Tag Archives: The Creek

Salmon? In Berkeley?

Chinook Salmon (adult) Photo Credit: Roger Tabor (USFWS)

Not Codornices Creek, but you get the idea.

This is happy news, though someone needs to tell the salmon it’s the wrong size for the creek:

First Chinook salmon reported in Codornices Creek

Codornices Creek is a little creek, mainly year-round, that flows off the Berkeley Hills and through the Hills’ populated alluvial fan to the east shore of San Francisco Bay. It’s pretty much the same as any of thousands of small creeks in Urban California, except for one thing: it’s in Berkeley, and so there have been people working to restore it for a generation.

Chinooks are more usually associated with large main-stem rivers like the Sacramento: little coastal streams like Codornices Creek are more suited to smaller coho salmon, and steelhead for that matter, which have in fact been seen in the creek for some time, though apparently not in a self-sustaining spawning population.

Then again, the fish set the rules, not us, and the Codornices Chinook’s more likely destination in the Sacramento-San Joaquin watershed has been, as the fisheries biologists would put it in technical terms, massively fucked. This chinook was probably born in a hatchery instead of a leafy rill with a nice cobble bottom; all but one of the Sacramento and San Joaquin’s major tributaries have been plugged with giant concrete dams, cutting off access to something like 99.9999996 percent of the watershed’s spawning habitat. Agricultural runoff of pesticide-laden silt and silt-laden pesticide fills the water along the way to the dams.

But at least it’s a small, one-fish vote of confidence in the good work my former neighbors have done trying to keep Codornices Creek alive, and until we can engineer precisely targeted earthquakes at the bases of the big dams, that’ll have to do.

(Special homechild points if you heard this post’s title in Mel Blanc’s voice.)

Demons

Running is wrestling.

Running brings the demons to the surface, the doubt, the defeatist self-loathing. It reveals them more quickly, more reliably, than weeks of the most skilled therapy.

I ran fairly well last night, an unathletic 5K for those of us who quantify such things, and a fifth of the way along I had already persuaded myself twice to keep going. A demon manifests and points out the sore knee, the stitch in the side, the sudden hungers literal and metaphoric, the likelihood of something better happening somewhere else. They suggest, rather pointedly, that I stop.

They are angry bees. Stop to address them and you feel their stings, but if you keep running they will only follow you a little way. I pick a landmark a hundred feet ahead, a hundred yards. I tell myself to run at least to that lamppost ahead, to the bridge over the creek where the swallows build their nests, to make it at least that far and then decide whether to continue. If I stop there, it is a victory of sorts.

More usually, I remember hundreds of yards past the mark that I was supposed to make a decision of some kind. At least in this one way I can make the attention deficit work for me.

Distraction is armor against the demons. Last night, rumination on a friend’s recent note about the notion of “redemptive grief” got me much of the way up two kilometers of hill. What is “closure,” after all, but the expectation of conclusive redemption? Crating Zeke between book covers did nothing to prevent the muddy paw prints tracked across my mind, the claw scratches at the back on my neck as he asks to be let in. It was a night like this 18 months ago that the inevitability of that loss sank all the way in, and the Futility Demon suddenly sucked all the oxygen out of the bay-side air as I ran. I stopped short that evening without conscious thought. Any path I choose to run leads back to the demons eventually.

The hilltop is only three blocks away. Make it that far, 2.5K, and then decide.

At one block from the top I meet the end boss, the demon most difficult to beat. My ankle starts to ache, and I think without intending to of that time in 1997 when I ran on a sore ankle and limped afterward for months. This demon is suave, a fighter native to my internal territory. He knows the terrain well. His voice is comforting, nurturing. “Are you overtraining, Chris? You shouldn’t be forcing yourself to run if it hurts.” He plays all the angles. “What’s with the ridiculous stoicism, the macho? You’ve done great already. There’s no shame in stopping here.”

I tell him to get back to me in a hundred yards. A hundred yards won’t make all that much difference to an overtrained ankle unless I twist it, which I could do just as easily walking home.

Twenty yards on, as I run down a narrow walk cloaked in overgrown oat and mustard, a rustle comes from my left. This is skunk country. I am hypervigilant these days. Every hair stands on end and then I see the source of the noise: a black-tailed deer.

We run together for a hundred yards, my pace feeling the way hers looks, a long series of slow, buoyant arcs.

I am demon-free for another mile or so.

Divorce is looming, though, and displacement, dislocation as of bone from socket. This is a perfect run, I think, even running into this tree-shattering wind, even running into this North wind driving tall whitecaps on flat San Pablo Bay, and after June when wilI I see the Bay again? My laps through this neighborhood are numbered.

I stop running then, without even thinking about stopping, at around 3.5K. I walk a little.

I turn around and walk past the spot where I stopped, about a hundred yards past, and turn again, and when I am ten feet from the demon spot I begin running again, a hundred yards at a time. Again I approach the swallow bridge, a quarter mile away. I will stop there, I promise the demons. Let me make it there and I will stop. That’s 4.5K. I can live with 4.5K. Let me get that far and I’ll let you win.

At the far end of the bridge I turn, ready to stop.

An enormous red moon is rising. It hangs low over the hills only eight hours before it’s full. The wind shifts a little, blows my hair off my back and over my shoulder. It streams in front of me.

I force myself to stop at 5K.

Blue light

Blue light, then red, then blue again.
The street looks wet,
fair slicked in darkness,
but my bare feet kick up dry stones.
Pebbles skitter over curbs,
implant themselves in callus,
and I flick them clumsily away
with forefinger.

They have splinted his left leg.
Clotted traffic pools uphill and down.

Just yesterday I ran a mile, then two,
and then another,
the longest run in months,
and mourned a bit
at the run’s end.
Best not to push one’s self.
This sense of splintered shin a sign,
these aching femurs,
impact upon jolt,
Earth rising up to strike.
It is the final blow that does the harm.
A love fractures;
the shards hit the street.

How many such blows can a heart take?
They push their hands, heels down,
into his chest.
A formality.
There is no urgency, and
the ambulance rolls slow away and silent.
Tomorrow I will run in daylight,
will run as Egret hunts the creek,
as White-Tailed Kite
hunts motionless above the marsh,
but tonight the owl
hunts souls above the street.
Her silent breast
reflects blue light, then red,
then blue again.

This is our Bay

copyright Michael Macor, San Francisco Chronicle, used in fair use for educational purposes without monetary gain

This photo (by Michael Macor, of the San Francisco Chronicle and more of his work on the subject can be found here) is one for the history books. Each generation has its oiled scoter photo. I used one from the 1971 Standard Oil spill in San Francisco Bay on the front page of Terrain a decade back. That one was perhaps more iconic, more deadly looking, the Golden Gate in the background and the bird an abstract mound of goo with a haunting eye.

Macor’s is softer, more intimate. It is thus all the more devastating. These are hands soaked with oil, this is recognizably a fluffy bird with fouled feathers, and while the 1971 scoter is so slicked it surely died, the bird Macor shows us might survive. His photo thus has a greater sense of urgency, that feeling of armchair triage.

His photo has been following me all day. I resort to analysis of photographic artistry, of composition and semiotics. If I did not, the rage in me would insinuate itself into every pore, cover every surface in me, like 58,000 gallons of heavy residual fuel oil on the bay.

This is not the worst spill the Bay has known. That 1971 spill was more than ten times larger, and in the thirties almost three million gallons of crude poured into the sea from a wrecked tanker just outside the Gate. Spills of like size have fouled the Bay’s fringing wetlands from broken pipelines, and these are rarely counted in lists of such disasters despite their hitting the Bay’s most important wildlife habitats. And atop it all, who knows how many gallons of oil wash into the bay with each season’s first rain, the leavings of a summer’s automotive habits?

I repeat these facts to myself lest I explode. This is just a bad day for the Bay.

Already, a dozen beaches are closed in two counties. A showpiece tract of urban wetland in San Francisco, the crown jewel in a necklace of restoration projects around the Bay, is closed to visitors. Oil has been washed into it with the receding tide: the stain drawn along its edges as the ocean sucked it out the Gate. Baker Beach, where Laura Taflinger took this photo, is closed. Kirby Cove, where once I sat with a loved one’s back against my chest, spray in our faces as big waves rolled in from Japan, is closed. Alcatraz and Angel Island are befouled.

Bunker fuel oil is closer in consistency to tar than gasoline. Imagine powering a ship on what you drain out of your engine block after 50,000 miles. (This was literal truth for a while: shipping companies would buy used motor oil to add to their fuel, until they decided the liability from unknown contaminants was too much for their insurers to handle.) From crude oil the refineries extract natural gas and naptha, gasoline and kerosene, diesel fuel and motor oil, and then whatever is left that still flows faster than asphalt in Tucson in July is called “residual fuel oil.” Most bunker fuel is “grade six” fuel oil: the sludgiest of the lot. This stuff, with twenty to seventy carbons in each molecule’s chain, will not volatilize. It will not be metabolized by bacteria, broken into methane and ethane. What the Coast Guard cannot pick up will stay in the Bay, essentially forever.

Today a wind out of the north raises stiff waves on the Bay, and containment is thus made more difficult. The slicks will break up, spread themselves.

I grabbed my camera and was headed out the door to Kirby Cove to document this atrocity, for whom I do not not know. Shaking in anger. This is our Bay they have defouled. This is our Bay. The living heart of California and they have poisoned it again through carelessness, through unwillingness to moderate their avarice enough to move their ships’ fuel tanks away from the hull. This is our Bay they have used as a sewer. This is our Bay, which we must share with the salmon and the pelicans and salt marsh harvest mice. They do not even see it: it is a highway or an obstacle, and casualties of their transit mere roadkill. Murderers. Murderers!

I had my hand on the door of the truck and I stopped.

I stopped for a long moment.

I turned and walked down to the creek instead.

The tide was up, water flooding the creek’s lower reaches, and yet none of the oil had yet reached this part of the Bay. The sewage treatment plant was there, and the train tracks with their sweating tankers, a tangle of sodden plastic bags on the shoreline and two oil refineries in shouting distance, Asian clams and Chinese mitten crabs and invasive Teredo boring worms and pestiferous striped bass, 99 percent of the biomass in the visible Bay made up of invasive exotic organisms, but

but

pickleweedcordgrassgrebes.jpg

but today, the native cordgrass and the pickleweed still grow.

lesser scaups, couple scoters

But today, scaups and scoters swim more un-oiled than not above the tide-drowned cordgrass beds.

mallardsdetail.jpg

But today, mallards burst into joyous flight as though they had not read the news.