Oncorhynchus Kisutch

I used to have a route across Marin County when we were going up there from Berkeley. Most of the time, we’d be headed toward Point Reyes. I had an impression of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, formed by long-ago holiday weekend drives, of a long, slow winding slog that involved a big slice of suburbia. So I quit taking that way and instead would head north on U.S. 101 after crossing the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge and go up to Lucas Valley Road. Plenty of windy pavement up there, but a lot less suburbia, and pretty soon you’d be on the road through Nicasio and well on your way to Point Reyes Station.

In my era of long bike rides, which went on indefinite hiatus a few years ago, I was back on Sir Francis Drake from the point the nice Marin bike route peters out in Fairfax out to Olema. This gave me a new look at the road, an especially intimate look in dry and wet, in daylight and dark, to the badly chopped up concrete pavement one must endure while traveling through Samuel P. Taylor State Park. (What sort of state are we, by the way, that we’d close this place?) Riding through here, I would be conscious of the next threatening patch of pavement, other cyclists, and approaching cars in that order. I would be dimly aware I was riding through a forest, dimly aware of the occasional bridge and perhaps the proximity of a creek. But those were peripheral visions to the matter at hand, which was keeping my bicycle upright.

Then a couple years ago, I drove out Sir Francis Drake Boulevard to do a little reporting on the coho salmon run in Lagunitas Creek, the stream that runs along the road on and off as it goes through the state park. That gave me another frame of reference for the road, a byway hugging the banks of a stream that holds one of the last wild runs of coho salmon on this part of the west coast. I’ve been back maybe a dozen times since to go walking out there and get a feel for the area. And I’d look for fish, too. But until yesterday, I never saw one.

If you’re out here in California, you know how dry it’s been. Dry is an unfriendly condition for fish that need to migrate up freshwater streams to spawn, and for most of the coho spawning season this year, coho have been relatively few and far between. Then the week before last, a series of storms broke through the high pressure wall that had been pushing wet Pacific storms to the north, and we got rain. In what we persist in thinking of as a “normal” winter, the three storms that came through–pop! pop! pop!–wouldn’t have been especially remarkable. But they seemed something like deliverance to a region that had gone without an appreciable rainfall for nearly two months. And for the coho salmon lingering somewhere near the mouth of their native streams along the coast, the rains were real deliverance. The storms triggered high flows, and the fish burst into the freshets heading downstream to make their way to up, up to find stretches of the creeks where they might spawn.

We were fashionably late getting out to the creek yesterday, not making it until after 3 o’clock. The parking lot at a viewing area along Sir Francis Drake was nearly full, a sign that there was something to see in the water. We walked along a half-mile stretch of Lagunitas Creek , up to where Peters Dam blocks the stream’s progress to its old headwaters. What did we see? A dozen fish, maybe 15. They were born in this creek and survived the cruel numbers game that salmon have always faced–I’ve read that 99 percent of the fish that swim out of their home streams into the ocean don’t make it–to plant the next generation of their kind in the streambed. This looks like a better-than-average year for a run that has declined from thousands of adult fish returning each year to 150 or so the past few years. They are officially designated as an endangered species, and at this point it would not take an earth-shaking cataclysm to sweep them into extinction. So to be able to drive from our place in Berkeley, out through the suburbs, over a hill into the woods, and see them in the company of a lot of other curious souls–well, it’s the most ordinary and subtle of spectacles.

And bespeaking the ordinariness of it, here’s a bad video I shot while we were out there (and a better one, taken by someone else on a nearby stretch of creek the day before, is below that):

Further Adventures in News and Media

So, although I haven’t been posting much the past little while; or at least I haven’t been posting much here. I’ve been doing some blogging and chatting and other social media stuff, both officially and unofficially, for my employer, a public radio station in San Francisco.

The two weekends before this, I did a live blog for the San Francisco 49ers NFL playoff game against the New Orleans Saints and then a sort of hybrid live blog/chat for the 49ers game against the New York Giants last week (along with a couple other posts before and after each game).

Then this weekend, when our newsroom was unstaffed, things started to happen in Oakland. The Occupy Oakland movement, which had been evicted from the plaza outside City Hall after repeated clashed with police and other authorities, had announced its intention to go out and seize a vacant building in the city. Its target was a shuttered convention center near downtown. Yesterday was “move-in day,” and a crowd I’ve heard estimated at 1,000 to 2,000 showed up for a march across downtown to take over the, building, which they said they wanted for a meeting space and social center. The police were ready for the move and blocked the takeover. All they had to do then was deal with the crowd of demonstrators. When push came to shove, as seems inevitable in Oakland, protesters threw stuff at police, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets, etc., and before the dust settled, 400 people had been arrested.

I sat down early in the story and started following what was happening through online sources and writing it up on yet another live blog. Along the way, I decided to try an experiment with Storify, a platform that essentially allows you to build a running narrative of an event or subject using online media–Twitter and Facebook posts, blog entries, video, audio and photos from whatever online source you can find. The result is embedded below. One surprise: It actually kind of took off in a minor way, traffic-wise. It became the featured post on the Storify home page and was also picked up by an Oakland community news blog. Anyway, here’s to experimenting (and yes, many questions of journalistic practice are raised by all these tools and the ability to become a one-person newsroom. I’m thinking about all that):

On Tenaya Lake


The vanity never stops. This is me out on Tenaya Lake in Yosemite the week before last. My nephew Max snapped the picture and titled it “The Ice Whisperer.” What I was after was the sound–a lot like the sound of whale calls–emanating from the lake as the ice expanded and reacted to the strollers and skaters on the surface. You can get a vague idea of the sound, in between passages of me crunching around on the ice, from the audio clip below. Note: I was the only one in shorts out there, prompting one person to say, “I hate you. But thank you, because I think that’s going to make it snow.” The lake is under a couple of feet of snow right now after a series of storms that started last Thursday.

Tenayalake.mp3 by Dan Brekke

Journal of Self-Promotion: ‘Roof of California’

I have a sense of when I’ve stayed on one topic too long, and this is one of those times. But bear with my carrying on about Tioga Pass just a few minutes longer. As mentioned (and pictured) earlier (and then mentioned again, elsewhere), I drove up across the pass last week on a blitz-style Yosemite tour with my nephew Max. I also brought a sound recorder along and wound up talking to people we met along the way, and that led to a radio story that aired Thursday morning on KQED’s “The California Report.”. Oddly, because of a problem with the The California Report site, the link to our airing of the story is still acting weird for me. story. But the piece also aired on KPCC in Los Angeles, and here’s the link to the story as it played there:

Clear skies in the Sierra Nevada open up access to Yosemite.

OK–that is it for now. Until I get the picture that Max shot of me walking around wearing shorts on the frozen lake.

High Country, Out of Character


That’s Mount Dana, elevation 13,057 feet above sea level, just south of Tioga Pass in Yosemite National Park. The picture was shot from a ridge above the Gaylor Lakes just north of the pass, elevation about 10,500.

My nephew Max and I drove across the Tioga road on Wednesday, and it’s a trip that will leave an impression for some time. As I’ve said elsewhere, this is country that’s normally far beyond the reach of the casual winter traveler. The Sierra this high up is usually buried in snow. Beyond that, it can be cold and harsh in a way that’s utterly foreign to us Northern California lowlanders. The day we were up there, it felt like the temperature was in the high 40s, at least, and warmer in the sunlight. There was no wind. I was wearing shorts, though that was pushing it a little. Plenty of others have journeyed up to this strangely accessible alpine world. A local outdoors writer did a blog post last week about a couple guys who had driven up to hike Mount Dana–yeah, that peak pictured above–in running shoes.

All the weather forecasts show that this midwinter idyll, made possible by a long, long dry spell accompanied by unusually mild daytime temperatures, is coming to an end. The forecast for the end of the week is blizzardy: snow, then more snow, with high winds. And already, the weather has changed. Today’s high is for a high of about 30, with 50 mph winds gusting to 80 mph. Tonight’s forecast: a low of 10, with a westerly wind of 60-65 mph gusting to 105 mph. I have a picture in my head of being blown clear off this ridge.

More on this later. For a rather short trip–we were only on the road across the high country for a few hours–it filled my head with impressions.

A Midwesterner Visits: Yosemite


We’ve been giving my nephew Max, a University of Iowa freshman who until this week had never been west of Des Moines, a crash winter tour of our slice of central/northern California. (A little bit of deja vu here: He’s making his first trip west about a month before his 19th birthday; I was about two and a half months shy of 19 when I made my first visit out here in 1973, starting out on a Chicago-to-Oakland ride on Amtrak).

What’s the one place you’d take a new visitor to this part of the state (I mean after you got done with Fisherman’s Wharf)? For me, it’s Yosemite, a part of the state I have visited only infrequently but which I think leaves an unforgettable impression. Also, I confess I wanted to get up there because of the historically dry weather we’re having–so little snow so far that the Tioga Pass road, which rises to nearly 10,000 feet, is still open (more on that later).

As always happens with me and my trips, we were a little on the late side getting out the door on Tuesday. But we had plenty of light, and stopped frequently along the way to check out the sights and take pictures. We checked in to our little cabin just outside the park entrance, then headed for Yosemite Valley, a little more than 25 miles away (the reasonably priced lodging down there was all booked, and I didn’t see springing for the Ahwahnee Hotel for one night). We got down to the valley floor just as the sun was crawling up the granite faces hanging above–notably El Capitan and in the distance, Half Dome. We parked near a bridge over the very serene-looking Merced River and snapped away as the sun faded and night came on. Then, finally feeling the cold (I was wearing shorts, of course), we went to dinner and headed back to our cabin.

Muni Blog: Ocean Beach


We went with our nephew Max for a little no-fixed-plan exploration of the city. So we wound up walking from the Ferry Building down to Phone Company Park (Max is a Cubs fan), then got on the N-Judah Muni metro car and decided to stay on all the way through downtown and out to Ocean Beach. It was beautiful out there in a way that’s so typical of this dry winter I’m almost but not quite taking it for granted. Lots of walkers on the beach. Plenty of surfers in their full wetsuits (we heard a couple of them later talking about the rip currents they encountered). Plenty of interesting stuff in the sand, like sand dollars. We walked over and had a sort of late lunch/early dinner at a restaurant with a perfect view of the beach. Someone on the beach apparently launched a couple of fire lanterns we saw gliding above the sand after sunset.

Bolinas Ridge Bovine Encounter


Today’s outing: To the Bolinas Ridge Trail in West Marin. We got out there to the north end of the trail, at Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, probably an hour, an hour and a half before the sank behind Inverness Ridge, to the west. We found a sort of rocky natural platform overlooking a ravine and the trail we had walked in on, and just stayed there as the sun went down. Soon, the moon rose, and we walked back to the car. This lad (or lass–my non-farm eye didn’t see evidence one way or the other) was one of the many bovines along the trail. Nice place to be a cow, or a bull, or whatever.

Another One of Those Days


Another one of those days, meaning: clear, warm, bright, and dry. How dry? So dry that today there’s a red flag warning for high fire danger in parts of the Sierra Nevada because of high winds and low humidity and the utter lack of snow. I’ve been in California for 35 years, and that’s the first time I can remember this happening.

Down here in Berkeley, fall color continues and, on a breezy Saturday morning, leaves that ordinarily would have been brought down by storms a little earlier in the season are still falling.

Quadrantids 2012


Kate and I got up at 3:26 a.m. — that’s what the clock said — to see if we could get an eyeful of the Quadrantid meteor shower last night. (Why so late/early? It was after moonset here, and meteor visibility would be better.) We each saw one pretty good streak before crawling back into bed. Of course, I stayed out for half an hour hoping to get one on camera–and in fact the one I saw flashed by while the lens was open, but it was outside the frame. In any case I got a couple of OK star shots, including this one of the Big Dipper, which was virtually overhead; Polaris, the North Star, is just above and to the right of the tree on the left.