The morning of the 10th, I left Garin Regional Park early to join a Save the Bay cleanup project at Eden Landing Ecological Restoration Area with international students from CSU East Bay in Hayward. The morning was cold, damp, and windy, but we all warmed up quickly as we hunched over picking up the cigarettes and Styrofoam littering the wetland. Nearly all the trash present was cigarettes and Styrofoam, telling fragments of a "disposable culture." I am going to chide my cigarette smoking friends about throwing butts on the ground, seeing now where they end up en masse. Why is it acceptable to throw cigarettes on the ground, when so much other litter is not tolerated? A strange and unfortunate phenomenon.
It was a valuable experience to see the terminus of the city's detritus, flowing through storm sewers and finally into fragile wetlands. These wetlands not only collect visible trash (plastic bottles take 450 years or more to degrade), but also heavy metals and other chemicals that can make habitat restoration difficult and dangerous. I'd recommend a similar cleanup highly to anyone interested in their hometown. The force of words is much weaker than the force of experience — taking a look at your own trash where it doesn't belong is a powerful thing, and I am resolved to be more diligent about disposables.
I spent the afternoon speaking with Larry Arden of the Alameda Creek Alliance, who spent several hours pouring forth his detailed knowledge of the history of Alameda County (Niles district of Fremont was the original Hollywood, something I did not know), of Alameda Creek, and of various efforts in conserving creeks watersheds, and fish in the bay area. Larry told me that the Alameda Creek Alliance's original role had been something of a moderator between the numerous (17 was the number he gave) government organizations with a stake in the creek. His metaphor was a "17-armed octopus, with each arm not knowing what the other was doing" trying to manipulate and manage a river — a clearly cumbersome task. The Alliance helped bring these groups together to protect the creek and meet the needs of the community, and restore fish runs.
Though I am aware that complicated management of the environment is a major factor in California, the number 17 was a startling one for the creek, the bay's largest watershed outside of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Even if intentions of every group were similarly positive, achieving consensus and affecting change seem titanic feats.
I think I surprised Larry when I had him drop me off north of where he had taken me to show me the creek so that I could avoid skipping any part of the route. I didn't want to miss Quarry Lakes and Lake Elizabeth, two large parks in the heart of Fremont, the latter of which I had heard described as a "cesspool," by whom I won't say. Quarry Lakes, formerly operated by as a quarry, is now owned by the city of Fremont, operated by East Bay Regional Parks, and used by the Alameda County Water District for percolation ponds, if I understand correctly. It provides walking trails within the city as well, keeping me off the unpleasant cement sidewalks of Mission Blvd.
The afternoon of the 10th, I was in a wonderful mood. The last few days had brought rain day and night, but the afternoon of the 10th brought the first blue skies of the trip. Sun struck skin, and the little machines of the body stirred and whirred in excitement, from skin to soul. Muir would come up with some kind of transubstantiation metaphor no doubt, perhaps pausing to sermonize to sky above and flowers below. I simply walked on in quiet joy.
This is not to say I don't love the rain. I'll never forget the two rainy days in Garin Park, the mist casting an impressionistic glaze over unreal hillsides, unwillingly scenic. But the sun meant convenience, warmth, access, vision, the beauty of the booster. It's hard to say they were too far off, at least in that regard. And the sun made me feel back on track, after a few days alone and with no meetings planned. It may not have been providence, but it worked as a sign in me that all was working out.