Archive for January, 2011

Fake rocks

28 January 2011

The Hillcrest School, up in upper Rockridge/Broadway Terrace, has a beautiful campus with gardens, trees and this play structure.

fake rocks

I wish it were real rocks. Of course the artificial outcrop is good for encouraging unstructured play, confidence using one’s body and all the rest. The lessons it teaches will serve the kids well as they move on to indoor climbing walls and other safe amusements. But I cherish grit, lichens, little holes with secrets inside, moss, roughness that scratches to get your attention. I favor visual texture, variegation, the presence of minerals in their cryptic typicality, the possibility of fossils. I want kids to explore wild rocks in wild places, even if it’s only a roadcut or a vacant lot. I think these kids deserve a real, local knocker, the kind their neighborhood abounds in. We have enough fake rock in our Disneylands and along our freeways.

Thank you.


Bird islands

13 January 2011

Lake Merritt is formally a wildlife sanctuary, declared in 1870, but the land itself is artificial and needs maintenance.

artificial land

The Parks and Recreation Department website says that the first bird island was built in 1925 and the other four were added in 1956. As long as I can recall (since 1989) they have been a tangle of thick foliage and tall snags, but right now the islands are undergoing a makeover. Anyone have more information?

Water underground

4 January 2011

In today’s Chronicle, the Oakland writer Jon Carroll was musing about fire: “Usually it’s an obedient little creature, about the size of a cocker spaniel—until one day it turns into the largest, meanest cocker spaniel on Earth, and there goes the house.” Water, another of the four ancient elements, is the same way.

water main burst

Water is great in metered doses, delivered by tank and faucet. But “water dissolving, water removing” is no tamer than fire. Some time you should see firsthand what keeps it constrained: giant dams and stout mains, treatment plants, intricate feeder lines. The antique examples of dams and treatment facilities in Oakland are not the state of things today. Every now and then something breaks, like this line under Santa Clara Avenue in 2005, and a hint of chaos leaks out.

Last week a handyman had our water turned off for most of the day, with no word about when he would finish. As sunset approached we panicked enough to go out and buy 48 pounds of jugged water. But we didn’t need to use most of it. And so another bit of our earthquake preparedness is in place, a little lurch of progress. After the next big-enough one there will be water, water everywhere.

The ancients had a handle on things with their notion of four elements. Fire and water are worthy of the status, both full of motion and power. As for air, every weather report vouches for it. But it took someone more observant than most of us to see earth the same way and sum it all up as panta rhei, everything flows.