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.