Today’s adventure, after walking the dog this morning, football on TV, drowsing on the couch, puzzling over this and that: We went out on a half-afternoon of creek exploration. Our original destination was Damon Marsh, near the end of 66th Avenue in Oakland. Several creeks flow out to San Leandro Bay near there, including Arroyo Viejo, which comes down out of the hills and crosses the East Oakland flatlands near where Kate teaches.
So we drove down there, and just as we sped across the Lake Merritt Channel on the Nimitz Freeway, I spotted a blimp down toward the Coliseum. The Raiders were playing. So, figuring we’d soon be engulfed in a traffic maelstrom, we decided to cut our visit short and go to our backup destination–San Leandro Creek, near Pinehurst Road up in the hills. We did stop at a place signed “Oakport Field,” which featured a scabby baseball diamond, some beaten-up soccer goals, and a big flock of geese. The site is close enough to the stadium that you could hear the field announcement of each play, including the touchdown that put the game out of reach for the home team.
The shoreline here is well described by the Oakland Museum’s excellent “Guide to East Bay Creeks“:
“A lot of debris of human life is deposited in this area, thought provoking and instructive to the contemporary ‘archaeologist.’ Before human garbage, the creeks washed plant and animal debris down to the mudflats where it became part of the “fertilizer” for the natural productivity of the marshes. Today’s debris is recognizable — items we have all unthinkingly tossed away. Urban runoff entering the creeks through the city’s storm drains is also deposited here, a major source of Bay pollution. The juxtaposition of garbage with wild life, highways and industry with wetlands, forcefully demonstrates the need for people to assume active responsibility toward their natural environment.”
We left and took took a meandering path through up to Montclair to Skyline Boulevard then dropped down Pinehurst. We parking at the hairpin where the road’s gradual ascent up San Leandro Creek ends and the climb up the canyonsides toward Oakland begins. Always a key point on the bike ride up the road.
It was only about 4 in the afternoon, but you’re at the bottom of a deep canyon here, and it seemed to get dark quickly, especially with clouds closing overhead. We walked up a fire road from the hairpin, and it felt like deep twilight. The forest here was wet, the tree trunks and some rocks covered with a thick layer of moss. As we headed up an occasionally slick, muddy trail on the north side of the canyon along San Leandro Creek–which eventually flows down past the town of Canyon into Upper San Leandro Reservoir–we could hear hikers on a trail across the canyon and, further up, a couple of great horned owls hooting. Eventually, we broke out of the heavy cover of laurels and alders. Once we were in the open a little, we could locate roughly where the owls were calling from–a eucalyptus -filled side canyon across the way. We turned back–a light rain had started, and if we’d climbed to the top of the trail, we would have walked back down in almost total darkness).
We walked back down to the car, then drove back up Pinehurst and north through the hills to the Lawrence Hall of Science, where we had a little in-car picnic. Back home, I checked out a topographic map of the area, and was surprised to see the name “Eastport” at the place we had parked. One thing I can tell you for sure after having passed the spots scores if not hundreds of times–there’s nothing you’d put on the map at that spot.
But looking for information on Eastport quickly turned up an astonishing series of photos of a railroad that used to emerge from a tunnel from Oakland and run down Pinehurst and, eventually, all the way to Sacramento. The line was abandoned a little more than 50 years ago. The tunnel entrance was apparently buried in a landslide during one of our rainy winters in the 1980s, and most traces of the line have been swallowed up in the undergrowth.
Of course, if that railroad had not been abandoned, if it had been part of the landscape as I had encountered it, I would not be shocked to encounter some virtual sign of its presence. Naturally, I’d take it for granted. If steelhead still fought their way up this creek to the last deep canyon carved into the hills, I’d think they were just part of the place, as they apparently were until the loggers, dammers, and railroad builders–all those people preparing the way for us, the consumers and critics–arrived.
Finding the railroad pictures, though, makes me reflect a little on all the changes we work on the world, everything we build, re-engineer, re-form, and disrupt, then lay aside for nature–improved nature–to reclaim as it will; on everything we invent, manufacture, market, buy and discard for the tide to carry away. The imperative to build and invent, to disrupt and discard, seems so ingrained to our culture that it feels almost impossible to step outside that culture and see it. Every once in a while, we get glimpses. And it is astonishing.