Monthly Archives: June 2007

Grizzlies ate salmon here

Graphic I cobbled together some years back for an article in the old Faultline.

We went to the Oakland Museum today, to see an exhibit on Yosemite as reflected in art. I’ll have more to say about it soon, but for now: it was a good exhibit, providing a much-needed Hudson River School fix to this Bierstadt and William Keith addict, and it wasn’t just Art Of The Conquerors: native art of Yosemite, baskets and regalia, traditional and Modern, are represented as well.

But it was a different exhibit that’s preoccupied me for the rest of the day.

“Grizzlies Ate Salmon at the Oakland Museum of California” reveals the topological roots of the land now occupied by the museum. In the 1700s salmon swam and bear dined in the San Antonio Creek, the estuary adjacent to the museum and Laney College. The spawning streams have become storm drains, and the estuary’s level is now controlled by a tide-gate pump station at 10th Street.”

Nothing I didn’t really know there. A palimpsest of loss: the griz habitat of the East Bay replaced by small cities and ranchland in the 1860s, the ranchland paved over and replaced with suburbs in the 1890s and onward, the urbanized former suburbs — thriving vibrant neighborhoods — torn down and replaced by freeways in the 1960s.


Becky and I were talking recently about time machines, and what we’d do with them. Of course we thought about showing up at home four years ago while the previous us were at work and taking Zeke out for a hike. The Mid-Hills-to-Hole-in-the-Wall trail would be a nice destination, sometime before 2005 when all the hyphens burned down. Or even just camping at the unburned Mid-Hills one more time. Maybe Buffalo in the 1970s, tolerating it just long enough to give myself some much-needed advice, not that I’ve ever listened to me? (Would I say “don’t listen to the people you’re currently listening to?” Or tell me about the ADD? Or to buy Microsoft stock?)

The Grand Canyon before the smog got bad, or Glen Canyon before the dam? Hetch Hetchy before the dam? Yosemite before the roads? Or hell, the Grand Canyon two million years ago when lava dammed it, making a waterfall 12 times the height of Niagara Falls with twice the Niagara’s flow?

Tonight I’m thinking downtown Oakland, maybe around 1750 or so, before the Spanish brought the benefits of Christianity, cattle, and cholera. Just to show up and look around, to try not to bother the Huchiun too much, to see what my home looked like before.

Maybe I’d make that literal: hike up from Huchiun territory into Karkin turf to to see what grew in my garden two hundred fifty years ago, to see if I could even find this piece of land, to drink from the springs that once bubbled up out of our backyard.

Where would you go? Aside, of course, from the Philips Academy in 1943 to give the young George Herbert Walker Bush a free vasectomy.

Server switch

Things may be a little odd-looking around here for a bit. I’m switching servers. Same goes for Ron’s joint, which will be getting a brand spanking new design and URL out of the deal, assuming I figure out how to use Expression Engine’s Multiple Sites Manager at some point in the next couple days. Great software, sketchy documentation.

Carry on!


The blog world is not a place I want to be right now.

[Embarrassed clarification, after three days: Whoa! I didn’t mean to imply I was ending it all. I said “right now” meaning “for a while.” Not “never again.” Maybe less than a month, maybe more, dunno.

CRN isn’t dead. I’m just taking things too seriously and need to go for more walks. Besides: I’m unemployed and 1) need to make some money, which means less time for writing blog entries and 2) Becky just ended her school year, so it’s an opportunity for uxorial companionship. Which is the perfect antidote to blog world ugliness.

I’ve spent whole hours at a time away from this machine the last few days, and it feels great.

And thanks for the notes, folks. You guys are swell. Feel free to email me at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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document.getElementById(‘eeEncEmail_NuXjCuVemX’).innerHTML = output;
if you want. Especially if you’d like a tour of Pinole Creek.]

[Also: what the hell. I’ll open comments here: talk among yourselves. Enjoy.]


The Earth is a still, and granite the froth boiled out of its depths. That granite is buoyant. It skitters before the wind, almost, riding the mantle’s currents, bumping up against other flakes of granite and suturing itself together into continents.

The rock of Mount Eddy is heavier stuff. A cubic mile of peridotite, flesh of the mantle welded to the continent when a chain of islands rode up onto the North American Plate to become the Klamath Mountains, Mount Eddy seems top heavy up here above the crustal rocks, an ocean-going anvil on a bamboo raft. I wonder, as I lie shivering in my sleeping bag, what manner of nudge would suffice to flip this whole county upside down.

It has been some time since I have seen this many stars.

That peridotite was cloaked in ice not long ago, a mere 12,000 years or so. The ice flowed down the Deadfall Creek drainage, plucking rocks from the face of the mountain and moving them downhill. Where the glacier ended, rocks accumulated in moraines. It is a topography familiar to Californians: the Deadfall glacier melted back in stages, leaving behind a chain of lakes separated by morainal dams. They are called “paternoster lakes”: a rosary chain of holes carved out by Pleistocene ice, strung together on a meltwater braid. When it laid down the lateral moraine pressing into my back, the Deadfall glacier was downright petite: half a mile long, a quarter across. Perhaps two hundred feet deep.

A snowfield at the head of this little valley shines in starlight. It is June and unmelted snow remains, and shines in starlight. Two weeks ago the pass was blocked by a head-high drift. It had melted back clean to the verge when we drove past it. There is no moon and the sky is black, and yet the stars burn bright enough to bathe the mountainsides in light. Starlight limns the snow under the firs, behind the ridges where the big star cannot yet reach to melt it by day.

There is light enough to walk, and so when I must get up — as well-hydrated hikers often do — I walk in darkness. It is cold and the bag beckons, but I walk when I am done to the edge of our lateral moraine, look down toward the lake. It is bottomless. There is no wind to rake its surface, and stars blaze up from it.

At three the moon rises over the summit ridge. It drives a wind before it and we shiver in our bags.

Day comes and coffee, and we rouse ourselves slowly to the summit. I have known Matthew for 25 years and he has known me just as long, and we divide the tasks of our hikes near-instinctively, without discussion: I complain going uphill, and he complains going down. There is little of that routine here aside from my calling halts to catch my breath. Less than 24 hours at altitude and this trail climbs 2,000 feet in a mile and a half. We take turns carrying the 20-pound daypack. I observe that I don’t feel up to making the summit, and then we make the summit.

We make the summit. It starts to rain and we descend.

We second-guess the sky. We lose. It rains on and off for the rest of the day, a bit of drizzle at a time, and then an hour before sunset the high overcast descends, fills the valley with mist. Darkness gathers and we watch the mist. Red rock walls across the lake, spare groves of sparse trees on them in the dim cold fog, and we in equipoise between the beckoning down and sublime, uncaring murk.

Gone: comments open for members only

Off until Monday. I can’t thus moderate comments, but rather than turning them off in this time of heightened tension and trolling and nastiness I’ve restricted them to people who’ve signed on as members. New memberships will go into moderation until I get back. I apologize for the inconvenience.

Resignation: An Open Letter To The Progressive Blogosphere


The Hot Club of Cowtown, with an appropriate theme song for this post

Dear Progressive Blogosphere;

I quit.

This decision, like the decision Brittney Gilbert made yesterday to quit her job after becoming the target of the latest “progressive” mob torch parade, has been coming for a long time. What she said in her resignation holds here: recent events didn’t cause this, but they did precipitate it.

I’ll still be writing, here and anywhere else I’m allowed. My politics haven’t changed except in the incremental, nuance-building way they would have anyway, generally sliding me further left, which some may not have thought possible. I’ll certainly still be writing about those politics when I’m moved to do so. And more importantly, I’ll continue to exercise those politics in what we once quaintly referred to as the “real world.”

But though I may be a person with “progressive” politics who writes, among other venues, on blogs, I wish to inform you that I am no longer a “Progressive Blogger,” and thus my continued membership in the Progressive Blogosphere is inappropriate.

So I quit.

I admit that part of the problem has been my own naïvete. I’m an old fart, and I’m obviously stuck in a sort of 1970s time warp in which ¡Villa Alegre! is still on PBS, the bourgeoisie wears Qiana shirts, and progressives have made a commitment to self-criticism, connection of different political issues, and front-building among diverse people and cultures. These days I see “progressives” who, given a time machine and a bad haircut, would have felt more at home inside the International Amphitheatre in Chicago in 1968 than they would have with the people outside.

That’s not a perfect metaphor. For one thing, the male 1960s radical leadership had an even longer way to go on feminist-related issues than your run of the mill 2007 moderate conservative male does, to say nothing of GLBT issues. But I still think it apt. I’ve written before to compare the “progressive” response to radicals in the electoral process with the Republican response to their own radicals: for those disinclined to click a link for that all-important context, here’s a summary:

1992: A third-party candidate arguably costs the GOP the presidential race. GOP response: find out what the disaffected wanted that the GOP failed to offer, and offer it.
2000: A third-party candidate arguably costs the Democrats the presidential race. Democratic response: demonize the disaffected.

We see that second one repeated every time the Progressive Marshmallow Consensus gets poked at from any perspective that could be interpreted as to the PMC’s left: accusations of the Perfect Targeting the Good, accusations of Destroying the Coalition, accusations of Not Subjugating Our Petty Issues to the Greater Cause. We play along, if under protest. It is crucial, after all, that the current gang of genocidal kleptocrats be tossed out of power ASAP.

And then what? Again, 1992 is an instructive year. Liberals rejoiced when Clinton defeated Bush. And then they went to sleep for eight years. This despite Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the Forest Summit sellout, the betrayal of Lani Guinier, the abandonment of paltry CAFE standards, the ascendancy of the Right in the 104th Congress, and the list goes on.

Assume the most conservative Democrat in the field of Presidential candidates wins the general election. Tell me — with a straight face, I mean — that at least 70 percent of Progressive Bloggers won’t suddenly go eerily quiet about her policies, even if they’re substantially similar to Bush 43’s. Say a date is set 18 months in the future for withdrawal of troops from Iraq, with an option to postpone at the President’s discretion. You tell me there’ll be a chorus of outrage across the Progressive Blogosphere. If there is, it’ll be a departure from past performance.

It’s always been about winning. Those of us for whom the issues are paramount are political — and sometimes not just political — cannon fodder. Which is why the PMC reacts so poorly to observations of its innate sexism, or racism, or otherphobia. While such criticisms are helpful to people who truly want to make change in the world in the long term, they’re distractions, or even obstacles, to those who want to win in the short-term. The left, the Greens, feminists, anti-racists, Rainbow Nationalists, any of us in the diverse range of concerns that make up the lower-case p progressive movement? We’re exactly as useful and important as our contribution to the electoral win of the New Face Of Progressivism!

Yes, the PMC treats the radicals as consumables and discardables. But this wouldn’t be a real “GBCW” post if I didn’t say something about the radicals as well, now, would it?

I have this to say about the radicals: I love you. But you don’t have to look to hard to find examples, among us, of some of the same things being rightly criticized in the Brittney Gilbert blogswarm referenced above. An example: It’s a fine thing to slam someone for writing something you find offensive. It’s another thing to slam someone for not writing something they way you would have, or for writing about a subject other than the one you think they ought to have picked. It’s a fine thing to criticize someone moderating comments on their blog in a way you don’t agree with, but it’s another to slam someone for not moderating comments on their blog 24/7. It’s a fine thing to decide that your blog has a specific mission. It’s another to decide that your blog’s mission is the only mission any blog should have.

In short, it’s one thing for you to be disappointed in or angered by bloggers with whom you share some political viewpoints. It’s another to assume they owe you anything other than basic human respect because you’ve done them the favor of reading their work.

The notion that individual people are best thought of as metaphorical cannon fodder isn’t restricted to the PCM. We do it too. There are people whose Ideal Left consists of lots of outwardly diverse people all saying the same thing at the same time, an online Worker’s World march with all the banner slogans written in the same hand, and those people fancy themselves the ones best suited to determine what those banners say. But I like my diversity more than skin-deep. I want a world with both subtlety and slapstick. Anger and reflection. Deep importance and trivia.

And I want a world where people are willing to try to remember that one person can indulge in all of the above.

You know one of the things I like least about my blog? The fact that I felt compelled to add “satire” to my list of categories. I thought it a necessary evil: for every person who gets a joke, there’ll be twelve who think I think professors are all Maoists. It’s tempting to just sit back and snicker at people who don’t get the joke. Still, I’ve always been suspicious of in-groups without an open admission policy, and making a sense of humor a prerequisite sets a bar too damned high for some people to jump.

But one of the common assertions made by the mob of torch-wielders demanding Brittney Gilbert’s head was that their failure to comprehend her intent was a mortal sin on her part. Sure, part of writing well is making one’s intent clear when appropriate. I’d probably have made my disgust for that link a little clearer, especially as I’ve been burned by people’s incomprehension more than once. But as in everything else in life, balance between competing interests is important. Explaining that jokes are jokes will help the pathologically humorless avoid embarrassment, but it ruins the jokes for everyone else. Saying that every time one discusses a bad thing, one is obliged to point out that it is a bad thing, and that bad things are bad, and that failure to point this out every single time is an offense punishable by witch hunt, firing, ostracism and the like? Fuck that noise.

I recognize that some of the very Progressive Bloggers who most need to read those last two sentences will likely have missed them because their eyes have glazed over in the absence of blink tags to denote the important points of this essay, so let me repeat them in bold type for the clue impaired:

Saying that every time one discusses a bad thing, one is obliged to point out that it is a bad thing, and that bad things are bad, and that failure to point this out every single time is an offense punishable by witch hunt, firing, ostracism and the like? Fuck that noise.

Given a choice between — on the one hand — retaining membership in good standing in the Progressive Blogosphere by writing to the lowest common denominator or — on the other hand — not insulting the intelligence of the kind of reader for whom I prefer to write, I pick that second thing there.

So let this function as a courtesy notice. If your reading this blog, or linking to it, or liking it, is based on what I actually write, you’ll notice no change. But if it’s predicated on my loyal membership in the Progressive Blogosphere, you may want to update your blogroll to include me out [underlined text added post-publication for that all-important clarity]. Have a nice day. I mean that sincerely. And that. Etc.

PZ’s big break

[Update: As always, there’s no blog post too trivial to send someone off on a moral superiority lecture. Good thing I didn’t write about pole dancing.]

I was spending some time today watching Julieta Venegas videos instead of working, as is my wont, and found to my delight that CRN reader and proprietor of the noted science blog Pharyngula, PZ Myers, seems to have landed himself a nice bit part in one of Venegas’ videos, posted below. He first shows up at about one minute ten seconds in.

Congrats, PZ, and if you ever want to introduce me to Julieta, please feel free. Like you, I’m a sucker for a woman that can play accordion.


Finally someone notices


My long weeks of keeping my new hummingbird feeder filled and fresh and unmoldy seem to have paid off. I think the thing’s been hanging there since February, unused and unvisited.

This is probably the same male Anna’s hummingbird that divebombed Thistle the other day, driving him under the bearded iris leaves, and then surveyed his newfound domain from the top of the grape arbor. Thistle flinches now when he hears that characteristic little “svetchasvetchasvetch” hummer territory call.

Public Service Announcement: you do know, you hummer enthusiasts out there, that the red dye in commercial hummingbird feeder mix is neither necessary nor recommended, do you not? It’s cheaper and better for the birds if you make your own food. Four parts water to one part white table sugar, boil the water first, then mix in the sugar and stir until it’s completely dissolved, fill your (cleaned and rinsed) feeder and refrigerate the rest. Don’t use honey or maple syrup or brown sugar. They get their minerals and vitamins, protein fat and such from eating insects. The sugar is fuel to allow them to find, hunt, and consume said insects.

And on that note: though the little guys can hover just fine while feeding, it’s better if they can perch, as Thistle’s nemesis is doing here in this grainy, blurry, over-enlarged and Photoshop-sharpened image. This allows them to conserve energy for hunting and staying warm.

Mount Shasta

There’s something about the mountain that’s always given me a low-grade case of the creeps. I first felt it about twenty years ago, the first time I saw the mountain. I was traveling alone, more or less. Unsure where I was going to sleep, I found a spot just north of Mount Shasta City to roll out my sleeping bag and watch the mountain turn vermilion, glaciers backlit by the sun setting beyond the Klamaths. It was an uneasiness, a prickling of the skin, as if someone not far away was playing a loud note at just slightly too low a pitch for me to hear.

I have seen the mountain perhaps a dozen times since then, and always I feel that same uneasiness; it starts well before the mountain comes into view, as the road climbs the canyon of the Upper Sacramento River from the south. It is not exactly a foreboding. It does not feel exactly bad. But I have been able to relax fully only once in view of the mountain, and that in Lava Beds forty miles away by crow, a place with entertaining creepiness enough of its own that the horizon’s snowy triangle becomes mere scenery.

I’ve been all around it, seen it from every angle, but I have never set foot on Mount Shasta. I would like to, and I intend to, and then I get there and other directions beckon. The mountain again sings that song I cannot hear and I lose track of it.

It might be something about volcanoes. Fault-block or syncline fold mountains are fascinating enough, with their implicit histories of continents colliding or stretching apart, and yet their existence owes much to random chance, a small crack in an uplifted massif widening by root and branch, stream and glacier. Eventually the chasm widens and Whitney and Tyndall become distinct peaks, but that distinction is a superficial one: their root is the same rock. A stratovolcano is an individual from the start, and it can grow from nothingness to full-fledged mountain in far less than a human lifetime. The story a mountain like Shasta tells is a bit more dramatic. Perhaps not as dramatic as some mountains I’ve actually set foot on: I’ve hiked high in the San Francisco Peaks, which are the remnants of a stratovolcano that may have been taller than Whitney. I sat on a porch east of Flag one afternoon looking at the Peaks, a beer in my hand and my boots on the rail, and connected the implied slope past where the old mountain had been truncated. It looked like several thousand feet of missing mountain, a sobering fantasy. If it went all at once like Mount Saint Helens there would have been ashfall in Tennessee. For that matter, I’ve climbed about as high as one can anymore toward the summit of Mount Mazama, which for the last 7,500 years or so has been missing its top half-mile.

I don’t know what it is. I feel the hair standing on the nape of my neck even thinking about Shasta.

I’ll be seeing it three times this summer, if all goes as planned. Once sometime next month on our way up to Seattle to visit Becky’s sister. Once on the way back, unless we decide to return the long way, for instance through Utah.

And for a few days starting this Friday, if my plans with Matthew come to fruition. We intend to backpack for a couple days on Mount Eddy across the Shasta Valley from the volcano, to kick up some peridotite gravel, to pay respects to Zeke’s Darlingtonia bog, to marvel at what might be the westernmost wild population of Jeffrey pines, to get away from every single one of the internets for a few days.

I suppose we could hike a little on the volcano, if we feel like it. If we think of it.