Guest Observation: The Salmon

Kate was tidying up around the house yesterday and found a folded sheet of paper under our bed amidst the great clumps of dog hair that had accumulated there (mute testimony to the incompleteness of my periodic vacuum-powered housecleaning). On the paper was the following poem about the salmon, and about other things too. Kate said the paper must have been mine, and it must have, given my sometimes-preoccupation with the fish in question. But I can’t remember how I came by this piece at all, and I don’t really remember having read the poem. David Whyte is a Scottish poet, I believe, whom I know for a book he wrote back in the ’90s called “The Heart Aroused.” It was a call for humanizing the workplace, for recognizing the role of creativity to excite individual passions, a recognition he argues leads to more satisfied employees and more successful employers.
Song for the Salmon
by David Whyte

For too many days now I have not written of the sea,
nor the rivers, nor the shifting currents
we find between the islands

For too many nights now I have not imagined the salmon
threading the dark streams of reflected stars,
nor have I dreamt of his longing
nor the lithe swing of his tail toward dawn

I have not given myself to the depth to which he goes,
to the cargoes of crystal water, cold with salt,
nor the enormous plains of ocean swaying beneath the moon.

I have not felt the lifted arms of the ocean
opening its white hands on the seashore,
nor the salted wind, whole and healthy
filling the chest with living air.

I have not heard those waves
fallen out of heaven onto earth,
nor the tumult of sound and the satisfaction
of a thousand miles of ocean
giving up its strength on the sand.

But now I have spoken of that great sea,
the ocean of longing shifts through me,
the blessed inner star of navigation
moves in the dark sky above
and I am ready like the young salmon
to leave his river, blessed with hunger
for a great journey on the drawing tide.

Mechanics Monument


I stopped downtown on the way in to work yesterday. To give blood on Bush Street. When they’d gotten my pint, I walked down the street and got a cup of coffee (no longer recommended by the blood donation people since caffeine is a diuretic and they want to make sure you build up your fluids after you’re tapped). Right there where Bush meets Battery and Battery hits Market is this monument, the Mechanics Monument. It was created in honor of Peter Donahue, the cofounder of the city’s Union Iron Works, which I believe was the first heavy industry on the West Coast. Here’s a description of the monument from Gray Brechin in his fine and irascible history, “Imperial San Francisco“:

Douglas Tilden‘s heroic group of five nude men straining to punch a steel plate commemorated both the family that had built the West’s first foundry and the mechanics who built the Donahue fortune. [Mayor] Phelan … reminded the crowd that from the Donahues’ primitive foundry, once located just a block away in Tar Flat, had grown the might Union Iron Words whose ships had earned San Francisco worldwide fame and wealth.”

President McKinley was in the city to unveil the monument in 1901, but begged off because his wife took ill.

(And: another view of the monument a few years after its dedication.)

Oakland Estuary


The Friday Night Ferry, July 22 edition. I walked over to the Ferry Building from work and on the boat met Kate, who was just back from several days in West Marin, learning about salmon and creeks and watersheds (I worked all week to suppress my envy). Then the ride back to Oakland, with the sky and water as changing and captivating and full of seductively beautiful light as ever and always. The dusk closed down on the week, the weekend flew by, and just a few hours ago, the dawn again of another ferry week.

Tour de France Geek-Out: Some Time Trial Stats

Eye-catching stat from today’s time trial: Tony Martin, the Stage 20 winner in a time of 55:33, won on the same course June 8, Stage 3 of the Dauphine Libere, in 55:27. For the civilian cyclist and for anyone who looks at the Tour racers as I do and assumes that the race takes a brutal toll on bodies, endurance, and psyches, it’s sort of a starling statistic. The guy dominated then, and he dominated today at the tail end of a race in which he’s been driven very hard to help his team’s sprinter (HTC Highroad, Mark Cavendish) and has had to go over all the big mountains with the rest of the pack.

I figured there were more interesting comparisons to be made between the Dauphine and Tour performances. Here’s another: Cadel Evans, who rode a very strong second today in 55:40, finished seventh on June 8 in 56:47. So there’s a guy who’s been driving very hard for three weeks–has been on the spot to cover all his rivals’ mountain moves and with his team’s help (BMC) has reliably kept himself out of trouble near the front of the pack–who made a major improvement in his performance in the space of six weeks. Thomas Voeckler, fresh off several harrowing days defending his overall race lead, improved by almost a minute.

One question it raises–no, not about doping–is what are the factors besides fatigue that might explain such an improvement. I’m not taking that on right now. Instead, here’s a side-by-side comparison of some of the other Dauphine/Tour performances on the Grenoble course used in both races (I haven’t done them–yet–all because my painstaking one-at-a-time method takes a little too long; I’m about to break out a spreadsheet to do the whole list).

LATER: I did the list. A total of 77 racers rode in both the Dauphine and Tour time trials on the Grenoble course. Twenty-three recorded faster times (even if they had “slow” times on both occasions; for instance, Tyler Farrar finished his Tour stage 1 second faster than his Dauphine stage, but both times he was near the bottom of the standings) and 54 recorded slower times. The most interesting cases to me are those like Cadel Evans, who finished in the top ten the first time around and still recorded a marked improvement, and those like Geraint Thomas and Rigoberto Uran who had good or at least respectable Dauphine times who were nowhere near the top in the Tour. And of course, Tony Martin, who dominated both runs.

Racer Dauphine time Tour time Change
Juergen Roelandts 61:34 58:30 -3:04
Ivan Santaromita 63:44 61:19 -2:25
Ivan Basso 61:43 59:30 -2:23
Pierre Rolland 60:20 58:23 -1:57
Samuel Sanchez 58:54 57:10 -1:44
Carlos Barredo 60:12 58:31 -1:41
Haimar Zubeldia 61:21 59:43 -1:38
Samuel Dumoulin 64:09 62:52 -1:17
Jean-Christophe Peraud 58:20 57:06 -1:14
Cadel Evans 56:47 55:40 -1:07
Maarten Tjallingii 60:47 59:40 -1:07
Vincent Jerome 62:46 61:41 -1:05
Thomas Voeckler 58:45 57:47 -:58
Yannick Talarbardon 62:27 61:35 -:52
Jelle Vanendert 61:06 60:17 -:49
Manuel Quinziato 62:48 62:03 -:45
Grega Bole 62:26 61:44 -:42
Paolo Longo Borghini 62:29 62:18 -:11
Lieuwe Westra 58:28 58:12 -:16
Chris Sorenson 59:39 59:31 -:08
Christian Knees 59:59 59:56 -:03
Kristjan Koren 58:10 58:09 -:01
Tyler Farrar 63:18 63:17 -:01
Sandy Casar 58:31 58:36 +:05
Tony Martin 55:27 55:33 +:06
Michael Schär 60:42 60:49 +:07
Rein Taaramae 57:23 57:36 +:13
Julian Dean 62:40 62:55 +:15
Amael Moinard 62:07 62:23 +:16
Danny Pate 58:39 59:03 +:24
Mikhail Ignatyev 59:52 60:19 +:27
Sébastien Minard 60:31 60:59 +:28
Tomas Vaitkus 60:47 61:20 +:33
Adriano Malori 57:31 58:11 +:40
Vladimir Karpets 58:29 59:09 +:40
Markel Irizar 59:08 59:51 +:43
Fabrice Jeandesboz 61:09 61:54 +:45
Nicky Sorenson 58:37 59:24 +:47
Jerome Coppel 57:35 58:24 +:49
Jonathan Hivert 61:48 62:37 +:49
Jeremy Roy 58:05 58:56 +:51
Yury Trofimov 60:06 61:03 +:57
Arnold Jeannesson 59:16 60:15 +:59
Sébastien Hinault 61:00 62:01 +1:01
Rob Ruijgh 59:15 60:16 +1:01
Grischa Niermann 59:55 61:00 +1:05
Christophe Riblon 57:04 58:12 +1:08
Maxime Bouet 58:22 59:32 +1:10
Gorka Verdugo 58:35 59:46 +1:11
Juan Antonio Flecha 58:42 59:53 +1:11
Robert Gesink 58:16 59:34 +1:18
Xabier Zandio 59:06 60:27 +1:21
Simon Gerrans 60:06 61:36 +1:30
Edvald Boasson Hagen 56:10 57:43 +1:33
Steve Morabito 60:26 62:01 +1:35
Tristan Valentin 61:39 63:14 +1:35
Perrig Quemeneur 59:38 61:16 +1:38
Ramunas Navardauska 58:42 60:21 +1:39
Maciej Paterski 59:43 61:25 +1:42
Luis-Leon Sanchez 59:05 60:49 +1:44
Pablo Urtasun Perez 62:00 63:52 +1:52
Sergio Paulinho 59:12 61:15 +2:03
Edgar Silin 59:45 61:56 +2:11
Rémy Di Gregorio 59:20 61:40 +2:20
Andriy Grivko 59:58 62:24 +2:26
Rui Alberto Fario da Costa 57:27 60:02 +2:35
Imano Erviti 58:49 61:51 +3:02
Nicolas Roche 58:58 62:02 +3:04
Dmitriy Fofonov 60:51 64:19 +3:18
Andrey Amador 59:18 62:42 +3:24
David Moncoutie 58:29 61:58 +3:29
Joost Posthuma 58:36 62:09 +3:33
Geraint Thomas 57:03 60:48 +3:45
Maxim Iglinskiy 61:29 65:17 +3:52
Mickaël Buffaz 60:43 64:50 +4:07
Leonardo Duque 61:14 65:21 +4:07
Rigoberto Uran 58:08 62:24 +4:16
Biel Kadri 58:10 63:03 +4:53
Brian Vandborg 58:20 64:00 +5:40

Eastshore in Blue


Yesterday: Just after 11 a.m., on the Eastshore Freeway (a.k.a., Interstates 80 and 580), at the Powell Street entrance. A beautiful day with no accidents in the vicinity. Just a lot of cars. The reason for all the cars well after the height of the commute hour: a day game between the Giants and the Dodgers, just across the Bay Bridge). When I drive in to work, I usually drive late and am spoiled; with an electronic toll pass, I don’t even slow down much for the toll plaza anymore, and I make it to the office reliably in about 30 minutes, door to door. Yesterday it was a little more than an hour, a lot of it spent just like this–in traffic that was going nowhere fast.

Owl-less Midnight

Just came in from walking The Dog. He’s a little out of sorts because his pack leader (a.k.a. Kate) is away for the night at a salmon/watershed institute for teachers (I’m so envious of her).

Anyway, the walk: Very quiet tonight. Cloudy, so no moon. Still, barely a breath of breeze. And unlike some summers past, not a single hint of owls in the vicinity.

We were spoiled two years ago by a nesting pair of barn owls that set up housekeeping in a big Canary Island palm a couple blocks away. There were four chicks who carried on incessantly as both parents hunted the neighborhood and beyond to feed the hungry brood. I thought at the time, or hoped in any case, that we’d hear and see those birds again.

Over the winter we heard barn owls nearby. But this spring and summer, the neighborhood’s fallen silent at night. I hope those birds are hunting somewhere. Maybe they can come back sometime and run some night-time raids on the crows, who have taken over the daylight hours here.

Berkeley Bird Sightings: Sidewalk Edition


About a week ago, Kate happened upon this bird (and took this picture) while out walking The Dog. The poor thing had come to a bad end, but the real mystery for us was what kind of bird it was. After looking through a couple of our bird books and considering different possibilities–the bill and feet are pretty distinctive–we started looking at shorebirds even though our neighborhood is about a mile from the bay and, except for the occasional gull, we don’t see them alight here. The closest match we found: the Virginia Rail, possibly an immature one (despite its name, the species seems to be more widely distributed in California than its eponymous state, if indeed it’s named after the state).

Kate’s friend Debbie took our guess and sent it to an editor at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Here’s what she heard back:

What a sad thing to come upon! You’re right–this is indeed a Virginia Rail. Rails sometimes misidentify fields and even wet pavement for marshes and make too hard a landing and break a leg or even both of them. I used to be a licensed rehabber, and sometimes I had to care for these poor crippled birds. Sometimes they did heal well–I suspect in this case a dog found it before it could take off again. One time a Sora [another rail species] ended up on the sidelines of Soldier’s Field in Chicago during a Chicago Bears football game being broadcast nationally. I guess the announcers had no clue what it was, and kept the camera on the bird more than they did on the game until an ornithologist identified it for them. (I personally would much rather be watching a Sora than a football game, myself!)

I’m really impressed that Debbie got such a nice answer. It’s enough to get me to pay for access to the lab’s Birds of North America site.

Berkeley Vehicle of the Day


Outside the Bread Workshop (University Avenue and Acton Street). It wasn’t clear to me what “Guerrilla Grub” was, but I was impressed that whoever went to the trouble of painting the truck spelled “guerrilla” correctly. (There’s a Guerilla Cafe on Shattuck Avenue, in the old Smokey Joe’s space, which unironically offers “art, coffee and vibes” along with its second-rate orthography.)

Inside the Bread Workshop, a frequent Sunday morning destination for coffee while we walk with The Dog, I met a guy from Guerrilla Grub. He was wearing a shirt that said so, and was picking up rolls for sandwiches. Guerrilla Grub is a street food operation, he said, and the truck pictured here is its “transporter.” Today’s mission was to hustle stuff over to the Temescal Street Fair in North Oakland, where they’d be serving sloppy joes–both vegetarian and beef. The G.G. guy said they’d be trying to sell 200 sandwiches for the day.

He also said the paint job was by a local artist named Nite Owl, a.k.a. Daniel Zawadzki of Oakland.

Nice truck.


Boat Ride


We took a trip to Japan in 2008, and I was struck by how many people on trains seemed to be glued to the screens of their cellphones (smartphones or smart-enough phones). The adoption of smartphones was only just picking up in the United States, and while it wasn’t unusual to see people talking or texting, I don’t recall people becoming wholly engaged in their phone screens for extended periods the way they seemed to be in Tokyo. But that has all changed. Now it’s commonplace to see people walking down the street entranced by Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Yelp, Groupon, some latter-day version of Pong, or the works of Voltaire (or all of the above in sequence, while listening to “Viva la Vida”).

I’ve never become comfortable plugging in earbuds and listening to music as I walk down the street; I immediately feel disconnected from my surroundings in a way I don’t quite trust–I don’t hear traffic as well, or other people, or my own footfalls. As the saying goes, your mileage may vary; I know plenty of people for whom this isn’t an issue, including folks who run long training distances and even endurance cyclists. Of course, when people are listening to music while training, they’re using it as part of the routine, to inspire and pace themselves (and I’ve always loved group indoor-cycling workouts for the music part of it; the music is part of the shared experience).

You don’t need a smartphone or iPad or anything electronic to put up a wall between you and your surroundings. A newspaper or book can achieve that effect quite nicely. On a noisy, crowded train after a demanding day at work. I think it’s natural to want to create your own little bubble and retreat into it. I remember the first time I did a daily commute, when I was 18, watching people diving into their paper for the hourlong ride (me, I used the time to catch up on my sleep, and still do when I take the rain to work).

But that’s one of the reasons I like to walk from work, across a hill or two, and over to the bay to catch the ferry every once in a while: to make contact with the world, to see it, to be part of it. And of course, offer my critique of the proceedings around and about. All of which leads to the two guys above, pictured on the ferry to Oakland from San Francisco yesterday. The one on the left never looked up; I assume he was reading a book or important memo on his device. The one on the right barely looked up. Me? Well, when I wasn’t checking on my fellow passengers and documenting their activities, I was standing at the aft end of the boat’s top deck, watching the sunlight on our wake.




Last Friday night, heading toward Oakland from San Francisco on the ferry. A spectacular evening: clear, warm, calm. Just entering the Oakland Estuary from the Bay, we caught up with this: a sailboat that through some misadventure had lost its mast, being towed back to port. The skipper, visible at the rear of the boat, gave a theatrical shrug as he realized he had an audience on the ferry (I didn’t get a picture of that, though). Kind of hapless. The boat’s name: Irish Mist.