Urban Farms, West Oakland Murals

November 29, 2011

Girl mural Doing a story for BioCycle Magazine on Urban Farms and their related urban ecosystem milieu. Went to meet with the owner, a friend of a friend, of The Ranch at Dogtown, a 14,000-square-foot urban farm that spreads over an acre and a half of property behind a high-ish sheetmetal gate at a ghetto-rattled corner in the micro-neighborhood Dogtown in West Oakland, a little piece of the rough-and-tumble city that bunches up against the freeway and the Oakland port and holds 25,000-ish residents. Where industry, metal working, recycling, etc., merge with rundown, dilapidated, forgotten neighborhoods. It's probably the most well-known, well-studied food desert in America. With UC Berkeley (see urbanfood.org) and the Bay Area, and affluence, humming all around, it's the perfect case-study in food insecurity, largely black, and my home.

Novella Carpenter started a semi-commercial farm in West Oakland and wrote a very good, well-acclaimed book about it, Farm City. She farmed a vacant lot in Ghost Town (a West Oakland mini-hood, like Dogtown), of which there are many, that bordered her rented place, and it stands about 10 blocks from me; and although the farm's story is told from an estranged position, Novella's very funny, self-effacing, and interesting in how she describes growing veggies, fruits, chickens, ducks, two huge pigs, among the Buddhist monks, families, street people, thugs and junkies that roam her street. Near the end of the book she writes what will be the underlying principle of my compost-focused urban farming article: "Although my holding was small - and temporary - I had come to realize that urban farming wasn't about one farm, just as a beehive isn't about an individual bee ... Urban farms have to be added together in order to make a farm." (Bold and italics mine).

Interesting flow of Novella's Ghost Town Farm still-active blog on getting her conditional-use permit. In Oakland, it's not permissible to grow food or livestock on a vacant commercially-zoned lot. If it was residential, no problem. And, just in April or June, Oakland allows Oakland residents to sell urban-farmed food with a fairly inexpensive, $40-ish, business license. Sets the stage for a possible new trend: hyper-local seasonal produce stands. See Novella breaking down her farm life, and the possible start of a roving, pipe-announced, dog-led goatherd providing fresh milk to her neighbors, here:

Video from chow.com

-- Which begs the important question: Can any of this be done economically? Most of Oakland's urban farms are nonprofits and heavily underwritten by grants, subsidies, donations. While that's the case, the whole endeavor has a never-never-land feel. My sister-in-law works at an Oakland-based social equity thinktank, and she spends, as she says, some time on urban farming. She agrees that making it cost effective is the catch. While researching this urban food article, came across an organization that focuses on market urban farming and making a sub-acre farm profitable, SPIN, via a north East Bay industrial town's, Richmond, urban food org, Urban Tilth. A test case, from Pennsylvania's Department of Commerce feasibility analysis of Somerton Tank Farms: over the 4-year program, grossed, yearly, $120,000 per acre of urban farmland! And that's in Philadelphia!

Novella's farm has been down since March 2011, I think. Here's the flow from her blog: First finding out her farming is illegal, April 1, 2011; frustrated Novella asking for help with $, April 5, 2011; Novella almost losing it after finding another letter from Oakland enforcing some arcane policy/code, April 8, 2011; more peaceful, maybe it's working out, April 10, 2011; made $2,500 in donations for her CUP, April 12, 2001; no more summer gardening?, burn out?, May 28, 2011; no CUP yet, but a pop-up farmstand, October 25, 2011; aaaaannnnnnd that's it.

Tonight I went to the final class at Cal of a semester-long course in Edible Education, hosted by famed food author Michael Pollan and Nikki Henderson, executive director of a West Oakland food-equity organization, People's Grocery. It was funded by the famous Alice Waters of Chez Panisse and the Edible Schoolyard, an acre-big teaching garden, housed at MLK middle school in Berkeley. Each year 1,000 kids deal with its produce. Pollan was kind-of boring, as I've heard he is in person; Nikki was slightly overbearing and buzz-thoughty. She said the 25,000 West Oakland residents spend $58 million a year on food, which apparently is not a lot. Damn! That's for the poor in West Oakland. What an industry!

Spoke with former superintendent of education for the state of California, Delaine Eastin, today, too; she served for eight years around the turn of the century. She was awesome and nice. She started the A Garden in Every School program. She said, now, of the 9,000 public schools in California, 3,000, and possibly as many as 5,000, have food gardens used as teaching and eating laboratories. She shared one funny anecdote about visiting an elementary school in Union City, a working-class East Bay city a few miles south of Oakland, named after her; a child came up to her and asked, "Why did your parents name you after a school?" she said, laughing over the phone. She was cooooool.

Mural walk

Anyway ... the murals in this post were done by a former art student, Mark Bode, of the Dogtown farmer Kathryn Porter, who commissioned Bode and some of his friends to colorfully mural (the geisha-girl) one of her ghetto-facing gates. She said to me, basically, "I guarantee that a brightly mural-ed wall will not be graffiti-ed." An acquaintance of hers down the street bought her logic and painted a mermaid-centered ocean-reef scene and a mammoth Moby Dick mural on his scrap-metal buying business. Moby's giant body destroys Ahab's boat and his giant spermy head engulfs docking trucks. Could be a future article: the murals of West Oakland.

Moby Dick

Electric Blue, San Diego

November 27, 2011

Electric blue

The electric blue of San Diego sky was prominent all weekend on a recent trip.

Black's Beach in La Jolla, a few minutes away, a tucked-in small bay ringed with 200-hundred-foot-tall sandy cliffs. The exposed, sheer bleached-yellow faces, the sand dune-made cliffs, aged into sheer faces by time, sediment toward the bottom, still shifty and windswept, the layers at the top, harder-looking and rocky-ish. Every so often, as you curved down the narrow beach that spanned about 20 feet wide at high tide, the lapping ocean pulsing toward the sandy cliff, a convoluted canyonbreak wound up and curved and undulated (-ish) deep into the cliff face. Bulges, flutes, of sandy mangrove root-like cliffwall would twist and flow from the canyon's entrance-edge down to its beach intersection.

The beach, itself, especially the low-tide exposed smooth, glassy sand, had abstract blacksand patterns interspersed periodically; some clusters were uninteresting series of streaks, others were abstract art splotchings that extended, diluted over the beachspace.

The waves pounded the surf in a constant hush, hush, hush, and the small sand divots, created in the wave-wetted sand where running barefeet landed, echoed a consistent plodding, sucking sound as feet pulled out from each sticky, wet step. In the water, surfers broke on six-foot, hard-hitting curls, breaks, some flying over the peak of the waves, shooting like a ski-jumper or a diving dolphin, the board flying randomly in the air.

Surfing next day at winter twilight at a smaller-, smoother-waved beach a few miles south, the sun, an ocher globe in an ocher sky, slid off the horizon, a stringwrapped gumball that some Atlas-like giant god slowly pulled from a few feet below the ocean offing's table-edge through a viscous gel. Before the yellow-haze sinking sunsky, pelicans dove their deadweight dives in the near and far distance, nats buzzing the winter sunset, swarming the water. Once the sun hit the lower horizon, it dropped smooth and deceptive, Rolex-like, millimeter by millimeter on the horizon; its fluid, quick disappearance gave the heart, mind, eyes a mild vertigo. The waves kept coming in. About every 20th one was a decent surfing wave; every 50th one would break where you were, and catching one in, the darkening sky behind and the greying beach ahead, made the evening feel ten-degrees greyer, safe ... and forlorn.

A wetsuit keeps you surprisingly warm, no problems.

The electric blue sky.

Electric Blue To the beach

To the beach


San Diego host, Kacey, on the right; I have a deep, natural love for her for some reason.


November 24, 2011

Cacti Blazing maple Molasses pepper Shoots to the Golden Gate Eva, eyes

New niece Thanksgiving. Look at those eyes. Still won't let me hold her for long. Couldn't eat my butternut squash soup because of the butter and leeks. There's more to this to finish later. Good night.


Jolie and I walked to the park, despite the morning fog-burning sunshine that slowly, slightly evaporated the morning's cold, dripping moisture. She had run ahead, bicycle helmet on, following her mom, who had Evie nestled in a running stroller, quite fast, white iPhone headphones in her ears and the ever-diligent first one arm swinging and then the other. Jolie's dad, my brother, pulled a u-y in the cul-de-sac and on the way back took Jolie's helmet, and as he passed me said, "Try to keep up," which proved difficult because my ribs started ripening a bruise from Sunday's YMCA basketball game, where I landed straight on my chest after having my legs swiped out from under me. It was an odd play. Landed on my left chest, could feel my rib cage compress. Landed pretty hard.

Jolie was running to mom, but when mom turned around in the cul-de-sac, too, she realized that it was just me and her, to walk down the narrow alley-way back steps that dot the neighborhoods of the Oakland and Berkeley hills. Before reaching the stairs, the maples were flaming on the side of the street, and the bay sky peered blue between the houses, downtown, the TransAmerica building triangle looking sharp in the distance, some clouds wrathing the distance behind the Golden Gate Bridge, a long thin red-budded plant stem shooting across the frame.

We walked down the steps and talked about how we should have a skateboard to go down and Jolie's little fantasyland brain giggled up at the thought, however absurd, knowing it was impossible, but dreaming about the realities it would allow. We had quite a shortcut. The entrance to the park was on the left, a break in a chainlink fence, wooden railing guiding the muddy path down into the valley's park, redwood trees tall on the slope, four people struggling up on the muddy path, soupy with the drizzling rain from the morning. We stuck to the pine needle-covered path just under the downslope wooden rail and then entered the center when the mud became a little firmer down the path. The parking lot spread below us, about a hundred feet.

It was a good-ish park.

But I had to hurry back to finish the meal that my sister-in-law doubted would start at three. I still had hope. But when you're cooking in someone else's kitchen and your mom, who's cooking too, has a tendency to confuse any situation into a fluffy, appetizer-laden, dirty dish-, utensil-filled, fish-heavy affair, it took some drilldown focus to finish it. Especially braising cooked still-firm sweet potatoes with a jalapeno-molasses sauce and grilling for a few minutes. Was quite a mess. And making a pie crust with a pieced-together recipe. Ugh. But it came together with white whine and red, a football game in the other room. The kids asking for something to do, anything. But nothing could be offered, because managing is a lot trickier and requires more organization than you can imagine.

So be it.

Occupy Oakland goes west

November 22, 2011

Occupy Oakland

A few weeks ago, the day after Oakland's general strike and march, at the City Hall original Occupy Oakland site.

This morning and last night, the permanent members of the movement, read anarchists/homeless/marginalized, have moved west from downtown into West Oakland. After being removed from Fox Square, just a few blocks north of the original camptown in front of Oakland's city hall, they have moved a few, and a few more, blocks west into my West Oakland neighborhood.

On Saturday, some Occupiers tried to tent-up in Fox Square. They pummeled a gate set up by the city to keep them out, and set up a rave-like situation. A good point why the movement is not going anywhere. Why are you dancing? Understood, it's Saturday night and fun is in the air, but it just felt weak and marginalized, much like the movement as a whole has felt from this casual, basically accidental, observer. When the tents first went up downtown in front of City Hall, I walked through; it was a similar vibe, except there was a get-any-drug-you-want, dissolution Reggae-on-the-River-like camp-out feel. Not impressive from the beginning. There was a makeshift dog pen of pallet wood against a concrete structure that held ferocious-looking Pits and site as a whole had a general malaise, with an undercurrent edge of let's get high and I want some attention.

Camera crews were on the corner a few houses down from mine this morning at 6:30 a.m. as people milled about and around the vacant lot, now filled with tents, at an intersection of my street and another. Apparently, the lot's being foreclosed on, which means that the bank, as a bank, was part of that big bail out, takes the property, and the little one, the owner, loses it. Messed up on the surface of things. But this occupation isn't about that. It's about the extremely disenfranchised taking the opportunity to be in the spotlight. This will blow over. If a doctor or lawyer was in the camp, or someone that looked like he or she had some societal power, then it might be different. It's just a fringe, lost cause.

And one dude, at the original downtown Oakland site, moved to the trees. Caught this funny video of some dudes on the ground grilling him about life in the tree. Where do you go to the bathroom? A bucket. How do you shit? Another guy on the ground, answering for him, laughing: Stand there and I'll show you. "It's gonna be colder than a motherfucker."

Black smudges, gray clouds, ganache

November 20, 2011

Golden line from the opening story "introduction: hunting years" from Tom Franklin's story collection, Poachers (1999):

Buzzards float overhead, black smudges against the gray clouds.

Makes that whole story live. Great. Amazing how one line does it. It really does.

Jolie, ganache

Had an early breakfast date with my niece Jolie this morning at the best cafe, handsdown, in Berkeley - Elmwood Cafe. She stares her thoughtful-look out the window for a moment at the green horizon Berkeley Hills, a cup of housemade ganache-infused hot chocolate, pumpkin waffle with housemade pumpkin butter and real maple syrup before her. How do you beat that?

Yes, she did try to dip some butter-, syrup-soaked chunks of waffle into the hot chocolate. Had to shut that one down, after a try and a half.

Elmwood's ganache sits on the counter next to their espresso machine in a small plastic container, a thick, dark, chocolate-y butter.

Sitting in the Cold

November 20, 2011

Cold Mountains Went up north again for a few days. There are some friends with a Zen temple on 40 acres in the mountains up there and it was Sesshin, an intensive retreat session: about nine hours a day of meditation, a little work, a bath, and some food.

The meditation hall, the Zendo, has no heat, so you better dress warm. The day I arrived the trees had all turned, and as you can see from the sky above the weather was just beginning to come in. It snapped that night, and really snapped the next morning.

Two of the temple's five buildings are constructed in somewhat-traditional Japanese joinery style - no nails or metal in the framing - and, inside, exposed, four large tree beams form a rectangle. I slept in one of those buildings in a small never-not-damp, non-heated room. The second night, I pulled out all the bedding: sleeping bag, futon, fleece blanket, faux down blanket, someone's grandmother's blanket with a band of pink at the top cuff and pink flowers dotting the rest. Felt like a mouse.

Sitting that morning in the Zendo I had silk long underwear on, top and bottom, some cotton pants, cotton long-sleeved shirt, wool sweater and then a robe over all of that. At one of the sitting breaks had to go get another sweater. If your spine gets cold, it's over.

Cold-looking trees

So, that was a couple of days. There's a family of deer that basically live on the property, a doe and two yearlings. It's a safe haven, I imagine, from mountain lion country with the people presence. A few years ago, in mating season, I saw a couple of huge-antlered males and their harem of about 10 does. Interesting, walking by the group at this time, you can feel the males checking you out intensely - they're ready to charge. There's real fear there. From about 50 feet away saw two males go at it, antlers locking. Kept imagining that the weaker one would have his neck broken, because the antlers get so tangled that the stronger male basically twists the other around. They fought for a few minutes, and then the weaker one bolted downhill, crashing through the brush.

In one night the huge entrance oak tree lost most of its leaves. And two somewhat-straggly turkeys wandered a bare, grassy hillside.

So, this trip was full of sitting and apt Zen aphorisms:

Clouds sweep the vast sky, a crane nests in the moon;

This piercing cold has gotten into my bones - I cannot sleep.

He stops his carriage just to enjoy the sunset in the maples,

Whose frost-bitten leaves are redder than spring flowers.

When alive, your wealth is the dew on the grass;

After death, your fame is the flowers by the roadside.

Riding the great dragon in the shadow of a needle's point,

With ease I knock down the moon from the heavens.

North, south, east, west - no road penetrates.

Iron mountains rise sheer before you with their awesome crags.

The ten thousand mountains cannot keep away the moon tonight,

A crescent of pure light, bright beyond measure.

Where the snow lies deep, crows are silently stirring.

From clouded peaks far away, a winter wind returns.

The great Master Baso was seriously ill.

He said: "Sun-faced Buddha, Moon-faced Buddha."

White-money Green

November 17, 2011

Urban farming panel

Went to an urban farming forum last night at the epic David Brower Center in Berkeley. And was overwhelmed, even before one of the presenters talked about it, again by the class-race conservation divide. Looked like the crowd of about 250 all had graduate degrees and were white-ish. Also, the buzzwords started to pile up from the five presenters - a verbal SEO greenwash fest:

Food commons v Landprint

Foodshed (i.e. watershed)




Populist education

Ecological literacy

Artisan quality

40 percent of the bay area landscape is devoted to agriculture. Wow.

The second presenter, a youngish dude, editor of the Earth Island Journal, mentioned that the biggest challenge to successful urban farming was bridging the race-class social divide. His urban farm, Alemany Farms in SF, gets younger, whiter, college-educated volunteers but not so many others. They have an Autumn Harvest festival and an Earth Day Barbeque - that's why there's nobody there. It's too cute, too ineffectual, too nonprofit. Got to be a way to make it REAL.

There was one cute presenter with a swallow-tail cardigan.


November 15, 2011

Had to ride to Alameda, the little island-city nestled right near Oakland's harbor, and was stuck going through one of the tubes. Scaaaary. Was going to be late if I had to bike three-ish miles south to the above-ground bridge that spans the narrow channel separating the island and mainland. So, went down into the dark, echoing tunnel with no bike lanes and cars barreling down at 50-ish mph. I had no lights -- was scaaary. Cars were whizzing by me, thought I was going down.

But it worked out with only three cars passing. Caught the right window, but my heart and legs were beating explosively by the time I emerged to daylight on the other side. Hallelujah!

Napa, Bitches!

November 13, 2011

Napa, Bitches

Want to be a grape soaking in Napa sunshine all day. Felt like one for a moment.

A glorious Saturday drive and wine-tasting-Michelin-lunch day. Napa's less than an hour from my front door! Which every somewhat-hip Bay Area resident must know, but it's easy to forget if you never go. As the above photo shows, there's a depth to the colors, probably more a feel than color, as the valley solidifies around you as you head north on HY 29 from the East Bay. The land's flat, an extension of the San Pablo Bay until the valley becomes more pronounced as the mountain ridges to your left and right slowly hug the valley tighter as you head north, starting from about Napa (city) forward.

Etiole Restaurant is a one-star Michelin establishment. That one star shined through in the pear creme-brule dessert and also the girl's (woman's?) little white-puffy dog at the very next table that didn't want to stay on the ground, but twirled and desperately tried to claw his way up next to his mom (girlfriend?) at the dinner-couch, which also held her short-flip-flop-clad boyfriend (anti-sugardaddy?). When she lowered her waterglass to the floor to let the pup lap and slobber all over the rim as it snuffed up some ice-H2O, there's no other response but cringe. Maybe star number two comes somewhere in the no-dog-slobbered waterglass realm. Who knows? Really, the dog just added some flavor to the awesome experience. Nothing like getting daydrunk on sparkling wine, sparkling wine, to semi-great service with an idyllic view. The idyllic view was peppered with at least one sugardaddy and big-boned blond. Given the circumstances, harmony?

Enhancing the drive and experience, is the increasingly rugged character of the valley as you head to Calistoga, where you enter the fringe of urban, country. You can feel the shift from urbane to hunting, country, rough-hewed sensibilities. Farther up the hill east of Calistoga is the insane Harbin Hot Springs, a New Age lostworld, where couples congregate in a series of communal warm, HOT!, semi-hot, and cold-plunge pools to somewhat dryhump, float and bliss their minds out in that alternate reality that is dragons and crystals and no-eggs-or-meat-in-the kitchen hippiedom. Hard to believe that's still going.

Harbin; video from a previous trip.

At the Domaine Chandal winery tour, our tourguide Jeffrey explained a little boringly about how sparkling wines are made and that rosé is really good with creamy foods. And that the wine-barrel-themed architecture of the headquarters was shaped by various twisted, majestic oak trees. Two of them framed the back entrance very well.

Ticket to ride

Ticket to ride.

Napa River flows through Napa Valley, too. It’s one of the healthiest rivers of the Bay Area watersheds. It has 60 or so miles of stream that’s spawnable by the river’s several anadromous fish species. Anadromous refers to a fish that is hatched and grown in freshwater, goes to sea and matures, and then returns to the same freshwater stream to spawn. Steelhead Trout and Coho Salmon still run the stream.


The Art of Pick-up Basketball

November 10, 2011


Post-"Cage", pissed off, exhausted, my brother broken-rightwristed (on the left), with our Fuck T-Shirts. An epic photo. We ran the court. In NYC, there is no "And One." You call foul and that's it, no basket, even if you make it. Check up top. As you see in the pitch below, that leads to barrages of elblows.

Out of frustration with doing some recent articles that are no fun to write, like Smart Meter privacy concerns and green technology on contaminated lands, I've spur-of-the-moment pitched the voluminous, logorrheic Bill Simmons' website Grantland. The Art of Pick-up Basketball.

Here's the pitch:

I've been a baller for 20 years (I'm 33), played Div II ball at a small university in Austin, Texas. Grew up in Austin, too. My life has spanned the indoor, outdoor, YMCA aspects of pick-up hooping. I have stories and photos of playing at NY's West Fourth court, "The Cage," with my brother. In NY, if you call a foul, as we found out, the shot doesn't count no matter what - there's no "And One"! Encourages bloodshed, brutality, because there's no disincentive to foul as hard or as often as you want. Guys were basically throwing short-arm punches and swinging elblows when you drove to the basket, especially because we were white-boy outsiders. We ran the court, regardless, but my brother broke his wrist early in the process - played through it.

The article would chronicle the culture and the nuances of my pick-up ball life (which I assume mirrors many others') that vary location by location and time by time. Like 10 a.m. on Saturday mornings at the University of Texas Rec Center, when you'd find solid, older-guy games and some UT Basketball veterans and serious-minded contemporaries; like 5 p.m. weekdays at UT's Gregory Gym when the gymrat, preeners, hooplah-ers, come out, along with, in the off-season, the UT Men's and Women's players; like the solid, older-guy 6 a.m.!!! games at the University of Missouri Rec Center (I went there for journalism school; woke up early one Tuesday morning soon after I arrived to shoot some hoops alone, and found out there were Tuesday/Thursday consistent games ?!?!?! – only in the Midwest, I think); playing at my elementary school outdoor court as a 13-year-old against the paint-spackled and drunk, and getting drunker, regulars.

The story would cover, also, the generalities of pick-up: how to pick a good team; the etiquette of pick-up - is it your court?, holding a spot, determining the rules (points, straight-up or by two, fouls); how the magic rhythm of the game only rarely unfolds in a pickup situation; how unspoken understandings appear for people on the team: the rebounder, the hustler, the picker, the shooter, the ball-handler, and, also, the ball-hogger, the black hole, the pretty boy, and the guy that should not be allowed within 50 feet of any basketball court.

Now I'm in Oakland, which has a surprisingly weak outdoor pick-up scene. There are some good-condition outdoor courts, though. I've yet to play in a tough, good game, even at Mosswood Park, famed playground of Gary Payton. Now, I'm in the YMCA years, which is close to the best, consistent pick-up I've experienced. Tues/Thurs at 5 p.m. the same guy, Coach Ray, runs a clock and monitors the score, ensuring quick games and very little B.S.

Bill, et al, pick it up.


I finished Freedom yesterday. Devastating, nihilistic-ish, lived-happily-ever-after surprising (kind of) finish. Franzen created a psychologically-consistent story. Impressive. I cared about Patty from the beginning and was hooked. But, like Atlas Shrugged, surprisingly, there was some tiresome sermonizing on the compelling idea of our modern-life freedom from Joey, Patty's, the protagonist, son. But over all, it captured the rabbit hole impossibility of freedom as an idea for fulfillment. Explored the soul-crushing and emotionally-empty ramifications of that search, and exposed them to their neurotic, self-loathing, wine-drinking conclusions. The book could have trimmed fat, about 30 percent, and it would have been significantly better. But, overall, a decent read, but not anything to enhance your literary brain. Very prosaic prose.

Steel head

November 8, 2011

Bay Area

Researching a piece on the multi-agency effort to restore steelhead trout to watersheds of the San Francisco Bay estuary. It's hard to grasp the story because so many agencies are involved, 17 according to Oakland-based Center for Ecosystem Management and Restoration (CEMAR), which seems to be the point organization of the Bay Area restoration effort. Much of the restoration and preservation action is in the south Bay, because that's where the protected land and drinking water reservoirs are. In one of the reservoirs, the one formed by Calaveras Dam, which blocks the famed, popular Alameda Creek and stands seismically unsound to be rebuilt by 2015, live an interesting population of rainbow trout. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission just started work on the new Calaveras Dam; here's the early Sept. 2011 San Francisco Chronicle article on the dam rebuild project that spurred this whole story idea forward: aqui.

The section from that Chronicle article that caught my eye was:

The rainbow trout in the reservoir are believed to be landlocked steelhead that are descendants of the indigenous fish population, biologists say. Conservationists hope to use those fish as a potential gene pool for restoring the original native steelhead runs.

So, there's some trapped rainbows behind Calaveras Dam that are genetically "itching" to be oceanbound, to be steelhead again? And there's a longstanding effort to restore Alameda Creek's steelhead runs? And Alameda Creek is the third-largest SF Bay watershed behind the San Joaquin River and the Sacramento River watersheds? And there's an historical ecology study of Alameda Creek going on?

And, the motivation for pursuing the story became, immediately - I want to see Alameda Creek and learn more about that landlocked steelhead population, especially since Jeff Miller, director of the Alameda Creek Alliance, listed the Sunol Regional Wilderness, in the heart of Alameda Creek's watershed, as one of his favorite outdoor spots in the Bay Area.

Alameda Creek Watershed

Map of Alameda Creek's watershed.

The big question becomes: Why restore steelhead runs in the first place? Steelheads are, I didn't know this, identical to rainbow trout; steelhead are rainbows that have been to sea, where they earn harder, steel-colored sides and sharper, meaner-looking mouths and heads, replacing the rainbow-y, downy-appearing, peachy coloration characteristic of rainbows. I asked Jeff Miller the key question and his answer is: because it's an indicator species, and it allows a focal point for the restoration of a whole watershed. This answer opened up the story to a whole different level. Especially since, Gordon Becker, fisheries scientist and Bay Area steelhead restoration point-person at CEMAR, said, "They are the species the public grabs hold of the most." If you lose steelhead populations, he said, you lose the public momentum to restore and preserve healthy creeks and streams, which themselves are critical because many people's first connection to nature is, as kids, with their local creeks. True! I explored Boggy Creek next to my childhood home in Austin, Texas, almost every day as a kid. So, the story immediately became a much larger, immediate, powerful one.

Steelhead vs. Rainbow

Steelhead above, Rainbow below. See how much tougher the steelhead look. They're the exact same fish genetically. Once the Rainbow goes to sea, though, it becomes hood.

Steelhead restoration is an avenue to explore the raw, ingenue, burgeoning opportunities to encounter vibrant nature, be fed by it, and begin a relationship that invariably sustains for a lifetime and arguably makes you a better earthbound human. That's the pitch I made today for a Bay Nature feature piece: Steeling the Bay.

Note: Coho and Chinook salmon once had runs in the Bay watersheds, but they aren't being brought back because they're more finnicky spawners; they usually spawn in a stream's headwaters, which in today's heavily dammed and culverted waterways is a nearly impossible obstacle. But steelhead are more adaptable. Indeed, some of the rainbow population in Calaveras Reservoir are landlocked steelhead; as Jeff Miller put it, "They look seaworthy." They're tougher-looking than other landlocked rainbows, like they could head to sea tomorrow and some in the population would make it back to spawn. In Upper San Leandro Reservoir, which sits idyllically placid, pure, untouched-looking just over the East Bay Hills (I see it on my long bike rides bordering a windy, looks-like-it-but-not-so-backcountry road) a good bunch of miles north of Calaveras Dam in the East Bay. Miller says the rainbows in the San Leandro Reservoir have similar "wild" genetics to the Calaveras Reservoir rainbows, but they just don't seem or look as hardy. A 1999 genetics study indeed shows that the Calaveras landlocked steelhead do not have the weakened genes of the five area hatchery rainbow strains, and are closely aligned with those wild steelhead in Lagunitas Creek, a Marin County stream.

San Leandro Reservoir

San Leandro Reservoir on the right of the image.

A new genetics study is going on now, says Brian Sak, San Francisco Public Utility Commission scientist (SFPUC) involved with the restoration efforts in the East Bay. The SFPUC manages Calaveras Dam and its drinking water, lands upstream of it, some as far away as the Sierra. Of course, SFPUC also manages the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, a whole other, amazing story.

Menlo Park, Oakland B-Ball

November 6, 2011

BART-ed to Menlo Park for a sister's Birthday Saturday hang. Cold, rainy, and downtown Menlo provided the homely-less atmosphere of some drafty drawing room in a long-forgotten western European castle. There were some nice 20' by 10' wool/silk rugs for $9,000, though, and some cold, institutional bagel places and one coffeeshop sporting handwritten signs. A peak inside didn't lend confidence to the quality of the food, however. Sister is going to Stanford, which is just a short bike ride from Menlo Park. And Stanford's dweeby character comes through very clear in its smattering of biking Saturday Stanfordites, the computer meetings spied while passing by its maze of buildings, in its business motifs and stone Spanish? center-of-campus architecture. Its tower, where Condoleezza Rice hides out apparently, is ominous; a long, thick largely-windowless structure. Riding by, it's easy to feel a cold, Condy-eyed world, cruise missiles, clean, monarchical furniture, and dull-domed, officious, chardonnay evenings.

Stanford Tower

Stanford Tower, ominous as hell.

The day passed quickly. Sister was crashing and burning as happens when you sleep too much and let down during a high-pressure PhD first semester, which includes a lot of journal clubs and unclocked labwork. We sat through People magazine-accompanied pedicures and doze-inducing hot-rock initiated leg and foot massages, a few hours after a rough-country, suburban, comfort food brunch?.

Sky blue pedicure

Pedicures are real, people.

So, left a little early with her lounging on a blanket-crumpled couch, her black-and-white outlaw quiet cat hovering around, some Hulu-plus shows like Parks and Rec and others navigated via an X-Box controller and a grunting, first-of-the-season furnace blowing some comforting toasty air into the book-lined, blind-drawn apartment. Stepped out into a drizzling, cold, miserable evening to bike to Caltrain down the street. A night to be doing what my sister was doing, not commuting on the institutional, plastic-heavy Caltrain, whose interior bright lights somehow made the drizzling dark outside that much more forlorn.

Pre-boarding, stocked up on some orange juice and cheese crackers from the 7-11 just near the station entrance. And some layers Trident. Hmmm.?

Oakland Y

The building in the center of the photo is the Oakland Y. Below that expanse of noticeable windows is the gym. Walking by you can hear the games. Hoorah.

Played the fourth game of the Oakland YMCA fall men’s basketball game today. Our team is mostly white (besides one Mexico City-ite) and lacks aggression most of all. We’re good, but turn the ball over a lot. We won – we’re 2-2, now. It’s a tough league. Last week some guys on the other team dunked on us. Not appreciated. Getting older, and slower, is tough. I used to be one of the best players on the court. Now, you see the past ability and flashes of inbred-skill, but mostly, I assume, it’s just a sad flow of images. Maybe getting in good basketball shape, after healing this janky, twisted right ankle completely, will get things on the right track. ....

Reading Freedom by Jonathan Franzen finally. Good. Appreciated the Don't Look Back reference, a moment in the documentary where Dylan not only punked Donovan, but distinctly gave the small crowded room, and us, the difference between skill and genius. Freedom: "The breathtaking nakedness of Dylan's competitiveness! Her feeling was: Let's face it, victory is sweet."

Dylan, to a train-chugging, softer-then-louder-then-softer guitar:
You must leave now, take what you need you think will last. But whatever you wish to keep, you better grab it fast. He understands your orphan with his gun, crying like a fire in the sun. Look out, the Saints are coming through, and it's all over now, Baby Blue.

The highway is for gamblers, better use your sense. Take what you have gathered from coincidence. The vagabond is rapping at your door. He's standing in the clothes that you once wore. Strike another match, go start anew, and it's all over now Baby Blue.

DAMN. That swirling Dylan, asshole-magic.

Occupy Oakland and an ankle

November 3, 2011

Sorry for the shaky, unedited video. Still? figuring out iMovie.

Occupy Oakland stormed downtown Oakland yesterday with a General Strike. The whole day downtown felt like a festival, people were in the streets, some businesses were shut down, and some semi-serious anger.

I live in West Oakland, about a mile north of downtown, and could hear the low, annoying hum of circling helicopters all night as they kept tabs on the protest that eventually shut down the Oakland Port. Today, Thursday, the day after, everything's humming back at normal speeds. A long, cold rain set in, seeming to cap and end the long, glorious Indian Summer that peeled the low-slanting autumn sun up and sliced a waft of warm air underneath. Cool-looking, but warm. Not too bad.

Breaking up scar tissue in a rolled ankle is underrated. Wish I had done this my whole life. Has cut down on recovery time by weeks.



November 1, 2011

Humpback whales breaching

Did a story published today on humpback whales visiting insanely close to Santa Cruz Harbor for Bay Nature's website. Started it yesterday at about 3 p.m. and finished it today at about 11:30 a.m. It's tough to turn around something that quick even if it's short.

I mean, wtf do I know about humpback whales. Wikipedia is a good orienting tool. And you just call the sh#$ out of people and try to find out what's up. Took a long time. Finally got a responsive, cool, knowledgeable dude. Whenever a story has one of those it's a big blessing.

I pitched the story because my housemate got back from kayaking with the whales in SC Harbor last Sunday. "It was one of the coolest experiences of my life," she said, which made me stop. I can only imagine, because humpback whales are the big showy ones that breach big time and do the bubble-net feeding and verticle lunge feeding. She said you could hear them singing as they came up to blow-hole and even when they were under the water, too.

After the whales, there were about 7 to 9 of them, did their rolling breaching, about 30 to 40 sea lions would surface after them, she said. And there were pelicans and dolphins - a crazy, live-wild aquariam action. Must have been miraculous - check out how big those whales are in the photo above, taken at SC Harbor a few days ago.

They were close offshore, because their winter migration south matched a nutrient-rich cold-water uprising that coalesced for whatever ocean current, wind reasons at the mouth of the Santa Cruz harbor. The nutrients fed phytoplankton, which fed plankton and stuff and then krill and then anchovies and sardines and other baitfish and then the whales.