Tag Archives: The Neighborhood

Because Zeke isn’t here, this task now falls to me


That’s machine oil all over the two-week old kitten’s body.

He was so cold when I touched it that I thought “dead for an hour at least.” And then I picked him up and he yelled at me.

I figure his mother, a feral, couldn’t pick him up what with the oil on him. Must have tasted evil.

There was another, healthier, bigger kitten right there, who’d apparently fallen out of a shelf the (not very sensible) mother had put him in, and I grabbed him her. “Your brother needs a heating pad, and you’re the lucky winner.”

Three baths, and some homemade kitten glop, and a session with the blowdryer, and a couple of ruined towels later, they’re snoozing on a low heating pad.


(This, incidentally, is not a good idea for newborns: they can’t move around, and they get burned, and don’t try this at home. These guys are able to roll, and the healthier one is actually tottering around unpredictably. Besides, it’s a high-tech heating pad I bought to sleep on when my back goes out, and it’d be hard to burn yourself on it if you tried. Still, as soon as the little guy was warm, into the box they went.)

More photos here.

On topics other than kitten rescue: I’ll be living in Nipton from July through September, looks like, in an artist’s residence type house, a fifteen-minute drive from my campsite at Cima Dome.

Lichen on pallid manzanita

lichen on manzanita

There are two places in the world to which this manzanita, Arctostaphylos pallida, is native. One is a small part of the Oakland hills in and near the Huckleberry Regional Botanic Preserve. The other is where Matthew and I hiked yesterday, on Sobrante Ridge.

I haven’t been there in so long.

The species’ habitat is mostly protected from development, though some of the Oakland Hills stand is on private land, and a few got cut down to the ground by utility right-of-way brush clearers in 1992. (I found the amputated limbs lying by the roadside a day later. I don’t think anyone ever paid for that particular crime.) But a couple good fires with bad recovery conditions following, or a five degree increase in average temperature combined with more summer precipitation (a strong possibility on the coast) and these plants could be in serious trouble.

Those are possibilities, though. We sat beneath the current reality yesterday:

Pallid manzanita berries
Seeing new growth and a new potential generation on an endangered species: a good feeling.



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.


1) In Golden Gate Park on Monday, I passed a mother and daughter feeding ducks. The daughter could not possibly have been older than three. I smiled at them as I walked past. When I was perhaps ten feet past the little girl she said said to her mother, very crisply, “He’s got Bob Marley hair.”

2) [Added: This is not a paid or solicited review. I hate that certain bloggers’ ethics are so loose that such a disclaimer is necessary instead of the other way around.] Can someone explain to me how I could possibly have survived until now without this software? (All the keystrokes I could have saved myself. Sigh.) “Like iTunes for Journal article PDFs,” one review I saw said, more or less. I’m importing the hundreds of articles I’ve downloaded for J tree book research, and Papers keeps track of which ones I’ve read, plus will import citation metadata and abstracts of recent articles from Google Scholar or PubMed or other databases. (Users are adding modules for new databases as we speak.) I remember, children, when doing research meant cross-referencing citations in five point type in Biological Abstracts, usually in library stacks with a malfunctioning fluorescent tube 30 feet away the sole illumination. Tools like this make ADD almost a boon in doing research, now that I can let the machine handle the organizing. Plus you can set your settings so that you click on a PDF file, drag it to a word processing document, and what appears in the new document? The properly formatted citation. The people who wrote Papers did good. I can already tell I’m gonna have to scrape up the 40 bucks once the trial period ends.

Now if President Hillabama will kindly just nationalize Jstor and Elsevier and release their contents free, we’ll truly have something.

3) I’m waiting for the second proof of the Zeke book to arrive. I thought it might get here by Friday but it hasn’t been shipped yet wasn’t shipped until late Thursday night. As soon as I get it, if there are no egregious errors, it’ll go on sale. 218 pages, 17 dollars and 95 cents at a Creek Running North near you!


Near Chinese Camp a bald eagle glides above Route 120, tracing the battered shore of the reservoir toward Table Mountain. I crane my neck, an avian mixed metaphor. I scream vulgar epithets of joy and gratitude through the windshield.

Tonight the belted kingfisher sat on a low wire beside the creek,  a coralline northern sky behind him. He had a fish. A stickleback, perhaps, or a steelhead fry. Steelhead still spawn in the creek’s lower reaches, I’ve heard. There is a barrier a mile and a half upstream that no steelhead can pass. The kingfisher patrols this section of creek, tidal reach to fresh rill, under the San Pablo bridge and toward the elementary school, then back. His shouts echo, trill. Water flows down from Briones past cattails, tules.

A pair of snowy egrets rose from the creek, paced me for a hundred feet as I ran toward the bay.

At the end of my run the sky was indigo, and the kingfisher had gone wherever he goes at night. A gang of ravens mobbed the barn owl, forced it out of the air down by the tracks. It dropped on silent wings into the tall wetland grass, and vanished. The ravens flew off laughing. Large as they were, the owl posed no threat. Owl was a convenient target for the raven’s bored abuse.

I thought of the bald eagle again tonight. Only the third one I’ve seen and it reminded me of the first, an apparition in the cloud-wreathed trees on the Trinity’s south fork, New Year’s Day 2000. It faded in and out of view, moving not a tip of feather.

On the way out the door

I’m going to go look at Miller-Knox Shoreline on my way out of town. If any locals have time to go look around Point Molate (head out to the Richmond Bridge and exit at the last minute: the road will take you around the point and to the seedy little Richmond Yacht Club) and the west shore of Point Pinole today, it’d be good.

From Alison Kent at the Oiled Wildlife Care Network:

Dear Birders,

You’ve no doubt seen and heard about the impact the SF Bay Oil Spill is having on birds and marine mammals. Members of the public have been generously calling in birds and asking how to volunteer.

I’d like to issue a special plea for birders please to try and get to “places less travelled” in the Bay Area where you know there to be birds. We got over 40 calls yesterday reporting one oiled surf scoter at Crissy Fields; one call reporting 40 oiled clapper rails in Anderson Marsh would really help sort out rescue triage.

The sooner, the better. The faster we can get these birds stabilized and washed, the higher their chances of recovery and survival.

Calls from the general public wanting to volunteer outnumbered bird reports yesterday by about 5-1. Volunteer opportunities for untrained members of the public are going to be very limited over the next few days but here’s a critical one: please make a special effort to look for oiled birds in places where the general public doesn’t go. Don’t approach or touch the birds but call 877-823-6926 and provide the location (be very specific, GPS coordinates are great), the species, number of birds seen, whether dead or alive, and percentage of oiling. Please leave your name and a contact phone number. We are inundated and most of my veterinary and administrative coworkers have left Davis; of the ones of us still here who are answering this number, I’m the only one who’s likely to know what a clapper rail is, so please be patient if you get through to a live person.

Under no circumstances should people touch or approach an oiled animal unless they have HAZWOPR training and are properly equipped. If you see someone doing this, please remind them that this is toxic material.

Please distribute this information widely to the birding community, particularly those located in the Bay Area. I apologize in advance for inevitable cross-posting. But time is of the essence here.

Many thanks.
Alison Kent
Davis, California
Oiled Wildlife Care Network
Wildlife Health Center
(530) 752-3809
To Report an Oiled Bird: (877) 823-6926

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 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.


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

The Meetup

The welcome mat

With a signpost like the above to mark it, it had to be a CRN meetup spot. (There was an adjacent site where someone had left a little stuffed panda, but I didn’t see any bloggers gathering there.)

Becky, yours truly, kathy a, Jeff, Ron the birthday girl, Joe, la siriosa, Pica, Numenius, Fred Levitan, Miguel Alondra, embee, and Megan got together toward the end of Point Pinole today and talked about food, blogging, politics, blogging, birds, friends, real estate bubbles, shoe tying and blogging.

The “going all out” award goes to kathy a, who walked more than a mile to the picnic site with about fifty pounds of food, drink, cooler, ice, and ancillaries.
The “going too far” award goes to Fred Levitan, who drove 230 miles to join us.
The “best hat” award? embee, in a walk, despite some serious competition.
The “best dogs” award goes to kathy and Jeff’s Buddy and Cora, who were the best dogs.

As kathy implied slyly a couple posts down, there was too much food. There was, however, not enough time to talk to everyone the way I would have liked. Pica sketched the feet of everyone in attendance: look for scans of same at Feathers of Hope sometime soon.

To those of you who showed up: thank you all. I had wonderful fun and I hope you did as well. To those of you unable to show up: we missed you. (Although we did have a viewing of a sketch of Beth’s feet, which was some consolation.)

Having reconnoitered the rendezvous venue tout suite,

I’ve just rid my bike out to the CRN meetup site, and can vouch that:

1) the site is not a mudhole
2) there are abundant grills and tables and running water and shade and sun
3) there be goats on the way to the site from the parking lot, so don’t touch, or piss on, the electric fence but do say hello
4) the forecast for Saturday of “mostly sunny” (upgraded over the last three days from “rain” to “possible light rain” to “partly cloudy”) feels correct.

The facts and figures are here, but the short version: October 20, two days from now! Point Pinole Park, 11:00ish, everyone welcome.

more or less accurate guest list so far [updated]:
Ron (on the occasion of her I think 34th birthday), Joe, Becky, yours truly, embee, jym, bright, pica, numenius, soitnly, kathy a and possible family members with diverse numbers of feet, siriosa, magniloquence, breviloquence, fred levitan

magniloquence, breviloquence, fred levitan, miguel alondra, lucy kemnitzer, jeanie sepin

Incomplete list of those we will probably drunk-dial from the nearby payphone:
spyder, Theriomorph, Roxanne, ilyka, Rana, the_bone

Feel free, if you have not done so yet, to add your name to any of the above three lists. But if you don’t do so, don’t let that keep you from showing up.

oh, and an afterthought: I’ll have a camera and will document the proceedings, but am happy to respect people’s wishes not to be photographed or flickered or both. Just lemme know.