Friday, April 10, 2009

Goodbye, Weasel

A quick update from the past two days.

On the 8th I walked from Anthony Chabot Regional Park to Garin Regional Park, exiting at Redwood Road, following it through Castro Valley and Hayward, and then heading south on Mission Boulevard toward the park. The folks at EBRPD once again offered their kindness, helping me with directions and ideas at the Chabot entry kiosk. The trail out of Chabot offered great views of the bay and San Francisco, and the developed hills surrounding the park. I ate a breakfast of peanut butter with a plastic spoon as I walked down the muddy trail.

It can be tricky to remember things as you walk. I come up with acronyms to help. JAD. Jerky and Antler Delivery. Japanese Against Dinosaurs. In reality, Jeffers, Adventure, Discovery. I won't go in that order though.

Based on the rainy travails of the previous night, the exciting walk through Knowland and Anthony Chabot, and the first blood of the trip (cutting my finger deeply with a pocket knife), I decided the trip ought to be updated, maybe even upgraded, from expedition to Adventure. A is for adventure. or Antler. Or Against. Anteaters Against Adventure. Nothing wrong with a little adventure to stir mind and body, invigorate, and inspire creativity. Good to use different parts of the brain.

Discovery. That one is less interesting. Not worth explanation for now. Dinosaurs on the other hand....

Jeffers. Robinson Jeffers is a poet I like, a pantheist and nature writer. Jeffers wrote about divinity in all things. He saw divinity most clearly perhaps in the workings of nature, viewed from his stone house in Carmel. Jeffers reminds me of Muir in the sense that both see an overlap in the aesthetic and the divine. Jeffers sees the divine in the "storm-dances of gulls" and the "secret rainbows" in clam shells, Muir sees the divine in the light flooding the Santa Clara Valley, and the rich color of a single flower-patch in the San Joaquin. To see divinity in nature is in part to give up the centrality of man; this works as a justification for the protection of nature for each author. I will return to this idea at the end of this post if I have time, as I gave it a considerable amount of thought, and it gains much more nuance when man's own divinity enters the picture....

Putting together some ideas from the first few days, it strikes me that most who have a passion for conservation also have a dream about the world as it should be, or as they would like it to be. For some, this dream is a spiritual or aesthetic one. For others, this dream is historical or nostalgic. The world should be as it really was, or as it is remembered. For still others, this dream is of a pastoral world. A simpler place between the country and the city prevailing in human culture and subconscious since at least Hesiod, and likely before. Often nostalgic and pastoral dreams go hand in hand — for many the world as it was and should still be is a more pastoral place. The list will go on, I'm sure, as the miles add up. Already though, it is easy to see the complexity and difficulty of dealing with such diverse interests. And the actual practice of conservation, moved from top down or ground up or indirectly or accidentally (the latter two come up much more often than I would have expected — according to Larry Arden of the Alameda Creek Alliance, much of the pollution troubling the creek was coming from people parking on the roadsides and trashing their surroundings. After a few dead bodies showed up in the creek for various reasons, the SFPUC shut down parking and the riparian corridor has subsequently made a strong recovery....) is just as complex. A challenging predicament. But I surely already knew that.

A few highlights from the past few days. I got my first blister on Redwood Road in Castro Valley, and taped it up outside the library. (The library system still impresses me - an hour of free internet!) Miles later I'd develop a bruise on my left heal from walking too long on the concrete. Blisters heal, let's hope heels do too.

I turned off Mission heading for the back entrance to Garin Regional Park. Winding up Calhoun street, I saw a house or ranch that looked more like an illegal cock-fighting hideout built of old pieces of wood and tin. The top of the steep road was thick with no trespassing signs, and a light rain began to pour. A parking lot came into view, with several cars and a police cruiser, and what struck me first as a mini-meth shed. Nevertheless, I saw what looked like a trail. A pause for a breath. Putting one foot past the NO TRESPASSING sign and CLAP! CLAP CLAP CLAP! CLAP CLAP! CLAP! A few expletives and I was ducking behind a mound of earth, certain I'd just ben shot at, glad to find no holes in me. Wasting little time, I sprinted, backpack flopping, drying socks flailing, down the steep and winding shoulder of Calhoun, past the cawing cocks, some confused middle-school students, and finally to the safety of the whizzing cars of Mission Boulevard and the bright colors of Auto Zone and El Pollo Loco. Jesus, I thought, I've never been shot at before. Looking over my shoulder the rest of the way, I finally climbed to the main entrance of Garin Regional Park as the sky grew darker with rain and fading sunlight.

Setting foot in the park, some ancestor's blood stirred in me, and I was reminded of Scottish Highlands that I've never seen. The park does with curves what the Sierra do with angles, defying a sense of physics and stability — how could such steep sided mounds be permanent features? They look more like sand dunes shaped by the hands of a giant infant, and populated with lowing cows and deer occasionally peeking over the horizon above. The trail to my campsite followed dry creek for a quarter of a mile, and I felt in a safe haven. I told the ranger my story from Calhoun street. To my surprise he only laughed, letting me know that it was only a police firing range. While I was relieved that no one had been threatening my life recently, I was almost a little disappointed to have not survived something more harrowing, and to have embarrassed myself in front of chickens and middle-school kids.

The next day was uneventful — a rest day in Garin, a short walk around the park, and lots of rain. After another rain-soaked night, I decided I could no longer make much use of my old tent, the Weasel, and sadly abandoned it before leaving the park. You will be missed, old friend, and not forgotten. I hope tent heaven is full of sunshine and soft-bodied women.


  1. Alex,

    Sounds like quite an adventure! Today's been nice and sunny--let's hope it stays like that so you don't continue to get soaked.

    I was at a bookstore this afternoon and happened upon the book that's in your list, An Island Called California...I recalled it being on your list and bought it. Looks interesting!

    Best of luck!

  2. Thanks for creating this blog. I live in Oakland and plan to backpack to Yosemite this summer and was looking for resources so that I can retrace Muir's footsteps. This is perfect.
    Hope you're having lots of fun.

  3. I found a great wildflower hike just outside Yosemite National Park. I hope it's on your route. Check it out! Lora at

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