Archive for January, 2008

Stone pillow

31 January 2008


“Jacob left Beer-sheba and headed toward Charan. He came to a familiar place and spent the night there because the sun had already set. Taking some stones, he placed them at his head and lay down to sleep there. He had a vision in a dream. A ladder was standing on the ground, and its top reached up toward heaven. God’s angels were going up and down on it. Suddenly he saw God standing over him. [God] said, ‘I am God, Lord of Abraham your father, and Lord of Isaac. I will give to you and your descendants the land upon which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth.’ ”

Not ten feet away is the tall, wooded scarp marking the Hayward fault just off Tunnel Road. The homeless person whose camp this is will witness the Big One close up, as will the splendid old Berkeley mansion just up the way.



28 January 2008

mtnvwpost.jpgThere is an old tradition in Berkeley and the northern Oakland foothills of building with stone and using local stone. A fantastic book, Berkeley Rocks (Ten Speed Press), is full of lush photos and lore connected with the hillside stones. This example is in Mountain View Cemetery.

Nowadays lots of people put boulders in their yards, but little of it is locally sourced. Of course, there are no local quarries any more either. The biggest ones I know of were on the south side of Hiller Highlands, at Broadway and Pleasant Valley Avenue, and of course the huge Leona quarry near Mills College. At the same time, stonemasonry has declined too. When I finished my geology degree, I contemplated becoming a stonemason. I thought that was romantic—actually I still think so. Watching the “wallers” at work in the Andy Goldsworthy documentary “Rivers and Tides” appealed to me for personal as well as artistic reasons.

Fire memorials

20 January 2008


The Gateway Emergency Exhibit Center sits at a weird spot near the Hayward fault overlooking Route 24, an H-shaped intersection where Hiller Drive and Caldecott Lane come in from diagonally opposite ends and butt against the crossbar and Tunnel Road comes in opposite Caldecott, jogs across the crossbar and takes up where Hiller leaves off. It’s hard to find and it has no shelter, being constructed to resemble a fire-ravaged skeleton-slash-framework of a new building. But as you sit there and look at the information exhibits, every place you can see was wiped out in the October 1991 Hills fire. The exhibits focus on the fire, but there are some plaques that mention big earthquakes. The Big One will surely cause hundreds of fires as power lines fall, gas pipes break and vehicles crash or are crushed.

There are other memorials to the fire. Go west on Tunnel Road to the next light, and to your right is the Fire Memorial Garden, a bit of land that grows lusher each year. But go anywhere else in the fire zone, and if you keep your eyes open you’ll spot scenes like this:


Even after 16 years, there are empty lots. One of them is already shown here in the Ocean View knocker post. Each year a few more of them change hands, and someone builds anew. When the Berkeley Hills burned in 1923, the same thing must have happened. As far as I know, there are no empty lots left over from that fire, so some day the last of 1991’s inadvertent memorials will disappear too.

Our local Katrina

13 January 2008


Blandon Road is one of many East Bay streets that cross the Hayward fault. It’s in East Oakland near Golf Club Road, in that peculiar valley where Arroyo Viejo stairsteps to the right on its way to the Bay. A couple years ago, the sidewalk looked like this. If I went back now—and I should—it might be offset a little more by the fault’s ongoing aseismic creep. It might even be repaved to mask its message. But the message can’t be hidden. In December 2007 the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the economic impact of the Hayward fault’s “big one,” a magnitude-6.9 earthquake, could well exceed that of Hurricane Katrina.

Lately I’ve changed my lifestyle: paid off debt, reformed my diet, begun saving money and gotten ever more fit. Of course the clock matters, mortality is part of that. But the Hayward fault of Oakland insists that I act, too. It is a fact as stubborn as death, “sure as the most certain sure.” Living in Oakland, staying in Oakland may be foolish. The thought has occurred to me. But Oakland is going to have to force me out.