Monthly Archives: September 2007

No end intended

Went out running as the sky turned dark, and at about the one and a half kilometer mark I did not turn away from the Bay where I usually do, but instead, on a whim ran up a bayside hill. A few blocks on well-lit streets to a trail that snaked around behind the houses, and I ran that trail around a duckweed-choked pond, through a copse of eucalyptus. There were muledeer there, flanking the trail as they browsed. They looked up at me, started as I passed, paced me easily. We ran together for a few yards: They stopped when they realized I meant them no ill, went back to trimming the coyote brush.

Past a tule pond and catttails, up a long, sloping trail behind more houses and back onto the streets, and I ran breathing hard through sterile suburban streets named Titan and Olympus and Zeus. My hair kept out of my eyes by a bandana, it streamed back over my shoulders. I watched it in the streetlight shadow, a distraction from my burning lungs.

And then the intersection with my usual route, a few feet shy of my usual 100-foot “summit,” up and down toward the railroad and the stable, and back again into the streets. Three blocks from where I usually reach the bay again, on a long slope downhill toward the levee, I eyed the hill I’d just come down. The wild hair stood on end again. I ran uphill, away from the bay again.  When I reached my starting point, at 6K and change of solid running and a climb a bit shy of 200 feet, I felt no impetus to stop except my judgment, which I heeded.

I won’t run tomorrow. I have a walk in mind.

These hills I see have names I’ll never know

Linda Kelsey is the last living fluent speaker of Elem Pomo, which you can hear her speak in this podcast, in between the bits of clueless condescension from the white reporter, who expresses surprise that the Elem Pomo language did not ossify in 6,000 BCE, but in fact contains words for such objects as motor vehicles.

(Do not read the comments to the Chronicle article unless you need a reminder that San Francisco is not a haven from hateful ignorance. This is actually good advice for any article on the Chronicle’s site.)

Those of us who speak more than one language at all fluently will know this: each language offers ways to think about things, to express things in one’s mind, that are unique to that tongue. And Orwell knew this:

“A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible.”

(Thanks to The Theriomorph for reminding me of that passage recently.)

Some estimate that half the world’s languages are threatened with extinction, the majority of them spoken by indigenous people, at least a hundred of them in home ranges less than a day’s drive from Pinole Creek. Each language gone extinct takes its unique senses with it: there lie thoughts that will never live again in neural flesh.

I wonder sometimes if one reason for the current spiked hatred of immigrants is fear of alien thought, el miedo de los pensamientos que resisten la traducción en inglés. Xenophobia looms large, of course, but one hears so many complaints from the Know-Nothings about being forced to “press 1 for English.” The same people who despise immigrants from Asia, or Latin America tend also to despise those of us who speak casually in English words of more than three syllables, whose facility with language is sufficient to allow us to write a mediocre haiku in less than a day of effort, or in fact even to know what a haiku is.

One need not be a linguist, nor a Native Rights activist, to mourn the looming loss of Elem Pomo, though those are both fine things to be. One need only be in favor of thought.

Hills Ferry

There was a meeting here once, a merging of water,
two streams whose watersheds stood back to back
along the smooth granite planes of Donahue Pass
where once I thought the pounding in my chest would be my end.
I lay on my back that day, gasping,
head pressed hard up against the lichened rock, each turn
in rugged trail brought disappointment,
the pass still out of view.
Mount Lyell stood there, remote, and out of sight around
a monolith pink-speckled, Rodgers Peak,
a quadruple divide country. One face flowed down toward
the Lyell fork, where bears would take our food;
another to the east, to dissipate in sterile
alkaline and salty sumps, and the remainder
into the San Joaquin and the Merced. An inch apart,
the San Joaquin and the Merced, up in the land
of Adams and of Muir, and then a hundred miles apart
they reach the Valley.

There was a merging here once, a confluence of water,
til the dams went up, and sucked the Sierran riverbeds
for liquid Federal cotton subsidies, this was the spot
where San Joaquin chinook saw their Merced companions
depart eastward, where storms that spent themselves on the divide
were once again made whole, but now
the San Joaquin is drained, its water drizzled out
to leach salts from valley soils, to collect and pool,
to lure migrating birds looking for lakes gone half a century
which drop gratefully into the selenium-marred waste.
Their young hatch out blind and wingless.
Once a sodden mass of tules grew here, grapevines
thick for miles, and sycamores, box elders,
once Lasthenia and Fritillaria filled the broad
wide spaces in between riparian tangles,
but now the land is sterile, furrowed,
an expanse of brown corduroy pressed flat upon a flat table.
Walk down to the bank, walk past
the broken white foam cups, old alternators,
bottles of motor oil, their caps long gone and
dry star thistle, wind-whipped plastic bags,
walk past the ankle-high barbed wire kept treacherously strung
along a row of downed and hidden fenceposts, to find the water
thick algae-roped, warm, mucilaginous and green.

There is a spot upon the Merced’s banks
where, sunwarmed but still clear, the river glides
on glacier-polished rock, flows fast and sweet and smooth
and then? And then the earth falls out from underneath.
Six hundred feet the river drops, Nevada Fall,
and though the brink is marked abundantly
by signs — “If you swim here you will die” —
each year a few walk past the warnings, swim,
are flung out into space, and fall.


Today was an off-day, so I ran just 2.5K. Sun shining, blue sky and clear,  65 degrees Fahrenheit.

At 1.4K, a possum lay in the road, dead and newly discovered. A turkey vulture approached. I slowed, stopped to watch for a moment. The bird was a bit shy, despite my wearing unobtrusive green and black, so I used a car as a blind. It worked over the possum methodically, plucking at loose flaps of skin where the deceased’s abdomen had burst. Cars approached and swerved, and the vulture would look up placidly, saunter to the curb and back again when traffic calmed. I wondered whether I ought to kick the possum to the curb, decided against soiling my shoes, and started running again. The vulture startled a bit when I came out from behind the car, then sauntered back again.

2.0K: An orbweaver’s mesh shines in a bit of sun. A cricket leaps away from the sidewalk as I pass and lands sidelong on the web. The lady of the house leaps up to answer the door. Sorry, cricket. I didn’t mean to.

2.5K: I am stern with myself and my tendency to overtrain, and end my run. I walk toward home.

2.7K: A sweet mare, black with white socks (three ankle-length and one calf-length), pulls up the last remaining dried grass from the south end of her paddock. I gaze at her for a moment. She is too preoccupied to gaze back. I head down the embanked cut toward the railroad, cross the tracks.

3K: From the Fernandez Park bridge over Pinole Creek, I watch a great egret standing among swimming mallards. A fish wriggles in the egret’s beak. A stickleback, by the size of it, or perhaps a steelhead fry. Egret tosses its head, swallows, takes another desultory stab at the placid water among the ducks.

Creek Running North Meetup

Saturday, October 20,
Gather anytime after 11:00 am, optional potluck 1:00 pm
Point Pinole Regional Park,
Picnic Area near Fishing Pier

Regulars, occasionals, lurkers, newbies, cobloggers and guest bloggers welcome
More information here. RSVP in comments there or on this post. See you there!