Archive for May, 2008

Oakland Earth Art

14 May 2008

stone flower

In front of a building on Jean Street near Grand Avenue is an installation of stone-based artworks by Richard Botto. In my essay on Earth art over on my site, I distinguish several varieties. This kind ranks low on the scale of sublimity or artistic rigor, but it is a lot of fun to look at and quite a commitment to beautification of the public space. And, of course, it gets people to see rocks.


Dracena Park, Piedmont

9 May 2008

dracena park

Dracena Park is a repurposed quarry pit in lower Piedmont. The quarry was started in 1852 by Walter Blair, at the head of Pleasant Valley Creek (now culverted under east Grand Avenue), and supplied stone for Oakland’s first streets. After it was closed, the City of Piedmont used it as a maintenance yard, then converted it to a splendid park with an enchanting lawn surrounded by a walkway. At the entrance is a sturdy, attractive new play complex; to the north is a narrow ravine where the headwaters of the creek once flowed.

dracena park

The stone appears to be a faulted mix of sandstone and basalt of the Novato Quarry Terrane of the Franciscan complex, like the rest of Piedmont and its surroundings. Here the two rock types are juxtaposed. I’m eager to come back and poke around these rocks some more — with my hammer left at home, of course.

Protect our City from waste

8 May 2008


I’m not trying to single out one person — you can tell because this flyer is from an earlier election — but it illustrates something I think about often. Until civilization came along, there was no such thing as waste. Browsers leave stubble and turds, predators leave bones, and the bacteria handle it all. Monkeys are omnivores and drop lots of stuff, all biodegradable, from their nimble fingers. We are monkeys too, but our fingers and brains are too good at their jobs. We’ve invented stuff the bacteria can’t deal with yet. We drop it all over the place. The human age will be known to future paleontologists as the Age of Hominid Litter.

Watch someone drop litter in the street some time. That casual, automatic act might look like default behavior, what monkeys do as they roam the woods. But the style with which people do it, from their stance to their glance, is learned behavior, a product of culture. They release their trash with panache. You just know that if you called them out, they would be offended. So today Oakland is a shabby city. Too many of its inhabitants don’t see it as a home to care for, just a setting for doin’ shit.

To do otherwise — putting wrappers in pockets or waste receptacles, automatically — can be learned too and done gracefully. I learned it and I simply don’t litter. But can a whole civilization become sustainable, acting with, as Whitman called it, the prudence suitable for immortality?

The Old Tunnel (one of them)

3 May 2008


The former car tunnel through the Oakland hills had its entrance (or its exit, whichever you prefer) here at the top of Tunnel Road. The road is very popular with bicyclists now, and in the five years since I took these photos new houses have been built and things cleaned up in general.


At the little space in the intersection where the fare gates must have been is this pedestal and plaque. Would love to hear some of the history of this.


And, of course, the rocks. Here we have the Claremont Chert so typical of the northern Oakland hills. I need to visit here again soon, although it’s probably less accessible now.

The other old tunnel is at the top of Shepherd Canyon, where the train used to go.