Saturday, May 30, 2020

Greetings from San Francisco

The news this morning was full of nationwide protests that had ranged from righteous to violent the night before, including a drive-by shooting of security guards at the federal courthouse across the bay. I've been in that courthouse many times, and just last week put in a 12.5-hour day with the environmental organization I work for, filing motions to join three lawsuits being heard in courtrooms in that building to protect people in the City of Richmond from coal-dust pollution, which kills much more slowly than bullets do, or for that matter, a police officer's weight on a citizen's neck. 

I biked into the office this morning and was surprised and glad to find Market Street as mellow as can be, with protests planned for the afternoon. Heading home along the waterfront, still before noon, I saw that the Ferry Building's farmer's market was on, and noted that everything seemed pretty normal despite the horror and tragedy going on elsewhere. 

I was reminded of a time at Headwaters Outdoor School where a group of us sat in a circle as two of us held a pair of lovely, lively chickens that were destined to become our dinner that evening. All of us sat in attentive reverence as their necks were wrung, and I recall watching their bright-red combs fade to some neutral color as they died. 

As I looked down in front of my feet while the chickens' lives faded away, I saw a busy trail of ants gathering seeds and showing no sign of any perturbation in The Force. The killing was done, and life went on. 

Life and death, action and reaction. The callous murder of an innocent man. The burning of cities in rage. The laws of life can be cold, yet the beautiful sadness of being human is almost preturnaturally warm. It might not give comfort, but the way of truth doesn't give a rat's pink derierre about making us feel comfortable.  

View Toward Alcatraz

When my wife heard last week's news that Pier 45 had burned, she mourned the loss of the Musée Mécanique (donatewhich holds special significance for her. Back in 1996 when we met, she told me her dream job would be to guide tours of San Francisco, and Laffing Sal would have been a key stop. Thankfully, as we learned only after my wife's tears of sadness had fallen down her cheeks, the museum survived. On my way home this morning I had to take a picture of the "Thank You SFFD" sign out front.

With all the talk of super-busy bike shops (including my own, Everybody Bikes), I was surprised this morning to find nine bikes that seem to have been all but abandoned in the bike cage at work.

The view from yesterday: Grandview Park lost in the fog.

I was chillin' with the neighborhood cat when I asked her opinion of the coronavirus. I couldn't agree more with her reply.

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Thursday, May 28, 2020

Heat Wave

Day 1, Tuesday, May 26, 2020: For the first time in a long time--maybe the first time since the shelter-in-place began--it is warm enough to take my morning walk without a longjohn top or windbreaker.

Day 2: Morning fog has formed over the ocean and the entrance to San Francisco Bay, but it's still warm enough to walk in shorts and a t-shirt.

Day 3: Windy and cold this morning, so the longjohn top was on again. It seems to me that the city usually gets three days of sunny weather during these heat waves, so I'm a little disappointed that we only got two days this time. Last year we got an unusual four days of very warm weather (and I'm talking about warm all the way to the coast, not just east of Twin Peaks), and that was almost too much sun for us fog-dwelling folk in the Sunset District. 

When the heat waves come, I bring our only fan upstairs from storage. We close all the curtains during the day to keep the sun out, and we open the windows at night to let the cool air in. I've suffered through summers without air conditioning in Davis and Sonora; now my air conditioning is provided by fog. 

When the trees are dripping like they were this morning, I'm reminded of Coast Redwoods which depend on the fog for moisture, and I'm also reminded of a time or two that I've been seriously cold while encountering large puddles of water in redwood forests--in August--with scorching sunshine just a few minutes' hike away.

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Saturday, May 23, 2020

Mountain Critters

Composite Critter-Cam

Although this is a composite of three image captures, the fox, jackrabbit, and coyote are depicted where they appeared in each frame.

Mt. Tam, May 22, 2020

On May 1, as the scrub jay gathers nesting material, you can see some of the sickle-leaved onions coming up, but there are no flowers yet.

Just a couple of weeks later, the onions' pink flowers are everywhere. This is another composite frame of course. One thing I forgot to do when I re-set this cam on my previous trip was to make sure there wasn't anything in front of the lens that would move in the wind and create false triggers. That blade of grass in front of the chipmunk led to thousands of useless frames. I got the card home and downloaded a record 6,901 files, which used up 29.4 GB of the 32 GB card.

Buck in the Rain

Lizard Cam

This used to be a popular (unauthorized) route for mountain bikers, and the authorities tried to decommission it by blocking it with dead wood. This was the only time since the cam has been in place at this spot that it caught any humans passing through. Pretty much the only people up high on the mountain during the lockdown are park and watershed employees doing various maintenance tasks, and bike riders.

Lucky for the mouse, unlucky for the fox: two captures made hours apart.

When I headed into the woods to check my trail cams, I was surprised, and yet not surprised, when I encountered a guy enjoying the morning who'd obviously spent the night. I was surprised because I never expect to run into anyone off-trail, but I was not surprised since I know I'm not the only one who likes to roam around. As I walked through "camp" I saw that he'd leaned his bike against an oak tree that I've previously placed my camera in. His hammock was also slung very near another spot I've set the cams at.

Passing Bucks

A casual hiker going through this area would have been unlikely to spot this cam, and even though this location hasn't picked up any humans, I wondered if the camping guy would wander up this way after seeing me enter the woods without coming back out the way I went in. After swapping cards and batteries, I moved this cam to the base of the big Doug fir, even though it makes the cam much more visible to anyone who might pass by. Fingers crossed that it's still there next time I go back.

Mama & Fawn

Billy the Wonder Squirrel

You can't do as nice a composite with sunny-day frames because the shadows move through the day.

Squirrel & Bunny Composite

I was probably as surprised to find the bike-camper as I was to find a pair of fresh grisette mushrooms (Amanita pachycolea). According to California Mushrooms grisettes typically fruit from late fall through mid-winter, yet this guy had just recently burst forth from the earth and was still fresh and pretty on May 22.

This was the first time I rode all the way from home. My ebike has a 500 watt-hour battery, and I do believe I could probably just make it to Mt. Tam and back, about 45 miles round-trip, if I used "battery off" mode whenever I could (on flats and downhills). But I decided to banish "range anxiety" once and for all by purchasing a second battery.

The battery weighs about five pounds and fits nicely in the top Topeak bag I have on the rack. When I locked my bike to a tree so I could hike out to the critter cams, I removed the frame-mounted battery and hid it, along with the bike bag and my helmet, to help ensure it would all still be there when it was time to go home.

Northside Vista Point

A park ranger who'd just let a car head up toward Rock Spring was re-locking the gate across from the Pantoll parking lot when I arrived Friday morning. Employees have work to do up there, but the public is still being kept out, unless you get there on foot or bicycle. It appears the closure will continue through the holiday, which is quite disappointing, especially to my wife who doesn't ride.

I could hear a chainsaw in the distance at one point, but the woods were alive with birdsong. Here's a minute's worth I recorded on my smartphone.

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Friday, May 22, 2020

Coast Reverie

Somewhere out there...

Coast Lily

Sea Pink


Goldfields & Friends

Pacific Coral Root

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Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Vista Point

California Quail, Tennessee Valley

I need to adopt the stoicism of a California quail. The wind ruffles his feathers? So what. It's just the laws of physics, so how could it lower your spirits. On my morning walk I noticed the wind was coming up already, which means I'm going to have to plow into it on my mid-day bike ride. It's not even a big deal, though, and in fact it's just a slight diminution of the pure excellence of riding with little or no wind. Since the psychological laws of nature are every bit as real as the physical laws, there's some truth to the saying that it's all in how you look at it.

Quail Calling

I was listening to a report on the marvel of the Mt. Diablo viewshed this morning on KQED radio when the reporter expressed her joy that, looking through binoculars, she could see the Golden Gate Bridge, sixty miles away. As it happens, I had recently measured the distance between Mt. Tam and Mt. Diablo, so I had a pretty good idea how the reporter mistakenly doubled the actual distance.

Anyone who uses Google Maps knows you can plot a route from, say, Mt. Diablo to the Golden Gate Bridge, and get not just the directions but also the distance to be traveled. But that's road distance. Obviously, when you look through binoculars, your vision does not follow that same route! (I was thanked by KQED for pointing out the error in time for them to fix it before the next airing.)

Of course you can also use Google Maps to plot a straight-line distance. Simply right-click on your departure point, then choose "Measure distance" from the pop-up menu. Then right-click on your destination point and choose "Distance to here" on the pop-up menu. Now you can read the distance on the ruler.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Head in the Clouds

I was enjoying the cloudscape out the back window yesterday afternoon and decided to run a timelapse to get a better feel for the movement of the passing clouds. The video runs for 54 seconds and is kind of a nice meditation on the passing of time (in this case, an hour-and-a-half).

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Sunday, May 17, 2020


Waking up yesterday to a foggy morning with a bit of wind coming up, I decided the conditions weren't perfect enough to risk trying to e-bike up to Mt. Tam and back. I still wanted to go for a ride, though, so I figured I'd ride a route through the Haight down to Union Square, then to Chinatown and North Beach, then SoMa and the Mission, and end up atop Twin Peaks before circling home. I was en route to the Haight when I saw this excellent heavy-duty offroad mobile home. (Click on any image to see it full-size.)

It wasn't quite 11 a.m. yet, but even though the Haight does like to sleep late, it was still surprisingly dead, with almost everything closed and/or boarded up. The old Haight Ashbury Music Center had already closed before the pandemic struck. I'd bought a tobacco sunburst Gibson ES-347 there in the mid-1980s, but sold it for gas money to get back to California after being stuck in Florida for a while. That beautiful instrument was way above my pay grade as a guitarist anyway, but it sure was sweet while it lasted.

Union Square sort of died to me when the Borders Books closed in 2011, even though it remained a good place to hang out and people-watch. Back in the day when there were people to watch, that is.

I pedaled through the Stockton Tunnel, which thankfully had a bike lane, and was surprised by all the shoppers in Chinatown, the busiest part of San Francisco I'd see all day.

North Beach was pretty sad, with its combination of interesting streets devoid of people, and all the boarded-up storefronts that were there even before the pandemic struck. SFMOMA was eerily quiet, with no lines, no queues of people chattering on the sidewalk. 

Before the pandemic, my wife would walk over to Rainbow after work on Friday, do her shopping, then take a Lyft home, but the main attraction was the great selection of foods in bulk bins, so when the bulk bins were closed, that was it. Although we've been doing our shopping much closer to home ever since, it was still a busy place, with a line of cars waiting to park and two social-distanced lines of shoppers waiting to get in.

Heading through the Mission up toward Market Street, I wasn't quite hungry enough to stop at Pancho Villa Taqueria (and I didn't have a bike lock either), but I had to stop for this mural I'm going to call "The Goddess of 16th Street."

I could have stayed on Market until it turned into Portola, but I decided to take a commodius vicus of recirculation up among the Upper Market castles and environs along Corbett Street. 

You gotta love being on an e-bike at climbs like this.

The last skate ramp you'll ever need?

"Selfie with Concrete Jungle"
This was not really a nature outing, certainly nothing like going up to Mt. Tam, but it sure was great, after a week of working from home, to get out of the house on a warm and sunny day, and for more than just a few minutes enjoy moving freely about the city.

City view on Saturday, May 16, 2020.

I could just pick out our Golden Gate Heights apartment from Twin Peaks, but when my wife texted me that she was waving, I couldn't tell she was joking.... If she'd gotten the binoculars we keep by the window she could have seen me waving back, but she was busy doing life drawing with an online group of artists--an innovation that could still be a good thing even when the pandemic is over.

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Saturday, May 16, 2020

Black Point Trail

Golden Fairy Lantern in Flower

Golden Fairy Lantern in Fruit

Yerba Santa on Black Point Trail, Mt. Diablo (May 2010)

Horned Lizard

Wind Poppies

Chaparral Broomrape

Baby Rattlesnake

Mosaic Darner

Whiptail Lizard

Gray Pine Nuts & Leaf Bundle

Separated by just 37 miles, the landscape of Mt. Diablo is as different from the landscape of Mt. Tamalpais as our inland climate is from our coastal climate. The difference in these landscapes puts me in mind of the differences among various internal landscapes, the inner worlds inhabited by individual people. 

The inner landscapes we inhabit may have objective properties, but the way we see them, the way we react to them, and the stories we tell ourselves about them, are quite varied. Some people are content to remain within a very limited sphere of their inner landscape, and even believe that limited sphere is all there is. It would be comical if it wasn't so sad.

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