Tuesday, May 23, 2017

SOLVITUR AMBULANDO: Paean to the Joys of Hiking and Benefits of Being in Nature

"There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream
The earth, and every common sight
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light."
                                                       - William Wordsworth
In an unexpected moment, imagine discovering ineffable beauty in every common sight. When meadow, grove and stream all delight. When Nature's treasures jump out, hidden in plain sight.

When our heart and soul are set right.

Imagine a world "full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper," W.B. Yeats wrote.

Imagine a world of "subtile powers of Heaven and of Earth," in which "we seek to perceive them, and we do not see them; we seek to hear them, and we do not hear them," as Henry David Thoreau reminded us of our sensory fallibility.

A world we barely see and perceive and hear - horrors! Does such blanking out result from having to be trained to see, look at, and notice? Or are we dealing with grand scale myopia and distraction on the part of techno-obsessed humans?

The old doyens were speaking to our ability (or lack thereof) to attune to Nature's infinite wonders; to our capacity (or lack thereof) to swoon over her small miracles; to our receptiveness (or lack thereof) to be touched by her magic things.

Key to all sensory attuning is "the art of seeing," a la John Burroughs, where "things escape us because the actors are small." Long ago in another time, Burroughs exhorted us "to look closely and steadily at nature" and take pleasure in the "minute things" about us.

Part mindfully and partly mindless, we make every effort to sharpen the senses - else how to appreciate "the daily and hourly miracle of the usually unnoticed beauty that is close at hand," wondered Joseph Wood Krutch.

City living, it is known empirically, can be a discordant experience, a jolting way of life, distracting our attention from the natural world about us; truly, such trying circumstances take a toll on the psyche and heart.

Way back when, though, John Muir knew the secret to shedding life's "carnal incrustations" built up over the citified years - psycho crud barnacled to the hull of our souls. Muir's remedio? Hit the trail. (In his case, with little more than a tin for tea and crust of bread for modest sustenance. Uber austere. But in the midst of such privations, Muir found that his carnal incrustations dissolved posthaste.)
Muir and his fellow scraggly-beard Transcendentalists, they knew the Secret of connecting with Nature. They possessed the Open Sesame mantra to unlocking the key to existential Earthly paradise. Their deep sought-after connection with Nature was (is) the most sure-fire method known to those so enamored to restore addled senses and reinstate long-lost, peaceful, easy feelings. In short to make us the best of persons.

A promise, only Mother Nature, our Earth Mother, can fulfill.

A cure, only Earth Mother, our Mother Nature, can deliver.

For when facing down fears and confronting doubts, when feeling beaten down by life's grind, when slumping, uninspired and stressed out - the remedy is painfully simple.

Get your ass outside.

To the Great Outdoors.

Old-time poet James Weldon Johnson felt thusly, "bowed down in heart," reeling from "the clashing discords and the din of life." Poor old boy. Surely he knew the remedy to shed his psychic albatross of routine's dusty detritus and mold of mental stagnation . . .

Get your ass outside, Old Sport!

To the Great Outdoors, Man!

Posthaste!

And surely JWJ did so, penning his moving coda, "come to the peaceful wood / Here bathe your soul in silence / Deep in the quiet wood."

Deep in the quiet wood. Where you do indeed find your betterself. Where crap does truly melt away. Where carnal incrustations dissolve, life's oppressive weights are lightened, and society's rude demands made a bit more bearable.

Just by walking, all is solved!

SOLVITUR AMBULANDO!

WALKING SOLVES ALL!

In a thought-provoking essay on the subject, Arianna Huffington advises us "to be wake to what’s happening around you," so that "your senses are heightened and you walk away with something office meetings rarely give you — a sense of joy. There is no end to the problems that can be solved by walking. It makes us healthier, it makes us fitter, it enhances every kind of cognitive performance, from creativity to planning and scheduling. Best of all, it reconnects us to ourselves."

Arianna nailed it and Henry knew exactly this truth long ago in his Walden World era. Just a whippersnapper at barely thirty years of age, and already a world-class scholar, writer, poet, naturalist, and curmudgeon, the hermetic Thoreau made half-hearted attempts to engage society at large, but was barely able to contain his contempt for "man and his affairs, church and state and school"; barely able to fool anybody with thinly disguised misanthropy, piled high with hefty doses of blistering social commentary thickly layered with biting political cynicism - "politics is the gizzard of society, full of grit and gravel."

Truthfully, it is not hard to imagine that Thoreau might well have gone insane were it not for his love of the great Out of Doors, his passion for his daily Nature fix, anticipation welling up in his heart for long walks and leisurely saunters where, he told us, "I would fain return to my senses."

But even in the unhurried world of 1848, dwelling in perhaps not quite so sylvan solitude on the post-idyllic shores of Walden Pond (already the ax men were hard at work leveling his cherished forest domain), ol' Hank could not manage to get enough of a good thing, that which he called Nature's "subtle magnetism" which "will direct us aright."

In his essay "Walking," published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1862, the year he died, Thoreau laments his "occasional and transient forays only" to the "usual, quiet wood" where he'd set off without map or agenda for hours at a time (what else did he have to do?), and kept detailed, minute notes (try reading his nearly indecipherable handwriting) on his observations of Nature's unfolding pageantry and majesty, ever contemptuous of his flabby, lazy compatriots - "the mechanics and shopkeepers" - those busy, industrious townsfolk who could care less about the wonders and magic of natural world, and who thought of him as an eccentric outlier.

As for what Thoreau thought of these "mass of men" who led lives of "quiet desperation"?

"They deserve some credit for not having all committed suicide long ago."


An anti-social anchorite who detested the dreaded routines of his "neighbors who confine themselves to shops and offices the whole day for weeks and months, aye, and years almost together," Thoreau took solace in Mother Nature's healing balm: "I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits unless I spend four hours a day at least, - and it is commonly more than that, - sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements."

But there's the rub! Worldly engagements and other reality entanglements, Thoreau had aplenty. With two years of self-tutelage under his belt studying Nature's infinitely variable minutiae, Thoreau emboldened his spirit with an inspired vision of the Transcendentalist world view, in vogue at the time. In Ralph Waldo Emerson's immortal words, the Transcendentalists subscribed to a doctrine that "believes in miracle, in the perpetual openness of the human mind to new influx of light and power; he believes in inspiration, and in ecstasy."

Say no more.

Two years of seclusion tested the limits of Thoreau's anchorite experiment to "live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life." Like some spiritual paragon (or exile) in the desert, or Native American vision quester, Thoreau was heaven-bent on sucking out "all the marrow of life," and drew immense hope and courage, and fortitude and faith, from his daily forays and immersions in Nature.

Qualities in demand in order to turn his back on his beloved "vast, savage, howling mother of ours, Nature, lying all around, with such beauty," and begin the long walk back to society, leaving behind his humble cabin abode in Walden Woods to front the bleak prospects of managing a family pencil manufacturing company - the dreaded business!

Like John Muir, who returned from his wild peregrinations in the Sierra Nevada mountains to become a gentlemanly farmer in Martinez later in life, Thoreau also returned to decency, to normalcy and stability (as opposed to a Jeremiah Johnson Mountain Man icon), and attempted an honest go of things, even subscribing to the publication, "Businessman's Assistant".

Go figure, he must have thought. But, seriously, he despised the businessman and all his busy business, proclaiming it "an infinite bustle, nothing but work, work, work." The dagger line he wrote in his essay, "Life Without Principle" sums up his anti-business attitude: "I think that there is nothing, not even crime, more opposed to poetry, to philosophy, ay, to life itself, than this incessant business."

Makes you wonder if life's vagaries and contradictions ever haunted Muir and Thoreau, ever stirred up the old piss 'n vinegar in them, a late-in-life cri de coeur for their lost, irrepressibly restless souls, for a yearning for adventure once again, a deeper longing to witness a mountain sunset or lakeside sunrise, but now forever in the past, a dream lived and suspended in eternity. Muir lived a good life into the twentieth century, while Thoreau fell to the ravages of tuberculosis at the wise beyond his years age of forty-four in 1862. The final words issued from his lips: "Now comes good sailing," (Aye, matey!) followed by "moose" and "Indian" (Say, what?)

Makes you wonder if Thoreau was delirious, or finely tuned to the Infinite and Eternal Mystery at the moment of his passing?

Thoreau probably knew the expression Solvitur Ambulando. In the mid-nineteenth century, a time when people, even scientists, had nary an understanding of such matters, Thoreau presaged modern research into the physical and psychological benefits of walking, how walking physically changes our brains, rewires our neural circuitry, relieves depression, lowers anxiety levels, on and on and on - infinite healthy side-effects!

It's what keeps us living, keeps us breathing. Walking in Nature! Absorbing water's ionic energy! Breathing in lungfuls of Tree Oxygen! Japanese lovers of Nature call it "forest bathing."

They're totally on to something.

No doubt a centuries old practice, actually. In which photosynthetic and other osmotic properties of a healthy forest act to calm monkey mind, quell doubts, banish bad thoughts, and quash all negativism. It is true, just by walking, by being around water and trees and flowers and sky and earth. We become the best persons.

We become One with Mother Nature. Our True Nature.

Where body / mind / spirit infusions of high dose O-2 and blasts of the other Big O - Oxytocin - caress the senses into a heightened and sensual state of limbic-brained ecstasy.

In the bosom of the Great Mother - Mother Nature - we never had it so good.

Many years later, Dr. Paul Dudley White, an avid proponent of the benefits of walking, noted, “A vigorous five-mile walk will do more good for an unhappy but otherwise healthy adult than all the medicine and psychology in the world."

Nothing cheers the heart more than a vigorous walk in the woods. Nothing beats breathing in fresh air. What could be more liberating than sloughing off the day's malaise, as worries and cares melt away.

Walking in Nature: the Secret to staying happy and young at heart, proclaimed herein - the Secret to staying sane! Walt Whitman affirmed that being in the open air, in touch with the earth, makes for the best persons. How can you argue?

Time to get in touch with the Earth.

Time to do a little Earthing - a practice to connect on a deeper level with Nature by going barefoot.

As kids, we did it all the time. What happened, people?!?

Come on, lace up the boots and let's dive into some Earthy Earthing, hug a tree, jump in a lake, smell the savory bark of a tree, eat some dirt, get lost! Feel life! Suck out its marrow!

Let's take a look, seek out beauty, stumble upon tiny treasures, every step of the way along our simple journey, but one, gushed Ansel Adams, that is "incomprehensibly beautiful - an endless prospect of magic and wonder."

Certainly, too, we can all fain return to our senses and be directed aright, in our daily Ambulandos, Solvituring it all.

And great Yukon poet Robert Service really hit emotional pay dirt with his timeless taunt, "What? you're tired and broken and beaten? Why, you're rich, you've got the earth!"

Monday, September 12, 2016

EBMUD LANDS: A Personal History and Love Affair with Our Hometown San Pablo Creek and Watershed


"To watch for, describe, all the divine features which I detect in Nature. My profession is to be always on the alert to find God in nature - to know his lurking places."

(Henry David Thoreau, journal entry, September 7, 1851)


Of a post-rainy spell, the air sweet-scented with the promise of a grand nature ramble, you'll find me prowling about on Oursan Trail near Old San Pablo Trail in the "remote" East Bay Hills.
Yep, there. You know the place. Where the creek runs below a simple bridge hearkening back to a simpler time. That's where you'll find me, hot on Thoreau's spiritual trail, seeking small miracles and overlooked wonders, "alert to God in nature," and determined as ever to "live in the sunshine, drink the wild air," as Thoreau's contemporary and compatriot Walt Whitman exhorted.

Easy to do in this place. Where subtle beauty manifests in simple ways, and wondrous (but small) surprises await at every turn in lush landscapes of riparian richness and sylvan splendor.

Here, you'll find me bushin' along the sinuous creek, or leisurely strolling through the drought-parched, thistle-choked, burnt brown meadow trolling for bird life on the edges of aromatic pine forests rife with mystery and intrigue. (Albeit all very small stuff.)

Here and there, in my dilatory wandering, I chance upon Mother Nature's intriguing detritus: polished white bones; a pair of antlers; a reticulated fox skeleton laid out like an autopsy; a mess of turkey feathers, like maybe a coyote attack; a deep hollow nest recently fallen to the pine needly ground; a split apart bird egg nearby; unusual broken up pottery on the pebbly creek sand bars; and most mysterious, a distant tree holding the likeness of the Virgin Mary.

Here, down on the creek, easily overlooked nuances of life unfold: a pollen-drunk bee bobbing on a flower; a baby bird feather dangling from a branch; patches of succulent wild blackberry; gossamer strands of spider web festooned across bushes; a turtle surfacing with a curious expression; a tiny fish jumping for an insect; a pair of Kingfishers darting through an opening in the creek.

OUR HOMETOWN SAN PABLO CREEK AND WATERSHED!

Where the promise of simple exploration and small discovery awaits along the intestine-like riparian corridor of San Pablo Creek, flowing for 19 precious miles to San Francisco Bay from its origins in the East Bay community of Orinda.

Siren-like, this winding and twisting creek has cast a spell, hard to shake, hard to explain. Because, well, it's "just" San Pablo Creek, after all. But give the place half a chance and you'll find, like me, a ton of beauty and life packed into the nucleus of a few paltry acres. One big punch of nature in a largely unknown about, diminutive parcel of land.

OUR HOMETOWN SAN PABLO CREEK AND WATERSHED!


Outside of protected and preserved watershed lands, it's been a different story. Thanks to tireless efforts by advocates for stream restoration, critical (urban) stretches of the creek have been rehabilitated, proffering new sprung habitat for all things wild, and educational opportunities to connect with nature for citified kids and adults.

Special shout outs to Ann L. Riley, author of Restoring Neighborhood Streams: Planning, Design, and Construction, and long-time neighborhood activist, Lisa Owens-Viani, Golden State warrior environmentalist / heroes who have been instrumental in saving and protecting several East Bay creeks, such as Strawberry, Baxter, Village, and Codornices.

Imagine the retro-primitive mind set of urban planners years ago, when city creeks were deemed dangerous and worthless, something to hide away and tamp down, instead of revered, cherished and nourished!

As consciousness evolved over the years concerning the many benefits of a healthy watershed to the community, many previously industrialized, culverted sections of San Pablo Creek and her ilk have been successfully rehabbed and brought to the light of day. Much to the ecological and spiritual well-being of - the planet! That's how important this work is.

Heroes of Friends of Orinda Creeks have brought their former bucolic San Pablo Creek back to life, creating "a revitalized state. . .a charming natural setting in the midst of a commercial area. . ." While it may never achieve pristine status as a place where once (not so long ago) "10 or 12 pound fish that men got with a pitchfork," were hauled out, the presence of a healthy(er) San Pablo Creek, mainly in its grittier urban stretches (Orinda, El Sobrante and Richmond) offers hope for a return to edenic days, when "your children could play. . .where you could relax and have a picnic. . .where you could wander leisurely and enjoy the cool shade, the rustle of birds in a dense thicket of willows, the smell of damp soil and growing things, the subtle shades of green that cloak creekside plants. . ."

OUR HOMETOWN SAN PABLO CREEK AND WATERSHED!

From "wilder" spring-fed upper stretches,
to (who knew?) Mokulumne River-fed flows west of Bear Creek Road bridge, the creek's protean nature, at every twist and turn, holds marvels and surprises, always enchanting, ever altering shape and character, flushing along, slowing down, grandly pooling, busily finding its anfractuous way to San Pablo Reservoir. There, it drops over a spillway to begin a different journey, through rehabilitated urban stretches, before debouching in the impressive 300-acre San Pablo Creek Marsh on the fringe of San Francisco Bay.

Imagine how it must once have been, before the days of the retro-primitive urban planners . . . to a time, not so long ago.

Owens-Viani, publisher of the RATS website (Raptors are the Solution), acknowledges that San Pablo Creek is "a much altered watershed," but she lovingly goes on to describe it as:

". . . A haven for native wildlife that rely on riparian habitat, including many species of concern, like Cooper's and sharp-shinned hawks, yellow warblers and the rare yellow-breasted chats (riparian songbirds), and, in the uppermost watershed, the threatened Alameda whipsnake and endangered red-legged frog. Unique and uncommon plants, such as the western leatherwood with its pale yellow flowers, the Diablo sunflower, bent-flowered fiddleneck, El Sobrante manzanita, Santa Cruz tarplant, and Brewer's western flax, grow near the creek and its tributaries in the upper watershed. Black oaks, their sweet acorns favored by the Native Americans, and valley oaks, some close to 100 feet tall and with roots that can grow 30 feet deep to reach water, also grow in the upper watershed. Each of these oaks can have over 300 species of birds-and 5,000 species of insects-living on, in, or around it."


It's so easy to take this unassuming area of land and water for granted, as a mere pleasant backdrop. But it is not stretching the imagination too, too much, to proclaim, one fine day when the creek is flowing - yes! - mightily! - to be suddenly reminded of - yes! - the Navarro River in Mendocino, or Ten Mile Creek up in the Siskiyous. Anywhere, somewhere . . . where a creek flows free and wild.

Thankfully, the watershed land, and the creek(s) that run through it, have been left to their own devises, free to flow, overrun their banks, or dry up as they please, creating a vital bridge linking tiny but not insignificant biota-rich segments of the creek ecosystem with contiguous "Bay Area Wild" lands, a truly separate reality, here in the 2.5 million strong East Bay population center.

If it's not clear by now, San Pablo Creek is where you'll find me a dozen times a year, escaping the world and all things artificial. Pining for my Indiana-reminiscent backwoods country crick scene. There. Where I'm all alone, with the exception of an occasional hiker or equestrian. Ambling thoughtlessly, in a meditative state of peace and joy. There you'll find me hugging trees, communing with birds and wildlife, lounging by the creek, paying homage to our modern day incarnation of a millennia-old, (once) pristine, (once) salmon-clogged, (once) grizzly-stalked strip of paradise in the East Bay Hills. As though I'm writing about the Amur River.

OUR HOMETOWN SAN PABLO CREEK AND WATERSHED!


Protected for years from the ravages of industrialism and urban sprawl by prescient E(ast) B(ay) M(unicipal) U(tility) D(istrict) water managers, the watershed's 27,640 acres lend the appeal, look and feel of intangible "wildness." Fifteen years of efforts to restore riparian corridor and wildlife habitat have taken hold, evolving and transforming the ecosystem.

Despite being declared  a "2002 303(d)-listed impaired waterbody that is adjacent to a Shoreline Park" (California’s Critical Coastal Areas State of the CCAs 2006 Report).

Despite being rife with contaminants - nasty chemicals (the pesticide Diazinon), heavy metals (mercury), and toxic algae and pathogens. (And its fair share of trash.)

Despite being still in dire need of help - cleaning up litter and industrial waste, removing obstacles for the free passage of steelhead trout.

And yet, forgetting these woes, it's the biggest little creek around, cowboying up as more than just a poseur creek, taking its place proudly as a doppelganger of the Navarro River or Ten Mile Creek.

And still, the disbelievers and noninitiates will pooh-pooh otherwise. . . without ever seeing or experiencing the splendors of San Pablo Creek.

I know, I know. There goes Gambolin' Man again. But just take a look - this is a real wilderness creek, by God!

A true oasis lies hidden beneath a healthy mantel of Oak, Big Leaf Maple, Sycamore, sheltering native plants and flowers, fish, birds and other animals.

The astonishing, elemental thing to grasp, is the recognition / realization that San Pablo Creek and Watershed sustains an everything-hitched-to-everything-else ecosystem of interdependent elements, allowing animals to criss-cross difficult, disparate open space, plants room to pollinate, and affording humans (those who know) access to the calming influence of flowing water and green shady forests, always precious to find in a densely populated urban area.

PLEASE: when entering this environment, always practice Respect and be mindful of principles of least impact. When you visit, please abide by all rules and regulations of the watershed. If Respectful, you can venture on and explore intricacies of EBMUD lands, stumble on hidden natural treasures most will never chance upon. Without respect, you will get bitten by a rattlesnake, stung by a wasp, eaten alive by mosquitoes, tormented by ticks, caught in a hail storm, attacked by a mountain lion, and barring that, contract torturous rashes and blisters from poison oak and stinging nettle. And maybe get your eye poked out by an errant branch.


OUR HOMETOWN SAN PABLO CREEK AND WATERSHED!

Love it, respect it, take care of it!


Appian Creek, Baden Creek, Barn Creek, Bear Creek, Big Oak Creek, Briones Reservoir, Cascade Creek, Castro Creek, Coal Mine Creek, Clark Creek, Dutra Creek, El Toyonal Creek, Greenridge Creek, Inspiration Creek, Kennedy Creek, La Colina Creek, Lauterwasser Creek, Leastrot Creek, Lila Creek, Miner Creek, Newell Creek, Oak Creek, Oursan Creek, Overhill Creek, Rose Creek, Russel Creek, San Pablo Reservoir, Sather Creek, Schoolhouse Creek, Siesta Valley Creek, Tarry Creek, Tin House Creek, Wagner Creek, Wilkie Creek; Wire Ranch Creek.

With 35 tributaries trickling down from various gullies and ravines in an earthquake contorted landscape showcasing respectable topography and untouched ecosystems, it's a wonder such a place exists at all in the throbbing metropolitan East Bay.

But it does, thankfully. No questions asked.

These many feeder streams, arteries of water - dry most of the year - form the life-sustaining aorta of "the largest, deepest creek" coursing "across the landscape, its flows swift and strong, unaltered by dams or other impediments," Owens-Viani writes in A History of the Watershed for SPAWNERS (San Pablo Watershed Neighbors Education and Restoration Society).

Yep, San Pablo Creek is where you'll find Gambolin' Man getting his requisite dose of action-packed adventure, albeit very small measured up against climbing El Cap, say, or blazing a 3200 ft. trail down to Big Granite Creek from high on, or mountain biking the Flume, or rappelling down a slot canyon, or trekking the Himalaya or scaling Venezuela's tepui mesas; let alone base jumping or back country route finding.

Well, with a changed mindset - and it helps if you love birding and engaging in do-nothing, go nowhere zen nature rambles - you will, I promise, find bona fide adventure and rapturous discovery (got to pay attention!) in a bustling environment of moving water, quaking trees, dancing leaves, birds flitting about and singing their hearts out. This, I humbly submit, is a kin of Paradise - Greek, parádeisos, "park for animals" - albeit a mean and lowly paradise, in the grand scheme of things. But a park for animals, nonetheless, me and you included.

I will take it any day.

And - this is important - this particular prosaic little parádeiso is as significant in the scheme of things as the great swathes of Alaskan wilderness and Patagonian llanos, Serengeti Plains and Sierra Nevada peaks in the Range of Light.

OUR HOMETOWN SAN PABLO CREEK AND WATERSHED!

Hard-charging (surprising!) and alternately languid, San Pablo Creek packs an electric charge of unusual riparian "wilderness" beauty . . . I'll say it again! . . . despite abutting a busy roadway with frenzied commuters zooming to and from from Richmond to Orinda and beyond. Splendidly hidden from view, but in plain sight, San Pablo Creek chugs and churns along its primal watercourse draining the beautiful hills, valleys and broad plains of the East Bay Hills. Homeland to families of Bay Area aboriginal peoples. Chochenyo (Ohlone group) speakers. Peaceful Ones who prospered for millennia in propitious environs in symbiotic relations with the natural world and harmonious interactions with neighboring groups.

This part of California, the East Bay Hills, also supported grizzly bears, mountain lions, condors, and vast herds of Tule elk. Not to mention maybe 300 species of birds.

Things aren't too shabby today, for that matter, for resident bobcats, coyotes, deer, fox, raccoons, opossums, and - still could be! - 300 species of birds! (More likely, 60.)

Come! Let's take a look-see!


From the Orinda Connector Staging Area, alongside the pretty country bridge crossing the creek, maybe a quarter mile in, I love to stop and gaze down at the pretty water flowing and pooling and channeling and rippling and lazily backing up in surprising twists and turns.

Lots of languid lounging and slow-moving, fine ass birding await in this small nature area (patience a must!). Plenty of time for dilatory activities. Take note - you can't just come here and walk with a destination, point A to point B, and back, in mind; no, when you come here, plan on spending two or three hours and covering less than a mile and an acre or two in a loopy out 'n back route contained within delimited but eye-poppingly rich and splendidly varied confines. 
The other day, hiking too near, and put off by, an ugly array of high-EMF-producing electrical pylons south of Briones Reservoir, I veer the opposite direction, not apparent except for a deer path, and divert down an otherwise impenetrable area of brambles and tropical-like viny overgrowth of green smothering vegetation. Like a little deer, I follow it down to the creek.

High overhead, White-breasted Nuthatches are working hard, and some kind of Woodpecker flies in. Spotted Towhees, Jays and a pair of playful Bewick's Wrens skirt close to the ground. Vultures circle overhead, a Hawk exchanges a shrieking call, or maybe it's a Jay imitating a Hawk. Here's where I spotted my first-ever Golden-crowned Kinglet a couple of years ago, and a host of other not too often seen birds.

I've explored many stretches of the creek, often a mere few dozen yards at a crack, but what amazing treasures such tiny watery tracts harbor! For the first time, I've made my way to this "S" in the creek contour, whose vistas have eluded me for a previous dozen visits. (That's how much there is to explore in this tiny watery tract!)

But here, in the thick humidity of mid-summer, the creek's taken on the persona of a lazy back country Mississippi bayou swampland kind of place. Most surprising, and unusual. If not inordinately intriguing.

Here, the creek is essentially a long and winding yellow-green ribbon of algae, with a surge of water pushing through here and there to break it up. I watch a soccer ball move about twenty-five feet in six minutes. A pretty Flycatcher swoons and preens on a flimsy stick, snatching insects left and right. I've never seen anything like this here. I reckon upstream, the creek must be choked up by driftwood, causing the water to slow to a crawl, allowing for a mutant sort of photosynthesis to take hold.

 And deep in this boggy bosque, I stand alone in reverence, stopped in my (deer) tracks, looking, listening, watching for "all the divine features which I detect in Nature."

In the next few minutes, I'm suddenly aware of an incredible symphony of bird song and bird activity about me, a birdtravaganza! Six herons from four different species flush out or fly overhead. A Great White suddenly zooms right in, unaware of me, hidden as I am by overhanging branches alongside the creek. At the last second, the gangly but graceful bird yo-yos up and away with superb control and grace.
Next, an adult Black-crowned Night Heron (impressive creature) buzzes overhead, followed by a Great Blue skirting toward the horizon, letting loose a gigantic stream of streaking white poo in his wake. A few moments later, a Snowy Egret emerges from the impenetrable bayou depths, scared up and darting off like a specter in a dream. Here. Where you'll find me standing . . . in Awe and Reverence and Respect. And Beauty.

Looking down on this parcel of land from a Google Earth perspective, it surely seems to the Yosemite possessed or Tasmania obsessed adventurer, like a little ol' piss-poor patch of earth, "nothing", really, to get excited about or rave to your friends about, or go check out. You're probably laughing at my pumped up attempt to write about this place like it's the Amur River or somewhere equally uber-exotic and grand.

And yet.

Once truly grokked, you will come to know and appreciate a very special wildlife habitat and nature preserve. If only a wee oasis. If but an unrecognized holy place. Right in our midst. In classicist Thoreau-it-up-there spirit, a place where we have located "wildness within civilization."

And like Flannery O'Connor, "I can with one eye squinted take it all as a blessing."

OUR HOMETOWN SAN PABLO CREEK AND WATERSHED! 


Google Earth view of protected EBMUD acreage harboring a vital stretch of wild and free San Pablo Creek



Read Lisa Owens-Viani's love letter to San Pablo Creek and the precious watershed it supports @

Natural History of San Pablo Creek