant grasses sponge with your steps, thrusting your legs forward – like you could dive headfirst and begin alligator-crawling down the meadow's gentle slope as you would in the shallow end of a swimming pool, gravity providing the buoancy instead of water. Seen from afar, in what is mostly a sage desert, the golden meadows are few and far between, and appear rich – their soil spilled from the hills, rounded and doughy above.

The ranch sits at 5,000 feet above sea level and is on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada, which means the land's desert-like; the Sierra's 8,000-foot crests block a lot of Pacific Ocean-borne moisture. So, outside of the yellow, rich-soiled, and comparitively water-rich, meadows, there is sageland with its amazingly rich colors: earthtoned mauve, green, tan, beige, purple, mustard, olive, sage.

A friend, the property's caretaker, and I set off on foot cross-country one morning out on the 6,000 acres, no property lines to worry about. It was easy to feel an aboriginal blood beating strong and a hunting instinct well up from deep as the mountain-worn ranch-complex, tucked into a valley between two of the ranch's larger meadows, receded from view and the jagged cliffs, just beyond the valley's only river, Long Valley River, called. If you looked back, you saw the last of the Sierra hills sitting 2,000 feet above, nearby, winter's naked oaks spanning the hillsides to the ridgeline, their branches a bruised, soft purple, tinging the slopes, subtly, with that subdued sageland color. A constant hushed whoosh, an east-bound wind cresting the Sierra ridge, poured around you into the valley.

We sometimes sat for a while in the sageland, ducking the cold wind in some of the land's minor dips and valleys and soaked in the pre-Solstice morning sun that warmed the valley. When we walked, we sometimes followed the clear animal highways, worn by all kinds of paws and hooves – rabbit, kangaroo rat, bobcat, deer – and, we kept looking but did not find that day, mountain lion. The ranch is called Puma Robles, Cougar Oaks. The region, supposedly, has the highest concentration of mountain lions in all of the Sierra. They're drawn by the wide, rocky desert and the abundant deer that stream out of the highlands by the thousands on their migrations to and from the food-rich high Sierra summer meadows. It definitely feels like mountain lion country, with the golden meadows and gently dipping, rolling land punctuated with periodic rocky outcrops. Multiple moments it feels like we just miss actually seeing one, a moment too late.

We reach the jagged rocks that jut out of the smooth hillsides bordering the river. They leave questions. "Do you want the scientific explanation or the Native American one?"

We jump across the river, walk up the hillside between masses of unusual rock outcrops, climb upon one and crawl out to its western overlook, which brings the Sierras, the river, and a long, baulked train course into view. Leaning against a large boulder, 200 feet above the river, gazing west, the sun beating down, we split a banana while a long, heavy train chugs up the valley, ominous, at a laden crawl, dragging hundreds of what must be oil-bearing cars, round, black, full. From our mountain outpost, the slow, struggling train, dragging miles of oil across the desert valley, had a Lord of the Rings aura, one of marching, soulless dwarves preparing for battle. One hundred dollars says that oil is going to war.


The cold comes down out of the mountains early in the morning. A couple of days ago, it was at about 6:30; you could feel the temperature drop, your skin sting slightly from the waft of cold. It happens when the sun rises on the other side of Long Valley, said Marco, as we speculated that that early-morning, thick, orange, light-blue light pulls the mountain air down off the National Forest-owned Sierra hills that slope 2,000 feet above the end-of-the-road ranch that rests at the base of the hills' first real rise.


Hot springs pour into the Long Valley River periodically. One has been tapped for a bath. The night I arrived, we went down to the hot bath with a couple of beers for a soak. Steam rises as the 130-degree water meets the winter night air. A hose collects some of the water from the creekbed and directs it into a 10-foot-diameter baby blue round plastic tub. Regulating the inflow allows temperature control and a soak in air-cooled once-130-degree streamwater. A couple of porcelain tubs add to the atmosphere, too, one directly in the curving-, coursing-around-the-base-of-a-small-round-hill stream, providing a touch of Dali to the night. Sage grassland all around and nothing but water and Reno citylight-muted starry sky.

The only sound ... far-off Highway 395 traffic heading to and from Reno, which glowed the sky pink and purple just southeast in a Thursday night splendor.

A hawk ...

Blue Gold Pink sunset Meadow hills DJ

Black-indigo Sierra

December 15, 2011

Sierra Black-Blue

Entering the Tahoe valley at night on Highway 80 from the Bay Area delta, the night, indigo black, folds in heavy a few miles northeast of Sacramento. As you enter the Sierra foothills at night, the sky abruptly turns tar-pit black; the oil-black sky, the numerous dark-shrouded, nearby, unseen trees and the slow, upwinding road add to the lost-in-space feel of the drive. The mountains begin to assert their dominance as you slowly wind up the highway to Donner Pass, elevation 7056 feet, where the mountains once asserted their power unequivocally when the mass of 87 American migrants from the east, after having taken a short cut, got caught at what is now Donner Lake, just a few miles away from the pass, 2,000 feet below. Instead of an entrance into the Golden land, they, as researcher/writer extraordinaire Richard Rhodes chronicles in his book The Ungodly, the crew lost 39 of its original 87 members that 1846-47 winter at Donner Lake, and some ate each other to survive. "It was the world's worst wagon-train tragedy," apparently.

The striking, huge bronze pioneer family memorial at Donner Memorial State Park, at Donner Lake, where the Donner Party built roughshod cabins and lean-tos that mythical winter, has a plaque that reads, "Virile to risk and find; kindly withal and a ready help. Facing the brunt of fate; indominatble, — unafraid."


Most water that pours west off the Sierra goes to the Pacific Ocean; all that goes east, evaporates. That means the water of Truckee River, which courses through the charming side of smalltown Truckee, evaporates in the Nevada desert. The river is the only outlet from Lake Tahoe from which it flows east 20 or so miles to Pyramid Lake where it meets its east-side Sierra Nevada evaporation fate.


Woke up in the morning and had my friend, a massage therapist, assess my broken rib. She pinpointed the break to just under my left arm, where the ribs are thick, strong, heavy.

She put her hands on either side of my chest under my arms as I sat bare-skinned on the edge of the bed, and in the cold morning-grey light felt, gently, both sides for a few minutes, and then pinpointed the hurt. A protruding bone?

Donner Party

Feel that sculpture! One look at those praire-sprouted, mountain-tinged people – squat, strong, weather-beaten, mule-ish, overwhelmingly indominatable – you feel they could muzzle-gun hunt deer and bear, huddle against wind and rain and hellish snow storms and trudge mile by mile across country and survive. It's all there in the guy's belt.

My people, if you with me, where the f@#$ you at?

December 13, 2011

Went on a random West Oakland walk yesterday to break up work, work, and just happened across the planned 12.12.11 Occupy Oakland mob heading from downtown to the Oakland port today. It was a grey day that bled into the afternoon. Cold.

There's a park about five blocks from my house that I usually walk to when I walk. As I approached the park, a half-block away, a few masked bike riders rode down from the park, into the street that bordered the park, and then away. Then some more showed up, masked, like buzzing, scout bees. Some frontrunning ghostriders.

Then, as I approached the park and the divided, four-lane road, 14th St., that borders it, perpendicular to my walking path, I saw the mob of people about six blocks up-street, coming slowly like a massive grey fog in the somber, tired day. It was impressive. Five minutes straight and the four-lane road was still packed with people, slow-moving third-world-looking dumpster trucks booming weird, hazed-over pop songs, hauling ganja-smoking, somewhat-bewildered kids who danced disinterestedly, their bodies moving deadly as their faces spoke a certain serious despair, the same despair you saw on almost everyone's faces, thousands and thousands, in serious despair, no smiling, no joy, this was not a buoyant event.

Upon first seeing that mass approaching down the street, a slow-moving storm, I thought, "That explains the helicopter." Which had been humming up above for the last hour. The 'copters are semi-regular (there's one buzzing now up above; it's Tuesday night, 8 p.m.) and just seem to be up there, droning away, because they can, and that domain is definitely an untouchable kingdom. Like, "You may be marching down there, but we're up here and you can't do sh#% about it." Initially thought the 'copters were monitoring a traffic situation. Apparently not. They're keeping an eye on the port and the marching proletariat. Can you see the angst in the march from the video?

Thought of Wu-Tang's Killer Bees, immediately.

Happiness and some others' writing

December 10, 2011

Happy. To Nar!

Lost in the YMCA men's basketball playoffs today. Horrible.

My favorite New Yorker writer, one of my favorite period, art critique Peter Schjeldahl; snippet from "Old and New: The reopening of the Islamic wing at the Met," New Yorker, Nov. 7, 2011:

Details in illustrations of a Sufi poem, "Language of the Birds," were painted with hairs from the bellies of squirrels. Sit, look.


But for the majestic halls that are hung with Iranian and Ottoman carpets, a gallery of mostly Iranian ceramics, often created for middle-class markets from the ninth to the thirteenth century, harbors more concentrated beauty than any other in the wing. I can close my eyes now and summon the aqueous aura of a blue-glazed bowl in which silhouetted fish swim, surrounded by radiating lines that are sublimely both perfect, as design, and imperfect, in the slight vagaries of the painter's hand. As a one-off visual definition of the word "sophisticated," that bowl will do. Exiting the room, I felt a trifle different from the person I had been when I entered.

The vagaries of war illustrated by World War II US Major General Curtis LeMay, who led the US firebombing of Tokyo that killed 100,000 civilians, quoted in Richard Rhodes's Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb, the sequel to his Pulitzer Prize-winning The Making of the Atom Bomb:

Killing Japanese didn't bother me very much at that time. It was getting the war over that bothered me. So I wasn't worried particularly about how many people we killed in getting the job done. I suppose if I had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal. Fortunately, we were on the winning side. Incidentally, everybody bemoans the fact that we dropped the atomic bomb and killed a lot of people at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That I guess is immoral; but nobody says anything about the incendiary attacks on every industrial city in Japan, and the first attack on Tokyo killed more people than the atomic bomb did. ... I guess the direct answer to your question is, yes, every soldier thinks something of the moral aspects of what he is doing. But all war is immoral, and if you let that bother you, you're not a good soldier.

The Rare Urban Rooster

December 8, 2011

Urban rooster

The rare urban rooster.

Took some photos at The Ranch at Dogtown in late afternoon for the urban farming story today. Roosters aren't common because they crow, and neighbors, those who don't wake up at 4 a.m., don't like that. This one slipped through the cracks. The hen-supplier, said Kathryn Porter, who owns/runs Dogtown, mis-sexed the rooster. It will be sent up north to a farm sometime soon. The city just can't handle a rooster.

More photos:

Dogtown Farm Dogtown Farm Dogtown Farm Dogtown Farm

Arcana of Public Life

December 6, 2011

In a dull, yellow-lit room of San Francisco City Hall, wood-paneled, godfather clock-like carvings filigreed periodically into the wall, you can’t help but think about the pointlessness of public process. People and people and people and people talk for the preservation of life, then the preservation of money, then life. Two sides offering conflicting factual statements again and again.

Laguna Salada at Sharp Park

Photo of Laguna Salada at Sharp Park by Matt Jalbert (mattjalbert.com).

A story for Bay Nature story brought me into the bowels of San Francisco City Hall to cover a San Francisco Board of Supervisors subcommittee meeting for a story on 417-acre Sharp Park, which, as a lowland, meeting the ocean for the Sanchez Creek watershed, is a rare-ish central California coastal lagoon wetland. That's significant because a federally-endangered snake, the San Francisco Garter Snake and its prey, a federally-threatened frog, the California Red-legged Frog, both live there. And what you don't see is the 18-hole golf course which winds in and around the ocean side of the park, the wetland side. This photo was likely taken from a fairway.

Eating in the doorway

The guy eating in the doorway in the background is Sean Elsbernd, one of three supervisors on the subcommittee, and he's against the ordinance to transfer Sharp Park's management from the SF Recreation and Parks Department to the National Park Service. The supervisor supporting the ordinance, he wrote it, is John Avalos, who's sitting down, blocked from view in the photo above. Avalos and Elsbernd jabbed back and forth at the beginning of the meeting.

It's guys like this that help long public meetings. Guy laughing next to me heard on the video, which was shot from the overflow meeting room downstairs in City Hall, was the primary author on the 211-page ecological study on Sharp Park commissioned by two environmental groups and published earlier this year. Pretty interesting.

Guy just starting singing, clearly freestyling. Amazing.

SF City Hall

What a beautiful building to hold such insanity.

Trucks in the Sky; A white, 8-cylinder M3 BMW semi-remembered dream

December 4, 2011

These trucks fly in the sky above the unfortunate West Oakland neighborhood of South Prescott. It's horrible. Basically, the neighborhood's tucked into a triangle, bordered by highways on two sides and the raised BART rail on the other. The BART rail, I just realized, is above ground everywhere in its north and northeast East Bay routes (outside of two stops in downtown Oakland0) besides its Berkeley section. As soon as it enters Berkeley, it goes underground; as soon as it leaves, it shoots up.

Anyways, on the ground in the South Prescott neighborhood, it feels like you're in a Fifth Element-like future city with flying cars, trains, and a chaos of noise. Feels like the houses are burntout chunks of white, loose bedrock of a weed-straggled forsaken, sunburnt parking lot. You know the kind. There's no rest, no peace. I went there to see about an EPA project that revitalizes the lead-infested soils of the 100-year-old neighborhood, contaminated by years of car exhaust and lead paint peeling, dribbling into the soil, by depositing ground up fish bones. The high concentration of phosphate in the bones reacts with the toxic forms of lead in the soil to make them harmless to humans. The New York Times did a pretty good article on the situation. This research continues the urban farming story, which is a sprawling mess of a subject. It's going to be hell to write. Just did 400 words. How do you keep it all straight ... and which plethora of data do you include ????

The EPA dude was smooth, polished, had designer blackframed glasses, the kind with a subtle, elegant burgundy on the skinside of the frame, and wore a musky cologne and some kick-ass cowboy boots. Spiked, gelled, stylish black hair, handsome. He walked out, and immediately I thought, "Harem." And he was polished in the government way, the know-the-game, know-the-rules way, in the hit-your-numbers, have at least one immaculate-showcase-available-to-show-off way.

We talked outside his office in front of his attractive, tough jeans-wearing assistant, woman, and first went to the boneyard outback to see the one-ton bags of ground Pollock bone and smell their surprisingly still-fishy smell, and then to the South Prescott neighborhood, which was just around the corner from this outpost, temporary headquarters.


Remnants of a Sunday morning dream:

Multi-colored, electric green, yellow, orange, red, 8-cylinder enhancing things. Asian shop. Called Two Stairs Chop shop. It was a shady operation, to say the least. I kept wondering why the fuck I was bringing my car there.

Posey Tube, Chinatown, Occupy Oakland Trees, Job

December 1, 2011

My new part-time job is in Alameda, the little island that noone knows about unless you live in the East Bay that's just a channel-skip away from mainland Oakland. It requires tube-travel. It's the travel that almost killed me going to Alameda for the interview of the very job I have today via the Alameda-bound tube, the Webster Tube. The Posey Tube is outflowing. Now picture, after watching that video, a person riding a bike through the tube, on the road, no shoulder, no lights, no helmet, early in the morning. The Webster tube has no measly sidewalk like the Posey. Didn't know how to get there and was going to be late. Should be dead.

The video above is from the absolute nadir of the tube; judging from its depth, the water surface must not be too far above, maybe 20 feet from the top of the tube? And, as you can see, it's loud, and the yellow, blaring light is disorienting. Riding along that narrow path, I keep waiting for:

1. A big overhanging bus mirror to knock me out;

2. My bag to snag on the leaning, inconsistent metal railing, which would bend my front wheel toward the wall, send my back sliding along it briefly, and then, after a time-dragging prologue, the climax: the bike finally catching for good on the metal railing, corkscrewing me, with 200-pound momentum, into the shoulder-less road and an amazing modern stampede death;

3. The same thing to happen, but the inciting incident would be an 18-wheeler (which do come through there often) and its amazing negative-pressure whirlwind rush;

4. Me, losing it in the yellow light and blaring noise, throwing my bike over the railing and walking, stat, to Chinatown, whose chaos pulses on the Oakland side of the tube, to eat sesame sweetgum-filled beanpaste buns and mysterious, stale-tasting rice-noodle stir-fry for the rest of the day.

Oakland's Chinatown

Chinatown welcomes this impending daylong flipout.

On the way home from the new job, which I'm thankful for, but something that leaves you thinking empty thoughts and assuming some cog-wheel, office identity. Weird, the dynamic of what I imagine to be most "professional" offices. Reminds me of The Office, really. And, it's where you learn, while researching for a short news post, that startup companies, not this one, lose $20 million a year and then $6 million a year, and it's considered normal, acceptable. How does business get done like that? Guess I'm stuck in a mini-micro-economic mindset. That sh#% just doesn't fly in the real world. But that seems to be the sugardaddy, read private equity, hedge fund, weird unreal world we live in now. Confounds the mind.

And Oakland's trees, or should write tree, are, is, still being Occupied. Just so you know. This dude's been up there for a few days. The tree's occupied in shifts from a couple of days to four or more. "It's a nice retreat, if you're into that sort of thing," he yelled down.

Occupy the trees